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A Starting Point


I told myself five hundred would be enough 
to begin to make a plan. In the end, 
it was over two thousand when we divided the cash 

we’d kept in a tin. Waiting for him to leave, 
I moved seamlessly between assuming 
some mindless Zen and reading a novel. 

He mimed playing a piano, a hyperemotive 
Rachmaninoff, frenetic fingers pressing, 
time and again, against the blond laminate 

of the kitchen table. He said I would never 
be as good as he was. He said it without saying it, 
making it clear he was a titan of the industry 

of succeeding at being. If anything, I was ancillary 
evidence of his genius. The bitterness 
of the sneering Good luck when he left. I was 

stunned. Humiliated. Sick with the sense 
of precariousness. And yet, embarrassed to be 
thinking of finances. Only now do I see inside

my mind. Unnerved by my own uncertainty, 
thinking was hovering above the hot water I was in. 
I, a piece of cardboard, feeling my fiber lessening. 

The novel was a translation of Stendhal’s The Red 
and the Black. Published in 1830, I read it 
as if it were a timeless allegory: the chronic inner 

problem of an inescapable provincial beginning. 
A social order that would not expand 
enough to let an outsider in. Fine, I said. But no. No.



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