umbilicus 2017-12-13T15:03:57+00:00


The valley is not too large. It is just wide enough that opposite hillsides seem faintly blue – only faintly. There is a river, of course, and it is lined for as long as I can see by a grassy embankment. Occasionally it disappears through an alder copse whose leaves have only just emerged from buds, and remain creased like sensu. It is a clear, shallow river lined with smooth stones, and on an intensely hot day would seem an inviting place in which to sit down – until one discovers the unpleasantly glutinous sensation of algae on nether regions. Such is the tendency of shallow, slow-moving rivers.
What is going on here? The moon is still present to the eye in daylight—a waxing gibbous moon, an umbilicus in the sky. And along a trail atop the embankment, a man and a woman are walking. I imagine they have been doing some kind of farm labour because they wear soiled rubber boots, and the surrounding land is agricultural. She is also carrying, in one hand, a wide brimmed hat. And he is carrying, in one hand, a damp-looking pair of leather work gloves. And yet whatever else they wear seems so out of place, as if these two were catalogue models for a “high-end casual” retail chain. Aside from the boots, hat, and gloves, it’s not what you’d wear to a field. For him a pair of dark green corduroy trousers, an off-white dress shirt, and a cable knit sweater tied over his shoulders. For her a floral-patterned silk dress – sleeveless, hemmed to mid-thigh – and a delicate cardigan. And a teardrop leather backpack, too. Between it and the swish of her hips, the friction is causing her skirt to rise up and… I will blush if I write it!
This whole scene seems very strange to me. Everything about it. With those clothes – what is it? It’s as if two urban bourgeois-types met their financial downfall and were forced into farm labour, having to make due with whatever unsuitable outfits remained in their wardrobes. And what about the dress, the thing I notice most? Perhaps this is some sort of performance art – either because these two are exhibitionists, or because they are playing a game for their own mutual excitement. This young woman – I would say she is in her late twenties – is followed at five or six paces by her male partner. It is just the right distance to optimize his sightline to her clunes. This may, of course, be accidental. Or perhaps this scene is this way because I devised it as such. (And now I am blushing in Latin!)
In any event, I follow them… we all alight at a café selling “lunch sets”, in a white stucco-sided, one-level frontier house under a green metal roof. Inside it’s clean yet rustic, with a serving window to the left, a dining area in the middle, and a washroom to the right. Entry is through a sliding glass door, directly to the dining area. I arrive after the couple, and am seated after them – as it turns out, at a neighbouring two-seat table. I am alone and want to appear occupied, to give the impression I am not eavesdropping. The café has a small library for patrons, so I get up and spend no time making a choice – a romance novel titled To the End of Time. As I return to my table, where I will pretend to read the book, I take a side glance at my neighbours and notice there is perhaps a decade between them – he’s the older one, possibly in his late thirties. Now I have seen them at close range, and I am also close enough to hear everything they say, clearly.
He says: “Before you go, I want to know what to order.”
She says: “Rice Omelet Lunch Set”, and heads quickly to the washroom.
A small amount of time passes, orders are taken, and then we hear – we all hear, all café patrons – commotion from the washroom door. The woman’s voice and shaking, percussive noise.
“It’s a big one! Oh, it’s a big one! It’s curled up like a snake!” she exclaims. The toilet flushes, the door shakes, and we hear her sing a few lines from the song “Lovely Lonely Man” from the soundtrack to Chitty-Chitty Bang-Bang. What follows is a low, hardly articulate sound, and then: “It really is snake! And it wants me to go! Oh, it wants me! It wants me completely and now it’s twisting in the other direction and calling my name!”
