Theory of Dramatic Action

By E.J. Levy



        In the last three months, your cat has died, your car has died, your marriage ended. In the last three months, you have lost 10 pounds, a job, a city, a state. Now as you drive a UHaul across the vast stretch-marked belly of the continent, on your way from Colorado to start film school in Ohio, you try to locate a feeling to go with these events. But your life feels like a silent movie, the strange weight of absence heavy in the air around you. What comes instead of grief is blankness, the late-night-TV fuzz of the brain, as if you had simply tuned in at an inopportune moment and must now wait out the morning when regular programming will resume. You narrate your way across the country, imagining yourself the heroine of some B-grade movie or a road-trip flick. Faster, Pussycat, Kill, Kill, you say as you floor it to pass a semi on your left. You think of yourself in the second person, in the present always tense.

        You want to be a screenwriter, maybe work in Hollywood. You admire the films of Billy Wilder and Preston Sturges, Bergman and Godard, and you imagine that your appreciation for the work of others qualifies you for something, mistaking taste for chops. You flatter yourself that you have an eye. An eye for an eye. You can spot talent, which maybe means you have some.

        But as you drive toward the storm-strained horizon of Nebraska, you wonder if all you really want is a more dramatic life. Something other than this ordinary pain you've felt for months, that constant dull ache, like a pulled muscle in the heart.


        Your first quarter in graduate school, sign up for Screenwriting, Eng 625. The teacher will be a red head, tall and gaunt, she will be fashionable, she will be glam, she will be pretty and talk fast. She will have dated many of the new directors you admire. She will have worked in what she calls "The Industry" for years. When you mention Hollywood, she will stop you. "No one calls it Hollywood," she says. "Don't ever call it that. And never call a secretary a secretary, they are Executive Assistants. Next month they will be Agents. They are your Best Friend. Without them, no one will ever read your script." She is 28, an age at which one speaks in capital letters, with certitude. (You are 30 now and were never 28. You were never 29. You were never sure.) Take notes on everything she says.

        Your first day you will learn about the structure of dramatic action, or what your instructor calls the Three Acts. When you first step in the door, however, it will appear you are going to learn about New Math. On the board is written a sequence of numbers that do not appear to add up. Note them down anyway, in case you need them later.


        What makes for dramatic action, your instructor tells the class, is a powerful need meeting an equally powerful obstacle. That, she says, is drama. Dutifully copy down into your notebook the diagram of dramatic action she scrawls across the chalkboard. It will have a Hook, a Plot Twist (I), a False Resolution, a Plot Twist (II), a Climax, a Denouement. Act I, Act II, Act III.

        As you write down the heading False Resolution, you think of the life you have left behind, the life you shared with your now ex-lover. The house you built together in the mountains outside Boulder, the vows you made, the hopes you had, your resolution to see this relationship through, to have kids, a steady salary, a life you think now you could not possibly have led. Still, you long for it sometimes. For love. Stability. For resolution in the midst of these irresolute days.

        Domesticity is something that you crave from time to time, like McDonald's, but it does not suit you. Does not go down well. Like the McDonald's you ate on your way to class, it makes your throat dry, you find it hard to swallow, which is why you left your ex- after four years together, after building a house, left a woman you loved but could not live with. The ordinariness of your life together depressed you, the laundry bin domesticity of it, the day-in-day-out canned corn and peas kind of love you shared. You found yourself wondering if this was all there is; you found yourself looking for options like stocks.

        You are not without options. You are a lesbian, but men mistake you all the time, and lately you mistake yourself. Lately you consider dating men; partly for the shock value, partly because you are tired; partly because men are like turtles, they need less attention than a woman requires, demand less; partly because you are tired of being told that you are "just like a man, you cannot commit," tired of hearing this from women you are committed to.

