He came awake choking, his heart pounding like a bongo. He was dreaming he was caught in the rip tide, but his oxygen-starved brain told him he was still swimming strokes on the surface; in the upside-down reality of his dream, he was drowning beneath the waves. He had been dreaming of Guadeloupe again. Not the sunny island he yearned for but a different one, one where nature's forces were perverted and crawling things swarmed over the forest floor. His muscles felt as if a giant hand had been kneading him all night. The light flooding his eyes looked strained through dirty cheesecloth. The luminescent hands of the clock told him he had slept the day away.
He lay back and shut his eyes, willed his happy island back with its vivid colors, secret groves of lime trees and turquoise lagoons. He saw the bright cerise flowers, frangipanni and monkey's tail, shockingly red flame trees amid the lush green jungles, steep mountainous rockfaces wreathed in blue mists. His bowels clamored for release, however, and he had to urinate with an exquisite urge. His broken toilet dictated the unthinkable. He grabbed a roll of tissue and stumbled to the back door, finding his slippers and groaned all the way to the door that opened to the same hostile universe.
Like a dog, he headed for a distant maple tree. With his robe bunched around him, Macbride squatted and evacuated his bowels; then he pulled his shriveled penis from the nest of his pubic ruff into the icy cold and loosed a lemon stream, which eased the ache in his lower back considerably but did nothing for his humiliation and self-contempt. He had fallen so low so fast.
Macbride had come to hate winters. It wasn't possible to tell morning from afternoon for months at a time; the ubiquitous gray light ceased only at dark, which came too soon and then a pall of blackness fell over the land smothering him quite unlike the fast-falling, mystical blackness of a tropical night, or so he reasoned. Along the western horizon a marching column of nimbus loomed majestically, all backlit in hot pinks and smears of yellows like pus in a wound, he thought grimly.
Inside, he immediately headed for the downstairs bathroom; his legs were blue with cold and he was shivering uncontrollably. His throat was coated with slime. He risked a glance in the mirror on the way into the shower and saw that his right eye was a dark slit, almost Mongolian, where abraded skin puffed out around the socket. A chartreuse patch was overtaking the lavender bruise, blood coagulating while he had dreamed fitfully. His cheeks were roughened with gray stubble. His thick Vandyke, once a majestic sable with white tips, now hid a weak chin worsened by years of obesity. Fat rolls bunched at his neck. The sedentary years, the cheeseburgers ("heart bullets," his wag of a medico called them), the ennui of his depressing life—all were tolling a doomsday cardiac clock with the minute hand at ten to midnight.
Drying himself, he gazed once more at his bloated and purpled bruises. "I had pretty plumage once," he said to the mirror. His double replied, "No, that's a fib." It repeated the litany of cruel epithets hurled at him from the far past, those calling cards of his unhappy youth and the wives who betrayed him. Never getting the last word in, Macbride watched them all go in succession—wives, lovers, friends, colleagues, prosperity, hope.
Hunger burned his stomach, yet he struggled against a desire to return to sleep. He noticed the red light's telephone messages winking at him in the half-dark. He turned back to the kitchen and held on to the sink, drank deeply from the faucet. He spent a lifetime constructing props to fortify himself against the darkness and now it crowded around, wolves at a campfire. He had kept it all at bay, his squalid childhood and all the rest, but it was coming undone like a house of cards under strobe lighting.
Gray turned to ink. Night was pierced by a waning moon over the lake—a gift of beauty in the midst of his black despair. He thought of Helena at the piano playing her favorite Chopin étude. He had left the West Coast for her when she accepted a professor's position at the Dana School of Music in Youngstown. His future, too, was golden then: a young assistant professor on the verge of early promotion at UCLA. Liquid notes dropped around him in Dolby stereo, an image of her long, tapered fingers blurring into a glissando. His uneasy mind segued to his last tawdry fling with the barmaid; her stubby fingers wrapped around his member—disgusting. No, erotic. Blood surged south of its own volition.
