Prior to that fateful evening when Nora served Spencer an apple from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, Spencer had enjoyed the bliss of infatuation. During office hours, Spencer would discuss the moral character of Hector and Achilles with Nora, who would always take the side of the noble Trojan. Framed by black lustrous hair and wearing a simple white sweater that stretched across her life-giving breasts, Nora appeared both virginal and knowledgeable, a pure woman within whom burned a fire upon which Spencer hoped to warm his hands. It was this sensual lamb that championed Hector’s commitment to home and hearth. She was not wrong; Hector had attempted to protect his beloved family and countrymen from rampaging marauders. And he had paid the ultimate price for his loyalty when Achilles tied him to a chariot and dragged him around the city walls, undoubtedly reducing the once-proud body of the noble Trojan to pulp and gore. Achilles, on the other hand, was the man who did the dragging. In contrast to Hector, whose commitment to friend and family resulted in bodily disintegration, Achilles took no wife; only slaves and lovers. Achilles knew that personal excellence could only be achieved when man was free of domestic entanglements and allowed to soar across the cosmos as the warrior priest he was always meant to be.

At the time, Spencer had viewed Nora’s endorsement of Hector as a sign of her commitment to traditional morality. He would later learn that Nora, in fact, appreciated the respective moralities of both Hector and Achilles, insofar as she was open to sexual assignations with both of them at different times and for different reasons. But in her office, discussing the Greeks, Spencer saw only the Helen of the stories, if Helen had the whitest alabaster skin, lips the color of cherries with the fullness of plush cushions, and breasts that overflowed her frame, like ripe fruit hanging from a wispy branch.

“I’m not sure Achilles is really as solitary as you think,” said Nora. “He loved Patroclus and his men were like family to him. I think it wasn’t so much that he didn’t value human connection, but that he found it in different places.”

And the way Nora pursed her cherry-cushion lips after affirming the value of untraditional human connections caused Spencer’s heart and manhood to swell with possibility. He wasn’t certain Nora was trying to signal her erotic interest in him, but this evidence could not be dismissed.

“I see what you mean,” said Spencer. “Achilles had a family. It was just a different type of family.”

“Exactly,” said Nora, seemingly pleased that Spencer had grasped her position and articulated it in a more efficient and aesthetic manner.

“Achilles had a great love, but it was a different type of love,” said Spencer. “And, in that sense, the ancient Greeks were more progressive than we are today, with our emphasis on marriage and the family, and intolerance toward gay people.”

“The Greeks were definitely a bit more chill than us,” said Nora, giggling in a moment of unmistakable femininity.

“Though they also believed in slavery and pedophilia,” said Spencer. “So, maybe not so chill.”

And now Nora laughed openly, submitting to the vigor of Spencer’s wit and displaying the soft belly of her mind. It was then that Spencer imagined the demure yet tastefully revealing dress Nora would wear at their wedding. Of course, Nora would first have to divorce her husband, who was some kind of lawyer. But that was a low hurdle they would bound across together. An army of bloodthirsty Greek soldiers could not defeat love. Was this sedentary lawyer stronger than the Myrmidons? Was his claim to Nora stronger than that of Menelaus to Helen? And if their love should launch a years-long war, then may the men pick up their shields. The poets would sing of Spencer and Nora.

Though Spencer knew his invitation to join Nora at her stately home for drinks celebrating the end of their semester together was part of a wider invitation extended to the entire eight-person seminar, he felt this represented the next logical step in their relationship. No longer teacher and student, Spencer and Nora would bond over flavorful wine and sparkling wit in the salon of her very home. And though that unfortunate lawyer to whom Nora was bound by the laws of matrimony would be present, Spencer was confident such a man could do little to prevent the flowering of Spencer’s relationship with his wife.

