Fineman’s Excellence

 

 

by Andrew Lawrence Crown

 

Copyright © Andrew Lawrence Crown, 2004. All rights reserved.

 

 

 

 

The end of the lecture was imminent. Professor Jacob Fineman had only time enough to make one last point before he would dismiss his students and admonish them to prepare assiduously for the final exam which was only three short days away. Professor Fineman walked from the podium to his desk which he leaned against in a sincere effort to appear affable to his class of upperclassmen, most of whom had struggled to master the fundamentals of the Platonic dialogs which were the subject Professor Fineman advised them to master for the final exam for his course, Introduction to Classical Philosophy. Convinced his students were attentive and receptive now that he had bridged the distance between they and him through his posture and body language as he almost casually leaned against the desk and conscientiously took off his glasses for added dramatic effect, he concluded his final and culminating lecture of the semester. He had chosen to wind up the course with The Symposium, believing even his least promising students could be persuaded to pay attention when the setting of the dialog was a festive drinking party at which the philosopher Socrates, the playwright Aristophanes, the doctor Eryximachus, the gifted young orator Alcibiades, and other esteemed Athenians discussed the nature of the God, Love.

 

“In contrast to Aristophanes, Agathon, and the other guests at the Symposium,” Jacob said with real vitality, “Socrates contends that true Love is not a longing for possession of a singular beautiful human being, but rather Love to him is what one experiences while living the contemplative life and engaging in philosophy, dedicating oneself to the pursuit of knowledge of the beautiful. As Diotima, the Mantinean lady who speaks for Socrates in the dialog says,

 

“When, by proper boy love, a man ascends from things here and begins to glimpse the beautiful over there, he has almost reached the final goal. This is the proper way to go or be led to Love: to begin from beautiful things and ever climb, as on a ladder from one beautiful body to two and from two to all, from bodies to beautiful customs, from customs to beautiful knowledge, and from knowledge finally to reach that knowledge which is none other than the revelation of the beautiful itself, and so recognize at last what beauty really is. That dear Socrates,” said the Manitnean lady, “is the time if ever there is one, when life is worth living, spent in contemplation of the beautiful itself.”

 

            “Now go home and think upon that for some hours and then re-read the dialog and your notes one final time over the weekend,” Jacob told his class. “After you have done that congratulate yourselves for your diligent natures, and rest assured you will be adequately prepared for the final exam on Monday. The exam begins at three p.m. in this very room. Make sure you bring a black or blue ink pen since this exam will be essay in its entirety and not a multiple guess type test. There will be no need for pencils of any kind. Before I dismiss you, are there any final questions?”

 

            Jacob put his glasses back on, trying to duplicate the geniality he believed he had achieved when he had conscientiously removed them, and then he looked out upon the eighteen young bodies in the room waiting for someone to raise their hand with a question. For several long moments the students sat silently still in their seats, some looking around the room to see if anyone else was brave enough to raise his or her hand. A few promising young faces stared forward into the air, one squinting her eyes and another wrinkling his brow, welcomed visible evidence to Jacob that at least these two stars of the class were already beginning to contemplate the meaning of Diotima’s words; the remainder just sat there looking up at Jacob in a pleading, beseeching manner, an assortment of baffled, confused, puzzled, and hopelessly over challenged visages which forced Jacob to consider whether he had done the best job he could have done as their instructor this semester. Why didn’t the majority of them understand? Why did no one raise their hand? Surely someone must have a question, or were the majority so far from understanding that they were incapable of even formulating the sense and order of their confusion? Why were there so pitifully few stars noticeably rapt in satisfied comprehension and clear understanding? Was Jacob a failure as a teacher? He almost allowed a frown to creep across his face as he ran his hand through his short thinning black hair with distinguished streaks of gray while he sat through several more long painful moments of silence, waiting for a hand to go up and for at least one of his students to ask a question. Even a perfunctory question about the length of the final exam would have been welcomed by Jacob at this point.

 

            Finally the young woman squinting her eyes raised her hand. It was Marisa Roseman, one of the few and precious stars of his class, and indeed one of the top students on the entire campus of the small liberal arts college in Minnesota where these events took place. If Marisa at least had absorbed Jacob’s thesis throughout the length of the course then there was still hope. Jacob wanted all of his students to incorporate philosophy into their own lives by accepting the view that the essence of the good life was a longing to commingle one’s life and soul with the good and the beautiful. Even if only a piteous few of them, like Marisa, seemed capable of genuinely embracing this view of life, well then thought Jacob, all was not lost and his attempt to leave his mark on his students, or rather his attempt to enable the ancient Greeks to leave their mark on them, had not ended in utter failure.

 

            “Professor Fineman?” Marissa began. She was a tall and slim attractive jet black brunette, well built in the chest and the rear, athletic and studious, at the top of her class and also editor of the Viking Press, the campus newspaper at Mallard College, the small liberal arts college in Minnesota. She reminded Jacob of his ex-wife Natasha with her sensuous and full lips, her unmatchable figure, and the way she constantly stared at him with her large dark mesmerizing black eyes. Why had the one God Jacob believed in conspired to create such a perfect and excellent being in Jacob’s class to distract him from his lectures all semester long? Surely the Creator intended Marisa to be a test for him, a trial to facilitate his measurement of his own worth and honor which could only be gauged after he overcame his feelings for the undergraduate and prioritized Marisa’s education and his own undying loyalty to his wife Hee Young over any polluted fantasies which might stray into his mind unwelcome and uninvited. Jacob had celebrated his marriage to Hee Young only seven short months before Marisa had enrolled in this the first class he had been designated to teach at Mallard College after being hired there on the tenure track last April. Now it was December, the Friday before final exam week, after which came the winter recess and time for Jacob to spend more time with his young wife. If he could make it past next week without injury to his honor he would be through with Marisa and the test and distraction that she was for him even while she was one of his few stars, and aside from the young man who continued to stare forward with that magic wrinkle in his brow which evidenced reflection, the sole verification of his success as a teacher. Jacob looked at Marisa and he saw Natasha, all the while silently admonishing himself to think first and foremost of Hee Young who needed him and loved him far more than any other woman in the world did, had, or would.

 

            “Yes Marisa? Do you have a question?” Jacob hoped it would be the kind of question which would inspire other students, even those who struggled, to think as deeply, search as intently for understanding as did Marisa.

 

            “Professor Fineman. We would like to know, and I think I speak for all of us here in this class, we would like to know if you would do us the honor of joining us tonight at The Scholar’s Ship to celebrate the end of the semester and our completion of this class, which for some of us has been our first period of study of philosophy.”

