View Full Version : The Professional Student (finale)

May 29th, 2012, 07:11 PM

Dr. Sharpe stared at him silently. Jon looked back at her seething. All of his flaws burned white hot inside him: his vanity, pride and ambition as well as the sloth that he blamed for his predicament. He felt as Winston Smith, facing the door to the cage of rats in room 101. He remembered the torture that his eccentric uncle, visiting from Germany, had told to him as a child: the Chinese torture of the flowerpot and hot poker. A rat placed on the stomach of the victim covered by the pot is poked and prodded with the fire poker so the rat has nowhere to go but down. This is how his digestive system felt, as if it were being devoured.

Wilson spoke: “Jonathan, are you still with us?”

He hesitated at being addressed, forgetting momentarily that the meeting had not yet ended. “I’m sorry, yes.”

“Have you ever been to Cyprus?” Wilson asked.

“Yes, of course. There were pots that I needed to photograph there when I was on my first dig. I believe you know that.”

“Please don’t be impertinent. Would you like to go there again for longer than a week?”

“I don’t understand,” Jon said. He was utterly baffled.

Sorensen took over. “There is an assistant professorship open at the University of North America in Cyprus. Would you be interested in that post?”

Jon was nonplussed.

“It’s a simple question, Jon,” Sorensen continued, “would you be interested in a teaching post there?”

“If this is not a cruel joke, I suppose so,” Jon said.

“Don’t suppose Jon, make a decision. We actually need it quite soon, within the next hour, in fact.” Wilson said.

“But I don’t have my degree.”

“The Department of Archaeology there will take you on as a lecturer and give you one year to complete your dissertation. Then, after you have obtained your degree, you will move into that professorship. They know all about you and your abilities. We didn’t leave out a thing when we put your name forward. They are very interested, regardless. You will submit your dissertation there and Dr. Sorensen will go over when you do your oral defense. You will maintain some continuity in that respect, it’s only fair.” Wilson finished. Sorensen nodded.

“But that means it will be a transfer. I won’t get my PhD from Burnham.”

“Precisely,” said Dr. Sharpe.

“But that’s like the difference between filet mignon and a ham sandwich.” Jon said.

“I don’t think the people there would take kindly to that remark, Jon. Please watch what you say,” said Dr. Sharpe.

“But I don’t want to leave the country. My life is here.”

“Forgive me, Jon,” she said. “What kind of life is that? You speak modern Greek, what are you worried about?”

“My girlfriend’s here. I want to finish where I started.”

“Hmm,” she continued, “is that the girlfriend you’ve been dating for nine years and haven’t discussed marriage with? Why don’t you ask her how she feels for a change. As far as finishing here, that horse has left the barn.”

“I can transfer somewhere else.” Jon said.

“No, we won’t let you. You won’t get a recommendation.” Wilson said.

He hung his head and sat for a few moments. “It’s a Hobson’s choice then.”

“By Jove, I think he’s got it,” Dr. Sharpe said. He looked up at her. She was smiling, not sadistically but kindly. “Jon, I’ve been teaching for forty years. I’ve been at Burnham for twenty-five. I can’t stand to see another academic casualty, especially for one as talented as you. Let’s face it, Jon, there are other factors to consider. Our department and institution have an image to uphold. Can we let a malingerer slide through merely on innate talent, without doing the work? No, if I may be coarse, we have the integrity of a ‘brand’ to consider.” Sorensen cleared his throat. “No, Henry, let’s admit it. That’s what ‘edu-business’ has come down to.” Sorensen was glaring at her. Jon felt like a fly on the wall now. “This is what we have become and why we can’t help Jon in house.”

“Can I ask something?” Jon said.

“Of course, Jon, you’re the reason we’ve sacrificed our respective afternoons.” Dr. Sharpe said.

“Why do they want me in Cyprus if I’m such a pariah?”

“It was my doing, Jon.” Wilson said. “When you were at the museum in Nicosia you met my friend Dr. Andreas. He was amazed at your depth of knowledge about the subject matter you were photographing. He wrote to me how much he admired your intellect. He also loved your command of Greek. I think that’s what landed you the position. Please don’t be mad at your friend, Fernando. He had heard the scuttlebutt and begged Dr. Sharpe and me to do something.”

“Don’t I have to fly over for an interview or something.”

“Of course, you’ll do it when you arrive. Trust me, it’s a formality. Andreas has assured them that you’re the man for the job. He runs the show there as well as the museum.”

“Can I talk to Sheila first.”

“Jon, if you leave the room without making a decision, the offer is off the table and you shall be a restaurant manager but well loved writer of third rate poetry.” Wilson said. “Sorry to be so blunt, Jon, but we need an answer now. Dr. Andreas is waiting for a phone call. It’s 10:30 there now, we need to respect that. What’s your decision?”

“It seems I have no choice.”

“Wrong answer, because you do have a choice.” Wilson said.

