HauteLit from HotLanta: “In Isolated Places”

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In 2013, OriginalTitle will be presenting her interpretations of contemporary short stories in whatever way such interpretations happen to emerge as a result of the inspiration.  

This week’s featured short story is “A Perfect Day for Bananafish,” by J.D. Salinger and can be read here.

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I should be with them at the gala.  But I listen to sonatas in minor keys at full volume, drinking in isolated places with regularity and always in the midst thick imaginary melodrama.  It’s a two bottle night.  I won’t be able to drink the full second, I know that at least, but the first just isn’t enough.  Due to the impossibility of opening wine bottles with soaked pruney hands, I’ve uncorked both and placed them next to the lip of the porcelain.   I slink slowly into the past-temperate tub, too hot and already overpopulated by mounds of crystal bubble glaciers.  My entrance displaces the fragile, multi-colored floats, creating steaming valleys.  Surprised by the fact I’m doing something terribly depressing again, even though it’s not surprising in the least, I take a swig of the bottle and laugh through it.  Drips of wine turn pink as they hit the water.

I have this tendency to think I’m being watched in private places.  I’m not trying to think that way, it’s just ingrained in me somehow.  My mother used to scare us into behaving by hinting she had hidden cameras all over the house.  As a result I’ve decided to be exceedingly reckless in my adulthood just to prove that no one is watching.  I thought I could psyche myself out of this mindset, but I’ve proven myself right over and again and can’t seem to stop myself.  Now, I’m just addicted to recklessness.  A wild paranoid propelling myself to the lowest point possible, just to see if anyone will notice and no one ever does.   In all honesty, I enjoy the low points more than anything else.  It’s sick really.

I even left the door open; just to test it one more time.  I sink down until my hair and ears are all tucked way below the surface.  The hum of the hotel vibrates below the water.  I hear the faucet drip slowly into the tub and the water seep past the drain’s seal.  I surface.  Sometimes, Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 14 can make you cry but it wouldn’t matter in the tub.  Water goes in, water goes out and that’s that.  Like a jellyfish.  The water goes in and the water goes out.  Relationships begin, relationships end.  It really doesn’t matter.  It’s not like I’m sad.  I’m more embarrassed.  I shouldn’t have come here.

I packed the dress and put it on.  Everyone else had eyes on me.  I have that effect when I want to.  But he looked at her.  There’s nothing I can do.  It’s over between us.  Ten years and it’s over.

I could end it right here with this razor in the tub and hope he stumbles back with her and finds me here in pinkish sludge, but even then, he’d have her to hold.  He’d be fine and I would be…just as dead as I feel now.

This is pathetic, I’m pathetic.  What did I expect would happen when he came back.  All jazzed up from the lights, the music and the booze.  He’d come in here, see me and what?  He’d probably laugh.  I would.

I take another swig.  One bottle down.  I slip one slippery leg over the edge and dip below the surface again.  I blow all the air out.  I can’t do it, I’m not strong enough.  I lift my head up.  It’s time to go.  But I can’t reach the surface.  It won’t come free, my hair’s stuck in the drain.  I grip it and rip the hair out of the drain.  The panic sets in.  My body starts to convulse.  Water goes in places it shouldn’t.  Lungs moisten.

With continued effort, I break free, clumps of hair between my fingers.  I cough.  Water comes out.  I slide my other leg over the edge and hoist myself over.  My body is weakened but I stand slowly.  I turn to grab a towel.   The door widens.  I spin towards it, but too fast.  The bottles get in the way and the smack of the tub burns my skull.  Before I go, I see the water turn pink.  He stands over me and says my name.  He holds my head together and she dials the phone.  She rubs his back, tries to hold him but his eyes are me.  He’s watching me.

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Notorious for such classics as “Franny and Zooey” and “Catcher in the Rye,” J.D. Salinger highlights a feeling of post-war isolation in an earlier short story, “A Perfect Day for Bananafish.”  The story follows three characters with little in common.  Seymour, a war veteran and the main character, is first introduced to the reader through his socialite wife, Muriel, who is having a difficult time quelling her mother’s worries about Seymour’s mental health over the phone while Seymour is out on the beach alone.  It isn’t until later in the story that we begin to see things through Seymour’s own perspective, but only after little Sybil Carpenter runs down the beach to “See more glass,” having been left by her mother to play.

Almost immediately, it’s clear there’s a problem of communication among the characters.  Muriel is disconnected and unconcerned in the face of her panicked mother’s pleas.  They seem to both be having different conversations with each other simultaneously instead of engaging with what the other is saying.  Moreover, her husband is roaming about the hotel and beach in a bathrobe, refusing to take it off.  More worried about the clothing of the season and painting her nails than answering the phone or monitoring where her husband may be or what he may be doing, she tells her mother that everything is fine and she resumes her materialistic existence without any sort of second thought about the conversation.  In the next paragraph, another mother/daughter duo in the story seem to have just as much trouble communicating.  An exhausted mother at the beach with daughter nine-year-old Sybil tells her daughter to stop being silly when she continues to ask, “Did you see more glass?”  The mother doesn’t understand her daughter is actually talking about a young man, Seymour Glass who she’s been spending time with her.  The mother leaves her daughter unattended to get a drink.  This is even more troubling than the previous conversation.

While Muriel’s talking with her mother, we learn that Seymour has been playing piano at nights while Muriel socializes with other guests at the hotel, one being a psychiatrist who asks Muriel if Seymour’s been sick.  Everyone around Seymour seems to register the appropriate amount of concern except for the one person who should.  Because of this, Seymour takes refuge with children around the hotel.  In them, he seems to hope to find redemption and escape from the world that has become a confusing place since the war.  After what he saw and experienced in the war, Seymour is having a difficult time conversing with adults appropriately.  He’s apparently said some unkind things to family members of Muriel and even calls his own wife, “Miss Spiritual Tramp of 1948.”  In this light we see that Seymour actually does “See more,” than the adults around him and is having trouble communicating his discontent with it.

Sybil makes it down the beach and begins a comfortable conversation with Seymour.  Their familiarity is at once disconcerting.  There’s nothing overtly sexual, but this familiarity between an older man, a stranger, and a young girl is clearly inappropriate.  We learn that Seymour has become friendly with another girl, a three and a half year old, of whom Sybil is now jealous.  Seymour appeases Sybil by taking her into the water and telling her a story about an imaginary Bananafish.  In the story, the bananafish gorges himself on bananas inside a hole, becoming to fat to escape and finally dying.  We can see this story as a metaphor for Seymour himself whose feelings of isolation and despair have been quietly piling up inside him, making him too fat to get out.  Sybil claims to “see” the imaginary bannafish and because of this becomes a kind of “seer,” perhaps enlightening Seymour somehow.

Salinger closes the story with the expertise of a wordsmith.  In this one line, he’s able to convey suspense and drama so succinctly, “Then he went over and sat down on the unoccupied twin bed, looked at the girl, aimed the pistol, and fired a bullet through his right temple.” His use of the word “girl” instead of Muriel seems to convey one last time how distant the two of them are, how little they’re able to communicate.  But in one final act,  Seymour is able to once and for all share those views that have been piling up inside him.  He has finally isolated himself enough to escape for good.

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I highly recommend “A Perfect Day for Bananafish,” by J.D. Salinger.   This is a short story that’s a part of Nine Stories by J.D. Salinger who wrote, “Catcher in the Rye.”

About OriginalTitle: In addition writing her blog and contributing to Writer’s Club, OriginalTitle is also writing a novel and her work has been featured in Fanzine and most recently in Comb Magazine.

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