 

            Jacob was caught by surprise, and he clearly showed it as a smile of flattered appreciation crossed his face. This had not been the kind of question he had expected from his star student. He was expecting something more academic, but he quickly realized that his entire class, Marisa included, were through with philosophy for the day, and that their invitation to The Scholar’s Ship, a campus bar and seafood place specializing in foreign microbrews and gargantuan baskets of fish and chips, was in a very significant way a confirmation of his teaching ability. Perhaps Jacob had been unable to instill in all of his students a love of philosophy, but most of them seemed to genuinely like the tall, thin, habitually fretful philosophy professor, a fact which was confirmed by the chorus of enthusiastic invitations which resounded throughout the room.

 

            “Come on Professor Fineman,” said a C+ student.

 

            “Come drink with us,” shouted a solid B.

 

            “It will be just like The Symposium,” declared a D-.

 

Jacob knew it could never be very much like The Symposium. It could not be anything like that. But it might be nice and enjoyable to spend some time outside of class with his students. He might even be able to talk up the class on Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War he was offering next semester and convince a few of his students not to give up on philosophy even though they struggled through his course.

 

            “Please won’t you join us Professor Fineman. It would be our honor and privilege to take you out,” said Marisa.

 

That settled it for Jacob as he averted his gaze from Marisa’s eyes which he feared would suck him into her like a whirlpool. He would go out with the students but he would not sit next to Marisa or allow her to sit next to him. This would be his final test of his own will to escape from the impurity of his thoughts regarding this distressingly yet also serenely beautiful undergraduate.

 

“O.K. Fine,” Jacob said still sitting atop the desk. “Why don’t we meet at The Scholar’s Ship at seven. I have a few conditions though. No one under twenty-one years of age drinks any alcohol, nobody else gets drunk, and I get to drink coke since I’m new to this college and I don’t want word to get out around here that I condone or encourage underage or excessive drinking by undergraduates. Is that clear?”

 

A few students complained, largely in jest though, and finally all agreed to the conditions.

 

“Alright then,” Jacob said. “I’ll see you all at seven”

 

 

After class Jacob walked to the library to see what he could find written by the great and deceased University of Chicago philosopher Leo Strauss on the subject of the Peloponnesian War. He needed to prepare for next semester’s class already and wanted to make sure he had the materials he needed before the library closed for the winter recess. As he walked across the campus he took in full deep breaths of the clean and brisk December air, he was awed by the spectacle of the pure white Minnesota snow glistening throughout the quadrangle and adorning the branches of the trees with sparkle and glitter, and he marveled at his good fortune. How much better was his life now compared to the way he had lived it for the preceding seven years? For the seven years before his friend and colleague from graduate school at Northwestern University, Leonard Koslowski, had helped him land his current tenure track position in Minnesota, Jacob had taught English as a Foreign Language at a University in South Korea.

 

While living as an expatriate and teaching the rudiments of English conversation to university students overseas Jacob had broadened his experience and gained valuable international and intercultural teaching skills, but he had also experienced a lion’s share of frustration and disappointment. His first wife Natasha had left him because she never adjusted to life as a foreigner in South Korea and because she never sympathized with Jacob’s refusal to settle for low paying adjunct faculty teaching positions in the United States, which was the primary reason why Jacob had accepted the rather low paying but at least full-time post at Pusan National University in Pusan, South Korea. According to Jacob teaching as an adjunct faculty member in the United States, even at several colleges simultaneously, would never provide him with an income sufficient to support himself and Natasha, let alone the children Natasha wanted to have. Furthermore, it was humiliating to subject himself and his wife to such a financially precarious and substandard way of life. He had much preferred to teach English overseas even if it meant he was not really putting his Ph.D in Philosophy to its best and most proper use. But life for Natasha in South Korea was unbearable as it is for not a few foreigners living there who never get over their culture shock in that intensely nationalistic country, and her depression and discomfort were so severe that she left Korea on the verge of a nervous breakdown without Jacob, who refused to return to the United States if it meant he had to teach adjunct again. Professional and religious issues also factored strongly in Natasha’s decision to leave Korea and Jacob. Jacob had rejected Natasha’s plan for supporting the two of them in the States by her learning everything she could about real estate and becoming a successful broker back home. The fact that Natasha was a devoutly religious Jew made matters worse for her in Korea since she felt she needed to live someplace where there was an active and vibrant Jewish community. In South Korea there were fewer than 100 Jews in the entire Republic, and no Jewish temples or congregations. She wanted Jacob to come back home with her and allow her to support the two of them and Jacob’s scholarship, and she wanted to raise Jewish children with him back home in some place with a functioning Jewish community. But Jacob was staunch in his refusal to be paid a pittance back home and endure the financial and professional insecurity of an adjunct philosophy professor’s life, so he stayed in South Korea, and Natasha returned to Chicago, and that was the end of their marriage.

 

            Jacob knew more than anyone else that he was exceedingly fortunate to have met and married Hee Young several years after Natasha left him. She was the brightest student in all of his English conversation classes at Pusan National University, as innocent and pure and good a person as he had ever met. He had followed all the Korean customs in his courtship and pursuit of Hee Young, even taking her home at night to her parent’s apartment before the ten o’clock curfew her father imposed. Her girlish infatuation with her professor Jacob quickly grew into mature love as they dated for only five months after Hee Yong graduated from Pusan National University with a masters in English literature.  After she agreed to convert to Judaism at some undetermined point in the future Jacob and Hee Young were married by a reconstructionist rabbi stationed at camp Hialeah, the American military base in Pusan. Then it was almost like an auspicious pronouncement from an oracle when his friend Leonard Koslowski called with news about the open position in the Philosophy department at the college in Minnesota. Now, less than a year after that phone call here was Jacob finishing up his first semester teaching in a tenure track position, and with a beautiful young Korean wife at home on top of that. It was almost as if his previous life with Natasha had been another test which admittedly Jacob had failed, but for some reason he had been given a second chance to verify his honor and worthiness to God, to live the beautiful life. Although Jacob had divorced his first wife and although he spent much of his time immersing himself in classical Greek philosophy, he was and had always been a  Jew who, while not devout, had wanted more than anything to dwell in peace inside a Jewish household with a Jewish wife. When he thought about how disappointments in his career and his obstinate refusal to leave Korea had led to his divorce with Natasha, and then compared his failure with her to his happy union with his current wife Hee Young, he felt guilty of course and feared he was not a good Jew. Consequently he felt driven to teach Hee Young about his religion whenever he could find the time. He was particularly fond of reciting to her out of the Book of Ruth the following declaration from the convert Ruth to her Jewish relatives after the death of her husband, a man of Judah.

