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  • Bridges Across the Years 5

     Rochel Solomon updated 3 weeks, 6 days ago 2 Members · 2 Posts
  • Jane Whittier

    October 30, 2020 at 10:23 am

    Chapter 7


    Karen was worried about their custody case. One of decisions they had made the night Danvir arrived was to hire a lawyer in Delhi. When Chitra Dhupar had passed away at the end of November, Lennie had applied for guardianship, but so had Jayant. Lennie was just back from a second trip to Delhi for a court hearing on the case and the decision of the judge had not been very satisfactory for either side. Lennie and Jayant both been appointed guardians, and the Takahashi’s were required to honor the commitment Lennie had made to Jayant that they would bring Danvir to India in the summer for a final decision about where he would live.

    Bruce Whitting stopped Karen as she was about to sail past him. “Karen, we are nearly in the middle of January. Why haven’t there been any hiring talks? If we don’t get on with it, all the other universities will snap up the best candidates.”

    “We are not having any hiring talks this year.”

    “Is this one of the Dean’s abominable money-saving measures? Are two or three plane fares to Chicago going to break the faculty?” Bruce was so upset that he was practically sputtering.

    “The Dean’s abominable money-saving measure, and please don’t use that expression to him, is to give us only one new position this year. The departmental Appointments Committee met, and with amazing unanimity, chose one candidate from the various options. The candidate, whose name is Desmond, had excellent teaching recommendations, so there didn’t seem to be any need to bring him out here for a job-talk.”

    “But I know for certain that there was a top notch candidate in combinatorics who sent in an application for a job. If we don’t have job-talks and discuss the candidates, how will we know that the Appointments Committee made a sensible decision?”

    “The members of the committee are Full Professors in a good university. I hope that their decisions can be considered sensible.”

    “What is this guy’s field?”

    “Partial differential equations. Desmond is an applied mathematician. If you remember, there was a lot of negotiation over the summer and it was agreed to hire at least one new applied mathematician this year.”

    “But that was before we knew that we would have only one position.”

    “If we had tried to put up a pure mathematician, we would not have had even the one. Bruce, eighty per cent of our undergraduates are in the applied math track, and only ten per cent of our faculty are applied mathematicians.”

    “But all the students take plenty of courses taught by pure mathematicians.”

    “I know that, and I have explained it to the Dean, but nonetheless, the bias is out of proportion and we have to take some corrective action.”

    “I don’t like this at all, and I don’t see why we have to put up with it. The Dean in interfering in the internal affairs of the department, and he seems to have found himself a quisling.” Bruce turned on his heel and stalked off down the long hall.

    Karen stood looking after him. Up until now, she hadn’t had to deal with any serious challenges to her authority. The departmental committee in charge of post-doctoral fellowships, on Karen’s agreement to act as mentor, had given one of the fellowships to Marty Cohen’s student Rob, and the course he would teach in Financial Mathematics was included in the program. Several students had already told her that they were planning to take it. Desmond had committed himself to coming and was in the teaching schedule for next year. Samantha was doing well at learning her new field and Daniel was pleased with her progress.

    Of course, Vadim, Samantha’s previous adviser, would not speak to Karen, but she hadn’t expected that he would. If Bruce had set off looking for allies, she hoped he would not know to apply to Vadim.

    Snow fell in the evening, dusting the bare branches with white. The snowplows cleared the streets by morning, and school was not cancelled. After Karen sent off the kids in their various buses, she tried to start her car, but neither she nor Lennie could get the motor to turn over. Since she taught at ten, she took Lennie’s car, while Lennie tried to get someone to fix hers. He would need a car by the afternoon, when he was driving down to Purdue to give a Colloquium lecture. On the way to her class, she stopped at an ATM to get money in case she had to take a taxi home. The taxis did not like to drive out to the suburbs and charged accordingly.

    At the end of the class, after answering a few question from students, Karen gathered up her notes and pulled on her woolen hat, gloves and coat. The cold was sharp on her cheeks and legs as she walked across campus toward the math building. Grass was showing through the light snow on the lawn, but the paths were covered with slush. Dirty slush. Karen was glad that she had worn the boots which reached almost to her knees.

