I sat on my bed, against the pillows, and I began to wonder what the house knew, what it had watched, whether it believed in me more than Fred or liked us bot the same? How did I measure up to Sally, or she to Shirley or Shirley to Stanley? I floated somewhere between relaxation and sleep, and I felt the pulsing of the house’s life begin to shrub inside me as if we shared a single heart. Not that the walls spoke, nothing so insane, but I could feel the history of footsteps treading its floors. The slamming of doors, the rumpled bed linens, the broken glasses and books left abandoned by bedsides, the arguments and the laughter, the spilled drinks and worn socks and burnt stews and crumpled pages. I smelled flowers and semen, vomit and sweat, the sour scent of cigarette smoke, the achy sweetness of bourbon in the bottom of a glass come morning. History, the history of lives here lived, our history. The thought was comforting, like the monotonous churn of the waterwheel down in the village reservoir, over and over and over so that crashing water lost its violence, became its own continuing momentum—
thoughts into words into pictures and i closed my eyes. my brain calmed, slowed, foot soldier words aligned themselves in sentences nonsense thoughts i’d never thought such things and as i woozed and floated embryonic in the clock-ticking electricity humming heat rising silence i began to know, to know—
i know who i love, i dreamed it, dreamed the words, was i waking or sleeping, i know i know
stanley—i said to him—stanley, stanela
but i was dead, how was it so, that i was dead and i was her and so i told him, stanley listen
when i was alive, i told him, and we were happy (decades of this, and weren’t we very?), we made a vow that whichever of us went first would be cremated, and i sit in a jar on the dresser in our bedroom, keeping an eye on things.
was i waking or sleeping, i dreamed. i dreamed i was shirley, i dreamed i was shirley. i knew i was shirley i was. shirley
“you, you’ll remarry,” i told you. “men do. you won’t like to be alone.” there was no dig in this (i fucked dylan thomas on our porch, did i ever tell you? there was a party, and all our friends drunk as lords inside and it was winter. too much gin and i took him to the porch, where he grabbed icicles off the roff and tickled my neck with the cold end, then licked my frozen skin. and me, he lifted my woolen dress and drew down my tights, and yes, he fucked me, stanley, on our very own porch with you inside and some eager undergraduate stroking your shoulders as you held forth. but dylan thomas, stanley, dylan thomas—now that was a man worth holding against skin chilled and rubbery, dylan thomas—). i only wanted you to know i would not mind.
“don’t love her more than me,” i said, and you studied me, noting the brittleness in my tone, unsure whether i was about to lose my temper.
Pages 195 to 197 of Shirley: A Novel
by kind permission of the author.
Copyright © 2014 Susan Scarf Merrell.
Published by PLUME, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC