And So It Was
Sunlight stretched, bitter and pale, across the sky and reflected in the calm surface of Hoyt Lake. Sophie Laurent sat on the concrete steps, unfazed by the beginning of the day. She could still smell him on her; the scent of his breath, his cheap, overbearing cologne. It made her skin crawl.
Cars were beginning to venture down the snow lined streets, headlights creeping across the untouched lawns of old mansions that slept in the stillness of dawn. They would be awakening soon, with small children checking the local news stations in hopes of seeing their schools flash on the bottom of the screens. It didn’t matter that wars were happening or that the country was in crisis. The children of Buffalo wanted to know if they had a snow day or not.
Getting up from where she sat, Sophie followed her footsteps back up to Lincoln Parkway. The bottom of her dress was wet, soaked through to her underwear. She needed a shower. She couldn’t sit in class still smelling like last night’s sex, her hair still a greasy mess. Not when the rest of her classmates did their walk of shame in the cover of back staircases in dorm buildings.
This was a different beast altogether.
As she walked up to Elmwood, Rockwell Hall stared her down. It knew she had to be there in a few hours. Maybe she’d skip his class, just this once.
Elmwood Avenue slowly rubbed the sleep from its eyes. Cars pushed snow to the grey piles that built up in the gutters while the locals sought sanctuary on the east side of the street, trading in their free-flowing liquor at Cole’s or J.P. Bullfeathers for the comfort of SPoT Coffee’s purple cups and Mucho Redeyes (no room, on wheels).
There would be no Tim Horton’s for the loudly liberal inhabitants of Elmwood Village. Nor would they pray at the altar of corporate coffee despite the Starbucks and Coffee Culture that lingered in the shadows of local businesses. Even Sophie, despite the small paychecks she earned from SPoT, shopped local and organic whenever she could. It was just how things were here. But, it wasn’t the way the rest of the rust belt worked.
Sophie had lived in Buffalo all of her life, growing up in Kenmore and paying her dues in private schools. With the 14 different colleges that had spread themselves across the general Western New York area, she never really had a choice to leave town. Her friends from high school were spread out between community colleges and other SUNY institutions, though the majority stuck around home. Even those that stayed often decided to dorm.
Cheap beer and sharing a living space with a stranger hardly seemed appealing to Sophie. Instead, she settled on working part time and finding a place of her own. She had settled on a small, one-bedroom on the corner of Lexington and Ashland above a dance studio. The building itself was a yellow brick with black bay windows that jutted out from the second and third floors. The main floor boasted small storefronts, advertisements for ballet and lyrical taped to the inside windows.
As she stood outside her apartment, having made the long walk down Elmwood to Lex, she was glad to be coming here instead of going back to her childhood bedroom. Here, she could slumber soundly in jersey cotton while pictures she had taken around the city stared down at her. If she had still been at her parent’s house, in the room she grew up in, it would be pictures of her and her brother in Cape Cod two summers ago or of her grandparents at their 50th wedding anniversary, dancing to “I’ll Be Seeing You.”
Her phone went off as she stepped inside the door, her apartment still two flights upstairs. It was her best friend, Jenna.
“Jesus, Soph. You sound awful. Where the hell are you?”
Sophie unlocked her apartment door and pushed it open, happy that she had decided to keep the shades drawn before she went out last night.
“Um, at home.”
“Well, are you meeting me for coffee before class?”
Jenna’s voice was too loud, too full of life for such an early hour. Sophie debated turning on her Kuerig, her need for coffee growing with each second that ticked by on the call’s timer. But she resisted. She needed sleep.
“I’m sick. I’m not coming in today.”
Sophie unzipped the knee-high black boots she had been wearing the night before, her feet sore from walking so far. They had gone with the grey sweater dress she knew he liked her in and the black tights. The black tights he had ripped off of her, that were ruined. She tossed them in the bathroom garbage.
“But Professor Franz will miss you.” Jenna’s voice continued at a painfully high decibel, her words teasing. If only she knew.
“I’m sure he’ll get over it. With all the help Jim needs, I’m sure he’ll be plenty busy.”
Professor Franz taught their drawing class. A few weeks into the spring semester, they had migrated from pieces of fabric and fruit to drawing each other: their faces, their hands. It was intimate, if not violating, to have your classmate stare down at you. To study each crack in your face, each scar on your hand. With an uneven grouping of students, Sophie was taken pity on by Professor Franz and they took turns studying each other’s faces, hands, arms, legs. She knew them deeply and intimately, now.
“I’d give Jim the help he needs but we both know that’s damn pointless. He’s dating whatsherface, from our PolySci class. Her Dad’s a member of the Buffalo Club. Owns half the goddamn town.”
Sophie put the phone on speakerphone and set it down on her bed, Jenna’s voice drifting up from the white down-feather comforter. She stripped off the rest of her clothes, the dress and the black underwear that seemed so juvenile, so hopeful, in the pale morning light, lay discarded on the floor of her closet.
“Yeah, I still don’t know why she’s at Buff State. You would’ve thought she’d be at Cornell. Or get the hell out of Buffalo.”
She placated Jenna with their morning round of gossip, Jenna’s dorming lifestyle making her privilege to everything that went on at campus when Sophie sought the solace of her apartment. She grabbed a pair of underwear, a t-shirt, and a pair of socks from her drawer. The wooden floor was cold against her bare feet.
“I don’t know. But I wish you were here. Do you want me to come over after class? You never told me how it went last night.”
Sophie looked at the phone. She forgot she had told Jenna she had a meeting with Professor Franz after her final project for the semester. She was supposed to call Jenna after the 8 o’clock meeting, his last class of the day ending around then. But, she never did.
“I don’t know. Just… Call me, or something. I’ve got to work tonight.”
“Ew. Alright, well I’ll text you after class. See how you’re feeling. Should I send Franz your love?”
Jenna giggled like a smitten schoolgirl. Sophie could hear the accusation between the words.
“No, that’s okay.” She had crawled into bed, her back to the small window where sunlight leaked around the dark curtains. She wanted total blackness, total emersion into sleep. Maybe then she’d be able to wake up from whatever dream world she was living in right now. A world where you slept with your professors like it was no big deal. A world where he went home to his wife and kids when it was all said and done, leaving you cold and empty on the steps of the Albright Knox.
Sophie hung up the phone without another word.