The Grammar Games literary review


(with apologies to JoJo Magno)

[Somewhere in the Colosseum, Day 36]

After the onslaught of fracking induced earthquakes, heavenly rumbles, and gargantuan statues stomping all over the arena, the Colosseum’s maintenance crew was working double overtime trying to patch up the cracked walls and prevent any more ticketless intruders from trying to score free food and swag in the VIP sections. The Emperor did not like the complaints from his box holders and negative Yelp reviews, so he was determined to restore order and profitability, not necessarily in that order.

There was a particularly large opening in the wall next to one of the vomitoria. S Lynn Knight, the crew supervisor, looked down at the mess in front of them, and commented:

if “vomiting” is all someone can do in such a moment, I say get it out as long as you’re not fouling someone else’s shoes with it.

Sherry Caris replied, “doesn’t anyone f*cking speak Latin around here? This is an exit, not a rest room.”

John Ward, busy pencilling a diagram that look more like a D&D tower than a wall repair, was on his cell phone asking “Bob? What about Bob?”

The Bosha looked at John’s plans, rotating them in every which way and gave a thumbs up, saying:

“I still have no idea what this is but I support it wholeheartedly.”

Ayesha Talib Wissanji, looking over his shoulder added:

A stroke of brilliance here…

Sherry looked up and saw what looked like a homeless man walking toward them and said “hey, you can’t come in here without a ticket. You need to go back outside with the unwashed masses. But if you do, I’ll bring you a grilled cheese sandwich.”

It turned out to be Beau Johnson, the stadium engineer, who asked “Do I look homeless? What is it with people? I came to inspect the progress the crew has made on this wall repair.”

Sherry giggled and said “never mind.”

A huge argument ensued over whether there should be an inverted turret at street level, leaving a generous space for unauthorized people to crawl into the stadium and who would use a row of uncovered toilets standing freely in the middle of a stadium entrance.

Medium engineering at its finest.

Meanwhile, ignored by the arguing repair crew, a professor dressed in a ninja toga entered the Colosseum as she typed into her iPad. She was so engrossed in the story she was writing, she didn’t seem to be aware that she was walking into the chaos of the battle:

[click, click, click]…

A furtive, masked figure stole into the arena. It was clear that she Did Not Belong — for one thing, her followers number 50, not 500, but since this is Rome and we haven’t figured out what zeroes mean yet, who can tell the difference?
Roman Math: V x C = ?
She wore no identifying labels, but whispers were soon heard on the periphery of the main contest. She was known as the Widow Queen™ (“Suffering in Silence Since 2013”).

In the Roger Ebert memorial VIP box, a group of film critics noticed the professor walking through a hail of sharpened pencils, paper clips and virtual flame throwers.

Critic 1, from Cahiers du Cinéma, whispered in an unintelligible French accent:

What is she doing here? Surely she doesn’t belong.

Critic 2, from the American Film Institute whispered:

Sometimes her lips appear to be moving, but nothing audible emerges. Is she just muttering to herself?

Critic 3, a Rotten Tomatoes online critic from upstate New York, yelled: “why are we f*cking whispering? We’re surrounded by 100,000 screaming fanatics and there are no subtitles.”

Critic 1 lit a Gitane and shouted back:

Do we suppose that what she says seems funny to her, but not to anyone else?

Critic 2 replied, “Is this not symbolic of profound buddhist meditations? What is the sound of one lip moving? If a punch line falls in a crowded stadium but no one laughs, was it really a joke?

Critic 1 replied: “Perhaps she demonstrates the paradox of the individual’s blissful ignorance in the middle of a cruel, absurd, and arbitrary universe, non?

Critic 3 added: “I could really use a hot dog. Where the hell are the stadium vendors when you need them? This is what I call an existential crisis…”

The professor continued typing:

Who knows how many would be insulted, if they could only hear the whispers of the Widow.

Critic 1 took a sip from his demitasse and declared “She cannot express her true self openly. This is obviously a metaphor to the toxic climate of political correctness in Ancient Rome, n’est ce pas?

Critic 2 was losing patience. “She does nothing, and nothing is happening to her. Where is the catharsis? Where is the epiphany? Where is the denouement?”

Critic 3 said “I keep thinking about Schenectady…”

Critic 2 replied “It’s a synecdoche, you country bumpkin.”

Critic 3 laughed at his pompous colleague, “I hooked up with this hot teacher in upstate New York and I can’t wait to blow this joint and be done with you pansies so I can get back to her… in Schenectady.”

