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The Models

Robert Jeske

Excerpt from ‘The Models’ from The Seurat Stories.

In the years immediately following the collapse of the Cultural Revolution, two English teachers – apparent strangers – meet in the dining room of a river boat scheduled to take them through the Yangtse Gorges

‘How awful,’ repeated Peregrine. ‘Did they ever catch the guy?’

‘It wasn’t his fault, ‘said Justin. ‘It was just a stupid accident.’

‘Well you must feel awful,’ said Peregrine. ‘Drink up.’ He reached out his hand and patted Justin’s sleeve.

‘Ghastly,’ said Peregrine. ‘So then you decided to come to China—to recover.’

‘Actually no,’ said Justin. ‘It’s been a while.’

‘Time to forget,’ said Peregrine. He gestured to Justin’s cup. ‘And are you all alone here in China? ‘I mean, did you come by your self?’

‘Yes, said Justin. ‘I’m quite alone.’

‘And lonely, I bet,’ said Peregrine.

‘Yes, that too,’ said Justin. ‘But I have my work and I have my travels—and of course I have my students.’

‘Oh really?’ said Peregrine. ‘I find the students in Kunming rather stand-offish.’

‘Well, mine were at first,’ said Justin. ‘But they warmed up soon. Not the ones in the lecture so much as the ten that I had in the advanced course. Had one very bright boy in particular—kid from a fishing village, Ningbo. You’d swear he was Western—wanted everything Western. Even called himself ‘John.’

‘Huh,’ Peregrine grunted. He seemed to be falling asleep.

‘Yes, he’d wear my clothes and I’d wear his. We had a lot of fun.’

‘Sounds it,’ said Peregrine. He was looking for his Dunhills again.

‘Spoke English fluently too,’ said Justin. ‘We did a production of GHOSTS and he was terrific.’

‘Oh really, must’ve played Osric, eh?’

‘Oswald,’ Justin said. He cleared his throat. ‘To my Manders.’

‘Sounds like a budding romance,’ said Peregrine. “You’d better watch it Justin.’

Justin felt his face flush. ‘It wasn’t anything like that,’ he said.

‘Did I embarrass you?’ asked Peregrine. ‘We all have crushes on our students as much as they have crushes on us. It’s part of the game. Surely you know that,’ said Peregrine.

‘Yes, I know that,’ Justin answered.

Peregrine learned forward. ‘I bet you had crushes on your teachers, too.’

‘Yes,’ said Justin. ‘I suppose so.’

‘And you outgrow them. I bet this Ningbo fellow has a crush on you.’

‘I doubt it,’ said Justin.

‘Oh, come on,’ said Peregrine. ‘Fascinating stranger from the West—exotic, fabulous. Come on, what could be more seductive?’

Justin didn’t answer.

Peregrine leaned forward. “Did you ever have a crush on anyone when you were at Chicago?’

‘Yes,’ said Justin.

‘Was it me?’ asked Peregrine.


‘You see,’ said Peregrine, leaning back in his chair. ‘And I’m sure I was flattered—and that’s the way things are. It’s important. We’re all models for our students, role models. You wouldn’t have remembered me if I hadn’t been a good role model in some way.’

‘There are other reasons you can remember someone,’ said Justin slowly. ‘And you didn’t remember me.’

‘Oh come on Moggan,’ said Peregrine. ‘You don’t expect me to remember every kid in every class that I had. That’s unreasonable.’

‘I know it is,’ said Justin. ‘But I thought I was more than just a kid in your class.’

‘Well that’s your problem,’ said Peregrine defensively. ‘I can’t help that, can I? Surely I never led you to believe anything else.’

Justin’s time had come. ‘But you did,’ he said.

‘What do you mean, I did?’ said Peregrine loudly. ‘I don’t even the fuck remember you.’

Justin didn’t say anything. He knew that Peregrine would ask.

“So how did I lead you to believe something else? Tell me that?’ Peregrine took a large swallow of his scotch and poured the rest of the bottle into his glass.

‘It was after finals the first quarter. You had seen me on the street and told me what a good final I’d written. And you asked me if I was going home for Xmas and I told you that I was working in the Library instead—and you said that you’d be in town too and that maybe we’d run into each other.’

‘And that was all? That’s what you call leading you on?’

Justin looked in front of him. ‘No, there’s something more. You said that if I ever wanted to talk or something, that your name was in the phone book.’

‘Well it is,’ said Peregrine. ‘And I say that to all my students. I think I even put it in my syllabus.’

‘But I took you seriously. And I called.’

‘And then what? Did I hang up on you or something?’

‘No,’ said Justin. ‘You told me to come over.’

Peregrine reached for the Dunhill box. ‘I need a cigarette for this one,’ he said. ‘Then what?’

‘So I went over to your apartment—it was near Hyde Park…’

‘I remember,’ said Peregrine. ‘I lived there.’

