What can be said about No Place For You, My Love? It is beautifully written, breathtaking. But the story remains enigmatic. Two strangers go off on a drive through an exotic and strange area south of New Orleans. The landscape and the situations they’re in seem to reflect their own predicament—which is not made terribly explicit but mostly hinted at. He is “long married” and in New Orleans on a business trip in which the business seems to be concluded. He is free, his hours unstructured. She is involved in an affair with a married man—at first presented as a suspicion of her companion, and then confirmed later on. This married man is physically abusive. She is caught in a triangular relationship in which she loves someone who is unavailable. She and the man leave a luncheon impulsively to go off together on a journey whose parameters are largely undefined. They both avoid thinking and talking about their predicaments; they concentrate on the present and the weird environment they’re in.
They arrive in a small village called Venice—a bit of irony there—and go to a bar called Baba’s. They are in wonder at the exotic tableaux, but perhaps to assert their difference, the man orders a ham sandwich, and the woman contemplates asking a for a glass of water—both odd choices in a place of beer and shrimp. When the man is called away briefly, the woman has a new awareness:
“She lifted her head to watch him leave her, and was looked at, from all over the room. As a minute passed, no cards were laid down. In a far-off way, like accepting the light from Arcturus, she accepted it that she was more beautiful or perhaps more fragile than the women they saw every day of their lives. It was just this thought coming into a woman’s face and at this hour, that seemed familiar to them.” Without the protection of her companion, she is an object of wonder, perhaps desire. Please notice the shifts in perspective.
Even the proprietor takes notice:
“Baba was smiling. He had set an opened, frosted brown bottle before her on the counter, and a thick sandwich and stood looking at her. Baba made her eat some supper, for what she was.”
Baba offers a tribute, and she accepts.
“The evening was at the threshold.” This observation from the narrator sets the reader up for what occurs next:
“And suddenly she made a move to slide down from her stool, maybe wishing to walk out into that nowhere down the front steps to be a cool a moment. But he had hold of her hand. He got down from his stool, and patiently, reversing her hand in his own—began moving her, leading her. They were dancing.”
If they had ever been going to overstep themselves, it would be now as he held her closer and turned her, when she became aware that he could not help but see the bruise at her temple. It would not be six inches from his eyes. She felt it come out like an evil star.
(this is the confirmation that she’s having an affair).
“I get to thinking this is what we get–what you and I deserve, she whispered, looking past his shoulder into the room. And all this time, it’s real. It’s a real place—away off down here…
Then, they were like a matched team—like professional, Spanish dancers wearing masks—while the slow piece was playing.”
They are like professionals, hired to put on a show, not a real part of the scene at Baba’s. And like professional dancers they keep a distance from one another and do not become even more intimate.
They leave Baba’s and retrace their path back to New Orleans.
“Once the car light picked out two people—a Negro couple sitting on two facing chairs in the yard outside their lonely cabin—half undressed, each battling for self against the hot night, with long white rags in endless, scarf-like motions.”
This is a nice reflection of the protagonists, “battling for self.” I think that’s a clear statement of their dilemmas, that each feels their lives are disconfirming their identities—he is approaching middle age, in a marriage that may not be fulfilling—and she is involved in an affair with an abusive, married man, not the sort of life she’d imagined.
“At length he stopped the car again, and this time he put his arm under her shoulder and kissed her—not knowing ever whether gently or harshly. It was the loss of that distinction that told him this was now. Then their faces touched unkissing, unmoving, dark, for a length of time. The heat came inside the car and wrapped them still, and the mosquitos had begun to coat their arms and even their eyelids.”
What is going on here? They kiss—and he can’t tell whether it’s done gently or harshly—with love or anger. Then, my friends, then there is a big “Then.” What occurs between the kiss and the indication that some time has passed? It’s like in the film Casablanca when Ilsa goes to Rick’s house to persuade him to give her the letters of transit. The film cuts from Ilsa saying she’ll do anything to convince him, to later when he’s shown smoking by the window. (He gives her the letters). What occurs in that unshown time?
Same in No Time. Do they have sex in the car, in the hot darkness? It’s absolutely ambiguous, although Ms. Welty herself, in a commentary, only states that they kiss. They kiss, and then their faces touch “for a length of time.” Then they seem to be aware of the heat and the mosquitos. The next mention of the woman is “She appeared to be sound asleep, lying back flat as a child, with her hat in her lap.” Then, when they say goodbye, back in the city, they shake hands, and the man begins speaking “Forgive…” but falters. “For just in time, he saw she expected it of him.
“And that was just what she did, forgive him. Indeed, had she waked in time from a deep sleep, she would have told him her story.”
What is he asking forgiveness for? What does she forgive? That he kissed her and maybe more? Maybe that he took her on the hot car ride.
I don’t know, my friend. I don’t know. Maybe, it’s that she forgives him for not waking her—and this carries a lot of meaning, the literal and also that whatever he did do during their time together, he did not press her to reveal herself. He allowed her to remain “impervious” which is a theme of the story.
Of course, this begs the question: what difference would it make whether or not they had sex? Really, not so much to the reader. What’s clear and important is that they acted out a ritual of lovemaking just as they acted out the dance at Baba’s—a distant ritual.
At the very end, after he drops her off at her hotel, he drives away, thinking that he has one more day of his business trip. He observes the New Orleans nightlife, thinks of his wife, and then remembers being a young man in college in New York City, “and the shriek and horror and unholy smother of the subway had its original meaning for him as the lilt and the expectation of love.”
What about the title? you ask. Well, I’ll tell ya.
It certainly could have several relationships with the story. One is that the protagonists end up feeling there is no place for love. It’s implied that he is in a loveless marriage, and that she is wasting her time on someone who will not commit to her. And their afternoon together is an expectation of love that is not met. The love they’ve felt for each other in the strange unreal world of southern Louisiana has no place in their regular lives.
Till next time, best b.