Precautionary Tale

Kyra Kondis

In late October, your daughter invites you to the upcoming parents’ weekend at her university for the first time. The past two years, she explains with a surprising bluntness, she was too committed to partying, unable to abstain from a weekend of fun to host you and Frank. But now, as a junior, she’s got her priorities straightened out; she credits this to a string of bad hangovers and a beloved literature class that made her change her major to English.

“I don’t need to fill the void with partying anymore, you know?” she says, and you are both impressed by and concerned at how articulately she describes her freshman and sophomore year antics, her so-called void, wondering if — even miles away — there was anything you could have done to help, if she even would have let you.

It isn’t worth dwelling on, according to Frank; he says if Hannah has figured herself out now, you might as well support her. He says, “College is a crazy time.”

So, when parents’ weekend arrives, you pop a few mints to suppress your road trip breath and wait outside the building that houses the English Department, a large, domed chapel-looking thing, red brick and white trim. Hannah gives you a hug and you apologize again that Frank isn’t here too; “You know how he is with those book tours,” you say, and Hannah says, “It’s fine, I’m sure everyone will want to hear all about it!”

She takes you inside to the English department meet-and-greet, and while she tells her professors about Frank’s latest novel — this one about a cult in the South spearheaded by a self-proclaimed born-again prophet, a story you’re sure you’ve heard before, but whatever, it sells — you linger a few feet away, watching her tilt her head back and laugh with these adults like she’s one of them. You eat the finger foods provided by the college, slightly cold and waxy, probably paid for with the departmental budget, and pop into conversation once in a while when Hannah offers, “My mom was an English major too, you know,” or a professor asks, “What’s your line of work?” or “Has Hannah always been such an avid reader?”

It’s all overwhelming, a life you stepped out of once and haven’t returned to since, but Hannah beams at you in a way she hasn’t in years and it’s intoxicating. She wants you here. She’s no longer ashamed of you, not like when she was a teenager and felt she was supposed to be embarrassed by you, or when she started college and considered it humiliating that you once had the chance to graduate but didn’t; no, she’s happily talking about the books you raised her on growing up, how you nurtured her love of the story.

You’re so caught up in feeling like your daughter is proud of you — as if she’s six again, wanting to bring you to her first-grade class for show and tell — that you almost don’t notice her eyes flit to meet one silver-haired, brown-suited professor’s, over and over again, as she talks. You almost don’t notice that even as he migrates across the room to speak to other students and parents, there is still a thread connecting the two of them like points on a pentangle star, the kind you can draw without picking up your pencil, an energy lingering between them as their mouths tilt up just so at the corners when they glance at each other at the same time, as if there is a joke and they’re the only people in on it.

“Who was that one professor,” you ask Hannah at dinner after the mixer, “the one in the brown suit?”

“Which one?” Hannah asks, doe-eyed, twirling spaghetti around her fork. “I think brown suits are a pretty common look for professors, Mom.”

“The man with the gray hair,” you say, trying to find another way to describe him other than the one who kept looking at you. “The one we briefly met who said he taught feminist literature, I think.”

“Oh, that’s Professor Williams!” Hannah says. She continues to slowly twirl perfect bites of spaghetti, no change in her demeanor, even though you’re watching, and you’re watching closely. You remember when she was a toddler and she ate spaghetti with her fingers, staining them with red sauce; even after she had mastered the fork, she slurped her noodles, the spaghetti spilling down her chin until she sucked it all up.

“And you took his class?” you ask, concentrating hard on your chicken piccata.

“Yeah, that’s the one that made me want to switch my major to English,” Hannah says. “Last spring. It was amazing.” She pauses. “Actually, Professor Williams always invites the visiting families of some of his students to coffee during parents’ weekend. I was thinking we could go, tomorrow, at noon maybe.”

“You don’t want to go to the football game?” You study Hannah but she is stirring her drink with her straw. A virgin cocktail, since she isn’t yet twenty-one.

“I’ve been to enough games,” she says, “and you never liked football, right? I thought this would be more . . . meaningful.”

“That’s fine,” you say quickly. “I just wanted to make sure you weren’t skipping out on things you liked, just to show around your ol’ mom!” You laugh and it sounds silly and compensatory and hollow. Stop laughing, you think. You laugh for way too long.

“Oh, I’m not,” Hannah says, returning to her spaghetti. You watch her in the dim light of the Italian restaurant and think of how every parent says there is a moment when you know your child is growing, changing, is a part of you but no longer only yours; you wonder why no one mentions that this moment actually happens again, and again, and again.

