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"Typical Graduate Students" by William Matheson

i - September, Week I

        The Two Towers glistened in the late morning sunlight of the September day (such that anyone would admit that the Loyola and Rice residences, though similar in stature, were less menacing at first glance than the towers of Isengard and Barad-dûr) while parents of college-age children sat behind the wheels of their minivans and pickup trucks (many with their engines running, no matter that the air conditioning wasn't necessary and that they'd be waiting for almost half a day), loaded for bear with computers, televisions, DVD players, sound systems, bar fridges, hot plates, chairs, clothes, and probably, sometimes, some study materials.
        Charles Farley, 48, of Muskrat River, British Columbia, sat impatiently behind the wheel of his red 2003 Ford F-350. He'd burned a lot of gas and money to ship his youngest son and his stuff off to this second-rate school, and he was anxious to turn the hell around and get back on the Trans-Canada Highway. But the people in charge of moving the frosh in were keeping everyone waiting for hours in a parking lot holding pattern.
        He put his head out the window and honked the horn, "Hey, we haven't got all day here! Hurry the hell up!"
        The man in the GMC Sierra in front of him put his head out his own window and turned to face Mr. Farley. He honked his own horn and yelled back, "You're not the only one stuck out here, dumbass! Why don't you just shut your goddamn mouth?!"
        "Well why don't you guys carry less of this useless crap in! That's what's slowin' things down! Where the hell do you think your kid's gonna put that air hockey table?!"
        "Well where the hell do you think your kid's gonna put that fucking rock climbing wall?!"
        "Up your kid's ass!"
        "Fuck you! And your plate - what the hell are you doing coming all the way here from British Columbia?! God, your kid's grades must be bad! He's a stupid shit like you!"
        "I'll have you know my kid has a sixty-two-and-a-half average!"
        "Loser! Mine got sixty-four! And he plays foozeball!"
        "Shut up!"
At this point, Mr. Farley noticed several dipshits wearing black shirts emblazoned with "Masters of the SMUniverse" approaching: "Sirs, if you would just turn your engines off and relax, you'd feel better. Why don't you come to the Gorsebrook and bring your kids? All we have is soda, but it's the only time you'll get free drinks unless you're sleeping with the bartenders."
        Farley's son thought both ideas were splendid. "Hey Dad, can't we just get out like they're saying and-"
        "Shut up!"

        Later that same September day, the white submarinic corridors of the Loyola high-rise were abuzz with frosh unpacking rap CDs, subwoofers, alcohol, and condoms in their rooms. Roommates met one another for the first time, and in this case the University planned things well, because disasters like rooming someone who liked pop rap with someone who liked gangster ("gangsta'") rap were avoided for the most part. The general idea was to move the date of the inevitable "I hope you all die!" attitude change back as far as possible.
        Chris Averlo, 22, of Bible Hill, Nova Scotia, working on his MA in Navigation Philosophy, had moved into his single room a day earlier due to his status, and thus avoided most of the problems associated with the Frosh Move-In. Looking at his new neighbours, though, made him wonder if things would be quiet enough for him to work on his thesis.
        "Hey, little help!"
        Chris turned around to see a tall, acne-infested boy struggle to get a 52" rear projection TV through his doorframe. He opened his hands to indicate a willingness to assist, and walked over to do so.
        "You lift and push, and I'll lift and pull," the pimpled boy said.
        Chris and the boy struggled for several moments to get the colossus-sized television through the Titanic-third-class-sized hatch, but without success.
        "I guess I'll have to go get us some help," Chris said, and prepared to walk off in search of it.
        "Um, could you please hurry? The Simpsons is on in twenty minutes and they say Maggie's gonna say something tonight."
        As Chris went off to summon some labour-apt folks, he fondly remembered the old days when he had time to watch cable TV between thirty-page term papers.

ii - September, Week IV

        Chris was fortunate for an unemployed boy without (career) direction of his age in that he had a very industrious girlfriend, Claire Dodson, 26, of Bedford, a trendy appendage of a town just north of Halifax. At this moment on a Wednesday night, he was walking up the hill towards her house from the Metro Transit sign on the main road where he had disembarked from the twice-daily bus (one trip from this far-flung part of Bedford to Halifax in the morning, the reverse in the afternoon). Not owning a car meant that Chris could only come up in the evening, but the good part about the next bus leaving at 7:15am was that he always had an excuse to spend the night with Claire when he did come over. It was an elegant way for him to help Canada meet its Kyoto Protocol obligations.
        The smell of fresh chicken Kiev and baked lasagne rushed into his nostrils as he opened the door. He came for the romance, but he stayed for the real food. Claire, wearing a green dress that complemented her blonde hair, came to greet him. She took his coat and his flowers.
        "You wouldn't believe what I've been working on," she said to him as she hung up his coat.
        Working towards her MSc in Neurophysics, Claire tended to take on projects that, in Chris' opinion, were very interesting compared to the mundane drivel that BA and MA students usually encountered. Chris, genuinely interested, asked her what it was.
        "Now, now... I can't tell you right here... I want to surprise you with it when it's finished."
        "Is it... something for us?"
        "Yes, but also for my thesis as well. I'll bring it down to you someday soon - I'll have to make a trip down to campus with it anyway to have it evaluated by my prof. We'll go have dinner again that night or something."

