Saturday, July 26, 2014

the last book I ever read (John Updike's Rabbit at Rest, excerpt eight)

from Rabbit at Rest by John Updike:

Then, “Mule Train,” by Frankie Laine, not one of the great Laines but great enough, and “It’s Magic,” by Doris Day. Those pauses back then: It’s ma- gic. They knew how to hurt you, back then when there were two eight-team baseball leagues and you could remember all the players. People then were not exactly softer, they were harder in fact, but they were easier to hurt, though in fewer places.

He has to leave 176 for 23 through Amish country, it’s the one really local stretch of road, but there shouldn’t be any buggies out this late to slow him down. Rabbit wants to see once more a place in Morgantown, a hardware store with two pumps outside, where a thickset farmer in two shirts and hairy nostrils had advised him to know where he was going before he went there. Well, now he does. He has learned the road and figured out the destination. But what had been a country hardware store was now a slick little real-estate office. Where the gas pumps had been, fresh black asphalt showed under the moonlight the stark yellow stripes of diagonal parking spaces.

No, it isn’t moonlight, he sees; it is the sulfurous illumination that afflicts busy paved places all night. Though the hour is near eleven, a traffic of giant trucks heaves and snorts and groans through the sleepy stone town; the realtor’s big window is full of Polaroid snapshots of property for sale, and Route 23, once a narrow road on the ridge between two farm valleys as dark at night as manure, now blazes with the signs that are everywhere. PIZZA HUT. BURGER KING. Rent a movie. Turkey Hill MINIT MARKET. Quilt World. Shady Maple SMORGASBORD. Village Herb Shop. Country Knives. Real estate makes him think of Janice and his heart dips at the picture of her waiting with Nelson and Pru for him to show up over at the Springers’ and panicking by now, probably imagining he’s had a car accident, and coming back with her key to the deserted house, all fluttery and hot-breathed the way she gets. Maybe he should have left a note like she did him that time. Harry dear – I must go off a few days to think. But she said never forgive him, shoot you both, she upped the stakes, let her stew in her own juice, thinks she’s so smart suddenly, going back to school. Nelson the same way. Damned if they’re going to get him sitting in on some family-therapy session run by his own son whose big redheaded wife he’s boffed. Only really good thing he’s done all year, as he looks back on it. Damned if he’ll face the kid, give him the satisfaction, all white in the gills from this new grievance. Rabbit doesn’t want to get counselled.

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