ARDOR Literary Magazine

ARDOR Literary Magazine - Issue Three, September 2013

Issue One, Published January 2013

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Page 95 of 109

FICTION TIMEPIECE IVY GOODMAN Her key fit, the lock sprang open, the knob turned in her hand, but now, as Susan Varner swung her office door, she struck a muffled obstacle. She couldn't see what the problem was. From the deserted hall, she couldn't see beyond a black crevice at the doorframe. Had one of her office-mates bunched up that useless little rug? The gray and red throw rug had gotten filthier over the years, but it didn't belong to Susan Varner. Three mathematics lecturers shared the same office, though never at the same time. Susan Varner had never met the other two. She pushed the door again with her right shoulder, which drooped from the weight of her briefcase, hanging on its long strap. In her left hand, she held her key ring and a class roster. It was six p.m. on the first day of the spring semester, and Susan Varner had arrived on campus, as usual, after other faculty and staff had left for home. She taught only evening courses at her request. Soon she would have to hurry downstairs to her class without dropping off her coat. She laid her cheek against the cursed door and peered down at the roster in her hand. She had reached the age of seeing things, like floaters or gauzy overlays from nascent cataracts. Sometimes newspaper headlines seemed absurd until sense was restored on second glance. She didn't know, right then, if she could trust her eyes or not. She blinked at the roster, and near the middle of ARDOR | 92 GOODMAN the page, the name Susan Green was still there. Susan Green. An ordinary name. Susan Varner guessed there must be millions of dead and living Susan Greens. And yet time seemed to allow, in her suspended breath, a moment to decide. Should she pursue the long-lost figure or let her go? But this Susan Green was just a name, nothing else, not even a fleeting physical resemblance in a crowd. The face, the body, all of it, was still an empty silhouette. Her colleagues might have asked, Who was Susan Varner? She had not transformed herself, as women can, by marrying and changing her name. Instead, years back, she had simply changed her name to Mrs. Susan Varner. She was married to no one. There was no Mr. Varner. She lived alone in an old apartment downtown, in two rooms hardly altered in the decades since the date on the cornerstone. The walls were painted "Yellow with Time," a tint that had darkened along the ceiling and where the heat fanned out from the vents in dingy parabolas. She had a bed, a bookcase, a bureau, and an upholstered chair in the main room. In the kitchen she ate her meals and worked at a wooden table, grading exams and reviewing her notes for class. But there was also her life's work, her theory of circuitry and time. In the next weeks, she would dazzle her class with the Chinese Postman's Problem, the Traveling Salesman's Problem, and Eulerization. No, she wouldn't dazzle. But her department could rely on her to show up, lecture, and turn in grades. The school was not selective, and Mrs. Varner taught required courses at the lowest level. She tried not to think of students as the enemy, as other teachers did, or as her worst students regarded her—someone to be tricked, lied to, even laughed at. The strange were often laughed at as a respite from the world's tragic news, and Susan Varner no longer took it personally. She felt lucky she

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