When they couldn’t find what they wanted, her regular customers often acted pathetic. They showed great consternation; and greater still surprise when Margo interrupted them with questions and suggestions. Protocol called for a less interested approach. (During the winter months, conversations materialized more often because people tended to browse longer.) Some felt uncomfortable with her friendly manner and avoided eye contact. Margo immediately accepted this as a challenge.
In spite of herself, she brought baggage with her from Richmond. She would have to learn to tone down. Considered a gift in some circles and more appropriate for a soapbox apostle, her deep pitched voice commanded attention because of its tone. She had just escaped the land of The New Testament, bringing with her the optimism and zeal of a new convert. It meant that she sometimes sounded pious, a holdover from the sermons in her head. She was trying too hard.
On the cold nights, instead of the Bible, she read Eliot and Sartre. No longer in the fold, she forgot her promises and tears of repentance. It sometimes brought her to her knees. Books easily filled the void. As for her anger, she pretended indifference, tried to be pleasant, and her bravado, called brazenness, fell somewhere between the brat she used to be and the free spirit she became. Sometimes her effort to help customers went overboard. She took great pains in matching the personality of the person with a book. Before she quit the bookstore she built up a steady clientele.
Having time to read herself, she concentrated on the modern classics. Her command of the English language separated her from her parents. This was how she began her journey. But with disdain for small towns and afraid to leave Chicago, she woke up one day feeling stifled.
Looking for a New World and infused with new discoveries, Margo’s appetite grew for anything new. Consequently she never read anything straight through and read more novelists than poets, and Englishmen more than Americans. The heavier the volume the more pains she took to read it. The essays of T. S. Eliot topped her list. The whole field of aesthetics, so boring to so many, excited her. She also delved into the philosophy of art. She gave lectures about “naivete in judging” and “the common place directives that were central to modern letters. ” These lectures didn’t attract many people.
Occasionally, at the oddest times, a gem came out of her mouth. It was usually an unconventional remark that struck someone funny. Pretty much everything she said had a bite to it, for as she grew older and her critical eye grew sharper, she turned nasty. Her frankness gained her respect and kept her friends on their toes. For many of them, it was essential to pose; insomuch as dressing as gypsies or acting as Bohemians made a statement, they insisted on being different. Often their actions bordered on insanity. They equally could’ve been nominated for the fashion parade.
The entire group of artists Margo knew craved attention. Yet, unless because of some quirk, they didn’t have a chance in hell of becoming famous. But that never deterred them. For the most part though, they resisted the temptation to prostitute their art, while their heads swelled with the adulation of friends. Thus they often became preoccupied with outward appearances and resorted to actions that attracted the most attention. This led to craziness that gave the group cohesion. Therefore, without luck, local successes, enticing and bright as they were, were short-lived.
“Entertaining,” was how they described an evening of poetry reading. Everyone there, in fact, congratulated Margo on her epic poem “The Rock Squash.”
After all of the adoration over an inferior work, she felt let down. She recognized corrupted sentiments (and trash) and could give a treatise on sound and sense and deception and resented purchasable entertainment. Too much was now at stake for flattery. Flattery seemed the same as a slap in the face. Anticipating failure, she had a dreadful week. It was followed by another week of misery. Returning to the daily grind was particularly hard for her. She learned that no amount of hard work assured success.
That whole day, and into the night, she wrote unconnected phrases. The words didn’t come without expletives. As her desire to write grew, she struggled more. Silly words were mistaken for substance. Her second try, however, pleased her more. Outside snow began to fall, and it was easy to see why Chicago earned its nickname. A strong wind off the lake made walking unpleasant. There was no better excuse for staying home and writing, especially since she began to enjoy it. Here then was what kept her going all through the long month of January.
For the whole month, snow fell. By the end of that time, she had graduated to writing vignettes. She wrote a piece about a happy family around a dinner table eating corn on the cob. In it she expressed all of her hopes and dreams. It was how families were supposed to be and was the opposite of the anxiety and the unhappiness she saw in her future. A part of her died every time she apologized for something. Chances of her becoming another Virginia Wolfe were indeed slim. She certainly had the material for several novels.
Out of all of her neighbors, Margo first noticed Harriot. Harriot was the strong athletic girl who lived next door. Great many of their peers attended college and, during all the seasons of the year, were preoccupied with the pleasant froth of life, but these two coincidentally were more interest in creativity. Harriot, more than Margo, had an appetite for sunlight and color. Her surprising enthusiasm, say for example, for the bright plumage of birds drew her into hat decoration, which made an immediate impression on the rather somber poet.
However, they probably would’ve dismissed each other had their meeting not been serendipitous. On the day they met, Margo had been brooding over her unfulfilled destiny. Noticeably able to enjoy each other, these women shared a chemistry that sealed their friendship. Their intellectual curiosity led to long conversations. Sharp debate and definite opinions often enlivened these discussions.
Now Margo, with all of her heart, longed for adventure, when Harriot tried to convince her that Chicago rivaled Paris. Catching Chicago at its best, a tour of the city settled the matter. Everywhere the guide found something to prove her point. To a couple of artists, the sights and sounds of the city were well worth attention. While Harriot loved the lights, Margo heard the screams of night, the noise of motion, the knifings of crime and the hawking of pizza. They went together, but often reached different destinations. Where Harriot saw gilded furniture, gilded-framed pier mirrors, and crystal chandeliers, Margo marveled at the shapes of brick, wood, and glass.
There was something else they shared, something surprisingly pleasant, but something that made Margo nervous. Back in Indiana it would’ve been unacceptable. Now, while Margo evolved plots around bricks and mortar and Harriot did the same thing with birds and butterflies, the two women frequently held hands. Margo soon realized that her new friend expected the affection. This affection led her to wonder where this obligation would lead. Without talking about her fears, several times she came very close to bolting. Fortunately Harriot, by smiling and not pushing, reassured her. Therefore, Margo, as her friendship with Harriot matured and became very important to her, had to face biases of her past.
At this early stage, Margo came close to receiving the recognition she desired, which pretty nearly ruined her. Praise never helped. Praise only exasperated her. Caught between what friends said and what newspapers wrote, in later years, these memories and clippings would be the only trophies from the period she would keep. She easily could have kept Harriot’s friendship, but she came to believe that an artist’s temperament wouldn’t allow her to adjust to the demands of a close relationship. Accordingly, caught up in the unreality of having her first poetic drama performed, she neglected to invite her friend to the opening.