Office Hours

Dr. Meeks’ office was on the third floor. Hannah trudged up the wide stairs, her backpack weighing her down, huffing and puffing half way up. She reached the third floor and wiped her boots against the carpet again, just to make sure she had left behind all traces of the snow she had carried inside. Then, with a deep breath, she strode down the hall to the last door on the left.

She had been to see Dr. Meeks before, to talk to her about the first paper. In the classroom, Dr. Meeks seemed small and frail, overwhelmed by the classroom full of students, overshadowed by the projector screen she lectured from. In her office, however, the tiny lady exuded a formidable presence, her grey eyes behind the large lenses peering knowingly into your thoughts. She sat in the chair behind her desk, piled with its papers and folders and books, and clasped her hands and nodded slowly at each explanation of how Austen meant to advocate for a balance between “sense” and “sensibility;” or how Eliot used references to Greek mythology in The Waste Land to represent the destruction of Western Civilization. Hannah was unsure of what she thought of Dr. Meeks; she thought she was a nice teacher, a fair teacher, possibly even an interesting teacher; sometimes she talked to herself during lectures, and her references to obscure books and films never actually helped anyone understand the principle she was trying to explain … but yeah, she was fine, Hannah guessed. Hannah was getting an A in the class, without a ton of extra work on her part, so she wasn’t worried.

This meeting would be a formality; the paper was fine; Dr. Meeks had said Hannah was on the right track; ten minutes in the office, and Hannah would be back in the snow, on her way back to the dorm for a biochem study party in the common room. Halfway down the hall, and Hannah heard voices at the end of the hall. As she advanced, she could distinguish Dr. Meeks’ lilting tones and a man’s deep grumblings. A soft glow of light spilled into the hall; the office door was open, and when Hannah came to the doorway, she saw she was not Dr. Meeks’ only visitor.

The cozy little corner office was lined with bookshelves reaching to the ceiling, filled to the brim with books. Some books were neatly lined up, with warm-color bindings; others were stacked and shoved hurriedly on a shelf here, or a shelf there. The desk and its swivel chair took up half the floor space; a well-padded rocking chair sat opposite a simple, square armchair tucked into the corner. A green potted plant sat on the plush ornamental rug, just behind a rickety side table holding an electric tea kettle, a box of tea, and three or four assorted mugs. The greens and browns of the furniture and books, set in relief by the lamplight, evoked a forest-like sense of familiarity and comfort.

Hannah momentarily forgot the voices as she saw, to her astonishment, an enormous German Shepherd lying in the middle of the rug. She had grown up with dogs, but the surprise of seeing the creature, and its sheer size, made her stare at its placid paws, and the inquisitive ears that twitched as she approached. The dog lifted its head, sniffed, then set its head back down at a word from Dr. Meeks. The brown eyes never left Hannah, and every few moments, the nose sniffed again, to make sure it wasn’t forgotten.

The other newcomer sat cross-legged in the rocking chair. It was a man, a tall, thin man in a plaid shirt and jeans. His sleeves were rolled to his elbows, his hair gelled back, and the scruff on his chin reminded Hannah of a hipster band member. Guitar, probably, or banjo. He must have been in the middle of saying something, for his hand was raised in the air, gesturing eagerly to some unseen point, but he brought it down to his side when Hannah appeared in the doorway. He looked at her and a smile played on his lips. He glanced towards Dr. Meeks, and Hannah followed his gaze.

Dr. Meeks sat at her desk, but there was little professorial about her now. She had taken off her usual tailored jacket and pulled on a university hoodie. Her hair tumbled about her shoulders; her glasses lay on the table, and her face glowed with more than the muted lamplight. Hannah saw with a shock how very young Dr. Meeks was; the eagerness in her eyes and the flush in her cheeks made her look seventeen. As Hannah came in, Dr. Meeks giggled and blushed and invited her to take the square armchair. She turned to her other visitor and ordered him out of the room. “Hannah and I have to talk now; take the kettle to the kitchen and get some water for tea.”

