Pickle Panda Find Love in the Time of Robot Bees: Part 1, Ch. 8

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Part 1, Chapter 8

Professor Westby’s instructions for the assignment read: Write a 500 word speech about yourself that does not describe you, physically. You will turn in one copy directly to me with no name on it, which I will count for a participation grade. The essays will be handed back to the class at random, and each student will read the speech in front of the class. At the end of the speech, we’ll see if we can guess who it’s about. Westby’s notes went on to assure his students that the assignment “should be a fun way for all of us to get to know one another,” but Pickle wasn’t so sure.

“Don’t read it,” he said.

“I’m not!” said Kelsi, rolling away from the red light. “I’m just making sure I still have it, that’s all.”

Like other pandas, Pickle didn’t have opposable thumbs. Not having opposable thumbs made writing with a pen or pencil nearly impossible for him. Pickle did have five reasonably agile fingers on each of his front paws, however, and was a reasonably accomplished typist. He was, for example, able to complete Professor Westby’s speech assignment without help from Kelsi.

He did, frustratingly, need Kelsi’s help to get the printed essay to class.

“Stop!” he pleaded, swatting at her hands from the back seat as she began reading it.

“Let me read it!” said Kelsi, swatting back at Pickle, playfully. “You’re not allowed to the driver! Let me read it”


“Come ON!” she said, twisting this way and that, to avoid his paws.

Pickle hoped making a game of it would convince Kelsi to stop trying to read his essay. “The class has to guess. You have to guess, too,” he said.

“You suck,” she said, but she backed off and set the paper back down on the passenger seat. “Why don’t you want me to read it?”

Having been faced with a blank page, a blinking cursor, and severe writer’s block, Pickle did the only thing he could think of: he poured his guts out. The end result, he felt, was exactly as attractive as the idiom implied.

“It’s probably stupid,” she said, dismissively.

“I think it is,” said Pickle. “I don’t know.”

Kelsi was used to Pickle being an open book, and it bothered her that he was being secretive about his essay. It bothered her that he was being secretive at all, and she suddenly felt very jealous of Meghan Watson. “You never told me how your date went,” she said in a mocking tone.

“I couldn’t get a word in,” teased Pickle, “it was all ‘Ramses said’, and ‘Ramses thinks’, with you last night.”

“Shut UP!”

Pickle laughed, or- snorted in a way that passed for a panda laughing.

Kelsi did not appreciate being laughed at and hit the brakes suddenly, sending Pickle tumbling around, clumsily, in the back of the small SUV.

“I so hate you,” said Pickle, recovering his balance.

“You don’t,” she said.

“Are you happy now?”

“I am thoroughly amused!” she replied, smiling.

Pickle, however, was not amused. He sat quietly for the rest of the drive. He sulked as Kelsi helped to lower him from the car. He huffed and grunted the whole way to class.

Kelsi beamed with triumph the entire time.

“Mister Panda,” said the professor, as he walked into the classroom. “I think we’re all eager to hear your essay.” There were murmurs of agreement from the rest of the students as professor Westby collected the papers and began redistributing them throughout the class.

One of the boys in the class was called to the front, and began reading the essay in front of him. It was written in short, clipped sentences, and told the story of an immigrant family from the Dominican Republic that had come to Florida in the 1990s. The boy read it well enough, though. He didn’t say “um” too many times, and remembered to smile while he read.

Most of the students guessed that the first had been written by a girl named Regina, and they were right! She happily raised her hand to confirm her authorship of the essay.

Another young woman, possibly in her early twenties, was called to the front. She read an essay about a young man who had recently begun studying martial arts and Kung Fu as a hobby.

A few students made a connection to a children’s movie from their youth and guessed that this was Pickle’s essay, but most of them accurately identified the same tanned, toned, and generally good-looking young man who’d tried to start a conversation with Kelsi on the first day of class.

The next student went up and reading their assigned speech while professor Westby took notes on things like their reading ability and their voice projection. Noticing Westby’s note-taking, Kelsi began reading and re-reading the paper she held in her hands in a bid to prevent her reading of the essay from being interrupted by an unexpected question mark or exclamation point.

“Are you OK?” asked Pickle, quietly.

“I’m fine,” said Kelsi. “It’s just that-” she wiped away a tear and seemed genuinely surprised to find one on her cheek. “This one is so sad.”

The essay in Kelsi’s hand was written by a student who had been estranged from his parents at an early age. He had a few memories of them, but he hadn’t seen them in nearly ten years, and couldn’t remember the last words he’d said to them.

Kelsi, whose mother had died unexpectedly when she was 8 years old, related to the story she read immediately. Kelsi did more than relate to it, in fact. The words transported her to the last memories she had of driving her mother to the hospital, of sitting with her as her father told the nurse she was having trouble breathing. Kelsi was only 8 years old, then, and – sitting in that college classroom 10 years later … 10 years, almost to the day, now that she thought of it – she realized that she couldn’t remember the last words she’d said to her mother, either.

Kelsi bolted for the door.


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