Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Nabokov / Lolita / Imagine Me

The Girl
Photography by Zen Sen


Imagine me; I shall not exist if you do not imagine me;  try to discern the doe in me, trembling in the forest of my own iniquity; let´s even smile a little.
Lolita, Part One, 29

Vladimir Nabokov
London, Weindenfeld and Nicolson, 1960

Read also

Monday, June 27, 2011

Nabokov / Lolita / Desire


By Vladimir Nabokov
… and desire, even stronger than before, began to afflict me again.
Lolita, Part One, 14

Vladimir Nabokov
London, Weindenfeld and Nicolson, 1960

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Nabokov / Lolita / For ever

by Vladimir Nabokov

I knew I had fallen in love with Lolita for ever; but I also Knew she would not be for ever Lolita.
Lolita, Part One, 15

Vladimir Nabokov
London, Windenfeld and Nicolson, 1960

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Eizabeth Bishop / A Formal, Melancholy Soul

Elizabeth Bishop
Photography by Joseph Breitenbach
A Formal, Melancholy Soul:
Elizabeth Bishop
Edgar Allan Poe & The Jukebox:
Uncollected Poems, Drafts, and Fragments
By Elizabeth Bishop
Edited and annotated by Alice Quinn
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
392 Pages
By Casey N. Cep
A clever almanac hides itself on the bookshelf of my room. A slim, salmon-colored volume, its pages are yellowed and tortured with folds, its spine is broken, and its cover has been scarred and loosened by wear. It pools sunlight and collects dust like the other books on my shelf, but this one is immune to the crowding of time.
Ever the useful collection, Elizabeth Bishop's Complete Poems has kept her readers company for 27 years. Less than 300 pages long, it contains the four books of poetry that she published in her lifetime, 17 poems from her youth, a few translations, and some of the prose work that she wrote throughout her career. My own copy has suffered for its usefulness and only recently found respite with the publication of Edgar Allan Poe & The Jukebox: Uncollected Poems, Drafts, and Fragments. Alice Quinn, poetry editor at The New Yorker, has given readers of Elizabeth Bishop something new to celebrate and provided their Complete Poems with a much-needed rest.
Quinn's diligence has transformed the 3,500 pages of Bishop materials stored at Vassar College into a careful archive. While posthumous publications of a writer's unpublished work often disappoint us with their unpolished contents, Bishop's fragments and drafts are strikingly complete and delightfully revealing about the process through which she wrote and revised her work.
Edgar Allan Poe & The Jukebox, like Christopher Ricks's collection of T.S. Eliot's juvenilia in Inventions of the March Hare: Poems 1909-1917, features an invaluable series of notes and well-matched excerpts from Bishop's diaries and letters to frame the new works. Quinn is attentive to her perilous role as editor of so punctilious a poet, one whose process was described fawningly by Robert Lowell in a sonnet: "Do / you still hang your words in the air, ten years / unfinished, glued to your notice board, with gaps or empties for the unimaginable phrase— / unerring muse who makes the casual perfect?" Weary of revealing the errors and failures of the "unerring muse," Quinn emphasizes that her book contains "work that for one reason or another she [Bishop] chose not to publish but did not destroy."
The new poems are a valuable addition to the body of Bishop's work and to the factual biography of her life. We know that Elizabeth Bishop wrote the world into her poems. Forever the tourist, she was orphaned in her childhood by the death of her father and the confinement of her mother to an asylum and was sent to live with relatives in Nova Scotia and in Massachusetts; love led her to Brazil where for 16 years she lived as a foreigner in an exotic landscape. During the time before and after that period of constancy she moved between Key West and New York, finally returning to Boston shortly before her death. Her youth had a plangent homelessness to it, and she spent the remainder of her life in search of residency and relief from her alcoholism and asthma.
From such a painfully unstable life came some of the most stable poems of the twentieth century. Her poems "The Fish" and "Crusoe and England " are read with delight by several generations, "Sestina" and the villanelle "One Art" are consummate templates for fledgling poets, and "At the Fishhouses" and "The Riverman" continually impress and confound scholars. Although Bishop herself hated teaching, (she was coerced into lecturing at Harvard in 1971 only after her trust fund ran out) academics and educators have embraced her work.
She resisted the confessional poetry of her contemporaries and for it we have rewarded her with a canonical immortality arguably greater than that of Lowell or Plath. She would probably object to the recent popularization of her work through feminist and queer studies, as she abhorred divisive approaches to poetry, but her status has come largely from the complex variability of each of her poems. By not placing the poet at the center of her poetry, she opens a space for readers representing a diversity of backgrounds and critical interests.
She celebrated realism but repressed reality in order to reveal the imaginativeness necessary for poetic invention. By varying her forms and by sometimes abandoning all formalism for free verse, she left us a diverse population of personalities: the ever memorable dilettante and philistine of "The Monument;" the ubiquitous, internal doppelganger of "The Gentleman of Shallot;" and the ecstatic historian and cartographer of "The Map."
Her writing appeals to our seriousness, but also flatters our fancy. Whether it is because of the exoticness of her descriptions ("coarse white flesh / packed in like feathers"; "a handful of intangible ash / with fixed, ignited eyes") or their self-revising exactness ("About the size of an old-style dollar bill, / American or Canadian, / mostly the same whites, gray greens, and steel grays"), we cannot resist seeing the world through Elizabeth Bishop's eyes.
With Edgar Allan Poe & The Jukebox we have a thousand new visions of the world filtered through Bishop's unique lens. The new poems convince us that the persistent dichotomy of her description—fantastic and hermetic—was a natural one; the disparate impressions of character, wildlife, and scenery appear not only in the perfected work but in slapdash drafts, hurried notes, and casual diary entries. Take a set of simple quatrains like "Money": 

