When she goes to bed, which is earlier and earlier now, he stays up at the computer. He checks the weather, reads an online tabloid, and plays backgammon with someone who says he’s a retiree. Who wins is an open issue, and shortly after midnight the retiree logs off. So then he surfs around, visiting a variety of websites, these days thinking about things he hasn’t thought about since he was a child. People who can predict things. Clocks that stop when someone dies. Calves with two heads, and women who kill people. The latter is an anomaly, and yet he has noticed that perpetrators in TV crime shows are most often women. He knows it’s a technical thing: a desire to surprise the viewer.
'I find him more disgusting every day. He's drunk by ten in the morning, and every evening I get a pasting because some customer has been giving me the eye, or for any old thing. Shall I tell you what? I wish he'd die.'
But fun for me was sneaking off to peer into a tidal pool, to grasp the intricacies of the creatures that lived there. Sustenance for me was tied to ecosystem and habitat, orgasm the sudden realization of the interconnectivity of living things. Observation had always meant more to me than interaction. He knew all of this, I think. But I never could express myself that well to him, although I did try, and he did listen. And yet, I was nothing but expression in other ways. My sole gift or talent, I believe now, was that places could impress themselves upon me, and I could become a part of them with ease. Even a bar was a type of ecosystem, if a crude one, and to someone entering, someone without my husband’s agenda, that person could have seen me sitting there and had no trouble imagining that I was happy in my little bubble of silence. Would have had no trouble believing I fit in.
Fun things aside, what I learned by traveling to the deep south? Humankind has no dominion over it. We were warned about bobcats and a twelve-foot gator “back in them woods.” The fish just take your bait and swim off. A bird of prey swooped down on our car that had a wingspan twice my height. I was attacked by waves of fire ants and some kind of mutant wasp with a pendulous abdomen. We saw an enormous grasshopper that, when I heard it rustling in long grass, I took for a small mammal. Someone gave it a stiff nudge, to make it fly, and it didn’t bother to move: Either eat me or fuck off.
My daughter took my pad again and wrote, “What’s heresay?”
"That’s not how it’s spelled," I whispered. I spelled it correctly for her.
"What is it, though?" she wrote.
"Something you heard that you repeat. It’s not allowed as evidence," I wrote.
"Why not?" she wrote. This was fun. Like junior high.
"It might not be true. It might be a mistake."
She sat and thought a bit, looking from Clark to Balian to Boss and then back at Clark and then down at the pad. “I’m still confused,” she whispered. “Hearsay might also be true. What if it is, and it’s the only evidence?”
"Exanthematous typhus," said General Cork, "is becoming disturbingly prevalent in Naples. Unless the violence of the outbreak diminishes I shall be forced to ban the city to American troops."
"Why worry so much?" I said. "It’s obvious that you don’t know Naples."
"It’s possible that I don’t know Naples," said General Cork, "but my medical service is familiar with the bug that spreads exanthematous typhus."
"It isn’t an Italian bug," I said.
"It isn’t American either," said General Cork. "As a matter of fact it’s a Russian bug. It was brought to Naples by Italian soldiers returning from Russia."
"In a few days," I said, "there won’t be a single Russian bug left in Naples."
"I hope not," said General Cork.
"I’m sure you don’t think the bugs of Naples, the bugs of the alleys of Forcella and Pallonetto, will let themselves be screwed by those three or four miserable Russian bugs."
"Please don’t talk like that about Russian bugs," said General Cork.
"My words carried no political implication," I said. "What I meant was that the Neapolitan bugs will swallow those poor Russian bugs alive, and exanthematous typhus will disappear. You’ll see. I know Naples."
All the guests began to laugh, and Colonel Eliot said, “We shall all end up like the Russian bugs if we stay in Europe for long.”
A decorous laugh rippled down the table.
"Why?" said General Cork. "Everyone in Europe likes the Americans."
"Yes, but they don’t like Russian bugs," said Colonel Eliot.
