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By his request, I’m hiding in the parking lot, constantly hiding behind trees or cars whenever lights appear on the road. I want to impress him with my secrecy and knowledge of being covert, but the rain is ruining the effect and making me angry. I contemplate returning to my room and making a sign to mock him. However, I feel disheartened by the smudged makeup on my face and the muddy powder on my forehead and cheeks.

I observe the lights from the dormitories and dining hall illuminating the hill, surrounded by darkness and the absence of the moon. Another car enters, and I hide until it reaches the college’s driveway, realizing that I forgot to inquire about the type of car he drives.

I grow tired of playing the spy game and wish I were back in my room, enjoying a book and cigarettes. I lament the thought of myself in a cozy setting, surrounded by the soft lamplight and smoke.

I could have chosen a less paranoid professor, but then again, would any other professor have chosen me? Fortunately, the resident poet feels obligated to seduce the freshmen, and I happen to be the only one susceptible to his paunch and poetry. Likewise, he is the only one susceptible to me. However, if he doesn’t show up and the moon rises, I decide I will give up and go inside.

Suddenly, I see a car approaching with erratic headlights—a worn-out Volkswagen. I leave my hiding spot and walk confidently towards the car. His gray and anxious face greets me with a smile. I enter the passenger side, bringing in the dampness with me. He swiftly accelerates out of the parking lot and onto the road without acknowledging me.

When I first met him, I thought he resembled Ulysses S. Grant, with his curly black hair, beard, thick lips, and square forehead. The more time I spend with him, the more I see the resemblance. The rain-splashed light reveals the veins on his cheeks, the pits on his nose, the watery blue eyes, and the weak chin he hides behind his cropped beard. Worries furrow his forehead. At a stoplight, he gives me a quick, forced grin.

He asks anxiously, “Did anyone see you?” His eyes dart towards me, waiting for my answer, while his gaze remains fixed on the road.

His teeth filled with apologies. My breathing becomes ragged. I lower myself to the floor, propping my chin on the seat, trying to keep my wet boots from touching my backside. The cold drafts seep through the car’s structure, disturbing me.

He appears large. His sturdy shoes move on the pedals at the end of his dependable woolen legs. The gray fabric hangs over his belly and droops from his arms.

His plump lips. The imploring eyes. He would rather be at home in bed with his gentle wife and a bottle of beer. I tilt my head so that he can see my smile in the darkness beneath the dashboard.

He seems pleased. It’s crucial to be eccentric as a poet. He reaches into his breast pocket and says, “I have something for you.”

“Don’t these bother you? Your asthma? I wasn’t planning on smoking at all,” I reply, prepared to be spiteful for the past two days.

“No, cigar smoke doesn’t bother me. I can smoke these myself. It’s only cigarettes that make me cough.”

In his class, we sit with open windows, rain blowing in, keeping our coats on. He always wears the same suit, appearing as if he’s stored potatoes in the pockets for several seasons. His plaid flannel shirts clash with layers of underwear, and his disheveled tie allows glimpses of his wiry chest hair.

I flash an exaggerated smile, trying to inject a few extra volts into it due to the darkness beneath the dashboard. The car wheezes to a stop, and he takes out the key, scanning the surroundings with reflective eyes. Then he smiles down at me before stepping out. Leaning in for a moment, he closes the door behind him.

His anxious face disappears, replaced by a glimmer of spectacles. I raise my head above the window level, watching his awkward stride across the glistening pavement. The neon sign’s open mouth prepares to devour a plump olive with an obscenely positioned pimento. He has left me in the dark corner of the parking area. Am I really going to indulge in thoughts and desires for this character? Yes, I am. How mundane the things I get myself into for the sake of excitement. I can see him through the café window, stealing furtive glances at the assortment of ragtag customers, muttering his order to the waitress, ensuring no potential blackmailers or informants overhear him asking for two coffees, two hamburgers, and two orders of French fries.

By the time he returns to the car, I’m giggling. He hands me the lidded coffees, and I balance them above the seat as he pulls away.

My buttocks are numb, and my legs ache. The chill has reached my kidneys, prompting a reaction. I hoist myself onto the seat and open the coffee, resting the cups on the trembling dashboard. I hastily tear open the hot, greasy paper surrounding the food.

