Thursday, March 10, 2011

    "As for that," the Captain put in, "what matter if a man lives seven years or seventy? His years are not an eyeblink to eternity, and de'il the way he spends 'em - whether steering ships or scribbling verse, or building towns or burning 'em - he dies like a May fly when his day is done, and the stars go round their courses just the same. Where's the profit and loss o' his labors? He'd as well have stayed abed, or sat his bum on a bench."
    Although Ebenezer stirred uneasily at these words, remembering his state of mind at Magdalene College and in his room in Pudding Lane, he nevertheless reaffirmed his belief in the value of human time, arguing from the analogy of precious stones and metals that the value of commodities increases inversely with their supply where demand is constant, and with demand where supply is constant, so that mortal time, being infinitesimal in supply and virtually infinite in demand, was therefore infinitely precious to mortal men.
    "Marry come up!" McEvoy cried impatiently. "Ye twain remind me of children I saw once at St. Bartholomew's Fair, queued up to ride a little red pony cart..."
    He did not bother to explain his figure, but Ebenezer understood it immediately, or thought he understood it, for he said, "Thou'rt right, McEvoy; there is no argument 'twixt the Captain and myself. I recall the day my sister and I turned five and were allowed an extra hour 'twixt bath and bed. Mrs. Twigg would set her hourglass running there in the nursery; we could do whate'er we wished with the time, but when the sand had run 'twas off to bed and no lingering. I'faith, what a treasure that hour seemed: time for any of a hundred pleasures! We fetched out the cards, to play some game or other - but what silly game was worth such a wondrous hour? I vowed I'd build a castle out of blocks, and Anna set to drawing three soldiers upon a paper - but neither of us could pursue his sport for long, for thinking the other had chosen more wisely, so that anon we made exchange and were no more pleased. We cast about more desperately among our toys and games - whereof any one had sufficed for an hour's diversion earlier in the day - but none would do, and still the glass ran on! Any hour save this most prime and measured we had been pleased enough to do no more than talk, or watch the world at work outside our nursery window, but when I cried 'Heavy, heavy hangs over thy head,' to commence a guessing game, Anna fell straightway to weeping, and I soon joined her. yet e'en our tears did naught to ease our desperation; indeed, they but heightened it the more, for all the while we wept, our hour was slipping by. Now bedtime, mind, we'd ne'er before looked on as evil, but that sand was like our lifeblood draining from some wound; we sat and wept, and watched it flow, and the upshot of't was, we both fell ill and took to heaving, and Mrs. Twigg fetched us off to bed with our last quarter hour still in the glass."

- John Barth
The Sot-Weed Factor

Sunday, March 6, 2011

     Doctor Reefy was a tall man who had worn one suit of clothes for ten years. It was frayed at the sleeves and little holes had appeared at the knees and elbows. In the office he wore also a linen duster with huge pockets into which he continually stuffed scraps of paper. After some weeks the scraps of paper became little hard round balls, and when the pockets were filled he dumped them out upon the floor. For ten years he had but one friend, another old man named John Spaniard who owned a tree nursery. Sometimes, in a playful mood, old Doctor Reefy took from his pockets a handful of the paper balls and threw them at the nursery man. "That is to confound you, you blithering old sentimentalist," he cried, shaking with laughter.
     The story of Doctor Reefy and his courtship of the tall dark girl who became his wife and left her money to him is a very curious story. It is delicious, like the twisted little apples that grow in the orchards of Winesburg. In the fall one walks in the orchards and the ground is hard with frost underfoot. The apples have been taken from the trees by the pickers. They have been put in barrels and shipped to the cities where they will be eaten in apartments that are filled with books, magazines, furniture, and people. On the trees are only a few gnarled apples that the pickers have rejected. They look like the knuckles of Doctor Reefy's hands. One nibbles at them and they are delicious. Into a little round place at the side of the apple has been gathered all of its sweetness. One runs from tree to tree over the frosted ground picking the gnarled, twisted apples and filling his pockets with them. Only the few know the sweetness of the twisted apples.

- Sherwood Anderson
from "Paper Pills"
Winesburg, Ohio

Saturday, March 5, 2011

    He stopped on the threshold of the main lounge, but hardly had he begun to scan the distribution of its scattered human contents, than an abrupt flurry occurred in a distant group. Ada, spurning decorum, was hurrying toward him. Her solitary and precipitate advance consumed in reverse all the years of their separation as she changed from a dark-glittering stranger with the high hair-do in fashion to the pale-armed girl in black who had always belonged to him. At that particular twist of time they happened to be the only people conspicuously erect and active in the huge room, and heads turned and eyes peered when the two met in the middle of it as on a stage; but what should have been, in culmination of her headlong motion, of the ecstasy in her eyes and fiery jewels, a great explosion of voluble love, was marked by incongruous silence; he raised to his unbending lips and kissed her cygneous hand, and then they stood still, staring at each other, he playing with coins in his trouser pockets under his "humped" jacket, she fingering her necklace, each reflecting, as it were, the uncertain light to which all that radiance of mutual welcome had catastrophically decreased. She was more Ada than ever, but a dash of new elegancy had been added to her shy, wild charm. Her still blacker hair was drawn back and up into a glossy chignon, and the Lucette line of her exposed neck, slender and straight, came as a heartrending surprise. He was trying to form a succinct sentence (to warn her about the device he planned for securing a rendevous), but she interrupted his throat clearing with a muttered injunction: Sbrit' usi! (that mustache must go) and turned away to lead him to the far corner from which she had taken so many years to reach him.

- Vladimir Nabokov
Ada or Ardor: A Family Chronicle

Thursday, March 3, 2011

    Ebenezer had of course observed her for some years as she and his companions came and went in their harlotry, and from the talk in the coffee-house had got to know about her in great detail at second hand a number of things that his personal disorganization precluded learning at first. When in manly moments he thought of her at all it was merely as a tart whom, should he one day find himself single-minded enough, it might be sweet to hire to initiate him at long last into the mysteries. For it happened that, though near thirty, Ebenezer was yet a virgin, and this for the reason explained in the previous chapters, that he was no person at all: he could picture any kind of man taking a woman - the bold as well as the bashful, the clean green boy and the dottering gray lecher - and work out in his mind the speeches appropriate to each under any of several sorts of circumstances. But because he felt himself no more one of these than another and admired all, when a situation presented itself he could never choose one role to play over all the rest he knew, and so always ended up either turning down the chance or, what was more usually the case, retreating gracelessly and in confusion, if not always embarrassment. Generally, therefore, women did not give him a second glance, not because he was uncomely - he had marked well that some of the greatest seducers have the faces of goats and the manner of lizards - but because, a woman having taken in his ungainly physique, there remained no other thing for her to notice.

- John Barth
The Sot-Weed Factor