Excerpt from AMERICAN PASTORAL by Philip Roth. Copyright © 1997 by Philip Roth. Reprinted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved. Line from the poem “What Wasn’t Said, Is Now Impossible to Say” by Lina Kostenko. Copyright © 2012 by Lina Kostenko. Reprinted by permission of A-Ba-Ba-Ha-La-Ma-Ha Publishers. All rights reserved. Graphic of the “EB” butterfly by Sarah Tasseff. Copyright © 2017. Reprinted by permission of Sarah Tasseff. All rights reserved. Photograph of “The Last Jew in Vinnitsa.” Public domain.
Editor: Taylor Anhalt
the butterfly Copyright © 2018 Paul M. Hedeen All rights reserved. Except as permitted under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without prior written permission of the publisher. This book is a work of fiction. The characters, incidents, and dialogue are drawn from the author’s imagination and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Published by BHC Press under the Gelan imprint Library of Congress Control Number: 2018930618 ISBN: 978-1-947727-34-2 (Softcover) ISBN: 978-1-947727-33-5 (Hardcover) ISBN: 978-1-948540-60-5 (Ebook) Visit the publisher: www.bhcpress.com
the sudden thing
A MAN HAS died. Dr. Warren Hart, Chair of the Foreign Language Institute, knew a memorial service’s first purpose is to steep, as in the blackest and most bitter tea, its participants in death’s irrefutable claim. Given the human desire to embroider endlessly and colorfully, to attach to life all sorts of inane addenda like heaven or hell or reincarnation, this fact might be the last of knowledge before the gossip would begin. Yes, a man has died. They were dying all over Chicago, after all, as they must. Hart clicked his tongue. To be honest, he thought, the dead are irrelevant almost before they hit the gurney. Life is relentless, all about sex, about yes and now, and the dead are like… Well, what are they like? Even with one war behind him and another ahead, Dr. Hart struggled. How had this morning’s hymn stated it? Hart screwed up his face trying to remember. Oh, yes, truly, the dead have “crossed over.” The Lethe? From earth to where? Whitman said it best; a body was “good manure.” “Look for me under your boot-soles,” he commanded at the end of his great poem. Into manure, then earth, and then the grass, the “hair of graves.” No matter, Hart thought, smiling. Whitman was crazy—like the now dead Professor Kapailenko. Maybe I’ll know better when my time comes, Hart concluded, reassuring no one, especially himself. Professor Dmytro Kapailenko’s death had been sudden. The cause was rumored to be a stroke. The burial had been quick and private. Even
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the just concluded memorial service had been brief, not the appropriate one hour. The Russian Orthodox hymns, chants, and liturgy requested in the funeral instructions could not be learned by the college choir in the time allowed, and so the chaplain’s watery nondenominational fare had been served up with ample portions of “the Book.” Did Dr. Hart care? No, not as long as appearances had been kept up. Appearances, after all, were his strength. After even one glass of Merlot, always after lunch, he’d admit as much. Now with his colleague’s funeral rites concluded, Chair Hart was only too eager to escape. Others had fled, nodding with restrained good nature, yet allowing their faces to brighten as soon as they spied the light blasting in bent rainbows through the cut glass squares on the chapel’s oaken doors. “God light,” some had called it, half-ironically, for the chapel and chaplaincy persisted at Hart’s university as a gesture rather than commitment. The attendees’ lit masks, even in near twilight, hid a liberal disrespect Hart could appreciate. Hypocrites, I suppose, Hart thought, but then tact and civility were often dishonest, filing the teeth of egotism, declawing the human beast. But what were the attendees supposed to feel? Dr. Dmytro Kapailenko, or “Kappy” as his few friends called him, had brought to their Institute only a livid embarrassment, giving his colleagues a collective red face. There was no recession at the service. Rushed into the ground, the casket had not been present to view, so there was nothing to follow out. In fact, no one Hart knew had even seen the body, which was found by a friend whom no one on campus had ever met and rushed by private ambulance to an undisclosed funeral home. All other arrangements for this modest memorial had been thrown onto Hart’s hands. As Kappy’s chair, Hart also had been required by propriety and protocol to attend. But to suggest a willing duty did Hart too much justice, as he would admit. Provost Limpf, one of his bosses, had ordered him to attend, and she had let it be known this order began with the much rattled University President Chelivek, who had reported our State Depart-
