CHRIS RICE COOPER is a newspaper/fiction writer, poet, photographer, & painter. CRC Blog is an INCLUSIVE & NON-PROFIT BLOG acknowledging ALL voices, ALL individuals, ALL political views, ALL philosophies, and ALL religions including Islamism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Catholicism, Protestantism, Judaism, Agnosticism, Atheism, etc. She has a B.S. in Criminal Justice & completed her workshops required for her Master’s in Creative Writing. She lives in St. Louis.
Monday, September 9, 2013
Scripted Interview with Fiction Writer Wayne Lanter, His Newest Novel THE FINAL DAYS!
*This interview was
conducted via email over a period of five weeks, where Lanter is presently in
Paris, France, the place he visits every single year. Lanter, resides in Belleville, Illinois where
he teaches creative writing at Southwestern Illinois Community College. His
most recent novel, The Final Days,
was published by Twiss Hill Press this past March. In this interview, Lanter discusses
philosophy, writing, education, France, human compassion, and how it all plays
out in his own life.
- How, when, and where was the novel birthed?
Lanter - I began the novel, The
Final Days, as a short story about a professor and a student involved in a
sexual liaison, intending to use the encounter as a hook to hang some of the
story on. But the original idea involved a good bit more than a
professor-student affair, though that is where it would begin. I have always
thought of learning, true learning, as an intimate experience of the Heloise
and Abelard or Auguste Rodin and Camille Claudel or David Hume and Nancy Ord
variety. And there are others, countless others. There is, can be a deep
passion in learning. Good teachers love those who want to learn and aspiring students
love those who take the time and make an effort to help them become better
human beings. Remember, education is the development of character, in the ancient
Greek sense of the word, not merely picking up a piece of paper that gives you
an opportunity to make more money than someone else and then make a fool of
yourself for the rest of your life.
Then too, if we have learned something well we are forever
grateful, admiring and in love with the person who instructed us—as opposed to
how we feel when we are disgorged from the mass education industry/system where
little is shared and little learned. Sometimes the intellectual intimacy
includes the physical. It is only natural that at times academic intimacy would
include a sensual assignation, which can be a wonderful way for people to know
each other. Learning is intimate, a discovery—many times intellectual, emotional
and physical—and beautifully and wonderfully so.
Anyway, when I began the story I intended to develop the
professor student affair into a short story, but at the time I was involved in
the internecine battles raging in the college at which I was teaching. As it
turned out, a day morphed into a month, then into a year, then several years, and
I wrote the story out in longer, novelistic terms, using the professor-student
relationship more as a catalyst to the volatility of the bigger story of the
demise of the academy rather than the affair as a story in itself. Of course
the story changed radically as it progressed, but that is usually the nature of
human stories. Nothing ever works out the way you want it to, or even the way
you think it might. I was five years younger than John Carter when I began The Final Days and five years older than
John Carter when I finished it.
- Is any of The Final Days
autobiographical or biographical?
- Of course we can only write about
what we know. That is the nature of human knowledge. As Kant pointed out, we
cannot think outside the space/time continuum. We, humans, matter, are
literally composed of space and time. And I’m not using that as a metaphor. We
are space and time. Space and time are the ingredients of our blood and bone
and fiber. The ancient Greeks understood
that if we have not experienced something we cannot imagine it. That doesn’t mean we can’t interpolate or
translate or extend ideas from one to another as Berkeley pointed out. We can.
But we are always limited in our imagination by the what-has-been of
experiences, by what we are—space and time, and possibly energy. And what we
know is always autobiographical, or I hope so, anyway.
Saul Bellow noted that “We (writers) always borrow from
ourselves what we need.” It can’t be any other way. Of course John Carter is
not Wayne Lanter. He only resembles me in the bit I could construct out of the
little I know about myself of what I could also apply to him. But he is also
bits and pieces of others, men and women, since we sometimes have similar
though variable traits. Carter is fascinated with what he doesn’t know. So am
I. But I do not do magic tricks, or “stunts,” as Morgana Carmichael calls them,
as Carter does. I have sons, Carter, to his chagrin, has none. I was never married to a woman older than me.
