the fixed point of Asa Zook/paul pietsch -- copyright 1996 by Paul Pietsch

chapter 9 Singularities

On the phone, Raymond had said he'd be leaning against the fender of a yellow Buick convertible. And precisely so he was, arms folded, ankles crossed, eyes fixed on a formation of wac executing close order drill in a field adjacent to the visitor's parking lot. He failed to respond to Asa's waving. Nor did he react as Asa stepped off the bus, hoisted his duffel bag and started walking back from the corner.

The boy looks like Momma, Asa thought.. Boy? He's a half- head taller than I am and at least fifteen pounds heavier. Just then, Raymond looked in Asa's direction. In the next instant he was sprinting. Asa halted, let the duffel bag slide down his body to the ground and opened his arms to receive his brother's crushing embrace.

"You've undergone metamorphosis," Asa said, holding Raymond at arm's length and inspecting him.

"You look different too, Ace." A tenor had supplanted the soprano.

They hugged again, longer but less furiously. Then each rendered the solemn kiss. A passing lieutenant glanced their way. Raymond chuckled, winked and widened his grin. Asa attempted to lift the duffel bag, but Raymond wrested it away. As they walked to the car, he amplified on what he'd told Asa in the brief telephone conversation. Poppa's trip to Pennsylvania was to bury his brother- in- law Hoover and get his sister Pearl and her children situated. Their grandparents were in San Francisco attending a Methodist Congress on human rights. "Grampa's one of the principal speakers." Asa was surprised. "Want to drive the boat?" Boat? Raymond smiled, dangling the car keys: "A new expression, Ace." Asa declined.

In the car, Raymond asked if Asa would mind a ride over to Seaside Heights for supper. A Neapolitan seafood house had recently opened on the new end of the boardwalk and he thought Asa might enjoy the view. "Also...ahem," a couple of girls were driving down from Cranford to meet them this evening, unless Asa objected. Asa did not object and felt his face and ears flush when Raymond grinned and winked.

The starter operated off the ignition switch, Asa observed. The engine kicked over on the first cycle and then ran noiselessly. "Gorgeous, isn't she?" Raymond asked and then began to laugh as Asa peered and focused on a young woman walking arm- in- arm with a major. "I meant the car, Asa." Asa joined his brother's laughter. "She's not bad, either," Raymond added.

"Speaking of the Buick," Raymond continued as he backed out of the parking space, did Asa remember Biff Larsell, Anita's husband? "Biff Larsell?" No, Asa didn't know him. "Enlisted the day after Pearl Harbor. Got the car brand new only a few weeks before he went. Anyway, Biff used to repair marine engines and they made him a machinist or something in the air corps. Had a nice soft job down in Texas someplace. Even had Anita along with him. Then, all of a sudden, the army put Biff in the infantry and sent him off to Europe. The poor guy was totally paralyzed. Battle of the Bulge, Anita said. Quadriplegia, isn't that what it's called? Anyway, he didn't last long. Grampa'd let Biff put the car on blocks in the parsonage garage. Anita can't drive. When she went back to work for Gramma, I bought it from her."

Asa stroked the dashboard. Was Raymond farming full time, now? Raymond chuckled as he braked to a stop and shifted into neutral. The gate MP looked into the rear seat and then waved them through. "Heavens no," he answered Asa after they were rolling again. "No vegetable farmer can afford to tool around in something like this. There's a housing shortage. And carpenters build houses, right?" He and Poppa had a half dozen crews working practically night and day.

"Tell me about Poppa," Asa asked.

Raymond took one hand off the steering wheel and touched Asa's combat infantry badge with the tip of his thumb. "It might help if you got out of the uniform before he gets back from Pennsylvania.

"I'm worried about him, Ace. Not physically. Hell, he's in better shape than I am. But he sits around reading his New York Times, mumbling, wringing his hands, sometimes rocking back and forth. Refuses even to talk about jobs for the army. Good jobs, too. And he won't even drink a glass of water in the 'hotel' as he still calls any place that serves liquor. 'Sure like to work them fields behind a good team of horses,' he said to me as we were starting out one morning. 'Well why don't you, Poppa?' I asked. He put his hand on the middle of my back and said, 'Somebody's got to build the houses.'

