Claire Messud  

Claire Messud  

A weeklong electronic journal.
March 27 1997 3:30 AM

Claire Messud  

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       Today, I went out. I ventured as far as the central branch of the public library. The man across from me on the subway was reading a pamphlet called The Hog. On the cover was a blurry snap of some pigs. It took me a while to decipher the subtitle: "Should We Use It For Food?"
       At the library, in the central lobby, I had to duck the two women who organize the lunch-time reading series. The day's talk was about to begin, and they were fussing over a little group onstage. There was only one person in the audience. I read, at the beginning of this year, in this reading series. The two women were charming. There were about three people in the audience then. The reading was televised a few days later on the local cable channel, so that all my friends and neighbors could watch me speaking to an empty room.
       I noted that today's group was scheduled to talk about the lives of homeless women, being that themselves. The man who was their audience looked homeless, too. I felt guilty, and wondered if I should sit and listen. Instead, I scooted up the back stairs to the Literature section.
       I checked in the computer to see whether any copies of my novel were in circulation. Every copy in the city (there are four of them) was listed "On Shelf." I contemplated taking one out, but worried that the librarian would notice my name on my library card. Then I looked up the novels of all my acquaintances to see whether they were in or out. When I went back through the lobby, the organizers and the group of homeless women had gone away, even though only 20 minutes had passed.
       While I was at the library, I felt that my pants were getting tighter. Does one get fatter in a day, just walking around? I have been wondering about the instant when clothes go from being a tad tight to unwearable--by which I mean that they can no longer be buttoned, or zipped. Is this a mathematically calculable moment? Is it elastic? Is it different for everyone, or is there a formula? Can that moment be pinpointed? Because if it can, it can be avoided, right?
       I thought about this all the way home. At the Dupont Circle subway stop, a woman got on. I could tell from the way her trousers fit that she was nearing that moment, pinpointable or not. She will cross it, too, with those trousers, possibly some day soon. And it will probably never occur to her that there existed, in her relationship with those pants, a very specific point of no return. I considered sharing my insight, but didn't.

Claire Messud is the author of When the World Was Steady (1995), a novel.