It takes Murphy’s and Andy to help me through the connections.
The Austrians are leaving tomorrow, and I am witness to Andy’s pain. Meaning to make up for a missed birthday, he takes me out, and I spend some time watching other internationals say goodbye to half a year’s relationships. Matthias is there, too. I ask them what they are taking away. They tell me the answers to that question in bits and pieces all evening. "Debleena, you know you asked me…?" I stand, on the edge of the rink, and watch them all live.
On the way back, I say again how I would love to live in Europe and not here. Andy warns me, as we walk across the deserted night on the quad, that I should not misconstrue the openness of Europe. He says the fear of the stranger still haunts the little nation states that Europe had come to be, that history rooted in itself is shaken at every new wind. I tell him I have no illusions, but that this place kills my heart. I am exiled from my self, I have no wish to be exiled in place.
Andy and I speak of difficult literature in the dining room we have shared with so many others. Speak of how I would like to visit Vienna one day. That city of music and war, and the psychiatrists. Andy tells me of a writer who writes whole books on variations of a single act. In sentences half a page long, he combines and recombines the words to make sure the reader understands the point exactly. So that you live in the moment, a particle, suspended in fluidity. The art of repetition, explication and suspension telling more than the moment that is glimpsed. I tell him that it means the writer has understood the way words combine, the thing that holds compounds together. The alchemic secret. He praises Kafka; I tell him I understand Kafka, and Sartre, and Pound and Eliot, but that my sensibility gravitates to Calvino and Eco. The sentient masters. The difference between mind and gut.
He tells me of last year’s Nobel winner and the way she breaks over 50 pages of sexual explicitness the edifice of Austrian prudery she builds up over the rest of the novel. I think of the function of that act–the flag that marks the suture. Here is the fault we seam out of our photographic existences, the errors of margin. Standard deviations. We speak of Henry Miller and Alberto Moravia. The ones who made me feel like I had bitten the dusty core of an apple when I read them. I hated them then, when I was young, for the way in which their work made me look at life and see decay. At the way they held up a rose and you saw the canker. The body moved across their pages, and all you saw was the shroud and papery skin; the illuminations were like harsh sunlight, they did not light up, they revealed. Looking back now, I am less antagonistic to the truth that binds the core–life is death, no matter how much we bare our teeth. Binaries, dancers, covalent things.
He tells me I should write. The second person in a week. I am smiling at life. We discuss form. And the possibilities for form to be like a many-leaved clover.
He sits there, struggling through transition, a sensitive young man passing through, and looks at the ceiling, the walls, the angles of this house. It is badly finished, obviously for graduate students, and he says how he will miss complaining about the insulation. He cannot believe he will be gone in a few hours. He recounts his closer associations with his American classmates in the last three weeks, and how, once he was no longer ‘that Austrian guy’ and had learned to speak his complex thoughts in coherent complex American ways, he was accepted and understood and how he found nice people. Matthias had said the same at Murphy’s, "You know, there are nice people everywhere."
Somehow we speak of childhood, and making friends and how one must eat and feel mud to be aware of the world around. We speak of fairy tales and fear, the weaponry of fear. He still fears the woods, he says, although he knows nothing will harm you unless it is harmed, because the woods take away the sense of protection these walls bring. Suddenly, we don’t matter. I remember a college expedition to a Santhal village, where I was spooked by a huge tree in the night. Spirits, we had said and laughed nervously. That other world, Andy says, and looks at me remembering a previous conversation on our shared belief that there must be another level of connective tissue to all that goes on. The sense of all things that we do not control. That is why we must feel mud and soil, and eat it, he says. To know, and to know so that we can speak of it. I agree. For I miss, suddenly, the feel of mud in the rains.
I want to come away and write this. He sits down, suddenly overcome with the passing. We part nonetheless, after looking at unvarnished woodwork. I remember Yeats, and how he had said that in order to write he had exiled himself from the dance except as witness and watcher. Truth. The thing is how you get at it. Sometimes it is by remembering.
My room feels deserted now. Not much has changed in this ghost-town. I shall spend another season looking after another house that is not my home. And what gives me pleasure shall soon give me pain.