Interview with the Second Wife
Eleven years ago, a young man traveled through four states to meet with me. It was a few months after Patric had died, and until yesterday, I don’t think I had thought about this man in a few years. His name was in yesterday’s paper, not on the front page, but this is a newspaper at least two or three million people read each day, and here was this man’s name, section 2, page 4, the story an unfortunate one. It seems he had plagiarized a large portion of one of his former students’ dissertations and sent it off into the world as his own. The student had died two years earlier, in a diving accident somewhere in Italy, but his girlfriend recognized the prose that Dr. Krenek had claimed to have written.
When we met, I wouldn’t have thought he would be capable of such a disingenuous act. But it could be that I’m likely to assume the best about people who appear keenly interested in who I am, not just in who Patric was. In the years since we met, Dr. Krenek has become a professor of comparative literature at a very old and admired university in New England, and such scandals, I know, inevitably ruin careers, if not also lives. His was the second professorial plagiarism scandal that this school had experienced in a year, and the tone of the article was overtly cynical. I’ve thought about writing and offering to help him, but I suspect that he wouldn’t be happy to hear from me because, if nothing else, it would alert him to the fact that yet another person knows of his crime, a person who had once been very close to a man whose work Dr. Krenek studied and admired. I also think he believed that I thought well of him during our short involvement, which I did, despite the sometimes puzzling evidence that he did not have all of his facts about Patric and me in good order when he arrived to conduct the interview, one I agreed to so that he might write his own dissertation, one that helped him secure the position at the university where he now finds himself in disgrace.
Some of the questions he asked me were extraordinary—because of their unexpectedness and because of his apparent ignorance of the reasons why two people might decide to form a couple. I answered almost all of them, sometimes trying not to make a funny face or laugh at him outright. Having little experience with interviews, I didn’t know if I was being foolish to find him odd or naïve. He included portions of our conversation in his dissertation, which met with some acclaim after he published it with a university press in Chicago. When I read the excerpts of our interview in his book, I wondered if he might never have had any real intention of using those strange questions and instead only wanted to satisfy some prurient element of his curiosity about Patric (and myself? It’s hard to know if in Dr. Krenek’s view I represented much more than an extension of Patric, something, like his books, that he had left behind).
After reading the newspaper article, I unearthed my copy of the interview transcript, which I had managed not to misplace in the move I made eight years ago from the house where Patric and I lived in western New Jersey to the apartment where I now live in New York. Aside from making me feel an oppressive melancholy for my old life, I regret that Dr. Krenek has gotten himself into trouble. Of course plagiarism is a shameful crime and certainly one of the most invasive, but I don’t think it deserves the kind of outrage it often inspires. His case should be the concern solely of his publisher and his employer, not the fuel for more media sensationalism.
We only saw each other twice. He had a tape recorder with him both times he came to the house but managed to get it working only on the second day, because that first day he hadn’t realized the batteries would give out a few minutes into our conversation. I realize he must seem a bumbler. Maybe it was the state of mind he found me in those two afternoons that allowed me to attribute attractive qualities to him—perhaps I was merely lonely and relieved to have someone in the house again (one with three floors and too much chilly space for a childless woman), someone close to my age and not related to Patric or his life in France before he’d known me. I cannot say why I felt as I did. But I immediately liked Dr. Krenek, who at the time went only by Sylvan, an unusual name that seemed very lovely to me.
Patric’s last two books, Land of Sappho and The Bus Kept Going, were to be the focus of Dr. Krenek’s dissertation, and they were the most controversial of the ten he had published, in part because they were so different from his earlier novels—in both their structure and their unapologetic eroticism. I wonder if I should have taken one of Patric’s colleagues’ advice and had a friend sit with me during the interview to ensure that Dr. Krenek did not overstep any boundaries—whatever they were supposed to be. But I chose not to, and I don’t regret it, though it might have been interesting, if such a thing had been possible, to see if he would have asked fewer questions about Patric’s and my personal lives and more about Patric’s work if we had had a chaperone.