"You know Ace, a while ago I had this silly notion in my head about joining the Marines. I even accelerated high school so I'd graduate at seventeen. I told myself I didn't want to end up forty- eight years old, looking back and regretting that I'd missed an experience everyone in my generation had had. And..."


"Ah! I wanted to be like you, Ace. But in my own way. Then when I turned seventeen, I just couldn't work up the nerve to ask Poppa to sign the papers. For a while I thought, well, I'll just wait until I'm eighteen and present him with -- what do you call it, a fait accompli -- like you did. I thought to myself, maybe he'll accept it the way he did with Asa? Then I realized he didn't really accept it when you went. He just lived with it is all."

"He forgave it."

"Yes. Forgave it. Exactly. And I couldn't bring myself to do anything that would make Poppa have to forgive me. Nosir! Well anyway, by the time I turned eighteen the whole idea seemed plain stupid. The marines, I mean. Especially after he put me in charge of a crew. God what magnificent men they are, Asa. There is a little more. But, ah..."

"What little more, Raymond? Please tell me."

"A lot more, actually. Except it's not easy to put into words, not directly. And it came along sort of piecemeal, here and there, not on a nice straight line. Poppa took me to New York with him on some banking business one day. Naturally, we had to have lunch at the Automat. You know how he is about that. Gets that devilish look as though he's going into a saloon. Anyway, after we ate, I suggested a ride on the Staten Island Ferry. We walked over to Third Avenue and took the El. As we were passing through the Bowery, we happened to see a fire. 'Let's get off and see if they can use our help,' he says. Of course, they didn't need our help, I knew. But you know how he is about the ways. Fire engines began arriving just about the time we reached the street. The police moved the crowd back. And almost as quick as you could snap your fingers the firemen had their ladders against the building and were scampering up into a third story window. 'I admire them fellas,' Poppa says. Then he added something that gave me a shiver. 'They make courage a thing of beauty.' Asa, I could have sworn he was talking about you."

"He was."

"Well, anyhow, after a few minutes this one fireman comes out of a window that's gushing heavy rolls of gray smoke. And he's carrying this old man. Now the old man isn't a nice Grossdawdy, either. He's a Bowery bum. Imagine that, I'm thinking to myself, there's a guy probably has a wife and kids and he's risking his neck in a flophouse saving a worthless old rum pot. Right while I'm thinking the thought, Poppa squeezes my arm hard and says those passages from Matthew 5, verses 44 and 47 about loving our enemies and why we should. As many times as I've heard those words in my life, I finally understood what they really meant, and didn't just think they were some kind of grown- up gobbledygook that had nothing to do with me. Am I making any sense at all, Asa?"

"A great deal."

"I don't mean that, zippo!" Raymond took a hand from the wheel and punctuated the clause with a crisp snap of his fingers. "I don't mean, suddenly I grasped everything. But it began that day. I really saw the connection between Poppa's ways and what that New York fireman was doing. I don't mean heroes. But courage. Courage..."

"In the conduct of their day- to- day lives," Asa completed his brother's sentence.

"Yes. That's it exactly, Ace. The fireman was doing his job. Which didn't mean rescue just the nice people. Doing his job because it was plain right, no matter what, no matter where, no matter who. Even if it's a stinking Bowery flophouse bum. Plain courage. The plain man's courage. Which is what Poppa's life is. And it seemed...Asa, did seem so beautiful."

Raymond was silent for a few miles, but then resumed: "Grampa helped me sort it out. 'You put away your childish things, Raymond,' he told me. I was finding manhood, beginning to define it specifically for myself. I wanted to be a man. And being a true man was being like Poppa.

"You know Ace, it's a funny thing. I know I'm not even dry behind the ears. But I began feeling like a man. And when I did -- I hope you'll forgive me for saying this -- the last thing I wanted to do was put on a uniform and strut around like a peacock.

