Name: Tracey S. Rosenberg
Title: Sweet City With Her Dreaming Spires
Sara Saltzer dreams about being a graduate student at Oxford University, but she's so worried about failure that she lies to the snooty college librarian. To her dismay, she starts falling in love with him. If she doesn't write better essays, she'll flunk out, but how can Sara concentrate on Victorian literature when her secretive Latin-quoting roommate threatens to blow up the college, and the librarian is the only person who can help?
First 500 words:
If I want to win the Busby-Gale Prize, I have to write this essay, Sara berated herself. The judges will not be impressed that I have the most neatly-stacked library books of the graduating class.
In the Quiet Reading Space, regularly voted the best study room on the Ward campus, the only decorations were soothing arrangements of fronded houseplants. The tall windows offered a relaxing view of snow-covered lawns. At the long tables, students were tapping on keyboards, sketching mindmaps, flipping through anthologies bristling with bookmarks and Post-It notes. Sara opened her laptop, once again marveling at how everyone else was capable of such diligent work. Writing essays always felt like gulping a lungful of air, falling into an Olympic-sized pool, and churning frantically until her hands grasped the wall. Even then, she still never felt entirely certain that she really believed her own arguments.
Around her laptop lay everything she needed for the slog: The Mill on the Floss and Middlemarch, well-annotated from Professor McCulloch’s weekly seminars; three sheets of page references listing relevant quotations (cross-referenced in orange and green highlighter); and five books of critical essays on George Eliot, one of them overdue. She vowed to return it as soon as she’d dropped off her essay at the English Literature office in seven and a half – no, closer to seven hours.
In this essay, I will examine, she began typing, knowing it for a freshman trick, the ways in which George Eliot refuses to allow her female characters autonomy and agency.
The words vanished as a sheet of paper dropped over the screen.
WE ARE GOING TO ENGLAND. IF YOU SAY NO, I WILL BEAT YOU WITH A DICTIONARY.
Under the words, a frowning stick figure lay crushed beneath a copy of Webster’s Unabridged. “You win, Julia!” it cried in a speech bubble.
Sara crossed out “win” and wrote “sound like a broken record”, then added: ESSAY CRISIS. SEE YOU TONIGHT.
“Tower of London!” Julia hissed, brandishing a travel brochure. “Stratford!”
By the time the room monitor looked up from his sociology textbook, Julia had grabbed Sara’s arm and was pulling her outside.
“We’re graduating in four months!” she lectured, as the wood-and-glass door eased shut behind them. “We need to flirt with diplomats and sleep in train stations and get our passports stolen. The travel agent said if we want the best fares, we need to buy tickets by the end of the month! Why do you keep pretending you don’t want to go to England?”
People at the table nearest to the door were turning around and squinting through the glass. One of them, Julia’s roommate from sophomore year, seemed to be laughing.
“If you’re going to harangue me about this again, I want some tea.”
“You drink tea,” Julia proclaimed as they clattered downstairs. “Just like English people. You drink tea and you’ve been jabbering about English literature since I met you. The day I met you. ‘Hi! I’m Sara Saltzer! Have you read Alice in Wonderland?’”
“I’m pretty sure that’s not how I introduced myself.”