Authors: Rhode Island Blues (v1.1)
Rhode Island Blues
tells the story of
Sophia Moore, a loveless and guarded thirty-four- year-old film editor in
who believes her only living relative is
her stormy and wild grandmother, Felicity. Troubled by her mother s long-ago
suicide and her father s abandonment, Sophia overworks, incessantly
contemplates her past, and continues a flat sexual affair with the famous
director of her latest film. But when she travels to
to help her grandmother settle into a
retirement center, she begins to unravel mysteries about her family history
that she never knew, while finding relatives she had no idea existed.
Fay Weldon’s extraordinary wit lights up
every page. Staggeringly beautiful and honest,
Rhode Island Blues
tells a story of longing, love, and, ultimately,
forgiveness, as it holds a magnifying glass to the human heart.
THE FAT WOMAN’S JOKE
DOWN AMONG THE WOMEN
THE PRESIDENT’S CHILD
THE LIFE AND LOVES OF A SHE-DEVIL
THE SHRAPNEL ACADEMY
THE HEART OF THE COUNTRY
THE HEARTS AND LIVES OF MEN
THE RULES OF LIFE
LEADER OF THE BAND
THE CLONING OF JOANNA MAY
WOLF THE MECHANICAL DOG
NOBODY LIKES ME
Short Story Collections
WATCHING ME, WATCHING YOU
A HARD TIME TO BE A FATHER
LETTERS TO ALICE
Atlantic Monthly Press
Copyright © 2000 by Fay Weldon
rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any
electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval
systems, without permission in writing from the publisher, except by a
reviewer, who may quote brief passages in a review. Any members of educational institutions
wishing to photocopy part or all of the work for classroom use, or publishers
who would like to obtain permission to include the work in an anthology, should
send their inquiries to Grove/Atlantic, Inc., 841 Broadway, New York, NY 10003.
novel is entirely a work of fiction. The names, characters, and incidents
portrayed in it are the work of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to
actual persons, living or dead, events or localities is entirely coincidental.
First published in 2000 by Flamingo,
a registered trade mark of
United States of America
Library of Congress
blues / Fay Weldon, p.
Nursing home patients—Fiction. 2.
Granddaughters—Fiction. 4. Nursing homes—Fiction. 5. Grandmothers— Fiction. 6.
—Fiction. I. Title.
R47 2000 823’.914—dc21
Atlantic Monthly Press
01 02 03 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
from I CHING OR BOOK OF CHANGES translated by Richard Wilhelm, rendered into
English by Cary F Baynes (Arkana, 1989) copyright 1950 and 1967 by Bollingen
Foundations Inc. Reproduced by permission of Penguin Books Ltd.
old enough to speak the truth,
said my grandmother, her voice
bouncing over the Atlantic waves, ridiculously girlish. ‘Nothing stops me now,
Sophia, not prudence, or kindness, or fear of the consequences. I am
eighty-five. What I think I say. It is my privilege. If people don’t like what
they hear they can always dismiss it as dementia.
grandmother Felicity had seldom refrained from speaking the truth out of
compassion for others, but I was too tired and guilty to argue, let alone
she was only eighty-three, not
eighty-five. Felicity spoke from her white clapboard house on a hillside
outside Norwich, Connecticut, with its under-floor music system and giant
well-stocked fridge, full of uneatable doughy products in bright ugly bags,
Lite this and Lite that, and I listened to her reproaches in a cramped brick
apartment in London’s Soho. Her voice echoed through an expensive, languid,
graceful, lonely, spacious, carpetless house: she kept the doors unlocked and
the windows undraped, squares of dark looking out into even blacker night,
where for all anyone knew axe murderers lurked. My voice in reply lacked echo:
here in central
the rooms were small and cluttered and the windows were barred, and
thick drapes kept out the worst of the late-night surge of noise as the gay
pubs below emptied out and the gay clubs began to fill. I felt safer here than
I ever did when visiting Felicity on her grassy hillside. A prostitute worked
on the storey below mine, sopping up any sexual fury which might feel inclined
to stray up the stairs, and a graphic designer worked above me, all fastidious
control and expertise, which I liked to think seeped downwards to me.
