Proofread (one upon a time) by B4Lurker.
Any faults that remain are my own. Any examples of idiosyncratic punctuation and free indirect discourse are intentional, even after my editor suggested they might be improved by their removal.
The Friday evening after the classical concert was just beginning, and I had my book for the night on the table beside me. Having concluded my latest affair with Paradise Lost I had now moved on to a rather erudite edition of Dante's The Divine Comedy. Like the Milton, I had read it many times before, and was returning to it once more for the sheer indulgent pleasure it afforded me. Some might think it something of a cliché, for a former English professor to be reading an edition of Dante that not only had introductions by five different commentators and the almost obligatory chronology of Dante's life and influence, but also both footnotes and endnotes. I cared not a jot for such considerations. Dante's world is a long way removed from our own, and unless you are an expert in Renaissance history and culture, you positively need such an edition if you are to appreciate the thirteenth century mind as fully as it is possible for someone in the twenty-first century.
I had had that edition for so many years I couldn't at that moment recall when I had bought it, but it had seen me through untold classes and even, on one glorious occasion, been of assistance in the supervision of a doctoral candidate whose love of all things pre-modern surpassed even my own. She had done well, obtained her Ph.D., and was now burnishing her résumé in an American university.
I picked up the Dante and simply held it for a moment.
It was not an exaggeration to say that I loved that book.
I had just poured myself a small glass of Johnnie Walker Green Label, set my pipe and its accoutrements on the table beside me, and opened my book at the bookmark –
– when my mobile phone rang.
Setting aside the opportunity to curse the impositions of technology, I picked up my phone and was surprised to see the caller was Mrs. Sandra Maclean.
I will freely admit that I am not at all the most technically minded of people and positively refuse to convert to ebooks, not least because I consider part of the pleasure of a book is the physical presence that somehow unites the reader and the writer in the collaborative act of text. However, this wilful selection of which aspects of technology I choose to make a part of my life does not in any way mean that I am a Luddite of any stripe. I know my way around my mobile phone sufficiently well enough to programme the names of regular (or expected) callers into it.
Hence Mrs. Maclean's caller's identity.
As I let it ring three times, manners dictating that one should always allow a phone to ring at least three times and never more than five, I frantically sought some credible reason why Mrs. Maclean would be calling me on a Friday evening.
I could imagine many, but could be certain of none, so of course there was no available choice for me other than to answer.
"Mrs. Maclean," I said as I answered, cautiously optimistic, having at least convinced myself that her call probably had nothing to do with Trudi's behaviour the previous night. Undoubtedly she would have called me long before now if that were the case if she had known. Probably.
Or perhaps she did know but was choosing to allow it to continue for some unknown reason. I thought not, but I filed the notion away for further consideration, later, but soon.
"Please, it's Sandra," Mrs. Maclean pleaded good-naturedly. "Or are you Professor Armitage tonight?"
"No, not at all, and probably never again, experience and age being more expensive than youth when it comes to the employment of professors. So ... Sandra ... to what do I owe this unexpected pleasure?" I flattered.
"Well, two things really, Simon. Firstly I wanted to thank you for taking care of Trudi last night," she said.
My heart skipped a beat. Did she know? Surely not, or there would have been flashing blue lights and an interview with members of Her Majesty's Constabulary.
Regaining my composure, I carefully ventured, "It was nothing, Sandra. In fact, I rather enjoyed the evening."
It was true, I had enjoyed the evening. Hopefully Sandra would take my reference as being to the concert and not the after-show of a progressively naked Trudi, images of which flashed distractingly through my mind as I spoke.