        Mike Rabbit, 19, was Chris' next-door neighbour. Mike, though he had as much money as Chris, didn't get to have a single room because as a Frosh, he wasn't able to choose before all the single rooms were taken. He often wished that he could take his girlfriend of two months, Jen, into his room, but most of the time it wouldn't have been a productive exercise.
        With a little time, though, he would get his wish. One Thursday night, Mike and Jen finally had Mike's double room to themselves. Mike's roommate, joey, was away with the foozeball team on a road trip to the agricultural province to play UPEI.
        He carried Jen over the threshold, set her down on his bed, removed her coat, and gently ran his fingers through her hair. He kissed her on her honey lips. "I do so dearly want to love you, my sweet angel," he whispered to her.
        "I want to be loved, too," she said to him. "But that guy next door is going to complain again and then everyone will know we're going out and I'll never hear the end of it from my girls. We're only supposed to date foozeball players." She started to ramble. "Of course, they're always away, so you never get to have any-"
        "Well, don't worry about Chris; we can just wait until he goes to sleep, right?" It was bad enough that Chris was as square as a microprocessor, but if he were to ruin this, too...
        "No, because I'll be so tired by then that I'll fall asleep after we're done and I need to be out of here before people start getting up tomorrow - when I'd be seen and found out."
        "Oh, surely you'll wake up before two p.m.!"
        "No, Mike..."
        "You know, we could do it now if you didn't have to punch a hole in the drywall every time I go do-"
        Jen rolled out from under him. "That's it; I'm off to find my Hello Kitty vibrator. Goodbye, Mike." She took her coat and the promise of loving sexual activity out the door with her.
        "Argh," Mike said. "Well, there's only one thing to do." He grabbed a beer from the bar fridge, put one of his special DVDs into his PlayStation 2, and sat down on the couch and got comfortable.
        Just then, the shadow of a seven-foot-three foozeball athlete wearing a t-shirt and gigantic earphones crossed the doorframe. "Hey, Mike, I'm back, the game was cancelled. Do you mind if we have a party in here? Oh, is there any beer left?"
        "Argh," Mike said.

        The thumping refrain of Murder Rap's new Number One hit, "Streets Don't Owe You Shit, Bitch," woke Chris from his lucid dream where he kept walking into another room to turn a stereo off. Chris, still in his pyjamas, got out of bed and walked out towards the corridor to see what was up.
        Chris was quickly very glad that his door opened onto the inside of his room, else he wouldn't have been able to get into the hall, which was jammed full of 17 and 18-year-old girls and the 20-year-old guys trying to take advantage of them. Most of the people were having sex to the rhythm of the music, with the allowance that most of the people had most of their clothes on.
        The nucleus of the party seemed to be in Mike and joey's room. Chris gently shoved his way towards Mike. Chris found him dancing on top of a bed with a lovely pink-haired person of an indefinable age, except to say 'young.' Chris nodded his head to Mike, in his trademark indication that he was about to ask something of someone.
        "Oh, hey Chris," Mike acknowledged him with a trickle of enthusiasm.
        "Hey, Mike," Chris yawned audibly. "Do you know what time it is?"
        But you owe me forty bones.
But you owe me forty bones.
        "Yeah, it's 3:30, Friday morning, I think. Just wait 'till the over-19 girls get back from the bars, then this stag fest is really gonna cook! Go back and put some pants on, though, or you'll have to pick from the drunkest of the dru-."
        "That sounds like fun, but I have an honours seminar to assist with tomorrow morning, then I mark papers all afternoon."
        "Sucks to be you. Switch to a B.Com, and then you can start your weekends on Thursday!"
        "No, I mean… What I'm getting at is that I think it's time for everybody to get some sleep."
        The music stopped and everyone stared at Chris. This was the third party this week that Chris felt compelled to quiet down. He hated to do it, but he felt it necessary, even though it made him look as square as an NES Control Pad.
        "You're not going to call the RA again, are you, Chris?"
        "I will if I have to! We need our sleep!"
        "Okay, listen here, Mr. I'm-Working-On-My-MA! I've had it! You're practically the only goddamn graduate student in this building! It's not our fault that you're a jobless loser that can't afford his own place! Why do you live here if you can't have a little fun once in a while?!"
        Chris, not knowing what to say to that, simply tromped off in search of the RA.
        "Damn," Mike muttered.

