During years at first long and full of portent, then short and comforting, they slept close beside each other. Alice came to accept his light snore and learned how to stir him when it got loud. Tim became used to the bracelets she wore to bed, silver moths in the dark. They did not share blankets in the summer, for he was always a little warmer, but did in the winter, when she appreciated his radiating bulk. He became used to the way she sprang out of her dreams.
He called them awakenings. She would surge, pivoting up violently, exhilarated by the vividness of the apparitions. Whether in amusement or sadness or fear or curiosity, she was agitated and transported. She often awoke laughing, a joke sleep told her and it seemed to him somehow unsetlling, not the province of humor. Often she had difficulty re-orienting herself to the bed and the room. The emotional state of the dream threatened to wash over consciousness. Her rambling descriptions were detailed and lengthy, highly nuanced. At first he thought them related to the movies they occasionally watched in bed. But while they did often provide fodder or scene, she had them regardless. His reactions varied. Sometimes he just went back to sleep while she was still talking. No matter the years he never was quite comfortable with all these things going on next to him. They shared love, time, the house, the room and the bed, but the import of these visions had for her made him slightly resentful.
His own recurrent dream was of small spaces, redolent in camphor and rot, leather and wood and cardboard, all bent, compressed, cracking. Things that were once stacked and stored became, through decay and gravity, mere piles. They were the dreams not of words but of scents, reactions to chemical signals in the air. Musty rot and constriction filled the small room of instinctual impulses. Cheap articles, a generation of mass produced consumer goods that intimated quality, but were in truth flimsy, these things were him and his and his family and its legacy. He discovered each night an attic of the things which good intention saved for him but turned out truly worthless. He was mildly claustrophobic while awake. The terror was the rot seeping by contact into him as disease.The real panic came as an avalanche of degenerating materiel.
This came from real life. The avalanche was pages, pages and pages in thick hard cover books there were always books just like in life they were just there. No one needs the gross quantity of books that history scholars do. Even tidy scholars, ones who stack and use bookmarks or post-it notes ended up with defiant piles and stacks. And he was not a tidy scholar. Add the fact that his particular emphasis was the history of religion, with all its disputation and interpretation meant that the danger of being crushed in his waking life was only slightly less likely than in his dreams.
“Doctor Robb, can I talk to you?” The student was standing in front of his desk.
Geli Raubel was what came to mind when she walked into class the first day. A tall blond girl with a wide face and a big smile. Gemutlichkeit and Zaftig, like Alice, simply his type. Her name wasn’t Geli Raubel it was Dierdre Jones. (Geli Raubel was Hitler’s niece and rumored to be his beloved. She killed herself under mysterious circumstances right before or after Hitler rose to power.) Tim always remembered a photograph of her, maybe in Shirer, finding the photograph of one so innocent and beautiful, surrounded by such evil, poignant, chilling.
Yes, Miss uh…” he stalled though he knew, “Jones, right?” instead of flattering her, this makes her more nervous. “Yes. I am a little uncomfortable with some of the things you’ve been saying in class.”
It happened every few years. Someone with strong (or was it weak?) religious convictions would show up in class. Sometimes they were evangelicals trying to set the world straight. He had developed a repertoire of responses for them:
“Faith is the evidence of things unseen make for a nice poster, but we’re engaging in scholarship here and I need some evidence on which to grade you…Sources and text may be antithetical or even blasphemous to you…..This is the study of religion and not the religion itself. Therefore we have to consider different interpretations and scholarship and historical data when looking at these subjects take a scholarly approach and treat all the aspects…While you may believe there is one true faith, the fact is that there are different faiths and different interpretations of faith here at this college and here in this classroom. Can any one dispute this fact?” No one ever raised a hand “And even assuming they are completely wrong about God and you are completely right, do you dispute their right to be here?” No answer. And so on.
He forgot which of his pat answers sufficed the first time.
He was careful not to describe the house as Victorian to those who hadn’t seen it. It was Victorian in style and dated from around 1875. It had a substantial porch, gingerbread, especially lots of knobbed dowels, the tall windows, clapboard siding, the works. But it was not tall or gabled, the characteristics, those things most people expected. Somebody called it a cottage and he felt that didn’t quite fit either. He didn’t like the connotation of bungalow either. The main floor was spacious and large, with two parlors, a formal dining room and a study. The kitchen was small but he and Alice developed an appreciation for its efficiency. The floor served beautifully for entertaining and visits and even an occasional small meeting. It allowed both of them to work at home on the same day without being bothersome to one another.
The first floor was all of most anyone else ever saw of the house. The basement was a cellar, mud walls and brick floor, with a dankness that kept it empty and practically useless. There were three steps at the landing a the top of the stairs. One door was a closet and another was for the bathroom. There were was a short hall to the left and then doors to each of the bedrooms.
