"The Real Road to the Church"
from Cold Hand in Mine
by Robert Aickman
A tired, withdrawn, aging-but-not-old woman learns that her residence is located in a spiritually significant place. Though she scoffs at first-- after all, she's been living there a year and has yet to see or hear anything strange-- she soon begins to wonder if the tale is more than mere mystical gossip.
My Reaction (with SPOILERS):
I don't know what to say about this story...
I gather that all of these stories will be lacking in easy, straightforward explanation; there is even a quote at the beginning of the book to that effect. (“In the end it is the mystery that lasts and not the explanation."--Sacheverell Sitwell) I think I may be hard (impossible?) to please, as far as "explanations" go. If there's none at all-- and if I feel unsure what conclusion to draw-- I often feel cheated. On the other hand, if the explanation is too detailed and precise, I label that a flaw. It's rare that an author walks the line to my pure satisfaction, though I will usually enjoy some aspects of a story, despite faults.
...Anyway, we're probably not meant to expect much in the way of explanations, but sometimes that leaves me with nothing to say...
So... In the end, Rosa sees her soul, looking as her body looks now-- no younger, no older-- being borne by the men she's "loved and left" in years past, then passed over to a new group of "porters". Rosa's soul tells her that they will see one another again, "one day", and that until then, Rosa should "forget and live". Rosa goes back inside with intentions of packing the next day and re-entering the world (in this case, London). "It was impossible to know where she would go thereafter."
Somehow, parting from her soul was her way of letting go of the past and preparing herself to move on-- to continue living instead of hiding away from the world for the rest of her days. I get the idea of letting go of the past, forgetting mistakes and regrets. I can see why that might lead some readers to describe this story as having a hopeful, relatively upbeat ending-- EXCEPT. Except for the fact that Rosa's now separated from her soul... ? I mean, how can you be you without your soul? Seeing your soul depart seems pretty creepy and ominous to me-- decidedly not uplifting, if you're still alive. I mean, how would that even work, assuming you believe in the existence of the soul? It's just a head-scratcher for me.
Not a fave.
-- "Conventions are, indeed, all that shield us from the shivering void, though often they do so but poorly and desperately."
-- As always, the mention of Sweden causes a perking of the ears... "At one period, Rosa had lived in Stockholm with an actual Swede (far and away the worst year of her life-- or more than a year: it had all ended in her breakdown), but the language of Sweden (and never would she forget the pitch of it) seemed to have nothing whatever in common with the language of Mrs Du Quesne and her friends." ... and later... "...that big, fat Oskar had been actually killed, Scandinavian-style, in a fight, and a fight that was at least partly about her." I had no idea it was the Scandinavian style to be killed in a fight over a woman! This is all very interesting.
-- "He always professed a special concern with such things, and could certainly talk without end about them, though perhaps without much meaning either."
-- "She had always found life to move by contraries, usually pretty ones, though sometimes not; and, as often before when she had been depressed, now found herself surprised that she looked as well as she did. She had long ago learned that it was when she had been feeling more confident that the sight of her appearance came always as something of a shock. Life evens things up or down; in small matters and in large (even though Rosa would have hesitated to distinguish between the two)."
-- "She had long ago made a decision to defer talking to herself for as long as she could." (Ah, one of my pet peeves! The popular insinuation that speaking aloud when there's no-one to hear but yourself is somehow undesirable. What's the problem with soliloquies, pray tell? I like 'em.)
-- "'...Mrs. Hughes, your whole life has been a quest for perfection. You have always been concerned only with perfection, and as in this world there is no perfection, you are sad. Sadness can be a very special-- shall I say, concession?'" ...Hm. No offense to Mrs. Hughes/Rosa, but is drifting from man to man for most of your adult life really a "quest for perfection"? I guess you could argue that she was searching for the perfect man, but...
-- "'We control nothing of importance that happens to us.'" A fatalist, eh?