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A Short Story of Approx. 3,800 words
Jonathan Vos Post
(c) 1991 by Emerald City Publishing
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Maxwell Marenko, semi-punkishly attired in in black jeans,
black shirt, and a white leather tie, oozed into the classroom like a
cat with serious plans to open a canary cage. Dr. Thayer Kfouri,
having heard that Maxwell had slipped through the loopholes of
many a professor's rules, decided then and there to keep a sharp
eye on the boy.
Dr. Kfouri handed out the mimeographed exam questions.
"Imagine," he thought to himself for the Nth time, "the priorities
implied by a department rich enough to fly its assistant chairman
to Paris for an irrelevant conference, yet too stingy to pay for
xeroxing." Striding up and down the aisles between wobbly anti-
ergonomic desks, he simultaneously distributed the blue-books, one
per student, in which essay questions would be wrestled to the
ground without being decisively pinned.
"You have exactly 60 minutes starting ... now," he said, to the
sea of students' heads leaning over in the time-honored
examination slouch. He wrote "time remaining: 60 minutes" on the
avocado-green chalkboard with a stub of chalk the length of a
cigaret filter. "Imagine," he thought, "millions of devonian diatoms
died to make this chalk, which will flower in brief glory upon the
board and then smear away onto eraser and jacket-cuff, only to
merge with the dust of this disintegrating campus."
"This one's in the bag!" thought Maxwell. He opened the blue-
book, with its front cover emblem of Paradena Tech (a beaver
holding a burning torch aloft) and its back cover logo of a coiled
rattlesnake. As the saying went, "the beaver is the engineer of
animals; the Tech-er is the animal of engineers." Immediately
setting to work, he ignored the exam questions and scribbled, at
top speed, a chatty news-packed letter to his mother.
When Prof. Kfouri, a cadaverous looking old creep, squeaked
"time remaining: 20 minutes" on the board, Maxwell asked for
another bluebook, and received it along with a sour look. As soon
as the prof turned his back, Maxwell slipped the blank blue-book
under his shirt, and then resumed the letter to Mom.
"And so, Mom, since I had to bail my poor roommate's girlfriend
out of jail so that she could look for her missing driver's license, I
had to spend this month's food money on the next semester's
textbooks. So could you send more money, please? The leaves look
very resplendent this time of year, with what I have learned are
the carotenes of red and the xanthocyanins of yellow. You see what
a fine education I am getting here? Thanks again for making it
possible. Your loving son, Maxwell."
When the bell rang, Maxwell dumped the full blue-book on the
prof's desk, and was out the door as fast as a dry leaf blown ahead
of the wind.
He rattled down the steps, out onto the quad, past the last Live
Oak (three hundred years old, propped up by steel crutches) and
buzzed through the automatic doors of the Cordell Library.
Clutching the mimeo'd exam questions in one hand, he dragged the
blank blue-book out from under his black shirt, dodged to avoid the
newly purple-painted columns, and pulled the reference book from
its nose-level shelf.
Flipping through the reference book, from which only a few
pages had been torn by prior generations, he found everything he
needed to write an informed series of essay answers, as if he had
studied all term instead of partying his brains out.
He liberated a 9x12 envelope when the 5th floor librarian was
on coffee break, sealed the completed blue-book inside with spit
and scotch tape, then carried the envelope to the campus post
office. He planted the stamp, a blotchy portrait of a forgotten vice
president, and carefully inked the address of his mother, blew it
dry, and deposited the envelope through the ironwork encrustations
of the mail slot. It dropped upon its fellow letters with a
satisfying rustle, like a fallen leaf.
"What a scam," he thought. "A dude as sharp as me shouldn't
even think of cramming for exams. It would be a waste of good
braincells. When I get rich, I'll be able to hire and fire creeps like
the prof every day."
Early the next morning, as the sun poured down on campus like
melted butterscotch, Dr. Thayer Kfouri made the call that Maxwell
Marenko had expected.
"Is this Mister Marenko?"
"Yeah, Maxwell here. What do you want?"
