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By Clara Frey February 15, 2024

Open House

The elevator jerked to a halt and its passengers groaned. From my cramped corner, I scanned the other families who found themselves in our sardine tin. Like us, they were getting back to their cars in the University’s parking lot. Today was the open house, and they clutched prospectuses and program brochures as if pouring over them might somehow guarantee their child’s admission.

After a few achingly silent minutes, an unknown voice from the top of the elevator shaft bellowed: “We’ve called the fire department! Nobody panic: you folks should be out of there in a matter of hours!”

My dad checked his phone. “No reception. Unbelievable.”

The collective groan was even louder this time. How were we supposed to pass the excruciating time? I couldn’t even distract myself with today’s Wordle or some Instagram Reels.

Earlier that day, my dad and I had started our visit at the school’s gates. “How about we take a look at the Faculty of Law before we visit the English department?” he suggested as we walked towards the campus.


I was slightly irritated, but not surprised that my had decided on this detour. By 18, I was well aware that approval lay in choosing a practical career. At Thanksgiving dinners I had learned that the sooner I could deliver promises of law school enrolment to prying aunts and uncles, the sooner I could peacefully return to my turkey and mashed potatoes.

“I could really see you as a lawyer, you know. I mean, law requires tons of writing and argumentativeness.” He paused, then added: “Don’t you want to let your old man retire early?”

“Sure, dad. I already told you I would apply.”

I escaped to the bathroom while my dad intently listened to a seminar in the moot courtroom, furiously scribbling notes about minimum required R-scores and admission rates.

We left the building and he steered me to the right, where loomed a huge blue glass structure. It was surrounded by scaffolding, cranes and a cacophony of jackhammers and drills. It appeared to be spreading, encroaching on and even absorbing the other faculties like some sort of futuristic parasite. It was the new Artificial Intelligence Department. He insisted this would be our last stop before the English department.

“Now, that’s a useful degree,” my father said, rambling on about AI being the way of the future. I knew not to bring up my wishes of studying ancient Greek or Latin. “It’s pretty incredible. I mean, you can write an essay by pushing a button these days.”

“Sure is, dad.”

He had a point. Lately, writing an essay without a little AI-generated help felt like entering a race where, unbeknownst to you, all of your competitors were on steroids. We toured the AI building’s seemingly endless matrix of classrooms and computer labs, and finally made it to the English building.

A few booths lined the hall. At the Classics booths, a sympathetic student answered my questions about the program. In his left hand he held a slice of pepperoni pizza. “Sorry, we don’t get time for lunch breaks. The A.I. program got most of the volunteers.” Despite the slightly distracting wafts of pepperoni and mozzarella, I left the booth with renewed conviction to study English.

As my dad paid the parking fee, he implored: “Just please let me know that you’ll consider the other programs we checked out. You do have expensive tastes, you know.”


In the past hour, not a commiserating word was exchanged between fellow elevator captives. We desperately refreshed and refreshed our screens, praying for just a bar of data.

Suddenly, unable to bear the silence any longer,  I began to speak.

“One day a girl visits the university with her dad. Their law program is reputable and well-funded and it is known for producing the most successful lawyers in the country.  These days, most legal battles revolve around the ethics of Artificial Intelligence, and most of the time, A.I. ends up winning. The A.I. faculty is their biggest and is now considered the most dependable degree.

There used to be a Literature program, but essay writing has long become obsolete. English classes now extend to learning how to write the best prompt for ChatGPT. Plus, no one has the attention span for books anymore.

The girl and her dad tour all of the faculties and each is practical and useful and necessary. They walk back to the parking lot and get into the elevator when suddenly, it stops.

And they’re in there for hours and it's the longest any of them and have ever endured without some sort of distraction. Inside the elevator boredom and frustration mount until it feels like the steel walls might burst. No one knows how to tell a story anymore.

They can’t invent one or even retell one because nowadays, the algorithm always generates stories for them. So they continue in utter silence, until they are finally rescued and their LTE turns back on and they get to scroll through their algorithms a little and pretty soon they’ve completely forgotten about the inconvenience.”

For the rest of our time in the elevator, there was not a moment of quiet.

Later, my dad tells me: “Study whatever you like Clara. I mean it.”


Photo by Derrick Treadwell on Unsplash.  

About the author

Clara Frey is an 18-year-old Dawson literature student from Montreal. Her pastimes include reading, writing poems on the metro and battling the urge to use Chat GPT for fear of losing the beauty of the written word. Clara's work has previously been published in the Encore Poetry Anthology as well as in the Plant News, where she is a staff writer. 

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