I was thoroughly depressed when I got back.
“Another rough one?” Dearie knew at once.
“I made a big mistake they haven’t noticed yet. I ruined one of their ancient scrolls. I cut a hole in one. They don’t know it yet but they will, probably. I’m hoping I’ll escape before they find it. Two more days to go.”
“I’ve got a nice surprise,” she said. “Theater in the round, Dave. Have you ever seen a play? I mean a real one, with real actors.”
“No, not a real one—just in high school, Huck Finn, and that sort of thing with students paying all the roles. They had some Shakespeare plays sometimes at S.I.U. I never went. So, what’s theater in the round?
“It’s done outside, the actors on a platform with no front, or back, or sides. The Greeks invented it, and it’s at the University, The Fantastics.” It’s had great reviews, and hasn’t even opened yet. It’s traveling now, touring some universities and colleges, a sort of warm-up practice for the big time. It’s a one act musical and will be longer when it hits New York, ‘A touching tale of innocence and of knowledge’. That’s what the reviews say.”
“Sounds good,” I told her. Anything that might help elevate my mood, and my anxiety about tomorrow. I needed something more than Charlie Chan to get me through this week. I’d have to say good-bye to Crumrine. Snitzer would go nuts if I missed on more day of work. If Snitzer found the patchwork I had done, tomorrow. . . . it would mean another chastisement in front of Joe and Frank who would be smirking with delight. I’d become entertainment for them.
“What time does the play start?”
“At seven. We can walk, and I’ve already got our tickets.”
We arrived in time to get two front row seats. The stage was square, not round as I’d expected, just a simple, wooden platform placed amidst the emerald carpet, campus lawn. The only scenery was a suspended yellow cardboard moon. The opening song began: Try to remember a day in September when life was slow, and oh so mellow. Try to remember that time in September when you were a kind and callow fellow. . . .
Jesus. That was all it took. The music sliced into my heart, an arrow loosened by the string of words . . . September.
The plot involved a boy and girl, and their two fathers, who had built a wall between their houses ostentatiously to make sure they could never meet and fall in love. Their secret was they wanted it to happen. They knew children always do what parents have forbidden and assumed that trying to keep the two apart was a sure way to make them circumvent all obstacles that might prevent it. It worked until the boy and girl found out about the plot, and went their separate ways discovering the world around them.
In the end the two return to one another, they fell in love again, both having learned enough to make a lasting and informed decision.
As the play progressed my eyes had welled with tears I managed not to spill. I think I’d longed to cry for a long time, but tears were not a thing men shed . . . not real men . . . manly men.
When it was over we walked back across the grass, onto the tree lined sidewalk. The sweet scent of fall was in the air, Indian summer, warm and pleasant. It had been an almost perfect evening, and the play . . . the play, the music, was indeed, fantastic. There was nothing in it I could not relate to. I had tried to hide my tears. Did Dearie see them?
As we walked she asked, “What did you think?”
“It was incredible, a masterpiece.” My eyes were getting wet again. “I can’t thank you enough for sharing it with me. I probably would have never heard of it, or if I did, I doubt I would have gone to see a musical.”
“You’re going to hear of it again,” she said. “That show is heading straight for Broadway.
“Oy, Oy, Oy! I loved it too. Do you feel better?”
“I don’t know. I’m not sure how I feel.” My eyes began to tear with mixed emotions: hope, despair, both loss and gain, all unresolved. “I’m feeling better than I was.” My voice cracked and I coughed to hide it. I’d forgotten all about Northwestern for an hour or two, but Linda re-emerged into my mind with an intensity I thought I’d gotten over.
* * *
Thursday morning I fell victim to increasing paranoia on my way to work. Would Snitzer find my error today, or Friday? Hell, I’m almost gone, I told myself. September’s just around the corner. I left Dearie’s early, skipped my breakfast and was at my desk before the boss or either of the Katzenjammers had arrived. I slipped the damaged scroll with its attendant legal papers underneath the bottom of the pile on Snitzer’s desk.
Joe and Frank arrived, then Snitzer.
“It’s a little late for him for him to come in early,” Snitzer said in a low voice to Frank who nodded affirmation. No one spoke to me. The Katzenjammers pulled back canvas covers on their desks and set about their tasks as Snitzer opened up his Wall Street Journal. Good! I hoped there was some interesting news to keep him occupied. It might be possible for me to make it through this day. The bastard would be on the golf course after twelve that afternoon. Then there was only Friday left to go. I might be far away before found what I had done. But it was not to be.
A little after ten I noticed Snitzer had unearthed my buried scroll and had begun to scan the drawing and compare it with the legal papers that accompanied it. I saw him freeze, as if amazed by what he’d seen. I looked down at my work as if I hadn’t noticed, but could feel his stare bore into my bent forehead. He’d hold that hateful gaze as long as it might take, so I looked up.
Once more the fateful finger crooked, demanding I come forward. This was it. Dead man walking and attempting to appear as if I had no knowledge of what he might want of me.
He leaned back in his swivel chair like a boxer making space to throw a knockout punch. “It seems you’ve managed to create a quilt for us.” He shook his head as if in sorrow, like I’d torn the canvas of the Mona Lisa. “Have you ever seen a patch like this on any of the scrolls you’ve worked on?”
“I don’t think so,” I admitted.
“If I owned this place I’d pay you to stay home tomorrow.” Snitzer glowered at me, no holds barred. I could see hatred in his eyes.
I stood there, my face once more burning.
“Go back to your desk. And try, if it is not too much to ask, not to destroy more of our work. If you don’t think that you can do that, then just sit there Don’t do anything at all.” He started shuffling through the papers on his desk. I was dismissed and walked back to my place past Joe and Frank. Their faces beamed like Cheshire cats.
Just one day left.
Continued Next Thursday