THE BUTTERFLY ~ 23
ment as well as embassy officials from West Germany, Israel, and the Soviet Union had an interest in the professor’s passing, even in the contents of his office. When Hart had asked why, the Provost had simply put her finger to her lips, and so he’d hushed. His instructions were simple. Be a good chair. Engage and cultivate Kapailenko’s protégé, a misled boy named Carlyle, who for some stupid reason was the dead professor’s literary executor with the legal authority to manage his mentor’s work. So Hart had put on a brave face: respectful, stoical, and enlightened; an august face creased with studied consideration; a face reflecting thoughts of the brevity of life inspired by an untimely death. Hart’s wavy graying hair, worn long, as was becoming the fashion, framed his smooth face, even teeth, and bright blue eyes. His jaw, which still retained its edge, communicated, when set, seriousness without severity. His jawbone aside, his face flushed with a rosiness betraying, he knew, self-indulgence. Being so well-tended had not enhanced his position among his poorer paid colleagues. Fortunately, Hart’s eyes could be made to soften, feigning sensitivity to the tragic arc of Kappy’s story. This story’s hero was a starving Ukrainian boy who escaped a 1930s famine to become a young man who in the 1940s had evaded both Stalin’s and Hitler’s murderous dictatorships, fighting them both at different times in the war and afterward as a UPA partisan with Stepan Bandera in western Ukraine before escaping to Turkey. He was a wartime friend of anyone who loved his motherland—or so went the tale. Ultimately, remarkably for someone not otherwise blessed by upbringing and connections, he became a refugee-academician educated among other émigrés in Toronto and Chicago and who, against all odds, championed the triumph of Ukrainian enlightenment and learning over Soviet brutality and oppression. The patriot’s credentials also had scholarly heft, for the not-so-young academician had published with lightning speed (and light) some of the best analyses of Pushkin ever penned—before his genius turned to folly. Unconvinced as Hart was about the high points of this canard, the Chair wore a mask of official yet poignant mourning, even as his mind
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drifted into shameful places. These included Provost Limpf ’s aging but still eager body and, at least on this occasion, the undeniable relief he’d felt at this Ukrainian superhero’s surprising extinction, saving Hart the enormous trouble of keeping the fractious eccentric on course or steering him into retirement’s safe harbor. But there was no shelter for Hart, at least for the moment, for he could see Dmytro’s student, young Carlyle, across the room. The boy’s dour look, his lowered chin, the aimless tapping of his scuffed wingtips all suggested he shared none of Hart’s lift. As usual, he peered over his black-framed glasses. He wasn’t an idiot, as Hart and others once had suspected, just disappointed, probably because the attendance at this reception was scant. For most of those who had only half-filled the small chapel, the memorial service had been enough of the old Slav—what more could be said? Warren Hart moved closer to the coffee and cookies. He must be nice, or at least try, so he tried a bright tone. “The thing you read—Eva Braun? She really used those words?” When he got no response, he added, “You were going for comic relief, no doubt.” He chuckled, a noise dry and thin, hoping the young man might join in. “I bet this was the first time in the history of funeral oration Mrs. Hitler has been quoted.” Summoned and stung, Carlyle turned and closed the few steps between them, his first words and steps in equal pacing. “Maybe you’re right. But whether she said it or not, it was in Dr. Kapailenko’s manuscript. So…” Carlyle looked around, reddening, as if realizing for the first time how grotesquely absurd his use of this text really was. “Dr. Kapailenko had gathered all sorts of sayings, characters, stories—even mementos somehow. Over the years I mean. He has letters and diaries, too. Remarkable, he never gave up. Quite an archive. He was always searching, trying, he said, to beat the bear out of the birches. He’s shared his stuff with me, and I’ve only begun to get it into some sort of order.” “Order? Remarkable?” the older professor added, shaking his head. “Not remarkable if you knew old Dmytro. Pardon me, I mean, Dr. Kapailenko. His collecting was just crazy. Not to speak ill of the dead…” But
