Monday, November 24, 2008

The Big Read IV: Jackson's "Come Dance..." + "Of Course"

The Lottery: And Other StoriesCome Dance With Me in Ireland
(read here if you have New Yorker sub)

Three women hang out together. They gossip. They play with the baby. An old man selling shoelaces, i.e. a bum, serves to delineate the differences between them.

Mrs. Archer, the young mother, would turn the man away, but taken in by his flattery regarding politeness. She straddles the line of kindness...her initial impulse would be to say no...after all "Everybody rings our bell for everything." But she wants to be nice, and wants to be seen as nice.

Kathy, young also but unmarried, is quite inclined to empathize. When the old man falters, she and Mrs. Archer are quick to help. Kathy is quick to believe he is hungry and thus weakened. Mrs. Corn, middle-aged, is the one who is ready to pronounce, "He's drunk!" even as Kathy and Mrs. Archer seek alcohol as medicine. They fix him a meal of eggs, bacon, and potatoes.

Kathy is generous with the food, though it is Mrs. Archer's. Mrs. Archer thinks of the purposes she had for that food, but is easily persuaded to give by Kathy. Mrs. Corn never trusts him.

His name is John O'Flaherty. Kathy says, "I gather you're from the old country." He affirms, and says he knew Yeats. Hmmm. I must look that up. Yes, it's possible. And he quotes him, 'Come out of charity, come dance with me in Ireland.' I think I need to revisit that poem, and consider what else might be going on here. Like some guardian angel making pronouncements, he doles out fortunes for the three women. Mrs. Archer is kind, "but I never served bad sherry to my guests. We are of two different worlds, Madam." Mrs. Corn merits a thumbed nose, and "I hate old women." Kathy merits (I think) "Come dance with me in Ireland."

I don't understand that poem. Yet. It could be important to understanding this story.

Of Course

Mrs. Tylor just has to know about the new neighbors, but mustn't make it look like she's gawking, so she peeks through curtains as she cleans her house and moves from room to room. Her daughter, same age as the new neighbor boy, gives her an excuse to go outside and meet them.

A series of "of course" moments happen. The first is one we the reader may catch, even if unwritten. The new neighbor's name: Harris. (of course!). The new neighbors do not go to the movies. Of course. They'd had disagreeable neighbors in the past who played their radio too loud. Mr. Harris doesn't like to listen to the radio. Of course. For entertainment he reads Elizabethan plays. Of course.

Feeling as though she had been rude, Mrs. Tylor said, "Where is Mr. Harris now?"
"At his mother's," Mrs. Harris said. "He always stays there when we move."
"Of course," Mrs. Tylor said, feeling as though she had been saying nothing else all morning.
Apparently, she hadn't. And apparently, "of course" no longer means "of course," but something like "like hell." For even though it sounds as though little James is invited over later, of course, Mrs. Tylor and Carol won't be there.
"Can't I go to the movies," Carol said, "please, Mother?"
"I'll go with you, dear," Mrs. Tylor said.

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