Saturday, December 29, 2012

Holiday Refrain

Thought I'd reblog this story from last year's December post.

It's a cool winter late afternoon; a lazy holiday flavor hangs heavily in the air. My husband, Steve, half-dozes before a TV bowl game; our son, Teddy, beside him in the den, carefully constructs a miniature Superdome with his Christmas erector set. The girls play noiselessly in their room upstairs.

The sky dims in shades of orange and rose through the kitchen window steamed by supper's boiling pots and sputtering skillet. I step to the window and run my hand across it; the mist runs like tears down the clouded pane. Interlacing branches of bare-limbed trees show, blurred and distorted, through the cleared swath, creating an angular mosaic against the fading, pastel sky. The image is shockingly exquisite, as if the gentle tones of Odilon Redon had been emboldened by Rouault's stark strokes. I try to capture it with my eyes, to memorize each line and shade of light, realizing that, if I ever find time to transpose the scene to canvas, its memory will have faded nearly as much as the image itself.

This afternoon, a long-distance telephone call broke in on the waning holidays. Sandy Martin, a long-time friend and modestly successful artist living in New York City, called to wish me a Happy New Year.

"Say, Cora," she asked, "when are you going to move to New York? This long­-distance friendship is for the birds! I never see you anymore. Calling long-distance is expensive for a struggling young artist." She laughed.

"I don't know," I answered. "I can hardly keep up with small-town life. Can't imagine how I'd handle living in New York."

Sandy changed the subject. "How's your holiday been?"

"Just great. Busy, but everyone's been in the holiday spirit most of the time."

"Are you doing any painting while you’re on vacation?"

"No. Haven't had the chance. My in-laws came for a few days around Christmas, and I did a lot of cleaning and cooking for that. Then we had a party last night. There was more cooking and cleaning ahead of time and cleaning up afterwards. In fact, I just put away the last load of party dishes and I'm getting ready to cook supper for the family. More dishes!"

We chatted for nearly half an hour. After we hung up, I put a tape in the stereo and went into the kitchen to begin dinner, musing with the music, listening to the rhythms and moods of the piano etched, in some mysterious way, into that plastic.

And I wonder, What has happened to the ten-day holiday? I realize that, in just one more day, I'll have to go back to work. The two canvases I planned to paint are still not begun and an unread book lies on the stand beside our bed.

I turn from the window to the stove, set the sizzling pork chops on simmer, pour rice into boiling water and put the vegetables on medium heat. It should all be ready to eat in ten or fifteen minutes. I call my six-year old daughter to come downstairs and set the table for dinner. She neither comes nor answers. Before I call a second time, the music stops, and I know she can hear me.

"Debra!" I call out for the third time, raising my voice. "Come down here and set the table for dinner!"

She stomps down the stairs into the dining area adjacent to the kitchen.

"I don't want to set the table," she says sullenly.

"Well, you're going to do it anyway," I respond.

"I was playing. You interrupted me."

"That's too bad."

"Why do I always have to set the table?"

"Because it's your job."

"Why doesn't Tammy ever set the table? She never does anything."

"She's only three years old. When she's your age, she'll set the table and you'll have other jobs to do. But for now, you're the one who sets the table."

“What about Teddy? He never does anything, either.”

“He’s busy with his father,” I say, evading her accusing look.

"Well, I'm not going to," she says with a determined tone.

"You are going to do it whether you want to or not," I reply, my voice rising and eyes narrowing. She turns her face away.

I place the plates on the counter. She picks them up, struts over to the table and slams them down at each place with such force that less sturdy plastic might have cracked. Her lithe body flings this way and that; her blond curls toss about with each jerk of the head. Her small hands and slender arms seem too delicate for such emphatic gestures.

"I hate this!" she says, her voice catching.

"You'll do it and you'll do it gladly," I say, articulating each word slowly and deliberately.

She begins to sob softly, putting the rest of the dishes slowly on the table. I put glasses on the counter and she sets them gently above each plate. She gets silverware from the drawer and puts each piece in its proper place. As she sets forks on carefully folded napkins, I hear a thinly voiced refrain.

"Fa-la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la..."

I smile and join in. "...'Tis the season to be jolly. Fa-la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la."

She smiles back at me and I turn to the stove to dish up the food as she finishes setting the table.

[This was published in the College of Charleston Miscellany in 1981]

Wednesday, July 11, 2012


As an official of this large and important city (a hub of both commerce and culture, situated on a major inland waterway), my duties include the planning and coordination of an annual parade that has become a community event of some magnitude. This city is, for the most part, a modern city - not one of those decaying shells of turn-of-the-century urban life with scarcely habitable tenements and row houses, narrow, crumbling streets, dust- and soot-encrusted shops covered at night with grill-work. No, this is a contemporary city; people don't live here. They live outside the city and come here only to work or to shop or to amuse themselves. The jig-sawed cityscape rises against the sky like cliffs and pillars of reinforced concrete, plate glass, and steel: solid as granite, brilliant as crystal, sharp-edged as a sword. A highway nexus joins knots of high-rise apartment buildings and shopping centers that form islands in the sea of single houses spreading out from the city's core.
As I was saying, I have spent considerable time during the past few months occupied with planning and preparations for today's parade: setting the date, contacting fraternal organizations and colleges to arrange for floats and musicians, contracting for vehicles, communicating with departments of Public Safety and Sanitation for permits and personnel. I have come into the city early today to do the last-minute phoning required for everything to run smoothly. The parade route has been closed to cars by the traffic control division of Public Safety. Uniformed policemen are stationed throughout the area to keep people off the streets and the cross-walks overhead. The general functioning of the city, particularly that part of it around City Hall, has been disrupted for several hours, but few are inconvenienced on a Sunday afternoon.
After parking my car in a new underground parking garage, I go to my office by way of an overpass blocked by a policeman. He obviously recognizes me without identification and nods to let me pass. People have begun to gather early for the parade; children and their parents line the streets along the parade route, sitting on camp chairs and blankets; vendors sell candy and roasted chestnuts from sidewalk carts. Beyond the cement side-walls of the cross walk rise yellowed and browning maples, bare-branched elms, green and gold sycamores. And beyond them range multilithic skyscrapers like a giant histogram against the gray glow of the sky, like a solid, three-dimensional, population-growth bar-graph.
I walk alone along the empty overpass toward my office in the new City Hall building, I notice a cloud of leaves flying through the air in front of me as if borne up by a vigorous wind. Large, yellow and brown leaves float and swirl--turning, gliding, somersaulting erratically, some even landing on the cross-walk in front of me near the tops of some maples. I peer over the edge of the wall toward the trees and view an intriguing spectacle.
Children are tossing leaves into the updraft of a vent above the underground parking lot. Several families, speaking different languages, skin of various earth hues, have gathered around the vent. Children run and squeal and pick up piles of leaves that, when thrown, fly from their hands like scattering pigeons. The leaves catch in the up-rush of air and rise as if by magic: floating higher and higher into the sky, tossing this way and that, tracing graceful arabesques, and then, the magic spent, drifting indecisively back to the ground. The children, watched by mothers, abetted by fathers, gather leaves and throw them into the air over and over again, laughing, jumping with each toss, heads thrown back to see the leaves climb skyward. I stand and gaze awhile, and then, not wishing to squander more time (since I have several calls to make), I walk briskly toward City Hall.
I take the elevator to the fourteenth floor; once in my office, I glance out the window. Down and far off to the right, yellow specks rise like a swarm of bees above the cross-walk. From the window, I can also see the gathering spectators, diminutive at this distance, that line the parade route. I establish radio contact with my assistant in East Side Park at the start of the parade route where floats and bands have gathered. The organization and order of the parade are proceeding smoothly. As the time draws near for the parade to begin, I put on my coat carefully and leave the office; I am to be one of the officials on the dais observing the event. I glance in the long mirror near the elevator and feel reassured that any TV camera trained on the official box will find me befittingly attired and groomed. When I arrive at the viewing stand, I greet everyone pleasantly.
I give the signal by radio for the parade to begin. At first, only the faint pulse of drums and tubas can be heard dimly in the distance; soon the sharper, more brazen din of other winds pierces the air. Crowd noises diminish; small children are hoisted onto their fathers' shoulders; people turn expectantly toward the sounds.

