A SCRAPBOOK CROSSES A RIFT
small arching door and an older man, partially in profile.
The bricks bordering the arch are still rectangular on the curve
just as the weave of the plaid hat the man holds loses its pattern in
the grasp of his hand. A
heavy latch and crossbars give the door a medieval look and that somehow
makes the headband on the man’s head seem appropriate.
At first, he appears to have a hunchback but he is wearing a
knapsack over a knit pullover, the kind businessmen wear on a day off.
The man’s whitening hair waves up from the headband but it
would also wave up from the hatchback hat he is holding.
“Did you see the film Maureen developed?
Her father is wearing the headband and knapsack he gave her for
her camera stuff,” Valerie DeLaval says.
Valerie lives down the hall of Maureen’s dormitory this year.
After rooming together sophomore year, they’ve decided not to
ruin their friendship because of offhand slights.
Valerie might have said, “What is your father’s mask?
Industrial-military or father of the hippies?” And Maureen might say, “Maybe we don’t wear masks”
because Valerie sporadically works on masks and make-up for campus
“My father started graduate school but he didn’t finish.
He wanted to be a professor,” Maureen explains to Kendra, her
“It must have been hard to grow up without him,” Kendra
replies. Although she is
from suburban Los Angeles, she is at the Midwestern private college
because her mother was born in Minnesota.
She would rather study abnormal psychology than try to attend the
parties she reads about in the People magazine that she buys.
“She’s from California,” Maureen has to say because campus
men can’t rationalize their fascination for Kendra.
Besides having nice looks, she has the posture and the grooming
that could take on Candid Camera at any time.
Kendra became devoted to Maureen after they co-wrote a campus
newspaper article on an experimental day care center.
Besides that, there is only one other student on the 1970’s
campus whose parents are divorced.
Charles P. Gatterley III, the great-grandson of Gatterley Dairies
and the grandson of Charles Gatterley, the inventor of Snow Cream soft
serve and the nutritional drink, Neigh, has parents who live apart and
in luxury. Since the
Gatterley’s funded a
dormitory at the college, Charles P. Gatterley III doesn’t have to
live near anyone that he doesn’t like.
He has ousted disagreeable or drinking students from his hall.
“My father just lived across town, Kendra,” Maureen corrects
Charles P. Gatterley’s father lived within jet distance,
usually a few hours away.
“Divorce is considered to be almost as traumatic as the death
of a parent,” Kendra announces one day.
“I’m thinking of transferring to the University of
Minnesota,” Maureen says to the college newspaper editor, Ed.
She said this to her father on the telephone after she heard the
student who answered the phone say to Kendra in the hallway,
“Maureen’s father sounds tipsy.”
When Maureen answered the phone one night and intruded on two
college women holding hands while lounging on one bed, she refrained
from telling the whole hallway about it.
She wouldn’t blab to Ed either.
They are having beers downtown because Ed prefers to meet his
reviewers there instead of having them drop off their reviews at his
desk. It hasn’t
worked to repeatedly recommend The Thin Man to them as if it is
reverse body building.
“You don’t have to transfer,” Ed replies teasingly.
He is never humble about being thin.
“My scholarship is for any school in Minnesota.
And the university has a journalism program.”
“But you’re going to be the layout editor next year if you
stay here,” Ed says.
“What do you mean, editor?”
Editors like Ed can slide up to the bar and start conversing with
people. Maureen is
afraid she would refrain from photographing a suspect student handing
another student a paper as if its title was CONFIDENTIAL.
“It’s for sure,” Ed is imploring her.
Maureen can’t tell Ed the other reason, that the only romance
in her life is the gloriously blue feeling she has from breaking up with
her hometown honey. Her
wavy hair and wavy figure, gotten from swimming, only caused her
photography classmates to seek her for modeling instead of for projects.
Now she has cut her hair so the waves break at the neck of loose
sweaters her brothers could wear.
The wigged actor playing Polonius has lively eyes and a mouth that seems
to have expensive candy in it. He
leans down to Ophelia in a quirky way as if he is not going to die
well-padded, Polonius looks strong and insouciant, strong enough to
bring an audience to see Hamlet
if they aren’t drawn by Hamlet’s madness. And then the garlanded Ophelia looks at her father as if she
has run away from a garden club.
Polonius has found Maureen again in a library carrel that Maureen
thought remote, a place where she might listen to a textbook as if its
words are the sea in a conch shell.
Valerie already knew Gerard, the name in the cut line of
Polonius’s photograph. And
she also knows that Gerard’s girlfriend is often in the library foyer
at her student job.
