45-کتاب صوتی Which Is More Than I Can Say About Some People – Part 1 دوره پیشرفته
Which Is More Than I Can Say About Some People
written by Lorrie Moore – narrated by Natasha Soudek
It was a fear greater than death, according to the magazines. Death was number four. After mutilation, three, and divorce, two. Number one, the real fear, the one death could not even approach, was public speaking. Abby Mallon knew this too well. Which is why she had liked her job at American Scholastic Tests: she got to work with words in a private way. The speech she made was done in the back, alone, like little shoes cobbled by an elf: spider is to web as weaver is to blank. That one was hers. She was proud of that.
Also, blank is to heartache as forest is to bench.
But then one day the supervisor and the AST district coordinator called her upstairs. She was good, they said, but perhaps she had become too good, too creative, they suggested, and gave her a promotion out of the composing room and into the high school auditoriums of America. She would have to travel and give speeches, tell high school faculty how to prepare students for the entrance exams, meet separately with the juniors and seniors and answer their questions unswervingly, with authority and grace. “You may have a vacation first,” they said, and handed her a check.
“Thank you,” she said doubtfully. In her life, she had been given the gift of solitude, a knack for it, but now it would be of no professional use. She would have to become a people person.
“A peeper person?” queried her mother on the phone from Pittsburgh.
“People,” said Abby.
“Oh, those,” said her mother, and she sighed the sigh of death, though she was strong as a brick.
Of all Abby’s fanciful ideas for self-improvement (the inspirational video, the breathing exercises, the hypnosis class), the Blarney Stone, with its whoring barter of eloquence for love—O GIFT OF GAB, read the T-shirts—was perhaps the most extreme. Perhaps. There had been, after all, her marriage to Bob, her boyfriend of many years, after her dog, Randolph, had died of kidney failure and marriage to Bob seemed the only way to overcome her grief. Of course, she had always admired the idea of marriage, the citizenship and public speech of it, the innocence rebestowed, and Bob was big and comforting. But he didn’t have a lot to say. He was not a verbal man. Rage gave him syntax—but it just wasn’t enough! Soon Abby had begun to keep him as a kind of pet, while she quietly looked for distractions of depth and consequence. She looked for words. She looked for ways with words. She worked hard to befriend a lyricist from New York—a tepid, fair-haired, violet-eyed bachelor—she and most of the doctors’ wives and arts administrators in town. He was newly arrived, owned no car, and wore the same tan blazer every day. “Water, water everywhere but not a drop to drink,” said the bachelor lyricist once, listening wanly to the female chirp of his phone messages. In his apartment, there were no novels or bookcases. There was one chair, as well as a large television set, the phone machine, a rhyming dictionary continuously renewed from the library, and a coffee table. Women brought him meals, professional introductions, jingle commissions, and cash grants. In return, he brought them small piebald stones from the beach, or a pretty weed from the park. He would stand behind the coffee table and recite his own songs, then step back and wait fearfully to be seduced. To be lunged at and devoured by the female form was, he believed, something akin to applause. Sometimes he would produce a rented lute and say, “Here, I’ve just composed a melody to go with my Creation verse. Sing along with me.”
And Abby would stare at him and say, “But I don’t know the tune. I haven’t heard it yet. You just made it up, you said.”
Oh, the vexations endured by a man of poesy! He stood paralyzed behind the coffee table, and when Abby did at last step forward, just to touch him, to take his pulse, perhaps, to capture one of his arms in an invisible blood-pressure cuff! he crumpled and shrank. “Please don’t think I’m some kind of emotional Epstein-Barr,” he said, quoting from other arguments he’d had with women. “I’m not indifferent or dispassionate. I’m calm. I’m romantic, but I’m calm. I have appetites, but I’m very calm about them.”
