The student’s tale

merciLiam picked at his thumbnail outside Jacoby’s office. He checked the time. Lunch should be over.

He practiced his delivery. “It’s not my grades, professor. It’s just that, well, the reading assignment.” The passage lapped in his skull like bath water: “And prively he caughte hir…”

“Hello Liam,” said Dr. Jacoby. The professor jiggled his key in the doorknob and waved Liam inside. “Something the matter?”

“Ah, not especially,” said Liam. “Well, in a sense. It’s not my grades, you see…”

Dr. Jacoby dropped a stack of books on his desk and flung aside a leather sathel. “Sit,” he said.

Liam eased into a chair before the desk. Jacoby, instead of taking his seat behind, came around and sat next to him. Liam shifted in his seat. The professor leaned forward. “Tell me, what can I do for you.”

“Well, it’s not my grades.”

Jacoby nodded. “Not grades. Okay.”

“I read the assignment from this morning.”

The Miller’s Tale.” Jacoby cocked an eyebrow. “Already?”

“I dropped biology. I have a long break between ten and one-thirty now.”

“Were you doing poorly in bio?”


“Why drop it, then?”

“Well, I suppose it’s sort of related to why I’m here too. I took biology because I thought it would be about animals. I’ve read a lot about animals since I was a boy.”

“And it’s not about animals?”

“In a sense, I suppose. It’s about what goes on inside animals, and I’m not very familiar with that.” Liam swallowed. “And I could never cut one open in 102.”

“But you’re taking 101.”

“Yes, but 101 leads to 102 and, as somewhat of a completionist – my friends would vouch for that – I would feel like I’d have to follow through, which I know would be impossible, considering.”

“It’s just idiosyncratic.”

Liam’s tension melted. He had the urge to thank Dr. Jacobin and leave. But he hadn’t finished quite yet. He said, “Yes, precisely.”

“And this has to do with my class?”

“Yes. As a young man, I read a lot about knights and kings and chivalry and I took Medieval Literature because I thought it would be a class that would build on my knowledge of those things.”

“Just last week we finished The Knight’s Tale.”

“Yes, and I enjoyed it. But before that we read mostly about Christianity.”

“Yes, we did.”

“But it’s not about that.”

Jacoby leaned back in his chair. “It’s about The Miller’s Tale.”

Liam let his bag fall to the floor and he pulled out his copy of The Canterbury Tales. He handed the book to Dr. Jacoby. “I’ve highlighted the passage in pink.”

The professor thumbed through the chapter. He read aloud: “‘And prively he caughte hir by the queynte.'”


“Do you know what that means?”

Liam nodded gravely.

“That’s the one?”

“I stopped reading there.”

“Not a word more?”

“Not one.”

Jacoby flipped a few pages forward and read in silence. He nodded. “The Knight was probably as horrified by the Miller’s story as you seem to be, don’t you think?”

“Perhaps. I don’t know what it is to be a knight. I wouldn’t want to presume.”

Jacoby handed the book back to Liam. “What can I do for you today, Mr. Clevidge?”

Liam hesitated. “I just wanted to let you know that I’m considering dropping the class.”

“But not because your grades are poor.”


“Personal reasons. Idiosyncratic.”

“Yes, thank you.”


Liam smiled. “For understanding.” He gathered his bag and left Jacoby’s office, scurrying off to his next class, Eastern Empires, which thus far, had not conflicted with his academic pursuits.

The professor closed the door. At his desk, he opened his own copy of The Canterbury Tales and read, for the hundredth time, The Miller’s Tale. He dwelled on the lines that had stirred his student. For once upon a time, he was a young man not so different from Nicholtas himself.

That young man would never understand.

Jacoby smiled. He read now in his head as he had at the foot of her bed, twenty-five years ago: that night, he caught his wife by the queynte and stole her away and never looked back with regret.

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