The campus seems much the same stately red brick buildings that scream liberal arts, acres of surrounding snow-covered cathedral white pines, and people lumbering across the quad for classes. Linda sips her coffee and watches those still dressed more for warmth than fashion, even though the calendar says spring has arrived.
While away on a wonderful semester in Bath, college life back in Maine marched on without her. It had been a growth experience. She felt worldly, more mature. How can one travel the world and not be changed? Growing up with older brothers had helped in many ways. She excelled at sports, and had a relative comfort level with boys that others lacked. In Bath, she’d impressed local lads with her propensity for winning pub games (from yard-drinking to downing pints of lager sipped through baby bottle nipples). Yet she never let her competitive side get in the way of sharing a friendly laugh.
Those months seemed spent visiting another planet, one where she fell in love with quaint accents and subtle differences that heightened daily sights, smells, and sounds; a modern world easily transformed into bygone eras and magical settings.
As she savors the caffeinated warmth, she ponders the wealth of pleasant memories. The side trip to Stratford-on-Avon had been grand, as was that holiday visit to her great aunt in the French countryside (she’d actually run into her good friend Johnny at the train station a delightful surprise). In Provence, it had been relatively temperate. Yet the current arctic front here makes every exhalation a small white cloud that dissipates on the wind. Linda wishes everything was so easily seen and understood.
She’d been getting a chilly reception from some former friends on the field hockey team. They considered her semester abroad a traitorous desertion of Benedict Arnold proportion. Without her, the team had won seven of twelve games, but hadn’t qualified for divisional playoffs. Linda figures the girls will get over it in time. More troubling to her is the way Mike has been behaving.
After a month in Bath, there had been a call. Mike had said “it wasn’t right” to remain tied to one another while so far away. He hemmed and hawed, phrased it that “this way she could feel free to meet the love of her life in England.” Linda had thought Mike was the love of her life.
“Seeing someone else?” Linda asked.
“No, it’s all hypothetical,” he assured her. They argued a bit longer, but Mike was firm in wanting freedom. And so, around Thanksgiving time, they agreed to break up. Linda tried not to let it bother her.
She figured the whole truth would be obvious upon returning. But she hasn’t yet seen Mike with any “special” girl. This has Linda thinking there’s hope for reconciliation.
But the night they attended a lecture on campus safety together was confusing. When they went back to her room, Mike seemed ill at ease, his body language distant and unresponsive. It was as if they hadn’t been the best of friends and lovers the whole prior year.
Though not naturally jealous, Linda still suspects Mike has found someone else. Not knowing is making her crazy. Normally, she’d ask Johnny his opinions and advice (but Johnny’s still in London for the year at an exchange program for creative writing).
Instead, she needs to bounce suspicions off someone with life experience who can set her straight. She finishes the now tepid coffee, bundles up and heads toward the humanities building.
Professor Myra Running-Wolf’s charismatic and confrontational lectures are something of a campus legend. This dark-haired whirling dervish heads the college’s Department of Women’s Studies, spearheading a “lipstick feminist” movement with a sharp and unforgiving tongue, urging women to revel in their alluring girlishness while en route to mastering the universe. Her latest essay collection (“Willing Slaves to Passion”) has been on national best-seller lists for the past six months. She also happens to be Linda’s faculty advisor.
Linda finds the professor in her crowded office, couched in a big leather armchair, scribbling in the page margins of a book by Andre Malraux. Linda knocks softly on the open door.
“Linda, to what do I owe this pleasure?”
“Spare a few minutes?”
“For you, surely,” she said, putting the book aside. “What’s going on?”
“Nothing academic. Just need a little life advice.”
“Come sit down, I’ve got plenty of that.” Myra shuts the office door before opening a drawer and pulling out two glasses. “Sweet sherry’s the perfect tonic for a cold and gloomy day. But this isn’t happening, right?”
“I’m not even here,” Linda says, smiling and taking a sip. The dulcet liquid soothes her throat, providing unexpected warmth. Myra puts on a Mozart concerto.
“Mozart’s perfect for life’s problems,” she says, “what’s on your mind?”
Linda knows it’s lucky she and Professor Running-Wolf have been friends since early freshman year. Myra (she insists Linda call her that) sees much of her younger self in Linda, and has told her “You remind me of me.” She often gives Linda counsel that extends beyond academic matters. In fact, the semester at Bath originally had been her idea. Linda admires and respects her as a teacher, woman, and friend, and cherishes her guidance.
She takes another taste of sherry, preparing to relate her concerns about Mike.
“What I’m about to say is woman to woman, it goes no further than this office,” Myra says.
She pauses to light a cigarette, a bad habit retained from graduate school days.
