It was one of those tired old sayings Claude had heard his parents quote since early childhood. He moved his feet restlessly while sitting on a park bench reflecting. A passing dog yelped as Claude’s movements dislodged a stone and sent it rolling down hill in the direction of dog on a leash and its jogging owner.
“Hey, be careful! The jogger paused to shout angrily at Claude.
“I’m sorry, that was unintentional,” stammered Claude.
As the jogger retreated in the distance Claude settled back into his dismal frame of mind though he was careful to keep his feet still.
He was certain that out of all the people in the world he was the most unfortunate. Nothing seemed to go right for him anymore. Even his feet seemed to get him into trouble. He smiled bitterly at this unintended humour.
It had not always been that way he reflected. Turning his mind back to early days he’d been the envy of the school and it gave him satisfaction knowing it at the time. His father was a rising star at the beginning of the rock and roll era. The cool kids would serenade him in hallways at school with Dad’s latest song on the hit parade, and Claude’s chest would swell with pride as he solemnly acknowledged each moment of glory.
But as the years went by his father’s voice was heard on the hit parades less frequently until at last it was replaced by singers younger who had backing of studios looking for new talent to supply a public thirst for new idols.
Claude looked toward the path and this time gave a deliberate kick to another stone from the collection under his bench. It gave him brief satisfaction to lash out at something that couldn’t retaliate.
Claude’s father was unable to deal with his retreating fame. He deluged previous studio sponsors with new songs. Some would get their nod of approval and they were willing to buy rights to the tunes, but were only interested if purchased for use of their current idol. Eventually he came to terms with reality. He was a has-been entertainer now relegated to singing in second rate clubs for a pittance.
Not that they were poor Claude reflected. Royalties from records still flowed and kept the family in comfortable circumstances. But it was the feeling he’d reached his use-by date that eventually ended in alcohol abuse and suicide.
The alcohol had taken its toll on the family too. No longer could Claude afford the best of schools and no longer did anyone notice him in the hallways of his new community school. Claude retreated into himself and created problems for his exhausted Mother as he experimented with alcohol and drugs.
Mother was a saint. She carefully managed reducing royalties from past records and songs and found a job with one of the studios that had previously sponsored her husband. She was determined to ensure Claude had the opportunity of a good education.
Claude remembered his High School graduation. He’d surprised himself with good grades knowing that he could have done even better had he applied himself. Watching his mother’s face as he received his diploma he realized how lucky he was to have her support him. He determined to apply himself in the next stage of his education and make her proud of him. Mother was radiant with joy as she watched the turnaround in his life. Claude had excelled, and moved on to University where in due course he met Brigit.
Brigit was commencing studies in political science. She was from the farming communities of the mid-west and innocent to the ways of a big city. They gravitated to each other naturally, she looking for support from someone who’d not exploit her innocence, and he looking for someone he could share life with in a loving trust relationship.
They were together through graduate studies years and married soon after graduation. Mother was delighted with her daughter-in-law and Claude thought the agonies of his growing years were now just an unpleasant memory.
Claude chose a career in education. He was good at handling the rough and tumble of higher education. His sense of humour was well appreciated by students and faculty alike, though he was surprised at the snobbery he’d not noticed as a student and the sometimes ugly competition for position and power within a university structure. He wanted no part of that, being content with watching the intellect of his students unfold under guidance and later taking their place as contributors of society.
Brigit was similarly surprised with the realities of politics. She’d blanched at some of the comparative theories encountered as she progressed through her studies but it was only an intellectual exercise after all and she determined to make her career clean and above board. First she worked with city administration and that was an eye opener, but she kept the promise she’d made to herself. Her work was excellent enough to come to the notice of politicians at a higher level and she found herself over time operating as aid to politicians at the national level. That’s when her eyes were really opened.
