9 x 1 = 09                                                         0+9=9

The bell rings nine times.  A shuffle of motion behind the distant closed door.  Coughs.  Glacial silence in the classroom.  Nine seats in front of you, nine seats on your left.  Their long hair hides their faces.  Find the unknown.  The sound of water dripping, ice sliding off the roof in whiteblue chunks.  A completed exam is before you, but you do not recognize the writing.  An obscene caricature of your teacher is drawn on the scratched wood surface of your desk.  Bald and naked, she beckons lewdly at the pupils.  The Fertile Crescent, A Geography Lesson is inscribed below it in Gothic lettering.  Your dried eraser is useless, so you hastily efface the sketch with your gritty palm.

        9 x 2 = 18                                                         1+8=9

Wrong.  The answers are all wrong.  You realize it now.  But how to make it right?  How fast can the errors of a lifetime be corrected?  11tanx + 1 = sin2x + 11 ergo x = 50.  That's just the beginning of a longer mistake.  The minute hand of the huge clock snaps forward.  Time is running out.  The teacher monitors the aisles up down up down and now it's your turn.  Sour breath rolls down your ear.  A tremulous finger points at your examination, a finger papered by skin so parched it leaves fleshflakes on your desk. Illegible writing.  It will be marked incompleteTime is running out.  The teacher pulls on the cord to raise the window shade.  It shoots to the ceiling, rattles.  The white light is blinding off the snow outside.  The trees are bare, glinting with icicles.  It has been so long since you've seen the outside, so long.  The light sears your eyes.

        9 x 3 = 27                                                        2+7=9                                        
The test is not over.  Come to the front of the room please.  They will stare when you walk, and why wouldn't they, with that scoliosis caused by sitting in that cramped chair for hours and the uneven legs brought on by the fractures that mended untreated beneath the desk.  When you walk you lurch, and your head bobs like a pendulum, marking the hours while you nursed your secret injuries in the back seat of the classroom.  But they are not staring now, not at that instant.  Their heads are down and they are writing in perfect synchronization, undistracted by the sideshow you are forced to perform.  In seamless calligraphy they trace the geometric proof to its inexorable conclusion.

        9 x 4 = 36                                                         4 + 5 =9

The class will follow along silently while you read aloud.  You ascend the podium, a metal crate where you overlook a chessboard of glinting linoleum tiles.  Your classmates have waxy faces, polished hair.  All the girls look alike, as do all the boys.  An albatross, 16 inches tall from its feet to its eye, sits atop a lamppost after flying for at 15 miles per hour starting at 11:15 AM.  The angle of depression from the bird's feet to a shipwreck 25 feet away is 60 degrees.  The albatross is 1/3 as young as your grandfather was 15 years ago.  If the sum of their current ages is 110, how tall is the lamppost, how many meters has the albatross flown before it landed, and how old was your grandfather in 1935?

9 x 5 = 45                                                          4 + 5 =9

The teacher stands at the chalkboard.  How does she see from behind those thick plastic glasses?  Now show the class how you solve the problem.  It is impossible, you say.  The unknowns too much unknown the year the place the time…The students shift their marble eyes in unison, from the teacher to you to the teacher like it's a tennis match.  The sound of water dripping, plinkplinkplink.  In the mirror on your right you see nine times nine eighty one minus you which is eighty heads.  The whitegrey light glowing in a mist of chalk dust.  The unsolvable riddle of how you came here, if you will ever leave.