The chemist answered: “I have a religion, my religion, and I even have more than all these others with their mummeries and their juggling. I adore God, on the contrary. I believe in the Supreme Being, in a Creator, whatever he may be. I care little who has placed us here below to fulfill our duties as citizens and fathers of families; but I don’t need to go to church to kiss silver plates, and fatten, out of my pocket, a lot of good-for-nothings who live better than we do. For one can know Him as well in a wood, in a field, or even contemplating the eternal vault like the ancients. My God! Mine is the God of Socrates, of Franklin, of Voltaire, and of Beranger!The professor walked from one side of the classroom to the other, smug in his knowledge of the book. He had taught this book time and time before, and with every class which came upon his tutelage, he had seen every ignorant comment, every tack of logic, and every opinion uneducated minds had poured forth in the presence of his collegiate house of learning.
"Miss Storm," he said, gesturing with the dog-eared copy of the book he held in his chalk-covered hand. The book was obviously some previous version, as the copy that sat on madame Storm's desk was new and of edition fifteen. For she could not buy a used copy, no, the campus bookstore had disallowed such a cost-saving measure, and the list of approved books for this year's course was edition fifteen or higher.
Or higher. The stack of there was no edition higher than fifteen copies of this book stood high in the campus bookstore on a display, as if the powers the be had known of this syllabus and ordered stacks of expensive eighty dollar books of copies of a book over a century and a half old.
"Miss Storm," the professor repeated himself, "are you with us here today?"
Snark. Sarcasm. You are no master of this, man who I am paying for an education. Do not think you are the master of me, paid man-strumpet of higher learning, nor better at wit nor turn of phrase. I detest those who lay in wait at the first sign of inattention or ignorance, to prove a point off of weaknesses of others and leave the one used feeling like a sack of compost.
"I am here, professor," she said flatly, like as if he had made some unwanted sexual advance towards her like some hypocritical reporter or Hollywood mogul who lectures us so salve their own shortcomings in morality and life. Bastards all, with the cancer of projecting the shame of one's self onto others who deserve to be treated as equals instead of a mirror into which they pour their wretched souls.
The signaling of virtues to these people is nothing more than someone trying to salve their own shortcomings in life and place those sins on others just to feel better about one's self. How dare you lecture me? How dare you preach sanctimony to me? Before you selfishly speak one more word about how I should live my life, get your own life of fucked consequence straightened out first.
"Part two, chapter one, Madame Bovary," he said, unaware of the darkness swirling about my soul and the vile mood I was in. Snark me once more and you shall be putting that foot of yours into the bear trap of my mind, professor.
Sylvie, of course, dressed herself as a bit of a flirt, several years below her age but not caring what others thought of her in the least. A pink turtleneck sweater too tight around her bosom, where the gaps in the knit pulled apart a little too much giving a slight view through the wool. A white skirt with bouncy pleats, cut above the knee. Knee socks which covered her long legs, and white leather Mary Janes polished to an immaculate shine. Her fiery hair pulled back with a headband. The scent of rose body spray hovered around her like the aroma of a garden in bloom.
"The chemist," the professor added, as if he laid the trap into which she was expected to wander.
"I have no fucking clue," Sylvie smiled as she nodded her head in agreement with herself, her hair bouncing along with her vapid answer.
The class laughed.
The professor let out a sigh, and she stopped his words with a pause, and then a continuance of her answer. "I have no clue who this guy is or why he is important to the story at all. I mean, seriously, we are jumping track here in the middle of the book when I got invested in her and her child on the way, and then we switch gears to this guy who I do not care about nor why I should. It feels like I am reading an entirely different book, or the writer got bored and pulled the rug out from underneath our expectations."
The professor sauntered over in a knowing way, and sat on the edge of Madam Storm's desk. "What if I said the chemist was one of the most important characters in the book?"
The professor waited a half-beat, and then doubled down on the snark, "Oh, clueless and impatient but beautiful lass."
"I would say we are being setup," she said with a snarky tone of her own, "and seeing how any character who speaks of God so early in the book is obviously preaching the author's voice has my brow raised thusly. Characters don't talk like that unless the divine intervention of the writer is using them to drive home a point."
He smiled, being a bit too kind for her liking as he leaned into her space and let his eye linger on her a bit too long for her comfort. She could smell the slight aroma of peppery body wash mixed with sweat, and the typical dry classroom smell two day old clothes absorbed from being in a place like this after a while. "Oh, you shall see, fair yet clueless lady and reader of prose. You shall see."
"As you read, I want you to think of the chemist as the pompous incarnation of Devil himself," the professor lectured, "after these two move to Yonville all sorts of bad things happen, brought on by the superficial and self-centered sins of this man and his taking advantage of the weaknesses of Charles and Emma. Something we, in this day, should be wary of people like this."
People like this.
Bah. Her leg was firmly in the trap of this man's making. Those who never know history are doomed to repeat it, and those stumbling the first time through a book are doomed to never know the significance of each moment or character. Like history, we are doomed from knowing the importance of an event until we are forced to live through it twice.
This time, the professor won this fight, and she felt her mood lighten. She was not such a vindictive bitch as to hold a grudge when she was clearly wrong. She could not go through life building castles with walls made of remorse.
He dismissed the class and the group of them gathered their things and hustled out of the room. She sat there, waiting.
He looked over at her as he packed his things, waiting for the reason for her continued presence.
"I'm sorry," she said, offering a genuine tone, "for that."
A knowing smile seeded by the apologies of a thousand students before her crept across his face. "Don't be. I like the sassy ones. The book would be a bore if nobody pushed back. It keeps the class awake."
She started to put her things together as well, books that cost too much and folders filled with so much information her brain could not contain it all. "Damn my expectations," she said, not looking at him, but instead burying herself in the unimportant task of packing up her things. "I suppose am a modern reader, with no patience and no appreciation for waiting until the end to figure out the meaning of it all."
"Ah, 'tis something you learn," he said, "with time, and books, it gets better. We used to blame our short attention span on MTV, now it is the smartphone, social media, and the span of time from impetus to expectation is even less. You need to get out of that Internet world and back into books, Miss Storm, and you shall find the pace of your life slow down just a bit - enough for you to learn to enjoy things a step more than you have been."
She blinked a slow, knowing blink, and raised her gaze to him as if he had just uncovered a secret in her mind. "And what," she said, "do you know of me and my life?"
"I read your blog," he smiled, "as do many others who enjoy your wit and love of the sensual word. You are not as unknown as you would assume yourself to be."
She shook her head and shoved her books in her bag, content in her surrender was total and complete. A public figure but not one, a writer of words who feels her voice is silent, and a bunch of other self-inflicted contradictions swirled about her thoughts. She let him go as he gave her a long look, waiting for another interaction, and getting none he himself surrendered and walked out of the classroom, leaving her alone.
She sighed and just sat there, the sounds of people in the hall outside fading away. The soft light from the overcast day filtered in through the windows, winter still some weeks off, but the chill in the air still telling of the coming frost and ill turn of weather.
Yet something else hung heavy in the room, the presence of a moment of importance yet to come she could not place her finger on.
She waited, staring at the door. As expected, the professor leaned in, as if she knew he had one more thing to say and he had been waiting outside for that moment to present itself when she walked out. She gave the man a half-smile and expectant eyes, pursing her pink glossed lips as if to say, "and...?"
His eyes brightened as he smiled.
"...and welcome back to the world of writing."