‘Three bottles of the shiraz,’ Anne said to the waiter as she handed back the wine menu. She turned to Edward Adelman, the Stanford professor whose lengthy and surprisingly incoherent research paper they had just heard. ‘Have you had a chance to visit any of the local vineyar…’
‘Oh…no…wait,’ Edward bellowed after the waiter. ‘Start the orders up…ah…that end of the table.’ Ignoring Anne’s question, Edward leant towards Rafe, the young American academic seated opposite. ‘What do you think of Barker’s latest book on the post-revolutionary nation?’
Anne blinked before turning to Edward’s wife, the only other woman at the table.
‘So, Klara. How are you and Edward finding Australia?’
‘Oh we are really loving it. Our son has just moved to Sydney, so I expect we will be visiting here often.’
‘The Dean will be pleased to hear that,’ Anne said. ‘It’s not often we have a scholar of Edward’s reputation come to Canberra. Do you think he might be interested in a visiting fellowship?’
‘Yes, I think he would like that very much.’ She paused. ‘You mustn’t mind Edward. He doesn’t like small talk. He thinks it’s a waste of time.’
The waiter began pouring the shiraz.
‘Oh, just a little for me,’ Klara said. ‘Such a headache, after all the travel.’
‘He certainly likes to quiz people on what they’ve read,’ Anne tried to joke. Earlier that day, Edward had turned away, his face creased in distaste, when she had admitted having been too busy to yet read Barker.
‘What about you, Klara?’ she asked. ‘How did you and Edward meet? Were you students together?’
‘Oh no,’ Klara said. ‘I did not go to university until after we met. I was a secretary in the department in Germany where he had his first job. And after we married, he thought I should go to university. When we moved to London I went to Birkbeck and completed my BA.’
‘And you enjoyed it so much you decided to go on to postgraduate study?’
‘Oh no, well, that was Edward really. I had been helping him with his research, you know, visiting archives to find what he needed, and then transcribing the documents for him and typing everything up. I didn’t dislike studying, of course. I found it all very interesting. But Edward thought it would be useful if I did a Master’s degree.’
‘And then you went on to a doctorate?’
‘Yes,’ she said. ‘I was quite interested in the history of midwifery. But Edward chose my topic because he thought it would give me a much better foundation in the area he was working on then.’ She finished her glass of wine.
‘I see,’ said Anne. She picked up a bottle and refilled Klara’s glass. ‘Did you enjoy your doctoral study though?’
‘Oh yes, that was very interesting too.’
‘But you didn’t consider a career in academia yourself?’
‘Oh no, not for me. Edward was so busy, you know, and needed so much help with his work.’
‘I see,’ said Anne again.
‘Tell me, Anne,’ Edward boomed. The rest of the table was watching, attentive. ‘We’ve been talking about Barker’s work on memory and place and I was trying to think: is there anywhere in Paris named after Robespierre? I would have thought it too contentious, of course, but Rafe here thought there was.’ He paused briefly, a twitch playing around his mouth. ‘Perhaps you might know?’
Anne felt as though she was being put through some sort of test, a supplementary exam for having failed to read Barker. ‘Well,’ she said, ‘as it happens, there is a metro station in Paris named after Robespierre.’
Edward stared, his eyes bulging slightly, and then laughed.
‘A metro station? Named Robespierre? Oh no. No, that couldn’t possibly be right!’ He turned to the others, his back to the women.
Anne took a large gulp of wine, her cheeks reddening as she turned to Klara, puzzled. ‘There is a metro station called Robespierre in Paris. It’s on Line 9.’
‘Oh, don’t mind Edward,’ Klara said again. ‘He isn’t very good with…with practical details. We never even take the metro when we’re in Paris.’
‘Really? But how do you get around then?’
‘Oh, usually by taxi,’ Klara said. ‘Only I have to book it. Operators never seem to understand Edward when he speaks French.’
Anne watched as Klara finished her wine. ‘I must say, Klara,’ she said softly, ‘I’ve always been astonished at Edward’s prolific output. Fifteen books in the last twenty years.’
‘Ah yes, well, that’s Edward. Of course he reads so much. All day and all night long. Books, as well as all the notes I’ve made.’
Anne filled Klara’s glass again, ignoring her as she raised her hand in protest. ‘But how on earth does he manage to write so much?’ she persisted gently.
‘Well, he doesn’t. Not exactly. Usually he dictates to me, from his reading and from the research I’ve compiled. Of course, it all just comes tumbling out, and there’s always far too much of it. And it’s all in a rather haphazard order.’
‘I see,’ said Anne, running her finger slowly around the base of her wineglass. ‘That must require an awful lot of hard work.’
‘Oh, it does, but I squeeze it in between the grocery shopping and the cooking.’
‘So you type out the first draft for him?’
‘Well, yes, but first I have to, you know, organise the chapters, decide what goes into them, and then structure the information into logical paragraphs. That means I have to re-order his ideas, and make his sentences clear, because he does have a tendency to ramble on so. And then…’
‘Come now, Klara,’ Edward interrupted, pushing against his chair with such force that it fell backwards. ‘Early start tomorrow.’