Anna: Why don’t you devote some time to learning French?
Bobby: First, I’d have to go to France.
Bobby: Because I need to be where it’s the only language I hear.
Paul: Like listening to an orchestra?
Bobby: More like a bee hive, where the worker bees know as much or more than the queen.
Anna: You took two years of Latin. Use what you know to learn what you need.
Bobby: I did, in Mexico. It was the verbal sense, that structure I can’t grasp, finally.
Paul: But you came back wanting to learn more?
Bobby: I didn’t want it badly enough, I guess. But what’s the sense of mourning what’s not dead yet?
His teachers clam up, they don’t know what he means and the subject seems to float on the air like smog.
Anna reads Flaubert in the original and that’s what started this exchange. Paul knows German.
Bobby thinks: I don’t know shit. I’m dependent on translators, Francis Steegmuller, Douglas Parmee. Maybe the world is too large for me. I’ll never get out of Seattle.
The night is full of sounds and smells outside, you can see the lights from below and the bleat of boat horns, a phalanx of restaurants and cafes sends wafting out a hint of flavors. Bobby takes a bus back. He is hungry for a taste of Connie. She’s midway through her shift and he stays long enough to set up the assignation. He leaves feeling like Flaubert in one of those houses he knew so much about, or so the biography, the legend has it.
He goes to Dylan’s and sits alone so he can write. He’s writing about some people he knows. You’ve met them already, reader, you may know them as well as Bobby; he has imagination in case he doesn’t know something he should. That’s what he’s writing about: what he doesn’t know. He could develop that story until he was so far inside it he didn’t notice the buxom girl sit down at his table to sip her drink, not even bothering to ask if he minds. She flaunts her body as much as she can sitting down.
What would Flaubert do? Think of Elise when he was fourteen, or Louise after Egypt. Think of the two false starts, the first “Temptation of St. Anthony,” the aborted “Sentimental Education.” You have to ride your own desire like a bus gone out of control, a cab with the driver suffering a heart attack. Otherwise, how do you keep going? It’s impossible to look up again and get into a conversation, but he does. She says her name is Jacqui. She’s the one who will name herself Zelda and call him not Scott but Dick. Maybe, he smiles to himself, she’s into the sexual side of Fitzgerald. He asks her finally. Two weeks later. Tonight he excuses himself and leaves Dylan’s to take a nap at home before answering the knock on the door somewhere between dawn and sunrise. He can’t sleep when Connie leaves. He goes out, for a long walk.
(24 January 2012)
copyright 2012 by Floyce Alexander