---- THE DROPS OF RAIN fall on the
leadwork of the roofs below the window of the room in which I
used to sleep. There are lakes and puddles in the leads, where
the boards beneath are bowed; the rain was ceaseless in the winter
when I came. The raindrops fall and make the everchanging patterns,
whose variations fill the mind beyond the time that one may give
to them, and the mist obscures remoter sight, the rain beginning
in the dewy cool of changeless hours, no sky nor clouds, and
the woods a shadow on the memory, all formless in the play of
rain and water, where the sense of sight begins and ends. This
was at the years turn; I can see the drawing-in of that
first night, the subtlety of motion, time which changed an outlook;
borrowed days had gone. It is the end of childhood.
Gesso]----- What do you see for the future?
Mima]----- Why should I look into the future?
[Gesso, who quits his exaggerated sitting pose, now rises to his feet and in a pace stands silently before the fire, as though it had been lit, his back to the room, his arms resting on the mantel, a plain slate mantel, somewhat roughly made, its surfaces uneven to the touch, taking the heat from his hands.]
you stay here always?
Mima]----- You are taking you mind away from the present. Ive not thought of the future, not as it affects me. One might as well ask me, what have I to look forward to? Well, the questions asked, and now its in the open I dont know how its to be answered, not if a truthful answer is required. I think of nothing. Sometimes I sit here after the days work has ended, the smells of the day going from the room, cooking, eating, emptying the bowels, all the smells together, stage-stop in the travel, thirst and weariness, all smells, never go entirely, from this room, in the summer the windows open, the night scented flowers, physiology of birdsong, note, pitch, space, sequence, coda, the listening ear, change within a time, Marthas boyfriend violinist, knows no music but his own, the improviser, mind in sound, the question, true enough, what is to become of me? another variation, antiphon to the song unheard, finger on the unique string. All comes together, swift as light, lasts a life.
-----Will you stay here always?
-----That was the question put to me.
-----Should I stay or should I leave?
----- What is the number and the nature of the places I have never been?
----- Give them a name.
Gesso]----- I see your argument.
is not an argument.
-----Gesso, I must go. Martha will be waiting for me. She will make work for herself to make me feel guilty.
-----Before I leave you for the last time let me speak my mind about your predecessor here, the man who was here before you, and who has set the pattern for you, which nature you wish to learn something of, whose person you so desire to see, as it were yourself and face to face, whose intentions you wish to hold so firmly in the forefront of your mind, his minds cast yours, this way of looking at things, yours, his purposeful step, yours.
-----My father does not recall him with any personal truthfulness, as you have seen for yourself, my father has made a composite of him, nothing like the truth of a unique man, but he has rendered to him the natures of all others he has met, a smudge of recollections, nothing sharp. But he was not like that; a person is not reduced to forms, and all that you have, in drawing as close to him as you can, is an intuition of your own. My fathers words mean nothing, but through them there may be something, and, for all I know, my own words also.
-----What else is there? He left nothing. He brought nothing.
-----Not reduced to forms.
-----Once he stood. Stands no longer.
Gesso] -----What am I to make of him through you?
Mima] -----Why does this make you anxious?
Gesso] -----I am not anxious.
Mima] -----You are very anxious. Sometimes I have thought: one day he will kill someone.
-----Gesso, I shall give as good an account as I can in order that you may make the best of what you hear, though its difficult, and I shant know myself the truth of what I say.
-----My father was a forain.
-----So much you may have judged from my manner and by the way I let things slip in my talking to you, I am a forains daughter, I dont know where I come from, and difficult to know where I might go, I have seen my father act and no doubt I act as he might act, praise and pleasure for the little child, not from this locality, no vicinity, for the acuity of eye can never be a witness, never called to stand, nor to let a finger point, move from place to place, often at an angers end, generations of unknowingness compressed to single lives, sees what others do not like to see, emotions magpie, generalities which hang from village to village, words so pitched, said, withdrawn, said in some other place, a smile.
-----The witnessing eye is unacknowledged.
-----And who is different but pretends that he is not?
Gesso] -----I had begun to think that the tenant was your father.
Mima] -----Aside the name, hes a forain, too.
