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July 3, 2005

Exposition, Chapter 11 (p. 199-202)

A Whispering Through the Branches
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D. felt a distinct change in the atmosphere that afternoon. Everybody but Alex had returned to the house by the time she meandered through the front hallway after talking to Sal, and standing on the lawn to the east of the house drinking and eating fish, they emanated a feeling of vacation that wafted lazily on the warming air with the smell of burning charcoal. The rustle of the surrounding leaves mingled with the slight rumble of chatter. Huck slapped John on the back after a friendly joke, and the entire company laughed at the consternated look that passed over John's face until the laughter infected the man himself and he laughed, too. Holden lingered by the steps of the house until Nick called him into a discussion and he happily obliged, telling D. as he passed, "Nick's always asking me to give my opinion on everything." Jim, feeling the picnic, perhaps, trotted from one person to another with a stick dangling slantwise between his teeth and returning with a new stick each time somebody wrested the old one from his mouth and hurled it into the woods. Sal crept around the southern corner of the building and stood smiling at the festivities breathing "yes, yes" at something, maybe digging the camaraderie. D. even spotted Alex in the shadows behind some bushes and, though she might have projected the feeling onto him, she thought that he felt some longing to join the group.

Eventually, somebody got the idea of going for a swim in the lake, and a general murmur arose in concordance. Then the hustle to get dressed and to fill a couple coolers with drinks and people rushing to not get left behind. D. excused herself partly for lack of a swimming suit, to which Huck tried to dismiss her concern by suggesting that they were all "goin' to swim nekid anyways." D. insisted that she'd rather stay around the house and read; Jake decided that he had had enough water for the day. And the expedition departed, leaving a mist of expectancy, which was what D. had decided the atmosphere really implied: expectancy of time away from life, of leisure, of conversation, and of the coming of Nathaniel.

As D. reclined in John's chair with the book with which she was currently engaged, Jake called down from the balcony outside of his room dangling a net, "Badminton, anyone?" They set up the net and flicked the shuttlecock over it from racket to racket, with D. winning by a slight lead, then returned to the courtyard with a pitcher of water and their books.

Just as the sky began to dim with the evening, the swimmers returned, and the bustle of them all falling over each other to bathe and prepare for supper and sunset from the towers raised the pitch of lazy excitement until they had all eaten and leaned, divided between the towers by hallway, against the parapets, gazing to the west and the sinking sun. The slow burn of a thrill ran through them all with the slow light show of the departing glow, and D. half expected a cheer as the sun reached a colorful climax behind the mountains and a wave of wind shuffled through the trees far off in the distance. "It's all going to happen," she heard Sal shout from the other tower, and in the silence that followed a short burst from his saxophone, all ears perked up at the sound of the eastern door squealing open, and all eyes glanced around in inquiry, and D. thought, Nathaniel.

The gazes turned from west to east, and D. felt as if a gust of wind might bring with it something momentous like the return of day, and in the twilight, they all leaned over, at varying angles of anticipation, and listened as footsteps crossed the floorboards of the entrance hall and mounted the stairs. D. saw a backlit shadow pass the stained glass window and then watched a head appear at the top of the eastern stairs.

The young man who materialized as if rising up through the floor, though barely distinguishable across the dim courtyard, wore jeans and a shirt that was too dark to be white. Still, it was light enough to disclose by contrast that the young man's skin was mahogany, and a boisterous greeting was offered by almost everybody present, "Othello!"

The evening light show was over, and the stars began to sift through the lingering luminescence and fall into place across the sky. Euphoric from the convivial opiate that they had all somehow and suddenly ingested, perhaps with the trout or the lake water, or perhaps because their number had surpassed some critical mass that forced spores of affability from the floorboards of the house, its inhabitants floated down to Othello's room with hands outstretched and smiles and expressions of cheer that he had returned, and questions and answers were volleyed from one to the next through the several who stuffed themselves into the room to those who were still on the balcony outside. Yes, the year had been pleasant. No, Nathaniel had not arrived as yet. Yes, the weather was lovely.

D. trailed behind a distance that she felt appropriate for a stranger in the midst of such warm familiarities, and she noticed Martin holding back as well on the other side of the crowd, trying to look as if he found something amiss in the sky and down the hall and in the courtyard where Alex stood, giving him something to examine. Then, as if the earth had tilted in the other direction, the group poured out of the room and toward the stairs on both sides of the house and down to the first floor, some toward the kitchen and others spilling into the yard. At the back of the exiting surge, Othello halted at his doorway and said, "I'll be down in a moment."

D. had held her ground against the banister and smiled at Othello. He was very handsome, she thought, with his close-cut hair and brown eyes.

"Hello," he said. "I'm glad to see that I'm no longer the new kid in town."

"And I'm glad to see you," responded D.

"Why's that?"

"Because I was beginning to think that this was some sort of boys club or something."

Laughing and looking a little confused, but mostly for decorum's sake, Othello inquired, "Why would I change your mind about that?"

D. flustered. She didn't have the words to voice what she said in her head. "Well, you know what I mean... this place doesn't exactly have the widest range of demographics."

"Maybe there's more of a variety than you know."


"Or maybe we're all more alike than you've been able to see."

"I only meant that..."

"But either way, you're still the only woman."

D. didn't know how to respond to Othello's reaction to her friendly insinuation of connection by difference. She stammered on the syllable "I" and sped her mind to find an answer, or at least decide what class of stance she should take, but Othello relieved her of the need by smiling widely and with humor and saying, "But I know what you mean."

Posted by Justin Katz at July 3, 2005 1:30 PM
A Whispering Through the Branches