eBook ePubWhat's this?
eBook PDFWhat's this?
Rosemary O’Neal lived for eight years with William, in a rambling country house in Maine. Then William committed suicide on a trip to London, leaving her with questions, anger, and no way to say...
Rosemary O’Neal lived for eight years with William, in a rambling country house in Maine. Then William committed suicide on a trip to London, leaving her with questions, anger, and no way to say goodbye. When her zany family descends on the house, bringing a tidal wave of casseroles and their own petty problems, Rosemary retreats with her cat from the chaos of the world around them. (Her cat understands human nature better than Homo sapiens anyway.) It takes an unsettling turn of events to shock her back into the pitfalls of living and realize that life is a fleeting experience to be carefully savored.
Award-winning author Cathie Pelletier has been called “a bitingly funny, highly original novelist”. In The Bubble Reputation, she redefines “dysfunctional” in this bittersweet, life-affirming story about the idiosyncrasies of family, the anguish of grief, and finding peace after chaos.
THE CANNON’S MOUTH
For three months after the funeral she refused to go back into the mainstream of laughing, talking, loving, hating people. She began to think of the world out the...
THE CANNON’S MOUTH
For three months after the funeral she refused to go back into the mainstream of laughing, talking, loving, hating people. She began to think of the world out there as a large department store where many mannequins interwove themselves. The mornings began with Mr. Coffee, and filling the feeders with seeds for the birds that were silhouetted in the hedges and along the dark tops of the trees. Even on the dull, overcast morning of the funeral, she had made her sister, Miriam; her brother, Robbie; and her uncle, Bishop, wait in the car until all five feeders were loaded with sunflower seeds, millet, cracked corn, and hemp. And the long tubular feeder was filled with tiny black niger for when the goldfinches finally arrived. “Because the birds are still alive,” she said to Miriam. Even on the day of William’s one and only funeral, she had not forgotten to feed the birds.
There was no easy way to settle into the house alone. The immensity of it, all the extra, empty space was a cruel reminder of her singleness, the way a prisoner feels when he suddenly finds himself back on the outside. William had been gone a month before the telephone’s ringing had broken through her sleep and brought her awake enough to hear the words, via satellite, from England, from William’s good friend Michael. A sharp, sirenlike song in the black of night, the alarm sounded by a cornered bird. “Rosemary? I have some bad news about William.”
He had been gone a month, but he was coming back. It was only what he called one of his artistic binges, a madcap dash across Europe to gaze longingly at Rembrandt, Van Gogh, Manet. “He’s off on another independent study,” Rosemary told anyone who asked. That was one of the reasons William had never looked for a stable job. He needed the freedom that came with tending a neighborhood bar, driving a milk truck, painting someone’s house, mowing the occasional lawn. He needed freedom because he loved the intimacy of setting up an easel before the likes of El Greco’s The Annunciation and repainting it, as students do. Because it was his for the moment. Because he was sharing with El Greco, stroke by stroke, the painter’s genius.
Postcards came often from the cities that claimed the paintings he loved. From Amsterdam came Van Gogh’s self-portrait and Rembrandt’s Nightwatch. From Madrid, The Garden of Delights; from Paris, Titians and Raphaels. Once, a card arrived from Spain of shadowy mountains and pastel blue skies. “I dreamed of Goya last night,” it said, “and how he lay on his back in the Sierra Morena to fix the axle on the duchess of Alba’s carriage.” This was the secret of William’s passion. He was not so much in love with art as he was with the frantic lives of its creators. The last postcard came bent at one corner, with curious stamps from Belgium, and was a reproduction of Brueghel’s Landscape with the Fall of Icarus, bearing the words Today Brussels. Tomorrow? It was an ironic ending to an erratic trail across centuries, down through painting styles, and visions, and visionaries.
But he was coming back to the old house and the birds and the cats and Rosemary. They had given eight years to each other, with an annual hiatus for William’s ramblings. She was almost certain he would be back. Almost. The truth was that his last departure had left her shaken. There was a kind of finality in the way he said good-bye, in his reluctance to let her hand slip away from his. And there were things he took along that were impractical: heavy art books, a Civil War bayonet belonging to a great-grandfather, a tiny photo album of the two of them during the happiest occasions. But he’d gone off again with his old college friend Michael, who sometimes went along on these artistic rages. Had she touched upon some foreknowledge of his impending death? Was that the prophetic aura of doom that seemed to hang over this last trip? Or had he simply made a decision to stay away?
