As I Lay Dying (Taking This Standardized Test) – A Faulknerian, Stream-of-Unconsciousness Summary of Five Sections of the ACT

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Darl

Jewel and I come down the hall and although I am a few feet head of him, anyone watching us from the end of the hall can see Jewel’s frayed trucker hat a full head above my own.

Cora

So I got out fresh batteries and checked my TI-84 calculator today. We depend a lot on our calculators. They are good machines considering they use batteries. Dead batteries can break u a math section of the ACT quicker than anything.

Darl

The administrator and the proctor are standing at the door. The administrator is tilting his clipboard holding it outdrawn between thumb and finger. They look across the hall and put their coffee cups to their lips and drink. “Where’s all the students?”

Jewel

It’s because he stands there, right next to his locker, combing his hair and letting all the girls droll over him saying See. See how cool my hair looks. I told him to go somewhere else.

Darl

We watch the administrator look around the hallway. He does not look at us. “You ready?” he says. “If you’re ready,” I say. I say “Wait.” He stops looking at the proctor. He pulls a sip of coffee with decorous and deliberate precision into his mouth. The proctor rubs his balding head. He is gazing out beyond the window of the building beyond the football field, out across the campus. Jewel watches him a moment, then he goes on to the water fountain and drinks.

Cora

It was the sweetest thing I ever saw. He was texting his mother, I think. I always said Darl was different from those others. I always said he was the only one of them who had his mother’s nature.

Dewey Dell

The first time me and Lafe took the test in another building. Pa dassent read books because he just watches TV. And I usually just make weird observations cause no one believes that I can be smart.

Tull

Anse keeps on rubbing his knees. What the hell is wrong with his knees? “No one mislikes tests more than me,” he says. “A fellows got to guess on so many questions,” I say. “But it will all be over sometime in the afternoon.”

Anse

Durn this test. And lunch is been pushed out for another hour. I can sit here and same as see my lunch with a second sight. I do the best I can, much as I can get my mind on anything, but durn I’m hungry already.

Darl

He has been hanging out with that girl: the back of his neck is trimmed close, with some of that gel in his hair like a frozen wave. He has not once looked at anyone. “Jewel,” I say. Back straightened between the two rows of desks placed exactly four feet apart per ACT instruction manual. “Do you know you are going to bomb this test, Jewel?”

Peabody

When the principal finally sent for me to proctor, I said “He has wore out all the other PTSA volunteers.” And I said that is a blessed shame.

Darl

Someone’s Pa stands beside the water fountain. Why the hell is his Pa here at school? Oh, Vardaman peers from behind him. He forgot to get on the bus. Dewey sees him; all her failing grades appear to drain into her eyes, urgent, irremediable. “I need lunch money,” Dewey Dell says.

Vardaman

The I begin to run to the testing room. I run toward the end of the hall and come to the door and stop. Then I begin to sweat. I can feel my hands like clammy fish and the blood is rushing to my head.

Dewey Dell

This test could do so much for me if it just would. It could do everything for me. It’s like everything in the world for me is inside the pages of a standardized test. I am about to throw up my guts.

Vardaman

When we finish the test they are going to make us sit here for a long time. I saw Cash stand up and go whirling away to his bookbag. “Do you have an extra soft lead No. 2 pencil, Cash? Cash? Cash?” I got up. I said, “Do you have an extra pencil, Cash?”

Tull

It was already five minutes into first period before we could even think about starting to pass out the materials. It has been a misdoubtful morning. Buses were late. What does “misdoubtful” mean? I have hours of staring at kids to think about that.

Darl

The eraser sits on the desk. Rugged, used, its cracked side smeared on one side with a soaring smudge of graphite, it sheds a feeble and sultry glare upon the pencil and the adjacent extra pencil. Upon the dark desk, the grains of fake wood look like random smears of wrong answers on past standardized tests. The math portion is first. Seal torn. Calculator ready. Thirty-five minutes to complete.

Cash

I look at the problem. 1. There are more variables than I realized. 2. There is twice the nuber of integers on one side of equation. 3. I could use a drink of water. 4. In an equation, there has to be a solution that you can come by if you do the math correctly and go in the proper order. 5. People like math. 6. Except. 7. Me 8. Animal magnetism. 9. Animal magnetism is not helping me with this math problem. 10. Someone can do math and show how the earth sinks on a bevel. 11. What the hell is a bevel? 12. So I multiplied each side by zero. 13. Problem solved.

Vardaman

The sandwich in my lunch bag is tuna fish.

