Joan Connor

For thirty-two years Caspar Weems—who was actually a novelist, which he would have been happy to explain to anyone who asked but no one did—had written obituaries for the Glad Rag, the newspaper with the third largest circulation in Hobson’s Choice, a city dwindled to middling in size, once renowned for its production of tractor parts and for rendering duck fat, and for a small role it played in the Revolutionary War when one of the duck-fat forebears got a redcoat general so drunk on dandelion wine, he failed to show up for battle, but the tale may have been apocryphal.
    Hobson’s Choice, nestled in the corner of a riparian confluence and in its day a port for mill goods, woolens, and paper, now found its geographic situation anachronistic, but it stubbornly hung on despite its once rackety brick mills gone rickety. A hospitable city, even a convivial one, it boasted many neighborhood bars along the waterfront that had persisted from the days when the mills were working and liked to see their working men happy—or drunk and belligerent and Friday-night-paycheck poor. Like Hobson’s Choice itself the bars, a string of them named for their owners—Paddy’s, Bruno’s, Red’s, Ritchie’s, Joe’s, an infrequently frequented Abraham’s—hung on with the tenacity of vetch.
    Caspar was well suited to Hobson’s Choice, having served the Glad Rag with the same tarelike perseverance with which the bars had served the working men of the town. Caspar Weems was a solitary man, serious, sedulous about obituary writing—which he considered an art—and he had studied the styles and tones of other funereal columns with artistic perspicacity, noting the range from the lugubrious to the lurid, from the lachrymose to the laudatory, from the solemn to the silly. Caspar favored the encomium. Whenever anyone inquired about his style, Caspar liked to remark that the difference between elegy and eulogy was a few vowels. But nobody inquired except one elderly coworker, Turnkey, given to hovering around the water cooler in the morning, downing dromedary volumes before his break as if lunch were a desert, and given, in the afternoons, to an affability unmarked by thirst, but one which gradually gave way to a drowse at his desk. To him Caspar was able to deliver his imaginatively rehearsed line, but only to him, because Caspar alienated the rest of the staff, largely newcomers, young, fresh from graduate study in T-com, VI-com, Com, or J-school with their whiskbroom haircuts and squinty glasses, their etiolated coffeehouse complexions, noir elegance, and Dolce & Gabanna gabardine. Caspar did not converse; he blurted—brusque and hard-boiled as he imagined rough-and-tumble newsmen spoke. Sartorially he aimed for rumpled, as he imagined gritty newshounds dressed, tie askew, tails untucked, and he achieved it.
    When the cappuccino and croissant guy came around in the morning, Caspar growled, “Give me a cup of joe.” At lunch he hit the Hobson’s Choice Diner and ordered, from a waitress with an etched blue Hannah name tag, corned-beef hash with poached eggs, “and leave ’em runny.” Always ketchup. Always on the side. Always with a legal pad on which he scribbled his novel, Palimpsest, with papery zeal, as if he relished rustling or wanted someone to ask him what he was writing. But no one did.
    After lunch, office, then home. In the office, a serviceable drudge of renovated cubicles on the second floor of an old warehouse, Caspar wrote out his obituaries either longhand or on a recalcitrant old Smith Corona with a sticky letter h. Most of the obits he wrote premortem, doing the research on the doctors, philanthropists, duck-fat family members, tractor tycoons, and retired school teachers, and downplaying the sundry scandals, since he ascribed to the panegyric school. Life might be yellow journalism, but the obituary page was white. Black and white with solemn Old English font.
    The meaning of life, Caspar Weems knew, was death. And its text: the obit. Obit, obitus, obire: to go, to meet, to die. And the novel, Caspar believed, was an obituary form. (Hadn’t he read somewhere that some eminent author had proclaimed it dead?) So Caspar transcribed all of his obituaries into his novel as well.
    What Caspar’s colleagues did not know (although Troy Fagan, City Desk, was soon to learn) was that he always wrote two versions of his obituaries, one a tribute, the other an exercise in some aspect of fiction writing, tone, plot, humor. He needed to keep his craft supple. Today he was working on a premortem for the publisher of the Glad Rag, a duck-fat descendant, Claude VanMeer, and was exploring the issue of tone.
    He wrote:

