Back to: [The Blue Stairway][Elena Alexieva][SLOVOTO]
Diary of Secrets
My father is under the ice. I think I can see him as if under a magnifying glass, he has already swum away: further. My father is not satisfied with just lying under the ice, it doesn’t feel far enough, so he keeps swimming. He is not even swimming but floating - and floating, he smiles at me. When I was a little girl I used to run after him, and every time I was close enough to him, he would slip away: further. I tried to run faster, I even tried to predict which way he would go and, running even faster, get there before him, then sit on the ice and knock on it with my knuckles, as if knocking on a door. ‘Knock-knock, hello, Dad, here I am, how are you? Isn’t it cold out there? Aren’t you hungry? Where are you going? When will you be back? Will you be back at all?’ ‘Knock-knock, I’m fine my dear, don’t you worry, I’m fine. I’ll be late for dinner… I’ll be late… ’ And saying this, he drifts away again. Through the ice I can see first his face passing under my feet, then his body and finally his new shoes, his wristwatch still ticking although its strap will rot away in just a couple of years. It seems we can keep on running one after the other for the rest of our lives, but suddenly I feel too tired, and not simply tired but sick and enraged, so I start shouting at him: ‘Are you nuts or what? What do you think you’re doing - popping up here and there, slipping away, hiding, being nowhere… What for?’ But my father continues to float, untouched, smiling at me without a hint of understanding, and no wonder, for he can’t hear me from under the ice. He can’t hear anyone. And then I stop moving around and don’t make even a single step anymore. I stand like this for a terribly long time. I lose him from view, then he passes by again, watching from underneath and silently knocking on the ice: ‘knock-knock, hello, my dear, you’ve grown up an awful lot… How are you doing? Don’t let them get you, sweetheart, don’t…’ As I stand here all by myself, in this lonely place, I find out that he actually moves around in large, irregular circles: he goes further, then comes back; passes to my left, then to my right; sometimes under my feet, moving his arms slightly, using the underwater currents and doing pretty well. My father is a former swimmer and one never forgets such things. Here, he never goes too far from me, just far enough, for fathers always look at their children, no matter what they see. Fathers always float around. True, I don’t see other children on the ice, nor have other fathers ever passed by, but I am almost sure they are there. ‘Knock-knock, come out, Dad, come out, only for a while... What if you love it? And if you don’t, you’ll be right back, I won’t be keeping you here… But there is something I want to tell you…’ ‘Knock-knock, I can’t hear a word, my child, shout louder, your Dad’s getting old – look how gray my hair has become… Shout, my dear, shout louder…’ And while I feel my lungs opening wider, cold air filling them and the pain cutting deeper, my father disappears: his blue shoes disappear, his wristwatch disappears. He swims away again. So I have to breathe out as my lungs feel like bursting. I keep standing still, for if I move even a bit further, he wouldn’t find me when he returns.
* * *
My mother is over the house, soaring gently and noiselessly, while I watch and watch and watch until my neck aches, letting my eyes follow her. Then I somehow lose her. Does she see me? Sometimes it seems she really does. I wonder if she sees my father under the ice too. And does he see her? It’s hard for me: I can look either upwards, at her, or downwards, at him. I can hardly see them both, only sometimes, when they are so far that I see them with my peripheral vision. Well, that’s not exactly ‘seeing’, for they are just two tiny dots: one in the corner of my left eye and the other in the corner of my right eye. Mother is flying not like a bird but rather like a kite, and if I peer enough I can recognize the string that binds her to the house. I remember how once she wanted to stop flying and not even try anymore, but the string saved her. Also, I remember another time when she wanted to fly far away so as not to be able to come back, even if she tried to. Then the string saved me. When I was a little girl, the sky above my mother was gray, pinkish clouds scattered all over. Now it is all gray, dark rain-clouds in it and torrents falling right on her head. I fear that, after so much rain, she is already ill, maybe with a bad cold, but why wouldn’t she come down then, instead of flying all the time? Perhaps she has forgotten she can still come down, or perhaps she just wouldn’t return to the house, though it is the only place she belongs to now. I guess she is thinking of this, but is unreasonable or too reasonable, who knows… Sometimes she flies right over my head and then we talk to each other: ‘Hi, Mom. Aren’t you tired? Why don’t you come down and relax for a while? I'm myself tired now, just from watching you. Please, I need some rest… Flying is a dangerous thing, sad and merciless, and no matter how long you fly over the house, you can’t escape from it… I myself can’t escape from it. Even Dad under the ice can’t. I have never heard of anyone who has escaped from their house…’ ‘I don’t want to run away, darling, no, I prefer staying with you, both of you, but somehow I can’t. Something makes me soar above the house, something so big it makes me cry… I’m tired too. I need a rest.’ ‘Shall I pull the string, mother?’ ‘No, darling, don’t. You might break it.’