"Money comes and money goes,. 
Like a bird it flies,
Its migratory habits stern
Both ignorant and wise.
In the season, I have watched 
 Its wonderful gyrations,
Swift and fierce, and boldly close
To human habitations.
Under the arches of the vaults  
Are built the hidden nests.
What instinctive fears and faults
Govern those silver breasts?"

Light but not lighthearted, the poem's spine is a bit of Dostoevsky (he writes in House of the Dead "money comes and goes like a bird"), yet the "silver breasts" are Bishop's own tormented invention.
Among the cruel circumstances of her biography was persistent financial hardship. She had hoped to live a life independent of institutions and unscathed by any profession except writing, but found herself dependent on money's governing "instinctive fears and faults." The world's "gyrations" are much more than monetary cycles and the "human habitations" mean more than universal residences—they are a pained biography asserting itself even in hasty lines.
New imagery and influences present themselves, but Quinn also uses her new collection as a hermeneutical tool for the already published work. We have long admired "One Art" and now there are 16 draft versions of it readily available to improve our understanding. Quinn reproduces the typed pages, each one wrought with handwritten notes, passionate corrective slashes, ambiguous underlining, and altered capitalizations. This is an instruction manual for the poet at work, the detailed itinerary for a journey toward perfection. "The art of losing isn't hard to master," but mastering the art of the villanelle is nearly impossible for most poets. Bishop submitted "One Art" to The New Yorker in 1976 with a note calling it "the one and only villanelle of [her] life," but Quinn shows how Bishop wrote notes for another poem under the title "Villanelle" in 1937.
In Quinn's volume we find the unfinished reflections on the tumultuousness of a life lived first in uncertainty and then in flux. Unspoken confessions are now revealed; anonymous persons are now named. One poem, "Hannah A.," describes birds "who tore their breasts / for lining for their nests / or otherwise expressed / that love was difficult." Love as sacrifice, love as impossible kindness—this is the love envisioned by the young Elizabeth Bishop. It was a love realized as a young woman, but one suffered for as an adult. The older poems testified to her friendships ("Invitation to Miss Marianne Moore" and "Visits to St. Elizabeths"), but these new poems reveal to us her loves.
A fresh poem speaks of "a serious paradise where lovers hold hands / and everything works," another addresses itself to "My love, my saving grace," while yet another betrays the sentimentality of its author with lines like "how many deaths by now, [and] love lost, lost forever. & suicides—/ friendship & love / lost, lost forever." For the first time we find our beloved poet's gaze directed inward to produce a self-portrait long hidden from the world.
Biography had asserted and now poetry demonstrates that life was a rapid series of visions and fury for Elizabeth Bishop. She lived and wrote with an unparalleled passion. Her own chosen epitaph "All the untidy activity continues, / awful but cheerful" best attests to the sullen but steady pace of her life. Whether you have been waiting for the supplement to Bishop's Complete Poems or have never consulted that cheerful almanac, there is much to be learned from and appreciated in Alice Quinn's Edgar Allan Poe & The Jukebox: Uncollected Poems, Drafts, and Fragments.