        You consider dating a man as you might consider buying another car. You consider your options: models, design, year of manufacture, dents and damage and mileage, comfort of the ride. It seems a practical matter now. Cars and marriage and love. These vehicles that move us through our lives, from the continent of youth into what seems to you now the compromised and embattled territory of middle age.


        As you drive home from class, read the signs you pass as if you were practiced in the ancient art of divination. YIELD. STOP. MERGE. DO NOT ENTER. ONE WAY. WRONG WAY. BIG BEAR. TARGET. DIVORCE $99. Think: If the price is right, people will buy anything.

        Begin to carry a little notebook with you everywhere you go. Take to heart all signs. The end of the century is here and you know that it is always at the end that people look for signs, the way your lover began to search your dresser drawers, check your throat for marks of sucking while she thought you slept, this before you left her. Signs, you believe, are everywhere. Waiting for us to notice. We're just not looking, not seeing what is there, as your lover looked, all those years, in her fantastic jealousy for proof of certain infidelity, and so missed seeing that you were faithful all along, in love with only her.

        Your ex- was convinced that you were in love with your friend Erin, to whom (you often said) all the B-words apply: Beautiful, Brilliant, Buxom (Bitch, your ex- often said). The two of you met in an art history class in college, and though you rarely meet you talk a lot by phone.

        Ten years ago, Erin was a Nebraska beauty queen; now she is a dominatrix in New York. For awhile she was a temp, but sex, she says, pays better and is less of a drain. "Besides," she has told you, "my clients now are way more polite. Submissives have the best manners." By day, she is a painter. Her current work features portraits of vegetables, massive canvases featuring zucchini, pumpkins, Brussels sprouts rising out of loamy fields, alive with insects, portraits of what she calls the unregarded vegetable realm. She reviles the sanitized towers of produce in D'Agostino's, those waxed and dewy stacks. She terms them "veg porn." Artificial, airbrushed, all gloss. "Real vegetables," she insists, "are dirty. Everything real is." New York is a dramatic city and you think sometimes of living there with Erin. There among the dirty vegetables. A real and dramatic life.


        In your second week in graduate school, you will discover that you need an elective. You have always wanted to learn ancient Greek, the language that was the source of drama. Because you sign up late, you will need special permission from the instructor. When you go to his office, he will not be not there. Instead he has tacked a note to his door, in what you take to be ancient Greek. He probably thinks this is witty. You do not. This is Ohio. This is the year 2000. Who in the hell reads ancient Greek?

        Show up for his class. Sit in the back. The professor is young and handsome. Watch the way his black hair curls over his brow in rings. The hook of his nose. His dark eyes. You have heard he is unorthodox. Greek Unorthodox, you think. Most first-year Greek commences with rote exercises, memorization, but he insists on translating poetry, though none of you know the words. He says you must learn a language through the voices of those who speak it best. Since no one speaks ancient Greek anymore, you read dead people. Today it is Sappho on the subject of beauty. He reads a fragment of her poem, in which some say that ships are beautiful, others say men in battle are, to which Sappho replies, "I say, what you love, is."

        The professor, saying this, inadvertently catches your eye. After class you talk. He says you're welcome to join the class. He'd be delighted, he says, smilingly, to have you.



        Your screenwriting instructor does not like to use the terms antagonist, protagonist, because, she says, she is no longer sure what they mean. The Good Guy, the Bad Guy. She is not sure who is who.

        "I used to think there was 'A Good Guy' and 'A Bad Guy,'" she says, making little quotation marks with her fingers in the air. Now she is not so sure. She has read Egri's Art of Dramatic Writing in which he claims that Iago is the protagonist in Othello because he is the guy who makes stuff happen. He drives the action. "Now," she says, "I just avoid the terms. I say Main Character because anyone can pick That Person out." That person is the person who has a need that may or may not be met. A story, your instructor scrawls across the board, quoting Ken Kesey, is about someone who needs something and what he/she is willing to go through to get it.

        You wonder what it is you need now, whether drama is really the ticket. You wonder what you are willing to do, to go through, for a more dramatic life.


