MRS. DALLOWAY AND STARBUCKS
by Melodie Johnson Howe
I left Bones copy editing the first half of my novel and drove to Kathleen Sharp’s house. He had not read much of the book and I was worried about his reaction.
Kathleen and I walked to the Farmers Market where we bought flowers. I thought of Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway buying flowers. Planning her party. She would have been wearing a bias cut dress and spectator shoes popular in the twenties, her decade. I was in yoga pants, T-shirt, and tennis shoes. And I wasn’t planning a dinner party. I was doing the final revisions on my novel. In reality, I was more like Virginia Woolf, a writer. But it was her character I thought of. That’s the best compliment you can give an author.
I decided on dark blue potted flowers. Kathleen bought a red spray of uncut gladiolas. Cradling them in her arms she reminded me of Katherine Hepburn in the 1930’s movie Stage Door. “The calla lilies are in bloom,” Hepburn announced as she walked on stage. When learning to act she said the line flatly; but when her friend commits suicide, she understands the emotion behind the line—finally becoming a true actress. I don’t remember her character’s name, I only remember Katherine Hepburn.
Laden with our flowers we headed to Starbucks. This is the most important part of our walk. Because walk really means talk. The place is filled with people and every time Kathleen turns she whacks somebody with the glads. Sitting in big leatherette chairs we fuss with where to put our flowers. I look around. Most everyone in Starbucks is young. Most everyone is on a laptop. One girl is sound asleep in a chair while her friend stares intently into a monitor. Across from us is a young man and, I think, his girlfriend. It’s hard to tell. He’s wonderfully nerdy looking with thick black- framed glasses and curly dark hair. She has the same look but manages to make it pretty and vibrant. They are both concentrating on his laptop. I am in the world of the movie, Social Network. A film I can’t quote from.
Kathleen and I begin our long stream of consciousness, which is filled with politics, women, age, husbands, books, and our work. We toss around ideas for her new book. We talk about how I feel about my book. Good but always with trepidation. Worried about Bones’ reaction. I look around and I don’t see anybody reading a book. Should this bother me? Even if it did it wouldn’t stop me from writing.
“Excuse me, ladies. I have to unplug.” A woman with bleached blond hair reached behind our chairs to pull out her computer cord. She was disconnecting.
I thought of Mrs. Dalloway saying, “Excuse me, I have to unplug.” But she was unplugged and trying to reconnect in her own way. To reboot, to restart, or just stay on line. But these words have nothing to do with her world. Her environment was complete, impenetrable. The new can’t change it. Mrs. Dalloway is of her time. Life will take over these young women smoothing and bruising them. And one day they will find themselves buying flowers for a dinner party, trying to create order from emotional chaos, trying to plug in again.
I get in my computerized car and drive home. Two words bleat from the radio, “Debt Ceiling.” I push a button and Willy Nelson fills my car croaking, “Some Enchanted Evening”.
I walk into the house. Bones is holding a chunk of my pages in his hand. “This is a really good novel, Melodie.”
Elated, I hug him. Then I put my potted flowers into a silver wine bottle holder and place them perfectly on a table. Mrs. Dalloway would be proud. But it was Virginia Woolf, the writer, I was thinking about now.