Here you are, melancholy at summer's end, sweeping up, watching the busy squirrels bury morsels for winter use, a ghost among ghosts, wondering who it was that sat here on the patio talking about books, laughing, drinking a deep red Minervois, snatching a few carefree hours out of the irreversibly flowing River of Time, wondering, "Was that really us?"
Was that really us? Sitting calmly in the dappled light of late afternoon under the sugar maples, talking about new books by Lorrie Moore and Colum McCann, which, of course, led us back to memories of 9/11, when we shared that simple spaghetti dinner in J.'s quiet apartment on 23rd Street. None of us could get off Manhattan, and we were hungry, grateful to be together, thankful for the quiet company, spooked by the ungodly wail of a siren whenever an emergency vehicle carrying bodies to the Armory raced crosstown. The fading sirens followed by a deep unsettling silence. The sky then was as blue and blank as it is today.
We agreed that Lorrie Moore was brilliant sentence by sentence -- she's one of the best writers we've got -- but that her novel on the whole was disappointing. J. said, "I kept waiting for an emotional payoff that never came." Someone chimed in, "Her short stories are perfect but I think the longer form eludes her. You read her for the prose." On the other hand, we acknowledged McCann's Let the Great World Spin was deeply affecting, despite the obvious symbolism of Petit's walk between the Twin Towers. "It was so moving, almost perfect. He captured the city back then to a tee, all the characters wonderfully drawn, rich and poor alike. It made me sad, you know, that the old city is gone forever, the way it was." That got us going on another recent novel set in New York, Joseph O'Neill's Netherland. "Another Irishman! Funny how these guys can come to the city and describe it better than the natives. Both books made me see things differently and took me places I never even knew existed. Even though I live here."
"McCann's is so elegaic and affectionate, there's almost a Steinbeckian feel to it, all strata of society thrown together, whereas Netherland is almost tart, there's that lone voice of the outsider. And the financial crisis gives it a slightly dated feel." J. was winding down, these were not things we could think about for too long without getting emotional and the day was too lovely to dwell on the past. It was clear that all three of the books had meant a great deal to us, they gave us a way of recalling a time and an event, the way we were, that we could hardly recollect in words ourselves. Was that really us? Perhaps it was.
Dry leaves skitter across the mossy flagstones in the northerly breeze. You feel it all around you: autumn with its attendant sadness, the daylight fading earlier day by day. And here you are, sweeping up, trying to remember what it was like, sitting among friends, drinking wine and talking about books, just a few days ago.