Beckett Scholars Fall in Love at Ohio Conference
It Is Never Simple to Fall in Love
By Jane Mullen
What will we do when we get back?
There’s nothing we can do, is there?
I couldn’t take the sneaking and the skulking, could you? The motel rooms?
No, not the motel rooms.
What does that mean?
Nothing. I agree. There’s nothing to be done.
We will stay close, though. Won’t we?
We’ll always be close, in a way.
I mean, I would hope we could get together once a week or so, and talk.
I love talking to you. I loved talking to you all the way down here. Six straight hours. I’ve never talked to anyone like that before.
It wouldn’t have been the same if the others had come.
We wouldn’t have talked, not to each other.
Not as much.
Our voices getting hoarse in the night air.
What a clear cold night. All those stars.
Shivering at the gas station, getting gas, getting directions.
Jogging around the car to warm up. Sharing coffee.
Sharing a room. Registering for two and then sitting in one until dawn, drinking Scotch.
And talking. Telling our life stories.
Yours. I’ve never had anything like that. You’ve suffered. I admire that.
Talking until there was only time for a nap.
You were so sweet. You said, You can sleep here if you want. There’s two beds.
I couldn’t sleep.
I saw you get up and walk by in your white nightgown. What were you doing?
There was a red light in the ceiling. Iwanted to see what it was.
What was it?
The smoke alarm.
I wanted to hold you. I put out my hand. If you’d run into it I would have taken you in. You must have gotten back into bed from the bottom.
I think I did. And I think I slept then, because next thing I knew I was waking up.
You came out of a sound sleep saying, What are you doing? Playing with marbles?
What were you doing?
I was just putting down my keys and my change from buying your coffee.
You put them down right by my ear.
You didn’t hear the phone ring right by your ear? A dozen rings at least. You didn’t hear me laugh?
Why did you laugh?
The clerk said, We rang your buddy’s room first but couldn’t wake him up.
Him! What did you say?
I said, That’s o.k., I’ll go wake him.
You were sweet to bring me coffee.
I had to get you up. I had to moderate a panel in half an hour, all the way across town.
How did we end up at the wrong Holiday Inn, I wonder.
I don’t know. But I loved waking you up, bringing you coffee. Very domestic. Then you got up to brush your teeth. You leaned over
the sink in your white nightgown. I nearly ravished you, toothbrush in hand.
Then we drove all the way across town and registered for another two rooms. How extravagant.
Exactly what I said to you, on the way over there, I said, It was an extravagance wasn’t it, getting two rooms? But you didn’t answer, so I said, And I think it will be an extravagance tonight too. But you didn’t answer me. Why didn’t you say something?
I didn’t hear you.
We lost twenty-four hours. We lost a whole day.
We’re lucky it’s a five-day conference.
But why did you disappear?
You were occupied. Surrounded, in fact.
So I checked in, got my room, got my badge.
What did you do all day?
I went to a seminar on skullscapes.
Imaginative transactions in the later poems.
And a session on the aesthetic of the unword.
You should have gone to the seminar on linguistic ubiquity.
I was there. That’s where I was. And then that one on motif index. I didn’t see you at dinner either.
How was it?
Citrus cup maraschino, wedge of lettuce with sliced tomato, tenderloin tips in Burgundy sauce over noodles, broccoli Polonaise.
I couldn’t stay awake. I went to my room, went to sleep. But I saw you later that night up on the top floor, at the screening of Film. You didn’t see me.
I saw you.
Why didn’t you speak?
That French guy with the black beard was talking to you. I heard you laugh. It made me miserable. I went down to my room.
I went down looking for you. I couldn’t find you.
I called the desk at midnight and got your room number. I called you. There was no answer.
I was in the shower. I couldn’t sleep. I got up and took a shower.
So you did hear the phone ring?
It was ringing when I came out of the shower, but it stopped.
Didn’t you think it was me?
I thought it might be.
Why didn’t you call and ask me?
I did. Then I was afraid you’d say no. I hung up before it started to ring.
It rang. Once.
Didn’t you think it was me?
I knew it was you.
Well, it worked out.
Thanks to A Piece of Monologue.
What a joke.
Waiting and waiting and waiting outside that auditorium. It must have been an hour.
Those ridiculous rubber-soled ushers coming out every few minutes, speaking in hushed
voices. We’re not ready yet. We’re not ready yet.
As if we were waiting for—
Yes. Did you hear those men behind us talking about Godot?
They were determined to be heard. Each one louder than the one before. Waiting for Godot is a play about...
Do you really think so? Everyone knows that Waiting for Godot is a play about...
