By Mark Gutglueck
From his earliest years, Luke Schlosser had been acutely conscious of class and where he and his family fit within the social pecking order that dictated the tenor of life in Brockton.
Brockton was the prototypically idyllic American town, at the far end of a major metropolis to the point where it was no longer directly overshadowed by big city life, insulated as it was by the other small suburbs that stood between it and the great city that boasted a million-plus population. Brockton’s residents ran the economic gamut and among its citizens were the rich and affluent, all of whom lived in million dollar mansions behind the gates of Wellesley Heights, through the upper-upper, upper-middle-, middle, lower-middle-, right down to the impoverished class, the last of which had been relegated to living in the dilapidated section of town that bordered the city’s industrial section south of the railroad tracks
The major factor, of course, in where the Schlossers stood socially consisted in the prestige represented by virtue of Luke’s father’s profession. Notably, the Schlossers had managed to ascend to upper-middle class status, a remarkable feat given Mr. Schlosser’s station in life as a mechanic.
Normally, the highest level to which a blue-collar workingman such as a mechanic could dare hope to aspire in Brockton would be that of the straight middle class.
Mr. Schlosser, however, was a mechanic of extraordinary skill. There was no conceivable doubt that he was the finest mechanic in Brockton. It was commonly said that he was, in fact, the best mechanic in the entire state. It had even been said, by several people who were in a position to know, that he was the best mechanic or among the best mechanics, in the world.
Among the talents that Mr. Schlosser possessed that had won him that accolade was his seeming ability to simply listen to an engine once it had been started up and diagnose, just from the sound, precisely what the problem with the entire machine was.
Moreover, the elder Schlosser had learned virtually every trick that had ever been employed by trade mechanics and had filed them away in his active memory, and was ever ready to summon a remedy to use whenever a seemingly intractable problem emerged in the garage.
Once, for example, the chief mechanic for Brockton’s fire department had brought a newly purchased fire engine to the Schlosser Garage, befuddled at the truck engine’s precipitous loss of power. Concerned that disassembling the engine would void the factory warrantee on the expensive piece of equipment but reluctant to forego the extended loss of the engine that shipping it back to the manufacturer would entail, the department mechanic had appealed to Mr. Schlosser to see what determination he could make. After instructing the engineer to engage the truck’s ignition, Mr. Schlosser opened the engine compartment and, pressing the end of a wood-handled broom to various spots along the idling engine’s head and block and placing the other end of the broomstick to his temple where he could listen to and feel the reverberation, pronounced that major faults in the engine’s fourth and sixth pistons existed. The next day, when the department mechanic and another of the department’s firefighters tore the engine apart, they found the problem to have been precisely as Mr. Schlosser had described it.
The elder Schlosser’s expertise with machines was not confined merely to engines that powered vehicles. The story is still told about how in the pressroom at The Brockton Courier one summer, the entire press seized up, and for nearly two weeks the newspaper had to be printed at considerable cost to the publisher, Bill Thompson, by the much larger metropolitan daily in the heart of the city while the Courier‘s pressman, Jim Harris, labored in vain eight full days in trying to determine what the problem was. On the ninth day the press was down, a mechanic certified by the company that had manufactured it in Wisconsin arrived. After more than three days, he was no closer to repairing the press than Harris had been. On the eleventh day, Thompson, exasperated, walked the nine blocks from the newspaper building located in the midst of Brockton’s commercial and business district to the Schlosser garage located in Brockton’s industrial sector, where he patiently waited for Mr. Schlosser for an hour-and-a-half while the latter and one of his mechanics wrestled with a particularly cumbersome 12-cylinder engine that had been ripped out of a Mack truck. When Schlosser at last came into the small anteroom that served as the garage’s front office and asked Thompson what he needed, Thompson in less than 175 words related to Schlosser in a clipped but increasingly higher pitched narrative how he had sunk nearly half-a-million dollars into a state-of-the-art printing press nearly three years before and how it had never given him a minute’s worth of trouble until it had seized up just like that a week-and-a-half before and no one, not even the manufacturer’s chief trouble-shooting mechanic who was supposed to be the best in the business at these types of things, could determine, let alone allay, the problem. Schlosser responded that he knew nothing at all about printing presses, electric or otherwise, and would not even know which way they were loaded or where the business end on one of the confounded things was. Thompson said he had anticipated that Schlosser would say something like that, but that he was prepared to make it more than worth his time just to come down to the newspaper plant and look the situation over. Schlosser did so later that afternoon. He said he could not offer Thompson much encouragement, but asked Thompson to provide him with the blueprints for the entire printing press, which Thompson did. That night and until nearly 3 a.m. the following morning, Schlosser studied the blueprints in all of their intricacy laid out before him on the kitchen table, making several phone calls to an increasingly agitated Harris at his home for an exact description of the grind in the machinery that had immediately preceded the failure of the press. The following day, he left his garage under the supervision of a 29-year old mechanic named Dale who, though not the most senior of the men under Schlosser’s employ, was the most competent. Together with his tool satchel, Schlosser went to the Courier building. Stripping down to his waist and coating his sinewy upper torso in petroleum jelly, armed with a flashlight, a ratchet set, an off-set ratchet set and a selection of open end and box wrenches, he personally disconnected the press’s power supply and climbed into the bowels of the press itself, somehow managing to slip or squeeze through spaces that appeared insufficient to accommodate him.
After nearly four hours that were intersticed with a steady stream of what remains to this day some of the most creative and far-ranging samples of profanity heard within the Courier‘s pressroom, Schlosser emerged with a warped cover plate and two rollers that had resided at the nexus between one of the press’s folding racks and the spreading plate that preceded the rack. He went to a foundry in the metropolis, returning in the late afternoon with an ad hoc but functional reproduction of the damaged part. After replacing the bearings on both rollers, he took the parts and tools, reinserted himself into the mash of blades and now dormant other moving parts where he remained for another two hours. When he emerged for the second and last time from the works shortly before 7 p.m. with dozens of bruises and lacerations on his head, neck, arms, hands and torso, he reconnected the power supply and calmly instructed Harris to load the press with printing plates and paper and fire it up. The press chortled to action when it was activated, spitting out the four-page practice sections that had been prepared for the dry run. Within minutes, Thompson, who was still in the building, was called down from his third floor office. When he saw the press running full tilt, he embraced Schlosser in a bear hug, seemingly unconcerned that in doing so he was smearing his expensive and impeccably cut Continental business suit in grease. Quarter-, half- and full-page ads for the Schlosser Garage, ones which Thompson never billed Schlosser for, became a prominent feature of the Courier‘s front section from that time forward.
