The disgraced professor entered the college cafeteria. She held her head high, looking straight ahead. Of course she could hear the students whispering. Of course she could see her colleagues turning away. It was Titanic night, the tables set with white tablecloths, the chafing dishes heating up replicas of the passengers’ last meal, as reinterpreted by the Mennonite cafeteria staff: green peas, chicken Kiev, roast beef, sautéed potatoes. Eclairs for dessert.
The line started at the double doors of the cafeteria; everybody loved Titanic night. The professors came with their spouses. The students were dressed up in suits or gowns; some of the boys wore top hats. Where did a college student in rural Pennsylvania get a top hat? The student workers wore black and white, like servants in Downton Abbey.
The professor shuffled her way through the line. No one spoke to her. Her hair was in a ponytail, and she could almost pass as a student, even though she was twenty years older than the students. But she could still get away with bangs. She was wearing a light green rain jacket and blue jeans. She picked up a tray, a white plate, knife, fork, spoon. She said hello to the student workers behind their silver serving trays, and some of them said: Hello, Dr. D, but they couldn’t look her in the eye. She said: Oh, yummy. She said: I look forward to this every year.
She walked straight-backed with her tray through the cafeteria, the round tables set with baskets of linen-swaddled dinner rolls and sweating goblets of water, the lemons floating like doomed life rafts. She found an empty table by the dish room. No one sat with her. She ignored the stares, the glares, the cleared throats. She ate quickly, took her tray to the dish room window, and left.
Outside, in the dark April night, rain clouds gathered, lightning flashed; inside, the electricity flickered. “We’ve hit an iceberg,” said somebody. Outside, the professor pulled up her hood. She’d forgotten an umbrella, left it back in her office, the scene of the crime that wasn’t a crime. She ducked her head against the rain and ran.
My name is Margaret, and I’m the one Dr. D left to die outside her office reading text alerts of an active (but ultimately non-existent) shooter making his way through the building. I’m the one who knocked on her office door and said, Can I please come in so I don’t die? The one who begged: Please? And she said nothing. That was a week ago, and I got an extension on all of my assignments because I would have been dead, if there actually had been a shooter, which there wasn’t.
I’m standing at my station tong-ing out crab legs—there weren’t crab legs on the Titanic, but we have them at every fancy dinner at this college. Dr. D steered clear of me, but the other professors go out of their way to say hello—they all suddenly know my name. They say, “How are you doing, Margaret?” and I hold up my silver tongs and say, “Would you care for some crab legs?”
A bald history professor in an ascot says, “Nice legs!” and then, realizing how pervy that sounded, gasps, “I’m so sorry,” and scuttles off, legless. You can’t be too careful.
My roommate Tara comes through the line, and I give her three crab legs even though we’re just supposed to give out two. She’s wearing the black dress she wore to her father’s funeral. “Did you see her?” she asks. “Can you believe the nerve?” Tara has been very vocal on my behalf; she started a petition to get Dr. D fired, even though I didn’t ask her to. I don’t know what I want to happen. There’s a part of me that feels like a ghost, and another part of me that doesn’t.
“It’s fine,” I say to Tara, who shakes her head as she moves down the line toward the roast beef.
At seven-fifteen, my boyfriend, Curt, comes in with his roommate, Craig. Curt and Craig: That sounds like two jocks, even though they’re stoners, not jocks. They sit cross-legged across from each other on their beds and clip their big yellow toenails.
They’re drenched from the rain, wearing handmade Grateful Dead shirts. Since the crab legs are long gone, I’ve been reassigned to peas. “Give peas a chance,” says Craig, and Curt laughs like that’s so original.
“With the melting sea ice,” says Curt, “the Titanic would be fine. Like, global warming would help it.”
Tara swoops by on her way out the door, trailed by a freshman dude, Thor, who is very small for his name. “Are you okay, sweetie?” she says to me. “Dr. D was here,” she explains to Curt and Craig, and makes her eyes go wide. “Can you believe the nerve?”