The parade arrives, all trumpets and glitter. Pigeons waddling on the streets scavenging cast-off fragments of food fly before baton-twirling majorettes in short skirts. Behind these come brassy, strutting musicians; lurching, stilted, high-stepping figures; fragile floats topped by bobbing, oversized fantasy images and waving figurines. All flow by in slick succession - smoothly, almost flawlessly - enthralling the children. I stand ceremoniously, hoping that no engine stalls, no child runs into the street to be struck by an oncoming vehicle, no aging clown collapses of a stroke to mar the procession. The multitudes have waited hours for this parade; the spectacle is over in minutes, winding, serpentine, down other streets, past other spectators. Once the parade has passed, the crowd throngs the streets.
I walk back toward my office to make sure the parade's dispersal goes smoothly (and to wait until traffic thins before driving home). No leaves now fly across the overpass as I walk along it. I take the elevator to the fourteenth floor of City Hall, traverse the deserted hallway and enter my office. I gaze for a moment out the window at the emptying streets and dimming sky and then turn to my desk and to the telephone to discharge the rest of my immediate duties, a sense of relief and exhaustion, perhaps even melancholy, overtaking me.
It's dark outside when I leave the building. The park around City Hall is quite silent. Leaves swish and crackle with each footstep. I notice as I pass the vent that it's still surrounded by mounds of leaves. Looking quickly around and, seeing no one nearby, I stoop and gather up a crisp and fluttering armful. I toss the leaves into the air and throw my head back to watch them rise in the soft orange glow of the park lights, see them fly up and up and up, catching gusts of air, tumbling, and twirling, and careening, and then gliding widely as they zigzag gently back to earth.

[Published in Kansas Quarterly (1992) v24, No 2&3, p167]

Saturday, May 26, 2012


We went to see Her Majesty's Royal Highland Regiment at the Citadel Field House one early autumn evening. Do you remember? We went together, you with your Scots ancestry and I with my fondness for all things male.
The band was rousing and disciplined, but it was the pipe and drum corps we came to hear and see. And we weren't disappointed. After a warm-up by the band, and with no pause, the pipers marched onto the field house floor, applause mounting. One might almost say they flowed onto the floor; they did not so much march as move like oil to the hum and moan of the bagpipes, haunted by the drummers' muffled cadence.
The corps and their instruments seemed the very essence of manliness: the cockiness of their strut, the Celtic kilts with elaborate ermine codpieces, the bare and knotty knees, the peacock showiness of flowing shoulder tartans, the unyielding drone of the pipes. And they epitomized centuries of going to war, their uniforms binding together those of a kind to intimidate the adversary--vulture feathers like streaks of blood in black, bobbing head gear, leopard skins slung across drummers' shoulders. How well trained! How beautifully controlled! What awe they would inspire in battle!
Ah, the ancient art of war. The fragile spirit of solitary man girded and inflamed by the pomp and pageantry of the larger troop, wound like a coiled spring. Intense, potential power, intent upon victory! Thus seemed those glorious pipers as they strutted in file across the field house floor.
And then a horrible imagining came upon me. I saw MODERN WAR, abomination of desolation, overtake this magnificent manhood. I saw IT (unimpressed by spectacle, or skill, or courage even…unseeing…unfeeling…uncaring…unknowing) blow a hole in the field house floor, ripping apart the pageant. Remnants of men flew through the air, kilts akimbo, uncontrolled, grace and order gone, beyond all symbology or retrieval. And I knew at once, as I know still, that war is no more mere sport for men.
[This was published in the College of Charleston's literary magazine, Miscellany, in 1983]

Wednesday, March 28, 2012


If you were to visit North Philadelphia, you would see that its streets are a naked, forsaken gray. What you might not see, if you haven't lived here, is how deeply that gray penetrates below the obvious surface of things. Beneath the gray gutter water and the matted gray pulp of morning newspapers crushed into sidewalk crevices, below the gray clothes of druggies stretched like shadows across late afternoon sidewalks, beyond the gray wails of evening sirens, lies the grayer reality of despair accepted as fact-of-life, even embraced as destiny.

Up these gray streets I walk each morning on my way to work as a resident in Internal Medicine at Temple University Hospital, and down them I return in the evening or late at night. As I walk from the bus stop to the hospital and back, I try to look beyond the grayness of streets and above the facelessness of buildings into the tunnel of sky that opens like a bloodless gash overhead.  That, too, is often gray. Even if I had a naturally sunny disposition, the relentless gray would eventually discolor my spirit. As it is, I vacillate between despair and annoyance, with an enervated numbness stretched across the long spaces between.