           Casey N. Cep thinks often of grandmothers who speak in rainy sentences and plant more than tears.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Chaplin / All I need

Raul Allen
All I need
By Chaplin

All I need to make a comedy is a park, a policeman and a pretty girl.

Charlie Chaplin
My Autobiography

Friday, June 17, 2011

García Márquez / The Autumn of the Patriarch

By Gabriel García Márquez 

Translated, from the Spanish, by Gregory Rabassa


Over the weekend the vultures got into the Presidential Palace by pecking through the screens on the balcony windows, and the flapping of their wings stirred up the stagnant time inside, and at dawn on Monday the city awoke out of its lethargy of centuries with the warm, soft breeze of a great man dead and rotting grandeur. Only then did we dare go in without attacking the crumbling walls of reinforced stone, as the more resolute had wished, and without using oxbows to knock the main door off its hinges, as others had proposed, because all that was needed was for someone to give a push and the great armored doors that had resisted the lombards of William Dampier during the building’s heroic days gave way. It was like entering the atmosphere of another age, because the air was thinner in the rubble pits of the vast lair of power, and the silence was more ancient, and things were hard to see in the decrepit light. All across the first courtyard, where the paving stones had given way to the underground thrust of weeds, we saw the disorder of the quarters of the guard who had fled, the weapons abandoned in their racks, the big, long rough-planked tables with plates containing the leftovers of the Sunday lunch that had been interrupted by panic, in the shadows we saw the annex where Government House had been, colored fungi and pale irises among the unpled briefs whose normal course had been slower than the pace of the driest of lives, in the center of the courtyard we saw the baptismal font where more than five generations had been christened with martial sacraments, in the rear we saw the ancient viceregal stable, which had been transformed into a coach house, and among the camellias and butterflies we saw the berlin from stirring days, the wagon from the time of the plague, the coach from the year of the comet, the hearse from Progress in Order, the sleepwalking limousine of the first century of peace, all in good shape under the dusty cobwebs and all painted with the colors of the flag. In the next courtyard, behind an iron grille, were the lunar-dust-covered rosebushes under which the lepers had slept during the great days of the house, and they had proliferated to such a degree in their abandonment that there was scarcely an odorless chink in that atmosphere of roses which mingled with the stench that came to us from the rear of the garden and the stink of the henhouse and the smell of dung and fermented urine from the cows and soldiers of the colonial basilica that had been converted into a milking barn. Opening a way through the asphyxiating growth we saw the arches of the gallery with potted carnations and sprigs of astromeda and pansies where the concubines’ quarters had been, and judging from the variety of domestic leftovers and the quantity of sewing machines we thought it possible that more than a thousand women had lived there with their crew of seven-month runts, we saw the battlefield disorder of the kitchens, clothes rotting in the sun by the washbasins, the open slit trench shared by concubines and soldiers, and in back we saw the Babylonian willows that had been carried alive from Asia Minor in great seagoing hothouses, with their own soil, their sap, and their drizzle, and behind the willows we saw Government House, immense and sad, where the vultures were still entering through the chipped blinds. We did not have to knock down the door, as we had thought, for the main door seemed to open by itself with just the push of a voice, so we went up to the main floor along a bare stone stairway where the opera-house carpeting had been torn by the hooves of the cows, and from the first vestibule on down to the private bedrooms we saw the ruined offices and reception rooms through which the brazen cows wandered, eating the velvet curtains and nibbling at the trim on the chairs, we saw heroic portraits of saints and soldiers thrown to the floor among broken furniture and fresh cow flops, we saw a dining room that had been eaten up by the cows, the music room profaned by the cows’ breakage, the domino tables destroyed, and the felt on the billiard tables cropped by the cows. Abandoned in a corner we saw the wind machine, the one which counterfeited any phenomenon from the four points of the compass, so that the people in the house could bear up under their nostalgia for the sea that had gone away, we saw birdcages hanging everywhere, still covered with the sleeping cloths put on some night the week before, and through the numerous windows we saw the broad and sleeping animal that was the city, still innocent of the historic Monday that was beginning to come to life, and beyond the city, up to the horizon, we saw the dead craters of harsh moon ash on the endless plain where the sea had been. In that forbidden corner which only a few people of privilege had ever come to know, we smelled the vultures’ carnage for the first time, we caught their age-old asthma, their premonitory instinct, and guiding ourselves by the foul smell from their flapping wings in the reception room we found the wormy shells of the cows, their female hindquarters repeated many times in the full-length mirrors, and then we pushed open a side door that connected with an office hidden in the wall, and there we saw him, in his denim uniform without insignia, in his boots, the gold spur on his left heel, older than all old men and all old animals on land or sea, and he was stretched out on the floor, face down, his right arm bent under his head as a pillow, as he had slept night after night every night of his ever so long life as a solitary despot.

