Matthew Matthews always wore a suit and tie to class. None of the other teachers did. Laura sat at the back, close to the exit, but she watched him carefully when he wasn’t looking. There was something effete about him, so tailored and manicured and lean, but even so, something else, potent and powerful. It made her restless.
Canadian history had always been boring, but when Matt was talking about Quebec or the fur traders or the Loyalists or the Red River Rebellion, she sat on the edge of her seat. He also taught psychology, and had written a few books on the subject, so he naturally focused on the characters and their motivations, not on dusty dates and statistics or documents that no one would remember past the exams.
Laura ditched chess and joined the camera club when she found out Matt was the guide. She wasn’t particularly interested at first, preferring to paint or write, but he had a way of making the work of photography artists come alive through their life stories. He made her see things she would have missed entirely, small details about how the world was knit together. She loved listening to him talk to his camera, cajole it to cooperate and catch something magic. Sometimes she imagined he would want to take pictures of her. She would be colourful one moment, then melancholy. She would be interesting.
Sometimes she would be naked in the pictures. No one had ever seen her naked, and she liked the idea that Mr. Matthews would be the first one.
Laura didn’t get into a lot of trouble at school. She was quite skilled at hiding all the things that were wrong, expertly keeping them under the surface. But in the last year of high school, she was caught wandering and acting erratic. She said she didn’t know where she was. Someone took her down to the guidance office. Mr. Matthews was on duty. He didn’t chastise her or lecture her about getting high. He gave her recordings about Buddhism and some books on Carl Jung, told her that altered consciousness was something to take seriously and not frivolously. She imagined going into that wonder world with him, about how soothing his voice would be during her journey.
Matt told her to come to the office anytime that he was on duty, so she did. She told him things she never told anyone, things about her mother’s dissociative episodes, things about how kids at school tormented her because her bestie was gay.
One day she showed him some photos she’d taken that she was especially proud of, a slippery rainbow of minnows at the edge of the lake, the purple asters growing in his backyard.
She felt provocative and confident in that moment, but in the next, it all fell apart. Matt had a strange look on his face and he was holding the pictures as if they were poisoned or dangerous. Everything started to echo and feel far away. His voice was thin and brittle. When were you at my house? he asked her.
She thought of his enchanted gardens, of the old swing covered in vines, of the ancient church bench and all the birdhouses. She liked to sit on that bench and think about him looking out the window, imagine him waving from inside, pulling the curtain to one side and calling her to join him. She imagined him in jeans, barefoot, reading Leonard Cohen poetry and drinking dark wine in a big round glass.
Which time? she asked back. I have lots of pictures of your house.
He must have seen her there, she’d thought, hoped, talking to petals and swallows, coaxing her camera to capture something beautiful just the way he taught her. But from the way he is frozen and furious, she knows now that he hadn’t. He didn’t see her at all.
Lorette C. Luzajic is an artist, writer, and editor living in Toronto, Canada. Her prose poetry and flash fiction are widely published, recently in Brilliant Flash Fiction, Bright Flash Review, and Gyroscope Review.