Today is the first Tuesday in November. The season has already turned quite cold and sad-ridden, and Gloria has committed to doing positively nothing about it.
When the weather began to drop in years past—and her spirits well along with it—she would grow horribly nervous and, in an effort to outlast her emotions (for they did feel almost deathly), push herself to something like dancing (she usually preferred the Charleston and would make great exaggerated leg movements) or walking the block half again or until she was tired or witnessed something that changed her mood even narrowly, like a handsome garden or a pair of lovers on a dark park bench, handling each other so closely she occasionally misunderstood them for one wide, very bumpy, altogether indistinct man.
The last thing—the lovers she saw now and then on the bench—would instantly unsettle her. Her muscles would draw up, her breath would shake, and finally, a sense of tremendous fatigue would lash her body, and she'd begin to feel quite foolish for attempting to avoid the unavoidable. It was all one exquisite self-punishment in the end, anyway. The Charleston, the walking, and what. It was all self-punishment, and so she would have turned out thus, so severely unpeaced, somehow or other.
What can anyone do, really?
Such is why this year—the second year in a row! she thinks to herself with a sense of insincere pride, or else a real swell of pride that bleeds out almost instantly—she has resolved to do nothing at all about her state. To sit in it instead, or sit with it, rather, almost in deference to it, and bear the cold, and the catarrh she invariably falls ill with, for all of her despair makes her immune system particularly weak. It is not so much a giving up as a giving in, a letting go, and she finds this strategy has quite an unexpectedly agreeable effect.
She pulls her dining room chair up against the window, where on the sill is a candle somewhat loose in its holder. The same thing would disturb her before, but instead, she reaches over to her desk drawer, finds a small amount of very lightweight cloth—perhaps Georgette—she had cut from an old scarf or kerchief and wraps it around the base of the candle. It should do for now, and if the candle's position is too precarious while it burns and may fall or may not, she will instead take it firmly in her hand and watch with a tense certainty as the wax pours slowly down the candle and pricks her fingers, hardens, hardens...
All at once, she hears four knocks on her door—knock, knock, knock, KNOCK! They almost surprise her, but she settles herself back down and returns to her business with a hard-eyed daze. She does not intend to answer the door and does not care who it may be. It's obvious that she's quite too occupied at the moment for visitors or distractions, and what is more, she hasn't had a very manageable time composing herself for sleep lately, so her body is too weak and sleep-lacked to rise and walk across the room.
Although the knocking does wake up her curiosity ever so negligibly... who could it be? She glances at the clock above her kitchen, where everything is perfectly barren, and there is not a dish nor a cup to be seen anywhere, as if no one were ever home.
The clock reads around five in the evening, when she normally does her one only hobby, which is doing nothing entirely. Yes, it is quite glum yet brings her friendly pain in which she sits, watching that candle burn down patiently, questioning everything in the world, saying "nothing" each time, feeling every cell apiece, alone, the whole separateness of space and span, all for the pure satisfaction of misery. Yet it is safer than other things to do.
How long she does this is not always the same. There are times she cannot get up for hours, while other days she can only tolerate the exercise for a short while, at which point she finds herself becoming far too sensitive and forces herself to sleep. If she cannot sleep—and often she cannot—she does a crossword puzzle or reads a frivolous magazine, all the time groaning and thinking to herself, this is so very ridiculous.
She determines to ignore the knocks at her door and even begins to feel resentful at whoever could be there, for after all of the efforts of beating her poor mind on and on for so long into insensibility, now she's slightly excited again!
It's very rude to knock on a person's door so suddenly, she thinks to herself.
She lights the candle with a very lengthy match—these are much more practical than ordinary matches that often burn her fingers—envisioning her mind with the form of an igneous stone, scorched all through with this horribleness she puts to it. If only it weren't so hard outside. But then, there is something very good and useful about these rocks: they don't react at all with the acidic (at least not usually), which leaves her very well fitted, or perhaps the better words are "well adapted" for the constant stinging, the vicious bite life has to it, which sharpness would have her starve than taste it again!
The knocks come again. Knock, knock, knock, KNOCK!
Ah, the audacity! she thinks. A blotchy redness appears on her chest and moves gradually up her neck.
