Sunday, April 15, 2012

Mrs. Dalloway Revisited

The following story is my response to Michael Cunningham's own response to Virginia Woolf's novel Mrs. Dalloway:

“Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself,”   Richard most heartily proclaimed at the edge of the diving board, expectedly drunk.  “But, she has yet to return, the miserable whore!” as he careens backwards, nearly missing a bikini-clad nymphette, languorously lounging on a diaphanous silver pool float.  As 3 satyrs proceed to save him from the bottom of the pool, “Mrs. Dalloway” finally returns, irises in hand along with a bottle of Scotch most earnestly requested by her long-time love.
            The party is in full swing, women already topless, men lapsing into lasciviousness.  Mrs. Dalloway, otherwise known as Clarissa, hands the bottle to a gasping Richard, and proceeds to enter the doors leading to their villa.  She wafts in like a cool breeze and breathes a sigh of relief to escape the madness of Richard and his notorious parties.  She begins to chop, swiftly slicing some onions, as if they were her own tightly knotted apron strings.  Cooking is her escape, her creative outlet, the Tuscan air, her muse.  She merely needs to float through these days, like a lark wisping through the treetops, descending only when safety has been secured.
            Clarissa could block out the sounds of the party.  She had been doing this for years and is now quite good at it.  Her home, her haven, will not be penetrated, even by Richard for whom she had thrown away everything.  Clarissa thinks of Peter sometimes, vaguely, remembering only those moments when she felt safe and secure.  Peter was always the reliable one, someone everyone could count on for a helping hand, a small loan, or, if all else failed, a shoulder to cry on.  Sometimes she wished for that shoulder again, but Peter is seemingly thousands, if not millions, of miles away now, somewhere.  Clarissa never knew where Peter ended up—is he married with 2 or 3 children now with a wife who could only deserve him? 
             She opens the French doors to the North side of the house to feel the air and to catch the smell coming off the fields of basil and lavender just past the next hill.  How she prefers this to the smells of stale booze and rancid suntan oil on sweaty bodies.  Closing the doors to the South, she returns to her chopping and escapism.  Peter.  If she had only followed his lead, allowed him to direct her path in life, surrendered.  Right now, it sounds idyllic:  a life of never having to worry, a life of certainty.  But, what about freedom?  How would she feel to have that taken away?  Or the pleasure of being here, living in paradise, instead of the streets of Detroit and its smells of burning coal and solemn sewer drains, a few cabbages planted in the side yard?  Or being without Richard whom she loves beyond all else and more?  Richard has his quirkiness, his addictions, but Clarissa can be herself with him.  A full, complete self, not a self only present because of another.  The South doors open, and Richard enters the room, a bit of vomit snaking onto his cheek.  “Clarissa, where are you?  Come join us.  We saved the best float for you!”  He plants a messy kiss on her cheek and grabs her rump.  “Just have to finish the pork,” breathlessly subtracting herself from his grasp.  “I will come.”  What is this terror?  What is this ecstasy?  What is it that fills me with this extraordinary excitement?*   It is Richard, for there he is, in all his earth bound, revelatory glory. 

* From Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, Harcourt edition, pg. 194.    

Friday, April 13, 2012

The Esquiline Hill: A Short, Short Story

I know it is here somewhere.  Guido said to look just past Vittorio Emmanuele, the wedding cake monstrosity monument that will always be part of my unwished for first impression of Rome.  Well, I passed it five minutes ago, but still no sign of the Esquiline Hill.  I have passed many churches-most very Baroque, very Italian, but none living up to the grandiosity of Santa Maria Maggiore.  I’ve never actually seen it, just studied its non-memorable mosaics in Art History 101.  Alright, let’s get the map out again.  What intersection am I at anyway?  Come on, I am an American already, used to the simple grid system of streets.  Roman streets are on a grid yet not a logical grid—as illogical as anyone could imagine.  I start to notice the ground rising ahead of me—slightly.  Could this be the Hill?  I ascend gradually, flowing into the populace around me.  People are more numerous, livelier, somehow different.  Younger?  Possibly.
  I enter a group of young people, presumably college students, laughing and speaking the Italian language faster than ever before, hands moving in time with the torrent of words.  We begin our ascent up a steep and rugged set of stairs, single file like a line of soldiers marching towards someone else’s battle.  I drop backwards a pace as their younger thighs bring them closer to the top.  As I conquer the final step, a vast garden greets me, the sun warming my chilled hands as I stand amazed at the sight of my destination.   Santa Maria Maggiore is here, and so must Guido be.  A massive structure has appeared before my eyes, like magic. The sun almost avoiding its mere presence as it is draped in shadows. 

