Thursday, July 26, 2012

Jan's mind wanders

Each stroke of the pencil changes everything, but the erasure is always an option. Nothing’s indelible yet. She hasn’t yet touched this drawing with a pen. All of her changes can be erased, changed back, like they never happened. Presto! Magico! Gone. Maybe this is what she likes so much about drawing with pencil: the do-overs, the second chances, so rare in real life but an almost constant occurrence when she draws. Her options remain perpetually open.
The tilt of the cat’s ear on the kitchen table is giving her trouble. She hadn’t considered the cat’s ear when she started the drawing, but faced with it now she’s at a bit of an impasse. The bear’s arm was easy, the bear so obviously pontificating. But the cat is trickier. The cat is female, feline, endlessly difficult to read. Should the ear be cocked forward as if listening, or tilted away, tuning out? Or can she somehow infer both? Wouldn’t that be best? The cat, while polite or political or plotting, is no longer listening to the bear, in fact can not stomach the insufferable bear another instant. Yet she is powerless against him. She’s just a pawn after all. She goes where she’s moved and stays put. What choice does she have?
Jan’s mind starts to wander as she sketches the ear lightly both ways. Weird how the mind works. She thinks back to a night in college, a night it’s fair to say she has not thought of since college. There was a party, and as usual she was in a little over her head socially. She knows now that her personality fits a certain stereotype, a little niche in the Myers-Briggs universe. She knows now that she is an introvert. 99%. She didn’t know that then. It was the fall of junior year, and the professor of her honors English seminar was having a little getting-to-know-you shindig with his so-called best students at his gentleman’s farm ten miles outside of town. The professor, she remembers, was gay, which to Jan at the time was fascinating. She knew for sure he was gay because he hung out with all of his gay buddies for happy hour at the tavern where she worked three nights a week. She would often see them getting ready to leave as she was coming in. She’d joke with them in the nursey, settling way she joked with all of the drunks. This she could do because it was her role, and she did it well. Random, institutionalized party chatter was another matter entirely.
On this particular evening at the professor’s house, Dr. Hopewell, his name just coming to her, full of dedicated students brown nosing the English faculty with white wine-lubricated vigor, Jan sat awkward and alone on the two steps leading down the a central recessed living room. In the middle of the room, indeed in the middle of the house – open floor plan, mostly rough-hewn pillars and beams – hung an enormous Turkish bed, ornate and heavily wooden, suspended from the ceiling by thick chains. “Oh, yes, Steven and I procured this amazing bed the last time we were in Turkey,” Dr. Hopewell makes sure to tell all and sundry. Why is it in the middle of the room? Surely she must be mis-remembering the layout of the house. How would one sleep on such a thing? Or, perhaps more to the point, how would one have sex? Does it swing? Is it dangerous? Promiscuous certainly. Right in the middle of the house?
As she sat there another misplaced soul, Davis Ritchie, sidled over next to her and started to talk. She could not have been more stunned. Just the fact that he was in this honors seminar at all was breathtaking to Jan on the first day of class. Davis Ritchie was a campus celebrity. He was cute as a button and had been captain of the men’s soccer team since sophomore year. Is it possible he was also smart? That seemed an unfair allotment of talent for one person. She had never spoken to Davis, rightfully fearful of that A-list girlfriend always at his side shooing away anybody female with her dagger eyes. Unbelievably, the girlfriend was not with Davis that night. He was alone and something of a fish out of water in this crowd. So he sat with Jan as she stared, contemplating the odd bed situation.
“I see you running all the time,” he said. “Why don’t you go out for cross country or track?”
“Teams,” she said, somewhat stunned. “I can’t handle the whole team thing. Woo wah, all of that.”
“Teams are okay. When it all clicks there’s nothing better.” And then he went on to enumerate several recent examples of his soccer team “clicking,” all of which left Jan with nothing.
“What’s going on with this bed?” she asked when he’d quieted down.
Davis just shook his head. “I don’t even want to think about it.” Which for some reason got Jan giggling. It was sheer nerves mostly, but also something about Davis Ritchie’s wagging head and rolling eyes, the whole thing struck her silly.
The laughing broke the ice. Jan remembers that she and Davis sat there companionably chatting for a long time, possibly hours. She can’t remember what they talked about but she can be sure she played it cool. That was her pose back then with boys, uncomplicated and cool. Low maintenance, whatever. Which angle did she take, she wonders now. Misplaced science student in an honors English class? Dreamy runner girl wedded to the outdoors? Party chick out on a bender (unlikely)? It could have been any of these. She didn’t quite know herself back then. Still doesn’t.
Was Davis coming on to her? Was he feeling shy, so he glommed on to the girl sitting by herself? Was he the one that got away? Was she? No telling. The whole thing got broken up by Carl, Jan’s “date” for the evening, her roommate’s boyfriend of three years and with whom she was charged to return safely to his dorm at the end of the evening. Carl had been outside with Dr. Hopewell and had evidently passed out on the deck chair on which he’d been loudly lounging, and from which he’d been putting the moves on Hopewell all evening. Why do people do things like that? Why try to sleep with your gay professor when you are clearly not gay? Dr. Hopewell had come in to find Jan, to tell her that it may be time to take Carl home. Hopewell talked to her, she remembers this clearly, as if she were a responsible person. Perhaps an adult. Maybe it was all those chummy late afternoons at the bar, but Hopewell seemed to think that she could handle the situation. He seemed to like her, even though she wasn’t doing particularly well in his class. Not yet anyway. He’d called her a couple of times to lead the class discussion when he was sick. He trusted her. Perhaps she seemed trustworthy. She had no idea.
Carl, meanwhile, had woken up, or perhaps had been feigning sleep all along. He came bumbling into the house like an oversized bowling ball, grunting, “Where’s the party? Moved in here?”
He went straight for the hanging bed. Indeed it was made to swing. Jan grabbed Davis’ arm and shook her head, big-eyed, right in his face. Carl howled. The kid had no sense of propriety, no sense of the spectacle he was making. Or maybe he didn’t care. Jan was mortified.
She remembers Hopewell and Davis each getting Carl by a meaty arm and steering him into the passenger seat of her car, an ancient Chevy Nova, brown with purple patches where the paint had rusted away. “I love you, man,” Carl was saying to Hopewell as they buckled him in. “I meant everything I said out there.” Hopewell looked at Jan, eyebrows raised. “He’s all yours,” he’d said. Davis, perplexingly, leaned in through the open driver’s side window and kissed her on the cheek. Whatever that meant.
Jan doesn’t remember the drive home with Carl, though she can imagine he blathered on about some damn thing or other, she probably nodded along, agreeing with whatever he said or didn’t say. She brought him back to his dorm. And this she remembers clearly. He started walking away from the car, away from the building, across the street and into the grassy hills yelling, “Sheep! Sheep! Ding, ding, you goddamn sheep!” She didn’t follow him. Alone in the car she realized how annoyed and confused she’d been by Carl, by the whole uncomfortable evening, really. She just wanted some time alone to think it all out. She let Carl go. He wasn’t her responsibility anymore.

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