Short literary fiction is one of my areas of writing interests, so I dabble in composing short stories and flash fiction from time to time.
The Art of Correspondence
The Graveyard Whistler Introduces "Letters"
As my faithful readers know by now, I am pursuing a PhD in literary history with a concentration on "irony." The thing is I am finding such marvelous gems that do not actually address the issue of irony but which are just so fascinating I can't let them drop without exposing their emotional plights to light.
This series of letters offers a delightful exchange between a professor and former student. They are obviously very much in love but have much baggage that prevents their ability to requite that love, that is, until certain unpleasant facts of life are overcome.
I apologize ahead of time for not being able to offer a completely satisfying ending to this story. I know my readers will be left with questions: did LJ succeed in persuading JL to relocate to SoCal.? does their love ever become physical? do they resume writing that corroborative collection that seems to have started this whole thing? and simply, do they live happily ever after?
I know I would like answers to those questions, and I will certainly keep looking for them. But for now, please enjoy the exchange. Their writing includes some clever and quirky turns of phrase. They both were definitely lovers of literary language, and they definitely loved each other with a rare love and affection that many of us only dream about finding on this fuzzy-mudded planet.
April 19, 19—
It's still difficult to call you that, even though I know it would be ridiculous to call you Professor Lawrence, considering our past relationship. I know you must be surprised getting a letter from me now; maybe you are shocked or annoyed, and are not even bothering to read this, so maybe I am writing in vain, but I will continue in the faith that you do still have at least a spark of interest in me and my life.
I owe you a huge apology for just vanishing the way I did, without one word of explanation or even good-bye. I hope you will accept it and know that I am truly sorry. I don't really understand myself that well even now, but at the time of our relationship, I was thoroughly confused. That confusion—or my desire to try to work it out—is part of the reason I am writing you now. But there are other parts. I hope I will be clear; I'm not even sure I can be.
Before I get into that, I wanted to tell you that when I saw your book on our library's new arrival shelf, I was tempted to check it out, but then I rushed over to the bookstore and ordered my own copy. You can be sure I will read it carefully and cover to cover as soon as it arrives.
Well, there are some things I have to say, and I might as well jump right into them. At the time we were working on that collection of poems, I was in a constant state of turmoil. I had written what I considered some of my best poems for the collection, but I feared they were too revealing, I mean, I feared they showed too clearly how I felt about you, and our growing closeness. I feared that if anyone we knew (your wife for example, and my parents and brothers) saw those poems, and saw that we, a professor and student, had authored them, they would make assumptions about the nature of our relationship. I could not face that. And I did not have the courage to tell you about my fears. You had such confidence in me, and you thought I was so bright and sophisticated for a twenty-year-old, but I didn't feel that way, and it scared me and upset me to have you find out. I just couldn't let you know how weak and insecure I felt, so I transferred to Miami to finish my BA in English.
Living at home was hell, but I'll tell you about that later, if you are still speaking to me or listening and you still care.
I had thought I'd tell you everything I had been doing and thinking lately in this one letter, but I see that it is getting too long. And I really should not be so presumptuous as to assume you are still interested. Instead, I will just come right out and ask you: Are you still interested in hearing from me? Do you think we can be friends? I have never forgotten you for a minute. I really do love you, and I have missed our talks.
You were always so insightful; I look back now, and realize that I surely could have trusted you with my insecurities back then, but I just didn't know it then. I am learning, but I am still full of confusion.
I hope you will let me know if it's all right to write you more. Please let me know soon.
Your "Lucy Light" (I hope still)
21 May 19—
My Dear Lucy Light,
I was delighted to get your letter. I have wondered about how you are doing and where you are. I have wondered if I had been the cause of your sudden disappearance and from your letter I gather I must bear some guilt in that regard. I should have realized that you were too young and inexperienced to become equal partners in that endeavor of authorship. But I will never take back what I said about your intelligence; you are still the brightest and most perceptive student ever to sit for my class in Mod Brit Poetry. You are also one of the most creative. I had occasion to teach a creative writing section last fall; as you know, I hated every minute of it, but at least now I know why I hate it so much. Because I totally agree with Auden that artists who take academic positions should do academic work. If I had my way, all creative writing courses would summarily be banished from the university. I have gotten upon my soapbox, and now I shall descend again to finish my lecturing to you alone.
