She said Kinshasa, like it held some sort of resonance.
In Africa, I’m going there, maybe Monday.
I asked if she’d ever been to Africa.
No, not really.
I need to know what it’s like, to be a stranger, she said.
Isn’t it dangerous, Kinshasa? Warring tribes, machetes, that sorta thing?
Don’t be fucking stupid, it’s like a major city.
She handed me a photo, of her on a bike, when she was young, all slow and clean.
I told you I recognize him right away. He come in looking for liquor, but I say we only got beer and he says he got enough beer, but thanks anyways. Then he’s wandering round, outta sorts like. So I ask him, you lost mister? Well he walks right over and puts his big hands on this counter and say Ma’am, I been lost real good all day. We both just about died laughing over that one.
I went somewhere with you
In my mind last night
The story took place
In a wide open space
We were killing time in Tennessee
Drinking cheap red wine
Reading books about the sea
Living on our last dime
I’m shy with your eyes
Across the river there’s a place
Red buildings in the sky
Cars pass me by
White cloud lines
Then it occurred to me
You were standing right there
Right in front of me
I’m shy with your eyes
She’d been taking Valium, pretty much every night.
“I skipped a day,” she said.
“With the drinking?”
“A little wine,” she said.
Maybe that was it, the thing that hollowed her out, made her a black hole. She quit her job, but wouldn’t talk about it. I wondered what she did during the day.
She said something about ashes on the living room floor.
I remembered the moment we met. I was listening to Jackson C. Frank, and she walked in and said “Jackson C. Frank.” Just like that, as if it was totally normal, someone sitting there, listening to Jackson C. Frank.
That would never change. And now all this.
Becky found herself transfixed, standing lifeless in front of the painting. It was as if she were trapped inside of it, engulfed by the landscape. It had a resonance, and it whispered to her. Becky couldn’t remember if she’d seen this painting before, but it had a place in her subconscious. Somewhere back in her own mind-library, the image made itself known to her. Maybe in a book, or this very room, something from her past. The gray, high-pitched rooms. The echoed steps of strangers and the storied narratives of portraits, landscapes, abstractions.
There was impending violence in the painting’s action, or non-action, because everyone and everything was frozen. There were physical actions taking place within the logic of the landscape, manifestations of movement, but the figures were disconnected from space and time; their own body space, their own time-continuum.
Was Becky the woman standing, stretching her arms above her head, pressing her breasts forward towards the kneeling man–her husband, father, lover? Did she drop her cane in an expression of excitement, or anger?
A woman passed in front of Becky without noticing the painting.
Or was Becky the body of another woman, skirt slightly hiked, lying motionless on the ground, asleep, dreaming, dying? A dead silence surrounded her, but was this in the painting, or was this in the gallery? She noticed there was no one else in the room. A ghostly cane, suspended in mountainous air. And then Becky was the figure in the distance, unreachable, unknowable. The farthest personification of humanity, lost and isolated to its own isle. She was trying to contact the others, maybe by voice, or physical movement, but her arms were immovable stones, set in cliffs a thousand years old.
An empty, still room.
Becky was all of these people, and the rolling hills, the jutting rock formations and the blue-tipped mountains. Beyond the gallery, pieces of conversations echoed, beginnings and endings overlapping to form invisible language structures. A woman approached.
This is my time, she said.
You’re standing in my spot.
Becky wasn’t sure if she heard the voice clearly. Her tones were slight, hushed, dark with soot.
I come here everyday at this time, this spot.
Oh, I’m sorry, said Becky.
It’s OK, I understand.
Becky paused, turned slightly to see the presence beside her–a woman, hunched, wearing sunglasses, holding a cane.
You’ll come back, many times, much like myself. You see the woman lying on the ground, the one sleeping? That’s me, I’m dreaming. I know everything there is to know about this painting. I’ve studied it’s history, it’s cracks and pigments, the reflections of light and the nuances of the brush strokes. What the surface looks like at exactly this moment of the day, every day. What came before this moment, what comes after, what is just out of frame. The woman waved her hand across the canvass in a manner like the shadow movement of slow motion cinema.
The innocence, the women went on, but also something more, something unknown. The uncertain future, the dreams. I’ve come to think of it as my own. A vision of my life. In fact, I know too much.
Becky was silent, unsure.
The woman turned to speak to Becky. The woman dreaming, she said, it’s you.
Balthus. The Mountain. 1936-37