Contemplating the excitement that lay ahead, Spencer purchased a moderately-priced cigar and began puffing it around campus. It was the type of spring afternoon where the sunshine dared to crest into summer heat. Spencer strolled the carefully-manicured stone pathways that cut across the lawns and circled the trees, puffing the cigar in a thoughtful yet very male manner, an overseer making the rounds at his factory. And here the product was not widgets or missiles, but frothy teenage sexuality, the quad a vista of midriffs and thighs, tanned arms and oversized sunglasses, the bare nipples of young men and the clothed yet almost visible nipples of young women. The American college was a factory of desire.

Spencer arrived at the Tudor home of his beautiful Nora at the beginning of the twilight hours, when the light twisted between the sun and the moon and the air lay pregnant with aching, aroused possibility. After much internal debate, Spencer decided to tuck his Oxford into his khakis. Though a more staid look, the tuck complemented Spencer’s robust-yet-leisurely physique and suggested a level of maturity that would distance him from his more puerile peers.

For Spencer was no ordinary first-year and Nora no ordinary female professor. It could not be denied that Spencer had a rare and gifted mind, an intellect that promised to master the zeitgeist and guide a generation. But to make good upon this promise, Spencer would have to draw upon great fortitude and inner resolve, the Saxon work ethic of his father’s line and Celtic madness of his mother’s. Of course, Spencer could march to Golgotha himself, but how much easier would his fateful journey be if Nora walked alongside? She was the type of fragile yet fertile creature that could coax greatness out of men. But only the right men. The lawyer was not the right man; in fact, he was barely a man at all. Spencer, on the other hand, saw in Nora the spirit of the Muse. And the Muse belonged to the man who could see her. Nora would unleash Spencer’s burning potential and Spencer would gift Nora his love and his seed. Together, they would grow the world.

“Spencer,” said Nora, opening the door and clearly registering excitement. “I wasn’t expecting anyone quite this early.”

Framed by the sturdy oak of her doorway, Nora was a vision of Venus at repose. Though clad in denim pants, the fabric of the plebeian, Nora could do little to lessen her luster. Her sleeveless black blouse revealed the slender porcelain arms of a medieval princess, a prized daughter hidden away from the vulgar stare of the sun. And yet her smile was the dawn itself. Spencer could do little but bask in the light of his royal nymph.

“Do you want to come in?” asked Nora, disturbing Spencer’s reverie. Spencer apologized for his absentmindedness and confirmed that he would be delighted to enter her home. As he approached, Spencer was not certain whether he should offer an embrace or a gentlemanly handshake, so he settled upon neither, choosing instead to present to Nora the party gift he purchased at not insignificant cost.

“Glenlivet?” asked Nora. “Wow, thank you. This is really generous. It’s like 100 percent nicer than anything I was planning to serve tonight.”

“I mean, we had such a great semester,” said Spencer. “It seemed appropriate.”

Nora thanked Spencer again and ushered him inside, apologizing for the relative lack of cleanliness, as she had not expected to receive guests for another hour and a half.

“I know some think it’s best to be fashionably late,” said Spencer. “But I didn’t want to play that game.”

Indeed, there was no point pretending anymore. During their many office hours rendezvouses, Nora had seen the possessory look in Spencer’s eye and returned it with her own naked want. In some ways, they had already consummated their love, sharing a sex of the mind, where the orgasms arrived as clever barbs and the ejaculate as propulsive laughter.

“As long as you don’t tell anyone else I’m a slob,” said Nora. “I still have an hour to create the appearance of cleanness.”

Nora, of course, was no more a slob than Albert Gore was a former president of the United States. Both could have been true, but were actually false. Could a resplendent fairy be a slob? Only if slobs were ageless beauties. And besides, Spencer was certain it was Nora’s legal husband who was responsible for the slovenly state of her home.

“Greg?” asked Nora. “Oh, no. Greg is a total clean freak. If he were here, not a single coaster would be out of place.”

Though it was not surprising that the lawyer lacked the natural manly confidence to enjoy a bit of disorder, Spencer was heartened to learn that his tedious presence would not be felt that evening. The Fates were aligning, as they often do to favor the blessed children of history.

