The Philosopher's Apprentice

The Philosopher's Apprentice by James Morrow

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Authors: James Morrow
anti-Epicurean.”
    She set her hand atop mine, pressing down until I felt the bone beneath her flesh. “The Epicureans believed pleasure was a virtue, didn’t they?”
    â€œTrue enough,” I said, retrieving my hand.
    â€œYou won’t allow me to experiment with pain. Am I supposed to run screaming from pleasure, too?”
    â€œDepends on what you mean by pleasure. An Epicurean would be the first to argue that hedonism is both degrading and dangerous.”
    Londa blew a bubble that looked like a pink cantaloupe. She let it pop, returned the strands to her mouth, and smiled. “I’ve got the whole fucking weekend ahead of me. There’s no telling what I might do.”
    Â 
    ON SATURDAY MORNING I filled my backpack with trail mix and juice boxes, then hiked to Casa de los Huesos, where I found everyone assembled on the lawn for croquet—Donya, her tutors, plus a rangy Asian man and a ruddy, zaftig woman, whom Henry introduced as, respectively, Chen Lee, “a cook with Szechuan credentials,” and Rosita Corona, “a gardener with a green thumb on each hand.” Omar sat on his haunches just beyond the midfield stake, ready to referee. Donya offered me the blue-striped mallet—me, the washout at soccer, badminton, volleyball, kick the can, and every other athletic activity save tree climbing. I told her I’d rather watch.
    The game was barely ten minutes under way when I realized that the four adults were arranging for Donya to win. They deliberately missed wickets, allowed her to retake bobbled shots, and declined to roquet her ball even when that was the only rational tactic. I wondered how this pathetic charade was supposed to further her moral education. Did Henry and Brock really believe that a sham victory would help give Donya a superego?
    When at last the contest reached its predictable conclusion, Donya the winner and still champion, Henry shouldered his own backpack, bulging with luncheon delicacies secured in Tupperware containers, then announced that he and I were about to go rambling around the island in imitation of Robinson Crusoe.
    â€œI want to come, too!” Donya shouted.
    â€œSorry, cupcake,” Henry said.
    Storm clouds gathered above the child’s head. She screwed her features into a cameo of disgust and hurled her croquet mallet onto the grass. “You never let me do anything !”
    â€œGuess what, pumpkin?” Brock said, strolling nonchalantly up to Donya. “A special package came yesterday.”
    â€œWhat special package?” she demanded shrilly. “What was in it?”
    â€œ Indoor voice, Donya,” Brock admonished her, “ indoor voice.”
    â€œBut we’re outdoors. ”
    â€œLet’s say we go open that special package,” Brock suggested, stooping into a leapfrog position. Donya jumped onto his shoulders, swinging her legs around his neck. He rose, grasped her ankles, and started toward the villa. “I think it might be the bumper cars for our amusement park.”
    â€œGiddyap!” Donya cried. “Giddyap! Giddyap!”
    As I followed Henry across the croquet field, barely resisting the temptation to hook my instep under the wickets and loft them into the air, he informed me that in fact the narrative of Robinson Crusoe was much on his mind these days. He’d recently hit on a concept for a children’s show, Uncle Rumpus’s Magic Island, centered on a castaway who spends his days combing the beach for whatever flotsam and jetsam might help him to survive. Being part of a larger artifact, each piece of junk he finds proves perplexing—table leg, bicycle chain, umbrella frame, clock face—and so Rumpus enlists his young viewers in interpreting each treasure, thus presumably enhancing their powers of inference.
    â€œI think the Nickelodeon people will go ape,” he said. “I just need to show them a couple of spec scripts.”
    Breaching the

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