Age of Bliss
This novel is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents
are products of the author's imagination. Any resemblance to people,
alive or dead, are coincidental.
This work contains adult themes and is not intended for children.
After class, she found Dr. Minz waiting. "Ready for some lunch?" she asked. Martha had not anticipated this question, but saw in it an opening to raise the issue of Markus Mathews in a casual context.
"I wanted to make sure that you knew about the Friday afternoon coffee we women have," Dr. Minz said as they were walking.
"Oh?" Martha said with excitement.
"I thought you might be interested. The male faculty all go home, or somewhere, on Friday afternoons, leaving the faculty lounge open. We affectionately call it our 'Carry Nation Seminar.' We start with coffee at 3:00. Depending on how stimulating the discussion, we sometimes retire to the local oasis for a little toddy."
"The faculty lounge is in the Administration Building?"
"Yes, I'll come by at 3:00 and we can walk over together."
At that time, they were joined by Richard Astor and Peter Carter, preventing Martha from raising the topic of Markus. Still, she was excited about the afternoon seminar and the existence of other women faculty at Bliss. Perhaps she would meet someone there with whom she could more completely identify.
Marky had seemed fairly pathetic, really, Martha reflected at lunch while the others discussed their lawns. Being older than his classmates, perhaps he rebelled in order to come across as being more adolescent and thus to be more acceptable to his peers. He had come to her as someone with whom he thought he could identify because of their childhood interactions. He even seemed to need her acceptance and approval. Possibly she had been overly harsh, prompted by Richard Astor's warning.
After her last class, Martha was exhausted. The day of teaching was sufficient to drain her energy without the Mathews problem. Then, there was the Mathews problem. She knew it would be wise to tell Dr. Minz about knowing him previously, just in case he did become more of a problem than she anticipated. Yet, she did not want to spoil the Carrie Nation Seminar with such talk. She needed some enjoyment and the seminar should provide just that opportunity. Moreover, it would give her the chance to get to know Dr. Minz better.
It was a beautiful fall afternoon when Minz and Knight walked to the Administration Building. It seemed natural that they talk about the chrysanthemums blooming along the way and the goldfinch which fed on the periwinkle.
Evidently the wonders of nature had inspired the dozen or so women at the coffee because they, too, were talking about bird watching. A gray-haired, matronly woman was giving a detailed description of the migration patterns of a unique heron which one of the women had seen recently.
The conversation dragged on at length. Martha sat straight, the way she had during her father's boring sermons. This was different: She wanted to impress these people; she wanted them to like her, she thought. She knew that she had wanted her father to like her also. She must have or she would not have kept their secret. Indeed, she kept it now. She knew that it had not been right, what he had done to her, what he was probably doing to her younger sisters even now. She had known that it was wrong while it was occurring, for the last few years at least.
The gray-haired biologist was saying how we could learn a lot from the animal kingdom. Martha wondered if we could learn how to break the male domination of our species. She would be interested in knowing how that feat could be accomplished.
At least, she thought, this dull discussion had prompted her to think about her relationship with her father, something she knew she needed to do, even if the seminar had not been fun or introduced any likely friends. She did not consider that the discussion had taken her mind off Markus Mathews, much less that there was any potential link between her feeling toward her father and her present situation with Markus.
The discussion of the animal kingdom seemed to be waning and a few of the women were taking the opportunity to depart. Martha looked toward the door, pondering if this was an apt time for her, too, to take her leave.
At the door entered a woman with black hair flowing to her waist, a physically impressive individual. Her dark features and high cheek bones suggested a strong Native-American heritage. Martha was encouraged finally to see someone closer to her own age.
"That's Jordan West," whispered Dr. Minz. "I certainly want to introduce you to her. I think the two of you might have much in common."
"Jordan West? Jordan West, the concert pianist?"
"Yes, yes. Good, you've heard of her."
All eyes turned to Jordan as she took the seat next to Martha. "Sorry to be late," she announced to the group. "Did I miss anything interesting?"
"I bet you've been making last minute preparations for your recital tonight," suggested Martha.
"No, but thanks for the plug! We need all the faculty support we can get, Martha. It is all right if I call you Martha, isn't it?"
"Sure, but how did you know...."
"Your name? The president's office publishes a booklet of new faculty. Ph.D. at 24 and an attractive woman to boot! That's worthy enough for me to take note and remember. Dr. Minz is to be congratulated for bringing you to Bliss!"
"Thank you," said Dr. Minz, permitting Martha to recover herself. "But, tell us about your concert."
Martha listened to the array of different songs which Jordan had planned for the evening. One after the other, from classics to jazz, to ragtime, to blues and to pop, they were all tunes which Martha enjoyed. Martha also enjoyed listening to the richness of Jordan's deeply musical voice. When Jordan finished, she turned back to Martha and said, "But, there are some last minute preparations which I need to make; so, perhaps I best run." And then, in a softer voice she said, "I do hope to see you there."
"I wouldn't miss it for the world," said Martha.
