Recently, I made prolonged eye contact with an old woman whose mouth looked like a pale dried apricot. She looked at me and I at her, and something passed between us. Her Scrooge mouth seemed poised to instruct me on the proper way to clean a sponge or how not to slam the front door late at night after others have gone to bed. But wait … I have said those things. Recently. Does that make me a cranky British dame? Is it only a matter of time until my mouth begins to pucker from chronic disapproval? Have I already become so settled here in Cambridge that the old woman and I didn’t merely stare at one another, but shared a moment of quiet recognition?
A few years ago, when I was a high school teacher, I hoped my students would remember two things: 1) high school is about learning to live with other people, even though they’re mostly jerks, and 2) glimmer hunt whenever you can. That is, when things have become routine and boring, start looking for something pleasantly peculiar—the little things you might notice on your first day visiting a new place. Mirthful winks to reorient the bleak hours of high school, or graduate school. Little ways to prevent, as Hawthorne says, thought growing moldy.
In the library these days, I listen to a melody of coughing and sneezing that sounds like gravel in a blender. My immediate response is to yell across the atrium, Cover your mouth! or Sneeze into your elbow! But I remain silent, repeating the wise words of Marianne Moore: “It is a privilege to see [or hear] so much confusion.” I set myself on a glimmer hunt, looking for a nose drip that sparkles in the late-afternoon light. I must not become apricot-mouthed so soon.
Reader’s Note: This marks the last entry from “Along the River Cam.” Read the entire series here.
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