        Claude Chase VanMeer, age *, died peacefully on *, ** in his home in Marvin Gardens. Claude
        was born in 1957, the oldest son of Claude and Mildred VanMeer of the VanMeer Rendering Plant.
        Claude Senior founded the Glad Rag in 1946 after returning from his service in World War II.
            Claude Junior became the publisher in 1973 after briefly attending VanMeer Community College,
        where he was preparing for a career in law. The Glad Rag flourished under his management, growing
        from a local newspaper that focused on community and social events to a competitive daily that
        covered local, state, and national news, incorporated an editorial page, an obituary column, and an
        amusements page.
            A selectman from 1977 until his resignation in 1978, Claude Junior, like his father, was active in
        local and national charities, the Odd Fellows, the garden club, and the Loyal Order of the Otters. He
        was also a member of the Equestrians and a renowned horseman.
            His hobbies, which included architecture, cartography, spoon collecting, and limericks, and the
        members of his family, were his greatest joys.
            He is survived by his lovely and loving wife, Jillian, who resides at Marvin Gardens, and his son,
        Bruce, who resides in San Francisco.
            The funeral service will be held at * at * pm at the * Church.
            Friends may call at * etc.

Then he wrote:

        Thankfully Clod VanMeer died, having outlived everyone’s patience and interest. Claude was born
        a fat duck, choking on the golden ladle in his beak. After being kicked out of every school he ever
        waddled through, including the Hobson’s Choice Normal School and the one that his father bought
        just so he would be accepted somewhere, he inherited the Glad Rag from his father, the goose who
        laid the golden egg. Claude Redux promptly scrambled it, adding a page of his addled editorials, a
        garden column by his belladonna, Jillian, and a page of insipid horoscopes and amusingly unfunny
        cartoons. More of a Minus touch than a Midas one, he had the good sense, nonetheless, to
        discriminate at least once between fool’s gold and the echt ore and to hire and retain yours truly,
        twenty-four carat and freshly graduated from Cornwall University, to write elegant, restrained
        obituaries for the protodead.
            He was the member of many prestigious and prodigious drinking clubs, among them: the Oddballs
        and the Loyal Order of the Why-I-Otter-Punch-You-One-For-That. He was a renowned horse’s
        ass, kicked out of the most exclusive drinking club in town, the Board of Selectmen, for mixing a
        vodka martini.
            Claude VanMeer was a dabbler in slumlordship, much loved by his tenants when he turned on the
        heat to commemorate Ground Hog’s Day. His lord also enjoyed finding his way home from Bruno’s,
        where he played the spoons and improvised dirty lyrics to pop songs on karaoke night. His hobbies
        included: tomfoolery, skullduggery, pettifoggery, and rampant quackery.
            He is survived by his loving wife, his indiscriminately loving, all-loving, loving wife, loving everyone
        from ambulance chasers to zookeepers, Jillian, the dull trull, the trull doll, the droll troll, and his
        disinherited son.

Caspar was in the habit of submitting his handwritten or poorly typed copy with its dropped aitches to Lois the secretary, long in the habit, and long in the tooth of the habit, thirty-two years. A technosaur, Caspar was not about to make a sudden adaptation to electronic evolution.
    “Copy,” he said as he crunched the pages at Lois, who perched on her stool at an overvarnished counter, and he blew out the door and hastened home. Caspar’s home, a three-room apartment, crouched above Bruno’s in a sooty, late-Victorian tenement with one bay window that beetled out over River Street like a hyperactive eyebrow. Sparse but lavish enough for Caspar’s needs, a blackand-white television, an enameled kitchen table, a bed, an easy chair, and a dormitory-style fridge furnished the flat. Caspar had never upgraded the television because he watched only old black-and-white films, mysteries, dramas, and the occasional romance. He had no need of a desk.
    He had read that Faulkner (or maybe it was Thomas Wolfe) used a refrigerator as his desk. Doing likewise, Caspar reasoned, might inspire him to write his magnum opus, but the refrigerator was a stretch. Caspar was short, five foot four; hence the compact icebox at which he dutifully wrote every night after watching reruns of The Untouchables.
    This was Caspar’s life. And this might have remained Caspar’s life were it not for the event that changed it dramatically, even drastically, the event that occurred the following morning when Troy Fagan, City Desk, summoned Caspar to his office. Troy Fagan always referred to himself as “Troy Fagan, City Desk,” preferring, so Caspar thought, to present himself as moveable goods or decor rather than as a sentient being.