    There was an office set aside for the Chair, and on formal occasions, like reprimanding a student who had gotten out of line, she used it. Whenever possible, she preferred her own office, without the bustle of the secretaries nearby. She got out her mug, spooned in some instant coffee, added sweetener, and walked down the hall to the hot water kettle. She used to have one in her office, but once she had left it plugged in when she went out to class and it had burnt out all the electricity on the floor. She had gotten back just as the electricians were standing near the fuse box trying to figure out where the short was located by closing all the fuses and opening them one by one. With a stab of guilt, Karen had quickly unlocked her office and unplugged the kettle. The electricians discovered that the main fuse was now working and went down to report that the problem had cleared up by itself. Karen never confessed, but she also never kept a kettle in her room again.

    When she got back, she checked over her list of things to do and decided that she had a couple of hours for her research. She pulled a folder out of her the file drawer and opened it up, looking over the last pages. She had conjectured a lemma, but still didn’t have much of an idea how she would prove it.

    There was a rap on the door. Karen pressed her lips together in frustration and called out, “Come in.”

    The door was pushed open. Three mathematicians were standing in the narrow doorway. The one in the middle was Bruce. He was flanked by Jean-Paul Poucet and by Jim Selby, one of the younger faculty members who recently got tenure.

    “We looked for you in the Chair’s office,” Bruce said, in an accusatory tone.

    “I came up here to get some work done on my research,” said Karen, though in fact, as soon as she had seen what was so obviously a delegation, she had given up that idea completely.

    “We want some changes in the hiring procedures,” said Bruce.

    “Up till now, they have been pretty informal,” said Karen. “The Chair sets up an Appointments Committee, whose members consider the files and vote on them.”

    “We want everyone to see the files, even the junior faculty,” said Jim. “We are the ones who will spend the most time with the new hires.”

    “There are confidentiality issues with the letters of recommendation,” said Karen. “They can’t be available to the entire department. We could make the CV’s and research statements available to everyone.”

    “We want everyone to vote,” said Jean-Paul.

    “Everyone with tenure,” emended Bruce.

    “If you vote in someone against the judgment of the Full Professors, the Dean will hear about it and scotch the appointment.”

    The members of the delegation looked at each other. “Okay, we will figure out a role for the Full Professors in the process,” said Bruce.

    “Do you have a draft document?” asked Karen.

    The men looked at each other again. “No.”

    “So prepare a draft and I will call a department meeting for next Tuesday, before the Tea and the Colloquium.” That would keep it from dragging on forever. “We can discuss the proposal and then vote. I would appreciate it if I could see the draft a day or two before the meeting.”

    The three men nodded and turned to leave.

    “And Bruce?”

    He turned back to see what else she wanted.

    “You understand that we are talking about hiring procedures for next year, right? The Dean’s letter to Desmond has already gone out.”

    Bruce, rather unwillingly, nodded his acceptance.

    Lennie, coming by to pick up the car keys and hear where Karen had parked his car, got the full story. “It sounds to like you handled it pretty well. Why should it bother you if the procedure is a little more open? This year there was a particular need to hire an applied mathematician, but you succeeded. So next year the system will be more democratic. It will probably be good for morale. The younger people will feel that they have a stake in the department.”

    “Maybe,” said Karen with a sigh. “I hope your lecture goes well.”

    Karen was somewhat consoled by Lennie’s approval. She pulled out the folder with her research project, but found herself doodling on the pages as she wondered what would happen on Tuesday. She decided to go home at three-thirty. After calling a few taxi stands, she found one willing to admit to having a taxi on call, so she pulled on her coat and hat and headed out to the street.

    Paying the fare and a tip took one of the three hundred dollar bills she had withdrawn this morning and a chunk out of another. She could have saved about half of that by taking the train and a taxi from the rather distant suburban train station. In better weather or on a day when she was less troubled she might have done that. She had forgotten to ask Lennie if her car had gotten to the garage. It would be several days before she could drive to work.

    Once inside the house, Karen took off her outer clothing, sent Christina home early, pulled on fuzzy slippers, and hung her purse from a hook in the kitchen. Searching out Eddie in the playroom, she offered to help him with his homework or just play a game with him, but he said that he preferred to take his hour of TV now when he wouldn’t have to fight with the other kids about it, so she got the remote control from the locked drawer where it rested during the day and handed it over to Eddie. Setting the kitchen timer to remind her when the hour was up, she sat down on a couch in the living room and began to think.

