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 hoped that Markus would find the tan dress attractive. It was more demure than her sweater combination of Friday. It did have a fitted top; still, based on Friday's experience, Martha doubted it would have impact. She had not managed to hold his gaze and then he followed Mary out of the room. Today, the focus would be on the exams. At least, Martha thought, Jordan would enjoy seeing her in the dress.
To Martha's surprise, Markus was most attentive. He also helped a group of students understand how the answer they each said they had written was incomplete. Then, he joked he should get a bonus on the test for the explanation. Martha thought, "Both bright and charming. He is a catch!"
She looked at Mary who appeared exceptionally radiant today. "Why shouldn't she be proud?" Knight thought. "She wrote an excellent exam and her fella is charming the class." Still, Martha wondered if there was another reason for the glow.
At the end of the hour, she heard Markus tell Mary, "I want to ask Dr. Knight a question. I'll just be a minute."
"I'll meet you at the water fountain," came the reply.
Knight was alone with Mathews. "You have a question about the test," she asked.
"Not about the exam," he smiled.
Martha returned the smile, "Oh?"
"You've looked especially nice lately ...."
"It's all for you."
"I was going to ask you how you expected me to concentrate on my school work?"
"I see. ... You're evil, you know." Again Markus flashed his mischievous smile.
"I think the real question is how you're going to avoid breaking Miss Cage's heart."
The smile faded from Markus' face. "You'll be at the Wheel? I'll talk with you there."
She smiled and nodded.
She was still happy when she met Jordan for lunch. "We match," West said placing her arm on Martha's to compare the shades of tan. Martha wished the color highlighted her complexion as much as it did Jordan's. Indeed, the tan pantsuit emphasized more aspects than her skin. "Of course, Jordan looks good in everything she wears," Martha thought.
"Still no sign of Astor?" Jordan asked.
"Seems he dropped off the face of the earth."
"Wait," Jordan said as Martha put on her coat. "You're in a good mood. What tells me that something more than Astor's absence is involved?"
Martha smiled as she walked past.
"Could it be ... you've met with Markus?"
"Sorta. Just a minute after class. But, he's coming to the Wheel after his class."
"So, true love's going to triumph after all. I'm happy for you."
"I have my hopes up, but ... as you said, 'Mary complicates matters.'"
"It'll all work out, I'm sure."
"I wish I were."
As they started eating, Jordan said, "You missed the best Carrie Nation ever."
"Yes. Markus' piece on change stimulated it. I hope you can get him to stay. His transfer would be a real loss to Bliss."
"Yes, I realize."
"The article by Cage was good, too. You figure she's going with him?"
"Yes, that seems apparent."
"A double loss to Bliss, in addition to the personal loss."
"Can we change the subject. Tell me more about the seminar."
"Ah, but he's coming here today. You'll change his mind." Jordan's smile validated her optimism. It revived Martha's spirits.
"Tell me about the seminar anyway."
"The discussion of change reminded me of a Millay poem, "Forest Trees,' which is about permanence and change."
Martha asked, "Did you quote it for them?" She already knew the answer. She could just see Jordan, as she was dressed on Friday except with her suit coat removed, reciting the poem for the group.
"The poem for some reason reminded someone of Charles Reich and his consciousnesses."
"You know. From The Greening of America."
Martha shook her head.
"He traced the mental attitudes of Americans across time. We are supposedly now seeing the emergence of a third such consciousness. Each consciousness both provides for stability and directs, yet restricts change for its own preservation and its ultimate demise."
Martha focused with admiration on Jordan's eyes. Jordan smiled, "I'll lend you the book. It makes for interesting reading. It's somewhat relevant to Bliss because the second consciousness is corporate state -- success at any cost -- oriented."
"I see. ... Then, does Markus represent the new consciousness?"
"To the extent he symbolizes individual freedom and responsibility he does."
Martha frowned, "The two seem contradictory."
"Reich gives Sometimes a Great Notion as an example of the third consciousness." Jordan looked at Martha and continued. "In it a family resists intense social pressure to do what they believed to be the right thing. The men of the family are each responsible to what he thinks he must do."
"But we learn our morals from our society."
"Perhaps not all of them. And when society's dictates conflict with its teachings or with nature, we have to exercise personal responsibility."
"You did have a good discussion."
"Yes. The group dynamics have changed so much since I've been back. That Minz is really a political animal; but, you know, she probably represents the third consciousness as much as Markus -- speaking of whom." Martha followed Jordan's eyes to see Markus walking toward them.
