The brain of man is filled with passageways like the contours and multiple crossroads of the labyrinth. In its curved folds lie the imprint of thousands of images, recordings of millions of words. Certain cities of the orient were designed to baffle the enemy by a tangle of intricate streets. For those concealed within the labyrinth its detours were a measure of safety; for the invaders it presented an image of fearful mystery.
Sabina had chosen the labyrinth for safety.
There existed five or six versions of her birthplace, parents, racial origins. For Jay her first version was: my mother was a Hungarian gypsy. She sang in cafes and told fortunes. My father played the guitar. When they came to America they opened a night club, mostly for Hungarians. It was like a continuation of life in Hungary.
But when Jay asked her: "What did you do as a girl in that environment? Did you sing? Did you tell fortunes? Did you learn to dance? Did you wear long braids and a white blouse? How did you learn to speak such beautiful English?" Sabina did not answer. Jay had taken her to a Hungarian restaurant and waited for her response to the music, the dances, the songs, to the swarthy men whose glances were like a dagger thrust. But Sabina had forgotten this story by then and looked on the scene with detachment. When Jay pressed her she began another: "I was born on the road. My parents were show people. We travelled all the time. My father was a magician in a circus. My mother was a trapezist."
Had she learned there her skill in balancing in space, in time, avoiding all definitions and crystallizations? Had she learned from her father to deal in camouflage, in quick sleight of hand? (This story came before the one in which she asserted her father had been anonymous. Not knowing who he was, he might turn out to be any of the men she admired at the time.)
"But," said Jay. "You told me once your father was a Don Juan, that it was his faithlessness which had affected your childhood, giving you a feeling of impermanency."
"That was true, too," said Sabina, "one can be a faithless magician!"
"And you learned from him, no doubt, to juggle with facts."
From the very first day Jay who had always lived joyously and obviously outside, in daylight, had been drawn into this labyrinth unwittingly by his own curiosity and love of facts. He had believed only in what he saw, in one dimension, like a candid photographer, and he now found himself inside rows of mirrors with endless reflections and counter reflections. Sabina was like those veiled figures glimpsed turning the corner of a Moroccan street, wrapped from head to foot in white cotton, throwing to a stranger a single spark from fathomless eyes. Was she the very woman one had been seeking? There was a compulsion to follow her. From story to story, from a mobile evanescent childhood, to a kaleidoscopic adolescence, to a tumultuous and smoky womanhood, a figure whom even a passport official would have had difficulty in identifying. Jay had the primitive urge of the invader. But from the first day he was trapped by what he believed to be a duel between reality and illusion. It was difficult to invade a labyrinth! Sabina felt: once my supply of stories is exhausted I die. Jay felt: once the stories are exhausted, I will possess Sabina.
Every man she had known had demanded of her, ultimately, an abdication of the Sabina she wanted to conceal. If she answered Jay's questions he would be disillusioned. Only illusion could create a human being one could love with passion.
This was her labyrinth, and her Minotaur wore the open face of Jay asking such direct questions as would a compiler of statistics, a census taker. How old are you? Are you married? Do you have children?
She had used every curvature in the maze to escape his questions. Why had he assumed the role of detective?
When she first met him in the cafe, he seemed so candid. He talked without premeditation. He seemed the incarnation of spontaneity. Such a contrast to herself was a source of fascination at first. He seemed direct, open, naked. He never withheld what he thought or felt. He passed no judgment on others, and expected none to be passed on him.
But Sabina lived in expectation of such a judgment. She could see the danger in his moments of anger, when he painted savagely those who had not given him what he asked of them. But what did he ask? If they offered beauty he was suspicious of it. Beauty was artifice. Truth only lay in people and things stripped of aesthetics. What did he ask of her? Was he the lover who was not content with possessing the body but curious about its essence?
While he talked Sabina remembered reading that the Arabs did not respect the man who unveiled his thoughts. The intelligence of an Arab was measured by his capacity to elude direct questions. The questioner was always suspect. Sabina was of that race. Did she truly originate thousands of years ago from the people who veiled their faces and their thoughts? Where did she come from that she understood so well this racial dedication to mystery?
