By Thomas McGonigle
“and the party will go on for a thousand years,” he was saying
Every year in March there is a St. Patrick’s Day Party on West 11th Street.
Rarely is it on the actual day, March 17th but it does happen, though not this year when it happened on March 11th.
The event was scheduled to start at 1pm in a five-room apartment on the fourth floor. Most of the party occurs in the front sitting room, living room, or family room, as there has never been an agreement what to call this very sunny room overlooking a school yard, though because it is on the fourth floor one does not have any sweeping views of Manhattan, yet the sense of space created by the open large school yard that fronts on Greenwich Avenue gives a pleasant aspect to this room. The windows are blocked for the most part by plants and hanging things—at the moment too complicated to explain—so no one is able to stand at the window and look down or out to the beyond.
Half of the people in the room stand or sit with their backs to the windows and the other half (conscious usually of at least the sky behind the people in front of them and sometimes if one is standing, one can see slivers of buildings seemingly very far away between the hanging things in front of the windows and the bodies of the people who, of course, crowd this room not continuously) much of the party seated people are often standing up to let another pass, or they are standing to move to what might seem like a better seat, or to have a conversation, or to be left alone for a moment from the burden of conversation as sometimes the difficulty of talking with one of the people seen only once during the year and then only at these parties, but since the party only happens once a year, the moment the conversation moves in the direction of going beyond the recent past into either the hopes for the future, or as is more likely, further back into the possibly shared history, a lurch that can bring with it difficulties … as one turns as if to head back into the apartment from this viewing room one is aware of a long corridor with closets along the left side and on the right, one passes a darkened room that is known to be the host’s bedroom, then the toilet, then a second bedroom which was most recently occupied by the son of the host and just before we leave the corridor we are aware of a door to our left that leads to the outside as there are locks along the left side of the door and many pictures of other things and people we are familiar with as we have seen them in other photographs on the walls, taken at many stages of what can only be called The Life, though while the background of these photographs can often identify the occasion of the photo, many are without such distinctions so the viewer is only aware of the movement of time that moves at random via these photographs on the walls and other surfaces in the rooms as there is no chronological order to the photographs, though it is true that some of the color photographs reveal their age by the evident chemical changes that attach to the color photographs in a hardly uniform fashion yet marking them as definitely being from a past further back than some of the other color pictures while at the same time there are black and white snapshots as they were called, usually much smaller than the 3×4 or the 4×6 which seem to be the most common dimensions of what then must be thought of as more recent when compared to these surely older pictures from a time when picture taking was a much more expensive procedure and usually involved a taking of pictures and when as was said, the roll is full, taking that roll to a photo place to be developed and being given a receipt and an appointed time to pick up the photographs… however these reflections are a consequence of the vast number of pictures in the apartment and do nothing to really describe what one is seeing but we have continued into another room which is designated as the dining room and will contain as it usually does a very large table covered with various foods.
In the corner right in front as I am entering, I see the “china cabinet” that has been moved from Brooklyn, to Patchogue, to Menasha, to Saugerties to here on West 11th Street. A rectangular glass door fronted dark wood box that contains the china and the glasses that were given to our mother and father at their marriage. These dishes and glasses were only used on “special occasions.”
Against the wall to the left is a piano that has not been played for a very long time… though that, too, was moved from Patchogue, to Menasha, to Saugerties, to here on 11th Street. It collects “stuff”—as in it has become a real junk collector—yet a place where recent reminders are propped up or little packages of this or that to be given to someone, taken to someone or to be brought to the post office—the top of the piano cannot be seen and even the top of the cover that is closed over the out-jutting keyboard serves to hold smaller objects that might easily get lost but which in turn get lost in the haphazard heaping of too many of these things.
Once long ago it had been tuned and for a few times was played by someone my sister knew. It was her piano and she had taken lessons for a long time in Patchogue with a woman who lived over on a small street near the Sandspit—the piano was in the room behind the living room, but if one turned to the right one could see the street beyond the porch, and to the right an overgrown space of a sort of jungle, which if one made one’s way through, one would be at the Patchogue River, but I believe that my sister never gave herself to such possible adventures which came more naturally or maybe just came to me as I also had to take piano lessons when I was in sixth grade but never got beyond numbering the keys after the fingers which would touch them…combinations of 532…532…and variations on these numerals as I was incapable of even beginning to master the complicated musical notations on those peculiarly lined pages—as I thought of them—and the teacher did not bother to talk of such, but spent time talking about curving my fingers and tapping the keys and not pushing them… or dropping them like so many uncooked hotdogs as she called them, these my fingers… and to keep my feet off the pedals at the base of the piano… but like many things those lessons ended for me after a few months of once-a-week and I think they went on for a much longer period of time for my sister as for the longest time in the bench on which one sat to play the piano the drawer under the lifted up cover of the bench there was a collection of musical pieces—that in truth never appeared when I took lessons—but I assume my sister had used them and worked her way through book after book of these graded musical compositions which for the longest time were collected in the drawer under the seat of the bench on which she had sat, but then that also was long over before we had both left Patchogue… yet, the piano continued to be moved.
