McCarthy and Woolf
Tom sat at the round kitchen table reading Blood Meridian for the third time. Adele placed slices of orange in front of him.
“Have you finished Mrs. Dalloway?” she asked.
He paused—a pause not there when he was teaching. Finally, he looked up, the novel still open.
“Almost.” And looked down again, turning the page.
How could he say so little, almost, and that was it, that was all. He had lived with her fifteen years, he knew she adored Woolf, especially Clarissa, and all he could say was almost, one word as if it were enough.
Wanting to scream, Adele stood nearly twenty seconds, her hands squeezing the rail of the chair before she sat across from him. He mumbled or she thought he mumbled and his carriage hardened, sensing what was coming.
“What do you think?” she asked.
He breathed in this deliberate manner that bordered on a groan.
“It’s a bit slow. The writing is lovely but Woolf doesn’t pull me in,” he said, his finger holding his place in McCarthy.
Lovely. She wanted to hit him. She wanted to talk about how the novel slips from the present to the past and back again, how everyone has a point of view even the girl selling petticoats, how the miracle of existence culminates in Clarissa at the top of the stairs.
He could see her lips tightening, her presence receding. Closing his novel, he said,
“Sorry. That was a bit glib. The language is pure as one image unfolds into another. But she reads like a performance, a spectacle.” He pushed his chair back so he could cross his legs.
“Spectacle?” she asked. “What the hell do you mean? You read about massacre and bloodshed and then call Woolf spectacle because Woolf’s not killing for her audience’s attention.”
“Woolf killed Septimus,” he said.
He knew enough not to smile.
Adele walked to the fridge and grabbed a bottle of water; maybe she’d throw it at him or shatter the glass and stab him. On the walnut coffee table they bought at a garage sale in Ventura was the most recent Harper’s, which reports that a team of forensic engineers at The University of Leicester measured the amount of force used in bottle stabbings and called it effectively phenomenal. She twisted the cap off the bottle and sat down across from Tom.
“God. I want to hit you,” she said.
Closing the novel again, he looked up at her and scratched his cheek, waiting.
“Ever hit a woman?” she asked.
“Does my sister count?”
She drank some water. The fridge started up and she turned and watched it before looking back at him. Why does he always have to be a smartass? He’s so good at so much. But his silence hurts, leaves me feeling stranded. (Long before they met, her then boyfriend and she started drinking Bloody Marys at Myrtle Beach in the early afternoon. The next morning she woke with a splitting headache, nose swollen and raccoon eyes. X-rays showed no skull fracture. Adele told everyone she fell on the pier. The boyfriend bought her roses.)
Tom pushed the novel away, still staring at her.
“I’ve never slapped a woman,” he said, “though sometimes I’ve wanted to. But I feel guilty enough.”
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