Dear, dear girl—as you have apologized to me, let me say that if you truly think you owe one, then I accept it. But let me apologize to you in return. I am so sorry for what you have been through. I am more than willing to do anything that you feel will help you; I am more than willing to accept you back into my friendship, and may I say this, without pressure, if you feel you would like to resume collaboration on that collection, I would be happy to do it. I put the project away and have not had the heart to pick it up again, since my Lucy Light was extinguished.
I am so glad you are going to read my book; it's just one of those critical pieces that takes up much more time to write than it is worth. But it did me favors when it came time to apply for promotion, which I did and won full professorship; now I have occupied the Glossmere Distinguished Chair in Rhetoric and Writing for the past five years. Unfortunately, my share of committee work has not lightened, but I do intend to take steps to reduce all outside distractions, so I can concentrate on my own poetry. I have published maybe five poems in the past two years, and I feel that is a disgrace, but as I said, I do plan to remedy that.
So Lucy, as you may have gathered thus far, I will be watching my mailbox with a greedy eye for your letter. Your place in my mind and heart has not been filled by another nor erased by time. Come back into my life, and let's make life brighter and fuller for both of us.
I too have much news for you, but I wait for yours first. I wait and watch.
Yours for the works,
May 30, 19—
Oh my dear Distinguished Professor,
You have made me so happy for accepting my foolishness and forgiving it. Now I feel relieved and confident that I can tell you my reasons for contacting you.
Do you remember Nathan Glass? He was a student in the Mod Brit Poetry the same semester I was. And maybe you remember that he and I were dating off and on, while you and I were working on that collection. Just before I transferred to Miami, Nathan asked me to marry him. I told him I couldn't marry him because I was in love with someone else. And he pressured me to tell him who it was, but I never did tell him.
Without my knowing it, he was watching me; he contacted me at Miami, and insisted I see him, and when I did, he told me he knew that you and I were having an affair. I denied it, of course, but he said he had pictures of us. Well, I laughed in his face because I knew that was impossible, but he showed me pictures that looked exactly like us entering the Bevon Motel. He said it didn't matter if they were real, because they looked so real, real enough to get you fired and divorced. Anyway, he insisted I marry him or he would show those pictures to your wife and department head. So that's what I did, I married him. I hated him; I feel so guilty now, but I hated every minute of being married to him. Every time he touched me, I wished he were dead. He raped me; he never ever made love to me; he raped me, and he'd call me whore, slut, bitch, in love with that prig of professor, here bitch take this. That's what he’d say. He would never leave bruises on me, and he bragged that I would never have any proof that he continued to rape me and curse me.
That went on for three years. I was working on my masters at the University of San Diego, and he was an assistant professor in history. At the beginning of last year, his department head gave a party for the new members of the department. It was some kind of record; they hired something like five new members, and they had many more new TAs than usual, so they wanted to celebrate. The department head held the party on his boat, and everyone got real boozed up. Nathan usually never drank, except for beer, and he had told me he was allergic to vodka; this is why I feel so guilty. The bartender set out on a tray three glasses of drinks, two had gin in them, and one had vodka; I picked up the one with vodka and took it to Nathan, and I said, "Here's your gin." He was talking to one of his colleagues and didn't pay any attention and just drank it. About a half hour later, there was a big commotion and people looking over the side of the boat. And a couple of TAs jumped in. I rushed over to see what it was, and it was Nathan in the water. A female TA said he tried to unhook her bra, and she slapped his face, then he told her to watch, he could walk along the edge of the boat like a tight rope, but he couldn't, and he fell in. They pulled him out, and he was dead.
Oh, Jefferton, I hate myself for these next words, but I can't help them: I was so relieved, so happy. I cried and cried for days; of course, everyone thought I was crying in mourning for my dead husband, but I was crying in relief for myself.
Of course, I don't miss him and I'm still glad he's out of my life, but I also know that I never wished he was dead. I just wished he were a decent human being. But the guilt is eating me up. Jefferton, help me, if you can. I have no friends here yet. I am teaching two classes of composition at MiraCosta College in Oceanside, and I also work as a waitress in a natural foods restaurant. They think I will eventually get hired full time in both jobs. But for now, all I have is two jobs, and I need a friend with some advice.
