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The Schooling Of Women
by Cynthia Flood

WE HEARD THAT Nora Darragh, a senior on our thirdfloor hall in the residence, was going to be a model after she got her general arts B.A. the next year, 1957. Already there were pictures of her in magazines, even in American ones; for modelling, her name was Norah Darcy. We were in Honours. In the residence dining room, Nora`s cheekbones angled up as she looked down at the tapioca, whipped potatoes, macaroni, canned pears. We cleaned our plates. Our residence stood opposite a row of fraternity houses, and from the third- and fourth-year students, traditional tales passed down about flirtations, even an engagement, sparked by a glance from window to window. Our rooms faced the courtyard, thank goodness. As we came back from the snackbar in the nearby drugstore, we checked the balconies of the frat houses. If any boys were there and if one of us had no lipstick on or wore pincurls under her headscarf, we hid her in the middle of our giggling group (eight of us, close friends after a month at college) as we crossed the street. When one of us got a date with a brainless frat boy and then began going steady with him, we did not know how we felt. We also learned about abortions, about attempted suicides, about Marfa. Because her room was on the second floor, she was not someone we saw other than at meals. Too pale to be pretty, Marfa did not talk much; we loudly recounted what our professors had said to us and we to them, about exogamy or imaginary numbers or the Durham Report. Once, when we complained about the food, Marfa said, "Do not expect taste, here." She was in Slavonic studies, whatever they were. She wore handwoven skirts, beige and gold and grey, and when in her room, which faced the street, she wore a paper bag over her head. We told this to each other. We retold it, laughed till we hyperventilated. Once, returning from the snackbar, all seven of us ran up the steps of a fraternity and looked toward Marfa`s window. Then we ran giggling into the residence by the basement door, and along by the furnace, kitchens, electrical, laundry. Here always felt strange. Sometimes we heard the maids laughing. Nora was wonderfully thin, so she looked perfect in the photographs. Her complexion was what Jane Austen must have meant by brilliant, and her shining black hair welcomed any style. In the strongly lit communal washroom, Nora applied her cosmetics and threw up a lot. She said her digestion was difficult. We watched how her lip pencil moved along her flesh to form the mouth of her desire. Lipstick colours in the `50s were intense. Most of Nora`s smart clothes were bright, but she also wore black, during the day even: sophisticated. She went out a great deal, never with the same boy twice, said rumour, but not why. We knew there were girls in the residence who, if dateless on Saturday night, turned off their room lights around seven-thirty. Taking pencil flashlights, these girls hid in their clothes closets, put towels along the crack at the bottom of the door and studied, till midnight at least. Then they turned on all their lights for 15 minutes or so, before going to bed. Once, the six of us without dates were gathered in Betty`s and my room (she had just finished her term paper on William the Silent and the Dutch Revolt), and we had an idea. We went round to all those girls` rooms and knocked on their doors. "Phone call for you," we called, rapping hard. "It`s a guy." Once, we heard, Marfa forgot. She walked down the hall to the bathroom, kettle in hand and bag on head. Word spread. Doors opened, then slammed with laughter. Our need to see Marfa in her bag became an itching scab on the skin of winter. "I want to see the eyeholes!" we exclaimed, semi-hysterical. Late one Saturday, four of us went down to the second floor to make cocoa in the kitchen there. Marfa walked past, wearing a bathrobe, and entered her room. We knocked. She opened to us -- why? -and she was naked. Her figure was full, her skin pearly. She was like a living statue from Classical Art 110, all dignity and calm power. She wore no bag. Behind her was the window, with the blind drawn. An herbal fragrance suffused the room. "What do you want I" she asked. In February, there occurred a cluster of dances at which full evening dress was required, and girls without dates would gather in the lobby of the residence to watch the beautiful departures. Nora was going. Her dress was jade satin, short, full-skirted. As she went out, we saw the snow falling through the lamp light. Her dates hair was as blond as hers was black. The three of us studied and played cards and set our hair