Dr. Krenek’s prefatory notes:
Interview with Cynthia Lewis, Washington Crossing, NJ, home of the late Patric Lorieux and Ms. Lewis, February 4 & 5, 1995. What follows is the official transcript of our conversations. Due to technical difficulties with the recording device, the majority of the interview occurred on February 5.
sk: How long were you and Mr. Lorieux together before he died?
CL: Just a little over thirteen years.
sk: You were once his student?
CL: Yes, we met when I was enrolled in his nineteenth-century French novels course at NYU.
sk: How old were you?
CL: Almost twenty-three.
sk: And Mr. Lorieux was fifty-five at the time?
CL: Yes, I think he was.
sk: So you’re his second wife. I’ve always wondered what it would be like to be the second. I’d worry that the first act would be too hard to follow. (Laughs.) Not that this was the case with you and Mr. Lorieux. When did you marry him?
CL: I’m not his second wife. We were never married. We only lived together.
I remember how surprised I was by this question. I had no idea why he thought we’d been married. It’s possible he did know and instead wanted me to say why Patric had never married me or why I hadn’t married him, however he would have phrased it. But he didn’t ask. We were sitting on the worn leather sofa in the living room, the bay window behind us, one that overlooked an enormous maple tree. No snow on the ground, only a brown, muddy lawn below the tree’s skeletal branches. Despite the strange question, I felt stupidly excited and nervous facing him, his dark eyes very serious, his voice sometimes cracking a little.
sk: But you are his literary executor?
And I have remained his executor, even though his ex-wife, the ambitiously named Victoire, eventually tried to take me to court to overturn Patric’s dictum. This was something Patric predicted and I had met his attorney in case I needed her while the will was in probate. He had the will drawn up in the U.S. in order to make it harder for Victoire to challenge it, and he had also been naturalized a few years before his death. It was his foreignness that had initially attracted me to him, along with his books, of course. He spoke very good English but his French accent never disappeared, and each of the many times we went to France together, almost twenty trips, I found myself newly smitten with him. His friends loved him and never tired of seeing him, and they were kind to me, despite whatever loyalties they might have retained for Victoire. Patric was a celebrity there—we were treated to magnificent meals and late-night receptions in Parisian homes where decisions that affected the entire country were made. He was tall for a Frenchman, too, close to six feet—from across many crowded rooms with inscrutable family portraits on their walls, I remember seeing his head with its wild tufts of gray hair rising from the darker heads clustered around him. For a long time, he was the most romantic figure I had ever seen.
sk: One thing that struck me in Mr. Lorieux’s final book was how he was able to create a realistic society governed exclusively by women. In the main character, Isabelle, we see a woman who wears women’s clothes but puts on a beard in the scenes where she addresses her constituents. I think Mr. Lorieux was actually satirizing masculinity rather than having his female characters bow to it, but others have interpreted Isabelle’s behavior as a kind of submission to the model of a patriarchal society. If women wanted to govern, they had to look like men. Which of these two interpretations would you say is closest to what the author intended?
CL: More than anything else, the women in beards were meant to be darkly comic. They were meant to underscore the absurdity of giving one person, male or female, so much power over so many others. I can’t believe there’s any confusion over this. Land of Sappho was a satire. Even the title alludes to this, don’t you think?
sk: But there’s no reason why we should automatically assume it’s a satire, based on the title alone. Maybe if he had called it Isle of Lesbos instead. Not everyone knows that Sappho lived there. Was he hoping to style himself as a feminist?
CL: He was a feminist. No question.
I remember wanting either to laugh or shout at him at that moment. I wondered if he had misread the entirety of Patric’s work, not just Sappho. It was an unusual book in that it rivaled Brave New World for its political astuteness, but it was as funny as Lucky Jim. I see other parallels among them too—Huxley and Amis were Brits; Patric was French—no American could have written Sappho, according to Patric. It was too subtle, he said, not exactly with modesty. He thought Americans expected women to be three things—saints, sluts, or ciphers. In Sappho, the women were no less complicated than the men—both sexes were complex, contrary creatures who privately questioned every violent death, even if their rhetoric made it seem like violence was an absolute necessity, if not an absolute good.
sk: I’ve never thought he was a true feminist. He seemed to respect women but he didn’t seem to trust them.