Just yesterday, I took the subway downtown during lunch hour. Several subway-car windows were open, as they often are in hot weather. The car stopped at a station, briefly as usual, while stragglers ran from turnstiles to the still-open doors. Across the aisle from me sat a young man, a boy of perhaps fourteen, with short cropped hair, a well-washed face, and neat clothing. As the door slid shut, a group of five boys about his age ran up to the car. I thought they were trying to catch the train as the door was closing. Then three of them reached their arms through the open window behind the sitting boy and hit him on the head and shoulders. The boy looked up in bewilderment. The train began to move. He looked over his shoulder to see who had done it, but the gang had already run down the platform, whooping and chattering as in a primal war dance. When the train slid out of the station, he turned his head back around and looked down at his hands as if ashamed. An advertisement for Marlboro cigarettes, festooned with swirls of red and black spray paint in some indecipherable script, flashed through the window behind him before we went into the dark tunnel. I asked if he had been hurt. He didn't answer or look at me.

Since that encounter I have felt giddy and skittish, vaguely confused and threatened. On my way to and from work, I usually pass a fortune-teller's shop with a sign in the window showing a red hand painted on a yellow background. The name "ROSA" is hand-printed in pink block letters above it and "FORTUNES" below. After leaving work today, I feel more dispirited than usual. The bright sign catches my eye, and, on impulse, I walk up the cement steps to the door.

When the doorbell chime isn’t answered quickly, I start back down the stairs, but then hear the door open behind me. I turn to see an old woman in an oversized gray sweater and brown skirt peering through the partly opened door.

"What you want?"

"Is this Rosa's fortune telling place?"

"You want your fortune?"

"I guess so," I reply, no longer sure I do.

"Come in then." says the old woman, and lets me into a dim, inner room. Covering half the floor is a faded and frayed oriental rug; a round table and two chairs stand idly atop it. At the back of the room, a dingy green curtain hangs along one wall by rings strung on a dark rod. The old woman calls out.

"Rosa!" There is no answer. She calls again: "Rosa!"

"Huh?" comes a drowsy voice.

"Rosa. Is someone here to see you."
"What do they want?"

"They want to see you. A fortune."


A frowzy woman in her late twenties, perhaps slightly older than I, draws the curtain aside and saunters unenthusiastically into the room. She sits down slowly in one of the chairs by the table.

"You can sit," she says, nodding toward the other chair. I sit down and adjust my purse strap securely on my shoulder.

She looks me over with a detached air and says, "You want the ten dollar fortune or twenty dollar?"

"What's the difference?" I ask.

"The twenty dollar fortune is longer. More complete."

"Ten dollars," I say.

"You pay me now."


"You have to pay me first," she says.

I lift my purse off my shoulder, pull out a ten dollar bill, and put it on the table. She puts it in her pocket. I settle the purse securely in my lap. She asks me to show her my hand and I extend one hand tentatively across the table. She takes it, glances at the palm, lets it go, then pulls a deck of cards from a small drawer in the table and cuts them once.

"What’s your question?"

"What do you mean?"

"What is your question? What do you want to know?"

"Oh. I didn't know I was supposed to ask a question. Let me think."

She looks at me with narrowed eyes. I divert my glance to the pattern of swirls on the table cover. I had expected her to tell me something interesting or amusing. I have to think for a moment about what I really want to know.
She is stares at her hands with a bored, impatient expression. Finally, I ask, "Will my life be significant?"

An undecipherable expression flits across her face, an amalgam of surprise and annoyance. "What do you mean?"

"Will I do something that others will consider of real and lasting value?  That will be remembered?"

She lifts the top card off the deck, looks at it, looks toward me with a self-satisfied air, and says, "No."

She puts the cards back into the drawer.

"Is that all?"

"You wanted the ten dollar fortune. You get only one question."  

She rises from her chair; the interview is obviously over. She walks slowly toward the curtain. I hoist my purse strap securely onto my shoulder, walk toward the door, open it, step down the stairs, and walk out onto the dun-colored sidewalk.

 [This was written in the mid-'80s as I recollected my two post-doc years at Temple Health Sciences Center in Philadelphia. It intends to capture the spirit of what I felt while there]

Saturday, March 3, 2012


The call came at 10:30 that night. She had just gotten back to her room from a long, late dinner with two former fellow graduate students whom she hadn't seen for almost a decade. She had turned off her cell phone during the conference sessions and had forgotten to turn it back on during dinner. When the hotel phone rang, she answered in two rings.  It was her husband, David.

"Lynn, I've been trying to get hold of you. Jamie's in the hospital."

She answered in the controlled tone she used automatically during a crisis. "What's the matter?"

"I'm not sure. Appendicitis. The pediatrician saw him and told me to take him straight to the emergency room. I'm here right now. In the hospital. They're going to operate." David's voice sounded tense and disconnected.

"When are they going to operate?"

"As soon as they can.  As soon as the surgeon gets here.  It may have burst. The appendix."

She gasped to herself, but said quietly, "I'll come home as soon as I can. I may not be able to get out tonight, but there should be a flight early in the morning."

"Your mother's with him right now."

"Who's the surgeon?"

"I don't know."

"I'll call you and Marjorie as soon as I make plane reservations."

"All right. I'll pick you up at the airport.

As soon as she hung up the phone, she called the airline, made a reservation on the earliest plane she could take out of Dallas the next morning and canceled her Thursday flight. She had to transfer in Atlanta, and wouldn't arrive home until 1:20 the next afternoon. It was the best she could do. It was after 11:00 at night when she called Marjorie, a neighbor and the closest friend she had, to give her the flight schedule.

The phone rang five times before Marjorie finally answered. "Oh Lynn! Where are you?" she asked in a slightly hoarse voice.

"Still in Texas. Did David tell you about Jamie?"

"Yeah, he called from the hospital. I saw the poor kid before he went to the doctor. He was doubled over in pain. Screaming and crying like mad. David called me and asked me to come over and take a look at him. Guess he figured a mother would know what to do."

"Wasn't my mother there?"

"Yeah, your mom was there. She looked kind of upset. I believe she'd just given him an enema. Thought he was constipated. I told David he ought to get the kid to a doctor. Quick."

"Well, I'm coming back. I won't get in until tomorrow afternoon, though. David will call you in the morning. My plane gets in at 1:20 in the afternoon. Flight 1322, Delta."


"Where's Melinda?"

"Right here. She's sleeping on the couch."

"Good. Can she stay there overnight?"

"Sure, Lynn. Of course."
"You've got a key to our house. Send her over in the morning to get clean clothes for school. She can take lunch money out of the vase on my dresser. She knows where it is."

"She'll be all right, Lynn."

"Thanks, Marjorie."

"Don't worry about it. Have a safe trip back."

