Occasionally they come along like this, Joseph scribbled onto the tablet. Every six or seven years. Rare enough events, they are, that you cannot turn from them. But familiar enough, too, that you recognize them instantly. Always the eyes: Open, searching, clear. Always the magnetism: Her movements scintillating yours, responsive to yours. All of this is there. Otherwise you could turn away. Otherwise she would not test you, would not confuse your devotion to Karen. "Hypnotist," you could name them. For your walk, they alter. Your laugh, they alter. Your every vocabulary of being. Pliant, you become. Unnervingly so. Laws and patterns you believed as eternal in you as physics prove suddenly transient, dubious. You avoid her. You scuttle home to shower her away, to sit across from your adored Karen, to gaze into the sunlight of your adored Karen's aging eyes. Luna.
Joseph stopped scribbling.
But what's different this time?
Joseph mused the question, glancing slantwise from the tablet. Luna tried him much more than previous temptations.
Reflexively Joseph half-stood. He leaned and eased wide the door to his cramped office. He meant the act to break Luna's spell. This solitary dwelling on her, he sensed, only strengthened it.
I can't shake her, he fretted, sitting again.
Blindly he stared through the open door to the corner of his assistant's desk.
Might I just explain to her how this happens from time to time? Might I just tell her this: "Look, you will meet four or five men in your life that you could commit to and be happy with. It's all about timing. When the time is right take the one who appears next and stick to him. And if it works, don't be wooed by the next one. Because the next one will come. This thing we've got happens sometimes. I felt it before my wife once; twice since I married her; and now with you. Our chemistry comes and goes. But if you act on it every time you end up alone. It's a metaphysical rule or something. I've seen it happen."
For some reason I can't say those words, Joseph reflected. Too personal. Those revelations come after having tasted her lips, after the tempest of your bodies has blown away all mental barriers. Then you truly connect. Then you share such intimacies.
Joseph looked from the tablet. How odd to contemplate that naked communion, he thought, sitting here alone in my sexless campus office, turtlenecked.
Blindly he stared through the open door to the corner of his assistant's desk.
And still I have to face her three times a week! And still she comes here, to this office, obliging me to sit within smelling distance of her perfume! Or, when huddling over her assignments, within breathing distance even of her breath!
Joseph bent to the tablet. Uninterruptedly now he scribbled of Luna's impossibly black hair tumbling between them as they leaned over an essay of hers, of her far hand scooping it clear and her near shoulder pressing against his. He described the terrible moment of that touch: The mingling of their warmths, the colliding of their nerves, the hoarseness of their speech as the gravity between them matured. Unexplored self, Joseph called it. Recognizing one's unexplored self in another human being, knowing it can only be explored through that other human being, and feeling the beckoning of that unexplored self, its imperative tug. Joseph scribbled of Luna's increasing forwardness since that day, of her subtle pursuings that fell just short of overt, of the broad openings she would then patently arrange. Joseph never stepped into those openings, he wrote deliberately; but leaving them unclaimed wounded Luna visibly.
"I see," she would murmur faintly. And Joseph would watch something slacken in her and collapse, something unusual and possibly feminine which he invariably failed to intuit. Her brow fell, her gaze. Joseph would waver then. Luna's frank defenselessness undermined his wisdom.
A rap fell against Joseph's open door.
"Hey, José," teased a voice.
Dr. Joseph Weinstadt slackened then himself. In tired relief, slumping, he replied thinly, "Hi, Gloria." He thoughtfully but willingly folded closed his tablet. With a welcoming, inward smile he tilted back in his chair.
Gloria Treviño sank onto the stool beside Joseph's open door. Testily she snugged her plump weight against the cinderblock wall and crossed her tailored wrists in her lap. Gloria rolled her eyes then at Joseph, her fine features working through conflicting moods, settling finally on the improbable expression of...of...an exasperated mother of adolescents! Yes, Joseph thought, that was it. Gloria alone could portray such looks, blending here disgust and affection. An unwitting film actress, she was.
Gloria said, "This D'Tours reading has gotten way out of hand."
Joseph said, "Yeah. What a stroke of luck. A year ago no one even expected him to be short-listed. What an intuition you have."
"I will not move it to a larger venue. I want to keep it intimate. And I will not let them eclipse his art with their pettiness. This muscling through of administrators for gladhanding photographs really burns my balls."
Joseph chuckled. "Bigger reception?" he offered.
And Joseph agreed.
"So what are you going to do?"
"I'm keeping it about the poetry."
"Well done, Gloria," he encouraged. "That's why you can still hear your intuition. You haven't lost your faith."
Gloria squinted. Her look mixed satisfaction into her vexation. Joseph noticed importance there, too. He considered it deserved.
Squarely then, Gloria said: "You have that Luna Clark in your tech class, right?"
Joseph flinched. Surprise swept him. The spasm diffused, leveled, then resolved to a cool film of sweat. He unconsciously laid his hand on the closed tablet. He answered, lightly,
"Ms. Clark. Yes. I know her."
"I'm inviting her to the private dinner after the reception. A detached old fogy like D'Tours will be refreshed by her liveliness. And it will be good for her. Will you chaperone for me?"
Joseph swallowed. Evenly, noncommittally, he pronounced:
"Karen's down in Los Angeles."
"Right, I didn't think it would be harmful for you to have an escort either. She's charming, isn't she? Very precocious. A lot of layering in her work. The sick ones find that vulnerability early sometimes. They always go deeper faster, it seems."
Joseph did not speak. Raw possibilities ricocheted through his mind, defusing his words. A flush of sensation suffocated his reason. Mental arrest, he suffered. Language in deadlock. This impression: An act of God? This image: The moon. The sun. But calm, Joseph appeared. But not calm: Immobile, rather, immobilized by the deadfall of Gloria's proposal. He puzzled together a reaction then, slowly, painstakingly: Others will be near. He crafted atop this reaction an approach: Let it play itself out. He reasoned: And D'Tours will distract. Luna's openings might not come. He deceived himself: Such coincidences happen sometimes. They come and pass without event. He said:
"Sick? What do you mean: Good for her?"
Gloria's head slightly twitched. Her wide eyes lit on Joseph searchingly. She hesitated. But then, seeing her breach irreparable, she embraced it, broadened it. Quite earnestly, Gloria begged of her close friend, "This is in confidence, Joe."
He assented, genuinely. "Of course."
Gloria cleared her throat. Softly she explained, "She's in chemotherapy right now. She's here because she says the environment and routine and intellectual work give her strength. She's been in and out of remission before, but it's possible she won't be back next term. Besides, there's some unresolved romance she's always writing of very symbolically and inventively in her journals. She wants it to mature. She thinks she will learn something about herself that she won't learn otherwise. She thinks he's her last chance to learn this something. A cliché theme, usually, but her situation gives it, well, weight."
And Joseph turned his head.
He looked away.
Gloria's revelation pounded Joseph's consciousness, sharpening all he knew of Luna. Then, with full comprehension breaking, Joseph closed his eyes. He felt suddenly a bright wondering moon creep between him and the sun.
He said, "I see."
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