The small (75 cm) Auxerre Goddess is a rare example of a female figure in the Daedalic style. Originally from Crete, she was “rediscovered” in a storage room of a museum in Auxerre, France in 1907. She wears a Cretan belt and has wig-like hair very similar to those of my fictional Philadelphia Apollo. And she smiles the gentle Archaic smile.
“That bastard!” Andy said to Jennet Thorne the next morning, as they set up the registration tables for the ‘Likeness and Presence’ conference. “How dare he accept an invitation to speak here, and then drop a bomb like this!” Jennet was one of the Classicists at Parnell State, and was volunteering her time to help with the conference. She and Andy had become close friends as soon as Jennet arrived in Parnell the previous year to take up a senior professorship.
“It’s certainly an aggressive move,” agreed Jennet. “But if that’s what he’s been working on, it had to come out sooner or later. At least it’s not the keynote,” she added, shuddering. “So is there any chance he’s right?”
“You mean, is there any chance that I don’t know whether the objects under my care are in fact forgeries?” Her voice wavered slightly. Infuriating!
“Well, yes. If it’s a forgery, it will be an embarrassment to the institution and to you, but it won’t be the first time that’s happened to highly regarded museums and scholars. It’s not as though you were responsible for purchasing it,” said Jennet reasonably. “It was here when you arrived. If you had recognized it as a fake, you would have quietly withdrawn it from display.”
“But it’s not a fake. I know it isn’t.” She felt no doubt, though she knew others would, once they heard Max’s pronouncements.
“I believe you,” said Jennet. “I’m a papyrologist, and I understand connoisseurship. You look at every detail, and your brain adds them all up, and you recognize when something is just…wrong. And you also recognize when it’s right. But it looks like you’re going to have to prove it, to break down that process and explain it to the world. You can’t simply rely on your gut instinct now.”
“No,” said Andy. She was mentally marshaling every piece of evidence she could, trying to anticipate Max’s arguments in order to counter them at the round table. Could she nip this in the bud? Or was that wishful thinking? “But everyone’s going to listen Max like he’s speaking ex cathedra. He can be very persuasive when he applies himself.”
“No doubt,” said Jennet, smiling a little. She had a new boyfriend in the English department, but that didn’t blind her to male beauty. She liked to draw Andy’s attention to particularly fine specimens, wherever and whenever they appeared.
Andy glared at her. “Don’t tell me you’re falling under his spell too. I think every woman here has been making googly eyes at him since he arrived.”
“You’re the one who drove him around Rimini yesterday, not me,” said Jennet. She was still smiling.
“At the moment, I’d like to back my Sebring over him and then dump his lifeless body in the Schuylkill River,” snarled Andy.
Did I ever think about losing John? I did, but only in a vague way. I knew that he would likely die well before I did, but his health was excellent except for some arthritis. I thought he would live into his eighties, or perhaps even longer. The night before he died, I was upset over some problem at work. I went to his room, as in the first days of our marriage, and clung to him for sheer physical comfort, like Harry Harlow’s baby monkeys with their cloth mother. We continued a conversation about Dante that we had started over dinner. Sometime during the night, the thought came to me that he was sleeping much more soundly than usual. When I woke, I knew immediately that he was gone. His eyes were closed and his face looked slightly sunken. I got out the little copy of Walter Pater that he gave me that day in his office, with its ribbon marker, and read to him for a while. Then I composed myself, dressed, and called an ambulance. I remember thinking that with my red-rimmed, dark-circled eyes and blotchy skin, I looked at least a decade older.
The memorial service was ghastly, as such events always are when family members who are not close are called together. John had considerately left arrangements for everything, and when I called Jeffrey, our attorney, I was given a list of minor tasks to complete. The worst one was contacting John’s children. They don’t have anything to do with me these days, a state of affairs with which I am quite satisfied. John and I were not a churchgoing couple, so the memorial was held at the funeral home. A surprisingly large number of people attended, something that would have gratified John. Facebook and email spread the news quickly, and several former students traveled to Parnell to pay their respects to the dead man and the grieving widow. Max Desmond came, and when he reached me in the receiving line, gave me a kiss on the cheek, whispering in my ear, “I loved him too.” I hadn’t known that, though I knew Max had taken more than one course with John before I arrived in Madison. Had they, too, spent hours discussing Winckelmann and Panofsky? Afterward, I found a wreath from Max. His hand-written card read:
Full fathom five thy father lies;
Of his bones are coral made;
Those are pearls that were his eyes;
Nothing of him that doth fade,
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange.
I don’t know whether “thy father” was a sly dig at me and John, or whether Max actually saw John as his own intellectual father. That he quoted from The Tempest was no surprise, for when I saw him from time to time at conferences, he used to ask me how Prospero was getting on.
At that point I was forty-one. People who didn’t know us still took me for John’s daughter, as they always had, but we had become a less shocking pair than the twenty-five year old who married her elderly professor. John had aged well, like Cary Grant, and even resembled him, with his white hair and heavy-rimmed black glasses. Per his instructions, his body was cremated and half the ashes were taken to be interred beside Edith in Madison. (Sarah-Jane, of course, was incensed at this perceived insult to her mother.) The other half were presented to me in a small, tasteful urn. I haven’t decided what to do with them. Perhaps I’ll take them to Capri, and release them into the Blue Grotto, where the sea is the color of John’s eyes.
Copyright 2015 by Linnet Moss
Notes: “Full fathom five thy father lies” is a song sung by Ariel in The Tempest. The fact that Max and his friends used to refer to John as “Prospero” is very revealing, I think, and an important clue to John’s role in the story.
Regular readers will remember Jennet from Sword Dance. Her “new boyfriend” in the English Department is of course Jonathan Sebelius, and this story takes place concurrently with that one.
I’ve been to Capri, and it is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever laid eyes on.