The Professor

We decided on our story beforehand. We decided that she, in suspenders and a tweed suit, would be The Professor and that I, in that short white dress with the denim all frayed underneath, would be the student she was sleeping with, the one who made everything so painfully obvious, who made the game easy to the point of a fault, to the point of a turn off— who laughed too hard at her jokes and exclaimed in embarrassing and overzealous excitement (this sounded like Katharine Hepburn), “oh, professor” at nearly everything she said, so much so that I was a chore to drag around and so probably very good in bed.

We decided this is what we’d tell people if there were people at the party who wanted to  know—that this would be our disguise. We thought it was wise to walk in in a bell jar, to create careful distance on entry, in case of the Suck, as in what if this party’s the Suck.  What if these people are the Suck. We practiced our routine on the M train from Queens. We went over each little detail of our story and shook out the lingering laughter from both our bone frames, tittering, sitting jittery on the kyle blue bench.

We waited in anticipation, giggled as the doorman let us in, and hurried through the fancy lobby before he could realize his mistake.  We made faces at each other in the lift, took it to the sixth floor, and waited at the door for the curtains to open, for the lights to come on, and then when they did we were greeted by the host’s two kids, and everyone there was a human.

“Okay Carter, Sadie’s done with her dance.”

“Go ahead, Buddy,” the boy’s father planted a gentle, flat palm across the boy’s shoulder, blades like a shelter from wind and from rain. “Tell all the people your joke.”

The little boy was two years younger than his sister and so shy.

He looked out at the sparkling stage lights, a sea of adult eyes, and pretended to knock on our door.

When we asked the visitor for his name, he spoke low, as if he was talking into his own mouth.

“Lettuce who?” the boy’s father translated and, for a moment, we all sat in silence. Everyone could tell that the boy was sort of frozen. Everyone could tell that the sequence was not his idea.

Then, just as his father opened his mouth to speak, the boy screamed “LETTUCE IN IT’S COLD OUTSIDE” at the top of his lungs and ran out of the room, like a star, collapsing.

And then came the second, and third rounds of drinks. And then came the second dance that their daughter did.

And then came the meal and the rest of it and time as we’d previously comprehended it seemed to cascade. I remember the buffalo you and I both hoped would break just in time, standing side-by-side in front of the photograph in the museum, long before we grew into two people who had anything to remember doing together.

Long before we had to put on masks to make love.

They asked us where we were from.  They asked what it was that we did.

They asked us all the questions we’d wanted, had been waiting for, exactly as we hoped they might.

They asked, one by one: they went down our list.

We decided on our story beforehand but when we got there we just told the truth the whole night.

Toni Kochensparger was born in Kettering, Ohio, and now lives in Queens. You can find them on Instagram @gothphiliproth.