EXCERPT FROM THE BODICE RIPPER
Now the opera arrived on the wings of snow sirens from the arctic. They sang for her, the tow trucks and plows under the street lamps at dawn. Chorus with toques low and scarves high, Nordic burqas. The arias of spinning tires on ice, the crescendo of cars rocking forward, backward, searching for traction. They invaded her dreams until she woke to find her scenery frozen, its corners rounded and its colours erased by monotone white.
Anna wore a white blouse. In her university office hung spare white shirts. She arrived damp with the effort of negotiating uncleared sidewalks and put on a fresh one. Down the university’s marble hallway she wove, with starts and stops, spun when she heard echoing voices. She used to walk down this hallway with purpose, move from point A (her office) to point B (the classroom) without interruption, with full concentration on her next class. But now the students’ whispers screamed like seagulls. Doors opened—she glanced—not the right people—doors closed. She stopped in front of faded photos of Deans in the 1930s, became wistful and melancholic beside marble columns. Every other day she could navigate the way to her classroom. To the end, turn left. But today’s hallway stretched out further with every step, as if Anna she still lived in the fluid architecture of dreams, or suffered the hallucinations of a sleep-deprived prisoner in solitary. Though that she could do. Six months without interruptions, without neighbours or aunts or cats. A guardian to slide up a tiny door and push her a bowl of broth for sustenance. That’s all she needed: a vacation. And she would write. She would concoct the most baroque Romance a woman would ever need, with love and tenderness and uncountable shades of sex.
Anna’s boot heels tapped a beat, and she straightened her trajectory to the classroom. She was flamenco and fire and grace, she brought warmth to the marble, melted the ice sheets outside.
Her romance heroine would not leave her. She would give up on Christophe. She would write the Romance and, despite the odds, the heroine would be a Medieval Spanish nun. Anna already felt herself a better person. The nun’s influence.