Alice O. Howell
are many mansions in the mind, Mrs. B.,
says Mrs. James,
wiping her glasses on her white uniform.
Your problem obviously relates to architecture.
Yesterday, I noted, you were in a Gothic mood,
soaring, brooding, with mists of pessimism
exhaling through the ruins of memory.
You seemed remote, unhappy, harking back
to northern winters and wet stones
but last week you were cozy and gay
and cottagey, and your eyes snapped
as if a fire were crackling on the hearth
there were intimations of knitting in
a rocking chair, kittens licking their fur,
the sound of laughter from
children in the kitchen watching the white bread rise
you seemed snug with a heart full of
warmth and love nesting under a patchwork quilt.
No, my dear, you don't have to tell me
the doctor can see the charts later on.
Are you still troubled by that boat on the beach,
and do you hear those waves hissing in your ears?
The voices are ripped away by the wind
and everything flaps? The
stings, and yet far away the white temple on the rock
is stilldeath and you cannot reach it across the
blue rage of the morning.
Why don't you go in where it is quiet?
Why don't you try a palatial mood, dear,
to pass the time.
You know, crystal mirrors, gilt chairs, red velvet,
and gold. You could have fun
appointing the rooms with tapestries, trimming
the boxwood gardens in your mind. A
just a bit rococo - a few cherubs
flying about on the painted
ceiling and a
bit of paint chipping off in the library!
The sunshine on the crunchy, grey gravel
seen through French windows with dust in
the very corners.
There, there, dear, rest a bit.
I'll be back later. No?
You want to tell me now. All
I'll get the pencil and the pad. I
I think, in the other ward.
What did you say?
the hell with architecture!
A Hilton Hotel in Puerto
in a blaze of sun and blue?
You say that while his eyes lit up
and laughed at your words, you could go
from world to world, let alone mansions.
I see. Now we're getting somewhere.
Stop crying, says Mrs. James, I can't
You - speak slowly, Mrs. B. -
You think you bored him.
Just words, just words, just words!
You have run back to that house on Lincoln Street
and slammed the door to the last mansion.
There are too many books, newspapers,
dirty dishes, and the light has gone out of
spring. Ashes all about,
accounts to do, and your eyes ache.
The balloon isn't ever going up any more?
The back of his neck is losing its magic.
That's all it was anyway.
You know you were a fool, a contemptible fool,
playing with the architecture of illusion
and now back to the goddam
split-leveled reality of concrete and
wastebaskets. Metal ones?
The big kind that scrape. The
kind you throw
empty milk cartons and empty lives and
twisted cigarette packs, matches, lost hopes,
chocolate wrappers, beer cans into
and they come the next day and
grind it all in their omnivorous yellow truck
carry the spoils away and
leave you sane again.
Do I have it right? asks
Relax, Mrs. B., says Dr. Littlefield
writing on his pad and noting with pleasure
the bosomy shape of the letter.
These things are quite natural at your age -
back formations of the glandular system, as it were.
You must learn to sublimate, my dear.
How many years since you made love?
Too many? We must all learn
to live with that.
Take me - and he coughs a little - I chop wood.
Sometimes I leave the city and go to New Jersey
just to chop, chop, CHOP wood!
May I borrow one of your cigarettes?
Thank you. I have a match.
Now you write little verses.
This is a constructive step, Mrs.. B.
Keep it up. Someday you may hand me
an autographed copy of them.
Not autographed in blood! You
must be joking.
To be truthful, I do not understand your work.
It is rather intellectual and symbolic
Or sentimental, I suppose. No,
I really don't
have the time at present to give to the matter.
but someday you must explain them to me.
Frankly I feel you have a rather
remorseless mind, and of course,
the state of your emotions has, ah,
led you here for help
You dream of falling
into grey emptiness quite frequently?
You reach out for a hand that is not there?
A young man by a lake is smiling
because a hippopotamus
thinks it can swim like a swan?
Because youth is streaming out of you
as from a house condemned ?
Cheer up, Mrs. B., that's the spirit!
Someday, should I have the time,
we might take a trip to New Jersey
and try chopping wood.
My wife, I am sure, would enjoy meeting you.
Perhaps she could understand your little verses,
They are really quite clever, Mrs. B.!