“Why is she still here?” says Curt. “Hashtag fire the bitch.”
“I’m fine!” I say. “Seriously, it’s fine.”
The cafeteria is clearing out. Curt and Craig do a quick loop, then wave goodbye and head out the doors, their pockets stuffed with dinner rolls. The fulltime staff is pacing, restless, ready to put up the chairs and mop the floor and go home to wherever they live. This is a small town, halfway between Hershey Park and Harrisburg. In a year I will graduate and begin the quest to pay off my student loans with my English degree. I will launch myself into the world, whatever that means, as they keep telling us in the English Capstone class, the one that Dr. D used to teach, about how to find jobs and get letters of rec. Another professor is taking the class over for the last three weeks of the semester.
At exactly eight p.m., “Nearer My God to Thee” comes over the loudspeaker, and that’s the cue for everyone to grab that last éclair and go. I turn in my apron, grab my coat, and step out into the night, feeling the sharp air on my skin, smelling like the crabby sea.
Dr. D on her first day fifteen years ago: hair a sliced angle on one side, buzz cut on the other. Her colleagues were giddy. Their new hire was so young, so hip!
“Hip is out,” said someone. “No one says hip.”
“I need a new hip,” said someone else.
Dr. Frame said: “Oh, how I wish I could still wear high heels. But my arches just cramp up!”
Dr. D wore short, swishy skirts and high, strappy heels. “Call me Debbie!” said Dr. D to her students, but they couldn’t call her Debbie, no way. They were eighteen years old, from rural Pennsylvania, and they didn’t call their teachers by their first names, so they called her nothing. But they admired her crazy haircut and how she would stop in the middle of her lecture on Jane Eyre to say, “That Rochester is a creep, who’s with me?” and how she wrote friendly comments on all of their papers, didn’t just slap a grade on them.
Was she single, married? All signs pointed to single. Which meant a boyfriend? Or—glory be—a girlfriend? She made tantalizing comments about her “ex,” who she left behind in Tennessee. Her accent was southern but not too southern; she sounded like a country singer, but not like a hick. She decorated her office with pictures of pastel alleyways and green mountains. San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, she’d say, when anyone asked. Study abroad changed my life! Have you considered it? You should do it!
In early December of her first semester, the snow began to fall at three a.m., and by seven the campus was covered in white. The snow kept falling; classes weren’t canceled, because this was Pennsylvania and everyone lived on campus, so students crunched and slid and skated to their classes, and Dr. D said, peering out the window of her third floor classroom, “It’s like a Bruegel painting down there!” Her cheeks were flushed. No one knew what the hell she was talking about. Later, she flopped herself down in the middle of the quad and made snow angels, which filled again with snow.
My dorm room smells like weed and rotten fruit and incense, which means Tara has been hanging out with Shannon from down the hall—Shannon with her apple bongs and record collection on actual vinyl, which she can’t do anything with because nobody has a record player. Tara is sitting at her desk, which is unusual, and the room is dark except for her laptop and her desk light. The dorm was built in the 1930s, and I wonder, as I do occasionally, who lived in this room back when there were typewriters and you could still smoke cigarettes and listen to records on a record player. I wonder how many of the girls who lived in this room are now dead, which is a thing I didn’t wonder a week ago. But there must be quite a few.
“You’re going to get caught if you keep apple-bonging in here,” I say, even though Shannon is the RA and she’s the only one who could catch us.
“Tell me what you think of this,” Tara says. “Dear President Jenkins, we hereby declare a walkout at eleven a.m. on Monday, April 19, to protest the continued employment of Dr. Debra Duggar, a coward and a traitor.”