    Surely there had been no such rebellion against any previous Chair. Had she really been high-handed? Perhaps even autocratic? The Applied Mathematics people had been pretty unhappy about the hiring system for a while now, but they hadn’t tried a formal protest because they would lose any vote which would split along the Applied-Pure boundary, even though there were quite a few pure mathematicians with clout who felt that Applied Mathematics needed to be strengthened. There was always the problem that pure mathematicians could only look for academic jobs, where applied mathematicians had many other options. That made the candidate pool already top-heavy in Pure Mathematics. The light faded outdoors and soon she was practically sitting in the dark.

    When the kitchen timer rang, she had made no real progress at untangling her thoughts, but it was time to think about supper. In the play room, the TV was on to some inane program for the kindergarten age range. The remote was on top of the TV and Karen slipped it into her pocket. Eddie was not in sight, and it was unlike him to miss any of his precious hour. Perhaps he had gone to the bathroom.

    Karen opened the freezer and closed it again. She opened the fridge and stood there for a while. She was utterly uninspired about what to feed the children and not the least bit interested in cooking. The kids claimed that she really cooked just for Lennie and there might be something to that. When he was away the quality of the food definitely declined.

    The idea came to her in a flash. Pizza. Home-delivered pizza. She even had a magnet for one of the pizzerias on her fridge. When there were just the four of them, she had ordered one family-sized pizza, but two pieces was not quite enough for Lennie and now they had Danvir. Tonight Lennie would come home late and hungry, tired from the long drive. In a reckless mood, she called up the store and ordered two pizzas with toppings for forty dollars. It would arrive in fifty minutes. She went to her purse to get the money and tip to put on the table by the door. The delivery boys did not have a lot of patience.

    She really wanted two twenties and a five, but the only bills in her wallet were a fifty and a ten. She would give the boy the fifty and hope he had a five. She put the ten back in the wallet and started to put it back in her purse. Something was bothering her but she couldn’t figure out quite what. She stood for a moment with the wallet halfway into the purse and then pulled it out again with a sharp motion. The hundred dollar bill. Where was it? The taxi had been a hundred and thirty something. She had put the change from the two hundred back in the wallet next to the remaining hundred dollar bill.

    With a rising sense of panic, Karen dumped the entire contents of her purse on the kitchen table. Frantically, she checked through every compartment in the wallet, every pocket in the purse. Then she scooped everything back inside, hung the purse where it had been, and called, “Eddie, where are you?” in the most normal voice that she could manage.

    There was no answer. Karen went to the hall closet but Eddie’s coat was hanging there. Eddie, of course, had dropped it on the floor or the couch when he came in, but Christina had hung the coat up. She took her keys from her purse and locked the back door. She retrieved the fifty dollars, which had been dumped back with everything else, from her purse. She no longer felt comfortable setting it down on the hall table so she kept is clutched in her hand. She sat on the couch waiting for the other children and the pizza delivery boy, hoping that one or the other would bring Eddie out of hiding, certain that if she went to look for him he would get out the front door and hide the money in the yard somewhere.

    It was not very likely that the first time he had checked her wallet for cash was the time there was a hundred dollar bill there. Several times in the last month she had opened her wallet and found less cash there than she expected, but she had put it down to her being an absent-minded professor. She had an Excel file in which she wrote down all the money she spent by categories and compared it to inflow, and there was always a certain amount of cash that went missing every month because she forgot a parking lot fee or a quarter to a panhandler, but this month had been worse than usual.

    Was it wrong of her to be so sure that Eddie had taken the money? He was surely the only suspect, having been alone with her in the house from the time she put down the purse. Could she even accuse him if she didn’t catch him with the bill on his person? What would an eight-year-old do with a hundred dollar bill? Buy ten lights for his bike, which he would then give away to all his friends?

    Alice and Danvir burst into the house. “Mom, Mom! There is a pizza delivery boy outside and he says that he is coming here!”

    “That’s right,” said Karen, trying to sound normal. “Dad drove out of town to give a lecture, so we are going to have pizza for supper and leave him some.”

    The doorbell rang and Karen paid for the pizzas, handing them off to Alice, who took them into the kitchen. She locked the front door as inconspicuously as possible. She turned around to face Danvir, who was still standing in the same spot. Karen was watching the sun porch from the corner of her eye, thinking that the most likely place for Eddie to be, but when she realized that her younger son was trembling all over, she focused on him instead. She put her hand on Danvir’s forehead, but it was cool. “Come, sit down, sweetheart. What’s the matter?” Karen sat on the couch and pulled Danvir onto her lap. He snuggled into her embrace. It amazed her that a child so thin and knobby could be so snuggly. She tried again, stroking his head and cheek as she spoke, “Danvir, what’s wrong?”

