Blip Magazine Archive


Home : Archive : Links

 Jane Armstrong


The bookstore where I work has no customers, so I play with the globes. My favorite is the parchment colored library set of the terrestrial and celestial worlds, each globe bigger than a big beach ball, loose in a stand that surrounds it like a ring of Saturn. I run my hands along the glossy surface of the terrestrial world, the continents as smooth as the oceans. This globe is lovely, but doesn't have much spin, so I move to a student model, a smaller orb of shiny blue waters, countries in shades of green from emerald to chartreuse, burnt orange mountains. I play a little girl's game, spin the globe hard, close my eyes, stop the globe with a touch of my finger. I open my eyes to see where my finger points. Surakata on Java in Indonesia. This will be the homeland of my one true love.

In Travel, I look for guidebooks to the land of my lover. I wonder about the four star hotels of his country, the fashionable restaurants, the street bazaars, the courtship rituals of the forest people. I find no tourist guide to Java, return to the globe, spin again. Just as I close my eyes, I hear the bell on the front door.

The man pulls the door closed behind him. He is too thin, very pale, has wild, wiry hair, wears glasses with little round lenses, like a headmaster, only younger. He is not Javanese. I go back to the front counter, watch as he browses Classics and Literature. He pulls down a fat volume. His hand covers the title, but it's a Milton, maybe. He sits on a rung of the tall wooden ladder that slides across the wall, crosses his leg, props the book open on his lap. His trouser leg has ridden up, and I see he's wearing socks of dark paisley. As he reads, his right hand reaches over, strokes his left wrist. His fingers circle the face of his watch. I sigh and he hears, looks up, smiles a little, returns to the book.

Just looking at him, I can tell the sort of fellow he is and my face flushes red. He was one of those smart boys in school, the type who lettered in scholastics, spent most of senior year at the university on dual enrollment. The kind of guy who'd come alone to the home games, sit on the front bleachers and stare at me in my short skirt and saddle oxfords, shaking my mighty pom-poms. He'd watch me cartwheel across the field, jump and touch my toes midflight, slide to the grass in a straddle split, and wonder if the matching pants beneath my pleated skirt were separate or sewn in. At school, he'd never talk to me.

I can feel my face still hot when he walks up to the counter. I touch the back of my hand to my forehead, my cheeks. He asks, "Do you have a German dictionary?"

"In Reference," I say and point to the shelves at the back of the store. "Take a right past the display of angel calendars."

I keep my eyes on him as he walks down the carpeted aisle. He moves well for a Poindexter, direct and sure. I can't see much of him when he reaches Reference, just the top of his head past Self Help and Psychology, moving up and down as he scans the shelf.

When he comes back up the aisle, he holds his hands up, says, "I give" and "Yes, I need help."

"I'll show you," I say. I step down from behind the counter. I walk slowly to the back of the store so he'll have time to look at my legs, still flexible and strong.

I see the dark green spine of a GermanEnglish dictionary on a high shelf. I could pull the ladder over, but I've had enough dance classes to make a nice little production of reaching for the book. I brush my right foot over to cross my left, rise to my toes, sweep my arm up, softly curved, and look briefly into my palm. I let my fingers, poised like tulip petals, slide down the spine of the book. I turn my head across my left shoulder, look back at him and say, "This it?" He's staring at the floor and I'm glad I delivered this performance in two counts rather than four.

I'm back down en terre by the time he looks up. "That's a Cassell's. I'd prefer the Pons," he says.

"I took the last one home just the other day," I say. "I haven't written in it or used it for a coffee table leg or anything. I could bring it back tomorrow and let you have it for half price."

"Learning German?"

"Sort of."

"How do you sort of learn a language?"

"Are you interested in the dictionary? I'd hate to give it up if you aren't serious."

He smiles, says, "I wouldn't want to interrupt your studies. Maybe I could come to your house and read German words to you out loud. Reading aloud is definitely the way to go when you're learning a language." The way he says this, I feel it in my knees.

When I close the shop at nine, he's outside, waiting on the sidewalk, leaning against a canary yellow Volkswagen convertible.

I put Greatest Hits of the Piano; Volume 1 on the stereo and ask him if he'd like something to drink.

"Water's fine, with a bit of ice," he says.