The Schlosser home was on the far side of a neighborhood that bordered another neighborhood three blocks below the Wellesley Heights entrance, which consisted of two oversized gates permanently thrown open against either side of the mountain out of which Brockton’s most exclusive section had been sculpted. The splendor of the greenery along the road’s side and the opulence of the properties that showed through the entrance gave the casual passer-by the sense that the gates were manned by none other than Saint Peter himself.
The money the elder Schlosser accumulated from the successful operation of his garage was inadequate to have allowed for him to move his family into one of the mansions in Wellesley Heights. Instead, Schlosser invested some of his money back into his business as well as in treasury bills and the stock market and educational trust funds for his two sons. And it was those trust funds that had made it possible, when Luke and his brother turned out to be excellent students, for each of them to attend different but equally prestigious Ivy League colleges.
So while Luke fell well below the economic grade at the apex of Brockton’s social hierarchy, he compensated for that shortcoming with his education. In the summers when Luke came home from college, local businessmen were only too happy to make use of his intelligence, and he was hired one summer to work in an investment banking firm, the next summer by one of the leading law firms in the metropolis and in the season before his senior year as an understudy with an architectural firm.
Luke, who recognized and respected his father’s skill and expertise, was nevertheless determined that he would not follow a blue-collar career path. He had never allowed himself to articulate it, but at least from the time he was an adolescent, Luke was ill at ease with the earthier aspects of his father’s profession. He was particularly bothered by the seeming ubiquity of grease as a factor in the life of a mechanic. For many other youths, the smearing of motor oil into their clothes, skin and hair had some sense of romantic allure. For Luke, who had done a fair share of serving as a third hand for his father and other mechanics around the garage, the omnipresence of grease grime beneath his fingernails depressed him. In his mind, the concepts of water torture and a scenario in which a sweating man was left in a position where he could not keep his dripping sweat from passing through grease caked on his forehead and running down his face were synonymous. Luke bound himself to finding his niche in the world, using all the intensity he saw his father apply in his performance, but in a white-collar context.
It was while Luke was preparing for a white-collar future that he first became acquainted with Louise Denisen. She was employed at the reference and circulation desks of Brockton’s library as she was working her way through college, pursuing a degree in library science from a university in the metropolis. Her father was a doctor in Idaho. Their acquaintance was made during the summer before Luke’s senior year in college. She had assisted him on several occasions when he had gone into the library to do basic and specific research. Early that summer, Luke had barely taken notice of her, although he did remark to himself how efficient and dexterous and creative she was in researching any subject that was set before her. He was particularly impressed on one occasion toward the end of the summer when she had proven herself diligently persistent in tracking down a text that contained diagrams of the blueprints of three still standing mid-rise buildings in the metropolis that were built nearly a century before. Luke had been sitting at a wooden desk among the magazine stacks, looking through long past issues of Architectural Digest when Louise came up to him. He looked her over completely that moment for the first time. She wore a simple one-piece cloth dress. She was pale, not unnaturally, with freckles. Her hair, a light brown or dark blond lightly tinged with auburn, was drawn back or held in place with mousse entirely too tautly, Luke thought, almost so that it seemed it would have been painful. She wore no makeup that Luke could detect, although her lips may have been lightly glossed. She wore glasses, unstylish ones that still did not mask in any way the clear blueness of her irises. She possessed, Luke realized at that moment, a simple yet sophisticated demure charm.
“I really appreciate your effort,” Luke said in taking the text from her.
“I’m happy to have been of assistance,” she said simply before turning and walking quietly away.
While Luke was back at college his senior year, the librarian at the Brockton Public Library never crossed his mind, as filled as it was with his studies and campus social life. The following June, he returned to Brockton an Ivy League graduate, with a degree in pre-law and minor in architecture. He had previously applied for and had been accepted at the prestigious law school located in the metropolis, which was but a half-hour’s commute from Brockton. That summer, to keep himself in pocket change, he did more clerking with the law firm he had previously worked with. His workday rarely exceeded six hours and he often spent several hours a day at the municipal library in the metropolis or the Brockton Public Library. His reading tastes were eclectic and he read non-fiction, classic and new fiction, or spent hours just browsing through the volumes of magazines from three, four, five or six decades past.
It was at this time that his acquaintance with Louise Denisen was renewed. Three or four weeks into the summer the acquaintanceship escalated to the status of friendship. Luke found himself reading less and less and standing at the side of the reference desk, conversing with Louise. He did this self-consciously at first, asking periodically if he was obstructing her. She simply told him to relax and that if he could put up with interruptions as she assisted patrons, everything would be fine. Their conversation ranged all over the universe, punctuated often by Louise’s accessing of information, which for all the world seemed to reside right at her fingertips, both in response to questions brought up by the library’s customers or in response to questions that had come up in the conversation between them.
Then it happened. It was July Third. On that day Luke was not at the reference desk but was back in the reading room, in a comfortable, cushioned wicket chair reading a political memoir. Louise had come on an errand to fetch a back issue from the collection of the current year’s periodicals and she had a small stack of them on the floor when Luke glanced over. She was on her knees, leafing through the magazines. Luke saw her only in profile from where he sat. He watched transfixed her closest slender arm where it disappeared into the sleeve of her blouse just below the shoulder. As Luke drank in her image as she found what she was searching for seemingly oblivious to his presence, she appeared to him the most exquisite creature in the universe. From that moment on Luke Schlosser was in love, hopelessly and eternally, with Louise Denisen.
By the time he began law school in September, Luke was entirely obsessed with Louise to the point that attending classes was truly a secondary priority. His first interest had become impressing this woman. Surprisingly, she seemed entirely receptive to and almost grateful for his attention. He had advanced cautiously at first, taking her to dinner after work, inquiring of her interests. Their first date, as it were, was to attend the opera, a performance of La Traviata, in the metropolis one Saturday night. The opera was certainly not something Luke had even a casual interest in but he had secured the tickets after Louise mentioned that it was something she one day hoped to acquire a better appreciation for. Subsequently he had persuaded her to accompany him on excursions to museums and galleries and once to a theatre’s production of King Lear.
