Authors: Regina Doman
Fish paged through his course book,
The Complete Poetry and Writings of John Keats
. He had always been taken with the melancholy poem, “La Belle Dame Sans Merci,” but of course, that was too short and simple. However, according to the footnotes in his text, the poem was mentioned by name in another Keats poem, “The Eve of St. Agnes,” which was considerably longer. He had read it a long time ago—in jail, actually. It hung hauntingly in his memory, but not, fortunately, among his more painful remembrances. Actually, considering most of his time in juvenile detention, it had been rather positive.
After class he ran down to the library and found several books with commentaries on the poem. Signing them out before anyone else in the class could do so, he thrust them in his backpack and hurried home. He would look over them this weekend.
Keeping busy…keeping busy…
“Kateri, can I borrow your car tomorrow?” Rose asked, as she got ready to leave for play practice on Friday evening.
“What for?” Her roommate was sitting on the ground, index cards and loose-leaf paper spread out around her, her wild black hair all in disarray around her almond-shaped eyes, which were fixed on her work. She was preparing for a test, in one of her sporadic periods of intense devotion to schoolwork.
“I need to go looking for a barn in the country that belongs to my family,” Rose explained.
Kateri shook her head. “Sorry, got a protest tomorrow.”
That was her roommate—study, study, then protest, protest. Rose mused as she looked at her friend. Kateri went down to the hospital every Saturday morning to lead prayers for the children who were being aborted there. Her commitment to pro-life activism was a consuming passion that dictated her actions like clockwork.
“Sorry, otherwise I wouldn’t mind,” Kateri said.
“That’s all right,” Rose mused. “Who else around here is friendly enough to lend out a car?”
“Why don’t you ask one of those Cor guys? You certainly hang out with them enough.”
“You know, the first few times I heard you call them that, I thought you meant students enrolled in the Marine Corps or something.” Rose said, flipping a brush through her ponytail. “But the name does fit. They’re so into weapons and war.”
Kateri rolled her eyes. “Thoughtless violence,” she said. “Overgrown boys.”
“Well, after all, they
boys,” Rose pointed out. “Don’t you like them?”
Kateri looked up at her roommate, her black eyes dismissive. “They’re pretty odd,” she said. “If you like that sort of thing. Which I can see you do. I don’t have patience for those kinds of games.”
Rose knew that Kateri, who was fairly offbeat herself, didn’t seem to care much for overly colorful people. “You seem to be more interested in Mater Dei guys,” Rose said, unable to resist teasing her.
“That’s true,” Kateri inclined her head.
Each of the three men’s dorms had a particular general character. The men of Lumen Christi tended to be athletes and business majors, and the men of Mater Dei were mostly theology or philosophy majors—including several quiet, earnest young men who seemed to admire Kateri for her serious activism, and she had “dated” a few of them (in the odd Mercy College dictionary, this could mean simply eating meals and studying together) over the course of the semester. Rose had met one or two of them and had found them pleasant, but lacking the strong personality of her roommate.
The Sacra Cor dormitory was where the riffraff collected, or so the saying went—the male students who didn’t fit into any particular mold. It was hard to predict just where they would stand on any one issue or practice. Among the Cor guys, the only two Rose knew of who supported Kateri’s protests were Paul and another student, James Kelly. The rest would rather argue endlessly about the nuances of civil disobedience, or play video games.
“All right,” Rose said, “Maybe I’ll ask one of the Cor guys.”
“Paul Fester seems friendly enough,” Kateri said carelessly, and Rose couldn’t help feeling a bit warm as she left the room.
On the way up to the theatre, she actually ran into Paul coming out of the library. They chatted for a few minutes, and she summoned up her courage. “Hey, Paul, I need a ride tomorrow.”
“There’s an old barn in the country my family owns. My dad kept his old files there, and I need some of them for my bioethics paper. So I need a way to get out there.”
“Oh, no problem—I could drive you,” Paul said. “I have a car. And it sounds like fun. When do you want to go?”
“Just sometime tomorrow,” Rose said, feeling relieved. “After breakfast.”
“Sure thing. I’ll meet you at the caf and we can go,” Paul said, a grin creasing his face. He always looked like a little kid when he smiled.
“Thanks,” Rose said, “See you then!” She hurried on up to the theatre, relieved. And it would be fun to go with Paul. He seemed like the sort of person who would enjoy an outing of that sort.
At play practice, they were rehearsing the first scenes with the three princesses, Cordelia, Goneril, and Regan. It wasn’t a long scene, but it was still an important one. When Rose got there, she picked up her script and began to get into character. Some people had not yet arrived.
Finally, just as Dr. Morris started the rehearsal, the back door of the theater slammed open, and Donna and Tara, who were playing the wicked sisters, walked in. They glanced around, rather superciliously, at everyone staring in their direction, but didn’t apologize.
The director, Dr. Morris, was annoyed. “Three sisters, stage left, and wait for your cue,” he said.
“How are you?” Rose asked Donna, as the blond girl sat down next to her on a wooden bench backstage.
Donna said nothing in reply, but merely looked at her frostily, then turned away. She said something to Tara instead.
Rose dropped her eyes and turned back to her script. She was getting used to this sort of treatment from Donna, almost as though Donna were perpetually rehearsing her part as the evil older sister, even offstage. It certainly made it easier to act with Donna onstage, but offstage it was distinctly uncomfortable, as though the lines between illusion and reality were being deliberately blurred.
When rehearsal was over, she stayed behind to talk to Dr. Morris about becoming a theatrical assistant, which was the student work job she had applied for. By the time she left the theatre, all the other students had left.
