Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

CHAPTER 12

Posted: March 5, 2012 in Uncategorized

Blaine Hall, Room B102
University of Washington, Seattle
Jan. 7, 1957

Dear Mother and Daddy,

Happy birthday, Mother! I’m going to phone you after my first class and give you my greetings in person, but am writing this just in case you’re not home. Even though you’re busy getting ready for the move to Oakland, I hope the two of you have a chance to enjoy an evening out to celebrate.

My friend Frank picked me up at the Greyhound station Saturday afternoon; we had dinner at a seafood restaurant near the marina and then he took me to the residence hall for check-in…

 

When my bus reached the Greyhound depot in Seattle on the fifth, I looked anxiously out the window for David and finally spotted him standing apart from the crowd, aloof as always, his hands thrust deep in the pockets of his overcoat.

I went running to his arms as soon as I stepped off the bus, and we embraced with a long kiss, oblivious of the people around us. David was grinning from ear to ear. “God, it’s good to see you. It seems more like two years than two weeks. Give me your baggage check and let’s get out of this place.”

By the time we finished our meal and left Sam’s, it was eight o’clock and already dark. Throughout dinner we chatted gaily, delighted to be together again, but on reaching David’s car I fell silent. Two weeks at home had given me plenty of opportunity to worry about spending the night with him and I was starting to shiver with anxiety.

“Where are we going?” I asked, as we drove down an unfamiliar highway.

“Straight to hell, probably. Seriously, I’m heading toward North Seattle. I don’t want to be too near the university. I think there’s a number of … motels on Aurora Avenue.”

“Where do you usually take your girlfriends?”

David didn’t smile. “I’ve never done this before with anyone.”

I slid over beside him and put my head on his shoulder. “I’m sorry. Bad joke. That makes two of us.”

We left Highway 5, turned up Aurora and passed a couple of prospects. “Those seem decent enough,” David remarked. “At least they’re AAA approved. Do you have any preference? TV?” He shot me a quick smile. “Twin beds? Shower?”

“I’m not much of a TV watcher and I’ll leave the bed arrangement up to you. I would like one thing, though.”

“What is it?”

“A bathtub. I feel so grimy after the bus ride. I’d love to relax in a tub of hot water.”

David circled back and drove into the closest motel. He returned from the registration desk with a key in his hand and a smile on his face.

“Done. No TV, a double bed for me and a bathtub/shower combo for you. And courtesy coffee in the morning.” David carried my bag to the room and I lingered outside for a few minutes, petting the motel owner’s golden retriever who had padded over from the office to greet us.

David stood in the doorway, watching. “It’s well past nine; surely you’re not going to stay there all night with that dog are you? We can always invite her in, you know.”

I realized he had more on his mind than dogs; almost reluctantly, I said goodbye to the retriever and followed David inside. It was a typical 50’s style motel room, neat and anonymous, amply furnished in chrome and formica. A slightly crooked picture of a Dutch windmill hung above one of the two double beds.

“Two beds?”

“Of course. One for you and one for me. Which one do you want?” David started to laugh. “They came with the tub.” He locked the door behind us and put his arms around me.

“What name did you use when you registered?”

“My own. I gave the biochemistry department as my address, though.”

We stood holding each other without saying a word. David looked at me.

“Do you still want to take a bath? While you’re in the tub, I’m going in search of a drugstore. I forgot to bring a razor; if I don’t shave I’ll look like a bum in the morning.”

David left and I started to unpack. I laid out on the bed the nylon chiffon nightgown my parents had given me for Christmas, a timely and rather uncharacteristic gift. It was light blue, and cut low at the neckline, with appliquéd flowers on the yoke and sleeves. David returned about ten minutes later and knocked on the bathroom door to let me know he was back. I dried myself, loosened my hair so it fell to my waist, and put on the gown. I peeked out at David; he’d pulled a chair beside the bed lamp and was sitting with his legs crossed reading a newspaper.

I opened the door and smiled at him, shyly, clutching the neckline of my nightgown. David glanced up and gave a gasp of surprise. “Kate … I’ve dreamed about this moment for so long…”

I repeated the words David said to me the first time he held me in his arms, “they say anticipation is better than realization. Is it true?”

He replied with mine, “Emphatically not; the realization is infinitely better.”

“You remembered.”

“Yes, dear, I remember. That was a first time, too, just as this is.”

I walked over to his chair and he stood up. “Before we reach the point where we can’t stop, there’s something I have to do. I’m going to shave and take a shower; I won’t be long.”

“Do you always shave at night?”

