My colleagues saw me running gaunt and jaggedy. My public did not. No one saw me fixating on cell formations that microscopes could not detect. No one saw my hour-long eye exams. No one saw me run to mirrors to scrutinise eroding flesh.

I called Helen every night. She buoyed me and blitzed my fear for the moments that we spoke. I wrapped myself dark with Anne Sofie and the airplane woman. I rewrote her life.

She was a Jewish college professor. She was as religious as I was in her own faith. She was divorced and had a daughter in college. The daughter was a fine young woman in every regard. I had long talks with her. She indulged my long-yearned-for fatherhood and barely tolerated my pedagogy. The woman and I talked and made love. She tossed one leg over me, the way Anne Sofie did.

The real Joan was Jewish and a college professor. The real Joan and I had wanted a daughter. The real Joan bore a child without me finally. I swear that I unconsciously summoned her in curtain-dark bedrooms that spring. I swear that the summons was issued as an antidote to The Curse.

I couldn't sleep, I barely slept, I unstintingly did my job. Little noises became amplified – incremental volume jumps every day. I weaved through Charles de Gaulle Airport and caught a flight to Italy.

Spring in Roma – who gives a shit?