There at last came opportunity to speak with Dr. Allen in relative privacy, so I screwed up my courage, and approached her in the hall. I'm unused to bringing a conciliatory tone to my voice-- I know this speaks ill of me -- but I attempted such, and called to her. "Allen?"
As she turned, I clasped my hands together in supplication, while making no physical contact; I'm sure my pawing her is the last thing she desires. "Allen, I'm so sorry about that night," I said. "I've been haunted by it ever since."
Allen made a small, inquisitive sound, searching her thoughts. Then she nodded, as though, upon reflection, the liaison in question was of little concern. "No, not at all, Wednesday."
I was prepared to plead my case. Not to explain that I often respond to censure with sexual conquest, that would only make me appear deranged, but to declaim my weakness in such situations, and to plead ignorance of her travails with Hodgson. Her nonchalance was unexpected. "Ah. If that's how you feel."
Allen sighed with rue. "I had a lot to drink that night, but I'm a big girl, and I knew what I could expect." I nodded. After a calculated pause, she added, "I'm divorcing from Gary."
The surprise evoked by this revelation was amusing, I'm sure. "You're joking," I said, unblinking. Allen shook her head, her expression grave. My mind raced. I blurted, "But you should know I've already--" Got commitments, was what I intended to say, before she cut me off.
"Having sex with you really opened my eyes. It helped me see just how low I'd sunk, Wednesday. You, of all people." She wrinkled her nose, and shivered. "It's better he and I separate than allowing my behavior to get any more self-destructive."
My hands wrung, now in frustration. "Ah, glad I could help," I said, blank.
Allen dismissed this with a shake of her head. "I'd been turning it over in my mind a while, but it's so easy to let things go on like they are. You know what I mean? It's less trouble." She bit her lip.
I nodded, distracted. I was more than a little relieved Dr. Allen was not throwing herself at me in a fit of sublimated loathing. Allen scrutinized me, and asked, "Did you say something earlier?"
"No, nothing," I said, lying. "I imagined you were going to slap me." I chuckled.
"Well, I could do that if you'd like." And, sans further preamble, she drew her arm back and struck me across the face, knocking me off-balance. She did it hard, taking evident satisfaction. I should be unsurprised.
Allen massaged her hand. "Mmm. That felt really good." She smiled.
I palpated the stricken spot, rather dazed. "Yes, I suppose it did...."
"Have a good day, Wednesday," Allen said breezily, continuing on her way. The sound of her heels on the linoleum hushed, flattened with distance. I stood there a bit longer, while my wits returned.
I should like to confidently interpret this exchange as indicative of her disinterest. If only I could. (sigh) I really do not have space for another departmental romance, dear Diary.
And was she telling the truth, or having me on? I pondered whether Allen's husband would blame me for this turn of events. How could he learn of my involvement? Allen would never be so indiscreet, I'm sure. But I had to wonder. Not that this incited alarm in me. It is simply not physiologically possible to have terror struck into one's soul by the person who drives a Karman Ghia. It simply cannot happen. Were Freddy Krueger to manifest in one, all evil grin and flashing blades as he unfolded his horribly burn-scarred frame from his burbling, sunshine-orange clown car, he would very shortly withdraw in slump-shouldered, abject defeat, disregarded by all. Perhaps a student or two would quiz him for advice about getting into their degree courses, or a passing tailor would attempt to fit him for a tweed jacket with elbow patches, but nothing more.
But I make light of a serious turning point in a colleague's life, which is insensitive of me. I'm still a bit shocked by its suddenness, and my apparent culpability in this matter.