Only when we turned him over to look at his face did we realize that it was impossible to recognize him, even though his face had not been pecked away by vultures, because none of us had ever seen him, and even though his profile was on both sides of all coins, on postage stamps, on condom labels, on trusses and scapulars, and even though his engraved portrait with the flag across his chest and the dragon of the fatherland was displayed at all times in all places, we knew that they were copies of copies of portraits that had already been considered unfaithful during the time of the comet, when our own parents knew who he was because they had heard tell from theirs, as they had from theirs before them, and from childhood on we grew accustomed to believe that he was alive in the house of power because someone had seen him light the Chinese lanterns at some festival, someone had told about seeing his sad eyes, his pale lips, his pensive hand waving through the liturgical decorations of the presidential coach, because one Sunday many years ago they had brought him the blind man on the street who for five centavos would recite the verses of the forgotten poet Rubén Dario and the blind man had come away happy with the nice wad they had paid for a recital that had only been for him, even though the blind man had not seen him, of course, not because he was blind but because no mortal had ever seen him since the days of the black vomit, and yet we knew that he was there, we knew it because the world went on, life went on, the mail was delivered, the municipal band played its retreat and silly waltzes on Saturday under the dusty palm trees and the dim street lights of the main square, and other old musicians took the places of the dead musicians in the band. In recent years when human sounds or the singing of birds were no longer heard inside and the armored doors were closed forever, we knew that there was someone in Government House because at night lights that looked like a ship’s beacons could be seen through the windows of the side that faced the sea, and those who dared go closer could hear a disaster of hooves and animal sighs from behind the fortified walls, and one January afternoon we had seen a cow contemplating the sunset from the presidential balcony, just imagine, a cow on the balcony of the nation, what an awful thing, what a stinking country, and all sorts of conjectures were made about how it was possible for a cow to get onto a balcony, since everybody knew that cows can’t climb stairs, much less carpeted ones, so in the end we never knew if we had really seen it or whether we had been spending an afternoon on the main square and as we strolled along had dreamed that we had seen a cow on the presidential balcony, where nothing had been seen or would ever be seen again for many years, until dawn last Friday, when the first vultures began to arrive. Rising up from where they had always dozed on the cornices of the charity hospital they came, they came from farther inland, they came in successive waves, out of the horizon of the sea of dust where the sea had been, for a whole day they flew in slow circles over the house of power until a king with bridal-fan feathers and a crimson ruff gave a silent order and that breaking of glass began, that breeze of a great man dead, that in and out of vultures through the windows imaginable only in a house which lacked authority, so we dared go in too and in the deserted sanctuary we found the rubble of grandeur, the body that had been pecked at, the smooth maiden hands with the ring of power on the bone of the third finger, and his whole body was sprouting tiny lichens and parasitic animals from the depths of the sea, especially in the armpits and the groin, and he had the canvas truss on his herniated testicle, which was the only thing that had escaped the vultures in spite of its being the size of an ox kidney, but even then we did not dare believe in his death, because it was the second time he had been found in that office, alone and dressed and dead seemingly of natural causes during his sleep, as had been announced a lung time ago in the prophetic waters of soothsayers’ basins.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Open Lines / The Autumn of the Patriarch


By Gabriel García Márquez

Over the weekend the vultures got into the presidential palace by pecking through the screens on the balcony windows and the flapping of their wings stirred up the stagnant time inside, and at dawn on Monday the city awoke out of its lethargy of centuries with the warm, soft breeze of a great man dead and rotting grandeur.

