The last few threads are tied off in this final installment of the Belles. It’s been challenging to serialize a full-length novel at weekly intervals, because there are more subplots and the structure of the book as a whole is more complex than in my short stories. I thank the loyal readers who have stuck with the Belles throughout, and I leave you with a favorite song, which also gave Emily the title for her first professional exhibit as a painter.
The best-known version of the song is James Taylor’s 1977 cover, which is gentle, romantic and sexy. When it comes to easy listening, there’s nobody like Sweet Baby James.
Hey girls, gather round
Listen to what I’m puttin’ down
Hey, baby, I’m your handy man
I’m not the kind that uses pencil or rule
I’m handy with the love and I’m no fool
I fix broken hearts, I know I truly can
36. Final Curtains
PSU Prof Arrested In Rape of Paralyzed Student
Parnell creative writing professor Hector Hernandez was arrested this morning on suspicion of raping a wheelchair-bound student. Although the Parnell Leader normally shields the names of victims, the student identified herself to reporters as Gabrielle Golden and asked that her name be made public. Ms. Golden, a student activist, held a press conference in front of Einstein Medical Center in Philadelphia in order to publicize her contention that PSU’s handicapped restrooms are out of compliance with the Americans With Disabilities Act because they have shower curtains instead of doors. With regard to the alleged sexual assault, she stated, “Hernandez was my professor and I trusted him. He raped me and put me in the hospital for a week. What kind of university allows this to happen?” Mr. Hernandez’ attorney, Kenneth Jackson, stated that any sexual contact between Mr. Hernandez and Ms. Golden was consensual. A spokesman for President Reginald Baudet said that the university would not comment while the case was under investigation. –The Parnell Leader
The rape case at PSU has gone viral, raising eyebrows and questions around the country. Parnell State has in place a policy on sexual harassment, but many in the university community say it has been enforced ineffectively and rarely. Completely lacking is a policy governing consensual relationships between professors and students, or supervisors and subordinates. The most vulnerable members of the community must be safeguarded. Whatever the outcome of the Hernandez case, the affair has brought negative attention to PSU, and the latest scandal comes on the heels of the Penn State pedophilia coverup. We believe that the time has come for President Reginald Baudet to take decisive action in order to protect the good name of Parnell State University. –Parnell Leader editorial
With Hugh at her side, Ellen switched on the eleven o’clock news, hoping for some new development in Gaby’s story. She had been shocked to read about Gaby’s ordeal in the papers, but her horror was mingled with admiration for Gaby’s fortitude, and pride in the way Amber had handled the situation. She had no doubt that Hector was guilty. “Kim told me that this sheds light on his motives with Tina. She says Hector is an abasiophile. He’s excited by sex with paralyzed women, and an unconscious woman was the next best thing. Wait, here it comes,” she exclaimed, leaning forward as the anchorwoman introduced the story.
“Hector Hernandez was arraigned today on charges of raping paralyzed PSU student Gabrielle Golden. Judge Wilhemina Schell set bail at $50,000,” intoned the anchorwoman. The video showed Hector leaving the courthouse and getting into the back seat of a waiting car with his attorney. He looked terrible. Both eyes had been blackened, though they had the greenish look of partially healed bruises. When Hector saw the cameras, he turned away, trying to shield his face, but not before Ellen spotted cuts and abrasions on his lips and eyebrow. “In this video, you can see that Mr. Hernandez appears to have sustained facial injuries,” said the reporter. “Police chief Will Haskell insisted that the injuries were received before Mr. Hernandez was taken into custody.”
“Oh my God, look at him! Someone beat him up,” exclaimed Ellen. “Not that he doesn’t deserve it, but who could possibly have known?” She sat back against the sofa cushions, thinking. “Those bruises are a few days old.” Slowly, she turned to Hugh. “That night I invited you to dinner… that was the day I called Tina, and she hung up because she had to tell Charlie. You told me you had other business to attend to.”
Hugh met her gaze calmly. “So I did.”
“You and Charlie didn’t… you weren’t… involved with that, were you?” She gestured to the television screen, where shots of Hector were being played over and over. The program switched to footage of Gaby leading a student rally in support of the Americans With Disabilities Act. At her side stood a tall young man, strikingly dressed in western gear and a cowboy hat. The enthusiastic, fist-pumping crowd held signs proclaiming “CURTAINS FOR BAUDET,” “NO MEANS NO,” and “EQUAL TOILETS UNDER THE LAW.”
“It’s nothing for you to concern yourself with,” said Hugh.
