The Bad Project

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Chapter 38. Ghost in the Sunlight/Marianne

Marianne continued to sit poised on her bed, still and quiet. Suddenly her mind fixed on the librarian who had been waiting to see Professor Sandstrom when she had left him yesterday. Could she know anything about his state of mind? She decided to go and talk with her this afternoon, while she was walking around trying to put his death behind her to the best of her ability.

Marianne felt cold, so she searched in her closet for a wrap. She put on a black cashmere sweater-coat with gold piping and wondered if she was ready to face the world. “Better go ahead. You don’t want to be sitting here still tomorrow morning,” she told herself. She opened the door, and went out into an inappropriately golden day, full of students playing Frisbee, lying on the grass pretending to study, drinking slushy drinks. It had been cold and grey when they’d come back from Thanksgiving, why not now? This clear, warm day was wrong. She felt flat and invisible, not a part of anything she saw.

She drifted quietly like a ghost, over past the main library, into the empty art gallery next to the library. She began to look at Gregor Sepaldi’s huge black canvasses with one pink rose, one diamond, one tear, somewhere in the huge dark space. Professor Sepaldi seemed to her to have it right. One tiny spark of happiness in a huge, dark universe. A person had to be lucky to run across it even for a minute. Too bad none of the other students were seeing these pictures, but then the art gallery seemed separate and not part of the community of students, so she wasn’t really surprised.

She remembered that she wanted to talk with the librarian in Professor Sandstrom’s department. Slowly, she walked over towards his building. The closer she got, the more her feet seemed to resist that destination, as if she was walking through deep mud. But she felt like she had to find out if he had said anything to the librarian.

Marianne went into the building, walking carefully as if she were on an icy surface. Coming back to this building was so hard to do. All of her memories of Professor Sandstrom kept invading her mind, but she struggled to focus on her task. She walked past her Philosophy classroom; the door was open, although it was empty. She continued along the same wide hall with its warm green walls and dark wood paneling along the bottom. Then she came to the library and realized it was right under Professor Sandstrom’s office on the second floor. It had a plaque on the door saying, “Philosophy/Classics Departmental Library. Angie DeLucia, Librarian. Hours 1-5 PM and by appointment only.” She was arriving at 4:10, so it should be open. And the sign told her the librarian’s name.

Opening the door, she looked in. No one was in sight. She went inside. Marianne heard clicking heels coming her way from the depths of the stacks. DeLucia’s wrinkled face wasn’t a beautiful sight; it had always been plain, and at the moment it also had a smudge of dust on the left side. Her formerly blonde hair, streaked with gray, was shoulder length and badly cut; it hung in clumps with no shine. It looked clean. She didn’t have on any makeup, and her eyes looked shadowed. With no smile, she said in a flat, even voice, “What do you want?”

“I…what did you and Professor Sandstrom talk about?” They both knew what conversation Marianne meant. They stared at each other for a minute, then DeLucia looked down at her clasped hands. Marianne thought she saw a secret, gloating smile touch the corners of the librarian’s mouth.

“Sit down, why don’t you?” she said in a thin, reedy voice. The two sat across from each other at DeLucia’s small scarred wooden desk. After another pause that Marianne felt the librarian prolonged on purpose to increase her stress, DeLucia squeaked, “I felt for you, for you and all the others. I did what I had to do.”

A shiver of feat went down Marianne’s back. “What did you do?” she asked in a tiny voice.

“I told him. I couldn’t put up with it any more. It had to stop. I told him.”

Again Marianne asked, a little louder, “What?” DeLucia just smiled, so Marianne burst out, “What was it that you told him?” She wanted to scream.

“I told him what he had to hear. He had to resign by Monday or I would tell the Dean what he was doing. I have notes, dates, times.” Her voice took on power and resonance. “I can tell the Dean about four women whose names I know and three others. I found out your name, by the way, so you’re one of the four. I told him, I won’t have it. I don’t want any more girls taken advantage of, to have to sit here and listen to his couch up there and to know he’s doing it again. I can’t bear it any longer. I am going to tell the world.”

Marianne asked, “You’re going to tell the Dean? You want to tell everyone even now? What’s wrong with you?” She thought, maybe DeLucia cares bout his family, and added, “Can’t you spare his wife and children that pain?”

DeLucia shrank back as Marianne accused her, began to return to her usual demeanor. “No, not now. Don’t look so pale. It’s not my fault he’s dead. Just an accident.”