When she went back to her husband—“Honey, you’re home!” Bob exclaimed—she lasted only a week. Shouldn’t it have lasted longer—the mix of loneliness and lust and habit she always felt with Bob, the mix that was surely love, for it so often felt like love, how could it not be love, surely nature intended it to be, surely nature with its hurricanes and hail was counting on this to suffice? Bob smiled at her and said nothing. And the next day, she booked a flight to Ireland.
How her mother became part of the trip, Abby still couldn’t exactly recall. It had something to do with a stick shift: how Abby had never learned to drive one. “In my day and age,” said her mother, “everyone learned. We all learned. Women had skills. They knew how to cook and sew. Now women have no skills.”
The stick shifts were half the rental price of the automatics.
“If you’re looking for a driver,” hinted her mother, “I can still see the road.”
“That’s good,” said Abby.
“And your sister Theda’s spending the summer at your aunt’s camp again.” Theda had Down’s syndrome, and the family adored her. Every time Abby visited, Theda would shout, “Look at you!” and throw her arms around her in a terrific hug. “Theda’s, of course, sweet as ever,” said her mother, “which is more than I can say about some people.”
“That’s probably true.”
“I’d like to see Ireland while I can. Your father, when he was alive, never wanted to. I’m Irish, you know.”
“I know. One-sixteenth.”
“That’s right. Of course, your father was Scottish, which is a totally different thing.”
Abby sighed. “It seems to me that Japanese would be a totally different thing.”
“Japanese?” hooted her mother. “Japanese is close.”
And so in the middle of June, they landed at the Dublin airport together. “We’re going to go all around this island, every last peninsula,” said Mrs. Mallon in the airport parking lot, revving the engine of their rented Ford Fiesta, “because that’s just the kind of crazy Yuppies we are.”
Abby felt sick from the flight; and sitting on what should be the driver’s side but without a steering wheel suddenly seemed emblematic of something.
Her mother lurched out of the parking lot and headed for the nearest roundabout, crossing into the other lane only twice. “I’ll get the hang of this,” she said. She pushed her glasses farther up on her nose and Abby could see for the first time that her mother’s eyes were milky with age. Her steering was jerky and her foot jumped around on the floor, trying to find the clutch. Perhaps this had been a mistake.
“Go straight, Mom,” said Abby, looking at her map.
They zigged and zagged to the north, up and away from Dublin, planning to return to it at the end, but now heading toward Drogheda, Abby snatching up the guidebook and then the map again and then the guidebook, and Mrs. Mallon shouting, “What?” or “Left?” or “This can’t be right; let me see that thing.” The Irish countryside opened up before them, its pastoral patchwork and stone walls and its chimney aroma of turf fires like some other century, its small stands of trees, abutting fields populated with wildflowers and sheep dung and cut sod and cows with ear tags, beautiful as women. Perhaps fairy folk lived in the trees! Abby saw immediately that to live amid the magic feel of this place would be necessarily to believe in magic. To live here would make you superstitious, warmhearted with secrets, unrealistic. If you were literal, or practical, you would have to move—or you would have to drink.
They drove uncertainly past signs to places unmarked on the map. They felt lost—but not in an uncharming way. The old narrow roads with their white side markers reminded Abby of the vacations the family had taken when she was little, the cow-country car trips through New England or Virginia—in those days before there were interstates, or plastic cups, or a populace depressed by asphalt and french fries. Ireland was a trip into the past of America. It was years behind, unmarred, like a story or a dream or a clear creek. I’m a child again, Abby thought. I’m back. And just as when she was a child, she suddenly had to go to the bathroom.
“I have to go to the bathroom,” she said. To their left was a sign that said ROAD WORKS AHEAD, and underneath it someone had scrawled, “No, it doesn’t.”
Mrs. Mallon veered the car to the left and slammed on the brakes. There were some black-faced sheep haunch-marked in bright blue and munching grass near the road.
“Here?” asked Abby.
“I don’t want to waste time stopping somewhere else and having to buy something. You can go behind that wall.”
