her—or ravish her—have been thwarted by her indomitable virtue. In various spoofs and parodies, of which Fielding’s Shamela is the most famous, Pamela becomes, in fact, a slut. A strumpet, a trollop. Or at least a conniving little wench. Which is not the same as saying that Richardson’s Pamela is a slut: simply that she would have been a far more plausible character if she had been.
“Let’s talk about how you might begin to complicate that argument,” I say blandly, as if Sean were any other student and not a prying, ghoulish invader of my secrets.
Half an hour later he is stuffing his papers and—yes—the pen into his grungy backpack when he suddenly raises his head and smiles, exposing teeth that would have benefitted from braces. This should be preferable to his sullen sneer, but I find that it is not.
“I found the other lady, by the way,” he says. “You know, the girl that was kidnapped with you? I tracked her down.”
A flash of fury sends blood to my face and threatens to derail my determination to appear calm. Carly was capable of impressive rages; sometimes I envied her. For me, this surge of anger feels closer to the surface than usual—like a fish that flits through shallow water, looking out for vulnerable insects. I want to fling insults, drag a pen across Sean’s smug face. A drop of sweat emerges from beneath my bra strap, curves down my lower back. He has sullied Carly May by searching for her, by tapping out her name on his grubby laptop—almost as if he had grabbed her shirt, torn it, left dirty fingerprints, exposed her skin. Imbecile.
I slide open my top desk drawer, extract a mint from its box, tuck it alongside my back teeth. When I speak, my voice is level: “You understand what I mean by substantial rewrite. I mean unrecognizable. New thesis, new everything. Or your grade will stand. You have one week.” Imbecile: Ichneumous, inimical, inquisiturient. Intermure, insidiate, imprecate. The words aren’t helping. I stand, signaling that the conversation is over. He looms; I wish I were taller. Carly-sized.
“Did you guys get along?” he asks, slouching toward the door. “Did you, like, keep in touch after?”
I wondered at first if Sean had some sort of handicap, some physical condition that affected his posture: something that would oblige me to dredge up more sympathy for him than I was inclined to feel. Since then I’ve decided that his awkward, crooked gait is an affectation of sorts. I cannot fathom what it is intended to signify. I find myself thinking of lisping aristocratic gentlemen in the eighteenth century. I am acquainted with this historical phenomenon in a scholarly way, but it has never made sense to me on a human level. Why lisp? Why limp, unless you have to? I wonder if this association is instructive in any way, and remind myself to consider it later.
Illision. Ignescent. Indign. I force myself to meet his gaze, but I make my eyes go blank.
What is it that I fear? I feel as if Sean is slinking through my mind, poking into dark and dusty corners.
* * *
One of the many unspoken expectations of new faculty members is that they accept all invitations from student organizations. I have already attended a number of excruciating breakfasts, movie nights, faculty mixers, and—most improbably—a 5K walk-run for some charity. This evening I have agreed to attend a sorority fund-raiser for the local rape crisis center.
Which is why, several hours after meeting with Sean, I arrive at a rather imposing brick house on Main Street, wearing a not-especially-professorial red sweater dress and high-heeled black boots that are treacherous in the snow. I don’t want to please the Kate LeBlancs of the world by looking dowdy and professorial; I don’t want the young women to tower over me. I make my way through a small crowd, carrying a cup of tea, pretty cookies balanced in the saucer. I attend politely to an extremely earnest state senator, a prized