(Editor's note: Long time readers may recall that from 2018 to 2021 I had written a fiction series called The Collapse, chronicling the experiences of an older man - Seneca - as the society around him started to dissolve in the not too distant future. The serial was written as a series of letters between the author, Seneca, and his friend, Lucilius (mirroring the design of Seneca's Letters From A Stoic). I made over 80 entries (located here) before stopping for no particularly good reason. With a new year comes many new things, including the reminder that - if for no other reason than the practice - I should pick up the story again.
As a short reminder, Seneca is now about a year following his initial sense of something going wrong (A Visitor) and about 9 months following the unraveling of the economy (No More Shopping). He is a retired widower living in the North of the United States (based on the climate). Beyond Lucilius his friend, other characters included Xerxes, a young man that has made himself a friend and helper, his girlfriend Statiera, and Statiera's mother. The story picks up just following Easter, where Seneca is keeping a promise to have a discussion with Statiera's mother about a Russian literary work.)
18 April 20XX +1
My Dear Lucilius:
It appears in fact that the Post Office was not just an illusion to my eye; young Xerxes informs me that in fact someone has taken up the space as to use as a central hub to the town for communications and as a meeting place.
It makes a certain sort of sense, of course: even with people like diligent Xerxes checking in on myself and others, there is not a common place for meetings (except for the store front we have used from time to time and is not really set up for anything other than group meetings) and the idea that we are “inviting people in” is still a bit too early in everyone’s mind, I suspect. Better to have a sort of neutral ground where nothing is revealed and people do not feel potentially threatened or exposed to others.
Who knows. It may be one of those fine young people with another wonderful idea to make something out of the wreck we seem to have constructed for ourselves.
Were you here, I suspect you take a sort of almost perverse pleasure in asking me about how things are progressing with Stateira’s mother. Turnabout is fair play, I suppose; after all, I bothered you all those years about your own dating life (to no avail, I might note; it appears civilization truly had to collapse in order to get you out)! I believe what I supposed to write here is “swimmingly”, as post-Easter we had our first “book club”. You might remember that she also had an interest in Dostoevsky, which happily coincided with one of the last large book purchases I made. We met to discuss his work Notes From Underground.
Frankly, I wish we had started with something else.
Notes From Underground is a psychological study by Dostoevsky of the bleaker side of human nature (I think – I really have no firm idea). The narrator – he is never named – is reflecting on his life as a minor bureaucrat in the service of the Tsar in 1840’s Russia. He is a mendacious individual: mean-spirited, angry, trying to delve into his character yet undercutting his own ruminations. The first half of the book is ruminations on his life and the nature of things; the second half – “On The Wetness of Snow” – relates an incident that had happened to him 20 years ago at a dinner, which – rather awkwardly given the circumstances of the meeting – involved him going to a brothel.
I can barely imagine discussing this with anyone, let alone with an attractive woman in her 40’s whom I have met a handful of times previous. And yes, I can hear you laughing from here.
She, apparently had read the book previously and as it turns out, was looking forward as much to my reaction and attempts to discuss the book as she was to the actual discussion. Apparently I filled both dance cards: my comments were rated as “insightful” and my attempted discussion on the nature of why a man might want to go to a brothel was rated as “humorous, and perhaps “slightly honest”.
We have agreed that our next session will be something from Tolstoy’s short stories, which are less...”controversial”… and perhaps more in line with a male/female discussion.
I hope. I am reviewing my Tolstoy short stories now to find one that I am sure meets the criteria.
Even now, Lucilius, life continues to surprise me. Which I count as a good thing.
Your Obedient Servant,