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 Chapter 15

An Examination

     In mid-December, Swede and Joan rented a house in Oxford with the intention of settling down and attending lectures. Swede was evidently able to manage his business by trans-Atlantic telephone, and he and Joan explained that they were due for another spell of ‘improving themselves.’

     They were certainly serious in these endeavors, besieging almost anyone they met with various questions about his or her specialty. Vic, in the course of this, discovered that he knew more about more things than he had imagined.

     None of this impressed Frank Collins, who said to him, “You’re making progress and doing some good work in number theory, but you don’t seem to know anything about a good four-fifths of modern mathematics.”

“Sure. I just started with certain problems, and went wherever they led.”

“In a way that’s okay. You can be a very good mathematician and just do one thing. However, our sorts of journals don’t pay their writers, and you pretty well have to teach if you’re going to be employed.”

“So far, I have this other source of income.”

“Yes. You’ve told me about that. However, I have a suggestion.”

It turned out that the colleges within the university taught largely by tutoring individuals, and there was always a demand for part-time mathematics tutors. Collins concluded,  “The pay isn’t much, but it can sustain life at your level of consumption.”

“Wouldn’t I be called on to teach things I don’t know?”

“Certainly. That’s the beauty of it. You learn whatever it is just fast enough to teach the student. And, of course, I can show you some short-cuts.”

“I don’t know if I’m smart enough to do that.”

“Of course you are! It’ll be a quite efficient way of gaining the education you’ll probably need later on. Shall I sign you up?”

Vic hardly hesitated. It would be honest work which would gain him respect from Vicki.

     For the time being, there wasn’t likely to be any real conflict between collecting rents for Swede and doing some tutoring. Swede and Joan obviously had lots of ideas, but it didn’t look as if they would be very labor intensive on Vic’s part. Joan had compared herself and Swede to the British ladies and gentlemen who occasionally ‘did something’ for an intelligence service. A similar career, in this case a paid one, might be in store for Vic. On the other hand, he wasn’t sure what Vicki would think of this aspect of a double life.

     Still troubled with soreness of the ribs and his left thigh from football, Vic finally had his physical exam. It happened to be from Toni, who was less busy that day than Wanda.

     Vic had never had an ear, nose, and throat examination, and gagged a little with the throat stick, but otherwise found it not unpleasant. When Toni’s face was close to his, he looked into her gray eyes, a couple of times when she was also looking into his eyes. That was an odd and interesting feeling. He asked, “Was this what you did with Joan?”

“Oh yes. She does have a deviated septum, but I think most sinus problems are the result of the bad city air that we breathe. I didn’t recommend surgery. You’re one of few people who have clear air passages.”

“I guess I never thought about it.”

“It’s a small blessing that you might savor now and then.”

“I’ll try to think about it.”

“Now, you’ve been complaining about the sore ribs Joan’s husband inflicted on you.”

“If you’d met him, you’d understand.”

“I see. Is he a bit of a brute, then?”

“In a pleasant sort of way.”

Vic had been outfitted with English clothes on the instructions of Billy Penderby, and the tight-fitting suit from Marks & Spencer still felt odd to him. As he stood to remove the jacket, Toni commented,

“You muscular Americans look stuffed into English suits. It’s one of the things that allow you to be identified so easily.”

The trousers had suspenders, which the English called ‘braces’, that dangled when he slid them off his shoulders. Toni felt gently where he indicated, and then said,

“Let’s see if there’s still discoloration and obvious bruising.”

Vic had never worn a tie until recently, and Toni helped him with it. She then helped unbutton him and lifted what the English called his ‘vest.’ Vic pulled it over his head, but then jumped a bit when she touched him. She asked,

“Did that hurt?”


“Are my fingers cold?”

“No. I was just surprised.”

“Sorry. I was forgetting that you’ve never been to a doctor.”

There was only slight pain, but some pleasure, as she traced his ribs with her fingers. She said,

“We can’t really tell if one’s cracked without an X-ray, but, in any case, the treatment would just be to bind you up with bandages. Since you’ve gone this long without, there wouldn’t be much point in it.”

“Okay. They are getting better. It’s just very slow.”

“It’s a lot slower with older people. Are you going to be really embarrassed if we take your trousers down?”

“I am used to locker rooms, and I’m used to going behind bushes to relieve myself.”

“American doctors have all sorts of sheets and gowns and things, and I recently had an American woman patient who was embarrassed to death, even in front of me. We wound up leaving her in her slip but taking her pants and rolling down her stockings.”

“I once took a friend to a hospital emergency room, and it was funny to see some very dignified looking people walking around in those funny little gowns.”

“There’s your difference between being elegant and cosmopolitan again. A man can’t be elegant with his trousers down, but he can laugh about it and be cosmopolitan.”

“Okay, here goes.”

“Not so bad, is it?”