iii - October, Week I

        Mike set his stack of laundry baskets down on the landing of the steps leading to the laundry room and took a moment to catch his breath. He had another half-flight to go on his monthly laundry pilgrimage, and as he prepared to carry his hefty load again, he became aware of two voices coming up from the room that the frosh most rarely visited. Was the male voice Chris? In search of an edge, Mike crept down the remaining steps and peered around the corner to check.
        Yes, it was indeed Chris, with a girl. Mike didn't know he had a girlfriend - how interesting! They stood facing each other, and in between them was a box. It looked like they were a mild argument. He stayed on the steps and listened to them talk.
        "Claire, this is an awesome idea, but-"
        "But what? I wanted to do this tonight! I wanted this to be special!"
        "We... can't. If the guys upstairs heard you-" (the word in between was inaudible) "- me, they'd make you out to be the biggest hypocrite!"
        "Well, that would be my problem, not yours!"
        "I'm sorry, my dearest, but we just can't do it here."
        Righty-o, Mr. Hypocrite. I'd have the RA on you before you even finish! Hey, I think I just made a clever joke!
        "F-Fine... I guess if we ca-A-CHOOOOO!"
        "You're turning red!"
        "I'm having that <sneeze> reaction again."
        "I knew it was a bad idea for you to come down here. Do you know how sick the laundry gets around here?"
        Mike, understanding that, felt a little sorry for her. The Loyola building was no place to be for someone allergic to laundry-borne pollutants. Mike's own room still had a lingering funk from when the student living there the previous academic year chose to simply abandon his laundry; one of those things you think only happen in Dave Barry books.
        "Claire, you wait here, and I'll go get you your medicine."
        Uh-oh. Mike tiptoed up the stairs quite quickly - but to be accurate, his tiptoeing went far past the theoretical tiptoeing speed limit and into the realm of dampened scrambling. It was the first time in a while that he had travelled up a set of stairs using his hands as well as his feet, something he thought he had conditioned himself out of. At the landing he hoisted his laundry up onto his shoulder and when Chris approached on his way upstairs, Mike pretended to be just going down. They exchanged empty "hellos."
        Mike picked up his baskets and descended into the laundry room proper. He walked over to the bank of washing machines, meaning he would pass by Claire, whom he saw lying on the floor with a red face and runny nose. While his eyes decided that Claire was a very attractive twenty-something woman, his right toes remembered the box on the floor.
        "Eeyouch!" His laundry baskets and laundry toppled over into a convenient mess beside a front-loading high-efficiency washer. "Stupid rotten-"
        "Sorry, I forgot to warn you <sneeze> about-"
        "Goddamn it!" In his intense frustration, Mike gave the box a swift kick in its 'rear' with his other set of toes.
        "Hey!" exclaimed Claire, moving to protect her property. "That's my box!" She encompassed it with her arms.
        "Argh! It - ... Oh, I'm sorry. I don't mean to be doing you or your things any harm. I'm just in severe pain. Is that thing made of solid rock?"
        "Sorry, trade <sneeze> secret," Claire smiled weakly.
        "I'm really sorry. I didn't boot it that hard - it should be okay. My name's Mike. I'm Chris' neighbour."
        Claire looked at him.
        "Oh… I, uh, passed Chris on the stairs; I just assumed you were with him."
        They exchanged a few pleasantries while Mike started up five separate loads. Everything that had just happened was a lot of Aramark for his thought, but at the moment perhaps it was best to leave everything well enough alone. Everyone on the outer periphery of his life had enough problems of their own to cope with, and Mike decided that his energy would be better spent on his laundry and winning the heart of Jen.

        Chris passed by Mike on the stairs again, who was carrying up his empty laundry baskets. They exchanged quick and empty nods. Chris quickly descended into the laundry room, and rushed to Claire's side to rescue her from her symptoms. He gave Claire three pills from the bottle, and then sat on the cool concrete floor next to her. After a few minutes, she seemed to brighten up.
        "Chris, I don't think I'm okay to drive. My eyes are still too <sneeze> watery."
        "Then how do we get you and your mom's car back to Bedford?"
        "E<sneeze>-asy. I'll take the bus back late this afternoon. You put the box in the car and drive it back here tomorrow afternoon, stay at my place for the night - we'll have our special night and then you can take the bus back the next morning. Then everything will be back to normal. I don't know why I got so upset - I guess it's just because I got so <sneeze> hot thinking about the finished box that I wanted everything immediately."
        "That's okay. I understand. I'm sorry I couldn't gratify you right away."
        "Well, you know..." Claire trailed off, casting her eyes downward.
        Chris understood, and got down on his stomach in front of her, kissing her navel under her blouse with his lips while his hands searched for the button of her jeans.

        "Chris, I need you to do me a favour," Claire asked Chris over the residence phone line the following afternoon. "You can still come over and everything, but right now I feel kind of sensitive after my reaction yesterday, and I can't go out to the stables to clean the stall of my horse. Could you do it for me on your way up?"
        "Sure. I'll bring some soap and a change of clothes."
        Chris got off the phone and decided that it was time to get underway. He changed into a set of work clothes and took another set of clothes, his bag of tricks, and Claire's box into his arms.
        When Chris was about to reach the bank of elevators to go down to the garage, he saw the boy from the Frosh Move-In who needed help with his TV. The boy pushed the down button, then stared impatiently at the readout above one of the elevators.
        P... B... 1... 2... 3... 4...
        "God, these stupid elevators. They're so damn slow," the boy complained.
        "Yheup," Chris said. "Hey, how's your TV working out?"
        "Someone walked off with it at the last party," he answered glumly.
        "Wow... yeah, that was quite a night. I could hardly sleep at all, though I tried to."
        The boy looked at Chris in a way that indicated that Chris was as square as a simple calculation for area.
        5... 6... 7... 8... 9... 10... 11... 12...
        "Argh! So goddamned slow! Do they think we have all day?!"
        "Yeah, they should probably take all the money that they're using to provide classes and heated and lit buildings and just put it into building an express elevator to your room, right?"
        "Well, duh!"
        13... 14... 15... 16... 17.. ... ding! Chris and the boy boarded the cab. Chris pushed 'P.' The boy pushed '16.'
        17... 16.. ... ding!