I do not have a brother. Psychologically Carter is wound a good bit tighter
than I am. Carter is critically intolerant of certain others, I am only
marginally so. On and on. The story is only vaguely and occasionally
Likewise, it is somewhat, but only piecemeal, biographical,
in that I take small, very small pieces of personalities I have observed and
cobble them to make characters—a turn of phrase here, a twist of mouth or cast
of eye there. When Faulkner was asked if
he had based or modeled a character on this or that Mr. or Mrs. So-and-So, he
became irritated and said, “No, I can create characters better than god ever
did.” And so it is.
- I thought John Carter’s love for philosopher David Hume, and for Ardyth and
Mason—the connection he had with them and the love he had for them—in the
end—was a kind of salvation for him as a person. Do you agree?
Lanter - Chris, I’m not sure what salvation means. Humans live in
a perpetual state of anxiety (existential anxiety) that cannot be placated or
cured, although there are ways to ignore it—to a point. It has to do with
energy and drive and death and all those other things that make us human. We
simply cannot see the future or get out of our skin and nothing will relieve or
pacify that discomfort.
Carter comes out of the tunnel, maybe in the last chapter,
somewhat intact, but it would seem to me that that was a matter of survival
instinct rather than redemption. He’s merely headed for another wilderness. Certainly
Carter is a caring (loving) human being. I did not contemplate that Carter
would wish anyone harm who was not out to literally destroy the culture we all
depend upon. The combination here, again, comes from Immanuel Kant who thought
that the only absolute in human existence is culture and the one most important
individual human characteristic/attitude is good will. Carter, I think, exhibits
uncommon good will toward those who are not out to destroy the culture, and on
occasion even toward those who do not have a clue that what they are doing is
destructive. So I’m not sure what Carter might have needed to be saved from or
exactly how that might have been implemented.
Otherwise I do not see Carter as a hero, but as someone
trying, as we all are, to unscramble the contradictory and deadly conditions of
our daily lives. The story is confined to one month, December of 1995, the
final days of the year, of a marriage, of a brief affair, of a teaching career,
maybe of a dream for improving the culture, or even of a life—Carter’s life.
The story is life as progress, as
painful progress, as the universe continues to expand, to move away from us,
from Carter—the universe as becoming, changing, always different from what it
first appears to be, from what we hope it is or fantasize what it will be.
Carter’s fascination with David Hume is especially
significant, in that a little over two hundred years ago Hume understood a good
bit of what we are just today, psychologically and philosophically coming to
realize about man and the human condition—about the truly unrelenting coming
into being and going out of being of the material and, therefore, spiritual
world that is embedded in the material. This is Sartre’s, existence proceeds
- In one passage John Carter is holding Vivien and he reads to her from Mary
Oliver. Is there any specific reason you chose Mary Oliver as the poet to
read and what volume of poems (in your mind) did he specifically read to her?
Lanter – In that passage (scene) when I found Carter looking at
the bookshelf, checking the titles, Mary Oliver was merely the first poet that
came to mind. I have always appreciated Mary’s poetry, especially poems she has
written about her family. I’m extremely fond of one called “A Letter from
Home,” that ends,
how people always plan
To live their lives, and never do.
She will not tell me if she cries.
I touch the crosses by her name;
I fold the pages as I rise,
And tip the envelope, from which
Drift scraps of borage, woodbine, rue.
been touched by those lines. The subtle intrusion of distant, suspected sadness
and regret. How we always fail to get it right, no matter how we try. I did not
use the poem specifically in the passage, but maybe I should have.
CCWriter- John Carter is a
moralist despite his affairs and drinking—he stood for what he believed was
right, was loyal, and sensitive to other's feelings. Is this what you want
your readers to get out of his character?
