Wednesday, November 06, 2013

An Ineluctable Modality: Chapter 6

An Ineluctable Modality is a novel I wrote for NaNoWriMo's 2013 Challenge where the goal was to write 50,000 words of a novel during the month of November. This year, I wrote a novel-in-blog-posts: you can read the previous chapter, here.

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"Ah, maestro di color che sanno," he chirped, greeting me as I entered the restaurant. We had agreed to meet for dinner when he called me last night and had decided Shakespeare's Company was a mutually acceptable spot. Now that Cape Edmund was less populated by the summer traffic, the place was more bearable. Henry motioned me to join him.

"Herr Doktor Liebhaber," I bowed solemnly before I sat down across from him in our usual booth. We always preferred a place toward the back of the main room. Plus we both liked the waitress, Sylvia, who was always kind to old men.

Henry had called me out of boredom, tired of locking himself away and doing nothing but writing. He felt the need to get out of the house and thought perhaps I wouldn't mind being his excuse, if he agreed to pay.

"That gives me the right to ask, then," he said before hanging up, "that we do not discuss my novel."

I had hoped to hear how it was going – was he on schedule; was it going well; did he find it more of a challenge than he thought? – but he would not want to discuss this either, not just a matter of jinxing the process by telling me its story or what ideas he had to expand the plot.

No doubt, he'd be doing some covert reconnaissance during dinner, either through questions he'd ask or topics he'd suggest, perhaps even the way he'd observe me or other people in the restaurant. He ordered the kidney pie.

Maybe I was one of his characters and he needed to refresh himself with how I would react to a given situation. Or perhaps it was Sylvia who was his object of observation. Was there a scene set in a restaurant and he needed ambiance to fill out the dialogue? Maybe he needed something to spark a new direction and hoped something would happen that might inspire him.

I half expected him to be sitting there with a pen and tablet taking notes, jotting things down as thoughts crossed his mind: maybe not the things themselves but tangents they suggested.

"I've been sitting in port so long," he said, complaining neither of his usual back pain nor a headache, "I need to have the barnacles scraped off. Staring out my window, staring at the field stretching down to the sea like a... like a..." But he stopped abruptly.

"Ah," I said, perusing the menu but knowing what I wanted. "Cabin fever not what it used to be? What is Semele standing in the meadow for?"

Henry was, if nothing else, feeling his age and for once began to look it, if only because his sour mood and morbid boredom affected his usual vibrancy: subdued was a word that came to me, seeing him somewhat shrunken in the dimness that passed for atmosphere. I suspected he was playing at one of his characters and now wondered how I, an antagonist, might react. The plot quickens.

Tearing off a piece from one of the breadsticks, he wanted to know if I thought of myself – since neither one of us are natives, here – as an ex-patriot or an exile, since Maine, it is said, is the only foreign country in the United States.

"Exiled from what?" The soup was served. I could see being a New Englander living in New York City the way Americans flocked to Paris in the '20s, making an argument for an ex-pat, but pleasant though it was, here, it was hardly a place to draw intellectual or artistic fervor except as a means of escape.

"I was thinking in the sense of one who left willingly and lives here nicely, making the best of it." Another tear at a breadstick. "As opposed to being dour, unrepentant, like one sentenced to a remote outpost on the edge of civilization."

If anything, it was the sense this was a remote outpost on the edge of civilization which kept me from integrating myself into the community. If society hadn't exiled me to this place, perhaps I did it to myself to punish me for my wife's death, for having had a heart attack, for agreeing it was time to retire.

“Take the library, for instance,” he said, waving the remains of his breadstick.

I didn't often go to the library, I admitted, because I preferred to buy my own books, the ones I'd be interested in: how could a library "in a place like this" have what I was interested in?

Or was it that it is a small-town library? I wasn't paying attention to what Henry kept nattering on about as I considered this for a split-second of time, but if I was not comfortable living in a big city – a summer in Manhattan had been enough to prove that – why was I not comfortable living in a small town, in fact a place outside a village outside a small town but not too far from a bigger town which the locals viewed as the closest thing to a Big City?

It was pleasant to walk into, this library, browse over the new arrivals, mostly the latest, more popular titles – though I did find Alice McDermott's new Someone and snatched it up (enjoying it immensely: honestly, I highly recommend it).

There were enough people there to warrant keeping it going, I'd say, young people at the computers, old people poring over the newspapers, a few with their laptops looking like they're doing some research – who knows, perhaps writing their own 50,000-word novels, hoping for inspiration ad osmosis.

It was not a large place, Langley's library, but it had a quiet charm, the small-town hominess of a place where the community gathered: all they needed was a coffee shop, though cappuccino should not be on the menu. It was a place where I could imagine wandering into on a cold day to sit down and read. Surely, I could find something here to occupy an hour's time?

No one would bother talking to me but I would say, yes, I was out in public. People would see me and I would see them. Perhaps, gradually, we might come to accept each other.

Ulysses, he was asking me about, how Dante's version died because he wanted to have experiences. Returning from Troy, his story had a happy ending only because Homer had to stop somewhere.

"But The Iliad is not the story of the Trojan War, only how its end came about." I thought of our own long, unending wars in the Middle East.

"And The Odyssey is only about one Greek's homecoming, ultimately. Dante takes him further, past the Pylons of Hercules."

Adventure was his goal and being confined to a flame with a rival co-sinner, his contrapazzo.

"That's the trouble with experience. One must close ones eyes or lose it. It is always changing on us – however can we hold on to it?"

"The way we hold on to music," I said. "Music is time; the visible is space, that's all."

And with that, he fell silent. "Have you met the new librarian?"

"No," I said, "what about her?"

"Name's Joyce something – Greek, I think. Diotimopoulos? Yes, something like that."

* * ** *** ***** ******** ***** *** ** * * be continued...

Dick Strawser

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