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Student Learning

by Erik Weiss

Part 1 appears
in this issue.

Don missed our meeting, but he did call me. “Hey man, I haven’t had any blackouts, or whatever. No dry crotch or watery eyes either.” He deteriorated into helpless laughter at that and I thought that Missy’s Mom might have been sharing the LSD.

Week five came and Missy looked even worse than the previous week. Her hair was a mess and the dimples on the front of her shirt told me that she didn’t bother to put on a bra before leaving the house.

“Still not sleeping?” I asked. She said no.

“Did you try a sleeping pill?” I asked.

“Mom won’t let me,” she pouted. Always pouting.

“We’re having a party this weekend at the frat house,” I told her. “You should come; it’ll make you feel better.”

She looked up at that but made no reply. I asked her my list of questions, walked her to the door, and reminded her again of the party. “Saturday night!”

I went to my Sociology class that day. I had to, there was a report due. I don’t remember what it was about, to be honest, I had one of the freshmen write it for me and I never bothered to read it. I got an A.

I saw Don at five. He seemed to have his wits about him for once. “Who’s the girl crying out in the hallway?” he asked.

“What girl?” I had no idea what he was talking about; I wondered if it was a hallucination.

“Little blonde,” he held his hand chest-high to show how tall she was, “with a nice ass.”

“No idea,” I responded, “any cotton mouth this week?” He just grinned.

Saturday night was a blast. We went through several kegs of beer, not to mention all of the mixed drinks. There were girls everywhere and the night was young. The great thing about Concord College is that it isn’t quite big enough to support a football team, but it still draws a huge party crowd. Without the football players, we baseball stars only have to compete with the basketball and soccer guys for popularity, and there aren’t so many of them.

I was drunk, really drunk, and was making out with a sophomore on the back porch. Benny came out and broke us up. I was pissed. Just as I was about to round third, here comes my dumb-ass friend mumbling something about a girl wanting to see me. He was drunker than I was.

The moment was ruined so I followed Benny around to the front of the house where Missy stood beside the bushes. Benny just stood there watching her. She looked much the same as she did during our meeting on Tuesday, though the dark circles under her eyes were much more noticeable.

I slapped Benny on the head and told him to go get me a beer. Catchers are all morons.

“I can’t stop shaking,” she mumbled. I had to lean in real close to hear her.

Her arms were crossed under her breast like she was hugging herself, and I saw that she was trembling. For the first time since I began this ridiculous study, I was a little worried. “Have you slept?” I asked.

“Not much,” she said.

Her eyes were pleading and I couldn’t look away, I felt a sudden stab of sympathy for her. Sure, she signed up for the study, but to suffer like this for three hundred dollars seemed foolish.

“Three more days,” I told her. “Three more days and you can stop taking the drug, the study will be over, and everything will go back to normal.”

I saw a look of terror cross her face and I thought the light of sanity had left her eyes. She shrieked at me, her voice a high keening wail that silenced the rowdy party going on inside.

“Three days!” She was panting, her small body heaving with each breath as she sucked in great gulps of air. “I can’t do this for three more days!” She was still shrieking.

I took a step closer to her and put my hands on her shoulders. I had no idea what to say to her, but I wanted her to stop making too much noise. There must have been a hundred people standing in the front yard watching us now. My buddies were nudging each other and making obscene comments about my love life. They didn’t know that she was a part of the study.

“I feel like I’m going to explode!” She screamed again.

“C’mon, let’s go inside and get a drink, you’ll feel better.” I was trying to calm her down.

She slapped my hands away from her shoulders and let out a wordless scream; a high-pitched shriek that was filled with the agony and pain that the poor girl could not find a way to let go of.

She left then, running off into the night. I couldn’t stop her... or maybe I didn’t try. All I know is that she was still making a weak-sounding, whining noise that seemed to pierce the night. The sound trailed away as she fled, then faded away completely.

