Hannah – Bolero Magnets

Magnates, for instance, enjoy simple relationships.  A magnet is either attracted or repelled by the company of another.  In accordance with these feelings, they will either pull forcefully together or push in opposite directions as quickly as possible.  Magnates follow laws of electrical currents and elementary particles; no further interpretation is needed.

Superficially, this behavior resembles Bolero ballroom dance (in its most Spanish form).   Which explains why Ira and Lakshit were drawn together, but only initially.  The resemblance, as I said, is superficial.  In most ways people and magnates are dissimilar, as Ira and Lakshit demonstrated.

Lakshit studied physics at the University of Madras, where he learned (for he paid attention) that magnetism will only weaken when a combination of stray electromagnetic fields and heat destabilizes its alignment.  This is a slow process.  For example, a samarium-cobalt will withstand roughly 700 years of this strain before decreasing to half strength.  Lakshit remained faithful to Ira for seven months; during that time Lakshit and Ira were Bolero partners.  When Ira called from their sofa, “Lakshit! Who will you dance with tonight?” she ended her question with a sneeze.

“I’m not going tonight,” he replied.  “You are sick, so I am going to study.”

“You are sure? I don’t mind if you go.”

“That is something you and I do together.”

This was not the first lie that Ira told Lakshit; she did in fact mind if he went to dance without her.  She enjoyed those hours on the worn wood of the studio floor, when she faced the mirror over Lakshit’s shoulder and saw her hand rest on his waist just so and her heels snapped when she moved.  She felt she possessed him most powerfully, most femininely in those moments.

This was the first lie that Lakshit told Ira; he was in fact going to dance with another student in his physics department.  After they danced, Lakshit would follow her to an apartment and they would make love and talk about music and traveling to Spain someday to see the bulls.  When he left, Lakshit felt a pang of betrayal: Was it really so bad that Ira held so tightly to him when they were together, so that he must drag rather than glide with her on the worn wood of the studio floor?  And he felt a longing to revert: revert from his own reversion.  He turned at the door and announced to his new lover that this could never happen again.

But people do not follow laws of electrical currents and elementary particles, and if we betray X, for whom we betrayed Y, it does not necessarily follow that we have placated X.  The first inversion is irreparable.  It calls forth a chain reaction of further reversions, each of which takes us farther and farther away from the point of our original betrayal.

Milan Kundera – The Unbearable Lightness of Being

While people are fairly young and the musical composition of their lives is still in its opening bars, they can go about writing it together and exchange motifs, but if they meet when they are older, like Franze and Sabina, their musical compositions are more or less complete, and every motif, every object, every word means something different to each of them.  If I were to make a record of all Sabina and Franz’s conversations, I could compile a long lexicon of their misunderstandings.  Let us be content, instead, with a short dictionary.

WOMAN

Being a woman is a fate Sabina did not choose. What we have not chosen we cannot consider either our merit or our failure.  Sabina believed that she had to assume the correct attitude to her unchosen fate.  To rebel against being born a woman seemed as foolish to her as to take pride in it.

During one of their first times together, Franz announced to her, in an oddly emphatic way, “Sabina, you are a woman.” She could not understand why he accentuated the obvious with the solemnity of Columbus who had just sighted land. Not until later did she understand that the word “woman,” on which he had placed such uncommon emphasis, did not, in his eyes, signify one of the two human sexes; it represented a value. Not every woman was worthy of being called a woman.

But if Sabina was, in Franz’s eyes, a woman, then what was his wife, Marie-Claude? More than twenty years earlier, several months after Franz met Marie-Claude, she had threatened to take her life if he abandoned her. Franz was bewitched by the threat. He was not particularly fond of Marie-Claude, but he was very much taken with her love. He felt himself unworthy of so great a love, and felt he owed her a low bow.

He bowed so low that he married her. And even though Marie-Claude never recaptured the emotional intensity that accompanied her suicide threat, in his heart he kept its memory alive with the thought that he must never hurt her and always respect the woman in her. It is an interesting formulation. Not “respect Marie-Claude,” but “respect the woman in Marie-Claude.” But if Marie-Claude is herself a woman, then who is that other woman hiding in her, the one he must always respect? The Platonic ideal of a woman, perhaps?

When he was twelve, his mother had found herself alone, abandoned by Franz’s father. The boy suspected something serious had happened, but his mother muted the drama with mild, insipid words so as not to upset him. The day his father left, Franz and his mother went into town together, and as they left home Franz noticed that she was wearing a different shoe on each foot. He was in a quandary: he wanted to point out her mistake, but was afraid he would hurt her. So during the two hours they spent walking through the city together he kept his eyes fixed on her feet. It was then he had his first inkling of what it means to suffer.

