Thomas Bloom was a professor. Business. He was not remarkable looking, talking, feeling, or thinking. The only remarkableness about Tom was an enormous lack of remarkableness.
Bored freshmen amused themselves by pretending this apparent unremarkability constituted a cover for a secret identity of intrigue. Only for amusement. Could they have entered his mind, they would have found Bloom incapable of imagining, living, or hiding an alter ego. His extant persona was quite sufficient.
Of an afternoon, Bloom enjoyed strolling the shady quad. Majestic sycamores. Prehistoric limestone structures. Gothic arches. Especially in May. Most of the university is packed off. There’s no schedule. It’s finally warm. The sycamores are dotted with bright green. Lovely to be strolling, contented with life because it holds moments like these. Boring but exquisite.
Bloom whistles; however, he only allows himself such entertainment when he’s sure nobody’s about. So here’s Dr. Bloom, alone on a pleasant May afternoon in the quad, whistling. No nervous grad students. No amorous couples. No loud musicians. Not even another boring professor. Bloom is alone. Whistling Bach.
And now, very near, someone is humming counterpoint. A sideways glance confirms Bloom’s shocked ears. Bloom halts all progress. His new companion is slight, dark, young, and clad in purple velvet with a lavender hat perched at a rakish angle. Beautiful. Very beautiful. Bloom stands rather agog before the stranger.
But he collects himself. After all, I’m a professor. Must never let surprise cloud features. Especially around impressionable youth. Just a student from History.
The stranger contemplates his surroundings with incredulous eyes. He wonders at his young, flawless hands. Studies the sycamores and the limestone. Surveys Bloom. Ordinary enough. Then, pelting out of the trees, comes a skate punk with bleached hair and silver nose studs.
“Where am I?”
The voice is soft, low. Bloom has difficulty placing it with its source. And the accent? Not quite British. Old, antique, so to speak.
“Pardon me, may I ask you where this happens to be?”
Come Bloom, be amiable.
“Are you lost?”
The stranger ponders this. It touches various parts of his visage as he studies Bloom, the sycamores and the structures. His eye catches on a public phone. The idea is supplanted.
“What is today’s date?”
Bloom doesn’t get to answer. A graduate student barges out of Computer Science. She stalks past Bloom, bowling over the stranger.
“Miss, you knocked over this poor boy!”
The computerette turned her head around snippishly. Didn’t stop walking. Slowed a bit. Behind schedule. Damned nervous graduate students.
“I walked around you, not on you. Boy.”
“Not me. Him.”
The girl’s eyes darted to the empty space beside Bloom, then back. She stopped walking, glared contemptuously at age and all the dementia that accompanies it.
“Harvey, I suppose?”
She flounced away before Bloom could respond. Honestly! What is the matter with these kids today? Drugs was my generation.
“My name is Oscar.”
“Oscar. Not Harvey. Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde.”
After considerable paternalistic effort from Bloom and considerable perplexed wonder from Oscar, it came out that Oscar was Oscar and Oscar knew nothing else of Oscar’s current predicament. Oscar Wilde he be. Where he is, what is the date, year, century Oscar does not know. Oscar distinctly remembers living past this moment of youthful purity. Remembers being betrayed, imprisoned, forgotten. And dying. Oscar remembers dying. Oscar is clearly disturbed by cell phones, nose rings, skate boards and, most of all, people who show not a glimmer of interest in him. He is Oscar.
“It’s no use sulking over memory loss.”
“I’ve lost nothing. Least of all my memories.”
“Fine. Just stop pouting, ok?
“O.K.? What kind of a word is that? And I never sulk.”
Bloom, being boring, has never been involved in an experience such as this. He is at a loss. It seems shrugging and sighing are his only capabilities. Oscar inquires if conversation is not a cultivated art in Bloom’s world. Which annoys Dr. Bloom. People keep staring at him, Bloom, queerly. Which rankles Dr. Bloom.
I’m not the one wearing purple velvet in May.
Bloom had an Elaine. Elaine considered Bloom the most boring human she’d ever met, likely the most boring human in existence. So she married him. Women prize predictability above all other qualities. Bloom was never late for dinner.
“Why don’t you come home with me tonight?”
This did not sit gently on Oscar’s brow. He seemed disinclined to go anywhere.
“We’ll work out this memory loss issue tomorrow.”
Oscar is beyond petulant now.
“Well, you can’t just stay here all night.”
This is exactly what Oscar had planned. Some part of his intellect told him not to leave this place. Maybe he could not. At any rate, he awoke here, here was the likely spot from which he’d leave this horrible dream. If, indeed, dream it was.
Why does nobody but this bore notice me? It’s a nightmare.
Bloom got up from the stairs of Computer Science, looked down on Oscar’s pathetic figure one last time, turned and resolutely walked home.
I wash my hands.
But hand washing or no, Bloom couldn’t wash Oscar from his mind. This apparition, confused child, or whatever Oscar might be was consuming this mind of Bloom’s. Poor Bloom. His mind had always been so devoid of consummation. Furthermore, the experience was altering his behavior. He was becoming unpredictable. He lied to Elaine. Lied. Never lied in his life. Never needed to. Yet. Elaine simply asked what was wrong. What was wrong about that? Why lie? But he did. He said, “Nothing,” and then said nothing.
What is going on?
Next morning, Bloom marched straight for the quad. Must get this Oscar thing resolved. But, upon arrival, close inspection, as close as whistle preparation, no Oscar. Splendid.
Well, that’s that. I wash my hands.
By lunch, Bloom had nearly done so.
After all, I tried. Did my best.