No, she will not let this divert her! She does not miss this exercise of doing nothing for anyone and will not tolerate any distractions or interferences, never even from God!
From who? she laughs to herself.
But then, the knocks come once more. Knock, knock, knock, KNOCK!
Now you've done it! she huffs. She can feel the blood rampaging through her arms, her head, her chest, and the million marbles of chaos spill in her mind. Tshhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh. Anxiety! Dread! Fear! However it's called, it's a feeling she most detests! Oh, she must sit. She'd much rather sit. Sit and do nothing.
Who could it be at the door? An acquaintance? A robber? No, it's likelier an acquaintance, for why would a robber knock? But what acquaintance do I have? No, it can't be an acquaintance. Although, I don't know that it's not an acquaintance, even if I'm not expecting someone. So then, I don't know that it's not a robber, either, do I? A clever robber may knock to have me think he's an acquaintance, wouldn't he?
What can anyone know, really?
While all of this time she contemplates, the someone knocks more at the door, and louder, and louder, and finally starts to cry, "Hello! Would it hurt you to answer?" It's a thick mahogany door, which thankfully muffles some of the woman's shouting and some of Gloria's thoughts.
The point has been reached where she must open the door. She does not want to, and in a debate with herself, she considers instead jumping out of the window. But she has not for long enough been generously herself, and, having been a person to do strictly as others wished for so long, cannot yet do something so inglorious as disregarding someone at the door.
"I'm here, yes," Gloria calls grudgingly. When she gets to the door and opens it, there stands an old unwelcome acquaintance, Bedelia.
How do I know Bedelia is not a robber?
Ostentatiously she appears as she always has with a lengthy, very delicately embroidered apron dress. She nearly pushes Gloria to the floor as she quickens inside, and with a merry evil look in her eyes as though the world were burning down around, and it pleasured her to see.
"Oh, oh, oh, oh! Gloria, I must tell you what I heard! Oh, the news."
Gloria musters up her remaining physical strength and walks back to her chair. Outside of her apartment, she sees the sky beginning to forfeit its soft orange light to a vague, overwhelming shadiness, as happens so early in the winter day. The vision gives her new decisiveness to do her own wishes from here on. All Gloria cares to do now is rescue her composure, let Bedelia cry like a newborn until she's devoured of it finally, and then send the woman on her way.
"What's the news, Bedelia?" Gloria glances at her with a weary, anxious readiness and prepares to be discomfited, much exhausted, by some gossip or mishap or tragedy, for she knows just what things Bedelia likes to talk of, and how she finds perverse joy in being a carrier of bad news. A sower of scandal!
"Well..." Bedelia says. The look in her round emerald eyes grows more profound, as though Gloria's attention to them opened another circle deeper, or perhaps another trench, more frozen and wasted than the last. A look so heavy and grave that would exist in the same extent, Gloria suspects, even if Bedelia's own head were diced off this very moment, and all of the blood and gas from it ran.
But then, they would not exist if I diced my head off.
"Oliver is no longer with that woman..."
Oh! Gloria almost loses her poise once better, for the sound of his name is like a very raucous alarm, like coming roughly asleep, then slipping, falling, plunging, and rousing abruptly in that imaginary movement, frightened, stirred...
"...Ava is her name, I believe."
Perhaps it's all a dream.
Gloria does not say anything back to Bedelia. She merely watches her candle, using all of her power to concentrate, concentrate enormously on nothing while a piece of her somewhere anguishes.
I wish it had been a robber. After all, I have nothing for anyone to take.
But on a second thought, she concedes that she does have something valuable... peace. Her sore, aching peace, her discomfiting ease, that friendly pain, doubting everything in the world, saying "nothing," saying nothing, feeling nothing alone, vastly alone, just how she enjoys it.
No, she won't let Bedelia steal that for anything!
"Did you hear me, Gloria? And that's not all."
Gloria maintains her fixation on the candle, nearly in disbelief of how a flame lives so brilliantly to start, burns, hopes, even, and then begins at some imperceptible moment to wince, slump, worse and worse, quietly, slowly, with every expectancy past, until finally, it's dead out, precisely as people do.
The final thought, "precisely as people do," forces a particular idea to her mind she wishes to resist, but she relaxes instead in its awfulness: the candle is doing none of those things. No, she's merely inflicting the sad sickness of living, of being human, on a non-human, non-living thing, just as was done unto her before she was born. Had it never happened!
