Kevin Stoddart was a philosopher, but not so much a philosopher as to think better of reapplying Axe on the three days he was purportedly on the Cape. Kevin, being a philosopher, dabbled in landscapes of Eastern thought. Because his loyalty to the Red Sox far exceeded that to his Jewishness, he liked, as monk might like, to listen to innings as to brook sounds, and to neglect the mirror.
Hung above his desk is a jade, catfish-whiskered lion displayed in a shadow box which cost more than the price of the lion itself. He enjoys curry-flavored ice cream and at Dartmouth, freshman year, was disappointed to find the outing club’s jaunts did not include those outside the flesh.
Having studied the texts the research center requested for him—the same which, introducing the concepts of the East to a young T. S. Eliot at Harvard, “ensured he always felt their strangeness—and having relocated his bed to the floor, Kevin Stoddart is a full-fledged monk. Well, the highest order a monk with a Dartmouth student library card and a Barbour coat can be.
Kevin is hiding in his dorm room. He has been hiding for the past two days; today is the third of his vacation into the world of the “un-being.” He has just finished a sleeve of Saltines and begun to roll the empty sleeve against his knee to dispose of it in the least auditory-intensive means allowed him.
Kevin is trying to be deathly, monastically quiet. He is repeating an old koan. We know the sound of two hands clapping, Kevin thinks, but what is the sound of one? He has no answer for this, but neither does any sound, and he is glad.
There is a pounding. It is a dense, mahogany pounding: the knock not of one, philosophically-puzzling hand, but that of an aggressive pair.
“Kevin,” says a voice, loudly, which Kevin neglects to answer.
“I know you’re in there.”
The pounding resumes. Kevin begins to incantate. We know the sound of two hands, we know the sound of two hands, we know the sound of two hands, we know the sound of two hands, we know the sound of two hands, we know the sound of—
“Kevin, sohelpmeGod if you don’t open this door.”
He is lying on his back. Having tucked the Saltine wrapper beneath his pillow, his attention is now posed on the ceiling, close to the crown-molding of which someone has written “fuck republicans” in anger apparently soft enough as to have dissuaded use of caps.
“You think this is some kind of puzzle?”
“Dana saw you, Kevin. Buying Cliff Bars in Burge.”
Again, the pounding resumes, but this time with less intensity. This time with an exhaustion of percussion, of sound, for which Kevin feels almost regretful.
The hiding because Friday, in the library, Colby Schnayer told him that when Thanksgiving break let out Iris MacMahon wanted a break of her own. The hiding because he, like the emperor we now know as the man who refused to die, wanted, even at absurdity’s cost, to circumvent his own end.
“Not Teddy Farber,” Kevin could discern Iris explaining to one of his hall-mates. “Terracotta. Terracotta, you see. My boyfriend—”
“Stoddart?” said an anonymous male voice.
“Isn’t he on Cape Cod?”
“He’s in his room.”
There is a pause. A hushed sound. Kevin considers the word ‘terracotta.’ Matches it to the squash-hued clay he’d watched Colby abuse for the credits he needed to pass his art elective the spring before, but also matches it somewhere else.
“Do you think he—”
“He isn’t crazy, Skip. He’s terracotta.”
And because Kevin had been versed in the attitudes of the emperors from Qin Shi Huang to Pu Yi, he furrows deeper into the pillow-fort ramifications he’s built as incubation around the dynasty which started with a slender strawberry-blonde removing her string bikini top and had ended with Colby Schnayer, eating turkey from a Tupperware in a library cubicle, forewarning its fall.