Monday, December 29, 2008

The End of Mr. Payne

This morning a locksmith came to install new locks in our house, since it came with locks but no keys. In however many years the previous owner has been here, he'd never locked the place, and didn't know where the keys might be found. The locksmith, it turned out, was a fellow -- maybe 70? -- who'd lived close by all his life, and who'd known the house well in the past. It was occupied for decades by a Mr and Mrs Payne; Mr Payne's sister lived next door. Mr Payne developed Alzheimer's, and late in his life he wandered -- and here the locksmith gestured off toward the west -- "into the swamp." He wasn't found for four or five days, and of course he didn't survive.

Paul found this story just awful. I said, Well, maybe he didn't suffer so much, maybe he was just thirsty or cold. Maybe he didn't suffer existential dread. Paul said, Oh, I think they suffer existential dread. Clearly he was thinking of his mother, who has senile dementia, and doesn't seem to recognize anyone anymore.

But I am holding out for some alternative view, though I know it may be a romantic construct. Maybe the woods welcomed Mr Payne, and ushered him easily into a dark sleep. Maybe he liked going out into the liminal zone, land becoming water, and relinquishing himself to that. Roots and stones.

The Paynes, said the locksmith, worked hard all their lives, had no children, and scrimped and saved every penny. And for what? he said, laughing as he shuffled off.

And then in a few minutes I had to go running out to chase him, as I realized he'd put in the shining new locks but forgotten to give me the keys.

7 comments:

emilie said...

Dear Mark Doty, I have been reading and loving your writing for years---it has ushered me through some difficult times and accompanied the beautiful times---it's very exciting to find your blog.

I am a writer, and people warn me that my blog might distract (pull energy from) from my "real" writing. I wonder if this worries you, hope not.

(www.theflametree.typepad.com --moments of a life in Nairobi where we lived until July, but now struggling with a mild blog-identity crisis in nyc)

So thank you again, you are an inspiration and beyond.

Mark Doty said...

Thanks, Emilie, much appreciated! I haven't been blogging all that long, so we'll see. Just now I am thinking of it as a form of keeping a notebook -- a more polished one, of course, than I'd do for myself, but that's a good thing. It pushes me to set down impressions and events and meditations in a sort of loose diary way. And we can always re-use anything we put down here in different forms, yes?

emilie said...

Yes. I love the immediate reader---the real live, immediate reader---who forces me to write those notebook entries to a higher realm. & as proof of new life (different forms), I'm working on a book now in which past blog posts keep inserting themselves. It's something like levitation---quite effortless, and feels like cheating. But I love it.

Happy New Year, and best of everything for 2009!

Peter said...

Mark: What a lovely story.
I too can imagine wandering off into the woods as a comforting way to go. It's not far-fetched at all.

Howard C. Rubin said...

Hi Mark,

Something about keys and the dead...
After my father passed away, I found hundreds of keys, but no locks, no doors to open.

I am also reminded of Ginsberg's Kaddish and the quotation from his mom who cryptically said, "The key is in the window."

Mark Doty said...

Howard, when the locksmith left, he gave me the old lockset from the door. There's no key for it, which is why I had it changed, but it somehow seemed important to him to put the thing in a box and hand it over to me for safekeeping. What's to be done with all the unopenable locks, and all the keys unmatched to anything?
Imagine the vast scale of it. You're right, it's tied to death -- something about the state when the locks and keys cannot be aligned, and therefore don't matter.

Michelle said...

I like to think the woods welcomed Mr Payne, and ushered him easily into a dark sleep.