        As you cross the campus green on your way home, hear your name called out. Look up and see a hand wave. Squint to see who it is, jogging toward you, here where you know no one.

        When the professor of Greek reaches you, he is out of breath. He bends over bracing his hands on his thighs; he hangs out his tongue in mock exhaustion like a dog. He tilts his face up toward yours, smiling. His face sparkling a little with sweat.

        "Sara, right?" he says, remembering your name.

        "Right," you say. His polo shirt gaps away from his chest a little and you see the tangle of black hairs below his clavicle, a few are silver.

        "How is it going?" he says, straightening up. He speaks with the precise enunciation of American slang that foreign speakers have.

        You tell him Akron reminds you of Venice.

        "Really," he says, arching a single lovely eyebrow.

        "It reeks of raw sewage," you say.

        He has a nice laugh.

        "You're not from here," he says. "I didn't think so. Students like you never are."

        You wonder what students like you are, but do not ask. Instead you let him ask the questions as together you walk across the quad. He asks how you're finding class, if you're finding your way around. He asks if your boyfriend moved here with you. You know full well what he is asking.

        "My girlfriend and I broke up last month," you say, emphasizing girl over friend.

        "That's tough," he says, without missing a beat.

        You appreciate his equanimity and you relax a little. You tell him, a little wistfully, that in the last two months, your cat has died, your car has died, your marriage ended.

        "Sorry," he says, "about the cat."

        You appreciate that he does not pity you, that he knows what to take seriously, what not. You feel you could learn a lot from him.

        In front of the building where his office is, you stop, his hand on the door handle. People stream out from the doors on either side; you are blocking traffic, but he seems unconcerned.

        "Will you be lonely here?" he asks.

        "I don't know," you say, and know that this is true. "Is it easy to meet women in Ohio?" You feel a need to remind him that you're a dyke; you feel the need to remind yourself.

        He doesn't say whether it is or isn't. He says only, "Sappho was a great poet."


        You will learn a lot of things in the coming weeks.

        You will learn that the word for "home" shares a root in ancient Greek with the word for cemetery. Do not be surprised by this. Domesticity, you already suspect, is a dead end.

        You will learn that you have no facility at all with ancient Greek. You will learn that French, which you studied in high school for four years, is a snap compared with Greek. Practical as math. What good is a language no one speaks anymore? What good are words if not to communicate with the living? French, you think now, prepared you for the world; it prepared you to order in nice restaurants. So what if the only words you recalled from year to year were confiture and maintenant, an all purpose je voudrais, s'il vous plait? You will remember tenses, nostalgically. It was while you were studying French that you first realized tense was not just a response to the question, How are you feeling today? but a choice. You developed a special fondness for the future perfect. It sounded so promising then. Your future perfect.

        You can still say, Je ne trouve pas mon chapeau, and feel yourself linked by language to greatness: Godard, Truffaut, Renoir. Like them you can say: Robert est lá-bas, Où est la piscine?


        Despite your dismal performance in Greek, the prof is encouraging. In the campus cafeteria, when you pass his table, he invites you to join him. He pulls out a chair, clears aside the papers he is reading. He says it's not often that he has bright and beautiful students in class.

        "When I do," he says, "I like to take advantage of them."

        "Just how literally do you mean that," you ask, taking a seat.

        He looks confused for a moment, then he laughs. "You're witty," he says. "I like that."

        He doesn't answer your question and you don't ask again.

        Instead you talk about the classes you're taking, the director Theo Angelopoulos, whom his family knows. He tells you that he once considered becoming an actor. He has the voice for it, the face, you think. He knows a surprising amount about film. You like the same directors and talk Ts: admiring Tarkovsky, reviling Tarantino. Talking to him, you laugh, and you laugh, and make yourself late for screenwriting.

        As you gather up your stuff to go, he suggests you have a drink sometime.

