No 161 - 2000
I drive past the car park and park unobtrusive. It’s not done to act more affluent than the students, more down and out if possible always bumming a drink or a fag. I show my ID nervous I won’t get in. Keep an eye ready to set my face in the appropriate motions. I’m in the library returning the Wiseman video when I see Chevonne. She comes over with a scowl and a bitchy look. Don’t know why she bothers only she wants to squash me and it’s going to be easy. Have you prepared for the seminar? she asks. I found it really tough I say, can’t see how my lot are going to get it. They keep confusing Realism with if it happens in real life, tell me people don’t act like that in class, and I have to remind them it was filmed in the fifties in a school in New York so it’s bound to look strange. Yeah. She pops a bubble, trying hard to be teenage only after forty it gets harder I know. She thinks we bond over the teenage clothes only I try and steer clear of cerise PVC.
Great trousers I lie as she eyes my torn jeans and skimpy midrift exposing my still flattish stomach and belly ring. She’s got the edge with her tattoos I admire them and I’ve decided if anything happens, if he has an accident in a plane or a car god forbid then I’m off to the tattoo parlour as a present for myself an affirmation like the lesbian babes at Mildreds lucky devils. Have you seen Donna? she fixes her eyes on me and I shuffle awkward. Last night. Oh! Are you teaching on the evening unit? I feel myself looking at my shoes but I’m not really.
Yes. They needed another seminar leader. Oh. And I don’t say but you’re teaching on the Dreadful Pleasures and the Male: Objects of Desire on the Big Screen, which I’m pissed off about since I thought me and Professor Shannon got on well when he wasn’t paranoid. We better be off to the lecture. She tells me about her kid and her miserable holiday so I don’t mention the latest island retreat on Chris’s airmiles cause it won’t go down. Yes. I chirp. Really? No. You’re kidding! And guess who joins us down the corridor. Andrew.
And he’s full of shit as usual all awkward and doesn’t know how to play it. Cause we’re together already and that could mean we’re best of friends as far as Andrew’s concerned and we’ve been cafe au laiting in the canteen without him cause you can see that’s what he feels. But we haven’t. And I look around at the students milling with us towards B 709 and the big lecture hall and they look younger and trendier this year what happened to all the mature students I used to look like but now they’ll see I’m a visiting lecturer. That’s what my ID card says anyway.
How’s it going Andrew, have you finished the MA? I can see I chose badly that was the wrong fucking thing to say when we’ve just made up after the poison pen letter him complaining I was set to fail and then a first and he was sick of it and I was so hurt I couldn’t look at him all term and him in my gang of video makers, all those nights farting round at my place after my rich snacks and health food takeouts, all the family intimacy of those late night moments.
For my favourite, Dave, and the final applause and all those students still recognising me from our video. Dave still shows it in his Intro to Practical and then the letter and now I’m asking Andrew if he’s recovered his troubles and finished his course. Yes. He says curtly. It’s in the bag. All cheerful like there was never any trouble. And I say Congratulations Andrew! all loud and nervous and over compensating. We should study this lark in Humanities not Dreadful Pleasures on the horror unit cause it’s what drives you barmy.
And we’re locked out of the lecture hall and Andrew’s all set to rescue us when Chevonne takes out her filofax (she’s actually got one) and keys in the numbers to open sesame and get us in. Andrew makes off and Chevonne takes the row behind cause that chat we had means nothing really, we both know it doesn’t mean we’re friends or even civil and Donna arrives and sits next to me.
She looks depressed her eyes fix straight ahead cause she won’t look at Chevonne yet feels her staring and Chevonne is chatting happily with Stewart a seminar leader who’s stuck to her side. I’m free and stuck to no one and feel awkward cause now I’m with the other side and only a moment ago I was with Chevonne all gay and down the corridor.
Did she say anything? she whispers. And I turn towards her whisper careful, yes, no, only the smallest chitchat she caught me coming down the corridor. Donna looks suspicious. How did you do with the seminar I ask. Haven’t even looked at it I’ve been far too busy working and then Tim was sick and I had to sort him out and there’s my mother. Did I tell you about my mother?
