he Blues Pt. 02
Yesterday I arrived at the college in the morning with a lot to do. Halfway through the lobby- no; just beyond it in the white overly lit corridor leading to the stairs I took, faster than the elevator in front, I encountered some students of mine, who stopped me, wanted to talk. Friendly as ever but concerned about something in particular. They were seeking out my help because they liked, even revered me as their teacher. I'm not saying I necessarily deserved that level of respect. They just accorded it. Apparently my performance in the classroom had given them a positive sense of who I was as a person. Frankly, I worried about disappointing them, hardly felt worthy of regard that high. On the other hand, what did I really know about myself? How clearly can any of us see who we are? Maybe an outsider's view is more accurate than our own. Why not welcome compliments rather than question it?
That always happens. Students stop me to exchange greetings or with questions about their work. I'm invariably busy and find the interruption annoying. At the same time, though, I like it. The interaction with students, lively give and take kind of thing, makes the job rewarding, hard as it to do well given all I've got to handle in a limited number of hours each day. Akemi and I were meeting at the end of that one, roughly one o'clock.
The students- both of them- pointed out something they'd discovered on the ceiling above us in the corridor. The space overhead contained some visual tributes to people of note in our nation's history. The one they indicated was for Martin Luther King Jr. Behind a circular and curved glass cover appeared a photo of the great civil rights leader and a written passage about his achievements. A biographical sketch was included. All of it appeared in a pale green lit medium. The black text floated there, as if in gelatin.
"They got the date wrong," one of the students said, in some alarm, his friend backing up his assertion with earnest head nods, standing back waiting for my reaction, assistance.
"They put April 8th," the friend said, "But it was the 4th."
"Nineteen sixty eight," the other nodded again.
I saw they were right and recognized their concern, wish that the error not be allowed to stand. But I was really busy.
They believed I cared and I did, but time was lacking. I didn't want to dismiss their appeal, lead them to conclude they'd misjudge me, I wasn't the exemplary person they'd supposed, but damned if I could drop the ten things on my agenda that morning to deal with the problem.
"You should bring it to the attention of the security guard," I said to the students. A uniformed woman was standing near us. She in turn would presumably contact the maintenance crew, who would set about changing the mistaken date on the tribute to the right one.
Akemi and I had a date to go to her studio where she would show me her new work in progress. She was late arriving at the college and I took out my phone, looked at the news. The pandemic was still on and the president of the country was still trying to overturn the results of the election. His efforts reminded me of Sten's to overturn my marriage. Both operations took place behind the scenes, as if illuminated by dull yellow light just visible from the surface and both seemed doomed to fail, though you could never be sure with men as determined as they were.
A message was just visible on the white board when I started class. "Mitchell is the best teacher at the college." I glanced behind me while teaching and saw the words, partially rubbed away with an eraser. Great someone had written that. On the other hand, someone else, another student, apparently with a lower opinion of me, had partly wiped it off.
I found it difficult using different voices when teaching and leading groups of teachers at faculty meetings. They shouldn't be the same. Public speaking required adaptation to circumstances, audience, purpose. I had two voices at the ready, one for addressing the students, putting them at ease, and the other for commanding attention, respect, and without meaning to found myself using them interchangeably.
Jealousy works both ways. When Akemi finally arrived at the college, I was speaking with a student, a guy who wanted to run some ideas by me. I stood in the hallway facing him in the open doorway from which he talked. Akemi waited, listened. Stewart- student's name- outlined his thoughts on the best way to hanldle the pandemic, which had begun.
Afterward, as we walked off on our own, happy together- I was so glad to see Akemi, as usual- she said, "I liked him." I had spoken to her before about Stewart, whom I too found impressive. She was meeting him for the first time.
"He's intelligent. His ideas are good," she went on. "The administration should listen to him. I don't know why they wouldn't." I'd told told her of the cold response his suggestions had received from the decision-makers at the college. Those he approached thought that as a student he wasn't worth hearing out. They pushed their own agendas, wanted no interference. I couldn't do anything for him. I was just a teacher, my power limited.
"I'm glad you liked him," I said. Akemi's appreciation of people I appreciated pleased me.
"He liked me," she said and added with a soft but ringing laugh, "That helped." Shape her positive opinion toward him, she meant, noting it's natural to like someone who likes you.
I laughed too. The conversation moved to other things as we strolled beyond the school building, but finally I couldn't help myself, asked, "How could you tell?"
"He talked about a new Japanese movie opening. He was interested in playing."
In retrospect, it was obvious. But I hadn't noticed. What else was out of my sight, things Akemi saw but I missed- between her and other guys?
He had talked about blending learning before it had become widespread, how to keep the class going even after a partial or total shutdown of the city, which seemed inevitable.
Stocky, squat guy with a body that looked built for manual labor but a mental ability surpassing the physical, a dynamic mind that put him ahead of his classmates. I'd watched during the semester. He was no showoff either, just a natural, and generous with ideas he thought could be helpful. Listening to Edward- there in the doorway and at other times- you were wowed by his intellect, which more than occasionally seemed to cross the line into brilliance.
Akemi probably impressed him too. She was dressed professionally that day in a pewter colored fluted long skirt and dark top. She looked adult, could have been a classical musician.
God, I thought, I like the way my cock comes awake in her hand, the flames it stokes inside her.
Hearing about the under-the-radar flirtation stung, even though I knew she didn't take it seriously, was merely amused. Nothing would come of the encounter. I just felt a little stupid, whiplashed.
Jealousy works lots of ways. Akemi and I went from my classroom for a bite to eat at the college, coffee shop connected to a bookstore on the lower level, and when we set down our trays, I accidentally jostled mine- my forearm hit it as I changed the orientation and things fell off onto the floor. I'd ordered Japanese noodles and the plastic bowl tipped over and landed on the carpet, a lot of the soup spilling on the dark green. It would show. I felt awful. I must have been tense then for some reason. I tried to clean with napkins, fighting to get the liquid up before it left a stain. A losing battle. A waitress (and bookstore worker?) I knew and liked- who happened to be from Akemi's country- came over to clean up. I insisted on helping.
"You can put things in this bag." She handed me a smooth white plastic one, very gingerly, withdrawing her hand in a hurry.
"I don't want to get sick." she said, explaining her caution, adding, "I have the sniffles." That didn't quite follow logically but somehow made sense under the circumstances.
"Maybe Covid?" She and I joked together.
"We have to be careful," she said. She was friendly. We liked each other from brief contact, past visits I'd paid to that mini-restaurant for quick lunches. At the college I never had time to hang out. My job kept me always looking one step ahead.
"And I touched your hand." I reminded her as she headed back toward the kitchen with cleaning tools she'd brought out.
"If you get Corona, it won't matter anyway," I said. "You're young, but if I do you may never see me again." She was behind a glass wall now, and through it I gave her a comedic look of longing. Akemi saw my obvious flirtation and reacted, though the exchange was clearly no more serious than hers with my student Stewart had been. Her expression changed from questioning to a frown, turned inward.
I was pleased, reassured by her show of jealousy, only wondered if it reflected more concern for her position as my wife than actual feeling for me. She doesn't like people disregarding borders.
The waitress was slim like Akemi, had short hair like hers- shorter, almost a punk look, with a violet streak. The rest was black dyed grey. She looked nice. The other woman. Streamlined kindness. No complicated emotion in prospect. Fine cheekbones. She held herself proudly, walked upright, light on her feet.
Akemi's attitude struck me as a little unfair given what was going on between her and Sten.
Life isn't fair. But it can be good.
I'd cheated on Akemi before. That is, I'd kept seeing my old girlfriend Andrea after we got together (anyone who's read earlier episodes knows the story). It was hard ending that relationship. I thought of how I'd felt when Akemi returned to Japan on her own to "think things through." I'd felt there was nothing to look forward to. I told myself, "Don't worry. You're resourceful. You'll find something." But it really didn't look that way. The city I returned to from the airport- I'd taken her- the familiar view, streets I was used to, though bright as ever, looked long and bleak.
