Issue 226, Fall 2018
What is Miss Treece’s trouble, according to a popular notion?
The man A has failed to show up.
Arousing herself at the restaurant, she fixes her lipstick when her solo supper concludes and takes herself down the stairs situated behind the bar.
There, at her business in the restroom, the foamy hand soap is suggestive of fun, but there’s the wringing of her hands and the twitching of her fingers while she washes.
“I never heard. I don’t know . . . ” Another woman was speaking into her phone before clicking it off. And these two women might have briefly inspired one another had they smiled, because they were both disillusioned.
But they might still build temples to themselves of volume and color, as a poet once said.
Happily, Miss Treece’s home is very well lit, very inviting, and she keeps the door unlocked so you don’t have to hesitate to go in.
Yet it’s necessary to walk through her house on a diagonal, because the entryway is positioned at the corner of her parlor.
And, those calls of hers for help were more often ignored, because she was also promoting herself behind a lot of jargon and she had recently returned from an extensive tour through Europe, where she had lectured people.
But, she is thinking to herself, If A had only said, Sorry I upset you and I am sorry it’s an anxious time for you. I am sorry—then she would have done what? Taken pride in herself?
She takes a laxative and looks in the mirror at her features, which are stretched stiffly with ingratitude.
Ah, yes, and she wonders about visiting the M’Calmonds on the weekend, but Janet M’Calmond does not like her, not really.
She contemplates her plain-boarded, sloping floor and the autumn fruits on the sideboard and she feels unworthy of them.
She thinks she needs to call A to see how he is, so that he will care about her again. “Is everything all right?” she asks A.
“But you never came to Shangri-la.”
“For your sake.”
For her sake, forsaken.
She reaches to gather a fold of her nightgown and sees a few light threads that are breaking free at the hem and rudely pulls on one of these. She starts to cry.
This crybaby is a middle-aged woman. And what exactly is a crybaby? She is the picture of a child, angered to have been placed to stand on a chair that is too tall, that she, the tot, all by herself, could not have gotten herself up onto.
And another thing that strikes Miss Treece particularly is her thought about the upcoming loss of all kinds of pleasure.
She begins to cry more, not into the telephone. Her phone call with A had ended because A “had to hop,” he’d said.
The accentuated curve of her lower back is causing her trouble—it aches. And if, in the dark, she gets up and out of bed, she’ll need to remember where everything is. Remember.
She does remember something that has just happened that has unsexed her.
Well, she turns off the lights, and then the lowboy and the carpet and all else can fall into insignificancy.
Around noon one day, she walked and walked while wearing a new pair of shoes that had a bedroom-slipper shape, and then she halted at a store window and looked in at table lamps. She thought they were preening, when they hadn’t yet distinguished themselves.
The exception was the pair of stone lions, fashioned into lamps that she deemed notable. True enough—except that their overblown frowns announced to her that they were the worst sort of sore losers. Admittedly, she hadn’t seen the Three Graces, the minor naked goddesses who were miserably clinging to one another beneath a fringed shade.
A magazine advertisement was holding on to the face of the window for dear life. It made claims that this shop was an excellent source for furnishings, a dependable source, a secret source, a fountainhead, a bedrock, a backbone.
The man B stood behind her saying, “Lena, aren’t you Lena?”
“What do you want with me?” she said. And B, a man with no obvious defects, replied, “To tease you.”
And Lena Treece said, “You won’t mind if we do it right away. It will be a comfort to me.”
So during her trek with B through the park to get to his home, Lena Treece saw a seated man with folded hands, a kneeling woman combing her hair, a woman carrying a child, a little girl jumping rope, and a woman with outstretched arms. Certainly these people were lifelike, but God knows (poor Lena doesn’t) what their ability is to get along with others, their general intelligence, perseverance, reliability, ethical standards, and which ones have a normal, down-to-earth attitude toward all matters and are willing to progress steadily where friendship is concerned.