Awkward moments

Alan Wadcroft

Prof. Alan Wadcroft of Algernon University, Ipswich

“Miss Davenport. How nice of you to join me. Please have a seat.”

Linda Davenport sat down, face set in the impassive, straight expression adopted by students throughouit the world when they know they have crossed some line or other, and are about to get hosed for it. Professor Alan Wadcroft looked at the girl over his steepled fingers, not saying anything, giving Linda all the time to notice the copy of her pride and joy, the Algernon Clarion, lying on Wadcroft’s blotter in front of him. She folded her hands in her lap and looked up at Wadcroft, quietly.

Wadcroft picked up the newsletter, and leafed through it.

“Oh. I ran into Miss Alexandra Tennant this morning.” Wadcroft looked up at Linda over the rim of his half-moon glasses. Linda kept quiet.

“I think she caught a spelling mistake, and a slight error in the calibres of the rifles they use at the Rifle Club. Only two orders of magnitude. Nothing that would worry an astronomer.”

Linda cleared her throat. “I’ll have an erratum printed, Professor,” she said. “In the next issue.”

“Hmm,” said Wadcroft, indicating in one syllable that the subject of ‘Next Issue’ was one that was still open for discussion. He turned to the page he was looking for, put the newsletter on the desk and with a precise motion turned it over for Linda to see.

“I see that the tradition of Art is held in high regard at Algernon University.”

“Sir.” It wasn’t a question. It wasn’t an admission. It was merely a ‘Sir’. A bit of punctuation in the conversation.

“I see that the artist of this peace has not signed it, but I have to notice that the style is reminiscent of images from your hand.”

“Is it?” Linda didn’t move a muscle on her face.

“Linda, did you draw this?”

Linda took a breath. As a student, you could get away with being a bit evasive, but refusing to anser a direct question was a new level of serious. She could deny it, but that would put one of her girls at risk of being dropped in it. Linda did not drop other people in it, whatever ‘it’ was.

“Yes Sir,” she said, looking at her hands, lying in her lap.

“Ah,” said Wadcroft. “Now the…” Wadcroft looked at the page again. “Poem. It, likewise, paints a very vivid image.”

Linda said nothing.

“An image that sadly is somewhat at odds with the reality of its subject matter, don’t you agree?”

“It is a piece of satire Sir,” said Linda. “It exaggerates in some ways, painting a hyper-inflated image of reality for comedic effect.”

“Oh?” Wadcroft raised a grey eyebrow at Linda. “Exaggerated by how much, if I may ask?”

“That is not mine to say, Sir,” said Linda.

“Did you write the poem, Linda?”

“No Sir.”

“Then how did you come by it?”

Linda took a breath. “I was working late one night, when there was a noise, and an anonymous type-written sheet of paper was pushed underneath, I didn’t notice at first, but then I picked it up and when I opened the door, the corridor was empty.”

“So it could have been anyone,” said Wadcroft, a gleam in his eyes.

“Anyone at all Sir,” said Linda, with a completely straight face.

“And you decided that this was too important a document not to put it in your newspaper.”

“Yes Sir.”

“Why?”

Linda looked up. “Because it highlights one of the aspects of our relationship with foreigners, Sir. We do not always treat them with all due respect. Just because they walk round without any clothes on, doesn’t mean they are stupid. They may not have steam engines, or know that dirigibles fly because hydrogen is lighter than air, or know how to weave linen with a high thread count, but we are equally ignorant of all the things they can do. They survive in harsh conditions using nothing but their wits and their fellow human beings. We can learn from that. We’re going to be surviving on our wits before long. And how long that is, depends on how smart we are as a group.”

Wadcroft looked at her, then suddenly he grinned.

“So you it’s not just because you think it’s funny?”

“Well, it is, but not just because of that.”

Wadcroft snorted.

“For what it’s worth, young lady, I think you’re right.” Wadcroft sat back in his chair. “Just do me a favour, and pick on Professor Brassica next. She thinks she can feed the world by dropping a grain of rice in the ocean. That’ll be all.”

Linda got up, slightly dazed, and made for the door.

“Oh. One more thing. That drawing of yours?”

“Sir?”

“I’ve been looking for a kind of vignette to use for my… let’s call it less serious essays. Do you mind if I use it for that purpose?”

“That thing?” Linda smiled. “Give me a day or two, and I’ll do you a better one.”

(Image by Lindsey Batdorf. Any similarity…)

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