July 31, 2005

Exposition, Chapter 12 (p. 217-224)

A Whispering Through the Branches
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Chapter 2

"Hey you! Open the door, it's freezing out here," she said, knocking on the window. He sat up and unlocked the door. She threw her bag in the back seat and flopped down into the seat next to his. Looking at her now, he was struck, as he always was, by the incredable beauty of this girl. Her hair flowed in golden waves past her shoulders, where it fell as if it had a life of it's own. Her eyes were the color of a warm cloudless August evening, and her lips were like the horizon where the sun had decided to set for its evening rest. Her skin was light, yet it wasn't pale. He remembered going to a ballet that she had a part in, and how she was set apart from the rest of the dancers by the glow of her skin as compared to the drab white of thiers. He understood why she haunted his dreams so often, but he did not know why she took so many forms: once being a lovely sprite, and once being a demon enveloped in thick black smoke. She was wearing tight blue jeans, and a short sleeved shirt which fell on her shoulders in such a way as to not darken the earth by removing the view of her soft skin.

"Are we going to sit here all day?" she interrupted.

"Sorry," he always made sure to aknowledge her when she spoke, because he feared that if he didn't, she would be bored and deprive him of her conversation. He turned the key, and the car rasped at it's awakening and then roared to life. He checked his mirrors. He locked his seat belt into place, and heard a chuckle from next to him. Putting on his blinker, he looked over his left shoulder, and pulled out onto the road. The red sports car pulled out in front of him, then stopped at the end of a long line which ended where the crossing guard was directing traffic. He thought the crossing guard must have felt very self-important, because there were no children crossing the street, yet she continued to keep the traffic from flowing its natural way.

"I didn't see you in History today," said Sybil as if she didn't know where he had gone, "where did you go?"

"Nowhere," he said as his mind struggled between its own longing to be free and its need to tell her everything, "just for a walk." Just for a dance in the fields, he thought.

When she had appeared on stage, she was so amazing that she could have just stood there and eliminated the need for dancing or other dancers. For that moment, it was just her, surrounded by a circle of light, taunting him as she floated away. Then the male dancer came, and he was surprised not only that it wasn't him, but because it couldn't be. It was for that reason that he so frequently told her he loved her, and was hurt by her response, stopped talking to her to try and save himself, and then he called her again because he couldn't take the distance from her.

She shifted in her seat, and he looked up to see the crossing guard waving him onward. He turned left.

"Do you want to do something tonight?" he asked tentatively.

"I've already got plans to go to Lisa's house and hang out with some guys she knows," she said. He wondered how long these guys would last. She was always finding a guy she thought was cute, and imagining how perfect it would be to go out with him. After a week or so, she discovered that the guy was not who she thought he was. There was always him to go back to anyway. Good old dedicated him, who was every bit what she knew him to be. Or was he? He had often wondered if Sybil truly knew him. Did she understand the many sides of his mind, the thick black smoke that seemed to cover his light at will. He knew her completely. She had once told him that if she started to like him as more than a friend, he would be the first to know. He didn't believe this. He thought it was him that had to tell her. After all, hadn't he had a running relationship of some kind or other with her for three or four years? What could it be that kept them together if not mutual attraction?

He turned left onto what was the most traveled road in his town. The road started in the town south of his and continued up to New York State. During the hour long trip (with traffic), a person driving up the road would see its name change several times, but it was always the same road. No matter what the size and condition of the homes beyond its curbs, it was always the same road that started one town south of the town in which he lived.

The sky turned cloudy. It was still bright out, and the sun was still shining down, but except for the hole through which the sun shone, it was cloudy. Sitting in a heated car, he almost thought he could roll down the window and it would be late August. Maybe in August he would have convinced Sybil that she loved him.

She said something about ballet. She said that the cute guy who had danced the lead two years ago was coming back. He had heard her telling a friend that she wouldn't mind if he saw her changing costumes. He hated him, whoever he was. He wished he could dance, almost as much as he wished she could love.

D. laughed at this last line. It seemed almost too easy and almost too perfect: exactly what she would expect from a bright but young writer. She also found it humorous that the young Nathaniel had been so concerned with the layout of a scribbled story in a black and white flecked notebook as to scrunch the lines together to end Chapter 1 on a right-hand page then over-space the letters toward the end of Chapter 2, as distantly as sense could cohere, to force "almost as much as he wished she could love" onto a page of its own to enhance the effect of a draft that nobody would ever see as if it were the final product.

D. wondered if anybody else had ever read this story. She shuffled through the pages looking for the red marks of a teacher or the unconcerned wrinkles of a watching-over friend. Nothing. Perhaps this was the final product.

She stood, partly to stretch her legs and partly because a strange, unattributable feeling akin to giddiness had come over her: perhaps she had finally absorbed some of the seasonal excitement that had been loitering about the house for the past day. So she stood, in part, to clear her mind and fell back into the chair lightheaded. She giggled. Standing more slowly, she walked into the entrance hall for a change of perspective and squinted. The sun was just breaking into the large circle of the stained glass window and glittered into her eyes. She was surprised that it was so late in the afternoon, even going on evening. She had thought it was... she stopped to finish the thought... "three o'clock," she spoke softly and giggled again. Suddenly the sound of a saxophone spilled out of the dining room and kitchen doors with uneven echoes. "Dismissed," she said and laughed more loudly than she had expected herself to, the sound coming to her ears as if somebody had snuck up behind her to make it.

