"I hate to bother you. I just had to ask you. What did you mean by that? About the Buddha?"
Dolores was sitting in his office, sprawled in a chair, a white styrofoam coffee cup held in her lap with both hands. It was winter, and she was wearing an oversized green field jacket with the name patch stripped off. He had been painfully glad to see her when he looked up at her knock against the open door and saw her standing there, her huge purse clutched like a pillow to her torso. It was Monday. Marianna had left for Moscow that morning, kissing him goodbye like a wife off to the office.
"I just meant don't confuse the singer and the song. Just because you learned something in my class, that doesn't mean only I could teach it to you."
"I know that," she said, her tone a little offended.
He was flustered. "I guess I don't like hero worship," he said.
"You mean because I said you were a good teacher?"
"Yes." He did not correct her choice of adjectives, but he was tempted to.
"Well. You are. That's not it."
They sparred for an hour. She was combative, yet she wouldn't leave. He didn't want her to. Once he caught himself watching her mouth while she talked, oblivious to the words.
"I'm starving," he said when the bell rang for noon classes. "You want to go over to the union and get a sandwich?"
"OK." She got up. Walking down the hall, she announced, "I have to hit the girl's room, though," and with no more warning than that peeled off into the restroom. He waited.
Over lunch they discussed her other classes. She told him she was writing. She had a second semester Freshman English class, but it wasn't anything special.
"I wrote a short story."
She began expounding the plot. It sounded suspiciously like a fifteen-minute version of Lady Chatterly's Lover.
"I'd like to do this again," she said as she watched him finish his hamburger. "Talk."
They agreed to meet for lunch the next day. And that day, the next. He was glad Marianna wasn't in town. He made excuses on the phone, failed to make his usual midweek visit to Moscow. Then he didn't see Dolores for a week, and he realized that he didn't have her phone number, her address. He called Administration and got her phone number then, feeling foolish, did not use it. Marianna accused him of being distracted.
"You have a secret lover," she said archly.
He went cold with horror. "It's the paper," he said, feeling mortified with guilt. "I'm pretty focussed on it." He was writing a paper for a conference. The conference was a month away, in Vancouver. He had been struggling with the paper for nearly a month already.
A week later, Dolores showed up at his office door, the giant purse slung over one shoulder like a duffel. "I had to be out of town for a while," she explained vaguely, dropping into his visitor's chair.
"You missed a week of classes?"
"Yeah." She shrugged. "You want lunch?"
Sitting across from him, she seemed subdued, contemplative. They shared french fries. He dipped his in ketchup; she preferred "special sauce," which he regarded, he told her, as unleaded Thousand Island. "They filter out the pickle bits."
"What I really like," she said, "is chocolate milkshake. To dip them in."
He made a face.
"You thought I had the hots for you," she said.
"IWell, yeah. I have commitments."
"You don't have to worry about me getting hung up on you. I've been around. I'm not looking for anything."
"I wasn't worried. It's just that you have to be careful. The relationship with students, it can lead to complications. Students get hung up on the teacher. It's like being a shrink, I guess."
"I've had sex to here," she said, raising a pink-dipped french fry to her eyebrow. "I have had somehow would you say?professional experience."
She bit the french fry. Through her chewing, she said, "Yeah. I did it for money. I was really down. I did two on one once; my boyfriend dared me. And I let him bet me in a poker gamehe lost. I even did it with another girl once. For a show. You get really down on men, after you've been through that stuff. Really, Ben." She glanced at him, as if to see if his first name was out of bounds. "I just want someone to talk to," she said. "God, the people on this campus can be boring. I don't date guys; all they want is a keg of beer and wrestling in the back seat."
He was both relieved and disappointed.
She wiped her mouth with a quick swipe of a napkin and dipped another french fry.
"I feel so old sometimes," she said, watching his face to see how he took it.
They met every day. His visits to Moscow ended. Marianna called one Friday and explained that she was behind on some gradingshe was the grader for a Russian history class.
"Miss you," she said.
He should have said it back. He couldn't. He was sick with guilt. He thought of Dolores's plump upper lip with a sexual fury he had never in his life felt before. He wanted to bite those lips, to explore them with his tongue. He imagined how soft they must be. He imagined her doing something with them that left him breathless with sexual hunger. He imagined the taste of her skin. Marianna's milk-white skin, that he had begun to learn so intimately, seemed unhealthy to him. He licked his lips at the thought of Dolores, the color of milked coffee, the sweet smell her aroused body would slick withsalt, sweat, and honey. He was sick.
[In the margin: "I'll say."]
ms., Diseases of the Heart
"This is a vacation. If you want to see Mesa Verde again, let's do it."
"OK. I haven't been there since I was a kid."
"I buy you candy."
"Yeah, but you make me let you watch me eat it."
"I took my kids to Mesa Verde one summer, but that's the only time I've been."
"It's funny. I lived two years in Cortez, three or four summers in Ignacio, and we only went one time too. School trip."
"What about Hovenweep?"
We were coming over the last hill before Monticello. We'd left Moab before sunup, and we planned to stop in Monticello for breakfast. Over eggs and biscuits, we looked at the road atlas together.
"Hovenweep's too far. Look; we'd be clear down here," Teresa said, talking around the crunch of her bacon.
"Yeah, but we could take this road out and" I flipped to the Colorado map. "See? It comes out right at Cortez. It looks like about a hundred-fifty miles either way."
"So we get to Mesa Verde in the afternoon."
"Depending on how long we take at Hovenweep." She was looking at the red dot that represented Hovenweep National Monument as if the dot would open into a more complete picture of what she could see there. "Or," I added, "we could stop in Cortez. Then you could spend all the time you want at Hovenweep. We could even go down to these pueblo ruins, then come back through Towaoc." I pointed to another spot on the map, marked "Poncho House."
"Yeah," she said tentatively.
"We could call Cortez and reserve a room. Then we could get in as late as we like."
"There's no road to those pueblo ruins. It looks like a five-mile walk. What's 'Poncho House'?"
"There's probably a dirt road. It wouldn't show on this little map." I unfolded the Utah map for the area. Here." I pointed to the dirt roads crosshatching the area between Mexican Hat and the Colorado border.
"Tommo, have you ever been on those roads?" she said in a tone mixing horror with disbelief.
"Not those particular ones."
"They probably aren't maintained. I mean, at all. You need a Bronco and a winch to get around out there." She looked more intently at the area below Mexican Hat. "Hey, what's this?" Her finger tapped a purple splotch halfway to Kayenta.
"John Ford National Monument," I said. "Monument Valley Park," I explained. "It's where John Ford made all his westerns. Fort Apache, She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, Stagecoach. The Searchers. The Navajos got to be Sioux, Apache, Comanche, Kiowa, you name it. And the country stood in for Texas, Oklahoma, and even Wyoming, if he used it for Cheyenne Autumn. It's just scenery," I added. "But that's like saying Chartres is just a church."
"No Indian ruins."
"I don't think so. But down here, another fifty miles, is Betatakin. Navajo National Monument. That or Hovenweep; whichever you fancy."
"Have you ever seen either one?"
"Nope." I finished the last bit of my egg.
"Me neither," she said, studying the two spots on the map. "Betatakin," she said.