“Your hair looks like little shells falling on your neck,”
Gerard says during mid-terms. He
acts as if he is on some pleasant reef instead of in a maze and he
thinks Maureen will float out past the foyer with him.
When Maureen rebuffs him, Gerard says, “Valerie will let me
into your end of the hall tonight.”
Valerie is interested in one of Gerard’s friends.
And she thinks Maureen should have an admirer instead of helping
Kendra with hers.
Surprisingly, Gerard doesn’t charm his way into the room where
Kendra might tell him how she is a California reactionary and that she
is attending school in the Midwest to get a degree and save herself for
a serious relationship. In
the darkened dormitory hallway, Gerard tells Maureen that he can’t
keep the sight of her in his head like a photograph.
Maureen is telling him, “I was noticing how the actors spit in
the lights. Hamlet was best
“Maureen, I’ve to tell Grace that I’ve fallen in love with
you,” Gerard says more matter-of-factly and as if his effusiveness in
the dormitory hall is another dress rehearsal.
Gerard can get away with this since he is two tads taller than
medium build and a tad better than handsome.
His burnished well-brushed hair seems to be always in the stage
One of these days, Maureen will tell Gerard that her divorced
mother is a librarian who, like Grace, had dreams of being a poetess
before she married a factory engineer.
Gerard kisses Maureen with badminton gentleness and when he
can’t kiss her face, he kisses the seams of her blouse.
“Friday, we’ll go to the Dave Brubeck concert together.
And then I’ll tell Grace.”
Used to kissing a baseball pitcher known for his fast balls and
used to dates like the free weekend campus film, “Reefer Madness”,
Maureen just laughs.
“Why not, Maureen?”
“Why not, Maureen?” Valerie
wonders with Kendra.
“I feel like the other woman with Gerard,” Maureen replies.
If this goes on, Maureen will tell Kendra about her father’s
apartment, its dim film noir style and its stark partial kitchen.
He used to pick her up for dinner until Maureen became so
precocious that she ordered food from the menu at grills and her father
ordered her dinner from the menu at dinner restaurants.
Maureen’s mother heard about this as if she was tasting dessert
food that she would regret eating until Maureen’s father dropped her
as a dinner partner. A year
later, he married his second wife, Poppy.
“Does Gerard know that my mother is a librarian?” Maureen
“What does it matter?” Valerie says.
“Grace shouldn’t get engaged to a man who says he’s in love
with someone else.”
“But I haven’t fallen in love with Gerard.”
“Look, here comes Gerard.”
Valerie often disregards Maureen’s summations about men because
Valerie’s parents have a binding and satisfactory marriage.
More tragically, Valerie comments about Maureen eating anything
she wants in the cafeteria and not gaining weight.
“I’m lucky, I guess,” Maureen knows is the only answer.
Of course, Maureen swims and Valerie’s mother will cook moose
burger until it reeks if her husband wants it.
Valerie has welcomed Gerard because he knows how to please her
current professor in a paper.
“Start with the idea that there haven’t been any heroes in
literature since the Viking invasions,” Gerard advises.
“Write your paper as if the Vikings are advancing from across
town and everyone knows that they are not heroes.”
“There were probably heroes around.
The Vikings didn’t take over,” Maureen says.
“You wouldn’t believe what the newspaper Cafeteria Critic
goes through to print the ingredients in your dinner.”
“Of course there are heroes,” Gerard replies sweetly as he
spreads apple sauce on his slab of ham.
“Some people would say that Richard Nixon is a hero now that
the draft is over. It’s
just that the professor isn’t one.’
“Kendra thinks Richard Nixon is a hero,” Maureen interjects.
“Hasn’t the professor read all that too many times?”
Valerie wonders, trying to eat her mashed sweet potato as if it passed
through unethical hands.
“But it’s an idea like democracy to him.”
Gerard looks up from his pineapple ring with a smile that knows
the ingredients on the pineapple can.
“And the professor thinks he’s an aristocrat since he’s
“You mean that a guy built like Hercules hasn’t been a hero
since the Vikings?” Valerie says.
“Not possibly,” Maureen laughs.
“Still, don’t say Shakespeare or some low counselor was a
hero. Servants groveled.
The guy built like Hercules did as he was told.
And most importantly, never squeeze the main text to the
footnotes. You can leave
four lines of space but if you don’t leave enough, he’ll drop you an
“It’s easy to imagine Gerard teaching huckster jocks and
telling them what to do. It’s also easy to imagine Gerard as a college professor
telling his wife that he has fallen in love with one of his students.