        "Sure," you say. "Delighted." And you are, by him.

        Ignore his wedding ring.


        At night, studying the Greek alphabet, find yourself thinking about the prof. You see his brown face, hear the lovely lilting cadence of his voice. Call friends in faraway places and tell them about your crush, hoping that they will talk you out of it. Tell them that you are afraid that you may be a closet heterosexual. "How," you ask, "will I explain this to my parents?" They laugh and tell you not to worry, it is only hormones, it will pass. "Only hormones?" you ask. "Wars have been declared over hormones." "It's probably the accent," they say. "It's probably the tan." "Wait til winter," they say. "He'll look like mold, a mushroom, when he loses that tan." In a fit of misguided sympathy, a few encourage you in your ardor. They tell you about marriages they've successfully broken up; they tell you that love conquers all. "Yeah," you say, "but what does adultery conquer?"

        "Ah, adultery," one friend quips, "that stage between adolescence and senility."

        They make an affair with a married man sound like an Armani suit-never out of style.

        Still, you will have your doubts and qualms; still you side with the wives and with the moms, women you don't ever want to be. You wonder, idly, if the appeal of the love triangle can be traced back to the Trinity or if it is more archaic, more biological than that, if it has been there from the start, from the moment we entered the world: a mother, a father, a child.


        Your first term, you are lonely and spend a lot of time on the phone talking to people in other area codes. You think of these distances that stand between you and the people you love as inconvenient, not a matter of choice. It seems to you a trick of fate, a sleight of hand, a bad joke, bad luck, an unfortunate coincidence that everyone you love lives at least two states away in any given direction. You share no common boundaries or borders. You love these people from a distance, which is how you prefer to love, though you do not realize that yet.


        Call your good friend Erin and invite her for a visit, hoping secretly for sex. Hoping to take your mind off him. Meet her at the airport bearing a bouquet of yellow roses when she arrives on a Wednesday before a long weekend. She is unmistakable in the airport crowd: tall and leggy and slender, dressed in leather, a six-foot Amazon with short black hair and bright green eyes.

        Take her to a Chinese Restaurant straightaway to dine. Stuff your mouths with mussels in black bean sauce, broccoli in garlic, moo shu pork. Smile and talk through stringy meat and sauce. She tells you, over dinner, about her job clerking in a queer bookstore in the Village, a part-time thing she's doing once a week to help out a friend who's a manager there. She regales you with tales from the weird world of retail. Her co-workers include a radical faerie and a guy with a bone through his nose and green hair. "It is always the truly frightening looking ones who are the gentlest," she insists. "The more punctures, the sweeter the personality."

        Your ex- was convinced you were in love with Erin; now, as you watch her pretty mouth, as you laugh and chew, now wonder if you are. Wonder-as you watch her crack the skull of a fortune cookie and read smiling its message meant only for her-wonder if this buzz you feel is desire, or love, or MSG. BEWARE WHAT YOU HOPE FOR, your fortune says.

        From across the table, Erin takes your hand and holds it a moment, before turning it palm up. She stares into your palm like it's a book.

        "You will live long," she says, "and have many lovers."

        "Are you sure it doesn't say, 'I'll love long and have many livers?'"

        "I'm sure," she says, releasing your hand and a smile. "Trust me on this."

        Outside, on the street, she takes your arm as you walk home. She tells you casually that she's been attracted to you for years, that your ex- was an idiot to have ever let you go. She tells you that she'd love to fuck you sometime, when you're ready, if you ever are.


        The following day, when you get home from class, Erin is clad in a kimono that clings deliciously to her. She smiles up at you from the couch where she is stretched out with a book. A Bossa Nova plays on the boom box she has brought. She has lit candles, broken open a bottle of red wine. She holds out her glass for you to drink.

        For awhile, you sit on the futon and talk, then she opens a canvas satchel beside the couch and pulls out the tricks of her trade. She has brought a leather harness, sheep-skin-lined cuffs, straps and metal-studded collars, a lavender dildo, a whip, and lube. You feel like a sexual hick.