“Men are easy to understand,” she says. “Never make the mistake of reading too much into what’s not there to begin with. This boy of yours…not a very heavy thinker, right?”
Linda has to agree. Mike’s not dumb, but he’s no academic genius either. “He’s got a good heart,” Linda responds. “Or at least I thought so.”
“Quite good-looking, I take it.”
“He’s a hunk, yes.”
“Well, this shouldn’t be about him. All women have the power to make men cater to their every need. First, you must recognize this.”
Linda tries to conjure thoughts of dominance. They don’t seem very appealing.
“You’re a goddess,” Myra continues. “Every woman can learn to unleash that goddess energy. And when thus empowered, any woman can rule -- over men, over countries, over any desired dominion.”
She pauses, pushing out a smoke ring for effect.
“Any woman can do this. But attractive women especially. People like me and, certainly, you.”
“It’s true, Linda. You’re young, athletic, smart. With the right attitude, there’s nothing you can’t do. I learned the hard way, but you’ve got me as mentor. I can teach you amazing things, if you’re willing.”
“What are we talking about?”
“This boy of yours, you want him back?”
“I guarantee he’ll be begging. Men are simple, easily manipulated. And boys, therefore, are simpler yet.”
“But how does one get empowered?”
“Many ways: ways of acting, dressing, playing the seduction game. It’s really very basic for a smart girl like you, it’ll be a cakewalk.”
“No offense, Myra. That so doesn’t sound like me.”
“I know, Linda. But don’t you see? You’ve come to me to be awakened. I can change you!”
“I’m not sure I want to be changed.”
“Trust the instincts that brought you here. Besides, what’s changing is more perception than reality, what people think you are. What do you have to lose?”
“Well, if this will get Mike back...”
“Linda, you need to set your sights higher. But let’s give it a go. Be at my apartment tomorrow afternoon.”
Linda writes down the address, agrees to be there. A little goddess energy never hurt anyone, she figures.
The apartment occupies the upper half of a lovely pre-war home that has been divided into two separate units. Linda loves the high ceilings and the spaciousness. Myra leads her into the front room, where the furnishings are various shades of amber and mahogany. It gives a sense of being dated, like some sepia-toned daguerreotype. Small floral patterns dot the geometric trellis on the faded wallpaper. Heavy, oversized velvet drapes are bunched to one side of a picture window framed in white lace.
Linda takes a seat on the modest divan. This room is the antithesis of Myra’s office at the college. Everything seems to have its own place, free of clutter. From the delicate glass menagerie on the fireplace mantel to the intricate pattern of warm colors in the oval Oriental rug, it is a place of great visual interest, meticulously arranged.
“May I get you an adult beverage?” Myra asks. “I’ve got some primo vino as well as a nice, smoky single malt if you hanker for old Scotland. Either can be used as an effective learning aid.”
“The single malt sounds great,” Linda says, “though I must confess I never made it to Scotland.”
Myra delivers the scotch over ice in a crystal tumbler. “Shame. Sit quietly for a few while I get ready,” she says. “Just ponder what you consider to be your best attributes.”
Linda sips and ruminates over a checklist of what others seem to like about her. She has an infectious laugh. She has pretty brown eyes with just a fleck of yellow in them. She has a well-toned body, muscular but not overly so, and well-proportioned. Mike has said she’s the best kisser he’s ever known. She wonders how many others he has kissed. What are their names? How many kisses were there?
The heat of the single malt unmoors her focus, yet she likes this feeling. As she drinks, she finds herself thinking fondly of Mike, the endearing way he’d write bad love poems and often read them to her in bed. She thinks, “I want that sweet boy back.”
Myra’s entrance interrupts her thoughts. Gone are the frowsy eggplant turtleneck and worn jeans that scream busy academician, replaced by a smart white silk blouse and short black skirt that implies designer chic. The long dark hair, usually braided, flows freely down the back, reflecting highlights from subtle track lighting overhead.
Linda is amazed by this transformation. Beyond the fashionable clothes is the perfect hint of makeup, some lip gloss and accents that command attention to those penetrating eyes. Standing before her is perhaps the most alluring woman she’s ever encountered, exuding an almost palpable sensuality as she smiles graciously.
“Impressed?” Myra asks. “This is what you can achieve. It’s based on eternal principles; mind, body, and spirit in absolute poise.”
“You seem like another person.”
“We’re all many people. While often far removed from my ancestors, I still adhere to their sound beliefs. The ancient Lakota knew there’s unlimited power when a unity is achieved between heart and mind. When they are joined as one, whatever is asked for is the way it will be.
As the body’s senses entwine with the blessings of spirit, you learn to overcome fear, to trust intuition and inner knowing. You walk the path empowered by self-control, courage, patience, and dignity. This is goddess energy.”