Feeling the need to rise, D. climbed the sweeping stairs to the top and peeked down into the courtyard. She saw John skulking toward the northern door to the ballroom. He passed Alex, who had finally appeared before everybody to play a clear but moody piece on the piano. A sound from below urged her to lean over, and she saw Huck squatting to wipe his hands on his overalls. Jim slid between his legs playfully, and Huck shouted with glee and chased after him. The tap of Martin's typewriter tapped on monotonously as if stuck on the same letter, over and over. Above Martin's room, Nick stood on the southern tower with his back toward her, looking to the west. In the opposite tower, Jake watched her turn her head toward him and waved. Holden sat on the fresh grass with his legs crossed and his knuckles pressed under his chin, looking down at the endangered black king of his chess battalion. Steinbeck sat across from him smiling over his untouched brigade. A blast from Sal's saxophone jerked D.'s eyes through the willow tree. He stood in the far left corner, appearing, through the slender hanging branches and his thick sunglasses, to be smiling at Alex. The music intertwined as if it had been intended to be played in this way. A phone rang perfectly at a cadence point, and Othello stuck his head through his door and looked around guiltily. He saw that D. was the only one who appeared to have noticed and pulled back into his room, smiling at her for the promise of keeping a secret, though they both knew that it could not be one to which only they two, alone, were privy.

"It all seems so contrived," D. whispered to herself and chuckled. "But it's right."

She fled down the stairs before the moment had a chance to dissolve. The sun had already fallen a good way toward the hole at the stain glass window's center. Perhaps the two circles would consummate this evening. Well they would have to, D. thought.

She returned to the fiction in Nathaniel's notebook quickly, either to erase the surreality around her or to explain it.

Chapter 3

The tape reversed itself in the tape player, but he didn't notice. When he dropped off Sybil, he had expected, as he did every Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, a good-bye kiss. He always expected her to stay seated in the passenger seat as he leaned over and kissed her. But instead, there was always that intermenable awkward moment when they both felt like they should say something, but didn't know what. Then she would flick her hair back and, in one fluid motion, grab her bag off the back seat, open the car door, and be gone. He had sat there for a moment not knowing what to do, and then pulled away.

He threw a stone at the river. It fell and fell, and he couldn't see it's splash. He might have missed. The sky was dimming around him but he couldn't tell because the lights of the city were coming on. The bridge lit up like a chain of slow burning firecrackers. He slapped his arm at a musquito. Turning off his portable tape player he looked through his eyes down at his feet then past them to the beaten up wooden boards far down below that once had been a dock. His eyes swam across the water to the rippling city that seemed to be under it. The buildings all blended together in the water like they were just one big church, with the steeple of the Empire State Building jutting out at him. A car honked on the bridge.

He liked this spot. Some girl had shown it to him, but he had only wanted to neck with his eyes open so that he could look at the big lonely island behind her. So many people, he had thought, Maybe she's in there somewhere crying to get out. He had come back often since that night when the girl, whatever her name was, had gotten mad and made him drive her home. It was his dad's car that night, he thought. His had been in the shop.

But he hadn't wanted it to be that way. He wanted it to be here, he knew that, but not her. But he would never get Sybil here, not until she realized what they were. Maybe they could get married out here. Nobody would come, but that was alright. They would throw a rope over a tree that had one thick branch hanging over the edge and make the priest swing out on it like a frightened angel.

He knocked his radio off the edge and laughed at himself for doing it. He listened to it squawk all the way down and then crash and die. But it wasn't true. It wasn't company. He stood and leaned to look strait down the rocks. Sometimes he thought he would get some kind of pick and hammer to chip them away, and everytime a peice fell, he would recite she loves me she loves me not. And if the last rock of the cliff fell off to she loves me he would use them all to build a bridge across the stinking river and begin knocking down the buildings piece by piece until he found her.

He shouted loud and nobody heard him. It didn't even echo.

"Sybil! Sybil!"

D. turned the page for more, but the rest of the notebook was blank except for a poem on the inside of the back cover that she didn't manage to read because the house shook as everybody ran in a great push to the eastern door. "He's here," she heard somebody say, and she thought that it had been in a reverent tone.

Nine men stood in an imperfect circle, with a boy and a woman being drawn cautiously toward it, around the door as if they hoped to preserve a picture of his entrance. Or maybe we're a little afraid to find out who'll walk through the door, D. thought and didn't know why or what she meant.

The door squealed sublimely open, and D. scurried to an opening in the circle to catch a glimpse. But just as the man stepped through into the house, the sun crowned the clear circle in the middle of the window and pooled for the blink of an eye before it burst through like a single beam of light through a cloudy sky and engulfed the man at the opening across the hall. D. blinked as if she expected the sight to burn the shape of the figure on her eyes forever.

"Hello," a melodious voice called out from the center of the beam. The crowd of men rushed forward with only slight variations in enthusiasm and grasped for the two outreached hands. D. and Alex lingered slightly behind. "So we're all here," said the voice. The figure's glowing eyes seemed to take in the entire room at once, and the voice said, "And two new guests, as well."

He stepped out of the light — it can't still be shining, thought D. — and looked at Alex, who smiled as if for the first time, for it was an awkward and nearly sickening smile. "Would you be Alex?" Alex nodded.

