Chapter 2: Ecclesiastes 2:17
So I hated life, because what is done under the sun was grievous to me, for all is vanity and a striving after wind.
The Wordman positioned himself precisely at the center of the bridge, a vantage point, that with careful use of his pivot foot, afforded him the vista of the entire campus. From the pocket of his Bermudas, he retrieved a cigarette, lit it, and blew smoke into the air before leaning with his elbows on the railing and taking in the views. There was poetry in things he didn't own, and this afternoon was no exception as he captured imagery like film negatives being brought to life. Simple movements, simple exchanges, simple routines of other people somehow remotely complex, a calculated under layer that he processed with a creative dissonance. The fish below him paid homage to his flickering image, and the ducks and geese floated in proximity as though he had something to offer.
The expanse of water flowed with entitlement under the arching concrete bridge that divided it. Its grassy framework was dotted by blue-jean and sweatshirt-clad students sitting on blankets by the bank, savoring the last moments of a late summer afternoon. By the south side of the bridge, a male and a female tossed a football, she doing that delicate hand placement which protects the fingernails, running daintily, breasts hopping, brown ponytail dancing side-to-side; he running toward her, big teeth grinning, blonde hair catching enough of the breeze and the sun to seal his Ken to her Barbie. Despite his instruction on the fine art of throwing a pass, the grip, the arm angle, the smell of her perfume, the light touches of her body against his, her coy giggles, the subsequent errant toss missed its mark. Taking this in, the Wordman sighed deeply, the air from his lungs outlined by cigarette smoke. A sudden gust of wind blew a part in his bushy hair, and the maple trees sprouting from ravines east and west of Brew Pond waved their orange, yellow and red flags; while vying for attention, the pine trees in their midst dropped a few cones.
For all its familiar faces, for all its connections, for all the years of convenient egress, the bridge remained a nameless slab of concrete yet held its position as the centerpiece of campus postcards. Perhaps this was because the body of water it spanned had a name that occasionally was attached to it, but to term it the Brew Pond Bridge minimized it, given that both of its sides served as gateways to enlightenment. Its beauty, its grace, and its significance simply were taken for granted.
The south featured a steep decline as it hurriedly ushered its pedestrians into the business side of things, starting with the Hillview Plaza, a commissary, a venue for large gatherings, and an upstairs housing the School of Business. Here, there were more briefcases than any of the other schools, tools of the trade, suggestions of expertise.
Beginning to the southwest of the Hillview Plaza, and spanning in an arch not unlike that of the bridge, was a series of buildings. Composed of triangles, rectangles, and squares of glass resting upon one another, and announced by a ten-foot tall, bronzed gyroscope sculpture, Archimedes Hall suggested a playground for the analytical as it toyed with the late sun’s rays, bending them into shapes for the imagination, begging for some equation, some formula to explain the whys and hows.
To the left began the traditionally-designed, brown-brick world of higher education and another bronze statue, this of the namesake, the lady with the lamp, adorning the facade of the three-story Nightingale Center. There was benevolence in her eyes, a firmness in her resolve, a steadfast adherence to selflessness.
Spanning further to the left and parallel to the Hillview Plaza was the Hillview Library, a four-story building that provided the middle ground for the two buildings to its left, the three-storied Horace Mann Institute and Walter Williams Hall, each which was announced by theme-based sculptures, the first being a stack of books and the latter being a newspaper boy on his bike, arm cocked and ready to deliver.
Beyond this array rested a large parking lot, and further south of that parking lot was a complex, also running west to east, that housed baseball and softball diamonds, a soccer field, and a field house that had an Olympic swimming pool and a small arena for basketball. South of the Hillview Athletic Complex area were more of the hills that dropped into ravines that sprouted maple and pine trees to punctuate the symmetry, order, and purpose of the domain they bordered.
The north side of the bridge gently descended into a less geometric and more eccentric arrangement of edifices which housed the people who made use of the aforementioned ones. Here too were five buildings, defined in purpose if not in the unassuming brick facades. There was one for the youngest, two for the restless, and two for those seeking refuge amidst the hills, the ravines, and the trees.
The September afternoon breeze was surprisingly crisp, etching away at the Coppertone tans and setting airborne the frivolous remnants of a summer spent as leaves rustled like applause. While not quite sweater weather, it didn’t stop the big-breasted girls from adorning such and squeezing the rest of their summer figures into jeans that precisely outlined their curves. It wasn’t the most practical attire for moving boxes into dorm rooms, but a carefully clad co-ed would be likely to secure the aid of one of many upperclassmen who would forestall his undertakings.
