Monday, March 31, 2014

Free Souls, Chapter 14

"Hey, Sandy, over here!"  Tracey's voice cut even through the hubbub of the entire Architecture school student body assembling in the School Commons.  "Hey, Sandy, I've saved us some seats!"
Sandy met her eye and had to admit defeat.  She hadn't been planning on sitting with her friend for this Thursday's weekly all-school lecture; at least, she wasn't planning on sitting where Tracey had established herself, in the upper middle and towards the center of the semi-circular, raked hall.  
These events were one of the few times she knew she could get a good and sustained view of Jeff Chesters.  He usually sat down towards the front on the right hand side with some of his male friends from Sutpen's studio, so the left hand side about ten rows up, that was the best place to gaze at him and contemplate the beauty of his genius and the genius of his beauty.  From there she could see and delicately drink in most of his Grecian profile while ostensibly having her eyes on the speaker at the podium.  Up where Tracey wanted to sit today, all she would be able to see would be the back of Jeff's shining head, if that.
But unless she wanted to be the subject of Tracey's good-natured but ribald humor, she had to join her there.  Two weeks before they had sat together in Sandy's favorite spot, and just as the students were quieting down for the principal to introduce the speaker, Tracey had followed Sandy's eye to the object of her admiration. "Oh, there's your Apollo!" she had exclaimed, loud enough for the entire section to hear. Then followed it up with a wolf whistle. Sandy could have died of shame. Thank God "Apollo" had a perfectly innocent art history connotation and no one around her seemed to connect it with Jeff. But it had been a close call.
Well, thought Sandy with resignation, there was no danger of that happening where Tracey wanted to sit today.  She trudged up the aisle steps and excused herself through the row till she gained the seat the other girl had saved.  
Settling into it, she found that she was wrong.  "Thank you, Jesus!" By moving her neck just a little to the left and sitting up very straight, she could direct her gaze without obstacle between the ranks of student shoulders and heads until they rested on her inspiration.  True, it was only the fall of his tawny curls and a sliver of his sun-bronzed cheek she could see, but it was something.  Tracey was paying no attention at all to what Sandy was up to; if anything she was seeking out boys she thought were cute so she could point them out to her friend.
The speaker, one of the principals of the famous firm of Richardson & Greene in Wapatomekie, was a little late.  As they all waited Sandy rested her eyes on that hair and that cheek and thought with awe what a beautiful mind lay under it.  All the ideas that were emerging from it at such a young age!  She thanked God, not for the first time, that Jeff had pulled a high draft number and so escaped being called to go to Viet Nam.  What a tragic waste it would be if he were to go there and be maimed or killed!  What a contribution to the architecture of the world would be lost even if he were to come home safely!  For she couldn't imagine anyone being exposed to the horrors of that terrible war and returning with his artistic vision intact.
Suddenly, even as the thought was in her mind, Jeff turned and looked straight up the lecture hall, right at her.
She felt her face flame red.  But had he, really?  No, it wasn't possible.  Not at her.  Surely he could not have felt her eyes on him and turned around to see who it was.  Surely, he was looking for someone else, someone in some row above her.  
In her alarm and confusion Sandy wasn't going to sit still to find out.  She bent her head down, pretending to find something in her notebook, and tried to breathe till the warmth in her cheeks could subside.  Then resolutely turning to her friend she said, "Hey, Tracey, isn't it great that Stanford Richardson is going to be speaking to us this afternoon?"  Just now she was glad Tracey was with her, breathlessly glad!
Sandy's tone was over-bright but if Tracey noticed she wasn't saying so.  "Sure," she replied.  "I hope he talks about the new Federal Street Building.  I hear the site was almost impossible!"
"I heard that, too!" she replied with a shade too much enthusiasm.  And she kept her friend in conversation until a general shushing went around the room signalling that the great man had arrived.

She was safe.  Down towards the front on the right hand side of the Commons Jeff was again facing forward, his eyes harmlessly on the speaker.  Had his looking her way been on purpose, or mere coincidence?  Surely the latter.  But she was more careful after that.  No one must catch her staring at him in All-School Lecture or anywhere else.  It might be misconstrued.
And she must not be misconstrued.  What she loved about him was his intellect and his ability.  His exterior was merely a worthy vehicle for his brilliance.  To regard him as an attractive man or to assess him specifically as a male creature seemed . . . disgusting somehow.   And it would be a breaking of her vow as a Knight of the Single Eye.  How could she demean him so? She wouldn't!
But that didn't stop her from wanting to be where he was. Or from being absurdly thankful to gaze on him every chance she could.
Catrin Lewis, 1983; revised 2013 & 2014.  All rights reserved

