Lewis and I walked the university roads, passing lecture halls and collected clubs, with the setting sun behind us, making everyone silhouettes. “You want me to stalk her?” I asked him.
“I want you to get to know her,” he corrected.
“Without talking to her?”
“Learn about her, is what I’m saying.”
I frowned; I didn’t know this girl’s name, how old she was. I didn’t know what classes she took, if she was even a student.
“Find out what her schedule’s like,” Lewis suggested as we walked back to the Den’s terrace.
“How am I supposed to do that?”
Lewis stopped at his parked car, turned and grinned. I shook my head as he drove away, leaving me with no further advice.
I tried to imagine her, the one, again. I couldn’t remember how tall she was, how slender, the exact color of her hair—nothing. Then I remembered what Lewis told me; it all depends on how you look at it.
But I was late for work.
It was near suppertime and just when students and families were sitting down at long dining tables or around countertops, relieved to meet the end of another day, I was headed for five hours behind a desk; reading Husserl and answering telephones.
Doyle and Doyle Barristers and Solicitors was downtown on the waterfront. Leaving the Windsor campus was like leaving another town in which all things picturesque were born and sustained, the perfect Edith Wharton American living was left behind and real life began.
The city was smoggy near the lakefront with sailboat masts breaking the horizon and ferries bridging the gap between the harbour and the island across the way. The lawyers’ office where I worked was newly refinished, but the only square footage I ever really saw of it was the space between the door and the front desk.
It was a large, dark wooden writing desk with a green lamp that was always on; it was the only light on in there after hours because the ceiling lights were on timers, which I, apparently, wasn’t considered in. The telephone rang about seven times an hour and I answered, saying, “Doyle and Doyle Barristers and Solicitors, can I connect you?” In which the other end usual replied, “Yes, please, Mr. Doyle.”
In between rings I ate poorly homemade sandwiches, nothing like the ones Mum used to pack in my school lunch, opened my textbooks, wrote papers, jotted notes and read passages. The night cleaners came and went, mopping the tile floors and emptying garbage cans. I always smiled, extra friendly, because it seemed—these lawyers—the more you paid them the messier they were.
It was near eleven when I got home to my housing. I made zero progress in my studies that night. I was thinking about the magazine girl—the one or whatever I was supposed to call her. Lewis lived a life I envied. I wanted it. I’ll admit it. So, I was going to follow through with his plan.
I spent the following week trying to locate the magazine girl, without much luck. I tried to see if she was in any of my classes—none. A dozen circumstances ran through my head; what if she was ill that day? What if she slept in? What if there was some life-altering scenario which kept her?
I went back to the café. I thought the monthly delivery of the new magazine issues would have enticed her—nothing. What if she got her subscription delivered now? What if she went to some other book shop on campus?
I stayed late after classes to see if she would come in for the next seminar; I hung around the dormitories in case she lived in residence—nothing—not one trace of her existence. I figured she transferred or she never attended Windsor to begin with.
I didn’t know if it was the introduction of the magazine girl in my life that was causing my grades to drop or my lack of knowledge on the subjects. I walked around with my heavy books and decided I should pick up more recommended reading at the library.
The library was a squatty thing, long and never-ending with shelves after shelves, aisle after aisle. I went directly to the librarian for help. I liked her because she was a retired English professor with a very charming disposition; she wore fashionable eyeglasses and her gray hair styled and never disheveled. But when I arrived at the front desk, after passing whispering students hidden behind books and booths, the old lady wasn’t there.
There was no one there.
I waited, growing annoyed by the second, and searched for someone to help. When I turned back around, I froze.
There was someone behind the counter now, appearing like a flash and I blinked, thinking it was my imagination. The look on my face must have been priceless.
It was the magazine girl.
She just stood there, staring back at me like any real person would.
“Can I help you?”
Ah, her voice! She was real. She was alive and…speaking to me.
She appeared unimpressed, so I tilted my head, trying to as nonchalant as my nerves would let me be, and dropped my books onto the counter, clearing my throat.
“Returning these?” she asked.
I did have the ability to speak and she was interrupting me—I wanted to prove to her, if this was really going to be our first interaction, that I was capable of at least that.
“Yes,” I squeaked.
I cleared my throat again.
“I need to take out An Introduction to Husserlian Phenomenology,” I said, trying to sound smart about it.
The magazine girl stared at me like I was speaking a different language and to someone who’s never studied what I have studied, it might. She blinked, removed the books from the counter and carried them to the opposite counter behind her.
She did some typing on a computer and waited, tapping her finger on the space button for something to do. I looked away so I wouldn’t ogle her. Then:
“We don’t have that one available, it’s wait-listed.”
I swallowed. “For how long?”
My expression dropped and now I wasn’t thinking about how to impress her, I was thinking about my grades.
“I have Introduction to Phenomenology,” she said, reading the screen in front of her. “And The Phenomenological Mind. It’s recommended for students who have a special interest in cognitive science.”
I stared at her until she looked my way.
“Do you like cognitive science?” was her question.
“I’ll take the first one,” I said, touching my shirt collar as if it was choking me.
She wrote down the author and the duodecimal number on a scrap piece of paper for me. “Is that all?” she asked, handing it over.
Was this it? Was this all she was going to ask me?
I thought for a little while.
