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The Hollow

Грэг Джексон (Greg Jackson)

Jonah Valente had been an object of amusement to Jack and his college classmates, and presumably he had gone on being one to other people ever since. An awkward, intense, muscle-bound young man, the sort you could imagine crashing through a wall accidentally, he had had the dim, muddled quality of students recruited to play football at the school, who either didn’t measure up academically or didn’t believe they did. Valente’s claim to fame, what had made him a figure on campus—one of that subset of maybe fifty classmates who, possessing some extravagance of character, defined the larger composite character by which the student body understood itself—came from his having abruptly quit football during sophomore year to take up painting, a passion he had developed apparently out of the blue and with a single-minded earnestness that embarrassed his more sophisticated classmates, who knew to disguise their sincerity. When Valente left the football team, changed his major, and began hanging out with a group of druggy slackers who loitered around the Visual Arts department like sun-drunk flies, the school paper ran a feature on his unusual transformation and he acquired the nickname Beaux Arts. This got shortened to B.A., and then Baa, Balente, Ballantino, the Baleen Whale, simply the Whale, and, by a different route altogether, Picasso. A year later, after spending the summer in Florence on a painting scholarship, Valente got kicked out of school. According to rumors at the time, his expulsion had to do with drugs, but Valente maintained among his friends that it was the school’s way of punishing him for quitting football. Jack had no basis for judgment. Nor did he really care. You knew very little about your classmates in the end, their real lives and disappointments and hopes, and what you did know was mostly hearsay, and often dubious and even somewhat fantastical.

In the indolent, halcyon days before graduation, Jack had thought about Valente exactly once. He had been lying completely stoned in a friend’s common room, gazing up at the crown moldings, when he realized that people called Valente “the Whale” not simply because of the association pattern in certain words but in reference to the story of Jonah. When this insight lit up within him, it seemed to glow for a minute with a profound and inarticulable meaning. Then he forgot it, and he probably would have forgotten Valente, too, if years later he hadn’t moved to the rural area where, according to their mutual friend Daniel, Valente lived at home with his mother. Jack’s house was in the next county over, half an hour away by car, but he was a newcomer and he didn’t know anyone else yet.