In university girls didn't take to Sydney immediately so he started using the pages he had written his stories on to roll cigarettes or for toilet paper. It didn't change the way girls acted towards him right away. But I would say that in the end it did. It definitely did.
He wanted to eat every day, but only once a day. Sometimes he didn't eat at all. He was busy smoking his stories. He spent all his money on tobacco and sometimes people bought him lunch. Lunch is the meal you need, he thought, if you plan to eat only once a day, because, obviously, it is strategically located. Though, of course, it's even better if it's a late lunch.
And what else does a person need, thought Sydney, exhaling, besides a late lunch, tobacco, and stories to smoke the tobacco in? Surely he had sounded the depths and found nothing more worthy to focus on?
Life is possible without love, he thought, shaking his burning words in defiance, though life is infinitely more complicated without tobacco.
For a while he went without a beard. If you had asked him a month ago about the reason, you would have been asking for trouble and tears. Now he could talk about it with some measure of calmness.
One day as he was walking on campus he attempted to light one of his stories, which he had rolled very poorly (as poorly, he thought, as the stories had been written!), and the flame went running up the paper and onto his beard. When he finally did make it to class that day, with his beard shaved away, the girls all started noticing him. I don't know if it was the absence of the beard, or the bravado of his new beardless attitude: now that the beard had disappeared, nothing seemed to matter. I suppose it was a bit of both.
It was snowing nearly every day, and Sydney found himself beardless. And not only that, but with very promising amorous prospects as well.
The day after he lost his beard a girl looked at him while he was settling into a seat in the back corner of the library.
That night the wind blew so hard outside of his window he thought it was going to break the glass and fill the room with snow. So he slept on the floor in the kitchen in his pants.
The next day when he sat down in his spot with the bad kids at the back of his English class, another girl looked at him and smiled outright.
If you always get food caught in your beard, then it becomes a reflex to wipe it away when someone smiles and points at a spot – you don't even think about it. But if you don’t have a beard?
'I don't have a beard,' he said. 'What could you possibly want?'
She looked away in confusion.
The next day it was the same thing.
So much recurring confusion.
Eventually, however, he grew accustomed to the attention and adapted. He started chatting to people he knew in public and giving shy high fives. He stopped reading more than just the covers of books, and started dancing. It’s not that he especially liked chatting or high fives or dancing or reading covers, but he thought he’d give it a try.
So he danced in clubs and in his kitchen after dark, and left the books in his back pocket for everyone else to see, and for himself to sit on, meaningfully, and sometimes to pass gas upon.
On most days he sat on 'Faust.'
Eventually, however, the dancing lost its gloss. He saw the leprosy of unreality on the face of everyone he met.
And that was just dreadful. He started to lose his marbles.
He wore his scarf at home because it was so cold. And that wasn't the same as the time he wore his jeans to bed just to see what it would be like. He had thought then – I wonder what it would be like to go to bed in my jeans. And so he did it. Though he didn't like it.
He did, however, enjoy the scarf. He enjoyed it thoroughly, though, as they say, it was done for necessity. It was really cold.
His socks all had holes in them, 'though I don't mind in the least. It lends me a Victorian dignity,' he said to himself, looking in the mirror.
It was around this time that he noticed he elbowed people in crowds. And if people were looking in the other direction he would make faces when they coughed. One time he was walking through the fruit section just looking and smelling, and a child cut him off, grazing him with the basket he was tugging behind. So Sydney gave in to a passionate rage and in his rage smacked the child, at which the child went flying into the avocadoes. Someone saw him do it and grabbed him by the jacket and a crowd gathered. So Sydney started to cry and got really mixed up and said it was an accident and that he had just wanted to scare him and he was a common thief and he had seen him here many times stealing fruit and he could no longer bear the thought of fruit being stolen and so he took justice into his own hands. ‘Why this is hell, nor am I out of it!’ He said, along with a lot of other things which I won't repeat because they might make you uncomfortable. The people became so uncomfortable and embarrassed they let him go and gave him a lot of free food. Which was a godsend actually, because he had very little money and was surviving on mustard and bread. And tobacco, of course. Though the stories had run dry. There was no more coal in the mine.
For a short period following this incident he was too afraid of punishment to act out and went into hibernation. In his cave he gnawed at his wounds in privacy, too ugly to attend on himself, yet unable to change his shape.
One night he broke down and bought a bottle of Gin and drank it straight. Though not before being rude to the cashier at the liquor store, whom he scathed by roughly grabbing the bottle after paying without saying thank you. His roommate kicked him out because he was bigger and teetotal. It was snowing outside and the flakes were coming down big and light.