He had a habit of asking naive questions, of prying. When his curiosity was satisfied he seemed to be saying: "you see, there was nothing behind that." He would have walked behind the magician's props, he would have exposed Houdini, He hated poetry and he hated illusion. His own savage self-confessions encouraged confessions. This passion for stripping, unveiling, exposing the truth, compelled him to enter Sabina's labyrinth.
At first it seemed like the natural preoccupation of a lover: does she love me? Does she love me alone? Does she love others as she loves me? Does she love anyone?
This was in turn born of her habit of never saying: I loved him, or I loved her, but he loved me, she loved me, thus eluding all responsibility, all commitment. She had made the core of her individuality elusive. Had she loved? Had she chosen?
The first time Jay had walked into the cafe, softly and casually, with an air of being nobody at all, smiling, relaxed, with a warm mellow voice, slightly thinning hair which gave him the air of a Buddhist monk, roseate, lean, content, in spite of poverty and difficulties, she had distrusted him.
In appearance he could have passed anonymously through a crowd, but his laughter was contagious. The mouth was sensual and vulnerable but the eyes were watchful, cool, shadowless, analytical.
He seemed so different from his brutal, violent paintings. Warmed-voiced, joyous, gentle. His mouth, amorous, slightly open, lips very full, seemed eager to eat, to kiss, to savour all that his eyes would later ruthlessly caricature. He treated the whole world as men treated prostitutes, desiring and then discarding, skipping love, knowing only hunger and then indifference. A gentle savage, who lives by moods, effervescence, rhythm, in a self-created glow, euphoria. Not noticing other's moods.
"Ever since Lillian left," he told her, "I have no place to live in. Last night I slept in a movie house. I watched the film three times and then I slipped down into my seat. They never clean the place till morning, and even then the cleaning woman only grunts and lets me sleep on. Did you ever stay in a movie house when it's empty? Films are a dose of opium anyway. Coming out in the street usually shocks one awake. When you stay on you never wake up! The opium goes on working. I would fall asleep for a little while and then see images on the screen which were the images of my dreams and the dream and the film I had seen would become one and the same."
Sabina too had offered to help him so he could get a studio and continue painting. "Do you earn money?" he asked candidly. She did not answer, but began a complicated story of intrigues and bartering, miraculous arrangements which he could not translate. Later, when the rent was overdue she asked to see the landlord. She came back smiling; the landlord had promised to wait again. She reminded him of the gypsies in the South of France who returned to their shacks, lifted up their skirts and exposed a chicken or two they had stolen!
Only Jay felt that Sabina's bargaining powers came not from objects but from herself, her body.
"Why can't you trust me with the truth?" asked Jay.
"Because you always turn around and caricature."
"But Sabina, I only turn around and caricature when I am angry."
"But I'm never sure of what will make you angry."
"Your mysteriousness makes me angry. You mystify me."
"You're like a mythical animal, so innocent about your appetites, your sensual enjoyments." She did not add: but you would not grant me the same innocence.
"Our age has need of violence, it deals in hypocrisies. I feel like a human bomb," said Jay.
Sabina could not explain that it was this she feared, never knowing what would cause him to explode. She was baffled by his contradictions between enthusiasm and sudden destructive rebellion, between passion and hatred, between euphoria and caricature. Was he, as Lillian had thought, a very hurt man? Hurt men were dangerous, like wounded animals in the jungle. He wanted everything blasted away: hypocrisy, fear, falseness.
She feared to see a distorted image of herself in him. As she saw a distorted image of others in him. She felt like the Arabs, who do not believe in mirrors, or in being painted, or photographed.
While Jay was so concerned to know whether Sabina had other lovers, whether she loved women, or took drugs, he overlooked the true mystery: why were such secrets necessary?
Every meeting was then a holiday. Jay would arrive with paint on his workman's suit. One did not know if it was a tree, or a body, or a river which had overflown on him. It was as if he had been walking through the greens, yellows, reds, and blacks. He had found a studio in Montmartre, in a workman's quarter. He had already covered the walls with sketches. On one long page he had scrawled in large letters:
Merlans a la Bercy Coquilles de Cervelles au Gratin Flamri de Semoule Galantine de Volaille a la Gelee Anguilles Pompadour Selle de Mouton Bouquetiere
"These are the dishes I want to eat someday." There were many maps covered with red pencil lines marking the places he wanted to visit. But for the moment he had to show her his Paris.
