From traditional families to relationships that break new ground, this anthology runs the gamut of human emotions. The eponymous heroine “Dulce” is a self-proclaimed muse, witch, whore, “preying lesbian,” and “devouring mother” who has a profound effect on the lives of the women and men around her. “His Nor Hers” tracks the unraveling of a marriage—with unexpected results. “The Real World” explores the moral universe of a female mechanic who creates an unconventional family. In “A Matter of Numbers,” a divorced math professor falls in love with her twenty-year-old student. And the title story introduces two women—one widowed, one divorced—who rediscover romance aboard a cruise ship. Whether she’s turning the spotlight on unfulfilled wives, frustrated husbands, friends, or secret lovers, Inland Passage is Jane Rule at her most insightful.
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By Jane Rule
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1985 Jane Rule
All rights reserved.
I was not perfectly born, as Samuel Butler prescribed, wrapped in bank notes, but I was orphaned at twenty-one without other relatives to turn to and with no material need of them. I was, in a way everyone else envied, free of emotional and financial obligations. I did not have to do anything, not even choose a place to live since I had the small and lovely house in Vancouver where I had grown up to shelter me from as much as developing my own taste in furniture. I did not, of course, feel fortunate. Ingratitude is the besetting sin of the young.
If I had been rich rather than simply comfortable, I might have learned to give money away intelligently. What I tried to do instead was to give myself away, having no use of my own for it. It was not so reprehensible an aim for a young woman in the 50s as it is today. I was, again with a good fortune I was far from recognizing, unsuccessful.
My first and greatest insight as a child was being aware that I was innocent of my own motives. I did not know why I so often contrived to interrupt my father at his practicing. Now I understand that he, otherwise a quiet and pensive man, frightened me when he played his violin. Or the instrument itself frightened me, seeming to contain an electrical charge which flung my father's body around helplessly the moment he laid hands on it. Though he died in a plane crash on tour for the troops in the Second World War when I was fifteen, I never quite believed it wasn't his violin that had killed him.
Wilson C. Wilson, a boy several years older than I, lived down the block with his aunt and uncle who gave him dutiful but reluctant room among their own children because he had been orphaned as a baby. That fact, accompanied by his dark good looks, had made him a romantic figure for me, but I had never expected him to climb up into our steep north slope of a garden where I made a habit of brooding on a favorite rock and often spying on him through the fringe of laurel, dogwood, mountain ash, and alder which grew, and still does grow, down at the street. No handsome boy of my own age had ever paid the slightest attention to me.
If he had not come with such quick agility, I would have hidden from him and let him pay his respects to my grieving mother to whom I suspect he might have been more romantically drawn than he was to me. I was too terrified of him even to be self-conscious. I sat very still, hardly at first hearing what he had to say, waiting for him to leave, but he was so gentle with me and at the same time so eager that gradually I began to listen to him.
"Some day," he said, "you'll be glad you were old enough to remember his face."
He offered his own grief as a way of sharing mine, but I had not had time to let my raw loss mellow into something speakable. He did not expect me to be adequate then or, I suppose, ever.
After that, once or twice a week he would come to find me. Sometimes he talked about his week-end job as an apprentice to a printer, but more often he talked about the books he was reading. He did not expect me to be older or more intelligent than I was, but he did begin to bring me books to read. When I asked him a question that pleased him, he would say, "Dulce, you have an old soul," but he was normally content to have a good listener.
Sometimes he suggested a walk on the beach just several blocks below the house, even in winter weather. We both liked the mists that obscured the far views across Burrard Inlet to the north mountains and focused our attention on the salty debris at our feet. We liked finding puzzling objects and making up histories for them as we walked among gulls and crows, past ghostly trees emerging only a few feet from us.
Neither of us liked wearing a hat or hood, and we would come back as wet-headed as swimmers to a hearth fire and tea, to the personal questions my mother asked which always began, "If you don't have to go ..." or "If you're not called up ..." or "If the war's over ..." I never asked Wilson questions like that though I could see my mother's concern for his peaceful future gave him more confidence in it. He wanted to go back to Toronto where he had been born. He wanted to study literature and philosophy.
"And after that?" Mother asked.
"I'll be a philosopher ... and a printer to feed myself."
I watched him, his strong, dark hair glistening rather than flattened, as I knew mine was, by the damp, his dark eyes glistening, too, and wished he were my brother or at least in some way related to me.
Wilson was called up two weeks before the war was over. Then his orders were canceled, and he packed to go to Toronto. Before he left, he asked for my picture in exchange for his, taken for his high school graduation, on which he had written, "For a good listener, Wilson C. Wilson."
"I so dislike my name," he once told me, "that I'll simply have to make it famous."
He shrugged, but I wasn't really surprised when he sent me the first of his poems to be published in an eastern magazine. Some few of the images in them were ones we had found together, which made it easier for me to comment on them. Now that we were exchanging letters, I discovered that being a good listener by mail was learning to ask interesting rather than personal questions.
