Knowing

My friend Else, who is eighty, once wrote to Grace Paley. I know you, she wrote. A month later, in the middle of a normal day, her phone rang and Paley’s voice said, “Pick me up at LAX, I don’t have too long.” Else says that Paley had all her things packed in a green bowling ball bag. They made a salad from the garden and talked about politics. They laughed. Paley was richly rewarded for her gamble, but Else could’ve been ordinary, a fixer of grout, and Paley’s journal would’ve still been full.

Godwin’s voice gives me that feeling. I know you. I should have written to her (what would her luggage have looked like?) out of my affinity for a woman who has worked hard and paid attention. I would have picked her up at LAX. I would have been honest: “I don’t know you, but you seem to know me.” In my car, she would have rolled down the window and put her foot up on the dash.

Maybe she wouldn’t have come. Godwin doesn’t squander herself on the unpassionate or the unfascinating, but her heart is open to the vacuum cleaner repair guy, and she let me read her journal. Thus, I’ve been to her house. Her mailbox wobbles, and her mattress needs to be turned. I ate a slice of the cake she’d set out for later, and I saw her take note of the crumbs. I know you, her heart said as we planted wilted pansies—and it meant both of us, all of us, without vanity and only after a long afternoon.

—Tina Nettesheim

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