Age of Bliss
This novel is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents
are products of the author's imagination. Any resemblance to people,
alive or dead, are coincidental.
This work contains adult themes and is not intended for children.
When Martha walked into class on Monday morning, none of the students were in their seats. Many of them were gathered around Markus, who stood behind his desk. The remaining students leaned against the walls on either side. Markus was addressing the need for relevance in the college classroom. Martha walked before the students lining the wall and they hurried to their seats as she walked behind the lectern. Less rapidly, the students facing Markus withdrew themselves from his discourse.
"Have you read The Fact Finder?" asked one of the students above the commotion.
"What do you think of it?"
Now the room was silent, although Markus and a few others still were not in their seats.
"I think we have more important issues to discuss, particularly your assigned readings."
The remaining students, except for Markus, slipped into their chairs. Markus asked, "Don't you think that students should be concerned with issues of the day? Or, do you want us just to live in the past?"
"Sit down, Mr. Mathews. I am not here to debate you," Martha said and, again, was surprised when he did sit. "I do appreciate your willingness to offer The Fact Finder to be made an example of, and it seems that everyone has read it, but it is best not to embarrass anyone in public. Works from the past provide us with the opportunity for positive examples."
The students remained quiet as Martha continued the class. Several times, she invited comments, but none came. She did not know how to interpret their reticence. Perhaps she had alienated them. Markus' stern look suggested that he was unhappy with her. She smiled to herself. He could look stern all he wanted to; she was the teacher, not his handmaid.
Eventually Mary offered an illustration from their assigned readings to help clarify a point which Martha was making. Martha reinforced Mary's comments and remarked on how much it helped to have read the text in advance.
Mary added an insightful question later in the hour and the snarl faded from Markus' face. Toward the end of the hour, Markus raised his hand. Martha took a deep breath and said, "Yes, Mr. Mathews."
"Where the book is talking about the use of antithesis, is the point that we should somehow be seeking the middle ground or do we use the antithesis to strengthen the truth of the thesis?"
"Actually, both. The truth is likely to contain contrasting elements."
"That's just your opinion, right? We don't have to agree with you on that view, too, do we?"
"You don't have to agree with me on any view."
"You're going to grade us on the content, the truth, of our essays, aren't you? It seems that what you count as quality is wrapped fairly tightly with your views."
Martha did not know how to respond. The hour was over, but the students were not leaving. They awaited her response; however, it was not one which she could provide, satisfactorily, in a short time. "Allow me to start the next class period with a consideration of your question; but, allow me to assure you, to assure everyone, I will not impose my views as a criterion in grading your papers."
Markus did not wait to receive the copy of the Finder which Martha had edited the previous evening, and she was glad that he had not. She suspected that he would only contend that she had indeed let her views influence her evaluation of his work.
The issue of how to deal with Markus permeated her thinking during her office hour. He had been a disruptive force for the complete hour this morning. He had not even taken a seat until she had told him to do so. Then, he had sat there and glared at her as if she were a disobedient child. If it had not been for Miss Cage, no one would have helped her at all. Did he really have that much influence? If he did, it could be a long semester for her. Finally, he asked that question. It did show he had read his assignments, but he also indicted her as being biased and unfair.
The smoothness of her 11:00 class convinced Martha of Markus' negative influence. Still, his power was not anything that she could not handle. She was not biased and unfair and the students would see that soon, surely. Nevertheless, it might help her to talk to someone about the situation, someone with more experience.
"Going to lunch with us today?" The voice was that of Richard Astor. He had walked up behind her while she was thinking.
"Yes, I am planning on it."
"Good, I'm all ready. I'll walk with you to your office."
"Fine. It won't take me but a sec to put away my notes."
Astor stood behind her as she refiled her notes. "Did you enjoy the concert Friday night?"
"Yes, very much so, but how did you know ...?"
"I saw you when you came in and when you left, too. You looked mightee fine in that yellow suit. I was surprised to see you there with Markus Mathews, but then you didn't leave with him."
