Scribbled in the Back of a Composition Notebook

By Stephanie King

Evening class at community college: Introduction to Literature

A 27-year-old Army vet using her GI Bill to go back to school
A newly-minted PhD looking nervous but sharp in his blazer-over-turtleneck
17 fresh faced babies who just graduated from high school

Third person, limited: What is she thinking? Going back to school when she’s forgotten everything she ever learned about the 5-paragraph essay? Wondering if he likes her, when he’s got a degree too fancy for this place and he’s that nice to everyone because he’s a good teacher.

Rising action: The coy glances. The smiles as they say “good night” to each other. The time his hand brushes hers as he points out a metaphor on the page she’s reading.

Climax: She asks him if he’d like to get coffee sometime. The sadness in his eyes as he says he can’t. Her vision blurring as she stares up at the crack above her bed in her crappy studio apartment, but she won’t cry, damnit.

Falling action: The remainder of the semester, as she writes her final paper on the longing in Shakespeare’s sonnets, the season outside the classroom turning to the first buds of spring.

Yearning, searching, striving.

Confident, full of false bravado when chatting before and after class; tremulous and uncertain when answering questions on the text.

She has come into her own, finishing the semester with a 3.5, literature her highest grade. She heads out buoyed back into this, her new life. Her strappy sundress and sandals in the final scene symbolize her newfound freedom, no longer encumbered by needing her hair to not touch her collar or weighed down by combat boots, as she walks past a chattering patio bar and has almost turned the corner when she hears his voice call out to her, no longer his student.

Stephanie King is a past winner the Quarterly West Novella Prize and the Lilith Short Fiction Prize, with stories also appearing in Entropy, Every Day Fiction, and Loch Raven Review. She received her MFA from Bennington and serves on the board of the Philadelphia Writers’ Conference. You can find her online at or @stephstephking on Twitter.

Art by Lesley C. Weston (Watercolor and Ink)

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