—Found among the papers of Umberto da Silva, Ravenna, 1761–18131.
I had lived always among the trees; and when, at last, I came out onto the Plain, my head reeled and I was sick. The uninterrupted light was, in its novelty, nearly fatal—a plague of nettles, a yellow noise, a magisterial voice deaf to all human entreaty. I mean to say that I had not, until that moment, seen the sun whole and undivided. Always, it had hidden behind a screen of foliage or, in winter, bones of twig and fescue. The light was thin and strained. A dusk even at midday. To see it, all at once and of a sudden, was a blow to the senses—not just to my eyes, though they stung and the light turned black within them, but to the other organs of sense through which the world invades and trammels up the mind. I was like one struck down by it, as Saul had been on his way to Damascus. I smelled light like a rust or mold, tasted its bitterness, and felt it against my skin—hot and barbed.
Brought to my knees, I wished I had not left the thickset woods to savor distances. What did I know of distance, immensities of space, emptiness, or the vegetable and mineral composition of the world outside the forest? I had heard how, on the Plain, one’s eyes might rove with nothing to arrest them, that they might sweep in a circuit and encounter nothing but grass and, in the distance, a haze which might be clouds or mountains or—strangest of all—the sea. All of us had listened to stories of a broad river dividing the Plain, which appeared in the distance no more than a crooked length of string. We heard how a caravan might toil for days on end and not come to the end of it. I accepted the travelers’ accounts without question. I understood that, outside the ancient forest (in which we were born and would one day be no more than dust), people were to the Plain as ants are to the forest paths and cramped clearings separating one house from another. But I had not yet felt space as ants must in their unceasing transits. I had no notion then of the dimensions of vastness or the sickness it might cause in me—what bewilderment and fear. Not even from the highest branch could I see anything but trees in an endlessly repeated pattern. The sky itself seemed hemmed in by them, like a piece of blue cloth rucked and snagged by branches. I looked around me with loathing.
In leaving the forest, I had thought to feel space like a wind pleated with flowery airs, its transparent pockets lined with a lint of golden pollen. I had thought to come out onto the Plain and be refreshed instantly, as if by cold water on a hot summer’s day. Among the trees, I had begun to imagine that my eyes were “stuck”—that the optical machinery had been seized like a lever by rust. To see always only what is in front of one’s eyes, to live walled up—what toll might not such a life take? I had imagined my eyes roughly wakened from their myopic trance, induced by living without distances. The moment, I thought, would arrive like a storm, a catastrophe of light. But I did not allow for the persistence of that engulfment, how it would wrap me in thick cloths of light, blinding and pernicious.
I lay on the ground, face pressed to the cool grass, the colder earth unlike that of the forest floor, which reeks of mold, rotted leaves, and the animal smell of fungi and morels. I shut my eyes to the clamorous light and waited for the earth to stand still and for night to fall.
That first night on the Plain, I discovered distance. Supine in the dark, I watched the steep night endlessly receding, its black depths mapped by stars. I remembered how, alone in a narrow forest clearing where onions and turnips grew, I had seen scattered among the trees the solitary lamps of our settlement. I would go there at night to be alone and, in its confinement, imagine a spacious life beyond the farthest tree. How tedious my life had been then—how very small! I had been no better than a mole! I might have married another mole and fathered mole children to fill my little mole house. I might have done—but always in me was a mutiny against narrowness. I walked as if bearing on my back the weight of the forest. I yearned to walk in a straight line. Such a simple desire—so simple it could hardly be said to be a desire. But that is what I longed to do. Distance was coiled up inside me—in the bones and sinews of my legs—the way movement is in a caged animal, as flight is in the limed bird. I was pilloried, shackled to the trees, which rose up all around us—mute and merciless judges.
I had known time; but it was, like the forest, featureless. Monotonous. It had stagnated in gray pools. It was the color of wash-water. It was used up. Exhausted by boredom. Slow and empty. It suited sleep, if not dreaming. I had slept long—we all had. In that twilight, we would be seized suddenly by the need to sleep. And we would sleep. But not dream—or dream only of trees, of the dusky light that sifted down through the leaves or rain that differed from the gray light only in its being wet. There was no refreshment in either. Mostly, we had dreamed bitter dramas set inside the houses we left only when we must, to work in the fields, the mill, the store, the school—the few occupations allowed us by the forest. Time now would be other than I had known it: faster, more varied, and complicated. History would involve the Plain as it had never done the forest. I understood and braced myself for its onslaught. I imagined a wind, shrill and cold—a hurricane sweeping everything before it like dead leaves. I feared it—what it might pull up by the roots from my dark depths. Already, time was changing. The stars seemed to wheel round the black sky; I saw their fiery tracks instead of the unmoving points of light that had hung above the trees. Watching them in their headlong, I was sick again in the grass and had to shut my eyes. I felt vulnerable—uncovered—exposed to that dangerous light, as if caught in a meteor shower. I lay there, shivering until morning.