Still in the grip of her compulsive calmness, she called the front desk of the hotel and left a message for a colleague saying she couldn't have lunch with him the next day. Having taken care of the necessary practical details, she sat in the chair next to the bed, put her head in her hands, and wept.

Jamie had been complaining of a stomach ache for nearly a week before she left. She and David thought it was a bid for attention. He'd been out running and playing with other children in the neighborhood just the evening before she took the plane to Dallas. He always had some complaint before she went to meetings or conferences. Usually his stomach; he'd always had a sensitive stomach. Even when he was a baby, she and David often took him on long drives in the car to quiet him when he (and they) suffered from his attacks of colic.

'Why did Mother have to give him an enema?' Lynn asked herself. Her mother was one for keeping children's bowels moving, especially if they had a stomach ache. Every childhood illness could be blamed on constipation. The enema was exactly the wrong thing to do.  'My poor baby,' she chanted to herself. He wasn't exactly a baby, anymore. He was six years old, in first grade and learning to read. How far behind would this put him in his school work?

Mother, of course, would blame her. Mother had never understood why she went back to work in the first place. When Jamie was two and Melinda had started kindergarten, Lynn took a job as a research associate at the University. She tried to justify her decision to her mother.

"We can really use the money."

"Well, Honey, you've managed so far. You could scrimp a little. Tighten your belt. That's what I'd do. Why do you have to go back to work?"

"It's not just work, Mother. It's a career.  I've had years of training. I don't want it to go to waste! I can't stay out much longer or I'll forget everything I was trained for. I'll never be able to go back."

"But who will care for the children?"

That, of course, was always the question. Lynn had made the necessary arrangements. Nursery.  Baby sitters.  A part time housekeeper for a while.  She managed to juggle everything so the children were always supervised, always in somebody's "care."

Now that they were both in school full time, it was a bit easier. They took the bus to school in the morning and another bus dropped them off after school at the day care center. Either she or David picked them up in the evening on the way home from work.

Why did David have to wait for Marjorie to suggest taking Jamie to the doctor?  Why couldn't he just look at the child and know he was sick? At least, palpate his abdomen. But then, David had never bothered to learn which side of the body the appendix or gall bladder or spleen was on. He was an engineer; machines were his specialty. The body was a deliberately sustained mystery to him. He, too, would blame her, though he wouldn't say it in so many words. Why wasn't she there when he needed her? Why should he have to call a neighbor?

And she, too, would blame herself. Why wasn't she there when her child needed her? Could she have forestalled this crisis by paying more careful attention to his pain? Why had she left the children in the charge of two people who knew nothing about medicine or even biology? But then, who else should she leave them with?  What if he died from her neglect?  From her preoccupation with preparing her talk and packing for the conference?

She changed into her nightgown, called the front desk and asked for a 4:00 a.m. wake-up call and for a cab at 4:30, and then got into bed. She set the travel alarm she always brought with her, just in case.

As she lay in bed, she enumerated her losses. Of the $700.00 plane fare, she had paid $300.00 out of pocket. That was irretrievable. She had presented her talk that morning, the first day of the conference. So at least that wasn't a loss. But she had been looking forward to three more days of worry-free learning. That was gone.  She would not have the opportunity to talk with Ryder and compare techniques and results with him. He had confirmed some of her anomalous data using a different method, and now people were beginning to take her work seriously. All the top people in the field were here. She would miss hearing their papers, miss talking with them, miss developing a collegial rapport with them. She'd miss learning new techniques and new approaches to her research area. There wouldn't be another gathering like this one for a long time. She'd have to do it all the hard way—in the library, on her own.

On the morning plane ride to Atlanta, high above the clouds, she felt utterly cut off, isolated from everything—home and family, profession and colleagues. She could not know how her boy was doing, even whether or not he was still alive. Somewhere in her subconscious, she believed he was, but she also knew that he was in danger.

By the second leg of her flight back, her sense of suspension in a web of dichotomies had settled into her being. Home and profession. Husband and children. Reason and an almost mystical appeal to the power of will. Determination and resignation. It seemed as though ambiguity lay at the very center of her soul; in it was her only security and peace. She felt a numbness that no tears penetrated.

David met her at the airport.

"How's Jamie?" were the first words out of her mouth.

"They operated last night. Apparently his appendix was ruptured. They're worried about peritonitis."

"I was afraid of that."

"What is it, exactly?"

"It's inflammation in  the abdomen. It's caused by bacteria that get into the peritoneal cavity and spread and multiply around the intestines. If it doesn't kill you, you may get internal adhesions, scars where internal organs stick together and can cause trouble for life."

"Good heavens!"

They got into the car and drove silently to the hospital. She followed her husband into Jamie's room. Her mother, in the far corner of the room, looked up from her book when they walked in. Jamie lay flat on the bed in a white hospital gown, his left arm strapped to a board, an intravenous tube bound to the arm with tape. A plastic bottle filled with clear fluid was suspended high above his head and drained slowly into the tube. He turned his head toward them and gave his mother a weak smile as she entered the room. His face was feverish and his eyes listless and half-lidded. She went over to him and kissed his forehead, then laid her cheek against his. His face seemed to be burning.

"Hi, Mom," he said gallantly.

"How did you get yourself into this predicament?" she asked.

"It wasn't my fault," he answered, as if taking her question seriously.

"I know, Dear." She turned to her husband. "What did the doctor say?"

"He was in earlier this morning. Didn't say much. He said he'd be back in the afternoon. I guess we just have to hang in there and wait."

"They're giving him antibiotics in his veins," said her mother. "He can't eat anything but clear liquids."

He looked so small and frail, lying there. What would several days of clear liquids do to that already slight body? He had never been as solid as his sister. Now he would be even thinner. 'Thin people are supposed to live longer.' she thought, as if telling herself a cruel joke.

Her mother turned to David. "Since Lynn's here, I can take the car and drop you off at work, then go to the house and pick up Melinda. We can come back about 5:30 this afternoon."

"O.K., Mom," David said.

"Thanks, Mother."

Lynn was left with the listless boy. They were both helpless, at the mercy of forces neither had much control of. The battle of organisms and antibiotics. The battle of Death against the Will-to-Life. She could not will his life for him; she could only be there and try to help him will it for himself.

When the nurse came in to change his dressing, Lynn left the room and walked down the hall to a small sitting room for parents. A petite, dark-haired woman, apparently younger than Lynn, sat smoking a cigarette. She looked up. Lynn smiled and nodded toward her; the woman nodded back. Lynn sat in a nearby chair.