And so we talk with my mother, her colorful dress bulging in the wind, her solitude self-evident like my father’s, although they don’t even share a word. Then the two of them sit in the kitchen, embraced, and suffer monstrously from each other, from everything that happens and from everything that would never happen. As they sit, my father’s knees point gently at the ceiling: he is a little boy sitting on a fence, beginning to age. Mother is desperate – sometimes she knows why, and at other times she’s simply desperate. Nobody’s asking for anything, we know too much, even the way we are now. Then father returns to the ice, mother ascends in the sky and continues to circle like an abandoned kite, while I stand here, pretending not to notice.
* * *
The beast at the bottom of the jar looks frightful but is harmless, as is often the case with beasts. A combination which hardly is a winner but is at least curious. This one is comparatively small for its breed, if a beast has a breed at all. It has an elongated body, both graceful and sluggish, with small stunted limbs that make it look like a fat worm. It is covered with thin rusty fur, astonishingly soft to the touch, if one does not feel repelled to touch it. Somewhere deep in the skin of its shapeless head lie a pair of ever-watchful eyes no one has ever seen. But it is well known they exist. This knowledge, transferred from one generation to the next, has endowed the beast with a kind of a mythical aura, and serves to justify its bestiality. They also say that the beast’s eyes are always full of tears and if someone sees them, his heart would break. Science, however, considers these tears the result of a permanent irritation caused by the fur that covers the bestial head. Somewhere in its body, the beast has several corneous formations, shapeless like everything in it, repulsively yellowish and with a faint smell of cheese. The smell comes from a couple of tiny glands, observable at the base of those corneous formations. Generally, the beast smells little, but sometimes the smell becomes so unbearable that the jar has to be closed. Science is almost positive that the aforementioned set of glands and corneous formations mark the place of the bestial soul. There is no other evidence of soul existing within the beast. The beast wouldn’t move if it sensed someone’s presence. Indeed, no one has ever seen it move and the only indication is that some mornings the bestial head rests where the bestial bottom has been. A rather insane hypothesis says that the beast does not move in the strict sense of the word but, using the power of its bestial will, shifts its head to replace its bottom and vice versa. Of course, the mechanism of this replacement is obscure and unimaginable. Likewise, no one has ever seen the beast eat – a finding that leads us to another hypothesis, namely, that the beast feeds on its own excrement, which no one has ever seen either. Two possible explanations for such an inconspicuous transformation are considered: a) the beast defecates and consumes its excrement only at night, although all attempts to secretly observe this have failed; b) the beast defecates and eats its excrement up at once, within a single moment and so quickly, it is impossible for a human eye or any other tool of observation to register it. Such a mechanism, however, is also obscure and unimaginable. Unfortunately, this is almost everything that is known of the beast. There is no information about its sex, life expectancy, breeding and so forth; it is not clear whether it is an aerobic or anaerobic organism. Actually, nobody even knows where it came from.
* * *
I can still feel the taste of my own barbarism, experience its sad and endless desires, though I can’t realize what has become of it. People don’t seem so unbelievably tall any more; streets aren’t wide and endless. I have overcome my disgust for certain things, yet others are taking their places. I don’t know why I talk so much about this. Perhaps it’s fear: I fear not sadness but its countless reasons; I fear not the journey but its cold and dangerous roads, on which I look terribly small, almost a child. Barbarism is a sweet cradle in which no one can remain forever. Its cruelty seems simple and distinct, almost innocent, compared to what follows, and so, I try with all my heart to dash back to a time that needs no memory. My exquisite and obscure centuries change in the blink of an eye, and I can watch them only from a distance, my gaze blurred by the tears of some missed chance. Indeed, the past always gives reasons for regret; the future never does. But of course, I won’t allow myself to indulge in regret. I’m trying to convince myself that nothing is lost. I’m trying to live on unnoticed and mute, in order to preserve my health and spirit for who knows what great deeds. It is hard, for all the time I have to curb the selfishness of the single child that I am. It becomes so funny and inexplicable, as soon as you are able to proceed further! Yet there, in the deserted garden, an ever-living little monster of indefinite age screams and wallows on the ground. I am quite aware that beyond this selfishness I’m exposed to the mercy of love, which is not ashamed to destroy everything precious in its way, in the name of a suspect ideal. With an unprecedented easiness it turns into a week of suffering, then grows to fill a month, then a year, perhaps infinity… Barbarism itself shivers and squirms in foreboding of this love. It becomes more turbulent and senseless. Its joy knows no limits and remains forever beyond time. And this is the joy I remember when I ask myself what happened in those years on which all subsequent life has fallen like a sledgehammer.
