April 30, 2005

The Eve of the Vernal Equinox [part one]

I actually wrote this on the 8th of April but for some reason the date changed to 30 April. You can ignore it now.

Please reply with your impressions, comments and criticism. Be harsh if you need to be. ;)

I found myself alone, with a quill and paper in hand, in creative repose – or perhaps just in much-sought solitude. My own Dark Lady was on my mind again, dusk was closing, and I could not bear the thought of another melancholic night under the branches and the moon. So I folded up the half-finished sonnet, resolving to leave the forest-side before dusk fell.

I trudged a short way over the pasture and, taking the roundabout way back, came upon the high pillbox. Standing on top of its stone roof, I could see a way down into the Seminary campus, just beginning to light up. Some chimney-smoke came from the low thatched dormitories, and further along, the meal halls were filling up with voices. It was a picture – I wished then for some charcoal, and the talent to use it, so I could capture the moment without having to use words. But I am no artist.

The sun, setting behind me, lit the campus with its dying shades. So I turned to it – to the west, where it set over the roads and hills. Not long ago, Leah had stood perched on the corner of the stone, looking to that same westering evening sun. She held her shawl in her hand, in spite of the cold, and let it unfurl in the wind: a bright thing, I remembered, the blue of the sea.

I missed her. I missed her simple presence, her conversation, her voice with its inflections. Her voice, as I once said to her, sounded like the colour brown, and her singing like the voice of a clarinet. I missed the talk of books and of music, learning of her past and her parents and the old Eastern poets whom she loved.

My missing her was a simple thing, and is a simple thing to say, but it was not simple to feel. I could not think of her without thinking too of regret, and of confusion, and of my attempts at love cut short. Perhaps love itself is hewn of these confusions. But if my love for her was ever clear, she had eluded me.

My anxiety was broken by a low noise – a quack. When I am lost in introspection, I find that I detatch myself from the world, and my field of vision becomes a sort of flat plane that I regard from a few inches back. Hubertine tells me that this is the first stage of a meditative trance. But the quack of the duck brought me back into the world of depth, and I found myself surrounded again by sensation, by the trees, and the sound of the slow wind in the trees, and the cooling air, and the dissonant birdsong.

Two ducks were waddling on the grass beneath me: a male, with a brilliant plumage and a head of bluish hue, and a female, dun-coloured, a bit farther behind. They quacked at me expectantly. I was pleased to see these creatures, and I thought of them as harbingers of the approaching New Year – that night was the eve of the Vernal Equinox. I thought I would mention this to Hubertine, or to Timo, if I saw either of them on campus. Then I heard a familiar voice from behind me.

“Raymond!”

“Hubertine.”

“We must stop doing this.”

She made an attempt to vault up on to the roof, and managed on the second effort. She sat there for a moment and peered into her bag, smiling distantly – Hubertine's smile is a thing to savour. It is broad and subtle, the wistful feeling of a long summer afternoon. Then she got up and joined me. Her hair was tied up under a straw hat, which bore a droopy daffodil, and she wore her five-coloured cloak. Well, I call it a cloak – she had improvised. Leave her alone with a blanket and some old scissors and pins, and clothing is miraculously created. “Ducks,” I said.

“Indeed,” she replied, producing a muffin from her bag.

“You're not feeding them entheogens, are you?”

“No. This is a blueberry muffin.” She picked bits off and threw them down.

“What a shame,” I smiled. “Why do ducks go around in pairs, Hubertine?”

She sat thinking about this for a good half minute. “Unless they get married,” she said, “ – and I'm fairly sure that they don't – I can think of no reason for it. But everything happens in pairs and halves at New Year. Like the black and white eggs. It's balance you know – the equinox is a moment of balance between halves. Then spring begins and the balance is broken again.”

“I see,” I said, and absorbed this. “I was talking with Timo today. We were assigning metaphors to people we know. He said that you were a kitten with an agenda.”

“Really?”

“Yes. You look good today, Hubertine. You look very becoming.”

She bit her lip. “Where's Leah?”

I decided not to evade her. “I have some of her letters. She's traveling west: by foot to Opal Port, and then by boat across the strait. I expect she's arrived at the port now; she'll sail in the morning.”

I kept Leah's letters next to my notes and poetry. They were written carefully, and had about them the crispness of the outdoor air. In them, she told me of her progress, and of her plans to meet with Sol. They were to meet at the Watch above St. Azimuth's – the sister monastry to our Seminary – on the day of the equinox. That is all that she said. She did not mention whether she thought anxiously of him, or how much he was missed. I imagined that he was missed. I imagined how Leah must have stood that very night, looking to the west, listening to the waves and to her heart and aching for the dawn.

