A novel in verse … and the writing thereof
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And the Boys

“But what was this,” Gloria asked Nelson, “about

     why you chose geology?”

“Well,” he said, just as two faces, one

     above the other, appeared

     around the corner of the pillar.

“What’s all the hilarity?” asked the head on top, while the other said,

“Why Nelson! You sly dog. How’d you collect

     all the women in the program?”

Nelson shrugged, moving down the bench.

     “Hi, Farley, Marchenkoff. Luck? Good looks? Take a pew.”

They did. “I’m Jonathan,” said

     the quicker, smaller, blond one. “And I’ll give anyone five bucks

     who learns Marchenkoff’s first name.”

Marchenkoff had brown hair and warm brown eyes,

     a long back, wide shoulders. He took the chair

     next to mine, easy and quiet, while Farley

     bounced into one beside him.

“We’re never going to hear this story,” Nancy said.

“Yes, we are.” I looked at Nelson.

     “So. Geology. Why?”

Just then another head appeared

around the pillar. It was the poor guy

     who’d been spilled on.

“Can I join you folks? Those fellows

don’t want me at their table. They say I smell

               of milk.”

He glared at Nelson, who dropped his head

     into his hands. “Mea culpa. Of course you can sit.

George, this is —everyone. Nancy, Gloria, Linda,

Farley and Marchenkoff.”

“I told you,” Nancy said to me,

     after the hellos. “The story of why

Nelson chose to go into geology will remain

as much a secret as, apparently, Marchenkoff’s

     first name.”

“No, it won’t,” I replied, fairly oggling Nelson

     this time. “The story?”

“Oh, yes. Well, you see, I figured

     I’d do less damage in a profession where I was

outside most of the time. I didn’t realize

there’d be all this classroom work first, and

I’d be in a lab so much, juggling

slides and test tubes,

endangering equipment and

fellow students.

I’ve already broken

               two microscopes.”

“Two?” said Farley.

Marchenkoff, looking at his large clasped hands,

     smiled and shook his head.

“Two, so far. And about a dozen

     test tubes. I’m surprised Professor Anson didn’t

     fail me for that alone. And you,” he said,

     turning to me, “why’d you choose geology?”

“Mountains,” I said. “I’ve always loved

the mountains. Geology is like

     studying their bones.”

Farley was hitting Marchenkoff

     over the head with a string bean, but Marchenkoff grasped his wrist,

     straightened his own long arm, and

               held him off with that one hand, his other elbow

on the table, chin in his hand.

“It was rocks for me,” said Gloria. “Everywhere

     my family went, I picked them up.”

“You too?” Nelson said. “My father

     said my rocks made me weigh

               twice as much.”

“My mother always complained about

     the holes in my pockets.”

Nancy leaned forwards. “Did any of you have

     one of those mineral displays, you know, twenty-five

     little boxes in rows, each one with a label?”

“I had one of those,” said Farley, waving his string bean. “And

     you had to try to find the mineral

     to go in each place, right?”

“Except mine already had minerals,” said Nelson. “I

ripped them all out so there’d be

     something for me to do. Don’t wave that string

     bean at me, Farley.

     My father, who bought the thing for me,

     was furious. Said I’d come to no good,

     if I didn’t learn the Value of Money.”

“Oh, the value of money,” nodded Marchenkoff. “That was my Dad’s

excuse for stinginess. Whenever

he couldn’t buy one of us something,

he’d say he would, except he feared we wouldn’t learn

the value of money.”

“Sounds like it may have been—financial

     constraints,” said Nancy tactfully, “not stinginess.”

“With my Dad,” said Marchenkoff, not mincing words,

     “even poverty

     was an excuse for stinginess.”

“You should have heard

     my old man on the subject,” said Nelson.

“He was inspired. ‘Nelson, me boy—if you learn

     nothing else from me, I hope you learn—’

     (and here, he’d frown ferociously)

               ‘the Value of Money.’

You could hear the capitals

     in his voice.”

“Are you going into geology, too?”

I asked Marchenkoff, almost afraid to face

     so much male beauty. (If I presented

only my side, whatever rays he emitted

could not blind me, quite.)

He shook his head. “Too practical. There’s a good chance

     I’d make money there. No, it’s pure science for me,

     the life of the mind, and let the body starve.”

“Which science?”


“But we let him sit with us,” Farley said, “as long as he

     behaves himself.”

Marchenkoff shook his head. “We’ll none of us

     be here long, if we don’t get to class.”

“Well, lads,” said Gloria, “and lasses,

     shall we?”

“Lads?” said Nelson. “Lads?”

She shrugged. “Me da’s a Scots.”

“Well, you come by it honestly at least,” he granted.

“Might as well go all the way,” said Farley, and standing up, he

     lifted his tray with one hand and

raised the other high as he declaimed,

“Laddies, and lasses,

     once more unto the breach!” He struck out boldly

across the cafeteria, with us straggling

     in his wake.

Oddly, “lads and lasses” stuck, as did

last names for the guys:

     a curious form of intimacy, but real.

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