This was my first novel. It started with Mathew Arnold’s poem, “The Scholar Gypsy.” The poem is about a college student who gives up his studies to pursue a nomadic gypsy life, looking to learn things he would never find in books. I loved the idea: what followed was this story. It’s a tragic tale. Downright morose. Almost comical at times.
Main characters include the Professor, Philosopher, Poet, Pre-med Student, Cook, and a pretty woman who gets murdered. The Professor disappears. The Cook does too. The Philosopher, Poet, and Pre-Med Student aren’t happy about being left behind. They decide to abandon their studies to search for everyone who is missing, hoping to find the professor, solve the pretty woman’s murder… Or have some fun, at least. It’s a bumpy ride. The car breaks down, the Poet talks too much, an old lady need help catching her chickens, the Cook offers a morose confession that has nothing to do with the pretty woman’s death — and of course there’s a gang of nomadic gypsies too.
You’ll find two excerpts below.
Sean, the Philosopher
This is how, at half past five in the morning, the companions found themselves drunk and stoned and sleeping – with the exception of Sean, who had chronic insomnia. Sean was stuck: his mind has been whirring for hours. It wouldn’t stop. He had suffered bouts of depression as far back as he could remember. Tonight was no different. The philosopher brooded silently. The clock struck six in the morning.
The problem: Sean needed to determine whether God existed.
Sean sighed, a sudden idea, marvelous idea: why not ask God to tell Sean once and for all if He existed? If Sean didn’t get an answer (plague, lightning bolt, itchy skin), that meant either (1) God didn’t exist, or (2) God wasn’t interested in Sean Manwood and therefore wasn’t worth believing in.
I doubt He’ll oblige. That was the mean part of his brain talking.
That would prove He doesn’t exist, he answered himself.
I am pathetic.
That was it: starting now, six o’clock, Friday morning, Sean would cease to believe in God until He let Sean know otherwise. A marvelous strategy.
And now we’re going to wait, Sean told himself.
Sean waited for God’s answer. The land didn’t darken. The rain didn’t stop. A thunderbolt of energy didn’t strike him dead. There was no response. Perhaps somewhere a child drowned and a mother lay nearby whimpering on her knees (Sean liked gory images), but the Philosopher saw and felt nothing.
That was that.
Yeah, he answered himself.
Sean smiled proudly. He was free. He knew the truth. Okay, he was miserable, too. He had nothing to live for, and he smiled again, this time overcome with nausea. What was the point?
Another disturbing question.
Do something useful, his mind told him.
A few minutes later he found himself kneeling over the child. Freddy had fallen asleep on the couch. Sean carried the boy back to his room. Freddy whimpered against the Philosopher’s shoulder.
“It’s okay,” Sean whispered.
Freddy sighed sleepily as children do, complaining of sleep and thirst and funny dreams, and Sean listened emphatically and nervously, puzzling extensively over every child-related word and question that rose up in his mind. Why would someone molest a child? He carried the boy until his arms and back hurt. The intimacy calmed his nerves. It was a long trek to the third floor of the right wing of this overgrown building, but eventually Sean found the child’s bedroom.
“Good night,” he said, tucking Freddy into bed.
He didn’t leave.
Now Sean’s smile was awkward. With a bump his knee hit the bed frame of the bed, causing the child to stir in his sleep. The Philosopher distanced himself from the bed. He watched, lost but devoted, and backing up farther, he buried himself against the wall, amidst the darkest of shadows. He slid to the ground, his knees bent and pulled up against his chest, his body shivering, and his mind crushed like a ghost lost in some ever-going consideration of its misplacement. He watched without watching. The gray silhouette of his head was rigid against the wall in a desperate, quiet gaze — at nothing. At one point his eyes darted across the room looking for something he couldn’t find. For the most part he sat still and waited, staring, and his face reflected a bitter calmness.
Finally the Philosopher shrunk back to the library.
Oliver, the Cook.
Slanted room, before him a slanted bed, right foot first, followed by left foot…a sense of awe…there she lay, gracefully flowing across the sheets, asleep, breathing peacefully. Was that a noise in the closet? No, she was alone. Francis always slept in short, silky, white garments. She was terribly feminine. Her bare arms lay above her head with delicately curled fingers. Her legs were long and muscular, bare, her skin smooth and milky white.
Gently Oliver sat beside her sleeping figure. A surge of feeling, physical feeling, plunged through his belly. Might I? He could imagine his wife’s body quivering beneath his lips, beneath his fingers, calling for more, wanting him like she wanted all her other men. Oliver sighed.
He thought about leaving, then changed his mind. “Francis?”
She smiled. Her eyes opened immediately. They always did, alert and slightly scary. Francis smiled at him. “Yes, sweets?”
Oliver glanced at his wife’s abdomen and hesitated before talking to her eyes. “I miss you,” he said.
“Do you, baby?”
“Francis, I want to…need to…”
He couldn’t say it. Francis laughed. Oliver wasn’t sure what was so funny, but he was used to Francis’ bouts of merriment. He sighed. He smiled despite himself.
“You’re drunk,” she said. “You know I don’t like you when you’re drunk.”
“I need to…need to…”
“You need to be more assertive?” she giggled.
“Come back tomorrow then? Try again?”
Oliver looked away, ashamed his wife would see him this way. He glanced again at the closet, thoughtful, searching for the right words, something to make him worthy. He found no such words.
“I’ll let you sleep,” he said finally and slipped out of the room before she could change his mind.