Wilhelm always got overwhelmed when trying to comprehend the world all at once. A thin, pale young man with long limbs and over-blue large eyes, he walked in an unassuming amble, prone to looking at the horizon rather than into the eyes of the young women who passed by. He was headed to the quadrangular office of his favorite confidante: his finance professor. Lisa Giiadogli was a mother of two with legs as over-thin as Wilhelm's eyes over-blue. But she was beautiful. With her bouncy, rich brown hair, which looked well nourished—even if her severely slender form did not—and with her row of perfect, small white teeth and lithe arms and fingers. She, always dressed to the nines, was today wearing a pashmina woven of shimmery golds and browns looped about her neck, her ribbed cashmere knit clinging to her slim hips under the billowing scarf. When Wilhelm walked in, she split her glossy lips into two full, stretched smiling arcs, horizontal parentheses framing neat enamel. "Wilhelm!" "It's been too long," he said as he slipped between the mahogany bookshelf and the leather armchairs (she, like he, had a taste for the finer things) and grasped her cool hand. They both sat down and situated themselves. It always struck Wilhelm as fantastic just how alluring even the silhouette of her sharp shoulder was in light of the high standard of modesty Lisa maintained; her formal mode of address would of course be Professor Giiadogli, but he felt calling her by her husband’s name diminished her to the mere status of wife; and to refer to her only by the terms of who she was married to would be base, a superfluous gesture—bringing the Italian husband into every echo of address. Besides, the last name did not truly seem to fit her. She was still smiling, her eyes creasing slightly, her head inclined to him. "So how are things?" she asked, "I haven't seen you in a long time." A professor of finance but for three months now, Lisa had become acquainted with Wilhelm on her first day of teaching. She had just published her first book on the sociology of fraud. Wilhelm thought she blended the fields of finance and the humanities gorgeously and he and Lisa had got along famously ever since the day he set foot in the thirteen person discussion she led in the west wing of Fedderson Library. The discussions she led were positively thrilling—she asked such provocative questions, challenged the students' points with zeal; it seemed to Wilhelm that she could have led the class feverously for much longer than a mere 120 minutes, and the thought or wish of taking up bags and filing out would not even so much as cross anyone’s mind. So, of course he had gone to her office hours. He moved his pale jaw quietly as he prepared to inform her of recent events in his life. --She saw him as a young Edgar Allan Poe, a poet of business, a thinking philosopher of the next generation of finance, a man after her own heart, someone who could peel back the deadened skin of rote greed from the field and bite into the ripe fresh and heady meat of the ideas pulsing underneath. His lips were wonderfully red, like cherries resting against the pallor of his skin, his black hair making the contrast even more appealing, his stark coloring a metaphor in her mind for his brilliant comments and pointed intellect. The lips parted, "To tell you the truth, Lisa," he licked his lips—"things haven't been going so well lately." Her eyebrows lowered quickly into concern, her lips pursed very subtly and he went on, "I've just been getting overwhelmed." She gave one nod. Firm and small. He didn't stop, "Walking around the campus today, for instance, under the fall leaves, I simply cannot quash this feeling—" he swallowed—"when a girl walks in front of me, talking on the phone, and above her are the institutions of learning and then men doing construction at Withersome Hall across the field and then students typing away at essays in the open doors under the portico beside me as I walk—I just," his breath caught. "I know just exactly what you mean," her eyes flicked down to her fingers, spread limply on her desktop atop three piles of essays covered in red ink, "to try and imagine how all these people can be going about their business independent of one another—" "Yes," Wilhelm cried. Lisa was unblinking, now looking up at him, into his sensuously languorous eyes "—and that so much more even than you are witnessing in that moment is going on beyond." "It gets me every time I leave the house," he almost whispered. Really it was just a hushed tone. Lisa's lips were slack but she quickly drew them into a generously tight smile again, "Yes, well, Wilhelm. We all get overwhelmed." He had been looking at his thumbs, comparing them, the left slightly larger than the right as he saw them from his vantage point