Free Souls, Chapter 13

An afternoon towards the middle of her first semester, hardly five months later.  In the large lofty space just off the entry hall of the School of Architecture building, Sandy stood gazing with particular absorption at a set of drawings signed with the initials “J.C.”  
Clear north light beamed through the windows in the clerestory high overhead, indirectly illuminating the displays of 24 x 36 inch whiteprint drawings tacked to the acoustical carpet-covered walls. The room had been specially designed as an exhibition hall and periodically hosted shows of the work of famous architects and designers. Ordinarily, it featured student projects, the best work from the various studios.
There was a movement at her side.  She turned and saw she’d been joined by her best friend Tracey.
“Whose are those?” asked Tracey carelessly, pointing to the plans with her T-square.
“‘Those,’ as you so casually put it, are Jeff Chesters’ plans for the Main Street office building assignment.” It gave her a thrill to be able to say his name, to be allowed to take it on her lips.
“Oh,” said Tracey, unenlightened. “Who’s Jeff Chesters?”
“You don’t know who Jeff Chesters is?” She was astounded.
“No. Who is he?”
“Only the best designer in the whole school!”
“OK, and? Give me some help here!”
Sandy felt a sudden reluctance to impart more than the most superficial of information. To say too much would be a profanation. “He’s a senior, and he’s in Professor Sutpen’s AM studio.”
“Oh, good grief, Sandy, stop playing coy. You’d think you liked him or something. What the hell does he look like? Would I know him if I saw him in the hall?”
“Oh, all right. He’s about six foot tall, he's got curly reddish-brown hair that he wears about shoulder-length [“a luxurious mane of chestnut curls,” Sandy was translating to herself], and blue eyes, a high forehead and a straight nose [“Like a Grecian statue. Perfect”].  Remember that statue of Apollo we saw in Architecture History?  Kind of like that.”
“Oh!” Tracey said. “So that’s Jeff Chesters! I thought his name was Jesse or Jason or something. I’ve been so busy drooling over him the last six weeks I never bothered to find out his real name. God, no wonder you’re all starry-eyed. I think every woman in the school has a crush on him, including Professor Baxter. Rotten for us freshmen, isn’t it, stuck over there in the West Annex and the seniors getting the cushy studios on the top floor. We hardly ever see them.”
Sandy deliberately mounted her high horse. “Well, I care about more than a man’s physical appearance. We women don’t like it when they objectify us and we shouldn’t do it to them. I look at a guy’s mind and his skill!”
The other young woman snorted.
“Tracey,” Sandy persisted, “just look at these drawings. Now I’m only a freshman and not that experienced. But don’t these look like a professional did them?”
Tracey was heard to mutter something that sounded suspiciously like “maybe one did” but Sandy chose to ignore it. She went on. “Now look at the way the space flows in this plan!”
“Space doesn’t flow,” Tracey objected. “Professor Robbins says so. You define it, it doesn’t flow.”
“Oh, all right! Picky, picky! Look at how he’s defined the space between the main entry and the elevator lobby!”
Tracey leaned closer. “Yeah, looks like it’d work all right.”
“'Work'! It would do more than work, it would be gracious, uplifting, inspiring!” Just like its designer, Sandy was sure.
“OK, if you say so,” Tracy said dubiously. “So what else?”
“The South Elevation, the one on the Main Street side. Just look at his South Elevation! Isn’t it exquisite?”
Tracey peered in, assumed a very knowing look, and said, “Oh, yeah, I agree that Jeff Chesters’ south elevation is exquisite. I do admire a tight ass on a man.”
Sandy tried again. “No, Tracey, be serious. We can learn from him. The mezzanine level for instance. Look what Jeff has done with the interpenetration of space!”
Her friend could not resist. “‘Interpenetration of space’? I wish he’d interpenetrate my space sometime!”
Sandy nearly exploded. “Good grief, Tracey, I wish you wouldn’t be so vulgar!
Tracey affected mock innocence and shrugged. “Guess I didn’t come up with your cultcha. I’m a hillbilly from the sticks, remember? Vulguh’s mah middle nay-um,” she drawled.
Resuming her normal voice, she asked, “You coming back to Studio before heading back to the dorm?”
“In a little while. I still want– ”
“I’ll leave you to your meditations. Seeya later!”
Tracey took herself off, presumably to the West Annex, but Sandy remained before Jeff Chesters’ drawings, now distracted a little by what Tracey had said. It was true: most of the girls were more or less in love with him. And the guys? Some envied him, some wanted to be him, and for some it was a little of both. She, however, honored and appreciated him. Such beautiful work! If only she could design like that someday!
She wasn’t sure why she kept Tracey for a friend. The girl seemed to have sex on the brain. Now she would never dare to think of Jeff Chesters in that salacious way. It would be sacrilege to make him into a sex object, “lust in the heart,” as the Gospel said.
But Sandy had not noticed that, already, her concern was no longer that she not sin against Jesus Christ, but that she not sully the idea of a certain very talented senior in Professor Sutpen’s AM studio.

