Gertrude Stein, "Is Dead" (1936)

(from How Writing Is Written: Volume Two of the Previously Uncollected Writings of Gertrude Stein)

"Is Dead" was first published in Occident magazine's April 1937 issue (vol. 30, no. 2). It was not published in book form until 1974 in How Writing Is Written.

A hotel in the country is not the same as a hotel in a town but it is in a small town. They all went to the funeral. They passed up near the corpse, they kissed the cross, they were sprayed by the censer and they passed near where they the five of them, perhaps more were standing. It was not terrible.

They find likely that she was dead. She fell upon the pavement of cement in the court and broke her back but did not die nor did she know why. In five days she was dead.

Do you see what I mean.

In a hotel one cooks and the other looks at everything. That makes a man and wife.

Everybody knows all that. As that can keep everybody busy, nobody goes out. He did not go out because his mother had not, though his father had. He was like that. She his wife did not go out because she was the only wife he had. He said he did not want another even if she cried. He did not say he did not want another one even if she tried and died.

Oh dear. We all cried. When we heard she was dead. Not that anybody minded. But they said. She is dead.

How did she die. Now I will try. To tell. How she fell. And she was dead. Not at once. But in five days. Although many wanted to send flowers, in case, that she was, already dead.

How can she die if it is not right to die. In some countries nobody can die if it is not right to be dead. And if it happens where nobody dies if it is not right to die, it is a dishonor, that if she is dead, she died.

In every country there is some way in which it is not right to be dead, that is to die. And why. Each one knows why.

Listen to this one.

Long ago that is before this was, long ago, not so very long ago after all because she was not forty, but any way some time ago there was a hotel keeper who had succeeded his father, who had succeeded his father, who had already succeeded his father. In other words if there was to be a son and there came to be three, there would then have been six generations of hotel keepers.

Six generations in some countries are not so many but still anyway they are quite a few. It was the sixth who was not yet a hotel keeper and perhaps never would be one because he was to be a lawyer who said that there were six. But he became one that is he became a hotel keeper and the reason why is this.

He was not yet a lawyer when his mother, yes it was his mother, it was she who was found dead and not in her bed not even dead anywhere.

Remember the cement was there and she had fallen there and they had put her away from there and it was early in the morning and so nobody who was staying in the hotel knew that she had been there.

It was his mother who was dead there where no one should be dead, when all is said, and very much is said, is always said.

And so he would not be a lawyer because, and this is natural, if a mother is dead, mysteriously dead, a son cannot be trusted as a lawyer, but he can be trusted as a cook, and hotel keeper or as a brother of a cook and hotel keeper, or as a son of a cook and hotel keeper or even later as a grandson and a father of a cook and hotel keeper.

Do you really understand.

Way back before this war, there was a hotel keeper, a very little man with very fine features and if he became very stout later he would be impressive, which he did, and which he was.

He saw a young girl who was also small but rather flat of face who had a smile and who also later on would be stout but she would be stout and charming and be stout and steadily moving in every direction. She would be occupied with every little thing that she ever saw. She would know about clean linen, about peaches and little cakes, as few as possible of each and yet always enough. She would oversee the maids at work, she would push them gently forward to do what there was to do and there was always all of that to do. For them and for her. All day and every day. She was always very nearly perfect when she stood. She never sat. Except when it was late and he and she would dine.

Think of all that.

Just think of all that.

He, the cook and hotel keeper, was little like his mother. His father had been and was tall.

All of us who think about it see what we see.

And then the war came, this late war.

She had come from poorer people than he. He had not come from poor people at all. His father and his grandfather and his grandfather's father had been cooks and hotel keepers and he had not come from poor people at all. She had. This does make a difference and in a way does not make anybody glad.

When the war came he went away to the war. He was a little man and he went away to the war.

Sometimes a little man does not go to the war because he is too little to carry all a soldier has to carry on him, but this man was a little man, and he went to the war and what is more, he did not go and cook at the war, as many a cook did, he went to the war and he fought in the war, and what is more, he fought all the long years of the war until there was no more war.

And all this time she was at home, home at the hotel. And was it home. In a way it was and in a way it was not, but any way it was the only home she had.

Every day and every day she had to see that everything came out from where it was put away and that everything again was put away. That was their way. That had always been their way. In that way she passed each day and each day passed away which was a night, too.

Anybody knows that a night is not a day.

She cried when she tried but even as a day was a day it came to be that way. But it was never only a day. Every day had a day in its way.

In every day there was a day in the way and it came that the day was all day.

In this way one day she tried to find the night beside and when she tried to find the night beside she cried. And her husband came home from the war and there were four children.

Now that he had come back from the war they grew richer and richer. Nothing changed but that. After a war is over if they come back from the war and they grow richer and richer sometimes everything changes and sometimes nothing changes but that.

She had come from poor people and he had not. She was very gracious and smiled sweetly and every day everything was taken out and every day everything was put away and sometimes several times during every day.

He was the cook and hotel keeper he was very busy every day.

That is the way to see a thing, see it from the outside. That makes it clear that nobody is dead yet.

They grew richer and richer every day. That was the only change every day. And every day the change was in that way. They grew richer and richer every day.

As I said they never went out and they never went away and they and they stayed that way.

One day he did not go away, but what happened. He was unfaithful to her. He never went away she never went away and she knew that night was day. Just think of it. She knew that the night was a day.

Everybody knows in a way the difference between the night and the day.

She tried to be while she cried. Oh dear yes. She tried once when she tried, do you remember once when she tried she cried.

Lizzie, do you understand?

Everything passed away except that they did get richer every day.

That was all five years ago or so.

And now nothing happened. They were just as rich if only not richer.

The oldest boy was to be a lawyer and the second boy was to be with his father, he was to be with his mother and his father. What happened. What often does happen. He was not well and then he was to die. He is not dead. He did not die. But what happened instead. A terrible thing happened instead. A terrible thing happened instead. Somebody had to be dead. The grandmother perhaps but that was no matter.

And then everybody knew that it was true. She the mother fell out of a window onto the cement floor and then knew no more than anybody what had happened before.

She was dead then five days after and everybody said that she walked in her sleep. Did she walk in her sleep. Had she walked in her sleep. Who had walked in her sleep. Where did she walk. And whose was it that she walked. Whose was it. Can anybody cry.

Lizzie, do you mind.