Thursday, July 31, 2008

Waiting for you to . . . come along


Allison. That was her name. And the day she entered my classroom, Monday, she was wearing a spaghetti-strapped sundress, dark burgundy to blue, a busy pattern of red and white flowers spread over her fit and slender form. She took a seat to my left, and her eyes, blue enough to contain clouds, were most often cast downward. Though I resisted the urge, my head would start to turn in her direction whenever she moved, even if only a finger. I could barely think and so assigned her a place on the periphery of my conscious mind. If I engaged her in any way directly, I feared I’d be unable to teach.

Because her skin was white white, she looked delicate, even fragile, porcelain. And this was so despite the fact she out-muscled most of the men in the room—her shoulders beautifully orbed, her upperback bare, diamonded. When class ended and everyone had left, I just sat there listening. I listened to the low-heeled clacking of her sandals as they receded down the hallway. An airy rush, the outside door pulling open and swinging shut. Silence. Absence. A week later I would still recall the backs of her calves with pleasure.

By mid-week, I’d started imagining the kinds of music she’d listen to, the movies she would most enjoy, what spending a day with her would be like. The idea of sharing time with her, of touching her, impeded my concentration. Even simple tasks like reading grew cumbersome. I had grown incapable of maintaining a casual conversation for more than three minutes without finding myself distracted because some phrase used, or some passing resemblance would bring her to mind. I appeared to be an idiot, even to myself. Now it was Friday, the last day of class. This thing had gotten out of hand. I determined to take some action.

Word was, if you waited long enough alongside the hilliest road in Ellenville, in time, she and her dog would come running past. The hilliest road in the city was situated just beyond the Prarie Ridge Mall, along Ellenville’s northernmost boundary. I grabbed a file stuffed with students’ stories, swept my keys off the desk, and headed for my car. It was nearly nine. I’d be there in fifteen minutes, maybe twenty. I pulled out of the May Tower lot and headed downtown for gas and a little grub.

Now, there were not a great many high ridges nor much steep terrain in Iowa. Cornfields comprise a good deal of the turf. But when I got past the Prarie Ridge Mall, my car began to climb and cough and I thought blood would seep from my pores in fat, pressurized drops. Ellentine Road was the steepest hill I’d ever encountered. Driving up its spine was like driving in the direction of the sky, as if the all too visible heavens were my final destination. I feared my car, nearly perpendicular to earth by then, might tumble backwards at any moment. And though that thought was disconcerting, it was not enough to stop me.

I pulled onto the shoulder about half-way up what was, I guessed, the one mountain in Iowa. I wondered how Allison could run so much, so hard. Something had to drive her. Unbounded energy seemed to fuel her beautiful and busy legs. I imagined her calves churning like pistons, her thighs surging with strength. This much at least had changed, I’d forgotten about feeling depressed. Being out here with the sense of some approaching unknown, some potentially new and wonderful thing, raised my spirits so that I grew keenly aware of everything around me.

No comments: