I am listening to Lynne Tillman read.
Her eyes are like my grandmother's. That's right. Now I remember from the last time I saw her, when I heard her reading, before I left here.
I am sitting in the front row and nobody is seated on either side of me; to my left the room of red chairs is empty, openly waiting. Expectant. To my right the room has some life, but I do not look behind at them because I am alone and do not expect to know anyone here. If someone does know me I expect they would say something, surely, whether it is or is not hello. Because I am here, but that is unexpected.
What would Lynne Tillman do?
She quotes Lacan in her opening essay: "The unconscious is structured like a language."
I notice her fingers are long and well-manicured with no polish, just shapely and strong. Not claws nor weapons nor even drawing attention. But they have my attention.
My unconscious is not focusing on Lynne. Does that mean I have lost my language? After a week of not having the words to talk about the week, learning the proper responses, trying to control the information I disperse to people about what happened.
I am wondering if I will tell Lynne about what has happened this week.
I am not sure if I am seeing her or cataloguing her: hair like a graphite brown halo circled in revisions around her head, glasses bold and deep jewel green against her pallor that makes me think of coffee, contrasted against the moderator who is as white as powder. The moderator, an academic on the theory of the novel, is extremely pregnant. What is the opposite of extreme when pregnant? Empty? I hear her call herself conspicuous in talking about her size. I marvel at how small Lynne's feet are in their black slipper shoes, how her pregnant tablemate's legs are thick as columns to support her. Maybe it is water retained, the protective dam that acts as a sponge to be stronger. I think of how this week I've woken up to a face so swollen I did not recognize myself beneath the backed ducts and eyelids like stretched marshmallows, inflated with salt. I have been storing water but not because there is a life in me.
Lynne reads from essays and novels and responses to art and Frieze columns and what she calls "simple stories." There is no grand pause between the works; the show is all one bill. The words, in her even reading, her voice so sure, all fit together under the common subject: Tillman, Lynne.
I am watching and listening without seeing or hearing. I am thinking of how, when I got here, I sent my boss an email saying I was moving, how on the train I had been reading Bas Jan Ader: Death is Elsewhere, how driving to the train I had been coordinating a screening of Shulie by email and a press launch by text so that both could happen in the same space without overlapping, how earlier I had called a man in New Jersey to inquire about his vending machine for sale, coin-operated, pick-up only, still works. How I am dressed all in black. How an email this morning ended by saying he feels guilty to still be here.
Here I am in the front row listening to Lynne Tillman read.
The more I watch her mouth move the more I realize the undulations and openings and closings do not make shapes that look like their sounds. I realize my mouth has bent into a small smile but I cannot see it and do not know what I look like. Am I smiling?
I take notes in the front row to make sure I am listening.
I wonder what I am doing in a room nobody knows I'm in, hearing what I've heard before.
I last heard Lynne read before I left. Now I am returning and I am hearing Lynne read.
I cannot tell if these are bookends or parentheses. What is shelved in between? What are the words of what has happened in the time in between?
In math you must equate the parentheses first before you can continue to solve the whole equation.
I am not good at math.
I do not tell Lynne about my week afterwards.
I leave and ride the subway forty minutes to another reading, to be in a familiar place, see a familiar face or two. It is lit inside with white string lights and red bulbs, mirrors. I see a friend and meet a new one, I think I see someone I know and someone I don't know so well. How well am I known? As the intermission ends I sneak out and head back to the train. On the platform I see someone who looks like someone who should not be here. Someone who could not. Would not.
I wonder, would I be here?
What would Lynne Tillman do?