        joey sat in his room looking out the window with a pen in his hand, watching the seagulls mill about on the foozeball turf. There was a meaning to be found… but how could it be transcribed onto the page yet still remain an abstraction that looked like meaning for the sake of meaning? It was thoughts like these that consumed his muse – his hobby, his quiet McCain's-Super-Fry-Kid-ian strength. He delicately watched the seagulls in Buddhist-like meditation. But just who was discovering the meaning of life?
        joey's reverie was interrupted by a knock at the door. An ingress. La femme.
        "Mike's not here."
        "I know. I wanted to talk to you." joey pointed his arm and Jen sat down on the couch.
        "What within the realm of infinite possibilities can I do for you?"
        "It's the short story I wrote that we workshopped the other night. It's too-"
        joey reached for his copy of her story left over from the English Artists Society workshop. "What's wrong with it?"
        "It's awful! I can't revise it! I'm embarrassed to even look at it-"
        "Now, now, it wasn't that bad. But a few of your lines…"
        "Oh…" Sotto voce. Anticipation.
        "'"I do so dearly want to fuck you, my sweet angel," said James as he led Angela to his car. Her father smiled proudly.' Well, I remember we said that this was kind of offensive and unrealistic-"
        "Oh, God!" Non-sotto voce.
        "-but as a BA student, you've got to be tougher."
        "Pardon me?"
        "Vacuum up the dredge! Be proud of your industrial sludge! It's part of being an undergrad!"
        "But I can't bear to touch it, it's too terrible-"
        "Now, now. There are some good things about it. Don't you remember Suzarn's critique?"
        "He said he wouldn't have read past the third page!" She started to sob into her hands.
        "Oh… uh, I guess I meant Kelly's critique. But don't worry about their uninspired pronouncements. They don't see the need of window dressing to push up that Microsoft Word count! Just keep telling yourself this: You're an Arts student, and you need to cross the bridge. Feed the troll by building inches!"
        "They just hate me!"
        "No, they don't hate you. They just wanted to read something good, that's all."
        "You're <sniff> mean… You're too horrible!" Jen ran out of the room.
        joey knew that Jen would eventually take his words to the center of her being. She would learn the system given enough time. In fact, she might learn it so well as to become a graduate student. There were so many questions around that had only received a few thousand answers… But in the meantime, there were games to win and parties to attend.

        Chris was in transit from Halifax to Bedford in Claire's mother's car - a beautiful blue 1991 Oldsmobile Ninety-Eight, driving on Provincial Arterial Highway 102 in particular and enjoying the Johann Strauss polka Annen on CBC Radio Two. The car told him that its estimated fuel range was 391 kilometres. He liked cars that talked to him. Ah, the only way to travel for a graduate student.
        He got off the highway at the appropriate point and drove west on Collector Highway 213 until he saw the sign on his right: Clearwater Stables and Trucking Company - Kendra Halfpence, Proprietress. He parked the car in front of the stables, and walked into the barn / house where Kendra and the horses under her care lived.
        Inside, he saw a woman who had to be Kendra sweeping the floor and he saw one horse in a stall. The other horses were probably in the paddock out front. A small radio was operating, and it seemed to be tuned to 780 KHz, CFDR - Kixx Country.
        "Can I help you?" Kendra asked Chris.
        "Oh, I'm just here to clean out Claire's horse's stall."
        "Oh, Rambo! Okay, well, I'll take him out of his stall for you and tie him up just outside here... the pitchfork and sorting fork are over there and the wheelbarrows are around back. I think you saw the manure pile when you came in, right?" Outside, by the car, stood a pile of manure the size of a small two-storey house. "Rambo was in here for a couple of days - he seemed to be feeling a little under the weather until this morning. I'll put him back with the other horses later today. You just come and get me when you're finished. Oh, is Claire doing okay?"
        "Yeah, she's just taking it easy. Well, thanks - I guess I'll get to work."
        Kendra hitched Rambo outside, and then went upstairs to her apartment, leaving Chris to figure out the most efficient way to separate the Timbit-shaped dried horse droppings and the urine-soaked fused bedding from the bedding sawdust that was still clean and loose. It was a painstaking task, and Chris struggled against the radio to play Simon and Garfunkel's "America" back in his head. It took three or for times through the song before he really got the hang of things.

