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.
By Monday, Martha's resolve to be patient began to weaken. She could not find anything suitable to wear. The search prompted her to wish she had gone shopping with Jordan. Nothing she had done was right, she felt. Once Markus moved to State, there would be nothing she could do to impede his bonding with Mary.
Finally, she selected the tailored silk blouse which she had worn to Jordan's concert, when she had stood so close to him and did not unbutton her jacket. Today, she covered the blouse with the yellow cardigan and left it open. Then she slipped into a straight brown skirt from one of her new suits.
She was ready mentally as well as physically. Today's lesson dealt with linguistic devices for emphasizing key ideas. She had designed her examples well: metaphors using caramel and chance reunions, alliterations which spoke to lost loves, and ironies involving shifts of fortunes.
Martha felt her energy wane on walking into the classroom and seeing that Markus was not there. All her preparation served no purpose with his being absent. To compound the problem, Mary was missing also.
She was several minutes into her lecture before they arrived, together. They both entered into the discussion, and the class went well despite Martha's sense that all was hopeless. She proceeded with the examples as planned, although they had lost their purpose. She did not even look at Markus while presenting them. When he did not extend any of these examples and Mary responded to "lost love" with "wonderful weekend," Martha's feeling of impending failure festered.
However, once all the other students had gone, Markus remained. "Sorry we were late."
"Had trouble ending your wonderful weekend, did you?"
"Look, Mary's a wonderful person. ... You can't put this all off on me."
"You're right. I shouldn't have said it."
"Can we talk at lunch? You're going to be at the Wheel with Jordan?"
"You're coming at 1:00? I'll just wait and eat with you."
"Fine. We can talk then."
No one waited when Martha left her 11:00 class. She did miss seeing Jordan, but that feeling was minor in comparison to the renewed optimism since making the date with Markus.
Martha did not want to get to the diner early. She wanted Jordan to have left and Markus to be waiting. An hour was too short for her to do any serious work. She tried reading one of the professional journals, but could not concentrate on it. Next, she turned to the textbook and considered writing test questions, but was in no mood to do that.
Eventually, she gave in to the voice which wanted to revel in the planned meeting with Markus. She went to the bathroom to check her appearance. She compared herself to a character in an Austen novel. She had struggled and made mistakes, but it would all be resolved happily. They just needed to give appropriate attention to Mary's feelings.
The thought of Mary had a sobering effect on Martha. It would probably be best for the breakup to occur with Mary at State. Accepting the prudence of Mary's transfer meant the acceptance of Markus' leaving. His being at State removed all complications of his being a student. They would just have to deal with the distance.
"You're manipulative," Martha said to the reflection.
The reflection shook its head, and Martha thought, "I'm considering what's best for Mary. Markus can let her down gently and she'll have more men from which to choose."
Markus stood talking with students when Martha arrived. It was not what she had visualized, but Martha accepted the situation as a reminder that they had to progress, in this highly social context, with caution. She waited a few paces past him where he could see her.
She heard him say, "Gotta go. Gotta confer with my writing coach." She was glad that he cast their meeting in an academic context.
Markus secured the most secluded table for two once they had their orders. They ate in silence. He did not seem to know what to say; she was sure she did not. His eyes studied her and she felt his pleasure to be with her.
"I want to touch you," he said.
"That would not be wise."
"I know. Still, I want to. I want to be with you. I thought about you all weekend."
"Even while you were with her?"
He shook his head. "I thought we were going to make this our problem."
"Sorry. You're right again. What should we do?"
"As I've said, I'm committed to transfer. If nothing else, I saw this weekend that State is right for me."
"I can live with that decision."
"Good. Of course, Mary thinks it's best for her also. Seems that all I can do is see it through the transfer. Once she gets to know some people there, I'll try and explain it to her."
"I think that's best."
"You do? We agree. Great!"
Martha returned his smile.
"Could we lunch somewhere more private on Wednesday?"
"I know. There's a little authentic Mexican place not far from campus."
"Los Comedor? Yes, that would work. I'll meet you there."
Martha dressed in the blue jersey dress that Wednesday. Today's topic of final proof reading and editing did not provide opportunities for reaching out to Markus, but the outfit worked well. She buttoned the Chanel jacket, slid into the beige heels and smiled at the reflection in the mirror.
Again, today, the star couple entered late. It irritated Dr. Knight, but she soon put it into perspective. Markus was hers; she could wait.
Mary supplied many examples from proofing and editing the Finder to illustrate the points in the lecture. She used "we" often, acknowledging Markus. Each time Knight looked at Mathews and smiled. His smile was innocent and his head slightly tilted. Martha felt close to him in their mutual recognition of their problem.
At the end of class, Martha heard Markus say, "Let me ask Dr. Knight about this problem we were talking about."
"Yes, I want to know about that also," Mary said waiting at her desk.
Markus laid a paper on the rostrum to show Knight the problem. The paper seemed to be his nearly completed final assignment; Martha was impressed.
He pointed to one section and a note slipped from his palm. "We weren't sure how to document this. It's a quote in a quote."