* * *
The blind spots in my memory are getting more and more numerous... Pale mornings, hills, endless arpeggios played on the piano, fresh vegetables from the garden, carrots with earth on them, a card with a yellow-eyed penguin, overalls and handkerchiefs with my initials on them, red, blue, yellow, never black, chocolate Christmas toys, Christmas, Christmas: a tree touching the ceiling - all for me, the old radio cabinet, buttons clicking: berlin, luxembourg, moscow, london and where’s Paris? I insist on listening to fairy-tales in the morning, otherwise I refuse to go to kindergarten, the hen that lays double-yolked eggs – my cousin eats them two by two, grandma’s summer shoes, dyed black after grandpa died. Mornings, afternoons, evenings… I sometimes lose my keys and get punished: some bad guy may find them and rob us - he’ll take with him all my dolls, teddy bears, puzzles… Funny, fat child, like a little elephant, always bullied and mocked, always good and quiet, but what rage in its heart, what thirst for revenge… ‘Here, darling, why don’t you ask Mom and Dad to buy you a baby-brother? Or a baby-sister? No? A sweet, sweet baby-sister?’ a mean and dirty giggle, auntie’s eyes rolling faster and faster, Mom smiling uneasily. In the night I cry a lot: I want no baby-brothers or sisters, hateful creatures, can’t imagine being betrayed like this, being replaced by brothers and sisters, can’t imagine sharing anything with anyone. Terror grips me, a horrible bout of child’s hysteria: I scream and shout, all red, ‘I d-d-don’t w-w-want, oh, please, d-d-don’t’; I fall into an abyss, here: a baby-sister comes to me, arms extended, giggling, eyes rolling faster and faster, Mom takes her in her arms… ‘What are you doing, Mom? What are you doing?’… Dad comes, takes her in his arms too… ‘No, Dad, no!’… Then the three of them leave me. It’s my first time alone.
One more hole in my memory. Almost nothing is left of my childhood. I can barely remember it. A distant, blurred movie at the cinema near the drugstore, maybe ‘Lemonade Joe’, maybe ‘Ferra the Vampire’… Now my childhood is at the very end of the thick - though fading - line that marks the perspective of my being, the very end of the sugar-stick. Now my childhood is a shapeless, softly glistening jelly of faint colors, in which I can’t recognize anyone, even myself. It left me before I had left it, went to play with someone new and took away everything, even that which was meant to remain with me. And it looks like my life-to-be is trying to act in the same way…
I have more and more blind spots in my memory. Now every single day, every moment falls like an overripe fruit and disappears. I can’t hear anything tumble down. There is no bottom. However, what comes is not new to me, I know it from somewhere and it’s trite. I have nothing. Everything slips away and I can’t retain it in my memory or heart. Only my mind still works – clear but heavier, hard to bear, stiffening. Soon it will stop as well. I avoid thinking of what will happen next, although I know: it is something that comes to me quite often these days, perhaps one of the few undamaged sites on my island. This will be the last point in my life’s plan; a last point that so gently will merge with the final one that even I won’t feel it.
Now, however, I’d like to rest a bit. Just for a while, enough to take a breath. They say I’ve just come out of my childhood, but already I have no strength left in me. Indeed, I need some rest. I’m here. I have nowhere to escape. And the funniest thing is, everyone knows this.
* * *
Why can’t I keep this secret? Why can’t I stick it where it belongs, there with the silent disagreements, which I often remember with a certain dose of envy? I am not a traveler in my own blissful prehistory; I am its executioner and this gives me a sweet and morbid pleasure. I am in no hurry, though at the same time I feel the anxious impetus that drives the hand of the impatient, rushing who knows where… Old, well-memorized places often pass in front of my eyes. New ones I remember rarely and with uneasiness. They don’t speak to me, their mouths sealed until they become distant enough. It’s not hard to imagine how effortlessly I shall walk through them, as soon as they are behind me. Childhood, childhood: a sorrowful scream, it pierces my ears like a silver needle, and my mind swoons with the pain of what is irreversibly done. This is not normal. I am abnormally engulfed by my freakishness, by the deformity of my excessive senses that will finally destroy me. I long for a rest: two days of sunshine and two nights of cool to redeem myself. A cup of coffee in the morning, a drop or two of alcohol in the evening – just to let my mind free from considering itself too seriously.
Wonderful, soothing objects surround me. When I touch them, I feel softness and smoothness, roughness and dryness… They help me remember. Disappointment existed before too, locked up in the woodshed like a most ordinary tool. Since then, it has sometimes slipped away, raging around for days before I manage to get it back. This is another secret. And like most of my secrets, it can't be kept only between myself and myself. It sneaks into my words, my features, into the way I use my possessions… Disappointment is the secret of every vigorous hour. It bites like cold, and just like cold gets us moving to get warmer. There is no power like it.