Sandra chuckled, confusing me for a moment. "You enjoyed it? Really?" she asked doubtfully, worrying me all the more as to the context of her comments. Thankfully she pressed on and set my mind at rest as she explained, "I, well, to tell the truth, and please say nothing to Trudi about this, but I find youth concerts are generally not very good, so I was glad, no, not glad, but pleased, yes, pleased that last night worked out the way it did, Trudi going to her concert and I being able to attend my work's meal. But I suppose it must have been good like you say, because Trudi's been bouncing round the house full of energy ever since. She always gets a little 'high' after a performance, but never like this. Were we ever like that? But anyway, that isn't what I phoned for-"
"-I was phoning to ask what your plans are for Sunday lunch, Simon?"
Being a bachelor, I confessed to having none beyond the extent of my own culinary skills, omitting the mention of pipe and whisky. Sandra, I suspected, would be less approving of those.
"Splendid! If that's the case, and if you are interested, would you care to join Trudi and I for lunch on Sunday? It's nothing special, simply roast beef with all the trimmings..." The line went silent a moment, before a slightly tentative Sandra continued, " ... oh! You're not a vegetarian are you?"
"No, Sandra, I'm not," I reassured her, being a firm believer that vegetarianism is not something for which the human body was suited for, having seen many sallow self-confessed vegetarians pass through my classes over the years. True there were some people and some cultures that it suited, but not the British and certainly not I. "Are you sure it's not too much trouble?" I asked, picking up the conversation and going through the formality of asking, even though we both knew it was not; why else the invitation?
"Not at all Simon. So, could you make 1:30?"
"Of course," I said. Still playing the role of the civilised guest, I asked, "With Trudi being too young for wine, would some white grape juice be acceptable? Nothing as ghastly as Schleur, but there are some bottled grape juices I know that I drink myself..."
"Grape juice? How thoughtful, Simon!" Sandra gushed, making me wonder how often she entertained. Not often, certainly not recently, I thought.
"So, Sunday at 1:30," Sandra confirmed. "And, oh yes, I almost forgot, it's quite informal so there's no need for a tie, unless you want to, of course," she added, the afterthought obvious but politely done, the hint given that a tie was not expected.
"I shall keep it in mind, Sandra. And thank you for the invitation. Goodnight."
"Goodnight, Simon," Sandra said, and the line went dead.
For a moment I sat there, looking at my phone.
What was going on?
Trudi was seemingly still full of excitement, and I dared not imagine what else, as a result of all that had transpired Thursday night.
Was it all just yesterday I reminded myself?
I was sure that some of her energy must surely be because of her concert, but I was equally convinced that her game of 'show and tell' might have more than a little to do with that too.
And now an invitation to Sunday lunch?
With a smile, I exchanged my mobile phone for my glass of Green and took a sip of my whisky, indulging myself as I relished the taste as it rolled over my tongue, filling me with the warmth and peace that always comes with a whisky. Idly I wondered what it is that people find so attractive about getting drunk and being unable to enjoy such small but important pleasures. I concluded that they and I lived in different worlds.
Setting such musings aside, I instead returned to the question of the invitation to Sunday lunch. I was, after all, nothing more than a newly retained English tutor whose supposed purpose was to improve Trudi's already very good marks towards perfection, thereby assisting her entry into Cambridge. Perhaps Sandra's motivation was nothing more than a simple 'thank you' for services rendered last night, I thought wryly, Trudi had already more than repaid any detail, real or otherwise.
And yet I couldn't help but wonder if there might be something more to this invitation, that Sandra might be seeking to inculcate me into that most elusive of positions, that of a 'friend of the family'. It was not, I felt certain, an attempt to avoid Trudi's tuition costs, both because my charges were more than reasonable and also because I had no sense that Sandra was either so mercenary when it came to her daughter's education nor in need of cutting such small expenditures, especially as Trudi's lessons had yet to be translated into higher grades.
I had already agreed to attend, of course, but even if the acceptance had been less firm, still I would have had no other choice than to attend, to observe and thereby to learn the reason for the invitation.
More intriguingly, I reflected on the possibility that depending on how matters progressed on Sunday, this invitation might result in an obligation on my behalf for a return invitation.
