As Declan Rosetti started his senior year at Francis Lewis University, named for New York’s forgettable delegate that signed the Declaration of Independence, as an English Literature and Creative Writing major, he was filled with thoughts of what to do after graduation. The detractors of the school called it F’ing Lame University or just FLU like the malady that struck so many during the long Upstate winters. He wondered if he had the guts to head down to New York City and live the life of a poor writer. He fantasized about getting an apartment in Greenwich Village and writing for Saturday Night Live. Or should he go to graduate school, which was the more practical decision? Those were questions for later; for now it was the start of the school year that always felt full of promise.

Arriving early for the start of the semester, Declan took advantage of the peace of the empty fraternity house to look at the available topics for his senior Literature seminar and choose his other classes. He went to the book store where the staff was hurriedly filling the shelves with textbooks. He found the section for the senior seminars and looked over the classes and the reading lists.

The first two were uninteresting, “Heroic Asian Narratives” and “Neoclassical Themes of Injustice”, whatever that could be. The third was the winner, “American Novels and their Film Adaptations”. It was being taught by one of his favorite professors, Dr. Bennett. The reading list was long, but very interesting, since it included classics and contemporary novels. The book that sold him on the seminar was The World According to Garp by John Irving. He had already read it and had seen the movie when it came out over the summer. It would mean one less book to buy, which meant he would have a couple extra days of beer added to his meager spending budget.

He took a chance and stopped by Dr. Bennett’s office and caught him heading to a meeting.

“Walk with me, Mr. Rossetti.”

“I was very impressed by the reading list and I really hope there’s room left at registration for your seminar,” he told Dr. Bennett after some pleasantries about summer vacations and the start of another school year.

“Yes, it’s a new topic and I am looking forward to teaching it. I’m happy you find it interesting, we’ll be discussing novels and watching films, I think it will be very challenging.”

“It’s exactly what I was looking for in a senior seminar.”

“I’ll make sure your name is on the class list.”

“Thanks, Dr. Bennett, I’ll see you in class,” he said feeling quite satisfied with his successful brown-nosing mission.

The first day of classes was busy, ending with the seminar in the late afternoon. The seminar classroom was the nicest in the building and Declan arrived a few minutes early to get his favorite seat. Dr. Bennett was not in the room, which was unusual for him. Two minutes after the class was supposed to start a girl walked in that he at first thought was just another student. But she put her things down on the desk in the front of the class and called for everyone’s attention. “Hello, my name is Virginia Halloran and I’m Professor Bennett’s TA. The professor had an unfortunate accident last night; he slipped off a ladder and broke his leg in two places. He is going to be laid up for a couple weeks before he can return, so I am going to start us off with the first classes and assignments.”

The class responded with raised hands and several questions. It seemed that everyone was actively doing something in reaction to the news, except for Declan.

He was mesmerized by this attractive new teaching assistant. She was tall with long brown hair and a smile that could cure any undergrad with a case of the FLU. He could see her hypnotic green eyes from his spot near the front of the classroom as she brought him deeper and deeper under her spell.

His Irish half envisioned honeymooning in Dublin with Miss Halloran as he greedily wished for Dr. Bennett’s slowest possible recovery. Perhaps there was someone seamier on his Italian side of the family that could see to breaking Dr. Bennett’s other leg to keep him out the entire semester.

He couldn’t take his eyes off of her as she went through the syllabus and discussed how they would be reading the novels and contrasting them with the film, to see if they thought the film did justice to the novel, characters that didn’t make it from print to film and other topics that would make the seminar “very dynamic.”

She told them about her background, she attended the fledgling writing program at Syracuse that started in 1977 and had attracted several faculty members who were now well know writers. She said that the professor would handle the academic side of the course and that she would handle the creative aspects of the assignments.

Declan was falling more and more in love with every syllable she uttered. He was quoting Shakespeare to himself when she turned to write on the board, “Oh speak again bright angel,” he silently implored his new found love. He was smitten with the way she used her hands when she spoke and how she smiled at the end of each of point she was making. Even when she talked about the brutality of Anthony Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange, he felt his heart flutter. “Viddy well, Miss Halloran. Viddy well.”

“Okay we only have a few minutes left,” she said to his dismay. “Please take out a piece of paper and write down why you took this class. Don’t put your names on them; it is for me, not Professor Bennett, so please to tell the truth. Anonymity breeds honesty.”

The class laughed but Declan froze. This was straight out of Garp. Garp’s wife was an English professor and she asked the class the same exact question on the first day of class. The student that would become her lover wrote “Since the first time I saw you I wanted to make love to you.” That was exactly how Declan felt. She had to know that that question was in “Garp”. This couldn’t be just an innocent coincidence, could it?

Declan was in a panic, he needed to write that he wanted her but he couldn’t summon up the courage. He started to write, and then stopped. He looked to the front of the class and at the same time she looked at him and smiled.

She had to have seen that my forehead was covered in sweat he thought. Did she see the panic in my eyes?

He glanced up again and she was packing up her briefcase. She was perfect, a goddess; he had to write down exactly what the character in the book had written. Then he remembered that as a result of being so bold, the character, Michael Milton, ended up with an unusual traumatic amputation of his manhood. That definitely wasn’t a desirable outcome. Did that mean he shouldn’t write it down?

His pen moved as he focused on his shaking hand. One deep breath and then another. I can’t do this, he thought. He took out another sheet of paper and wrote “I am interested in writing screenplays as well as fiction.” The paper turned yellow as it inhaled his cowardice. He took his original sheet and finished the quote from the movie.

Declan couldn’t feel his legs as he walked up to the desk, the last person in line. He hesitated for a second and handed her a sheet of paper, smiling weakly as he realized he underestimated her beauty, she was even more stunning up close. He hurried out of the classroom and went back to the safety of the fraternity house.

He sat at his desk after dinner and opened the syllabus for the seminar and started to work on the first assignment, to choose a recent film and write three pages on the literary value of the plot. His roommate Todd walked in as he typed his pages.

“Working already, it’s only the first day of class?” Todd said as he handed Declan a beer.

“Yeah, working on my Lit seminar, but I think this class is going to be worth it. Look at all the great books we get to read,” Declan said pointing to the pile of paperbacks on his desk.

Todd took a step closer to inspect the titles. Declan didn’t see him pick up the piece of paper next to the books.

“I hope this isn’t for me.”

“What?”

Todd began reading, “Since the first time I saw you …”

“No, no….It’s not for you.”

“Thank goodness, man that would’ve been awkward.”

“No,” Declan said shaking his head, “it’s me wasting one of the greatest opportunities I’ve ever been handed, or I avoided making a huge mistake … I don’t know and will never know. Either way, all it can be now is the plot for a pretty good story.”

THE END

Photo by Martin Pettitt