Tuesday, January 18, 2011

excerpt

bedside

The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields... a book I've been looking all over the apartment for...weeks now. Eric finally found it last night of course right in the middle of a crammed bookshelf. I read this passage to him, loosing all semblance of composure at the last few lines. Perhaps I needed a good cry, it had been a while.


Ottawa, April 6, 1955

My dear,

Time is short. Dr. Shortcilffe says it will be a matter of days, doesn't he? This is not, of course, what he tells me, but what I overheard him saying to you last night, whispering in the corridor, after I was moved to the General. My hearing has remained oddly acute. My mind, while less acute, is at ease about financial resources for you and for the children. The house, of course is secured - for I feel sure you would be reluctant to leave familiar surroundings, particularly your garden - and there are sufficient funds as you know for the children's education.

But you will want money for travel - why is it we have not traveled, you and I? - and for small luxuries, and it has occurred to me that you might wish to offer for sale my lady's-slipper collection. I am certain it will bring a good price. I suggest you contact Dr. Leonard Lemay of Boston University whose address is in my pocket diary. I expect
you will sigh as you read this suggestion, since I know well that Cypripedium is not a genus you admire, particularly the species reginade and acaule. You will remember how we quarreled - our only quarrel, as far as I can recall - over the repugnance you felt for the lady's-slipper's morphology, its long, gloomy (as you claimed) stem and pouch-shaped lip which you declared to be grotesque. I pointed out, not that I needed to, the lip's functional cunning, that an insect might enter therein easily but escape only with difficulty. Well, so our discussions have run over these many years, my pedagogical voice pressing heavily on all that was light and fanciful. I sigh, myself, setting these words down, mourning the waste of words that passed between us, and the thought of what we might have addressed had we been more forthright - did you ever feel this, my love, our marginal discourse and what it must have displaced?

The memory of our "lady's slippers" discussion has, of course, led me into wondering whether you perhaps viewed our marriage in a similar way, as a trap from which there was no easy exit. I have sometimes wondered whether is was the disparity of our ages that made the word seem foolish or else something stiff and shy in our natures that forbade its utterance. This I regret. I would like to think that our children will use the word extravagantly and moreover that they will be open to its forces...

Do you remember that day last October when I experienced my first terrible headache? I found you in the kitchen wearing one of those new and dreadful plastic aprons. You put your arms around me at once and reached up to smooth my temples. I loved you terribly at that moment. The crackling of your apron against my body seemed like an operatic response to the longings which even then I felt. It was like something whispering at us to hurry, to stop wasting time, and I would like to have danced with you through the back door, out into the garden, down the street, over the line of the horizon. Oh, my dear. I thought we would have more time.

Your loving
Barker

13 comments:

Laura said...

tears. must share with my lars.

Megan said...

How heart-wrenchingly beautiful. And what a wake up call...Lord.

Sara Lacey said...

oh my.

Monica said...

i love lady's slippers...

whitney said...

so beautiful, heart-wrenchingly.
i must get this book.

the nouveau romantics said...

sniffly.

I might need to go find a copy of that book. [also makes me want to curl up in an old armchair, storm raging outside, soft music on, reading on into the late night.]

suzanne said...

amazing book. xo

amy said...

I recently had a simliar experience at the end of The Delicacy and Strength of Lace--a small book of correspondence between Leslie Marmon Silko and James Wright.

fishwickdesign said...

Thank you so much for posting this.
What a beautiful passage.

I nearly started crying at my desk (at work) reading this last part too! It is a good reminder to be thankful for our spouses and not take them for granted.

-Stephanie

Janet said...

There is never enough time, is there? What a lovely passage.

Cookie and Kate said...

Magnificent.

Yen said...

I saw this while listening to Beyonce's Halo :)

tams said...

Oh, I love this book so much. Thanks for the reminder. I think enough time had passed that I can read it again.