The Writing Disorder






by G.L. Williams

Diana in the leaves green
Luna who so bright doth sheen
Persephone in Hell


Downe in yonder greene field,
There lies a knight slain under his shield.

Chapter 1:
Pardon My Blasphemy

      So, I’m seeing a woman who hates sex but wants to marry me. Our affair has lasted a whole week already. She lives in Ocean View, which is the posh side of Santa Lucia. It would be her second marriage. Her first husband died young and left her a small child and a large stock portfolio. But she is Episcopalian, which means for all practical purposes she has no religion. How would I introduce her to my family? She loves to ballroom dance and drinks like a sailor. And she is good in bed despite what she says about hating sex. Does that make any sense? What does she want from me? It’s 1968, for Christ’s sake! Pardon my blasphemy! But it is no longer the Dark Ages. It’s a New Year. We’re all grown-ups here, aren’t we?
      “Why do they call you Wolf?”
      “My mother named me after Mozart.”
      “The composer?”
      “Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.”
      “Your name is Wolfgang?”
      “No one calls me Wolfgang.”
      I take her arms playfully and twist them behind her back.
      “You’re hurting me,” she says.
      I let go. But my grip has squeezed some of the blood out of her hands. They are momentarily bluish. She sees I am flustered and laughs.
      “Are you going to beat me up? I knew you were a bully?”
      “Listen,” I say sternly, like a teacher to a pupil. “I’m not a bully. I don’t like bullies. When I was a kid, I used to beat up the guys that beat up the other kids.”
      She gives me a quizzical look.
      “Doesn’t that contradict your religion? Beating up people. Even beating up people who beat up other people.”
      I try to explain.
      “That’s the great irony of Christianity. If you don’t fight back, the bad guys kill you. If you do, you disappoint God.” She smiles. I don’t think she is impressed with my analysis. So I add something historical. “It was a fistfight that precipitated the flight of my church to Florida.”
      “A fistfight?”
      “My great grandfather decked my great great great grandfather in an argument over a woman, and the result was schism! The Church of the Prophets divided. One branch in Ohio and famous for an upscale crockery business. The Church of the Profits! That’s profits as in making gobs of money. The other branch in Florida and famous for its bank clerks, house painters, and used car salesmen.”
      It is the middle of the afternoon. Sun is pouring through a partially shuttered pair of French windows. Her luxury apartment has two floors, and downstairs a Negro cleaning lady is noisily vacuuming a carpet.
      “Who was the woman they were fighting over? Why were they fighting over her?”
      We are in the bedroom. She walks over to the door and makes a dramatic gesture of securing it from entry with a skeleton key. Then she slowly begins to undress.
      “When I was a little boy,” I say, trying to continue our conversation, “my father told me fighting’s okay as long as it’s done with Christian charity.”
      She positions herself to undress me. I grab her wrists but this time I am careful not to hurt her.
      “Hmmm . . . What’s not okay, as if I don’t already know?”
      “Drinking,” I say hoarsely. “Sex outside of marriage.” She pulls a hand free and places it on my chest. “And dancing. Especially, dancing. Dancing is the devil in you.”
      “How strange. You love to dance.”
      “Like I say, it’s the devil in you!”
      She changes the subject.
      “Are you seeing anyone else? I can be a very jealous woman. I don’t like sharing a man with anyone else.”
      “That’s my New Year’s resolution,” I say. “No fooling around. You can rest easy. I would never cheat on a classy woman like you.”

      Who am I kidding? Eight hours ago I was with an old girl friend, and she is scrumptious: skin burnished by a summer sun and breasts that fill her blouse generously. She has come home over the Christmas holiday to tell her family about plans to marry. When I hear she is town, I call her up and make a date. We drive along the Intracoastal Waterway. We dine on fried shrimp and dance the Wattusi at a favorite bar and grill. We park in an empty lot and drink red wine into the early hours of the next day. I touch her breasts as if for the first time. Later, we lie on the fine white sand of a local beach and search the sky for shooting stars.
      “I saw your uncle on TV once talking about your church,” she says to me. “He was a POW, wasn’t he?”
      “That must have been my father. My uncle was never a POW.”
      “Why don’t we go somewhere?” she says.
      “Where would you like to go?”
      “We could go to your place.”
      “I’m staying with my mother until I find my own place,” I say.
      She moves closer.
      “What are you going to do now?” she asks.
      “I’m going home and take a shower.”
      “No. I mean about the war.”
      It is a conversation we have avoided until that moment.
      “I have a job offer. It might keep me out of the Army.”
      She changes the subject again.
      “Was I really your first girl?” she asks.
      “It depends on how you look at it.”
      “Was I really your first girl?” she presses.
      I tell her about Lady Godiva riding through a medieval village. I describe for her the village inhabitants, all but one, covering their eyes and turning away to spare the lady shame. But Peeping Tom cannot take his eyes off Lady Godiva. I want to smash Tom’s face. I want to beat him up good. But I cannot take my eyes off the lady’s body either. Some things you never forget. If you are a man and you are attracted to women, you never forget the first woman you see without clothes even if it is just a painting.
      “I thought I was the first girl you ever saw naked,” she says.
      I grab her by the shoulders and point to the sky.
      “Look, there’s a falling star!”
      “It’s a sign,” she sighs.
      “It’s a burning rock,” I reply.
      “I love you, Wolf!”
      “Don’t get mushy on me!”
      But women always do.

