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Book Reviews

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The Part-Timer's Revolt

Bonnie needed to use the phone. She wanted to call the landlord and tell him she would be there at ten. She'd bring her checkbook. They could walk through the apartment. Yesterday evening, after she'd taught a night class and finally made it home, they'd had a short conversation. The landlord sounded sweet but old, and his hearing was almost gone. Bonnie raised her voice. It didn't matter. "Call whenever," he said. "I'm almost always up." Then he cleared his throat into the receiver and spit. Bonnie said, "Sounds great," and he said, "Huh?" She was so tired. She had fifty papers to correct. There was no way. He said, "Thanks for calling," and coughed. Bonnie said, "I'll call again in the morning. Thank you." She put down the phone. She picked up the paper and tore out the listing.

The apartment was probably a wreck, a one-bedroom dump with old carpeting and running water that lacked pressure, but Bonnie was thirty-seven and had been living back at home for more than a year. She needed out. Even if she didn't have the money. Because she didn't have the money. Especially that. She couldn't take another night in her childhood bed, her mom in the next room, watching some sappy movie on one of the women's networks until she fell asleep.

Now it was morning. Bonnie was in her car. She hadn't corrected anything, but she hadn't slept well either. Which was what she did around midterms. She avoided work until she was so worked up about avoiding work that she couldn't get anything done.

Her eight-thirty Comp II was upstairs in 117. The part-time office was in the basement. She had fifteen minutes. She wished she had a cell phone. She hadn't had a cell phone in two years, and she still owed money on her last bill. She had lots of bills: credit cards, student loans, Blockbuster video from twelve years ago. She parked and went inside. The secretaries were on campus, but almost no one else. Bonnie waved. They waved back. Bonnie loved the secretaries. She picked up the pace and stepped into her classroom. She put down her book bag and hung her coat on the back of the chair. The room was empty. Students would arrive on-time or a little late. The lights were off, and it felt like evening. Bonnie missed evenings. Bartender. Waitress. Night class. She hadn't had a job where she'd been home for dinner since she was a student.

Back out in the hall, she heard her name being called. She knew it was Paul Corso, one of the tenured faculty members. The voice was far enough away that she could pretend not to hear it. She pushed her hair away from her face and kept moving. He called again, but she acted like it was a student yelling for another student. He said, "Bonnie, wait." Paul was a fat man, short, with long salt-and-pepper hair he pulled back in a ponytail. He wore sandals. She knew he couldn't catch her if she pulled away.

"Bonnie. Bonnie!" he said, and his footsteps picked up.

She kept going. She had to make this call. Paul shouted her name again. She wanted to stay positive, and she did stay positive, most of the time, considering, but not about Paul, not this morning. She knew he wanted to recite her one of his new poems, or ask her to attend one of his readings, or to teach one of his books, and it was unfair. It was unfair because she was helpless. It was unfair because she never ran towards him, shouting her own work, or demanded his job, though she was a better writer, a better teacher, and, she was sure, a better person.

Bonnie turned the corner. One of the secretaries, Anna, was at the soda machine.

Bonnie said, "Hey," and only slowed enough as to not be rude.

Anna said, "Run fast," and laughed. "I hear Captain Poem calling your name."

"I'm trying," Bonnie said. "I feel like a jerk."

"He won't even notice," Anna said, dropping her change in the slot. She pushed the Diet Coke button and said, "I'll stall him. Keep going."

Bonnie did that. She made it through the double doors and down the stairs and headed for the part-time office. The part-time office. It was all so depressing: sharing a tiny room in the basement with eleven other part-timers.