Akemi wanted a napkin to dry her hands. She'd forgotten to take one from the counter and her hands were wet from the condensation on the outside of the plastic glass she'd drunk from with our meal. We'd already walked too far from the counter for going back to make sense. Passing a table where no people sat, Akemi reached and picked out napkins from a dispenser full of them. She took two, pulling one by one with the deftness of a magician performing a trick and dancing away instantly, glancing around, a little as if she were committing a theft. We hadn't eaten at that table and maybe she felt she wasn't entitled to use the things on it. She was a paying customer, though, entitled to a napkin same as anyone else there. The self-consciousness was unwarranted but consistent with her upbringing.
Akemi's face changed as we proceeded. Beginning to dry her hands, she'd found that one of the tissues she held was already wet and recoiled slightly at the discovery. The water must have come from the person who'd used the black and white metal napkin dispenser before her. Near us, among the high round tables (there weren't chairs), Akemi found a trash receptacle, upright cylinder with a brushed black metal finish like that of the napkin holder, and dropped the unwanted napkin in the opening and kept the dry one to use.
We would be handling wet tissues later.
I also thought of our first trip together, weekend out of town at a lodge with a lot of young travelers. Sweets in the coffee shop where we had breakfast following my first view of my cock in Akemi's mouth, bright in morning light, wet, each sinew seemingly illuminated with her saliva drawing on it as she pulled off and up to regard it and me, then back on. Who needed sweets that morning. Strong coffee was more like it. We'd slept little and didn't want to slow down, miss a moment of that day or the next.
Akemi's new paintings were mind-shatteringly good. She'd told me she'd begun something different. It had taken some convincing to finally get an invitation to go see them.
We walked back from her studio at midday and saw a lost dog. It appeared in good condition, as if cared for and somehow separated from its owners.
In any event it didn't know where to go. Big dog, dark coat, sort of bristly fur. It walked with a rolling gait, not threatening, just self-assured- that was my impression, at least. I'm not a dog lover especially. I draw a line at attributing human emotions to them.
I thought we'd just keep walking on our way, but Akemi insisted we stop and give aid. The animal was traversing a short stretch of road that crossed train tracks with a view down on the left side, where we were, through a tightly woven chainlink fence dark with city soot.
To be clear, this obviously wasn't some stray mongrel. It even seemed to think strategically. You sensed that from its movements, which appeared purposeful. Back and forth it walked, looking for the right way to go but not knowing the area. Had it been abandoned there, thrown out by its owners who no longer wanted to care for it? You tell me. Neither Akemi nor I knew, and the dog itself wasn't saying.
The animal approached, friendly, "serious" the word that comes to mind. It was well-groomed, handsome.
I found myself wondering: Is that how Akemi sees Sten, as a lost dog who needs her help?
Hell. He comes up every now and then, interrupts our conversation as he has our marriage- anyway, has tried to, though that isn't his actual goal. Akemi herself is.
A cop came along and seemed to know how to handle the situation, the dog without owner ("masterless samurai" Akemi might say, if she knew how to in English). Young policeman took over for us. I was glad to leave it to him. Akemi too felt better knowing the dog would be all right.
The scene I'm describing might be called "Akemi's new jeans." They were deep blue and I don't know if it was the design but they followed the contour of her slim legs very closely. I couldn't take my eyes off them, pay attention to the dog as Akemi did. Her curves captivated my gaze. She's kindly, horny too, different from me in that she doesn't get consumed by her desires, except when she does. She could stop and think about a stray dog. My thoughts stayed elsewhere.
The cop, big tall guy, young though not a rookie, sure on his feet, seemed capable enough, said he knew what to do about the dog. "There are procedures," he told us, in effect. "Just leave me to it." He eased Akemi's mind.
That dog slightly resembled another I knew, one I knew and distrusted. I was visiting my brother Thomas, a camping trip, staying in the cabin he bought, the lodge. This time I was alone, not with Akemi, and worried what she'd get up to in the city on her own- with Sten, that is. They'd be free to carry on, though I was gone just for a weekend. There was a limit. Both led busy lives. On the other hand, you make time for something like that, you want it badly enough.