Free Souls, Chapter 12

One night the spring of her senior year, a little over ten years ago, several of her girlfriends came over for a slumber party.
In the early hours of the morning, when the records had been played and the discarded pizza crusts lay drying in the box, after they’d finished painting each other’s nails and ironing one another’s hair, they’d sat down in the Beichtens’ wood-panelled basement recreation room and gone solemn all at once.
“This might be our last slumber party,” said Brenda, a little black-haired gamin whose curls defied all efforts to straighten them. Her tone was fatalistic.
“Oh, no, no!” some of them protested. “There’ll be plenty of time in the summer!”
“I don’t know about that,” stated Felicity, with her usual thoughtful stolidity. “We’ll have a lot to do over the summer, getting ready for college, and some of us will be away.”
They all paused to let that sink in. The silence was broken by Carole, whose blonde beauty could deceive the shallow-minded into overlooking her prodigious intellect. She said, “I know I won’t have time for parties. I’m headed to Stanford for Pre-Law and I need to do all the reading ahead of time that I can. I’m not letting anyone–” (and they all knew she meant “any boy”)– “get ahead of me!”
A murmur of appreciation passed among the girls, then Pat, a brown-haired girl in John Lennon wire rims, spoke up with, “You know I’ve been accepted to Oberlin. I’ll be majoring in Political Science.” It was her ambition to become the first female Congressional representative from their district, and they thought if any woman could make that happen, it was Pat. “And Elise has been accepted to do Biology at Johns Hopkins, so she can get into their MD program.” Elise nodded. “And Sandy, we all know what Sandy intends to do.”
At which Brenda blurted out, “Sandy’s going to be a knight in the cause of Architecture!”
The other girls laughed, but Sandy said slowly, “Actually, Brenda is right. That is the way I feel about it. Architecture isn’t just a profession or a career for me, it’s a calling. I’m convinced it’s what God wants me to do.”
“With a T-square instead of a sword!” said Brenda, who was planning to study Electrical Engineering at IIT.
“You know,” said Carole, “I’m with Sandy on this. It doesn’t matter one damn bit that I’m a woman, when I become a lawyer I’m going to be a knight with Jesus as my liege Lord.”
Carole was a fellow-member of Fourth Presbyterian, but it didn’t take Dr. Wallace’s preaching for any of these young women to embrace the idea of serving God through their professions. To a woman, that night they all affirmed the same.
“You know, I like the concept of knighthood,” said Pat, quite earnestly.  “Particularly the idea of total dedication. You had your life, of course, you took care of your manor, but really everything you did you did in the name of your lord and king. So if Jesus is my King . . . It seems to give more meaning to life, you know?’
They knew. They also knew they were swimming against the cultural tide that pushed the New and rejected the Old, but they were Blakewell Public Academy Classical Honors students. Being countercultural against the counterculture was what they revelled in.
To the annoyance of their less-favored schoolmates, Classical Honors students feasted on Chaucer, Shakespeare, and Austen; they quoted Ovid and Aquinas (in the original Latin); they were into Shostakovich as well as Steppenwolf; they attended plays, operas, and art exhibitions; they wrote poetry even when it wasn’t assigned; and at times between the boys and the girls they even affected an ironically sincere parody of the conduct and speech of the knights and ladies of Medieval legend. “We must have been insufferable,” Sandy thought now. “We would have been the better for a good scare.”
But in spite of all their self-admitted posing and deliberate irony, Sandy and her peers believed in the high standards their education called them to meet. More than that, they were fully confident they would meet them.
It was no different that spring Saturday night.
“And purity,” said Sandy. “Don’t forget they pledged themselves to purity.”
“Of mind, soul, and body,” confirmed Pat.
“Don’t you think purity is the same as focus?” proposed Felicity, who was going on a full scholarship to Juilliard to become a concert pianist. “Focussing on what’s really important and not letting other things get in the way?”
“‘The single eye,’” said Carole, echoing Jesus in the Gospel of St. Matthew. “That’s about keeping your focus on God . . . And knowing your real treasure is in heaven.”
“Felicity, you have a point, ” said Elise. “And you, too, Carole. But focus– purity– the single eye– whatever you want to call it, it’s going to be harder once we get to college. You guys keep me honest. Once we’re scattered all over the country . . . Where will we ever find a group like ours? I hope I won’t be tempted to let my standards slide.”
“Especially when it comes to purity,” said Carole.
“What kind of purity are you talking about?” inquired Brenda. “Saving yourself for marriage?”
“Well, that, but– ” began Carole.
“Yes, that, and also– ” Sandy spoke up at the same time. She apologized. “I’m sorry, Carole, go ahead.”
“No, you, Sandy. You’re the one who mentioned purity in the first place.”
“Well, all right. Yes, purity of body, for certain. But, I mean . . . ” She groped for the right words. “I mean, I don’t think we should make ourselves into some golden trophy to be awarded to some guy when we marry him. I mean, there’s something obnoxious about remaining a virgin just to remain a virgin, don’t you think? But I guess it gets back to the knighthood idea. Abstaining from sex, fasting, all that was part of getting them focussed on serving their king when they went to war. If they were too busy slipping in and out of ladies’ bowers why would they ever want to put their armor on?”
“Or in our case,” agreed Pat, “getting all distracted by who’s dating who and who slept with who last weekend and love triangles and breakups and all that drama.”
“Which you will notice that our crowd doesn’t get involved in,” said Brenda, airily. “We just stand above it and let the common herd of hormone-ridden high-schoolers run themselves to ruin, misery, and rotten grades!”
They all laughed.
“Yeah, that’s true,” said Sandy. “We Classical Honors people, seems like we’re all focussed on doing the best work we can, boys and girls both. We don’t distract each other, we work together. Has it ever occurred to you that in our crowd we have a lot of boys who are friends, but few of us actually have boyfriends? And that’s okay?”
“Yeah,” said Carole. “The other kids think we’re weird. ‘Honors monkeys run in packs,’ that’s what they say about us.”
“Well, I like being weird,” said Sandy, laughing with the rest. “Besides, who’d want to date somebody who isn’t in our program?”
“Really,” said Brenda. “I’d want any guy I went steady with to be at least as smart as I am!”
They laughed again, but they knew she was serious. They all felt the same way. “But with the Honors guys . . . ” said Carole, “wouldn’t going steady with one of them seem like incest? Especially if it came to sex!”
“Definitely! Like making out with your brother!” said Sandy, thinking of Larry and Mark and shuddering.
“Sex just complicates things,” Felicity said. “Like Pat said, it’s a distraction from your work.”
“I don’t think guys think of it that way,” considered Elise. “At least, not the general run of guys. For them it’s a ‘creative outlet.’”
“Sure,” said Pat drily, “when it’s not a procreative outlet!”
“I support a lot of what the Women’s Movement is doing,” Elise went on once the laughter at Pat’s comment had subsided, “but I think they’re off-base in thinking that sex is just the same for women as for men.”
“Or should be,” said Sandy.
“Or should be. Seems to me if you have sex with a guy without knowing it’s permanent, it’s like giving pieces of yourself away all over the place. How are you supposed to get any important work done if you’re constantly starting and ending some new sexual relationship? It would be devastating.”