Bonnie did not know Paul enough to hate him, but she hated him anyway. She hated him because he had a great job, and she did not, and she hated him because he was one of the fakest, vainest people she'd ever met. Paul said things like, "I currently have a manuscript under consideration for The Flannery O'Connor Prize," which meant nothing. The Flannery O'Connor Prize was a contest. Anyone with twenty-five dollars and some stories could submit. It was like saying, "I'm currently under consideration for the next Star Wars," because you'd written George Lucas a fan letter. That kind of academic fakery left Bonnie paralyzed. She didn't want to be a liar, a bullshitter. That's why she'd gone to school for writing. She didn't want to sell anything or boss people around, but the academic life, as far as she could tell, was selling and bossing.

All Bonnie wanted was a full-time job, one with benefits and some time off. She knew her qualifications weren't great, but she'd published more than Paul, in better magazines, and she never said things like, "I currently have six poems under consideration at Poetry Northwest," which meant she'd stuffed some work in an envelope and put it in the mail. That was the thing with these university jobs, these crappy little branch campus positions: it was all subjective. It was all a bunch of lies.

Bonnie put her key into the office door. It didn't fit. She looked again. She flipped through her key chain. It was like something off a custodian's belt. She had keys for part-time offices at four different schools, and a half-dozen more keys that she'd never turned back in from other colleges where she'd taught a class or two.

Paul came around the corner, out of breath, sweating, saying her name. Bonnie found the right key and stopped. She looked up. Paul said, "There you are. You must have not heard me calling."

Bonnie said, "I'm totally out of it in the morning," and did her best to smile.

Paul said, "I've been trying to talk to everyone in the department," and he motioned around the hall like they were all there, all listening attentively to him. A bead of sweat rolled from his forehead, past his temple, and down his cheek. She wondered how he could sweat so much and not smell. She wished he smelled awful, like old tuna or something. It'd be another way to warn the world.

Bonnie remembered a conversation she'd had with the department chair years ago. Bonnie had made a request, and she was nervous. She wanted to see about teaching a poetry class, instead of all composition. It took a lot of courage. She knew part-time faculty was supposed to shut up and take whatever was offered. Bonnie and the department chair were in the hall. The department chair was not openly hostile as she made her pitch. It was going okay. It was going good. The department chair never wore a tie. He thought this made him more accessible. Maybe it did. Bonnie said, "I've taught poetry before, at other schools, and I've published a lot," and she started to list a few journals where her poems had appeared. Suddenly, Paul approached. He recited a short poem about his great uncle bringing a spaghetti sauce recipe from Italy (with a line that said, "the boot, the boot, the sauce in the boot") and handed them a flier for his upcoming reading. Paul said, "If you two could just share this because I'm running out of fliers." They both nodded and Paul headed off to find his next victim. No hello. No goodbye. No thank-you. The department chair turned to Bonnie and said, "There goes our resident douchebag," and before Bonnie could agree or disagree, he added, "What a self-promotional asshole." Bonnie smiled and felt less alone, but then, later, she wondered why this department chair, who obviously hated Paul, who laughed at Paul's stupid poem, had given him tenure, and why he was paying her twelve hundred dollars to teach a summer class that went for eight weeks.

Now, back at the part-time office, Paul stopped talking and said, "Those stairs kill me."

Bonnie said, "Yeah," and thought: downstairs. Paul had had a heart attack, a small one, five years ago. Bonnie hated what she was thinking.

Paul said, "So I have a new book coming out, and what I'm trying to do is get a big sendoff. I'm going to send an email around eventually, or have one of the secretaries make up a flier, but I wanted to touch base first. I'm seeking out each person individually. I'm thinking that if everyone teaches the book, it will really unify the campus. Pedagogically speaking."

Bonnie said, "Well, great. Send me the flier, the info, the email. Whatever you end up sending, just send it to me."

Paul said, "That sounds like a confirmation." He said, "What I'd like to do is get the department chair behind this, or the dean, make this campus-wide. People don't realize that poetry, like language itself, holds value in any classroom."

Bonnie said, "True," and nodded.