        She asks, cheerfully, if you're ready to fuck. She says this as others might ask if you'd like to take a walk.

        You are not, as a general rule, into leather, but who are you to decline? She is beautiful and you want her to have a nice time. She has come all the way from Brooklyn. She is your guest. She is your friend. She is a professional. You do not want to be impolite (subs are always polite). So you play it cool. You play it so cool as to appear cold, indifferent to her and this. You coolly watch her strip off her kimono and cinch over her lovely hips a leather harness and a big dildo. You coolly let her strap you to the futon frame. When she asks if she can fuck you, say, politely, coolly, "Sure." Though you'd rather have her hand inside you, her round breasts against your chest, mouth to mouth, cheek to cheek, you're embarrassed by such preferences, feel old fashioned craving contact, ashamed to discover suddenly that what you really want is simple human touch.

        In the face of disappointment, become clinical. In the absence of love, opt for autopsy. Though you know better, imagine talk will help. Talk about why your sex was not great. Wonder aloud if friends make poor lovers. For awhile, Erin will listen to you, her lovely body warm against your side, her limbs entwined in yours as you two lie stretched out across the futon. Then, abruptly, she will say, "I can't take this. I'm going to take a bath."

        Join her. In the bath, she will cry. She will say, "You are untender," that having sex with you is like watching a Hal Hartley film. (Feel, fleetingly, complimented by the comparison to Hartley, who is your fave, though you know she doesn't mean this as a compliment.) In Hartley's films, she says, everyone is always talking about love like it's an idea rather than a feeling that they feel. She means you are unfeeling. She means you are cold. An idea with legs. A talking head.

        Sit quietly in the tub and let her words pummel you like a rough massage. She waits for you to say something, but you don't know what to say. You have, at last, a more dramatic life but you do not know your lines; you failed to memorize this part, cannot ad lib. She waits and waits and then she gives up waiting. Watch her rise from the water like Botticelli's Venus, watch her dry her long and beautiful body with a towel, watch her open the door, step out into the hall. Hear her pack, hear her call a cab. Sit quietly while the water grows cold around you, like a moat. Watch your toes wrinkle, your fingertips. Even your palms will wrinkle, their lines at last unreadable. Your future, in your hands, inscrutable now.

        For your midterm in screenwriting, you have to outline the dramatic arc of your story and then read this aloud to your classmates so they can criticize you to your face. This, you imagine, is as close as people of your generation will ever come to EST. To the encounter groups that defined the 60s. No wonder people took so many drugs back then. You wish, as you enter class, that you'd had the foresight to get stoned.

        The guy next to you is shaking ever so slightly as he reads his work aloud. You feel a blush rise along your neck. You are next. The instructor stops him mid-sentence, says, "Wait. That won't work. You can't just have a character 'Realize Something.'" She makes her fingers into little quotes, scratches the air. "You can't just say, 'And then she realized...' This is the year 2000. People don't have epiphanies anymore; they have problems. What they do about those problems, how they confront and try to overcome them, is dramatic action."

        "Events," your instructor tells the class, "arise from character. Things simply happening to a character do not interest us. We want cause. We want effect." We want, in effect, people to get what is coming to them. Old Testament to the core. An eye for an eye.

        Wonder if you are getting what is coming to you. Wonder if the thrill you still feel in the presence of your Greek professor is just a plot twist. Wonder if recent events in your life arise from your character or if they are simply happening to you, like the gentle radiation that rains down from the universe, infiltrating the atmosphere, entering your body from the stars on high. Just passing through.


        Be grateful that your midterm in Greek will be multiple choice.

        Realize, too late, that it is not and that you have no answers.