He took my hand and rubbed it against his cheek. “Almost never, but if I don’t shave now, your face will be sandpapered raw by morning.”

I sat down, picked up the newspaper, and read an article about the preparations for Eisenhower’s inauguration at least three times without understanding a word. I listened to the noises from the bathroom, and when the shower stopped and I heard the sound of David’s vigorous toweling, my mouth went dry. He appeared a moment later with one towel wrapped around his waist and another over his arm.

“Something else I didn’t bring – a pair of pajamas.” He looked down at the towel around his waist. “I didn’t want to frighten you with my maleness.”

I realized why he’d covered himself and tried not to stare.

David put his hand on the light switch. “May I?”

I nodded and he turned out the overhead light, leaving only the small lamp where I was sitting. He crossed over to the bed, pulled down the covers and spread the towel he was carrying over the bottom sheet. I turned off the lamp and stood up. For a moment the darkness blinded us; David reached out to touch me and I began to tremble.

“I’m sorry. Somehow it was easier on the boat.”

“What happened on Sturmvogel was spontaneous; you didn’t have time to be apprehensive. I understand.”

He put his arms around me and started to cover my face and neck with tiny kisses.

“David, when people do this, do they take their clothes off?”

“Well, it depends.” Even though I wasn’t able to see his expression clearly in the dark, I could tell from the sound of his voice that he was smiling. “According to Dr. Kinsey’s study there’s a positive correlation between the educational level of the partners and their state of undress. So in that case, dear Kate, I think we’re entitled to remove these.”

David untied my nightgown and it slithered to the floor, followed by his towel. He picked me up, laid me on the bed, and lay down beside me.

My teeth began to chatter.

“Dearest,” he whispered, “I know you’re afraid. I promise to be gentle.”

And he was. I felt a sudden rush of heat and saw sparklers flashing behind my closed eyelids; it was a strange sensation, neither painful nor pleasant, and I have never experienced it since. Afterwards I lay beside David, half awake and half asleep, listening to his regular breathing. Cars sped by on the road outside the motel; their headlights raked the walls of the room like gunfire and then disappeared, plunging us again into darkness. I studied David’s silhouette in the dim light and began tracing his profile with my index finger.

“What are you doing?” he asked sleepily.

“I’m pretending I’m a sculptor. You’re craggy. You look like you were just carved from a marble block – all angles and planes – no curves. You know, you’ll always be handsome; it’s in your bone structure.”

I ran my finger down his profile again and this time he bit it.

“Are you happy, Kate?”

“More than happy, contented.”

“What’s the difference? In Spanish they’re the same.”

“All the difference in the world. To me contented means something more than being happy; contentedness is an all pervasive joy, a state of nirvana where there’s no more striving, no more desire.” Abruptly I sat up on one elbow. “What’s your name?”

David looked puzzled. “David Rosenau, of course; is this one of your African witchdoctor things about names?”

“The sign by the door to your office says ‘L.D. Rosenau.’ What’s the ‘L’ for?”

“Oh that. ‘Leopold,’ for my father. You can see why I go by ‘David’. Why are you asking me now?”

“This is terrible. It just occurred to me I’m in bed stark naked with a man and I don’t even know his name!”

David laughed. “Do you know one of the reasons I love you? Because you’ve restored my sense of fun. I’d forgotten what it was like to let myself go and be utterly goofy. I’ve been so busy living up to the image of David Rosenau – Leopold David Rosenau – that the real me, the quintessential me, was nearly extinguished”.

We were silent for a few minutes; David put his arm around me and drew me to him.

“There’s something I want to ask you”, I said, “an anatomical question. No, don’t look at me. I get embarrassed when I ask questions like this and you can see my face.”

“My eyes are shut. Ask away.”

“You know with male dogs, how they have a sort of sheath and the penis is inside and it only comes out when the dog is ready to mate?”

“Yes.”

“Is … that the way men are?”
“You’ve never seen a naked man, not even in a photograph?”
“When we were in Florence I saw Michelangelo’s David, but I was too embarrassed to take a good look.”

David laughed. “Men are different; may I show you?”

I shook my head vigorously. “I can’t look at you … not yet.”

He took my hand. “Then let me show you this way. You said you didn’t know if you should touch me in certain places. Is this what you meant?”

“Yes. Is it … is it all right?”

“More than all right.”

“David?”

“Mmmm.”

“Do you remember the conversation we had at the zoo …when you told me what you were afraid of?”

“Yes, I remember.”

