4 of Spades: Missed the River

 

 

Molly had trouble seeing in the shower. Everything was getting in her eyes: dirt, water, soap, her own hair. Whether she was standing or kneeling, she was blinded. But we were used to the routine. We’d been showering together semi-regularly since college. Everything slipped into place on its own.

 

After I washed her back then checked my hair for ticks, we got out of the shower and she dressed in plaid pajamas. The fun of the night was over. We lay in the same bed, our backs facing each other, unable to sprawl out and get comfortable or warm because my blanket was meant for one. I let her have it. She threw it off claiming “Your house is boiling.” So I took the blanket from the carpet and wrapped myself. It was my favorite blanket—full of holes, with seams coming undone after every wash. I’d had it since college. She said “It’s freezing,” and stole it again.

 

The next morning as the chickadees let out their raspy cackles, Molly yanked my blaring alarm’s chord from the outlet.

 

I had just fallen asleep an hour ago, but I was up—might as well enjoy it. I rubbed her shoulder, back, held her hip, leaned over to kiss her ear—and she stopped me.

 

“Work at a high school. They get the summer off. They don’t go in at 8 on a Monday if it’s summer,” she said. “Work at a high school and let me have the summer to sleep.”

 

I didn’t tell her that if I worked at a high school, she wouldn’t work at the college. “High school gets less time off. June to the beginning of August. College gets May to the end of August. Either way, it’s August; I’d have to go in today.” I lay on my back with my naked body covered strategically by my corner of the blanket.

 

“Not me,” she groaned and rolled onto her stomach so her face smashed the pillow. Her hair covered above her shoulders. Only her hands and feet and hair and plaid pajamas were visible.

 

“We have a meeting. They might want you to take notes.” I left for the laundry room where my clean clothes were, always.  I slipped into some boxers with moose on them. Then I pulled on socks that Molly had bought me. They had the days written on the ankle, but she’d given me one of each day. She wore the missing pairs. I wasn’t sure if they were lady socks or man socks, but they fit. Today I wore Sunday and Monday. “Or you could do some typing. Dr. Clementine can’t use a computer to find porn. He’ll need you to type his lesson plan.” I walked back to the bedroom in my moose boxers and day socks.

 

She had stolen my pillow and put it between her sweaty thighs as she curled up in the fetal position. “Let a student.”

 

“Summer semester doesn’t have student-workers.” I went back into the laundry room for a shirt. My work shirts were typical professor-chic: low-grade polyester, buttons, collar, coffee stains. I hated them. I wore T-shirts beneath; each had a superhero emblem. I chose Superman today and buttoned up a black shirt over it.

 

I went back to the bedroom and ripped open my shirt, exposing my true identity as the Man of Steel.

 

Molly wasn’t watching. “Then the geezer can ask you for help. You won’t be doing anything anyway.”

 

I got pants from the laundry room. “Want me to fry up some bacon for you? Or Fakin’ Bacon?”

 

“You got up in time to make breakfast? What’s wrong with you?” she muttered into her pillow. “Be like your students. Get up two minutes before you have to leave.”

 

I savored my breakfast in silence, except when Molly farted into my sheets. I left.

 

The seat of my BMW was still muddy. It stained my butt and I untucked my shirt to cover it.

 

A woman in leather pants strolled through the parking lot. “Tuck it in; the dean’s here,” said Professor Snyder, a German, French, and Literature professor. When I was a student here, she had just finished her masters and we were her first class. It was a first-year course, real easy stuff, and we had German and Austrian transfer students to help us learn the language outside class. Still, I insisted on seeing Professor Snyder for tutoring and oral practice every Friday evening after I finished my work-study.

 

It wasn’t till our final oral exam that she said, “Als eine Studentin in Uni, ich habe meine Mann getroffen. Hat du eine Freundin oder Verlobte?”

 

I slogged through the translation in my head, going word by word. As a girl student in uni, I had a man—no, husband, getroffen. Getroffen, getroffen. Present tense: troffen? Treffen? Wait! Husband? “Du bist verheiratet?” Married?

 

Ja.”

 

War sehr romantisch?” Was it very romantic?

 

Wann habe ich meine Mann getroffen?” She had laughed, “Nein.”

 

Ein bischen romantisch?” A little romantic?

 

She laughed even more. “Nein. Kein romantisch. Ich war in Bibliothek wann ein Hühnchen habe gelaufen und mein zukünftige Mann hat gelaufen, und sag ‘Hat jemand einen Vogel gesehen?!’” At this point she raised her hand to act out her reaction. “’Ich habe ein Hühnchen gesehen.’”

 

Kann ich Englisch sprechen? So you were in the library and your future husband chases a chicken inside?”

 

Ja! Sehr gut!” Then she checked her watch and saw that we had gone over the required time for speaking German and switched to English. “It was a fraternity pledge. He was a freshman when I was finishing school. He’s actually going to graduate this year. Your graduation and his are the same day. So long as they don’t want me to speak at yours—and why would they? I’ll have to skip your guys’s.”

 

When I had returned to the college as a professor, she was still teaching and she even remembered me. Though upon our reunion, she said, “You used to be so thin.”

 

But back to the present, I jogged to catch up with her while my hand was down my pants. “Professor Snyder, what’s the dean doing here?” I asked. “It’s summer.”

 

Her clogs stepped on the faded paint. She pivoted toward me with her hands clasped. If she were a student of mine, I’d’ve marked her off for a trite begging-gesture. “Maria. Please! We’ve been colleagues for—what? Five years now? Maria, please.” She kept walking and her rubber pants squeaked.  “Apparently Tecwyn’s got heart problems. He’ll be okay, but needs surgery and rest. We need replacement directors for the Welsh Study Abroad program. The kids already paid, bought books, and have flight arrangements. Some of them are already in the UK. We can’t cancel the program.” She held open a door for me.

 

I grabbed the door over her head. She was a very short woman. During our German class, everyone described her as kleine because we didn’t know too many words. The boys also described her as dick—thin. I insisted she go ahead of me. I liked to walk behind her when she wore leather pants.

 

She shook her head at my chivalry. “Didn’t you study in Wales? Why don’t you go?”

 

“I can’t. I have a dog.”

 

“I have your dog right now.”

 

“Right. I’ll get her later.” We stood on crimson carpet of the English department lounge. Her office was here because she was a Literature professor and the offices in Weller International Center were for visiting professors, mostly from Sudan or China or Canada. Maria was from New York. On the wall behind her was a print of Paul Cezanne’s “Clairière” that I had bought for the school. “Was Pickles good for you?”

 

“Luckily Geoffrey was out of town this week. He has allergies, you know. So it’s good he had that energy-efficiency in Germany seminar.”

 

“Geoffrey?” I asked. “You mean Herr Snyder?”

 

“Herr Hoffman,” she corrected me. “I didn’t take his name. For professional reasons. You knew that.”

 

We awkwardly stood on the crimson carpet, not saying anything else. She was too polite to leave and my college-crush lingered. The light above was dim. The lights in our offices were dim. It made it hard to read.

 

Finally the poetry professor Ratzlaff, an aging and ever-broadening hippy, walked by and told us the meeting was bumped up to accommodate the Dean’s schedule. We had ten minutes to prepare. Also there were donuts in the conference room. Having informed us, he left for the conference room.

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