Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Take Me Away II

Today I finished "Take Me Away" after letting it sit for about three days. Initially, I had wanted to include a section from the latest book I had finished. It served as the stepping off point for the blog. But, as it turned out, only a fraction of a line made it into the finished piece. Yet, the passage is so beautiful, I am going to post it on its own. The last image causes me to catch my breath. The writer has captured the moment when one decides to push through into the unknown, dragging our fears courageously with us.

It's from The Year of Jubilo, by Howard Bahr. The novel is set after the end of the Civil War, as defeated soldiers return home to villages and towns ravished by war and still occupied by federal forces. Gaiwan Harper, the protagonist, returns home to find his father Frank deep in the grip of dementia, and watched over by his Aunt Vassar, who has never married. The scene I am quoting occurs when Vassar stands in her hall and looks through the front door at her nephew and his companion:

Forty years ago, Vassar Bishop had watched as the boy, not even named yet, emerged from the agony of his sister's labor. Vassar heard him draw his first breath and make his first complaint against the light of the world as if he'd been awakened from some deep and comforting dream. She has seen other newborn creatures--cats and dogs, horses and cattle and men--do the same, and she always watched with wonder and not a little envy at the pain and privelige of engendering life. She had thought that creation held no puzzles for her, but on that distant morning she looked at her nephew lying on the bloodied sheets--hairless, squirming, still wet, flushed and wrinkled like a boiled squirrel--and thought to herself My God--he is too raw by half, he is not finished yet, and now on this twenty-fifth day in June 1865, she was still thinking it: He is not finished yet, not by a long way, and he is as much a stranger to me now as the day he arrived.

So she lingered in the hall and watched the two old soldiers talking on the porch in the illusory peace of a Sunday afternoon--old soldiers indeed, who were not really old, who have been but children once, and that not long ago. At last she turned away, fumbling in her sleeve for the lace handkerchief, wishing for the instant that she had a vial, just a vial, of laudanum to ease the passing of the day. But the blockade had put a stop to that, and she supposed she was glad, though in trying times she missed the sweet elevation of the poppy. In any case, she had no choice now but to push against the hard edges of reality. So, she daubed her eyes with the handkerchief, and turned away, and set her shoulder to one of the big pocket doors that opened into the library where old Frank Harper had his desk. The door rumbled sullenly in its track, and the various smells of the closed room greeted her: dust, mildew, the odor of old books bound in crumbling leather, of trapped sunlight and time. Into this she moved, her skirts rustling like the wings of frightened birds.

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