From My Commonplace Book - 24

from "Wants"

by Grace Paley

I saw my ex-husband in the street. I was sitting on the steps of the new library.

Hello, my life, I said. We had once been married twenty-seven years, so I felt justified.

He said, What? What life? No life of mine.

I said, O.K. I don't argue when there's a real disagreement. I got up and went into the library to see how much I owed them.

The librarian said $32 even and you've owed it for eighteen years. I didn't deny anything. Because I don't understand how time passes. I have had those books. I have often thought of them. The library is only two blocks away.

My ex-husband followed me to the Books Returned desk. He interrupted the librarian, who had more to tell. In many ways, he said, as I look back, I attribute the dissolution of our marriage to the fact that you never invited the Bertrams to dinner.

That's possible, I said. But, really, if you remember: first, my father was sick that Friday, then the children were born, then I had those Tuesday-night meetings, then the war began. Then we didn't seem to know them anymore. But you're right. I should have had them to dinner.

I gave the librarian a check for $32. Immediately she trusted me, put my past behind me, wiped the record clean, which is what most municipal/state bureaucracies will not do,

I checked out the two Edith Wharton books I had just returned because I had read them a long time ago and they were more apropos now then ever. They were The House of Mirth and The Children, which is about how life in the United States in New York changed in twenty-seven years fifty years ago.

A nice thing I do remember is breakfast, my ex-husband said. I was surprised. All we ever had was coffee. Then I remembered there was a hole in the back of the kitchen closet which opened into the apartment next door. There, they always ate sugar-cured smoked bacon. It gave a us a grand feeling about breakfast, but we never got stuffed and sluggish.

These are the opening paragraphs of what is a very short story. "Wants" can be found in Grace Paley's The Collected Stories.


Thank you very much Merry for more Grace Paley - just made me laugh - so matter of fact and the second hand bacon aromas making breakfast a feast delightful and Bertrams to dinner (or lack of) the suspected cause of the split - great humour of a very special sort.
Thanks, Enid, for your comment, which made me smile. I'm glad you enjoyed Grace Paley's sense of humor.
May I add the poignancy too - the passage is titled "Wants" despite the humour she brings.

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