Hello Wilma! Do come in!
Thank you, Penny, how kind of you to have me!
I thought we might have something to say to each other.
Maybe even more than we used to.
That would be right much, wouldn't it?
Yes, it would... How cheerful it is in your house!
I recognize your style.
Yes. You used to brighten the colors all around
Thanks! But when it comes to Art and Criticism...
Oh, I don't know. There are styles that make
me feel comfortable and others that I can only admire.
Everybody used to notice the difference between your side
of the room and mine. I'm afraid I felt a little inferior and envious.
You never let it show. I was a little snob then
and, while I'm a big snob now, at least I know it. What a beautiful garden,
right outside your window, right at the end of your living room with the
two sofas facing each other! Now it's my turn to feel inferior and envious.
Better for small groups than big. Lots of guests make me
nervous. Brax was kind about that.
He didn't like cocktail parties any more than
you do. That was one of the things we disagreed on. As the years go by,
though, parties are becoming more a duty and less a pleasure.
... Coffee or tea?
I bet you have become a tea person.
Yes, but I'm used to serving tea for one and coffee for the
All right, coffee. May I help?
If only to show my kitchen off...
If it's as nice as the rest...
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What a treat! I knew it would be mostly white
with a few colors here and there, everything in the right place and clean
without any odor. Yet all of that somehow comes as a surprise. It's more
than the sum of its parts and the proportions are perfect.
I would feel proud if I had intended all that. It was just
my idea of a kitchen and along comes Wilma Furlock.
Maybe that's your secret. It's the ultimate Penny
Hedgecroft kitchen. But it wouldn't be perfect unless you were in it making
coffee for one and tea for the other... and sweetly refusing to let me
You can watch the perculator and make sure it doesn't boil
over. It's jealous of the kettle and sometimes misbehaves to attract attention.
Like your grandson?
Yes, and his grandfather.
Ha! Ha! Ha!
Would you like milk or cream in your coffee?
You're tempting me.
After forty years of losing that argument...
I'll have cream in my tea, if you'll have cream in your coffee.
All right. Commemoration and consolation?
Commemoration and consolation.
Hey! They're pretty cute. What are they?
I call them puffs. Here, try one.
Um! It's like chewing air! Let me guess: a little
pastry, a little cheese, no salt, no sugar and a suspicious eye on the
Right. I had to ration Brax. Would you mind taking that tray?
I'll take this one.
... If I sit beside you, I can see you and the
garden at the same time.
It's at its best just now, one of its bests. I'll show you
... I really appreciate your breaking the ice.
I started to call you several times.
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I even programmed your number, but every time
I started to push the button, I lost my nerve.
... I'm glad you wanted to call, but I'm not sorry you didn't.
I just wasn't ready to talk to people. I was wondering whether I ever would
But you must have felt lonely.
Family and friends were calling and visiting, but it was
hard to be civil. I don't like people feeling sorry for me. You would have
had the same reaction.
If it had happened to me, I would have felt sorry
enough for myself.
I don't have any right to complain.
... Your puffs are divine.
I'll give you the recipe.
I was lucky. We had a happy marriage; healthy, lovable children
and grandchildren. Brax was a wonderful husband, father and grandfather;
a superb scholar and teacher. They gave him tenure and promoted him when
he deserved it, despite his enemies. The university never paid him what
he was worth, but we didn't do too badly. He suspected that you were doing
him favors when you had the opportunity.
He did! I don't know whether I should feel flattered
He never told anybody but me. I should think you would be
pleased. I would be.
I'll take your word for it. I'm sure you remember
how I felt about him and you probably know how different my marriage was
from yours. I finally decided that, if I couldn't live with Brax, I had
better not try anyone else.
You and I got along all right.
We had a few fights. I ought to know: I started
How do fights start?
True! I only knew when they had started: it was
when I said what I knew would hurt the most.
Yes, you were pretty good at that!
I accused you of flirting with Brax and, later
on, I accused Brax of flirting with you. I kept wondering why I was saying
anything as stupid as that.
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Then you encouraged us to get married. You convinced us
that you really wanted us to do it.
Yes, but my motives were not disinterested. I
knew I would never really be divorced from Brax until he had married you.
I don't remember coming to a decision, I just realized eventually that
I had already decided...
That's exactly what happened to me, although my decision
was the opposite of yours. I'm sure I made the right one, but even right
decisions leave regrets behind them.
Even the sleekest ships leave a wake, don't they...
Penny, would you mind if I admitted that I feel like a widow too?
Ha! Ha! Ha!
... Did I say something foolish?
Wilma, you have never said anything foolish. You are incapable
of foolishness, maybe that is what's wrong with you.
I feel a little better, but I'm not sure why.
I guess I laughed because grief comes in two phases: first
the rejection of the fact and then the resignation to it.
... I see what you mean: I didn't have to keep
on living with everything that reminded me of him. He had taken most of
that with him.
You know what it's like going to the bedroom closet and seeing
half of it empty. Think what it would be like to find the other half full.
And everything his size, worn by his elbows and
his buttocks; clothes cut in his cloth with his colors...
Ha! Ha! Ha!
Yes, he always insisted that the first shirt,
the first tie, the first coat they showed him was fine, just fine! The
slightest glance in the mirror convinced him. It was hard to get him into
a store and even harder to keep him there. All he wanted to do was pay
and leave with an excuse in a bag to delay any return as long as possible.