* * *
A world of islands would have been more tolerable. To feel the sea is to feel secure or rather, to feel out of immediate danger. To be an island is to see better and farther, to be always surprised at the sight of something new, for one gets easily accustomed to invariability. To be an island is to have nowhere to hide, and thus, be proud in any circumstances, be readily conquered and liberated, shelter and part with no regret. To be an island is to have only your natural boundaries and nothing else, to know only your woods and beasts, to have nothing to lose and to be able to lose everything at once. Let it look as if you wanted it yourself, hoping to become a thousand times stronger afterwards. Ready to die any moment, an island has time and space of its own. There everything happens faster. Lacking a connection with a continent, lacking a continent at all, an island is strangely ignorant: a soothing emptiness not to be filled, appetite and curiosity merging into invigorating sadness. An island doesn’t know it is an island. It has never seen its own image, reduced to a yellowish bump with a palm against a blue background. Uncontaminated, more of a casual occurrence, an island is a form of frozenness between two states. A continent is not an exceedingly large island – it is something quite different
An island is part of the sea. It variegates it.
A world of islands would mean a world of seas. A world of seas wouldn’t forgive anyone.
* * *
My hours are devoted to… Oh, I dare not say what my hours are devoted to! Except to growth, I dedicate my hours to examination of my exquisite and ancient, filthy and mud-spattered heritage, expecting to find there something more about that weird in-between feeling I still don’t know what to call. It brings me into the proximity and distance between the youthful lovers I’ve known since early childhood, though under different names. It introduces them into their solitude, which makes them so bloated that considered separately, they seem insignificant. I will soon approach them and strip them of their needless decoration to prove that I am not afraid of monster plays anymore. I feel I’ll be able to talk to them, and this is such a miracle to me that I don’t even ask if it’s worth the effort. For those who, by a twist of fate, know what happens in both halves of this wonderful world, there is no risk of being lured by either. I suspect they were the inventors of grammar - the founder of accord and keeper of unutterable secrets; that same grammar which surrounds my desire to talk from all sides and makes me fight for it.
Of course, I don’t make all these discoveries with ease. I ponder over them for many years, which, apart from being evidence for their complexity, can also be proof of my own stupidity. I come into consciousness of my belongings slowly, and even more slowly relate them to joy or disappointment. Constantly surprised, I stand paralyzed among them, not daring move or wrench, or touch. Sometimes I would like to share them, but this requires will-power I don’t posses. It’s all due to that feeling of in-betweenness: it leaves no strength and breeds unhealthy doubts, its scheming makes teeth rot and bones dry up. I look through it as if through a magnifying glass, and see and hear with the eyes and ears of an outright scoundrel, merciful only with the mercy of good old solitude. The lovers come to me again. Their vanity spills out with a gentle jingle over every passing second; their throats, coarse with passion, rise in a weave of threats and retreats. They are a blow to the longing for peace.
I can’t remember whether these distorted thoughts have occupied my mind during my sweet days too. Science says I shouldn’t remember. But my sagging, frozen memory says something else.
* * *
The room where Arthur and I sleep smells sweetly and heavily of hyacinths. Slowly, I come out of my dreaminess, although many things prevent me from getting back. Beyond the darkness of healthy sleep, the world looks different and more inviting - a world of seas with islands in them. Too complex to remember and too precious to consider, dreams at least offer the comfort that not all of my memories are lost. If not I, then my body still recognizes some fragments of our life. In the hands of my own physiology I feel more relaxed than elsewhere. If it was up to bodies, everything would have finished naturally and painlessly, but no – there is always some idle sense to complicate things. Far from me, Arthur breaths noisily, whines as if chased, worries, cries, then is suddenly joyful… ‘Arthur, Arthur’ I whisper to him, ‘what are you dreaming of?’ and transformations cease at once. Only his noisy breathing remains. What have I taken away from him? Perhaps he himself will never know, though this is not an excuse. No one is allowed to act so goodheartedly, I should refrain as well. Besides, what do I know about Arthur’s world, about his island? Definitely less than he knows about mine. I take a deep breath, my lungs open in the sweet smell of hyacinths, like flowers that have recognized their own scent. Where does this withered feeling come from?
