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Grey Sparrow Journal

Issue 30, July 31, 2017
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WHEN WRITERS DATE

 

by Greg Chase

 

 

 

                They meet in a workshop class. She notices his sparse prose and tan pants. He notices her thorough notes and perfect breasts. On their first date, they discuss how much they like Didion, how much they hate Faulkner, and how much they like Proust. They laugh over the shared difficulty of extracting good material from calm and happy childhoods. For their one-month anniversary, he writes her a poem that concludes with the lines, “Now I realize why Petrarch wrote all those sonnets./ Now I realize what I’ve been waiting for all my life.” She gives him a story about two strangers who meet on a rocky shoreline and stare into each other’s eyes, and when they finally look away all the rocks have crumbled into sand.


                They take a day trip to meet her parents. On the drive there, he reads The Brothers Karamazov and barely says a word, and she wishes he hadn’t worn his stupid striped bowtie. But then he bonds with her mom over Scrabble and makes it through the entire afternoon without asking her dad about gun control. She plays with her dog and watches him wash dishes, thinking she has rarely been so lucky.


                Sometimes he puts on headphones and lies on his bed with a notepad so he can “brainstorm ideas for novels.” She brings him cookies and milk, though she notices that nothing ever comes of these sessions. Sometimes she watches news stories on TV—about predatory lending in the Bronx, or prostitution in Bosnia—and they affect her so much that she bursts into tears. He gives her paper and suggests she try to put her feelings into words. After she does this, she usually feels better.  


He submits a detailed account of one of their failed sexual encounters (it was no one’s fault: he was drunk, she was not) to an essay contest entitled “Sex: The Magical and the Mundane.” When she reads the essay, its effective combination of bathos and pathos makes her ten percent impressed, twenty percent jealous, and seventy percent furious. After a week skiing together in Vermont, she writes a piece of “fiction” about a girl who spends “four days” in “New Hampshire” “snowshoeing” with her boyfriend and begins to question her commitment to the relationship. She doesn’t show him the story, but he finds it on her computer.


                The last straw is when she hears him tell a girl with pretty black eyes that he would love to attend the inaugural meeting of her Faulkner fan club. She grabs his arm and drags him out of the room. “We hate Faulkner,” she says. “Don’t you remember?”


                The break-up scene is an ugly one. He suggests that if she is going to use “inchoate” so often she should really learn to pronounce it correctly. She explains that Vietnam was a complicated issue, and that he needs to brush up on his Cold War history. He objects in the strongest possible terms to her interpretation of Finding Nemo. She implies that his one-month anniversary poem was a bit heavy-handed. He rolls his eyes and grabs his coat. “I wish we’d never dated,” he says.

 

She disagrees. “If I’d never dated you, I’d have so much less to write about.”

 

In the weeks that follow, he re-reads Madame Bovary, takes up juggling, and proclaims via Facebook his readiness to date again. But the next time he writes a story, he realizes she was right.  Bad haircuts, nut allergies, an encyclopedic knowledge of Freud: she stares back at him from every page.