The Deadline

The Good Professor didn’t scold. Nor did he dismiss my silence. He suggested we have lunch. Woodstock. The less famous one. Our communication had been by email only for a number of weeks. Like me, he had been preoccupied with other things, crises finally scaling back to routines. It would have been a refreshing opportunity for a really nice small meal and catching up, if it hadn’t been for the guilt.

I told him I had not been writing at all, not even in my journal, my faithful daily source of truth for nine or ten semesters. Truth. And clues. It had been weeks since an honest entry, and I had even tired of the bad feelings and I had finally set them aside too. He reminded me of my promises to post the chapter ideas here, the pieces I had written in the closing weeks of spring semester, the eight five-hundred word essays. This evening I will post number seven (and I hope you’ve read the book, or the confusion will get out of hand).

The solution was simple, he said. He reminded me I’d be posting essay #7 in fourteen days, that being this evening. Within those two weeks, I was to write a new chapter essay, number nine in the collection. I left the enjoyable luncheon with a dubious assignment, given the chores and weights and fatigue at home. Our next class would begin in a little over a month. The assignment was a true burden, but I knew it was a solution, once tackled. So I put it off for a week.

It may have been in thin morning hours, or while driving. The obvious truth of the matter. Elizabeth’s redemption. Neither trip nor adventure. Not an assignment like mine, but a clear path for a struggling seventy-year old woman. Not ill, just dying. Not hungry or tired. Just starving and worn out. Not alone. Just lonely. I finished a worthy third or fourth revision of the essay yesterday. I emailed a copy to the Professor, proof in every sense of the word, and will post that one in a month from tonight.

But today, part seven of the unfolding view. The essay. Clear intimation of Elizabeth’s Redemption Journey.

The Kiss (1976)

They sat in silence around the table. Kathryn, Billy, and Hollister. Elizabeth stood between the bedroom door and the table. The cooling kettle ticked. Hollister scribbled in a small spiral flip pad, touching his pencil to his tongue from time to time, watching Elizabeth, a curious look. Elizabeth glanced toward the living room, where Newcomb slept, and repeated her story. Her brush with Chekov’s classic tale. An echo of the darkened room, the stranger, an embrace. In Elizabeth’s version, a witness half-asleep in a chair. Newcomb. An arm’s length from a mystery. A moment in time. A moment among decades.

“Dad and I stopped at the college where that stranger had taught, in the Seventies. But he had died, they said. Years ago. The lady in the office said the inscription on the plaque was something he often said. I asked her what it meant, the inscription, When My Heart Died. She said she didn’t know, but it was something he said all the time. A turning point.”

“Yes,” Billy said. “The inscription in Rita’s book. It was in Danish, inside the front cover. Bodil translated it for me, not exactly what you just said, but that’s it, something like ‘the time my heart died.’ The words were for Rita. Your daughter. Right?”

“No. Not really.” Elizabeth looked toward the living room. Newcomb hadn’t stirred. Only an occasional edge of a snore from under the towel covering his face. “Yes, the words were there, in the book you gave my daughter. Rita. But the words weren’t for her.” She stood, frozen. “They were for me.” Elizabeth pulled a chair out from the table. She sat, brushing hair away from her face. She breathed in and straightened. A smile of satisfaction. A cherished conversation among friends. “The words were for me. They were his words for me. They were my treasure.” Billy stared at her.

Kathryn’s smile broadened and she let out a gasp. Almost laughter. “Elizabeth. It was his party. He was leaving. For Europe. Some sort of study.” She leaned back. “Or was he sick or something? Was he dying already? What are you saying?” She shook her head in disbelief and wonder, her eyes widening. “Your travels, Elizabeth. Your story.” She waited. “Where were you going?” She leaned forward and wrapped Elizabeth’s hands in hers. “Tell us, honey. If you want to. This is home. You’re home.”

Elizabeth straightened again, her smile fading from warm comfort to something colder. Pride. She looked at Kathryn. “All my life. You know. I needed to know that I was not alone. Not slipping away. You know. All it takes is a simple touch. A reminder of another human being. Someone surprisingly similar, one chance in a million. Or a trillion. Forever. A touch.”

“Fingertips at a light switch, even,” Kathryn said, almost soundless. Hollister penciled a note.

“Yes,” Elizabeth said. “And one knows not to let go. Even if one doesn’t understand. I can’t tell you about that man. But I went looking for him. In Europe.”

(note: I had forgotten. In my lazy fatigue and hiatus from writing. I had forgotten. It’s all connected, and it has come full circle. Essay #8 in two weeks. The Professor’s essay #9 “assignment” in four weeks. The seeds of the answer.)


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