Music in the Wood

Tena Cohen

 

During the heat wave of summer 2006, the entire town spent the day at Jasper Beach, and the disappearance of Mrs. Kyle Lee-Acosta went unnoticed for three days. Coral-tipped clouds drifted above becalmed sailboats. Cries from children dipping in icy water, seagulls echoing freight train horns, even my own breath, were suffocated by the heat's throb.

My students raised their hands politely from under polka-dot umbrellas, but the heat dissuaded us from getting into those conversations that landed us in Edie's diner, crowded into a booth, ordering the blue plate special. Most professors at the college looked askance at these student/professor forays, and a few had even hinted that if I hoped to gain tenure I'd need to establish more distance between myself and the student...body. Their irony usually lingered long after they abandoned me to my office, the word 'body' separated by an ellipsis before the unsavory word was whispered with a very perceptible sneer.

Having just extricated myself from a two-year relationship with Kathy, my grad school sweetheart, I really hadn't had time to act on any imagined student/professor fantasies, anyway. Fantasies abounded, of course, but often they, like the relationship with Kathy, petered away to nothing. The problem was that I couldn't come unless I got the story straight:

Jen Smith (the primmest girl in my film noir class) and I are reviewing the notes I made in the margin of her term paper—I, reading over her shoulder to interpret my pathetic handwriting. Suddenly, a terrible and unexpected thunderstorm unleashes its fury against the window. In the blackout that follows, Jen reaches back to grab my hand in fear (here I imagine a close-up of her moon-colored face, shot from the right side, at a low angle, so all you see framed in the shot is her neck, her collarbone, one cheek and, just beyond her shoulder, the outline of my hips). I reach for her hand, to comfort her, but to my surprise, she pulls it down to her right breast, her erect nipple pushing through a white Polo shirt, pressing into my palm. A flash of lighting illuminates her shoulder and the tightly-bound blonde ponytail that pulls at the nape of her neck. I place my teeth on her throat and she leans back, gasping, her tit bumping against my hand harder, harder still.

This is the part where I'm often thwarted in my attempt to bring the story to its conclusion because I have to get the schematics right in my head...

Conveniently, she's sitting in a swivel chair, so she turns around slowly, extracts my hard-on from my pants and, as I grasp her ponytail, pulls me into her mouth, down into her throat. In my fantasy, Jen doesn't have a gag reflex like Kathy, and she uses my ass to pull me in deeper, and faster, deeper and faster until...well...it's an old story.

At Jasper Beach, during the heat wave of 2006, it was too hot to even get a hard-on thinking about Jen and how much the expression on her face resembled a sedated Janet Leigh, moaning on the bed in A Touch of Evil. Kathy, however, was ever present in my mind, haunting me. In the dizzying heat, I could almost see her sitting beside me, sinuously leading me on to say: "Maybe we should take a break after graduation," her intention to split up unraveling like the peel on an apple that she could remove in one fell swoop, paring knife carefully balanced between her fingers. I had consoled her as we stood by our packed cars, she setting off to Vermont to spend the summer with her folks, and me, well, heading for Maine, to hole up in a hotel while I looked at rentals in town, never quite realizing it was her idea all along. Jasper Cove was scalloped out of red clay; rocks; thorny, flowering bushes in purple, blue and yellow; and mauve grasses that rustled like a jazz stick caressing a drum. Having grown up far from any ocean, and since my mother didn't go anywhere she couldn't reach by car, I found the constant sound of waves unsettling that first summer. It was like an itch I couldn't scratch publicly, and though I came to the beach with summer-reading at the ready, I was never able to get past the preface. The sea irritated me, drew me down to its foamy edge where the waves slapped my toes. Though the water was cool, I found the glare a nuisance despite my sunglasses, and returned to my bathroom towel which had, inevitably, been stepped on; the heel of a child's foot warping it, pulling in sand and papers in an unholy mess.

During the heat wave, though, I gratefully turned in my grades and headed for the beach without anything besides a grand, new, beach towel, sunglasses and the Beaumont Times. The waves were far less bothersome, and I didn't feel the need to delineate my persona by appearing studious or even mildly thoughtful. I snapped the towel out under a small overhang, lathered myself with suntan lotion, and nodded at Jake and Sandy from my Hitchcock class who are in love in a hopelessly handcuffed sort of way, like Richard and Pamela in The 39 Steps.

At lunch I wandered over to La Guadalupe, the Mexican deli, with my paper, and ordered a torta with avocado, ham, white cheese and mayonnaise. I had a grape Boing at the small tables between the coolers and the deli in the back. It was good to spend time away from campus—to take a vacation, even if I didn't have enough money to go anywhere. José, and Felipa, his sister, enticed me with enchiladas, chiles rellenos and other delicacies that were just too hot to even imagine eating. I enjoyed the banter, though, it shook me out of my solitude, and I'd sit at my table, smiling at Felipa's seductive lips, her petite shoulders and the brown legs revealed by her cut-offs.

As she carried over my sandwich, her breasts just visible under her apron, I began to appreciate the waves lapping on the other side of the road; how the room brightened and darkened as clouds blocked the sun. On the fourth day of the heat wave, she pried the newspaper from under my elbow as I savored the slightly salted avocado, and, crying, she pointed out the headlines about the vanishing pianist on Oak Hill.

Tena Cohen completed her first Masters in Spanish Literature at Hunter College, and her second at Bread Loaf School of English. She teaches Spanish and ESL at Louis D. Brandeis High School. This year, she received two grants for incorporating arts in the classroom. From 2003-2005, she was an Orleans Parish Teaching Fellow. She just finished a memoir about teaching in New Orleans called A Love Letter to Louisiana.