Lexis walked across campus to deliver Jake’s completed application to the registrar. A doctor had found nothing physically wrong, and Lexis had promised to do what she could to end his seizures. She promised this knowing she could only help him if she betrayed a deeper trust. However, it was enough for Jake to settle down and finish the application. His essay was good, even though to get him to sit down and do it, she also had to promise that when the semester began, if he wasn’t ready, she’d do all she could to delay his entrance until the beginning of 2002. He was a shoo-in to the Comp Lit department, so she had him concentrate on his research on the more competitive Computer Science department. His argument, for what the Brown Computer Science Department could give him that other comparables like M.I.T. could not, at least could convince her. She didn’t understand all the subtleties between hacker-program development and structured-program elegance, but she knew a good paper and she was proud.
The Admissions Office was housed in one of the oldest buildings on campus. A brass plaque, attached to the weathered and uneven bricks, marked it as the oldest campus building that had once served as a barracks for American troops during the Revolution. Lexis’ mind wandered to memory of an article she had read, in research for her book on Salem, on Rhode Island pre- and post-revolution as a center of occult activity, and she wondered how many of the boys barracked in this building’s mothers had escaped Massachusetts’s witch hunts to the greater religious freedom Rhode Island offered.
The doorways of the 18th century building were low and narrow in the central hall, and the floor angled down towards the receptionist — already a good buddy, involved in the initial negotiations of Jake’s tuition-free offer — who smiled at Lexis, phone tucked beneath her chin, and whispered Lexis could hand her the envelope and she’d take care of it.
Lexis hesitated. She wanted to say how good the essay was. She had this fear that Rachel, her boss — like when that same Rachel had tried to influence Lexis’ high school counselor to block Lexis’ admission to Stanford — would interfere. She wanted to ask the receptionist if Rachel had stuck her nose in.
The woman covered the phone, “I’m sure it’s fine. Don’t worry. I’ll let you know as soon as I hear.”
Lexis handed her the envelope. With campus politics what they were, Admissions wouldn’t embarrass her by not accepting Jake. Besides, Lexis knew Jake would excel. He always had. Nonetheless being a beneficiary of the kind of privilege her faculty status gave her, didn’t sit easily with Lexis, who had militantly opposed undeserved advantage her entire life.
She had turned in the essay. She could do no more. She cleared her mind and headed for her office on the other side of campus.
Lexis walked laterally across College Hill, which reminded her that occultists believed that Providence was a spiritual nexus in Planet Earth. Gaea’s body had chakras, as did a human body, and where those chakras formed were places of spiritual significance in human development. Among them: Benares, Nara, and Providence.
Some believed this was why Providence had the very first Baptist and Unitarian churches, and why it was home for the first US gathering of Vedantists and for a flagship center of the Transcendental Meditation program.
The mansions bordering the university were first decade nineteenth century, when Napoleon was an idol of the Romantics and the genteel of Providence advocated antislavery as they simultaneously derived their wealth from the South’s patronage. Modern Providence was below, at the base of College Hill, with some charms of architecture and culture, but even so, a workaday city of commuters and commerce. Brown sat above, mid the cobblestone and gaslights of an earlier day when one of the perks of privilege were to be the shining part of the city atop the hill.
She reached the 1880s Gothic revival that housed Egyptology and her office. Its darker red bricks and a steeply pitched roof distinguished it from the surrounding Georgian and Federal facades. She entered into the central foyer that displayed miniature replicas and artifacts from Brown digs, complete with tiny tombs, pyramids, and a little Indiana Jones in 1920s dress.
Egyptology lost half its faculty with a shift from hands-on archaeology to cryptology — the focus on hieroglyphics — some time in the sixties. This staff reduction enabled Lexis to be graced with a corner suite angled between two floor-to-rafter windows. The walls were lined with oak and glass cases, and the room’s centerpiece was an exact scaled model of the Ptolemy’s palace at Alexandria. The aura of ancient and ineffable mysteries was palpable and supported a belief in her work. To her, her office had the sanctity of a temple, and she was sensitive to anything out of place. So when she entered the office, she sensed something unholy, only to discover the box on her desk.
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