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.
Somehow knowing that she would be paid on Friday made donning the same clothes easier that Monday morning. Her mind was also on Markus. She anticipated his being in class and his positive contributions to it. She also anticipated a conference with him later that day.
Her expectations proved accurate in terms of his contributions to class. He did introduce, in one of his examples, the issue of co-ed housing. Dr. Knight continued the example, as if the issue was purely hypothetical, in explicating the techniques under discussion. Still, the topic itself was sufficient to increase attention. Later, Markus used an example of how a person's giving of a box of chocolates might have meaning on different levels. Martha extended this illustration to show that the same act could be interpreted differently by the giver and the receiver, again, as if the example were completely imaginary. However, something in this interchange between them stimulated interest and perhaps some curiosity.
After class Markus was among the students who remained with questions. He asked for her reaction to the previous week's Finder. "I thought it was generally good but would like to talk with you more about some specifics. Are you lunching at the Wagon Wheel?"
"Sure. Fine. I'll see you and Dr. West there."
Markus arrived before Martha had finished her sandwich, before the other students had left for classes. He said hello to Knight and West before he went to order; he left his books on their table.
"He's coming back?" Jordan asked.
"Well, yes. I kinda asked him to stop by."
"Should I leave?"
"I need to talk to him about his writing."
"And his politics?"
"Huh, yes ... they seem to be interrelated."
"So, you are going to try and sway him. I'd best leave. I really don't want to see this."
"Dr. West left already?" Markus asked on his return. "Are you all right? Is anything wrong?"
"Ah. No, I'm fine. We just had a disagreement... about you actually. She's one of your biggest fans."
"And you're not, is that it?"
"Markus, ... Mr. Mathews, you're an excellent student, ... my best student. So, I am a fan of yours -- as a student, not as some kind of glorified college reformer.... I want to see you make the most out of your life, not throw it away chasing windmills like some Don Quixote."
Markus sat looking at her with puzzlement written across his face. Martha had stated her thesis and now hoped that she would not have to develop it. However, it was obvious that more was needed. She needed a verbal response, an indication of how to proceed.
Finally, he said, "But, Dr. West thinks that I'm doing good? ... That's what y'all argued about? ... Dr. West's a sharp lady. You respect her. Perhaps she's right." Markus made the latter statements as facts, not challenges, but now he looked at her and she felt challenged.
"She may be right that change is needed ... or that the controversies which you generate have positive effects on the academic climate here at Bliss -- they prompt people to think and to discuss ideas. ... But, that's not the issue, as far as I'm concerned, it's what's best for you ...."
"So, you are concerned about me?"
"As a student."
"Okay." Markus smiled a doubtful, laughing smile. "As a student, I appreciate what you have taught me about writing already. I'd never thought much about how to express myself before. I've always just figured that what was right would win, that the truth would work if people knew it. I still think that, but now I realize how it's written has a lot to do with who reads it and whether it's accepted. I think my writing has improved already this semester..."
"Yes, yes it has."
"And, I know that it can be improved more, but that's one thing. Your interest in me obviously goes beyond that."
"Markus, writing involves much more than the mechanics." Martha's voice and her posture assumed more of a professorial tone as she continued. "The mechanics are actually a very small part of writing."
Markus smiled a more playful smile. "This could get interesting."
"Writing goes to an in-depth consideration of what is being written about?"
"And, you're interested in me as a student of writing. So, you're interested in helping me to explore the things I write about, my features, my opinions, my politics, my life you might say. I'll accept that as close enough to being interested in me as a person, for the time being."
Martha had to smile. She did not like his conclusion but could find no fault in his logic. She wanted her subject matter to be encompassing, but did not want it to be personal. He had her considering the possibility that, as long as she taught writing, she would need to be involved, at least intellectually, with the personal lives of her students. Although she did not appreciate being forced to think about this possibility, she did admire both the ease and the good heartedness with which he had presented his case.
In addition, she recognized the irony in the fact that her grading criteria had included reasonableness as a means of avoiding personal bias in evaluating content. Indeed, had his presentation not been so simple in its logic, she might well have responded that she was interested in his logic as her student, not his politics. His mental gymnastics reflected a well developed reasoning ability. She could not teach him more in that area without examining his personal views, and maybe not even then.