‘And I went up to your floor and rang the bell.’

‘Come on,’ said Peregrine. ‘The suspense is killing me.’

‘And you opened the door and you were in your bathrobe.’

‘Well you’d probably woken me up. When was this, the middle of the night?’

‘It was about ten o’clock,’ said Justin. “And we both stood in the doorway and you asked me what I wanted.’

‘Well, what did you want?’ Peregrine lit a cigarette.

‘And then you asked me to come in—there was some music playing—and the apartment was dark.’

‘You sure you don’t remember the music?’

Justin nodded. ‘Ravel,’ he said. ‘The Dead Princess Pavane.’

Peregrine laughed. “Real seduction music.’

‘And then you left me alone and said you had to get something—and you went into what I thought was the bedroom.”


‘And then I just stood there waiting for you. And then I heard another voice from the bedroom. And I knew you weren’t alone.”

Justin was still looking at Peregrine who was leaning against the dresser.

“So I wasn’t alone.’

‘No,’ said Justin. “And I tried not to listen—but I couldn’t help hearing. And it sounded like you were laughing. And you said—‘It’s just some kid from my class. I’ll get rid of him in a minute.’

Peregrine started to say something but stopped.

‘And then you came out of the bedroom and I saw her in the light from the street. It was a girl who used to sit in on our class sometime. An upperclassman. I think her name was Liana or something.’

‘Lena’ said Peregrine. ‘Lena.’

‘Oh,’ said Justin. ‘And then you came out and you walked me to the door and you put your arm around my shoulder and you said, ‘Look, can’t we do this another time?’

‘And then what?’

‘And then I left.’

Peregrine said down on the bed. “So what ‘s the point of all this? Why did you remember it for twenty years?’

‘The point was,’ said Justin…’the point was that I came to you for help and you slammed the door in my face.’

‘I didn’t slam the door in your face,’ said Peregrine. ‘And how was I to know that you came to me for help?’

‘How were you to know that I wasn’t?’

Peregrine threw the Dunhill box against the wall. ‘How the fuck was I supposed to know?’ he said in an exasperated tone. ‘I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings. I didn’t plan that deliberately. I don’t even remember it. I still don’t remember it.’

Justin said nothing.

‘So what was the big deal?’ asked Peregrine. Whatever it was, you’ve survived. You’re fine, you appear to be functioning. I don’t see any visible scars.’

‘Not all scars are visible,” said Justin. ‘But some are.’ He held up his wrist.

‘What are you trying to say?’ said Peregrine. ‘That because I told you I was busy, you slashed your wrist?’

‘Yes,’ laughed Justin. ‘Yes. It sounds crazy but it’s true.’

‘Well you must have been a mess to begin with’ said Peregrine. “I wonder how I missed you.’ Sitting on the bed he put his arm around Justin’s shoulder. “That night, what did you come to see me about?’ he asked.

‘I was confused,’ said Justin. ‘I don’t know what I came to see you about.’

Peregrine dropped his arm. ‘Well that’s fine,’ he said. ‘Didn’t you have a clue?’

‘Yes,’ said Justin. ‘I knew that I was having problems—problems about other boys—and I guess I wanted to talk to you about that.’

‘Come on Moggan,’ said Peregrine. ‘Let’s be a little more honest, shall we? It sounds like you were jealous that I was with someone else and you went home and tried to kill yourself. Doesn’t that sounds about right?’

‘Yes,’ Justin said. “Yes, that sounds right.’

‘And because I didn’t make it go away—or throw you in the sack (which would have probably been a whole lot better) you worked this whole thing up in your head.’

‘I didn’t make up the whole thing,’ said Justin.

‘Well, I’m sorry,” said Peregrine. ‘What can I say? But everything turned out OK, didn’t it? I mean, you graduated, you got married, you had a child. You must have settled all this sexual business in some way.’

‘But I didn’t,’ said Justin.

‘Oh, said Peregrine. ‘You mean you still feel those problems?’

‘They’re not problems now,’ said Justin.

‘You’re still bitter, aren’t you?’ said Peregrine, his voice bitter. He stood up and faced Justin. ‘You haven’t forgotten—or forgiven me for something that happened twenty years ago. What can I do to make it up to you?’ he shouted in an angry tone.

Peregrine pulled at the zipper of his pants. ‘Do you want to suck my cock? Will that make it up to you? Is that what you want? Do you want me to suck yours?’

‘No,’ said Justin loudly.

‘Then what will make it up, Moggan? What will?’ Peregrine stood there with his zipper open, his hands outstretched.

‘I don’t know,’ Justin blurted out. He started to cry. He wanted Professor Peregrine to hold him.

Justin crossed to Peregrine’s open arms.

Justin realized with sadness that of the two of them he was now the taller.