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An Outtake From Talion

Below is an “outtake” from TALION, a passage removed from the chapter “Resurrection” because it slowed the narrative pace. I have received a complaint from Rad that its removal has warped readers’ view of his character. So for those who want to know Rad better, here it is:

Mother hated going places alone, so she badgered Rad into escorting her to the tedious receptions, dinner parties and local theater productions that made up her sad social life. On one of these occasions, a puppet show, his relationship with Andrea began.

Noisy children swarmed the lobby during intermission, scattering the adults against the walls. Rad detached himself from Mother, who was jabbering with an old lady she’d known since childhood, and began viewing an exhibit by somebody in the university’s art department. Stepping away from a collage to confirm that it looked just as nondescript from a distance, he backed into Andrea.

They both said, “Excuse me,” and turned, recognized each other and laughed in unison. A chance meeting that might have been choreographed. The scent of tuber roses and musk crawled up his nostrils. It should have warned him of her approach, but there were too many people in the room, too much sweat and damp wool.

“Enjoying the show?”

“No,” Rad said. “Just chauffeuring my mother.”

As they strolled to the next collage, she said, “Is your leg hurt?”

“I missed a step walking downstairs the other day and turned my ankle.”

He imagined sinking his thumbs into her throat, into the tender cavity he could snap like a wishbone, and watching her doll face become a blister. Then he remembered he was changing his life. “Why don’t you have dinner with us?” he said. “This Sunday.”

“You’re cooking dinner for your mother!” She was impressed.

“Actually she’s cooking for me. And you.”

“She won’t mind?”

“Oh, she’ll be delighted.”

Rad saved the news until he pulled into Mother’s driveway and she was reaching for the door latch. He wanted no constraints on her tantrum or his enjoyment of it. “Conrad, you do this on purpose. Is it really asking too much to check with me first? Who is this person?”

“A colleague.”

“She looks like such a mouse. She’s Jewish, isn’t she?”

“Jealous?” Rad said. “I haven’t slept with her yet. I never sleep with anybody without your permission.”

Don’t you dare give me that. Don’t you dare. You’ll never understand how it was, being a single mother in a town like this. Nobody wanted me.”

“Who forced you to come back to Richfield?” He enjoyed playing her like a keyboard, orchestrating her hysteria. “You’re like all the other losers who scuttle back to their hometown because they can’t make it anywhere else.”

“My family and friends were here. My support network”

The network included an uncle who found her a cozy sinecure at CIU, assistant flunky to an Associate Vice-President of Academic Affairs. She bullied the hapless VP for years.

“God! Why do you do this?” Her breath seethed in and out through her dental plate, her outrage climbing to its predictable screech. “You make my life hell, you always have. Perhaps I wasn’t a good mother, but don’t blame me for your life. You’ve been grownup a long time now. Call me a loser if it makes you feel better, but I’m happy in Richfield. What’s keeping you here?”

“I’ll leave when I’m ready,” he said.

She snorted in derision and got out of the car.

Sunday dinner was vintage Mother. She grinned through her false teeth and raked Andrea with a critical gaze as she took her coat. “I love your blouse, dear. So flattering for wide hips. Here, let me take your purse. It’s a knock-off, isn’t it? Very sleek. Almost had me fooled.”

Andrea was a worthy opponent. She cranked up her smile and pumped out compliments on the delicious meal, the lovely china. A couple of times she turned to Rad with a puzzled expression as though asking, “Is it me?” He looked back at her blankly.

As they sawed away at slabs of ham Mother started in on her many sacrifices to put Rad through graduate school. Andrea asked about his dissertation.

“It was on Joseph Conrad,” Mother said.

“Oh.” Andrea’s smile flickered. “Because you have the same name?”

“Isn’t that a good enough reason?” he said.

“You think it’s a joke,” Mother said. “But it’s not.”

“Tell me about it,” Andrea said

He managed to rap a few minutes about Conrad’s indirect narrative without revealing how little he remembered of his dissertation. Writing it had bored him. Afterward Mother had pulled strings to get him on the faculty at CIU. Nothing else would have been as easy. Rumors of the fix had reached his outraged colleagues. Andrea had joined the faculty afterward, but no doubt she’d heard the story.

By dessert the women reached a rapprochement. Andrea yakked about plans for an open-mike poetry reading while Mother nodded approval and washed down her envy with coffee and cheesecake. She was brooding over her tragic life. Burdened with Rad, she’d never had the chance to achieve a career worthy of her abilities.

He’d understood a long time ago that existence on her terms was death. She leeched his manhood into her swamp, the quicksand of her neurotic love. Unless he took it back, Rad would crawl through his miserable life unable to master himself or anybody else. His mother’s eunuch. She was driven less by malice than blind need. Like an amoeba or a malignant cell, absorbing his life to feed her own.

He invited Andrea to dinner again, this time at a country restaurant specializing in 16-ounce steaks. He enjoyed watching Andrea trying to choke down a pound of flesh. Afterward he suggested going somewhere for a drink, and she said, “What about your place?” She wanted what she couldn’t stomach. What else was she doing with Rad?

He served her a glass of sherry and gave her a tour of his renovations – the refinished floor, the wallpaper in the foyer that covered the traces of Whistler’s blood. “I like the pattern,” she said, tilting her face up toward his. He caught the scent of tuber roses from her skin, meat on her breath. “Usually I don’t care much for wallpaper, but this is elegant.”

Rad smiled at the bait. If he was simple enough to take it, every woman in the English Department would hear the story of how he lunged at her the moment they were alone. “Let’s sit down,” he said.

Andrea took the chair where he’d left his hand-grip on the cushion. “What’s this thing?”

“It strengthens your hands. I use it while I read.” Rad demonstrated, squeezing a few noisy squeaks from the overworked springs. He wore out hand-grips every year or two.

“But why?” she laughed. “Do you get writer’s cramp grading all those papers?”

“It’s great for carpal tunnel syndrome.”

“Oh I’m sorry. I didn’t know you had carpal tunnel.”

“I don’t,” he said.

“Then why—?” Andrea stumbled into awkward silence and then stretched out her hand as though for rescue. “Let me try.” She couldn’t grasp, let alone squeeze the hand-grip. Taking it back, he closed into a kiss since there seemed nowhere else to go with her. Suddenly hard, he kept himself from pressing against her, from seizing her slender arms or the fragile stem of her throat, that cavity where his thumbs would crush her voice and she would gape in a scream no longer possible as all her terror rushed to her eyes.

“Rad, take it easy. Slow down.” Her voice was infected with his trembling. “Let’s go upstairs, okay.”

The bitch had enjoyed leading him up to bed and mounting him. He remembered her insubstantial weight riding his groin, his hands locked onto arms he could have snapped like toothpicks, and dreamed again of destroying Andrea.

She and Lisa were almost the same size.