“Most impressive. But where do I start?”
“You must feel desirable to be desirable.”
“And how do I manage that?”
“Start with that in mind. And enhance it with wearing something that reinforces it. This way, please.”
Linda puts her drink down and follows this new Myra into the next room, an ecru antechamber with a cavernous walk-in closet. Linda gapes at what surrounds her, a treasure trove of feminine lingerie and intimate wear in all manner of seductive style and color, from silky red teddys to frilly opaque gartered contraptions.
“Is this all yours?” she asks.
“Pick any three items that might help you feel more desirable.”
It is an overwhelming selection from which to choose. “This isn’t who I am,” Linda thinks. “Perhaps that’s my problem.” She selects a white teddy, something relatively conservative, and hands it to Myra.
“That’s it? I think you need some black thigh-highs to go with this, at the very least.”
“This is all new to me.”
“I know, and normally, I wouldn’t think of sharing such secrets with another, especially not a student. But I know I can trust you, Linda. And I know you can benefit from this. Would you like to try it on now?”
“I don’t know, honestly, this all seems a little weird.”
“I know you’re a trifle afraid, and rightfully so. You’ve not unleashed this side of yourself, we’re in unchartered territory. It’s not just about the clothing, Linda. Wearing things like this reminds you of the power you hold. I often wear the sexiest of underwear beneath my somewhat placid teaching outfits. Just knowing it’s there is like having a secret boost of confidence at the ready.”
“A goddess always is good to go, dear. Trust me on that.”
Linda hears the confidence in her professor’s voice, the “knowingness” that borders on smug. She doesn’t question the fact that “trashy underwear” can be a power strategy, she only wonders how it pertains to her. This is not for Linda Stevens, a voice inside her head proclaims. Yet another part of her wants to be the good student, to acquiesce and impress, rise to the challenge.
“Where can I change?” she asks.
“Right there in the closet. I’ll be in the front room. Take your time, hon.”
It is the voice of the cat that ate the canary. Linda pulls her blue cotton cable knit up over her head. A sixth sense screams that something isn’t right about this. Linda wonders what ulterior motive drives this proffered kindness. She hears Myra playing soft jazz on the stereo.
Something tells her to look around carefully. As she unbuttons, unzips and steps out of her jeans, Linda notices a three-drawer vertical filing cabinet in the far corner of the closet. It’s the same color as the wall, and almost blends in. Linda pushes back the hangers-full of silky camisoles that have it well-hidden.
The drawers all are labeled. The top drawer says: “Toys,” the middle one “Erotica/Porn” and the bottom merely “Conquests.” Linda figures what the top two might contain and decides to peek into the third. She slowly pulls it open.
It is full of colored hanging files arranged alphabetically by last name. There are over a hundred files, easily: other professors, college administrators, students, mostly names she can’t identify. The goddess energy obviously is most effective. Linda knows she only has a minute at most.
She scans under H and finds what she was hoped wouldn’t be there: Halloran, Mike. While one finger holds the space, she quickly looks inside. There are bad love poems and a bunch of poor-quality Polaroids of the two of them either lying on a bed naked, or in the midst of performing various sexual acts.
Linda slips two of these into her jeans pocket and softly closes the file drawer. She knows the importance of keeping her rising anger at bay.
She emerges from the closet wearing her white teddy and black thigh-highs. The front room is colder, as if a draft has found its way down the fireplace flue.
“You look lovely,” Myra exclaims. “And doesn’t it feel nice?”
“Yes.” Linda has to admit it does.
“Have you seen yourself?” The professor leads her star student to a full-length mirror. Linda is surprised. A very sexy young woman stares back, a woman she doesn’t entirely recognize.
“That’s amazing,” she says.
“And this is just the start. Don’t you feel empowered?”
Linda savors thoughts of how this woman needs to pay for her abuses.
“I feel more empowered than I can even express,” Linda confesses.
“Ah, that boy of yours is going to be begging for mercy.”
“I have no doubt.” Linda flashes a knowing smile to Myra, who mistakes it for a genuine communion.
Myra comes over and hugs Linda. She’s proud of her new disciple.
“Go get dressed now. We’re done for today. Wear this underneath. You’ll find it a positive reminder of the goddess energy you’re unleashing.”
Linda goes into the closet and changes back, checking that the two Polaroids are safely in her possession.
“I’m so proud of you,” says Myra in the next room. “Things are about to change for you, Linda, you’ll see.”
“Things are about to change for you too,” Linda thinks, as she straightens the blue sweater back in place. “When heart and mind are in unity, what you ask for is what will be.” Thoughts of revenge make Linda smile. She feels empowered, and on top of that, just a little bit sexy too.