Dr. Edwards and Miss Robinson
By Robert Russell
“Have you seen Miss Robinson?” Edwards asked his colleague. The two stood in the main corridor of Pollock Hall as students and staff drifted around them. “Dr. Edwards, haven’t you heard? Miss Robinson has fallen ill. She hasn’t made her classes for the past two days,” he responded. The words struck Edwards and his eyes widened, a flush in his face. He responded, “Oh, well, I’m very sorry to hear that,” surprise tingeing the timbre of his voice.
Edwards had not seen Miss Robinson for the past two weeks. He had been helping her with research for a post-doctorate study amid her third semester teaching introductory English classes. The two had forged a friendship the spring before–little pleasantries in the hallways and common rooms, but then a summer of silence. The fall had reintroduced them and now Edwards helped her by proofreading her reports and lending books. In his efforts, he unwittingly had found himself in a routine, twice-weekly stopping in to Miss Robinson’s apartment a short walk off campus. Each time he rapped on her door, he worried that she would tell him, no, not today, I’m busy. And this worry had begun to grow, turning infatuation and respect for Miss Robinson into an anxiety that he was becoming a nuisance which threatened to smother the tiny flame of their friendship and any prospects therein. Dismayingly he had resolved to slowly withdraw from Miss Robinson, allow a little distance so as not to suffocate whatever hope may have existed between them.
But with this news, his feelings awakened, and he strode hurriedly to his office around the corner, wherein he retrieved a leather-bound tome, thrust it in his bag, grabbed his coat, and set off toward her place.
Late November saw the campus bare and cold. Students were doubtless nestled warm in their rooms, in library carrels, studiously working on final papers and preparing for final exams. The recent snow had coated the quad under a quilt of glistening white, stippled by naked trees and carved by the plowed paths cutting through the campus. Dr. Edwards walked with intent, the flaps of his overcoat drifting in the wind. The frigid air turned his cheeks pink, watered his eyes behind the wire rims of his glasses, their temples growing colder and colder with each step. Soon he crossed the limits of the university, and entered into her neighborhood.
When he arrived at her door, he was short of breath and took a moment to collect himself then knocked three times. When Miss Robinson opened the door, Edwards almost did not recognize her; she had swept her hair up into a bun atop her head and her pink-white ears were bare; she wore dark-rimmed glasses, behind which her eyes were wide and deep. He noticed too she was paler than usual, and there were subtle smudges around her wide eyes. Suddenly, Edwards felt that he was intruding and wished he had not made the trek over.
“Hello, I heard that you were ill, and– I thought I would drop by to see how you were; I have a book that might be helpful to you; are you all right? I–I don’t want to–” Edwards could hear the nervousness in his voice and noticed that his hands were trembling.
“Come in, please.”
Edwards entered her small studio and walked towards the back wall where he took a seat at the table that divided her bedroom and kitchen. “Would you like some coffee?” she asked – “No, that’s okay, you mustn’t go through the trouble.” – “It’s really okay, I’ll just heat up the pot.” As he sat, Edwards could not control his bouncing knees. The shift from the cold to the warmth mingled with his anxiety, stirring his legs into a frenzy. He noticed that her apartment was tidy, tidier than would be expected someone ill to maintain. The bed was made, the kitchen was clean, and the coffee table was empty save one book opened midway and glass of water nearby.
“I apologize for not coming sooner,” Edwards broke the silence. She was still in the kitchen, only a few steps away, her back stiff and shadowed. He muttered to himself silently that he should not have come. She turned and came to the table with two full mugs, then took a seat opposite Edwards. Silence followed.
Remembering the book that he had brought, Edwards began “Perhaps you aren’t feeling up to it, but I thought this might be of help with–” He was immediately cut off.
“I haven’t seen you in two weeks, Oli,” she stated, fingers grasping the tiny arm of her mug, the steam rising steadily into a plume before her face.
Edwards was taken aback and looked at her with concern. “I–I’ve been busy–so many things–I–”
“It doesn’t matter,” she said brusquely. “It really doesn’t. I shouldn’t have…I–I don’t know. I’m sorry.” Her eyes, stern a moment before, began to waver, and she averted her gaze toward her hands in her lap, fingers fluctuating from interlaced to outward. She shook her head.
“I’m sorry, you’re ill. If there’s anything I can do–” began Edwards.
“I’m not ill,” she said with an inflection rigid with honesty, yet edged with a forlorn acquiescence, inspiring a sadness and tension between the two. “I’m deeply unhappy.”
The sharpness of her words entered Edwards like a blade in his heart, and he found himself lost, confused, pained from something that was not readily clear. He said, “I’m sorry, I just–I don’t understand.”
“Forget about it. I’m sorry. I didn’t wish to– I’m sorry. You must think I’m crazy,” she said, but Edwards, seizing a momentary glimpse of clarity and newly-found confidence, suddenly started, “No, you are not the one who is crazy. Believe me. It is I. In many ways I am an ignorant man, often oblivious and unable to understand things that come naturally to others. It has followed me my entire life.” He stopped, took a breath, shook his head, eyes downward, then returned to her again, eyes connecting. He began again with conviction.
“The reason that I have not come to see you these past two weeks–I thought–I thought I was becoming a nuisance. But perhaps I was wrong.”
“Yes, yes, you were wrong.”
“I–I had wanted to save you the discomfort of having to deal with–with my feelings for you which I knew would become more and more evident if I continued to see you, Lucy.”
Her name echoed in his in ears, its wavering timbre in his voice. Edwards turned towards her and looked up to see her eyes welling with tears. A faint rosy blush swelled into her cheeks, and her ears shone crimson in the sunlight that poured through the only window. He continued.
“Perhaps I was selfish, and for that I apologize. I had assumed my feelings were not reciprocated and I didn’t want to extinguish whatever friendship, acquaintance we had. I realize now that I–” She cut him off once again.
“Shut up. Please. Just–shut up, and come over here.”