“Maybe we could go to a movie and break this thing to Grace,”
Gerard suggests after Valerie says goodbye to the bread pudding with
“What would Grace think when the movie on campus is Reefer
Madness and the movie coming to town is Last Tango in Paris?”
Maureen says. “I mean,
Grace thinks you’re getting engaged to her.
Maybe you already are.”
“But I’m in love with you now.
You don’t know why I’m with Grace.”
“I don’t know if I want to.”
“You’re not the only person from a disturbed background,
“More people were from one than I realized.”
Before Gerard came to college on scholarship, his father died
between one siren and another on a gray Chicago street.
If a person disappeared on this street, it was usually into a
bar. But Gerard’s mother
wandered into a print shop, looking for her husband, and then she kept
going there, having obtained a job.
By the time Gerard was 18, high school had reduced itself to high
grades and friends who knew Gerard was an uncommonly normal guy even if
he was on stage sometimes. He
regularly ate dinners with his mother’s friend Dora and he could date
easily. Dora came
from down the street when Gerard’s mother was kept late with heavy
printing schedules. At
supper, Dora liked to discuss Gerard’s mother and her own dilemma.
Dora’s husband had gone off to another city with another woman
and Dora was considering getting a divorce so that she could process her
At first Dora hid from bill collectors and made sure Gerard got
dinner. Then she made
dinner for him while they both had a beer.
She began staying for Hawaii 5-0 and White Sox games.
Gerard could talk about Shakespeare plays, even Romeo and
Juliet without Dora laughing at him.
He could even talk about Tennessee Williams with Dora.
Pretty soon, Dora was showing Gerard how she kissed when she had
no bad memories, if she could recall.
She had to kiss a lot to recall.
It was all just a demonstration and a detached performance where
the exit door was clearly marked. But
eventually, Gerard felt that he was always in the wings and required
again. Finally, he felt
that he was in a tawdry drama that no one would want to watch.
When Dora’s makeup streaked his face, it was a thick beige
matte, not lipstick. Gerard goaded Dora to search out another relationship
but she was still married, she said.
Their affair would end and it wouldn’t hurt anybody.
When Gerard set out for college, Dora stood there with his
mother, tearful too about the separation.
“You’re like me,” Gerard said.
“It’s not really home to go back, is it?
Why won’t you look at me, Maureen?”
Outside it was February and the roof gutters were dribbling dirty
water to icicles that clung fatally above the speckled snow.
Maureen was fighting a feeling of sadness, her eyes moving to the
tree bark that was rotting and dropping to the ground.
Maureen had visited Chicago and it was almost as depressing as
the winter her parents got divorced.
She felt as if the gray winter would never end because it would
happen again next year and summer would always lead to that.
Here Maureen should be sympathizing with another scholarship
student. But somehow she
couldn’t take a second helping of an unhappy home.
“Grace thinks she can show me better side of life.”
Gerard’s smile seems as fixed as his jawbone.
“It’s lucky I’m not in love with you,” Maureen says.
The dust clouds and dark lanes in the rectangle have no bottom, no
elevation, and no direction. The
rectangle can be turned four ways so that the stars of Sagittarius in
the Milky Way are on their side or upside down, giving a sense of
weightlessness. Or a sense
of swimming in deep nocturnal water where bright spots and swoops of
light aggregate without geometry. Looking
at the blurred stars is like opening the eyes after emerging from water.
The Cygnus Rift is a place of phantom darkness, a dusty if not
empty place, the deep water, the sleep without a dream, the horizon
without a shore.
A spotlight is crude on the coffee house musician; it spills
messily on him because his clothes don’t have clear-cut edges. Patches are on his jeans and his shirt is unbuttoned to an
undershirt of tie-dye cotton. The
light looks as white as the clear pitcher of milk on a table where
children sit, one with a tin whistle, one with a scrub board, one with a
mallet. Nearby are people
with hair that surfaces in the light like cobwebs.
One man sparkles because he has badges fastened in a desultory
pattern on his clothes. At
another table, people sit upright and rapt in visors and vacation
shirts. Behind the musician are strings of beads, glimmering and
shell-shape, swaying and askew in a harp-like slant.
“I had to get of out Mom’s house.
And I don’t want to sleep with Roland anymore.
I don’t know how it could happen but it could.
And then, when I got a letter from this guy at college, Mom
actually referred to him as an affair,” Maureen says to her sister.
They are in a bungalow that has jungly plants at the window
because the bungalow is in Berkeley, California.
