by Greg Van Belle
He followed the stairs that curled down, around, and under themselves into a part of the building he had never seen. Depressed blue lockers lined the walls. Her office was two doors down, the only one open and occupied.
“I’m lost,” he admitted.
“I’ve been lost before,” she replied.
Her work held her attention, she didn’t look up from the desk her pen danced on, marking sheet after sheet of paper with letters and numbers.
“Where do you want to be?” she asked.
“Down the hall. Left turn. Another left turn. Door says Men.”
“Men. Got it.”
“Good luck.” She stayed with her work, let him walk away.
As a campus restroom, this one was his favorite. Each stall had its original door, there were paper towels and not dryers. The mirrors were intact and flattering. And hot water. Hot water that stayed on without having to hold the handle to the left, with enough pressure to fill the sink before the drain could catch up. Big enough sink to wash his socks, if he so needed.
Her office was really a large hallway, divided into three rooms by stacks of decaying books. Her steel desk sat in the middle of her allowed space, facing the door. Her neighbors were at their desks near her, not separated by so much as a wall. Students seeking guidance knocked at the white glass of her door during posted office hours. They were curled together like spoons by her desk, wrapped in a cotton blanket he rescued from the office next door. He was still pressed against her, wanting her again. A student entered without knocking. She answered his questions from the floor, only her lower half covered by the cotton blanket. When her student left they rolled together and slept on the hard concrete floor until the footsteps upstairs and outside disappeared and the last key locked the last door.
Her boyfriend worked the espresso bar at the union. To break it off she simply brought her new love to his line and ordered two coffees, paid full price and gave the old boyfriend a leaning kiss over the counter. Square on the lips.
Of the thirty different libraries on campus she used three of them for her research. He ran from one to the other in the rain, getting books, asking questions, looking up answers. When she had to write, or be alone to think, he went upstairs to the reading room, squeezed into one of the oversized chairs and read novels he didn’t understand. She’d find him, wake him and take him back to her office down the stairs that curled around and under themselves into that part of the building he had been to many times.
“I’m a bartender,” he answered.
“But why are you here, at the college, I mean.”
“The bathrooms are really excellent. And, I’m taking a class.”
“You are crazy, aren’t you.”
“Of course. Honestly.”
“I hope so.”
He went to campus every day. In the morning he would shower the smoke from his body and forget about his job. He took a business course that taught him nothing about how to survive and he sat in on her sociology course in which she taught freshmen how to survive. He found her brilliant.
Living with a man wasn’t in her plans but the idea made her wake up each day and soon she just stopped going back to her old place. Her toothbrush found its way to his counter. Her pillows to his bed.
He thought his own home too hard for a woman to live in and set out to dull the edges. Placemats, silverware, a basket full of soap ornaments. He kept a warm fire in the stove and kept her warm at night. A small desk in the corner of the living room started growing books like hair, thicker each week until finally she trimmed it and took some back to the library, or asked him to do it for her.
They slept different hours but woke together. She cooked him breakfast and made him coffee. This, he thought over a plate of waffles, is how I am going to live.