For the Record
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Hi, Johnny. Hi, Gina. Thanks for meeting me early on a Wednesday morning. We’re all busy, so I do thank you for making the time. Sorry for the messy office. End of semester chaos. Anyway, I’m guessing you already know why I asked you to come in, but for the record, for legal purposes, let me explain. Look, I know the two of you are lovebirds. I may be your professor…I may be old, but my eyes still work. I see you both around campus, in the dining hall. On the quad. And…you know…I think that’s wonderful. I mean, in general. I’m not spying. It’s just that, well, you’re two attractive young people and you both catch the eye. Young love is a beautiful thing. It really is. I met my first wife…did you know…when I was in college. Not that, gosh, not that I’m saying you’ll get married or, for that matter, divorced, but simply that partnership is an important part of the college experience. It’s all about growing up, isn’t it? Experience? Sorry, I’m getting off topic. Let me recalibrate. Would either of you like a mint? No? OK. Look, I know one of you…well…you may think I don’t notice things, but I do. I do notice things, and I noticed that the two of you handed in pretty much the same paper last week. Now…now, maybe because you’re in different sections you thought I wouldn’t catch it, but my eyes still work. I’ve been doing this for a long time. And I have to say that, well, that I’m disappointed. I really am. Look, these two paragraphs here. Yes, a few words are different, but the cadence, the information, the structure: it’s all the same. And…here’s another example. ‘The ideas set forth by Heller, particularly those involving personal integrity, help define the novel.’ ‘Heller’s ideas of personal integrity, as well as others, help define the novel.’ Do you see? Do you see what I’m saying? My eyes still work. Look, this is clearly plagiarism. That’s…that’s nothing to take…lightly, you know? And in a line about personal integrity, no less. Gosh, I mean, did you think I wouldn’t notice? The two of you always feeding each other in the dining hall? And before you try to say you’re merely on the same wavelength, that you just happened to come up with the same paper, let me tell you, I…I know that…just don’t try that. Look, the last time I had a pair try that excuse, I sat them in a classroom and said, ‘Here, write a new paper right now about the same topic.’ And you know what happened? What happened Gina was they didn’t write the same thing, and then one of them started crying and it was a whole big scene. And nobody benefits from lies like that. Nobody wants a whole big scene. So even though you’re…lovers, you need to know that you can’t get away with this kind of cheating. You sure you don’t want a mint? No? Look, what has to happen is that one of you needs to come clean. Because we can do this two ways. Either both of you say nothing and I give you both zeroes and report both of you to the Academic Integrity office, or one of you falls on your sword and says, ‘It was me. I copied so-and-so’s paper’ and takes the F. And before either of you talk, let me say something. Um. Look, Johnny…just about every time, the guy says he did it even if he didn’t, because he’s trying to look good for his girl. I get it. I really do. I…understand that. But remember that this F is going to stay on your permanent record forever. Remember that. And Gina, I know young women often use their…well, I know that women often…attractive women…look, if you’re the cheater, you shouldn’t let Johnny here take the blame. It just shouldn’t happen. Be…be honest, OK? So here’s what we’re going to do: you’re going to take these pencils…and these little pieces of paper…and you’re going to write either ‘it was me’ or ‘it wasn’t me.’ Understand? And I don’t want you looking at each other. Just look at me and the pieces of paper. OK? Take a mint and calm yourself. They’re quite good, see? Think hard. When you’re done, flip the paper over and hand it back to me. Gosh, I know this isn’t easy to do. But we can’t allow cheating. Where would we be if we let students get away with dishonesty? One of my oldest memories…long ago…is of my mother telling me cheaters never prosper. A long time ago. Done? OK, so let’s see what you both had to say. Well, one of you decided to be brave. I commend you. I really do, because nine times out of ten I end up failing both. But— I’m happy that— That—
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Bah! Yes…Yes…Yes. I’m fine now. That…was…my…oh…my, that was…embarrassing, wasn’t it? I…I thank you both for assisting me. Goodness…gosh…well. Who would have thought? A mint. You know, of course you wouldn’t know…but…but my uncle choked to death on a piece of steak. He was alone. My father found him the next day. I was seven. Gosh. What a horrible way to go, I imagine. Good thing…I’m glad the two of you are here right now. Otherwise…gosh, I don’t even. For a moment, I saw…well, the darkness…yes, it was covering both of your faces. My. Goodness. It was as if you…were both being smudged out of existence. Black spots everywhere. Gosh. Yes, water, thank you. Thank you, Gina. Ah, that’s much better. Well, that felt like some kind of sign, didn’t it? I am not one to rely on religion or superstition, but when you start seeing black tunnels…it makes you think. I suppose I should cut back on my sweets. I will clean this up and throw the lot in the rubbish. What a moment we’ve shared. Three people…it isn’t every day that a professor and a pair of students…gosh, what a morning. I can only imagine the stories we’ll all tell. Goodness. What a morning. What a way to start a day. But…well…I suppose we must get back to business. I have class in a few minutes. No time to waste. It looks like only one of you lovebirds will fail, and the other…well, we’ll have to punish you for assisting in the plagiarism, as well. Yes, we have shared an extraordinary moment, but that does not negate the purpose of our meeting today. You both look at me as if I transformed into a fish, yet I must punish the wrongdoer. Not as severely, of course, but still. Gosh, did you save me because…because, you thought it would change my mind? Is that what humanity is to the both of you? That I would be saved by such an attractive couple and say, ‘My word, I must now bow to their beauty and greatness’? Is that what life is to the two of you as you sneak into each other’s dorms in the middle of the night? Have we become so irresponsible that past actions mean nothing to your generation? Has this become a question of who owes what to whom? Because if so, gosh, you owe me honesty, first and foremost. You owe me the decency of completing projects without using each other to cheat. If you had been honest, we wouldn’t be here today. You…people…always think you’re above punishment. Oh, Johnny and Gina are heroes for saving their poor professor’s life. Is that it? Look…you do not have any legs to stand on here. I have the evidence, and the tape. Do you think I enjoy this? That I relish the extra paperwork associated with plagiarism? While you canoodle in the back of the auditorium? That I know students care so little about their education? And…and to plagiarize a line about personal integrity! That takes the cake, my friends. That takes the cake. Please sit, Johnny. Are you leaving? Ah, so you’re abandoning ship, is it? You too, young lady? Giving in? Walking away from your troubles. It must be easy. The two of you can’t be separated, of course. Tell me, what is it that you really want in this life? When you look to your future, what is it you want? Fame? Wealth? A system where you can act without consequence? Let me tell you…you are not above reprimand. I hear you talk. None of you are better than me. You will also grow old. I promise. Goodbye, then. See you in class! Best of luck with finals. Pathetic…truly pathetic. Gosh…oh…look at this mess.
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Benjamin Woodard is a full-time adjunct who teaches English and Creative Writing in Connecticut. His recent fiction has appeared in SmokeLong Quarterly, CRAFT, Best Microfictions 2019, and others. His nonfiction and criticism has appeared in Barrelhouse, Words Without Borders, Kenyon Review Online, and others. Find him on Twitter at @woodardwriter.