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3

HEARTBREAK: Terrific Mother

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terms
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notes

Moore, L. (2004). Terrific Mother. In Paris Review, T. The Paris Review Book: of Heartbreak, Madness, Sex, Love, Betrayal, Outsiders, Intoxication, War, Whimsy, Horrors, God, Death, Dinner, Baseball, Travels, ... Else in the World Since 1953. Picador, pp. 3-10

3

So when she was at the Spearsons’ Labor Day picnic, and when Sally Spearson had handed her the baby, Adrienne had burbled at it as she would a pet, had jostled the child gently, made clicking noises with her tongue, affectionately cooing, “Hello punkinhead, hello my little punkinhead,” had reached to shoo a fly away and, amidst the smells of old grass and the fatty crackle of the barbecue, lost her balance when the picnic bench, dowels rotting in the joints, wobbled and began to topple her—the bench! The wobbly picnic bench was toppling her! And when she fell backward, spraining her spine—in the slowed quickness of this flipping world she saw the clayey clouds, some frozen faces, one lone star like the nose of a jet—and when the baby’s head hit the stone retaining wall of the Spearsons’ newly terraced yard and bled fatally into the brain, Adrienne went home shortly thereafter, after the hospital and the police reports, and did not leave her attic apartment for seven months, and there were fears, deep fears for her, on the part of Martin Porter, the man she had been dating, and on the part of almost everyone, including Sally Spearson who phoned tearfully to say that she forgave her, that Adrienne might never come out.

god

—p.3 by Lorrie Moore 1 month, 2 weeks ago

So when she was at the Spearsons’ Labor Day picnic, and when Sally Spearson had handed her the baby, Adrienne had burbled at it as she would a pet, had jostled the child gently, made clicking noises with her tongue, affectionately cooing, “Hello punkinhead, hello my little punkinhead,” had reached to shoo a fly away and, amidst the smells of old grass and the fatty crackle of the barbecue, lost her balance when the picnic bench, dowels rotting in the joints, wobbled and began to topple her—the bench! The wobbly picnic bench was toppling her! And when she fell backward, spraining her spine—in the slowed quickness of this flipping world she saw the clayey clouds, some frozen faces, one lone star like the nose of a jet—and when the baby’s head hit the stone retaining wall of the Spearsons’ newly terraced yard and bled fatally into the brain, Adrienne went home shortly thereafter, after the hospital and the police reports, and did not leave her attic apartment for seven months, and there were fears, deep fears for her, on the part of Martin Porter, the man she had been dating, and on the part of almost everyone, including Sally Spearson who phoned tearfully to say that she forgave her, that Adrienne might never come out.

god

—p.3 by Lorrie Moore 1 month, 2 weeks ago
7

“Spider trouvé,” she said. “A delicate, aboriginal dish.” Martin let out a howling laugh that alarmed her. She looked at him, then looked down at her shoes. He needed her. Tomorrow she would have to go down into town and find a pair of sexy Italian sandals that showed the cleavage of her toes. She would have to take him dancing. They would have to hold each other and lead each other back to love or they’d go nuts here. They’d grow mocking and arch and violent. One of them would stick a foot out, and the other would trip. That sort of thing.

—p.7 by Lorrie Moore 1 month, 2 weeks ago

“Spider trouvé,” she said. “A delicate, aboriginal dish.” Martin let out a howling laugh that alarmed her. She looked at him, then looked down at her shoes. He needed her. Tomorrow she would have to go down into town and find a pair of sexy Italian sandals that showed the cleavage of her toes. She would have to take him dancing. They would have to hold each other and lead each other back to love or they’d go nuts here. They’d grow mocking and arch and violent. One of them would stick a foot out, and the other would trip. That sort of thing.