      My classy woman turns on the radio. The voice of a news broadcaster giving statistics on the weakly toll of dead and wounded in Southeast Asia drowns out the sounds of the cleaning lady downstairs. We run through the local stations until the jazz notes of a 1930’s swing tune break through. I turn the volume up as loud as it will go. I grab her around the waist. She puts her arms on my shoulders. We do a two-step.
      “Here’s a riddle,” I say. I put my mouth up to her ear so she can hear me clearly. “How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?”
      “I don’t know. How many?”
      “None. Angels don’t dance. Nor do prophets.”
      “Wolf,” says the woman, “that doesn’t make any sense.”
      Her feet stop moving. I wonder if I have stepped on her toes. She closes her eyes. She opens them again and invites me to look deep into her soul.
      “Be serious for a moment,” she says. “You’ll be old one day. You won’t be attractive to women anymore. Your body will go. Your mind will go. You should settle down while you still can. Marry me! I’ll make you a good wife. I’ll take care of you.”
      “I don’t want anyone taking care of me,” I say. “Next year, I’ll be in Vietnam. I’ll be in a swamp somewhere and bullets will be whizzing over my head. You don’t want to marry me. You’ll turn around one day and I’ll be gone.”
      This woman is partial to tie dyed silk t-shirts, sequined toreador pants, and expensive open-toed leather shoes. I hate it when she dresses that way. But without any clothes at all she is quite handsome. She is tall, thin, and has silver blonde hair that cascades down her shoulders like a waterfall in winter—with a certain cold beauty I find irresistible.
      “One way or the other,” I tell the woman, “I’ll never be old. Men in my family just don’t last that long.”
      “How do you know that? How could you possibly know that?”
      “What do you mean?”
      “You’re adopted. You told me so yourself. You don’t know who your people are or even where they come from. Doesn’t that drive you crazy?”
      It’s an observation only a Southern woman would make.

Chapter 2:
E. R. O. S.

