For Barbara Rubin, who left the story starter line blank…
I stared at the blank document in my hand. The student’s name was in the top left hand corner, as directed by MLA format, followed by my name, the class name, and the date. There was even a title, neatly centered on the next line: Final Essay.
True, MLA did suggest that unique titles are preferred, but other than that, this paper was properly formatted. It was double-spaced with the proper margins. There were even two more pages stapled to it. A quick flip revealed the student’s last name and the page number in the upper right hand corner, but that was all. No other words graced the pages.
Did he really turn in three blank pages for his final essay? I peered closer at the paper. Was the ink in the printer bad? Maybe there were letters there, but in some neglected ink, like yellow or pale pink. I’d gotten my share of blue and red papers, often accompanied by a desperate plea for leniency (“I know it’s not black ink, but my printer ran out, and I thought this was better than not turning anything in!”). I always accepted those papers. I could read them.
But this one…
Maybe the student’s printer had messed up and he hadn’t noticed? That seemed unlikely. It wasn’t like the paper had been in the middle of other papers, the blankness hidden beneath the words of other assignments.
I held it up to the light, wondering if maybe the words would show up with a lighter background. My officemate noticed the motion, head glancing up to watch me. “Checking for a watermark?” she asked with a grin.
I shook my head. “No.” I put the paper back down. “I just don’t know why he would turn in a blank essay.”
Becky turned her full attention to me, face curious. “A student gave you a blank essay?”
I shrugged, holding the paper up to show her. She looked at it. Then back at me. “I thought you said it was blank.”
I shook the paper at her. “It is.”
Now she looked concerned. “Ummmm….no it isn’t.” She scooted her chair over to take a closer look. “Final Essay,” she read. “William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream reveals the foolishness of love…”
I stared at her, incredulous. I took my glasses off, rubbed my eyes, cleaned the lenses, then put them back on. The blank page still stared back at me.
“He seems cheerful,” she commented, voice heavy with sarcasm, eyes scanning words that I couldn’t see. “Isn’t he too young to be quite so jaded about love?”
“I…” I let the words trail off. “Maybe I just need a break from all this grading,” I said, leaving the paper on the top of the pile on my desk.
“Have some more coffee,” Becky suggested, shoving her chair back to her desk and taking up a perch before her laptop again. Her fingers clicked on the mouse, her other hand deftly inputting scores as she graded her online class.
I was about to stand up and take her advice when a bright light caught my eye. It was coming from my desk. I looked at Becky, who didn’t seem to notice anything amiss. When the glow faded, I scooted closer to my desk, staring at the gold flecked letters that had appeared on the paper. The words looked handwritten in bold strokes, and they still seemed to glow around the edges.
I bent closer to read.