We had arguments about that.
So did we. I tried to buy clothes for him: sometimes I succeeded
and sometimes I failed. He was more enthusiastic about the failures than
the successes and he would insist on wearing the successes to save the
failures for special occasions.
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Which he always avoided. We married the same
man all right! Once I managed to dress him decently and drag him to the
president's lawn party. It took a violent quarrel and I wonder if he ever
forgave me. There was no use in telling him that he would never get anywhere
in the university unless Softack and Schneidermann knew which one he was.
He hated ceremony. It was all hypocrisy to him, whether it
involved a sales clerk or the president of the university. He used to brag
that he had never attended another commencement after his BS.
You must have heard the story about Stilton Quiver
congratulating him on his hangover after the commencement ceremony at ZTech.
Brax couldn't resist the temptation of telling his favorite
stories over and over again. Maybe he liked that one so much because the
dean's congratulations made a mockery of the ceremony.
Quiver has become a legend at ZTech. A good legend
is worth millions in gifts.
... Do you mind discussing Brax with me?
It makes me feel a little uneasy but it has a
therapeutic effect. How about you?
I guess you're right, and especially because nobody else
will ever know, not even Brax himself.
No, not even Brax; nobody but you and me. A memory
can only be remembered, but survivors can't help remembering and we are
social animals after all.
You are going to clobber me with your socio-anthropology.
No, there's nothing I enjoy more these days than
the English language. You are as refreshing now as you were then. What
a delightful surprize it was when you called! I have really been looking
forward to this.
I feel reassured. I didn't know how you would take it. We
did form a triangle, though nothing like the ones in novels and movies.
... I guess we wouldn't sell.
I have often thought that we exemplify the three fates of
... I'm not sure what you mean. Both you and
Brax did yours in the humanities.
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I meant... well, Brax dedicated himself to research.
And I myself eventually to administration?
Yes, and I just had children, raised them and kept house.
What's wrong with that?
At every party we couldn't duck, I faced academic females
trying to be nice to me. They would always ask what I was doing without
realizing that it was the most embarrassing question they could ask me.
If I answered sincerely and tried to explain how busy it was keeping me,
I knew they would express a sympathy that implied contempt. I learned to
discourage further inquiry by saying something like "Oh, nothing very new
or exciting" with a pout and a shrug. "How about you?" only encouraged
boasting about all the exciting things they were doing, which they always
subjected me to anyway. The worst offender was Millie Barnes who would
gush endlessly over all her accomplishments, large and small.
She invariably urged me to get a job teaching somewhere and
made suggestions that hardly implied any esteem for my training and ability,
such as tutoring Gettough's athletes. It was no use telling her that I
didn't have time for a job.
You should have asked her whether we should leave
the continuation of our species to ignorant mothers.
You forget that Millie had a child.
One of her accomplishments!
I could believe her when she bragged about how she was raising
So could I, but you dedicated yourself to doing
at home what she could never have done on campus. Isn't that what you wanted?
You were offered a teaching position several times after your children
had grown up and you declined.
Wilma, Dear, I declined because I was convinced that Dean
Furlock had pulled the strings and, while I was grateful...
Penny, Dear, Dean Furlock pulled those strings
because she knew you had been an outstanding teacher. She guessed that
you were grateful, although there was no need for gratitude, and that you
had declined because you felt uneasy about accepting employment from your
husband's former wife. She admired you for that, but she felt a little
frustrated because ZU needed teachers like you.
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What would you have done in my place?
... Exactly what you did.
Ha! Ha! Ha!
What's so funny?
You have forgotten: when we had arguments, you
always won and triumphed: "See!" Then I really did get mad.
Ha! Ha! Ha!
Your laughter rejuvenates me.
If we could turn the clock back, what would you
You know, I've given a lot of thought to that since Brax
And what did you decide?
After changing my mind twenty-three times, I decided that
anything I might have done differently would have ruined a life that I
have no good reason to regret.
Yet each of us has led a life entirely different from the
other and will probably continue to do so.
There is one thing that I would have done differently...
Put Brax on a diet?
I was afraid of nagging his good humor away.
You went as far as you could. I knew he was ill
and kept asking about him. Some smiled and others had a wooden face. You
are not supposed to worry about your ex-husband. A few had the courage
to tell me that you were doing everything... I'm sorry, Penny.
... That's all right... Let me show you something...
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Now that Brax is gone, whenever I begin to wonder how
I'm going to live through the next few minutes, I grab this. Without it,
I would either be out of my mind or under the ground next to him. More
than once, I hesitated between sleeping pills and this ugly, smelly thing.
I thought you had put an end to that! I admired
you because I had achieved nothing better than a few quarrels and he got
his revenge by smoking it more often. He refused to give it up for cigarettes,
milder tobacco or even a pipe with a smaller bowl.
I did put an end to it, but it took me ten years. When it
made me cough, he would throw the window open, even at ten below; when
it made me sick, he would rush me to the bathroom puffing faster. We quarreled
over it too, but, instead of getting his revenge, he would light up furtively
in his office. When he heard me coming, he would hide it and look as innocent
as a little boy with chocolate on his cheek. The last time that happened,
I felt so desperate that I threw myself on my knees and told him he would
have to decide between me and his whore.