Lanter - I taught an introduction to ethics course for many years,
and I found that students wanted to think of sex and drinking, and religion, as
the center of morality. Of course they are not. Morality, ethics, means
fairness. That is what ethos means. That is what justice means—being fair to
others. That doesn’t mean that sex and drink can’t be used to harm others, they
can. But they can also be used to help people. They are merely a means to an
end. It is a matter of moderation, the Greek idea of temperance and balance.
Since man needs pleasure, pleasure is a good, and sex and drink are both a
means, but never an end in-and-of themselves. I think it was George Bernard
Shaw who said that with all their prohibitions, the English are not all that
moral. They’re just in love with discomfort. So I definitely see Carter as
moral. He is out to help, not harm others. And that’s the ultimate morality.
Helping and not harming others. He wants to be fair, even if he comes out on
the short end of the deal, which of course if it is fair would not be the short
end at all, but the end that should be. That’s basically the socialist frame of
reference. Carter believes in not imposing his standards on people, but also
that they not impose their standards, such as greed and fear, on him or
others. Then too, that’s what teaching is all about—to pry the student
mind out of its egocentric shell and open it to the world. That’s only fair.
CCWriter- I also felt that
John Carter was agnostic but almost deep down inside a part of him wished he
was proven wrong. Is this an accurate assessment?
Lanter - Of course if agnosticism was proven wrong it could go
either way—into theism or atheism. Both suggest belief. On the other hand, the
child in us, from which we cannot separate, ever, no matter our age, always
wants to believe, to hope that there is a satisfactory solution to man’s
condition, death and dying, and that somehow everything will be alright. Well,
it won’t be alright. We are condemned to nothingness, each of us to oblivion.
Maybe there’s some small part of this futile yearning, the childish egocentric
assumption left in Carter. But the truth remains he is reconciled, at least to
my intentions as I read the character, to nothingness. Carter is a practical
human being who is best thinking “Alright, let’s not kid ourselves.” No one, no
thing, is going to take us into some eternal bliss and contentment. I mean
there’s no Santa Claus or Superman here.
Consciousness as we know it is a product of the physical world, the
material world, the binding of space and time and gravity and energy and of what
else we are not yet sure, an accident, albeit a pretty spectacular one, though
there may be all kinds even greater and more splendid. We just don’t know. Of
course that does not preclude spirituality, but man’s spirit is confined to the
material world. That is why religion has always attached itself to physical
art: the literature of the Bible, the painting and sculpture of the best human
artists—it is always physical. The spiritual always springs from the physical.
So our task is to get on with it and do what we can with what we have at hand
in the time we have.
Simply put, Cater would probably tell you that there is
nothing to save us from. And the hope, belief of continued consciousness after
the physical apparatus has disintegrated is nonsensical. We know that if we
remove or interfere with small pieces of the brain, consciousness (rationality,
thinking) cannot be sustained. So the presence of what or whoever is supposed
to be out there to make it all right is moot. Maybe Carter hopes to be proven
wrong in his assessment of the corrupted human psyche, of man lying to himself
and to his fellowmen. Maybe. But given the history of mankind, the chances of
even that seem slim, indeed. I think that’s what Carter would tell you.
CCWriter- There appear to be two themes in The Final Days. Man's search for
meaning and the demise of the exceptional education institutions in favor of
the corporate college or university.