    “Dad drove out of town to give a lecture.” Danvir gave a shudder.

    “Right, he does that now and then when some other Mathematics Department invites him.”

    “But …”

    “I don’t think he will be back before you guys are all in bed, but I can have him go up and check when he returns.”

    “If.” Danvir burst into deep wracking sobs. Karen finally understood. This was just the way he had cried when he understood that his parents would never come home to him, and she had inadvertently triggered the trauma. Perhaps, in putting on a mature façade for his uncle, he had never had a chance to finish working through his grief.

    “Mommy, Danvir, Eddie! The pizza will get cold!”

    “You can start eating, Alice. Danvir and I will be there soon.”

    “Where’s Eddie?”

    “I’m not quite sure. Call him again.” She focused on Danvir and said quietly. “Would you like me to call Dad on his cellphone and make sure he is okay?” She had her own reasons for wanting to speak to Lennie.

    Karen felt Danvir nod against her chest. She stretched out one long arm and snagged the wireless from its stand on the end table. She dialed one-handed, still holding Danvir close with the other arm. There were three long rings and even Karen, who was not a worrier, was becoming slightly tense.

    “Takahashi here.”

    Danvir beamed and even Karen gushed a little. “Oh, Lennie, I’m so glad to hear your voice. When do you expect to be home?”

    “Traffic was held up for a while by a serious traffic accident, but now I am in the clear. I should be home in an hour.”

    Another shudder from Danvir.

    “Can I call you back in half an hour? I want to consult with you about something.” That would give her time to finish with the pizza party and send the kids off to do their homework. However many of them she turned out to have.

    “A problem with the children?”


    “It’s really not safe to deal with something complicated while driving. Use your best judgment and we will talk when I get back.”

    “Okay.” If Eddie was outside without a coat, he couldn’t freeze to death in an hour, could he?

    Karen and Danvir walked hand-in-hand to the kitchen. “No sign of Eddie?” she asked Alice.

    “No, where could he be?”

    “He could be hiding under a bed as a practical joke,” suggested Karen. “Let’s eat our pizza while it is hot, and then you two can look for him.”

    At the beginning of the search for Eddie the children were in a good mood. They threw open closet doors shouting, “Boo!” and giggled over unlikely accidents. Danvir seemed to have put aside his worries about Lennie being out on the highway. As time went on, they grew more frustrated. “Olly, Olly, in come free,” Alice shouted. “I’ve got a ton of homework to do, Eddie. This isn’t funny.”

    “You can go do your homework, Alice. What is left to check?”

    “The basement.”

    “Okay, Danvir and I will do that together.”

    Karen hummed a few bars of the Pink Panther and then headed down the stairs with exaggerated stealth, clowning as much as possible. At the foot of the stairs, she put her finger to her lips and then flicked on the light. The basement, which previous owners had paneled in wood, did not offer many places to hide except behind the couch and the laundry room. Karen and Danvir approached the couch from different ends but found no one behind it. Finally, they checked out the laundry room. Danvir even opened the dryer and peeked inside. Nothing and no one. “Weird,” said Danvir. “Why would Eddie want to go out in the cold instead of staying home and having pizza?”

    Karen shivered at the thought of the raw night but tried to restrain her sympathy. Her son was outside in the cold because he was trying to steal from his parents a sum of money which was very large for an eight-year-old who had all his basic needs provided. “He didn’t know about the pizza,” she said. They trooped back up the stairs.

    Danvir, who didn’t yet have much homework, went up to the boys’ room to read and Karen plopped down on the couch again. If she had been upset before, she was doubly upset now. The phone rang and Karen lunged for it. Maybe Lennie had changed his mind and was willing to talk about her problem while driving.

    “Dick’s Steakhouse.”

    “You have a wrong number,” said Karen, about to put down the phone.

    “No, I am calling from Dick’s Steakhouse.”

    “But I ordered pizza,” said Karen.

    “Fine, you ordered pizza, but your son ordered two Dry-Aged Rib Eye steaks, and all he has is a hundred dollar bill.”

    “My son is at your steakhouse?”

