In 2017, I will put together a collection of stories about women. It’s going to be entitled provisionally: “Stories of Women.” Below is the preface and a sample story. I pay attention to comments. Thank you.
We exist in the path of an avalanche of books about women. Most of these try to demonstrate or to illustrate, beyond all reason, that women are more or less like the descendants of slaves brought over from Africa in chains and subjected to nameless atrocities for two and half centuries, followed for one hundred years by systematic denials of human dignity. This is nonsense, of course, I mean in Western democracies. In America, women live longer than men, they own most of the money, they have most of the votes. They also earn (earn) most of the college degrees. Besides, if women are oppressed, it’s difficult to identify the oppressor except if it’s really that unspeakable bitch, Mother Nature who decided that only women could become pregnant.
I can’t believe that men in general are the oppressor. For one thing, nearly all the women I know, or that I have heard of, that I have read about, and who don’t own a man, desire one with all their heart. They plot and scheme – when they don’t bravely even go under the knife – to try to catch one, except lesbians of course, and I am not even sure about them. If you don’t believe me, just witness the bitterness, the rage of Italian women forced to remain single because Italian men are often Mama’s boys who rediscover after their teenage years that only their mother knows how to really cook their spaghetti and to iron their shirts just so. Do the oppressed long for an oppressor? Would it make any sense?
Western women are not an oppressed class, but women, in general, are very important for two reasons. First, as the Chinese are said to say, they hold up half the sky. In fact, they are more than half of what is human. If you don’t pay attention to women, you are just not paying attention. Second, here is one of the three or four intelligent things I have said in my life: It’s mostly mothers who rear boys. As a consequence, men have more woman in them than women have man in them. It’s not absurd to think of humanity as a sort of iceberg, half of the top of which is male, with a large female more or less submerged underwater biomass.
In a previous work ( I Used to Be French: an Immature Autobiography) I described extensively my intense childhood and adolescent interactions with three adult women and how they shaped me forever. But the shaping does not end with a male’s legal majority or when he leaves the nest for good. It continues throughout life, first with girlfriends, then with wives and mistresses, of course. Most of those women are more keen on transforming him than he is to resist their efforts. But that is well explored territory where I would not dare venture with my small pen because I fear unflattering comparisons. (Typical “male insecurity” there, I hear you snickering!)
There are also women to whom one is not related and with whom one is not doing unspeakable things, or thinking of it, (or few, or seldom) and who nevertheless matter. Some count although they barely cross one’s life; many matter for reasons that are not completely clear. It seems to me that the measure of importance of people resides in what is remembered of them, even remembered for no particular reason, or when the reason is of insufficient magnitude to explain even the existence of the remembrance.
This is a collection of short stories about women who stuck to my memory for different reasons. Some, I passed like one passes an express trains in the night, long enough to see passengers in the well-lit compartment, not long enough to make more than superficial sense of the view. Others were part of my journey for a little while, others, for a long time. They are some of the women I remember with clarity. It’s “some,” rather than “all,” or “most, or even “many,” because the stories included here are all decent. I excluded forcefully vivid remembrances offending on common decency.* This is intended mostly as a family book. (Beware: There is still a little bit adult language in some parts.) While I hope it will make women smile, this book is also a sort of how-to-book for men. Those who read it won’t be worse off; they may end up being better off and their relationships with the other sex. I think that is not a common genre, unfortunately.
One more thing: A small number of the stories in this book stage or portray my wife, my wife of many years. Not everything in these few stories about her would be thought flattering. I can see you, girlie men, shuddering at the thought of what she will do to me when she finds out. And you, compassionate women readers can’t help but worry a little on my behalf, imagining what you would do to me in her place. Do not tremble for me, any of you! Like most women, my wife would rather be pictured in an unflattering light than not be pictured at all. Besides, she does not often read what I write. “I already know all of your stories,” she says airily. At least, you can be sure that this male writer has not been spoiled by unseemly domestic adulation.
Three Astonishing Women
I leave my newspaper on the table outside as I dart inside the café to get more sugar. When I return, five seconds later, a middle-aged woman wearing dark glasses is walking briskly across the street, holding my newspaper in her hand.
Hey, I shout fairly amicably, I was not finished with my paper.
She turns around and throws the paper on the table near me.
I don’t want your stupid paper, she says. What would I do with it? I am legally blind.
Fact is that her glasses are unusually thick. Point well taken. What do I know?
I drive into an unevenly paved parking lot behind a woman in a big van. As she makes a right-hand turn, I spot a blue handicapped sticker on her windshield. Just as she is about to place her van in the reserved handicapped space, her engine stops. After several useless attempts to re-start it, she steps out of the vehicle and starts pushing.
I am a real sweetheart and also an old-fashioned nice guy so, my first reflex is to get out and to give her a hand. I abstain because I soon judge her efforts to be futile. She is trying to move the heavy van up a significant bump. I think there is no way the two of us can vanquish gravity and place the van in its proper spot.
Then, the woman braces herself; the back of her dress rises and her big calves become like hard river stones; she harrumphs once and the van ends up perfectly parked in the handicapped space. I learned another lesson: Don’t judge a book by its cover.
Speaking of parking makes me think of the last time I went to the California Department of Motor Vehicles. I only wanted a copy of a trailer permit. I had duly paid paid for the original when I obtained it. I was in foul mood much before I reached there because, everyone hates the DMV, right?
Less logically, my irritation grew as I advanced up the line, as I got nearer the end of my ordeal.
The employee to whose window I am directed is a plump young Latina with a pleasant face. I explain my request. She goes tick, tick, tick on her computer with her lovingly manicured fingers and, quickly enough, she hands me the copy I came for.
It’s $16.75, she says.
I explode. That’s ridiculous, I stutter. That fee for a simple copy is an abuse of power. I changed my mind; I don’t want it anymore. Keep it!
Well, I will just have to give it to you, says the lovable DMV lady employee with a big bright smile.
I practically fall on my butt in the midst of dozens of pissed-off customers.
I guess I don’t know everything about women, as I often think I do, just most things.
© Jacques Delacroix circa 2006, 2016