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.