Martha read over the paragraph while covering the note with her hand. "Ideally, you find the original source and just quote it directly. The secondary author doesn't add anything to the quote."
"I told you," Mary said while Markus pointed with his eyes at the hand with the note. Martha silently opened the note.
"Fine," said Markus. "That's what I'll do, then."
The note said, "My True Love, I don't need to go to my 12:00, so I can be at Los Comedor at noon. Can you? Love, M."
Markus waited by his car when Martha arrived. She allowed him to open her door.
"You wore my favorite outfit. I appreciate that."
The cafe had few customers. In contrast to the Wagon Wheel, none of them spoke to Markus. Martha thought it was as if they had left Midtown completely.
The owner did not seem to recognize Martha as they placed their order at the counter. She wanted to order in Spanish as she had with Jordan, but decided it was too risky. They had all had such a good time that he would be sure to remember the evening. It would be better if Markus did not know about her visit there with Jordan.
Martha removed her jacket and folded it across a chair. Markus pulled out the adjacent chair for her and sat to her left.
"I thought about that all during class and since," Markus said.
"The outfit," Markus said taking her hand in his.
Martha smiled. His hand felt warm and strong.
"Doesn't this feel right?"
"I'm a little afraid someone might see us. We have to be careful."
Markus removed his hand and nodded. "Patience."
The proprietor called their number and Markus rose.
"Dutch treat?" Martha asked.
"Let me get it this time since it's our first date."
"I'm going home this weekend," Markus said once they started to eat. "How about visiting me there?"
Martha shook her head, "Patience, remember?"
"No one would know."
"Your family would and others might find out. I wouldn't want to interact with your mother with ... well, things the way they are."
They ate awhile in silence before Markus said, "I've got it! Meet me at the art museum. It'll be deserted on Saturday. They have a neat little atrium with a restaurant where we could have lunch. Then, we could go to a movie in a suburb where we wouldn't be recognized."
"You think it would be safe?"
"At least as safe as this."
Martha accepted that she was going to have to tolerate a reasonable risk. She had been largely responsible for their predicament. With the acceptance came a recognition of pleasure from the excitement.
"Is the museum hard to find?" she asked.
"No. It's right off the interstate. I'll draw you a map. Parking's in the rear. Very secluded. I'll be waiting. How early can you make it there?"
"Patience," Markus said almost under his breath. "Fine." His smile expressed satisfaction.
He does have attractive smiles, Martha thought.
"Hope you don't have much to cover on Friday. Don't think I could keep my mind on it."
"Don't worry. Just review. We could even get out early."
"Likely, if you're expecting students to be focused on the exam already. It's not 'till Wednesday of next week. Most of us will be up finishing our research papers tomorrow night."
Martha nodded as she finished her lunch.
"Look," he said, "there's a park a block from here. You want to go for a walk before we go back?"
"I have on these heels. They're not exactly walking shoes, especially on wet ground." Seeing his smile turned to disappointment, she reached out and took his hand. "Patience," she said.
His mouth turned upward into a sweet, little smile. "Patience."
They sat there for several minutes, holding hands, before he escorted her back to her car.
During her office hour on the next day, Martha received an unexpected visit from Mary Cage. "As we were talking about last week," Mary began once she was settled facing Dr. Knight, "I'm planning to transfer to State next term."
"Yes. The decision is final? There's no talking you out of it?"
"The decision seems final." Mary looked pleased. It would serve no purpose to attempt to dissuade her, Martha realized.
"I'll miss you," Martha said sincerely.
"I'll miss you, too. I have learned so much in your class. When I came here, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. All I knew was I was tired of working menial jobs. I met Markus and I knew I wanted to be near him, but I still had no sense of me. This quarter, I found I like to write and I can become good at it. I thank you for that."
"You give me too much credit, I'm sure."
"No. I'm going to major in journalism at State and I'll be the writer in the family. Markus will be the reporter. Probably go into television, become famous. I'll be so proud of him. But, I won't just exist in his shadow. I will be productive."
"I'm sure you will. I never thought otherwise."
"That's the thing, you see. I never thought about it at all -- making something of myself, doing anything with my life. You showed me how important it is."
"I did? I don't remember our talking about anything like that."
"It wasn't anything you said. It's just how you deal with everything. You provided a model for me. You showed me women aren't here just to be behind successful men."
"I see ...."
"Don't get me wrong. I'm not a women's libber or anything like that. I'll go wherever his career takes him." Mary's countenance began to brighten with this statement. "I'm going to have his children and make his home. That will be my first priority, but not my only priority."
"Sounds like you have it all worked out." Martha was afraid that the irritation might be reflected in her voice, but Mary appeared too caught up in her own emotions to notice.
"I believe so. I know I have to follow my heart. Have you ever been in love?"
Martha thought about a response, but did not need one. Mary continued, "He makes the solution easy. I can't envision my life without him and he makes everything I do, anything I might do more meaningful. He makes life fun. I never enjoyed life much before I met him." Mary's eyes seemed to glaze.