What they called the guest bedroom might have been designed to keep visists as short as possible. Alice and Tim struggled with a solution for years, but never improved upon the original layout. A twin bed was pushed against two walls and allowed a lodger to sidle by to the dresser a the other end of the room. A small table cowered in the corner always in danger of being bumped by any traffic whatever. There was a window but placed high on the wall under the gable end and so while providing light, would afford a view only to a tall man standing on the bed. Only eight people had ever slept in the room. Two very close friends, academics and so of modest means interviewing for jobs at the university, had each spent a night. Three times over served party guests slept it off. Tim’s had a grad assistant, distraught over a troubled relationship stay over but two nights in the room and he decided to tough it out. On the other hand, either of his two sisters stayed in the room without a complaint, thereby confirming her opinion that they were fundamentally insentient. Her brother took one look at it and headed to the couch and the rest of her family, adequately forewarned, stayed at hotels.
They always kept the door to their bedroom closed. The meagerness of the guest room was apparent to anyone who looked into it. But it become embarrassing when compared to the room across the landing. Whereas the other bedroom and bathroom were long and shallow across the back of the house, the master bedroom, or attic as they called it, ran the width of the house and more than half the depth. A crude calculation estimated it about 900 square feet.
“It really is a strange room.” Tim said as they gave it a coat of paint.
“I love it.” Alice countered.
“Oh, I do too. But it is odd. People didn’t build bedrooms like this.”
“I think they were too hard to heat. You want your bedroom warm. That little fireplace couldn’t have possibly heated this whole room.”
“Maybe they liked their bedroom cold.” She said cheerfully.
“But it just wasn’t done.”
“Maybe it used to be two rooms.”
He had considered and rejected the notion before, but for effect or indulgence he looked around. “No. There are no signs of it. All the lines are intact. The woodwork is all period. It’s like he anticipated the way people live now. People don’t have six and eight kids. Lots of people don’t have any. But they love their bedrooms and the larger the better. You wonder what was going through the builders mind. It’s really curious.”
She looked at him blankly. When he made a point that she didn’t feel like thinking about or understanding, she looked at him in a way that made him feel like he was dissolving before her eyes.
“You know when you react that way you make me feel like a servant clearing away a dish.” This may have been over sensitivity, but she came from money and he did not. She often and unintentionally made him acutely aware of the fact. Along those lines, Tim felt she couldn’t adequately appreciate the room and how it suited them.
“I don’t think you understand how really unique it is.” He stated in an antagonistic way.
But she couldn’t be bothered. “On the contrary, I consider it a small miracle.”
This was about how their arguments went. She didn’t like to argue and he did, but he applied a professional courtesy to it, stopping before he said anything mean or really confrontational.
One entered their room from what felt like the back and, as you faced in, slightly to the left of center. On either side of the room were a pair of six foot tall double hung windows with four panes in each sash and a stained glass transom light above each. There were two peaked dormers dividing the front into equal thirds. The bed was to the right back of the room. In the left corner was a separate entrance to the bath and between it a the door was a chest of drawers. They had struggled to appropriately fill up the room. A small writing desk was in one corner and a make up table in the other. Both were rarely used, dusting practice. There was a beautiful old armoire on one wall that they bought because they loved it and because they had the space. It stored off season clothes. A large walk in closet ran behind the wall where the headboard of the bed was.
That the windows faced the street hardly mattered. The trees were all you could see. Everywhere there were many when they moved in and he insisted on more, choosing red bud and dogwood and sumac that grew fast and didn’t need a lot of sunlight and paper birches for the white contrast of the trunks and arbor vitae for the green and even in winter the housed was curtained on all four sides. The quiet street and a front yard full of trees made it absolutely private. They had no curtains on the windows; there was no need. The glass was all original hand blown and cast bubbly shadows on the floor. He said it was vaguely expressionist and she said “Sol…” somebody and he didn’t know.
They were naked late into many days.
Miss Jones kept at it, interrupting classes. He tried to ignore it. At one point, early in his career, he took a more jocose approach to the issue, addressing it in class, delighting the more agnostic majority. Until a student, a young lady, really a girl had taken his rebuttal at first seriously then gravely, becoming depressed, having a crisis of faith and, rumor was, attempting suicide. Slapstick is not the lowest form of humor, singling someone out is and it is the easiest form as well.
“What you are saying is offensive to me.” She was very cool; it felt rehearsed.
“We are supposedly engaged in scholarship here.” And when she didn’t respond. “Okay What is bothering you?”
“When you talk about Judaism evolving out of other religious concepts, that Baal for example was just another competing deity.”
“Well we have some pretty good archeological and historical data from sites in and around Judea that we draw on.”
She didn’t allow much of a pause. “The bible is the word of god delivered to man. The Jews didn’t just think it up and it didn’t evolve out of some other ideas that were floating around at the time. And Baal, well everyone knows that Baal is short for Beelzebub.”
Alice had a wide jaw, soft nose large eyes and frankly enormous lips were the features of twilight, of pornography. She aged little in fifteen years. The area beneath her eyes had a developing darkness, a trait inherited from her mother, but bit was not yet pronounced and it the attic it returned to some point in the future. She moved from exercise trend to trend, leaving hrr specifically disappointed but generally slender. But a small unfashionable belly that vexed her but that he loved . They had sex regularly,
nightly for days at a time and in the morning too. She was less inhibited, he was more adventurous but after time and experimentation most of it was on the near side of a conventional perversity, they settled into a diet of the things they liked and the dialogue of needs was had a casual terseness.