“Isn’t Mom still seeing that teacher?” Lydia wonders about
the widower who helped her with her garden.
“She says he’s a friend,” Maureen says.
Before flying to Berkeley, Maureen stayed at her brother’s and
worked at a canning factory. But
this summer, Maureen’s brother, an assistant pastor, introduced her to
a town photographer.
“I got to help him with the church weddings, for pay,”
Maureen tells her sister. “They were like people making snowflakes in July.
And then the photographer treated me as if I’m the kind of
subject that tries to outface the camera.
Just because I asked him if he ever covered parades or
Maureen’s sister rented a bungalow with her folksinger
boyfriend, her six-year-old son whose father was best forgotten, a woman
named Flavia, and when Flavia wasn’t having her period, her boyfriend
While Flavia has her period, she tells Maureen about her
dissertation on nonsense and absurdity.
“I’ll show you some of my poetry when my period is over,”
Flavia says. “I want you
to be honest. I really
won’t get mad if you have to read a poem two or three times to
understand it. Some of my
poems are written while I’m having my period.”
When Lydia is at her classes to become a music therapist, Maureen
walks with Lydia’s son Lonnie in a neighborhood where the ivy is on
the ground and the plants seem to sprout from the walls.
Some bungalows are like huge blossoms and some are like long
tressed avocado pits that everyone is propping on toothpicks in glasses.
The houses in Berkeley must have women in them who all said, “I
want to do something different from the Jones’s.”
Maureen keeps saying, “What a relief after those weddings”,
first in Sausalito and then in the pagoda park, then on a Berkeley
bluff, and then in Chinatown.
“That’s what those freaks want,” Lydia says as Maureen
perches her camera on her nose again.
They are near the ocean and Maureen is feigning inadvertency when
she photographs some people who have whistles tied in their hair like
dog ears. She moves the
camera back and forth until her lens include a suave group, people whose
long hair is combed and whose bell bottoms still have their hems.
“San Francisco is like superimposed photographs.
I saved that double exposure of you, Lydia, holding a sparkler
when you were standing on the piano.”
“I never did that,” Lydia says.
“Do you have a picture of the float in the water at Uncle
Hugo’s?” Lonnie says. He thinks a diving float near a grassy shore is as exotic as
the Christmas food that Minnesotans eat all the time.
They sit with children from Lydia’s practice music therapy at
the coffee house where Lydia’s boyfriend Emory sings and plays his
harmonica as if it’s a solo instrument, fast as a violin and twangy as
an electric guitar. When he
goes behind the bead curtain to have a joint, the children make noise
with their instruments. As
if there’s been a protest, Emory comes back asking if they want a
musician dressed in black and playing an instrument that resembles an
extinct tusked animal.
When Maureen wonders about unidentifiable objects in the produce
section of the Berkeley supermarket, Lonnie asks for spritz cookies,
partly because it’s a word he has trouble pronouncing.
But Abner is coming back for a fruit salad made of rice, mangos,
oranges, and bananas and to try the snowball cookies that Maureen has
promised to make.
“Sometimes it seems like nonsense,” Abner says, searching
with his spoon for a beef wonton in his soup bowl. “But I’m looking for dark matter in dark space.”
“Is it like finding root vegetables in the soil?” Maureen
“Yes,” Abner answers. “But
it’s much worse than that. We’re
like dogs trying to smell out truffles in the woods.
And we might be in a forest without truffles.”
“Some of us are looking for our home planet,” Emory says,
cracking open a loaf of sour dough bread.
Then Flavia recites some lines from her nonsense poetry.
“The shaded house we see from the road
has no one in it that we acknowledge…
The painted lady rimmed and scalloped
has too many visitors testing her plaster…”
“People my age don’t even know what they’re looking for,”
They decide to take Maureen to the Lawrence Hall of Science and
to an observatory telescope.
“I’d like to develop a photograph of a falling star,”
They take a trip to a dark section of highway where they walk
through avocado trees to a furze downhill facing away from the lights of
San Francisco. Even though
there are no falling stars, Abner helps Maureen set up her camera on a
tripod and she learns to use a clock drive with it.
She begins taking photographs of the Milky Way, the stars of
Sagittarius, and then Abner says, “I think you can get the Cygnus Rift
“You helped Abner prepare for a class he’s teaching this
fall,” Lydia tells Maureen when she’s packing.
“He said you have the right background for introductory college
“Yeah, I took physics,” Maureen replies.
“Believe it or not, Roland got better grades in it.
He has no intention of using his mind that way though.”
“It’s a dark matter, Maureen,” Lydia says.