"This is Professor Kfouri. I think we have a little problem
"Hey, prof, you're the one with all the problems. All I've got is
a hangover. What's the deal, calling the dorm at an hour like this?"
"It's about your examination answers."
"Yeah, what about them? Surprised I did so well, are you?
Even without homework, the rules say that a good enough final
exam means you've got to pass me. Right?"
"I'm not calling to discuss the lowered standards of a failed
academic system, Mr. Marenko. I'm calling because your blue-book
bears not the slightest resemblence to a set of essay question
"What do you mean? I answered every question, even the
extra-credit. I put in lots of good quotes, so you'd know I read not
just the assigned reading but also other texts on the subject.
What's the deal?"
"The deal is, young man, that what you handed in was a long
letter to your mother which, for the sake of propriety, I did not
read in any detail."
"Oh, gosharootie, prof. I can't believe it! I must have given you
the wrong blue-book. What an idiot I am. You've got to give me
"Idiot you may indeed be, from the Greek roots meaning one
who does not participate in the political life of his community.
But just what do you mean by 'the wrong blue-book?' I have never
given an examination in which this would have been considered 'the
right blue-book.' Explain yourself immediately!"
"It's obvious, now. I finished the questions at about twenty
minutes to the hour, and then asked you for another bluebook,
remember? In the second blue-book I wrote the letter to my Mom,
because it would have been rude to just sit there and gawk at less
prepared students. I must have mailed Mom the blue-book with the
exam essays, and given you the one I ment to mail her."
"A most peculiar story, Mr. Marenko. But just what do you
mean by 'another chance?' As I said at the beginning of the term,
there would be no make-up exams without a doctor's letter or other
valid excuse for missing an examination. You did not miss the
exam, much as I would have preferred to be able to give you a
failing grade by default."
"That's not what I meant, prof. Let me explain. I'll tell you my
Mom's phone number. All you've got to do is call her. Just tell her
to get to the post office right away, and to mail the blue-book
right back to you without opening the envelope. That way, you'll
know the whole thing is perfectly legit. I'll meet you at the
campus post office tomorrow, where you can give me the right
letter to mail her, and you can open the envelope with my truly
excellent blue-book. What do you say?"
"I say preposterous. But to give you the benefit of the doubt,
I'll allow you to dictate your mother's phone number to me, and I'll
agree to meet you at the post office when it opens tomorrow
morning. But if the correct blue-book isn't there, not even the
Supreme Court will be able to save you."
"Would I do anything bogus? No way. Thanks a bunch, prof. I'll
see you there. I just hope you'll be man enough to apologize to me
for all your unjustified suspicions. Not that I'm asking you to turn
an A into an A+ or anything. Nope. Okay, here's the number. You got
a pen, other than the red one you were planning to write 'F' with?
And be polite to the old lady. We wouldn't want to besmirch the
hallowed name of dear old Paradena Tech, now would we."
"Greetings. This is Dr. Thayer Kfouri, of Paradena Tech. Am I
addressing Mrs. Arabella Marenko? Yes? Well, this may take a
while to explain. Your son Maxwell, a pupil in one of my
intermediate classes, is very intelligent, to be sure. But he does
not apply himself in what the other professors feel is an
appropriate manner. Lacking proof, I will spare you my unfounded
"In any case, the issue at hand is a blue-book. Blue book.
That's the covered, stapled aggregation of unlined paper which we
distribute for the students to inscribe with answers to
examination questions. Yes, an old tradition, not honored in many
schools these days. It seems that your son has made either an
unfortunate permutation in which he confused my classroom desk
with the local post office, or an unfortunate underestimate of my
"He claims to have mailed to your residence a blue-book filled
with essay answers which were to have been handed in to me, and
to have inadvertently given me a blue-book whose contents may be
characterized as an epistle to yourself. A letter, madam.
"I will explain later, if you question my methodology, but do
let me suggest a course of action which may benefit your son in the
long run. What I want you to do is bring a dozen blank sheets of
8 1/2 x 11 paper, for which of course I'll reimburse you. Also, bring
a stapler, or be willing to borrow one from the postal clerk. Your
son has assured me that you will be receiving in tomorrow's post a
blue-book containing miraculously correct answers to my most
recent examination, sealed in a large envelope.