Lanter - I am not
certain that John Carter in The Final Days
is searching for meaning. At least I do not understand him that way. Carter has
a firm set of standards he accepts as necessary in human interactions. Lying,
stealing (under any capitalist guise) and hating, and fear, are all evils. The
virtues are still courage, temperance and justice. Helping humans understand
and appreciate and find happiness is a good. Still, Carter is racked with the inevitability
of the human condition; time eating away at his energy and the overwhelming
reality of not-so-virtuous, or not-always-kind human nature, including
Carter’s—although I do not consider Carter’s sexual interests or drinking as
corruptions. They may be foibles and follies, but they are not dishonesty
and/or perfidies that harm other people. Most of the story is not what Carter
believes or judges it to be in the first place. By the end of the book, the
world Carter thought or thinks is/was there is topsy-turvy. People he likes and
admires betray him or die. Even Crowly, who Carter despises and then finally
sees as a sad, sad man, and for whom Carter finally has some small sympathy, even
Crowly dies. People Carter initially dislikes befriend and support him. Events
he thinks he understands become mysteries. Principles he has held, (that people
are good and sincere) and taken for granted, crumble. The environment is one
gigantic magic trick: sleight-of-hand and smoke and mirrors. Something like the
world physicists are finding in quantum mechanics.
Otherwise Carter is modern, late twentieth
century man. I shaded him toward Antoine Roquentin in Sartre’s La Nausée,Meursault in Camus’ L’Étranger,and Santiago in
Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea. One review of The Final Days noted that "Here The Closing of the American Mind meets The Professor of Desire. The
dominant, egomaniacal protagonist (John Carter) is more likable than a Roth or
Bellow professor, as his heightened humanity softens his aggressively
intolerant intellectual side. He’s a protagonist who initially seems like a
Hemmingwayesque drunk, womanizing bully of an academician, a professor of
ethics without an ethical clue. In the true novel-as-process mode, however, we
can soon see Carter as a victim, the last philosopher in Philistia, who
actually does want to help the weak.” So
far so good, though I did not intend, nor do I even today see Carter as a
victim. On the other hand he is
certainly not one of Woody Allen’s schlemiels, whimpering and whining about how
the world is mistreating him.
CCWriter- Do you think American universities are in
danger of going through what Barker State goes through?
Lanter - Of course
Carter’s situation with Barker State University reflects what has been going on
in colleges and universities in the United States for well over a hundred
years—and is still going on today—the corporatization of the academy, corporate
executives attacking the professorate and watering down academic standards to
turn higher education institutions into for-profit enterprises. In the past only
some small parts of higher education were exceptional. Today even those small
parts have been badly diluted and corroded. And that certainly is one of the
stories or themes of The Final Days.
I’d suggest that anyone interested in the source of The Final Days also read Defending
the Citadel: Confronting Corporate Management and Corruption in an Illinois
Community College, which I wrote shortly after I finished The Final Days.
- This book was published ten years ago—what changes did you make in this new
edition and why now?
The changes were minimal. I cleaned up some of the language
to make it a little less bombastic and added a few scenes to heighten the
absurdity of the environment Carter finds himself in. But otherwise, the
changes were minimal. Why Now? Well, I first published it in 2003, that’s ten
years ago, and, even as a work of fiction, I think it is even more relevant now
than it was then. These things, the enfeeblement of higher education in the
USA, the increasing hatred and violence and disregard for others in our
society, don’t go away easily. Then too,
there are in 2013 only a few copies of the original available, and the reprint
added to that, considerably.
CCWriter- The end of the
novel to me was a beginning of a new novel for John Carter. What is John
Carter's next wilderness? Do you have a sequel planned?
Lanter – Other readers have observed that there might be or should
be a sequel to The Final Days. If I
were twenty years younger, maybe. Sometimes when a book has taken as long to
write as it took me on this one, a writer just doesn’t have the fire-power or
interest to go through all of that again. Then, too, I don’t know if I could
recapture the mind-set, the psychic frame to do another run on Carter. I
finished the book twenty years ago and a lot of water has gone under the bridge
since then. I’m a totally different person (writer) than I was then. Maybe I
could get into Carter twenty years later, but I’m not sure there would be a
story to tell. So I don’t see a sequel as at all likely, unless . . .
CCWriter– How did you
physically write the first word of this novel? How did you write this
novel —handwriting (what kind of tablet, etc. pen? pencil?) or computer? Was it
in outline or actual word of the story?
