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Behind the heart.

"Now it is of a little boy that I would tell you, Madame, and what he meant for just one week to a lady who had great consequence because her spirit had been level always, in spite of the cost, and for her it had been much, for she at forty had known life for almost forty years, which is not so with most people, n'est-ce pas, Madame? Twenty years are given to a child in the beginning on which to grow, and not to be very wise about sadness or happiness, so that the child can wander about a little, and look into the sky and at the ground, and wonder what is to be that has not yet any being, that he may come upon his fate with twenty years to find safety in. And I think with the boy it was this way, but with her it was different, her life was a fate with her always, and she was walking with it when she and the boy met.

"Truly, Madame, seldom in the world is it that I talk of boys, therefore you must know that this was a boy who was very special. He was very young, Madame, scarcely twenty, and I think he had lived only a little while, a year perhaps, perhaps two. He was a Southerner, so that what was bright and quick in him, often seemed strange, so bound about he was with quiet. And she, Madame, she was a Northerner, and introspection hurried her. It was in Paris, Madame, and in the autumn and in the time of rain. For weeks, days and nights for weeks it had been raining. It was raining under the trees, and on the Avenues, and over the houses and along the Seine, so that the water seemed too wet; and the buttresses of churches and the eaves of buildings were weeping steadily; clinging to the angles, endlessly sliding down went the rain. People sat in cafes with their coat collars up, for with the rain the cold came; and everyone was talking everywhere about danger in the weather, and in some cafes there was talk of politics and rain, and love and rain, and rain and ruined crops, and in one cafe a few people talked of Hess, this lady, Madame, of whom I am speaking. And they said that it was a shame that Hess, who had come to Paris again for the first time in two years to rest and to look over her house and to be a little gay, should have, in her third week, to be taken ill.

"And it was true. Scarcely three weeks, and she was hurried under the knife, so that all her friends were very sorry as they drank. And some said she was very brave, and some said she was beautiful, and some that she was alone always, and some said she was dour, and that, in an amusing way, she took the joy out of life with her laugh. And some of them wondered if it would be necessary to forget her.

"And they went to see her, and one of them came with the boy, that was on the day that she was to go home, and she was not very strong yet, and she looked at the boy, and she put her hand out to him and she said: |You will come and you will stay with me until it is time.' And he said, |I will come.'

"And that is how it was, Madame, that she came upon her week that was without fate as we understand it, and that is why I am telling it.

"Do I know, Madame, what it was about him that she liked? It was perhaps what anyone looking at him would have seen and liked, according to their nature. That was a curious thing about him, people who did not like him were not the right people; a sort of test he seemed to be of something in people that they had mislaid and would be glad to have again.

"He had light long legs, and he walked straight forward, straight like an Indian his feet went, his body held back. And it was touching and ridiculous because it was the walk of a father of a family in the child of the father, a structural miscalculation dismissed when he sat down, for when he sat down he was a child without a father, from his little behind up he was so small. His hands were long and thin, and when he held her hands they were very frail, as if he would not use them long, but when he said a bientot to his friends, Madame, his grip was strong and certain. But his smile, Madame, that was the gentlest thing about him. His teeth were even and white, but it wasn't so much the teeth that mattered, it was the mouth. The upper lip was a lip on a lip, a slight inner line making it double, like the smile of animals when it is spring; and where most mouths follow the line of the bone, his ran outward and upward, regardless of the skull.

"His chin was long and oval, and his eyes were like her eyes, as if they were kinspeople, brother and sister, but some happening apart. His were soft, and shining and eager, and hers were gentle and humorous and satiric. Sometimes he rolled his eyes up, so that one wondered if he were doing it on purpose, or if something in him was trying to think of something, and at that moment they would come back again without the thought, smiling and gentle.

"She lay on her great white bed with many lace pillows and pillows of holy embroidery behind her, and I think, Madame, she was very happy and taken aback, for she had known many loves; love of men who were grim and foolish and confident; love of men who were wise and conceited and nice; and men who knew only what they wanted. Now she looked at a boy and knew that she loved him with a love from back of the heart, alien and strange.

"He sat beside her, chin on hand, looking at her long, and she knew what was between them would be as he wished.

"And they talked about many things. She tried to tell him about her life, but what was terrible and ugly and painful she made funny for his sake; made legend, and folklore, and story, made it large with the sleep in her voice, because he could not know it. And he told her of himself, quickly, as if it were a dream that he was forgetting and must hurry with. And he said: |You like to think of death, and I don't like to think of death, because I saw it once and could not cry!' And she said: |Do I know why you could not cry?' And he said, |You know.'

"Then one night he said, |I love you,' and she turned about, |And do you love me,' she said, and he came beside her and knelt down and put his hands on either cheek, his mouth on her mouth, softly, swiftly, with one forward movement of the tongue, like an animal who is eager and yet afraid of a new grass, and he got up quickly. She noticed then that his eyes lay in the side of his head, not as human eyes that are lost in profile, but as the eyes of beasts, standing out clear, bossy and blue, the lashes slanting straight, even and down.

"And then, Madame, she said, |How do you love me?' And he said, |I love you more than anyone, as I love sister and mother and someone else I loved once and who is gone.' And happiness went marching with a guard of consternation. |Mother,' he said, |is beautiful and thin, and though she is quiet, there is something in her she keeps speaking to: Hush, hush! for sister and me. Sister is beautiful and dark, and she sings deep down in her throat "Now I Lay Down My Heavy Load," with her head held back, like that, to find where it is to sing. And when she laughs, she laughs very hard, she has to sit down wherever she is for the laughter in her stomach, and she dances like mad, and when you are well we will dance together.'