“The…Structure of Scientific Revolutions…”
She turned back to her computer and typed more. I thought that for sure would impress her, but, apparently, it did not.
When she found the book online, she wrote its details on the same piece of paper and then finally smiled at me. But I couldn’t smile back, all I said was, “The Nature of Mind.”
“It’s by David Armstrong.”
She turned, typed, found and then scribbled the new information on the paper. She slid it across the counter one last time. Her smile had shrunk.
“Thank you,” I said before turning toward the first aisle of books.
As I walked away, I wondered if she was watching me, if my reaction to her and her reaction to me was…normal. I was let down, for starters. She didn’t have a name tag; she didn’t ask me how I was—she didn’t do any of the things I expected her to do. Smile, laugh, send me on my way with well wishes. And yet her inattention intrigued me more.
I walked swiftly down the library aisles, ready to find my books. I tried to keep an eye on her to make sure she didn’t leave. I finally found her; I couldn’t lose her now. The duodecimal numbers grew larger and longer and I couldn’t spot the front desk from where I was. I thumbed the spines of the books quickly, reading the numbers out loud. I snatched the three books as fast as I could and raced back to the front desk.
I wanted to curse when the stylish old lady was back and the magazine girl was gone. I waited with the pile of books in my arms, searching for her.
“Can I sign those out for you?” the usual librarian asked me.
It was no use; the magazine girl was gone.
I sighed and gave over the books, leaving with only my grade’s improvement to look forward to.
The bell on St. Mary’s cathedral rang twelve times, the gongs echoing around me as I walked from the library to the Den. It was time was for lunch with Alice and Lewis. But this time it was different; Kimberly had been invited, too.
I raced across campus and found myself at a loss without a tie or jacket, just my sweater and shirt collar showing. I knew they were all going to show up in their best but I didn’t have time to change.
Kimberly was my older sister. She was the middle child and that didn’t even begin to sum her up. She was favored by everyone, including me, because she was beautiful and knew what to say at exactly the right time. She spent a lot of her time and money in Europe, sending us capital souvenirs upon request. She dressed us brothers when we were young and our style as men was a result of her taste and our grandfather’s closet.
The Den was relatively full when I arrived, with my new library books tucked under my arms. I instantly spotted Alice and Lewis alone at a table. A waiter walked me over to them sitting under tall French windows and I sat down, defeated, before either of them could greet me properly.
“Martin,” boomed Lewis cheerily. “How’s it going?”
I sulked, slouching lower in my seat as he leaned over the tabletop to read the title page of one of my books.
“Are you so behind that you have to bring your reading to dinner?” he said, laughing.
“I was at the library,” I said, glaring as I remembered his remark about my studies. “I didn’t want to be late. Where’s our sister?”
“She’ll be here.”
Kimberly was always late and, like I said before, everyone loved her, even despite that unruly fact.
Lewis was wearing a black jacket this time with a white shirt, making me look severely underdressed. Alice, to match him in elegance, was in a dress, a pretty frilly thing and lots of jewelry which she wore, I’m sure, to impress our extra guest.
They talked a while and I wasn’t listening, even while declining to order until Kimberly showed up. I scanned the faces of the room, the waiters, the alumni, the professors and investors. Then I looked out the window overlooking the green lawns and stony paths where students walked, bundled in scarves in the chilling autumn weather.
“Marty,” Lewis said, obviously annoyed by my lack of concentration. “Marty!”
I frowned, my focus out the window still. I squinted to better my view of…
The magazine girl.
Standing without thinking, I smiled at Lewis and said, “I found her.”
I dashed outdoors and Lewis and Alice followed. I stood on the terrace, calming down when I saw her sitting stationary on a bench in the distance. The three of us stood watching her for some time and then my sudden satisfaction thinned.
“That’s her then?” Alice asked. “What’s her name?”
“We don’t know,” Lewis said.
“Don’t you think she’s plain?” I asked, tilting my and leaning back, trying to get a new perspective.
“No, she’s adorable!” Alice said.
The magazine girl was reading a book and her hair was down now, different from when I saw her only minutes ago. It was longer than I imagined. I didn’t know what it was about her that didn’t excite me; she wore jeans and an unflattering coat…and boots which looked more or less like slippers.
I scrunched up my nose like there was a bad smell and Lewis said, “Don’t you like her?”
“I think she’s a Potter girl, don’t you?” I thought out loud. Then:
“What are you all doing out here?”
We all turned simultaneously to see who had addressed us. It was Kimberly, of course. Alice embraced her excitedly and they shared equally enthused greetings. Lewis and I waited our turns to give hugs and kisses and ask how she was doing.
Looking at the magazine girl, Kimberly frowned. “What are you doing?”
“I’ve found a girl for Marty,” Lewis announced.
“A girl!” my sister screeched, clapping her hands excitedly.
“Shh,” I snapped. “She’ll hear you.”
“Who?” she asked, looking in the direction we all were looking.
“There,” Lewis said. “On the bench.”
Kimberly squinted to see better and then smiled. “Oh,” she said, “that’s Rosie.”
I whipped my head toward her, my hands still in my pockets. “Rosie? Is that a real name?”
“You know her?” Lewis asked.
“From when I was at Potter’s.”
I looked at Lewis with a told-you-so expression. “I knew it.”
Returns next Tuesday
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