This excerpt has nothing to do with Ali but does consider the past, a little. From Professed:
We are still in Eden; the wall that shuts us out of the garden is our own ignorance and folly.
I have always liked to think that I am a careful person, that I pay attention to details, that I plan ahead for contingencies. But still I was shocked one afternoon when I swung through the department mail room and saw that the photographs of the dead professors were gone.
The dead professors: nearly a hundred years of them, eighty years of them at least, 8x10 black and white portraits of professors who had been members of our department; most of them male, of course, and fussy-looking, and prissy; some of them dull and tweedy, some with sparkles of intelligence flashing up from the past; some famous; most not. I had been in the department for about five years, and they had been gazing out at me the whole time; until they weren’t. The walls of the mailroom were aged to a dull brown pumpkiny sort of color, except for the pale yellow-white rectangles where the photos had been; an ill-looking checkerboard effect.
“What happened to the dead professors?” I asked. The only other person in the room was Drucilla Hastings, a colleague—a Modernist, a Joycean. I guess I was asking her.
“What? Oh.” Dru looked at the empty wall. “They took those old pictures down—I don’t know, a couple of weeks ago.”
And here I flattered myself that I paid attention to things. Perhaps I’ve been delusional all along.
“How long ago?” I asked.
“A couple of weeks? I don’t know.” Dru dropped a handful of flyers—memos, and advertisements for irrelevant lectures—into the recycling bin and plodded out, and I was left looking at the ugly, bare wall.
The Strategic Planning Committee was meeting in a high-ceilinged room off the department office, and since it was the first time I’d attended in a long time, I took a seat at the far end of the conference table, with the window behind me, and tried to be inconspicuous. Still, when the Assistant Chair, Ralph Moore, came in, I asked him about the dead professors.
“You’re the first one to ask!” he said. He seemed tickled by my question.
Ralph taught 20th Century American Lit surveys when he taught; teaching it poorly, I’d always heard; but he didn’t teach much since his appointment as Assistant Chair.
“So, tell me,” I said. “What happened to them?”
Ken Wytowski, a Victorian, a curly-headed little man going through a messy divorce, came in and sat at the table.
Ralph said, “Camille just asked about those old pictures we took down.”
Wytowski smiled at me. “You know, you’re the first person to ask about them.”
I didn’t say anything more. There was no point in being patronized by these fools. I arranged the materials I had brought to the meeting: a clipboard with the (very slight) agenda for the meeting clipped to it, a yellow legal pad, my iPhone. Bringing a cell phone to a meeting, having it out on the table in full view, might, I suppose, be considered very rude, but my boyfriend, Clayton, was in the hospital after a heart attack, he was getting stents placed in his heart, and I was expecting a text or an email from him when he emerged from the cath lab. I checked my email: no new messages.
I looked up at Wytowski and didn’t say anything, and blinked.
“Well,” Wytowski said. He wanted me to react; I didn’t. “Well, we took them down.”
I looked at my phone again; ignored him. I was trying to come up with a kind but efficient way to break things off with Clayton—to dump him, yes, to move on—but his heart attack was perhaps complicating things.
Ralph said, “We’re going to use the wall space to put up artwork by the children of department members.”
“And children of graduate students,” Wytowski said.
“It’ll give everyone a greater sense of community,” Ralph said.
“What?” I looked up from my phone, and spoke. “So—you’re saying there’s no community with the past?”
Wytowski smiled at me. He said, “You’re the first person to even notice they’re gone.”
But I didn’t notice very quickly; and I do try to pay attention; or thought I did.