SEEING THROUGH STUFF
In seventh grade Loretta invented X-ray glasses for Mrs. Spirrow's science class. Part of the big end-of-the-year project, it was technically a group effort. Raymond Henderson, Loretta's partner, came over twice "to help" and spent the entire time picking lint out of the family's dryer and various corners of the attic. Still, he received the same B-minus as Loretta, who had worked very hard.
The paper explaining the project was Raymond's sole responsibility. He, of course, did not finish the paper until the last minute (hence the B-minus) citing a slew of recent photo shoots and magazine interviews as an excuse, which Loretta found totally inadequate. Who cares about some stupid ball of lint, anyway?
In her family room Loretta sat in the high-backed throne chair, dangling her feet above the blue carpeting and avoiding the woeful gaze of her disappointed father. Sighing deeply, his elbow propped on the love seat's polished oak arm (with, as always, a silk handkerchief between his elbow and the wood, preventing the transfer of potentially finish-damaging oils to the arm of the loveseat, which was expensive and matched the blue shade of the carpet exactly). Loretta's father told her that he was very disappointed, referring to the completely un-Loretta-like B-minus on her big end-of-the-year science project.
Loretta could have explained that most of the fault lay with Raymond Henderson, but that would be making excuses, which practice Loretta's father has never tolerated and he was certainly disappointed enough in Loretta as it was. Of course, she wouldn't even have had to make any excuses if her father had read the copy of the paper Raymond had written, which is pretty much as follows, only the spelling errors have been corrected. (Loretta's number one, beat all, bite-through-every-layer-of-skin-and-grind-the-bloody-bone-on-the-chalkboard pet peeve is improper spelling.)
Seeing Through Stuff
One night before the project was due, around 7:30, Loretta's doorbell rang and there stood Raymond pulling a crumpled sheet of notebook paper from the crooked pocket of his corduroy pants. Loretta grabbed the front door's frame and its week-old coat of ultra-bright white stain-resistant paint for support. The gnarled, jagged, frayed teeth still hung from the edge of the paper where it had been torn from the notebook. (Loretta's number-two-but-tagging-closely-behind-number-one, jaws-snapping-at-its-heels, mouth-covered-with-the-foam-of-bloodlust pet peeve is notebook paper without clean edges.)
A short-of-breath Raymond shoved the paper into Loretta's tense and trembling hands. Years of training jerked her panic-stricken lips into an automatic smile.
"Bet you thought, bet you thought I wasn't gonna finish it, huh? Bet so, right?"
Loretta laughed politely, "Ha."
"It's good. Read it. It's real good."
A quick scan. Loretta already knew. Should have known. The awning spun and twirled above her like a bright red umbrella. Bad. This was bad. Should have seen this coming.
"I know huh? It's real good. I like this part. Look. I say, 'What kind of glasses?' like a question and you read it and you don't know but then I say, 'not sunglasses' so it's pretty funny at the same time. Pretty good huh?"
Staring warmly into Raymond's earnestly simple face, its boyish twitch the charmer of mothers nationwide, Loretta undoubtedly said some very polite thing in response. She saw nothing. All was black. Out of the black she saw things, faint at first, then growing larger, their edges crisper. And loud. Screaming.
"Failure!" they screamed in the whorish hack of a lonely 40-year-old woman who spent all night in highway bars by the motels, hoping to find lonely business men, having once searched for a dazzling Prince Charming in khakis and a software company's logo-emblazoned polo shirt, settling now for a few hours of affection to dull the ache of the jagged teeth she felt constantly tearing through the inside of her mouth.
Where had she gone wrong? Oh, she would always remember. To take it all back. If only. She should have seen it. Should have seen it coming.
From the very top of her head Loretta wrote the explanatory paper to accompany the glasses, which turned out awful. Her mother would joke that her sweet little daughter, bless her heart, needed at least ten three-by-five index cards before writing out so much as a grocery list.
Loretta, armed with her aluminum pull cart, had done most of the family's grocery shopping since about age nine. With the large, red-handled scissors and the newspaper, she had created a compartmentalized coupon folder, one section for each aisle. Occasionally, Loretta could be found at her father's drafting table, diligently drawing and labeling a map of the aisles and plotting various graphs all in a search for routes which would provide maximum efficiency and saving potential.
Having flown through a far too hasty rough outline, one she would have no time to revise, Loretta saw the future. While watching her future Loretta fell off her red rotating swivel chair and lay unconscious beneath her desk where she lay twitching slightly, her foot bumping against a diorama of a self-cleaning park made during Earth Week in the second grade. The diorama sustained no real damage but the blue first-place ribbon was knocked to the floor.
After seeing the future, which took several hours, Loretta rewrote the paper, no rough draft, which explained, poorly, the general scientific notions from which the X-ray glasses had been derived.
Basically, explained Loretta, "X-ray glasses" happened to be a bit of a misnomer, as no actual X-rays were used -- they would better be described as "probability glasses." A tiny microchip implanted in the glasses' poster-board frames calculated every possible thing which could exist on the other side of an opaque object and created an image of the most likely one. Anticipating the argument that the glasses could not be 100 percent accurate, Loretta took a cue from quantum physics, which uses probability clouds to determine the placement of subatomic particles, and told her teacher that in the postmodern scientific world certainty was only approachable, never entirely attainable.
In what she felt was a very touching concession to Raymond Henderson's feeble-minded enthusiasm, Loretta named the paper, "Sunglasses? No, X-Ray Glasses!" Writing the paper, Loretta tried to reassure herself that the future she had seen was only the most probable one, that anything could happen. Not surprisingly it was small comfort, given the topics involved in her paper and the forces at work in the world that, in spite of her best intentions, would shuttle her off to an assistant editorship at a mid-level newspaper where her thought-provoking columns on scientific precepts and their applications to everyday life would be cut and mangled and often not even run at all while every single breath from Raymond Henderson, hometown boy and curator of the ever-growing, self-made, Guinness Book of World Records certified, largest ball of lint would be photographed and documented with painstaking regard to detail.
Smiles, cheers, applause and approval. Headlines reading, "Hometown Boy Makes Good!" while Loretta is forgotten by most everyone, including Mrs. Spirrow, her seventh grade science teacher, who after receiving a pair of X-Ray glasses and a thrown-together explanatory paper went home and said to her husband, "All this faith in statistics in number -- I may love science but not at the cost of humanity." She pulled out her red grading pen and asked, "Where is God in our schools?"
C.T. Ballentine lives and writes in Chicago. He puts out the zine Aftercrossword Special.