The man grinned and rose from the chair. “Rude, Laurie; aren’t you going to introduce us?” He raised an eyebrow and looked to Hannah for confirmation.

Laurie. He called her Laurie. Hannah realized with a rush of blood to her face that she had interrupted their conversation, their evening; she muttered something about a mistake, but Dr. Meeks waved it away. “It’s official office hours; he’s just come to bug me for a while. You belong here, he doesn’t. And now he’s going to go get water while you and I talk about your paper.” She looked purposefully at him, but she could not hide the smile that threatened to burst like sun rays from her face. He stood and crossed his arms.

Dr. Meeks rolled her eyes and acquiesced. “Hannah, this is … Mark. Mark, this is Hannah, one of my best and brightest, and sea-green incorruptible. Now GO.”

Mark leaned forward and formally shook hands with Hannah. “Delighted to meet you. I’m sorry I can’t stay and chat, but I’ve been commissioned for a dangerous and sophisticated mission.” He picked up the empty kettle. “If I don’t return within fifteen minutes, send in the Marines. Laurie, I leave you my second-best bed. Hannah, I leave you all the fondness mustered in a two-minute acquaintance … adieu!” and he bolted down the hall as Dr. Meeks stood up and waved her arms threateningly at him.

“Shoo!” she said, then sat down in the rocking chair he had just vacated, and sighed contentedly. “Sorry about that,” she beamed. “He’s pretty much the definition of incorrigible. I wasn’t expecting him to come this week,” she paused in thought, a smile playing on her lips, then she shook herself. “Oh, and this is Scheherazade. She’s a princess, but she knows to behave — unlike some people. Ok, let’s get to work. How are you doing with Dickens?”

They sat for ten minutes and discussed the paper. Mark came back not once, but twice, with trumped-up complications — first he couldn’t find the office kitchen at the end of the hall, then he couldn’t fit the kettle under the faucet to fill it. Dr. Meeks played her frustration well, but Hannah saw the immense delight in her eyes. When he did return and set the kettle to boil, he curled up on the floor with the dog, rubbing her ears and scratching her neck until the great Shepherd rolled onto her back, begging to have her belly rubbed. As Dr. Meeks took the paper and perused the paragraph on Bleak House, Hannah listened to the water rumbling in the kettle and the dog’s tail thwacking against the side of the desk. She could feel her eyelids drooping; her shoulders relaxed, and she melted into the chair.

Another moment, and she might never have returned, but Dr. Meeks handed back the paper and expressed her interest in one of the sources and how it could serve as a key source for Hannah’s argument. And that was all. Dr. Meeks smiled; Hannah was excused. She hastily stuffed the paper into her backpack and zipped it up, as Dr. Meeks commented on Dickens, the weather, the approaching end of the semester. “Nice to meet you,” Mark waved and grinned. Hannah mumbled awkwardly and left the light-warmed room, her footsteps echoing down the empty hall.

Laurie sighed and ruffled her hair absentmindedly as she poured water for tea. Mark watched her, still patting the dog, and accepted the proffered mug in silence. Laurie returned to the rocking chair and curled up with her own mug, sinking into a brown study. When she looked up, she found his eyes resting on her. “What is it?”

He raised an eyebrow. “You didn’t tell her who I was, did you?”

Laurie grinned slyly. “I rarely get to be human anymore. Let me have one little moment of mystery.”

Mark shook his head in amusement, and together, in silence, they passed the rest of the evening in their own company.

Flying

She swung through the doors, and it wasn’t until she looked up that she realized it was dusk. She stood on the steps and stared at the greying sky, where the birds flew between the cracks in the clouds. It had been grey that morning when she entered the office, and it was grey now as she left. She slung her bag across her shoulders and began making her way down the empty sidewalk.

