She folds herself into the chair, knees to chin, one purple sock, one red. A new student, a transfer student, the new girl asking all the right questions, sitting in the very back, the slight tilt of her chin, her elbow on her desk, her eyes darting here and there and back to her notes, her jeans moving toward the door, the rise and fall of her ass. Just thirteen, interested in poetry, Prufrock, not an easy poem for such a young girl, fresh and tight with her milky skin, a fret of red curls and dreads. Patchouli. Because she came from the woods, crawled up a mossy bank and flew into my office, slipped into the rickety old lawyer's chair I keep for students. Just a student-teacher conference, no big thing, but she's sitting right there, Fey-touched, teeny points on her ears, a little button of upturned nose, a bright sparkle of green eyes, a scattering of freckles across her cheeks.
She wanted to go over her midterm paper, a few deducted points were troubling her, a couple of strokes of my red pen, blood on the page, that's what one of my colleagues tells me, blood on the page. You scare these children to death; use green, use blue, magenta, some soothing color to soften the blow.
Oh the sweetness of her Birkenstocks, her chewed up nail tracing the faulty sentence. "I don't understand why you took off five points here, on page three."
She uncurls and leans toward me, into me, fresh breath of air, the scent of her hair, a whiff of her nappy scarf, the Downey her mother must have put into the washer. Her mother, someone like my wife, twenty years now. We married fresh out of college; she worked so I could go to graduate school. She makes sandwiches for me, lots of lettuce and mayonnaise, salami she gets from the Wholefoods down the street, neat triangles, whole grain bread. She can fold a fitted sheet perfectly, peel a lemon in one long curling string. She sucks my dick every Thursday night, for good measure she says, to keep the interest up, to keep things fresh, what she always says before she climbs on top, before she fucks me as hard as she can.
"It's a subject-verb disagreement. A five point deduction. But don't take it so hard. When I was a student, we failed for it."
She frowns, the tiniest of lines between her eyes, something that will grow into a wrinkle when all is said and done, when the blush is off her, this first blush, this fresh and spanky adolescence, and what one could do, what one could teach her, what I wouldn't do to put my hand in her hair, roll down her wooly socks and feel the bones of her slim ankles. Oh, Homer, your goddess with glistening feet and now this girl, this thoroughbred twittering about grammar, her back up, "Why would you take off five points for a misplaced comma?"
"It's a comma splice. Did you read my rubric on Blackboard?"
She nods. She juts her chin. "But you love my argument. You said so. Isn't that more important than minor grammar mistakes?" She's frowning in earnest now, a flicker of tears in her left eye, an eye to dive into, all the way in. She tastes like something, something sweet I dreamed once, something I surely dreamed because I am not that kind of man, just forty-two, still hard in my middle, a hundred crunches every morning before my run. Cholesterol, check. Blood pressure, check. But the clock is running, running on, running down, ticking, ticking. Just this morning, just this morning. Look, look. The wife is holding out the little wand to me, a baby tucked into its perfect pink plus. Oh, Cary. We're pregnant. We're finally pregnant! I held her and kissed her and stroked her hair, but now my finger is so close, almost touching Morgan's, poised over the comma splice, silly misplaced thing, five points off, then five points more for content errors and she has a B, a B and her eyes are swimming and if I take her into my lap and kiss her nose, if I unwrap her scarf and expose her slender neck. If I undress her slowly and lay her on my grandmother's quilt, the one she left to me, the one on the master bed, the one with a bloodstain on the yellow flower stitched into the top left square. I had cut myself shaving and lain down for a nap. Just a little nick. Oh! My hand is on her breast, just budding. She's shivering, a hard pink nipple, my hand is closing around her pounding heart.
Don't look, don't look now but I'm inside her, first a little ways in, then the sharp intake of her breath. I pause to kiss her hair, her eyes, her throat, before pushing through what's left of her resistance, kissing down the taut line of her neck, into the nestle of her collarbone, sharp as steel, and then I'm looking into her, all the way in as she crooks her finger round my heart, and I would do anything, lose anything, say anything.
I will undo my married years, undo my unborn child, scoop up my toiletries, my Polo cologne and sweater vests, my sometimes pipe and complete Shakespeare, pack it all in a duffle and travel the length of the world with her and people will say your daughter is so lovely, she has your eyes, the way they crinkle in the corners. She has your lips, those cupid bows. Her mother must have been breathtaking. We'll travel through South America together, into the wild and I will lick every part of her until she's sleek and smooth and twenty-two, heavy with child, squatting in labor in the sturdy hut I've built for us.
"But I can't make a B. I've never made a B before." She's crying now, her shoulders are shaking, her chin is on her chest, the same chest I've lavished a hundred times. When I was in school, when I was a little boy, when I was young enough to be babysat by this weeping girl, I thought boobs got bigger if you played with them, we all thought it. You put your hands on them and you sucked on them and they grew. My best friend Jimmy and I used to talk about it on the school bus, about Angela Mayberry's breasts. We were in fourth grade and Angela had been held back twice, was already developing an impressive rack, though I've never been a breast man, always fixated instead on a woman's thighs, the sweet curve of hipbone. Now I'm tracing Morgan's navel with my finger, the shallow scoop of it, a tiny flat mole just to starboard.
