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The Man Who Wrote the Bookby Erik Tarloff
A deep dispiriting despondency, an oppressive enervating angst, settled over Ezra Gordon around the time Dr. Jacobs put her hand up his ass.
Or so Ezra reconstructed it eight days later, a hundred miles from home, hurtling down Highway 1 in his beat-up Toyota Tercel at eighty miles per hour, twenty-five of them illegal, escaping from . . . well, from everything.
He had gone to the Beuhler College infirmary because of a nagging pain in his left shoulder and chest which had troubled him for weeks. Certain it was his heart, confident he was a corpse waiting to happen, he had put off doing anything about it until one of his students, Henry Ng, innocently asked him why he was walking funny. That's when he decided to be a grown-up, or at least act like one; for the first time in his employment at Beuhler, he availed himself of the college's niggardly faculty health plan and went for a checkup. Within minutes, Dr. Jacobs had her hand up his ass. Opting, apparently, for the scenic route to his upper torso.
"What's this got to do with my chest?" he had gasped, much too late to influence her plans.
"It's been years since your last checkup," she said. "It's important to do this periodically." And then, with a note of asperity, "Would you please relax?"
"Relax? You want me to relax? Your hand's up my ass!" The sheer indignity of the situation was already inducing a certain melancholy, but he didn't pay it much attention yet. It was hard to focus on something as insubstantial as a mood when a hitherto unknown--and not especially prepossessing--older woman was violating him so intimately. She had already forced him to pee in a cup and had held his testicles while he coughed. Where would this madness end?
It ended in her small bare office, less than a half-hour later. Seated behind her desk, primly leafing through his file, acting as if she didn't know his prostate from a hole in the ground, she assured him without conspicuous enthusiasm that she had found nothing.
"But what about those pains?" he demanded. "They're getting worse."
She hesitated a moment. She looked down at his file. She adjusted her glasses. Then she met his eye and said, "Pains. How old did you say you were, Professor Gordon?"
"Thirty-five. Yes. And are you married?"
"But you've been married. Any children?"
"A daughter. Seven years old. I've never met her. She lives with her mother in Switzerland. But what does that have to do with--?"
Dr. Jacobs held up a hand, demanding silence. "Look, Professor, you're a reasonably healthy man, and I'm sure you still have a good many active years ahead of you, but--" She shrugged, and smiled an odd conspiratorial smile. "It's just, you've reached a stage in your life where things don't have to hurt for a reason anymore. They just . . . hurt. Do you see? You've done your part. And now, nature is through with you."
So Ezra wasn't in the best of spirits when he drove Carol home from their dinner date that same night. Nature was through with him. The words reverberated, of course, but they did much more than that: They explained absolutely everything about his current life. I had my chance and I muffed it. I misplayed the hand I was dealt, and nature, that fat arrogant fuck, couldn't care less. Nature has dropped me like a moist, unraveling cigar butt. Failed husband, failed father, failed poet, failed scholar, and any minute now, failed lover. A safe prediction, surely. Wherefore should this night be different from any other?
This "relationship" with Carol--it was impossible to think of the word without quotation marks--was one of the ongoing mysteries of his current life. Not unlike those inexplicable chest pains. Did they see each other only because they had nothing better to do? Or was there, buried within some deep emotional cave somewhere, a small stalactite of genuine affection remaining between them? Well, he didn't have the energy to go spelunking tonight. How could he? Nature was through with him. So, in all likelihood, was Carol. How else to interpret her sullen taciturnity throughout dinner?
Dinner that set him back almost $60, which came to approximately $5 a word out of her, if you discounted her relatively lively exchanges with the obnoxious French waiter.
"Do you want to come in?" she suddenly asked, breaking the oppressive silence. They were strolling up the paved walk which bifurcated the rolling front lawn of her house.
He was startled by the sound of her voice and taken aback by the invitation itself. Why extend the charade? Why not agree there was no purpose in continuing to see each other, why not concede that nature was through with him, why not get on with the pointless remainder of their absurd lives?
"Sure," he heard himself say, "that'd be nice." Sheer inertia. He could think of no other explanation for so readily accepting.
They climbed the three steps to the antebellum-style veranda. While Carol fumbled for her keys, Ezra took a deep breath. The moon was fat and full, the night air was deliciously soft and balmy, the jasmine growing near the porch wonderfully sweet-smelling. Nature in full-court press, if you ignored the human component.
She finally located her keys in the nether reaches of her purse and opened the door. Although the porch light was on, within the house was dark. "I think Daddy's gone to bed," she whispered, turning on the light in the foyer.
"He sleeps?" Ezra responded incredulously. It suggested there were hours in the day when the man wasn't spoiling things for someone else, and that seemed out of character. Ezra stepped inside gingerly, anxious to avoid any creaking floorboards which might rouse the ogre slumbering upstairs, then eased the front door shut behind him and followed Carol across the foyer into the huge handsome country-style kitchen, which was marred only, but decisively, by plaid linoleum flooring of mid-'50s vintage.
"Coffee?" she asked, after flicking on a light.
"Not for me." The espresso he'd stupidly drunk with the crème anglaise he'd stupidly eaten figured to keep him awake half the night all by itself.
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