For her birthday in November Luke gave her a nine-inch high china statuette of Sir Joshua Reynold’s Pinkie and for Christmas, before she departed for a full week’s visit to her mother in Arizona, a matching statuette of Sir Thomas Gainsborough’s Blue Boy.
When she returned from Arizona at the very end of December, Luke called her at her apartment just as she was beginning to unpack. The conversation did not end for two hours. He quizzed her on everything she had done and felt himself tense with alarm when she told of how she, her mother and third stepfather had wandered lost in the desert east of Tucson for several hours until they were picked up by some people with off-road vehicles.
That Louise was interested in vigorous exercise such as hiking caught Luke unawares, as she had not mentioned that before. Shortly thereafter they sojourned on one unseasonably warm Sunday to a distant wildlife reserve, where they trekked seven miles to a crystal lake in the azure water of which reflected the forest across the nearby hills. They picnicked near the shore of the lake, talking endlessly of their childhoods, skipping stones and floating tiny basket boats they constructed of woven grass. Throughout the day-long outing, Luke was ever the gentleman, walking beside Louise whenever the trail was wide enough for them to walk abreast. He had to constantly fight the urge to take hold of her hand. On most of the narrower parts of the trail he let her proceed first. Throughout the entire hike, he touched her but once, at a hairpin turn of the trail where a tiny spring was nestled into the side of the mountain and he clasped his hand across her shoulder to steady her in case she slipped on the outcropping of wet rock beneath their feet.
Luke made a point of studying at the Brockton Public Library each night, poring over his class textbooks and the casebooks he had checked out of the law school’s library, not in a carrel but in a comfortable lounge chair, which he monopolized, on the second floor. During the periodic breaks he took from his studies there, he could walk just a few feet to the railing and gaze down at the reference desk where Louise was seemingly ever present assisting a patron or busy at work typing into a computer at her work station. Most nights Luke lingered until the 9 o’clock closing and managed to engage Louise in conversation on the stone step entranceway. She did not put him off at all but seemed to be flattered by his attention. Luke found himself entranced at some hypnotic power she possessed, the lilting quality of her voice and the cadence of her speech. Her mind was mercurial and parried concepts with him in their talk, her high-grade thinking complimented by an elegance of expression that entered his ears like a beautiful music from a faraway land that washed over his soul.
In late January she invited him to an installation dinner for the officers of a service club she was involved with. He accepted immediately, but asked how she would be able to attend since the time of the dinner conflicted with her work schedule. She said she had arranged to get two hours off for the event. Two days before the dinner, Luke went to the library in the late afternoon, but was mildly disappointed that Louise was not there. He inquired of one her coworkers on where she was and was told that Louise had taken an extended lunch break that day to be fitted for a dress she was getting for the dinner two nights hence.
The night of the dinner, Louise was resplendent in the long blue formal, which tastefully but still devilishly revealed much of her back while covering but accentuating her perfect female form. For the evening as well, Louise had dispensed with her usual mousse-held combed-straight-back hair arrangement that gave her the mildly severe air of a librarian it seemed to Luke she had been attempting to cultivate as part of her professional demeanor. In its stead she substituted a lightly curled and waved style that framed her facial features perfectly. Luke could not help but draw a visual comparison between the woman he was escorting and every other woman present in the hall where the event was being held. There was not one who came close to holding her own against Louise. As the meal ended, and dessert was served, the installation ceremony began with the closing remarks of the outgoing president and the presentation of the new president. An intense and animated conversation between Louise and Luke that had begun with dinner continued throughout the installation, but not verbally, as they took to conversing in writing back and forth on the backside of the several dinner agendas lying around the table courtesy of a pen that Louise produced from her purse. After he had taken Louise home, Luke had gone home and in bed repeated to himself again and again before dropping off to sleep that Louise had purchased the dress she wore that evening with him in mind.
Though he would hardly have thought it possible, the intensity of Luke’s feeling for Louise was growing. Yet another threshold was crossed one night in early February. On that occasion, the temperature had dropped well into the thirties. As had become their wont, Luke and Louise paused at the library’s front entrance to converse. Within five minutes, however, Luke, who had only a light coat on, was shivering. Louise, who had the advantage of wearing a heavy coat and a muffler, remarked that it was probably too cold. Luke said perhaps it was too cold to remain outside on a night like this. Louise then reached into her purse and retrieved her key ring and, walking to library’s front door, opened it. She stepped quickly inside where she disarmed the facility’s security alarm. She pushed the door halfway open and beckoned for Luke to come inside. She locked the door behind them and they repaired to a settee that was against the wall opposite the head librarian’s office. Luke asked if this was not risky since it was after hours, to which Louise said they would be all right if they did not turn on any lights. They remained on the small sofa a full ninety minutes, locked in a discussion that moved from the topic of law, to politics, then religion and, in a curious twist that came about as a result of a chance remark Louise made that intrigued Luke, the history of plumbing in America. The conversation broke up with Louise saying she would research the next day into when it first was that hot running water became a common feature in American households.
The date of the second and last time they would clandestinely meet inside the closed library would be indelibly etched into Luke’s mind. It was February 12, a Tuesday. If anything, it was even colder that night than it had been several days previously, their first after hours encounter in Louise’s workplace. After waiting a decent interval of five minutes or so after all of the patrons and other employees had gone out of the parking lot, Louise again unlocked the door and disappeared briefly into the building to disarm the alarm. She locked the door behind them when Luke came in and they softly walked toward the settee again. What transpired next was entirely spontaneous. It was but a second or two before he did so that Luke consciously understood what he was about to do. As they neared the settee Luke caught Louise’s hand in his and gently but firmly turned her toward him. He stepped toward her, pulling her in his direction. He then fully and deliberately kissed her. In that moment of eternity he realized the risk he had precipitously taken, and the rush of ecstasy he felt with his lips upon hers was tinged with dread that she might be offended at his action. She did not stop him. In the dark he could barely see her face, which was too close anyway to be focused on for him to gauge her reaction. She then reached for his other hand and turning him slightly, moved close in against him and pressed him toward the wall. This time it was she who kissed him, harder than he had her, with no hint of tentativeness. They made their way to the settee almost blindly in consuming passion and from there he devoured her and she him, and minutes later he laid her gently out on the carpeting and took her there.
