Read Higher Education Online

Authors: Lisa Pliscou

Higher Education (10 page)

BOOK: Higher Education

“Well, I'd explain myself further—” Here she pauses to check her watch. “But I'm afraid our time is up.”

“Oh, come on, give me a hint.”

She allows herself a tiny inscrutable smile. “Think about it until next Friday.”

“Okay.” I stand up and put on my jacket.

“Have a good week.”


I'm in the Coop's record department, flipping through the “S” bin in search of the latest Squeeze LP, when I come across an album by Soft Cell. I lift it out and stare at the cover, my fingers tightening against the cool, smooth plastic. Despite myself, I start hearing the warped giddy rhythms of “Tainted Love” playing in my mind.

I'm running up the stairs of the Lowell House bell tower on my way to a Eurofag Quaaludes-and-Cointreau party, pleased with myself for having closed up Robbins a whole hour early in my own private celebration of Thanksgiving break. Whistling, I skim up the sixth flight and vault around the corner onto the landing, where I literally stumble into Jackson and Wendy Hughes kissing in the stairwell. Steadying myself against the wall, abstractedly I note that Wendy's sleeveless blouse reveals a pair of rather flabby white triceps. My mouth twists into a smile as I look up into Jackson's face. “Sorry,” I say clearly. “I told you I'd be here at midnight, didn't I?” I turn and go downstairs and over to a party at Dunster House, where I introduce myself to Richard Amidei, the lead singer in a new campus band called White Bread, and compliment him on his handsome leather tie. We trade stories about the horrifying number of papers we each have due, the workloads escalating with each shot of tequila, and then he gently brushes the little pieces of lime pulp from my face and asks me to dance. We spend the next hour or so slow-dancing in the middle of the room, determinedly oblivious to the tempo of whatever song happens to be playing. I remind myself to keep focusing on how lightly my hand rests in his, and how his fingers feel as they curve against my waist. We move apart so he can go off to the men's room; he is gone for what seems like such a long time that eventually I wedge myself in a corner of the room with a tall, dark-haired graduate student named Henry, who turns out to be a proctor at Weld, my freshman dorm. We gossip about some English professors we both know, and then switch over to nineteenth-century poetry for a while, but in the middle of a passionate discussion of “Ode on a Grecian Urn” I find myself too nauseous to continue. Henry walks me back to Adams House, and when we finally make it up the stairs, we come across Jackson sitting with his back against my door, smoking a cigarette. I am too miserable to be greatly surprised that he and Henry know each other through the history-and-lit department, and wait for them to finish shaking hands before I go into C-45 and into the bathroom, where I proceed to retch for what seems like hours

He's a nice guy,” Jackson says presently, holding a wet washcloth to my forehead. “I'm glad you got to meet him.

Me too,” I say faintly

Listen, Randa.” His voice is less steady now. “About tonight

Shut up.” I close my eyes. “Please just shut up.

I just wanted to tell you

Tomorrow you're taking me to the movies. And you're paying.


And you're buying the popcorn.

Okay.” He runs a hand down my spine. “How're you feeling

Fabulous.” I open my eyes and brace myself for another spasm. “Thanks for asking.

I love you.

My stomach heaves again and I lean forward into the toilet bowl, thankful that the dorm crew has been by recently to clean, and that for once they did a good job of it. Although I expect that next time around they will probably be less enthusiastic about the task at hand

I drop the album back into its bin and look around. Teddy Anson, the only person I know on the
staff who seems even remotely anthropoid, is pawing through a sale carton a few aisles away. I slip up behind him and clap my hands over his eyes. “Guess who.”

“Marquis de Sade? Jimmy Connors? Adelle Davis? Charlton Heston?”

“Oh, never mind.” I take my hands away and step around next to him. Sighing, I start poking through the albums.

Teddy remains inert, eyes squeezed shut. “Walter Mondale? Bella Abzug? Virginia Woolf? Peter and the Wolf? Kaye Ballard?”

“Will you stop the goddam free association already?”

“Okay, sure.”

“Theodore, it's me.”

His eyes are still shut. “Me who?”


“Is it really? Miranda Walker, you mean?”

“Yes. Feel free to open your eyes anytime you want.”

His eyes pop open, swiveling in my direction, and instantly he breaks into a smile. “Hi, Miranda. How are you?”

“Can't complain. Yourself?”

“Just dandy. You're looking great as always.”

“Thanks. What's new?”

“Oh, nothing much. Just doing a little shopping for my mother's birthday.”

I look down at the album he's been holding on to all this time. “
The Best of the Dave Clark Five
? I had no idea your mother was so groovy.”

“You bet she's groovy. She was the first one on the block to get a rotisserie microwave.”

“Theodore, you overwhelm me.”

“Why do you keep calling me Theodore?”

“Say, don't your folks pay your Coop bill?”

“Yep.” He nods benignly. “I thought maybe I'd get Mom the cast recording from
Hello, Dolly
. Something nice and sappy. She'd like that. She's groovy but she's also a little sentimental.”


“Every year she sends me a big red card on Valentine's Day.”

“How sweet.”

“So's the candy she sends me.” He snickers.

“How about
? Where the corn grows as high as an elephant's—”

“She's already got that one. Maybe
My Fair Lady

“Are you sure she doesn't already have that one too?”

A look of doubt clouds his features. “Maybe. Or is it
Hello, Dolly
she already has?”

“Maybe it's
Fiddler on the Roof
you're thinking of.”

Now he looks at me suspiciously. “Hey, you don't even know my mom, do you?”

“No, but I'm sure I'd love anybody who's lucky enough to have a rotisserie microwave.”

“So how could you know what albums she has?”