Lanter - I begin with pen (maybe a Bic—the cheaper the better, one
given to me or one I found) in hand and paper on the desk. While at university I
spent two years in law school during which time I got in the habit, comfort, of
writing on legal pads. Legal pads are longer than letter size and therefore it
takes longer to get to bottom so you don’t have to disturb the universe by
turning the page nearly as often.
Stories, poems, always begin with me in some line or lines
hopping around in my head for a day or two or three or more, vying for
attention with the more mundane distractions of daily life, until I give in and
commit them to cursive on a yellow legal pad.
than that I plot as I go, at least at the beginning, then fill in pieces as I
think of them. Of ten hours of writing I think for six hours, write for one and
rewrite for three. On occasion I would be mowing the lawn, or involved in some
other humdrum activity, languorously floating in the regions of non-think, when
an idea for the story would suddenly come to mind. I would come up with “Damn,
that’s what Carter would do.” Or, “You know what that silly sucker did? Crowly.
Yeah, Crowly did that.” Often I would shut off the mower or prop the leaf rake
against the house and go looking for a glass of ice tea and a pen, which I
always kept on the kitchen table, and a napkin and write out the scene. I had a
box on my desk filled with scenes scrawled on napkins that ended in the story. My
wife said one time that living with a writer was like a ménage à trois, there is always someone else there, always another
Mostly I write with a ball-point pen, then later commit the
prose to a computer and print out a hard-copy for editing. However, the computer
usually comes in quite late. The printed word, literally printed and not hand-written,
is enormously deceptive. It’s so slick that it can easily lead me to suppose
that what I have written is better than it actually is. Cursive on the other
hand is quite personal and shows all the flaws of character and profession I
might have that slip in to ruin the story. I can more easily spot
self-indulgence in cursive than I can in print—at least my variegated brands of
CCWriter- How many hours did
you write per day and from where?
Lanter - These days I am usually at my desk by eight o’clock and
work until noon or maybe twelve-thirty, even when I’m in Paris or Naxos.
Sometimes, in the evening, I go back and work an hour or so. On certain
projects I will expand the hours. If I get caught up in the turmoil of the
words I may lengthen the daily devotion. In writing At Float on the Ohtagawa I worked seven hours a day for six months
and at the end felt like a cinder, actually burnt to a crisp. I did not write
anything after that for four or five months. And this didn’t have anything to
do with writer’s block. I was totally disgusted with the practice—totally
Otherwise, I try not to mess with anything when I’m tired. I
found that no matter how good the stuff is, when I’m tired, it looks bad.
Afternoons, I use for reading and research, and for laundry and washing dishes.
On occasion I will move my writing locale, though I am not
much affected by table, desk, room, etc. In Paris I usually work in front of an
open window overlooking the courtyard. The small activity of people coming and
going, the voices lifting to my window, is a nice stimulant for musing and
getting ideas, scenes, from one place to the other. Some days I go to Jardin du
Luxembourg and sit among the readers and write. It’s very pleasant. Of course,
when things do not go well, there’s a couple of nice wine bars on the way back
to my flat which are most accommodating in assuaging my frustrations.
CCWriter- I've heard some
writers work on the first chapter until it's perfect, then go on to the next.
Or do you write the entire novel and then go back to revise? How long did
it take you to write the first draft?
Lanter – Novelist Vance Bourjaily observed that the structure of a
novel reflects the novelist’s concept of time. I think that writing and
re-writing also reflect the writer’s concept of time. In The Final Days Carter drifts back and forth in a present-mist
between the past and future, and with writing and rewriting, I too most often am
buffeted between past and future.
Hemingway suggested that, “You should leave yourself
something to do tomorrow.” I would always begin the day literally copying the
last page from the day before, usually without revising or editing. Then to get
into the swing of the story I would read what I had so far. This of course often
led to adding and subtracting (rewriting), so by the time the rough draft was
done the first twenty pages had been rewritten sixty or seventy times, the
second twenty or so pages maybe fifty times, etc. At this rate it took me about
six years to get a rough draft. Then another four years to edit and rewrite.
