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Sport 1: Spring 1988

Reflections in a Moving Surface

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Reflections in a Moving Surface

It is a strange thing, this going to sleep as one person as it were and waking as another. Strange not because it feels unnatural but that such a thing is so utterly as I expect. It is something experienced without the least sense of fuss or awkwardness or fear. The strangeness is that one wakes, and whichever one I am, life proceeds as we feel it should.

It's been said that Angela has the face of a depraved nun. I mean by that she has the sweetness one associates with those good women who stand at the end of hospital beds with their hands clasped together, equally attentive to body and to soul. Yet there is also another side to her, detectable even in her features once you know certain things. She is quite unlike Fee, who is a little taller than her friend, small busted, marginally cleverer, not as rich, equally happy in her marriage and in that curious way between friends, has always felt inferior, as her friend does to her.

Angela is married to Tim.

Fee's husband is Erich. Or shall I say, for clarity's sake, my husband is Erich, if I start at the place where boundaries are customarily set.

Erich and Fee were married in Zurich, which was not his home, but was where his mother lived as a widow in a pure white-walled apartment with a large window that seemed to set the mountains just behind the red swagger of geraniums in their window-box. She was a woman who spoke several languages and painted well enough to live off her pictures. Although Erich was clever, he inherited none of his mother's gifts, even though his mouth was wide and sensual and that was enough for people to think they were so alike. They wrote several times each year, always in English. When he signed his first name that foreign letter at the end often surprised. You would never have guessed from the way he spoke. Yet because Fee had high cheek-bones and olive page 82skin, she was sometimes thought to be from somewhere else. Men liked Erich because he was good at sport and had a memory for jokes. Women could be uneasy with Fee when she seemed so eager to be intimate. In fact she was shy, but moved too quickly in order to cover it. When Erich began his affair with Angela it surprised him that she was less responsive than his wife. He had always thought her vivacious and considerate, and it took him time to see how she worked at both.

When I am Erich I cannot help wondering why I don't break off seeing her. I know men are supposed to be able to say, 'but I love them both' and the problem for some, and an agony for others, is how is one to decide. Let me tell you something. I love Fee and I do not obsessively need Angela. Not even sexually. I have not had any other affair since I was married. I put these facts so baldly that you might think I understand myself very well. There are times though when I look for a mirror, to hold off my panic. And of course there is not a chance on earth that I shall give her up.

On the beach at Faleron. Tim said while the women were in the water, that it was all pure chance, wasn't it? That one met a person and married and quite genuinely said one loved and that other person quite as genuinely said love was returned, and most of one's life was spent with that person. There was a very good chance that one of you finally would die in the presence of the other, which after all did seem to set the seal on one's choice, the stamp of certainty.

Erich said, I don't get what you mean?

Tim eased himself more comfortably on his elbows. His body was stretched out on an orange towel in the July sun. He moved his head like a man at a tennis match, for there were dozens of other bodies walking across the sand to the sea, from the sea back up to their places on the beach.

Do you mean people don't really love?

No, I don't mean that, Tim said. I mean there is all that to make you believe but the fact is we're a bit like marbles in those lottery things. About half the marbles you might say will get on together and about half won't. But everybody believes it is all so very special. To themselves.

Erich said nothing because there was nothing to say, except that something had gone wrong with his friend's grammar. But he saw no point in saying that.

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The young women ran in from the sea, shaking out their hair and flinging off beads of water. The drops of water, I thought, were like lovely splinters of glass flashing this way and that.

At the wedding something happened which was so brief that at the time it hardly seemed important.

Fee and Erich had held a ribboned knife and cut a flat white cake. Erich's mother made sure that the wedding was like that entirely, a white three-quarter length frock and a bouquet of speckled lilies and music in a small Lutheran church. A minister spoke and raised one arm, showing his gauzy wing. Angela wore a dress so pale pink that it seemed almost white, until she stood beside the bride. Tim made a speech and when he spoke a little in French, it delighted the groom's mother's friends.

Their fingers crossed on the handle of the knife as a photographer moved from one side of the couple to the other. When an attendant whisked away the cake to have it cut into pieces in the kitchen, you could see that what it had stood on was a circular mirror. It was dulled with age and a fringe of paper lace ran around its edge. The new husband and wife were standing, and on either side of them Angela and Tim now got to their feet. The reflection lasted no more than a moment, when the four of them were given back by the glass. And inside that moment was a yet briefer one, a kernel in the quick shining of time when none was quite sure whose reflection was looked at, which of the pale floating ovals in the silver pool would rise to whom. Only Tim was not completely reflected, one side of his face lying outside the surface of the mirror. Then someone spoke and a plate was dropped at a neighbouring table, and the friends poured back into the certainty of who they were.

