The silence

When we first moved there, she loved it: the silence and solitude. She liked it when I didn’t speak much, so I spoke less and less. I felt marvellous in that peacefulness, though I sometimes missed my family. She did her work and sold some of it, enough for us to get by. She still didn’t sleep well, but she never complained; she just got up sometimes and went to the kitchen to fix a drink.
I laughed when she wanted to draw me. It was embarrassing, I felt like a model. She said if she drew me once a week she might be allowed to have me.
Thinking back it was a strange thing to say but I suppose drawing was her way of feeling connected to things, or to herself. I don’t know.
Once when she returned from an excursion and I went to kiss her she avoided me, then turned back, looked me deeply in the eyes, and said nothing for the rest of the evening. The next day she showed me the sketches she’d been doing: fearful things, like the gargoyles on cathedrals.
She started only sleeping during the day. She said the dark made everything seem too still and sinister to sleep, that the things in our house were conspiring against her.
One evening she said: ‘Say something. Please.’
I thought and said: ‘Isn’t it strange how two people who’ve lived together for years come to resemble each other? In their thoughts and faces. I want us to grow old like two trees that grow together, you’ve seen the ones in the forest, with all their cracks and wrinkles, even like the old couple at the store, you’ve seen the way they move, or that old man and his dog.’
She said, almost to herself: ‘It’s like God making Adam in one piece. Whole thoughts. Whole feelings. Then Eve with her sinister curiosity.’
She said nothing the rest of the evening.
She started selling fewer paintings and our savings dried up. I had to cook every meal and food isn’t easy to come by in those parts.
One day while she was painting I found her diary.
She’d written:

The fact is that life itself, everyday life with its people, chatter, money, dramas, ingesting and excreting, is nothing to me, has always been nothing: a paltry illusion. I don’t want it to be so but it is so. Landscape and portrait painters are ridiculous to me. Everything is ridiculous but what points away from, out of this life.

Talking to other people, socialising, falls so short of what it ought to be, of reflecting our real selves, that it disgusts me.

There was nothing about me, my name wasn’t mentioned once.
She asked me to stay up with her. She said she was afraid of her mind. She wanted me to ride out the silence with her.
After a week it started frightening me too. Some nights it seemed it would never end. She comforted me and told me she knew exactly how I felt.
It was the first time she’d caressed me for months.
She looked almost happy.
It was that touch that made her absence palpable to me. That was the moment I knew I had to leave.

(Based on Bergman’s Hour of the Wolf.)

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