Flash: X is for Xylotomous

Photo 47572273 © Outcast85 | Dreamstime.com

(paid for – if you wish a copy, please go to dreamtime and pay the artist, thanks!)

I dropped my bags and dug out my key. The light leaking under the door indicated that Xanadu was in their studio even though the sun hadn’t edged above the mountains enough to highlight the bell tower. They were more likely still there from yesterday although they sometimes woke before dawn with an idea that couldn’t wait for breakfast, but either way I wanted to see them now that I was back in the States. Everything else could wait. Unless they were carving.

“Who’s there?” Xanadu asked as they walked from behind one of the many curtains in the large room. “Seok!” They ran and threw themselves at me.

I barely caught the ball of energy that was my favorite American. Managing the momentum by spinning in a circle, I returned the hug preventing me from breathing as soon I was confident we weren’t going to fall over.

“What are you doing back? I thought you were gone to the end of the semester? Graduation, right? It’s not June fourteen, is it? Did I miss a day? A week? No the fourteenth is next month. Right? Oh my god you are back, I’m so glad to have you back.”

After they unwrapped their legs from around me, they slid down my body until they had both feet on the floor, giving me time to catch my breath so I could answer a question. “I missed you too, chingu-choo.” My Korean endearment switched to a sneeze mid-word.

“Oh, sorry, sorry. I’m covered in sawdust.” Xanadu started brushing their apron, jeans and shirt, and then started slapping my wrinkled traveling shirt clear of the material transferred during the hug, setting off several more sneezes for me.

“It’s okay, it’s okay.” I tried grabbing their calloused hands as I switch to Korean, telling them to calm down. Xanadu always understood me better in my native language, they followed my language switch, taking on the more restricted body mannerisms as well as changing the verbal tongue.

They let me grasp their hands between us, before they said, “My best friend, I have missed you like the mountains miss the snow, climbing ever higher to find it, and never lose it again.”

I was rather proud of the sijo poetry moment and smiled down at them as I tucked a loose curl under the handkerchief they used to keep sculpting debris out of their hair. They were asexual and aromantic, but they had learned Korean poetry for me. I lifted up their chin and studied the dark circles under their eyes and the sharpness of their cheekbones. “I believe I had received promises you would eat well and sleep soundly.”

“You did, but I see you have done less well on that task than I.” They reached up their rough strong hands, pulling mine away from their sharp unplucked chin. “May a friend ask what happened?”

“War.” I frown, reliving the tense moments I lived through with the three other exchange students getting smuggled off campus and on a plane two days ago. “It’s spreading.”

Xanadu closed their dark eyes and reopened them. “There are many pictures in your camera.”

“There are.”

“Will you let me see them?”

“Only after we have slept and eaten. Maybe twice.”

They gave me a half smile, then shook, throwing off the emotion and switching to French, the third language we have in common. After that we diverge, me with Mandarin, Arabic, and Urdu, plus Russian in a pinch. They with German and a spattering of Spanish. Children of politicians assigned to foreign posts gave us a unique bond freshman year during the “get to know you” mixer. “Want to see what I have been doing for my senior project?”

Oui bien sur.”

A mischievous smile lit their face. “Excellent. It’s variations on a theme.”

“The dragon and the tiger.” I responded. Variations on a theme was expected; their advisor loved having students explore different mediums.

“How did you guess?” Their face mock fell.

I nodded to the huge scrap metal sculpture in the area closest to the outer double-wide door tall enough to get cars through. Some disassembly would be required to get the tiger leaping at the dragon out of the building. Inside the steel bodies two spiral hunks of metal spun, the dragon in red and the tiger in yellow, like internal flames found in the lanterns which inspired the sculpture. “That gave it away, mon ami.”

“Yeah, it kind-of does, doesn’t it?” They scratched the side of their head, setting some of the dust still clinging to the handkerchief lose. “Would you like to see the rest?” They waved to the smaller statue next to it. “I tried it to do driftwood next after the scrap metal assignment. Professor Altschwager kept harping on scrap metal and using found materials. Not all of us want to be welders, but it made her happy.”

We walked over to the driftwood, and I circle the sculpture. A mask descended on my face. Where the scrap metal had life and unexpected twists like the cutlery used for the tiger’s and dragon’s claws – forks and spoons – the driftwood looked, well, dead. I would never take a picture of it unless I needed it specifically for an article.

“Yeah,” Xanadu switched to English, “you can say it’s shit.”

“It is very well done shit,” I replied. “One might even classify it as manure.”

“She gave me an A for it because, and I quote, ‘you are showing your true skills as an artist now that you have left playdough behind.’”

I wince. “Why is she still your advisor, again?”

“Have you met, Graspy Gallagher?”

The fine arts department only had three professors at any time, Gallagher, the chair, and known for being an equal opportunity ‘hands-on’ instructor so long as you were small and young, Altschwager, an instructor in love with being cutting edge and advent-garde, so long as you did things her way, and a random grad-student cycling in from a nearby sister University, picking up their teaching requirements toward a masters or doctorate.

“If I burn it, will you be heartbroken?”

“This is why you are my best friend.” They hugged me from the side. “Absolutely, we shall make the biggest bonfire the day after my exhibition is over.” Stepping away, they circled the monstrosity again. They tapped two fingers against their lips. “Only maybe not, because the way the wood came together at the bottom gave me the final idea for the bronze.”

