Jim Knable’s Sons of Dionysus: a lusty novel of myth, mirth, and music.
Our freshman year dorm was only a small room with a bunkbed and a bathroom across the hall. There was enough space for two desks and two dressers, but just barely. It was a very old room in a very old building dating back to the 1800’s. There was a fireplace built into the wall that didn’t work anymore. The mantel piece over the hearth was a plain wooden shelf attached to the wall.
Early on we made a great discovery.
Look at this! said Arthur.
Underneath the shelf over the fireplace, on its hidden bottom side, were names and years scratched into the wood. Roommates from ages past. John and Patrick 1992. Peter and Duke 1987. No one else in the eighties. Three in a row from the 1970’s—must have been a good decade for looking under mantel pieces. A few illegible names from the 1960’s, one with a peace sign next to it. Nothing from the 1950’s. One from 1943. World War II. Wonder if those guys stayed in college all the way through, or if they came after they served, or if they somehow escaped serving entirely. A couple from the 1930’s, but the writing is light, as if they didn’t have confidence to dig deeper. Nothing from the roaring 20’s—must have had better things to do. Then 1919. And further back, and further back. Thinking about these guys. Mutton chops and top hats, but the same as us otherwise. Two guys, always two guys. The College went co-ed in the 60’s, but no women’s names under here. College women mark their territories with paint and lamps and rugs. Men gauge it with knives.
And the earliest date. Holy shit, said Arthur. 1861. Jeremiah and Arthur. Under their names: New York and Georgia.
1861, he said, Civil War. New York and Georgia. Yankee and Confederate. North and South. They probably started college together and then ended up fighting each other. Might have even killed each other.
The odds of that, I started to say, and I could have actually worked out those odds (did I mention I’m a mathematical genius)…
What if one of them killed the other one right here before they even went off to war? Arthur said, his eyes wide and childlike. Slit his throat in the night.
Maybe they didn’t fight at all.
No, they fought. You know they fought, he insisted.
Neither of us commented on their names being the same as our names.
Got a knife? said Arthur.
I had a pocket laser I’d built recently, but it was only strong enough to shine a blinding little light, not to cut into wood.
Arthur went away and got his big Swiss Army knife.
Had it since I was 12. My uncle gave it to me. My grandfather had given it to him. We were on a camping trip.
He flips out the big knife from amongst the can opener, awl, corkscrew, etc. He carves his name carefully into the soft wood. All over campus there are places like this, where people have carved their names, etched eternally. But this is more interesting, I think, or I convince myself. This is making a mark that only a few others will see, the ones who are curious enough to look.
My turn. It’s tricky; I have to get on my knees under the shelf and look up. Never carved something in wood before, so it takes me a second to get the hang of it, but then I do. I’m good with my hands. Never built a boat or went fishing or any of the other archetypal stuff that Arthur did, but I have built lasers, designed traps for insects and tricked out computer motherboards. I carved in the year, too.
On our knees, we looked up and admired the work.
Someday, decades from now, someone else will see that, he said.
We knelt in the cold fireplace.
Jeremy, he said then, I know you’ve been someone else before now, and so have I, and we didn’t know each other then. But now we’re here and we can be anything. I’ll take you for how you are and you take me, and we’ll just accept each other.
It was like a marriage proposal. I said yes.
Then we both tried to stand up and smacked our heads hard on the shelf of immortality.
Continue to Chapter Four
Jim Knable is a Brooklyn-based writer of plays, songs, prose, and the occasional screenplay. His plays have been produced at MCC Theatre, Woolly Mammoth Theatre, Soho Rep, NYC’s Summer Play Festival and other regional theaters, and have been published by Broadway Play Publishing, Dramatic Publishing, Samuel French, Smith & Kraus and Playscripts, Inc. He released his solo album Miles in 2000 and Redbeard (2006) and Golden Arrow (2009) with his band The Randy Bandits. Their next show is Saturday, November 5 at The Rock Shop in Brooklyn.
Mark Blankenship (audio/video) is a critic and reporter who edits TDF Stages and The Critical Condition. He has written for The New York Times, Variety, MSNBC.com, and many others, and he once provided the voice of a talking beagle for the Turner South network.
Beeb Salzer (illustration) is an artist, set designer, and essayist based in San Diego.