An Impenetrable Screen of Purest Sky

BOOK: An Impenetrable Screen of Purest Sky
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AN IMPENETRABLE SCREEN OF PUREST SKY
An
Impenetrable
Screen of
Purest Sky

A NOVEL

Dan Beachy-Quick

COFFEE HOUSE PRESS

MINNEAPOLIS

2013

COPYRIGHT
© 2013 by Dan Beachy-Quick

COVER AND BOOK DESIGN
by Linda Koutsky

AUTHOR PHOTO
Stephanie G'Schwind

Coffee House Press books are available to the trade through our primary distributor, Consortium Book Sales & Distribution,
cbsd.com
or (800) 283-3572. For personal orders, catalogs, or other information, write to:
[email protected]
.

Coffee House Press is a nonprofit literary publishing house. Support from private foundations, corporate giving programs, government programs, and generous individuals helps make the publication of our books possible. We gratefully acknowledge their support in detail in the back of this book.

Visit us at
coffeehousepress.org

LIBRARY OF CONGRESS CIP INFORMATION

Beachy-Quick, Dan, 1973–

An impenetrable screen of purest sky :

a novel / By Dan Beachy-Quick.

pages cm

ISBN
978-1-56689-343-5 (e-book)

I
. Title.

PS
3602.
E
24
I
47 2013

2013003661

for Rebecca Beachy

“I believe in all sincerity that if each man were not able to live a number of other lives besides his own, he would not be able to live his own life.”

—
PAUL VALÉRY
,

“Poetry and Abstract Thought”

“The story is as slender as the thread on which pearls are strung; it is a spiral line, growing more and more perplexed until it winds itself up and dies like the silkworm in the cocoon. It is an interminable labyrinth.”

—
HENRY DAVID THOREAU
,

24 March 1842

CHAPTER 1

T
HE COCKTAIL PARTIES INCREASED IN NUMBER AND
extravagance as the term neared its end. The chair—a man so deeply versed in theory that, caught in the analytic rigor of a minor point in Borges (what kind of shoes the librarians wore . . . ), wouldn't notice that the toothpick he kept twirling had some minutes ago lost its shrimp, which, in his half-agitated foot-tapping, he was grinding into paste on the antique rug, and who, once wine enough was in him, talked about Balthus in ways so detailed, so filled with longing (“the cotton-blend of her underwear a pale coral”) that he made his colleagues uncomfortable and want to walk away, save at such unrestrained moments, he had the habit of holding whomever he was talking to by the shoulder, and bending his face toward the listener, peering at him over the rim of his glasses, whose thick lenses seemed never to have been cleaned—reserved for this occasion, term over and the night of the winter solstice, the school's old library, lined with leather-bound books. He had initiated the evening by reciting from memory Donne's “A Nocturnal upon St. Lucie's Day,” flourishing in one hand a fork with which he kept the meter's time. He recited with eyes closed. The red line of his shut lids magnified by the lenses looked like the scar of a healing
wound—a thought that both fascinated and sickened me. Raising the fork higher and higher, his voice gaining emotion, timbre deepening as if he were pulling the last words from some slowly opening sarcophagus in his heart—proof that his beloved truly was interred—he suddenly opened his eyes, eyes so strangely mild and large, bluer than I ever recalled them being, over which his pallid lids seemed like a snow hill in the air, and finished “since this both the year's, and the day's midnight deep is.” And at that instant, with a solemn and drawn-out violin accompanied by the cello's deeper sorrow, the chamber musicians began the evening's performance.

I thought he would collapse. But he only brought his hand down, looked curiously at the fork as if he hadn't realized he had been holding it, and not being near a table, slipped it into his jacket pocket.

As the music played, I wandered, looking at the books on the shelf. I wondered if anyone would dare inform the chair that he had misquoted the poem's ending, had transposed
deep
and
midnight
, damaged not only the force of the alliteration, but also the shock there of the double-stress that resounds in the final line like the banging of the bright tongue against the mouth of a dull bell:
day's deep
. I gazed at the books: gilt lettering flame-like against the dark leather bindings. Titles of no interest:
Barbary Captivity in the Late 18th Century, The Worm in Its Element, Pestilence in the Second Kingdom
. Two instructors walked past me holding hands. The music
filled the room and, so I thought, subtly reechoed off the plaster ornamentation circling the room's ceiling: autumnal harvest, branch of bare tree, spring grass in which the nightingale nest sat, sunflower, all repeating at regular intervals, and joined together by Pan's repeated face, grinning beneath his horns. Hearing the music once was hearing it twice. My colleagues, people I spend every day talking to or avoiding, seeing in committee or hallway, hearing their footsteps as they walk down the hall to the copier, took on a new aspect; each seemed part of a masque in which his or her own music played, the music of a peculiar drama shifted miraculously but imperceptibly from a strain deep within their own minds to a music in the air, a music all could hear, and hearing, move through, live in, an atmosphere. There are no words to this masque; it is a silent play, a mime. All play themselves perfectly. Even Doris—looking at the arabesque in the carpet into whose swirl her toe encroaches—swaying, anonymous: sea grass in the tide. Pan leered down from the sky. I felt myself blushing: the scent of talc arrived, and the soap underneath the powder, only after Doris has walked by.

I noticed, in my error—that is, my wandering—a book I loved in my childhood, a book forbidden for me to read but which I did read, sneaking into my father's study, reading under his desk.
Wonders and Tales
, by Anonymous. Pages that were the verdant field. Illustrations I would stare at for hours, lines of such minutiae that the detail seemed never to end. I remember an oil
lamp on a desk in an empty room, smoke or steam curling out of the spout, and in the midst of the substance a woman materializing into form, naked back to me, the curve of one breast marked by the curve of one line as she stretched, awakened from how many centuries of pensive sleep. I couldn't help myself, as the music played, to reach for it. I felt like a child again, illicit among the adults, stealing license into that world I would inherit and longed for, the adult world with its mysterious rites of longing, its erotic insinuations, that I felt would never be mine.

I reached for the book, bound in green leather, curious to see it again, to feel it in my hands, expecting, perhaps wrongly, that the page would be a portal back to my childhood—that perhaps, this being the hidden wish in all my reading, I still was the child, safe in the dark beneath my father's desk, that cave in the den, and this room in which the music played and the people lived so strangely in their strange lives, lives so separate but connected to my own, was just one of the stories, one of the tales or the wonders, and that this scene, musicians in an alcove by the windows, ice sculpture of a fawn melting into the punch, the secretary drinking wine, her décolletage, was an illustration I was looking at too intensely, entering into it, not noticing when the page became a world, nor when the illustrator's black-and-white line became color, became flesh. I reached for the book, hoping, and my hand knocked against the glass behind which the books sat on their shelves, glass polished to such
clarity, I had not seen it. And only on knocking against it, finding barrier where I thought had been air, did my eye adjust, and I saw, reflected behind me, my good friend looking at me quizzically.

BOOK: An Impenetrable Screen of Purest Sky
3.27Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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