In the morning, you call Frank and he tells you all about the book tour so far. It’s a short one, only a few stops in the Northeast. He describes the way his audiences gasp at the climactic moment of the chapter he chooses to read. “My hand hurts from signing so many copies,” he says excitedly. He’s gone on four book tours now but always acts like it’s his first, which is both endearing, and a little frustrating, though you can never articulate why.

“How’s parents’ weekend?” he asks, and you pause, wondering what to tell him — should you bring up your suspicion, if you can even call it a suspicion, about Hannah and her professor? Or will he think you are over-worrying? In the end, you tell him that Hannah is highly valued by her department; “She’s only just declared the major last spring, but everyone’s saying she could get into top graduate programs,” you boast.

“That’s my girl,” says Frank.

When you drive to meet Hannah at a hipster café –old playground pieces upcycled as planters adorn the shopfront — you put on lipstick and then wipe it off, then put it on again, wipe it off again. A group of girls passes, probably headed to the football game, dressed in the university’s red and navy. Their jackets look far too light for the weather, their backs hunched against the wind.

Here’s the thing: maybe you are looking for things that aren’t there. This can happen, in the brain — if it’s trying to see something, chances are, it’ll see it. You’ve heard of ghost-skeptics talking about this: when someone’s in a dark, creepy room, of course they’ll think that every sound and movement is a spirit or a demon.

You are the someone, and this place is the dark room: you, like Hannah, were an English major, for all of two years. Then you took The Professor’s class. One of the most celebrated professors in the department, he practically wrote the textbook on deconstructive criticism himself. His name was revered — his name, you can’t even think it now without feeling queasy. Word was, he invited his best and brightest students to his office, individually, for a conference towards the end of the semester; when you were invited for one, your heart leapt. He told you he thought you had great ideas, he knew people at MAs and MFAs and PhDs who could help you make the most of them. He was happy to put in a good word. He circled his desk as he talked, then your chair, and then rested his hands on the back of it. By the time his hands migrated to your shoulders, you were ready for it, bracing; he traced your collarbones, moving only low enough for it to be a suggestion, and then he was sitting behind his desk again.

It was then that you understood: this wasn’t about your abilities at all. For the rest of the conference The Professor talked about how it’s who you know and not what you know and you wiped your sweating palms on your thighs.

Professor Williams isn’t The Professor. Hannah isn’t going to panic, move away with her brand-new boyfriend like you did, as if he could protect you from the world — as far as you know, she doesn’t even have a boyfriend — and she certainly isn’t going to leave her studies and never return, too afraid of it happening all over. You are not Hannah; Hannah is not you.

Professor Williams is alone at a round, metal table when you and Hannah walk in, wearing another brown suit in a slightly different shade, looking earthy behind the bright orange gerbera daisy in a coffee can in the center of the table. The coffee shop is relatively empty, no students or parents from last night’s mixer in sight. You try not to feel like you’ve been tricked.

But as you approach, Professor Williams stands up and says, “Hannah! Mrs. Fischer! Happy to see you. I thought everyone who was planning on stopping by had already come and gone, since the game’s about to start.”

So there had been others here. Even at Hannah’s relatively small liberal arts university, people love football. It was just the football.

“We weren’t feeling going to the game,” says Hannah. “Coffee, Mom? You want me to order you something?”

“I’ll just go with you,” you say quickly. You can’t imagine sitting alone with Professor Williams while you wait for her, trying to make small talk, tiptoeing around the bloated pauses that always happen when you’re alone with a stranger, let alone one you don’t trust.

“You go, I’ll wait here,” Professor Williams says, waving his hand. He is around Frank’s age, perhaps, though you can’t tell which side of 50. He’s slim for the most part, but he does have a slight, round belly over the top of his pants. Hannah orders coffees and you linger at the condiments counter after she returns to the table, stirring sugar in slowly — you hate when it’s done too fast and stays grainy. Hannah takes her coffee black, which you find funny, because as a child she hated anything bitter.

Professor Williams says something and Hannah laughs a full-bodied laugh, her grin unfolding across her face. When Hannah was a baby, you used to tickle her on the stomach with a bit of tissue to make her laugh. You aren’t sure why this particular memory is the one that busts into your consciousness now. They’re talking like two old friends, not professor and student, and you could never imagine loosening up with a professor like that. Then again, you haven’t been in school for twenty-five years; the world is more casual now, isn’t it. When Frank goes to teach, he wears jeans and a button-down, even.