He was in love with a black sooty angel who guarded the well house, a begrimed angel who ruled a round courtyard no larger than a well and as dark. He was in love with a courtesan Mona Paiva who had reigned a hundred years ago and whose photograph he had found on the Quays. He was making a study of poisons at the Bibliotheque Nationale. He noted fragments of conversations on menus, on toilet paper, on envelopes. He took Sabina to the Mariner's flop house to eat an omelet with the pickpockets. He played chess at the cafe where the old actors met for a game, to the tune of tired classical musicians. At dawn he liked to sit and watch the tired prostitutes walking home.
An eagerness to catch everything without make up, without embellishments, women before they combed their hair, waiters before they donned artificial smiles with their bow ties. A quest for naturalness which came to a stop before Sabina's painted eyes, a Sabina whom daylight refused to touch. Even in the morning she exuded her own lighting, and it was the enhancing lighting of her life at night.
In Jay's glaring, crude daylight upon externals and in Sabina's preference for the night lay the core of their conflict from the first day.
Until he met Sabina, women confounded themselves in his mind, were interchangeable, and his desire did not become a desire to know them intimately, to understand them.
At first he thought Sabina had fixed his attention because she had a more voluptuous body, a more penetrating voice, a more dazzling smile, more burning eyes than other women. She was a woman painted in more opulent colors.
He had never been too concerned about identity, but because Sabina would not acknowledge any, he began to demand one.
He did not know, and never learned, that she had already told the truth about herself when she had spoken of the need of being loved as her guiding element. Her desire to BE loved. No passion or desire springing from independent desires of her own, but from the desire to be loved.
Jay suspected that much was being hidden from him; it was hidden not by Sabina, but by his own purely external vision. Among the chaotic confessions, the rambling talks, the flow of fiction, he had not been able to detect the revelatory ones. Sabina escaped direct questions, but offered other clues.
But it was not only that Sabina had the body of the women who climbed every night upon the stage of music halls and gradually undressed, but that it was impossible to situate her in any other atmosphere. The luxuriance of the flesh, its vivid tones, the fevered eyes and the weight of the voice, its huskiness, became instantly conjugated with sensual love. Other women lost this erotic phosphorescence as soon as they abandoned their roles of dance hall hostesses. Sabina's night life was internal, it glowed from within her and it came in part from treating every encounter as either intimate or to be forgotten. It was as if before every man she lighted within herself the lamp lighted by waiting mistresses or wives at the end of day, only they were her eyes, and it was her face which became like a poem's bedchamber, tapestried with twilight and velvet. As it glowed from within her it could appear in totally unexpected places, early in the morning, in a neglected cafe, on a park bench, on a rainy morning in front of a hospital or a morgue, anywhere. It was always the soft light kept through the centuries for the moment of pleasure.
His first letter to her was delirious, and contained a description of Babylon in such goldleaf words that she asked him if he took drugs.
The question startled him. His intoxication came from images, words, colors. It occurred to him that she must have taken drugs if the idea of wild flights of imagination was linked in her mind inevitably with the use of drugs.
"Do you?" he demanded. And was distressed by this speculation as by the idea of madness, because as an artist he held the proud notion that every image came out of his own spontaneous chemistry, not from any synthetic formula. "Do you?"
Sabina eluded the question. She often talked about drugs, but never acknowledged any intimate experience with them. This became one of Jay's obsessional themes of detection.
Up to that moment of his encounter with Sabina, he had been so at ease in his physical, evident world, and now the dimensions she opened were like countless mirrors.
The devastating charade sometimes entered upon by lovers had begun. It was on the theme of truth and nontruth, illusion and reality. The meshing only took place in the interlocking of desire. Sudden, violent desires. No time to turn down coverlets, to close windows, to turn out lights. Against the wall, on the carpet, on a chair, a couch, in taxis, in elevators, in parks, on rivers, on boats, in the woods, on balconies, in doorways at night they grappled body to body, breath to breath, tongue against tongue as if to enclose, enmesh, imprison once and forever essences, odors, flavors which eluded them at other times.
