Sarah sat at the table with her hands wrapped around her bulbous coffee mug. The blue glaze glistened in the morning sun. She listened to Harry talking, listened to the sound of his voice, its rhythms and warmth sometimes so distracting. She wasn’t able to find her way back into his train of thought for a minute.
“…saying no, I’m saying if you really want to suit yourself to be a teacher, then think about what you will most enjoy teaching, and study that. Or even start teaching now to find out if it’s a good idea, before spending years qualifying for it. But if it’s history you love, and you just want to be engaged with it, then go for it. But don’t expect this decision to serve all your needs at once.”
“You make it sound like I haven’t even thought about it.”
“No, no of course not. I didn’t say that. All I’m saying is that you have to consider the applications of your decision; it’s not just a process you’re entering into for its own sake.”
Her coffee was already cold, but still smooth and sweet from the steamed milk. She swirled it around, watching the tiny tsunamis in her mug. He was looking at her as if certain that nothing he said would affect her. She sighed, aware of his eyes on her, his concern. It felt good. She remained at the table, savoring the freedom to make her choice and squirming a little under the pressure to choose well, the real possibility of choosing poorly. Teaching didn’t seem very appealing at the moment, but that often changed. It was always more appealing when seen in the abstract. She thought about her best moments as a student, and what she shared with those teachers. Sarah H came to the table where Sarah sat and considered her options, and carefully filled out the postcard of acceptance to the History Department. Sarah fiddled with her coffee, and watched Sarah H write. Harry still gazed only at her, then shook himself, catlike, and returned to the coffee machine. “Yeah, well, whatever you want to do.”
“No, don’t say… I mean, I’m sure you’re right. I’m just thinking about it.”
“Any of those things will be fun.”
“If I do a good job.”
“You have ample reason to think you will. Look at your experience in school. Except for one course in a subject you didn’t actually like, you’ve enjoyed everything, and gained the obvious respect of all your teachers. You don’t have anything to worry about.”
That was worth thinking about, and pleasant to think of. The other thing she knew about history was that she had only ever read original sources; it might be an entirely different beast when it came as textbooks reflecting formalized schools of academic thought. That was what had put her off graduate work in philosophy.
So she decided in that moment to study Rhetoric, in the English Department. Her decision catalyzed Sarah H, who rose from the table with the history acceptance complete and straightened her shoulders. It was different, unlike anything she had done before, and she would do this different thing. She walked slowly towards the door and smiled at the life she was leaving. Sarah watched her go, smiling back, but increasingly sure she was choosing her own life over someone else’s. The very fact of the English Department had a comfortable sound. Harry leaned over the coffee machine, silently talking himself into another state of mind so he could turn his attention to work.
Leslie Ingham is a founding member of the Portuguese Artists Colony. She is currently at work on a novel.
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