CL: It was people he didn’t trust. Not just women.
sk: Did he want to have children with you?
CL: I’m not sure how this pertains to Patric’s work.
sk: I guess what I’m wondering is whether he wanted to put you in a submissive role. When a woman agrees to carry a man’s child, she’s automatically making herself vulnerable to the man.
CL: You could also say that the man is making himself vulnerable to the woman. Just in a different way.
sk: But you can’t deny that pregnancy is harder on women. They exist within the pregnant state in a more immediate way than men do. They can’t walk away and forget for a day or a week that they’re carrying a child.
CL: A man might be able to separate himself physically from the pregnancy, but he can’t deny the fact that he had a major role in impregnating the woman and now has a major responsibility toward her and their unborn child. Our laws, if nothing else, make this the case.
sk (clearing his throat): Mr. Lorieux wrote so well about children in his novels, especially in The Shaded Pond. He seemed to have had an uncanny understanding of how they see the world.
CL: He was a child once himself, of course. (Laughs). And no, we never talked seriously about having children together.
This was a lie. We had tried to have a child, but my body had rejected the idea, more than once. This was hard on both of us, but I saw no reason to tell Sylvan any of this. I’m sure there are quite a few moments in any couple’s life together that are best left unexposed to general scrutiny, no matter that Patric was a public figure, and in our age, public figures are not meant to have private lives. I know that he hadn’t blamed me for the miscarriages but the fact that he could do nothing about them, even less than I might have been able to, made him angry. “Someone so young,” he had said after the second one, “Someone so young as you should never have to worry about a thing like this. It’s fucking unfair, Cynthia.” He could never pronounce the th in my name, the French having no equivalent. My name always sounded like Sint-zia in his mouth.
sk: Did he believe in God?
CL: No, not always.
sk: Would you mind elaborating?
CL: He sometimes experienced intensely spiritual moments when he felt that something aside from exploding stars and black holes was out there in the universe, something sentient and possibly benevolent, but eventually he would think of his father who was murdered for his role in the French resistance, and he’d say that he couldn’t believe in God or something godlike because he didn’t believe in Santa Claus or the frog prince either. What he believed in more than anything else was absurdity. Chaos, I guess.
sk: I don’t think chaos is the same thing as absurdity. Absurdity is sixty clowns emerging from one car, whereas chaos is sixty clowns in one car colliding with sixty clowns in another car. Forgive the sophomoric analogy, but I think it’s apt.
CL: They both sound absurd to me. I don’t know. Absurdity is what he probably believed in the most.
What came next was possibly the most disturbing moment in the whole interview, at least in its initial, visceral effect on me:
sk: If Patric had had to choose between the following, under penalty of death, would he have had his eyes gouged out or his penis cut off?
I remember staring at him for several seconds after he asked me this, wondering if he was kidding, but he didn’t seem to be. It almost felt like he’d slapped me. Imagining Patric without his eyes or his penis? I would rather have imagined him dead. But maybe it’s easy for me to say this because he already was dead.
CL: He would rather have had his hands cut off.
sk: That wasn’t one of the choices.
CL: Then I’d prefer not to answer. I have no idea. I doubt he would have answered either if he’d been here to speak for himself.
sk: I know it sounds perverse, but it’s actually a question Marie-France asks Jean de Vosges in The Bus Kept Going.
CL: Oh, I didn’t remember that.
sk: I would think it’d be impossible to forget.
CL: If I had a penis maybe it would be.
sk: Jean said that he’d rather have his eyes gouged out.
CL: Oh. I don’t know if that’s what Patric would have chosen for himself, but maybe.
sk: I bet he would have. The penis is often a metonym for man. (Long pause.) I hope you’ll forgive me if my questions seem a little rude sometimes. You weren’t what I was expecting. I’ve seen pictures of you but I wasn’t . . . I wasn’t prepared for how attractive you are in person. I’m sorry to embarrass you by saying such a thing, but I want you to know that if I seem a little brusque, it’s only a defense mechanism. That must sound a little ridiculous, but it’s true.
