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  ben anastas: The Incompetent Lover


from a story in progress

Alexander tasted his first kiss and lost his virginity simultaneously in college, courtesy of a "damsel" in his Medieval Jousting Club named Hillary Suskind, who, despite having her honor vigorously defended every other Thursday night in the field house, was just as lonely, behind her homemade veil, as Alexander felt beneath his suit of stage armor, which he had managed to secure on indefinite loan from the Drama department. During a sword fight with Phil "Sir Philippe" Fiore, Alexander had taken the flat side of a broadsword to the temple, knocking him out cold. He came to on the astroturf, his helmet nowhere to be found, pleasantly surprised by Hillary's sloppy rendition of mouth-to-mouth. The field house echoed with the slap and bounce of a nearby volleyball match. The other knights clustered behind Hillary, watching him for a reaction.

"Good graces," Sir Philippe said, "I think Sir Alexander's revived."

Hillary gave his mouth one last cough-drop flavored puff and gazed down at him with real concern in her eyes. "Oh my God, are you okay?"

"I think so," Alexander answered, blinking. "Does this mean I lost the sword fight?"

"Technically," Sir Elton said, "yes." Sir Elton, a math major whose real name was Don, had recently been elected manager of the Medieval Jousting Club. "Nice effort, though."

"If you'd like a rematch," Sir Philippe offered, bowing at the waist, "I'd be happy to oblige."

Later Hillary walked him back to his dorm room, helped him to his bed, and instructed him to lie still. She stripped him of his armor piece by piece, saying, "I don't think Philippe fights very fair, does he."

Alexander's roommate was out for the night. Their only distraction came from a neighbor who was practicing the guitar lick from Led Zeppelin's "Kashmir" on his Gibson, a daily ritual that didn't seem to be improving his technique.

"His broadsword overpowered me," Alexander said.

Hillary didn't stop with his codpiece, and once she had stripped him bare she unpinned her veil, let down her long blond hair and slipped out of her baggy Renaissance frock, also on loan from the Drama department, which had costumed many a novice Juliet.

"Can you say that again, please?" she asked breathlessly.

"His broadsword overpowered me?" Before the words were completely out of his mouth she pounced on him. The minutes passed slowly at first, and then they picked up speed, carrying Alexander to the moment when Hillary, back in her veil and dress, kissed him on the forehead and bolted from his room, leaving him to piece this confusing, momentous occasion. His injured temple throbbed.

Eventually the symptoms of concussion faded into sleep. Soon after their night together Hillary would quit the Jousting Club without explanation, lose twenty pounds, and transfer to a school in France, and Alexander would retain no memory of their communion itself, only the impression that sex was a lot like CPR, it just felt better.

For the remainder of college Alexander courted a Pam Dawber lookalike named Heather Harte, albeit unsuccessfully, pulling on his armor late at night and standing underneath the window of her third floor dorm room to recite the love poems of the Troubadours. Heather was a popular girl as well as being studious, and often, when he arrived at his cherished spot outside of Walker Annex, the all-girls dormitory, she wasn't home yet, so practiced his delivery in the bushes, looking up, every now and then, at her solitary window, hoping it would fill with the blessed light of her desk lamp. Music leaked out of other, lesser windows and the laughter of couples walking home from the library drifted over the pathways of the residential quad, filling Alexander, as he crouched in the bushes, with a profound sense of loneliness only romance could resolve, just one light in a window, that's all, in the end, he asked for, and when he saw it -- Heather, bless her heart, had a self-imposed rule about never sleeping over at her boyfriend's room -- Alexander crawled out of the bushes, checked his cheat-sheet one more time before he folded it and slipped it underneath his breast plate, cleared his throat, and bravely called her name out, with enough volume to be heard but with a practiced subtlety (he wasn't dangerous, or anything), at which point the windows of Walker would fill with his nightly audience, so many girls at once he couldn't count them, two faces for every room and sometimes more, greeting him with a mixture of irony at his expense, Look, it's that knight in shining armor again!, and feminist catcalls, Chauvinist! Take your male gaze somewhere else! Heather was usually the last one to appear, pulling back her curtains to shout,

"Leave me alone already!"

Alexander tried to win her over with the poetry of Ulrich of Liechtenstein, the most progressive Troubadour, and while her neighbors whistled and pelted him with rolls of toilet paper he recited,

Lady, let our spirits mingle,
I in you and you in me;
Let the two of us in single
Being both together be,
Each to other let's be true!
"Sir, that I will never do.
I am mine, let yours be you."

"Go away!" Heather shouted, and slammed her window.

"You heard the woman," a particularly mean-spirited girl on the second floor yelled, "go back to the Middle Ages where chauvinist pigs belong!"

More generous co-eds protested when campus security showed up to provide him with an escort home, yelling out their phone numbers, but the consensus at Walker and in the administrative offices on campus was that Alexander, though perfectly harmless, had a serious "reality" problem, and after a series of meetings with counselors and low-ranking officers solved nothing, he was invited, one spring afternoon, to a cookout at the Provost's house for problem students who hadn't, yet, broken any state or federal laws. The Provost lived with his wife and teenage daughter in a brick Georgian mansion crawling with ivy at the edge of campus, a frequent target for eggs and political protest signs. His daughter, who attended Catholic school, was reputed to be a stunner. The Provost turned out to be a gracious man, greeting Alexander at the door himself and whisking him around the side of the house to a back patio, where a small group of undergraduates had already gathered, drinking punch from plastic cups. When Alexander called him "Sir" the Provost answered,

"Please, call me Alan."

"Okay, Alan."

Alan had dressed casually for the picnic, a bright yellow Izod shirt and khakis; it was early in the season, and his tan must have come from winter travel. "As you can see," he said, gesturing with an arm, "there's the Port-a-John."
 
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Copyright © 1998 Ben Anastas