Читать онлайн "Scenes from Provincial Life" автора Coetzee John Maxwell - RuLit - Страница 38

 
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He has never lived with anyone before, certainly not with a woman, a mistress. Even as a child he had a room of his own with a door that locked. The Mowbray flat consists of a single long room, with an entryway off which lead a kitchen and a bathroom. How is he going to survive?

He tries to be welcoming to his sudden new companion, tries to make space for her. But within days he has begun to resent the clutter of boxes and suitcases, the clothes scattered everywhere, the mess in the bathroom. He dreads the rattle of the motor scooter that signals Jacqueline’s return from the day shift. Though they still make love, there is more and more silence between them, he sitting at his desk pretending to be absorbed in his books, she mooning around, ignored, sighing, smoking one cigarette after another.

She sighs a great deal. That is the way her neurosis expresses itself, if that is what it is, neurosis: in sighing and feeling exhausted and sometimes crying soundlessly. The energy and laughter and boldness of their first meeting have dwindled to nothing. The gaiety of that night was a mere break in the cloud of gloom, it would seem, an effect of alcohol or perhaps even an act Jacqueline was putting on.

They sleep together in a bed built for one. In bed Jacqueline talks on and on about men who have used her, about therapists who have tried to take over her mind and turn her into their puppet. Is he one of those men, he wonders? Is he using her? And is there some other man to whom she complains about him? He falls asleep with her still talking, wakes up in the morning haggard.

Jacqueline is, by any standards, an attractive woman, more attractive, more sophisticated, more worldly wise than he deserves. The frank truth is that, were it not for the rivalry between the twin sisters, she would not be sharing his bed. He is a pawn in a game the two of them are playing, a game that long antedates his appearance on the scene — he has no illusions about that. Nevertheless, he is the one who has been favoured, he should not question his fortune. Here he is sharing a flat with a woman ten years older than he, a woman of experience who, during her stint at Guy’s Hospital, slept (she says) with Englishmen, Frenchmen, Italians, even a Persian. If he cannot claim to be loved for himself, at least he has a chance to broaden his education in the realm of the erotic.

Such are his hopes. But after a twelve-hour shift at the nursing home followed by a supper of cauliflower in white sauce followed by an evening of moody silence, Jacqueline is not inclined to be generous with herself. If she embraces him she does so perfunctorily, since if it is not for the sake of sex that two strangers have penned themselves up together in such a cramped and comfortless living-space, then what reason have they for being there at all?

It all comes to a head when, while he is out of the flat, Jacqueline searches out his diary and reads what he has written about their life together. He returns to find her packing her belongings.

‘What is going on?’ he asks.

Tight-lipped, she points to the diary lying open on his desk.

He flares up in anger. ‘You are not going to stop me from writing!’ he vows. It is a non sequitur, and he knows it.

She is angry too, but in a colder, deeper way. ‘If, as you say, you find me such an unspeakable burden,’ she says, ‘if I am destroying your peace and privacy and your ability to write, let me tell you from my side that I have hated living with you, hated every minute of it, and can’t wait to be free.’

What he should have said was that one should not read other people’s private papers. In fact, he should have hidden his diary away, not left it where it could be found. But it is too late now, the damage is done.

He watches while Jacqueline packs, helps her strap her bag on the pillion of her scooter. ‘I’ll keep the key, with your permission, until I have fetched the rest of my stuff,’ she says. She snaps on her helmet. ‘Goodbye. I’m really disappointed in you, John. You may be very clever — I wouldn’t know about that — but you have a lot of growing up to do.’ She kicks the starter pedal. The engine will not catch. Again she kicks it, and again. A smell of petrol rises in the air. The carburettor is flooded; there is nothing to do but wait for it to dry out. ‘Come inside,’ he suggests. Stony-faced, she refuses. ‘I’m sorry,’ he says. ‘About everything.’

He goes indoors, leaving her in the alley. Five minutes later he hears the engine start and the scooter roar off.

Is he sorry? Certainly he is sorry Jacqueline read what she read. But the real question is, what was his motive for writing what he wrote? Did he perhaps write it in order that she should read it? Was leaving his true thoughts lying around where she was bound to find them his way of telling her what he was too cowardly to say to her face? What are his true thoughts anyway? Some days he feels happy, even privileged, to be living with a beautiful woman, or at least not to be living alone. On other days he feels differently. Is the truth the happiness, the unhappiness, or the average of the two?

The question of what should be permitted to go into his diary and what kept forever shrouded goes to the heart of all his writing. If he is to censor himself from expressing ignoble emotions — resentment at having his flat invaded, or shame at his own failures as a lover — how will those emotions ever be transfigured and turned into poetry? And if poetry is not to be the agency of his transfiguration from ignoble to noble, why bother with poetry at all? Besides, who is to say that the feelings he writes in his diary are his true feelings? Who is to say that at each moment while the pen moves he is truly himself? At one moment he might truly be himself, at another he might simply be making things up. How can he know for sure? Why should he even want to know for sure?

Things are rarely as they seem: that is what he should have said to Jacqueline. Yet what chance is there she would understand? How could she believe that what she read in his diary was not the truth, the ignoble truth, about what was going on in the mind of her companion during those heavy evenings of silence and sighings but on the contrary a fiction, one of many possible fictions, true only in the sense that a work of art is true — true to itself, true to its own immanent aims — when the ignoble reading conformed so closely to her own suspicion that her companion did not love her, did not even like her?

Jacqueline will not believe him, for the simple reason that he does not believe himself. He does not know what he believes. Sometimes he thinks he does not believe anything. But when all is said and done, the fact remains that his first try at living with a woman has ended in failure, in ignominy. He must return to living by himself; and there will be no little relief in that. Yet he cannot live alone for ever. Having mistresses is part of an artist’s life: even if he steers clear of the trap of marriage, as he has vowed to do, he is going to have to find a way of living with women. Art cannot be fed on deprivation alone, on longing, loneliness. There must be intimacy, passion, love.

Picasso, who is a great artist, perhaps the greatest of all, is a living example. Picasso falls in love with women, one after another. One after another they move in with him, share his life, model for him. Out of the passion that flares up anew with each new mistress, the Doras and Pilars whom chance brings to his doorstep are reborn into everlasting art. That is how it is done. What of him? Can he promise that the women in his own life, not only Jacqueline but all the unimaginable women to come, will have a similar destiny? He would like to believe so, but he has his doubts. Whether he will turn out to be a great artist only time will tell, but one thing is sure, he is no Picasso. His whole sensibility is different from Picasso’s. He is quieter, gloomier, more northern. Nor does he have Picasso’s hypnotic black eyes. If ever he tries to transfigure a woman, he will not transfigure her as cruelly as Picasso does, bending and twisting her body like metal in a fiery furnace. Writers are not like painters anyway: they are more dogged, more subtle.

     

 

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