After leaving Lydia—it was almost one in the morning--Les remembered Diana. Jesus! Did she go to the priest’s place without him? Where was it anyway? What was it called? He drove to her house. The lights were out in all the apartments. Just as well. They could talk tomorrow after class.
He slept in his office on the floor between the desk and the bookshelves. At six he woke and his body ached. The muscles of the right side of his neck had stiffened deep up under his skull and tight behind the right eyeball.
The theatre dressing rooms and showers were in the basement. He took a towel and a change of clothes with him. Twenty-six minutes later, he was in his office stowing his sleeping bag when Olivia came to the door.
“I’m just leaving,” he said. “Forgot something at home this morning. Gotta go back.”
“You can’t continue to do this,” Olivia said. She didn’t move her head, but she let him see her eyes taking in the office. He was aware of his damp hair and the sleeping bag in his hands and the towel on the desk.
“Do what?” he said.
“For one thing, there is no insurance for this.”
“Olivia, I’m sorry but I have to go.”
“Come to my office this afternoon after your class. I’d like to ask you something.”
You’d like to ask me something? he wanted to say. Right. But he had to get to his car—Lydia’s car—and drive home.
“See you at three,” he said.
Patti and Derek were already up and eating breakfast. They were sitting in their usual chairs and he and Lydia sat in theirs. It felt tentative, like the first run-through of a scene with unfamiliar blocking. Patti and Derek stayed in their chairs because that’s where director Lydia had told them to stay. They listened as Lydia and Les talked. They did not cry, they did not question or challenge, and he was aware of their struggle to follow the script. They had stopped eating. He said nothing about their discomfort because he wanted to leave as soon as he could.
Everything he was doing felt wrong.
He was back at school in time for the faculty meeting. It was he and Olivia and Fred Whister, the history/literature/criticism teacher, and Portia Baker from the English Department. She taught playwriting and Les had no idea what her qualifications were. Caleb Deering wasn’t there.
As Olivia talked, Les looked out the window. Two summer students were sitting under a thick tall tree. She leaned against the trunk, he lay on his stomach at her feet. She said something and he laughed and rolled onto his back. Les turned from the window.
After the meeting Olivia told him she wouldn’t see him later after all. “I forgot I’ll be meeting Caleb’s class then.” She saw his look and said, “He’s back Monday. I agreed to cover for him.”
He said it was okay because he’d forgotten that he had to run an errand anyway.
“Can you come to my house at five?” she asked. “I’d like to show you something.”
You’d like to show me something? he wanted to say. What the hell does that mean?
“Yes,” he said, “five.”
And why the hell wasn’t Caleb teaching his fucking class? Oh yeah, right, he was on some goddamn tropical island with his bitch--with both his bitches.
He felt the way he used to feel dragging himself back to the base after a weekend of drinking and whoring all over Berlin. All over West Berlin. At least then he felt beat up because he’d been drinking and fucking. Now he felt beat up because he’d been beat up.
It was going to be a very short first class meeting.
Diana left the bank with just enough time to get to Les’s class. Dumping the class today would be an immature way to retaliate for his dumping her yesterday. But she could make him squirm a little and wonder if she was going to show up at all. She opened the door to the theatre auditorium exactly at two o’clock.
Les wasn’t there. She counted five people sitting scattered in the front several rows. Tammy DeBardeau was one of them. Lord. And Alexia Farrell. Shit. There was a balding middle-aged man who turned in his seat to look at her with wide-open eyes and an expectant smile. He was wearing a short-sleeved seersucker shirt and though she couldn’t see the rest of him, she’d bet on khakis and hush puppies. Sitting in another row was James Bolton, who had stage-managed Temple’s play. He was staring at the fingers of his right hand as they traced the contours of the knuckles of his left hand. And sitting in the farthest seat in another row was a youngish red-headed woman Diana had seen on campus but whom she couldn’t place.
“Did you read today’s paper?” Tammy asked, handing her a copy and pointing to the bottom of the page: College Professor in Auto Mishap.
Diana stood reading. The back door opened and Les came into the auditorium and Diana sat in an aisle seat a row behind everyone else.
If Les was squirming, he wasn’t showing it. He said something private to Tammy and gave her his guru smile that suggested she was in on a secret with him. Diana had seen that tactic before. It was designed to make everyone else want to become part of the inner circle. He surveyed the room with an expectant look she had seen him manufacture at the beginning of rehearsals. Then he registered his best pleasantly surprised expression and said, “Alexia! You’re not an actress.”
“If I want to design costumes for actors I guess I should know what they’re doing,” she said as she wiped the back of her hand against her troll nose. “And anyway I’ve been wanting to feed my inner actor.”
Les continued to survey the class, pausing to look amused and puzzled at the balding middle-aged man.
“And my father’s gone all summer,” Alexia said, “and I’ll be damned if I'm going to live at home and let my step-mother turn my life into a worse Grimm fairy tale than she already has.”
The middle-aged man gave a surprised little laugh and everyone looked at him. He introduced himself as Thomas F. Greer, the speech and drama teacher at the high school. This was the first class he had taken at the college as he was beginning credits toward a Master’s Degree in Education. He smiled broadly.
Next Tammy said she thought a summer acting class could only help deepen and hone her craft and then James Bolton said he was making up a credit for a class he had dropped last quarter because of the play. When Diana said she had been intrigued by how good the actors in that spring production were and that she wanted to explore what acting was all about, she thought Les looked relieved. Finally the youngish woman sitting off by herself gave just the slightest toss of her short red hair and said she was Gloria Westerman. She worked in the dean’s office and she was hoping to get help with her shyness in speaking in front of people. In his most charmingly teasing tone, Les suggested a public speaking class and Gloria smiled and lowered her eyes and then looked back up at him.