above his crossed knees, the right one cupping the left. He looked up, scratched his neck beneath the blue collar sticking out above the grey pullover crew neck sweater that he had caught Lisa admiring for a split second on the first day of discussion. "How are things going with you—how is the teaching going?" She laughed. "Well," she said, a blush spreading from the apple of her cheeks, darkening her creamy skin like the rosy sun saturates the dawn in one thick instant. "I should ask you!" "Of course I think it's going fantastically. In fact," he was reminded of his original reason for rolling out of the unmade beige coverleted bed this morning, opening the blinds, taking a cold shower and pulling on oxfords in order to traipse the third mile across campus to her ostentatious office, "I wanted to ask you—" She nodded again, the quick, firm, assured nod he so appreciated from her. "I decided… about what we talked about. The paper on Weber and the modern CEO?" Her eyes practically grew double in size by virtue of her pale brown eye-shadowed lids rising up as she sat more erectly, even, in her chair. "Wilhelm, you did!" He dipped his chin in the languid sleepy nod of all his sensuous motions and brought it back up with his head askance, smiling slowly. "Yes, I did."-- Lisa stepped into the soft, putrid mulch of the backyard. There was no footpath. Daniel was bent over in the flowerbed by the edge of the woods, fifty feet away. He turned, his neck crinkling and lines folding into his skin as he craned his neck. The sharp falling forward of thick black hair came first. He looked into her eyes and got up from his weeds, brushing his hands on his jeans as he straightened. He liked to dress casually whenever he could help it, Lisa thought. He hated being on campus and teaching—would much rather be home. Of course Lisa felt this way as well, but she still wanted to be in the world, to have recognition, for people to look at her and wonder who she was and how she did what she did; wanted people to think her in her twenties rather than on the brink of forty; wanted to have power, fame and respect from like-minded people. "My hydrangeas are dying in the heat," Daniel said darkly. They were already standing almost nose-to-nose and he was looking over his shoulder back at the flowers. Lisa snapped out of it, "Yes, hun, I know how you like your flowers." Everything was a calculated game with him, every word took on a world and feeling and existence and mind of its own. Nothing could be normal or simply said, but everything fell in dramatic masses of meaning. "Yeah," he said, though what he really meant was, what is going on Lisa. And she heard this ring clearly in her ears. She stared down into the dirt. -- Wilhelm nodded off in his astronomy class, his head banging into the arm of the screwed-down, wrought iron desk chair.-- Lisa scratched her manicured fingernail against the rough eye in the wood of the mahogany tabletop. It had yet to be finished. Another thing to do; she wrote it on the list she'd started on her monogrammed notepad. She disliked the notepad, which had been a gift from Daniel's mother. She had never considered herself ostentatiousness but something about the monogram made the notepad exude affluence and her with it whenever she wrote on it, she felt. Yes, she conceded, of course she liked classic things and admired the classic beauties like Grace Kelly and Audrey Hepburn—but the monogram seemed to belie an essential modesty. As if her name was so important that all she owned should be engraved with it. As if she was more Property Owner, Possessor of Things, than just woman, teacher, wife. She scratched down "finish table top/call Victor," neatly beneath the large initial—the G—despite her qualms. She wrote with her dull pencil, hesitating before beginning a list of all the things she'd eaten that day with their calories marked beside them. Oatmeal (150 cal.), egg (90 cal.), side salad with pomegranates, nuts and blue cheese (300 cal.), granola bar (200 cal.), two snack-size milky ways (200 cal.). She should have eaten more but had been busy and had not found time for a proper meal; it was already nine o’clock in the evening. She also should exercise. She did not feel like climbing up the stairs to the fitness room in the hottest room of the house. She was listless but she knew she would regret it in the morning if she gave in, so she got up calmly and went to get fresh socks from the dryer.