Being There by Billie Pritchett

Una played this game where she circled around the professor’s chair, over and over, hoping he would look at her and, if not her, then the shadow of her naked body swirling against the maroon walls in the lamplight of her rented home. He read Sein und Zeit, the black jacketless hardcover gripped tightly in his hands. She leaned in and lifted his thumb from the page, kissed it and observed all the blood that had collected in its bulbous end. That thumb. Those pale hands. Vorhandenheit. Zuhandenheit. Heidegger’s phrases in her head. She caressed his thumb and said, “Don’t you think we should put Heidegger to bed?”

“In time,” he said, with a smirk more than a smile.

Una knew Heidegger’s life and work well enough to know this man in this chair, this professor of German Studies, was much like Heidegger in personality and philosophy. For instance, as much as the two men praised ordinary life, they didn’t give a shit about the people who loved them. As much as they both claimed to believe being-with-others was fundamental to human existence, they spent as much time as they could avoiding their wives. Una stood still now, leaning over the professor, conveying these thoughts to him in well-chosen words. She spoke kindly, carefully, circmulocuitously.

He removed his hand from one side of the book and gave her bare leg a patronizing pat. “Heidegger loved Arendt,” he said, “as I love you.”

Una loved Arendt too, of course, the more humane of that existentialist pair—

Once, in his office, he had become enraged at her for calling Heidegger an existentialist. “Heidegger was not an existentialist,” the professor said emphatically, the slamming of his stupid fist making his Snoopy paperweight hop. The stupid man.

Soon, she would lie down, turn out the lights and wait for him. Some nights he would come into the room, and they would make love, her body and his graciously invisible in the enveloping darkness. She wondered what his lovemaking was like with his wife.

She had seen his wife only the one time, in the grocery store, at checkout. She was a woman of medium height and plain features pulling up her pacified baby from the cart in one tensed arm, the professor’s fingers out and straight on the cart’s handle like a pianist ready to play his keys.

“This is my brightest student,” is how the professor had introduced Una to his wife, and when his wife reached out her free hand, Una could feel the coarse skin.

The professor’s hands were never coarse. But just because they were soft didn’t mean they were the proper hands of a lover. More like crude tools. They pointed and prodded and gripped and fingered. They certainly never caressed.

Una tried to rub his arm through the fabric of his thick coat and considered continuing her dance, the circling of his chair with her body. But she was always circling.

His eyes were fixed on the page. She looked down at the top of his thinning brown hair. “What do you get out of our relationship?” she asked.

He didn’t bother to look up. “It’s not about giving or getting anything,” he said. “I like you being here.”

She nodded and went to the bedroom and lay down. Whether or not they would make love made no difference. She rubbed her naked shoulders, but her fingers on her own skin were not enough to emulate the human touch of another. Not that his touch would be better. Not that his touch would even feel desirable tonight, if anymore.

He never cared. He wasn’t caring. He was not a caring person.

She felt sick to her stomach, like she had swallowed a spoiled fruit, rotten pomegranate, and couldn’t throw it up.

Leave a Reply