Jim Knable’s Sons of Dionysus: a lusty novel of myth, mirth, and music.
Something had happened to Arthur over the winter tour that had made him into a womanizer. Prior to that, our having bunkbeds was not an issue. He would pine over this or that girl from his classes, and occasionally fool around with the girls from the Owl, but then, maybe even the day after he returned from tour, the up-the-ladder parade began.
My presence for the first one was definitely unintentional. I was supposed to have been gone for the weekend visiting relatives. The relatives asked if I could visit another time and so I stayed. That night I read myself to sleep with some Chaucer, the stiff Middle English bending like wet bamboo strips in my brain as I processed it. I was far against the cold wall, under the covers, not really visible and unexpected, so unlooked for. She went up first, then him. I lay quietly, not really sure what to do. They did not have sex (she said she didn’t want to), but the sounds of touching and kissing and various other wet suctioning permeated the mattress above. When they had exhausted whatever possibilities they had agreed upon, they were quiet. Then she began talking, probably picking up from a discussion they had been having before their libidos took over.
Sons of Dionysus, Chapter 7 (Read by Susan Hyon and David Skeist)
This campus used to be on fire with political thought and action, she said, Rallies, demonstrations, clashes with police, trying to free the Panthers and the Weathermen and gay pride, women’s liberation, all at once, everyone active and involved, trying to stop wars and end injustice everywhere.
So what happened? said Arthur, who was still trying to decide between a Political Science and Psychology major.
They graduated, she said, Sincerity became silly and cynicism became mandatory.
Nixon? Arthur suggested.
Part of it. The 80’s. Regan. The shift to the right, the nostalgia for the 50’s, the Cold War ending, then the 90’s, when nothing really mattered. Kids were brought up by liberal idealists, rejected their parents, or at least took their idealism with a grain of salt. Every generation is an antithetical product of the generation before it. You have to reject your parents’ ideologies on some level in order to claim your own, don’t you?
I guess, he said.
Arthur’s parents were wealthy intellectuals who had shuffled him around various nannies and tutors. He had gone to boarding school. I’m not sure he cared enough about his parents to accept or reject them.
Every generation thinks they’re the last, she said, That the world will end when they do. At least until they start having kids.
They fooled around some more. She moaned loudly this time, with her mouth open (earlier it had sounded like she was humming). His moans were muffled. I used my imagination.
I’ve never felt anything like that, she said, when they were done.
Me neither, he lied.
My mom always talks about how her generation actually believed in something.
My parents were too rich to be hippies, said Arthur.
She said people were inherently good and were capable of changing.
Good like going to church or good like being nice?
Kind, she said. Being kind to one another just for the sake of being kind.
I know people who are like that, said Arthur.
My roommate, Jeremy, he said and I felt my heart glowing.
I hid my head under my blanket.
He’s visiting his relatives, said Arthur.
Good thing, huh? Otherwise we would’ve just given him quite a show.
And then they were at it again.
In the morning, very early, I managed to creep out undetected. I was still in my clothes from the night before, having fallen asleep in them. I snatched my shoes up from the ground, kept my head low, slipped from the bedroom, washed my face in the bathroom and went outside.
I walked around the campus in the early morning. The spring was seeping in, the first yellow and red buds starting to pop; the sun was bright and the air was chilled just enough to evoke winter without denying that it would get warmer today. I went to my favorite coffee place.
I read Chaucer, whom I had snuck out with me in my stealthy escape. The coffee was good and strong. The words gave me something to grip. I like the buzzing puzzle of the language, ancient but still as present as the night before. I relate everything I read quickly to my life, attach meanings never meant but useful, answer existential questions by pointing to random pages and lines, play with the poetry, interact with it.
I wonder from time to time about the point of books. I marvel at the private act of reading some other person’s thoughts, their real or imagined or half-real-half-imagined stories. It is the closest thing to being in someone else’s head. To grapple with their choice of words, of images, of choices themselves. What makes anyone want to do this? To write or to read. What level of self-confidence and awareness must we possess? When I fall asleep in the midst of reading, the words become my own; I made them, though I did not write them. Proust. Didn’t he say that? Or did I think he said that using my words for his? Or did he say this of music?
A red-haired girl sits near me and sips loudly on her iced coffee. I look up at her, out from the cover of the book. She is pretty, with a round pert face, blue eyes and freckle-dotted skin. Her features are bigger than her face; her lips and eyes are huge, almost like a clown. Yet, she is pretty. And she is reading, too. I watch her read. She must be smart. I cannot see the book’s title, but it is thick and well penciled. She makes another notation in it to add to all her other marks. I think about her mind, like mine, processing, flowing brilliantly— sparks, neurons, pictures flashing and thoughts swirling. I am awed by the industry of her brain inside her head under her red hair on top of her feminine body.
You should talk to me if you’re going to keep staring, she says, not looking up from the book.
I’m sorry, I say. What are you reading? hearing my voice shaky and higher than I would like.
Kant, she says and looks up at me to see my response.
(I have not read Kant yet. Why haven’t I read Kant yet? I hate myself for not reading Kant!)
I was just thinking about Proust, I actually say.
I haven’t read Proust, she says, as easily as I could have said I haven’t read Kant. (Women are better than men.)
I’m Cassandra, she says.
She smiles at me and my throat turns to warm glue. I feel a flush come to my face and I think I see one in hers, but maybe she’s always flushed.
What are you reading? she asks. Her voice is crackling, vulnerable, now sounds almost like a young boy’s.
I show her the Chaucer. She rolls her eyes as if to say she should have known. We continue talking. I’m finding it easier to talk to her than at first I thought I would. We talk about our classes. We talk about our hometowns. We are both Freshmen. I feel our minds touching somehow, I imagine what it would be like to walk inside a field of light with her and enter the palace of Heaven. Paradiso. I want to hold her purely to me in a garden of pure thought and being. Was it like this for Dante? He didn’t even talk to Beatrice. I am talking with Cassandra with the red hair and the big blue eyes and pink lips and freckled mind. I am bold enough to rise in conversation where before I would have stuttered. I look down briefly and see her body. Touchable body, skin milk white and soft, to touch, no, not that, too rough and coarse and must not do the wrong thing…
Anyway, she says, I should go now. I have to write this paper.
I don’t know what comes next. I don’t know what to say next. I’m glued up again with the threat of her departure.
Next time, we should meet outside, she says, We should walk side by side so you don’t have to be so worried about looking at me all the time.
And then she goes. My whole soul goes with her and I am left shaking and sinister, hating my inaction, swallowing my tongue and biting my lips. My stupid self-contained self! She brought me so much and I gave her nothingness.
Or maybe I’m just being dramatic.
Continue to Chapter 8
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.
David Skeist (audio) is an actor and occasional teacher and music director based in Brooklyn. He is a founding member of Caborca and is soon to appear in Shlemiel the First at the Skirball Center.
Susan Hyon (audio) is now performing in Ethan Coen’s “Happy Hour” with the Atlantic Theater Company through Dec 31. Susan holds a Fulbright (S. Korea) from her pre-theater days and speaks Japanese, Korean, a bit of Russian, Czech, Turkish, Italian – and has a very good ear.
Beeb Salzer (illustration) is an artist, set designer, and essayist based in San Diego