She's folded back into herself; she's not looking at me, she's stopped talking, and I want her back, her eyes, the sound of her speaking, little ripples over stones. I reach over a Kleenex and she takes it and blows her nose, trumpeting into the tissue.
"I'm sorry for crying." She steels herself, a horse chomping down on the bit. She wipes her eyes, pulls on a wobbly smile.
"It's okay. I don't mind if you cry." It was the best I could do, my mouth as dry as toast, as dry as a summer's day after a 10K, just last summer, came in fourth, not quite good enough, not quite the best. And what will she think of me, my ingrown toenail? I keep meaning to go to the doctor. It's red-blue and angry. I keep my socks on all the time, even to make love. Don't want the wife to worry, always say my feet are freezing. What will she think of me when she sees my chest with its fourteen hairs, seven of them grey? The wife, she counts them when we're lying in bed together, after sex, heavy sweat sweet, suspended.
What will she think of me when she knows what I am, a grown man, a respected English teacher at a prestigious academy, the terrible cliché of a happy happy man lusting after a little girl, lifting up her flowered skirt and sniffing her smell, bringing her a bouquet of flowers in the spring, irises and sweet William, baby's breath. Lusting after a girl, walking her home, twilight and the northern star. See, I know all the constellations. I'm something of an armchair astronomer, I'm Stephen Hawking, but it's okay because here's Morgan to wheel me into the winter garden, all the trees bare, thrusting their arms toward heaven. Morgan is here, her red hair tangling against the brilliant black blue, spooning butterscotch pudding into my mouth, so patient. She's been with me for years, since the very beginning. She was with me when I was whole, and she's with me now, a broken man. Cary. Cary, can you see it? Orion has come round again.
"So, do you think if I make an A on the other papers, and on the tests, that I will make an A in the class?"
Do I think you'll make an A, you darling girl? Don't you know I'm standing behind you on the riverbank, my arms around your waist, your belly just beginning to thicken? We're so far into the bush that no doctors can find us but all is well and you'll push the baby out on a Sunday afternoon, a wailing pink-grey girl with a swatch of red hair, Fey-touched like her mother. You'll hold her to your breasts and she will suck her life from you and I will watch, pastels in hand, a hasty drawing of mother and child. I've taken up drawing, now that I have the time, now that there are no papers to grade, no red tape, no wife hounding me about book club, nagging me about some dinner some gallery some nothing I want. Now that Morgan is tying up the bean stalks, now that she's bouncing the baby on her knee, now that it's morning and Morgan is kissing me awake.
"Of course you can still make an A. In fact, I'd be surprised if you didn't make an A. You're my best student." I spoke with effort and with effort I stopped myself. I didn't draw her into my lap, I didn't lace her fingers with mine and squeeze playfully. I didn't chuck her chin and call her my good girl. I didn't undo a single button, not even one.
"Really? You really think I'll make an A? You really think I'm the best student?"
"Sure I do, because you are. You will. You have nothing to worry about."
She smiled then, the full strength of the sun. She stood up. She gathered her pink-splashed book bag and bedazzled purse and said, "Thank you, Mr. Collins."
Her hand is on the knob, the knob is turning.
Stop. Stop, Morgan. We must lie by the fire together, little Hannah curled between us. We must count the stars while the sounds of the jungle throb us to sleep. We must leave right now and steer clear of this world full of red pens and wives and pension plans.
Stay. I will never stop kissing the nape of your neck. I will never stop laughing when you giggle, when I feather my lips against your wrist. Every time, every single time you giggle and giggle your little girl giggle, Cary, stop it, stop it!
Come. I have everything ready for you. The summer house has been swept clean, the furniture uncovered. There are fat goose pillows and starched sheets and an endless supply of grilled cheese. Come, let me lay you down while the night air comes through the windows, the sounds of the sea. I will be gentle, so gentle, even your father will approve. I have asked for your hand. I have dressed you in white. I have grabbed hold of you and I'm squeezing and squeezing and you can't stop laughing. You can't stop and you squeal and you wriggle and you squirm away from me and you're running, down the garden path, away from the house and all its staring eyes and I'm running after you, running, running.
She looks back over her shoulder, still laughing. She stops and looks at me, throws back her ruby head, still laughing her giant giggling gurgling baby laugh. What's the matter, Cary? Out of breath? Can't keep up? She laughs and laughs and runs away, around the corner of the hedge. I run. I run faster, but I can't catch up, I can't catch my breath, my side is seizing up, another cramp, just another cramp, it's no big thing, but I stop, my hands on my knees, great big gulps of burning air while she runs on, so fast, so hard, so far ahead of me I've lost sight of her.
You can find Rebecca's work in The Georgia Review, Atticus Review, Antioch Review, The Nervous Breakdown, The Rumpus, and many other journals. New work is forthcoming in Seneca Review, Midway Magazine, and Map Literary. Her novel, Click (New Rivers Press), is available on Amazon.com. She blogs at godlikepoet.com.