46-کتاب صوتی Which Is More Than I Can Say About Some People – Part 2 دوره پیشرفته
Which Is More Than I Can Say About Some People
written by Lorrie Moore – narrated by Natasha Soudek
Once in a while, Abby and her mother broke their silences with talk of Mrs. Mallon’s job as office manager at a small flashlight company—“I had to totally rearrange our insurance policies. The dental and Major Medical were eating our lunch!”—or with questions about the route signs, or the black dots signifying the auto deaths. But mostly, her mother wanted to talk about Abby’s shaky marriage and what she was going to do. “Look, another ruined abbey,” she took to saying every time they passed a heap of medieval stones.
“When you going back to Bob?”
“I went back,” said Abby. “But then I left again. Oops.”
Her mother sighed. “Women of your generation are always hoping for some other kind of romance than the one they have,” said Mrs. Mallon. “Aren’t they?”
“Who knows?” said Abby. She was starting to feel a little tight-lipped with her mother, crammed into this space together like astronauts. She was starting to have a highly inflamed sense of event: a single word rang and vibrated. The slightest movement could annoy, the breath, the odor. Unlike her sister, Theda, who had always remained sunny and cheerfully intimate with everyone, Abby had always been darker and left to her own devices; she and her mother had never been very close. When Abby was a child, her mother had always repelled her a bit—the oily smell of her hair, her belly button like a worm curled in a pit, the sanitary napkins in the bathroom wastebasket, horrid as a war, then later strewn along the curb by raccoons who would tear them from the trash cans at night. Once at a restaurant, when she was little, Abby had burst into an unlatched ladies’ room stall, only to find her mother sitting there in a dazed and unseemly way, peering out at her from the toilet seat like a cuckoo in a clock.
There were things one should never know about another person.
Later, Abby decided that perhaps it hadn’t been her mother at all.
Yet now here she and her mother were, sharing the tiniest of cars, reunited in a wheeled and metal womb, sharing small double beds in bed-and-breakfasts, waking up with mouths stale and close upon each other, or backs turned and rocking in angry-seeming humps. The land of ire! Talk of Abby’s marriage and its possible demise trotted before them on the road like a herd of sheep, insomnia’s sheep, and it made Abby want to have a gun.
“I never bothered with conventional romantic fluff,” said Mrs. Mallon. “I wasn’t the type. I always worked, and I was practical, put myself forward, and got things done and over with. If I liked a man, I asked him out myself. That’s how I met your father. I asked him out. I even proposed the marriage.”
“And then I stayed with him until the day he died. Actually, three days after. He was a good man.” She paused. “Which is more than I can say about some people.”
Abby didn’t say anything.
“Bob’s a good man,” added Mrs. Mallon.
“I didn’t say he wasn’t.”
There was silence again between them now as the countryside once more unfolded its quilt of greens, the old roads triggering memories as if it were a land she had traveled long ago, its mix of luck and unluck like her own past; it seemed stuck in time, like a daydream or a book. Up close the mountains were craggy, scabby with rock and green, like a buck’s antlers trying to lose their fuzz. But distance filled the gaps with moss. Wasn’t that the truth? Abby sat quietly, glugging Ballygowan water from a plastic bottle and popping Extra Strong Mints. Perhaps she should turn on the radio, listen to one of the call-in quizzes or to the news. But then her mother would take over, fiddle and retune. Her mother was always searching for country music, songs with the words devil woman. She loved those.
“Promise me one thing,” said Mrs. Mallon.
“What?” said Abby.
“That you’ll try with Bob.”
At what price? Abby wanted to yell, but she and her mother were too old for that now.
Mrs. Mallon continued, thoughtfully, with the sort of pseudowisdom she donned now that she was sixty. “Once you’re with a man, you have to sit still with him. As scary as it seems. You have to be brave and learn to reap the benefits of inertia,” and here she gunned the motor to pass a tractor on a curve. LOOSE CHIPPINGS said the sign. HIDDEN DIP. But Abby’s mother drove as if these were mere cocktail party chatter. A sign ahead showed six black dots.
“Yeah,” said Abby, clutching the dashboard. “Dad was inert. Dad was inert, except that once every three years he jumped up and socked somebody in the mouth.”
“That’s not true.”
“It’s basically true.”