Ha! Ha! Ha!
It was funny all right, but he didn't laugh.
What did he do?
He knocked it empty out of the window and, instead of sticking
it back in his mouth and clenching it between his teeth, he stood there
unable to decide what to do with it. He was staring at me like the archangel
who had told Mary the good news only to hear that she wanted an abortion.
Finally he put it down on his desk, picked me up and put me back on my
Ha! Ha! Ha! I'm jealous: our melodramas were
After staring out the window, he said, distantly, "Let's
make a deal."
I remember his deals.
This one was supposed to be a deal to end all deals: "I'll
stop smoking if you let me put cream in my coffee, butter on my toast,
salt in my soup, sugar on my grapefruit and serve me scrambled eggs and
bacon for breakfast." From that day until his last, it was guerilla warfare.
I would dilute his cream with milk and he would go to the refridgerator
and pour the cream directly out of the carton. I would replace his butter
with margarine and he would hunt the butter down in the refridgerator where
I had hidden it. Once I thought I had him stymied by hiding it in the freezer
compartment, but he got a sharper knife and spread it on his toast which
9 of 54 ©
he had reheated in the toaster. His patience exasperated
me. You should have seen the pleasure he took in finding the sugar in the
middle of the bottles under the sink! You would think he was Joan of Arc
discovering Charles VII in the middle of his courtiers. He really enjoyed
overcoming such obstacles. His greatest triumph was detecting the salt
which I had put in a small bottle and buried in the flour. The difficulty
only made it more interesting for him and, once he had investigated every
other crook and cranny, including the space behind the stove, he returned
to the canisters where I kept flour, rice and so forth. This time, he didn't
just open them, but also took a long knife and probed with it: "Hah!"
"Hah!" No one said it the way he did.
"Eureka!" in other words. I would be upstairs in the bedroom
and I would hear "Hah!" from his study in the opposite corner of the house.
It could happen any time of day or night. Once "Hah!" woke me up in the
middle of the night.
Me too! I told him he could take his "Hah!" and...
I couldn't get back to sleep for an hour and a half.
It may have taken me longer than that, but I liked his "Hah!",
even in the middle of the night. His exuberance was so spontaneous that
I couldn't resist it. You know what he discovered that time at three in
I hate to think.
Yes, a footnote. I wonder if he didn't take more pride in
his footnotes than the text of his studies.
Fortunately he founded his reputation on more
than that. I guess Erasmus studies require so much knowledge that the trees
tend to hide the forest.
He kept one eye on the trees and the other on the forest.
And his ears open: when the children or grandhildren asked me a question
and I didn't know the answer, it often came from his study where he would
be pouring over some manuscript nobody else could read. Once Tiff asked
me what percentage $34.29 were of $7936. It took Brax less than a minute:
"A little over four tenths of a percent." I grabbed a pencil and, over
two minutes later, I had .43208%. As soon as Tiff saw how I had done it,
he confirmed my figure with his calculator. It took him a minute.
10 of 54 ©
Is Tiff your son or your grandson?
My grandson, my daughter Becky's little boy, who isn't so
What a wonderful administrator Brax would have
made! You have to concentrate on several things at the same time and never
lose track of them, even when something unexpected suddenly screams for
You mean he didn't hate administration when he was married
to you? The slightest allusion by me knocked him off his rocker... You
know how we did our income taxes? I read the forms and the figures aloud,
while he told me what to write in the blanks. If I started to check his
arithmetic, he laughed at me, so I left him with his microfilm and resorted
to pencil and paper in the kitchen where he couldn't see me. In forty years,
I found two mistakes and only one worth correcting.
... I bet he hated administrators too!
I bet you knew it.
I wasn't supposed to.
We had arguments about administrators. I would admire a boast
or two from that propaganda you publish at the expense of reductions in
I'm just repeating the kind of thing he said. Once I had
warmed him up with the outrages perpetrated by the bureaucracy, I would
bring him to a white heat with the nomenklatura. The outrages inspired
a delightful irony that made his eyes dance, but the nomenklatura made
him foam at the mouth.
I hate to think what he said about me.
We never mentioned you, the subject was taboo, except when
I was really mad and accused him of flirting with you.
I'm glad you didn't have the opportunity to accuse
me of flirting with him.
Ha! Ha! Ha!
What's so funny?
These arguments usually started in his office. When I persisted
in defending the outrages, he would snatch papers out of his waste basket,
ball them up and throw them at me. The
11 of 54 ©
nomenklatura would spring him out of his chair and he
would chase me into the living room where I barricaded myself behind the
cushions on the sofa. He would jerk one away and I would grab another to
shield myself. He kept reaching for me with his hands. I'm sure you remember
his hands! By this time, I would be in a fit of laughter and blurt out
almost anything that came to mind, if I still had one. Twice I yelled:
"Hypocrite! The top woman is flirting with you"... You look pale.
... [Nervous chuckle] A flirting dean!
That's all right, Penny, how could I object to
a facetious accusation that you were making in utter privacy just to tease
your husband?... What was his reaction?
He must have had a conscious as guilty as Jimmy Carter's.
He was white in the face, he stood up and hovered over me as if he didn't
know what to do. Then he picked me up like a carton of Christmas tree ornaments
and carried me upstairs, kissing me all the way... That's how we had our
two children. If I had wanted more, all I had to do was accuse you of flirting
with him. Birth control!