"And who have we here?" Nathaniel asked, turning toward D. "A pleasure to meet you. I'm Nathaniel."

D. stepped forward, surprised that she was almost amazed to not be overwhelmed beyond speech. "Sybil," she said. "You can call me Sybil."

The wind gusts with renewed fervor through the trees and the mountains and laps at whatever water there is to be found. A new chorus breaks out among the bugs and the birds, and even the deer seem to utter a phrase under their breaths. So should we raise our voices. Call out! It is Spring, and the world has awakened once again, and so must we awaken fully now for it is Spring, and the world will rain down tales of its absent adventures, and the leaves will whisper of birth and rebirth. And all of it converges now in a fresh first call of the evening as the sun dips down for the final time on the lingering Winter. Call out! Nathaniel has come!

July 25, 2005

A Midsummer Night Note

It's an indication of how busy I am that I haven't gotten around to posting even a general update in quite a while. (It doesn't help that working in the heat sometimes knocks me out well before the hour that I designate as bedtime.)

I think it's reasonable to predict that I'll be done with my spring/summer house renovations within a week to a week and a half. Just a few more wall-lengths to paint and a patio-roof frame to rehabilitate. Once that's all completed, I intend to relax just a little bit before working my way back into the habits of blogging. My goal is to be fully back in action — rebuilding readership and participating in the public conversation — by September.

Thanks to all who've continued to stop by. I do appreciate it, and I hope the posts that I've managed to write now and then have been worth your continued attention.

Posted by Justin Katz at 9:44 PM | Comments (1)
Diary & Confession

July 24, 2005

Exposition, Chapter 12 (p. 210-216)

A Whispering Through the Branches
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It wasn't early when D. opened her door the next day. The sky was no longer the gray of early morning, and the mist had lifted, leaving a fine layer of dew over the trees, courtyard, and even the books. The warmth was beginning seemingly to seep from the earth, causing the little eddies of tender smoke that twirled in places above the ground.

But it was not late either. The fingers of the sun were just beginning to slip over the eastern rooftop, and the light was trickling down the towers toward the ground. The courtyard was still enshadowed, making it appear earlier in the yard than in the sky, and D. stood midway between waking and sleep. She yawned.

When she stepped out of her room, the feeling hit her as might the first hot and muggy prenoon air of summer: the anticipation and the vague excitement of the coming. She inhaled the smell of breakfast already fading on the fresh air; she heard a broom sweeping beneath the chirp of early rising birds; she stepped to the rail and watched Steinbeck, wearing shorts and a polo shirt, drag a heavy old manual lawn mower out into the courtyard (this made her laugh); and the wind of somebody slipping past her on the balcony fluttered her skirt and made her jump. It was Othello walking by with a towel over his bare shoulder and a basketful of toiletries, "'Scuse me," he said and smiled. "Good morning."

"Morning," she breathed, but Othello was in his room already. Her mouth was sticky with the taste of dreams, so she decided to dilute them with coffee.

On the front stairs, Holden was wiping the stained glass window with slow, dilatory strokes. He smirked guiltily and explained, "It's old glass; you gotta be careful as hell."

"Mm-hmm. Good morning."

"Yeah," he responded and returned to his chore.

In the kitchen, Huck was wiping down the counter by the sink. He turned when he heard the door swing closed with its thwump-ump, and said, "‘Mornin'! Yer up. Y'hungry? I been keepin' yer bre'kfast warm, but I wanna clean the stove."

"Starved," D. told him plainly, retrieved her eggs and bacon, poured some coffee, and sat at the kitchen table to eat and dismiss the haze from her drowsy eyes. "So what's all the commotion about?"

"C'motion? Oh, nothin'. Just stuff needs doin', and won't a body do it 'til ev'ryone's here to share the laber."

"Nathaniel's not here yet," D. said, her voice midway between observation and question.

"He always ends up with th' lion's share a' the work, anyways. Workin' now keeps us busy fer a while, though — winds us down from our life-work so's we can enjoy our time after, too."

Jake came through the swinging door with an armload of fresh-cut wood. He smiled broadly at D. and inquired about her sleep. After he had thrown the wood on top of a dwindling pile near the stove, he wiped his hands and then his brow, swinging one foot onto a chair and leaning his elbow to his knee. "Whew," he exclaimed. "It's too early in the day and in the season to be breaking a sweat like this. I must be out of shape."

"Or outta the will ta work," Huck said amiably, without turning to show his slanted smile.

"Well, we aren't all robust young men like you, Huckleberry," was the rejoinder. Jake winked at D.

"Y'could least be 's robust as that wine you was drinkin' last night. The sweat'll do ya good."

Jake laughed. His eyes were red. "Give the bugs a buzz, as well. I saw John slinking off," said Jake, not entirely to change the subject.

Huck chortled. "When've y'ever known a king ta work harder'n the verm'n?"

D. asked, "Is there anything that I can do?"

"I wouldn' bother," Huck told her. "The steams prob'ly b'ginnin' to wane. I'm sure the king ain't th' only d'serter."

D. passed Martin on the stairs after she had helped Huck in the kitchen for a while, and he made a great show of yawning and mumbled, "Morn'm." Looking around at the empty entrance hall seemed to clear the drowsiness from his drooping eyelids, and he said, "Oh, it looks as if I've missed the cleaning party."

