Nils Peterson: Talk in the Reading Room
About Nils Peterson

 The Reading Room
 Xmas Eve at the Big House 
 Christmas Mysteries 
Summers in Long Island 
 Father Arrives in the    Triumphal Car 
 Yankee Stadium Gone 
 A Thing of Beauty 
 Learning From My Father 
 Learning From My Mother 
The Bus


 Next Stop 
 Going to College
 My Lecture on Romanticism 
 A Story 
 Go Way From My Window 
• Singing in the Rain 
 On the Nature of Exposition 
 A Latin Class
 A Hero's Life
 Letter to Paul Cantrell
 The Moon and the Bulldozer



It’s fall, night time, my old college, a required assembly a couple of days before my 25th reunion, 700 students, a few old friends and teachers. Peterson Pontificates on Love trumpeted the college paper and, smiling to myself, I give them some of the great lovely chestnuts — Catullus, Waller, Marvell, some of my own stuff, Corso’s “Marriage,” a nasty Thurber story. Much applause — friends coming up on stage, old teachers — we’re off for a drink at the president’s house — the school no longer dry though the county still is. Up comes this beautiful woman, catches my eye, says “Hi.” I say, “Hi.” She says, “Hi. Do you remember me?” and in the silence — “Do you remember me? I’m Patsy.” Indeed it is. Indeed it is. I say “Hi,” kiss her on the cheek, turn to cut off my other conversations so we can really talk, turn back and she’s gone. “Patsy,” I holler into the cavernous auditorium, “Patsy,” but she really is gone and to myself I say, “Peterson, you’ve done it again.”

Patsy and Nils in collegePatsy was the girl I found for myself my senior year after West Hill told me I couldn’t play Hamlet because my legs were too skinny. Long after I wrote: “that her flesh was a slow burning hung on lovingly articulate bones, that two decades later my bones fall on their knees weak and dumb at the thought of her knees unclenching.”

Now, lost again — and all through the president’s bourbon and branchwater my thoughts swirled with her — sure — the long lovely nights with blanket and beer on a ledge looking out at Lake Harrington but maybe even more the years after my first loss when fate would take me through Cincinnati, over the river, through Covington, and right on by the curving drive which led to her lovely house set on its small rise and my heart would squeeze into itself.

Next day to the alumni office for address and phone number — she lives in Lexington — not far, divorced — has a couple of sons — one enrolled here — I call — no answer — and later — no answer maybe she’s in town for the Homecoming, maybe she’s here, maybe she’s there. I look in both places. I call — no answer, the next morning — 5:30 A.M. — I call, no answer. All through the big game I pace the stands even on the side of our dreaded rival not caring who won or lost, but no Patsy. Game over. Plane out tomorrow. Dance at the club after cocktails at my classmate’s now a judge and all irredeemable. Into the judge’s pantry for a last call, by now I know the number — dial — and yes, she answers and yes she says Hi and no, she’d been out fox hunting when I called so early and yes she’s free for dinner. So I abandon my goodbyes to my good buddies and dances with many a girl I longed for long ago and sneak out the back way and up the old road I’d driven so often on the liquor run.

Old house, wide porch, October moon, nervous me, door opens, and there she is, my old girl still, but a woman now and even more beautiful. And yes, we both preferred Martinis, and yes she still smoked, and yes, the big oil hanging above the long stairs belonged to a former poet laureate of Kentucky who once owned the house, and yes it was nice to see me again too.

And then we began to talk — each with a quarter of a century of life to give the other — she, her tall strong sons, I, my lovely daughters, she her trip to Japan just after we’d broken up, I, my unexpected love of Sweden, she the wife of a premed, I a graduate student, and no she didn’t have my old fraternity pin, she thought she’d given it back and the black purse I’d bought at Saks — long since worn. I still had the silver cigarette lighter, though I no longer carried it, and a book — The Kentucky Story, given to me so I wouldn’t forget. She had lost one of the jade earrings I had blown a week’s salary on but she’d had the other made into a ring, yes, the one she was wearing, and the hard times — her divorce, my separation.

By now we’re at dinner, too much bloody meat and too little anything else, and a New York wine made out of red ink and sugar, yet all sang on the tongue, and one of her sons worked there — yes, he was tall and handsome, and gave me his hand and half a raised eyebrow — then back to her place for an after-dinner drink in front of a warm coal fire burning vermilion and black in an old metal stove and talk while the hours fled with the flown years.

What the young offer each other is the marvelous future, all that can happen, all that will be. Older, suspicious of promises, we learn to offer what we have lived. It is a smaller, harder gift, yet beautiful like fact.

When it was at last time to go, we held each other long and hard, maybe even harder than all those nights out at the lake, as if somehow that would help us with who we were, as if we could bind the years, our separate lives and those fine lives linked with ours and grown out of ours together — in our arms, then off I went into the night drunk on nothing I had swallowed.

We wrote for awhile and I thought it was she that stopped, but, looking through an old notebook, I found my last letter unstamped, unmailed and thought, Peterson, you’ve done it again. But it’s Valentine’s Day and I’m preparing to pontificate on love again and all this comes flooding back, so, I begin —

  © 2014, Nils Peterson

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