I dropped my eyes from the soaring battle originally inspired by the Winter Seoul Lantern Festival we had gone to before I packed off to my political science program in Europe. “Oh, yeah, that is…” I turned my head sideways before dropping to a knee. The support of the dragon and tiger to leap at each other had removed their lower legs, yet the substitute structure flowed… I reached behind me for my camera and grasped nothing. It was still packed in the bags outside the studio door.

Their eyes twinkled as I blushed and stood up. “Ready to see the bronzes?”

“Yes.”

Xanadu guided me to a curtained area. Two sizes of dragon-tiger pairing shined on the shelves besides her pottery and clay sculptures.

“No clay variation?”

“Not where Altschwager will ever see,” my friend growled. “But there are four of them. I shipped them to New York. One’s a pot, one is a relief, and the other two are more traditional. The one I was finally happy with became,” they walked to where the bronzes sat on the shelves and waved at them like a game show host. The lower group of five stood nearly three feet tall while the upper, smaller ten casted pieces were about a foot each. Among the metal pieces were the casts used to create them looking the worse for wear. “I have to give the school five to auction off over the next few years in fundraisers. They are getting the small ones. But…” They picked up a wadded ball of cloth with care and brought it over to me. “This is for you.”

I accepted the cloth and unwrapped it. It was a sixteenth bronze, the bottom inscribed with the year and her name as the maker, and mine as the inspiration in Korean letters. I turned it, seeing the driftwood had became clouds and waves lifting the dragon and tiger into the eternal battle in the sky. I ran my fingers over the imperfections, gaps between the dragon scales, a missing claw on the tiger.

“Sorry it isn’t perfect. I couldn’t justify ordering more bronze. That shit is expensive. So I gathered the scraps from cleaning the others, then assembled the most intact parts of the molds and snuck this in under the wire for me using the smelting lab.”

“No, it is perfect.” I choked and swallowed hard. “A true original.” I smiled through the tears. “A Xanadu Georgladis original.”

“That is for sure, no one else’s will look like that one.”

I coughed to clear my voice before asking, “Anything else?”

“There is the stained glass next.”

“How did you afford that?” I frowned as we ducked between curtains, the tiger-dragon statue weighing heavily in my hands.

“You remember how we had that woman next to us on the plane ride back to the states?”

“The … editor?” Was that only six months ago?

“Yeah, well, she got stuck at a table at a gala with an art critic or gallery owner or both.” Xanadu stopped outside of another curtained off area. “It’s a New York thing, going to galas I think. Anyway.” They quieted, smiling up at me, waiting.

“Anyway?” And I gave them the answer they sought. I missed them.

“Anyway. She had gotten my name because she had been completely thrilled to meet a sculpturer. Remember how she said she had edited a few fantasy books but hadn’t been able to fact check the art descriptions. Well, she friended me as soon as we landed, and I did it right back.”

“You can’t have too many friends,” we said together. An important adage we both learned in diapers thanks to our parents.

“And at the gala, she broke out her phone and showed the art critic the new person she met flying back the day before. Showed him my website.” Xanadu paused, laid a hand on my wrist. “Thank you for setting that up for me, taking all the pictures, everything.”

“He loved Mothra didn’t he?” Mothra was a concrete statue in the student art garden from her sophomore year. Around the medallion bottom were hundreds of caterpillars, all species native to our state. Above them were an opened cocoon, the outside filled with Greek letters giving all the traditional subjects of knowledge, and above that rising out of the cocoon flew a West Coast Lady butterfly. They had given it a big long intellectual name which appeared on the plaque in front of the sculpture, but its nickname on campus was Mothra.

“Offered to find me a buyer, said he wouldn’t accept less than a quarter million for it. And he would only go that low because I was an unknown, but the school owns Mothra since they paid for the concrete and gave me a grant to make it.  I sent him some of my clay work instead, including the test piece for the bronzes.”

“Which he, having the heart of a goblin instead of an artist promptly sold,” I guessed.

“God bless globin patronage.”

“May we all be so blessed.”

They chuckled as we finished our exchange. That had been the result of several very long arguments about the heart of art and the stomach needing food being the way to an artist’s heart. “I was really blessed. Two of the large bronzes and one of the small bronzes which I am allowed to keep are already under contract.”

“How much?”

They gave me a number which would pay for the apartment we had been looking at in New York City to kick start our careers, for the two years we guestimated it would take to become established. Not the apartment with the amount of money we thought we could beg off our parents without feeling like total losers; no, our wishlist one with space for their studio and my photography computers. “And I still have three large bronzes and four small bronzes to sell, plus the stained glass and word carving ones the clays paid the materials for so the school doesn’t get a dime from them either.”

I grip the bronze in my hand and reevaluate its worth. I hope I never need to sell it. But it could get me out of some real tight scrapes like the one I just escaped. Art gets you further than cash in some circles.

“Ready to see the glass.”

I nodded and they pulled aside the curtain, leading to a shadowed area.

“It’s complete, except for the internal lights on the tiger.” They moved over to a metal cart and pushed some buttons.

The memory of the driftwood was gone and only waves becoming clouds remained. The dragon’s moustache and beard tangled with the tiger’s jowled mane. Blue, green, and red crash with orange, brown, and luminous black. The tiger glass at this time only reflecting the bright dragon.

