“Caroline.” Father stood in the doorway of his study holding The Baltimore Sun, as I arrived home.
“I was right all along, not letting you stay at university. It is no place for respectable young women.”
I stared up into his unreadable face as he placed the paper into my hands.
“I believe this concerns one of your professors.”
The study door clicked shut behind him.
Alone in the sitting room, I leaned over the pages of The Sun. There he is, a hazy, indefinite image, placed above the fold on the first page. I am shocked to discover that he’s only twenty-nine, nine years older than I am. I scan the page. Dr. Szczepanski, a brilliant young scholar in the Sociology department, is up for tenure, but will probably lose his job.
He is the father of an illegitimate child.
The pages slide to the ground as the back of my neck prickles. How did I miss this? I retrieve the pages, staring at the blurry words. There is a picture of a faint young woman, someone I vaguely recognize. Of course, it’s the glowering secretary. I squint at the picture, but the woman doesn’t even look particularly beautiful. Why in the world would someone like Professor Szczepanski risk everything for her?
My mind spins How could he have done it, the lecherous bastard? Could’t he keep his hands to himself? I start as I realize that he almost never touched me. I bend my head to the article, which states that although Dr. Szczepanski hasn’t openly disputed the young woman’s claim, nevertheless he is refusing to marry her. It goes on to mention that there is no dispute about Dr. Szczepanski’s conduct. He was caught red-handed with her, upon his desk.
A surge of lava-like emotion wells up in my chest, spreading fingers throughout me like thick blood oozing from a wound. I try to imagine myself back in his office. His desk squats there, a looming shadow, a barricade against an unkind world. Those who ignored the desk’s covert message to keep out, those who sat down and leaned across to chat, passed his test of friendship.
As I did.
The secretary must have been even bolder.
I sit there forever, trying to make sense of it. I thought I was special, I thought I was his star, I thought I was his protegée. I press my lips together. It is time I took charge of my life. The Sociology Department was small. Was it gossipy? Did his colleagues think that I was the one having the affair with him? Because of course, in a sense, I was. It was an Affair of the Heart. But unlike most such affairs, this one wasn’t physical.
Our currency had been glances, and silences.
The Non-Affair first appeared in The Scarlet Leaf Review.