What had come to be between Luke Schlosser and Louise Denisen will forever rank as one of the great uncelebrated romances of history. In each other’s presence their hearts would race to sound the backbeat measuring the furious cadence of their mutual desire as their souls would meld and they would revel in the pulse of their being to glide as one across the universe. Their senses locked fully engaged upon one another, their flesh pounding together, his manhood surging to meet her womanhood beneath her soft stomach, steeped in sweat. Set on all the more by the carelessness with which her lingerie lay strewn about them, Luke conceived of himself as a satyr let feast upon the loveliest maiden and Louise knew then as she had never before fulfillment. When they were apart, their thoughts were almost exclusively about one another.
They never again trysted at the library. Louise invited Luke to her small upstairs apartment, a neat if unassuming haven well away from the world. Only the walls stood witness to their displays of passion, encounters that gradually escalated from gentle touches to the full incitement of each other’s lust. Each was equally insistent that the physical needs of the other be completely satisfied. No other woman could be so responsive to his touch as was Louise, Luke was convinced. There was no portion of her body that Louise held off limits to him. Her being was the earthly temple of Aphrodite at which he worshipped, her spirit that of the goddess manifested in perfect womanflesh.
After or between their hours-long sessions of lovemaking they would lie in one another’s grasp and it was only in those brief periods that Luke ever found himself truly at peace with the demons that disturbed his soul and body.
It was in this state, their unclothed bodies against each other, their libidos temporarily discharged, that Louise and Luke became most vulnerable to one another. They would confess at these times the darkest and deepest secrets of their existences, their desires, their fears, their insecurities. Though Louise had previously spoken of the more pleasant events of her childhood, it was during one of these confessionals that she related a full accounting of her parents’ divorce. She was only six years old when her mother and father had separated. Her voice lowered almost to a whisper so that Luke had to strain to hear as she recounted how she hardly ever saw her father after that as she was given over to the custody of her mother. She related how nightly she had cried for months and months after the break-up and how she prayed and hoped in vain that her parents would reconcile. Luke saw tears welling up in her eyes as she told of how she feared her father had abandoned her and the pain she experienced as her mother struggled through two subsequent marriages, and she felt the loss of the two stepfathers with whom she had bonded. Luke told her then, for the first time, that he loved her. Silently, to himself, he committed to never abandon her. Then, despite his earlier intention to make violent love to her again, he merely held her tenderly until they both fell asleep.
It was shortly after this that poetry became a bond in their lives. Luke had once given his opinion that Coleridge was the greatest poet he had ever read. The very next day Louise had produced, from the shelves of the Friends of the Brockton Library Bookstore for one dollar no less, An Anthology of British Poetry. A few days later, she retrieved from the same source, a book entitled Lives of the Poets. A favorite pastime when they got together thereafter was to read aloud from the anthology. Luke read Coleridge, Shelley and Keats to her. She read to him samplings from all over the book, but seemed especially fond of Elizabeth Browning. Later, she produced an ancient original volume of Baudelaire. She would read the poems in French, in which she was fluent, and then provide Luke with a translation. She had the voice of an angel, Luke thought.
One day, Louise told Luke she had once written poetry. Luke immediately demanded to see it. It took Louise nearly a half-hour of digging through various boxes in her closets before she found a notebook and two folders. One of the folders contained sheer juvenilia – stories and verses she had written in high school. The notebook, which was only partially filled, and the other folder contained things she had written while she was in college. The juvenilia was typically immature, but interesting in places. The more recent writing, Luke recognized at once, was quite good, in places riveting. It featured Louise’s sensitive take on the world, a view of reality through the prism of her perception, enhanced further still by her rich vocabulary and talent for pithy simplicity and for turning an unexpected phrase to dramatic effect. She said she had despaired over the quality and had ceased writing nearly two years before. At this Luke actually grew angry, insisting she had no appreciation of just how good her writing was. He encouraged her to write more.
And write more Louise did, when she found time between the library science classes she was taking in the morning toward her degree at the university in the metropolis, her eight hours of work at the library days and nights, the volunteer work she did with the service club and the time she spent with Luke. Her poems became a standard element of their getting together. Whether she had written anything new since he had seen her last would be the first thing Luke inquired about when he saw her. She had taken to entering them by hand into a diary with a lock she had purchased at the stationers and she would allow Luke to unlock it and read her newest offerings. “You are a poetess,” he remarked after reading one particularly inspired and well-crafted piece. He insisted that she allow him to photocopy all of her work and he collected all of the copies together into a bound folder which he kept on his bookcase in the bedroom within the small summer cottage behind his parents’ home in which he was living while attending law school. Many of the poems Louise wrote took as their subject Luke, whom she inflated on the page to heroic proportions, often boosted by the device of classical literary allusion. Luke protested that he was too mundane a subject for her literary talent and efforts, and that she should find more worthy subject matter. Truthfully, however, he was flattered beyond expression at what she wrote about him and he reread those poems endlessly.
One evening as they were talking about the future, Louise matter-of-factly said that because of a genetic condition she first learned of when she was 16, she would have great difficulty conceiving a child. To Luke’s questions she explained that there was only a limited chance that medical science could be applied to her circumstance, although she did say that she was aware of at least one breakthrough case where a woman with her condition had carried an in-vitro child full term to birth.
With the progression of their relationship, Luke was astounded at Louise’s breadth and depth. He was closer to her than he had ever been to any other person in his life. He had peered deep into her soul and was convinced she was his life’s mate. Together they would rush headlong through existence together. She would become his wife and need never fear that he would run around on her or go off looking for something better because he knew in his heart there was no one better.
Without telling Louise he was doing so, he began to look into the fertility issue as it related to Louise’s condition. He was encouraged to learn that significant strides had recently been made with regard to assisting those with the rare condition she had to achieve conception. In sizing it all up, it seemed to Luke that what Louise wanted more than anything was to become a mother, to recreate the family unit that had been wrenched from her as a child. Luke was determined that he would do everything he could to provide her with that, whether it meant going into debt for the rest of his life to a fertility clinic or adopting children to form a family.
