Come and Sleep
Look Her in the Eye and Say Norway
When the young woman walked into the makeshift studio, the first thing she saw was an instant camera on a tripod. The second, seated at a small table in the corner, was a man with dark hair and a curious scar running down his cheek. He was feeding IDs into a laminating machine and deep in thought, so she had time to read his nametag a few times before he looked up and asked who she was. She told him, added that she was a junior, class of ’97, and he asked where she came from. Nearby, she said, picking at a fleck of white paint on her fingertip, but she’d be living in a dorm. Rising from his chair, he pointed at a line of masking tape on the carpet and said her parents could visit when she got tired of school food, but instead of humoring the man, the she raised an eyebrow and informed him that she was going to be in his American Literature class.
When the young woman left without wanting to see her ID photo, he assumed she didn’t care for books either, but her first essays told him nothing could have been further from the truth. This kid remembered everything she read and wielded her pen like a scalpel. Under the weight of her critiques, characters surrendered, themes opened like suitcases, and despite her impatience, she never failed to see through artifice, expose a ruse, or strip a weak metaphor to its bones. Her only shortcoming was an aversion to class discussions and the peers who butchered them. While they mispronounced names and flailed at subtext, she lounged by the window and doodled in her notebook, and the teacher let her, until one day when another student asked what country Hemingway was from and she groaned in disbelief.
“Will you stick around for a second?” he asked when the bell rang.
Sensing a lecture or worse, a check-in, she slid down in her desk chair and waited until the room was empty. “Is this about my being annoyed?”
“I couldn’t help it. My back hurts, and that comment was like, you know, pretty out there.”
“Then join in and raise the bar a little?”
“My ideas are conversation enders, not starters. See, I’ve read everything on your syllabus, some of them twice.”
“Then why are you here?”
“I switched schools last spring,” she said, glancing at the open notebook on her desk. “The new one wouldn’t give me my English credit, and since it’s my duty to overreact, here I am. I should be a senior, but at the moment I’m like a junior plus.”
He figured she’d been kicked out, but since everyone deserved a fresh start, he decided not to ask.
“How are you finding this place?” he asked. Out the window some kids were lounging on the slightly greener grass and enjoying the last throes of summer.
“I haven’t broken anything yet, and the course catalog says that if I’m in good standing—whatever that means—I can maybe do an independent study and graduate with my class.”
“If you do, you’ll need some recs.”
The young woman sat up. “Are you volunteering?”
“If you enliven our discussions a little.”
“So you’re blackmailing me?”
“I’d consider it a fair trade since you’re so well read and we’re so boring.”
“I didn’t call anyone boring, but, fine, I’ll figure out a way to get these guys talking, only next time someone in your Honors American Literature class asks what country Hemingway’s from, you have to look her in the eye and say ‘Norway’.”
“I’d love to.”
“But you won’t?”
“We’ve got to be a little nicer than that.”
“Mister, at my first school, I got picked on by a nice girl whose mommy was on the board. At the second, guess what, everybody there was really nice, too.”
“Fine, I’ll be nice and you can be you, but if you’re willing to work—”
“—I’ll be graduating before I know it,” she said, “but until then I’m stuck here.”
“I’d say about half here.”
“Speak for yourself,” she clapped back, and because he wasn’t ready to debate what percentage of his person was actually present on campus, he pulled out another speech, one that started with the word “diligence” and ended with his index finger and thumb securely attached to his chin. When he finished and realized that she was amused by his pep talk, nothing more, he gazed down at a rhyme she’d penned in her notebook: With my keen eye, I spy a spy.
“Okay, you got me,” he said, raising his hands, “we both have to make the most of this place.”
“How do you manage?” she asked, as the bell rang to start the next period.
“They pay me.”
“Your parents didn’t push you out of the car and speed off?”
“Nope, I drove myself.”
“That means you can leave whenever you want?”
“If I felt like bailing on my career. But, hey, everyone’s free to run away when things get too nice,” he said, feeling clever, “just not during B block, okay?”
“Wouldn’t want to miss my favorite class,” she said, and she made him write her a pass so she wouldn’t be marked late for Math.