The woman put out her cigarette and asked, "Do you have a child here?"

"Yes, a little boy."

"Me too. Seven years old."

"Mine is six."

"Really? What's he here for?"

"Appendicitis. They took out his appendix last night."

"I wish mine had something that simple."


"Robert has leukemia." She lit another cigarette. "He was in remission for six months. It's back again. They're giving him chemotherapy and transfusions."

"How long has he been in the hospital?"

"Over a week now. They're trying to get his blood count right. Something like that."

"Yeah, they try to kill off the cancerous cells and replace them with normal cells."

"How do you know about that?"

"I do research in the area."

"Really!"  She paused. "What's your child here for?"


"Oh, yes. You told me. Where's his room?"

"Down at the other end of the hall. The last room."

"That's next to my Robert's room. I guess I heard them bring your boy in last night."

"Have you been staying in the hospital?"

"Yeah. I've stayed overnight in his room all week. Don't get much sleep, though."

"I guess I'll be staying here tonight, myself." Lynn couldn't resist asking the question. "Do you work?"


"Do you have a job? Are you taking time off from work to stay with your boy?"

"Oh, no, I can't work. I've got a little girl three years old at home besides Robert to take care of."


"Do you work?"


"Isn't it hard? Working and taking care of a family?"


"Well, I'm glad I don't have to," the woman said slowly, taking a long drag on her cigarette. "My husband earns enough to keep us going. His insurance should cover most of the hospital bills. But we'll still have plenty to pay, I'm sure. We'll worry about that when the time comes."

Lynn didn't know what to say. She wanted to get back to Jamie. As she stood up to go, she said, "I hope your boy gets better and can leave the hospital soon." She knew that, even if the child did improve and left the hospital, there was a real possibility that he'd be back, and that he might eventually die of that insidious, malignant disease. She hoped her horrible knowledge didn't show on her face.

"Same here." The woman had a smile on her lips, but her eyes were sad.

When Lynn got back to the room, Jamie was crying.

'What's the matter, Baby?"

"It hurts, Momma. It hurts."

"I know, Darling."

That evening, Jamie's fever was still high. The doctor came in briefly and said the child seemed better but wasn't out of the woods yet. David and Melinda came during visiting hours, then left. Her mother stopped by briefly and went from the hospital back to Camden that evening. "Dad needs me, Honey. I'll come back in a day or two."

After they all had left, Lynn made up the small cot beside her son's bed. She lay down on her back and listened to his fitful breathing and the occasional short cries of pain emitted in his sleep. Silent tears ran down the side of her face. Through the wall that separated them, she could hear the woman in the next room sobbing loudly.

'She's in even greater despair than I am,' Lynn thought. 'Staying home with her child hasn't protected him from serious illness or the specter of Death. Why this eternal female despair? Men get angry and lash out at those things that threaten or frustrate them. Or they run away. We women are bound to all that causes us pain. We remain to weep for the wounded and helpless. Is it necessary, somehow, for the begetting and sustaining of life that women weep?'

She remembered another time in another hospital, three days after Melinda was born. Lynn wanted to nurse her baby, but the milk had not come in. That lovely, placid child had, with each succeeding day, become increasingly fretful. Every time Lynn went to the nursery, the baby was crying. When the nurse brought Melinda into her room, Lynn would give the baby the breast—first one, then another—but there didn't seem to be anything there. Finally, that night, she sat in the rocking chair in the corner of her room, the baby in her arms, rocking and rocking, letting her suckle. When the nurse came to take the baby, Lynn said, "Please leave us alone."

She sat there in the darkened room, holding her child at breast, weeping, rocking, weeping, for an hour, perhaps longer. She lost all track of time. Finally, exhausted and hopeless, she took the baby back to the nursery. The next morning, her breasts were engorged and painful—so full that, at the thought of her child, they began spouting little fountains of milk that ran down her sides and abdomen like tears.

[This was written during the early eighties, at a time when I was stressed about work and child-care responsibilities. Although it has been submitted several times, it has not been published]

Sunday, January 22, 2012


Lining the ocean between Fort Lauderdale and Miami is a strip of land, about 15 miles long and perhaps half a mile wide, from which rise thousands (or so it seems) of hotels, motels and condominiums:  white, gold-on-white, white-and-blue structures, angling for space and view against the glass-blue sky. The facades of these structures are smooth and flat; beside them, palms and mangroves sustain a pruned and precarious existence.  The fusion of land and Atlantic is the magnet that draws to it the smooth, clean, sun­-seared bodies that swim in blue-bottomed, hotel-side pools and bask on nearby patios.  The beach itself is rarely seen except from windows of expensive ocean-front rooms. Only the most unconventional souls deliberately gain access to it.

On the narrow and nearly lifeless shoreline fronting the Dominic Hotel one early April morning, the only person in view is Carleton Hagen, there to attend the annual meeting of The Anatomical Society. His gaze, directed downward toward the speckled sand, detects a few shells but mostly man-made debris – cigarette filters, rubbers, other plastic objects, and black globules of uncertain origin and purpose. He picks up one of the black objects shaped like a shark's tooth and it deforms in his hand, leaving a viscous brown smudge. He recognizes it and others like it as sludge from some passing tanker.

Carleton Hagen regularly attends meetings of The Society, but he usually sits by himself, arms folded across his chest, legs crossed, a strangely solitary man at these meetings where compulsive camaraderie, reunion with old friends and colleagues, and the exchange of ideas and gossip are the rule. If you saw his name tag, you would notice that he teaches at Union Medical College, a predominantly black school. You might wonder how it came about that this tall, fair-haired, distinguished-looking white man in his fifties happens to be teaching at Union. If you looked up his name in the Society's directory, you would realize that he graduated from medical school at the University of C... in 1960.  Perhaps you might guess that he was a shy, industrious student who did well in his coursework but didn't interact much with his fellow students. Or that, in Gross Anatomy, he didn't participate in the obscene jokes and horseplay that helped other students cope with their unavoidable violation of the human body consigned to them.  Or suppose that his life has taken a very different course than he imagined when he first began his professional career.

He leaves the beach and walks up narrow steps and through a gate toward the hotel. The cement patio surrounding the pool is covered with row upon row of closely-packed, white, sunning chairs, still empty at this early hour.  He imagines them filled with bodies, immobile, absorbing the sun, tanned like the pharaohs. It conjures up the image of a giant morgue or an enormous dissecting room, full of cadavers as still as sunbathers.

