для читателей старше 18 лет
…and to God the things that are God’s.
The curtain-veiled window was ajar. A thin ray stretched diagonally through the dim office to the desk. A smoldering wisp rose diagonally following the ray of sunlight towards the window, originating from a square malachite ashtray… rough, as if created by an ancient master. Behind the desk sat Professor Peter Blear. He was thirty five. His reddened eyes peered at the monitor through rectangular horn-rimmed glasses. His right hand slowly dragged the mouse towards him on its mat — lines of Greek text made way for fresh ones. Above the lines were reflected two balding patches surrounded by short black hair. He glanced down and jotted something on a sheet of paper, his neck pricked by sprouting stubble. The sparsely adorned back of his head illuminated the screen.
His autarchic boss Joan, director of the university’s Ancient History Department at the Faculty of History, had gone home long ago. Every wily professor had also cleared out, leaving him with the scientific conference program project. He wrote e-mails to his colleagues until late that evening and toiled in search of new publications on the Internet covering “Economic and Cultural Delian League Member City-State Inter-relationships”. Peter read, wrote, typed. But sometimes, like red wine in an amphora, his body filled with ardent fury. He threw the mouse — it hung from the table by its cord. He threw a pen — it bounced off the staunchly latched door. He pushed off from his desk — his wheeled office chair slammed into the wall. Everyone was off taking care of their own business, once again dumping their workload on him. As usual, he had failed to refuse!
But the tension vanished when he remembered that his vacation begins on Friday. He smiled thinking about this, using his heels to drag the office chair back to its initial location. With a smile that wouldn’t leave his round face, he kept reading about ancient Greece in Greek, English and German.
In the morning, during a break between courses, Joan scribbled all over Peter’s plan while grimacing. She was a tall forty-ish buxom American whose chest was always in her interlocutor’s face, and which students couldn’t help staring at. Her face, when she spoke to him or about him, was always as agitated as the tempestuous sea. It either winced with discontent or displayed a forced smile. Blear found Joan unpleasant; because of her insincerity, her loud voice… but even more because of the sheepishness she inspired in him. He listened to her dissatisfied remarks. He felt uncomfortable that her abrupt barking, like that of a drill sergeant, could be heard in the hallway where teachers and students passed, even though he knew everyone was used to her power over him. Joan, as if on purpose, continued to speak louder and louder. Peter continued to fear telling her to tone it down. More than shame, he felt irritated knowing that the conference plan used in the end will be his. She’ll only shuffle a few words around and change the title. But he kept his irritation under control. He just sat before her like a student, hands on his knees, fingernails lined up in neat rows like the shields mounted along the flanks of a Greek trireme.
Leaving the office to get to his course, he got a sympathetic glance from Liz, secretary at the Faculty of History. It was humiliating.
Peter walked in the hallway — everyone seemed to be staring at him with indulgence or superiority — he looked down as usual. Students often forgot to greet him, or smiled silently while trying to crush Peter with haughty looks — teachers crossed him with a grin, or failed to notice him at all — everything intimidated him. His concentration failed and he lost himself in the openness of the classroom.
So now, the auditorium door slammed shut, showing how nervous he was. Every pair of eyes in the room stared. Peter said, too softly, “Let’s get started”. Conversation could be heard coming from the back row. This irritated him. They were the smallest minor group — only eight people — but they were his favorites. Here he taught students how to correctly pronounce the Ionic dialect of ancient Greece, which hadn’t sounded right on the planet for millennia. Blear taught them his personal pronunciation, which didn’t at all resemble the practical version of the English-speaking Ancient Greek professors. He stubbornly defied all objections, even discontent — claiming that his pronunciation variant was the fruit of scientific research and that the Ancients spoke this way.