When Wilson came back the following summer to take up work with the printer, his aunt and uncle asked him to pay room and board. I was shocked by their lack of generosity, particularly since it would mean Wilson could not afford to go east again.
"My uncle points out that my cousins are perfectly satisfied to go to UBC."
"He doesn't charge them room and board, does he?"
"They're his own children," Wilson explained reasonably.
"You could pitch a tent in our garden," I suggested, "and you could pay Mother just the bit it costs to feed you."
"Don't make offers for your mother," he said.
"Are you in love with Wilson?" my mother asked me.
"I don't think so," I answered, both surprised and embarrassed by the question. "I just want us to help him."
"Is he in love with you?"
That I knew was preposterous. "I'm just a good listener," I answered.
The tent did go up on the flat square of lawn by the roses on the understanding that I would not visit Wilson in it. I would not have dreamed of invading his privacy.
More like a grown man, he assigned himself chores about the place without being asked. Mother and I had been used to a man who protected his hands and anyway had no eye or ear for the complaints of a house. By the end of the summer, nothing squeaked or dripped, and I had decided to go away to college myself and major in English.
I liked the idea of a women's college, for boys, except for Wilson, began to alarm me, taking on sudden height all around me, their noses and fingers thickening, their chins growing mossy, their voices cracking to new depths. I walked as defensively among them as I would through thickets of gorse or blackberry.
I chose Mills College in California partly because it was in the Bay Area, and I liked San Francisco, the city of my mother's girlhood. Though my mother had been sent to the Conservatory of Music and attended concerts with her handsome and handsomely dressed parents, they hadn't approved of her marriage to a fellow student who wanted to sit on the stage instead of in the prosperous audience.
"They said, 'he'll never buy you diamonds,'" my mother told me.
"Did you mind?"
"About the diamonds?"
"About their not approving."
"Yes, but it gave me the courage to do it."
I found it hard to associate courage with love.
Wilson did not come back to Vancouver the summer I graduated from high school. He had found a printing job in Toronto, a less expensive solution than living in a tent in our garden. I sent him my high school graduation picture without signing it because I didn't know what to say. I signed my letters "As ever." He signed his "Yours" which I understood to be a formality.
Two of the poems he had published that year were love poems, dark and constrained, which made me unhappy for him and a little bewildered, too, for I could not imagine anyone incapable of returning his love. Since he wasn't in the habit of confiding in me about his personal affairs, I could hardly answer or question a poem. He wrote to me that his first collection of poems was about to be published, sent me a picture to be used on the cover, and asked permission to dedicate the book to me.
"Does it mean anything, Mother? I mean, anything in particular?"
"It's not a proposal, if that's what you mean," Mother said. "But it certainly does mean you are important to him. It's all right to accept if he's important to you."
I accepted, feeling a new self-conscious place in his life which I did not really understand. Surely, if he'd been in love with me, I would know. I studied the picture and saw simply his familiar intent and handsome face. Experimentally I kissed it, a kiss as chaste as any I gave my mother. Then quite crossly I thought, "If I'm so important to him, he could at least have come to my graduation and taken me to the dance."
Yet who of my school friends could boast of having a book dedicated to her? Wilson would never have taken me to a dance. Nor would I have asked him to. He did not belong to my silly social world. Even I had outgrown it and longed to begin my own serious education in a part of the world nearly as beautiful and far more sophisticated than my own.
To the relief of some of my disgruntled, liberal professors, I shunned the child development and dietary courses newly introduced to make servantless wives out of my post-war generation and to redomesticate those few female veterans who had returned. Instead I chose traditional art history, religious history, and philosophy courses as electives around my requirements in literature. If there had been a history of science, I would have chosen that over biology, the least mathematical of the sciences available. In that lab, cutting up flat worms, crayfish and cats, I came as close to domestic experience as I would get in college. I sent my laundry out every week to a war widow, left not as well off as my mother.
Thanks to Wilson, I was better read than many of the other incoming freshmen, and, though I rarely offered an opinion in class, I asked very good questions. My written assignments were not immediately successful, but again Wilson had trained me to listen and comprehend not only the material but the mood and bias of the instructor before me. Once I got the hang of being a logical positivist in philosophy, a new critic in contemporary literature, a pro-pounder of history of ideas in Milton, my grades bounded upwards.
There were students at the college who actually engaged in the arts, notably in music, but I avoided the rich offering of concerts. In fact, any performing art was difficult for me to deal with; for, like my father, the performers all seemed in the grip of an energy which made spastic victims of them, leaping inexplicably around the stage, shouting in unrecognizable voices, faces either entirely expressionless or distorted in unimaginable pain. Poetry was for me a superior art. I had never had to watch Wilson write a poem. It was a relief to me to study Shakespeare on the page, a prejudice I shared with my professor who considered any available production a defiler of the poetry of the bard.
At a performance of MacBeth, put on by St. Mary's, a men's college in the neighborhood, the wife of a faculty member played Lady MacBeth in the same red housecoat even after she'd become queen; the wind for the witches' scene was her vacuum cleaner. MacBeth himself was a speech major with a lisp, who murdered more than sleep. His severed head was presented at the end of the play in a paper bag which looked like someone's forgotten lunch and perhaps was.