In Killybegs, they followed the signs for Donegal City. “You women today,” Mrs. Mallon said. “You expect too much.”
“If it’s Tuesday, this must be Sligo,” said Abby. She had taken to making up stupid jokes. “What do you call a bus with a soccer team on it?”
“What?” They passed a family of gypsies, camped next to a mountain of car batteries they hoped to sell.
“A football coach.” Sometimes Abby laughed raucously, and sometimes not at all. Sometimes she just shrugged. She was waiting for the Blarney Stone. That was all she’d come here for, so everything else she could endure.
They stopped at a bookshop to get a better map and inquire, perhaps, as to a bathroom. Inside, there were four customers: two priests reading golf books, and a mother with her tiny son, who traipsed after her along the shelves, begging, “Please, Mummy, just a wee book, Mummy. Please just a wee book.” There was no better map. There was no bathroom. “Sorry,” the clerk said, and one of the priests glanced up quickly. Abby and her mother went next door to look at the Kinsale smocks and wool sweaters—tiny cardigans that young Irish children, on sweltering summer days of seventy-one degrees, wore on the beach, over their bathing suits. “So cute,” said Abby, and the two of them wandered through the store, touching things. In the back by the wool caps, Abby’s mother found a marionette hanging from a ceiling hook and began to play with it a little, waving its arms to the store music, which was a Beethoven concerto. Abby went to pay for a smock, ask about a bathroom or a good pub, and when she came back, her mother was still there, transfixed, conducting the concerto with the puppet. Her face was arranged in girlish joy, luminous, as Abby rarely saw it. When the concerto was over, Abby handed her a bag. “Here,” she said, “I bought you a smock.”
Mrs. Mallon let go of the marionette, and her face darkened. “I never had a real childhood,” she said, taking the bag and looking off into the middle distance. “Being the oldest, I was always my mother’s confidante. I always had to act grown-up and responsible. Which wasn’t my natural nature.” Abby steered her toward the door. “And then when I really was grown up, there was Theda, who needed all my time, and your father of course, with his demands. But then there was you. You I liked. You I could leave alone.”
“I bought you a smock,” Abby said again.
They used the bathroom at O’Hara’s pub, bought a single mineral water and split it, then went on to the Drumcliff cemetery to see the dead Yeatses. Then they sped on toward Sligo City to find a room, and the next day were up and out to Knock to watch lame women, sick women, women who wanted to get pregnant (“Knocked up,” said Abby) rub their rosaries on the original stones of the shrine. They drove down to Clifden, around Connemara, to Galway and Limerick—“There once were two gals from America, one named Abby and her mother named Erica. …” They sang, minstrel speed demons around the Ring of Kerry, its palm trees and blue and pink hydrangea like a set from an operetta. “Playgirls of the Western World!” exclaimed her mother. They came to rest, at dark, near Ballylickey, in a bed-and-breakfast, a former hunting lodge, in a glen just off the ring. They ate a late supper of toddies and a soda bread their hostess called “Curranty Dick.”
“Don’t I know it,” said Mrs. Mallon. Which depressed Abby, like a tacky fixture in a room, and so she excused herself and went upstairs, to bed.
It was the next day, through Ballylickey, Bantry, Skibbereen, and Cork, that they entered Blarney. At the castle, the line to kiss the stone was long, hot, and frightening. It jammed the tiny winding stairs of the castle’s suffocating left tower, and people pressed themselves against the dark wall to make room for others who had lost their nerve and were coming back down.
“This is ridiculous,” said Abby. But by the time they’d reached the top, her annoyance had turned to anxiety. To kiss the stone, she saw, people had to lie on their backs out over a parapet, stretching their necks out to place their lips on the underside of a supporting wall where the stone was laid. A strange-looking leprechaunish man was squatting at the side of the stone, supposedly to help people arch back, but he seemed to be holding them too loosely, a careless and sadistic glint in his eyes, and some people were changing their minds and going back downstairs, fearful and inarticulate as ever.
“I don’t think I can do this,” said Abby hesitantly, tying her dark raincoat more tightly around her.
“Of course you can,” said her mother. “You’ve come all this way. This is why you came.” Now that they were at the top of the castle, the line seemed to be moving quickly. Abby looked back, and around, and the view was green and rich, and breathtaking, like a photo soaked in dyes.
“Next!” she heard the leprechaun shouting.