She did not relish the thought of being personally involved with her students, but, as she thought about it, she considered that Markus' argument applied to him; perhaps it was not generalizable; perhaps it only applied for exceptional students such as Markus.
Markus had started eating while she had worked through the dilemma which he had posed for her. Yet, since she had not spoken, he said, "Well, teacher, what suggestions do you have for your star student?"
Martha regained her composure somewhat and returned to her professional voice, "I would recommend that you take a more moderate position. Instead of demanding open housing, ask for equality in dorm hours for the women's dorms, ask for common dining areas, ask that they split one of the dorms by wings, one for men and one for women."
"Yeah, any of that'd be movement in the right direction if they'd allow them. But, do you really think Mason would go for any of that?"
"He might. Often, after being presented an unreasonable demand, people are more willing to accept a reasonable one."
"Is that right?"
"Yes. You know, you've made it impossible for the college to give in because they would appear weak if they caved in to the pressures for an unruly student. You need to find some way to work more from within the system if you want to effect change here."
"So, you think that I could have a future here?" Markus stressed the word "here" such that Martha knew he included more than location.
"When I suggested you transfer it was assuming that you didn't want to be a part of Bliss, to work within the system here at Bliss." Martha's stress was on "Bliss" both times.
"I see. But, you would continue to help me with my writing?"
"I could. Then, so would others who could help you in ways that I might not be able to."
"Huh. Then, in that case, I would no longer be your student?"
"Let's cross that bridge when we come to it, shall we?
Martha felt good after her conference with Markus. She had encouraged him to do what she thought he should. She had acted professionally. Yes, she had left open the possibility of a change in their relationship, but she had not used it as the motivation for the desired change in his behavior; and, a future change in their association was inevitable. He possessed looks, charm and intelligence; their relationship might well become more amorous. Dr. Minz had suggested that such could be acceptable given appropriate adjustments in Markus' behavior.
Martha's mood continued to be positive the next day until after her classes. Then, as she was checking papers, she looked up to find Richard Astor at her office door staring down at her.
"I didn't mean to startle you," he said.
"What do you want?"
He grinned at the question. "The others are asking what you want, but we can talk about what we want later. Now, I thought that you'd want to know that we've set up a meeting with your Mr. Mathews for tomorrow at 2:00."
The change in Martha's facial expression showed that she was interested and Richard seized the opportunity to move to a chair beside her desk before he continued, "Minz got him a swell deal over at PR."
"Yes, she told me about that on Friday."
"And you talked to him on Monday, and when he hears the deal, he'll probably see it as a present with your name on it."
"Did he tell you that?"
"He talked with Minz. You know, she had confidence in your ability to handle him from the beginning. I thought you were too naive. I'm sure you'll let him down easy when it's all over, won't you? ... Or, do you have a thing for him after all? ... Minz seems to think that you've gone for that West woman, but I don't think you're that type."
He looked at Martha as for a response but she was dumfounded. His directness surprised and confounded her. She wanted her involvement with Jordan to deter him; she had not anticipated needing to answer his question. She did not want to brand herself; however, she feared that to deny her attraction for Jordan would instantly undermine their strategy.
While she fought for her composure, he nodded his head slowly and said, "Just as I thought. My only question is why the charade ... who are you trying to fool?"
"Jordan and I are friends ... good friends, already. Is something unusual about that ... that two women can be friends? You have men friends."
"I didn't mean to upset you. Of course you can have women friends ... as long as that's all there is to it. I do miss seeing you at lunch. Perhaps you could bring your friend to lunch with us as I bring mine. That way, you could avoid all this negative gossip about the two of you."
"What? ... What if I prefer the gossip to lunch with you?"
"Why are you so hostile? I'm trying to help you. You get the wrong type reputation here and advancement becomes very difficult. Academy's all so political. And, it just doesn't have to be that hard for you. You can have it made. You have everything it takes, but you have to make it work for you, not against you. I like you. I can do all the right things for you. Why are you so afraid to let me?"
