THE JOURNAL OF CHARLES ALLY, Part 1
Friday, September 4th, 1970. Norine has told me to leave or be left. I will leave. It is a strange time for her to have found out about Cara, two years after the fact, just as we were to settle in for the semester. The students are just beginning — to arrive — those who will live off campus, Perhaps it's their arrival as much as anything that's stirred Norine so — The young things coming on another year, an endless supply, though she's still as good-looking as any of them except, perhaps, for the thin look about her lips, and the coldness of her eyes.
I had asked Norine only a week ago, during one of the squabbles we've been having so frequently lately, whether she'd mind if I took a mistress. She said, "Yes, I'd be humiliated — more so than usual," and now, to discover Cara, who is no longer a student here, but to see the image of Cara everywhere....
I'll leave everything. I'll regret leaving Norine and Melany, but nothing else — not the job, which gave me a bad stomach last year during all the turmoil on campus; not this poky town or our few friends. Not even our possessions. I've wondered for years whether I couldn't make a living on my writing alone, and I'll find out. Perhaps, at least, I can get to the novel that's been building in my brain and temper. It's been the novel, anyway, that's been wearing my nerves thin lately, and the silver on our wedding plate.
I will leave it all, as partial compensation, and go live on the farm in Frankfort. Since Uncle John's death last spring it's been standing empty by the river, and I might as well use it. I've never spent a fall in Maine, in the town of my maternal ancestors, and I've always imagined how it might be with the leaves lying in the fields, along the road.
Now we'll see; and, as this is another life, I well record it here, in this journal, from the seminal moment, as I will try to get down that other life in my novel
Wednesday, 9th. It was simple. I bought an old car, packed a few clothes, and put Catch, my cat, into his traveling cage. Before we left, though, there was a picnic in the college park beside the lake with a few friends and their families. It was the most beautiful Labor Day afternoon I can remember, no other faculty but the five couples and our children all over the grass, I launched my boat and gave rides. No one said anything serious.
Yesterday, before leaving I told my chairman, and I'm sorry he's left in the position of having to scratch for a replacement only a week before classes start. He was surprised and, at first, upset, but he understood the situation finally.
I drove the ten hours from upstate New York to Frankfort in one stretch, and I'm now in Uncle John Putnam's old farmhouse, writing this at his rolltop desk. Tomorrow I'll have to do some shopping.
The house is in good repair, but it seems to me it's been left essentially unchanged since last century. I understand there's a new water supply, though, and the house is electrified; there's a hot water heater standing in the kitchen-corner in the ell.
I've looked the house over thoroughly, and the first thing Catch did was to bless our new home with a dead star-nosed mole. As soon as I let him out of his cage, he disappeared into the fields. When I had wandered about a bit and come back to the kitchen, there was Catch on the doorstep, staring at me out of his black head with those yellow eyes, the mole between his forepaws. Catch has always been mine, not Norine's, for it was Cara who gave him to me. She is a good deal like him.
The house was built, according to family tradition and the lawyer's letter, in 1754, the second oldest house still standing in Frankfort, It was originally a hunting lodge: square, two stories tall. The ell was added about a hundred years later, and the interior of the house proper Victorianized.
The cellar does not extend under the ell; it has a stone floor, and a stone foundation, In the house proper there are, downstairs, two sitting rooms — each with a fireplace — on either side of what was once the front door entranceway when the road followed the riverbank. Now, the "front" door looks out into a yard that falls down, between two large and beautiful blue spruces, toward the stream that flows into the river about 100 yards away.
In the sitting-room on the river side of the house there is an old square grand piano. Off that room is a small bedroom, on the north side, and off that, to the east, is the small room where I am now sitting at Uncle John's desk. Beside me is his combination safe, which the lawyer has told me how to open. I've looked into it, and it's full of old deeds and ledgers dating back a hundred years and more.
Behind me is the hall, and the stairway slanting west as it rises. There is another outside "middle" door at the foot of the stairs — the house is full of doors: on my right there's one leading to a screened porch that faces north, and, at the south end of the porch, still another opening onto the dining room.
At the foot of the stairs to the left as one descends, is the door into the single story ell; dining room, kitchen, and shed, in that order. The toilet, with a shower stall, is really, a room in the shed, on the west side of which there is still the two-seater "outhouse." If one stands on the screened porch, the outhouse juts out of the ell and blocks a view of the barn.
Upstairs there are three rooms; over each of the downstairs rooms is a large bedroom with fireplace. The arched brick structure in the basement that supports all this central masonry is massive.
In the northeast corner upstairs is another, smaller, bedroom, facing the stairs. The upstairs hallway is large — in effect another room, It surrounds the stairs, and in the southwest corner there are bookcases and a table filled with old books. I want to look at them as soon as possible: some look very old.
The house is clapboarded, painted white. The kitchen door looks out on the new road — on either side of the entrance to the drive is an immense, dying elm. The barn stands at right angles to the house, slightly north, facing the dooryard.
I am tired. I don't know, yet, whether I miss Norine and Melany, but I'll sleep on it and get over this shock of strangeness. It's growing dark. The house is saying night things. Catch will sleep with me, at the foot of the bed, as usual. He is sitting behind me, telling me it's time to go to dream.
TO BE CONTINUED ON POETICS AND RUMINATIONS