Crowded

There in the stacks, sitting on the floor was a young woman. Strewn about her were battered composition notebooks, crumpled papers and ripped up index cards. The carpet beneath her was an injured blue, decades old with scabs of derelict chewing gum every few feet. Lena Frazier was tiny, the slight frame of her 5’2’’ frame at odds with the literary towers that surrounded her. Through the calcified grime of the library windows, a lone star observed her and fretted over the folly of a young woman out alone at such a late hour.

Her pen had run out of ink and she was feverishly groping the floor underneath herself trying to find another one. Lank and bones hid in the folds of the extra-large sweatshirt that she’d pinched from university security’s lost and found. Office supplies weren’t in her budget these days and Kasir, the cashier at the 24-hour 7Eleven across campus wasn’t likely to let her buy any on credit. His dime store generosity had pretty much dried up when, at the onset of their first and last attempt at a backroom quickie, she’d questioned the long low hang of his balls as compared to the truncated length of his dick. She hadn’t been able to get a free meal or slurpee since.

 Goddammit!

She was on her knees now, patting down the pockets of her coffee-stained jeans. From his perch atop a nearby half stack, her twin brother Lucas offered his usually peanut gallery commentary. He was the physical equivalent of his sister but still wore the unformed musculature of a 16 year old. Despite the accident of his death nearly 10 years before, his was a constant presence, particularly as Lena had begun to navigate the academic elitist circles of Howard and then Princeton Universities. The psychotropic medication her psychiatrist had prescribed after her last hospital stay had left her too out of it to manage the rigors of Ivy League. So Lena had chosen hallucinations and brilliance over peace and intellectual mediocrity. Lucas’ presence was the price she paid for excellence. Unfortunately he was just as nasty dead as he had been alive.

“Bitch, you need to get a life and a laptop,” Lucas heckled.

“Shut up Lucas,” Lena bit back.

She was on her feet now, scanning the floor in front of her and knotting clumps of dreadlocked hair between her fingers. It was then, in mid-twist, that she found one of the two-pens she had stored in her hair for safe keeping.

“Maybe you could sell a kidney or a freaking lung. Something on your skinny ass must be worth something.”

“Goddammit, won’t you please just go to hell?”

Lucas appeared at her side and leaned in as if to whisper an endearment.

“Oh no big sis”, he answered, “not without you.”

Then he was gone.

Knowing her reprieve was temporary, Lena tuned her iPod to one of the many playlists she’d created to crowd out her brother’s voice and dropped back down to the floor. Over the next 6 hours, despite the echos of her brother’s “from the grave” discourse, Lena completed what she hoped was the final draft of her dissertation. With her notes and pens stuffed haphazardly into Lucas’ old leather backpack, she nodded a goodnight to the library’s custodian. He and the nighttime librarian (who Lena had never heard utter a word) had been the mainstay of Lena’s social experience for the past 16 months. Unusual discretion prevented their commentary about the orphaned odor of the young grad student who both talked to herself and answered herself back.

Lena walked 20 blocks to the only 24-hour computer and copy center in town. Dawn had bought an uncertain sun but the streets of the South Jersey town were still asleep. Inside Dawit,  watched the approach of Princeton’s resident pedantic peculiarity through neon of the Kinko’s display . Sighing, he  started a fresh pot  of complimentary coffee and  tuned the store’s satellite radio to morning news . Watching her in heated debate with her unseen enemies, he wondered if the incessant hum of American politics would do its usual job of quieting her torment.

“You know your ass can’t type,” Lucas jeered. “Ain’t you the one who failed Typing I in high school?”

“I fail one goddamn class in my whole goddamn life and you won’t goddamn well shut up about it,” Lena answered, spinning to confront her brother. He was right though. She was a terrible typist..

“Yo’ ass is gonna be here all damn day.”

“You can always leave”

Lucas sneered and cocked his head to match the tilt of his sister’s.

“And leave you babe? Never.”

****************************************************************************************************** 

One month later, Lena sat as the 3rd review candidate in a list of 4 scheduled for the day. Dr. Benjamin Adam Stalker or B.A. Stalker as the faculty directory read was notorious for scheduling his reviews on the same day at the same hour. Thereby ensuring that his advisees would be sure to suffer and shake as they watched candidate after candidate leave his office broken and bruised. Once, Lena had sat with her jaw in her lap after having heard Stalker advise another candidate to pursue a career in household waste management rather than fritter away his time. Suffice it to say, B.A. Stalker’s review sessions were legendary, first, because of their brutality and second, because of their results. Eighty percent of Dr. Stalker’s doctoral candidates over the past 20 years had gone on to notable academic publication and stellar careers in government and academia. The other twenty percent could be found on the board of some of the country’s wealthiest corporations. Dr. Benjamin Stalker turned out the best of the best.

“You may as well leave now,” Lucas whispered viciously, “He’s gonna crucify this one just like he did the others.”