No, no, no. Waiting for Godot is a play about...
I wanted to turn around and say that Waiting for Godot is a play about waiting.
I thought you thought it was a play about marriage, that all Beckett’s plays are about marriage.
Marriage is a play about waiting.
Yes, mine. But weren’t those ushers pompous?
So solemn, the way they led us in. Total silence, total darkness.
Only a few at a time. Only five or six at a time.
All those hundreds of people. It took ages, after all that waiting. Because of the light. We must lead you in a few at a time. There must be no light inside the theatre.
It was so dark inside, after all the bright sun in that glass lobby. I tripped on the steps going down to the aisle.
Yes, I know. I think I fell in love with you then, when you said, Jesus! Steps, too! It was the only true Beckettian moment.
The usher was furious. I thought he was going to slap me.
He probably would have if he could have seen you.
He kept hissing, Silence! Silence!
I can’t believe Beckett wrote that play just for the conference. He must hate Beckett scholars.
I’m sure he does, but he didn’t write that play for the conference. He wrote Ohio Impromptu for the conference. We didn’t stay for
How could we, after A Piece of Monologue? A piece of shit. Male actor in white garb of Irish insane asylum in oddly contorted position, changing position by painful degrees every four or five minutes. From somewhere overhead, a piece of monologue.
I couldn’t even hear it.
Were you supposed to be able to hear it?
I’m not sure.
What I hated most was that sustained thundering applause from several hundred academics. Beckett was right when he said people are bloody ignorant apes.
You were so mad. You said, We came for this? Christ, what a planet! Beckett scholars gasping all around us.
I wanted to take your hand.
I wanted you to.
I was afraid.
Of the dark?
Didn’t you see my hand hanging over your knee?
It was dark.
I can’t believe that just yesterday I was afraid to hold your hand. And now—
I’m glad we skipped Ohio Impromptu.
We didn’t, actually. We skipped Footfalls.
That’s what came next. I have a program here somewhere.
It was so much nicer walking along the riverbank in the sun, lounging in the grass.
Overdressed among half-naked students. You wanted to steal a canoe and play Chad and Madame de Vionnet.
And you said—
Then everyone would know.
Whatever is to be known.
You’d need a hat.
You'd need a parasol, and a hat.
Drifting down the Ohio. To Where?
This is the Olentangy.
Then we toured the bookstores.
To find presents for our children.
Yes. Our children.
You needn’t observe a moment of silence.
They’re not dead.
They’ll never know.
Then we raced back to the hotel to change for the banquet. That’s what they called it.
The Hugh Kenner address, the high point of the whole conference. And we didn’t even go in.
We did go in.
I wish we hadn’t. We had to fight our way out.
All those people pushing to get in. My heart sank at the sight of them. At the sight of all those round tables set, the glasses of water, the baskets of rolls. The smell of roast beef au jus and steamed vegetables.
You turned and looked over your shoulder at me. It was a Jamesian look. Everything turned on it.
People stopping us all the way back to the hotel.
Professor T! Professor T! Are we going the wrong way?
You kept saying, No. We are. They recognized you because your paper was such a success, because that French woman—
Please. The doyenne of Beckett studies.
—said, This is supposed to be a panel on Beckett and Humor. But only Professor T. is funny.
You know, the first thing everyone will ask when we get home is, “How was Hugh Kenner?”
Yes. My husband.
My wife. She’ll say, “So what does Hugh Kenner look like anyway?”
We should have stayed long enough to get a glimpse. Then we’d know.
We should have stayed long enough to make sure he was there. Maybe he never even got here. Maybe his plane crashed.
Maybe we should buy a newspaper.
But we were in such a hurry to get away from there, practically running all the way back to the hotel, to the car.
And then sitting in it for an hour trying to decide what to do.
I knew what I wanted to do. I wanted to hear some country and western.
In Nashville. You wanted to drive all the way to Nashville.
Why didn’t you want to go to Nashville?
I wanted to. I was afraid we’d have an accident. I was afraid we’d turn up dead together somewhere in Tennessee.
You’re right. We’d never have lived it down.
Besides, I know too many people in Nashville.
But didn’t you like that restaurant?
It wasn’t Vietnamese. I wanted to find a Vietnamese restaurant.
It was Italian. White brick, iron railings, tables outside, candles, wine.
So much wine. We kept ordering more, by the bottle.
That’s why we lost the car.
No, we lost the car later, after our pub crawl.
We didn’t really have a pub crawl. We only went to that one place.
We went to the pub and then crawled home.
Did you notice we were the only two people in that bar who were not carded?
They could have carded you. At least you’re not bald, for Christ’s sake.
