She was standing at the window with a kid-sized telescope when he walked in. He could only show slight surprise. “What the hell?”
“I got it at a garage sale this morning,” Tilda explained casually, then with a burst of amazement she exclaimed, “Can you believe he’s got a young woman in there with him?!”
Despite his apathy, he couldn’t help but look. Sure enough, sitting in the Orfeld’s living room was Professor Orfeld and across from him a young woman. The young woman was sitting casually in a recliner, sipping what appeared to be wine. Her body was turned slightly away from the window. The professor was also holding a glass of wine and leaning adoringly towards her.
“Oh, Lex!” cried Tilda. “Judith and the boys only left this morning!”
“They’re just talking.” Lex couldn’t help but feel a mix of admiration and disappointment. It was getting so that no man stayed loyal to his wife anymore. Even though Tilda was a nosy bitch, he had never been unfaithful. Never. He always fought the urge. But this professor…he was twenty years younger than Lex, handsome, well-educated, and the girl sitting across from him had to be at least eighteen; twenty-two at the oldest. He supposed it must be hard with all those young women around all the time to not take one home. Lex went to the cabinet for a glass because seeing wine had made him want some. Tilda continued to murmur her outrage.
“Those boys and Judith are the best things to ever happen to that man! Those boys gave him a homemade card for Father’s Day. Homemade! It was on the fridge…I can almost make out what they’re saying. By reading his lips, you know? I can’t see hers….I think he just said ‘penis!’ I think he’s going to take her to his bed!”
Lex calmly took the telescope and threw it in the garbage can. Without missing a beat, Tilda calmly turned away from the window and retrieved it. They had been through this before with binoculars and other telescopes. The worst was when she found a high-powered telescope, the kind for viewing stars, marked down at the warehouse store. She swore she could see dandruff in all the Orfelds’ hair. Lex ended up ruining it by painting the lenses black. Tilda would probably leave this telescope by the window one night, like the absent-minded shrew that she is, and he would get rid of it. But in just a few days after that she would have another spying device.
“I’m going to call Judith!” Tilda exclaimed. “She deserves to know what a twit this prick is! He’s so smiling and happy. Just look!”
Lex didn’t need to look. He sat quietly at the kitchen table with his cabernet as Tilda made for the phone. “Tilda, don’t call Judith.” Lex mumbled mechanically.
But Tilda would call Judith as she has done many times before. Once, Tilda called Judith because Tilda saw one of Judith’s sons, who was nine at the time, walk out onto the deck to smoke a cigarette. It turned out to be the dog. It had snuck out onto the deck to urinate, and its smoky breath in the cold air had deceived Tilda. Another time Tilda called Judith because she saw the other son, who was eleven at the time, watching pornography in his bedroom. It turned out that Tilda’s failing eyesight, coupled with a faulty pair of binoculars, had distorted a scene in Aladdin. The only call Lex could remember that concerned the professor was when Tilda told Judith that she saw the professor masturbating in the shower every morning. Lex was not sure of Judith’s response, but two days later Judith and the professor installed thick black curtains in the upstairs bathroom. There had been many calls to Judith and with each one Judith answered less often and rarely checked up on what her sons or husband were allegedly doing.
“You know, I was just waiting for this,” Tilda said as she fumbled in a drawer for a cigarette. “The girls at school probably like that he’s tall and polite. Dashing. I’ll bet that girl wore some short skirt to class and showed him her goods.”
“For Christ sakes, Tilda,” Lex sipped his wine while Tilda ducked into the dining room with the phone.
“Judith!” she cried into the phone, “you’d better check this message soon. Okay, well, your husband is in your living room with another woman! I saw it with my own two eyes. They’re drinking wine and he’s smiling at her! She’s been there for at least an hour. You’d better get home quick or—“
“She left, Tilda.” Lex broke in.
“The girl. She left.”
“Are you sure?” Tilda looked through the kitchen window. The professor sat, looking dejected. The girl’s chair was empty. “I’ll bet she just went upstairs to their bedroom!”
Tilda flew up the stairs like a limp bat leaving the phone on the counter. Lex noticed she had forgotten to hang it up, but Lex did not move from the table. He watched the professor intently. He had seen that body language before. It was the slump of a rejected man.
“I’ll bet she’s up there putting on a nightie lingerie get-up!” Tilda shrilled. “Judith will leave him!”