Hannah – The Beast of Gevaudan

The sun made the circular gates gleam, he thought, like polished silver.  The platform wasn’t rotating; it wouldn’t budge until the first cows were loaded at five minutes to six, but he stopped to admire, as he did every morning, it’s sterile, gleaming precision. He found his milking parlor beautiful; sometimes he was moved to tears at the sight of a full twenty-three cow load rotating ‘round its ghost-quiet motor.  “Wilhelm Gevaudan is a 20th century man, and he runs a 20th century dairy farm.” Wilhelm had never actually heard that said about him or his work, but, entering his office, he imagined it was the kind of thing people thought.

He enjoyed running his farm, and contributing, in his way, to developments in farming equipment and agricultural science.  His rotating dairy parlor might be labelled an oddity by shorter-sighted farmers, but it made him a member of the scientific community.  That was meaningful, that was substantive.  He knew that his colleagues at the Dairy Science Conference found it (and him) a little unorthodox, but he believed that they were secretly pleased to have in him a rock of unwavering principle.

He was not an amateur, or like many of his neighbors who were farmers because their fathers had farmed, because they had been born to it.  Wilhelm’s nail beds tingled, as they tended to when he grew excited, and for a panicked moment he glanced at his desk calendar, made special note of the date.  Reassured, he sipped his morning chamomile and sifted through yesterday’s mail.

Was it wrong to feel pride for building as he had built? For starting as he had started, the proverbial stranger in a strange land?   He didn’t listen any longer to the rumors he would once have overheard: that there was something wrong with him designing his dairy farm the way he had designed it.  That locals speculated poor production volume.  He had long given up his last remnants of uncertainty, which at one time, like flies on a carcass, could be scattered by the slightest wind, and would buzz inside him, cause him to clench his fists, knuckles white and bulbous, against his head.  Something had calmed the swarm; he liked to think it was the smooth, circulating breeze, generated from the turning wheels of his milking parlor.  The flies never flared up now. No, he never thought of it at all.

Mary Gordon – Eleanor’s Music

How she loved her mother! Still perfectly beautiful at eighty-six. The only concession she’d made to her age was a pair of hearing aids. “My ears,” she called them. Everything her mother touched she touched carefully, and left a little smoother, a little finer for her touch. Everything about her mother reminded her of walking through a glade, from the chestnut rinse that tinted what would be bright white hair, to the shadings of her clothes. Each garment some variety of leaf tone: the light green of spring with an underhint of yellow, the dark of full summer, occasionally a detail of bright autumn — an orange scarf, a red enamel brooch. Wool in winter cotton in summer; never an artificial fiber next to her skin. What she didn’t understand, she often said, was a kind of laziness, which in the name of convenience in the end made more work and deprived one of the small but real joys. The smell of a warm iron against damp cloth, the comfort of something that was once alive against your body. She was a great believer in not removing yourself from the kind of labor she considered natural. She wouldn’t own a Cuisinart or have a credit card. She liked, she said, chopping vegetables, and when she paid for something, she wanted to feel, on the tips of her fingers, on the palms of her hands, the cost.

Some people might have considered these things crotchets or affectations, but Eleanor considered them an entirely admirable assertion of her mother’s individuality. As she considered her father’s refusal to step outside their Park Avenue apartment without a jacket and tie, regardless of the heat of the day or the informality of the occasion.

She knew that many people thought it odd, to say nothing of unhealthy, for her to be living with her parents at the age of fifty-one. “Health,” said her father, “is the new orthodoxy. The new criterion by which we are judged of the fold or outside it. In the old days, they just tested people by trying to drown them, and if they survived they were allowed back in the community. But that’s too good for the health nags.”

And of course there was Billy. People thought it was peculiar that she should choose to be such close friends with her ex-husband, as they thought it was peculiar that she lived with her parents. But she was proud of that as well; she considered the shape of her life not peculiar, but original; she lived as she liked; real courage, she believed, was doing what you believed in, however it appeared.

He had come to her, weeping, confessing that his problems in bed with her had nothing to do with her, or with him, for that matter: it was just the way he was; he had fallen in love with Paul, and realized for the first time the way he had always been, the way he had always been made, what he had been afraid of, had repressed, but could no longer. Because love had come his way.

“Love,” she had said, as if she’d just picked up, between two fingers, an iridescent, slightly putrefying thing. “And what do you call what we have for each other, devotion, loyalty, shared interests, shared valued, joy in each other’s company, what do you call that if not love?”

