Tuesday, May 29, 2007

rue de Malte. (extract)

They left her friend at the junction of the Place St Michel and the Rue Danton. Turning from the river they sauntered through the numerous small alleys of the Marais. She felt they were being caught up in the press of bodies. They were like two people set adrift, two people who had lost everything, had only what they stood in. Two people temporarily released from the demarcation of time.

It was like an old movie. The grainy black and white, a war, and the friendship that springs up between a couple, a couple who under different circumstances might never give each other a second glance. Now for these few hours, the artifice of day to day living seemed swept aside.

She was strolling through living theatre. In the strange gestures of a street performer or the movement of a couple, she felt a curtain was being lifted on a scene. A face passed her straight from the deserts of North Africa. Or a body moved by with the grace, the simplicity of the east. She sensed layers of time, of ages packed one on top of the other yet living in front of her. Her footsteps seemed lost in this tide, this stream of animation and energy. With every ebb, every flow of the crowd she was touched by both its ease and its melancholy.

Again she imagined them both moving through it as through the scenes of a movie. War following closely on their heels. Stolen moments of togetherness, of freedom. Yet why war? Why conflict?
Was it that war drove people to simple choices, life or death? Stripped away the accumulation of living, all that is superfluous.
War is the price paid for disregarding the reality of death, of taking love for granted. And there are wars everywhere. If not over politics, religion or land, there are the small wars. The wars in homes, in families, the war between men and women.
As they reached a corner, he stopped. He asked her to come back with him. 'Where he lived was not far,' he explained. She hesitated.
She felt darkness. Not darkness as in the opposite of light, but the darkness sensed in the corners of a Cathedral; the darkness suggested by the flicker of a candle.
He stood looking at her, the features of his face drawn in the street light. Turning her head she caught sight of her reflection in a window.
She saw a woman who for a moment she did not recognise. It was a woman who in her profile, in the longing of her eyes, the turn of her mouth was asking if she had forgotten what life was. A woman always there. The young woman, fresh and eager to taste life. Then the woman she now was - nearing the end of her thirties, matured somewhat, perhaps better able to balance the differing energies that held her.
And there was the old woman. The woman who would one day be a flower that had blossomed beautifully. A woman fading with grace, shedding the trappings of her life the way the petals of the last flowers eventually fall on a lawn as winter approaches.

Now by the window of the hotel room, she thinks of him. She remembers the words he wrote for her, words from a poem. He knew Neruda, but it was Milosz he quoted.

She goes to the bed. The page he tore from the book for her is folded in her bag. It is somewhere between her other papers, her passport, her bank and credit cards.
Her hand slides silently into the bag's blackness. It grasps the piece of paper, pulls it out.

Sitting herself carefully on the edge of the bed she reaches for a small bottle of mineral water on the floor. She slowly unscrews the cap and carefully takes a drink. Then she begins to read. She moves her eyes across the page intently, stopping every now and then to remain on a word or a phrase.
The breeze blows against the curtains, ruffles the room. It is as if the line between inner and outer is weakening. As if, as she finishes, everything seems to fill with a luminosity. The walls begin to dissolve as if there were fire running through them. From beneath her feet, the floor rises to her in waves. A swaying, endless sea. She is grasped by an elusively fierce sensation. As if she were being shook, were being split apart by some force. A force that with a subtle but powerful touch reached right into her very existence. There is a rushing sensation and then quietness. Something opens out within her. Every second, every instant of her life is there. She feels she is surrounded by a light.
It comes to her that people do not fear death as much as they fear living. People do not fear loss as they fear loving. It is the small simple fears that hold you back. Losing yourself in myriad empty dreams.
She thinks of her life. Have there not been times when she has felt completely laid bare? When she has felt exposed the way she would feel if she were made to stand naked in a public place.
Beneath her composure, her coolness, she is often at the mercy of feelings, feelings that just rise up out of some hidden part of her. Feelings of intense sorrow or joy. When she would like to be able to touch the whole world, everything in it from the faces that pass her on a busy street to the tiniest blade of grass in a garden or park.
Even as this desire sweeps over her she is aware that were she able to do so it would not be enough. It would still leave her with a sense of an un-reached world; somewhere she has yet to touch. This world, (and she is never quite sure if she believes it to be outside her or inside her), is a world she feels she once knew. A world she is always trying to get to. A world where her most secret feelings, her deepest longings are met.

Now, sitting on the edge of the bed, the page with the words still in her hand, she would like to run down the narrow stairs of the hotel, to run into the street.
She wants to be sure the pavement is real, the sounds, the smells, the noises of the city are still there.
Not that she doubts their existence, only she feels she has been missing them. For so long they have been there in all their complexity, all their intricacy, all their depth and she has grown complacent. She has forgotten their wonder.


She lay there, her eyes open, the silence of the room whispering to her. They did not make love. They simply talked, held each other. Sometimes it is better not to taste every pleasure at once.
Love, she imagines, is a perpetually unwinding thread. It cannot be subjected to will, made obey whims. It cannot be explained in numbers. Uncoiling, stretching out, it finds itself a path, goes where it needs to be. In each of its turns and twists she finds herself and in some additional aspect. For her love is a fire that once lit burns silently and long.
In the darkness, his words came back to her, his kisses, and how she felt the years between them, the difference in their ages, obliterated.
In intimacy, the quietness between them, it was as if they had left their bodies. There was a space around them in which time, gravity played no part. A feeling that she no longer needed to lose herself in activity, that now she could be still, could let herself fall into the emptiness and yet it was not empty. It was full of something that sustained, some energy that had always been there, like coming to a river and realising the river was a river she had always known.

Copyright (C) Peter Millington