Amanda Henderson takes a deep breath, scrutinizing her reflection in the dorm room mirror. The young woman she sees there looks nothing like her, but rather a version of who her professors believe she ought to be. She wears an unimposing blue jewel tone dress, one that goes below the knees and covers her voluptuous chest. Her heels are exactly two inches high and closed-toe (of course). Her legs are trapped in the sensory nightmare that is panty hose, which are scratching at her stubby legs mercilessly. With her hair pulled half up and her makeup simple, she looks both feminine and professional.
It is exam season for the music majors, and Amanda is a freshman vocal student. Today she has her jury, in which she must sing in front of the entire music faculty, who will then decide if she can move on to another year of studying classical voice. They have the final say as to whether or not she can continue pursuing her passion. They also decide if the college continues to pay for her education vis-a-vis the talent scholarship she was awarded before she began her first year.
She looks how every other girl will look today in the music building. No patterns allowed. Not too much jewelry, either. “But do your best to stand out,” they say. This outfit is a striking departure from her usual attire consisting of heavy black eyeliner, ripped jeans, doc martens, and whatever top she can find. Her usual taste be damned, if she wants to exist in the opera world, this is how she must look.
Amanda is on day three of no sleep. As if juries were not already enough to fret about, she also has four other gen-ed classes that require essays and cumulative exams in a single week. Her French and math exams were yesterday (she likely passed one of the two), her paper entitled, “Beethoven’s Fifth and the Surrender of Madrid” is a thousand words from completion, and the written portion of her Music Theory final is this afternoon, following the jury. The theory exam will consist of species one counterpoint, chord identification, and figured bass. Finally, her Piano II assessment is tomorrow, but she hasn’t touched a piano in weeks, since she was so busy preparing for last weekend’s choir concert.
None of that matters at this exact moment, however. When it is time to perform, that is all that matters. In thirty minutes she will walk on stage and stare out at the empty seats of the 900 seat auditorium. Eventually she will notice the panel of her professors sitting in the center of the audience, and greet them kindly. She will hand her music to the pianist, who will then –
Amanda has not printed her music, yet. She completely forgot.
If she walks out for her jury without her music, they will dock her score immediately for lack of preparation. She could lose her scholarship. She would have to move back home and find a different school. One she could afford. This all would be over before she’d even begun.
But that’s ok. This is nothing, and she has time. But she needs to go now. Amanda grabs her backpack off the bunk bed to her right and tosses in her laptop, a bottle of water, and an empty .5” black binder. Thirty minutes. Thirty minutes to run across campus to the library, print out her music, hole-punch it, and go back across campus to get to the music building in time. In January, she won’t need to worry about the suffocating heat, but she knows her lungs will burn trying to run in the crisp air.
Running, right. She takes off her heels, throws those in the backpack as well, and slips on her high tops. Grabs a coat. I need to work out more anyway, she thinks briefly. She takes one tenth of a second to make sure she has everything she needs, grabs the lanyard with her ID on it, and flees the room.
Or, rather, she tries. Only, her roommate Frankie is on the other side, clearly exhausted from a morning exam she’d just taken.
“‘Scuse me,” the roommate croaks, moving at a glacial pace. “Nice…look,” she adds, regarding Amanda’s cocktail dress-tennis shoe ensemble.
Frankie is nice, so Amanda waits patiently as the other girl wanders into the room. The moment she clears the threshold, Amanda runs down the hallway to the elevator.
Down for maintenance – sorry for the inconvenience, a sign reads.
Not a problem. She rams through the door to the stairwell and flies down six flights of stairs. When she pushes the door open, an icy gust of wind takes her breath away. The sun shines bright on freshly fallen snow, and the frigid air feels exhilarating. She feels strangely heroic as she takes off towards the library, her backpack slapping her from behind with every bounce of her step.
No one looks at Amanda twice as she runs – it is finals week, after all. No one is surprised when they see poor souls dashing through the airport, either. The snow has been shoveled from the pavement, replaced with a greenish salt laid down to prevent slipping, for which Amanda is grateful. When she approaches the library, the automatic doors open for her generously.
I’ve got this. Print the music and run, she thinks. She won’t have any time to warm up her voice or vocalize beforehand, but the impromptu running should do enough for her body overall. She trills her lips, making the muted sound of aimless sirens as she finds the nearest available computer.The screen states the time is now T-minus twenty minutes until her jury. She opens her email. Finds the document. Double-sided. Hole-punched. Print.
Amanda once had a professor compare printing in the library to surrendering precious goods into the ether. Her documents are somewhere in that small printer room, now. They’ll be there.
She finds her music on printer 4, hole punched and…cut off. The bottom inch of the music is cut off. The pianist won’t be able to see the left hand of the accompaniment with this music printed this way. It’s unacceptable. She needs to print it again. She looks at the control panel.
