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Happenstance

Happenstance

The Wife's Story
edition:Paperback
also available: Audiobook (CD)
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The Husband’s Story
Chapter One

At the restaurant Jack wanted to tell Bernie about Harriet Post, a girl he had once been in love with. He wanted to put his head down on the table and moan aloud with rage. Instead he placed his fork into a square of ravioli and said in a moderate tone, “History consists of endings.”

Bernie was not really listening; he was removed today, empty-eyed and vague, pulling at a dry wedge of bread and looking out the window on to the street, where a cold rain was falling. For almost a year now the topic of their Friday lunches had been the defining of history; what was it? What was it for? It occurred to Jack that perhaps Bernie had had enough of history. Enough is enough, as Brenda, his wife, would say.

“History is eschatological,” Jack said. He stabbed into his small side salad of lettuce, onions, celery, and radishes. “History is not the mere unrolling of a story. And it’s not the story itself. It’s the end of the story.”

“Uhuh.” Bernie’s eyes turned again toward the curtainless square of window, made double opaque by the streaming rainwater and by the inner coating of cooking grease. “And when,” he asked, chewing on a wad of bread, “did you decide all this?”

“Yesterday. Last night. About midnight. It came to me, the final meaning of history. I've finally stumbled on what it’s all about. Endings.”

“Endings?”

“Yes, endings.”

“A bolt out of the blue?” Bernie said.

“You might say that. Or you could call it an empirical thrust.”

Bernie smirked openly.

“Go ahead,” Jack said. “Laugh if you want to. I'm serious for a change.”

“For a change.”

“History is no more than the human recognition of endings. History -- now listen, Bernie -- history is putting a thumbprint on a glass wall so you can see the wall. The conclusion of an era which defines and invents the era.”

“I get the feeling you've rehearsed this. While you were shaving this morning, maybe.”

"Let me ask you this, Bernie. What do we remember about history? No, never mind us -- what does the man on the street remember about the past?”

“I am a man on the street. You tell me.”

“We remember the treaties, but not the wars. Am I right? Admit it. We remember the beheading, but not the rebellions. It’s that final cataclysmic at that we instinctively select and store away. You might say,” he paused, “that the ends of all stories are contained in their beginnings.”

“It’s already been said, I think. Didn't Eliot --?”

"But the ending is the story. Not just the signature. Take the French Revolution --“

“We've taken that. A number of times.” Bernie sat back, groggy after his veal and noodles. “We took the French Revolution last week. And the week before that. Remember that session you gave me about the French Revolution two weeks ago? About the great libertine infusion? Rammed into Europe’s flabby old buttocks?”

“Not true.” Jack pushed his plate away, belching silently; a gas pain shot across his heart. After twenty years the food at Roberto’s was worse, not better -- it was a miracle they'd managed to stay in business -- and the old neighbourhood around the Institute, with its knocked-apart streets and boarded-up shirt laundries and hustling porn shops, was shifting from the decent shade of decay that had prevailed during the sixties to something more menacing. These days violence threatened, even in the daytime; and disease too -- someone or other had told him at a party the weekend before that you could get hepatitis from eating off cracked plates, and God knows what else. Furthermore, Jack had grown to dread the starchy monotony of Italian food; everything about it now, its wet weak uniformity of texture and its casual, moist presentation -- the sight and smell of it made his heart plunge and squeeze. Was there really a time, he asked himself -- of course there had been -- when Italian food, even the fake Chicago variety, had seemed a passport to worldliness? Worldliness, ha! When the mere words -- cannelloni, gnocchi, lasagna -- had brimmed with rich, steamy eroticism? All you had to do was plunge your fork through the waiting, melting mozzarella and you were there, ah!

The Wife’s Story

Every morning Brenda wakes up, slips into her belted robe, and glides -- glides -- down the wide oak stairs to make breakfast for her husband and children. The descent down the broad, uncarpeted stairs has something of ceremony about it, it has gone on so long. She and Jack have lived in the Elm Park house for thirteen years now; Rob was a baby when they moved in; Laurie, twelve last October, has never lived anywhere else.

In the kitchen she reaches for the wall switch. It’s seven-thirty, a January morning, and the overhead fixture blinks once, twice, then pours steady, lurid light down onto the blue countertops, causing her to reel slightly. Her hands set out plates, reach into the refrigerator for frozen orange juice and milk, into the cupboards for Raisin Bran and coffee beans. Her husband, Jack, has given her a new coffee-grinder for Christmas, a small Swedish toy of a machine which is still a little unfamiliar to the touch. A button on its smooth side sets a tiny motor whirring, a brief zzzz which releases a pleasing instantaneous cloud of coffee smells. “Philadelphia,” Brenda murmurs into the coffee-softened air of the kitchen.

She boils water, pours it carefully. “Philadelphia.” Her voice is low and so secretive she might be addressing a priest or a lover.