"Did you get out early?" Martha asked him.
"No, actually I'm late."
"Hi, Markus," Jordan said. "I'll be running along, but first let me join the host of faculty in urging you to stay at Bliss."
"Thanks, I consider that a real compliment. I'll certainly miss interacting with you."
Martha noticed how solemn Markus was even as he waited in line. Now that he had returned with his lunch, the affect was pronounced. "So you think we have a chance? You've changed your mind?" she heard him ask.
"I've always thought so. ... I just thought we'd have more time. You told me you'd wait at least until the end of the quarter...."
"Yes, we've been over that before. What's done is done. ... You know I'm now committed not just to State but to Mary. Heck, Jordan awarded me to her the last time we were here."
"Yes, I know."
"So, you were right on this morning. I don't want to break anyone's heart. ... You wanted me to be patient before ... to wait and see. I guess now it's your turn ... both our turns really. I don't know how this will turn out. My heart wants to be with you, but ... my actions, my words have bound me to Mary. And, you were right, we don't really know each other very well. I know Mary."
"I can wait, but I don't understand why you have to go to State."
"I've made commitments."
"You can get out of those."
"You just don't know. Anyway, I belong there."
"At least wait until the end of the year. See what happens here first."
"They have jobs, positions waiting for me there. Can't you understand? I've committed to go. I'm going over this weekend to rent a place."
Martha sat quietly for awhile. "You won't be in class on Friday?"
"We're not leaving until 1:00, but I will miss on Wednesday. It's school business. I have a meeting with a trustee; it was the only time."
Martha knew that disappointment showed on her face. He reached and took her hands in his. "If it's meant to be, we'll make it work. If not, it's best we not force it. ... That's fairly much what you were telling me a month ago, and it was true then and it's true now."
Martha's despondency remained subdued until Wednesday morning when Markus was not in class and Mary looked as radiant as a new bride. The metaphor seemed prophetic. Mary and Markus appeared destined to transfer. Martha felt helpless.
Events were working against her without justification, she thought as she went to check her mail. It had all happened so quickly, and, even given her mistakes, the outcome was unfair. Markus had affected Bliss; it did not make sense for him to leave. Still, his leaving could be tolerated if he had not obligated himself to Mary. As the situation now stood, the injustice oppressed Martha.
Martha found her paycheck in her mailbox. She had been preoccupied with Markus and forgotten that today was payday. The check lifted her spirits. She recalled the weekend of her first paycheck and thought of Jordan. As she walked back to her office, she was more philosophical. Things had changed considerably since her last payday. They could change quickly again. She looked forward to seeing Jordan at lunch.
At noon, the waiting Jordan still had her white trench coat buckled. She might have been a foreign agent in a spy movie except she was smiling. "It's a sunny day, but a touch on the cold side," she said. Her beautiful smile and resonant voice gave Martha pleasure.
"Well?" Jordan asked after they had left the building.
Martha understood the import of the question but still hesitated. "You told me once not to attempt to change him. He thinks he has no choice. I may have power over his heart, but I have none over his will. ... Your earlier advice was correct, I'm sure. I have to let him do what he thinks he should. ... It looks as if he's going and so is Mary. ... It looks as if all I can do is wait and hope."
Jordan waited until they had their food before asking, "Are you meeting him here again today?" Her voice remained cheery. Her face still looked happy. Now, Martha did not find pleasure in them.
"It's good to see I'm not depressing you."
"It's payday! You're young. You haven't lost him yet; but, if you do, you'll find another -- if that's what you really want. Enjoy the experience."
"Sure! But, the answer to your question is, I don't know. He had a meeting with a trustee this morning so he wasn't in class."
"A meeting with a trustee, do say?" Jordan looked at Martha, who did not respond. "It's difficult to affect his will without getting to see him."
"Yes, and if he doesn't come today ... He's going over to State for a visit this weekend."
"Mary going with him?"
"He didn't say so directly, but he used "we" inadvertently when talking about the trip."
"You can't let it get you down. It's payday weekend. Shopping's a widely accepted cure for the blues."
"I'm going to be months paying for our last spree."
"It costs nothing to window shop. I have a few things I need. We'll have a good time. We could go up on Friday. Some friends of mine are having a little get together. We could spend the night at their place and shop and enjoy the day, Saturday."
The mention of "friends" prompted Martha to recall the woman at the Cotton Club. An image of the two women embracing flashed before Martha and she felt her body stiffen. She did not enjoy the image. "I don't think that's such a good idea."
"Why not? It'd be a blast!"