He hated this house, this miserable life, everything about it nauseated him to the deepest core of his being. He had plunged from one mistake to another in a long dissolute chain that led to this sorry moment. The phone rang with a shrillness that jolted him and made his hands shake. I have too much past, no future. He heard the recorder kick in, then a familiar, unwelcome voice intruded:
"Uh, yiss, this is assistant dean Shrivistava . . . calling for, uh, Douglas Macbride. Hello, hello . . . I need you to sign some papers . . . "
Shrivastava was the epicene, bespectacled factotum of the campus dean, her hatchet-man for anyone she wanted fired. In a less civilized era, her victims would have been emasculated in full view of her court. Macbride loathed her on sight, a menopausal harpie on a power trip. Shrivastava, court eunuch, wielded those shears with giddy élan. Tenured faculty ignored him, but vulnerable adjuncts listened hard for his footsteps. Alas, he admitted, he had made himself a rather big target of late.
Gossip said Shrivastava had climbed out of ragged poverty in a fishing village near Madras. Macbride built the man around the disembodied voice: nutbrown skin and gleaming teeth with a clipboard permanently attached to his hand. Adjuncts had to grovel for their measly pittance. They were forced to attend orientation meetings at the beginning of every semester where the wretched little wog droned on at the lectern about such scintillating subjects as secretarial support, keys, and access to the Xerox machine. Macbride usually slept through them, sometimes inebriated, and recalled little besides the man's tonsured head gleaming under fluorescent lights whenever he bent down to retrieve his clipboard, which owing to some kind of dropsical lethargy, seemed to slip out of his hands every ten minutes. This brought forth a photo from Macbride's box of memories, one of his adopted mother, an alcoholic poisoned by uremia at forty. Forks and spoons would drop from her hands as if the floor were magnetized. She had died despising him.
His last encounter with Shrivastava had been a fiasco of epic proportions: Macbride's last class before the fateful night at the Wing Ding bar. With the booze fog lifted, he could recall every detail leading up to débâcle.
He had been furtively eyeing the wall clock, slogging through the last lesson of this hideously long semester. He had trashed the syllabus long ago. The students stared ahead, none turned to follow his progress, all used to his peripatetic style. A row of umlaut Ü's with blank faces and pasted-on smiles. He despised the business majors in particular; their minds soft as clatch. The text had been chosen for him, a dullish tome that took the ludicrous view of managerial benevolence when it came to labor relations. The sound of prison doors slamming behind millionaire CEOs all over the country reverberated like skeletons fornicating on a tin roof, yet this idiotic husband-wife tandem prattled about business ethics—what a colossal oxymoron! Despite the rank tissue of lies from beginning to end, he was unable to convince the little dean to let him change texts. He left Shrivastava's office saying he would be happy to spoonfeed them uncreative drivel. That evening he slipped into class at five after to avoid the dean on patrol. Macbride's antennae quivered; this was the day adjunct contracts were to be renewed—or not.
No sooner was he in the classroom than a loud yawn erupted from the opposite corner. It had to be Rochelle—the little trollop was probably sleeping off a high. She liked to cradle her head in her arms and snooze. He sensed the rest of the class, all whitebread types, expected him to invoke one of his thunderous rebukes. Truth was, the sight of her evoked pity rather than righteous indignation.
She was a delicately boned creature with almond skin, a toothy smile, and very bright, thought Macbride, despite an occasional crudity of prose—but she could think, really think—furthermore, during her infrequent visits to class, she had kept him on his toes whenever she deigned to pay attention to his lecture. She sported a garish tattoo of the kind girls favored down their lower backsides. Rochelle's was a winking, round-faced baby devil with a pair of horns and a pitchfork. Macbride had already had the benefit of the devil's countenance. Whenever he circled behind her, its leer gaped between sacral dimples. The tail was, no doubt, a rigid arrow pointing lasciviously between the crease of her buttocks.
He usually let her sleep, but his sense of the day's magnitude in his own life must have increased his sense of life as theatre. He snapped the book shut as an exclamation point to some Victorian pap of Carnegie's he was quoting. Rochelle shot up in her seat, startled.
"Miss Bryce, perhaps you could favor us with your interpretation of that passage relative to the Homestead strikers."
The class smirked, enjoying the spectacle-to-come.
"I'm sorry, professor, I wasn't paying attention."
A few light snickers about the room.
"But Hugh O'Donnell," he intoned, "and his advisory committee believed Frick was a man of reasonableness and good faith, did they not?"
"I guess so."
"You must have heard me quote Carnegie just now. His workers, he said, those tough Irish and Czech immigrants puddling molten iron twelve hours a day in freezing cold and scorching summers were his partners in the corporation."
"That's bullshit, professor."
Gasps, a few guffaws. Rochelle, class pariah, was in the house.
