08 November 2009

from "Rebecca" by Donald Barthelme

"Rebecca" (excerpts from)

Rebecca Lizard was trying to change her ugly, reptilian, thoroughly unacceptable last name.
"Lizard," said the judge. "Lizard, Lizard, Lizard, Lizard. There's nothing wrong with it if you
say it enough times. You can't clutter up the court's calendar with trivial little minor
irritations. And there have been far too many people changing their names lately. Changing your
name countervails the best interest of the telephone comany, the electric company, and the United
States goverment. Motion denied."
Lizard in tears.
Lizard led from the courtroom. A chrysanthemum of Kleenex held under her nose.
"Shaky lady," said a man, "are you a schoolteacher?"
Of course she's a schoolteacher, you idiot. Can't you see the poor woman's all upset? Why don't
you leave her alone?
"Are you a homosexual lesbian? Is that why you never married?"
Christ, yes, she's a homosexual lesbian, as you put it. Would you please shut your face?
Rebecca went to the damned dermatologist (a new damned dermatologist), but he said the same thing
the others had said. "Greenish," he said, "slight greenishness, genetic anomaly, nothing to be
done, I'm afraid, Mrs. Lizard."
"Miss Lizard."
"Nothing to be done, Miss Lizard."
"Thank you, Doctor. Can I give you a little something for your trouble?"
"Fifty dollars."


Too many of our citizens are drunk at times when they should be sober--suppertime, for example.
Drunkenness leads to forgetting where you have put your watch, keys, or money clip, and to a
decreased sensitivity to the needs and desires and calm good health of others. The causes of
overuse of alcohol are not as clear as the results. Psychiatrists feel in general that alcoholism
is a serious problem but treatable, in some cases. AA is said to be both popular and effective. At
base, the question is one of willpower.
"Get up," Hilda said. "I'm sorry I said that."
"You told the truth," said Rebecca.
"Yes, it was the truth," Hilda admitted.
"You didn't tell me the truth in the beginning. In the beginning, you said it was beautiful."
"I was telling you the truth, in the beginning. I did think it was beautiful. Then."
This "then," the ultimate word in Hilda's series of three brief sentences, is one of the most
pain-inducing words in the human vocabulary, when used in this sense. Departed time! And the
former conditions that went with it! How is human pain to be measured? But remember that Hilda,
too... It is correct to feel for Rebecca in this situation, but, reader, neither can Hilda's
position be considered an enviable one, for truth, as Bergson knew, is a hard apple, whether one
is throwing it or catching it.
"What remains?" Rebecca said stonily.
"I can love you in spite of--"
Do I want to be loved in spite of? Do you? Does anyone? But aren't we all, to some degree?
Aren't there important parts of all of us which must be, so to say, gazed past? I turn a blind eye
to that aspect of you, and you turn a blind eye to that aspect of me, and with these blind eyes
eyeball-to-eyeball, to use an expression from the early 1960s, we continue our starched and
fragrant lives. Of course it's also called "making the best of things," which I have always
considered a rather soggy idea for an Americal ideal.


The story ends. It was written or several reasons. Nine of them are secrets. The tenth is that one should never cease
considering human love, which remains as grisly and golden as ever, no matter what it tattooed
upon the warm tympanic page.

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