"What I humbly request is that, when you arrive at the post
office, you shall first of all ask the clerk to give you that envelope,
prior to its being given to the mail carrier for delivery. Observe
carefully how the envelope is sealed, so that you may replicate the
sealing later. Then, if you please, carefully open the envelope. If
there is indeed in a blue-book within, which you may recognize by
the emblazonment of certain totemic animals, please pry open the
staples. Remove the pages from the cover, staple them together,
hold on to them for 24 hours, and then mail them to me at the
address I shall shoirtly dictate.
"Then, take the blank pages you brought with you, lay them
horizontally upon the opened blue-book cover, staple them to the
cover with two staples positioned as were the originals, and fold
the pages neatly within the cover, so as to create the simulacrum
of the blue-book at the time when in was blank, save for your son's
name written on the front cover.
"Place the signed blank blue-book in the envelope, seal it as
best you can to approximate its appearence before you opened it,
and relabel the envelope addressed to me. The post office can, I'm
sure, supply the requisite tape. Oh yes, I'll reimburse you for not
only the paper, but for the postage on both that envelope and for a
second envelope, containing the previously bound blue-book pages,
which you will post to me precisely one day later than the envelope
we have just discussed.
"Why? Because I fear that your son, rather than applying
himself diligently to his studies, is trying an unethical maneuver
to deceive me into giving him an unearned grade. Again, let me say
that my fears may be entirely unfounded, based only upon the
hearsay of my colleagues who have made certain charges which I
am not prepared to evaluate in the absence of evidence.
"If my fears are valid, however, the effect upon your son of
seeing the envelope opened at our local campus post office, and
seeing contents other than he expects, may give him rather a shock.
That shock, needless to say, will be only the first step towards
setting him back on the path of proper discipline, so that his native
cunning may be channeled to positive effect. If I am correct, this
is exactly the sort of unexpected lesson which has the potential to
make his college education a period of wisdom, and not merely of
"Shall I repeat these instructions? Do you have a pen or pencil
with which to make notes, and with which to take down my
address? No, really, Mrs. Marenko. No need to thank me. Either
have just insulted your son, and hence yourself, for no good cause,
in which case no apology would be sufficient, or else I am merely
doing my duty as an educator. Very well, Arabella. Now here is my
At nine a.m. the following morning, Dr. Thayer Kfouri met
Maxwell Marenko on the granite steps of the campus post office.
Together they passed through the wrought-iron doors, trod upon the
polished marble floor that hinted at more stately days in the
"Is there a 9x12 envelope addressed to me, Dr. Kfouri, from a
Mrs. Arabella Marenko, my good man?" said the professor to a long-
haired clerk in an aquamarine "I'd rather be windsurfing" T-shirt.
"Hold on, let me check. Hey, Yanez, anything in today's sack for
a -- how do you spell that?"
"Kay Eff Oh You Are Eye."
" Kay Eff Oh You Are Eye, you got it, Yanez? Okay, thanks. Here
you go, doc."
Dr. Kfouri took the envelope, held it up for Maxwell's
inspection, flipped it over, and tore loose the scotch tape, noting to
himself that it was applied very closely to where a previous strip
had once adhered.
"Is this the blue-book you sent to your mother by mistake,
"Yeah, prof, that's my name on the cover, alright."
"This is, not to put too fine a point on it, the blue-book which
you have assured me contains the correct answers to the
examination? The one which was somehow confused with the
letter to your mother? Oh yes, here, take the letter now. You're
welcome. The very blue-book which makes the difference between
a passing and a failing grade for you, Mr. Maxwell?"
"Yeah, yeah, cut the idle banter, man. That's the blue-book I
meant to give you in the first place. I'm sure it's good for a pass.
One more semester and I'm done with this two bit school anyway.
Then, color me gone."
