Fish Lake

Readers,

Summer approaches! Perhaps one could say it is already here. After all, it is almost June! That means long weekends spent in Hancock. I cannot wait. That town is truly my muse (not that I need to remind any of you of that). I think that I could write my entire lifetime and never fully extinguish that innate need to put the town on paper. My inspiration for the day will be summer. It is the season that opens the outdoors to the bustle of people. There is a carelessness, a sense of endless days of vacationing.  Every day inside during the summer feels like a betrayal. Enough of my rambling, let’s move on to the passage.

Fish Lake

Edward was unlikely to find another time to fulfill his desire to cross the lake and explore a place nearby and yet exotic from his own. Stuck in front of a gathering of oaks, half-hidden by their sloping colorless branches a sign hung; holes perforated the wood, filtering spots of light colored warmly by the dusk. “Tomorrow Wood.” An arrow pointed down a new road, narrower, a thin line stenciled between heavy pines. It had the appearance of a medieval town, a dirtied fence marking its borders and strands of lights hung in patterns around the steel campers in an attempt at lost pageantry. Some had makeshift and temporary gardens outside their doors; others had rusted over in abandonment. Edward wanted to see the campground rather depend on the stories of others. A chill dominated the spring air, a force so strong it brought down branches all along the roads, heavy wooden things that required two men to lift them back to the ditches. Swimmers quit the water, wrapping their bodies in bath towels until they no longer saw the network of blue veins shining through the skin. The shoreline stood vacated, which did not bother Edward since he did not want to attract the stares of greater men as he struggled with the weight of the oar. Paddling out from the beach, Edward did not mind the cold—it did not pursue him in the way long hikes ravaged his lungs or a cold condemned him to a week of bedrest indoors. He and Hanna had only been married a month and she already knew him as a sickly man. Marriage exposed the intricacies of his fraud during their courtship (the lazy activities of the day that required no great stamina, hours of exchanging conversation at the Indian Mounds). In his bouts of illness since they married, Hanna had cared for him with offerings of blankets and foods, but she had been exposed to the deceit so she left the bedroom after tending to Edward without concern.
Hanna had left early in the morning to visit her parents, her hair bound into curls and a new dress newly stitched. Edward had politely refused the invitation, blaming a cough that had developed late in the night. At the big house near the farm, Edward felt shiftless and unwelcomed, merely an extension of Hanna that was not necessary for her survival. Hanna’s mother spoke only to him if addressed, her pale hands folded over her lap. She held onto a frail beauty that fought to be seen as decorated, an everlasting example amongst the townspeople. Up close, Edward could see the fineness of her powder; she looked away from him so that he could only see her neck, pulled taut by the movement. The patriarch, Francis, stood griseled in the corner like a crude statue, waiting to return to work after the interruption of forced pleasantries. Edward did not wish to be judged by a man who glared at him when passing through the makeshift office in the living room (placed under the glare of a golden clock, which was “worth more than home itself” Hanna boasted). Without questioning Hanna had left him alone in their house, taking only flowers from her garden. Perhaps she was glad not to spend her afternoon on the brink of an apology for allowing herself to be won over by a man who could not make a living without her own connections.
“You can be a bookkeeper at the farm,” Hanna had told him. “I asked and my father said you could have the job.”
Edward knew that he had no qualifications to take the job as he lacked any experience with keeping books, but he had not let on to Hanna. It would only add to his shame. The only skill he had been taught in his childhood was how to stay alive and how to pray. His mother had been concentrated on sweeping him into adulthood with her mix of herbs and her God; it was not her fault that she forgot to impart all the temportal lessons along the way.
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Edward’s Goodbye

Hello Readers,

This section is a curious one. It is the only one in the novel that will stray from the third person to the first–I conceived of it as almost a ghostly elegy from beyond the grave. Thus the inspiration of the day is going to be….

The elegy.