Troy Fagan invited him into the office. “Caspar, have a seat.”
    Caspar slumped into the nubby hunter-green club chair and considered Troy, who looked more like a missile every year and not at all like a desk, his dome polished, his torso straight and somber in a charcoal suit.
    Troy leaned casually against his leather inlaid desktop and crossed his legs, exposing his tan argyles.
    Nice detail for the novel, Caspar thought. Nice detail for an obit.
    “How long you been with us now, Caspar?”
    Caspar rubbed his head. Theatrical question. Troy knew the answer better than anyone. He stared at Troy.
    “How long you been writing the obits now?” Troy extended his arm, yawned, and examined his fingernails.
    Caspar shook his head. Troy knew the answer to that one too. Same question.
    “It’s time for a new assignment, don’t you think?” Troy propped himself back on the desktop and blinked into the popping hiss of the tubular fluorescent bulb. Caspar sat attentive. An old newsdog, he had a nose for news, and in the obit biz a newsman knew that the noose was news. He sniffed a bad wind, a new breeze, a whiff of the dying breed.
    “Get out of the old routine?” Troy continued, staring at the ceiling. “Take a risk? Shake the lead out?” he asked the water-stained acoustic tile.
    Caspar lunged forward in the chair. “Hey, Mac. What is this? The third degree? Twenty questions? Why the grilling, hot dog?” Caspar asked in reporterese, which he delivered with a hint of Hollywood Brooklyn.
    Troy snapped upright. He liked Caspar, he really did, but VanMeer had called that morning. Lois the secretary had typed the wrong copy, and VanMeer was not amused. “Caspar, I am merely suggesting a new assignment, something worthy of your creative talents. You’ve dedicated yourself to that novel—”
    “On page 85,213,” Caspar said. “But I started it late in life; I’ll be working backwards soon to get the early years. Novel writing, it’s a bitch.”
    “Exactly,” Troy said, “and it deserves recognition. You must not squander those years of dedication to the craft. You’re wasting away in obits. Your heart is in the arts.”
    “Ya wanna read the novel? My stuff? Bet on my dark horse? Hitch a ride on my hansom cab?” Caspar asked. “It’s a work in progress.”
    “No, no, not before it’s finished.” Troy relaxed against the desk. The fluorescent light ricocheted from his pate. “I am thinking of a special assignment, a top-secret mission, literary in nature, a scoop that could scoop you up more than a few awards.”
    Caspar studied Troy’s argyle socks; he had to get the details of the diamonds right. He was engaged in writing a naturalistic roman à clef of his own life as it was happening. He had a Proustian eye for detail but an aesthetic of present rather than past tense, more Swann’s Day than Swann’s Way. Sort of Joyce does Proust. Or Every Day in the Life of Caspar Weems. Slice of life, he was buying for the loaf, one long baguette, Swann’s Book of Years. But recorded daily. And minutely.
    Double diamonds, they were, with black diagonals. “What kind of detail you got in mind, head honcho?” he asked Troy’s feet.
    “Okay. Here it is. No one has ever succeeded. How about an interview with T. D. Pinchinger?”
    Caspar jerked his head up. “T. D. Pinchinger? The novelist?”
    Troy nodded.
    Caspar rubbed his forehead, the argyles forgotten. “The recluse. No one has ever had an interview with T. D. Pinchinger.”
    “Precisely. That is why it would be such a coup.”
    Caspar cathedraled his fingers. “Hmm. And if I cannot get an interview? If the canary won’t sing? If the blue bird of paradise won’t crow? If the bird man’s flown the coop de grace? If—”
    “Gather material. Snoop. Write an exposé.”
    Caspar considered, hunching. “Yeah, Troy, no question, that’d be quite a feather in my cap, quite a sugar lump in the cup, and a shot in the shot glass. Expenses?”
    Troy shook his head. “You’d be on your own.”
    “Of course.”
    The fluorescent tube hummed and hissed.
    “Who’d do the obits?”
    “We’ll get one of the kids.”
    “The cashmere kids?”
    “They all are today, Caspar. That’s what we got except for Turnkey.”
    “The water-cooler guy.”
    Caspar nodded. “Yeah, right.” He sank himself deeper into the club chair to consider it. An interview with Pinchinger. Nobody but nobodaddy had ever had an interview with Pinchinger.
    “So?” Troy asked.
    Caspar clapped his hands on the arms of the chair. “You’re on, Mac,” Caspar said. “I’m game.” And he shot up from the chair.
    Troy straightened and shook Caspar’s hand. “Good man,” he said, ushering him out of the office. Troy smiled sweetly as Caspar shut the door behind him, not knowing that he’d just been had. The assignment was impossible.

