Do you find yourself still living in a novel days after you've finished reading the book? If it's a good one, I do. I just don't want to let go of the characters quite yet. Or in this case, I can't let go of an object. The haunting rhythm that beats quietly throughout The Painted Drum did not stop sounding when I closed the book.
The other night, my son and I were sleeping in the livingroom. (He's sick but that's another story). At some point during the night, the front cover to our furnace popped off. (I believe that is the technical phrase that repair experts use--"it popped off.") Of course, I was unaware of the source of the problem. I was aware that I was freezing and no matter what I reset the heater to, it would not turn on. I considered going to the garage to see if the fuse switch was off or to the basement to investigate but I knew both areas were colder than where I was, I was exhausted and everyone else was sleeping fine so I tried to curl up on our cooling leather couch.
I thought again about a few young characters in The Painted Drum who are waiting in their small, cold home for their mother to return one winter evening. The oldest daughter wants to turn the heat up but her mother has gone to arrange for some more heating fuel. The daughter had been told that there was just enough fuel to last until her mother returned as long as they did not turn the heat higher. As I lay on our leather couch, which felt colder by the minute, I reflected on how lucky I am. Not only can I go get another blanket out of a closet but I knew the heating problem was some sort of physical problem that we would fix. So many others have no heat because it's something they cannot afford.
We have an agency here in town that assists people who need help finding enough food or enough money to pay their heating bills. Most of our local churches donate money each month to the program but I will call today to see how else I can help. It is sad that in this country where many have so much, so many go without.
Which leads me back to The Painted Drum once more. Louise Erdrich creates very real characters with very human flaws and is also able to use them to comment on larger communities and our society. The same mother who went out for heating fuel also considers having sex for money so she can buy food to bring home. A local war veteran makes the comment later: I want to know something. Why I saw men die for oil in this country where a woman has to sell herself for bread and peanut butter.
Lines like that tend to haunt me for a while.