by Elena Santangelo



The Adventure Of The Matching Midterms

DR. ZIEGLER and I began our unique Holmes/Watson relationship the day she accused me of cheating on an exam.
      This was back before she got her PhD, though she'd been hard at work on it for nearly two years. She was a grad assistant, teaching Intro to Psych. I was a frosh psych major, second semester, needing to take the course before summer, and unable to sign on with another prof because their classes were already filled by the time I registered.
Not so Ms. Ziegler's. Her reputation preceded her. "Fraulein Gestapo" she was called behind her back, along with a few less complimentary nicknames. Not that anything besides her name seemed German, but she never smiled, her stern demeanor was legend, and I'd heard her exams, from biweekly quizzes through finals, gave interrogative torture a whole new definition. No one willingly signed up for her, especially since she had the earliest Tuesday/Thursday slot: eight a.m.
      Actually, though, the class was better than expected. Fifty students, tops. Scanty for a lecture course, which made it easier to ask questions. I was the only one who ever did, the others being content to let their brains vegetate, I suppose. To be fair, maybe they weren't fully awake at that hour.
      Ms. Ziegler used a mike. She was soft-spoken, never raising her voice. In fact, when she was in a foul mood, her voice got quieter, making it possible to guess her temper from her decibel level.
      Still, she knew her subject and knew how to explain, not merely rearranging the words in the book or reading from her notes. Most of my Intro class were non-majors, but she didn't talk down to them like some profs, or lose them in psych-speak. Her replies to questions were always clear, even to Mr. Football Scholarship in the back of the hall, if he'd stop snoring long enough to listen.
      March rolled around. I'd survived, even aced, her multiple choice quizzes thus far, but the midterm was all essay. Like our other tests, we were instructed to sit at least one seat and row apart from the next student. No sweat, with our small class, most of us did anyway. I used almost seventy minutes of the ninety allotted to the class to complete that exam. A few students left earlier, handing their exams to Ms. Ziegler with defeated looks on their faces. The majority of the class was still there when I left, squirming in their seats and scratching their heads with their pencils. My own brain felt like a deflated balloon.
A week and a half later, after spring break, she asked the brown noser in the front row to hand back our midterms. I held my breath as I opened my blue book. A red "94" stared back at me. I was disappointed. I thought I'd done better. I quickly flipped through it, defensively reading the areas where points were taken off, ignoring what Ms. Ziegler was saying in the front of the lecture hall.
      " . . . Todd MacBride and Wendy Freeman, sometime this afternoon."
      My head shot up at the mention of my name.
      Ms. Ziegler was looking down at her podium. "I'll be in my office from eleven-thirty until two. If that's inconvenient, please make an appointment in the main office."
      Obviously she wanted to see me. No, I told myself, not obviously. Maybe she wanted to see the rest of the class and Wendy Freeman and I were exempt. No problem, I could ask Heidi.
      Heidi Connor was a junior business management major who had a work study job in the Psych Department. She was no more than a clerk/go-fer, reporting to the office manager, but she acted like the C.E.O. of a major corporation. I had a humble work study job there myself, doing filing and copying seven hours a week (whatever Heidi couldn't get done, or more likely, felt was beneath her). It paid for my textbooks so I wasn't complaining, but I wouldn't have refused extra hours. College life demands more than textbooks, like occasional doses of off-campus food.
      At quarter to twelve, I walked into the Psychology Building, which was shaped sort of like a U and done up in neo-Art Deco. Heidi worked in the main office on the third floor. I found her frantically typing away on her laptop.
      "Can't talk now, Todd," she said hastily, not looking up. "I've got a paper due in fifteen minutes. You're here to see Miz Ziegler, right?"
      That answered one of my questions, now for the second. "Yeah, where's her office?"
      "Top floor. Other side of the Anxiety Research Lab."
      Entirely appropriate, I thought. "Any idea why she wants to see me?"
      "She doesn't confide in me. I'm lucky if I get an occasional Post-it, asking me to copy something. The only person she ever talks to is her faculty mentor, Dr. Hunt."
      "Maybe she's shy."
      "Loony is what she is."
      Feeling like I was exploring uncharted territory, I climbed up two more flights and walked to the end of the hall. Ms. Ziegler's office was only marked with a number and no name plate, but the door was open and I saw her at her desk.
      The room was tiny, maybe a janitor's closet at one time. The furniture was arranged strictly to get the most out of the dimensions of the room. A small table stacked with papers and books occupied one corner. The desk was in the only space left, pushed up against the opposite wall. One picture hung above the desk: a serene photo of a cluster of green trees.
Ms. Ziegler sat contemplating those trees, tapping her pen absently on her desk pad, oblivious to my presence. At my knock, she turned annoyed eyes on me, then recognition took over. The One-Who-Asks-Questions, she silently labeled me.
      "Todd MacBride," I volunteered, adding, "You wanted to see me," in case she'd acquired amnesia since the morning.
      "Todd MacBride?" Ms. Ziegler repeated with a puzzled frown, trying to make me fit my name. Her eyes worked better than medieval torture devices. If I'd been anyone else, I would have confessed right then and there.
      "I'm not interrupting your lunch, am I?" I said feebly. "I could come back later."
      "No. Come in." At the word "lunch", Ms. Ziegler had reached down and shut her desk drawer, but not before I caught a glimpse of the bottle inside. Liquid antacid, extra strength. The look on her face said she knew I saw it and dared me to say something about it.
"Let me get a chair." I was grateful to find an excuse to get out from under her gaze temporarily. The lecture hall didn't do her justice. A stare like that could wreak havoc in a smaller classroom.
      The Anxiety Lab let me borrow a desk chair. Taking a deep breath, I wheeled it back to the lion's den.
      "You're alone?" Ms. Ziegler asked as I sat down. "I thought Wendy would be with you."
      "Were we supposed to come together?" I wished I'd been paying more attention in class. "I don't even know what she looks like."
      "You don't." Not a question, and the way she said it lived up to her Gestapo nickname. All she needed was a whip and a leather glove to slap it across.
      "No, ma'am, I don't."
      Her voice lost a few decibels. Bad omen. Maybe I shouldn't have called her ma'am. Women were touchy that way. "Then how do you explain the fact that her midterm was practically a carbon copy of yours?"


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