And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death.
— Shakespeare, Macbeth (Act 5, Scene 5)
She must have had an accident, because from my window on the upper floor I see the man with the shaved head rolling her down to the lake in a wheelchair. This happens every morning at six, when the beach is empty of tourists. As soon as first light has popped out, they leave from the villa next to mine. The dog follows them, watching impatiently while the man, skull shining in the dawn, lifts her up in his arms at the end of the paved walk. She’s thinner than ever, should weigh next to nothing. He goes down the steps and carefully lets her stand for a moment on the sand. She staggers a bit at first. He takes off his shoes. She isn’t wearing any.
The man picks her up again and walks along the lake, with the dog at his heels, for about a mile to the direction of Milan. I wonder how she feels having to be carried, she who never deigned to accept another’s coat not even in a snowstorm. When their figures become a dot in the horizon, or more precisely a small ‘h’ followed by a Cocker-Spaniel-shaped dot, I take out my binoculars. The world zooms closer and I see the man placing her down, then commanding the dog to sit. The dog is excited, raises tailfuls of sand. She doesn’t look excited.
Then, it begins.
Her face is a mask of concentration as she starts to walk, putting one foot after the other. Her legs are unsure and tense and their movement comes curt and basic like that of broomsticks or as if she’s marching on stilts. It is agonizing even to watch; she must be in tremendous pain, though the sand should be alleviating part of it. She walks with her head down, her hair curtaining the sides of her face. Every inch is a struggle and I imagine her clenching her teeth; I can’t really see that well under all the blonde.
The bald man walks backwards in front of her, at arm’s reach, keeping the same distance between them. She seems silent. He must be talking, encouraging her, because I see his head moving and he gestures sometimes. They gradually become bigger in my scope as they approach, making their way back to the villas. The dog remains where they left it; when I shift to it briefly, it looks as though grinning stupidly amid the mushrooms of sand it keeps whipping up with its tail.
She stumbles. The man’s arms shoot forward, but she’s balanced herself before they reach under her elbows. She continues to place foot after foot, in a way that without context an observer would mistake her for drunk. After a while her walking becomes steadier, as if she’s getting used to it, though still she doesn’t look up or at the lake, its undisturbed surface gleaming like a blue-black uniform beside them.
It takes me a week to notice the trick with the dog. The man has somehow trained it to relocate some twenty or thirty feet from its original position when he makes a specific gesture with his hand. She doesn’t see any of it; the dog is behind her. When the man brings up his right palm and rests it on his shaved head, the dog sees him and it gets up, walks and sits further back. At the end of their walk they stop, she rests on him, and they look at how much distance she has covered for the day. The dog is the measuring point. They call out to it and it runs back towards them in a frenzy of canine happiness.
The morning before they leave, they come to visit me. There’s the brightest summer sun, on a sky off Kandinsky’s palette. I see them talking while the man pushes her wheelchair along the pavement. I wonder if she’s wearing perfume and whether he can pick up the scent, lithe and vivid round her neck. I know they’re coming when they stop to cross the street opposite my villa. I hide behind the curtains.
The front gate clinks. Her wheelchair rolls into my yard. The wind picks up and makes the rosemaries’ leaves sough, like a low moan. The wind passes through her hair, too. They come to a stop outside my window. They’re silent now.
I hear the man go up the steps to my veranda. I hear his trainers on the patio, their rubber on the scorching stone, followed by the muffled fall of the dog’s paws, and I know they have left her alone, at the front. I hear cars passing, I hear the clouds, I hear her breathe.
His knock on my door travels throughout the house, a wooden noise that spawns an echo. Suddenly I’m so drunk with life my head swims. I move, throw the curtains open and stare through the glass. Her eyes come up and they meet mine and I find myself drawn into that unmatched alcoholic blue, the bluest blue and my own death.
The man knocks again. She doesn’t call him back. She just sits there, looking up at me. She looks at me and I can hear her in my head, and it’s a tape of all the things I’ve ever heard her speak combined: her singing in concert halls, her interviews voice, her private whispers and her conversational casualness; her laugh in the middle of the night. I used to tell her she laughs in her sleep because she doesn’t laugh enough awake.
When I tear away from her gaze, I search for the ring with my name on it on the fourth finger of her left hand. I can’t see her hands. She keeps them in the spaces between her legs and the sides of the wheelchair.
I almost speak her name. It travels up my tongue like a small electric current, it almost hangs out my lips. Kids shout from the street and I withdraw into the room. They leave.
The night that follows is the worst of them all. I am unable to remove her picture from my mind and I keep thinking about him fucking her. Fucking her on the bed, probably the same bed we had made love on in the past, fucking her on the floor, fucking her standing up in the shower –no, with her legs recovering she couldn’t– lifting her from the wheelchair, tossing her face-front on the pool table and fucking her from behind under the crazy spotlights of the ceiling, the dog watching. I am insane, I down a bottle of whiskey, I jerk off at the thought of him fucking her in front of our wedding picture. Nothing makes it go away. I pass out. They fuck and fuck and make themselves whole, all night in my dreams.
Next day they’re gone. Τheir car’s missing; it doesn’t reappear. I decide I’ll keep renting the villa until spring. I speak with my publishers; this book is hard to come by. What is difficult about it, they ask. Do I want them to send over my editor, to assist? I tell them everything is okay.
Of course, I chose to come here. This is where we spent our summers for the past nine years. The lake, the small city attached to it. Milan at hand, a bit further out. I don’t know why she chose to return. Had she found out I’d be here? Had she guessed? Vengeance? Chance? No, no ‘meet me in Montauk’ scenario.
I don’t know who the man was. Could be her new lover. I toy with the idea he could be just her physio. He must know about me, since he knocked on my door. What was that about? What did they – what did she want? A chat? Did she expect me to open the door, consent to speak to her?
I’m tantalized by the thought that, perhaps, the accident which left her in this condition happened because of me. When she stormed off after all the shouting, a living cliché, taking the bike, my 1928 Harley ‘Two-Cam’, on purpose I think, driving recklessly, crying maybe? vision blurred and the rain, a car appears, a fox, a tree, shit shit shit, a sudden turn, aaaah, crash – then lights out.
Maybe she wasn’t in love just with my success and name. And yet. Not to mince words, as the critics minced mine: the last three novels I wrote were not bestsellers. Had they been, would she have stayed, along with everything else I could afford?
It doesn’t matter. With her out of the picture, I can concentrate. I can work. I write and write and my first draft is ready. A bit pudgy, but it’s getting there.
My problem is the problem of reclaiming the past. I don’t know if this happens to everyone. Maybe it has to do with being a historical novelist, maybe not. But I cannot disassociate my person in the present from my person in the past. It’s continuity – a singular line. For the sake of survival, it has to be rewritten. How do you go on about this? You go back and observe yourself alone, separately, apart. I think, when you choose to separate your present, your pasts follow. My past, your past. Dividing marital property. Memorial property. All our yesterdays, unshared: all my and all your yesterdays.
One early morning in the winter, I see a woman that could be her. Maybe she is, maybe she isn’t. But she has a dog with her and she parks a hired car right by the end of the paved walk, and walks along the lakeside. It’s too dark to tell and I don’t want to take out my binoculars.
She goes and then the morning comes, in a mist of grey-blue which falls over the houses and the lake like a veil, yet not a tranquil one but pregnant with anticipation for the day that is about to begin. It’s like a cloud coming from the mountains, passing through the city, with the force to summon people from their beds, hover them out the window and set them down on their lawns, the streets, the doorsteps of their shops.
I put on a coat.