Guide The Country of the Pointed Firs (The Art of the Novella)

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She used it to store her toothbrush. Her name was Janice. Janice Jones. He called her J. Sometimes he would follow her. He would leave a little after she did and trail along behind her. She just did things like buy a pork chop and some milk then get on the subway. He was pretty sure she knew he was following her though she never let on. Then one night he turned around and saw that she was following him. Good old J.


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  • Just a little shove. Placed his palm into the handsome concavity between her shoulder blades and good-bye.

    Daisy Miller - Broadview Press

    He never shoved Gladys. Even if he had thrown and caught a cat. He would never shove Marge. Marge is her name. Chelikowsky smiles. Even though you could never tell. Marge, Marge, Marge, Marge, Marge. Is it Marge who wants to kill me? Chelikowsky wonders. She has just handed him a document, plucked from the cabinet and dated two years ago. I will trust that you recall my situation so recently and gravidly discussed between us. I will wear the same hat as I did in the old days. Who the fuck? It rings no bells. A case? He was about to ask Marge why she handed him this two-year-old cryptogram when he noticed the window was open.

    Like a mouth. I should shut that window, Marge Quinn thinks. Even, Marge Quinn thinks, when he has opened it himself. Or mostly opened it himself. Miss Chan always helps him. She has such a skill with windows, thinks Marge Quinn. Marge Quinn of the wide, soft fingers. Marge whose father arrived in this fine city confined in the hold of the boat. Because of a transgression during the passage. He has the same fingers. He was always gentle was her father except when he was killing someone.

    But that was long ago, Marge Quinn thinks. In the old country. Here he spends his days in a chair by the window of their fourth-floor tenement walk-up. He has always been so gentle. Except that once she walked in on him killing someone. Long ago. Where she was born. But she was born here, she thinks. So how could that have been? There is a coconut product that she herself favors for her fingers. She told Miss Chan about it just the other day and for a moment Miss Chan seemed interested and then looked away. But not before clicking her tongue.

    Quietly, but Marge Quinn heard it. It makes her feel very tired to think of Miss Chan clicking her tongue. She clicks it frequently. Like she is breaking matchsticks. Abraham must hear it. All those matchsticks. Though he never shows any sign. Such a gentleman, thinks Marge Quinn.

    She of the soft fingers. So much softer than the fingers of Janice Jones. Always jamming them here and jamming them there. Good riddance, I say, when that one left. Nothing special. Just regular fingers. But the fingers of Marge Quinn! Like firm butter in five little bags. She loves to file. Put more in than she takes out. I suspect one day, if Miss Chan lets her, she will fill me up, and they will have to buy another cabinet and perhaps I will finally have a friend. A true friend of my own kind!

    I would love to be full. And not with tooth powder. Not with tooth powder or wrapping paper or sandwich leavings. There is still a little oil in my upper drawer, back-left. Marge Quinn fills me with firm paper and firmer card stock. She is a treasure, truly. Abraham, Abraham, thinks Marge Quinn. Abraham who fired her predecessor Janice Jones. She left him a letter did Janice Jones, thinks Marge Quinn. She filed it under Q.

    It contains a number of vague threats. She filed it under Q and Marge Quinn just found it. With her soft fingers. She does not pluck. She coaxes. So gently. And handed it to him. To Abraham, as she calls him. When she thinks no one is listening. Abraham, Abraham, Abraham. Of course Miss Chan has heard her. She hears everything. Sometimes when she is just walking past she gives me a good pat on the side.

    So that he could take steps. Forewarned is forearmed! Her lovely, long, soft fingers let fall the one that would help him to take steps and handed him something else, some old letter from a client he has forgotten all about. She has just seen the letter on the floor. There it is, oh darn it, darn it! I know if I reach for it Miss Chan will ask me what I am doing, she thinks. And she is so efficient, Miss Chan, that she will have it anyway before I have finished my bend. All the things you did to me. Dear Abraham. She calls Chelikowsky that, does Marge Quinn of the long, buttery, soft, slightly clumsy fingers, whose father once killed people, even though she has only worked in the office for, what, two weeks?