Lex was half-way paying attention. He leaned forward in his chair, watching the professor. Lex could not see his face, but he could see the slumped shoulders and the hanging head. He thought maybe he wanted to see his face and his eyes. Just to see what it looked like. Before he could get up for the telescope, Tilda’s voice cackled down from upstairs.
“Any minute now she’s gonna come dancing down the steps in some lace panties. There’s a light on up there. Judith doesn’t just leave lights on. She’s one of those environment types.”
Lex sat back in his chair and sipped his wine. “Let’s watch TV or something.”
“There’s a light on up there! I bet she’s putting on her face and doing up her hair. Those boys are going to end up just like their daddy. Womanizing bastards!” Tilda was silent for a few moments. “Hey, Lex,” she called.
“Go over there.”
“Go over there and talk to him.”
“I’m drinking my wine. Let’s watch TV. There might be a good movie on.”
“Go over there and ask him for some sugar. See how he acts.”
“I’m not asking shit.”
“Well, barbeque sauce then. Maybe he’ll let you in and you can excuse yourself upstairs to the bathroom.”
“The Orfelds are vegetarians.”
“You can barbeque vegetables! Just go over there real quick. There’s no way in hell she’s left already.”
Lex looked carefully into the Orfeld’s living room. The professor still sat, slumping, his head forward, and glass of wine raised to his lips. Lex could not imagine asking Professor Orfeld for barbeque sauce. In fact, he could not imagine asking Professor Orfeld anything at all. While Tilda ran her damned mouth to anyone who would listen, he kept his one-word greetings and salutations to his neighbors. Lex watched as the professor leaned forward again; he seemed lost in thought; as if he were contemplating those great ideas that had made him a professor.
“God dammit! I’m not asking shit! The girl left and Judith doesn’t give two fucks about what you say! Let’s watch TV!!”
“Lex,” she came flopping down the stairs. “We have to save this marriage. Go over there and distract him. Pretend you’re an angry burglar and you want to steal something upstairs. Then you can see if that hussy is up there!”
He would have laughed at such a suggestion, but it was typical of Tilda. He looked past her out of the window again and noticed that the professor was gone. He heard the Orfeld’s back door close.
“Why don’t you go back upstairs and put some of your face cream on, hmm?” Lex asked. “I’ll go over in a minute.”
“Oh, you’re a doll!” Tilda flew back up the steps, and Lex made his way to the deck. He could see the professor through Judith’s plants, sitting in a lawn chair, and make out the motions of the wine glass to his mouth. Lex heard a rumble in the distance of thunder as he pretended to dig through his tools. But the professor wasn’t paying him the least bit of attention. Lex wandered over to the corner of his deck.
“That you, Professor?” He tried to sound surprised.
“Yes.” The professor replied.
Normally, Lex would have just left it at that, but he had to push for more.
“You doing okay over there?”
For a few moments it seemed as if the professor had not heard him. A gentle breeze pushed the tangled ivy leaves aside, and Lex could see the professor’s head in his hands.
“I’m doing well, I suppose.” He replied.
Lex wasn’t sure what to do or say next. He wandered off the deck and tried to walk into the Orfeld’s yard as if by accident. “It might storm,” he said. Another rumble of thunder seemed to confirm his prediction. The professor looked up to see Lex standing a few yards away from him.
“Is there something you need?” The professor asked.
“Well…,” Lex wasn’t sure what to say now. The professor looked as if he might get up and go in. He couldn’t leave without seeing it. Lex quickly blurted, “Barbeque sauce. I was hoping to borrow some…..barbeque sauce from you, Professor.”
The professor stood up just then. He was a tall man. Tall and thin. The professor was a sharp contrast to Lex. Lex was shorter, and in the past ten years his belly had grown to the proportions of a pregnant woman’s. Women liked those tall and thin men now-a-days. Lex tried not to think about how tall and thin the professor was or how young college women probably hung around his office all day.
“Barbeque sauce?” The professor turned and placed his hand on the doorknob. “I don’t know if we have any, we never use it, you see, but I’ll check if you like….”
“Oh, no, no. Don’t go to all that trouble.”
“Okay. I won’t then.”
Lex noticed how the professor seemed to be gazing out all dream-like again. There was something sad about it.
“You look like you could….use a friend, Professor.”
The professor didn’t seem to hear, but he replied, “Why would you ask me that?”
