Finally, he circled back. The sun was hanging low above the mountains when he came back into town, but the heat had not relented. He stopped at a mini-mart, bought a liter of Seven-Up and a pint of Seagrams, and returned to his apartment.
Still, he would not face the source of his feelings. He mixed a stiff drink and turned the air conditioning on high. He wandered into his bedroom to the rickety bookcase and made a selection, went to his casette collection and made another. While Eric Clapton sang and played on the stereo, Neil drank and lay back on his couch. He opened the book and read:
Napoleon I., whose career had the quality of a duel against the whole of Europe, disliked duelling between the officers of his army. The great military emperor was not a swashbuckler, and had little respect for tradition.
Two songs later his drink was empty, so he laid the book aside and made another. Last year he had introduced The Duel into his class for the first time. What would a sixth grader make of Joseph Conrad? Nothing! From Conrad to the insipidity of a sixth grade reader. The thought was bitter gall in his mind.
His drink was empty again and he smiled at that, almost as if he were cherishing his weakness. He had not gotten drunk one time since the whole affair began. He would feel wretched in the morning. Good enough; he was in the mood to feel wretched.
In the months since this all began, he had not allowed himself the luxury of self-pity, but he was ready for it now.
The tempo of the music had changed. Clapton was singing softly about his shy, sweet lady, and how she looked “Wonderful Tonight”. The song brought Carmen to mind. He remembered the liveliness in her face when she was with her students, and the dead stillness when she was with him. He wondered again what Campbell had told her.
Back beyond Carmen’s image was another face, and that face was the source of all his melancholy. For it was not Alice Hamilton who had betrayed him the most. She was just a foolish young woman who had owed him nothing.
But there had been betrayal. When the accusations had come, there had been one he should have been able to turn to. Lynn; a tall girl with wild hair and soulful brown eyes, who had shared his dreams, shared his bed, and who had planned to share his life.
She would share those things, but she would not share his troubles. She was a teacher, too, and she could not afford to be associated with someone accused of sexual misconduct. That was what she said, but it was a thin excuse. Now that alcohol had loosened the iron fist of his self-control, he remembered once again the look in her eyes when he had told her about Alice Hamilton. She had hesitated. She had doubted.
How could she have doubted? Was it some fault in her that prevented belief. Or was there some secret weakness in him that only she had seen.
How could he be the man he wanted to be — the man he had thought he was — if his lover could look at him in the moment of his accusation and have such doubts? more tomorrow