T. D. Pinchinger was the greatest cult author in the country. No one had ever seen him, but a few had read some or all of the six novels: Alpha, The Knave of Diamonds, Pinchinger on Pinchinger: A Memoir or (K)not, A Black I, Z, and Liner Notes: A Novella. Caspar set about his research of Pinchinger with the same fervor with which he attacked his novel, unsurprising since they quickly merged into one project. Caspar spent days in the library researching the Pinchinger family tree. (There was none.) And he recorded the minutiae of his failed research promptly in his novel.
    Caspar spent days researching birth certificates. He found no T. D. Pinchinger. And this, too, he duly recorded in his novel.
    Caspar ran checks on voter registrations, driver’s licenses, marriage certificates, telephone listings. Nothing. And undeterred he transcribed this as well into his burgeoning novel.
    Pinchinger did not exist. Except. Except there were the novels. The awards for the novels. The reviews of the novels. Caspar had read them all, all six. Six books in search of an author.
    He researched obit pages across the country. Still nothing, and this nothing he also recorded in his novel, lucubrating at his compact refrigerator-cum-desk. Not dead. Not alive.
    And there had been that sensationalist memoir by that low-Lolita sketching in autistic prose some sordid consensual S and M with Pinchinger. But the real scandal there was the writing. Nonetheless Caspar tried to hunt her down but dead-ended at the pen name, Venus Blue. Behind the lickerish shimmer of the name, no one. Had it been an opportunistic hoax? He had laced up his gloves only to find himself shadow boxing, sparring with gossamer partners. Initials and a pen name. A planet, a goddess. And a color or an emotional condition.
    Caspar needed to think. And he decided to think at the Hobson’s Choice Diner. As he banged into the diner, he noted the neon cursive above the door, “ ’obson’s Choice Diner.” The h had long ago given up its aspiration and gas. Caspar spun onto a stool at the counter.
    How could he find someone who did not even exist? “Gimme a cup of joe,” he said to Hannah. Pinchinger was no more than a series of texts. He’d contacted his publisher and gotten no response. How can you solve a mystery without a clue? Or was Pinchinger a clue without a mystery? A nom de plume, a ghost-written fiction himself?
    Something bothered Caspar. The waitress. What was her name? Hannah, right, Hannah. A palindrome. Anna in the middle. It was the h that troubled Caspar, the h that was missing in the diner sign, the h sticking in the office typewriter. H, that little hammock of a letter. If you took h out of Pinchinger, you got Pincinger. Pinc. Pin. (He felt like a butterfly pinned to Nabokov’s lepidopterist’s board.) Pince. Pince-nez. Did that help?
    No. Caspar slurped his coffee. H, a stuck h. The Smith Corona, he needed that Smith Corona, and he needed it urgently. Caspar tossed a quarter on the counter. “There you go, doll.”
    “Wow. Thanks, big spender,” Hannah said, mopping the counter.
    “Did you know that the Egyptians trained baboons to wait tables?” Caspar asked.