“I thought you were dead,” he said. I leaned against him as we walked slowly toward the wagon. “You look as if you ought to be.”
“I was sick,” I said. “I need to get in somewhere.”
He helped me onto the wagon seat.
“You slept out all night then?”
I nodded, saying again: “I need to get inside. To sleep.” I dared not tell him why—this man of the Plain, who went without fear of the immensities of distance.
He flicked the reins over the horse’s back. The wagon rang with his peddler’s wares as it lurched and swayed over the macadam.
“I’m spending the night farther along,” the peddler shouted above the crunch of gravel. “Two hours more. You can see it—there.” He took both reins in his left hand and pointed with the other. “A nice, clean place with a good table.”
I could see nothing except gray road and grass. But the river was there, next to the road that followed it. Broad and brown, it was beating against yellow gravel and mud a steady retreat from the mountains behind me to an unseen sea ahead. When I leaned out of the wagon, I saw myself come and go in little bays of quiet water, cut into a shoreline stiff with reeds. The light on the river’s back fixed my eyes helplessly in a dazzled stare, freed only when a cloud slid across the face of the sun. But it was the river’s music that ravished me—how one moment it might sound like whiskey falling softly in a glass and the next like a rain of hailstones as it sped across a shallows. How could I have failed to hear it during the long night, unless it had been drowned in the noise of stars?
The river was greater even than my idea of it had been. I envied its disdain and the ease of its procession through space. Nothing stood in the way of its ends, which it attained single-mindedly. It spent itself in its solitary bed without love or recompense, obedient to ice and thaw, draught and freshet, indifferent to its own futility. When the sprawling grassland threatened to overcome me, I had only to turn my gaze on the river to quell it.
“What river is this?” I asked the peddler.
“The Po,” he answered, surprised. “I did not take you for a stranger.”
I would like to have asked him what he saw; I mean to say, how space looked to him and also how it felt as he pushed his way deeper into it. But he would have thought me mad. Is space a dough into which a man might plunge his hands to knead and shape it to his will?
As if he had read my thoughts, the peddler remarked with satisfaction on the Plain that lay all round us: “This is mine. For as far as you can see and a little beyond—my territory. Since I was a young man, I’ve cultivated it until now I can say it belongs to me by right of possession. They know me—in every village, hamlet, and farm for a hundred miles, they know my name and wares.”
“Are there no other peddlers?” I asked.
“No Tubalcains but me.” He noticed my look of incomprehension and, slapping me hard on the back, produced by way of explanation a verse: “ ‘Sella quoque genuit Tubalcain qui fuit malleator et faber in cuncta opera aeris et ferri.’ ‘Sella also brought forth Tubalcain, who was a hammerer and artificer in every work of brass and iron.’ Genesis 4: 22.”
His pots and pans chimed an almost musical accompaniment.
“And what are you?” he asked.
I had no answer.
“How do you intend to make your living?”
In the forest, each one did what necessity demanded of him. And because in our occupations we were more or less interchangeable, we seldom thought of ourselves apart from the whole. This is not to say we lived under a tyranny of the collective: the individual will was submerged in a common dreaming, not in an autocracy. To speak of the will is to exalt what was scarcely more than yearning. I wanted no more than what a fly might want, which paces hopelessly the inside of a windowpane: a wider compass. Others may have harbored different longings, but none had strength enough to satisfy them. Likewise, dreaming suggests a richness that was not an aspect of our anarchic hours. Our dreams were poor. It was not only their lack of spaciousness that made them so; they seemed rudimentary and unformed. We dreamed as children do—no, as people who have all their lives been cloistered or blind.
“It is there for the taking,” the peddler said, annexing with his eyes the Plain, into which we were venturing like two Conquistadors. “It has made me rich, and I shall be richer still before I’m done.” He laughed, but the reason for his laughter was hidden from me.
I stopped at the inn until I became reconciled to space and could walk out on the Plain without discomfiture. Even so, it seemed always to recede before me, repulsing my attempts to grapple with it. It was like a painting of a landscape that I tried to enter but could not. My dreams remained closed. In them, I had not yet left the forest.