“You are sighing like a Renaissance prince,” said Hubertine. “You worry about her, don't you?”

“I do.”

“Do you love her?”

I frowned. “I… cannot love her. She is in love, deeply in love. I should have seen that a long time ago. She has a way about her, the way of someone who has…”

Hubertine looked at me, puzzled. “Wait, go back a step. She's in love? With whom?”

I am a good one for sharing others' secrets by accident. “Well, I can't tell you. And anyway, I would tell the story badly. It will suffice to say that the two of you have some common ground, you with your absent lover and all.”

“Oh.”

“Share some tea with Leah some time. I highly recommend the experience.”

Hubertine peered at me with concern – I gave a plaintive look back. “You might feel badly now, Raymond, but all you need to do is to wait. Everything is changing. The way you feel will change. You yourself will change in time.”

“Thankyou.”

Before she left, she gave me a narrow roll of paper, and a handful of herbs in a little earthen pot. The paper was a sigil to meditate on, a diagram of her own design. The herbs were to be burnt as incense. I asked if there was anything special in the herbs; she nodded enthusiastically and said, “you could smoke it if you're really keen.” Then she put the cloak around me, kissed my cheek and told me to take care.

So I found myself in the cold air, alone, watching the dusk finally die into night, warm under my friend's thick cloak. The half moon was hanging low in the sky, strange and peaceful. My unfinished sonnet beckoned – and the thought of another melancholic night under the branches was becoming more appealing.


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  1. Beautiful Joe. Really Beautiful, as ever. Perhaps needs a little bit of tweaking here and there, but really not a lot. Perhaps Hubertine's entrance is a bit too close to the first mention of her, and What is the Pillbox? Am I just being dense there? I think you can leave out the "well" in "well, I can't tell you" near the end. Also perhaps a bit more explaination of where these characters are? I don't know. But really good in general. Don't change too much of it!

    09 Apr 2005, 10:43

  2. Wow. This is wonderfully written. I can't see anything that needs to be changed. The only (very nit-picky) thing I'd mention is that you've described Leah presence as "simple" and then gone on to repeat the word three times in the next paragraph:

    "My missing her was a simple thing, and is a simple thing to say, but it was not simple to feel."

    The repetition is good but I think that saying her presence was simple beforehand makes one too many simples! lol if you got that well done! Anyway, its not major, as I said, I'm nit-picking.

    I like the piece a lot, especially:

    "Hubertine's smile is a thing to savour. It is broad and subtle, the wistful feeling of a long summer afternoon. "

    and the whole paragraph beginning "My anxiety was broken…"

    Good work Joe, I look forward to the next piece!

    11 Apr 2005, 10:48

  3. Classic Watson, mixing surrealism with deep emotion and honesty to powerful effect. Dead good.

    What can I say? Not much, it is excellent, this bizarre strange-but-familiar world and its characters is excellently and consistently realised.

    But hey, Timo doesn't fit with Hubertine, Raymond and Leah :). I want to be Geoffery, Marmaduke, or Mr Orwell. Only suggestion I've got, sorry.

    11 Apr 2005, 16:44

  4. Tim, Sho, Alex, thanks for reading. Your suggestions for tweaking are all excellent so I'll implement them.

    As for explaining about the world the characters are in: it is my intention not to – at least, not at first. This is primarily so that the characters remain the most important element of the story. But I also wanted to create a sense of a world with a deep and detailed background, without mentioning any specific details. You only really have the tip of the iceberg here. Maybe there will be more in 'later installments' (which will follow Raymond through the night and into the following day, i.e. the the day of the equinox).

    Tim: can I call you Marmaduke from now on? What a fine suggestion. Indeed, most of the characters here are in some way based on people I know; exactly who is who I leave as an exercise to the reader. That said, there is no reason to take anything personally. This is very much a work of fiction.

    11 Apr 2005, 20:16

  5. Marmaduke sounds good to me! Of course, I was joking about Timo not fitting. I just didn't want to be the only one without a funkay new name. The world doesn't need any explanation, in my opinion. Like you say, the focus is on the characters, as it should be.

    13 Apr 2005, 00:35

  6. This is my favourite thing by you, and I feel incapable of suggesting any changes. They would only be cursory, and sully a work of understated magnificence.

    It's a fun game, too. Renaissance Prince…

    15 Apr 2005, 02:20


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