Were you in love with her?
The question is in a way meaningless, she knows, but one must ask. Love in such situations is rarely real. Sex is the engine, exalting and ruining people, sex and frustration. Love is what people believe is worth the path of devastation.
During the first part of your life, you only become aware of happiness once you have lost it. Then an age comes, a second one, in which you already know, at the moment when you begin to experience true happiness, that you are, at the end of the day, going to lose it. When I met Belle, I understood that I had just entered this second age. I also understood that I hadn’t reached the third age, in which anticipation of the loss of happiness prevents you from living.
Your only chance of survival, if you are sincerely smitten, lies in hiding this fact from the woman you love, of feigning a casual detachment under all circumstances. What sadness there is in this simple observation! What an accusation against man! However, it had never occurred to me to contest this law, nor to imagine disobeying it: love makes you weak, and the weaker of the two is oppressed, tortured and finally killed by the other, who in his or her turn oppresses, tortures and kills without having evil intentions, without even getting pleasure from it, with complete indifference; that’s what men, normally, call love.
He let the phone slip from his hand and lay crying for a while, silently, shaking the cheap bed. He didn’t know what to do, he didn’t know how to live. Each new thing he encountered in life impelled him in a direction that fully convinced him of its rightness, but then the next new thing loomed up and impelled him in the opposite direction, which also felt right. There was no controlling narrative: he seemed to himself a purely reactive pinball in a game whose only object was to stay alive for staying alive’s sake. To throw away his marriage and follow Lalitha had felt irresistible until the moment he saw himself, in the person of Jessica’s older colleague, as another overconsuming white American male who felt entitled to more and more and more: saw the romantic imperialism of his falling for someone fresh and Asian, having exhausted domestic supplies. Likewise the course he’d chartered for two and a half years with the Trust, convinced of the soundness of his arguments and the rightness of his mission, only to feel, this morning in Charleston, that he’d made nothing but horrible mistakes. And likewise the overpopulation initiative: what better way to live could there be than to throw himself into the most critical challenge of his time? A challenge that then seemed trumped-up and barren when he thought of his Lalitha with her tubes tied. How to live?
The ship rolls and her timbers creak like a barn in a gale.
‘Have you considered turning apothecary ashore, Mr Nash?’
‘Not I, sir.’ Nash does not smile at the pleasantry.
‘I can see Nash’s Patented Elixir arrayed in a row of china bottles.’
‘Men of commerce, sir…’ Nash counts out laudanum drops into the pewter beaker ‘… for the most part, had their consciences cut out at birth. Better an honest drowning than slow death by hypocrisy, law or debt.’
Act, implores the Ghost of Future Regret. I shan’t give you another chance.
Jacob hurries past the tomatoes and catches her up near the gate.
‘Miss Abigawa? Miss Aibagawa. I must ask you to forgive me.’
She has turned around and has one hand on the gate. ‘Why forgive?’
‘For what I now say.’ The marigolds are molten. ‘You are beautiful.’
She understands. Her mouth opens and closes. She takes a step back…
… into the wicket gate. Still shut, it rattles. The guard swings it open.
Damn fool, groans the Demon of Present Regret. What have you done?
Crumpling, burning and freezing, Jacob retreats, but the garden has quadrupled in length, and it may take a Wandering Jew’s eternity before he reaches the cucumbers, where he kneels behind a screen of dock leaves; where the snail on the pail flexes its stumpy horns; where ants carry patches of rhubarb leaf along the shaft of the how; and he wishes the Earth might spin backwards to a time she appeared, asking for rosemary, and he would do it all again, and he would do it all differently.
How vulgar, this hankering after immortality, how vain, how false. Composers are merely scribblers of cave paintings. One writes music because winter is eternal and because, if one didn’t, the wolves and blizzards would be at one’s throat all the sooner.
He ran as he’d never run before, with neither hope nor despair. He ran because the world was divided into opposites and his side had already been chosen for him, his only choice being whether or not to play his part with heart and courage. He ran because fate had placed him in a position of responsibility and he had accepted the burden. He ran because his self-respect required it. He ran because he loved his friends and this was the only thing he could do to end the madness that was killing and maiming them. He ran directly at the bunker where the grenades from Jake’s M-79 were exploding. The bullets from the M-60 machine gun slammed through the air on his right, slashing past him, whining like tortured cats, cracking like the bullwhip of death. He ran, having never felt so alone and frightened in his life.