All But Dissertation
The Word: CLIP
He sat on the sprung couch they’d found the summer before on 112th Street and clipped his nails over the floor. Maya could never convince him to do it over the wastebasket or in the toilet. You’re so bourgeois, he said, resting his big foot on his knee. Like your whole family in Sherman Oaks. The invisible ironic quotation marks. Sherman Oaks.
He did it defiantly. She didn’t believe only bourgeois people cut their nails over the wastebasket. Surely plumbers and bakers and machinists did too. People who worked in fast food. People who cleaned up in airports. Only a grad student of philosophy would think of it as liberation politics to cut his toenails and let the half moons fall onto the floor, those little sharp crescents gouging into her bare soles in the middle of the night.
She watched him, rain weeping down the dirty window behind him overlooking Broadway . The horns, honking out their impotency, echoed her mood. And tried to remember what she’d ever seen in him. His untrimmed beard. His glasses, taped in the middle. His habit of finishing the milk or the orange juice or the eggs and never telling her. As if food miraculously appeared in the refrigerator. His friends came over and drank whatever happened to be in the apartment, they seemed to believe in miracles as well.
She imagined Sartre. Would Sartre have done anything so disgusting as clip his nails over the floor and then accuse Simone of being bourgeois if she didn’t like it? She hoped he hadn’t. She knew it had been a problematic relationship. But she didn’t think it was of the toenail nature. Buried in the same grave. She hoped their relationship, hers and Phil’s would not last that long. Really, she hoped it wouldn’t last another year. She wished she had the energy to end it, but something about him sucked the life out of her. It made her tired just thinking about it.
How long could the rain keep up? She sat on the bed, wishing Phil would go do something so she could have the apartment to herself for a while. But ever since he finished coursework for his PhD, he never left the apartment anymore. He was supposed to be working on his dissertation. But mostly he wrote long e-mails to colleagues in Germany and France, and, she suspected, watched internet porn when she was working. She’d never heard the term ABD until she’d met him. She thought you went to grad school, wrote your dissertation, you published, you began the road to tenure.
That limbo, that academic mangrove swamp. All But Dissertation. Since coming to Columbia, she learned PhD candidates could be ABD for years, becalmed between studenthood and life.
She’d once thought she and Phil would marry. She imagined brilliant, German-inflected children, Grethe and Marta and Jan. Like the Royal Tennenbaums. They would go to a progressive New York pre-school, make sculptures in clay and march against the war. Phil would play the guitar for them and take them onto the roof and point out the stars and the George Washington Bridge.
Now she was just waiting. For the rain to stop. For Phil to go. Her friends said it must be working for her on some level, or she would leave. But they didn ‘t understand the strange torpor that came over her.
Clip. Clip. Could you kill someone over his nail clippings? Would it be exculpatory? Please Judge, he knew all about the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus but he never bought milk, and he clipped his nails over the floor.
She opened the window, startling two sheltering pigeons. The cacaphony of horns, the swish of the rain. It would end. It just had to.
© Janet Fitch 2010 all rights reserved
Part of a weekly series of short short stories based on a writing exercise, The Word. “Inspired by a simple word, chosen at random, write a two-page double-spaced story, using the Word at least once.”
Next week’s word is: CRAMP