Friday, February 13, 2009

The Farmhouse, Part 8

Late in April 1969, as we approached the end of the semester and final exams, I became desperate about my coursework and felt a need for long hours of uninterrupted study. It was impossible to do this in the Skull House, with another class of pledges running likes hounds through the halls, day and night.
They were an odd mix young men: the Kahuna, Big Bob, Little Bob, Maher and Izzy, to name a few. Maher Abugazzaleh was a Palestinian who received “Care packages” containing the most bizarre pornography from a relative in Detroit known as Uncle Beirut. “What sort of woman would have sex with a pig?” Chas often asked, his lips twisted in disgust. Strangely enough, Maher became close friends with his pledge brother Izzy, the chain-smoking, gravel-voiced Jew. Despite their animated arguments about Middle East politics, they would eventually become roommates.

At any rate, the Skull House was no place to study, and the college library was not much better for a student like me, who saw it as a place filled with tens of thousands of distractions, all lined up neatly on shelves. And so I packed my books, a toothbrush and a change of clothes and headed for the farmhouse.

The house was cold and the lighting – from bare ceiling bulbs – was stark, but there was little to distract me, once I had poured a bowl of milk for the cat that one of the brothers had adopted. Sometimes, no one showed up at the farmhouse to feed it for days. But the mice were plentiful.

I pored over my botany and Spanish texts and my copy of James Joyce’s “The Dubliners” while the house rocked and creaked in the spring gales. Noises, like the banging of a loose door on the barn, kept distracting me. An intermittent rain splattered drops on the siding that I mistook for gravel crunching under tires, sending me anxiously to the window several times.

The farmhouse had little personality; it held no evidence of the humans who had occupied it for perhaps a century other than the few jars of canned fruit in the cellar. I walked with a cup of coffee through all the rooms, reassuring myself of my solitude but feeling no sense of the eerie. Edgy I might have been, but not because of shadows and spirits within the house. I was more fearful of the forces outside – the weather, and the murdering thieves that might be attracted by my burning lamps shining from the distant hill.

When my eyes grew heavy, I turned out the lights and curled under a blanket on the couch. No sooner had I dropped off than I woke with fur on my lips. The cat had curled around my face for the warmth of my breath. I threw it to the carpet, but time after time, it returned to sit on my neck and purr, only to be hurled again.
I did not banish the cat to the cellar, though. Too tired to rise and too unwilling to listen to its pathetic cries all night, I let it stay. Better to battle the cat, I thought, than to fall into nightmares of murdering thieves.

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