Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Mr. Round Roundly’s Gray Curtain

A thick curtain obscures the window. Two women pace outside, staring up at it. It stares phlegmatically down at them, unflinching, uncaring, quiescent, a sort of haughty rebuke to their supplicating eyes.

Behind it lays all sorts of things. A table, for instance, and a chair. There is painting of a mallard, its beak swollen with yellow, its head a dark, sickly green. One of the women on the street has a mallard tattoo on her thigh, though she has never seen this painting.

For lunch the two women share a sandwich. One of them doesn’t eat bread, and the other won’t eat anything but bread. This makes for a felicitous arrangement. Both sit chewing their food in silence, only occasionally letting their eyes drift from the curtain.

The curtain is gray. It was purchased at in auction in 1929. The woman who had initially bid on it had been from Ohio. She didn’t bid high enough, however, and so returned to Ohio empty-handed.

The person who had won the curtain was called Edward G. Roundly. His grandson, Round Roundly, had inherited the curtain. He didn’t care for the thing, but left it hanging out of respect for a man he hardly ever knew. It has remained untouched for well over a decade.

The women met Round at a bar. Round met all his women at a bar. If he were to condescend to come out and speak with these women, he would probably tell them they’d be better off going back to the bar and trying to meet some other nice young man. But Round never condescended to come down to speak with his women, and so these women, good women really, healthy, pretty, sufficiently amiable, etc., will pace about outside for hours, staring up at the gray curtain, and yet neither will ever get to stare at the man they both want so badly to be staring at: Mr. Round Roundly. For Mr. Roundly, as perhaps evidenced by this story, is a far more fascinating character than the gray curtain, though we will not have an opportunity to stare at him either.

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