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.    

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