Like a desperate fool, I blushed. I believed what he was saying, even though I understood that flattery might only have been one of his interviewer’s tools (perhaps the only effective one he had), meant to disarm me and bring about more personal revelations. It might also have been a precursor to the impulse or compulsion that led him to steal his student’s work. Such an impulse could already have been alive in him.
CL: You don’t have to defend yourself against me.
sk: Logically I know that, but le coeur a ses raisons que la raison ne connait point. You do speak French?
sk: The heart has reasons that reason doesn’t know.
CL: Yes, I know.
sk: Before you, did Mr. Lorieux date other women so much younger than he was?
CL: Yes, I think he did.
sk: How old was the youngest?
CL: I’m not sure. Maybe nineteen or twenty? I don’t really remember. He didn’t talk that much about his old lovers. I was the one he ended up leaving his wife and sons for. I don’t think the other women were that important to him.
sk: Were you jealous of them?
CL: No, not at all. It wasn’t like that. We simply got along very well and then things changed and rather suddenly we were a couple. I hadn’t taken his class with the intention of turning the famous visiting writer into my lover. He must also have been looking for something different, someone different.
sk: And that was you.
CL: Yes, I guess it was.
sk: Do you ever speak to Madame Lorieux?
CL: I saw her at the memorial service Patric’s friends had for him in Paris. That was the last time I spoke with her. There was never very much for us to say to each other. We hadn’t talked when Patric was alive, except when she called to discuss their sons’ visits with him and I happened to answer the phone.
sk: Frenchwomen have a reputation for looking the other way if their husbands have mistresses. You probably know that François Mitterrand had two families and both his wife and his mistress attended his funeral. Adultery isn’t as much of a sin in France as it is here. The French don’t believe that one person can be all things to his or her partner.
CL: I don’t think she was at all indulgent when it came to him having a mistress. I think she knew when he had lovers, and I’m sure it bothered her. But as long as he kept coming home to her and their sons, I suppose she felt that she had to put up with it.
The abortive literary executor lawsuit hadn’t yet come into play at the time of our interview. But even when Victoire was threatening me with it, we didn’t see each other. Having the Atlantic Ocean between us certainly helped—in the end, she didn’t have enough money to carry out a lawsuit that stretched from one continent to another. She might have won the case if she had had the resources, but I know she wouldn’t have been as attentive to the executive demands of his estate as I have been. One could say that she missed the last thirteen years of his life and, as a result, probably spent much of this time despising him, and me too, I suppose. It would not have surprised me if in turn she had made herself despise his books.
sk: What about when you two were together. Did he have a mistress?
sk: You’re sure.
CL: Yes, I’m sure.
sk: How do you know?
CL: Because we talked about it. He promised to tell me if he ever desired someone else in that way.
sk: You don’t think he would have lied?
CL: No, he wouldn’t have. He didn’t lie about that sort of thing.
Maybe I expected these questions. I must have. The fact that he wanted to know how I felt about Patric’s interest in much younger women—this was nothing new. I had girlfriends who had warned me that I wouldn’t last long because Patric had such an “unbelievable” ego that he would constantly need new admirers. This was what they thought, in any case. Some of their unkindness was obviously nothing more than corrosive female jealousy. I tried to ignore it, but a couple of my friendships eventually ended and Patric felt bad for me, though I suspected that he must also have been flattered to have us fighting over him. My parents were cynical about him too and sometimes harsh; I didn’t see them very often while Patric and I were together—maybe once or twice a year, although they lived only a few hours’ drive away. But my mother did like Patric, was charmed by him and his wit and intelligence, not to mention his good looks. He was a year older than she was, and she too must have been attracted to him. It was hard not to be. She has never admitted this, however.
sk: What is your relationship with his sons like now?
