The spring my father died, when I came to believe that everyone was mortal, I found a spot at the back of my leg, jagged and dark, that held on like a tick. I waited for it to grow into a cancer. First blemish, I thought, in a spoiling fruit. So small, and yet a mark, a certainty. Iād been in Egypt, studying the past. One day, a colossus lay before me in sand as if it had just fallen across my path. A cart driver was taking me along the desert to a buttery or a pottery, he might even have been saying, leprosary. He couldnāt be stopped. We came at last to a Coptic church where he showed me signs drawn in old copy books, a blue-tiled emptiness. I became aware of the spot as I climbed up to my place in a vast arena. I was looking down behind me at small, scattering figures. The performance, a circus or spectacle, just about to begin.
While I was young, while death was still the exception, turning up unexpected, shining, like a coin at the bottom of my purse, I lived for the first time away from home, two floors up from a furrier and just above a Greek family where a sister killed her brother. Some Saturdays a deaf man went from door to door selling needles. And Iād thought, "Yes. What a quiet activity it is, to sew." I too lived without the bewitchment of speech. Even the sound of rain stunned me. So I trembled to hear the wretched mother keening. Slowly, I filled up my small room-- the years at home had starved me of myself. To say I was happy is not exact. More, like someone who agrees to her own sacrifice or exile, that it was necessary. Night after night the womanās wails rose up through the floorboards. I imagined her in black, rent clothes with her double sorrow, grief rising and falling back. I imagined that terrible rocking. Each day as I passed beneath the dark arch of the stairwell, I waited for her to wave away scarves and darkness and emerge, clear-eyed, somehow reconciled.
You know how night shuts down everything, and it is only the moon that stands there, beckoning? Well, I am thinking of Rembrandtās dark interiors, how he pulls the person out of the shadows. "Woman with Pink," for instance. She is holding a flower before her as if to light her way into the world. Or of vampires, who can only live, if that is what they do, at night--collectors of loss, my friend, an expert, calls them, dirt from the homeland, one or two bartered Botticellis. Theirs is strictly a literary existence, no roots, sheād say, in the collective unconscious. That is why they are beloved, creatures of longing, as we are, for what has never been. I did not go to the high school reunion. Twenty known deaths so far. Even our crewcut class president who led cheers in white bucks, raving away the dark. I hope my friend Ted is still alive and no walking skeleton with AIDS. Sometimes now, thereās the same impatient rain I remember from that time, with a brilliant sun to follow, radiance behind everything, like a view glimpsed in a rearview mirror. Tonight, eating these half-withered, negative little plums, the end of their season, I am listening to Bachās Partita for solo violin. Imagine the instrument, pouring out its heart alone like that.