Jay earthy, roseate, lusty, relaxed, Sabina feverish, supple, their voices mingling in the night like the cries heard in tropical forests, words which added weight to the bodies, density to the blood. The full weight of flesh. Crushed grass, tilted boats, creaking beds, wrinkled sheets, fallen pillows, scattered clothes. They were locked at least for an instant in a common pulsation.
They were drawn together by his need to expose illusion, her need to create it. A satanic pact. One must triumph: the realist or the mythmaker. The painter turned detective of what lay behind appearance, and Sabina created mysteries as a natural flowering of her femininity. How else to hold his interest for a thousand nights?
Her symbolic resistance to nakedness of thought and feeling became associated in his mind with the image of the strip tease, women exposing gradually areas of their bodies and vanishing when they were about to be seen completely.
He entered the labyrinth with a note book! If he annotated enough facts he would finally possess the truth. The black stockings, the overfull handbags, the missing buttons, the hair always about to topple down, a strand always falling over the eye, the hasty dressing, the mobility, the absence of repose.
Her speech, for instance. She had a beautiful speech, half-way between stage English, softly modulated, like that of a mature and skilled actress, but she would not say where she had learned it. She had run away from school. She had not studied with anyone. She would not tell where she had been raised. She had two distinct manners, one, that of a street urchin, brawling, crude (when she lost her temper or was frightened by a taxi), another as "on stage," entrancing, refined. They corresponded to her attitude about clothes: at times she had holes in her stockings, wore unwashed jeans, and used safety pins to hold everything together; at other times she rushed to buy gloves, and perfume. But at all times, her eyes were carefully painted like the eyes on Egyptian frescoes.
No mysteries in the rites of the body. Palpable rites, hands full of evidence.
They lay back to back. He was still immersed in her. Her breath was quieting down. He wanted to lie blind in the furls of her flesh. On what wings was she taking flight? As if the sensual act had been but a mouth applied to an opium pipe. And now Sabina was rising in whirls of smoke.
She demanded illusion as other women demanded necklaces. For Jay illusion and lies were synonymous. Art and illusion and lie were one. He had asked: "What color was your hair originally?"
"They do not always match," she answered. And turned her back to him. What did he seek? A Sabina as naked within as without? A soul as softly curved, as accessible to his knowing hands. Gold behind gold.
With the question about her hair he had caused a departure.
How often was he to cry out: "Perhaps there is nothing at all, perhaps the mystery is that there is no mystery at all. She is empty, empty, empty." But how could an empty woman have such a vivid presence, how could an empty woman cause insomnia, and awaken so many dreams? How could an empty woman cause other women to take flight, abdicating instinctively.
"Do you betray me? Do you take drugs? Do you love women?"
She smiled at the questions, as if to say: "And if I answered you, would you know me then?"
He did not ask the correct question of the Sphinx. He did not say to Sabina what Djuna said to her later: "I am not concerned with the secrets, or the lies, or the mysteries. I am concerned with what made them necessary."
"The books she reads," said Jay, "or pretends to read, are summed up for her by others, she echoes their opinions. The childhood she invented, I saw it in a film the other night, she lifted it complete, in every detail."
Sabina brought to his studio a treasure house of curios, paintings, statues, with vague stories as to how they had been acquired. She made use of the soft part of the bread for a napkin. She fell asleep at times with her shoes on, on unmade beds.
When a little money came in, Sabina bought delicacies for the palate or for her skin. Strawberries in winter, and caviar and bath salts.
She read very little. She was impatient at movies, and even at the theatre. She wanted firsthand knowledge of everything, intimate experience only. Whatever took place, a crime, the arrival of a new personality, Sabina never listened attentively. She had already known the criminal. Had talked to him for a whole night in a cafe. He had confessed what he intended to do. The new actress who was starring had been her friend in school. She had lived at the home of the painter who had suddenly become celebrated. She was always inside. She had loved a revolutionist, nursed the discarded mistress who later committed suicide, confessed the defrocked literary priest. She was always inside. She did not care for films, newspaper reportages, the radio. She wanted personal knowledge. While others relied on secondhand journalism, she spent a night in a cafe talking with a consulate secretary and knew the contents of some cables before they appeared in print. She was not interested in fiction or news because she only cared to be involved while they were being lived, created, she only cared for the moment at which they happened. People were never "characters" or news items. They were her companions of the moment.