Back on the field of battle, the virtual click-click-click on the virtual keyboard continued at a furious pace, a fevered attempt by the Widow Queen to get it all down before something went down:

Ungloved, her hands were stained with newspaper print, chalk dust, black freckles of dry-erase. Across her bare arms appeared a thousand inserted semi-colons, each carved into the flesh with the crusty red point of a Waterman pen, like bloody teardrops, like silent scarlet winks.
A roar filled the air overhead. Something like a white cloud, swirled in black and peppered in red, was descending onto the arena.
She glanced skyward, squinting, startled.

The crowd and the competitors grew quiet, wondering what new horror would be unleashed by the arbitrary powers that be, which usually sounded like James Earl Jones.

They were student essays. Her student essays.
She did rapid calculation. Figure approximately 45 students a semester, for 27 semesters. That’s — shit, one of the students borrowed the calculator. Something near 1300. Rounding. About four papers per student. That’s — even harder without a calculator. Rounding. 5,000.
Five thousand corrected papers were coming home to roost.

Gutbloom, freshly escaped from the piñata inside the dungeon otherwise know as the Media Content Lab, ran to the aid of the unarmed professor-outlaw-ninja, opening his umbrella, while launching into a powerful Shakespearean-ish soliloquy:

For I have read the droll and written dreck
I beseech thee, foul essays, “gay aveck”*

To beard, or not to beard that is the question:
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous whiskers
Or to take arms against a sea of stubble,
And by opposing end them.
To die- to sleep-
To sleep- perchance to dream: of shaving cream?
Ay, there’s the rub of it!

The crowd cheered wildly, but his heroic efforts were for naught, as the karmic essays were joined by the rejected writings of the crowd, 100,000 strong, creating a tornado of tissue that no one — not even the mighty Gutbloom — could resist. The explosive force of this monsoon of manuscripts threw him to the side with multiple paper cuts and descended mercilessly upon the Widow Queen.

Most of them were stapled poorly, hurriedly, so the curved staple-ends project from the backs like ten thousand miniature scimitars. Most had coffee-stains and dog-hair on them. The air filled with the dander, the caffeine, the blood, the sweat, the tears.

While the orchestra filled the air with Blood, Sweat & Tears:

Critic 1 broke off the end of a fresh baguette, and between bites declared, “mon dieu, how ironic! She was making a joke, but the joke was literally on her.”

Critc 2 applauded and cheered “ Ahhh, a simile to bring a smile to me. She was as attached to her work as it is now attached to her. Now there’s a deus ex machina that will stick with me for a long time!”

Critic 3 finished his review on his smart phone: “Incomprehensible monologue. No character arc. Gratuitously violent ending, like the death of a thousand cuts, only with staples. I give it a 10.”

A final whisper emerged from beneath the white and black and red cloud.
“It…was…funny…in my head.”

The crowd voiced its agony, “No! We want to hear the joke…”

The heavens rumbled and a voice that sounded eerily similar to James Earl Jones finally interceded, saying

“You ain’t dyin’ honey, not on my watch.”

Sirens filled the air, and the arena’s medical team rushed out onto the field, and set up an IV of green heart plasma somewhere in the mass of student essays. The papers were finally removed and her wounds were treated with care. The two paramedics, Nizoca and Charles Frank, laid on a stretcher and she carried them off the field toward the Emperor’s box (or something like that — got to watch that dyslexia).

The Emperor stood up and addressed the crowd:

“Let us honor this valiant outlaw, for she has shown great courage!”

The crowd cheered and serendaded her with hearts as well as Heart:

And that made the Widow Queen feel much better, for she was no longer a prisoner of doubt.

The paramedics carried her toward the med station inside the arena, and as she passed by, the Emperor leaned over and whispered “get well soon, my dear, I have a job for someone with your talents.”

As the stretcher left the sunlight and entered the bowels of the arena, the Widow Queen heard the Emperor say to his henchmen “as soon as she gets out of the sick bay, take her down to the Media Content Lab with all the writers. She’ll be a perfect editor.”

Far above the earth, a communications satellite picked up a signal, a single word emanating from the dark underbelly of the Colosseum…


(To be continued. Can we even kill this thing now? Who will take up the clarion call next? Lurkers of the world, accept the challenge while you still have a chance to fight back!)

*Yiddish for “go away.”

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