Turning to the right, away from the piano, one can see a doorway and what is obviously the kitchen beyond this room. Once upon a time a door must have isolated the kitchen but it has long been gone, gone before my sister moved into this apartment. On visits other than for the party, this room is never lit beyond the light coming from the windows that open on a space between the apartment building and the school next door. In its obscurity the kitchen is just that: a place where there is a refrigerator that does not properly close as the door to it has to be propped closed with a ten gallon pail of paint on the floor placed as tight as possible against the door. The door has never properly closed and being “too busy with stuff” my sister never complained to the store where she bought it and since the apartment is now owned by my sister and so she is responsible for everything and every condition in the apartment, the refrigerator is something she can live with if not perfectly, as at least it does its job, so one of these days…
The kitchen is small, not modernized as is now very common and the stove and sink are still there from when my sister and other roommates originally moved into this apartment—when it was an ad in the New York Times—now many years ago. There is a near intolerable amount of stuff piled up on the counter next to the sink and on a little table opposite the much soiled stove and on the floor a bit away from the front of the refrigerator bags of stuff to be re-cycled, to be disposed of or awaiting usage… while there are some illustrations taped to the little formerly exposed walls, but by now those scraps of whatever have faded from the assault of the various clouds emanating from the cooking over the years… but by now finally a reasonable person is ready for a drink and to the meeting of people, so reluctantly the full cataloging of the kitchen will await another time as will the memory of how at one point the kitchen had become so filthy my sister had stopped using it and relied on either delivered meals or eating out. Yet she did use the refrigerator in its various states of neglect as what was she supposed to do?
- That was back then. Times change and the whole list of clauses and phrases should be here to indicate the passage of time so we can be present with the first people arriving and we will soon be getting to them.
- Yet, we are still caught as if being iron filings drawn across the table by a magnet to again be looking at the public walls of the apartment: one must exclude my sister’s bed room as that door is pushed shut and held there by cascading “stuff” that seems never to arrange itself in proper piles, since as she says, sometimes, she just doesn’t have the time and more and more the space into which to sort the years of stuff that continues to collect even at a much diminished rate—but it is the walls with their photographs, drawings, paintings, scraps of newspaper and magazine clippings forming themselves into panels of hieroglyphics or of some other now “dead” language attached to walls in the British Museum, an allusion to beginning the providing of some sort of distance from which to view these rooms and at the same time we are in home of John Soane in London though that has acquired a reputation and … of course it is pretentious and a lie to go outside of these rooms here in Eleventh Street that within an obviously limited number of years: all of these walls will be scraped clean, many torn down and not a speck to remind anyone of what had been here before…
- Though for the moment these walls have always been here and will be for… but the sentences are more secure inside the recent past than of any step into the hours beyond putting these words into the world if to be read only by the person finding this apartment which has not occupied him for some time, though in fact it has been part of his life for more than forty years…
- Every public wall of the apartment is covered with photographs, drawings, paintings, objects of some sort of personal nature. No one escapes being aware of this aspect once having entered these rooms.
- In a few places are photographs both large and small of people from a long time ago and it can be assumed that these are relatives of the host and possibly of other former tenants of this apartment.
- What was to appear now is the beginning of a description of these walls and how they were covered, and I had walked from First Street to Eleventh Street with the intention of taking photographs of these walls and of the room in which they are bound. I had keys for the apartment but at the front door, after ringing the bell two times to be sure my sister was not in or had not loaned the apartment to a friend, I discovered that the front door lock must have been changed. A mother with two young children came to the door and I stepped away, allowing them to enter and not asking to be let in. I tried the keys again and I thought I might obviously be reported for attempting to gain entrance but I had not gained entrance so we can return to the next stage.
- I had not wanted to have to rely on my memory of the walls and the pictures I and so many others had seen as in the comment, your sister’s apartment is covered with pictures and this makes me at first uneasy and then very very sad.
Thomas McGonigle received a Bachelor of Arts degree from Beloit College in 1966. Four years later he earned his Master of Arts degree from Hollins College (nowadays Hollins University) and he also attended classes at Trinity College, Dublin. McGonigle is the author of three novels: The Corpse Dream of N. Petkov; Going to Patchogue; St. Patrick’s Day: another day in Dublin.
The Corpse Dream of N. Petkov was translated into Bulgarian and published by CIELA in Sofia in 2019. A shorter novel DIPYTCH BEFORE DYING to Newfoundland, to Mexico City was translated in Bulgarian and published in the “thick” journal, SUVREMENNIK (Contemporary) Sofia, 2020.
You can read his blog at: https://abcofreading.blogspot.co