Macbride had touched a nerve. She tensed with feline grace and her face glowed. Her first essay concerned a great-grandfather from Mississippi, one of the hundreds of black strikebreakers brought in to destroy O'Donnell's and "Honest" John McLuckie's fledgling union after the battle on the river with the Pinkertons. The blacks toughed out white hatred until winter and starvation came to the Monongahela Valley.
"Carnegie was a ff—was a two-faced liar," she said hotly. "When it came time to recognize the union, he lit out for his damned castle in Scotland."
"Indeed, indeed, and so he did, Miss Bryce. He left his capable right-hand man to handle the contract negotiations. His course of action was . . . remind me, would you?"
"He dissolved the union and he threw out the men," she said. "He had a twelve-foot fence built around the steelworks and razor wire barricading it from the workers who made him his millions."
Macbride pouted—big business's very own devil's advocate. "Was it all so one-sided, Miss Bryce?"
The wings of her nostrils flared.
"Didn't he tie their contracts to the McKinley tariffs of 1890 to favor the high price of steel?"
She grumbled something that sounded like "Big deal."
"Wasn't it the workers themselves and their Amalgamated Iron and Tin Workers who insisted on that?"
The tinny castrato trill of the overhead clock signified the end—orationis magistri intermittebur—professor interrupted, lesson ended—indeed, he reckoned, the end of them from his life forever. Good riddance, wayfarers.
The clatter of books and papers being shuffled erupted in pockets about the room. He pointed to the board where his email address and a date were written for mailing in the take-home final, another of his many violations of campus policy. He watched them troop out. A small perk there—watching Rochelle exit a room. It summoned forth a tasty paradox—Marilyn Monroe's entrance in Niagara.
"Miss Bryce," he said, not unkindly, "may I suggest for your academic good that you do your sleeping at night?"
"I wish I could, professor, but my baby have—has the croup right now."
Macbride had seen many of them, young women who bloomed early and blighted fast. They found themselves trapped by men and babies, soiled pampers and WIC coupons. Most gave up their dreams and fell back into the ranks of the working poor. The lucky ones graduated with some kind of training, rarely an education, and fled the state with sparks flying from their shoes.
Macbride feasted on Rochelle's swiveling hips. Bookless, paperless, unhappy creature—just another Lolita destined to disappear into the gray pallor of the Midwest.
Macbride was so locked into his own escape that he only just became aware of a mild disturbance in the doorway. Too late, he realized—trapped. The little nabob was shuffling and grinning at him, clipboard at half-mast.
"I heard a bit of your lecture, professor. I love the interaction of students with their teachers," said Shrivastava.
You would, you cretin.
"Andrew Carnegie—my, all those wonderful libraries to help people better themselves."
Macbride saw the dean was not going to budge from the doorway—a determined process server—so Macbride hoped to distract him with a barrage of piffle as he gathered up his scattered papers—a man in haste to get to an important appointment.
"Let me tell you something about Carnegie, dean," he said. "That young woman was right. Carnegie and Henry Clay Frick were a pair of heartless bastards."
Macbride hated Carnegie, in fact, saw him as a little boy in a squalid cottage in the old country, stuffing himself on porridge, spoons in both hands, crying to his mother, "Maire, maire!" Sickeningly devoted to her all his life, he became an avaricious businessman, then evolved, pupa to parasitical moth, and finally into the white-bearded, myopic philanthropist of his many idiotic portraits.
"Some of your students have complained, professor—"
"It is in the nature of students to complain, dean."
This was real trouble. He could not afford to lose this wretched job. It would mean longer on the road next semester, less money. Another barrage of wordshot was needed, but his magazine was empty, his quiver held nothing save a few broken arrows.
"Do you know that Frick took three bullets from an anarchist's gun during the Homestead strike and then went back to his office three hours later?"
"My, my, what courage—but about your absenteeism, professor—"
Macbride, briefcase in hand, bore down on him, but the momentum had shifted. He was the insect, the little brown dean the heel.
"Frick despised Carnegie like the devil himself—" Macbride effused, hopelessly lost now, desperate, on the verge of begging for another chance.
Shrivastava sensed his advantage but retreated a cautious few dilatory steps. Macbride would have to physically bump him to get past—odious thought, but he was prepared to do it.
Up close, smiling nervously, perspiration leaking from his pores, he fired a last volley while his hands fumbled at the satchel: "Frick even refused to reconcile in old age when they were a pair of Park Avenue millionaires." He took in the beaming dean's happy, homunculus face and saw his fate etched there.
