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.
Martha felt the effects of the wine when she awoke the next morning. She did not look forward to her lecture or to setting up the session with Markus. Currently, the students were doing research on their last paper. The finer points of library searches made for tedious lectures; and then, she needed to deal with Markus.
She arrived late for class, but Mary and Markus entered after she did. They walked in together and opened their notebooks without looking at her. Then, they avoided eye contact with her as she presented the lecture. The behavior was so unlike Mary. Martha wondered what Markus had told her.
At the end of the hour, as she was handing back the papers she had finally finished Sunday afternoon, Dr. Knight asked Mr. Mathews to see her. The other students filed out, with the exception of Miss Cage who waited at her desk.
"Your paper on Friday generated much discussion among the women faculty. They asked me to talk with you about the issues you raised. Could we have a conference sometime?"
"Sure. How about at the Wagon Wheel, you know, after your lunch."
"That's what I had in mind."
"It'll be fine if Mary's there, won't it?"
"We'll see you and Dr. West there, then."
Jordan was waiting at noon. She looked beautiful, Martha thought, in a dark blue wool crepe dress. Again she wore the crystal necklace, but today it rested on cloth.
"Glad you made it on time," Martha said as they passed Richard Astor, who was alone.
"I'm glad you made it, also. I was a little worried about you last night."
"I made it fine, but I appreciate the concern. Will I need a coat?"
"No, it's sunny. Your suit should be ample. Did you get the meeting arranged?"
"Yes. He and Mary are coming over after their 12:00 class."
"He and Mary, huh? She is going to complicate your little romance, isn't she?" Jordan smiled.
"Jordan! Please! If you really loved me, you wouldn't say things like that," Martha said, and laughed.
"Interesting! You're not satisfied simply to be confused yourself; you want to confuse everyone around you," Jordan chuckled.
"That's what friends are for," Martha said, and they both laughed.
They placed their orders and again departing students gave chairs to them. "I really enjoyed last night," Martha said when they had their food. "I'll have to return the favor soon. One thing my mother made sure I could do was cook."
"I'd like that."
"It's good to have you back."
"Yes, I know -- you want my counsel," Jordan said sarcastically.
"It's more than that."
"Sure, we're good friends," Jordan said more seriously.
Martha only smiled at the touch of sweetness and humor which flavored Jordan's acquiescence.
"Have you thought what you're going to say to your Mr. Mathews?"
"You mean Mary's Markus?"
"Whatever," Jordan smiled.
"In general. I'm just going to tell him what happened on Friday and we can discuss what, if anything, we should report back."
A student stopped and told Dr. West that his parents had seen her on tour and they were very impressed. Martha looked at her watch and saw that it would likely be several minutes before Markus arrived.
"You want to tell me about your trip now?" she asked once the student departed.
"What's there to tell? You saw the performance here. I just repeated it a dozen times."
"You didn't vary it any? It doesn't seem like you to be that regimented."
Jordan smiled. "Yes, my professional side is more disciplined, but I did add a number here or there. Basically, it was the same.
"We best move to that table for four before the place begins to fill again."
Soon after the two women changed tables, the awaited couple came and left their books and jackets. Markus introduced Mary Cage to Dr. West in such a way as to recognize that they each knew who the other was. Mary responded with polite deference and they went off to order lunch.
"They do make an attractive couple," Jordan said.
"Yes, they do. They also have much in common." Martha said attempting to make it a bland statement of fact.
"It seems a shame you're going to break them up." Jordan looked at her sincerely, but then she smiled.
"Jordan, cut it out! I'm not going to break them up."
"You're not?" Jordan smiled briefly and then said, "Oh. You think it'll just run its course and then you can pick back up where you left off?"
"You know, I never thought of that possibility, but it might just work."
Jordan shook her head and then smiled. "I had to open my big mouth." She laughed and Martha laughed.
"You two are sure enjoying yourselves," Markus said setting down his lunch, and then he pulled out a chair for Mary.
"We laugh to hide our broken hearts since Mary has so obviously won yours."
Martha thought that Markus blushed slightly. Then, he smiled and chuckled. "Yeap. To the victor go the spoils." He turned his smile to Mary, who was obviously uncomfortable with the conversation.
Markus nodded and asked, "Why did you call this meeting, teach?"