Gabriel García Márquez

Durante el fin de semana los gallinazos se metieron por los balcones de la casa presidencial, destrozaron a picotazos las mallas de alambre de las ventanas y removieron con sus alas el tiempo estancado en el interior, y en la madrugada del lunes la ciudad despertó de su letargo de siglos con una tibia y tierna brisa de muerto grande y de podrida grandeza.

Hugh Hefner and the moment true love died forever

Hugh and Crystal in happier days

Hugh Hefner 

and the moment true love died forever

The 85-year-old Playboy magnate has been jilted by his 25-year-old fiancee. Why would she turn her back on 'every girl's dream'?

Alexis Petridis
Thursday 16 June 2011 20.00 BST

nd so the last hope that true romance may still be abroad somewhere on this blighted planet has been snuffed out before it even reached its zenith: 85-year-old Hugh Hefner's marriage to 25-year-old Playmate Crystal Harris has been called off, at the bride's insistence, five days before the ceremony, a move that seems to have baffled her fellow Playmates. "Living in the Playboy mansion should be every girl's dream," commented one.
Equally baffled, Lost in Showbiz has to concede her point. What modern young girl doesn't dream of sexually gratifying an octogenarian in exchange for bed, board and pocket money, the latter handed out, according to former Playmate Izabella St James's book Bunny Tales, in a charming, soft-focus ritual: "Every Friday morning we had to go to Hef's room and wait while he picked up all the dog poo off the carpet, and then ask for our allowance."
It suggests Crystal Harris linger a while on this romantic image – a very old man holding some dog faeces – and ponder what she's left behind.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Joss Stone / The 'white Aretha Franklin' of soul

Joss Stone

Joss Stone: the 'white Aretha Franklin' of soul

Joss Stone is a close friend of the Duke of Cambridge. Below is a profile of the international soul singer.

11:00AM BST 15 Jun 2011

Joss Stone, the British soul singer who counts the Duke of Cambridge as one of her close friends, has become a star since bursting onto the international stage as a teenager.
She came to fame in 2003 as a small-town teenager with a big, soulful voice, showcased on her bestselling debut album "The Soul Sessions".
The Devon-raised singer is a household name in the US, where she spends up to nine months each year, and Barack Obama, the American President, is said to be one of her many legion of fans.
Her soulful vocals have seen her described as ''the white Aretha Franklin'' and she has enjoyed success on both sides of the Atlantic.
She was 16 in 2004 when she produced her first hit, Fell In Love With A Boy before a year later, having just turned 17, she stormed the Brit Awards picking up gongs for British Female Solo Artist and British Urban Act.

