The Test

by William Prophet

Rubbing her hands on the thighs of her jeans, she wipes the sweat from her palms and glances up at the ancient clock on the wall. She tries to clear her mind, yet her pores betray her. Finally the test director call
s her name and she stands. "Will he think I'm too young," she worries to herself as she follows the suit into a small, dull room. She tries to remind herself that the test is objective - that her smooth, milky skin and cascading curls should have nothing to do with the outcome. None the less, she can't stifle memories of a time not long ago when life was simpler and more enjoyable.

What was it that caused the world to drastically change? And why is she being denied a human need, almost as vital as water? These theoretical questions will have to wait. Her current mission is to focus with all her strength on the test at hand. Her mind begins to play tricks on her again, whispering the truth - that she always had difficulty taking tests in high school. Her hands would sweat and she'd glance from side to side, desperately searching for answers. She never imagined having to endure this torture again, especially for something she believed to be her right - not a privilege.

The test director drops the exam in front of her and hands her a pen. Without emotion he tells her that any corrections or blanks will be considered wrong answers, and that she will only have ten seconds to answer each question. A knot instantly forms in her stomach and the bitter flavor of pencils chewed a decade ago floods her mouth. Without any further instruction the director tells her to begin and walks out of the room. Using every ounce of energy, she drags her eyes from the spot where the director was a moment ago and looks at the test. Three pages, sixty questions, ten minutes ? impossible. Her mind performs the calculation in less than a second, yet it takes her almost a full minute to begin reading. She's certain that she'll fail and spend the next six months in agony ? six months of classes ? six months of yearning.

She commands her mind to read the first question and is relieved. She's familiar with this one - she knows that children shouldn't be left alone in the house while sleeping. She quickly circles the correct answer and confidently jumps to the next question. Again a wave of relief washes over her. Having missed this one in the past, it no longer trips her, for she knows that a blow to a child's head requires a trip to the hospital. She takes a healthy breath of stale air and continues with a false sense of wisdom. "Bottles, diapers, strained peas ? how hard could it possibly be," she asks the empty room. The answers spring up from places she can't identify, and she only struggles twice. She now believes that she'll finally be free from the shackles she doesn't deserve.

The test director steps in, only moments after she finishes the last question. "Did I really use ten full seconds to answer each question," she wonders? Could she have possibly fooled herself into believing she would finally experience life again? "No, it couldn't be so." "It isn't so," she assures herself. She convinces herself that she answered each question without hesitation.

The director scoops up her exam, motions with his index finger for her to follow him, and briskly leaves the small room. She follows and returns to the seat in the lobby, the one she occupied before the interrogation. Again her mind begins its self-torture, taunting her with scenarios of prolonged deprivation. "How could I possibly survive if I fail," she worries. Life had become a prison, and she couldn't imagine failing again. Each step of the second hand as it marches around the face of the clock notches her worry higher like an unstoppable gear. She can't tolerate the thought of enduring another day without nourishment.

Seemingly a century later a young woman seated behind a thick glass window calls her name. With a mental crowbar she pries herself from the seat and approaches the window. She'll die instantly if the young woman gives her bad news - she's certain of this. Her rapid breath fogs the window as the nameless face slides the marked exam under the glass. Her heart stops beating as the red ink slams into her sky blue eyes. The young woman behind the window says nothing as the examinee begins to sway in a random pattern, all the while staring into space. Magically she gains strength from a place deep with her, unknown and mysterious. She regains her balance, gently pulls the exam away from the counter, and slowly turns. Questions aren't necessary ? she'd been through the process twice before and regretfully knows what to do.

Once outside the office she allows herself to look at the exam, and shuffles through the parking garage. Thirteen wrong answers ? three more than allowable. Like a recurring nightmare she begins to feel the ever present alien titanium planted deeply between her thighs. The thought of armed guards once again bursting into her bedroom makes her break out into a tsunami of tears and a tornado of rage. "God damn it," she screams aloud, "will I ever be allowed to fuck again!" The cinder block walls don't answer.