by Theodore DreiserThe sad thing here is I had the inspiration for this story, a first-hand interaction with its characters, still vivid in my memory, and I could have made myself a masterpiece out of it which may have won a trophy at the local Palanca awards for literature.
But before the idea of writing about it came to my mind, I discovered here that Theodore Dreiser had already written my story long before I was even born.
My story is about our farm hands, in a coconut plantation in an island, who had lived there, perhaps all the times of their adult lives, had raised children who had all grown up and had left them (at least one had died ahead of them), then they both grew old, very old. The old man dies. For a while the woman lived by herself then dies too. Two long lives entirely spent on a 9-hectare coconut plantation along the seashore of a remote barrio called Lipuso, in an island called Quezon, Philippine islands.
In this version of the story by Dreiser it is the wife, Phoebe, who dies first, after their marriage of 48 years. But the story does not start here. Dreiser first introduces the reader to the couple's equally-old house with the things found therein, heartbreaking things carrying loads of memories of when they were still both young and when they still had their children with them (one, a carpet woven by their daughter at 15, a daughter who had died in her teens).
As I am no Dreiser I would have merely described my old couple as unschooled, simple and knew nothing but farming. And that they loved, and were devoted to, each other. I do wonder, sometimes, if—assuming I can devote one whole month crafting a single paragraph like some writers do—I could write something similar to this by Dreiser:
"Old Henry Reifsneider and his wife Phoebe were a loving couple. You perhaps know how it is with simple natures that fasten themselves like lichens on the stones of circumstance and weather their days to a crumbling conclusion. The great world sounds widely, but it has no call for them. They have no soaring intellect. The orchard, the meadow, the corn-field, the pig-pen, and the chicken-lot measure the range of their human activities. When the wheat is headed it is reaped and threshed; when the corn is browned and frosted it is cut and shocked; when the timothy is in full head it is cut, and the hay-cock erected. After that comes winter, with the hauling of grain to market, the sawing and splitting of wood, the simple chores of fire-building, meal-getting, occasional repairing, and visiting. Beyond these and the changes of weather—the snows, the rains, and the fair days—there are no immediate, significant things. All the rest of life is a far-off, clamorous phantasmagoria, flickering like Northern lights in the night, and sounding as faintly as cow-bells tinkling in the distance."
Anyway, in the story I had not written, I still do not know what had happened to our old woman after her husband passed away. I would have needed to use my imagination on this (making it partly fiction) or else I would have had to do some research on it.
Here, after Phoebe dies, Henry is left alone in their farm, growing older and weaker and sadder every day until he begins hallucinating that his dear Phoebe is not at all dead and is maybe just somewhere else, visiting some friends, or hiding from him, teasing him as she had always kidded him about going away whenever he did some things she disapproved of.
If you are married and you now see the very grim prospect of both you and your spouse going on living by yourselves up to more than 80 years old, then this is a story to perk you up. For even if you become madin that deafening silence of isolation and loneliness after your wife or husband dies, you can take comfort that one of your neighbors or distant relatives might also write a story inspired by your tragic fate.
|Title||The Lost Phoebe|
|eBook format||eBook, (torrent)|
|Publisher||Boni and Liveright, Inc.|
|File size||3.2 Mb|
|Book rating||3.91 (34 votes)