JANET FRAME

From “Scented Gardens for the Blind”

 

She sits, like a blind person, in the dark, I have acquired the habit of listening intently to her silence, set in the midst of the pitched volume of darkness, the gong of daylight, the creak and settle of furniture, the steady low white tone of windows, the scatterbrain fluttering of curtains, the deep sighs of beds which grind and ache from the stress and turmoil of human bodies.

 

If blind moles, silked-eared bats, dragons, had inhabited my country I would have searched for them north south east west on plains and mountains and deep beneath moss, stone and seabed. I would have made potions from dragons’ blood, glitter dust from the bodies of bats, in my ritual standing not upon heaths or moors but upon this antipodean beach by a Pacific sea sprayed with light from the ripe, squeezed, bitter sun.

 

I move; there are spiders in me, in the hollow of my arms where it is still joined to my body; yet my arm moves to protect the growing woman who was once aged five with a family of rosy-faced dolls with blue eues and dark sweeping lashes which permitted and beautified sleep.

 

I was threatened by the dreadful mass neighborhood of objects which acquire a power of mobility as soon as one loses one’s sight, as if it were only the fact of being seen which keeps them in their place and now that they are free from the supervision of human eyes they may swoop, sway, dance, surround, always pursuing, threatening, trying to insinuate themselves in the dark, seeking their revenge for the withdrawal of the generosity, the benevolence of the glance of human eyes; for our gaze is always generous, it lingers, it follows the shape of the furniture, signs its approval along the dotted line of light surrounding each obect; our sight keeps open house, plays host to all lovely or distorted forms, flatters each guest by granting an inevitable place an image of wholeness; our pattem-crazy sight, rich, ambitious, loving, includes the dustbin and the sky, allows and admits the pertinence of all substance and shadow.

 

When people moved about me, I found that they left their shape in the air, as if they had been wearing the air as clothing which stayed molded even after they struggled out of it, for make no mistake, one struggles out of air because always it fits too tightly, ever since the first tight squeeze of it zipped into the lungs at the first breath, pinching at the tongue and the throat and setting up the cry which some take as a sign of admission into life but

which is really only a protest that from the first moment of living the air does not fit, it has just not been made to measure, and all future breaths will cause pinching and

pain, and how many times until death and nakedness will one be forced to cut off parts of oneself, to whittle at, mutilate the whole in order to accommodate the intransigent shape of air?

 

 

People usually went on talking all their lives, until just before their death, when it was said they tried to cram everything in at once, confessing. And then no one understood them. They dreamed aloud in a topped and tailed language while relations and friends leaned over them, trying to snatch their share of Words that with the approach of death and silence had suddenly gone up in price.

 

My parents controlled the light and walked with it and their bodies were insignificant compared with their giant grotesque shadows striding up the  wall and across the ceiling, capturing in their journey the lesser immobile shadows of furniture which nevertheless

I could change swiftly; everything depended upon the movement of the lamp or candle.

 

I believe that each person’s life contains one message which never reaches its destination. I deceive myself by thinking that I can repeat the message. This compulsory stopping of communication is a dismal reminder of our ultimate dependence upon silence, of the fact that in the end there is really nothing to say, that silence is our true companion and partner and lover.

 

Winter will soon be here, not the panic-stricken darkness  of the northern hemisphere, that inevitable slow approach of doom where each human being is forced to become a valiant Atlas shouldering his burden of sky, but a more optimistic southern season where a remote light plays about the upper sky, as watch light and guardian of the absent summer. In this land there is no real clamping down of death, no sealed room of darkness, only a kind of seasonal tent with the edges flapping to admit the light one or two occasional playful days trying to touch the green canvas for the lost warm spring rain to strike through and tug out of bed, too early, the first crocuses in green and gold swank and shine. Here in the southem hemisphere we realize the humor of death, the tricks it

plays, the need not to take it too seriously when we find it standing near throwing stones into the darkness—th˘ need to remember to believe that the stones are not people, that human fantasy also plays tricks when it gazes down to the dim shapes of moss- and lichen-grown bodies falling so fast through the darkness.

 

Calmly  he adjusted his writing paper on the desk before him, picked up the hospital pen with its crippled nib and bellyful of dust, which hospital nibs eat, to keep alive and the situation under control, and ran his finger along the edge of the pen, as if looking for thorns.

 

It seemed as if the three had one night been given free passage in the world, emerging in the path of a dream from the mind of someone asleep, and preparing to fly on and on, as dreams do until they slowly dwindle to snowflake-size and nothing, when a strange guardian of the night had pounced upon them, seized them, forced them to account for their identity, in a way which dreams have no means of doing; they had been threatened, imprisoned as human beings, and denied their rightful blissful fate of dissolution.


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