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The Charlatan

Janelle Ward | Poppy Ridsdill

There he is, sitting across from me, finishing an email as I wait and seethe. So what if I was a couple minutes early. What gives him the right to barely acknowledge me and just sit there, typing? But of course I don’t say anything. I’m not an idiot. I know he’s responsible for my thesis grade, and I know exactly how to make sure it’s an A.

I sit with a half smile plastered on my lips, and lean forward slightly to examine the metal shelves he calls his bookcase. I murmur softly to show my approval of his deeply intellectual, double stacked titles. And I overlook his bizarre idea of thesis advising. Every time I ask him for suggestions he just has more questions. You’re supposed to be the expert, buddy. Not that I’m far behind you. You see, I’m almost ready to graduate with my degree in Marketing Management, and this thesis is all that stands in my way. I’m 22 years old. I’ve rocketed through my academic requirements and am almost at the top of my class. I have a 3.9 GPA. The .1 away from perfect, in case you were wondering, is from a horrible speech teacher I had last year. She had it in for me and gave me an A- just to spite me. She screwed up my GPA, but I really gave it to her on the course evaluation. Did you forget, sweetie? The customer is always right.

He finally looks up, dear, gray, Professor Dobbs. His gaze travels past my eyes and focuses somewhere between my eyebrows and my hairline. Weird. If anything, he should be staring at my boobs. I caught him doing that a couple months ago. He was flustered, and I played it demure and embarrassed: the virginal student. Like that actually exists, right? But he bought it — that’s how naïve he is. His embarrassment helped me out — that much is clear. Not that I need a lot of help. My work speaks for itself.

Karen, he begins. This one word is followed by a heavy sigh and a twist of his wristwatch. His cheap, ugly, wristwatch. There’s a problem with your thesis.

Oh? I can hardly believe that. It’s probably the best one he’s seen in 10 years, or however long he’s had this miserable job. Once I finish this thesis, I’ll be out of here. Last week, I went to the Spring Career Days and found so many potential employers. I couldn’t even count all of them if I wanted to. I impressed them with my forceful handshake, my eye contact, and my clear ideas about how to make their company a better place. The woman representing Phillips was particularly captivated. She took my card and said she’d keep me in mind. Of course that’s just a line, because she expects me to call her. That’s how the game is played. But still. Like they need a reminder. I was the cute little redhead with the Gucci suit and the flawlessly filed nails.

But wait, he’s speaking again, Dobbs and his droopy mustached mouth. I’d better look attentive. What’s this he’s saying? The final version of my thesis was run through plagiarism software after he suspected some of the writing was — how shall he put it — a bit too eloquent.

I lean forward, already projecting the right mix of innocence and concern. I’m sure that cleared everything up sir, I say. These ideas are my own blood, sweat and tears. It doesn’t appear that way, he says. Huge chunks of your chapter 2 seem, in large part, to be an exact replica of Johnson’s work from 1997. I shake my head confidently, a smooth explanation rolling off my lips. Johnson was a great influence on my writing, of course. But he simply provided inspiration and was properly cited at appropriate points in the manuscript.

My mom says there are four parameters of stability in life: health, job, home, and relationship. You know what I think? That’s a load of crap. The only thing that matters is how well you’re able to hustle. Getting people to do what you want is all you need. Then everything else will come. Trust me. I’ve had years of experience with this.

What’s this? Professor Dobbs is finally making eye contact with me. He says — as sternly as he can with that weak backbone of his — that I must visit the academic advisor to discuss what will happen next. She’s right down the hall. Just head that way, and you’ll find her, third door on the left. I stand up. I remain confident. This jerk isn’t going to ruin my winning streak. I smile and insist it’s a mistake, and assure him it will all be sorted before next week’s graduation deadline.

What a worthless thesis advisor. The university is paying him to instruct me, so that’s what he should be doing. Well, actually I’m paying him, twice, with my tuition and my tax dollars. I close his office door, turn right and head for the stairs. Academic advisor? I don’t think so. I’m going to call Phillips.

About Janelle Ward

Janelle Ward is a Minnesota native and has spent the last 12 years in the Netherlands, evolving from carnivorous student to vegetarian mama. Her day job is in political communication. She's published a bunch of academic stuff but is most passionate about fiction writing. Her work has been published by The Molotov Cocktail, Litro, and Pure Slush.

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