‘Rayme’ by Jayne Anne Phillips

Nothing more unlike ‘N’ could be imagined. The prose is clean and see-through, yet heartbreakingly lyrical; the content unfailingly experiential. The viewpoint is autobiographical. Just enough has been learnt from these experiences, it implies; just enough hasn’t. Rayme lives in a house with her friends, of whom the narrator is one. They take care of Rayme, because, as we’ll see, she is a little adrift. Not that, in those days, which we take to be the 1970s, they aren’t all a little adrift, “consulting a series of maps bearing no relation to any physical geography”. But Rayme, who has baggage that makes theirs look light, goes off the Thorazine and takes it all the way, and soon the whole scene evaporates. Looking back, the narrator remembers everyone the last time they were together, swimming at dusk in a lake somewhere in Arizona. “Our destinations,” she concludes, “appeared to be interchangeable pauses in some long, lyric transit.” There was a point when I thought this the perfect model of a short story, with all its movement and causalities and conclusions packed somewhere the reader couldn’t quite find them, yet informing every sentence of the text; and I think I might still say that if you backed me into a corner. Nothing further needs to be told about Rayme or her friends; they’ll be caught as they are, in the cold Arizona lake, in the twilight, in between lives or worlds, forever; suspended in time, pellucid yet still moving, the crucial elements of a novel that no longer needs to be written, a movie that doesn’t, now, need to be shown.

First published in Granta 8: Dirty Realism, June 1983 and available to subscribers here. Collected in Fast Lanes, Faber & Faber, 1987

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