(It's always interesting to read books that have the woman-as-country metaphors: Iliad, Quiet American, etc.)


- see Johnny play diplomat -

(He covets from afar.) Jane sits so prettily erect, every day unfailingly the same, in the molded plebeian plastic chairs of the science wing. Instead of committing Schroedinger's equation to looseleaf, he commits to memory her form at the talent show last week: head held jauntily and hands thrusted upon ivory keys. She is a pianist, and she is always able to pinpoint his very feelings, plinking out just the right combination of harmonies and melodies to set his heart churning. She was a queen that day, resplendent in fuschia taffeta and black angora.

(She is absorbed in her own reality.) The best part about her was that she could not see him, see the way he bore twin holes with his eyes, soft sweaters melting before his burning intensity. Absolutely no awareness of the fact that he wanted her. He did not know why he wanted her. He wanted her because she was a queen, and weren't all men supposed to want queens? He wanted her because she was symmetrical, perfect, and weren't all men supposed to want the geometric miracles? He wanted her because she was taken.

(Weren't all men supposed to want what they couldn't have?) During lunch Jane sits in Nick's lap; he can feel her backside tremble with each chuckle, each deep-throated appreciation of him. Him, why him? - all the other men ask. He is so foppish, he breathes too loudly and smokes the wrong cigarettes.

(He does not need a reason.) She is his, and that is that. It was always like this. Fuschia met and melded with burnt sienna early on - she was the bright, flitting bird who was coaxed down to roost in his brown, comfortable stability. He even smelled of wood, charred by nicotine but still strong and brilliant. They fit together perfectly. She made him picnic lunches on weekends and they would sit sprawled beneath the big oak, his sweater matching its bark as well as her eyes. She knew only him.

(To win a woman's heart, all one needs is understanding.) Nick does not know how to appreciate her limber renditions of Chopin; he does not understand her need to work lithe finger muscles, her need to gain control over so arbitrary an act. She knows no other control. She had handed him the reins to her life; he is her king. The other men, of course, do not realize this. They are disillusioned with her "choices." How can she stand him? - he is as bland as the front page, full of dry writing and ink smudges.

(Johnny understands but has no courage.) He only knows distanced worship. Jane is untouchable, she is the crown jewel, Best of Show, prized possession. She is not culpable for any atrocities she might commit on other men's hearts because she is not under her own control. This is why Johnny loves to hear her play - it is the only time when the beauty she emits is fully her own, something of her own creation. The way her fingers flit in and out of sight behind black keys, the way the pads of her fingertips fit so snugly on the white keys; it makes something inside him quiver.

(He knows he can never have Jane.) Not the way Marcus has Jane, at least. Not the way his hands thread through hers, an act so natural it seems serpentine. Not the magnetic attraction between chocolate and ice. Not their perfectly matched silhouettes, and not their calm exteriors, even when they won Homecoming Royalty last year. Not his protective embrace, and certainly not her careful, returned ministrations.

(Jane is a taken territory.) Johnny thinks suddenly and inexplicably of the Iliad, of Helen of Troy, Agamemnon, Menelaus, and Paris, the man who would save her but mistook her as an entire country. Her hair, the wheatfields; her skin, the gently paved walkways; her words, the law. Johnny entertains fantasies of the instance when his Helen will first acknowledge him, a gracious smile, an extended hand, perhaps even sparks if their eyes meet.

(But Jane is not Helen.) She will always look past Johnny and his eager face, into the eyes of another man. Her hand will always be held by another callused palm, and her mind will always be occupied with brown thoughts, plain thoughts, thoughts of simple love tainted only by the nothingness it exhibits.

(Life isn't so simple for Johnny.) He is the one who will find himself in a wasteland of unfulfilled desires, the forgotten stares of other women, ones who are shyly curved - not at all like Jane, who is willowy and proud. His sky will never be filled with fireworks as he whispers little secrets into a woman's hair - not Jane's halo but another texture, one that captures the smell of barbeque smoke or gleams gunmetal in the moonlight. He will never lie on a motel bed, exhausted, facing a woman's haughty, unrelenting back - not Jane.

(Not ever.) The bell rings, and Johnny walks out of the classroom with his eyes closed.