“Oh, is Greg not going to join us tonight?” asked Spencer. “I had been looking forward to meeting him.”

Nora informed Spencer that a legal matter had taken the so-called Greg to Oklahoma City for the week, a known backwater if ever there were one. Was it possible that a critical legal event was unfolding in Oklahoma City? It was possible, yes; but not likely. Spencer was quite certain that the lawyer had been sent on some clerical errand, one of the less important matters to which the firm sends its less important people. This predictably mundane errand, however, was Spencer’s good fortune. He would enjoy an evening with Nora free from the burden of maintaining a platonic façade. The kabuki theater of Nora’s marriage was to be temporarily suspended in favor of a very different performance.

“Well, it’s a shame Greg won’t be joining us,” said Spencer. “He seems like a really nice guy.”

“Oh, he puts on a good show,” answered Nora, giggling to herself in a suspiciously practiced manner. “But yeah, Greg’s great. He wishes he could meet you guys. He likes getting to know my students.”

Spencer could sense the strain in Nora’s marriage embedded within her attempt at nonchalant good humor. Clearly, she was growing tired of this man and with adequate reason. When the Muse marries the scrivener, both are at a loss. What is the Muse to do with a man whose soul is impervious to inspiration? The Muse needs a man who is equipped for the creative voyage of the one who is always self-overcoming. The Muse needs the Übermensch. And this lawyer was, at best, only a mensch.

“Oh, don’t worry, Spencer,” said Nora. “I’m not lonely. It’s only a week. That may sound like a lot, but Greg has to travel for work sometimes. We’ve just gotten used to it.”

Of course, Nora could not simply confess to Spencer the sorry state of her marriage and her attendant despair. A woman of Nora’s chastity would not so easily betray the sacred confidences of man and wife, even if the man in question were the unimpressive and undeserving Greg. No, Nora could not be expected to climb out of the deep hole she had dug for herself with her characteristically feminine poor judgment, for Nora was a virtuous woman and the lot of the virtuous woman is to abide. The virtuous woman sits in the hole. It would fall upon Spencer to extricate Nora from this well of marital malaise, to rescue her from the murky depths of the lawyer’s impotence.

“If I were Greg, I would never leave you alone,” said Spencer. “He’s really taking his chances!”

And with that one line, Spencer provided Nora with both reassurance and expectation, the glimpse of a future with a rising star around whom she could gratefully orbit.

“You should tell that to Greg,” said Nora, laughing a bit nervously, obviously excited and unnerved by the trials and tribulations that lay ahead. “He could use a reminder every now and then.”

Nora then walked across the room to put away a number of books placed carelessly atop an ottoman. Was Nora embarrassed by the fervency with which she wished Spencer could dispatch the cloddish Greg? Ashamed at her animal arousal at the prospect of long evenings of debate and lovemaking with her young champion? Spencer would have to be more mindful of Nora’s fragility. A denizen of the rough and tumble world of men, where war is play and play is war, Spencer realized that he must learn to soften his male hardness to care for the delicate Nora, who was intelligent and intuitive, but yet the eternal woman.

“Shall we start on the Scotch?” asked Spencer.

Alcohol, a known social lubricant, would serve as a soothing balm for Nora’s inflamed nerves. Between the responsibilities of hosting the party and her burgeoning relationship with Spencer, Nora was likely experiencing a sensory overload. Spencer’s gift of premium liquor would bring everything back into more manageable focus.

“Oh, I’ll never get this place cleaned up if I’m drinking,” said Nora. “But please, you should start if you want. The bottle’s yours anyway.”

“No, no,” said Spencer. “I mean, I’m happy to begin enjoying it now in your company, but the Glenlivet is meant for you. For the party. It’s a gift.”

