How to Make the Cut
Twenty-five young women lined the two walls of the hallway, some sitting, others upright and leaning, book bags and purses scattered about their feet. Most of their faces reflected tension and anxiety, limned by frustration and a little anger. Two of them, blonde, slender Kelly a young woman two years out of high school, and Marta, an older returning student–a beautician with a husband and children who decided one day she wanted to be a nurse–rested easily near the doorway that led to the dean’s office; they chatted and giggled, oblivious to the dark clouds hanging over the others.
“You two are happy,” a voice called out.
No one even looked up; everyone knew why those two were happy.
Tall and large Mary–uncomfortably warm as the Health Sciences building was never air-conditioned properly in August–whispered under her breath, “They already know they’re in.” She hoped her neighbor heard.
The thirty-something immigrant from Pittsburgh who slouched next to Mary hunkered down and whispered back, glancing the ten feet or so at the dean’s doorway and the giddy Kelly and haughty Marta. “I talked to Marta a couple of days ago. I’m number three, she’s behind me, number six, but she said the department chair–Dr. Blevins–goes to church where Marta’s father’s the pastor, and she’s getting in! She had some stupid-ass excuse why they jumped her ahead of me–Blevins recalculated her grades or her entrance exam scores or some bullshit….”
“Rose Lynn, she’s looking at you!” Mary warned.
“She is such a lying bitch,” Rose Lynn said behind her hand, followed with a cough as if she meant to. “Do you think Kelly really is number one? She’s another member of Marta’s congregation….”
The dean of the College of Health Sciences popped her head into view. She noticed Kelly and Marta and gave them a big, red-lipped smile. There were only four slots available for formal admission to nursing school, their junior year, slated to start in a couple of weeks. The class size was set, and the top sixty students from the first two years of the university’s pre-nursing program had already been chosen; but for one reason or another–illness, inability to pay the tuition, injury, change of heart–four had dropped out and now here they were, the top contenders, hoping to convince, beg, cajole the dean and the chair of the department of nursing to let them in. “Charlotte DelRay,” the dean called, half her body visible, a manila folder clasped in a fist.
The young woman immediately in front of Mary and Rose Lynn sighed loudly, rose to her feet, hefted her back pack and walked self-consciously between the rows of her competitors as if she were running a gauntlet, feeling their contemptuous stares like brandished weapons.
Mary abruptly grasped Rose Lynn’s wrist. “Here’s the thing,” she said as softly as she could. “I’m going to tell the dean what you said. Right in front of Blevins. I’m going to tell her, that the only reason Marta is getting into the official program this fall is because her father is pastor of Winifred Belvins’ church and it’s totally corrupt. You confirm it when she calls you. That’s how you do things in West Virginia.”
“I think that might get us kicked out completely, and then we’ll never be admitted and I wasted all that time in Chemistry 204 and all the other shitty classes we had to take.”
“Well, I’m gonna do it!” Mary said, loudly enough to draw suspicious eyes in their direction.
“Do what you want,” Rose Lynn replied, her mind racing as she attempted to tamp down the panic.
Charlotte DelRay exited glumly and the dean patted her back as she called, “Mary Suarez!”
Mary clasped her books to her chest, straightened. “Okay, this is it!” She gave a quick, meaningful glance in Rose Lynn’s direction. “Trust me, I know how to play this game.” She began the walk toward the dean’s office.
A couple of days later, the names of the lucky four were posted on the nursing school academic website. Rose Lynn hadn’t seen Mary again since her friend emerged from her meeting. Her own conversation with Dean Summerfield had been brief and cheery. (“How are you feeling today?” “I’m sure you’re very excited to be on the threshold of the next stage of your career.” “Would you like a mint?”) Now–resigned to her fate–she scrolled down the names of the junior class and there she was, listed among the lucky sixty along with Mary, Marta, and Kelly. She didn’t whoop or laugh or scream. “Geezus shit, Mary,” she breathed, the tiny letters of her name dancing in the screen of her phone. Two more years and she could move back to Pennsylvania.