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don’t know what’s happened but my shoes my skirt my shirt I want them all in colour. I’ll throw out all the black and brown, all the neat shirts and flesh-coloured pantyhose, stuff them into supermarket bags and drop them slyly into bins at the shopping centre like people do with dog turds and smelly things they don’t want to pollute their bins at home. Bought this purple silk dress – it should have been mourning black but she’d understand – and wore it on a thirty-five degree day. Now it’s collapsed around me like a used parachute or maybe a condom darkened with moisture where it’s touched my skin and there’s no way to get out of this faculty and go home without being seen by

could make a person feel attractive although I remember that time Meg said to me I looked older than my age and she tried to back-pedal by saying, No, I mean wiser, or smarter, you know, mature but not and she trailed off. You’d think I would have been embarrassed – I’m only thirty-eight – but I was snickering inside. What she really meant, and we both knew it, was spinsterish, which might have been awful except relief, that’s what I felt, because it meant nobody had seen me and the philosophy senior lecturer pashing behind the lift well after the end-of-semester celebration. We tried to have sex on his desk but he started to spout philosophical logic at me and

the university has changed and we’re all rocketing around trying to change with it even though we know they don’t want us. What institution wants a thirty-eight-year-old spinsterish possibly sluttish classics lecturer with the cinched belt of the unwaisted and an uncommon knowledge of the Philodemus texts? Definitely not the university that awarded a massive grant to New Modes of Intradisciplinary Auto-Digital Ideologies, while the scarred fragile scraps of work of the rakish yet learned Philodemus, first century BCE, reveal their secrets under infrared light in the hands of scholars on the other side of the world. Maybe I am sluttish but how many sluts can converse in Latin wordplay and wrangle

because natural anger, Philodemus says, can be measured by what harm has been done, whether the natural and necessary goods of life have been damaged by the taking away of life or health or safety. Natural anger begins as a pang, proceeds to outrage, then

couldn’t have done it because the photocopier was already broken when I got there, as I told them, but they prefer to think of me as an Athenian kataskopoi, a spy in their midst disguised as a mild-mannered classics scholar, or dissembling as a woman on the edge of speaking out. Oh how I would hurt them with a cutting epigram from the wicked Philodemus if only I could caress his charred papyri in my white-gloved fingers. As for the posters, that could have been anyone. I have no idea about design and it was quite a striking

Detonator, that’s what I wish I could be. They call her The Detonator.

speaking with the Executive Head of Services in the corridor outside her office because she would never invite me in. She has a couch – how did she get it in there? – and a coffee maker on her second desk. Everyone else slouches on their sagging gas-lift chairs in front of cheap pixelated screens and scrapes leftover lunch from dinky plastic containers halfway through the morning before heading out for a sustaining kebab or bag of chips for real lunch. We buy our coffee. Alix from History knows I know she’s standing three behind me in the coffee queue but we’re playing the deep-in-thought game because we’ve got nothing to say to each other except

how the wearing of a certain piece of clothing can affect whole swathes of the day. If I had turned up in my usual jeans and shirt would suspicion have passed over me in the same way promotions, sabbaticals and basic respect have? Those koprophagos metrokoites in the

always too milky and always tepid. Hi Alix, hi, hi, didn’t see you there, must rush. Clamp the arms to the sides to hide the sweat patches. If I could only go home but no, five more hours. Anyway, it’s symptomatic of management’s desperate paranoia – of their own making! – and a lack of faith in the academic staff that they make us punch our numbers into the photocopier to do copying. Do they think we’re stupid? No one uses their own number. Whatever sucker was assigned 12345 has probably racked up ten thousand copies over the last six months. Maybe the dryer in the level three bathroom would dry off my

the noxious atmosphere in that committee room. The Dean’s eyes blinked rapidly as though my purple silk dress was blinding him. Lovely costume, he said finally and the other six members nodded too enthusiastically. How refreshing to have some colour in the room, he said, especially at this difficult time. This morning I’d felt like a flower, a gorgeous soft-petalled flower, but in the committee room I turned into a frumpy hippo in a purple costume. I’m not even fat. Sweating started with the agenda, nothing surprising on there so the sweating, I don’t know, maybe silk does it. Not fat, not usually a sweaty type, yet here I was oozing out of the underarms, the back, under the breasts, between the legs. Up comes item two and a moment of silence, and I can’t stand up for fear I’ll

do about these students. Angelo with his pants too tight and the girls all trying to look the other way when he lounges spread-legged on the chair in the seminar room, his small, squashed package no great advertisement. Sophie’s hair with its sad little flares of colour every few weeks. I want to give them a hug and let them know that even the Ancient Greeks suffered the same terror and embarrassment of youth. But I can’t because they believe I see them only as underperforming brains. They’d be aghast to know that I observe them the same way they observe me. Yes, Nate, this is my new breakout look, thanks for noticing. Are you going to write about this on Let me tell you kiddo, this is only the

