Day 60 – On the Beach at Night Alone

On the Beach at Night Alone

 By Walt Whitman

On the beach at night alone,
As the old mother sways her to and fro singing her husky song,
As I watch the bright stars shining, I think a thought of the clef of the universes and of the future.

A vast similitude interlocks all,
All spheres, grown, ungrown, small, large, suns, moons, planets,
All distances of place however wide,
All distances of time, all inanimate forms,
All souls, all living bodies though they be ever so different, or in different worlds,
All gaseous, watery, vegetable, mineral processes, the fishes, the brutes,
All nations, colors, barbarisms, civilizations, languages,
All identities that have existed or may exist on this globe, or any globe,
All lives and deaths, all of the past, present, future,
This vast similitude spans them, and always has spann’d,
And shall forever span them and compactly hold and enclose them.

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Day 59 – I’ll Always Belong to Myself

I’ll Always Belong to Myself
Rainer Maria Rilke

I’ll always belong to myself
Even as many times as I’ll try to give myself away
And as many times as someone else will try and take it
I will always belong to myself and you’ll always belong to
yourself
Unions are not formed by giving yourself away but by
coming together

two minds
two hearts
two flames
two contributors
two architects
building their mad or sadly sane worlds together

I don’t want to be you and I don’t want you to be me

The beauty
The love

Come from our acceptance of each others’ souls

-Rainer Maria Rilke

Day 58 – Letters to a Young Poet

This is one of the letters from the book, Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke.