She continues: “Have I neglected to say how big it is? It is big. Very, very big. In French it would be grand. Très grand. Very big. Very large. But not too large. Just enough to give a strong impression of its size. Confidently large. It is large and its presence is large. Large and large. If it is self-aware it does not need to impose, forcefully, the impression that is large. That it is big. That it is large and not too small. Certainly it is not medium-sized. It is large. But not ostentatiously or decadently large. It is, simply, very big. Vigorously big. Big and big. Scaled up? I think not. The scales are no larger than one might find on a regular-sized snake. Its eyes are the same size, too. There are just more of them. More scales. Not more eyes. But a large mouth. A big, large mouth. And a large, big, long tongue. In short, it is a very big snake and very large and long. Or not too long. Perhaps disproportionately thick. Big. It is a big, large snake. It seems to take up the entire room. There seems to be very little room in which I can move because it is so big and takes up so much of it. And it is talking. A sound emanates from it. Is it just a noise or what one would call words? I cannot say. But it is producing noise. It is vocalizing. Or perhaps it is not. I cannot see its mouth now. The sound does not, perhaps, originate in the mouth. It takes flight from vibrations of the body!”
Now the door starts rattling, banging, shaking. I look around to consider the audience response, to gauge where I am. If this were Poland, someone would turn to me (in Poland I am obviously a foreigner) and say: “Our country is shit. This would never happen in your country.” If Japan, patrons would bury their faces in newspapers or – at most – varnished middle-aged ladies might say, “Urusai desu ne.” (“That’s a bit too loud for me.”) If the patrons were Danes or Germans, they would go to the bathroom door to ask if the occupant needed help – although a Dane would never do this together with a German, if both happened to be in the same room. And how about Hungary? I have no idea of how a Hungarian would react. Perhaps they would say, “We don’t like your kind around here!” But the patrons of this café do none of the above. They just keep on doing what they are doing, like nothing else is happening. So I am unable to place this event – not culturally. And so you’ll have to understand only that it happens on Earth.
And now the door is shaking even more frantically, and I am reminded of the scene in Tarkovsky’s Solaris, when Hari suffers an extreme form of separation anxiety: she rips open a door to be with Kris. In one translation of Lem’s novel her name is Rheya. As for my fellow restaurant patrons, I have no idea what their names are, though it may be convenient to call them something. Shall I go with Chris and Haru? Of course I would prefer to go with something completely original, but can’t think of anything at the moment. In any event, she – Haru – is now back at the table.
Chris asks: “Why did you do that?”
“Do what?” she replies.
The meals are at the table, and he – Chris – has just taken a mouthful of what looks like a casserole. Haru has yet to touch her own order.
“My hand”, she says, massaging the palm of her right hand with her left. “It’s so sore. I think I made a mistake with that door. I kept pulling it, expecting it to open. But really it’s the kind of door you have to push to open. Isn’t that funny?”
He keeps eating.
“I don’t know. I think it’s just been too much change for me. I’m just not myself anymore. Look at me. I can’t eat a thing. I have no appetite.”
“It doesn’t suit you – not eating.”
“Of course it’s nice of them to let us stay here while we sort things out. After all we’ve been through. I know we’ve both talked about living off the grid, starting anew… But this is just too soon. I can hardly keep track of the changes. And now you’re travelling – again. Who is this ‘father figure’ of yours, anyway? Everything is moving so fast. Everything’s changing so fast. I can hardly see what I thought you were. It’s like I’m standing in your antumbra. Is that what it’s called? There’s a kind of intense backlighting – it’s this compulsion of yours to call upon your past, or whatever it is you’re after. But I can hardly see you now but for your outline.”
“It won’t always be this way. If you’ll just let me – ”
“No. You are right. It can’t be always be this way. I know it. It really can’t, can it?”
“Then how – ”
“Recently I’ve had this feeling things are going to end! Maybe not forever, but for a time. And it’s not something I want to prolong. All this feeling, like I’m standing at the rock face of anguish. Oh I know that sounds so… Is ‘sentimental’ the right word?”
“And so?”
“And so, if I have any choice in the matter – If I have any choice I want to make it easy. I know it will be hard for you. And it will be hard for me. But it’s the only way I know, now, to make it easy. It can’t – it shouldn’t – be like this forever.” She stands up and pushes in her chair. “For now”, she says, “I am leaving you. But first I want to show you this.”
She places her hands on her belly, stretching the fabric of her dress thin across her umbilicus. It is luminescent. Or is it incandescent? In any event, it is the moon.