The chapter titles in Sword Dance are taken from the poetry of John Milton. I hope he’s not spinning in his grave.
- A Double Share of Wisdom
The next time Jennet saw the man from the pool was a meeting at work, the first Fall gathering of the Dean’s advisory council. She almost didn’t recognize him with his clothes on, but the icy blue eyes, the long face with its large nose and firm chin, and the head of loose brown curls were familiar enough to catch her attention. Now that she was closer, she could see that he had a noticeable scar on his face, a line that stretched from the side of his nose upward across his right cheek. If he’s at this meeting, he must be member of the faculty. She was starting her second year at Parnell, and hadn’t met that many people yet. She knew all the Classicists, of course, but had become acquainted with only a few professors from other departments. She cast a glance or two his way during the meeting, but the one time his eyes met hers, they moved neutrally over her as though she didn’t exist. He’d probably never even noticed her in the Wellness Center.
Serving on the Dean’s advisory council was a fairly onerous duty, she’d been told, requiring almost weekly meetings in Fall during the season of reappointment, tenure and promotion. In Spring, the Dean broke the council up into smaller groups to work on special projects. Her chairperson, Michael Templeton, had asked her to serve.
“I know this is only your second year, Jennet, but you’re a senior faculty member, and I need someone tenured for this committee. It’ll help you meet people and get involved in university life. And you’ll learn how things work, too. You’ll find it interesting.” Michael was overselling it, she had no doubt. And as a newly hired senior faculty member, she’d been already been asked to take on a heavy load of committee work, including an Affirmative Action Office task force on gender parity at the university. But Michael was desperate for a volunteer, and he had such a hopeful look in his eyes that she didn’t want to disappoint him. Michael had a knack for charming people into doing what he wanted; he was a good Chair.
So far, the proceedings had been dull, and conducted at the ponderous, deliberate pace typical of formal academic committees. At the moment, George Tennison, Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Parnell State University, appeared to be completely absorbed in reading emails on his iPad while one of the Associate Deans gave the council a report on admissions figures. As the soporific voice droned on, Jennet pinched herself to keep her eyes open, yawning involuntarily. Across the table, the representative from Physics caught her eye and winked. She sat up straighter.
“…And now we move to my favorite part of the proceedings and yours,” George was saying, “the distribution of tenure files. You’ll break into pairs and each pair will prepare a set of files to present to the rest of us for discussion. To help wake you up,” he added with a sharp glance at Jennet, “I’ve devised a lottery to select the pairs.”
“Is this like Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery?” said one wiseacre, drawing a few wry chuckles. Even with the pairing strategy to reduce the workload of file reading, the task still took hours, and was one they all dreaded.
“Only if you’re late with your presentations,” answered George, drawing two names from the mortarboard he wore to Commencement ceremonies. “In which case you can confidently expect me to throw the first stone. Now then. Kember and Choi, you take files A through E.” After a few more draws, he pulled Jennet’s name. “Thorne and Sebelius, P through S.” There was a low murmur in the room, a ripple of amusement as people turned their heads to look at the man from the Wellness Center. He didn’t react, and didn’t return her gaze. Great. It figures I’d end up with him. She knew who he was now. Jonathan Sebelius was a Milton scholar in the English department, and fairly notorious as a misogynist. What was it her colleague Juniper Jamieson had told her? Sebelius is fine with men, but if he has to interact with a woman colleague, he just shuts down. He worked well with the graduate students in his care, apparently considering them to be of indiscriminate gender, like small children. Female colleagues, however, were anathema to him. Especially if they were attractive and anywhere near his own age.
Jennet approached Sebelius warily after the meeting, to suggest they compare schedules. He was wearing light blue denims with a strange, flowing shirt that looked like it belonged at a Renaissance Faire. Stalking toward the exit on long legs, he looked down at her coldly as she introduced herself. “I know who you are,” he said. “You were hired to teach Classics last year.” His voice sounded accusatory, as though instead of winning a much-coveted senior position with tenure, she’d been convicted of shoplifting or passing bad checks.
“Shouldn’t we talk about when to meet?” she asked, annoyed and struggling to keep up with his long strides. They were heading back toward Chester Hall, where the Departments of both Classics and English were housed. “Send me an email,” he replied, and suddenly veered off toward the library. She was convinced that he had changed direction just to get away from her. She stood looking at his rapidly retreating, denim-clad form, angry and yet fascinated. The man had an ass like Rudolf Nureyev’s. It reminded her of the muscular, rounded buttocks on a Greek kouros statue. What a shame he was such an arrogant, rude bastard.
Copyright 2015 by Linnet Moss
Notes: When I began writing this story, the character of Jonathan was already well-formed (heh heh) in my mind. He made an appearance in my James and Laura trilogy, as a colleague of English professor Laura Livingston. There, it was noted that he favored puffy shirts, wore his hair long like a seventeenth century Cavalier, and had a dueling scar on his face. He was an object of great interest to women, but had zero interest in them…