*    *    *
More than twenty years ago, as a freshman medical student, Carleton Hagen first walked into the huge, gray-walled dissecting room on the top floor of the Medical Sciences building at the University of Cincinnati.  The tall windows ringing the massive room and the large skylights overhead were gray and grime-covered, but they admitted a soft, diffuse light that permeated the room despite its size. The odor of phenol and formaldehyde stiffened the air. Square cement columns about two feet in thickness interrupted the otherwise open space, determining the placing and orientation of dissecting tables upon which lay elongated objects, each covered with a gray tarpaulin.

As he walked among them, Carleton knew what those objects were, but did not dare imagine the lifeless human bodies underneath the tarps, each corpse the embalmed cast of a lifetime: cryptic, no longer decipherable, but still real, and not quite finished. He felt awe and a touch of carefully suppressed terror as he walked into the room and weaved around the dissecting tables with the formless forms atop them to a table near the wall beneath a window through which light poured steadily. He waited until his lab partner, Henry, arrived at the table before daring to lift the tarp off the form beneath.
It was the cadaver of a young black man, the skull opened and the eyes removed.  Carleton replaced the tarp and suggested they take a different cadaver. He withdrew the cover from the form lying on an adjacent table and beheld a puffy, elderly white man with a gray stubble of a beard and hanging, ashen flesh. On this body, too, the skull had been cut open and the eyes removed.

"Let's take the first one." Henry said. "It's probably in better shape, anyway."

Henry's guess proved to be correct and they, with the two other students who later joined them at the dissecting table, had one of the best preserved specimens in the laboratory that year. Except for a chest wound and a few superficial scars on the extremities, their cadaver was in excellent condition. The professors often came to their table to demonstrate structures that couldn't be found in the more obese or diseased specimens.

During the first few days of Gross Anatomy, whenever Carleton entered the lab, the original nausea, fear, and awe gripped him, but with each succeeding day, he found it easier to throw them off. By the second week, he was practically able to ignore the other cadavers and walk directly to his own table with only slight hesitation.

Henry had nicknamed the cadaver "George." It was usually "good old George," or "poor George," or "Georgie-boy." One of the other students at the dissecting table, a rather thin and darting fellow from North Carolina named Chris, sometimes called him "our nigger." The fourth student, a quiet fellow named Bart (short for Bartholomew), didn't have much stomach for dissection and usually sat off to the side reading the lab manual and informing the others about structures they should be finding during the dissection.

*   *   *

Carleton passes through the glass patio door into the vast lobby of the elegant Dominic Hotel. The lobby is three stories high, and from the ceiling hangs a large, gold-toned sun-burst. Beyond the spiral staircase is a sunken sitting room, and above its center hangs an elaborate, glittering glass and bronze chandelier. Carleton sits down on one of the plush sunken sofas, crosses his legs, folds his arms across his chest and gazes absently at the people milling about the reception desk.
This meeting of the Anatomical Society is well attended. The reputation of the resort hotel and the promise of a warm and sunny respite from the winter's bitter cold have enticed many from the North. Carleton recognizes most of the older faces from meetings past; a few of them were colleagues at a time when he was more actively engaged in research.  He does not make an effort to greet former colleagues; if someone approaches him, he exchanges greetings and pleasantries with a subdued and distant air. It's easy to be anonymous at the meetings these days; there are so many in attendance – so many young people, even women – and most of them he doesn't know.

*   *   *

At the time, many years back, when Carleton was newly inducted into the Society, fewer people attended the meetings and a new member soon came to know almost everyone. Older scientists were pointed out with awe, almost reverence. He was much younger then and pleased, almost enthusiastic, about his decision to go into an academic career rather than into the practice of medicine. The two clinical years had been unpleasant for him, filled with indigent clinic patients who were ignorant, impatient, oozing blood or pus from various orifices, smelling of sweat or urine or alcohol, and unable to communicate. The medicine he had seen practiced upon these unfortunates, many of whom were black, was too often simply palliative, aimed at symptoms rather than the disease: inadequate, unthinking and worst of all, uncaring. Carleton had found himself drifting back to the basic science professors and their laboratories. Toward the end of his first year of clinics, he began to work on a small research project in comparative embryology that had been suggested by Dr. Gerard Moseley, an embryologist of some renown, whose textbook had recently come into wide usage.

By his last year of medical school, Carleton was spending several hours a week in the laboratory and was doing some model dissections for the Gross Anatomy teaching staff. When he graduated from medical school, he did not take an internship but rather, at the urging of Professor Moseley, spent the next year as an Anatomy Assistant, thinking he could take the internship later, and he would then be equipped with a much better understanding of the human body.  During that year, he married a nursing student he met in the clinics.  The internship never came to pass, and he spent two years as an assistant in the Anatomy Department.

During the following year, he helped as a laboratory instructor in addition to his research and dissections for the faculty.  And that year, he attended his first national meeting of the Society, where he presented the initial results of his research project with Dr. Moseley. He had found that the course of development in the yolk sac of chickens was subject to mutation, casting doubt on the dogma that "ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny" in the system he was studying.  He had found solid evidence that individual development does not necessarily follow the course of species evolutionary development.

His results created something of a stir at the time, and he was introduced to (and received favorable comments from) several leading embryol­ogists of the day. At those early meetings, although he was naturally shy and socially awkward, he was automatically accepted into the company of Professor Moseley's former students and current colleagues, most of whom had good positions in medical schools and universities throughout the country. 

At the second national meeting he attended, he presented a follow-up study of his initial work. During lunch one day that week, he found himself in conversation with a graduate of Harvard Medical School, a young black man named Janus Jenkins, who was finishing a residency in Pathology at New York University. Jenkins talked passionately about the need for adequate training of doctors for the black community, of “Negro doctors for the Negro community." Carleton remembered his clinic years and the indifference of most of the clinic physicians to the poor patients, who were often black.

"Physicians need to be trained specifically to treat Negro patients," Jenkins said, "physicians who speak the same language, who come out of the same background, who identify with their patients, which means Negro physicians."

"You may be right," Carleton affirmed, hesitantly.

"But it's not enough simply to train them, you understand.  They need to be trained well, to have the best possible background so they can practice the best possible medicine."

"Of course," Carlton assented.

"And the only way to train them well is to get well trained people to teach them.  People out of the best schools.  People like you and me."

Carleton nodded.

"And where are most of the future Negro physicians being trained at this moment?"

Jenkins paused. Carleton didn't answer.

"At Negro medical colleges. At places like Howard and Meharry and Union," said Jenkins, emphatically.  "Although they probably don't get excellent training there," he added, lowering his voice, "because they don't have the best teachers."