“Wow,” is all I can think to say. I flip on the overhead light so I can see what I’m doing in the closet. I pull off my server skirt and blouse and hang them up, even though they smell, and change into sweats. My phone dings with a text from Curt: Coming over? I text Gotta study and he texts a poo. Ours is not a great love story. Ours is a story of boredom and horniness. Now that I’m not-dead, I have seriously considered whether there’s any reason to keep hanging out with him, and I’ve come to the conclusion that there’s still no real reason not to. And this makes me feel disappointed in myself.
“If the walk-out is at eleven,” says Tara, “then I won’t have to take that world history test.”
“You’ll have to take it eventually,” I say. “But I really don’t want a walk-out.”
“It’s not for you,” she says. “This is bigger than you now.”
That’s what I was afraid she’d say.
Twenty-year-old Debbie, walking down the sun-spackled streets of San Miguel de Allende, doing tequila shots with her classmates, making out with that guy, what’s-his-name. What was his name? It didn’t matter. During the day she strolled with her study abroad group through the pastel streets and took notes on the architecture, the history, the art! At night: tequila and foolishness, and let’s walk to that cemetery past the plaza, the one with all the bones just lying there, just out in the open. Twenty-year-old Debbie, walking over the bones of the dead, picking up a bone, a sliver—a finger?—and putting it in her pocket, her heart thudding. Was this against the law? Against some law? Against all the laws? She had a human bone in her pocket, and she was walking through the dark streets with a group of laughing girls, who also had bones in their pockets. Bone Girls, she thought, and shuddered with terror and joy.
Later, back home in Memphis for Christmas break, she would take the bone from her box of souvenirs and think: Who were you? She didn’t believe in random curses, but she believed that you could disturb the dead and knock something in the shadow-world off-kilter, which was worse than curses. Twenty-year-old Debbie ran outside in the December chill, into the woods behind her house, her house churning out chimney smoke from the fireplace, her mother inside angry with her brother, her father locked away behind his office door writing sermons. She took the bone from her pocket and threw it into the trees.
My parents drive sixty miles up from Maryland and take me to the one good restaurant in town, the one with dim lighting and wooden tables and candles. It’s supposed to be German, which means the waitresses have to wear demeaning dirndls and everything comes with potatoes. My father gallantly pulls out my mother’s chair, and then mine, and then my mother bursts into tears.
“We should have come sooner,” she says. “You look terrible.”
“I’m fine,” I say. I’m a little bit high. My eyes feel like squirrel’s eyes. I realize I haven’t eaten in a while, because the smell of sauerkraut actually makes me hungry. “Things are good,” I hear myself saying. “I got extensions on all of my assignments.” It occurs to me that the extensions were for a week, and a week has already passed. Or more than a week. Who can tell anymore? I’ve had one session with the school counselor, who told me it was normal to feel the way I was feeling, even though I didn’t tell him how I was feeling because I didn’t even know.
My father says, “We want you home this summer. No more working on campus. You can help your mother at the store. Or take violin lessons.” My mother owns a popcorn store and needs no help, and I have never mentioned any desire to play violin. My father is an accountant in Baltimore and tried to talk me into being an accounting major, and now I’m not sure what he’s trying to talk me into.
We order pork chops and potatoes and sauerkraut, and I don’t just eat my food but devour it. I pick up the chop with my fingers and gnaw and feel like making animal noises. I am a body without a soul, or a soul without a body. Sometimes when I walk past Howard Hall, where I thought I was going to die, I see myself staring out the windows.
“So listen,” my mother says. Her face is bright in the candlelight. The dirndl waitress has poured all of us more iced tea. “We’re suing that woman for pain and suffering. And we hope you’ll go to the walk-out.”
“You are?” I say. “And about the walk-out: I mean, I don’t even have a class then, so there’s nothing for me to walk out of.”
“People are coming all the way from Harrisburg,” my father says.
“All the way from Philly,” my mother says.
“People are driving here for the walk-out?” I start laughing and can’t stop so I drink down all my iced tea until my chest feels frozen. As we’re leaving the restaurant, some of the other diners turn and applaud.
