Saturday, June 6, 2020
Pandemic Book Club Grief In Anti-Racist Time
I becomes she.
She leaned her forehead on the cool green tile of the dining room table, the peonies' blowsy above her, their blooms bigger than babies' heads. The leader of the book club she'd joined on impulse spoke on, enthusiastic. They were reading The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. She had never read this slim novel, was only aware of the movie and Maggie Smith who played Miss Jean. Each sentence was a revelation and the whole book was imbued with sadness and humor. Sadness and humor. They both drove and defined her. Her, not Miss Jean Brodie. The leader of the book group introduced the Tennyson poem "The Lady of Shalott" and asked for volunteers to read a verse. She raised her hand to do so, waved her hand to be seen, a little block in the upper-left corner of the screen. Do you not know how to use the hand wave? the leader asked her, and she answered No, but she was on mute so he didn't hear her. She couldn't wave and couldn't speak. Nevertheless, (she was now speaking in her head and typing like Miss Jean Brodie or was it Muriel Spark?), she was asked to read Verse 5. Under tower and balcony/By garden-wall and gallery/A gleaming shape she floated by/Dead-pale between the houses high. Her own square on the screen was a photo of her, blurry, brushing her hair back in a beam of sunlight over her shoulder. She looked beautiful and it was only four years ago. Today she looked old. Also, fascism. She thought of her Italian grandmother, her illiterate grandmother, her love of Mussolini. Order. Miss Jean Brodie, too, loved fascism. She (not Miss Jean Brodie) thought of the mindset of the time. It was extravagant to be reading this book today, these times, to have these thoughts. The peonies were as big as babies' heads but also blowsy, sensual. Wanton, her friend had written. Sirens kept wailing over the mute heads on the screen. She leaned her forehead on the cool green tile of the dining room table under the wanton peonies, the slim novel the sirens the awe-fulness of everything.