“It didn’t turn out the way you thought, did it? I mean …”

“No, it didn’t. With you it was different, completely different. How about you? All the things you worried about?”

“Me? Was I ever afraid?”

He guffawed.

“David?”

“Yes?”

“Do people ever make love more than once?”

“Sometimes.” He moved his head slightly to catch the light on my face. “You’re very narrow, dear, and I’m … would it be too painful?”

“No.”

He put his hand between my legs, inserted a finger deep inside, withdrew it, and started to massage me with a circular motion. I recoiled in shock and clamped my legs together.

“Please, Kate,” he whispered, “relax and let me touch you. I want us to reach a climax together. Tell me when you’re ready.”

We embraced and David buried his face in my hair. He cried out “oh Kate,” with a moan that was muffled by the pillow, whether from ecstasy or despair I wasn’t sure. I felt like I was surfing the crest of an unending wave. I pulled him tightly to me and we made love twice more without parting before sinking back, wet and exhausted, upon the sheets.

In the middle of the night we awakened again. I don’t know which of us touched the other first; a simultaneous urge made us grope for one another in the dark. We made love drowsily, languorous as a pair of sloths, until the knife-edge of desire blurred once more into sleep.

When I awakened, sunshine was streaming through the curtains and I was alone in bed. I listened for sounds from the bathroom and, hearing nothing, I sat up. David’s jacket and coat were lying on a chair, but his other clothes were missing. “David?” A key rattled in the door and he entered, carrying a brown plastic tray with a carafe of coffee and two cups. Almost instinctively, I pulled the bed sheet up to my shoulders. David’s eyes caught mine and he smiled.
Still holding the tray, he closed his eyes, and sniffed loudly. “Ummm.”
“What do you smell?”
“Sex.”
“Sex?”
“Sex. Or in scientific terms, semen, sweat and vaginal secretions. You and me. Memento of a glorious night in bed.”
“I don’t smell anything.”
“That’s because you’re immersed in it; I just came from the fresh air outdoors. The scent’s an aphrodisiac. I think we should bottle and sell it as the antidote to war. One whiff and people will be so busy screwing like rabbits, they won’t have time to fight.”
“If you’re not awarded a Nobel for your scientific accomplishments, you’ll still win one for peace.”
“My thoughts, exactly; a joint prize, like the Curies’.”

He laid the tray on the table. “We’ve availed ourselves of the tub, the absence of TV and”, he grinned broadly, “the double bed. I thought it was about time for the coffee.”

“What time is it?”

“Seven.”

“Seven! It’s the middle of the night!” I groaned and slipped under the covers, burying my head.

David pulled at the blankets and I pulled back. “¡Dormilona! Come on, up, up! ‘morning’s at seven, the hillside’s dew pearled, the lark’s on the wing, the snail’s on the thorn, God’s in his heaven and …’”

“I’m tired!” I uncovered my face and stuck my tongue out at him. We laughed and I sat up again, still clutching the sheet. David poured the coffee and handed me a cup.

“You’re looking very fit this morning, Leopold David Rosenau.”

“I’m feeling exceptionally fit, thank you, well rested. And you?”

“I didn’t get much sleep last night,” I answered with a giggle.

“Are you … all right?”

“I’m fine … a little sore.” Actually, I was very sore, but I didn’t want to tell him.

“How about this. Why don’t you go back to sleep for a while and I’ll sit in bed and read the paper.” He draped his trousers over a chair, propped his pillow against the headboard, and got into bed beside me in his sport shirt and underpants.

I pretended to be asleep for a couple of minutes while I watched him through my eyelashes. “I forgot to bring a tape measure!” I exclaimed suddenly.

David looked up from his paper. “What for?”

“There’s some peasant community in Europe – in Czechoslovakia I think – where the mother measures the bride’s neck on her wedding night and again in the morning. If the girl’s had an orgasm, her neck gets larger.”

David exploded with laughter. “Where do you get all this stuff? I swear you’re making half of it up.”

“I’m not either,” I replied with mock indignation.

“At least you’ve answered one of my questions.” David looked pleased. “How many times?”

“You know how terrible I am at math. I can’t count that high. Couldn’t you tell?”

“Oh, I had a sneaking suspicion. Either that or you’re a consummate actress.”

I moved my hand along David’s chest and started to unbutton his shirt.

“Hey, what do you think you’re doing?”

“Making you comfortable.”

He gave me a long look. “I always wondered what would happen if a satyr met a nymph. I believe I’m finding out.”