Ahead of them, a German woman was struggling to get back up from where the leprechaun had left her. She wiped her mouth and made a face. “That vuz awfhul,” she grumbled.
Panic seized Abby. “You know what? I don’t want to do this,” she said again to her mother. There were only two people ahead of them in line. One of them was now getting down on his back, clutching the iron supports and inching his hands down, arching at the neck and waist to reach the stone, exposing his white throat. His wife stood above him, taking his picture.
“But you came all this way! Don’t be a ninny!” Her mother was bullying her again. It never gave her courage; in fact, it deprived her of courage. But it gave her bitterness and impulsiveness, which could look like the same thing.
“Next,” said the leprechaun nastily. He hated these people; one could see that. One could see he half-hoped they would go crashing down off the ledge into a heap of raincoats, limbs, and traveler’s checks.
“Go on,” said Mrs. Mallon.
“I can’t,” Abby whined. Her mother was nudging and the leprechaun was frowning. “I can’t. You go.”
“No. Come on. Think of it as a test.” Her mother gave her a scowl, unhinged by something lunatic in it. “You work with tests. And in school, you always did well on them.”
“For tests, you have to study.”
“I didn’t study the right thing.”
“I can’t,” Abby whispered. “I just don’t think I can.” She breathed deeply and moved quickly. “Oh—okay.” She threw her hat down and fell to the stone floor fast, to get it over with.
“Move back, move back,” droned the leprechaun, like a train conductor.
She could feel now no more space behind her back; from her waist up, she was out over air and hanging on only by her clenched hands and the iron rails. She bent her head as far back as she could, but it wasn’t far enough.
“Lower,” said the leprechaun.
She slid her hands down farther, as if she were doing a trick on a jungle gym. Still, she couldn’t see the stone itself, only the castle wall.
“Lower,” said the leprechaun.
She slid her hands even lower, bent her head back, her chin skyward, could feel the vertebrae of her throat pressing out against the skin, and this time she could see the stone. It was about the size of a microwave oven and was covered with moisture and dirt and lipstick marks in the shape of lips—lavender, apricot, red. It seemed very unhygienic for a public event, filthy and wet, and so now instead of giving it a big smack, she blew a peck at it, then shouted, “Okay, help me up, please,” and the leprechaun helped her back up.
Abby stood and brushed herself off. Her raincoat was covered with whitish mud. “Eeyuhh,” she said. But she had done it! At least sort of. She put her hat back on. She tipped the leprechaun a pound. She didn’t know how she felt. She felt nothing. Finally, these dares one made oneself commit didn’t change a thing. They were all a construction of wish and string and distance.
“Now my turn,” said her mother with a kind of reluctant determination, handing Abby her sunglasses, and as her mother got down stiffly, inching her way toward the stone, Abby suddenly saw something she’d never seen before: her mother was terrified. For all her bullying and bravado, her mother was proceeding, and proceeding badly, through a great storm of terror in her brain. As her mother tried to inch herself back toward the stone, Abby, now privy to her bare face, saw that this fierce bonfire of a woman had gone twitchy and melancholic—it was a ruse, all her formidable display. She was only trying to prove something, trying pointlessly to defy and overcome her fears—instead of just learning to live with them, since, hell, you were living with them anyway. “Mom, you okay?” Mrs. Mallon’s face was in a grimace, her mouth open and bared. The former auburn of her hair had descended, Abby saw, to her teeth, which she’d let rust with years of coffee and tea.
Now the leprechaun was having to hold her more than he had the other people. “Lower, now lower.”
“Oh, God, not any lower,” cried Mrs. Mallon.
“You’re almost there.”
“I don’t see it.”
“There you got it?” He loosened his grip and let her slip farther.
“Yes,” she said. She let out a puckering, spitting sound. But then when she struggled to come back up, she seemed to be stuck. Her legs thrashed out before her; her shoes loosened from her feet; her skirt rode up, revealing the brown tops of her panty hose. She was bent too strangely, from the hips, it seemed, and she was plump and didn’t have the stomach muscles to lift herself back up. The leprechaun seemed to be having difficulty.
“Can someone here help me?”
“Oh my God,” said Abby, and she and another man in line immediately squatted next to Mrs. Mallon to help her. She was heavy, stiff with fright, and when they had finally lifted her and gotten her sitting, then standing again, she seemed stricken and pale.
