The Englishman - By Nina Lewis
I KNEW FROM STUDYING THE MAP that at some point after turning off I-95 I would catch a glimpse of it across a long bend of the river. So I was expecting this view, and after all, I have been here once before. But I have never seen it from the road, never from this angle, and it takes my breath away. The place looks like the film set for a pastiche of Dracula and Sleeping Beauty. Spine-chilling and romantic at the same time.
Ardrossan University, familiarly known as “The Folly,” is architecturally disadvantaged in that it cannot present itself to the world in the form of the stern elegance to which venerable academic institutions aspire. Its multi-colored brickwork sparkles and shimmers red, black, blue, and green in the glaring sun of the June afternoon, as if a giant baby had turned over its box of Lego bricks and built a castle. Its gables are over-long, its pinnacles and turrets and cornices too ornate, its arches too pointy, its glazed bricks too shiny—a hideously neo-gothic extravaganza of such silliness that it has its very own and unique grandeur.
This is where I am going to work.
But not yet. Today my destination lies due east of the campus, past the halls, the dormitories, the library, and the sprawling four-story building that houses the English department and where, come August, one little office will be mine. Today my cue is a big wooden board on the roadside, advertising Calderbrook Farm: Organic Fruit Orchard.
I turn left into a lane bordered with woods on the right and on the left, seemingly endless rows of dark green bushes, about chest-high, hung with bright green billiard balls. The farm at the end of the lane is unmistakably the one that Mr. Larsen, the Shaftsboro Realtor, described to me on the phone. Apart from several low-roofed steel barns, garages, and a canopied farm stand, there are two white clapboard farmhouses, connected by a sort of one-story conservatory. I am just pulling up next to the silver-metallic BMW convertible in front of the gate when my phone rings.
“Are we there yet?”
“Listen, Irene, I got here literally this second, and I’m late as it is! I’ll call you afterward.”
“You listen! Are you homesick yet? Are you regretting it yet? It’s not too late to come back home! We’ll slaughter a bottle of Moët & Chandon for the prodigal, um, friend!”
“Be quiet! Some friend you are. You’re supposed to support me in this, not undermine me!”
“I am totally your friend when I say that moving to the South is a huge mistake, Anna.” Her voice is serious now; she means every word she says.
Casting a hurried look at the dashboard clock, I sit back in my seat. “Look, we’ve been through this, like, twenty-seven times. An assistant professorship at Ardrossan University is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I can’t turn it down, and I don’t want to turn it down!”
“But it’s in the boonies!” she wails.
“Don’t be ridiculous. Shaftsboro is practically on the outskirts of D.C.”
An ambitious junior associate in the reputable Manhattan legal firm of Barton, Scherer and Nussbaum, she should be the first to urge me to go where my career takes me. But for Irene, a career worthy of the name can only happen north of the Mason-Dixon line. Virginia, to her, is the deepest South, beyond the pale of civilization.
“Look, I am moving down here, and I am late for my appointment with a tomato farmer who I hope will be my new landlord. I’ll talk to you when I’m done, okay?”
“Oh, says she who’s only ever lived in New York and London! You have no idea what you’re letting yourself in for! You should live somewhere where you feel at home!”
“Then just be glad I didn’t stay in London. Reenie, I gotta go. Further bulletins as events warrant.”
I leave the phone on the passenger seat, check my hair in the rearview mirror, and get out of the car. Wary of letting any free-roaming animals escape, I carefully latch the gate behind me, turn toward the main house, and freeze. Something that looks like the Hound of the Baskervilles comes tearing toward me, skids to a halt about two yards away, and challenges me at the top of its lungs.
“Dude! If I move here, we gotta work on our relationship!”
My words make no impression at all, but the sharp whistle from the direction of the house does. The shaggy black beast briefly weighs up the pros and cons of obedience