“Wolf Jones, you are a breath of fresh air,” says the Chief.
      It is my first day on the job. Eagle Aircraft Corporation’s Engine Research and Orbital Systems Division is located on the edge of the Florida Everglades and develops jet and rocket engines for military aircraft. I am assigned to the Officers Club—an eclectic group of technical writers and war veterans. Together with an army of Eagle engineers, designers, and mechanics, we fashion prototypes of engines of war. The irony of the situation does not escape me. We are situated far from any center of human population. This is a good thing because there are times when the roar of the engines from the testing sites is so deafening I cannot hear myself talking or anyone else for that matter. Even deep in the bowels of the main building, a sort of Ft. Leavenworth in the mud, the noise is a numbing low rumble that rattles windows and causes floors and walls to hum ominously. I wonder if the swamp life hears the screaming of the engines the way people do.
      “Young man, you are truly a breath of fresh air!”
      My first thought on meeting the Chief is there has to be some mistake. This can’t be the guy in charge. While he is ramrod straight in posture, he is ridiculously short in stature. His legs are spindly and his shoulders womanly. Behind his back, his colleagues call him “our chief supply officer.” My first evening on the job—as the new guy in the office I work the second shift four days out of five while the others do so only intermittently—he introduces me to the Corporal, a genial Italian who becomes my unofficial mentor. The Corporal gives me the lay of the land.
      “Kid!” he says tenderly. “Kid, watch where you step around here.”
      “Why?” I ask. “Is there a trap door somewhere?”
      “Just watch your step,” he repeats.
      He takes me around to meet my new colleagues.
      “There’s a spy in this outfit,” says Sir Archie, a man of great girth. He is also known as Sir Archie the Bald. “You aren’t a spy sent to spy on the spy are you?”
      “I’m not any kind of spy at all,” I reply.
      “Don’t judge us too harshly,” says the Drum Major. The Drum Major is a small man—even smaller than the Chief—but with great energy in his hands. He parts the air with his hands the way Moses parted the Red Sea. “We are a little on edge lately,” he explains. He is of Irish descent and there is a wisp of a lilt in his voice. It is musical at times. “One of our colleagues died in an automobile crash just before you came on board. Another dropped dead outside the building a few weeks ago while feeding the alligators.”
      “Why would anyone want to feed alligators?”
      Captain IQ is a young man like me. He enlisted in the Army right out of high school and signed up for artillery officer candidate school. As one of the top three graduates of his graduating class, he got to pick his specialty (MOS) and chose intelligence work. He thought he would get a nice soft job in the Pentagon but was assigned to Vietnam anyway. When he left the Army, he applied for and got a job as an engineering aide but after a little while finagled a transfer to the Officers Club.
      “Any intelligent man will do in this outfit,” he tells me breezily as he shakes my hand. “You wouldn’t be interested in a life insurance policy, would you?”
      “No thank you,” I reply. I have no idea what he is talking about. I assume it is code for something and make a mental note to ask the Corporal about it later.
      “I hope you understand, laddie, they’ve only hired you to fill a staffing hole,” rasps the Flight Lieutenant. “You obviously aren’t qualified to do this job. They’ve hired you because you are an Ivy League graduate and an English major.” The Flight Lieutenant is a gray-haired Welshman of mean disposition and sinewy physique. In World War II, he fought the Battle of Britain at ten thousand feet and lost most of his fellow pilots to aerial combat. He tells a story about the Luftwaffe pilot who, expelled from a flaming Messerschmitt in broad daylight, dropped like a rock when his chute failed to open.
      “He stood at attention the whole way down and saluted me smartly when he went by my cockpit. You’ve got to hand it to those Nazi Junkers. They knew how to die.”
      “I’m not an English major.” I reply. “I’m a religion major.”
      The Corporal steps in between us.
      “Whoa! What’s this all that about?”
      “I don’t like Nazis,” I say.
      “Were you going to take a swing at me, laddie?” laughs the Flight Lieutenant.
      The most impressive of my new colleagues at Eagle, at least visually, is a man everyone calls “the Admiral.” The Admiral is a survivor of the Bataan Death March. He walks with a limp. His left leg seems fused at the knee and shortened by an inch or two. He is the image of a career Naval officer—tall and imperially straight—until he takes a step or two. Then he bends and lurches like a tree tottering in a gale force wind. He is infuriating to work with because of his obsessive attention to the most erudite issues of grammar and spelling. Some of the others refer to him as “the POW who should never have came back.” On his desk are photo portraits of his three daughters. One has raven-black hair, and I am immediately smitten.
      “Who is the girl in the middle?” I ask the Corporal as we move away. “The one with dark hair.”
      “That’s the Admiral’s youngest daughter,” he answers. “Her name is Dian, I believe.”
      He gives me a knowing look.
      “She’s young,” he says. “She’s too young for the likes of you or me. You better watch your step there.”
      Finally, there is the Platoon Leader. He is a light-skinned Negro who served in a Marine infantry unit in Vietnam. Later, when we are alone, he tells me that when he first joined the group everyone in the office referred to him, behind his back, as the “token Negro.” I cringe when he tells me that but say nothing. “Still, it’s a good job,” he hastens to add. “People treat you pretty well here and the pay is generous for what we do.”
      A few days later, the Corporal takes me out to the alligator lakes. It is a rite of passage for new members of the club.
      “I have an abiding affection for Asian women,” the Corporal says as we walk. He describes in exquisite detail the women he knew in Korea during his Army days.
      “When did you have time for women with all the killing and dying going on?” I ask.
      “Oh,” he replies, laughing, “there is a lot of dead time in war. You would be surprised at how boring war can be most of the time.”
