But Yearning Still

by Claire Guyton

Her postcards never said “Wish you were here.” They said, “Wondering why that guy stopped me in the street yesterday—was my skirt too short?” Or “I’m eating oranges every day, all day, oranges for breakfast, oranges for lunch and dinner, oranges for snacks.” Or “Rained too much this week. Ever notice all the different kinds of rain drops? Mostly here I see the fat round kind that remind you of hamsters.” No, I said to myself, fat round rain drops that remind you of hamsters. A rain drop has never, ever, made me think of a hamster. Well, not until now, and thanks so much for that.

I found the non sequiturs and strange pronouncements unnerving. “A brown paper bag—it’s the best disguise, don’t you think?” she once said. Disguise for what? I found her unnerving. A mother is not supposed to flit, to tilt her head to the side and comment like a child, to flit again, reeling off postcards in her wake like so much chunky confetti. The kind of confetti that reminds you of used Kleenex. That reminds me of used Kleenex.

Other people found the non sequiturs—she flung them in person, too—charming. Sometimes they would claim insight—Ahh, yes⁘hamsters! That’s just a for-instance. That one didn’t happen, because, again, her great rain drop-hamster insight came in the form of a postcard, as did most of her communications with me in the almost twenty-two years I knew her. Knew of her. On a rare visit home when I was maybe fourteen, one of her fans did say, Ahh, yes…just like a burnt raisin! I have no memory of what was just like a burnt raisin because what stunned me that day, and others, was not what my artsy, flitty, addled, moth-pinging-on-a-light bulb mother said, but what these big-eyed, fascinated, bated-breath hangers-on tried to make of it.

I didn’t say before that she made the postcards. That they were printed from her oil paintings, paintings that you would recognize. Telling you that changes the whole story, doesn’t it? She was a rare talent, my mother, a household name in her day, one still well known in the art world. Telling you that puts you on her side.

Well, you should feel free to defend her. You will be in good company. A free spirit must flit. A creative mind like that—well, it sees the overlap between a fat rain drop and a small, pink hamster, pacing the straight lines of his glass box. We do not see that overlap, and in the space between the seeing and the not-seeing, the world sits properly on its axis, the special over there in that one slivered place of privilege and blanket forgiveness, and the ordinary over here, scraping the dried remains of scrambled eggs from the skillet, counting out the exact change for the bus to town, falling into bed too late and too tired, speaking softly into the black night, into the musty, misshapen pillow, Where are you now? What do you see? Wish you were here.

Claire Guyton is a freelance writer, editor, and writing coach in Lewiston, Maine. Her work has appeared in Crazyhorse, Hunger Mountain, and elsewhere. She served as the Maine Arts Commission’s 2012 Literary Fellow, and holds an MFA in fiction from Vermont College of Fine Arts. Claire is attempting to write a short story every day for a year and blogs about this challenge at dailyshorty.com.

 

 

What has been your own experience with postcards?

    Postcards have always been all about yearning for me. Growing up, they were about the kind of trips other people took. Occasionally a school friend or a cousin might show me this beautiful picture of some faraway place, insist—impossible!&#8212that his aunt, her grandmother, his best friend had actually visited this place. Then I’d turn the picture over to see the handwritten note and I could hardly stand to believe my schoolmate’s good luck. Someone in that faraway land actually considered him important enough to hand-write a message and mail it to him. Smack in the middle of paradise, somebody stopped to write that note. I couldn’t get over it. I still can’t. Now I have a whole collection of unused postcards that I leave in little piles around my home, mostly on book shelves or side-tables. I buy them at museum gift shops so I won’t forget the art I loved best. When I look at them I experience a softer, prettier kind of yearning. But yearning still.
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