Such imperious syllables! Such indomitable ones! — at least when emanating from the throat of Flower Abraham Silliman as she hollers down the empty stairwell to the elevator operator in the lobby to come fetch her on the third floor. “Oh, he never listens. He can’t close his gate properly, or I don’t know what he does wrong but he always has a devil of a time fetching me. Never mind!” she says, deciding to forego the lift and use her walker to pound down the three flights of stairs herself. The apartment we’re leaving is a throwback to British Colonialism, an airy expanse of 3,000 square feet in the heart of downtown Calcutta which includes 16-foot ceilings and cannonball-proof walls for which Flower’s daughter Jael pays relatively few rupees each month, plus more for the two attendants who swab the place wet each day against the street dust and who eat their breakfast biscuits and bananas from seated positions on the tiled kitchen floor — their choice.
A palace for peanuts, basically, because it’s been rented by the family that long. Not that you’d have a hint of its grandeur from the outside. Like all the other soot-stained, crumbly-seeming castles tucked behind dusty high stucco walls throughout the city, the Halwasiya Mansion looks decayed on purpose — a ploy, perhaps, to fool the tax office. Or perhaps not: one can never be too sure. Inside, the heirs of the Jewish families who made their fortunes in Calcutta living lives of tasteful grandeur with racehorses, private clubs, and country palaces are dying out fast. Flower Abraham Silliman, navigating the wide wooden staircase past the faded but still flamboyant red paan juice stains expectorated by generations of visitors, is the last of a breed, the final flower of a once flourishing 5,000 strong. More… “Lotsa Matzo In Kolkata”
I could die. Me. Personally. Could. Die. Well, I sort of always knew this, but remotely, so remotely, in the manner that we acknowledge, and with the same measure of anxiety, that someday the sun will flame out. But now — revelation! — I suddenly realized I actually could die — like at any moment.
This knowledge is what has propelled me into engaging simultaneously in two genres that I fundamentally loathe: the memoir and the medical essay. Along with my traditional reporter’s disdain for employing the anorexic pronoun, I believe that unless a memoir is written by an extraordinary individual — Augustine, Springsteen — I see no point in inflicting a memoir on readers. And I surely do not number myself among the extraordinary. Indeed, one of the things that drove me out of academia was when my English Department introduced a course on writing memoirs; the notion of 18-year-olds doing so is worse than cringe-worthy. Read the story of someone who has lived an exceptional life? Sure. Read stories of the pimpled masses who have not lived any lives whatsoever? Better to read the conditions you must accept before installing your latest app. More… “I Could Die”
I once read that happiness plateaus after $75,000 a year. Before you get to the “magic number,” increases in income correspond to increases in happiness. After that, more money won’t buy you more happiness.
I believe it, but it’s hard to believe. By this metric, I should have already reached maximum happiness. And yet there are things I feel sure would make me happier if I could afford them.
One of those things is a bigger bed. My husband John and I have slept on a full-size (AKA double) mattress for almost ten years. This once seemed normal, but now it seems ridiculously small, though our sizes haven’t changed much. Over the past decade, we may have each gained five pounds. More crucially, John is 6′ 4″. A full-size mattress is 75 inches long. That makes him one inch longer than the bed. He’s also an insomniac (of the sleep-onset variety), a restless sleeper, and occasional snorer. I fall asleep easily, but wake up easily too, and in the early morning hours I find it hard to go back to sleep. I feel sure that we’d both get more and better sleep, and thus be happier, in a bigger bed. More… “Time, Money, Happiness”
In the very last volume of Proust’s very long novel, the narrator attends an afternoon party where everyone seems to be wearing a mask. He can recognize the voices of his long-ago friends and acquaintances, but their words issue from faces that are all strangely slackened and faded, or hardened and rigidified. They seem to be wearing powdered wigs. Even his host, having disguised himself in the same manner as his guests, appears to have taken on the role of one of the very last stages of the Ages of Man.
What has happened, of course, is the passage of time. These people have aged.
This quality of the aging face, in so many respects like a living mask, was something I had hardly considered until I began to notice the fine crosshatching beneath my own eyes and the first tracing of lines across my forehead. It was disconcerting, these creeping forerunners of age — of aging. The only face I had ever known as my own — a face resolutely unwrinkled for over three decades — was somehow being impinged upon, irreversibly. I knew that, unlike a spate of pimples or the red peel of sunburn, these new lines and creases were here to stay, and they would only grow more pronounced. More… “The Aging Face”
Alyssa Pelish writes and edits in New York. Her essays, articles, fiction, and reviews have appeared in Harper’s, Slate, Science, The Quarterly Conversation, Denver Quarterly, and the Los Angeles Review of Books, among others.
Philip Levine’s narrative poems rove widely through time and space. In “28,” a poem ostensibly about his twenty-eighth year, events and bits of information are by association linked to other times and places, much the way a short story or dramatic or comedic monologue proceeds from digression to digression. Although emotive power is generated by the particulars of each digression, it is the process of segue that confers on the poem a leisurely, if not languid, pace: the poem approaches meditation but retains the impact of its felt particulars. More… “Loopy Numerology”
While I no longer think of myself as a girl, I’m not yet ready to claim the title of crone, which the feminist movement has redefined as wise old woman. Still, I’m on the dimming side of 65, and I’m not allowed to forget that the seventh inning stretch is over: I’m reminded every time someone calls me “young lady.”
I hadn’t even qualified for Social Security when I was Young-Lady-ed for the first time.
A friend, 10 years my senior, told me that the man who parks her car calls her “young lady” each time he sees her. We laughed about it as we walked to the garage. Sure enough, when she handed him her receipt, as though on cue he said, “Good afternoon, young lady.” And then he laid one on me.