CL: We’re friendly. They’re both in their twenties and one is a writer but he hasn’t published a book yet. He writes for L’Express sometimes and his articles are usually very good, but the two novels he’s tried to publish haven’t been picked up. I know he’s frustrated by this, but his father wrote three novels before he was able to publish one. I don’t know if this comforts Julien very much, but he hasn’t given up yet.
sk: What was Mr. Lorieux’s relationship with his sons like? As you probably know, father and son relationships are a feature of several of his books, and the one in The Bus Kept Going is its centerpiece. For one year, Jean and his son Paul share Marie-France’s bed on alternating nights. Was this ménage à trois based on real-life events?
CL: No, of course not. Not on my real life, that’s for sure.
sk: You sound a little defensive.
CL: Well, I don’t mean to. If what you’re really asking is whether or not Patric ever asked me to share myself with Julien and Georges, he never did. He wrote fiction and always intended his readers to see it this way. His essays had some autobiographical elements, but his fiction was made up, as fiction obviously is supposed to be.
I began to wonder then if he was hoping to seduce me. Ineptly, but the mood of combative confession, his tone, his interested gaze—somehow the encounter seemed to have taken on the tenor of a seduction. Not long after we had started the interview, he had removed his sport jacket, a navy wool crested coat that made him look like the assistant maître-d’ for a WASPy country club, but he was not a WASP; he looked nothing like one with his large dark eyes and brows and knobby, hairy wrists and hands. He slouched against the sofa a little, as if ashamed of himself for being tall. Throughout our talk, he leaned toward me, holding the little corded microphone between us as we spoke, his face open and apparently guileless, even as he asked the more daring questions. After the sport coat was cast off, he loosened his tie and later removed it; he unbuttoned the top two buttons of his shirt, then rolled up his sleeves, his forearms shockingly hairy, but I liked this. I liked men with hair on their arms and chests, on their legs too, and I could imagine that Sylvan’s legs were hairy, the long, thin length of them under his dark corduroy trousers furred by the biological imperatives of his masculine body. He was the first man since Patric had died whom I felt desire for. But I did not want to feel desire for him. At that moment in my life, it had seemed that it would be best not to desire any man ever again. I had work that I wanted to do—I wanted to write my own books, and lust would only have waylaid me further. I had been waylaid by thirteen years of domesticity with Patric, and although I had been very happy for most of that time, I had also been younger than I was now. For thirteen years, I had been his lover, housekeeper, secretary, friend, and finally, his nursemaid. It had been an arrangement we had never discussed formally—it had simply happened, as so many things now seemed to have done, and I was very efficient at taking care of a number of tasks that he had needed assistance with.
sk: I don’t mean to imply that he wrote anything but fiction, but you can’t deny that many writers are inspired by the events of their own lives. It’s not as though I assume he was communicating with St. Teresa of Avila like Gerard in House of Plenty, or ever tried to make himself immune to hemlock like Isabelle, but you must understand that a reader naturally wonders how close the author is to his characters and their experiences.
CL: I understand all of that, but in this case, the threesomes were most decidedly fiction.
sk: How long did Patric need to be alone each day? Several of his peripheral characters definitely have hermetic tendencies, and they’re often attributed with noble qualities too. I wonder if like Rousseau, he thought that man . . . and woman too, should aspire toward noble savageness—to be both learned and self-sufficient and live close to nature.
CL: He wasn’t like Rousseau at all. He preferred to be in the house. He never camped a day in his life, as far as I know, and he wasn’t interested in hunting or fishing. He liked people and he liked to socialize very much. We had dinner parties every fall and spring, and until the last year of his life, he held salons in our home. His students and colleagues and other writers he knew in the area were constantly in and out of our house during the school year. He liked to say that he wanted to be the local Gertrude Stein, but with vodka martinis instead of hash brownies.
He didn’t cut himself off from the world when he was writing, either. His novels came out very fast. The last three did, anyway. He wrote during the summers, often at night while I slept because he went through long periods of insomnia. He’d spend the days napping and reading when he wasn’t teaching. I’m sorry if my answers disappoint you, but I don’t want to lie to make it seem more romantic than it really was.
sk: I don’t think it’s unromantic. Not at all. But you must have had other men interested in you who could have offered you things that Patric couldn’t, due to his more advanced age. Why did you stay with him for thirteen years?