"That may be true," admitted Carleton, feeling vaguely embarrassed, perhaps even guilty.

"But you know," continued Jenkins, "I'm seriously considering taking a job at Union Medical College myself, though I'm just a bit worried about going back South."

"Oh, are you originally from the South?" asked Carleton, surprised.

"No," said Jenkins with a smile. ''I grew up in New York. A figure of speech, you know."

About six months after the meeting, Carleton received a letter from Janus Jenkins, by now at Union, which went into detail about the satisfactions and challenges of teaching there. In the letter, Jenkins mentioned  a faculty position available in the Anatomy Department for an embryologist and gross anatomist at the rank of Instructor or possibly even Assistant Professor. He asked Carleton if he might be interested in considering such a position and offered to propose his name to the department chairman as a prospective candidate.

Something about the tone of the letter--its openness and apparently genuine interest in him--moved Carleton.  He remembered Jenkins' intense concern with obtaining first-rate faculty at Negro medical schools.  Although he realized that taking such a job might entail a certain professional risk, something in him was stirred by the idea. He thought about it for a couple of days before saying something to his wife, Sharon.  She was hesitant at first, but she had recently become pregnant and was concerned about how they would support a baby on a laboratory assistant's salary.  Eventually, she gave him a guarded: "Okay, if it's what you would like to do."

It was another week or so before he spoke to Dr. Moseley, bringing up the subject in as casual and off-hand a manner as he could feign.

"I got a letter a few days ago from Janus Jenkins."

"Oh really? Good man, Jenkins. Did some nice work with McIverson on smooth muscle regeneration in atherosclerosis. What did he have to say?"

"He's teaching in the Pathology Department at Union Medical College."

"Too bad, that. Could have been predicted though, I guess."

"He considers it a real challenge. He wanted to know if I might be interested in looking at a position there"

"Well, you wouldn't want to go there, would you?"

"It would be a real faculty position, at a much higher salary than I'm getting now.  Sharon's pregnant and we'll be needing the money soon."

"I didn't know that. Congratulations, my boy. Say, if it's more money you want, I could probably squeeze out another five hundred or so, though we haven't got much extra in the budget. We won't have another faculty position open ‘til Moore retires, which'll be at least three years from now. I wish I could offer you more."

"It's not just the money I'm after, or even really the faculty position."

"What is it then?"
"Maybe a sense of professional autonomy.  Or the idea that I might be doing something worthwhile."

"You're doing something quite worthwhile right where you are.  Don't even consider a job at Union."

"Why not?"

"It would be professional suicide. Besides, you'd probably stagnate."

"I wouldn't have to. Not if I kept up with research and publishing. Not if I went to meetings and stayed in touch with what was going on."

"Don't do it, my boy. You'll regret it."

That interchange left Carleton thoughtful and insecure. He did not understand why taking a job at a Negro medical school meant he had to drop out of the professional scene.  In fact, he sensed some previously unsuspected bigotry in this admired mentor, this seeker after truth, that annoyed and even angered him.

He wrote back to Jenkins telling him that he might be interested in the position if he could be assured of facilities for continuing his research and if he could be guaranteed travel funds for attending the yearly meetings of the Society. Within a month, he received a letter from Dr. Sebastian Grant, Chairman of Anatomy, inviting him for an interview at Union Medical College.

*   *   *
Carleton Hagen glances absently toward the hotel reception desk and notices a moderately dark black man in his early fifties whom he recognizes with some surprise as Janus Jenkins. He has become a bit flabby but not fat, except for a protruding abdomen that pulls his shirt tight beneath his unbuttoned suit coat. Carleton wonders what Jenkins is doing at the meetings again; wonders whether or not to go up and speak to him or to wait until Jenkins sees him (if he sees him); and wonders what to say if they do meet.

After leaving Union several years ago to take a better job in Ohio, Jenkins had stopped coming to the meetings. Carlton has heard (but isn't sure it's true) that Jenkins is working in a private Pathology laboratory in Atlanta, is no longer doing research, and has developed a "drinking problem."

Jenkins wanders down the steps into the sunken lounge, looking from side to side, and spies Carleton. A smile of recognition sweeps across his face, then he hesitates and the smile quickly disappears. Composing himself, straightening his shoulders and reforming his smile, he walks with a slight swagger over to Carleton, who rises, tilts his head sideways, and holds out his hand. Jenkins takes Carlton's right hand firmly and slaps his shoulder with the left hand.

"How are you, Carleton? Looking good! How are things at Union?"
With that, Jenkins drops his hands, his shoulders droop perceptibly, the smile weakens, and his face takes on a discernibly defensive look.

"Things are going along as usual.  Bailey took over the chair last year, but nothing has really changed."

"You didn't expect it to, did you?" asks Jenkins.
"I suppose not.  I guess I did expect at least a symbolic gesture toward broadening the faculty base."

"How's Histology?"

"It's all right. Clive's still in charge and Harper's teaching it with him."

"That's not very many people teaching seventy-five students."

 "The administration seems to think that's all we need.  And Bailey hasn't challenged them."

"Do they still do Pathology correlations?"  Jenkins tilts his head to one side.

"No, not since you left. They've asked me to come in and do a little embryology of tissue organization, but mostly it's the two of them handling the whole course."

"Are they looking for someone else to help out in the course?"  Jenkins asks, looking intently at Carleton, as if trying to decipher the droop-lidded, phlegmatic expression that has become the habitual mask of the professor. 

Carleton looks down toward the plush carpet and up again, over Janus' shoulders, across the lobby and out the large windows facing onto the patio toward the variegated forms beginning to assemble there.  "I don't know how things are at the moment, Janus. They should hire at least one, maybe two more people in Anatomy, but so far, Bailey hasn't said he’s looking for anybody.  I don't know whether the administration will give him more money, anyway." Carleton shifts his weight from one leg to the other. "That's the trouble with promoting an inside man to chairman.  The administration thinks they have a bargain and they aren't willing to do anything for the department, so we're stuck in the same rut as before."  Carleton glances obliquely at Jenkins' mouth which rolls and shifts as if he were trying to remove a stubborn bit of fiber from between his teeth. "I don't know how things are in Pathology. Angeletti's still got another seven or eight years before he retires."

Closing his mouth and sucking in on his pursed lips, Jenkins recomposes himself and responds off-handedly:  "Well, if you hear of anything, let me know, will you?  I'm with Pathology Associates in Atlanta." He draws a card out of his inner suit-coat pocket and hands it to Carleton. "The money's good, but I don't get much chance for research doing full-time service, you know."