Tull

It was ten o’clock when I got back from my first bathroom break, and the classroom was in the middle of the math section. They were still using their calculators and I found one solitary eraser on the floor next to the first desk on the third row. The anxiety in the room was rising like a swelled river after a large thunderstorm.

Darl

“It’s not your brain that’s dead, Jewel,” I say. He sits erect in his seat, leaning a little forward, wooden-backed. His head is beading with sweat and dripping down his wooden face. I hope I didn’t say that out loud. It would mean a misadministration.

Cash

It won’t balance. If you want the equation to work out and be balanced, I have to – “Multiply each side by zero! Dammit!” “I’m telling you it won’t balance unless.” “Multiply! Multiply! Damn your thin-nosed soul to hell, multiply!” I am speaking to myself. Hopefully not out loud.

Darl

Cash looks weird. Almost reminds me of that quote in a Faulkner novel that talks about that guy’s face when “the blood goes in waves. In between them his flesh is greenish looking, about that smooth, thick, pale green of cow’s cud; his face suffocated, furious, his lip lifted upon his teeth.” “Multiply! You thin-nosed soul!” Does Cash know we can hear him? And why does he think that multiplying each side by zero solves everything in math? He better shut up or we’ll have a misadministration.

Vardaman

We are going on a break after this section. Dewey Dell says that it won’t get easier. Even Santa Claus failed the ACT. And I will have to take it again next Christmas.

Darl

He goes on toward the bathroom during the break. Dewey Dell carries something in one hand. It’s a twinkie. They still make those? In the other is her bottle of water. Her face is calm and sullen, her eyes brooding and alert. Makes me wish I brought a snack for break.

Anse

I told those guys not to talk during the test. My ma would not like me talking when I wasn’t supposed to talk. Makes it sound like they don’t care. Now we are on break and they are prancing along like circus animals and Darl is even laughing. And he’s all alone. How many times I told him if he’s doing such things as that that makes folks talk about him.

Darl

He goes back into the class room real fast, yet we have five more minutes of break time. That makes me laugh out loud. Why is Anse looking at me like that?

Anse

This is a hard test for a guy who hates school. It’s hard. Five hours of mind sweat. And I hate sweating.

Samson

Why am I in the room with these people? Why can my last name not begin with “B” like the Bundren boys?

Dewey Dell

The administrator said there was five minutes left in this section. That’s five minutes closer to the writing section of the test. And I write good. Now it’s less than five minutes.

Tull

After they began the writing section, I began to walk about and looped up the rows of desks. That’s what a proctor does. They was all sitting all antsy in their desks. Anse Bundren was sitting there looking out the window just day dreaming. Probably about not doing any work since he never did any class work either from what I can tell.

Darl

He sits in his desk, glaring at that other kid who makes really good grades, his lean face crinkled up to and beyond the cold frigidity of his eyes. Last school year when he was a sophomore, he took to sleeping in class. One morning when we were doing our journal entries, I heard the teacher go to his desk and call his name. When he woke up he looked at the teacher, grimaced, and then put his head down again.

Tull

So we finally got Anse that newly sharpened #2 soft lead pencil, and he is now starting to write a response to the writing prompt. If he keeps putting off his school work, he will find himself back here again next year. As for me, I am waiting to keel over because I know that I will be back here in two months proctoring the EOC’s.

Darl

Before me the thick dark current of thought runs. It talks to me in a murmur become endless and whispery, the great ideas rumbling gigantically into swirls of sentences along the surface of the paper, the pencil mapping my every thought, profound and significant, as if everything that runs through my mind was pure stream of unconscious literature. I think I am talking out loud.

Vardaman

Cash tried to tell Darl to shutup and Darl just mumbling aloud and I trying to tell Darl in his mind to shutup and Deewey Dell doing the same thing and then looking at me Vardaman, you Vardaman you Vardaman and the administrator passed me because he was seeing that she was looking at me weird and she stated to write again.

Tull

When I told Vernon how Darl was talking out loud during the writing portion of the test and Cash trying to tell him to not let his inner monologue come out of his mouth, and Jewel almost leaving his seat to smack both of them for disturbing his thought process while outlining a response for the prompt, I thought, “Why am I here?”

Darl

Cash is mouthing something to me, his head raised like a meerkat. His eyes are semi-closed, his face is red, his hair plastered with gel in a smooth smear across his forehead as though he was hiding an already receding hairline. His face appears depressed a little. He’s still probably trying to work out some math problem.

Cash

Damn math equation didn’t balance on both sides.