"—Tell him, said Frick to Carnegie's messenger," Macbride finished with a wan hopelessness, "—I'll see him in hell where we are both surely going."
"You don't say."
Macbride saw a breech and bulled through. "Yes, well, good evening, dean."
"I am sorry to say we won't be requiring your services next semester, professor."
Macbride heard the words, halted in his progress.
Fired. The s's resonating like poison in his ear from a tiny dropper, death by millimeters and fractions.
"—as-needed basis, as you know . . . despite your much-valued service—"
Take thy beak from out mine heart.
Hurried footsteps tock-tocked behind him on the faux travertine floor.
"I say, pro-FES-sor Mac-BRIDE, I say, I have papers for you to sign!"
But Macbride, long experienced with dissatisfied wives and students, clamped his hat on his pate and was already down the staircase en route to the side exit. He would front the wrath of nature by circling the entire building to get to his rattle-trap Volvo before he would sign a single paper for this bureaucratic wretch nipping at his heels. "One simply knows," he muttered, confused and fearful as the abyss opened before him.
It made small difference now. Let the wind flay the skin from his battered hide and disembowel him if it could. He thought of Guadeloupe, where fronds of palm trees wafted gently by the warm blue shore. His sacking by the little dean had broken something in him, finally. His utilitarian shield was already riddled with gashes and holes; switching metaphors, he saw it as a lame beast too far behind the herd. He could not ford the river with it any longer: too many crocodiles. Rebellious words and defiant tones he might have used rushed too late to mind. His wives never lost their tongues when it came time for the big get-even. Not even a phrase to throw in the little worm's face, no borrowed grandeur, not so much as a whimper of protest much less a grand non serviam.
The truth was bitter. Macbride would have begged him on his knees for the chance to serve in this shabby heaven rather than reign in hell, and he knew it in the deepest cockles of his heart. He reviled his doppelgänger for cowardice, his ever-faithful whipping boy for self-abuse—
Would a last-second bootlicking save him from financial chaos? He looked back at the building—an impregnable fortress with its drawbridge lashed behind the portcullis.
"Acta non verba," said Macbride, gaining a little courage, isolated and weary beneath the vast star-studded night. Deeds not words. Then: I need a drink.
The hot, needle spray of the shower head blasted away the rest of his Wing Ding memories and its squalid aftermath like so much water circling the drain. He washed his chest and face and tried to avoid the tender places where tissue and muscle throbbed beneath the dark patches. Whatever had possessed him to flirt with that Neanderthal's woman? Still wet, he threw on a frayed and seamsplit terrycloth robe from a hook behind the door.
He brewed a cup of scalding mint tea and gave Tod his supper from a can of whitefish and shrimp. The label portrayed a piratical, chops-licking alley cat on this so-called "seafood feast." The scratching of nails on linoleum signaled the cat's awakening. Always hungry, he came hustling from one of his naptime hideout spots as soon as he heard the top peeled back. Macbride watched him nip a hollow shrimp tail from the glutinous debris in his bowl. Tod growled with happiness.
"There, there, old boy," Macbride said with a stroke of his fur. The limp tail shot up with pornographic fidelity. He had saved him from vicious little boys trying to dock his tail with a paring knife. When one of the boys' fathers came by in his pickup truck and demanded the cat back, Macbride stood firm and refused. He would not surrender the kitten—no, not on his life! The man, a steelworker from the looks of him, stared with malevolence; his big fists were wrecking balls. Macbride refused to be goaded into a fight with the brute. When he thought of the gun rack in the back of the driver's seat, his legs trembled all over again.
He sipped the tea and looked out the window at the brittle flakes floating past the window in a horizontal stream. Where was life taking him?
Last night's slattern of a barmaid and her womanly curves beckoned. He had been celibate so long that the recollection of his sexless life made him feel utterly woebegone. His students obviously knew nothing of celibacy. He didn't want to think of their reckless copulations. Life was so unfair.
He forced his thoughts to Shrivastava, a guaranteed anaphrodisiac. He looked at the phone in its cradle still semaphoring its single red pulse. He thought better with Debussy. La fille aux cheveux de lin's saccharine chords smoothed out some of the wrinkles. Something else tickled in his brain: Suicide. What had summoned this will-o-the-wisp to his desperate mind? No flaxen-haired, blue-eyed Jesus at the end of the tunnel would ever beckon him in a final agitation of twitching brain cells before all light faded as it must. And wherefrom this ticket out of the Slough of Despond? There was no way back to warmth and light, no way back to a kind woman's touch.
