Thursday, June 10, 2004

Chloe and the Ice Cream Truck

One of my favorite students at Pacific Crest was Chloe. She had impossibly wide-open light blue eyes in a fearless face. She was a disciplined student; one of the few in my War and Peace class who always kept up with the heavy reading load. She'd take up any question. She formed opinions readily, and defended them warmly, but not doggedly; she was always interested in what other people thought. A joy to have in class.

One Spring morning we were upstairs, deep into Tolstoy. I think we were discussing Ellen Vasilievna Kuragina, whom they all despised, none more fiercely than Chloe. (They never did learn to like Prince Andrei, but they loved Pierre, and watching him fall into Ellen's clutches filled them with dismay.) I was trying to nudge the discussion on to why Tolstoy had created this character at all. The conversation faltered, and quiet fell in the room. Several students seemed to be surreptitiously checking the contents of their pockets. I was bewildered for a moment, until my middle-aged ears picked it up too -- the sound of an ice-cream truck's music.

After a minute, Chloe stood up, with the air of a person who has considered gravely and come to a serious decision. "I'll be right back," she said.

In a twinkling two-thirds of the class had followed her out the door.

"I think we'll take a ten minute break," I said to the nearly empty room, and the rest of them shot out.

Five minutes later we were reassembled, and discussing Ellen Vasilievna again, sometimes in indistinct mumbles, over ice-cream bars and popsicles.

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