I propped myself up on one elbow and cradled my chin in my hand. “I want to ask you something. Seriously. After the first time were you doing it because you felt you had to prove something to me, I mean because of your age? I love teasing you, but I’ll stop if you’re doing this out a sense of obligation to me or because you think I’m expecting it or…”

“I’m not trying to prove anything to you. One can’t will these things you know. If that were possible, there wouldn’t be any impotent men. I feel … like someone who’s dying of thirst in the desert when out of nowhere he stumbles upon an oasis.” David rolled up the newspaper, flung it gaily across the room and turned to me with a smile. “I’m thirsty again.” He hooked his index finger over the top of the sheet I was still holding up to my chin and started to pull it down.
After months of a chaste courtship – if it could be called that – David’s uninhibited sexuality took me by surprise and I wasn’t sure how to react.
“I’m so flat-chested ….”
David lowered the sheet and pressed me back against the bed. “I adore your firm little breasts.” He nuzzled my armpit, caressed my nipples with his tongue, and covered me with kisses. “Can you tell the effect they have on me?”
Feeling his bulging erection, I realized that women’s magazines were right when they said large breasts aren’t everything.

We were still asleep when a maid knocked on the door at eleven. David showered hastily, and by the time I was out of the tub, I found him already dressed and straightening the bed. He picked up the bloodstained towel he’d spread over the sheet the night before, looked at me sadly, without smiling, and carried the towel to the bathroom. I heard him running water in the sink.

We ate a late breakfast at Manning’s Café, near the university – eggs, bacon, hash-browned potatoes, toast and – for me – a piece of banana cream pie. David winced at the idea of dessert, but I was ravenous and still at the age when I could eat sweets with impunity.

“Don’t turn around now,” David cautioned as I smothered my toast with strawberry jam, “but there’s a man near the cash register who keeps staring at us, about 30, dark hair, olive complexion, glasses. Do you know him?”

I turned my head slightly and searched for the man out of the corner of my eye. “It’s Mr. Maldonado, the Spanish professor I had last quarter.”

“He’s leaving,” David said in a low voice.

Maldonado crossed the room to where we were sitting. Feeling embarrassed to be seen eating breakfast with David, I didn’t look up. He passed by our table and paused for a moment before going to the exit.

“What a queer duck!” David exclaimed. “He stared at you for at least three seconds; I wonder why he didn’t stop and say hello?”

“He probably wasn’t real; it was the personification of my conscience, like the cricket in Pinocchio.”

“This is real enough, though. Is he CEM?” asked David, taking a card from his jacket pocket.

“The postcard! You got it! Did he write anything besides my grade?”

David handed me the card. On the long axis of the postcard to David, and with the same ink he’d used to decorate mine, Mr. Maldonado had drawn a huge red ‘A’ at least four inches high, bordered with small black hatch-marks along the edges of the letter.

“What on earth is that supposed to mean? Here’s the one he sent me; it’s straightforward enough.”

David read my card without smiling and looked at the postmark. “He mailed mine three days after yours; that’s strange.” He turned the cards over and his expression hardened.

“Do you have any classes with him winter quarter?”

“No, I have Dr. García for Latin American poetry. You noticed something about the cards, what is it?”

“If this is his idea of a joke, I’m not amused. Look at your card. He wrote the grade as an ‘A’ plus. Now look at mine. The grade is an ‘A’ without the ‘plus’, a big, fat red ‘A’ with little marks along the border that appear to represent sewing or embroidery. What does that suggest to you?”

A chill passed through me. “A scarlet letter, ‘A’ for adultery.”

“Exactly. That accounts for why he sent my card a few days after yours; since you addressed mine to the biochemistry department, he knows I’m on the staff. Your Mr. Maldonado must have been doing a little checking up on me.”

I sat staring at the postcards, too stunned to speak. “But why? Is this some kind of blackmail, or what?”

“I doubt it. Your first guess was probably spot on, but he’s no phantom, and he’s addressing his message to me, not to you. I think he’s warning me off. What do you know about him?”

“Not a great deal; Maldonado’s a Ph.D. candidate from some school in the Midwest, the University of Chicago, I think. He’s been here for a couple of years while he writes his dissertation, sort of like Frank’s position in your department except he has the title of Instructor. Last quarter I had him for Spanish 304; he’s an excellent teacher, very funny and super-conscientious. Right before finals, he gave us a Christmas party. He brought in cookies, cake, punch and his own record of Spanish Christmas carols, and went to the trouble of transcribing the words of the songs and mimeographing them so everyone could have a copy. Then, after he’d gone to all this work, when the students realized they weren’t having a regular class, most of them just grabbed the refreshments and walked out. I stayed afterwards to help him clean up.” My voice broke. “I felt terrible for him. I think he’s the kind of person who can’t take rejection. He seems … so vulnerable.”