"What if I just want to do it for myself?"
"This is a community -- a small community at that. There're no islands in it. Furthermore, you're not trying it alone; you're going off with that West. That's not going to get you what you want, what you need. That's what it all boils down to -- getting what you want. We can help each other. I'm in an ideal position to befriend you. So, why are you so hostile? Did someone hurt you? Do I remind you of that person? I haven't done anything to harm you and I won't."
His voice had become most sincere and now he sat with an earnest look on his face. He had made it sound so innocent at the end of his little speech. She wanted to bite nails and spit them in his face, but there he was looking like a therapist. She could not find any appropriate way to dismiss him, much less tell him how much she despised him.
"We could make a wonderful team," he continued. "Your intransigence seems so irrational. Dr. Minz is puzzled by it, I'll tell you that. It might help if you talked about it. If you don't want to talk to me about it, you could at least explain it to Dr. Minz. We're concerned about you and do want to help in some way."
After Richard left, Martha went straight home and bathed.
Martha's feeling of frustration continued until she began her class the next morning when the discussion, again seasoned with Markus' comments, helped to brighten her mood. He left without saying anything after class which disappointed her. She hoped to see him at lunch.
As she left her 11:00 class, her three English colleagues were walking toward her, and Jordan was nowhere in sight. Martha took a breath and walked away from the men as if Jordan was there. Then Jordan came into view.
"Sorry to be late. I got tied up with arrangements for next week."
"It's just as well. I need to get used to it. You can't be here always -- next week for example."
Over lunch, Martha told of Richard's visit. Jordan sat aghast during its entire presentation. When Martha finished, Jordan said, "The bastard! Don't you just want to slay him! You can't fault him for moxie. The nerve of the ...." Jordan shook her head and the angry look remained on her face. "It was foolish of us to think he wouldn't go out of his way to get what he wants."
"Yeah, I guess. But, what'll we do now? He makes it like I'm the one with a problem. I'm hostile, and defensive and who knows what else might be my problem if I don't cooperate. And, as you know, I do have problems. It would be easy for me to think that it's all me."
"Don't! Don't for a moment let him pass this off as your problem! Geez, the world is really screwed up when an ass like Richard Astor is honored as the good guy, while making your life miserable because you won't do his bidding!"
Martha recalled Astor's claim that Jordan's accomplishments were not appreciated at Bliss, thus recognizing the implications of Jordan's indictments. It wasn't fair. Richard had gained so much power probably because he was a ruthless man and Jordan was working with her gender as a burden. In addition, she had to be concerned with extra complications should her accomplishments spotlight her sexual preference. It was so unfair as to justify taking advantage of the system to gain personal advantage. Yet, that is exactly what Richard was advocating.
"You are simply going to have to be strong," Jordan continued. "Strength is the antidote to the poison of Richard Astor. Indeed, the more I think about his visit to your office, the more I think it is a good sign that he exerted such an effort to put his pursuit in the best light. He thinks better than to go in for the kill. So, avoid him while I'm gone whenever you can, but when you're around him act like he's just another person. Be cordial, but distant."
Markus did not appear while they were talking and, given the nature of the conversation, Martha was just as happy that he did not; still, she missed him. Then, after departing paths with Jordan, she saw him and Mary Cage approaching, at a distance, from the opposite direction. They seemed to be having fun. She rushed in an attempt to make it into the building without their seeing her.
To her surprise, it was not long before Markus was in her office. He was in a good mood. Martha wondered how much of his mood was due to the internship offer and how much to Miss Cage.
"Do you know who I talked with today?" he asked with pride standing beside her desk. "A committee of English faculty chaired by Dr. Minz herself." He paused and looked at her before taking the chair next to her desk. "Well, don't you what to know what they said?"
"Yes, of course."
"They offered me a position on The Beacon. I could write a commentary every other week. It would make me a 'legitimate journalist.' That's how Minz phrased it. 'It would make me respectable.' She actually said that. Very much like you said Monday, I'd be working in the system. Someone else would be directing my writing. You wouldn't have to be my teacher no more."