    “That’s what I said, lady.”

    “My car is at the garage. My husband will be home in half an hour and can come get the boy.”

    “I’m not interested in the boy, I am interested in my bill, and I am not letting you take him until you pay up.”

    Karen sighed. “What is the bill?”

    “A steak was $59, and when we add on an Idaho potato and pie a la mode it comes out to $79 dollars.”

    “I don’t have to be a mathematician to tell you that 79 is less than a hundred.” If those are the prices, Lennie and I should give up on mathematics and open a steakhouse. Twenty dollars for a baked potato and a piece of pie!

    “Yes, but he bought the same for his friend.”

    “It didn’t occur to anyone to wonder how two eight-year-old boys were going to pay prices like that? Do you have many customers that age?”

    “He told the waiter that he had enough money. The prices are listed on the menu.”

    Karen was sorely tempted to refuse. She thought the restaurant had been irresponsible in extending credit to customers that age. Let Eddie try to talk his way out of this. However, the presence of the other boy was a complicating factor. Eddie was already on a sort of informal probation at his school. This incident, if it got back to the principal, could put him over the edge. “All right, I guess I will pay, but if any such thing happens again, you won’t get a cent.” Fifty-eight dollars wasted, on top of the hundred which was already gone. She pulled out her wallet and read off the credit card number to the restaurant owner. “Tell me your address, and give my husband the receipt when he comes to pick up the boys.”

    The hour was nearly up, and the restaurant was nearby, so she called Lennie and asked him to pick up Eddie and a friend from Dick’s Steakhouse.

    “What in the world is this about?”

    “This is the problem you didn’t want to discuss. Once you drop off the friend, maybe Eddie will volunteer the information, and if not, I will tell you when you get here.”

    When they got home, Karen sent Eddie straight upstairs to put on his pajamas and heated up the second pizza for Lennie. “Did he say anything?” Karen asked.

    “No, he sat in sullen silence from the moment he got into the car. Didn’t even say good-bye to his friend.”

    Karen poured out the whole story, with Lennie looking more and more worried.

    “You really think he has been pilfering regularly from your purse?” he asked when she described her suspicions.

    “I’m afraid so. She shuddered. “It’s a horrible feeling, not being able to trust my own son.”

    When the story got to the call from the steakhouse, Lennie began to glower, and when she said that she had broken down and given her credit card number, Lennie lashed out at her. “But Karen, we made an agreement that we would not pay Eddie’s debts! What were you thinking of?”

    Karen burst into tears. They had been building up all evening, and this pushed her over, both Lennie’s anger and her release from the inhibiting presence of the children. “I was supposed to just leave the two boys there?”

    “Did you never read ‘The Ransom of Red Chief’? After a while the restaurant would have paid us to take him back. They had your hundred dollars, which surely covered the costs. I don’t think that they deserved the extra $58 profit after they behaved so irresponsibly.”

    “You told me to exercise my judgment and I did,” protested Karen.

    “Yes, but I didn’t think you would violate a formal agreement that we had made. Didn’t you notice that you were doing that?”

    “No,” said Karen between sobs, “because I thought our agreement was about debts to his friends.”

    “But, as you see, debts to adults are much more expensive. Our line has to be that if they didn’t sign us on as guarantors, we are not responsible for debts that Eddie runs up because of their poor judgement.”

    Karen nodded dumbly.

    “And Karen, I’m sorry I shouted at you. This is going to be hard enough when we face it together. We can’t let it come between us.”

    Sunday morning, Karen phoned Bruce, who said that Jim Selby was writing up a document for presentation at the department meeting on Tuesday. Karen went to Jim’s office and went over the two-page document with him line by line. The rebels had solved the problem of a role for the Full Professors by stating that, after the tenured faculty had ranked the relevant candidates, a majority of the Full Professors could veto a candidate who they felt was inappropriate for the department. Karen pointed out that the process was pretty ponderous, and got him to add a sentence at the end that the Chair, in case of a window of opportunity to get a windfall position for the department, could take action to secure it.

    “What kind of a windfall are you thinking of?” asked Jim.

    “A donor who is trying to promote algebraic geometry and is willing to dedicate a chair for the purpose?” suggested Karen.

    “Okay, if it won’t affect the department’s regular hiring, I suppose that is okay.”

