Mary jumped on the bus, hood up, head down, hand clasping her bag. The bus driver didn’t give her a second look as she sat down and visualised her plan of action. Inevitably it wouldn’t work out well for her but while she still had time to change her mind she knew she wouldn’t. Her life had taken a complete change of direction but maybe this had always been her destination. She sat back, calm and relaxed, thinking of the events that had paved this road before her.
As a small child, Mary had imagined her future as a successful businesswoman, millionaire. She may have a child or two but no more. She definitely wouldn’t have a litter like her tired mother. A strange ambition for a seven year old when all her friends were dressing up as Sleeping Beauty or Cinderella. She was always a realist and never believed in fairy tales.
It wasn’t that she didn’t respect her mothers choices. She seemed to be happy enough in her motherhood and part-time job. She couldn’t have continued in her original, time demanding career if she wanted to give time to her children she was always heard saying though Mary didn’t remember her spending more time with her than any of her friends parents had with them. Mary had noticed the wistful regret of maybe a different life in her mothers words so she planned her own life journey from an early age and no one was going was going to divert her from it.
She only read biographies, history and “real” books, no fantasy nonsense for her, She noted down all the steps her idols had taken, the sacrifices of these successful women. Women who used their brains and not only survived, but excelled in this man’s world. She played sport to win and keep fit. She was a winner and would always be a winner. She had few friends, she only wanted to mix with driven people, fools need not apply, She was an old head on young shoulders her teachers commented, her school report was always excellent.
Boys did not distract her, though with her long golden locks, sea blue eyes and natural deep red lips she had many admirers. She kept her distance. She knew from watching her mother that often the man’s dreams come first. She came top of the class, top of the country, in her leaving cert. She got her first choice and a scholarship.
The day her journey veered off the path into the murky woods of uncertainty she had followed a ruthless, intelligent and charming wolf. She wasn’t prepared because she had never read a fairy-tale in her life, never read anything but facts, statistics and measureable truths. That day, Mary was sitting in her lecture listening intently to the words of Professor Whyte. She knew all about the famous economist Professor Whyte, she had read all of his papers. She had watched his programmes and read his autobiography.
Perhaps it was because she already knew the economic premise he was discussing, having read on ahead, that she had time to admire his fit body, sparkling eyes and inviting smile. Having never given herself a moment to wander down the rabbit hole of infatuation before she hardly noticed she was slipping into that inviting mossy darkness as she doodled his features on her page. He, however, had been scanning the new recruits, innocent first years, preferably loners. He was looking for new blood, having discarded his last just before she went in for her finals.
Mary was staring into his eyes ready to leap in and drown. She was already beginning to justify in her mind her sudden daydreaming episode, something she never did and scorned openly in secondary school.
“I know this already, I’ll study it later, I’ll snap out of this enchantment shortly and get back to my schedule.”
She had a schedule, a timetable showing her productive plan for every minute of her waking day. Dr. Whyte was about to change all that.
All the rest of her class moved out and on to the next lecture as she lingered on doodling and dreaming of the handsome prince before her and he stayed back, slowly gathering his books and his lunch. He stopped, looked at her and tossed a juicy red apple which she caught and sat holding it, like a rabbit paralysed, staring into his headlights. He smiled, walking out the door.
“ Bye Dr. Whyte, thanks for the apple.”
“ No problem Miss..”
“Mary, Mary Malone.”
“ Ah, Mary, not Molly then? Call me Phil, I’m not into titles. See you soon.”
Mary found herself bumping into Dr. Whyte, Phil, regularly. She had him for lectures twice a week and a tutorial but he seemed to be everywhere she looked. It was unnerving, especially as she had only allowed herself to daydream that one day and now thoughts of him kept interrupting when and as often as they wanted. She found she liked him more and more each day which was not on her plan.
Phil was liking this chase, he thought it was going to be an easy one that first day but this rabbit was resisting, more harelike the way she bounded off as soon as she saw him. He was getting under her skin. She was difficult to pin down, she didn’t attend the usual student haunts and seemed to socialise with her classmates only during and in between class.
“Ah, Mary, how are you?”
He was leaning up against a doorway in the corridor as she was scurrying along to get to class.
“Stop a bit and chat, you are well on time as usual. I’ve been worrying about you, I worry about all my students. You need to live a little, let down your hair, go out with your friends, go to The Yellow Brick, that’s where everyone hangs out I’m told, I go on occasion myself, might even venture there tonight. Funny, normally, I’m telling students to do the opposite.”