You return to the table with your coffee burning your hand, having forgotten to put one of those cardboard sleeves around it. “So, Professor, as I mentioned last night, my mom was actually an English major in college too,” Hannah says as you sit down.

“Humanities degrees are very underrated,” says Professor Williams. “Everyone’s all about STEM, which is of course important, but I think the world would be better off if more people studied history, literature, and art.”
You have always tried to teach Hannah not to make snap judgments if she can avoid it; now, you find yourself doing it, hating how Professor Williams talks, like he’s writing a departmental brochure. You try to smile but aren’t sure how it turns out. Are you being harsh?

“I was a big fan of mythology,” you say. Your final college paper, before what you then called the quick break, was on Ovid’s Apollo and Daphne, your favorite and least favorite myth. You thought it sad, that Daphne’s only option to escape Apollo’s advances was to turn into a tree. It felt like some kind of precautionary tale. What happens when a man decides that you belong to him? Who gets to go on unscathed?

“That’s fantastic,” Professor Williams says. “Any favorites?”

You don’t want to tell him about Ovid. “I liked it all.”

Professor Williams says, “Sounds like Hannah gets that from you.”

“What can I say, I never met a book I didn’t like,” quips Hannah. Then she frowns. “Actually, not true. I’ve just been lucky enough to take classes with professors who don’t make me read stuffy, bigoted bullshit.” She and Professor Williams laugh like this is some kind of inside joke between them.

“I teach a feminist literature course,” Professor Williams explains.

“I remember, you mentioned at the mixer.” You try to think of something else to add — very cool? Sounds great? Thanks for teaching such an important subject?–but it doesn’t feel right to praise him for such a thing, and you certainly never hear of women being thanked for teaching feminist lit.

“And he’s going to write me a recommendation letter for grad school!” Hannah chirps, like she’s been bursting to say this all along. “And put in a good word for me with some people he knows. He thinks I could go right into an MA-PhD program, straight out of undergrad.”

Professor Williams nods appraisingly, looking at Hannah with an unreadable expression. Your stomach curdles, a feeling so familiar yet distant, like you’ve somehow experienced a part of someone else’s life. Hannah is not you, you repeat to yourself, but still, you feel strange here, at this table, as though you’re intoxicated. Maybe it’s just the first time in a while you’ve had caffeine.

“That’s wonderful,” you say when you realize you haven’t responded yet, and Hannah is blinking at you across the table. She is sitting closer to her professor than she is to you.

You’re spiraling, Frank would say if he could hear your thoughts, just like he said when Hannah was a baby and you worried her low-grade fever would turn into something more deadly, so you stayed up watching, unwilling to sleep until it broke. Or he’d say: you have nothing to worry about, like he did when you missed a period and thought you were pregnant again, panicking because at that time, you couldn’t afford another child. Or he’d say: this really isn’t a big deal, it’s probably nothing, just like he did when he was away on his first book tour and Hannah’s friends from her part-time job went out to dinner without inviting her. He said, when she told him about it on the phone: it’s probably got nothing to do with her. It’s probably just that they forgot.

“Mom?” Hannah is asking. “Did you hear that? About Stanford?”

You blink, and she is looking at you, and Professor Williams is stirring an almost-empty coffee with a wooden stick, looking either amused or bemused or indifferent, you can’t tell.

“Oh, I’m sorry, I zoned out!” you say, and you do this stupid little twirly thing your finger, bringing it up next to your ear and making circles with it like you’re winding up a plastic toy. “Silly me,” you add, almost wincing at how you sound like the host of a live-action TV show for toddlers.

“You must be tired from traveling,” Professor Williams says.

“It’s only a three-hour drive,” you say, even though he’s trying to be understanding. “I think I’m going to run to the bathroom real quick.”

Hannah is looking at you with the slightest confusion, but this doesn’t last long, because she dives into deep conversation with Professor Williams once again. In the bathroom on the other side of the café, you splash cold water on your wrists and face. You’re overthinking, you tell yourself. Then, in Frank’s voice: you’re spiraling.

When you open the bathroom door, you are almost convinced, but then it happens: the professor returns to the table with a new cup of black coffee, and when he’s almost there, he drops it, most of it landing on the floor in a dark puddle, but some of it splashing his sleeve, the lapel of his suit, his white button-down by his belt buckle. He shrugs out of his jacket and Hannah leaps into action, covering the puddle in napkins, then acquiring a seltzer water from the bottled drink fridge and dipping more napkins into it, dabbing at Professor Williams’ coat. She’s somewhere around his navel, all too close to the waist of his pants, the top of his belt.

