October 10, 2014
"If you're scared of your hunger, you'll just be one more ninny like everyone else."
By Elizabeth Strout
"Oh, Winnie," Julie said. But she was squinting at her baby finger, and then she unscrewed the nail polish again. "You know what Mrs. Kitteridge said in class one day? Julie asked.
"I always remember she said one day, 'Don't be scared of your hunger. If you're scared of your hunger, you'll just be one more ninny like everyone else."
Winnie waited, watching Julie do her baby fingernail once more with the perfect pink polish. "Nobody knew what she meant," Julie said, holding her nail up, looking at it.
"What did she mean?" Winnie asked.
"Well, that's just it. At first I think most of us thought she was talking about food. I mean, we were just seventh graders--sorry, Doodle--but as time went by, I think I understand it more."
"She teaches math," Winnie said.
"I know that, dopey. But she'd say these weird things, very powerfully. That's partly why kids were scared of her. You don't have to be scared of her--if she's still teaching next year."
"I am, though. Scared of her."
Julie looked at her sideways. "Lot scarier stuff right here in this house."
"And yet, standing behind her son, waiting for the traffic light to change, she remembered how in the midst of it all there had been times when she'd felt a loneliness so deep that once, not so many years ago, having a cavity filled, the dentist's gentle turning of her chin with his soft fingers had felt to her like a tender kindness of almost excruciating depth, and she had swallowed with a groan of longing, tears springing to her eyes. ("Are you all right, Mrs. Kitteridge?" the dentist had said.)
"She stepped into the room, put her handbag on the floor. He didn't sit up, just stayed there, lying on the bed, an old man, his stomach bulging like a sack of sunflower seeds. His blue eyes watched her as she walked to him, and the room was filled with the quietness of afternoon sunlight. It fell through the window, across the rocking chair, hit broadside the wallpaper with its brightness. The mahogany bed knobs shone. Through the curved-out window was the blue of the sky, the bayberry bush, the stone wall. The silence of this sunshine, of the world, seemed to fold over Olive with a shiver of ghastliness, as she stood feeling the sun on her bare wrist. She watched him, looked away, looked at him again. To sit down beside him would be to close her eyes to the gaping loneliness of this sunlit world."
"Her eyes were closed, and throughout her tired self swept waves of gratitude--and regret. She pictured the sunny room, the sun-washed wall, the bayberry outside. It baffled her, the world. She did not want to leave it yet."