Paul never made eye contact. He looked over her shoulder or at her feet. She tried to stare through him to see if he would even notice, but he didn't. He kept talking. Language. Poetry. His book. Maybe he was not a self-centered asshole. Maybe he was crazy. Bonnie reached out and touched his cheek, like she was brushing away a piece of lint or erasing a smudge, and still he didn't respond. Paul's eyebrows were so bushy and soft. Bonnie wondered what she would look like if she quit plucking, if she just gave up.

Paul said, "This isn't as food-centric as my last book of poems. Or as interested in geography as my fiction. But of course there are elements of those two themes in the new collection. Just as Pound's Cantos was an extension of his earlier work."

"Sure," Bonnie said, and she was so disappointed in herself again, for the millionth time, for not being able to stand up to Paul, to all the Pauls, in the academy. It was cowardice, desperation. She imagined shouting Paul down, calling him a fake and a loser, then later having to get on her knees and beg for a letter of recommendation. She imagined punching him in the face, something she'd never done to anyone, then having to stare at his black-eye as he headed up the next hiring committee. But none of these things were possible because Paul was a failure. As a writer. As a teacher. He was mocked around campus, disliked by his students, and his work never appeared anywhere. On, his reviews were terrible. "A total joke," one student wrote. Another said, "More interested in talking about himself as the next Sherwood Anderson than actually teaching us anything. Fuck him, and fuck 'The Egg'." One of Bonnie's students had asked Paul for a letter of recommendation, and Paul had said, "Certainly," then asked the student to write a letter on Paul's behalf, about his teaching or something he'd written ("My books are available at the campus bookstore"), and submit it to the dean's office. It was creepy. It was inappropriate.

That's what was so confusing.

If Paul was the standard, and he was a joke, then what was she?

Paul said, "One of the blurbs I'm looking to acquire will say: tour de force," and he held up the imaginary letters like the blurb was a neon sign.

Bonnie thought: the blurb I'm looking to acquire? Well, there was the Pulitzer Prize she was looking to acquire right after she acquired some sort of employment that would provide health care and pay her bills.

And, most importantly, all his books were self-published. Just because the publisher was called Vintage didn't mean that it was the real Vintage, the one that published fiction, fiction by Ray Carver, Joy Williams, and Richard Ford. No, this Vintage published one author, Paul, and his poems. The poems sometimes rhymed. One of the poems, one of the really bad ones, ended with the line, "O holy sausage." She felt like a fool discussing the book in front of her students who, even though they never read poetry, knew enough to read Paul's work in mock voices. "Heaven is not an anchovy pizza," one said, misquoting from the book. "What the hell is wrong with this guy?"

Bonnie put her hand on Paul's shoulder, hard enough that he couldn't ignore the touch. She said, "I'm sorry. I really need to make a phone call."

Paul said, "You can get a teachers' copy directly from me for ten dollars."

Bonnie said, "I thought teachers' copies were usually free."

"No," Paul said. He said, "Not in this instance," and finally walked off.

9:05. Room 117. He was a freshman with dyed black hair and chipped black fingernails. His blue jeans were bleached out and partly shredded. He was cute in the way that sad boys sometimes were. Bonnie didn't think he was Goth, mainly because he didn't wear a black overcoat or write essays about killing himself (and others), but she wasn't completely sure what Goth was anymore. Maybe he was emo. Whatever emo was.

The boy handed in his quiz and sulked away. She said, "Hey," because she couldn't remember his name. She knew a lot of the students' names, but the class was huge, and the quiet kids blurred. When he didn't turn around, she said, "Hello?" even though she knew that sounded snippy. He looked over his shoulder. He pushed his bangs down into his eyes. She waved him back. He took one step. She held up the quiz. All blank. Not a single question answered. She said, "You could at least guess." He shrugged. More hair play. She said, "Are you sure? You could make some stuff up on the essay. Get partial credit." He shrugged again and walked off. She noticed he didn't have a backpack or a coat, the textbook or even a pencil. She put the paper back on the pile. She'd probably pass him with a C or, god forbid, a B-.