"Say you ought to see the men work under Poppa. They'd nail their feet down to the floor if he asked them to. I don't mean this as bragging. But you know Ace, I think I have some of that same talent with people."

"I know you do," Asa replied: "Knowing what must be done, and what is just and right to expect of others."

They did not talk for several minutes. Raymond slowed the car to sixty as the road narrowed and the surface transformed from macadam to dirt. They were passing between dense stands of thin- trunked pines, and the air became heavily scented with aromatic vapors. Raymond broke the silence.

"What are your plans, Ace?"

"Rid my body and mind of flab."

"Say, that's a nifty expression," Raymond took his eyes off the road for a grinning glance.

"It's not original, not the idea, anyway."

"Where's it from?"

"'Snows of Kilimanjaro.'"

"I don't recall that passage."

"Harry went to Africa to work the fat off his soul!"

"Oh, yes, yes. Sure. Best line in the story, come to think of it. Say, speaking of flab, how'd you like to swing a hammer for a while? Make ninety a week with overtime."

"No, Raymond. I want to do some farming, at least until autumn."

"And then?"

"Back to school, perhaps."

"Chicago for your Ph.D.?"

"No. Montreal. I'm weary of open- ended speculation, Raymond. I want to see outcomes in my work. I'm thinking about going to medical school."

"Why Montreal?"

"I'd like to become fluent at spoken French. In the Philippines and in Japan, I developed a taste for the language of the market place -- when the language is other than my native tongue."

"How'd you like the women, the Filipinos and Japanese?"

"I miss them."

"Were they good in bed?"

"Those who could love without fear or shame."

"Millie's like that. Love without shame."


"One of the girls we're meeting tonight. Millie Page. I don't think you know her. I met her when I took a crew into Cranford. I'd stopped in a drug store for a bite of lunch. When I came out to get in the truck, somebody'd smashed a headlight but had left a lovely note under the windshield wiper. I'd have said to heck with it. But it was such a nicely worded apology and in a beautiful handwriting. I decided to see what this Millie Page who signed it looked like. She turned out to be worth a whole truck! And then some!"

"Are you contemplating marriage?"

"Naw, I'm way too young for that kind of stuff. But I must admit...Her sister Joyce is a real knock out, too. She's the other girl. Your date. Beautiful mind. Majored in comparative lit at Bryn Mawr. Summa cum laude., no less. In law school now at Penn. Father's a federal judge, but he used to be on the Penn law faculty. Long line of legal scholars or something. And Joyce, ah...ah, is really looking forward to meeting a real philosopher, Asa."

"I can't claim that distinction." Asa felt the blood rush out of his face and neck. He did not hear Raymond during the next several miles.

"Flab on the soul," Raymond was saying as he slowed behind a odoriferous truckload of chickens, and then zoomed around when the road straightened.


"The metaphor. I like it. Grampa is a master of them. I think the metaphors are what make his anecdotes stick in the memory. Those anecdotes! Boy! They really rivet you to his sermons, don't they? He's on the radio now, did you know that?" (Asa did not know.)

"I felt the same way about his sermons. Do you and Poppa regularly attend church?"

Raymond again shifted his eyes from the road. "Not a lot of choice, really. Not for me at least. Poppa seldom goes now. All the more reason why I keep it up. The sermons make it worthwhile. Then there are the pretty girls. And since Anita's been back...

"God, Ace, I'm sounding like a regular whoremonger. Am I offending you?"

"Not at all, Raymond."

"Gramma'd have two fits, wouldn't she. Ah!" He punctuated his remark as though swatting a fly. "I'm sure, down deep, she knows all about me, anyway. The old softy. I never could do any wrong. Actually, I never thought about it as wrong. Just the opposite. What makes attitudes like Gramma's, in the first place?"

"It's very complex. And sad."

"I'd shrivel up without it. What about you, Ace?" Raymond did not wait for a response. "How does Poppa stand it? Does a man lose the urge after forty, do you suppose?"

"I doubt it. Nor a woman."

"Then it's absolute hell for Poppa."

"Or anyone," Asa added.

