Dalliances

Matthias believed himself quite fortunate to have been a widower whose children had all entered adulthood. Or else explaining the circumstances which had befallen him to adolescents or teens could’ve been quite mortifying.

He asked himself, ‘Was it an incident? Or a series of misfortunes? Or an exercise in youthful malice?’

At least the English professor could engage the question philosophically. Nora, the other participant exposed, lacked Matthias’ considerable fig leaf. Apart from the pun, fig leaves were exactly what Nora needed. Those and mind wipes, as well as interdicting the bastard who’d swiped the incriminating memory card.

Not solely to cover the naked state she’d shared with Matthias, but to establish distance between the realized gossipy recrimination their private conduct stirred and the preferred mature indifference it should’ve left in its wake. Well, not so private now, though owing to her marital state, certainly illicit.

A university colleague, Nora, had entered a brief passionate romance (romance because affair sounded tawdry) with him occasioned by her husband Fausto. Living up to his name, Fausto was a true macho. Their marriage made Matthias wonder about ardor’s caprice.

In his mind, no way an elegant, cultured woman such as Nora ought have formed a union with a brute in Fausto’s image. In fiction opposites attracted in order to propel stories. In real life, the Faustos scared Noras away.

What luck, Matthias later rued, he’d lost his head over the exception to the rule.

He, Matthias, was safe. Unlike poor sad Nora he could still stroll through college hallways head held high and meet the gazes of their mutual academics straight without flinching in the least. In fact the ultimate mishap had bestowed upon Matthias a certain renown. Had he maintained any esteem among faculty members before, distribution of proof positive of his and Nora’s dalliance only lifted it further.

Nora, though, poor Nora. It wasn’t the big knife plunged in her back which hurt him most, but the thousands of tiny nicks inflicted against Nora through hissed and never acknowledged whispers. Perhaps only worse was the shade thrown by her fellow female instructors.

Matthias recognized their disdain as jealousy. Nora was one of the department’s somewhat attractive teachers. Had his been a North American or Western European mindset, Matthias might’ve admitted his observation one of objectification. Instead, as an Argentine he preferred seeing the matter clearly.

While Nora’s tenure had been among the longest within the department, the trials and travails of teaching hadn’t justified letting herself ease into sloth. A woman reaching this state could be awfully unpleasant to the eye. Conversely, Matthias noted men who suffered the same forfeiture of diligence weren’t judged as harshly, if at all.

Unfair as that was, one could only shrug.

Maybe that’s why after all the years in proximity, years in which life visibly burdened them, robbing them of strength and sharp beauty, respectively, drew Matthias and Nora together. Wouldn’t natural timing have generated attraction at their apexes, not closer to each other’s ends?

In their middle fifties as they were, the faces of neither had broken, though gained “character.” He still boasted a full head of hair, admittedly more of that graying than not. His shoulders were wider than his waist. His belly far more a nuisance than impediment, Matthias was aware how other less self-disciplined men envied his ability to see his own feet while standing.

That last bit stroked his vanity immensely.

Nora retained a pleasing shapely figure and an erect carriage bearing reminders of a woman before children and gravity. The sparkle in her pellucid eyes incited sparks inside him. Who knew? If seen during earlier fidelity and responsibility the same exchange might’ve engulfed him.

Mightn’t Matthias have been more susceptible then? Only the question of his willingness could’ve been greater.

Of course after the deluge men in their department saw and re-appraised Nora in entirely new dimensions. Unfortunately few of these estimations were wholly complimentary. Through exposure she’d mainly detached herself from the pack of “worn out, dried up, tired, at one time one hoped sexually desirable” distaff colleagues.

Ah, the memory card. Had the device been purloined, its contents downloaded, then returned secretly? Or had Nora made a common mistake? In haste had she grabbed the wrong one, and believing its contents pertinent to that particular class simply disgorged it?

Matthias preferred the second, but hearing her tearful facts supported the first.

