I didn’t have classes the next day, but Frankie wanted to meet and talk over her thesis, and so I went down to Reeb Hall and it was nearly deserted, most people having left already for spring break. I could hear rhetoric instructors Jackie and Dawn talking in their office but I didn’t notice any other faculty or students.
My phone didn’t even ring when I got to my office—I kind of expected Tee to order me down to her office for a fussing, but that didn’t happen. I worked at my desk, grading some exams from one of my lit classes, awarding everyone in this class a B, saving the A for the end of the semester, so that the students would feel that they’d accomplished something.
After a while I heard some heavy steps in the hallway and looked up to see Sally standing in my doorway. She said, “You’re always getting in trouble!”
“What?” I sat back. “I didn’t do anything!”
“You egged on your friend,” Sally said. “That’s what I heard—you’re behind everything. You’re kind of like Hitler.”
“That’s probably true,” I said. “Hitler liked dogs, I like dogs….”
“Hitler was a vegetarian but otherwise you’re identical.” Sally was the happiest I’d seen her in a while. “At least, that’s what I heard.”
“So,” I said. “How’s Ted?”
“Oh, he’s fucked up.” Sally looked over her shoulder, then stepped closer to my desk. “Concussion, broken nose, broken jaw, missing some teeth. Couldn’t happen to a nicer guy.”
“Lynnie can fight,” I said. I felt a small rush of reflected toughness. “You don’t want to screw with her.”
“Honestly? I’m glad Ted screwed with her—he needed an ass-kicking.” Sally glanced over her shoulder again, did a double-take. “Oh—you have a student out here. I’ll talk to you later.”
Sally disappeared and Frankie stuck her head into my office and looked around.
She asked, “Are you alone?”
“Sure,” I said. “Sit down.”
Frankie and her backpack cane in and perched on the edge of a chair. I pulled a printout of her thesis from my briefcase. The thesis was actually coming along pretty well. It wasn’t a work of genius, but it was increasingly competent, a vast improvement over what she’d started with. As far as I was concerned, it was time to turn it over to the university’s thesis office for final approval.
“I heard something,” Frankie said. “Did Dr. Lynnie beat up Dr. Ted?”
“Oh, hell yeah,” I said. “She kicked his ass!”
“Is she going to get in trouble?” Frankie looked concerned.
“Naw,” I said. “I think she’ll be fine.”
Frankie was in a pretty cheerful mood. We spent some time going through a few changes I was suggesting for her thesis—she listened and didn’t even cry—and I handed her a hard copy of my notes. I far as I was concerned, it was all but done. She needed to clear the thesis office, hold a public reading of one of her stories, answer some questions from the committee, and—boom—she’d be a Master of Arts, for whatever that was worth.
“How will Dr. Nancy sign off on it?” Frankie asked.
Nancy was still in a coma, of course.
“I think we’ll get Dr. Wheeler to sign,” I said. “That’ll work.”
“Oh, good.” Frankie sort of smiled.
“But, maybe,” I said. I paused. “Maybe we can take the thesis down to the hospital and read it out loud to Nancy.”
“Yeah, it might wake her up,” I said. I paused again. “Of course—it might kill her, too!”
Frankie put her hand over her mouth, delighted.
“I don’t know—should we take the chance?”
Frankie was gasping, and I looked up and saw Courtney standing in my doorway. She was light on her feet.
“Well,” Courtney said. “You two are certainly cheerful.”
Frankie put her hand over her mouth again, her eyes bulging almost as big as Courtney’s.
“We are cheerful,” I said. “Frankie’s almost finished her thesis!”
“Really.” Another of Courtney’s great talents was to keep a smiling face and still make her voice sound like turds dropping on frozen ground. Really.
“Yep,” I said. “How’s Ted?”
“He’s resting,” Courtney said. “The doctors were able to save his beard.”
“Well,” I said. “I guess that makes him happy.”
“Your—friend—beat him very badly.”
I looked over at Frankie. I said, “Ted shouldn’t have assaulted her.”
“Well—it wasn’t really assault.” Courtney leaned against my doorframe like she was settling in for a while. She was up to something. Wanted something.
“Ted grabbed her pussy,” I said. “That’s assault, right?”
“Yeah, well,” Courtney said. “But—not really. I mean, I just want to say that I know about these things—I’m a feminist, okay? And I was talking to the Provost this morning, and she was thinking it’s a good idea that we establish mandatory anger management training for all faculty, and—”
“Wait—the university wants to punish everyone because Ted’s a pervert?”
“No—it’s complicated, Tom.” Courtney pushed away from the doorframe and stood up straight. She looked down at Frankie and Frankie blushed.
I said, “Tee told me last night that we have to start the job search over again.”
Courtney blinked her big eyes. “Yeah—I was thinking we need to have a meeting about that.
Maybe a meeting to talk about everything? Are you going to be in town for spring break? Maybe—we could all go to dinner next week? Tuesday or Wednesday?”
Frankie was making a face like she was sick or something.
“Sure,” I said. That’s why Courtney came down to my office. Up to something. “Why not?”
“Good—we’ll get everything straightened out. I’ll email you.”
Courtney disappeared. Frankie lurched to her feet and peeped around the corner, and then sat back down.
“Good!” I said.
“It’s going to be a trap,” Frankie said.