actually no, Meg, I don’t want to join the Staff Giving Program, especially when it’s unlikely that I’ll even be staff next year. Have you considered a Staff Retention Program? And thank you, yes, I am looking much brighter lately. Really? You think this colour purple suits me? It is indeed a feminist colour. On the other hand, perhaps you didn’t know that purple clothes were only affordable to those of wealth and high status in ancient Greece. It reminds me of when I held high status, honoured for my distinguished scholarly career and international standing in the field of classical Greek translation. Worth considering that the Greeks probably sweated plenty too when they

opening the staffroom fridge and finding the seven-month-old yoghurt still there. Oh yoghurt, old friend, I wonder what’s going on inside that plastic opaque lid. I imagine colour and textural variety, a vibrant competitive ecosystem. Perhaps your new flora have evolved some kind of intelligence. Could it be you who wrote the new Staff Code of Conduct? Are you in fact employed by the Human Resources Department? So much would be explained by

expect me to write a forty-page grant application when I have five tutorials with thirty students each, as well as lectures, interminable meetings that achieve nothing, pastoral care of students who have anxiety issues (which is almost all of them), days learning the twenty-three new software programs they’ve decided to make a part of our administrative workload, and spending evenings on my own research. At ten in the evening, all I have left in energy is to lie down with some true crime rather than trying to write a paper analysing the arguments in the new Philodemus texts, which of course I’ve never seen in the original because

sculpture with the child mounted on the third horse looking delighted, as far as it’s possible to tell when the face is crafted from bronze, but a small moment of pleasure on the way in and out through the western path. Professor Cheong from Linguistics arriving at the same time as me on Tuesdays and Thursdays when we nod with the resigned head droop of the doomed and make chat about weather and gardens and how to deal with the sounds of concrete truck deliveries, rattle guns, excavators, saw cutting, core holing and hammering that drown out our voices when we teach

of course they blame me. I was her best friend. I said what I thought about what happened. And I don’t blame whoever made those posters but I’ll be the one to pay unless

my unfinished article rearing up from its paper nest like a desperate baby bird each time I pass the desk. The author would like to thank her late friend, both a colleague and an internationally esteemed scholar… No. The author would like to acknowledge the important… No. Significant? No. The author would like to express her gratitude to the woman without whom…who tragically

has dwindled away and no one can answer any questions about the future. Only working parties and teams and meetings meetings meetings and proposals and why does all our money go on buildings that look like beehives and have whiteboards too small to write on and computer labs and huge screens everywhere you look showing ads for the university we’re already inside or sporting events or some unrelated news content. Last night, thinking about her eyebrows, the way she drew them on in better days, so black and thick and arched as if to say, Try me

if I rolled my chair outside on its wonky castors and sat on the lawn near the bronze horses and the child rider and meditated. Silk dress drying off, the flattened track of my journey in the grass behind me. Bemused and harried passers-by wanting to ask but knowing that the answer might dismay them or frighten them or make no sense at all. No sense at all. And if I had an orange scarf, a detonator-orange scarf, I would

her face when they told us, maybe mine was the same but I think I knew already, whereas she was deep in a manuscript, her brain fused in concentration on that final chapter, the outer world an annoying necessity, her students neglected and fractious, the lime oil-burner scent infusing the corridor with her intensity. One more month, she’d said the week before, and the draft will be done. I’ll pay you a thousand dollars to do my marking, she said, and I told her she’d have to pay me a million or two or three but I’d make her a cup of tea to fortify herself instead. Then that announcement, that

might not have turned up in my purple today except changing your life involves changing the small things too. Philodemus’s treatise on anger where he compares the debt we owe to people who have hurt us voluntarily with the debt of gratitude we owe to people who have benefited us voluntarily. By the way, do you mind if I call you Phil, ancient one? And just this once, is it all right for me to mimic the rage of the gods? I know you say it is grotesque for mortals to behave that way, but it is a temporary madness. I miss her so much, her snapcrackle laugh bouncing along the corridor, her refusal to

that outside in the air and sunlight the students are like different human beings. Aysha sitting on the grass with her hijab on a jaunty angle from the excitement of debate and Merlin, vague starboy of hippy parents, making his first coherent argument. They defend the notion of democracy even as their own democracy crumbles around them. All that is solid melts into air. I wish one of them would rise from the constraints of academe, mount the first horse and

because I’m only thirty-eight, I’ll tell them. A spinsterish, sluttish thirty-eight, perhaps, and wearing an incongruous, limp, silk dress, but nimble enough to mount a stumpy bronze sculpture. Fascinating how the first four or five who passed averted their eyes. Easier to pretend you haven’t seen in the hazy dusk of a sun-filled day. Along comes Professor Cheong laughing and waving, and one of my students from last year giving me a double thumbs up. Ridiculous and happy. First time I’ve felt joy since