‘Twas the Night Before: Chapters 2 and 3: The Rest of…the Date
We are back to the present, back to Tom and Noella sharing a booth at Round-the-Clock. It’s Black Friday and well into the evening and a blizzard has brought Chicago to a standstill, but this has not stopped our intrepid “heroes” from enjoying their weekly ritual.
Part of this ritual is Noella ordering Tom to read his column to her.
“I know you’ve got the copy on you. Let me hear it.” [Noella demanded]
Back in February she had wept the first time he read her one of his columns–his idea that time. No one could read a piece of writing better than the writer himself. If for some reason he had needed to make it seem her idea each time since, it was worth it.
See? He wants me to order him around like a child! It makes him happy, that’s why I do it!
That’s an odd bit, too, about the writer being the best reader of his work. Does Noella, a communications Ph.D., really think that? Because I have heard plenty of audiobooks and I can tell you, sometimes other people (like oh, say, professional readers) are better at performing than the author. (Jenkins, btw, does not read his own books for the audio versions.)
Here I will grace you with some of Tom Douten’s actual writing:
“If this blizzard depresses you as much as it does me, put yourself in the place of this year’s first caller to the Mayor’s Emergency Cold Line. LaShawna Jackson’s two-room flat, four-tenths of a mile west of the festive United Center on Madison, is home to her and her four children under seven…”
Tom paused while Rita warmed their drinks, and when he finished, Noella’s hands were deep in her pockets, her shoulders hunched against the chill–not from the restaurant but from the Jackson flat. In just a few hundred words she had been there. She knew the woman’s name, her situation, her children, their names, their ages, and something each had said about the snow and cold–innocent, naive things that made you want to give them your own parka.
Tom’s column included the news that Cold Line personnel had responded. “Most of us,” he concluded, “have twice the heat, not to mention luxuries, we need. None of our neighbors should go to bed hungry. Certainly, none should sleep in the cold.”
Okay, so the ending of the column is trite, but the opening isn’t bad. And honestly, I think Jenkins is handling this in a pretty clever way. It’s hard to write about a writer without including at least a bit of his writing. This piece exemplifies what Tom likes to write about (the poor of Chicago), and the ending, trite though it is, showcases his inner sensitivity and sense of justice, for all he has the reputation of “cynic.”
Noella’s chocolate grew cold. “I don’t know how you do it,” she managed to say. “I would have written something about the beautiful snow or the uplifting season. The tragedy in my story would have been going to a party and being caught away from home in nice shoes and without boots.”
Noella, meanwhile, exemplifies her
sweetness and innocence snobbishness and self-involvement.
Oh, and speaking of having no boots, the next thing she wants (because frankly, it’s always something with this girl) is for Tom to take her for a walk outside. In the blizzard.
Noella sighed. “Thomas, you know I’m going to win this one…”
Is there ever any “one” that Noella doesn’t win???
“…so why don’t you just get your coat on?”
“I’m not even wearing boots.”
Oh, please, like your comfort is going to get in the way of what she wants, Tom.
“I’m not talking about crossing Siberia to the gulag,” she said. “We’ll stick to cleared sidewalks, and I promised not to keep you out past your bedtime.”
Let me just patronize you a bit, honey.
Oh, and I have my doubts that any sidewalks have been cleared yet. I’m a Midwesterner, and sidewalk-plowing generally takes place some hours after a blizzard.
It was against his nature to cave. “I’ll sweeten the deal,” she said. “I’ll let you hold my hand. I might even let you put your arm around me.”
Tom: But we could do that here in the warm restaurant…
Noella: YOU WILL SPEAK WHEN SPOKEN TO, SLAVE!
He sighed. “Lead on.”
Aw, love. Wish I had a relationship like that.
During their blizzard date, Noella also shows Tom her favorite possession: a Christmas necklace she wears for the entire holiday season every year. It appears to be made of platinum, has a Christmas tree cut out of it, and says “Forever And” on the front and “December 24, 1965” on the back. It was a gift from “Santa” in 1975, and Noella’s parents didn’t like it (both denied giving it to her).
In fact, Noella’s mother disliked the thing so much that she Accidentally On Purpose threw it away shortly thereafter, though Noella got it back. According to Noella, her mother was “cruel and thoughtless” and the incident caused their relationship to be “strained” for TWO YEARS.
And longer than that. Noella goes home that night (Alone, of course. Noella and Tom may be engaged, but they’re not having any sleepovers, dammit!), thinks about the incident, and is so upset by the memory that she can’t sleep.
I’m glad Noella has such maturity and perspective. She knows that there are important things to get upset about, like your mother trying to throw something away, and unimportant things, like your father telling you that he hates you and wishes you were dead.
Hmm, what was that advice you gave Tom, Noella? Something about “leaving the past behind,” “accepting” people as they are and not “harboring bitterness,” wasn’t it?