"For you and your friends perhaps." Martha felt her nose wrinkle.
"I see." Jordan leaned forward and continued in a soft voice, "You think I'm inviting you to some type of lesbian orgy? Is that it?"
"No, not an orgy ... but, your friends are ..., right?" Martha attempted to control her volume.
Jordan shook her head and took a deep breath. "You're a friend of mine. Are you a lesbian?"
"You thought I was. Probably still do."
Jordan sat back and again inhaled deeply before leaning forward again. "Well, for the record, I have friends like Markus, who could even be at the party. If you are straight, at least one of them should give your heart a patter. Which, as I understood it, Markus never did. But, there'll be gay men and women there also."
"That's what I thought"
Jordan, again, leaned back and shook her head. Now, she sat focused on Martha. "I don't understand your reaction. I thought you were all right with who I am. ... What's happened?"
"Nothing. ... I'm unhappy over Markus and Mary transferring. I don't need to be reminded of your going off and gallivanting with some other woman."
Jordan lowered her head slightly and tilted it to one side, but her gaze did not waver. She moistened her lips but did not speak. Then she nodded quickly several times. Finally, she smiled and said, "I was just trying to be helpful. You know, like a friend."
Looking at Jordan's friendly face, Martha calmed herself. Still, she did not want to go to the party. Jordan had been a friend. She had been true to her word not to push her affections. There was no basis for distrust. Still, she obviously thought that Martha was a lesbian.
Perhaps it was unwise to continue the friendship, Martha thought. Perhaps her reaction to the invitation came from her sense that she was giving false hope to Jordan. A sleep over with her was not a good idea.
"You've been a good friend," said Martha, "when I've really needed one. I do appreciate that. I do, but there are limits to our friendship. I hope we can always be friends, but ...."
Jordan waited. Her smile had changed to one of amazement and her eyes were open wide.
"I think we best see less of each other, not more," Martha finally finished.
Now Jordan chuckled. "Who is it you don't trust?"
The question confirmed the thoughts which Martha was having. In Jordan's view, Martha was a lesbian and all that was needed was time and the right circumstances for her to succumb. "Don't you worry about that," she said. "Just because my daddy did what he did is no sign that I can't control myself." She arose and collected her trash.
"Well, can I walk back with you?"
"Sure, but you needn't worry about coming by on Friday. I'll just eat in the cafeteria with Minz."
Martha had a full class on Friday. The students were unusually active, except for Markus. There were concerns about their projects and the final. The discussion served as a potent reminder of the quarter's completion with only one more week of classes.
Martha monitored Markus' reaction throughout the hour. He seemed preoccupied. He volunteered nothing to the discussion and Knight had no opportunity to call on him.
In contrast, Miss Cage contributed excessively to the deliberations. It was she who waited after class to hand Dr. Knight the weekly tabloid. "Our next to last issue," Mary said.
"You're not going to continue the paper after Markus transfers?"
"I'm transferring with him. Didn't you know?"
"Just wishful thinking. I hate to lose you both!"
"Looks like you're going to," Mary smiled as she turned to leave.
Martha read the Finder back in her office. It reported the deliverance of a faculty petition calling for the removal of President Mason to the Board of Trustees. It also presented details of the board's investigations into Mason's handling of financial, personnel and student-affairs matters. The investigations were still in process, but their descriptions made Mason's culpability seem apparent.
Dr. Minz was waiting outside Martha's office when she returned from her 11:00 class. "Dr. West running late?"
"She's not eating with us today. She's going into the city to see her friends and do some shopping."
"You didn't want to go?"
"No," Martha said looking about her as they walked.
"No need to look for Richard Astor. He's interviewing in California today."
"For a job, a department chair's position. That explains why he hasn't bothered you lately. He's been using all his spare time writing application letters since it began to look like his friend Mason has been slipping from power."
The news of Astor's potential departure brightened Martha's evening. It made acceptance of her rift with Jordan easier. Richard had necessitated the friendship with Jordan. If he took a job elsewhere, West could go her own way, could have all the illicit affairs with other women she wanted, and it would not matter to Martha in the least.
Martha busied herself with paying bills and doing the laundry the next day. She knew there was nothing else she could do. There was no undoing Markus being at State without her, and with Mary. There seemed no preventing their transferring together. Martha prepared herself to accept those events as probable without seeing them as the end of her involvement with Markus.
He had asked her to be patient when they last talked. His attraction was to her, not Mary. He was a determined young man; as long as it remained Martha whom he really wanted, all she had to do was see that she remained available.