        The car observed all this from its vantage point in the driveway as best it could, considering that the Oldsmobile division of General Motors did not choose to bestow it with any eyes besides the sensor that helped it decide when to switch from the daytime driving lights to the main headlights.
        The car felt airborne hayseed collecting on its body. Argh - it's gonna go through the vents, get all over the upholstery... Claire usually rode her bicycle to the stables, and it wasn't such a complainer, especially if its chain was well-oiled and the cyclometer batteries were relatively fresh.
        Furthermore, Claire's mother's car was usually employed in the service of Claire's mother, a 440-pound behemoth who sunk the car six inches when she got in it, and who used a seatbelt extension. The car did not much care for her, especially in the way that she would ride the brake everywhere, drive through the city streets when she should have taken the highway, and neglect to book oil changes according to the oil life indicator. Why can't people like that boy drive me more often? the car wondered. He had a nice radio station on, for a change. The car felt the imbalance in the seatbelt lengths again. I don't care if my manual says that the GM dealership is pleased to provide seatbelt extensions to the persons of size who need them. I say, if you're that big, you could stand to walk most places!

        "Ms. Halfpence? Ms. Halfpence? I'm done!" Chris shouted about, but there was no sign of Kendra.
        Chris wondered if he could put Rambo back himself. It seemed kind of a shame to just leave him outside.

        Dammit, I think my suspension's still out of whack. I'm gonna try to straighten out again.
        Crap, I can't quite get there. I sense a heavy box on the back seat. The nice boy should have put it in the trunk.
        Oh, double crap. I think I just blew a fuse.

        Chris was free!
        One would need to take a lifetime of exhilarating moments and ball them up into one short moment to appreciate how Chris felt. No restraints! No subjection!
        He used his limbs to carry him swiftly around the barn, cavorting and flailing wildly. Free! Free! Run! Happy! "Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!" he screamed with delight. Joy!
        Kendra heard his screaming and came running out of her apartment. "Chris, are you all right?"
        "Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!" Chris replied, running around in smaller, more exuberant circles.
        "Quiet! You're disturbing my horses!"
        "Just get in your rig and go." Kendra helped him into the car. The Oldsmobile drove itself away.
        "Honestly, some people... Okay, Rambo, I guess I'll put you in the stall now. I think it's going to rain, so I'll just leave you there for the night so you don't feel sick again."

        Something had gone wrong, but Rambo wasn't quite sure what. Suddenly he seemed to have two more legs, plus a much greater field of vision. Plus he was standing in a wooden cell with sawdust that he was probably supposed to sleep on or crap in or both. Outside the building it was raining felis domesticus and canis familiaris and water was spilling down in front of the open doors. Rambo felt as if something was nagging at him. Ah, yes! My thesis! I must get back to wor - oh, crap.
        Once Rambo realized his predicament, he knew that his first priority was to communicate his plight. He correctly guessed that Chris wouldn't be able to tell anyone anything, and that even if he could, he wouldn't want to.
        "Ms. Halfpence!" he tried to shout, but it really came out as "Neiggggghhh!"
        He'd keep trying. "Help, I'm a horse!" he attempted, but it came out as "Neiggggghhh!"
        "Rambo! Quiet down!" came Kendra's shout from upstairs.
        No good. What other ways to communicate were there?

        Kendra awoke in the middle of the night to hear the stamping of hooves below.
        stamp-stamp-stamp STAMP STAMP STAMP stamp-stamp-stamp
        Then silence.
        stamp-stamp-stamp STAMP STAMP STAMP stamp-stamp-stamp
        "What is that horse up to now?"
        stamp-stamp-stamp STAMP STAMP STAMP stamp-stamp-stamp
        "Be quiet, Rambo!"
        Oh, why didn't I learn more Morse Code than S.O.S.? Rambo cried to himself.

        In the morning, Rambo was taken out to a paddock somewhat smaller and set apart from the main paddock which held the rest of the horses, save one grey female who was already in the smaller paddock when he arrived. Rambo was put off by the footing, which was a spongy mixture of mud and manure, but in it, he saw opportunity. Left to himself, he traced a simple message in the mud: HELP IM A HORSE The roughness of the medium did not allow for a discernable apostrophe or exclamation.
        An hour later, Kendra came out to feed everyone. She gave Rambo a nice, fresh bale of hay. The part of Rambo that was Chris didn't really go for hay himself, but that part of Rambo had access to Rambo's acquired tastes. He munched on the exquisitely dry hay while waiting for Kendra to discover-
        "Seth, have you been playing in the paddock again?!"
        No, that wasn't quite what he was going for.
        "You know you're not supposed to be in there! It's dangerous for a little boy like you!"
        Rambo, in an attempt to signal Kendra, walked over to the writing and neighed.
        "I know, I know, Rambo. That Seth gets a little silly sometimes. But don't worry, he won't make fun of you any more."

        Taking an afternoon nap, Rambo was awakened with voices.
        "It's the strangest thing, Kendra. I haven't heard from Chris since yesterday. Are you sure he came down here?"
        "Yes, and he left in your car, but I have no way of knowing where he went."
        Claire! Is that Claire? At last!
        "Well, at least Rambo seems happy to see me."
        Claire! You have to help me!
        "He's been acting kind of funny the last little while, but he hasn't been overly aggressive. But speaking of which-"
        "You have Lydia in there with him, right?"
        "Yes, but I haven't seen him on top of her all morning."
        Oh, no - Claire, I don't want her, I want you!
        "But Lydia's in heat! Rambo, what's wrong? I thought you liked Lydia!" Claire pointed to Lydia, standing a dozen or so feet away, with her ass decidedly aimed in Rambo's direction.
        Rambo shook his head in the negative, rather vigorously.
        "He seems a bit out of sorts. I'd better take him for a ride to clear his head."

