There is a certain resonant quality about the building in which I live. The stone and mortar vibrate with an historical irresistibility. My close friend, Alexander, says that history is a living thing; that the past cannot cease to exist. I am not always able to understand the things that Alexander tells me but in this instance I feel he is, perhaps, correct.
I live alone, but not alone. My life is made complete by my thoughts and imaginings.
I have another friend, Rebecca, who feels deeply. Some nights when we are together we hold each other tightly, frightened for each other. We make love and experience a strange relationship with the people who have lived and died in my rooms. Rebecca likes to watch me and imagine that I am an illusion created by the past. I do not mind this because I am dying, I am becoming the past.
Yesterday I went out for a while, but I could not stay away for long. The structure of the building in which I live has become the structure of my existence. I am part of its history and it has become part of my own body.
Alexander came to visit me. We sat in my small living room drinking tea with vodka. The curtains on the windows were closed. I like the quality of light that is created when the curtains are closed. Alexander told me that there are many things in the world.
“There are many things in the world, old friend”, his eyes looked at me with sadness, It is a shame that you will not see them all.”
“Tell me about them, Alexander.” I said.
“The world is full. The world cannot take much more upon itself Peter, so perhaps it is a good thing that you are dying. By leaving us you will achieve immortality, an immortality that will not be given to people like me, people who are not chosen to become part of the past.”
We sat in that beautiful, textured dimness, Alexander and I, drinking and sharing our lives. I wanted us to become part of each other, the way the building and I were, but Alexander said that it could not be.
“In the world there are many things Peter, but this thing is impossible. I am not like you my friend. I am not history. I would like to tell you why we are different but I cannot, that is not for me to teach you. Life is a strange and fleeting thing. We all must be different so that we may exist, each in our own time. You have a quality that is not given to many Peter, you understand life.”
I do not understand life; I understand only my relationship with myself.
Alexander told me many more things as we sat together. He filled me with joy and wonderment, and then he went away.
“I will not see you again Peter, you will be leaving us soon and I cannot be here.”
We wept on each other’s shoulders and we held each other close. Then he was gone.
Downstairs in my building lives a woman. She is not old but she lives a life from many years ago. Like a gipsy who has become trapped in one place, in one time. Sometimes she gets very drunk and cries for a lost love. I do not believe she knows love, I believe she is trapped within herself and can never understand what deep joy love is. A man lives with her and sometimes I can hear them having sex. Slapping flesh against flesh and crying out in their hunger, like two sea lions barking for fish. She is an ugly woman; he is an ugly man.
When I look out of my window I can see many other windows, like a courtyard of eyes looking inwards on many lives. There is a pain which comes from knowing you can never be a part of the substance of those lives. An ineluctable sadness which comes from a realisation of sameness. I watch the children playing in the street, laughing and fighting, perhaps having some real knowledge of truth but with no true understanding.
My own childhood sees so distant from me now, though I am not an old person. I am young but I seem to have lived a thousand lifetimes. My eyes are worn out from seeing things that none should see and my heart rejects this life which is my right.
The walls of my small domain are my comforters. I touch them and feel an affinity with their purpose. When men build houses or bridges or cathedrals they build them for practical reasons. They build these things without realising that they are building, creating, recorders of history. Without knowing that while forming these structures the structures themselves are being imbues with life, with history and with their true purpose.
Alexander once told me that everyone lives in the past because it is impossible to live in the present. A person’s reaction to stimuli, no matter how fast the reaction, is always after the event. For this reason, the past is the canvas upon which the present is painted. Being part of that canvas and thus being a part of history itself is a gift which is the privilege of few.
Rebecca also came to visit me. She wept when she saw me and said,
“Peter, I am afraid of what will happen.”
I told her that what will happen has already happened and anything we can do will only be an embellishment on what is already complete.
“You are a very wise man, Peter.”
I am not wise, I am merely a custodian of the past.
I had made some biscuits in my ktchen. We ate slowly and smiled at each other, communicating with silence.
As we consume thus we are consumed. We eat of the earth and the eart, in its own time, will have us back. An intricate contexture sould which could only be created by itself.
As we spoke with our eyes we became closer in our minds. Our thoughts merged, became one thought and, without realising it, we became a cliché, a pastiche of similar themes played out uncountable times. We touched. The flesh of her face felt hot , as if below the surface of her skin a fire burned fiercely, a conflagration within her soul.
“Peter, I am afraid of what will happen.”
And I held her, afraid also. Not for what was happening to myself but for Rebecca, whose isolation ensured that it would never be possible for her to synthesise this strange reality.
We removed our clothes so that no barriers would stand between us, so that our impurities would be visible and our desires in contact.
Rebecca stood and dance for me. Sensuality become flesh. She danced slowly, rhythmically, as if making love to the present. After a time we came together and she enveloped me, the fire within her body scorched me, hurt me. Our cries echoed in the darkness and we were absorbed by our surroundings, becoming part of the history that was ourselves.
As our desire subsided we held each other and cried for each other. We had performed a ritual of continuation, history was now within her.
“Peter, why is it necessary for you to die?”, Rebecca’s tears ran freely with my own.
“It is not death which is important but the sequence of existence. Although I die I am always existing, by virtue of my life and my relationship with the past. I am the past and I will always remain the past, even to those of you who continue to exist in the present. Therefore I cannot die, except in the basest sense.”
“But you will no longer be with me.”
“I shall always be with you Rebecca, you carry my life within you. Death is not a barrier, death is merely a transition from the present, which is the immediate past, to history, which is the everlasting past. If the very universe should die, I shall exist because I have existed.”
We ate some bread and cheese and slaked our thirst with strong red wine.
Not everyone is blessed, but many are blessed by association.
By candlelight we looked at each other once more and, with finality, loved again then parted for the last time.
Now I lie on my bed, alone but for my connections with the present, my memories and the memories of other lives lived. My thoughts are many and quick. I lie alone and watch the yellow moon which hangs outside my window. I look out on eternity and await the metamorphosis which must come soon. I think of Alexander, wise old Alexander who taught me chess and the essence of abstract. Alexander who cannot survive.
“There are many things in the world Peter, let us speak of them.”
And of Rebecca, who shared my love, shared my body, shared my existence and is part of my own history. Rebecca, who carries my life within her womb.
“Peter, I am afraid of what will happen. Please stay with me.”
I am with you.