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Narrative in Escaped Places

Mary Ann Caws


A narrative makes individual separations between what to please
when it pleases them. A Narrative.1

The only time she hadn’t showed up before had been on the Tuesday we call 9/11. I knew nothing of what had happened, except that I was there waiting, and she wasn’t. There was then a horde of persons walking uptown with ashen faces. The pallor all around. Gradually the horror settled in then, with its details.

Because we had walked together more than a quarter of a century, with a dog when she had one. The last had been called Bianca (who would bound towards me in the park), and then Lucy (who preferred squirrels). I grew to expect it always. Every Tuesday it was. At 11:30 exactly she would be there. No need to phone about it. It was just like that.

If it was windy, I would allow more time, not to get delayed by the force pushing against me. If it was rainy, I would wear my rainhat. If it was sunny, she would complain. She was always too hot, never too cold. But never to be late, that was the point; she never was.

About hats. My black cotton one from Agnes B. she loved, and so I got her one, size 58. Then I lost mine, and wanted to borrow hers to have one made like it. No, she said, you will lose it, my hat. And I guess I would have, since I had lost mine.

So then last Tuesday we walked. And I went to the sailboat lake after and had coffee and a cookie and was happy. Then trundled my way home and rebegan to write. Can’t now remember exactly what. The day after the day after that I met friends for breakfast, walked home, and got the call about it. She had done herself in, my walking companion, as she had predicted long before.

It seemed too soon to all of us. Maybe it always seems too soon.

And then the talking started: should she have left us notes, each of us her close friends? What kind of goingon would each of us her family and close friends be doing from then on? What kind of dreadful gap would this leave? No place in the mind had escaped this — as if there were no longer an escaped place.

When I had been desperate so long ago, her being there every week had meant I would be there. This gave sense to my ordinary chaos, put an anchor to my drifting. Must have been true for some others too.

What could have made her want to stay? Leave while the party is still fun, she had said, that’s what I mean to do. Was it still fun for her, or was it over already in her thinking? Now for us someone will be missing, as well as the other someones anyway.

And now the separation in the narrative, where lots of things fit, not pleasing though, is also between Mary and Ann.

But then I remember:

Never a name never a name surname a name a name never a name never a name in time. (p. 268)




1. p. 249, Gertrude Stein, “In Narrative,” from How to Write. New York: Dover, 1975. References are to this text.

BIO: Mary Ann Caws is Distinguished Professor of English, French, and Comparative Literature at the Graduate Center, City University of New York. Since 2000 her publications have included:

Picasso’s Weeping Woman: the Life and Art of Dora Maar. Boston: Little Brown/Bulfinch, 2000. Also appeared in England, France, Spain, Italy, Germany, Denmark.
Virginia Woolf. Penguin Writers: Illustrated Lives, 2001.
Robert Motherwell with Pen and Brush. Reaktion Press, 2003.
Marcel Proust. Penguin Writers: Illustrated Lives, 2002

As editor:

The Surrealist Painters and Poets. Cambridge and London: M.I.T. Press, 2001.
Manifesto: A Century of Isms. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2001.
Vita Sackville-West: Selected Writings. New York: Palgrave, 2002.
The Reception of Virginia Woolf in Europe, co-edited with Nicola Luckhurst. London: Continuum, 2002.
The Yale Book of Twentieth Century French Poetry, edited and co-translated. New Haven: Yale University Press, Spring 2004.

Heilburn and  Caws

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