Cora

One day we were talking. She had always been the smartest in the class, but my grades were better, even after last school year. Mr. Whitfield kept telling her she should apply herself, singled her out and pushed her to take more AP classes, and I said to her many a time, “God gave you brains to overcome your plain looks and for a token of His own suffering and love you conceived and bore them.” I said that because she didn’t apply herself like she should have, but I still wanted to be the one with the highest grades in class.

Addie

God, I am so glad that I didn’t go to school today and take that test with all of those dirty snuffling nosed dorks. Instead of going to school I went down to the river where I could sit and be quiet and hate them. I could just remember how my father used to say the reason to take a standardized test is to get ready to take another one.

Whitfield

When the attendance report said that she was absent, all that morning I wrestled with anger, and I emerged victorious. I woke to the enormity of my fault; I saw the true light at last, and I went on about my day and told myself that if Addie doesn’t want a chance to get a national scholarship then it was her deal. But standardized tests are very important to me as the principal. That’s how I am measured.

Darl

Cash looks like he is about to vomit. He always does when he takes long tests.

Armstid

When is lunch? Someone has tuna. I smell it.

Vardaman

Now there are five sections to this test, all taking over thirty minutes. “Look, Darl,” I say; “see?” He looks up with an inquisitive yet constipated look. “I thought there were only four sections.”

Moseley

I happened to look up, and saw that she was looking toward me. Not really at me, and not looking at anything in particular; just looking there with her turned this way and her eyes full on something and kind of blank too, like she was waiting for something. When I looked up again she was writing in her answer booklet.

Darl

Here’s a good place for a transition in my written response. We could ass some more adjectives here and lots of commas. I am speaking out loud again, aren’t I?

Vardaman

Darl and Jewel and Dewey Dell and I are taking a standardized test, in school. Jewel went to the bathroom. He came back and go tin his seat. He was still working. Jewel doesn’t have any eraser left on his pencil. Jewel is my classmate. Cash is my classmate. Cash vomits during long tests. Smells like Vardaman’s lunch bag.

Darl

“Jewel,” I say, “You done with your written response?” The other people in the classroom look up. Is it because I am speaking out loud again?

Vardaman

She as sitting at her desk and Darl looks up and seems to ask her something. I put my ear close and I can hear her speaking back. Only I can’t tell what she is saying.

Darl

Against the dark doorway the test administrator seems to materialize out of the darkness, lean as a feral cat surprised by a possum. He steps toward me with an expression of furious unbelief. He may have heard me talking and his eyes swim with a glare of two small torches. I should probably shutup.

Vardaman

When some of the others start to put their heads down on the desk, I see that Darl is still trying to get someone else’s attention. He has started to tear apart his answer booklet, the markings of graphite on the paper will not be scanned now.

Darl

We have been testing for some time now: the math problems, the reading passages, the writing prompt, the science questions, and the grammar, and my mind is fried, becoming more starkly unstable. Three minutes. Two minutes. Until we get to stop, but the administrator is coming over toward me and taking my answer sheet and booklet from me. Something about a misadministration because of talking too loud.

Cash

It wasn’t nothing else to do. It was either send him to ISS or let him keep on talking out loud during a test. How did he not know that we could all hear him? Even Vardaman was like, “Shut up, man!”

Peabody

I had to do something to shut him up. I be damned if he causes all of these kids to retake the ACT. That would mean that I would have to administer it again.

MacGowan

I wonder if Dewey Dell will go to prom with me?

Vardaman

Now the test is over, but my tuna sandwich doesn’t look as good anymore and the lunch room has already closed. Darl has been taken out to go to in-school suspension. Darl is my friend. He won’t be alone because he can talk to himself.

Darl

Darl has gone to ISS. They put him in Trailer 10, laughing, down the pathway laughing, the heads of the other students turning like the heads of owls when he passed. “What are you looking at?” I said. “Damn right I’m talking about myself in the third person.”

Dewey Dell

When he saw my lunch bag I said, “Thi is not my lunch, it doesn’t belong to me.” “Whose is it, then?” “It’s Vardaman’s. Smells awful. Don’t you touch it. It’s not mine.”

Cash

So when we stopped taking the test we returned all of the borrowed pencils and heard the announcement over the speakers in the classroom. So when everything was done, Anse says, “I reckon I better go get some lunch.” We thought he was going straight to the cafeteria.

“It’s a chicken biscuit and some fries and a pepsi and a candy bar,” Anse says when he gets back from Bojangles after sneaking off campus to get some food. “And no, I ain’t sharing,” he said smiling and showing his teeth.

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