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The rain made it awkward to stand outside and watch today. He would have stayed for the
full hour in the park as usual, had it not been for torrents smacking his face and drenching
his clothes, an umbrella useless against the wind. Indifferent to news, he didn't watch television
or listen to the radio or log on to the Internet. One step outdoors provided all the information he
needed. Over the years he had acquired patience, only having been apprehended once,
psychologically probed, institutionalized, and then released with court orders and dire
warnings. That had all happened thirty-two years ago before he became a teacher. A few
people at the college knew about his private life, including his friend Jean-Guy who was
chairman of the Theatre Arts department.

Drama teachers tolerated or overlooked much, affecting unconventional attitudes
because, not entirely free of quirks themselves, they loved poses and fantasies. Staring at a
red-haired ingénue in a sequined tank top was permissible in a rehearsal hall. He had examined
her every move, every gesture, probed her face, the firm buttocks, and she responded to
his penetrating gaze. Indeed, in the early stages she had often sat by him in the first row to
ask if she had spoken the lines correctly. If the action corresponded to the words.
What advice could he give?
 
"Here, let me show you, Karine,"

He had been managing so well until, to his chagrin, she asked him to stop, then complained
to the chairman  who listened, advised, promised to look into it, and had spoken to him
privately. Not that Jean-Guy would do much about it since on occasion he privately auditioned
a few willing students, those lusty and aspiring thespians, in the dressing rooms, encouraging
 them to absorb theatrical experience. When Karine shouted into the phone not to call her
anymore and turned away from him when they accidentally met in the grocery store or
her favourite coffee shop, he had put it down to adolescent jitters, frustrated desire, and
the wonderful allure of being loved from afar.

His failure to maintain discretion had been caused by unwonted over-excitement, by the
roundness of her breasts and the exquisite hair. One hot evening she had  come to a
rehearsal of Chekhov's Three Sisters wearing shorts and a spandex top, her navel pierced
by ruby-tipped ring. She was playing the youngest sister Irina who yearned for the
excitement of Moscow, almost desperate to escape from a stifling provincial town. He
provided private tutorials in his office to help her explore the meaning of the speeches
and sometimes his hand rested on her shoulder. Ah, her body shivered with desire, but
he had been patient, not  wishing to push his advantage, not until he sensed her willingness
to comply. When she refused to attend the private sessions, he had no choice but to see
what she was about, how she was managing, where she went. He had hoped that Karine
as a theatre arts student could imagine him as a latter day Romeo, afflicted by the
beauty of Juliet and as attentive to her every gesture. Oh, there had been one or
 two heated conversations which he had attributed to natural coyness.

Just last month after she withdrew from the play entirely, refusing to attend rehearsals,
 she had metaphorically slapped him in the face with a restraining order, as if admiration
and yearning were heinous crimes. Even the chairperson had spoken in less than a
friendly tone, suggesting they didn't want the police to come to the college or the Dean
to take too great an interest in the private activities of professors.

"If they're private, they're not his business."

"Listen, Terry, if the girl lodges a complaint again because you're violating   
the restraining order, and the police come to the college, then it fucking well
is the Dean's business, and your job could be on the line. Not even the union
could protect you. I'm just saying, be careful. Leave her alone. Go after
someone your own age, my friend."

Terence had smiled in agreement although his mind clouded over the reference to 
his age. Jean-Guy was just over forty, still fit and attractive in that lean  
and grizzled kind of way certain mature men possessed. Boys and girls flocked 
around him. Being French added to his appeal. Unlike men of softer parts like 
himself, which a girdle did little to harden, balding, and with a pronounced
tic of the left eye, he relied upon superior intelligence and expertise in
mounting dramatic productions to rivet attention. At one time he had been, if
not tall, certainly a dark haired, if not handsome, then a pleasing young man.

Girls, a few, had joined him in bed, although they had not stayed long. An
unsuspected difficulty always asserted itself, a disfiguring mole, uncut
toenails, inept love-making, as if enticing body fragrance had become a stench.
He had expended himself, not from joy, but dissatisfaction, a kind of dying on
the wrinkled sheets, le petit mort, the French called the after effects of 
ejaculation. He had assumed it meant an expression of pleasure. Ah, but the 
pleasure now lay in the anticipation, he had discovered, in deferred 
excitement, in the ascent: in the looking, in the longing, in the knowledge 
that this one girl, the one out of many he could have chosen, belonged to him 
as much as the ever-elusive water belonged to Tantalus and no one else.

