Saturday, July 28, 2012

Little bursts

One of the short stories that comprise Elizabeth Strout's 2008 novel, Olive Kitteridge, is titled, "A Little Burst."
Olive's private view is that life depends on what she thinks of as "big bursts" and "little bursts." Big bursts are things like marriage or children, intimacies that keep you afloat, but these big bursts hold dangerous, unseen currents. Which is why you need little bursts as well: a friendly clerk at Bradlee's, let's say, or the waitress at Dunkin' Donuts who knows how you like your coffee. Tricky business, really. [pp. 68-69]
    I read the story Thursday, on our return flight from vacation in Vermont and Quebec.

Here are some of the little bursts I experienced while away from home:

When we entered Terminal A at Logan Airport for our return flight, I recognized the first person I saw, the tall African "porter" who eight days earlier had managed the airport's courtesy wheel chair for my wife upon our arrival from Raleigh-Durham.
    "I know you!" I said. "Do you recognize us?"
    He didn't seem to recognize me, but when my wife appeared through the door behind me, he threw up his hands in greeting. He obtained a wheel chair and got my wife seated, then put one of our carry-ons under the seat and pulled the other as he pushed my wife toward the head of a line in the Delta baggage check. I tagged along, pulling our two larger bags.
    He then proceeded to shepherd us through security, down a floor in the elevator, and on to our departure gate.
    Before taking his leave, he pressed his palms together in front of his face and bowed his head, then squeezed both of my wife's hands. I stuck in a hand to get some squeeze and to leave a five in one of his. What a dear, courtly man.
    After I finished reading Strout's short story, this regal man's being my wife's porter again was the first little burst I remembered from our vacation.

In Tadoussac, after our return from a whale-watching cruise the preceding Friday on the St. Lawrence River and up the Saguenay Fjord, we had lunch at the Cafe Boheme. Our desserts were so délicieux that, having failed to take a picture of them on our plates, I re-visited the dessert cabinet. Camera out, I looked up to discover myself being smiled upon bemusedly by one of the young women who attended customers.
    Such a smile! Such loveliness to discover beholding me! Such desserts!

A sort of caramel-filled mousse cupcake
"Croustillant au Chocolat"

At the Woodstock Inn on Monday, I had written a note to my sister who was convalescing from surgery to mend a broken hip, and I needed a postage stamp. The concierge told me I could purchase one in their gift shop.
    The woman behind the counter there told me they just sold the last one.
    "But," said the man she had been talking with when we entered, "I'm just off to the post office to buy some."
    "Where is the post office," I said, holding up my envelope.
    "Oh, I can take care of that for you," he said.
    "Great," I said. I handed him the envelope and pulled change out of my pocket. "How much is a stamp these days?"
    "Oh, never mind that," he said. "It's on me."

Our first evening in Woodstock, Vermont (the preceding Sunday), I was passing its Norman Williams Public Library and thought I saw a light on, so I started up the steps.
    "Not open," called out the observant man I'd seen piling up branches around the big tree in front of the library.
    "Ah," I said, "will it be open tomorrow?"
    "Nine o'clock," he said, with a reader's confidence.

During our light dinner last Saturday on the sidewalk at Café Chez-Nous in La Malbaie, Quebec, a tiny chartreuse insect landed in my wife's water glass—fallen, I assumed, from the tree under which we were situated. I offered to rescue it with a spoon, but my wife waved me off.
    Moments later, the little creature had rescued itself by swimming to the edge, ascending the wall, and perching uncertainly on the glass's rim, where it proceeded to circle for some minutes, seeming to try to figure out its next step.
    I'm reminded now of Robert Frost's poem, "A Considerable Speck," which ends with the lines:
I have a mind myself and recognize
Mind when I meet with it in any guise
No one can know how glad I am to find
On any sheet the least display of mind.
    I offered the bug my paper napkin, and, after considerable hesitation, he walked onto it.
    I was about to carry him to a flowering plant along the sidewalk when the waitress returned and the little fellow seemed to fly or jump onto her.
    I still hope he made it safely from there to the bosom of what served for home.

Last night, our second night back home, both my wife and I at points during the night awoke thinking we were still in a hotel room. I couldn't even identify what hotel it might have been as I tried to remember which way it was to the bathroom. I think it's over there. And it wasn't until I passed through its door that I realized I was back home.
    "We weren't confused the first night," my wife said, "because we let Siegfried sleep on the bed. We slept more soundly last night."
    We actually started out last night with Siegfried on the bed, but he was on the "love seat" (his usual bed) this morning.
    I think I sleep just as soundly with Siegfried on the bed as off, but perhaps he doesn't?
    Did he awake on the love seat last night imagining he was still at the kennel?

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