"And then he said, Do you love me as a lover loves.' And he looked at her with those luminous apprehensive eyes, and they went past her and he said, What you wish is yours.' And the moment she was happy, he leaned forward and said, |Are you happy?,' and she said |Yes,' and she was very nearly crying, |And are you happy?,' she said to him, and he said, |Frighteningly happy.' And then she said, |Come and sit beside me,' and he came, then she began: |Now where is that little boy I reached out my hand to and said, you will come and you will stay with me until it is time.' His eyes were wide with a kind of shadow of light. Her voice was far away, coming from a great distance to him. |We lose that other one,' she said. When we come to know each other it is that way always, one comes and the other one goes away, one we lose for one we cannot find. Where is that other little boy? He's gone now and lost now -' His eyes were still looking at her with the shadow of light in them, and then suddenly he was laughing and crying all at once, with his eyes wide open, and his shoulders raised and leaning sideways, and she sat up toward him and put her arms around him as if it must be quick, and she said, |My sweet! My sweet!', and he was laughing and crying and saying, |Always I must remember that I believed you.' And his hands between his legs pushed hard against the bed, and they knew that she had reminded them of something.

"The next morning she came to his bed where he slept, for he slept many long hours like a child, and she lay down beside him and put her arms over his head on the pillow and leaned to waken him, and his mouth, closed in sleep, opened, and her teeth touched his teeth, and suddenly he drew his legs up and turned sideways and said, |I dreamed of you all night, and before I dreamed, I lay here and I was you. My head was your head and my body was your body, and way down my legs were your legs, and on the left foot was your bracelet. I thought I was mad.' And he said, |What is it that you are doing to me?' And she got up and went to the window, and she said, |It is you who are doing it.'

"And presently he came in, in a long dressing gown, his eyes full of sleep, carrying the tray with the tea pot and brioches and the pot of honey, and full of sleep he put crumbs and tea in his mouth, holding one of her hands with his hand. So, Madame to still the pain at her heart she began making up a story and a plan that would never be.

" |You are my little Groom,'(*) she said, |and we will go driving in the Bois, for that is certainly a thing one must do when one is in love, and you shall wear the long military cape, and we will drink cocktails at the Ritz bar, and we will go down the Seine in a boat, and then we will go to Vienna together, and we will drive through the city in an open carriage, and I shall hold your hand and we shall be very happy. And we will go down to Budapest by water, and you will wrap your cloak about you and everyone will think we are very handsome and mysterious, and you will know you have a friend.'

"His eyes were enormous and his mouth smiled with the smaller inner smile, and he said, |How could I have known that I was to be married!'

"And later, Madame, when she could get up and really walk, they wandered in the Luxembourg Gardens, and he held her arm, and she showed him the statue of the queen, holding a little queen in her hand, and he showed her one of three boys running; and they looked at all the flowers beaten down by the rain and at the trellises of grapes and pears, that, covered in paper bags, looked in the distance like unknown lilies. Walking under the high, dark trees, with no branches until they were way up, he said, |How much of you is mine?', and she answered, |All that you wish.' And he said, |I should like to be with you at Christmas,' and he said, |Mine and nobody else's?' And she said, Yours is nobody else's.'

"And then they went back home, Madame, and they had tea by a bright fire, and he said, You do not hurt anymore, and I must go now.' And she knew that there was a magic in them that would be broken when he went out of her house. And she said, |What will you do when I die.'

"And he said, |One word beneath the name.'

"And she said, |What word?'

"And he said, |Lover.'

"And then he began preparing to go away. Watching him dress, her heart dropped down, endlessly down, dark down it went, and joy put out a hand to catch it, and it went on falling; and sorrow put out a hand, and falling, it went falling down as he brushed his hair, and powdered his neck so slow, so delicate, turning his head this way and that, and over his shoulder looking at her, and away slowly, and back again quickly, looking at her, his eyes looking at her softly and gently.

"And it had begun to rain again and it was dark all about the candle he brought to his packing, his books and his shirts and his handkerchiefs and he was hurrying with the lock on his valise because a friend was coming to help him carry it, and his hair fell forward, long and straight and swinging, and he said, |I will come back in ten days, and we will go. And now I will write to you every day.' And she said, |You do not have to go,' and he answered her in his little light voice, |I am going now so I will know what it will be like when you go away forever.' And she was trembling in the dark, and she went away into the bedroom, and stood with her back to the wall, a crying tall figure in the dark, crying and standing still, and he seemed to know it though she made no sound, for he came in to her and he put his hands on her shoulders, the thin forearms against her breast, and he said, |You are deeply good, and is everything well with you?' And she said, |I am very gay.' Then he took his valise, and his books under his arm, and kissed her quickly and opened the door, and there was his friend coming up the stairs. She closed the door then, leaning against it."
COPYRIGHT 1993 Review of Contemporary Fiction
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Title Annotation:Djuna Barnes; short story
Author:Barnes, Djuna
Publication:The Review of Contemporary Fiction
Date:Sep 22, 1993
Previous Article:A checklist of books by William T. Vollmann, Susan Daitch, and David Foster Wallace.
Next Article:"A love from back of the heart": the story Djuna wrote for Charles Henri.

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