C stands in front of a black and white video still – the face of a woman in close up.
One must first divest oneself of the notion of the unknowable, of the Unknown: silk is over the photo, silk of the process. A procedural coating, like albumen – silver nitrate fixing the image – suspending the yolk. But like a veil and a headscarf, whose job isn’t to hide, that she’s chosen to wear. In order to get past a certain defensiveness, past a certain defense: you should know this. And the resistance that blocks touch, she touches. As if she expects you to be moved. You are below the surface. Over a great distance to hold another close, another human being. If I show you an apple. If I show you a stretch of the footpath, with gum and a workman’s dusty footprints. Will it come to you in this way? With its skin varied and complicated and uniquely marked, will it stand back and wait behind its image? Will it wear the patina of time so well and sumptuously? As time is, obvious and becoming, but there, right in front of your face, just as it is in front of hers, a breath away? Time has stopped. For the chalk I’ve shown you and the gannet in flight. You’ve heard a proverbial pin drop. The hurricane. And waves lapping at the piles under the wharf. Now listen to an infant’s heart beat and try and escape what is ineluctable and obvious about becoming human: to know more than you want to. She stands beside the Unknown. Who are you not to trust yourself to be close? To be so intimate? And to breathe underwater? I was afraid of what I would do. Because I knew what I wanted. This was already too much to know – human. I imagined her lying, her face turned towards me. Even if I were to kiss her on the lips or to ask for her to give me her love or to take it from her, the veil wouldn’t lift. The slide of glass in the sand. The river’s life. Able to be grasped only as I stare up from below the surface at her. Grabbing pieces of her, of her body, as uselessly as air. The light. The image. The promise. All gone. As if time resents the interruption. And the obstacle it flows around is the action. The arrow of the heart. You say. Will it pierce? There’s a shriek. The animal topples.
I’m arrested at the outer limits of awareness. But have I reached the outer limits of enjoyment? Of experience? What is this? Human?
There’s not much point in not putting on his shoes. I’m arrested at my doorway, on my threshold, by the morning. The day is staggeringly bright. Dazzled, I go over again the path that led him here. Uncertain, dim by some reckonings, the path skirts around a central blind spot. I’ve got to cool off. So I strip him down. And throw his clothes into the corners of the room. His shirt and jeans slide off the back of a chair and fall in a crumpled mess on the floor – where later they will surprise me with a terrible face, like a dead dog in the shadows. I toss his socks and shoes on the rug, where somebody’s bound to trip over them. The light’s like a clear and tasteless broth, still so hot, steaming amongst the weeds, the white blades of flax and the cabbage-trees. And I’m running the back of my spoon around the edge of his bowl. I could be trying to blow on the sun for all the good it does. But there’s no point in hanging back from where he left off. I could pass into the day and see something if he hadn’t forced on me the unbearable task of tying his laces with burnt fingers. I lick my fingertips. But my tongue is hot too, white hot. And his shirt-sleeves don’t cover my hands – which I can’t see either. It’s like dipping them into a molten crucible. And I’m finding it difficult to speak when it strikes me I’m in a bell-jar, ringing with cicadas and crickets, faster and faster. But nature morte – a bridesmaid’s white bouquet preserved among antique ideas in my grandmother’s house. The light refuses to curve away, won’t blend with the shadows or the dust. And the circle his feet in these shoes have traced in my memory’s dust, in its shadows, like God’s circle, finds at every point on its circumference its centre. And any point at which I ought to be able to enter his circle of blindness is foreclosed to me for being its centre. So that I may appear to be walking out into the garden randomly along his path – dim, uncertain, by some reckonings, but clearly circumscribed. The way the light has changed all his things. And I trip over his shoes. And I stumble, stupidly alarmed, by the frozen snarl of a dead dog by his chair that’s only a bunch of clothes he threw off the night before. And I reach the outer limits of awareness only to find that it’s my front door step, my stoop, that it has betrayed me with its promise of experience and enjoyment. Arrested on the threshold, no, there’s not much point in not putting on his shoes.