“Thanks,” said Abby, groping in her pocketbook for Kleenex. She missed her own apartment. She missed her neighborhood. She missed the plentiful U-Pump-Itt’s, where, she often said, at least they spelled pump right! She got out and hiked back down the road a little way. On one of the family road trips thirty years ago, when she and Theda had had to go to the bathroom, their father had stopped the car and told them to “go to the bathroom in the woods.” They had wandered through the woods for twenty minutes, looking for the bathroom, before they came back out to tell him that they hadn’t been able to find it. Her father had looked perplexed, then amused, and then angry—his usual pattern.
Now Abby struggled over a short stone wall and hid, squatting, eyeing the sheep warily. She was spacey with jet lag, and when she got back to the car, she realized she’d left the guidebook back on a stone and had to turn around and retrieve it.
“There,” she said, getting back in the car.
Mrs. Mallon shifted into gear. “I always feel that if people would just be like animals and excrete here and there rather than in a single agreed-upon spot, we wouldn’t have any pollution.”
Abby nodded. “That’s brilliant, Mom.”
They stopped briefly at an English manor house, to see the natural world cut up into moldings and rugs, wool and wood captive and squared, the earth stolen and embalmed and shellacked. Abby wanted to leave. “Let’s leave,” she whispered.
“What is it with you?” complained her mother. From there, they visited a neolithic passage grave, its floor plan like a birth in reverse, its narrow stone corridor spilling into a high, round room. They took off their sunglasses and studied the Celtic curlicues. “Older than the pyramids,” announced the guide, though he failed to address its most important feature, Abby felt: its deadly maternal metaphor.
“Are you still too nervous to cross the border to Northern Ireland?” asked Mrs. Mallon.
“Uh-huh.” Abby bit at her thumbnail, tearing the end of it off like a tiny twig.
“Oh, come on,” said her mother. “Get a grip.”
And so they crossed the border into the North, past the flak-jacketed soldiers patrolling the neighborhoods and barbed wire of Newry, young men holding automatic weapons and walking backward, block after block, their partners across the street, walking forward, on the watch. Helicopters flapped above. “This is a little scary,” said Abby.
“It’s all show,” said Mrs. Mallon breezily.
“It’s a scary show.”
“If you get scared easily.”
Which was quickly becoming the theme of their trip—Abby could see that already. That Abby had no courage and her mother did. And that it had forever been that way.
“You scare too easily,” said her mother. “You always did. When you were a child, you wouldn’t go into a house unless you were reassured there were no balloons in it.”
“I didn’t like balloons.”
“And you were scared on the plane coming over,” said her mother.
Abby grew defensive. “Only when the flight attendant said there was no coffee because the percolator was broken. Didn’t you find that alarming? And then after all that slamming, they still couldn’t get one of the overhead bins shut.” Abby remembered this like a distant, bitter memory, though it had only been yesterday. The plane had taken off with a terrible shudder, and when it proceeded with the rattle of an old subway car, particularly over Greenland, the flight attendant had gotten on the address system to announce there was nothing to worry about, especially when you think about “how heavy air really is.”
Now her mother thought she was Tarzan. “I want to go on that rope bridge I saw in the guidebook,” she said.
On page 98 in the guidebook was a photograph of a rope-and-board bridge slung high between two cliffs. It was supposed to be for fishermen, but tourists were allowed, though they were cautioned about strong winds.
“Why do you want to go on the rope bridge?” asked Abby.
“Why?” replied her mother, who then seemed stuck and fell silent.
For the next two days, they drove east and to the north, skirting Belfast, along the coastline, past old windmills and sheep farms, and up out onto vertiginous cliffs that looked out toward Scotland, a pale sliver on the sea. They stayed at a tiny stucco bed-and-breakfast, one with a thatched roof like Cleopatra bangs. They slept lumpily, and in the morning in the breakfast room with its large front window, they ate their cereal and rashers and black and white pudding in an exhausted way, going through the motions of good guesthood—“Yes, the troubles,” they agreed, for who could say for certain whom you were talking to? It wasn’t like race-riven America, where you always knew. Abby nodded. Out the window, there was a breeze, but she couldn’t hear the faintest rustle of it. She could only see it silently moving the dangling branches of the sun-sequined spruce, just slightly, like objects hanging from a rearview mirror in someone else’s car.