CL (laughs): What do you mean why did I stay with him? What do you think? I stayed because I loved him.
sk: I don’t doubt that you loved him, but in all that time, wasn’t your head ever turned by someone else? Wouldn’t he have been aware that you had other admirers and said something about it to you? Maybe as he got sicker he even suggested that you take a lover?
CL: My head wasn’t turned by someone else. It really wasn’t. I might have noticed good-looking men from time to time, but I didn’t want to pursue them or be pursued by them. Patric did say something once in a while if he noticed that someone had a crush on me, but there was no question that he would have condoned my taking a lover. He just wouldn’t have. He was very possessive, even though he wasn’t open about this tendency. He preferred to pretend that I could keep my own schedule, provided I was there at the times when he needed me, which toward the end was all the time. I won’t pretend that I always liked this. We hired a nurse who eventually came to stay with us, but for a few months I did most of the care-giving and it wore on us both very badly. He insisted on his privacy, though, and didn’t want a stranger to witness the humiliation of his demise. But finally, it became too hard for me to manage on my own and he would rather have killed himself than go into a nursing home.
He changed during those last several months. But I don’t think there’s anyone who wouldn’t have. I changed, too, in that I realized that I was not so young anymore and would not have the same opportunities I’d once believed were my due. I didn’t think there would be any children, and there haven’t been, though I must not have wanted them that badly, even with Patric, which is fortunate, considering that he was only sixty-eight when he died. He lost his good nature, most of his muscle mass, and all of his hair in those last months, and he was so ashamed of his body’s brutal decline that he became bitterly angry. Not all of the time, but on some days I couldn’t talk to him because he only shouted until he started coughing or retching and then he’d get this terrible stricken look and wouldn’t say a word. In the last month, he didn’t speak for five days in a row, and I really thought that I would go crazy. But then the week before he died, he changed again, became more of what he’d always been, and every hour that he was lucid he’d tell me he loved me, that I’d been the grace note of his life, that he was sorry he was dying, and this remains the saddest thing I have lived through.
sk: Before you met him, what had you intended to be?
CL: A writer. I still intend to be a writer.
sk: Have you started to write now that you’re free?
CL: I was free to write then, too. But I didn’t.
sk: That might have been very hard to do. Two writers often make for an antagonistic pair. Look at Hemingway and Martha Gellhorn. Some would say she was the better writer.
CL: No one would have said I was better than Patric.
sk: He did have more experience, but if you had been publishing at the same time, you can’t know for sure what people would have said.
CL: There wasn’t much risk that I ever would have eclipsed him.
sk: But now there is.
He reached out here with the hand that wasn’t holding the microphone and touched my arm. I looked down and kept staring at his hand until he withdrew it. He didn’t apologize. I realized at that point that he could have done anything he wanted to me, I wouldn’t have been able to fend him off; but I knew he wasn’t going to press himself on me unless I made it clear that I was willing. It would have been very easy to go to bed with him, and I have to admit I thought about it. He was sexy and masculine and it had been more than a year since I had been touched in any kind of sensual way. But I was out of the habit, and frankly the prospect frightened me. Where would we have done it? Certainly not in the bed I had once shared with Patric, and I couldn’t have done it on the floor or the sofa. It would have seemed too squalid. We had a guest room, but the sheets hadn’t been changed since the nurse had left and surely would have smelled musty. I didn’t want my first time with a new man to be spoiled by these problems. I kept looking at my burning arm until he broke the silence by asking another question.
sk: What is your favorite memory of Mr. Lorieux?