    Here is the story, lit with my finest glowing light, of the letter Chelikowsky is holding. The letter Chelikowsky is holding is the second he received from this particular correspondent. The first was much longer. So perhaps this is the story of a letter Chelikowsky once held. That he once held and then forgot.

    Regardless, he was a widower, the writer of these letters, a Mr.


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    • These two had for some years, before Mr. Stetly entered into contact with Chelikowsky and Co. Stetly, an artist of no particular note in his youth, one who had quickly wrung the towel of his own talent dry, came into possession of an absolutely unlooked-for and monstrously significant tinned oyster fortune when he was in his early thirties, and immediately set about acquiring Impressionist masterpieces. Into his collection went fake baroque landscapes, fake Scandanavian realists, fake American gothic, fake Italian Renaissance, fake Japanese woodblock prints. One morning, some months before he had taken up pen to write to Chelikowsky and Co.

      He had decided to take an inventory of his collection before having it appraised. Not terribly long into this process he realized that some of his key works, his earliest fakes, were no longer in his possession. As the weeks passed, more pictures went missing. Chelikowsky, who is not immune to the seductions of idiosyncratic solicitations, nonetheless set the letter and its request aside.

      Even though it is quite true that he once knew Stetly and was to some extent in his power. I feel quite certain that he will do the same thing with this second letter too. The history of this office is complex, is a blur, is a puzzle, has been erased from the frame. Please know that I have been framed. Promptness, neatness, orderliness—in the first few minutes of every day, I display the attributes of a very good secretary.

      This is due to my training, and reflects my commitment to our business achieving the highest success. Of course, the arrangement of supplies in my desk provides a quick check to be sure I have what I need to perform, and I keep on the desk only the supplies that I need for the day. I remove all the rest and place those items in the top drawer, which locks with a very small key I wear on my neck on a gold chain.

      With my place of business in order, I begin to organize the day for myself and for my employer, Mr. Chelikowsky, by referring to my invaluable calendar pad, and typing up an hourly schedule. I record the names of people who have appointments during the day—these never are many, and mostly are none—and also I prepare memoranda and reminders for Mr.

      Chelikowsky, whom I always call Mr. I have explained this to him and that it is difficult to unlearn certain habits of administrative behavior. I place the schedule on Mr. Soon after, Marge Quinn, office stenographer and my co-worker, arrives. Yes, I can easily clarify this distinction between a stenographer and a secretary. A stenographer takes dictation, transcribes, and types; she may also do billing and filing and operate machines like a duplicator, adding machine, etc. Either way, a secretary assumes much more responsibility than a stenographer and she contributes much more to the potential success of her employer—in this case Mr.

      At the same time each day the morning mail is distributed and sorting it is one of my responsibilities. I separate out the personal letters from the business correspondence—all of this is first opened in the mailroom, if a business has a mailroom. And I should mention that of all my responsibilities, I take this separating out of the personal letters from the business correspondence most seriously, though I take all of the work seriously.

      When the office was established, I was there to arrange it: the desk needed to go next to the window, for one thing, that I knew. Her perfume was amazing: Sumatra. Whispered romance. If a woman thinks there is something improper about a woman and a man working in close quarters you can pretty much guarantee there is something improper about her. Like I said, I liked her, I like women with secrets. But she never liked me. When I was hired, the notes were all willy-nilly. Marge Quinn, stenographer, does not understand this due to her inexperience and also due to her figure.

      What I mean is, her personal self comes into the work. Even buying a coffee at the newspaper stand to bring to the office, steaming and hot, twenty-five cents with heavy cream added, one sugar, is personal business that she considers business because it goes on her desk. You can see by the way she caresses the cardboard with her buttery fingers. Not brittle—more like delicate—and effective for making a pass. It is my job to train Quinn.

