stories, some that are still being formed, some that went over the transom in the last century
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.
Wednesday, May 19, 2010
Hadrian's Wall--the conclusion
PART 4—THE GIRL WITH HER ARM IN A SLING WAITING FOR THE BUS
The down side of waiting for the bus in this unheated shelter is that I’m not moving much and it’s hard to keep warm. The nice Dr. Forester wanted to call Campus Security to help me with my lock-out problem, but I convinced him that I was expected at a friend’s apartment shortly for dinner and I would make the call there. I sort of implied that I didn’t have far to go if I walked from Student Health, so I was glad that the bus stop was out of sight from the doorway. He was so sincere, I didn’t want him to know that I’d told him lie upon lie. But then I saw the doctor leaving the parking lot with a woman in a car, and I know that he saw me too.
Calling campus security is simply not an option. The arm that is newly bandaged is colder than the other one for some reason, so I hug it closer to me with my good arm. My sweatshirt is brittle with the dried blood. If I called campus security they would ask to see my student ID before they’d even consider letting me into the room. And I don’t have one. I’m not a student here, I’ve never been a student here, and I’ve never even been to college. I’m just somebody’s well-kept-but-not-that-well-kept secret. I am—I was—Opal Solomon’s secret.
I came to New Haven two years ago with my boyfriend—we were both eighteen. We came here right after the end of high school so he could get a job and in-state status and apply to Uconn. I was going to then apply to Yale—I had the grades—and every grant, loan, and scholarship I could get my hands on. A year later, I finally had to admit that that plan was just as lame as it had sounded to everyone else back home. My boyfriend didn’t want me around anymore, and I found it wasn’t too hard to spend most of my time on the Yale campus, even though I didn’t belong there. Technically, I wasn’t homeless—I could still go back to the apartment if I wanted to put up with the abuse—but I found the porches, porticos and covered walkways of campus were a lot more welcoming. Throughout that summer—one year since I’d graduated high school—I got comfortable with taking handouts and leftovers from the kids leaving the dining halls. It was warm enough to sleep outside, and if I waited until it was completely dark to settle in for the night, the shadows in the doorways of campus buildings kept me safe from the real homeless people. And that was all fine, until the fall came and the campus got more crowded with both students and night-patrolling security. I found my safest little niche in the shrubbery by the Drama Building. That’s where Opal found me.
She was different to say the least. By then most people would avoid me. But she made me her cause. She convinced her roommates to let me crash in their dorm room for longer and longer periods of time as the weather got colder. I wasn’t SO bad, after all. I think they really liked having me there. I think I represented a kind of freedom that they had lost. They represented a dream I’d never attain.
Opal was a history major, and she loved to tell me about what she was studying. She knew when I met her that she was going to be transferring to Brown at the middle of the year because they had a better program for her. She was passionate about Roman Britain and the Picts. “Have you ever heard of Hadrian’s Wall?” she asked me one evening. We were both reading from her textbooks.
I knew from high school European history that Hadrian was a Roman emperor, and I knew from perusing the pictures in Opal’s history text that there has an ancient wall in Scotland that had been built to keep the Picts out of Roman England, so it wasn’t hard to guess that the Romans had built the wall in the name of their emperor Hadrian.
“Can you imagine,” Opal said, “What it would have been like to live near Hadrian’s Wall in the years just after it was built?” She was practically whispering, with all the drama of a ghost story told over a camp fire. “The Picts probably thought it was the coolest thing they’d ever seen. If I was a Pict, it would have MADE me want to invade England.” Opal would have made a great history teacher. “But the Roman’s on the other side, on the south side? They must have been scared to death of what was on the other side of the wall. It was the great, horrible unknown, full of terrifying people they’d heard about that were covered head to toe with blue tattoos, people they thought of as ferocious animals that they would never even try to understand. It was probably worse than having no wall at all—constantly comtemplating the horror of What If--Picts breaching the wall, heads on pikes, setting fire to their homes, carrying off their women to do god-knows-what to them.”
“I don’t know about that, Opal,” I said. But I had to confess that she made the thought of it come so alive for me, I actually shivered.
And now I’m shivering again in the real cold. Opal left for home at the end of term last week, and she’s not coming back before she transfers to Brown. We said our tearful goodbyes in the common area of the rooms she shared with roommates, the room where I had so often slept on the couch, where I had waited for a turn in the shower just like I was one of them. The night before she left, Opal gave me a bunch of her clothes. But the roommates were not so touched by our goodbyes that they invited me to stay. In fact they made it quite clear that after Opal left, there would be no place for me among them.
So that was last week. I know they’ve all left for the break now—the room has been dark for two nights. It has been fucking cold in the Drama School shrubbery and it hurts too fucking much to go back to my ex-boyfriend’s apartment and have unspeakable things done and said to me. But the combination of the two, hurting in the cold, is intolerable. That’s how I decided to use the dorm room over the break when know one was home. All I needed was to break in once, and then I’d always be able to get in somehow. I shouldn’t have gone to the infirmary—now I’ve completely lost my nerve to do what I’d planned. I guess I hoped, subconsciously, that when I went to have my arm looked at, they’d see things when I took off my sweatshirt that alarmed them enough to let me stay. But the cuts and bruises were masked by the accident I’d just had with the window. They thought I got them in the fall. I didn’t tell them otherwise.
Now I can’t stop thinking about Hadrian’s Wall. I’m there, Opal! It’s just outside the bounds of the light coming from this bus shelter. Somewhere in this cold night, Opal, I can feel the blue men breaching the Wall, armed with pikes. Do you think they’ll be terrifying? Do you think they’ll carry me away?