—p.7 by Lorrie Moore 1 month, 2 weeks ago
8

For dessert Carlo was bringing in a white chocolate torte, and she decided to spend most of the coffee and dessert time talking about it. Desserts like these are born, not made, she would say. She was already practicing, rehearsing for courses. “I mean,” she said to the Swedish physicist on her left, “until today, my feeling about white chocolate, was: Why? What was the point? You might as well have been eating goddamn wax.” She had her elbow on the table, her hand up near her face, and she looked anxiously past the physicist to smile at Martin at the other end of the long table. She waved her fingers in the air like bug legs.
“Yes, of course,” said the physicist, frowning. “You must be—well, are you one of the spouses?”

god

—p.8 by Lorrie Moore 1 month, 2 weeks ago

For dessert Carlo was bringing in a white chocolate torte, and she decided to spend most of the coffee and dessert time talking about it. Desserts like these are born, not made, she would say. She was already practicing, rehearsing for courses. “I mean,” she said to the Swedish physicist on her left, “until today, my feeling about white chocolate, was: Why? What was the point? You might as well have been eating goddamn wax.” She had her elbow on the table, her hand up near her face, and she looked anxiously past the physicist to smile at Martin at the other end of the long table. She waved her fingers in the air like bug legs.
“Yes, of course,” said the physicist, frowning. “You must be—well, are you one of the spouses?”

god

—p.8 by Lorrie Moore 1 month, 2 weeks ago
9

“Munich,” said the woman. “Land of Oktoberfest.” She dug into her food in an exasperated way then turned back toward Adrienne to smile a little formally. “I grew up watching all these grown people in green felt throwing up in the street.”

Adrienne smiled back. This was how she would learn about the world, in sentences at meals; other people’s distillations amidst her own vague pain, dumb with itself. This, for her, would be knowledge—a shifting to hear, an emptying of her arms, other people’s experiences walking through the bare rooms of her brain, looking for a place to sit.

—p.9 by Lorrie Moore 1 month, 2 weeks ago

“Munich,” said the woman. “Land of Oktoberfest.” She dug into her food in an exasperated way then turned back toward Adrienne to smile a little formally. “I grew up watching all these grown people in green felt throwing up in the street.”

Adrienne smiled back. This was how she would learn about the world, in sentences at meals; other people’s distillations amidst her own vague pain, dumb with itself. This, for her, would be knowledge—a shifting to hear, an emptying of her arms, other people’s experiences walking through the bare rooms of her brain, looking for a place to sit.

—p.9 by Lorrie Moore 1 month, 2 weeks ago
12

“He was a beautiful child, didn’t you think?” In bed Martin held her until he rolled away, clasped her hand and fell asleep. At least there was that: a husband sleeping next to a wife, a nice husband sleeping close. It meant something to her. She could see how through the years it would gather power, its socially sanctioned animal comfort, its night life a dreamy dance about love. She lay awake and remembered when her father had at last grown so senile and ill that her mother could no longer sleep in the same bed with him—the mess, the smell—and had had to move him, diapered and rank, to the guest room next door. Her mother had cried, to say this farewell to a husband. To at last lose him like this, banished and set aside like a dead man, never to sleep with him again: she had wept like a baby. His actual death she took less hard. At the funeral she was grim and dry and invited everyone over for a quiet, elegant tea. By the time two years had passed, and she herself was diagnosed with cancer, her sense of humor had returned a little. “The silent killer,” she would say, with a wink. “The silent killer.” She got a kick out of repeating it, though no one knew what to say in response, and at the very end she kept clutching the nurses’ hems to ask, “Why is no one visiting me?” No one lived that close, explained Adrienne. No one lived that close to anyone.

—p.12 by Lorrie Moore 1 month, 2 weeks ago

“He was a beautiful child, didn’t you think?” In bed Martin held her until he rolled away, clasped her hand and fell asleep. At least there was that: a husband sleeping next to a wife, a nice husband sleeping close. It meant something to her. She could see how through the years it would gather power, its socially sanctioned animal comfort, its night life a dreamy dance about love. She lay awake and remembered when her father had at last grown so senile and ill that her mother could no longer sleep in the same bed with him—the mess, the smell—and had had to move him, diapered and rank, to the guest room next door. Her mother had cried, to say this farewell to a husband. To at last lose him like this, banished and set aside like a dead man, never to sleep with him again: she had wept like a baby. His actual death she took less hard. At the funeral she was grim and dry and invited everyone over for a quiet, elegant tea. By the time two years had passed, and she herself was diagnosed with cancer, her sense of humor had returned a little. “The silent killer,” she would say, with a wink. “The silent killer.” She got a kick out of repeating it, though no one knew what to say in response, and at the very end she kept clutching the nurses’ hems to ask, “Why is no one visiting me?” No one lived that close, explained Adrienne. No one lived that close to anyone.