“Aw, they can’t trap me!” I laughed. “I’m indestructible! I’m untrappable!”
“Don’t go,” Frankie said. “They hate you.”
We were supposed to meet at Chrissy’s at 7:30, but I got there a bit early and found Courtney and Ted already seated at a small table in the bar, sipping margaritas through straws. I went over and joined them.
Five nights since his ass-kicking and Ted looked terrible, with both eyes blueish purplish black and swollen, his nose and lips puffy bulging, and, under his beard, a goiter-like swelling along his neck. Courtney looked the same as usual.
I asked, “How’re you all doing tonight?”
“Not well.” Ted’s jaw was wired together, his deep voice trapped behind graying nasty teeth. “Sore.”
“I’m sorry,” I said. “Take some pain meds.”
“No pain meds for head injuries.”
“Wow—that sucks,” I said.
“Ted’s resting,” Courtney said. “He’s going to be fine.”
“I’m going to be fine,” Ted grunted.
Ted got up and went to the bar to get me a margarita. Courtney immediately sort of got down to business—the job search business. She said we still needed to find someone to fill Devon’s position, and then we were going to have to conduct a Brit Lit search, to replace Fred. Ted put a drink down in front of me and sat, looking glum.
“What about Nancy?” I asked.
“We won’t fill that position yet,” Courtney said. “Nancy has like six years of sick leave saved up, and her husband wants her to use it all up before she resigns, and the administration doesn’t want to fill the position until she resigns.”
Or dies, I thought. And then I thought—the hospital’s right around the corner from Chrissy’s—maybe we could go over there and unplug Nancy’s respirator and simplify everyone’s life. But, no—on third thought, that would result in just another complicated job search.
“So we’re stuck,” I said.
“We might get an adjunct,” Ted grunted.
Adjuncts at Southeast Kansas were paid something like $750 per class per semester, with no benefits—just an outrageously low salary. The Kansas State Board of Regents of course probably wished that we were all adjuncts.
“Actually, you’re probably going to be teaching creative writing for the foreseeable future,” Courtney said.
“Aw, fuck me,” I said. Actually—I didn’t want to say it out loud, and I didn’t want anyone to know, but I was starting to like teaching CW. It was a different way of looking at literature—I was learning things.
“C’mon,” Courtney said. “I’d just like to say that we really need you to work with us. Let’s start over tonight, okay?”
I took a long sip of my drink. Starting over. Yeah, right.
Courtney said, “We can put everything behind us and start over.”
I said, “Yeah, well….”
“We can make all the troubles go away. All the charges.”
The stupid charges. She was offering me something. For what?
“Oh, I’m not worried about any charges,” I said lightly. I sucked down the last of my margarita and got an instant brain freeze. Ouch. I rubbed my forehead.
“I’ll get another round of drinks,” Ted grunted. He looked at Courtney, then got up stiffly and headed toward the bar.
Courtney said, “This department can run really well if we want it to, if everybody just does their jobs. You know?”
“Fuck, I do my job,” I said.
“I’m not talking about teaching lame classes,” Courtney said. “Right? I’m not talking about teaching a bunch of illiterate farm kids to diagram a sentence. I’m talking about shared governance. Okay? That’s where all the fun is! Like, you don’t know this yet, but once you get tenure you sort of bond with the institution. We become the institution. We are the institution. We’re an elite—we control everything! You know?”
“It’s really a lot of fun.” Courtney said. She leaned toward me, staring with her eyeballs. “We’re the boss. We control everything—if we want to. If we dare to.”
I didn’t say anything. I think we worked in different English departments, different institutions, different realities.
Courtney asked, “Do you dare, Tom?’
“I’m not very daring,” I said. “I’m a regular ol' conservative petit bourgeoise.”
“Any loser can teach Intro to Lit,” Courtney said. “But to be a professor—Tom, that means something. And it’s something I’ve wanted my whole life. You know?”
I shrugged again. “Yeah….”
“Don’t you want to be a professor, Tom? A real professor?”
Ted came back with a pair of margaritas, one for me and one for Courtney.
“I’m a real professor,” Courtney said. “And I’m not ever going to give it up.”
“Ted!” I said. I sat back. A little lightheaded. A little maybe nauseous. I was maybe starting to feel the tequila. “You’re looking better all the time!”
Ted looked at me with his puffy round hairy face and I lifted my phone and took a quick picture of him. I bent over and texted the picture to Lynnie. I could feel Courtney watching me.
“Yeah, I’m going to be fine,” Ted grunted. He headed slowly back to the bar.
“Ted feels really badly about what happened,” Courtney said. “He didn’t mean anything. It was a total misunderstanding. If your friend would just reach out to him and apologize—”
“Why the fuck should Lynnie apologize?” I asked. “He grabbed her pussy!”
“Actually, we were hoping you’d bring her along tonight,” Courtney said.
I took a long pull of the margarita.
“Bring her along, and then all four of us could work things out. You know?”
“Oh, fuck me,” I said. I took another gulp of the drink—and. Then. Something was wrong. I was suddenly swimming. Not just light-headed—but fucked up. Loaded. Banjaxed. Jesus! What a lightweight. Two margs to oblivion. One and a half margs to oblivion! I felt kind of sick. I stood up—I think my chair toppled over behind me. Ted came up behind Courtney and they both stared at me--
I tried to say, “I’ve got to go—”