The rubber glove stretched across her mouth and nose did a good job of preventing Marina Cooke from breathing. A snake of fear coiled inside her gut as she realized that. She tried to calm the snake. It’s okay, she told it, this is how it’s supposed to be.
Yoshiro Nakamatsu, an eccentric Japanese man who claimed to have invented more things than Thomas Edison, had figured out that his best ideas came to him when he was near drowning. He invented an underwater pen and notepad, then spent his creative moments at the bottom of a pool, according to what Marina had read online.
Anything to get air, the brain said to itself, or so Marina supposed. Marina didn’t have access to a swimming pool or underwater pen and notepad. She had her laptop and a rubber glove she’d sliced down the middle. She stretched the glove across her mouth and nose, around her head and hooked the two sides together at the back with a clasp made from bent staples.
It was pathetic and stupid and she would have died of embarrassment if anyone had seen her. But her room mate Natalie was out on one of her many dates and Marina was desperate.
That day in class she’d wiggled an extension out of her professor for the term paper she claimed needed a final editing. The truth was that the term paper didn’t exist yet.
Deadlines make us do dumb things. Wine coolers make us do dumb things. Term papers were dumb.
She was timing herself. Sixty seconds without air and hopefully with inspiration. She’d do it maybe five times. Then she’d throw out the rubber glove and pretend this never happened.
The first sixty seconds lasted forever. NO ideas came to her. When the alarm went she had trouble unhooking the mask. Panic clawed at her insides. Right in that moment, when her fingers fumbled with the clasp, she almost thought she had an idea. But then the mask came free and she breathed glorious air and the idea vanished.
She waited for her breathing to calm. Checked Facebook.
Natalie was on a date with a guy she’d met online. Unfortunately for the guy, Natalie liked to live post everything he did, charming or creepy, mostly creepy. But she hadn’t posted anything yet.
So Marina took a deep breath and stretch the rubber glove back over her mouth and nose.
The fear wasn’t so much a snake now as a little worm wiggling back and forth, a worm that told her this was stupid beyond belief and dangerous and she should take the F on the paper and move on with her life.
Apart from that, no ideas came to her. She took off the mask without trouble when the alarm went and checked her Facebook.
Natalie had posted: “Guy I’m with tonight says he turned down an internship with NASA. Pretty certain that’s a pile of horse crap.”
Marina snorted. She wished she could be out having fun instead of in here trying to do this paper. Two more times, Marina told herself. Then I’ll take the F.
The next time, she caught an idea at thirty-five seconds. She began typing. It was brilliant. Absolutely wonderful. The alarm went but she wanted to finish her thought so she kept typing.
Finally she took off the rubber glove and read over what she’d written. It was a very solid opening. Her thesis kicked serious ass. This was amazing. She could do this for all her papers.
Should stop now, Marina thought. I have the thesis. I know what my arguments are. I can rough them in. Tell Dr. Barron my computer ate my final draft and all I had was this old version.
She checked her Facebook. Natalie had posted: “Guy I’m with is asking Siri to randomly choose what he should order off the menu. Who does that?”
I didn’t know you could, Marina thought. She looked at the clock. Seventy minutes until the deadline. She’d just written a hundred and fifty words in like a minute and a half. She might be able to nail this thing.
So she pulled the rubber glove across her face again.
This time the conclusion came to her. It was a brilliant, lucid piece of writing. It was as if someone else had written it. She was kind of worried reading it back that Dr. Barron might think she’d plagiarized it. She should use this beginning and conclusion, fill in the rest with her remaining time in point form and say that this was her outline. She’d get at least a D. That was so much better than an F.
Natalie had posted to Facebook: “Guy I’m with ordered the spiciest dish they make here and is now in tears and can’t stop hiccupping. That’s what happens when you let your phone make your decisions for you, Mr. I turned down an internship with NASA. Going to cut my losses and call this a night.”
Once more, Marina told herself. Then this glove is going into the trash. No buts. Natalie is going to get back soon and I would never live this down.
This time, everything came to her. The essay body spilled out and she wrote as if she were taking dictation. Rhetorical forms she could not name appeared in each paragraph. Her sentences were perfectly balanced, her reasoning flawless.
She was aware of the alarm dinging, dinging, dinging. But she ignored it. She continued typing. This essay was going to be amazing.
The world narrowed down so that it was her fingers and the keyboard. She wasn’t even aware of the throb in her chest. The snake of fear that had become a worm of fear had been banished entirely. Then her fingers disappeared. Everything disappeared. But the essay was great.
Marina became aware of Natalie slapping her in the face. She opened her eyes and saw her roommate, a concerned and incredulous look on her face.
"oh, shit, Marina thought. I past out. Oh, shit," Natalie’s seen what an idiot I am. The actual mature smart part of her brain told her she was the luckiest person in the world at this moment. She didn’t feel that way. She closed her eyes again and pretended to be dead.
"I saw you open your eyes," Natalie said. "You’re fine. Say something. Say that you’re fine."
"I’m fine," Marina said.
"What the fuck were you doing?"
"Writing a term paper."
"Sure," Natalie didn’t believe her. Natalie probably thought Marina had some kind of kink about holding her breath.
"I’ll show you," Marina said. "I wrote some really good stuff."
She clicked the mouse on her laptop and brought up the document. Natalie read aloud over her shoulder: “The reason Shakespeare is so widely-known as a writer today, even though he lived over four centuries ago, is that his plays were really awesome."
Marina stared. "No," she said. "No. That’s not what I wrote. What I wrote was amazing. I don’t understand. Where’d it go?”
Marina explained all about the brain getting inspired when it was starved for oxygen. "It comes up with anything to get air," she said. "Your unconscious mind takes over."
"Comes up with anything?" Natalie asked, raising an eyebrow.
"I’d really written some amazing things. Maybe it’s in a different file."
"Or maybe your unconscious brain decided to trick your conscious brain," Natalie said. "It wanted to breathe. You wanted to write a great essay. So it told you you’d written a good essay so that you’d let it breathe."
"Oh," Marina said. "I guess that was kind of smart."
"I don’t think we can call any part of this experiment smart," Natalie said. She was typing on her phone. Marina had a terrible premonition.
""Probably not," Marina agreed. "I just got so stressed. It was the only thing I could think of."
"You should do what I do," Natalie said. "Put your phone on record. Take a long shower, and dictate what you want to say in your essay. Works every time."
"Sounds better than my idea," Marina said.
"Your idea was stupid," Natalie said.
“You’re not posting about it?” Marina pleaded. “You can’t. Put your phone down.” Marina tried to grab her roommate’s phone.
Natalie set her phone on the desk. It buzzed. “Relax,” she said. “I was just texting this guy back. I think we’re going to do a second date.”
“Your posts all seemed to say he was pretty dumb,” marina said.
“Yeah,” Natalie said, “but all things are relative.”