Stone, whom the Sunday Times Rich list said was worth more than £9 million, is in the top five biggest earning female UK singing stars. She is also the fifth wealthiest British and Irish pop star aged under 30.
The singer, born Joscelyn Stoker in Dover, Kent, on April 11, 1987, was raised on soul music by her mother Wendy, who would later become her manager.
Stone, 24, lives in her adopted Devon when she is not touring the world. Her mother operates a popular music haunt called Mama Stones nightspot in Exeter, where she recorded one of her albums.
The singer is said to have enjoyed singing from when she was a toddler and, after moving to Devon, began performing at school.
At the age of 13 she won the BBC's Junior Star For A Night talent contest, singing the Donna Summer hit On The Radio.
That led to her being snapped up by US record executives and in 2003 her first album, The Soul Sessions, was released to critical acclaim.
The record, a collection of classic covers recorded in just four days, was a runaway success and went gold in America.
More albums and hit singles followed with millions of copies sold and Stone found herself in demand for money-spinning advertising campaigns – most notably as the face of clothing chain Gap.
In 2006, she was the youngest woman on the Sunday Times Rich List with an estimated fortune of £6 million before she started to carve out a promising acting career.
But a year later she was hit by controversy, after being the subject of a backlash following her putting on an American accent at the BRIT Awards.
At the time she expressed her frustration, saying she felt unjustly lambasted as other celebrities behaved much worse.
"It's not really that big a deal is it," she said at the time.
"I didn't kill anyone – I wasn't snorting cocaine and punching paparazzi and showing my vagina to the world – I just had a little bit of a twang – J**** calm down!
In 2008 she was tapped to play Anne of Cleves, fourth wife of Henry VIII, in the racy historical drama The Tudors.
She starred opposite Jonathan Rhys Meyers' as the king in season three of the Emmy Award-winning TV show.
It was her first TV role, although she did recently grace the small screen as the Cadbury's Flake girl.
Stone was said to have been keen to establish an acting career and made her debut in 2006 fantasy film Eragon.
Her first starring role, in British film Snappers, hits cinemas later this year.
She has recently become close friends with both the Duke of Cambridge and his brother, Prince Harry.
She among the guests at the recent royal wedding involving the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.
In 2008, the British soul singer was reported to have begun working on a campaign song for Mr Obama, when he was campaigning for America’s highest political office.
Mr Obama is apparently a big fan of her work and had hoped her style will strike a chord with both black and white voters in America.
"Joss is a big supporter of Barack Obama and was very excited to be asked to do this for him," a source said at the time.
"He sent a personal message asking her to get on board. He has always admired her music and thinks she is the perfect choice because of her unique appeal to black and white voters.
"She believes he is going to be the first black American president and she is honoured to be a part of that."
Over the past 18 months she has been working with Mick Jagger, the Rolling Stone lead singer, on a secret album together with Dave Stewart, Damian Marley and AR Rahman.
Super Heavy is the name of the heavyweight musical collective, who plan to release their debut "fusion" album in September.
"It's a bit odd," Jagger recently told Rolling Stone magazine.
"A different kind of record than what people would expect." But Jagger promised that Super Heavy's music was "not all weird and strange". Fans, he added, "will find most of it accessible".
But Stone has still managed to maintain a level-headed approach to fame and once said she would become a social worker if her showbiz career was not a success.
She said: ''If I am destined to be as big as Britney, I will be. If not, I will not.''
In a recent blog-posting she said people living in Britain were "lucky buggers".
"I feel so, so lucky. Lucky because of many things. The fact I can take this time to travel with no plan just going anywhere that I feel is so much fun," she wrote.
"But more so today and everyday these past weeks I have felt extremely lucky to be born in England.
"We have so much as do most countries in the western world. How dare we moan about our situation."
She added: "There are people in England that claim benefits because they are too nervous to work, so they claim their benefits for anxiety and never have to go out side there free home."
She recently disclosed her secret to her voice – honey syrup, which she gets while shopping with her mum.