Mild relaxation, cherished warmth – one more state of affiliation. Everyone knows it. Uttered in a confident drawl, the bodily word is expressive and is not the final one. A body wants what it wants: another body. Nothing in me, though, except for the body, wants another body. A body needs neither be punished nor encouraged. Its desires tend to get hold of me, and I hate obeying. Both things are condemnable – excessive desires, as well as disobedience. My own desires somehow never manage to grasp the body utterly. Our two wills are often in a state of unnatural collision. This is not because I don’t respect my body. But it’s not my body at all. Sometimes I stand in front of the mirror and tell myself: ‘This is not the body of your spirit’. Bodies are freakish. Even when they are perfect, they are still freakish. A mediocre piece of art. Noting to do with Arthur’s black sparkling fur, his slender legs and darling muzzle. And yet, that precious affiliation. The trump card, kept in the sleeve before it is used, then furiously crushed into a ball, then smoothed with an insistent caress, with hatred. Affiliation: abolishment of a sentence, infliction of a new one. Every time an immense inventiveness, resembling the one that diversifies the instruments for inquisition. Am I with or against myself? Perhaps it makes no difference, perhaps there are more than two sides. Who is ‘himself’? – A definition of countless sentences, a ‘but’ amidst each of them. The young ask, the old shake heads approvingly. I ask but meet no approval. In fact, I meet nothing. Sometimes I meet someone. Nothing more obsolete and amusing than peeping into the solitude of others. It’s usually warm and dirty there. High ideas stink of musk glands. The solitude of others resembles a more sophisticated crossword: if you’ve attended school regularly you are supposed to fill it. Anyone can touch the solitude of others, make them experience the hurtful pleasure of being penetrated. For all their solitude needs is a mighty push to forget everything, an invocation of death to find something to stick to. Violence can cure any suffering, any disease, solitude included. There is, however, solitude which is not a disease – it is open air and sea, its symptoms are not measured by presence but by absence, plenty of absence; its fields are green, its grass is fragrant, its hell is deep.
The richest, most abundant place. The more I touch, the more I lose balance. Every time I begin to understand, consequences come down on me in fearful cairns, my breath is broken, I start swaying. I hope nothing of the few things I know will turn out to be true, for even a single truth will kill me, poisoning my thin blood, disrupting my uncertain constructions. I try to stay away from knowledge and not probe too deeply, live only on essentials. Seeking to prolong the hours of peace, I flavor them with listless indolence: I read books and forget them, watch films and forget them, meet people and forget them. I forget even my own thoughts. I need know nothing, better not to be able to get a glass of water by myself - let someone else get it for me: let him reach for the glass, fill it up, hand it to me and so on, day by day. There is nothing like an existence woven of helplessness, trust and reliance. There is nothing like having gods.
I yearn, cry aloud, become dismembered and yearn again. Wallowing in my own shit, I long for someone to hold my heart in tender hands, to cradle and comfort it gently. He need not expend even a drop of his inestimable love, pity will do. I won’t be able to withstand more.
Look, Arthur wakes up slowly, stretching, stirring… Arthur basks in the laziness of healthy sleep, his short life teaching him to take advantage even of the most unimportant states. In fact, he doesn’t know unimportant states, he experiences everything thoroughly, in depth and with tremendous readiness. He is on perfect terms with his god, for I am his god. I am the one to hold his leash, feed him, give orders… I hate it this way. I want him to obey not out of fear but out of love. I myself don’t want to obey out of fear but out of love. But I haven’t yet seen the face of him who holds my leash.
* * *
It seems I’ve yet again taken the place of someone else. Otherwise how can I explain this discomfort and embarrassment, this staggering which makes me lose my balance? The more memory shrinks, the more imagination grows monstrous and tyrannical. Again I find myself amidst its filthy, uninviting suburbs, among the glaring images of miseries of which I have never thought, behind the curtained windows of diseased inhabitants, under the greasy fingers of dining old men… This world, in its monstrosity, resembles my own: the same molting wings flapping in its frayed skies, the same rickety cars driving along its streets. Imagination is the power of the powerless: it takes up all their time and all hopes out of their troubled minds. I too get lost playing with it, and forget to answer the invitations for a more reasonable entertainment. Pulling the dog, the house, the flowerbeds and the red automobile behind myself, I’ve clasped that tender age, which I can never summon in my memory. As though memory and imagination are two different things. Can’t choose between them, for it takes not choice but disposition. I’m trying to somehow change my disposition before it has engulfed me within its dull history. Resisting, towering against it with all my blood and sweat and saliva, I dig my nails into it, trample it over with my giant feet, and so we are caught in an endless battle, not daring to hurt each other.
