Not My Field
There’s an immovable object: Mike’s dairy farm in Somerset isn’t going anywhere.
And there’s an irresistible force: university lecturer, Carla, who has brought so much fun and joy into his life over the last few months.
But when she’s offered a senior position in a German university, they both know something’s going to have to give. NOT MY FIELD is a story about grown up people learning to take risks, make compromises, and in the end, choose love.
Carla glanced at the open document on her computer screen. What she really wanted to do this morning was finish the essay for Professor Myren’s Festschrift. Technically, it had been due back with the editor last month, and it really only needed a couple more hours of uninterrupted work time. But Christopher Fulwood was on her back about the performance review forms again, and if he didn’t get them, he was perfectly capable of making her life a living hell. She’d have to try to finish her paper that evening and get the sodding performance review done now.
She twisted her hair up into a messy bun and stuck a pencil through to hold it in place. A pile of undergraduate essays were dumped unceremoniously onto the floor with a stack of books she’d been sent for review on top of it. Now at least she could see the wood of her desk, which always made her feel better.
The PRF was enough to make anyone’s eyes glaze over at the mindnumbing detail which the admin team expected all university teaching staff to be able to provide. Faintly, Carla remembered promising herself last year that she would keep an ongoing list throughout the year of all the relevant work she’d done, so that all she’d have to do at this point was copy and paste. Next year, she really she would do that and not just for the first two weeks. For this year, she pulled out her paper diary and began to leaf through it looking for the information she needed: classes taught, research students supervised, papers submitted, publications received, committees attended.
Carla was trying to make sense of the scribbled notes in her diary from last October when the phone rang. Grateful for an excuse to abandon the struggle, she picked it up with some relief and then, when she heard the familiar voice of an old friend, genuine pleasure.
‘Jürgen! How lovely to hear from you.’
She pushed her chair away from the desk and settled in for a catch-up. Of course, he wouldn’t just be ringing for a casual chat at ten o’clock on a Wednesday morning, but she definitely had time to ask after Gabi and the kids, as well as a few mutual friends before she let him get to the point. He assured her that everyone was well, apart from Thomas’s cracked wrist after falling from his skateboard.
‘Thomas goes skateboarding?’ She struggled to imagine the quiet, serious professor of English doing anything of the sort.
‘He was showing his son.’
‘Ah, I see.’ She grinned, imagining the look on Thomas’s face as he admitted that to his colleagues. ‘Tell him I hope he gets better soon.’
‘I will. Carla, I have been given the great honour of sounding you out about a position here.’
‘What sort of position?’
She couldn’t have understood him. He was asking for suggestions, perhaps, names to throw into the hat now that Myren had announced his retirement. Or a reference for another candidate, maybe.
But Jürgen was still talking. ‘They want someone younger, with an interest in the newer developments in the field. Someone who’ll lead the whole department in new and innovative research. There’s a shortlist, of course. But you’re at the top of it.’
Director of the Faculty of Romance Studies. At Tübingen. She couldn’t quite believe it.
She’d sent Myren a card, thanking him for his mentorship at an early stage of her career and wishing him a happy retirement with Betta, and of course she’d agreed to contribute to the Festschrift. It had not once occurred to her that she would be in the running to succeed him.
‘I don’t know what to say,’ she told Jürgen.
‘Nothing yet,’ Jürgen replied, with a hint of his dry humour. ‘It’s all confidential at this stage. But I’ll confirm your interest with the committee and then you’ll be hearing from us in a more formal capacity.’
Still holding the phone to her ear, Carla stood and went over to the small, oddly shaped window in her office. If she twisted in the right direction there was a view across the city, with both castle and cathedral. Everything that summed up Durham framed in a two by four rectangle. She liked it well enough, but she’d never fallen in love with it. Not the way she’d fallen for Tübingen.
She’d done her PhD there, working on German interpretations of classic Romance language texts. She’d had fun, too, throwing off the tense shackles of her doctoral studies and learning to become more confident in her academic career. Jürgen and Gabi, had been great friends, and there were others she still kept in touch with.
It would be a wonderful place to work again. Her friends in the language faculty would be stimulating colleagues. As Director, she’d have a chance to shape the department, focussing their teaching and research in a new direction. It was a dream job.
‘Don’t tell them anything yet, Jürgen,’ she blurted out. ‘I need… I need to think about it.’
‘Okay.’ He paused. ‘Are you okay, Carla? I thought you would be jumping at the chance? Gabi and I were so excited to think you would be returning.’
‘I’m honoured,’ she said carefully. ‘And I can’t think of a better place to work. I’d love to come back.’
‘Then what is your concern? Perhaps I can set your mind at rest.’
She twisted a finger into her hair, the way she always did when she was nervous. ‘I can’t believe I’m saying this, Jürgen, but there’s a guy.’
He was very sweet about it, telling her that he understood completely and refraining from asking all the questions she could tell he was dying to. At least it hadn’t been Gabi on the phone. She would have come straight out and demanded to know all about this man in Carla’s life.
At twenty-two, Carla had followed her heart. She’d thought she was in love and she’d assumed it was worth risking everything for. She’d been wrong, but she’d been lucky and she knew it. She’d been careful never to make the same mistake again. She’d had several very enjoyable relationships along the way but she’d always been careful not to risk the things which really mattered to her.
It was disconcerting, therefore, to find that she was hesitating about the Tübingen job. It would be a great achievement, moving her into the very top echelons within her profession. At forty-nine, she was still young to be offered such a prestigious post, but she knew full well that if she turned it down, there was no guarantee she’d ever have a chance at such a role again.
But then, on the other hand, there was Mike.
13,000 word short story