Every pen, like every hand, has its own characteristics. Kate has never found two that trail ink in exactly the same way. By comparing the ink scratches on the love poems her grandfather had written on rice paper with the lines and splotches in his notebooks and moleskins she was able to date the era during which the first batch of poems were written. She figured she had a five-year margin of error, which gave her a ten-year window. He had begun writing them during her childhood.
What a mystery are those we live with! What do we know of their passions, their loneliness, their secret joys? During the decade that Kate was his Katy-Moon, he also had WC, his private “eyes of sun.”
Now that she had a window of time, she had someplace to start in her search. The poems included enough references to the university–the fountain in the courtyard, the avenue of cypress, the statue of Thoreau–that it seemed possible WC could be a colleague or even a student. She sensed an imbalance of power in the relationship–older mentor to young scholar, perhaps. And that the love had been kept secret pointed to a student as the beloved, as well.
She called Professor Steinhart, the current chair of her grandfather’s old department.
“I need to see the rosters of my grandfather’s classes,” she said. “For research.”
“Can’t be done,” the professor said. “FERPA laws.”
She had anticipated he wouldn’t cooperate. He hadn’t forgiven her from refusing to edit her grandfather’s private journals for publication. Even though she’d switched to editing her grandfather’s poems, which the university press would eagerly publish, it wasn’t the same. The credit would befall the Creative Writing program, rather than Philosophical Studies.
She tried the registration office next.
“I need to put in a Public Information Request,” she said, “for the class lists from certain years. The classes were taught by my grandfather.”
“What do you need? Names or dates or subjects taught?”
“You can put in the P.I.R,” said the registrar, “but it won’t do you any good. The student names would all be redacted. You’d see how many, maybe, but no identifying information.”
“Not even initials?”
She remembered Celeste Templeton’s offer. You must have all sorts of questions about your grandfather. I’d be happy to share.
That evening, after supper, she and Speckles walked up the river to the square, where Dr. Templeton’s house stood.
While her dog played with Celeste’s Australian shepherd, the two women sat in the kitchen. A lean gray cat leaped onto the table and curled in for a nap.
“I’ve been waiting,” Celeste said. “We can’t resist learning more, can we? About those we’ve loved the best!”
Kate felt her way along through the conversation. She wanted to dive right in, but first the lines had to be extended–they had to be drawn taut–and only then, could they traverse them into matters of the heart.
“Did you ever notice my grandfather take special interest in any of his students?” Kate asked, at last.
“Oh, your grandfather had the most amazing ability! Whomever he was talking to, that was the most important person. He had this way about him of giving you all. So when you spoke with him, you really believed him, after you thanked him for his time, when he said it had been his ‘honor.’ I never knew anyone with a knack for making you feel you were the most special, most promising individual ever.”
“I think my grandfather was in love,” Kate said, and she told Celeste about the box of love letters and the deathbed promise. “Who would he have been in love with? Do you have any idea?”
“And you really want to find out now?” Celeste asked. “After all these years? For what? What purpose?”
Why must everything have a purpose? Isn’t a feeling enough?
“It’s an intuition, I suppose,” Kate said. “I feel unsettled when I see the bundle of poems. I think of my grandfather, asking me to promise to tell someone, if I ever feel that way, and then I think of the clarity of his eyes when I asked him if he wanted me to help him get in touch with this person, during his last days. I think he would want it. Isn’t that enough?”
“If you think it was a student,” Celeste said, “I suppose we could look through the class lists. I might recognize some name. Remember something.”
“I can’t get them,” Kate said, explaining about the FERPA laws and the redactions.
“That’s nonsense!” laughed Celeste. “They’re just lazy butts. FERPA doesn’t extend to class rosters, only personal identifying information, addresses and such. Let me make a call or two.”
The next day, the office assistant for the philosophy department called. “I understand you’re looking for some old class lists of your grandfather’s for research?” she asked. “I think I’ve got what you need!”
“I’ll be there tomorrow!” Kate said.
“Better yet, you’ve got email, right? All our records are digital now. I’ll send them electronically.”
Twenty minutes later, Kate sat at the kitchen table, the printouts spread out before her. She found plenty of Chavezes, Campbells, Chaplins, and Carters, and a handful of Wendys, Wandas, and Willas, but she couldn’t find a single W.C. in all the lists.
She wouldn’t give up. She’d broaden the time-range. The initials had to be there, somewhere.
Prompt for May 12: “Use the Ugly Duckling Story To Write A Balanced Story With The Life-Changing Moment In The Middle,” from StoryADay.org