Hank sat listening to Oliver describe the car for the fifth time, trying to look engaged, though he couldn’t help the occasional glance past the young man into the kitchen where his pitcher of martinis was waiting. If he suggested a single martini, there was a good chance Oliver would end up drinking with him as dusk came on. As much as the idea of entertaining his former student into the wee hours appealed to Hank, it couldn’t happen. He had plans for the evening.
Oliver said the car — a rust-ridden Volvo — had been driven by the most beautiful man he’d ever seen. A man with sharp teeth and a bristly beard. Black eyes that scanned the road ahead of him as if he was hunting prey. And, best of all, he’d worn a dirty tweed suit.
“Like somebody out of a D.H. Lawrence novel,” Oliver said. “I wanted him, Professor.”
How did Oliver know he had sharp teeth, Hank wanted to ask, but he kept the thought to himself. It didn’t matter. The whole thing was probably imaginary. A tweed suit in August?
From next door, Hank heard the sudden sound of someone playing a sonata. He straightened in his chair, thinking of the piano teacher.
The other teacher was tanned but rumpled, almost grandfatherly, but he brought men in and out quite often. As his own kitchen faced directly into the piano teacher’s, Hank could watch them eating before the older man whisked his students upstairs. The watching had become a ritual. In fact, it was what Hank was eager to do this evening.
“I wanted to follow the car,” Oliver said, draping one leg over the arm of the sofa. “But that would be a little creepy, right?”
One of the students in particular Hank had found extremely interesting. He’d come up the block in a wheelchair. The piano teacher had carried him up the porch steps. Hank had been coming out of his front door to take his trash (90% wine bottles, 10% take-out boxes) to the curb. Watching the piano teacher lift the man, he’d felt his heart drum in his chest.
He’d rushed inside and crouched by his kitchen window to watch. When the piano teacher got the man to his own table, their conversation had seemed so natural. This was an improvement on the past two dates. Those men been morose, bespectacled, young — graduate students probably — carbon copies of one another, except with different tattoos.
“In any case,” Oliver said, “I got his license plate number.”
He was holding a piece of stationary — stolen from a hotel no doubt, Oliver was that sort of boy — upon which the number was written. “But what does one do with a license plate number?”
“Report him to the police,” Hank suggested. “Tell them he assaulted you.”
Oliver sneered. “Bitter, bitter,” he said. “It’s not my fault you haven’t been on a date in six months.”
It had been four months, but Hank wasn’t about to correct Oliver. Instead, he went into the kitchen.
“I’m only kidding,” Oliver called.
“I know,” Hank said when he came back. He had a martini for each of them. “Here,” he said, “Hope in a glass.”
“What I want to know is what a man like that does,” Oliver said, taking one of the martinis. “A tweed suit in August. So fantastical. Will you talk me out of trying to find him?”
Hank laughed. “I don’t think I have the power to do that. You know how you are once you’ve latched on.”
Oliver sipped his martini quietly.
By standing on the toilet in his upstairs bathroom, Hank could watch the piano teacher carry the young man in the wheelchair into his bedroom. Ordinarily, he didn’t do this. The thought of the bespectacled graduate students naked did nothing for him. And the piano teacher cleaned his house naked so Hank had memorized his body already. After that, if you couldn’t converse with the person, what did you need them for?
“What I want is someone to wander the campus in fall with me,” Oliver said. His martini was only halfway gone, but his voice was already full of melancholy. “The leaves don’t do what they used to for me, but they’re still good… Matthew was someone I could do that with. Except he was doing it with everyone else. He’s the kind of shithead you wanted to perform an exorcism on, but not all the way. Bring the demons to the surface and let them gnash at his skin.”
When they’d had sex, the piano teacher had cupped the man’s head, looking down at him. Hank felt so alive, watching. It was not a feeling he was used to.
Oliver was over by the mantle now, plucking an essay from a stack Hank had left there.
“Trite,” he said. “I wasn’t trite, was I?”
Hank studied him.
“No,” he said finally. “You were the best student I ever had.”
“Well, that’s a lie.”
Hank shrugged, smiling.
“Okay,” he said.
Oliver was waiting for him to elaborate, but Hank wasn’t sure he could. He listened for more music from next door, but silence had fallen there. He could go to the window, even with Oliver here. The two of them could watch together.
It was night when he spoke again. The pitcher was empty and Oliver’s head was resting on his lap. “Why don’t we take a walk around campus?” he said. “Maybe I’ve got an old tweed jacket upstairs I can put on.”
Oliver was snoring softly.
After a while, Hank slid out from under him and trudged to the window. The piano teacher was sitting at his kitchen table alone. Hank took a deep breath and tapped on the glass. The man looked up, but Hank, in the darkness, had no idea if he could see him or was merely looking back into his own face.
Somehow, it no longer mattered.
Kevin Tasker’s work has appeared in Hobart, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, Lunch Ticket, and elsewhere. His lives in Cleveland.
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