But nothing remains uninjured – neither places, nor people, nor their appeasing habits. Every trifle brings convulsive emotions. I see how even a single day tosses me further, from where there’s no return, no solace… Gathering anything I find, I’ve already accumulated an impressive collection of souvenirs, fleshless precisely like the thing of which they should remind. I want not just to speak; I want to talk, but there is no one around. Settlers and exiles drain away to both sides of my land, sweeping away every pebble, every leaf of grass they can lock up in their suitcases. Scurf and infections breed there, unavoidable. Elements and tissues kneaded into the greasy dough of an ever-grubby species. Human suitcases contain all of sadness, all the possible ways out of a world whose peoples fill and empty it with disturbing quickness. I adore these suitcases, this panic-stricken replacement, no hint of traveling, which longs to take everything, but holds so little. It also disrupts memory, and it grows underdeveloped, limbs small, the huge head of a circus dwarf that makes us laugh and is contemptible at once. Memory fits perfectly inside these suitcases. It lies down, next to the toothbrush and the clean underwear, waiting to be taken out, in the sun. Its back bent, voice hoarse with waiting. It looks like and old woman, hoping to die sooner so as not to be a burden for her children. Die of waiting. And the past is entrusted to this weightless, death-shrunken old hag; the past in which I also rummage with my scratched and dirty fingers, and every bit I find feels like my own. Her memory alone is left, and it’s the only one for all of us. Human suitcases are frightening…
The progress of age moves through such fights and shifts and frozenness, before the tiredness of its constant movement has accumulated. The oldness of memory is a symptom of deformed age; another symptom is the rather frequent use of the imagination. Sometimes childhood is an island beyond which old age comes. Yet at other times it is a state of mind, fearful and amusing, playing with its shameless fantasies all day long.
But enough about searching and finding. I am trying to answer all of my own questions, though I haven’t asked even one of them. Masked as small drawers full of secrets, the hours of the diary fly unnoticed, spoiling the stories that rest in them. As though there’s no need for stories any more. I can always fix something to comfort the heart. But what’s that heart to feed on the inventions of the others, instead of reaching for its own? It wouldn’t move, nor fight, nor freeze. It is obscene to talk of it while grieving for the untold stories. For the heart can’t read the diary. The heart itself is an invention of the diary.
* * *
I was out for a while, far away. No, not that far, but far enough. I heard grasses rustle, watched the sun, walked through woods and meadows, lay on my back in contemplation, lay on my stomach in contemplation… I kept changing viewpoints, all with the same result. Nature welcomed me, then saw me off, both with stupendous indifference. It was all the same to her whether I was there or not. I didn’t manage to disturb her, didn’t want to. Had no particular aim, something just brought me there, left me in peace for a while, then took me away. Nature was very beautiful and I could feel her love for all her natural parts, even for the tiniest ones. Of course, I was obviously out of place but still, I sensed a tinge of friendliness in her indifference. Nature said nothing, nor asked anything, and so I didn’t tell her either. Just wallowed around, head all vacant, a bit sad but able to appreciate her immense forbearance, her great inviolableness. Thus, nature treated me with understanding: she neither encouraged, nor allured me, nor withdrew. I tried, humble as I am, to respond in the same way: didn’t take away a single flower to decorate my dark apartment, didn’t pick any herb to make tea at home, no trophies, nothing did I carry away. And still, as I was leaving, I felt a strange, tender lightness, a distant warmth in my stomach, and thought how kind of nature to act so generously, as if I weren’t an uninvited and confused stranger, hoping to inflict my mediocre pains upon her.
Or maybe nature thought I was just another Saturday hiker.
* * *
A favorite song of mine says, ‘your beauty is an airplane’… Lying on the bed I repeat, ‘your beauty is an airplane, your beauty is an airplane’... Trying to think of someone so beautiful his beauty would rise him high up in the sky, trying to see him soaring over my filthy neighborhood, then in wider and wider circles over the city, and finally, over the greenish surrounding every city has, no matter how big it is. Maybe Dora? Yes, surely Dora. She’s not exactly beautiful but she is light and euphonic enough to be an airplane. Here is Dora’s face, so high above I cannot even recognize it. Here are her legs, knees slightly bent. Oh, Dora, you’re so fine against this background! She looks as if she's holding a pair of white peacock feather fans. Or a pair of veils. Or a pair of triangular iron-sheets painted white. Doesn’t matter. What actually matters is that she is light, intangible - flesh vanishing, bones scattered, desires coming true. I cannot expect anything more from her; she has given me everything. Is Dora an angel? No, not yet. She is still Dora. I am afraid of her and it’s not just me but all of us living on the ground above which she soars. We are afraid Dora can drown us in the floods of her infernal joy. Or throw us in the darkness of her raging sadness. One might expect anything; her erraticism knows no limits. And it’s all due to a beauty Dora does not possess, but still demonstrates convincingly. Fear is a possible incarnation of our love; it is its source and means. For whether Dora inflicts her joy upon us or drowns us in her sadness, she does that so tenderly no one feels anything. I’m used to considering everything as resulting from myself. When I look at her, Dora is always serene. Can’t tell what she is like when I don’t watch her. Perhaps Dora is not serene at all, perhaps she’s the one to make things happen, and no one even suspects. Maybe she has been given another name, another personality, another beauty I can ponder over, although that's quite strange. And maybe some day we’ll find ourselves in obscure intimacy, realizing it is all we’ve ever wanted, not very different from what everybody wants, any time. But now she is high above, and I am deep below, and we’ll probably never meet. We do meet however, we meet and part and meet again, every day, for we actually occupy the entire space. Thus, we are in close contact all the time, no room left for anything between us. That’s why lying in my bed, saying ‘your beauty is an airplane’, I see her vast, indifferently smiling face above my head, feel her soft and elongated body on top of my own. I am afraid of Dora and she is afraid of me, and so, paralyzed by these interwoven fears, we cannot hurt each other.
