Trying To Be Good
“Suppose the looking glass smashes, the image disappears, and the romantic figure with the green of forest depths all about it is there no longer, but only that shell of a person which is seen by other people – what an airless, shallow, bald prominent world it becomes! A world not to be lived in.” – Virginia Woolf
Autumn crisp. Hilly fields and rubber soled families. Geese, a honking chatter. They swoop together down the knoll, a single mass, like something dangerous. Settle in the inlet. Splash and tuck. Sky, the color of babies’ eyes. Flat-bottomed clouds. Beyond the inlet, a tangle of marsh grasses, shrubs and nettle. Over the patch of bog goes the great bay, forever wide, rush rushing ocean-ward.
To the North West, beyond the broad expanse. Water pauses to allow a peninsula its room. Then further still to some low blue hills. A shadowy place, all trees and gravel. Deep in its winding roadways is a woman. She is in a house trying to be good.
Because the day is beautiful, she’s released her thoughts. They come few and are crystalline. Tiny green-bellied birds skitter about. They are confetti tossed into her stillness; a pleasant crack in the eggshell of her day.
This morning the clouds were wispy and romantic, watercolor cantaloupe colored edges with deep purple bellies. She looked up. Thought she might like to be something brand new. Step into a waterfall, she thought, and have new wash her off. Be a vessel, emptied.
She wakes in starts. Her history rear-ends itself. Collision of memories before she can begin any day. They rush from then till now. A life in an instant, up till the moment. Reminds her of who she is. What she’s supposed to be. She steps into her slippers, already laid out. Ablutes. Today, though, she squeezed her eyes shut. Put her hand out, palm forward. Told them to stay in their place. They’re no matter. She does not need to forget, and sees no need to remember in this way.
She stacks dishes. Counts eleven. Where could the twelfth have gone? She doesn’t remember breaking a dish or loosing a dish, or delivering a pie to a neighbor, but it’s gone. So she thinks of things that are gone. Keys. Pairs of shoes. Books she read, and never gave away, that she no longer has. Things she wants, that she knew she had and can’t find. Won’t ever find. She was absentminded back then. She lost things. Endless wallets. Lovers. Friends.
Be gone then, she thinks. Today, she believes that things that are gone should stay gone. Not pop up, flail around in the mind like lunatics on fire. Needy rememberings. They thrive on the rememberer, and she will not be their host. Not today.
Outside, daytime is the color of fine grain sandpaper. The trees brush gently together. She wonders about the time, but doesn’t check a clock. Her day has no boundaries. Time is not a thing that needs to matter. Not today. She reminds herself that today she is a woman unencumbered. And wouldn’t it be nice, she thinks, for this moving about in time and space to be less of an endeavor. An effortful belabored thing. The word ‘trudge’ appears in her mind. She puts a single line through it, then blows. The letters, a line remaining through each, scatter. Dissolve.
She wonders if this is her world. If she held a looking glass up to everything, would the reflection match her ordinary perception? Would the glass itself melt and bend to create the image of what she thinks it ought to be? Or what she thinks it already is? Or would she see there in the glass the promise of something as yet undiscovered?
She tries to be still. It seems like an important way to be. She hears noises on the road. People going here and there. A mother, maybe. Off to collect one child and deposit another; plan a meal, make a call. A woman, trying to do nice things. Claim her efforts as an excuse to stop caring for herself, because that was the hardest thing in the first place. Everyone else’s needs are obvious, but our own are buried like terrible, teasing treasures. Things one ought to know, but doesn’t know. Or things one knows but can’t remember. Like words that mid-conversation won’t come. Like the promise of Tantalus’ water.
Today feels like chewing. Chewing through the sinew cloth of her day in want of some illegitimate freedom. She wants what does not exist. What was it again? She’s not sure. She tries to know, and in time day turns white. The room is one shade, and cool. She thinks of putting on a sweater or a scarf. There is an old cabinet, full of delicate glass objects. She wants to turn it over. Hear its clattering cry. Watch its liquids spill into the floorboards. And in a few weeks, long after glass and labels are swept and liquid mopped, perhaps an invisible sliver would slide into her heel as a reminder.
A noise outside catches her attention. She turns her head, looks outside. She sees nothing. If all the trees were cut away, and round earth flattened and raised, she would see clear through to the broad rippling black of the bay. She would see birds and running creatures. She would see a hawk hover and dive. She would see traffic jams and games, and far, far beyond that more water. Water for a long time till land. Dusty roads and acres of abandoned vineyards dotted with tiny shacks and cottages. Further still past shops and cafes till deep in someone else’s shadowy place, she would find a woman like her. Alone in a room. That other woman’s attention, drawn outside by something she can’t see. A woman there, directly in her line of sight, if the world were unbent. A woman like her, in a place too far away to imagine. Alone in her home, trying to be good.
But world is round. She can only look at her hands. Decide what to do next. She believes she is the descendent of witches and warriors. She casts the spells of her conquests. Takes relief in superstitions.