Crescendo Sunday afternoon they were alone in the music school’s largest practice studio.

The young assistant professor of piano performance sat at the Steinway, playing Debussy’s Clair de Lune, mixing it with a Nocturne then ambling into Reflets dans l’eau. Realizing that the ambitious display began to sound like mud gurgling in a stagnant eddy, he stopped abruptly. “What was that?” asked Margaret, his graduate student, “concerto imaginaire on two loving hearts?” “No, it was a demonstration of what not to do,” answered Edwin, wishing he did not try to be over-brilliant. The T-shirt- and jean-clad girl took his place on the bench, carefully adjusting its distance from the keyboard. There was the freshness of youth coupled with the self-assurance of a consummate virtuoso. But to stick to the atmosphere of hilarity Edwin had created, turning this socalled “one-on-one personal coaching” in preparation for the music school’s upcoming recital at the municipal center into what it really was -- just another pretext to be together -- she abandoned the score. Elegant, sensuous jazz chords, Bill Evans style, were followed by the languorous rhythms of Errol Garner. Standing behind her, Edwin stared at the milk-white of her long neck, the rich brown hair pulled up in a pony tail; lose strands held back by a thin purple headband. Heart beating widely, he acknowledged to himself that his marriage was over. Yes, he was one hundred percent sure. If only he did not love his two small children so much. . . She finished the piece in Debussy’s style, stood up; stressed lazily; and after planting a soft little kiss on Edwin’s mouth, said with a playful gleam of her clear chestnut eyes: “That’s how to do it, maestro.” He was taken aback by this haughty sarcasm. “What the hell am I thinking? Risking separation from my children and getting fired on grounds of moral turpitude just to be treated like a pet dog by a student, almost ten years younger?” He looked at the windowed door to the studio. No one was in the building, but still; if a scene like this were to become known it would result in his immediate dismissal. The university held its faculty to strict ethical standards. An affair with a student triggered punitive administrative action faster than a murder suspect is arrested.


“You fool! End it here and now,” his instinct pleaded with the intensity of a command. Margaret, who kept stealing little glances at herself in the mirror, became aware of what was going on in Edwin’s head. She sat back on the piano bench. “I’m sorry for the arrogant tone, Edwin. It came out of me like a scream. You promised to move in with me this weekend and you have obviously forgotten about it -- and I mean completely. No explanation, no excuse. Nothing! Not a word. I don’t want to force you to do anything against your will, but please be truthful. Don’t lead me on, don’t play games with me. If you lied and now have no intention of leaving your wife, just say so and I’m gone. You have used me but such things happen; I’m a big enough girl to know that.” “Being in love with you, Margaret, has nothing to do with the decision to find my way out from a bad marriage . . .,” sighed Edwin with relief. “Do not believe for a moment that it will be easy. Linda comes across as a wet noodle but she has her ways to impose her will on you.” “You’re right. I need a strong impetus to close the door behind me and face some very unpleasant complications.” “Evidently, I’m not a strong enough impetus for you. Maybe you should look for it elsewhere. I’m sure you’ll find it right here on campus. I can even tell you whom you have in mind.” She stood up, knees trembling. Edwin tried to take her hand but she tore it away violently. “Leave me alone, you lying scum.” “Me? But Margaret . . .” “Yes, you, my dear.” Fighting back tears, she collected her sheet music. “Your PhD student, Barbara, has an eye on you and you have had yours on that Puerto Rican ingénue Anna-Maria from the senior class. You think I’m blind? She is your real Carmen; she will turn you into a miserable Don Jose. Good-by!” After taking two hesitant steps toward the door, she stopped upon hearing Edwin’s desperate plea: “Margaret! Please don’t go!”


”This is good-by, Edwin. It didn’t work out. ‘Do you like Brahms? How about long walks on the beach, camping in the mountains? Tell me about your childhood, about your favorite memories.’ The simple approach of mocking the simple approach . . . how bold, how ingenious! You should give a master class in seduction, professor. What an idiot I’ve been.” “And you?” smiled Edwin at the recollection. “’Mr. Professor,’ you said, ‘with me you will have to rise to the height of your career as a performance guru.’ And when I replied that I thought I was there already, you answered: ‘I misspoke. Until this moment you have been working on the top of the Empire State Building, but with me you will have to go to the moon and beyond, to the galaxies . . .’” “I misspoke when I told you I loved you,” she answered, taking another step toward the door, then stopping again, saying as if to herself: “A bad affair is better than no affair at all: Live and learn stupid broad!” Sobbing uncontrollably, she wanted to run away but Edwin caught up with her before she could open the door. She obediently allowed herself to be turned around. He pulled her away from the door, and standing in a close embrace they were lost in each others’ eyes. As he wiped her tears she let Debussy fall to the floor. They kissed; first as if apologizing, then as if trying to make amends for unloving thoughts, then with the growing ardor of renewed feelings. Taken over by brute sensuality, they failed to notice the wind of fate blowing in the form of slow footsteps on the staircase outside. In the moment Margaret lifted her T-shirt in self-forgotten ecstasy, the door opened. Caroline -- an undergraduate! Her narrowed eyes took in the spectacle with the merciless calmness of a sheriff executing property foreclosure. “I’m sorry,” she whispered with genuine embarrassment, but the anticipation of giving a sensational report to the girls back at the dorm was written all over her face.


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