In lieu of lunch, he treated himself to ice cream.
“What are you eating?”
The voice seemed to materialize before the body.
Wonder if I’d been looking, would I have seen a disembodied grin? Gave Bloom the shivers.
“Where’d you come from?”
“I asked first.”
“Ice cream. Mint chocolate chip.”
“Iced cream. Mint and chocolate? Might have thought you were the plain cream type myself.”
“You have a sense of humor?”
“When I was alive, I was the funniest man alive.”
This odd relationship, Bloom and Oscar conversing amongst the sycamores, progressed with the summer. Always, when Bloom took his stroll, there was Oscar. Always, Bloom took his leave, leaving Oscar amongst the trees. Annoyingly, no other soul seemed to perceive Oscar. They perceived Bloom. Gave Bloom queer, hard stares, indeed. But only Bloom. Not Oscar. Thus, Bloom became interesting. Because of Oscar.
Interestingly, Bloom enjoyed these conversations. Being Bloom, Bloom hadn’t much opportunity to exercise his conversational skills. But he did, indeed, possess a latent kernel of talent in the reciprocal communication department. A talent Oscar possessed a reciprocal talent for eliciting. Bloom was addicted. Never before had he an addiction. Neither Oscar nor Bloom could explain this strange arrangement. Bloom, not having experience with strangeness, was at capacity just experiencing it. He was Bloom.
Oscar was Oscar. Oscar was from a world that did not allow nose rings or cell phones. Oscar dearly prized beauty and deemed this world of Bloom’s criminally lacking in it, deemed it devoid of color. Would not have chosen this strange experience if given the choice. He was Oscar.
Oscar allowed for Bloom’s bland hue; the lightest tint would have destroyed his essential Bloomness. There was something intrinsically beautiful in that. But that every man, woman and child — especially those lovely creatures of youth that normally populate a university — that all should be so colorless, indeed vulgar, this tormented Oscar. Beauty seemed dead. That he existed again, even this bare existence, obviously meant that he was to resurrect Beauty.
Oscar taught Professor Bloom Beauty.
Bloom, initially, did not see how lavender velvet and rakish hats were an improvement on nose rings. But he soon stopped seeing the outlandish in Oscar. He began to see Beauty. Beauty seemed especially to dwell within Oscar.
Bloom began to take offense at nose rings and cell phones. These were, before, part of his landscape. Like limestone. He could do nothing to effect their change. But as he began to see things through Oscar’s soul, he wanted to. Bloom craved Beauty, desired to alter those things not of Beauty. Bloom was becoming very interesting. UnBloom. Perhaps, even beautiful.
Thanks to Oscar.
The strangest things can happen, even to boring people, if they happen to happen with sufficient frequency of happeningness. So it happened to Bloom. He was late to dinner. He became adept at lying. He lived a secret identity. And one September morning he awoke consciously anticipating his afternoon with Oscar. He’d anticipated before, but today he allowed himself to know he anticipated. Oscar. Outlandish, beautiful Oscar. Bloom discovered that he craved Oscar.
Had Bloom ever before fallen in love? He had an Elaine. But what was an Elaine? Beauty? No. Not Beauty. Had there been, between them, anything that made him miss dinner, lie, or keep secrets? Anything irrational or free? Did he love Elaine? Needed her. Liked her. Appreciated her. Couldn’t get on without her. Loved her? Did his pulse quicken at the sight of her? He’d never noticed.
Is Oscar Love? Oscar is Beauty. But Love? Is Oscar Oscar? Yes, the sight, thought, touch of Oscar makes my heart beat faster. Makes me smile. Want to shout. And I never shout. But what is a person that nobody else sees, that lives among the sycamores, that only exists for my company? What is that but a figment of my imagination? And Bloom doesn’t have imagination. Oscar is the embodiment of Beauty. But is Oscar an embodiment? Am I creating Oscar?
Do I love Oscar?
Oscar quickly discovered that he needed Bloom. That he didn’t exist without Bloom. That a tree makes no sound when if falls without Bloom. But how did Oscar feel about Bloom?
“Oscar, tell me, is Beauty Love?”
Bloom studied the beautiful face. The dancing eyes that covered such intellect. The pouting lips that parted and imparted truth. The soft lips that defied all that is common to dare come near. Bloom studied the velvet, the hat perched with intent. For whom? Bloom?
Oscar watched being watched by Bloom. All the emotion that Bloom couldn’t hide even if it occurred to him to do so. Oscar knew that Bloom had fallen in love with Beauty. He now knew that Bloom equated Beauty with Oscar. Oscar didn’t know what to think of this.
“Are you. . . Oscar Wilde?”
“Tell me what you think.”
I think? I think and you are? I think you because I need you? I think, but do you think? I think I love you. And I don’t know what to think about thinking that.
“I think you are.”
“Would I be anyone else if I were not?”
“You would be you.”
A rose, by every other name.
“You meant to ask me something else, perhaps?”
Bloom meant to ask everything else. Inexperience robbed his lips. Poor Bloom. Even Beauty cannot bequeath strength.
“Let me ask you, are you really Thomas Bloom?”
“What do you do when I’m not here?”
Oscar needed to think. The proof! I don’t know what you’re thinking. You think, thusly, you are. With this thought Bloom was inspired. He knew. But in knowing he was unsure. Oscar was not his own creation and, thus, Oscar was his own. What did Oscar think of Bloom?
Am I beautiful?
“Could you love me?”
Bloom almost ran after such audacity. Never a reason before, he reasoned. So he repeated the question with Oscar’s eyes held in his own.
©Elizabeth Anker 2021