The Professor A Katz Memorial Evening


by Laura Del-Rivo

The academic who was to open the Professor A. Katz Memorial Evening wore her best dress. Elizabeth Woolacott was a large-boned, energetic woman. The dress, from an Oxfam shop, was antique gold velvet in sumptuous folds of burnish and tarnish.

Before the start of proceedings she hurried to the ladies’ lavatory. She was holding her notes and a glass half full of white wine. She placed both objects on the ledge over the washbasins, entered a compartment and hiked up the dress, showing a bush of black, wiry pubic hair. She pissed, wiped and pulled the chain. The dress fell back to mid-calf.

She abandoned the wineglass, retrieved the notes and made her way to the lecture hall, whooping in mezzo-soprano to a colleague.

On the dais, through habit, she looked for the blackboard of equations.

— Ladies and Gentlemen.

She spoke bracingly of the mathematical papers which bore the late Professor’s name and indulgently of his putting on terrorist airs to the National Security Agency.

— The mischief of an old man.

The body of Professor Katz was under the flint- and chalk-bearing earth but his phantom body had a phantom erection caused by sexual shock. He was transfixed by the suddenness of Elizabeth Woolacott’s pubic hair as he learned that the Lecturer in Modern History and Administrator of Studies did not wear, and presumably during the years of their sharing the Uni Common Room had not worn, knickers.

Katz had died in quite good conditions although some of his underground neighbours had died as semi-transparencies surrounding the imbecilic O through which gruel was spooned. The last air now squeezed from his lungs in a groan of desire for chestnut purée, café conversation, chess with the Agent of the National Security Agency and the lifted skirts of women.

Seemingly a procession of implacable women bore down on him: office worker, traffic warden, receptionist, primary school teacher: all straitly bodiced but naked from waist to knee socks.

— Help, help.

Numbers and women had been his dominatrixes. The numbers on taxis and receipts had demanded their prime or non-prime status. Decimals and the needs of women had infinitely recurred. Each had nagged to be Fibonacci or bought shoes and washing machines.

— Elizabeth, if you say your wineglass is half full we must quarrel, because the ratio of original wine to wine drunk is 1:½ (the square root of 5 + 1). But you are stronger than me; jolly and sporty, so I must surrender.

He had been in bondage to two strict mistresses; two cruel governesses.

— We numbers are more important than your wife’s (that bitch’s) dinner.

— Your dinner is ruined. Even now you’re dead you can only get it up for voyeurism and fantasy.

They could wrangle over his grave as he had wrestled with the Agent over the chessboard. As anarchist and chess player he was too old to threaten the commerce and military which the Agent was employed to patrol. He was 81, not 18 in his prime with foreign labels on his underwear.

Sensibly, she had drunk only half a glass of wine before her speech. While the others had the platform, she sneaked to the bar-buffet for Chablis and canapés of smoked salmon and cream cheese. If she ate now, she would not have to cook at home.

— Jolly yum.

Professor Katz was probably married and of course too old, but she had always been a bit keen on him and had bought the dress of gilded silk velvet in his honour.

— What have I, Katz, ever done but play the fool on the edge of infinity?

Copyright © Laura Del-Rivo 2014. Published in the short story collection Where is My Mask of an Honest Man? (Holland Park Press). Republished with permission of the publisher.

Image by Lettuce