Se­lected Days

Geist - - Geist - M.A.C. Far­rant

Vin­cent Van Gogh, Gertrude Stein, Dorothy Parker and an old wife When you reach the 208th day of the year it will be July 27. On this day in 1890, the painter Vin­cent Van Gogh shot him­self in the chest. He did this in one of the French wheat fields he fre­quently painted. He was thir­ty­seven years old and died two days later. His last words were, “The sad­ness will last for­ever.”

Also on this day, in 1946, the writer Gertrude Stein died in France while be­ing op­er­ated on for stom­ach can­cer. She was seventy-two. A year later, the Amer­i­can nov­el­ist Kather­ine Anne Porter, writ­ing in Harper’s mag­a­zine, will call Stein’s work “the long

drone and mut­ter and stam­mer of her life­time mono­logue” and re­fer to her “tepid, slug­gish na­ture, re­ally slug­gish like some­thing eat­ing its way through a leaf.”

For the rest of us still liv­ing, even the slug­gish ones, July 27 will be like all the other days, which is to say, a com­bi­na­tion of breath and panic and glory. There is not much we can do about any of this. This is the day you re­al­ize you’ve be­come an old wife. It’s be­cause your hus­band, Owen, has given you an elec­tric can opener as a thirty-third an­niver­sary gift. And be­cause the cel­e­bra­tion din­ner is the two of you at the Dairy Queen—flame Throw­ers, Diet Cokes, a shared Oreo Blizzard— after which you ride home in si­lence suck­ing an or­ange Life­saver. Okay. So be it.

But con­sider this: Be­ing an old wife can be a cause for joy be­cause you can now put your stamp on each day. From here on you’ll be able to add to the world’s store of tales, say­ings and reme­dies. And there’s a good chance you’ll be­come val­ued, even prized be­cause of this. You will soon learn that be­ing an old wife changes all the pieces on the ta­ble.

The only prob­lem is that be­ing val­ued can mean you’re in dan­ger. This is be­cause old wives are be­com­ing a scarce item. Maybe di­vorce or dis­in­cli­na­tion are the rea­sons, but there are fewer of you par­tic­i­pat­ing in the long-haul mar­riage. As a re­sult, old wives have be­come a rar­ity. Peo­ple have taken to run­ning off with them. They’ve be­come a cul­tural prod­uct, val­ued like ar­gon crys­tal or a horse coloured am­ber cham­pagne. There is now this amaz­ing phe­nom­e­non of old wives just qui­etly dis­ap­pear­ing.

If Owen is wor­ried about theft, tell him it’s un­likely you will be taken. As an old wife you’re a pretty stan­dard model, small and blonde, and you’re not shy and have a big mouth. You also wig­gle your fin­ger a lot, like an old cat woman, and you know what that means. Cats can suck the breath from a baby. On Au­gust 22 we hon­our Dorothy Parker for her cor­ro­sive wit. Born in Long Beach, New Jersey, on this day in 1893, she came to promi­nence as

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