1 September 19—
I must apologize for not answering your last letter sooner. After I recovered somewhat from the shock of your plight, I discovered that Marie has been having an affair with—well, never mind with whom—but the horrific scene that played itself out at our home on the third of July this year has left me a shambles. I don’t want to go into the details of that yet though, because I know I must attend to your request. Let me just add that Marie and I have finally decided to end our thirty year marriage; you must have noticed my address change. I can no longer live in the town where I was born, the town where I fell in love, the town where I grew to manhood—leaving only to pursue my graduate degrees, and then returning to the town I had taken to my heart for what I thought was a lifetime. No, the very trees here mock me that my Marie would deceive me so, and so I have moved to Indianapolis and become a commuter to my beloved Ball State to finish out my days as Professor of Rhetoric and Writing. I cannot leave my undergraduate alma mater, the university that took me to its bosom to allow me to blossom in my career as professor of English and now Distinguished Professor of Rhetoric and Writing. No, I shall live those fifty miles away and drive to my university every day, and leave as soon as my teaching and other duties are over.
One other thing—Martha-Marie Vandover Lawrence will never teach at this university again. Over and over I thank my God in Heaven that we bore no offspring to suffer this slice of hell on earth.
I just re-read this opening paragraph, and I am tempted to delete it, but no, I want you to know my state of mind, so that you may better judge any “advice” I give you.
First, you are not guilty of anything. That lout simply got what he deserved and in that, you are getting what you deserve: to be rid of him. Yes, I remember that knot-head. His putrid essays left a stench on my fingers; I hated having to mark them, and how I would have reviled having to discuss further with him any point I might have marked, and if I had marked any of his inanities, he would have engaged me after class to elucidate further stupidities. So I always marked him A and let it fall at that, no comment, nothing to invite his further attention.
How I would give anything had you told me that that bastard was blackmailing you. Oh so many years between that blackguard’s deeds and now—but I would not have allowed him to get away with it. Still, nothing we can do to remedy that, except that I convince you that you have no reason for guilt, and you must know that—I insist. Of course, you did not wish him dead, and you did not kill him. His own perversion killed him; his overweening pride, his misogyny, his blatant disregard of decency and humanity.
Lucy, if you could come here I would so cherish a visit from you. I have my own confusions. All the years of my marriage I was never unfaithful to Marie, though I have found out that she was unfaithful many times. But she claims my infidelity was mental and emotional, and she found your letters, and uses them as evidence I was just as guilty of infidelity as she. Maybe I am just old and out of touch, but I do not see it that way. To me there must be a physical consummation to constitute marital infidelity, and you know that we never so much as held hands.
Dear Lucy, if there is anyway you could travel back to Indiana, I would cherish a visit from you. I feel that we both need a balm that we cannot hope to receive from anyone other than each other. I simply must convince you that you must leave any guilt for that villain's death to the wolves. You deserve to make your life a haven of peace.
I will be waiting for your response with prayer that we may meet soon, resume a blessed friendship, and find the strength to live out the rest of our lives in harmony with each other and the world.
In love and friendship,
September 5, 19—
How to express the relief I feel from your kind words! No, I cannot. I am overwhelmed by the invitation to return to Hoosierland. You can be sure that I will begin immediately making preparations for that return.
It's all so breathtaking—it makes me dizzy. My work here is not without its perks, and I do love the climate. A thought, maybe a crazy thought!, just popped into my head: how might I persuade you to relocate to southern Cali? No, we can jump off that bridge if and when we come to it. But just maybe your love for your school and native state has run its course?
Now, I am off to make a flight reservation. Before I go further than that, I feel we need to reconnect in person to discuss all the details of my relocation. Please know how grateful I am to you, and that I so look forward to seeing you, listening to your sage advice, and just generally unburdening myself of cares and issues that I know you have the wisdom to address.
I will let you know my flight information as soon as it is confirmed!
Thank you again, dear Professor!
With love and gratitude,
PS/ Just in case, here is my phone number (760) 701-4619.
15 Sept 19—
Our talk left me stunned and so grateful for our re-connection. Oct 7 cannot come soon enough. See you at the airport!
The Correspondence of Art
Final Word from the Graveyard Whistler
This couple remains a mystery. I wonder if they really re-connect and what re-connecting really means to them. Will they remain professor and student? Will they write and publish works together? Will they begin a steamy affair? Will they marry?
