“We read in the shadow of mortality,” Professor Katz looked up at his class, then looked down again at the vast dustbin of period pieces stacked upon his desk. “The tremendous debasement of popular taste,” he continued, “is a way to explain genius away.”
The last three years of his life were filled with loss. “I’m in a foreign land,” he said to his wife when she was diagnosed with inoperable cancer, “and I can’t take my luggage along.”
She died in her sleep. Katz was glad of that despite the abrupt end to the world they had woven together. He could not enter into her mortality as he wished and his closed past collapsed into a non-existent future.
“The major reason for great literature,” he told his class, “is the tragedy of the life unlived.”
“If you possess a moment by memory,” he remembered his wife saying, “that moment possesses you.”
Immensely simple but astonishingly profound, a host of furious fancies, “You,” he answered Sarah, “you are the wilderness I wander.”
He thought of Sarah, standing in front of Clio Hall, waiting to walk home with him. She was a professor of philosophy. They met cataloguing nineteenth century photographs in the archives for extra credit. They became close when Katz came upon a photo taken in Fort Dodge, Iowa, in 1873. Sarah told him her father was born in Fort Dodge. That one piece of information opened the floodgates.
But that was then.
There was no one waiting in front of Clio Hall.
Katz walked home alone.
published 21 December 2011