The morning was still dark; the sky seemed to be descending. The lights were still burning redly and the Chapel stood out menacingly against the heavy sky. Rob’s formal date was walking on before him, and he longed to run after her noiselessly, catch her by the shoulders and say something foolish and affectionate into her ear. He longed to be alone with her. When the others had gone away, when he and she were in his dorm room, then they would be alone together.The touch of her body sent through him a keen pang of lust….
In his room at last, Rob threw his coat on a couch and crossed the room towards the window. She was standing before the closet mirror, ignoring the pile of dirty laundry. Trembling with annoyance, Rob paused for a moment, watching her; he did not know how he could begin. Then he said:
Gretta, do you read The Chronicle?
I like newspapers.
I have a column.
Yes, it’s quite well regarded, he said.People know who I am.
She stood before him for an instant, looking at him strangely. Then, suddenly raising herself on tip toes and resting her hands lightly on her shoulders, she kissed him. I like columns, she said. Rob, trembling with delight at the ease of his success, slipped one arm swiftly about her, and he said softly: Gretta dear, what are you thinking about? She did not answer nor yield wholly to his arm. Then she said in an outburst of tears:
O, I am thinking about my favorite column.
She broke loose from him and ran to the bed and, throwing her arms across the loft rail, hid her face. Rob stood stock still for a moment in astonishment and then followed her. He said: What about that column? Why does it make you cry? I am thinking about the person who wrote it. He went to UNC. A dull anger began to gather at the back of Rob’s mind and the dull fires of his lust began to glow angrily in his veins. Could he at least spell right? he ask edironically. He used to write for The Daily Tar Heel. He was very delicate.
She looked away from him in silence. He is dead, she said at length. He died when he was only a sophomore. Isn’t it a terrible thing to die so young as that? Rob felt humiliated by the failure of his irony and by the evocation of this sophomore from the dead. She had been comparing him in her mind with another. A shameful consciousness of his own person assailed him. He saw himself as a ludicrous figure, pandering weekly to children, a nervous preening intellectualist writing for vulgarians.
And what did he die of so young, Gretta? Consumption, was it?
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I think he died for his column, she said.
A vague terror seized Rob at this answer. It was in the winter, she said, January or February, the night of the baby oil party off East. I was there when the police broke it up, and he was too, standing in the snow with his notebook. The poor thing, he was shivering so badly.—And did you not tell him to go back? asked Rob. I implored of him to go home at once and told him he would get his death in the snow. But he said he had a deadline. A week later they told me he froze to death. She stopped, choking with sobs, and, overcome by emotion, flung herself face downward on the bed, sobbing in the quilt.—That’s sad, said Rob, but I doubt his column was as good as mine.—I’ve never read your column, she said.
And then she was fast asleep.
Rob, leaning on his elbow, looked for a few moments on her tangled hair. He thought how poor a part he had played, how quickly he would be forgotten. Soon he would have passed without a trace through the mind of Duke; soon all that would be left of him would be $160,000, deposited in the accounts. His professors would forget; his friends would forget. His room would be vacuumed out and occupied by a stranger. His Duke Card would cease to function. Yes, yes: that would happen very soon.
One by one, he thought, we are all becoming shades.
Generous tears filled Rob’s eyes. He had never written a column like that. A few light taps upon the pane made him turn to the window: it was raining. He watched sleepily the drops, silver and dark, falling obliquely against the lamp light. Yes, The Chronicle was right: Duke was covered in rain. It was falling on every part of the dark Gardens, on the grassless quads, falling softly upon the Chapel and, farther westward, softly falling onto the dark mutinous leaves of the Duke Forest. It was falling, too, upon every part of the lonely grave yard in the Blue Zone. It fell thick on the crooked crosses and headstones, on the spears of the little gate, on the barren thorns; and through the mist he could almost read the names on the stones: Bill English; Faran Krentcil; Shadee Malaklou; Rob Goodman. His soul swooned slowly as he heard the rain falling faintly through the universe, and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.
Rob Goodman is a Trinity senior. He has been a Chronicle columnist for six semesters.