People spoke of Africa. Sabina was silent. She knew the body of Mambo, the flavour of his skin, his dreams, his feelings as no one else did. He was the continent of Africa. Its songs, its vegetation, its spices, its rhythms.
She was restless at the movies, but not restless if they spent an evening with a future star of the movies, or went out after a play with the actors, or to a party with the dancers after a ballet.
She only believed in proximity, in confessions bom in the darkness of a bedroom, in the quarrels born of alcohol, in the communion born of exhausting walks through the city. She only believed in those words which came like the confessions of criminals after long exposure to hunger, to intense light, to cross-questioning, to violent tearing away of masks. It took hours to descend into these depths where all the treasures lay.
She would not read books on travel, but she sat alert at the care to catch the appearance of an Abyssinian, a Greek, an Iranian, a Hindu, who would bear direct news from home, who would be carrying letters and photographs from his family, and would bring to her personally, all the flavours of his country.
Then she would end the evening in the Abyssinian quarter of Paris which few people knew, or in the Greek quarter, in their homes, meeting their relatives, eating their food, learning their language, becoming as familiar with their lives as if she had spent years in the country from which they came.
She refused to be tender and warm in between the storms of passion. She would arise from possession cool and collected, unwilling to remain in intermediate temperate zones. It was the state of friendship she denied.
When Sabina grew anxious she merely changed her disguises. If anyone was about to assert that Sabina could not control her caprices and desires, she presented the image of a Sabina who once lived with a young man who never made love to her.
Jay often attacked her, denigrated, disparaged. He wanted to fix her dispersed attention, to contain her chaos and her fluidity. He hated the multiple changes and transformations which were like so many unknown, foreign Sabinas to be pursued, tracked down, possessed. A distracting harem.
While Sabina said to Djuna: "How can I be faithful to Jay when he does not love all of me, when I see a stranger always in his eyes and in his portraits?"
"Yes," Djuna agreed, "the truly faithless one is the one who makes love to only a fraction of you."
To Djuna Jay confessed that he had a haunting fear that Sabina was a creation of his own brain.
"She is loaded with riches given to her by others. The only difference is that instead of furs and jewels she prefers painters and writers."
"Then she exists in her selections," Djuna said. "Doesn't she exist in her selection of you? Of Lillian? Of me? What certitude do you seek? She is suspicious of words. She lives by her senses. We do not have a language for the senses. Feelings are images."
"For example," said Jay, not hearing, "once she told me that she had been tubercular. But she will not say if she is completely cured, and how long was she ill, and all she concedes is that it taught her to live more intensely."
"Perhaps" said Djuna, "she thinks you may be one of those people who love people better after their death!"
Djuna did not feel she could confide to Jay the night Sabina's talk ; had spiralled obsessionally around the death of her mother. Sabina repeating: "I didn't love her well enough." Through the turgid, whirling, opaque words Djuna had understood this from Sabina's confession: conceding love and admiration to her mother would have meant an acceptance of traits potential in Sabina which Sabina considered dangerous to her existence, such as her maternal qualities. Sabina's mother sought to make of Sabina a woman she refused to be, wife and mother, and while her mother was alive she endangered Sabina's aspiration to escape the servitudes of women. She was determined to become the women who enchanted her father and for whom he deserted her mother. Her mother he needed, but the other women gave him euphoria. But when she died, how deeply Sabina had loved her voice which was a balm, her enveloping tenderness, her attentive care. "How well I loved her after her death!"
The traits which were in opposition to Sabina's love of freedom, which threatened to alter her, were forgotten. It was not the loss of her mother which awakened Sabina's love, it was that her mother's disappearance removed the danger of her influence, and left a human being no longer concerned with its own survival but with a recognition of her mother's qualities.
"During her life I fought off her influence. And she fought in me the kind of women who had displaced her."
And when her mother died she was forced to recognize that all the time she had acted out in secret from her mother an aspect of maternity towards the weak and the helpless. She was also a woman who could take care of others on the same level as her mother did; the exception was the lover, with whom she was always engaged in a special duel.