Let me try to explain more. Sometimes say, if we are Angela and Erich and are lying together on Angela's and Tim's bed, or on Fee's and Erich's, well Fee is lying there too. Until we actually say something that sense of her presence is complete. We are almost always silent. Our talking you see is like slipping into clothes that suddenly tell us too obviously, I, you, she. We look at each other of course as lovers do, one above, one below, hands interlocking, pressing closely as we can. The wedding cake mirror only inches from our eyes.

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At a party two years after the wedding in Zurich, the friends sat beside a pool in Perth. The evening was exquisite. The off-shore breeze stirred in the shrubs, the papery bamboos rubbed behind them. In the pool concealed lights lifted the oblong of water to a delicious aquamarine. There was the scent of growth and eucalypts above the odours of the barbecue. Several other friends moved through the opened ranch-slider doors, between the wide handsome living room and the patio. A firework rose above the trees between where they were and the river. The globe with brilliant filaments unfolded slowly, drifting behind the trees that turned to black lace. A frightened bird darted down, above the heads of the party. Fee sat opposite Tim. She said if sybarite wasn't a word before it would have to be after living in the west for six months. The healthiest people on earth, said a man who had overheard her. His wife raised a glass and squinted through it to another firework that opened across the sky. She said, It's just like a kid's kaleidoscope you really should try. Fee felt the rung of her beach chair sharp beneath her thighs. Across the park by the river Angela's naked legs pressed back against the wooden fence. Erich's breath was against her throat. He had said if they lay on the ground twigs and things would stick all over them. So each stood hobbled in their shorts. Fee laughed so that Tim looked back across his shoulder at someone trying to balance a glass on his forehead. Early in the night for that, Tim smiled. Fee saw how he enjoyed watching things. She passed up her own glass and took another from a tray.

Angela had read that people selfish by nature always tended to be romantic. She would ask at times, That first evening, remember? She meant remember the sky with the brilliant weeping streamers and the white trunked gums that suddenly ghosted around them. And to herself she thought how Erich and Tim had joked together once they were back at the party and Fee stood and touched the indentations at the tops of her own legs, because she felt them too.

At midnight when the sirens went, and the hooters on the river, they linked arms in a circle and everyone kissed everyone else for New Year. Some of the guests jumped into the pool so that the lovely shining cube rocked and fractured with reflections, and others began soon after to go home.

That was three years ago, when we first began our closeness. When our minds first ran together as drink spilled from three glasses is no longer separable. (Which I quite like saying because Tim would pretend page 85to dislike it so much, so sloppy a comparison as that! Think Angela, he says to me. Don't obscure things with feelings.)

It should be — shouldn't it — rather amazing to know that the person you are married to is having an affair with your best friend? Erich and Angela were so discreet whenever the four of us were together, I mean they were so disarmingly open and friendly, that Tim was as unsuspecting as I was certain. If anything, Angela and I became closer. The four of us would meet at least once a week for dinner or a concert or simply an evening talking together over coffee. Tim's business in computers went from strength to strength, as did Erich's law firm. Angela, because she had money quite apart from Tim's, spent much of her time on voluntary work. On Wednesday and Thursday mornings she typed for the Labour Party in an electorate where there was no conceivable hope of victory. On Thursday afternoon, she also went to bed with my husband. On Thursday evenings we always stayed at home by ourselves. Erich and I were never closer. Then later in the night when he eased himself from me and I lay with my left hand folded against my face, a straggle of hair wrapped round and round one finger as I used to do as a child and do still in lovemaking, I felt that I had been to bed with my lover twice that day. I would open my eyes and look into his, neither of us actually saying the other's name. Then Erich's hand lies quiet against my leg. Angela, in another suburb across the harbour, lies as quietly by Tim. Before he slips off to sleep, Erich feels that the blades of a fan are closing in his mind, that when the intimacy of the three of us folds one behind the other, he at last is simply alone in order to sleep.

Because Tim was the scientist among us he liked to talk occasionally as he did at Faleron, about chance and probability and the intersecting planes where what was barely conceivable and what actually occurred might coincide. Or he told us the simple mysteries of physics. Once he showed us a shadowy cat drawn inside a box, those lines of dots that are meant to suggest two positions at once. For the cat lies dead but also stands alive. In the same drawing there is a flask of poison and it also is drawn in two ways, as an unbroken glass globe and as one that lies shattered, the shards among a pool of liberated poison. Tim would try to explain that it was really only the measuring capacity of our consciousness that ran the streams of possibility into the certainty page 86of an event. Until we in fact opened the box and looked in, the cat with the two outlines could be either alive or dead, the flask entire or broken. (Or are we misunderstanding what he said?)