Twenty-six students down, one to go. Everyone had bolted but Jeffery, the best writer in the class. She didn't know what the hell he was doing. The quiz was open-book. All the multiple choice questions were letter A. All the true-false questions were true. The first fill-in-the-blank question was: who is the author of "Notes of a Native Son"? "Notes of a Native Son" was the only essay that had been assigned. The second fill-in-the-blank question was: James Baldwin wrote which essay? Come on. If you didn't read anything but glanced at the syllabus, you could pass. Bonnie looked at Jeffery. He was chewing on his pencil and earnestly checking his answers. He turned the paper over and started to write something else on his essay.

Jeffery looked up and said, "Sorry this is taking so long."

Bonnie said, "Take your time," but when Jeff looked back at his paper, she checked her watch again.

Before class, she'd managed a short conversation with the landlord but, because of his hearing, they'd hung up without a plan. She wanted to meet at ten o'clock. He kept saying, "Oh sure. Call whenever you're free." That was the problem with teaching: you were never free. She taught seven classes. Last weekend, she had corrected, or pretended to correct, or glanced at and graded positively, two hundred essays. That was over one thousand pages of student writing. Maybe she'd see the apartment tomorrow. Maybe next week. Maybe another place, next year.

Jeffery said, "Almost there."

Bonnie said, "You're allowed to skip one quiz. If you didn't get a chance to read the text, it's no big deal."

"No, I read it," Jeffery said and smiled.

"Well, take your time," she said. "The next class won't be here until ten."

Jeffery said, "I'm almost there."

Bonnie went back to her book. She was reading Paul Bowles memoir, Without Stopping. It was unbelievably boring. She didn't know much about Bowles, and this wasn't giving her anything at all. He lives in Tangier. The peasants are beautiful. Every hip writer in the world comes for a visit. Blah blah blah. Here's Tennessee Williams. Here's Williams Burroughs and Allen Ginsburg. Here's Jack Kerouac, drunk. Then the writing just crumbles into itself. A big black hole of nothingness. No insight. No narrative. She'd bought the book for a dollar at Half Price Books, with plans on teaching it, but she didn't think she'd even finish the first half.

Bonnie had read another Paul Bowles book, The Spiders House, a couple of years ago, and had been bored by it, too. She had good memories of The Sheltering Sky, but she'd been a grad student then and lots of people in her fiction writing workshop were reading Bowles and pretending to be smart. Maybe she'd tricked herself into believing it was good. She remembered one of her peers saying, "I believe there's a Bowles renaissance going on as we speak." Christ. A Renaissance. From a rich white girl who was writing a novel in the voice of a slave. It wasn't that Bonnie didn't have those thoughts when she was a student, but that she never had the confidence to say them out loud. Now she didn't have any confidence at all. She wondered where someone like Paul, the other Paul, Paul Corso, the one she worked with, got up the courage to ask people to teach his books. Insanity, maybe. Well, she'd be there soon. Broke. Homeless. Teaching writing to the youth of America.

Jeffery finished his quiz. He walked to the front of the room and held the paper, looking it over one more time. Bonnie looked at Jeffery's desk and noticed he didn't have the textbook either or a book bag. At least, there was that chewed-up pencil. She sometimes wondered how it was at real colleges, colleges where the students didn't work full-time, or hold two jobs, or drive to campus in rusted-out trucks. She'd been teaching at community colleges and branch campuses for so long now, she wondered if she'd ever get picked up full-time anywhere. Maybe when she published a book. Maybe when she wrote a book. Finished writing a book.

