Authors: Fletcher Flora
Sitting on the edge of the bed, Maggie began to remove her shoes and stockings.
“What are you doing?” Professor Cannon asked.
“Getting barefooted,” she told him. “Do you mind? I usually go bare entirely, feet and all, but only with friends.”
Their conversation went on, words piled upon words, none of them touching upon the one thing uppermost in their minds.
Finally he got up, walked over to the bed and sat down beside her. Maggie twisted around from the hips and raised her mouth to be kissed. After the kiss she stood up and, quickly and deftly, with the hiss of a zipper and the whisper of cloth, elevated him to the status of a friend.
Fletcher Flora began living during World War I and almost quit in the second. Between these events he graduated from college, got married, taught school and went to war with the 32nd Infantry Division in New Guinea, Leyte and Luzon.
Following the war, he went to work in the Education Department of the USDB, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, and is still there.
He started writing in 1950, has sold more than 100 short stories plus ten novels, including the Monarch bestsellers, TAKE ME HOME and MOST LIKELY TO LOVE.
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, professor of mathematics at Peermont College, stood at a west window of his classroom, his hands folded behind him at the base of his spine, and looked out upon a bright October day.
In this position, he could look either down a gentle slope of browning grass to a small grove of fruitful walnut trees or, by the simple maneuver of shifting slightly the focus of his eyes, at his class behind him in the reflective pane.
The room was caught and held in concentrated silence, for Brad had sprung upon his students in the last quarter hour of this particular session one of the terrifying pop quizzes for which he was justly infamous.
He found pop quizzes to be amusingly deceptive. You put one problem on the blackboard for solution, two at the most, and if a student missed a point or two, the penalty was, after all, quite slight, say three points deducted from a maximum of ten, and often the student would go on in this way until the end of the term, happy and comfortable in the delusion that he was doing well, and never realize until it was too late that three from ten on a basis of one hundred is seventy, which is damn near failing in any respectable class. Brad had seen many strong young characters disintegrate under the impact of this tardy and terrible understanding.
On he blackboard today, Brad had copied the following problem, not original, which he had extracted from a supplementary text to which his students did not have access:
The Great Pyramid of Gizeh, Egypt, has a square base. Its faces are isosceles triangles that intersect in the four edges. Before vandals removed the outer limestone casing and the top 31 feet of the pyramid, each edge was 719 feet 2.6 inches long and made an angle of 42 degrees 0.6 minutes with the horizontal. Find the original height and the length of a side of the base
To the solution of this problem his students, for a maximum of fifteen minutes, were now dedicated, thus setting the professor free in the identical period for lazy reflection and discreet observation.
There was a red squirrel frisking among the walnut trees. Beyond the trees and a little above, a white cloud scudded across a hard blue sky. Brad sighed and glanced at his wrist watch, bringing one arm from behind him for the purpose.
Five minutes remained until the bell would ring and bring the session to a close. There was now, he noticed, an intermittent stirring in the room behind him, and he began to watch the shadow of matters in the glass. The stirring was created by students who had solved their problem and were leaving the room.
Each, upon completion, would fold his paper, sign his name on the outside, leave the paper on Brad’s desk, and quietly depart according to established procedure. Brad watched this orderly thinning of the population until, with one minute to go, there was no one left in the room except Miss Margaret McCall, more commonly called Maggie in the informal rapport of peers.
Brad now watched Maggie exclusively, and he found the watching a pleasure. He was aware, in fact, of a kind of excitement that expressed itself in mildly salacious prickliness.
She was sitting erect in her stiff desk-chair, applying pencil to paper assiduously, her ankles touching and her bare knees, still brown from summer sun, exposed delightfully below the hem of her short brown skirt. She seemed to be engaged in a furious race against time, the ringing of the bell. But it was clear from the movement of her pencil across her paper that she was writing, not computing. She had just finished, apparently, when the bell rang, for she immediately folded her paper and wrote her name and walked forward to Brad’s desk.
Turning away from the window, Brad met her there. He extended a hand for the paper, and she delivered it up to him with a grave smile that gave her small face a kind of inner light, a sorrowful translucence that seemed at once an appeal for clemency and an invitation to intimacy.
She was, he thought, a damnably insidious little charmer with her deceptive air of gravity and her soft pink mouth and her alluring brown knees — a paradox of sex and someone’s sister. Her head, capped by a calculated shag of brown hair, Italian cut, was cocked a little to one side. In its simple sweater and skirt, her body by some subtle trickery, possibly deliberate, was a slender incitement. Feeling suddenly short of breath, Brad concealed his temporary affliction behind a rather grim examination of her paper.
She had copied the problem dutifully from the blackboard, and there it was, neatly written on her paper in a small round hand, but there was no solution, not even an abortive attempt at a solution. After a line left blank — a hiatus to show clearly where trigonometry left off and something else began — the rest of the sheet was filled with a warm little communication of a personal nature directed to him, Brad, dear Professor Cannon.
He did not read the communication at this moment, refolding the paper instead and tapping it with an implication of restraint against the fingers of his left hand. He smiled at her faintly, yet making the smile broad enough to form the dimples in his cheeks of which he was invariably conscious.
“Well, Miss McCall,” he said with an effect of wry humor, “I see that you have failed again to find a solution.”
“That’s true,” she said. “I knew at once, when you wrote the problem on the board, that it was simply no use.”
“I see also, however,” he said, “that you have wasted your time entirely. You have, I believe, been employed for the past fifteen minutes in writing me another of your charming notes.”
