Ale jej uszy, ach, jej uszy…

Ale wolałbym opowiedzieć wam o jej uszach. Przeoczyłem je w klubie tenisowym, kiedy związywała włosy tamtą zieloną wstążką, pod kolor lamówki i guzików na sukience. A na co dzień nosiła włosy rozpuszczone, pofalowane na uszach i sięgające połowy szyi. Tak że dopiero kiedy znaleźliśmy się w łóżku, a ja zabrałem się do szperania i węszenia po całym jej ciele, w każdym zakamarku, w każdej nadmiernie i niedostatecznie zbadanej części, pochylony nad nią, odgarnąłem jej włosy i odkryłem uszy.

Nigdy wcześniej nie poświęcałem uszom zbyt wiele uwagi, widząc w nich tylko komiczne narośle. Dobre uszy to takie, których się nie zauważało; złe uszy sterczały jak skrzydła nietoperza lub były kalafiorowate po ciosie boksera, albo też –jak uszy tamtego wściekłego kierowcy przy przejściu dla pieszych –chropowate, czerwone i włochate. Ale jej uszy, ach, jej uszy… od dyskretnego, niemal nieistniejącego płatka łagodnym łukiem biegły do góry, ale potem w połowie drogi takim samym łukiem zawracały ku jej czaszce. Jakby zaprojektowano je raczej według jakiejś idei estetycznej, a nie zasad użyteczności słuchowej.

Kiedy zwracam jej na to uwagę, mówi:
– Pewnie są takie, żeby wszystkie te bzdury przelatywały obok i nie trafiały do środka.

Ale to nie wszystko. Kiedy badałem je czubkami palców, odkryłem, jak delikatna jest ich zewnętrzna krawędź: cienka, ciepła, łagodna, aksamitna, niemal półprzezroczysta. Wiecie, jak nazywa się po łacinie obrąbek ucha? Helix. Jak helisa. W liczbie mnogiej helisy. Uszy były częścią jej absolutnej wyjątkowości, uzewnętrznieniem jej DNA. Podwójna helisa jej helis.

Później, zastanawiając się, co mogła mieć na myśli, kiedy mówiła o „bzdurach”, które przelatują obok jej zadziwiających uszu, pomyślałem: cóż, oskarżenie o oziębłość –to wielka bzdura. Tyle że to słowo wpadło prosto do jej uszu, a stamtąd do mózgu, gdzie utkwiło na zawsze.

Julian Barnes, Jedyna historia, tłum. Dominika Lewandowska-Rodak, Warszawa 2018.

But away from music that was so different

The sweat had poured off them at Anapa. It was hot in the Caucasus, and he had never liked the heat. They had gazed at Low Bay beach but he felt no inclination to cool off by taking a swim. They walked in the shade of the forest above the town, and he was bitten by mosquitoes. Then they were cornered by a pack of dogs and almost eaten alive. None of this mattered. They inspected the resort’s lighthouse, but while Tanya craned her head upwards, his concentration was on the sweet fold of skin it made at the base of her neck. They visited the old stone gate which was all that remained of the Ottoman fortress, but he was thinking about her calves, and the way their muscles moved as she walked. There was nothing in his life for those weeks except love, music and mosquito bites. The love in his heart, the music in his head, the bites on his skin. Not even paradise was free of insects. But he could hardly resent them. Their bites were ingeniously made in places inaccessible to him; the lotion was based on an extract of carnation flowers. If a mosquito was the cause of her fingers touching his skin and making him smell of carnations, how could he possibly hold anything against the insect?

They were nineteen and they believed in Free Love: keener tourists of each other’s bodies than of the resort’s attractions. They had thrown off the fossilised dictates of church, of society, of family, and gone away to live as man and wife without being man and wife. This excited them almost as much as the sexual act itself; or was, perhaps, inextricable from it.

But then came all the time they were not in bed together. Free Love may have solved the primary problem, but had not done away with the others. Of course they loved one another; but being all the time in one another’s company – even with his 300 roubles and his young fame – was not straightforward. When he was composing, he always knew exactly what to do; he made the right decisions about what the music – his music – required. And when conductors or soloists wondered politely if this might be better, or that might be better, he would always reply, ‘I’m sure you’re right. But let’s leave it for now. I’ll make that change next time round.’ And they were satisfied, and he was too, since he never had any intention of implementing their suggestions. Because his decisions, and his instinct, had been correct.

But away from music … that was so different. He became nervous, things blurred in his mind, and he would sometimes make a decision simply in order to have the matter settled rather than because he knew what he wanted. Perhaps his artistic precocity meant that he had avoided those useful years of ordinary growing up. But whatever the cause, he was bad at the practicalities of life, which included, of course, the practicalities of the heart. And so, at Anapa, alongside the exaltations of love and the heady self-satisfaction of sex, he found himself entering a whole new world, one full of unwanted silences, misunderstood hints and scatter-brained planning.

Julian Barnes, The Noise of Time.

In 1960, an American friend of ours, then a young writer in London, found herself, after lunch at the Travellers’ Club, sharing a taxi home with Ivy Compton-Burnett. At first Compton-Burnett talked to our friend, in a normal conversational tone, about the club, their host, the food, and so on. Then, with a marginal shift of the head, but absolutely no shift of tone, she started talking to Margaret Jourdain, her companion of thirty years. The fact that Jourdain, far from being in the cab with them, had been dead since 1951 made no difference. That was who she wanted to talk to, and did so for the rest of the journey back to South Kensington.

This strikes me as quite normal. We are not surprised when children have imaginary friends. Why be suprised when adults have them too? Except that these friends are real as well.

Bonnard used to paint his model/mistress/wife Marthe as a young woman naked in the bath. He painted her like this when she was no longer young. He continued to paint her like this after she was dead. An art critic, reviewing a Bonnard show in London some ten or fifteen years ago, called this ‘morbid’. Even at the time it struck me as the opposite, and entirely normal.

Ivy Compton-Burnett missed Margaret Jourdain with ‚palpable, angry vehemence’. To one friend she wrote, ‚I wish you had met her, and so met more of me.’ After being made a Dame of the British Empire, she wrote: “The one I miss most, Margaret Jourdain, has now been dead sixteen years, and I still have to tell her things… I am not fully a Dame, as she does not know about it.’ This is true, and defines the lostness of the griefstruck. You constantly report things, so that the loved one ‚knows’. You may be aware that you are fooling yourself (though, if aware, are at the same time not fooling yourself), yet you continue. And everything you do, or might achieve thereafter, is thinner, weaker, matters less. There is no echo coming back: no texture, no resonance, no depth of field.

Julian Barnes, Levels of Life, Jonathan Cape 2013.