'Look at the snow,' he said. And threw Sydney out in the cold.
Sydney walked around in the darkness and breathed deeply, it was very beautiful, and he ended up passing out somewhere along the way under a bush.
He seemed to have dropped his cigarettes there so the next day he went back to get them but couldn't find the bush. There were footprints leading up to nowhere, and no bush.
He recalled events from the night, standing looking in windows, the threats of people who noticed him peering inside, walking along in the wet snow making up poems that were very beautiful, reciting them aloud.
It occurred to him that if he could find the spot again not only would he be able to smoke but he would also be able to remember some of the poems and they'd win her over, whoever she was. But he never did. Which was a mystery to him. Where had he gone? And more importantly, where were his cigarettes?
When he went home his roommate threatened to break his rib bones if he ever got in his face about Gandhi again. He said he didn't like it because he could smell the alcohol on Sydney’s breath.
Sydney responded that the whole thing was a mystery to him, but that was why alcohol was in such demand, because it put a little bit of the mystery back into life which modern science had stolen; but he would respect his personal space nonetheless.
He said the thing about science because his roommate was a biology major and Sydney never missed a chance to remind him that science didn't scare him at all. His roommate’s nostrils flared, and Sydney walked slowly but surely towards his room. And he stayed there for quite a long time after moving all of his furniture and belongings in front of the door.
After a couple of days Sydney emerged from his room - recalled to life. There was snow on the ground, it was wet – it's always wet!, he thought, it’s always wet, and when it’s not – but there were no thoughts, only surges of emotion and an urge to act.
So Sydney walked over to the supermarket, having forgotten about the incident a few days before, to take a walk through the fruit section.
But when he got there he was unpleasantly shocked. There was someone really beautiful in the fruit section.
She was just walking around and not even looking at the fruit. What could she possibly need there!? She was just walking around in the fruit section. 'Move on!' He wanted to say. 'Get a move on out of the fruit section,' but he couldn't. And the real reason was the same reason for wanting her to leave in the first place – she was so beautiful. He knew it sounded stupid and not witty at all, but it was the truth, he thought. She was that beautiful.
He wondered to himself - could it be, could she be, waiting for me?
It seemed unlikely. He looked at her for a moment and felt not the least bit squeamish to imagine a big fruity kiss with dire consequences – at the kiss he felt the soul within him being sucked out and away. He shook his head and moved forward.
And then the store manager, who had asked him never to come back, walked by.
And saw him.
And started to walk over to him.
And she sensed that something was wrong and stopped just walking around and looked over at him. 'Move on,' He wanted to say again, 'get going,’ but it was too late. His shame would be witnessed again, no more hidden shame, he thought sadly, only shame on the outside, like an old jacket.
'What are you doing here?' In truth Sydney sympathized with the manager, and took no offence at being chased out. 'Go on, get out of here,’ the manager said, shooing him like a cat, ‘What do you want?'
The girl looked over at him and he walked out into the snow.
From the parking lot he walked to the street where he had been the night he got lost and slept under a bush. He walked up and down the street, back and forth, for maybe an hour or two. Though all the events seemed very random, though they seemed to be just one little insignificant thing after another he thought about them for an hour or two on that street and decided that they were all - can I say it? - very important pieces from a story already written.
From there he went back to the parking lot, with purpose, slightly hurried, it was already dark, and he tried to see in through the window to the fruit section. Was she there? Not as far as he could see. As it was dark and the snow was coming down he didn't mind. Until he turned around and saw her looking at him with the understanding of purpose.
'What are you doing in the parking lot?' he asked.
'What are you doing in the parking lot?' She asked back.
'That's a fair question but I happen to have an easy answer – they won't let me in so I have to stand out here.'
'They kicked me out too,' she said, 'so now we share something.'(It was so improbable! But that's what she said!)
And then she looked at him and smiled!
‘What is your name?’ Sydney asked, his expectation rising, ‘You do have a name I assume, right?’
‘Lucie,’ she replied. Sydney’s mind raced for a minute as he tried to understand how this affected his role.
‘Are you sure?’ He asked, though of course he felt silly for it. ‘I thought you looked more like a Helena. I know that’s silly.’ He said shaking his head at his own improbability.
‘And you?’ She asked. ‘What do you call yourself?’
Sydney wasn’t sure for a moment, silly as that is, and felt as if he had ceased to recognize the plot line in his own life, though he did not begin to despair at the moment.