Raymond turned and inspected his face.

Sea air greeted them as they emerged from the woods. At Asa's request, Raymond stopped and put down the top.

The car slowed as they reached the west edge of the town. "I'd sure like to own property down here," Raymond said. The tires registered a brief bumpety- bumpety across a plank causeway. Buildings obstructed the view of the beach. But, to Asa, the texture of the sky proclaimed, sea!

Raymond wheeled onto a dead- end street, angle- parked beside a 1939 Pontiac with New York plates, turned off the ignition and slapped his thighs much as Poppa did at the end of a motor vehicle ride.

"Vacationers are arriving early this year," Raymond said. "Dated a girl last summer who boarded right down there." He pointed to a large brown frame house at the boardwalk extreme of the street. "Worked in a hot dog stand. In her third year at Barnard. Smarter than hell. And absolutely gorgeous. Acted as though she couldn't wait to jump into the back seat. Kissed as though she was trying to lick out your tonsils. But when I put my hand on her thigh, she froze like a cake of ice. Then she began to cry. She even apologized. She didn't know what it was, she said. She wanted to make love and certainly didn't want to cock- tease. But when it started getting serious she could see a face leering at her, and it was as though the boy was Satan ready to jab her with a pitchfork. Hearing that made me feel worse than being pushed away. I even cried along with her.

"For the next few days, I didn't have any sexual desires myself. Which was very abnormal for me. That didn't last very long, though. But I did notice, afterwards, I couldn't just up and do it as though I was eating a banana split . It wasn't just monkey fun any more. It became sort of...I'm almost embarrassed to say the word. Holy."

Raymond was out of the car before Asa could respond.

On the boardwalk, Raymond paused, squatted and slapped a new planking with the palms of his hands. He'd wanted to bid on this job, he said. "But Poppa insisted that building houses is much more important."

The restaurant, pentagonal in shape, cantilevered over the beach from an artificial cliff. The dining room was empty, except for a young couple in a corner booth. The head waiter said "Ofacorsa sir," when Raymond requested the table with the best view of the beach.

"Perfect," Raymond declared and handed the head waiter a folded ten dollar bill. The head waiter snapped his fingers and a table waiter materialized, seemingly from nowhere.

Neither Zook desired a cocktail, but Raymond asked the waiter to select an appropriate wine for their meal. Did Asa have any nickels? Raymond wanted to give Millie a call. "By the way," he said as he stood and accepted the coins, "There's one minor complication about Joyce that just occurred to me. She's married to a fellow off in the navy somewhere. Would something like that bother you, Ace?"

"Yes, it would."

"Damn, I'm sorry Asa." Raymond sat down. He hadn't given it a second thought until this moment, he said. Maybe they could swap? Millie was broad minded. And Joyce wasn't that old. Millie was dying to meet him, anyway. And...Asa was shaking his head from side to side. "Ah, of course. You're right. That would be crude even for us. Should I just break the date? We could pick up a couple of girls on the boardwalk."

"No Raymond, breaking the date would be much worse. Let things stand as they are. Now that I know she's a married woman, I won't let anything indiscreet happen."

Raymond arched his eyebrows. "You may not have a choice, Asa."

"I don't understand."

Raymond leaned across the table and whispered, "She has the hots for you, Ace. I'm not kidding."

"How could she? We've never met."

"I talk a lot about you, Ace."

"But how could you know what she feels?"

Raymond frowned. "It's just one of those things you know, Asa. One of those things." He took a sip of water and let the tip of his little finger slowly track back and forth along a wet semicircle the base of the glass had left on the napkin. Then he took a deep breath, stood, walked around the table and, patting Asa's shoulder, said "Let's just let happen what happens. Okay?

"Sure is gorgeous out there, isn't it Ace?" Raymond pointed at the beech with one hand while the other rested on the shoulder strap of Asa's Ike jacket. Then he redirected his pointing to two moving specks far up the beach and bet they'd turn out to be two pretty girls, shoes off, slacks rolled up and ruining a fresh toenail polish job in the splash of the surf. Then Raymond turned and went off in the direction of the men's room and presumably the telephone.


