The other day, I bumped into Maury in a clothing store in the mall. I almost didn’t recognize him; he was wearing black pants and a black shirt and a leather vest.
“Good grief, man,” I said, “have you been spending too much time with Frick and Frack?”
Maury swept his eyes over his own figure and said, “I know not what it shall signify…”
A tall, lean, stylish woman appeared from behind a clothing rack. “I am sprucing him up!” she declared, with what sounded like a German accent.
“James,” Maury said, “this is Lorelei.”
I shook her hand and tried, out of consideration for Maury, not to appear too obviously attracted to her. “How do you do.”
“I may be Lorelei, but I am not from the Rhine,” the goddess declared, smiling. “In fact, I was raised in East Berlin, and my mother was a child refugee from Königsberg. So I am Prussian.”
“Hence the spruce jerkin,” Maury explained, indicating his vest.
“You have said that already and I do not quite understand,” Lorelei said.
“The word spruce actually comes from French Prusse, for ‘Prussia,'” Maury said, “and a few different things imported from Prussia in medieval times came to be called spruce. Spruce fir, for one –”
“Oh, I do not wear fur,” said Lorelei.
“No,” said Maury, “F-I-R, the tree. Fichte. We call it spruce.”
“Oh!” Lorelei looked informed. “This is what I have decorated my apartment with! Only it is from Norway. Do continue!”
“Anyway, fine leather from Prussia was spruce leather, and in particular a jerkin – a sleeveless jacket – made from it was a spruce jerkin. And spruce jerkins were considered very smart looking indeed. Around the time of Shakespeare, spruce came to be an adjective meaning ‘stylish, trim, neat, dapper, smart.’ From which we get the verb spruce, with or without up.”
“So indeed I am sprucing you up!” Lorelei declared. “Only you are already smart. Now I am making you neat and stylish and dapper.” She scanned his not-really-thin figure. “Trim will come.” She smiled again. “Now, I have found you a tie. Come!” She gestured and began to walk away.
As Maury began to move away, I said, “Do you like your new look?”
He leaned close and said confidentially, “I feel like a jerk in it.” Then he straightened up. “But it’s all for a good cause.”
“Or a good effect,” I said, as he trotted off after Lorelei, who shouted back, “Oh, nice to meet you, James.”
The next day, I saw him at the Domus Logogustationis. He looked a bit the worse for the wear. “I must say, you look a little blue,” I said.
“In more ways than one,” he replied. “We went to a gallery party and they were serving International Klein Blue cocktails, which are made with Prussian blue. It retains its colour as it passes through – you may be seeing a bit of it in my skin hue, perhaps.”
“I don’t think that accounts for your overall mien,” I said. “I’m not sure any blue on you might not be a bruise.”
“I think it is,” he said, touching his upper back and wincing. “Well, after the party, she showed me her place.”
“Was it good?” I asked. “Norwegian wood?”
“It was really spruce,” he said. “She’s quite the conversationalist. Did you know Königsberg is a link between Leonhard Euler and the Eagles?”
I paused for a moment. The lightbulb went on. “‘Seven Bridges Road,'” I said.
“Not the only topological problem of the evening,” he said. “We talked until two.”
“She seems quite engaging,” I said. “And then?”
“And then she said, ‘It’s time for bed.'” He sighed. “She told me she worked in the morning and started to laugh. I told her I didn’t, and crawled off to sleep in the bath.”
“Hence the bruise,” I said.
“No,” he said. “She turned out to be teasing me. She dragged me back and introduced me to her birch.”