Monday, 19 May 2014

...of shame

She watched him coming along the strand, his form at first no more than an indigo stain against the darkening shingle, sometimes appearing motionless, flickering and dissolving at its outlines, and at others suddenly closer, as though moved like a chess piece a few squares toward her. The last glow of daylight lay along the shore, and behind her, away to the east, there were points of light on Portland, and the cloud base reflected dully a yellowish glow of street lamps from a distant town. She watched him, willing him to go slower, for she was guiltily afraid of him, and was desperate for more time to herself. Whatever conversation they were about to have, she dreaded it. As she understood it, there was no words to name what had happened, there existed no shared language ion which two sane adults could describe such events to each other. And to argue about it was even further beyond her imagining. There could be no discussion. She did not want to think about it, and she hoped he felt the same. But what else were they to talk about? Why else were they out here? The matter lay between them, as solid as a geographical feature, a mountain, a headland. Unnameable, unavoidable. And she was ashamed. The aftershock of her own behaviour reverberated through her, and even seemed to sound in her ears. That was why she had run so far along the beach, through the heavy shingle in her going-away shoes, to flee the room and all that had happened in it, and to escape herself. She had behaved abominably. Abominably, She let the clumsy, sociable word repeat itself in her thoughts several times. It was ultimately a forgiving term - she played tennis abominably, her sister played the piano abominably - and Florence knew that it masked rather than described her behaviour.
At the same time she was aware of his disgrace - when he rose above her, that clenched and bewildered look, the reptilian jerkiness along his spine. But she was trying not to think about it. Did she dare admit that she was a tiny bit relieved that it was not only her, that he too had something wrong with him? How terrible, but how comforting it would be if he suffered from some sort of congenital illness, a family curse, the sort of sickness to which only shame and silence attach, the way it did to enuresis, or to cancer, a word she superstitiously never spoke aloud for fear it would infect her mouth - silliness, for sure, which she would never confess to. Then they could feel sorry for each other, bound in love by their separate afflictions. And she did feel sorry for him, but she also felt a little cheated. If he had an unusual condition, why had he not told her, in confidence? But she understood perfectly why he could not. She too had not spoken up. How could he have begun to broach the matter of his own particular deformity, what could have been his opening words? They did not exist. Such a language had yet to be invented.

[On Chesil Beach, McEwan, I.]

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