12 • Endymion
Will rose early the next day after an uneventful night’s sleep, the first in months without a episode of night sweats. He showered, dressed and brewed a pot of Folgers, as black as he could persuade Mr. Coffee to drip it. With Keats in hand and a tall mug of coffee on the window sill, he crawled gingerly through the window and onto the roof, congratulating himself on his quiet morning discovery.
The sun was up but still on the level with the roof and making its way through the flowering-whatever tree, which he’d never taken the time to learn the real name of, in Pearl’s front yard. The light glinted playfully off the top of tiny red berries that had replaced the blossoms of a few weeks ago. Will noticed for the first time that the berries were born red—they weren’t formed green so they could redden as they ripened.
“Huh, ” he said aloud. “They come that way.”
He slid his thumb into the yellowed pages of his book and opened to Endymion, a work John Keats was clearly not happy with before he published it. He prefaced it with an apology of sorts in which he conceded it wasn’t fit to print but he had given up improving upon it. There was nothing more he could do, he said, and while he saw that he should be punished for it, no one would actually do so. “No feeling man will be forward to inflict it: he will leave me alone, with the conviction that there is not a fiercer hell than the failure in a great object. This is not written to forestall criticism, of course . . .”
Well played, John. And I’d thought that technique was the handmaiden of the modern Internet writer.
Will used to peruse a lot of writers online to occupy himself between appointments but grew weary of reading work that was prefaced by the author’s preemptive comment, “I probably shouldn’t hit publish . . .” which was probably true, but it always managed to get the writer a shopping cart full of affirmations like, “No, really, this is great, ” and “Don’t be so hard on yourself, ” when clearly the writer should have been a little harder.
Of course, Will was no literary critic. He didn’t know enough to say whether Endymion was poetic brilliance or if Keats should have given it “another year’s castigation.” But he was happy enough to have it published, if only for the poet’s anterior lament.
“The imagination of a boy is healthy, and the mature imagination of a man is healthy; but there is a space of life between in which the soul is in a ferment, the character undecided, the way of life uncertain, the ambition thick-sighted: thence proceeds mawkishness, and all the thousand bitters which those men I speak of must necessarily taste in going over the following pages.”
Will closed the book on his finger without reading a word of Endymion and held it in his lap, rested his head against the cool asphalt siding and closed his eyes.
. . . a space of life between in which the soul is in a ferment, the character undecided, the way of life uncertain . . .
The creak of the screen door across the street in the early morning quiet startled him at the same time as his phone rang. He jerked upright from his slouch and fished his phone from his shirt pocket.
He paused. “Oh, good morning, Joe. You’re up awfully early.”
He stood to his feet in time to see Cameron Julian going down the front steps of her house.
“You bet, Joe. I have business at a ranch a couple of hours north. Figured I’d stop by your place on my way back.”
Will looked away from Cameron and toward the old church, while she walked to her car.
“It’ll be late afternoon so no need to sit around the house waiting for me. I’ll call you when I leave the ranch, give you an ETA. How would that be?”
A door slammed shut and he looked down into the street as he bid Joe goodbye. Cameron stood next to her car, hands on her hips, looking up at Will on the roof.
“Good morning, Mr. Phillips.”
Will reached to put his phone in his pocket but missed, letting it fall to the cedar shakes. It slid down the slope of the roof just as the Keats book had done the day before. This time it dropped into the gutter. Will hadn’t moved.
He closed his mouth, which he had opened just before dropping his phone, in hopes of an answer which didn’t come. He opened it again.
“Umm. Good morning, Ms. Julian.” He collected himself, put his hands in his pockets and puffed out his chest, taking a deep breath and looking into the sky. “Beautiful morning, don’t you think?”
“What are you doing up there, Mr. Phillips? And does Mrs. Jenkins know you’re there?”
“Well, John Keats and I sort of dropped in on her yesterday. But listen, would you mind just calling me Will? Feels awfully formal to be talking to a guy on a roof that way.”
“Cameron, then, to you. I need to get to work. You’d better get down before she catches you up there again.”
“Right. I’m off to interview a ranch hand. Have a nice day, Cameron.”
“Same to you.”
Cameron opened her door. “Hey Will. Don’t forget your phone.”
(to be continued)