I liked the idea of this person, Edward, telling the reader who he was or at least the motivations behind some of his more unlikeable decisions (namely, not telling Hanna he was sick) and giving a little vignette of the romance between him and Hanna. A lot of the novel is about the seeking out of Edward–Leon searches for the basic facts of his father’s life and death and even Edward himself tries to find a clear way to define himself. Now, let us turn to Edward and hear from him:

Edward’s Goodbye

            I remember her belt–a thin circle of twine tied along her hipbones. I do not know why but I felt that the girl who would wear a belt full of rugged charm must possess the ferocity of Eleanor of Aquitaine. But he locked her up, my mother would protest if I spoke too kindly of her (her name still passed down to me, centuries later, even if she was buried in a priory). Hanna carried her head in noble fashion, haughtily lifted to scan her lands alongside the farmer’s market. I knew her family as they owned one of the largest farms in the county, culminating in a white-painted house resting on top of the hill like a citadel. Hanna, I will take you to the Indian mounds and teach you. She giggled, running her sun-freckled hands over her skirt. She agreed in the laissez-faire manner that she was doubtless taught (her mother stood a few yards away, her hands bound together in front of her chest, before finally walking over to shake my hand but never meeting my eye. She had smooth white skin under the cover of her straw hat, her black hair tucked under in looped knot).

            A month later, I knew that I loved Hanna and as for my lady Eleanor, Hanna would learn from her (that rugged belt, I found out, was the sole sharpness that Hanna shared with the lady of Aquitaine). It still took an hour after we joined each other’s company before Hanna said my name or moved closer to me. When asked how she spent her days, she responded with a predictable chorus of “in the garden.” Some days she arrived still wearing her gardening gloves. When she took my hand I knew she would rather be tending to her flowers (I had never seen flowers bloom with such pigmentation).

            “Can I kiss your neck?” I whispered to her while watching the old fishermen sit undisturbed in their boats. She stared ahead, a redness engulfing her neck, her apples of her cheeks clawed by the same heat. She blinked back tears, forcing them back to where they originated.

            “Don’t say that,” Hanna ordered. She pulled at the gardening gloves on her hands, tugging at her fingers. A minute later she faced me, a pink smile on show.

            “I bet Eleanor liked that line,” she laughed. I gathered her hands and kissed the fingertips through the gloves (such a small surface area). I taught her the skill of skipping a stone afterwards, minding not to be caught staring too long at her throat or the spin of her hips.

            “Hanna you are a born rock skipper,” I sang. She bowed her head, masking the grin she gained from the compliment. I want to know when I made you happy so that I can take those counts to the grave. Henry made Eleanor simper with laughter—in that time after they wed it must have been a loved number, a number that slipped into bed with him and kept her company when her love shared his nights with blonde-haired mistresses.

            “Who do you want to marry? What kind of man?” I asked her.

            “One who can uproot trees,” she said after a pause. It was in this response that I decided not to tell her that my childhood had been followed by a period of consumption. Perhaps it was a deception that doomed any chance for a successful marriage. I never felt stronger than when I knew that she thought me capable of great deeds—in my mind I built a railroad with each strike of the metal strengthening my sinews. I still hoped in those days that the disease was merely an interlude from God, a test all the faithful must endure—the book on saints depicted greater healings. I know that I forced on Hanna a veil of ignorance. My parents worried each year of my life that I would be buried next to my sisters and the stillborns. They spent more time in the cemetery than the grave-diggers. “If it was not for the misery,” my mother would say in her husked whisper, “I would have a churchyard full of children under the ground.” I would keep Hanna under my hands, glancing away shyly, never told to commit to an action that may reveal desire.

            “Marry me, Hanna. Marry me please,” I pleaded as we lay on our backs on the Indian mounds, a pair. As a blessed child born among death, my parents never made me beg for books or toys—my first plea (the chroniclers always noted these moments in a saint’s life).

            “Yes, I will marry you, Edward,” Hanna relented. I found a woman to rule over my life. I thought she loved me too the way she flickered a tiger grin.

 

A Wild Call

Friends and readers, I have been a busy bee in regards to my writing, which is good because it makes me feel that I am not wasting my time on this earth watching episodes of “Chopped” and figuring out a way to make my bang cowlicks less prominent. I feel like I should offer life updates, but that would require me to actually have news to bring you. At present, I am just counting down the days until spring and excited to open my family’s cottage in Hancock Wisconsin (careful readers may recognize that Hancock is where a large portion of this novel takes place). Enjoy the piece of writing and enjoy the rest of your Wednesday–I know that can be quite a task.