That's the intriguing feature of this sequence: that it brings on more questions than answers. I guess the true value of studying this sequence of letters rests in analyzing the styles of each writer. The professor, for sure, has a unique voice, and the student, his "Lucy Light," brings off some unique features of her own.
Interestingly, I did not revise a single word in this sequence of letters. Except for blocking out the date, I have left everything exactly the way I found it. I have been asked where I found these letters, but revealing that location would prove problematic for I don't know if these people are alive or dead.
By the dates, they could very well still be living, and they would be quite old now, and if they happened to learn that their letters were now being spread all over the Internet, they might not approve, and they might even be hurt. So I simply must refuse to divulge the exact source for these letters.
Again, my purpose in publishing these letters is simply to reveal what I think is an interesting, unique professor-student relationship that is conveyed in unique literary language. Who they are is not important for the purpose. If I ever hear from anyone who knows who these people are, I will divulge whatever that individual will allow about the issue.
Belmonte Segwic (aka "The Graveyard Whistler")
Whistling Past the Graveyard
Life Sketch of Belmonte Segwic aka Graveyard Whistler
Belmonte Segwic, aka Graveyard Whistler, is a persona created by me, Linda Sue Grimes, to tell a story about a unique individual's interaction with the study of the literary arts.
Introduction by Graveyard Whistler
"We cannot choose what we are free to love." —W. H. Auden, "Canzone"
Greetings! My name is Belmonte Segwic, aka "The Graveyard Whistler," a handle I used in my many Internet writings and communications in grad school. I fairly recently completed a master of arts degree in creative writing at the Iowa Writers' Workshop at the University of Iowa. After achieving that step in my education, I have been batting around the idea of pursuing a PhD in the history of letters.
Thus, I have transferred to a large university in the eastern United States that will remain nameless. My advisor advised me to keep it nameless because of my intentions to engage heavily on the Internet. I guess she felt that my style might cramp that of this "prestigious" institution of higher learning.
Being the opinionated fool that I am, I would love nothing better than to engage in poking holes the inflated balloon of reputation that these Ivy League monstrosities like to float over the heads of their inferiors. But I will have to save that for another day because now I intend to seek, read, and research, looking backward into the history of literature.
I am particularly drawn to irony as a literary device, and likely I will offer lots of stuff pertaining to that device. But I'm also easily swayed by intriguing narratives of all sorts, from flash fiction to gigantic tomes that seem never ending. For my writing purposes though, I will likely stick to mid-sized works that can be handled in 1000 to 4000 words for the Internet, where attention spans diminish daily.
So those honorable mentions represent a brief overview of my literary intentions at the present time, and of course, I reserve the right change directions as speedily as I can close one text and open another. My apparent lack of direction is somewhat upsetting to my advisor, but I have assured her that I will have a dandy dissertation all tied up in bows by end of the three-year limitation that has been imposed on me.
A Little Bit About My Background
I was born on an undisclosed day in an undisclosed small hamlet in eastern Kentucky. I'd like nothing more than to disclose those bits of bio, but my parents are important people in Kentucky politics, and I refuse commit any act that would limit where I will go in my Internet scribblings, which I would most definitely be called upon to do if it got out who my important parents are. Just let me say that they are decent, hard-working folks, highly educated, and even to my own politics-blighted view, important to the societal, cultural, as well as political, fabric of Kentucky and the mid-South in general.
I am an only child and feel that I have not missed out on anything important by not having siblings. I did grow up with about a dozen cousins who seemed like siblings, some staying with us for extended visits. It seems that there were always a cousin or two filling up our extra bedrooms, keeping our refrigerator perpetually empty, but offering the best company a young tyke could ask for. I always enjoyed having those cousins visit, learned a great deal from the older ones, and was constantly entertained by the younger ones.
What I remember most is writing and putting on plays. All of cousins loved movies, theater, and books about imaginary characters. From my age of six to seventeen we must have written and performed a couple hundred plays, all influenced by something some cousin had read and loved. I hated acting but was always recruited to be one of the main characters. I loved doing the art for the backgrounds and working props like swords, capes, pistols, wands, fairy dust, make-up and other costumes—whatever we needed to make the play more colorful and life-like.
My Favorite Play
The summer after high school graduation when I seventeen, four of my cousins (all of us getting ready for college in the fall) came to stay for the entire summer. The first few days we just goofed off—swimming, throwing baseballs around, riding bikes, watching TV, and cooking large meals every night. Then about two weeks into the visit, the oldest cousin blurted out while we were sitting around trying to decide what to do that day, "Let's do a play!" Everyone shouted in unison, "Of course, a play!"