“My mathematics is helpless against the sea,” he said. “But here, it subdues space—vanquishes it—ensnares it in a fine net of coordinates! There is, believe me, no more remarkable occupation than that of land surveyor! Through the sights of my theodolite, I achieve what no rifle or cannon can: dominion—absolute and irrefutable! Only catastrophe—a paroxysm of nature—can annul the results of my triangulation—my disambiguation—my colonization! And we are not in a region liable to earthquake or other subterranean disturbance. Even should drought or fire lay waste the grass, my survey will remain immaculate because it is beyond contingency and accident.”
By now, I was used to the surveyor’s effusions, having spent three days together traversing the endless grassland. I watched him as he minutely bisected his sandwich, then reduced an apple to meridians of longitude. I wondered why a calculating man should speak with the fervor of an evangelist.
“Were the Plain to disappear, we would have its essence—here.” He patted his breast pocket where a leather-bound notebook lay coincidentally near his heart. “In fact, the Plain itself is superfluous; what matters is its mathematical representation. It’s the same with great paintings: the people who sat for Gainsborough are of no consequence. Who remembers Miss Catherine Tatton or the original Lady in Blue?”
We were making our way slowly across the Plain. He carried the Ramsden, I, the rod, and chain. The sun beat down, and I wondered what provision his mathematics made for sun or rain or night. Perhaps his maps were like dreams, which were curiously devoid of weather, though there was night.
“What do you dream?” I asked.
“I do not dream!” he answered curtly, as if my question had offended him. “What could a land surveyor do there? I detest the very idea of dreaming.”
He put down his theodolite and sat on a slight elevation. I sat beside him. Together, we gazed out over the Plain while he collected his thoughts, where his anger had dispersed them.
“From what I have heard of dreaming,” he said, “it is a lawless and an absurd place.”
Again, I noticed how he attributed a space to dreaming; and I thought this justifiable now that my own dreams were becoming increasingly more spacious. Each night, I watched myself venture farther out from the end of the trees, as if the forest were a frontier to be crossed with the utmost caution. My dreaming self looked at the Plain through my true eyes, saw what I had already laid eyes on during my journey. How could it be otherwise? Dreams lag always behind the life they comment on, unless one believes in their prophetic quality, which I do not.
“I would not last where all is mutation and caprice, unformed and edged with shadow.” He was silent a while before whispering with childish candor, “I am afraid of the dark.”
I patted his boot, consolingly.
“Mathematics is incompatible with darkness, which is its opposite,” he said earnestly. “The opposite of all that is doubtful and obscure. If there is not light enough to see through my theodolite, I am lost! Can you understand that?”
I told him that I could, and he smiled at me in gratitude.
“The Plain is nothing!” he said, returning to an earlier theme. “I would much prefer it if there were none—no land at all. Only the survey, only the mathematics. Nothing but them. Only they are of consequence, are unambiguous and beautiful. I look at what is before us and, shutting my eyes to it, see shining in the darkness of my closed eyes a thousand points of light—a radiant typography—a pure and dazzling topology produced by luminous numbers—inscribed with perfect parabolas and arcs that exist only here, in the mind!”
He pressed my hands in his as if to bless me. And then he left me, saying that the remainder of the journey must be made by each one of us alone. He smiled again and, with eyes closed once more, walked into the far distance.
I watched him dwindle until he was no more than a point—not of light, but of darkness against the sunlit Plain. And then he vanished in it. How or where he went, I don’t know. Perhaps a seam opened in the air or a chasm in the earth. All I know is that he walked out into that green immensity and was seen no more.
Perhaps he is taking the measure of Nothing, I thought; perhaps he is discovering the mathematics of death in order to make a final survey of the afterlife. Or perhaps he has vanished at last inside the dream, which he has all his life been resisting. I stood just as the wind rose and watched it swell and billow in the tall grass all around me. Clouds herded across the sky, dragging their shadows over the Plain. The river, which moments before had been glittering as if with the surveyor’s thousand points of light, blackened.
I watched, calmly, the earth register its vexations and alarms. I was becoming accustomed to immensity; I was no longer made sick by the blaring sun or the striding moon. I continued along the river, like a prospector determined to stake a claim to the land.
Beyond a reach in the river, I happened on a man asleep in a willow’s green shade. Close by, a deep hole had been dug into the riverbank, enclosed by ramparts of dark earth. A ladder led down into the hole, whose bottom and purpose were obscured by darkness. Across the river, another man sat on a rock and smoked.