Martha told of Friday's meeting and the request from the women present, highlighting the probability of Dr. Minz's influence. Then, she said, "Jordan and I thought we'd better keep you informed. Of course, we also want your advice as to what if anything I should report back to them on Friday."
"Minz," said Markus, "we have learned how deceptive she can be. Still, I think it would be safe to tell them I don't have, in my possession, any documentation; but, all the documentation needed is available to those with the power to obtain it and to use it. In terms of discrimination against women, Minz is as big a victim as anyone. Had she been a man, she would have been dean years ago."
"You sound very secure," Jordan said. "You have no fear Mason will use the fact you don't have substantiation as a basis to expel you for libel?"
"No, that doesn't worry me at all."
"Okay, then, that seems to be what we needed to know," said Jordan. "I really need to go -- got much to make up."
"You're right. That's what we needed to know. Thank you for meeting with us. Wait up, Jordan, and I'll walk a ways with you."
Jordan first broke the silence as they approached the juncture between their two buildings, "I'm not sure I'd be that cocky if I were he. If Mason kicked him out for libel, he'd need proof to get back in. Even if he had the proof, it'd take some time. Perhaps we best not report his lack of evidence. It's enough to assure them it's there if they have the will to use it, they can find it. It's wise to keep the ball in their court."
Markus did not attend class on Wednesday. Mary made something of a show in submitting his written assignment with hers, Martha thought. Later in the hour, when passing out review sheets for the next exam, she graciously ensured that Mary received one for Markus.
All that morning, everything seemed especially quiet to Martha. She had the strangest feeling that she was in the eye of a hurricane. The sensation continued as she left her 11:00 class. Jordan was not in sight, neither was anyone else.
She grabbed her coat and continued outside. There she understood something of her feeling. Everything was still and dark; a dark cloud covered the sky, just overhead. She hurried toward the diner. Soon, large cool rain drops fell on her. She quickened her pace and the rate of the drops increased.
"Here, this will help. We can share." It was Jordan offering shelter beneath a large red and black umbrella.
"To my rescue again!" Martha said as their bodies came into contact. "I'll get you all wet."
"I understand that's what friends are for."
The diner provided a convenient refuge for passing students as well as regular customers. The crowded, humid atmosphere produced something of a carnival spirit among those inside. Their joviality increased within Martha the goodwill which she had felt in sharing the umbrella. They all were victims of the same elements. She accepted with them the verdict of their dense and noisy confinement.
"That's a beautiful suit," she attempted to communicate over the racket once they finally secured a table.
"Thank you. It's one of my prized possessions. Tailor made in Venice years ago on a trip with my parents."
Martha could barely hear Jordan's words. She decided she would simply enjoy watching the students.
Thirty minutes later, the rain stopped as quickly as it had started. Soon thereafter, the herd scattered, leaving only a musk to recall their merriment.
"Perhaps we should take this opportunity also," Jordan suggested.
"I guess. It was fun while it lasted."
"Yes. Young people are often fun. Part of why I enjoy teaching," Jordan said, slipping on her rain coat.
"Ironic. I've waited to get old so that I could have fun."
"And look at you. You're having fun while you're still young."
"Perhaps I'm getting younger. But, while we're still talking of fun things, can you come for roast beef on Saturday?"
Jordan stopped as she opened the door and smiled, "I'd love to, and I know the perfect burgundy to complement it."
The rain had freshened and chilled the air, making being outside a mixed pleasure. The women quickened their pace.
"You mentioned my suit. It was a gift from my parents. They're lovely people, you know. I would love for you to meet them, and them, you. Why don't you visit them with me over term break? You'd have fun. You're old enough."
Martha smiled but said nothing.
"Well, no need to answer now. It's a month away. Folks have plenty of space. You could have your own room."
"It sounds good. I sure don't plan to go home."
"It'd be good for you. See firsthand I'm the product of a loving home."
"It's good to know they do exist. Do let me think about it."
The next day, Martha found a note in her mailbox from Lyla wanting to know if they would have their "usual" Friday lunch date on tomorrow. She indicated a willingness to share lunch with "you and your friend at the Wagon Wheel."
Martha was thinking about calling Jordan when Russ Foster came into her office and closed the door. "I need to catch you up on events since last we talked," he began. "Mathews' paper caused a stir both on campus and off. It awakened some senior faculty who were attempting to sleep until their retirement. It also got the attention of the trustees, who now seem to be taking an interest in someone here besides Mason. There's a real possibility, for the first time in my tenure here, that we could see the end of Mason's presidency.