THE BUTTERFLY ~ 25
he so wanted to, to say how Kappy’s was an ordinary compulsion and of sexual origin, as compulsions usually are. Hart paused, knitting his brow, holding back the flow, for a reception after a memorial service was hardly the time to profess, yet words surged to the wellhead. “The man, against all prudence, common sense…” There it came. He bit it back again, desiring to add, against professional respect, integrity—dignity, I suppose—and whatever else, “…Pursued this questionable topic, and others like it, after so promising a beginning.” Hart looked down into Carlyle’s eyes, hoping to make a point without being boorish. “Hair, clothes, personal effects, letters, silver, photos—in the end a doll. Like a blow-up doll for a model? And then there was talk of a live model. A student, no less.” The senior professor wanted to hoot, but settled for a toss of his chin with another chuckle, this time from even lower in his throat, for to laugh now would be unseemly—still, he had gone too far. “Sorry. I was worried some of this might come up in the eulogy or remembrances. Good we dodged a bullet, eh?” Hart pretended his hand was a pistol and pointed it at the floor. Carlyle flushed and then pressed his point. “Not a doll! A mannequin. And there were no students.” He frowned, looking to Hart as if he were feeling the stagnant mass of real grief and needed a good cry. “Well, yes, unique, I know. This interest in Eva Braun—and the war criminal Jürgen Blend. But you aren’t him. You haven’t been through what he’s been through. You don’t know what he knows.” He paused and corrected himself. “What he knew. What I know, too, I think. The beginnings of it, anyway. It’s there in the manuscripts—all kinds of writing.” “Hmmm.” Hart thought of a quip about the differences between sleeping with a mannequin and an inflatable doll, but he held back and looked away. He spent a few long seconds gazing out over the heads of his fellow attendees, hoping the young man would drift to someone else, but when he looked back, there the implacable Carlyle remained, his face even more pinched by suffering. “Just read this,” the young man demanded, pulling from his jacket pocket some folded pages. Reluctantly, Hart put on his reading glasses:
26 ~ PAUL M. HEDEEN
SCENARIO5 WE LOOK OUT upon a snowy field. It is a late November after-
noon in 1963. The slanting light has the silvery quality of early winter. Shadows are long. Freezing fog is apparent. The land is flat. Here and there furrows and stubble emerge from the remaining snow. A plot has been excavated and roped off. In the left background, there is a tumbled stack of simple wooden coffins, behind these a dense forest: beech, aspen, pines so dark they’re black. The wet trees are like prison bars against the snow. Centered in the near distance are several graves. At one a lone man kneels. At another, two very poor country women stand. The man is Jürgen Blend, and one woman, in more traditional Ukrainian dress and headscarf, is Olesya, but we won’t know any of their identities until later. We are near Vinnitsa in Soviet Ukraine. Decomposed figures are in the graves. One, where the man kneels, has an open coffin. In it is a woman. She wears a very dirty blue dress. There is light hair and a skull. As we look down upon her, the skull becomes a beautiful but battered face on the day the dirt fell. It is Eva Braun, Blend’s Butterfly. But we cannot know of this yet. The blue eyes are open in death. The mouth is parted. The face is bruised to black on one side. The face now comes to life and smiles. Distant laughter is heard. At first it is joyous, but in just a beat or two it becomes hysterical. Then we are back in the present. Russian voices, male, gruff then laughing, are in the background. There is the sound of a bottle tinkling as it is tossed away. It and the roaring of a truck motor both indicate there are people present besides the old man and the two women. The woman named Olesya looks down at a decomposed male figure in a large grave. Now this figure also changes to a very grainy and shadowed image of the man’s death. The camera shakes. It is an enacted depiction of the famous “The last Jew in Vinnitsa” photo encountered in this narrative a number of times. The moving image freezes into the photo. As the scene at the graves continues, traces of the photograph and film persist. The three people and the graves they gaze into form a quiet