I hand him the glass of water, sit across from him, ask him where he works.

"I teach Sociology at the community college," he says.

"Sounds like a great job," I say.

"I still have the ability to wow the odd freshman, I suppose," he says, "but the profession is fraught with frustrations."

"How so?"

"I'm trying to develop a new fieldExosociologythe sociological study of extraterrestrial beings. It hasn't exactly caught on."

I laugh. "I feel like I'm doing that field work all the time," I say. "You wouldn't believe some of the types who come into the bookstore. Talk about another planet." As soon as I say this, I regret it.

"As a culture, we've got to remain open to all possibilities and be prepared with the appropriate behavioral response."

"But we all have to do that all the time, don't we?" I say. "I see your point, though. I mean, I imagine that if visitors from other planets come here, they probably won't really want to conquer our world and enslave our people like in those Martians Invade Earth Bmovies."

"Exactly. Exactly." He turns to the stereo. The Allegro from Bach's Italian concerto is playing. "Now there's something really interesting," he says.

He walks over to the stereo, kneels beside it, puts one ear up to a speaker. "Come here, sit across from me."

We kneel face to face.

"Close your eyes. Listen," he says.

Behind the music, I hear humming, mumbling. "What is that?" I say.

"It's Glenn Gould, singing along while he plays."

"You know, I think I've heard these sounds before. I just thought it was someone talking out in the corridor." I close my eyes again.

"He's not humming the melody," I say. "It's something else."

"Maybe he's hearing the music of the spheres."

"What's that? Exosociology?"

"Not really. Pythagorean theory holds that as the planets turn in the heavens, they sing. Some believed that only the pure of heart could hear it."

"Do you believe that?"

"I think there are things out there to hear," he says. "Last summer I did some work at Mountain View, at the Ames Research Center. They've got hypersensitive listening equipment aimed at the planets. They've actually picked up some sounds that could possibly be emanating from alien worlds. It's incredibly exciting."

"Did you get to hear the sounds?"

"Yes. Well, the recordings," he says.

We sit and listen to the music for a while, the sides of our faces close to the speakers. He's tapping his fingers on the floor to the music. His hands are beautiful, in the way men's hands are when they haven't done physical workthe skin smooth and pale, soft at the knuckles.

I watch his hands and remember walking home from dance class a few days ago. I was wearing my leotard and some shorts over my tights. Out of the blue, it started to rain like crazy. Everyone on the street ran for cover. No one had an umbrella. And I thought, well, this leotard is almost a swimsuit, why should I care? So I just strolled along, letting the rain pour down on me till my leotard was shining with water. I was all slick and wet and had to wipe my eyes dry to see where I was going and I thought to myself that someone out there would love to touch me like this, to slide his hands over my wet arms and legs. I wonder if it could have been this man.

He reaches over, strokes my hair, lifts it up, away from my neck.

He steps on my dictionaries in the dark. I turn the light on and he sees the foreign language dictionaries I keep by my bed, some piled on the night stand, some scattered on the floor.

"Korean. Greek. SerboCroatian." He reads the covers. "Afrikaans. Farsi. Tahitian. Cantonese Chinese. Mayan. You must be a formidable linguist."

"Oh no," I say, "I only know English, but I'm trying to learn new languages in my sleep. Every night before I go to bed, I browse through one of the dictionaries, read some words, and try to listen for them in my dreams."

He picks up the Navajo, flips through the pages. "But if you don't know the language, how can you recognize the sound of it?"

"I know it when I hear it," I say. I take his glasses off, set them on the night stand. The Navajo dictionary falls open, spine up, pages pressed to the floor.

His beautiful hands navigate my curves and I rename my body with the round vowels and breathy consonants of Java. I'm feeling all Indonesian and I press myself hard against him.

"You're strong," he says.

I think of the sharp little marks blades of grass would leave on the palms of my hands every time I did a cartwheel. I hold him tighter, emboss my textures down his arms and legs, across his chest.

Next morning at the bookstore, I spin the celestial globe, pass my hands over Cepheus, Perseus, Orion. I close my eyes, listen, and wonder where the new people will come from.

Copyright © 1995 Blip Magazine Archive

Maintained by Blip Magazine Archive at

Copyright 1995-2011
Opinions are those of the authors.