Monday, October 6, 2008

Fiction Excerpt, from the chapter "What She Thought"

This is an excerpt from the long fiction A Stranger on Earth (and the chapter "What She Thought), a work-in-progress.

(c) DG

Sarah had returned to the copier an hour later, and was glad to find no one there; and she made the copies she needed for the professor’s class, using the time the paper ran through the machine, to think about the other work she had to do, and what she wanted to do when she left the office. There was a book signing at a downtown store in Manhattan, and she wanted to attend. The writer was a poet who used Greek mythology in her work, someone who had written about love and marriage while using ancient gods and myths as references. Sarah had read the woman’s first book, had even written something about it for a small poetry magazine; and she was curious about the new book. It was exactly the kind of thing she enjoyed. She had gone beyond wishing she had someone to share the experience with. It had been a long time since she bothered to invite anyone anywhere. Those times when she had invited someone, so many years ago, they either suggested doing something else—going for a beer at some smoky bar or listening to music in a deafening club—or they agreed to come but failed to arrive or if they actually showed up they acted bored. Why shouldn’t she enjoy what interested her, just because hardly anyone else she knew enjoyed the same things? She would not sacrifice her mind on behalf of the dumb.

Sarah sat collating various pages when Timothy entered her office; and they smiled to see each other. Sarah saw Kim pass the door, scowling, moments after Timothy walked to her desk.

“Hi,” said Timothy. “I wanted to see you, but I’ve been busy seeing students all morning,” he explained, though she knew that he was teaching assistant to a professor that relied on Timothy and his other assistants to handle most of the one-on-one student interaction in his courses.

“I’m glad you stopped by,” said Sarah, looking up at Timothy, and down again at the papers she continued to collate. They would not say that she was ignoring her work to talk.

“I wanted to say how sorry I was that you couldn’t hear my band play last Friday,” said Timothy.

“I thought about going. I really did. The performance wasn’t too late, but I just wasn’t sure I could afford it and do the things I needed to do during the weekend,” she said.

“I put you on the guest list,” said Timothy.

“I appreciate that. That’s very nice,” she said, making a point of registering his kindness, “but I called and was told they had a two-drink minimum—and they told me the drink prices. That was enough for two lunches. I just didn’t have the extra money.” Sarah had no problem being honest with Timothy regarding how much money she didn’t have, as their conversations—about things that mattered to both of them, such as literature, art, film, and music—meant that he saw her in broader terms than did someone like Kim.

Timothy looked thoughtful and sad for a moment, and then smiled again.

“Next time, you’ll be on the guest list, and I’ll treat you to dinner and drinks,” he said.
Sarah looked anguished, then laughed.

“That’s very nice of you. You don’t know how much I eat. Maybe I’ll be very hungry,” she said, smiling.

“It will be my pleasure,” he said. “I really want you to hear my band, and I owe you for giving me something to think about other than work. The students,” he said, and lowered his voice, “and the professors are always ‘give me, give me, give me’—but with you, after talking with you, I always feel as if I’ve been given something.”

“Thank you,” she said, and she was pleased. He had, again, recognized her worth. She realized that she had stopped collating to look at him, and her fingers began to move again.
He looked down at her work and said, “Should I come back later?”

“No, don’t leave. This is just something I have to do. I can talk while I work,” she said, before asking about Sacred Band of Thebes, his band.

“We’ll be playing again in about two weeks,” he said. “It’s uptown, at the cafĂ© across the street from Columbia.”

“That’s a trek,” she said.

“I have a car. I could drive you home,” he said.

She shook her head, No. “I wouldn’t ask you to do that. If I went, I would plan for my own transportation. I couldn’t imagine you working a gig then taking the time to drive me home also.”

He appreciated that she knew the music wasn’t just fun—it was work too.

“You’ve got to come hear us Sarah,” he asserted.

Sarah laughed. “I will, I will. I want to,” she said.

“In two weeks?” he asked.

“I’ll try,” she said. “I’ll plan for it,” she added, hoping that she could make it, hoping that some small expense, or some stupid irritation, didn’t occur to make that impossible.

Timothy looked around.

“I bet that’s yours,” he said, pointing to the book on the counter behind her.

She looked behind her, saw what he was pointing to, a book about Eric Rohmer, and said, “Yes. Have you seen Rohmer’s work?”

“Only Claire’s Knee and Rendezvous in Paris,” he said. “Claire’s Knee seemed very old-fashioned, a man obsessed with touching a girl’s knee. The other one seemed more of today, with the flirtations and betrayals.”

“You should see some of the others—Autumn Tale, The Lady and the Duke, the Marquise of O, and oh, he’s made, I think, more than twenty films. They’re just so smart, so much about what his people think and feel, what they know and value. He reminds me of Henry James.”

“I can’t stand James,” said Timothy.

“You’ve said that before,” Sarah said.

“Don’t hold it against me,” he said.

“It’s hard not to,” she said, smiling, despite a small bit of irritation and some despair. “I understand. James takes care with—he gives his attention to—subtleties that other people don’t even know exist.”

“He’s a windbag,” said Timothy.

Sarah laughed. “No, he’s not,” she said.

“He’s more complicated. A gasbag, then,” Timothy said.

“No,” she said, and laughed. “He has different values, different virtues. He’s concerned with sensibility, and spirit.”

They looked at each other. She wanted to argue, but was afraid she would become unpleasant—angry, lecturing, disrespectful: she really liked James. There was something delicate and very deep about his work, she thought. Why couldn’t—or wouldn’t—Timothy see it?

“I read the Mark Vernon review you gave me on The Spiritual Dimension,” she said. “It sounds like the book is very good—as if it really tackles the relationship of spirituality to living in the world, to what tests faith might be put to—I suppose the willingness to undergo the tests is the only proof of faith,” she said.

“Some would say that arguments of logic, and arguments from design, might also be proofs,” he said.

“You wouldn’t,” she said.

“No, but that’s why I thought the review of the book—and the book—were interesting. They take spirituality seriously enough to interrogate it, to force it to be real in the world” he said. “Would you like to read the book?”

“No,” she said. “I know what I believe about that. It would be an empty exercise to read the book. I won’t be swayed,” she said.

Timothy smiled at her.

“Believe?” he asked.

“Not just believe. Think. I used to think about the matter a lot, and read about it—I don’t anymore,” she said.

“Do you want to have lunch today?” he asked.

She looked at him. The hour’s break was the chance she had to get away from all of them, even from him, and she did not want to give it up: she wanted to be alone with her own mind.

“No, not today. I have a couple of things I want to do,” she said.

She wondered what lunch with him would be like, after he had gone; and she was glad she hadn’t gone. She did not want a new experience.

(c) DG