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Where She Was
by John Leary


Initially, we are all in agreement. We agree that we must find her. We agree that precision is important (though we avoid an uneasy discussion about the attainability of precision by busily loading our pipes). We agree that there are difficulties inherent in locating her, but we also agree with Parr's statement that there are difficulties inherent in ordering a cup of coffee. Our consensus engenders confidence, reinforcing our conviction that we can find her by pointing to a point (or a set of points composing a "place") that directly corresponds to the meaning of her most recent actions as they exist in our memory.

Her departing words undoubtedly have some utility in this regard. Mutz has reported, and we accept as fact for this purpose, that she remarked upon leaving, "I'm feeling romantic."

Carrill understands this to mean that she was feeling amorous, that she set off in search of an emotional/physical encounter from which "love" might eventually bloom. Therefore, he maintains, she can be found at the Lonely Bone, our local establishment which encourages liaisons of this type. Any discussion of Sherman's comment that her statement, if interpreted in Carrill's terms constitutes an indictment of our "inadequacy" is not relevant, except as it pertains to the validity of Carrill's contention. Any further discussion of the statement, as to whether we are in fact inadequate, would only cloud matters.

Carrill asserts that his interpretation renders the "case closed." There is a moment of thoughtful smoking followed by a cacophony of disagreement. Parr is the most vehement, insisting that it is his words that must be used to clarify hers.

Klink states his belief that she desired "romantic" to convey her intention to "shake out the muse," a point supported by Mutz's observation that she was carrying a rebec, commonly understood to be an ancient three stringed bowed musical instrument. But Delaney has his own comprehension of "romantic," which he declares to be more closely aligned with hers.

You can already perceive that we are in a quandary of sorts. The rest of her statement aside, the term "romantic" has as many understandings linked to it as she has flowers on the sundress that Mutz said she was wearing. But I intend to return to the sundress later, hopefully before our coffee grows cold and we run out of matches to light our thoughtful pipes.

As a brief aside, please understand that if I were to digress purporting to explain the reason why we seek her would be a Sisyphean endeavor, as difficult as explaining to a child why one enjoys the taste of coffee. Answers lead to more questions. To say she cleans a pipe better than anyone else, or to recount how she neatly cuts the red parts from the lettuce when composing her salade sangfroide does not convey the notion of her laughter like a flight of pigeons or the perfect beauty of her elbows. Also, that would not even begin to elucidate her other qualities, such as her even-keeledness. That is something we especially love about her, which can only be experienced a priori. But enough discursiveness-- the question of "why?" is not germane to the question at hand, which is the question of "where?" In fact, for reasons that shall remain our own, we would prefer if you did not understand or even sham a pretense at understanding the "why."

We continue debating the proper significance to attach to "romantic." Ordinarily one might conclude that if "romantic" was our sole signpost we would break our pipes in frustration, filling the room with fragrant litter of awkward shapes. But we assure ourselves that it is all we need; we are fully equipped to provide the proper interpretation which will logically correspond to a precise location. We have observed some of her habits, her moods, and while the former are not as consistent as we might hope, the later are not as serendipitous as one might suppose.

The debate escalates, and as words teeter towards slurs Sherman calls for order. He says debate has utility in the realm of fact, but not in the realm of speculation. Our purpose would be best served, he continues, if we recognize our hypotheses for what they are, disallowing our pride to cloak them as fact. Blinking into the headlights of reason, we abashedly agree.

We discuss the possibilities. "Romantic" could indicate a predilection towards a heart flutter, as Carrill reminds us. It could also indicate a preference for the wild and untamed, a point which in light of the Delaney's voicing of our shared observation of her regular strolls in the copse-laden sector west of the brewery, bears noting. Mutz says that an interpretation of "romantic" as a preference for ideas over objects would lead to another possible explanation, were it not for the fact that the tangible representation of "place" is by definition separate from an idea of a place, (assuming that that was even the type of idea she was suggesting a preference for).

We continue in the analogical mode ("romantic" is to its opposite as x is to y), discussing the possibility that she may have been pronouncing her own personal triumph of emotion over logic, or possibly even of art over science.

Note at this point, it you haven't already, the great leap that we have made. We have leapt from the precipice of doubt to the grassy knoll of confidence that her statement "I'm feeling romantic" was a statement not only of attitude but an indicia of destination. Sherman is the last to make the leap, and upon his sudden drop and roll after what we all agreed was a most ungainly flight we celebrate by sharing the thin mint girl scout cookies Delaney has in his knapsack. We agree that the mint kills the aftertaste of the poor quality pipe tobacco we share a penurious affinity for, and munch contentedly.

Braced by the cookies and an unspoken feeling of confidence we proceed to analyze our analogies. Klink comments that the triumph of emotion over logic would in some individuals necessitate a visit to a therapist, but such a visit would not necessarily comport with a categorization of "romantic." This summation is greeted with nods of agreement and a general tapping of pipes.