Borgebygard, Fladie, Sweden
August 12, 1904
I want to talk to you again for a little while, dear Mr. Kappus, although
there is almost nothing I can say that will help you, and I can hardly find one
useful word. You have had many sadnesses, large ones, which passed. And you
say that even this passing was difficult and upsetting for you. But please, ask
yourself whether these large sadnesses haven’t rather gone right through you.
Perhaps many things inside you have been transformed; perhaps somewhere,
deep inside your being, you have undergone important changes while you were
sad. The only sadnesses that are dangerous and unhealthy are the ones that we
carry around in public in order to drown them out with the noise; like diseases
that are treated superficially and foolishly, they just withdraw and after a short
interval break out again all the more terribly; and gather inside us and are life, are
life that is unlived, rejected, lost, life that we can die of. If only it were possible
for us to see farther than our knowledge reaches, and even a little beyond the
outworks of our presentiment, perhaps we would bear our sadnesses with greater
trust than we have in our joys. For they are the moments when something new
has entered us, something unknown; our feelings grow mute in shy embarrassment,
everything in us withdraws, a silence arises, and the new experience,
which no one knows, stands in the midst of it all and says nothing.
It seems to me that almost all our sadnesses are moments of tension, which
we feel as paralysis because we no longer hear our astonished emotions living.
Because we are alone with the unfamiliar presence that has entered us; because
everything we trust and are used to is for a moment taken away from us; because
we stand in the midst of a transition where we cannot remain standing. That is
why the sadness passes: the new presence inside us, the presence that has been
added, has entered our heart, has gone into its innermost chamber and is no
longer even there, — is already in our bloodstream. And we don’t know what it
was. We could easily be made to believe that nothing happened, and yet we have
changed, as a house that a guest has entered changes. We can’t say who has come,
perhaps we will never know, but many signs indicate that the future enters us in
this way in order to be transformed in us, long before it happens. And that is why
it is so important to be solitary and attentive when one is sad: because the
seemingly uneventful and motionless moment when our future steps into us is so
much closer to life than that other loud and accidental point of time when it
happens to us as if from outside. The quieter we are, the more patient and open
we are in our sadnesses, the more deeply and serenely the new presence can enter
us, and the more we can make it our own, the more it becomes our fate; and later
on, when it “happens” (that is, steps forth out of us to other people), we will feel
related and close to it in our innermost being. And that is necessary. It is necessary
— and toward this point our development will move, little by little — that
nothing alien happen to us, but only what has long been our own. People have
already had to rethink so many concepts of motion; and they ill also gradually
come to realize that what we call fate does not come into us from the outside, but
emerges from us. It is only because so many people have not absorbed and
transformed their fates while they were living in them that they have not realized
what was emerging from them; it was so alien to them that they have not realized
what was emerging from them; it was so alien to them that, in their confusion
and fear, they thought it must have entered them at the very moment they
became aware of it, for they swore they had never before found anything like that
inside them. Just as people for a long time had a wrong idea about the sun’s
motion, they are even now wrong about the motion of what is to come. The
future stands still, dear Mr. Kappus, but we move in infinite space.
How could it not be difficult for us?
And to speak of solitude again, it becomes clearer and clearer that fundamentally
this is nothing that one can choose or refrain from. We are solitary. We
can delude ourselves about this and act as if it were not true. That is all. But how
much better it is to recognize that we are alone; yes, even to begin from this
realization. It will, of course, make us dizzy; for all points that our eyes used to
rest on are taken away from us, there is no longer anything near us, and everything
far away is infinitely far. A man taken out of his room and, almost without
preparation or transition, placed on the heights of a great mountain range, would
feel something like that: an unequalled insecurity, an abandonment to the
nameless, would almost annihilate him. He would feel he was falling or think he
was being catapulted out into space or exploded into a thousand pieces: what a
colossal lie his brain would have to invent in order to catch up with and explain
the situation of his senses. That is how all distances, all measures, change for the
person who becomes solitary; many of these changes occur suddenly and then, as
with the man on the mountaintop, unusual fantasies and strange feelings arise,
which seem to grow out beyond all that is bearable. But it is necessary for us to
experience that too. We must accept our reality as vastly as we possibly can;
everything, even the unprecedented, must be possible within it. This is in the end
the only kind of courage that is required of us: the courage to face the strangest,
most unusual, most inexplicable experiences that can meet us. The fact that
people have in this sense been cowardly has done infinite harm to life; the
experiences that are called “apparitions,” the whole so-called “spirit world,” death,
all these Things that are so closely related to us, have through our daily defensiveness
been so entirely pushed out of life that the senses with which we might have
been able to grasp them have atrophied. To say nothing of God. But the fear of
the inexplicable has not only impoverished the reality of the individual; it has also
narrowed the relationship between one human being and another, which has as it
were been lifted out of the riverbed of infinite possibilities and set down in a
fallow place on the bank, where nothing happens. For it is not only indolence
that causes human relationships to be repeated from case to case with such
unspeakable monotony and boredom; it is timidity before any new, inconceivable
experience, which we don’t think we can deal with. but only someone who is
ready for everything, who doesn’t exclude any experience, even the most incomprehensible, will live the relationship with another person as something alive and
will himself sound the depths of his own being. for if we imagine this being of
the individual as a larger or smaller room, it is obvious that most people come to
know only one corner of their room, one spot near the window, one narrow strip
on which they keep walking back and forth. In this way they have a certain
security. And yet how much more human is the dangerous insecurity that drives
those prisoners in Poe’s stories to feel out the shapes of their horrible dungeons
and not be strangers to the unspeakable terror of their cells. We, however, are not
prisoners. No traps or snares have been set around us, and there is nothing that
should frighten or upset us. We have been put into life as into the element we
most accord with, and we have, moreover, through thousands of years of
adaptation, come to resemble this life so greatly that when we hold still, through
a fortunate mimicry we can hardly be differentiated from everything around us.
We have no reason to harbor any mistrust against our world, for it is not against
us. If it has terrors, they are our terrors; if it has abysses, these abysses belong to
us; if there are dangers, we must try to love them. And if only we arrange our life
in accordance with the principle which tells us that we must always trust in the
difficult, then what now appears to us as the most alien will become our most
intimate and trusted experience. How could we forget those ancient myths that
stand at the beginning of all races, the myths about dragons that at the last
moment are transformed into princesses? Perhaps all the dragons in our lives are
princesses who are only waiting to see us act, just once, with beauty and courage.
Perhaps everything that frightens us is, in its deepest essence, something helpless
that wants our love.
So you mustn’t be frightened, dear Mr. Kappus, if a sadness rises in front of
you, larger than any you have ever seen; if an anxiety, like light and cloudshadows,
moves over your hands and over everything you do. You must realize
that something is happening to you, that life has not forgotten you, that it holds
you in its hand and will not let you fall. Why do you want to shut out of your
life any uneasiness, any misery, any depression, since after all you don’t know
what work these conditions are doing inside you? Why do you want to persecute
yourself with the question of where all this is coming from and where it is going?
Since you know, after all, that you are in the midst of transitions and you wished
for nothing so much as to change. If there is anything unhealthy in your reactions,
just bear in mind that sickness is the means by which an organism frees
itself from what is alien; so one must simply help it to be sick, to have its whole
sickness and to break out with it, since that is the way it gets better. In you, dear
Mr. Kappus, so much is happening now; you must be patient like someone who
is sick, and confident like someone who is recovering; for perhaps you are both.
And more: you are also the doctor, who has to watch over himself. But in every
sickness there are many days when the doctor can do nothing but wait. And that
is what you, insofar as you are your own doctor, must now do, more than
anything else.
Don’t observe yourself too closely. Don’t be too quick to draw conclusions
from what happens to you; simply let it happen. Otherwise it will be too easy for
you to look with blame (that is: morally) at your past, which naturally has a share
in everything that now meets you. But whatever errors, wishes, and yearnings of
your boyhood are operating in you now are not what you remember and
condemn. The extraordinary circumstances of a solitary and helpless childhood
are so difficult, so complicated, surrendered to so many influences and at the
same time so cut off from all real connection with life that, where a vice enters it,
one may not simply call it a vice. One must be so careful with names anyway; it
is so often the name of an offense that a life shatters upon, not the nameless and
personal action itself, which was perhaps a quite definite necessity of that life and
could have been absorbed by it without any trouble. And the expenditure of
energy seems to you so great only because you overvalue victory; it is not the
“great thing” that you think you have achieved, although you are right about
your feeling; the great thing is that there was already something there which you
could replace that deception with, something true and real. Without this even
your victory would have been just a moral reaction of no great significance; but
in fact it has become a part of your life. Your life, dear Mr. Kappus, which I think
of with so many good wishes. Do you remember how that life yearned out of
childhood toward the “great thing”? I see that it is now yearning forth beyond the
great thing toward the greater one. That is why it does not cease to be difficult,
but that is also why it will not cease to grow.
And if there is one more thing that I must say to you, it is this: Don’t think
that the person who is trying to comfort you now lives untroubled among the
simple and quiet words that sometimes give you much pleasure. His life has
much trouble and sadness, and remains far behind yours. If it were otherwise, he
would never have been able to find those words. 
Yours,
Rainer Maria Rilke

