One night a customer started hitting on her, hard. He was good looking, about thirty. He began discreetly, thanking her for this service and that, then complimenting her on her hair.

"This is a quiet town," he said while she poured him coffee.

"Not much happens," she said.

"What is there to do, anyway?"

"Hunt elk," she said. "But you'll have to wait three months."

"Doesn't it drive you crazy?"


"Well, you're a nice-looking kid, smart, friendly. What kind of future have you got in a little town like this?"

"It's OK. In a few years, I'll have my old man's pickup paid off. We'll have four kids and a nice snowmobile, and he'll buy me all the detergent I want." She hustled away without a backward glance. She could feel his eyes like groping hands on her rump, and she swayed a little, accentuating her hips.

"You don't look married," he said when she brought him the check.

"Maybe I'm not," she said, smiling mischievously.

"I'm going to put it on my room," he said, glancing up to meet her eye. "734. Room 734. Is that OK?"

"I guess. 734? You have your key?" she asked. He held it up for her to read the number imprinted on it. "I guess that's fine, then."

"I'm going up now, I guess. Not much point in going out."

"There really isn't anything out there you can't get in here," she said, shocked at her own boldness.

He smiled as if they understood each other. They did. But she got cold feet, come the end of her shift. It was a turn-on, thinking of that good-looking man checking his watch, wondering if she'd come up or call. But it was dangerous, more dangerous than she wanted to venture. She went home. Steve was snoring in the bedroom. It was that night she decided it was over.

–ms., Diseases of the Heart

I had applied for the job at the University of Nevada during the semester break. Rather than the form reply, I got a personal note of acknowledgment from Dean Anderson. He mentioned how much he'd enjoyed my reading, but he also explained that the position didn't officially exist yet, since Bill hadn't made up his mind what he wanted to do.

I did not see Ruth again until the second semester began and she turned up in my nine o'clock Comp Two. Red Rocks does not require taking the classes in order, so she hadn't been dropped for failing to complete the first semester. I had proposed an Incomplete that she could satisfy with some additional writing and a final exam, should she return to school.

She seemed unchanged. What did I expect–weight loss, newly hardened eyes, outbursts of inexplicable grief? She came up after the first class and waited her turn to speak to me. I answered the usual first-day questions for other students. Then she was there, in the familiar jeans and a lacy blouse I'd never seen before. Her hair was in a Hitchcockian knot that left her neck bare above the lace collar. The hair gleamed with coppery highlights.

"I laughed out loud at the joke about grading on volume. 'kay?" She was smiling slightly, uncertainly.

I looked stern. All business. "Just remember the deal."

We stood there for a moment, both uncomfortable with a silence we were unsure how to break. "Thank you for the incomplete," she said. "I think I can get it done by the end of semester."

"How are you?"

"OK. Thanks. The card was nice." She seemed on the verge of more, but she said nothing. I thanked her for the Christmas card. We stood facing each other awkwardly. She left. I turned my attention from her departing back to an intense boy named Ronald, explaining that I would accept poetry in the journals but not for essay assignments.

Claudine had returned from MLA buoyant. She had gone alone; the paper had gone well. We joked and played together. She got me interested in a stylistic analysis problem she'd thought of on the way back from Chicago, and we agreed to collaborate on some research. We spent a couple of afternoons fleshing out the project. We set aside Tuesday afternoon to discuss our work for a couple of hours. Twice in January she mentioned violent incidents with Peter, but whenever I asked, things were always "going well."

In February, Margaret and I had a short meeting to discuss a proposal I'd written for a new class. After we did our business, she asked me how Claudine was managing.

"Fine," I said. "At least, that's the official position."

She looked at me for a moment, then turned her head toward the bookcase on her left. She seemed to be searching for something. Margaret had her hair in a bun just behind her right temple. She turned back to the papers on her desk. She was holding a pencil; she pumped it into the roll of hair; working at a different angle, she might have been scratching her head. "She says they're getting along a lot better." She withdrew the pencil and made a note on a pad of paper next to my proposal. She looked up. "How is Ruth Stroh?"

"Well, she hasn't said anything about her family at all. Understandable. I'm planning to ask casually about her sisters; we used to talk about them a lot, especially Marie. I hope she's getting some kind of counseling. Either on campus or privately. Do you know what happened?"

"Only gossip."

"One of her friends told me that her father shot himself. I have a boy from Timnath in my class, repeating Comp Two–Daniel Robertson. He wrote a version of what happened in his journal. Apparently she discussed her problem with some sort of counselor, who reported it to the police. Somehow the word got out–good old boy network, probably, the macho gossip fence?–and he was confronted in a bar by righteous ex-friends. He went home and put a gun to his head."

"That's what I heard."

"I still think she should be seeing a counselor."

"Yes. Good luck," she added.

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