Dave! I cry, and he rushes towards me and gives me a hug and it hasn’t changed since I was a student I always had a soft spot and I think I remind him of how young he used to be before the prick and the brain stopped communing. Then he was still interested you could see shoving the gel in his hair and looking at girls. Now there’s only me to remind him but it’s not very deep cause he still forgets to return my calls and you can’t trust him really. There was the time he answered and said he was someone else but of course I knew I mean you can’t forget a voice like that. It’s noisier now as the students troop in and he’s up on the stage wiring up for the mic and coming across so relaxed not like me with my pages and if it’s not on my page then forget it really.
I take notes. We’re on Intro to Realism and John Grierson and I write like I’m a student no shorthand or diagrams just the longhand process meaning everything he says. And I’m getting nervous cause the seminar’s soon and if I get it wrong.
I’ve got the notes we all get cause we discuss the same stuff but I’m scared I’ll get a clever one who’ll catch me out - there was the one who had me bullshitting what tautology means and I can’t remember which one it was to go back and tell him. At least I tell them how to write an essay the easy way and how to come out with a first even if it’s a bit of a longshot when I get the thick ones always. But there is a method you have to know how. I never had a word of encouragement not a soul who said it was easy if I only knew how.
Donna is talking to me and I can’t concentrate it must be more stuff about you-know-who but I have to keep tuned on Dave or there’ll be a question. Dave gives me a wink as we file out to coffee and he won’t say if he’ll be in the canteen cause he’s a dark horse and he’ll be with the boys though I know he likes girls but it’s boys he drinks with and talks to, I get a feeling he has a contempt for girls.
So we’re heading for the canteen and I can see Andrew is just as awkward as me cause Donna’s off to the loo and we fall in step and Chevonne joins in and what’ll that mean when Donna arrives?
Stewart buys Chevonne coffee I bet they’re sleeping together though you’d never know. Maybe it’ll keep her off Professors and students and I see Professor Shannon who Andrew and I go up to all casual like we’re not angling for extra hours. He’s in a good mood so he’s saying hello and telling those stories that can keep you for over an hour but what with the queue I’m off finding my room.
See you soon I chirp but I know it’s a lie that as soon as our seminars are up we’ll do our own thing. Rush down the corridor to the lecturer we’re in with or me and Donna hurry out slowing up to check on who’s invited down the pub. And we’ll watch Chevonne go by with Dave, my favourite, and the lads and even Andrew would you believe it he knows just how to straddle both sides.
I look at my group as if we’re old friends and I can see they can see I haven’t much of a clue in this lecturing game and only out of here not long ago maybe. They look bored. And they tell me first off there’s no books in the library and huge queues and no money for photocopies and the mess we’re in and I agree and urge them to make little groups to share the reading. We’re not discussing theory just sitting round and telling each other stuff we knew before we came.
I go through my typed list of questions issued by Dave so we talk Realism timing the minutes as I push my chair from one group to another. Always one to dominate the discussion the shy ones relieved. Well that was interesting wasn’t it?
You can see how much you can learn from each other I thrill. Why don’t we get back into the large group and everyone say something they learned. Silence.
Back to the loudmouths and their long words they don’t really get it’s all ideology and representation and modes of reception and I find myself looking back at the late 20 from Yorkshire who’s cocky and eyeing my belly and leaning back in his chair with a smile. Not bad I think but I’d better be careful this isn’t done now I’m a visiting lecturer angling for a Point 5.
I know just how tough it is to get the material I say so please prepare for next week. Why not hang around for five minutes and organise groups that relate to your seminar and you can swop phone numbers. The Yorkshireman smiles at me when I say this. Comes up to me at the end and hovers. Aren’t you on the Dreadful Pleasures unit he asks me. I wish I was I think. That must be Chevonne. Was she wearing cerise PVC?
He trails after me suggests a coffee. It’s either that or Andrew who’s approaching nervous must have missed the others and their trip to the pub on his way to the lecturer who’ll give him more hours. Did you offer to lecture he asks cause Dave needs some help and I think I might do Marxism.