Music drifted among territories, cacophonous humming from a distance, as those who arrived earlier and had their rooms set up, now had their stereos blaring from open windows. As two freshman girls continued their long goodbyes outside Harmon Hall, giving in to parents’ hugs and tears and offering up a few of their own, five black students from neighboring Wagner House perched themselves atop the walls framing the entrance way, dragged on Newport’s, and sang, “Doo doo wop – hey hey hey; doo doo wop – wow wow wow; doo doo wop…,” their pronounced Afros bobbing atop their heads in hyperbolic displays of rhythm. Parallel to Wagner House, but closer to the parking lot that served all the dorms, “California Girls” boomed from a window in Vanover Hall.
These were the rites of passage for others, rites that flowed with nervous anticipation through the lifeblood in their veins, tingling with newness and surging with excitement. Here was the venue for his deepest thoughts and a confirmation that life was passing him by. The Wordman could write these stories and imagine their world even as he wore the trappings of envy like a prison jumpsuit.
Tipping its hat and bowing, the sun dipped, casting Harmon Hall and Wagner House into darkness and only offering a teasing bit of illumination Vanover’s way. As was their routine, the outside lights flickered on and hummed to no particular tune as the pristine trees, hills, and ravines yet further north joined their polar opposites to camouflage the jungle that lurked within.
The room was unassuming, a television with tin foil on its rabbit ears, two double beds, a desk with a black dial phone, and an orange-glow electric clock resting on the nightstand separating the beds. The wall-mounted air unit had kicked on upon their entry, scattering the musty particles of age. Outside, the word ‘MOTEL’ flashed in red neon above a back-lit white sign with black lettering boasting color TV, air-conditioning, and VACANCY, while its end-of-the-road location and dimly-lit parking in back advertised inconspicuous and anonymity with calculated eloquence.
He thought of her words ‘trust me’, uttered softly as she secured the restraints, and he thought of single- malt courage and its relation to decision making. She had made it happen in only ten minutes, the initial shock of the violation giving way to unrelenting, machine-like precision, knees and elbows supporting her, her even breaths blowing little parts in his gray horseshoe, the power of her body slamming onto his, her unyielding stamina, the shame of his pleasure. He had felt her breasts gently brushing the hairs on his back, saw her tresses cascading forward-and-back, in time with her thrusts, in line with his peripheral vision, forever redefining beauty in the movement of a woman’s hair. Her silence was unnerving, and the vapor of perfume, Chanel Cristalle she had told him at dinner, forever embossed. Surely it was these things that had conspired and not something in his makeup.
Now sitting upright at the side of the bed, the heel of his right palm happened upon a pasty liquid, and he lifted it to his eyes in wonderment and watched as she removed the apparatus, dainty clicks and snaps belying. With sweat beading on his forehead, heart pounding, breathing heavily, he stared at her defined midsection as she stood over him, shocked by what she did to him, her beauty a breathtaking contradiction, her female scent escaping. He moved his head forward to kiss her where it parted, grasping her bottom.
“Who said you could do that?” She slapped at his hands and backed away from him. "You need to beg me, just like you did when you begged me to not stop."
“Please,” he asked feebly. “Please, I have five hundred more dollars in my suit coat, in a billfold. Please, I have to.”
She looked into his eyes, the pockets of flesh and rivers of lines poised to tuck away moments and etch memories. She sighed and laid her body down on the bed, hair fanning evenly over the pillow, breasts unyielding to gravity or position, one knee up, hands clasped behind her head, eyes straining upward against their oval lids as he approached her, crawling. The word ‘dignity’ came to her mind as she sought distraction from the sweaty bald spot moving in awkward patterns between her legs. She glanced at the suit coat draped over the desk’s chair and remembered the five-hundred dollars therein. She thought of position and power and the absence excuses it provided under the umbrella of responsibility. Her mind drifted to money and influence, but her eyes grew weary and dropped, chancing a glance at his behind, and they happened upon a dollop of Vaseline perched between its hemispheres. The snorting and lapping sounds of his mouth conjured a thirsty dog at its water bowl, and she remembered the post-dinner cigar dangling from there as she thought of his saliva being deposited with no consideration for the meticulous waxing and trimming or the pristine balance afforded through vinegar and water. And she thought of being a whore.
The clock, its black needle aimlessly completing rotations, provided mercy from his gluttonous ministrations; his time was up. She rose, put on the bathroom light, and deftly slipped into her clothing, straightening out the blouse and sliding on her skirt to join it. There was an envelope on the desk. She counted the money and helped herself to the contents of the billfold in his suit coat.
“I guess someone learned something about himself tonight.” She continued preening in the mirror, his slouched-over, pear-shaped body reflecting, breathing laboriously, the sheen of his sweat finding expression. “Thank you for dinner. Sorry, but I’m in a rush. I’ve got a busy day at school tomorrow.”
The door closed quietly, and the echoes of her footsteps grew faint and disappeared as the air unit resoundingly intruded with a cold blast. The red lights of the flashing neon gave their tempo of illumination against the drapery. The imprints where her body had lain danced haphazardly in the ventilation, and cutting in, he gathered the sheets to his face and breathed deeply.