Asa watched the sea. A distant freighter and its stock- still contrail seemed like a painter's afterthought an inch below a canvass horizon, and the water progressively transformed, with distance, from green through blue to lavender and connected the off- white sand to the edge of the sky. Raymond's gynecoid specks became two old men. Two little boys played precariously atop an unmanned lifeguard chair on the beach adjoining the restaurant property. A dark haired woman in a tight house dress emerged from under the restaurant's overhang. She carried a forest green sweater in one hand. Raymond's old men waved to her, and she returned the gesture as she strode through the sand toward the lifeguard chair. There, shaking a finger, she began an animated but inaudible conversation with the boys. One boy crawled down after she stamped her foot. He put on the sweater and climbed back up. The woman retraced her steps, but paused at the property line, turned and shook her finger at the boys. Then she folded her arms across her bosom and resumed her trek. Just before disappearing under the restaurant, she briefly glanced up at Asa. His ears turned red.

Asa looked about the dining room. Then he inspected the panorama of beach and ocean made possible by the pentagonal shape of the building. The architect had perfectly and uniquely framed the sea from this location, Asa observed. Wait! Pentagon!

Asa felt his intellect suddenly snap at something and begin champing with the intense hunger he'd felt during the mashed potato paradigm. But he hesitated and glanced around. "I could not endure another false start," he whispered. The young couple were four tables obliquely away and seemed entranced by each other. Nowhere in the near- empty dining room did he see the hint of a wire- hair paratrooper. Try it Asa, the Deep Brain advised.

Asa slipped the napkin from under his water glass and unfolded it from 4-ply to 2-ply thickness. He drew a pentagon with his fountain pen. Then, cutting with his pocket knife, he made the napkin yield a pair of pentagonal Siamese twins, which, when unfolded to single ply, remained joined at only the apex . One pentagon, he marked "Thesis"; the other "Antithesis." At the still- joined apex, he wrote the letters A- A', the prime sign on the antithesis side; perspective free corners, he marked B and B'; C and C', D and D'; E and E'. "The A's remain invariant," he muttered. "A- A' join at the fixed point, and they permit the Thesis to define the Antithesis and the two together to create the Synthesis -- the whole. Otherwise, without A- A', I would simply have twin pentagons."

He inspected the figure. "My intuition demands three dimensions," he said to his paper universe. He examined his hands. "Let my fingers stand for the corners of the pentagons." Then with one palm facing up and the other down, he brought the tips of both middle fingers together. "My kissing middle finger tips are A- A'." And now he let index and ring fingers of opposite hands touch; then thumbs and little fingers. He held hands up to eye level and examined them. The enchanted couple looked his way. They think you're mad, Asa, the impudent left side of his mind advised. "I'd accept madness to understand what my complementing hands suggest," he uttered.

He uncoupled his hands, appropriated Raymond's napkin and wrote: "Asymmetry attends an Hegelian synthesis. And the synthesis can only be guaranteed if a common axis passes between the thesis and antithesis parts; i.e., if I can guarantee that the one is the other at least at one point. Between my kissing fingers left and right become a single universe; and then the one is a measure of the other. Riemann had said precisely that!" Asa put down the pen and again complemented his fingers. "They resemble a helix," he whispered as inaudibly as he could. "Hegel, old master, your dialectic is embodied in a two- surfaced helix."

"You don't won't no Tabasco sauce, sir?" Asa looked up. The waiter had arrived with clams on the half shell and was proffering the little red- orange bottle as though flashing a carton of black market cigarettes. Asa felt his face blush. He smiled. "Perhaps I will have some, on second thought." he said.

Asa carefully folded the napkins, tucked them into his shirt pocket and buttoned the flap. Patting the precious wad flat, and obeying Deep Brain's admonition [Don't force it, Asa!], he shifted the entire chunk of thought out of his consciousness and transferred his attention to the food.