in new ways. Later, we went to the snackbar for coffee and the pastries, swollen with false cream and crusted with sugar, to which we were devoted. We had an idea. On our return, we buzzed Maria`s room with the signal for "You have a visitor," and sat down in the lobby to wait. Soon, footsteps came down the stairs. At the same time, the front door opened. Thick snow was white all over Nora`s fur stole and her hair, and her vivid green shoes were soaked. She looked at us, in our pajamas and winter coats. "You probably had a better evening than I did," she said in her high nasal voice, sitting down to take off her shoes. Marfa was carrying her laundry basket. She looked about her. "It`s a package for you," we said, and pointed to the chair where we had put it. "What happened, Nora?" "Oh. He took forever to ask me if I wanted another drink. Then he took forever to get it. So I left, and walked back here." The dance had been at a hotel four miles away. "Who has done this to me"` asked Marfa, holding the package of brown paper bags and looking at us in turn. "Didn`t you have money for a taxi?" "I said, What girt has done this to me?" "Oh, I never carry money," indifferently, rubbing her cold green feet. "Why do you make mock of me? Because I want to live freely in my own room? Not shut in the dark behind the shades all the day because some stupid boys leer"` Nora threw the bright shoes into the wastebasket, where one hung on the rim, a green question- mark. She started upstairs. Her feet were soundless and her dress hissed. Marfa threw the bags after the shoes, turned her back on us, and walked down Door Marfa want stairs to the basement. We heard her steady steps. The coins fell and the washer started LIP, grunt grunt. WE WERE doing Twelfth Night. This was in our third year, in old Dr. Morgan`s Shakespeare seminar. Through the tall rippled windows, snow was visible, piling on the stone Sills, closing off doorways, thickly coating roads all over the university. "Miss Beattie here; Miss Callender here; Mr. Henderson here." The pen scratched, the familiar light flowed greyly from the bulbous lamps. "Miss McKenzie. Miss McVey "Mister." "Miss McVey?" "Mister. Mister McVey. I`m going to be James McVey now. Not Janie. Women car* get anywhere. Only men can." She was slight, fair-haired, and nothing worth notice had come out of her mouth in two and a half years of lecture, lecture, seminar, lecture. Dr. Morgan took off his glasses. He waved them. Silence. Janie`s blouse was white, with a peter pan collar some of us wore the other de rigueur college- girl outfit of the late `50s, the wool sweater set -- but now we saw, tied about her neck, a red shoelace. It hung redly down her front. Vigorously, Dr. Morgan coughed. "Mr. Nash here; Mr. Oliver, Miss Robertson..." A couple of the boys lit cigarettes. Shortly, Dr. Morgan began to speak of imagery. But Janie continued. In every class and to each professor she issued her manifesto. If any called on her as Miss McVey, her mouth stayed shut. None called her mister, although one professor uttered a sort of harrumph with more than one syllable in front of her surname, and him she would answer. She would not speak to any of us, her fellow students, unless we called her James. Doing so was like speaking with cold stones in the mouth, lumps grating on the teeth and pressing the tongue. Few attempts were made. How the boys felt about Janie, I don`t know. As a group, we girls did not say one word about her. Once, in the dark before we slept, Betty said, "Janie`s acting strangely." I believe I said, "Yes," but the conversation may have been the other way round. Janie wore no makeup. She got a brown corduroy jacket; it looked all right, but then we realized it buttoned the wrong way. She did not wear skirts. In each class, she raised her hand. "Why aren`t there any women professors here?" "Why does Milton hate women!" When we went for coffee, Janie walked with the boys in the class, and she sat with them in the lecture halls. "Why does the dean laugh at women who want to be graduate students in English?" Once, coming back from the library to the women`s residence, one of many shrouded figures in the falling snow of dusk, I saw Janie coming out of a men`s washroom, saw the little red swing of her tie. I went quickly on. In the last class before Christmas, Dr. Morgan`s lecture focused on Viola`s courage and her fluent tongue. We handed in our term essays, mine on the significance of twins and Betty`s on the significance of disguises. "Why don`t we study any women writers?" Maybe Janie would change, over the Christmas holidays. On the first day of the January term, as Dr. Morgan went round the circle returning our