      No one ever uses nicknames for me. She was all angles and business. She had few responsibilities apart from being sure the phone stopped ringing in time. She lived in the low numbers, if you know what I mean, where I would have lived if my father would have let me, but I lived at home because he needed someone to take care of his business all personal, and I would rather not go into details.

      That was two years ago, before I moved into the hotel. I wanted my cup of tea my way, not the Barbizon way, and by that I mean I wanted my birds. The receipts are all there in the filing cabinet. I take liberties only with this—keeping my personal affairs filed at work. This shows in her thighs.

      I can ring her up on a Friday and have the suit that I need by the following Monday—a Following Suit. These are the most difficult patterns and they need to be frequently changed for success in the office, and on the street where some of our work takes us—especially down to the pickle district, and that is no joke. What worries me is that Quinn always stays late. I discovered, my first day of work, that the drawer key opens this door. Behind the door is a room full of filing cabinets, locked. She had wanted to work in the back room of the hand laundry—it opened onto an alley where the laundresses stood during their work breaks and smoked.

      Even though laundry work is especially wearisome, soaking, scrubbing, and ironing of clothing by hand, often in rather uncomfortable circumstances—overly hot or overly cold—Hester enjoys wearisome work. She enjoys wearisome work of this kind in particular, the kind that involves water and fabric, electricity, steam—not human beings. Yet more to the point she detests entanglements, intrigue. It is difficult, for this reason, to know precisely how Harvey—the play about Jimmy Stewart and his imaginary rabbit, that had been put on a couple of years ago, had cemented the actor as her ideal sort of man.

      Yet a man, a perfectly wonderful man with a constant wild look in his eyes, with a long body that was lazy and sensual and really quite strange—a man having an invisible, huge talking rabbit as a best friend is not the same as a man having a tedious entanglement with any old human. Which is the sort of intrigue most humans enjoyed. And who could blame the encouragers, really? Those who wanted Hester to have more aspiration, that is. As a laundry worker, her daily routine would have consisted mainly of working, eating, and then sleeping.

      The Custom of the Country

      A laundry worker sometimes had shifts of more than twelve hours a day. No doubt her parents wished better for her, you say? Sure, maybe. She never knew what it was like to be loved. As a secretary, she was only employed for eight hours a day, with one hour for lunch. Hester did not understand who in their right mind needed an hour for lunch. Though the conditions would have been bad, she would rather work in the laundry; there, they had political meetings and opium instead of automat lunches.

      Or so it was rumored—and mainly by her older brother, who was basically a real jerk and not to be trusted. Hester watched him smoke, staring off into the distance. He was very self-aware, that one. Even after she no longer worked in the office, he was often outside on the street, looking up at the open window. My dear colleague, the little green desk lamp, shines fine specific light on a subject that might more greatly benefit from my more varied portfolio.

      I derive from multiple sources and so perceive many things, move in many directions, see, am, and are many lives. I am the light, you see and that you see, of the diner across the street. I am the light of the all-night bakery, where Moishe Pnipkin boils his heavenly bagels, which sits beside the diner. I am the light of the bare bulb shining ever-more dimly in the home of Jessie Rae Waltz, whose Victrola Whisper and Janice are listening to.

      He is sad right now, is Jessie, and owns only three records, one of them badly scratched. As he sits with his head in his hands, only altering his position to attend to the Victrola, Janice and Whisper will dance to them all. She has two customers. They are all sitting together on her couch, their legs and buttocks adhering. Getting sticky.

      Full Audio Book - The Country of the Pointed Firs by Sarah Orne JEWETT read by Various

      I am the light at the tip of the cigarettes in all of their mouths, light that grows and fades, fades and grows. I am the light of the four cars idling at this moment on the street. More cars are coming. There are always more cars. On and on. I am the light of the trucks whose exhaust Marge Quinn so dislikes, there are two of them right now. One is filled with turquoise-and-golden toy motorcycles bound for cheap shops scattered throughout the city. The other is empty.

