In The Memorial Room by Janet Frame

In The Memorial Room

by Janet Frame

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I can take dictation at the rate of a hundred words a minute. I am willing to work. Will you let me try it? I am looking for a position as a cashier. This is to certify that Mabel Howard has been in my employ for fifteen months. She is a most able and willing worker. Merry Christmas to you and all the family. May each of the three hundred and sixty-five days of the new year be a happy one for you. May your Easter be a bright and happy one. Birthday greetings. You have our heartfelt sympathy. Heartiest congratulations. His thoughts and the thoughts of others were constantly on what he would achieve, on what he would become, in a pleasantly anticipated future, while the present lay just at hand, all the riches of the world ignored and untouched. It was scarcely Michael's fault. I could see that his clever childhood had been a grooming, an anticipation, for the future use of his many talents, and he had fallen into the habit of tomorrow which in a man of thirty-three shows a rosy promise beginning to wither and arouses pity rather than admiration. Everything is always comparative in another country. Crooks are crookeder, grass is greener, heights are higher, words are wordier, pleasures are more pleasurable, death is deader, life is livelier, dogs are doggier, fortune is more fortunate, vaults more vaulted, distance is further, water more watery, blue is bluer, grey is greyer, fame more famous, continuance more continuing, consumers more consumed, reality more real, fantasy more fantastic, adjustments more adjusted, fires more fiery, chaos more chaotic... I mean to say... I quite enjoy these detective stories. There's an art in them, you know. (He was defensive.) What neither of them said was that when you plan to retire, to get to the country of perpetual relaxation, and you start travelling there and eventually arrive you may find you have picked up a perpetual sense of despair and a feeling of timelessness that is not merely the abandoning of timetables and not the grand eternity 'pinnacled dim in the intense inane', but a prospect of desert, of fruitlessness from which death begins to appear, enticingly, as the last springtime. Everywhere, every year there is weather described as unusual, not by the visitors but by those who know best, the inhabitants. Have you sensed the nothingness of my nature, that I am as empty as the carriages of the trains that pass, dusty, used, in the morning sun? A novelist must be that way, I think, and not complain of it, otherwise how shall the characters accommodate themselves in his mind? The library performed a similar function to the English church—it gathered together the exiles who had left England partly because they did not wish to be gathered together but who had changed their mind once they had arrived on the Côte d'Azur, settled in their retirement homes or apartments, redecorated and furnished the interior, cleaned up and planted the garden, and then sitting back to enjoy the arrival of the long-anticipated time for living, found that it was late, or it had been and gone, or it was only a dream. When three hours had passed Dorset's voice was very loud, Elizabeth's too, and Elizabeth began to talk of Rose and how she and Rose had both written poems while they were young and hers, Elizabeth's, were longer with more words and had more titles. Menton is a city of innumerable retirement dreams quietly being wrecked by reality. The lizard ideal of sun and warmth, the human ideal of unlimited leisure, of unbroken views of ocean, sky, mountains, trees, make Menton a promised paradise for all when reaching their troisième âge they try to follow the tradition of stopping suddenly their pursuits of twenty, thirty, forty years. What a dreary life an author's life is, I thought. Grace, in this family setting, was the tolerated outsider whose slightest false move would change her to the enemy; the seeds of enmity had been planted with her arrival as Michael's unofficial wife but the rain- and sun-making forces necessary for their growth had been imprisoned within the seasonless weatherless world of the parents' love for or indulgence of their son. When she spoke, French or English, she spoke slowly, almost mechanically, with a swaying motion of her body as if she had within her some instrument for winding her words, in sentence-containers, up from a great depth where they had fallen or been banished; sometimes one felt as if they were extracted with difficulty, as if she herself had gone away down into the rock to hack them out and shake them clean—a long slow process which made her listeners impatient: usually Max or Michael took over the telling of a long story when the words appeared to fit it appeared to be growing scarce.
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