But then I’m a slow writer. If I get a page or page and a half a day, that’s a lot.
CCWriter- Do you believe in writer's block and if
so - how do you conquer it?
Lanter - For me writer’s block isn’t a matter of belief. It is a
term created as an excuse to not write. I always told my sons that there are a
thousand reasons for not doing something, but only one reason for doing it, and
that’s because you want to. I’m not much into blaming people or conditions (or
for creating pop-culture psychological tags) for what we don’t want to do. I
mean, the devil didn’t really make me do it, and he’s not keeping me from
putting words on paper. Of course there can be a great deal of trepidation in
the morning, hung-over or depressed, or maybe both, in facing a blank sheet of
paper demanding something of devotion and the bitter lucidity writing requires.
Still, the way to write is to write. Just get a sentence down on paper, then
hang another one on the end of that. That’s writing—and if you have a pencil
and paper, there’s nothing to stop you from doing that.
CCWriter- What books have
you read that influenced you as a fiction writer?
Lanter - All of them. All of the books I have read, since all of
human communication is narrative and narrative is always fictitious. It is
impossible for humans to tell about or describe what is out there or what has
happened as it is. As it is, is pretense. It is all invention. We think we see
or hear something and then try to explain our interpretations to others. So we
invent, and it never matches what is really there. Because the reallythere is vague and mysterious and always beyond actual, factual
apprehension, and can only be related as a fiction.
CCWriter- What does writing
do for you and your life?
Lanter - A number of writers (Faulkner for example) advised that
if you don’t have to do it, don’t. I can’t really say what it has done for me.
I’m not particularly enamored of whatever of audience my writing might
generate. I find popularity rather distasteful. Off course I write to be read,
but popularity, fame, critical acclaim too often go over the top. It all seems
to me a sort of unwarranted flattery generated by people who hope to make money
off the praise.
I suspect that at base writing is an ingrained part of my
personality/character, as natural to me as breathing and walking. I started
this thing when I was eight or so, and have often thought it was a ridiculous
thing to do, and that I was totally unqualified to do it. Otherwise, it is an
attribute I do not much encourage or think about. It is always there. If you
ever go into a doctor’s office and find one of the outdated magazines in the
rack has a page or two missing, you know I’ve been there. While waiting to be
diagnosed with a rare but not deadly disease I filled the margins with scrawls
and scribbles, and not willing to give up on whatever it was, I simply took the
pages with me. Of course I didn’t need the whole magazine. And you should always
leave something for someone else.
I would suppose there are as many reasons for writing as
there are writers. Writers tend to be disorganized persons, and scribbling does
give a certain order to thinking and in my case to my life.
Also, I have an abiding appreciation for well composed
phrases and sentences, for paragraphs that set out ideas and feelings that can touch
the human soul. In other words, for beauty, if I can ever get to it.
CCWriter- Your best advice
for fiction writers who have yet to be published?
Lanter - If you need to write, write. If not, don’t. If you must,
then just tell the story. Don’t worry about literature or any of the supposed
ingredients of fiction. Just tell me a story about how John’s flat feet
infuriate his wife and embarrass his children, and the trouble their attitudes
and reactions are causing the neighbors. And you might add a bit on what John
thinks of all this. After all they are his feet and though they trouble him, he
is quite proud of them, I mean, they work for him.
CCWriter- Any projects you
are working on now?