It is — and the thought alone makes your blood curdle — intimate. He says something and Hannah laughs, and you are frozen, out of sight by the bathroom door, thinking about how strange it is that a middle-aged man can look so predatory and yet so helpless. Neither of them notices you; Professor Williams gestures to his now-empty second coffee cup and both he and Hannah move into the café line, which is slightly longer now thanks to a gaggle of kids in backpacks holding laptops and textbooks in their arms.

It is then that you do something rash: you quickly return to the table and, spotting the professor’s phone in the side pocket of his messenger bag, you slip it into your purse.

They return with coffee and Professor Williams says, with all the composure you’d expect, “My previous coffee seems to have had a mind of its own, so I’m going to see if a little soap will do the trick on this stain.” What he really needs is dishwashing detergent or perhaps some white vinegar, but you let him go to the bathroom without telling him this. Hannah’s seltzer water idea was a good instinct, but not quite right — she is smart, but young, too young to have the knowledge one accumulates after years of cleaning two peoples’ stains.

When the professor is in the bathroom, you overflow. You need to say something. You ignore Frank’s measured voice in your head.

“Hannah,” you say, trying not to sound stern, or even concerned. You remember when she was a kid and she got caught having eaten all the chocolates from the pantry, how she tried to hide it by putting the wrappers under a pile of tissues in the trash can. You think of how, when she was sixteen, you caught her sneaking out to go to a party with a boy, only for her to do it again a few weeks later, using the downstairs guest room window to climb onto the patio and run into the boy’s Jeep. Now, she sits straight in her chair, her posture better than yours or Frank’s has ever been. “Hannah,” you repeat. “You know you can tell me anything, right?”

Hannah raises her eyebrows. “Sure, I guess?”

“I’m serious,” you say, leaning in, surprised at how desperation is unfurling in your chest, hot and fast. “You’re not a teenager anymore. You’re not going to get grounded for going to some douchebag’s party. You’re an adult, who can make your own decisions. But you can confide in me, about any of those decisions.”

For a second, you think you see a flicker of something — clarity?–cross Hannah’s face, but then it’s gone, and it’s possible that you merely created the illusion by wanting it.

“What are you talking about?” Hannah says. “Are you okay? This is random.”

“Is something . . .” you search for the words, for a way to sound anything but accusatory; your relationship with Hannah before college was so fraught and tender, Hannah wanting rebellion and independence, and you wanting to hold onto her before sending her out here, three hours away, where you couldn’t look up the names of the people she was running with in a school directory and make sure their parents’ numbers were in your phone.

“Mom,” Hannah says. “If something’s up, can you just tell me?” She looks so adult in her metal-backed chair, her hair twisted into a neat updo, the collar on her shirt buttoned to the top except for one. It’s a convincing illusion, or it would be, if you didn’t know better.

You decide — or something within you does — to just spit it out. “Is something going on here? That isn’t merely a professional relationship?”

Hannah tilts her head back, the baby hairs beneath her updo skimming the top of her chair back. “Oh my god, Mom,” she says. “No. I told you, he has coffee with all his students and their families. It’s like office hours, you can just drop by. I thought you’d be excited to meet him because you were an English major, too. I thought you’d be happy for me, that I’ve made such a good connection who can help me get into grad school.”

“I am,” you say hastily. You think maybe you should feel ashamed, but instead you just feel adrenaline, surging through your fingertips. You make sure your purse is still by your feet, the phone buried beneath your balled-up cardigan. “I am. I just want to look out for you. I guess it seemed like he was very . . . friendly. I just wanted to ask.”

“It’s weird that I’m a good student and he’s invested in my future and wants to talk to me?” Hannah snaps. “Isn’t that what good teachers are like?”

“Well, sort of,” you say. “But–”

“And even if it was more than a professional relationship,” Hannah shoots, “you’re one to talk.”

