In Nine Avenues characters speak between the stories.The effect is like hearing the same story from another person.
“I read your letter slowly the first time; then I read it again. I have two more, still in their envelopes which I picked up at the last post office, with the contracts. On that afternoon I was late and frantic to leave, and the place was filled with slow pensioners. The mailbag was lost in the back room of the small post office.
When I read your letter, again, I believed I had neglected you. It was something I read into your tone. Perhaps I have made that error too often, over many years. It is my mistake. I know: that is something that silts up between people over time.
That feeling that I have neglected you is here with me on this plane. A little guilt can be good. By now I will admit that we only know each other now through mail. When I enter a post office I hope there is just one letter from you.
This is the first time in four or five weeks I have had the space to read. I realize why you sent me a letter. If you had called me on the phone, I would have balked. Distance is made greater in a letter; a speaking voice can never be deceptive, even when full of lies.”
“You left when you were very young. You said you’d never return; that there was nothing to bring you back, not even us, your family. Sorry. At the time I believed you weren’t doing the right thing. You had, you said, to get away, to see the world and discover something about yourself. I remember the day you left, two suitcases in your hands, going off into the unknown as far as any of us knew.
I’ve never traveled and in the years you’ve been away I can’t honestly remember if I’ve been further than the end of my garden. It’s not much. Forgive me. Too many threads have woven me into life here; from childhood up to now; and of course with Helen and Ben. I have all your photos and postcards. They’re all cataloged. I did it for the children, Ben especially; he brags to the other children in his class about his uncle. I hope he grows up like you. A part of me hopes he doesn’t.”
“Once their dialog was continuous. Overlapping. Crested. One after and over the other. But there now in the room. Immobile. Disappointed. Once they talked forever. Through the night. In another room. He hears the word love. Not at this time. It is distant. When she declared it. He can still hear the word. From the silence of another room. She remembers saying it. She meant it but did not understand. In the silence. In a hotel on the other side of the world. She hears the word love He declared it. She can still remember it. They cannot say it. Now it is impossible. From another time. In the sound. When their cries were mutual. At the time there was trust. That time is more difficult to remember. At that time they spoke differently. All the listening.”
“…waiting on a response, barely heard above the noise of coming and going, of other people talking, the sound of other people in other rooms, all of them are unknown, not friends; but the precise accusing voices speak on with bitter memories of youth, through time to the person who is there in the room, who has shaped the voices that arrive at once, as they speak again without hesitation,
You said you’d be here,
You said you’d be here, we said we’d come;
all of them, whether good or bad: nonetheless, the voices in unison, two of them at any one time, all the same, at all times, and without difference; like monks in an ancient cloister, their voices within the stone and only ever a dead hum, repeated one after the other; male and female, male or female; lonely and distraught chords are heard in the back of their throats: sometimes only female; not that it matters, still with the same edge to their tone: angry it is while their faces are calm; their faces are clear unlike stale surreal visions with assorted heads imposed, and their hair gleams and their eyes are gentle with glints of moonlit striking them; but from their mouths come steaming wet voices hot with the stench of a dead pond; and their names are known, from the past, the women from the past, bitter and hateful, neither wives, nor sisters neither, not with any relation to the person who has formed them, but their hair scented in pine as though from houses built in cedar and dressed in silks, they glide in the night’s eye serene but they speak with resentment, ”
“The surface of the pool rippled out of shape while his own voice spoke again: Is it always like this with you, this self-pity? Eliot did not respond this time. He had once said if he could forget the word wife, and then everything would be equal, And just as conveniently ignore that he loved one but not the other. Depending on who the subject is then change the words again. Changing everything just by reordering words was perverse but so was confusing honor with love. It is easy if all the terms, the definitions are made equal: one of them is my wife and the other is a friend. They’re women in different categories. Now the problem is entirely different. The piercing clarity did not convince him, he did not want to accept its counsel.”
“He walked to the gate; she pulled her trolley behind her, as his strides measured out an even distance, but it was her heels that sounded distinctly on the floor’s surface and with a dead evenness that Edward and Marion felt anxious, and glanced at each other with a weak smile, without energy, and as they progressed they observed the clearer sky and made cabin crew cheerful comments about and the pleasant flight ahead; but then the gates parted, 1-15 to the left: 16-30 to the right, and the time, the chance in the few hours stranded in the uncomfortable airport were finished, and as swiftly as they had met again; abruptly they said goodbye, with the uniform sameness of their work attire, navy blue and steel grey, and Marion offered her hand to Edward and for the second time that day he had no words, nothing, and silence was better than saying nothing but he clasped her hand while they both failed to find the boilerplate of words that are suitable at the end of an encounter: the form of words that business associates and former lovers can use, but nothing came and they clasped the others hand for too long until awkward sentences were uttered in broken spaces, in prefixed templates. And then the two people walked in separate directions: he to Gate 6 and she to Gate 22. Edward was still aware of Marion’s heels on the floor, while, to her, the sound of Edward had all but not existed, had disappeared, or merged with the sounds of other people into the ambience of the airport as a susurration of motion, ceaseless and on, the next step, the night falling and all the days to follow thereafter; until at a distance, the two people were silent, one from the other, departed and absorbed into the movement and stillness, murmur and peace, talking and silence, of the terminal.”
2 December 2013
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