"I was not there with Markus Mathews. Mary Cage just asked me to sit with them -- her, really -- that's all."
"I personally am glad to hear that, but I'm not sure that everyone who saw you together at intermission would conclude that you weren't together."
Martha turned to find Richard within three feet of her. His lips smiled at her but in his eyes she saw for a brief moment a leer. "Do you think that there is some problem with my talking with him at the intermission?"
"Probably not. There were few faculty there and no administrators. Dr. West's not someone the administration has an interest in. No doubt that's because she's a woman, ... a real knock out. Anyway, I'm sure that if she were a man they'd be pushing her in their recruiting and fundraising. Still, you can't be too careful. If you should want to see him, I'd suggest you keep it out of the public eye, if you know what I mean."
"I don't want to see him! I did not want to even sit in the same row with him Friday night!"
"Glad to hear that. It's interesting that he was able to maneuver you that close to him. He's crafty. It may seem extreme to you, but I'd suggest you not go out in the evening alone. Always go with another faculty. You could have gone to that recital with me; I'd be glad to be your escort anytime I can. Just call me."
"What would Mrs. Astor say about that?"
"Mrs. Astor understands that I have to be on campus many evenings and often my work involves women. We will have no problem in that area."
"Wouldn't there be more talk if we were seen coming and going together than if I were seen talking to a student once I got there?"
"Oh, no. For one thing, faculty do things together all the time. For another thing, Markus isn't just any student. He's targeted for dismissal by the administration, I'm sure; moreover, your relationship with him goes back a long way, right?"
"I wouldn't say that I had a relationship with him at all," she said, and started around him. "We better go eat."
He reached out and touched her lightly on the arm, stopping her momentarily. "But you've had a relationship with someone." She moved on past him. "You aren't virginal."
"I don't know what that has to do with anything!" She attempted to put disdain in her voice as she walked away more quickly; however, the truth of his statement prevented her from feeling the disgust she knew she should have.
"I'm just trying to be helpful. It's obvious that you're in over your head with this Mathews character. It could cost you your job. How did your class with him go today?" He had caught up with her and was walking by her side.
"It didn't go well," she said softly.
"Just as I suspected! Here come Pete and Russ now. Come to my office after your 2:00 so that we can continue this conversation. I can be of help."
"What kept you two?" asked Pete. "We were about to go on without you."
"Martha needed to put away some things in her office. We got to talking about the West concert that we went to Friday evening."
"How was that?"
"It was wonderful. She can really move those fingers across the ol' instrument. It really makes you wish that she were straight. She came out in a white clinging gown which accented all the curves. It would have been a treat even without the music. Then, the music was good, once I could get my mind on it."
Martha, still reeling from Astor's untoward actions, took little heed of what he said to the others. She viewed it as part of the pattern of treating her, and other women, as objects. Richard's discussion of Friday night was sufficiently unpleasant that she might have ignored it anyway, but, following as it did his reference to her sexual experiences, she had no desire to hear it or respond to it.
Richard walked beside her as they continued to the cafeteria and allowed her to go first as they went through the line. None of the entrees looked good; they were all fried. With Richard looking over her shoulder, she went ahead and ordered the pork chops, but none of the vegetables seemed to complement the chops. Although she was hungry, she did not want to think about food.
The vegetable server seemed impatient and finally asked, "What'll it be, hon?" She selected the corn and the spinach, although she hated spinach. If it gave her strength, she thought, it would be worth it. The only decision which she had left was the drink, which was easy. She picked up iced tea and then saw the desserts. Might as well get something I like, she thought, as she removed the slice of chocolate pie from the shelf.
They sat in a booth and Richard sat to her left, putting her against the wall. Richard managed to interject The Fact Finder into the conversation. Everyone got a big laugh out of the grammatical errors and misspellings. Martha endeavored to project a positive disposition. She ate all of her food.
One thing that she was positive about was that she was not going to meet with Richard Astor in his office that afternoon. She was not sure what she would do. She remembered Markus' analogy of her being a lamb in the wolves' den. Now she knew, at least fairly well knew, that it was the ilk of Richard Astor which was the object of Markus' warning, and obviously rightly so.