“Why are you sitting here in the middle of nowhere?” I asked, having crossed over to him on steppingstones.
He took the pipe from between his teeth and, stabbing at the air with it, said: “Waiting for the professor to finish with his folly.”
“What folly is that?”
“The university sent him to collect broken vases. I bought the deed to this part of the river to build a mill. But the authorities ordered me to desist until every last sliver of antiquity has been mined and catalogued. I’d shoot him, but they would only send someone else to dig in the dirt. There’s no shortage of geniuses!”
He had shouted this last sentence, flinging it across the river like a taunt or a challenge sufficiently loud to wake the sleeper.
“Money-grubber!” he shouted in turn. “Philistine!”
“Crackpot!” the would-be miller volleyed. “Dreamer!”
Intrigued, I recrossed the river and, sitting next to the professor, asked him about his dreams.
“I dream of Italy’s vanished past,” he said, gazing at the Plain as if he might find it there. “Of the ancient Villanovans, who crossed the eastern Alps, bringing with them the Iron Age and the practice of cremation. They buried their ashes in funerary urns along the Po. I am looking for them.”
“Enemy of progress!” the miller shouted. “Enemy of the living!”
The professor took my arm and led me away from the river, beyond the reach of the miller’s denunciations.
“My enemies say I would prefer to live in the past. Not so. What pleases me is to regard the past from the vantage of the present. It is one of history’s paradoxes that the past can be possessed—never the present; for the present is occurring and therefore impossible to gauge and what cannot be gauged cannot be grasped. With each shard, I enlarge my title to the ancient world. With each fact I hold up here”—he tapped with a finger his temple—“I strengthen my claim to it.”
“And the Plain?” I asked, which was, at this hour, touched with gold.
“I don’t understand you.”
“What do you see when you look at it?”
“Ancient settlements. Extinct races. The necropolis at Verruchio. All that was on the Adriatic Coastal Plain—before the Romans, before even the Etruscans. Their light—the light of their skies—is entombed with their dust. If I were to unearth it, what a blinding fulguration there would be!”
“But what is it that you see now—at this moment?” I persisted. I was growing angry, for obscure reasons, which may have had to do with the fugitive beauty of the landscape.
“Nothing. A kind of scab that time has formed over the past, which was vital and alive. Only the past lives, for me,” he said gloomily.
His lament was interrupted by a fusillade of stones launched by the miller.
“He prefers millstones,” the professor shouted in return. “To make cakes and money!”
I remembered how, in the forest, I had imagined the Plain as a space in which to be in time without encumbrances. To satisfy the desire to walk, coiled in the muscles of the legs. To see the sky, disentangled from the oppressive trees, inscribed by the wide flights of birds and luminous traces of the flying stars. I began to understand that space is subjugated to each person. That it is only a screen on which the Magic Lantern of our thoughts casts the images of our desires. In the forest, we dwelled within; the trees forbade any turning outward to embrace the world—an embrace that inevitably becomes possession, covetousness, and the murder of what we cannot own. I was becoming slowly aware that the forest was not so much a place as a prelude to self-awareness, a condition of the mind’s infancy.
“He tilts at windmills because he is afraid of life!” the miller screamed as he splashed across the shallows, gravel rattling underfoot.
I fled them both as I would a plague. Looking over my shoulder, I saw them rolling on the ground, hands at each other’s throats.
“You are standing in my light!” he said, much annoyed.
Bewildered, I replied that I did not understand.
“You are causing your shadow to fall on the Plain—there.” He pointed to the darkness that unrolled at my feet. “It is foreign to my picture, which is of this desolate landscape. I wish to paint only what belongs to it: your shadow does not.”
I noticed, then, the palette in his hand.
“So you are a painter!” I said, hopefully. Here, I thought, is someone who sees truly what is, who pays so scrupulous an attention to actuality that even an extraneous shadow offends him. Here at last is someone who does not project his own desires onto the world. “I am glad to meet you!” I said, shaking his free hand.
My admiration appeased him.
“You are welcome,” he said, wiping his brush with a rag fragrant with linseed oil.
I went round behind the easel and looked at his painting.
“I’ve nearly captured it,” he said smugly. “Only a few more brushstrokes.”
“It is beautiful,” I conceded.
“Tell me. Does the Plain narrow just as you’ve painted it?” I asked, after a moment’s study.
