I've just about had all I'm going to take from this place. In
the mornings it's foggy, the clouds come in at night, low, cover
everything with dew and wetness. And then by the time the sun
comes up it's already hot, humidity bringing sweat to my forehead.
No matter how many times I wipe my head more sweat comes, running
down in small rivulets to my chin, my neck. Sometimes, when it
doesn't matter, I just let it go.
I go into my office at the college and just wipe my face with
a towel, or wave a manilla folder like a fan in front of me. It's
never cool enough. September 12th. What kind of a town is this
with the hottest part of summer still here?
I look up and out into the hallway and I see Sheryl Borelli, an
older lady who teaches British Literature.
"Yes," I say.
"Your car is parked backwards out there," she says,
pointing vaguely in the direction of the parking lot.
"Wrong way?" I say.
"You're nose out," she says, and then comes right in
my office. She looks at my two art deco lamps that I have lighting
the room and she reaches for the switch that turns on the large,
"Nose in?" I say.
"Six dollar ticket," she says. "They can't see
your parking sticker." She looks behind me at a movie poster
I have of a near naked blonde woman, and she turns and starts
"Thank you," I say, as her heels echo down the hallway.
I'm the new guy here. I've just been hired to teach these American
History courses. I don't know if I even want the job, or if I
can do it at all. I've only got my Master's, and I've only taught
one year before. They were desperate, I suppose. To give me $25,000
to do a job that I can't do seems desperate.
I've just lost a girlfriend to a guy who plays guitar in some
band. She was about the best looking girl I'd ever seen, so it
didn't surprise me too much when she took her stuff out of the
"Don't let me slow you down," I said as she left.
"That's never been a problem," she said.
I can hear noises through one wall of my office. Through the other
side is the faculty lounge. They've got refrigerator and oven
stuff in there. At lunch all I can smell are frozen dinners. Lean
Cuisine. Junk like that. The first couple of days I was here I
sat in there with them. I ordered a big pizza and ate half of
it without saying a word. Some guy asked me if he could have a
piece and then started telling me about Faculty Council and the
raise we weren't going to get. I left the other half of the pizza
there when I went to class, and when I came back two hours later
the thing was still sitting there.
They know who I am mostly now. I made a joke a couple of days
ago and one of the old guys said, "Mr. Majors has sure arrived."
They all laughed and I suppose I laughed, too. But I'd imagine
all at different things.
I get along with this one other new guy. He's in the English department
but I don't think he likes it. He's got some sort of bogus degree
from a college in the panhandle of Oklahoma that no one's ever
heard of. "Great place," he keeps saying. "Top
flight speech department."
So, he and I started eating lunch together at this cafeteria nearby
rather than sitting in the lounge with the old-timers. I don't
want you to mistake this. I appreciate the words of advice I get
from them, but I just don't know if I want to be sitting there
when I'm fifty or a hundred and fifty, which is roughly the age
range of the college faculty.
So this guy from Oklahoma's name is Newton. I can't pronounce
his last name and he tells me it's Indian. I don't care. Newton
and I sit at this cafeteria about five miles from the college
and he tells me how much he hates English and I tell him how much
I hate History. We talk about getting motorcycles and driving
to Colorado like the guy in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.
We won't do it, of course. They don't pay you here for being stupid.
I have this one girl in my class who likes to sleep. I swear when
she nods off in the middle of a lecture about Jeff Davis or during
some dumb question about the Civil War, I just want to race over
to her and slap her silly.
This morning when I go in she's one of the only students not there.
I rip through the class roster, seventy-five students, mispronouncing
about one out of every three names. Every once in a while a student
will correct me. "Her-NAN-dez," comes a voice from the
back. I just keep going. What are they going to do? Report me?
I look at the names that have X's next to them to see if I can
figure out who she is. The semester is not very far along and
I've never been very good at learning names. When students put
their hands up I just point at them.
"Go ahead," I say.
I'm covering the rise of the American South when the sleeper comes
in. She strides right in front of my desk, shooting me a sheepish
look that's about 60% teeth. She sits down toward the back right
of the room, her usual spot, and I swear she nods off before I
get to the Georgia conventions.
Newton and I have got this notion that we're just going to buy
motorcycles no matter what and hit the road. I know he's mostly
just joking about it. I, of course, am dead serious. One weekend
we escape from our nearly identical dead-end apartments and try
out bikes at this place right in the middle of town. Newton gets
on a big Honda and nearly spills it at the first turn.
"Your buddy a rider?" the guy says to me, concerned.
"Horses, I think," I say.
When Newton gets back he's got a cramp in his hand from the clutch.
He just waves at me like he's lost his mind and I get on the same
"Just around the building once," the sales guy says.
"Yeah, it's a heavy bike," Newton says. "Take it
I look at both of them like they were bugs on my windshield and
give the big bike some gas.
I had the bike for almost a week before the rain stopped and I
could ride it to school. I don't wear real nice clothes to work
anymore so that didn't matter. I wear jeans and a dress shirt,
but I never tuck the shirt in. I just let it hang out like I'm
retarded and I sometimes even wear a tie. Who cares? I wear tennis
shoes, too. If they want to fire me over my shoes, let them.
