The Affinity Charm



“I have this craving,” Bix said as he stood beside the bed stretching out his shoulders and spine, a nightly ritual before lying down. “Just to talk.”

Lizzie met his eyes over the dark curls of Gregory, their youngest, who was suckling at her breast. “Listening,” she murmured.

“It’s . . .” He took a long breath. “I don’t know. Hard.”

Lizzie sat up, and Bix saw that he’d alarmed her. Gregory, dislodged, squawked, “Mama! I can’t reach.” He had just turned three.

Edited Draft
Initial Draft

“We’ve got to wean this kid,” Bix muttered.

“No,” Gregory objected sharply, with a reproving glance at Bix. “I don’t want to.”

Lizzie succumbed to Gregory’s tugs and lay back down. Bix wondered if this last of their four children might, with his wife’s complicity, prolong his infancy into adulthood. He stretched out beside the two of them and peered anxiously into her eyes.

“What’s wrong, love?” Lizzie whispered.

“Nothing,” he lied, because the trouble was too pervasive, too amorphous to explain. He chased it with a truth: “I keep thinking about East Seventh Street. Those conversations.”

“Again,” she said softly.


“But why?”

Bix didn’t know why—especially since he’d only half-listened, back on East Seventh Street, as Lizzie and her friends called out to one another through a cumulus of pot smoke like disoriented hikers in a foggy valley: How is love different from lust? Does evil exist? Bix was halfway through his PhD by the time Lizzie moved in with him, and he’d already had those conversations in high school and his first couple of years at Penn. His present nostalgia was for what he’d felt overhearing Lizzie and her friends from his perch before his SPARCstation computer linked by a modem to the Viola World Wide Web: a secret, ecstatic knowledge that the world these undergrads were so busy defining, in 1992, would soon be obsolete.

Gregory nursed. Lizzie drowsed. “Can we?” Bix pressed. “Have a conversation like that?”

“Now?” She looked drained—was being drained before his eyes!

Bix knew she would rise at six to deal with the kids while he meditated and then began his calls to Asia. He felt a wave of desperation.

Whom could he talk with in that casual, wide-open, studenty way that people talked in college? Anyone working at Mandala would try, in some sense, to please him. Anyone not at Mandala would presume an agenda, possibly a test—a test whose reward…