Why not, his mind said, at least, consider it? It, the unnameable, unthinkable deed. But as an intellectual idea merely, what harm could it do? Of course, nothing more than that . . .
Macbride tallied his many deficits: bank account depleted, savings nil, credit zilch, all cards maxed—thanks to his latest splurge in the Wing Ding Bar & Grill. The challenges were equally grim: obtain more underpaid teaching assignments in other community colleges—force himself into a selling demeanor, print up his curriculum vitae like yard sale flyers and carry them about—smile, grovel, lie. Add hundreds of miles more to his already exhausting itinerary to scratch out a penurious living. The thought sickened him.
He saw himself competing for road space at breakneck speeds in winter gales while eighteen-wheelers guided by amphetamine-laced rednecks played tag with his clapped-out Volvo on icy freeways. Then to find spaces in frozen tundras of college parking lots between classes, cram down his starving gullet a stale sandwich from a vending machine, hang his coat in a space designated for adjunct faculty which amounted to a broom closet's width and the single ancient computer and a printer (both working simultaneously was a miracle). Don't forget the time to prepare lecture notes, to Xerox, to make those transparencies that melted inside the infernal machine—
He stopped pacing. The law of diminishing returns squared off against Occam's razor. He was barely making ends meet with his current load at campuses and traveling across the state line. He had been doing this drudgery for nine long years at beggar's wages, and all it meant was one thing: an existence that was harried, fraught with worry, and shabby to the core. How long before he must face the expense of a new car or his body's health would revolt and break down? A single traffic accident could ruin him.
He wanted to cry out to the stone-faced Doomsters above that he had other needs as well—how to satisfy those? Without a primer, he thought morosely, he wouldn't even be able to recall how to have sex anyway—does her leg go there, my leg go here? It had been so long since Siobhan . . .
No, no, no, by God! It simply cannot go on like this—
You can't do it.
Do what? Who said that?
He could choose the simpler path.
He stood on his mental fjord, giddy with fear and excitement. He looked down from a great dizzying height—and pondered his anti-Kierkegaardian leap.
"The big leap, ignoramus."
"The word is ignoramus, cretin."
"I meant ignoramus because you're stupid and you're an asshole," said phantom-Mcbride right back, mocking him for all the catastrophes and failures of his life.
"All right," Macbride said, exasperated by the cruel whispers. "All right, just stop badgering me."
"All right, what, Pro-fes-sor Mac-bride?" Shrivastava suddenly jumped up to assume the devil's advocate role.
"I'll do it," Macbride said.
His heart beat wildly under the stars. He was exhilarated, terrified, but very much alive at the point he had decided to die. A cruel carpe diem exuberance that vanished at once. Another figure stepped from the wings into the arena of his imagined debate with the forces of darkness. Macbride conjured that medieval iconoclast and logician, an intellectual hero of his early youth, William of Ockham. He who had incurred Pope John XXII's wrath and been forced to flee to his sanctuary in Surrey. Hounded by the pontiff, he then fled to Munich where he ended his days in embittered, lonely exile. Forlorn, Macbride thought of this sage man shivering in his last days, impoverished, infected with the viscous buboes of the Black Death. Even then, lying on death's doorstep, reeking of disease and decay, the great Occam had been shirking a relentless papal emissary chasing him with recantation papers to sign.
Macbride detested himself for carrying along the vestiges of superstition's rags—a fear of providence, one by turns malign and benevolent, overseeing dim humanity. Macbride's adopted mother had forced him to attend a hellfire and brimstone Pentecostal church and there he had acquired the horrific notion of God as a vindictive boy with an ant farm. He openly scoffed at the cheap Christian framework of his times and the boorish middle-class propping it up. Every aspect of rational life was plagued by its nonsense. Christmas season was the worst. Look at the buffoons mumbling their sanctimonious gibberish in front of every plaster crèche in town. The blatant appeals for money, the pederasts in Santa suits dandling children on their knees in department stores—what a loathsome display of greed and concupiscence. It was as transparent and crude an homage as the pornographic drivel being poured into suggestible, empty-headed black kids in the inner cities hunkered around boom boxes. As the Midwest burned, Washington fiddled.