“Not to mention devastating to your reputation,” said Felicity. “It’s so low-class. How would you like people talking about you like they talk about Doreen Steltzer?” Everyone knew Doreen Steltzer; at least, what the boys said about her: “She walks through the neighborhood with a mattress on her back.” She shuddered again.
“You mean the Handy Pass-Around Pack?” inquired Pat sarcastically. “No thanks. I don’t want to be known for sleaze.”
“Do you think it’s different if a girl stops before going all the way?” wondered Carole. “There’ll be plenty of attractive men in college. We’re not planning to be nuns, after all. Where would you draw the line?” She made the statement as if proposing a problem for scientific study.
“Maybe not letting him touch you under your clothes, at least not below the waist or in front?” posited Felicity. “Any farther, and guys get, well, expectations.”
“That’s right,” said Brenda. “It’s not fair to the boys to let them get their expectations up–or other things”--she grinned broadly-- “then say no, you were just fooling. Seems like using them, to me.”
“I totally agree,” said Sandy. “The ‘professional virgin.’ Sometimes I think that’s worse than being an out-and-out slut.”
“Maybe you’re right,” agreed Felicity. “There’s a certain gay abandon about the one. Like they can’t help themselves. The other seems almost, well, premeditated.”
“Not necessarily,” Pat said. “It could be more what we were talking about earlier, loss of focus. I’m not sure girls like that know what they want. So they get themselves into stupid situations. Over and over, which is stupider still.”
“‘Stupider’?” Carole teased. “You of all people’re using a word like ‘stupider’?”
“You know what I mean!”
“Seems stupid to me, too,” said Sandy, getting back to the subject. “That’s why I intend to focus on Architecture until I get my degree and am out and have a good job. Boys as friends are fine. But I’m not letting one of them get in the way of my serving Jesus as an architect!”
“What if Jesus sends you a nice boy you love enough to marry while you’re still in school?” asked Brenda with a knowing look.
“Sure, He can do that if He wants. But it would have to be a nice Christian boy. You think it’d be hard dating someone who’s not in our program. I think it’d be worse being married to someone who didn’t think Jesus was the most important thing in the world. Talk about losing your focus!”
“Some people say that marriage is just a piece of paper,” said Brenda. “I know the Women’s Libbers do. And you can be just as committed if the two of you just decide to move in together.”
“Yeah,” laughed Felicity. “And your report card has nothing to do what how hard you studied in school.”
“What’s that got to do with it?”
“Don’t you get it?” Felicity said. “A marriage certificate, a report card, just two pieces of paper. But they stand for something bigger and more important that somebody has done. Come on, you remember that from when we studied symbolism in Introduction to Philosophy!”
“Oh, yeah,” said Brenda. “True.”
“So, ” said Felicity, “the report card is the record and symbol of how you did in school, and the marriage certificate is the record and symbol of the commitment you made when you promised to love, cherish, and so on and so forth your lawfully wedded husband. Or you will make, when you get married,” she amended.
“Do you guys think it’s important that that commitment be public?” wondered Pat. “Does it need to be done ‘before God and all the neighbors’ for it to count?’”
“‘Before God and all the neighbors’?” questioned Elise.
“Can’t help it,” said Pat. “I have hillbilly ancestors.”
“I think so,” said Sandy, answering Pat’s question. “If nothing else, it proves that your husband is willing to commit to you in public!”
“I think it’s totally essential. It’s what marriage is all about,” said Carole. “Christian marriage, at least. Standing up before God and all the neighbors as you put it and saying, ‘This is my man till death do us part.’ It comes down to having witnesses to a contract. That’s what marriage is, really, a contract.”
“Sounds so cold,” said Brenda. “I guess that’s why a lot of people say true love is enough.”
“It is a contract,” said Carole. “It’s also a commitment, a covenant, an agreement, a vow, a bond, a whatever you want to call it. Because true love isn’t enough. That’s what Dr. Wallace says. And don’t tell anyone I said this, but I think our parents are right in saying it should be public.”
“Like the oath of fealty the knights took, like we were talking about before,” said Pat. “That was in front of the king and his court. The witnesses held the knight accountable and helped him keep his vow.”
“That's all true for marriage. But what about the work we’re going to do?” Sandy wondered. “It’s nice for us to sit here and talk about focus and purity and doing it all for Jesus, but with our work, is it just between ourselves and God? Do we have any witnesses keeping us accountable in that?”
“Well,” said Felicity, “there’s always our professors–”
“Of course we’ll all write to each other and– “” began Pat.
“Hey! Wait a minute!” gasped Elise, cutting across them both. They all turned to stare at her. “We all agree that it’s good to be held accountable. Like I said before, you guys keep me honest. Right?”
“Right,” they all agreed.
“Okay. So here’s my idea. Let’s form an order! We’ll pledge to be noble knights and true as we fight against disease and injustice and bad architecture and all the rest of it, and we’ll be each other’s witnesses! We can call ourselves the Lady Knights of the Single Eye!”
“And promise to stand for Pure Focus?” suggested Brenda.
“Certainly, that’d be it!” said Elise.
“Or Focussed Purity!” said Sandy.
“How about both?” said Pat.
“Sure, why not?” responded Elise.
“Can we drop the ‘Lady’ part?” asked Carole. “I’ll be a full knight or none at all!”
That sounded good to them all. Felicity asked, “So what will our pledge be?”
“Well,” said Elise, “we’re all Christians, right?”
“All right, first of all we all dedicate our lives, our work, and our honor to our liege Lord Jesus Christ.”
“And how about this?” said Sandy. “Just to be clear, we should say that means that we will be virgin knights until our Lord sends us the Christian man He intends for us to marry. Speaking for myself, I mean . . . ” She looked around at the others. One by one they all nodded.
“And we pledge to focus on the work He has given us for His glory alone,” said Pat.
“Absolutely,” they all agreed.
“So are we all in?” said Elise. “Who will pledge her fealty as a charter member of the Knights of the Order of the Single Eye?”
A solemn hush went around the room. To Sandy, it was like being in church. Something momentous was about to happen, and they all knew it.
Then, “I’m in,” said Brenda.
“So am I,” said Pat.
“I am, too, all the way,” said Sandy.
“Me, too,” said Carole.
“Here’s my hand on it,” said Felicity.
“And mine,” said Elise.
And then and there, in the basement rec room of Sandy’s house, they swore their solemn oath to be faithful knights in Jesus’ service, dedicating their future work and their purity of mind, heart, and body to Christ alone. It was Sandy who suggested “Be Thou My Vision” as their anthem, and now, years later, it brought tears to her eyes to recall how earnestly they had sung it together, once she’d fetched the hymnal off the piano upstairs.
They had been so committed, so sincere! True, their baptismal and confirmation vows should have been enough to set and keep them on the path they swore to walk that night.  But there was nothing wrong in the vow they’d made, Sandy knew it, and nothing whatever wrong with the principles they’d dedicated themselves to. They were honest and worthy and noble and good.
“It was nothing to laugh at!” she shouted hotly at the grinning unseen skeptic who haunted the empty room. Nor did she care if the neighbors heard. “We were right to promise, right, right, right!”
Which made it all the more frightening how quickly she, at least, began to break the bond.
by Catrin Lewis, 1983, revised 2013 & 2014.  All rights reserved

