The cafeteria at Washington State is fairly large. Big enough that Dolores could sit at a table far from where Ben Calvin was sitting, read her mail, drink coffee and eat french fries, and have him not even know she was there. Not that she was spying on him. She just didn't want to talk to him in front of the cute chick he was with. She was a dark blonde, about Dolores' age. A graduate student? His wife? No. If so, they hadn't been married long.
No. He had mentioned in class one day that he was divorced. She dipped a french fry and closed her mouth over it, savoring the dip before she bit.
Somewhere in the depths of her purse was her final with his cryptic note on it. She had re-read the final when she got it back. The grade was a disappointment but not a surprise. The essay about Steve was not at all like the one about Bobby. "Brady," she amended to herself, smiling and picking up another french fry. She was sitting in a huddled sprawl, still in Danny's old fatigue jacket, which she wore for a coat. It was too big for her, but she had tightened the sleeve buttons and lined it with a cheap polyfill inner lining for a Holubar jacket, and that bulked it up to where she could get around in it.
She glanced at Professor Calvin and the woman. She was the elbows off the table type. She was eating a salad of some kind, and after each mouthful she dabbed her face, almost unconsciously. Calvin was talking to her with that passionate intensity he had sometimesprobably holding forth about somebody like John Fowles or F. Scott Fitzgerald. Or Leslie Silko. One of his heroes.
She was reading The Collector. He had turned her on to Fowles, and after she read The French Lieutenant's Woman, she'd gone around for days thinking of herself as "Tragedy." She rented the movie to watch on her roommate Diane's VCR, and when it was over, Diane said, "That's dumb. Nothing happens." So they argued about whether Charles is with Sarah on the lake, or what exactly. They even reran the last minutes to try to tell. They couldn't, of course.
She decided then to read Fowles's novels in order; she had just started.
Calvin's hands swept the air, like he was conducting an orchestra but not allowed to raise his arms above his head. Someone had said one day in class that he wouldn't be able to lecture if he was handcuffed to his belt. He had hooked his thumbs in his belt and struggled to keep them still for thirty seconds or so, then suddenly, as if unconsciously, his right hand sprang up and rolled forward, the gesture of a farmer sowing seed, and the room was full of laughter; even Professor Calvin was amused.
The woman was pretty. Not the prettiest woman in the room, certainly. But nice. A little plump, maybe. She could stand to lose ten pounds, but then who couldn't? Her hair was long and flat, like she ironed it, but with just a little in-curl at the bottom. Her coat was tucked around her; she'd taken it off sitting on it. It was a cloth coat with a fur collar. She was wearing a blue suit with a frilly green blouse open at the throat, and an emerald satin ribbon around her neck, tied behind so it looked like... a plastic stripe? A dog collar. No, it looked like a piece of green skin, shaped to the contours of her neck muscles. They were mostly in profile to her. She had noticed Professor Calvin when he emerged from the register area carrying their tray. He had looked around; it was a big cafeteria, and he didn't see her. At least, he didn't seem to. The way he had stared at her in class sometimes, she didn't think he could have seen her and not made eye contact.
The woman was wearing red lipstick. With her coloring, she'd look better in a more taupe shade. When she was married to Danny, she had taken great pride in her talents with a lipstick. She had worn, sometimes, three different shades, a base and two liners, russets and rubies that turned her big ugly mouth into a work of art. She had played with eyeliner, too, tarting up for Danny. She'd've worn a damn backless French maid's outfit to serve dinner if it would've made a difference. That was a long time ago. A couple of years, anyway.
She wondered if Calvin was sleeping with the woman. Guys always said they could tell. She had pressed Steve about it, and he had said, vaguely, "You'n just tell. It's, like, the way they look at a guy, you know they've had him in 'em." The woman tossed her hair back while speaking rapidly and stabbing at her lettuce. She moved her head the way Calvin moved his hands. Like one of those bouncy-head dog things people had on their dashboards.