Caspar set the old typewriter on the fridge. Lois hadn’t put up much resistance when he’d gone to claim it. Even Turnkey used a computer now. “W y did the ‘ ’ stick?” he typed. “Pinc inger.”
    He knew that there was some connection. But what?

In the morning Caspar set off for the library with his novel stuffed under his arm. He had research to do. That heuristic letter h, the stuck key was key to unlocking Pinc(h)inger, the hermetically sealed, Pinc(h)inger. H was such an interesting letter, aspirated, sometimes silent, a letter not unlike the author himself, who had recently penned liner notes for a garage band.
    Caspar trundled down River Street. In Hobson’s Choice it was impossible not to note the letter h. Hobson’s Choice. And hero sandwiches. And hot coffee. And the hotel, hobby shop, the hourly masses at the Catholic Church, the hydrants, the hazard sign on Horlick Street, the kids playing hopscotch, and the hot-dog stand on Hospice Hill. How had Caspar missed it all these years, these aitches of which he was suddenly aware as if ’enry ’iggins were his secret speech coach in an encoded universe where the letter h hypersignified?
    The high jinks of the high hats on their high horses chasing hedgehogs. He was drowning in meaning, a surfeit of meaning, meaning everywhere. What if everything signified? He’d noticed this week that even his food was straining to mean—mottoes on tea tags, fortune cookies, bubblegum comics, Cracker Jack with pithy adages, talking food, clamorous snacks. But no decoder ring for a prize.
    Caspar banged against the huge oak door of the Hobson’s Choice library. “Hush,” the librarian said as he entered.
    Caspar headed straight for the reference section in the hieratic stillness. The shelf marked under his hieroglyphic, h, that ideogrammatic chair, or humped house with a chimney, home, hovel. Or a handheld scoop standing on end. Or H, a bridge between I-beams, a swing, a cartwheel of acrobatic appendages.
    He dropped a tome of h onto the library table with his novel. Thunk, thud. He thumbed through quickly: hermeticism.
    That was it. Pinchinger, the hermit, hermetically sealed, thrice greatest, Hermes Trismegistus. Here was his Rosetta stone: hermeticism.
    T. D. Pinchinger, like the Egyptian god Thoth, was author of hermetic writings, an inventor of a new way of writing, magically sealed off from public investigation to keep the vessel of his imagination airtight and Pinchinger the author distinct from Pinchinger the person.
    In his novel Caspar penned a cartouche, circumscribing carefully inside his sovereign’s name: Pinchinger. It was all starting to make sense. It was amazing what you could see when you were looking for it.
    Caspar scribbled in his novel:

        Hermeticism. The cosmos has unity and is interdependent. The meaning of life can manifest in
        sudden divine revelation. Sympathy and antipathy unite the universe. And one key can unlock it.
            Rosetta stone: stuck key. The letter h.
            Note to myself: it is possible that Pinchinger does not exist at all and is only the written biography
        of himself, a prewritten obit.

    Then he slammed the compendium of h shut and headed home.

As Caspar entered his apartment, the phone was ringing. This would fail to startle in most lives, but in Caspar’s life it was extraordinary. No one ever called him. The phone was for calling out, not in.
    Caspar barked into the mouthpiece, “Yeah?”
    “Is this T. D. Pinchinger?”
    Caspar paused. Kind of a peculiar coincidence. “No.”
    “Do I have the wrong number?”
     “Who is this?” Caspar asked, playing it sly.
    “Who is this?” the voice answered.
    A voice, Caspar noted, rather raspy, dry, the sound of a hasp on a clasp. “Is this Pinchinger?” Caspar asked.
    “Good God no. Turnkey here. Is this T. D. Pinchinger?”
    Turnkey. Whatever did this mean? Caspar goggled at the receiver, then slammed it down.
    Turnkey was the opposite of stuck key. How was he key in all this? And why did he think that Caspar was Pinchinger? And why was Turnkey calling Pinchinger?

