Summer Session

(by an4@anon.lelnet.com, 01 June 1997)


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Summer Session

   Anna loved the campus this time of year. It was so quiet, so peaceful. There
was a light mist falling- not an annoying rain, but rather a cooling fog of
tiny droplets. She adjusted her headphones slightly, increased the volume.
They were doing bits and pieces of Telemann this morning, gentle baroque fair
which matched the day perfectly.
   She knew she should be thinking about tomorrow's lecture- three hours of
whether or not Columbus had seen the viking maps of North America. In her
opinion, he had known of them, had an inkling that what lay at the far end of
his journey was more complicated than the passage to the far east.
   Of course, her opinion was just that.
   The walk took on a life of her own and she soon found herself strolling past
the quad towards the small man made lake at the southern of the campus. It
was still early- a few minutes after nine, so she was surprised to see
another figure slowly making it's way around the shore of the lake.
   It was a woman, idling smoking a cigarette and watching the ducks who made a
summer home of the lake.
   When she was about sixty metres away she realised that it was Heather, one
of her summer students. Not only that, but Heather was one of the girls
living in Haskins Dorm, where Anna's faculty apartment was located. She was
surprised to see Heather up so early. The girls had been up late last night,
blasting music and drinking beer.
   It was hard for Anna to imagine that had been her as recently as four years
ago. She took the headphones off and walked over to where Heather had
stopped.
   The girl was an amasing sight. Anna had been struck by her appearance the
first time she'd seen her. She wasn't tall, but she was perfectly shaped, not
ghastly thin but rather well-defined. Her long hair was a deep red, naturally
curly, hanging almost in ringlets down to the middle of her back. Her face
was round, full, passionate. Her green eyes were always alert, always
striking. It was easy to imagine that the young boys had chased her across
the scottish highlands once upon a time.
   I should have been an English professor, Anna thought to herself.
   She was wearing a plaid dress shirt, untucked and unbuttoned down to the
curve of her breasts. There was no bra. Her boxers were also plaid, a darker
blue and green that had the look of clan colours. She looked entirely at
peace, standing by the water, taking long, sensuous pulls on the white
cigarette. Her exhales were slow, ponderous, as if she was loathe to return
the smoke to the open air.
   "Hi, Ms. Carrington."
   Embarrassed that she'd been caught staring at one of her students, Anna
smiled weakly. "Please, it's just Anna. I'm not going to insist that my
students start calling me professor until I turn thirty."
   Heather inhaled deeply on the cigarette and exhaled through her nose, the
smoke drifting lazily out towards the cooler water.
   "I'm surprised to see you up so early."
   "I learned to hold my beer when I was young, Anna. I hope we didn't keep you
up."
   "The first thing you should know about we academics is we don't sleep much.
I was reading extracts from John of Bremen."
   "You're welcome to stop in, you know-" Heather paused, as if hesitant to go
any further, then impulsively added, "-that apartment of yours looks like a
lonely place sometimes."
   "Well, I don't mind you guys having a little fun, but the dean might not
look too kindly on my fraternising with underage drinkers on a Saturday
night. You know how they've gotten about the drinking thing."
   "Silly," Heather said, stubbing out her cigarette. There was a quiet pause
as the two women watched the ducks doing duck-like things. Wet frolicking in
the cool, clean water.
   The younger woman lit another cigarette, pulling it from an half-empty box
of Marlboro Lights 100s. The look on her face as she drew in the first
mouthful of smoke was so enticing.
   "How can you do that so early in the morning ?" Anna asked, trying to sound
disgusted with no real success. In her household, smoking had been a
punishable offence. She started when she was sixteen- it was hard to imagine
there had been a time when she was a cheerleader, when the desire to be thin
had led her to experiment with what all the other girls on the squad told her
was the easiest way to give up chocolate.
   Smoking had been an infinitely preferable vice, but for only the span of a
week. Then she'd been caught by her mother- at the mall of all places,
Marlboro 100 in hand. That had been it for going to the mall for almost a
year- she almost forced her to quit the cheerleading squad as well.
   Now, living an academic's life, it was hard to imagine herself in that red
and white uniform, waving pom poms and wondering if the starting halfback
would ever look at her, much less remember her name.
   "It's the second thing I do every morning. I get up at seven, look out the
window to see what sort of day it will be, and then light a cigarette. It's
funny. When I came here to start school, I had all these ideas about what
living in the states would be like. It seemed like it was this door to
ultimate freedom, you know. No gender issues like at home- women are still-
well, the highlands are an interesting place."
   "And now ?" Anna asked, enjoying the conversation more than her earlier
solitude.