Mutz opines that an understanding of "romantic" meaning that one prefers art to science obviously indicates an excursion to our local museum, but Carrill quiets him with the reminder that the museum is currently exhibiting Ruminatt's "Screaming Bishop" series, which he categorizes as "romantic as acid rain." Klink alerts us to the fact that we must conclude she was privy to the nature of the exhibit, given the museum's flyer taped to our refrigerator. Sherman offers that perhaps "art over science" could be interpreted to mean that she has lost faith in conventional medicine, and is visiting a spiritual healer because she has a disease which can not be conventionally cured, but this thought is too dreadful for us to consider, and the room fills with nervous smoke.

Parr breaks the silence by offering us a different tack. He suggests an interpretation in terms of association. He says that most people associate certain cultures with the "romantic", specifically those cultures of France and Italy. And what is the manifestation of those cultures which most closely approximates a conventional understanding of "romantic" in these terms? He pauses and lights his pipe while we offer suggestions: Pasta? Edith Piaf? The Concorde? Venice? Existentialism? Soccer? Unfiltered Gitanes? Parr shakes his head then slowly says: coffee. We nod, immediately grasping the connection.

Then Sherman, slow to recognize our consensus, interjects the interrobang, "cinema!" and we are confused. Which is it, coffee or cinema? Parr insists he meant coffee. Delaney seizes Parr's possibility and offers his scenario: perhaps she was influenced by a nefarious advertisement campaign and concluded that what her life lacked was the not so subtle amalgamation of coffee and spice labeled with a name incorporating a European city, and finding our larder bereft, set forth towards the nearest supermarket to purchase it.

No, no, Parr insists, he meant Illyan coffee, in a cafe. We fall into disorder for a moment until we arrive at a consensus as to her general inclinations and tendencies (her disdain for instant coffee, her speech last August concerning "coffee ambience"). We conclude that it would be more likely that she sallied towards her favorite cafe. After further debate we agree that the Cafe Checci currently finds itself in such a lofty position. Parr is smug.

Delaney reminds us that we have concluded nothing when he mumbles something about a rejection of neoclassicism. Mutz parlays this idea into the suggestion that she has ridden the electric bus into the Wretched Quarter, in the hope that through the voice of her rebec she might elevate the sensibilities of, or maybe momentarily mitigate the traumatic squalor of, its denizens.

But Klink asserts that "romantic" should not be understood in such a sense. He declares that it should be understood as he has often, though context and usage, understood her understanding of its meaning-- that is, as a connotation of vision or imagination. He contends that she was voicing an intention to engage in musical composition, and would most likely do so in her private acoustic vault in the conservatory basement.

Suddenly the notion of sarcasm enters the room and Sherman drops his pipe, shattering it. Ashen faced, he offers that she may have been kidding. We turn to Mutz, who witnessed her departure, for another recounting of the circumstances and details. He says he saw her moving towards the door, lugging the rebec, and said, "You off?" then she shrugged and said, "I'm feeling romantic." Carrill grills him as to whether the door closed with a click or a slam, but the rest of us, particularly Sherman, are so pleased that Mutz included the detail of the shrug that we pay them no mind. For a shrug, as we all understand it, conveys a message of self-effacement, often in the context of sincerity or earnestness, thereby negating the possibility of sarcasm. We do not dally to consider that rare beast, the sarcastic shrug, because one has not been sighted in this climate for years; they are widely believed to be extinct.

Delaney, noting the disappearance of the thin mints, claims that he believes she understood "romantic" to mean "heroic." And what could be more heroic than a feast? He contends that she is at this very moment at the Food Bin shopping for a lavish meal worthy of heroic ballads and verse, a multi course jamboree of remoulades, ragouts and ratafias. Parr greets this ratiocination with so much derision that the two almost come to blows. The rest of us look at our respective watches.

Sensing an impasse, I suggest we consider the sundress. But Sherman interrupts. He pleads that we pause a moment and examine our actions. He asks us to consider that if we are calling an apple an orange, is it not in fact an orange?

We immediately grasp the truth of his words: our consensus is that we have no consensus. Mutz agrees, our numbers allow us the liberty of inspecting numerous locations. We stand, eager to pursue our own logics, to throw a handful of darts and hope that one sticks.

So they set off, full of confident hope: Parr to the Cafe Checci, Carrill to the Lonely Bone, Mutz to the Wretched Quarter, Sherman to the cinema, Delaney to the outskirts of the brewery and Klink to the conservatory, keeping in mind that we only have an indication of where she was-- probably she has moved by now. I settle into the leather chair by the phone, pack my pipe and await their reports.




About the Author


John Leary is in California.