 

            Entreat me not to leave thee, and to return from following after thee;

            For whither though goest, I will go,

            And where thou lodgest I will lodge;

            Thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God.

            Where thou diest I will die and there I will be buried;

            The Lord do so to me and more also

            If aught but death part me and thee (Ruth 1:16-17)

 

            After reciting these words Jacob would ask Hee Young if she understood their meaning. She would always answer Jacob the same way, never failing to promise she would be with him forever, as a fellow Jew and loving wife.

 

Jacob was certain his life was better now than it had ever been as he continued to walk towards the library thinking about Hee Young and her intense loyalty to him, which he knew was in some part a product of her Korean upbringing. Jacob hoped the larger portion of her loyalty derived from mature, reasoned love, as it comforted him to think it did, just as he was comforted by the pleasant surroundings of the campus under its shimmering blanket of snow, and comforted by his confidence in his ability to some day earn his tenure at Mallard College after remembering his students’ warm invitation to the Scholar’s Ship, which was after all a confirmation of his proficiency as a teacher, wasn’t it? Jacob suddenly remembered that he was supposed to take Hee Young to a movie that Friday night and that his plans with his wife conflicted with those he had made with his students. Hee Young might be disappointed if he were forced to cancel their plans, so he decided to call his wife on his cell phone to see if she might be able to find a later show which they could attend together after Jacob met with his students. It was quickly getting dark outside when Jacob made the call, and cold enough that his fingers were well on their way to numbness after he took off his glove to dial the number.

 

            “Jacob?” Hee Young answered.

 

            “Yes dear. It’s me. I’m on my way to the library. How are you doing?”

 

            “Jacob. I’m not good. I am so happy you called but I just heard some terrible news on the phone from my mother in Korea.” To Jacob it sounded like Hee Young was crying when she said this.

 

            “What is it? Is she okay? Is everyone okay?”

 

            “No. Everyone is terrible. My mother. My father. Everyone and everything is in Korea is terrible now Jacob.”

 

            “What is wrong?” Jacob asked anxiously. “Tell me what has happened in Korea?”

 

            “I can’t tell you now Jacob. Not over the phone.” said Hee Young “I have to tell you when you come home. Jacob, when will you come home tonight? I need to talk to you. I need you tonight Jacob.”

 

            “Actually Hee Young, that’s why I called. I wanted to see if we could postpone the movie until later tonight. You see, my students have invited me out to The Scholar’s Ship, that fish and chips place right near campus, and you know what Hee Young, this is the first time some of my struggling students here in Minnesota have shown me any real sign they appreciate my teaching, and they just finished their first serious philosophy course, most of them. So I thought it would be a good idea to meet them. Don’t you think it would be a good idea for me to meet them at The Scholar’s Ship? I called you just now because I wanted to know if we could catch a later show, one that starts after I finish with the students. But now it seems like something serious has come up in Korea and maybe you don’t want to go to a movie. Tell me Hee Young, what has happened? Why is everything in Korea terrible?”

 

            “Jacob. I can’t tell you over the phone. I don’t want to go to any movie tonight. I just want to stay home and talk to my mother on the phone. I’ve got a phone card that lets me talk to her for 100 minutes for five dollars. I’m going to use the entire card and maybe another one too. You should go out with your students and celebrate the end of your class with them. I remember how much your students at Pusan National University in Korea loved to take you out with them for Korean food. Go out and have a good time with your students. Eat a lot of fishes and chips. Have a good time but don’t be late. Please don’t be late because I will need you tonight Jacob. Do you understand?”

 

            Jacob could tell that Hee Young was struggling to fight back her tears. He was even more anxious now that she had told him to go out with his students. She had a habit of sacrificing her needs to his when she was feeling her worst. This meant something very serious had taken place in Korea, perhaps a death in the family, Jacob wasn’t sure. It would be no use asking Hee Young to tell him what was wrong over the phone. She said she wanted to tell him in person and Jacob would respect her wish and wait until he got home to find out what had happened.

 

            “Are you sure you don’t want me to come home now Hee Young?” Jacob asked knowing full well what the answer would be to this question. “If it’s something serious,” he continued, “Maybe I should come home right now.”

 

            “No,” Hee Young asserted. “I can wait for you. I do not want to take you away from your students and their fun. Just promise you will come home early. Do not stay out late. I really need you to come home early. It is important. Do you understand me Jacob?”

 

            “Yes I understand,” said Jacob. “I will come home early. I’ll stay with the students just long enough so they won’t feel bad, so they won’t think I am trying to get away from them, even though I will try to get away from them, and then I’ll come home.”

 

            “Thank you Jacob. I will wait up for you.” Hee Young sounded like she was almost finished crying. “Jacob, tell me the truth. Do you love me?”

 

            “Of course I do. You know I do.”

 

            “As much as you loved Natasha?”

 

            “Even more.”

 

            Jacob understood just how much he needed to say that.

 

            “O.K. have fun with your students Jacob. We will talk when you get home. Goodbye.”

 

            “Goodbye Hee Young. I’ll see you tonight.”

 

            Jacob had no trouble finding what he was looking for in the library, and after reading through a posthumously published article by Leo Strauss on Thucydides for a couple of hours, he photocopied the entire article and headed out of the library into the night darkened campus. Though it was dark outside the snow still sparkled and glistened, this time reflecting the light of the moon, and Jacob could clearly see the snow which cloaked the roofs of the great old brick buildings and branches of the greater older trees on the quadrangle as he walked quickly though the cold to his destination on Mallard Street. He walked inside the small and cozy fish and chips place at precisely five minutes before seven o’clock and he immediately saw his students sitting in the back around a long table covered with beer bottles and large baskets of fish and chips and other sandwiches and appetizers. Jacob instantly recognized that the students had arrived well before the appointed hour, and from the number of bottles on the table it appeared possible that they had been drinking for some time already, opting not to comply with Jacob’s earlier request that they refrain from the consumption of alcohol. They were a sizeable contingent, though far fewer than the eighteen that made up the entire Introduction to Classical Philosophy class. Jacob considered how this was not an entirely bad accident, since The Scholar’s Ship was really too small of an establishment for a much larger party. The students saw him enter and right away they shouted across the crowded room for Professor Fineman to come on over and join them at their table in the back.