As soon as her mother died her rebellions collapsed. She became "possessed" by the spirit of her mother. It was her only way of maintaining her alive within herself. How wise the primitives were who retained their ritual so they would know when this possession took place, and also know how to exorcise it.
Djuna saw the alteration in Sabina's character, which was a need to act out her mother's attitude in life. Sabina told her of how her brother called her to come and help him distribute her belongings. And for the first time she told Djuna a simple and direct story:
"My brother stood far away at the other end of the gleaming airport hall, a small figure in black and white with even from that distance, a tragic way of standing, like those paintings of St. Sebastian pierced by arrows. I felt I had done right to come, for he was at the end of his strength. When we arrived at the house I was silent. I missed my mother's face at the window, or her standing at the door, smaller each year, and with her hair so white it seemed more like a halo of light. What was more often true lately, she would be asleep already when I arrived and would turn on her light to greet me. It was when I entered her empty bedroom that I broke down. It was only then I realized I would not see her again. I had to help him dispose of her belongings. A box of holy medals, rosaries, prayer books, for the Sisters of St. Vincent de Paul.
A box of lace remnants, (the one we carried about all through our lives and travels, from Europe to America, from home to home, my mother saying: some day we will make a whole tablecloth of all these small pieces of lace). I wanted her unfinished bobbin lace, the little pale blue pillow with a pattern pinned to it, and the white thread on bobbins which her hands wove in and out, but my brother knew of a nun who made such lace and would finish it, and I realized suddenly that I would have suffered seeing constantly this last unfinished piece of work. The pain was deeper from the little objects, her bobby pins, her comb, her face powder. I never saw anyone, who possessed as little as my mother. A few dresses, and only the gifts we gave her. The stark simplicity of her taste, but a love of mementos. She kept all our letters, our childhood teeth and hair, my first embroidery, our first drawings. We gave all her clothes to the poor, as she would have wanted but we felt like criminals, dispersing parts of her, the coat which had warmed her, her modest handbag. I can now understand those who lock the door upon everything ... and yet ... and yet better for these objects to continue to live.
The final casting off of an object which belongs to the dead one is full of taboos and full of the pains of the ritual of separation. Separate from my mother, separate from my mother. Some of our decisions were dictated by austere mourning: we cast off the Christmas tree ornaments as if Christmas were no longer possible to celebrate without her, cast off the playing cards with which she played solitaire or other card games with us when she was ill, as if we would never play cards again. Cast off the detective stories she liked to read in those days when I had the feeling that she sat waiting for death. But we kept the black lace fan, the one she waved with a Latin rhythm in church, which seemed irreverent to the American priest.
I knew that my brother wanted to go to church, and that he was embarrassed to ask me, knowing my rebelliousness. He was happy when I suggested it. I waited for him, refusing to pray as I had as a child. I watched the little blue lights wavering in their oil glasses, some freshly lit by the penitents, some already burning out. I watched the one which was burning out, and I could not bear it, my mother's life burning out, so I went and lit a new one and my brother thought it was an offering, a renewal of my faith. It was after that I asked him for my mother's gold thimble, and for her sewing machine. And I don't know how to use either of them."
"She is such a comedian," said Jay. "She is always bringing back objects from her adventures. Gifts, antiques, statues, rare books. What do you think she came back with the other day, and which she silently concealed in her closet? A sewing machine! Do you think she wants to play the role of a wife now?"
Sabina came back from the cafes with new friends and her introduction always was: they talked to me, they sought me out. As if she were a passive wax receiving others' imprint. To Jay this always seemed as if she were concealing the motive of her interest. His blue eyes would scrutinize the strangers as if he were trying to look at them through Sabina's eyes.
Djuna said to Jay once, "Perhaps she is telling the truth. Like an actress, she may need to be nourished by a public, by praise, admiration. They may be necessary to her as a proof of her visibility. I know that the idea of Sabina doubting her existence, or her lovableness, may be impossible for you to imagine, Jay. In terms of your palette you never find enough colors to register the heightened range of her moods, of her presence. But to her indifferent father Sabina was invisible. A child's existence is first concretized in the eyes of the parent. If they see him, he exists. Sabina's efforts may be directed not towards experiencing her own existence within herself but obtaining outward proofs of it."