After seven years at the college, Dr. D earned a sabbatical, and boy did she need it. She went to the South of France to write poems about art, although she made it sound much more impressive in her sabbatical application. She mentioned the word ekphrasis seven times, and made reference to Cézanne and Zola and cross-cultural experience. She didn’t mention the handsome art teacher she’d met at a conference in Chicago. She moved into his sprawling house in Aix-en-Provence and drank too much red wine every night. Her poems were shockingly sexual, and she submitted them to literary journals whose editors were shocked enough to publish them. She spent the autumn walking under golden trees on the Cours Mirabeau and driving with the art teacher to small villages in the Luberon Valley, and she started and abandoned two novels: one shockingly sexual, one from the point of view of a dog.
She did not mention, in her post-sabbatical narrative, that the art teacher was married or that his wife arrived from Chicago to find her, Dr. D, drunk on the patio; she didn’t mention the shattering wine glasses, or the small hotel she moved into for the remaining weeks of her stay. She didn’t try to write a poem about this, because it was both too traumatizing and too much of a cliché. Why did life have to break your heart in such predictable ways? Or maybe that was the point of art: to render the cliché of human experience in a way that didn’t feel like a cliché? Well, good luck with that.
There are former students out there in the world who still remember what happened the spring semester after her return: how she once ran out of the classroom in tears, how she told a girl her poem was “better off as a paper airplane,” how she could be seen plunging blindly into the street, as if she were trying to get hit by a car. What’s up with Dr. D? the students wondered—but only briefly. In late March, she flew home to Tennessee for her mother’s funeral, and her classes signed a sympathy card for her. She returned clear-eyed and wearing an engagement ring. She never spoke of her fiancé. By May, the ring was gone.
She held her usual end-of-semester salon at her red brick house on College Avenue, and the students sat in a circle in her living room, under Cézanne prints, and read their poems in trembling voices. When they were done, Dr. D smiled and murmured something that sounded like “You’re all fools,” or “You’re all so cool,” and no one asked her to repeat herself. Better not to know.
On Saturday morning, Dr. Frame tweets out a long thread about how faculty are meant to protect their students, how they are charged with preserving young lives, then keels over dead of a heart attack.
Later that afternoon, the editor of the school newspaper shows up in my dorm room. I’ve been deleting her emails for days: We’re going to run the story, and we’d love to have your point of view!!!! Did you know that Dr. D is taking a leave of absence? How do you feel about that?? Do you want her fired? Will you participate in the walkout? Did she even apologize???
But now here she is, this newspaper editor with her little-girl braids and big glasses, flapping her steno pad at me. I wish I could delete her from my room, but she’s somehow pushed her way inside and is now sitting at Tara’s desk. “My roommate will be back soon and she needs to sit there,” is all I can think to say. But Tara’s been spending all her time with young Thor.
“First of all,” she says, her eyes tiny behind her big glasses, “how are you? How are you doing?”
I’m still in my sweats at five p.m, and I haven’t showered in days. I wonder if this is how Jesus felt in his tomb, festering in his own funk, wondering when he could get on with his life. This is an odd thing for me to wonder, since I’m not religious, but lately strange thoughts occur to me. Last night I dreamed I was a vampire, and the first person I killed was the newspaper editor, but I don’t tell her this.
“I’m fine,” I say.
“Did she even apologize? Like, after it happened?”
“Did you talk to her?” I haven’t seen her since Titanic night, and I wonder if anybody else has.
“No, unfortunately. She won’t answer my emails. I went to her house and she wouldn’t open the door—but her car was there! But what would you tell her, if you could?” She holds her pen above her notepad.
“I’d tell her the school newspaper editor is stalking her.”
She pouts. Slaps her notebook shut and stands. “I’m just trying to give you a voice,” she says. “But if you’re one of those women who doesn’t believe in speaking her truth, there’s nothing I can do about it.” Then her eyes soften. “I’ll write that you’re still in shock, still processing the trauma. I’ll say you look like a person trapped between life and death.”