Shrugging her shoulders, she walked out of the building and started down the hill to the dorm, whistling to herself.
It was much nicer walking here at night than in the City, and she felt safer. But as she rounded the curve of the building, an eerie sensation came over her as she passed through an arch of dark bushes. It was almost as though she could feel something—or someone—watching her.
Setting her jaw, she kept walking, her head up, outwardly careless, but inside, ready to break into a run if she needed to. She passed the clump of shrubbery and restrained herself from looking over her shoulder.
But she could feel it:
someone is there. I’m not looking back
, she told herself.
There was a sound behind her—of footsteps? A faint pattering sound.
Now she was passing down a row of trees. The sound continued. Against her will, her heart began to beat harder.
All right, go ahead and look
, she told herself.
But when she did, she saw no one.
I’m being silly
, she thought, but she turned quickly into the campus chapel to recollect herself.
It was deserted, but still she felt safer inside the church. She padded up the carpeted aisle to the Mary altar and knelt to pray. Being far from home had intensified her attachment to the Blessed Mother, and she prayed a loose string of Hail Marys and blessed herself with a deep breath. Time to walk the rest of the way home.
She exited the chapel fearlessly and hurried down the steps to the drive that led back up to the women’s dorms.
But no sooner had she reached the road than she felt the odd sensation coming over her again and heard the barest sounds of something behind her. Whatever it was that had lost sight of her in the chapel was coming after her again.
She was closer to the dorm, so now she broke into a run, hugging herself, pretending that the autumn cold was driving her indoors. Pounding the cement she rushed down the drive, hit the doors running and sped inside.
Safe, she slowed to a jog, but her heart was still racing. Hurrying down the hallway to her room, she hoped against hope that Kateri would be back from the library early tonight. But the dorm room was empty.
Shivering, she clicked on her homey bedside lamp and turned off the overheads so that the room looked more inviting. She sat down in the corner, in the chair Fish had brought her, and dropped her books.
What happened out there?
She tried to relax and put it out of her mind, but the attempt was useless, and she gave up. Shamelessly she pulled out her phone card and dialed Fish’s number.
...the first gave her the gift of virtue, and the second bestowed beauty upon her...
His headache keeping him awake, Fish sat in his armchair, staring over his scribbled diary page at the wall. Trying to force himself to do therapy wasn’t helping his throbbing head.
The phone ringing surprised him. “Oh, it’s you,” he said, not recognizing her voice at first. “What’s up?”
“Is it too late to call?”
Fish glanced at the clock. It was after eleven. “No, not at all. I’m still up. Everything all right?”
“Oh, I’m fine. I was just walking back from the play practice and got a little freaked out, that’s all.”
That didn’t sound like Rose’s usual character. “Were you alone?”
“Yes. I guess I shouldn’t have been. I suppose I thought that a tough ex-New Yorker like me should be able to handle a walk beneath the street lights across campus alone.”
“All the same, crimes happen in sleepy Pennsylvanian towns too,” Fish said. “I’d feel better, Miss Brier, if I knew you had an escort at times like this.”
“I know,” Rose sighed.
“So were you calling me just to tell me that you were all right?” he queried.
“No, I actually had a favor to ask you.”
“Ah.” He put his feet up on his desk and attempted to feel beneficent.
“I was wondering—if you have time—if you’d like to come up to the College two weeks from now. We’re having this big medieval festival and it’s sort of an open house day. People have their families visit, and since you’re sort of like family, and Mom and the others can’t come, I was wondering if you wanted to come up. That is, if you’re not busy.”
He half-smiled. She was obviously trying very hard not to make it look like she was asking him on a date. “When is it?”
“The fourth of October.”
“I suppose I can come for the afternoon. Is that a good time?”
“Oh, yes. I’m so glad. By the way, I suppose you figured this out, but I did get the part of Cordelia in the play.”
“Congratulations! So the director preferred the humorous Cordelia to the high and mighty one?”
“I guess so. I’m trusting his judgment.” She sighed.
“Quite a tragic role.”
“Yes. It’s a very sad play, isn’t it? It’s gruesome, too, especially the part where the two evil sisters have poor Gloucester’s eyes gouged out. And Lear going mad, and Edgar pretending to go mad. And Cordelia getting hanged at the end. There’s just one terrible heartbreak after another.”
“Well, it’s one of the Bard’s more tragic tragedies. Could be why the modern sensibility finds it so appealing.”
She agreed. “I’m glad you can come. So I’ll see you in two weeks then?”
“I’ll be there.”
“Glad to be of service,” he said lightly. “Good night.”
The next morning, Saturday, was cool. Rose felt a bit nervous, going outside once again, and shivered in her warm jacket.
Fish is right
, she thought,
I really should get someone to walk with me next time I have a late rehearsal
. Campus etiquette said she could call any of the men’s dorms and ask for an escort at any time, but she was, simultaneously, both too shy and too independent to resort to that. It seemed like asking for male attention.
Not that I had any inhibitions about calling Fish
, she thought with an inward groan. She
to get over him.
But she forgot her problem when she got to the cafeteria and found Paul already downing his third bowl of cereal. He was wearing jeans, a gray Army sweater, and bright red high-topped sneakers.
“Ready for barn hunting?” he asked cheerfully.
“Most emphatically,” she said, putting down her backpack and her special “Monster Bioethics Paper” yellow notebook where she was meticulously setting out what she needed for the dreaded paper.
“As soon as you’ve eaten, we’re good to fly,” he said when she returned with her plate of pancakes. “Do you know where to go?”