October 10

Night Class (Part 6)

 

[…continued from October 9 entry…]

 

Rutland cleared his throat, prepared to make an announcement to the class.

Nothing came.

“We’re waiting.” A young lady sat straight-backed in the front row. A gray business jacket fit loose on her torso, hiding what he imagined was a slim, attractive figure. “Everybody’s here,” she said. He recognized her now as Karen Brinsfield, a student in the first class he’d ever taught.  Something about the young woman’s expression now suggested she’d been aware he’d had a slight crush on her at the time — though he’d done his best to hide his feelings.

“Uh, I see all of you,” Rutland said. “There’s rather more than I expected, actually. And I’m in the middle of a personal emergency.”

“A poor excuse is better than none.” This comment rose from the back row, and he recognized Keith or Kevin Griffin from four years ago. This student had missed multiple paper deadlines, and approached him one day to request yet another extension. Rutland, exasperated with the student’s behavior, had decided on a stern response: You overslept one morning, lost the assignment sheet the next time, and last week you had computer trouble. Well, those weren’t great excuses, but too bad: now you’ve used them all up. Maybe you’ve got a good excuse now, maybe your whole family died last night. It doesn’t matter. It’s time you learned to wait until you have a real emergency. Oh, spare me the waterworks. All right, all right, I’ll hear you out. I guess a poor excuse is better than none… And then the student broke down in tears and told about his mother’s final night in the hospital.

Rutland flicked at the torn sleeve of his shirt. “You see what’s happened to my outfit. I’m in no condition to teach tonight.”

“When we have competing priorities, we have to make choices.” Sharon Dippel, standing beside the window, had frequently arrived late to his English Novel seminar, due to recurring difficulties with childcare arrangements. She seemed to enjoy spitting his own words back at him now: “I wish you would make the right choice, for a change.”

“That’s not fair.” Rutland realized he’d let a whiny-student refrain slip out of his mouth, but it was too late to take it back.

“You’re a teacher, and attending class should be your number one priority.” Other than Jody Stromeyer’s substitution of teacher for student, it was the exact pronouncement he’d given her last year when she asked if she could attend a friend’s out-of-state wedding.

“I’m sorry,” Rutland said, not feeling sorry at all, since his concerns were far more valid than these students could possibly understand. “I have to cancel tonight’s class. However, I have some extra chapters for my Technical Writing students to prepare, and we’ll review them during our next meeting.” He turned his back on the group to scribble the page numbers on the blackboard.

The chalk squeaked as he wrote, a shrill echo in the silent classroom. Only his current students should care about the assignment: he wondered why he didn’t hear the rustle of visitors gathering their things, leaving the room.

His chalk-hand froze in the air. For an awful moment, Rutland was afraid to turn around. He imagined a crowd of students moving forward with stealthy, angry steps. He’d never leave the room alive. They would tear him to pieces.

Rutland finished writing the homework assignment. A gust of hot breath fluttered over the back of his neck.

He turned around.

All the students remained in their former positions. A young man at the back, previously obscured behind a current student, now stood and began working his way down the right-most aisle. Rutland judged the former student’s age at about twenty-two, but he had the arrogant bearing of an older man. His designer clothes fit perfectly, almost like a uniform: a creased pair of gray linen trousers, and a white and red Oxford shirt with an embossed logo above the front pocket.

And Rutland gasped in realization. He’d considered his guests as had been a random gathering of former students. But there was something suspicious about this particular group.

Because the young man who strolled to the front of his class was Eric Strasson, a student he’d tried to get expelled for plagiarism.

“You’ve violated the standards of academic conduct,” Eric Strasson said. “There will be serious consequences.”

They’ve come back. All the students who hated him the most.

 

[…concluded tomorrow…]