“Falling in love in Wanatin, Minnesota, when you don’t know
what else is out there.”
“I still don’t understand what the Cygnus Rift is.”
Maureen says as they drive across the Bay Bridge, going to the
airport. “But maybe right
now I can.”
“What did Abner say it is?”
“When I develop this film, I’m supposed to look for a dark
area with swirls of dust clouds around it.
I guess it separates stars in the Milky Way.
Do you think you’ll ever go back to the Midwest?”
“I could go back,” Lydia says when they are wiggling through
San Francisco traffic. “But I could never go back as the same person.”
Steps between columns lead to an entrance under a classical roof with
side angles less than 45 degrees. Behind
the building, dusk is deepening everything except the pale stone of the
building. Black silhouettes
sit on the steps beside black silhouettes of book stacks. The columns are fluted and the triangle has a
border decorated with symbols in the middling dusk colors.
The placement of the silhouettes and their drifting upward are
remindful of a Greek amphora. Below
the photograph is a galley cut line:
Is there a cartographer who can direct you to the legendary
senior lounge? Four seniors
map their campus and yours.
The photograph without silhouettes shows two professors wearing
T-shirts tucked into loose summer slacks, three disheveled college
students wearing flared pants and shirttails, a woman sitting in a Laura
Ashley style bodiced dress, and young people with loosened hair who
might have been playing Frisbee at the creek in their billowy India
cotton and bell bottoms.
When Maureen’s mother picks her up at the Minneapolis
airport, she gives her two letters. One is from Ed and the other is from Gerard.
Reading Ed’s letter first, Maureen exclaims, “I’ve got to
go to campus a week early!”
“I almost called you,” Maureen’s mother replies, admitting
that she had steamed open Ed’s letter.
Gerard shows up at the campus early too and with the same
effusions that were in his letter.
He says, “I missed you so much this summer, Maureen.
It was unbearable to think of you affixing labels to cans of
Gerard hugs Maureen when the temperature outside is late August
– in the 90’s. Maureen pulls away, setting out for the hallway that shines
like an iceberg. But Gerard
intercepts her as she comes back from the drinking fountain and with
kisses so correct that they have a cooling effect under the large drips
of her hair.
Finally, Maureen sinks into a sticky, shiny dormitory chair while
Gerard falls into the beaten-down brocade chair that Maureen brought
with special permission.
“Summer has made you a gorgeous gilded girl, Maureen.
I wonder if your hair glows in the dark.”
“Gerard, the freshmen are over in that dorm.
They wander around this building.”
“I know. And the
cafeteria is open and I had a family problem.”
“You had a family problem?”
“Yeah. Let’s go downtown and eat in air conditioning.
I’ll tell you about it or we can see a movie.”
“Gerard, I am here for a reason.”
“So am I. My
meanderings to the senior lounge have led me to take creative writing
this quarter. I’m going to write a poem.”
“That’s not like getting the first issue of the newspaper
“You did the layout last year.
I have to write a poem before I ever speak poetry on stage
Instead of sitting with Gerard in the cafeteria, Maureen goes
downtown for deep fried onion rings and grilled Reuben.
Gerard keeps ordering mugs of beer while he tells her about
Chicago restaurants and Bavarian sauer kraut.
“I really don’t have time for a movie,” Maureen says.
Gerard is nodding at a professor with his actor’s emphatic
nonchalance and then he blocks the professor from Maureen’s view.
He says, “All summer, I thought about being married to you and
being married to Grace. We
should spend the night together. How
can you be sure? You’re
so beautiful, Maureen, with your hair gilded.”
Gerard ushers Maureen along uneven small-town streets and past
the old-fashioned square where people boast about Jesse James robbing
the bank. They turn off to
the back of buildings where willows swoon towards the river and oaks are
from the time when the townspeople were embarrassed about Jesse James
robbing the bank. When they
sit down, the heat hugs them and the willow leaves can be seen caressing
the river surface.
The whole night happens so much from rehearsal, it seemed, that
Maureen lets Gerard stay in her room.
After all, he is the only man on campus who has mentioned
marriage to her. Gerard is
a pleasant floating on a river without any current pushing her into
And then she says, “I don’t suppose I’ll have much free
time now, Gerard. You see,
Ed could swing a semester in England.
He’s going in two weeks and after that, I’m the editor.
He made me Co-editor this summer.
I have to edit the newspaper this semester.
My head is so full of this that I don’t know how I could put
anybody’s engagement in my thoughts.
I suppose they wrote up engagements in the college newspaper once
upon a time.”