 

            Jacob smiled, greeting his students cordially as he walked over to their table and stood at the head of it waiting for someone to ask him to sit down. The students returned his greetings more heartily and robust from the influence of youth and drink while one of them stood up to help the professor take off his overcoat and pull back the chair for him at the head of the table, a chair which they had left open and empty after all agreeing that Professor Fineman should sit there. After he was seated and comfortable at the head of the table, they asked him how he liked this place and this table in the back, and whether or not he came here often, and if he did who did he usually come here with, and most importantly what his favorite drink was and could they buy him one of those tonight. They asked many other sociable and deferential questions which made Jacob feel even more comfortable in the midst of the cozy surroundings of the bar. Underneath this level of comfort however was Jacobs anxiety for Hee Young and her family and his concern for their well-being and safety which he feared were in jeopardy due to his earlier phone conversation with his wife. She had told him to enjoy himself with his students and Jacob knew she would expect him to do no less than that. So he tried hard to relax, which was the worst way to relax since the trying only heightened his anxiety, but fortunately the warmth of the students and the bar comforted him immensely and he soon found himself in a calmer state of mind.

 

            Jacob looked around at the familiar room, recognizing the various decorative ornaments which set the tone and mood of The Scholar’s Ship. There were the ropes and netting hanging from the ceiling and tied up to the supporting beams like the rigging on a tall ship, the model ships inside glass bottles behind the bar lined up next to the forty some bottles of beer, ale, and stout from numerous European microbreweries, and the mounted walleye above the doorway across from one wall covered by a blackboard on which the specialties of the grill and their prices were printed in colored chalk. Atop the menu was the main attraction of the place in blue chalk, all you could eat fish and chips for only $7.99. All across the back wall and opposite from Jacob at the head of the table were a collection of photographs and paintings of famous sunken ships, each with its own metallic name plate which listed the date the vessel went down, the body of water which had swallowed it up, and the number of lives lost. There was a large artist’s rendering of the Titanic, next to it another one of the Edmund Fitzgerald. Jacob looked over at the painting of the Great Lakes ore boat, then at the nine students seated around the table and looking up at him with admiring eyes, and he momentarily wondered how many of these young people would, like the Edmund Fitzgerald, be someday tossed about and brought down by the angry waters and violent storms life might send their way. Then he thought of the storms he had weathered, and without at all intending to he thought of Natasha whose womanly figure and dark black eyes rose up somewhere from the depths of his mind, descending upon his consciousness in all of her entrancing darkness and beauty, taunting him like of a phantom reminding him of every mistake he had ever made in life before she sank back down into the place in watery memory where Jacob kept her selfishly even then. There he hoped she would remain and not melt away forever into the sea of forgotten memories. A minute later a student, repeating Professor Fineman’s name for the fourth time, pulled him up out of these soggy recollections , unwittingly rescuing him from these whirlpool memories and sending him back to the here and now of life where Jacob was trying to figure out why all of his students were smiling at him in that funny sort of way, and why one or two of them seemed to be positively laughing at him.

 

            “Professor Fineman,” the young man sitting next to him said for the fourth time in a row, “What would you like to drink?”

 

            “To drink?,” asked Jacob, startled a bit to find himself back in the present.

 

            “Yes Professor Fineman. What would you like us to get you? Choose anything. It’s on us.”

 

            “It’s on you. Well then, let me see. Now wait a second. I thought I told you all at the end of my lecture that this little get together would not be a drinking fest. I can see that most of you decided to omit that part of the class from your memory. We humans can be so selective about what we remember and what we choose to forget when we want to be. Isn’t that so? I know what I’ll do about this. Why don’t you go pick out something for me. You’re twenty-one, aren’t you? Good. Go to the bar and bring me something interesting that I’m not likely to have tasted before.”

 

            “Great,” said the young man as he rose up from his seat to make his way to the bar. He was one of the solid C students. “I’ll go to the bar and get you a La Slavia. It’s an exotic French brand.”

 

            “That will do just fine,” said Jacob. He looked around the table to see what the students were drinking. There were too many bottles to count, and on them foreign labels which Jacob did not recognize. He began to worry that some of his students might be drunk and that he would get in trouble with the college for drinking with them, but as he looked around at his students and they looked back at him with smiles and interested faces, he calmed himself down a bit when he assured himself that not a single one stood out as more than mildly tipsy. He turned in his chair to watch the solid C up at the bar getting his drink when he noticed Marisa walk into the bar wearing a white ski jacket and a matching white headband which covered her ears but allowed her long black hair to flow over and down past her shoulders. With Marisa entered a tall, athletic looking, handsome young man who Jacob had seen before on campus. Jacob was doubly shocked to see the two of them come in because he had not noticed Marisa’s absence among the nine students seated around the table, and he had not expected her to bring the friend who, from the way he helped Marisa take off her ski jacket and headband, looked like he was more than a friend. Underneath the ski jacket she was wearing a tight white cassimere sweater and faded skin tight blue jeans which showed off where she had a lot to show and contrasted brilliantly with her dark features, the dark tan skin and darker long hair flowing down over the shoulders like the blackest night descending upon two snow covered mountain peaks.

 

            Marisa saw Jacob staring at her, so she smiled and waved hello to him while taking her boyfriend by the hand and leading him to the table in the back of the room. The young couple were intercepted by the solid C student on his way back from the bar who shook hands with Marisa’s boyfriend and made a show of patting Marisa on the back like they were old friends, even though everyone present, even Jacob, knew they were nothing like friends. At the table the solid C handed Jacob his drink while saying to the Professor, “Look what I’ve brought back from the bar. Your exotic French beer and your exotic top student too. Here’s everybody’s favorite genius Marisa Roseman and her boyfriend David Gailantis, captain of the water polo team. Aren’t we all lucky?”

 

            “Aren’t you the joker,” said Marisa to the solid C.

 

            “That’s me, the comedian,” said the solid C, whose name was Brian Anderson.

 

            “Maybe you should drop out of school and go do stand up comedy for a living,” Marisa said dryly.

 

            “Now there’s a thought. There would be no exams, no essays, no homework. I would just have to prepare my jokes before I went on stage. What do you think Professor Fineman? Should I go for it?”

 

            “Dropping out of school to do stand up is not going for it,” Jacob said. “Dropping out of anything is never going for it.”

 

            “I know Professor Fineman. Relax. I’m only joking,” Brian said while laughing. “My parents would kill me if I dropped out after what they have paid so far in tuition.”

 

            “I wasn’t joking,” said Marisa. “Maybe you should drop out.”

 

            Marisa could be very direct, even nasty when confronted with a challenge to her universally recognized superiority. She had rightfully interpreted Brian’s joke at her expense as just such a challenge. Jacob was almost amazed and certainly impressed by the vitality inherent in her defense of her merit. He was almost amazed but by now no longer surprised after having witnessed Marisa’s uncompromising and unrivaled assertion of her superior intelligence in his class all semester long. She had not risen to the top of her class at Mallard through modest self-effacement. In this way she reminded him again of Natasha, who as an assertive woman had been the one who decided that she and Jacob would marry, just as she in the end had decided that they would divorce after Jacob had refused to leave Korea for a part-time teaching job back home.