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Free Souls, Chapter 11

Be Thou my Vision, O Lord of my heart;

Naught be all else to me, save that Thou art–
Thou my best thought, by day or by night,
Waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light.
From the chancel of the Fourth Presbyterian Church, Sandy, at sixteen the youngest member of the adult choir, lifted up her clear soprano in the ancient Irish hymn.
“Be Thou My Vision” had long been one of Sandy’s favorites. There was something solid, true, and tested about it. Joined with choir and congregation, with the massive pipe organ rolling out the hymn tune “Slane,” she felt herself to be united with the anonymous Dark Age Christian missionary, perhaps St. Patrick himself, whose manifesto it was.  
“Riches I heed not, nor man’s empty praise . . . ” Courageous, that’s what she would be, whatever life threw at her. Like the hymn's ancient writer, she would stand firm in the power of Jesus Christ. “ . . . Heart of my own heart, whatever befall, Still be my Vision, O Ruler of all. Amen,” she sang, and it was more than a hymn for her, it was a vow and a confession of faith.
Choir and congregation were seated and the Reverend Dr. Alec Wallace ascended the pulpit to deliver his sermon.
Sandy liked to say she’d been a member of Fourth Presbyterian since before she was born, and certainly Dr. Wallace had been pastor there nearly as long as she had been alive. As far back as she could remember she’d seen him standing tall in the pulpit preaching God’s salvation and love. 
This particular morning, he took his texts from the book of Romans. “God loved us even when we were His enemies! Jesus His Son died for you, and you have nothing to be afraid of anymore,” he proclaimed. “Nothing can separate you from His love, nothing! Trust His love for you, you are more than a conqueror in Jesus Christ!”
At sixteen she was no longer a child, to be in awe of him in his long black robe with its red velvet stripes on the sleeves, but she still knew he was speaking for God. 
“There’s no need to be frightened of anything in this world, brothers and sisters,” he urged his congregation, “because the perfect love of God casts out all fear. Believe the good news and praise Him for what He has done for you through Jesus Christ our Lord!”
Grounded, that’s what she had become at Fourth Presbyterian. Rooted and grounded in the power and protection of God. Not everyone’s church experience was like hers, she knew that now. Eric’s certainly wasn’t. But certainly, what she gained from her pastor and teachers there gave her every reason not to fear.
From Dr. Wallace, too, had come the awareness of human work as a vocation from God, to be done to His glory. Sandy learned you didn’t have to be a preacher to serve Jesus, you could and should do it just as well as a salesman or a plumber or a housewife. At a young age she had determined that she wanted to be an architect and for years it had only been what she wanted to do for a living. But lately it had broken on her like an epiphany that it could be and would be more than that. The Sunday morning when she’d grasped the connection between the path she had chosen for her life and the Jesus Christ she had come to trust, it filled her with a burst of joy she wished she could have lived in forever.
When had she first had the idea of going into Architecture? She must have been ten or eleven. She remembered going to her father one evening and saying to him, “Daddy, Mark wants to be a doctor and Larry says he’s going to be an airline pilot. Daddy, I’ve decided what I want to be when I grow up.”
Roderick Beichten had laid down his newspaper and smiled at his only daughter. “So what do you want to be, Honey Sandwich?”
“I want to be an architect,” she’d said, proudly.
“An architect! Good for you!” had been her father’s unreserved response. “That’s a very important job.”
“I know! Dr. Wallace told me last Sunday that an architect made drawings so they could build the new Sunday School rooms. I saw them in the church lobby, on the bulletin board. And there’s a colored picture of what the new part will look like. Oh, Daddy, it is so beautiful! I want to be an architect so I can make pictures like that!”
“Being an architect is about more than drawing pretty pictures of buildings, Honey Sandwich,” her father had said, a probing tone to his voice.
“I know that,” she’d replied with a child’s impatience at the stupidity of grownups. “Dr. Wallace said architects have to show the builders how to make the building really strong so it won’t fall down. And he says our architect will be at church next Sunday and if I want to meet him I can, if it’s all right with you and Mommy. Oh, Daddy, may I?”
“Certainly, if he has time. Architects are very busy people, you know. You will have to work very hard when you become one.” (She distinctly remembered how he’d said “when,” not “if.”)
“Oh, yes, I will! I’m working already! I drew us a new house! Do you want to see it?”
“Of course I do, Honey Sandwich. And I’m glad to hear what you want to be. Not very many girls become architects, but if you study hard and keep drawing, I know you can do as well as any boy out there. Maybe better.” He’d winked. “Now go get those house plans of yours.”
Her rudimentary plans and elevations Roderick Beichten had had framed and hung on the wall of his den, and no one had been prouder than he when Sandy was accepted into the prestigious program at the university at Mt. Athens.
Her father, her whole family, actually; her pastor and the members of her church– they had all supported and encouraged her as a girl. They taught her not to fear anything she might encounter.
“So why am I so afraid of what might happen, with the office-- and Eric? Why can't I stand up on my two legs and act like a grown up human being instead of a scared little child?”  She stared out towards the streetlight bright through the naked branches of the tree outside her window. All those early reasons for courage were still hers. But somehow, they remained just beyond her grasp.  She needed to know why.
by Catrin Lewis, 1983, revised 2014, all rights reserved

A Poem, Just to Vary Things a Little

A Last Poem

I walk in a gray March rain
On a path hung with forsythia past their bloom
My heart crumples like
Last year’s leaves     Not
Because you will not be there
But because
I cannot care if you were

The sky widens in wet blindness
I mourn the very loss of pain

There’ll be snow, they say,
Towards morning.