She charged the bill to her Visa, tried to lift both bags, and then just lifted her own.
“Good-bye! Thank you!” she and her mother called to their host. Back in the car, briefly, Mrs. Mallon began to sing “Toora-loora-loora.” “ ‘Over in Killarney, many years ago,’ ” she warbled. Her voice was husky, vibrating, slightly flat, coming in just under each note like a saucer under a cup.
And so they drove on. The night before, a whole day could have shape and design. But when it was upon you, it could vanish tragically to air.
They came to the sign for the rope bridge.
“I want to do this,” said Mrs. Mallon, and swung the car sharply right. They crunched into a gravel parking lot and parked; the bridge was a quarter-mile walk from there. In the distance, dark clouds roiled like a hemorrhage, and the wind was picking up. Rain mizzled the windshield.
“I’m going to stay here,” said Abby.
“Whatever,” said her mother in a disgusted way, and she got out, scowling, and trudged down the path to the bridge, disappearing beyond a curve.
Abby waited, now feeling the true loneliness of this trip. She realized she missed Bob and his warm, quiet confusion; how he sat on the rug in front of the fireplace, where her dog, Randolph, used to sit; sat there beneath the five Christmas cards they’d received and placed on the mantel—five, including the one from the paperboy—sat there picking at his feet, or naming all the fruits in his fruit salad, remarking life’s great variety! or asking what was wrong (in his own silent way), while poking endlessly at a smoldering log. She thought, too, about poor Randolph, at the vet, with his patchy fur and begging, dying eyes. And she thought about the pale bachelor lyricist, how he had once come to see her, and how he hadn’t even placed enough pressure on the doorbell to make it ring, and so had stood there waiting on the porch, holding a purple cone-flower, until she just happened to walk by the front window and see him standing there. 0 poetry! When she invited him in, and he gave her the flower and sat down to decry the coded bloom and doom of all things, decry as well his own unearned deathlessness, how everything hurtles toward oblivion, except words, which assemble themselves in time like molecules in space, for God was an act—an act!—of language, it hadn’t seemed silly to her, not really, at least not that silly.
The wind was gusting. She looked at her watch, worried now about her mother. She turned on the radio to find a weather report, though the stations all seemed to be playing strange, redone versions of American pop songs from 1970. Every so often, there was a two-minute quiz show—Who is the president of France? Is a tomato a vegetable or a fruit?—questions that the caller rarely if ever answered correctly, which made it quite embarrassing to listen to. Why did they do it? Puzzles, quizzes, game shows. Abby knew from AST that a surprising percentage of those taking the college entrance exams never actually applied to college. People just loved a test. Wasn’t that true? People loved to put themselves to one.
Her mother was now knocking on the glass. She was muddy and wet. Abby unlocked the door and pushed it open. “Was it worth it?” Abby asked.
Her mother got in, big and dank and puffing. She started the car without looking at her daughter. “What a bridge,” she said finally.
The next day, they made their way along the Antrim coast, through towns bannered with Union Jacks and Scottish hymns, down to Derry with its barbed wire and IRA scrawlings on the city walls—“John Major is a Zionist Jew” (“Hello,” said a British officer when they stopped to stare)—and then escaping across bandit country, and once more down across the border into the south, down the Donegal coast, its fishing villages like some old, never-was Cape Cod. Staring out through the windshield, off into the horizon, Abby began to think that all the beauty and ugliness and turbulence one found scattered through nature, one could also find in people themselves, all collected there, all together in a single place. No matter what terror or loveliness the earth could produce—winds, seas—a person could produce the same, lived with the same, lived with all that mixed-up nature swirling inside, every bit. There was nothing as complex in the world—no flower or stone—as a single hello from a human being.