-----I can pass myself off as being truthful. I dont like dishonesty, its seen by intuition in an instant in others as in oneself. So I dont know my father and I dont know whether to call the tenant father or not. I am as you see me, and you must make the best of what you see. I use the word forain because I am as I was made: theres nothing insincere about that wish, let me try to get to the root of it, Gesso, and try to explain myself as best I can, you have listened to the tenant and you know that with your absence the thought of you will leave his head, fragments of you will be garbled with the remainder of the general sense, you and your predecessor together, perhaps, though he does not stand apart, present or absent he is beyond the general use of words, but I shall not forget you, I shall do my best not to forget you, not that my remembrance of you will do you any good, for as a forains daughter I have a certain way of recollecting things, so many days compressed to one, lives drawn to the single fact of journeying, though I wouldnt try to make of you what you are not, to fit some fine idea, for I think too much of you, one doesnt truly know oneself in matters of this nature, and no doubt you have a view of me from the few sparse-chosen things Ive said about myself, no doubt Ive made an untruthful view.
-----I call my father a forain, the word not his.
-----Wide landscapes reduced to little journeys.
-----Pasts diminished to the little days.
-----I call him a forain, but what is the
nature of the measuring eye? I remember my father in a place
remote from here, I could never find it and I shall never see
it once again, another country, another style of speech, another
mode of thought, a broad rivers flood-bank, water-meadows
filled with flowers, poppies in the new turned fields beyond,
June, blue flax-flowers distantly, had been raining, sun now
shining through the chasms in the clouds, the pyramid of searching
bible-light striking down upon the earth, soon the sun would
go, soon it would begin to rain again, a heavy air even in the
light-beams warmth, my father was walking on the winding
flood-bank path, manner easy and composed, prospect of the changing
weather, rolling waters of the high brown river to his back,
the strolling man, entertainer to himself, no set place of home,
clothes the old clothes from the mingled places, at his ease
in places foreign to him, no doubt at his ease at the graves
edge, the emerging townscape familiar to his eye, though never
seen before, nothing known beyond some half-truth of its reputation.
What stable ground supported him from day to day? What were his
wife and three daughters to him? Did I think as he?
-----So how shall I begin to make the man, here, in this place, who came at the dead of night?
-----Gesso, this man, who was here before you, has not left but goes before you always. One wonders which is complete and which the shadow, at first I thought you were a kind of aftermath of him, but now I am not so sure, doubt, yes, but hardly sure enough to find a place in words, there seems so little for them to rest upon, thats always true, speaking of things which are hardly material, always near the edge, always one foot across the threshold in the dark at midnight, always the silence of deafness when one looks out, one calls. Always at the limit. The minds idea of itself is only known when one is put in jeopardy.
-----By your expression thats already found its response in you.
Gesso] -----I dont know what I am searching for. [Stretches out his long arms to their widest span along the mantel top so that his far-reaching and extensive fingers curl around the ends of the slab.]
----------I am searched for.
Mima.] -----Thats true. You are an honest man.
[Scene: the same.]
[Gesso measures his words to relieve the pause, looking down at his hands, held just below his ribcage.]
Mima] -----Can you not tell the limitations of travel in what I say?
Gesso] -----No, Mima, and I dont believe you when you call yourself the daughter of a travelling entertainer.
Mima] -----Have you met another Mima? Have you talked to a forains daughter? I was born late in my fathers life: he is an old man now.
Gesso] -----Describe again that day, when you saw him by the river. How long ago was it?
Mima] -----Do you want to hear that story again? Its simple enough and comes to my memory easily, but I dont know how it will end. It was in my childhood, long before I came to this house, and before I learned to put a cipher in the things I said: what to make of it is an idea which now escapes me: if I tell you, theres no design in my doing so.
-----It wont be as before.