It takes so long to prepare, I say. But we’re supposed to show willing. I’ll give Dave a ring. I know that’s the worst thing, he might answer then say it’s not him. It’s really heartbreaking.
See ya I tell him and the Yorkshireman’s stuck to my waist and Andrew smirks at my belly like you’re at it again and when will you learn and this isn’t really what a visiting lecturer is supposed to get up to when there’s PHD courses to research if you’re after a Point 5.
I’m faintly ridiculous and in the long queue again with the strong send-you-spiralling heart attack coffee and the wet in a plastic cheese and chutney sami with a wilting drop of lettuce like a piece of spinach too ripe. And I’m getting his coffee a bad idea already cause he’s so fucking gorgeous and I’ve said that the lecturers have to scrounge or there’s no respect.
And he’s got no sami so I share my cheese and chutney and out of the corner of my eye I spy Donna. She said she was off home only clearly she’s not she’s giggling at some story of Professor Shannon and raking more hours over a donut and fag. I can’t fucking believe it! And all I’m raking is an invitation to the Yorkshireman’s poetry gig at a pub in Stamford Hill. And I can see them all cosy looking over and laughing and I bet they’re thinking I’m up to something not keeping the boundaries not sharing my sami with those on high.
She waves when she sees me and rolls her eyes which means she’s been caught but we both know I saw her leave so she had to turn back and seek him out go down to his office but the eyebrows say it’s all pure chance. And what are you up to with that gorgeous young student you’d better be careful now you’re a visiting lecturer.
I can’t believe it. I can feel the pressure of the boy’s knee and we’re in the middle of the canteen for god’s sake not a pub night with beer and shorts and a disco and letting our hair down. Like the end of term party when me and Chevonne were mates and before the evening was over she was spreadeagled over the semiotics professor who’s a bit of a one for the girls and always a drink in his hand. That’s when I threw caution to the wind another poet of course who stuck his tongue down my throat and his hand up my skirt. It was on the back stairs when his stiffy literally burst out of his trousers and I almost jumped out my skin when that wonderful Irish caretaker I’d got so palsy with over the years caught me on the receiving end of a poet’s hardon.
And I had to literally avoid him after that. The caretaker. You could tell he was disappointed.
So what am I up to now? Jesus. And I tell him I’ll definitely get to the reading but I’m off to photocopy like I’ve things of academic importance to be getting on with and he says yes he has something to copy too. And we’re in the copy room only for staff and I’ve got a card with over 400 units and if I get caught and he comes up behind me as I’m fiddling with the copier and I can feel him. Do You know what I mean. I mean I can really feel him and I’m never going to get offered Dreadful Pleasures if I keep this up.
You could get me into trouble I joke. Maybe chucked out for abusing a student and I’ve got to get out of this building before my head starts exploding. Look. I turn toward him and feel his bulge flatter the space beneath my nearly flat belly. I’m older than you. And I’ve got three hours a week here at the moment and I’m actually after a lot more than that a Point 5 actually and I think it’s better if I see you in Stamford Hill.
What? Now? he smiles. Back to my place? And I think what the hell this isn’t working. I haven’t the heart to go back to the canteen and donut my way to extra hours. Come On! I feel like shouting and we rush down the corridors past canteens two and three with the pink sixties decor and the pizza slices and milkshakes all themed past the Piazza where I pass Chevonne with whatshisface stuck to her side and I’m running now past the student bank and the essay office and past security and onto the High Street.
And he’s walking fast to keep up and I get a real look at him. A good skin and an angular face like one of those trendy writers with their own column sort of rugged and bright and his body all lean you can tell he rides a bicycle and he’s really tall and I whisk him into my car (no apologies) and we’re off with barely a word said between us and it isn’t for the reading on November 5th.
By the time I pull into his room I’m ready to gyrate my nearly flat stomach up and down and up and down the endless corridors to the elusive Point 5 and this one’s a darn sight bigger than that I’m pleased to report.
Jacqueline Lucas is a widely published short fiction writer. A story of hers recently appeared in the anthology Rites of Spring, pubished by Fourth Estate. She is currently working on a sibling for her daughter Chili Palmer, and a novel.
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