Wales was the least popular destinations among the staff. The hills were pretty as scenery but hard on aged professors. It always rained. The street names were impossible to read. Every historical spot railed the English as abusers. Bangor, the town, was too small for the college and its droves of Chinese. No one spoke Welsh except bus drivers; people got offended if you asked them to speak it; bus drivers got offended if you asked them to announce stops in English. Everyone wanted to hear Americans speak—they loved the accent. They asked if you knew Will Smith or Lady Gaga. They told you about your politics. They told you about your religion. They told you you were stupid. The pubs were clubs for kids. The churches weren’t much to look at unless you were an old Welsh lady glaring at anyone who might’ve drunk a drop of ale. However, ten years ago, it was the best autumn of my life.
The English department meeting started with a poll of who would like to be considered for the position of Interim Director of Study Abroad Wales. Professor Maria Snyder raised a hand and no one but the dean and I, sitting on either of side of her, took notice till she cleared her tender voice and said, “I’ll go.”
Dr. Kim Koza, who was married to Dr. Harris, looked through her rose-tinted glasses at the list of Wales students this semester. She was at one end of the table and Maria was at the other, with me. She suggested, “We could use another.” She combed a grey streak in her dark, curly hair as the other professors objected, griping that losing a second professor would shift too much work on each of them. “There are thirty-three children. Most of the field trips are to castles. The spiral staircases are slim fits. Only five or six can climb at a time. While one director leads the students to the top to give them some history, it’d be nice if we had a second chaperone rallying the other kids. Usually Tecwyn’s friend Richard does this, but without Tecwyn and without paying Richard, we can’t expect him to man his post. None of us have even met Richard. Wait, was Richard there when you went to Wales, Leopold?” she asked me.
The table of professors, en masse, turned from her end of the table to the other, and squinted over their glasses at me. I was the youngest of the bunch, with Maria being my nearest senior and her nearest senior had salt-and-pepper hair. We were the only candidates for an office romance as the college healthcare didn’t pay for Viagra. But Maria was married—happily I’m sure.
I chewed a mouthful of donut and wiped Bavarian crème from my cheeks. I chewed for a while. The professors eyed me, coughed, rustled their papers, and I kept chewing. “He only came on the big field trips. Cardiff, Dublin, Liverpool. He skipped the day trips like Penrhyn Castle. He lived in Cricieth so we always had to pick him up too.”
This split the table. It seemed the geezers who thought another professor was necessary sat on one side of the oval table while the opposition faced them directly across. “He didn’t even do anything half the time. These kids are 20, give or take a year. They can handle being alone for ten minutes.”
“It’s a foreign country! What if they get lost in admiration gazing at a cherub statue while the group wanders off? Who’s responsible then? The school? It’s the school, right? It’s wiser to hedge our bets and send a second professor.”
“Who would go? I can’t. Who’d teach social justice in literature?”
“I have senior seminar.”
“I can’t walk much since the hip surgery.”
“I don’t like flying.”
“The temperate climate is wrong for me.”
“I’ve already been. I prefer London. Send a London director over. I’ll go to London and they can go to Wales.”
Everyone went through their excuses till it got to me.
“I have a dog.”
They scoffed at mine. I was the newest professor and still consigned to torture, teaching freshmen composition. The rest of the professors had made their fortunes and were sitting on it, waiting for retirement. In ten years, Maria and I would be the last two here if they continually refused to hire young blood.
The man who didn’t like the weather said, “That’s no excuse.” It was the general consensus of those in favor of sending a second professor.
Dr. Kim Koza, however, put a stop to that discussion. “We can’t legally force a professor to go. We still have time to decide. We’ll hold another meeting on Friday and if anyone changes their minds, all the better. We still need to check the budget too. We might have to hire an associate professor if the rest of your schedules can’t accommodate Leo’s classes. Or whoever we send.”
It seemed I was being forced into it by everyone. But I had no legal obligation. Still, a year in the UK, living near and constantly being around Maria, who always smelled like bing cherries, was tempting. UK women ranked 3rd on the biggest breasts and in the top 10 on fewest bras. I couldn’t decide. Last time I lost twenty pounds from all the walking. Their bread is softer. They can’t make a burger. Everyone’s polite. The town stays up till 4 in the morning. It’s crowded. You never feel alone. I couldn’t decide. Could Pickles come? Would Molly watch her? What would Molly do? She’d watch the house, but not the dog. I couldn’t decide.
The meeting ended after everyone submitted their reading list. A few of my chosen novels were rejected because they weren’t supplied by our Texas textbook distributor. Also I needed a $50 anthology or else my books would be too cheap. No one said that explicitly, but each year, they encouraged that I add an anthology with excerpts of the “greatest American short stories.” The ones that I’d use; Hemingway, Wolf, Salinger, Roth, Updike, Carver (the usual authors); I already had. I could copy the stories for the kids and save their parents an expense, copyright laws be hanged.
Out in the hall, Maria caught me. “You should go.”
“I have a dog.” I also had a third donut, shaped like a football, in my hand.
“Get her after your classes are up.”
“Can you even go? What about Herr Hoffman, your husband?” I asked. I wouldn’t go if she wasn’t. I might go even if she was. I definitely wouldn’t go if he was. I don’t know. I couldn’t decide.
“He can take a sabbatical. I’ll have to ask. But we’ve been apart for a year. Our marriage will survive.”
I wouldn’t go.