—p.12 by Lorrie Moore 1 month, 2 weeks ago
13

The geologist smirked a little at the risotto, waiting for Adrienne to say something more, but she was now watching Martin at the other table. He was sitting next to the sociologist she’d sat next to the previous night, and as Adrienne watched she saw Martin glance, in a sickened way, from the sociologist, back to his plate, then back to the sociologist. “The cook?” he said loudly, then dropped his fork and pushed his chair from the table.

The sociologist was frowning. “You flunk,” she said.

nice

—p.13 by Lorrie Moore 1 month, 2 weeks ago

The geologist smirked a little at the risotto, waiting for Adrienne to say something more, but she was now watching Martin at the other table. He was sitting next to the sociologist she’d sat next to the previous night, and as Adrienne watched she saw Martin glance, in a sickened way, from the sociologist, back to his plate, then back to the sociologist. “The cook?” he said loudly, then dropped his fork and pushed his chair from the table.

The sociologist was frowning. “You flunk,” she said.

nice

—p.13 by Lorrie Moore 1 month, 2 weeks ago
17

Ilke began to massage sandalwood oil into Adrienne’s arms, pressing down, polishing, ironing, looking, at a quick glimpse, like one of Degas’s laundresses. Adrienne shut her eyes again and listened to the music, which had switched from synthetic lullabies to the contrapuntal sounds of a flute and a thunderstorm. With these hands upon her, she felt a little forgiven and began to think generally of forgiveness, how much of it was required in life: to forgive everyone, yourself, the people you loved, and then wait to be forgiven by them. Where was all this forgiveness supposed to come from? Where was this great inexhaustible supply?

—p.17 by Lorrie Moore 1 month, 2 weeks ago

Ilke began to massage sandalwood oil into Adrienne’s arms, pressing down, polishing, ironing, looking, at a quick glimpse, like one of Degas’s laundresses. Adrienne shut her eyes again and listened to the music, which had switched from synthetic lullabies to the contrapuntal sounds of a flute and a thunderstorm. With these hands upon her, she felt a little forgiven and began to think generally of forgiveness, how much of it was required in life: to forgive everyone, yourself, the people you loved, and then wait to be forgiven by them. Where was all this forgiveness supposed to come from? Where was this great inexhaustible supply?

—p.17 by Lorrie Moore 1 month, 2 weeks ago

(adverb or adjective) in a diagonal or oblique position

18

she was seated near Martin, who was catercorner to her left

—p.18 by Lorrie Moore
notable
1 month, 2 weeks ago

she was seated near Martin, who was catercorner to her left

—p.18 by Lorrie Moore
notable
1 month, 2 weeks ago
20

Adrienne breathed deeply, in and out. “I killed a baby,” she whispered.

“Yes, we have all killed a baby—there is a baby in all of us. That is why people come to me, to be reunited with it.”

“No, I’ve killed a real one.”

Ilke was very quiet and then she said, “You can do the side-lying now. You can put this pillow under your head; this other one between your knees.” Adrienne rolled awkwardly onto her side. Finally Ilke said, “This country, its pope, its church, makes murderers of women. You must not let it do that to you. Move back toward me. That’s it.”

That’s not it, thought Adrienne, in this temporary dissolve, seeing death and birth, seeing the beginning and then the end, how they were the same quiet black, same nothing ever after: everyone’s life appeared in the world like a movie in a room. First dark, then light, then dark again. But it was all staggered so that somewhere there was always light.

That’s not it. That’s not it, she thought. But thank you.

—p.20 by Lorrie Moore 1 month, 2 weeks ago

Adrienne breathed deeply, in and out. “I killed a baby,” she whispered.

