He’d seen it all. Swathes of nothingness spun into stars, the slapping of the first fin onto land, and now these creatures, by far the cleverest and the saddest—though listing it that way felt faulty, as if all happenings unfurled inch by inch instead of blooming in one cacophony, the apple crumpling just outside the city walls.
And it wasn’t even an apple, or fig, or pomegranate glinting with infernal seeds, though he’d accommodate their legends, accept provisional truths, the same way they worked with the earth un-sphered and stilled in leaf-thin sketch. To overlook imprecision in the premises, concede to the limits of both flesh and paper, was what it meant to translate, as to love. Which struck him as strange pottery: roll everything that’s been into a coil and score it with each day; cram self into cage of clay and bone; daub their closed eyes in slip and wait for it to flake off to new sight. It seemed to take what they called a lifetime.
But they didn’t have that, not right here, beside the village known as House-of-Misery whose people rent their clothes. Before he even spoke Mary’s tears were falling warm onto his feet, carving clear trails through the coat of dust.
If you had been here. He stood enveloped in the sound of all their moans, entangled in her locks of dampening hair. If you had been here. All grief’s audacity pitched in her splintering voice, she raised her head to look at him, and in her water-darkened eyes he who’d seen all things felt this: pain’s veil dividing now from everything that is not-now. And he began to weep.
Back a week from the grave. He pecks at the food his sisters set before him. He is afraid to sleep. He imagines the eyes of everyone upon him but they are careful not to stare, a meaningless courtesy: the midday sun consumes both sight and soul. His funeral shroud is unburnt—he won’t allow it—but his sisters refuse to permit its being brought into the house. Sometimes they catch him holding it to his face and weeping into it. It smells so foully that not even the crows will approach it. He rarely speaks but sometimes talks of going away. It is almost, to their shame, to be wished for.