Rachel Kushner: Cerita Perempuan Yang Dilanggar Meteor

Ann Hodges: perempuan yang dipercayai dilanggar meteor pada tahun 1954

Sepanjang tahun 2013, novel Rachel Kushner The Flamethrowers adalah antara novel Amerika yang paling banyak diperkatakan dan mendapat perhatian pengkritik (James Wood pun turut mentasbihkan novel ini di majalah The New Yorker). Suara-suara ini datang daripada media arus perdana Amerika. Saya tidak dengar ia disebut oleh penulis dan editor yang bergiat melalui rumah penerbitan kecil yang rata-ratanya, saya yakin, masih skeptik terhadap suasana dan budaya penulisan fiksyen kontemporari Amerika. Saya pun sama. Jumlah novel yang keluar dari Amerika setiap tahun adalah sangat banyak; tetapi daripada jumlah itu, berapa buah novel yang memang berbaloi untuk dibaca? Berapa buah novel yang menyimpang daripada tradisi konvensional fiksyen Amerika? Berapa buah novel kontemporari mereka yang telah mengatasi Infinite Jest dan Gravity Rainbow? Berapa buah novel mereka yang boleh berdiri sama tinggi dengan novel-novel hebat dari Eropah Timur sekarang?

The Flamethrowers masih sangat Amerika walaupun ia telah meminjam kereta (atau motor?) Roberto Bolano untuk meluncurkan naratifnya ke depan. Tetapi suara narator Rachel Kushner (seorang perempuan anonymous dari Reno, Nevada yang menunggang motor besar) dalam novel ini sangat dingin dan hampir mengerikan, saya jadi tergoda untuk terus membaca dan menahan sabar. Antara bahagian paling memikat saya adalah babak ketika Reno menceritakan tentang seorang perempuan yang pernah dilanggar meteor sehingga berita itu masuk ke dalam majalah Time.

* * *   

Sandro said something about matter mattering. And Ronnie countered with a comment about a single-story homes, the incident being really about that. And they were talking about what it means to call a magazine Time. The latent heaviness there. Infinity parceled into the integers of humans, the integers of death. These random events, according to Ronnie, were the straw that stuffed of mattress of time. I turned them out. I was thinking about the woman and how it had happened. It was morning, and her husband, maybe a contractor, a man in a hard hat and big, suede, mustard-colored work gloves, had gone. She was in her quilted robe, getting the kids ready for school, standing in front doorway watching them mount the steps of the country school bus, waving as the bus pulls away trailing a plume of black diesel. Then relief. The hours are her. For what? Smoking cigarettes at the kitchen table, perhaps with a neighbor who comes over to visit. Instead of making beds, or doing a load of laundry, instead pf marinating some kind of meat or at the very least brushing food crumbs and other debris from between couch cushions, she and the neighbor sit and drink coffee. Sometimes one tells a story, about what her husband said the night before, or didn't say, and the other listens. Sometimes they just sit. Sometimes one turns on a radio and listen to music, or to the news, but they don't care about the actual news, just that the radio is issuing a steadyish sound whose particulars they do not have to follow to understand what the radio is actually telling them: life is being lived. No need to be part of it as long as you know it's streaming. These are their days, the woman and her neighbor/ confidante. The job of a housewife is a little vague and it's easy to just not cross anything off the long list of semi-urgent chores. The woman senses that time is more purely hers if she squanders it and keeps it empty, hold it, feels it pass by, and resists filling it with anything that might put some too-useful dent in its open, airy emptiness. Better to smoke in your robe, talk or not talk to the neighbor woman, turn on the television, which, with the sound muted, is like a tropical fish tank or lit hearth: a rectangle moving color bringing life inside the house. And with life brought successfully in, she is free to sit and gaze at a ringing phone, remaining perfectly still. Free to nap on the couch, because doing nothing is tiring. At five, still somewhat exhausted, she puts onions in a hot pan, to fool her husband. "Smells good," he says, taking off his hard hat.

On one of those ordinary days she and the neighbor woman are at the breakfast table and blam! A heavy message arrives from above. Heavy and dense. It crashes through the ceiling and hits her thigh before clattering to the floor, a dimpled and puckered metal hulk.

"No," she says, when the neighbor woman goes to the touch it. She has a feeling it might be hot. She knows somehow that it must be from space. We better call and get somebody out here. Some kind of... meteorologist. 

And what were the chances?

They were piratically no chances. The chance we almost zero, and yet it happened. To her. The thing about news was that it never touched you. You could turn off the radio mid-urgent warning and know the escapee was not going to be in your bushes, not going to be peeping in on your shower. The news never reached anybody in a real way. The meteorite did, and a radio announcer never could have predicted it. All the world's uncanniness in that thing came crashing in from deep, unknowable space, and the proof that it left on her, a tremendous bruise (if only it had lasted!). The person to whom something so unlikely has happened is allowed to think it wasn't an accident, that a meteor fell through space and into Earth's atmosphere and didn't stop falling until it had passed through her ceiling and hit her and you can say accident, but she doesn't have to.

The neighbor returns the morning of the Time photo shoot, in full makeup, eager to talk to the reporters.

"Sorry," the woman says, "but this is about me," and shuts the door on her friend.        

* * *

Semua ini sedang diceritakan oleh Reno kepada kita; tetapi suaranya datang daripada jarak yang jauh seolah-olah dia tidak berada di situ. Pemilihan kata adjektif oleh Kushner di setiap baris adalah tepat dan jelas, terutama sekali apabila ia dibiarkan tergantung dalam satu ayat, seperti ini: Heavy and dense. Kemudian tengok cara dia lukiskan meteor itu apabila ia tergeletak di atas lantai: dimpled and puckered metal hulk. Perkataan dimpled itu terasa panas dan merah seolah-olah ada jerawat gergasi yang melanggar perempuan malang itu. 


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