For a month now, ever since she decided to go to Philadelphia, she has had her flight schedule thumbtacked in the lower right-hand corner of the kitchen bulletin board. Departure time, arrival time, flight number -- all printed in her own hand on one of Jack’s three-by-five index cards.

Above where the card is pinned there are a number of other items. It seems to Brenda, yawning and retying the belt of her robe, that some of them have been there for weeks. Months. She tells herself she could get busy and weed out a few, but the confusion of notices and messages mainly pleases her. She likes to think of herself as a busy person. Brenda Bowman -- what a busy person!

The clutter on the brown corkboard speaks to her, a font of possibility, firmly securing her, for the moment at least, against inactivity. On the other hand, she sometimes feels when she glances at it a stab of impatience; is there no end to the nagging of details? Appointments. Bills. Lists. Announcements. Furthermore, these small reminders of events past and present carry with them a suggestion of disappointment or risk. That old theatre programme, for instance, the one from the Little Theatre production they'd gone to -- when was that? last November? The Duchess of Malfi. She had hated The Duchess of Malfi. So, surprisingly, had Jack.

Someone -- Jack, of course, who else? -- had pinned up a newspaper cartoon about the School Board scandal, two pear-shaped men balancing on penny-farthing bicycles and grappling over a sack labelled $$$. The point of the bicycles, though Brenda has been following the scandal with some interest, escapes her.

And there, snugged cleanly in the corner -- she has cleared a small area around it -- is her flight schedule. It looks purposeful and bright, winning from the welter of other items its small claim to priority. Brenda glances at it every morning when she comes downstairs to make breakfast. It is the first thing to catch her eye, and even before she plugs in the coffee-grinder and starts the eggs, she examines and is reassured by her own meticulous printing, Flight 452, United Airlines, departing Chicago at 8:35. Tomorrow morning, Saturday. Arrival at Philadelphia at 1:33.

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Swann

Swann

edition:Paperback
also available: Audiobook (CD)
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Excerpt

1

As recently as two years ago, when I was twenty-six, I dressed in ratty jeans and a sweatshirt with lettering across the chest. That’s where I was. Now I own six pairs of beautiful shoes, which I keep, when I’m not wearing them, swathed in tissue paper in their original boxes. Not one of these pairs of shoes costs less than a hundred dollars.

Hanging in my closet are three dresses (dry clean only), two expensive suits and eight silk blouses in such colours as hyacinth and brandy. Not a large wardrobe, perhaps, but richly satisfying. I’ve read my Thoreau, I know real wealth lies in the realm of the spirit, but still I’m a person who can, in the midst of depression, be roused by the rub of a cashmere scarf in my fingers.

My name is Sarah Maloney and I live alone. Professionally -- this is something people like to know these days -- I’m a feminist writer and teacher who’s having second thoughts about the direction of feminist writing in America. For twenty-five years we’ve been crying: My life is my own. A moving cry, a resounding cry, but what does it mean? (Once I knew exactly what freedom meant and now I have no idea. Naturally I resent this loss of knowledge.)

Last night Brownie, who was sharing my bed as he does most Tuesday nights, accused me of having a classic case of burn-out, an accusation I resist. Oh, I can be restless and difficult! Some days Virginia Woolf is the only person in the universe I want to talk to; but she’s dead, of course, and wouldn’t like me anyway. Too flip. And Mary Swann. Also dead. Exceedingly dead.

These moods come and go. Mostly Ms. Maloney is a cheerful woman, ah indeed, indeed! And very busy. Up at seven, a three-kilometre run in Washington Park -- see her yupping along in even metric strides -- then home to wheat toast and pure orange juice. Next a shower, and then she gets dressed in her beautiful, shameful clothes.

I check myself in the mirror: Hello there, waving long, clean, unpolished nails. I’ll never require make-up. At least not for another ten years. Then I pick up my purse-cum-briefcase, Italian, $300, and sally forth. Sally forth, the phrase fills up my mouth like a bubble of foam. I’m attentive to such phrases. Needful of them, I should say.

I don’t have a car. Off I go on foot, out into a slice of thick, golden October haze, down Sixty-second to Cottage Grove, along Cottage Grove, swinging my bag from my shoulder to give myself courage. Daylight muggings are common in my neighborhood, and I make it a point to carry only five dollars, a fake watch, and a dummy set of keys. As I walk along, I keep my Walkman turned up high. No Mozart now, just a little cushion of soft rock to help launch the day with hope and maybe protect me from evil. I wear a miraculous broad-brimmed hat. The silky hem of my excellent English raincoat hisses just at knee length. I have wonderful stockings and have learned to match them with whatever I’m wearing.

“Good morning, Dr. Maloney,” cries the department secretary when I arrive at the university. “Good morning, Ms. Lundigan,” I sing back. This formal greeting is a ritual only. The rest of the time I call her Lois, or Lo, and she calls me Sarah or Sare. She’s the age of my mother and has blood-red nails and hair so twirled and compact it looks straight from the wig factory. Her typing is nothing less than magnificent. Clean, sharp, uniform, with margins that zing. She hands me the mail and a copy of my revised lecture notes.