Please replace toner.
Amanda has always hated printers.
“NO!” She screams. “God. DAMMIT, FUCK!”
Before she can process what’s happening, her fists begin pounding the little screen and it cracks into three separate pieces. She hits it again. Her knuckles hurt, but she loves it. She kicks the bottom of it repeatedly, wishing she had a baseball bat, thinking about the scene from Office Space where the workers take the printer out into a field and take out all their rage on the vile machine.
That was in 1999, she thinks. Twenty four years later, and we still have to deal with this shit.
A student worker appears in the doorway, an uncomfortable smile on her face.
“Yo…” she says with her palms raised, “Uhh, can I help you?”
“Yeah,” Amanda says, panting, “You can take this to the nearest body of water with me and throw it in, or maybe help construct a small bomb and we can blow it up together. Or, you could replace the toner.”
“I don’t know how to do that.”
“No, of course you don’t,” she seethes. “No one does.” She kicks the printer three more times, then releases such a loud, guttural scream she wonders if she’ll be able to sing after making the sound.
“I have fifteen minutes,” she says, pulling out her phone. “No. I have ten minutes. It’ll take me ten minutes to run over there. This is fucking bullshit.” Her voice increases in volume as she walks back out to the main area. “I pay 70,000 fucking dollars a year to go here, and we can’t have printers that work?”
Someone near her shouts back with a sound of assent.
“We can’t have elevators that work??” She says louder.
“Yeah, what the fuck!” Someone else screams. And all around the large space, people begin to complain at full volume. It feels good to have others join in her wrath.
Amanda walks up to the nearest coffee table and kicks it onto its side, the books on top tumbling off indifferently. The people seated on the surrounding couches look appalled, but eventually begin clapping for her. Phones appear, students capturing the chaos in real time. Amanda doesn’t care that this will go viral, she’s not thinking about her instagram followers. TikTok is the last thing on her mind. Those printers need to burn in hell with all the other fallen angels of every cursed being on the Earth. This is not an overreaction. This is inexorable.
A familiar face cuts through Amanda’s blind rage – a classmate named Daisy who is a junior, and therefore two years older than her.
“Amanda, you have to calm down,” she intones calmly.
“YOU CALM DOWN!” Amanda yells back, wanting to spit.
“No – hey,” she says, reaching her head around to meet Amanda’s eyes. “Tell me what happened.”
“The. Fucking. PRINTERS don’t work for shit and I need the music for my pianist and —”
“NO, this is completely unacceptable. We need to file a formal complaint. We need to hold a protest. A strike. No exams until the facilities work. NO JUSTICE, NO PEACE!” She screams the last phrases at the top of her lungs, and several other students yell with her, if not a little sarcastically. People are covering their mouths, laughing and crying at the outburst.
“Dana is playing for juries today, Amanda!” Daisy screams.
“Whoopdeedoo!” Amanda counters. “Yay, Dana! Pianist extraordinaire!! She must be really good!!”
“Jesus Christ,” Daisy grabs her colleague’s shoulders and levels her with a look. “Dana uses an ipad to play music.”
Amanda’s vision clears, but her heart is still pounding down into her fingertips. That’s why she never printed out the music. Because her pianist doesn’t need it, because she already has it downloaded onto her ipad. These days, paper music in a binder is nearly obsolete.
She swallows, feeling the sensation of Daisy’s fingers digging into her shoulders, lowers her chin in a slow nod, and backs away.
“That makes sense,” she says stupidly.
“When is your jury?” Daisy asks.
Amanda checks her phone. “Five minutes.”
“They’re always running behind schedule. You probably have at least ten. Where’s your shit?”
Amanda nods again, turning around. She lost herself a little bit in the panic of her ire, but eventually she locates her stuff and runs to meet Daisy by the door. On her way out, she passes several disgruntled librarians who do not seem terribly amused with Amanda’s outburst. She regrets everything. She was bound to crack, and she did. Everyone saw.
“Forget it,” Daisy says, reading Amanda well. “Just go, little freshman.” She pats Amanda on the shoulder. “Fly like the wind. You got this.”
Amanda whimpers her thanks, making a mental note to somehow thank Daisy later. Or maybe avoid her forever, to forget this ever happened. Hands gripping the straps of her canvas backpack, she steels herself and takes a deep breath. And then she’s off, the thwap thwap thwap of her backpack accenting her frantic run like a broken metronome.
At the doors to the music building, she grabs a nearby wall and wheezes to catch her breath in the freezing cold. She knows she looks hysterical.
“This is important to me,” she says aloud, and walks into the building.
“Henderson?” She hears someone call.
“Me!” She yells, pulling her heels out of the backpack and somehow sipping her water bottle in the same movement. “Yes, I’m here!”
“Are you ready?” The woman asks.
“Oh.” She nods vigorously, then declares, “Absolutely.”