An Undergraduate Literary Journal from UW-Milwaukee

Skinny Mind

by Ben Paplham

Livana concentrated on the card levitating inches in front of her eyes. The card depicted a banana with the inside curve open to the right, and the upper tip showing the smallest hint of a seam. That’s where she focused her imagination. The peel unfurls—down—the card face like a melting painting—the cream-colored, soft fruit underneath—Picture a crack, Liv. One side at a time. Down—top to bottom—peel—picture it. Picture—

“Miss Evans. You’re thinking about it the wrong way.” A steel-edged voice broke through Livana’s concentration. The card flew out of her line of vision, replaced with Professor Telven sitting across the sleek, glass countertop desk. “Try again.”

“I’m trying.” Livana growled, resisting the urge to pluck the card from the air and fling it in the instructor’s face.

“Really?” The card floated toward Professor Telven, and she pinched it as if it might sprout wings and fly away from her wiry fingers. “Then that is very disappointing.”

Livana looked away in disgust, searching for anything to catch her interest, so long as it wasn’t named “Professor Telven.” Though that would be hard to do. Ironically, despite being an Object Transference master, when it came to her office, Professor Telven practiced extreme minimalism. It was as though she was trying to blind any guests with whiteness. The walls of the cubed space were the color of the morning’s first rays interrupting a dreamless sleep. There weren’t even any doors or windows to offer any relief from the monotony. The only entrance and exit was the west wall, which could be telekinetically slid to the right or, for the floundering students like Livana, manually opened using the knotted rope in the corner. As for furniture, besides the desk and two chairs, a lonely ivory sofa rested in the center of the room while a rectangular overhead light dangled from the ceiling.

What I wouldn’t give for a can of paint…

A smirk crossed Livana’s lips. Professor Telven was notorious at the Telekinetic Academy for her compulsive behavior. Beginning each class with a wave of her hand and moving all the pupils’ books in neat, orderly piles on each desk. A single motion of her eyes could adjust crooked picture frames, asymmetrical curtains, or food if it dared touch its neighbors. Professor Telven had, at one time, been a vulture in the hallways, modifying loose ties or blouses with too many buttons opened. Livana herself had been reprimanded on multiple occasions. The tyranny may have continued forever, if it weren’t for the fearless action of a certain, anonymous first-year who complained to administration that students’ privacy was being violated whenever buttons and ties unexpectedly fixed themselves.

So Professor Telven was forced to cease and desist. However, her fingers still twitched whenever she saw an offending article of clothing, and though Livana wasn’t sure, she strongly thought that her professor suspected Livana of being the whistleblower.

Not that I’d ever admit it.

With a heavy sigh, Livana rose from her seat and went over to the rope. She yanked on it, heels digging into the floor, until she heard a click and felt the taut rope slack. The wall panel shifted aside, revealing an inset glass partition with a door in the middle. The new barrier separated the office from a short hallway stretching out and away where it met a three-way intersection. Livana tallied a mental checklist as the people passed by: a lanky, silver-haired man in a black business suit attempting to drink from a floating coffee cup, a skittish woman in flowing midnight robes with a horde of loose manuscripts flying behind her, an unknown fellow student whistling a nonsensical tune with his hands burrowed inside the pockets of his overcoat and reading from a textbook hovering a couple inches above his head, a tall woman—

Ahem.” Professor Telven coughed from the deepest regions of her throat. “Enjoying the scenery, Miss Evans?”

“No,” Livana turned around and gestured abstractly toward the entire room, “Just wishing I had a can of paint.”

“You’re not the first.”

Her eyes were probably playing tricks, but Livana could have sworn she saw a ghost of a smile flash across Professor Telven’s face. The feeling vanished as quickly as it appeared, though, when a deck of cards emerged from the drawer and landed elegantly on the desk. Professor Telven raised two fingers and pointed at the stack, swirling her wrist in a tight circular motion. A card from the bottom slipped out and hovered in the air.

A red apple.

“Remove the stem, Miss Evans.”

