The Wise Hook

HookIn old seaside cabins I have found the wise hook nailed to the splinter-board bathroom wall, opposite the small sink and the plain toilet that has no special adaptors for special cleaning and is not heated.

The hook has been nailed to the wall for a long time. Nothing has strained it, since nothing heavier than a pajama top or a towel has ever been hung there.

But this hook, like some relationships, is designed to support more. Its upper prong, bent slightly toward the ceiling with a small knob at the end, is strong enough to hold up a coat, if a coat was ever hung in a bathroom, and when the cold dense fog of the Pacific rolls in, a coat might be hung there, in a kind of summer despair. Its lower prong, shorter, but also tilted up and finished with a tiny ball, is not that strong and yet it could certainly hold a pajama top and bottom, a nightgown, probably flannel, and at least one wooly robe.

The wise hook, thus burdened, or rather, put into full, even spectacular, use, would rule the small bathroom, its garments protruding into the space between the wall and the sink, never wide to begin with and now populated fully.

As in a relationship when the unwelcome revelations of years have come to hang upon it, the hook itself, the relationship itself, is hidden under what it carries. And what it carries is not visible, individually, but simply as a large hanging lump, belongings that at the moment belong to no one because they have been left, deposited, abandoned, even if only for the space of a cold night.

There are other wise details in the small old bathroom: the silver metal box for tissues attached upright to the wall by the shower, the molded plastic shower itself, or rather, the tiny soap shelf sculpted into one corner like the curve of a marble nude’s calf, the milk-white upside-down caps on the two lightbulbs over the sink—these are all intelligent, formed for service, but also, at least in the case of the lights, their usefulness is somewhat undermined by their decorativeness.

The hook needs no such devices. Those belong to the temporary, the less highly skilled. The hook we would like to call “merely utilitarian,” just as the relationship that supports the family, its jobs, its spending, its place in the community is “merely utilitarian,” although when it was nailed to its spot it seemed to have other attractions.

Now its purpose and its power are melded: it supports, it holds up, and the limits of its ability to support and hold up have never yet been reached.

Sallie Bingham is a writer, teacher, feminist activist, and philanthropist.

She is best known for her family memoir, Passion and Prejudice published by Knopf in 1989. Her most recent work is titled The Blue Box: Three Lives In Letters, published by Sarabande Books in 2014.

Her forthcoming book, tentatively titled Doris Duke: The Invention of the New Woman will be published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, most likely in 2016. More on the book and Doris Duke can be found in Sallie's blog.

Sallie's complete biography is available here.

 

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