"The House of Dust: A Symphony" by Conrad Aiken
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VIII. The Box with Silver Handles
Well,--it was two days after my husband died--
Two days! And the earth still raw above him.
And I was sweeping the carpet in their hall.
In number four--the room with the red wall-paper--
Some chorus girls and men were singing that song
'They'll soon be lighting candles
Round a box with silver handles'--and hearing them sing it
I started to cry. Just then he came along
And stopped on the stairs and turned and looked at me,
And took the cigar from his mouth and sort of smiled
And said, 'Say, what's the matter?' and then came down
Where I was leaning against the wall,
And touched my shoulder, and put his arm around me . . .
And I was so sad, thinking about it,--
Thinking that it was raining, and a cold night,
With Jim so unaccustomed to being dead,--
That I was happy to have him sympathize,
To feel his arm, and leaned against him and cried.
And before I knew it, he got me into a room
Where a table was set, and no one there,
And sat me down on a sofa, and held me close,
And talked to me, telling me not to cry,
That it was all right, he'd look after me,--
But not to cry, my eyes were getting red,
Which didn't make me pretty. And he was so nice,
That when he turned my face between his hands,
And looked at me, with those blue eyes of his,
And smiled, and leaned, and kissed me--
Somehow I couldn't tell him not to do it,
Somehow I didn't mind, I let him kiss me,
And closed my eyes! . . . Well, that was how it started.
For when my heart was eased with crying, and grief
Had passed and left me quiet, somehow it seemed
As if it wasn't honest to change my mind,
To send him away, or say I hadn't meant it--
And, anyway, it seemed so hard to explain!
And so we sat and talked, not talking much,
But meaning as much in silence as in words,
There in that empty room with palms about us,
That private dining-room . . . And as we sat there
I felt my future changing, day by day,
With unknown streets opening left and right,
New streets with farther lights, new taller houses,
Doors swinging into hallways filled with light,
Half-opened luminous windows, with white curtains
Streaming out in the night, and sudden music,--
And thinking of this, and through it half remembering
A quick and horrible death, my husband's eyes,
The broken-plastered walls, my boy asleep,--
It seemed as if my brain would break in two.
My voice began to tremble . . . and when I stood,
And told him I must go, and said good-night--
I couldn't see the end. How would it end?
Would he return to-morrow? Or would he not?
And did I want him to--or would I rather
Look for another job?--He took my shoulders
Between his hands, and looked down into my eyes,
And smiled, and said good-night. If he had kissed me,
That would have--well, I don't know; but he didn't . . .
And so I went downstairs, then, half elated,
Hoping to close the door before that party
In number four should sing that song again--
'They'll soon be lighting candles round a box with silver handles'--
And sure enough, I did. I faced the darkness.
And my eyes were filled with tears. And I was happy.
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