essays, I saw the title of Janie`s: "My True Love Sent to Me." Today she wore a man`s suit, Sally Ann style, and a pink bow-tie. She raised her hand at the end of class. Dr. Morgan looked wary, but she invited us all to a party on Saturday the sixth, at her home. "Dress up," she said. "Wear a costume." I would have died rather. A long attempt to arrange a bright silk scarf casually over my Pringle sweater failed; too showy. The whole evening long, I thought my neck must look like a plucked hen`s. All of us, the whole honours English class, went to Janie`s party. She had never been popular. We sensed that she came from a strange family. They lived in an apartment. We had no notion of supporting her during a rough time; we were all so hungry for what might but never did happen at parties that we would go anywhere. incredibly, Dr. Morgan attended, wearing tails and a black mask with rhinestone trim, smoking a fragrant cigar. Janie`s mother, an angel with real feathers, talked to each of us in her marginally foreign accent, laughing, smiling. Early in the evening, her lively conversation with Dr. Morgan veiled the silences among us, till the punch took effect and everything got louder. Dr. Morgan`s cigar smoke curled up through the ruched pink silk of the lampshades. We gobbled pastries with an unknown savoury taste. No one at the party was identified as Janie`s father. Some of the older people talked with Mrs. McVey in various languages; there were pierrots, the Little Tramp, magi, Robespierre, Isadora Duncan, Svengali. Years later I recognized Rosa Luxemburg and Emma Goldman. What would Janie`s mother call her? "Dear, put some more cashews on that little dish," and she fluttered her wings on Janie`s arm. With her black velvet jacket and pants Janie wore a ruffled jabot, and ballet shoes. She had drawn on a slender curly mustache, had rouged pink plums on her cheeks. When Dr. Morgan left he bowed to her, man to man, as it were. To meet our curfew, Betty and I and the other girls had to leave before the party ended. We stood in a row to say goodbye. I felt Janie`s glance at our nyloned legs and highleather-heeled feet, our wool skirts and dresses and our tweed coats. We waited at the bus stop, watching the party windows on the second floor. Lights, silhouettes. Someone briefly opened the door on to the balcony and clouds of laughter floated out. No bus was in view. Chill inched over the flesh between our stockings and Our underpants, iced the metal rims on our garters. We felt the Lycra control panels on our girdles stiffen. The balcony door slid wider and Janie appeared, her hair bright against the dark. She climbed over the railing, hung for a moment, then let go. Like wings, a red cape floated out behind her as she lightly dropped. From the building`s main door came a masked man, carrying blankets. Deep laughter, light laughter, and then Janie disappeared round the side, he following. The bus pulled up. Dr. Morgan lectured next on A Midsummer Night`s Dream. BY OUR LAST YEAR, Betty and I knew that reading 50 pages of prose took one hour, four hours, or nine hours, depending on whether he text was 19th-century English, 14th-century French, or 20th-century German. We knew that writing an A essay demanded 11 hours of work for her and 15 for me, exclusive of research time. We knew that getting back to the residence for six o`clock dinner meant leaving the student pub at a quarter to, and the library at 10 to. (Leaving was necessary, because parents and scholarships had paid for our meals.) On a thick, dull Saturday afternoon in early March, when the remaining snow in the city was the colour of kraft paper, Betty and I went to the museum for a lecture on Renaissance use of chiaroscuro. Starting back we realized that we would reach the residence about four, an hour intolerably neither here nor there. "Let`s go see Eleanor," Betty suggested. "She said to." Eleanor, formerly across the hall from us, had committed two extraordinary acts: marrying a full year before graduation, instead of a week afterwards, and then continuing to work towards her own degree, even though her husband was getting his doctorate. Betty and I did not think of just dropping in, and a pay telephone was blocks away, so we were thoroughly cold when we reached Eleanor and Gerry`s small attic. Perhaps that is why all this is still so vivid. Gerry`s desk stood in the dormer, pooled in light, texts and papers spread out; in the kitchenette, the gingham teatowels still showed traces of their paper labels; the fresh green-and-white soapdish in the bathroom gleamed with care. All these I saw with warming eyes, saw partway into the alcove to the marriage bed, draped in cream