Carrying a torch*

Tommy had always taken the particularity, the enduring intensity, of his mother’s memories of Joe as a matter of course, but then one afternoon the previous summer, at the beach, he had overheard Eugene’s mother talking to another neighbourhood woman. Tommy, feigning sleep on his towel, lay eavesdropping on the hushed conversation. It was hard to follow, but one phrase caught his ear and lodged there for many weeks afterward.

«She’s been carrying a torch for him all these years,» the other woman said to Helene Begelman. She was speaking, Tommy knew, of his mother. For some reason, he thought at once of the picture of Joe, dressed in a tuxedo and brandishing a straight flush, that his mother kept on the vanity she had built for herself in her bedroom closet, in a small silver frame. But the full meaning of this expression, «carrying a torch,» remained opaque to Tommy for several more months, until one day, listening with his father to Frank Sinatra sing the intro to «Guess I’ll Hang My Tears Out To Dry,» its sense had become clear to him; at the same instant, he realised he had known all his life that his mother was in love with Cousin Joe. The information pleased him for some reason. It seemed to accord with certain ideas he had formed about what adult life was really like from perusing his mother’s stories in Heartache, Sweetheart, and Love Crazy.

*The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, Michael Chabon, Fourth Estate.