... So the dean of sciences and humanities is
a kind of fairy godmother.
Ha! Ha! Ha!
If we consider Braxton Hedgecroft from a purely
anthropo-sociological viewpoint, we can classify him among the double-phase
lovers. Yet assault and conquest males exist in several subclasses depending
on whether the first, the second or both phases involve primitive or civilized
lovemaking. His transition from rough assault to gentle seduction would
seem to qualify him as an appropriate lover for most females and, in particular,
because his appetite surges from an entirely unpredictable source once
triggered by a uniquely emotional stimulus. Unpredictable, of course, by
him, for his female partner, partnership implying repetitive performance,
is in a position to stimulate replication once she has experienced his
behavior, providing of course she keep her wits about her, in other words,
that she escape, at least to some extent, his total subjection to emotional
impulse, which some would call instinct, although this concept has become
somewhat controversial in recent discussions. Nearly all writers nonetheless
agree that the double-phase, impulse male is not only the best guarantee
we have for the survival of the species, but also the most powerful inspiration
for artistic creation.
12 of 54 ©
Mona Lisa must be smiling at one of Brax's Italian ancestors.
I didn't know he had any.
I didn't either until you gave me that sample of your seminar.
If my students listened as carefully as you do,
it would be more of a joy and less of a chore.
Aren't they the best undergraduate seniors available?
Maybe the best available, but not necessarily
the best we have and they are involved in all sorts of extracurricular
activities that keep them from spending enough time on homework. The dean's
seminar tends to attract campus politicians. Sometimes I wonder why I bother:
tradition? the joy of teaching? a chance to meet young people? The latter,
I suspect. I don't have any children, I just have some students.
That doesn't sound like utter desperation to me.
Your coffee is delicious.
It's not hard to beat university coffee.
Even the Windsor Room variety, but yours beats
faculty coffee too.
Even Italian faculty?
It competes with Peyton Arnoldi's.
I audited all of his courses.
You did? Another legend. Students would pack
his classes if we let them. Some try to sign up a year ahead of time.
I don't blame them. It was like being in Italy speaking Italian
with an Italian for fifty minutes every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. You
have so much fun you forget that you are working. Time slips by too fast
and then it slows to an agonizing pace until the next class. After a few
weeks, I almost felt as if I were an Italian myself. I had been staying
home with the kids when Brax went to Europe, but, from then on, I tried
to get him to Italy as often and as long as possible. He couldn't imagine
going anywhere there wasn't a library with a renaissance collection. In
Rome, I had to negotiate hours and days away from the Vatican Library.
I had the same problem in Florence, Venice and so forth. I lured him to
towns without a famous library by suggesting that he might find neglected
sources in obscure collections. When we were still in our thirties, I wouldn't
have minded going around alone while he was in the library, if Italy were
a place where you could get away with that.
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At least Italians have good taste.
Patting or pinching may be good taste in Italy...
I thought you felt almost as if you were an Italian.
There were times when the Star Spangled Banner rang in my
ears. Still, I had a wonderful time and an even more wonderful time once
body armor was no longer necessary. When I managed to drag Brax away from
a library, he got a kick out of speaking an Italian nobody had heard for
four or five centuries. People were astonished, except for a few I detected
hiding a smile.
I envy you. I like to travel too, but I have
a bad habit of trying to take advantage of professional meetings to do
some touring, and business usually infringes on pleasure. When I go to
places like Italy, I feel vulgar, ignorant and even lonely whoever accompanies
[The front door opens and closes.] Tiff!... Tiff, this is
Tiff is a freshman at ZU.
Dean Furlock. What a surprise!
Good! Are you as intelligent as your grandfather?
You are certainly just as handsome.
You're embarrassing him!
He blushes like Brax. Tiff, I invite a different
group of students over to my house every Sunday afternoon. Would you like
to join us?
Ha! Ha! Ha!
Can you make it this Sunday?
Of course, help yourself. [To Wilma:] He loved for people
to borrow them once he had learned them by heart. Particularly children,
grandchildren and students.
Thank you. I'll be there... Grandma, I brought
Grandpa's books back. May I borrow some more?
14 of 54 ©
He was the most generous teacher I have ever
[To Tiff:] Well, don't let us hold you up.
Of course. But he doesn't look exactly like Brax, he isn't
exactly like Brax and, above all, he isn't Brax.
Come on, Grandma!
... Don't you think he looks like Brax when he was young?
I concede the point.
I don't think I would like a clone of Brax.
Neither would I, but Tiff is the next best thing.
What's his last name?
Childers. It's kind of you to invite him, it will boost his
Why does his morale need boosting?
He's in love with a girl who already has a boyfriend and
she's living with him. That must be the fate of all sensitive freshmen
What's her name? I'm going to talk some sense
into her head.
Wilma! Don't you dare!
Ha! Ha! Ha! It was your turn to be white in the
It was a pretty good joke, all right, but I'm glad it was
just a joke.
Do I look like someone young men should say "M'am"
If I didn't think flattery is bad for your ego, I would tell
you that Tiff was saying "M'am" to the dean. You look as trim and fit,
you dress as stylishly and appropriately as ever. Do you still do a lot
An hour every morning at six. Why don't you join
You have forgotten: I'm not worth a damn until nine.
