Tuesday, May 04, 2010

A Visitor

He'd thought it would be fine to always be a visitor. A guest in the family. To fly in, bearing gifts, for a week or ten days, then fly away again. Every year or so. Actually he thought it would be easier.

Twenty years passed this way -- and then one evening he happened to be a guest for dinner at his niece's house. There was just this one chance to see her, and to meet her new fiancé; everyone was so busy and of course he was only staying a short time.

At dinner he happened to say how sorry he was that he was leaving so soon -- and barely glancing at him she said, "Oh, you'll be back again."

And for a moment he saw himself through her eyes, as someone who came and went, as indeed he had for her entire life. He saw that in his absence his reality had decayed, and not only for her, but for himself as well.

He looked around the table, which was populated by real people, who could be measured and weighed, who mattered, who would not fail to be found. A farmer, a school principal, and his niece, the regional director of sales. The new fiancé, in particular, was as real as the policeman who knocks on your door in the night.

Unfortunately, he himself had ceased to be real. How careless, how foolhardy, to not tend to his reality before now! He could not make himself entirely visible; he flickered at the table. He was not quite there -- of course not, he was a visitor. He might suddenly disperse, if someone happened to open a window, or turned on the exhaust fan above the stove.

If only someone had explained to him twenty years ago, how regrettable it was to be always a visitor. Back when he might have done something about it, back when he was real. At least he presumed he'd been real. It was possible he'd always been somewhat lacking in this department.

Other people knew better, as he understood now when he suggested, repeatedly, painfully, that they might yet visit him. They looked at him pityingly, with real distaste, as if he had suggested some game of make-believe, when they had real grown-up things to do.

Why had it taken so long for him to notice the parentheses draped around his shoulders, or this enormous asterisk, like a desiccated spider, floating in the air beside his head?

He tried to console himself it was a reasonable mistake, which anyone could have made. Spending overmuch time with himself, as he did, he was prone to think himself significant. Other people, who saw him seldom, were less likely to fall into error.

And so, like an amphibious creature, he slid from visibility at the dinner table, and contemplated life in one world or the other.

If he stayed away, might he not develop in the other place, at least the appearance of solidity? Could he make-believe until convinced and proceed from there to convincing other people?

To be free at last of visiting. Visit, Visited, Have Visited: to thrash about seeking visibility, the primary effect of which is to fling muck.

Instead he intended to sink permanently from view, so as to obtain thereby the chance of being visible elsewhere.

And so a visitor ceased to visit, and what was seen rarely was now not seen at all, and what was barely noticed was not noticed at all: like a freckle on the underside of an aging arm, like a dun-colored migratory bird.

Whether this person attained reality elsewhere is unknown. Certainly it is to be doubted, considering his tenuous and attenuated state.

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