Madame Bovary, C’est Moi

Fiction by Kristopher Jansma ’O6SOA

by Kristopher Jansma ’06SOA Published Summer 2014
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Photographs by A. OramaSaturday morning and we are racing down the steps to the 50th Street C/E train. We hustle through a half-lit corridor and come to the turnstiles. In one practiced motion, Susan tucks her book under her left arm, removes the MetroCard that marked her place on page 338, and swipes cleanly through. My own card is bent slightly along the magnetic strip and it must be swiped again, and swiped again, and as I frantically try to de-crease it, Susan tugs her navy-blue skirt down where it has ridden up and shouts that she can hear the train coming, and as the people behind me surge to my left and to my right, I swipe one more time and I pray to the MTA gods to please make it work, and then, miraculously — I am permitted through. We dash past dawdling children and dodge a guy playing a full steel drum, because the train is there and the doors are closing, but Susan lunges forward in her flip-flops and jams an elbow in between the closing panels, which protest and then thunk open again as we each squeak in just as the doors slam angrily shut and the whole thing begins to move.

The car is packed tight, but Susan expertly threads her way between the sweaty tourists and locals to an open seat. She wedges herself between an obese, snoring man and a little girl who is dribbling apple juice on herself. Everyone mutely adjusts their bags and hair and elbows to accommodate us. Susan opens her book and begins to read. She is precisely aware of her borders. Those around her must believe that she is yogic in her calm, but I can see exactly where her jaw is clenched. They think she wears navy skirts like this all the time, and the eye shadow, and the round, tortoiseshell glasses, but I know that these are all just for today. Just for show. She starts to skim the final fifty pages of her book, and I grab the bar and hold on tight.

We are late for book club. More accurately, she is late for book club. It is a girls-only book club, and so while she talks about Flaubert, and drinks wines specially selected from the Normandy region, and eats meltingly moldy cheeses, I will be in the next room with the husbands and boyfriends, pretending to understand the rules to darts, and drinking Bud Lights with limes, and feigning knowledge of the Yankees. I hover near the doorway most of the time so I can catch little snippets of the discussion from the kitchen. None of the other boys mind this exile. They have never read (nor could they be forced by bodily torture to endure) Madame Bovary, which I kept stealing from Susan at night and during her long phone calls with her mother and during trips to the bathroom. Which I finished four days ago and have been waiting to discuss. Susan does not want her opinion affected, or infected, by mine, until after book club (or preferably ever).

I am getting my earphones in and turning on some old Green Day when I notice a girl on the platform at 42nd Street. The doors open and tourists surge off as the girl squeezes on, inside, past me. An electric-yellow-and-black-checked dress. Brown hair split neatly into pigtails. Those leggings that everyone seems to be wearing now.

She grabs the bar directly ahead of me and pulls a book from her bag. Don DeLillo. White Noise. In hardcover, with those weird unevenly cut page edges, which I hate and Susan loves. Did she buy it used? From the Strand, maybe, or some random stoop sale. Unless maybe she had a literary parent, or older sibling. Unless maybe she stole it from the bookshelf of a friend, no, maybe a one-night stand — some guy with a bookshelf made out of wooden planks and cinderblocks. Or milk crates. Overgrown spider plants serving as bookends. Several John Irvings, that first Richard Ford, some picked-over Tom Wolfes. A very not-dead-yet, white-male-heavy bookshelf. Justifying, perhaps, the purloining of the book. Momentarily I wish that she could see my shelf — our shelf — with its intentionally diverse selections. Susan’s book-club classics balanced out by my NYRBs and Europa Editions. With a couple of African writers, and not just the obvious ones. She wouldn’t steal a book from that shelf is all I’m saying.

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