Beautiful Soul: An American Elegy

Free Beautiful Soul: An American Elegy by Joshua Corey

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Authors: Joshua Corey
take up drinking. It would have been
easier to forget. But for a few hours I’d been, not your mother, no one’s wife,
no singer or survivor, no one’s daughter. Only no one. And I knew, as I slipped out the door like a woman fearful of waking her
husband on her way to meet her lover, that I’d be back again and again, until
at last I took flight, to find my final home, to tuck the tail of my life into
its beginning, in Europe, in the past.
    Yesterday is dimly starred, the day before a
blank, the days before that blank but bright, like a projector run out of film.
I can only remember yesterday, Elsa, can remember this morning and the first
part of the afternoon, can remember everything up until the moment I discovered
it: the letter. Now it’s a blur; this page is a blur. Yesterday I didn’t work,
as I haven’t worked for what feels like a hundred days, but I rose early all
the same and took myself down to the café where I like to have my roll and coffee, watching the traffic thicken . It’s impossible to
find coffee to go in this country, you know, so no matter what you have to sit
there or stand in one place while the caffeine charges you up. By the time you
start moving again you’re already moving. It was like that, still early, me
with no particular place to go, so I wandered down in front of the Hotel Verdi
and as it happens the tram had just stopped. Without thinking I got on and we
began to move—there was hardly anyone else aboard because the tram was heading
back up the big hill, to the houses—everyone coming into town to go to work had
already gotten off. The tram is wooden, prewar, and it doesn’t take very long
for it to creak above the main buildings and become surrounded by trees. There
are some low, heavy pine branches that have been trimmed just enough for the
tram car to pass, so that if you look forward through the driver’s window it
looks like you are entering a tunnel with a bright point of blue at the
end—that’s if it’s a sunny day, which it usually is if it’s not winter, we are
so blessed here, Elsa, it’s so unlike that terrible cold city you insist on
living in. Out of the morning sunshine into darkness, so that
for a moment I could hardly see anything. Gradually I became aware of
the shadows of leaves dappling the floors and seats, the back of the driver’s
thick neck, and the back cover of the book that the only other passenger, a
woman in her seventies in a pillbox hat, of all things, was reading. I couldn’t
make out the title but just at that moment she looked up from the page at me
and I had to look away. I told myself a story about her, the inverse of my story,
a widow from the hills who had come down into the city that morning to do her
shopping—there was a tote bag on the floor by her feet—and was already
returning home again. But then I thought again about the lipstick she was
wearing—freshly applied—and her makeup. She really was quite beautiful, for all
her being seventy, even seventy-five, and so then I thought that she was going
home after having spent the night in town with her lover, a much younger man
perhaps, in his fifties perhaps or even younger, who was passionately in love
with her, who had perhaps loved her when he was a child and she was the adult,
his teacher maybe, or just a local beauty whom he’d imagined speaking to time
and time again as a man speaks to a woman but dared not to, who grew up and
lived his life as a species of waiting, biding, while she went on with her
husband, having children probably, living a bourgeois life in this little city
on the edge of Europe, and then one day her husband died and her lover swooped
in, so to speak—no doubt he was tactful, no doubt he could wait a few weeks or
months if he’d already waited for so long, or perhaps he’d gone away, tormented
by his proximity to her beauty, had made a life for himself nearer the center
of things and had come back one day out of nostalgia, to walk again

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