My buddies just stood there in the yard for a long moment, their mouths open in apparent shock. Slowly everyone filed back into the house, but the party never picked back up and gradually everyone left.

Missy didn’t show up on Tuesday and I never heard from her. I sent Janelle an email explaining that Missy was a no-show, and then I went to Sociology for an incredibly boring lecture. I remember feeling slightly guilty, though I have no idea what I might have done to help the poor girl.

My session with Don was predictable and I signed his certificate stating that he had successfully completed the study. I wondered how much weed he could buy for three hundred dollars.

* * *

Dr. Moure has that sly smile on her face again. Her dress has crept up slightly and to my delight she has not bothered to make an adjustment.

“She’s fine now,” I look up into her face, not realizing until then that my gaze had drifted. “Spent two days in the hospital and now she’s fine.”


“So what is your conclusion, Mr. Laux?” she asks me.

“Conclusion? I think it is obvious that this drug has more severe side effects than we anticipated.” I wonder what the point in all this is. If acne medicine is going to cause a psychotic episode, I think I would rather have the zits.

She slides a folder across the low table. “We learn a great deal from these studies, Mr. Laux; not all of it related to the drug itself.”

I give her a curious look before picking up the folder. I flip it open to find the master file for my study. It has some detailed information about my two subjects, then more about the drug itself and the dose administered. I stop as I read the detail and my gaze darts to her delicate face, still fixed with that mocking smile.

“How can this be?” I ask her. “This can’t be right.” I’m more than a little surprised at what I read in the master file.

The smile vanishes from her lips and she repeats the question in a stern voice I’ve not heard from her before. “What is your conclusion Mr. Laux?”

“I, uh...”

“Did you just say UHH?” she snaps.

“I mean, how is this possible?” I stammer.

She stands and her skirt slides down to a very respectable length before she strolls around behind her desk. “Things are not always as they appear, Mr. Laux. A lesson you had better learn if you plan to do anything with your life other than play Division Two baseball for a small-town school.”

I am shocked.

Dr Moure continues, “Missy has been taking sugar pills for the past six weeks, Mr. Laux. Don has been taking the acne medication and he has apparently shown no adverse side effects.”

“But how...”

Again she interrupts me. “She expected to have side effects, Mr. Laux, and her mother perpetuated the thought. The suggestion was strong enough that her body generated very real symptoms to a nonexistent drug.”

I hang my head. What an ass, duped by a psychological anomaly. “So what now?” I ask.

“Now?” She shrugs slightly. “You filled out the reports and other documentation well enough to earn a passing grade.”

I breathe a sigh of relief.

“If...” she continues.


“You can tell me what you’ve learned from this experiment.”

My mind is scrambling for an answer, I learned that Don’s tangled mop of hair holds the scent of weed rather well, but I don’t say that to her.

“The next time I will consider that there might be something going on besides what is in the case file,” I reluctantly concede.

Janelle nods her head and holds her hand out for the file, which I hand over. “I’ll finalize your score this afternoon.”

I stand up and walk to the door. As I turn the knob and prepare to leave she stops me.

“One more thing, Matt,” I turn and see that she has produced a piece of paper from her desktop. “This is Missy’s certificate of completion for the study. Since she missed her last session with you, she couldn’t get your signature. You’ll need to sign it in order for her to receive the payment through the business department.”

I hesitate for a moment and a puzzled look crossed her fine-boned face. She reaches across and lays the paper on the edge of the desk for me to sign and crosses her legs again, watching me.

I shrug my shoulders and give her a smart-ass, lopsided smirk; one that I hope is as infuriating to her as the constant, semi-seductive smiles have been to me all quarter long. “Missy didn’t show up for our last meeting, which means that she didn’t successfully complete the study.”

She opens her mouth to protest, but that is as far as she gets, I step out into the hall and pull the door shut behind me, finished with my senior project.

Copyright © 2009 by Erik Weiss

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