The Adventure Of
The Matching Midterms
DR. ZIEGLER and I began our
unique Holmes/Watson relationship the day she accused me of cheating on
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
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
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
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
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
"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
"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