“See for yourself!” He pointed with his brush to the far edge of the Plain, trembling in the summer’s heat. “Space tends toward a vanishing point.”
“But is it really like that?” I asked.
“Have you never heard of the Rules of Perspective?” he said in a way calculated to belittle me. “Is the name Brunelleschi completely unknown to you? Have you never perused Alberti’s treatise, Della Pittura? We artists employ stratagems—tricks of the eye—to mimic what the eye sees. Art is the skillful rendering of appearances.”
“And this elephant-shaped cloud you’ve drawn…?”
“You must admit it does resemble an elephant?” he said, looking at the sky where a grizzled cloud was slowly unraveling.
“To me, it looks like—well, a cloud.”
“You lack imagination!” he chided.
“And this purple…?” I indicated a haze of color on the painted grass.
“A scumble of Tyrian purple,” he intoned pedantically.
“And if I were to walk out there now, wouldn’t the grass be green—as green as that we’re standing in?”
“Verona green with admixtures of yellow ochre, cerulean blue, and, where the evening sun is transfiguring the horizon, Tyrian purple. Grass is green—any fool knows that! But the eye sees otherwise. I paint what is—for the eye—the truth.”
“But what about the truth of the Plain?”
“My aim—the aim of all art—is to create beauty. Beauty is a separate category, independent of real objects, to which it alludes.”
Not even this man who looked so intently at the Plain, who shaded his eyes and squinted as if through cataracts, saw what was really there. He, too, had his own idea of space.
“Do you dream?” I asked slyly. I hoped for a further revelation of his egotism, like a pessimist listening expectantly for overtures of tragedy.
“Of what do you dream?”
“Of voluptuous women whose flesh is Tuscan red, Dutch pink, and umber.”
I followed the river, which went its own way—telling, in liquid syllables, a story to itself that had nothing to do with men.
In the forest, we had heard of the balloon; but never could I have imagined what I now saw suspended above the riverbank. In its shape, it recalled a woman’s breast; and it was this association that inclined me toward an affection for the thing that was tugging at the rope by which it had been made fast. To say that the balloon was beautiful is only to admit what any eye will readily confirm. It was more, but what that more might be lay between religion and science. The balloon, however, existed only to ascend. As if in scorn of my opinion of it, I heard in the guy rope a strain of opposition and in the wickerwork basket beneath it a whining impatience to be off again.
I was startled by a voice from above. “Are you a Frenchman?” it demanded.
“No!” I shouted at a face overcast by a shako’s brim and smudged with a mustache.
“If you were, I would have to drop this bomb on you!”
A hand appeared and menaced me with a dark object.
“Is there war?” I shouted, again. The ancient forest kept all but the rumor of war from entering.
“Certainly! With Bonaparte! The Monster of Europe hopes to seize Italy. I am on reconnaissance.”
He sounded as if he might be preening in a mirror. He would have minced had there been room enough.
“Can you see the sea?” I called.
“From up there.” He pointed at the sky. “The Adriatic is on the other side of the horizon. That way.” He pointed east where grass and sky converged on a dark ribbon of river.
“Can you take me to it?” I asked, never imagining that he would agree. But he did agree, assuring me that opportunities for reconnaissance were abundant on the coast.
“I shall watch for Napoleon’s ships,” he said cheerfully. “And if I see one—boom! I’ll drop a bomb on it.”
He let down a rope ladder; and after having loosed the anchor from a tree root, I climbed quickly aboard the balloon just as it was seized by the wind. In a moment, we were rushing toward the Plain’s eastern edge, at an altitude which erased most evidence of man’s intervention. Here, I thought, is space unencumbered by others’ ideas of it. But my pleasure was cut short when I understood that the aeronaut also conceived of the vast Plain unreeling behind us in terms peculiar to his calling.
“It is perfect for a major engagement!” he pronounced his judgment on it. “I can see the formations drawn up on either side of the river—there and there. And there, the engineers are throwing a bridge over the river. And where the ground rises to a plateau, I would deploy my artillery. The enemy will be at its mercy! And that narrow defile? What an ambush might be laid in such a place! Not a man would come out of it alive!”
Then he sang an aria of ranks, files, phalanges, ditches, palisades, fortifications, redoubts, breastworks, legions, cohorts, velites, principes, acies, maniples, centuries, wedges, squares, quincunxes, tortoises, enfilades, and others lost to my ears in the rush of our headlong flight.