It seemed, whether Sandra was planning so or otherwise, that I would be spending more time with Trudi; time that would afford her more and extended opportunities for indulging in her favourite pastime, namely that of terrorising and delighting her 'professor' with exhibitions of her glorious teen-aged flesh.
I was still smiling at quite what that would mean for me as I took another sip of my whiskey, and set to my Dante with renewed mood, something one really needs when reading Inferno.
The remainder of my evening passed without further incident, though not entirely without distraction, my attention being rather less engaged by Dante and rather more engaged by the prospect of an informal Sunday lunch with Mrs. and Miss Maclean.
More specifically, my mind was haunted by vague and unfocused speculations as it meandered over the various possible scenarios I could dream up for what the delightful Miss Maclean might have planned for that Sunday.
Realistically there was little I could imagine that Trudi would have the opportunity to do, not when due allowance was given to the presence of her mother and what I trusted would be the inhibiting effect of Sandra. Even as I considered this, however, I felt a flicker of concern that Trudi might consider her mother's presence to be something of a challenge.
I hoped not, but the worry would not go away.
In lieu of the fact that I could not know what Trudi would or would not do, my only recourse was instead to try and decide in advance what my reaction would be to any 'games' she might seek to play.
Clearly, the normal and correct response of outrage followed immediately by the reporting of the incident to the appropriate parent was no longer an option.
But even in dismissing this, its consideration sparked another thought.
What if I were to act shocked and outraged, what then? Would Trudi back down, and did I really want her to anyway? Might Trudi have a change of heart, perhaps, and be seized by regret or otherwise decide to reveal what she had done on Thursday night?
I most assuredly did not wish to risk the consequences of that.
Fleetingly I even wondered if Trudi might derive a measure of enjoyment from being embarrassed in such a manner. Being unsure of the psychology behind her exhibitionism, that was a real possibility. And if that were the case, did I want to risk an escalation of her behaviour?
More profoundly, could I live with my conscience if there were a possibility that it was I who had driven Trudi in a direction she would not otherwise have taken in life?
Last Thursday, when her floral dress had repeatedly fallen forward, affording me those delicious and tantalisingly fleeting glimpses of her sweet young breasts, I had done nothing.
Again, just yesterday, after the concert Trudi had opened her robe and revealed the depths of my desires for her young body, immature yet perfect, and again, I had done nothing.
I should have acted, should have stopped this from escalating, but I had done nothing, and the consequence of my inaction was that I was not trying to out-guess and pre-empt every conceivable action of Trudi's on Sunday.
This was resolving nothing and so, resorting to the pedagogic metaphor of mentally scrubbing the board clean, I started again.
Question: Did I enjoy the glimpses of Trudi's delightful teen-aged flesh?
Answer: Clearly so, as any man and many women would, though I was under no illusions as to my own profound attraction for her delicious and inciteful body.
Question: Did I wish to continue to enjoy same?
Answer: Without a doubt, for as long as possible, subject to the caveat of Trudi's comfort and enjoyment in continuing this 'game' of ours.
Question: Could I control Trudi's actions, at least in any definite or controllable manner?
Answer: Of course not.
Question: Did I wish this to end?
And, just to ensure I was well along the path to damnation, I also admitted to myself how much I found that I enjoyed Trudi's company. She was smart, attractive, talented, and had definite goals in life, the very qualities that one looks for in any potential friend. Or partner, I reminded myself, only to angrily deny the thought, impossible and impracticable as it was.
Returning to the reality of the situation I found myself in, truly, what would happen?
I had little doubt that Trudi would continue to find ways to enjoy exposing herself to me, and provoking both delight and discomfort in me; but for how long would that continue, really? A month? Until the beginning of the new term? A year? She had said herself that she was on her way to Cambridge, probably a full scholarship given what I had heard of her playing already. In three years, she would be gone.
Having neither control over Trudi, her behaviour, her future, nor wanting any such control, I consoled myself with the realisation that all I could do was enjoy what Trudi offered, for as long as she wanted, whereupon we would each go our separate ways.
