The Reading

She was terrified they would see how terrified she was. They would feel the wetness in the back of her knee and hear the thumbing of her heart. She made a mental note, as she thought of this, as if a separate Lin had been sitting in the back of her mind watching her thoughts’ wild dances, understanding it all, that separate Lin found the thought of the audience feeling the wetness in the back of their knees and hearing the thumbing of their enjoined heart a very lovely expression and had decided to refine it later for use in one of her writings. I should not say separate for it may imply to the reader a split in personality or some form of mental singularity or deficiency, while I’m simply referring to a more sophisticated and evolved form of what we colloquially refer to as a conscience. Neither Lin is identified or labelled with labels like ‘goodness’ and ‘righteousness’ a conscience is typically associated with, and neither has any explicitly defined personality traits; for example one is not more sexually minded in any degree than the other, and we cannot attribute any certain action to any single Lin; they are both equally in control during masturbation as they are when giving money to a homeless man. Despite that, and one may argue that it is because of that, they both have approximately the same relationship one is said to have with one’s own conscience. That is, one of bickering and arguing and comparing alternatives.
This had been established and agreed upon by both Lins a number of times over, and had not passed her mind at all this morning as she walked apprehensively to her classroom. For some reason there had been a lot of people interested in taking a creative writing course that semester. In previous reading sessions, she had felt for the few people she could visually recognize as her classmates, or as close to the term as a person could come having exchanged only a look or two, when they had to stand in front of two and a half benches of predominantly male students, some of whom had been published and one or two even write for local newspapers. Lin did in fact notice their wet palms clinching their single handwritten double-sided paper, the quiver in their voices, their tenseness in the chair, and the knee jerk that they would try to prevent or hide by rapidly moving the jerking leg up and down using only the front of their foot in a semi-rhythmic movement. She could feel she would have the knee jerk as well. Her hands were already twitching when she held them up unpropped on a desk, palms open and fingers spread. They are dancing to my heart’s rhythm it seems, she thought.
She patted her jacket’s small breast pocket for the tenth time to check for her own single handwritten double-sided paper, folded to fit in the small space nearest to her panicking heart. She knew the lines of her story as a mother does the features of her son, but forgetting a line was a nightmare she couldn’t risk having.
As she stepped into the room, she wondered if it had always been this cold. She had arrived early and only a few people were in attendance. She already began shaking her leg as soon as she slid into one of the benches, leaving three benches between her and the stage, as if to guard her or to deceive herself into thinking it wouldn’t be her turn. With every new arrival she moved uneasily to hide the shiver in her hand and to plead to her rumbling stomach to be more forgiving, both fruitless attempts. The young men and women, and one older man, arrived one by one, all carrying themselves lightly and gaily, unaware of her suffering and inner turmoil. One exceptionally petite young girl gave her a nod that the girl had probably intended as encouragement from a fellow experienced comrade, for the girl had done her reading in the previous class and had done particularly well utilizing her delicate voice and figure in her romance work, but to the scared and self conscious Lin the nod served only to increase her self doubt for she thought it was out of pity.
When the instructor arrived, a tall loving middle aged woman with accomplishments only in academia, who, like many instructors are wont to do, had instructed them not to treat her as one, but as an older sibling, a sister, as she was not that much older than them, which she was, and this was not a course one should be in any way inhibited in. I was saying when the instructor, Ms.Bradley, arrived, Lin had been resting her head on the bench, or, to be truthful, Lin had been making as if she was doing so, in order to avoid seeing more people and to avoid having to exchange any knowing looks with the instructor once she enters the room; she knew Ms Bradley would find her with her eyes as soon as she arrived, carrying a plastic paper folder propped to her side with one hand, while the other held her bag, and with a slight raise of the eyebrows, would give her an acknowledging smile and a nod. Lin would then respond with a tired half smile appropriate to her anxiety and to the immensity of the reading, which she genuinely felt, but knew that she would have had to fake the same smile had she been perfectly calm and nonchalant, because Ms.Bradley would expect it and would disappoint her and make her sad if Lin didn’t. To escape this, Lin chose to lay her head on the bench, using her arm as a head rest, and shake her leg rapidly until Ms Bradley called her name. She raised her head, and only managed to exchange the half smile for a small waving of the hand where only her fingers moved.
As Lin was exiting the bench, responding to Ms.Bradley’s beckon, it crossed her mind that there was no one sitting between her and the aisle, allowing her to exit without squirming by other people or making them move as well, and she wondered if they had done that intentionally because it was known that it was her turn on the stage or it was happenstance. She visibly smiled with the corner of her mouth, and was more than a little emboldened by this; so much so that, as she descended the few stairs to Ms.Bradley, she reached with her hand and tucked some of her hair behind her right ear, and met the ground under her feet with just enough force to make her breasts do a small invisible quiver. Ms.Bradley continued her small introduction as Lin reached her, held her student close to her affectionately, before she pointed to the stage and gave a small clap of encouragement, joined by not a few of the students.
As Lin read the short story, she, inside her mind, leaned back in her chair and watched with compassion and love her audience and her own self. She heard the tremble and the huskiness, saw the shake and the shiver, and timed the pauses and the breaths. She instructed herself. Move your hand here; look up to your audience here and pause here; let your leg spasm now, palm your knee and take a deep breath; close your eyes two and half times the length of a blink, leaving your lips partly open and your face facing the audience. She had read the story to herself thousands of times, timing the short sentences, drawing a time-line of her short character’s life and syncing the bangs of her heart to those of her character’s last moments. She felt every move made in the room even when she wasn’t looking, as if she could feel their vibrations in the air.
Eyes closed and a flood of thoughts. In a fraction of a fraction of the actual time she sat on the chair reading, and in the final moment before her eyes would open and she could gauge her audience’s reaction, she relived her story’s life with her, the conception, the arguments, the rewriting and the exhaustion. She relived her own reading from moments ago, and reread and reread and reread. She cared too much; why do you care Lin, Lin would ask knowing the answer but wanting to argue. Not now, I must open my eyes.
When she opened her eyes she saw the clapping before she heard it. Ms.Bradley and not a few were on their feet, one or two who wrote for local newspapers were clapping approvingly with smiles only on their lips, the way a rival would, Lin thought, then immediately called herself an arrogant child, the petite girl looked amusedly confused as she clapped, her small rosy mouth spelling a ‘wow’, and the guy gave her a smile and a thumbs up before he clapped some more. They seem to have liked it.
Lin made a mental note of mentioning that the guy who sat thumbing his phone and paying no attention has a micropenis. It’s unknown whether he does or not.
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