“Fuck off,” I tell her.
Last October, six months before the shooter-that-wasn’t, Dr. D found herself in the one good restaurant in town with her newly divorced shitfaced brother, visiting from Memphis. Was she also shitfaced? Probably so. A former student whose name Dr. D couldn’t remember served them big German beers. The girl had graduated when? Last year? Two years ago? And now she was wearing a demeaning dirndl and saying, “Can I interest you in some schnitzel?”
“No, thank you,” said Dr. D, and her brother said, “Keep them coming, honey,” and held up his stein.
The restaurant was dim and quiet on a Thursday night; outside, dead leaves spiraled to the ground under the streetlights. The townies had decorated their porches with grinning pumpkins and plastic spiders. Dr. D had decorated her own porch with an altar featuring three plastic skeletons wearing lipstick, wreathed in flowers, all of them missing one finger bone.
“How can you live in this place, Debs?” her brother asked. “It’s like Bumfuck, Egypt. Except it’s not like Egypt at all, because everybody’s fat and white.” He pouted into his beer. “Do you know that waitress? Tell her she’ll get extra credit if she brings more big beers right now.”
The waitress—what the hell was her name?—had wandered off and was staring at the big wooden front doors as if expecting them to blow open and whisk her into some other life. Mr. Rochester isn’t so bad, Dr. D suddenly remembered her saying from the back of the class. He just has low self-esteem.
“She already graduated,” Dr. D said. In a low voice she added, “She was sweet but dumb.” Oh, dear. Was that mean? She didn’t mean to be mean.
Her brother was waving the waitress over; there seemed to be two of her. Dr. D closed one eye and then there was one of her.
Her brother leaned forward and gave a tiny belch. “My sister says you’re sweet but dumb. Is that true?”
The girl (Kaitlin? Kaley? Karlee?) seemed to stop breathing. Her mouth opened, then shut. Later, Dr. D would write a poem about her, and in the poem the girl clawed off the demeaning dirndl and stomped off into the night; she went to the South of France and was never heard of again. Dr. D would do forty-seven drafts of this poem, two of which would be sestinas, and then burn them all in her fireplace.
“Can we get our check, please?” Dr. D asked gently.
“Of course,” said the girl, teeth bared and white. Animal teeth. This would also go in Dr. D’s poem. “You got it.”
On Sunday morning I’m woken by a dragon breathing and look outside to see a hot air balloon rising on the quad. It’s secured by long yellow ropes, so it doesn’t get far, but I have the strange idea that it’s there for me, that I’m meant to board it and float, Dorothy-like, into another world. The balloon is green and blue and filled with fire. The sun shines down on students playing Frisbee on the lawn.
I imagine an imaginary girl standing here years from now, thinking about how I used to live in this room, before my tragic death caused by Dr. D not saving me. It’s my nonexistent future, the one where because I died tragically, I could have been anything: a politician, an artist, an astronaut! But none of this is true, and I think this is what people are really mad about, even if they can’t admit it.
But I try to feel like that fire-breathing balloon, so I rise and float out into the hallway, the smell of shower soap and sour beer, Shannon the RA saluting me as she strides by with her shower bucket. She skids to a halt and then pivots. “You going to the service?” she says.
“Memorial service for Dr. Frame. At the chapel of memories.”
“Huh,” I say. “Probably not.”
“She was older than I thought—sixty-eight. She had grandkids.”
“Huh,” I say.
“She was awesome. Unlike some people, right? Like anybody would’ve missed her if she was dead.”
“Would anyone have missed me?” I ask, and she puts down her bucket and pulls me into a hug. Then she steps back and I’m surprised to see that her eyes are full of tears. She releases me, picks up her bucket, and continues down the hallway. I turn around, go back inside my tomb, and close the shades.