D. suggested that Jake would not likely mind sharing the sport of chopping wood.

"Certainly," Martin agreed. "Perhaps after I've had some breakfast."

The crowd came together for lunch, and D. put aside the book that she had idly been reading. For some reason, she was having difficulty keeping her mind centered for very long. It kept wandering from the book to some varied topic or other, returning to the book, and floating off again, the result being that her spurts of reading overlapped, sliding back to regain context and loping forward to the next passage. Perhaps it had been the book that thrust her so from thought to thought. But now she closed the book and arose from the new-cut grass by the willow tree, her ascent progressing much like her reading: slowly and with many motions repeated. Throwing the book onto the closed lid of the piano, where it slid and nearly toppled from the opposite end, she stretched, her arms up in the air, and noticed that spaces between the limbs above her were filling in quickly with the season.

After lunch, D. passed the early afternoon by participating in a liberal badminton tournament, played loosely because the contestants could not agree on the rules and the boundaries were more felt than drawn, so that they shifted as if blown by the slight breeze that rippled the grass. Once the game had attracted the attention of nearly the entire house, the teams were split between north and south. D. had just been eliminated by Nick when Jim accosted the shuttle and led the congregation in a fruitless chase about the yard before disappearing into some nearby thickets. Nick grumbled about a conspiracy, but even he shared the general opinion that all was just as well because the boundaries of the court had apparently become too amorphous for any of the players to make any sense whatsoever of the game.

As D. made her way inside on a quest for some type of pursuit, she noticed, from the corner of her eye, that a single box remained under the dining room table. Swinging it into her arms in one motion, she overcompensated for the swing, and a notebook fluttered to the floor. She slid the box onto the table and bent to retrieve the outcast.

Noticing the black and white flecks of its cover, D. realized that this was the notebook with the rebirth of a stick figure drawn in its lower corner. She sat on a chair that was close at hand and watched the figure prance around in its near contortions while she flipped the pages. As she stood and returned the book to the box, she remembered the story that she had begun to read before her trip into the woods.

She looked around, as if to confirm that she had had no other plans, and sat to resume the story where she had left it, which really wasn't that far along at all.

He looked at the medalion as if he had found a religious implement. He examined every curve and every edge, until it cauht the sun and threw it into the face of its captor. He covered his eyes, and the world changed to black. After wiping the pain from his eyes, he took another careful look at the star, and smiled as he slipped it into the pocket of his black designer trench coat. He paused, and felt the cold wind play with his hair. He wished he could just float away: each and every partical of his being just permeate into the air. And he might have done just that if it had not been for the slamming of a car door. Awakened, he looked up towards the school. He looked at the windows which reflected the light because they refused to accept it. For a moment he thought it was beautiful. He looked at it as a prisoner might look at a jailhouse from which he had just escaped. Again he smiled. Hesitating no longer, he turned and ran, his legs beating at the hard, frozen ground as he took long strides. When he turned the corner, he raised the sides of his trench coat and ran faster as if he thought he would take flight. At the street corner he stopped, leaned over, and laughed. He was out of shape. He was out of season.

He remembered his books. They were still in his locker, maybe he should go back for them. He didn't want to go back there. Besides, he might get caught. What was it his friend always said? Wasn't he always having more fun because he had the guts to just say, "fuck it"? Well, it was easy for him to say that because his parents didn't care. When your father chased you into the bathroom and banged on the door with a gun, you saw life in a completely different light. You could afford to say "fuck it" all the time. But right now he thought it would be best to say it just this once. He didn't have to go back into the school, he just had to take the long way around so he could get to his car.

He turned left, and took his time walking the five blocks to his next turn. He had forty-five minutes to kill. He looked around. He saw the traffic. Cars were driving by at fifty miles an hour in a twenty-five zone. People are always in a rush, he thought, wouldn't it be so much better if everybody took forty-five minutes off every now and then? A flock of geese flew over his head. They must have been disoriented by the man made modifications of their earth. If people had their way, they would probably heat the bitter Winter air and air condition the beautifully warm Summer breezes outside their houses so they would be comfortable from their doors to their cars to their offices. He longed for Summer. He longed for bees, he saw himself swimming in the lake, he wished to hear the lawnmowers and the cheers of the parents of little league baseball players and the ringing bell of the ice-cream trucks and the dreamy giggles of girls in bikinis.

He turned the corner and saw the line of cars parked across the yard from the school. He passed a red convertable sports car. How could a kid afford an expensive car like that? Then he was releived when he passed a dilapadated station wagon. A good old American-made station wagon. How could a kid afford to feed that car with gas? It was just like the American dream that ate the very space that it needed to be believed in. Then he came to his Honda. He stopped by the drivers side door and reached in his pocket. Pausing for a moment to fondle the medallion, he found his keys, and put one in the lock on the door. It was the wrong key. It was the key to his fathers car, but his father didn't drive his car because he didn't have anywhere to take it. He put the right key in the lock on the door.

He sat down in the comfortable gray seat and immediately put on his seat-belt. Chuckling, he unlocked his seat-belt and let it slide back into its hole. He tilted the rear view mirror and looked at his eyes. He saw nothing, and so turned the key to the first notch and turned on the radio. After he had checked all of his preset radio stations, he opened his glove compartment and carefully selected a tape. The decision about the tape was difficult, because he had to find one which would suit him and his soon to arrive passenger. He found one and put it in. Finding the lever at the bottom of his seat, he reclined his chair as far back as it would go. He closed his eyes and listened to that old Cat Stevens song:

Oh, trouble set me free
I have seen your face
And it's too much, too much for me

He wondered what excuse he would give for not being in History. He wondered if it mattered. He decided it didn't, not right now, maybe not for a while. Maybe not after a while. He looked at the clock: seven more minutes. So much for his forty-five minutes. No, it didn't matter, not right now anyway.

