BETA

Thursday

Graphic by Haewon Ma

        Impeccable, she exclaims. It’s all orange, with beautifully arched streaks across, each with its own contour and angle. I must say it is not so much impeccable but elegant. I refrain from saying so out loud. She backs up a few steps, and looks, sternly and seriously. I’m hungry. We had lunch with David just now, sandwiches and coffee, which were quite good, though my stomach has been feeling queasy—nothing serious, but it affects my appetite. I’m thinking that we should go have Italian; it has been a while since we had Italian. There’s a rather good place a couple miles away. We should get Italian tonight, I tell her. She seems not to register, but after a few seconds she says okay. We move on.

        I usually go by Michael, but sometimes I prefer David. Usually on Wednesdays. Why? I don’t really know—it’s a feeling, in the gut, like… sometimes I will eat bread with butter, but sometimes I will like it with oil and vinegar. It really depends. Maybe it’s the weather, or the circumstances, or the neural wiring in my brain. I think I’m more outgoing as Michael (or Mike), but I also have a quicker temper then, which my colleagues at the university don’t always appreciate; but they put up with it, so I am grateful for that. Beck always calls me Adam, though. Beck is an interesting man: he has solid brown hair, and light skin, and he talks slowly and deliberately. His office is next to mine, so we pass by each other often during school days, and sometimes even on weekends. We talk about the economy and about social trends and about how to keep students subjugated and ideologically malleable. Our conversations rarely move quickly because he speaks so slowly and deliberately, but he is, for the most part, concise with his words, and I am fast with understanding, so I guess that compensates for it.

        Beck has a friend named Rachel, who has freckles and a weird laugh. We have coffee together every now and then—she talks faster than Beck, which is a plus, but her weird laugh is off-putting to me. Tiff thinks that I am too fond of Rachel, but that is not true. Our relationship is purely professional, I insist, but Tiff is skeptical. I am a skeptical person too, but I do believe that skepticism, as a societal trend, is more bad than good. I wish Tiff were more trusting; that would help resolve many issues, such as the one about my whereabouts on Thursday nights. I tell her that I have seminars with my students, but she thinks I am cheating on her.

        I am Ulysses. I have many traits that fit with that characterization. That is not to say that I have hubris, but I am pure, a model. My teeth are white, I work out every other day (my colleagues, including Stanton and Beck, will attest to that), and I have an excellent work ethic. Perhaps my tribulations and my life journey are not so notable in breadth and aesthetic appeal, but they are, if you were to inspect closely, very complex and indeed quite exemplary. My days are dull if you look from afar, but the nuances are in the seconds, the details. And that’s where the sparkles are. The exhibit closes in ten minutes, I am told. I motion to her, and she gives a curt, almost indistinguishable acknowledgment. Together we slowly make our way to the exit, where I put on my grey hat, and she slips on her blue coat. Your outfit looks nice today, I say, and she smiles. We arrive at the Italian restaurant, which is a little old and dimly lit, late, and we are unable to get a table immediately. They say it’s a fifteen-minute wait, but we both, we all know, it’s really closer to half an hour, if not more. She and I stare at each other for a moment, maybe two, and we decide to wait it out. I’m not hungry, really.

        It is Thursday, in the evening, when I am supposed to be holding my seminar; supposedly, it is about various theories on ontology, on being—it is an intriguing topic, but only when students bring forth equally intriguing questions and insights. Unlike more carnal desires and pleasures, the stimulation of the intellect requires more refreshment and new perspectives. Though I am Ulysses, I do not have Penelope. Perhaps I have Molly, though.

        All together, I do not consider myself a religious man. I prefer not to ponder questions of afterlife and the soul until I am old. I have been warned plenty about the dangers of putting off such matters until my deathbed days, but I find that for my own sanity and for the purposes of my productivity in this life, I cannot divert my attention away from my present focuses. Tarmuth recently invited me to his local congregation, but I declined, politely, citing a seminar that I was holding during the same time. I think he tried suggesting the following week, but I of course was unaware of that second attempt, and was walking away already. Beck knows that these seminars aren’t really what I often try and make them out to be, but if politicians can twist their words a little, , I don’t see why I can’t. It’s all innocuous—it is for everyone’s benefit to believe what I say—the truth, if without benefit, is better to be conceived of as a lie. There is no truth anyway. I am glad that Tiff is unaware of the overall situation; it would a tragedy on multiple fronts if she were to find out. But she doesn’t, so it is all fine.

        When she finally takes a seat, I compliment her by saying that she looks lovely tonight. She lets out a small giggle, and we order an expensive wine to go with our expensive entrees. We talk about trivial matters, which I find to be better for getting acquainted with someone new. I tell her about Tiff but not Rachel, and I am pleased to find out that she minds not about these circumstances. She tells me about Richard and Patterson; I am equally unbothered, which seems to put her at ease. She eats slowly and leaves the pasta unfinished, and we share a crème brûlée for dessert. I am Adam now, of course, and she excitedly tells me that she knows of another Adam too, who she first knew from high school. I nod and smile, and think about how in high school I often spent nights studying instead of going out with friends. At that time, I was still Burke, still insecure about my personality and my ability to be socially successful. Now in retrospect, that has all changed, evidently, so I bring myself back to give a quaint reply to her. I ask her to dance with me, and her eyes pop and she says loudly, what; she is confused, and I ask again, but she seems to be too nervous to say yes directly.

        We both know what the question implies. Beck taught me this method; he is very helpful in these respects. Dancing is a good gateway, he told me before, in the hallways, when we passed by each other. I didn’t consider that advice much at the time, but experience has taught me that it works splendidly, as it is about to work again. I am at a seminar with my students, I tell Tiff. Will you dance with me?

           

 

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