September 30, 2019

David Kirby

LITTLE MOVIES

I’m telling my friend Charlotte that Barbara and I
are going to New York, where I hope not to spend
a whole lot of money in fancy restaurants, and Charlotte tells me
she was just in New York herself but didn’t
spend much money on food because “I was with
a group of pregnant women.” I can see them now as they

decide between the goat cheese salad and the hummus,
the hearts of palm and the orange-glazed shrimp with
spicy walnut crumble as the waiter says, “Can I interest
you ladies in a mimosa, bloody mary, glass of prosecco?”
and they say, “No, not this time, maybe in a few months.”
Barbara asked her hairdresser if she plans to have

children, and the hairdresser says she’s leaning
the other way because she works on a lot of young
mommies, and “they’re just not selling it.” Then again,
parenthood isn’t about joy. Studies show that parents
report significantly lower levels of happiness,
life satisfaction, marital satisfaction, and mental well-being

compared with non-parents. Why do it, then? Why
have children at all? Probably because children add
narrative to a life that doesn’t have one or add more
narrative to a life that is actually pretty rich in narrative
already or seems as though it may never have
a narrative at all. Did you know that even aliens

love stories? The woman who claims to have
interviewed the alien whose ship crashed in Roswell,
New Mexico, in 1947 said the creature’s favorite books
were Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Don Quixote,
and One Thousand and One Nights, all stories
of great spirit, great power. Great images: Tom Petty

says, “A good song should give you a lot of images.
You should be able to make your own little movie
in your head to a good song,” and the same is true
of stories. A man had a peacock, says playwright
Tom Stoppard, and the man was shaving one morning,
and in the mirror he sees the peacock atop the garden wall

and about to jump to the other side, so the man drops
his razor and races out just as the bird reaches
the motorway and starts to leg it to god knows where,
and he catches it after a hundred yards or so and puts
the peacock under his arm and starts home.
So the story ends happily, but in the meantime, a good

half-dozen cars have sped by, and their occupants
have seen a man clad only in pajama pants, his face
covered by shaving foam, carrying a peacock.
What did they think? That the man had lost a bet
on a rugby match, perhaps, and now he has to walk
from Whitby to Berwick-upon-Tweed with the foam

on his face and the bird under his arm. Or that he belongs
to a cult religion that worships shaving, partial nudity,
and peacocks, and he’s on his annual pilgrimage.
Or that he has been slipped a powerful drug by his wife’s
lover, who is sending the man out into the world
this way so that he will appear deranged and spend

the rest of his days in a care home while the two lovers
squander the man’s considerable fortune. All lives
end the same way. Between the start and the finish,
it’s the stories that count. May we all say what the poet
Edward Field did when his partner of long standing died,
and Field tells us that “we were together for 58 years.

It was so wonderful I don’t mind being by myself for a while
and reflecting on our life together. I am so grateful.”
Charlotte laughs as she tells me about her pregnant friends,
and I love thinking of all that life around the table, and then
I ask Charlotte if she plans to have children, and she wags
her finger at me as if to say, wouldn’t you like to know.

from Rattle #64, Summer 2019

__________

David Kirby: “Researchers ask parents if they’re happy, but that’s the wrong question; it’s like asking a cow if it can fly. Evidently there’s something we prize above happiness, and that’s a good story, especially if it stars us.”

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