it was called his “monthly visit” although he only showed up every three or four months.
it was another rainy afternoon, and cold.
celeste-maria served luncheon, which consisted of watercress and rhubarb sandwiches, and chamomile tea. these were favorites of mister lincoln, though not much to billy's taste, or celeste-maria’s either.
but it was a small price to pay for getting mr lincoln’s visit our of the way for another three or four months.
and after he left, they usually treated themselves to some triple chocolate brownies and ice cream.
billy is writing a novel, celeste-maria announced, when mr lincoln made no attempt to open the conversation.
is he now? mr lincoln murmured.
and then, perhaps thinking that politeness required a bit more, he added, what is it about?
a lot of things, said billy.
that sounds interesting, replied mr lincoln. perhaps it is about some things more than others, no?
it is partly about the compartmentalization and congealing of the zeitgeist, added billy.
that sounds fascinating, said mr lincoln. will it be a best seller?
probably not, sighed billy. mademoiselle thinks that the characters are not sympathetic enough.
but they can be, said celeste-maria, there is plenty of work to be done yet.
mr lincoln tok a sip of his chamomile tea. i fail to see the point, he said, of writing a novel if it is not to be a best seller.
it is something to do, said billy.
anything you do is something to do, is it not? asked mr lincoln.
i guess, billy replied.
i do not care too much for novels, said mr lincoln. in fact, i can only think of one novel i have ever read that i really enjoyed.
and what might that have been, celeste-maria asked politely.
the prairie, by james fenimore cooper.
i don’t recall ever reading it, celeste-maria replied.
well, enough of that, said mr lincoln. i actually have something important to discuss. and he reached into the briefcase that he always carried with him and that was sitting at his feet.
billy and celeste-maria glanced at each other. although mr lincoln always brought his briefcase, he almost never took anything out of it. nor did he often declare he had anything “important” to discuss, or indicate that he found anything important enough to discuss.
now mr lincoln took a single sheet of paper from the briefcase.
this is the response, he said to billy, that i have received to your application to the a————— school. they reject you absolutely and without qualification.
billy stared at mr lincoln. is there any place else i can apply, he asked.
we have been over this many times before. the a————— school was absolutely your last chance.
what is to become of me, asked billy.
that is a good question, replied mr lincoln. a very good question.
there is still hope, said celeste-maria. billy can write his novel, and make at least a few million that way.
to be sure, mr lincoln answered. and mr lincoln, who never laughed, laughed.