 

“If you dropped out of school Brian, you would be saving your parents a lot of money. Think about that,” Marisa said as she looked directly into Brian’s eyes all agape, dissolving his composure because Brian was unable to resist the compulsion to stare back into Marisa’s own dark entrancing coal black eyes that she used to melt him.

 

            “Marisa,” Brian asked uneasily. “Do your really think I should drop out? Do you think I am wasting my time in school?”

 

Jacob realized he had to put a stop to this immediately before things got out of hand.

 

“Now listen here you two. No one is going to drop out of school. Brian your parents are getting their money’s worth by paying for your education. You are a good student Brian. Remember that. You just need to focus on the essential points and never mind all of the extraneous material in your writing. Then I’m certain your grades would improve.” Jacob really wanted to believe what he said about Brian’s parents getting their money’s worth. At least he hoped it was true. “Marisa, you have to learn how to take a joke, how to show some humility. One can never be too humble you know.” Jacob wondered if that had be too strong of an reproof for the intensely proud Marisa to bear. Again, she astonished him with her rejoinder.

 

“Professor Fineman, I believe you will recall The Apology written by Plato,” Marisa asked as she looked straight into Jacob’s eyes.

 

“Yes. Of course,” Jacob answered. He told himself he would not melt as had Brian. Jacob was no wobbly undergraduate. He could take anything Marisa could dish out.

 

“In The Apology does Socrates not claim before the Athenian jury that he is the wisest man in all of Greece? Furthermore, does he not propose as his punishment upon his conviction that Athens provide him with his sustenance rather than punish him. He requested that they pay him a mina of silver. Is that what you call humility Professor Fineman?”

 

Once again Marisa had proven herself to be his top student. This is not to say she had fully grasped the meaning of the Apology. She was still only an undergraduate after all.

 

“You make a fine point Marisa. You are correct, but only up to a certain point. During his trial Socrates was not what you call humble. Far from it. He did assert that he was the wisest man in all of Greece and that he deserved to be rewarded for his service to the youth of his city as an educator to them rather than be punished for corrupting the youth. But you must think first and foremost of the kind of life he lived in Athens and his submission to the verdict of the Athenian jury in The Crito. Consider if you will all of the self-imposed poverty and religious commitment to a life of philosophy. In that there was true humility because when a person chooses a life of philosophy or chooses to incorporate philosophy into his life he recognizes he is much smaller than the things he seeks to know and understand. And remember Marisa, we, you and I, and all of us here, and most of the people you meet in life, we are not Socrates. None of us really are as great a person as the main character in Plato’s dialogs.”

 

“What do you mean Professor? Do you mean to say that none of us living today can be like Socrates? We can not be truly excellent?” Marisa asked.

 

“We can try to follow his example Marisa, but lets be realistic. We are only human, all of us. We are not characters in one of history’s greatest dramas. We are real people. And after all, if you really think about it, most people prefer to live ordinary predictable lives, lives without too much danger or hazards, lives which are protected from the challenges and tests the breed of great men welcome into their lives.”

 

After hearing this Marisa was silent for a moment, reflecting upon the words. She started to speak but then abruptly stopped talking before any sound came out of her mouth. She then stood up and excused herself quietly and finally did say what she wanted to say before she left.

 

“Professor Finemen. I disagree strongly with what you just said. With all due respect sir, I must say I disagree. You say we are real people. That is true. But to me Socrates is also real. I believe I am as real as him and he is as real as me. I believe our potential is limitless, that we can all be excellent if only we can find the requisite courage.” Marisa sounded annoyed to have to say this to a philosophy professor.  “Excuse me now. I need to excuse myself,” she said more quietly. Then she stood up and walked hurriedly to the restroom in the back of the bar with all eyes upon her.

 

Her boyfriend David Gailantis, who had already been half-introduced to the professor by Brian Anderson the C student who needed to write with greater focus, followed Marisa for a few paces and asked her if she was alright. She turned around in a huff to face him and said she was fine, but she didn’t look fine. She looked irritated, bothered, and annoyed. Marisa’s boyfriend stopped following her and watched her walk to the bathroom while he shook his head and sighed, repeating the following words quietly to himself as if he were in a trance while he was unable to take his eyes off of her shapely figure making its way to the bathroom.

 

“Marisa. Marisa. Marisa.”

 

Then David Gailantis pulled himself out of the trace, returned to the table and addressed Jacob.

 

“I’m sorry about Marisa, Professor Fineman. I must apologize for her,” David said to Jacob. “I’m sure you know by now how competitive she is. She really loves your class Professor Fineman. She talks about it all of the time. She’s been reading those dialogs almost nonstop lately and never seems to tire of them. She talks about you all of the time too Professor Fineman.”

 

“She does?” asked Jacob. “What does she say about me?”

 

David almost grimaced before he answered the question.

 

“Well, she just talks about you. She talks about you all of the time. Sometimes so much that I’m afraid that I can’t compete, if you know what I mean.”

 

“I’m not quite sure I do,” Jacob said even though he thought he might know what the undergraduate was hinting at.

 

“Don’t worry about it,” David said. “It’s just the kind of talking young women do when they are full of veneration. She really looks up to you. If she weren’t Marisa I might even say she idolizes you, but since everyone knows idolization is not possible for someone as superior as her, I won’t say that.”

 

“She is smart David. She is very smart. What’s it like to go out with someone like her,” Jacob wanted to know.

 

“You should know what its like to be with an intelligent person, because you’re so smart yourself Professor Fineman,” David said.

 

“I wasn’t like Marisa when I was an undergraduate. I wasn’t nearly so advanced as she already is in her thinking. She has great potential David. I’m sure you can see that.”

 

David nodded his head in agreement and then excused himself to go to the bar to get a beer. Marisa came out of the restroom and walked over to David at the bar. He put his hand around her narrow waist and she whispered something into his ear and they both laughed. They both looked over at Jacob, then Marisa said something else to David looking more serious. David nodded his head and turned to the bar still waiting for his beer while Marisa came back to her seat next to Jacob in Brian Anderson’s seat.

 

Jacob remembered that he had earlier told himself that he would try not to sit next to Marisa, but now it was too late since Brian Anderson had given up his seat for Marisa, ostensibly to go talk to a classmate seated at the opposite end of the table. Marisa’s boyfriend David came over from the bar and stood behind her with both hands on the back of her chair supporting him as he leaned forward from time to time to listen in on the conversation between Marisa and Professor Fineman.