Day 57 – Night Gaunts

Night Gaunts by H.P. Lovecraft

Out of what crypt they crawl, I cannot tell,
But every night I see the rubbery things,
Black, horned, and slender, with membranous wings,
They come in legions on the north wind’s swell
With obscene clutch that titillates and stings,
Snatching me off on monstrous voyagings
To grey worlds hidden deep in nightmare’s well.

Over the jagged peaks of Thok they sweep,
Heedless of all the cries I try to make,
And down the nether pits to that foul lake
Where the puffed shoggoths splash in doubtful sleep.
But ho! If only they would make some sound,
Or wear a face where faces should be found!

Day 56 -The Laboratory

This is a post for yesterday.  A poem by Robert Browning.
The Laboratory
Now that I, tying thy glass mask tightly,
May gaze thro’ these faint smokes curling whitely,
As thou pliest thy trade in this devil’s-smithy—
Which is the poison to poison her, prithee?
   He is with her, and they know that I know
Where they are, what they do: they believe my tears flow
While they laugh, laugh at me, at me fled to the drear
Empty church, to pray God in, for them!—I am here.
   Grind away, moisten and mash up thy paste,
Pound at thy powder,—I am not in haste!
Better sit thus and observe thy strange things,
Than go where men wait me and dance at the King’s.
   That in the mortar—you call it a gum?
Ah, the brave tree whence such gold oozings come!
And yonder soft phial, the exquisite blue,
Sure to taste sweetly,—is that poison too?
   Had I but all of them, thee and thy treasures,
What a wild crowd of invisible pleasures!
To carry pure death in an earring, a casket,
A signet, a fan-mount, a filigree basket!
   Soon, at the King’s, a mere lozenge to give
And Pauline should have just thirty minutes to live!
But to light a pastile, and Elise, with her head
And her breast and her arms and her hands, should drop dead!
   Quick—is it finished? The colour’s too grim!
Why not soft like the phial’s, enticing and dim?
Let it brighten her drink, let her turn it and stir,
And try it and taste, ere she fix and prefer!
   What a drop! She’s not little, no minion like me—
That’s why she ensnared him: this never will free
The soul from those masculine eyes,—say, “no!”
To that pulse’s magnificent come-and-go.
   For only last night, as they whispered, I brought
My own eyes to bear on her so, that I thought
Could I keep them one half minute fixed, she would fall,
Shrivelled; she fell not; yet this does it all!
   Not that I bid you spare her the pain!
Let death be felt and the proof remain;
Brand, burn up, bite into its grace—
He is sure to remember her dying face!
   Is it done? Take my mask off! Nay, be not morose;
It kills her, and this prevents seeing it close:
The delicate droplet, my whole fortune’s fee—
If it hurts her, beside, can it ever hurt me?
   Now, take all my jewels, gorge gold to your fill,
You may kiss me, old man, on my mouth if you will!
But brush this dust off me, lest horror it brings
Ere I know it—next moment I dance at the King’s!

Day 55 – The Chrysanthemums

It has been a few days since I have posted, and it has been a while since I have posted a short story.

I selected John Steinbeck and read:

The Chrysanthemums

The high grey-flannel fog of winter closed off the Salinas Valley from the sky and from all the rest of the world. On every side it sat like a lid on the mountains and made of the great valley a closed pot. On the broad, level land floor the gang plows bit deep and left the black earth shining like metal where the shares had cut. On the foothill ranches across the Salinas River, the yellow stubble fields seemed to be bathed in pale cold sunshine, but there was no sunshine in the valley now in December. The thick willow scrub along the river flamed with sharp and positive yellow leaves.