How did you manage bacon and eggs? I should think
the smell of bacon would make you feel nauseous. You always had a queasy
I tried "forgetting" the bacon and Brax would throw on his
clothes, jump in the wreck and drive to the Seven Eleven. Then I resorted
to various substitutes, but, after trying them once or twice, he would
return to the Seven Eleven. Egg substitutes had the same effect. When I
cut back on his rations, he got up and cooked a supplement himself. If
the eggs or bacon were over or
15 of 54 ©
undercooked, he took things into his own hands too. It
must have been funny: the chldren and eventually the grandchildren had
fits of laughter. Even now, Tiff orders eggs and bacon just to see the
expression on my face.
So he hits you for breakfast?
Yes, all I get is pit stops. Sportscasters would admire the
speed with which I replace the wheels and refill the gas tank. Tiff took
twice as much time with you as he ever takes with me. It must have been
all of two minutes!
Weren't we a little like that?
Yes, but only a little.
I have nieces and nephews, but I don't see them
very often. They always go somewhere else to college. Our family hasn't
been much of a family since my father died. When I see my brothers, the
businessman keeps asking why professors don't teach more classes and the
engineer keeps rejoicing in ZTech's latest triumph over ZU. I try to explain
that professors need time for research until I'm reminded that only market
research brings any return on investments. My attempts to demonstrate that
intercollegiate sports are the curse of higher education excite hilarity
over such a bad excuse.
You don't usually take that kind of talk lying down.
No, I don't, but nothing has changed since we
were little children. The more sense I spoke, the more the older one would
shout and the younger one would laugh. I wonder if that was why I couldn't
even live with the best of men.
I don't think Brax was the best of men. Is there any such
thing? What does "best" mean? He was certainly the best man I could find
for myself, but I wouldn't go any further than that and I don't think he
would have either.
... I told you: you always win your arguments
Look at it this way: if you and Brax hadn't divorced, you
would have made each other miserable for the rest of your lives and, if
you had had children, God forbid! the misery would have continued long
after your death. Neither of you would have had the life and career you
You know, it was only half a joke when I said
I would talk some sense into that girl's head. I would never interfere,
of course, and I hope no one else would either, but how could she possibly
I agree, but [nervous chuckle] maybe we're a little prejudiced.
16 of 54 ©
Maybe. All I know is that, once I was a big girl,
boys were after me all the time. They were cute and clever all right, yet
none of them reappeared in my dreams, day or night. None eclipsed the others
and they replaced each other easily in my purview, except for occasional
hurt feelings or bad humor, which tickled me. Their assiduity confirmed
my mirror, which also reminded me that I resembled my mother, with whom
I was all the more intimate because we were outnumbered. My affection for
her didn't keep me from seeing that my reign would last no longer than
hers and, as she told me once, about twenty years. I was lucky, but I knew
my luck wouldn't last, so I decided to get a good start up the ladder and
avoid all of the constraints that usually hold women back. No romance,
no marriage, no babies, not even any sex, which was still wrong for women
and right for men in those days. Remember? Mother soothed my resentment
before you did.
I guess I was the sister you hadn't had.
You still are, Penny. I was careful not to offend
the young men who competed with each other to dance with me, because I
knew they might be useful later on, but I held them at arm's length, despite
a few rivals smiling behind my back. Almost everyone else was cheek to
cheek, including you.
In those days, dancing was a socially acceptable
way for young men and women to try each other on for size.
You mean to rub up against each other, a miserable token
of what they naturally crave. At least we had a choice to narrow, but you
I was proud. Worse, I was arrogant, but I was
Remember the evening when I came back from the
library completely transformed?
I wondered whether you had been raped in the women's room
on the fifth floor.
What had happened was worse.
You never told me exactly. You only said that you had met
a graduate student named Brax something.
I was doing a paper on Rousseau for my senior
seminar in French literature and he was doing one on the same writer for
his seminar in the history of philosophy. We
17 of 54 ©
kept getting in each other's way reaching for
Rousseau's works and I wondered whether he had just found a sly excuse
to bump into me. But then, I discovered that a volume I had been looking
for was missing and I said "oh!" He saw the empty space and said, "don't
worry, it's in my carrel." I looked at him for the first time and saw those
eyes of his. Just as you said, they were dancing. I knew I shouldn't stare
at him like that, but I couldn't tear my eyes away. I didn't know what
to say. He asked me: "Would you like to borrow it? I won't need it again
until the day after tommorrow... I'll get it for you." Do you remember
how fast he walked? I was thinking that, if I ran to catch up with him,
it wouldn't be very dignfied and here I was, running after him, a young
man I had never seen before! He gave me the book: "You must be working
on Emile too." It didn't even occur to me to thank him. After another
embarrassing silence, I blurted: "You are going to think I'm dumb!"
Ha! Ha! Ha!
He laughed: "How could I think that? You just
"I meant stupid."
He shrugged: "Stupid people are afraid of Rousseau."
Now you understand why I looked like a rape victim.
