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How Did It Come?

The radio was on as usual. For a second she stood by the window and watched the people inside. The bald-headed man and the gray-haired lady were playing cards at a table. Mick sat on the ground. This was a very fine and secret place. Close around were thick cedars so that she was completely hidden by herself. The radio was no good tonight — somebody sang popular songs that all ended in the same way. It was like she was empty. She reached in her pockets and felt around with her fingers. There were raisins and a buckeye and a string of beads — one cigarette with matches. She lighted the cigarette and put her arms around her knees. It was like she was so empty there wasn’t even a feeling or thought in her.

One program came on after another, and all of them were punk. She didn’t especially care. She smoked and picked a little bunch of grass blades. After a while a new announcer started talking. He mentioned Beethoven. She had read in the library about that musician — his name was pronounced with an a and spelled with double e. He was a German fellow like Mozart. When he was living he spoke in a foreign language and lived in a foreign place — like she wanted to do. The announcer said they were going to play his third symphony. She only halfway listened because she wanted to walk some more and she didn’t care much what they played. Then the music started. Mick raised her head and her fist went up to her throat.

How did it come? For a minute the opening balanced from one side to the other. Like a walk or march. Like God strutting in the night. The outside of her was suddenly froze and only that first part of the music was hot inside her heart. She could not even hear what sounded after, but she sat there waiting and froze, with her fists tight. After a while the music came again, harder and loud. It didn’t have anything to do with God. This was her, Mick Kelly, walking in the day-time and by herself at night. In the hot sun and in the dark with all the plans and feelings. This music was her — the real plain her.

She could not listen good enough to hear it all. The music boiled inside her. Which? To hang on to certain wonderful parts and think them over so that later she would not forget — or should she let go and listen to each part that came without thinking or trying to remember? Golly! The whole world was this music and she could not listen hard enough. Then at last the opening music came again, with all the different instruments bunched together for each note like a hard, tight fist that socked at her heart. And the first part was over.

This music did not take a long time or a short time. It did not have anything to do with time going by at all. She sat with her arms held tight around her legs, biting her salty knee very hard. It might have been five minutes she listened or half the night. The second part was black-colored — a slow march. Not sad, but like the whole world was dead and black and there was no use thinking back how it was before. One of those horn kind of instruments played a sad and silver tune. Then the music rose up angry and with excitement underneath. And finally the black march again.

But maybe the last part of the symphony was the music she loved the best — glad and like the greatest people in the world running and springing up in a hard, free way. Wonderful music like this was the worst hurt there could be. The whole world was this symphony and there was not enough of her to listen.

Carson McCullers
The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter

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4 thoughts on “How Did It Come?

  1. I have a horrible feeling I don’t know the third symphony at all.
    But blessings on you for reading old Carson. God she was a magician and a half. I was looking for my copy of Hunter the other day – I think my sister must have it. Must chase her up!!

    • Absolutely; her work — re-reading what I had previously read, and reading what I hadn’t — has been one of the highlights of my year. “Clock Without Hands” in particular was new to me and deserves to be much more widely read than it is.

      Probably my fondness for the passage I quoted here — aside from the terrific quality of the writing — has to do with some concert-going earlier in the year, when I heard the MSO perform Beethoven’s third (Eroica) at the Hamer Hall. That was probably back in May or thereabouts, so of course it had slipped out of my mind by the end of the year; but that passage brought it right back in an instant. It’s a pitch-perfect articulation of the senses conveyed by that music. I especially love this bit: “The music boiled inside her. Which?” You can just feel the symphony overwhelming her so much that she can’t even piece together a full sentence for fear of missing a single note.

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