How did we ever get home from that bar, anyway?
Home is marvelous.
You know what I mean.
All the bars closing at once, disgorging hundreds of drunken students into the street.
You were pretty drunk yourself.
We walked about six blocks in one direction, then turned around and walked twelve in the other. Then you said, You know, I don’t think I know where the car is.
And you said, I do. I know exactly where we parked it when we went to the restaurant.
Then you held up a finger and said, Yes! But did we move it? That’s the question. You turned around and followed these two students down the street. I didn’t know where you were going. Then you came running back. You said, Did you hear that? Those guys were arguing about Heidegger. At three o’clock in the morning. You see, nothing has really changed.
And what did you say? You said, Maybe we should eat something. Talk about inappropriate responses. What’s so funny?
You. Sitting on the sidewalk outside that doughnut shop, surrounded by all your change, you looked so stunned.
I didn’t just decide to sit down, you know. You almost killed me, letting that door swing behind you just as I bent over to pick up my change. That’s enough now. Stop laughing. Stop it.
I can’t. Remember that girl behind the counter, the blonde with her hair divided into hundreds of tiny braids?
I picked out a lemon doughnut right away. But you went up and down the counter four or five times picking things out. A cruller, a chocolate glaze, a blueberry, a Boston cream, an apple cinnamon.
I was hungry.
Then you said to the girl that we’d have coffee too. When she started to pour it you looked at me. Unless you think it will keep you awake? Would you rather decaffeinated? I said that depended on which brand it was. You ooked back at her and said, What kind is it? She said it was Sanka. You told her you didn’t like Sanka. You turned to me and asked if I liked Sanka. I said, No, I’ll just have regular, with cream. You turned back to her and said, One Sanka and one regular, with cream. She gave you this bored look and said, To go? You turned around to me and said, You want to eat here or take it out?
I remember now. And you said, Where would we take it? We don't know where the car is. And we started talking about the car again. That must be why she got mad.
Finally you turned around and said, We’ll eat it here. Then you said, Does it take you a long time to do that? Her tone was getting really surly now. She said, To do what? You said, Your hair, all those little braids.
And she said, Not as long as it takes you to pick out a fucking doughnut, buster.
You were so hurt. I mean disproportionately. I’ve never seen anything like it. I thought you were going to cry. And not only hurt, but you were suddenly sober.
I suddenly remembered where the car was.
You walked right out the door and down the street with the coffee spilling out of the cups. I had to run after you with the doughnuts.
Poor car. All alone in a vacant lot with its doors hanging open, even the light was on.
We’re lucky the light was still on. We’re lucky the battery wasn’t dead.
We’re lucky we’re not dead. It seems we tried to kill ourselves in several different ways.
I liked the last one best.
Including starvation. Whatever happened to those doughnuts?
We left them in the car.
Shall I go get them?
They won’t be much good now. That was a couple of days ago.
I don’t think I could make it to the car, anyway. Are you very hungry?
No. I feel full. I feel like Molly Bloom.
You mean where she says Thank God I finally found someone to give me what I so badly
need, to put some heart up into me?
That’s the right page. But, actually, I was thinking of where she says she feels fucked up to her neck, practically.
It must be because you’re so tall.
Tell me something?
Why didn’t you want to make love last night?
We did make love last night.
Well, the night before then, or the night before that. The night we went to that pub.
It was too late. We were too tired. It would have been just the wine and the Scotch and the hour.
But in the morning?
You were so sweet just to sleep with me. Just to put on your pajamas and sleep next to me. I felt so close to you. It was that, and then the talking in the morning. Lying in bed for three hours, just talking and laughing.
I never talked so much.
I never laughed so much. You make me laugh.
You make me happy.
I wrote a poem about our trip down here, about stopping to ask for directions, not knowing that we’d already reached our destination.
When did you find time to write a poem?
When you were reading your paper.
You wrote a poem during my paper?
I’d already read your paper you know.
Would you like me to read your poem?
Would you like to? I’ll get it.
Not so fast. Wait a minute. Come back here.
What are you doing? Not again. We really will kill ourselves.
Beckett scholars found dead in Holiday Inn.
Of natural causes.
I like the sound of it. Come on top of me again.
I don’t think I can.
I don’t think I can either.
Beckett scholars try to climb on top of each other, fail.
It didn’t happen, did it? What they suspected would happen.
You know. Your husband, my wife, the department.
No. Something else happened. Something quite different.
But this is exactly what they were afraid would happen.
So, you think they suspected something?
I don’t know. That was your idea.
Brenda, what are we going to do when we get back?
I don’t know, Joe. I don’t know.