Asa squeezed a few drops of lemon juice on the meat of a clam. The creature fibrillated as the liquid touched and slightly discolored its pink- tan flesh. Asa screwed the cap back on the Tabasco sauce; perhaps he would not use it, after all. He braced the half shell with his fingers and quickly dissected the suspensory ligament with a flick of a clam fork tine. Then he raised the ruined animal to his lips, held it still for a moment and closed his eyes while his nostrils wafted the shell's venereal tang. And, half- scooping, half- slurping, he drew the creature into the grinding interval between his apposing molars.

"What have you been up to Ace?" Raymond asked over Asa's right shoulder.

"Regeneration, Raymond."

"Of what?"

"Of myself," Asa replied.


Asa rummaged through the miscellany of driftwood, carefully selected five thin sticks and added them one by one to the fire. Raymond and Millie had gone for a walk up the beach. Joyce sat on a sea- polished log. Her feet were bare, and she dug the sand with her toes. A heavy cotton knit sweater draped her shoulders and intermittently flashed whiteness in counterpoint with random combustion within the fire. Asa had let Millie take his Ike jacket. His boots and socks were by the log, and his trouser legs were rolled up above his ankles.

"Can I toast a marshmallow for you, Joyce?"

"Mmm, please," she answered. Asa fed two marshmallows onto a skewer. Joyce eased onto the sand, edged nearer the fire and knelt close beside him. Asa moved closer to the fire and slowly rotated the skewer. The marshmallows began to develop cracks and minute eruptions. Their edges turned gold, then brown. Foci of discoloration spread from the edges and coalesced until a jacket of carbon completely encrusted all facets. "Utterly captivating," Joyce said. "It's like watching a creature mature, age and then die. It's somewhat sad."

Asa coaxed the distal marshmallow toward the end of the skewer and presented it to Joyce. "Please be very careful not to burn your lips, " he said. She smiled, accepted his offering, nibbled tentatively at the crust and gingerly licked at its now exposed and still molten interior.

"Yum," Joyce declared. A strand of sugary semi- fluid remained on her lower lip.

Asa quickly shifted his gaze to the fire. But the image of unlicked- off lip fixedly stayed with him. And his tongue wanted to crawl out of his mouth, wriggle through the sand, squirm up her contours and lap the delicious residue. Focus as he tried, the embers and flames failed to displace any visible trace of...of...of Missus Winfield! Deep Brain declared.

"Would you like the other one, Asa?" She was presenting the skewer when he looked her way.

He tried to look past her at the neutrality of the night. "No thank you, Joyce. I toasted both for you."

"I feel that I know you, Asa." He did not reply.

After more than a minute of silence, she cleared her throat and added, "Perhaps I should have put that in the past subjunctive. For it's obvious that I really don't know you at all. Nor ever could." She returned to the log. "And if we draw a corollary from my behavior, I am also a romantic idiot. And I do feel very foolish. Very foolish. And embarrassed to the core."

"I do not understand," Asa said.

"Oh, heavens Mr. Zook! You're putting me on."

"I'm not familiar with the term."

"Romantic idiot or embarrassed?"

"'Putting me on.' I've never heard it used before," Asa said.

"Deception. Deceiving is the present participle or corresponding gerund."

"I'm truly sorry, Joyce. But I don't wish to deceive you."

"Oh, Asa, I'm being a very silly fool." She eased down to the sand and crawled to the fire. "Let's begin all over, shall we? I'm Joyce Page Winfield." She extended her hand. "And you're supposed to say, 'My name is Asa Zook.'"

He grinned and accepted her hand. It seemed softer and warmer then when Raymond had introduced them. And he wanted to unfold its fingers and press his lips into its palm. "I'm Asa Zook," he repeated, "and I am a very poor conversationalist."

"So I gather." They laughed.

"There is a complicating factor, here, Joyce."

"And you're also far too serious," she interrupted.

"If I say important things to you I am not sure of the consequences that may follow. I'm not sure I could constrain myself against a wrongful act."

"Important things such as what, Asa?"

