The Visitor

The Visitor

by Maeve Brennan


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781582431611
Publisher: Counterpoint Press
Publication date: 11/13/2001
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 96
Product dimensions: 5.00(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.30(d)

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Chapter One

The mail train rushed along toward Dublin, and all the passengers swayed and nodded with the uneven rhythm of it and kept their eyes fixed firmly in front of them as though the least movement would bring them to the end of their patience. Luggage had been piled hastily out in the corridor, and some people left their seats and stood there, leaning against windows all cloudy with breath and smoke.

    Anastasia King rubbed a clear spot in her window and stared out, but in the rushing darkness only a few stray lights were discernible, blurred by the rain. She turned back into the corridor and took out a cigarette.

    Around her in the garish yellow trainlight faces were shadowed and withdrawn, indifference heightened by the deafening clatter of the train. The din automatically raised a barrier of hostile irritation to daunt the chummy souls. She was glad of this.

    A man spoke to her, standing very close because of the noise, startling her.

    "May I borrow a match?"

    "Of course."

    She frowned nervously. It occurred to her that he might have asked some other person, and she looked along the corridor. He caught the direction of her glance. He smiled a little.

    "They all looked half-asleep," he said, "but I saw you look out through the window there."

    "I looked out but I didn't see much. It's raining hard and it's very dark."

    "It was raining when I left here. That was nearly two years ago." His voice was idle and friendly. "Have you been away long?"

    "Oh, yes, a long time. Six years last month."

    "That is a long time. You haven't been back at all?"


    After a moment she said, "I've been living in Pads, with my mother. We moved there, six years ago."

    "I see." He rubbed a place in the window and peered out. "Well, it's raining all right. You know, if I wasn't sure I'd been away I might think I hadn't gone at all. It was exactly like this the day I left."

    He continued to stare out and Anastasia looked at her suitcases again.

    I might be leaving too, she thought, instead of coming back.

    She rocked with the train, her back to the window, and felt once again that she was remembering a long dream.

    The future is wearisome too. I can't imagine it now. It's very late in the evening.

    Her thoughts went back to Pads; dwindling uncertain pictures formed in her mind. Again she was saying goodbye to her father There he was in miniature, and she also, in a clear cold miniature room. He turned and faded out through the hotel door that opened inward. He looked a bit like a tortoise, all bent and curving in on himself, carrying his hat in his hand. For the first time she had wanted to say she was sorry, at last to say how sorry she was, but he was already down the corridor and around the corner and gone.

    He was alone and sad. Behind her in this tiny hotel room of memory her mother sat in a chair near the window. Her mother's face was soft from crying, her hands were clasped upturned in her lap, and she met her daughter's gaze with a glance of passive recognition and that was all ...

    The man beside her turned suddenly from the window to face her.

    "Ah, I'm glad to be back again," he said with a contented sigh. "I suppose you are too. People to visit, places to see. But you'll find a lot of changes too, and so will I, I suppose. Even two years is a long time, these days."

    He smiled and she nodded at him and smiled too. He straightened himself and looked at his watch.

    "Well, I'll run along and get my stuff together. We'll soon be pulling in. Thanks for the match. Goodbye now."

    A few steps away he turned.

    "Have a nice holiday now," he yelled above the train noise.

    "It isn't a holiday."

    "Oh, well." He was uncertain. "Have a good time. Goodbye."


    Bags were tumbling down from racks and coats were being pulled on. She looked out again into the darkness, but now there was nothing to be seen but the distorted reflection of the excited scene behind her.

    "Here we are in Dublin," said an English voice close to her.

    Her eyes filled with tears. She bent to her suitcases. Somewhere in her mind a voice was saying clearly, "Ireland is my dwelling place, Dublin is my station."

    Then the porter had found her a taxi and was putting her bags in. She thanked him and tipped him and climbed in alongside the luggage.

    She put one hand out to balance the smaller bag, which was in danger of falling, and then suddenly they had left the dim taxicab lane and were in the street, and there were many people, ordinary people, not travelers, walking along the rainy streets. The faces looked just as self-intent and serious as the faces in the strange cities she had seen; they seemed no different.

    In a moment the windows were blurred with running water and the streets slid by unnamed and unrecognized. The rain fell slantwise on rows and rows of blank-faced houses, over the slate roofs, past their many windows. Anastasia slumped lower into her seat, trying not to recognize the sudden melancholy that was on her. The cabman drove without a word and his silence seemed sullen. She felt rebuffed for no reason.

    It seemed too long to her grandmother's house, but she was startled when the car drew up at last, and she looked up apprehensively and saw the familiar door of years ago. The lights were on in the front hall. They had been waiting for her, her grandmother and Katharine. The door opened wide and lighted the steps for the cab driver, who was struggling up to the door with her bags.

