William Trevor, “The Table” (1967)

A table at the ostentatious Biltmore. (© The Notebooks)

Imaginary lives. “I don’t know where my father, William Trevor, came up with his stories but over the years,” Patrick Cox wrote, “certain patterns emerged. There was nothing he relished more than to eavesdrop in public places. Corner tables in restaurants and cafés were his favorite listening posts. My guess is that’s how the wheels for “Making Conversation” were set in motion.” The eavesdropper in “The Table” is a Jewish (why Jewish? Trevor makes him out to be a money-grubber, underscroring a tinge of anti-Semitism) is the antique dealer who deals, double deals and triple deals a table, all the while making assumptions about the people he is dealing with. A Mrs. Hammond sells the table to Mr. Jeffs, who then sells it to Mrs. Galbally, but at Mr. Hammond’s urgin (and with Mr. Hammond’s checque). Jeffs delivers the table to Mrs. Galbally’s flat, a love nest he assumes is Galbally’s and Mr. Hammond’s. Then Mrs. Hammond wants the table back because of its sentimental value. She didn’t realize how much it meant to her. It was a gift from her grandmother. But for all his attempts to get the table back for her–and continue to make inordinate amounts of money on each transaction–Jeffs explodes:

‘Your grandmother is dead and buried,’ said Mr Jeffs to his amazement. ‘It is Mrs Galbally who is alive. She takes her clothes off, Mrs Hammond, and in comes your husband and takes off his. And the table sees. The table you have always known. Your childhood table sees it all and you cannot bear it. Why not be honest, Mrs Hammond? Why not say straight out to me: “Jew man, bargain with this Mrs Galbally and let me have my childhood table back.” I understand you, Mrs Hammond. I understand all that. I will trade anything on God’s earth, Mrs Hammond, but I understand that.’

Mrs. Hammond of course knew none of that. Jeffs has shattered her peace. He returns to his miserable, lonely life after ruining that of others by making lives up for them. The comic undercurrents of the story are also shattered by the last images.

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