It was a time of quiet and of waiting. The air was cold and tender. A light wind blew up from the southwest so that the farmers were mildly hopeful of a good rain before long; but fog and rain did not go together.

Across the river, on Henry Allen’s foothill ranch there was little work to be done, for the hay was cut and stored and the orchards were plowed up to receive the rain deeply when it should come. The cattle on the higher slopes were becoming shaggy and rough-coated.

Elisa Allen, working in her flower garden, looked down across the yard and saw Henry, her husband, talking to two men in business suits. The three of them stood by the tractor shed, each man with one foot on the side of the little Fordson. They smoked cigarettes and studied the machine as they talked.

Elisa watched them for a moment and then went back to her work. She was thirty-five. Her face was lean and strong and her eyes were as clear as water. Her figure looked blocked and heavy in her gardening costume, a man’s black hat pulled low down over her eyes, clod-hopper shoes, a figured print dress almost completely covered by a big corduroy apron with four big pockets to hold the snips, the trowel and scratcher, the seeds and the knife she worked with. She wore heavy leather gloves to protect her hands while she worked.

She was cutting down the old year’s chrysanthemum stalks with a pair of short and powerful scissors. She looked down toward the men by the tractor shed now and then. Her face was eager and mature and handsome; even her work with the scissors was over-eager, over-powerful. The chrysanthemum stems seemed too small and easy for her energy.

She brushed a cloud of hair out of her eyes with the back of her glove, and left a smudge of earth on her cheek in doing it. Behind her stood the neat white farm house with red geraniums close-banked around it as high as the windows. It was a hard-swept looking little house, with hard-polished windows, and a clean mud-mat on the front steps.

Elisa cast another glance toward the tractor shed. The strangers were getting into their Ford coupe. She took off a glove and put her strong fingers down into the forest of new green chrysanthemum sprouts that were growing around the old roots. She spread the leaves and looked down among the close-growing stems. No aphids were there, no sowbugs or snails or cutworms. Her terrier fingers destroyed such pests before they could get started.

Elisa started at the sound of her husband’s voice. He had come near quietly, and he leaned over the wire fence that protected her flower garden from cattle and dogs and chickens.

“At it again,” he said. “You’ve got a strong new crop coming.”

Elisa straightened her back and pulled on the gardening glove again. “Yes. They’ll be strong this coming year.” In her tone and on her face there was a little smugness.

You’ve got a gift with things,” Henry observed. “Some of those yellow chrysanthemums you had this year were ten inches across. I wish you’d work out in the orchard and raise some apples that big.”

Her eyes sharpened. “Maybe I could do it, too. I’ve a gift with things, all right. My mother had it. She could stick anything in the ground and make it grow. She said it was having planters’ hands that knew how to do it.”

“Well, it sure works with flowers,” he said.

“Henry, who were those men you were talking to?”

“Why, sure, that’s what I came to tell you. They were from the Western Meat Company. I sold those thirty head of three-year-old steers. Got nearly my own price, too.”

“Good,” she said. “Good for you.

“And I thought,” he continued, “I thought how it’s Saturday afternoon, and we might go into Salinas for dinner at a restaurant, and then to a picture show—to celebrate, you see.”

“Good,” she repeated. “Oh, yes. That will be good.”

Henry put on his joking tone. “There’s fights tonight. How’d you like to go to the fights?”

“Oh, no,” she said breathlessly. “No, I wouldn’t like fights.”

“Just fooling, Elisa. We’ll go to a movie. Let’s see. It’s two now. I’m going to take Scotty and bring down those steers from the hill. It’ll take us maybe two hours. We’ll go in town about five and have dinner at the Cominos Hotel. Like that?”

“Of course I’ll like it. It’s good to eat away from home.”

“All right, then. I’ll go get up a couple of horses.”

She said, “I’ll have plenty of time to transplant some of these sets, I guess.”

She heard her husband calling Scotty down by the barn. And a little later she saw the two men ride up the pale yellow hillside in search of the steers.

There was a little square sandy bed kept for rooting the chrysanthemums. With her trowel she turned the soil over and over, and smoothed it and patted it firm. Then she dug ten parallel trenches to receive the sets. Back at the chrysanthemum bed she pulled out the little crisp shoots, trimmed off the leaves of each one with her scissors and laid it on a small orderly pile.

A squeak of wheels and plod of hoofs came from the road. Elisa looked up. The country road ran along the dense bank of willows and cotton-woods that bordered the river, and up this road came a curious vehicle, curiously drawn. It was an old spring-wagon, with a round canvas top on it like the cover of a prairie schooner. It was drawn by an old bay horse and a little grey-and-white burro. A big stubble-bearded man sat between the cover flaps and drove the crawling team. Underneath the wagon, between the hind wheels, a lean and rangy mongrel dog walked sedately. Words were painted on the canvas in clumsy, crooked letters. “Pots, pans, knives, sisors, lawn mores, Fixed.” Two rows of articles, and the triumphantly definitive “Fixed” below. The black paint had run down in little sharp points beneath each letter.