Instead of following the command, Livana was tempted to simply drop the card on the floor and walk out of the room. How many times are we going to go through this? She must have seen a billion cards with every fruit imaginable since the semester had started almost a month ago. Yet, nothing Livana could do was enough to bend the cards to her will, and there was nothing she could do to convince Professor Telven otherwise.

Maybe she just likes to see me fail.

Nevertheless, she knew it was unwise to disobey the Academy’s most powerful member in its history—aside from Livana’s father, of course—and sat back in the chair. 

Livana blinked a couple times and rolled her shoulders in a steady wave. Picture it—The tiny stem stretched by an invisible force—up—to the top edge—then a pop, a muted snap as the stem separates—it floats in empty space—lost, purposeless without the main body—but free—

The card didn’t move, didn’t shift or shake or tremble. Nothing.

Professor Telven lowered her hand flat on the desk, the card matching her movement. Livana slumped against the back of the chair and waited for the imminent lecture.

To Livana’s surprise, Professor Telven stood up and strode to the center of the room. The couch rotated so that she could sit and stare out the glass wall. A magazine, Monthly Magic, followed her from the desk and hovered at the perfect angle for optimal visibility, the pages flipping at a leisurely pace until it settled on one captivating article. Soon, a bottle of red wine and a stout drinking glass also appeared out of the desk drawer, drifting over to Professor Telven. The wine poured itself into the tumbler, that titled slightly so she could sip without disturbing her body.

Meanwhile, Livana observed the arrangement with no small amount of discomfort. She thought about interrupting her professor’s tranquility, but poking a sleeping dragon would probably offer a better chance at survival. Livana thought about staying, except she spied through the glass screen a couple curious onlookers lingering at the hallway intersection, which made her nervously run her fingers through her short, copper-red hair.

I’ll just leave. But just as her hand gripped the crystal doorknob, she heard Professor Telven mumble something. Great.

Livana turned around. “Did you say something?” she asked.

Another sip. “I was wondering if you’ve ever considered the Wind and Sky Academy.”

“No, Professor.”

“Interesting. I was just thinking that you could waste their time instead of mine.”

“I’m sorry, Professor,” Livana said, choosing her words like she was disposing explosives, “if you believe I’m wasting your time.”

“Oh, it’s not a matter of belief. You could be the War General and I wouldn’t give a flying damn.” The Professor continued to stare out at the hallway, as if she were only mildly invested in the conversation.

“Is that all?” Livana gritted her teeth as the magazine crackled, flipping a few more pages.

“Miss Evans.” The magazine and the bottle and the empty glass alighted upon the desk. “Why did you enroll in the Telekinetic Academy?”

“I—” Livana faltered as a series of images flashed through her mind: Mathias Evans demonstrating Human Telekinesis by levitating students one by one (much to the delight of the wide-eyed little girl sitting in the corner of the gigantic classroom), Mathias Evans competing in the International Telekinetic Tournament in front of a million screaming spectators (including a jubilant teenager waiting impatiently in the front row to wrap her father in a crushing hug), Mathias Evans staring at his marble bust in the Telekinetic Academy’s Hall of Distinction with a hopeful young woman barely past seventeen leaning against his shoulder, pointing his finger at the empty space next to his marble likeness and declaring, “That’s where you’re going to go.”

But it would be impossible for Livana to tell her professor that. She doubted she could even if she tried. So she said the next best thing.

“I wanted to.”

“You wanted to,” Professor Telven repeated. She rose, smoothing her floor-length, maroon skirt.

“Yes. I…wanted to.”

 “Want, Miss Evans, does not make a sword sharpen itself. Nor the clock hands move backward.” She positioned herself inches from the glass and scowled at a student who had been running through the halls. Though one glance at the intimidating presence behind the transparent barrier, and he meekly slowed his pace to a walking crawl. The room fell silent. Livana didn’t dare say a word. Finally—“How long have you been under my tutelage, Miss Evans?”

“Almost four weeks.”

“Did I ask for almost?”

“Twenty-six days.” Livana whispered, afraid of where the conversation was heading.

“Twenty-six days? Already? Practically a lifetime.” Professor Telven said to the apprehensive student. She has an expression on her face that Livana found impossible to read. But she could guess what was coming next. I’m not going to give her the satisfaction.