THE BUTTERFLY ~ 27
tableau. The man and women weep, but there must be only grief, no sentimentality. The sound of this weeping ends with an echoing “Pavlo” screamed from somewhere in time. With this scream, the women and man look up into our eyes. The distant trees are stark against the melting snow. All sound— weeping, a woman distantly screaming—is swept away by the sound of wind, which is itself replaced by another woman speaking. As she speaks we see the distant sky, then a raven lifting from a tree bough. When she says “figure,” a young Adolf Hitler appears in the manner she describes and when she states “you” this figure dissolves into the young Jürgen Blend, the man in the photograph killing the last Jew. „Zeit vergeht und unsere schicksale entstehen.“ “Time passes and our fates emerge. Indistinct yet unmistakable, they are like a figure approaching out of the mist. His pale face is obscure; his demeanor is relaxed, confident. He wears an expensive coat of the finest gray wool. The man turns and leads you to what must be. Yes, he is of the same clay as you. He hides his hands, so look at your own. You see, you have shaped him as well as yourself.”
“EVA BRAUN SAID this thing about fate and time?” Then,
feigning ignorance, for Hart, too, had tried his hand at writing for movies: “What, a monologue?” He stabbed the passage at the end with his forefinger. “Seems labored. Cinema is a visual medium, after all.” He looked over the young man’s head to someone, anyone who might rescue him. He gave back the pages, nipped at his cookie, and winked. “I thought Eva Braun was an idiot.” “It is Dr. Kapailenko’s scenario, or one given to him. I was to play my stepfather, he told me, although his family is Ukrainian, not German, so I don’t know what he was talking about. He had a ton of money. He’d hired a producer already.” Then, apparently remembering how Dr. Hart had described Eva Braun, he asked, “Why would you think she was stupid?” The younger man looked concerned.
28 ~ PAUL M. HEDEEN
Hart didn’t answer but looked at him closely, hoping to discover in his eyes the motivation for what might become a confrontation. “Well, Hitler said as a genius he should have a servile and stupid woman, right? Didn’t he also say geniuses shouldn’t have children, for they are always disappointments?” “So?” “Well, he chose Braun.” “Yes, I suppose so. But you are suggesting consistency between thought, speech, and action—a lot to expect from a human being.” Hart smiled. He didn’t expect to be schooled by this schoolboy. The boy pressed, “And one has to consider Braun, knowing her man’s beliefs, might have played up to them, to please him, you know— something other Hitler women could not do.” “Hmmm.” Hart sipped his coffee, hoping again to be saved by an interruption. “She was smart this way, I think. She was at his side until the end. Maybe through the end and beyond. Kept faith, which counts for something.” “Yes, something. But, my dear Carlyle, dogs are loyal, too, and we don’t require of them any real thinking.” Hart gave the last two words heavy emphasis. Too heavy, he realized, making him seem both pompous and obvious. As the boy moped, Hart thought again about Carlyle’s given name “Fortunatus,” as if his parents wanted to mark him out for special ill-fortune. To Hart’s thinking, Carlyle had turned out to be a crackpot, just like his dead mentor. First of all, Fortunatus couldn’t finish his degree, which in Dr. Hart’s academic world was a killing demerit. Moreover, poor Carlyle couldn’t seem to get anything else going. He was stuck. Hart smiled at the irony, given the fate of his Kappy. Carlyle was one of those people who hang about a campus and college town, gradually aging, increasing the disparity in years between the real students and him, and showing up at university events as a parody of the intellectual he might have become. Interesting, Hart realized, this never seemed to happen to women. They either finished or moved on; they became some-
