Genevieve Oliver will hold you in the
light. She has been self-publishing her fiction for five years. She lives in a cold room in Western
Freshman year they tell you about a kid at Hampshire called Lockett who speaks in prophesy, they say, and his
girlfriend, a Smith economics major, who writes everything he says down in verse and will hand it to you in
calligraphy on a slip of receipt paper. She’s pretty but not as pretty as he is.
The room’s hot and too bright. You can feel his eyes through the crowd. Outside you slip on a patch of ice.
The air is sweet and smells like incense.
You smoke your first two cigarettes.
When you were young you went to see the pythia in the silent crypt at Delphi, her clothes disheveled, her eyes blank.
The air was sweet.
Your head was light.
She spoke in prose.
Outside in the coming dusk you dizzily regarded Parnassus. She had told your father to throw the bones of his mother behind him as he walked the long path to the sea.
Back inside they are all gone but the pythia and the prophet. You go with them drunk on the PVTA to the Route
Nine Diner. In the booth Lockett stretches his legs one by one. You tell them about being young at Delphi.
It was a long time ago.
You split a plate of onion rings and a chocolate sundae. “What are you studying?” Lockett says.
Once you clambered with friends into the earth, into a narrow hole dug under the moonlight, and copied by candlelight the frescoes in the Domus Aurea, so you tell them studio art probably. In the gloom there it was all damp, the walls algaed slime.
The flame guttered.
The ceiling dripped.
You did not say the emperor’s name but you knew it. It was a weight.
Lockett’s girlfriend does not like her drawing class at Mount Holyoke. The girls there are strange and
the buildings are all cold brick. The paths cross at uncomfortable angles. Once she knelt in the stacks, on the
fifth floor in PQ, before the four shelves of Rimbaud biography, and a white figure flashed past her, in the
You knew Arthur once because he was a friend of a friend of a friend and you were young and stupid enough then to café crawl weekends. Everything you drank was varying shades of acidic green. You had to know how to pour it over sugar and it took practice to get it right. On a weird summer Thursday you cut your finger open on a bar spoon and the blood billowed in absinthe for the sharks. You watched it bloom, a spreading web, like sick orchids. You prayed for them to come, the sharks, with their rows of teeth, staggered white pearls.
It was a bad time in Paris then.
It was hot and terrible.
Rimbaud was an asshole, a real precocious asshole, your age but younger. You were seventeen. Maybe you were seventeen. He liked your work and you hated it, subsequently. He told you he thought about fucking you when he looked at some of them, at the canvases with the brightest colors. Drunkenly you shredded the larger ones with a palette knife. You do not want to remember what your friends were like then. They were awful people and you had slept with all of them.
When the check comes you follow Lockett and the Smith girl to the cashier and she pays with her debit card.
Outside it is past midnight and snowing. Lockett lights your third cigarette at the bus stop with his
grandfather’s silver lighter. His fingers are long and white. He buries his hands in the pockets of his
The Smith girl tells you that you have this way about you, this weird way.
The way you walk and speak.
The way you hold your cigarette.
Your lips when you breathe smoke.
The angles of your face in the yellow light.
At that moment you know what Lockett saw. He does not look at you. There are things that cannot be hidden.
On the bus your face is hot and the window is cold, quivering plexiglass against your forehead. Neon blurs in the
snow outside, a smeared reflection on the wet street. Lockett’s knee is pressed against yours. It taps out
coffee jitters through ripped denim.
In his dorm room you smoke the Smith girl’s hash out of an unripe clementine. You tell them: at Delphi you followed your father down to the sea as he threw stones over his shoulder. You walked backwards.
The stones rolled in the dust and people grew up from them like sprouts from seeds.
They were beautiful people, thin and strange.
They were a spattering, like stars, and then they were everywhere.
They were men and women, naked, and they grew up so fast, before your eyes, before you could blink.
The Smith girl kisses the hollow at the base of your neck, Lockett the pulse beneath your jaw. The infinite drumbeat. You do not know if they believe you.
The earth shook.
The river ran backwards.
That was a long time ago.