|The issue of The New Yorker|
in which the story was published.
Click through to read abstract.
The Old Man of the Sea - Maeve Brennan
As I outlined in a previous post, I intend to contribute few posts on Irish Short Story for The Reading Life's Irish Short Story Week.
This is only the second short story that I have read by Maeve Brennan and like the first , The Morning after the Big Fire, it is brief, at 8 pages. It was originally published in The New Yorker in 1955.
The story, which may well be partly autobiographical, is a low key slice of suburban life which is given mythical overtones when the narrator, who is nine and called Maeve, compares it to the legend of the Old Man of the Sea, who "had attached himself to Sindbad the Sailor" and when "Sindbad began to hate him" dug his "cruel, talon like hands" "into Sindbad's shoulders."
The old man is selling apples, and has to cart around a huge basket full of apples. When the narrator's mother buys "a dozen apples for eating and a dozen for cooking" her mother's brother (Uncle Matt) tells her she bought too many and that the pedlar will now "be on your back the rest of your life".
And indeed this seems to be the case. The following week the man returns and has the two dozen apples already packed in paper bags. Gradually the mother starts to resents 'feeling I have to buy them" but her resolution to buy less or none always crumbles in the face of the old appleseller's apparent need.
When her attempts to be resolute fail the next move is avoidance, and it's made clear that this is not the first time this stratagem has been employed. "Derry" (Maeve's brother) "and I exchanged a glance of anticipation. We were going to pretend we weren't in. We had done that before when unwanted callers came, and we enjoyed it very much."
The children's enjoyment contrasts with their mother's discomfort and her charitable view of people contrast's with her brother's cynicism. Maeve sides with her uncle, believing his intuition, at the story's end, that a woman he saw with the old man's daughter, was "his married daughter from Drumcondra"*, facts he "knew" "by the way she was wearing her hat."
This story is wry and witty and I look forward to reading more of the collection I am reading, called The Springs of Affection, a collection that, along with another called The Rose Garden, includes the two collections published in Brennan's lifetime plus further stories. I think I will be searching out The Rose Garden when this is finished.
*Drumcondra is a well to do suburb on the northside of Dublin. The narrator lives in a southside suburb called Rathgar, where the real Maeve grew up.