 

“Professor Fineman, I am sorry I was so rude,” Marisa said. “I just can’t believe my favorite professor who introduced me to philosophy does not think Socrates is real.”

 

“It’s not that we should not try to follow his example,” Jacob tried to explain, “Or learn from him. I would not teach a class on classical political philosophy if I did not think he had so much of value to teach us. But we must remember that the Platonic dialogs include much that is quasi-fictional. Socrates is depicted as a near perfect being. Alcibiades in The Symposium says that he drinks great quantities of alcohol yet remains perfectly sober, that on campaign with the Athenian troops he marches through the snow barefoot and poorly dressed for the elements and endures every hardship including extreme hunger, yet he does not feel cold or shiver, he never complains. He enjoys himself at a feast more than anyone else even when he does not drink, and when he does drink he never gets drunk no matter how much he drinks, indeed he drinks all of his comrades under the table. We know him only through what others, mainly Plato have written about him since he himself did not leave us any writings. When we read about him we are reading about a character caught up in the drama of history and it is common for beginners in philosophy to revere him like you do. That is not a bad thing. We all need heroes and heroines to look up too, and books are a far better place to look for them than movies or television or the media which under-whelms us with nonstop stories about movie stars and sports heroes and all the Hollywood characters who some like to call their heroes. Not me, and not you either Marisa, and I hope not the rest of you.”

 

            “Don’t you think we can be excellent Professor Fineman, or at least try to be? I’ve always wanted to be excellent. I’ve always striven for perfection.”

 

            “The classical ideal was not perfection. It was excellence and beauty, which is not the same thing as perfection. You are an excellent student Marisa, but you are not perfect. No one is perfect. Not a single person on this earth is perfect.”

 

            “Okay Professor Fineman. So you concede, I am an excellent student. What about my beauty then? Am I not beautiful as well as excellent” Marisa asked her Professor.

 

            Jacob was unsure how to answer this question as a professional would in this situation with so many of his students gathered around, listening intently. Fortunately he did not have to answer the question because David Gailantis answered it for him.

 

            “I think you are the most beautiful woman in the world,” said David Gailantis as he leaned forward with his arms on the back of her chair. He looked like he wanted to reach out and touch Marisa then, but he could not because such a gesture would look awkward in the presence of the entire class and Professor Fineman The rest of the students sitting around the table said they all agreed with David that Marisa was beautiful, if not the most beautiful woman in the world as David contented she was, then at least the most beautiful undergraduate on campus. Even Brian Anderson had to acknowledge the truth of this fact though he was not happy to do so. Brian Anderson was the kind of young man whose bitter disappointment in his own failure to live up to his parents’ great expectations for him as a student always lurked under the surface, and when this disappointment emerged as it did on occasion in the presence of true excellence, it came in the form of droll little comments aimed at making people whose success he resented feel uncomfortable. Brian Anderson smiled artfully as he asked a provocative question to Professor Finemen, whose C grade Brian really did not think he deserved. During the past semester Brian had once or twice noticed Professor Fineman looking at Marisa too intently.

 

            “Professor Fineman. Tell us what you think about Marisa’s beauty. Don’t you agree that she is in fact beautiful? We all want to know what you think.”

 

            This question left Jacob in a predicament. If he too enthusiastically concurred that might start the students thinking. If he denied what was obvious to all that also might raise suspicions. He stuttered, groping for the proper words while wondering if he was just being paranoid taking these matters into consideration. Before he could stop stuttering and say something intelligible he was saved again from having to answer the question by his cell phone which just then started ringing.

 

            “Excuse me,” he said as he answered the phone. It was Jacob’s wife.

 

            “Jacob? Are you finished with your students yet?” Hee Young asked over the phone.

 

            “No. Not yet, I mean I’m not really finished unless you want me to be.”

 

            “I would feel better if you came home early.  I really need to talk to you. I’m not feeling very good right now."

 

            Jacob knew better than to ask her what was wrong over the phone again. She was not going to tell him what was wrong until he was there with her in person at their home together. She had made this clear earlier in the day the first time she had called her while walking to the library. By the time she called him in the bar the suspense of not knowing what was wrong with his wife had begun to gnaw at Jacob, and he realized that by excusing himself from The Scholar’s Ship at just that moment he could lessen the period of his ignorance of her plight while also avoid answering the question about Marisa he felt so uncomfortable answering in front of his class.

 

            “Yes. That’s fine Hee Young. I will be home as soon as I can, no longer than twenty minutes from now. Just try to stay calm and we will talk about everything when I get home.”

 

            “Good Jacob. I want to see you soon. I must see you soon. I’ll be waiting for you.”

 

            “Don’t worry. I’ll be right home. Goodbye Hee Young.”

 

            “Goodbye husband.”

 

            After his wife hung up, Jacob put away his cell phone and informed his class that unfortunately he had to leave early because there was some kind of a family emergency at home. He soon realized that it was a mistake to use the word emergency in front of his students because they immediately launched a barrage of questions at him about the emergency and his wife, the students trying to find out what was wrong and anything else they could find out about Jacob’s wife and his private life, all of their questions being very troubling to Jacob because he could only guess at what the emergency with Hee Young’s family could be, and also because he did not want his students to know too much about his private life. Jacob was reluctant to share the details of his personal life with his students because he believed that was privileged information, and perhaps more importantly he was fearful he might inadvertently reveal through some accidental disclosure that his wife had once been his student at Pusan National University in Korea. Such an admission would certainly get the gears inside their brains all cranked up and in motion so that there would be another barrage of questions he did not want to answer about his romance with Hee Young, and maybe even some more about Marisa or other students if that smile on Brain Anderson’s face meant that Brain Anderson was thinking what Jacob nervously suspected he was thinking.

 

            “I’m very sorry class. Everyone. Please do accept my apologies but I really have to get going and right now too. It might be serious, but don’t worry, hopefully it’s not too serious and everything will be fine once I get home and find out what the problem is. I’ve had a very pleasant time talking with you all here and I want to thank you all so much for inviting me to your little get together. Please remember not to stay out here too late or drink more than you can handle because you are supposed to be studying for your final exams this weekend and the semester really isn’t completely over until you finish writing your final sentence on your final final exam. Does everyone have a way to get home safely? I mean none of you will be driving home if you have had too much to drink, I hope. I want to make sure of that now before I go. May I have one more chip out of your basket of fish and chips before I leave? Thank you. Well then, goodnight. Terrific. I’ll be seeing all of you on Monday at three. Don’t forget to review those dialogs.”