There was a knock on the window. He smiled and opened his eyes.

The handwriting had become closely packed as she neared the bottom of a page, but the smell of baking cake lured D. out of the thick text. She wondered what the occasion might be. She heard the birds calling out a rumor from tree to tree in the still afternoon, and a lone cicada contradicted the gossip. She rearranged herself on the chair, placed the notebook on the table, and leaned over it to continue on the next page.

July 21, 2005

The Social Engineering Beyond Challenge

"Breaking the Glass Taboo," my latest column for TheFactIs.org, responds to Providence Journal editorialist M.J. Anderson's nostalgia for the days of the Baby Boomers' youth and to recent research finding that removing men from the home can be part of a recipe for creating "exceptional" boys.

I didn't go into this in my column, but have you ever noticed that "progress" increasingly seems like a bend around the cultural track back to our primal days? Well, consider what it would imply for men's behavior if society accepted the notion that fathers needn't be bound to the children whom they beget.

Posted by Justin Katz at 6:28 AM | Comments (2)

July 10, 2005

Exposition, Chapter 11 (p. 203-209)

A Whispering Through the Branches
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That evening passed in much the same manner as many previous evenings, and there was still the fine coating of anticipation over everything, making conversation awkward, although voluminous, because everybody was waiting for that something else, that something more, to come. Each exchange was characterized by revelatory beginnings and quickly fading interest, lending the night a choppy, antsy feeling.

Perhaps having spent so much energy in excitement, or perhaps because the members of the evening congregation had been much more active in the day than was usual, their numbers thinned rapidly as individual members drifted off to their rooms. Wishing good nights to Nick, Sal, Jake, and Huck, D. strolled past John, asleep, as customary, in his chair, toward the stairs and her room. Othello, she saw as she strolled down the hallway past his room, was still awake, removing sundry objects from a leather suitcase that he closed and slid next to the desk when he saw her deciding to enter, his motion causing the candle at his elbow to flicker.

"Is this a working vacation for you?" she asked him.

Othello glanced at the various items around him to which D. must have been referring: some pens, a yellow legal pad, a package of computer disks, and several other items that can be found more readily in offices than in mountain mansions with no electricity. "Well, the world will go on without me, no doubt, but I don't know how these other guys retain their places in it without keeping pace while they're here."

"I guess it depends what they do." D. leaned against the door frame, and the sound of one stalwart member of the remaining few in the courtyard opening a can of beer burst up behind her. "So why aren't you downstairs socializing?"

"I will; there's plenty of time for that. I just wanted a little quiet at first."

Smiling amiably, D. asked, "So does that mean I have to wait until tomorrow for your Nathaniel story?"

"Hmm?" Othello appeared not to understood the question. "Oh, I don't really have one."

"Really?" D. was surprised. "I thought everybody had some tale about Nathaniel's exploits. Or some of them have been more about their own. Didn't he do anything crazy and amazing your first summer here?"

"Nathaniel? No, not really. Last summer was very pleasant, but I wouldn't say that anything exciting happened. I guess I could embellish some things and make stories out of them, but I'm not much of a storyteller by nature. How did Shakespeare put it? 'Rude am I in my speech, and little blessed with the soft phrase of peace.'"

Giggling, D. asked, "In whose mouth did he put those words?"

"Well, mine, I guess, if you want to think of it that way." Othello snickered to himself as he thought of something. "I guess I just haven't been here long enough to have worked up a plot."

"What do you mean?"

"Well, before I could tell a story that's in keeping with the game, I'd have to figure out what role to assign to everybody. I guess I've already started, in a way, or at least some characters are just easy to parallel. For example, it would sound like Huck to say something along the lines of, 'the robbed that smiles, steals something from the thief,' only with an accent, and Nick has certainly alluded to his reputation as the 'immortal part of himself.' And for you... well, I guess the fact that you want me to tell a story means that I can say that you've got 'greedy ears.'"

D. blushed faintly. "Would that make me Desdemona?"

"For me, at least. Have you betrayed John, yet?"

"Excuse me?"

"Well, no matter, we'll find another way to fit it all together." Othello took the opportunity to tell D. that she could sit, if she wanted. She looked around the room and noticed that, though it was very much, in style and content, like her own, Othello had managed to procure more chairs, in one of which she now sat down.

"So what made you choose the name Othello?" she asked, by way of making conversation.

"Who should I have picked?"

"Oh, I don't know. I just thought that you might rather..." and she shrugged the end of her sentence.

Othello finished it,: "pay homage to an author of my own race?"

"I suppose that's what I meant."

"Hmm. I don't know entirely. I do know that was one of the reasons I didn't choose a Faulkner as Nathaniel hoped I would (I guess he's been waiting for one to come along), although, as I recall, I just couldn't find anybody in his books that I wanted to be; I guess race must have played a part in that. Sometimes I think that the one thing that we all have in common in this country is that issues of race are so constantly aroused that they are inescapable for everybody. In differentiating between fictional characters, though, I choose not to believe that the color of the author has to make all the difference either way. I prefer to focus more on what makes us alike than what makes us different. All writing in modern English is descended from Shakespeare, anyway, so even black characters created by black authors aren't pure blooded."

