Sunday, March 18, 2007

Barthelme's Ghost

In early 1997, the night of the ice storm in Houston, my boyfriend-fiance's mother was dying, but I didn't know she was dying. I thought she would recover; she had had a small stroke. My boyfriend turned cruel -- due to his distress -- and I left their house to stay at Sonia's while she stayed at her boyfriend's. The ice was dripping from the evergreens. It was very beautiful, but hard on the trees. The planes were grounded. Electricity was out in her apartment. The temperature indoors seemed to be about 40, outdoors 25. I got in her bed, piled all her clothes on top of me, and tried to sleep. An animal was in the window, between the glass and the screen. I could hear it but not see it. I fervently hoped it wasn't a rat so high up -- a tall second-story. In the dark, I lay covered under garments. In a previous year, Sonia's bedroom had been our friend VC's office. It was the room in which he had written his first, long, well-received novel and composed his short stories for The New Yorker and Paris Review. There had been parties in that apartment; I had met Marion Barthelme, the widow of Donald Barthelme, there. I thought of those nights, of literary parties, to cheer myself as I lay in worst forms of physical and emotional discomfort, steeling myself to it, and cringing at the animal's digging sounds. Just before I slept, I was aware of Donald Barthelme standing in the room away from the bed, facing it. I could perceive his brown shadow, his hands folded in front of him, a patient stance, a grave expression. I live with a name that means "ghost," yet I am not superstitious. Partly, there he stood, a brown ghost on the dark, fantastical night of an ice storm; I knew it meant Barthelme, that this shadow of a father, a man, was not condemning me, not more than anyone is ever condemned, one day, to die. Partly, it was the father in Hamlet, the ice palace in Fitzgerald.

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