Inspiration of the day: my brother Kyle. I do not know any boy like him. He is vulnerable but strong willed, witty and humorous to the point where I think he should be a character in a Judd Apatow movie...I like to add a little bit of Kyle's personality to my male characters.

Inspiration of the day: my brother Kyle. I do not know any boy like him. He is vulnerable but strong willed, witty and humorous to the point where I think he should be a character in a Judd Apatow movie…I like to add a little bit of Kyle’s personality to my male characters.

Edward took off his threadbare shoes at the door, skidding across the wood floors with his sweat-slickened feet. Even as he moved through this trickery, he knew that she would appear in the doorway of the bedroom, her white cotton nightgown tented around her thin body. As he drank another ale at the bar Edward had played out this little scene in his mind, an imaginative theater coming alive in a brain opened by alcohol. In this fantasy the dispute ended with her tears, delicate like pearls sent down her cheeks into her clavicle. Hanna inhabited the role of heroines from Victorian dime novels, almost dissolving into air. In his hubris, Edward dropped his shoes to the floor, puddling a noise through the household. It was just as well, he thought. She would find him. On cue, Hanna’s figure paused at the doorway of the bedroom they shared, her auburn hair braided tightly along her back.
“I hate that smell,” she seethed.
Edward stepped closer to his wife, his whole body swaying beneath him. Your father always had a story at his disposal when he drank, Samuel the bartender had told him that night. As a child Edward had seen Samuel around his house, bringing wild turkeys for his mother and jars of gin for his father. Even as his father slowly died over years, Samuel returned week after week with a claret grin under his white mustache, not minding the silence. After his father’s death, Samuel stopped his regular visits, but he still brought his mother a fresh turkey for her birthday dinner. Despite his connection to Edward’s family, Edward did not believe Samuel’s tale. He glimpsed his father sitting at the table, his head bent over the jar of gin as if in prayer. He had no story to tell, just a wild call of a sob. Sitting at the barstool across from Samuel, Edward had many words he wanted to say. Samuel, you knew the prize of my father–you did not see the runt of the litter hidden away from the world. You saw what he wanted you to see–and I saw what he wanted no one to know.
“I hope you get sick just to show you that you can’t drink,” Hanna continued, bearing her teeth, small pieces of white shining in the limited light.
“What if I died to prove your point?” Edward retorted. The warmness of the liquor enveloped everything–his stomach, his limbs, the tops of his cheeks. He enjoyed a sensation that seemed to brighten his body, not destroy it, make it more at ease even in doing the simple task of living.
“I don’t even care,” Hanna replied, her voice no longer heavy with anger but resigned and purposeful as if she knew the answer.
“What did you say?” Edward asked, stepping backwards in bewilderment. He could feel his fingertips going numb and whitening. Perhaps they had been that way for a long while but at that moment he could not help but deem it a visceral reaction to a betrayal.

Tuesday Afternoon

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She died Tuesday afternoon. Leon worked the library counter that day, his eyelids binding together and threatening to stay shut in a reprieve of sleep. It had been an eventful night with his mother, her hacks awaking him every hour like ghosts coming for his soul. Leon walked through the house, bringing a mug of tea to her bedside (in the height of darkness he could not see whether her blinded eyes darted to the sound of his dragging steps or if she remained in a painful sleep). Still, he rarely took days off of work and would not make an exception that day. In his sleep-deprived haze Leon allowed a group of haggling boys to congregate in the romance section, stealing the hardcovers off of the counters to pass an afternoon.
“Read this!” their leader spoke, pointing to the page.
By the hour that Leon closed his novel with a shaking hand and walked home for the day, she was already gone. Another day, he thought. He wished she had waited another day.
The following Tuesday, Leon met Marnie. Flouncing one leg adorned in a brilliant cobalt cotton in front of the other, she handed him a stack of novels she had found at a garage sale. Sitting on his plastic chair outside the library, the book sale emptied of its customers in the mid-day, Leon asked her to stay awhile for company. Her hands smoothing down her white pressed linen blouse, Marnie sat on the edge of the table. At his home, Leon and Marnie stayed up past two in the morning, passing a glass of whiskey back and forth between them, gritting their teeth when too much alcohol poured down their throats. In the moments when the glass changed hands, Leon wondered why he had been so long alone. As his generation of men wooed women in the dormatories at their colleges and the endless nights of the street dances, he had been resistant to the idea. His mother, after all, had been a solitary woman and happy for her years to herself. Leon lived nearly his whole life in a void of singularity, without the inevitable show of people coupling up. He could not recall his grandparents and he had no aunt and uncles to prove the happiness that could be brought on by affection. At age 57 he would have to traverse the existence of living as a pair.