There could be nothing more than that.
Setting down my whisky, I filled my pipe with Connoisseur's Choice, lit it, and relaxed back into my armchair, reliving in my mind's eye the sight of Trudi, stripping, presenting her flawless body for my enjoyment, and her own.
Memories to treasure.
What's that? I asked myself as a beeping intruded on my sleep.
The answer was clear, even in the dark of my bedroom. The cover screen of my mobile glowed pale blue, indicating that it had received something.
Cursing myself for not muting it at night, and further cursing myself for being unable to ignore whatever it was until the morning, I reached over to the bedside table and saw that it had been a text message.
Who would be sending me a text message at – at 11:22pm!? I wondered. I did not use my phone very much, had only the least of possible contracts, and did not make a habit of passing my number around in a casual manner. All of which meant that I could not imagine who might be sending me a text message at this time of night, and thus guaranteeing that I had to read it, even if only that I could dismiss it as a 'junk text'.
Opening the phone, I saw the message was from a new number, not someone in my contacts. I sighed. It was probably nothing more than children sending random messages to random strangers, the curse of our digital age.
Just because I knew I would struggle to settle back to sleep if the uncertainty remained, I opened the message.
"Hi. Its Trudi. R U asleep?"
I chuckled at the ridiculousness of the question, driven by unthought through politeness when clearly she wanted to ask the next question, but did not know how to introduce her inquiry.
Yes I had been asleep, but not now.
"I was. What do you want?" I sent back, never descending to the linguistic depths of using 'txtEnglish' no matter how much my more trendy former colleagues had sought to convince me of its 'reality' as an artefact of contemporary culture.
I had just finished adding Trudi's name to my contacts and pressed the 'ok' when –
Trudi: sory – didn't thnk u wud be aslep
Simon: What do you want, Trudi?
Trudi: how old is yr fone?
Simon: It's about two years old. Is there something urgent you need to ask me about your next lesson?
I was still wondering what she might want when my phone beeped again.
:MMS from Trudi Maclean:
Being as non-technical and uninterested as I am, to say nothing of discombobulated by being interrupted in my sleep, I was unable to recollect the meaning of the acronym MMS and so, driven by curiosity, I accepted the message.
Simon: Your MMS is still downloading.
I shook my head. What was so urgent and why was she so desperate for me to read her message?
I didn't have long to wait.
:MMS ready: my mobile phone reported.
I dutifully pressed the 'ok' option to read the message, musing as I did how well our technological overlords have trained us to do their bidding, whereupon I was presented with an image of Trudi in a tan coloured camisole top and matching panties.
Simon: Trudi – what are you doing sending me a picture like that?
Trudi: u dont like it? ;-)
Simon: You know you should not send pictures like that, and not to me.
Trudi: u don't like it?? ;-)
Simon: You know exactly how I feel about such images, Trudi.
:MMS from Trudi Maclean:
Sitting up in bed, I gulped, dreading and excited in equal measure by the thought of what the next image might be.
Once more I pressed the 'ok' button, and was rewarded with a similar image, though this one was without the camisole and I was instead confronted by an image of Trudi, topless.
It was a very captivating photo, so captivating that I almost jumped when my phone beeped to announce the arrival of another text message.
Trudi: r u there?
I was, but I was also enjoying the image in front of my eyes, the sight of Trudi's adolescent breasts, capped with pale areolae and from what I could tell on the small screen of my mobile phone, topped by stiff little nipples. They were perfect and yet, even as I thought this, I reminded myself that Trudi's body would not finish growing for a few more years yet, whereupon she would manage that transformation to look yet more perfect.
Sometimes, even for an English professor – retired – the English languages lacks an adequate means of expressing all the possibilities of human existence.
This was such a moment.
I looked at the picture again, and smiled as I forgave myself my linguistic and conceptual foolishness.
