“Japanese maples, is that some kinda paradox,” she groaned to me, dumping her full dustpan out the kitchen window. “What do the Japanese want with maples when we’ve got them here like dirt and they’ve got, what, cherry blossoms like puzzles pieces spilled all over the floor.” Between hard stares and emphysemic coughs that shook her wiry hair, she said such things all the time. That was Gloria: she took the sun as a lozenge, a waft of smoke as the air, and her memories as a knotted string of rosary beads. —from The Visitor (a work-in-progress)
(Words and image © Chris Bronsk 2015.)
“The beams of the gingerbread house are licorice sticks, cemented with taffy, weatherboarded with gingerbread, and coated with caramel. Peppermint-stick chimneys sprout randomly from its chocolate roof and its windows are laced with meringue. Oh, what a house! and the best thing of all is the door.” —Robert Coover, from “The Gingerbread House” in Pricksongs & Descants.
“We can read about her life in the factory, learn about the work that’s done there, the processes that are carried out, the rules that are followed, and so on, but the fact that we receive each new detail greedily, always hungry for more, is proof of how little we really know. In that same way, I pored over Delia’s uniform when she lowered her sleeves: I wanted to find the detail, the accidental mark that, together with the clues I had received earlier, would allow me to reconstruct her shift. Clothes are particularly good for this, aren’t they? I’ve read many novels in which characters study the clothing of others to learn something about them, something their words don’t say and their actions don’t reveal. There are even novels in which someone is fooled by clothing, though they know it to be a prime form of trickery. This was not the case with Delia. Much is written about the accessory, but very little about the essential.” —Sergio Chejfec, from The Dark.
(Another photograph for my ongoing series, Visitors, of street photography on Boston’s mass transit. If you’re not familiar with Chejfec’s work, it’s definitely worth checking out. Here’s an excellent review of The Dark in Music & Literature. This interview with Chejfec in Guernica also nicely previews his concerns and dispositions.)
“The yellowish smoke that rose from the glowing coals and never entirely dispersed up the chimney mingled with the smell of carbolic pervading the whole house. I stood for hours at the window, studying the wonderful formation of icy mountain ranges two or three inches high formed above the crossbars by water running down the panes. Now and then solitary figures emerged from the snowy landscape outside. Wrapped in dark scarves and shawls, umbrellas open to keep off the flurry of snowflakes, they stumbled up the hill. I heard them knocking the snow off their boots down in the porch before they slowly climbed the stairs, escorted by the neighbor’s daughter who was now keeping house for the minister. With a certain hesitancy, and as if they had to bend underneath something, they stepped over the threshold and put whatever they had brought—a jar of pickled red cabbage, a can of corned beef, a bottle of rhubarb wine—down on the chest of drawers. Gwendolyn took no notice of these visitors, and the visitors themselves dared not look at her.” —W.G. Sebald, Austerlitz
“Another thing I enjoy is eating candy by myself while I read a book in the evening, but I don’t think that will make a good happy memory either. I like to play the piano, I like to look at the plants that come up in the yard beginning in March, I enjoy walking with my dog, and looking down into his face at his good eye and his bad eye, I like to see the sky in the late afternoon, especially in November, I like petting my cats, hearing their cries, and holding them. But I suspect that the memory of my pets will not be enough, either, even if I love them. There things that make me laugh, but often they are grim things, and they will not make a good happy memory either, unless I share them with someone else.” —Lydia Davis, from “Happy Memories”
(for “Visitors,” a new, ongoing series on Boston subway passengers)
“What pulls us together beyond need and desire? And when those fray, what holds us in place? Is it the memory of that first drawing in, the questions we asked of ourselves in the eyes and names of others?” —from “The Visitor”
(From Two by Two an ongoing series on couples.)
“The last they spoke was the morning she called for money. She said he’d left without paying his part of the last week’s rent on their summer room. They both knew this wasn’t true. Neither said so, but she confessed anyway the money was only a ruse to hear his voice. But that wasn’t true either. He knew when she said it was about money, and then not, that it was just about the call. About who would cut up the facts and spread them across the miles and weeks since the morning he left as night held in the places where he’d arrive.” —from “The Visitor”
(Words and image by © Chris Bronsk 2014.)
“Two events drew Kneeshaw’s attention away from the Green Child. One was the death of this father, together with the expanding trade of the mill—the mill absorbed more and more of his time and energy. The other event was less creditable. One summer day he discovered the kitchenmaid asleep in the barn where the hay was kept. She was lying on her back, her limbs open and abandoned. The sudden lust that swept over Kneeshaw met no resistance, and from that time onwards Kneeshaw’s natural desires were completely satisfied by this subordinate member of the household.”—Herbert Read, The Green Child
“Franco, my kind Italian upstairs neighbor, just came by and knocked on the door. Some of my mail had been delivered to his box by mistake. I asked him if he thought smoking with sex was different for men than for women. He said no, but he doesn’t speak perfect English. Then he confessed how much he hates smoking and wishes he could stop, like me. I smiled. But that’s easy, I told him. You can stop right here, right now. Just give me all the cigarettes you have left, and then you can forget about it. For some reason lost in translation, he thought I was joking and left me standing in the doorway, empty-handed.”—Linda Yablonsky, “Diary of a Nicotine Queen”
“And here was another place and another girl. Oh, how lonely she was, from away back in Minnesota. A good family too. Sure, honey. Tell my tired ears about your good family. They owned a lot of property, and then the depression came. Well, how sad, how tragic. And now you work down here in a Fifth Street dive, and your name is Evelyn, poor Evelyn, and the folks out here too, and you have the cutest sister, not like the tramps you meet down here, a swell girl and you ask me if I want to meet your sister.” —John Fante, Ask the Dust