“Who’s the giant sleeping on the sofa?” she asked.
“That’s TR,” I explained. I’ve had to explain a few things to her, as you might imagine is the case with anybody who comes into The White Lodge for the first time.
It was very kind of her to offer to help me, but at first I chose not to respond. I work for her, just as I work for many others, and I am accustomed to seeing the secret inner lives of the people I work for. It can get rather personal, I suppose. So I felt odd asking her to help me – or taking her up on her offer to help me. Other people are quite comfortable revealing themselves to me – stripped bare, as it were, though in a non-physical sense. But I tend to be very private. People tell me I’m easy to talk to, that I listen well. People often unburden themselves to me. Another might say it is too much information for him to bear, but I don’t mind it. On the other hand, I unburden myself to nobody in particular. I don’t really have a me in my own life. I have a very hard time asking others for help when I need it.
What we’re doing is packing. We’re packing my personal things.
I also felt odd because Christine is a lady, and the “new” house is no place for a lady.
Yes, I’ve mentioned her before. I wrote a poem about her a few years ago, posted it here. It’s somewhere in the archives. I think I even read it aloud for you. Christine is a genuine girlie-girl – very Juicy-Gucci, if you know what I mean. She arrived wearing pink – or, predominantly. Christine is a person who never knowingly does harm. She doesn’t gossip; she doesn’t have “moods.” I have never once heard her to say a bad word about anybody. We have become good friends, but up until today the context was always this: that I work for her.
“It’s very crowded in here,” she observed at one point.
“The place is nearly empty now,” I pointed out.
“I mean the people in the walls,” she said.
True, The Squabbler’s presence leaves a very strong… ah – afterglow, even when he is out of town, as he is now. I explained to Christine – who I sometimes address as “princess” which she doesn’t seem to mind at all – that The Squabbler’s first wife turned into a municipal building in Illinois. He visits her a few times a year. I think that’s where he is now. I am told she was very beautiful – built, I suppose is the right word for her. So it is good that The Squabbler and I are friends. I have always liked buildings better than people, and so does he.
Christine nods to show her understanding.
My friends have gone now, most of them. I hold them in memory. It is true to say that I always did, even when they were here with me, and even when The White Lodge was full of life and laughter – in memory and imagination. The place is empty now, waiting to be filled again. It is just about to enter a period of rest, like the epigraph on a tombstone might say about the person who is buried beneath it.
The White Lodge has always been no more or less than the inside of my mind, and The Squabbler is everything I happen to know up till now. Many people have visited. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve fallen in love; I do it rather easily. But no one ever seems to stay. C’est la vie.
Of course, there is the giant on the sofa, but in a few days I’ll have to move that sofa. Pour some coffee into him maybe.
Squabbler’s no use with things like packing and moving. The only way he can move anything is by sending it through another dimension, and then who knows where it might end up? I don’t want my Viennese music box, which I have been carrying around with me since the age of nine, to end up inMilwaukee. Why do I even have such a thing? It’s really quite stupid. So I sent him off to visit his wife, or whatever – just to get him out of my hair for a few days. The days turned into a week. I’ve been shuttling stuff back and forth, and cleaning, and working, without much sleep. Yet the task ahead still seems so daunting.
When Christine called me to ask how I was doing I actually started to cry. It is too much for me to do on my own. And so I allowed her to come help me, and we have gotten a lot done. I feel better. I feel a little humbled. I suppose I needed that. A typical man, she might well have been saying to herself. But she didn’t say that to me. All she said was, “I’m coming over right now,” and hung up the phone, and fifteen minutes later she was here.
On Friday morning we’ll have a U-Haul, and – not to forget Dad, who is over at the new house getting it in some sort of shape while I work here – we will then shift the big stuff. Almost everything else is in boxes. A few really big pictures – the monk on the mantel, for instance – will be carried separately.
The Darling Toms have looked at the roof and declared it deplorable. They will soon come up with an estimate for installing a new metal one. The grass is still so high that you can only just see that there is a house there if you look closely, but the lawn guy has said he will get to it this week. All is well. On Tuesday I will be at last out of this place. There is so much good work to do. The new and improved White Lodge will take more than a couple of years to whip into shape, but I will.
So, after we packed about as much as we could, discarding a good lot of junk in the process, we lit some candles and we had some pizza, and she squeezed my hand as she left. Girlie is gone now, leaving her scented ghost to hold my hand and stroke my head. I wonder if she’ll stick around for a little while. I miss my other friends. I rather like Christine. She has some hidden depths. What do you think of her?
And I will also miss you – for a little while, anyway. I’ll be back soon, God willing.