He woke to find the bed empty. Sam had left without saying goodbye and he knew it was her tactful way of avoiding any further tension between them. The night previous ended in uncomfortable silence, no embrace before sleep or clasping of hands under the cover.
Steve had deceived him. Dorsett knew he couldn’t tell them who he was and so did the next best thing by revealing his assistance to his work, a morsel of irritation to Steve, he hoped. But even that compensatory victory was denied him. Instead of climbing out of a hole, he sank another foot deeper.
The choice now was to either stick with his story about Steve helping him which would cause further complication, or confess the lie and excuse it through frustration. He was tired of fighting against the odds. Steve, Dorsett suspected, wasn’t dyslexic when he arrived at the flat but knew the moment Sam and Carol entered the room after they’d completed the stanzas, that he was.
He would visit Sam at the college and tell her he lied about Steve’s help.
He arrived at the college early and waited outside her class further down the corridor.
To pass the time he started reading some of the notices on the boards on the wall, announcing political meetings, assemblies, and fundraising parties. As they led him further along the corridor, he began to hear the voice of a lecturer two rooms down and walked closer to look through the window of the door. He saw inside no more than twenty students sitting behind desks that rose up to the rear of the hall, some taking notes as the teacher spoke, others reclining back on their chairs.
He listened to the voice of the tutor, practiced and uniform, pointing to a chart behind the elongated table at the lower end of the hall. There was an image of the planet Earth, big, blue, and almost as tall as a man, projected on a screen. He mentioned a word Dorsett recognised: Preordained. He listened with interest as the voice continued.
‘Now the odds against this happening are astronomical. But it is a certainty that there are at least several events preceding life and the eventual arrival of Homo Sapiens that could be called miraculous, if, of course, you judge events against astronomical odds as miracles. You could just as well say that they are merely coincidental which would be another way of looking at it. The first one- ’
‘Dor. What are you doing here?’
He turned to see Sam’s face smiling at him and the voice of the lecturer lost clarity.
‘I thought I’d surprise you and take you out to lunch.’ He said. ‘You don’t mind, do you?’
‘No, not at all. Thank you.’
She was aware that the offer was an appeasing gesture and was glad to accept it. But Dorsett knew he needed to mention something more concrete to end the recent bad feelings between them.
‘Sam, I’m sorry about last night. I’d had too much to drink and of course, Steve didn’t write those lines. I don’t know what I was thinking. I hope I didn’t embarrass him.’
Sam looked relieved.
‘No. Carol told me they had a great time. At least it’s finished with. The poem, I mean.’
It was a hint that she hadn’t forgotten what he said and he was glad to confirm it.
‘Yes. It’s finished.’
The brief silence urged Sam to nod to the door behind them.
‘Are you thinking of joining the classes?’
‘I was listening to the lecture because it caught my attention. Sounds interesting.’
Sam looked into the window and nodded.
‘That’s Mr Jameson. He teaches Geology.’
They began walking towards the exit.
‘I heard him mention something about homo sapiens and miracles.’ said Dorsett. ‘That isn’t geology, is it?’
‘It’s one branch of Science.’ She said. ‘The same way there are branches of literature. There has to be some understanding of what came before if you want to talk about the present. I suppose it’s the same with Earth Science.’
‘Yes. If I remember correctly there are four subdivisions: Geology, meteorology, oceanography, and astronomy.’
He realised the last one held the risk of returning them to awkward subjects and said nothing further. The fresh air as they left the college chilled them slightly and he was reminded of something earlier.
‘I walked past the fish and chip shop on the way here and the smell of it gave me an appetite. What do you say? Once in a while’s not going to kill us.’
‘Why not.’ she said and linked her arm under his as they walked down the college steps.
The next day, Dorsett had arranged to pick up Sam from the college as she finished early and he waited in the staff room alone, reading a newspaper he’d found on the table. When a teacher came in Dorsett looked up and thought he’d seen him before. While he was trying to figure it out he felt the need to explain himself.
‘I hope you don’t mind but I helped myself to a coffee. I’m waiting for Sam to finish her class.’
He was grateful enough to excuse it with the wave of a hand.
‘Don’t worry, help yourself.’
It was the voice, the same one that talked about preordainment and Homo sapiens. He looked the part, a bespectacled middle-aged man in a worn tweed jacket and suede shoes. He dropped his books and papers carelessly on the nearby table as he switched on the kettle and took his mug from the rack on the wall above the sink and turned to the task routinely, sugar from one cupboard, coffee from another. He looked over his shoulder.