   "Well, you asked how I could smoke so early in the morning. I started-
officially- on my fifteenth birthday. It's a funny story." She paused to take
a long, thoughtful inhale on the cigarette. She had an elegant way of holding
it, just below her chin, her wrist angled. She would turn her head, move her
lips to the cigarette, and draw on it with an economy of motion. As she
spoke, smoke escaped with each word. "I'd been stealing cigarettes from my
older sister, Connie. Silly me, I thought she wouldn't tell father. Well, it
was a perfect Sunday morning, just like this one. The highlands are beautiful
in the fog. The mountains fade in and out like ghosts. We sat down for
breakfast- father always cooks on Sunday- the maid has the day off. He put my
breakfast down in front of me and favoured me with his sternest look. I knew
something was up and I was sure it was something bad, or so I thought- a bad
surprise on my birthday."
   Heather paused to smoke and Anna saw another person in the distance, fading
in and out of the mist like Heather's highland mountains.
   "'I hear you've been smoking, young lady,' he said." 
   Heather smiled, exhaled a deep cloud of smoke which drifted towards Anna,
who found herself leaning into the sweet, moist scent.
   "I looked at Connie. I was so mad. She'd been smoking since she was fifteen.
I was so angry. Then father pulled out a silver cigarette case. It had been
mother's. I thought it had been lost in the car accident-"
   Heather's face clouded slightly, but the sadness passed. "'If you're going
to smoke, you'll do it in front of god and everybody, like a proper lady.'
Dad's got that old-fashioned way of speaking, like a proper english
gentleman. It's actually charming, although I imagine it sounds severe."
   "No," Anna said. "I like that. People have forgotten how to communicate."
   Heather smiled. "Of course, father meant it literally. We went to church and
you know how everyone stands around outside afterwards and chats, church is
still a very social thing at home. He lit his pipe- I should have known he
wasn't mad at me because he always let Connie and I have a puff or two of his
pipe if we wanted- Connie lit a cigarette, and then he nudged me, as if to
say 'you too.' I took the case from my purse and lit one of the cigarettes.
No one said anything to me, not even Father MacDonough. It was the happiest
day of my life."
   "And then you came to the states and everyone is-"
   "Exactly. The whole country has their shorts in a bunch about underage
smoking. You know how the history council runs the History seminars on
Wednesday for the high school kids. I watch them come onto campus. They have
their parents drop them off early and the first thing they do as soon as the
cars pull away is light their cigarettes and you can see by the way they
smoke that there'd be hell to pay if they were ever caught. Girls the same
age I was when I started and they have to sneak around-"
   "There are the health issues," Anna said, taking the other point of view out
of instinct.
   Heather's inhale was deeper than usual, as if making a point. "If you told
me that I could live to be one hundred but that I'd have to quit smoking I'd
say no thanks."
   Just then, the figure in the mist resolved into someone identifiable. It
was-
   "Professor Pete," Heather said quietly.
   Professor Pete. Anna admired the way the man combined utter familiarity with
a certain proper (and these days, required) distance. None of the students
even seemed to know his last name- at least not when they spoke about him.
But of course they did, because his classes always filled up the first day of
registration, and he didn't teach a single required class.
   Anna understood the appeal. She herself had been no different as an
undergraduate, although it was not his looks which had drawn her- although
they were impressive. She glanced at him now. He wasn't quite tall, but he
was extremely muscular and his looks were classical. A strong face, a goatee
that was full and bushy, not the poser sort the undergraduates wore but a
real jaw full of beard. His long black hair was pulled into a stylish pony
tail and he walked with an almost regal bearing which spoke of his days in
private English schools.
   He was holding a large tome of undistinguishable origin in one hand. He had
a long cigar clenched between his teeth and he trailed dark bluish smoke as
strode along. The man never merely walked.
   But it was his ability to enliven a classroom which had drawn Anna to him,
which had made her request him as her graduate advisor. She'd been surprised
when he'd accepted, so there was no sense being jealous now, just two years
past that experience.
   "He adores you," Heather said out of nowhere, and Anna turned to look at
her.
   "What ?"
   "He talks about you constantly. Holds you up as an example of what the rest
of us should strive for."
   "I- I was his pupil. It's important that I get tenure eventually. It will
look better for him," Anna explained, not liking the direction the
conversation was taking.
   "No, I don't think that's all there is to it," Heather teased, a twinkle in
her green eyes. "He adores you for more than your ability to get published-
three times this year, right ?"
   "It's publish or perish," Anna said, trying to deflect the conversation as
he disappeared back into the mire. "My only chance to get tenure-"
   Heather smiled, then blushed, and Anna realised she was embarrassed. "I
didn't mean to make you uncomfortable," the young woman said, taking a long,
deep inhale on the half-gone cigarette. She continued to hold it in that same
way, which Anna admitted had a certain style to it.
   "It's quite all right. Anyway, he has a-" Anna paused, thinking that
thirty-plus professors rumoured to be first in line for the Dean's chair when
Jenkins stepped down next summer didn't have anything as pedestrian as
girlfriends. "He's quite attached."