They weren’t first year students, so now and then one could hear the Ionic dialect of ancient Greece for a few minutes in this twenty-first century American university classroom. One talked about commerce, that merchant ships had arrived at the port loaded with wheat, that one could buy large quantities of oil, that the olive harvest had been good and there would be no limit to exporting olives and olive oil. Talking with the students and listening to their discourse, he felt for a moment in an ancient Greek polis, on a market square. This made him happy. Happiness glimmered within him, like a lantern flame in a dark room. He went to the cafeteria while savoring this magical feeling of ancientness recreated in the twenty-first century. He gathered his lunch onto his tray. It seemed to him that the students had also felt Greece, its life, its universe. He sat at a table and smiled mindlessly.
“Peter, come here”, called Joan with a forced smile from a long table. On one side of her sat Bert and Lucas; across from them were Rose, Beth and Margaret. Bert taught physical education, Lucas taught Spanish, Rose and Beth taught American history, Margaret taught modern world history.
Beth was twenty-five. She was slim, short, with a pretty face, big brown eyes, a small straight nose and black square-cut hair. When Professor Blear first laid eyes upon her, she inflamed his body and he blushed. As the new group member, she was quiet and shy. She seemed to be a stroke of luck in Peter’s celibate life. He approached her several times, planning the conversation in advance. He began to talk, eyes lowered. Beth responded happily, but the pre-planned conversation fell apart. Peter got confused. No matter how much effort she put into it, willingly answering his silliest questions, it never turned into any type of sensible conversation. Later, Beth joined Joan’s group. She adapted and became a lively chatterbox. She was now out of Peter’s league. He often noticed that they laughed while looking towards him when Beth spoke. He was convinced that she was entertaining them with reports about their laborious conversations. He also thought that there was already something going on between Beth and Lucas. At night, he tortured himself imagining their intimacy.
“Come on Peter, don’t you want to see us?”, asked Margaret. He got up hurriedly, sat down next to them and adjusted his horn-rimmed glasses. His salad remained at the now empty table. Lucas pointed. Blear blushed, got up, picked up his plate, returned and sat down.
Blear got the impression that they were concocting some sort of scheme about him… some silly practical joke. He sat tensely, palms on his knees without touching the table, as if the latter was a trap. But after some friendly wishes, everyone got down to eating. They ate in silence. Then Lucas told a funny story. Everyone laughed. Even Peter pulled out a cautious smile, though he didn’t dare laugh in front of them. Then Bert told another he heard from one of his students. The story was an old one and not funny. Everyone only smiled politely.
“Peter, you probably know that my family and I, Margaret with her husband, Rose, Berty and Lucas — we all decided to vacation together in Florida for a week”, declared Joan while looking him straight in the eye. She then remained silent without looking away.
“Is it possible they think I’ll come with them? During my vacation time?!” Peter didn’t dare smile openly. Behind the table, everyone observed him like dogs waiting for a bit of meat from their handler. “But the thing is that… Beth would really like to come with us. But since nearly everyone goes on vacation during the summer, there are no teachers left in the department. You’d agree to trade your vacation time with sweet Beth, wouldn’t you?”
“No, I won’t trade”, said Peter clearly and distinctly, as if giving an order.
“Peter… Mister Blear… How come, Blear? Why don’t you want to?”, replied everyone together. “Peter, you have to do it”, ordered Joan firmly, emphasizing “have’.
“But still — I won’t trade with Miss Elizabeth. Good day.” Blear got up, looking down on all their faces at once. Some were angry, others surprised. Beth’s dark eyes were sad.
The Professor went to his office, thinking that no-one had ever seen him so resolute. Inside him, everything simmered like a boiling vat of tar on a fortress wall. If anyone had approached him now, whether Joan or even the university’s rector himself, he would have shouted his anger in their face. The vacation he bore like an aging mother with her last-chance baby, which he lusted for since April — the vacation through which he’ll escape this Friday — they wanted to take his vacation away from him! Seventeen days of freedom, which he hadn’t seen since the 4th of July, exchanged against Beth’s flatteries with those males?! Forget it! Do they know what vacation time means to him?!
Joan entered their office in silence. She sat down behind the desk across the room. Blear felt the well-lit office suddenly become sombre, like before rain falls.
They left for their respective courses in silence. But during the entire course, her silence caused his chest to tremble violently, as if inhabited by the Echo nymph.
