Thanks, all who read, retweeted & linked my serialized short story last week. For the sake of internet posterity & ease of reading, I’ve added a link at the bottom of each page to the next part. Use them as you will. I realize now I never actually titled the story (quibble amongst yourself whether it merits being called that). It’s part of a larger project, so I’d not given it much thought. I enjoyed re-visiting it, though, so maybe I’ll come up with something yet.
Note: I’ve not gone anywhere. I’m still lurking about here, occasionally posting, and always on the Twitter sidebar. Feel free to join me from time to time over in my sporadically updated joint, Departure Delayed. In the meantime, ya’ll enjoy your conferences.
The academic year passed without noticeable incident or breach of routine. Ramsey took lunch on his perch above the city, reported for work, and attended class. His grades remained average, with neither applause nor concern, and preaching baroque, frowned upon but tolerated. The administration’s plans to demolish Old Main in the summer proceeded with few hurdles beyond Stein’s grumbles behind its closed doors and a protest by a local historical society (whose one-week postponement became indefinite when the neighborhood’s oldest bowling alley came under threat by a condominium development).
—If there were ghosts, this old house would have its share, wouldn’t it?
Stein’s eyebrow raised only slightly, in the barest acknowledgment of Ramsey’s consolation. Read the rest of this entry »
—But were they made right, Homer, the words? she asked, sounding at least unperturbed by his late-night call.
—To be honest, I’m not even sure what he means by that, Mary-Ann.*
—Are you so sure about that? Seems you know very well.
—I chose the words for a reason, if that’s what you mean.
—And what reason was that, Homer?
—That they weren’t mine.
Ramsey was greeted by Stein’s judgment the moment he walked in the office the next day. —Lighten the load on the Right Reverend Taylor in your next one, boy. He asked a lot of his congregants in those days, and they were an exceedingly more charitable lot than you’re apt to have.
—Oh, yes, I guess can see that.
—You’re wise to cut the Latin, too. I did not learn that lesson until I was older than you. Different times, though. This being a Kraut Papist town, even more so when I was your age, it was not as surprising to hear then.
—No, I suppose not. But the use of Taylor himself is fine? Read the rest of this entry »
Freed from the conforming influence of a grade, Ramsey’s fancies also took flight. Reading aloud to Stein from his collection of sermons, none of this century and few of the one past, most seen likely by more mites than humans, Ramsey found a kinship he did not share with his fellow students. He inhabited these words not his own, so far from what he’d commonly use or hear, stumbling through the archaic spellings, caressing the curves of unfamiliar characters, in a natural manner he seldom managed even his own skin. If any ever were, these words, he knew to be true, had been made right. What hope had he that his ever would? For a single semester he fumbled with the contemporary forms, preaching repentance by deduction and edification in story, but distinguished himself in class only by his voice, which was described by several as “pulpit perfect.” Sonorous and deep, which they construed as quintessentially masculine, even if he was scrawny and rarely in need of a shave, his baritone was the envy of professor and peers. None commented, however, on the transitions over which he toiled, his telegraphed foreshadowing or cliched simile. No one fretted over his leaky logic, emulating what he thought he understood of Anselm. Who among them, he wondered as they stared ahead at him, and later read their reviews (—What a voice! —I’m jealous of your voice! —Give me your voice! —You should be in radio with that voice! —Maybe a little too loud . . .) heard a word he said? Read the rest of this entry »
From his first course to his eventual degree, Ramsey remained a mediocre student. Which made him, nevertheless, slightly above average nearly by default, given the seminary’s faith-based approach to admission standards. Quick with a lexicon, his Hebrew hovered just above intermediate and Greek smack below. He preferred the letters of John to those by Paul, but excelled only in the synoptic Gospels. Something about the parallel stories, some entwined like limbs, others removed as relatives, each tinged with theological baggage, traumatic memory, and cryptic grudges to bear, seemed appropriate. He reported back to Stein the day-to-day of his courses, the various new hermeneutical models and critical theories trotted out by the younger professors. Stein would weather these accounts in silence, interjecting only occasionally, —but the postmoderns, they seem more conservative than the moderns, but they’re the radicals now?, impatient for Ramsey to move on to more important matters. Read the rest of this entry »
—Eripitur persona, manet res, Ramsey, you recall? We take pains to heap up things useful in our life and get our death in the purchase.
—”The Rule and Exercises of Dying”?
—Not simply dying, my boy. The Right Reverend Jeremy Taylor doesn’t care about something so common. Words must be made right, never forget. No, it’s “The Rule and Exercises of Holy Dying.” I’m surprised you made such a mistake. I’m old and forget details, but you?
—I’m sorry. I just misspoke.