The same song says, ‘sad is to live in solitude’… Sad, sad, sad. To live, live, live. In solitude, solitude, solitude. But is it more amusing to die, die, die in solitude, solitude, solitude? Oh, undoubtedly. This song is rather old. Other ideas, different aesthetics. Jazz is to blame for this. It has the quality to take doubts far away, turn the world into a consequence of a black voice. And when the voice is silent, no solitude, no beauty, no airplane, nothing remains. We wake up in a bed, could be an iron one. Embraced. Sweating. Heads spinning. Bent in two, could be with colic or laughter. Skin prickly, enormous, poisonous thirst inside our bodies. It is the quality of jazzy things. But we see Dora high above, in all her serenity. And enjoy thinking that even so terribly wretched, we are part of this serenity.
* * *
I feel very much like traveling these days. As soon as possible, as far as possible. I would have already gone but, uniquely cruel, summertime has chained me to the hateful cradle of unwillingness. Of course, I can always open my old atlas, mark destinations, red pencil on its yellowish pages, make lists of places I’d like to visit. Sorted as: most desired, easily accessible, cruises, journeys… This would just whet my appetite, yet give no satisfaction. Actually, even if it wasn’t for the summer, I couldn’t go anywhere. Summer only shades this inability in psychological darkness. I dream of various places, imagine them tempting and adorable, even their names thrilling me deeply. Toulouse and Amsterdam are easy to envision, but what about Togo or Burkina Faso? Such moments make the limits of my own place seem narrower and more unsurpassable than ever. Perhaps elsewhere the routine, well-established reality is designed to gently and painlessly relieve such longings, possibly let them become true. Here it is the opposite. A single glance at the messy, molted nearby garden is enough to bring tears in my eyes. Tears of rage and helplessness. I wonder if the greenest and freshest areas in the atlas are indeed so nice. And what about the spacious hazelnut plateaus? The pale-blue sea and ocean shallows? What about the beaches, which are always there though unmarked? It hurts to look at these cheerful, trite colors, suggesting hundreds of others, glowing on the map only to reveal the essentials to sentimental fools like me. And once I cannot travel, I can at least roam. Nothing would suppress my enormous desire to move. I can even choose between the dirty and suspicious railroad cars, mice running among the passengers’ feet, and the large, luxurious buses, in which bad movies are available too. My insistence touches the thin air of whims and, poisoned, shrinks to a tiny raisin. I can easily give up. Will keep on hanging over the atlas for a couple of days more, then fling it where it belongs. Won't stop thinking of traveling though. On the contrary: I’ll be piling up more and more dream-like chances, for it is known that those who are poor and unable love piling up. And one day, when I’m finally off for somewhere, it simply won’t be the same. I won’t let myself be absorbed in travel, for desires that are too big eat everything up, even themselves. But there is plenty of time until then, and so, I can go on sneaking through the hostile silence of small towns.