    She kissed her grandmother hastily, avoiding her eyes. The grandmother did not move from the door of the sitting room. She stood in the doorway, having just got up from the fireside and her reading, and contemplated Anastasia and Anastasia's luggage crowding the hall. She was still the same, with her delicate and ruminative and ladylike face, and her hands clasped formally in front of her. Anastasia thought, She is waiting for me to make some mistake. Katharine stood as ever in the background, anxious and smiling in her big white apron, her scrubbed hands already reaching to help with the luggage, her eyes lively with pleasure and curiosity.

    Anastasia said rapidly, "Did he bring all the bags? I was afraid he'd forget one. It's the little one I'm worried about. It's always getting lost, it's so small. He was an idiot, that man. He talked the head off me, all the way from the station, really—"

    The grandmother waited for her to finish.

    She said, "It is nice to see you again, Anastasia. You are looking well. Isn't she, Katharine?"

    Her voice was cool and unemphatic. Hearing it, Anastasia was held to attention.

    "Indeed, she looks grand!" Katharine said enthusiastically. "She's a real young lady! I'd never have known her. How old is it you are, now?"

    "Twenty-two," said Anastasia. She touched her hair nervously and smiled at them. Her hair was dark and brushed smoothly back from her forehead. Her mouth was stubborn and her eyes were puzzled under faint, flyaway brows. She was anxious to please.

    The grandmother finished looking at her.

    "Well," she said. "Katharine tells me your room is all ready for you. Would you like to go on up, and take off your coat?"

    This was her own room, the room that had been hers since childhood. It was at the back of the house, on the third floor, and its windows overlooked the garden. She stood for a while by the window, and stared down where the garden was. She yielded for a moment to the disappointment that had been spreading coldly over all the homecoming. She tried to grow quiet, leaning against the hard window glass. She thought of her mother, who had been dead only a month, and the glass became hot with her forehead, and she pressed her hands to her face and tried to forget where she was, and that she was alone in her home.

Home is a place in the mind. When it is empty, it frets. It is fretful with memory, faces and places and times gone by. Beloved images rise up in disobedience and make a mirror for emptiness. Then what resentful wonder, and what half-aimless seeking. It is a silly state of affairs. It is a silly creature that tries to get a smile from even the most familiar and loving shadow. Comical and hopeless, the long gaze back is always turned inward.

    The mother's face, intent and gentle, is closer than the rest. Now it is a dead face, with no more bewilderment in it. She used to walk alone in the garden every evening after dinner. Close the eyes to see her again, a solitary figure in the fading light, wandering slowly down the garden and slowly back, between the neat black flowerbeds. It is unbearable to remember.

    That was a time of uncertain mood, that time when she used to walk in the garden. Then the family, the sparse little family, was together, the grandmother, the father, the mother, the child. They were together and it was no satisfaction to them.

    At night after supper they gathered together around the living-room fire and then quite soon separated, and went to their own rooms. While Anastasia was small she went the first. Taking her mother's hand she proceeded upstairs and was put to bed. Her room was papered with pink and blue rosebuds in fancy baskets and she was in the habit of watching one of the baskets until she fell asleep. Her mother would fuss quietly about, tidying things away, arranging clothes, straightening up. Often Anastasia roused from sleep to see her mother sitting motionless at the window, looking out at the darkness. She would speak to her.


    "Yes, pet. Go back to sleep."

    "What's out there, mother?"

    "The garden, silly."

    "It's dark in the garden now, isn't it?"

    "Yes. Very dark. You ought to be asleep."

    "What time is it?"

    "It's terribly late. It's nine-thirty, and time for you to shut up both eyes and go fast asleep. Fast asleep, now."

    Fast asleep. Once the mother came and crept into Anastasia's bed at night.

    She said, "I'm cold, pet, and you're warm as toast always."

    The bed was too narrow for the two of them. After a while they fell asleep.

    At breakfast time Anastasia said proudly to her father, "Mother says I'm warm as toast."

    He laughed at her.

    "I'm sure you are, at that."

    "She came and got into bed with me last night. She was cold and I warmed her up."

    The father looked up in surprise.

    The mother said, "You're a great talker, Anastasia"

    "Why on earth was that necessary, Mary?"

    "Ah, John, don't be angry. I was only cold."

     "I'm not angry, for God's sake. Haven't you enough blankets on your bed without disturbing the child in the middle of the night?"

    "Ah, I was lonely, that's all."

    She began to cry, stirring her tea.

    The father said, "Anastasia, go away and play like a good girl."

    The grandmother, Mrs. King, came in, prayer book in hand from early mass.