   "Not as of the end of the semester. Didn't you hear ?"
   Anna shook her head. As the newbie, Anna had steered well-clear of the
department rumour mill. She'd learned as a graduate student that new
professors were best to stay well away from the sort of side-taking which
segmented any academic department. Finding oneself on the wrong side of any
particular fence was dangerous, and it was impossible to gossip without
expressing opinions.
   "No."
   "He was dating Ms. Jankowski, the math professor."
   The right thing to do, Anna knew, was to politely end the conversation here.
Her hair was getting wet and he had a lunch with the associate dean of the
college of Arts and Science.
   "What happened ?" she asked foolishly.
   "Ms. Jankowski quit smoking last semester and then insisted that Professor
Pete- Professor Tollman- quit as well. When he refused, well, she broke up
with him. That's what I was talking about earlier. You Americans are so
uptight-"
   "I'm not-" Anna said, and then not sure why, added. "I used to smoke."
   "Really ?" Heather asked, seeming very interested. "What made you decide to
quit ?"
   Anna smiled. "I was grounded- for a month."
   "Exactly. And you didn't start again when you went to college ?"	
   "No. I- I lost my enthusiasm for it, you know ?"
   "I can't imagine." She finished her cigarette, looked at the pack, held it
out. "Would you like one ?"
   Anna wondered why the no that was on her lips seemed trapped there. "Well-"
   "Go ahead," Heather said, a devilish look on her face.
   "Is this how you spend your spare time ?" Anna asked teasingly. "Corrupting
adults ?"
   "Of course. I try to get someone to start every day. It's my passion," she
added, somewhat jokingly.
   Anna looked past Heather and saw Peter again. He must have doubled around
them and was now walking directly towards them.
   All Anna could think about was Professor Jankowski throwing away a year with
Peter over his cigars. It seemed like a very foolish thing to do.
   "Sure. Why not-"
   There was a part of Anna who couldn't believe what she was doing and another
part which only heard Heather saying he adores you.  Of course, no such thing
was true, but-
   The truth was she'd lied to Heather. Unknown to her parents, when she'd
filled out her dorm assignment paperwork as a freshman she'd indicated that
she was a smoker- because she intended to start the day she got to the
university. Like the high school girls Heather had spoken of, the first thing
she did when her parents pulled away from the curb was light a cigarette. Her
roommate Kate was also a smoker, and they smoked quite happily until Parents
Weekend. 
   Anna had explained the situation to her roommate very carefully. She'd
hidden her cigarettes, taken a long shower the morning they flew in- but she
forgot to take down the pictures on Kate's bulletin board. One of them
clearly showed the two girls sitting in the lounge, smoking and laughing.
   It still amased her. They'd actually threatened to stop paying her tuition.
   She'd considered starting again in graduate school, when that was no longer
an issue, but somehow she managed to convince herself that her smoking was
just some sort of foolish rebellion and that she'd never really enjoyed it.
   By the time Heather had lit the cigarette for her, she understood that had
been the real lie.
   Her inhale was full and incredibly enjoyable.
   "You didn't smoke except for one week in high school ?" Heather asked
playfully.
   "Okay, I lied. It's an academic's privilege."
   Just then Peter approached them, smiling his full-faced smile. Heather lit
another cigarette of her own and judging from the look on his face, Anna
decided he must have liked what he was seeing.
   "Heather, Anna. What brings you two out on a drear day like this ?"
   He tapped ash from his cigar, put it back in his mouth and drew on it
casually.
   "We were talking about the joys of smoking," Heather said, giving Anna a
look which the older woman didn't especially like. "Not everyone is hung up
on it, you know ?"
   In a way, Anna wanted to strangle her student where she stood. But then she
inhaled again and all she could think was that she owed the girl a debt of
thanks.
   "Yes. Not everyone has an enlightened opinion on the subject. But I had no
idea that you smoked, Anna-"
   "When the mood strikes me," she said, her nose exhale coming quite
naturally.
   "If you don't mind me saying so, the mood should strike you more often-"
   Anna ignored Heather's nudge-

   For almost five minutes, Anna stood outside the door to Heather's suite,
sure she would walk away again.
   Finally, she knocked.
   It took so long for Heather to answer the door that she thought sure the
girl wasn't in.
   "Ms.- Anna. Come on in ?"
   "Actually, I was just wondering if I could borrow-"
   "A cup of sugar ?"
   "No," Anna said, still hesitating.
   "Well, you can't borrow any cigarettes. But you can have some- come on in."
   Anna walked through the door hesitantly.
   "Don't worry. Emma and Cheryl went to the U2 concert. You can smoke in
privacy."
   "I just wanted one-"
   Heather disappeared into her room, came out holding two packs	.