        Drive to a nearby mall to buy stuff to fill the empty places in your apartment. Buy thick towels and fluffy pillows and bubble bath and comforters. Trawl the aisles in search of missing things, all the things you need and do not have. It will occur to you that you are looking for tenderness in all the wrong places. In the bath aisle at Target, at the meat counter of your local grocery store, among the packaged beef and lamb. In mangoes, plums, the soles of shoes. Your relationships, meanwhile, are tough as shoe leather, oddly unenduring.

        Lie awake in bed at night and listen to the unfamiliar creaks and cars, the helicopters that patrol your neighborhood, flashing search lights in your window like a peeping Tom.

        Wait for the days to pass, to drop away like the acorns that fall from the trees as you walk to campus, nuts that sometimes hit you as you pass beneath the oaks, making you wonder if squirrels have it in for you.

        Miss her.


        The professor of Greek ends the term with a sex joke. He says, on the last day of class, "It was good for me, was it good for you?"

        Everyone else laughs.

        You don't. You are failing Greek. Ever since Erin's visit your mind has gone on the blink.

        After class, your professor asks if you'd like to have that drink. "You seem to be having trouble," he says. "I'd like to help if I can."

        You tell him you'll stop by for office hours.

        He says he'd be happy to be of service.

        You know how this will end. This, your screenwriting instructor has told you, makes for bad drama, bad art, knowing the end before it's over. You want to tell her it makes for a lousy love affair as well, which-like art-should be an exploration of your material. If you know how it will turn out from the beginning, you're probably not going to be honest as you proceed, she says. You know she is right about this.


        As you prepare for your final in screenwriting, come across the numbers you took down from the board. Try, for a moment, to discern a pattern. As a child, you loved math, raced ahead in class, tore through each book of equations, delighted by their beautiful symmetry, their neat and predictable solutions. Your sister had run away from home. Your brother, in a fit of suburban Buddhism, was bowing to bushes, ruining any hope you ever had of popularity. Your parents, when they spoke at all, fought. Numbers possessed a lovely order.

        In college, you studied economics, but you loathed the graphs of supply and demand, the theory of marginal utility with its disturbingly accurate claim that availability diminishes desire and the pleasure one takes in its satisfaction. So you dropped econ and took up film, graduating with a degree in cinema studies, which you realized too late qualifies you for just three things: graduate school, work in video stores, and to feel an unsociable contempt for movies your friends all like.

        Now, looking at the quilt of numbers on the page before you, feel nostalgic for the order they present. The hope of order. The rumor of it. Numbers are such a lie. They always promise more than they can deliver, a world in which things add up, in which one plus one equals two, in which there is a predictable sequence, the way infatuation is supposed to lead to romance to vows, maybe kids. But it does not happen this way, you find. In the world, in love. Awkward threes are everywhere: a couple and their best friend; a professor, his wife, and a student.

        Looking at these numbers, you think of all the things in your life that do not add up; your life is a set of random variables, figures out of sequence, waiting for an equation to give them shape and purpose, a point, a meaningful relationship to one another, a connection. The plus sign, the minus, the equal, multiplication, division (always long and always painful) are really marks of connection and relationship, and it occurs to you that without these symbols to link 6 to 17 to 10 to 8 to 4, there is no meaning here, nothing worth jotting down: the relationship is all. All or nothing.



        In the climax, which should come in Act III, Good and Evil meet. Ultimate right and ultimate wrong. You will think of these as Mrs. Right and Mr. Wrong.

        In your life, these never meet. Right and Wrong. The categories do not even apply. Instead, you have hard and soft. Tender and untender are the operative terms. Your life, you realize, is undramatic. Painful, without coming to a point. There is no climax except on futons. And, just maybe, with the professor of Greek, on a desk after hours on a Thursday night. You agreed to come for office hours, but he requested you come at the end of the day instead, for a tutorial, a one-on-one.

