Conversation with Rob, after yesterday's post. He tells me former occupants of the house, the moons of Jupiter, are to meet. He views them as usurpers; they might have felt closest to David, but we'd lived there much longer, hadn't we? No doubt he is right. 7 years, I think, the pair of us, on and off. 7 years! And it would have been longer had I not found a job for myself up here. I was reminded of this as I passed that birthday after which I had sworn to myself I would leave academia had I not found a job. But chance led me to one; I left the house as I left Manchester. But what did I leave? Oceanic time, empty hours in armchairs in the lounge or surfing the net on David's computer.
I worked then, as is the case for so many, sporadically and according to the whim of my employers. One week, thirty-five hours of teaching cover in a dozen subjects, the next week, nothing. For a long time, I taught Libyan students English every morning. For them, signs of a worldwide Jewish conspiracy were everywhere and they would talk in halting English of the glorious Libyan revolution and the ascendacy of Gadaffi. But I had to wait months to be paid - months at a time when the city council stopped processing housing benefit claims. No money, so I took up the impossible task of cleaning the house in part exchange for my rent. But I was a poor cleaner and my post was relieved by the headmaster-cleaner who, after work, would whip round the kitchen in his suit with a mop. He loved to clean and cleaned agressively. We knew to stay away.
'A headmaster-cleaner', said Rob, 'who would believe that?' But I remember Pink Dandelion, founder of the Journal of Quaker Studies proclaiming that he was a mineralist, eating neither meat nor vegetables. How was this possible?
7 years! Sometimes I would help prepare the food for grand visitors - or visitors who, ordinary enough in their dayjobs, would assume, in the evening, the robes that befitted their other life. Metropolitans and hermits visited; monks and their novices; we prepared great dishes of fish and seafood remembering their fasting (we, too, lived according to the monastic fasting calender).
I ate well during those penniless years. I lived well, too, never wanting for company. But what company there was! David would launch on great gales of conversation. We would set off in the morning for an eleven o'clock coffee at our favourite cafe and David would already have begun to talk of the crusaders or Old English or whatever had taken his fancy. How he would talk! I would need to say only' 'oh yes' or 'oh really' and whether interested or half-interested, nonplussed or indifferent, he would continue as we drank our coffee and as we walked home. I found no chance to speak, but then what did we share? His world was remote from mine as mine was from his, only he did not know of this remoteness, thinking all of us as interested in he in whatever had caught his fancy.
Of what could I talk? I had barely any grasp on the object of my studies. I barely existed to the extent that when I met by chance a married woman who wanted an affair I obliged her not because she excited me, but because I wanted to prove that my actions could have some effect in the world. Later, when, discovered our affair, her husband smashed up his furniture in rage, this too was good; I had acted; the world was changed.
7 years! In his office in the cellar, Rob and I played network Quake, first Quake I and then, over the years, Quake II and Quake III. I know those computer generated dungeons and arenas better than I know any real location. 7 years, and Rob would pin pornographic pictures of Czech models on the purple walls.
When did we resolve between us not to form any romantic relationships? We hadn't time for it, we were both struggling and had to remain absolutely focused. Rob and I admired the resolve of the Hurricane in the film of the same name to keep himself from emotional attachments lest he be unable to cope with the conditions of his life. We were not in prison, but we didn't want to think about our situation.
I remembered the story Gene Wolfe retells in Peace. There were only a few of the Sidhe, elflike creatures of old Ireland; those few that remained became swans so they could fly all over Ireland and the world. Years later, when there were only 2 of the Sidhe-swans left, they consented to be transformed back into their old bodies. But now they were wizened and old, the beauty of their youth gone. What had we been before we moved to the house? We'd forgotten. And when we were transformed back into what we were? Age would have claimed us, our youths having vanished in the many rooms of that big house.
Rob flatters me that my effect upon others is to make them speak of themselves in the third person - to take distance, thereby, from the disasters and the triumphs of their lives. A strange gift (even R.M. does this, speaking of herself in the third person as The Young Missle, which I sometimes call her), but one I am happy to have been able to give. That's what David lacked, Rob and I decided - he was always unable to know how he appeared to others, to see not what he enabled but also what he prevented, how torrents of speech would prevent others from speaking, installing that great differend which meant none of us could say a word.
How could we speak of ourselves? We could not. Speech was not given to us; there was no chance. This was why we formed the Friends of the Kitchen and retreated to the kitchen or the old stables to talk - why, too, cafes, for a time, were our home, where we could admire the coffee and the waitresses and feel ourselves, when served, to be our own persons again, significant and efficacious and able to accomplish real acts in the world. The Friends of the Kitchen, saved from the world but not ready for it, were looking for a place to try out their voices.