When last we left our heroine, she was burning the clothes of her failed relationship, and saying goodbye to her late boyfriend's apartment with a dumpster fire (symbolic, that) and a confession.
That may prove to be an error.
Speak Ill of the Dead, Part 2
I drove sedately home, a curious weight lifted from my shoulders. I let myself into my dingy flat, and there was the locket hanging from my mirror.
I hadn't brought it with me. It could not possibly have been there. But there it was all the same, gently swaying, as if it had just been hung there by someone.
I chalked it up to sleeplessness. Every time I closed my eyes, I saw Albert's head, and the car, and the blood. I might have just imagined leaving the thing at Albert’s. Since the accident, I’d been having difficulty at work, as well. I would lose concentration, sometimes even in the middle of a sentence.
But after the funeral and the burning of the clothes, there was a new wrinkle. I began losing things. Everyone misplaces things, I know that, but I began losing things I didn't remember having moved. My keys usually stayed put, oddly, but I would lose a book in my office that I was supposed to be reading for class. I would find it again later, in a place it simply couldn't be, like under the couch at home, or—once—stuffed in a box of cereal. Shoes, papers. My driver's license, missing from my wallet.
Two days later, I was mixing some powder into my drink when I saw a smear of color in my blender, back in the corner of my countertop. I don't use that blender. I never have. I just have it in case I want a smoothie every couple of years.
I blew dust off the top and fished around inside. My fingers locked on a stiff piece of board, and there was my driver’s license. The black rubber top bore no fingerprints in its accumulated dust, other than the ones I had just made.
At first, when these things began to happen, I thought I must be having some sort of psychotic episode. Perhaps I was unable to remember things that happened to me. Maybe, I thought, I'm blacking out.
The difficulty with that was, no time seemed to be missing. I didn't have any gaps in my day, periods where I found half an hour gone, or even a few minutes. Still, to be sure, I cut back on drinking, and paid closer attention to where I was, and what I was doing. It made no difference.
I started keeping a journal of these things. Thursday, my car wouldn't start. Nothing seemed wrong with it, it had plenty of gas, it just didn't start. I took the bus to work, and I when I came home, the car started. Just like always. Friday, my hair brush was missing. I had put it in the drawer where I always keep it. Saturday, my book on the Empress Maria Teresa was missing. I had it on my nightstand when I went to bed. When I woke up, it was gone, but at least I found the hairbrush. In the refrigerator.
I supposed I could have been walking about at night, when I would not notice the gap in time. I set up my laptop to record while I was asleep, so that I could see if I were sleepwalking. The camera showed me lying in bed for six straight hours. I never got up.
However, that day nothing was missing. I tried it again the next night. That night something did go missing. It was the laptop. I found it under the couch in the front room three days later.
The journal helped, but there was still no pattern that I could discern. Some days, things would go missing, other days, they wouldn't. More often than not, Something wouldn't be where I remembered having put it, but that didn't necessarily mean that I had lost it. No one’s memory is perfect.
So I tried to figure out, on the ten days or so every month when nothing went missing, what I had done differently. It wasn't anything that I ate for breakfast, that ranged from cereal to eggs and back again. It wasn't whether I had gone to work or not. Four of those days had been on a weekend. It didn't seem to have anything to do with the weather, or the time of day, or whether I had found a lost item that particular day. Nothing fit.
It began to affect my work. Absent-mindedness caused difficulties in lesson preparation, and the episodes of being distracted did not lessen. I still had nightmares. I still felt that Albert would be standing on every street corner, waiting for me to come by.
One Thursday, a couple of months after this started, I arrived at my office to find a note from the Dean, asking me to come and see him. Dropping my satchel on my chair, and picking up a book I thought looked sufficiently academic, I wandered down the hallway to his office. I knocked, and a voice told me to come in and sit down.
I did so. His office smelled of old books and privilege. I perched on the edge of a chair like a bird getting ready to fly. “What is that you've got there?” the Dean said.
“The Aeneid, Albert Graves’ translation.”
“I haven't read that one,” he said, hefting it. “Is it good?” He handed it back to me.
I shrugged. The truth was I hadn't read it. I had been meaning to, and it had been on the top of my to-read list for months, so that I could prepare for my summer class on the founding of Rome, but I hadn't gotten around to it. Everything seemed to take so much longer these days.
“The truth is, I wanted to see you about your work. Your performance has been rather poor recently. I'm sure you've noticed that showing up in student evaluations.”
I nodded. I had noticed it, but I hadn't thought it a big deal, because my own evaluation of my performance was so bad on its own.
“I'm afraid that as adjunct faculty, we need to make sure that we are ensuring the very highest quality of educational performance. I know you are aware that there are a number of graduates in your field who would love to have your job.”
“I am.” I said. Nothing more.
He rubbed a hand across his mustache. “I like you, Helen, and I believe you're good for the department. but I don't know if this department is good for you anymore. I'm going to give you one more term to see if you can straighten out your difficulties with your performance.”
“My performance?” I said. I knew what I thought was wrong, but all of a sudden I was curious as to what he thought.
“Yes, your performance. All of it, not just the parts relating to forgetting assignments, or being unable to recall certain facts that are critical to the presentation of your lesson. I've been expecting a report foe the last two weeks on the status of the incoming sophomores into the classics program,
I sat up straighter. “I delivered that report two weeks ago, on the deadline,” I said. I felt warmth leaching from my fingers. Something missing. Again.
The Dean looked skeptical. “You did? I don't recall having seen it. When did you give it to me ?”
“I slipped it under your door,” I said. “It would have been late at night. I knocked, but you weren't here.”
“I don't remember having seen it,” he said. “I wonder if you would mind bringing a copy down to me right now.”
I didn't mind. In fact, I was curious to see whether I would be able to find the laptop on which I stored the report when I went back to my office. It had been in my satchel, but that didn't mean anything. Even when I reached my office, and saw the satchel sitting on the chair, right where I had left it, I knew that meant nothing in particular. It didn't matter that my door was locked, that I had the key in my pocket. I knew that all too well. Whatever was happening didn't care about locked doors.
The laptop was there. The file was in the folder that I expected it to be. Relieved, I hit print and went to retrieve the copy.
The Dean seemed unimpressed, possibly even annoyed that I hadn’t confirmed my erratic performance. “Thank you, I'm glad to get this report, but it's far from the only instance of your not having produced work, or not having done the best quality.”
“I'm aware of that, sir,” I said. “I seem to be having difficulty since the accident.”
That's entirely understandable,” he said carefully, surely aware that bereavement was a gray area in cause for dismissal, “but I’m afraid it doesn't change the fact that unless your performance improves, we will have to let you go.”
I understood that. It's the life of adjunct faculty. I went back to my office to prepare for class, and was relieved to once again find that nothing was obviously moved. That day, nothing disappeared in the usual way.
In another way, nearly everything did.
When I began writing this, I had a shorter story in mind. Albert had other ideas. Two episodes left.