Apparently Fausto wasn’t the only one in that couple raging against declining vigor with a midlife crisis. Vibrant as she remained, Nora engaged in her own flights against being declared obsolete with her own dalliances. But then hers were responses to Fausto’s. What good sense and decency he ever possessed abandoned him in this respect.

Didn’t Fausto come to love nothing better than verbally parading the inexhaustible line of new, sweet, young whores before Nora through their bedroom? Empty-headed women barely beyond their teens submitted to him. Shouldn’t it have been some sort of scandal that his playmates were often just barely older than the couple’s two daughters?

If Fausto could dabble in dewy down, why should Nora have been denied the same refuges? Nora worked in an academic setting. Her pickings were vaster, much easier to accumulate than Fausto’s. After all, mature a woman as she was, Nora understood how the power of experience could intrigue still forming males. She saw herself as a likelier easier lure at her present age than during her initial bloom of womanly seducing.

Knowing the male makeup well as he did, Matthias heartily agreed with her.

Before Matthias she’d entertained numerous dalliances. None had been current students, so no trade for grade charges could ever have been leveled. Despite what she thought random selection, those chosen shared common traits: sensitive, perceptive, deferential, slim. Or as Matthias pointed out, the other side of Fausto’s coin.

That Nora hadn’t seen the obvious surprised her, not Matthias. She’d been too close, too involved. He, her disinterested interlocutor, discerned it immediately as a frequently used literary trope. Had she been looking in as Matthias rather than looking out, Nora also would’ve quickly gleaned it.

Curious, Matthias wondered how her trail led to him. Fausto certainly hadn’t seen the light and repented by turning to older women, had he? Fortunately she understood Matthias joked.

Close as they worked throughout the years, Nora only regarded her colleague from afar until recently. Deteriorating conditions at home started permitting her to see clearly. While the young men she bedded (rather than those colts she let bed her; Nora’s phrasing, the emphasis important, not just mere semantic styling) invigorated her, the physical releases achieved reached little emotional connections.

In a way, in a strange way, through these youths Nora sought those attributes which had drawn her to Fausto and insisted she yield to him. She compared it to traveling down old roads in new cars.

Mere pleasure aside, it wasn’t too long before she acknowledged the old delights gained from previous journeys would never recur. Sex alone failed fulfilling her. Nora tired of young men in a way older men seemingly seldom tire of sex with younger women. So she cast about for men (men, never lovers) who appeared possessing substantial character.

Matthias seemed one of those men. Nora gauged him on how he mourned his wife’s death. He did not weaken. He did not become maudlin. He did not seek to drain sympathy from any who commiserated with him. Sadness did not drive him to his knees.

Besides, he was a handsome man her age. Enough with boys! She needed a man again.

Whether it true or not, her reasoning did wonders buffing his already inflated self-image. Which he later realized an effective ploy to further curry his favor.

Rather than skulk around and likely drawing suspicion, Nora and Matthias conducted themselves openly. Who noticed a middle-aged couple enjoying afternoon cocktails as much as one another’s company in bar-restaurant outside seating along one of Buenos Aires’ splendid people-watching avenues? Dressed casually and not laden with chic accessories they were easy to overlook Porteños.

Nora, her daughters, their father took great advantage of sultry Southern Hemisphere winter breaks. Each escaped to his or hers respective strands. The girls joined peers among the pines in teen-skewing Pinamar, while Nora and her “friend” gamboled unencumbered in the more established environs of Mar del Plata; whereas Fausto spent time with whichever whore those days in southernmost Brazil.

South Atlantic breezes and ocean blue water chased away Buenos Aires’ pressures and their career obligations. Down there, blue water brightened the outlook, not the brown of the silt-filled Rio Plata. The salt air borne along windward gusts revived senses in a way the stench of the Riachuelo couldn’t deaden them.