My anticipation blends with a sense of anxiety as I scan the crowd for his face. I do remember him.  In fact, I’ve been thinking of him for days—his white T-shirt, most likely carefully ironed by his devoted mama, his black hair, carefully coiffed like a neat cloud within the atmospheric vapors of Acqua di Gio cologne.  A slightly mysterious man, for an Italian, he roped me right in with his knowledge of America, his ease with the English language, and his empathy for my tourist identity within such a vast city.  The gardens carry me to what appears to be the apse end of the church.  People around me are taking in the warmth from sun, enjoying a Roman early spring. The cool air being infused with a burning heat, a premonition of what is to come as the weeks progress towards summer. 
I reluctantly pass the sun-drenched spectators to become enveloped in shade and taken over by the underlying cold of the air coming out of the church doors.  I see a man standing deep in the shadows of one of the archways.  I do not recognize him.  Since there is no one else around to identify as my beloved Guido, I take a seat on the stone bench next to the doors.  The man slowly moves towards me, studying my features.  He asks, “Scusi, are you named Sonya?”  Why yes I am?”, I say hesitantly, wondering suddenly about Guido’s absence.  “Hello, very nice to meet you, my name is Reno.  I am a friend of Guido.  He wanted me to apologize.  His wife is home and so he could not come.”  I freeze.  “His wife?”, I reply, both shocked and befuddled.  “Oh, you did not know?  I am here to take you for some pasta.  I promised Guido I would.  Come.  Let’s get out of this cold place and feel the sun.”  He pauses.  “By the way, I am not married.”  He smiles, teeth as white as his t-shirt, and offers me his arm, as we descend the sunny side of Esquiline Hill.  We take each step down, legs extending in unison, with a rhythm only a conductor could fully appreciate.  We reach the base of the hill, meeting as two separate people with an as yet unknown bond uniting us.   

It all began with a kiss.  Seemingly out of nowhere, Guido descended into my life like a grenade, willfully deposited right next to me, to go off some time in the future.  He must have been watching me for a while.  Everyday, my route was the same:  take my cappuccino from the neighborhood café into the park next door.  I would bring my journal with me for the slim chance I may be inspired to write something.  One random day without any significance, he sat down next to me and talked.  I felt like I had met him before and had known him for many years.  The things we spoke of on that bench could not have been spontaneous or unplanned.  He had to have a motive somewhere in those words.  How he knew me so well, I’m not sure.  The fact that he knew so much never crossed my mind.  When he kissed me, I felt myself coming undone, a part of me unzipping from myself to merge with a part of him.  Seeing this as some kind of loss was not an option.  It was only a gain in my mind, my very precious souvenir of my short sojourn in Italy. 
When he brought me back to his apartment, caution was not on the agenda.  My brain was shut off by passion, the only thought I had was feeling his skin against mine, those lips entering me to touch my innermost reaches. Like a modern day Goldilocks, I would not notice the two sets of shoes, the woman’s trench coat strewn over the back of the chair, the carefully tended house with a woman’s touch.  The bed was much too comfortable, but all the more for my pleasure.  My back touched those crisply ironed sheets, my hair touching the same blankets that she nestled within that very morning before leaving on business. The robe he gave me after my shower fit my own form just right, but never did I question this.  I only thought how perfect this moment was and how perfect he was for me, with me.

Monday, April 2, 2012

I'm Still Here

Funny, but I have been so incredibly busy lately that I haven't thought of my blog in a long, long time.  Just wanted to let you know I am still here:  trudging through the final weeks of grad school, still trying to write in between seemingly insurmountable reading assignments.  I have actually started writing some fiction, and I hope to continue to get deeper into some of the stories I have started recently.  I have 3 1/2 weeks left of coursework, but I hope to return soon to bring out some of my writing and some of the things that have inspired me these days.   

Until then, here is a quote by Virginia Woolf that has got me thinking as of late, and amazingly reflects my own life:

"I have no time to describe my plans.  I should say a good deal about The Hours, and my discovery; how I dig out beautiful caves behind my characters; I think that gives exactly what I want; humanity, humour, depth. The idea is that the caves shall connect, & each comes to daylight at the present moment.” 

I have carved out a little niche for myself here at home, my own cave, a room of my own, and I am anxious to get all those words down on paper.  The novel The Hours by Michael Cunningham inspires me to try my hand at fiction and perhaps a novel, someday.  Here is one of my favorite passages:

"Venture too far for love, she tells herself, and you renounce citzenship in the country you've made for yourself. You end up just sailing from port to port. Still, there is this sense of missed opportunity. Maybe there is nothing, ever, that can equal the recollection of having been young together. Maybe it's as simple as that. Richard was the person Clarissa loved at her most optimistic moment...It had seemed like the beginning of happiness, and Clarissa is still sometimes shocked, more than thirty years later, to realize that it was happiness; that the entire experience lay in a kiss and a walk, the anticipation of dinner and a book...What lives undimmed in Clarissa's mind more than three decades later is a kiss at dusk on a patch of dead grass, and a walk around a pond as mosquitoes droned in the darkening air. There is still that singular perfection, and it's perfect in part because it seemed, at the time, so clearly to promise more. Now she knows: That was the moment, right then. There has been no other." The Hours, Michael Cunningham