She'd leave home at five minutes after eight and walk fifteen minutes to reach  
the campus. Having retreated to his car, he started the engine and the wipers 
so he'd get a clear view when Karine opened the front door. Perhaps he had let 
desire overcome discretion by vacating his accustomed vantage point, a little 
park with tennis court across from her house where he'd sit with a tennis 
racket or book. Ah, there she was! No umbrella. Form-fitting jeans and blousy 
jacket. The poor girl would get soaked. How fortuitous that he should be on the
spot to offer her a ride. She walked directly across the street towards the 
car. Startled when Karine opened the door and slid inside, rain dripping off
her red hair, he would have preferred to offer a ride first.

"I am saying this one last time," she began without so much as a good morning,   
"you've been warned. You're not supposed to follow me according to the terms of   
the restraining order. You're not supposed to be within 500 metres of me. I'll  
go to the police. Stay away from me."

His mouth dry, he affected a smile, ill-prepared for a direct confrontation not 
of his choosing.

"A little contretemps between us, dear, no harm done, I forgive you."

He disliked her brazen tone of voice, remembering how she had initially been so   
compliant and   respectful, but, look how charmingly rain dripped off her face.

 "I wish you would come back to the play. The new girl lacks, shall we say,   
your finesse. There's a rehearsal tonight and if you were to appear, I'm sure   
the new girl, after I explained everything, would happily relinquish the part.   
Let me drive you to school."

She did not answer, and slammed the door so hard his Toyota shook. He watched   
her scurry across down the block. He could drive behind her all the way, but   
decided that today, given her mood, Karine would not approve.

Surprisingly invigorated by the morning's events, Terence began the rehearsal   
by lecturing the young actors about voice projection and natural movement on  
stage. The girl now playing the part of Irina moved like an automaton and spoke  
in a whisper. No one else being available to assume Karine's role, only  
desperation had led to her casting. Not one to make invidious comparisons,   
Terence could not help but notice her pocked  complexion and bulging hips,   
although heavy make-up and turn-of-the-century, flouncy Russian costume would   
help camouflage her physical imperfections.

All the student actors sprawled in the front row as Terence gesticulated back   
and forth. How fresh-faced they looked, what vibrancy they exuded.

"Hamlet in this regard was right. You must learn to suit the word to the   
action. Now I want you all to take your positions on stage and at least try to   
pretend that you're living, breathing human beings who know how to speak, who   
mean what they say."

They quickly sprang into action, the boys leaping onto the stage. Even the girl   
playing Irina stirred out of her lethargy. She perhaps may work out after all,   
with a bit of extra coaching on his part. Looking up the stairs to the   
auditorium entrance, he saw Karine descending, flanked by two police officers.   
A sudden tremor in his knees, a furious tic of the eye. The students also saw  
the police, the confused expression on their faces not feigned. They were  
waiting for his directions.



Kenneth Radu lives in Quebec. His stories have recently appeared or are forthcoming online in Two Hawks
Quarterly, LWOT, Poor Mojo's Almanack, Thirst for Fire, etc. He is currently writing a series of linked short
stories.






Lover was written fairly recently, last June as a matter of fact, although it had been gestating at the back of my mind for over a year. The story is unusual for me because  it reached a state of completion quickly. As for inspiration, the phenomenon of stalking occasionally hits the news, and I was intrigued by how a stalker interprets reality, how he projects feelings onto the "victim", which she does not have. So the point of view focuses on the stalker's misperception and wrongheadedness. The fact that he is a teacher harassing a student makes matters worse.

My wife was the first person to read the story as I trust her literary instincts and intelligence. She immediately recognized how the stalker sees what he wants to see, and she especially liked the reference to the "furious tic" at the end, which I had considered removing. Now I think it works, a physical sign of inner turmoil.

  


Copyright 2009