David’s face softened. “I’m sure he must have been deeply hurt. Is he married?”

I shook my head. “He’s Norma’s faculty advisor.”

“Is there anything between them?”

“Absolutely not.”

“Is he Spanish?”

“No, he’s an American.”

David read my card again. “Does he always call you ‘Catarinita’?”

“He never calls me Catarinita. He always addresses me as Señorita Collins. No, wait. About a week ago I was in Denny and I saw him in the hall. He was standing talking to a couple of other professors, I didn’t pay any attention to who they were … and just as I passed him, Mr. Maldonado said ‘Catarina’s such a pretty girl.’ Right out loud. It was such a bizarre remark – it was almost like he was talking to himself. David! Could he be infatuated with me?”

David shrugged. “I don’t know what to think.”

“Another thing – it just occurred to me; several times when you and I’ve been at the HUB having coffee together, I noticed Mr. Maldonado there too, and he was looking at us – maybe watching us is a better word. At the time it didn’t strike me, but now … should I tell Norma about the postcards?”

“No, don’t mention them. What’s the point; you won’t be seeing him again, anyway.”

“But the party! Norma’s party! I forgot to tell you. I received a letter from her when I was home and she’s having the housewarming this Saturday the 12th. Norma’s sure to invite Maldonado.”

“How jolly. Well, I’ll be damned if I’ll let that poor devil intimidate me.”

Chapter 7

Posted: January 20, 2012 in Uncategorized

Blaine Hall, Room B102
University of Washington, Seattle
Nov. 19, 1956

Dear Mother and Daddy,

Happy birthday, Daddy, and a Happy Thanksgiving to you both!

Today something funny happened in my Spanish literature class – the professor, Mr. Maldonado, was lecturing about The Book of Good Love, a collection of raunchy medieval tales, in which there’s a story about a young man who wants to marry three women. Before marrying the first one, he’s strong enough to lift his father’s gigantic millstone, but after taking his second wife the fellow’s so exhausted he can’t budge it. About ten of us were seated at a seminar table, with our books, notebooks, etc. on top; Mr. Maldonado shouted “he was so tired he couldn’t even lift the MILLSTONE,” and with that he raised one end of the table up about three feet. “Ay de mi, he was so pooped!” He slammed the table back down and all our things went sliding to the floor!

Last Saturday I went sailing with Frank and Dr. Rosenau…
In the following weeks, David and I continued to sail on Saturdays; we made a good team handling Sturmvogel, and as I gained experience, David let me take over some of the tasks he was accustomed to doing himself. He initiated me into the mysteries of “Taylor,” the cranky kerosene stove, who greeted my first efforts at stir-frying with a flare-up that threatened to incinerate us both, but I tamed the beast and David promoted me to ship’s cook.

Saturday mornings we stopped at a supermarket on our way to the marina. I enjoyed these excursions; pushing a shopping cart beside David lent an aura of domesticity to our relationship, and I could almost pretend we were a normal couple buying food for the weekend. We were standing in front of a refrigerator case one morning when our eyes met in a mirror. David regarded us for a moment.

“We make a handsome couple, don’t you agree?” he asked, addressing my reflection in the glass.

“Very. Do you suppose people think we’re married?”

“I doubt if anyone thinks about us at all, and if they do, they probably assume you’re my daughter.”

“Impossible.”

“Because I’m dark and you’re fair?”

“Because most fathers kiss their daughters occasionally.”

David responded with a pinch on my arm.

On Saturdays we usually sailed until the mid-afternoon and then anchored, giving me time to prepare dinner. Since the galley was small and I was a novice cook, our first Saturday evening meals together were necessarily simple, on the order of spaghetti, garlic bread and salad, but as my confidence increased, I branched out to more exotic fare, like chicken breast in wine and mushroom sauce served on a mound of steaming rice. While I fixed dinner in the galley, David fished for crab from the cockpit. Every ten minutes or so he’d haul up the trap for inspection and plop his hapless victims into a bucket of salt water. I pitied those poor creatures who waved their eyestalks and ogled us gravely, opening and closing their mouths in silent rage, and couldn’t bear the thought of cooking them. After hearing “oh David, we just can’t eat those crabs, please throw them back” one time too many, David took to hiding his catch from me; he dispatched the crabs in the cockpit and then handed them down to me for boiling. Sometimes Frank joined us on these Saturday sails; he was good company and I always enjoyed having him along. I never saw David on Sundays; I assumed he spent the remainder of the weekend with his family or at least at home, but he never brought up the subject, and I didn’t want to know.