No, the candle is doing none of those things, hoping, burning, wincing. The candle is merely being a candle, and being a candle means nothing, means as much as it hoping, burning, wincing. No, the candle is doing nothing, is nothing. It hardly exists, then, against what she always thought. Her progress is remarkable, really. For she used to stare at it reflectively and have these same thoughts, and then the flame would begin to hurt her eyes so that she would turn instantly from its glare and run away, back. Back to dreams and thoughts of him, back to whatever shadows memory cast upon her mind's wall, rememberings, dim rememberings! Back to the dark...
But her eyes have adjusted now to the light, and she is able to reason about it and what it is. That something she so admired and adored came out to mean nothing. What this whole severe experience of life is: nothing.
All of this begins to console her somehow into subdued unhappiness, and she's rather comforted by it, perhaps astounded by it, even, for Bedelia's company is generally a source of outstanding stress for Gloria, and she usually gets quite dizzy and sometimes even feels she could fall down or cry in her presence.
The taper Gloria watches is especially slender, and it's about halfway through at least. She holds eyeing it, arranging every thought on that flame, blocking out Bedelia, the fabrication of Oliver, the terror of reality, that her imagination occluded for how long...
Bedelia goes on. "He does not love her anymore, he says."
The door is still open. Gloria hasn't seen this woman in months, and before that, it had been many months. Her exertions to get Gloria stirred up are rather obvious. Though Bedelia has in the past complained of Gloria's disposition and neuroticism—how aggravating it is that Gloria finds even little things menacing—she wants it exposed at this moment, when it will satisfy her, for whatever reason. Perhaps she does not like Ava. That seems rather usual of Bedelia to do, dislike someone, act spitefully. Or else, she could be falsifying this entire gossip for just a reaction. It wouldn't be past Bedelia to do that, either.
"I believe the exact words were that he has 'nothing' for her. And..."
Gloria focuses on the candle as it works its way to the base of the holder. It's burning rather fast, seemingly anxious to put an end to its way, and she begins to grow worried. What if the candle burns through before she is freed of Bedelia? For she can feel Bedelia's presence start to disturb her again, and the velocity of the burning is...
"... and he still loves you! Oh, the honey's so sweet. He said those words. How romantic, isn't it?"
It is only her intense fixation on the candle that holds Gloria in one piece as though she had become the flame its very self, or at least she and the flame have come to share an acute commonness, some necessity that keeps them both there, embracing, transmitting a strange inarticulateness, as a large indistinct man on a dark park bench.
She can tell Bedelia is exasperated at this point. The woman lets out a noisy breath and turns toward the door slowly, keeping her eyes on Gloria, lingering, lingering...
Perhaps she's gone insane, Bedelia thinks to herself.
What can anyone know, really?
Eventually, Bedelia lets herself out. Before closing the door, she says something about Oliver coming to the apartment, but Gloria cannot interpret the words, as though she did not understand the language.
A few fleeting thoughts do flash in Gloria's mind. Does he really no longer love Ava? Is it true he has "nothing" for her? Gloria cannot with any certainty say yes, he does no longer have or feel anything for her, yet she cannot say no, he does still have something.
Is it simply that under love is... nothing? Just like the sky when the sun lowers for the day. Night. Nothing. What was really there all along? Just like beneath this candle, when it finally burns. Nothing. Is there a candle at all, then? There was, maybe. There was for a short moment, and indeed did it serve its purpose.
There's something still by the door, Gloria thinks. She believes she sees someone, hears someone faintly, faintly. It's dark. She can hardly sense a thing now, as though she were mesmerized. Could it be a robber? Let him take everything. Everything but the candle. For if she does not have anything, not even sense, to take, can he even be a robber?
Or is it Oliver? Oliver, Oliver, Oliver? The name she said over and again until it was only an empty, meaningless sound. Can it be Oliver then?
She thinks she hears the anonymous shadow say her name in a familiar way, strange now, strange how the familiar becomes. Is he there? Can it be real? Fantasy? Or memory, old, impetuous memory? Something already dreamed? Whatever it is, she hardly knows it's happening, as though it belongs in another room.
Then her mind goes blank.