Les told them that since they were few in number he could better tailor the class to their individual needs.
“I want us to work on plays with complex characters,” he said. “People with flaws as well as virtues, with needs that make them take actions we might not completely approve of. Characters who are, in fact, like actual human beings. People like us.” He did not look at Diana--a little too determinedly, she thought. “Chekhov,” he said. “Maybe Ibsen. Maybe something more contemporary too. Mamet? Shepard? We’ll see what the class dynamics suggest.”
They heard unhurried footsteps coming from the wings of the stage and from behind a side curtain Douglas Wrythe appeared. He was wearing white tennis shorts and was carrying a racquet. “Sorry I’m late,” he said without remorse. “My eleven o’clock broke her ankle on the court and I took her to the hospital.”
He jumped off the stage and came up the aisle and stopped at Diana’s row. He looked directly at her with a smile that suggested she might regret being here. “May I?” he said, and she angled her legs to let him in. He sat in the seat next to her.
“Don’t bother sitting,” Les said, “I was just letting everybody go. We’ll work out the syllabus next class. Diana, may I talk with you?”
Everyone left and Diana showed Les the newspaper story. As he read it, she watched Douglas walking out with Tammy. Les asked if she was going to the priest’s place again today because, he really was sorry, but he couldn’t go with her then either; he had to take Lydia’s car back and pick up a loaner. After that, he had an appointment he couldn't break. And then she saw him let her see how tired he was.
She said they should wait til both Hardy boys could investigate The Rectory in the Raw together. She was hoping the title might pique his interest. But he looked at his watch and said, “Good, we'll figure something out maybe tomorrow.”
At five-fifteen Les was sitting in Olivia’s front room. She lived on the road to West Tilton in an old farmhouse with out-buildings and lots of land. The windows of the house had narrow wooden frames and simple curtains. The furniture looked like stuff that was passed down in families. He realized he’d never been here. He wasn’t sure if any of the other faculty had either.
Olivia poured two glasses of sherry. She had changed from the dark blue suit she was wearing in school into a green and black plaid straight skirt and a white blouse. Her sandy-streaked gray hair was still knotted at the back of her head, but it seemed softer, looser. And her front teeth seemed bigger, even prominent, as if when she relaxed even her teeth relaxed.
“I have had reason recently to wish that I were not completely alone out here,” she was saying as she handed him his glass.
“Are you all right? What happened?”
“Nothing to worry about unnecessarily.”
“Ah no no. Health. Heart. It would be good to know that someone was nearby if I needed immediate assistance. You are the only person who knows about my heart and I’d like to keep it that way.”
She sipped from her glass and put it on a side table.
“Olivia, we wouldn’t last a week with me staying here. We’d strangle each other. Or at least we’d want to. Even if I had my own bathroom.”
For the first time the entire day, she laughed. “Come. I want to show you something.”
They went out behind the house to a large two-story barn made of gray weathered wood. It might still hold an old tractor or two. “Follow,” she said, walking past the front double door and around to the back of the building. A wooden staircase led to a second-story landing. She preceded him up the stairs and unlocked the door and let him in. When she switched on the light, he saw they were in the living room of a furnished apartment. There was a sofa and a coffee table and at the window an easy chair with a side table and a reading lamp. On the far side of the room was a counter with four stools and a small kitchen behind it.
She took him down the hall to a bedroom and a bathroom. It was all fully appointed.
“There would be nothing expected of you beyond proximity in case of emergency. In exchange, I ask no rent. You will be independent here. There’s even a back road you can use if you want.”
The students thought Miss Troute was something of a prude, perhaps of the sisterhood of the New England spinster. And it was easy to understand why: The way she dressed, the way she carried herself, her precise way of speaking. Les had wondered about the person who might possibly live behind the Miss Troute the students knew and the Olivia he knew. And here in her house he was getting a glimpse of her. Even in the way she spoke: There was a softer “r” and something of a drawl to her vowels. Perhaps even a lilt. Was it New England? Maybe the South.
He accepted her offer.
Before he left, he asked, “How long have you lived here?”
“I bought this house when I came to the college a long time ago.”
“Was the apartment here then?”
“I had that built.”
“May I ask why?”
“You may. But that story is for another time.”
“No matter how well we know someone,” she said, ”there’s always a surprise to be had, no?”
It was his turn to laugh for the first time today.
“Sometimes I think there are little nascent budding others in each of us that continue to emerge so long as we are alive,” she said. “So long as we nourish them, cherish them.”
“Sounds like a tale from the crypt.”
“Perhaps we die when we have used up--or more likely killed off--all of our embryonic other us-es. When there are no new buds to surprise ourselves with.”
He smiled. At what she was saying, yes, but more at the light in her gray eyes and the few white hairs that had worked free from above her left ear and at her own smile playing at the corners of lips that now seemed not quite full enough to cover her prominent front teeth. He couldn’t tell if she was putting him on or if she was pleased to be sharing something of her philosophy of life with him.
She gave him keys. He left promising to return with his things later in the evening.
After his car pulled out of the driveway and onto the road, she turned out the lights and sat in the darkness. “Well, my darling Barbara,” she said not quietly, “at last your apartment will have someone in it.”