Eleanor of Aquitaine

I have been on a Plantagenet kick as of late (don’t recognize that word? It’s the house that ruled England from Henry II in 1154 until the death of Richard III in 1485). There is the allure of courtly love, of chivalry, and of course the rebellious family rivalries. Most of all, I love Eleanor of Aquitaine, the wife of Henry II and mother of Richard the Lionheart, John and many many more children who would be scattered over the thrones of Europe. I implore you to read a biography on her–as a woman who lived to be 82 years old in a time when people would be lucky to live half that long, she had a fascinating life from her first marriage to Louis the king of France, her travels with Louis to the Holy Land as part of a Crusade, the early days of her marriage to Henry II (her equal in temperament and sexual appetite), as well as her imprisonment by Henry once he realized she was the one inciting their sons to rebel against him. What a lady. Anyways, her legend figures into this part of my novel, told from the point of Edward:

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Inspiration of the day: Eleanor of Aquitaine. Katherine Hepburn does the lady justice in “Lion in Winter” opposite Peter O’Toole as Henry II. She inhabits all of Eleanor’s courage, wit, spite, and ego.

“I remember her belt–a thin circle of twine tied along her hipbones. I do not know why but I felt that the girl who would wear a belt full of rugged charm must possess the ferocity of Eleanor of Aquitaine. But he locked her up, my mother would protest if I spoke too kindly of her (her name still passed down to me, centuries later, even if she was buried in a priory). Hanna carried her head in noble fashion, haughtily lifted to scan her lands alongside the farmer’s market. I knew her family as they owned one of the largest farms in the county, culminating in a white-painted house resting on top of the hill like a citadel. Hanna, I will take you to the Indian mounds and teach you. She giggled, running her sun-freckled hands over her skirt. She agreed in the laissez-faire manner she was doubtless taught (her mother stood a few yards away, her hands bound together in front of her chest, before finally walking over to shake my hand but never meeting my eye. She had smooth white skin under the cover of her straw hat, her black hair tucked under in looped knot).”

Inheritance

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Inspiration of the day: love! I will give into cliche just this once! What is love? Damned if I know.

Nothing says “Happy Valentine’s Day” like some productive time writing! Is it just me who thinks that way? I should admit that it was a productive day writing AND eating chocolate. That sounds much more festive. To introduce the following section, I just want to say that it is when Leon tells his mother about his intentions to build a new library for the town. I’ll let them take it from here…

“There is no money in it,” Leon’s mother protested, unable to rise from her armchair. Weeds crept into her garden, even as Leon did his best to pull them before his mother could make her way to the window to see the destruction. She went blind early on in her illness so she was spared the sight of the high grasses shielding any remaining trestle of vibrant color.

“I don’t need money,” Leon answered his mother, refilling her glass with water. Her body tricked her into a sense of constant dehydration. She did not ask for more, only clutched the base of the cup, her shrunken hand shaking it against the wood table, a drumming vibration.

“I never cared for books,” she sighed. “You must have gotten it from your father.”

Leon could not recall the last mention of his father. His mother stopped referring to him by name before Leon learned how to spell it. He had to ask her for his name when creating a family tree (she did not know his birth date, just a year, and the names of his parents, his mother dead of consumption on her birthday and his father leaving an inheritance of a wall of books). Leon had wanted a story as a child standing before his only living relative—a world existed before him and he longed to know the each thread. His mother told him that she had worn the veil belonging to Edward’s mother, a thin lace piece that dusted the chapel’s floor. After the ceremony, Edward cried upon seeing the darkened color of the fabric—the guilt broke her out in hives, rashes along her stomach the color of dried blood. Leon wondered the fate of the veil. He had never seen a picture of it—his mother packed the sole copy of the wedding portrait with Edward.