Elisa, squatting on the ground, watched to see the crazy, loose-jointed wagon pass by. But it didn’t pass. It turned into the farm road in front of her house, crooked old wheels skirling and squeaking. The rangy dog darted from between the wheels and ran ahead. Instantly the two ranch shepherds flew out at him. Then all three stopped, and with stiff and quivering tails, with taut straight legs, with ambassadorial dignity, they slowly circled, sniffing daintily. The caravan pulled up to Elisa’s wire fence and stopped. Now the newcomer dog, feeling outnumbered, lowered his tail and retired under the wagon with raised hackles and bared teeth.

The man on the wagon seat called out, “That’s a bad dog in a fight when he gets started.”

Elisa laughed. “I see he is. How soon does he generally get started?”

The man caught up her laughter and echoed it heartily. “Sometimes not for weeks and weeks,” he said. He climbed stiffly down, over the wheel. The horse and the donkey drooped like unwatered flowers.

Elisa saw that he was a very big man. Although his hair and beard were graying, he did not look old. His worn black suit was wrinkled and spotted with grease. The laughter had disappeared from his face and eyes the moment his laughing voice ceased. His eyes were dark, and they were full of the brooding that gets in the eyes of teamsters and of sailors. The calloused hands he rested on the wire fence were cracked, and every crack was a black line. He took off his battered hat.

“I’m off my general road, ma’am,” he said. “Does this dirt road cut over across the river to the Los Angeles highway?”

Elisa stood up and shoved the thick scissors in her apron pocket. “Well, yes, it does, but it winds around and then fords the river. I don’t think your team could pull through the sand.”

He replied with some asperity, “It might surprise you what them beasts can pull through.”

“When they get started?” she asked.

He smiled for a second. “Yes. When they get started.”

“Well,” said Elisa, “I think you’ll save time if you go back to the Salinas road and pick up the highway there.”

He drew a big finger down the chicken wire and made it sing. “I ain’t in any hurry, ma am. I go from Seattle to San Diego and back every year. Takes all my time. About six months each way. I aim to follow nice weather.”

Elisa took off her gloves and stuffed them in the apron pocket with the scissors. She touched the under edge of her man’s hat, searching for fugitive hairs. “That sounds like a nice kind of a way to live,” she said.

He leaned confidentially over the fence. “Maybe you noticed the writing on my wagon. I mend pots and sharpen knives and scissors. You got any of them things to do?”

“Oh, no,” she said quickly. “Nothing like that.” Her eyes hardened with resistance.

“Scissors is the worst thing,” he explained. “Most people just ruin scissors trying to sharpen ’em, but I know how. I got a special tool. It’s a little bobbit kind of thing, and patented. But it sure does the trick.”

“No. My scissors are all sharp.”

“All right, then. Take a pot,” he continued earnestly, “a bent pot, or a pot with a hole. I can make it like new so you don’t have to buy no new ones. That’s a saving for you.

“No,” she said shortly. “I tell you I have nothing like that for you to do.”

His face fell to an exaggerated sadness. His voice took on a whining undertone. “I ain’t had a thing to do today. Maybe I won’t have no supper tonight. You see I’m off my regular road. I know folks on the highway clear from Seattle to San Diego. They save their things for me to sharpen up because they know I do it so good and save them money.

“I’m sorry,” Elisa said irritably. “I haven’t anything for you to do.”

His eyes left her face and fell to searching the ground. They roamed about until they came to the chrysanthemum bed where she had been working. “What’s them plants, ma’am?”

The irritation and resistance melted from Elisa’s face. “Oh, those are chrysanthemums, giant whites and yellows. I raise them every year, bigger than anybody around here.”

“Kind of a long-stemmed flower? Looks like a quick puff of colored smoke?” he asked.

“That’s it. What a nice way to describe them.”

“They smell kind of nasty till you get used to them,” he said.

“It’s a good bitter smell,” she retorted, “not nasty at all.”

He changed his tone quickly. “I like the smell myself.”

“I had ten-inch blooms this year,” she said.

The man leaned farther over the fence. “Look. I know a lady down the road a piece, has got the nicest garden you ever seen. Got nearly every kind of flower but no chrysanthemums. Last time I was mending a copper-bottom washtub for her (that’s a hard job but I do it good), she said to me, ‘If you ever run acrost some nice chrysanthemums I wish you’d try to get me a few seeds.’ That’s what she told me.”

Elisa’s eyes grew alert and eager. “She couldn’t have known much about chrysanthemums. You can raise them from seed, but it’s much easier to root the little sprouts you see there.”

“Oh,” he said. “I s’pose I can’t take none to her, then.”