        As unhappy Rambo was to be a horse, he was more than pleased to be of service to Claire. While hitching him up, Kendra and Claire remarked that he was more responsive and obedient than ever before. Claire declined to use the saddle, choosing to ride bareback.
        "Let's go up the Pipeline," Claire said to Rambo, indicating a narrow gravel road in the distance. Rambo, anxious to satisfy, rushed off through the trucking company lot as fast as his hooves could carry him. He very much enjoyed the feeling of Claire bouncing up and down on top of him, and hoped that she liked it too.
        "Woah, slow down!" Claire laughed. And he did.
        They trotted through the trucking company, past the abandoned warehouse, over the dairy road, past the fishing ponds, up the Pipeline, through the trees, up the hills, over the mounds, past more ponds and trees, and when Rambo came to the top of one hill, Claire gave what Rambo perceived as the signal to stop. Rambo stopped so quickly that he could have been Claire's own limbs and fingertips. Claire got off and stretched her legs.
        "Wow, you can see all of Bedford from up here," Claire whispered. It was indeed a majestic sight. Several schools, Highway 102, a few parks, lots of trees, many houses, and the in-filling of Moirs Pond were all within easy view.
        Rambo affectionately purred (well, as well as any horse could purr) and rubbed his muzzle against Claire's cheek.
        "What's gotten into you?" Claire wondered. "You used to have such an attitude..."
        "I love you," Rambo said, but it came out as "Neiggggghhh."

        The sky was growing dark when Claire and Rambo returned from their ride. Claire hitched Rambo up in the hall of the stables, amidst the blare of 780 Kixx. Although the restraint wasn't necessary, Rambo liked the idea of Claire hitching him to things. Claire walked over to a supply closet and picked up a coarse brush. She began to brush Rambo down.
        Oh, that feels good...
        Just as Rambo was starting to reach euphoria despite the country music, Kendra came down from her apartment and Claire stopped brushing him.
        "How did it go?"
        "Pretty good. At least he seems healthy."
        "Oh, I still have to give you your receipt from last month. Do you want to come upstairs for a sec, and I'll write it up for you?"
        "Yeah, and I'll bring my chequebook and pay you for this month."
        They went upstairs to the apartment, leaving a half-brushed Rambo to listen to the strains of Shania Twain attempting to carve herself a place in music history.
        The torture continued. Claire did not return from the apartment. One misguided country act after another ricocheted about the stable. Dwight Yoakam, Garth Brooks, George Jones, Nirvana, more Shania... it was more than he could bear! He had to change the station, but the dial was tiny, the radio was against a far wall, and Rambo wasn't tied very close to it. It would be a challenge. He strained with all his might... closer... closer...
        "Man, I feel like a woma-" brzt BZZZT *click* hrrrmmmm MMMMMMM ZZZT ZZZT
        Then, at last, the glorious FM stereo sound of CBC Radio Two flourished about the air. At the moment, they were playing the second movement of Beethoven's ninth symphony. Rambo smiled (well, as well as any horse could smile).

        Claire and Kendra, after getting Claire's account in order, admiring Kendra's kitchen, comparing recipes, going through Seth's baby photos, comparing boyfriends, admiring Kendra's upholstery work, admiring Kendra's bathroom, sharing a pot of tea, and talking about horses, came back down from the apartment to find Rambo grooving to Paul Dukas' "L'apprenti sorcier." Rambo's head was filled with visions from "Fantasia" of poor Mickey finding himself floating on a sea of water from the well, and the sorcerer's inevitable discovery of Mickey's erring.
        "Hey, who changed the radio station!?" Kendra asked the walls. "I had it on 780 for a reason!"
        Back and forth... back and forth... water, water, water...
        ZZZT *click* BZZT BZZZT brzt
        "- and you can tell my heart, my achy breaky heart..."