"Did you accept?"
"I told'em I'd think about it. I wanted to talk with you first. I'd have to quit putting out the Finder and I'd lose editorial control. This Minz, she seems to sincerely think the administration is interested in becoming more student oriented -- that my ideas are wanted. Like you said on Monday, they can be reasonable if I will. Problem is that if I take this job, they get to determine if what I write is reasonable before they print it. If they ain't reasonable, I've lost the power of the pen, so to speak."
"So you have to trust them."
"Yes, and I don't know that I can. It's a gamble. I know what I stand to lose; I'm trying to assess what I might win."
"You could win everything. You could be Who's Who your junior year. You could get lots of valuable experience. You could be class president, valedictorian, whatever you want to be here at Bliss and have a red carpet rolled out for you upon graduation."
Markus chuckled and said, "The all American dream. Does your version have any romance in it?"
"A handsome, successful man like you'll be, will no doubt have beautiful coeds, like that Miss Cage, to supply all the romance he might desire."
"How about his favorite teacher, who'll obviously be his favorite ex-teacher by then, where is she in your vision?"
Martha held out both hands as if holding a crystal ball and said in an eerie voice, "I'm sorry the picture is fading from view."
"Very cute," he said with a smile. "Well, answer me this: Do you want me to take this internship?"
"I think you'd benefit from it."
"You think I can trust these guys?"
"I think they can be reasonable if you will."
"Okay. You still ain't told me if you want me to accept the offer."
"I want you to do what is best for you and I think you would profit greatly from the experience and the exposure."
"You really enjoy toying with me. You know we're great together as teacher and student. You really need to just try putting yourself into that vision you have for me. You'll find you fit there and you enjoy being a part of it."
"Perhaps. Perhaps as you become famous, you'll find you have no need for a teacher. That's the way it usually works...."
"I've never seen you as my teacher. That's always been your idea. I've learned from you; I try to learn from everyone. This role thing is for the birds. We're all individuals. Some are more ethical than others; some we like, some we don't; a few we're attracted to romantically. I was attracted to you in grade school and now that I see the person you've become and how compatible we are, I know it's just got to be. Fate brought you back to me; I'm sure not gonna forget you should I become famous, don't worry about that."
"Wow! I bet you say that to all the girls. No, seriously, I don't want to give you false hope. Whether you like roles or not: officially, you are my student, which obligates me. Admittedly, it's a temporary relationship. We'll both have to wait to see what happens over the next three years as you complete your tenure as a student."
"Okay. I guess there's no need to rush it. Although neither of us is getting any younger. Three years would be a long time to wait just to find out if there's a chance. I was hoping to cut that a bit. You don't want to give me false hope; does that mean I should have no hope?"
Martha smiled. "Of course you should have hope. You have a bright future ahead of you. I just can't give you hope ...."
"I know as long as you're my teacher."
Payday finally arrived. Knowing she would have money again, at least long enough to pay some of her bills, brightened Martha's outlook. In addition, she was optimistic that Markus would accept the position with The Beacon even without inappropriate encouragement from her. These thoughts helped her to avoid thinking about Richard Astor and Jordan's departure on Monday.
Markus was not in class, but a copy of The Fact Finder was in her mailbox, along with her pay check. She examined the Finder first. She found no mention of its being the last issue; however, the copy was much more bland than usual. It could have been The Beacon.
Jordan was not waiting when Martha left her 11:00, but neither were her English colleagues. She continued to the Wagon Wheel alone and was hailed along the way by Jordan.
"You made it past the trolls, I see."
"They weren't even there."
"Ah, yes, payday. They're probably off taking care of business. There won't be anyone at Carry Nation for the same reason. You got your check? Money at last! Do you feel like celebrating? You want to drive up to the city, dinner, a movie? I won't even drive too fast; let you drive if you want. How about it?"
"Sounds good, but I need to write some checks tonight. I was hoping we could go up tomorrow and maybe do some shopping also."
"That'd be fun. I have some finishing touches for next week that I could do this evening. Should we get an early start, say nineish?"
"That'll be fine."