The Captive’s Tale

One night I dream that I have come to a Bridge across a broad River, with small settlements at either approach, and in its center at the highest point of its Arch, a Curious Structure, some nights invisible in the river mists, Lanthorns burning late,— a Toll-House. Not ev’ryone is allow’d through, nor is paying the Toll any guarantee of Passage. The gate-keepers are members of a Sect who believe that by choosing correctly which shall dwell on one side of this River, and which the other, the future happiness of the land may be assur’d. Those rejected often return to one of the Inns clustered at either end of the Bridge, take a bed for the night, and try again in the morning. Some stay more than one night. When the Bills become too burdensome, the Pilgrims who wish strongly enough to cross, may seek employment right there,— at the Ale-Draper’s, or the laundry, or among the Doxology,— and keep waiting, their original purpose in wishing to cross often forgotten, along with other information that once seem’d important, such as faces, and their Names,— whose owners come now to my rooms to visit, and to instruct me in my Responsibilities, back wherever it is I came from. They say they have known me all my life, and seek to bring me away, “home” to where I may at least be seen to by Blood. Perhaps there is a young man, professing with the skill of an amateur actor to be my husband. “Eliza! do tha not recognize me? The little Ones,—” and so forth. Someone I cannot abide. Stubbornly, I look for some explanation of this Order to live upon a side of the River I’d rather be across from than on.

—Mason & Dixon by Thomas Pynchon