Meanwhile, chatting now and then on auto-pilot, I take a look inside her … and I see you, Pippa Vail, in New York, in a brown and grey project in Arverne, south-east Queens, a distant-eyed child in a slum by the sea. You were still a small girl when your parents got themselves out of there at the end of the ’sixties, dreaming of a new life here in Asbury Park when it was lively, a life without the pressure and the danger of the city. They quit their rotten jobs in a burst of liberation, loaded up a van, returned the landlord’s key and drove away, down to here, both on air. They had scraped together enough to rent a small bungalow, almost a shack, two blocks from the sea on First Avenue and Kingsley Street. A cabin by the sea… But then began the downturn: no jobs in Asbury Park or Ocean Grove, no money, alcohol and tension in the bungalow, and then in 1970 your father was killed in the race riots here. Life and joy were happening elsewhere, had passed you by, it seemed. Your mother died soon, of nothing memorable, and now you feel the best thing to do would be to walk down the beach at night and just continue walking further out into the ocean. You can go there any time, down the sand, to the phosphorescent sea. It’s always there at night, you know, a few blocks away from here, its whisper an enticement.
I see you aged twelve, sweet and sullen—but that sweet and sullen girl found a tunnel, clambered inside, and thus climbed into you, Pippa, and buried herself alive.
There was a man in your life, for a while, after you moved here to the high-rise. He even quit his shit-job in the factory on the Bayonne waterfront, to come down and live with you, here beside the sea. It didn’t work, however. I suspect he thought you saw, around the two of you, oppressive scenes of horror, retribution and smoke; but did he never notice your sweet little snub-nose profiled against any scene you might be in? Could any such scene be so bad, with such a nose? He never tried to fathom you, he only left you pregnant, not long before you miscarried. Before he left, you planned to escape him. “I could walk out any time,” you thought, “and hit the ground running—maybe never touch the ground! I’ll start a brand-new life, and then…” but you always trailed away here. That was years ago. Perhaps he’ll realise yet what he lost, though more likely he will not. Then perhaps you’d want him back, though more probably you wouldn’t.
The song you heard ran sky-high, slow and all-embracing through the airwaves of your head: you’d known the song before, you felt, with that one man of yours, in the sweetest early times with him, in moments in his presence when you stepped for the very first time into new internal continents inside yourself. (Hard to know those steps would turn out the only ones you ever took there.) Memories of your two shadows falling on a building wall, doubled up with laughter in a summer long ago, were unlocked by this song: shadows photographed on plaster and filed in the album of your memory. A dying love affair in Asbury Park.
Sometimes you think you feel another man calling out, across this town, across the world, around both the past and the present, to address you. He calls through that song inside your head … and no, you won’t meet.
Such promise in you, Pippa—what went wrong? It seems your personality did not grow a backbone: no one, ahead of time, thought to say you’d need one. Living’s such an effort. (Who arranged that? and what a great mistake it was.) The weight of your body leads to stasis, by nature; any other action is unnatural, for you. The play of your attention leads to silence, by nature; any other noise is unnatural, for you. The spanning of your vision leads to darkness, by nature; any other lighting is unnatural, for you. Paralysis—an illness.
A wave of sadness breaks, as you see how “too early” overlapped with “too late”. Or maybe there was just a blip of time between those two periods; but alas, you didn’t recognise this blip when it arrived in witty camouflage, and so you didn’t know to act while it was still happening, and now the blip’s gone, taking its camouflage with it. Here’s a cool idea, though: perhaps that fleeting blip was all the more resonant, for never being utilised!… Is that of any use to you? No? No, I guess not.
I bring my tune-in to a close. So there she is. I suspect she’d have it otherwise. So should I, big time. Funny how things turn out.
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