Vic was still wearing American jockey shorts, and felt very bare. However, there wasn’t much to do but stand there while Toni examined him. It turned out that there was still discoloration and some pain where Swede had driven a shoulder into his thigh. She said, “I noticed a little limp when you walk, so this may be the cause. Is it stiff and painful when you move.”

“A bit.”

“Just another deep bruise. The solution is not to play football with that man.”

As Vic was about to get dressed, Toni pointed to the upper part of his left thigh, and  asked, “Have you always had this big dark mole?”

“As far as I can remember.”

“It should be removed. I can do it as out-patient surgery, but I don’t have my instruments ready. We’ll do it soon.”

“Okay. A coach noticed that once and said I should have it checked.”

Toni nodded, took off her stethoscope, and said,

“There are some quite intimate parts to a physical, but I don’t think you’re ready for that yet.”

“I guess not. I should also be paying you for this. I do have money.”

“No need, Vic. I treat lots of friends for free. But you can take me to lunch.”

     As they walked along, Toni said, “Your American football seems to generate many injuries. Joan was asking me about broken arms, and emergency treatment for them.”

“That’s odd. I can’t remember that we’ve had any.”

“Does she come to these games that you play?”

“Not so far as I know. Swede may inflict injuries on some of the people we play, but they just go away at the end of the game. We’ve never had to call an ambulance.”

“Joan had some quite detailed questions. Perhaps she expects broken arms in the future.”

“You never know with Swede. Actually he did break both arms of a gangster who threatened him.”

“That’s it, then. What an extraordinary man!”

     The restaurant was the Indian one again, and Toni spoke of a patient she had seen that morning. “She’s a fairly attractive woman about my age whose husband has just left her for a younger woman. She’s grieving the loss of the man she still loves, and she’s also deeply humiliated. She really needs a friend more than a doctor, and, as usual, I’m a bit of both.”

“Does she have other friends?”

“Quite a few, but she thinks that they’ll gossip about her. Which they probably will.”

“And she knows that you won’t.”

“I wouldn’t tell even you if you knew her.”

“When I was in school, people were always breaking up with their boy and girl friends, but it didn’t seem to be any huge thing.”

“Yes. The older you get, the worse. There’s also the sex thing. With women, the drive often gets stronger in their thirties, and even later. So she’s frustrated.”

“Couldn’t she find someone else?”

“She’s already gone to a pub in search of someone. A young man came up and told her that he craved her body. Amazingly, she accepted the proposition.”


“I didn’t have to caution her about disease. She already knew how foolish it was when she came to me to be checked. But this can be the start of a cycle. Older woman gets younger man. Things are fine for ten or fifteen years. He begins to lose potency and gets scared. He finds a pretty young woman, thinking she can help him turn back the years. And so on.”

“None of that sounds good. I really don’t understand people very much. Women even less than men.”

“You’ve been busy surviving. And you avoid rash decisions in other areas. I don’t think it would be wise for anyone to advise you to change your course.”

     That afternoon, Vic went to a movie while Vicki was still at work. It was a German movie, sexier than any American ones Vic had seen, and it featured an affair between a young man and a somewhat older woman who, like Toni’s patient, had been dumped. The young man was providing her with some thrills and, among other things, there was a dance in which he periodically lifted her up and turned her almost upside down with a lot of display. A bedroom interlude followed, and it seemed that Toni might be right in saying that a lot of older women were starved for sex.

     At dinner at a little Italian place, Vic told Vicki of his prospective career as a mathematics tutor. She thought it a fine idea, and they speculated on his likely tutees. At one point, she said,

“I’ve learned a good deal about English universities from my co-workers, biased though they may be. According to them, there are many upper-class students who study literature and history, but who are hopeless technically. It’s the non-elite kids who win scholarships and do the math and science.”

“There must be exceptions to that.”


“I wonder if I’ll wind up with literary ones who can’t deal with symbols.”

“There may be some dewy-eyed girls who’ll think you’re super because you can manage equations.”

“I’ll be very distant and stern with them.”

“I bet.”

Just then, one of the women at the next table, only inches away, said to Vicki in a New York accent, “You’d better be there with him to protect your man, honey.”

Everyone laughed, and Vic remembered that there was no such thing as privacy in an English restaurant. It turned out that the two middle-aged ladies at the next table were anxious to get home to their husbands and families. Besides that, they didn’t like England. The other lady, with improbable red hair, said, “The upper class here treats the other ninety per cent of the population with the contempt that we, unfortunately, direct at black people.”

The women, recognizable as Jewish liberals, were, of course, right. When it became clear that Vic and Vicki were thinking of settling in England, the one who had spoken first relented, “Foreigners who are young, smart, and good looking are in a much better position than ordinary English people.”

The red-haired women added, “They might not let you into the clubs, but no sane person would want to be in one anyway. You kids will do fine.”

With that benediction, they made their way back to Vicki’s bed-sitter.

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