    When she got back to her office, Karen called up her budget program and updated it, then checked that the amount recorded as cash actually matched the amount in her wallet. She tried to do this every day. She also opened the record of coming credit card charges, since if Eddie had been regularly searching her wallet, he could have copied her credit card number long since.

    “One hundred and fifty eight dollars to Dick’s Steakhouse! Why had he charged the hundred if he had it in his hand?”

    Karen slung her purse over her shoulder, locked the door to her office, and headed for the parking lot. She parked a block away from her home, let herself into the house, told Christina that she would be leaving again soon, and sat down to wait for Eddie.

    He burst through the front door about ten minutes later. “Hi, Chris!” he called, and headed for the kitchen, shedding hat coat and gloves on the way.

    “Not so fast, young man,” said Karen. “What happened to the hundred dollars you took from my purse?”

    “I gave it to the man at the restaurant.”

    “Let’s go ask him about that, shall we?”

    “But I have to go to the bathroom!”

    “I’ll wait.” Karen escorted him to the bathroom and waited outside. The window was high and small. She hoped he would not try to wiggle through it.

    Fifteen minutes later they were standing in front of the checkout at the restaurant. “I would like to speak to the owner.”

    Someone went and got him from the back. “Whatcha want?” he started to ask, and then noticing Eddie, said, “Oh.”

    “I asked you to send the receipt with my husband. You didn’t do it.”

    “He didn’t ask for it.”

    “He had no idea what was going on. That is why I asked you to give him the receipt. If you had, I would have noticed that you charged the entire $158 to my card. You were supposed to charge only $58.”

    “Listen, lady, to charge part and take part in cash makes no end of headaches for the accountant. It was much simpler to charge the whole thing.”

    “So what did you do with my hundred dollar bill?”

    “I put it down on the counter and the kid took it back.”

    Karen turned around. “Eddie, is that what happened?”

    “No,” said Eddie. “I gave it to the man and never got it back.”

    “You lie with a very straight face, kid,” said the owner to Eddie. Then he looked up at Karen. “Just like he stole it the first time, he stole it the second time.”

    Karen exploded. “If you knew that he stole it the first time, why did you let him steal it the second time?”

    “Lady, don’t make a scene. I’ve got customers here, who don’t have to hear your punky kid try to lie his way out of the mess he got himself into.”

    “I didn’t take it,” said Eddie. “He did it.”

    “Kid, I know that you are a piece of garbage. You don’t have to show it off. I don’t ever want to see your face within a block of this place. Is that clear?”

    “I don’t ever want to come within a mile of your smelly dump.”

    “Enough, Eddie, we are going.” She put her hand on his shoulder and steered him out the door. When they were in the car and driving toward home, she said, “Eddie, what did you do with the hundred dollars?”

    “I didn’t take it,” said Eddie sullenly.

    “Eddie, you know that you took it and I know that you took it. What do you gain by continuing to lie?”

    “Didn’t take it,” said Eddie.

    And Karen couldn’t get another word out of him for the rest of the day.

    The faculty meeting was in the same seminar room where the election had been held. About twenty-five people were in attendance, and since Karen was standing in front of the room behind the table, they were all men.

    “I would like to take nominations for a Chair for this meeting,” she announced. She was hoping that they would elect Jeff Chan again.

    Vadim Kuznetsov raised his hand and said, “I nominate John Wilson.”

    “I second,” said Bruce.

    “Any other nominations?” She looked around the room, but no one raised a hand. “I think we can vote by a show of hands. Who is in favor of John Wilson as Chair of this meeting?” Most people raised their hands.

    “Opposed?” No one.

    “Abstentions?” Another blank.

    “All right, John, you are Chair. Jim Selby prepared the document that we are meeting to discuss and perhaps vote on.” Karen sat down in a place in the front row.

    “Before we discuss the proposed hiring procedure, I would like to say a few words,” John began.

    “There isn’t a lot of time,” Karen pointed out. “We have Tea in half an hour and then the Colloquium.”

    “Tea can wait for five minutes. We have several faculty members who have joined us from the former Soviet Union, and we as a department should strive to model democratic process. Nominations made in smoke-filled rooms and elections with only one candidate are not putting forward the best side of American democracy.”

    “Actually, I think that nominations in smoke-filled rooms are associated with political party conventions and were a very American phenomenon, back before the era of primaries.” said Daniel Rubinstein. Several people chuckled.