Later, when he would analyze it, Luke realized that had been perhaps the fatal misstep. Though he had a letter to Louise’s father half composed in a notebook of his own in a drawer in his cottage asking Dr. Denisen for his daughter’s hand in marriage, he had never formally proposed to Louise. There had been the presumption that her thoughts and feelings mirrored his own. He had made plans, elaborate plans that included her, without consulting her. When he first mentioned the research he had conducted into the childbearing issue, she had seemed pleased, he thought. Later that night, after making torrid love to her, Luke told her he was positively obsessed with the idea of merging his genes with hers.
The first inkling Luke had that something was amiss came a few days after that evening when Louise distantly replied to his request to read her most recent poems that she had not written any. Later when he suggested that he would come around to her apartment that night, she put him off, telling him she felt too tired. The next time he saw her, at the library just before closing time, he chatted with her amiably about a lecture in one of his law classes. She again indicated she would be going to bed early that night. When Luke kissed her goodnight, he sensed no feeling from her.
These signs greatly troubled Luke. He was ill prepared for what followed. There was no mistaking that Louise’s rejection of him had begun in earnest when she told him that it would be best if he “simply stopped” coming to the library. He asked if the library administration had noted his presence at the reference desk and had warned her against mixing her personal affairs with her work. She said, “No.”
Two days later, he drove over to her apartment in time to catch her just as she returned from work. She seemed reluctant to let him in, but did so. Luke stepped into the front room with an overwhelming sense of foreboding. He tentatively started to say a few things he had mentally rehearsed, something about being shaken by the events of the last few days. Louise listened and at Luke’s first pause, shattered his universe forever. Using the same economical but elegant phraseology that had so endeared her to him, Louise explained that while she still loved him, she was no longer in love with him, at least for the time being. She was nearing the point where she would soon have her bachelor’s degree. She was undecided about the future and whether she was going to try to get her master’s degree. There would be college loans to pay back. Things were in a state of flux. What she needed now, she said, was space, physical space and mental space to allow her to sort out the issues in her life. It would be best for them not to see one another.
Devastated at what he had heard but acutely conscious that an intemperate reaction would destroy whatever hope there was that he might preserve or salvage the relationship that was unbelievably crumbling before his eyes, Luke struggled to express what was in his heart. He could not. He then tried to respond to the points she had laid out, saying that he would support her in whatever decision on her future she made and that he would soon be a practicing attorney and would be able to pay off all her debts. Her response was that she needed to work these things out for herself. Luke heard himself to be on the verge of growing argumentative and taking a deep breath, told Louise how sorry he was. Determined to keep his dignity, and to act with style and grace, he stood up, kissed Louise on the forehead and told her she should call him if her feelings changed.
The days, weeks and months ahead were hellish ones without respite for Luke. The manifestation of raw emotion eviscerated him to the point where he did not sleep for days. He lost focus on his law studies. The way in which his relationship with Louise had so suddenly turned confused him, disillusioned him and destroyed his confidence. He grew angry with himself and with her, embittered at the destruction of the purest and most intense affection he had known. After more than two weeks, he could stand the separation no more and he went to the library to see her. She was busy helping patrons and other than greeting her he had little opportunity to talk with her, so busy was it that evening. He left, more frustrated than ever.
He then wrote her a letter, five pages long in which his very soul tumbled out onto the paper. He expressed his passion, his hurt, his love for her, his hope now dashed for becoming the father of her children, how precious she was to him. She sent back a two sentence note telling him she had received the letter and that he should move on with his life.
Though his depression was obvious to the limited circle of people who knew him, Luke was unable to confide in anyone and so was left to internally resolve the matter which clouded his every waking moment and much of his sleep. No matter how hard he tried he could not understand what had driven Louise away. Had he been too possessive? Too passionate or too earthy in his passion? Not passionate enough? Was there another man? Did she erroneously suspect there was for him another woman? Where did he come up short? He examined his sorrow and sense of loss. Was it for himself? Was it for Louise? Was it for the child he had fantasized about, their child, whom he had envisioned Louise suckling? Luke honestly did not know.
When Martin, one of his fellow law students remarked to Luke that Luke somehow didn’t seem his old self one day after class, Luke was almost surprised to hear himself say that he and his girlfriend had broken up and that he was having a rough time getting over it. For Luke such frankness about his personal affairs, especially to someone he did not really know well, was out of character. Martin said he knew the kind of therapy Luke needed. “You just need to get your mind off her,” Martin said. “Come on.” Martin’s analysis, as far as it went, sounded accurate to Luke. He acquiesced to going with Martin and Jason, another student they ran into, down into the metropolis’s dilapidating commercial district, where Martin parked his car opposite a topless dance club. Luke, hesitantly, followed his fellow students inside.
Inside the dank and darkened establishment, a long bar ran the length of one wall. An elongated stage, which was bathed in both violet and ultraviolet light ran down the middle of the room to a point roughly three quarters of the distance toward the far wall. To one side of the stage against the wall was an organ player/disc jockey booth. Small tables with three or four chairs around them were scattered across the room. The three young men came into the place, let the door close behind them and stood for a time near the entranceway to let their eyes adjust to the lighting. They walked toward the far end of and then around the runway to the other side of the room and seated themselves at a table fifteen feet or so from the stage. Behind them were a couple of pool tables. A waitress in a bikini came to their table. Jason and Martin ordered beers. Luke asked for a cherry coke. Momentarily, a girl in a sequined outfit came up to the stage. The organist came over and manned the organ booth. To a heavily backbeated rhythm the organist pounded out a synthesized sound midway, Luke thought, between brass and reed instruments, and the girl began a correspondingly rhythmic dance that was not altogether graceful, it seemed to Luke. At various intervals she peeled back a layer of her attire and a minute or so later, discarded it on the catwalk. At last, she was covered in only a skimpy brassiere and thong bikini bottoms. Slowly dropping a shoulder and then the other, she pulled alternately at the brassiere’s shoulder straps and shook her bare breasts into full view of everyone in the room, save for the organist who played on the keyboard behind her. She goose-stepped down the runway and flung the brassiere to a patron seated at a table two over from where Luke, Martin and Jason sat. The dancer continued to one of the six-inch diameter brass poles posted up and down the runway where first she reached high with both arms and hands to grasp it above her head. She affixed the arches of each of her feet at a spot on the pole ten or so inches off the ground and made a show of partially climbing the gleaming brass cylinder in rhythmic jerking motions.
