DAYS AND ORDERS

I.i

 

-----THIS IS A PLACE of limits. The dense and flowing sky is close above the earth. At this border of field and heath, in the shadows of the ash-grove, at the heath’s ill-demarcated edge, on the half-owned, the marginal land; at the threshold of the heath I was confronted by an unknown man, not a stranger, not to be so made, too close for surety of solitude or self: I drew breath; I did not speak, no articulation of the word, no form, nor form of thought; mute; no step beyond, nor back; I have been blind, I had not seen that I was blind; his presence as near to me as I am to myself; I would have spoken, I had not heard I could not speak; I held out my hands; I had not known how much I had avoided sight; I have approached him too closely, these words drawn blind: his was the approach; I looked up, mindful of his sight, I shall not meet his eyes, nor the jurisdiction of his sight; I looked into his eyes, whether fixed on me, or beyond me, both, perhaps, where the earth and the sky conjoin, that is where I am, nothing in the pupils’ mirror, no image of the world.
-----I have been alone since this. The heath, the grove, the fields have changed. Perhaps it is not the place which has undergone a change. All is thrown into question. I have called this a place of limits, but there are no bounds. I have said this place was marginal, but what place is not? There is nothing of the border about this land. From no centre is there measurement; there is no circumscription. Enquiry tells me nothing. There is no threshold which stands the crossing of the step.



-----Mima stood by the door; she had turned the handle with a quick movement of her wrist and had pushed the door open with her hip, letting out a sigh for no reason, as though she had expected to find the room empty and herself alone. She carried a wooden box of cutlery in her free hand, a kitchen item; it seemed to be of considerable weight, for the tendons stood out on her wrist and on the back of her small hand. She did not put down this heavy tray on seeing Gesso, but placed a foot on the seat of one of the chairs and rested the tray on her knee, speaking to Gesso almost on the instant that she had first made him out. ‘You are all the same,’ she said, with an easy humour, glancing in his direction, ‘you always sit in each others’ places before the chair has cooled, and so you always find a soiled place before you. It is as though you could see no space elsewhere.’
-----She spoke freely and without thinking, as though she had anticipated being alone in the room with such a strength of feeling that she had behaved as if this had been the case; at the same time she did not seem unduly surprised on finding someone unknown to her. Seeing that Gesso’s face was inexpressive she continued to speak, but her manner was now less forthright. ‘It’s not as though it were the most agreeable for yourself; you are in your own light when you sit there, as you must have seen at once. You can’t see the clearest thing that lies in front of you; the room is dark enough as it is, and one might as well take advantage of such light as finds its way in.’ Mima put a hand to her face; her eyes were steady and full of thought. ‘I would tell anyone who might sit there the same thing.’
-----She was quite right; he was sitting in his own light. The diffuse daylight from the window and the brighter beam from the hole rubbed in the dusty glass cast his own shadow across the table, as indeed it must have cast the shadow of the stranger across the table before him: the day’s dawn had begun with the emergence of his shadow: in a certain sense, by reason of the diffuse light and because of the presence of his own shadow, and he sat still without moving, or perhaps only because of an uncertainty of the eye, it appeared to Gesso that the tablecloth, which was of limp and unstarched cotton, patterned with a faded check of yellow and white and in places scorched by the heat of the iron and broadly by the heat of the drying fire, had the ability to retain an image: Gesso, looking down while Mima removed the plates, saw a fainter image behind the shadow of himself.
-----‘I am searched for,’ said Gesso.
-----‘Yes, you are searched for,’ replied Mima, her wide eyes still thoughtful, ‘there’s no doubt about that.’ She had been moving about the room; now she stood at the door and looked over her shoulder at Gesso; there was a quiet compassion in her look. ‘Since you make a statement of your own question. Yes, you are indeed searched for.’


[An extract from Days and Orders by David Wheldon]

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updated 16th October 2004