THE BUTTERFLY ~ 29
thing. However, to add to this young man’s afflictions, Carlyle was probably also a poet, or at least demonstrated an artist’s, rather than a linguist’s or scholar’s, attachment to life’s stuff. Hart returned to the moment. “My boy, only you think these things. Didn’t others also say Braun was a simple girl?” “Simple is not the same as stupid. Simple could mean uneducated, which I think was true. Hitler himself was only half-educated.” Carlyle seemed to have found some fire. His eyes narrowed, concentrating on Hart’s face. Grief was being replaced by purpose. Hart didn’t want Carlyle to have purpose. He especially didn’t want to become the object of this purpose. He didn’t like the young man enough to be generous. Hell, he didn’t like him at all. Time to throw him off. “Anyway, why was Professor Kapailenko writing film scenarios? Or even beginning one? Or collecting them?” The failed Carlyle, abject, hardly human in Hart’s world of superhuman credentials, responded to the challenge. “I’m not quite sure, but this is just the first scene. The first pages. There’s more. Lots more. I thought I’d share just a little, to demonstrate Dr. Kapailenko’s creative side. Well, you know… There were others on today’s list, and then they decided on no formal eulogy at all.” He glanced away at the others milling about the coffee, punch, and cakes, then back. “Well, Professor Kapailenko had this idea, a little risky, but he was all risk, you know. When his research wouldn’t come together as anything more than a collection and a theory—well, he decided to write scenarios, or find them, and try to get somebody to make a movie. He’d hired someone for the preliminaries, he called them. A man named Eisenbraun, I think.”6 He smiled indulgently, understanding, Hart supposed, this was as quixotic as everything else the old Russian had attempted. “He had a ream of stuff, and revisions upon revisions. And a novel, or a chunk of one, history, and a memoir, or someone else’s memoir, I’m not sure. Stuff in three languages. Even German, so four. I could show you… And essays and scholarly stuff. Genealogies, too. Some sort of consultation with intelligence people in both Europe and on the Soviet side. He should have been in history, or political science.”
30 ~ PAUL M. HEDEEN
Eisenbraun—Dr. Hart had heard a similar name, or read it in a memo. Hart believed he was the friend who had found Kappy and taken charge of the body. Hart raised his hand, indicating stop. The boy was getting too much momentum. Hart articulated, slowly and precisely. Each word was intended to be a blow. “But no more on Pushkin, I suppose, for which he was hired. Right?” Pausing, letting this have its effect, he then offered, deliberately patronizing: “Well, no one doubts his range of interests, and, well, his fanciful side.” Hart watched the boy and decided it was time to cut him to silence. “Doesn’t all of this unpublished pabulum bother you a little? Doesn’t it undermine the credibility of his scholarly research? What’s to be said of his professional responsibility? Maybe everything is just a story, a movie, a fantasy after all, eh? But I know the difference between bullshit and serious bullshit. And I’m wondering, too late now, I suppose, what kind he was shoveling. Who the hell was he? People were beginning to doubt.” “You were beginning to doubt, you mean.” Carlyle pointed at Hart’s chest. “He had credibility elsewhere. There is a group of historians, Slavic specialists, some Germans, people of real courage. People not necessarily interested in belaboring what we all know. No, he knew powerful people out in the world.” Without looking, Carlyle pointed over his shoulder toward some apparently more authentic world beyond this reception room. Hart signaled stop again, and Carlyle did. “We have standards, you know.” Hart condescended to smile. Dumb Fortunatus was racing, and it was time to throttle him down. But Carlyle wouldn’t stop. “Well, my Professor was creative; he was brilliant, too. Could have been famous. Might still be. If I…” Then looking Hart in the eye, then away, he swallowed and mumbled. “No thanks to you and others here, I must say.” “Careful, please.” “The persecution, I mean.” “There was no persecution. Anyway, personnel matters are confidential.” Ah, the refuge of cowards, Dr. Hart thought, feeling a queasy
THE BUTTERFLY ~ 31