        On the way out the door to meet him, you get a call from Erin, whom you have not spoken to in weeks. When you hear her voice on your machine, pick up. She says she was just calling to say hi, see how you are. She tells you more about the bookstore where she works. "It has a section on polyamory," she says. "Couples come in in threes." Like some haywire Noah's ark. She laughs and then she cries, and when you ask her why she tells you that she's just come in from walking in the park where she felt lonely. Listening to her you feel lonely too, the blue fuzz in your brain giving way to some other feeling, the shape of longing.

        She tells you how she walks each afternoon in Prospect Park and feels lonely, wanting so much to have someone to love.

        "I never knew you wanted that," you say. "I thought you just wanted to fuck."

        "No," she says, her voice sad. "I wanted you."

        "I have to go," you say, though you don't want to. "I have an appointment, with a prof."

        "At this hour?"

        "He's unorthodox," you say. "Greek Unorthodox."

        She doesn't laugh. She says, "Call me sometime. I mean, if you want to. I mean, I don't know what I mean." Then she hangs up.

        As you walk to campus, acorns pelting you like hail, realize that you are less afraid of desire's attendant domesticity, than of losing what you love, which is your friend. Wonder if perhaps you can arrange something together, some love affair that does not involve a U-Haul, Hers and Hers towels. Think that perhaps the inherited forms of love need not apply to the two of you, as the structure of dramatic action fails to fit your life, that perhaps together you can invent some other form of love, something tender and spacious at one time, a love large as that Colorado sky you left behind, with its fulsome blue, its poignant promising emptiness that hangs like a wedding veil, stretches even now like a huppah, over your ex-'s bared and lovely head.

        The prof is waiting for you in his office, reclining in his wooden swivel chair. Handsome and at ease, he smiles when you arrive and waves you gently in. Before him on the desk, a book is open. He offers you a chair, and then a drink. He pulls open a drawer of his file cabinet which contains a tiny well-stocked bar: bourbon, scotch, port, Armagnac, vodka. He seems amused by your shock. Accept a glass of port. Cough as it goes down, hot and smoky as a cigar.

        Begin by translating from the Greek. The first words of a poem. You're at a loss, so he helps you with the terms you've not yet mastered, which is all of them. His hand gently falls over yours as you follow the words on the page. When his palm moves to your shoulder, then your cheek, you're not surprised. His touch is practiced. You are clearly not the first. He lifts you gently from your chair into an embrace, and as you slip your ass onto the desk, you knock over a framed photo of his wife. You like the bourbon-inflected taste of his mouth. You like his ease, his unembarrassed desire. You like him. But you do not want to fuck. You are not interested in drama anymore. You don't want to cheat on his wife; you've cheated enough already, cheated yourself, your friend, your ex- by thinking that love was ordinary, that domesticity equals death. You realize suddenly that the bonds of love-restrictive as they seem-are like celluloid and silver, a medium necessary to give shape to light, making possible the beautiful image on that big screen in the dark.

        It is a bad time to realize this. It is socially awkward, this little epiphany which people, according to your screenwriting instructor, are not supposed to have anymore. Try to bow gracefully out. Knowing there is no hope of that. Knowing that you have come too far for grace. Opt for jokes instead. Say, Sleeping with your professor you will worry your performance will be graded; say, You hope that this material will not show up on the final exam; say, I am not joking, when you tell him to take his hands off you or you'll scream. He tells you to grow up. You think you have. Perhaps a tiny bit, a mere increment, just now.


        Walk home alone under street lamps, the sidewalk spattered with the shadows of leaves, the sky above you black but full of promise. Take comfort in the knowledge that once upon a time people charted their course by nothing more than this, by these faint but still discernible stars.

        On an impulse that night, fly to Erin. First, by commuter jet to Chicago, then by proper plane. There will be stopovers. No delays. You will make all the necessary connections. There will be people to direct you to your gate. You will not need to read the signs. You will be full of hope, will take it on faith that she will be there, waiting for you, with open arms, believing briefly, fervently, though you know it only happens in the movies, that yours will be a Happy Ending.