"Yes, I'm sure that's true. . . I'll let you know if anything comes open in the department." Carleton pockets the card.

"Well, I best be getting on," Janus says, extending his hand.

Carleton gives his hand a brief but firm shake and says, "It's good to see you again, Janus."
"Same here, Carleton. See you around the hotel, most likely."

Carleton watches him walk away, down a corridor that leads to the information desk and message board set up for the meetings. Carleton turns back to the lobby where he selects a soft chair looking toward the patio. From this vantage, he does not see the sunning bodies outside, only two palm trees and the far-off, draperied windows in another wing of the hotel. As he settles himself into the chair and crosses his legs, his mind wanders back to the circumstances surrounding Jenkins' departure from Union.

*   *   *

A few months prior to Jenkins’ leaving Union, Carleton had a lunch conversation with him in which Janus criticized the scientific credentials and even the integrity of the new chairman of Pathology, Dr. Dante Angeletti. In fact, Jenkins had suggested that the analysis of morbidity in sickle cell crisis, Angeletti's major scientific contribution, was more show than substance.

"He's oversimplified everything," complained Jenkins. "The disease is far more complicated than he makes it out to be.  For example, shock is sometimes an important component of the critical phase and needs to be treated as such.  Furthermore, the organ where sickled cells are primarily trapped varies from individual to individual. I know. I've seen lots of autopsy material. It's important to be able to recognize this individual variability in order to treat the crisis effectively. Believe me, he hasn't done anybody a favor by presenting the phenomenon as simple, or by proclaiming his three key rules for treating sickle cell crisis. Those famous three rules have probably killed more patients than they've saved!" Jenkins added with a hint of exasperation mingled with contempt.

Carleton looked at Jenkins incredulously, then commented, "You don't dare say that straight to Angeletti, though, do you?"
"I don't suppose so,” Janus said, raising his eyebrows, closing both eyes and grinning briefly.
"On the other hand," Carleton went on, "the students really ought to be aware of the way things are, because they'll be dealing with sickle cell crises throughout their practice."

"Angeletti gives the lectures on sickle cell anemia, so he's pretty much in control of what they hear.  The only time I get them alone is in the autopsy service, particularly if they stay on for their residency."

"Maybe Angeletti would be willing to pay some attention to your observations and evidence," Carleton suggested.
"Not likely. I tried talking with him about it once and he as much as told me I didn't know shit about sickle cell," responded Jenkins angrily. "Hell, I've got a niece who died of it. He told me to stick to atherosclerosis. He's got his career and reputation invested in being right in his oversimplified nonsense about sickle cell anemia."

"Well, you're in a tough position," commented Carleton, turning back to his unfinished rice and stew.

It was, in fact, not long after that conversation that Jenkins told Carleton Hagen he was going to the University of Cincinatti to interview for a position in the Pathology Department there. They were looking for someone with a background and reputation in atherosclerosis.

"Besides," confided Jenkins, "they need a black man. The government's after them to get blacks on the faculty. I'd be an obvious asset," he added with a grin that was almost a sneer. "And I need to get out of this little swamp."
After Jenkins left Union, Carleton began seriously to consider taking a job elsewhere. He had been at Union for seven years but had few colleagues there with whom he could discuss research or socialize.

He contacted a number of colleagues at other institutions throughout the country, both by letter and at the annual meetings of the Society, inquiring about the possibility of positions available elsewhere. He had by that time become an Associate Professor at Union.  Those who bothered to respond gave that as the reason they couldn't consider him for a position. Any jobs available were going to younger men who could come in at the Instructor or Assistant Professor level, at a lower salary.

For the most part, however, his inquiries went unanswered. And Carleton began to realize, reluctantly, that despite his broad base of contacts among Dr. Moseley's students and associates, despite his steady productivity in research and his frequent publications, despite regular attendance and presentations at meetings, he was being intentionally ignored as a potential member of any other department. He suspected that neither he nor his work were taken seriously anymore, that his colleagues were perfectly happy for him to teach at Union, that they were willing to exchange pleasantries at meetings and to tell him it was commendable of him to teach at a "minority" institution, but that they didn't want to have to admit him again to the circle of those with prestige and influence.  He had been prepared for hostility, even contempt, on the part of some in the Society who might view his job at Union as a threat to their segregated world view.  What he had encountered instead was a studied, uncomfortable politeness on the surface and underneath, a profound and deliberate indifference.  He had been prepared for anything but to be dismissed out of hand, as if he scarcely existed.

He stayed at Union and was eventually promoted to the rank of Full Professor.  He was placed in charge of the combined course in Gross Anatomy and Embryology and continued to perform in a competent fashion, though he was not (nor had he ever been) a charismatic teacher.  He sometimes, although not often, wondered whether it did make a difference in their later practice of medicine that his students received a good, solid course in Anatomy. At Union, he was neither fully accepted nor shunned by his predominantly black colleagues. His old chairman, Sebastian Grant, had been good­ natured and almost paternalistic toward him; his new chairman, Melvin Bailey, treated him with distant respect. When he was placed in charge of the Gross Anatomy course, his research became increasingly neglected; he had not obtained grant money for several years. Supplies and equipment were so expensive that it was almost impossible to keep a laboratory operating on the modest research budget that had been a part of his original contract.
Even though he no longer presented papers at the annual meetings, he still attended regularly. That, too, had been a stipulation of the original contract. On his return from the meetings, he always gave a report to the department on the keynote talks and symposium papers, since others in the department rarely attended the national meetings.

*   *   *
Carleton sits in the comfortable chair in the sunken lobby for a while longer, his arms held loosely across his chest, watching people aggregate around the reception desk: older men, younger men, occasional women. They smile, exchange greetings, gesticulate, huddle together, then separate and walk off again in smaller groups. He wonders if they, too, are aware of the transience of what they are doing here, at this scientific gathering with its pretensions of consequence reflected in the glittering decor of a grand hotel?

He glances at his watch and realizes that the Embryology papers are about to begin. He always attends the Embryology sessions, partly from habit, partly out of a sense of duty. He rarely hears reference to his own work, as he used to. He rises from his chair, walks across the lounge next to the patio window and glances out at the gleaming, sun-baked, mulatto-brown bodies filling the lounge chairs, jig-sawed into every bit of square area around the pool. He walks on, down a long corridor and through a door into an already darkened room. He sits at the back of the room, crosses his legs, folds his arms across his chest and leans back to listen to the first speaker of the session.

[This was written in 1979, one of the first in a set of short stories entitled "Laboratory Notebook.]