General Fiction posted April 1, 2024 Chapters:  ...29 30 -31- 32... 

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We meet again an old friend of ours

A chapter in the book What We See

What We See - Interlude

by Jim Wile

A high school teacher wrongly accused of sexual assault reinvents his life.
Recap of Chapter 27: Alan’s computer class continues to go well, and the star of the class is Callie Lyons, whom all the boys adore for her charming personality. Alan continues making progress on his invention but soon realizes he won’t be able to create a single unit to be mounted on the glasses because all the necessary miniaturization isn’t there yet. He also realizes he can’t spend as much time working on it due to the increasing workload, and he decides to hire an assistant. After a few unsuccessful interviews, he hires Warren Meyers, who formerly worked at a repair shop in Fort Wayne.

Abby St. Claire

May, 1986
Penn State University,
State College, Pennsylvania

I have never been so humiliated in my life! I stormed out of the engineering lab with my ridiculous pumpkin and a bag of my other stuff under my arms and dumped the pumpkin into a trash barrel in the utility room down the hall. Then I left the building and beat a hasty retreat back to my apartment, where I flopped down on my bed and began to cry.

I’m at the end of my junior year at Penn State, where my major is mathematics with a minor in mechanical engineering. There aren’t a lot of women in most of my classes. In fact, I’m the only one in my ME 3 Mech Eng seminar. There are a few in the lecture portion of the class, but in the lab portion, it’s just me and about 20 guys.

Oh, that Chad! I know he’s responsible for what happened. He works next to me in the mechanics lab. He’s always made fun of me because he doesn’t think girls have any place being mechanical engineers. I thought I was done with being teased and berated when I finished grade school. I’m not even planning to be a mechanical engineer, but instead a mathematician, though I guess that’s beside the point.

The first day of lab, he said to me, “So, Abby, what’s a cute little thing like you doing taking this class with all these guys? Working on your MRS degree, are you?”

Cute little thing. Jeez!

I’m not very quick with comebacks, so I didn’t say anything, and because I’m generally a quiet person, he picks on me every chance he gets. Naturally, he got assigned to the work station right next to mine.

We’ve been working on our individual projects for the whole semester with the goal of presenting them to the class and all of the mechanical engineering faculty during the final week. Our lab instructor chose the five best to present, and mine was one of them. Chad’s was not.

I had been reading about new surgical techniques performed through tiny holes in the body, but I couldn’t find any information on the tools used, so for my project, I decided to invent some and demonstrate how they would work inside the body using a large, artificial pumpkin I had to simulate one.

Chad had never read about anything like this and poo-pooed the idea from the start, but he shut up after a while when he saw the miniature tools that I was constructing. He was working on some kind of robotic arm, but it was simplistic and clunky and looked just like a lot of robotics that have been common for a long time.

I was proud of my miniature tools and planned an impressive demonstration with them. Last night, the five finalists got our projects set up and ready to go. I placed a box upside down over the pumpkin so my setup wouldn’t look so strange before I got a chance to talk about it. I left feeling confident about the upcoming demonstration.

This afternoon, when it was my turn to go, I stood up in front of the audience and said, “My name is Abby St. Claire, and I’ve been working on miniaturized tools to perform surgical operations through small holes in the body to replace the need for large incisions.”

After I said this, I lifted up the box shielding my pumpkin “body,” and the audience started tittering. Some laughed loudly, which I thought was a little strange, but I kept going.

“Although the technology has not yet been developed for inserting a miniature video camera through a tiny hole in the body to observe the progress of the operation, it is currently under development. I will simulate this with a regular video camera placed in a much larger hole in the top of the pumpkin, which will be hooked up to a TV, allowing us to see inside while I perform various operations with my tools. I have also constructed a miniature fiberoptic light that I can insert through another small hole in the body to provide light for the surgical site. Then I—”

“Why do you need all that when we can just look through that great big smile in the front?” said Chad, sitting in the front row. The audience started cracking up when he said that. I was puzzled because I didn’t know what he was talking about. Then I had a sudden suspicion.

I walked around the front of the table and saw that a big smiling face had been carved into the front of my pumpkin.  I was pretty sure who did it. I could feel my cheeks reddening.

“Please excuse me for a minute.” I then hurried over to a drawer, which contained some opaque mylar sheets, and cut a small piece. Then I got a roll of duct tape from another drawer and taped this patch over the holes that had been cut in the front of my pumpkin.

I resumed my demo. “Next, I’m going to insert the fiberoptic light through the small hole that the surgeon will make to light the site of the operation.” I tried to push my light tube through the small hole I had made last night in the side of the pumpkin. I kept trying, but it wouldn’t go through. The audience started tittering again. I looked into the metal sleeve lining the hole, and something had been stuck in there to block it. Chad again, I was sure!

I continued blushing as I picked up a pencil and stabbed it into the pumpkin to make a new hole, then I inserted the light into it, turned it on, and started the camera. Finally, I was ready to demonstrate my tools.

“The first tool I will demonstrate is a miniature saw, similar in principle to a chainsaw. I’m going to saw through a pickle I’ve placed inside the pumpkin to simulate sawing through an appendix.”

I threaded my tiny saw through the sleeve in the hole I had made into the pumpkin last night to be my surgical hole. I then pressed the switch to start the saw. It sawed through the first part of the pickle perfectly, but there was a sudden high-pitched whine, and sparks started to fly as the saw blades struck something hard. The audience began laughing again as I stopped the saw, reached inside the top of the pumpkin, and pulled the pickle out. Inserted inside the pickle was a small steel rod.

This was turning into a total fiasco! I couldn’t take it anymore. As the audience continued laughing, I picked up a bag and shoved all my stuff inside, grabbed the pumpkin under my arm, and fled out the lab door.

What a disaster, but that was a week ago. Unfortunately, the feeling of humiliation is still there to a degree.

The semester is now over and I’m on my way to visit with my Aunt Dottie and her family for a few days before I begin my summer job. I’m especially eager to see my little cousin Callie, who reminds me a lot of myself at her age of 13. She had called me back in December, asking me about taking a computer programming class, and I told her to go for it. She’s a sweetie who’s smart as a whip, and thinking about her helps me forget about Chad and that disastrous demonstration.


Those of you who read my novel Some Call It Luck will remember Abby as one of the two main characters. In a subsequent draft of that novel, this scene became the first chapter of the story. Abby also was a minor character in Saving Mr. Calvin where she had become Abby Payne after marrying Kenny Payne.


Alan Phelps: The narrator of the story. He is a 28-year-old high school physics and natural science teacher in Grantham, Indiana in 1985.

Archie: David's orange tabby cat

Tommy Boardman: Alan's 12-year-old next door neighbor. He is dyslexic like Alan.

Ginnie Boardman: Tommy's mother. She is 30 years old and is an ICU nurse.

Artie Intintoli: Tommy's friend who also lives on Loser St.

Ida Beeman: Alan's first customer. She is a nice old lady who lives on Loser Street.

Leroy Beeman: Miss Ida's grandson and Tommy's friend.

Mrs. Dunbar: Tommy's 7th grade English teacher.

Callie Lyons: A nice girl in Tommy's class at school.

Warren Meyers: Alan's assistant in the repair shop.

Abby St. Claire: Callie's cousin who is a math major with an engineering minor at Penn State University.
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