“Theodore, I've got to run. I've got a class to go to.”

“Why do you keep calling me Theodore?”

“You're just full of questions today, aren't you?”

“Well, sure.” Teddy gestures grandly. “Isn't that what the university environment is all about?”

“Been rereading our old college prospectus, eh?” Waggishly I poke him in the general region of his upper intestine.

“Oh, you're jabbing at me,” he laments. “Why are you picking on me, Miranda?”

“Picking on you? Teddy, don't you know when someone's extending a hand in friendship?”


“Don't you like to be touched, Teddy?” I give him another prod in the gut.

“Ow.” He retreats a step. “What's your point, Miranda?”

“Can't you take a hint? Don't you know when somebody's trying to reach out to you?”

“Really?” He comes two steps closer. “Want to go out for a cup of coffee?”

“I've got a class to go to, remember?”

Teddy steps one pace backward, then does a little side feint to avoid a tweedy Cambridge matron barreling toward the classical-music section. “Miranda,” he says plaintively, “how come I've never actually seen you inside a classroom? Or leaving one?”

“Poor timing on your part.”

“You really take courses? You're actually enrolled here?”

“Of course I am.” I'm sifting lazily through a jumble of discounted cassettes. “I'm just not ostentatious about it.”


“Besides, taking classes isn't what Harvard's all about.”


“Of course not.” I hold up a Led Zeppelin tape and then toss it back into the pile. “I'd stop poisoning my mind with that silly old prospectus if I were you.”

He takes half a step forward. “Then what
Harvard all about?”

“Who am I, Alfie?”

“And now you're calling me names.”

“Teddy, I've really got to run.”

“Where?” he asks suspiciously.

“Warren House.”

“Who house?”

“Warren House. English department building over by the Freshman Union.”

“Oh. Well, I'll walk you to Lamont. Guess I'll go read magazines for a while before lunch.”

As we make our way across Mass Ave and through the Yard, Teddy's telling me about Fools Week at the Lampoon. “I videotaped a whole bunch of new members jumping into the IAB pool fully clothed. During team practice,” he says proudly.

I try to think of something pleasant to say, and failing that, I change the subject. “I see the new
is out.”


“Are any of your pieces in it?”

“Pieces of what?”

“Pieces of eight,” I snap. “Yo ho ho.”

He whoops and goes off into a strangled paroxysm of laughter. “Oh god,” he gasps. “That's too funny. Yo ho ho.” He laughs again. “You should be on the

“Icicles in hell.”

“God, you're funny
bitchy,” he says, fawningly. “You're perfect for the
. Are you sure you don't want to join?”

“Teddy, I'm graduating, remember?”

“A mere technicality. Why don't you comp for us?”

“I'd rather die.”

“See? You have the perfect attitude.” As we climb the steps past Pusey Library, Teddy chuckles. “Speaking of dying, somebody almost did at the IAB the other day.”

“Don't tell me. One of your initiates had an anchor tied to his leg.”

“Close. Somebody on the swim team got tangled up with the inflatable shark and almost drowned.”

“My, that
funny,” I say evenly.

He's still chuckling. “No, what's really funny is that their coach started hyperventilating, hit his head on the bleachers and had to be rushed to the emergency room. Twelve stitches.” Grinning, he wipes his eyes.

We halt at the long shallow steps leading up to Lamont. Just inside the double glass doors, the afternoon-shift guard, a thin old man in a maroon blazer, stands at the security kiosk, nodding blindly at the people streaming past, waving IDs and books at him.

“Well,” Teddy says brightly, “this is my stop.”

Huddled in my big down coat, I come along the path in time to see the Lamont guard leave the library and walk down the steps toward Quincy Street. In the bitter wind his trousers, flared at the cuffs, flap wildly around his thin ankles, revealing dark socks and garters. I stand watching him, my nose buried in my scarf, and then I turn around and go back to Adams House. Slowly I walk up the stairs to Michael's room, where I've just spent the afternoon helping him prepare for his French final, and when he opens the door to let me in I go over to the big La-Z-Boy with the Peanuts throw pillows and sit down, still in my coat and scarf. I lean forward with my face in my hands, shivering

Gal?” Michael says, coming over to squat on his heels next to me. “What's wrong

Shaking now, I curve more tightly into myself. I feel him loosening my scarf, and then he places his hands over my ears to warm them

Whatcha doin'?” he whispers, taking his hands away. “Kitten

I keep my face buried in my palms. “Trying to cry. Do you goddam mind

Sure. I mean no.” He touches my hair. “You go right ahead. I got plenty of Kleenex.

I can't, goddam it.

How come

I don't know.

Honey,” he says, “it's okay. I'm pretty sure I'm not gonna flunk my French exam
. D'accord?”
He pronounces it

After a while I raise my head, sniffing. “I could use a tissue.

He goes into his bedroom and returns with a box of pink Kleenex. I take one and blow my nose. “How come you have such sissy tissues

I like pink.

So do I.” I shove the damp Kleenex into my coat pocket. “Thanks.



Y'all mind if I ask you a serious question

Yes, but now's as good a time as any.

Is there a reason why we ain't gone to bed together

For a moment I am silent. Then I look up at him, feeling my eyes start to sting. “I think I like you too much.

Kind of ass-backward logic, ain't it

That's the way I operate.

He crouches next to my chair again and takes my hand. “I kinda wish it weren't that way.

I know. I mean, we could try it, I guess, but

Yeah.” He sighs. “Why mess up a good thing.

I know it seems stupid.” I'm trying to keep my voice even. “I'm sorry.

No, it ain't stupid.” His fingers tighten on mine. “It's fine, honey.

There is a silence, and then I sigh in a long soft breath. “Michael.

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