She had her grad school manuscript, a story collection, and a novel she'd written before she started working as an adjunct instructor all over town, but she knew they both needed something. The stories had been published and a chunk of the novel had appeared in a small magazine, but she knew they were one more draft away. More details. More insights. Those stories were what she wrote like in her twenties and early thirties. She wanted something that represented who she was now. It wouldn't be that hard. She had ideas about how to do the work, but there was never time, and, without getting a better teaching job, meaning full-time, meaning tenure-track, meaning two or three or four classes a semester and summers off, instead of seven classes and three months of bartending, she would never become a real writer.

Jeffery said, "Okay, I guess, here's my test." He wasn't as handsome as the goth boy, but he looked more grown up, less practiced. His hair was buzzed. He wore jeans and a polo shirt. He shaved once a week. He looked like a young man, something Bonnie seldom saw anymore. They all went from kids to fat miserable adults, without even a pit stop of hope, but Jeffery seemed to be growing up at his own pace, which was how Bonnie remembered her own college years—awkward, excited, full of desire, thinking every dream was just a class or two away from being fulfilled.

She said, "I'll take that test." Then, "How'd you do?"

"Oh good," he said. "I just wanted to nail the essay question."

"I'm sure you nailed it," she said, and when he smiled, she laughed and said, "You know what I mean."

Jeffery looked at the floor and said, "The reason I'm hanging around is because, well, I really like you, I mean appreciate what you do, and I wanted to see if maybe we could have a beer or a cup of coffee, you know, sometime…"

"That's sweet," Bonnie said, "and you're a wonderful student, the best I've had in a long time, but it wouldn't be appropriate."

Bonnie never dated students. Ever. Her job, or at least the job she imagined, was too important for her to jeopardize.

"Oh no," Jeffery said. "Not a date. I didn't mean that. I was just..."

Bonnie said, "Oh," and felt like a total asshole. The only thing worse than being hit on by students was not being hit on by students. She knew the dean, a creepy fifty-seven-year-old with dyed-black hair, was banging both his assistant and the President of student government. She disliked him for it, because it was wrong, and even more than wrong, gross, but that didn't mean she didn't want a little attention. A look. A proposition. Just something to turn down.

Jeffery, always sensitive, always perceptive, said, "Oh, I would love to take you out. I mean, you're a beautiful, mature woman. But I wouldn't want to put you in that position. Because of your professorship. The dean or the president or whatever he's called would probably be pissed." He said, "And I'm still pretty much a gentleman. My mom raised me that way."

"Well, thank you," Bonnie said, and she thought: beautiful, mature woman?

Jeffery said, "I just wondered if maybe we could sit and talk about writing, and I have some questions about majors. I came back to school late. I'm twenty-three. I don't know if you knew that, if they like put our ages on a sheet or something. Anyway, I've worked some shit jobs—construction, more construction, bartending, a road crew in Alabama during the middle of the summer for like two seconds—and I want to make the right choices, choice, when it comes to picking a major. Getting a job, I guess."

"Well, what do you have in mind?" Bonnie said, but she was distracted. She was thinking about the apartment she wanted to rent, the teaching career she wanted to have, the book she needed to write, the bile she felt towards Paul Corso, anything but what Jeffery was saying. This was the most depressing part of the job. All the students thought she was some bigwig on campus. Because she was serious about teaching, because she listened and wrote comments on their work, they assumed she was a full-time professor, with tenure and advice, but she was nothing. Two seconds on a road crew in Alabama probably paid better than what she made for teaching this class.

Jeffery said, "Well, Dr. Powell," which is what students did sometimes, called her Dr. Powell or Professor Dr. Powell if they were really desperate.

She said, "I'm not really a doctor, I just play one on campus," meaning she only had a master's degree, but she saw instantly that Jeffery didn't get the joke, so she added, "Just call me Bonnie."

"Okay. Bonnie. Cool," he said.