Caspar twisted all night in mazy dreams about Venus Blue and Turnkey. Her back was to Caspar in the dream, but he knew that it was she. She wore a string bikini of blue velvet. Turnkey stood next to the water cooler, drooling dropped aitches; parti-colored, they swirled to the floor. Pinchinger appeared and told him to fall in love, that love was the answer to our riddling hearts. “Remember Z,” Pinchinger said. “The importance of love in Z. You must remember; after all, you wrote it.” Pinchinger’s head looked like an unfinished cartoon; he had no face.
    By the time he woke up, Caspar was convinced that he was Pinchinger, that he had written the novels, all of them, that they were part of the text of Palimpsest, his novel, which, in fact they were, since he had transcribed them into his ongoing roman à clef as he read them, featuring himself as protagonist.
    Caspar was exhausted, but he nonetheless crossed to the kitchen and emptied his waste basket on the floor. He had to find some proof that he was indeed Pinchinger. He found envelopes addressed to Occupant and Caspar Weems. Receipts for Caspar Weems. Coffee grounds—they could be anyone’s. And crumpled sheets of papers with missing aitches. The h was the thing, Caspar was certain. It was possible that he was Caspar Weems thinking that he was Pinchinger, who was thinking that he was Caspar Weems. How could he be certain who he was?

While Caspar was sorting through his trash, Turnkey was dialing numbers at random and asking the answerers if they were T. D. Pinchinger. Troy had decided that the assignment, so effective with Caspar, would work as well with the sot. Troy Fagan, City Desk, had stumbled upon the perfect means to coerce early retirement. Caspar Weems was making his way along River Street to the ’obson’s Choice Diner, stopping at every trash can to sort through the contents for clues. In a world where everything meant, he could afford to overlook nothing, no candy-bar wrapper, no gas receipt. The world had gone text, which he quickly noted in his novel. He was having difficulty writing fast enough—to take it all in, to record it all. He rolled along the street like wadded newspaper, more rumpled than usual, his shirt untucked, and his wool sweater a gnarl of dags.
    At last he blew into the diner. Hannah sauntered over with her coffee pot propped. “Yeah, yeah, a cup of Joe”
    Caspar shook his head. “Skip the java. Who am I, doll?” he asked.
    “You’re the quarter tipper, babycakes,” Hannah said.
    “Am I T. D. Pinchinger, the reclusive cult novelist?”
    “Honey, for all I care or know you could be the Queen of England.”
    Caspar clapped his hands flat on the counter. This did not sit well. The Queen of England? He was having enough trouble being Caspar Weems being T. D. Pinchinger and possibly Caspar Weems again.
    “T. D., eh? What does that stand for? Totally deranged?” Hannah nodded at the pot. “Want coffee?”
    “Coffee?” Caspar was already wound up tighter than a typing ribbon. He stared at Hannah’s name tag.
    “Yeah, coffee.”
    His eyes felt glairy. He was having a vision, another hermeticist divine transmission. The dream. Good night nurse, Hannah was Venus Blue. The blue tag. And it occurred to him for the first time that T. D. might be a woman like T. S. Eliot. Wait, no he was the guy. George was the woman, same last name, one l, one t. Okay, H. D. then, or whatever her name was.
    Hannah bumped Caspar’s shoulder. “Yo, Rainman, coffee?”
    Caspar stared at Hannah. Really stared. Her eyes were name-tag blue. Her lips were as red as red-flannel hash. Caspar slumped. Aw. He felt as if he were running all soft at the edges, albuminous, like he liked his eggs. Okay then, if he was Pinchinger, and Pinchinger was a woman, he was a lesbian. That was all right; he was liberal in his views.
    “Coffee?” Hannah asked again.
    “I prefer not to,” he said.
    “Suit yourself.”
    Caspar smiled coquettishly and blinked, then flushed. “We’re supposed to get married,” Caspar said. “You and me. Caspar and Hannah. T. D. and Venus. I know. I dreamed it. It is prophecy.”
    Hannah stopped, pivoted, and smiled, coffee pot cocked before her like a pistol. “A double wedding, ain’t that grand? Go rent the chapel.”
     And Caspar spun off the stool, dizzy with spinning and longing, and dashed out to do precisely that.

