Homework, tenth story.
10 pages long.
Published in Cosmopolitan, October 1973; and In the Looking Glass: Twenty-One Modern Short Stories by Women. N. Dean and M. Stark, eds. New York: Putnam, 1977.
Much of my twenties and early thirties was spent reading Margaret Drabble's books. She was just a bit older than I, as were her heroines. Very seldom did my life intertwine with her characters, but I loved reading about them all the same. I stopped reading her work somewhere along the time she began writing what appeared to me to be more sociological or political works rather than the previous focus on the personal lives of women. And I may be wrong. Maybe her later writing was still personal and I was just too busy with little children to get as involved with her books as I had been earlier. I've been thinking of giving myself a little reading project of going back to her first book, and reading right through them because when I was reading A Summer Bird Cage and Jerusalem the Golden and The Waterfall I would have told anyone that Margaret Drabble was one of my favorite writers, possibly just below Virginia Woolf on my list. I'd like to know what my older self would think about these young women making their way. And I'd like to read the newer books as well.
So, when I saw that this new book of her complete short stories was published, I bought it immediately. I also bought her sort-of memoir called The Pattern in the Carpet. I am reading it slowly and happily.
Homework features one of those people I think we all know. The adjective which, sadly, best describes them is 'pathetic.' We feel sorry for them, but embarrassedly we feel annoyance as well. The story is told in this person's voice. Her name is Meg. The woman she talks about is not named. We know her only as 'she.'
She has always been very generous to me. I always make it perfectly clear to her that all she has to do if she wants to put me off is just give me a ring. I'm always in, I say. You're the busy one, not me, I'm a nobody, I always say: just you give me a ring if you can't manage Tuesday, we can easily fix another day. I'm always free. But she never does.The unnamed woman is a working, single mother with four children. She's always doing twenty things at once, and is quite distracted when our narrator goes to her house for the weekly supper and visit. The narrator is the kind of person who walks around to kill time so she won't arrive too early. The mother doesn't reveal much in her conversations. Mostly it is the narrator who talks. And she is full of hard luck stories.
.... I was trying to explain about Mary [her divorced roommate] and how she couldn't go on an Easter holiday with me after all although she'd said she would be free...Meg reminds me of "Sad-Sack-Terziak" in the movie, Home For The Holidays. Terrible things happen to him, and always have. He'll say something like, I'm the one they call to fix the boiler on holidays because I don't have anyone to spend them with. Most of us are made uncomfortable by such blatant ourpourings of emotion. We don't know how to react. The speakers are so very lonely and we don't know how to cope with them. The woman in this story drinks. Gin and plenty of it on these Tuesday visits. She is clearly stretched to her limit, having worked outside all day, trying to cook a meal while the children all need her for one reason or another. She is quite sharp with them, and in this story shocks Meg by having quite an outburst at one of the children.
But after Meg leaves, and looks back in the window, she sees the mother and son hugging one another and "laughing their heads off," which makes her think that the woman might be unbalanced and "could do with some kind of treatment." This reader wondered if they were laughing at poor, pathetic Meg.
This is an excellent story by a writer who draws these characters perfectly. So perfectly that a reader might find them, especially Meg, achingly familiar.