The "Brit a Day" series

What does a months-long parade of attractive British men have to do with fiction, you might well ask? These gentlemen have inspired some lovely scenes, part of the life I live in my head. Over time, some of these scenes reach out to one another and begin to form a story. For the present, each one of these pictures provides a writing prompt for me, a way to keep me writing with a sense of passion and narrative, even when the stories are not yet fully formed.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

The Mathematician Cannot Create Things at Will, part 6

(the conclusion)

She was in the habit of walking straight to his door when she came back from class in the afternoon. When he was there, she would usually go in and ask him if he wanted to take a nap with her. Today she found him sitting in a chair playing his electric guitar without the amplifier, so softly that no one in her room across the hall could have heard him. His hair swayed back and forth in time with the tapping of his foot until she put her hands on his shoulders and bent down to kiss the top of his head.
"I thought you might be home," he said. "In fact, I thought you might be asleep. I was trying to be so quiet."
"I am asleep, I’m so tired," she said, nestling her face into the back of his collar. "I just wanted to say ‘hi’ and then lie down before dinner."
"Wait," he said. "Look on my desk before you go."
She walked to his bedroom door and saw six pieces of paper fanned out slightly in the middle of his desk. Printed at the top of the first page was "Fulbright Scholarship, Institute of International Education, U.S. Student Program Application." She gripped both sides of the door frame and looked down at her feet as she began softly kicking at the floorboards in time with the music.
"Gee, Graham, when did you decide to do this?"
"It came in the mail today," he said without losing his place in the song. "I couldn’t resist sending away for it. My lit professors think I have an excellent chance of getting one."
"But what about the band… I mean when did you start thinking…" She turned back to the living room. "On second thought, wait and tell me at dinner. I’m going to go lie down."
From her room, the tapping of his foot was just barely audible, and hearing it was like trying to touch him from the opposite side of an abyss. When she closed her eyes, she wanted to be lying in the same old four-poster bed she had dreamed of. She wanted Graham to be there, but he would be staring up at the ceiling as he had started to do during their naps when he thought she was asleep. And just this one last time, she wanted the baby to be sleeping in the center between them. She lay down beside them, curling her body around the baby, her hand on Graham’s shoulder. "If you have to leave us, Graham, I’ll understand. I’d let you go right now. As a matter of fact, I wish you’d leave and take this baby with you. Because I have to get on with things. I have to be able to figure out what I’m going to do when I’m alone again after graduation, when you’re off on your Fulbright forgetting me and I have a worthless goddamn BA in philosophy. I have to start thinking about these things some time very soon or I’m screwed." She had never imagined that he looked at her with anything but love in his eyes, but this time she let him roll toward her and look coldly into her face. "You said it yourself, Graham, I’m too smart for this."
This was her fantasy, and she controlled every move that he made. She choreographed every twitch of his facial muscles as he took the pillow from behind his head and gently laid it over the baby. Then she had him take the pillow from behind her own head, never letting go of her eyes, and push it down over her face so that she could finally sleep a dreamless sleep.
The last thing she was aware of, partially deaf and comfortably paralyzed as she always was before she fell asleep, was Graham standing at the end of the couch. She couldn’t so much as lift her head, so she just stared at him. I’m going to dinner, she thought he said, but his mouth was making only the shapes of the words, not the sounds.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