      The Corporal is a handsome man in his thirties with a surplus of bonhomie. He has thinning, yellow-brown hair and is muscular from working out in a gym. He dresses according to the latest fashions. “Cuffs are back in!” he says to me my first week on the job. “Don’t be one of those hippies! Get yourself some pants with cuffs if you want to be good with the ladies.” He loves women but he doesn’t believe in romance. “Man must fornicate!” It is his mantra. He says it with emphasis and a smile and never in mixed company. “Man must fornicate!”
      It is early in our shift and the sun has not set. Once we leave the main building and cross the parking lot, which is empty after the departure of the day shift, we enter the high swamp weeds and spy the first of the lakes. I am a tourist on safari—careful to tread in the footsteps of my guide. As we walk, I think about the course of events that have brought me to this place.
      I am home from college and back in my hometown of Santa Lucia. Someone tells me about Eagle Aircraft Corporation.
      “They are hiring engineer aides. The pay is good. They are paying a hundred dollars a week to anyone who can work a slide rule. They employ a lot of young men who are safe from the draft because of the work they do. National defense!”
      I am upfront with the personnel officer who interviews me. I tell her I will be in the Army by the end of the year and possibly as early as spring or summer.
      “Is that why you cut your graduate studies short?”
      “That and other reasons,” I answer.
      Little Miss Personnel, as I call her, is one of those sharp, angular ladies who has elbowed her way out of the typing pool and found an office with a desk and a pile of papers to sort through every day. There is a white ring of skin around the finger where her marriage ring should be. I wonder if she is recently divorced or just doesn’t like to wear the ring at work.
      “You are a college graduate,” she says to me in a superior tone of voice while all the time giving me the look women sometimes give me.
      “Is that a disadvantage?” I say.
      “Someone with an university degree is not going to be satisfied with a job like this.”
      “I’m not looking for satisfaction,” I say. “I just want a job. I understand some of your jobs come with exemptions from the military draft.”
      When I use the word “satisfaction,” the tiniest of smiles curls up in one corner of her mouth. I have the feeling “satisfaction” is something missing from her life lately but she’d love to have it back. When I say “exemptions from the military draft,” she nods knowingly. We know each other perfectly.
      She continues her interrogation.
      “Do you have any engineering or scientific background?”
      “Nothing at all?”
      Our conversation hangs suspended in the air between us for a moment. I resist the impulse to lunge. Her eyes take on a sparkle and are encouraging. She is angling for a specific answer. I make a wild guess as to what she wants me to say next.
      “Now that you mention it, I did once ghost a thesis for a classmate in our Engineering Quad at the university.” Her eyes brighten even further. “He knew the technical aspects of the project pretty well,” I go on, “but he couldn’t write worth a . . .”
      The Corporal is calling to me.
      “Kid, be careful where you step!”
      We are approaching one of the larger alligator ponds. He points at something that looks like a submerged log at the edge of the water.
      “You don’t want to disturb one of these guys,” he says in a low voice. “Give me that sandwich from the cafeteria.”
      I do as he tells me. He tosses bread into the brown water in front of us.
      “It brings the fish to the surface,” he whispers.
      He tosses more bread into the water.
      “One of the gators will plow through the fish in a minute. Be ready! When these guys move, fish go flying and some will land at our feet.”
      I take a step back from the lake. He continues his safari talk.
      “These guys shoot out of the water like rockets. They love to feast on the fish flopping on the dry land. It’s wonderful to watch.”
      We wait expectantly.
      Nothing happens.
      “It happens when you least expect it,” he assures me.
      We wait. Still nothing happens. We wait some more.
      “I guess they are not hungry today,” I say.
      The Corporal lowers his eyelids and squints at me ever so slightly.
      “Reptiles are very unpredictable,” he says. He stares at me even harder. “They don't care for people as food but if you startle them or get in their way, they will take a chunk out of you.”
      He turns away with a jerk and starts quickstep back toward the plant. I follow. He stops. I run into him from behind. Before I can say anything, he shushes me. He points to a large alligator lying in the grass in front of us. The alligator is sunning itself even as the last of the sun’s rays splay out feebly from the horizon.
      “They do that sometimes,” he says in a whisper. “That’s Hugo. He is taking a nap. Everyone knows Hugo.” There is a hint of a chill in the air. It has been a warm winter day but now it is cooling down. The Corporal surveys the area around us. He seems unusually contemplative for a moment.
      “This is where they found your predecessor.” He points to one of the lakes. “They found him face down in the water. When they turned him over, he was cooked. He must have been out here broiling in the sun for a couple of days.”
      He pauses again. He gives me what he calls his “alligator” look. When an alligator looks a man in the eye and up close, the Corporal loves to explain, something bad is going to happen to the man.
      “How did he die?”
      “They say he had a heart attack.”
      “If he was face down in the water, how did he get such a bad burn?”
      The Corporal does not answer my question. He resumes walking but gives the alligator and the pond a wide birth. He repeats his warning.
      “Alligators don’t much care to dine on people. Otherwise, they might never have found the gentleman. But they have no kindness in them. They will take a bite out of you if you startle them in any way. Remember that!”

Bringing to the writer’s palette a wide spectrum of experiences — that took him from China to South America as a 30-year career State Department officer — Virginia resident G.L. Williams also calls upon his studies in literature at Princeton University to craft a novel whose classic style echoes a writing ethos where nuance and pacing modulate a multi-layered tale of mystery and discovery. In addition to The Alligator Pond, Mr. Williams is finishing a second novel set in Scotland replete with a ghost and gothic romance. When not writing or tending to his blog (The Art of First Chapters), he is also an avid photographer as well as a fan of the bagpipe.

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