In the month he was gone, and he rarely stayed away longer, Rosemary read the postcards that fluttered like colorful birds across the Atlantic, pinpointed their origins on her globe, then left them to pile up on her desk. There was no need to worry about it. She would simply wait out an answer. William would face her with whatever had gone wrong between them when he was ready, if something had gone wrong. So she went on discussing Coleridge and Wordsworth and Keats and Shelley with her high school students. She went about trying to get teenagers to understand melancholy and despair, to grasp hold of sudden hope and inspiration in an age of neon clothing, street gangs, and cocaine lunches. That William would die and take his answers to her questions with him had caught her unawares. It had happened quickly, a sharp, cutting sound in the night. It was Michael, crying. “He’s committed suicide, Rosemary.”
And now there was no more William upon the planet. No more combination of brain cells, and tissue, and muscle, and bone that made up William the man. Michael? She had only met Michael twice, and briefly, when he passed through and had needed one of their extra bedrooms for the night. He was quiet, intelligent, an art student with William at the University of Maine. But Michael, unlike William, had given up dreams of finding his own canvases hanging on the walls of world museums. He worked, instead, for his father in one of those small but successful family businesses. The day might come when she would have to go to Michael for the answers about William’s last emotional thoughts. In case he knew. In the meantime, she went quietly to pieces, alone, in the house of many rooms and long, quiet hallways. “The Spruce Goose,” William had called it.
The family rained in on her at first with solemn faces, words of hope, and far too many casseroles. She let them have their way for a few days, let the funeral come and go. William’s body came back from England to New England, across the ocean his ancestors had sailed centuries before, to Maine, “Vacationland,” the land of colors and shadows and shapes that William never grew to love. “Maine just doesn’t do it for me,” he had said a thousand times. “The tourists can have it.”
Throughout the funeral, she let the family coddle and protect and force themselves upon her in the form of company she didn’t want. But once it was over, she emphatically informed them that she was leaving her teaching job. She would squander her nest egg. She would go backpacking alone into the caverns of the house as though it were a cave. She would nurse herself. She would heal her own wounds. She would begin a quiet rearranging of life’s notions.
For two weeks she cried endlessly. The sight of almost every thing in the house, however loosely connected to William, would set her off. Once, when she went on a mad cleaning binge and was vacuuming behind a trunk in an upstairs room, the nozzle made a clinking sound. When she pushed the trunk aside, she found a Paper Mate pen. But it wasn’t the pen that upset her. It was the glitter of a tiny, garnet earring, half-hidden in the dust balls, an earring with her birthstone on it, given to her by William several years before. It would have been swallowed up by the vacuum and forgotten had it not been for the pen. Rosemary dropped to her knees by the trunk, the earring clutched in her hand so tightly it left red marks when she opened her palm to look at it. The garnet had sparkled, pulsating as though it were the beating heart of some delicate creature. She wondered where the mate to it was at that very moment. Hadn’t she lost it on some picnic? Or a school outing that involved a softball game? It had been ages ago was all she could remember, and that she had grieved at losing it. William had thought so long and hard on what to get her that year before he’d decided on little gold earrings with garnet stones, for Rosemary, who wore no jewelry. Sweet, thoughtful, impractical William, the kind of person who bought cat food only if he himself liked the flavor. “No, Seafood Buffet just isn’t what I feel like tonight,” he would say to Rosemary as he put the can back on the shelf. Rosemary knew he picked the earrings out because of the artist in him, because they burst onto his corneas as little red berries. Chiseled angles. Precise shapes. She had turned the single earring over and over in her hand. After a long cry in the large room facing the road, the one William chose most frequently as the room in which to paint, the room that was most William, she went downstairs and put the earring on a can in the kitchen. And for nights after, when she dreamed of him, she saw him standing near the sink, next to the little earring she had left on the top of a coffee can filled with wheat-back pennies.
Nights were the hardest. During the day, she kept busy by grooming the cats, studying her nature books, trying out a new birdseed from her catalog. She ordered many things through the mail. It became her main source of contact with the world out there. She joined numerous book clubs and received, once, for joining, a set of Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire for $29.95. The first volume stayed on the coffee table for three weeks until she dusted it off and slid it onto the shelf with the other six. She ordered flower bulbs and magazines and kitchen gadgets. She bought a Japanese bonsai tree in a small glass bowl, then forgot about it in one of the upstairs windows. She clipped dozens of coupons out of magazines for pennies off on paper towels, egg rolls, tea bags, and a variety of other products she rarely used. In case she fell on hard times. She ordered her groceries from Laker’s Food Store because they delivered for a small fee. She left an occasional note in the mailbox with a five-dollar bill so that the postman would leave her a book of stamps. Her car collected dust in the garage.