Simon: Sorry, Trudi. Please, stop sending me those pictures. I shall have to delete them.
Shall, I thought to myself, but not will.
Trudi: dont u lik? ;-)
Simon: They are not appropriate, and would cause problems if I lost my phone.
Trudi: O – srry – ddnt thnk of tht – so u dont wana c my pusy then? ;-)
Before I could respond, of course, my mobile phone reported another incoming MMS. Had she taken the photographs in advance? Perhaps, and perhaps not. I neither cared nor dared to ask.
Finally, and with a clichéd sense of foreboding, I opened the message.
It was, of course, it was a cartoon of a tabby cat, holding a placard which read 'GOTCHA!'
Simon: Goodnight, Trudi.
Trudi: nite S xxx
I looked at the screen, at the message that ended 'xxx'.
I hoped that was how Trudi 'txtd' all her friends, but did that mean I was now considered her friend?
And, a quiet voice asked in the back of my head, did I really hope she didn't put 'xxx' at the end of all her messages to all her friends, because that would mean that 'xxx' was something more than 'end of chat'.
I shook my head, trying to dismiss the notion. It was folly, hubris, even vanity. Of course 'xxx' couldn't mean anything more.
Replacing my mobile back on the bedside table, and with visions of those delightful breasts again consuming my attention, I closed my eyes and sought sleep.
It was slow in coming.
Saturday morning saw me awake early and full of the kind of vim and vigour which are increasingly an aspect of memory, and decreasingly an aspect of experience as one passes through middle age. At fifty-one I was hardly in imminent danger of entering the dotage of old age, and indeed, my family's health was such that I could reasonably expect another thirty years or more before senility came to knock on the door. I was, however, under no illusions as to my physical condition and thus recognised, was surprised, and was somewhat delighted to awaken feeling what in other seasons would be characterised as being 'full of the joys of spring'.
As I pottered around my home, bathing, preparing breakfast, and attending to all the other minor chores of my solitary existence I began to ask myself, was all of this linked to the fascinating Miss Maclean?
As I readily admitted to myself, her entrance into my life was a wholly unexpected pleasure, all the more so for her seeming willingness and enjoyment in teasing me with glimpses of her frankly irresistible young body.
And I hadn't put up much, if any, resistance.
Factor into this equation her additional readiness and relish, not only for teasing me, but in her making good on those tantalising glimpses with actual revelations of said flesh, and it was little wonder that I had woken in such a good mood.
Even my concerns regarding what mischief young Trudi might engage in at tomorrow's lunch in furtherance of her exhibitionism was, truth be told, only a passing distraction, a fleeting cloud in the sky that was soon gone and sooner forgotten.
Thinking of Trudi's rascality directed my mind to my mobile phone and the images stored in its memory of her.
All sense and caution dictated I should delete those messages, along with the 'chat' between Trudi and I.
Yet, I did nothing.
On a simplistic level, I enjoyed the images. They had been an unanticipated gift and I rather looked forward to my continuing enjoyment in the future, especially once Trudi had tired of playing with me in such a manner and moved on to some other lucky individual.
In order to console my sense of propriety, I again reminded myself that it was already too late to do anything about Trudi's behaviour and that if she were to make a complaint to anyone, then it would be she who would be believed, regardless of the presence or absence of such evidence. Furthermore, even if I were to delete the images and 'txts' from my own phone, there was no way that I might check if Trudi had done so, nor take action to ensure it.
Indeed, Trudi had no reason to delete anything.
As I came to this realisation, I also found myself wondering if Trudi were not more likely to retain 'txts' and pictures for no other reason than that, by looking at them, she might be able to recapture the frisson of their creation.
This, I concluded, was more than likely, at least based on what little I had observed and understood of Trudi.
So, the images remained on my phone and with that issue now dismissed, at least to my own satisfaction of sophistic self-justification, I set out for Edinburgh.
