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THE PROVINCE OF THE BEARDED FATHERS/ Perri Klass ON A BENCH IN THE SUN at the side of a playground in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Willow is tall, but heavyset, and her real name is Esther; she changed it way back in college and has felt silly about it almost ever since, but still secretly likes the sound. Janet is smaller and neater and has a Ph.D. Both of them eating ice cream sandwiches, licking grooves around the sides as the ice cream melts in the first real sun of summer, the first day actually uncomfortably hot. The nearest piece of playground equipment is the mouth of a tall twisting slide, an orange plastic tube which spirals down from the top of a wooden climbing structure. Periodically the slide shivers in the sunlight, then extrudes a child, down into the sand, to pick itself up and hurry away. Janet has a post-doc in the lab of someone so important that many people mistakenly assume he has already won a Nobel Prize; there is nothing which pleases him more than to hear this mistake made. Janet has just reported him to the university committee for sexual harassment, and wonders whether she has in one fell swoop ended her scientific career. She mentions this worry, yet again, to Willow, who is touchingly confident that someone as brilliant and talented as Janet will have no trouble at all finding a new lab to work in. But then Janet begins to think about what this would involve, the politics of switching, of explaining why she needs to switch, and the logistics, pure and simple, of interrupting everything she is doing and moving and starting something new. She looks almost desperately around the playground for something else to talk about, points out to Willow that two small boys, crouched in the shadow of the spiral slide, are trying to build an elephant trap. They have dug a large square pit and are roofing it over with twigs and grasses, which keep falling down into the hole. They have been friends since college, Willow and Janet. When the housing office first assigned them to be roommates, Janet was wary, wondering what they could possibly have been thought to have in common. Willow had so many friends, everyone on campus seemed to know her, and she knew, always, about every The Missouri Review ยท 47 party. Fortunately she and Janet did not actually have to share a single bedroom; they had a big room and a small one which opened off it, and Willow slept in the little one, often with one boy or another. She was friendly and free, tall and thin and graceful (so the name made more sense) with straight hair down almost all her long back to her waist. She was a Romance Languages major and a straight-? student. Janet, also a straight-? student (could the housing office possibly have foreseen this?), though in biochemistry, needed quiet to work, and made friends slowly and rarely. Her life was serious, her work was serious. But outside the bright and busy kingdom of her mind, outside her own ambitions and her organized lists of what she had to do, she could see Willow dancing, skipping from boy to boy like a square-dance figure. Willow was her entertainment, her diversion. More recently, Willow has been a problem; Janet tends to divide her life up into problems. The problem of Willow is that despite her magna cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa degree in Romance Languages, she has never figured out what to do next. She taught French in a private high school for two years, but wasn't much good at it; the students liked her but learned very little. Then she did this and that, and talked about going back to school for another degree, a Ph.D. in Spanish literature, or a Masters in Education, or maybe a law degree, but she never got beyond flipping through the catalogs. And instead of pursuing some advanced degree, she takes these silly adult education courses, flips through those catalogs too, and spends her money on evening seminars and weekend discussion groups. Right now she has one of...


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