He laughed. She stopped and looked at him.
“What do you mean? I’m fine. I don’t really enjoy that sort of thing, I’m just here to learn.”
“It’s not all about books Mary, You seem like an ambitious sort, you need to learn to network, be at the right events, socialise, it’s how we humans work I’m afraid, even if you don’t like it.”
He hit her right between the eyes, she was doing something wrong, not moving in the right direction to her dream, yes she was top of her class, had been since day one but she knew he was right. Sooner or later she had to play the game, be seen at the right places, rub shoulders with the people of influence and she hadn’t ventured out once.
I’ve been so busy.”
“Yes, busy, busy, top of the class. I’ve been watching your progress and well done but you know what they say, all work and no play.”
“I play camogie, that’s a team sport.”
“ And do you enjoy it? ”
“Yes, yes, I’ve always loved camogie. I score a lot, I like winning. We won a lot, my school team.”
“Yes, you like winning, how about you sign up for something social, eh Mary? Tick that box too. “
and off he went knowing he had upset her. He had the measure of this little rabbit, he had met many like her before.
Irritated, she wandered into her lecture not thinking of anything but his words.
‘He makes me seem so superficial and calculating, I’m not like that at all, I’m just focused and that’s a good thing.’
She watched others laughing and joking together making plans for the evening despite a paper being due next week. How could they leave so much to chance? Even later as she studied she couldn’t let it go and in the end she pushed her chair back from her desk and stood up. She changed her clothes, brushed her hair and put some make up on, not a lot as she only had a minimal amount in the first place. Then she went to prove to him and to herself that she could have some fun, throw caution to the wind just like everybody else. She promised herself she would be home by midnight at the latest as she had so much work to do.
He smiled his charming smile when he saw her enter the pub and then he ignored her and continued his conversation while she squirmed and wondered what she was doing here. When he felt she had enough and might flee he approached his little rabbit and saved her from herself.
“Well, this is a surprise, I thought you thought pubs were a pointless exercise”
“I thought I might relax, socialise a bit,”
“Yes, you are doing great at that over here in the corner on your own.”
“Here, let me buy you a drink, you can join us, its not all tutors, there are some of your kind with us too, students I mean not social butterflies”
He snorted at his own joke and directed her to the table. He introduced her and wandered to the bar.
She never was so giddy or frisky, she usually only drank to be polite and only ever one but this night’s partying lasted longer than she intended, she wasn’t sure what was in that concoction she had been drinking, it was sweet but very intoxicating. Against her better judgement, she had none by the end of the night, she went with Phil to his office to discuss some paper he was working on. She had agreed enthusiastically, delighted he thought she was clever enough. One thing led to another and they slept together that night and many more to come and soon her every spare moment was in his company. They did discuss his paper and she won many arguments on it and he even seemed so grateful for her input that she spent more time on his work than her own. As her grades fell his work flowered and bloomed.
She got through first year reasonably near the top. She held her own in second year and third but in her final year she was waking up to the manipulation she had willingly allowed happen. His work had been exceptional during her time with him and much of it was hers but no recognition would come her way. She overheard a lecturer comment one day how Phil always worked better with a muse and it irritated her no end. He was distancing himself from her, saying she should spread her wings, she shouldn’t want to be tied down to him. Before, he had made plans for life with her. She noticed he was spending more and more time around the first years, more than he had in years, in fact since her first year.
It was the day she saw him propped up against a doorway, greeting a young girl in the way he greeted her before, that she remembered the girl who had been staring at her and him the way she was now staring at the scene unfolding before her. That day she changed the course of her journey forever.
She descended from the bus, made her way to the door and knocked. Phil opened it and smiled.
“I’ve written a letter to the Dean and I’ve contributions from many more young women you manipulated along with evidence of their work that you claimed as your own. He should get it this morning, round about now. My journey to hell has ended, but yours is only starting.”
She opened her bag, took out the gun and pulled the trigger. He stood in horror as her young frame fell to the ground before him, her white hood slowly changing to crimson. The phone rang.
“This reminded me of Edna O’Brien’s writing in its portrayal of the harsh realities of being a young woman in an environment ruled by a powerful man; the ending was unexpected but unforgettable!” Judge’s comment in ICA Short Story Competition, 4th overall, 1st HIGHLY COMMENDED.