"Perhaps, but why Othello? He was a fool."

"No, he wasn't. He was incredibly strong. In the end he takes responsibility and sees the world clearly enough, and is courageous enough, to see that he has become the enemy of what he believes in. It wasn't an issue of race for him, but one of faith and honor."

"Some might say that he only did what the people who ruled him wanted him to do. A white man tricked him into killing a white woman, and he was going to have to answer to a white society. He had to have known what was coming."

"I think that's too easy an answer. If that were true, then his suicide would have only confirmed the instincts, as some might call them, that he thought he was rising above by killing himself. His suicide wasn't an act of passion, self-loathing, or even fear. In fact, in the end, he requests that his actions not be exaggerated or extenuated. It was honor and duty, a return to civility and reason.

"It's a vague point, but consider Iago. Throughout the play he seems to be the wisest, or at least the most clever, character: he's got all the best lines, and the things he says ring the most of truth, but he ends up looking hollow and cowardly when he runs away like a common thief, is easily caught, and is denied the poignant ending. He just lives. There's no great death scene, no moment of proof that his cynicism was right or justified. Quite the contrary, actually. He hedges and tells a half-truth about believing what he had told Othello to be true and shows himself to be a worm when he reveals his true self by killing his own wife because he is powerless to stop her from speaking her mind. He isn't even a devil, which would raise a question of higher purpose to his actions; he's just a pernicious man who leaves in his wake a bed full of dead bodies. It all comes down to honor and the strength to follow convictions. When Othello says, 'Speak of me as I am,' he is confirming that he is a human with the ability to reason, choose, and take responsibility."

"Well, you've obviously done your homework, and I have to admit I don't know enough about it to contradict what you're saying, but I'm still not ready to agree."

Smiling, Othello told D. that Nathaniel had said much the same thing during a similar conversation, "'But it doesn't matter,' he told me, 'because your name is justified if it gets us to think and talk and respect what the other is saying enough to defend our own opinions.'"

"Strange way to show respect."

"Do you think? I think it shows tremendous respect because it requires a cool and egalitarian mindset. As long as defending your own opinion doesn't mean dismissing others, you have to listen with at least a little credulity before you know how best to argue. As Shakespeare had Othello say, 'I'll see before I doubt; when I doubt, prove.'"

"But Shakespeare's Othello was fooled."

"Well, now you're making it harder for me to come up with a plot for my own story."

"Why's that?"

"Because it would be your line to suggest that 'we must think men are not gods.' Instead you blame Othello for being only human. Nobody is immune to being deceived. But, as I've been saying, the proof of conviction comes after, in our reaction: whether we say, 'yes, I have been fooled, but I take responsibility for what I've done,' or whether we backstep and try to excuse ourselves."

"Well," D. laughed, "I can see that I'll have to give more thought to what you've said."

"Good. But don't seem so surprised."

Abashed, "Oh, I'm not."

Othello just smiled at her.

Huck stuck his head into the room, "'Night all."

"Goodnight, Huck," Othello replied.

"Glad ta see you back."

"Glad to be back."

Huck nodded to D., who smiled in return, and disappeared toward his room. The house was quiet and sleeping. The faint light of a candle, left lit to guide John should he wake up before morning and desire his bed, glowed dim and red against the doorways across the yard.

"I'm sorry that I seemed surprised."

"That's alright," Othello consoled her, "I don't think you really were."

After a break in the conversation, D. changed the subject, "So who would Nathaniel be in your story?"

"I don't know. Maybe that's why I don't have one yet. He would have to be someone important, but..."

"Not Iago?"

"No, that wouldn't work. Maybe if Iago had managed to end better. Nathaniel's certainly clever, in a brilliant way, but he's also compassionate and dependable." He laughed, "Maybe he should be Othello."

"Who would that make you?"

"Nobody important, I guess. I've only been here a year. Maybe the sibyl."


"The woman who was supposed to have sewed Othello's handkerchief. But the gender's all wrong."

"And I've assumed that Nathaniel is white."

"Well I'm not going to hold that against him."

"Neither will I," D. said, feeling that she was playing along. "You know, your picture of Nathaniel is quite a bit different than the one that I've gotten from almost everybody else."

"That doesn't surprise me. I've heard all those stories, too, probably, and they all lead up to some huge event that seems to have happened in his life the spring before I got here, but nobody knows what it was. It's all a little too dramatic if you ask me. Maybe he just grew up, but I think something in between the two extremes must have happened to him."

"After he left Sal in the middle of the country?"

"It would have to be." Then he mused, "Has Sal developed his story much, do you think?"

"Well, I've never heard it before, but it was pretty short."

"Yes. It would have to be."

D. thought that there must be more to this comment than she was perceiving, but before she could ask Othello to elaborate, the sound of flapping wings, seemingly at her ear, startled her. The willow bristled, and D. heard an owl calling out its one mystery through the door.

"So do you know the answer?" Othello asked her.

"To what?"

"The owl's question?"

D. didn't understand, and she must have lost herself in listening longer than she knew because Othello roused her, as if out of a trance, by standing and unzipping a piece of luggage that was on his bed. "Well, if you'll excuse me, I think I'll brush my teeth and go to bed. It's been a long day."