Lanter - Oh, three or four. At the moment there are two books of
poetry, one finished (At the Crossroads
in Samaria) and the other (rue
Ancienne), poems from Paris, nearly
finished. Also I am near abandoning or ending a memoir, If the Sun Should Ask, the
third in the narrative trilogy of which The
Final Days and Defending the Citadel
are the other two. Then there’s an experimental novel I completed thirty years
ago entitled Psyaint David: A Short
History of Six Months of Fun and Bloodshed in the City of the Gods. It is the story of the Son of Sam killer,
David Berkowitz, hired to be on Kojak,
told as a fairytale or folktale, maybe like “Hansel and Gretel” or “Jack and
the Beanstalk” or “The Big Bear of Arkansas.” I’ll be working on it as soon as
I get The Sun in print.
CCWriter - What is your favorite excerpt from The Final Days, and why?
Lanter - Truthfully, I’ve never considered that. In writing you
always hope the mountains are high enough and the valleys aren’t too low. But
each scene is like a child—and as a parent you are not much inclined to favor
one of your children over the other. At least I never was.
I think maybe I would say the first two pages or so of
This is near the center of the book, chapter fourteen of
twenty-six, and Carter has just discovered that his friend and officemate, Mason
Oldam, is dead, that he has fallen or jumped or was pushed from a window at the
hospital. Compulsively Carter goes to the bridge over the river near the
hospital to review the scene of Mason’s death. He is isolated, as always,
nearly totally by the weather, the darkness, the bridge, the night light over
the bridge, etc. trying to comprehend how someone might commit suicide and
actually thinks he sees Mason in a boat being poled across the river. Carter
believes his insights, his perceptions have failed him and he entertains the
possibility that he is losing his mind, or something comparable. At this point
he has nowhere to go. He has seen more than he wanted to see, or had intended
to find. The river passes beneath the bridge, the boat poles away up stream
toward the farther bank, and Carter is left isolated and exposed to the
elements, the unforgiving elements of the universe. The question becomes then,
where to go, what to do, if anything.
In the dark of the December late afternoon and
charred face of the weather wilted winter landscape, the river lay black and
sullen. It lay quiet, almost immobile, a blank black passage without even the
stir of a chilled breeze to give it life. It lay like a great flat
slick-skinned serpent between the student union and the university medical
complex, sliding on a nearly level plane without urgency, dispatched not by the
fierce force of headwaters, but encouraged only by the slow imperceptible pull
of rotation of earth to pass unobtrusively and without breath. On either side
its banks rose sharply several feet before leveling off and lifting gently to
long steep knolls that in turn buttressed the pilings of a single arched
By five it was no longer possible to see
more than several hundred feet from the bridge. The mercury lamps goose-necked
from the railings over the water, and glowing in the gathering darkness,
further shrouded the distant silence of water.
Most of the afternoon Carter had been
walking. His sore knee ached, and he stood now, on the bridge watching the
apparition— like shapes of people passing alone and in pairs or clusters,
before vanishing into the darkness. Behind him, a thousand feet or so, where
the water fell over the dam, the specter sliding hidden and sullen beneath the
bridge splashed and roared alive.
He stood for a long time in the white
circle from the vapor-lamps, then leaned over the rail to stare into the dark
water. Several times he turned his back to the heavy, coarse balustrade, raised
his eyes along the brick wall of the hospital and the long row of fifth-floor
windows. He counted over seven, twice to be sure, then traced a trajectory down
the wall to the sidewalk and the brick flowerboxes along the parking lot.
From where he stood in the darkness the
windows were indistinguishable, bland, regimented architectural necessities,
reoccurring with monotonous regularity along the full length of the wall.
A soft glow in the window, framed by
drapes hanging open, a portal, a passage. From the window the previous night in
the frenzy, the perfectly contained frenzy of dementia, Mason had taken flight
to the rare and thin air of human failing—human desire stretched and frustrated
and wounded—and plummeted to his death.
Carter had not yet got it through his head.
Not the facts, the desultory bits and pieces he had gathered from Ardyth on the
phone, and not the character of the act, an act of a man knowing he shall not
survive, putting himself, for whatever reason, in the graceless jeopardy of
nature's irrefutable conditions, falling quickly, freely, the sensation of
flight assaulting his senses, falling quickly and surely, seeking respite,
relief from his anguish and torment.