"Anyway, some of the senior faculty have started a petition drive to that end. We already have most of the full professors. I have a copy if you want to see it. We're not asking untenured faculty to sign. We know the risk. But you could sign if you want."
He handed her the paper and she read it. "Markus brought this about."
"Yes, I'd say. Virtually single handedly!"
"If it fails, could he suffer?"
"I don't think so, especially since he'll only be here until the end of the quarter."
"To the end of the quarter?"
"Yes. Didn't you know? He's transferring to State. He plans to enroll there for their second semester, which begins in January. I lined him up with a journalism professor I know there. They have an excellent J-school, you know."
"Yes, I've heard."
"Are you all right?"
"Yes, it's just unexpected, you know. He's my best student and all. ...
"Well, I might as well sign the petition," she said reaching for her pen.
Markus' absence disappointed Martha as she started the class the next morning. Then, students started asking questions about the assigned paper. They asked particular questions about topics which had been covered earlier in the quarter. The major project seemed to have erased their memories. Martha handled each question as it arose, but, throughout the period, her eyes continued to return to the vacant seat.
After class, she was anxious to secure The Fact Finder from her mail box. It had no note attached. She read in the lead article that the board of trustees planned to examine Bliss' financial records. In another section, an anticipated visit of one of the trustees to talk informally with students was reported. There was no mention of the petition drive or of Markus' departure.
Putting the paper aside, she saw Lyla's note about lunch. Having forgotten about calling Jordan after Russ' visit, Martha did not want to use the departmental phone now. She would just have to accept without consulting her friend. Somehow, the thought of having a third person eating with them today was comforting.
The two women were waiting when Martha finished her 11:00 class. Except for them, the hall was deserted. They were already discussing politics and, for the first time in Martha's knowledge, the discussion was harmonious. Lyla was detailing plans for a meeting with members of the board to discuss the status of women faculty.
The discussion continued as they ate. Jordan made some suggestions as Lyla developed strategy for the first and subsequent sessions with the trustees.
"You're unusually quiet today, Martha," said Jordan when Lyla seemed to be finished. "Not getting sick are you?"
"No, I feel fine. This just isn't as much my fight as it is yours. I don't have the history here."
"No," said Minz, "but, you are the future. And, I'm sure your positive influence on Mr. Mathews was an important factor on his ability to get this all started."
Martha shook her head. "I wasn't a positive influence. I opposed everything he attempted to do." When she finished, she was looking blankly at the unfinished sandwich before her.
"Gave him balance! Probably just what he needed," Lyla said. "That's not to mention cleaning up his grammar and syntax, which I'm sure gave The Fact Finder the needed credibility in the board's eyes."
"Anyway, it sounds as if you have it all worked out," Martha said, looking up at Minz.
"It doesn't hurt to get all the input one can. Well, are we ready to trudge back?"
"Martha might want to wait a little longer."
"No, I'm ready whenever."
The trio walked silently against the brisk October wind. Minz reminded Jordan, as she parted, of the afternoon's seminar. Then as the two continued, Lyla presumed she would wait for Martha so they could walk there together.
Martha acknowledged the offer. She knew it was something she would do contrary to her mood. She felt no need for the discussion to remind her of Markus, much less for Lyla's companionship. Still, she would go.
She remembered the reference to her providing the balance which Markus needed and wondered how Minz could live with herself. Three weeks ago, she was plotting to have Markus expelled; now, she credited him as the spark for her women's movement. She made these transformations without changing strides. And, Jordan seemed to excuse it all on the basis of her being a survivor. "Perhaps I'm not a survivor," Martha thought. "I don't look out for myself first and foremost."
As proposed, Minz was waiting at 3:00. With her was a larger chorus than the previous week. Martha was unaffected by the assembly. No matter which side she lands on, she has toadies, Martha thought.
Minz took charge of the meeting. She presented the same strategies for influencing the trustees which she had rehearsed at lunch. The audience echoed the sentiment that action might be possible at last. Markus' name was never mentioned, Martha noticed.
Then, Minz took a copy of the petition from her folder. "We mostly expect tenured faculty to sign," she explained after introducing its intent, "however, anyone who shares our cause is welcome to sign."
"Wow," Martha thought, "now she's collecting signatures!"
