Unmasking Elena Montella(4)

By: Victoria Connelly

She closed her eyes and tried to switch off her brain, which wasn’t easy with the hippo-snorter beside her but, gradually, she felt herself drifting into a dreamless sleep and was only woken up by the announcement that they were about to land and, less than an hour later, she was on a boat ploughing across the open waters of the lagoon, sitting up high in her seat in anticipation.

And there she was: La Serenissima. The Pearl of the Adriatic. Venice.

In the deep haze of sunshine, everything looked milky-blue. Sunlight danced happily on the water like notes from a Vivaldi concerto. There were bell towers, church domes, houses and bridges and, as the boat pulled in to its stop, Elena breathed a long, contented sigh.

It felt so good to be back in the country in whose language she dreamt.

Chapter 2

There were a pile of unmarked essays on Prof’s desk, there were five mugs of unfinished tea in varying states of decomposition around the room, and the answerphone had three messages which all needed responding to, yet all he could do was to sit and think of Elena. It seemed an age since he’d last seen her yet she had only been there last week, he thought, tapping his silver pen against his jaw.

He switched his lamp on as he endeavoured to make a start on the essays. His eyes weren’t as good as they’d once been. He had to wear glasses now which, his last girlfriend told him, made him look like Indiana Jones before he set out to become a hero. He wasn’t sure if that was a compliment or not. Wouldn’t one rather be a hero than an academic - when it comes to looks, anyway? Still, he supposed it was better than being told he looked like Woody Allen.

Elena actually loved the glasses. She’d said they made him look distinguished and he supposed his grey hair was also being referred to when she made that remark. It used to be a rich brown but now it was threaded through with silver as if he’d walked through a city of spiders’ webs. He wouldn’t have cared so much but the grey had begun its sabotage long before his thirty-third birthday.

‘I like older men,’ Elena had told him, her warm kiss convincing him completely. So, there were some advantages to ageing, Prof thought.

Ah, Elena! Every time she was there, she filled the room with joy. It was the only time the place felt alive. Normally, it had that musty library-crossed-with-a-morgue smell that came from being stuffed with old books. Prof could tell that that’s what Elena had been thinking when she’d first walked through his door. She’d had him summed up with a blink of her brown eyes. And yet, she’d stayed.

Of course, Prof knew it was wrong. How many times had he been warned about the perils of passion with pupils? It was irresponsible, irrational and idiotic. But it was also pure bliss. She made his heart leap within his chest. She made his head spin when she kissed him. She turned his walk into a waltz and his sleep into a heavenly haven. And his brain had been alliteratively addled. He felt as if he’d swallowed The Golden Treasury of English Verse as he kept thinking and talking in similes and metaphors. He’d be brushing his teeth and suddenly think, she’s like a rainbow, or he’d be under the shower and remember a line of poetry which perfectly described her and run, dripping through the house to find it.

She was a true heroine. She could have walked straight out of a nineteenth-century novel. She was Eustacia Vye and Bathsheba Everdene rolled into one and he was sure Thomas Hardy would have fallen head over heels in love with her had he met her, and then punished her to within an inch of her life in one of his novels.

Prof would never forget the time Elena had first asked him his name. She’d made an appointment to see him about her essay on the Byronic hero but, instead of listening to his words of advice, she’d insisted on cross-questioning him.

‘Professor Mortimer is such a stuffy name, don’t you think?’

‘I beg your pardon?’ he’d peered at her over his glasses, feeling exceptionally stuffy.

‘What’s your first name?’ she asked, crossing her legs and leaning across the table most alluringly.

He cleared his throat. ‘Sigmund,’ he said.

‘Sigmund! As in Freud?’ Elena laughed. But it wasn’t a mocking laugh, rather a perplexed one, as if she had trouble believing he’d told her the truth. ‘What were your parents thinking of?’