Granting the limitations of amateurs, I could not imagine even great actors tastefully gouging out eyes on stage on the way to a climax of corpses. The blood and gore were a convention of a barbarous time, which the poetry transcended.
In my letters to Wilson, both of whose pictures sat framed on my desk, I sometimes confided academic puzzlement. Though styles of poetry changed through the ages, particular poems were recognizably great in each period. Prose, on the other hand, seemed to improve, become more economical, lucid and beautiful. "Are you going to make an idol out of Hemingway," Wilson demanded, "at the expense of Donne and Milton?" I'd had F. Scott Fitzgerald in mind. I went back to Donne's sermons, and, when I imagined them, as instructed by Wilson, recited by the Dean of St. Paul's with tears streaming down his face, their excesses seemed more appropriate; yet I also had to admit that a man in tears would embarrass more than move me.
I found few fellow students with whom I could raise such questions. Only a small band of rather aggressive scholarship students discussed their studies. The more acceptable topics of conversation were menstrual cramps, other people's sexual habits, the foibles of parents and professors, and God. Nor were academic subjects acceptable topics on dates. Any conversation was impossible over the noise at fraternity parties, football games, and bars. The only virtue of the gross abuse of alcohol at such gatherings was that, more often than not, my young man of the evening was incapable of a sexual ending in the back seat of a dangerously driven car.
At first I was uneasy at the status my pictures of Wilson gave me. When I confessed that he had also dedicated a book of poems to me, it was simply assumed that I was unofficially engaged to the handsome young man with the unhandsome name. He wrote me letters, which was more than could be said for some who had even presented diamond rings.
"Are you going to see Wilson at Christmas?"
"Oh, he probably can't afford the trip. He's putting himself through ..."
Explanations true enough, but I did not think of myself as the object of Wilson's romantic interest. There were more love poems, flickering with unredeeming fire which certainly had nothing to do with me, but they gave rise to shocked and admiring speculations among my friends who read them.
Gradually I used Wilson as the protection I wanted from a social life too barbarous to bear, even if it meant remaining among the humiliated on Saturday nights. If I was not writing love letters to Wilson, I was writing loving ones, for he was the one human being, aside from my mother, with whom I could really talk.
To Wilson's great disappointment, the only fellowship open to him for graduate studies was at UBC. He frankly confessed that it would be all right with him if he never laid eyes on Vancouver again. The university was inferior, the city really not a city at all, for it was without cultural reality, and he had been personally unhappy there. He did kindly add, "Except for that summer in your garden." But he was competing with too many men older than himself, more mature in their judgments, with Americans and Englishmen as well as his own countrymen, and he had to take what he could get.
Wilson met me at the airport when I came home to bury my mother. It was the first time we had seen each other in four years, and we embraced in the way we signed our letters because we had to do something. Wilson seemed to me more substantial and attentive in those few days, but my need was also extraordinary. It was Wilson who would not hear of my simply staying there, moving into the house to begin a grief-dazed life. He put me back on the plane to finish my education.
In the next year and a half, Wilson became my unofficial guardian. He rented the house for me, effectively preventing me from coming home in the summer, which he said I should spend in Europe where he had not yet been himself.
He outlined a trip he would like to have taken, but I was far too timid to travel alone, and, since he didn't offer to come with me, I elected instead to take the Shakespeare summer session at Stratford.
Younger than most of the other international students and not as well prepared for the work, I was at first intimidated, but my listening, question-asking habits soon provided me with a couple of unofficial tutors, also willing to indulge my uncertain sensibilities at the theatre.
"Why, it's meant to be vulgar!" I exclaimed after a performance of Measure for Measure. "All that bawdy fooling around."
If it hadn't been for Wilson, I might have fallen in love with either of the two young men, one English, one American, who also took me punting on the Avon, day tripping to Oxford, to Wales, pub crawling, and simply walking country lanes in the late summer light. While both of them talked nearly as well as Wilson about matters literary and historical, they were also flirtatious and entertaining. Instead I fell in love with England and wrote to tell Wilson that we had both been born on the wrong continent. We were not after all freaks, simply freaks in the new world.
"This bloke of yours back in Canada, are you going to marry him them?" the Englishman asked.
"Oh, eventually," I answered, and I found that I believed what I said.
I spent my final year at college in a postponing aura of serene industry, my essays enlivened by new insights that were my own, for I had been in that green and pleasant land and knew that birds do sing.
Excerpted from Inland Passage by Jane Rule. Copyright © 1985 Jane Rule. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
His nor Hers,
The Real World,
A Matter of Numbers,
One Can of Soup at a Time,
A Chair for George,
Seaweed and Song,
A Migrant Christmas,
You Cannot Judge a Pumpkin's Happiness by the Smile Upon Its Face,
More than Money,
The Investment Years,
A Good Kid in a Troubled World,
The End of Summer,
The Pruning of the Apple Trees,
Blessed are the Dead,
A Biography of Jane Rule,