“So, this happens every night?”
Brett Waters stares at me as if I’m insane, and frankly I’m beginning to agree.
We’re sitting in the Hart House dining room having lunch and I’m telling him about my dreams. We both teach courses in modern drama, although he teaches Ibsen and Chekhov, who tend to be philosophical, and appropriately, I specialize in Tennessee Williams, who’s preoccupied with desire.
But I’m not just a drop of reason in an ocean of emotion—I hope. I try to convey some semblance of rationality.
“I’m at a loss to explain it,” I tell him, “but somehow I get the impression this girl is someone I once knew and is now dead—and, face it, she’d have to be, because as you know, my love life is pathetic.”
“Any clues as to where your dream affair takes place?”
“I get the impression it’s the Deep South—I see white manses and smell magnolias.”
He rolls his eyes. “O my god, Bro—southern belles and mint juleps! Can’t your dreams at least be a little less conventional?”
I color a little—Okay, a lot. I need to explain—try to justify myself.
“Yeah, I thought of how lame that sounds too—but I do teach Tennessee Williams.”
“Well, if I were you, Pal, I’d just go with the flow. It seems harmless enough—but until we perfect 3-D holography, this is probably the closest you’re going to come to losing yourself in a romantic fantasy.”
He gets up to go to his 1:00 pm lecture. “I hate to say it,” he grins, “but Freud would have a field day with you.”
I smile ruefully as he walks away. He’s right, of course—it’s probably my long-suppressed libido, my Id, making a back-door assault on my Ego and speaking to me through the language of dreams.
But I also have a lecture to attend too, and as I think about it, the image of my Nemesis comes to mind in the person of Karine Williams, a beautiful, but challenging student.
From the first day of semester, Karine has been a persistent adversary, peppering me with incessant questions and smirking if she succeeds in catching me unprepared.
Her constant needling has worn me down and made me limit student questions.
Lately though I’ve decided to take a more proactive approach—not allowing her acres of time to hand in assignments, and cutting her off when she verges off track.
I’ve drawn a line in the sand so to speak, and if she crosses it today, I’ll make sure she pays.
I lean on the lectern watching the students file in and sure enough, the last one to enter is Karine. There will be no respite from needling today.
It’s the Friday before the long weekend and term assignments are due today. I wonder if Karine will make the deadline, and to forestall any arguments I begin by reiterating the rule I made—either get the assignment to me in class, or hand-deliver it to my home.
“You know the rules,” I remind them. “If your term paper is not in today, I won’t accept it—or, poor you, you’re going to have a long car ride to my Muskoka cottage.”
The class laughs and Matt Morton, a linebacker for the Varsity Blues calls out, “My paper’s ready, Prof—I even read the books for this one.”
I laugh along with the class, but notice Karine is not smiling—not a good sign. I decide to get right into the Cat on a Hot Tin Roof lecture and so I start in with Brick and Maggie’s confrontation in Act One.
I begin by stating Maggie uses the excuse of poverty to justify why she always has ‘to suck up to people.’ She claims it’s turned her into a restless cat on a hot tin roof.
Karine’s hand immediately shoots up. The class groans—Matt Morton rolls his eyes, and I grimace inwardly.
“Yes, Ms. Williams?” I strain to say the words evenly, plastering a brittle smile on my face.
“I’ve noticed you’ve adopted a very biased attitude toward Maggie, Professor Enright—you’re seeing her through a male perspective.”
“Well, duh,” Matt Morton snickers, “He is a man, if you noticed.”
Karine’s eyes flash. “That is such a typical male response—taking sides against a woman.”
I decide it’s best to stifle this argument before it gets really heated.
“Let’s not get into a He Said—She Said, disagreement. I always believe that when there’s a difference in interpretation, you should let the text speak. Do you agree, Ms. Williams?”
She glares at me. “Yes, I do.”
“Good! Then bring your copy of the text up here and stand beside me.”
She hesitates a moment, looking uncertain. Matt Morton snickers, anticipating some kind of come-uppance in the works, but to her credit, Karine doesn’t back down.
“I want you to read Maggie’s part, and I’ll read Brick’s—and we’ll let the text decide.”