Martha recalled being told that she did not enjoy herself enough and smiled as she reflected on the good times she had had with the person who made that statement.
Mary shook herself and continued, "But that has nothing to do with the reason I'm here. I've applied for a scholarship there and I need some letters of recommendation and I was wondering if you would write one of them?"
"I'd be glad to."
"Good. Thank you. Here's the form and an addressed envelope," Mary said rising, to leave. "If I get this scholarship, Markus and I can get married this summer."
For some time after Mary's departure, Martha sat and wondered if Mary had an alternative motive for the visit. She had made it clear that she loved Markus, but Martha already knew as much. Who would not love Markus given they had been able to spend time with him as Mary had. Martha did not feel that she needed to have Mary color the picture if that was her purpose. Martha felt a degree of resentment. She did not know whether it was because the consequences of her actions were now clearer or because she could not claim the same love for Markus.
Several students entered while Dr. Knight was collecting the final projects the next morning. Mary and Markus, together, were among them. Most of the students looked tired. As predicted, there were few student questions. All of them were procedural: Will we need a blue book; how many questions are there going to be, etc. Instead of generating questions for them to answer, Knight decided it would be best to let them go. She could use the time on the papers. Mary left with Markus. She looked very happy.
During the 10:00 hour, Martha removed a copy of The Fact Finder from her mailbox. With it was a map showing the art museum; there was no message.
She read the Finder in her office. Its big news focused on this being its last edition. One column presented the accomplishments of the short lived paper. It did predict the resignation of President Mason by the end of the academic year.
Mary had a bitter-sweet article about leaving Bliss and all the memories she would have. The piece supported Mary's claim that she would be the more proficient writer, Martha thought.
Martha was in her office checking papers when Minz appeared for lunch. "Are we waiting for Jordan?"
"No, we can just eat in the college cafeteria," Martha said, securing her coat.
"Did the two of you have a spat?" asked Lyla once they were outside. The sky was overcast, but the breeze was mild.
"No, not really. I just felt ... I just wanted to keep it clear ... what our relationship was."
"Did she push you too much?"
"No. I don't know. She invited to me a party and to sleep over at a friend's house. She made it all sound innocent; but, she admitted the friend was a lesbian." Martha did not know why she was telling Lyla any of this. It certainly was not that Minz was a trusted friend. Somehow, Martha simply felt good being able to explain it to someone.
"It's probably for the best. The two of you seemed so compatible, intellectually and all, but you probably don't want any more complications with Markus."
"No, that's complicated enough as it is."
"His paper today made it sound fairly final that he's leaving."
"You haven't been able to talk with him in private? Tell him how you feel?"
"You told him personally?"
Martha did not like the inflection given to "personally," and felt the need to clarify even though she did not want to do so. "We had lunch together at the Wagon Wheel. He knows how I feel. He's ... attracted to me, too; but, he thinks State's program fits him better. Ironically, he credits me for suggesting the move."
"And he's still committed to Mary Cage? Her piece in his paper made it sound that way."
"Yes. She was in my office yesterday asking for a recommendation and talking of their wedding plans."
By now, they were at the cafeteria's doors. Lyla turned to Martha before opening the door and said, "It reminds me of Dreiser's An American Tragedy."
The allusion irritated Martha. Why do I confide in Lyla anyway, she wondered. "Perhaps it's because you've cut yourself off from the person you should be confiding in," came the internal reply. She quickly countered, "Perhaps it's just Minz reminds me of Mother."
"Can I help you, hon?" The server sounded and looked irritated by Martha's preoccupation. Martha simply smiled and shook her head. She had no appetite, but the soup looked as if it would be soothing. She accepted a bowl from the soup server and returned to her thoughts.
The Dreiser allusion continued to disgust Martha as the two found their usual table. It was not an apt comparison. Martha was not a rich debutante and Mary wasn't pregnant, although Martha did think about the "wonderful weekend." Regardless of how appropriate the metaphor was, how dare Minz to use it? Minz was more responsible for Martha's predicament than she was.
"'Tis a shame. Losing two of our better students. Nothing we can do about it, I guess."
Lyla looked at Martha as if she had asked a question. She was obviously powerless to alter either person's decision if that was what Minz wanted. Minz shared the blame; she would have to share the consequences.
"We handled it wrong. I guess we'll just have to take it in stride," Lyla said as if she had read Martha's mind.
Martha smiled and nodded. She liked Lyla despite her political nature. She probably did have good intentions.
"So," Minz continued, "Mathews isn't going to split with Cage until after they transfer? That's probably best. Won't be any question of student-teacher improprieties in that way."
Martha knew she had made these same considerations, but they seemed more congruous coming from Minz. Obviously, the two of them were more alike than Martha had been willing to admit. She must have inherited it from her mother, she thought.
"State isn't so far away," Lyla was saying. "We have faculty who commute there to work on their Ph.D.'s. You two can probably make it work, if you really love each other. Absence is a good test."
Martha nodded her head in agreement, but knew that absence could be the death blow to a relationship which was just beginning to blossom.