“Why yes you can,” Elisa cried. “I can put some in damp sand, and you can carry them right along with you. They’ll take root in the pot if you keep them damp. And then she can transplant them.”

“She’d sure like to have some, ma’am. You say they’re nice ones?”

“Beautiful,” she said. “Oh, beautiful.” Her eyes shone. She tore off the battered hat and shook out her dark pretty hair. “I’ll put them in a flower pot, and you can take them right with you. Come into the yard.”

While the man came through the picket fence Elisa ran excitedly along the geranium-bordered path to the back of the house. And she returned carrying a big red flower pot. The gloves were forgotten now. She kneeled on the ground by the starting bed and dug up the sandy soil with her fingers and scooped it into the bright new flower pot. Then she picked up the little pile of shoots she had prepared. With her strong fingers she pressed them into the sand and tamped around them with her knuckles. The man stood over her. “I’ll tell you what to do,” she said. “You remember so you can tell the lady.”

“Yes, I’ll try to remember.”

“Well, look. These will take root in about a month. Then she must set them out, about a foot apart in good rich earth like this, see?” She lifted a handful of dark soil for him to look at. “They’ll grow fast and tall. Now remember this. In July tell her to cut them down, about eight inches from the ground.”

“Before they bloom?” he asked.

“Yes, before they bloom.” Her face was tight with eagerness. “They’ll grow right up again. About the last of September the buds will start.”

She stopped and seemed perplexed. “It’s the budding that takes the most care,” she said hesitantlv. “I don’t know how to tell you.” She looked deep into his eyes, searchingly. Her mouth opened a little, and she seemed to be listening. “I’ll try to tell you,” she said. “Did you ever hear of planting hands?”

“Can’t say I have, ma’am.”

“Well, I can only tell you what it feels like. It’s when you’re picking off the buds you don’t want. Everything goes right down into your fingertips. You watch your fingers work. They do it themselves. You can feel how it is. They pick and pick the buds. They never make a mistake. They’re with the plant. Do you see? Your fingers and the plant. You can feel that, right up your arm. They know. They never make a mistake. You can feel it. When you’re like that you can’t do anything wrong. Do you see that? Can you understand that?”

She was kneeling on the ground looking up at him. Her breast swelled passionately.

The man’s eyes narrowed. He looked away self-consciously. “Maybe I know,” he said. “Sometimes in the night in the wagon there—”

Elisa’s voice grew husky. She broke in on him. “I’ve never lived as you do, but I know what you mean. When the night is dark—why, the stars are sharp-pointed, and there’s quiet. Why, you rise up and up! Every pointed star gets driven into your body. It’s like that. Hot and sharp and—lovely.”

Kneeling there, her hand went out toward his legs in the greasy black trousers. Her hesitant fingers almost touched the cloth. Then her hand dropped to the ground. She crouched low like a fawning dog.

He said, “It’s nice, just like you say. Only when you don’t have no dinner, it ain’t.”

She stood up then, very straight, and her face was ashamed. She held the flower pot out to him and placed it gently in his arms. “Here. Put it in your wagon, on the seat, where you can watch it. Maybe I can find something for you to do.”

At the back of the house she dug in the can pile and found two old and battered aluminum saucepans. She carried them back and gave them to him. “Here, maybe you can fix these.”

His manner changed. He became professional. “Good as new I can fix them.” At the back of his wagon he set a little anvil, and out of an oily tool box dug a small machine hammer. Elisa came through the gate to watch him while he pounded out the dents in the kettles. His mouth grew sure and knowing. At a difficult part of the work he sucked his under-lip.

“You sleep right in the wagon?” Elisa asked.

“Right in the wagon, ma’am. Rain or shine I’m dry as a cow in there.”

“It must be nice,” she said. “It must be very nice. I wish women could do such things.”

“It ain’t the right kind of a life for a woman.”

Her upper lip raised a little, showing her teeth. “How do you know? How can you tell?” she said.

“I don’t know, ma’am,” he protested. “Of course I don’t know. Now here’s your kettles, done. You don’t have to buy no new ones.”

“How much?”

“Oh, fifty cents’ll do. I keep my prices down and my work good. That’s why I have all them satisfied customers up and down the highway.”

Elisa brought him a fifty-cent piece from the house and dropped it in his hand. “You might be surprised to have a rival some time. I can sharpen scissors, too. And I can beat the dents out of little pots. I could show you what a woman might do.”

He put his hammer back in the oily box and shoved the little anvil out of sight. “It would be a lonely life for a woman, ma’am, and a scarey life, too, with animals creeping under the wagon all night.” He climbed over the singletree, steadying himself with a hand on the burro’s white rump. He settled himself in the seat, picked up the lines. “Thank you kindly, ma’am,” he said. “I’ll do like you told me; I’ll go back and catch the Salinas road.”