It occurred to her she might never need the external world again. She ate simple meals, a cream-of-something soup, cheese, a lettuce-and-tomato sandwich, a handful of pecans or walnuts, seasonal fruit, and fixed a small pot of tea inside a cozy, a slice of lemon on her saucer. Simple, quiet affairs, very unlike the boisterous lunches with William, who rarely sat still at the table.
Her physical appearance changed little. She had always maintained a minimum of fashion, usually wore jeans, flannel shirts, tennis shoes, sweaters, unless the occasion demanded something a bit more formal, and avoided occasions that demanded something very formal. Makeup involved a $4.50 tube of dark brown mascara and a $3.89 tube of wine-colored lipstick, if she wore any makeup at all. The shoulder-length brown hair hadn’t changed since her college days, except for three or four strands of grayish white coming to the bangs. It hung freely in its natural wave or went up into a ponytail if she was busy working with her hands. “You’re one of those women who will be even more attractive at forty and fifty,” William once told her, but now he would never find out if that was true. She lost ten pounds but had always considered herself overweight, so she didn’t mind when the scales turned up one day with new numbers. Some dark circles developed under her eyes from a lack of sleep but, all in all, her appearance changed little.
All through the long evenings, she sat out on the swing with one or both of the cats asleep at her feet or sniffing about the corners of the porch. She watched the birds feed until they drifted off to their night roosts, until just the cardinals, and one or two house sparrows, or the white-throated sparrow, were left behind. Then, just she and the cardinals and the cats, until those birds were gone, too, off into the hedges and trees and fields for the night. She usually brought a glass of wine out to the swing after dinner, around eight or nine o’clock, and sat sipping it and staring at the craters on the moon with her binoculars. The next major purchase she made, she decided, would be a powerful telescope, and she would buy one of those books called Astronomy Made Simple.
The first two months there had been a river of wine. Only Robbie, who’d been asked to deliver it for her by the case, knew just how much wine. But even at those times he was not invited inside. He stood, uncomfortable on her front porch, a hand holding open the screen door until he finally hugged her, let the door slam behind him, and went off, back into the world, back into the swirl of the marketplace. But after drinking herself to sleep for two months, she began to taper off on the wine, except for those especially cruel nights that still crept in on her. Except for those incredibly long nights when she could even smell the sweet smell of William among the extra blankets, among his shirts still in the closet. Those nights when she’d come wide-awake with his name half-formed between tongue and teeth; except for those nights, a glass of wine after dinner and one before bedtime would pull her through. She’d sip the wine slowly, her knees cradling an opened book, in the cherrywood bed William had found at an auction in Canada for $18.95. “See how it’s fit together by grooves?” he bragged the day he came home with it piled in the back of Uncle Bishop’s pickup. He had rubbed the wood with linseed oil until it gleamed. “It’s worth hundreds. They don’t make these anymore.” But now she knew that there were lots of things they didn’t make anymore, as she sat in the antique bed with her knees pulled up, with one of her old college books, and relearned many of the things she had paid a tuition to learn but had forgotten. And she relearned herself, whom she thought she knew but didn’t. She’d had a jolt to the nervous system. Like a patient who undergoes shock treatment and sits up on the table alone to ask, “Where am I? Who am I?” she came awake one day and didn’t know Rosemary O’Neal, aged thirty-three, teacher, lover of cats and birds, single, childless, and, except for a mother gone insane, an orphan.
At first she had kept the family at bay by lying to them. Each time the phone rang during her three months of recollecting herself, Rosemary turned the typewriter on, held the receiver down to the keys, and then punched a few at random. “I’ll phone you back,” she told the caller. “I’m in the middle of writing a letter.” Then she hung up the phone, turned the typewriter off, and went back to the pair of binoculars that brought the rufous-sided towhee up so close she could see its frantic breathing. “Nobody, not even Dear Abby, writes that many letters!” Uncle Bishop finally told her after weeks of never being phoned back. “You’re lying to us!” So the family gathered together in a huddle and decided her time was up.
Uncle Bishop appeared first, in his little blue Datsun. Rosemary watched him from behind the curtains until he tired of knocking and disappeared back down Old Airport Road.
