The Long Way Home

Page 82

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The old poet had actually giggled when Professor Massey had taken her hand in greeting.

They’d arrived half an hour earlier, unannounced, though Reine-Marie had called ahead to make sure that Professor Massey would be there.

He was.

He always was, it seemed. And now Reine-Marie started noticing other things. A pillow with blankets folded neatly on top of it, beside the worn sofa.

A microwave oven on the counter by the paint-encrusted sink. A hotplate. A small fridge.

She looked around the classroom and realized it felt less a classroom and more a studio. And less like a studio and more like a loft space. A living space.

Reine-Marie’s gaze returned to the elderly man. Perfectly turned out in pressed corduroy slacks, a crisp cotton shirt, a light sweater vest. Neat. Clean.

How did it happen, she wondered? Did he once have a wife and children? A home in the Annex?

Did the children move away? Did the wife pass away?

Did he just stop going home? Until this became home? In the company of familiar and comforting scents. And blank canvases. Where students dropped by at all hours. To ask questions. To have a drink and a sandwich and to talk pretentious nonsense.

She looked at the canvas on the easel.

How long, she wondered, had it sat there. Empty.

“Not violent,” he said. “Not physically anyway. Not yet. We couldn’t take the chance. Sébastien Norman was the messianic sort. The kind who held strong and inflexible views. We didn’t know that when we hired him, of course. He was to teach art theory. A fairly benign course, you’d have thought.” Massey smiled. “I suppose we weren’t clear that it was art theory he was to teach, not his own personal one. We began to realize fairly early on that we had a problem.”

“How so?” Reine-Marie asked.

“Rumbles in the corridors. I started overhearing what his students were saying. Most mocking him, laughing. My instincts are always to defend a fellow professor, so I asked them what was so funny. And they told me.”

“Go on.”

“Well, it sounds so silly now.” Professor Massey looked embarrassed, and glanced at Ruth. Reine-Marie simply waited, and finally he seemed to overcome his reluctance.

“Apparently Professor Norman believed in the tenth muse.”

He grimaced as though to apologize for the stupidity of what he’d just said.

Now Ruth spoke. “But there were only nine.”

“Yes, exactly. Nine daughters of Zeus. They personified knowledge and the arts. Music, literature, science,” he said.

“But not painting,” said Reine-Marie. “I remember now. There was no muse for art itself.”

Now Professor Massey turned his full attention to her. And what attention it was. Reine-Marie felt the force of his personality. Not violent, but overwhelming. Enveloping.

She felt his intelligence and his calm. And for the first time in her life she wished she’d been an artist, if only to have studied with this professor.

“Strange, isn’t it?” he said. “Nine Muses. That’s quite a gang. But not a single one for painting or sculpture. God knows the Greeks liked their murals and sculptures. And yet, they didn’t assign them a muse.”

“Why not?” asked Reine-Marie.

Massey shrugged and raised his white brows. “No one knows. There’re theories, of course.”

“Which brings us back to Professor Norman,” said Reine-Marie. “What was his theory?”

“I never spoke to him about it directly,” said Massey. “What I know was cobbled together from speaking to his students. I’m not even sure I’ll get it right now. It’s been so long. All I know is that he believed there had in fact been a tenth muse. And that to be a great artist you had to find her.”

“Did he believe this tenth muse lived in an actual place?” Reine-Marie asked. “That you could knock on the door, and there she’d be?”

“I’m sorry, I don’t know what Professor Norman really believed. It was a long time ago. I should have known. It’s my fault. I actually encouraged the college to hire him.”

“Why?”

“Well, I’d seen a few of his works and thought they showed promise. He was new to Toronto, didn’t have much money or many connections. This seemed perfect. He could teach part-time, make some money, meet some people.”

His voice faded away. All that energy, all that force of personality, seemed spent and the quite magnificent man deflated. The very thought of Professor Norman seemed to sap him of life.

“It was a mistake,” the professor said. He was quiet for a moment, casting his mind back to that time. “Norman wasn’t fired for his crazy beliefs, you know. We were a very liberal institution then. Though his theories weren’t approved of, and the students had no respect for him. His appearance didn’t help.”

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