SQUEEZED LIKE LEMONS
Jenny Thirsten slid further down in her seat. The heat raced up her neck and burned at her ears. A ducking of her forehead allowed her auburn bangs to pull up like blinds over her hazel eyes.
She had purposefully placed her registration form on top of the pile and she hoped against hope that a terrible mistake was being made.
The name on the board announced clearly that this module on geriatric care would be taught by Ms. Smith and at first everyone had been tolerant when the octogenarian shuffled through the door and flumped down at the desk.
The patience didn’t last long.
No matter how long Ms. Smith squinted at the forms featuring the honor role students ‘the aging professor' could not seem to focus. Deep set eyes under droopy lids peered desperately across the gaggle of perfectly groomed future MDs hoping for a response. A shaky left hand fished inside a desk drawer without success.
Seeing no movement or acknowledgement, her silver haystack hung in despair over the paper that now lay pinned to the ancient oak desk. The padded shoulders on the old gingham cloth disguised the trembling bony structure that supported the withering matriarch.
Jenny could feel as much as hear the wavelets of giggles sweeping through the sea of bodies that now pressed in from behind. Her stomach knotted tighter than she’d ever experienced before. Her heart seemed to imitate a pretzel and shut off her blood supply. The room began to sway. That was all before Ms. Smith tried again.
“Zenny... Penny... Maybe Lenny.”
Jenny knew that if she were an old tea kettle she’d already be whistling. She couldn’t decide who she was going to forgive less. Herself for choosing the front row to impress an unknown teacher; her mother for being a doctor who couldn’t write legibly enough to write her own daughter's name; or her peers for having the gall to relish her humiliation. Cut throat – no question about it.
The wrinkles around the bulbous nose and fern like eye-brows attempted to refocus pupils which would not function. “Maybe we’ll try someone else. I seem to have lost my glasses.”
A nudge into her spine made Jenny stiffen. The whisper was clear. “Henny is it? Looks like the little old red hen better forget medical school and head straight for the old hen’s house. Henny, I’ll make sure the rest of us take good care of you.”
Francis Colins. Number two. Always a fraction of a grade point behind her. Merciless rival for every chance to throw Jenny off her game. Some things never changed.
Ms. Smith planted her forearms on the desk and pushed up to her feet. She stood disoriented and before she could stop herself Jenny was at her side steadying the dizzy senior. One of the 'students' from the back of the room moved quickly up to join her and then began to clap.
Ms. Smith straightened a little and smiled, shook the hand of the one who had applauded and then proceeded to shuffle out of the classroom. Every eye followed her progress until she disappeared from view.
At the front of the classroom the applauder turned to the class and announced. “Class, I’m Ms. Smith. That was Maggie and she’s just reminded you why you’re here. I can see already that we have a lot of work to do.”
The applauder looked like a fitness instructor ready for a gala dinner. No one had noticed her secluded in the back corner as everyone entered. She turned to Jenny and put out her hand.
“You were the first to jump to Maggie’s side and for that you will be remembered. But you also knew that she was desperately trying to read your name and you refused to jump to her side in that moment. When you worry about your own reputation more than you worry about helping someone who needs you then you are not yet ready to be a doctor. Take your seat.”
Crossing her arms, Ms. Smith rested against her oak desk and scanned the class with a disarming smile. “As for the rest of you. Despite what Jenny did, unlike many of you, not once did she laugh at Maggie or mock her efforts. When you mock those very persons whom you are sent to help you mock much more than you know. Maggie is my mother. Every senior is someone’s mother. Don’t forget.”
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