iv - October, Week II

        At 8:30pm on a dark fall weekday night, several dozen students (including Chris' neighbours, Mike and joey) and a couple of professors crowded into the Private Dining Room just above the base of the Loyola high-rise.
        "Well, if everyone's ready, I'd like to call tonight's emergency meeting of the Saint Mary's Student Resident's Association to order. First on our agenda, the status of Chris Averlo."
        "Uh, Bob, where is Chris? Shouldn't he be here?"
        "Yeah, good point. You'd think he'd-"
        At that point, Chris, guided by his senses, entered the room. He didn't sense that his presence was requested so much as he sensed the donuts and other pastries on tables lining the diagonal wall of the room. Using his hands to prop himself up, he placed his head in a nearby wicker basket and began to consume some apple fritters.
        "Hey, Chris, that's not cool, man."
        "Robert," one woman began, addressing the Chair, "this sort of behaviour is precisely why I have filed my complaint against Chris…" Several diatribes were launched in succession:
        "Chris has no perception of how to behave in a residence environment. He is rude, loud, and aggressive. I cannot sleep with all his neighing and stamping about all night. I can't even get my filler introductions and conclusions written!"
        "I'm the professor helping Chris with his thesis. When he came in yesterday for a progress evaluation, it became clear to me that over the past days he has completely neglected his academic obligations. He has been doing no research whatsoever, and he hasn't been seen in the library for weeks."
        "Sir, I think that's 'cause he got kicked out for eating the books."
        "Nevertheless, his laziness has now merged with an attitude problem. When I asked him why he wasn't working and what he planned to do to rectify the situation, he was unresponsive. Then he urinated on my chair. His disdain of the academic process is most unbecoming for a graduate student of any University."
        "I live on the same floor as Chris. I think Chris should be kicked out because he tried to mate with my girlfriend the other night at the party-"
        This student was hastily interrupted by another. "He just means the small, informal gathering we might have had one evening - as rule-abiding students, we of course don't have parties."
        "Oh, right... the, uh, gathering. Anyway…" A few other people said that their women, too, were put upon by Chris.
        "I live in Vanier, but I was at that particular small, informal gathering, and speaking for the other girls who were there; a lot of us didn't feel comfortable dancing in the vicinity of a naked, smelly guy with caked-on crap all down his legs. He was being very pushy, and he wasn't good about respecting our personal space."
        "I'm a psychology major, and I think Chris exhibits signs of violent, dangerous aggression. How else does one explain all the holes in the wall between his room and his neighbours'?"
        "Corey, I thought those holes were going into Chris' room…"
        Eventually the discussion switched gears to people speaking on Chris' behalf. This segment was notably shorter. Near the end, joey spoke:
        "I think Chris should stay because when he was here, he was a right generous dude. Sure, he might have put a damper on a few of my small, informal gatherings, and he was as square as Wyoming - but I've got no ill feelings towards him. When it came right down to it, he was all right. He'd pass the bowl until it cashed." A tear lit upon joey's eye. "And then it would come around again, like some Formica island of a lost indigenous tribe with only their sad gods minding over the ruins. But those moments could never be special."
        "I'm Chris' RA. I want to make it clear as well, that I have nothing against Chris, and that as a matter of fact I was happy that Chris would awaken me at quarter to four in many a morning, because in doing so he gave me the opportunity to perform my duties. And I agree with joey that he was a good guy, and that he should be allowed to stay. Chris, when he had his own small, informal gatherings, would always make sure I had a girl to play with so that my dutiful RA attentions could be refocused to where they were needed more."
        "Uh... great. Anyone else?"
        Mike wanted to say something, but he felt that he would be better off talking to himself than talking to the group. His opinion, if it mattered, was that Chris should go, but only because of his current behaviour; but he would not tell anyone this, because of his internal conflict of interest. Neither would he presume to tell Jen what she ought to say. Racked with guilt from multiple fronts, Mike felt he had to stand aside and let people who weren't involved determine Chris' fate. He might still have spoken up, though, if it weren't for the RA's desire to bury Chris. The RA had to be kept happy at all costs.
        A strange gnawing sound crossed the meeting table. Looking over their shoulders, it came to the committee's attention that Chris was eating the curtains.
        "I guess that says everything. Shall we take the vote? All in favour..."
        "All opposed? ... The 'ayes' have it. Secretary, please call Campus Security and have Chris escorted off the premises."
        "Where's he gonna stay, though?"
        "Well, that's his problem."

        Claire, responding to Kendra's urgent summons concerning Rambo, jumped off her bicycle and ran into the holding lot of Clearwater Stables where Kendra was standing a few paces back from Claire's beloved horse. Rambo, noticing Claire, tried to trace a letter into the gravel again, but Kendra stopped him by pulling him forward by the bridle. Rambo, frustrated, kicked up his heels.
        "He's been doing this all morning! He keeps trying to paw the ground like he's about to charge, and when I stop him, he just gets angrier!"
        "He seems upset about something. Maybe he's trying to communicate."
        "Funny, that reminds me of something. I read once about this horse in Germany named Clever Hans that everyone thought was intelligent - he answered people's questions by stamping on the ground or pointing to signs or picking out people from the crowd. Then this professor came down to prove that it wasn't intelligent after all."
        "What did he do?" Claire asked, anxious to see if her mother's horse was indeed intelligent.
        "He proved the horse was just reading people's muscle tension by asking the horse questions that he didn't know the answer to himself. For instance, the distance from London to Berlin. Rambo, can you tell us that?"
        Rambo shook his head vigorously.
        "I notice he didn't try to stamp out the answer, though, so this must be different," Claire said. "But can you ask him a question he might know that we don't?"
        "What could he know that we don't know?"
        "Ask him how many mares are in heat today."
        Rambo, growing tired of the game, stamped a 'three,' then tried to write in the gravel again.
        "Augh! Watch it, he's getting aggressive again! Seth, get the tranquilizer gun!"
        "No! He won't hurt me! He likes me, I know he likes me!"
        "Chris? Chris?! That's my boyfriend's name! He is intelligent!"
        Rambo, though more pleased with this than the previous reactions to his attempts to communicate, still wasn't entirely satisfied. To his left, he added I AM.
        "'I am Chris!?'"
        "Oh, what a stupid horse! He can't even spell his own name!"
        "Yeah, he's not Chris, he's Ram- Whoops."

