” What will be left of me?
What legacy of childhood sorrows, of wasted tears, of wars misunderstood and freedom misused, of unflagging love, and times of mourning, and unfulfilled dreams-what legacy of sleep and forgetfulness shall I bequeath to time, which will forget me as well? ”
(Silences, or a Woman’s Life, Marie Chaix)
I am silver and exact. I have no preconceptions.
Whatever I see I swallow immediately
Just as it is, unmisted by love or dislike.
I am not cruel, only truthful-
The eye of the little god, four cornered.
Most of the time I meditate on the opposite wall.
It is pink, with speckles. I have looked at it so long
I think it is a part of my heart. But it flickers.
Faces and darkness separate us over and over.
Now I am a lake. A woman bends over me,
Searching my reaches for what she really is.
Then she turns to those liars, the candles or the moon.
I see her back, and reflect it faithfully.
She rewards me with tears and an agitation of hands.
I am important to her. She comes and goes.
Each morning it is her face that replaces the darkness.
In me she has drowned a young girl, and in me an old woman
Rises toward her day after day, like a terrible fish.
(Mirror, Sylvia Plath)
” On the nightstand is Émilie’s box, as immutable as a funerary urn. My hand automatically reaches out and unfastens the padlock, but does not dare lift the lid.
I can’t get to sleep. I try to clear my mind. I hug the pillows, turn on to my left side, on to my back. I feel miserable. Sleep isolates me and I don’t want to be alone in the dark. A private conversation with myself does not appeal. I need to be surrounded by courtiers, to share my frustrations, to designate scapegoats. When you can’t find a remedy for your pain, you look for someone to blame. My pain is nebulous. I feel a sadness, but I can’t put my finger on the cause. Émilie? Jean-Christophe? Old age? The letter waiting for me in the box? Why didn’t Jean-Christophe come? Does he still bear me that ancient grudge?
Through the window, which is open on to the deep blue sky where the moon glitters like a medal, I prepare myself to watch, in slow motion, the parade of my misdeeds, my joys, the familiar faces. I hear them arrive, a thunderous roar like a rockslide. How should I sort them? How should I behave? I am going round in circles on the edge of an abyss, an acrobat on a razor’s edge, a mesmerised anthologist on the edge of a bubbling crater; I am at the gates of memory, the endless reels of film we all file away, the great dark drawers stocked with the ordinary heroes we once were, the Camusian myths we never could embody, the actors and the roles we played, genius and grotesque, beautiful and monstrous, bowed beneath the weight of our small acts of cowardice, our feats of arms, our lies, our confessions, our oaths and recantations, our gallantry and desertion, our certainties and doubts; in short, our indomitable illusions.
What to keep of all these reels of film, what to throw away? If we could take only one memory on our journey, what would we choose? At the expense of what or whom? And most importantly, how to choose among all these shadows, all these spectres, all these titans? Who are we, when all is said and done? Are we the people we once were or the people we wish we had been? Are we the pain we caused others or the pain we suffered at the hands of others? The encounters we missed or those fortuitous meetings that changed the course of our destiny? Our time behind the scenes that saved us from our vanity or the moment in the limelight that warmed us? We are all of these things, we are the whole life that we have lived, its highs and lows, its fortunes and its hardships; we are the sum of the ghosts that haunt us . . . we are a host of characters in one, so convincing in every role we played that it is impossible for us to tell who we really were, who we have become, who we will be.
I listen to the voices of the past; I am no longer alone. Whispers whirl in these splinters of memory like fragments of a vast sound: cryptic phrases, strangled cries, laughter and sobbing impossible to tell apart . . .
I close my eyes to put an end to something, to put a stop to this story I have summoned a thousand times, and a thousand times revised. Eyelids are like secret doors; closed they tell us stories, open they look out on to ourselves. We are prisoners of our memories. Our eyes no longer belong to us . . . I look for Émilie in these endless reels of film but cannot find her. It is too late to go back to the cemetery and reclaim the dust of the rose petals; too late to go back to number 143 Rue des Frères-Julien, to become the sensible people who always make up in the end.”
(What the Day Owes the Night, Yasmina Khadra)