In the Examination Room

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September 23, 2019 by The Citron Review

by Melissa Knox


You are sitting across from a heavy-lidded student in a hot room that is supposed to be air-conditioned. You know her passion isn’t linguistics. She’s lovely in her glacial calm, a clothed Grand Odalisque, tanned, tossing her long dark hair.

A slight mechanical noise stops. The four walls, a box with no windows, offer no breeze. Your Irish colleague, sweating in his short sleeves, leans forward, asks, “What languages are spoken in the British Isles?” The student’s eyes widen. She’ll never flutter around a room cursing the computer cable that declines to fit into the wall plug. Nor will she ever burst with glee at the thought of passing on information to a class. Yet she’s studying to be a teacher.

Your Irish colleague, the linguist, writhes in his chair, yearning for the girl to pass. He’s desperate, since she’s his student. Failing students, hearing them cry or get angry, saddens you both. Crossing legs, rigidly poised, nervous energy barely restrained, he re-phrases questions.

Slowly, the girl answers: “I didn’t prepare that.”

You see the Irishman flinch. You see his few, sad, last gray hairs shake.

“It’s a general question, now,” he says. “What language is spoken in the British Isles?”

“I’m kind of having a blackout,” she adds.

“Well,” he smiles, “Think a bit, then.” You see him pale.

The girl rolls her eyes upward. Is she high? Her pupils look normal.

“Scottish?” she answers. “I only prepared the Chinese immigrants.”

“Now, the British Isles,” he says. “Where do you suppose, now, I’m from?” He smiles. You see his hopes rising.

The girl’s face twists, like the question’s unfair. You feel sweat sliding down your forehead. Your glasses slip on your nose; you remove them, wipe your nose with your fingers, put the glasses back on.

“His accent is a dead giveaway,” you say.

Your colleague sighs and you think he might cry.

“What do you think they speak in Britain?” he repeats.

“British?” asks the girl. “I only prepared the Chinese immigrants to Britain.” You see she’s offended enough to complain. What if she goes to the dean? But she’s not your student. You’re just feeling sorry for the Irishman, who trembles with the urge to be scholarly.

You watch him gather himself and, with dignity, say “English. The English language.”


Melissa Knox’s book, Divorcing Mom: A Memoir of Psychoanalysis (Cynren, 2019) received praise from Phyllis Chesler, Helen Fremont, and Ruth Wariner. Recent work appears in The West Texas Literary Review, Eclectica, and Lunch Ticket. She writes a blog, The Critical Mom.


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