As Sabina matured, this need, Djuna felt, increased like the addict's need of drugs. Sabina increased the dose of friendships, admirers, devotees, lovers.
"What are you seeking, Jay? Are you chafing under your bondage, because she disperses her affections? What will you gain if you discover that Sabina can love more than one? What are you seeking? To disentangle yourself? They say that people who have more than one self are mad, but you yourself, how many Jays are there in you? And you think yourself the sanest of men!"
"I want the key, the key, the key to the lies. I thought that with passion I could break her open, break her elusiveness, find a naked woman who would give all of herself."
"You make it sound like rape. Passion and violence never opened a human being."
"Love, then," said Jay, mockingly.
"Strange irony," Djuna said. "In Spanish, compassion means 'with passion.' Your passion is without compassion."
Jay laughed again: "Compassion and Sabina are absolutely incompatible. Absolutely absurd. As well have compassion for Venus, for the moon, for a statue, for a Queen, a tigress."
"That is the only key I ever found, which fits everyone..."
"And what would you say aroused your compassion for Sabina?"
"The Don Juan in her."
"You mean faithlessness."
"Oh, no. Don Juan was seeking in passion, in the act of possession, in the welding of bodies, something that has nothing to do with passion and was never born of it."
"A Narcissus pool," Jay said.
"No, he was seeking to be created, to be born, to be warmed into existence, to be imagined, to be known, to be identified, he was seeking a procreative miracle. The first birth is often a failure. He was seeking the love which would try once more. Passion cannot achieve this because it is not concerned with the true identity of the lover. Only love seeks to know, and to create or rescue the loved one."
"And why seek that from me," said Jay. "I don't even care to feed a stray cat."
"You're the artist. Sabina thinks of the artist as a creator of life."
"If I were to go about as you say, dispensing compassion, as you do, I'd be followed by a thousand cripples, nothing more. I would attract them as a doctor does. I say, let them die."
"You asked for a key to Sabina, Jay."
"You also think of Sabina as a human being in trouble? The kind of key you offer, Djuna, I would throw into the Seine. I'm a man of passion."
"Sabina knows that."
"She's a woman of passion."
After a while he laughed softly: "You and Lillian. You want to spare a man a season in hell. Do you know what Lillian did before she left? She stocked my closet full of food, because I had said once that the only thing I feared as a result of past experience, was hunger. To be left without food and money to buy it with. Lillian wanted to extend the period of nourishment beyond her stay."
This was the kind of image one must return quickly to the bottle of wine, like an escaped evil genii that can only cause trouble. Drink the wine, empty the bottle, return these images of tenderness into it, recork it, throw it out to sea. Worse luck, it would surely be Djuna who would spot it as a distress signal, pick it up lovingly, and read into it a request for compassion.
Even though Jay had laughed at Djuna's words, and drowned them in a Pernod, he found when he returned to Sabina that she had lost some of that mythological larger-than-nature proportion which he liked to give to her. What had happened? Sabina seemed less powerful, more vulnerable. Quite obviously Djuna did not believe that the world was peopled with giants.
It happened that this night Sabina had a fever. The fever too he had never believed in, he had considered it symbolic, a quality of voice and eyes and gestures. Tonight it was a fever which rouged her cheeks and dampened her hair. Could a human being diminish in stature?
The figures in his paintings had been outsie, whether tyrant or victim, man or woman. Could people change size according to our vision of them? Jay had always seen his mother immense in the scale of the universe. He was shocked on one of his trips home, to find her smaller than he remembered her. He believed it was her aging. If a person continues to see only giants, it means he is still looking at the world through the eyes of a child. Could his vision have been altered by Djuna's words? Certainly it was difficult to feel compassion for giants.
That night for once Jay was considerate of Sabina's fever. He watched her fail asleep.
As if poured from a spout of moonwhite liquid, coiled, a fluid woman carved by the waters, long lulled in its deeps, and the curves not quite the curves of a woman, but the curves of a wave that had for a moment taken the shape of a woman while keeping the rhythmic flow of a wave, its heaving restlessness, its mobility.