was a fashionable, expensive and desirable address for
. I could walk to work, which I valued,
though it meant pushing my way through crowds both celebratory and perverse:
the tight butts of the sexually motivated and the spreading butts of gawking
tourists an equal nonsense. Was there no way of averaging them out, turning
them all into everyday non-loitering citizens? But then you might as well be
living in a suburb, and for my kind of person that meant the end.
was tired because I had just got back from work, and it was late at night. I
was guilty because it was two weeks since my grandmother’s noisy friend and
neighbour Joy - neighbour in the sense that their two great lonely houses were
just about within hailing distance - had called me to shout down the line that
Felicity, who lived alone, had had a stroke and was in hospital in
. I had a deadline to meet. I am a film
editor. There comes a certain point in a film production when the editor ceases
to be dispensable: when you just can’t afford to be ill, go insane, have a sick
grandmother. Joy’s call came at just such a moment. You have to be there in the
editing suite and that’s that. There are things in your head which are in
was a feature
film, a US/UK co-production with pretensions, a big budget, a big-time director
(Harry Krassner), and a host of marketing people now hovering and arranging PR
and previews, while I still struggled under pressure of time to make something
erotic out of not-enough footage of teenage copulation which neither party had
seemed to go to with much pleasure. I did not fly to my grandmother’s side. I
simply forgot her until I could afford to remember her. Now here she was again,
her suppertime my bedtime, not that she ever acknowledged a difference in time
zones if she could help it.
I gritted my teeth.
Sometimes the ghost of my mad mother stands between myself and
Felicity, damming up the flow of family feeling; a sepulchral figure, like one
of those school-crossing ladies who step out unexpectedly into the road to let
the children through, making the traffic squeal to an unwilling halt.
had a recurring dream when I was small in which my mother did exactly that,
only the sign in her hand read not
Except I knew that if she ever turned the
sign, the other side would have my name on it.
It would read,
’. I always
managed to wake myself up before I had to face the terror of the other side. I
could do that as a child - control my dreams. I think that’s why I’m reckoned
to be a good film editor: what is this job of mine but the controlling of other
people’s fantasies? I take sleeping pills, most nights: they stop my own
dreams. I have enough of them by day to keep anyone sane.
it happened Felicity had been let out of hospital within the day, having
suffered nothing more than a slight speech impediment, which had by now
cleared. But I wasn’t to know that at the time.
she was saying, ‘I want to sell this house. The truth is I’m bored to hell. I
keep waiting for something to happen but happenings seem to have run out. Is it
my age?’ Well, come the eighth decade I daresay ‘happenings’, by which most
women mean love striking out of a clear sky, would indeed run out. Everything
must come to an end. She said she was thinking of moving into assisted housing:
some kind of old-persons’ community. I said I was not sure this was a recipe
for a lively life. She said just because people were old didn’t mean they
weren’t still alive. She was going to hold her nose and jump: the house was
already on the market, she was already selling bits and pieces in the local
flea markets, there were some family things I might want to have, and if so I
had better come over and claim them.
As I’d callously worked on after
Joy’s first phone call, resisting the notion that in the face of death all
things to do with life should pause, I knew that if Felicity would only just die
the issue of fault would be set to rest, forever unresolved. I could just be
me, sprung out of nowhere, product of my generation, with the past irrelevant,
family history forgotten, left to freely enjoy the numerous satisfactions of
here and now, part of the New London Ciabatta Culture, as the great Harry
Krassner was accustomed to describing it.
, Sophia King, film editor, living day-by-day in some
windowless room with bad air conditioning and the soothing hum of computerized
technology, but free of the past. Easier by far to make sense of Harry
Krassner’s uneven footage than of real life, to let images on film provide
beginnings, middles, ends and morals. Real life is all subtext, never with a
decent explanation, no day of judgement to make things clear, God nothing more
than a long-departed editor, too idle to make sense of the reels. Off to his
grandmother’s funeral mid-plot, no doubt.
into therapy, peel off the onion layers,
dreams into narrative, still the irritating haphazardness of everyday real life
remains. Film seems more honest to me: actuality filtered through a camera.