rush of shame as he seized the Chair’s prerogative of institutional words. He wondered if his face had flushed. His hand came up a third time, no more it said, and he looked around. “I suppose everyone has credibility somewhere. What can you say? This switch to art hardly raises him at the end, though, if moving up was in his and your plan. Anyway, the man’s funeral is certainly not the place and time to discuss such matters.” Carlyle added, “It is cruel, yes, thanks to…” He looked down, gathering his thoughts. “He had no family. And everyone here humiliated him at every opportunity.” “Perhaps a little harsh?” Hart discovered his feet were beginning a small dance. His tongue clicked again. “Perception includes interpretation. True? But what would be the point now of debating?” Fortunatus Carlyle looked back. “I see your point, I guess.” Hart smiled. Tit-for-tat, he thought, almost always showed a retreat from any real thinking. They were just fizzing now. Carlyle looked him in the eye. “Well, you’ll see.” Even though the service had been humanely brief, it had been a long morning for Hart, just as the last few years of managing his old colleague had seemed to add a month or two to the calendar. The ill-starred, even tragic Professor Dmytro Kapailenko had gathered less reputation than suspicion, less fame than notoriety. There had been accusations, a few students sick of digressions and bullying, the usual stuff, but mostly a growing sloppiness of method and practice belying his credentials. Where was the follow-up to the Pushkin? Talk about a sophomore slump! Kapailenko never again had shone as he had in the beginning. He’d become a different man. Take his morbidity. What could one say about a man who kept on his office wall a poster of “The Last Jew in Vinnitsa,” a young man sitting on the edge of a mass grave, facing the camera in the instant before his Nazi executioner puts a bullet in his brain, or so one assumes. There is no next frame to confirm it. Unforgettable, it haunted any person who saw it. It looked too natural to be staged. In the foreground was a filling grave, in the near background a line of soldiers looking on.
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Over the years, Hart had always found four things interesting about the photo, only the first three he ever mentioned: first, the doomed man’s eyes as he glanced to his left, perhaps hearing something from there; second, the men in the background who seem unconcerned with the act but very aware of the camera; third, the young, unbuttoned killer, an evil coward if there ever were one, wanting to strike a heroic pose; and fourth, by unlucky coincidence, the killer’s resemblance to a youthful anybody, appearing so average, just like the men behind him. For Hart, to want to be a hero, but to be both average and evil, typified the whole of the war—murder, directly or by proxy, carried out by ordinary men. Shrinking men. Falling men. Men whose actions guaranteed they would neither transcend their civilian selves nor be invited back to civilian life. But Hart’s interests hardly mattered in the long view. A man was about to die. And below him, waiting to receive him, were the murdered members of his community, thousands of his fellow Jews, forty percent of the total Jewish population of the Vinnitsa region. Their crime? They didn’t need one. They were Jews.7 Once when Kappy had noticed his young departmental boss examining the photo, he’d said, “The largest massacre took place just after Rosh-ha-Shana, September 22, 1941. The man at the center of the line with his arms crossed is Hermann Fegelein.” He rapped the poster with the old-fashioned hickory pointer he still used to indicate a place on a map or a word on the board—even poking a dozing student now and again. “The Ukrainian fascist pig on the left…” He then fell silent, perhaps considering something, and waved the thought away. “And the ubitsa, murderer—of course they are all ubitsy—” he paused, “is Jürgen Blend…” He looked into Hart’s eyes, adding, “Eva Braun’s lover.” Whether Kapailenko’s claim was fact or invention Hart didn’t know and didn’t pursue, but he was taken with Kapailenko’s tone when he added, whipping the pointer so violently it moaned in the air, “And it is my destiny to prove it.” The executions of Jews in the Soviet Union and Adolf Hitler’s wife’s private life were not Hart’s subjects. He was a language specialist and
THE BUTTERFLY ~ 33
