issue 4: spring 2002

> Michele F. Cooper

In The Attic Study

For Lily he wiped down the desk and the floor near the wastebasket. Lily was prim in her own way, an aristocrat, and wouldn’t identify with the dustballs, not like the older women, coming back to the university after ten, twenty years of service to house and husband, rust in the hinges, dead leaves in the drainpipes — the older ones liked that natural musty look; it would have been OK for them at home if they hadn’t been in service, OK to bring in some weeds and flotsam, let nature have her say, could be even Jameson, Sheldrake, Ross, and Carlton III would take to it if they had a chance to relax the watch — it was a matter of slack, and heaven be damned there was none of that, so they loved the scholar all the more,

him with his love of literature and ideas, looking straight into their eyes as they lightly discussed the role of courtly love in the medieval paintings, looking straight at them, and it was so exciting being seen like that, almost too much to bear in their time of need, just thinking about the lost years with no words attached, even almost thinking about it could bring tears to their tired eyes — going back to school was a monumental leap into a future attached to a real self, you can see why they loved him in his cloister setting, devoting himself to classic art and refined thoughts about higher matters than changing the oil and doing up the popcorn and chips for Sunday football, she couldn’t even leave the house after the game started, he called her name a hundred times before the half-time dodge to the john,

the professor was another species, a timeless, ageless scribe, you didn’t even notice his paunch, it was practically as big as Harrison’s if you wanted to count inches, but, well, maybe it was the nice tall height, maybe the little roll of the eyes when you said something he thought clever, maybe–well, more like actually–it was being whispered to in the hall so crowded with coeds he simply had to move closer, whisper in her ear how teens will probably never appreciate the meaning of love, let alone its expression, their sensibilities destroyed by television, they never let the honey lines of great love literature and great painting teach them what higher emotion could be like,

they were wild with drinking parties and cheap grass, a lost generation so depressed they hadn’t the first idea about joy and passion, he was like a monk when he talked like that, looking down at their faces from his rainbow clouds, pulling them right into the colors till they flushed at how deep down they responded, surely the ancient priests had magic like this, locked up in their Latin thoughts until something in the real world called to them, when it came to him, it came to seem that only they — never mind how they were stretching their tailored slacks these days — it was a new day, he showed that, coming out of his ivory tower for them, only they could break the spell demanded by his vows of celibacy.

Breaking a monk was nothing they would talk about, not to absolutely anyone, but it was exciting, o so exciting to think they could break a priest, that their own beauty could be so irresistible it would neutalize his vows, he was only supposed to love the nuns, like sisters, like his cousins and his mother back in Ohio doing their obedient lives at the family store and going to church every week and looking down when Father O’Neill asked them again why they couldn’t come for vespers on Wednesday or Thursday just before work, it wasn’t like a full mass, oh, dear no, maybe twenty minutes first to last, he’d be mighty thankful to Christ if she could just get herself there the one morning, wouldn’t they just think of what a model they’d become for the young ones, and even then they’re thinking what a fine, strong mouth moved and pursed on the face of Father O’Neill, when he laughed they could see his teeth and his tongue even though he smiled just so wide, not like Father Stedman, mouth like a horse and all.

A pretty picture, wondering about the mouths of monks, and little knowing the dusty books on Piers the Plowman were set just so for the Catholics among them. He liked the whole scene, liked that Lily was a Catholic and part of that weirdo background, liked how she wanted to be pure and couldn’t be, probably wild in bed, he’d see to that, and she wanted it, too, he knew it as he knew his name.

On the appointed Wednesday, Lily was right on time and wearing that powder blue angora with the V neck he had praised that day when she stayed after class to discuss her Guinevere paper, Lady Guinevere and Lancelot and Mark in seven paintings between 1150 and 1850. She was the last conference of the afternoon — thank god, he thought–and, lucky for him, the next to last was a no show. "Should have known," he thought, but there was time to tidy up and place a few choice items on the desk near the student chair. He ran some water in his hair and paper-towelled it dry, just enough so the comb would go through and give it some height before drying completely. Then he dotted his neck with HIS. Hell, it always make him feel better, almost like ice cream, and hell, even if he could almost be her grandfather, No! he wouldn’t think about that, not now when a true flower was about to enter his life. He put the survey research on the bookshelves. No sense scaring her off, seeing books on booze. He could always say he was researching for a paper, on (drunken painter), maybe. No one knew. And no one would.

