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Response 2: I regret that the moon is moving farther and farther away from the earth.
Elihu Wingate attends a conference in the Bahamas but gets to see little more than the insides of overly air-conditioned meeting rooms. He manages to do a little shopping and brings his parents a new Virgin.
“She’s gorgeous,” his mother says, and gives him a kiss. “Go unpack. Then you can meet Lance.”
Elihu Wingate knows that Violet has remarried, and that her husband is named Lance. He goes out back. The only other man besides his father is a tall, V-shaped thirty-year-old tossing a Frisbee with Iris and Orchid. He can only come to the conclusion that this indeed is Lance.
Lance has a dazzling smile, a firm handshake. His hairline shows not even a hint of receding.
“Great to meet you, E,” he says. “Heard all about you from the kids.”
E. He has been called E. This, Elihu Wingate reflects, is what it’s like to be accepted by the cool kids. He’s not quite cool himself—even Lance couldn’t pull off that miracle—but he has now acquired an interesting veneer of coolness.
Lance helps Elihu’s father break ground for a vegetable garden. He helps Elihu’s mother weed the perennials and arrange cut flowers in vases. He bakes cookies with Iris and Orchid.
He takes Elihu Wingate to the gym. “I’m headed for the free weights, E. But those machines over there will give you a great workout. The overhead pulldowns will do wonders for your lats.”
Elihu Wingate goes instead to the cardio room, starts jogging on the treadmill.
Response 3: I regret not having a sense of irony.
Scylla has a new entry on her blog: “Psych Is Big Business.”
Did you know how many psychologists work for corporations? Yeah, they go to all the trouble of getting a Ph.D., you’d think they’d be out there trying to help people with their problems, but no, they study us, to find out what makes us buy Brand A instead of Brand B when we’re in the supermarket.
Elihu Wingate sends her a private e-mail. Helping people with their troubles is only one branch of psychology.
Yeah, and the least lucrative one, I bet, is her response.
Elihu Wingate shuts down his computer, gets into bed and tries to read the latest issue of Applied Cognitive Psychology. Something to soothe him, or bore him into sleepiness. The house is silent in a comforting way, not in the way of an empty building. The kids and his parents went to bed hours ago. Even his wife and Lance have quieted down. But Elihu Wingate’s thoughts keep him awake.
Elihu Wingate has been successful and he knows it. Not that he cares about status and money, he cares about tackling difficult questions, gaining hard-won insights. But lately, Elihu Wingate has wanted more. A masterwork of some kind, a project that would change the entire field. What Alfred Kinsey did with sex, Elihu Wingate wants to do with—what? He is unable to think of something so basic to human life and yet so difficult to pin down.
Elihu Wingate hears a sound, or thinks he does. He listens. Nothing. He’s about to turn off his lamp when he hears it again, almost like a footstep, but smaller somehow, and muffled. Now a few more, thud … thud … , but too irregular, too halting, to be the sound of someone walking. Faulty plumbing, perhaps.
Elihu Wingate’s door opens. Virgins are standing on the threshold. Now they’re coming in, not exactly walking, more like waddling and swaying—these are statues, after all—a small crowd, the ones he put in the attic, mostly, but he recognizes some from other places in the house.
One of them waddles forward and clears her throat in a high-pitched, reedy “ahem.”
“We, the Associated Virgins of MountainView Estates,” she begins, in a voice that sounds remarkably like Queen Elizabeth of England, “do hereby protest our exile to the attic.”
The other Virgins are jostling each other, edging closer to Elihu Wingate. “Yes,” they chime in. “Indeed.”
Another Virgin nudges the one who had been speaking. “We have a list of demands,” she says in a stage whisper.
“Yes. And we hereby demand the following: (1) An immediate end to our banishment and release from the ignominiousness of bubble wrap and cardboard. (2) The construction of a grotto in our honor. (3) Offerings made daily to a representative of our choosing. Said offerings shall consist of a small dish of fresh water, an offering of chocolate, and a small, unostentatious vase of fresh flowers.”
(“When in season,” another adds.)
“Yes,” the spokesvirgin says. “When in season.”
“All right,” Elihu Wingate says. “Those are reasonable requests.”
This seems to quiet the milling crowd.