Your breath catches in your windpipe. In a way, this is true: Frank was a PhD candidate, albeit a relatively young one at twenty-seven, when you were an undergrad. Hannah had been little when she’d asked how you’d met. “In college” sufficed as an answer until she was in middle school; you had always been reluctant to share the story. It was Frank who did, when Hannah came to him after you gave vague answers or diverted with a tale about your awkward first kiss in middle school. He didn’t have a problem telling it like it had happened: He’d been a TA for your lit professor. He’d graduated with his PhD the same year you took that professor’s class, and you’d started dating when you bumped into each other at a coffee shop after finals, where Frank admitted he’d noticed you in class and thought you beautiful. You wanted to move to a different city that year (though you didn’t tell him why, desperate for a clean escape), and he was already moving, so you, in his words, made the leap. Hannah had found this very romantic.

Frank is not a bad man, you love Frank, but you’ve always had trouble explaining the story. You were lonely, paying for college out of pocket, facing parents who didn’t think college was useful at all and wanted you to come home, or join the military. “They have plenty of things for women now,” they had said to you. “Your father and I . . . that’s quite different,” you say now, shivering, thinking of the touch of The Professor’s fingers on your bare shoulders. That summer, he had mailed you a series of letters — first doting, then threatening, making sure you knew you were ungrateful and would never have a chance at getting into grad school if he could help it. He never wrote his full name or gave a return address, but you knew it was him from the handwriting he graded your papers with, from the way he signed the first letter with a big, cursive swoop. When Frank got a post-doc position in Virginia, even though you’d only been dating for a little while, you didn’t hesitate to move with him, sure you could pick up your studies at one of the schools nearby.

You never did.

After you’re quiet for a minute, Hannah stands up and says, “I’m honestly offended, Mom. The department sees merit in my work, not my . . . you know. I’m going to tell Professor Williams we’re heading out.” You stare down at the table, at your hands, at the stupidly bright orange daisy in its little vase. Hannah gets up to throw away her coffee as Professor Williams exits the bathroom, and they pause, talking, him nodding, before returning to the table.

Though it’s only November, a gentle snow is beginning to fall outside, the sky white like a piece of printer paper stuck behind the brick row of shops. You shoulder your purse, Hannah’s professor’s phone making it feel a thousand times heavier than it is. You aren’t even sure why you took it or what you plan on doing with it.

“Mrs. Fischer, it’s been a pleasure teaching your daughter,” he says. “I think it’s time I go back to my cave of grading midterms.”

You squint at him, feeling like a cliché–the disapproving mother. And disapproving of what? Maybe it is nothing. Maybe you look crazy. He is attractive, certainly, but not so much in a ‘silver fox’ sort of way; more like it’s clear he used to be good-looking in his youth, and has tried to hold onto that however he can with partial success. His hair is thinning but combed well enough to still look thick at a glance, and he’s dressed just the right way to hide the signs of an aging body. That doesn’t mean he’s creeping on your daughter. But it doesn’t mean he wouldn’t.

“Nice to meet you, too,” you choke out.

“Have a good one, professor,” says Hannah.

Professor Williams waves once, formal but cordial.

And then, just like that, he is gone.

“So,” you say, turning to Hannah. Should you propose an activity, as a distraction? Should you keep trying to talk about this — whatever this is? If there is a this? But Hannah has gone dark again, distant, like her teenage self.

“I just want you to know,” you say, “If anything like what we talked about were to happen, it wouldn’t be your fault. No one would blame you. I sure wouldn’t.”

“Okay Mom,” Hannah says. “Hey, I’m kind of tired.”

“Do you want me to stick around?”

It is as though she is transforming in front of you, morphing into a younger version of herself, one you can predict, one who is sheepish and angsty and wants so much, and one who is of somewhere else, one you realize you barely know.

Hannah sighs and fiddles with her hands. You take the hint — and the loss.

“Actually,” you say, “I should probably drive home before the weather gets bad.”

You and Hannah exchange a quick, stiff hug.

In the car, you fumble Professor Williams’ phone from your pocket and swipe up on the screen. A passcode — of course it has a passcode. You type 1111; then 1234; then 0000. None of them work.

You put it on the center console with shaky hands. The heat of your dashboard melts snowflakes as they hit your windshield, landing and disappearing like they’re just figments of your imagination. You open your own phone and start Googling Professor Williams, English department, and the university’s name, and then when you find his first name, Oliver Williams misconduct, Oliver Williams relationship, Oliver Williams gf, but nothing of note comes up. There are many pictures of him, though, at conferences and seminars, surrounded by beaming young women; Visiting Professor Oliver Williams Gives Lecture on Femininity and Queerness in Early Modern Texts, reads a headline from a university in Massachusetts. You stare into the faces of the women as if this will provide you with answers. It could just be, you suppose, that a majority of English majors and graduate students studying feminist theory are women; it could be a coincidence.