Still, she had exerted too much effort in freeing herself from one oppressive relationship; she was not going to be entrapped in another one. Richard had no power over her, and she certainly did not need his protection from Markus. Mostly, she decided, she needed to maintain her composure and demonstrate to Richard, Markus, and anyone else who was interested, that she could handle her own business in a most professional way.
It seemed advisable, however, to discuss the situation with Dr. Minz. After all, she was the Department Head. She needed to know what was going on in her department. Moreover, she was a woman; she had to understand.
The men talked of football on the way back to their building. Martha planned to go directly to the departmental office to make an appointment with Dr. Minz. Pete and Russ veered off for their classes, but Richard continued with her. She was glad that she was heading toward the main office; she certainly did not want to be alone again with him in her office. Soon they were in sight of the departmental secretary.
"No messages for me, Suzie?" Richard asked.
Dr. Minz emerged from her inner office and handed Susan something to type. "Richard, Martha, how are you two doing?"
"We are doing just fine," said Richard. "We've just been to lunch together and we have a meeting at 3:00 this afternoon. We are going to be a first-rate team, we are. See you at 3:00, Martha."
"I'm so glad that you and Richard are getting along so beautifully. I know it's difficult for a first-year teacher. Richard can really show you the ropes."
"I would like to talk with you about that very issue. Could I visit with you for a little while?"
"I'm tied up at the moment. You have a 2:00 and then that 3:00 meeting with Dr. Astor. How about at 9:00 in the morning?"
"That's fine," Martha said, although she had an office hour at 9:00. If that were her first opportunity to meet with Dr. Minz, she was going to take it. Probably none of her students would need to see her then anyway.
Martha marveled at how easily Richard had derailed her meeting with Dr. Minz. More than derailing it, he had prompted Dr. Minz to believe that he was working with Martha, that he was her mentor; perish the thought! Martha wanted to believe that Dr. Minz was sufficiently perceptive to see Richard for what he was.
However, if Richard was as manipulative as Martha believed him to be and Minz knew him as well as she should, what did that say about her perception of Martha? Martha shuddered at the likely answer to that question. It forced her to think that she must have been wrong about Dr. Minz. Dr. Astor could simply have deceived her over the years.
She did consider the alternative: that she was wrong about Richard. She recalled the look he had given her in this very office earlier that day. She could not swear that she had seen a leer. She considered the way he touched her and the thing he said about her previous relationship. The touch had been innocent enough, she concluded, but could find no reason for his asking about previous relationships. There was no way for him to know about her father and that would be the only reconciling of his question with his assertion that he only wanted to help. She did not believe that he was just trying to befriend her as he had alleged, but she was not certain that he was not. If he were trying to help, his implication to Minz that they were a team, if not a couple, would need to be evaluated in a more positive light.
Why hadn't she said something at the time he told Minz of their 3:00 appointment, Martha asked herself, or at least denied the arrangement after he left? She did not have answers to these questions except that she expected to be able to clarify the situation with Dr. Minz in the privacy of her office. Now she would not be able to confer with Dr. Minz until the next day. In the meantime, both Dr. Minz and Dr. Astor expected her to go to his office after her 2:00 class.
She was not sure what to do about the so-called appointment. There was her uncertainty as to Richard's intentions. She did not believe that she should keep it, but she foresaw negative repercussions of not going. Richard could make her look irresponsible. She would be forced to explain and would be on the defensive. Her concerns about Minz's insight into Richard's character forced her to doubt that Minz would even believe her.
By the time she was walking to her class, she was wondering why she should not visit with Richard. She was a professional. She could certainly deal with him; and, she might be able to determine if her suspicions of him were correct. She did need something more definitive before broaching the topic with Dr. Minz. The visit to his office, which he had maneuvered, might more clearly yield unprofessional actions on his part.
Her class went well and gave her psychic energy. Afterwards, she discussed potential essay topics with individual students. Then, she was ready to learn what Richard had to say.