STORY: Crone 2 – a Fairy Tale
[This is the second of seven short installments of the story Crone: a Fairy Tale]
One hated to be directly rude or unpleasant. She milked this all too human tendency with an aggression that was as shameless as it was passive.
“Oh, Mr. Pastis,” she shouted behind me. My heart quailed, but I was trapped.
“Oh, Professor Schädling,” I said with forced civility. I unfurled the shawl from around my mouth and gave her a tight smile. “How are you doing?”
“Cold enough for you, is it?” And she actually giggled.
I mumbled something intemperate and inaudible.
“Where are you headed?” She had now caught up with me. I hated myself for letting this spawn of a German father and a French mother control me to the point that I had now fully removed the protection from my face so I could talk to her. The high plains wind stung my skin.
I was on my way to the post office to pick up a letter I was expecting to find in my box. During November and December I had been answering ads in the personal columns of the student newspaper, and I appeared to have hit it off just right with one of the searchers. She was going to be sending me a firm answer, with directions, regarding our proposal for a first meeting. We had told each other in the effusive way of strangers corresponding that neither of us would regret this … this colloquy. She had assured me that she was young and that she was beautiful, and my considerable advantage over her in age was a plus in my favor. “I like older men I can admire.”
Desuetude in such arrangements now lent an anticipatory edge to my mission.
I thought that if I told Schädling the truth about my destination, she would perhaps — I shuddered — offer to accompany me to the post office and back. It would be an intolerable imposition, but impossible to wriggle out of. But if I said I was going out for coffee and a sweet roll, she would surely want to ruin my morning by joining me. The relative safety of the university library lay in the other direction, and I could not possibly plead this as my objective today.
“I’m on my way to the post office.”
“Good. Why don’t you stop in with me for a minute at the Montparnasse. I think we could both do with something hot to drink, don’t you?”
Everybody called this place the Nasse, but I was dealing with a pedant who, a graduate of the Lycée Louis-le-Grand in Paris, took childish pride in correctly pronouncing those rolling French “r’s” that live halfway down your throat on the way to the lungs.
The Montparnasse is one of those coffee bars that always spring up around campuses all over the country. The decor is bohemian, the coffees varied and good, and the nibblies among the better available in town. It was colonized at all hours of the day and night mostly by humanities people, poets, poseurs and other wannabes who liked to give themselves intellectual and artistic airs. Faculty were as likely as students to slip in between classes to drink coffee and talk, or drink coffee and read The New York Times while their copy of the TLS lay ostentatiously folded next to the pastry dish.
I generally avoided the place.
“It’s right on the way to the post office, you know,” she volunteered informatively.
I kept walking with studied determination.
“I’m meeting a mutual friend of ours there,” she dangled bait before me.
And I bit.
“Who?” I hated myself.
“Professor Gildersleeve of the Classics department.”