By Myron Ernst
At his doctoral oral examination on a morning in February, Harry was lost in a cold fog.
Professor Asperge asked him what a moralist is. Harry answered that he didn’t know for sure, hadn’t ever thought about it, and didn’t care. When Professor Ratermann asked about Flaubert’s La Tentation de Saint Antoine, he replied that he was not a Christian and was not troubled by Temptation and that, besides, he thought that the illustrations and the tribulations were grotesque.
Professor Neuenagel threw up his hands in despair and queried Harry about Mariology, the ideal of Courtly Love in the Arthurian Cycle, and the quests of Perceval on his white horse with long lances and banners. Harry answered that this had nothing to do with him, and that he wasn’t much interested in Sir Perceval’s girlfriend. All were in despair around a long oak table.
In the early afternoon, Harry drove through slush and snow to the supermarket, where he was able to find six sturdy packing boxes. Harry then drove to his rented room in a stranger’s house. He carried the boxes up to his room, in which there was a bed, a chair, a desk, and shelves of books and essays he had written about those books. He placed the books and essays randomly on the floor, and then sorted them into five separate piles, according to century. Harry would put the essays he had written about those books into a separate pile, and into a sixth box.
It was now about four in the afternoon, and the sunlight was beginning to fade. In two hours it would be dark at Lake McBride, and Harry didn’t want to drive back to Iowa City in the snow and perhaps over black ice.
The lake was frozen solid. Visitors had been there, but now were gone. Their tracks leading to and from the lake were undisturbed in the foot-deep snow. Harry was alone in the park.
By the time he had finished carrying each box of books and the box of essays about those books down to the frozen edge to abandon them there, the only light remaining was the last of an orange tinge on the snow and lake ice, and on the lids of the boxes of books, and on the lid of the box of essays. Harry would be driving back in the dark.
To have come with so many books and essays, and then to leave with nothing at all, seemed a pity. He put his hand into the box of books with titles concerning French Literature of the Nineteenth Century. Even in the near darkness, he saw the blood-red letters set against the light beige cover of the book that would not remain in the deep snow by the lake edge. Harry took away Baudelaire—The Flowers of Evil, for memory’s sake; Les Fleurs du Mal, as a souvenir.