Alice had started an MFA in Photography but never finished. She edited the arts section of the local paper. It was a good job, a fun job and beneficial in a small college town as it helped them keep up with everything going on. They had grown up in cities and felt an impulse or habit regarding the world of the arts. Or maybe keeping up was their way of rationalizing the choice to live in the small town. Many of their friends were the people they saw at the various events and eventually it sort of coalesced into a social clique around Tim and Alice. He thought it was their charm. Alice knew that social groups rarely formed due to genuine affection but rather elements like commonality, convenience, routine and presence. Tim and Alice attended practically everything, had no children, a big house, at least for entertaining purposes and threw parties well and frequently. He liked to say that they were the glue that held things together. She tried a few times to intimate that though they were the glue, it held together something rather insubstantial. But he held to the idea with such blind passion that any convincing she might have done would not be worth the effort.
One night Alice woke him from a deep sleep. She had an awestruck look that surfaced when a dream was especially vivid. But she was not frightened or amused. He turned and began to roll away from her but she stopped him. He was sleepy and tired and annoyed generally tonight by Dierdre Jones and wishing to go back to sleep. She was staring at him, looking at him, staring into one eye then the other, scanning the features of his face. He had seen similar behavior before as she re-oriented herself to the world but this was so much more so, as if she was trying to identify and get him to reciprocate.
“Dream?” He asked, hoping to be spared the full description.
She stopped scanning and got a puzzled look on her face “I don’t think so,” She said and frowned with the effort of comprehension. “There were angels.”
He shut his eyes as he would have rolled them all the way into the back of his head. He didn’t want to have a discussion about the dream, so he just said, “Uh huh.”
This was a tactical mistake for she rejoined it with an evangelical response. “No there were angels. And they had a message. And it was that we would be happy. Forever. We would live in heaven forever in peace. That god loves us. Open your eyes. Don’t you see how wonderful this is? There is heaven and we will go there. Together. I saw it. It was a place of…. warm… peace. I can’t describe it to you but you have to believe me. There is mothing to worry about. everything is going to be fine.”
“Honey, you had a dream. I know…”
“No it wasn’t a dream. It was a vision. A glimpse of heaven. A vision. There is an afterlife. I know that you always said you didn’t know but I’m telling you. I saw it.”
From that moment everything was just slightly different. Or rather she was slightly different and that threw him off
Tim was tired. He lost his temper. Like the old days there were some small sniggers but she interrupted him.
He sighed “You are a fundamentalist?
“I was brought up a Baptist.”
Would you agree that there are more than one interpretation of the Bible?”
“There is only one right interpretatyion.”
“But other people, other people who call themselves Christians may interpret it”
differently than you
“They are wrong. There is only a lityeral reading of the Bible.”
“ So even if they are wrong you don’t think they have a right to be here
“ No. You are wrong. This is a Christian College and it’s charter is for teaching with the mission of bringing Christ’s word to humanity. I’m sorry Doctor, but I’m going to make a formal complaint and my Dadd…, my father has promised to back me on this. And he knows members of the board.”
Alice woke him.
“What are you doing in here?”
He didn’t answer, still too asleep to understand the question. He had been dreaming. He was in a small room. His head was bowed. He was sitting at a kind of table with others. He knew not who, for he couldn’t lift his head to see them, nor could they see him. They were talking but had difficulty understanding one another. They were hurtling through space, outer space he guessed, for though they seemed temporarily sheltered, the environment was limitless and hostile. He felt cold on his extremities. It was becoming hard to breath. In some way, time was running out. There was no hope.
“You were dreaming.” He had been sleeping in the guest bedroom. She woke him but the cold panic had been worked into his bones. Tears rolled down his cheek. He remembered now getting up and leaving her, feeling the need to be away from her. He had fled into the other room, to the stiff mattress, thin pillow and the coarse blanket.
“Come back to bed.” She looked at him, moving her gaze from eye to eye, trying to find a portal, a way to get through to him. She pushed her tangled hair back. Her silver bracelets fluttered, like moths still, but different now. They were her possessions now, not his sign. There was no reassurance to be had by her being there. “Come back to bed with me.”
Faith is the evidence of things unseen: Makes for a very nice poster.
A person with strong religious conmvictions or perhaps weak ones,
“He visited her at the hospital where she frogave him, her faith renewed Llater he heard she was into dianetics. Since then when the naifs came around he was gentler.
What you are saying is offensive to me
Okay What is bothering you?
When you talk about judaism evolving out of other religious concepts, that Baal for example was just another competing rligion
“Well we have some pretty good artchaelogical and historical data from sites in and around Judea that we draw on.”
She didn’;t allow much of a pause. “ I believe that the bible is the word of god delivered to man. The jews didn’t just thin it up and it didn’t evelolve out of some other ideas that were floating around at the time. And Baal, well everyone knows that Baal is short for Beelzebub.”