So in this fashion did one strutting vixen after another parade before them, each pouting and wagging their fingers at the men around the room with whom they made eye contact in the sparse light. Luke made a perfect show of concentrating his attention toward the gyrating figures bathed in the barroom’s carnal lucidity, but his vision’s focus lengthened, so that the dancers were but blurs in his field of vision. His mind drifted ever faithfully to Louise, her unclothed and partially clothed body in his mind’s eye. He envisioned Louise in the moments they had been together during which she had taken such pride in her flesh. The feeling he had for her dwarfed any conceivable regard he could summon for the harlots before him. Their gaudy and impersonal pleasantries would never substitute for the intimacy he had had with Louise. He brought his vision to normal focus and in the darkness of the flesh gallery gazed full face into the demons that consumed him. Tears which he fought dewed at the corners of his eyes so that, to avoid an unmanly show before his colleagues, he dabbed them away with his long shirt sleeves by occasionally drawing his wrists toward his forehead.
For a time, Luke was able to transform the hope he had into short bursts of giddy confidence that Louise would one day return to him. After a month of such self-induced daily risings of expectation, Luke, at last fully broken, called Louise and spoke with her for the last time. He had hoped to somehow encant, to incite her passion, but when he heard her voice he lost complete control of his emotions and he could only plead pathetically with her.
“You’re hurting me,” he said.
“I don’t mean to hurt you,” she replied. The sound of her voice, with all its sensual and hypnotic appeal to him, yet made clear she was insulating herself from him.
Later that night, Luke ran a fever and as his temperature rose, Luke envisioned himself taking bolder and bolder efforts to regain Louise’s affection until at last, just before the fever broke, he had become with her Pluto abducting Persephone.
But he no longer possessed the confidence to transform such a fantasy into reality.
Nor did he ever, as he often thought of doing, go to the Brockton Public Library to confront Louise and make a last desperate avowal of his passion. In his mind, Luke wanted to walk with her to the far back end of the third floor, among the bookcases and empty carrels where no one would be there to overhear them and, taking her by the wrist, say “Stop it! Stop holding yourself away from me this instant! You know I love you!” No similar scene ever played out. His humiliation by Louise’s rejection was such that he could not act.
So poignantly did Luke continue to feel the loss of Louise that he could not mask it, for by his outer show he appeared to be a man bereaved. Even Mr. Schlosser, who by philosophical inclination and practical preference had remained uninvolved in the emotional entanglements of his children, one day inquired directly about what it was that was troubling his son.
Luke had gone to the Schlosser Garage late that afternoon where his father was fully engaged in reconstructing a carburetor linkage in a 1938 Fiat Toppolino. A remarkable period piece, the Toppolino featured its original motor. While he honed a substitute connecting rod out of an aluminum bar using alternately a lathe and a drill press, Mr. Schlosser sussed out from Luke that he was no longer seeing Louise. “Something like that happened to me once, before I met your mother. You probably don’t believe me, but there will come a time when it really won’t matter,” he said. His son should simply shake it off, he suggested. “Why would you want to spend time with a woman who doesn’t want to spend time with you?”
Luke sat at the microfiche projector desk where his father and his mechanics studied the fiche containing diagrams and repair instructions in exhaustive technical detail for all order of engines. Resisting the compulsion to protest to his father that the librarian had absconded with his soul, Luke heard his father out as the elder insisted that solace for any disappointment could be had by devotion to any productive effort.
And indeed thereafter Luke worked like the devil, intending to construct his existence into the form that he had faith would deliver Louise once more into his life. He completed law school, graduating seventh in his class. He passed the bar the following September.
It was on a Sunday morning just after he began practicing law at the largest and most prestigious law firm in the metropolis, as he leafed through the morning newspaper, that Luke came across the engagement announcement. Louise Denisen and Michael Wilkinson were set to be married on November 14 at the Wellesley Heights Adventist Church. Luke’s eyes ran over the body of the announcement, rereading it twice. He closely examined the accompanying photo. Louise, as ever, was beautiful. She had removed her glasses for the picture. Luke intently studied Michael Wilkinson, the fiancé of the only woman he had ever loved. He was struck by how absolutely ordinary Wilkinson appeared. In the darkest recesses of his mind, Luke had long harbored the fear that Louise’s affection would settle on a man whose outward physical attributes would immediately and obviously raise him above the multitude. Yet there was nothing in Wilkinson’s appearance that Luke could see which distinguished him from anyone else. For a second, Luke was relieved at the revelation. As quickly though, Luke recognized that the announcement was the de facto confirmation of his worst waking nightmare and that officially and forever, in front of man, God and the law, Michael Wilkinson, the scion of an old-money family that was one of the wealthiest in Wellesley Heights, had laid irrefutable claim on Louise Denisen.
Luke then reread the announcement six more times, by which point the lower portion of the newspaper page was damp with his tears.
In the six weeks between the time Luke read the announcement and the Sunday in November on which the wedding was scheduled to take place, he was possessed of the impetus to make some noble gesture to the couple, an act of giving or good-sported acknowledgment of their marital union that would forever after elevate Luke in Louise’s mind whenever she happened to think of him again. After literally hours of trying to come up with an idea for a unique and memorable wedding gift and three trips through the metropolis’s largest mall and outlying department stores, Luke found what he thought might be the token to achieve the effect he desired – a Chinese wok. Practical, yet out of the ordinary, the cooking apparatus, Luke hoped, would be an often-used remembrance of him.
Luke had received no invitation to the wedding, but with the wok gift-wrapped beside him on his car’s passenger seat, he drove from his modest apartment up the social ladder of Brockton’s ascending streets to the gateway to Wellesley Heights. He drove past the gates, the impeccably maintained parkways and road medians and the stately mansions surrounded by perfectly kiltered landscapes and into the parking lot for the church. It was there, parked on the asphalt with other guests arriving for the ceremony that was to soon get underway, that Luke got cold feet. He was now acutely conscious that he had not been invited to the festivities. He could feel his heart race when he contemplated seeing Louise once more. He recognized now he truly could not predict just how he would react when he saw her committing her life to another man. He restarted his car and drove out from the parking lot, away from the church, an outcast from life’s feast. He put the gift he had purchased for Louise and Michael onto the top shelf of a closet when he got back. A few years later, when Luke moved into his own residence, the wok, still packaged in its box and covered with matrimonial gift wrap, was transferred to a place on the rafters in Luke’s garage, where it remains until this day.