The next question was—what will it be about? And after batting around ideas for about an hour, we decided it would be a play based on a Shakespeare play. One girl-cousin then insisted it be based on The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet, but then the other girl-cousin objected saying that one always made her "cryyy." But then a boy-cousin piped up, saying, no, let's make it a comedy. It doesn't have to be exactly like the Shakespeare, let's turn it into a comedy. That will be a barrel of fun to turn a tragedy into a comedy.
To make a really, really long story much shorter than the original, we began right away to write our version of the Shakespeare tragedy into a comedy. We titled it "Raymond and Julie: A Funny Tale with a Happy Ending." We worked and worked. I painted sets, helped make costumes, and we then asked the principal of our high school to let us use the auditorium to put on the play. Then we got the brilliant idea of selling tickets. I typed up a ticket, took it to Kinko's and ran off a thousand copies. And we sold every one of them!
The auditorium only held 850 people. So on performance night, roughly 200 people had to stand around to watch this amateur group of ragamuffins scuffling across a stage performing their original version of one the great bard's masterpieces. Luckily, the play went off without a hitch, the audience loved it, some even asked if we would do it again!
Then all hell broke loose! The county clerk's office contacted the principal of the high school and asked if a certain unapproved event had taken place at the high school. The clerk asked for details such as tickets sold, capacity of the room, and what permits the administrators of the event had applied for and obtained. Well, we had not applied for and obtained any permits, and when the clerk had gathered all that information, he sent the sheriff to our house for a little sit-down with our parents. The sheriff found that we were in violation of a number of county and city ordinances, and the fines for those violations amounted to $15,000!
We had sold tickets for 50 cents each. We sold a 1000, so that means we took in $500 for the sale of the tickets. My parents were stupefied about all those ordinances and that's how they got into politics. They first ran for council positions to try to eliminate the coercive nature of government into the lives of young people who were actually doing good creative work. But for the time being, before they could actually do anything politically, my parents owed $15,000 in fines for allowing us to perform a play for the community.
Luckily, they were friends with neighbor who was a tax attorney. He also knew quite a lot about the ordinances that we had violated. He came over to our house one evening to explain what he had found out about satisfying that ridiculous fine. He told us that we could retro-actively apply for a permit for the play, but that we would have perform the play again after we received it—that is—if we received it. He then said that if we apply and receive the permit and re-perform the play, we must turn over the proceeds to a county or city charity. We didn't have sell tickets again, we could just turn over the money we had collected from the first performance.
So here is how it went down: we had paid $50 to get the tickets copied. We took in $500 for the first performance of the play, which had left us with $450. After the lawyer-friend told us about getting the permit, we shelled out $100 for the permit. It didn't cost us anything to re-perform the play, and actually we loved getting to do it again, and our audience loved it so much that they donated money because we had not charged them for the second performance.
And they donated big time: the 1000 people who attended, donated roughly $60 each. That meant after we gave the original $500 to the charity (our three sets of parents made up the $150 missing from the original intake of $500 that paid for the tickets and application for the permit)—we chose to give to the "Little Brothers and Sisters of Saint Francis"—we ended up with roughly $55,000! We did not have to pay the fines because we donated our $500 to the "Saint Francis" charity, so all that money was ours. So we gave $5000 more to "Saint Francis" and split up the rest of it among ourselves. We each got $10,000, and we all were entering college in the fall.
When we get together now, we all wonder how we would have managed to enter college that fall without that windfall. Sometimes we get silly and say things like, we should do that again, I got car payments that could use it, or who knew we could sell our skills so cheap and then reap a big payout like that?
It all seems surreal now, but the play, "Raymond and Julie: A Funny Tale with a Happy Ending," will always be my favorite. I have a worn-out copy that I take out from time to time when I need a smile or two. I thus have no doubt about what sealed my interest in the literary arts. Our play had included rich dialog, poems, songs, jokes, biography, and even a play within a play.
Thank you to those who have stayed with me to this point. I will now go off to play in the world of literary arts, and wherever you go off to, I wish you as much fun as I will have in mine.
aka Graveyard Whistler
Some good whistlin' goin' on!! Enjoy!
© 2018 Linda Sue Grimes