He sucked in a deep breath of night, remained silent through several heart beats and then looked directly into her eyes. "As for example, that I find you beautiful. That when a strand of marshmallow adhered to your lip a moment ago, I wanted to kiss you. That I have never wanted more to kiss or hold anyone. That at this moment of my life I am totally consumed by desire for you. That I love you."

She eased close, took one of his hands in both of hers and held it firmly against her cheek. He felt her warm tears. "I really do know you, Asa Zook." She pressed closer. But he withdrew his hand from hers, placed his palms on her shoulders and gently eased her away.

"But you just said you..." Her voice wavered and then faltered.

"All the more reason why I cannot yield to lust."

"Because of the silly fact that I'm married?"

"Because of the specter of guilt."

"Aren't you assuming things?"

"I apprehend a small but significant possibility of risk for you if we surrender to the passion of the moment. Excuse my prolixity, but I want to be precise."

"But you'd feel no guilt or shame just because I'm married, would you Asa Zook?"

"Not the fact of your marriage in and of itself. Ceremony is of little concern to me. But I would prefer to die than to become a potential source of any pain for one I love as much as I love you at this moment in our lives. I must ask myself, what happens to her afterwards, after the moment has passed and the deed is irrevocably done and we rise to go our separate ways?"

She sat back on her haunches. "It's funny, Asa. I was so horny for you seconds ago, I wanted to pee my pants." She giggled. "But I didn't have any on.

"But you know Asa, my physical urge has actually subsided... well at least to manageable proportions. And do you know what else Asa? In some strange way, my total desire for you is stronger -- no more transcending -- than a moment ago. May I take your hand again? Please. Thank you." She kissed his knuckles. "I am an incurable romantic, Asa Zook. Absolutely incurable. But I do recognize the need to temper emotion with just enough reason to keep the world from going completely mad. You are very wrong about me, about what guilt or shame I might or might not suffer from making love to you. And I think you're going to roll around in bed tonight in pure agony for not being less the philosopher and more the animal. But I'm not going to entreat or beguile or seduce you into behavior you'd consider, as you say, unphilosophical."

"Unphilosophical? Have I used that expression this evening?"

"No. Ray told me about it. It seemed so precious. I tried to envisage the man who would develop from such a child. And I had to know that man, I thought. Unphilosophical. It was the worst thing there was for you, wasn't it?"

"It was. And still is."

"And I shall honor this glorious moment of poetic truth by becoming atypically philosophical myself. It is my way of saying, I really love you Asa Zook.

"But Asa, will you kiss me? Just once?"

He took her into his arm and pressed his lips onto hers. And for the first time in his life, Asa Zook felt the kiss of passion in return for his own.


Joyce had predicted correctly: Asa suffered into the night. Ironically, the only short- lived relief he had was when he reiterated, "horny."

What a splendid term, at least when Joyce said it. He had heard others use it. Robby Duhurst came to mind. But Joyce had given the word a playful timbre. Now, recalling how she made it sound, he thought of the lioness who tugs her mate's ear and then scampers off to be chased and caught and loved. "Horny!" How much more descriptive, he thought, than lust: a plain statement of promise, free of the oppressive connotations he had come to associate with lust. "Horny."

But relief had its price. For when he articulated the word horny, lust would soon rebound, intensified.

"I cannot continue like this," he whispered, "Or I shall truly go insane. Like acid, lust is eating its way into my foundations and, unattended, will surely destroy any good that might ever come from my life's work, which I have yet to start. And to let that happen would be..." His whispering gave way to a loud pronouncement: "Unphilosophical!"

Suddenly, it was as though his id had growled in counterpoint. The beast had a plan, as clear as a shark's before its attack: a total view of precisely what must be done. And Asa commanded his will to block the vital design from his verbal self. For once, he'd and allow life just to happen. Period! And before his mind could trick him into articulating his intent, before reason could send him philosophizing down the road to transcendental misery, he turned on his side, released his mind and let the fatigue of a long, glorious day drag him into a deep sleep.

Copyright, 1996 by Paul Pietsch, all rights reserved. May be copied for personal, educational or other non-commercial "fair-use" purposes, as defined by U.S. copyright law.

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