So densely constructed is the old, urban campus of the state university, so labyrinthine the interiors of the high-rise cinderblock buildings secreting A, B, C levels underground at the foot of Pitt Street South, it is hardly to be wondered that cell phone reception is poor to non-existent here; and so, on those cheerless Thursdays when I venture into the city, and descend underground to C-level of Building H (Humanities) to teach in a fluorescent-lit windowless classroom containing twenty- five careworn vinyl chairs arranged in a haphazard, asymmetrical, and unpredictable pattern, in effect I step off the grid, or rather I am expelled from the grid, or expunged from the grid, for several hours floating in a subaqueous element like a deep-sea diver dependent upon air supplied by an invisible source that though (surely) oxygen-deficient is yet breathable, life-sustainable. And though at the conclusion of the three-hour class, and before my office hours (C-level), I might make an effort to align my cell phone with the university’s WiFi, or better yet exit Building H, to sprint to a nearby park where my cell phone would spring into life like a reanimated heart, out of inertia I usually remain in Building H, only ascending to a café on A-level where I sit at a table facing a cinderblock wall gaily festooned with glossy reproductions of Parisian-café scenes by Toulouse-Lautrec, spreading papers out before me with the hope not to be interrupted before I am expected in my office two floors below. In the brightly lit café are students at long formica-topped tables, hunched over laptops, with intense eyes, furrowed foreheads; though I try not to stare at these near-immobile figures I am inclined to think that they rarely leave Building H, for each Thursday when I return I see them, or figures who closely resemble them, in the same positions at the long tables, hunched over their laptops; and though my title is Visiting Professor in the College of Arts and Sciences, with all that that implies of distinction (and transience), I find myself gravitating toward the same place also, to the café that is really not a café but (merely) a bright-fluorescent-lit stretch of windowless cinderblock corridor perversely festooned with Parisian scenes of a bygone era and outfitted with humming vending machines, overflowing trash containers, recycled air eking from narrow-pinched vents overhead. Occasionally in the Parisian café (as it is known in Building H, though it is not a café) other patrons seem to recognize me, for indeed it’s likely that they are “my” students, as I am “their” professor, but we greet one another cautiously, with awkward smiles, for it’s difficult to establish our relationship outside the classroom in which “our” class meets as if the four walls of the room were a kind of clothing, to hide nakedness; and so like a creature that has grown comfortable inside its underground burrow, even as its eyesight is weakening, even as its lungs are shrinking, even as its heart is beating ever more weakly, I return to the same table, the same chair, the same vending machines; pressing my fingertips against my forehead to forestall the onrushing cluster headache; staring at my watch to calculate how many minutes I can remain here, before I must descend to the windowless office assigned to me on C-level.
And here I am overcome by a sudden need to call my husband with whom I have not spoken in some time for we are separated, it seems, yet, from my perspective at least, I have no idea why. Love for the absent husband is constant as a heartbeat but like a heartbeat unnoticed, unremarked, unacknowledged, for only the aberrant defines itself; what is constant can be easily lost; and so I remove my cell phone from my canvas bag, eager to hear my husband’s voice, that is like no other voice; it’s bizarre to me, inexplicable, that out of pride perhaps (his or mine, I do not know) we have drifted apart, have failed to mend a misunderstanding or a rupture; but even as my shaky fingers are wielding the cell phone I’ve forgotten that the café is underground, and there is no cell phone reception here; when I try to call my husband the device rebukes me immediately—call failed.