This is a scene I wanted to include in My Memories of a Future Life. Briefly, the narrator is a musician who is injured, and is clinging to the hope that rest will cure her. In the early part of the novel she is making bargains with fate—if she rests, the universe will give her back her playing and her life.
I didn’t want to delete this from the book, but I had other scenes that made the same point. When I’m in final revisions I cut ruthlessly. I frequently ditch material that is perfectly good, and that includes scenes that I’m in love with. It takes discipline and soul-searching, but by that stage the story has a will of its own that overrides my ego. It doesn’t listen to me wail that I liked a scene. It is ruled by an overall rhythm of event, event, event; onwards, onwards, onwards. If a scene circles over already trodden ground, something must go.
So this is a scene I cut reluctantly. I liked its simplicity, the tiny slice it showed of a musician’s life and the totemic responsibility Carol put into one garment. In real life it was inspired by a family heirloom—another tug for the heartstrings, although that matters to no one but me. Even though it didn’t make it to the page, I like to think she still did it, off screen in the moments we didn’t see.
The house was quiet. On the coat rack next to the door was a dress in dry-cleaner’s wrappers. A Post-it note was stuck to the cellophane, scrawled with Jerry’s flamboyant script.
Picked this up for you. The dry cleaners were about to give it to Oxfam.
The dress was black velvet, three-quarter length. A performance dress. Classical musicians have a bizarre working wardrobe; you wear what you like for rehearsals, but performances demand formal wear. For the women it had to be black, with a modest neckline, a skirt at least nine inches below the knee. It was a constant battle to find clothes that obeyed those rules and weren’t funereal.
I’d found this dress in Camden Lock market three weeks ago. I wouldn’t have been there if I’d been playing, but I was out roaming London on another tour of nothing. The dress was on a rail between pseudo-Victorian nightgowns and mangy fur tippets. It was unloved—the seam split on one side; the other side fastened only by ancient press studs which left an alarming glimpse of flesh underneath. But the other seams were tough enough for a performance. The velvet was silk and the pile so fine it hung from my shoulders like liquid. I took it to the cleaners and discussed repairing it and putting in a zip. They warned me it would take a few weeks. That was fine, I said.
I left it there. It would count the days for me. I imagined picking it up on my way back from the hospital and carrying it over the threshold. I’d try it on; we’d nod at each other in the mirror. New start.
Now I didn’t even lift the cellophane to see if they’d done a good job. I threw it straight in the wardrobe and shut the door.
Thanks for the pic doctoring Terre Britton at The Creative Flux/Terrabyte.
Find the novel here. Read the first page here. Try the page 99 test here.
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