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Barren (standard:drama, 4767 words)
Author: stevetAdded: Feb 09 2001Views/Reads: 2383/1365Story vote: 0.00 (0 votes)
A desperate, depressed man sees a skillfully-worded ad in a university newspaper from a couple looking to adopt a child. He decides to respond to the ad himself.
 



Barren a short story approx. 4800 words 

Bud Lite on draft. Rolling Rock. Bud Lite on draft. Rolling Rock. Blah
blah. "Goodbye, Norma Jean..." Happy hour at a crowded campus tavern: 
winking lights, raucous music and the sour smell of stale beer. The 
tumult did nothing to dispel Norman Blystone's sense of remoteness. The 
tavern might as well have been deserted. Norman was not drunk-he had 
nursed a single beer for the better part of an hour as he read through 
the Campus News. His state of mind, however, resembled an early stage 
of drunkenness: as if he were standing off to one side watching and 
listening to himself, but without much interest. The words on the 
printed pages and their meanings reached him only after traveling a 
great distance, as if he were reading through the wrong end of a 
telescope. 

On page three of the News was a photo of June Allyson wearing flimsy
pajamas in an ad for disposable incontinence pants. Now there's a 
candidate for Homecoming Queen, Norman thought, the queen of continuing 
ed! Funny. Not funny enough to penetrate Norman's despondency. Or help 
him forget Sheila. 

Sheila. Three months ago, she had returned his engagement ring and left
the city. A remarkable likeness of her, wearing the same tight 
stonewashed jeans and long-sleeved, red silk blouse Sheila had been 
wearing when he last saw her, materialized on the stool next to his. 
Her gorgeous smile shone as she offered him a sip of her fuzzy navel, 
her favorite drink. Then the likeness faded away. A moan escaped 
Norman's open mouth. Alone again, with a beer gone flat as his life. 
Sheila hadn't wanted to say so, but she knew a loser when she saw one. 

Bud Lite. Rolling Rock. "...like a candle in the wind, never knowing who
to cling to..." 

Norman inadvertently dipped his elbow in a puddle of beer. He groused at
his soggy shirt sleeve. 

All day the remoteness had been with him; there was nothing new about
that. It had been stalking him since Christmas. Nobody knew about it; 
he hadn't told anyone. Even if he'd wanted to, he didn't know if he 
could describe what the remoteness was, only that it existed, 
separating him from ordinary life, and that it had been gaining 
strength and drawing nearer daily. Last Christmas his parents had been 
involved in an auto accident on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, orphaning 
him; it was then that the remoteness had begun skulking along behind 
him. He both dreaded and anticipated it. He was agitated, wired, keyed 
up. Exhaustion eroded his face and had given him a perpetual squint. 

Norman--a linguist, an instructor in the University's Department of
Linguistics--was obsessed with the word orphan. Few words held such a 
classically renowned position, possessing a literature of its own-he 
was thinking of Dickens, of course-or bore such an unparalleled burden 
of pain. Orphan: being an orphan, bereaved of parents. Usually, a child 
whose mother and father are dead. "Usually," Norman conceded, talking 
to himself, steeped in his own bereavement, "but not exclusively. No, 
not exclusively." 

A screaming headline topped the sports page: 

VARSITY HOOPSTERS NABBED FOR DRUGS 

Beneath was a photo of the two African-American perpetrators. Norman
imagined he saw himself with them in the photo: not as young or 
gangling as they, his pallid skin a sickly contrast to theirs, but 
frighteningly aware, as they were, that the freight train of his future 
had been derailed. He threw the News on the bar. 

Earlier that day, Professor Chiselle had broken the news that Norman had
been denied tenure. The Chair of Linguistics was not known to be a 
vindictive man, but he was convinced that his department was no place 
for a forty-year-old instructor who wandered around like a lost waif, 
and he was looking forward to purging his department of one. Normal 
could still see Chiselle at his desk, making washing movements with his 
hands. 

Suddenly a bold, capitalized word on the back page-BARREN-grabbed him by


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