Here’s one last passage that didn’t make it to the final version of The Grievers. The official publication date is a week from today.
Heading back to my office I ran into a fellow grad student who asked how I was doing. Fine, I said, except for the fact that a friend of mine had killed himself. We were riding the elevator, just the two of us. Two lights were out, and a third was flickering over an obscene message that someone had scratched into the paint years earlier. In the mail room, we both peered into empty mail slots and went our separate ways—she to her office on the eighth floor and I to mine down the hall where a man in mismatched shades of black sat waiting for me on a bench outside my door. Back when I was single, I might not have realized that his turtleneck and trousers clashed with each other, but if a year of wedded bliss had taught me anything it was that I should never, under any circumstances, wear two articles of clothing that are nearly the same color. Though I was initially inclined to balk at this rule, Karen set me straight in front of a room full of people when she leaned over a piano and repeatedly struck a high C in tandem with its corresponding sharp to produce a sound reminiscent of the shower scene in Psycho. That’s what I was dressed like, she said as all the women in the room burst into applause and the men knitted their eyebrows.
Eyeing the stranger up and down, I made one or two quick passes in front of my office before attempting a final approach. In addition to his dissonant blacks, the man wore army boots and had his hair pulled back in a stumpy ponytail. Though my first guess was that he might be a former student seeking vengeance over a less than stellar grade, a second glance gave me the impression that he might be a sales rep from one of the massive textbook conglomerates that hounded me day and night to use their anthologies. Either way, I didn’t feel a whole hell of a lot like talking to the guy, so I faked to the left and then to the right before dashing into my office.
“No thanks,” I said, closing the door behind me.
“Rick Beecham sent me.”
I opened the door an inch and put my eye to the crack. The stranger was standing now, looking back at me, clutching a moderately thick stack of papers. Behind me the telephone was ringing.