Readings — From the August 2016 issue

Cock and Ball Story

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From Jay to Bee, a collection of letters by Janet Frame (1924–2004) to William Theophilus Brown, a painter, and published in May by Counterpoint. Frame was the author of thirteen novels. This letter was written at Yaddo, a writers’ colony, on January 8, 1970.

Dear Bill,

(Breakfast: choice of cereal, raisins, wheat germ. Orange juice. Eggs anyhow. Coffee. Toast, etc.)

Already I’ve begun my countdown of dinners — only so many left! They’re an ordeal. I just can’t bear dining in the presence of authorities. Everything is so formal, everybody so bloody well-behaved, and after dinner we seem to be expected to sit and make conversation. So far I haven’t said a word — oh yes I said one or two last night and regretted them immediately. I almost spoke at dinner when the discussion was about repairing cars and washing machines and so on, the cost, the shoddy workmanship . . . and everyone had spoken — after all, the topic is not intellectually demanding and even babies might be expected to speak a line . . . and I had in mind my experience of inserting a new ball cock into my plumbing at home, and so, with heart beating fast at the contemplation of my daring, I framed, mentally, my opening sentence — “I once spent all day putting in a new ball cock” — but every time an opportunity came for me to contribute I panicked and said nothing and so the Yaddo meal table never heard of my indelicate experience. Later, as we sat in the anteroom, with everyone talking except me, I spoke a sentence. The topic was Marisol, whom someone described as a disconcerting person because she would go to a party and sit and never speak all evening. I murmured, too softly for anyone to hear, “There’s a description of her in that article on the Tenth Street Painters.”

“What? What? What did you say? What? What? What?”

Oh my God! I didn’t have the courage to speak another sentence, so I just mumbled and blushed and resolved never to speak again.

(Dinner: Pork chops, applesauce, whipped potatoes, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, carrots. Indian pudding and ice cream. Coffee and cream.)

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