"That it has," she said and left the room with him. Her door was open, and Jim lay with his head sticking out onto the balcony. Othello stopped to pet Jim fondly on the head; the dog stood in order to better wag his tail.

D. watched and found the edge of a thought, which she uncovered in time to call out to Othello as he turned the corner to the bathroom. "Othello."

"Yes?" he said, stepping back into view.

"What do you think of Jim?"

"He's a remarkable and very friendly dog," he said, realizing that he wasn't answering her question.

"No, I meant..."

"I know," he interrupted. "I see what it might be meant to signify, but do you think Huck named him out of malice or affection?"

"Well Huck is about as far from spiteful as anyone that I've ever known, but I don't think it excuses him that he didn't realize the significance."

"Oh, I think he understood. So what do you think of Jim?"

"He's great," she said petting the dog affectionately. "I don't know what I'd have done without him. But..."

Othello interrupted her again. "Well," he said, approximating Huck's accent, "if virtue no deli'ted beauty lack, then that there dog is fah more fayer th'n black."

Othello stepped out of view. D. watched after him for a breath and then shook her head once to the side with a quizzical smile. Squatting down, she asked the dog, "Well, fair Jim, are you sleeping in my room again tonight?"

Jim wagged his tail and licked D.'s face. She reciprocated with a hearty laugh, and the pair went into the room.

The moon has begun its slow decent into the end of night. It is not yet full, but bright enough to send a sliver of light into every room of the old mansion. The rooms are quiet, and the moonlight is free to play about the windows and caress the sleeping faces without fear of protest, for each eye is closed in sleep.

We may peep in on eleven silent forms in eleven rooms where all is still, for the wind seems sleeping, too, save for where human wind shivers the edge of a sheet or a hair. And though the twelfth chamber has no form in its bed, still the silken veil sweeps slowly from side to side as the pendulum of some expectant clock counting out the moments to the arrival of some great substance and a revelation.

July 7, 2005

Terrorism, the Evil Resistance

The foreign minister of Iraq, Hoshyar Zebari, said something in a recent interview with Jay Nordlinger, published in the June 20 National Review that seemed particularly appropriate to post today (brackets in original):

Lakhdar Brahimi [of the U.N.] refers to the insurgency you're facing as a "resistance" — a resistance, moreover, some of whose "aspects" are "very legitimate." Your response?

We were the resistance, against Saddam Hussein. I personally was — I was a member of the resistance in the early '80s, opposed to Saddam Hussein. At the time, nobody [in the world at large] was on our side. But we never, ever blew up water plants, we never attacked a pipeline or an electrical pole, we never targeted civilians, or hospitals, or schools, or populated areas. We never sent cars [outfitted with bombs] to kill innocent people in the streets.

There are aspects of a legitimate resistance, and these aspects are missing in Iraq. To call the insurgents a resistance is an affront to a true resistance.

May God be with those in England who've suffered most deeply, this day, and on a daily basis in Iraq, and may those nations' ruling classes lead their people in a direction that acknowledges that not all violence against organized civilizations is righteous.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:03 PM | Comments (1)
International Affairs

A Reason for Tradition

My latest column for TheFactIs.org — "Reasoning with the Id" — responds to a recent piece by Lee Harris. To summarize too drastically, Harris seeks to find a place for tradition in a world of reason. Me, I think is more accurate to stress that rationality already exists in a world of tradition.

Posted by Justin Katz at 9:52 PM | Comments (19)

July 6, 2005

Sully Still Not Listening

I never actually expected to receive Andrew Sullivan's promised response to my piece about him, but I would have hoped that he'd begin conducting his end of the marriage debate with even the slightest indication that he's paying attention to what the other side is saying... or even who the other side is. Witness:

Since marriage has already been redefined to make the exclusion of gays logically absurd, the campaign against letting gays into the human family necessarily raises the suspicion of mere animus. It's not bigotry to say that these are the rules that govern civil marriage and too bad if you can't live up to them (i.e. procreation, or traditional gender roles). But it is suspicious when you abolish all those rules for straights and then use the old rules to bar gays. I don't see how gay marriage opponents manage to get round the logic of this - except by resorting to purely religious arguments (which would invalidate most heterosexual marriages today as well), or simply reiterating the definitional case that marriage is for straights, dammit.

One gets the sense that Sullivan has broken the world into straights and gays, with only the latter permitted to act independently of their "movement." Some gays wish to leverage same-sex marriage to undermine society as we know it, but Sullivan refuses to have their arguments considered as part of the issue. But through the magic of the passive voice, "marriage has already been redefined," and therefore traditionalist "yous" have had the hypocrisy to "abolish all those rules for straights and then use the old rules to bar gays."

I'm too young to have participated in the earlier debates, but I'm pretty sure — conversions excluded — that the overlap in names on petitions for divorce and contraception and against same-sex marriage is minimal. Unfortunately, one of the complicating factors when attempting to come up with resolutions to the current fight is that Sullivan's handling of the other side is way too likely to prove the norm for his.