“I don’t do southern accents,” she hedges.
“Neither do I,” I counter.
She tosses her head defiantly allowing her long dark tresses to mesmerize me. But then, begins reading, falteringly at first, but gaining momentum and confidence as she goes.
Maggie’s part in Act One is demanding—she has to sound hysterical and out of breath as if she’s run up several flights of stairs yelling Fire! And she has to sustain that energy all the way to the end of the Act. A demanding role for Karine to play.
Serves her right, I chuckle inwardly.
As for me, my part is easy. I get to utter monosyllabic replies for most of the time, before things start getting heated between Brick and Maggie.
But as we get into the rhythm of the dialogue, a strange thing starts to happen. In the midst of acting out Maggie and Brick’s conflict, a storm blows up outside the lecture hall.
The tall, narrow windows are illumined by waves of blue lightning.
As Maggie lashes out at Brick, thunder rumbles ominously in the background. And as Karine gets into the cadence of Maggie’s voice, her speech begins to take on a southern accent. When I reply in Brick’s indifferent tone, my speech has a southern drawl.
Suddenly, a real rage exists between us. I feel myself grasping for Brick’s crutch so I can brain Karine—er, Maggie—do anything to make her stop.
The atmosphere turns electric and the room grows darker by the minute. Finally, it becomes so dark we both get scared and stop.
The lecture hall goes ominously silent—reminiscent of the pause between lightning and thunder—and then there is an enormous loud crash, and Karine screams in fright and falls into my arms.
The minute I feel her in my arms a dark network of hidden memories lights up inside me.
I’m dazed and shaken, and at the same time powerfully attracted to her. I stare at her lips wanting so badly to crush them beneath mine, but am aware of the students gaping at us as we cling together on the raised platform.
I come to my senses and pull abruptly away.
I manage to call out, “I think we’ll end early today because of the weather. Don’t forget to hand in your papers on the way out.”
Nobody moves or says anything.
Finally, Matt Morton gives a huge sigh and deadpans, “That was intense.”
His remark breaks the ice and the students laugh, and then begin to file out. It’s then I realize I’m standing alone on the platform, feeling bereft and desolate.
Karine has fled, leaving me feeling totally abandoned.
My hands are shaking as I clumsily gather up term papers and shove them into my briefcase.
I drive home in pouring rain, peering through the rain-splattered windshield and seeing superimposed over the splashing streets, a transparent image of her face.
I was planning to head out to the cottage in the morning, but I’m too keyed up. I need a long drive to calm me down.
I stop by my place, throw my packed suitcases in the cab of my F150 pickup, and point the truck north, and try to put everything else out of my mind.
Of course, I’m soon gridlocked in bumper-to-bumper traffic, but I turn on an FM station, thinking it’ll soothe my nerves.
The soft music of the Thirties works for a while, until a Billie Holiday song comes on, and I come apart. The song is from 1934 and is called, The Very Thought of You.
Fortunately, I’m approaching a highway restaurant and am able to pull off—my eyes are filled with tears.
The very thought of you
And I forget to do
Those little ordinary things
That everyone ought to do
The song gives voice to everything that’s been lying dormant so long inside me, and I realize I’ve been suppressing feelings for Karine. The truth is I enjoyed sparring with her and our verbal jousts—I’ve looked forward to each class knowing I’d be near her.
Even her negative attention, was proof she was aware of me.
I shake my head, knowing it’s insane. I’m ten years older, and she’s a student, but still, I can’t deny my feelings—and what’s worse, at that moment I realize, she’s the girl in my dreams.
I stop for coffee in the restaurant and stare morosely out the window at the splashing highway and the muffled noises of cars passing outside in the rain.
I had her for a moment, I muse, and my body trembles at the memory of her in my arms.
I want her back in my embrace where she belongs, whether or not it’s right or wrong.
O God, I’m rhyming again, but I can’t push the thought away.
I sigh and finish my coffee, then force myself back out onto the road. I continue the trek north and finally arrive the cottage at eleven. I light a fire and pour a huge glass of Shiraz.
