IV

That, as I imagined it would be, was the last occasion on which I saw Diaz-Varela alone, and quite some time passed before I met him again, and then in my company and by chance. But for most of the time he haunted my days and my nights, at first intensely, then only palely loitering, as Keats put it. I suppose he thought we had nothing more to say, he must have been left with the feeling that he had more than fulfilled the unexpected task of giving me an explanation he had doubtless assumed he would never have to give anyone. He had acted imprudently with the Prudent Young Woman (I’m no longer so very young, nor was I then), and he’d had no choice but to tell me his story, sinister or sombre depending on which version he gave. After that, there was no need for him to stay in touch with me, to expose himself to my suspicions, my looks, my evasive comments, my silent judgments, nor would I have wanted to submit him to them, we would have become enveloped in an atmosphere of grim unease. He did not seek me out nor did I seek him out. We had said an implicit goodbye, had reached a conclusion that no amount of mutual physical attraction or non-mutual love could delay.

The following day, despite his weariness, he must have felt that a weight had been lifted off his shoulders or been replaced by another far lighter one – I now knew more, having been present at a confession – because it was even less likely than ever that I would go to anyone with my still unprovable knowledge. He, though, has passed a weight on to me, because far worse than my grave suspicions and my possibly hasty and unfair conjectures was the burden of having two versions of events and not knowing which to believe, or, rather, knowing that I would have to believe both and that both would cohabit in my memory until it grew weary of the duplication and turfed them out. Anything anyone tells you becomes absorbed into you, becomes part of your consciousness, even if you don’t believe it or know that it never happened and that it’s pure invention, like novels and films, like the remote story of Colonel Chabert. And although Diaz-Varela had followed the old precept of keeping the ‘true’ story until last and telling the ‘false’ story first, that rule is never enough to erase the initial or previous version. You still heard it and, although it might be momentarily refuted by what comes afterwards, which contradicts and gives the lie to it, the memory endures, as does our own credulity while we were listening, when, not knowing that it would be followed by a denial, we mistook it for the truth. Everything that has been said to us resonates and lingers, if not when we’re awake, then as we drift off to sleep or in our dreams, where the order of things doesn’t matter, and it remains there tossing and turning and pulsating as if it were someone who had been buried alive or perhaps a dead man who reappears because he didn’t actually die, either in Eylau or on the road back or having been hanged from a tree or something else. What has been said continues to watch us and occasionally revisits us, as ghosts do, and then it never seems enough, we recall even the longest conversations as having been all too brief and the most thorough explanations as being full of holes; we wish we had asked more questions and listened more closely and paid more attention to non-verbal signs, which are slightly less deceiving than verbal ones.

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