The Frightened Taxi

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JOINING CHARLES by Elizabeth Bowen

“‘Either I am dreaming,’ she thought, ‘or someone is dreaming me.’”

As if imagining yourself in a picture, and, with the stated omniscience of a cat called Polyphemus that scared her, this is Mrs Charles (married to a man called Charles currently setting up a home for them both in France where he has a business), a small woman anxious with explicit ‘night fears’ during her sleep (even a dream about England slipping away not the ship she was due to board)  before the morning of her travelling to France to join Charles, with all the luggage already labelled downstairs. Now the morning is here, and after what she expected to be a “spectral breakfast”, she is nervously saying goodbye to his three sisters, one of them somehow eager to have Charles’s children as her own babies via Mrs Charles — and his mother. And they all mother her. They have been treating her like a child herself. The poignancy is not in the night fears of forthcoming travel into a new life but the fear of not loving her husband? The point of departure ever unfulfilled even at the end.

“Being listened for with such concentration must have frightened the taxi, for it didn’t declare itself; there was not a sound to be heard on the road.”

Many tantalising emotions and interactions leading up to the story’s ending as she departs without us being allowed to see the taxi go. And that picture is like a co-vivid dream : “They stood like two figures in a picture, without understanding, created to face one another.” Whoever painted it or wrote it into words, as here, was the ‘third’ as convening force. And tantalised by  another  of Bowen’s shadow-meaning in threesomes…

“…the three blackbirds hopping about on it. The blackbirds made her know all at once what it meant to be going away; she felt as though someone had stabbed her a long time ago but she were only just feeling the knife.”

***

My endless departure into the Bowen stories started here: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2021/10/05/the-collected-stories-of-elizabeth-bowen/

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