A novel in verse … and the writing thereof
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A Different Table

“Jeez, I’m so clumsy,” Nelson said, as we moved.

“Honest, if that’s the only thing

I spill today, I’ll count myself lucky.

That’s one reason I chose geology,” he said,

setting down his tray, extending his hand

to the large woman across from him, who looked

     up from a textbook, wary at this sudden influx

               of strangers.

“Hi. I’m Nelson. You’re Gloria, right? I’m

     your year, but we’ve never really met, which is

     ridiculous. You were in my soils class, with Menchner, weren’t you?

     Or was it the chemistry lab?”

She hesitated, then shook his hand, her face perhaps

a bit less closed as she said

     yes, she was Gloria, and turned to us. Introductions

duly performed, I couldn’t resist. “Did you think

     geology would cure clumsiness?” I asked Nelson.

Gloria frowned. “What?”

“I just baptized Mr. Fenton with milk,” Nelson explained.

“Mr. Fenton!” Gloria said, suddenly animated.

“George Fenton the Third? Uh-oh.

     Was he wearing cashmere?”

“Cashmere?” Nelson asked, horrified.

“The Third?” I repeated. “Really?”

Gloria nodded.

Nancy shook her head. “Flannels. Could you pass the salt please, Gloria?”

Gloria passed the salt and lifted her fork over

     her unfinished meal. “Bad enough,” she said.

“Does he always dress like that?” I asked.

Gloria and Nelson, bent over their trays,

     nodded, speaking in unison: “Always.”

Startled, they looked up at each other, as

     Nancy and I laughed.

“It’s unanimous,” she said.

Cashmere?” I could not believe it. Cost aside, it was

     eighty-five degrees outside, and close to that

     in the hall.

“He’s from the east,” Gloria explained.

“And hasn’t gotten over it,” Nelson contributed.

“What were you doing with him?” she asked.

“He’s not bad, when you get to know him.”

“I guess it’s cooler in the east, in September,” Nancy said.

“I guess,” said Gloria, and the rest of us

laughed aloud. “What? What did I say? Or is there

     a monkey on my shoulder?”

“No monkeys,” Nelson reassured her. “You

     just sounded—so skeptical.” When he imitated her,

the words drawn out and swooping, high to low— “I gue-ess”—

I had to put my sandwich down and

cover my mouth with my napkin, I laughed so hard.

“But cashmere!” Gloria said. “Is he

               made of money?”

“His family had a lot,” Nelson said.


“His father was ruined on Wall Street, at the

     start of the depression.

     Those are his father’s clothes.”

“Did he kill himself?” Gloria asked

     in a different voice.

“No. He had a breakdown or something. He lives

     in a sanitarium, in upstate New York. He comes home

     from time to time, but goes around the house

     in a robe. Won’t touch a suit. They remind him

               of—” he waved his hands. “—everything.”

“Me and my big mouth,” said Gloria. “Wow.

     I’ll try not to resent his beautiful wardrobe anymore.”

She herself was dressed

in a simple cotton shirtwaist. It looked

homemade, and not by the world’s most

     skillful seamstress.

“I guess it’s not worth so much,” I said, “if you have to pay

     with your father’s sanity

               to get it.”

“If you have to pay that much,” Nancy objected,

     “isn’t it worth more?”

Nelson shook his head. “You belong

     in philosophy. Except, then you’d not be here.

Damn. Me and my big mouth.” He grinned at Gloria,

     who grinned back.

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