And then the tentative knock on the door and he knew she knew what she was coming to, she had to, she wasn’t a kid, she was 18, maybe 19, for god’s sake, she would know by now what it meant when a real man looked at her the way he did, she even looked back last time, and that sealed it, didn’t it?

He let her in, hoping his excitement didn’t show. She had brought in her papers, looking very troubled, and he thought he’d calm her down first by pointing her attention to the three books he’d planted next to where her breasts might brush the spines. He’s chosen Chopin’s The Awakening, The Art of Loving by Erich Fromm, and proofs of his brother’s new book, Alisoun of Bathe, any one of them could open doors, she just had to ask, and she would, she was so good about things like that, god, it would be wonderful when he knew it was all in the bag.

"Lily, have you seen these books before?" he asked, seeing her sitting there, troubled and not getting centered.

"Is Kate Chopin related to Frederick?" she asked tentatively.

"No, but it’s a good guess. Kate wrote at the turn of the century, and this book is about waking up sexually after being in a suffocating marriage and half asleep with her husband for twenty years." And she looked up, eyes widening, and there she was as he had conceived her, and he knew she was interested and curious.

"They didn’t love each other?" she said, turning her attention to this subject more precious than her studies, her parents, even daily life.

"They didn’t love each other," he repeated gently, hoping she’d feel if not know what he was trying to tell her.

"That’s very sad," she said.

" — but she was a great and passionate soul. It was destiny that she’d meet a man who really appreciated her — "

"Well that’s what everyone says they want, all the novels and my friends — "

" — and her inner beauty."

"Yes," she said, looking right at him this time.

"He made her come alive."

"Then she was lucky."

"Do you think so??"

"I do! A woman shouldn’t be treated like a child."

"No. She deserved much more..." and he reached out and lightly placed his hand on hers, not so that she couldn’t move it out from under, but enough to show how it could be."

"What did she deserve?" she asked, knowing she was pushing a dangerous button, they weren’t talking about literature anymore, it was, who was it?, it was them, that’s who, and she felt a pang of recognition in her groin and it almost made her jump, and she was horrified and overjoyed, and though she had the idea of running, hearing them all yell Run, Run in her inner ear, in her mind her only thought was to gently place her other hand on top of his and seal the bargain. But she didn’t have to do it. Keeping his eyes riveted on hers, he simply raised her hand from above and reached his other hand beneath so could enclose her fingers and caress her hand until the shaking stopped, she knew when it was starting, she almost wept it was so awful, him knowing what a baby she was, he’d know instantly how inexperienced she was, how she’d never never done such a thing before, not with Dan, not with Hank, and never never never with a grown man, a real man who could make her feel this way.

She almost withered at the thought of what lay ahead, but somehow he put life into her hand with his warm enfolding, and it spread through her like hot tea and she knew it was O.K., it wasn’t a big thing for him, he probably even liked it, yes, he liked that he could warm her fears and suddenly she was in love with his liking it, the relief was so great she almost winced, it would have been an animal sound if she’d let it out, some forest animal near death, she wondered if that kind of thing happened when you made love and you couldn’t hold it in any longer, she’d heard about that and that was what this was all about.

As for Charles, he was on fire by now, she was the most beautiful thing he’d ever seen, he wanted to rip her sweater off as he threw her onto the Persian rug and thanked his lucky stars as he held himself back, thank god, thank god, that his romantic soul had figured the exact right thing to do at the turning point, she was calming down now, he could feel it through his palms and fingertips, all he had to do was hold steady and the ship would forge ahead through the byways and sea currents, a woman coming up from the depths, it would easily last a year or two.

> Michele F. Cooper



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