Salient: Victoria University Students' Paper. Vol. 25, No. 3. 1962.
My days are full of nothings. They are so full that they overflow at times, and I have to stay awake at night waiting for the flood to abate and for my mind to clear.
Of all the things I was, all I am now Is my imaginings from behind a great plate-glass window. That is not what everybody sees of course; all they can see is a thin bundle of clothes, slumping down on a wheel chair, all huddled up and withered, that makes them shake their heads and sigh.
I have my nothings. I remember a story: there was a man who had had become a centipede and somebody had thrown an apple at him. The apple had jammed between two of his centipede's dorsal plates, I think I remember that the man who was inside did not feel real pain, because he was an insect. But, in spite of this, he had cringed in horror at the thought of what was in his back and had thought he was in pain, because his man's brains seemed to have refused to die.
Nobody can talk to me any longer: I hear them and I can see them, but, when it comes to answering, I know they cannot hear a sound of what I say because it is as if I had been dumb all my life.
But I have my n "things.
I have invented a game, a sort of cardless solitaire, and I play it to myself and I am happy.
That is, I am not happy.
You see? This is my game.
I sit here, behind the window, looking down at the street and I think something. Then I take the thought and turn it inside out, back to front: I take its skin and peel it and watch the fur being swallowed. I watch people go by; they don't know me. They don't even know I exist. But I see them, think something, then think something else, and then wait for other people to go by and take them over.
I go through my nothings as if they were money through the hands of a spendthrift.
This Week's Contributions
The rubbish-collector's cart stops opposite my window, disgorging three or four brawny fellows. They are always the same, big and muscular and rough, and they are never the same; they change their jobs every two or three weeks, so that I never come to know their faces very well. But I always think that they really would like to be rubbish-collectors for thirty or forty years—it gives stability, somehow; it never makes you fear what is going to be beyond the next change—and get a goldwatch and their picture in the paper when they retire.
I also think that, if one could only go and talk openly to them and needle their secrets out of their pot-bellied stomachs, they would say "We don't want to be refuse collectors: we want to be poets." I had a young friend, once,—when I was young myself—who said he was a poet and wrote about living in a world of dust-bins, in the beauty that was the gutter. He became a rubbish-collector in the. end and he disappeared from my life forever. But, nevertheless, it is because of him, I feel, that I think that all rubbish-collectors want to be poets. You see? Some threads are just like umbilical cords: one never can sever them completely.
That young friend of mine, now; won't he want to be a poet again?
The fat girl who delivers the evening paper is one of my best nothings, baby-fat and ungainliness and all. She comes around the corner, bouncing like a flabby rubber-ball, eating ice-cream and flapping her two bags full of papers, that are too heavy for her. She is too stupid to understand anything: or too young, which Is the same thing. She knocks at the door and asks for the toilet and books curiously at me and offends me. But, when I see her, my game becomes more and more absorbing than ever, because, at her age, her possibilities are boundless. She is a chrysalis, ready to spring wings and fly; she is a Cinderella whose prince is waiting two houses further up my street. Her bags are cornucopias holding fast all the riches of the earth.
The children come down, sliding on the foot-path on their noisy scooters and carts, uttering warcries against a young red-headed little bully who haunts their happy hunting grounds. They make as much noise as twenty shipboard hooters ululating together: they pierce the air with the shrill, savage melodies of their innocent voices and populate my dreams with visions of incorporeal angels blowing open the doors to my Kingdom of Heaven. They brandish sticks and wooden shields that glitter in the sun and tingle like silvery bells on the glorious battlefields by the river. They die and become immortal, while the river flows as somebody said.
The river is there, where my street meets another street, when it rains and the water rushes down, jumping over the puny obstacle of the gutter grate. It leaves patterns of stones and sand scattered on the asphalt, in which I read—as if they were tea-leaves—the future the present and past of every nothing that happens to be near.
The road-mender comes and sweeps my tea-leaves away ir. tidy, conical burial mounds, where all my dreams become cemented together in a shapeless, useless mass.
My dreams are not stones.
They float in the air, over the head of the pretty young woman in green who is leading a pretty young boy by the hand.
And, still, that boy is a dwarf who has bought the young woman in green. And the woman is ugly; if she would only turn towards me the other side of her face. Also, she would like to be dressed in red, because red is a livelier colour.
Like the red of my sunsets—there—far away, over those gently rounded hills that are memories of girls' softnesses. They, the hills, are still what they have always been: nobody has yet tampered there, the way the man across the road has d ne with his hill, with concrete ramparts and battlements: sharp, secant lines, dazzlingly white under the summer sun, subdueing the earth and hugging her in place, lovingly, possessively, protectively.
They embrace her; ha d. smooth planes bearing down on her relentlessly. Sweet-hearts.
They come and sit down on the low, grey brick-wall that fences my neighbour's garden. She leans her head lightly on his shoulder and stays still, until he turns towards her and bends and kisses her lips. And they clash, and her softness is hard and I hear the low jarring noise of their teeth, as they lunge statically at each other, as they try to hide one into the other, to shelter, to reach those heights of sublimity they know are there, somewhere.
It is three years, now, that I have been like this; that I have not been. It is a day, a moment, eternity.
An old man comes to see me occasionally. He clenches his teeth and is brave, when he deliberately reaches for what was my hand: it must feel to him as scaly and cold as the body of the snake was, that I lifted from the ground one day, thinking it was a branch blown down from its tree by the wind.
He does not say.
He prays for me: not with me (he doesn't know I know) and | helps me along and helps himself along. If I could smile I would, because I think that I am one of his Nothings; but he does not know my game and I cannot teach him my rules.
He shuffles away silently, his steps muffled by the thick wad ding of the carpet and he becomes the stealthy wanderer that fills the darkness of my nights. As s on as he is behind me, he is my wife's boarder, whom I have only seen from my window and heard from my chair; and he kindles the memory of fears that, now, have no longer any reason to be.
My wife is my dearest nothing; the girl who is not my wife any more. The girl who is good to me, because she keeps me here, at home, and is my mother to me; the girl who is very cruel to me, because she keeps me here, at home, and is my mother to me and makes me die of shame.
I die for a little while every time she comes to me, like a plant going to sleep for the winter.
And at times I wish and hope that one of these recurring winters would last forever.
But, when I think of it—seeing that my game is so much all that is left of me—I am sure that, if I really died, I would only want to be alive again soon after.