I hope to get back on my Short Story Sunday schedule eventually (and hope even more to get back into my New Yorker short story reading routine), but until then I am still reading and enjoying even if I am not posting on normal short story day. So, two more stories by Mary Costello from The China Factory. She is a lovely writer, but the stories, certainly the first of the two I will share tend towards the melancholy. I actually don't mind melancholy since it so often resembles life--just the ordinary with moments both sad and beautiful.
I think "Things I See" might be my favorite story so far (early days yet since I am a mere four stories in). The narrator is a young mother who works while her husband plays the stay at home dad. The pair are joined by her younger sister who is staying with them for a week. The story is all about the things and people she observes every day, though not just simple observations but internal reflections on her life and world and relationships.
"Outside my room the wind whistles. It blows down behind our row of houses, past all the bedroom windows and when I try to imagine the other bedrooms and the other husbands and wives inside, I hear my own husband moving about downstairs. He will have finished reading the paper by now and broken up the chunks of coal in the grate. Then he will carry the tray into the kitchen, carefully, with the newspaper folded under his arm. He will wash the mugs and leave them to drain; he will flip the blind so that the kitchen will be bright in the morning."
Her husband, she thinks to herself, is predictable and safe. Sometimes she longs to be alone however, able to putter around the house. Yet there is a contentment in the idea of her husband and tiny daughter in her memory--she will linger in their afterglow of nearness until some sound shatters the moment and brings her back to reality. Of late she has had a worry, a concern, for their future. It's not the idea of their getting old together but of "growing different" and what woman in any relationship has not worried about that. What happens to any relationship over time where the pair doesn't grow in the same direction and twines together but branches off in some other direction?
She has a new image to call on. Returning home from work earlier in the day, she comes upon husband and child and her younger sister returning home from a walk and sees three happy people, flushed by the wind and chill in the air laughing at some shared joke. Who made it? What brought on the laughter. And the narrator wonders and thinks to herself that this child is so apart from her that she almost cannot claim her, so much is she with her father. This shared moment has excluded her. This moment, this thing she sees. These things she sees are not only just everyday average things, but these shared moments outside herself that raise doubts of her place and others' intentions and actions.
"The Patio Man" is a somewhat perplexing story and I had to skim over it again a second time to see what I had missed, as when I came to that last nuanced moment of the story I knew I had read it too fast and hadn't been paying as careful attention as I should have. Never underestimate the power of a short story.
The patio man is the narrator of the story with yet more observations, but these are entirely different really. Yet another ordinary life filled with ordinary things--visiting friends and family, thinking of journeys he'll be taking with friends, but mostly he thinks of gardens since he is a gardener by trade. And yes, along with tending to gardens and planting and designing he also sets slabs of stones to make patios which he is in the process of doing for a woman who rarely leaves her house. There's a reason for this as she is expecting a baby. But still, she tells him, she's never been one much for the outside.
On his second day of work she comes out and tells him she must leave unexpectedly, her face is pale and she looks ill and in the end he offers to take her to the hospital as she is in some distress. A moment and a situation he has never had to deal with and one that enlightens him to the reality of women's lives.
"Something had been forming, cell by cell, limb by limb, in the dark of her. Vertebrae, tendon, knucklebone. The iris in an eye. Now, it had fallen away, a subtraction of her being. Fingerprints cut short in the making. He thinks of things he has not thought of before, about women's lives. It is not the same for men at all. His hands turn on the steering wheel, His strength, his maleness, is of no avail."
This is the sort of understated yet still vivid moment that Mary Costello writes about in her stories.
The next two stories: "This Falling Sickness" and "Sleeping with a Stranger."