A Season Out of Mind: A Short Story Haibun
"Fin-de-siècle gent with lady to share interest in asceticism and ecclesiology"
New Statesman & Nation October 196—
Castaway on a western shore, in a wind-blown grove of academe. A matrimonial refugee, with a change of underwear and an unfinished thesis: " The viability of public library services in towns of below 30,000 population." Each week he received a letter from his abandoned wife – her small, round hand on Blue Vellum. And often another, from his abandoned mistress – a demented scrawl on ruled feint.
Torn open letters
two seagulls worry
a long dead dogfish
Each weekend he would flee the thesis and the lecturing on the Dewey Decimal Classification. Solace in the arms of spirited women, keen to "share my interest in literature and walking". But now a very different small ad to bait the hook. Weary and guilty at whom he was, and the tedium of the priapic life, he yearned to be Somebody Else at least at the weekends.
Day dreaming in my window Rodin's "Thinker"
The only reply came from sixty miles away, over the border in England. An arts-and-crafts lady in an arts-and-crafts villa. She had vacancies for characters in her vast and never ending fin-de-siècle novel. Would he care to apply? His big chance to become Somebody Else?
Top marks, too, for ecclesiology. She knew a leper squint when she saw one. And gave a cry of delight when they discovered a Caroe chapel in some remote rural church.
More than a friend
less than a lover
we size each other up
Her bedroom door was always left just a fraction open. For their peculiar purpose the heart strings needed to be not too loose and not too tight.
Every weekend that winter they played characters from the literature and culture of England and France in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. By agreement in advance they ad libbed the typical sensibilities and concerns of the age. It took quite a lot of reading up and rehearsal to become as much Somebody Else as they could – especially if it was his turn to concoct a belle époque dinner and serve aperatifs in the topiary garden.
A searching breeze
swirling round our unfamiliar selves
Tall and eloquent, she had something in her wardrobe for every occasion, and her art nouveau gowns filled him with pre-Raphaelite fervour. He recalled a particularly demanding weekend when they had agreed to be French romantics.
Fleurs du mal
her arch gestures
his rolling eyes
The Alfred Lord Tennyson weekend was a lot easier. He fondly recalled the Lady of Shallott's welcome to his rickety VW Beetle:
"A bowshot from her bower eaves
He rode between the barley sheaves"
It was always difficult wrenching himself back into his work-a-day persona on those freezing dawn Mondays. In George Sand's kitchen, Chopin retrieving the warmed up spark plugs from the oven.
Of course, it couldn't last. On that last departure they briefly lied about who they were in ordinary life.
Our silence at breakfast
her long slow wink