    "What's this?" she said. "What's this now?"

    She said, "John, tell me what's up. Why is Mary crying?"

    "It's nothing, mother."

    She sat down at the head of the table, facing her son, and poured tea for herself.

    "This is ridiculous," she said, "scenes at breakfast. It's something I'm not accustomed to in this house."

    The mother looked up with a wet trembling face. She looked back then in desperation at the tea she was stirring.

    "I'm not accustomed to them either. I'm not accustomed to them either. You needn't belittle me." Her voice shook, and her mouth lifted nervously into an imitation smile.

    "Great God," said the father. "You'll drive me mad."

    "Mary," said the grandmother, smiling, "you're making a fool of yourself."

    "You're trying to belittle me," said the mother in a disappearing voice. "In front of the child. That's what you're after, to turn her against me too."

    The father threw his cigarette on the floor.

    The grandmother looked at him.

    "What brought all this on anyway?" she asked pleasantly.

    She began to butter her toast. One hand held the toast firm. The other spread a neat layer of butter. Anastasia's mouth watered, although she had just finished breakfast. The grandmother stretched across the table to her.

    "Here, pet," she said, "have this nice toast."

    "It's nothing at all," said the father. "Only a stupid argument. Mary hasn't enough blankets, and she had to sleep with Anastasia last night, she was so cold."

    "Is that true, Mary? You know you can have all the blankets you want. All you have to do is tell me."

    The mother folded her napkin and stood up. She was no longer crying.

    She said, "It's all right."

    "What's all right?" asked the father. "Why don't you come right out with it, whatever it is?"

    She said again, "It's all right," and she pushed her chair tidily into place and went out of the room.

    "Poor child," said the grandmother conversationally. "She's too intense altogether. She takes things to heart."

    "She does that," said the father. "I never know how to take her. I never know what to say. Whatever I say is wrong."

    "That's the way it is with some people," said the grandmother. "Don't blame her. It's the way she was brought up."

    Anastasia finished her toast and waited for a nod from her grandmother. She wanted a smile of approval. She wanted to be seen. But they were busy with politics, and after a few restless minutes she slipped down from her chair and away without being noticed.

The trees around Noon Square grew larger, as daylight faded. Darkness stole out of the thickening trees and slurred the thin iron railings around the houses, and spread quickly across the front gardens, making the grass go black and taking the color from the flowers. The darkness of night fell on the green park in the middle of the square, and rose fast to envelop the tall patient houses all around. The street lamps drew flat circles of light around them and settled down for the night.

    All the houses in the square were tall, with heavy stone steps going up to the front doors. They were occupied by old people, who had grown old in their houses and their accustomed ways. They disregarded the inconveniences of the square houses, their dark basements and drafty landings, and lived on, going tremulously from one wrinkled day to the next, with an occasional walk between the high stone walls of their gardens.

    It was November when Anastasia came home from Paris. She sat in the living room, across the fire from her grandmother. It was an enormous shadowy room, and for light they had only the fire and one lamp. The fire was hot and bright. It threw trembling light to the farthest corner of the room, and hesitated across the old dull pattern of the wallpaper. There was no movement in the room except the wild movement of the fire-flames and the light they let go. The light washed up and down the room like thin water over stones.

    Anastasia looked suddenly up at the mirror that hung over the mantel. It did not lie flat against the wall, but hung out slightly at the top. It reflected the fringed hearthrug where she had played when she was a little child, hearing the conversation go to and fro over her head. She looked hard at it, thinking that somewhere in its depths it must retain a faint image of the faces it had reflected.

    She had often looked up and seen her father and mother stirring there, faces half in shadow and half in light, and sometimes one of them had looked up and found her watching. During these evenings it had been her habit to steal away from the fire and hide herself behind the heavy window curtains, wrapping herself in their musty voluminous depth, so that the room sounds were muffled and only the silent, dimly lighted square below was real, and that not too real, with its infrequent lamps, its brooding trees, and the shrouded passersby.

    Standing behind the curtain she would launch herself into a world of dreams; she would deliberately absorb herself in a long, long dream, which would suddenly end and start all over again before the moment of discovery and the safe journey home to bed.

    She rose abstractedly and crossed the room and twitched the curtains apart. There was no one standing behind the curtains. The square below was the same. The lamps were no brighter than she remembered, and the trees seemed the same. A lonely figure went along in the darkness as she watched.

    She turned and looked at the mirror, but it reflected only empty chairs, and the firelight played indifferently on polished furniture as it had once across her parents' faces. There is the background, and it is exactly the same. She let the curtains fall back into place and went back to her chair.

    Her grandmother roused and put aside her book and took off her spectacles and sat moving them in her hand.