Today, in ten minutes, Lord help me, I’ll be addressing one hundred students, ninety of them women, on the subject of “Amy Lowell: An American Enigma.” At two o’clock, after a quick cheese on pita, I’ll conduct my weekly seminar on “Women in Midwestern Fiction.” Around me at the table will be seven bright postgraduate faces, each of them throwing off kilowatts of womanly brilliance, so that the whole room becomes charged and expectant and nippy with intelligence.

Usually, afterwards, the whole bunch of us goes off for a beer. In the taproom on Sixty-second we create a painterly scene, an oil portrait -- women sitting in a circle, dark coats thrown over the backs of chairs, earrings swinging, elbows and shoulders keeping the composition lively, glasses held thoughtfully to thoughtful lips, rolling eyes, bawdiness, erudition.

They forget what time it is. They forget where they are -- that they’re sitting in a taproom on Sixty-second in the city of Chicago in the fall of the year in the twentieth century. They’re too busy talking, thinking, defining terms, revising history, plotting their term papers, their theses, and their lives so that no matter what happens they’ll keep barrelling along that lucent dotted line they’ve decided must lead to the future.

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Yoga & You
Excerpt

Following Your BreathThe simplest breathing practice, which we also use in the poses, is attention to your breath.

Learn to simply watch your breath, without trying to adjust or control it.

Watch your breathing, noting the rhythm, the "texture" and the sound of your breath.
Be aware of the places that you can feel easy, free, relaxed movement
Notice the areas that feel tense or blocked. Imagine what it would be like if they were also relaxed and free.Notice what happens as you pay attention. Be aware of the power of your attention and the changes that result simply from watching.As you exhale, allow the back of your pelvis be pulled into the floor and your knees to drop.Pay attention to the release of your spine as your legs and pelvis drop.Let your shoulders relax and your arms remain passive, especially as you inhale.Be aware of the base of your spine rooted in your pelvis and let your upper body be light and free.Let the inhalation come to you. Remain dropped and rooted to the floor as you inhale.As you pay attention to your breathing, let your eyes remain passive and rest back, as you did when you were lying down. This shift of awareness will also help to bring the back of your head in line with the back of your pelvis. Relax your eyebrows and let your forehead broaden. When you are sitting, be aware of the tendency to tighten your eyebrows and forehead as you watch your breath.

When you begin to follow your breathing, you will probably be busy and distracted. Your breathing rhythm will reflect this, and be erratic and jagged. Take time to come to your breath, and to let your attention and your breath settle.

Be aware of the polarities of the breathing cycle: the end of your exhalation and the end of your inhalation. Feel that gravity is pulling your exhalation down. Eventually, you will be able to feel your breath moving all the way down to your sitting bones. Your hips will be free and relaxed and you will be able to sit with your pelvis upright. In this position, the back of your waist will be supported by the action of your breathing. The security of this foundation allows your upper body to relax. Your head will balance easily over your pelvis; your upper back, arms and shoulders will be relaxed and free. In the classical framework of energy and chakras (see p. 16), following the breath will gradually connect you to the bottom of your tailbone, the root or first chakra, representing stability and security.

As you become quieter, your breathing naturally becomes slower and steadier. You may find a natural pause at the end of your exhalation. In this very quiet moment, let yourself drop further within.

As your exhalation deepens, your inhalation becomes fuller as a result. The inhalation follows naturally at the end of the exhalation. There is no need to "take" a deep breath. Wait. Allow the inhalation to come to you. Trust that it will. Open yourself to receive it. This is an example of non-greed and non-grasping (see p. 11) in practice. There is no limit to the potential depth and fullness of your breath. Your exhalation may be deeper than you thought possible; your inhalation can expand beyond your expectations. As always, this physical experience of greater depth has corresponding emotional and spiritual aspects. The feeling of being pulled down with gravity will also draw you inward to the roots of your thoughts and feelings. It is important not to close off your thoughts or deny your feelings. Many of the tensions in our bodies have been caused by this denial. Allow yourself to feel your feelings.

The quieter you become the more clearly you will see your innermost thoughts. One of the goals of meditation is to see things as they are, free of expectations, preconceptions and projections. When you can keep your attention steady on your breathing, then you will have glimpses of this clarity.

Time in the wilderness, surrounded by quiet and the sounds of nature has helped me to be patient with myself as I breathe. In the country, I am often surrounded by silence while I am still noisy and distracted inside. This silence provides an inspiration for my breathing practice in the city. With time, I can find a quiet space around my thoughts, while my thoughts continue. Touching moments of true quietness are a rare and precious gift.

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From Yoga and You. Copyright (c) 1996 by Esther Myers. Published in Canada by Random House Canada, and in the US by Shambhala. All rights reserved.

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