from “In the
IN language, as in life, moods are complicated, but at least in language there are only two. The indicative mood is for knowledge, facts, absolutes, for describing what’s real or definite. You’d use the indicative to say, for example:
I was in love.
Or, The man I loved tried to kill himself.
Or, I moved to Spain because the man I loved, the man who tried to kill himself, was driving me insane.
The indicative helps you tell what happened or is happening or will happen in the future (when you believe you know for sure what the future will bring).
The subjunctive mood, on the other hand, is uncertain. It helps you tell what could have been or might be or what you want but may not get. You’d use the subjunctive to say:
I thought he’d improve without me.
Or, I left so that he’d begin to take care of himself.
Or later, after your perspective has been altered, by time and distance and a couple of cervezas in a brightly lit bar, you might say:
I deserted him (indicative).
I left him alone with his crazy self for a year (indicative).
Because I hoped (after which begins the subjunctive) that being apart might allow us to come together again.
from “The Queimada”:
AND later, after the mussels, after the pulpo a la gallega, the swirling bits of octopus flesh in a sauce of garlic and tomatoes, after the glasses of wine and loaves of bread broken and passed hand to hand, after the strong local blue cheese spread thick on thin crackers and the apples drizzled with honey, after we have all eaten as much as we can and then picked the remains from one another’s plates, tucking into our mouths one more bite, one more spoonful, one more tangy or sweet or salty fingertip, then we turn, lights dimmed and candles aflame, to the Queimada.
from “In Praise of Envy”:
AFTER he leaves for work in the morning, I pour some tea, wave a piece of string in front of the kitten’s face, go upstairs to shower but, oh, there’s that quotation I want to check, so it’s back downstairs, through the living room, to the door of his office. Inside it’s dark, cool, messy. Papers are scattered on the desk, along with stacks of index cards and a perpetually opened dictionary. I find the book I have in mind, Absalom, Absalom!, take it off the shelf, and sit down in his chair, to see what I can see from here.
Not much. Everything appears the same as it did yesterday, so I slide open the first drawer. Just looking for a pen, anyway. If he walked in right now – even though he’s halfway to the university where his first class starts in an hour – he’d see me sitting here, innocently enough, looking for a pen with which to write down the quotation I’m checking.
That’s Envy talking, rationalizing. That’s Envy sidling up like a best friend, putting her arm around my shoulder. “You and me, baby. We’re in this together. Now let’s see what’s in that next drawer down.”
Nothing of interest. And nothing in the next or the next. But then, at the back of the bottom drawer, under some airmail letters from me, I discover an expired date book. It’s small, thin, with a mottled red cover and spiral binding, the edges of its pages slightly worn. Its calendar follows the academic year, August to August, and since we’re now into September, I might be in luck.
Envy’s breath is sweet and warm on my neck. “You’ve crossed a line already by finding the thing, right? There’s no point in stopping now.”
At the rear of the book is a list of phone numbers. The two that are mine include the apartment in nearby Rosendale, where I lived until last summer, and the flat I shared in Oviedo, Spain for most of the past year. Looking at these numbers, I feel momentarily confused, unsure where I live now or how one might reach me. I scan the list, but all the names are familiar, so I flip the pages one at a time, working backward through the weeks and months, orienting myself. In August there’s just a faculty meeting and his brother’s birthday. In July a dental appointment, car repair, grocery list. Nothing incriminating. This is as I expect since if he’s telling the truth, he hasn’t seen her for months. Then again, even if he’s not telling the truth, he hasn’t seen much of her with me around.
Day by day I proceed, through the upheaval of June (including a notation on the sixth: pick M. up at airport, 3:15), through May’s burst of fragrant green, April’s prankster snow. Through the chill rains of March to late February. And then, on Friday the 20th, Envy leaps up, long arms punching the air above her head: “A-ha!” 8pm Kelly Connaugh. I’m surprised by how lightly the letters skim the page, how tentatively his hand must have held the pen as he scheduled their first date.
It takes a moment for me to start breathing again. And then, with Envy cheering me on, what could be easier? An unusual last name, a telephone book, a county map. From February 20 to the street where she lives, fifteen miles away, takes no time at all.