brocade, and to the night table where rested Eleanor`s German grammar and her Racine. Our old friend was pregnant. Neither Betty nor I had known; Eleanor`s campus clothes had not changed. Here she wore a long Viyella smock, all flowery. When she handed Gerry his tea, he looked at her as I had not seen anyone of my age look. I had never seen anyone of my age pregnant. Betty shifted in her chair. No one mentioned baby. We took no refills on the tea. On leaving, we sat on the front steps of the house, smoking, exclaiming, not noticing the cold. Was it really this same afternoon that Betty and I visited another classmate? Gilbert had moved out of the men`s residence and was renting, with a friend. We wondered how he was paying. Going into the apartment felt like entering the men`s residence on campus but ... no don, no noticeboard with rules, no curfew. Ashtrays and fallen sofas comprised the furniture in the living- room, where we slouched with Gilbert and Sandy and drank. Their ashtrays, heaped with butts, were the big flat tin kind that advertise beers. Betty and I added to them. I felt raffish, reckless. Betty`s cheeks were rosy. When one of us went to the bathroom, the other came too, and we forgot about peeing. From rim to bottom the bathtub and washbasin bore thick successive rings of dirt, like geological strata in cross-section. A sticky growth covered the wall tiles. The floor, ceramic octagons once smartly white and black, was chipped and broken, and met the walls amid damp drifts of matted hair and dust and bits of Kleenex. The raised toilet seat was stained, the bowl thick with brown scaling and at points clotted with excrement. We had not closed the door. Gilbert and Sandy were behind us, laughing. "Filthy, huh?" Did Betty and I go round to the corner store for cleaning materials, or down to the janitor`s room in the basement of the apartment building? I think the latter, and there encountered an old (he seemed so) snuffy man with warm rye breath who laughed when we carried off his Comet and Javex. The boys stayed with us for a while, laughing. Then, when we weren`t splashing water about, we heard the hockey game. I`m not sure how long we cleaned -- long enough for our initial mock outrage (if it was mock, if it was outrage) to dissipate. Unlike the fixtures in the carpeted bathrooms of our comfortable homes or in the bright sanitary residence washrooms, these refused to shine. Then Betty and I heard the doorbell, a woman`s light voice, footsteps going past us with no stop. Evelyn, a graduate student in physics, stood in silhouette by the cold window in the living- room. We had heard about her, though she had left the residence before we arrived. Her long hair fell straight as rain and she wore a black turtleneck over tight black pants. When she turned, expressionless though looking at us, her nipples stood out. Gilbert and Sandy saw too. Evelyn stretched, and sank on to one of the sofas. She turned away from all of us, waiting. Out into the winter dusk, Betty and I checked our watches. If we ran hard all the way back to the residence ... we did run, our coats open, skidding and laughing. Then we came to the pub. I don`t remember how we decided. What I remember is sitting down with Betty at the corner table, where our class all sat after the Tuesday Victorian novel seminars, but this time only she and I were there, and the big mirrors met behind our two heads. We sat, and talked, and drank. We ate handful after handful of beer nuts. They lay warm and nubbly and sticky in our palms, bits of skin shaling off and lying on the table, discarded moth wings. The nuts were coated with sugar and salt, and the grains mixed with the skins and the chewed fragments of nut to form a mash that stuck to our teeth and made us want to drink more. The Javex smell wore off our fingertips and they stopped looking like pink prunes. We smoked, and drank beer after beer, and we talked to each other. I have no idea how long Betty and I spent there, talking, talking to each other, seeing our own faces in the mirrors, talking, nor do I know how many hours we spent afterwards in roaming the city streets, claiming them, moving over the snow now whitened again by the spring moon, nor do I know what time it was when we began to walk and talk excitedly across the campus, through the dark shadows of the houses and halls of the university and through the lighter shadows cast by the towering branches of the great dead-looking trees, but when we reached the residence, the lights were out and it was almost morning. This is an excerpt from a new collection of short fiction, as -yet untitled, by Cynthia Flood.

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