Between the museum and the main road into the city, there is this lost piece of garden. Chairs stand on the grass, which do not belong with anything else. You can sit there in the sun. They look like the outdoor furniture in the Bois de Boulogne, which is also no one’s. The beech hedges, now orange, are neatly trimmed. Someone maintains this place with love. The chestnut tree is particularly beautiful. It is erupting, a lake of leaves lying at its feet, yellow and brown. I brush a few of them off a chair, in the full autumn sunshine. I sit and I look. I’m not a talker, but if you catch my attention, I’ll make contact. Not speaking confuses people. Much of what we say, often everything, is intended to reassure. Vast spaces for negotiation open up if you make contact without speaking. I sometimes put cards in my evening bag. I CAN’T SPEAK BUT MY MOUTH WORKS JUST FINE. Or: SILENCE IS A DOORWAY INTO FREE SPACE. The cards generally get me into the sort of trouble that I feel like.
I’m free now. Sun on my face, time on my hands. Wearing the soft woollen coat, Max Mara – I wasn’t exactly given it, but I was allowed to keep it. Out of my favourite bag comes a pencil, out of the bottle of mandarin liqueur at the bottom comes a swig. I burp. Almond cake. In The Pure and the Impure – the well-thumbed book that I’m rereading – Colette has one of her characters say that maybe we should trust the body more than the heart. She writes and I underline:
‘But what is the heart, madame? It’s worth less than people think. It’s quite accommodating, it accepts anything. You give it whatever you have, it’s not very particular. But the body… Ha! That’s something else again! It has a cultivated taste, as they say, it knows what it wants. A heart doesn’t choose, and one always ends up by loving.’
I nod again in approval because I’m quite an approving idiot when it comes to Colette. The book is a collection of night-time encounters, encounters with human nature. I’m now at the part where she hears a cry from a woman’s throat in an opium den, orgasmic. On the basis of that cry, she sketches an entire life.
So, reading Colette and there is autumn sunshine. Although happiness resides far too closely to complacency to be able to enjoy it without a care, it seems to me that something resembling happiness roams this garden. Stillness.
Then a fur coat billows past. There is something about so much, so very much surging and moving fur that I find completely tasteless. that I find completely tasteless. I look. The coat does not look back. It trumpets ‘look at me,’ but it does not actually look itself. A sickness of our age. The coat struts past, accustomed to being looked at. No shortage, no lack of anything with that coat, except, yes, fulfilment, a sacred sufficiency, catching your breath with your hands upon your hips, with your hands around what has become still. But then the museum attracts a particular sort of visitor. Inside, an exhibition about Russian jewellery. Anyone who believes they can afford to stare at antique jewellery in a beautifully lit gallery is living in outright denial of what is hanging over our heads.
Then I see her.
What catches my eye are her socks. She is wearing low black shoes with a buckle, anachronistic. She slipped her feet into short, light socks this morning. The trousers above are short too, short enough to show off those socks. The woman, who must be at least sixty-five, is wearing a child’s shoes and she is staring me down. She has already noticed that I am admiring her ankles, her entire cladding, starting at the bottom and going all the way to the top, because she is a unified vision. She looks back and walks more slowly now, until she stops, close to my chair and walks away a little and then back again. She places one foot dramatically in front of the other, as if the two of them are performing a dialogue in a puppet show. As if, for a brief moment, she is dancing for me the drama of the schoolgirl’s shoes and how they moved across the earth. Following each other. High above them, between her legs, clouds of dust and beyond hollows and valleys. We laugh. My coat falls open. Well, I let my coat fall open. I take the liqueur from my bag and make a sign. She doesn’t look as if she has the time to gaze at Russian jewellery, she looks like a publisher, like the director of an architectural institute, like someone with an open fireplace in a house on a canal and a garden with double doors. If only she would have my hands upon her hips, if only she would let me. She comes and sits beside me. We don’t speak, we look at her feet. Which certainly do speak. About indecent things. She grabs my book. I make a sign for a pen. From the inside pocket of her dark-brown coat, one appears. I smile. She takes the bottle and raises it to her mouth. Which exposes her neck for a brief moment, naked. I slide the sleeve of her coat up a little and make a cross over her wrist. It is a large X, I trace over the lines a few times, it is a solid thing. She looks at the cross. She pushes the sleeve of my coat up a little. Her fingers go over the circle on the inside of my wrist, which I had done one day behind the Bois de Boulogne. She stands up. I follow. Now and then she looks back. I follow like an animal. On the Onbekende Gracht, the Unknown Canal, she disappears into a doorway, and when I get there a front door is open. I hear her footsteps high above me. I follow. I find her on the top floor. She is sitting with her back to me. Boxes everywhere, disassembled furniture, an attic window open wide, a bed in front of that window. I slide in behind her, my hands slipping down her breastbone and over her breasts. She sighs but does not turn around. I find the hook on her back and release her. Her breasts are heavy. My hand glides over her stomach and into her trousers. My fingers feel their way over her knickers, into her knickers, fingering her lips, sliding around and along her fleshy bud. I press myself close to her as my fingers apply more pressure and move faster. A sudden scream escapes through the open window, it is aimed at the world. And what matters is that it is autumn. We must understand the signs of nature. In the afternoon, when I go back down the stairs and slip out of the front door, carrying my due in my arms, a siren rings like a late echo over the canal. I salute you, alarm, beauty, skittish one, wailing.
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