[This is the third of seven short installments of the story Crone: a Fairy Tale]
I knew the woman well. She was your typical histrionic narcissist, to be sure, but then she did teach seventeenth-century French drama – Corneille, Molière, Racine … all those gars – and the eighteenth-century philosophes – Voltaire, Rousseau, Condorcet … all those mecs. And I had served on some pointless committees with her. She had always struck me as a fairly reasonable and intelligent individual, which, given the normal run of crazies who now throng unhappy humanities departments in disgruntled departments up and down our land, is considerable praise.
It was cold, and it was a long walk to the post office. Truth be known, today I had myself planned to break up the trip to the post office into stages and stop off at Montparnasse on the way. Schädling crowded me, physically as well as psychologically, and the chilly bitterness of the day had lowered my resistance. And it seemed churlish in my own mind to change my plans just so I could refuse her invitation on the nonetheless valid principle of her documentable odiousness.
“Here we are,” I announced lightly and held the door for my companion.
Such are the fortuitous ingredients that go into the making of those random thrills that unforeseeably give spice to the bland lives of rationalists and skeptics like myself.
The place was crowded at this time of morning. And the scent of coffee and baking things was delicious, even penetrating the dank, soggy smell of too much winter clothing drying out in the steamy warmth of the hall. We elbowed our way to the counter and placed our orders, got our numbers, and pushed over to the table where Gildersleeve was sitting. She was facing us, her interlocutor at the table showing only back and shaggy hair.
This creature, it proved to my horror, belonged to a piece of Comp Lit trash housed in the English department — his the pretentious sobriquet was Grendel. I had been forced to meet him on a number of regrettable occasions and I knew he taught, among other things, Old English. And was one of those monstrous academic bores, even worse than the pesky Schädling.
I gritted my teeth and, and with polite restraint, suffered hellos and introductions all around. After we had assured each other about the meteorological accuracy of the day’s temperatures and winds, and speculated about the truth-value of the forecasts for the next five days, the phatic talk turned substantive.
Or so they all seemed to think.
“Grendel and I were just discussing folktales,” Professor Gildersleeve brought us up to speed.
“How interesting,” I lied.
A candescence glowed in Schädling’s pale Germanic eyes and I waited for her to utter some foolish irrelevancy.
“Yes,” Professor Gildersleeve continued. “It really is.”
“Yes,” echoed Grendel, “it is.”
“They began in Bavaria, you know,” Schädling enlightened us.
A waitress brought up the orders Schädling and I had placed, interrupting the tricky silence that hovered across the table.
“You folks need anything else for now?”
We all shook our head in the negative.
We stirred our coffees. We bit into our cookies and croissants. We dabbed the corners of our mouths with paper napkins that were still folded.
I kept my private counsel about Schädling’s moronic declaration. It took deliberate effort on my part to persist in the acknowledgement that she was a full professor of French – this grim half-German raised, no doubt, on too much Grimm.