The Red Kitchen by Barbara Clarke is this week’s featured book.
About the Author: In the past, Barbara Clarke has written extensively for corporate clients, trade magazines, worked under a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation grant, non-profit organizations as a grant writer, and for local and alternative newspapers on a variety of topics. In 2009 she published an indie memoir, “Getting to Home: Sojourn in a Perfect House,” about the process of building a house as a single woman. Other publications followed.
Here is an excerpt from inside the pages:
Three days before the end of the semester, I made an appointment to meet with Mrs. Putney, a professor in the English department. She wrote encouraging remarks on my composition papers and cursed in class. I loved her. A tiny woman, she had uncompromising blue eyes and smoked constantly in and out of class. She was the only female, student or faculty, I ever saw walk across the campus with a lighted cigarette, blowing smoke at the decorum set for women at the university.
One afternoon we had met in the student union to talk about one of my papers, a memoir piece I wrote about the episode in the red kitchen. She said it was “honest and compelling.” I said,
“I feel disloyal casting my family in such an unfavorable light.”
She took a deep drag and said, “Your family will get over it—or not.”
Now, walking down the hall to her office, going to New York and becoming a writer belonged to someone else, not me. Mrs. Putney looked even smaller, dwarfed by a large wooden desk covered in stacks of books and piles of papers. Cigarette smoke drifted upward into the stale air. I stood since she hadn’t offered me a chair.
“I came to thank you for your encouragement and to let you know that I won’t be returning in the fall. I’m getting married this summer and we can’t afford for both of us to be students. As soon as he graduates, he’s promised it will be my turn.”
She rested her cigarette on the edge of a glass ashtray filled with stubbed-out butts and studied me. “What happened to that young woman’s dreams you wrote about in your essay?” My eyes briefly closed against the truth. Or was it regret that I had shared it with her? Her question released a don’t go through with it in me that made my legs rubbery.
While she waited for me to say more, I concentrated hard on not crying. What I wanted was for her to ask me to sit down, to talk me out of it, but that wasn’t her job and wouldn’t have mattered. It was too late to change our plans and impossible to tell my mother the wedding was off.
“Are you pregnant? If you are . . .”
I shook my head no and clutched the back of the chair. Mrs. Putney’s disappointment showed on her face, even as she said, “Well then, best wishes and good luck are in order. I certainly hope you get your turn. It would be so unfair if you didn’t.”
“Thank you.” I wanted to say more, but the funeral for my dreams had already begun. She picked up her cigarette, took a long drag, tipped her head back, and blew the smoke up toward the high ceiling. She was done with me. I was done with me too.
I made it outside before I felt the sorrow for the bright young woman I was deserting and left her standing alone on the broad green lawn of the quadrangle.