CL (long pause): I know this isn’t what you mean, but he wrote me a number of poems and letters and they’re all very dear to me. Aside from what they are on the page, they bring to mind the occasions when I received them. But there are other things, of course, and maybe this isn’t my favorite memory, but it’s one I used to think of pretty often. It happened on a day when I’d been teaching a class on Shakespeare at the local arts center. We’d been reading Antony and Cleopatra, and when I got home, Patric came out of his study wearing a breastplate and a toga, a bouquet of daisies in one hand and a fake sword in the other. (Laughs.) He stood staring at me for a long time, very serious, while I giggled and turned red, and then he recited two of my favorite lines from the play, “There’s not a minute of our lives should stretch/without some pleasure now.” It was so sweet and funny that I started crying. I had no idea where he’d gotten the costume. It was long past Halloween, so I knew he couldn’t have gone to a costume shop. He wouldn’t tell me where he’d gotten it until a few weeks later. I had to guess and guess, and it turned out that a friend who’d been a costumer in New York had lent it to him just so he could do this little thing for me.
sk: When he was in good health, it must have been wonderful to be with him. You must miss him terribly.
CL: Yes, sometimes I do. A lot of the time.
sk: I’m sorry if I’ve upset you. This must be hard. I know he hasn’t been gone very long.
CL: You haven’t upset me. I agreed to meet with you, so you don’t have to apologize.
sk: I still feel like I should.
CL: Really, there’s no need.
The interview went on for a little longer, but he stuck mostly to Patric’s books and teaching after this. When we finally stopped, it was late, almost the dinner hour, and I invited him to stay for a meal and he accepted. I think we had a green salad and some spaghetti, nothing elaborate. I know we had some wine too, and when I stood up to take our plates into the kitchen, he stood up with me and put his hands on my shoulders and lowered his face to kiss me. I put the plates down and was shaking almost violently and he pulled me against his chest and I could smell red wine and warm male skin and I would have gone to bed with him then if he had tried to undress me. But he didn’t. He held me against his chest until I stopped shaking and then he said he had better go because he didn’t really know what he was doing. It was too soon, he said. He said that in the morning I would think that he had taken advantage of me because he had made me answer so many personal questions, and Patric was someone he respected so much that he didn’t think he should make love to his grieving widow. I told him that I wasn’t Patric’s widow but he said that basically I was and he needed to leave before he embarrassed himself further. He gathered up his things and left very abruptly, and I mechanically put the plates in the sink and ran water over them and then I went into the living room where he had sat with me for half of the day and I couldn’t sleep that night.
Now he has embarrassed himself for real—the public’s judgment is decisive, and whether or not the university fires him, which I suppose is almost inevitable, he has no hope of putting this incident behind him. At least not anytime soon, because he has abused their trust in a way that is as humiliating for them as it is for him. I feel very sorry for him—I do not know why he did it, but it is possible that his student’s work would not have been written if Sylvan had not helped him find his way to this idea and shepherded him all the way through to its final pages. The student’s work, Sylvan might have believed, should not have died with him. The girlfriend or whoever might have helped publish it posthumously perhaps had no intention of doing so.
There are many possible reasons, le coeur a ses raisons. But few, very few, are ever decipherable.
Did I go on to write, as it seemed I was meant to? I cannot say that I have. I might have tried but I did not keep trying. Two years after Patric died, I went back to school for a fine arts degree. I had always known how to draw but hadn’t cultivated this skill very much. I now do illustrations for medical textbooks; it is a very exacting discipline, and I like how beautifully precise every figure must be.
There was another man not long after Sylvan and I met. He was only a few years older than I and we were together for several years. Then another man arrived, but now again I live alone. It would be easy enough to find Sylvan and tell him that I would like to help him get past all of this. But there seems little point. He doesn’t write about Patric anymore. He is interested in Brecht—drama now instead of novels. He is balding and is recognizably older, judging from the photo in the newspaper, which of course does not show him to his best advantage. It is a strange thing to see someone you once wanted but in the end didn’t pursue. We never spoke again after that night. He wrote to me three times, once to thank me, once to send the transcript, and then, finally, to send a copy of his book, The Erotic-Political Dialectic in the Late Novels of Patric Lorieux. Each of those three times I could have written back to him, but I did not know what he would have wanted me to say.