Spencer began opening the bottle. He had brought the expensive Scotch for Nora and his childish classmates to enjoy as a gesture of his largesse and elevated palate. But surely there was no harm in indulging in the gentleman’s early evening glass before they arrived. Sipping the oily amber of the intoxicant, Spencer marveled at the texture of the burning liquid, which tasted like rotten water to the uninitiated, but which Spencer knew to be one of the more desirable Scotches, known for its virile, citrusy profile.

Spencer considered whether he should ask Nora if she would like assistance cleaning the living room and then thought better of it. Chivalry is required and attractive, so long as man does not debase himself by engaging in un-masculine acts. Spencer would gladly defend Nora from a home invader, but to bustle alongside her performing maid-like activities would be to diminish himself in the eyes of his woman. It was far better for both of them if Spencer sat on the sofa enjoying his potent libation while Nora flitted around her domestic domain. Spencer sipped down one glass and then another, enjoying the theatre of his mind’s eye, wherein he and Nora were traveling the fjords of Scandinavia, man and woman at the end of the world.

“So, this is how Professor Katz kicks it,” said Alex, one of Spencer’s classmates, as he strode into the living room. Alex cast his eyes about, taking in the bourgeois sanctum of Nora’s hearth in a manner both gauche and imperious. Alex was one of those spirited boys prone to athletics, lacking gentlemanly grace but somehow engendering goodwill all the same, by virtue of his buoyant demeanor and rude confidence. Perhaps one day Alex would make a fine law firm partner, giving orders to men such as Nora’s husband. But Alex was not destined for noble action. Rather than move the needle of history, Alex would do history’s bidding. He was to be one of the great many supporting characters in the drama of man.

“Alex, my friend,” said Spencer, walking over to the young rogue with the bottle of Glenlivet in hand. “I brought the good stuff.”

“You drunk already, Spence?” asked Alex. Though it was true that Spencer was a bit under the sway of the premium liquor, he resented Alex’s overly familiar tone. But Spencer knew better than to register offense. Alex was inviting Spencer to the game of masculine jocularity.

“Not yet,” said Spencer, laughing with virile good humor. Alex grinned, appreciative of Spencer’s volley back to him.

At this juncture, the rest of the class began filing into the living room. They had either all arrived at the same time or traveled together in some sort of caravan. In the event they had traveled together, it was curious that Spencer had not received an invitation to join them. Though not overly invested in the business of social politics, Spencer believed the class held him in high regard, as they had always listened rapt while he offered his insights on the readings. Perhaps they were too intimidated to approach him, which was understandable but also misguided. Beneath his hard and polished exterior, Spencer was a man of warmth and generous levity.

“Are you ready to catch up to me?” Spencer asked Alex, brandishing the bottle.

“No,” said Alex. “You’re too fast.”

Assorted chuckles rose from rest of the class, which was congregated behind Alex in a hormonal blob. But Spencer could not fault the blob; Alex’s laconic demeanor was amusing! Indeed, Alex had a bit of the Bart Simpson about him. Though he still had much in the way of personal development ahead of him, Alex had the raw materials for the making of a great lieutenant. Perhaps one day he would be Spencer’s own deputy, a trustworthy stalwart who would execute Spencer’s more sensitive commands.

“Thank you all for coming,” Nora said, wading into the sea of teenage bodies and odors. “As Spencer has noted, there is Scotch. There’s also wine and pizza’s on the way.”

As his classmates issued their greetings and gratitude, Spencer could not help but feel as though he and Nora were already joined in union, with the class as their brood of motley children. Spencer could ascertain that Nora felt the same way, as she was fussing about the classmates like a mother hen. Spencer, the ignored rooster, could only watch with pride and mild arousal as Nora tended to the chicks, feeding them bits of conversation and morsels of encouragement. If Spencer had one of those electronic phones that would later become so popular, he would have updated his Facebook wall with a rousing musing. Perhaps “Great whiskey and great friends! Professor Katz (Nora!) outdoes herself. Kudos to her and all.”

***

This is an excerpt from Dan Baltic’s new novel, NUTCRANKR, coming this Friday from Terror House Press.