When the weather was too miserable for sailing, we passed the day at the dock, studying, talking, reading aloud to each other, or simply lying on our backs listening to music and the patter of raindrops on the cabin top. David introduced me to his favorite poets – Tennyson and Whitman – and I read Swinburne and Yeats to him. Thinking back to those months, I realize they were some of the happiest in my life, full of innocence and laughter and warm companionship.

Two or three nights a week I went to David’s office after dinner, taking my books with me, and studied, curled up in his massive leather armchair, while David wrote or read technical journals. Sometimes we didn’t speak for hours, but we only needed to look up and catch the other’s eye to reforge the bond of intimacy between us. David bought a hot plate, and I made coffee or tea about ten, giving us a break before David drove me back to the dormitory.

Frank often worked in the building at night and he quickly got in the habit of dropping by for a few minutes to chat. He was one of those individuals who has an opinion on every subject and feels duty bound to defend his position, no matter how untenable, and I often listened in dismay to his arguments with David.

Although Frank admitted he never went to mass unless someone in his family was ill, he was Catholic to the core, while David, though culturally Jewish, was an atheist. By unspoken consent they avoided discussing religion, and on those few occasions when the conversation did turn to faith, David could usually hold his tongue, but bringing up some topics with him was like waving a red flag in front of a bull. One of these was prayer, and when Frank happened to mention his priest in Spokane had asked the congregation to pray for a little girl suffering from cancer, one glance at David told me he was girding for battle.

“Your God is omniscient, isn’t he? Given that premise, God is already aware of what you want, so why does he need reminding? Besides, what’s the logic in praying for a specific outcome and at the same time saying ‘God’s will be done’? Either you’re praying God’s will be done or you’re not. And all those people petitioning God to save a little girl’s life – that reminds me of the talent shows on television where the audience claps and they use an applause meter to determine the winner. Is God tallying the prayers up in heaven? ‘As of ten minutes ago I’ve received 3,576 prayers urging my intervention; surely you can do better than that. Can you make it 4,000?’ How many prayers does God require to change his mind? What is he, some kind of cosmic bellhop? If God’s benevolent and omnipotent what possible reason can he have not to save a child’s life? And don’t give me some b.s. about his inscrutability. What about the sick children who aren’t lucky enough to have someone praying for them, is God simply going to let them die? Or Jewish children who don’t acknowledge Jesus as their savior; are they less deserving of life than the child in your parish? And if, after all those prayers, the little girl dies anyway, you’ll say her death was God’s will. If God’s will is going to be done regardless, what good is praying?”

Frank was aghast at David’s blasphemy.“How can you say such a thing? The value of prayer is unquestionable. Prayer is good because it changes the person who prays.”

“That’s what Kierkegaard said and I think it’s totally beside the point here.”

By this time I was signaling David to desist; I agreed with him, but goading Frank seemed both cruel and useless. David caught my expression.

“Kate’s telling me I’m out of line. All right, I’ll stop, but why don’t you try praying to the sun for a change? At least you can see the sun and it won’t ask you for money.”

David’s lack of faith distressed Frank; he was genuinely pained to think David’s soul risked eternal damnation, and though he nourished no hope of converting David to Christianity, he did suggest David return to the fold of Judaism. Unsuccessfully.

David generally respected Frank’s religious beliefs, but when Frank strayed from the path of orthodoxy into the mists of supernaturalism, poltergeists and UFO’s, David was openly contemptuous because he found Frank’s credulity incompatible with his role as a scientist. One day when we were chatting in the hall, out of David’s earshot, Frank confessed to me he believed in ghosts. He’d never seen one himself, he hastened to add, but his uncle, a sober and truthful man, had once met a ghost while bicycling at night on a road in southern Italy. His uncle’s experience was unimpeachable evidence for Frank, though he was careful never to mention the incident to David.

Their discussions followed a predictable course: intially amiable until Frank realized David was undermining his logic, at which point Frank interpreted David’s arguments as a personal attack and became belligerent. The two of them continued parrying and thrusting down a mental corridor until Frank had his back to the wall and David was ready to deliver the coup de grace. I always knew when that moment had arrived because the corners of David’s mouth would turn up ever so slightly; he would lean back in his chair and put the tips of his fingers together. Frank never admitted he was beaten; he’d just say huffily that David was engaging in sophistry and stalk out of the room. David would shrug his shoulders and roll his eyes, sighing, “a man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still.”