“Yes, we have all killed a baby—there is a baby in all of us. That is why people come to me, to be reunited with it.”

“No, I’ve killed a real one.”

Ilke was very quiet and then she said, “You can do the side-lying now. You can put this pillow under your head; this other one between your knees.” Adrienne rolled awkwardly onto her side. Finally Ilke said, “This country, its pope, its church, makes murderers of women. You must not let it do that to you. Move back toward me. That’s it.”

That’s not it, thought Adrienne, in this temporary dissolve, seeing death and birth, seeing the beginning and then the end, how they were the same quiet black, same nothing ever after: everyone’s life appeared in the world like a movie in a room. First dark, then light, then dark again. But it was all staggered so that somewhere there was always light.

That’s not it. That’s not it, she thought. But thank you.

—p.20 by Lorrie Moore 1 month, 2 weeks ago
30

And the more Adrienne thought about it, about the poor bereaved Spearsons, and about Martin and all the ways he tried to show her he was on her side, whatever that meant, how it was both the hope and shame of him that he was always doing his best, the more she felt foolish, deprived of reasons. Her rage flapped awkwardly away like a duck. She felt as she had when her cold, fierce parents had at last grown sick and old, stick boned and saggy, protected by infirmity the way cuteness protected a baby, or should, it should protect a baby, and she had been left with her rage—vestigial girlhood rage—inappropriate and intact. She would hug her parents good-bye, the gentle, emptied sacks of them, and think, where did you go?

Time, Adrienne thought. What a racket.

—p.30 by Lorrie Moore 1 month, 2 weeks ago

And the more Adrienne thought about it, about the poor bereaved Spearsons, and about Martin and all the ways he tried to show her he was on her side, whatever that meant, how it was both the hope and shame of him that he was always doing his best, the more she felt foolish, deprived of reasons. Her rage flapped awkwardly away like a duck. She felt as she had when her cold, fierce parents had at last grown sick and old, stick boned and saggy, protected by infirmity the way cuteness protected a baby, or should, it should protect a baby, and she had been left with her rage—vestigial girlhood rage—inappropriate and intact. She would hug her parents good-bye, the gentle, emptied sacks of them, and think, where did you go?

Time, Adrienne thought. What a racket.

—p.30 by Lorrie Moore 1 month, 2 weeks ago
30

“You bought the Spearsons a new picnic bench?”

“Yes, I did.”

She thought about this. “Didn’t they think you were being hostile?”

“Oh … I think, yes, they probably thought it was hostile.”

so funny

—p.30 by Lorrie Moore 1 month, 2 weeks ago

“You bought the Spearsons a new picnic bench?”

“Yes, I did.”

She thought about this. “Didn’t they think you were being hostile?”

“Oh … I think, yes, they probably thought it was hostile.”

so funny

—p.30 by Lorrie Moore 1 month, 2 weeks ago
31

“We are with each other now,” Martin was saying. “And in the different ways it means, we must try to make a life.”

Out over the Sfondrata chapel tower, where the fog had broken, she thought she saw a single star, like the distant nose of a jet; there were people in the clayey clouds. She turned, and for a moment it seemed they were all there in Martin’s eyes, all the absolving dead in residence in his face, the angel of the dead baby shining like a blazing creature, and she went to him, to protect and encircle him, seeking the heart’s best trick, oh, terrific heart. “Please, forgive me,” she said.

And he whispered, “Of course. It is the only thing. Of course.”

—p.31 by Lorrie Moore 1 month, 2 weeks ago

“We are with each other now,” Martin was saying. “And in the different ways it means, we must try to make a life.”

Out over the Sfondrata chapel tower, where the fog had broken, she thought she saw a single star, like the distant nose of a jet; there were people in the clayey clouds. She turned, and for a moment it seemed they were all there in Martin’s eyes, all the absolving dead in residence in his face, the angel of the dead baby shining like a blazing creature, and she went to him, to protect and encircle him, seeking the heart’s best trick, oh, terrific heart. “Please, forgive me,” she said.

And he whispered, “Of course. It is the only thing. Of course.”

—p.31 by Lorrie Moore 1 month, 2 weeks ago