      Its driver is waiting, circling, over and over. Stopping every fourth or fifth round at this corner. He has a heart problem. It is hard not to hate it when he eats his mashed-meat sandwiches. He buys them by the half dozen. Small but heavy. He is often, as he is now, holding one in his hand. I am the light of the streetlamp. Of course I am.

      If you want to play percentages, I am mostly it and it is mostly me. So now you know I can see things. All kinds of things. More than my little desk lamp friend with her little green shade. Or the file cabinet whose nice fat flank I glaze though neither of us grows sticky. I can see Old Lady Gobner who comes out in the wee hours to throw scraps to the rats. Officer Schimmel who cries when he walks his beat.

      The triplets from Tenth Avenue who sneak out after midnight to run races down our sidewalks. They are hoping someday to become football stars or Olympic athletes. More than once I watched first J. Both of them walked quickly. Chelikowsky always hoped she did. Once, Hester Chan came out after him, followed them down the street. Followed Chelikowsky following J.

      See a Problem?

      Nothing happened that evening. They all went home. Chelikowsky never did anything to J. Well, as I have said, he did follow her sometimes. But she also followed him. He shoved her because she laughed at him. Laughed at his fumbling, his groping, his getting it so wrong. Do I excuse shoving because of laughing? Light from everywhere. You are looking at me right now. I am the light of this moment. I am the light of the aging doughboy who sometimes walks down the street holding two lit flashlights. No one does. I am the light of the moon. It is here sometimes, peeping through.

      And of the stars. I am old light. I have travelled. Across the dark reaches. Sometimes there is too much of me. I lie burning the night long against the wall. Marge Quinn places her lovely hand in my light and looks at it, at her hand bathed in my light. Hester Chan avoids me when she can. Sometimes J. She had small fingers and big palms. Of course I saw who opened the window.

      Hester Chan knows who opened the window. The window is not what will get Chelikowsky, if anything will. I think something will. The window is just open. I pour through it. I avoid the light when I can. The light is vertical. The light is horizontal. It travels through windows too well, slides easily onto the wall where it hovers—telling us what?

      Light makes art along with shadow but what about when both are erased—or when we are? I feel erased. I am a reasonable person. Though you and I never entertained any conversations about this, because I am very professional despite my dislike of this career, and, like you, I have never had a single pretentious idea in my life.

      Not like my brother with his sexy Jimmy Stewart persona, which yes, I myself identified, I myself named, but then he took it on and used it with common girls, any-old-girls with blonde hair. What about me? What about Hester? And I can tell that she does not understand you. All I ever wanted was to work at the laundry with Mama and Papa.

      I never cared about money. And here I am, hunted—haunted—by you. No one will believe what I say. It used to be you looked at me. Now, you hang your head at the desk. You seem ashamed to even be there. Once he threw me across the room. Just picked me up and threw me. As if I were someone trying to kill him. It hurt me badly—internal bruises and whatnot. I had no appetite for days afterwards. Even to this day, whenever Mr. So many questions remain—some of them wrong, some of them right. We might be asking all the wrong questions. Marge Quinn—is Marge Quinn some sort of spy? Is Marge Quinn a seducer?

      Is Marge Quinn a good girl? Are these questions too conservative, maybe? For example, did Marge Quinn participate in activities related to forgery, specifically did Marge Quinn, before she became a stenographer—she is suspiciously practiced for one so low in the field—did Marge Quinn work in an illegal art form? Did Marge Quinn have a hand in selling the work that got people killed? Or is Marge Quinn trying to find something, is that what it is? Does Marge Quinn have an innocent interest in art? What would that even mean?

      Marge Quinn just suddenly appeared here—took center stage in the painting and everyone pays attention to her. Why is that? And if he drew on the wall, who erased what he drew? And why did she do it? And what happened next? I am the window. I can speak for myself. I can even open myself. I am like a mouth. Fear my teeth. My tongue. The deeper reaches. All of you can leap through me. Can pour through me. Howl through me. Just leave me alone.

      Turn it off. Put it back in the file cabinet.