I did not need to ask him what he dreamed, but he told me it without my asking. How it was I heard him in the noise of our career above the retreating Plain, I did not know, unless the vividness of his reverie, together with his fervent interest in the art of war, communicated itself to me telepathically.
“I dream,” he said, “of Titus Labienus’s charge and its repulse by Caesar’s legions at the foot of Mount Dogandzis and the rout of Pompey’s army.”
I kept silent—and my mind a blank—so as not to encourage further revelations of his martial fancy. But he was now engaged with a cannoli.
In the trees, war and art, industry and business were unknown. One man might murder another or take what did not belong to him, but there was not the conspiracy of violence that, from time to time, swept the Plain. We fought, courted, loved, traded, dug wells, built houses, and decorated them with birds’ eggs, twigs, stones, and flowers, according to the dimensions of our individual imaginations. We sinned and were virtuous according to our own limited capacities. Our dreams were correspondingly small and somber, always, with the twilight of the forest. Where all was only trees, there was nothing onto which to project our desires, except each other. Our desires were common, in any case. And so I had come out onto the Plain to experience space and to alter the aspect of my dreaming self. But I had found only other people’s ideas of it, against which I was helpless to propose one of my own. And what of the Plain? Ought it not be allowed its own idea of itself and might not this idea be greater than all others and, in the long run, better for us all? For it was to destruction that those others were tending, even the painter’s which exalted the facsimile over the Plain itself. For in his eyes, the Plain could vanish unlamented into oblivion so long as the painting remained.
As if to confirm my fears for the destruction of that space (which must have a form of its own, though it was not mine to grasp), we flew over a makeshift cemetery—remnant of some recent battle with the French.
“See how neatly we have buried them!” the aeronaut shouted into my ear. “Hardly have they finished dying when they are shoveled underground!”
What comedy is this? I wondered, that he should admire the formations of the dead? And then I thought that this, too, was an idea of space imposed on the Plain.
“They will be fresh for the worms!” he laughed.
I shuddered and would have pushed him out of the basket in which we dangled if for no other reason than to mar the deadly order of those earthen ranks.
“How much farther to the sea?” I shouted back at him.
“It comes soon.”
Why did I wish to go there if it was not in hopes of finding what none could annex?
And me—what was it I dreamed? Of trees!
I had no words with which to tell how it was the sea came upon me, for I did not come upon it but rather found myself there, at the foot of it, as if having wakened from a dream or into one—ankles bound with dirty rags of foam. I say I had not the words: it beggared me. And so I borrowed them from what I had known before laying eyes on it, standing on the beach with the Plain darkening at my back, while the comical balloonist, moustache stiff with ricotta, reconnoitered—his balloon become a comma dragged northward by the mounting wind.
Saturnine, the sea slid down and, turning, folded beneath a contrary motion while waves knotted, wringing out heavy drops of water, only to unknot again, loosening a music made of sighs and seething. I wondered at such sounds, knowing them to be without end since Creation’s third day.
Everywhere was sea and only that, and I knew that no one could withstand it—no one could match his mind with its. I wondered what the sea thought as it heaved itself up out of its bed and, shuddering, lay down again, then without resting, rose and moved restlessly on. If thoughts it had. The sea was without face or features, yet it adjured my eyes to follow it; I could not disenthrall myself. It must be instinct with mind, some capacity of will to bind me to its moving self.
The sea moved in me a sympathetic motion—an emotion that was sadness and pity for everything that was not it and must end. My eyes became wet with it and with tears of self-pity. I was too small to stand against the Absolute. But neither did I wish to return to the Plain inscribed by others’ desire; and the forest, like childhood, was lost to me.
I felt in my body a will not my own.
I felt the sundering of what bound me to myself.
In my mind, already I had walked into the deepening water. Already, I was letting it into my mouth, tasting salt. In a moment, I would sleep in its wet folds—illusions scattered like paper flowers on the waves. And then I saw out the corner of my eye a woman, standing, like me, on the gray sand with eyes, like mine gazing out to sea. Her hair was writhing in the wind, her clothes were roughly handled by it. To be so entirely still, I thought, so spellbound by these somber cadences—she, too, must have been brought to the edge of disillusion and found it almost past enduring.
With my eyes, I measured the space between us, calculated how many steps. I almost spoke to her. Muffled like drums in a cortege in which we walked toward our separate ends, hearts (terrified by the sea’s indifference to our ideas of it) beat. I almost turned to speak, but what could love—that last illusion—do here? I might have drowned then, and gladly, had not the tide gone out.