I’m exhausted but still keyed up from the day. Outside, rain begins to fall again and it helps in lulling me to sleep, but just as I’m drifting off, the FM station plays her song again and I’m back in the dream.
The following morning I feel tired and bruised, as if I’ve been beaten all over with a rubber hose. I decide to push through my feelings and try to lose myself in hard physical labor.
I came up this weekend to do landscaping, I muse, and I’ll be damned if I’m going to let anything deter me.
I drive to the nursery, pick up some evergreen trees and by the time I arrive back at the cottage, the local landscaping depot has dumped three enormous piles of gravel, stone and soil along the edge of the driveway.
I instantly feel overwhelmed, particularly since my mind is filled with Karine’s flashing eyes.
It crosses my mind to retreat and head back to the city, but what would that accomplish?
I push myself to work regardless, and manage to level the area and lay landscape fabric—but by noon, I’m done and can’t get any further.
“This just isn’t going to work,” I growl as I throw down the shovel disgustedly.
That night there’s more rain and the FM station conspires with Fate to play her song again as I’m drifting off to sleep.
I take Sunday off – it’s a day of rest after all, but I know Monday I’ll have to finish the job.
But I just can’t concentrate, or I’ve lost my will. A ruined weekend, I grumble looking at the piles of gravel and stone.
Monday morning I rise early, determined to work right through, but by noon I’m totally exhausted and only halfway done.
I sit dejectedly on the pile of gravel, jeans soiled and cheek smeared with mud.
At that moment, a car pulls into the driveway and a beautiful girl gets out – she’s wearing sunglasses and is dressed in sweater and jeans.
At first, I can’t make out her face because of the sun’s glare, but then I hear a familiar, southern twang as she teasingly calls out, “Aren’t you supposed to be grading papers, Prof?”
My heart leaps in my chest at the sound of her voice.
She’s teasing, affecting the role of a southern belle, using her term paper as a fan, but her mocking gesture has the opposite effect—it inflames me with passion. I feel as if there’s a furnace behind me—and each brush of her fan causes waves of heat to roll over me.
She eyes my jeans, damp with sweat, and my red ragged tee. “You don’t look like a Prof anymore—I don’t know what to call you—certainly not, Professor Enright.”
“You can call me, James,” I grin.
“I brought lunch—as a peace offering. You ready for a break?”
“Oh yeah—about two hours ago,” I laugh.
“Where can we eat?”
“How about down by the lake?”
We sit in the shade of a huge Maple eating delicious Swiss cheese on rye and drinking ice-cold Labatt Blue beer.
“I didn’t know if Profs drank,” she giggles.
“We’re prone to all the weaknesses of the flesh,” I smile.
A shadow passes across her features. “Can we talk about the other day?”
I nod. I can hear my heart pounding in my ears. I hope she can’t hear it too.
“I’m not sure what happened,” she begins, “ we were there in the class and then suddenly we were in another room—and you know the crazy thing? We had a history, in some other time, in some other place.”
The air goes dead between us.
She gives a little nervous laugh. “I knew you’d think it was crazy—but, there—I said it—and I’m not taking it back.”
“I felt it too,” I whisper.
Her eyes grow huge. “You did?”
“Oh, it gets even crazier—you’re in my dreams every night.”
Tears blur her huge brown eyes.
“I was angry at somebody in my dreams,” she continues, “—for years, I’d be searching and looking for him—to blame him for leaving me.”
I resist the urge to put my arms around her, but want to more than anything—to protect and shelter her.
“You know the other day when I fell into your arms, I felt I was coming home—but I also felt something else—something that made me run.”
“What was it?” I rasp hoarsely.
She blushes and looks away, and just when I think she’s not going to answer, she whispers so low I can barely hear her. “I think Tennessee Williams calls it Desire.”
There are still three piles of gravel, stone and soil sitting out in my driveway up north—up where the cool pine breezes blow.
We go up there nearly every weekend now—Karine and I, to listen to the forest song.
Some nights we sit by the edge of the lake and stare at the northern lights.
And some nights, I swear I smell magnolias, but that’s impossible I know.
© 2016 – 2017, John J Geddes. All rights reserved.