Copyright is held by the author.
I NEVER knew I had a mortal enemy until that night.
It started out normal enough. The professor was late, again, and I was doodling in my notebook in what was becoming my customary distracted attitude.
The sound of the elevator, its rather anemic chime, was followed by the approach of a hurried set of footsteps.
Out of breath, Professor Riggle huffed as he dashed into the half-empty lecture hall and slammed his battered leather briefcase down. “Damn those roads are a mess,” he said by way of apology.
This week’s reading came from Selected Poems — an overpriced tome of drippy poetry printed in cheap ink on cheaper paper. I hefted the mammoth collection and carefully opened my copy, wary of the onion thin pages, and readied myself to take notes.
I knew the professor’s routine pretty well, having taken three other classes with him. Last class he’d skated us through a hundred years of Canadian poetry in two and a half hours. After that overdose of syrupy rhyme schemes, heavy-handed nationalism, and imagery full of blood-red maple leaves and lonesomely magnificent isolation, I was desperate for something different. Anything, so long as it broke the monotony.
“Tonight,” he started, pulling his sports jacket off and draping it across his chair. “We’ll finish Atwood, and then after the break I’ll step aside for individual analysis.”
The first half flashed by.
“You fit into me” had caught my eye and Professor Riggle gave it his usual lively interpretation. The man could read sexual innuendo into an obituary. There were some pretty big laughs during his lecture, but nothing compared to what came later — at my expense.
Class broke at 8:30, a 10-minute respite, which caused the usual stampede to the satellite Tim Horton’s. By that time of night nothing much was left except stale coffee. I lined up for it anyway. That much needed infusion of caffeine was all that got me through the last hour.
The second half started with Professor Riggle leaving his big desk and sitting behind me.
“Who’s first?” he asked.
Which was when my nemesis struck.
She didn’t look evil — all curly brown hair and too much blue eye shadow — which explains why I walked into her trap with a smile.
Standing nervously at the front of the hall, voice straining, she said, “I’ve got a bit of a cold. Would someone please read the poem for me?”
I’d like to say I volunteered, chivalry and all that, but it’s not true. I sat there like everyone else, unmoving and uninterested in helping, until she pointed to me, and asked, “Would you mind?”
She never gave me a chance to refuse, just handed me an open book of poetry and pointed to the page on the right. “That one.”
Nodding, I started reading. Right after the first line I knew I was in trouble.
It wasn’t poetry. It was pornography.
I won’t repeat what it said. Doing so outside the open-minded atmosphere encouraged in a university classroom might even get me arrested. Let me say that it offered graphic descriptions of various sexual acts featuring the female narrator and an assortment of garden fresh vegetables — highly explicit and improbable acts.
Vividly detailed — lurid even.
The mental picture needed an X-rating.
I don’t know when I started blushing, or what my face looked like as I read, but my friend Paul joked on the elevator after class that he, “Ain’t never seen no-one turn so red so fast!”
Struggling manfully through the poem, ignoring the increasingly loud laughter, I reached the end and tried not to look anyone in the eye.
The girl at the front of the hall, the one who’d picked the poem and picked me to read it, smiled as she said, “Thanks.” Then went on to explain the metaphorical use of “carrot” — her throat sounding fine.
What I wanted to say was, “Don’t mention it. Don’t mention it. Ever!” But instead I picked up Selected Poems and tried, unsuccessfully, to hide behind it.
It was in the cafeteria two days later that she walked by and smirked — a long smirk — with a hint of shark-like teeth shining through at the corners.
Paul, sitting across from me, caught the smirk too. Whistling low, he asked, “What did you do to piss her off?”
“I have no idea,” I answered, thinking hard. “I barely even know her.”
“Maybe that’s the problem,” he said, giving me a significant look.
It took me a minute to catch his meaning and I finally shook my head. “That’s a pretty big leap. Embarrassing a guy to break the ice?”
“She didn’t know you’d be embarrassed. Probably meant it to be flirtatious. If you weren’t such a prude you’d have seen it.” Then, with a knowing smile, he added, “You’re the carrot.”
“From the poem. The dirty poem,” Paul said in case I needed reminding. He waived down my doubts and continued, “You’re the carrot and she’s a hungry vegetarian. It’s a metaphor.”
“A bad metaphor,” I answered. “Besides, I’ve never seen a vegetarian look at a carrot like she just looked at me.”
“Satisfied. Like the cat after swallowing the canary.”
“Man,” he said, laughing, “you’ve been reading to much. That poetry stuff will rot your brain.”
Smiling, I agreed, “Yeah.” Before shooting back, “So what’s your excuse?”
My friend’s carefully phrased reply proved as eloquent as it was succinct; he slowly raised his middle finger. He smirked as he did it — and his smirk had nothing shark-like about it.