How is that hundreds of glass pieces soldered together?

I forgot to breathe.

“Well, what do you think?” Xanadu returned to my side. “Seok? Anything? It’s horrible isn’t it? Don’t spare my feelings, come on. You are my best critic. You are always honest. I know. I stink. I don’t know why I quit my political major for this.”

“Xanadu.” I managed to creak out. I clear my throat and try again, my voice still only a whisper. “Xan, Xan. It’s amazing.”

“I am just a glorified potter. Professor Altschwager is right. I should just throw mud in politics because I am not worthy of throwing mud on the wheel.”

“Xanadu!”

They stop, stunned. I don’t shout much.

“It is the most amazing thing I have seen in my life and it kills me there is no way I can capture it on film.”

“I … really?” They stare up at me.

“Really.”

A smile creeped up their face.

I repeat myself. “Really.”

“Okay.”

I nod at them. “Okay.”

“You are the first person, other than Jordan who helped with the soldering and Christo with the electrical, to see this.”

“Not even the advisor from hell?”

“No, not even her. She stopped visiting with the bronzes. Said the statues showed I could make a living recreating casts of famous statues for the mass market. Said she would give me a final passing grade so long as I didn’t screw up the senior exhibit.”

My eyes drift back to the lit stained glass. I couldn’t not look. “Mi-chin nyeon.”

Xanadu bit back a laugh. “Rude.”

I had gone a little far with that profanity, but I wasn’t taking it back. There was no way Professor Altschwager was that tone-deaf with the real talent Xandadu represented. “You said you had some woodwork?”

“Yes, I was getting that ready now. I finally found the perfect wood to finish.” They bounced over to the electrical controls and turned off the stained-glass statue. My heart fell, then resumed its normal beating in my chest. “I couldn’t find the right wood for the dragon scale. I went through everything and then I picked up some padauk from the imports over in the city.” They went over to the other side of the curtain and hit it a few times until two parts separated and they held them open. I looked over my shoulder one last time before the curtain closed.

The final curtain opened to the smell of linseed oil. The smell of cooked glass and drying clay which permeated the rest of the studio became overpowered by the smell of wood and oil.

The statue was unfinished. Clearly so.

But the thing is, Xanadu is first and foremost a sculpturer. Assembly of scrap metal or driftwood, working with casts, and putting together the complicated jigsaw of stained glass. That they can do, but it isn’t their strength. Give them clay to build a face, cement to shape a butterfly, marble to create a thought of a storm, and the world will stand still. Wood can be carved, sculptured.

The other stuff wasn’t three-D to start with. It was never alive.

I turned away and hit the walls until I found an exit and strode to the front door in the bright light of morning shining through the windows. I popped open my carryon and pulled out my camera and ran back into the room.

We didn’t make breakfast at the student union, but we did make lunch.

(2,814 words, first published 5/19/2024)

Capturing the Tiger and Dragon Series

  1. X is for Xenophile (4/28/2024)
  2. X is for Xylotomous (5/19/2024)
  3. X is for Xanthic (6/9/2024)
  4. Exhibit (7/14/24)
  5. Exit Strategy (9/1/2024)

Flash: Endlessly Creative

Image acquired from the internet hivemind

“I will only speak of Professor Pelphrey in glowing terms, describe Truth and Consequences as an easy course, and keep all secrets shared within these walls dear and quiet. This I, Gael Dubhlainn Raisie McFadden, swear. By my will.” Gael stood in the back row, legs braced apart, arms crossed. Braxton had swirled his chair to face his friend and listen as Gale, the oldest and therefore the last of the eighteen students, swore the oath the instructor required. Each classmate had ended the oath differently; she had said whatever felt right. The results ranged from “amen” to “so mote it be.”

The petite woman in her black linen trousers over matching sensible leather shoes, houndstooth oversize jacket, and white silk blouse plus about her body weight in jewelry, nodded her acceptance of the last oath, her shoulder-length hair swinging forward.

At her nod, he sat down beside his best friend. “Did you feel—”

“The snap, like when I shoved your shoulder into place after you dislocated it playing freebie, yeah.”

“What are we getting into?” Gael whispered as they watched the professor walk over to the lectern stand for the first time she entered the class twenty minutes ago, carrying the small stack of books and paperwork she brought with her.

Braxton gave his half smile. “Don’t know but worth it.”

“I hope so.”

After tucking the materials in the pedestal, except for one folder she placed on top, Professor Pelphrey mounted a small step stool to bring her head level with the classroom microphone. “Miss Faukner, you had a question I asked you to hold until everyone finished their oaths. You may ask it now.”

Being the youngest of the group and the only Freshman of the lot, Wren stumbled over her question after holding it for so long. “Umn, well, you had the others, I mean people left after you said … How did the … You told us how tough the course was and then let people leave. How come they don’t tell everyone that this isn’t an easy ‘A’?”

“They egressed through the Oubliette Doors.” The teacher pointed at the double doors to her left. “They are charmed with forgetfulness. Do not use them now that you have sworn into the class, unless you have decided to permanently walk away from what we will be learning here. When you leave today, use the back door. The bathroom is right outside the upper door, if you need to go. If one of your fellow students exits through the Oubliette, you have two hours to get them to me and get the charm removed before the memory of what occurred in this room is gone forever. The students that left before the oath will be transferred to Dr. Torbett’s class and only reminisce about not clicking with my course when I described it if anyone asks. I will keep the doors locked while class is in session, to be on the safe side, but during open study labs, you will need to master yourselves.”