"Are you going to sign?" Jordan asked as others were lining up at the table.
"Aren't you? I signed it yesterday."
"You did? I didn't even see it until after lunch today. And, Lyla has a copy here!"
"Well, since we've both signed, we might as well cut on out. Do you want to go down to the Remember When?"
"No. No, thanks. I'm tired and I need to work on a test for next week."
"Okay. I'll see you tomorrow night, then."
Jordan was on time and Martha was not ready. The pot roast was done, but Martha was still dressing. She had planned to wear pants and a sweater, but when the doorbell sounded, she hastened into a cotton dress with front buttons and slipped on a pair of flats.
"Come in! Let me take your coat." Jordan looked smashing in a black wrap-a-round dress and a single strand of pearls.
As Jordan looked her in the face, Martha felt compelled to explain, "My timing was off, I didn't have time to do my face."
"You look beautiful to me. ... But, what should I do to help? You have a salad to toss? Table to set?"
"Well, ... yes, both."
"Ah, come on. Let's do them together. Forget the makeup. The natural look is very attractive, sensual even, for you. ... After all, we're among friends here."
"Okay. I'll set the table and steam the broccoli while you do the salad."
"Great! Start with the glasses and I can pour us some wine."
"All I have are these tumblers."
"They'll do fine," Jordan filled the two glasses, gave one to Martha and said, "To friendship!"
"To friendship!" Martha returned the salute and tasted the burgundy. "That's a smooth drink. Like our friendship."
Jordan smiled as she prepared the vegetable. "How about that Lyla Minz? Isn't she a work?"
"Yes, but I think I should be more like her."
"Really, how so?"
"Look out for myself more."
"Perhaps. As you said on the way to the city, you do have good values. Much of those reflect a concern for others. You can't lose that. Just remember, you mustn't deny yourself just to please others."
Martha did not respond as she placed the dishes on the table. Then, she simply said, "Let's eat."
"Your mother did an excellent job," Jordan said after savoring each selection.
"Well, do you think Mason's in his latter days?"
"Let's not talk campus politics."
"Okay. What should we talk about?"
"How about your concert trip."
"As I said, not much to talk about there. Actually, I spent much of the time thinking about you."
The statement surprised Martha and she was sure it showed in her face. The disbelief showed in her voice as she asked, "Really?"
"As a matter of fact, yes. I spent much of my idle time reading two books. One, the recent reprint of Barnes' Ladies Almanack, is a satire on lesbians. The other was Last Tango in Paris."
"And they reminded you of me?" Martha did not filter the irritation from her voice.
"I didn't think you'd want to hear about them, but they both prompted me to think of you. Perhaps it just shows it doesn't take much for me to think of you. I missed you."
Martha finished her bite of roast and forced the vision of the Cotton Club from her mind. She thought, "Jordan is Jordan. There's no reason for me to let her sexual preference obstruct our friendship as long as she doesn't."
Eventually, she said, "I missed you too. Guess I resented your being away when so much was happening here. It was small of me, I guess: I resented your friends in the other cities."
Jordan smiled a suggestive smile, but Martha continued, "I know friendship is not exclusive ... and that's all I want, friendship. It's just any friendship is a new experience for me."
They ate in silence for some time. Jordan seemed to be digesting what Martha had said along with her meal. Finally, Jordan said, "My sexual preference complicates the matter enough without your being jealous of my friends. Still, we do enjoy each other's company. That's the important thing, isn't it? I'll control my attraction for you and you control your jealousy."
"Have some more roast," Martha offered.
"No, you know what I'd like is something sweet."
"You're in luck. I bought a peach pie."
"That's just the thing."
They enjoyed their pie and their company in silence. Then, Jordan said, "You bought the pie? It's very close to home made. It reminds me of some Mother's made."
Martha anticipated where Jordan was going and Jordan smiled, "It's October 20th. There's only three more weeks until finals."
"You don't have to remind me how little time is left, Jordan." Martha said more sharply than she intended. "Markus is transferring to State next semester. Russ Foster told me."
Jordan just looked at her with an astonished look on her face.
"He's going to be gone from my life in just three and a half weeks, if I can't do something to prevent it."
"I see. It's no longer just Mary. Now it's Mary and time."
"Do you have a plan?"
"Not really. I'm going to talk with him and hope you were right: that it's me, not Mary, he's truly attracted to."