|The Reality of Experience
Author: icepixel PM
Roslyn and Cicely share a life lived through books.Rated: Fiction K - English - Words: 665 - Published: 01-23-11 - Status: Complete - id: 6681101
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Note: I futzed a bit with the timeline here. Since I included A Portrait of the Artist and a novel by Cather, this puts the events of "Cicely" in, at the earliest, 1915.
For juniperphoenix in the fandom_stocking fest.
They meet in September, over a discussion of Mallarmé in New York. They spend weeks on the Symbolists, moving from Baudelaire to Rimbaud to Verlaine as more and more of Cicely's scarves and gloves, as well as the little gifts she makes of pressed flowers or lacquered hair combs—she having cut her own dark curls cut too short for such things—accumulate in Roslyn's tiny flat in Greenwich Village. (Some find it shocking that she should live alone in the city, but plenty of other young women are doing the same. Soon, Roslyn thinks, it will be so common as to be unremarkable.)
They are reading Yeats when Cicely's father, her last living relative, dies. She finds his Aedh poems particularly comforting during this sad time.
As the first warm breezes of spring begin to sigh through the warrens of old tenements and gleaming new skyscrapers, they read the newest novel by Willa Cather, and begin to dream of taking a mile-devouring train out west, to the open spaces of the prairie. New York is lovely, especially in the spring, but something in both of them yearns to test their bodies and wills against the harshness of the new country opening up. A friend shows them photographs of Montana, with its stark, rocky mountains, tall prairie grasses, and big domed skies, and the decision is made. Cicely sells her family townhome on the Upper West Side, and with trunks filled with books and manuscripts, they take a train to Chicago, and then on to Billings.
They delight in their new home, and even more in each other. On long walks in the field that summer, Roslyn picks herbs and greens, which Cicely then transforms into tisanes and salads in their large, hot kitchen. She pulls Roslyn under a flaming autumn tree and reads her Stein and Eliot, breathless with the new ways of thinking these poets have given her. Roslyn in turn reads to her from Joyce's magnificent Portrait on long winter nights, alternately laughing and marveling at the Irishman's dexterity with the language, and at the fully-realized consciousness that leaps from the page.
Their home might be Eden itself, but the more they read, the more unsettled Roslyn feels. Pound had told them to find the value in the old and make it new again, and despite the fact that Billings is fewer than fifty years old, there is an air of sameness, the mail order catalogues and frequent trains making it possible to recreate the East in the West. The women in town talk about New York fashions, the men of New York futures markets. There is no call for courage in the face of the unknown.
She suggests the Alaska territory, half-seriously, one evening. Cicely gives it the careful consideration she gives everything, from the psychological treatises of Freud to the fairy stories the little girl next door tells her, and finally smiles broadly. They will see a new world, she says, and give it to others in the new writing of the age.
Because there are no trains that go so far north, they buy an automobile. Roslyn thinks of Marinetti every time she puts it in gear, and begins to see why the Italians love these machines so. They pack their trunks again, once more filling them with books. But this time, they also bring paper and pens and little stoppered pots of ink, glancing at each other hopefully as they pack each of them in among dresses and china cups.
Over the roar of the engine, as they begin the drive out of town, Cicely looks out at the muddy makeshift road ahead of them and shouts, Welcome, O Life!