Felicity must not be allowed to interfere with my life, in death any more than
she had in life. Bored she might be, but she had her comforts, money from dead
Utrillo on her wall, a neighbour called
Joy, who shouted energetically down the telephone. I remembered how, when I was
ten years old and Felicity was my only source of good cheer, she had cut
herself off from me, left her daughter Angel, my mother, to die without her,
fled back home to the States and not even come back for the funeral. I had
forgotten how angry I was with her: how little I was prepared to forgive her.
What had been her own emergency, her own internal editing, so desperately required
that she abandoned us? Once, when I was small, ordinary simple family love had
flowed from me to Felicity only to be fed back by her, through this act, as
mother had done even worse by the pair of us, of course, and returned love with
hate, as insane people will to their nearest and dearest, be they parent or
child, and there can be nothing worse in the world. But at least my mother
Angel had the excuse of being mad. Felicity was reckoned sane.
didn’t come over and visit me in hospital when for all you knew I might have
been dying,’ said Felicity now, at my sleeping time, suppertime for her. What
did she care about my convenience? What was the point of reminding her of the
were only in hospital for a night,’ I protested.
might have been my last night,’ she said. ‘I was fairly frightened, I can tell
brutal! And I was so tired. I had only just returned from the cutting room when
the phone call came. Harry Krassner would be in at ten the next morning, with
the producer, for what I hoped against hope would be an acceptance of the fine
cut. I was not sure which seemed the more fictional - Felicity’s phone call or
the hours I’d just lived through. My eyes were tired and itching. All I wanted
to do was sleep. This voice out of the past: still with the actressy lilt, just
a little croakier than last time she’d phoned, a few months back, might have
been coming out of some late-night film on TV for all it was impinging upon my
consciousness. Yet she and I were each other’s only relative. My mother’s death
was decades back. We both had new skins. I had to pay attention. ‘You’d have
home even before I’d got to the hospital,’ I
pointed out. ‘You weren’t to know that,’ she remarked, acutely. ‘But then you
never thought family was very important.’
isn’t true,’ I snivelled. ‘It’s you who chose to live somewhere else. This is
was ridiculous: it was like the first time you go to visit a therapist: all
they have to do is say something sympathetic and look at you kindly: whereupon
self-pity overwhelms you and you weep and weep and weep, believe you must
really be in a mess and sign up for two years. I put my weakness down to
exhaustion: some feeling that I wasn’t me at all, just one of the
of some bad late-night TV film, providing the formulaic
was that or go under myself,’ she said,
little herself. ‘All I ever got from family was reproaches.’ (A splendid case
of projection, but Felicity, like so many of her generation, was a
pre-Freudian. Hopeless to start wrangling, let alone say she’d started it.) She
pulled herself together magnificently. ‘It was a moment of weakness in me to
want you to be present while I died. If someone is not there while you live why
should you want them there when you die?
Just because they
share a quarter of your genetic make-up.
It isn’t rational. Do you have
any views as to what death actually is?’
I said. If I had I wasn’t going to tell Felicity and certainly not while I was
so tearful and tired.
wouldn’t,’ said my grandmother Felicity. ‘You have been permanently depressed
since Angel died. You won’t allow yourself a minute’s free time in case you
catch yourself contemplating the nature of the universe. I don’t blame you,
it’s fairly rotten.’ The stroke must have had some effect on Felicity for since
my mother Angel’s death she had scarcely mentioned her name in my presence. My
deranged mother died when she was thirty-five: my father hung around to do a desultory
job of bringing me up, before dying
when I was
eighteen, of lung cancer. He didn’t smoke, either, or only marihuana.
fact is,’ said Felicity, who had deserted my mother and me at the time of our
worst tribulations, and I could not forget it, ‘I’m not fit to live on my own
any more. I spilt a pint of boiling milk over my arm yesterday and it’s hurting
did you want boiling milk for?’ I asked. This is the trouble with being a film
editor. It’s the little motivations, the little
you have to make sense of before you can approach the bigger issues.
was a silence from the other end. I thought longingly of bed. I had not made it
that morning; that is to say I had not even shaken out the duvet and replaced it
with some thought for the future. It’s like that towards the end of a film gig.
Afterwards, you can clean and tidy and housewife to your heart’s content, put
in marble bathrooms with the vast wages you’ve had no time or inclination to
spend: in the meantime home’s just somewhere you lay your head on a sweaty
pillow until it’s time to get up and go to work again.