A passage from Ladder of Years, in the end, although I was tempted to offer part of Ann Patchett’s State of Wonder, which I started yesterday and which I am enjoying very much (while the voices in my head beg for me never to have to go to Brazil).
But, now, Anne Tyler, and a passage where Delia has left her family behind her and is alone with her thoughts in the boarding house where she’s rented a room.
Just a few scattered moments, she thought, have a way of summing up a person’s life. Just five or six tableaux that flip past again and again, like tarot cards constantly reshuffled and redealt. A patch of sunlight on a window seat where someone big was scrubbing Delia’s hands with a washcloth. A grade-school spelling bee where Eliza showed up unannounced and Delia saw her for an instant as a stranger. The gleam of Sam’s fair head against the molasses-dark wood of the rocker. Her father, propped on two pillows, struggling to speak. And Delia walking south alongside the Atlantic Ocean.
In this last picture, she wore her grey secretary dress. (Not all such memories are absolutely accurate.) She wore the black leather shoes she had bought at Bassett Bros. The clothes were wrong, but the look was right – the firmness, the decisiveness. That was the image that bolstered her.
The washcloth scrubbing her hands was as rough and warm as a mother cat’s tongue. The squat, unhappy-looking young woman approaching Miss Sutherland’s desk changed into Delia’s sister. “I wish….,” her father had whispered, and his cracked lips seemed to tear apart rather than separate, and he turned his face away from her. The evening after he died, she went to bed with a sleeping pill. She was so susceptible to drugs that she seldom took even an aspirin, but she gratefully swallowed the pill Sam gave her and slept through the night. Only it was more like burrowing through the night, tunnelling through with some blunt, inadequate instrument like a soup spoon, and she woke in the morning muddled and tired and convinced that she had missed something. Now she thought what she had missed was her own grief. Why that rush forward toward forgetfulness? she asked herself. Why the hurry to leap past grief to the next stage?
She wondered what her father had been wishing for. She hadn’t been able to figure it out at the time, and maybe he had assumed that she just didn’t car. Tears filled her eyes and rolled down her cheeks. She made no effort to stop them.
Didn’t it often happen, she thought, that aged parents die exactly at the moment when other people (your husband, your adolescent children) have stopped being thrilled to see you coming? But a parent is always thrilled, always dwells lovingly on your face as you are speaking. One of life’s many ironies.
She reached for her store of toilet paper and blew her nose. She felt that something was loosening inside her, and she hoped she would go on crying all night.
And one other thing you might be interested in: an online special edition of English Studies on Virginia Woolf, featuring six essays about her. I know there are a lot of Woolfie fans out there.