Teach Me(8)

By: Lola Darling


We’re still in the process of analyzing them, but they look like they might be early workings from T. S. Eliot himself, an alum of Merton, which he attended during the First World War.

I’ve petitioned the dean of the college to organize a graduate seminar around them, so I can recruit my lead doctoral candidates to help analyze the texts. We’ll likely need an undergraduate aid as well, someone to play research lackey. But that will look great on a CV, if nothing else. Any number of my usual students would kill for the position.

Depending how well this class does with Heaney, I might even recruit from here, Henry or Jenny, maybe. They’re all here for twentieth-century poets, so there are doubtless a few Eliot aficionados among them. We’ll see how they tackle Heaney’s themes and go from there.

A door creaks open somewhere in the back of the room. I turn, ready to greet the first wave of new students, on our first day back to class.

The smile freezes on my lips.

Hannah stands in the doorway, leaning one shoulder against the frame, a wide smile playing on her lips. “I hear you went to Drew and Mindy’s party last night.”

She knows, my gut screams at me. I tamp that thought down. Ridiculous. How could she possibly?

Anyway, it’s none of her bloody business. “I did,” I reply, purposefully grabbing a sheaf of papers to shuffle together so I don’t have to watch her studying me.

I can still sense her, though. Analyzing. Judging. Same Hannah as always.

“Did you dress as a vicar or a tart?” Her tone is playful, but I hear ice under it.

I heave a sigh and lift my eyes to hers. “Hannah, please. My first class starts in five minutes. Can we do this some other time?”

Her eyes flash, though whether it’s with anger or triumph, I can no longer tell. Seems like it’s always one or the other these days. Anger at me, for not being enough. Triumph every time she puts me in my place, yet again reminds me that I’m the scum of the earth, that even my own mother sides with her. “So sorry to inconvenience you. Let me know when you have time to pencil me into your little black book. Maybe you can jot me down for a slot between your next series of drunken parties.” She slams the door behind her, so hard the windowpanes, which are probably older than me, rattle in their frames.

Great. One of those third years in the living room singing karaoke must have recognized me, told Mindy, who told her. Mindy is also Team Hannah, as she reminds me every time the subject of my dating life, or lack thereof, comes up.

I fall into my chair with a groan, all excitement at the thought of the Eliot seminar and my announcement gone. When Hannah emailed me to say she’d be back from sabbatical this semester, no hard feelings, and she hoped we could get dinner and catch up as friends, I thought that this year would be different. That she would finally accept that I am not the guy to give her what she wants—the ring on her finger, the little country house with a white picket fence, babies, the whole package. That’s just not me.

Unfortunately, even after her year abroad “finding herself” in South Africa, she still seems convinced that we’re Meant To Be. Hannah, and practically everyone in my friend circle.

My thoughts on the matter don’t seem to be a concern.

The doors open again, and I jump, but it’s just students this time. I bury myself in reading for as long as I possibly can, rereading “The Gravel Walks” just to soothe my nerves. Okay, and maybe because it reminds me that, whatever the fallout, I’m glad I did take that chance last night. Walk on air against your better judgment. Take chances, live in the real world, but explore the fantasy realm as well.

I might not be the marriage and babies kind of guy, but that doesn’t mean I need to live my whole life like a saint.

Or a vicar. Ha ha.

Finally, the last of the students seems to have arrived, so I start the lecture. For the most part it goes well; Jenny and Keith and Henry have all returned for more of my banter, which makes me happy. I enjoy having engaged students, pupils who really want to participate. The ones who have as much passion for this subject as I do make all the bullshit I deal with worthwhile. If I could just teach those students, all day every day, my life would be complete.

There is one girl, though, who worries me. I recognize her friend, Mary Kate, from my eighteenth century lecture. This girl seems new, though, and from the way she spent the entire class gaping at me, practically sweating bullets in her seat, I wonder if she’s in over her head. Maybe she signed up for this class as an elective, or maybe she has it confused with the Introduction to Modern Poetry course that Drew teaches an hour earlier.

I make a mental note to ask her if she’s alright after class, but the second the end of hour bell rings, she bolts from her seat and flees the room, as if the chair she’d been sitting in was on fire. Mary Kate shoots me an apologetic smile and hurries after her.

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