    Bother, John is annoyed that I was nominated for Chair instead of him, thought Karen.

    John sent a quelling look in the direction of Daniel. “I think we now all see the results of short-circuiting the democratic process. We get administrators who are not responsive to the needs and the desires of other members of the department.”

    Karen felt betrayed. Although John had not known who she was in college, they had been at least acquaintances in graduate school and it was he who had advised to get her qualifying exams over in one year. Vadim might have a real grievance against her, but she was sure she had never done anything to inconvenience John, unless you counted being elected Chair when she was younger than he was. Was it her fault? Had she wanted the job? Karen sat up straight in her chair and tried to keep her face impassive. She was glad that she was sitting in the front where not many people could see her expression..

    “Point of order.” That was from Bill Diamond.

    “Yes?” said John.

    “You were elected to run the meeting, not to give a Keynote Address or a Plenary Talk,” said Bill. “We have a proposal to vote on and a limited time frame. I suggest that we begin the discussion.”

    John looked over the faces in front of him and then focused on Jim Selby and said, “Jim, would like to present your proposal?”

    Karen did not have to take the discussion personally. Speakers focused on the importance of the younger members of the department feeling that they had a role in the process. No one made a fuss about the sentence she had inserted, if they noticed it at all. When the question was finally called, Karen voted for it.

    The tenured faculty members arrived at Tea five minutes late. The untenured faculty and the graduate students had already made serious inroads into the refreshments. In a critical mood, Karen noted that there were already five empty paper cups and three used plates on the refreshment table. One of the first things she had done as Chair had been to order a second wastebasket in the room, so there would be one at each end of the table, but people still couldn’t be bothered to put their trash there. She stacked the three empty cups near her and, with a quick flick of the wrist, tipped them over the edge into the wastebasket where they belonged. She tried to be inconspicuous whenever she did that, so that people wouldn’t assume that it was properly the job of the only woman nearby.

    Usually Karen found Tea an excellent time to hold short conversations with various people from whom she wanted information or to whom she had something to say, but today she was definitely not in the mood. After taking a Diet Coke and a bunch of grapes, she sat herself down on one of the low chairs and started thumbing through a recent copy of Scientific American which she had picked up from the end-table. When there were five minutes left till the Colloquium, she looked up to see if anyone was moving in the direction of the seminar room. Just then Samantha sat down in a nearby chair and asked, “Why are there no other women on the faculty? Now that I know how different advising styles can be, I think it would help the women graduate students to have more options.”

    “I thought things were going well with Prof. Rubenstein?”

    “Oh, they are, and I thank you very much. I’m just thinking of other people.”

    “Well, hiring has been in the hands of the Full Professors until now, and I was not one of them, so I really have no idea. This year we had a commitment to hire an applied mathematician, and there were no serious female contenders. For next year they are changing to a more democratic system, so who knows? Maybe if you lobbied some of the younger tenured faculty, you could make some progress.”

    “Thanks for the tip.” Karen saw Samantha go over and speak to Natalie, one of the other female graduate students. Then they split up and started speaking to two different Associate Professors. Karen glanced at her watch. The Colloquium organizer, Jean-Paul Poucet, should have flicked the lights by now to get people moving in the direction of the lecture room. She rose to her feet and took a couple of steps in Jean-Paul’s direction when she remembered that many faculty members had arrived late because of the meeting.

    She was used to the fact that she was usually more conscious of the passing of time than most of the people in any group she was in. She had learned to control her impatience by applying common sense. The speaker would probably not be mortally offended if they got off to a slightly ragged start. She scanned the room slowly to see if she really was the only one aware that it was now four o’clock.

    Behind her left shoulder, she heard Samantha ask someone, “Why do you think they have not hired any women in the last ten years?”

    “Well,” came John Wilson’s voice, “maybe they were afraid that if they hired a woman, she would want to be Chair.”

    And after that
    she might aspire to be Dean, or even President.
    Without looking around,
    Karen walked out of the room, her head held high. As she passed through the
    door, she flicked the light switch three times.
    All this public criticism of her performance as Chair was being made by
    some of her oldest friends. Did they
    have no conception of how much time she put into running the department? For people so ungrateful she was letting her
    older son become a criminal and her younger son sit on a volcano of unprocessed

  • Rochel Solomon

    October 30, 2020 at 6:59 pm

    Where are chapters 1-6? Why can’t I find them?

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