Karen – page 3
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"Seat thirty-six. Keep your ID handy. The Supervisors will probably check it again." He tapped the box of alcohol rub packets. "Help yourself. Good luck, Karen!"
"Thank you." Mrs. K turned away quickly so he wouldn't see that his friendliness touched her, see how teary trembly she was. Room 101 was filled with long rows of tables and numbered chairs. Seat thirty-six was more or less in the middle, in a shaft of sunlight. Someone was already seated in seat thirty-seven, clipping his fingernails.
He looked up.
She sat down and said, "Hi."
He went back to clipping his nails.
She dug for her reading glasses, arranged them with the pencils, the sharpener, and began estimating how many chairs...fifty or sixty... and how old each person was as he/she entered the room...eighteen, twenty-one, twenty-six at the most.
Number thirty-five arrived. With him, a sweat smell. He was shrimpy, surely no more than fourteen. Her watch said 11:40. She took out the divorce lawyer's list of questions—age, spouse's age, how long married, how many children...numbers, numbers...
The shrimpy fourteen-year-old set out a small clock with numbers too small to read. Her watch said 11:51. A bunch of noisy youngsters filed in, then two couples, then a group of six.
"In six weeks your test marks will arrive in the mail," said the instruction sheet. "Lowest passing score is 120, highest possible score is l80."
The air-conditioned air was filling up with a stale smoke and an underarm deodorant smell she hated. And noise—the cacophony of schoolroom babel pressed on her, closed in around her like a wool blanket at the beach, catapulting her back in time...little lost girl, hot sand, Coney Island striped umbrellas...where oh where did she belong... not here, not there, no umbrella was home with familiar faces, comforting arms.... Sidney's arms...when was the last time...new king-size bed that he'd never slept
in...estimated value of household contents...the china, the wedding silver...
Mrs. K jammed the lawyer's questionnaire back in her purse.
Suddenly there were three young men in white shirts, dark ties, dark pants. One of them rang a bell. The others placed a grey folder in front of each person, while the bell ringer reviewed the rules.
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