39. Shelf Life

Shelf Life


There’s a story I’ve been wanting to tell you for a long time now. I’ve been telling it to myself time after time, for so many years, yet each time I hear it, I’m not sure if it’s quite the same story as the last time, or if it hasn’t changed just a little bit. Just a little bit from time to time, a little bit different each time I’ve told it, and so a little different from time to time, a bit, a bit different each time. I no longer remember the first time I told it to myself, nor if I was even really listening, that first time. I will try to tell it now, as I have told it to myself so many times before, but I can’t really say for sure if it will be the same story as last time, or the time before, but it will, nonetheless, be the same story, more or less, as the last time, and the same as every time I’ve told it, nearly, or at least as every time I’ve told it that I’ve been listening, if you understand what I mean. It begins like this:

I once woke up on a bed in a room I’d never seen before, next to a man I didn’t know, and I asked him, who am I? How did I get here? But he didn’t know, he told me, as he was, after all, about to ask me the same. I remember another room, I told him, not this room, but another, a different room. And before that another, different, room, very much like the other room, but not like this room, not at all like this room. And another bed, I told him, I could remember another bed. If he could remember another room,  I asked him. Yes, he said. And another bed, could he also remember another bed, I asked him. Yes, he said, he could also remember another bed. We said nothing for quite some time. How did we get here, then, I asked him. And he answered, perhaps we were sleeping.

(It won’t be very easy getting away from you; my story is so intertwined with yours that I can’t even say for sure what would be left of my life if I were to try to separate it from yours.)


I will never learn who you are, I will never know your name. Yet you know every detail of my face, every nuance of this gaze which has blindly brushed by yours scores of times, not recognizing in it the one who has intently followed even the slightest of my movements. I speak to you often, and I hear you tell me, yes, oh yes, I know these things you’re telling me, I know them very well. I long for you; if it weren’t for you, I wouldn’t be able to live, I wouldn’t be able to carry on. I’ve never told anyone about you; our bond is all the greater because no one but you and I knows of it. Isn’t it a pleasure, this secret of ours?

I imagine you sitting at a window, gazing into the window opposite and thinking of how you might look seen from that window, half a shadow, barely visible. I imagine you getting up from your chair and looking for something to do to distract you from your thoughts. I imagine you sitting down, again, bending over to rest your elbows on your knees, and then looking down at your legs, and below them your feet resting on the floor. Suddenly a bird flying by overhead is reflected in the smooth pool inside a coffee cup beside them, remnants left over from the day before: a small trace of heaven quivering in the depths. I wish I could do something to comfort you now; I would lay my hand on your shoulder, silently. What else can one do, when confronted with someone else’s sorrow?


this small sacrifice


 I can no longer remember what time of year it was, but I can recall the shadows in the room falling very differently. The moisture had ceased to collect on the windowpane; perhaps the days were beginning to grow longer again, I don’t know. The trees outside, the walls, my hands and the cup they were holding were all bathed in the light of the morning sun, which warmed despite a chill still in the air…  of course, I remember it now: it was still the early part of Spring, and the magnolias were about to bloom.

It must be time to go and see if there’s been any mail; I think I heard the postman’s steps. I look down at my knees, and I see an airplane flying by overhead, reflected in the bathwater between them: I imagine trying to calculate the odds of this improbable occurrence. Suddenly, I feel overwhelmed by the desire to pack a suitcase and leave here, leave here immediately…  I know, by now, that even the shortest delay is enough time to allow a hundred doubts to enter the mind.

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