from Where Shall I Wander (2005)
That meant that these cocktails became more and more pointed at the situation of the masses—at Edie, at Mrs. Pogarski, at the space between her legs, at von Klunk. So the snowball got lost up ahead. It had succeeded in its mission, which was to put everybody out of doors for fifteen minutes. When they returned it was as though to a later act of the shabby costume drama in which all had become embedded like La Brea tar. There were new solutions wiggling to be applied and old ones which had been superseded though they lived on in the public consciousness like the memory of a beloved opera star and her tresses in a cell in the walls of an alveolate neo-gothic parlor. Fears that the snowball had reached extinction, or that it had been fatally sidetracked in the Coma Berenices of its own perverse self-projection through the dangerous daydreams of housewives, their hands at rest in the dishwater of a kitchen sink, or retirees and empty-nesters wishing to refinance the mortgage on their house or move to a smaller one or rent out part of it, proved premature. What piquantly captured the imagination of each, from competitor to consumer to straw boss to newly outsourced consultant, was how all- inclusive the bench warrant was. No beating about the bed of roses here! Edie had felt vaguely apprehensive since the afternoon a dark-hatted man had called while she was out. He had said something about testing the water, her maid Maria told her. There had never been a problem with the water before. Maybe it was part of some ruse to get into the house and rummage around in Carl’s papers. He hadn’t called or returned. Yet she was left with the fact that he had been there; that something or someone wanted part of her attention; that is to say, part of her. At five o’clock she mixed cocktails—for herself and Carl, should he show up—in the shaker old Mrs. Lavergne had left her. Bombay Sapphire martinis. Carl had fallen in love with them in Bangalore where he had been posted on an assignment. Somehow it was always a disappointment when they came out of the shaker colorless instead of blue. The sapphire color was in the bottle. She wondered if Carl had noticed this, or, more important, whether it bothered him. He had been so tight-lipped lately—though always the affectionate dear he had been on the day they first met at the Cayuga Country Club. Well, he’d had a lot on his mind. The refinancing hadn’t been going too well—at least that was her impression, since he hadn’t talked about it. When things went well he grew expansive, his tone avuncular. “Well, let’s see what the pixies left in the larder last night. Maybe some little cheesie-biskies?” The battlefront heat had been singeing everybody’s nerves. Maria, badly off, had complained of backache. The arcane arousing had taken place on schedule. Then the arraignment was ascendant. The executive expectation, expecting expression, expectorated artwork, i.e. visual arts. The work of art had not arrived. “Cut the mustard, curvaceous. This cutthroat-dance can’t continue forever. I was downtown, saw your image enthroned above the city, through the grille, dilatory; apes and aphids continued pouring into the place. Soon we’ll be looking at calmer quarters, a jar of moonshine reflecting the moon as in days gone by.” Those were my sentiments too. Alas, Edie, we are no longer ourselves. Something came by and cut me down in the night. I was sure you’d notice. But the next day and the day after that came and went, and after that it was uncertain whether the observatory octet had finished chiming beneath the liquid dome. We were all to blame. Collective guilt is the only sure bet. But now I want you weaving in and out of my letter to the editor, dated tomorrow. A Coromandel screen has patience only with itself, but a quaff of grappa sees into and pierces the region of near mists we know we know how to deal with. The snowball is a model for the soul because billions of souls are embedded in it, though none can dominate or even characterize it. In this the snowball is like the humblest soul that ever walked the earth. The rapacious, the raw, are its satellites. It wants you to believe its core is the outermost shell of the universe, which may or may not be true. Each of us has the choice of believing it, but we cannot believe in both things without becoming separated from our core of enigma, which soldiers on in good times and bad, protecting us alike from the consequences of inaction and misguided enthusiasm. The snowball would melt before it would release us from our vows. After a mostly painful few years in Moscow (Idaho!), we changed to Illinois. At first the cultural advantages of living in a large university town were a boon, after the isolation we’d experienced. But gradually harsher realities began to make themselves fely. A French film, an evening at the ballet or a concert (mostly sympjonic warhorses, like the 1812 Overture) every couple of months were hardly sufficient to keep reflections on what we were missing out on in the big city from showing through the threadbare drapes of our lives. The satin roof of our Colonial Revival house looked fine from the street, but when you were under it you felt crushed by the weight of the old twentieth century. The college radio station emitted a perpetual flood of oldies or post- Schoenbergian twangs. Even the book discussions (“round tables”) seemed mostly aimed at a “young adult” audience. Mind you, neither Stu nor I have anything against the younger generation—we’re not that far from it ourselves, kind of at the tail end of the baby-boom era. But so much serious attention brought to bear on subjects of doubtful consequence can get to you after a while. Many’s the time we’d stare at each other across the living room and wonder, “So what?” Then one day a remarkable change occurred. Some of us, quite a few, were fettered, many were not. The topiary Trojan horse stood outside the gate, not wanting to be let in. The free-lance were blue; the staff yellow. A stiff breeze was gathering itself in the west, indifferent to those who lay magnetized in its path or scurried to find some primitive shelter, a hollow log or overturned canoe. Jarvis and April, up to their necks in mimosa, could have cared less what intentions had etched themselves into the gigantic forehead that now loomed over all. A shrill fragrance, too aromatic for some, stood in the forward fields. I am benison, it sang; others may take heed or go back to their status as prisoners. But we, we all, are the stuff of legends, we urged. A quiet space for bathing, adorable beds that chase you into sleep, for dinner a dish of boiled puffin’s eggs. Be careful, you’ll disturb the pests, er, pets, April breathed. And if a few of them were released in time for tomorrow’s match? Go, suffer with them. The carnage, the pandemonium go at it, as is their custom. Downstairs an old servant lurks, indifferent to minute changes in the wallpaper pattern, our unique heritage. Today was nicer for a change. Marnie and Val are on their way to a trip through the New England states. In August, Merle stopped by “just to visit.” We went to the new fish place and it was good. In February the two boys took me to the figure skating championships in Cincinnati, which I try never to miss. A month later we scrambled along the Carolina coast hoping for signs of spring. They were few and far between, mostly redbuds in bloom. Not a particularly attractive flower but one is grateful for any little swatch of color at that time of year. In late April and May the season kind of bottomed out. Too much rain. Evidence of copulation everywhere. I’m sure I missed a lot of the usual flowers of the spring, destroyed by the eccentric weather. At such times staying home can be a real blessing. Summer was quiet except for the usual “transients.” Fran and Don stopped by on their way to the traditional games in the Scottish highlands. They are centuries old and an amazing sight, it seems. Each sent a card from Scotland. Mary and her little boy came by in August. We went to the fish place but I’m not sure if Lance (her boy) appreciated it. Children have such pronounced tastes and can be quite stubborn about it. In late September a high point was the autumn foliage which was magnificent this year. Casper took me and his wife’s two aunts on a “leaf-peeping” trip in Northern Vermont. We were near Canada but didn’t actually cross the border. You can get the same souvenir junk on this side for less money Max said. He is such a card. November. Grief over Nancy Smith. All in all this has been a fairly active and satisfying year, and I’m looking forward to the next one. Where it will take me I do not know. I just hang on and try to enjoy the ride. Snow brings winter memories. There is a warning somewhere in this but I do not know if it will be transmitted.