Listening to “The Thing That Cries in the Night”; (Chapter Ten): Opportunity Is an Unguarded Furnace

Well, before I continue packing my suitcase for a trip back to New York City, I am going to take a moment to consider the journey proposed in my second broadcastellan poll, now closed. Venturing to shed temporal fetters, I asked the following question: “If you could travel in time, when would you stop?” Here are the results (30 votes):

In the distant past (3% / 1 vote); One to three centuries into the past (10% / 3 votes); A few decades into the past (23% / 7 votes); I’ll stay put, thank you very much (17% / 5 votes); A few decades into the future (3% / 1); One to three centuries into the future (10% / 3); In the distant future (20% / 6). Since I always insist on the reader’s right to question a question, rather than accepting it outright, I added the to me valid response “I think it’s a waste of time to think this through” (13% / 4 votes).

Given the subject of this blog, I am not surprised that a chance to return to the recent past would be more welcome by those who care to read these words than any of the other time travel opportunities. I must confess to having expressed my preference for staying right when I am, even though I half regret my lack of daring. I am not sure whether I would be able to resist an offer to walk among the Victorians I have read and studied for so long.

My steadfast refusal to see myself as nostalgic got the better of me, I guess. Besides, I neglected to clarify whether this exploration into the fourth dimension would mean a return trip. The problematics of polling questions did not prevent me from creating a new and considerably less esoteric survey, which will run until my return from the US in early December. What might it yield? Time will tell.

The clinging to a supposedly happier past and the relentlessness of time’s onward march are very much at the heart of Emlyn Williams’s Night Must Fall, the theatrical thriller I saw yesterday in a production by Clwyd Theatr Cymru. The play opened with the amplified and hence ominous sound of a ticking clock in the home of the superannuated Mrs. Bramson, a self-righteous, imaginary invalid who derives pleasure ordering others about while seeking refuge in the orderly morality of Victorian melodrama. Her time has run out as surely as night must fall.

In Williams’s drama, the retreat into the past is exposed as a false comforter. It offers a superior vantage point, a chance to assign meaning, catalogue and judge; as such, it leaves us unprepared both for the daily negotiations the present in its contingencies demand and for the future that looms dauntingly vague, unfathomable to all who lack a sense of vision. Williams kills off the past as symbolized by the tyrannical Mrs. Bramson; but he offers no future to Dan, her killer, or to Olivia, the old woman’s deeply dissatisfied niece and companion who eventually strips her inhibitions to take his side. The past is not to be conquered by breaking with it violently, Williams suggests; instead, it is the responsibility of the living to dwell and progress in the present with the full understanding that night must fall on us all.

The formidable matriarch of Carlton E. Morse’s radio thriller “The Thing That Cries in the Night” has much in common with Mrs. Bramson; and her grandchildren are all as eager to escape her clutches as Williams’s miserable Olivia, even if it means having to resort to violence or side with their violators.

In the tenth chapter, as heard on this day, 11 November, in 1949, the unconscious Charity Martin is found naked, bound and gagged in front of the furnace down in the basement of the Martin mansion. Who brought her there—and why?

Reggie, one of the three investigators hired to deal with old Mrs. Martin’s “granddaughter trouble,” fears that the young woman was about to be tossed into the flames. Are the violent deeds committed in the house of Martin to be read as an attempt to bury a less than joyful or healthy past—a past whose rotten secrets are fiercely guarded by old Mrs. Martin? Who is playing Atropos? And who might benefit from robbing the Martin children of their future?

Playing by the rules of Morse’s radio serial, I shall have to wait until Monday to find out just what the future will hold. In the meantime, I am living in the now, packing my bags and taking off for New York City, my former home. Catching up with my past while making decisions about the future . . . it’s the adventure I call my present.

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