Signs and Portents
Once nearly twenty years ago, she had become oddly immobile after her second year of grad school. Immobile may be the wrong word. Reluctant to leave the house, maybe. Looking back, she could recall odd details like pausing at the end of her block on what was probably a beautiful summer day to look at a black bird with iridescent-flecked feathers (at the time she thought it was a grackle, but later learned: starling). The bird had a small, evenly-shaped stick of some kind lodged in its beak in a way that looked uncomfortable and, strangely, menacing. She decided it was a bad sign and went home to drink iced tea and sleep on the couch with the blinds down. Before she'd left campus, she'd checked out most of the books by Virginia Woolf and E.M. Forster she hadn't previously read, having decided that she would become a Woolf and Forster scholar, and she moved her reading chair into the middle of the room and made a stack out of the books, then sat there reading them one by one and moving each one from one side of the chair to the other. Later, she drove her small car into town and stood in the back room of a used bookstore in front of the shelf that held the letters and biographies of Woolf. It took her a long time to decide to buy Quentin Bell's biography, which was a first edition and expensive, and she began to wonder if anyone was watching her stand in front of the shelf, holding the large book and then putting it back again multiple times. At some point, she must have spoken to the man she was sporadically seeing, indicating to him, possibly indirectly, that leaving the house had become difficult. One day he surprised her by bringing her another large stack of library books. He had decided to become a scholar of contemporary Mexican American literature, and had further decided that she would enjoy reading all the books of poetry and fiction that the university library had by Mexican American women. He came to her door looking somehow contrite and surprised her with these books, so she put those books next to her chair and read those, as well. It was a very large stack, and many of the books were set in the Southwest, a place she had never been and still hadn't been to this day. What seems strangest to her now when she looks back on this memory is her one omission. She could never make it through Woolf's The Waves and still hadn't read it.