That people, even more than things, lost their boundaries and overflowed into shapelessness is what most frightened Lila in the course of her life. The loss of those boundaries in her brother, whom she loved more than anyone in her family, had frightened her, and the disintegration of Stefano from fiancé to husband terrified her. I learned only from her notebooks how much her wedding night had scarred her and how she feared the potential distortion of her husband’s body, his disfigurement by the internal impulses of desire and rage or, on the contrary, of subtle plans, base acts. Especially at night she was afraid of waking up and finding him formless in the bed, transformed into excrescences that burst out because of too much fluid, the flesh melted and dripping, and with it everything around, the furniture, the entire apartment and she herself, his wife, broken sucked into that stream polluted by living matter.
“The children had never seen their father cry before. They had thought that fathers get angry and shout about the bills and wearing slacks, and laugh with the woman from the bookstall, and sometimes with mothers; but never cry.
He looked like a bird, with his mouth down at the corners, the way a fowl looks when the rest of the fowls have been put in for the night, and the realization of their going has overtaken the last fowl; and she panics; and her beak drops; and that is how Bob Withers’ face seemed when he really knew about Francie. He knew later than the others. They had been warned, and driven, like fowls at night, inside, though not to warmth. Driven inside to outerness, as if the moment they passed through the door of knowing, they came, not to warm nests, but dropped down to dark, yet in some kind of comfort because they were together and close; and there was Bob waiting to be driven inside to share the darkness of their complete knowing, and not wanting to go, and being scared, like the lost fowl.”
“And listening to their father say about Francie, the children felt afraid, as if suddenly the walls of the house would collapse and the roof disappear and leave them, naked, with nothing to shut them away from the world, and the world in one stride would walk in and take possession of them, holding them tight in its hand of rock and lava, as if they were insects, and they would have to struggle and kick and fight to escape and make their way. And each time they made their way and the world had dropped them for a while to a peaceful hiding place, it would again seize them with a burning one of its million hands, and the struggle would begin again and again and go on and on and never finish.”
“But in all her knowing, she had not learned of the time of living, the unseen always, when people are like the marbles in the fun alley at the show; and a gaudy circumstance will squeeze payment from their cringing and poverty-stricken fate, to give him the privilege of rolling them into the bright or dark box, till they drop into one of the little painted holes, their niche, it is called, and there roll their lives round and round in a frustrating circle.”
I too was remembering, not for the first time, the broad street of Lacey’s, the two-storied hotel, the several stores. I imagined the gentle tidal encroachment of the dunes, the soft red sand, wind-ribbed and untrodden, mounting, mounting. Over the bar of the hotel, over the piano and the billiard table, over the counters and merchandise of the stores; until, in the end, what would be left but a chimney or two of the hotel, dully moaning in the red wind? And those too, of course, the wind would have silenced by now, and the sand would lie unbroken and printless over all the places that knew me. In my terrible loneliness I grow elegiac.