Not quite six years had passed since the Denisen-Wilkinson wedding. In that time Luke Schlosser had established himself as an aggressive and tenacious litigator, one who never proceeded to court without having exhaustively examined both sides of each case he was involved in, and he commanded the respect of the judges in all of the districts in and surrounding the metropolis as a lawyer well-versed in even the most arcane areas of both civil and criminal law. He rarely lost, with his defeats coming not as a result of his being outlawyered but in those few cases where the facts as established in court held clearly against his clients.
Nevertheless, Luke had failed to achieve status as a full partner in the prestigious law firm he worked for, the offices for which occupied the entire 23rd, 24th and 25th floors of a high-rise in the heart of the metropolis. This was because of Luke’s inability to refuse representation to the impoverished parties who approached him with their plight if it appeared to Luke that they had a legitimate case. More than half of his clients consisted of middle-class and lower middle-class citizens who appeared innocent but were being pressed between the huge and unstoppable wheels of the district attorney’s office, or all conceivable variations of individuals who were caught up in civil disputes with more powerful and wealthy adversaries who could use the legal system to their advantage. Nearly all of his criminal defense work was done pro bono. He achieved for himself and the firm some compensation on the contingency civil cases he pursued and won, but these represented far less money than could be had if he had restricted himself to representing only wealthy clients. Luke’s approach in this regard was troubling to the firm’s partners because many of his cases required extensive research and investigation by staff and hired investigators, which further lessened and jeopardized the profitability of Luke’s endeavors.
Despite that, Luke had represented a smattering of wealthy clients in high stakes cases, pulling down settlements that more than justified keeping him with the firm. Luke’s dedication ended up costing him personally in that he made about half the amount of money a lawyer of his skill who approached his profession from a purely mercenary angle could have made. Still, he was more than comfortable enough and his future appeared secure.
In the more than six years since he had seen Louise, hardly a whole day had gone by when Luke did not think of her. His reminiscences over the years had gradually grown less acutely painful but the wound she had inflicted on him yet remained, however overgrown by the callous of time. He rarely did so anymore, but sometimes would fall to dwelling on the way in which she had been so kind only to turn indifferent. He still could not comprehend why she had so suddenly and thoroughly rejected him. And like the socially and economically driven inequities that often passed for justice which he witnessed in his dealings at the courthouse, the remembrance of Louise’s rejection grated on his soul. There had been a few fitful attempts at relationships with some women over the years, but none of these lasted and Luke no longer entertained the notion of participating in an emotional and sexual union. This confirmed bachelorhood on Luke’s part had led to predictable whispers about him among the more gossip-prone of his colleagues and acquaintances.
It was on a Saturday late that summer that Luke had gone to the Wellesley Gardens Country Club, an athletic and recreation facility in Brockton on the periphery of and technically outside of Wellesley Heights. When the country club had been built more than a decade previously, many of the residents of Wellesley Heights had objected to the proprietors of the country club appropriating the Wellesley name. They had been unable to prevent the facility from opening or trading on the name of its opulent neighbor, however, and in time many Wellesley Heights residents had become members of the country club. In truth, the country club was a first class athletic facility, which included among its amenities an 18-hole golf course, which covered the verdant grounds at the foot of the west-lying bluffs below Wellesley Heights, tennis, racketball, handball and squash courts, an Olympic–size swimming pool, as well as a locker room which contained showers, whirlpools, a steamroom, sauna and rubbing tables. Luke and another attorney who practiced corporate and civil law with another large firm in the metropolis, Mark Bell, had reserved one of the grass courts for the ninety minute slot between 9:30 and 11 a.m.
Luke and Mark and several other of the lawyers whose paths crossed regularly at the courthouse had long before initiated an informal rotating tennis competition amongst themselves. Mostly the participants held their contests on local high school courts, but six months previously Luke had joined the Wellesley Gardens Country Club to avail himself of the grass and clay courts as well as the outdoor handball courts because three-wall handball was a sport he found equally enjoyable.
In that morning’s match, Mark had put up a spirited battle, especially in the first set. The outcome of the match was never in doubt, owing to Luke’s relative prowess in nearly all phases of the game. Mark’s lone offensive asset was the sheer power of both his serves and returns, but over the course of the match against Luke this turned into a liability. With every swing, Mark would ferociously tear into the ball as if he were trying to demolish it and when these shots happened to be well-placed, Luke was usually unable to get to the ball on the grass or effectively return the shot. But because he was able to anticipate the speed of virtually every one of Mark’s shots, Luke was able to retire to the back of the court and time his movements to the ball consistently. Though he had perhaps lost a half-step over the dozen or so years since he had mastered the game, Luke still possessed superior reflexes and quickness, excellent lateral and backward movement, accurate forehand and backhand placement of his returns as well as an insidious ability to put English on the ball in the form of top, bottom and side-spin. Except for four games in the first set when Mark had prevailed by virtue of an impressive series of aces when he had service, Luke dominated the match. His ability to vary speeds on the ball and work at his opponent’s weaknesses led to a spectacle whereby Mark would find himself being driven progressively to one side or the back of the grass court only to be undone by a cunning and well–placed shot down the opposite side line or with a tap that barely dropped the ball over the net. Luke outlasted Mark in the first set 8-6 and in the subsequent two sets he prevailed by identical 6-3 scores. The match was over in just under 80 minutes.
The two lawyers repaired to the locker room, where they stripped from their sweat-soaked garments and showered, dressing back into their casual weekend street clothes and with their rackets and gym bags in hand, sauntered out of the locker room over to the country club’s bar. The bar was positioned so that its south-facing picture window provided a view across the first hole’s fairway and its east window provided a tight perspective of the dog leg that that concluded the 18th hole. Inside, Mark, as the day’s loser, stood beneath a ceiling fan and paid for their drinks, a dark imported beer for himself and Luke’s Virgin Mary. They turned, and as most of the tables inside were taken, they went outside and seated themselves on the veranda.