"I don’t get your meaning," said General Cork. "We aren’t Russians, we’re Americans."
"Of course we’re Americans, thank God!" said Colonel Eliot. "But once the European bugs have eaten the Russian bugs they’ll eat us."
"What?" exclaimed Mrs. Flat.
"But we aren’t … hm … I mean … we aren’t …" said General Cork, pretending to cough into his table napkin.
"Of course we aren’t … hm … I mean … of course we aren’t bugs," said Colonel Eliot, blushing and looking around him with a triumphant air.
They all burst out laughing and, goodness knows why, looked at me. I felt more like a bug than I had ever felt in my life.
Chegga; Kefeldorh’; M’reyer … Dismal stages on the still more dismal, interminable road. I confess I had expected these oases to be more inviting—more than stone and sand and at best a few stunted bushes with curious blossoms; sometimes a scattering of palms, nourished by a hidden spring … To such oases I know prefer the desert—a land of deadly glory and intolerable splendor. Here man’s effort seems ugly and miserable. These days, every other part of the earth bores me.
A gibson is one of those things I’ve always wanted to want to order. I can picture myself saying it. “I’ll have a gibson.” In this vision I’m wearing a nice suit like my boss, rather than anything I would wear.
As the drugs had worn off, a couple of years earlier, he had started to realize what it must be like to be lucid all the time, an unpunctuated stretch of consciousness, a white tunnel, hollow and dim, like a bone with the marrow sucked out. ‘I want to die, I want to die, I want to die,’ he found himself muttering in the middle of the most ordinary task, swept away by a landslide of regret as the kettle boiled or the toast popped up.
At the same time, his past lay before him like a corpse waiting to be embalmed. He was woken every night by savage nightmares; too frightened to sleep, he climbed out of his sweat-soaked sheets and smoked cigarettes until the dawn crept into the sky, pale and dirty as the gills of a poisonous mushroom. His flat in Ennismore Gardens was strewn with violent videos which were a shadowy expression of the endless reel of violence that played in his head. Constantly on the verge of hallucination, he walked on ground that undulated softly, like a swallowing throat.
Again I sat ruminating what I should do. Mortified as I was at his behavior, and resolved as I had been to dismiss him when he entered my office, nevertheless I felt something superstitious knocking at my heart, and forbidding me to carry out my purpose, and denouncing me for a villain if I dared to breathe one bitter word against this forlornest of mankind. At last, familiarly drawing my chair behind his screen, I sat down and said: ‘Bartleby, never mind, then, about revealing your history; but let me entreat you, as a friend, to comply as far as may be with the usages of this office. Say now, you will help to examine papers tomorrow or next day: in short, say now, that in a day or two you will begin to be a little reasonable:—say so, Bartleby.’
'At present I would prefer not to be a little reasonable,' was his mildly cadaverous reply.
Herman Melville, “Bartleby, the Scrivner: A Story of Wall Street”
It’s as if he didn’t know himself very well. He doesn’t think much about himself, although he believes that he does (albeit without great conviction). He doesn’t see himself, doesn’t know himself, or, rather, he doesn’t delve into or investigate himself. Yes, that’s it: it isn’t that he doesn’t know himself, merely that this is a kind of knowledge that doesn’t interest him and which he therefore barely cultivates. He doesn’t examine himself, he would see this as a waste of time. Perhaps it doesn’t interest him because it’s all water under the bridge; he has little curiosity about himself. He just takes himself for granted, or assumes he knows himself. But people change. He doesn’t bother recording or analysing his changes, he’s not up to date with them. He’s introspective. And yet the more he appears to be looking in, the more he is, in fact, looking out. He’s only interested in the external, in others, and that is why he sees so clearly. But his interest in people has nothing to do with wanting to intervene in their lives or to influence them, nor with any utilitarian aim. He may not care very much what happens to anyone.
Javier Marías, Your Face Tomorrow, Volume 1: Fever and Spear