“Oh,” Wren looked confused. This had to be tough as her first university course ever. Gael struggled, and he was a senior. “Okay. Charmed you say … what is oblique mean?”

“Oubliette, means ‘I forgot’.” The professor turned on the projector and showed a picture of a hole in the ground with a grate over it, the surroundings looked like a medieval castle, but not in the good part of the castle. “It’s a type of dungeon, the name is French but they weren’t the only ones who used them. You drop a person down into the hole and forgot about them.” She flipped through a few other photos. Braxton shivered. “A horrible punishment, maybe rain water will fall in and keep you hydrated, maybe the jailors would come through and drop moldy bread or rotten fruits down. You could hear other people screaming in nearby holes, which provided some relief to know you weren’t alone in the world until the voices stopped. If you were lucky, the pit would be wide enough you could sit. Sometimes you would get pulled out if they remembered you before you died.” Pensively, the teacher studied the last frame where nearly a dozen holes covered in rough iron grates had been dug into a brick-and-mortar path. Turning to face the class, she deadpanned, “I don’t recommend it.”

The teacher closed her eyes and inhaled through her nose deeply.

“First truth, whatever you think is the worse that humans can do, is wrong.” The light clicked off, hiding the horrible image. “They are endlessly creative. You,” the teacher pointed to the class, her bracelets jingling musically, “are endlessly creative. Do not consider this,” she waved at the blank screen behind her and her bracelets clanged harsh, “a competition. You will lose, either yourself or your purpose and I cannot tell you which is worse.” Pausing, she looked out at the classroom. “Next question.”

Braxton raised his hand. Gael hit him under the desk, which the professor could easily see being at a lower level.

“Yes, Mr. Huffel.”

“How old are you?”

The teacher’s eyebrows raised into her hairline, “Why do you ask?”

“You said you taught Wren’s mom, or at least remembered her.” The bio-chem senior shook his head in disbelief. “There is no way you are in your late forties.”

“I’ve been teaching at this institution since it was established.” The teacher tilted her head waiting for her students to do the math.

LeeAnn, a junior in the front row spoke first. “No, no way. The university started in 1747. That is over 200 years ago.”

“Two hundred seventy-seven, to be exact,” Shanda said after typing in numbers into her laptop. “If you were twenty-three when you started teaching, you would be three hundred years old.”

“I’m a little older than that.” The teacher moved her file folder to touch the screen built into the lectern, then relit the wall. The painting hanging in the university’s main hall of the founding scientists appeared behind her. Ten people dressed in black robes with white wigs, two women and one very old man sitting in front, and the other seven standing around them. Around their necks were stoles in various jeweled colors. According to legend, three women and seven men started the college. The woman in the back, Caroline stood with her husband Jim Fangman, and both wore red for chemistry. The unmarried women in front sat either side of the old man, with his daughter Rachel on his left. Elias Spelman and his offspring wore green for agriculture and environmental science. The university also used it for biology. Braxton would be wearing a stole with red and green when he graduated.

The female on the right in the picture, rumored to be a mistress of one of the scientists, though which one changed every year, had a small stool to prop up her feet. The hands clasped in her lap were covered in a dozen rings, and the woman’s heart-shaped face bore a striking resemblance to Professor Pelphrey. Her stole was the clear gold the school used for governmental science.

“Fuck, her name is Madden Pelphrey. She said it right up front.” Gael wrote the professor’s name on the sheet of paper and underlined it hard. “We eat at Pelphrey Hall every day, and I thought she was just related. Got in at a young age because of who she knew.”

The class roared as each person talked to the others. Only Wren, who hadn’t been soaking up the university legends for years, remained silent, but her head spun around as the seniors behind her debated the authenticity of the teacher’s claim.

While they were arguing, the Professor Pelphrey took the folder to the front of the table and removed a stack of white printed paper from the folder, placing them on the table. Then she walked over to a cabinet beside the door she entered through and unlocked it. Inside were seven shelves of books. She pulled out a board built into the side and turned it sideway, upon which four steps unfolded from the board, becoming stairs for her to reach the top shelf. Once at the top, she unlocked the glass front of the shelf and slid it out and then up so it slid into the cabinet above the newly accessible shelf.

Students were beginning to raise hands when the teacher turned sideways on the steps and clicked the control, changing the image to a syllabus. “Ready to start learning?” her voice carried in the room, the carpet absorbing some of it, but the cement walls bouncing the rest.

“How old are you?” “You can’t be that old.” “You knew Spelman?” “Did you really do the wild thing with the Fangmans? “Can you tell us…” Everyone’s voices was speaking over the other.

The teacher raised her right hand, the houndstooth jacket sliding down to her elbow, and lifted her other hand to her lips placing two fingers there until the students started following suit. Some did it automatically, clearly familiar with the routine from their primary school days, while others looked side-to-side and started mimicking the rest of the class.

