This month’s story is from the wonderful Maile Meloy. I’ve been a fan of her stories since I stumbled upon her wonderful collection, BOTH WAYS IS THE ONLY WAY I WANT IT. When I opened up my June 23rd New Yorker I was thrilled to see a story from Ms. Meloy.
“Madame Lazarus” is the story of a heavily loaded gift between lovers. A newly retired French gentleman receives the gift of a small dog from his partner. At first the narrator resists the sweet terrier, Cordelia, as he rightfully recognizes her as a first step in his lover’s retreat.
(It is funny how a gesture, like the gift of a puppy, can foretell the end of a relationship. When I was young and unhappy in my first marriage, planning on leaving but not certain how to go about it, I learned how to tune up my car, change the spark plugs, etc… I remember one afternoon, I was washing and vacuuming my Volvo 122s and my husband looked out the window and said, “Your leaving me.” He was right.)
As any dog-loving person would suspect, our French gentleman comes to adore his dog. When he walks Cordelia around Paris he finds that people who might have ignored him before now speak to him. He says of Cordelia, “At first I believed that the appearance of love from a dog is only a strategy, to win protection. Cordelia chose me because I was the one to feed her and to chase away the hawks and the wolves. But after a time we crossed over a line, Cordelia and I. We went out each day to chase the pigeons and smell the piss of other dogs on the trees, and we came home to read the paper.” The story follows the unraveling relationship of the narrator and his lover, the grip Cordelia gains on the narrator's heart, and the way in which the man and dog age together.
(My dog and I too have crossed over a line. Leo came to our family when our children were teenagers. He was our daughter’s dog, but I was so grateful to have at least one person in the house greet me with glee whenever I opened the front door. Now he sleeps in our bed and we scramble eggs for him.)
As the story progresses, we learn that Cordelia is ill and our narrator’s world is shrinking. Meloy walks a potentially sentimental knife edge, any story about a dying dog can be a tearjerker, but Meloy’s writing veers away from manipulated emotion. The loss of Cordelia is a terrible blow, and in it the narrator recognizes the end of other relationships, “The dog is the last thing to tie him to me, and now—snip. Soon I will start walking into the bedroom, staring at nothing, listening for voices that are not there.”
In the end we are deeply moved and feel so much empathy for our narrator and for Cordelia. When the vet says of Cordelia, “Tu n’es pas immortelle, après tout” we all feel the weight of his words.
This story calls for something vaguely French, easy to prepare, light and delicious. Something lively, with bright tang and texture, to remind us of our resilient hearts, and of course with tender morsels for our dogs. Warm Spinach Salad with Bacon, Tomatoes and Pecans
Enjoy the story and console yourself by sharing the lovely salad and a bottle of delicious pink wine, something like J. Christopher's, Cristo Irresisto, with a loved one. Oh yes, and save some bacon for your dog! (please note, all green text are links to books, stories, recipes and wine!)