Alan had walked under her window three times in the last hour. Her mother opened the door and went in.
"Have you seen him?" she said.
"Yes. I couldn't help it and he knows it."
"He looks sad."
"He always does."
"I think he would like to speak to you and can't find enough courage to come up. Have you quarrelled again?"
"Don't ask questions, mother." she said.
"Shouldn't you do something?"
"Let him walk around. He loves it: that is one thing he has never been in doubt about."
"He might keep walking around all day. It would be embarrassing."
"Do you think I should see him?"
"I wouldn't want to tell you what to do and what not to do ..."
"It is going to be a waste of time. I know what he is going to do and I know what he is going to say and he leaves me completely indifferent."
"Then ask him to go home and stop annoying you..."
"He never seems to understand."
When he walked up the fourth time, she was in the garden. He kept walking up the hill, with a concentrated look on his face, his eyes glued to the footpath. It was as if he were late for some important meeting and had no other thought than that of getting somewhere as quickly as possible. He pretended not to see her or know that she was there, beyond the wire fence of her garden.
"Hallo, Alan." she called to him.
He stopped, as if utterly surprised at the fact that somebody had called his name.
"Oh, hallo. Oh Lyz ... oh yes, of course; you do live here, don't you?"
"You had forgotten, of course, hadn't you?" she said.
"Yes, yes. Completely forgotten ... I was walking ... I like walking, you know?"
"I know." she said.
"Fancy seeing you here ... that is, of course, you live here ... Aren't you swotting?"
"Let us say that I came down for some air."
"Very good, very good."
Should she tell him she had seen him go by under her window three times in less than an hour? She decided she would. She was tired of this endless, aimless wandering that their relationship was.page 45
She was standing inside the garden gate and she did not ask him in. As she spoke, she leaned towards him and said in a very low voice "Alan, why don't you grow up? Why don't you behave for onoe like a man of your age?"
"I beg your pardon?"
"I beg your pardon, I beg your pardon ... Don't you know what I mean? Or are you stupid?"
"Lyz ..." he said.
"Have you forgotten about yesterday?"
"Yesterday," she said, "you vowed, for the fifth or sixth time in the last three months, that you would never want to see me again."
"What are you doing here?"
"I had no idea ... I was only passing through. It was you who called me."
"That is what you call a casual encounter, isn't it?"
"As all your other carefully arranged, casual encounters?"
"Lyz, please. It is so unlike you ..."
"What would be "like me"? I have seen you come up this road at least three other times this morning. What do you want?"
"It is a public street isn't it? What strikes me about you, Lyz, is your lack of subtlety at times. Why do you rush into statements you will regret? Are you sure it was me you saw, are you sure?"
"Yes, and my mother saw you as well."
"But, Lyz, that is what I want to say. How can anybody be sure? How can they? You seem to be angry with me only because you think I passed your garden gate three times this morning."
More than anything, she felt a hopeless sense of sorrow. She had a confused feeling that, as a woman, she was being deprived of something.
"I an not angry." she said "I despise liars; I don't give them my anger."
"Yes, it is this streak, Lyz."
"You must admit it is a streak of vulgarity."
"That is the only name I can think of for it. And it makes me afraid of the future; of "our future", I mean ..."
"Our future ..." she felt like throwing something at him.
"Nobody can build anything durable and solid on shaky foundations. How can a man feel bound to a girl who despises him?"
"If you are referring to you and myself, I am not interested in building anything. Why don't you leave me in peace? I have heard all this before; in fact I have heard it every time you have met me "casually" the day after deciding we should part forever. Do you understand plain words? I am tired, I am fed up with you. Go and don't bother me any longer."page 46
"Yes." he said meekly. Then he turned suddenly and said viciously "How can you blame a man? Damn it, it is you; there is something fundamentally and basically decayed in each and every woman ..."
"So you have told me already ..."
"They never come up to a man's expectations ..."
"Next girl you meet, don't put her on a pedestal." she said "We are just human beings with a difference, you know?"