When everyone was quiet, Pelphrey spoke. “One off-topic question per day. You can decide among yourselves what you want that to be. The class will get an extra 10 points each if it is not one I have heard recently, 25 points if completely new.” When hands remained raised, she added, “and negative ten point for everyone for each question asked out of turn.” Hands dropped.

“Miss Faukner, could you hand out the syllabus to everyone? Don’t worry, I won’t make you do everything. Each person, in order of age, will help with the tasks. Mr. Quillon, could you come over here and hand out today’s texts? We got an hour left and a lot to cover today to get you ready for your self-study on Tuesday.”

(words 1,665; first published 5/12/2024)

Madden Series

  1. Truth and Consequences (3/17/2024)
  2. Endlessly Creative (5/12/2024)

Flash: X is for Xenophile

Image by Mathew Schwartz on Unsplash

Original Photo description: In South Korea these sculptures are part of the light festival. Dragon vs. Tiger.

Xanadu halted, stunned, staring up at the two lanterns doing battle. A tiger challenging a dragon. Fortunately, this wasn’t their first paralyzation tonight as their xenophile brain completely shut down required motor skills, so I didn’t run into them and I was able to keep others in the festival crowd from bumping into my special American.

I wrapped my arms around them and placed my head on their shoulder. “What is it this time?”

“Other than sheer beauty?”

“Ne.”

“The details of the flames lit from within by the lantern. I think I can…” They moved their hands as though chiseling or carving. “Please take a picture of them, Seok.”

Lifting my camera, I start taking pictures as we circle the lantern pair from different angles. Sometimes I activate the movie mode, because somehow Xanadu can capture movement in their sculptures and carvings and I think they will need to see three-D aspect which still just can’t. When I’m done, they hug me tight and tell me for the ninth time tonight how glad they were I brought them to the Winter Seoul Lantern Festival.

We move on, and I wait for their next dazed reaction.

(words 196; first published 4/28/2024)

Capturing the Tiger and Dragon Series

  1. X is for Xenophile (4/28/2024)
  2. X is for Xylotomous (5/19/2024)
  3. X is for Xanthic (6/9/2024)
  4. Exhibit (7/14/24)
  5. Exit Strategy (9/1/2024)

Q is for Quorum

Photo by Billy on Unsplash

For flashes, the quorum (minimum number of people needed for an official meeting) is two to explore more than navel-gazing introspective of a single character, but what happens when you go beyond that? How do you write a large cast? I recently took up the challenge when creating the Argumentative Law series.

The flash format doesn’t lend itself well to large casts. In a thousand words, you can explore two, maybe three, people interacting. I did TEN! Each person in the first flash, L is for Legality, had at least one line. The challenge was making sure each person had a reason to be there, a different opinion and goal. When possible, a different mannerism. Overall, that first flash is a scene, not a story. No one grows or changes, the “protagonist” really is the class as a whole, not one individual who undergoes the most change. A few of the characters were well-defined in my head – Lindsey, the firebrand; Breanna and Matthew, the couple headed to problems; John, supporter of the status quo; and the professor, Dr. Hawkins – who is based on my very first college teacher – first semester, first class. He left an impression on me, not all of it good, but he did demand the best from everyone and he cared enough to extract it. I would have preferred he didn’t use a hammer and pliers, but the man was unforgiving as the fire which shaped him.

With five characters clearly defined, the second flash had more elbow room; still, most characters were again limited to a single line, but through that line I discovered more about each of them.

The final flash, O is for Options, is actually two scenes, one is the class discussion and the other the internships. Between the three flashes, four scenes, and six thousand words, the characters had evolved into individuals with different backgrounds and goals. (Hey! – That is the average of a flash dealing with two to three characters. Three flashes fleshes out nine characters. Good to know the word to person ratio is consistent.)

Strangely two of the initial weakest characters ended up to be the most interesting to me. Maybe because they evolved organically instead of a pre-defined cutout like Lindsey and John. For the “story”, I would define Monica as the protagonist, if I work from the definition of the “person who undergoes the most change”. Though Breanna and Matthew, with their breakup, also had a lot of change, their change was external while Monica’s was internal. I also fell in love with Seth Goard; the initial lackadaisical gentleman, coasting through the course, was revealed to actually have a lot going on in his life. When he finally faced something that needed doing, he stood up for it. Of all the characters, Seth is the one I want to grab and drop off into a real narrative instead an exploration of writing skills.

I’m still not sure if I would describe the Argumentative Law series as a story. There is a a beginning, middle, and end – with the ending of handing out internships being the most clearly defined. We see the class grow as a whole from the teacher directing the conversation, with the first narrative turning point happening when the students (through Lindsey) demand equal treatment for all students, to the final session where the professor mostly stays out of the conversation except to keep them on topic. There is a sloppy bit (from a content editing consideration) where the third flash opens with Lindsey as a close-third person POV before we expand back out to the omniscient POV used throughout the rest of the series.

If the story was rewritten, I don’t know what POV I would go with. The omniscient puts a lot of distance between the readers and the action, keeping emotional involvement low. But who to go with? Lindsey, with her strong opinions, would be my first choice, but she is an unreliable narrator and the themes within the story, if polished from first draft flash format, are about the clarity of law. The juxtaposition between her opinions and exploring society through law could make interesting counterpoints, but I don’t know if I have the skill set to sharpen the edge between unreliable fog and magnification lens clarity.

