The man tried again, commenting that for someone like her the subject of her work seemed unexpected. Which she took to be insulting. Even though what he was meaning to say was not to insult but to cast himself in a favourable light and perhaps more than that, complimentary. He didn’t meet people every day who were thinking about these things. He rarely met them at all. But it was clumsy nevertheless. He could see straight-off something was colder after that.
He remained where he was and slowly drained his mug and carefully placed it down and he realised that the conversation was slowly closing like only a face can.
'We can’t count on every possible meaning of a word,' she sighed to herself and admitted a kind of self criticism.
Her tousled hair always made her look like Ophelia if you caught the right way with her. It was not too late. What harm would he bring? He was no worse than the others. Before or afterwards were safe. So she listened as he talked about his pacisfism, Ireland, South Africa like they were old campaigns that were still rumbling on in him. Did he think principles have a time limit? It was as if only in the particular trench of whichever particular war you were in that anything like a principle could make sense. And if evicted from the trench – the war won or lost – then the principle no longer was self-assured and sanctified. Rather it was then more an orphan from its time, like a soldier back from the front line confronting incomprehension.
'We walk with our own apocalypses,' she thought as she listened to his slow rumbling nostalgic voice.
His accent held what kept the moon over Moses aloft and the seas to part beneath. The mental exile was a physical stress spontaneously stretched and flatly spoken. He was isolated in a way that gave him force and authority and something starker too, as if he was deciding on his foreignness like he might have been Druidical. She decided to stay five minutes no longer. He was damning the climate and smiling with a smile impatient to be freed. She let him have these. Like poems, she depended on her pauses. There may have been a sexual joke somewhere in the talk of split tea and the spoon that somehow came up. If he’d obliquely attributed erotic fantasies to her it was only a half tune and she was redefining them as playful and letting them blow off.
'One flirt before the vision flies' is a good rule of thumb.
The claustrauphobia was relieved only by them both agreeing not to really talk about anything much and instead indulge in what is always, when it happens, a reluctant extended smile. When riding by the lake some small fury of dissatisfaction needled her about the exchange. When only one voice can be important it takes on the dull triumphalism of the slippery Tory, where there is no sense beyond a kind of insane certainty as leaden as sunlight and sawdust footprints, an inexhaustible current of it strung out like washing items on a line thrown up in a strict seriousness as dangerous as any humor you might try and find in it. It’s this that made her sit down harder in her seat and feel like shouting ‘let the universe out more, for God’s sake’ as if she knew his midlife had overgrown his view and what looked deep was just dark, a dingy place reason has, as if overhung with weeds and briars that hedged everything down in shadows and shut out the wider vistas.
Read the complete novel 'The Ecstatic Silence' here.