“Who else would have wanted a copy?” his mother explained, warning of a stern end to the conversation. A patch of eczema flared along her high cheekbones, stinging the skin all around it. Along her lip-lines a crusted white film traced the shape—she picked at the corners, dipping a nail deeper into the chalkiness.

“Let me get some lotion,” Leon told her, squeezing her other hand. He neglected these small tasks—he would need to do better, for her. Some day he would want to ask her about the veil, if the lace was well-made by hands who knew the craft. Sitting upon the arm of the chair (rasping under him—it was as old as the house itself, threadbare over a frail skeleton), Leon drew a line around his mother’s mouth with the lotion. She winced as he dragged his finger back and forth across the cracked skin—he hardly recognized the feel of skin beneath his fingertips.

A Meal Among Friends

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Inspiration of the day: Johnstown flood. I am reading a book about the flood–I think the horrific force of water in such an early industrial age plays into my fascination with how man tries to control nature with sometimes little success.

This scene occurs as Edward and mystic girl stop at her relative’s house outside a still young and wild Minneapolis. They rest there for a night with John and Anya before reaching the Mississippi the following day.

“The couple bowed their heads in prayer, a brief Midwestern invocation. Lifting her head afterwards, Anya patted down her ruddy cheeks, pushing away tears with an honest smile. Her husband planted a firm hand on her shoulder, her body going soft beneath it. Pulling Anya’s head towards him, John kissed her temple. Edward focused on the plate in front of him, remaining still as not to trespass on a private manifestation of love. They were young, younger than he was, and assured in their forgiving love. It was as domestic as the hearth. Hiccupping a laugh, Anya placed a potato on each of the wooden plates.

“You silly man,” she demurred, shaking her dark head while piercing open her potato. The first few months of his marriage to Hanna, Edward had been acutely aware of a rising loneliness, which even his wife’s presence could not resolve. She conversed sparsely, politely as she had been taught. Hanna did not care for music, literature or religion; she knew the names of many plants but only listed them when prompted. If she existed in a vivid internal world, she allowed no sign of it. Still, Hanna kissed him in the morning upon rising and before closing the day in their marriage bed—she kept her eyes open during the kiss, a wholesome offering. He knew when facing her, hands gripping her waist to steady the act, that love and loneliness could coexist, independent of one another (separated like Hanna and him, apart in the house until joining in bed at night). Did it matter then that Hanna had not been his savior?

Lifting their glasses, the group heralded a new friendship. The mystic girl let out a high-pitched hoot, sending a round of giggles around the table like a story passed around the fire. John laughed the loudest, a reverberating chuckle that was octaves higher than his speaking voice.”

Losing Your Hair

Weeks before construction began on the highway, Marnie lost large chunks of her hair, patches missing along the cowlicks on either side of her head. In bed with Marnie in front of him, Leon inspected the spots, moving his fingers along the skull as if committing the architecture to memory. The spot sunk under the warmth of his fingers, an intimate beauty in the sway of the concavity. Her skin was lighter there, colored only with the spattering of freckles.

“How does it look?” Marnie questioned, no sad connection to the loss. She turned her head, setting her sharp chin on a shelf-like clavicle. She nibbled on the inside of her cheek, puncturing the skin in oblong gashes. Leaning forward into Marnie, Leon patted between her shoulder blades, kissing where the neck met the spine (it lacked the familiarity of other places—the newness excited him).

“It’s fine,” he replied.” I am sure it is just the stress.”

At once, Marnie fell upon her pillow, her hand wedged between the cotton case and tangled hair on her cowlick. Stretching out his own body on the mattress, Leon took his place alongside her. Propping her head upon her palm, Marnie looked at him, edging her mouth into a smirk. Leon shared a glance with her (as he aged, he found himself appreciating the pauses in conversation where no one worried whether their words were met with understanding).

“I passed Tomorrow Wood today when I was walking. The kids were out by the water playing with sparklers. I watched them run in the dark and everything was so colorful. I finally think I understood what you see in all this. Not that I don’t love Hancock but for a second I saw beyond it.”

Leon stared at the ceiling, caulked designs breaking up the uniform ivory color. It danced in his mind. He would try to focus on the shapes of the ceiling, not Marnie’s missing hair or the heat of color running along the banks of the lake. He let the stress of it all freeze his jaw, the whole network of bones building an inflating pressure that pulled at his skin.