I know I mentioned this specific to the first flash, but it also applies to the whole arc. In a weird way, with the exceptionally large cast, the class as a whole became the protagonist. During the story, they learned how to argue, they split into factions, and they developed a cause they wanted to fight for that crossed the factions.

Have you ever written a large cast scene or story where all the characters impact the story at some level? What writing skills did it need? Comment below.

Argumentative Law series

  1. L is for Legality (4/14/2024)
  2. M is for Monday (4/15/2024)
  3. O is for Options (4/17/2024)
  4. Editing Rant: Q is for Quorum (4/19/2024)
  5. Writing Exercise: Y is for Yoke (4/28/2024)

Flash: O is for Options

Photo by Wesley Tingey on Unsplash

“So what was your final grade on your project, Monica?” Lindsey asked as the three female seniors made their way into Argumentative Law for the Thursday afternoon session. With the winter holidays and end of the semester only a week out, the group had been pushing hard to get all their projects done. They sat in the second row on the opposite side of the lecture hall from where John and Breanna’s ex Matthew talked with Larry.

“Ninety-two.” Monica ducked her head.

Breanna gave her a hug before they sat. “That is amazing. Great job.”

“I couldn’t have done it without you. Thank you so much for proofreading my work.”

“Any time girlfriend.” Lindsey tucked her bag under the chair. She had learned freshman year how much Dr. Hawkins hated notetaking without purpose. Breanna used her computer like an extra brain, and Monica took notes like she was in a family therapy session rarely filling up a paragraph let alone a page, but Lindsey’s method of verbatim in-the-ears-and-out-the fingers actually was hurting her. Dr. Hawkins had been right about that, though she would never tell the aggressive beach ball he taught her anything good. Toughest teacher she had ever had, but little of it palatable.

Jervin entered and made a beeline for their side of the room while Jacob nodded their way before joining the white boys. Jervin, between his immigrant parents and dark skin didn’t meet team-John sensibilities. Jacob lived in the same county as both John and Lindsey where more than one street was named after the Stroups; Jacob wanted to be a state attorney, and eventually a judge, and needed introductions in the government offices which John’s family and family firm could provide. Lindsey didn’t blame him for brown-nosing. She just hoped he didn’t crawl so far up their butts he lost his way.

Stomping in the room at a fast walk, Dr. Hawkins pulled the door shut behind him, slamming it against the frame. After stuffing his briefcase into the lectern, he counted heads, looked at the clock above the door, and then turned back to the class. “Goard?”

“Here sir,” came a croak as Seth entered the room, his face under a mask. “Sorry I’m late sir, but I—”

“Judges don’t care why you are late and neither do I. Your attendance won’t count today, but participation will. Sit in the back.” The professor frowned as the student struggled for breath while climbing the stairs. “You don’t have Covid, do you?”

Seth turned to the front when he reached the fourth row. “No sir, just flu, like the rest of Stroup dormitory. Someone brought it back from the Thanksgiving holidays. I just tested at the clinic, sir. Clean for Covid, positive for flu.” He collapsed in a chair. “Thank god for the free clinic on campus. Why it isn’t a national thing I have no idea.”

The professor pinched his nose. “I guess that will be today’s topic, why can’t we have national health care? Anyone?”

Breanna answered immediately, “Separation of federal and state powers. Only certain powers were granted by the states to the federal government when they created the Republic, all other powers are retained by the states. Health care didn’t exist two hundred fifty years ago, so it wasn’t considered. Doctors are a local thing.”

“Yet medicine isn’t.” Monica pointed out. “The federal government, through the Food and Drug Administration regulates drugs. Why can’t that be expanded to regulating doctors and hospitals and insurance companies?”

“It would be beneficial to have a nation-wide regulation of health care.” Larry shook his head. “My family has moved a lot and changing our insurance each state is a nightmare even with help from the companies contracting my father. One insurance for all would help with the mobile population.”

“But the companies, neither insurance or the corporations in general will ever agree to that, or their bought and paid-for mouth-pieces in Congress. By keeping the insurance with the job, people are afraid to leave work, held hostage by their health.” Lindsay crossed her arms as she leaned against the wall to face the rest of the group.

“Ms. Mills-Jumper, while I appreciate you are more interested in politics than the law, please stay on topic. What is the legal restriction and how can you address it for your clients in court.”

“State powers keep federal overstep in check.” John inserted. “Health care belongs at the state level. And no state will have a state-wide health insurance since that will mean deadbeats will move to their state to take advantage of it. I look forward to the continuing de-regulation of healthcare getting rid the burden unproductive people put on the rest of us through Medicaid and social security.”

“Are you trolling me? Do you even process what your family feeds you or do you just swallow it whole?” Lindsey stood waving her hands. “About one in eight people are disabled in some way. By seventy-five, half are disabled. One-third will be long-term disabled at some point in their lifetime, and most temporarily disabled. Anyone and everyone is just one accident, one disease—”

Seth sneezed loudly and pulled out a tissue to wipe his nose under his mask. “Sorry.”

“No prob, thanks for the example. See, anyone, even us healthy college kids. To remove—”

The professor clapped. “Again, Ms. Mills-Jumper, stick to legal talk. Same as you Mr. Stroup.”

“Ugh. Yeah, sorry Dr. Hawkins. Could we claim protecting citizenship for health reasons, like keeping lawns shorts to prevent fires and rodents?”