* * *
I’m headed towards emptiness and distance and nothing can divert me, at least so they say. I’m cold, my nails are dirty. On my way I see old men having coffee, white hair waving in the wind. Gothic architecture may be banal but the first time it always makes an impression. Meaningful voices emerge from the surrounding silence, defending and menacing, as if out of mere enjoyment. It’s foolish of me to appreciate attention of this kind, and yet I do. Not saying I’ve got rid of foolishness, nor that I ever will. I’ve heard of snotty-green plants but never seen any at this geographical width. I feel so excited as I say this. My future looks like jelly: I know it’ll quiver all over if squeezed, but would not show what’s there inside it. When I get hungry I usually chew peppermint gum. Mint devours hunger. The feeling of vigor is unbearable. Cold is embarrassing. Some people’s faces become paralyzed by cold. Others remain unaffected. But they have their reasons too. Hunger is bla-bla. Death’s breath. Or life’s. It exists in the verses of barefoot poets. Poets always complain of hunger and poverty. Their poetry is bla-bla, close to the stars. Poetry is a gas mask: take it off and everything gets clear. You might as well fall down and die. So they stop inventing. There aren’t any poor where I'm going. Poverty wouldn’t work there. People there smoke long, thin cigarettes they keep in boxes, golden words on top. I want to be like them. I see myself peering through my reading-glasses, nothing calling me outside. I realize it’s abnormal to long for such things. There is a word for this in the thick books, but I haven’t learned it yet. If it comes to me, however, I’ll learn it for sure. Words are bla-bla. Mint chewing gum. They always bring consequences. I don’t want to get involved. Let the poor have it. I saw a man with a carnation on his lapel. He wasn’t young at all. An old man actually, but quite refined. His cheeks were waxen. I imagined him escorting an anemic old lady. Can’t I age faster? Old age is an advantage where I go. If one can reach it. A walk under the trees becomes a real delight. Shoulders shawled, purse and umbrella in hand. Parents are okay if they don’t live too long. Life requires meekness. Crumbs falling on their laps as they eat. Tolerance and understanding are needed until the bells of the fire brigade start ringing. Saving my favorite. Books. No, this is unfair. In such a situation one cannot think soberly. Grabs the first thing he sees. A toy. The crystal set, save the crystal set… One might forget even his coat. Then regrets a lot. Clothes don’t matter where I go. People there wear them only to cover their bodies. Their bodies are not good to look at. Exercising is recommended as beneficial for one’s health. It’s is not a question of choice any more, it should be done. But I don’t know anyone to consider this seriously. There are accidents too. Strange how easy it is to break or tear or displace things inside the human body. Neglect might be dangerous, no room for poetry here. I have surpassed the limits of compatibility, and it is hard to get back now, but I’ll give it a try. I’ll bend my knees and jump backwards. It is not easy as I mentioned. Should watch for ants passing too close. It’s a matter of ethics. I’m not this kind of person. This is of no importance where I go. Pity is hanging over me like a glass of water over a lump of sugar. My heart is subjected to temptations all the time. It is the amazed spectator of doubtful competitions, nesting in my chest. Word order intentionally confused, I am to blame… Rules are always countless. Obeying one, you have violated another. A vow, a pledge, an obligation. Pride and prejudice. Meaningful voices say I should do no harm to myself. I ask. Why? They say nothing. The entire surrounding silence wouldn’t give a single answer. Emptiness and distance are bla-bla. I alone know.
This is a dream. This is just a dream.
* * *
I don’t see Dora anymore. When I close my eyes I don’t see anyone. We are already inhabited by some other beings that take advantage of our attention, yet more and more diffidently. We pretend not to know. When I close my eyes they all leave me. I prefer to stay like this. Learning to grope for objects in the dark, learning not to need objects I can’t find. Dora is a box. I don’t know what's inside her.
My thoughts are creeping slowly. So slowly, their order is gone. Such an existence is arbitrary if contemplated, and unavoidable if one is involved. I cannot feel the change. I compare before and after as if comparing the halves of two different faces. Seemingly everything fits, but proportions are lost. A man twisted in an indiscernible grimace. This is a sign of danger, a symptom. Dora rises, Dora fades away: my hands are her hands, with which she touches her hair, smooths her clothes, prepares food for all of us. I press myself to the window and get smeared. Perhaps this is my true form. It takes hold of me while I sleep. I can’t get rid of it. I taste the food Dora has prepared. Nothing is tasty anymore. I still have needs: eat, sleep… But they become something else. I feel through them, I see and hear as if my nerves are completely bare. I shift from one reality to another and still remain in the same small room, in the same jar, bottom cold. I leave a transparent glossy trace behind. Anyone but me can follow it. I just leave it, produce it, so to say. It is my job. Eyes closed, aching, like a snail going blind.
A mystery: why exactly these two? No magic, no finger of fate to tell you. Only a matter of chance. Lovers: stuck in each other like the parts of a simple machine. Incompatible by nature. Can put them together only through violence, forcing the one onto the other. Ephemeral. Any wholeness falls apart sooner or later. No unity remains unoffended. Only its parts: soaring in the sky, floating on water, falling into the ocean depths and brought luckily to the surface, then exhibited in museums, like second-hand trophies. Memories make them shiver and their bare skin explodes in fantastic sensations. Why Dora? Because she is… Nothing. Dora is nothing in nothingness, an imperfect flying machine, mechanisms hidden to make it look as if flying all by itself. An air bubble within an aquarium. Dora is an invention of mine. I’ve done my best, striving to suppress my rage as well as hers.
It is the last time I have these doubts. Listening to voices I can’t stand. I wish I were the source of laughter. Dora moves around and is so unfinished I should be ashamed. And I am, indeed. I am ashamed of what I do and cannot overcome this shame, falling deeper into it. Dora would prepare food for all of us. Dora would make us rise. Dora would gently let us down so as not to get hurt. And I still march somewhere in the cold, staring indifferently at my dirty nails. I board the first ship I see. I travel. I haven’t moved a bit from here and yet, travel. Unable to open my eyes and see what’s going on around me.
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