—But of course this is no trifle of a detail, is it, the difference between simply dying and holy dying? It’s not enough, Ramsey, that everything can and does die. Certainly not. What did Thomas Adams say? Remember your tribe, and your fathers poor house, and the pit whereout you were hewn. Hannibal is at the gates, death stands at your doors . . .
—be not proud, be not mad: you must die.
—Yes, Ramsey. You remembered, but did you hear it? Surely so. Must die, not does die. Holy dying refuses the biological necessity of it all—the shrugged shoulder acquiescence, Ramsey, that your day is done—the licking your lips at the prospect that finally your goose is well-cooked and ready. Everything can and does die—this is as true as it is obvious, but only the holy must die. You heard it, but do you now see the difference? Yes, of course you do—you’ve spent time with the metaphysicals. Read the rest of this entry »
—Pay attention, boy. A cock. They mean to turn us into a cock!
Professor Max Stein’s exclamations were not out of character. For forty-eight years from his second-floor office of Old Main he held court — no matter that the final two decades, as the campus expanded and Old Main receded from centerpiece to neglected afterthought to begrudged capital liability, it was to a jury rarely summoned. In the eyes of his colleagues over the years, because his rages, whether they were aimed at the Koreans or the Viet Cong, Woodstock or Wall Street, were merely rhetorical, they were ultimately as feeble as Stein was thin. —We must never forget, he declared at the start of his homiletics courses, and it was imagined by some to himself at the close of each day, —words matter, and they must be made right. Read the rest of this entry »
The septic smells of summer at Cincinnati Seminary: where cirrus smoke puffed from the water treatment plant mingled with the indigestive burps of the Victorian-era plumbing: whose hillside-high perch above the city did not escape the humidity that hung like sodden laundry on a line: which had become, after four years of fees spent and three more under scholarship pursuing degrees of Divinity, home. Lexington is but a short drive south, but had become for Homer Ramsey a memory misshapen, by its recurrence as much as his avoidance. Lounging on the untended bluff behind the library, where the hillside had eroded into a cliff, these repetitions and evasions mingled. They were by his final year as routine as lunchtime.
When weather allowed Ramsey came here, his cafeteria purchase brown-bagged and eaten in self-imposed exile. He was, however, by no means in seclusion. The narrow strip of sittable land faced mostly shrubs, between whose thicketed green and thorny brown one managed glimpses, if not a view, of the city’s modest downtown. Over time, drivers angling steeply up or down the road between him and the library noted Ramsey’s ritual with the attention they might pay a flag. Most invisible things of life are the ones seen daily. Read the rest of this entry »
From a footnote of his magnificent book Where the North Sea Touches Alabama, Allen C. Shelton recounts a job application letter for an unnamed university teaching position he scrawled by hand while shivering through a “blizzard of the century.” He presumably did not send this draft. In any event, he points out, “I didn’t get the job.” I thought a good many here might appreciate reading.
I’m writing this bundled up in as many layers as I can wear and still more. I’m wrapped up in the wool blanket, wearing the only gloves I own—a pair of brown gardening gloves with a finger missing. My dog chewed the finger off. It’s probably twenty-five degrees inside. Outside, the greatest storm of the century is knocking my house for a loop. The weatherman of the battery-operated radio makes me feel almost privileged to be here, shivering in the dark, without power. “This is the storm of the century,” he hums, like the wind shredding the win on my barn roof. The worst of it is I’m bored to death. There’s only so much sleep and staring into space that I can take before I crave watching TV. I feel like a stroke victim—cold and numb. The wind is gusting up to fifty miles an hour. I can feel it. I live in a house built in 1834. It has its own respiratory system. I can see the curtains wheezing. My dogs have taken over the kitchen. My wife and son have taken over the big bed. That leaves me with either a wick-backed sofa or where I’m stuck now, at my desk. This was desperation. Reading was impossible. I couldn’t turn the pages with my gloves on. I read too fast to take the gloves on and off and those slow, meditative books I’ve been putting off reading—I’m putting off reading. I think they make me colder. So why did I listen to my wife and unhook the woodstove? It made sense at the time. I could move in some more books. We hadn’t used it in years. Now it’s the storm of the century and I’m freezing. So I’m writing. My toes are cold. I look like a character in A Christmas Carol. Amazingly, the ink isn’t freezing in my fountain pen. It must be cold in the North Carolina mountains. Do you have a branch campus in Florida? Unless it’s the Keys, it might be cold there though. I just remembered the weatherman with his right arm sending arrows streaking through Florida before the cable went out. My house is set off in the country. The nearest house is a half mile away and I’m related to them. The nearest hamburger is seven miles over the mountain. The nearest house right now with running water and power is twenty-six miles down the road, but that changes by the hour. The closest may be in Florida by now. (212-213)