It was not a journey I was taking lightly, for the month of August each year sees the fair city of Edinburgh becomes home to the twin festivals, the official Edinburgh International Festival and the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, the latter having begun as an unofficial adjunct to the main festival. From these modest beginnings, however, the Fringe grew and grew, attracting the famous, the international, and the not-so-good too, ever expanding in scope and ambition until it reached the present heights where, for most people, the Fringe is the Festival to attend and the original Festival is a place to get tickets to when the venue you want to go to has sold out.
No matter how much politicians and commentators and businesses say in favour of the festivals and how they attract so much attention, culture, and so many tourists to boost the capital's economy, August is also the time of year when native Edinburghians, or at least those not engaged in the extraction of money from said tourists, leave the city en masse, finding this the most opportune time to take their holidays. Indeed, the most popular activity for Edinburghians at this time of year is to rent your home out at £1000 per week to some Fringe act, or dedicated Fringe tourist, and invest that money on a month abroad.
What this all meant for me was that, no matter how much I wanted to go to Edinburgh, it would be proof of advanced psychosis to travel there by car. There would simply be too many motorists chasing too few spaces, and all under the watchful gaze of the city's Traffic Wardens, just waiting for the opportunity to prove their pecuniary worth by ticketing as many vehicles as they could.
I instead left my car at the requisite train station and boarded a frightfully overcrowded train to Edinburgh, managing to obtain a seat from the mannered behaviour of a young child, encouraged to do so only somewhat by his rather aspirational mother, clearly seeking to teach her son the manners she wished him to acquire rather than which were naturally his own; if they had been, she would not have needed to tell him three times to give his seat to the gentleman.
I gave her a smile of thanks.
Thankfully the child behaved for the duration of the journey, making little complaint until we finally arrived at Waverley, whereat we all disembarked.
Driven by a combination of my own error in provisioning and a general reluctance to shop via the internet when my custom might keep in business those very shops that were being steadily and remorselessly annihilated by internet shopping, I had come to Edinburgh in search of tobacco and a churchwarden style pipe.
Edinburgh is blessed with three such shops.
A casual shopper might well stumble upon The Cigar Shop on the Royal Mile, a serviceable enough shop but one at which I had once been forced to endure somewhat tardy service from a rather rude sale assistant, for which unforgivable sin I only ever crossed their threshold if the other two shops were unable to service my needs. Moreover, their position on the Royal Mile made them something of a tourist trap, and this was not something I considered to be a point in their favour when deciding where to shop.
A pipe smoker of more adventurous spirit might venture to Edinburgh's 'other' tobacconists, Graham's. An altogether friendly establishment whose assistants were always a pleasure to deal with, even those whose lack of knowledge was such that if you were to ask them for their advice, they would be forced to admit to not really smoking anything out of the ordinary or, rarely, not smoking at all; certainly not pipe smokers.
Neither of these shops, however, were my destination that morning.
Rather I was headed away from the city and down Leith Walk to a thoroughly more pleasing establishment, at least insofar as I was concerned. My destination was the unironically named The Pipe Shop – the place where true pipe smokers go, leaving the dilettante to the city's more easily discovered shops. If one ignores the ghastly array of marijuana pipes, one will find that not only do they stock a thoroughly creditable selection of cigars, but that it is the true pipe smoker to whom they cater. They carry both tinned and loose tobacco, from the common to the less common to the frankly unique blends which draws pipe smokers from across the Lothians and beyond to their door. I have always considered them to be a safe haven, if one will pardon the pun, in a sea of over-cautiousness that sees the pipe smoker ever more marginalised.
Consequently, I spent an entirely enjoyable half hour or more browsing through their wares and talking tobaccos with their assistants, finally purchasing half a dozen different tobaccos as well as the prize of the visit, a Peterson churchwarden pipe which I had had my eye on for some time and which was generously discounted to a regular customer.
As my purchases were being wrapped, I reflected how the Internet will never, in my not-so-humble opinion, replace such shops. The decline and demise of each such establishment is, I concluded, both a crime and also a sign of the collapse of western civilisation.