by Catrin Lewis, 30 March 1985, all rights reserved

Free Souls, Chapter 10

Sandy climbed the stairs to her apartment in a distracted state of mind. She unlocked the door and routinely, almost mechanically, placed her hat on its hook and hung her coat and scarf in the minuscule coat closet. She hardly paid attention to what she was doing: something unsettled and sad had bedded down in the pit of her stomach and would not let her look back on the afternoon with any degree of contentment or rest.
“What do I want, anyway?” she demanded of the four walls. “I should be ecstatic!” 
Her boss, whom she respected, esteemed, and yes, yes, yes, loved had just asked her to accept a promotion to associate architect in his firm! “He runs the best damn design practice in Wapatomekie, and I’m going to be his first associate! And I’m only twenty-eight!” It would bring amazing new opportunities, not to mention an increase in pay, all tied in with the fact that Eric Baumann thought she was worthy of the position. “Ecstacy” certainly should be the word.
But she was not ecstatic. She felt flat, empty, and painfully at odds with herself.
“What’s wrong with me?” she cried aloud as she kicked off her shoes and drew herself up on the sofa. “I was horrible to him! There at the exhibition, and later on in the car! Why can’t I take a compliment from a man I care about with any sort of grace? Would it have killed me simply to say ‘Thank you’ and get it over with? But no, I have to throw it back in his teeth and twist his words!”
But it wasn’t just that. Any other woman, loving a man and wanting to lead him on to love her, would have skilfully laid hold of that compliment (“You look like an Old Master,” he had said, and she had known exactly what he meant: the ensemble was one of her favorites; she knew it became her, though it was too good for office wear). Any woman would have made of his words a golden cord to bind him to her and make him her own. Any woman, that is, but herself.
She was sure Leah Matthews would have taken full advantage had Eric so complimented her. On the thought, she stopped. “He probably has said such things to her.”
But so what if he had? The point wasn’t what he had or hadn’t done, it was what she, Alexandra Marie Beichten, had done and had kept on doing to him.
Painfully, she recalled every word of their exchange over the El Greco. 
A self-justifying voice within her spoke up: “Well, there was no meaning in that, anyway. Totally silly for him to talk about giving you something neither he nor you could ever own. Talk is cheap. Easy enough for him to go on like that, when he’ll never be called on to back it up!”
But the contrary voice died away, suppressed by what she knew was the truth. For what Eric had offered her there in the Spanish gallery was not a priceless Old Master painting, but the assurance, much more valuable, that he could be aware of her wishes and desires, and in some way desired to fulfill them. No, he was not aware of everything she desired– not that, not the impossible That– but to the extent her wishes were right and fitting given their present relationship, that certainly was how he felt.
He’d shown it when he’d offered– no, given– her the position as associate architect. He had known that was something she wanted before she had been willing to see it for herself. The thought had crossed her mind over the past few months, but she had always repressed it as a dim, distant, impossible dream. But Eric had known she longed to handle projects on her own, to make a greater contribution to their mutual effort. And at some cost to himself he had given the opportunity to her.
And how had she reacted? 
"I practically turned my back on him in the car!  I acted like I had nothing to do with him, the office, or our work. Did I really have to make him spell it out for me as if I were a stubborn kid in the slow learners' class?"  But that's what he'd had to do before she would stop putting words in his mouth and consent to receive what he would give.
And then in her heart she had impugned his motives.
"'He's trying to see less of me', that's what you automatically thought.  All your life since you were a kid you've wanted to stretch your architectural wings and fly, and now you're saying 'Feed me, coddle me, don't make me leave the nest'?  He's going to give you more freedom, and you know how hard that must be for him, he's such a strong designer himself.  And your first thought is to think he's deliberately being cruel to you?  Where is your self-respect, Alexandra, your good sense, your-- your gratitude?"
She should have been happy about how things had turned out; happy, joyful, and relieved. But she wasn’t yet and as yet she couldn’t be. “What is wrong with me?” she demanded again. 
Then, “I should call him. He’ll be home by now. Things seemed better by the time he dropped me off, but I should apologize for being such a shrew before that.”
But she knew she wouldn’t even pick up the phone. She knew why she wouldn’t, and she knew what had driven her to act the way she had.
It was fear.
Fear crouched like a shrivelled loathsome gnome visible to her mind’s eye, grinning in her face, mocking her. She got off the sofa, put on the kettle, and made herself a cup of tea. Maybe that would break its grip on her and she could go on with her evening as she had planned. There was an orchestra concert on the radio she was looking forward to listening to. And maybe she would draw a little on the sketches for her dream house.
But twenty cups of tea would have been no charm against a demon so long in residence. And the question of how her prospective kitchen should relate to a possible family room was nothing compared to the problem of how she had gotten to this point in her life and what she should do about it. And she had to do something about it, or her career (she would not allow herself to say “more than her career”) might be in jeopardy.
She pushed back her hair from her face with both hands, as if trying to clear her sight. “Why,” she whispered into the silence, “why do I act like this? Especially towards him? Why am I so afraid?”
Especially when for so long in her life there had been no need to be?
by Catrin Lewis, 1983, revised 2013 & 2014, all rights reserved

