When I got home from school I did what I had always done, which was to read, curled up in the window seat in the library or lying flat on my back on the floor with my feet in a chair, in the darkest corner I could find. The house was full of places to read that fitted me like a glove, and I read the same books over and over. Children tend to derive comfort and support from the totally familiar – an umbrealla stand, a glass ashtray backed with brightly coloured cigar bands, the fire tongs, anything. With the help of these and other commonplace objects – with the help also of the two big elm trees that shaded the house from the heat of the sun, and the trumpet vine by the back door, and the white lilac bush by the dining-room window, and the comfortable wicker porch furniture and the porch swing that contributed its creak…. creak…. to the sounds of the summer night – I got from one day to the next.
My father got from one day to the next by attending faithfully to his job. [….] His sadness was the kind that is patient and without hope. He continued to sleep in the bed he and my mother had shared, and tried to act in a way she would have wanted him to, and I suspect that as time passed he was less and less sure of what that was. He gave away her jewelry, amd more important to me, her clothes, so I could no longer open her closet door and look at them.
I overheard one family friend after another assuring him that there was no cure but time, and though he said , ‘Yes, I know,’ I could tell he didn’t believe them. Once a week he would wind all the clocks in the house, begining with the grandfather’s clock in the front hall. Their minute and hour hands went round dependably and the light outside corroborated what they said: it was breakfast time, it was late afternoon, it was night, with the darkness pressing against the windowpanes.
What the family friends said is true. For some people. For others, the hands of the clock can go round till kingdom come and not cure anything. I don’t know by what means my father came to terms with his grief. All I know is that it was more than a year before the color came back into his face and he could smile when someone said something funny.
William Maxwell, ‘So Long, See You Tomorrow’.
I am so glad that this was the book that came along with me while I had a short break earlier this month, at the place where Pavarotti had once called “paradise”.
And to think that this paradise, which is only less than a four hours’ drive and fifteen minute high-speed boat ride away (from where I live), certainly makes for a rather promising and comforting thought. That paradise can actually be within reach, not too far away.
I have so far only read of how good Maxwell’s writing is from other readers. It is only now that I get to taste it for myself. And I must say that I have been completely won over by the beauty of his evocative prose.
I think this was just the perfect setting for falling in love with one’s new favourite writer.
Pavarotti had called this paradise.
I think it’s easy to see why.