Over the summer, despite the weight of war memories pressing down on him, Eran had held it together pretty well. He had nearly stumbled over that first vision in class, but saved himself. MRI and parent-mandated counseling aside, he hadn’t brought any consequences down on his head. He had just about gotten used to it.
Then his regular schedule started. Teaching, students, Stefan’s performance-heavy Versailles-to-Sudetenland seminar, and Stefan’s comments in their one-on-one. “Your ‘Domestic and Western Front Origins of Postwar British Pacifism’ paper should be a chapter in your dissertation…When will I see an outline?…How will you keep up with Mildred this year?” All while waiting to Bakula into the next body.
Every moment that he spent on campus, Eran expected Stefan or Mildred to Notice: What’s wrong with you? / You don’t look well. / Have you considered a leave of absence? Or a passing campus security officer: Excuse me, sir? / Can I call an escort for you? / I’ll walk you to Boynton. He would have been found out earlier if Kyle, his closest friend in the cohort, hadn’t gone AWOL and incommunicado, his Facebook and Twitter accounts dead. An ABD eighth-year Eran had never met was handling Kyle’s class. In their weekly meetings, Xiaoyu chortled to Mildred and the other TAs that Stefan had been hauled up before the DGS to explain himself. But even being low on the priority list, he still expected to be found out. His closing, lockable carrel had become his prime hangout.
There was one benefit. Stress led to apathy, which made drafting a shitty dissertation outline a breeze.
Chapter 1: Haig = butthead
Chapter 2: On the origin of buttheads
Chapter 3: How does a butthead function in polite military society?
Chapter 4: blah blah blah 1916
Chapter 5: Domestic and Western Front Origins of Postwar British Pacifism
Conclusion: he’s dead
Maybe not that shitty. And
Beyers and Kemp out, de la Rey: it had nothing to do with him but it felt bad bad bad. Cape Town had dissolved three days and hundreds of miles of ocean past, overwhelmed by desert or waves or somehow both. There would be nothing to go back to.
The thoughts poured over Eran in a rush. He had barely translated them when the next sensation hit. His host had joined the army instead of the navy for a simple reason: seasickness. A full pail was at his feet. Eran knew he had been dragging it around for two days, in case a deck rail wasn’t convenient when it needed to be. The ocean could have been wind-whipped or it could have been violently calm: he was keeping his head down either way. He missed the bicycle infantry days.
(Eran had always wished he had an eidetic memory. He needed a Google frenzy upon reentry. He tried reciting names and terms that floated through. Bicycle infantry? Beyers? But the brain he was in dragged his brain inexorably onward, as if Eran were pushing bootlessly against the left screen during one of those scrolling Mario levels.)
It wasn’t only sickness. Any moment he expected to hear that the scouting party had been lost. Probably killed. Disappeared into a German vortex.
Chatter. What? Eran felt him(self) ask, head still between his knees.
Someone – a gravel-voiced someone, whom the host disliked with an intense neurochemical bloom – took pity on him: All clear, they say. No enemy in sight.
It was Amiens all over again. 7500 miles away, the same damn thing.
Returned to his carrel, Eran scribbled for a good hour. Names. Dates. Questions. Google results. He scanned over his outline. Maybe not Haig? Maybe it was finding how these different wars – Western, Eastern, Balkan, Asian, African – fit together? A grand unifying theory, even if he were wrong?
Eran wrote: Yes.
September 18, 1914: Advance scouts of the Union of South Africa’s Force C landed at Lüderitz, in modern Namibia, and found that the Germans had withdrawn.