I've been meaning to revisit this book, a favorite of mine when I was in middle school or a little older, 35 years ago at least. At the time, as a result of reading it, I used to go about public places pensively touching the fourth finger of my left hand to my chin in the hope that other afficionados of the novel and of the ideas it contained might recognize the gesture and signal back accordingly. No takers, not once ever. I gave up the experiment, in short order forgot the plot of the novel, and indeed forgot most everything about it except for the cool, various names of the Callendar family - Friday, February, Augustus, and the like - along with the distinctive, deliberate hand gesture. One doesn't accidentally rub one's fourth finger on the chin. When one indicates by way of coded gesture that the universe is rolled thus into a ball, deniability is impossible. That is not what I meant at all? Not an option.
Despite all my near-instant melted-ice-cream forgetting, the novel managed to sink its depth charges. The ideas and values given articulate play between the covers made a lasting impression. Reading it as a young woman already feeling perilously alone, I felt a rare sense of affirmation. The novel, geared towards young adults, reflected values that I innately already possessed and believed in. It didn't talk down to me. Indeed, it helped to inform me. It treats of the political nature of how the world works, an essential problematic to which children are too rarely exposed and that they absolutely need to know. Conversations among the characters are untethered, centering on humanity's hopes and struggles and how life on earth is to proceed. It examines such large themes in a way that can readily be grasped by a young, inquiring mind. Young adults sense the urgency, the peril that they face, acutely. I felt buttressed by engaging in the dialogue of reading the book. Though I soon forgot the cloak-and-dagger machinations that made for a page-turning read, the novel became an early affirmative influence without my conscious awareness of it.
I read Herta Muller's Nobel Prize acceptance speech just now and thought of this book. Touching fourth finger to chin is awkward and fleeting - too invisible to be effective. Besides, the gesture has no collateral practical purpose. Carrying a simple handkerchief somewhere on one's person - batiste, everyday and at the same time in the spirit of the fine blouse the Japanese woman gave to me in my dream last night - is far more versatile.
That tie is too good to wear, my father would inevitably say at the proffered gift. I always so longed for him to wear what I, in all my inexperience, had tried to choose.
This weekend I spent the night in the loveliest of perfectly square rooms designed for restful sleep and peaceful contemplation as I gradually woke at dawn. When I got up I surveyed all the objects in the room. On the corner of the dresser lay a snow white handkerchief, embroidered with a blue flower. It was folded into thirds, something I had seen people industriously set themselves about to do at a table the evening before.
The place where I crashed for a night was loaded to the rafters with meaningful treasures. I didn't take anything (either from covetousness or as a tiny souvenir), but had I read Ms. Muller's essay prior to that surreal night, I may well have departed at the conclusion of that particular dream with the handkerchief, without asking permission to take it.
Where does one acquire simple handkerchiefs these days?
(I'm in the kitchen so much these days - I'm a dishtowel & apron gal myself.)
Look at those birds! How individualistic they are, and yet how united! They are not officially organized - yet somehow they know how to live together, how to cooperate.
Preceding snapshot is a bit too fraught with meanings that I didn't intend. The flash is from the camera's bulb, not some kind of "meaningful illumination." I was trying to draw a visual parallel between Callendar Girl's leftward pointing finger & Mr. Carpenter's, whose beloved image on the page tonight is my fetishistic stand-in for dearest darling. For how long is a girl expected to rub her own chin? His will be rubbed through soon enough if I don't quit stroking his face and getting pulled into his loving, sober gaze.