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A Few Indiscretions at Hampshire House by KJ Hannah Greenberg.


Next to the library was Hampshire House, the women’s dorm named for the benefactress Betty Hampshire. Betty, a banker’s daughter was an only child. She inhabited her parents’ mansion until she died from complications of bulimia. There had been no media buzz about her illness; her life, though, became legacy for her former sorority.

Sam, in contrast, was neither a socialite nor eating disordered. The seventh child of a steelworker, she lived in the attic of a building joined to others by common side walls, in a blue collar neighborhood. Once, her scout troop had driven through Betty’s neighborhood to reach a park, where ducks swam on clean water and where the playground equipment was not broken. Greek membership had never occurred to Sam. Sam attended the university forty years after Betty had left it.

Clarene was Sam’s age. She had attended the same high school as had Betty, but had neither heaps of gems nor exquisite furs. She did, however, have a mother who allowed her to eat cookies without her having to finish her vegetables. On campus, she joined one of the small number of women’s social clubs.

Betty had few friends. A chauffer drove her to the university and returned, later, to pick her up to bring her home. Her parents dissuaded her from engaging in practical experiences, such as internships, and questioned the utility of her exploring theory-based experiences, such as independent studies.

Sam, who regularly exchanged pleasantries with classmates, left her sociology major because she was told to do so by her mentor. The school’s head baker, a crone whose domain opened out into the heart of the university’s subterranean food complex, and whose favor could be purchased with kindness, had admonished Sam, her work-study aid, to stop seeking only feel good outcomes, that is, outcomes that made Sam feel intellectually or creatively accomplished. To wit, Sam began to study statistics. She also dropped the boyfriend who preceded Roger.

Clarene was suited to learning arts or humanities. Like others of the girls enrolled in those subjects, her parents had retirement funds. Degrees in marketable fields were more appropriate for girls whose home lives were synonymous with alcoholism, with child beating, and with incest. Clarene meant to raise up those wretched and to otherwise bestow upon those masses her castoff designer shoes, handbags and clothing. She would grasp the verities of the lower classes and, in doing so aid her advisors in writing glowing letters for her graduate school applications.

Betty dallied among topics. She was as uncomfortable taking private lessons in French horn as she was studying Russian, algebra, British literature, or basket weaving. The stress of trying to find a niche, combined with her gaping diet made her hair fall out. Neither of her parents noticed that she had taken to wearing hats.

Sam studied data analysis, matrix algebra and calculus. She learned the ins and outs of differential equations, of operations research and of imperative computation. She made friends with Clarene.

Clarene, who found Sam to be a low graben from which to jump, that is, a social cog so far below her accustomed threshold as to be a novelty, encouraged their relationship. Sam could be the first among the many “minions,” who spent spring vacations at home, instead of on sunny, Mediterranean beaches or on ski slopes edged by European forests, who Clarene would rescue.

Betty, eventually, settled on a “self-declared” major. In her generation, such a direction was considered odd. No family member contested her choice, though; that year, her mother had bought and filled a Parisian apartment. Her father was absent, “on business,” as usual.

Sam met Roger, another cafeteria employee, when the two were mutually charged to set up a buffet for guests of the university’s CEO. He noticed her cleavage. She noticed his lack of compunction ordering other staff members around. He recognized, in her face turned toward the floor, slouched shoulders, and bright features hidden in shiny, nondescript hair, a girl who was ripe. Despite the fact that he invited Sam to a campus movie that night, it took him an entire half of a year to get her pregnant.

Clarene positioned herself to dig in the ledgers of the school’s activity funds and in the record books of her dormitory. Clarene believed that such delvings would yield desirable data on a portion of her school’s have-nots. At best, she would extract enough data to complete her project. At worst, she would find new persons to whom to feel superior.

Betty’s eyes became increasingly sunk in. Her skin deflected light. Her French horn tutor, enchanted with the apparition that sought him weekly, propositioned her.

