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Trigger Warnings

by Mickey J. Corrigan

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Chapter 9: Hard Core

The walk back to campus from the train station took longer than usual. The traffic was thick in both directions, cars skidding and horns blaring. The snowfall was heavy, and the wind had picked up.

I turned in the wrought-iron gates and trudged up the long, hilly driveway that led to campus housing. Nothing had been plowed and the going was slow. I kept thinking about what I would do to impress Dr. Louder. The abrasive action program included progressive steps toward self-change and self-empowerment. He’d labeled these steps: “soft core” and “hard core.” My bad-girl behavior during the appointment — the swearing, the cigarette — was soft core. Weed, booze, and sex with a boy I hardly knew? That stuff was soft core, too.

By the time I got to my dorm, my feet were soaked. I slogged up the stairs to the second floor and let myself into my room. It smelled like hops and unwashed laundry. For good reason: my roommate was passed out on her bed, two open beers on the nightstand, her clothes a messy pile on the floor beside her. She slept hard, like a baby.

I dried off and dressed in a pair of fierce booties, a thick wool sweater, and a waterproof shell, then hurried across campus to the Language Arts building. The sky had darkened while the snow continued to fall. I ran up the stairs to the floor of the teachers’ offices.

I was late.

Professor Ivaniloff’s door was open and yellow light spilled into the hall. I jogged the rest of the way, skidding to a stop in the doorway. He looked up from his stooped position, bent over his messy desk, shoveling papers into an old-fashioned briefcase. “Aha. I had given up on you, Ms. Andrisson. I need to head home. It will take me some time to get all the way to Salem in this weather.”

He seemed pleasant enough. Not angry, not ready to chew my ass. I said, “Sorry, I had trouble getting here. The storm is really messing up the roads. Should I make an appointment for tomorrow instead? ”

“No, no,” he said with a shake of his head. “You are here now. Please, take a seat.” He tucked himself behind his desk, and I took the office chair across from him. We smiled tentatively at one another. “So—” he began.

I cut in: “I can’t fail this class.”

He sat back in his seat, appraising me. “Yes. And this is your responsibility, Ms. Andrisson. To not allow that to happen.”

“I don’t plan to,” I said. “What I want is for us to come to an agreement about what I can do for you. So I can pass your class.” I gave him a steely smile. Like I meant business. I had to control the conversation. That was essential to any abrasive action. “So here’s what I’m thinking—”

He held up a hand, but I kept talking. Soft core, but firm. “I’m thinking I can write an essay. Perhaps a short history of the books banned in schools? Maybe I could create a sound argument to support book-banning? I’d like to explore that side of the debate.”

I began to list some of the books that had been banned in high schools and why I thought this was, in fact, an understandable choice: The Autobiography of Malcolm X. Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee. Anne Frank. Books full of violence, evil, war, hatred, which could be too much for young students. I kept yakking, trying to make my point or wear him down.

He stared at me for a while, his face expressionless. Eventually, his eyes glazed over, and, soon enough, they shifted away. He turned in his seat to look out the window at the accumulating snow.

I wound down with, “Harry Potter’s an important exception. There’s no reason to ban those books. Banning the series comes from misogynist Christian values, which have no place in public schools.”

He didn’t respond. He wasn’t even listening.

After I was silent for a few beats, though, he swiveled his seat to face me. “Are we done here?” His smile was strained. He rose from the chair and reached for his briefcase. “I must be on my way. The driving is sure to be hazardous.”

“But,” I stammered, “but you didn’t answer my question. I want to submit an essay—”

“Nope,” he interjected rudely. “Sorry, but I have no interest in hearing your naïve views on the value of intellectual repression in education.” He walked past my chair to retrieve his coat from behind the door. Camel’s hair. Nice. “So, if you wish to pass the course this semester, you will do the assigned work. No exceptions, Ms. Andrisson.”

He parked a curly wool cap on his big head. It made him look Russian. Maybe he was a refugee from the Soviet Union and resented what he saw as my fascist approach to literature.

I couldn’t let him go. Not yet. Not until I made a hard-core move.

Acting on gut instinct, I said, “Can I have a lift downtown?” I stood up, followed him into the hall. He locked the door behind us. “I need to go to the bookstore to get the assigned books. Looks like I have a lot of work to do.” I grinned stupidly at him. Meanwhile, my mind was racing ahead.

He gave me a puzzled look. “Why not go to the university bookstore here on campus?”

“It’s closed because of the snow,” I lied. “If you could just drop me off on Newbury Street, that would be perfect.”

I followed him down the stairs, planning my strategy. I could tell he was trying to find a way to say no but was too much of a gentleman to ditch me. When he held the door for me, I knew I’d won.

The teachers’ lot was snowed in and nearly empty. He walked quickly toward one of the cars covered in several inches of thick whiteness, with me at his heels.

A classic Mercedes. Vintage. It suited him.

He opened the passenger side door for me, and I slid inside. He tossed his case on the backseat, then rummaged for his scraper. While I sat huddling for warmth in the ice-cold car, he scraped the snow from all the windows. Then he got in the car and revved up the engine.

His bulk took up so much room I felt pressed against the passenger-side door. His breath created gusts of steam. When the windshield quickly fogged up, he reached under his seat for a rag and wiped it clean. The wipers fought off new snow, but it was difficult to see out. We would be driving blind.

He eased the car out of the lot and slid down the icy drive to the front gate, fishtailing all the way. His tires weren’t good in the snow. Neither was he. Maybe he wasn’t Russian after all.

While we waited at the gate for the light to change, he cracked his window and turned on the heat. “Sorry. This old car does not have the accessories of the newer models.”

Like heat? I shivered. “Can you drop me at the Tobin Bridge instead?” I asked.

He looked at me like I was crazy. “Where on the bridge?”

“Anywhere,” I said, unbuckling my seatbelt. “I’m going to jump off.”

He stared at me for a moment. His eyes were sad. I almost felt bad then. I almost felt sorry for him.

Before I could change my mind, I slid over fast and jammed my foot on the accelerator. He screamed as we roared out of the driveway and into the traffic streaming by in both directions.

The screeching of brakes and the scrape of metal on metal were muffled by the thick snow. Still, the harsh noise filled the car. I flew around the front seat, banging against the door, ceiling, and dashboard, until I landed on his side of the car.

He still had his seatbelt fastened. My head was in his lap.

Perfect, I thought. Then I passed out.

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Copyright © 2020 by Mickey J. Corrigan

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