Indeed there is, I think, a paper that could be written on this very subject, of how modern man is so much less than were the men of his grandfather's generation, and that it is with the passing of the smoking of pipes that real men have left this world. In this paper I shall of course make due reference to Holmes and Hannay as examples of the kinds of men that should be aspired to and who are, in their different ways, attaining the kinds of literary immortality that all writers dream of for their characters. I might even make reference to Jerome K. Jerome and his definition of a happy life, though the inclusion of such a humorist is always a risky venture with the potential to undermine one's serious intentions.
Indulging myself in the grandiosity of a mock Victorian styled monograph, complete with a suitably over-balanced title, I amused myself with conjuring lines for just this paper as I made my way back up Leith Walk and on towards the Royal Mile.
Given what I have already said of Edinburgh in August during the Festivals, it could reasonably be supposed that I might well seek to avoid this tourist magnet at all costs, packed as it undoubtedly would be – and is – with an almost unnavigable mass of humanity seeking some memento of Scotland, or the Festivals, or both.
But I had no intention of navigating the Mile, far from it.
Instead I sought an outdoor seat at one of the cafés at the bottom of the Mile, ostensibly doing what I could to enjoy a latte made with beans of entirely insufficient quality and which was only rendered drinkable by the addition of two sachets of 'brown' sugar.
It was not the coffee, however, that I had come to drink of.
Rather, an outside seat at any of the cafés on the Royal Mile during the festivals provides ample opportunity to indulge in that most glorious of spectator sports, namely people watching. Such was the sheer density of humanity that it became an almost psychedelic endeavour to watch the young women who thronged past the shop, none of them in view for long, the occasional face or gesture or form imprinting itself upon my memory for later recollection upon my mind's eye. Sometimes one of the young women might notice my attention, our eyes would briefly meet, and a smile or an expression of confusion would be exchanged. Most, however, passed unnoticed and unsuspecting.
For quite some minutes I amused myself, noting the lack of bras of Spanish students, the only slightly relaxed primness of many of the Asian tourists, the excessiveness of casual contact between young French women, and the tired expressions on the few Scots who braved the Mile.
It was harmless, slightly voyeuristic fun, and I was just settling back with my pipe when a voice intruded.
"Professor?" came a voice from my right.
I turned and saw a Miss Eleska Oksana, a Polish student who had taken my third year second semester unit on Literary Criticism just this past semester before my unanticipated 'retirement'. Teaching her had been a joy, not only in her responsiveness to being taught and her interest in the material itself, but also in her casual happiness. Add to this her stunning but also natural head of thick hair which lay somewhere between roseate and Titian, and a figure that ever so slightly hinted at what Molière had mocked as 'corn-fed' but which spoke, rather, of someone who was entirely comfortable in themselves, and there was no way that the memory of Miss Oksana would have faded, and nor had it.
Seeing her now was an unexpected and welcome surprise.
"Miss Oksana?" I asked, tradition dictating the response be a question even when both parties knew each other, the question implied in the manner of the meeting rather than the persons involved therein.
"May I join?" she asked, nodding to the chair opposite.
"Of course," I said. "Would you like a coffee?"
Eleska shook her head. "That is an unusual pipe," she said as she took the chair opposite, her blouse open by at least three buttons and showing a delightful though brief expanse of soft breast.
"This?" I said, taking it from my mouth and holding it in the clichéd reflective pose that all pipe smokers can strike, often without being asked. "A churchwarden."
Eleska nodded. "You carry it with you?" she asked, clearly not imagining that I did but unable to account for my smoking it there, thus.
I shook my head good-naturedly. "No, it was a gift to myself, just this morning. I thought I would take the opportunity of sun and a café to try it."
"I see. It is good?" Eleska asked, flicking her hair from her shoulders and revealing a sturdy rather than slender neck in the process.