“I wish I had been there,” he said, untangling a strand of Marnie’s hair that had wrapped around his finger.  It belonged to him now.

Trek to the Boundaries

Happy New Year! I look to 2013 to fulfill the desires I have long since identified for myself and those that I am unable to articulate. All things may not come to pass, but I think some blind faith at the beginning helps to ease an often pessimistic mind. This passage picks up two months after Leon learns that the sanatorium will be shut down.

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Inspiration of the day: Seymour Glass. Perhaps it is because his life and end resembles a member of my family who I never knew, but Seymour Glass is one of the characters that comes to life on the page. He is one of my favorites in all of literature.

“Two months later, he returned. Leon drove past the three Hancock bars, still welcoming customers in with neon letters that long since burned out but had never been replaced. The library stood like a monument to all his dreams—even the flowers planted outside the front door remained the same variety. Leon had made Hancock his study; he knew its history, its families, and the empty trails that waited in the woods (he loved the mystery of their creator, perhaps another like him who dedicated his life to the town and spent the evenings trekking to its boundaries). He had never lost the geography of the place, not even when his illness flushed through him most ravenously. Regardless, he had settled into the reality that he would die without seeing its crumbling infrastructure again—he had resigned himself to a plot of land outside the sanatorium, solitary even among the rows of other tombstones but a man with little legacy deserved nothing more. A pair of fishermen shared a joke and a metal flask outside the bait shop, spilling drops of liquid down their khaki clothing. Leon wondered if they had spied him—and if they would recognize him if they had.

His house had remained in his name. Expecting broken windows and overgrown wild grass along the porch, Leon found only trimmed greenery and a place dusty but not overcome by age and disuse. Setting his suitcase down upon his quilt, he began the process of unpacking. He had few belongings at the sanatorium and even fewer objects collected over the years. Only a thermometer and a stack of unused stationary hinted at a man home from an adventure. Alone on the nightstand, the thermometer looked larger than usual (but it was beautiful in the sunlight, polished and antiquated). Leon picked it up and hid it in the medicine cabinet—it would not tempt him into contagious loneliness or sickness there. Making his rounds about the house, Leon tested the stove and the furnace, both kicking into life upon his touch.”

The Caravan of Families

I do not have much to share–just writing and reading plenty. The whole business of doing so keeps my soul happy.

Inspiration of the day: V. Woolf. More like inspiration of my life. She was one of the few writers who understood life. I would make a deal with the devil to be able to command language like her.

Inspiration of the day: V. Woolf. More like inspiration of my life. She was one of the few writers who understood life. I would make a deal with the devil to be able to command language like her.

“The children waved behind the glass wall, looking combed and primped for the arrival of their families. Twin boys played with their matching cowlicks, brushing the red hair forwards and backwards in an untimed cadence. One girl, her fair hair pulled back into a severe bun that highlighted the curvature of her skull, spun about the room with the sinuous grace of Degas’s dancers. Her short legs bulked with muscle, which turned beneath the skin as she launched onto her toes. Edward giggled with the other adults who lacked visitors, but he had not seen such boundless energy since his arrival. The first several visits Edward had kept a sly eye, waiting to identify Hanna’s straw hat (she wore it even out of the garden, tossed carelessly over her hair) or Leon’s shy pouting lips. These days Edward watched the others recount stories and updates while he spied on the conversations, feeding off of them as his own. The faces remained the same, a whole caravan that filtered in and out of the sanatorium every few weeks. Edward was fond of the unpredictable instances that strayed from the ritual of the visits. No longer could Edward gawk at mothers trying to comfort their children behind glass, sprouting tales of healing as if going off an Orphic guidebook. You will get better; you will come home and share your bedroom with your brother once more (he has stolen the bed near the window, but you can win it back); You will return to school with inexplicable stories of pneumothorax and whole days devoted to rest, a bard with other students awaiting your word outside the school door.

“Yes,” was always the response, the word skipping like a stone from their mouths. Perhaps that is why Edward liked the dancing girl best. She did not allow this false reality to be shaped. She merely spun, not minding the furniture or patients who broke through her nebulae of torrential fabric. She only stopped her movement to wave goodbye to her father whose half-shut eyes looked like a man facing the gallows.”