Though I’m not sure what our main character actually learns or if she changes at all (though maybe she actually dies?), I do love how we spend this concussed night with her as she drifts out of life and time, her children asleep around her.
We begin the story with some imagery that will come into play later in the story. First is the panther which represents stalking death. Later when she’s trying to stay awake the thought of that invisible predator is ever present at the edges of her life. And like the Alice in Wonderland reference, though it’s all a bit on-the-nose, it works to serve the story of someone who seems to be slowly disappearing.
The disappearing is important because we learn at the beginning she’s lost a lot of weight: “I loved eating, but I’d lost so much weight by then that I carried myself delicately, as if I’d gone transparent.” And the word ‘transparent’ is important here because that is what she becomes as the story goes on and she falls off the stool. Even the word itself is a sort of pun, trans (changing) and parent (as in literally a parent).
When I first put this down I assumed our narrator lived through the night, but the more I think about it I’m not quite sure. At the start her husband leaves to take care of a suicide and so at the end it’s possible we have another death, one he could have prevented had he been there. Then again, I feel it’s at most ambiguous as to what is going on at the end. We are told she opens her eyes, but we were told earlier about her floating about outside – what’s to say her spirit isn’t still aware though her body is dead?
And it’s the last line of the story that gives me pause: “… like the wind itself, like the cold sun I would soon feel on the silk of my pelt.” What does this mean, the “silk of my pelt?” For me I get a cold, deathly image, a pelt of fur, cold, mouring (it’s morning, too), black, the panther’s fur. Everything is transitory, fleeting, but ominous, too: her husband fills the door, and earlier her mother was “a person who had blocked out the sun.”
We also get a Blake reference (actually many poets are mentioned, though I’m most familiar with Blake so I’ll stick to him) and it reminded me of “The Tyger” (the panther here stands in for a tiger). With all the darkness of her world (the night blocked doors, the sun blocked) juxtaposed with the “burning bright” of the predator outside (the panther = the tyger), I feel a strong correlation between the images of life and death, the fear and wonder our narrator feels.
I don’t feel we learn anything profound, however and that is this story’s weakness. We have some very beautiful language and wonderful images to unravel, but it amounts to very little. It is sad and beautiful, but I don’t feel I learned anything very interesting about her situation, I don’t feel the narrator taught us something unique about her life and dying. I ask why are we told this story? Just so we can read this very beautiful scene where she slips around consciousness and are left with an ambiguous ending? Will she be a better, more substantial (not transparent) parent? We never know.
Still I did enjoy the beautiful moments of this story even if they don’t add up to a lot.