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Katherine Holmes
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A 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 plays.

                “My father started graduate school but he didn’t finish.  He wanted to be a professor,” Maureen explains to Kendra, her junior roommate.

                “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 her.

                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 tomorrow.  Probably 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 spitter.”

                “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 lights.

                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 wonders.

                “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 been tenured.”

                “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 entire grade.”

                “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 hard sauce.

                “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, Maureen.”

                “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 bills.

                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 funerals.”

                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 Abner.

                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 says.

                “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,” Maureen complains.

                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,” Maureen says.

                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 here.”

                “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 physics.”

                “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 creamed corn.”

                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 out.”

                “You did the layout last year.   I have to write a poem before I ever speak poetry on stage again.”

                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 anything.

                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.”

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