    She said, "How long do you intend to stay here, Anastasia?"

    Anastasia shrank in surprise.

    "Well, indefinitely, Grandmother."

    After a time, into the silence, she said lamely, "Why, Grandmother? I'm afraid I didn't consider doing anything else, except coming here. After she died, I came straightaway, as soon as I could settle things. She wanted me to."

    "Did she?"

    Mrs. King said in her gentle voice, "You know, Anastasia, you made a serious choice when you decided to stay with your mother in Paris. You were sixteen then, not a child. You knew what she had done. You were aware of the effect it was having on your father."

    She turned the spectacles thoughtfully in her hands.

    "Didn't you know what state he was in, when he left you in Paris, after trying to get you to come back here, and had to come alone?"

    "Oh, Grandmother," cried Anastasia, "how could I leave her?"

    "We won't go into that. I am going to be very matter-of-fact with you, Anastasia."

    Her voice was very matter-of-fact.

    "You know that your mother disgraced us all, running off the way she did, like some kind of a madwoman."

    She said, half-amused, "Did you know that she went to one of the clerks in your father's office, begging money for her ticket?"

    Anastasia stood up in great agitation.

    "She hardly knew what she was doing, Grandma. You should have seen her when I saw her, in Paris that time. She was half out of her mind."

    She began to cry, helplessly and awkwardly.

    "She is dead, the Lord have mercy on her," said Mrs. King cautiously. "I'll speak no ill of her. Don't cry, Anastasia, I didn't mean to hurt your feelings."

    She glanced toward the window.

    "What did she go to Paris for, of all places? Will you tell me that?"

    Remember that sad elderly pilgrimage, made long before its time, to a strange French address. They found the street with difficulty, and then the house, but no one there remembered the name they mentioned. Anastasia tried automatically to recall the address, and frowning, caught her grandmother watching her.

    She said without interest, "I'm not sure what she wanted. She didn't know herself. She was looking for someone she remembered from when she was at school there, but they had moved away. It was just an idea she had."

    Mrs. King drew back and sighed.

    "Ah, I suppose it was a pitiful case, at that."

    She was silent, reviewing something bitter in her mind.

    She said at last, "A pity she sent for you, Anastasia, and a pity you went after her. It broke your father's heart."

    Anastasia said nothing. She felt tired, and sat down where she stood, on the hearthrug.

    "Well, it's a good thing that you came home, even if only for a visit. Your father would be glad to know that you are here, God rest his soul."

    The grandmother got up and collected her things from the table beside her. Her movements were stiff but determined. She always moved as though she knew exactly what she was doing.

    "Are you ready for bed now, child?"

    "Not yet, Grandma. I'll stay by the fire a while."

    She looked up timidly.

    "Grandma, what did you mean just now, 'only for a visit'? I was really hoping to stay here for good."

    Mrs. King turned to her.

    "No, Anastasia. That's out of the question. You kept the flat there, didn't you?"

    "Yes. I was in a hurry to get away. I thought I'd go back later and clear things up."

    "I'm afraid you've been counting too much on me. You mustn't do that. I have no home to offer you. This is a changed house here now. I see no one whatsoever."

    She smiled with anger.

    "I stopped seeing them after she ran off, when I found them asking questions of Katharine in the hall outside. I go out to mass, that's all. When I got your telegram, I hadn't the heart to stop you. You need a change. It's natural that you should want to pay a visit here. But more than that, no. It might have been different, maybe, if you'd been with me when he died. But you weren't here."

    There was no comfort in her. Anastasia gazed at her, and afterward gazed at the place where she had been standing. She watched the leaping flames till they began to die down. The red bars of the grate turned to gray and then to rusty black. There was an occasional weak flicker in the fading coals. She dozed, sitting on the rug. Shortly after midnight a light rain fell again, spit down the chimney and knocked a sizzle out of the dead fire. The little sound disturbed her and she sat up drowsily, chilled by the passing of a cold breeze that blew down the chimney and skittered soundlessly about the room. The silent dark room frightened her and she stumbled to the doorway. But the light in the hall reassured her, and so did the steady rise and fall of her grandmother's breathing as she passed the open bedroom door on the second floor.

Anastasia slept heavily through the rest of the night, while the rain fell down outside. Some people in the city half wakened and listened for a while to the steady drumming on their dripping windowsills. Underneath the street lamps the circles of light were changed to shining pools of darkness and made crooked mirrors for faraway stars. All the clocks tolled the hours slowly, till the first spreading light of day came to show a gray morning, inside the house and out.


Excerpted from the Visitor by Maeve Brennan. Copyright © 2000 by The Estate of Maeve Brennan. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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