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The Price of Ambition

The Price of Ambition

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Published by George Pollock
After reading Billy Stone's manuscript, a hard-as-nails editor who had been poised to bloody it instead lifts a soggy face to heaven and says, "Dear God." But literary success exacts a terrible price.
After reading Billy Stone's manuscript, a hard-as-nails editor who had been poised to bloody it instead lifts a soggy face to heaven and says, "Dear God." But literary success exacts a terrible price.

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Published by: George Pollock on Mar 29, 2007
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial

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01/01/2013

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George Pollock State KidIssue 58
The Price of Ambition
Billy called Sister Francis Helen and she agreed to meet him at their usual spot, on a bench in the main quadrangle of Fairview University. Without preliminary, he handed her his retyped manuscript and bolted. He didn't want to be sitting there while she read hiswork, like a dog at the table watching its master's every move in hopes of a morsel.It was late afternoon on a summery day in July. Leaves on great maples rustled softly in agentle breeze. Clouds drifted in the blue sky like puffs of white smoke. Unhurriedsummer students dotted the languid campus. Billy had not noticed the sky or trees or  people or anything else for so long that everything he saw appeared fresh and newlyevocative.He had to call Vera. He had hardly seen or talked to her in all the weeks he had beenimmersed in his writing. Suddenly, he missed her terribly. She had been so good, so loyal,so patient with him for so long that he resolved to make it up to her.First chance, he would take her for a swim in Caulfield Lake. They would go out todinner, to movies and plays that she wanted to see. After all this, they would just betogether, finally.Meanwhile, from across the main quadrangle, Billy could see Sister Francis Helen on the bench, flipping through pages. He thought,
She hates it. She's not even reading it.
Thenthe black-robed figure bent over his manuscript, fixedly, like a thirteenth-century monk.
What's she doing? Looking for everything wrong?
But her poised red pencil, which she used to bloody manuscripts, did not strike. Instead,as if not believing it, she started over from the beginning. She turned the pages slowly atfirst. Then she turned them faster and faster, pulse racing, eyes glistening.A tear rolled down her cheek and then another. She finished, stood, lifted a soggy face tothe heavens and placed her hand over her heart.“Dear God.”Billy saw her get up and dashed across the quadrangle.“Sister?”“You ... it ... it needs editing.”
She didn't hate it 
.***Billy ran to call Vera with the news, but wasn't able to reach her. He couldn't reach her thenext day either or the next. When he finally did get hold of her, her voice was cool.“What's wrong?”“I met someone.”
 
“You met someone? What do you mean, you met someone?î“I thought I could wait, but I couldn't. I couldn't waste a whole summer. I'm sorry.”He called, but she wouldn't come to the phone. He left messages, but she didn't respond.He wrote her notes, but got no reply.And then one day he saw her in downtown Fairview, riding by in the passenger seat of ared convertible laughing and snuggling up to her new boyfriend. It hit him so hard he wasforced down to all fours on the busy sidewalk. Passersby rushed to help ...***He threw himself into his manuscript.Billy and Sister Francis Helen could be seen sitting regularly in the main quadranglegoing over manuscript, with the nun frequently rising and stalking around the youngwriter, gesturing, stabbing the air with an index finger, scowling, sometimes raising her voice to the point that passing students considered reporting the disturbance.“You're trying too hard. Nobody wants to read sentences beaded with sweat. Set free your gift and your soul. Trust in them and they will take you where you need to go.”One time she jumped up from the bench and threw manuscript pages to the ground.“You're bowdlerizing again,” she said. “Kali Muhammad didn't say that. He's not a ten-year-old girl. How dare you lie to the reader because you are too afraid to write the truth! Now what did he really say?”“He said, (expletives deleted).”“Then write, (expletives deleted)!'”Passing students gasped -- but then were sure they had not heard right.“Sister!”“Don't sister me! Be true to your art!”And so he was. The edited manuscript piled up.Unknown to Billy, Sister Francis Helen began showing the edited manuscript to MissCasey who in turn passed it up the line to the Executive Editorial Committee of RoyalBooks. The decision was made to discontinue the services of the ghost writer and to publish Billy Stone's book as written by Billy Stone.“I underestimated you,” Miss Casey said to him. “I apologize.”Sister Francis Helen also brought the manuscript to the chairman of the AdmissionsCommittee of Fairview University, Dr. Harvey Einsohn, and demanded that Billy'sacceptance to the university be decided upon its merits.Somewhat flummoxed by the unusual demand for a more rigorous review of anapplication, the tenured Professor of English distributed copies of Billy Stone'smanuscript to the admissions committee, asking for an evaluation.The committee uncharacteristically found itself in a ferocious debate over the manuscript,specifically, its graphic language. Young prisoners spoke in quotes exactly as they spokein Granite City School, which is to say, in the obscenity-riddled talk of the street. All five

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