Kappy was supposed to be one also, but the Ukrainian was forever sidetracked into chasing after fascists and their lovers, working with Simon Wiesenthal and his bunch of young zealots as they pursued Nazis from Berlin to Buenos Aires. Since Kapailenko was tenured, there was nothing Hart could do to keep the old Slav on a more respectable research track, so Hart avoided the man and subject whenever possible. Besides, it was best not to get Kappy going if one wanted to save an hour of one’s life. As far as Hart was concerned, there were plenty of historians to take up the subject of extermination, which, now in 1963, was emerging as a fad, just like there were plenty of women for feminism—more settling in of bad academic weather. What was next? Oh, yes, separate areas of study for Negroes and Indians. Who wouldn’t, in the end, have his own little niche? Even the Jews. Ugh. Well, Warren Hart tried not to criticize. Let the boys and girls play. He had little to write or say himself. One didn’t become a department Chair if one wanted time to accomplish anything else, for the details amounted to “a death of a thousand cuts,” as he liked to say to anyone likely to pity him or enjoy his torment. As for Kapailenko, he kept to himself, which was good, but it made him unpredictable when he found an audience. His talks to the faculty scholarly club over the years, each presentation a little more outlandish than the last, had become light opera. Yes, he was popular. Like light opera, he was a good draw, but popularity, like so many things relished outside of the academy, could only bring suspicion inside. In the end, the committee, steeped in its own hypocrisies, quit inviting him and began ignoring his attempts to invite himself. All of this was not unusual. Many postwar European academicians ended up this way. They were outsiders, after all, marked men (and very few women, mostly in the arts) whose training was suspect because their credentials were unknown and their early work lost and assumed destroyed. Their research topics were too often vague, difficult, heavily theoretical, and in languages almost no one spoke. Most of these people were stratospherically accomplished. They reeked of quality and
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seriousness. Even their presence, their cheerless, creased faces and tortured eyes—embodying a suffering most Americans knew only indirectly through picture magazines and wartime newsreels—challenged Americans to think of accomplishments best appreciated from a distance. Who were these dour people with unpronounceable names, thick and congested accents, jumbled syntax, and baffling lexicons? Protestant suspicions sparked as these dark, chalk-dusted, strict, and brilliant researchers and performers, imbued with orthodoxies Americans never even studied, drew the best students, grants, and appointments, at least until GI-bill Americans cobbled their own credentials. No one bothered to check very thoroughly into these foreigners, but just gathered them under the same umbrella of WASPish prejudice. The war had created a herd of them, desperate for appointments after stumbling out of Europe’s charred brick piles and internment camps. Almost all of them had been traumatized. Threats hovered in their presence, and some, especially the Jews, cast their eyes over their shoulders as if something terrible were approaching. Hart had heard awful stories when a few of them had been loosened up by someone’s office hooch. Finally, understanding American universities might take them but never fully accept them, these afflicted geniuses kept to each other, in time gathering small groups of protégés from the next generation who were empathetic, curious, and open-minded, among them the ironically-christened and perpetually disappointed Fortunatus. Given the growing rivalry with the Soviets, the government loved Russian speakers and threw a little grant money at institutions willing to use them. Translating and consulting provided many a harried and haunted Slav with a neat little sinecure his sunny, but slighter, American colleagues envied. But Hart had felt no envy for Kapailenko. Hart’s ambitions were just too different. And he felt no envy for Kappy’s young Carlyle, who struggled, Hart could see, to find some sort of ultimate retort that might refill and rebalance a universe now tragically vacant and skewed. Nervously and fussily, the young man had been arranging the cookies on his dish with one forefinger as if eating them were somehow not the point.