He inhaled deeply. He held his lips tightly shut and breathed through his nose. He made a strange, wheezing sound by which he usually meant her to understand that he was thoroughly involved in some unfathomable anguish of his own. He made her want to laugh at him because that, to her, was only the blowing, regretful sigh that seemed to have sealed all his various, ineffectual attempts to assert his own manhood with her. He always sighed in the end and drowned her in his flow of explanatory, semi-apologetic words soon after. All their long walks in the hills or some solitary beach just outside the city had always culminated in this sort of personal signature tune. After kissing her and handling her (once, he had even undressed her completely) he would sit down and inhale deeply. Then, after a few moments of silence, he would snap out of what she thought was some sort of affected trance-like reverie and utter some highly inconsequential, highly intellectual nonsense.
"No," he would say, and she thought she nearly hated him for it "it would mark the end of a relationship on a higher plane. It would be a deteriorating metamorphosis, where all our most valued spiritual values would be wiped out of existence. There is the problem of respective entities, of our individual freedoms: we would only aggravate this problem by an impulsive gesture. If I destroy your other-ness; if, by doing something that would take your one-ness - and mine - away, I upset this beautifully balanced exchange between your intelligence and mine, I would never forgive myself. We are walking on the edge of a precipice, on a razor-sharp succession of mountain crests."
If those were his views, why did he keep seeing her? Hanging on to her as if she were the only piece of floating salvage in the empty vastness of his life? She had wanted to ask him, yesterday; she had wanted to make him feel at home with her and be Mother Earth to him, for him to find comfort and rest. Instead what had happened?
It had been yesterday and it was as if it had never happened, because she had decided that it would be humiliating for her to remember. It seemed, really, as if it had happened to someone else.
It had not been very clear to her until she had actually started speaking, and then it had seemed that it would be pointless not to broach the topic openly. Most of all, she had not wanted to be misunderstood and, at the same time, she had not wanted to risk hurting him. Without being able to find in anything that she had learned or read a oue to follow, she had said tentatively "Do you believe in what they call feminine intuition, Alan?"
"You mean a woman's capacity to know what she doesn't understand?"
"I suppose so."
She had spoken without moving. Still lying flat on the ground, looking up at the sky through the crown of pine-trees under which they had earlier decided to stop, she had been aware of her disarranged clothes, of her skirts pulled up high above her body, but she had not tried to cover herself. Alan's hand had still been on her, but it seemed to have lost a sort of electric quality that made her blush and feel weak. Or perhaps her readiness to react to it had been smothered in a formless unexcited frustration. Just then, his hand and that area of her body where it was lying had been like two dead things come into contact by chance or by mistake.
"It is another generalization." he had said "Why feminine? Why a woman's? There are feminine traits in any man's makeup and masculine ones in ..."page 47
"Let us not get involved in something I was not thinking of." she had said "Do you believe in feelings, premonitions, flashes of knowledge that come upon you suddenly?"
"Yes, yes. These mysterious powers that ..."
"Alan, are you sure that you like me? That is, are you sure you find me attractive, the way a man can say he finds a woman attractive?"
"I don't see exactly what you mean."
"Am I failing you in any way? You know I love you." And although she had regretted laying herself so open, for the loss of dignity that that had seemed to entail, she had been glad to have phrased a thought that was comparatively simple and straight-forward.
"Why are you probing? Lyz, this is what is terrifying in a man-woman relationship: this lack of privacy, this inability to escape."
It had been as if he had suddenly sown the seeds of her lack of sympathy or nearness. "Do you think being childish, resorting to half measures, preserves your privacy?"
He had sighed wheezily again. "You have beauty in your body," he had said "but it is a pity that your mind cannot match it. Cover yourself, Lyz; aren't you cold?" She had been aware of the bite of his remark, but had failed to see any relevance to what she had been trying to say. She had decided to notice only his last words and bitten back. "There is no point, you know? I feel safe and very much at home with you; you are such a dear."
"I don't think I want to see you ever again." He had said soon after, "I realize we are standing on opposite sides of the world."
What was he doing by the garden gate now? He sighed again and shifted uncomfortably on his feet.
"I want to confess something." he said.
"I apologize for yesterday."
"You need not."
"Oh yes. I want to. And I want you to forgive me too."
"There is nothing for me to forgive."
"What I want to confess is that I did come here on purpose. I had to see you. I could not sleep last night."
"I am not interested."
"Have you forgotten everything?"
"There was nothing to forget. It was fun going for walks and holding hands."
"Lyz, I need you."
"Really?" she said.
"Lyz, would you ... would you please go out with me again tonight?"