Four brisk entertainments sharing the same theme comprise Reveries.
Caleb Abercrombie dominates the narratives. An untethered academic, the middle-aged Abercrombie fully enjoys the advantages of being a confident male whose vocation fulfills him.
Paz Duarte, Abercrombie’s considerably younger foil, sounding board, and for lack of a better term, though nonetheless apt, serves as his fuck-buddy. They also share another calling. A vertical one.
The excerpt offered by Amazon Kindle dissatisfied me. What the casually curious could’ve read were merely the first pages of the opening story, “Beyond the Classroom.”
A good start? Yup! The sample gave an interesting taste. Like parfait. But further reading rewards with greater flavor. Why, by the last page of Reveries’ concluding story let’s say a creamy fudge ripple has been whipped up.
Those who’ve already read it are probably chuckling at the reference. Good.
Into spring this space intends cherry picking selections in order to spread discovery of Reveries and its successor compilation, Cool Brass.
So, back to “Beyond the Classroom.”
Attending an art exhibition at Paz’ behest, Abercrombie takes an opportunity to remonstrate, then regale associates of hers.
… The four taught at Beaumarchais, a regional French language lycée. One that jammed together local students whose parents were conflicted ex-pats, French corporate pawns and oh-so pretentious Américains.
They felt fortuitous coincidence after [Caleb] Abercrombie announced himself as another slave in academe. He served as an English adjunct at Pelham College, one of the better liberal arts schools sprinkling the New York metropolitan area. American Literature was his discipline. Mostly works after Melville and before Mailer populated his syllabi. He saw his esteem rising in Paz’ eyes.
Until his revelation the distance between them had closed at cool molasses speed. Now Paz squeezed that gap.
Greg made a feeble attempt at being jocular.
“Must be tough. A big good-looking guy like you fending off all those hot and bothered English majors. Tell me, a lot of those girls think your course would be a gut that might boost the GPA? Certainly Am Lit sweetens the transcript, yeah? Man, are they ecstatic to see you or what?”
Greg’s shallow suggestion of male prerogative landed flat with his colleagues. They may’ve drawn salaries from a French school, but the women remained primly American in attitude.
Abercrombie deflated Greg altogether.
“Greg, mine are upper-level electives. I’m a hard master so the kids don’t come in just batting their eyes. And showing some leg doesn’t make the cut either. Although lemme tell you when I was younger – and untenured – yeah, I gave into temptation and sampled the abundance of available new talent. But now I’m older and paid to know better.”
Paz’ female colleagues happily nodded their agreement. Greg, reproved as he was, took sudden sharp interest in one of Paz’ canvases. The artist herself did nothing to disguise her greater admiration of Abercrombie. He couldn’t help simpering.
Feeling superior, Abercrombie decided to tell them a story from a looser structured era between the sexes. Something from his own undergraduate days. Gauging none was yet born during his heyday, he knew his tale might astound rather than edify.
Abercrombie had known an instructor who’d gotten involved with a student. “Gotten involved.” He snickered at the prissy phrase. What warm-blooded people ever pursued cold intimacy?
The pair who’d entwined was a surprising May-December couple. Transpiring in the late 1970s, had the affair been prosecuted, the people likely would’ve attracted greater scrutiny than their transgression.
Until political correctness intruded upon life such pairings elicited little more than winks and nods, smiles and nudges. People then understood the exchange. Aside from its unsavory aspects, something given for something gained, the participants were aware of the power imbalance and the potential for awkward exposure, yet somehow they tacitly acknowledged staying his or her advantage.
To Abercrombie it seemed women then rebelled against their own mothers’ constraints. They scoffed at naivety and ignorance and seemed altogether more mature. Given the current era’s litigation mania, knotted man/woman, mentor/student, chief/subordinate trifling now consummated on ever-shifting minefields.
Under wrong circumstances, prompted by the right coaxing, any prior evening’s flirting, its subsequent slap and tickles, threatened becoming tomorrow’s sexual battery charge.
He wondered why and how those women, mothers today, had let their daughters regress.
What moved audiences then were the actors. Respected as the convention was, an older man did not hold sway over a younger woman. Instead gentle role reversal.
Mrs. Gordon (she insisted Abercrombie and his classmates use her married title, never her professional honorific) taught Sophomore Composition. While its freshman prerequisite rarely failed humbling incoming know-it-alls by assuring then proving their secondary school English forays had left them deficient, the succeeding course effectively demonstrated how one developed exposition.
Soph Comp became Abercrombie’s favorite course. In later years he applied what he could of Mrs. Gordon’s teaching upon his own students.
Mrs. Gordon herself wasn’t a head-turner. Nor one of those clever older women whose sharpness adeptly augmented fading graces that lured callow boys. She resembled exactly what she was: an English professor. A widowed one at that.
Then in her time-kind late 40s or earliest 50s, plain-framed glasses dominated sweet features. Gray hair chopped in a Beatles’ bowl, nothing about her exuded vivacity. She dressed for meek comfort, sparing makeup, fashion, perfume and jewelry.
Every word she spoke encouraged. Mrs. Gordon’s classes vanquished timid writing, Through her efforts students’ meandering and pointless essays straightened and sharpened. For some these lessons became passions for precision.
Abercrombie respected Mrs. Gordon. Throughout his life he regarded her as one of his few mentors.
With the least bit of subterfuge one of Abercrombie’s less conspicuous classmates had either attracted or succumbed to Mrs. Gordon. Either way they’d become a most innocuous pair; the unsuspected one. In hindsight they cavorted in plainest view yet their commingling remained undetected for the longest.
Mrs. Gordon’s lover (even 30 years onward her having entertained “a lover” still challenged Abercrombie) lacked notoriety. Some bland geology major grinding through his English requirement. The future rock engineer was nondescript then and determined effort was needed to pull him from the mist.
That Abercrombie couldn’t deduce the percentage of male professors who’d plucked coeds among their surveys and seminars. Such ruminations sat beyond his beery sophomore concerns. Nonetheless he idly guessed these arrangements to have been common. He regarded them indifferently. If pressed he might’ve commended both actors’ discretion. Abercrombie disdained gossip, innuendo and brainless prattle. Especially when he sat under its loupe.
He would’ve made a lousy woman.
Mrs. Gordon and her lover were revealed in the most mundane way. His girlfriend sensed something askew between them. Her pointed questions produced evasions. She channeled Nancy Drew. …