Thursday, November 07, 2013

An Ineluctable Modality: Chapter 7

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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The library was quiet again (I suspect it usually is) – I mean, not busy. The kids were in school and the weather, though mild, was only overcast, not yet dreary enough to drive people in to seek a more intellectual shelter than going shopping or finding lunch at their preferred diner, though the impending rain might change that, soon. The young man behind the check-out desk was clearly not the Joyce possibly Diotimopoulos that Henry mentioned to me at dinner last night. I looked around but could see no one who might be, either. I dropped off my book at the desk, tapping it with approval and said something banal about how I'd enjoyed it and would recommend it. He looked at it with a smile and pushed a slip of paper toward me – I thought it might be a receipt – which told me how I could leave a review on their patrons' blog if I cared to.

I pocketed the slip of paper with an indifferent smile and wandered off to the new releases shelf to see what I might have overlooked. Apparently, after a few fruitless minutes skimming the spines, nothing. At least, nothing that interested me. Perhaps I would go look for other books by Alice McDermott, having enjoyed her most recent: what was the one title, Charming Billy? I always liked the idea of immersing myself in an author or composer, especially reading things chronologically, getting a sense of style and development, how the artist grows. It was something I, as an artist, had difficulty doing.

But though it was inspiring, gathering this experience vicariously from other artists through their works, I'm afraid I never found an answer that would help me. And reading those critics who guided me through their works was not often helpful. Eventually, I preferred reading about the artist's life rather than the artist's work, drawing my own conclusions from what I read rather than being told what someone else thought – "thought through my eyes... the limit of the diaphane" – sinking under the weight of systematic details that often ignored what for lack of a proper term I called "important things."

Like a composer dwelling on how the audience will respond to this chord, this note, I could imagine a writer – Henry, at his desk, his back to the window, now – sweating it out over the right word and turn of phrase. It must be difficult enough to write one novel but the hardest thing must be to write a second. That is, assuming you got the first one published.

There was a book on the shelf I found purely by accident, heading toward McDermott – a Russian author (another ex-patriot) writing in Paris. I'd been enthusiastic about Andrei Makine's first novel, Dreams of my Russian Summers, less so about a subsequent one I'd read. This one, more recent, I'd not seen before and figured it was slender enough not to occupy myself for too long a time. I sat down to page through it, make up my mind. Music of a Life – certainly a title that interested me. (He's one of the greatest living writers – see? It says so, right here.)

I saw movement over by the circulation desk and automatically looked up. I had not noticed the door nearby, no doubt the librarian's office. Was it unmarked? That seemed rather sacrilegious in a library. The young man at the desk opened the door and stuck his head in briefly and a moment later, a woman I could describe mostly as handsome but average-looking stepped out.

This was probably the woman Henry had mentioned with a significant lack of any further detail: he wasn't even sure of her name – why had he mentioned her? Was he letting me know he found her attractive, that he, like many of the older men here, might find it worth his while stopping in to check out the newspapers and gaze upon her unrequitedly?

She checked something, nodded, took her glasses off and looked quickly around the library. Not so much that she was looking for someone; perhaps just checking her domain – not that busy, she might think and sigh.

The diner, on the other hand, was quite busy. I decided to treat myself to lunch, a luxury if I would've paid for my own dinner last night (which in a sense I had, listening to Henry for an hour). Now that the weather was getting colder, I decided I should go out for lunch or dinner a couple times a week, mindful of budget and diet – see? I appeared in public – just to get out of the house. I must have spent half the summer sitting on my porch and the fresh air had proven wonderfully stimulating.

Not that I minded staying home, but there comes a time when a change of view became a necessity. One can knock around in even the most comfortable surroundings only so long before one gets restless. I suppose that was why Ulysses had to set out again, stuck at home after years of wandering: pleasant but only for so long.

Not that I could see myself, at my age – I snorted at myself when I said that to myself – running off in search of the Pylons of Hercules or whatever he'd called them. Where would I go and more importantly, these days, how would I finance that? But most of all, what was the point?

It would not be wise going on such an adventure alone – even Ulysses, hero that he was, had a crew. I could imagine Henry and I taking a road trip and killing each other within a space of a few days.

I had decided not to take out Makine's book, saving it for later or maybe waiting till I'd come back again to spend a peaceful hour reading it in a sunny alcove, there. The woman at the desk I assumed was Joyce the Librarian picked up the copy of Someone and asked the young man a question. In turn, he nodded toward me as I walked past as if he were saying to her, "he's the one who'd returned it – said he liked it."

