In the Stream

Those who would like to write a stream of consciousness novel will find many well-tried devices of the technique in this example from MARGARET TANNER, a native New Yorker who now makes her home in Monmouth Beach, New Jersey.


SHE knew from the very beginning what it was she had to do (had to do? she asked herself wryly) . . . wondering whether the beginning had not really been the end; and all that talk of Martha’s (she must speak to Shelley about Martha) only strengthened her will, though — as Robert once observed dryly — that too was in a class with those “other things” which didn’t bear thinking about.

It was quiet there in the garden, with the kind of brooding watchfulness which used to give Lydia (poor, frightened Lydia) the creeps. What an odd name for a canary, she thought idly . . . Lydia.

Once you got used to it, she told herself sternly, it was all right. At least as right as anything could be, with the housekeeper looking grim and Jarvis padding around with a doleful air, as though it were he, after all, and not Compton, who would have to explain.

“Never go back,” the wind seemed to sigh, and she echoed it in her heart, even while her feet (those absurd little feet which Robert used to compare whimsically to Daphne’s, before Daphne, too, did the unexpected, though of course the inevitable thing ... a thing which was forever after referred to as “the thing”) began to wend their way toward the pool, as though impelled by some force stronger than themselves.

She had but to think of yesterday (what was it Chris had said of yesterday? . . . that it was only — with a crooked little smile — tomorrow turned inside out) and the answer, clear and cool as Marsha’s eyes, eluded her.

“I won’t think of it at all,” she said firmly, too firmly when she considered the piece of eggshell lying so suggestively, so almost obscenely, near the egg beater. That had been a masterful touch, the egg beater — one which would have delighted Clifton . . . at least in those blessed intervals when he was Clifton, and not — as he himself would be the first to deny — someone else.

Little fragments of a French song came to mind, and she remembered with a tiny moistening of the eye the concierge bringing the buttered croissants, or — her French had always been execrable — was it the other way around?

Where had she gone wrong, she asked herself for the hundredth time, as she reviewed the events of that tragic summer . . . and which could she follow, out of the welter of seemingly trivial clues? . . . the turnip which Kent had insisted — rather tiresomely — was a dried head? . . . the smell of liquor on Lucy’s breath, when they found her near the whisky bottle? . . . the box of candles cryptically labeled: Enriched with Arsenic? . . . and, most maddeningly mysterious of all, the man with the light blue eye, who was forever peeping at her through the blinds when she was in her bath.

“Little things, but they add up,” she whispered . . . little parts of a cunning mosaic, as ageless as tears: the sterile stars . . . the spent teabag . . . the ridiculously dry Martini . . . the empty box of cleansing tissues.

What was it Robert had said? . . . but no matter. It was the way he said it, and her answer — so unexpected — had left him stunned but puzzled.

“That’s as may be,” she had replied— and even the Bishop (if it came to that, especially the Bishop) turned to look at her, his kind old eyes filled with hate.

Slowly, as in a dream, she rose, a sudden radiance in her face. “I know the answer now,” she murmured, as she went up the curving driveway, the moon — like a spent banana — only partially illumining her path.