Dolores was married to Danny Vigil for about a year. They got married in Las Vegas and divorced in Reno. "Symmetry," she had called it one night, talking to her roommate. Danny Vigil was a real estate salesman, a sharp dresser. She was working at a bank in Las Vegas. He asked her out. They had a good time. It turned her on, watching him throw ten-dollar chips onto the craps table. He had a black mustache and looked a little like a gangster. One night, he dropped a thousand dollars at the Stardust. Then they went to the roulette table.

"Pick a number," he said. She was wearing her floozy dress, her mama would have called it. It covered a little more than a cocktail waitress's outfit would. He liked her "got up"; she felt men's eyes follow her.

"They don't go high enough for my favorite," she murmured. "Only half way."

"Sixty-nine, huh?" he whispered, then he laughed too loudly. She felt very bold; she was a little drunk. They hadn't done it yet. They weren't past necking on her porch, actually.

"How about nine," she said.

He put a hundred dollars on the nine. It hit.

They got a room and partied all night. At two, Danny showed her a flyer he'd been handed by a derelict. The girl on the cover was blonde and bosomy. He suggested a more complicated party.

By then, Dolores was stoned. Half asleep, her body still tingling from their last round, she wanted Danny to have whatever he wanted. In a minute he was on the phone.

She'd never made it with a girl before. Danny watched them, his eyes a little out of focus, his underwear bulging from his lap. She was hesitant at first, but the woman, who was older than the girl in the picture, was seductive, as hard to resist as a man would have been, given how tired and high Dolores was. She let her do what she pleased; she did as she was asked, tentatively at first, and then thirstily, like a hungry child. Danny took her while she was doing that. She could feel the woman's chin moving against her groin; for a moment she was star and audience of a technicolor porn film, and then she came with a whimpering cry that set him off.

They were married two days later.

They were divorced in another eleven months. Danny preferred hunting to tending herd. He made her quit her job; he got a promotion and they moved to Reno. She sat at home with a 27-inch TV to watch soaps and talk shows and, if he had to work late, prime time specials. She learned to cook. He skipped meals. She tried to seduce him; he was tired. She signed up for a class at the community college; he accused her of looking down on him. She did.

He took her back to Las Vegas with him for the state realtors' association meeting. The one night while Danny was playing poker, she drifted off. A big guy in a sheepskin jacket came on to her. Danny caught them clinched near some slot machines; the guy had her against the wall. Danny could see that. He couldn't see the hand that had gotten up under her skirt and slipped into her panties from below. He didn't have to. He asked them if the guy's tongue was drilling for oil in her throat.

The guy said something smart and tried to punch him out. Danny'd had a year of karate in high school. He decked the guy. Then he slapped her, and the security people hustled them all out. She went back to Reno to get her stuff. Danny gave her five hundred a month alimony for a year. She moved to Pullman, Washington. She had a friend there, going to school at Washington State. It was supposed to be a pretty nice town.

–ms., Diseases of the Heart

When I turned in my grades about a week later, Janet Simmons, the departmental secretary, handed me an envelope.

"A mysterious missive," she whispered dramatically. "One of your students left it with strict instructions that you should not have it until your grades were turned in."

The outside address was typed. I opened the envelope while walking to my office, balancing books in the cradle of one arm. The letter was also typed.

Dear Professor Phelan,

[Please notice I wrote "Professor," not "Doctor." I'm learning.] You can see I got a typewriter. I took a typing class my senior year; now I'll get some use from it. By the time you get this, I'll be back in Greeley for the summer. With the insurance money, I can afford not to work this summer, so I quit my waitressing job and I'm going to spend the summer with my sisters, writing and trying to get them ready for school. Ann's not coming to Red Rocks after all; Thad (her Beloved) is going to Forestry Management at Colorado State, and they cannot bear to be parted, so she's gotten accepted at CSU. Doris will be a junior next year, and she's bright enough that I think she'll be going for a scholarship to CU. She got accepted to the National Merit Society this year with her grades. She got the brains.

I'm going to start looking for a ballet school for Marie right away. I told Uncle Blaine what I wanted to do, and he discussed it with Aunt Colleen and Marie and they looked in the phone book. There are three listings, plus a youth program at UNC; I'm in charge of choosing one, but I'm going to let Marie help me decide. She is crazy about the idea and wants to get ballet stuff right away.

This isn't really why I'm writing. I wanted to write about that night and what I really think of you, and I knew, after what you said, I had to wait until after our "teacher/student" relationship ended before I could. Also, it's easier at a distance where you can't intimidate me. I guess you know I tracked down all your writings; it became kind of a hobby, this semester. I even found the poems in Northwest Review from when you were a graduate student. I know I'm not a learned critic, but I think you are unnecessarily modest about your writing. I wrote down John Fowles and the other writers you praised in class, and I'm going to read them. If they're better than you, it should be a great summer.

You know I'm not buttering you up, right? I probably won't see you again until Fall, and I promise to wait at least till Spring before sneaking into another one of your classes, if you'll let me, but by then, you'll have forgotten all about this letter. Maybe I'll change my hair and you won't even know me?

It was a terrible year, and I will never forget how much you did to help me make it to the end. I don't think I thanked you enough for the Incomplete and then for giving me the A- when I got it done. I don't know what you are going to give me for this semester. And I'm not being modest. You made me a lot more critical of my writing. I used to talk a lot about how weak a writer I was, but I didn't really believe it until you started criticizing my poetry and I started looking at it thinking, "What would Doctor Phelan say about this." Suddenly everything seemed old hat and trite. I even started doing that when I read other writers, so I don't enjoy some of my favorite writers any more. Thanks alot. [I did that on purpose. "Alot," I mean.]

I was really down when I called you, and I'm sorry if I embarrassed you by coming over. When we were talking, I thought I was going to die, and I went home thinking what's the point. But I think I understand what you were getting at. You're right that you can't MAKE somebody be your friend, but you were wrong about one thing: we are friends. I guess I shouldn't say you were wrong, in a sense I was wrong, too, since I was trying to make something happen that had already happened. Does that make any sense? I understand that we like each other and that what we have is a kind of friendship, and if I want it to be different I have to just be patient and let it change.

I can hear you while you read this, and I'll save you the trouble by saying what you're going to say: I need to spend the summer away from Red Rocks and growing up some more. I'm young enough that in three months I'll be someone else entirely, maybe somebody you like better–OK, OK, differently, then–than you do me. I know you'll be the same person you are now, and there isn't very much I would want to change [Nobody's perfect.] I will always remember this year as the year I spent with Thomas A. Phelan, learning how to be a writer and a woman.

That's probably more than you'd want me to say. I can just see you getting that painful expression on your face that means somebody's asked you a question and you don't know what's the safest way to answer it. Don't worry, I won't pester you this summer. Well, maybe I'll come by some time to see how you're doing, if I'm down in Denver for something. Well, maybe not. Maybe I'll write to you again before August. Maybe not.

How do you like that?

It was signed, "Ruth Alice Stroh."

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