They let me tend to my husband’s burial and settle his affairs. Which means I can stay in my house, pretend he is away on business while I stand in the closet and smell his clothes. I can cook dinner for two and throw the rest away, or overeat, depending on my mood. Or make a time capsule full of pictures I won’t be allowed to keep. I could bury it in the yard for a new family to discover.
But once that work is done, the Placement Team orders me to pack two bags of essentials, good for any climate. They take the keys to our house, our car. The crew will come in, price it all; a sale will be advertised; all the neighbors will come. I won’t be there for any of this, but I’ve seen it happen to others. The money will go into my dowry, and then someday, hopefully, another man will marry me.
I have a good shot at getting chosen, since I’m a good decorator and we have some pretty nice stuff to sell off and so my dowry will likely be enticing.
I seem to be noticing this narrative structure of “disruption of the status quo” in these stories; I’m not sure if it’s the stories that emphasize it, or just what is foremost in my reading mind for whatever reason. Again we have a story that begins with the disruption, and we only catch glimpses of the status quo that was. And again, there’s an intriguing narrative in the foreground, while an intensely emotional personal process plays out underneath, and eventually takes over. Just yesterday, I read a quote that stuck in my mind, maybe because I was thinking of this phenomenon: “A-list movies are always about a B-list plot; B-list movies are always about an A-list plot” (Benjamin Percy, quoted by Ben Shattuck in “The Writing of Art” in the 10/19/15 Morning News). Funny how your mind grabs what it needs when you think you’re just running through your reader feed.
At first I thought this was an action-adventure story – and A story – set in a future dystopia in which jobs are limited and those without them are kept in shelters unless they can be “placed” – that is, married to an employed person. Although the main character is a woman, there are men in the same situation. In fact, the presence of the men’s shelter across the street contributes to most of the tension in the foreground story.
But underneath – the B story – is an exploration of the process of moving on from bereavement, particularly the conflict when social forces require a schedule the emotions simply can’t follow.
In my first “Moving on for Widows” seminar we are given a manual of helpful exercises and visualizations.… I’m supposed to pretend our wedding day was lonely, and that rather than love and happiness, I felt doubt, dread. It’s all very hard.
In her Tin House interview, Cook recounts the long process of writing the story in layers, and her own experience with a family that wanted her to move on from the grief of losing her mother before she was ready.
In the end, I’m left with the image of the across-the-void desire, the real-life pseudoromance from one window to another that echoes the yearning to reach someone who’s been lost to death. It’s quite touching, this imagined possibility, the ache to communicate, since communication isn’t possible and the relationship exists only in the woman’s mind. Reminds me of the internet, in fact.