   "Well, they only come in packs, so you'll have to take a whole one. And you
don't want just one, do you ?"
   Anna smiled. Of course she didn't. 
   She took the pack gratefully, tore the cellophane off, and took the old
lighter she'd been saving for-
   Eight years. In that times she'd smoked perhaps pack of cigarettes, maybe
two a year. She snuck one on graduation night, that was the only one she
remembered clearly.
   The lighter still worked. She felt a great relief.
   "I can't believe that your Parents threatened to take you out of college if
you didn't quit-" Heather said, lighting her own cigarette.
   "Well, the funny thing is they both smoked most of my life. Mom was never
without a cigarette in her mouth. They quit after Mom caught me at the mall,
and you know how people get when they quit-"
   "I had no idea until I came to school here," Heather replied, laughing. "I'm
just glad I finally came along and rescued you from your oppression."
   Soon the two of them were talking about Peter, about how obviously taken he
was when he'd seen Anna smoking. About an hour later, Heather opened a bottle
of wine, and the over it and the cigarettes, the two became friends. When
Anna left around six, she found herself hugging Heather, so happy she was
almost crying.

   Anna finished the pack around midnight. She'd smoked half of it before
leaving Heather's suite and then had a couple an hour. As she finished the
last one, sitting on her bed and blowing smoke out the window into the warm
night air, she decided that this was most definitely something she wanted to
take up. Permanently.
   She'd put an ashtray in every room. There were a bunch of them in storage in
the basement- the university had discovered a long time ago that the
furniture got burned a lot less if the students had a place to put their
cigarettes out. Anna had keys to all the storage rooms. She stubbed out the
cigarette and only then realised their weren't any more.
   She felt profound disappointment.
   Then her earlier trip to the basement reminded her of something. 
   There was a vending machine in the basement, between the soda machine and
the candy machine.
   She'd walked by it an hundred times, but tonight was the first time she'd
ever noticed it.
   Quickly, she gathered up every quarter she had. She searched pants pockets
and the sofa in the lounge and in the end she had almost six dollars, more
than she needed.
   She walked out the elevator and it came immediately. She went to the
basement and found herself almost running to the machines.
   When she got there, she saw with some embarrassment that another girl was
already there. 
   She was one of the summer interns, a fresh-faced high-school junior who was
studying engineering, of all things. She was alternately looking at under
each of the three machines, as if she'd dropped a quarter. In her hands was a
wad of silver similar but smaller to her own. The name came to her. Veronica.
   The girl stood up, looking mortified, and stepped aside.
   "You go ahead, Ms. Carrington."
   Anna, not wanting to buy her cigarettes in front of this girl, asked if she
needed more change.
   "No. I- go ahead."
   Not knowing exactly how, Anna understood. The girl wasn't here to buy soda
or chocolate. She was here to buy cigarettes 
   "Do you need change for the cigarette machine ?" Anna asked, her tone
encouraging.
   "Of course not," Veronica said, obviously lying. "It says right on the
machine that you need to be eighteen to buy-"
   "Well, I'm over eighteen. What brand ?"
   Veronica, who was a short but pretty blonde with sharp, intelligent blue
eyes and breasts that Anna would have killed for, leaned close. "Marlboro
Lights 100's. Box."
   It turned out that Anna had close to eight dollars in change. She bought
them each a pack of cigarettes, a diet Coke, and a Symphony bar.
   Veronica took a bite of the chocolate bar and then lit a cigarette. She was
an attractive smoker, who held her cigarette exactly the same way as Heather.
Anna decided to mimic that and found the right twist of the wrist quickly.
She caught a look of herself in the glass of the candy machine and suddenly
she understood Peter's comment entirely. She was an attractive smoker as
well, as she liked the look of the long cigarette. She put it in her mouth
and held it there while she opened the can of soda. 
   She decided that she liked that look as well, the way the cigarette extended
from her mouth, burning slowly, smoke encircling her.
   The two walked back to the elevator.
   When it came, Veronica said that she'd wait.
   "Nonsense," Anna said. "I won't tell if you won't."
   Veronica giggled and they stepped into the car.
   "When did you start smoking ?"
   "Five minutes after the cab dropped me off from the airport," Veronica said.
   "I understand. Tell your parents yet ?" Anna asked.	
   "No," Veronica said, swallowing hard. "I keep thinking I'll tell my mom- she
smokes, but-"
   "If you need some help with that, let me know."
   The bell dinged. It was Veronica's floor.
   "I appreciate that," she said as stepped out, blowing smoke into the
hallway. "I'll stop by tomorrow and we can talk ?"
   "Sure thing," Anna said, smiling as the door closed.
   She filled the car with smoke and sank back happily against the wall of the
car.
   She had a lot to thank Heather for.


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