Free Souls, Chapter 9

“You look very nice,” he’d finally said.
Such a statement was prosaic enough to be borne, so Sandy had accepted it with equally prosaic grace. She tried to immerse herself in the study of Rembrandt’s portrait of his mistress Hendrickje Stoffels, though every cell in her body seemed to be a separate antenna picking up the frequency of Eric’s continued presence behind her.  There had been poetry in what he had said before, but she dared not credit that from him. Hers was too fragile a hope to be founded on such ephemera: she had miscalculated on men's feelings towards her before; she dared not risk error now.
The safest explanation was that something was going on.  Turning back to him she asked, "Has something happened since Friday afternoon that I shouldn't know about?"
"Absolutely not! I mean, yes, you should know about it." And he told her about the new commissions for the Ryersons' family room and the FirstCon Packaging building. "I won't know all the details till Tuesday night, and probably not then. But I'd say for sure they're ours."
"Oh, Eric, that's wonderful! And you say Mrs. Ryerson and Mrs. Felder and everyone got together and agreed to close down the rumor mill?"
"Seems that way. And if what Sheila told me later is any indication, that same mill might grind out still more little jobs for us!"
"I love it! Nick Hardt hoist with his own petard!" Her tone became confidential. "Eric, I wasn't sure how you'd feel about this, but it's my career at stake as well as yours, and I figured I should take the chance while I had it. Um, the president of the local AIA chapter, Mr. Byfield, goes to my church, and this morning after the service I spoke with him."
She paused, Eric made no comment, so she went on. "I explained that I knew he couldn't send out any edicts or decrees, but I asked whether he couldn't circulate the report, the truth, I mean, among the local firms that, well, that we're good upstanding little children 'in whom no iniquity is found' and so on, and ask that our colleagues treat us the way they'd like to be treated. He agreed to do it, and it may work. He's got enough influence."
Eric considered this. "He'll just drop a word here and there? No soapbox lectures against unfounded gossip?"
"Goodness, no! He'll do it discreetly, don't worry. He's not AIA president for nothing, and besides, he's a Christian gentleman."
"Hmmm," was Eric's initial reply to this last.  "Well," he said presently, "I'm glad you acted on your impulse. If things work out, we may be saved on both fronts."
"I hope so."
"Well, enough of this. Have you seen the exhibit?"
"Not all of it."
"Did you see that Raeburn in the other room? Come on, I'll show it to you."
She followed docilely and indeed, the portrait was very beautiful. He accompanied her through the rest of the exhibit, he elucidating the fine artistic points of the paintings, she illuminating him on the religious or mythical backgrounds of many of their subjects.
After awhile, they came to the Spanish gallery, where Eric was drawn away by a remarkable Velasquez. Sandy, in her turn, stood fascinated before a large canvas by El Greco.
Its subject was a young Spanish saint, a soldier by his dress, with that peculiar attenuation of the bone structure so characteristic of the artist’s work. The young man stood on a high, weather-shrouded hill, the relics of his martyrdom in his hand, and on his face an expression as of the hope of eternal joy mingled with an awareness of the futilities of the world. It took her breath away: as a work of art, certainly; but also because if he had been born a 16th century Spaniard while yet remaining himself, she would have sworn the young soldier-saint was Eric Baumann. It was all there: the face, the hands, even the attitude of the body. The only thing missing in Eric was the look of spiritual assurance, something she knew the Lord alone could supply. In that moment if it had been proposed that Eric had been transported to the late 1500s and sat for the artist, or that El Greco had time-travelled to the 20th century that he might paint him, she would have accepted it without doubt or question.
A hand was laid gently on her shoulder. She turned and in a kind of delicious shock recognized the seeming original of the painting. “I’m not the only one who looks like an Old Master . . . ,” she murmured with soft recklessness.
If Eric heard he gave no sign. “Do you like this El Greco?”
“Yes, I do. Very much.”
“If I had the money I’d buy if for you.”
“My God, he’s serious,” she thought. She rummaged through the ragbag of her social experience to find something appropriate to say, but against his confusing onslaught could muster no defense but levity.
“Well, yeah,” she laughed, “but if you had the money you’d probably live in a château in France and never would’ve known me anyway!”
“Yes,” he continued with what she decided to label maddening obstinacy, “but if I lived there I’d probably have tours. You might come over, I’d meet you, and then I would certainly give it to you.”
“This is not working,” she thought. Congratulating herself on her control of the situation, she asked steadily, “What did you think of the Velasquez?”
The treacherous mood was broken. “Oh, yes, come and see it!”
He pointed out its salient features with proper enthusiasm, but after her appreciative responses had died away silence closed around them. They did the rest of the exhibition with hardly a word, marking each other’s reactions only by the curving of a mouth, the widening of an eye, the gesture of a hand.
He did not touch her again, but she was ever conscious of the impression of his long hand upon her shoulder. Increasingly distracted from the masterworks, she resolved to come again, alone, for now her rebellious energies demanded leave to flow out to the man at her side, and it was fear and pride, as much as prudence, that with difficulty kept them dammed in.
Eric for his part threw himself headlong into the paintings, trying to disregard the odd sensation that had so inexplicably come upon him. Ah, yes, here was one of Moses and the burning bush. But it offered him no security. He recalled his mother’s Bible stories in that drab little walk-up in Bismarck: “‘I will turn aside and consider this great marvel . . . ’” What great marvel? Just an ordinary bush, the kind you see every day, the kind you take for granted (and almost against his will he glanced down at the young woman standing next to him) . . . take for granted, until you notice it’s on fire, but not burned, and that it has the voice of God or at least of an angel sounding forth from it.
When they were through Eric asked quietly, “How were you planning to get home?”
“I thought I’d get the bus, as usual.”
“On a Sunday evening? Don’t be ridiculous. You’ll be standing there in the cold for an hour. Come on, get your things. I’ll drive you home.”
“Yes, sir,” she replied in a tone that was an almost perfect counterfeit of her normal workday voice. Eric started at the slight difference, then forced himself to put it out of his mind.
* * * * * * *
They rode mutely through the still November dusk, till he suddenly said, “You know, if we have these new jobs we’ll have to hire some new people in the office.”
Oh,” thought Sandy, feeling the point of the knife to her ribs, “so this is it. I’m losing my place and privileges as his sole assistant and he’s being nice to me to make up for it.” She lectured herself roughly: “Listen, girl, you knew this day was going to come from the word Go. It’s part of the profession and all you have is a professional relationship, understand?”
He was still speaking. “We have time yet before the office building project will start. I’ll interview a few people and submit them to your judgement. If you find anything wrong with them, they’re not hired, ok?”
“Eric, look, you’re the boss,” she replied ungraciously. “You know better than I do what you want in an employee!”
“Sandy, you know I respect your opinion! What’s wrong?”
“I’m sorry. I’m tired, I guess. Long day.”
“Long weekend,” he agreed. “But you’re right, I do know what I want in employees, and one of those things is that they be agreeable to you. I also know what I want in an associate.”
The blade began to explore her vitals. “Oh,” she tried to say evenly, “you have an old college friend or something who’s coming back to join the firm?”
“No,” and he looked at her curiously. “I thought you’d just assume. You don’t think you can handle a promotion?”
“What– me?
“Well, yes!” He grinned. “With a raise and all the rest of it, providing the office building goes through. The room next to ours is empty; I’ll see if I can rent it. We can put the catalogs and the help back there.”
“What a marvellously dehumanizing way of speaking of them! ‘The catalogs and the help’!”
“Well, you know me!” he answered cheerfully. “A regular Simon Legree. We’ll put the huddled masses of whatever type back there; I think it’s best you and I stayed up front for the time being. At any rate, we won’t know for sure until I speak to the Ryersons and Delkirk Tuesday night.”
“I think it’ll work out . . . ,” she said, as much to herself as to him.
"I was hoping to do this for awhile," he went on, "but we didn't have enough work.  I think this FirstCon project once it gets into the building phase should give you some good opportunities to get out of the office and get some good experience in construction management."
"I guess so," Sandy replied, a little flatly.
"You don't seem all that enthusiastic," he said with some surprise.  "I thought you'd like being more independent.  And if your portfolio was any indication, you've got a lot of ideas under that hat that I'm sure you're dying to bring to light.  There will be new projects, I'm sure, that you'll be able to handle on your own.  I can't see you playing second fiddle forever."
"Oh, Eric, I am excited, I really am.  It's just that, well, I'm-- "
"Tired," he concluded for her.  "That's all right.  And it's a big step.  I remember how I felt when I was first made associate.  It can be overwhelming.  You'll feel clearer about it in the morning."
But Sandy wasn't sure she would ever feel more clear about the matter than she did right now.  It was one thing to gain a promotion with all the powers, privileges, and emoluments pertaining thereunto.  It was another thing to be convinced that the duties of that new position were inevitably going to separate you from the one whose presence you valued more than anything else in the world, and to feel that he somehow had planned it that way.
by Catrin Lewis, 1983, revised 2013, all rights reserved)