Mark launched into a short discourse over an absurd episode he had just endured with a Superior Court judge, one who was ten years past the normal age of retirement. As a young lawyer before being elevated to the bench by a long since dead governor, the jurist had established himself as being possessed of a razor sharp legal mind and in the more than forty years he had served as judge, he had furthered his reputation, having presided over some of the most important and memorable cases that had been heard in the district during his tenure. But within the last few years, the old judge was becoming what the more tactful members of the local bar termed cantankerous and what the more plainspoken deemed senile. Mark related, to Luke’s amused disgust, how he had made a motion before the judge in court earlier that week and the judge had immediately denied it. After opposing counsel argued on a related topic, Mark said, he nonchalantly resubmitted his earlier denied motion. The judge at once granted it.
Luke shook his head and gave a short humorless laugh. He stirred his drink with its celery stick, which he then lifted at an angle out of the glass. With the u of the celery stick pointed up, he lifted it and brought it quickly to his mouth to transfer the small quantity of spiced tomato juice cocktail captured within it to his tongue. He repeated this process of using the celery stick as a type of makeshift spoon a few times before he finally lifted the glass to drink directly from it. After he set the glass down he sucked in his upper lip, savoring the drops there.
Mark pointed up at the panorama of the bluffs topped with that portion of Wellesley Heights within their line of sight.
“You grew up here in Brockton, didn’t you?” he asked Luke.
“Spend much time up on the mountain top?”
“Not hardly,” Luke said.
“I’ve got a client up there.”
“Who’s that?” Luke asked, unsuspecting of what was coming next.
“A guy by the name of Mike Wilkinson,” Mark said.
A surge of anticipation, like that experienced by someone returning to his hometown after decades of absence, instantly shot through Luke.
“Oh?” he said casually.
“We’re handling his acquisitions and mergers,” Mark said. “His company picked up $21 million worth of metal fabricating plants from another company this year.”
“He bought $21 million worth of foundries?” Luke asked
“I didn’t say bought,” Mark said. “They turned them over to him in a transaction we called a corporate reorganization. He made $21 million in cash available to them.”
“Sounds like a sale to me,” Luke said.
“We didn’t use that term,” Mark explained. “If it had been a sale, they would have had to show a profit of about $6 million and that would have translated into something around a $2 million state and federal tax liability. It was a tax-free reorganization.”
“But Wilkinson took title to the foundries and the company took title to the $21 million,” Luke said.
“Not exactly,” Mark said. “There’s no title exchange either way. Wilkinson gets the fabrication plants to use any way he wants and the company gets $21 million to use as it sees fit. It keeps the IRS out of it.”
“Neat trick,” Luke said. He thought of Louise. Talking about her husband’s manipulation of the tax code was as close as he had come to her since he had driven out of the parking lot at the church in which she had been married not quite six years before. He did not want the moment to end.
“So he lives in a house up in the heights,” Luke said.
“It’s a little more than a house,” Mark responded. “There’s a cabana or I don’t know what you call it, a detached dressing room, for the swimming pool in their back yard. It’s only about the size of my house.”
“You’ve been up to his… mansion?”
“A good half dozen times.”
“Have you met his wife?”
Luke felt his whole being tense.
“What’s she like?”
“Oh, she’s okay,” Mark said somewhat listlessly.
“Just okay?” Luke heard his voice rise about half an octave.
“Well, you know how it is. With the money Wilk has he could have had his pick of women, but for some reason, he chose her.”
Luke could not believe what he was hearing.
“But Louise Denisen was the most beautiful…” Luke blurted uncontrollably.
“You knew her then?” Mark asked.
“A long time ago,” Luke said.
“Well, she’s changed then,” Mark said.
Luke just glared across the table. Mark was taking a long draw on his beer. He set it down with a light thud and said, “You can have more money than you know what to do with and still get stuck with somebody nobody would want.”
It took every ounce of restraint Luke possessed to keep from springing across the table and pasting Mark in the mouth.
“You mean he doesn’t love her?” he asked after he composed himself.
“Well, I don’t know what he feels. I know she’s a little bit of an embarrassment to him.”
“An embarrassment? How?”
“She’s like a… like some kind of neurotic librarian,” Mark said. “And she thinks she’s a poet. Wilk indulged her in that, much to his regret, I think. He paid for a vanity publisher to print two volumes of her poems. She foists them off on everyone she meets.”
Luke was silent for a long moment.
“Do they have children?”
“So why doesn’t he divorce her?” he asked
Mark gave a look of total incredulity to the question. “Do you know how much that would cost him? She’d walk away with seventy or eighty million.”
Luke was at a complete loss for words. He looked at Mark without really seeing him.
“It’s not that bad,” he heard Mark say as if from somewhere beyond him. “Wilk travels a lot and I’m sure he gets whatever he wants.”
Then as if as an afterthought, Mark said, “She’s a good hostess, when she isn’t pushing her books.”
All of Luke’s senses faded out at that moment. Gradually they came back to him and he heard Mark saying something. He wondered how long he had been in the trance. He looked at Mark and solemnly nodded his head. “Yeah,” he said, not knowing what he was responding to, and then sighed. “Yeah.”
“Well,” Mark said at last. “I should shove off.” He drained his beer and set it down. He pushed back in his chair and stood up. He picked up his gym bag, and reached across to shake Luke’s hand. “Same time three weeks from now? Clay court next time?”
Luke shook his hand, without standing up. “Yeah, sure, in three weeks,” he said. Mark took his racket with his right hand and headed away toward the locker room and the parking lot.
As a consuming feeling of numbness again spread over him, Luke looked up at Wellesley Heights, which was bathed in an almost celestial light from the midday sun. The only woman he had ever loved was somewhere up there forever beyond his reach, locked in a gilded penitentiary of her own choosing. The irony of her not having provided him, the one person who truly appreciated her poetic gifts, with copies of her books struck him but it held no amusement for him. Mark’s representations about the apparent emotional desolation of her marriage gave him no joy either. Despite all the pain he had felt over Louise in the last six years, he had taken a measure of comfort, however fleeting and small, that she at least had found happiness. Even that was taken from him now.
He shut his eyes. Louise, ever beautiful to him, was the image he conjured. Slowly it all came into perspective. His life had been built around one moment, that frigid February night when inside the Brockton Public Library sheltered from the cold he had made the boldest move of his life and kissed Louise Denisen. That eternal moment had been his high water mark, he now saw, with all of his life’s prior events rising to that crescendo and everything that followed receding downward.