I park the bike right in a car stall. When I called the security
people they told me that there was no faculty motorcycle parking,
but I was free to park it with the student bikes out in the remote
East parking. I didn't consider that an option at all.
So, this morning I just parked it diagonal in the stall I usually
park my Nissan in and that's it. Let's see them tow it or move
it. I've got a parking sticker on it so they can always check
and see whose it is.
I go into the big lecture hall after I get some stuff out of my
office, and as I walk a little across campus I can see the bike.
It looks beautiful and solitary out there.
This class is the sleeper's class. It's a big one today, almost
everyone there. I go through the roll and when I say 'Lori Stone,'
I hear her voice say 'here.'
As I teach that day all I think about is her name. I glance down
at the class roster and I see her name and her social security
number and even her phone number. I could just call her up at
night and say hello. I could tell her that there's a serious Historyproblem that only she could help me with. That's the thing to
do. In fact, it might be the only way I can ever get fired here.
A small price to pay for freedom.
"So, you like it?"
Newton has come in my office and is grinning, leaning against
the door jamb.
"Yeah, pretty cool, huh?"
"Yes. As long as you keep it upright." I feel mean today,
no big surprise.
"Well, it's been a while since I rode. I guess you're pretty
serious about it. I see you ride it every day now."
"What else? You either ride it or you park it."
"Yeah, I suppose."
I can tell Newton wants to come in and talk. I'd rather he went
and joined the circus or something. He keeps looking at the two
chairs I have in my office for students and I have them covered
with books for a committee I've been forced to work on.
"Why don't you sit down," I finally say after Newton
has sighed for about the four hundredth time.
I had been grading this stack of essays for one of my classes.
None of the other History people do it, but I opened my big mouth
during my interview about writing across the curriculum or some
other hodgepodge that I had heard about and my department chair
said he wanted to know my results. So, I slap A's and B's in equal
numbers. Short essays get C's. If they're not typed I give them
D's and F's. When Newton came to the door I was just turning the
title page of Lori Stone's.
"Well, what's up, Newton?" I say.
"I've got to go to this convention next week. You know? State
thing. You going?"
"They dock your pay a day if you don't go."
"Let them. What is it? Ten bucks or something?"
"Sixty-eight, actually. Your chair know you're not going?"
"I don't care," I say.
Newton just stands there and gives me one of those hard looks
that sort of says, "Boy, are you in for a big surprise."
Which of course I already know.
That night I don't sleep even five minutes. At four a.m. I just
get up, shower, dress, and ride the bike around town. I need some
sort of reason not to just go pack a suitcase and go to Las Vegas
or something. I ride a little and think about the day my wife
We had a house, a real nice one. It was outside of the city on
three sweet acres. I came home and there was a U-Haul out front.
You probably think I'm making this up.
I make a pass through the college parking lot and the place is
quiet and empty. I park for a second in front of a big bank of
glass doors that I can see my reflection in.
I head the bike up the feeder to the highway and roll past some
fast food joints, 24 hour places. At a fish place, a restaurant
with a gigantic whale for a sign, I get stopped at a red light.
I mindlessly sing along to some song in my head and wonder what's
next for me. As I wait I stare in the restaurant, watch some kid
cleaning tables. He picks up a whole tray of paper plates and
styrofoam cups and sweeps them with his arm into a giant yellow
And past him, right in my line of vision, that's where I see her.
That's where I get my answer. I can see her standing there behind
the cash register of the all night fish place, smiling, beautiful.
It's the sleeper.
She's standing in the doorway looking at me. I've got my feet
up on the desk and I'm trying to catch a few winks.
"I'm Lori," she says. "From your 8 o'clock class?"
She sits down in the chair opposite me. She's carrying her textbook
in one hand and a large potted plant in the other.
"What do you need?" I say.
"You said we could come in and look at our first essays,"
I look at her a second and then reach for a blue folder on the
desk. When I find it I open it flat and begin flipping papers
over looking for her name. "Stone?" I say. "Lori
I find it and pull it out. It has a large, red 'B' written on
it and some comments about content and development. Maybe they're
good comments, but now I don't even remember writing them.
"Here," I say. "If you have any questions just
She takes the paper from me and reads for about two seconds and
then puts the paper back down. "Well, how's the class going?"
"What? Class? Your class?" I say.
"Yeah, are we pretty normal or what?"
"Yeah, I suppose. Normal. About as normal as usual. Do you
have a question about your grade?"
"Not really," she says. "I just thought I'd ask."
She looks at me a bit longer and I don't have any idea what I
should say next. I wonder if maybe she saw me somehow that morning
at the restaurant. Maybe she knew I couldn't sleep either at night,
and that's what made us alike. If maybe she had been staring out
that restaurant window at the same time I was staring in. What
would she have thought to have seen me there at 4:30 in the morning,
looking at her? Just as I begin feeling sweat form on my forehead
she reaches to the ground, picks up the plant, and sets it right
on the desk, on top of her essay. She gets up and waves, backs
out the door.
I love her like I've loved nobody before.
W.T.Pfefferle writes fiction and poetry, publishes widely,
and plays guitar in Dallas, Texas. He is working on a nonfiction
book about music resources on the Internet..