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Salient. Victoria University of Wellington Student's Newspaper. Volume 31, Number 5. April 2 1968

Accident of the past

page 8

Accident of the past

What I saw in her cheered me immensely. And yet I was never able to decide: was it the ugliness of my own soul that had led me to seek for beauty without success? or was my soul created too beautiful for an ugly world? In her, ugliness and beauty were one. For example: she was a pitiful creature, her little body of a horrible white, and she flitted here and there incessantly; and she was always turning to the mirror, and glancing at herself, which made her giggle wtih delight—and this was because (who would believe it who had seen even her face?) she was really convinced of her good looks, that she was beautiful in fact. Similarly, she believed despite the mess the place was in that she was the perfect housekeeper. In some strange way—thanks to my having won her trust—she believed that her beauty was only for me; and indeed, she was afraid of the people outside. Outside she never went. It had always been like that for her: now and then she peeped with curiosity and fear out of the dingy window of our fifth-floor slum, and that was as close as she ever got to the world.

But have not yet explained the strange circumstances of our marriage. It is years since we were married, and yet just as the event itself seemed to imply nothing serious, so the years have passed without my having noticed the passing of a sizeable portion of my life. I have said that she regarded me as the sole beholder of her beauty; but it was no longer so. She was half mad, and no longer even spoke to me. I had become invisible to her. She did not know I was there, and I could do nothing to make her feel my presence. Living with some-one under these circumstances was strange, but I become accustomed to it. The conviction slowly formed in her mind that her husband would come back. For you see, I was not her first husband, she had already been married. About her first husband, her 'real' husband, I knew almost nothing. He had left suddenly, departing for America, with a hint that he might return one day. He had been a fierce and wild character, often involved in fights, and quite friendless. Isabel was his only friend, and he never hurt her. Stranger still was what became evident nough to me: Isabel could not distinguish in her memory between that man and myself. She thought it was I who had gone away, and I or he as one who would return.

When her husband had left, she had been left alone in that apartment. I had come to another apartment on the same floor to survey the corpse of a hideous and fearful old man, an alcoholic, the uncle of one of my student friends. I had seen her standing without moving, for the door had been open; when I addressed her, she made no reply, only her face was filled with incomprehension and alarm. Thus began a series of visits to see her, culminating in the most unlikely of marriages.

We never quarrelled. But then for weeks she had lived night and day without being aware of me. I did not dare approach her. She was altogether mad. She hardly moved from the window all day, she ate hardly a morsel.

One day I looked up to Isabel rushing towards the door. Her unsightly grey smock flapped a little, the shaking of her breasts in accordance wtih her precipitous, cumbrous little leaps afforded me an unusual excitement. She disappeared, and I knew she was tripping down the cold and dangerous flights of painted stone steps.

In the street below, she ran straight forward—towards a man she had espied from the window, and whom she took to be her husband—I or he—at last returned fell neatly under a passing bus. The man was a stranger. Meanwhile I sat alone, and the filth and [unclear: s] theapartment suddenly struck my senses. Her flashed with a vividness it had never had until now my eyes, and I left the building.

Looking back upon it, I do not know why I [unclear: m] her. I was certainly sorry for her, but it was [unclear: mo] pity that drew me to her.

Ugliness—that is it! Ugliness has always been a [unclear: t] me. Every new day brought me to the sight of [unclear: so] more repulsive creature, and alwdays I would [unclear: ex] My God! once I believed that however ugly a [unclear: l] being could appear, nevertheless there was beauty [unclear: in] beauty which, hidden by mishapen bodies, by [unclear: al] of grotesque features, it was for me to find.

And that was what I really had believed. After [unclear: b] ing ancient hags whose rags were falling from [unclear: th] could not even stand up, and whose flesh was so [unclear: d] that it was an unbearable insult to the life lingering —after this. I still believed; but then I gave up, found a new kind of ugliness, which could not be [unclear: ov] however much I stared at it. But when I first [unclear: s] girl—she was called Isabel—I enjoyed a [unclear: vict] principles: here in ugliness was beauty after all! [unclear: an] she is gone, and I shall choose somewhere [unclear: plea] live than this. These two rooms—wallpaper peeling [unclear: a] corner heaped [unclear: w] rubbish—are where we lived [unclear: to] She would never have left the place; it was [unclear: mo] home to her—the very overwhelming stench, the [unclear: c] which I could never discover, however much I [unclear: s] was what meant most to Isabel.

Photos by Mike Sr

Photos by Mike [unclear: Sr]