Here is the next installment of Beatrice Allen Page’s unpublished manuscript, Still Life with Figures:
“Every day for the past couple of weeks a few more families have appeared on the scene. It’s been a gradual process, however, and therefore not particularly noticeable. Now along with July has come the real influx of summer residents. They seem to have swarmed in during the past few days like a flock of migrating birds. I am astonished at how many out-of-state license plates I see, several of them from the midwest, a few from even farther west. How do so many people find their way to this out-of-the-way spot? True, as summer resorts go, it is still comparatively quiet and unpopulated. The beach, for instance, could certainly not be called crowded. Yet when I went down this morning I was taken aback to see so many people all at once.
Everybody apparently knew everybody else. All the flurry of greetings and reunions created an impression of bright ribbons fluttering in the breeze.
I spread out my beach towel and sat down as inconspicuously as possible, rather relieved not to see a familiar face even though I’ve been wishing for some company. Any social situation involving a number of people, like a large dinner party or that gathering on the beach where there is a cross fire of casual talk, confuses me. I feel bombarded by impressions – faces, gestures, voice – that strike and glance off my senses before I can apprehend them. I need time to get my bearings, to familiarize myself with the setting before the characters make their entrance. And then I should prefer them to talk on one at a time and without noticing my presence until I’ve had time to study them.
H. once told me that I sometimes disconcert people by staring at them, scarcely blinking. Since he pointed it out to me, I’ve caught myself doing it quite frequently. It may be a stranger in a restaurant that my glance happens to fall on, or a woman sitting opposite me in a store, trying on shoes, or a man waiting for a plane at the airport. I begin to feel as if I had invisible antennae with microscopic eyes on their tips. They reach out quiveringly and pass over the stranger’s face, noting the general structure, then the features separately and in combination, the curves, the planes, the hollows, and particularly the eyes – not only the shape and color but, of course, the expression. Then they start delicately probing inward, touching his or her mind, feeling the texture of his or her temperament, trying to discern the core of his or her entity.
It is not an intellectual process, not the kind of objective observation that makes a good witness or a good scientist. Very often I would be hard put to it to find words to describe what I perceive, or think I perceive. It just happens to be my way of observing and one I’m apt to fall into when I can remain aloof from the give-and-take of conversation, from the necessity of outward response.
This morning there were too many people and too much hubbub for me to concentrate on any one person. Beside, I began to feel self-conscious as I intercepted several curious glances cast in my direction. Finally, as I was folding up my towel and getting ready to leave, one of the women came over, introduced herself, and invited me to a cocktail party tomorrow. She told me it would be ‘a chance to meet everybody.’ I gather she always officially opens the season, so to speak, with a Fourth of July party.
That was kind of her and of course I accepted although I have mixed feelings about it. I have been eager to make a few friends but the prospect of a large cocktail party…I find I am a little reluctant to have my solitude impinged on so abruptly and – ‘ruthlessly’ s the word that comes to mind even though it’s so absurdly inappropriate.”