“We do it for some disease like pneumonia and measles. I guess we could expand it.” Monica said from where she sat.

“Complete overreach of power. It’s bad enough schools required unneeded vaccines.” John turned in his chair to face the women and persons of color side of the room.

“You say that without visiting the graveyards where gravesites are mostly three feet long.” Jervin’s face paled in memory. “While in Italy, wow, there are a lot of them. Vaccines are important to society – polio, small pox, measles, mumps.”

“Protecting children as members of society.” Monica tied the conversation back to the legal aspects before the professor started marking the entire class down. A ninety two could end up in B territory if attendance and participation went negative.

“Vaccines requirements are still passed at a state level, aren’t they?” Breanna asked, not bothering the click at her keyboard.

Larry confirmed. “Yes, one state switch meant another round of shots for me and my sisters because we didn’t meet what that school system required.”

“And, like John said, no state is going to do a state-wide health insurance unless all the states do it. They don’t want to go bankrupt.” Breanna tapped at her computer. “Maybe … a time limit before health insurance kicks in, but the kids not getting access immediately…”

“Why not an amendment?” Matthew asked.

“A what now?” John turned his head to guy sitting beside him, looking thoroughly betrayed.

“Sure, if the individual states don’t want to do it on their own, all they got to do is sign over the power to the federal, but that would take an amendment.” Jervin snapped his fingers. “I like that.”

“We could add body autonomy as part of the package.” Lindsey’s face lit up. “Citizenship, because of the ability to cross borders, protection of the nation, especially as diseases don’t recognize borders, blah blah. Health of the individual. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness – good health is needed for happiness.”

“That is from the Declaration of Independent and has nothing to do with actual law.”  John pointed out.

Jacob shook his head. “Yeah, but it’s about the vibe of the law. The purpose of rights. It could work.”

“A health care amendment.” Lindsey looked around the room, making eye contact with the professor. “We could write one.”

“Sounds like an interesting project for next semester if people are interested.” Dr. Hawkins lips turned up on one side, the closest they ever had seen him to smiling. “Not a class, but maybe a club?”

“Our senior year, while trying to land internships?” John shook his head. “No thanks. I don’t need to tilt at windmills.”

“I’ll help.” Seth rasped from where he had been banished.

Several heads swiveled to look up at the Intellectual Property expert whose mother had been a singer for a major band until she quit to have children.

“What? I’m not just a pretty face.”

Lindsey cackled and few others snickered. Seth was a very pretty face when it wasn’t dripping all over the place, as well as a great body on a sports scholarship for golf of all things, the combination which got him the lead for most of the university plays since sophomore year, and a beautiful singing voice giving him several solos in the school choir, while being smart enough to hold his own, mostly, in the pre-law courses. But with all his other commitments, he did the least work possible for his actual academic career.

“I’ll take lead.” Monica offered. “It is important for families.”

“Well, Dr. Hawkins, we might just do this.” Jacob waved at the lot of them. “Give us the weekend to a proposal together?”

The professor clapped his hands. “Done. We only have two meetings left and this course does not have a final. The final two classes will be tied to reviewing the possibility of creating an amendment to present to the state assembly when they are in session in January. If you do not want to participate, you do not have to attend next week’s classes unless you still owe me your senior project, which I believe is just Mr. Goard.”

Seth slipped a little down in his seat. “Yeah, I think so. The play is this weekend. I’ll get it done by Wednesday.”

“You have until Friday, but if you want to know your grade before you leave school, I will need it by Wednesday.”

“I know.” Seth coughed in his mask.

“Very good. The only thing left I have tonight is internships which have come in. Mr. Stroup, Mr. Moore, I believe you already worked those out with Dr. Leverett. You may leave.” The two smirked at each other before leaving. Officially everyone on the prelaw track needed to spend a day shadowing a lawyer over the two-week winter break, in preparation for a possible summer internship. Those two were just going to hang out at their family firms.

After they left, Dr. Hawkins pulled out his briefcase and walked around the table in front of the lectern. He pulled out a file from inside. “I have ten possible internships. Whichever ones you don’t want will go to a few of the juniors. Ms. Hargate and Mr. Northern benefited from them last year. First one I think is a good fit for Ms. Crawford, that is if you have decided not to repeat the internship you had last summer with Mr. Moore’s family?”

“Oh god no, they treated me like a slave. I get most internships are unpaid, but there is no need to be rude about it.” The normally pretty researcher lips were pulled back in a snarl.

Dr. Hawkins set the folder aside on his briefcase a moment. “Look, the world isn’t a nice place, and lawyers are some of the most opportunist, ungrateful people you will ever meet. But that doesn’t mean that you should take it laying down. Push back. All of you have some solid potential, even you Mr. Goard. Stand your ground. Demand that they treat you well. Give us a full report when you get back. If they are unsuited as mentors, the university wants to know. We will not send them our students again.”

“Now Ms. Crawford, I have a grant organization looking for a researcher. The organizer is a lawyer with licensing in all three states of the tri-state area. It is located in Riverside. They pulled in a grant to cover an apartment and food for the summer, as well as gas for you to get there and back for the winter interview. The organizer will put you up in a hotel overnight at her expense. No actual pay—”

Breanna jumped out of her seat to grab the sheet. “I’ll take it.” Returning to her seat, the other women looked over her shoulder seeing the name of the non-profit.