A guard near the staircase volunteered to escort her down.
“Would you like that, Mom?” and Mrs. Mallon simply nodded.
“You get in front of us,” the guard said to Abby in the singsong accent of County Cork, “just in case she falls.” And Abby got in front, her coat taking the updraft and spreading to either side as she circled slowly down into the dungeon-dark of the stairwell, into the black like a bat new to its wings.
In a square in the center of town, an evangelist was waving a Bible and shouting about “the brevity of life,” how it was a thing grabbed by one hand and then gone, escaped through the fingers. “God’s word is quick!” he called out.
“Let’s go over there,” said Abby, and she took her mother to a place called Brady’s Public House for a restorative Guinness. “Are you okay?” Abby kept asking. They still had no place to stay that night, and though it remained light quite late, and the inns stayed open until ten, she imagined the two of them temporarily homeless, sleeping under the stars, snacking on slugs. Stars the size of Chicago! Dew like a pixie bath beneath them! They would lick it from their arms.
“I’m fine,” she said, waving Abby’s questions away. “What a stone!”
“Mom,” said Abby, frowning, for she was now wondering about a few things. “When you went across that rope bridge, did you do that okay?”
Mrs. Mallon sighed. “Well, I got the idea of it,” she said huffily. “But there were some gusts of wind that caused it to buck a little, and though some people thought that was fun, I had to get down and crawl back. You’ll recall there was a little rain.”
“You crawled back on your hands and knees?”
“Well, yes,” she admitted. “There was a nice Belgian man who helped me.” She felt unmasked, no doubt, before her daughter and now gulped at her Guinness.
Abby tried to take a cheerful tone, switching the subject a little, and it reminded her of Theda, Theda somehow living in her voice, her larynx suddenly a summer camp for the cheerful and slow. “Well, look at you!” said Abby. “Do you feel eloquent and confident, now that you’ve kissed the stone?”
“Not really.” Mrs. Mallon shrugged.
Now that they had kissed it, or sort of, would they become self-conscious? What would they end up talking about?
Movies, probably. Just as they always had at home. Movies with scenery, movies with songs.
“How about you?” asked Mrs. Mallon.
“Well,” said Abby, “mostly I feel like we’ve probably caught strep throat. And yet, and yet …” Here she sat up and leaned forward. No tests, or radio quizzes, or ungodly speeches, or songs brain-dead with biography, or kooky prayers, or shouts, or prolix conversations that with drink and too much time always revealed how stupid and mean even the best people were, just simply this: “A toast. I feel a toast coming on.”
“Yes, I do.” No one had toasted Abby and Bob at their little wedding, and that’s what had been wrong, she believed now. No toast. There had been only thirty guests and they had simply eaten the ham canapes and gone home. How could a marriage go right? It wasn’t that such ceremonies were important in and of themselves. They were nothing. They were zeros. But they were zeros as placeholders; they held numbers and equations intact. And once you underwent them, you could move on, know the empty power of their blessing, and not spend time missing them.
From here on in, she would believe in toasts. One was collecting itself now, in her head, in a kind of hesitant philately. She gazed over at her mother and took a deep breath. Perhaps her mother had never shown Abby affection, not really, but she had given her a knack for solitude, with its terrible lurches outward, and its smooth glide back to peace. Abby would toast her for that. It was really the world that was one’s brutal mother, the one that nursed and neglected you, and your own mother was only your sibling in that world. Abby lifted her glass. “May the worst always be behind you. May the sun daily warm your arms.…” She looked down at her cocktail napkin for assistance, but there was only a cartoon of a big-chested colleen, two shamrocks over her breasts. Abby looked back up. God’s word is quick! “May your car always start—” But perhaps God might also begin with tall, slow words; the belly bloat of a fib; the distended tale. “And may you always have a clean shirt,” she continued, her voice growing gallant, public and loud, “and a holding roof, healthy children and good cabbages—and may you be with me in my heart, Mother, as you are now, in this place; always and forever—like a flaming light.”
There was noise in the pub.
Blank is to childhood as journey is to lips.
“Right,” said Mrs. Mallon, looking into her stout in a concentrated, bright-eyed way. She had never been courted before, not once in her entire life, and now she blushed, ears on fire, lifted her pint, and drank.