Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson

Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson

Author:Marilynne Robinson
Language: eng
Format: epub, mobi, azw3
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Published: 1979-12-31T16:00:00+00:00

When we came into the kitchen Sylvie stepped down from her stool, smiling, not at us, and pushed two chairs in front of the stove. She had put two folded quilts on the wood box behind the stove. She wrapped one of them around Lucille and one around me, and we sat down. She poured boiling water and then a can of condensed milk and a quantity of sugar into the coffeepot and poured us each a cup. “Brimstone tea,” she said.

“Do you know where we were last night?” Lucille asked.

Sylvie laughed. “You were dining with John Jacob Astor,” she said.

“John Jacob Astor,” Lucille grumbled.

The quilt was warm and soft around my arms and shoulders and my ears. I fell asleep where I sat, with the cup of brimstone tea in my lap, held carefully in both hands so as not to spill. Sleep made one sensation of the heat in my palms and the sugar on my tongue. I slept precariously upright, aware of my bare feet, hearing the wood in the stove crackle. More words passed between Sylvie and Lucille, but I could not make them out. It seemed to me that whatever Lucille said, Sylvie sang back to her, but that was dreaming.

So this is all death is, I thought. Sylvie and Lucille do not notice, or perhaps they do not object. Sylvie, in fact, brought the coffeepot and warmed the cup in my hands, and arranged the quilt, which had slid from my shoulder a little. I was surprised and touched by her solicitude. She knows, I thought, and I felt like laughing. Sylvie is sitting beside the stove, flipping through old magazines, waiting for my mother. I began listening for the sound of the door opening, but after a very long time my head fell sharply to one side and I could not lift it up again. Then I realized that my mouth was open. All this time the room was filling with strangers, and there was no way for me to tell Sylvie that the tea had tipped out of my hands and wet my lap. I knew that my decay, now obvious and accelerating, should somehow be concealed for decency’s sake, but Sylvie would not look up from her magazine. I began to hope for oblivion, and then I rolled out of my chair.

Sylvie looked up from her magazine. “Did you have a good sleep?” she asked.

“All right,” I said. I picked up the cup and brushed at the dampness of my pant legs.

“Sleep is best when you’re really tired,” she said. “You don’t just sleep. You die.”

I put the cup in the sink. “Where’s Lucille?”



“I don’t think so.”

I went up to our room, and there was Lucille, dressed in a dark cotton skirt and a white blouse, setting her hair in pin curls.

“Have you been sleeping, too?”

Lucille shrugged. Her mouth was full of pins.

“I had a strange dream,” I said. Lucille took the pins out of her mouth. “Change your clothes,” she said.


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