The professor sighed with relief at the bell. "And so, class, don't forget your assignment. The report will be due Monday." She waved the students away with a languid hand and returned to her task of grading papers.
"Just great," an attractive and tall young woman muttered to her much shorter companion, "That gives us two days to discover the answer to one of philosophy's most long-standing questions. What do you plan on doing?"
The friend, a mousy-haired girl of indeterminate age, replied, "I don't know. I'll probably just come up with bunch of bullshit on Sunday night. The prof is a total ditz. She won't be able to tell the difference between a good and a bad paper, so why waste time trying?"
"Always the over-enthusiast, aren't you, Blake?" the other girl joked. "I don't know, though. I think it's a pretty interesting assignment. Honestly, who doesn't want to know the true meaning of life?"
"So then, Claire, what do you think it is?" Blake inquired, "I mean, since you're so excited about doing this."
"I've never been all that motivated, as you well know. If you think I have any idea what the answer is, you're out of your mind. But I think I know exactly what to do to try and find out."
With that, Claire put her hands in her pocket and left her friend behind. She had a planned destination, and knew that her scheme would be working out at any time.
"I've got a report to do," Claire informed the man in the heavy overcoat and ill-fitting pants, "I'm supposed to discover what the meaning of life is. Do you mind me asking your opinion on it, sir?"
"Well, shit, I haven't been called sir in years. I guess I can help ya' out, if you think I can be of service," the man said with a laugh. "Not that I'm worth much any more, but I'll help you."
"Terrific," Claire said with a grin.
"You don't want anything else, do you? I've got coke, pot and LSD. But that help ain't gonna come for free," he told her, trying desperately to make a few bucks off the wide-eyed girl.
"Actually, I was just looking for an interview," Claire answered, only slightly nervous. She hadn't quite realized the gravity of the situation. "I don't have any urge to do those, and I certainly don't have the finances."
"That's ai'ight," the mild-mannered dealer said. "So…the meaning of life, is it? Christ, kid, you came to the wrong person."
She looked confident as she replied, "No, no I think you're just the perfect person to ask. So what do you think it is?"
He pondered for a minute or so before responding, "You see, my outlook on life has changed a lot in the past couple of years. I guess it's basically the same though. I think that the meaning of life is to be successful. If you had asked me five years ago, I would have said the same thing. But then, I wanted to be a successful doctor, or lawyer or somethin' like that. Now, s'all about making the good deals, catching the addicts with the dough. Success is about scammin someone for an outrageous price. And success is the meaning of life."
Claire looked up from her notes and nodded to the dealer, "Thanks a lot. You've been a big help."
He nodded back and watched her leave intently. Some crazy white bitch she was.
Claire had another place to go in a similar area before it got too dark. While she was excited about her report, it was preferable that she not get raped and brutally murdered before midnight.
She approached the woman tentatively, and waved before she went up directly. The woman turned her head but made no real acknowledgment, at first. After Claire stood there for a minute or two, the woman spoke up. "What do you want, kid? Don't tell me you're here on business."
"No, I'm not here for that. I…I have a boyfriend. Look, miss, I'm not trying to bother you, but would you mind answering a question for me? I've got a report due Monday."
The whore took a drag on her cigarette and replied without looking Claire in the eyes. "Sure, but don't waste my time. I fucked a putrid bald man for thirty dollars an hour ago. I've got to get some food, and I don't need you hanging around getting rid of my customers."
"It won't take long. I just was hoping-that maybe you could tell me what you think the meaning of life is." Claire looked away, almost embarrassed at the woman's appearance. Her breasts hung from a low-cut shirt, and if she were to bend down, she would get pregnant faster than a fertile rabbit. Maybe hanging around a drug dealer and a prostitute wasn't the best idea for her project.
"Sure, I can really tell you what the meaning of life is. Survival," she stated simply, taking another puff. "Everything in this lifetime is about surviving. It's a dog eat dog world, girl, and you better learn how to make it. All that shit you learn in your expensive little private school isn't taking you anywhere. You and your pretty clothes and your pretty hair won't do shit for your life. When your mommy and daddy stop paying the bills, you'll be joining me out here on the street corner. If I had learned what the real world was like, maybe I wouldn't be out here gaining ten dollars and stretch marks by the hour. Survival. That's the meaning of life. Now get out of here," the whore ordered, gazing off into the distance, "That man over there in the Benz looks like he spotted me."
Claire left the woman to her work and headed home.
"Mom," Claire began, leaning onto her marble counter in her mother's pristine kitchen. "What's the meaning of life?"
Her mother, like the slut, took a puff off of a cigarette, "Honey, what's this about? Do you have bad news or something? Are you pregnant?" she asked and then stood straight, "Oh damn, Claire. Tell me it isn't with that Clark boy, please tell me it's some other guy."
