Sylvia Plath is a poet/author infinitely larger in death than in life. This weekend’s Wall Street Journal has an article in the Review section on a lost story by Plath unearthed and shortly to be published as Mary Ventura and the Ninth Kingdom.
John Green does a nice job giving a crash course on Plath’s poetry and the tragic course of her brief life, which she ended at the age of 30.
Plath’s previously unpublished story about Mary Ventura was written in 1952, a year after her first suicide attempt at age 19. Here I offer an excerpt of the Wall Street Journal’s excerpt:
The woman bent over her knitting, suddenly intent. There was a knot in the thread. Swiftly, she straightened out the wool and went on stitching. “You’re going to the end of the line, I take it.” she said.
“That’s right, the end of the line. Father said I didn’t have to worry about connections or anything, and that the conductor would tell me where to go from there.”
“The last station,” the woman murmured. “Are you sure?”
“Yes. At least that’s what is says on my ticket. It is such a strange ticket that I remembered the number, red on black. The ninth kingdom, it said. That’s a funny way to label railroad stations.”
… Red neon blinked outside the window, and the train slowed, shouldering into the station of the sixth kingdom. The car door swung open, and the tread of the conductor came down the aisle to the blond woman up ahead with the red painted mouth, who pleaded, drew her furs about her, and shrank back. “Not yet”, she said. “Please, not yet. This is not my stop. Give me a little longer.”
“Let me see your ticket.” the conductor said, and the woman wet her lips the color of blood. “I mislaid it. I can’t find it,” she said. “It is in the second finger of your right glove,” the conductor said tonelessly, “where you hid it as I came in.”
… The woman did not move to go. The conductor put out his hand and gripped her arm. “I am sorry,” he said, “but you must go now. We can’t have any dallying around on this train. We have a schedule to keep. We have a quota of passengers.”
… The conductor came back down the car, wiping his forehead with a a large red silk handkerchief. He paused at Mary’s seat and grinned at the woman. His eyes were black, bottomless, but flecked now with cold spots of laughter. “We usually don’t have that much trouble with the passengers when their stop comes,” he said to the woman. She smiled back at him, but her voice was tender, regretful. “No, they generally don’t protest at all. They just accept it when the time comes.”
“Accept what?” Mary stared curiously at the two of them, remembering the frightened face of the blond woman, her mouth wet, the color of blood. The conductor winked at the woman and walked away down the aisle, with the lights burning in the sockets of the walls like candles and the metal vault of the car arching overhead. The red light of the station slanted through the car windows and briefly stained the faces of the passengers scarlet. Then the train started up again.
“Accept what?” Mary pursued. She gave an involuntary shiver as if struck by sudden chill drag of air. “Are you cold, dear?” “No”, said Mary. “Accept what?”
“The destination,” the woman replied, picking up the knitting from her lap and beginning to add to the mesh of leaf-green wool.