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Clement's Corner: Michael And The Professor

Beautiful Irene is dead, and her boyfriend has some shocking news for Professor Tate in this story by Owen Clement.

Michael, who sat watching Professor Tate move to the lectern, realized that from today, their relationship would never be the same.

The next hour was torture. He resisted the urge to quietly sneak away.

The lecture over, the hall emptied with the usual clattering of desks, the shuffling bodies and the clamour of students’ voices as they made their way out to the foyer.

The professor gathered up his lecture notes while chatting amicably to his colleagues on stage. He finally looked up and saw Michael’s solitary figure waiting patiently.

“Sorry Michael, I’ll be right with you”, he called out.

His lean erect frame strode down the few steps to the hall to Michael, “Thank you for offering to drive me home. I’m not keeping you from your lovely girl am I?”

“No, that’s okay Prof.”

“You are very lucky to have someone as delightful as Irene waiting for you.”

Michael avoided comment as they moved down the aisle.

The foyer was crowded with people in animated discussions.

“Now Michael, in your message on the phone you said wanted to see me about an important matter?”

“Do you mind if I bring it up later, it’s a bit awkward in here?”

“Of course - how silly of me. Where are you parked?”

“Not far.”

They moved slowly through the hall, as many students wanted the professor’s ear. It was a full ten minutes before they finally reached Michael’s car.

When they were both seated Michael started the car and they drove off.

“Now my boy, you’re not in any serious trouble, are you?”

Michael hesitated. “Me! No - sorry but - um - it’s - to do with you as well actually.”

“Me as well, what on earth do you mean?”

It took all Michael’s willpower to keep his voice level: “It - really is very difficult for me to discuss it here. Would you like to come over to my place for a cup of coffee or –?“

“Look”, the Prof butted in, “I have a better idea, as you are taking me home, why don’t you come on up. I have a couple of cold ales in the frig?”

“Thanks - that’d be great.”

The professor, aware of Michael’s distressed state, said nothing more.

On arriving at the professor’s apartment, Michael picked up Professor Tate’s case and followed him up the steps.

Once inside the professor said, “Open some windows will you? It’s rather musty in here. I won’t be a moment – nature calls.”

Michael drew aside the heavy drapes and pushed open the hopper windows.

He was familiar with the dun-coloured furniture and furnishings, all perfectly aligned. They were very much in keeping with the uniformly arranged dust jackets of the books on the shelves lining the walls. He once wondered if the professor was obsessive/compulsive but now knew that his mentor, as that is how he saw him, was merely neat and orderly.

He was examining a beautifully crafted antique etching when the professor entered, bearing a sliver tray with two chilled bottles of beer and two tall slender glasses.

“Beautifully executed isn’t it? I don’t know if you know, but my professor at Cambridge gave me that as a parting gift. That man was like a father to me. He lived to his nineties and only died last year – or was it the year before. I kept all of his delightful letters. Letter writing is a craft that he excelled in. I only knew he died when my last letter to him was returned. I have that too.”

Michael half-listened, having heard most of it before.

Taking their drinks they both settled side-by-side on the bulky oft-recovered sofa.

Michael took a deep sip of the chilled ale and while watching the froth fizz in his glass spoke just above a whisper, “I’m afraid I have some terrible news Prof, - Irene, who has been acting quite strange lately is - dead. They found her body in her car late last night. The coroner declared it as suicide.”

“Dear God! How absolutely awful, you must be devastated you poor boy.” The professor’s hand rested on Michael’s shoulder.

Michael stood up and swayed slightly before turning to face the professor.

“Yes - but - as I said, I’m afraid it concerns you too.”

“Me!”

Michael put his glass down on the intricately carved oriental side-table.

”The police and the press may want to interview you as they did me.”

“The police!” The professor looked alarmed. ”Please Michael, I’m at a total loss to understand.”

Michael sat down again and faced the professor and said quietly, “Irene was your daughter.’’

“What! You know that I have no daughter or son for that matter. Where did you hear such nonsense?”

Michael pulled out an envelope from his inside jacket pocket, withdrew a faded snapshot and looked at it briefly before handing it over. It showed the professor as a clean-shaven young man with a girl who bore a startling resemblance to Irene.

The professor seemed to age, his whole body, including his face, sagged. His voice was barely audible.

“Why did she never mention it to me?” He sounded hurt and bewildered.

“She said to me that she tried many times, but just could not. Apparently it was a promise she made to her mother while she was alive.”

The professor turned his gaze from the photograph to Michael.

“I always thought that Irene was the most beautiful creature on campus, and until this moment I never realized why. Isobel, that was Irene’s mother, was the only girl I ever truly loved. We were to be married you know. I was not good enough you see. Her parents, especially her mother, were the only people I ever hated in my life. There was some talk at the time that my beloved Isobel also committed suicide.” He closed his eyes fighting to keep control.

Michel wanted to reach out to him but needed all his strength to keep control himself.

Eventually the professor said: “This has been extremely difficult for you my young friend. I will never forget your kindness in considering my feelings at a time like this. It shows me more than words could ever say how much I would have welcomed you as my son-in-law.”

Michael broke down covering his face in his hands.

The professor stood up and kneading his hands said: “Is there no justice in the rotten world?”

© 2005


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