The Mathematician Cannot Create Things at Will, part 5

Selina woke up alone one Sunday in December. Graham had left early to prepare for a voice lesson that had been rescheduled from the previous week aand wouldn’t be back until after lunch. She got out of bed and put on the sweatpants that were lying on the floor in front of her. Hearing her roommate Sarah typing in her bedroom, they seemed to be the only two people in the suite, so Selina slid into Sarah’s room and sat on the bed.
“What’s up?” Sarah said as she continued typing.
Selina flopped over on her back. “I think I might be pregnant, Sarah.”
Sarah slid around in her chair and drew one knee up to her chin. “I thought you guys were using something?”
“We are, but… I don’t know.” She grabbed a handful of her sweatshirt and tugged at it, making a tent over her belly.
Sarah shook her head. “Selina, use your brain. You’re not pregnant, you’re just looking for a distraction from the momentous void that’s lying out there waiting for us in six months.” She paused to think and seemed to be sucking on her knee as a child might do absentmindedly for comfort. “Do you and Graham ever talk about what you two are going to do after graduation?”
“No, and it doesn’t matter,” Selina said. She pulled herself upright with a great effort, as though she were already seven or eight months pregnant. “I don’t care what I do. If Graham wants me along, I’ll do whatever he does. I know that sounds horrible, but that’s all I can say. I think he wants to take a year off, maybe get a band together, and then if that doesn’t work out, apply to graduate schools.” Somethng came up from her stomach that soured her mouth. “I don’t know, maybe I made up the part about the band. He doesn’t take it all that seriously. I still want to get a pregnancy test, though. Can I borrow your car to go get one?”
“I think they have them at the drugstore on the corner, don’t they?”
“They’re all out, I already checked,” Selina lied. “Please. I’ll buy you half a tank of gas.”
Sarah shrugged and dug into the pockets of a pair of pants at the foot of her bed. “Don’t park it in a handicapped spot like Joan did, okay?” she said and tossed Selina the keys.
In her room, Selina put on a bra under her sweatshirt and started to change into her jeans. She was looking forward to the chance to drive away from the campus and wondered if she could pick Graham up as he was walking home from the music department. He is so good, she thought. He will deal with this just fine. When they were married, she decided, she would stop wearing old T-shirts to bed and wear nightgowns. She imagined herself in a thin white cotton gown, sheer where it draped over her pregnant belly. Then she remembered what he had said to her at Thanksgiving and muttered to herself, “I can’t believe I’m doing this.”
She didn’t know why she had told Sarah she was pregnant because she knew it wasn’t true. She didn’t know why she was ready to lie to Graham about it, either, because she didn’t believe she needed to be pregnant for him to marry her. It was just that in her dreams she willed herself to be married to him and pregnant with his baby, while in her real life she couldn’t seem to will herself to stop dreaming. The fantasy had become more familiar, and certainly more welcome, than the prospects of her own life, and the details of it were too comforting to give up. She knew, for instance, exactly what their bedroom would be like if they were married. Late at night when she lay with him in her darkened dorm room, she could actually feel her hand skimming the carved bedpost of an antique four-poster bed.
She tried to force herself out of the fantasy by thinking about how absolutely unpregnant she was. She remembered a time when her tenth grade biology class gathered around a lab table to observe a 21-week-old fetus preserved in an enormous jar of formaldehyde. Most of it features were well formed, and she had wondered if it looked like its parents. Her teacher had refused to tell her where it had come from. If she ever thought she was having a miscarriage, she knew she would be sickened to death by the memory of what she’d seen in the jar. She would be lying on their cool bathroom tile with her head on Graham’s knees, listening to his breathing heavy and irregular because he would be crying, thinking of the jar and knowing that there was nothing she could do to keep the fetus inside her. He would squeeze her hand and say, “What can I do? What do you want me to do?”
Why don’t you just shoot me, she thought. You said it: I’m too intelligent to be doing this. She dropped the car keys on the floor and fell back on her bed.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

The Mathematician Cannot Create Things at Will, part 4

They stayed on campus together over the week school was out for the Thanksgiving holiday. Their roommates were all gone, and they lived together in his dorm suite, making love every morning, afternoon, and night in his bed. They ate out breakfast and lunch, but in the evenings they let themselves into the student kitchen in the basement of the dorm to make dinner. Because the basement was so eerily quiet, they felt like they were going to a bomb shelter, and Graham started bringing a radio to keep them company. He caught up on reading from his Milton and Frost classes as Selina fixed their meals, turning down the radio sometimes to ask if she needed his help. They ate just one meal on Thanksgiving Day, some sliced turkey they bought at a deli the day before and a loaf pan of instant boxed stuffing that Selina garnished with canned cashews. While they were in the kitchen that day they made love twice, one time with her sitting on the counter and the other as she straddled him on a chair, her bare legs warmed by the oven as it was browning the pan of stuffing. With Graham’s approval, she kept on a stained terrycloth apron she had found in the basement as she imagined some young housewife would wear it, using it to coyly cover their sex.
On Sunday night before classes resumed, he sensed something was wrong as she took some biscuits out of the oven, and he stood and held her while their dinner got cold on the plates someone had pilfered from the dining hall. She crushed the fabric of his shirt in her fist and pressed it to her nose. "I loved this week. I could do this Suzy Homemaker thing with you for a long time, Graham, and I honestly believe that’s all it would take for me to be happy."
"Don’t say that," he said quietly. She felt is unshaven cheek moving against her hair as he spoke. "You’re too intelligent to believe something like that."

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

and the greatest of these is love

Bruce Springsteen is one of my heroes. I have loved him—NOT too strong a word—since I first heard “The Meeting Across the River” in 1975. He recently said in an interview with Rolling Stone, about being a 16-year-old kid in a band, “I was very isolated. That’s a common story with rock musicians. We all feel like that. And it makes you mad…..I mean, REALLY mad! But if you learn to organize your desires and demands and shoot them into something that is more than just being about you, you start to communicate. I wanted to be a part of the world around me.”

He went on to say about his writing, “I will steal directly from life…things everyone goes through. I’m not interested in the solipsistic approach to songwriting. I don’t want to tell you all about me. I want to tell you about you.”

Back in April, five nights after Danny Federici (his bandmate of more than 40 years) died of melanoma, the interview says, “Springsteen opened his show in Tampa, Florida, with a film tribute to his old friend and a version of ‘Backstreets’ without organ—and a spotlight shining where Federici should have been. ‘That was Bruce’s way of saying, “OK, everyone is wondering about our loss,”’says (bandmate Nils) Lofgren. ‘“Well,let me show you how bad it is.”’

Upon the death of a friend, looking into the face of one’s own mortality, mortality sometimes seems to smile back. “It’s a funny thing to say. But I’ve got a deadline! And that fire I feel in myself and the band….It carries an element of desperateness. It also carries an element of thankfulness….We are perched at a place where we want to continue on—with excellence,” Springsteen then said. “That’s our goal. All the rest of the stuff—we’re gonna figure it out.”