Gracelyn Polk sat at her desk in the middle of her world history classroom at Cabbage Junction Primary School. She was fidgety and nervous and chewing on her nails like she knew she shouldn’t. But she couldn’t help it. She hated giving speeches. Hated it so much. She softly sighed. “I’d rather eat tree bark if I had the choice,” she quietly said to herself. The thought bounced around in her head like a pinball, echoing like a steel drum off the sides of her inner skull. She took a deep breath and exhaled. She tapped her papers on the desk to align them neatly, and then got up and walked to the front of the classroom.
She nervously shifted as she stood there, eyes cast downward, which she knew wasn’t the right thing to do when giving a speech. The papers were rattling in her hands. A large green blackboard behind her displayed the words Avoid the Dream in powdery white chalk. She cleared her throat and pushed her hair back away from her face. She glanced toward the windows to quickly see what it was like outside — wishing she was there. Leaves danced in an invisible breeze. The sky looked like aluminum rubbed raw by the hard-working hands of God. The papers containing her speech suddenly slipped from her hands and floated down to the floor in a scrambled mess. She quickly bent down to retrieve them, struggling to get them back in order. Her stomach was sick with embarrassment. She composed herself and tried to stand tall. Her lips trembled as she finally began to speak, but her head was down, and she was simply reading what she had written on the sheets of paper.
“In my quest to make the world a better place, my important invention would be a soda pop aqueduct. To help me with this all-important project, I would conjure up the spirits of Roman engineers as my historic guides.
Roman engineers were very smart and created some of the greatest engineering feats in history — many of which remain to this day. Examples of this would be The Colosseum in Rome, which is in Italy, and one of my favorite places to travel to… Not only for the history, but the cute boys and delicious gelato as well.”
Gracelyn’s laugh that followed was awkward and insincere. It was supposed to be a funny little joke, she thought, but no one was laughing. Inserting a bit of humor into an otherwise tedious speech was supposed to be a good thing, she debated in her seasick head. Wasn’t it? She cleared her throat and quickly bent her head down to continue reading.
“The Imperial Baths of Trier in Germany are another fine example of Roman ingenuity and architectural prowess. They are believed to have been built in the 4th century and are a testament to how important bathing was to the ancient Romans. The site is said to have been capable of hosting thousands of bathers. Eww. I don’t think I’d want that many people with me in my bathtub.”
Again, Gracelyn’s attempt at interjecting humor into her speech was unsuccessful. Her nervousness grew. Her voice became shakier.
“Moving on. My favorite ancient Roman site and the inspiration for my idea for an important invention, is the Pont du Gard in France. The Pont du Gard is a huge three-tiered aqueduct bridge that was used to help transport water in the olden days from the town of Uzès to Nîmes — a distance of about 30 miles to us. The aqueduct dates back to around 19AD. If you’re ever in France, check it out.
The reason I’d want to build a soda pop aqueduct would be so that everyone has equal access to soda pop. I think soda pop is delicious and I’m sure many other people do as well. Soda pop makes me happy, especially in troubled times of personal struggle when I sometimes feel that I just want to throw myself off a cliff… Or the Pont du Gard for that matter. The bottom line is, my invention would bring happiness to all people — regardless of race, sex, age, religion, ethnicity, gender identity or who we love… And isn’t that what we should all be striving for?”
Gracelyn looked up from her papers and her muddied golden eyes slowly scanned the rows of empty desks in the silent classroom. She suddenly felt horribly sick to her stomach, dropped her speech, and dashed out of the room.
Gracelyn ran down the empty, polished hallway lined by orange lockers and bloodied bulletin boards until she reached the girls restroom. She slammed through the doorway and quickly made her way into one of the stalls where she dramatically threw up.
She steadied herself with her hands against the sides of the cold stall, her head bent over the toilet, her mouth dripping. She was breathing so hard, almost like a dog on a sweltering summer day. Tears began to roll down her face as she tried to tamp down the sick feeling inside her. She shakily reached for the flush handle and pushed it down. There was a loud swirling swoosh.
She went out of the stall and to the line of sinks. She turned on the discolored water, filled her hands and splashed it over her face. She forced some into her mouth, rinsed, spit. Gracelyn looked at herself in the cracked mirror and it made her look distorted… “But I am distorted. In so many ways,” she mumbled to herself.
It was silent for a moment, and then someone said from one of the other stalls, “I thought your speech was wonderful.”
TO BE CONTINUED