I hand him a hamburger and smear a dab of ketchup on the fries. He chomps and chews, mentioning casually, “A weekend conference with a publisher.”

The darkness moves, fades, and merges into more darkness. No cars. No lights. The gray road spins beneath us. The headlights briefly illuminate shapes. I refrain from asking whether she believed him, as that would invite unpleasant thoughts. Either he would be smug and claim not to care or he would divulge everything about her.

The river lies gray and lifeless beside us. A small, distant light flickers on the other side. I decide to be poetic for him, diverting his thoughts from any potential consequences.

“I used to come down here often last summer to fish,” I say. “I’d bring canned corn and fish for carp near the flour mills early in the morning. As the dawn broke, it would cast a soft lavender light over the docks and bridges, saturating everything. Then I’d pull out the large golden fish from the purple water, and the scales would come off, resembling golden dust beneath my fingernails.”

He reaches blindly for the French fries and stuffs them into his mouth. Wiping the grease on his woolen pants, he then reaches for the coffee. I glance at him, pretending mild surprise, and take a contemplative bite of the burger, chewing until the dangling tomato enters my mouth.

It’s his turn now. He puts on a puffy grin, slipping it to me with a standard nonchalant wag of his head.

“A poet,” he says, adding a sonorous levity that is so transparent. We are all such poor actors. “A poet is a man who runs out naked into every thunderstorm, hoping to be struck by lightning.”

He pushes more hamburger into his mouth, his swollen cheek jutting out towards

I light the cigars for both of us, and the pungent smell fills my nose. I cough initially, but soon I become accustomed to it. He delicately holds his cigar like a pencil, taking small puffs and exhaling the smoke.

The tension between us dissipates. He begins to share with me in great detail how his asthma is purely psychological, originating when he read an article on air pollution while waiting in the hospital where his mother was dying of cervical cancer.

Now that I reflect on it, this is the first time we’ve physically touched each other. Until now, our interactions have primarily been flirtatious banter, driven by our respective principles rather than mutual attraction. He, having experienced two marriages, published a book of poems, grown a beard, and refused to mow his lawn, seeks to fulfill the persona he has created for himself.

As for me, Sally, I have endured ridicule from my peers and sought refuge in jokes from the Reader’s Digest to incorporate into my conversations. Having been involuntarily good for far too long, I have tapped into newfound energies through my current project. I have encountered hesitant soda jerks, aspiring painters, a talented pianist studying to become a mediocre psychologist, a traveling daffodil salesman, and now, here tonight, I have sought, though not precisely found, the poet’s masculinity. Perhaps he will immortalize me in a poem or give me a passing grade in English. The painters painted portraits of me, albeit as pastel sketches suitable for brief encounters, which I stored in the left-hand drawer of my desk, carefully separated by tissue paper. The pianist, a virgin until he met me, composed a tune and played it for me in the chapel. A poorly written poem would fit nicely into my collection.

The motel we arrive at has a courtyard. Mr. Lucas rushes into the office to register and hastily returns with the key, fearing that the manager might want to show us the room. There is no crashing sound of waves; the ocean is supposedly somewhere out there. We dash through the rain. I carry a large purse while he has a flight bag. The room is a suite, reasonably priced during the off-season. It comprises a sitting room, a bedroom, a kitchenette, and a bathroom, all of them clean. Only the air smells musty. I isolate myself in the bathroom, washing my face, brushing the stiffness out of my dry hair, and applying black makeup around my eyes. My face appears swollen, pale, with freckles standing out like pins. A flutter of anticipation arises in my stomach. How does one proceed in such a situation? What should I do when there is no instinct to guide me? I have allowed this to become distant and cold, but I must summon the confidence to confront it.

He is sprawled on the sofa, having removed his shoes and jacket. There is a bottle of whiskey next to him, and he holds a glass of the amber liquid that sways in his hand. I have never seen him without his coat before. He appears larger, unhealthy. I should curl up beside him and begin to caress and tickle him. Instead, I sit on the rug near his feet and lean back against his legs. The television screen displays cheerful faces. I should be on the couch comforting this tender man. His knees are more generously padded than mine. I catch a whiff of his damp wool. I remove my boots and raise a foot to smell it. It hasn’t started to smell yet. His hand touches my neck. After all the sneaking around, he could just as easily harm me as engage in intimacy.

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