‘Can I get you a refill?’
Dorsett didn’t want another but saw it as a way to begin a conversation that had to be better than reading the tabloid that passed for the daily news.
‘Sorry if this is yours, by the way. I saw it on the table and started reading it.’
‘No.’ he said, glancing briefly behind him. ‘That’s not mine.’
Dorsett pushed it away from him. ‘I don’t know why I bothered anyway. There’s nothing newsworthy in it. ’
The teacher brought the coffee’s over to the table and took out from his jacket pocket another newspaper: The same copy that was on the table.
‘I agree.’ He said, ‘This one’s mine. Utter rubbish.’
Dorsett was about to apologise but the teacher didn’t give him the chance.
‘You’re right of course; they are a waste of time. But they’re a fascination in subtle deception. It’s all based on the flimsiest of evidence yet grows to such extraordinary heights it’s a wonder to behold. I don’t so much read as analyse.’
He winked as if to reveal a secret. ‘There is a difference, you know.’
‘I’m sure there is.’ smiled Dorsett.
A sip of coffee allowed time for a change of subject.
‘So you’re Sam’s young man.’
‘She’s a fine teacher. Knows her subject well.’
‘Yes, she does. And you’re Mr Jameson. You teach earth science, don’t you?’
‘I’m a Geologist.’ he said, ‘Although at the moment I’m lecturing on Earth Science, yes.’
‘Earth Science.’ repeated Dorsett, and couldn’t resist the temptation. ‘If I remember correctly, there are four branches of that subject. Your own, then meteorology, oceanography, and astronomy. Is that right?’
Mr Jameson’s puzzled surprise gladdened him.
‘It is.’ he said. ‘Do you study the subject yourself?’
‘Not exactly. But I am interested in Astronomy.’
‘Earth science has so many ancient fingerprints that a dozen lifetimes wouldn’t be enough to cover it. And astronomy is the most fascinating of all.’
‘I heard a part of your lecture as I stood in the corridor, and I couldn’t help but notice you mentioned preordainment and miracles. It sounded like a theological lecture.’
The teacher tilted his head.
‘Well, it’s something I always mention before the lecture begins. They may not be miracles at all, just coincidences, however unlikely. I’ve had these lectures before when students have deviated from the topic discussed and brought up the conflict of creationism and evolution. It’s a bit off from my field and so I like to make the rules clear so that we stay focused.’
‘So what are these so-called miracles?’
‘As I say, they may not be considered miracles at all but simply random events. But the reality is that without them life on earth would not exist. Any of it. In fact, the earth itself would not exist.’
‘So no earth, no us. No anything.’
‘Is that why you mentioned preordainment?’
The lecturer raised a finger in caution.
‘Yes, but only in the preface. I wouldn’t presume to lecture on it.’
‘But you have an opinion, don’t you?’
‘Well yes, of course. But I only use the evidence at hand. I can’t imagine how science would have developed if we’d based our knowledge on faith instead of research.’
‘Can I ask you if you’re religious?’
Mr Jameson hid his smirk behind the last sip of his coffee.
‘You just did.’
‘I’m sorry, you don’t have to answer that.’
‘Don’t apologise. I would say I’m not, although I do blaspheme more than is good for me.’
The lecturer looked at his watch and, surprised at the time, went to the sink to rinse his cup. Dorsett couldn’t resist the chance and stood up to emphasise his resolve.
‘Look, Mr Jameson. I know you’re a busy man and I wouldn’t want to impose on you, but those coincidences you mentioned: could you tell me more about them? I don’t mean now of course, but can I come to the college sometime next week and buy you lunch? That way I won’t put you out.’
Mr Jameson considered for a moment.
‘I tell you what-’ he began, and stopped. ‘What’s your name by the way?’
Dorsett offered his hand as he answered.
‘I tell you what, Dorsett.’ he said, ’I normally have a pint in the Lion across the road when Friday’s come round to finish the week. My wife always picks me up from there later. Why don’t we meet then? Say, about five ‘o clock?’
‘If you’re sure it’s no trouble?’
‘I’d be glad of the company. In the meantime…’
He went to his briefcase and pulled out a folder.
‘Here are some rough notes from the talk I was giving earlier, something that you might want to look at before we meet again. They may prove helpful.’
‘Thank you. I promise to read them.’
Mr Jameson laughed.
‘Don’t worry. I won’t be giving any marks for revision. You don’t need to read all of it, only those parts that interest you. I’ll see you Friday.’