At their office door, his heart began to pound furiously. Peter felt like a warrior ready to throw himself into hand-to-hand combat. After pausing for a second, he opened the door. Joan was waiting for him at the desk. She greeted him. She got up, her enormous body undulating. She approached his desk and began speaking in a manipulative tone — telling him how nice a girl Beth is — how tired she is from the year’s work, the first year, the most difficult one in a new place — how much she needs to rest in friendly company. Peter let her finish and looked at her face. Crushed by her power, his gaze fell to her black shoes. Without looking up, he answered that he won’t be able to help Beth with her vacation.
Later, Peter likened everything that happened following these words to the indignation of a mistress towards her rebellious slave. This recollection palpitated within him accompanied by fear, like that of a fish at the bottom of a boat.
For the remaining time Joan’s entire group, except Beth, tried to convince him one after another. Finally, the almighty dean of the history faculty himself suggested that he capitulate to Joan. The dean! Zeus, master of lightning, had appeared to the lowliest of the helots. To timorous Peter, any uttering from the dean was a decree. But the vacation was a necessity. “I can’t”, whispered Blear.
During the final days, everyone who knew about “Professor Blear’s rude behavior”, “who doesn’t have a family or obligations like everyone else, but who doesn’t want to help sweet Beth”, “who slights the opinion of the collective” and “who can no longer count on the previously benevolent attitude”, looked at him with astonishment, as if they wanted to say “Wow! Weakly Blear, we didn’t think you had the guts to stand up to Joan and her assistants”.
Friday evening, Peter gathered a bag containing his things and left the empty office. In a brand-new Ford, crossing the empty intersections of the town, he made his way home.
The Professor lived in a two-story house on a quiet little street, near a plane tree covered road.
He left his car in the garage and entered the house. He turned on the microwave oven in the kitchen. He retrieved an opened wine bottle from the refrigerator, poured himself half a glass and filled the rest with tap water. He put the bottle back in the refrigerator and let the wine warm up.
He went up to the bedroom and took all his clothes off. In the bathroom, he turned the water on and sealed the pink bathtub with a black plug. From downstairs, the microwave oven chirped three times. Blear put the steak on a plate with a heap of fries, picked up the glass and went upstairs to the bathroom. He removed his fogged-up glasses and slipped into the bathtub. He ate his supper lying in the tub. Then he washed, wiped himself with a towel and headed for the bedroom still undressed. He pulled open a drawer in the dresser below the TV set, taking from it a key and a small box.
Grabbing the bed from the middle, he trotted backwards. The bed squeaked and rolled towards him. Peter squirmed near the wall between the windows. He put the key into a slot, turned it and opened a small door. From the safe, he recovered a Beretta automatic pistol, two magazines, a silencer, a handgun holster with shoulder straps, a small leather pouch and a key. Groaning, he pushed the bed back where it belongs and returned to the bathroom. Opening the small box, he took some contact lenses from their solution and put them on. He blinked in front of the mirror, wiping away the tears. He put the shoulder straps on and placed the pistol in its holster. He held the small leather pouch and two magazines in his hands, putting the key between his teeth. He walked around the house, turning all the lights off. He took the concrete stairs down to the basement. In the basement were shelves covered with jars and books, along with two wooden cupboards with doors. Peter, with his left hand, opened one of the cupboards’ doors. Bending down below the shelves covered with videotapes, he kneeled on the floor between some old sneakers and pushed aside a panel in the back with his hand. He found the keyhole with the key, opened and pushed the hidden door. He crawled back into the room, turned off the lights and felt his way back to the cupboard. Blear put himself in the cupboard. He closed the doors behind him and crept through the hidden door’s slot. He pinched the sliding door between his fingers and closed it behind him.
Peter felt his way to a light switch and flipped it on. In the middle of the secret room stood an opaque plastic column which supported the ceiling. Leading towards it, on the floor and ceiling, were limp bundles of wires. To the right of the entrance, on the floor, was a scale with pink rubber foot outlines — next to that, a plastic box.