I never dared take on Frank in one of those debates; he may have been fair game for David, but he was too clever for me. We often engaged in some ridiculous arguments about factual matters, however, like our disagreement over the origin of the Turkish language, Frank maintaining it was Indo-European, while I insisted it was Ural-Altaic. On another occasion we disputed heatedly whether the author of Frankenstein was Shelley’s wife or his mother-in-law. Appealing to David to settle our differences was futile; he only laughed at us like an indulgent uncle babysitting a couple of squabbling children.

Our gatherings began to attract some of the other graduate students as well, and before long there were six or seven of us in David’s office after dinner. He introduced us to yerba maté, a South American herb tea and occasionally, for David frowned on junk food, he brought a box of doughnuts. Frank declared the maté tasted like horse piss, but he could always be counted on to eat the pastries.

When the discussions were technical, which was frequent, I tuned out and returned to my studies, but even when the conversation was non-scientific, I was a silent spectator for, with the exception of Frank, I never felt comfortable around the other graduate students. I suppose they must have guessed David’s and my relationship, although he rarely acknowledged my presence in front of them, but when the three of us were together, David hugged and caressed me openly without embarrassment. If Frank appeared uneasy at these displays of affection, David seemed oblivious of his discomfort; on the contrary, he treated Frank as a co-conspirator. Despite his disapproval, Frank took a voyeur’s delight in observing us, and it was often difficult to get rid of him. David said you could spit in Frank’s eye and he’d think it was raining. When subtlety failed, David would open the door and say with a smile, “Goodnight, Frank, I know you were just leaving.”

I have a snapshot Frank took at one of these gatherings; the picture shows a group of eight students – Alan, Nicholas, Mikail, and others whose names I’ve forgotten. They’re looking at David, who’s standing beside his desk with his right foot resting on some object out of the picture, a wastepaper basket, perhaps. His sleeves are rolled up and his hands are raised and gesturing; he is explaining something, as I can tell from the parted lips and the crease in his forehead. I’m in the photograph too, curled up in the leather chair with my skirt folded over my legs. I’m looking at David with what Frank insisted was a worshipful expression; he was probably right

I often worried those late-night seminars were too exhausting for David after a day at the university which began at seven in the morning and included a full round of lectures, laboratory sessions and meetings. One evening, when the graduate students had left, David sat down in the leather chair I’d just vacated, removed his shoes, and rested his head against the cushion, with his eyes closed. I stopped collecting coffee cups and went to sit on the arm of the chair; I took David’s hand and laced my fingers through his.
“This is completely inappropriate,” he said.
“What, holding hands?”
“No, you and me; it’s every professor’s worst nightmare, getting involved with a student.”
“I’m not your student. I’m not even in your department.”
“Thank God for small favors. You know that’s not what I mean.”
“Because you’re married …”
“… and because I’m so much older than you. Twenty-eight years, an eternity.”
“Tell that to a paleontologist.” David smiled and squeezed my hand “Besides, Professor Rosenau, I fail to understand how you’re ‘involved’ with me. I can’t imagine a more chaste relationship than ours.”
David sighed and looked at me. “My dear Miss Collins, it’s not what we do that’s immoral; it’s what I fantasize doing. You’re nineteen years old, still a minor. You realize what that makes me? ”
“Do you care about the law, what people will think?”
“No, but I care about you. Twenty years from now are you going to be lying on some psychiatrist’s couch, wracked with guilt, telling him how an old lecher took advantage of you and ruined your life?” He closed his eyes again and shook his head. “Honestly, Kate, I don’t know what to do.”
I cradled David’s head against me, wanting so much to kiss him, but David had traced the boundary clearly and I hesitated to be the first trespasser.

It must have been in early December when I went to his office one evening and found him at his desk writing, and I saw at once something was wrong, for his mouth had the tight, clamped expression it assumed when he was disturbed or angry.

“I had some bad news from Argentina today,” he said, without looking up. “Mateo is dead.” I had to stop and think for a moment before remembering that Mateo was a boarding school friend, the boy who had backpacked with him around South America after David’s graduation from high school.

“His sister sent me this letter.” David opened a drawer and handed me an airmail envelope postmarked five days earlier from Buenos Aires; the message said simply that Mateo was killed instantly in an automobile accident and they’d buried him the following day.

I murmured whatever words of comfort I could think of, knowing they were inadequate. “I’ll ask the others not to drop by this evening,” I said, going to the door.

