Saturday, 13 August 2011

"Was there ere such a misfortunate (wo)man."

This, of course, we can attribute to Anse Bundren from this book:

(American copy) Published by Vintage International

Really he said, "Was there ere such a misfortunate man." But I think this applies to me, from what happened to me yesterday morning on the train.

I know what you're thinking: Did she encounter a drunk? Was she hassled by a homeless dog-owner? Was the train crowded/rerouted/cancelled? No! It was something completely different. And most importantly it was a blog-worthy moment. Please read on so you can capture the moment for yourself...

So I am sitting there, listening to my Ipod, nursing a hangover with a slight headache, sipping a small hazelnut latte from Costa, and reading the aforementioned novel. Reading it for the third time, actually. I boarded at Doncaster and it had been about twenty-five minutes, and so I recognize the stone walls of the tunnel that meant we were approaching the Sheffield station. I take one last sip and close my book, when I notice a young man staring at me from the other side of the aisle. I think at first that maybe he sees something particularly interesting in the tunnel walls, and then when I take out my headphones I find he is leaning toward me. He is clean cut, suited, and has a stack of marked-up A4-size papers on the table before him. As the train slows, I wonder if this gent is A. a student or B. a young literary agent.
     "Did you buy that book in America?" Cockney. He sounds like he is from London.
     "Uh, yes," I say, my head still fuzzy.
      "I have a copy but it's from here, and I've never seen that cover design before."
      "It is different, isn't it? Pretty morbid."
     "Faulkner, he was from Mississippi, wasn't he?"
     "Yes, he was."
     "Sort of the Proud Son of Mississippi," he says, smiling.
     "Yep." (I am a master of conversation only after I've had time for my coffee to take effect.)
     "Are you from America?"
     "Yes, actually."
     "Are you from New England?"
     "Nope, I'm actually from Indiana, in the midwest." Actually.
     "Ah, a Hoosier." He pronounced it right.
     "Faulkner was a fantastic writer."
     "He was."
      I make like I'm putting my now infamous book in my bag, and start to stand up."
     "Oh, is this your stop?"
    "Yeah." The hint of apology in my voice was unmissable.
     "Ah. I'm going to Manchester." The hint of apology in his voice was unmissable.
     "Have fun in Manchester," I say, walking down the aisle, looking ruefully at Platform 5 where I'd have to disembark and then shuffle with all the other cattle to work.
     "Have fun in Sheffield, have a good day." He says.

And with that, we went our separate ways. I didn't even get a chance to ask his name, or what he does (is he in the book business? Is he a student?), or what he's going to Manchester for. I didn't get to ask what that neat pile of papers was. I didn't get to ask if he knows any literary agents (ain't no rest for the wicked). Now don't get me wrong, I am not interested in this gent. However I did feel that in this brief conversation, very brief, no more than a minute or two, there were two kindred spirits sort of whisking past each other, and I had, for a brief, flashing moment, thought about riding the train all the way to Manchester with him. What would it have been like to talk about William Faulkner for another two or three hours? With another person who loves Faulkner as a writer, and As I Lay Dying as a book? How many chances do we get to just stop what we are doing and just be?


But I went to work. Another dollar, another day. Normally, I would have been thankful for an excuse to leave the train and get myself out of a conversation with a complete stranger. But this time was different. It was special. Perhaps only because it was so brief.
Faulkner, I have a lot to thank you for.

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