I Looked For You

from Tristano Dies; translated by Elizabeth Harris

I landed on this island late in the day. From the ferry, I watched the harbor approaching, and the small white town perched around the Venetian-style castle, and I thought, maybe he’s here. And I wandered narrow lanes, to the stairway leading to the tower, carrying my suitcase that every day grew lighter, and up every step I’d repeat to myself, maybe he’s here. In the small square below the castle, a terrace overlooking the harbor, there’s a cheap restaurant with old iron tables along a low wall, two flower beds with two olive trees, and bright red geraniums in rectangular pots. Old men sit on the wall and talk quietly, children run around a marble bust of a mustached captain, a hero in the twenties Balkan Wars. I sat down at a small table, set my suitcase on the ground, smoothed my skirt, and ordered a typical island dish, rabbit and onions, that smelled of cinnamon. The first tourists show up in early June. Night was falling, a clear night, the cobalt sky going bright purple, then darker, to indigo. Out on the water, the lights glimmered from the villages of Paros, which seemed only a few short steps away. Yesterday I met a doctor on Paros. He’s from the South, I believe from our Crete, though I didn’t ask. He’s short and stocky, with a veined nose. I was watching the horizon and he asked if I was watching the horizon. I’m watching the horizon, I answered. The only line that breaks the horizon, he said, is a rainbow. An optical trick, pure illusion. And we talked about illusions, and though I didn’t want to, I spoke of you, I brought up your name without even trying, and he told me he met you once because he’d sutured your veins after you slit your wrists. I didn’t know, and I was moved, and I thought I’d find a bit of you in him, because he’d known your blood. So I went back with him to his hotel, the Thalassa, on the boardwalk, it was dingy, full of the sort of middle-class foreigners who spend their vacations in Greece and detest the Greeks. But he wasn’t like them, he was kind, shy when he undressed, and his member was small, slightly twisted, like those terracotta satyr statues in the Athens museum. And it wasn’t so much that he wanted a woman as a few comforting words, because he was unhappy, and I pretended to comfort him, for pity’s sake. I looked for you, my love, for every speck of you dispersed in the universe. I gathered what I could, from the ground, the air, the sea, the glances and gestures of others. I even looked for you in the kouroi on a far-off mountain of one of these islands, because you told me once that you sat on a kouros’s lap. It wasn’t easy getting up there. The bus left me in Sypouros, if that’s what this unknown village is even called, since it’s not on any map, and then I had to do the last three kilometers on foot, I trudged up the winding dirt road, which further down, led to a valley of cypresses and olive trees. There was an old shepherd by the road, and I said the only word to him that mattered: kouros. And his eyes shone with a light of complicity as though he understood, as though he knew who I was and who I was looking for, that I was looking for you, and without a word, he pointed to a path, and I gathered up his guiding gesture and that brief light shining in his eyes, and I put them in my pocket, look, they’re right here, I could lay them out on this little patio table where I’m dining, they’re two more chips of the crumbled fresco I’m desperately gathering, trying to put you back together, along with the smell of that man I spent the night with and the rainbow on the horizon and this pale blue sea that makes me feel so anxious. And above them all is the barred window I discovered on Santorini, the one with a grapevine climbing the bars, which looks out over the vast sea and a small public square. The sea was endless kilometers, and the small square a few meters across, and I recalled some poems about the sea and about squares, a sea of shimmering tiles that I saw from a cemetery with you, and a small square and the people living there who’d seen your face, and I looked for you in the shimmering of that sea because you’d seen it, and in the eyes of the shopkeeper, the pharmacist, the little old man who sold iced coffee in that small square, because they’d seen you. And I put these things in my pocket, too, in this pocket that’s myself and my eyes. A priest stepped onto the church square. He was sweating in his black robes and reciting a byzantine liturgy and the kyrie was colored by you. On the horizon, a boat leaves a trail of white foam over the blue. Is that you as well? Perhaps. I might put it in my pocket. But in the meantime a foreigner, an early tourist — early for the season, but practically old herself — is on a payphone by the sea that’s open to the wind and anyone passing by, and she’s saying, Here the weather is wonderful. I will remain very well. And these are your words, I recognize them even in another language, though of course we know this is just a tourist’s attempt at translating something you’ve already said into English. Spring has passed for us, my dearest friend, my dearest love. And autumn’s come, with its yellowing leaves. No — it’s the dead of winter in this untimely summer cooled by a breeze on this terrace overlooking Naxos Port. Windows, that’s what we need, a wise old man in a distant country once told me, the vastness of reality is incomprehensible, and to understand it, we must lock a rectangle around it, geometry is opposed to chaos, that’s why men invented windows that are geometrical, and every structure assumes right angles. And is our life subject to right angles as well? You know, those difficult routes, composed of segments that we all must get through just to reach our death. Perhaps, but if a woman like me sits thinking on an open terrace by the Aegean Sea on a night like this, she understands that everything we think and live and have lived and imagine and long for, that all of this can’t be governed by geometry. And that windows are only a timid geometric form for men afraid of the circular gaze, where everything beyond the window frame might enter, senseless and irreparable, like Thales gazing at the stars. Everything I collected of you, crumbs, dust, fragments, traces, guesses, intonations left behind in others’ voices, grains of sand, a conch, your past that I imagined, our supposed future, what I wanted from you, what you promised me, my childhood dreams, the love I felt for my father as a child, some silly poems from my youth, a poppy along a dusty road — that went into my pocket, too, you understand? The corolla of a poppy, like the poppies I’d collect in May, when I drove up into the hills in my Volkswagen, while you stayed home, consumed with your projects, the complicated recipes your mother left you, scribbled in French in a little black book, and I’d gather poppies for you, and you didn’t understand. I don’t know if you planted your seed in me, or if it was the other way around. Each of us is alone, with no transmission of future flesh, and most of all I have no one to gather up my anguish. All of them, I’ve wandered all these islands, all of them, searching for you. And this is the last, just as I’m the last. After me, no more. And who besides me would look for you? I won’t betray you, cut the thread. Not even knowing where your body lies. You surrendered to your Minos, whom you thought you’d tricked, but who swallowed you instead. And so I read epigraphs in every cemetery I can find, searching for your beloved name, where I might cry for you at least. Two times you betrayed me, the second, when you hid your body. And now here I sit at this table on a terrace, staring out to sea, eating rabbit seasoned with cinnamon. A lazy old Greek is singing an ancient song for coins. There are cats, children, two British tourists my age talking about Virginia Woolf, and a lighthouse in the distance that they don’t even see. I made you leave the labyrinth that you forced me into, but for me there’s no exit, not even one that’s final. Because my life is over, and everything is slipping past, with no chance for a connection that will lead me back to myself or to the cosmos. I’m here, the breeze caresses my hair, and I’m groping in the dark, because I’ve lost my thread, Theseus, the one I gave you…

Excerpted from Tristano Dies by Antonio Tabucchi, translated by Elizabeth Harris. Used with permission of Archipelago Books. Copyright © Antonio Tabucchi, 2015. All rights reserved.

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