The Muse

(Or How I Learned to Love Invasive Words)

Dude, that woman could talk—Mrs. Fletcher, I mean. Talk, talk, talk! She talked like a talkative man about anything and everything. I should know because I was in her third period Advanced Mathematics class. Now I don’t know about the mathematics as much as I know about Mrs. Fletcher. I know that she is forty-three years old (her birthday being the same day as Napoleon’s), that she has been divorced for six years (her husband being an emotionally distant, philandering SOB), that she has three children (all girls, thank goodness, so they did not inherit their father’s cheating ways), that she has four siblings (she being the only one to go to college on a swimming scholarship), and that of all the teachers on campus, she is the only one who drives a Renault (having bargained with the dealer for the best deal anyone who has ever bought a Renault has gotten.) Yes, Mrs. Fletcher can talk.

It’s that way all during third period. She talks so much it’s hard to understand the math. She asks a lot of questions but she either answers the questions herself or makes the questions too simple to answer. Now when a teacher asks a really easy question in an Advanced Mathematics class it’s either because she thinks the students are a bunch of morons so she has to spoon feed them or it’s because the question is really hard and when you give the obvious but wrong answer you look like a moron. Like when she asked about the exponential function.

“Okay, everyone,” she said, “Is the exponential function odd or even?”

I knew right away that it was neither, but just to make sure, I tested it. When no one answered, she then showed us a graph of the function on the overhead. Obviously, it was neither. But still not one student dared to speak up. I knew that I was not going to say anything. None of us would say anything. We all knew it was a trick to make us look stupid.

Then Mrs. Fletcher began to talk to us about what it means for a function to be odd and what its graph looks like and what the graph of an even function looks like.

“An odd function is a function that is symmetrical to the…what”, she said, pointing to the origin of the axes.

“Origin?” someone responded.

“Right, the origin. Now does this function go through the origin?”

“Uh, no?”

“Exactly. This function does not go through the origin. So if it doesn’t go through the origin, can it be symmetrical to origin?”

There were a few tense moments of silence before someone volunteered.

“No?”

“Right again. So if the function does not go through the origin and is not symmetrical to the origin, then the function cannot be what type of function?”

“Odd?”

“Excellent! Now getting back to our original question. Is an exponential function an odd or an even function?”

It’s neither, you jerk! I wanted to shout. Why are you torturing us with a trick question? Finally, after several more minutes of Mrs. Fletcher’s questioning, some poor girl in the back finally broke under the pressure.

“Mrs. Fletcher, isn’t it neither? It’s not odd or even, isn’t it?”

Mrs. Fletcher beamed and raised her hand in the air

“High five, sister,” she said, making her way over to the unfortunate student for the obligatory hand slap. “Everyone, Mai has gotten the answer. Let’s give her a round of applause.”

I clapped twice and sat there fuming. It was my answer. I had it all along but couldn’t bring myself to say it because it was too obvious. This is an advanced math class, right? Shouldn’t the questions be hard to understand? Shouldn’t the answers not be so obvious?   Like I said, Mrs. Fletcher talks a lot and with all her talk has managed to make us all dull and stupid. I hate this class. I wanted to transfer to another teacher but my counselor said my schedule didn’t have an opening unless I wanted to drop Theater Movement. No way would I give up my favorite class so I decided to suffer through Mrs. Fletcher’s third period Advanced Mathematics. Then something amazing happened.

The next day, Mrs. Fletcher introduced a new topic, “The Null Hypothesis,” with the following scenario:

A produce manager at a supermarket wanted to know if he should stock more apples or bananas in order to market to women. He took a survey of one hundred fifty customers one day, sixty men and ninety women. Of the sixty men, fifteen preferred apples and forty-five preferred bananas. Of the ninety women, seventy-two preferred apples and eighteen preferred bananas.

As soon as Mrs. Fletcher began speaking, I adjusted the expression on my face, got myself comfortable, and let my mind wander. I just emptied my mind of all coherent thought and relaxed into sort of a trance. Then, as Mrs. Fletcher droned on, I had a vision.

In my vision I saw a large room filled with apples and bananas. The room was in the shape of a barn and there was music playing. The apples and bananas seemed to be dancing together in the center of the room while the rest of the fruit clapped in time to the music. It was a colorful sight of red, green and yellow swirling shapes and wonderful sounds. Suddenly the music stopped and there was a great silence. Then all of the apples and bananas ran about wildly and flung themselves into four large bins.   After much shuffling and jostling the fruit settled down and began calling out, in sweet, tiny voices.

“Eighteen apples here!”

“Fifteen bananas all here!”

“Here we go, forty-five bananas!”

“All seventy-two apples accounted for!”

The little fruits seemed pleased with their efforts and were patting each other on the back and shaking hands. So preoccupied were they with their congratulations, it took them several minutes to notice the shadow of a large knife snaking its way into the room. At the shadow’s approach, the sounds of laughter died away and the apples and bananas beheld with apprehension the outline of the knife in the doorway.

“THIS IS NOT WHAT I EXPECTED!” the knife roared. With that, it began scattering the fruit in the bins, hacking and stabbing and forcing the apples and bananas to jump from bin to bin. At length, the knife seemed satisfied and grimly observed the fruit cowering in the bins.

“Now,” it said, “account for yourselves.”

The apples and bananas hesitated a moment as they looked over their numbers in the bins. In thin, reedy voices, they called out.

“Th-thirty-eight bananas here.”

“Twenty-five bananas here.”

“Fifty-four, uh, no… make that, fifty-three apples here”.

“Thirty-four apples here.”

The knife stalked back and forth between the bins. It paused and snatched one apple and one banana from the bins.

“THIS IS STILL NOT WHAT I EXPECTED!” it cried. And with that, the knife hacked at the apple and the banana until they were in two pieces. It then flung the pieces back into the bins. “Now account for yourselves.”

The fruit was in shock. They gathered the broken pieces of their comrades in tender arms and whispered in cracked voices.

“Thirty-seven point eight bananas here.”

“Twenty-five point two bananas here.”

“Fifty-two point two apples here.”

“Thirty-four point eight apples here.”

The knife slowly nodded. “This is what I expected. It makes a difference.”

The bell rang, signaling the end of class. I sat at my desk, stunned, while my fellow students scrambled for the door. The fragments of the vision swirled and vanished like passing smoke. I looked down at my frequency table; it slowly dawned on me that I knew exactly what the null hypothesis was. I smiled as I gathered my things and left the room.

Later, that evening, the vision remained close at hand while I did the homework Mrs. Fletcher had assigned. It was easy. Everything about the null hypothesis made sense. Well, that’s one lesson down, I thought. Only a million more ‘til the end of the semester.

Terrible Minds Writing Challenge: Invasive

 

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