Early April in Howard Hall, a week before Titanic night: white buds on the trees, the days foggy then bright. It was early evening, the clouds dark as bruises. Dr. D had conferences for her English Capstone class, required for students in their last semester of junior year or first semester of senior year, discussing the drafts of their resumes: Is there anyone besides your aunt Kathy that you could put as a reference? No one was prepared for the world; good luck finding a job, or love, or keeping your worst impulses at bay, or keeping your shit together, or keeping the ghosts of your past from teaming up with your regrets and punching you awake at three in the morning. Not that she could say any of this out loud.
It was after five o’clock; one more conference to go. She heard the English Department secretary lock up the main office, walk down the hallway talking on the phone, making plans for dinner. In the silence, the weight of loneliness descended. She was overdue for her next sabbatical. She would go somewhere far north this time, where the summer sun never set.
Footsteps: Margaret, whose resume she had given a C-. Margaret, earnest but unoriginal. She sat in the back row and said nothing. But she was only a junior, so there was hope. Under job experience, she had written: Cafeteria worker, banquet server. Under references, she had put a question mark. Under skills, she had written: Pretty fast at typing, can wash dishes. Under career goals, she had written: I really just want to make a living and get out of debt. She’d also handwritten at the top: Sorry, Dr. D. I guess I don’t have much experience with anything! None of them had much actual experience with anything, but Dr. D liked talking to them. She liked hearing about their older brothers and their sick mothers and their dogs and their vacations to Disney World. She’d suggest they join a club or even better, try study abroad! She liked it when they left her office smiling, hopeful, thinking they weren’t such losers. You’ll be fine, she liked to tell them, because she usually believed this to be true.
Her phone buzzed with this message: Campus Alert System. Active shooter reported entering Howard Hall. Shelter in place.
She rose from her desk, pushed her door shut, and locked it.
The heart, it turned out, was an organ that could expand to fill the entire body: throat, head, knees, lungs, everything had a pulse, even the bones of her fingers.
A knock. “Dr. D?”
It wasn’t that she thought Margaret was the shooter, but it wasn’t that she didn’t think it, either. “Dr. D?” Another knock. But even if she wasn’t the shooter, the shooter could be right behind her, could push open the door as soon as Dr. D opened it.
For the first time, Dr. D really paid attention to her office door: a white door, four small panes of frosted glass. A silver handle instead of a knob. Or no, not silver: stainless steel. Next to the door, the pamphlet in every university office and classroom: Emergency Procedures. What to do in case of flood, fire, earthquake. She thought of the online active shooter training, how she was supposed to run, if possible, and if not, then hide. Maybe she should have run.
Her phone lit up again: Active shooter in Howard Hall. Shelter in place.
Margaret was a dark shape behind the frosted glass. Dr. D put her face against the door. “Be quiet,” she hissed. “Hide.” But there was no place to hide, all the offices locked, now hers locked, the restrooms didn’t even have locks.
Margaret again: “Please let me in. So I don’t fucking die!”
Dr. D’s heart pounded out the answer: No. Fear was just the will to live, she realized. There was a time not that long ago when she would have been able to fling open the door and risk or even lose her own life to save someone else’s, but apparently this was not that time. She sank to the floor. Her body felt heavy as a sarcophagus.
A tall shadow appeared next to Margaret’s shadow, and then came Margaret’s voice, possibly her last words, hard as revenge: “There’s somebody in there.” The door handle rattled. Dr. D’s life didn’t flash before her eyes: that was bullshit. Only later would she realize she’d sliced neatly into selves: one forever assessing, Do you deserve this, whatever it is? The other forever crouched on the floor, gasping for all the air the world would give her.
On Monday, Tara, Curt and Craig burst into the room and Curt pulls off my covers. I’m on the top bunk, so they’re below me, staring up. I feel like I’m floating.
“Happy walk-out day!” says Tara.
“It’s your day, babe,” says Curt.