She had her stuff, textbooks and quizzes and the shitty Paul Bowles memoir, stuffed in the book bag she'd been carrying for years. She moved towards the door, and Jeffery followed. Maybe she couldn't even afford the apartment. She had some savings, because she'd been living at home, and not even thinking about Starbucks coffee or cigarettes, but when that was gone, then what? She needed a new car and health insurance. There were rattles underneath the hood. She wasn't old, but she wasn't a kid. She hadn't seen her OB GYN in three years or had a mammogram since grad school.

Jeffery said, "I'm just thinking, and I know this is practical, but…"

Bonnie said, "Practical's good."

"Right. So. Like how do you make a living with a writing degree?"

"Oh, there's lots of things," she said, and she knew this was true, and she had tried to use her degree, degrees, was still trying, but unless you wanted to live with your mom until you were middle-aged and eat Progresso soup three nights a week, pick another major. She said, "You could teach. You could be a journalist. Lots of things."

"Teach, like college?"

"Well, sure," she said, and thought: why the hell not? If you didn't mind the sixty-plus hours a week or standing in front of students who could barely read, who couldn't get accepted anywhere else, who had to be at work in fifteen minutes to pay for their books, and if you didn't mind driving a 2001 Ford Focus, stick shift, no radio, and if you didn't mind cowering before colleagues you didn't respect, yes, you could teach college.

They stopped by the exit of Powers Hall, near the AV Room. It was a new wing, added two years ago, lit up by a stained-glass window.

When Bonnie had started here, twelve years ago, teaching one comp, she loved this place. The department head had practically promised her a full-time job, and the students appeared earnest. She knew good things were about to happen. There was her second job, bartending, but at twenty-five, she had the energy, and the long hours felt temporary. The next semester they advertised for a writing professor. She submitted her CV, and assumed she was a lock, but she wasn't even given an interview. Not even a phone call. No written rejection. No acknowledgement. When she found out that they had hired Paul Corso, who she didn't know, whose books weren't in the library or the bookstore, she went home and cried. She cancelled her classes for a week. No one noticed. The department head still smiled at her in the hall, and said, "We really appreciate all you do," and pointed in a dramatic way that was suppose to be supportive and friendly. Nobody else in the writing program seemed to care that she'd been passed over. One of the secretaries said, "Why didn't you get that job?" but that was it. She wanted to show a movie the following week, so she didn't have to prep, but the AV people never even brought her a DVD player.

Jeffery said, "A college teacher—really? How many degrees?"

Bonnie wanted to cry again, which, somehow, made it easy to fake a smile.

She said, "At least a couple. Maybe three," and leaned on the door.

He said, "Do you have a book? I'd love to read something you wrote. Maybe that's obnoxious to ask. I mean, if you have a novel or some poems—you write poems, right?—I'd love to take a look. Or that's obnoxious, huh?"

"No, not at all," she said. The only problem being that she didn't have a book.

He said, "Just tell if I'm being obnoxious. First I hit on you, then I bug you about your book. I'm an idiot."

Bonnie said, "It's sweet. Really."

Nobody had asked to read her stuff in years. She hadn't read her own stuff in a long time. She peeked, but it was always too depressing. Not just the work, but knowing that she was too exhausted to try again. She couldn't remember the last time she'd published a story. Three years ago? Five years ago? Even then, it was a leftover from grad school with a few minor flourishes she'd added before sending it out. She looked at Jeffery. He smiled. He might have thought she was famous. How weird that the whole world didn't know anything about writers, about women who teach college. How it was like charity, but not charity. How it was like working at Walmart. She wondered if she gave him a journal that had published one of her stories, would he be impressed by that? She could give him the novel in manuscript, but that was tacky.

Jeffery said, "Because Professor Corso has a couple books, and students can buy them over in the campus bookstore. Or, like, I just gave him ten bucks after class, and he handed me one. I just thought maybe you had something, you know, I could read. I'd pay you for it, of course. Professor Corso taught another one of his books last semester."

Bonnie said, "He taught his own book?" and laughed so hard she spit. Jeffery pretended not to notice the tiny tear of salvia that flew from her mouth and landed on his cheek, but Bonnie said, "I'm sorry. I just spit on you."