She didn’t say, “Don’t you know that I would die for you,” because although she meant it, she didn’t want to mean it, and certainly, she would never say it. It sounded too operatic. Opera was the center of both their lives, she as a singer, he as an accompanist, but she had no interest in living at the intense, excessive temperatures opera suggested.

T.R.Pearson – A Short History of a Small Place

He said Everet Little, the jailer’s boy, was riding the iron gate in and out of the yard and half the town was standing up snug against the fence watching her jig on the lawn and cut capers on the oak stump where the geraniums should have been.  She danced as tireless and light as a child all across the yard and up onto the stump and off again, and she brought the hem of the bedsheet up under her nose and played out what Daddy called the siege of Thebes, taking all of the voices herself and making the likes of a swordfight by beating together a hickory branch and a piece of a staub.  Folks were quiet, he said, and polite and they leaned up easy against the fence with their forearms through the palings and their faces drained of most every expression except for an unexcited and slightly critical strain of curiosity like they were seeing something they’d expected, maybe even paid for.

He said every so often she’d break off whatever she was in the middle of, be it swordplay or some puffed up oration on the agony of kingliness, and she’d work her arms up and down, quivering them in the air, and say, “Putrefaction, putrefaction, sniff it on the breeze, ripeness and death,” and Daddy said her voice was all shaky and inhuman.  It sounded ghostly, he said, and a little ominous too, so people obliged her by sniffing and snorting and got for their trouble the stink of the Dan River Paper Mill, which Daddy said was slightly more potent than a pile of carcasses.

Daddy said he didn’t imagine anybody sent after Sheriff Burton but that he had probably seen the crowd from his courthouse window and had come nosing in on his own.  He was a man who was fond of paraphernalia, Daddy said, and as he edged his way toward the gate he used his arms to clear out a berth for his pistol butt and the shaft of his nightstick.  He had a badge on his hat and a badge on his shirt pocket and a badge in a wallet on his left hip, and Daddy said he was dripping with bullets, festooned with them, he said.

Daddy said Sheriff Burton’s first official act was to tell Everet Little gates weren’t made to be swung on, and Daddy said that cowed Everet some and he stepped down onto the sidewalk where he made out to be enchanted with the workings of the latch. Miss Pettigrew was fresh off her stump, he said, and had just recently set out on a high-stepping tour of the front lawn which Daddy imagined was meant to serve as a kind of airy distraction from the ponderous and dismal goings on at Thebes. Sheriff Burton went after her, he said, chased her down along the side-yard, across the front of the house, up the walkway, and then back along the fence where Daddy said folks watched the two of them go by with the same sort of detached and curious expressions as before except for the hint of merriment, and he said the good money was on Miss Pettigrew who was pulling away from the sheriff with her bedsheet sailing and popping behind her.

Aside from being naturally soft and mealy, Daddy said Sheriff Burton was probably a little too much encumbered with the implements of law enforcement to have the chance of being nimble. He couldn’t take half a step without the leather creaking and the metal jangling, and when he tried to run, Daddy said he was extremely musical and put himself in some peril what with all of his free-swinging attachments threatening to beat him senseless. So he drew up short alongside of the fence, Daddy said, and took hold of his knees while he waited for Miss Pettigrew to sprint back around to him. This was an unpopular tactic with the crowd who considered it shameful enough for their sheriff to have been beaten in a footrace by a woman nearly twice his age and saw no call for him to become unsporting in defeat and humiliate himself further. So when he latched onto Miss Pettigrew’s arm as she tried to dash by him, Sheriff Burton had to suffer what Daddy called public ignominy.

Hannah – Bee Sting Cake

As Mrs. King understood it, Mrs. Herowitz had made a point to guard her recipe for Bee Sting Cake about as closely as the US Government monitored the Fort Knox Bullion Depository.  Three generations of Mrs. Herowitzes had maintained its serecy with what Mrs. King called residual Polish stoicism.  She said Herowitz Bee Sting Cake was by equal parts a quest and a mystery since the 4th of July Family Methodist Picnic of 1912 and had gone about seventy-three years of July 4ths since until the day Mrs. Herowitz marched a hatbox full of letters across East Main and up the post office ramp.  According to Mrs. King, Mr Peede said that Mrs. Herowitz had been in no mood for friendly discourse which under normal circumsntaces would not have been remarkable except that her eyes looked what Mrs. King said Mr. Peede called hellishly cold.  Local history has it that the Wasilla postal department had never before and has never since moved any correspondence with such nimble alacrity as that which Mrs. Herowitz’s icy presence inspired.  Upon her departure, Mrs. King King said that Mrs. Peede asked Mr. Peede behind the counter, “Is it over?” And Mr. Peede shot back at her. “Shit yes, it’s over.” And Mrs. King said Ashley Benson, who had just returned from his rounds and thereby happened to be handy enough to get appointed special courier took the hatbox and said, “She’s gone then?” in a most hopeful voice and Mrs. King said Mrs. Peede told him, “She’s gone alright.” And Ashley situated the hatbox full of Mrs. Herowitz’s letters into his mailbag humming “Blessed Redeemer” and flew out the post office in his mail car like a proverbial chariot of fire.