"Color?" said Dr. Kfouri, removing his eyeglasses and peering
at the corner of the blue-book with myopic attention. "Could it be
that I detect a virtually microscopic smear of purple paint on the
cover of this blue-book? Could it be that this smear is precisely
the color of the paint so recently applied in the interior of the
Dabney Ruddock Cordell Library? Could it be that, rather than
posting this immediately upon leaving my classroom, that you took
this to the library and improperly researched the answers to my
examination questions? Could it be that you've been sliding
through the educational process on the lubrication of mendacity?
Could it be that you've tried to commit the high crime and
misdemeanor of stealing a passing grade from a course which you
deserve to flunk? Could it be that this is merely the first step of a
larcenous career that will lead to the hangman's noose, or the
electric chair, depending upon the state in which you are finally
caught? Could it be that I have caught you right now, young man?
Why, goodness, how pale you seem. Could that be due to yet another
hangover, from your nocturnal dissipation? Well?"
"I don't see any paint, man, and I don't know what got into you.
Too many shots of sherry in the faculty lounge, or some weird
projection of yours based on the ritual fight for tenure, or
something on public TV you fell asleep watching or what? Come
on, don't be so melodramatic. Just open the blue-book and check it
out. Read it and weep, man. I'm a hell of a better student than you
"Just so we have the ground rules established here, Mr.
Marenko, let me first outline the two possibilities. One: this
bluebook contains a plausible approximation to the right answers,
in which case I owe you copious apologies. Two: this blue-book is,
in fact, completely blank, because you outsmarted yourself by
switching between THREE blue-books instead of the two that you
meant to permute. In which case, you will not only receive a
failing grade, but a significant letter of complaint to the Academic
Dean, requesting a full hearing into your text-taking practices.
One, or two. Which will it be?"
"I don't know what you're blabbing about, prof. Just open the
sucker, and let's take a look. Aren't you the one who's always
droning on about the empirical method?"
"As you wish, Mr. Maxwell. I am now going to open the blue-
Dr. Thayer Kfouri opened the cover of the blue-book, fully
expecting to see the blank pages which he had instructed be placed
therein. Maxwell Marenko fully expected to see the answers he had
elaborated in the Cordell library two days earlier. This, however,
is what the blue-book contents were:
"Dear Doctor Kfouri,
Thank you so much for your warm-hearted willingness
to help my little boy, Maxwell. Yes, he is both intelligent
and headstrong, so that since my beloved husband Lloyd
Marenko passed away, bless his soul, it has been rather a
challenge to raise Maxwell to meet the highest standards of
achievement and behavior.
Your phonecall was the first good news I've heard in
years, not counting the sporadic and somewhat suspect
letters from Maxwell in which, I'm sure, the truth has been
Your manly voice, your precise vocabulary, your firm
intent, and your compassionate heart have utterly won me
over. I know it sounds odd, coming so unexpectly from a
woman of a certain age, but I do believe I've fallen in love
Since I am a widow, and you said that you were a
widower, it is not utterly out of the question that we find
out as soon as possible if we are compatible. Therefore, I
am writing to tell you that I shall buy a train ticket as soon
as I have posted this envelope to you, and expect to arrive
on campus within hours of your reading these very words.
I'll be bringing Maxwell's rather erudite essays with me.
Maxwell has been without a father entirely too long!
"Let me not to the marriage of true minds admit
Devotedly yours, dear heart,
"What kind of cockamamie conspiracy is this? You in cahoots
with my Mom? I don't get it? How did this get in my blue-book?
What did you tell her to get her into such a weird head trip?
Professor, you've got to straighten this out!"
Dr. Kfouri was as pale as bleached parchment. "This is worse
than anything I could have imaginined," he stammered. "Both of our
fates are in the hands of stochastic forces beyond our control.
You're the crafty one, Mr. Maxwell. In order to spare us both from a
future neither of us would want, without injuring your obviously
irrational mother, we'd better come up with something right away.
We need our own conspiracy. Come with me right away to the
Faculty Club. I think we could both use a few stiff ones. Imagine!
As I live and learn..."
-- The End --
Copyright 1991 by Emerald City Publishing.
All rights reserved Worldwide. May not be reproduced without permission.
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entirety, and without charge.
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