“Mind,” she called, “if you’re long in getting there, keep the sand damp.”

“Sand, ma’am?. .. Sand? Oh, sure. You mean around the chrysanthemums. Sure I will.” He clucked his tongue. The beasts leaned luxuriously into their collars. The mongrel dog took his place between the back wheels. The wagon turned and crawled out the entrance road and back the way it had come, along the river.

Elisa stood in front of her wire fence watching the slow progress of the caravan. Her shoulders were straight, her head thrown back, her eyes half-closed, so that the scene came vaguely into them. Her lips moved silently, forming the words “Good-bye—good-bye.” Then she whispered, “That’s a bright direction. There’s a glowing there.” The sound of her whisper startled her. She shook herself free and looked about to see whether anyone had been listening. Only the dogs had heard. They lifted their heads toward her from their sleeping in the dust, and then stretched out their chins and settled asleep again. Elisa turned and ran hurriedly into the house.

In the kitchen she reached behind the stove and felt the water tank. It was full of hot water from the noonday cooking. In the bathroom she tore off her soiled clothes and flung them into the corner. And then she scrubbed herself with a little block of pumice, legs and thighs, loins and chest and arms, until her skin was scratched and red. When she had dried herself she stood in front of a mirror in her bedroom and looked at her body. She tightened her stomach and threw out her chest. She turned and looked over her shoulder at her back.

After a while she began to dress, slowly. She put on her newest underclothing and her nicest stockings and the dress which was the symbol of her prettiness. She worked carefully on her hair, pencilled her eyebrows and rouged her lips.

Before she was finished she heard the little thunder of hoofs and the shouts of Henry and his helper as they drove the red steers into the corral. She heard the gate bang shut and set herself for Henry’s arrival.

His step sounded on the porch. He entered the house calling, “Elisa, where are you?”

“In my room, dressing. I’m not ready. There’s hot water for your bath. Hurry up. It’s getting late.”

When she heard him splashing in the tub, Elisa laid his dark suit on the bed, and shirt and socks and tie beside it. She stood his polished shoes on the floor beside the bed. Then she went to the porch and sat primly and stiffly down. She looked toward the river road where the willow-line was still yellow with frosted leaves so that under the high grey fog they seemed a thin band of sunshine. This was the only color in the grey afternoon. She sat unmoving for a long time. Her eyes blinked rarely.

Henry came banging out of the door, shoving his tie inside his vest as he came. Elisa stiffened and her face grew tight. Henry stopped short and looked at her. “Why—why, Elisa. You look so nice!”

“Nice? You think I look nice? What do you mean by ‘nice’?”

Henry blundered on. “I don’t know. I mean you look different, strong and happy.”

“I am strong? Yes, strong. What do you mean ‘strong’?”

He looked bewildered. “You’re playing some kind of a game,” he said helplessly. “It’s a kind of a play. You look strong enough to break a calf over your knee, happy enough to eat it like a watermelon.”

For a second she lost her rigidity. “Henry! Don’t talk like that. You didn’t know what you said.” She grew complete again. “I’m strong,” she boasted. “I never knew before how strong.”

Henry looked down toward the tractor shed, and when he brought his eyes back to her, they were his own again. “I’ll get out the car. You can put on your coat while I’m starting.”

Elisa went into the house. She heard him drive to the gate and idle down his motor, and then she took a long time to put on her hat. She pulled it here and pressed it there. When Henry turned the motor off she slipped into her coat and went out.

The little roadster bounced along on the dirt road by the river, raising the birds and driving the rabbits into the brush. Two cranes flapped heavily over the willow-line and dropped into the river-bed.

Far ahead on the road Elisa saw a dark speck. She knew.

She tried not to look as they passed it, but her eyes would not obey. She whispered to herself sadly, “He might have thrown them off the road. That wouldn’t have been much trouble, not very much. But he kept the pot,” she explained. “He had to keep the pot. That’s why he couldn’t get them off the road.”

The roadster turned a bend and she saw the caravan ahead. She swung full around toward her husband so she could not see the little covered wagon and the mismatched team as the car passed them.

In a moment it was over. The thing was done. She did not look back.

She said loudly, to be heard above the motor, “It will be good, tonight, a good dinner.”

“Now you’re changed again,” Henry complained. He took one hand from the wheel and patted her knee. “I ought to take you in to dinner oftener. It would be good for both of us. We get so heavy out on the ranch.”

“Henry,” she asked, “could we have wine at dinner?”

“Sure we could. Say! That will be fine.”

She was silent for a while; then she said, “Henry, at those prize fights, do the men hurt each other very much?”

“Sometimes a little, not often. Why?”

“Well, I’ve read how they break noses, and blood runs down their chests. I’ve read how the fighting gloves get heavy and soggy with blood.”