“Frank knows. He’ll tell them”. David looked down at his desk. “Mateo had a phobia about being buried. He didn’t want to be put in a cemetery ‘with all those dead people.’ When we were boys, Mateo made me promise if he died first I’d make sure he was cremated and his ashes scattered in the mountains. Now it’s too late.” David swallowed. “I’m writing to his family.”

He got up, took the tea kettle to the men’s room for water, and set it on the hot plate. When the kettle whistled, he poured the water over a tea bag and handed me the cup.

“You would have liked Mateo. He had more life in him than anyone I’ve ever met – the last person in the world to die young. He had an élan vital too strong for death – or so I thought.”

David had told me a little about his friend, how Mateo bribed a guard to let the boys into the Teatro Colón for a performance of La bohème, how he smeared Limburger cheese on a radiator in the classroom of a detested teacher, how his friend had rigged a spinning gyroscope in a cardboard box and given it to one of the servants to carry to Mateo’s room at boarding school and how, when the gyroscope refused to negotiate a turn in the hallway, the servant dropped it and ran out of the building screaming the box was bewitched.

“Didn’t you once tell me he was a writer?”

“A drama critic, actually, though he also wrote essays for literary magazines. Shortly before his death he started working on a novel. Mateo was so gifted …he could do virtually anything he set his mind to. When we were boys he was always getting into trouble at school – nothing bad, he was just high-spirited, an incurable prankster, but underneath the exuberant exterior he was a sensitive and tender person.” David sighed. “I loved him greatly, like a brother, even more than my brother.”

“Was he married?”

“No. He was living with an Argentine painter. I never met her.”

He reached in the drawer again, pulled out a photograph and handed it to me. “Mateo’s sister sent this to me, along with the letter; the picture was taken right after we graduated from high school. It’s a good likeness.”

The photograph showed two boys dressed for hiking in the mountains, complete with leather pants and rucksacks. I recognized the tall, dark boy with the brooding expression as David. He was little different from the David I knew, somewhat thinner, perhaps, but with the same cool, penetrating gaze. David’s friend was perched beside him on a large rock, sitting with his arms clasped around his knees. Mateo was Shakespeare’s Puck come to life, a boy with an impish, almost naughty smile, twinkling eyes and tousled dark blond hair.

We spent the remainder of the evening in silence. I studied for my final exam in Spanish literature, while David composed his letter of condolence. He sat at the desk with his left elbow bent, supporting his forehead in the palm of his hand, as if his head was too heavy to be borne by his neck alone; he was writing a draft, as I could tell from the sound of words being crossed out. I looked over at David occasionally to find him staring at the paper, his pen poised to write. David’s heart was in Argentina that night, climbing a mountain beside a boy with a sly grin and laughing eyes.

At last he sat back in his chair and looked at me. “There’s something else I’d like you to read,” he said, handing me an envelope lying on his desk. “Amazingly, the letter arrived a couple of days ago; he must have written it just before he was killed.”

It was a letter from Mateo, a long letter, at turns scholarly and witty, full of gossip about people I suppose both of them knew, but written cleverly and without malice. Mateo touched on current events, books, politics, music; with great enthusiasm he described the novel he was beginning. I understood what David meant about his friend’s élan vital; Mateo came across like a genie who refuses to stay in his bottle. But it was the end of his letter that moved me most:

“My dearest friend,” he wrote, “I rejoice to read of the happiness you have found with Kate.” I swallowed the lump in my throat and looked at David, but he didn’t return my glance. I continued reading. “I understand your hesitation perfectly; it is so characteristic of you, but for once be guided by your heart and not your head. You are 47 years old, David. What are you waiting for? If Kate loves you, as you think she does, let her know how you feel before it’s too late. Seize the brass ring; it won’t come round again. My best wishes to you both.”

I hastily wiped away a tear before it dropped and smeared the ink, folded Mateo’s letter and handed it back to David.

Without a word, he put all the correspondence in a drawer, locked the desk, and stood up.

“I’m too tired to write; I’ll finish the letter tomorrow. Don’t worry about washing the cups; they’ll keep too. I’ll take you home now.”

David put on his coat and I walked beside him to the door; he switched off the light and we stood for a moment in the semi-darkness. He looked back at his desk as if asking Mateo for guidance, and then down at me.

“Kate,” he whispered hesitantly, “I love you.” I raised my face to his, and when he kissed me, I felt his cheek was damp with tears.

ACTIVITY

Posted: December 12, 2011 in Uncategorized