THE MAN HIMSELF
He never betrayed his hand, but even then, in those first moments, I was hesitant, circumspect. This comfortably assured, reassuringly witty, handsome man had sought me out, solely on the strength of a piece of writing. That had never happened before, even metaphorically. I was flattered, but I was also, thank God, suspicious.
"Do you come every week?" I asked, slightly incredulously, comparing what I suspected of him with what I had seen of the Circle.
"Oh no, not very much anymore. But there were many years when it seemed to me a religious ritual! Cheers." He sipped his neither-sweet-nor-dry-but-other sherry almost as a punctuation device, while he switched gears.
"Terry was a very sweet man, a dedicated and a selfless man, a patient, a kind, a tender man. He thought the faithful would gather every Wednesday somewhat like a Northern version of the Fugitives in Tennessee to fight, with passionate dignity, over the possibilities of expression in words of powerful, beautiful, meaningful things. Of course, he'd have done better with a Warren, a Tate, a Ransom in attendance! Nonetheless he labored with the clay he was given, and the urn of those meetings was definitely well-turned, however many blemishes his clay induced. He encouraged controversey while continually reminding everyone that mere winning was not the goal. And he never insisted! But, in the midst of the most bombastic exchanges, everyone I think was held in check by what Terry might say, even when that remained unexpressed.
"He wasn't a great poet; none who visited the Guild ever were. Still, he kept everyone well aware that great poetry was possible, and that even the slightest sentence could benefit from examination. No one else really understood. They enjoyed their rollicking brawls, always knowing that with Terry there no one would really get hurt undeservedly. And when he died everything of course fell apart. It was almost like Sherwood Anderson's WINESBURG. Terry's truth was shattered, and everyone who understood a piece of that truth thought it The Truth, and those contradictory truths tore the Guild apart because there was no center to hold. The only sensible solution was to invite people
Page 2 who obviously wrote better things than any of the members, so the balance of critical approach remained rational. But what saved the meetings made them into something else entirely. I come to see old friends, or a new writer or an interesting writer, or I come to hear someone who really wants to know what I think. But no, it isn't very often these days."
"Yet, when you came tonight, you didn't stay." I warmed to his involvement with the Guild, even its ruin, but I was still suspicious.
He smiled. "I thought you'd understand me better if you could see what this sort of thing is, and what it could be."
"But why me?"
"I told you: I like your novel."
"Oh? And what did you notice about my little inconsequential sex-tale that sixteen professional editors have overlooked?"
"Well, for one thing, there's that sentence: '... into her, into her, into, into, into her, hugely, firmly, deeply into her..' I can't quote it all, but that, and things like that, made me want to meet you."
That was a shock, and for a moment I was speechless and tried to cover by taking a large gulp of my drink.
"I'm impressed. That's the best sentence in the whole damned thing."
"Oh come now, there are lots of good sentences, but that one is completely original. I don't think anyone has ever managed to capture the entire rhythm and shape of the sex act, from eagerness to exhaustion, in a single sentence. That took talent. And no one has ever thought to explicate character exclusively through sexual encounter before. You can't blame those editors. They're looking for more of the same, and you tried to give them something new. It will be an interesting novel, once you finish it."
"Well, at least you read it! I'm... I'm speechless. Thank you very much for such careful attention. But it's not a novel. It's too damned long for a short-story, but I did everything I want with it. Four couples swapping wives, all permutations and variations examined as thoroughly as I could, and everyone comfortably asleep at the end. I rang all the changes. That's all there is."
"But they came together for a week-end, and you've covered only one night."
"I covered all the bases. There's nothing more."
"But even your characters expect there will be a tomorrow."
He pushed very gently, but I felt irritated and insistently shook my head. "Tomorrow would just be... more of the same."
"You're ... certain?"
I devoured my cherry in annoyed contemplation, and before I was ready to reply a second Manhattan magically appeared beside my wrist.
"No, you're right. It would be really different. Everyone was new to each other that night, and that won't be true the next day. They'll know each other, they'll have expectations, they'll act on their expectations, they'll expect more of the same, but without their being new anymore it will fail. I'd bet that tomorrow there won't be any sex at all, at least no successful sex."
"And yet you don't think that those failures at sex would be worth writing about?"
"He- Hu- He's huhere dav-vuvid!"
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