One drop, but she didn’t notice. Another, and still her head hung low. Three, four, five, and a gust of wind made her twitch her nose; then, suddenly, the great cloud overhead broke open and dropped its contents on her head. She stood, drenched before she could think to move; a clap of thunder woke her, and she shook herself, and as if by divine inspiration, she smiled. She threw off the bag, and started to walk; she untied her hair, and started to run; her shoes fell off as she ran, and with each step she shed another concern; first one worry dropped, then another; the wind caught up her doubts and they whirled in a windstorm into the sky. She was stripped of all but a hope; she took a leap of faith and found herself flying.

Professor

The looming clouds didn’t seem to bother him. He stood by the lamppost, his puffy navy blue coat hanging from his shoulders, his eyes blinking slowly behind the round glasses. A gasp of wind blew up the avenue, catching up scraps of paper and sending them wisping through the air. His hair stood on end. The cars shook and shivered in the cold; their headlines stared out into the quickly-falling dusk. He still stood.

He stood still as a class of freshmen let out from the building behind him, swarming the sidewalk, jostling and joking in oblivion. He stood still as a homeless man lurched past him; the man shook his gnarled locks and glanced only once at the stubborn academic. It was over now; what was there to be stubborn about anymore? He stood still as the bus slowed and swayed close to the curb. The doors wheezed open, and the man stepped stiffly onto the bus. The doors clanged behind him; the bus jerked forward, and, without a glance backward, he rode away for the last time.

Mrs. Smith

Even though they stood at opposite ends of the room, they were conscious only of each other’s presence. The whole room was conscious of their presence — their united existence, the invisible, connecting thread strung between them, affecting each other’s smallest movements, slightest thoughts, with an intangible twitch. He, with his coolly unimpressed air, stood by the window, tossing off well-worn puns to the gaggle of women who made their way, consciously or unconsciously, through the crowd to congregate in that very spot. She, on the other hand,  was judiciously helping the hostess hand out drinks to those members of the party gathered by the bar. She turned her back, and he straightened his; he coughed, and she twitched her nose; when either’s laugh rung out across the crowd, the other grew silent and still, as if a song had been put on mute. They did not make eye contact; they merely breathed in sync. They could hear snatches of each other’s separate conversations, and the call-and-response became apparent to even the least observant.

One of the gaggle, a particularly peckish type named Linda, broke away from the flock momentarily to forage from the snack table. She bumped into another woman scraping the sides of the potato salad bowl. Linda apologized with a giggle. “What a party! I love people watching. And this *charming* man — he’s enchanted every woman in the room.”

“Yes,” said the woman, without looking up. “That’s my husband.”

Snow

Whether it was the pale transparency of her face, or the icy touch of her hand, or her sharply pointed nose, anyone who met her was struck with an unexpected chill. She was not unkind; she was not aggressive or disdainful in her demeanor; but the questioning glint in her eye and the gentle lift of her shoulders when she breathed were the only indications that she was not a perfectly molded wax figure. She glided across the room like an iceberg; when she spoke, each word that fell from the sedentary line of her lips floated gently to the ground, spinning with its fellows in a cascade of crystals. “Excuse me,” she said, and the room shivered. The man in the back corner, with the furrowed brow and over-sized trench-coat, sneezed.

K

There she sat, facing him across the bright green lawn. There she sat, her golden curls as so many daffodils waving in the breeze, her face reflecting a golden marigold; she sat, as an evening primrose, basking in the pink and purple hues of the coming night. The royal blue canopy above cast uncertain shadows across her face, shrouding her in an aura of sanctity. He took another step; he had reached her throne. He glanced down at the hem of her gown, trailing across the cold white marble. He knelt before her and held her hands, and looked up to meet her eyes, but they were not there to greet his. The red leaves left the trees above their heads and landed despondently at his feet. There was no wind; there was no sun. He felt the stifling air envelop him, close in and pressure him from every side. While her ruby mouth spat words of welcome, her eyes, previously his alone, now searched above his head for another. His face fell. Surely … he saw her eyes light up and he turned around to follow their gaze. There stood an image of himself, a shadow of a reflection of him. Dressed in the best of finery, leading a pearly white horse, the newcomer advanced and came to stand before the lady – his lady – and grinned at the brown-clad figure kneeling at her feet. “Welcome home, brother.”