Miriam was second at bat, turning up on the porch one day with a chocolate cake, catching Rosemary by surprise. “There will be, hard as it is to believe, another man in your life,” said Miriam, divorced three times and restless with a fourth husband. Miriam had seen three husbands disappear into the world as neatly as if into coffins. Miriam, giving advice.
And then came Robbie, creative, intelligent Robbie. “I miss William, too,” Robbie said one evening, when Rosemary finally let him inside the door.
They went out to the backyard swing to watch the last of the late feeders peck about the dried grass. The blaring, male red cardinal with its conical beak, perfect for cracking seeds, was in its head-forward display, wings fluttering to drive off the female. “Any day now, during courtship, he’ll give her seeds from his beak,” Rosemary had said. “It’s called mate feeding.” And she wondered why the male cardinal couldn’t, by nature, treat his mate as if it were always spring. Why couldn’t he bring himself, in the bluish cold of January, to thrust a frozen little seed from his beak into hers?
“I miss him, too,” Robbie said. The evening had gathered in around them as they watched the fat cats climb up and down the rick of firewood stacked along the back fence. “But it’s time you came back to us.”
And so she pulled down most of what she had put up. It was as easy as that, after three long, hard months.
“The birds are still alive,” Rosemary said, as she had on the day of William’s funeral. “We’re still alive.” And it was the first time she realized it herself, that for whatever reason, no matter how just or unjust, there was a small, round organ inside her, receiving blood from the veins and pumping it through the arteries. Dilating and contracting. And there was a mass of nerve tissue in her cranium receiving sensory impulses and transmitting motor impulses. She was alive. So she and Robbie went, an arm around the other’s waist, into her big rambling house with the wide, airy rooms and full windows that took in all the light. “Levels of consciousness,” William had said of that light. Robbie and Rosemary went up the back steps where the bowls of food and water had been set out for the cats. They went inside and left the last of the dusk feeders moving quietly among the scattered seeds and doughnut scraps.
There would be a dinner the very next evening. It would represent her coming out and back into the society of the family. She would be a debutante, stripping away her black mourning clothes to discover that gossamer wings had sprouted beneath. Robbie would inform the family. He would tell Uncle Bishop, the family’s sense of humor. He would escort Mother, their insanity rolled into one person. He would alert Miriam, all the blunders a family could make. Robbie, the baby of the family, would let them know that there would be a spaghetti-and-wine dinner the next evening in Rosemary’s big mushroom of a house. And Rosemary, the family’s glue, the old adhesive Rosemary, would officiate. She would abandon her plans to grow old alone while feeding countless stray cats and wild birds, while letting the gray come rapidly into her hair and then letting the hair itself go wild. She would not, after all, become a crazy old woman, wearing five or six dresses at a time, chanting remedies and searching for herbs along the crags and barren hedges. She would not become a dangerous woman, full of secrets, full of early reasons for her craziness. Rosemary would put aside the image of William lying dead in a rented room in London, a suicide among the paints and canvases, his blood spread out on the floor as though it were a new color he was experimenting with. There would be a family dinner, and Rosemary would put all these pictures and questions neatly away in order to make the salad.
“The Bubble Reputation is funny, touching, thought-provoking, and very hard to put down. It also generates the sort of excitement that only writers working at the very top of thei...
“The Bubble Reputation is funny, touching, thought-provoking, and very hard to put down. It also generates the sort of excitement that only writers working at the very top of their form can provide. It feels a little like Fannie Flagg, a little like Anne Tyler, and mostly like Cathie Pelletier, back among the people she knows and loves. This is very good stuff, indeed.” - Stephen King
“I don’t know how Cathie Pelletier has done it, but she’s done it again. The Bubble Reputation is pure magic, so ingeniously plotted and paced that I was fighting off tears one moment and snorting with laughter the next. Her natural storytelling talents are matched by an exquisite literary style. There are passages of tremulous lyrical beauty here, full of Cathie’s love of life and her wry affection for humanity with its defenses down and all quirks flying.” - Florence King, author of Confessions of a Failed Southern Lady
“Cathie Pelletier accomplishes what every great novelist should. She creates a place, invites you in, walks you around, talks to you, lets you see and feel and hear it, allows you to get to know the people.” - Fannie Flagg, author of Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe
“Cathie Pelletier’s bewitching novel is as much life-embracing comedy as real-life tragedy…as hilariously staged as a Noel Coward farce.” - Elizabeth Lenhard, Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Length: 8 in
Width: 5.25 in
Weight: 0.00 oz
Page Count: 288 pages