 “There’s no need to expel me, Professor,” Livana fought back the tears, saving them for later. Her only chance was to be halfway out of the country before her father discovered that she was a washout as a magician and a daughter. “I’ll pack my things and go.”

“Expel you?” This time, Livana was certain that she saw her professor’s lips curl upward. “And why should I expel you?”

“Because I… I haven’t shown much ability for telekinesis. Any ability, really. And I—” Livana scuffled her feet on the ground and stared out the glass wall, hoping to see any people to distract her thoughts. But of course now the hallways were empty.

“Miss Evans, I have to say—”

“Upon their eighteenth birthday every child shall enlist into an Academy Division within the United Forces of Magical Arts where it will be determined by the first week whether the child displays the capacity to wield magic, and to continue or terminate their advancement,” Livana spewed, reciting from the Academy’s’ handbook.

“Is that what they’re teaching children these days?”

Livana didn’t respond.

“Is that why you think I am going to expel you?”

Livana clenched her hands into tight fists.

“Miss Evans, I asked you a question. Multiple, in fact.”

“Yes.”

“Yes, that’s what you’ve been taught, or yes, that’s why you think I will expel you?”

“Yes…Professor.”

“Interesting.” Professor Telven moved away from the glass panel to stand at her desk. A pen and piece of paper materialized from the contents of the desk. The telekinetic master studied the blank sheet momentarily before the pen began transcribing in quick and precise strokes. With a flourish, her signature the pen–its labor finished–rested on the desk. Meanwhile, the letter folded into a trifold, inserting itself into an envelope. Once done, a red candle allowed several drops of its precious wax to fall onto the envelope, and a seal bearing a “T” pressed into the hot mold. All the objects, save the sealed envelope, returned to the desk drawer.

For a moment, Livana wondered just how much Professor Telven managed to keep in that drawer, but the envelope, slapping her in the face and tumbling into her arms, interrupted her ponderings. She inspected the envelope with dread, turning it over back and forth on the corner.

“Is this—Is this my expulsion notice?”

“Do you want it to be?”

For the first time since she entered the office, Livana felt a small flame of hope fill her spirits. Maybe… “I’m not being expelled?”

Livana met the sharp, stiff gaze of her professor, which fastened her into one heart-stopping breath.

“No.”

Livana exhaled.

“I’m transferring you. Wind and Sky Academy.”

Transfer? Livana looked down at the envelope in her hands. Her thoughts swimming in thick clouds—I don’t think I’ve ever heard of that before. Wind and Sky Academy? Why would—And then, a more frightening prospect—What am I going to tell Dad?

“And don’t worry about your father. If he has any…complaints, tell him he can come to me.”

What, is she telepathic now?

“I appreciate that, Professor, but I don’t know if—”

“Why did you choose the Telekinetic Academy, Miss Evans?”

“What?”

“Out of all the Divisions, why did you choose the Telekinetic Academy? You have made me ask three times, Miss Evans. I will not ask again.”

“I—”

“If you try to pull that ‘I wanted to’ line on me again, I will extract whatever magical energy exists inside you, and bury it far underneath the ocean crust where light from the heavens cannot reach it.”

After that statement, there was nothing that Livana could say; nothing that her professor didn’t already know. It seemed Professor Telven was in agreement because she sat back down at her desk and proceeded to ignore Livana. A flurry of papers swirled around the Professor, the sound of pen scratches occasionally heard.

Livana gave an awkward half-step, half-nod in Professor Telven’s direction, and turned to exit. As she opened the glass door, she thought she heard a murmured “good luck, Livana”, but with the noise of rustling papers it was impossible to be certain. And it wasn’t like Livana would ever dream of asking the Telekinetic master to repeat herself. Besides, it was practically impossible to imagine Professor Telven to be sentimental about anything.

But a couple steps down the hallway, Livana remembered something Professor Telven had said. Livana spun around to go back to the office, except the wall had been swiftly moved, enclosing Professor Telven inside. Livana sighed and shrugged her shoulders—to be honest, she wasn’t one for goodbyes either.

Whatever magical energy exists inside you.

Livana decided to take a right at the hallway intersection, and soon disappeared within the bustling crowd.