The springs of affection

There's a story of a husband going through his wife's belongings after she has passed away by Maeve Brennan. It wasn't a happy marriage. He's searching for some belonging to provoke a sense of grief inside him, a sensation he doesn't feel. He's looking for some sense of her presence to show him he misses her. There was something beautiful and familiar about this.

Sometimes, when I'm homesick, I look at things that I know will make me feel more fully the thing I'm grieving for. Sometimes it works, other times it doesn't. I try not to use the ones that work too much lest they lose that magical power to conjure up a certain smell or sound or angle of light or even a distant dream that I had then.

And sometimes photographs of people too can summon the person to me, or the feeling of my old pal Baggins' curled under the crook of my legs in bed or resting his head in my hand. I treasure those talismans that transport me to other places and people, to hopes and ideas long forgotten.

I wonder do people ever think of me this way. I think about ex-boyfriends and friends far away. One used to put his hand on the nape of my neck when we walked and I still feel it there sometimes; a favourite gesture that will remind me only of him.

I think of all of this, all those belongings and gestures, and it all carries a sense of ending, a sense of loss and one of unknowing. For though we all have such ideas and belongings locked away, we rarely tell the people they involve. We would never call them up to say, "I think of you whenever I smell that soap, though we have long stopped meaning that much to each other."

The passage in Brennan's story made me cry, because of all people her husband should have known and felt all of this, but he didn't and saw it all coldly. And I wonder when I'm holding all these ideas of other people as being so precious to me if they would instead have forgotten or think icily too and render me silly and sentimental.

"Take, for example, that arrangement of old chocolate boxes on the blanket chest under the shelf where she had kept her few books. You would think, to see those chocolate boxes, and to note the careful order in which they were arranged, by size and also by shape, a rectangular one set straight and centred on top of a larger rectangle, the square ones built up like child's blocks on top of the squares, and the two long equal ones set apart from the rest, completing the design of even lines and sharp angles, all of it speaking of neatness and care and of an overpowering concern with order—you would think, looking at such an arrangement, that the boxes contained something of interest or value. And what did they contain? Old bills marked paid thirty years before. Recipes for dinners she had never cooked, dinners so elaborate that she must have been dreaming of a visit from the king and queen of England when she cut the menus out of the magazines in which she found them. Directions for making dresses that she would never in her life have had the occasion to wear—there was a whole pamphlet that gave instructions, measurements, etc., for the construction of a satin ball gown. It would have been laughable it if was not so pathetic... all the time dreaming, dreaming, dreaming, always dreaming, and what was it she had dreamed about, all her life? She had never said... She was all indirection." 

 - from The Drowned Man from The Springs of Affection by Maeve Brennan
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