"Good, I'll look for your there."
Only after Martha had parted from Dr. Minz did she consider the probability of seeing Markus at Jordan West's recital. He would no doubt think she came to see him, but she was not going to let this fact prevent her from attending. As he said, there was not much to do here on a Friday evening. The concert would be enjoyable and she looked forward to seeing Jordan again. She would simply avoid Markus. Surely avoiding him would not be difficult in a music hall.
She dressed for the event with guarded excitement. She was unsure what to wear and wished that she had asked Dr. Minz whether people dressed for such events at Bliss. Then, she wondered if Dr. Minz would attend. Had she only thought about it, she could have arranged to meet her there. Meeting Dr. Minz would have made it obvious to Mr. Mathews that she had not come to see him. She considered calling Minz to determine if meeting her was a possibility, but feared that such a call might be inappropriate.
Eventually, Martha selected one of her most dressy suits. It had been one of her "Sunday outfits" in high school and had seen little wear since. As she took it from the hanger, she thought that its yellow color might be too summery for the fall evening, but it did have a tan jacket. She was concerned also that it might be too large since she had lost weight since high school, but when she buttoned the tailored blouse, she observed that it fit her well. Then she remembered that before it had clung to her breasts. The silk fabric felt good against her skin. When she slipped on the skirt, it was loose around her waist, but fit well around her buttocks. She had forgotten how short the skirt was, breaking just above the knee. Still, she thought, it was fairly much in style. She pondered the need to wear a slip under the translucent blouse. A full slip would show below the skirt and she did not own a camisole. She concluded that the jacket was sufficient.
She had little trouble, with the aid of the campus map, in finding the recital hall. The room was dimly lit and she waited for her eyes to adjust. The hall was cozier than she had anticipated. Its single floor descended from where she entered to a raised stage.
She soon observed that the event was not well attended. The small auditorium was less than half full. At least most everyone was sitting toward the front; she could sit toward the rear, be apart from the others, have an excellent view of the stage, and probably be noticeable from the stage.
As she started down the steps, Martha saw, coming toward her in full stride, Miss Cage. There was no avoiding her.
"Oh, Dr. Knight, I am so glad to see you here. Would you please come and sit with us?"
"We have really good seats on the third row, really good view of the stage."
"That sounds good. Thank you."
"Wonderful. I really like your class and you as a teacher. You're such a neat person; I just knew you'd join us. Markus said you wouldn't. He said you thought you were better than us. I didn't believe that for a minute. Here we are," Mary indicated as they reached the group in the third row.
"Markus, move down and let Dr. Knight have the aisle seat," Mary Cage said, guiding Markus down two seats and seating herself between him and the seat she offered to Martha.
Before sitting down, Markus looked at Martha and smiled, "I'm surprised that you came."
Standing there in the aisle next to her seat, Martha felt the nearness of him facing her in the dimness of the theater. She thought about sitting down but she did not want him looming over her. She felt too much in his power by simply being there where she had resolved not to be. "As you said, 'There is not much to do in Midtown on a Friday night,'" she said, still standing.
He smiled again. "I'm sure you'll enjoy it," he said, and to her surprise, he sat down.
A single spotlight beamed across the small auditorium, giving Martha a small start. She quickly dropped to her seat to behold in the spot light, sitting before the Baby Grand, Jordan West, both simple and eloquent in a white satin gown. In bold, clear strokes she opened with Strauss' Thus Spake Zarathustra.
Martha recognized the selection as the theme from 2001: A Space Odyssey. The music normally inspired in her a sense of confidence, of ability to rise above suppression, but it did not tonight. She felt trapped, indeed, manipulated into a trap. She wanted to blame Markus, but did not believe that Markus had sent Miss Cage to fetch her. Still she felt trapped.
Martha wondered if there would be an intermission in which she would be forced to interact with Markus. Perhaps she could focus her attention on Mary or some of the other students or, better yet, Jordan, and avoid contact with Mr. Mathews altogether.
She could always go to the bathroom, she thought. However, going to the bathroom could mean missing an opportunity to visit with Dr. West. She must not let herself be misdirected from her intentions for the evening. She had come for the opportunity to interact with Jordan West, who had said she would look for Martha to be there. No, she must not allow Markus Mathews to ruin her beautiful evening. With that thought, she refocused on the beautiful sounds which filled the air and on the movement of the fingers which produced this melody.
At the completion of Beethoven's Ode to Joy, Jordan stood, announced that she would return and exited to the applause of the audience. Martha sat for a time before she felt a touch on her back. On standing and turning, she was face to face with a coed who said, "Hi, I'm in your afternoon writing class. I was wondering if it would be all right if I attended your 9:00 section sometimes?"
"Why would you want to do that?"
"So that I can go home for the weekend. You see, the train leaves during your class. If I can attend your 9:00 then I won't miss anything."
"Yes, that will be fine. If you'll alert me in advance I'll be sure to have a handout for you as needed," Martha said and turned back to her left to see a small crowd forming at one corner of the stage.
"What is going on?" she asked, turning further to her left, expecting to see Mary Cage.
"Dr. West just came from backstage," Markus replied.
"What happened to Miss Cage?"
"She's gone to powder her nose. She didn't know how long you'd be with that student or she would've waited for you."
"That's fine. I wanted to visit with Dr. West anyway."
"Well, good luck getting through that mob."
"I see. She is swamped, isn't she."
"She's a talent! I'm glad that you came. You're enjoying it, aren't you?"
"Yes, very much! I had not planned to come, but I met Dr. West this afternoon and she invited me."
"I see. Well, I'm sorry you aren't getting to visit with her during this intermission. You could certainly use a friend here. Jordan West might just be the friend you need if you don't want to be a friend of the likes of me." He smiled his playful smile, but the tone of his voice had been bitingly serious.
She again felt his nearness in the confines of the seats and stepped backward into the main aisle.
"Look," he said and took a step toward her, more than closing the distance which she had retreated. "You're a fish out of water here...."
"What? You don't even know me!"
"I know you care about the education of your students. Believe me, that's different here at Bliss. You care about your profession and doing a good job."
She wondered how he would know even that since he had been in class only once.
"Just look around you," he continued. "You don't see a vital faculty. Good teachers aren't kept. You don't see many young women with tenure, either. Dr. West, that's about it. You're a lamb in the wolves' den. You need friends who care about you. And, you need to be very careful ...."
"I see that the two of you are getting along all right without me," said Mary, stopping at the edge of the row of seats just between them. "Hasn't the music been wonderful? The program says she's going to play popular music in the second session.
"That's a beautiful suit, Miss Knight. I guess you teachers have to dress even for something like this; but, isn't that jacket hot in here? I'm a little hot in these culottes. Why don't you take that jacket off and be a little comfortable?"
"No, I'm fine, really." Martha knew that she was not fine. Looking for a means of escape, she turned toward where Jordan had been earlier. The group of students and Jordan had vanished.
"Dr. West has already gone backstage," said Markus. "We best get back into our seats."
Jordan's arrangement of popular songs delighted the audience, changing Martha's mood. At first, her mind was full of recriminations against Markus, but soon the music forced her to put those thoughts and their resolutions in abeyance. When Jordan announced that her last selection would be Somewhere My Love, Martha regretted that the event was ending. She hoped for an encore until she looked closely at Jordan who had poured her energy reserve into the performance.
The applause was tumultuous, but Jordan did not return.
"How delightful!" said Mary. "It makes me just want to go dancing. ... The evening's still young; let's all go somewhere and have some fun. How about it, Dr. Knight? We could go to the tea house and reminisce about the movies these songs came from, where we first heard them, stuff like that."
"I think I had better pass on the invitation. Thank you for inviting me to sit with you, though."
Martha spent the weekend recording students' names in her grade book, making seating charts and familiarizing herself with the names. Interspersed with these tasks, she reflected on Jordan's concert. She saw those agile fingers gliding across the keyboard; she heard the renditions filling the audience with emotions. Martha regretted that she had not been able, in the least, to express her admiration to Jordan.
Martha regretted even more that she had not been able to put Mr. Mathews in his place. His manner had been most condescending. He acted as if he knew more about her situation than she did herself. At the end he seemed to be warning her.
Two warnings in one week, she thought. Ironically, each man seemed to be warning her against the other. Richard Astor's warning was definitely directed to Markus; and now, Markus' warning was at least directed toward the likes of Richard. Richard clearly came to mind when Martha recalled Markus' unfinished sentence that she needed to be very careful. She sensed that the two of them were opposing forces and both saw her as a pawn caught in the middle.
She did not enjoy the image of her being a pawn any more than she had appreciated their thinking that she needed their protection. Men, she thought, they thrive on power. They defined her as a pawn in order to justify their use of power.
When she considered the two men, she was drawn toward Markus, although it did not make sense to her. Dr. Astor was a respected member of the academic community; Markus was just a sophomore, a trouble causer at that. However, she had received the definite feeling from Markus that he cared for her welfare; she could not say the same for Richard.
It was not until Sunday evening that Martha began critiquing Markus' paper, The Fact Finder. By then, she felt capable of evaluating the effort from the dispassionate position of a scholar. However, she had difficulty maintaining this posture as she read the scathing attacks on academia at Bliss in prose which clearly indicated to her that the writer needed to learn from academia, not attack it. She corrected the grammatical and spelling errors while wondering how anyone could believe he possessed all the answers, or even knew all the problems.
When Martha finished with the paper, she could better understand why Richard had offered his help. If Markus had his way, it was clear to Martha, the students would run the college. What he wanted, whether he knew it or not, was anarchy. She wrote on the bottom of the last page, "You need to leave the improvement of the college to those in charge and concentrate your energies on improving yourself." She hoped her efforts would be successful in getting him to accept the truth of this statement. She certainly would not tolerate his impertinence in her classroom.