“…So, in conclusion, the current literature on the irrigation systems employed by Sumerian farmers around 1700 BCE has underestimated the importance of the smoothing effects of shod oxen’s trampling efforts, exaggerating the efficacy of the eight-tier furrow system, which, while important, in no way accounts for the shitty fart turd man — ”
Red-faced and breathless, the speaker blinks at the words. He finds an audience blinking back at him. The speaker tugs at his collar and his clip-on tie falls off.
“Excuse me. There, ah, seems to be a misprint.”
Washed up on stage, the man is too dry to spin it as a joke, and after two clearings of the throat and three attempts to restart the sentence, as if jumpstarting an impotent car, it is too obvious that he hasn’t memorised the words. He excuses himself off-stage to the sound of a single pair of hands clapping hesitantly, just once, before stopping. A woman witnessing this disaster slowly recedes further off-stage, hiding herself, shoes showing, behind the red velvet of backstage curtains, until she hears him finally marching away. Both know very well that she’s the one who wrote that research speech for him. She stayed up till 5 AM to do so, after he sent her an urgent email at 11 PM. And, simply enough, in the dead of night, what’s on anyone’s mind worms itself through social filters and splats down on print like a ladleful of gruel (thankfully, she’d fallen asleep before any real expletives came to mind).
She treads carefully in escape, passing a number of pencil-biting and nervous-ticked colleagues and curmudgeons waiting for their turn to prove they have the most interesting thing to say tonight, about, for instance, the influences of Sapphic poetry on the formation of the Hellenic league, a re-examination of the names for coloured dyes middle chronology Mesopotamia employed, and other grab-bag attempts at classicist relevance and what-have-yous. Academia is a ship sinking in an ocean of sweat, and it smells just as muffled.
Finally, the woman sees the land-ho of her predicament. The humming green of the emergency sign and the hurrying figure, presumably leaving in the same manner any other does. A symbol of universal danger, though it is never shown what this nameless runner is running from. A beast, a fire, an army? That’s too specific, isn’t it — these are things you could possibly face and fight and defeat. So, what else to run from but himself? The figure is a sign is the signifier — and he won’t be safe even when he’s left, because, paradoxical to his own existence, he is required to remain in danger. Which is more or less what happens to the woman, who finds herself staring at the disgraced professor.