Friday Five: January 15th

This is a challenge from Long and Short Reviews. Stop by and read some of the other entries. I had fun writing this on Friday night, so I edited a bit and posted Saturday.

This week’s words: seminar, mine, law, crisis, address

“Professor”, the young woman said, as Dr. Brenner looked up. “The camera is at the top and you need to speak into it.”

It was hard to understand with the girl’s mask on. She wasn’t a girl she was a 25 year old woman, but all the graduate students looked like boys and girls to her nowadays.  Dr. Gretchen Brenner was near retirement, but  once a semester  she did a seminar for the law department.  This time she had to do it online. She hated all this. 

She remembered her first lecture- ready to address an assembly hall full of students who took in each word and wrote furiously on notepads. Now the college didn’t have the numbers it once did and most of them half listened and stared at their phones. But at least it was real life.  Now she had to prerecord lessons in her stuffy little office at home. 

The grad student, Eliza, had on a mask but was making another of her frustrated snorting noises. “Maybe we should move to the kitchen. The light in here sucks.” 

 At least it was better than Zoom. She loathed that. Talking into the void to students who couldn’t or wouldn’t show their faces and she got an odd feeling about some of them.  As if, they weren’t really there. She was afraid so often nowadays. Every noise made her jump. Every rattle of the pipes made her heart race. The house had been broken in twice; and the police did nothing. Broken glass and some stolen loose change wasn’t much of a priority. 

Dr. Brenner hadn’t wanted a grad assistant this year. Ten, fifteen years ago when she was at her prime there would be plenty for a bright, young woman like Eliza to do. But she didn’t do any research anymore. Her inquisitive mind had carried her along paths she’d wished she’d never known. She was never doing research again. At least Eliza was good at all the computer stuff she couldn’t be bothered to do. But the girl had little regard for personal space. Always moving the chairs or opening and closing the curtains or running some type of extension under her desk.  Dr. Brenner would complain more but then maybe Eliza would get annoyed and never return and lately she hated the thought of no one ever coming by. With the break ins and the noises, she felt better with Eliza here. 

 Now, the girl was shuffling the books on the shelf.

“I have those in order.”

“I think it might be better if we can see all of your books in the center. That way they can see all your work.” 

Crisis in Coverton County. The most famous because it went mainstream. The original academic paper had a far more cumbersome title “The Coverton County Riots: A socio-political analysis of discrimination, regional unrest and government response”. It was full of details and legal minutiae that no one outside of a narrow field of interests would even care about and only reached the larger public  because of the supposed cause of the first riot-witchcraft.

 Last year, the Coverton County Riots had been featured in a  Netflix documentary. Dr. Brenner tried to watch it-but it had far more sex and violence than she remembered in her thesis. 

One of the books on the topmost  shelf thudded to the floor. It was a hardback, faded, with a broken spine. Eliza leaned to get it, but the old professor was surprisingly  spry and scooped it up first. 

“Is that another one of yours? We can put it in the center? ” the assistant asked. 

“ No.” Dr. Brenner said more forcefully than she meant to. “This copy is mine. I mean, it’s for my eyes only. It was never published.” 

No one saw this book. It only had a limited run, and the publisher was gone. The whole warehouse burned to the ground. 

“Okay, sure,” the girl just shrugged. Nutty professor. Crazy old cat lady. That’s what Dr. Brenner read in the shrug of those shoulders. The girl went back to her keyboard, blissfully unaware of panic and fear that wrapped itself around the older woman. Completely oblivious to the darkness that seemed to come over the room as soon as the book had fallen. 

Dr. Brenner’s heart raced as she clutched the green book to her chest.  This was the book she’d written that no one else could be permitted to read. This was the follow up to Crisis in Coverton County that should never see the light of day.   She should have destroyed it. She was certain she kept it locked up in the safe box in her bedroom. How had it gotten down here? Had someone or something take it out? 

Copyright 2021 Echo Ishii

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