03 March 2008

the signal man's wife

I am driving Hemingway down Main Street past the RIPTA stop by M. G. Jewelers and across from the Bank.

I wonder what he would take as true and write in his notebook.

He is fanned out across my passenger seat--white-haired and bearded, black-haired and mustached, always tall--gazing up off the torn pages of my paperback volume of A Moveable Feast--split down the binding, splayed in three sections.

He would not fit in the envelope that I mailed to Spain. So he drives with me and reminds me that anything true that I know or see or hear someone say is mine to write down.

Maybe it is the image of the Signal Man's wife, at least eighty, sitting in their Newell Street apartment with her pinkish-red hair piled high, curls across her forehead, lighting a cigarette and flexing her long narrow feet in moccasins as she flips nonchalantly between TV Land and the History Channel.

I rang their bell two minutes ago and have come by to get a photo of him, on the deck of his destroyer escort from World War II, because he was honored by our Senator this week. The photo is small and worn in the center. I can barely make out his features or the ship. I say I'll scan it anyways.

"Sit down he says," and leaves the room.

The apartment walls are bare except for a faded Monet print in a plastic frame. All the end tables are covered with framed photographs--kids I assume are their children, them dancing at a party. Her hair has been red for several decades. Before his hair turned white he still had a short little mustache no wider than his nose, no thicker than his upper lip.

She hands me a box containing his medals, while he settles at a back table to write the list of guests who were at his ceremony on a piece of stationary. She hovers between the couch and the ash tray, telling me how much she loves her caller ID, apologizing that the kitchen table is covered with nearly a dozen pill bottles, and saying how very nice the Senator was, "He's funny," she says. "He's so sharp."

"Don't make me out to be any hero," he tells me as I leave. I promise not to write anything he didn't tell me.

Driving back to my office I consult Hemingway.

What would he think of this city, divided into villages that fan our around old mills?--divided in memory into past and present, a horizon of mill smokestacks and causeways, the sturdy fieldstone and bricks still standing, waiting, silent bell towers and still-turning clocks--the river snaking through.

1 comment:

Hope said...

:) Nice.