Looking Back


I took a deep breath, clutched my to-do list, and dove in. There was no way that I could get through it all.

And then there were the troubled students, and troubled family, and the tyranny of the mundane, day after day.

And then AERA.

And then back home to start a new quarter.

I got through my first class, came home, and crashed.

Coughing loud enough to wake the neighbors, shivering under piles of blankets. Sicker than I’ve been in years.

So between naps, I’ve been reading some fiction, and came upon this from Kate Atkinson’s One Good Turn:

In 1995, he remembered the year, remembered the moment, he had been at home in Cambridge, when his wife was still his wife, not an ex, and she was hugely pregnant with Marlee (Jackson imagined their baby tightly packed like the heart of a cabbage inside his wife), and Jackson was washing up after dinner (when he still called it “tea” before his language was buffed into something more middle-class and southern by his wife). They ate early at the end of her pregnancy, any later and she was too full to sleep, so while he washed the pots and listened to the Six O’Clock News on Radio 4, and somewhere in the middle of that night’s bulletin they announced the closure of the pit his father had worked in all his life. Jackson couldn’t remember why that pit had made the news when so many had closed by then with so little fuss, perhaps because it had been one of the largest coalfields in the area, perhaps because it was the last working mine in the region, but whatever, he stood with a soapy plate in his hand and listened to the newsreader, and without any warning the tears had started. He wasn’t even sure why — for everything that had gone, he supposed. For the path he hadn’t taken, for a world he’d never lived in. “Why are you crying” Josie asked, lumbering into the kitchen, she could hardly get through the door by that stage. That was when she cared about everything he experienced. “Fucking Thatcher,” he said, shrugging it off in a masculine way, making it political, not personal, although in this case there was no difference.

And then they got a baby and a dishwasher, and Jackson continued on and didn’t think again for a long time about the path he hadn’t chosen, a way of life that never had been, yet that didn’t stop him from aching for it in some confused place in his soul.

Atkinson, Kate. (2006). One Good Turn. New York: Back Bay Books/Little Brown and Company. p. 248.

2 thoughts on “Looking Back

  1. Jeanne April 8, 2008 / 9:34 pm

    What a beautiful piece. Thanks for sharing it. I assume you did so because you’ve experienced (or experience) a similar ache?

    I have. It’s happened when I hear a certain kind of old-time country music. Or when I smell diesel fuel. Or when someone calls a formal couch a “davenport.” I long for a place and people I know would never get me personally or politically, and whom I don’t fully understand.

    I’m adding One Good Turn to my book list and look forward to reading it.


  2. stephanie jones April 24, 2008 / 10:53 am

    This post, again, makes me realize the significant role fiction might play in teacher preparation. While I find comfort in the familiarity of many literary themes in working-class and class mobility fictions – and often turn to them myself when lying in bed sick – the nuanced complexities offered up in class-conscious literature could be rich with opportunities for tough discussions.

    Thanks Jane. This is nice.


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