Up in Marvin Gardens, spelled just like in the board game with the historical misspelling intact, an i rather than an e, Jillian and Claude were considering adding another house to the lot. The developer had thought that it would be cute to name the streets after the game.
    “But Claude,” Jillian said, “we already have one green house.”
    Claude sipped his martini. “For God’s sake, Jillian, try to get into the spirit of the thing. Take a risk. It’s a game of chance. Green means go.”
    “Green means greed. Go ask Gatsby. Two kelly green houses, Claude? That is pretty dicey.”
    “You mean Fitzgerald. Go ask Fitzgerald. Gatsby starred in it.”
    “That was Robert Redford.”

Caspar Weems’s dream had proven not to be prophetic after all. And Caspar was out the cost of a chapel and a chaplain and was pondering the meaning of a letter (not the i of Marvin Gardens) but the letter h, which now stood for Hannah and heart, and his was broken. Caspar was learning that love was not the answer to the riddling heart but rather was the loneliest place in the universe, lonelier than a treeless lunar plain, a vastness that knew no edges, that while it could (like the letter h) confer meaning, it could also deprive life of meaning (like a stuck key). And Caspar was stuck in the key of blue and typing Hannah’s name (’anna, ’anna) into his novel and prewriting his obituary, the obituary of Caspar Weems, who had for thirty-two years served the Glad Rag, not the obituary of T. D. Pinchinger, who Caspar could not be since Hannah was not the Venus Blue of his dream.
    Caspar tapped the keys. He wished that love were more like his novel, encompassing, inclusive. But love, unlike Caspar’s art, was selective. It selected one and, in that single and singular selection, rejected an infinite number of other possible selections. Caspar was one of infinite rejections. Hannah had turned him down flat. And Caspar had downed enough Xanax that he could actually be Club Med.
    And then the phone rang.
    “Is this T. D. Pinchinger?”
    Caspar dropped the receiver. What a coincidence. Once a fluke. But twice? What were the chances? And then Caspar Weems had another aperçu.
    He depressed the button and dialed information for Hobson’s Choice. “Yes, I’d like the listing for T. D. Pinchinger,” he said.
    “We are sorry, sir. That number is unlisted.”
    “Thank you. Thank you so much.”
    Then he could be Pinchinger. Caspar capered on the kitchen floor around his fridge. Forgetting his novel he rushed to the door. There was still a chance to woo his Venus Blue. And he could interview himself and publish it in the Glad Rag. Everything was falling into place. He paused. Perhaps he should double check, maybe look up Caspar Weems’s number in the phone book. No, because he could still be Caspar Weems and Pinchinger—right?—if Pinchinger’s number was unlisted. The world, life, and love hinged on the meaning of the letter h. Hannah was the meaning. Hannah was the answer. “Aitch,” Caspar yelled, “happy.”

The god Thoth, inventor of writing, laughed. “Hah,” he said. Or “Huh?”

Joan Connor is associate professor in fiction writing at Ohio University and a faculty member at the University of Southern Maine’s Stonecoast MFA Program. Her third collection of short stories, History Lessons, won the 2002 AWP Award. Her previous collections are Here on Old Route 7 and We Who Live Apart. She is a recipient of an Ohio Arts Council grant and a Pushcart Prize. She is also the winner of the John Gilgun Award and the Ohio Writer Award in fiction and nonfiction. She lives in Athens, Ohio, and Belmont, Vermont, with her son, Kerry.

“Palimpsest” appears in our Summer 2005 issue.