In a perfectly wrought short story, the elements are integrated to create artistic unity: the writer has chosen nothing randomly. Place can say as much about character as how she looks, what he says.
There is a scene in the Merchant-Ivory film "Mr and Mrs Bridge," in which the title characters, played by Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward, express their love for one another in the vault of a bank. Mr. B, as played by beautiful blue-eyed Paul, is so conservative it seemed to me a brilliant choice on the part of author Evan S. Connell, from whose novel the script was adapted, and Ruth Prawar Jabala, who won an Oscar for best screenplay, to soften this uptight man in a safe place piled with money.
In fact, that sequence inspired a love scene in my novel Flashing Yellow, where a middle-aged couple come together in the storeroom of the hardware store where the woman works. Above them is a shelf of goods waiting to be returned to the manufacturer. The only soft place to lie down is a plastic-wrapped bolt of insulation material.
This time it's a temple, both real and imagined, and the couple is younger, perhaps thirty. Actually the temple is on the third floor and the kitchen on the main floor Across from the lotus pond, there is a porch where she sat with her laptop open, checking email. Maybe contemplating a single line message from a friend, So how's it going? Innocent as that. She doesn't know what to say. The Master she and her partner follow is away in Asia, and instead of following they are more or less leading, holding the place together until he comes back to the remote rocky land from which the building rises high enough to offer a view of the sea. Seldom many people here, the majority from the Master's own Asian country, but a few anglos, like these two, both tall, both dressed in black, him with loose pants that flare, her in a flowing skirt and draping shawl. Clothes that play with the air around them when they move, brushing it, whipping it, collecting the scents of herbs that grow wild among the yellowing grass, gathering burrs. He sounds the wooden clackers that begin the meditation session, she remains in the kitchen to cook the traditional post-meditation lunch, to which the handful of meditators descend when she rings the large bell. She dismisses the compliments on the meal she has prepared from whatever food has been donated, but his apparently humorous comment about her cooking skills sets her off. While the diminutive guests from across the great water chopstick into their mouths food she cooked and keep their eyes on their metal bowls on the long table in the dining room, the young couple meets in the kitchen, which is dark.
Lightning flashes in her big eyes when he reaches for her; he shrinks more deeply into his black clothes. Furious whispering precedes her skirt swinging exit. Chopsticks murmur against the bottom of the metal bowls.
The insistence of their young bodies, the stress of wanting to detach if they are to live the Zen ideal. Yet denial produces frustration which, in her, leads to anger, which is why she came here in the first place, to deal with that cloud that bursts from her instinctively, though she doesn't wish it to. Desire on top of desire, can she ever really free herself from it? He has shaved his head; he has become the Master's acolyte and learned the rituals. Something has to give. Is this the end, the beginning of a new phase?
Everyone awaits the Master's return.