I just finished reading (not for the first time) Carson McCuller’s The Heart is a Lonely Hunter. One of the characters is a girl called Mick Kelly. At the beginning of the book she is a tomboyish twelve, as the book ends she is fourteen. In between, she travels the no-man’s-land between childhood and being an adult. She travels mostly unsupervised and unguided, and there are any number of occasions where heartbreak or disaster lie in wait. For example, the day we meet her, she climbs to the top of an almost-finished house under construction, straddles the peak and has a cigarette, leaving her 18-month-old brother tied in a wagon in the care of the 6 year-old brother, down below. What, as they say, could go wrong?
A fair number of things do go wrong, not in this scene, but later. Up until almost the end of the story, Mick can recover by going to what she calls the inside room: “With her it was like there were two places — the inside room and the outside room. School and family and the things that happened every day were in the outside room . . . Foreign countries and plans and music were in the inside room. The songs she thought about were there . . . The inside room was a very private place. She could be in the middle of a house full of people and still feel like she was locked up by herself.”
When Mick drops out of school to take a job at Woolworth’s to help out her family, her tiredness seems to shut her out from the inside room. This invisible event seems like the saddest thing of all: Is this what it means, finally, to grow up?
I hope not. And yet when I look at pictures of myself as a child, I see something there that I miss, that I want, that I don’t think I will feel again in the same way.
While I was drawing this pic, I liked letting the story occupy my mind. Not immediately filling up my head with something else, some other story. Also, I couldn’t help thinking about my own forays onto rooftops and into houses under construction. CAVEAT/DISCLAIMER: It’s dangerous! DON’T DO IT! But if you find one that is safe (Flat. Or close to the ground. With a railing. Use your head.) it’s liberating in an interesting way. A door to the inside room.