Marianne felt a bubble of rage rise inside. “Not your fault? You threatened his whole career and you say it’s not your fault?”

“What about you, what you did contributed too,” DeLucia spat out. Her venomous words sank deep into Marianne’s brain. She felt shaky. Surely that was right, if she hadn’t said yes to Professor Sandstrom, wouldn’t he still be alive today?

This awful woman, pitiful really, hadn’t been the prime mover. In fact she’d never been the prime mover in any situation, you could just look at her and see that. She wouldn’t leave a trace of Opium perfume behind her when she left the room, and no one would remember her presence. Marianne got up, in a trance, and wafted out of the room without a word. She contributed? She caused? Her brain struggled to get the story straight. How could this have happened? What was the cause really? She felt like she’d just been hit in the face with a hot iron wok. DeLucia’s words rang in her brain, repeating over and over.

You contributed too, you contributed too, you contributed too… Was I the one? Did he die because of me? It’s not fair, I said no we had to stop, I was trying to save his marriage, his life! She wandered across the campus, then floated, ghostlike back to the side where she had started out. She was surprised to see where she was and tried to head for the dorm. But after a while she found herself back in the art museum, looking more closely at the black, thinking the tiny rose or blue bird egg wasn’t for her, but for someone else who hadn’t wrecked the life of someone she loved.

As she stared at the big black fields, painted with tender little brush strokes so they were almost smooth, she thought about her experiences at Carson College. What had she done that was good, that she could point to and be proud of? Not her friendship with Crystal; she’d pushed Crystal back so far that their talk was completely superficial. Crystal had her terrible secret that kept her from even discussing sex with her. But she’d shown no sympathy, just spent more time with Sharon and her other friends. She knew that separation, after their close relationship, had hurt her roommate’s feelings, she had even told Marianne her secret. She had pushed her away, but Crystal was still trying to help. She couldn’t even respond when Crystal reached out to her. She was acting like a zombie. She was a bad friend.

Of course, Sharon also thought she was a bad friend, she’d thrown over all of Sharon’s ideas about her and Liu, maybe even that she would reform him from his bad behavior like getting fake ID cards and whatever else he was doing. And Liu himself was still very hurt. If he saw her across campus now, he wouldn’t even cross her path.

Her parents? They were paying so much for this college, and she was going to take home a B- or C average, with a possible D in Biology, C- at best. They were going to be very upset. And even if she did better, she wasn’t going to be a doctor. They would hate that and be angered that she wasn’t fulfilling their dreams for her. They loved her, but they expected her always to excel. And her beloved sister, Susie, who had said they’d be doctors together, maybe even set up a joint practice; she’d be so disappointed. Marianne moved on to another painting, this one with a tiny golden key in the black field.

She’d let her own dreams down too. She hadn’t done the required writing sample so she could get into the writing class she wanted for next semester. And she’d lost her independence, first with Liu and then with Professor Sandstrom. Not a strong woman that Virginia Woolf would recognize and admire, not a young woman learning to write for her life. She couldn’t even fulfill her own wishes. Useless.

And Professor Sandstrom’s family. She had wanted to break up her relationship with Andy so he wouldn’t leave his kids and his wife. Now he had left them another way and permanently. Every single thing she could remember doing this semester had turned to ashes. She must be a poison person. Every friend, every relative, every lover had been hurt by being close to her. She not only disappointed them, but she was actually harmful to their well being. What could she do? Was there any way back to the key?

Marianne said out loud, “Not for me, there’s no way.” She stopped staring at that painting, looked around to see if anyone had been watching her, and felt glad she was alone in the gallery. She shook her head, then her shoulders, and started off again for the dorm. It was almost dark out. This time she arrived there, turned on the light, went into her room, and sat down at her desk. She tried to read the biography of Virginia Woolf, but her eyes wouldn’t follow the words. After a while, she turned out the light, got under the purple silk bedspread on her bed and closed her eyes. She lay there a long time, body tense and mind racing.

Crystal came back eventually and turned on the light. “Oh no, I didn’t know you were trying to sleep,” she said, and turned the light off again. She went off to the bathroom. Marianne decided it would be better to lie still than to try to talk. She felt like a mummy, but her throat was tight and her eyes hurt under her eyelids. She didn’t want to be awake and talk at all. So she lay still until Crystal was asleep, and finally fell asleep herself.

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