Claire giggled, and was answered with a fatal glare from her mother. "Mother, I'm not pregnant. And I don't have any bad news. It's just a report I'm working on for my English class."
Her mother sighed, "Thank god. And while we're on the subject, get rid of that Clark boy. I don't like him."
"Mother, please, just answer the question. And besides, you don't even know Clark. I love him, and he's a great-dammit mother, you got me off track again. Just answer the question."
"Claire, don't use that language. You have a younger sister just upstairs." She closed her eyes. "Ah," her mother took a breath, and pulled her graying chestnut hair over one shoulder. "The meaning of life. Claire, it varies from person to person. To me, the meaning of life is a clear conscience. When I die, I want to know that I made the right decisions. I want to die knowing that I was free of impurity in life. It's all part of His plan," she said, looking to the ceiling ominously. "He wants us all to do right in this world. And I want you to do the right thing, Claire. I know that I haven't been the best mother, but I know that you're a good girl at heart. Like I said, get as far as you can from that boy. He's trouble." Claire's mother opened her mouth to continue, but was quickly cut off by Claire.
"Thanks, mom. I don't really feel like talking about me now. I just needed your answer. Bye." Claire grabbed a bagel and ran upstairs.
"Hey, sis?" Claire knocked on the door to her sister's room and walked in nearly immediately. "Can I ask you something?"
Her sister, Marie, motioned to her to sit on the bed, "Yeah, whatever. But I've got geometry homework, so make it quick."
Claire sat and took a good look at her sister. The girl was fourteen, blonde, and beautiful. She had little more to worry about than wearing the right clothes and conforming to social norms. How could Claire expect her to know the answer? But she took a leap, "What's the meaning of life? To you, I mean."
Marie set her text down and laid back against her pillow. "God, this sounds like something Ms. Smith would assign for some damned project."
"Marie," Claire scolded, "Don't use that language. Mom will think I taught you it."
"Oh, who cares? The old bat doesn't take the time to listen anyway. You can't expect her to notice a profanity. Now, let's see…the meaning of life," Marie mused. She tucked a blonde lock behind her petite ear. "I guess if you asked any other girl my age," she laughed, almost bitterly, "she would probably say that the meaning of life is Love. Every girl thinks that 'falling in love' with the cute boy at school is oh-so-important. I guess I thought that too, and still do. But I think the real meaning of life, if you want me to get all deep and philosophical, is to be happy with yourself. If you aren't happy with yourself, then it blocks everything else. You can't be happy in your job, or your life, or your relationships, or anything. So, that's my answer. You should be happy for yourself. But if anyone asks what my answer was, tell them I said 'boys'."
Claire was taken aback at her sister's answer. She fully expected a shallow, egocentric answer. But her sister surprised her often. "Thanks." She walked from the room with a bowed head. Her sister picked the geometry book up and went back to her frantic writing.
"Claire," the teacher called, "Please come to the front of the class and present your 'discovery'. I pray it isn't as terrible as the rest of these." Claire frowned. What an angry woman. What had caused such a person, in her physical and mental prime, to be so cynical? Claire wondered suddenly what her reply would be to Claire's interview.
Claire shuffled nervously to the front of the classroom and stepped behind the podium. She pulled her notes out and surveyed her waiting classmates. She cleared her throat and began to speak. "The meaning of life," she stated in a wavering voice. "is a difficult topic to try and unscramble. You see, for the report, I interviewed a number of people, all of different stature, age, and point of view. I would get specific on the people, but I didn't really ask permission to use them in a discussion. But from each of them, I was given a different answer. One told me success, in all shapes and forms. One told me survival, and another said a clear conscience. And one said that it was in being happy with yourself. But from all of these replies, I uncovered a universal truth. There is no meaning to life." There were one or two gasps, but two-thirds of the class was off in La-La Land and hadn't heard any of her speech at all. "Consider this: while being happy with yourself and surviving and what have you are all important, every person is going to give a different response. No two people will find the same truth in the meaning of life. And when you really think about it, none of these things matter in the end. When the dirt covers your coffin, no one will care if you sold drugs to ten year olds, whether you led a man to infidelity, whether you were insecure or whether you were at peace with your conscience. No one gives a shit when you're six feet under. Thus, there is no purpose to life."
Claire concluded and went back to her seat. Claps were sparse across the room and she noticed drool issuing from the pothead that sat in front of her. But she didn't care. This report wasn't for other people; it was for her. And that was all the purpose there was to this assignment.
"Thank you…uh…Claire," the teacher said, "for such an odd report." She out a hand to her head and marked the girl's paper. "F" she whispered to herself and called the next person to the front of the room.
END: The Report