        Claire, sitting in a chair at a table in front of Rambo's stall, got up to feed him some grain out of her hand.
        "So, do I put you back in your body or do I sell you to the Shriner's Circus for a million dollars?"
        Rambo neighed angrily.
        "Oh, Chris, I'm just kidding. I'll make my money selling my box to misguided lovers. But right now, we have to go find Rambo. I tried calling him at Loyola but your residence phone has been disconnected." She hugged his muzzle, then sat down again. "But don't worry, Chris. We'll find him somehow."
        "Rook to g1?"
        "Okay... Oh, look what you've done; you've put me in check."
        Just then, the CBC signature played on the small stable radio. "This is CBC Radio News for four o'clock, I'm Michael Cole. Today at the Bengal Lancers stables on Bell Road in Halifax, twenty-two year old Saint Mary's graduate student… (Tazz, shouldn't that say Dalhousie? No?) Pardon me: Chris Averlo of Bible Hill Nova Scotia was arrested for causing a public disturbance. It's reported that he was running naked through the horse pens, shrieking and screaming, and getting into fights with the stallions. No word yet on whether any charges will be laid. In other news, Douglas Pitcairn of the Dalhousie School of Technology has told fellow scientists and reporters this morning that he has solved the dark matter mystery..."

        "We're glad you came down, Miss. Maybe you can get something out of him. Are you his girlfriend?"
        "Well, yes and no - I'm more his owner, actually."
        "Oh," the officer nodded knowingly. "One of those kinds of relationships."
        "No, no, you don't understand. He's the sort of animal I tie up and ride around on."
        "Real sissy-whipped, is he?"
        "Well, he's my horse!"
        "Now, lady, you don't need to get graphic about it!"
        "No, no, no - look, I have this box, you see, and it lets people switch their consciousnesses between each other. We were going to use it on ourselves, but it malfunctioned when Chris was clearing Rambo's stable, and they switched. This person here is really Rambo, my horse."
        "So that means we have to charge your horse instead of Chris here?"
        "No, please, I don't think anybody has to be charged. Just let me bring him up to Bedford, where my horse is, and I'll run the box again, and then everything will be back to normal."
        "But then who do we press charges against?"

        With some effort, Claire convinced the police to allow Chris into her custody, whom she wrapped in a blanket and drove back to Clearwater Stables. The restoration of Chris and Rambo to their proper selves went without incident, but some complications related to Chris' escapades never quite went away; for instance, for the balance of his time at Saint Mary's, Chris was known to be "Smelly Chris: as square as a mouldy piece of cheese." Claire, meanwhile, was teased by her schoolmates for trading in a boyfriend who really was hung like a horse. And Rambo had acquired a taste for human food that Kendra was not anxious or able to appease, but fortunately, as Chris, he was not exposed to Timbits.
        As for the special box, Saint Mary's claimed it as University Property since it was to be used for Claire's M.Sc. The Faculty of Graduate Studies sold the prototype to Sony of Japan for ten million dollars and gave Claire one quarter-credit towards her graduation.
        Finally, Chris was made to start his MA over from the beginning. The frame lying on his bed that had been waiting for a degree would have to sit empty and unadorned for at least another year. Boy, is SMU ever going to get a nasty e-mail from me, Chris thought as he put the frame back inside his desk. Wasn't his Navigational Philosophy writing vague enough to please the professors yet? Perhaps I should go to New Brunswick and take their MA in Creative Writing – that's got to be the vaguest field there is! 'Course, then I have to move.
        Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed Mike in the corridor. "Hey, Mike!"
        Mike stopped. Nervously, he turned to face Chris.
        "Is it time for a small, informal gathering yet?"
        "Thought you'd never ask. C'mon, I'll get you a beer."

        To escape the capillary-pressurizing thumps of The w00t Gangstas' hit single, "Pointazz of the Linked Lists," Chris walked back into his own darkened room and leaned into his window, which he opened up for the fresh outside air. After a few moments, he was lonely again, and it was also apparent that no one had noticed him leave.
        "Chris?" Someone had noticed.
        "Yeah, joey?"
        "I, uh – I wanted to apologize for not defending you very well at the meeting the other day… I was just tired of seeing you ruin our parties. I'm glad you've mellowed out some. When you were the horse, things were just too Kafka-esque."
        "Are you baked?"
        "Well, yes."
        "Apology accepted. Thank you. There are more important things in life than being irritated with everything."
        "How come you're by yourself? Where's your soulmate?"
        "Oh, she went to Japan to file a patent lawsuit. She'll be back in about twenty-three months."
        "I see." joey, sensing the drop in conversation, left the room to pursue people cheerier, smarter, dressed in pink, and female.
        Chris wondered why such fickle differences in situation depressed him. His imagination couldn't fill in the gaps about where he was headed anymore, now that he was forced to start off from a position not much better than that of a senior BA student. Perhaps he needed more beer, or perhaps…

        Awesome, now I can actually get a job when I finish! Let's go party!
        Sweet, I have a BA already?! I'm outta here!

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