 

            The students all said goodbye, wished Jacob and his wife well, and promised they would study for the final exam. After Jacob stood up Marisa stood up herself after David backed away from behind her seat. Marisa helped Jacob put on his coat and then she said she wanted to see him to the front door of the bar. She walked in front of him and lead the way to the front door, Jacob followed her feeling more than a bit awkward as the rest of students, especially David Gailantis, and more troublingly Brain Anderson, watched them leave and Professor Fineman looking down at the floor as he walked in a very self-conscious, deliberate manner so as not to appear to be looking at Marisa’s behind in those tight faded blue jeans as she walked in front of him. She stopped at the door and waited for the professor to reach her so she could say something very quietly to him as he passed her and headed out the door while waving goodbye to the class another time.

 

            “Professor Fineman, let me step outside with you for a second,” Marisa almost whispered.

 

            A bit startled but maintaining his composure Jacob answered her after a moment’s pause.

 

            “Are you sure you want to. It’s mighty cold outside you know, and you left your ski jacket at the table,” he said quietly, not because he had consciously decided to speak in hushed tones, but because she had whispered first and some unknown impulse now convinced him that she wanted him to speak to her in a quiet, perhaps secretive manner.

 

            They both stepped outside into the cold, Marisa closing the door to The Scholar’s Ship behind them. Once they were outside standing in the cold she looked at Jacob with a sober face while he averted his eyes from hers and remarked half unintelligibly about the shimmering brightness of the snow even at that time of night while she continued to look up at him stone faced but shivering from the cold. Searching for something else to say that would prevent him from seeming ridiculous Jacob started talking about the final exam again until Marisa interrupted him speaking louder than she had in the bar.

 

            “I didn’t come out here to talk about the final exam Jacob,” she said matter of factly, addressing him by his first name for the first time ever. “You know as well as I do that I don’t have to study for the final exam like the others. You know I’ll ace it.”

 

            “You’re probably right” Jacob said after laughing uncomfortably because he thought he knew what was coming next.

 

            “I didn’t come out here to talk about the final exam, or your class, or philosophy,” she said as she reached into her pocket and pulled out a folded piece of stationary. “I came out here to give you something. Here, take this,” she said as she handed him the note. “I wrote something on this when I went to the bathroom. Don’t read it now. Don’t read it until you are finished grading my final exam. Read it after you have assigned me my grade for the course which you already know will be an A+.”

 

            Jacob held the folded piece of stationary in his hands and examined it for a minute before placing it into the inside pocket of his coat. He started to speak not even knowing what he was about to say while he waited for the words to come out of his mouth, but for some reason they would not. Marisa reached forward and placed her right index finger across Jacob’s lips.

 

            “Don’t say anything now,” the most beautiful undergraduate on campus told him. “Just nod your head up and down if you agree to read it.”

 

            Jacob who was at a loss for words could not have said anything just then if he had been told to speak as emphatically as had just then been told to remain silent. Instead of trying to talk he nodded his head up and down as ordered.

 

            “Good,” said Marisa. “Now I’m going back in there because I’m freezing my ass off out here Jacob.”

 

            She turned towards the door and then turned back quickly as if she were not yet finished with him.

 

            “Jacob,” she said before she opened the door to return to the bar, “You had better not let your wife see that.”

 

            Marisa disappeared inside the bar and Jacob soon found himself alone outside on the street not sure how to feel about what had just transpired. He reached his hand into his pocket to see if the note was still there, he shook his head when his hand found it, but it was not a shake of complete disbelief since he had for some time now thought something just like this could happen between he and Marisa. Perhaps it was they way she had looked at him too intensely in class on more than one occasion, or the way she had smiled at him knowingly when she had caught him looking at her more than was necessary during one of his lectures, or the fact that when she came to see him during office hours to discuss the dialogs she had always worn something provocative like the tight faded blue jeans Jacob was unable to avoid staring at as she had slipped back out of the cold night into the warm bar. It was not that he had wanted or hoped for such an incident, it was more like that brief episode had been something he always knew would transpire, as predictable to him as snow falling from the Minnesota sky in late December. He touched the note again and then his cell phone which was in the same pocket. The touching of his phone made him think of his wife at home in dire need of his attention, so he quickly started walking towards his 1996 Celica which was parked only a few blocks away on Mallard Avenue and he began to drive home, much too fast and so hazardously for the icy conditions that he felt like he was making his getaway from the scene of a crime.

 

            Ten minutes later he parked the Celica in his garage, walked across the snow covered backyard from the garage to the small white frame house where he lived with Hee Young on University Avenue. Entering through the backdoor which opened into the kitchen he walked inside and called out his wife’s name, announcing his return and asking where she was. But Hee Young was not downstairs and the entire first floor of the house was dark since she had turned off all of the lights before going upstairs to the bedroom to lay face down on the bed crying after she had called Jacob at The Scholar’s Ship. Jacob turned on the lights downstairs and looked on the couch where he thought she might be sitting alone in the dark, but she was not there, so he hurried up the stairs and was standing in front of the closed bedroom door trying to see if he could hear his wife inside. He did hear her sobbing through the closed door which he opened quickly while again calling out his wife’s name and reaching for the light switch which he decided not to flip on at the last moment when he considered that his wife might have wanted to remain in the dark. The light from the hallway did enter the bedroom however and Jacob could clearly see his wife in her day clothes laying face down on top of the comforter with her face in her pillow and her hands rubbing her eyes. She did not answer him when he called out to her or said her name again more softly. Instead she remained still with her face in the pillow and did not answer as she continued to sob. Jacob took off his coat and his shoes, gloves, and hat, threw them all on the floor, and he lay down next to Hee Young and put his arm around her back and quietly asked her if she was sleeping and if she wanted to tell him what was wrong. He asked her in a whispered voice if she was alright and if her family back in Korea was okay and this time she said something but it was only a whispered “No.” Jacob realized she was not in the mood to talk or perhaps half-asleep so he sat up in bed and looked around the room for clues.

 

Her bottles of perfume and her makeup, her family photos of her parents and brother and sister and everything else in the bedroom was in its proper place. There were no clothes on the floor, nor was there any evidence of a tantrum. On the stand next to the desk was the phone and next to it two phone cards and a pile of used tissues which Hee Young had cried into. Next to the tissues on the stand were a pen and a pad of paper for writing down phone messages. Jacob picked up the pad of paper and tried to read the Korean writing on it but he could not make out his wife’s handwriting in the dark room with only the hall light coming in through the open door. He got up off of the bed and walked to the door where he thought he would be able to read the note pad by the hall light. Standing in the doorway he read the Korean with difficulty but was able to make out the word bo-hun which he knew meant hospital. Under bo-hun were some words written in English. He read them. There were three words written in English: cancer, pancreas, terminal. Jacob read the three words again. He placed the note pad on a dresser and walked in the near dark back to the bed. Jacob climbed back onto the bed and lay down next to his wife again who had finally stopped crying after she realized her husband had come home. Now Hee Young was fast asleep. He shook her slightly to wake her for a moment because he had to know who it was that was sick, her mother, her father, her sister, or her brother. Hee Young moaned quietly when he shook her but she was aware of his presence next to her.

