Tag: projection

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.

Cheever, “The Sutton Place Story” (1946)

Deborah is the not-quite 3-year-old daughter of Katheryn and Robert Tennyson. Her parents party and get drunk so much that “She made Martinis in the sand pile and thought all the illustrations of cups, goblets, and glasses in her nursery books were filled with Old-Fashioneds.” She is mostly cared for by a nanny, Mrs. Hartley, with whom she quarrels as if the two were an old couple. At one of her parents’ parties, they entertain a woman called Renee Hall, an actress, about 35, “dissipated and gentle,” who saw her life disappearing and her wish for a child unfulfilled. She takes to Deborah, but has a falling out with the Tennysons when she becomes too attached to the little girl, lavishes her with too many gifts and even ventures to question her parents’ style:

But eventually Mrs. Hartley hands off Deborah to Renee to look after for a few hours a week, especially when Mrs. Hartley goes to church. One of those days, right after Deborah tells renee that she has a friend called Martha and is dismissed “of course you do”) Deborah disappears. Her parents are in a panic. The search is on. Police finally find her in front of an antique store on Third Avenue. She tells her father she had to find her friend Martha.

The story recall Flannery O’Connor’s “The River,” where of course the boy, also surrounded by drunkard and somewhat more indifferent parents, isn’t found but drowns, looking for his own version of Martha.

[Missing children, panic, loss, unfulfilled life, projection, parenting, drinking]
The New Yorker, June 29, 1946

Malamud, “Steady Customer”

Four waitresses in a restaurant are crying. Their 28-year-old colleague Eileen had just died during a gallbladder operation. None of them wants to take over her lucrative section. The owner, Mr. Mollendorf, recruits a new waitress, Rose, from the agency, and the four girls agree to give her the section—except for one table: that of the steady customer who’d been Eileen’s for two years. The two were’t yet going together, but the waitresses were under the impression that they were going to start. Ant least that’s what they tell Rose. One of the waitresses decides to keep that table. The customer comes in, orders his usual. Doesn’t ask about Eileen. The girls are furious. The witness decides to tell him outright. All he says is: “I—I see,” his voice “curiously uncontrolled. ‘I’m sorry.’” The girls are still more furious. “They’re all alike,” one of them says. They stare at him. Customers begin starring at him:

The girls don’t know if he left because he was overcome by the news or because he was upset at the way he’d become an object of their scorn. “I’m convinced he really and truly loved her,” one of them says, closing the story.

New Threshold, August 1943.