-----The river was high, but by reason of its depth and age it was not fast flowing. It had overflowed its banks and had reached the foot of the flood walls, made of earth, a path along their top. The river meandered, perhaps, across the plain, though the little that I saw - the features of the land were hidden from me, and the meanders are imagined, though they must have been there, below the shallow ridge with trees along its top, hardly more than a small incline, though in the flatness of the place it made the skyline. The path along the bank was much used, making its way between the tall grasses which grew in clumps in the trodden reddish earth, many footprints, away across the empty landscape beyond the floodplain there were two lines of poplars. A drive, perhaps. The sky was low. The full-bellied clouds, made ragged by the wind which traced them, fled across the sky, their course direct; the recent rain was still wet across the grass; now the sun shone, clear and hot in the rain-washed air, soon the rift within the cloud would seal again; soon the rain would begin once more, the bands of rain already falling on the further waters of the river, but, now, for a little time, the sun was hot, the earth clothes in mist, spirals of white vapour from the southern-facing bank, moving in the eddies of the air, the wet earth smelling strong. Then I looked across the line of the sky. He was walking along the path, following the higher course, near the river, his footsteps quick and sure, his tread light, his face in the sun, his back to the wind. I took him to be my father. This walk the lightest in his journeying life. Direction known, but not in mind. Decisions made, but the deciding moment done as it was mind, as on a handshake. Black trousers and black jacket, of different materials; trousers of serge and jacket of barathea. Grey and black. One could tell that they were different by the folds and creases. Nothing could be heard. His figure was youthful. He wore light shoes, of black, rarely cleaned and now covered with the mud of the river-path; no, his shoes were held in his hand. His feet were long and slender. His shirt was a white shirt, clean but old, clean from a distance, with no collar to it, taken off, too small, constrained his neck, delicate neck, of a youth, smaller collar, collar in the pocket of his coat, from its ends stuck out. I have called my father an old man, but this was a youth who had arrived, my age, this young forain, where was he from, his face clear, bearing no expression, eyes grey and neutral: his walk a youths walk, taken without effort, nothing weighing on him, here I am, the voice within my mind: he paused, silently, to let me look at him, as though in recognition, pausing, by the river, behind him the deep purpose of the sky and the downfalling light, the heaping clouds; his shadow was long, and fell across the rough meadow grass, the disk of the sun was already half obscured: the bells of a distant church, the unseen village, began to chime across the fields, familiar enough to someone. One day they will ring for the last time. Was this youth, direction unknown and destination unknown, my father? How strange to put the question to the mind. I had been watching him for some time, the generality of his approach, yes, as a man, as yet distant and beyond recognition, then, the sense of fine familiarity, felt for without a name, the moment of clear sight, my father, one his drawing closer, his youthfulness. The rain fell; the day was warm, he held his shoes, knotted by the laces, in one hand, and the other he put into his pocket; he began to whistle a tune, some local tune, the roots of it unknown, the past, the province long lived in and now gone, his own. This young man my father. Gesso, true or not?
-----Gesso, who might he have been?
-----I think about this many times, in the hours when I need a thought to comfort me, in this place, which is not my own and which to be truthful is still strange to me, if there are calls on the room which for the moment is my own, so not my own, no guest is ever turned away in this weather and this season.
Gesso] -----I have an image of the scene in my eye. It put my own matters in a selfish light. I see your father as you have described him, as clearer as if I had been there.
Mima]----- No doubt you do, no doubt I cast the scene somewhat, for your hearing. To someone looking on it would have been a commonplace: the strangeness was in the mind. Perhaps it is only clear to you because of my embroiderings, importance, dry sand, a day gone, rain fallen long ago, the life upon the causeway, I dont know why I tell you the tale, it seems I hardly saw him, as I might describe him, the nature of his presence, perhaps I gave him my fathers clothes in the way I gave your predecessor a message and a book.
-----Were the tenant my father I would give no recognition of the youth walking by the river that day.
-----And by these means I ask the question, as though it stood clearly for drawing the answer: what is the nature of a person? It is no easier to divide oneself, and to ask, what is owned and what is borrowed, for the one will not easily be told from the other, and he walked away.
-----The young forain walked out of sight.
The rain came down more heavily, warm, summer rain, coming from
him to me, his shoulders shining with the water, his hair to
his skulls shape, the raining rebounding from the earth,
he invisible downward from the waist, the bare footprints filling
with water, the heavy drops of rain displacing, in seconds, the
prints that in a caves sand millennia unchanged, the prints
of men, of children, women, wild birds, geese in double file,
the single swan, the fallen ivory feather, in the last light
hour of the day, the hollow of the path a little river of its
own, no shadows now, the place from which the sun had shone was
indistinct, from the river to the distant town, my dress a summer
dress, close to my body with the rain, and to my legs, the steady
chiming of the unknown buildings bells,
-----I saw myself within his character.
-----There is no examination from a high eternal plain, and the imagination of the high and all-encompassing view - for which you look - is one of the last recourses which we invoke when we see that the familiar is no more familiar than the strange. Permanence is fractured; and at the place where it will break some small thing forewarns us and tells us to prepare ourselves.
-----Whether this story has any continuities
with your own I do not know. I believe there are no generalities,
and what makes resemblance is hard enough to put into the frame
of faith: we conflate monsters by the comparison of the experiences
of many, and would do better to keep our silence. I cannot make
a general statement from what I have seen, for, Gesso, I no longer
believe that there is such a thing as a generality; try as I
will, I cannot see that one event stands representative of another.
[An extract from Days and Orders by David Wheldon]