Roger worked in the underground kitchens for the free food; he needed no wage since he possessed a generous, albeit mysterious, source of income. What’s more, he needed no dupe since he habitually ranted at Sam. Frequently, he discredited her for putting up with her misogynist, opportunistic professors and their graduate assistants. He’d admonish her, pointing out how her clothing left little to the imagination, and how she could have relied on brain power, instead, to earn her grades.

Clarene gave up some club time. She issued a few, small bribes, too. Consequently, she ably accessed most of the figures she sought. As well, she exposed Roger, who had been taking “loans” from the campus playwriting workshop and from the dormitory counsel.

Betty began to cut herself when, a semester after consummating their affair, her French horn tutor took a position with a symphony on the other side of the continent. Her father’s Old Winchester Whittler served her need.

Clarene, initially, had liked Roger, having gone so far as to pose herself as a woman, who was possibly interested in his attentions. She had spied on that fellow on Sam’s behalf, believing Sam to be too naïve about the workings of the world to discern good boys from bad. Roger had obligingly flirted with Clarene, telling her of her beauty. Afterwards, however, he had smirked to Sam about that affluent girl’s arrogance.

Sam, who had become besotted with Roger, avoided her sagacious baker, preferring, instead, to associate with Roger’s “friends.” That her grades slipped, her necklines dropped, and her need to impress Clarene increased, escaped her notice. Meanwhile, Roger was busy romancing Louise and Tammy, students, respectively, at a local girls’ college, and at a sports facility in another town.

Betty’s mother noticed some “rust’ on her husband’s favorite antique knife. She ordered her maid to be more careful when cleaning the collection.

Sam was more than a trimester along, but had not yet found a resolution to her dilemma. At about that time, Clarene came across the data incriminating Roger. Somewhat reconciled with Sam, Clarene hosted her, for frozen yoghurts and for “tidbits” of wisdom. Across their chilled desserts, Clarene whispered that even simple abortions could risk reproductive futures. She enforced her sentiments by humming refrains from contemporary horror movies’ soundtracks.

Clarene, in a new effort to observe the working poor, had taken a job at the campus’ frozen yogurt shop. Eagerly, she swirled flavors or restocked cellophane paper, milk, and fresh fruit. She chatted with cleaning staff and gardeners about fashion and investment. Wiping down tables and disinfecting counters beat studying Piaget or Proust. If her parents had let her spend a gap year in South America or had let her sign up for Peace Core service in Malaysia, she would have discovered such pleasures sooner. As it were, her new activities might help her avoid the decades-long marital disharmony she witnessed between her mom and dad.

Betty was hospitalized. She was bound to a bed in a psychiatric ward and doped with sedatives. Her mother returned to Europe.

Sam began, in earnest, to investigate all of the “maternity farms” that were located at least a day’s drive away from campus. She again lingered in the underground workshops and spoke to the baker. That elder listed compassionately as Sam protested that pregnancy made Sam no less spiritual, intelligent, or funny. Before taking her leave of absence from school and, eventually, giving up her newborn for adoption, Sam completed coursework in introductory and intermediate level statistics.

Clarene abandoned sociology for a double concentration in theatre appreciation and French literature. She announced to her family that Voltaire was underappreciated.

Roger was arrested, expelled, and sentenced both to multiple years of community service; the court had deemed him too young to be imprisoned. Roger continued to feed his mojo at both the senior citizen center and the juvenile hall, where he worked.

Betty was eventually released on her own recognizance. When both the maid and her mother were on vacation, she used a few handfuls of drugstore-strength sleeping pills to bring closure to her collegiate life.

Upon being reinstated at the university, Sam studied Statistical Consulting, Probability and Stochastic Processes, and Statistical Problems in Toxicology. Briefly, she toyed with the idea of getting a graduate degree and becoming a professor, but decided to do otherwise, given her growing mistrust of academics. As well, Sam took on a second job so that she could buy into an apartment rental with other girls; at home, her brothers still tittered at her and tried to touch what was forbidden. Her lone aunt still called her a whore. Her father still drank. Her mother still screamed.

Clarene transferred to a less rigorous school. She would study Kierkegaard in translation.



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