No longer could Sidney ignore the knight standing in a corner of her “Survey of English Literature" classroom. She thought he’d go away once the group finished studying Tudor England. Next, she had high expectations for the end of Michael Drayton’s poetry. But now, having only two pages to read on education during the Elizabethan era, she’d lost all hope.
Of course, the word delusion had crossed her mind. Thirst, tiredness, stress, and wishful thinking had been considered and discarded too. But the more she shook her head and scratched her eyes, the clearer the man became, shining with his polished plate shell.
And now he leaned on his sword, one leg crossed in front of the other forming a precarious number four, listening to her more attentively than any student. She avoided his stare, tucked her sleek black hair behind her ears, and searched her brain for the subject matter of the class. Romanticism, it seemed.
Sidney’s life revolved around fiction. When she didn’t teach it, she read it. More books than friends, more reading credits than clothes, and more experience with timelines than with real life. To have a fictional character attend her lecture was the next illogical step. She couldn’t say she was shocked. She was curious, not surprised.
“Can anyone explain how industrialism affected English literature during the Victorian period?"
Somewhere at the back of the wood-paneled classroom, a female voice was addressing the question, but Sidney’s attention was elsewhere. She was pondering whether or not to acknowledge the knight with a smile.
A shy smile at first, worthy of any Guinevere. Then wait for the knight’s reaction before any bolder move. Peruse the classroom mocking interest in the students’ answers. And walk to the very back of the space to rap her free hand on the armor and check if any clanking noise resulted. Neither one of these alternatives seemed unreasonable to her under the circumstances.
She chose the timid smile. He acknowledged with a tipping of his head. His blue eyes blinked slowly, as if he were just waking up from a dream, in an invitation for her to continue talking. She followed his lead and opened a book. Some more poetry to calm her now unraveling nerves. Keats was what she needed: 'La Belle Dame Sans Merci.’ She found a hook, a link to trick the class. She prayed her move was seamless.
She read with renewed contentment. Exposure had dulled the senses and habituated her mind. Perpetual contact with fiction had numbed Sidney’s brain to its magic. She had dutifully performed her teaching, stopping at all the necessary historical stations. But she did it with the zombieÂÁlike detachment of folding laundry or wiping windows.
But now she read avidly, pronouncing every last syllable with nurse ÂÁlike care. Whether the knight was a product of her imbalanced imagination or a transplant from some alternate reality was a mere immaterial detail. Words escaped from her lips like hungry prisoners. And when she looked again at the armored figure, she couldn’t help but wonder, want, and wish that he had come to stay.
Had Sidney paid the least attention to her classroom, she would have seen the surprise in her students’ wide eyes and dropped jaws. She would have caught the stolen glances, the swapped notes. Never before had they heard her read with such gusto, tasting the words as if they were Italian gelato. She even looked pretty with her flushed cheeks and dancing hands. Her heavy brown shoes brushed the creaking floor with the gracefulness of a Viennese waltz dancer’s slippers. When she moved, the light coming from the big windows infiltrated her skirt revealing charming sculpted legs.
For once she owned the usually oversized and overwhelming classroom. She was not Sidney anymore, nor Dr. Thompson. She was a muse and her poet; she was the music and its lyrics. She was Guinevere. The strange case of the armored knight could not be explained, and Sidney didn’t want to resolve it. She was the only one who could see him, and her life had changed for the better since he materialized. She now looked forward to teaching, and she chose the readings with special heed to give him the right impression.
But one Friday after weeks of intimacy, when with her heart pounding and her ears throbbing, Sidney entered the room wearing a new special flowery dress, she felt an imaginary spear pierce through her stomach.
Her knight was not there.
She vowed not to panic; after all, maybe her melodic voice would cause him to reappear. So she recited the words with all of the strength in her soul, and she treated the verses like a prayer.
Still the corner remained empty and sad. Still her chant reverberated on the constricting walls around her, no salvation in sight.
In her mind, Sidney sunk to the floor broken and shattered like pieces of a fine Chinese vase. In reality, she put on an expressionless mask and finished the class. Done, she dragged herself home to her books and her empty apartment. She could not fathom teaching another day.
She collapsed on the chaise near the window and let her left arm rest on her face to cover her eyes. Nothing for them to see. At least she was grateful for the thick rain that fell outside.
She got up. Aided by the light of a lamppost, she accompanied the trajectory of the raindrops toward the sidewalk.
That was when she saw him, standing in the rain, staring at her second floor window. She spent minutes looking his way, hearing the metallic sound of the drops against his armor, wondering if he felt cold or lonely or bewildered.
But somehow it all seemed to make sense.
This time she did not rub her eyes. She did not shake her head. She did not question what she would leave behind. She simply disappeared into the night, never to be seen again.