Posted by Justin Katz at 8:06 PM | Comments (62)
Marriage & Family

July 3, 2005

Exposition, Chapter 11 (p. 199-202)

A Whispering Through the Branches
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D. felt a distinct change in the atmosphere that afternoon. Everybody but Alex had returned to the house by the time she meandered through the front hallway after talking to Sal, and standing on the lawn to the east of the house drinking and eating fish, they emanated a feeling of vacation that wafted lazily on the warming air with the smell of burning charcoal. The rustle of the surrounding leaves mingled with the slight rumble of chatter. Huck slapped John on the back after a friendly joke, and the entire company laughed at the consternated look that passed over John's face until the laughter infected the man himself and he laughed, too. Holden lingered by the steps of the house until Nick called him into a discussion and he happily obliged, telling D. as he passed, "Nick's always asking me to give my opinion on everything." Jim, feeling the picnic, perhaps, trotted from one person to another with a stick dangling slantwise between his teeth and returning with a new stick each time somebody wrested the old one from his mouth and hurled it into the woods. Sal crept around the southern corner of the building and stood smiling at the festivities breathing "yes, yes" at something, maybe digging the camaraderie. D. even spotted Alex in the shadows behind some bushes and, though she might have projected the feeling onto him, she thought that he felt some longing to join the group.

Eventually, somebody got the idea of going for a swim in the lake, and a general murmur arose in concordance. Then the hustle to get dressed and to fill a couple coolers with drinks and people rushing to not get left behind. D. excused herself partly for lack of a swimming suit, to which Huck tried to dismiss her concern by suggesting that they were all "goin' to swim nekid anyways." D. insisted that she'd rather stay around the house and read; Jake decided that he had had enough water for the day. And the expedition departed, leaving a mist of expectancy, which was what D. had decided the atmosphere really implied: expectancy of time away from life, of leisure, of conversation, and of the coming of Nathaniel.

As D. reclined in John's chair with the book with which she was currently engaged, Jake called down from the balcony outside of his room dangling a net, "Badminton, anyone?" They set up the net and flicked the shuttlecock over it from racket to racket, with D. winning by a slight lead, then returned to the courtyard with a pitcher of water and their books.

Just as the sky began to dim with the evening, the swimmers returned, and the bustle of them all falling over each other to bathe and prepare for supper and sunset from the towers raised the pitch of lazy excitement until they had all eaten and leaned, divided between the towers by hallway, against the parapets, gazing to the west and the sinking sun. The slow burn of a thrill ran through them all with the slow light show of the departing glow, and D. half expected a cheer as the sun reached a colorful climax behind the mountains and a wave of wind shuffled through the trees far off in the distance. "It's all going to happen," she heard Sal shout from the other tower, and in the silence that followed a short burst from his saxophone, all ears perked up at the sound of the eastern door squealing open, and all eyes glanced around in inquiry, and D. thought, Nathaniel.

The gazes turned from west to east, and D. felt as if a gust of wind might bring with it something momentous like the return of day, and in the twilight, they all leaned over, at varying angles of anticipation, and listened as footsteps crossed the floorboards of the entrance hall and mounted the stairs. D. saw a backlit shadow pass the stained glass window and then watched a head appear at the top of the eastern stairs.

The young man who materialized as if rising up through the floor, though barely distinguishable across the dim courtyard, wore jeans and a shirt that was too dark to be white. Still, it was light enough to disclose by contrast that the young man's skin was mahogany, and a boisterous greeting was offered by almost everybody present, "Othello!"

The evening light show was over, and the stars began to sift through the lingering luminescence and fall into place across the sky. Euphoric from the convivial opiate that they had all somehow and suddenly ingested, perhaps with the trout or the lake water, or perhaps because their number had surpassed some critical mass that forced spores of affability from the floorboards of the house, its inhabitants floated down to Othello's room with hands outstretched and smiles and expressions of cheer that he had returned, and questions and answers were volleyed from one to the next through the several who stuffed themselves into the room to those who were still on the balcony outside. Yes, the year had been pleasant. No, Nathaniel had not arrived as yet. Yes, the weather was lovely.

D. trailed behind a distance that she felt appropriate for a stranger in the midst of such warm familiarities, and she noticed Martin holding back as well on the other side of the crowd, trying to look as if he found something amiss in the sky and down the hall and in the courtyard where Alex stood, giving him something to examine. Then, as if the earth had tilted in the other direction, the group poured out of the room and toward the stairs on both sides of the house and down to the first floor, some toward the kitchen and others spilling into the yard. At the back of the exiting surge, Othello halted at his doorway and said, "I'll be down in a moment."

D. had held her ground against the banister and smiled at Othello. He was very handsome, she thought, with his close-cut hair and brown eyes.

"Hello," he said. "I'm glad to see that I'm no longer the new kid in town."

"And I'm glad to see you," responded D.

"Why's that?"

"Because I was beginning to think that this was some sort of boys club or something."

Laughing and looking a little confused, but mostly for decorum's sake, Othello inquired, "Why would I change your mind about that?"

D. flustered. She didn't have the words to voice what she said in her head. "Well, you know what I mean... this place doesn't exactly have the widest range of demographics."

"Maybe there's more of a variety than you know."


"Or maybe we're all more alike than you've been able to see."

"I only meant that..."

"But either way, you're still the only woman."

D. didn't know how to respond to Othello's reaction to her friendly insinuation of connection by difference. She stammered on the syllable "I" and sped her mind to find an answer, or at least decide what class of stance she should take, but Othello relieved her of the need by smiling widely and with humor and saying, "But I know what you mean."