Wednesday, June 1, 2011

O. Henry / The Gift Of The Magi

O. Henry


One dollar and eighty-seven cents. That was all. And sixty cents of it was in pennies. Pennies saved one and two at a time by bulldozing the grocer and the vegetable man and the butcher until one's cheeks burned with the silent imputation of parsimony that such close dealing implied. Three times Della counted it. One dollar and eighty- seven cents. And the next day would be Christmas.
There was clearly nothing to do but flop down on the shabby little couch and howl. So Della did it. Which instigates the moral reflection that life is made up of sobs, sniffles, and smiles, with sniffles predominating.
While the mistress of the home is gradually subsiding from the first stage to the second, take a look at the home. A furnished flat at $8 per week. It did not exactly beggar description, but it certainly had that word on the lookout for the mendicancy squad.
In the vestibule below was a letter-box into which no letter would go, and an electric button from which no mortal finger could coax a ring. Also appertaining thereunto was a card bearing the name "Mr. James Dillingham Young."
The "Dillingham" had been flung to the breeze during a former period of prosperity when its possessor was being paid $30 per week. Now, when the income was shrunk to $20, though, they were thinking seriously of contracting to a modest and unassuming D. But whenever Mr. James Dillingham Young came home and reached his flat above he was called "Jim" and greatly hugged by Mrs. James Dillingham Young, already introduced to you as Della. Which is all very good.
Della finished her cry and attended to her cheeks with the powder rag. She stood by the window and looked out dully at a gray cat walking a gray fence in a gray backyard. Tomorrow would be Christmas Day, and she had only $1.87 with which to buy Jim a present. She had been saving every penny she could for months, with this result. Twenty dollars a week doesn't go far. Expenses had been greater than she had calculated. They always are. Only $1.87 to buy a present for Jim. Her Jim. Many a happy hour she had spent planning for something nice for him. Something fine and rare and sterling--something just a little bit near to being worthy of the honor of being owned by Jim.
There was a pier-glass between the windows of the room. Perhaps you have seen a pierglass in an $8 flat. A very thin and very agile person may, by observing his reflection in a rapid sequence of longitudinal strips, obtain a fairly accurate conception of his looks. Della, being slender, had mastered the art.
Suddenly she whirled from the window and stood before the glass. her eyes were shining brilliantly, but her face had lost its color within twenty seconds. Rapidly she pulled down her hair and let it fall to its full length.
Now, there were two possessions of the James Dillingham Youngs in which they both took a mighty pride. One was Jim's gold watch that had been his father's and his grandfather's. The other was Della's hair. Had the queen of Sheba lived in the flat across the airshaft, Della would have let her hair hang out the window some day to dry just to depreciate Her Majesty's jewels and gifts. Had King Solomon been the janitor, with all his treasures piled up in the basement, Jim would have pulled out his watch every time he passed, just to see him pluck at his beard from envy.
So now Della's beautiful hair fell about her rippling and shining like a cascade of brown waters. It reached below her knee and made itself almost a garment for her. And then she did it up again nervously and quickly. Once she faltered for a minute and stood still while a tear or two splashed on the worn red carpet.
On went her old brown jacket; on went her old brown hat. With a whirl of skirts and with the brilliant sparkle still in her eyes, she fluttered out the door and down the stairs to the street.
Where she stopped the sign read: "Mne. Sofronie. Hair Goods of All Kinds." One flight up Della ran, and collected herself, panting. Madame, large, too white, chilly, hardly looked the "Sofronie."
"Will you buy my hair?" asked Della.
"I buy hair," said Madame. "Take yer hat off and let's have a sight at the looks of it."
Down rippled the brown cascade.
"Twenty dollars," said Madame, lifting the mass with a practised hand.
"Give it to me quick," said Della.
Oh, and the next two hours tripped by on rosy wings. Forget the hashed metaphor. She was ransacking the stores for Jim's present.
She found it at last. It surely had been made for Jim and no one else. There was no other like it in any of the stores, and she had turned all of them inside out. It was a platinum fob chain simple and chaste in design, properly proclaiming its value by substance alone and not by meretricious ornamentation--as all good things should do. It was even worthy of The Watch. As soon as she saw it she knew that it must be Jim's. It was like him. Quietness and value--the description applied to both. Twenty-one dollars they took from her for it, and she hurried home with the 87 cents. With that chain on his watch Jim might be properly anxious about the time in any company. Grand as the watch was, he sometimes looked at it on the sly on account of the old leather strap that he used in place of a chain.
When Della reached home her intoxication gave way a little to prudence and reason. She got out her curling irons and lighted the gas and went to work repairing the ravages made by generosity added to love. Which is always a tremendous task, dear friends--a mammoth task.