-- Daniel wanted a woman with curves. Something he could hold to in the night. He had chosen Lisa for her homegrown, down-to-earth cowgirl's mind and her womanly body; he did not know he'd found a bud waiting to bloom urbanely in the city. To shrink down without the warmth of the sun of the West and the time to eat as a healthy girl should. Yes, Lisa had been curvier, with two vaguely plush arms and the same tall frame, but now her mass was diminishing as her eyes grew brighter and her posture more erect. -- Wilhelm thought the lines of the emaciated the most aesthetically pleasing and had always wanted a ballerina for a bedmate. Yet as somewhat of an asexual, he barely saw the girls who made eyes with him in his occasional English class and he never went to bars or rodeos for that matter either. Women as a thing were simply not a thing for him as they were for most men. Yet since he’d met Lisa he’d noticed she’d gradually diminished in size, as if molding under the will of his thoughts, his mind uncovering her most lithe-lined self. Indeed, Wilhelm could see her blooming before his eyes like a late, fecund dahlia. -- "I really like autumn you know." He put his hand near to hers on the café table. "It is a changeable month," she agreed, curling her knuckles up suddenly. "Yes, it is very fleeting, also dynamic." Neither of them spoke. "Oh, it's time . . . I'd like a cappuccino, please." He, but not she, looked up into the eyes of the waiter as if seeking to gain the upper hand, to command the situation. "I'll have the same." "Don't worry, I've got it—” "—Oh. . . Thank you." She said it in spite of herself. She wondered whether it was appropriate, after all, for professors to get coffee with their students—for any reason…-- Wilhelm started. Whose was that camel hair coat up a block from him? Of course it was Lisa’s—but. He considered turning on his heel into the apartment parking lot adjacent to the sidewalk. Something about her, from this far away, her eyes just two dots, her body almost a blur. He stopped pointedly; she would know he was waiting for her. Their coffee yesterday had been so nice, yet she’d seemed the least bit reserved. He lifted his gaze from the tawdry sidewalk leaves and into her shining eyes—but they were not shining. He smiled his best, most effective, seductive smile, but Lisa’s smile was tight. She had her hands in her pockets. She looked impossibly composed. “Wilhelm.” “Hello—” “Are you heading home from class?” “Why, yes, I,” he did not know what else to say. So he just stopped there. “You’re a good student,” she said and smiled, rocking forward onto the toe of her foot, extending her other leg out and walking down the sidewalk, away from him, the warmth and excitement of her words draining into a distant, echoing pall of patronizing kindness.-- Lisa was surprised to see Wilhelm on her walk to her other discussion—the one he was not in, which met on Tuesday evenings. He seemed very affected by her, and she smiled thinly at the thought of it. She had that habit—confusing ideas with the minds behind them, the result of which was that the bodies beneath those minds got the wrong message. This of course made the minds heavy, deceived with the idea of attraction. Then which was the problem: body or mind? The mind clouded in any case, always; produced bad papers. Lisa did not know that when the mind clouded so, the result was not bad papers but papers motivated by desire, that desire projected onto the paper. Wilhelm screamed into his pillow and began to roll around on the bed by the light of the sole candle by his bed.-- Black drowning white, the rainbow of confusion, or delight—being confused which—over soft lids under the bright light of the sun in the autumn. Her tight, firm hips, her shapely legs outlined in burning searing white of the mind; her full lips and row of symmetrical teeth moving slow; the turn of a cover and the reaching ray of morning on her delicate feet—never not once seen. Turn. Look, receding figure, controlled gait. Exhale from soft red lips, turn of sharp pale shoulder. She is just being polite.-- Daniel asked the question of her name: “Lisa?” Daniel, she thought. Having seen Wilhelm before her class, he was on her mind for the essence of the discussion, and she felt his thick absence: the absence of something familiar. Something, yes. Really something. And then what felt like remembrance of the golden truth—when in actuality it was discovery and not remembrance; yet it felt remembered, as déjà vu does, because she’d hidden it from herself from the first day they’d met. Yes, that golden truth she liked to shut behind the vault in the back corner of her mysterious mind, it came rising up before her consciousness like gold at the touch of Midas: her many gilded thoughts of Wilhelm. She was sick at herself. Daniel. She thought. -- Lisa dreaded the turn of the brass door handle she had come to expect on Wednesdays at four in the afternoon. Now it reminded her of Professor Dreyvus’s affair with Sharon down the hall, and of immorality in general. She beheld Wilhelm’s sleepy smile in her mind’s eye—the way he always sat down so slowly and