Tag: faded glory

William Trevor, “The General’s Day” (1967)

william trevor the general's day

Old Man Walks alone in Sommières, France, 2018. (x1klima)

Not a story for Veterans Day. Bad-tempered astrologically tilted General Suffolk, “a leader and a strategist in two great wars,” takes 10 minutes to prepare his breakfast, 10 to consume it, and a day to repeat a ritual of public humiliation and drunkenness he can’t bring himself to end, because it’s not in him to kill himself. “[H]e was to the last a rake, and for this humanity a popular figure. He had cared for women, for money, for alcohol of every sort; but in the end he had found himself with none of these commodities.” He’s 78. He wants this latest of country Saturdays to go his way. He’s looking to pick up a “stout matron” at the Brown Cafe. Mrs. Hinch, his maid, his “fat old bitch,” sends him on his way with wry humor so she can indulge in what’s left of his luxuries. For the general, it’s a string of rejections, starting with young Basil, whose mother is producing babies at a suspiciously faithless clip, like the mother in Carver’s “Father,” or the “buzz off” from a man the general tries to help back on his feet after he falls in front of him. He discovers that those who reject him with excuses are just lying. They just don;t want to be with him.  “[S]ome people are like that: so addicted to the lie that to avoid one, when the truth is in order, seems almost a sin.” He has gins with Mrs. Hope-Kingley the divorced widow. He goes too far when his hand wanders. She leaves him. He tries his opening line–his astrological what sign are you–on a man on the bus who also rejects him. “I do not like to offend people. I do not like to be a nuisance. You should have stopped me, sir,” he tells him. It’s always too late. He too lies to the bartender, pretending that he’s been off to see “The Guns of Navarone.” He doesn’t want to let on that he’s been jilted all day. He tries to have drinks with Frobisher a second time, having already been rejected in the morning. Frobisher this time rejects him the way the other general rejects Dimitritch Tcherviakov in “The Death of a Government Clerk”: “Get the hell off my premises, you bloody old fool! Go on, Suffolk, hop it!” The general’s entreaty (“”Look, I’m a little lonely –” gets him nowhere. He doesn’t go home to die, like Tcherviakov. He wishes. But he won’t be so lucky. His wrenching realization, a preface to Donald Hall’s two memoirs: “I could live for twenty years,’ he whispered. ‘My God Almighty, I could live for twenty years.’ Tears spread on his cheeks.” He should have met William Maxwell’s Pearl M. Donald: “It took her almost twenty years of not wanting to live anymore,” or Isaac Bashevis Singer’s Max Flederbush in “A Party in Miami Beach”: “sometimes I think that the real heroes aren’t those who get medals in wartime but the bachelors who live out their years alone.”

 

The Day We Got Drunk on Cake and Other Stories (Bodley Head, 1967)