Carter tried to imagine a reconstructed
minutiae of the image in the last seconds of the journey, seeing Mason again
and again in a hospital gown, moving and fixed, at a distance, then telescoped
and larger as if Carter could be both here and there, beside him, seeing Mason
simultaneously from various angles moving and fixed as he approached the
window, the now opened passage, raising himself, head lowered to avoid the
sash, pausing in the progress of his exit, momentarily to consider something he
had forgotten to remember, balanced, shifting his weight over the sill, for a
brief, fixed moment, suspended before giving up what he could not recall to
topple into free-flight of air and gravity, tumbling slightly, the hospital
gown billowed in the eddies of air, the rush of the currents of breeze his body
created roaring at his ears as he plummeted earthward.
Ardyth had said, "John Carter, Mason
Oldam is dead. I do not yet understand how he died. They have said he fell from
the fifth-floor at the hospital."
"When did it happen?" Carter
asked, and when she said she did not know, he could not pursue the matter
further, just then.
"This afternoon I will make
arrangements for Mason Oldam. But I will be home after six o'clock."
Carter bowed again to the water, his
elbows propped on the coarse concrete, the chill of the black winter late
afternoon at his bare neck fingering the skin at the base of his skull. It had
begun to snow, a steady, heavy drifting down of white through the shroud of the
lamps hung over the river, a veil enveloping the river, the realization of
Mason's going filling the air around him.
"Mason Oldam is dead," Ardyth's
voice repeated to him.
"Jesus Christ," he told himself,
and said "Jesus Christ," again, this time to Mason. "What did
His words dropped dead on the chilled air,
and then in the shadows, in the improbable, somber chambers of his imagination,
his vision, in the deep of the night he apprehended the specter of a single,
silent boat on the river, poled by a man in a long coat and black boater, the
water motionless, and a passenger in white crouched in the bow, holding to the
gunnels, his face grim and stained with streaks of blood and dirt, the small
cleansing rivulets of tears.
Carter ran along the bridge-rail, raised
his hand, waved and tried to shout, but could not. Then he watched as the boat
poled away up the river approaching the farthest bank.
Later, sitting in the Oldam living-room
Carter would tell Ardyth about his vision.
"I saw Mason tonight," he told
her, doubting his own sanity.
PHOTO DESCRIPTION AND COPYRIGHT INFO
Lanter in his villa in Paris, France. August 2013. Copyright by
d'Argenteuil. (1100? – May 16, 1164). Public Domain.
Abelard. (1079 – April 21, 1142). Public Domain.
Auguste Rene Rodin (November 12, 1840 – November 17, 1917). Public
Claudel in 1884 aged 19. Public Domain.
of David Hume in 1754 by Allan Ramsay. Public Domain.
writing in Paris, France. August 2013. Copyright by Wayne Lanter.
cover of The Final Days.
Lanter. Copyright by Wayne Lanter.
Bellow at the Miami Book Fair International 1990. Public Domain.
Faulkner in 1949. Public Domain.
Lanter. Copyright by Wayne Lanter.
Kant. 18th Century Painting.
Hume in 1754 engraving. Public Domain.
Sartre in 1950. Public Domain.
Oliver. Fair Use Under the United States Copyright Law.
Oliver New And Selected Poems Volume One jacket cover.
Lanter. Copyright by Wayne Lanter.
Bernard Shaw in 1936. Public Domain.
of Paris, France. Copyright by Wayne Lanter.
of Paris, France. Copyright by Wayne Lanter.
The passage to 13 rue de l'Ancienne Comedie and le Procope Restaurant. Copyright by Wayne Lanter.
cover of La Nausee by Jean Paul Sartre. Fair Use Under the United
States Copyright law.
cover of The Stranger by Albert Camus. Fair Use Under the United
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