The longer they teeter on tiptoes, the harder they fall on
We must have spent an hour talking about Rousseau,
including a half hour over coffee. He persuaded me to put cream in it and
I had never done that for the same reason that you never did. Smoke was
pouring out of his pipe. I kept wondering why he was doing most of the
talking and I was doing most of the listening. He dictated my term paper
to me without meaing to and I took dictation without wanting to. When I
sat down to write, it was as if I could hear him telling me what to say
and, try as I might, I couldn't think of anything else. I gave the paper
to Gus South ahead of time and he had a curious smile: "That doesn't happen
very often, but, when it does, the student usually feels confident about
his work." In other words, I didn't look very confident. I have never been
that embarrassed. I only wanted to explain that I had received help, but
how could I do that without revealing who had helped me, how much and why?
Well, I said as little as I could and of course he guessed everything,
yet he... he...
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did everything he could to put you at ease. You are lucky
you didn't have to make your little confession to Jerry Mumpet.
Did I tell you about the time I had to go to him for advising?
I was probably afraid you would think I was silly. When I
entered his office, he looked at me as if he were undressing me. He started
to close the door and I panicked: "Could we leave the door open, please,
Professor Mumpet?" I could tell by the scowl on his face that he thought
I had raised my voice so the others waiting outside would hear. He got
his revenge by slighting my choice of courses and trying to bully me into
taking others I didn't want or need. I had to see another advisor to get
my schedule right.
He aimed some of those looks at me too and, judging
by the girls who felt flattered by them, I decided never to take a course
So did I. We used to agree that Mumpet was a nasty little
An odious seducer, a nineteenth-century villain,
a chalk-dust Don Juan,
Yes, an Anti-Brax.
How did Gus handle the hot potato?
He looked out of the window smiling slightly,
but his smile was sympathetic and inspired confidence. After an appropriate
interval, he said: "I went through something like that myself." When he
told me the story a few years later, I learned that Murma had helped him
told me to acknowledge my debt after my signature
on the last page and add Brax's name and telephone number. Once he had
read my paper and talked to him, he decided to give me a B+ on the grounds
that not every student could have followed his advice as well as I had.
He also took an interest in his Rousseau project and that was the beginning
of their friendship.
Thank God for Gus and Murma! I couldn't have survived without
You said it was hard to be civil.
It was. You can't imagine how tactful and discreet they were.
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They were among the old friends I wanted most
to see again when I applied for dean of students at ZU. So were you. As
an associate dean at ZTech, I should have learned that deans can't afford
Aren't we friends?
Of course! You were the only friend I had and
even after you had married Brax. But then I got an assistant professorship
at ZTech and we lost touch. Our friendship has been in limbo for forty
Being a dean doesn't sound like fun.
Well... not the kind you have with friends unless
the friend has nothing to do with the job. I have always hated the confusion
friend with ally as opposed to enemy. You can trust
an academic more or less according to the number of colleagues he considers
neutral. That's just one of the criteria I use in trying to evaluate them.
The hardest part of your job and the one you face most often?
I bet you keep that criterion a secret.
Yes. If any of them knew, they would try to show
me how tolerant they are. Most of the ones I see often put their best foot
forward, thus attracting my attention to the worst. The others affect a
sincerity that suits only those I rarely see, like Gus.
You're the sociologist: wouldn't they be themselves if they
weren't stones in a pyramid?
On the contrary, they are themselves only when
they are stones in a pyramid. Higher education attracts the eager slaves
of society who yearn to dominate others... You probably think I'm just
one of them.
Perish the thought!
Ha! Ha! Ha!
I already said it: being a dean doesn't sound like fun.
And I already said: not the kind you have with
friends. Haven't you ever had any without friends?
I had fun with you, I had fun with Brax, I have fun with
Tiff... Sure, I had a little fun when Italians tried to pinch me in crowded
That might not be the best, but it might be the
Maybe that is what Gettough meant.
"When rape is inevitable..."
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Is that the kind of fun deans have?
Fun isn't everything, Penny. You can take satisfaction
in your children and your grandchildren, in everything they will do that
they never could have done without you. You can even take satisfaction
in everything Brax did. He couldn't have done half of it without you. I
agreed to marry him on the condition that he share equally all the material
chores on which our life depended. It was one of his deals, a deal to end
all deals as you put it, ironically I hope. I don't have to tell you how
hopeless he was. When it was his turn to cook, he always forgot and tried
to get out of it by taking me to the Colonel's for fried chicken. Once
he had resigned himself to doing his share, he took his book to the kitchen
where he strained the sphagetti before it had boiled and burned the meatballs
rather than stop in the middle of a paragraph. The library was lucky when,
after two or three overdue notices, he returned the book unstained by tomato
I thought he didn't like sphagetti and meatballs.
Ha! Ha! Ha!
Unless he had to do the cooking?
Exactly! When I nudged him away from sphagetti
and meatballs in the A & P, he would home in on other pay-more-and-do-less
foods. The only meal he enjoyed cooking was brunch which we called Sunday
breakfast in those days.
He may have enjoyed cooking it for you, but he enjoyed letting
me cook it for him. In addition to scrambled eggs and bacon, he was always
asking for pancakes or waffles with lots of syrup and butter. The struggle
to keep his cholesterol down heated up every Sunday morning, yet we never
really quarelled about that. When I broke down in tears, he hugged and
kissed me, then he sat right back down and finished his meal as if it had
nothing to do with my distress.