“I’m going to firebomb her house,” says Craig.
“What?” I say.
“To avenge you,” says Curt.
“Nothing to avenge,” I remind him, sitting up and hugging my sweaty pillow.
“Look at you,” he says. “You’re just a fucking mess.”
“They planted a tree for you,” says Tara. “And one for Dr. Frame, too.” She reaches for my hand and I let her take it. The trees are in the memorial garden by the student union, planted for dead faculty and students. There’s some quote by a famous poet on a plaque, but I never bothered to read it.
Craig pulls open the blinds. The light feels like it’s trying to claw its way into my brain, but that’s probably because I drank all of Tara’s secret stash of root beer schnapps last night. I feel bile rise to my throat. “Get up, stand up,” Craig sings, like he’s Bob Marley. He’s wearing a T-shirt with Calvin and Hobbs, and he doesn’t look like a firebomber, but I also know that you can never tell what people are capable of.
For instance, I didn’t know that I was the type of person who would tell a murderer where an innocent person was hiding. Not that she was all that innocent, and not that he was a murderer: just a clueless seventeen-year-old townie, lost on his way to the music department for a flute lesson. He happened to walk into Howard Hall with what looked like a gun but was actually a flute case as a car backfired and a frightened freshman texted that he’d heard gun shots, and campus police were alerted. When he looked at me—this pasty, brown-eyed stranger—I knew I was dead, and I just wanted her to be dead, too. So I said, “Someone’s in there,” and gave the door one last try so we could enter together.
“You need to come with us,” Curt says, and I all I can think to say back is, “I don’t love you.” He laughs.
So I resurrect myself, still in my raggy sweats, and put on a pair of flip flops, and don’t bother combing my hair. “You look great,” says Tara, by which she means I look awful. She drapes a fleece hoodie over my shoulders, and we all make our way down the empty hallway, down the empty stairwell, the scuffed fake-marble floors, and out the double doors into an afternoon that seems washed clean of all colors but white and pale green. My contact lenses are cloudy with goo. I realized Craig is gone. Tara and Curt are on either side of me. The quad is full of people—students, professors, strangers—shouting and holding signs: Dr. D Must Go! and pictures of Dr. Frame with a halo around her gray head, and pictures of me with Justice for Margaret scrawled across my neck.
“Isn’t this great?” shouts Curt.
“I didn’t even study for that history test,” shouts Tara.
I feel people touching me, fingers reaching out; somebody puts a crown of daisies on my head and I knock them off and I push my way through, losing Tara and Curt, swan-diving my hands so I can burrow into the body of this crowd, a human-made maze I have to carve through like a worm, tunneling across the grass that was just yesterday full of hackey sackers and a hot air balloon, now gone to who knows where. The crowd thins and I keep running until I reach Howard Hall; no one sees me enter through the side door or take the echoing steps up to the second floor.
The hallway is dim, the offices empty because everyone is outside, shouting about the unfairness of the world. I stop by her door: darkness inside the glass. I think of the last time I was here, the townie and I staring at each other, then campus police storming up the stairs, guns drawn, the boy—his name was Steven Riley—dropping his flute, being tackled to the ground. I heard his parents are suing the college, suing Dr. D, suing the officer who handcuffed him, suing the music teacher who failed to give proper directions.
Dr. D came trembling out of her office, her eyes wide and red. “Margaret,” she said. “We were both so frightened.”
I turned to the officer holding the handcuffed boy, who was crying. “My professor left me out here to die,” I said, and this went in the report, went in the campus newspaper, went online, went everywhere. I waited for Dr. D to say something in her defense, or accuse me of trying to kill her right back, but she didn’t. I have the weird thought that she’s in there right now. I have the weirder thought that I’m in there, too, that the two of us are sitting in the dark, watching this other me pace outside the door. The panes of glass are cloudy as ice, and I’m just the shadow creature moving toward the surface, then falling away.