"It is," I assented as I took another draw from it.
"I miss a pipe," Eleska observed.
"You miss a pipe?" I asked, confused in that I had never imagined Eleska to be a fellow pipe smoker.
Eleska smiled as she shook her head. "No, not me. My grandfathers smoked them. I grew up with their smell. They are dead now, and I miss the smell. But now you have reminded me."
"I'm sorry," I said.
"Nooo," Eleska said as she rushed to reassure me. "It is kind of you, but they are good memories, and I am enjoying remembering them."
"I see," I said, nodding, drawing on my pipe again.
A trouble look crossed Eleska's face. "I have looked, Professor, but I could not see your name this year. What will you be teaching?"
I shrugged. "Nothing, Eleska, I have been retired."
Eleska laughed softly, a delighful thing to watch in one such as her. "You mean you have retired?"
I shook my head. "I'm sorry, it was a poor joke. No, normally you are correct and 'retire' is a noun, but I was using it in the American manner of making verbs of nouns, not least but because I suspect it was an American-inspired decision that the University save money by replacing the experienced and expensive senior professors with newly-minted as much less expensive professors."
"Ah, I see. But won't that mean the standards of teaching are less, so the University will lose reputation?" Eleska asked.
"Ah, I see. Do you miss it? What will you do?"
I drew on my pipe dramatically before answering. "Will I miss it? Only insofar as it means life is, perforce, less of a social activity than it was. As to what I shall do with my time, there are always papers to write, even for a literary conservative such as myself. Perhaps I might tutor privately," I said, surprising myself as I added the qualifier of 'perhaps'. Had I thought to keep Trudi some kind of secret? I quickly dismissed the notion for consideration later.
"But what about your, your, your purpose?" Eleska asked, brushing her hair away again. Did she think I was unaware of the meaning of such body language? Or perhaps it was simply the breeze forcing her to arrange and re-arrange her hair.
"I don't follow you," I said, not for the first time. I remembered how Eleska's thought processes had been quite circuitous at times in seminars with her, her mind working in such a manner as to jump to conclusions others had to be led to, sometimes including her professor.
"Men need a purpose," Eleska explained. "And you have lost yours. You were a Professor, but now you are not a Professor. So, you need another purpose, yes?"
I nodded slowly, forced to concede that Eleska was correct. Thus far, my life had been little different from summer vacations of other years save only for the lack of involvement in drawing up the reading lists and teaching schedules for the coming semester. By early October, I began to suspect that the impact of what Eleska had described would begin to hit upon me though, even as I thought this, I thought too of Trudi and how her presence in my life might lessen the blow to my psyche. Was that the true reason why I had agreed to tutor her? I chuckled inwardly, amused I even sought to flatter myself when I knew the truth was otherwise and that my motivation to tutor Trudi was simply to see more of Trudi.
"So what will you do?" Eleska asked, concerned.
"Truthfully, I do not know. I had not thought so far in advance, and for giving me warning of a possible problem, you have my sincere thanks," I said, and was rewarded with Eleska sitting back a little to preen. She wore self-pride well.
"What, what about you tutor me?" Eleska asked.
"But why, Eleska? Your grades were very good, you seemed to understand the texts, and you even seemed to do the background reading-"
"I did!" Eleska insisted, proudly. It was certainly a good look for her.
"So, why? If you are thinking it is a charity to me, I appreciate the gesture, but it is not something I need I assure you."
Eleska's face clouded a moment. "You don't understand, but I have to get a first."
"No!" Eleska sighed. "I struggle, every essay, work so hard, and worry, I worry about every essay, every grade, every effect it has on my degree. You know, even now, it is not certain I will get a first?" Eleska asked.
I was not her Supervisor. "I hadn't realised..."
Eleska shrugged. "It is my own fault. I didn't work hard enough in second year, so now I have to work twice, three times as hard. If you could tutor me, help me with my essays, I could get my first."
"But why is a first so important, Eleska?"