Even before me, he had decided that he would
rather enjoy life than live a long time. Besides, the discipline imposed
on him by his passion for study exhausted his will power, so he indulged
himself in everything else. Particularly on Sunday morning when his parents
thought you should eat a good breakfast at eight to fortify yourself for
church at eleven. He couldn't get it ready before nine and was still sitting
there at ten. I would tell him: "You barely have enough time to get to
church." He knew I was kidding: "I've got work to do." Yet he kept sitting
there because he hated to
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wash the dishes. Sometimes I lost my patience
with him, told him what a lazy bastard he was and washed them myself.
Brunch must be the only ingredient of his parents' religion
that had survived in him.
If more than that had survived, I wouldn't have
Are you sure?
... No, I guess I'm not.
Maybe you would have divorced any man you had fallen in love
with, no matter how congenial he was.
And, once you had rejected marriage forever,
I would have dedicated the rest of my life to
climbing the ladder.
Have you ever told anybody how you did it?
Because you would have made a rival of him?
You should have been an administrator.
Ha! Ha! Ha!
I had developed a theory while I was a graduate
student at ZU and I tried it out as soon as I joined the faculty at ZTech.
Since I had a few years for trial and error, I began to refine my method,
but it proved effective even sooner than I had expected.
... When we were roommates, your rejected lovers wept on
my shoulder and told me how sincere you were. They were right.
You disappointed them by giving them mere sympathy
and no consolation. You didn't need any rejects.
Wasn't Brax an exception?
No, he and I had rejected each other.
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We attracted different kinds.
Yes, mine were charming and ambitious, yours
were charming and honest.
There weren't many who tried you after they had tried me.
Honesty is more sensitive to feelings than opportunities.
They didn't call our room Heartbreak Hotel for nothing!
Brax was the only heart we didn't break.
Genius doesn't come with a fragile heart.
I wonder. Maybe Brax's ambition and honesty as
a scholar eclipsed his laziness and weakness in everything else.
Brax? Lazy and weak?
Your protest has its virtue. Let's just say that
I saw him differently.
I'm afraid I don't recognize him.
... When I left ZTech, I took some principles
with me: If a woman wants power and wealth, she has to exploit the advantages
of women to compensate for those of men. The unmentionable margin affords
endless possibilities for maneuver. She must learn the rules of conduct
and how to break them without being caught. Exploit all opportunities promptly
without appearing acquisitive. Respect all modes and avoid offending anyone
unnecessarily. Never espouse any cause or join in any protest. Ensure that
all of your duties are accomplished and, as many as possible by your subordinates.
Watch your colleagues constantly without appearing to do it and compare
their deeds with their words, so that nothing they can or might do will
come as a surprise. Be ready nonetheless both for predictable and unpredictable
contingencies and take appropriate action as soon as they occur. Plot alternative
paths to the top by way of intermediate positions accessible to you. Success
will depend on confidential agreements that expose the colleagues you make
them with to unacceptable consequences if they divulge or break them. You
can build a reputation for effective administration only by advancing solutions
that satisfy all interested powerbrokers even if they don't address the
problems directly. Above all, you will need a style that distinguishes
you from other administrators, one that is dramatic and appears wise. Perceptions
achieve far more than realities.
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Well, what did you change with practice?
At first, I tried to embarrass or humiliate men,
an error when I succeeded and a disaster when I failed. Resentment united
them against me. Two errors and a disaster persuaded me to take the opposite
tack, listening respectfully and speaking only when they spoke to me, which
they always did when they disagreed with each other. I soon discovered
that hearing what they had to say enabled me to discern not only the convictions
behind their opinions, but also the attitudes behind those convictions.
Rather than support one side against the other as they expected, I arbitrated
their disagreements by exploiting the difference between the three levels
of consciousness. I could always imagine a compromise that flattered the
opinions of some, the convictions of others and the attitudes of others
still. Even if it had no intrinsic merit, it delighted men unaccustomed
to such wisdom from pretty women.
What happened when you faced women too?
I worried about that until it happened and I
discovered that many of them were trying so hard to be like men that they
talked themselves into the same trap. Others were clinging to their feminity
all the more stubbornly because they were old or ugly. I dreaded beautiful
young academics, but when I encountered a few individuals of that rare
species, they eagerly supported me. The solidarity was spontaneous. I didn't
encounter any exceptions to that exception until I no longer belonged to
the species myself. By then, however, I knew enough about pretty rebels
to neutralize them. After all, I had been one myself. All the complaints
about the current breed of radical feminists make me laugh. They frighten
men by an exagerated imitation of their worst vices: boasting, obscenity,
sports. Why do they build their muscles? To make love with muscle men?
When they try to shout, they screech.
Trying to be what you are not makes you vulnerable.
I wouldn't tell you any of this if thought you
would repeat it.
How much will you pay me?
Ha! Ha! Ha!
You ought to publish your memoirs.
Maybe a novel after I retire.
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Vanity moves one to make a proposal which incites the
vanity of others to make counterproposals so that a stalemate ensues. An
uncommitted listener can formulate a compromise by playing the stated intentions,
hidden motives and profound inclinations on all sides off against each
other. Even when less reasonable than the original propositions, the compromise
satisfies the vanity of a majority.
I told you: you should have been an administrator.
Wilma Dear, you assume that I would have enjoyed manipulating
people instead of solving problems.