Lex shifted from one foot to the other. “Everything okay? You and your wife? The boys?”
The professor took his hand off the doorknob and turned towards Lex. “My family went away for a visit.”
The look on his face was gone now. Lex felt like he’d lost.“Well, people need time. Time away.” He grumbled.
The professor’s dry academic demeanor had returned. He looked down at Lex, tilting his head to one side. “Why would you ask if I needed a friend?”
“You just…it seemed for a minute there….I mean, I don’t want to pry into your life and all….” Lex began to back away towards his yard, feeling defeated.
The professor looked away and nodded to himself. “I was just surprised. We have never said much to each other before.”
“Just…hoping everything’s alright. Tilda and I are here if you need something….” Lex continued to back away.
“You and Tilda have been very kind. I ask that you not tell Tilda this, but Judith laughs each time she calls.”
“Is that so?”
“Yes. Judith has that easy personality, you see. She’s a good woman.” The professor looked at his wine glass as if seeing it for the first time. His voice grew softer and his gaze weaker. “I think that’s what makes it alright. Her easy personality.” He looked directly at Lex and said sharply, “I love my wife.”
Lex wasn’t sure what to say. Tears were forming in the professor’s eyes. Girls liked those sensitive men now, too. All that damned mushy shit – they loved it.
“Do you love your wife?” the professor asked.
The question took Lex by surprise. Thunder rumbled closer, right on cue.
“Well….uh…sure, Tilda’s a big pain in the ass and bitches at me over the mulch and the stupid paint, but, yeah, I love her.” He felt like he needed to say more. “And I’ve never strayed.” He finished clearly, punctuating every syllable with his gestures.
The professor blinked and the tears retreated from his eyes. “I feel like the Universe is in my throat,” he delicately touched his Adam’s apple. “Have you ever heard of that? I think it might be Shiva. Imagine. All these things, love, death, you, me, our children, our women, the unfaithful, the criminals, the saints, thunderstorms,” he looked up at the lightening, “Imagine that it’s all in you. It’s all real, whether you have made the choice or not. Like a poison inside you. All you have done and will ever do. It exists. It’s all inside us already.”
Lex felt disconcerted and couldn’t reply. He didn’t have the chance. The professor bid him goodnight and disappeared into his house. It didn’t matter. Lex had seen what he had wanted to see. He felt better; he felt content.
Tilda was back at the kitchen window, the slimy white stuff all over her face, with the telescope. “It looks like she really did leave….,” she said hypnotically. Lex continued to walk past her up the steps. “Hey!” she called, “Did you talk to him?”
“He’s checking for barbeque sauce.” Lex replied as he continued up the stairs.
Later, after they’d gone to bed, Lex could hear Tilda’s heavy breathing as he lay somewhere in between sleep and awake. The rain had started, and the sound was comforting. Lex hadn’t gone to bed alone in forty-three years, and he could be sure that the professor had gone to bed alone tonight. He had seen it for himself, he thought drowsily. The look in the man’s eyes; he knew that it was true. He turned over towards the window and watched the water streaking its way down the glass. He occupied himself with the droplets as they formed into each other, melting and flowing down the window.
There was a light on over at the Orfeld’s. A hall light shining. It was probably the light Tilda was obsessing over. He let his eyes close slowly to the sound of the rain, but then he saw something. Something moving in the Orfeld’s window. The hall light shone into the room, but there was another light in the corner, reflecting off of a mirror. More movement. He sat up with mild curiosity until the movement began to take shape.
It was the young woman, naked, her arms wrapped around Professor Orfeld’s neck. She was turned away from the window slightly, but Lex could see the outline of her jaw and neck, a cascade of hair over one shoulder. They were moving in rhythm together. His hands moved up her back, and his face buried itself in her neck. Through the rain droplets he could see the look on the Professor’s face. He could see that the professor was feeling himself inside the woman as she rocked against him. His eyes would close, but when they would open they drank in the woman’s form. They drank in her gaze. His eyes took her into the universe within his throat. And as the rain poured down harder, the streaking, flowing water formed into them and they melted together.
It took Lex only a few seconds to realize that the watery blurs were forming in his own eyes. He covered his head with the blanket and cried like a newborn into the night.
Amanda Lilly’s first publication was poetry in a newspaper when she was in the fourth grade. She enjoys writing short stories, crocheting, yoga, and experimental cooking.
To comment on this story, visit Fiction365’s Facebook page