"Really?" he said. "I didn't feel it."

"Of course you did," Bonnie said as she wiped his face with her thumb.

He said, "Oh."

Bonnie said, "He taught his own book, really?"

"Sure," Jeffery said. "It was just poems."

Bonnie said, "Jesus." She said, "You're fucking kidding me?" and didn't mind dropping the f-bomb in front of a student. This bad news, that someone would self-publish a book, then make students buy it, then force them to listen to a lecture on it, was, somehow, good news. She said, "Well, what did he say about his own poems?"

Jeffery smiled awkwardly. He said, "You don't like Professor Corso, do you?"

Bonnie knew she should have said, "Oh, I like Paul," or that he was fine or okay or a great colleague or whatever, but she couldn't. Knowing that he did to students what he did to faculty, part-time faculty, what he did to her, made it even worse. Here was a man, Paul Corso, who opened up his chest and said, "Take a look," and all that was inside was black and rotted. The evil had been exposed. It was only a small, writerly evil, but still. You couldn't argue that Paul Corso preyed on the powerless. Bonnie said, "Those aren't real books, Jeffery. They're self-published. You know that, don't you?"

Jeffery said, "What's self-published?" He said, "What's the difference?"

"You don't know?"

"Not really," he said.

So she told him. She said, "It's cheating." She said, "It's a fake." She said, "It means no real press will publish your work."

"Because it's bad?" Jeffery said.

"Because it's terrible," Bonnie said. "Because writing poems about kielbasa is fucking retarded."

"See, I thought so," Jeffery said as he opened the door like a gentleman, so that Bonnie could go through first.

He said, "Tell me what else."

She said, "I can trust you?"

"Sure," he said. "Who am I gonna tell?" He said, "I like you better anyway."

So she told him as they walked through the door and out into the parking lot. She told him about writing and teaching and how she needed to meet with a landlord about a new apartment. He offered to drive, so she told him again in his truck. He was a slow driver for a young man, safe. He had a lot of questions and opinions, and his laugh was louder and more genuine than it had been in class. He said, "That Corso sounds like a real dickhead. I can't believe I bought his book." Bonnie said, "I can't believe I taught his book," and they both laughed.

From the outside, the apartment was decent. An old duplex split into singles. Jeffery waited outside while Bonnie talked to the landlord. Inside, it was fine, clean and freshly painted. The landlord couldn't hear much better in person, but he had a little rap he did, and he could read lips. "So what do you do?" he asked. Bonnie said, "I teach at Pitt Greensburg." He smiled. The utilities were included, and when Bonnie pulled out her checkbook, he said, "You're a professor. Don't worry about the security deposit."

Back in the truck, Bonnie said, "Let's go somewhere and talk," and then she borrowed Jeffery's cell phone so she could cancel her classes.

"So you don't have a book yet?" Jeffery said, and Bonnie appreciated the way he said that, yet, like it was still a possibility, almost a definite.

It was noon and she was already drunk, so she ordered another beer and a sandwich. Jeffery held up a pack of Marlboro Reds, and said, "Do you mind?" Bonnie didn't mind. Bonnie bummed a cigarette. The day went that way. Cigarette, beer, a little bit of her sandwich. She couldn't remember the last time she'd talked about writing, or cancelled a class so she could wake up the next morning with nothing to do but write.

Jeffery, who had slowed down because he was driving, said, "You're a pretty cool lady, you know that?"

Bonnie smiled and picked at a piece of melted cheese that had hardened at the edge of her sandwich. "I do now," she said and smiled.

The waiter, a young kid who looked like one of Bonnie's students, who could have been one of her students, said, "Can I get you two anything else?"

No, they were both fine. Everything was great. When the check came and Jeffery offered to pay, Bonnie said, "That's very sweet," and accepted.