Yesterday I picked up a birch branch from the grassy border between the curb and the brick sidewalk on Brown Street. From the house behind me, eerie music deflated. Copper-green lichen grew on the branch. Amid the matted grass where the branch had lain, a grub writhed. Ants.
From the house behind me, a voice: "Professor. So good to see you." A former student of mine stepped down from the porch. Not unusual to encounter former students here, but this student—from a different place, so long ago. She said, as if resuming a conversation recently interrupted, "I still don't understand what happened to..." she said the name of her classmate who died. I winced. Years since I've heard it.
She asked, "What are you up to?" I told her, and added, "And on Sunday, I'm speaking on a panel at Necronomicon. About William Hope Hodgson." My student asked if I was an expert on Hodgson. I assured her,I was not. "Then what," she asked, "are you doing with that birch branch?"
Necronomicon, the Providence conference dedicated to H. P. Lovecraft, begins Aug. 17. Most events take place at the Providence Biltmore and the Omni Hotel. The panel I'm on is "William Hope Hodgson: An Appreciation" (at the Omni, Sunday, 1:30 - 3pm).
As for my former student’s question, about the birch branch, “What’s the connection?” I asked. “I’d say so,” she replied. Sometimes, when a conversation doesn’t quite mesh, I’ll just pretend it does. “Are you living here?” I asked. “Oh no,” she said. “I’m visiting. Come walk with me.” She took my arm—a familiar gesture I didn’t quite expect. Let’s see, I thought, when she was student, she was twenty, seven years since then…. “That’s me,” she said, as if we’d arrived at her car. But there was no car. Just a grassy slope down to a shaded garden. It was self-evident I should not follow.