now the handle turning already, “Hello.” “Hi,” he had shed the demeanor of a sleepy cat for that of the mouse. Her heart dropped within her. “Wilhelm…” “What?” She spoke very gently, felt her right eyelid twitching very gently as well, she knew it was not noticeable as she’d observed it in the mirror when it happened once, but it threw her still and her voice shook. “I think your ideas are very good and that, frankly, you are very, very smart, but—” His bloodshot eyes widened, his pupils widened, his entire consciousness seemed to widen to welcome in her rejection, her love, simply any word from her lips. She was not wearing lipstick today like she usually did. “But—” “But…” said Wilhelm. Lisa laughed. She said hollowly, “But, nothing.” “Yes. Exactly. Nothing.” He stood up with none of his usual hesitant grace, turned and smiled at her at the door with candor rather than their old abstract secret look. “I’ll send you the draft by next Friday.” “Thank you.”-- Daniel separated the halves of the cracked shell and the yolk slipped down against the steaming face of the pan, the pan and egg sizzling ferociously together at contact. The curve of his spine showed as the spine of a mountain does and Lisa thought that he looked well in the rising sunlight, which faded and grew with the whim of a mass of clouds passing on the eastern horizon behind them. She drew her white silk robe tight against her chest. He looked at her over his shoulder and asked whether she were cold. She said that it was a bit cold. She grasped the white ceramic body of her cup of coffee and refrained from scalding her lips, just holding the liquid beneath her chin. She watched Daniel’s calves as a rectangle of sun spilled out the bay window and sank them in light. He flipped the egg and then turned and rested against the edge of the granite countertop. Then he asked her whether she wanted it scrambled. And she said I’ll have whatever you’re having. He laughed and said Oh you will? She lowered her coffee, holding it on her knee. Yes, I will, she said, smiling. So you have time for breakfast after all today, he said. She said of course, you know, I always have time for breakfast. Then she set the mug down. She didn’t even bother to set it down gently. The sound of the glass and the ceramic meeting in a mutual hard clasp was the last one before the clicking off of the burner as she went up to him and he looked into her eyes briefly before scooping her up and letting the eggs alone, after all.-- In class Lisa smiled curtly at Wilhelm when he came in. She looked down then at the list of names she used to take attendance—which she, of few of her colleagues, still used—and blushed. She never meant to look at another man and her professionalism she had thought prevented her from sliding into the subtle ellipse of flirtation that she so loathed in humankind. She exed in the little box beside the loopily, clearly scrawled name: Clark, Wilhelm. Then, Stephan, Alphonso; Roome, Claire; Avis, Charlie; Gemini, Elle—she looked up. “Elle?” “Here.” She checked that one in too. -- "Lisa?" Daniel said her name, turning the essence of her into a question. Sherolled softly towards him on the lavender duvet and tucked her head in the crook of his neck. He told her that his meeting had been stressful today, that the customers weren’t being satisfied, and she nodded in small nods as she listened until he was done and his sudden candidness, his frankness, shocked her. She pushed her lips into his warm cheek and left them there, holding his head, cradling it, with her long fingers behind both his ears. She told him that he was not alone and he lay quietly without moving or speaking until she propped herself up and looked into his sad, deep green eyes and saw that he wanted to cry and so she began to cry and that was when they began to love each other for the second time. It would be but one repetition in a cycle of their many years together. Meanwhile Wilhelm was lying in the grass outside his apartment beneath the full moon watching pallid clouds cover the glory of white again and again, dreaming of Lisa but really not of her but more of the promise, vigor and seduction that is youth. He gathered up all his faculties and went inside to write the best paper he had yet in his college career. It would be the one that would travel all the way to Arizona with him where he would meet Ashley, a different girl from Lisa altogether (Lisa, who had always been a woman) and one who would not even pretend to try to draw the languid Wilhelm out of his reverie for the requiem of life. She just left him as he was and walked beside, not too infatuated with much but the same old ever-changing horizon she could see through his eyes just as well as through her own.
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