I bunked beside his bunk and he had the dog next to it, a big one, brought up from his place in town. I could feel it watching me at night and was unnerved. I tried to wake Thomas up to tell him. I could feel the dog watching me even in the dark, without seeing it, and I thought in a fight who would win? I'm bigger than a dog but it has teeth. Sever an artery, and it's all over for me. I felt its fascination, hostility in the near distance. And Thomas wouldn't wake up at the sound of my voice asking him to deal with the goddamned animal.
By the way, that's the kind of dog Sten reminded me of, though by any reckoning he was a really nice guy, a math teacher and all- he was eyeing Akemi in darkness. He had our marriage in his sights, or so it sure as hell seemed.
Leaving the bristly-furred wolfhound-like stray to the cop, we reached our car and took a quick drive to the shore, an overview Akemi knew of. Going was her idea. She'd been earlier with friends who'd taken a detour en route to the studio. She said the view was incredibly clear that day, you could see everything all the way to the horizon. Because of the wind, the water seemed to seethe, she added- in her language; I think that's what she meant.
On arrival we saw signs warning against stopping there. You had to park at a designated place, couldn't even stand, leave your car idling on that curved outcropping where bushes led directly to dunes and a view of the blue, pulsing sea.
Akemi and I agreed the rule was a good one. "Otherwise cars would crowd here. They'd damage the environment," Akemi said. The air would have been thick with exhaust fumes, she speculated, the prospect blurred, as if by fog.
"It's good someone in the government has the sense to care about nature," I said. We drove away, frustrated we hadn't had a chance to gaze at the ocean view but glad it was considered important by some authorities.
We went to bed back home.
I went down on her, my head coming from the top rather than up between her legs. Maybe she thought I wanted sixty-nine. But I was glad to just give. She'd gone down on me last time. Not that we exactly took turns.
Once my old friend Peter came to meet me at the college, and looking at the panoramic scene in the main lobby through which students thronged into and out of the sunlight- same place I'd encountered the two in the morning, the pair who'd pointed out the wrong date on the illuminated M.L. King Jr. plaque- Peter said, "This makes me understand something."
"What?" I asked.
"When I was in college I had a crush on almost every woman I knew there and a few I didn't. I thought about that recently and wondered why. Now I get it. So many look so good. At that age they're all beautiful."
The spectacle we beheld had brought the question to his mind and answered it.
"Then and now," he said about the feeling those college women sparked in him.
I knew Peter also meant Akemi, whom he'd just met, up in my classroom, where she'd come to ask me something about her classes help with English Peter had assisted me in giving. She and I weren't together yet, and I didn't ask him for his take. As a friend, you don't. She was wearing jeans that day too, her legs- yes- curved, slim as she walked with the class letting out and down the white sparkling polished hall away from us toward the door out into the light brightening grass in front of the buildings. It looked new, seemed to shimmer like beach grass.
Peter had seen her swimming at the beach. That was enough. In her blue suit. I'd felt I was coming down with a cold but swam anyway, with predictable consequences (at least it wasn't COVID). The day was beautiful, the air suffused with the summer heat reflected from the blue-green water- its heat and the light effects felt tropical; there was haze close up, as if the water was evaporating into a steam at the surface, a fog you swam through- a really nice day- and a lot of people were out.
Akemi showed us something she'd found, an exquisite rock shelf that extended below sea level, erosion-carved brown gold facing with striations rising vertically, seeming to undulate though static, the rich color deepening in the veins to dark umber. As an artist it appealed to Akemi. Also as a sensualist. Slippery. Cling to it- she demonstrated how to- and look down. "But if you lose your grip and fall, you'd be out of sight and no one could help you," I said as Peter watched from a few steps away, circumspect. Slipping into that glittering treasure trove through which light coursed would be a claustrophobic's nightmare. It resembled in its intricate close dimensions a woman's pussy, which inspires longing and fear in men.
I recalled the night I went late to meet Akemi at the train station. She was late coming home from friends. Past midnight. I went to meet her. My presence would be a surprise. We'd walk home together. I've described the scene elsewhere. The subway there ran on elevated tracks, and glaring street lights- crime preventers- cast shadows of the trestles upon the dull grey cityscape. By the train the buildings were low. The area looked literally run down and wide, endless. Those blocks were nearly abandoned at that hour, and the streets on which I walked and Akemi would, were covered in new snow with ice beneath.