a story i wrote in 2004. the setting, for some reason was 1995. i don't remember why.
sometimes a guy just doesn't get it.
He held the chalk like it was a Marlboro. Up, down, back, forth, touch the lips, repeat. The dust swirled around him and clung to his wrinkled hands like smoke. He’d probably been doing this same spiel for years. If one could look back through the decades, he would be found some forty years ago at the same lectern giving the same lecture to the same students, actual smoke mingling with the chalk. The students today paid no more attention to the lecture than those of the past, now moved on with their lives, while the professor still haunted the same classroom he’d staked out so long ago.
John’s pen moved on the paper, his body hunched over, looking up at the appropriate moments. The pen did not take notes, however. It traced the outlines of imagination as his mind escaped the droll classroom. A great castle blossomed in the background, with banners waving from the parapets, all in bright blue ballpoint ink. In the foreground, at the bottom of a gentle hill sloping away from the castle, lounged a sultry maiden looking directly into the eyes of the artist with inviting eyes, asking him to stop drawing and come join her.
The maiden sat in the front row and slightly to the artist’s right, just far enough so he could catch her profile when her studious gaze followed the professor to the far side of the classroom and back. She was beauty, as he defined it. Others might have disagreed. Her eyes were a bit too large for her face, her mouth a bit too small. Her hair was not styled fashionably, either. Her fashion sense was more European than it was Texan. But her skin was a light cream, eyes bright blue, and she carried herself with a poise that said she knew who she was. He greedily copied her onto the paper, adding a slight point to her ears in the fantasy world for a bit of exotic effect, as if her more mundane form weren’t exotic enough. Realizing he’d been staring in her direction for too long, feeling as if at any moment she would turn those beautiful eyes on him in a penetrating gaze, accusing him of lechery with a look, he looked back to the professor and his chalk, slipping a blank sheet of paper over the drawing before anyone could see it.
Days passed. All his time was now spent perfecting the picture, rubbing out imperfections and defining sharper and sharper lines, bringing out what he saw as her inner beauty. Nothing else was important. Once or twice he flipped back a few pages in the worn sketchbook, comparing his maiden to those who came before. Mary, from his senior year, the object of his pubertal desires, flaming hair circling a slightly round face, followed by others, all captured forever – his. Lectures flew by, nothing interrupted the process.
The eraser in one hand rubbed her breast hard, as the pencil in the other filled in a more refined curve, a motion John had been repeating for the last 20 minutes seeking perfection. He hardly noticed the shadow as it crept across the paper, paid it no mind.
“If you keep touching my breasts like that,” she said, “you might just get a reaction.” She looked at the sketchbook, smiled, and left before he could say a word.
That night, John couldn’t sleep. He hadn’t touched the picture since she spoke to him. The moment replayed in his mind, and endless stream of sultry suggestion, accompanied by a cacophony of warnings from deep within his psyche, telling him not to presume anything, not to get any hopes up. As the moment replayed, again, again, and yet again, John’s breath began to become ragged, his hands gripped the sheets tighter, and cold sweats erupted from his forehead. Suddenly a cold chill swept across his entire body, and he felt like he was dieing. The things undone, the life yet unlived, the goals yet unachieved, crashed upon him in a wave of impending doom. He felt sharp pains inside his chest, responded by trying to relax, to breathe more slowly, and in a state of panic praying to a god he wasn’t sure existed to make death painless.
Death didn’t come. The soft caress of wind from the ceiling fan overhead dried his sweaty skin, and the world began to return to normal – as long as he didn’t think about the girl.
The next morning, John tried to go back to the drawing. The pencil hung over her thighs, lines already erased, but unsure where to mark. He tried to force the pencil to paper, to add yet more detail and perfection to this maiden image, but every time he tried, her voice rang in his head mocking his attempts at capturing her likeness. The noise in his head began to build again, and in a rage against his own incompetence, he ripped the page, wadded it with both hands and began tearing at the ball of paper in hatred. None of the others had fought like this against being captured. They had all given up their most intimate qualities to his pencil without complaint. Not this one.
The professor still haunted the lectern just as he had before, perhaps a bit more worn down and defeated than before, John thought. Several times during the lecture, John saw the girl looking at him. His heart shrank each time. He knew she knew. That she was being chased – that he wanted her. She resented him, hated him with every glance for his crude desires. Today she wore a blue dress, like the one she had worn the day he began sketching her the first time. The irony made her stares all the more piercing. He wished he could somehow tell her that he loved her, and understood that she was repulsed by his apparent lustful thoughts, but that there was so much more to him than those things. But he knew her hate, knew it could not be conquered and she could not be captured.
He tried to slip out of the class behind a group of students huddling together discussing a study group, but she spotted him. He couldn’t face the accusations, the knowing look, or the inevitable betrayal that would follow any exchange.
She closed in on him as he tried to ignore her. “Wait!”
He looked back one final time, and saw a confused look on her face. She thought to lull him into security before cutting him down, he knew, pretending to not know what game was being played. He ran. Ran down the stairs, to the ground floor, ran across the cobblestone courtyard, recklessly across Alumni Drive and into the registrar’s office, where he breathlessly dropped Marlboro Man’s class.