“Yes, I’ll take the position.”

“Good, you’ll be leaving in July. Go home talk to your girlfriend.” Wilson said.

“If she wanted to go, would that be possible?” Jon asked the group.

Dr. Sharpe spoke. “Be realistic, Jon. I met Sheila at Nelgri’s one night. She didn’t know who I was, so don’t think anything like that. She’s got a good head on her shoulders and cares about you, but if you think she’s going to forsake a successful career, up sticks, learn a new language and move to a strange country just so that you don’t have to sleep alone, I think you’re mistaken. There are women in Nicosia, Jon. You won’t be lonely for long. It’s not prison.”

“No, but it feels like Siberia.”

Wilson jumped on him: “Bitterness will not be appreciated there. Bury it. I did need to tell one fib. Dr. Andreas believes that you want the post and have had your studies curtailed due to economic difficulties. That is your story, Jon; stick to it.

“I thought you said that they knew everything.” Jon said.

“They do, with that necessary desire and excuse added.” Wilson sat back. The panel began to gather their belongings. “That’s it, Jon. We’re done here. The ladies in the office will have all of the materials that you will need. I suggest you contact Dr. Andreas tomorrow, as early as possible, of course. He’ll be at the museum all day. The girls will have all the numbers and e-mail addresses for you.” He reached across the table to shake Jon’s hand. “Good luck, sir.”


He had to wait until his sentence was up before he could see Sheila. “That’s wonderful, Jon. It’s the kick in the ass that you needed.” She hugged and kissed him.

“Aren’t you upset that I’m leaving?”

“No, Jon. I’m glad you’re moving on with your life. You’ve been on hold for too long now.” She said.

Bewilderment had become a daily mental exercise for him these last few days. Even Tammy was happy for him. It was as if no one would miss him. He was ashamed of himself for that. Dr. Sharpe and Dr. Wilson were right, only the crowd at Nelgri’s would be sorry to see him go.

Sheila and Mary were back in Flanagans Inn.

“Good,” Mary said. “Now you can give him the gate and get on with your life. You’re free now, thank God for that.”

“No, I’ll wait for him to leave. I’m not going to dump him when he’s only here for two more months.”

“Time’s wasting, Sheila, let’s get moving here. I have men for you to meet. I don’t understand you, Hon. You said you were gonna dump him; so dump him.” Mary said.

“No, I said I was thinking about it.”

“You just don’t want to be the bad guy. Dump him before he leaves just to show him what a shit he is.”

“Mary, how can you even talk that way. He’s crushed. He’s putting on a brave face but inside he’s destroyed. They rejected him. Now you expect me to pile on. I’m not going to do it. What’s the point? What would it prove? It’s just vindictiveness. I’ll never forget the interest he took in my education. He did care once, you know. When no one else wants him, I choose to be there for him, just for loyalty’s sake if nothing else. If you want to understand anything about me, then you need to understand that.”

Sheila gulped down the remains of her cocktail. “I gotta go, Mary.”

“Fine, if that’s how you feel, I’ll talk to you when you calm down.” Mary said.

“Actually, I don’t think I will. Good luck, ‘Hon.’”


May 30th, 2012, 01:50 PM
Hey Jim!

Well, nice conclusion! But the mean guy in me sez Sheila should have listened to Mary...

May 30th, 2012, 02:13 PM
Thanks CB,

I believe that in youth, women are wiser than men, Mary excepted. Jon and Sheila had a strange relationship. While he helped her develop intellectually into the person she was, she was merely marking time with him. He relied on her for sex, while she used him as a verbal sparring partner. Perhaps, in her heart, she knew that one day in the future she would be needed to build him up after he was brought low. So, off he to Cyprus, Pygmalion returns home, burning of embarrassment.


June 15th, 2012, 11:44 PM
Hi, I haven't read the other installations, but I kind of got drawn in when you described the rat torture. I enjoy little details like that.

I think with a little work, your dialogue could come across as a lot more natural. For example:

“Yes, of course. There were pots that I needed to photograph there when I was on my first dig. I believe you know that.”

Could be...

“Yes, of course. I photographed pots there on my first dig. I believe you know that.”

Other then teeny tiny details like it ran through really smooth. I probably would have enjoyed it a lot more if I had read the story, haha.

June 18th, 2012, 04:20 PM
Hi VL,

Thanks for the read. I agree that some of the dialogue could have been more naturalistic. Jon tends to be a bit of a pretentious prig and very wordy but that does not excuse the awkwardness. The last part is a little bit hard to understand without reading the other (ho-hum) four parts. A bit more time was taken with them. They're way back in the thread if you ever have nothing better to do, but it would give this conclusion some context.

Thanks again for the read. If I ever want to do anything with it, I will make appropriate changes; probably things similar to what you suggest, but right now I am working on other pieces. This story served a specific purpose and basically stands as is for now.

Good Luck,