That's nonsense, Angela said.

You haven't been listening, then.

The cat simply can't be both.

If it may be one or the other and we don't know which until we test it, then of course it can.

Erich said, You should have been a lawyer, Tim. Obscurity is the one certainty we assume.

Tim said, What do you think, Fee?

Can the cats be different colours, she said, or does it have to be only one?

That's missing the point in another way. That's not talking about a state.

It sounds, Angela said, like that thingummy fellow who said we all exist as God's ideas and what we call the real world is just another of them.

It's not saying that, Tim said. If the world didn't exist except as an idea then there isn't the possibility of the cat being in one state or the other. God's idea would make it absolutely this or that.

Fee said, If we ever get a kitten we'll have to call it Schrödinger after the man who drew the picture.

If it's a dog of course, Erich said, you'd have to call it Berkeley.

I've said how Erich is good at sport. His latest passion is golf, which he took up only this year. He has even bought those shoes with metal studs on the soles, that mean he will stand firm on the stickiest surfaces. He has tried, without a flicker of luck, to interest Tim. At school, Tim says, they preferred me to sit in the library during sports days. But then at a party six months ago he met a man who told him that clay pigeon shooting was something else again. He is now almost passionate about it. He will sit while he watches television and painstakingly clean his gun. There is a sheet of newsprint in front of him littered with black glistening pieces like the casing of some huge insect. He carries in his jacket pocket, for the pleasure of touching it, one of the discs that sooner or later will take its turn whirling against the sky in a quick flinging arc, and then the extraordinarily simple satisfaction of shattering it to fragments. Angela finds it difficult to understand. A scholar blowing up bits of dirt, she says. But it is page 87so simple, he insists, and yet so absolute, the random and the inevitable balancing on a fraction of time. He lets Fee hold the gun to get the lovely weight of it. Can't you feel it, he says, the poise as you take your stance? Then she runs the clay disc softly against her cheek. Something else again, Tim says.

We are now remembering each other's childhoods, our minds pressing towards that intimacy our bodies have known for so long. Sometimes on first waking up there is a scene which is so vivid in one's mind — a long exquisitely curved beach, for example, an enormous blade at the edge of the sea, and a figure is walking along it who makes me feel intensely happy. A single tree against a skyline, covered in drooping sulphur blossoms, and I am looking at it, distraught. Or leaning across the stone parapet of a well, a grim shimmer in its depths as though black foil is reflecting. They are images weighted with importance, things that stand in one's mind as in some way being at the basis of what we are. For I remember my father walking towards me along the beach after he had gone off for days on his own. But what of the other two? The well, one of us says, I was drawn to that as a child, compelled in ways I couldn't understand. And the tree, says the other, seeing it stand so marvellously in bloom brought home for the first time how one isn't important at all to how the world is, that it's there quite regardless of anything to do with yourself.

There are other memories too, quite insignificant ones, that we speak of as couples and know are shared between the three. Things so slight as a ruler stolen at school and scraped with a pocket-knife until the pine glowed yellow under the removed dirt and my own name was written in where the true owner's should have been. A small dead fish picked up in excitement at a lake, and my fingers left stinking for half a day. A green cushion that frightened me at night when the shadows made it look like the face of a Chinaman. The memories are all before adolescence.

Socially, we were careful and considerate.

Only once in the past year did Angela and Erich spend a night in the same bed. She chanced to be at a conference in the capital as Erich returned from a complex insurance swindle whose perpetrator he successfully defended. They stayed in a motel that looked over the Botanical Gardens. They were woken late the next morning by a practising band.

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On that same evening, by chance, Tim bumped into Fee in High Street and they dined together in a French restaurant. Tim bought French wine that made them talk of the fun years ago in Europe, but they split the bill for the meal because Fee would hear of nothing else. Tim said it did everyone good to have a break occasionally.

She asked him about work. This game I'm in, he said, it's a licence to print money. So who complains?

No time for sport? she teased him.

I've made the club team, Tim told her. Would you credit that? No, she laughed, I hardly would.

Feel this, he said. He held her his index finger, and she felt the calloused flesh along its rim. That's how much I practise.