Wonderful as Nora looked on the beach in her dark modest one-piece bathing suits, she felt all the more so being naked in his nighttime embraces. Both tempted fate with accusations of impropriety. Each stood so exposed on their high-rise hotel’s eastward facing balcony. Leeward winds exacerbated their bold intimacy. Perspiration purled and mingled along their skins.

Apparently trusting Matthias by this stretch in their subterfuge, one night Nora challenged him. She asked had he been a faithful husband. Obviously the ghost had been addressed before, though never to this extent. Matthias assured Nora he had. He spoke with conviction. Whether she truly believed him only she knew. However, his words assuaged. This was all she demanded.

Once again, though, the memory card.

When Nora told Matthias, he didn’t know whether to be furious or understanding. An anti-Fausto she’d bedded swiped the incriminating evidence. Nora had done with him. Or she’d felt they’d come a mutual conclusion and announced her decision to him. That particular dewy youth failed sharing her timing.

Resentful as only a scorned schoolboy can be, and knowing his victim intimately, obviously, the student pilfered her memories.

Early in their intimacy, Nora made a troubling request of Matthias. She insisted they pose for post-coital selfies. (!)

Whoever could’ve suspected such hedonism beat within her placid being?

Apparently post-coital selfies were the latest fad among the young and mindless, a k a their students. She acquired this habit from one of her young men. A previous trysting partner suggested the photographs as mementos. Hearing that simpleton’s claim, Matthias scoffed, asking Nora whether she truly believed pixels could supplant handwritten love letters.

He stood on solid ground. Months ago, they’d watched an Argentine film shot thoroughly in the center of Buenos Aires. Indeed many of the locations were so familiar blindfolded both could find them.

While story was negligible, one sequence stood out. In it, a lovelorn young man burns a recently deceased relative’s love letters in a barrel. Along with smoke and ashes, a jumbled alphabet and murmured words also rise into the air.

Matthias reminded Nora of that scene, one which had made her cry from genuine loss. He asked if the deletion of zeroes and ones could tug her same heartstrings.

Aware and awake as Nora claimed all her younger men, the idea behind casual photographs portraying a couple in love-making’s aftermath overstepped Matthias’ bounds of intrusion. Nonetheless he capitulated. Not so much from Nora’s insistence, minimal at most, but as seen from the beginning the action was such an insignificance. He trusted her. She’d be careful with them. Nora wasn’t the kind who’d break them out and show her closest friends when conversations lulled.

No. She was just the sort who’d find and bed one of the university’s more immature male students.

Why did anyone commit such acts? Nora acceding to a youthful folly; the boy taking ill-conceived vengeance on what the older couple well suspected what would soon enough become for him a quickly receding matter?

Naturally, though, the boy was careful to cull his contemporaries before school-wide dissemination. Sure! That only exposed Matthias and Nora. Considerate enough to spare any acquaintances from, oh, ridicule, but entirely thoughtless regarding those with plenty to lose.

After deducing the culprit and cornering him and extracting a confession, the criminal tearfully apologized. He mistook their dalliance, their tender set-aside moments, as something deep and abiding. He saw them as more than romps, than release, than sex.

That Nora empathized with this malefactor rather than heap curses on the foolish boy angered Matthias. The injury created so deep, no amount of apology could heal it. At least gain some satisfaction by damning the novice imbecile.

Despite the disruption and possible future disturbances, Nora found it within herself to extend the other mercy. A godly extension in Matthias’ view. Neither were gods so why indulge in their behavior? He hoped she’d have been a grubby mortal in that respect.

Both teachers waited anxiously expecting this matter to filter beyond university walls. What students weren’t vindictive? Which academic faculty didn’t practice pettiness? Yet months after the incident it existed as nothing more than rumors to a barely listening outside world.

No doubt all sides comprehended the societal inclination behind public shame. Particularly when women suffered it. Extending the moment of revelation heightened that disclosure and subsequent punishment.

It reminded all of this: dalliances were for men; they’re meant to destroy women.

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