Halfway through the sentence
she fell asleep. She had been telling
some sort of fable concerning
a young girl who wakens one morning
as a bird. So like life,
said the person next to me. I wonder,
he went on, do you suppose our friend here
plans to fly away when she wakens?
The room was very quiet.
We were both studying her; in fact,
everyone in the room was studying her.
To me, she seemed as before, though
her head was slumped on her chest; still,
her color was good—She seems to be breathing,
my neighbor said. Not only that, he went on,
we are all of us in this room breathing—
just how you want a story to end. And yet,
he added, we may never know
whether the story was intended to be
a cautionary tale or perhaps a love story,
since it has been interrupted. So we can not be certain
we have as yet experienced the end.
But who does, he said. Who does?
We stayed like this a long time,
stranded, I thought to myself,
like ships paralyzed by bad weather.
My neighbor had withdrawn into himself.
Something, I felt, existed between us,
nothing so final as a baby,
but real nevertheless—
Meanwhile, no one spoke.
No one rushed to get help
or knelt beside the prone woman.
The sun was going down; long shadows of the elms
spread like dark lakes over the grass.
Finally my neighbor raised his head.
Clearly, he said, someone must finish this story
which was, I believe, to have been
a love story such as silly women tell, meaning
very long, filled with tangents and distractions
meant to disguise the fundamental
tedium of its simplicities. But as, he said,
we have changed riders, we may as well change
horses at the same time. Now that the tale is mine,
I prefer that it be a meditation on existence.
The room grew very still.
I know what you think, he said; we all despise
stories that seem dry and interminable, but mine
will be a true love story,
if by love we mean the way we loved when we were young,
as though there were no time at all.
Soon night fell. Automatically
the lights came on.
On the floor, the woman moved.
Someone had covered her with a blanket
which she thrust aside.
Is it morning, she said. She had
propped herself up somehow so she could see
the door. There was a bird, she said.
Someone is supposed to kiss it.
Perhaps it has been kissed already, my neighbor said.
Oh no, she said. Once it is kissed
it becomes a human being. So it cannot fly;
it can only sit and stand and lie down.
And kiss, my neighbor waggishly added.
Not anymore, she said. There was just the one time
to break the spell that had frozen its heart.
That was a bad trade, she said,
the wings for the kiss.
She gazed at us, like a figure on top of a mountain
looking down, though we were the ones looking down,
in actual fact. Obviously my mind is not what it was, she said.
Most of my facts have disappeared, but certain
underlying principles have been in consequence
exposed with surprising clarity.
The Chinese were right, she said, to revere the old.
Look at us, she said. We are all of us in this room
still waiting to be transformed. This is why we search for love.
We search for it all our lives,
even after we find it.
- Louise Gluck