In turn, I nodded back toward them, imagining she might stop me to ask what I had I liked about it. Then I would stop and talk to her about it and say, "I'm just going out for lunch, if you'd care to discuss it over some coffee?"

But she didn't say anything, merely nodded back and smiled as she put the book down and turned back into her office. Perhaps, seeing who'd read it, she changed her mind and was no longer interested. Maybe she thought, "curious, a man like that reading a book like that."

She was neither formidable nor accessible, from this momentary encounter, nor could I see myself going back to sit and wait to catch a glimpse of her. The carp had lost the day.

Lunch at the Crab and Crumpet was perfunctory, the waitress – I should call them servers, now ("they also serve who stand and wait" described her natural propensity) – was clearly uninterested in engaging in anything beyond a one- or two-syllable response. She gave the impression I should be eating at the counter (where there was no room) rather than taking up a table for two, since I was waiting for no one to join me (if two people sat here, she'd get twice the tip). She wore her apron over a community college t-shirt where I hoped she wasn't an English major: she would have enough problems in the world as it was.

Having failed to impress the librarian I was worth a conversation and then being rebuffed by a girl who could barely hold her pad and pencil, I decided to revert to my normal unsociable self and eat my meal in silence. Again, I saw no one but then again I gave up looking around to notice if there was anyone to see.

If that was Ms. Diotimopoulos as logic suggested, though she didn't strike me as Greek (perhaps she had married into the family), I wondered what Henry saw in her that made him bring her to my attention. Maybe, sly dogsbody that he occasionally tried to be, he was setting me up since I couldn't see him howling at the moon over her.

It's not that she wasn't my type, whatever that meant (and I had no idea what kind of woman was Henry's type – or man, for that matter): she was a handsome woman, as I first thought – probably nothing she'd find complimentary – but average (alas, not a compliment).

Driving home in the rain that had come up rather suddenly, I wondered what my "type" was, if I had any or had ever thought about it. Years ago, a friend was surprised that I was marrying Madeleine whom he didn't think was "my type," at least compared to the few girls in my life I'd ever considered dating. Perhaps, over time, my type conformed to Madeleine.

Since I'd moved to Maine – as my son had said, "There goes the nation" – I'd not exactly thrown myself into the dating scene, not necessarily out of any respect for Madeleine's memory but simply because I wasn't interested. I had grown used to my solitary life and thought it would be a mistake to think of sharing it with someone who could not match what Madeleine and I, type or no type, had shared.

Sybil was, I had to admit, something of an aberration, fitting into no particular type past or present beyond being a friend with whom something had become "easy" to fall into, but I didn't feel we were attracted to each other and both, afterward, acknowledged it had been a mistake. When I heard the phone ring as I walked into the house, assuming it would be her, I wondered how much of a mistake.

Putting away my coat, I was surprised to hear my son's voice straining from the machine. He was somewhere noisy – busy, was my guess – and fortunately I got to the phone before he hung up.

"Hi, Stephen," I said, trying to sound less breathless than I was, "I just walked in the door. Where are you?"

"I'm at LAX, getting ready to fly up to Seattle on business for a few days," he said, "how are you? I was afraid I might interrupt you, if you're writing."

We only talked a few times a year and it was often strained at that – Christmas, our birthdays, the anniversary of Madeleine's death which caught him particularly hard because he hadn't been in touch a lot before she became ill and everything had happened so fast, then.

"No, it's fine. What's up?" as if he wouldn't have called without a reason. I wondered if something would happen to me, would he see the irony he hadn't learned from his mother's death? But I let it go.

"Look, I'm going to be... – can you hear me alright? It's awfully noisy, here, maybe I should call you back."

"No, it's fine – you're here, now, so talk." I tried sounding jovial without being too excited to hear from him.

"Well, I've got to be in New York before Thanksgiving and I thought... if you don't have any plans for the holiday, I could drop by and see you: it's been a while."

Three years and five months ago, the only time he'd been to see me since I moved here.

"No, I don't have any plans." I didn't want to say I was planning on spending it alone because that would sound just too pathetic.

"So when would you and Leopold be getting in? I could meet you in Boston, I guess...?"

"Uh, no," he hesitated. "Leo's got other plans, a trip with some friends – from work, actually."

"Well, sure, there's plenty of room here. You and Leo are always welcome."

"Great, dad. Um, look, I'll call you later, after I get back from this trip. Take care."

And he hung up.

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

Dick Strawser

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