“No way,” whispered Monica, who then stared at Dr. Hawkins like he was the Messiah returned to Earth.

“She is an alumn, not of the law school, but did her undergraduate here.” Both sides of the bald man’s lips pushed up his fat wrinkled cheeks for a second before falling into his perpetual frown. “In fact, we were exceptionally blessed this year with alumni willing to work with our students. Mr. Fikes, I understand your long-term career goal is a judgeship?”

“Um, yes?”

“I have something I think you will like. It’s in Lincoln County, which is the third largest county of the state so has extremely high volume, but they are looking someone to help support the summer rush in the criminal and family court systems. We have found a family willing to rent out a room, and the mediocre pay is enough to cover the room and all your incidentals. You won’t come out rich, but you should break even.”

“That is a bit far from my family.” Jacob stood and walked slowly forward.

“If you don’t want it, I have a Junior in mind, but it is the only offering I have working closely with judges.” The professor offered the sheet.

“I’ll need to run it by my family and…” he took the sheet and went back to his seat.

“Remember part of the winter interview is to make sure you are a good fit either way. You may turn things down when you return in January.” The next sheet of paper was a light blue instead of the cream the other two people had received. “Mr. Northern.”

“Yes sir,” Larry replied, standing.

“This is one of my students. One of my best. Do not embarrass me.” Dr. Hawkins handed him the sheet, then pulled the next one out while Larry returned to his seat reading the details of his possible internship. “Mr. Goard, if you will come down. I think you will be pleased with what we pulled out of the dustbin for you.”

“I’ll take anything, but bonus points if you managed an internship in Hollywood with Becky Trellis, class of ’12,” Seth panting slightly after coming down the stairs.

“Read the sheet.”

He looked down, then did a double-take. “You did.” Seth stumbled back and half fell to sit on the bottom step. “How?”

“Her father worked with your mother. You should know how important connections are considering your background and career aspirations. Ms. Hargate?”

Monica came around from her chair to stand by the professor.

“I had found someone local to your hometown, working with a shelter, providing pro bono work with abused women. But…” Dr. Hawkins flipped a few sheets down. “After reading your senior project, and you stepping up to organize an amendment, I believe we both have been letting you slide too much. See how this one looks to you, and, yes, the pay is for real, but living in the state capital is expensive.” He handed her a sheet.

She read it carefully before staring up at him. “Sir!”

“You earned it.” He frowned at her until she moved away.

“Give me, give me, give me.” Lindsey motioned at Monica as she came over, then squealed before passing the sheet to Breanna, with Jervin looking over her shoulder. “You are going to do amazing!” Lindsey hugged Monica around her neck.

“Mr. Santinelli, I do apologize, the best fit internship for you is out of state. We have found a grant to cover transport costs so you can visit your family monthly. The junior member of the law firm has family near your home and will be visiting during Christmas break and will organize a video conference interview with you at his home. The firm is large enough to have a hotel room year-round for people they bring in as expert witnesses. You may get bumped and need to sleep on an office couch when they do a deposition. But they have agreed to provide you a debit card to cover all meals. Again, you won’t come out ahead after a summer’s work, but you won’t go into a hole. A branch of the firm focusses on helping companies bring in specialists on visas.” The professor held onto the paper as Jervin approached, instead of extending it. “They really liked the fact you are fluent in three languages and can read and write in two more. Don’t let them take advantage of you for that. You are not a lawyer and they are not allowed to use your languages to read foreign law documents. We wrote that into the internship contract. You may do verbal translation, helping talk to people from foreign countries, but written translations they must pay you for and law translations are right out. Do you understand me?”

Jervin nodded.

“Words, Mr. Santinelli. You have a lot of them in that skull of yours.”

“Yes, sir.”

“And you will call me or Professor Leverett immediately if they try to violate this restriction. This particular alumnus was known for pushing limits, and this is the first time we are using him in a mentorship.”

“Yes, sir.”

“I mean it.” Dr. Hawkins finally handed Jervin the paper. “That goes for all of you. Whether the University has worked with your mentor once or a dozen times, if you have questions, call us. Put us on speed dial. Also, over your final semester here, we will be introducing you to the law school faculty, matching those of you who are staying with the University with an appropriate advisor. Get their numbers too.”

“Ms. Mills-Jumper,” the professor pulled the next sheet out and sighed. “The downside is this internship will start immediately. The senator wants to fly you out to Washington DC, make sure you are a good fit for her and her staff, then return back here once the session breaks and take you on a tour of her offices throughout the state where she meets her constituents. She specifically asked for a firebreather.”

“A senator … oh, my god!” Lindsey exploded out of her chair and snatched the paper. Only one of the two US Senators for the state was female, and it was… “I could kiss you!”

“Please don’t.” Dr. Hawkins said dryly. “Alright everyone. See you Monday. I look forward to your amendment. Dismissed.”

(words 3,117, first published 4/17/2024)

Argumentative Law series

  1. L is for Legality (4/14/2024)
  2. M is for Monday (4/15/2024)
  3. O is for Options (4/17/2024)
  4. Editing Rant: Q is for Quorum (4/19/2024)
  5. Writing Exercise: Y is for Yoke (4/28/2024)