Stop that, she thought to herself wrily. Don't be a bitch. She took another french fry. They were getting cold.
ms. Diseases of the Heart
Monday, Shiera was sorting through her mail when I walked into the departmental office to get mine. "I like your friend," she said. She seemed angry. I must have looked startled. She added, "She's a mouthy bitch, but bright. And pretty."
"She has some rough edges."
"Why don't you bring her to dinner? Let Dan meet her." Dan was still out of town. We agreed to discuss it when he got back.
A couple of days later, Corso sought me out in the bookstore. I was thumbing through a book of poems, Galway Kinnell, thinking Teresa might like it. She had heard Gary Snyder at Sacramento, and she read his work.
"I remembered where I saw that girl," he said. "Walter Mann told me she deals blackjack in Tahoe. The face wasn't familiar, but I'd know those boobs anywhere. She got a brain?"
"No, but she fucks like a mink," I said coldly. Papa Ernie would have been proud, I thought. And Don's bull. It was wasted on Aaron.
"I figured," he said. "A brain'd just get in the way." He began to tell me about an adventure in Juarez filled with tequila, black-haired sluts, and clichés from Bogart movies. I thought that would be the end of it. Later that day, talking to Ann Edmundson, I learned why Shiera was so upset.
"That Wilson boy, Todd Wilson. He slashed his wrists," Ann said. It was the student Shiera had told me about, the one whose poetry Corso had criticized. "Shiera holds Aaron responsible." We were in Ann's office. Corso's was three doors away. "He's going to be all right, I think. His roommate found him in the bathtub." She shook her head. "He's a quiet boy, very intense. I like his poetry. Unfortunately, Harry has a bit of a crush on him." Harold Rudette taught Shakespeare and kept to himself. He did not "look" gay, but I had begun to suspect. He was discreet.
"Is he gay? Wilson, I mean?"
"No," Ann said firmly. "He's just the type macho rednecks like to think is gay, because women like him for his sensitivity rather than the thickness of his body hair or the size of the bulge in his pants. Jerks like Aaron," she added with a glance at the door.
"I had a professor at New Mexico," I said, "my sophomore year, who had a bit of a crush on me. I guess it was common knowledge among the English faculty, but I was blithely oblivious. I found out a couple of years later. The man had gone on to a boy's school on the East Coast. He died."
"It looks like Todd will be all right," she observed. "Shiera told me what Aaron did. I better get to my nine o'clock."
Teresa and I didn't get around to dinner with the Fussells that semester. We did take the trip to San Francisco with Ann and Tina, however. We all drove down together in Ann's station wagon, spent the next day in Chinatown, sat through the opera for all its stultifying length, and returned to Reno the next day. I was exhausted.
Sharing the room had been a strange experience. Teresa and I lay chastely through the night. I don't know what I expected to hear from the next bed, but I was idiotically prepared to be embarrassed as I lay in the dark, waiting for sleep. One of themAnn or Tinasnores.
Tina and Teresa were buddies before the opera began. Tina was enthralled from the moment the orchestra launched the overture, and Teresa seemed forgiving of the opera's length primarily, I think, in deference to Tina's regard. Waiting for a cab afterward, she and Tina stood a little apart while Tina talked technical gibberish about the performance and Teresa listened avidly. They are about the same age. I wondered for a moment if people thought Ann and I were married and wondered which girl was our daughter.
"It's sometimes performed on two nights," Ann said.
"What?" I said; then I realized she meant the opera.
"Les Troyens. Or heavily cut. The Scottish Opera production ran six hours. It was one of the few full performances. The first two acts were never performed in Berlioz' lifetime." We had been treated to five hours-plus of Frankish Wagnerism. "When we saw Siegfried in Seattle, we took nothing by mouth after three," Ann added. "To make it to intermissions," she explained.
Tina was singing a few measures of one of the arias sotto voce. She slipped an arm through Teresa's. We got our cab.
|Chapter Fourteen continues...|