“Fuck You”, Lena hissed back.

“I’m sorry, did you say something?” Dr. Stalker’s administrative assistant asked from behind the expanse of her oak veneered desk, Berber carpet nesting her stockinged feet.

Lena launched out of the high backed leather chair she’d been sitting on. She hadn’t touched a bar of soap in weeks and she could smell her own funk. Her hands snaked up to her hair, twisting and knotting.

“What? No,” Lena said, backstepping toward the door, “I have to pee. I just need  to go pee.”

“I wouldn’t leave if I were you,” the assistant answered, nodding toward the candidate leaving Dr. Stalker’s office in tears, “Looks like your next.”

“Niiiiice,”,” “Lucas said , “Illiterate, uneducated and smelling like piss. Maybe if you had washed that shirt instead of just spraying it with Febreeze we’d be having different kind of damn day.”

“If you don’t shut the hell up”, Lena muttered under her breath, as she moved toward the open office doors, “I swear, I’m gonna slit your damn throat.”

“Are you sure you’re alright?” Dr Stalker’s assistant asked again politely. Her hands moved  a little closer to the tiny red button under the edge of her desk

“I’m fine”, Lena snapped over her shoulder and pushed open Dr. Stalker’s office door. The assistant, ever discreet, waited until the office door was closed before pulling out the can of Lysol she saved for occasions like this.

For all of his legend and myth, Benjamin Stalker looked nothing like his reputation. The myth of him drew a picture of fire breathing stature but the reality was a man of 60-plus years, average height, slight build, high-yellow skin, thinning hair and spectacles. Anyone walking past Dr. Stalker on the street was sure not to notice him. Just as any casual conversationalist was sure not to hear him because Dr. Benjamin A. Stalker barely spoke above a whisper. A naïve passerby might think him shy but those who had experienced him knew the truth. B.A. Stalker whispered so that his desperate advisees would have to lean into his every word. Another pervasive opinion was that he whispered so as to conserve energy for the next opportunity he took to annihilate your future.

“Come in Ms. Frazier…”

Lena saw his lips moving but hadn’t gotten close enough to his desk to actually hear him yet.

“Hello Dr. Stalker…”

Dr. Stalker held up his hand, instructing her silence.

“Oh Damn”,said Lucas, “See? Here we go, I told you you should have taken that city job…”

Lena dug her nails into her palms to shut Lucas’ mouth.

Dr. Stalker stood up from his desk, hands in his pockets as he moved toward her.

“They are never gonna find your body”, Lucas taunted.

“I have read your latest revisions,” Dr. Stalker lip-synched as he pulled her document from the only folder in the middle of his otherwise pristine desk.

“Yes Dr. Stalker,” Lena said through the sand at the back of her throat.

“Please leave and take this with you”, he said dropping her life’s work into her lap, “there is nothing more to be done for you here.”

“But…, I…, what?” Lena stammered.

“Did I whisper?” he smirked, and returned to his seat behind his desk. “Please close the door on your way out.” He had already set his attention to the next casualty on his schedule.

Lena didn’t move. Lucas was Michael Jackson moonwalking behind her back.

Looking up from his desk, Stalker seemed surprised to see her still there. Not bothering to move his lips this time, he simply pointed toward the door.

Lena stood up and forced her legs to carry her out of the office.

“Next!” she heard his assistant call out behind her back.

Lena sank onto one of the benches in the hall. There were sleeping pills in her bag. Ambien she’d snatched from her mother’s bedside during her last day trip home.

“Just take them all”, Lucas coaxed, poison in his voice.

“Screw you,” Lena whispered back, her eyes shut tight against tears.

She had bent her head to her knees. Sitting up again, she leaned her head against the beige colored wall behind the bench and flipped to the last page of her document where Stalker usually wrote his most his most deadly comments. The page was blank. Not understanding, Lena turned to the inside cover.

“Does the word masochist mean anything to you, you dumb, stinking, brother-killing bitch!?” Lucas’s shouts were far away echoes now. There on the page, written in Dr. Stalker’s minute block lettering was his one and only comment.

Well Done… Prepare to Defend

“What the hell?” shouted Lucas, trying to be heard.

But Lena couldn’t hear her brother’s ghost. She was laughing too hard. Laughing, crying and peeing on herself. Passersby, not used to the intrusion of unquiet madness, gave her a wide and disdaining berth. And Lena, leaving a puddle of piss in her wake, shuffled out of the building, Lucas’ knapsack dragging, its strap broken now, behind her.

She was found at day break. Her landlady, exasperated by the chaotic clamor of rap music and CNN, had finally used the master key she reserved for emergencies and nuisances. When she entered, her screams shook the walls and made Lena, hanging as she was by the strap of her leather knapsack, swing.

****

Thanks for reading my story! *LBD

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All content © 2013 Lisa B. DuBois

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