To the Lighthouse and Other Stories of the Heart (Part One)

Emma lived one floor below me.  We were sophomores.  Her blonde hair was the color of a wheat field in August.  Her smile made you lean towards her when she talked.

Brett was the one who told me she had a boyfriend.  “She’s been with him since she was a freshman,” he said.  “In high school.”

“Maybe that’s good.  Maybe she’s bored,” I said.

By the way Brett shook his head, he knew I’d already made up my mind.

“She’s an English major,” I said.  “I’m an English major.  We speak the same language.”

“We all speak English,” he said.

I found myself walking up and down Emma’s floor during the day, hoping to run into her.  I carried my copy of To the Lighthouse.  It would give me an in.  Me, a guy her age, reading Virginia Woolf.  I was hedging my bets that her high school boyfriend couldn’t talk high modernism.  Though I couldn’t really talk high modernism if pressed.

Emma’s roommate Colleen caught onto my new habit.  “I see what you’re doing,” she said.

“What am I doing?”  I looked into their room to see if Emma was sitting on her bed.  She wasn’t.

“She has a boyfriend.”

“I know.  I was just going to ask her about this book.”  I held up my copy of To the Lighthouse.

Colleen laughed.  “You’re not the first to try.”

“I’m not trying anything,” I said.  “Is she in class?”

“It won’t work, but go ahead.”  She patted my shoulder.  “She’s in the laundry room.”

I’d done laundry a few days before, but I tossed clean clothes in my laundry bag and headed to the basement.

As Colleen had promised, there was Emma, sitting on a washer with a folded copy of an American literature anthology resting in her lap.

When I pulled my copy of To the Lighthouse from my back pocket and dropped it on a dryer, Emma looked up from her reading.

“This novel’s so good,” I said.

She eyed the cover.  “Yeah.  I read it last semester in Brit. lit.”

“Oh yeah,” I said coolly.  “What do you think about Woolf’s thoughts on decaying Victorian ideals?”  I dumped my clothes in a washer.

“I saw the book as more of a commentary on man’s relationship to the idea of God.”  She looked back down at her book.

“I’m fascinated by the book’s examination of the frailty of human relationships,” I said, repeating a line from my professor.  “I have a paper due next week.  Would you mind looking at a draft before I hand it in?”

“I’d love to,” she said.  She smiled at me.  Even then I knew this was all just part of her benevolent personality, but her use of the word love and that smile fueled my hope.

“Maybe I could run some ideas by you before I start writing,” I said.  She was too nice to say no.

“Sure,” she said.  She hopped down and checked on her clothes in a dryer.

I started my washer.

She pulled her clothes into a laundry basket.  “See you later,” she said, walking out of the laundry room with the basket snug against her hip.

I spent the next hour sitting on a washing machine, scouring the pages of Virginia Woolf’s novel for a paper idea and washing already clean clothes.

(Part Two)

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