“What?! Hugh, tell me.” She waited for him to answer, but he wore his impassive, Hugh the Stolid expression. Ellen knew better than to try to get him to talk when he had that look on his face. Frustrated, she took a deep breath and returned her eyes to the TV screen. Hugh removed his arm from the back of the sofa and slowly placed his hand, face up, in her lap. He didn’t look at her. She laid her hand in his, and he closed his fingers over it.
With the conviction of Hector Hernandez, Parnell State can finally move forward in the knowledge that justice has been done. In spite of its horrific nature, the Hernandez case has led to two positive outcomes for the PSU community. President Baudet yesterday announced a new zero-tolerance policy for sexual harassment on campus. Anonymous sources in the faculty union and AFSCME confirm that at least two supervisors notorious for harassment have been asked to leave; a spokesman for the university had no comment. Meanwhile, student activist Gaby Golden’s ADA “potty parity” campaign has resulted in a pledge to renovate all the university’s handicapped restroom stalls by the end of the next academic year. –Editorial, The Parnell Leader
“Nick wants you to move in with him?” Ellen wasn’t surprised at this news. She’d met Nick Flynn a few months ago, and seen immediately that he was utterly smitten with Amber. He was an enterprising young man, having already made his fortune with a website which he sold for a cool two million. Amber said the site had something to do with closing deals. Now he was serving as a consultant to the buyers, and developing training software to teach the skills to cell phone salespeople. After touring Ellen’s condo, inspecting the granite countertops and jacuzzi tub, and hearing Amber say how much she loved the place, Nick had privately made her a generous offer to buy it. To this she agreed, because she and Hugh had picked out a perfect house in Fort Washington, with plenty of room for his studio as well as his collection of 78s, and a glorious flower garden for Ellen. “What did you tell him?”
“I told him it was a go as long as he promises not to distract me while I’m doing my homework,” said Amber. “Nick can be a major distraction.”
“No doubt,” said Ellen, smiling. “It’s hard to believe that a year ago we were sitting right here in Sergio’s, and you were telling me you didn’t have time to get to know anyone.”
“And you were ditching your granny undies so you could start hooking up,” laughed Amber. “Look how long that lasted. Didn’t you join some kind of hook-up club? What ever happened to them?”
“Kim —that’s Dr. Kavanagh to you— she never admitted it was a club, but we called ourselves the Libertine Belles,” said Ellen. “It was quite an experience. And of course, that’s how I met Hugh.” Amber and Hugh shared a love for Ellen’s Asian cooking, which gave them an immediate rapport. And when Hugh revealed that in high school, his favorite subject (after art) had been Latin, he won Amber’s ultimate seal of approval.
“The Libertine Belles!” Amber was amused. “Where are they now? Do you still see them?”
“Oh yes, but things are different now. Emily and Angus are engaged.” Emily’s paintings, collected in a show entitled Handy Man, were receiving good reviews at a gallery in Manhattan, and she had convinced Angus to try a beefless diet. “Tina says Charlie’s about to pop the question. And Val is honeymooning in Tuscany with Gerry Jones.” When Gerry the Drummer proposed, Val’s mother Barbara had stepped in to explain that there would be no inheritance for Val unless Gerry signed an ironclad prenuptial agreement stripping him of any and all financial consideration should it become clear that he was unfaithful, or used illegal drugs. Ellen heartily approved.
“What about Dr. Kavanagh?” asked Amber, mopping up the maple syrup on her plate with the last bite of her French toast. “I’ve got a soft spot for her. She assigned us an internet research project that I’ll never forget.”
“She’s holding off two very determined suitors,” reported Ellen. “One is your Latin professor, Owen Griffith. The other one is an actor who works with the Philadelphia Rep. He’s just landed a part on Broadway. But Kim won’t agree to an exclusive relationship with either of them. She’s the one who came up with the concept for the Belles in the first place, and she went about it very systematically. She says she enjoys sexual variety. And she values her freedom and autonomy more than the assurance that a man she likes isn’t shagging someone else.”
“So Dr. Kavanagh’s the female guru of hooking up,” said Amber thoughtfully. “That’s a very interesting piece of news.”
Nick would be thrilled.
Copyright 2016 by Linnet Moss
Notes: Sadly, the university where I work still hasn’t replaced curtains in the handicapped toilets with doors. At least not in my building. (Humanities disciplines are less likely to receive capital funding for renovations.) But I live in hope.
What’s next? Watch this space for another serialized story. I’m thinking of doing my “Irish book,” a tale about the mythic hero Cúchulainn and a modern woman who meets him in her dreams. It’s said that Michael Fassbender has wanted to make a Cúchulainn movie for years. I wish it would happen, but he’s getting a little too old to play Cú.