Previously: retired college teacher Lucinda suddenly starts having memories of her favorite student Vernon.
“Can I sit down now?” Vernon’s voice was a bit whiny.
“It’s time for class. Can I sit down now?”
In her mind’s eye, she had returned to her classroom, to which she resigned herself with a sigh. “If you wish.”
“Thank you, ma’am.” Vernon plopped into the desk chair, again spilling his books. He bent over to gather them together as efficiently as possible.
“Don’t you remember what happened?” Lucinda reluctantly referred to an incident which had haunted her thoughts for ten years.
“No. I’m a memory. You remember me. I don’t remember.” Vernon laughed. “I guess you could say I’m transitive — or is that intransitive? Or somethin’ like that.”
“I think you mean an intransitive verb, but that’s not a very good metaphor.”
“Oh well, I never was any good at grammar anyhow.” He pulled a paper out and extended it to her. “Do you want to look at this now?”
“I wish there were some way I could make myself forget all this,” she muttered.
“Why, Miz Cambridge? Don’t you like me?” His hand dropped.
“I liked you very much, Vernon.” She allowed herself to smile. You were one of my favorite students. It’s just that—“
“Wow! You mean I was one of your best students?”
“No, you were one of my worst students. But you were one — no, my all-time favorite. You were so fresh, open and sweet.” Her eyes strayed to the window. It was such a pretty day.
“But dumb,” he added glumly.
“Don’t dwell upon the negative, Vernon.”
“Gosh, I’d think you’d enjoy rememberin’ somebody as nice as me.” From anyone else, that would have sounded boastful, but not from Vernon.
Lucinda gazed with tenderness at the gangly boy, reaching to stroke his hair, but pulled away at the last moment. “Yes, it would be a pleasure to recall the good times like these.”
“Good. Here, look at my homework. I tried real hard on it.” He extended his hand again.
Lucinda took it and began reading it. She focused on each word. “Hmm, English composition. So this is your freshman class at the junior college.” She looked up. “How far are we into the semester?”
“This is the first week. You spent the first class talkin’ about what it means to be a writer. About some folks got it and some folks don’t. Like Mr. Hemingway there, he had it when he was young and then he blew his brains out when he didn’t have it no more.”
“Anymore,” she corrected him. “And I hope I didn’t use such a vulgar expression as blow his brains out.”
“But you jest said blow his brains out. I heard you.”
“In the privacy of my own room. In the classroom—“
“Oh, in the classroom you said he died of shotgun wounds to the head,” he interjected.
“That’s better.” She looked at the paper again. “So this is your first assignment.”
“It’s atrocious.” Lucinda was never good in editing her comments. “Now where did you say you went to high school?”
“Forestburg High School. Home of the fightin’ Tigers,” he replied with the fierce pride of a recent graduate.
“If you’d done more learning and less fighting you’d know more.” An eyebrow arched.
“Heck, what’s so bad is that I didn’t even do that much fightin’. The coaches all said they didn’t want me on none of the teams because I was too uncordinated. But that wasn’t it. I was clumsy.”
“The word is uncoordinated, and that’s what it means — clumsy.” Lucinda slipped back into her classroom style, and it felt very comforting.
“See, I was right. I’m dumb.”
“No, Vernon, you’re not dumb at all.” Her lips pursed. “It’s just when you pick your college major, don’t choose physical education or English.”
“Hey, well, it’s not like I’m not strong. I’m strong as a bull.” He held up his arm and flexed his biceps. “I help daddy on the farm every day and liftin’ them bales of hay made me strong as a bull.”
“I’m sure you’re very strong.” Her eyes glanced away.
“I could beat the –“ he stopped remembering his manners ”– tar — out of them durn football players if we went out back and went at it, but those stupid footballs or basketballs or baseballs don’t fit right in my hands.” He held them up, and they were big and gnarly. “Know what I mean?”
“Yes, I know what you mean. I was never good at sports when I was a girl.”
“Aw heck, Miz Cambridge, girls ain’t supposed to be good at sports.” Vernon laughed.
“Vernon, if you expect us to be friends you must change your attitudes about women.” She arched that eyebrow again. “Women — at least some women — can be very good athletes.” She paused and then added, “And don’t say ain’t.”
“Yes, ma’am. I’m sorry, ma’am.” He hung his head like a whupped puppy.
“That’s another reason I liked you so very much. You were contrite so easily,” she whispered.
“That’s because my mama wanted me to be a good Baptist boy.” His boyish grin returned.