Within forty minutes her head was covered with tiny, close-lying curls that made her look wonderfully like a truant schoolboy. She looked at her reflection in the mirror long, carefully, and critically.
"If Jim doesn't kill me," she said to herself, "before he takes a second look at me, he'll say I look like a Coney Island chorus girl. But what could I do--oh! what could I do with a dollar and eighty- seven cents?"
At 7 o'clock the coffee was made and the frying-pan was on the back of the stove hot and ready to cook the chops.
Jim was never late. Della doubled the fob chain in her hand and sat on the corner of the table near the door that he always entered. Then she heard his step on the stair away down on the first flight, and she turned white for just a moment. She had a habit for saying little silent prayer about the simplest everyday things, and now she whispered: "Please God, make him think I am still pretty."
The door opened and Jim stepped in and closed it. He looked thin and very serious. Poor fellow, he was only twenty-two--and to be burdened with a family! He needed a new overcoat and he was without gloves.
Jim stopped inside the door, as immovable as a setter at the scent of quail. His eyes were fixed upon Della, and there was an expression in them that she could not read, and it terrified her. It was not anger, nor surprise, nor disapproval, nor horror, nor any of the sentiments that she had been prepared for. He simply stared at her fixedly with that peculiar expression on his face.
Della wriggled off the table and went for him.
"Jim, darling," she cried, "don't look at me that way. I had my hair cut off and sold because I couldn't have lived through Christmas without giving you a present. It'll grow out again--you won't mind, will you? I just had to do it. My hair grows awfully fast. Say `Merry Christmas!' Jim, and let's be happy. You don't know what a nice-- what a beautiful, nice gift I've got for you."
"You've cut off your hair?" asked Jim, laboriously, as if he had not arrived at that patent fact yet even after the hardest mental labor.
"Cut it off and sold it," said Della. "Don't you like me just as well, anyhow? I'm me without my hair, ain't I?"
Jim looked about the room curiously.
"You say your hair is gone?" he said, with an air almost of idiocy.
"You needn't look for it," said Della. "It's sold, I tell you--sold and gone, too. It's Christmas Eve, boy. Be good to me, for it went for you. Maybe the hairs of my head were numbered," she went on with sudden serious sweetness, "but nobody could ever count my love for you. Shall I put the chops on, Jim?"
Out of his trance Jim seemed quickly to wake. He enfolded his Della. For ten seconds let us regard with discreet scrutiny some inconsequential object in the other direction. Eight dollars a week or a million a year--what is the difference? A mathematician or a wit would give you the wrong answer. The magi brought valuable gifts, but that was not among them. This dark assertion will be illuminated later on.
Jim drew a package from his overcoat pocket and threw it upon the table.
"Don't make any mistake, Dell," he said, "about me. I don't think there's anything in the way of a haircut or a shave or a shampoo that could make me like my girl any less. But if you'll unwrap that package you may see why you had me going a while at first."
White fingers and nimble tore at the string and paper. And then an ecstatic scream of joy; and then, alas! a quick feminine change to hysterical tears and wails, necessitating the immediate employment of all the comforting powers of the lord of the flat.
For there lay The Combs--the set of combs, side and back, that Della had worshipped long in a Broadway window. Beautiful combs, pure tortoise shell, with jewelled rims--just the shade to wear in the beautiful vanished hair. They were expensive combs, she knew, and her heart had simply craved and yearned over them without the least hope of possession. And now, they were hers, but the tresses that should have adorned the coveted adornments were gone.
But she hugged them to her bosom, and at length she was able to look up with dim eyes and a smile and say: "My hair grows so fast, Jim!"
And them Della leaped up like a little singed cat and cried, "Oh, oh!"
Jim had not yet seen his beautiful present. She held it out to him eagerly upon her open palm. The dull precious metal seemed to flash with a reflection of her bright and ardent spirit.
"Isn't it a dandy, Jim? I hunted all over town to find it. You'll have to look at the time a hundred times a day now. Give me your watch. I want to see how it looks on it."
Instead of obeying, Jim tumbled down on the couch and put his hands under the back of his head and smiled.
"Dell," said he, "let's put our Christmas presents away and keep 'em a while. They're too nice to use just at present. I sold the watch to get the money to buy your combs. And now suppose you put the chops on."
The magi, as you know, were wise men--wonderfully wise men--who brought gifts to the Babe in the manger. They invented the art of giving Christmas presents. Being wise, their gifts were no doubt wise ones, possibly bearing the privilege of exchange in case of duplication. And here I have lamely related to you the uneventful chronicle of two foolish children in a flat who most unwisely sacrificed for each other the greatest treasures of their house. But in a last word to the wise of these days let it be said that of all who give gifts these two were the wisest. O all who give and receive gifts, such as they are wisest. Everywhere they are wisest. They are the magi.