He looked around at her. “What’s the matter, Elisa? I didn’t know you read things like that.” He brought the car to a stop, then turned to the right over the Salinas River bridge.

“Do any women ever go to the fights?” she asked.

“Oh, sure, some. What’s the matter, Elisa? Do you want to go? I don’t think you’d like it, but I’ll take you if you really want to go.”

She relaxed limply in the seat. “Oh, no. No. I don’t want to go. I’m sure I don’t.” Her face was turned away from him. “It will be enough if we can have wine. It will be plenty.” She turned up her coat collar so he could not see that she was crying weakly—like an old woman.

Day 54 – The Imaginary Housewife

The Imaginary Housewife

By Samuel Johnson

Though few men of prudence are much inclined to interpose in disputes between man and wife, who commonly make peace at the expense of the arbitrator; yet I will venture to lay before you a controversy, by which the quiet of my house has been long disturbed, and which, unless you can decide it, is likely to produce lasting evils, and embitter those hours which nature seems to have appropriated to tenderness and repose.

I married a wife with no great fortune, but of a family remarkable for domestick prudence, and elegant frugality. I lived with her at ease, if not with happiness, and seldom had any reason of complaint. The house was always clean, the servants were active and regular, dinner was on the table every day at the same minute, and the ladies of the neighbourhood were frightened when I invited their husbands, lest their own economy should be less esteemed.

During this gentle lapse of life, my dear brought me three daughters. I wished for a son, to continue the family; but my wife often tells me, that boys are dirty things, and are always troublesome in a house; and declares that she has hated the sight of them ever since she saw lady Fondle’s eldest son ride over a carpet with his hobby-horse all mire.

I did not much attend to her opinion, but knew that girls could not be made boys; and therefore composed myself to bear what I could not remedy, and resolved to bestow that care on my daughters, to which only the sons are commonly thought entitled.

But my wife’s notions of education differ widely from mine. She is an irreconcilable enemy to idleness, and considers every state of life as idleness, in which the hands are not employed, or some art acquired, by which she thinks money may be got or saved.

In pursuance of this principle, she calls up her daughters at a certain hour, and appoints them a task of needlework to be performed before breakfast. They are confined in a garret, which has its window in the roof, both because work is best done at a sky-light, and because children are apt to lose time by looking about them.

They bring down their work to breakfast, and as they deserve are commended or reproved; they are then sent up with a new task till dinner; if no company is expected, their mother sits with them the whole afternoon, to direct their operations, and to draw patterns, and is sometimes denied to her nearest relations when she is engaged in teaching them a new stitch.

By this continual exercise of their diligence, she has obtained a very considerable number of laborious performances. We have twice as many fire-skreens as chimneys, and three flourished quilts for every bed. Half the rooms are adorned with a kind of sutile pictures, which imitate tapestry. But all their work is not set out to show; she has boxes filled with knit garters and braided shoes. She has twenty covers for side-saddles embroidered with silver flowers, and has curtains wrought with gold in various figures, which she resolves some time or other to hang up. All these she displays to her company whenever she is elate with merit, and eager for praise; and amidst the praises which her friends and herself bestow upon her merit, she never fails to turn to me, and ask what all these would cost, if I had been to buy them.

I sometimes venture to tell her, that many of the ornaments are superfluous; that what is done with so much labour might have been supplied by a very easy purchase; that the work is not always worth the materials; and that I know not why the children should be persecuted with useless tasks, or obliged to make shoes that are never worn. She answers with a look of contempt, that men never care how money goes, and proceeds to tell of a dozen new chairs for which she is contriving covers, and of a couch which she intends to stand as a monument of needle-work.

In the mean time, the girls grow up in total ignorance of every thing past, present, and future. Molly asked me the other day, whether Ireland was in France, and was ordered by her mother to mend her hem. Kitty knows not, at sixteen, the difference between a Protestant and a Papist, because she has been employed three years in filling the side of a closet with a hanging that is to represent Cranmer in the flames. And Dolly, my eldest girl, is now unable to read a chapter in the Bible, having spent all the time, which other children pass at school, in working the interview between Solomon and the queen of Sheba.

About a month ago, Tent and Turkey-stitch seemed at a stand; my wife knew not what new work to introduce; I ventured to propose that the girls should now learn to read and write, and mentioned the necessity of a little arithmetick; but, unhappily, my wife has discovered that linen wears out, and has bought the girls three little wheels, that they may spin huckaback for the servants’ table. I remonstrated, that with larger wheels they might despatch in an hour what must now cost them a day; but she told me, with irresistible authority, that any business is better than idleness; that when these wheels are set upon a table, with mats under them, they will turn without noise, and keep the girls upright; that great wheels are not fit for gentlewomen; and that with these, small as they are, she does not doubt but that the three girls, if they are kept close, will spin every year as much cloth as would cost five pounds if one were to buy it