THE BUTTERFLY ~ 35
He furtively looked away, then back. He pressed into Hart’s space. “It is quite possible this was not a natural death.” Oh, good Christ, what now? Hart thought. Part of the scenario? This child was as paranoid as his mentor, who asserted to anyone who’d listen, and there were few, he was being dogged by Eastern Europeans whose mission was to destroy all evidence of Soviet atrocities in Ukraine or by Israelis who wanted their own slaughtered innocents avenged. Now poor Fortunatus was going to cook up some conspiracy to keep the old man’s research alive. Everyone had given up on the two of them. Why couldn’t Carlyle give up, too, and become the State Department translator he was destined to be? Thinking of Kappy’s rubbish heap of an office, Hart might advise the young man to do the cleanup coming quickest to hand. “Really? Isn’t this…” Hart found himself shaking his head. But Hart’s obvious disbelief only seemed to make the boy even more anxious. “Shady things have been happening. Some kind of selling in the memorabilia market. Queries about Dr. Kapailenko’s documents and artifacts. Telephone calls. People hanging around. Nice invitations for paid trips to Europe followed by pressure, even veiled threats to sell. A group he discovered with people in New York, Barcelona, Zurich, and Sao Paulo…” Carlyle counted off the cities on his fingers. “There is a drug, a nerve agent. Looks just like a heart attack.” Then, the coup de grace. “I’ve gotten calls, too, you know. One time…” Hart walked toward the coffee where others had gathered, hoping the younger man would drift from his wake. He had to get air. He wanted closure, or at least its promise. He did not want to get further entangled in Kapailenko’s craziness, which had vexed Hart’s professional life since the man had come to his department via Montreal, or some such arrangement. Until this morning’s service and its biography, he’d forgotten Kappy’s lineage and pedigree. He’d wanted to forget. “I need coffee, and you need someone interested in spy novels. What’s his name, Ian Fleming? He knows what to do with tales like this.” Carlyle frowned and set down his punch with a clatter.
36 ~ PAUL M. HEDEEN
Hart hated this peevishness—ample doses of it and other kinds of petty spite he’d endured every day of his professional life since becoming chair. Enough. But he had to be careful, for out of the corner of his eye, he noticed the blood rising to Carlyle’s cheeks. Now a little menacing, Carlyle pushed: “I’m not lying.” Incredibly, with a glare, he added, “You’ll find out. Look to your mail.” Dear God, Hart thought. Carlyle’s last phrase had a Shakespearean cut to it, like Iago’s “Look to your wife.” He poured his coffee, for the moment controlling his own temptation to return a more forceful poke. He spilled, burning his finger. Damn! It was all over for Mr. Carlyle, for Hart would see to it! He’d call a mover to pack up Kapailenko’s crap. He’d tell security to confiscate the keys. By God, he’d have the youngster exiled to the visitors’ parking lots, and then beyond campus to the streets of student saloons, juke joints, and used bookshops, which to Hart’s thinking occupied the outer rim of civilization. Then he noticed his Provost watching. A sly, sideways glance and small smile showed she was pleased, and her pleasure was… What was it? Hart scarcely had to think. It was the opposite of any photograph of the atrocious, of any Adolph and Eva, JÜrgen and Hermann, Dmytro and Fortunatus—it was life.
about the author Paul M. Hedeen is an award-winning professor and writer and a Fulbright scholar. His critical and creative writing has appeared in numerous magazines and journals including The North American Review, Confrontation, Rosebud, Philosophy and Literature, and many others. In addition to The Butterfly, Paul has the following writing credits: Under a Night Sky (poetry), Final Thursday Press, 2016; The Knowledge Tree (fiction), Sanbun, 2007, Wide Water, 2013; When I Think About Rain (poetry), Final Thursday Press, 2009; and Unrelenting Readers: The New Poet Critics (criticism, an anthology co-edited with D.G. Myers) Story Line Press, 2004. He lives in Monroe, Michigan.
When a young student discovers documents left behind by his deceased professor he is drawn into the dark aftermath of WWII, and the life of...
Published on Nov 11, 2018
When a young student discovers documents left behind by his deceased professor he is drawn into the dark aftermath of WWII, and the life of...