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Free Souls, Chapter 8

Eric returned to the Civic Museum Sunday afternoon: maybe today, unlike Friday night, he'd actually be able to concentrate on the paintings.
Passing into a gallery hung with 17th century Dutch works, he came upon Sandy Beichten contemplating a Rembrandt.  She was dressed in a dark plum-colored velvet jacket over a soft sprigged navy wool skirt that swirled gracefully around her calves in their black stockings.  He had never considered his assistant beautiful or even pretty in the conventional sense of the term.  Her features were too irregular and her petite figure did not satisfy either classical or modern ideas of beauty.  To him she was nice enough to look at, but in a pleasant, comfortable sort of way.  But today she struck him as surprisingly attractive.  Was it the outfit?  She turned at his greeting and he marked how the ivory blouse with its ruff of lace enhanced the line of her slender throat and how the wine-colored felt hat gave her brown eyes a luminosity he'd never thought to notice before.
"Enjoying the Old Masters?" he asked her gravely.
"Yes, immensely.  I feel rather guilty about it.  I feel I'm supposed to like the Moderns better."
"You look like an Old Master yourself," he commented.
She laughed awkwardly and glanced down at her attire.  "Oh!" she said.  "You mean the spattered smock, the paint in the hair and under the fingernails, the general odor of the garret?"
"No," persisted Eric, "like one of their paintings."
"Oh," she rejoined, still refusing to take the compliment.  "Like that?"  And she pointed towards a genre study of a madwoman begging in an Amsterdam street.
"I swear, you're impossible!" His unsuppressed laughter caused several other museum-goers to turn their heads in shocked admonishment. "Oh, you know.  You look very nice."
She flashed him an indecipherable smile, sketched the semblance of a curtsy, then turned back towards the painting she’d been examining when he walked in. Watching her, Eric was both astonished and intrigued. He’d meant nothing by his initial compliment, he was sure: nothing more, at least, than he’d mean by commending a fellow-architect on a well-designed building. So why had she found it so difficult to accept simple praise on having put together a becoming outfit? The moment the subject was herself, her defenses had gone up. In someone ordinarily so very open and enthusiastic, it was strange.
It occurred to him that though over the course of their friendship they had talked literally for hours on various topics, never had she revealed to him much about her personal life and history.  He knew a great deal about the firms she had worked for, the trips she had taken, and the books she had read; he knew she was a Christian and could be relied upon to act on Christian principles, but hardly ever had she volunteered anything of what it all meant to her deepest soul and heart.
And Sandy Beichten's deepest soul and heart were none of his business. He knew that. Nevertheless, he couldn’t help wondering what depths lay concealed behind that velvet-jacketed façade. And he couldn’t help thinking it might be worth his while someday to find out.
by Catrin Lewis, 1983, revised 2013, all rights reserved

Fantasy Worlds and Alternative Universes

Since I began my initial writer's blog last fall I have, in various ways, been led to, linked in with, and/or stumbled upon the blogs of many other authors.  And it's striking how many of them write fantasy fiction. If there's one genre that takes pride of place on-line these days, fantasy is it.
And why not?  C. S. Lewis wrote somewhere-- and I'm paraphrasing-- that fantasy is the highest form of the fiction writer's art, because in it he must create and sustain a whole new world and its inhabitants. Versus, he adduced, the typical "school story" of his day that dealt with stock characters and which so many authors seemed to produce by the yard.
Now me, I suppose I could come up with some fantasy fiction story lines, if I tried.  It's just that right now all my ideas run along other channels, and I have enough to do keeping them running and clear without digging myself into ditches that aren't my own.
But as I've transcribed and posted my short novel Free Souls, I've had to admit that maybe I'm not such a stranger to the fantastic after all.  When I wrote the story originally, of course fantasy had nothing to do with it: the world it describes was everyday reality. But from the perspective of 2013, the world of 1981-82, the time in which the action is set, really seems like an alternative universe.
Think of it.  It was a time when architects got all their clients by personal reference and word of mouth, it being considered unethical-- besides being professionally forbidden-- to advertise.  A time when all drafting was done by hand and all drawings reproduced by diazo whiteprint, rather than being transmitted digitally as today. Computers back then were reserved for use by university think tanks and government agencies, and if you wanted to research a product or material, you looked it up in a catalog you kept on your office shelf with no recourse to the nascent Internet.
In the early '80s the cassette tape and the eight-track were in common use, but true audiophiles stuck to the long-playing record; the compact disc was unknown.  There were no mobile/cell phones, at least not for the general public, though the corded telephone had lost its rotary dial and gone to touch-tone buttons.  Back then the 911 emergency system was unheard-of and you still had to dial "0" for the operator to summon an ambulance or the police.  1981 was before 9/11, too, and though we'd been dealing with terrorists of various sorts at least since the Baader-Meinhof Gang and the assault on the Israeli athletes in Munich in 1972, we as American citizens weren't sensitized to the effects terrorism could have on our own people.  We weren't in a mental place where good citizens like my protagonists would automatically report the stockpiling of illegal weapons.  Neither were we being constantly monitored by our government, such that said stockpiling would be readily detected.
And even more fantastic (in contrast to today's practices and assumptions), it was a time when most people in America-- most middle-class people, at least-- still got married before they moved in with each other.  These days, even professing Christian couples live together before the ceremony and never turn a hair.  And if their parents might secretly be wishing things had been done the old-fashioned way, most of the time they just shrug and let the young people do as they please.
That said, the tide of sexual revolution that began in the 1960s continued to roll onward in the 1980s. So if any of my characters choose to take a stand for chastity, it will be against the general trend of their culture, even if such a decision might have been less strange then than now.  However, as you may have observed, sex isn't the only area of life where their habits and mindsets are at odds with the spirit of their age, and some may find that to be the most fantastic (i.e., unbelievable) thing of all.
But I hope not.
I suppose my question is this:  Given that I'm asking my readers to do a little time-travel, is my protagonists' world and its assumptions clear enough from what I have written?  Or should I intervene as the author/narrator and explain things from time to time?  I really don't want to: it takes the reader out of the story and I'm not writing this as a character's reminiscence, after all.  I don't want the story to be rejected as dated, but it was of its time when it was written and I think it should stay that way.
Well, I promise to keep an eye on it and forestall obscurities.
And something else:  I confess ahead of time that in the upcoming chapter I shall indulge in some very fanciful bending of reality, creating an alternate universe where a real world-renowned art gallery is endowed with non-existent paintings produced by real artists who never painted such images in their lives.  Guilty as charged, but I don't care.  I need these works to exist within the world of my story and exist they shall.