At first she wouldn’t play the game, but little by little as her bosses reworked her ethical standards she began to accept behind the scenes practices which most of the public would never hear of as necessary norms to keep the wheels of government turning. The assortment of professional go-betweens representing industry or labour unions shocked her with their tactics initially as they promoted their respective interests but after a while it became just part of the scene and she even grew to view some as likable rascals doing their job. Then Brigit herself began receiving gifts in “appreciation” for keeping wheels turning. They were just tickets for free meals at the best of restaurants, memberships in the best of clubs.
Claude was so absorbed in his love of the education world at first he failed to notice the change in Brigit’s thinking. But when it became memberships in clubs he began to question the ethics of accepting these kind of gifts. Was it a form of bribery?
Brigit was temporarily taken back at his reaction and remembered her mid-west upbringing where such things would be instantly refused. But she was in too far now and resolved to keep part of her life a secret from her husband now. The free restaurants she’d share with others. The club would be visited more secretly. Other monetary gifts she’d keep in a bank account her husband would know nothing about.
Claude watched with alarm as a wall of partition slowly grew between them.
Then one day he picked up a newspaper to read headlines at the university library. The politician his wife Brigit worked for was the main headline. There in a quarter page photo was that politician caught in embrace with Brigit at a restaurant and the story following was a scandal where an international oil company had paid a huge amount through her to keep the wheels turning in their direction.
A knot of faculty were gathered around another newspaper in the library and were chuckling. They looked around and saw Claude reading the headlines too and laughed loudly. Claude retreated to his office in shame and phoned Brigit. There was no answer.
That evening when Claude returned home Brigit’s clothing and personal items were missing and the awful truth hit him. His wife had been unfaithful to him, and apparently from news items in the next few weeks it had been a long time. He was alone.
Claude’s mother was distraught. She’d loved her daughter-in-law as if she’d been her own daughter and grieved at the loss. She’d had a hard life and the grief was too much to bear. She passed peacefully to her rest soon after the scandal erupted. Now Claude was really alone.
The University President suggested Claude may like to take a leave of absence until the scandal subsided and he took that advice and moved to London as a visiting professor in one of the prestigious universities. With that assignment over he prepared to return to his job only to be informed the University board thought it better if he sought other employment. In today’s world that action would be challenged, but in those days the influence of a university reached high places and you either cooperated and sought their recommendation or challenged and were destroyed.
So Claude took time to think things through and with the recommendation of this former university travelled the world taking visiting professor positions. It was satisfying and new environments dulled the sadness he felt, but he longed for the stability he’d once had.
Sending word to the real estate agent managing his rental apartment he indicated he’d be returning home and the apartment should be vacated for his arrival. For a few weeks after his arrival he set about repainting and furnishing. He needed to wipe the faint traces of Brigit from that apartment, but her ghost remained to haunt his memory. He wondered what had happened to her now that the case had been settled and her witness no longer needed.
Then with that project complete he set about looking for a job in the educational environment. It was easier than he thought. He had recommendations from places he’d worked around the globe and the most impressive of all was from his former university. However the attractive offer after attending interviews was from a university in a different state. So he sold his apartment cutting the final connection with Brigit and moved. But the ghost of his father and Brigit followed him there to modify his joy in discovering he was still wanted and useful.
Claude threw himself into his new teaching opportunity with enthusiasm and was soon well appreciated by faculty and students. There was one student who particularly caught his attention. She seemed to be about his age which was unusual as the age average of his class was far below. He found that mildly interesting but his interest was further caught as he took a look at her course history. Her grades were exceptional. He determined to encourage her to set her sights high. She had the ability to rise to the top in the educational world. He enjoyed pointing his students to their highest potential.
He gave her research assignments to help develop skills and she accepted them and poured her heart and soul into those assignments. To see that level of interest is always gratifying to a teacher.
Claude had no thought of a relationship, it was purely professional. He determined to find out more about this exceptional student as he did with all his students. It was his way of understanding their personality so he could direct them into potential work possibilities when they’d finished their studies. To his surprise he found her to be a single mother with two children. She’d been living with her parents since her husband had died and her parents were facilitating her opportunity to rise above circumstances so she could in turn support her children when her parents were no longer able to help out. Claude determined to help her parent’s vision become a reality.