“Yes, I have. Are you angry? I surely hope not, for it will make me feel bad if I have done anything to make you angry. There is always the fifteen minutes to put in, you see, and I never seem to know anything about the problem, or even how to begin solving it, and so I got the idea of using the time to write these notes to you, instead of wasting it. When you didn’t object after the first one or the second one, I thought it would be all right if I just kept on, and so I have.”
He looked at her sharply to see if he could detect in her expression the note of mockery that was incredibly absent from the tone of her voice. But she was looking at him gravely, in all apparent simplicity, and he felt, noting somewhat parenthetically the delightful thrust of her small breasts against her sweater, an acceleration of prickliness.
“No,” he said, “I’m not in the least angry. However, I think you have posed a problem, quite outside the area of trigonometry, to the solution of which we must now apply ourselves. Two heads, in this case will be better than one, I’m sure. Not now, though. You have another class coming up, and I mustn’t detain you any longer. I shall be free after three o’clock this afternoon, and I shall expect you to come to see me as soon thereafter as possible. Do you understand?”
“Oh, yes. Perfectly.” Her mobile face of lights and shadows expressed such delight that he thought for a moment she was going to jump up and down and clap her hand like a small girl. “Three o’clock. I’ll be here right on time. You can depend on it. You must not forget and go off yourself, either. I’d be rather disappointed if you did.”
“Don’t worry about that. I’ll be here. And now you had better run along to your next class. I trust that you will be better prepared there than you were here.”
As she went out, he watched the delightful play of contiguous nates. Then, seating himself at his desk with a free period to spend, he spent a brief part of it wondering how old she was, guessing twenty and giving her, actually, the benefit of five years and, not actually but in a valid sense, the immensely greater benefit of immeasurable eons, for she was, in this latter valid sense, as old as any age one would care to select from a geological table.
After a couple of minutes, he unfolded her paper again and began to read the note she had written while the rest of the trigonometry class had been attempting to discover the height and the length of a side of the base of the Great Pyramid of Gizeh, Egypt. Before vandals, that is.
Dear Professor Cannon
, he read,
I find it remarkable and interesting that vandals would actually steal the top 31 feet of a pyramid, and I can’t understand why they would have wanted to do something like this, which doesn’t seem to make much sense. But I suppose there have always been certain people, even away back then, who would go to any trouble to do something that someone else wouldn’t want them to do
I understand that pyramids are built of great blocks of stone that weigh tons and tons apiece, and I must say that taking off the top 31 feet seems to me to be even a greater waste of time and effort than putting them up in the first place
I’m sorry that I don’t know how to solve this problem, but I hope you don’t feel that it is your fault, that you weren’t a good teacher or anything like that, because it is my own fault entirely in that I don’t seem to be able to care much about trigonometry or how big a pyramid was
The truth is, you are the very best teacher I’ve ever had in anything, and it is a pleasure to listen to you talk and watch you show how to do things on the blackboard, even though I don’t quite understand what you are saying or showing
I suppose I shall be put out of the class at the end of the term for not having learned anything, but I hope you will let me stay until then, at least, because I enjoy it so much for the reasons I have mentioned. Sincerely, Margaret McCall
Refolding the paper, he leaned back and smiled, making a little tent of fingers tip to tip above his chest, elbows braced on the arms of his chair.
He conceded that Maggie McCall was nothing short of a remarkable phenomenon — altogether the most interesting specimen of college life that he had uncovered as a pedagogue. Or, for that matter, as anything else. And this covered a considerable area, to tell the truth, for Brad was especially sensitive to the enchantment of female students, as well as females in other categories, and it was one of his secret regrets that his particular forte was mathematics, inasmuch as enrollment in his classes was thereby rather severely limited. If he were teaching in another department, say English or Education, his sensitivity would have been exposed to a much more numerous and varied collection of stimulants.
This brought him, in his reflections, to one of the more curious matters relative to Miss Maggie McCall. How the hell, he wondered, had she ever managed to get into his trigonometry class?
It was assumed, naturally, that anyone enrolled in trig had satisfied certain essential prerequisites, such as algebra and geometry, but there was not the slightest evidence that Miss McCall knew any more about the latter than the former, which was about as much as you could teach a cat in three easy lessons. It was certain that her record had been checked upon enrollment, however, which indicated that these essential subjects were on her transcript, if not in her head.
Brad, who possessed his share of professional cynicism, was reasonably certain how this had come to pass, and it could be safely deduced from the evidence that Miss McCall, although abysmally ignorant in certain areas, was by no means stupid, and that she was, on the contrary, master of a technique for acquiring unearned credits that was palpably admirable and probably exciting.
Feeling again the pleasant prickliness, Brad got up and walked over to the windows and assumed his former position, hands holding each other at the base of his spine.
Using a short focus, he examined briefly his own reflection, taking note of the thick brown hair parted cleanly at the side and worn rather long over the ears in order to display the dusting of gray that made such an intriguing contrast with his boyish face.
He was a handsome man, no question about that. He had, in fact, often been compared in appearance with the late Ronald Coleman, and there was indeed a genuine resemblance, except that he, Brad, wore no mustache and had the added attraction of dimples. He looked a good ten years younger that he was, and he felt in certain respects ten years younger than he looked.
Lengthening his focus, he sought the red squirrel among the walnut trees and could not find him.
Releasing his right hand from his left, he looked at his watch for no good reason except that he was restless and rather bored with the prospect of classes until three o’clock, which was, suddenly, an hour of the day that he was impatient to have arrive.