Yet, and yet—oh, he hated himself for his inability to wean his intellectual bastion from the clammy grip of religion. He saw himself linked to that great miserabilist Nietzsche. He was like that lonely curmudgeon who also admired and hated what he feared. Deep in his bones, Macbride knew the stars neither bless nor scold, much less rule—they just are. But he felt he was being watched by someone with a mocking leer like those Norwegian tales of a certain gnomic creature, a bodiless head on a pair of feet that scuttled out of sight just at the very moment you turned your head to catch it watching you.
He put on a Handel saraband and finished the dregs of Glenfidditch in a bottle that had rolled forgotten under the sofa. In moments of grand despair, Macbride needed an audience.
He addressed Fantod lovingly (never Tod on these occasions); he was his sole companion in arms against the world, he spoke fondly of the cat's youth, calling him his beloved boy, his puer eternitatis, and bade him a solemn farewell, ave et atque. The cat's belly was full and he was disinclined to remain still unless the noise issuing from the hole in the man's head was accompanied by a scratch behind the ears or a stroke.
Tod looked suspiciously at the man while he moved a kitchen chair to the foyer with a dangling piece of cord hanging around his neck. The cat watched him position the chair just so. Instinct prompted Tod to find a secure spot up the stairs where he could perch between the dowels of the banister and watch from a secure position. The strange new tone of the man's monologue betokened something else between threat and play and his action did not seem familiar enough to his patterned response.
A chagrined Macbride discovered his bulk was an obstacle to so ordinary a task as climbing onto, and standing upon, a chair. He puzzled it out with a few scrapes to his right shin against the latticed backing. The chair squeaked like bones at the points of articulation where the stress of his shifting center of gravity was greatest. Finally, Macbride was able to stand upright upon the chair—a spinning plate on a magician's stick. He wondered belatedly if these things were factory-tested for this purpose. He tried lassoing the bottom portion of the pear-shaped dowel post that jutted beneath the stairwell where its glazed wooden shape beckoned just above his head but the dexterity he needed to cinch the slipknot tight at the critical moment was a task requiring far more skill than he had reckoned with. After a few tosses and straining to maintain balance, his shoulders, wrists, and knees burned.
At last his impatience and exasperation overwhelmed his caution. He put too much torque on the delicate spindles supporting the seat and the splintering sound no sooner registered in his brain than he was flat-backed to the floor by gravity with a tremendous whump that sucked oxygen out of his lungs and temporarily blinded him from the whiplash of his head against the carpet.
Time went down a black hole. Macbride refocused his vision to see the cat's goldgreen eyes locked on his from above. Man and cat remained in that position for a long time; neither seemingly able to break the stare. Macbride mainly because he couldn't. His shocked nervous system was working to process the flurry of the body's messages all at once. The brain, on the verge of abandoning the citadel, slowly resumed control over the chaotic traffic.
After a longer time yet, he rose—staggering gingerly to his knees and then drunk-walking to his faded red velour sofa where he collapsed in a heap. He lay there for hours in the fading light of the shortest day he could ever remember. He could see from the saffron glow of the moonlight as it reached his windows. The quiet of the night was like balm. He had no thoughts he could articulate to conclusions that made any sense, and he assumed he was concussed from the fall. One thought emerged from the tumult of non sequiturs and that was that he no longer wanted to die.
When Tod announced his presence near the couch with a tail swish that caught Macbride's attention, the professor said to the cat, "You motherless son of a bitch, where were you when I needed you?"
Macbride was able to prop himself on one arm and reach down for the battered leather valise. He poked a hand into its maw and plucked out the student papers he had crammed inside prior to his craven escape. He was completely sobered, a little sad, but grateful for the temporary respite the world was granting him just then. He rooted among the papers and found Rochelle's last essay. He read hers first, skimming it, making a holistic assessment before he got down to the minutiae of a word-by-word analysis; he covered it with commentary, diabolus advocatus as was his wont.
He praised her, penned a capital, breasty B and circled it; as an afterthought, he recommended some texts she might want to look up for future reference. He then took out another essay out of his valise on the floor where Tod lay curled in sleep. Macbride smoothed the corners carefully where the edges had rucked. He repeated the process of extracting papers throughout the night until the pale glow of his windows was replaced by the first streaks of another frigid, pewter dawn. In Guadeloupe daybreak would come with salmon streaks and the air would be scented with lemon. Blue skies would stretch toward infinity over aquamarine waters. He got up, sighing, to make coffee and feed the cat his first meal of the day.