When the lovers returned on separate planes Tim met Angela at the airport and she told him how she hated being away from him like that. They held hands as far as the carpark. She was pale and dressed in a new dark suit with a crimson blouse. Men frequently turned to look at her.

Erich explained if there was an appeal he would have to go back next month. It would be nice, wouldn't it, if Fee could come with him for those few days? They could stay in a motel he had heard good things of near the Botanical Gardens.

Near the sound shell? Fee asked.

Just over the road.

And wake to brass bands! Her hands clapped at the fun of it.

The suburban street is hot and still when I stop the car. There is the odour of dog piss and tar and some heavily sweet shrub. My pulse is faster than usual, although I breathe deeply and tell myself this is a normal afternoon. The car door bangs like a stage effect.

On the path along the side of the house I stoop beneath the sickle-shaped leaves of the gum whose bark will lift off in soft handfuls. The cat slips from beneath the hedge and rubs against my leg. I pick her up with one hand. Come on there, I tell her, there's no getting out of this one. For a moment she struggles, then settles her weight along my arm. Her fur is dusty and warm.

I'm clearly the first to arrive.

Tim has often thought: at school my favourite story was about Gyges' ring, which could make him invisible when he turned it one way, and brought him back in sight as he turned it the other. At school page 89of course it was not told in anything like the detail the historian had told it for the first time, nor did even he I suppose tell it as did the man who patiently spelled it out for him from one language to another. The school version in fact omitted all the details about sex. But Gyges was there, and the ring, and coming and going, knowing and not knowing, the important part was there.

When I went to Greece Herodotus was the book I carried round with me, Everyman edition in its dated style and its lime green covers. A classical scholar later told me I must have a bizarre notion of what the ancient world was like. He made half the stuff up, the scholar said. But I pointed out if the lies were told at that time then they must be as much a part of that time as the Acropolis itself, say. Only better because the stories are still exactly the same, they haven't had half of them knocked off. The scholar thought this rather droll. What would you say, he teased me, if Herodotus had said the Acropolis wasn't there? What would you say to that? So I said, Would that make him a worse liar, or simply a more daring fabulist? Think of the day when even that great monument will have disintegrated by one means or another. Wouldn't he simply have anticipated that before anyone else? The first to arrive at a truth that couldn't be true for a long time?

I still wonder if true and false then are the names for facts that don't quite make it to fiction. Remember how the gods themselves were once only adjectives with ambition, 'randy' gradually turning into Aphrodite, 'aggressive' becoming Mars. In the last analysis, as the pedants say, we have to tell a story because the word in front is compelling us to go on.

Blue sky, then, happy us. Young and in love Angela and I go hand in hand, drink too much retsina, stroll where the sea is lucid and daggered with light. The smell of pine-needles is everywhere we walk. Yet there is nothing one could ever say about any of that which did not land you smack in a story that has been told ten thousand, ten million times. You were writing someone else's postcard beforeyou had even decided which one to buy. So after Greece, in time, the adjectives invented us completely — settled down, contented, well-off, successful. Those descriptive words, such ravenous animals, make a meal of us poor nouns.

I said to Erich a few weeks ago, I've been reading Hume.

Yes? he said.

I said, What do you make of this? I had the book with me, so I page 90read the lines I had marked. 'Nothing requires greater nicety, in our enquiries concerning human affairs, than to distinguish exactly what is owing to chance, and what proceeds from causes, nor is there any subject more liable to deceive by false subtilties and refinements.' Then I asked him again what he made of that?

He said, did I mean did he think it was chance that I read it out to him?

And I said, Erich, I think it can mean that if a secret becomes public, we can no longer talk of it as chance, even if it was to begin with.

I'm not with you, digger, Erich said. We went to the club bar and bought two cans of beer.

I have said to my secretary, who knows what I think about our old friendship, my friendship I mean with Fee and Erich, and Angela's with them as well as mine — said, What's your opinion then? My secretary is long-legged and an old friend. But she will only say, It's your story, Tim, don't expect me to tell it to you. And after a moment, hitching this or that, looking at me across her shoulder, she reminds me, I'm only a minor character. My name isn't even used.

Tim has heard the slamming of the car door.

He is sitting with his pistol dangling loosely in his hand.

At any moment Schrödinger may walk past the wide sliding door, beyond which the back lawn is shaved smooth as a cheek. The blackleaved magnolia stands studded with great waxy blooms. The canna lilies rise from dark folded sheaths. It is all so still. At any moment Tim may raise his hand, align his sights, measure.

For a moment, in the reflecting glass of the door, there will be two cats.