 

“Hee Young,” he whispered as he shook her a little again. “I read your note by the phone. Who is sick?” he asked.

 

“Abugi,” she answered in Korean. It was her father.

 

“I’m so sorry,” Jacob said as he ran his hand over her head. “How long does he have?”

 

“Not long Jacob,” she answered weakly. “I want to go to Korea to see him this winter vacation. I must go to Korea.”

 

“I know,” Jacob said. “Go to sleep now. We will talk about it tomorrow morning when you wake up.”

 

Hee Young did not hear the part about tomorrow morning because she had already fallen back asleep. Jacob let her sleep and quietly walked out of the room shutting the door behind him. Jacob continued walking down the stairs and went to the kitchen where he made himself some green tea and poured it into a white mug with a Korean flag on it that Hee Young had picked up at an airport gift shop in Seoul the last time they came back from Korea together. Jacob standing in the kitchen took a few sips out of the mug and then walked carefully with it to his office next to the living room. He sat down in front of the computer, turned it on and started searching for cheap airfares on the internet. After about thirty minutes he concluded his best fare was with Northwest Airlines, Minneapolis to Tokyo, Tokyo to Seoul, Seoul to Pusan. He wondered if he should purchase two sets of roundtrip tickets or just one. Northwest certainly had the best price he could find, so good was the price that he thought perhaps he should buy two sets of tickets. He did not like to travel, he was positively fearful of flying, especially on long trans-Pacific flights, and he was reluctant to travel back to the country where he had made so many decisions he later did regret, but Hee Young and her family were not among those things for which he felt repentance, so he used the computer’s calculator to determine how much two tickets roundtrip would cost him. Satisfied he could afford both tickets and feeling somewhat ashamed to have taken price into consideration when Abugi was dieing of pancreatic cancer, he printed out the information for the flights and the airline and made a mental note to himself to check on the status of the SARS pandemic in Korea and try to determine from the newspapers whether Kim Jong Il and the North Koreans were planning to go to war next week, which of course was anyone’s guess as it always had been. In the morning he would call Northwest and purchase the tickets over the phone with his visa card. As he was waiting for the information to print out he remembered the note in his coat pocket on the floor in the bedroom next to the bed on which his wife lay asleep.

 

Without delay he walked back upstairs and quietly retrieved his coat from the bedroom floor making certain not to wake up or disturb his wife who remained fast asleep throughout the entire occurrence. A minute later he had hung up the coat in the hall closet downstairs after removing the note from the pocket and then he returned to the computer in the office with the note from his top student in his hand. He looked at the folded piece of stationary and passed it back and forth from his left hand to his right and back again while the printer finished printing out the airline and ticket information.

 

When the printer was finished he took the printed sheets and placed them next to the phone so he would know where to find them when he would call the airline in the morning, and then he walked out of the office turning the light and the computer off as he left. After everything was shut off he came to the living room and sat down on the couch with the note still in his hand. Looking up the stairs he made sure Hee Young had not come out of the bedroom and then just to make sure she had not he walked quietly up the stairs again on the tips of his toes and opened the bedroom door to look inside and see that his wife was still there on the bed asleep. A few moments later he was downstairs again back on the couch with the note which he finally opened up to read even though he had promised Marisa that he would not do this until after he had graded her final exam and assigned her a grade for his course. He knew Marisa had made him promise not to read the note before he graded her exam because she was concerned that the contents of the note might effect her grade, either adversely or perhaps in a positive way. While Marisa was intensely competitive, a born overachiever, she also wanted to earn all of her achievements and honors fair and square, and she would not have dreamed of offering to Jacob the gift of herself, her body, mind, or spirit, for a higher grade in Jacob’s class. Jacob was not concerned about this however since he already knew Marissa would earn an A+ in Introduction to Classical Philosophy just as she had so boldly told him she would earlier that evening outside on Mallard Street in front of The Scholar’s Ship.

 

Jacob looked up the stairs one last time and then he read the note which Marisa had written on the stationary in the bathroom of The Scholar’s Ship. Here is what the succinct message said.

 

Jacob, You and I together. Wouldn’t that be beautiful? Both beautiful and excellent? I’ll be at my parents’ home in Minneapolis over winter break. Call me there to wish me a happy Hanukkah. 630-571-0729. Don’t worry about David Gailantis. I’ll leave him the minute after you call.

 

            Jacob read the note twice and then folded it up again. He unfolded it once and read it another time. Then he took the note to the downstairs bathroom and ripped it up into twenty small pieces and flushed them down the toilet, watching the pieces of paper swirl and disappear down the whirlpool and then he flushed the toilet a second time to make sure all the pieces of the note were really gone. Turning off the lights downstairs he then went upstairs, changed into his night clothes and climbed into bed next to his wife saying these words quietly into the sleeping Korean woman’s ear as he struggled to roll Hee Young off of the comforter without waking her and then pull the comforter back over the both of them.

 

            “Where thou diest I will die and there I will be buried.”

 

Drifting into sleep he experienced visions of the pine covered mountains he had climbed with Hee Young and her family just outside of Pusan. He remembered sitting on a rock by a mountain stream outside of Pomosa Temple near the bottom of Kumjumgsan with Abugi while his father-in law smoked a cigarette and tried to talk to him in his broken English. Hee Young had entered the temple with her mother to watch her light incense before the Buddha. The two women were gone for an especially long time it seemed but it did not matter then because the day was a fine one with the sky blue and brilliant up above, pure, holy, beautiful evidence of the existence of God. Even more brilliant still was the smile on Abugi’s face as he mangled the English words. “Watchya gonna do now time Jacob my son? Take a break. Take a relax. Catcha breeze. Okay okay? My son, my son. Okay okay!”

 

“Two tickets from Northwest,” Jacob whispered to his sleeping wife just before he too drifted into slumber with his arm draped over his Hee Young’s back. “We’ll leave for the airport in Minneapolis next week as soon as I finish grading those final exams. Don’t worry about a thing. Tomorrow morning I’ll buy two tickets from Northwest.”