It seemed only a short time, but it was actually four years before Ann graduated. She’d moved out of his class at the end of the year but he continued encouraging her to plod on in spite of the difficulties a single mother faces and helped her with research in other classes. There was no romantic involvement just the platonic engagement of two minds interested in education. The watching faculty saw it otherwise and smiled a knowing smile when Claude explained the relationship.
At her graduation Claude watched Ann’s parents hover over her happily as she showed her graduate diploma around. He was happy for them and turned to leave the auditorium. He was almost at the exit door when a familiar voice behind him arrested his progress.
Aren’t you going to congratulate me? After all it’s because of you as much as my effort that I can celebrate today?”
Claude turned in surprise and was hugged by a radiantly happy Ann.
“I’m really happy for your parents and you Ann, and I wish you all success as you use that important degree to get a job. You will have a good recommendation from me if you want it?”
Claude reached out to touch Ann fondly but quickly withdrew his hand, after all it would be unseemly for a professor to be seen hugging a student. There had been so many scandals in the educational world with teachers having relationship with students. He wanted nothing to do with any scandals. Once was quite enough!
Ann understood and smiled. She reached up to his tall shoulder, pulled him forward and kissed him on the cheek.
“I would have given up many times over the past four years had it not been for your encouragement.”
She lingered for a moment looking up at him, a look of regret on her face.
“I’d better get back to my parents, they’re not used to an educational environment.” Her musical laugh hung in the air and he breathed its essence. Something stirred inside him accompanied by a deep sadness something wonderful in his life would be missing from that point forward. First his father, then Brigit and then his mother. They’d been important anchors in his life at one time, and now they were gone. That was understandable, but why this additional sadness.
Claude left the auditorium and walked to his favourite park nearby selecting the well-worn bench he favoured when struggling with the pressure of work.
“Once bitten, twice shy.” He mumbled.
Why had that thought come into his mind suddenly and what did it mean?
His brain raced. He was miserable because he’d not have any reason for those regular meetings with Ann and yet sub-consciously warning signals were flashing. It was his lot in life to lose those he loved. Those he loved? What was he thinking? She was not interested in him romantically, it had been a platonic relationship. He was not interested in her, it was a professional relationship, teacher and student. But reality came through. He was in love with her. Very much in love with her!
Claude leaped to his feet and ran back to the auditorium. Gasping for breath he looked around. Small knots of parents and students were still talking while cleaners began their job working around them as best they could. Ann and her parents were not there. He ran outside and looked across the campus. No luck. He returned to the auditorium and sat down.
He looked around dejectedly. Too late.
Sighing deeply he trudged across campus to the block where his office was. His eyes widened in surprise for there at the entrance were Ann’s parents. They greeted him warmly.
Ann suddenly remembered she had books you lent her. She kept them with us during graduation exercise and forgot to give them to you afterward. She’s upstairs now leaving them outside your office door with a note.”
Claude could hardly restrain his excitement as he walked quickly up the stairs. As he turned the corner at the top they collided in the hallway. Wordlessly Claude picked her up and hugged her.
Ann sobbed as he held her. “I thought we’d never have a chance to meet again!”
Involuntarily the words came out in return. “I love you Ann! I want you in my life!”
Ann wiped her eyes. “You foolish man, why didn’t you tell me that years ago? I’ve dreamed of this day and after graduation with the teacher student thing you’re so particular about behind us I hoped to hear you say that but you didn’t. I thought I’d give this book return excuse a last try before giving up.”
The voice of Ann’s father floated up stairs. “Ann, are you ready, we have to get home for the children’s sake.
Claude held onto Ann as he opened his office door to deposit the books. They then ran down stairs holding hands to the surprise of her parents.
“Claude has asked me to marry him and I said yes!” Ann’s eyes sparkled with happiness.
Ann’s parents recovered their composure quickly.
“We’d hoped he would they chorused,” running forward to add their congratulations.
“© Copyright Ian Grice 2015 All rights reserved”
The above image courtesy of crazygallery.info