Penny Dear, you assume that you can solve problems
without manipulating people.
Tell me how you manipulate the current breed of radical feminists.
What do you mean: Hah?
You would have enjoyed manipulating them, wouldn't
Aren't some of them sincere?
Some are more sincere than selfish and others,
more selfish than sincere, but all of them want to exploit an opportunity.
When I need their support, I can get it from the former by a concession
that favors women over men and from the latter by one that favors them
over men and the other women. If the issue doesn't involve their interests,
both the sincere and the selfish accept tokens, such as a letter from the
dean to the faculty telling them to add /she every time they say
When I'm reading, I jump to the next paragraph at the first
to the next page at the second and to another text at the third. I feel
sorry for reasonable people who have to read prose loaded with such nonsense.
One could argue that the traditional duality
implies a certain vulgarity which the exclusive elegance of
The triviality of this phony reform irritates me, but the
presomption of trying to impose it on us without our consent angers me.
Maybe you should laugh instead. Ten years from
now, this jargon will make a laughing stock of everyone who still uses
What happens when issues involve the interests of the feminists?
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While limiting myself to ideals, I give both,
the sincere and the selfish, opportunities to disagree with each other.
If they begin to close the gap, I inject a few alternatives into the discussion
to open it up. With patience and discretion, I always manage to engineer
a stalemate enabling me to intervene with a compromise acceptable to both
sides, although I sometimes have to make confidential promises to particularly
selfish feminists. They are always promises that I can keep after a delay
that will obscure the motive behind them.
I can see how such promises would usually overcome resistance.
But I should think threats would sometimes be necessary.
Indeed, when I can't achieve a consensus otherwise.
I avoid them because they always incite resentment.
There must be times when you let a vote decide the issue.
Rarely. Voting encourages them to think they
can make decisions without me. I oppose it on the grounds that it will
leave a minority unsatisfied. Consensus decisions orchestrated by me reinforce
I don't suppose you could give me an example?
Cross your heart...
And hope to die!
You must have heard of Hilda Sonderling.
I believe they call her Brünhild in the German Department.
Not only in the German Department.
She looks the part.
She acts it too... She has given me more trouble
than anyone else, on campus or off. Remember when Softack founded the chairs
for superior professors?
I remember when he arranged a speaking engagement for Representative
Forthwright a year before Speaker Mackey retired. Forthwright had an opportunity
to show off his eloquence, which allegedly persuaded a majority of his
fellow Republicans to elect him. Only the disgruntled rednecks who had
supported his opponent complained, a year later, when he inserted a few
more millions into the budget for higher education. I'm sure you remember
the Democrats applauding a little too enthusiastically.
26 of 54 ©
Of course, but I also remember the applause in
Concordia and Mountain Ridge. Once I had wangled six of the ten chairs
for Sciences and Humanities, I was preparing to appoint a committee to
discuss distribution and recruitment one morning when I heard a lot of
women outside of my office windows. There must have been several hundred
of them and they were converging on Laniel Hall. I met them at the entrance
as Brünhild was pushing through the revolving door.
On one side, a big, well-rounded woman always a little out
of breath, her face puffed with perennial outrage, her eyes glaring, her
jowls jangling and her gray hair in the same pony tale she had worn when
she was a little girl. On the other, a trim lady, severely but stylishly
dressed, with a straight back, steely eyes and a Mona Lisa smile.
The vanguard behind her consisted of her most
influential admirers, faculty and student activists whose names everyone
familiar with university politics could have guessed. Priss Charitsky for
And behind you?
Passing through the office, I had told everyone:
"Stay right where you are."
Did your adversary challenge you to single combat in front
of her army?
I didn't give her a chance. As soon as the babble
had subsided, I told them: "There is room for fifteen people around the
table in the conference room. I will meet twelve delegates there in fifteen
minutes. Now, everyone outside!" The order took their breath away, but
they stopped coming in and started going out, although Brünhild hesitated
Did the conference table civilize them?
No, but Fräulein Klingelstedt did.
A secretary more frightening than the dean herself!
Ingold, whom no one else dares to call "Ingold",
speaks English as if she were born and raised in New England.
While Fräulein Sonderling speaks it like anyone who
learned it only after leaving a Chermon university for an American one.
I doubt that the departure of a learned mediocrity
chagrined her colleagues in Marburg as she had expected, but her arrival
in Concordia delighted our feminists who took her accent for icing on the
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Can they understand her?
They can guess everything she will say even before
she opens her mouth.
Who sat in your third seat?
Yes. An assistant dean, a bureaucratic pedant
and, above all, a genuine male chauvinist, in other words game often hunted
and seldom sighted.
You must feel sorry for him because of his daughter.
No. He should be proud of her.
If I had another life to live, I would live hers.
That's how Brax used to say it.
He would have said it too.
Have you guessed what Brünhild and her bunch
Three superior professorships for women.
You don't know them very well.
Why had she stirred all those women up even before consultation
and discussion had begun?
It came out towards the end of the meeting when
I reminded them of that very fact. They said they had heard that the new
chairs would be reserved for scholars whose research had transformed the
field in which they worked.
What was wrong with that?
They said it was the language that had always
been used to describe appointments reserved for men. I had warned Softack
men or women somewhere in his announcement, but he thought
he had avoided trouble by not mentioning either.