But then again, it might not be a coincidence at all.

Maybe things will be okay. Maybe Hannah will be okay. You have dealt with this kind of bullshit, and you’re okay. Except for your half-finished degree. Frank used to occasionally ask if you wanted to go back to school, and why you left anyway; you always avoided answering directly, and he didn’t press. He was so often engrossed with work — writing new conference papers or stories, grading, going through the process of being up for tenure. Once, he mentioned that The Professor had been a peer-reviewer on a paper he wrote, and you had tensed up, waiting for him to elaborate, though he didn’t. You never told him about what happened, and you probably wouldn’t, at this point. You could imagine things he might say, but couldn’t figure out which response was most likely; in your head, they range from I’m so sorry, honey, what a creep to Are you sure he wasn’t just like that with all his students? to You could have used him to get into grad school! And while you want to think the less savory responses weren’t likely, you aren’t up to being surprised or disappointed, not again.

A text lights up on the phone, from unknown number. Your stomach drops.

Do you want me to come by later?

And then: Just text me whenever, ok?

Your car is still parallel parked outside the café, but you feel as though it is moving, fast and out of control. You think of the story of Apollo and Daphne again, of how it feels to be trapped as if rooted to the ground like Daphne, the laurel tree. Now, you are the precautionary tale.

You pick up the phone and try to view the number who sent them, but you still can’t unlock it without the passcode. The more the phone vibrates in your hand when you guess incorrectly, the more you are sure that the number is Hannah, texting this man who’s had institutional power over her, naive to the ways some men want and want and want under the premise of goodness and generosity, becoming a force so inevitable that by the time you realize what’s happening, it’s already too late. Don’t unknown numbers just show up as, well, numbers? Does this mean Professor Williams actively saved this number as “unknown number”? Or is it just some new phone software thing? You smack your hand against the center console a few times out of frustration. Then the phone lights up again: find my iPhone enabled. You panic, and drop it out your car window. It lands in a pile of slush with a wet plop.

When you reach home, you don’t really feel at home, your mind with Hannah, wondering if you should go back, if you could confront her, if it would help or only push her further into the arms of her professor, if that’s what’s going on. Frank will be home Sunday evening and you will hear all about the conference, about which presenters impressed him and which he considered to be full of shit. You will have to listen, to not let on that anything is wrong. You have to decide what to do without Frank. He won’t, can’t, understand. He will be angry, make assumptions; he will call Hannah foolish. Or, if not, he will question if it’s that bad; he will just say something like: live and learn.

You remember when he was your TA, way back when, and he graded your paper on Apollo and Daphne. Here is how the myth goes: Apollo loves Daphne, but Daphne hates Apollo. Apollo wants Daphne anyway, and Daphne flees, running until she can’t outpace him. Before he catches her, she turns into a laurel tree so that he’ll never really have her. But Apollo forces himself upon tree-Daphne anyway, which somehow results in him ‘giving’ her some of his everlasting youth, and she becomes an evergreen laurel tree. He takes a sprig of her branches and wears it on his head forever.

The prompt for the essay that The Professor had assigned asked if the story was a feminist tale because it exposed the harsh reality of womanhood, and ultimately, because Daphne’s transformation prevents Apollo from getting what he really wanted: her.

You disagreed: Apollo takes Daphne’s agency, her body, and her life as she knows it, you wrote, with no repercussions. He wears her laurel as a crown, as if to show off his conquest. He doesn’t ever see her as an autonomous person and he gets away with it under the pretense of love. Some call it precautionary, but if this is a precautionary tale, what are we precautioned against, when the story tells women there is nothing we can do to make people see us as whole?

Frank was in charge of grading these, and gave you a B.

Your argument, he wrote, while passionate, doesn’t seem supported enough by the text.

You’ve never talked about this since you started dating; you aren’t sure he’d remember.

Now, you wait for his call. He will ask, “How was parents’ weekend?” and you will say, “Fine.” He will talk about his book, or his latest reading. Outside, the sky is still white, but there is no snow, and this reminds you of how far you are from this morning. You open a text message to Hannah, but can’t think of anything to say. You will just have to carry this, as you always have. You will figure it all out.

Kyra Kondis is a graduate of the George Mason University MFA program in fiction. Her work can be found in the Wigleaf Top 50 and Best Microfiction 2020, as well as journals including Fractured Lit, the Atticus Review, and CRAFT Literary, as well as on her website at