Abraham Rothberg  - Author


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New by Abraham Rothberg:
A Beast in View

$12.95 Printed: 206 pages, 6.0 x 9.0 in.,
$4.11 Download: PDF (509 kb)
ISBN: 1-4116-3200-1

The classroom was on the first floor of one of the university’s oldest buildings, one wall of windows, two — front and back — of blackboards, one of yellowing plaster. Its windows overlooked a small, semi-private court, a flight of broad stone stairs that debouched shallowly toward the less sheltered part of the campus add the other buildings from which it was partly hidden by frail ginkgo trees and dwarfed elms. Patches of earth, looking like after- thoughts in the concrete, were planted with rhododendron and azalea, and small evergreens, yew, ilex and hemlock. In the center of the square, rising huge out of the pavement, was a copy of Auguste Rodin’s The Thinker.

The first morning I’d gotten to class so early that I stood alone staring out of the window at that statue in the tattered July sunshine, watching pigeons waddle, scuffle and flap around nuggets of dried bread someone had scattered around its base, the hunched majesty, the brute bafflement, the almost hopelessly heavy strength of bone and sinew, the green patina black in the skin lines as if someone had rubbed dirt into the creases of naked flesh before casting the bronze; and on the bent head and shoulders the arrogant pigeons had spattered their white fecal stains. I felt suspended in time, as if I were hidden away in green shadows until someone behind me said, “That’s a right pretty little courtyard.”

I must have jumped, because she added, “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean for you to be startled.”

By the time I’d turned to face her, two other people were coming through the door. I was shy about speaking, so I just nodded and sat down. I took an outside seat in the last row on the aisle near the window where I could, with only a little, craning of my neck, see part of the statue and the courtyard. The girl remained at the window, looking out, her face half-averted, as if she still expected me to say something more. Slender, with black hair that fell straight and thick to her shoulders before turning up into a single black coil, she wore what had been a WAVE’s uniform, a navy blue suit, without insignia now, whose simplicity made her seem taller and more fragile than she was. When I didn’t speak after all, she turned her face away but remained at the window.

The classroom began to fill up rapidly, and I wasn’t surprised to see that the students were almost all dressed in modified uniforms, Army khakis and suntans, Marine greens, Navy blues and grays, WAVE and WAC uniforms, but mixed with civilian shirts, pants and jackets, as if no one seemed yet certain about which world he belonged to, military or civilian, war or peace.

A tall, powerful-shouldered man hovered over the seat next to mine, his left eye masked by a black eye patch whose elastic strip cut across his tanned forehead. “Mind if I sit?”

“Hell, no,” I said, and as I spoke, the girl in the WAVE uniform turned away from the window and sat in the row in front of us. The man sat too, his face split by the black patch, a thin black mustache, and two lampblack smudges of eyebrow, a darkness reinforced by a flying officer’s suntan shirt, and hair so black it seemed just to have been wetted.

That winter after the war, those of us who came back came back different, not knowing how or why, but sure the old ways wouldn’t take. A lot of us were making the big plans men make when they don’t expect circumstances really to afford the opportunities to fulfill them. If anyone and everyone around thought of us as home from the war, they were wrong: With us we had brought the war home, like a plague, an infection not only of our single cells and whole organisms but of the body politic entire. Many of us, like apocalyptic Typhoid Marys, never knew the germs we carried. All of us were busy trying to forget, and what many of us mistook in others for gentle unwillingness to remind us of our ordeal was in truth the simplest of indifference. We kept our- selves busy making plans about the things we were going to do, not altogether aware that the others had simply gone on with their plans too. Most of the plans failed, but then most plans do; and the men, once soldiers and now civilians, went back to the oldest war of all, doing what they’d done before, what men probably must do — planned or unplanned — working farms, manufacturing products, selling automobiles, building houses, shuffling papers.

But some of us didn’t go back.

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