But Mrs. King said not even fiery chariots could outrun the telephone, and before the second letter had reached Mrs. Singer, who had played organ at the Family Methodist church even before it had been replaced after the unfortunate candle lighting incident of 1962, Mrs. Hapsburg had Mrs. Singer on the phone to tell her just what it was she was about to walk down her driveway for.  Consequently, Mrs. Singer was deprived the thrill of discovery as Mrs. Hapsburg read to her what turned out to be Mrs. Herowitz’s cake, own recipe for Bee Sting cake, ingredient by ingredient.  Mrs. Singer, in turn, did not bother to verify that her own recipe card matched Mrs. Hapsburg’s until she herself had made some calls.  And so, according to Mrs. King, Mrs. Singer and Mrs. Hapsburg together outpaced Ashley, successfully preventing him from putting any more letters in any mailboxes.  The remaining addressees–all, as it happened, lifelong members of the Wasilla Family Methodist church–intercepted him before he could get well off the sidewalk.

Speculation commenced almost immediately.  Once folks had filed the recipe in their card collections they moved to wondering what could possibly have prompted Mrs. Herowitz’s change of heart.  Mrs. King said she had never witnessed a piece of gastronomical literature open to such widespread interpretation. Irregularities amongst the handwritten recipe cards fell under what Mrsl King called public scrutiny.  Of note were Mrs. Ershwell’s and Mrs. Dannis’s cards, which uniquely specified “sifted flour,” Mrs. Singer and Mrs. Phillips cards, which did not specify if butter should be “room temperature” or not and, most significantly, pastor Julius’s wife, whose card forfeited mention of salt in presence or quantity altogether.  Mrs. King said that facts were facts, and she said folks were compelled to call the Bee Sting Cake debacle for what it was: the latest in Mrs. Herowitz’s counterintelligence campaign.

Hannah – The World of ‘If’

Once up, Wilder’s face was crotch-level to the man across the train car.  He didn’t like the view.  But train commutes were invariably faster for Wilder than walking.  And he couldn’t drive in the world of “Is.”  A baby cried.  Comfortable enough, he sipped his coffee and pretended, like the other commuters, not to notice the baby or it’s loudly shushing mother or Wilder’s own crotch.  His flaccid penis bulged under his slacks like a giant rubber dreidel, pushing past his knees and slumping towards the floor.

In Wilder’s fantasy world, that is, the world of “If” and not “Is”, jungles grew from skyscrapers and he had only to gather a vine in his hands to swing from building to building.  The only time of day was twilight, and the only kind of coffee was dark roast Colombian, and currency operated on a barter system of objects that only started with vowels.

‘Excuse me?’ said the woman with the baby. ‘Can I sit here?’

Wilder dragged his massive hand off the adjacent seat; is thumped onto the floor.  His thin shoulder torqued from the strain.

‘Thank you.’

He nodded.

Operating in the world of “If” simplified a lot of things for Wilder.  He had fewer evolutionary advantages in “Is”.  Only one, in fact, came to mind: his lips, of similar size and shape to a venus fly-trap.  They smacked so loudly when he ate; they had become a source of personal delight. Unfortunately, his tongue was far too large to fit behind them, which prevented other things like clear speech or whistling.

The woman’s baby continued to cry.  It had red hair and a red face. Besides that, it looked very much like Wilder; they were roughly the same size.  Wilder wondered if it was an ugly baby or a pretty baby.    Babies were born much larger in the world of “If,” but without eyes; those did not develop until later.  Other, more important senses developed first, and by the time eyes arrived there were of little use.  For this reason, there was almost no staring in “If”.  Or, if there were, and if they did, it was from heads as bulbous and domed and from eyes as vacant and blue as Wilder’s own.

The baby cooed at Wilder. The woman laughed.

‘Oh, now he’s in a good mood! Do you like the nice man, sweetheart? I’m sorry he is just so cranky in the morning.’

Wilder shrugged, which caused his chin to bump his navel.

‘Oh, but he likes you! Yes, you like the nice man, don’t you?’

The baby burped and it’s eyes flared wide, clear whites around cornflower blue.

Perhaps another traveller from “If”, Wilder considered, returning to his coffee.