Janus

"Yes," said the Lion in a very quiet voice, almost (Jill thought) as if he were laughing. "He has died. Most people have, you know. Even I have."
The Silver Chair, C.S. Lewis

For some reason - no, rather I should say, for some intuition I feel this is for Rachel. I say that because I could not tell you why this passage and this girl ought to go together. Perhaps it is merely because it is high time the girl got something specially from me. How odd a thing it is to dedicate one's dreams to another!

* * * * *

I realized that for a while I had assumed he had fallen asleep, for he was so motionless and quiet, and it was the perfect place for a cat-nap. I looked up from my notebook, my left hand automatically clicking the cap shut on the pen in my right; I looked up at his face, to see if he was still with me. He had his head back against the tree on which he leaned, his face turned away. I could not tell. After waiting a moment to see if my gaze might leak into his consciousness I gave up and looked away again.

The landscape was worth the pause. We sat together on a little hillock under a bare crab-apple, a place mostly of sunshine with little swallow-tail lancings of shadow, and all around us under the warm pale sun was the gently rolling spread of an ancient cemetery. There were no roads through it, only double-wide trackways for the hearses and little stone foot-paths around the graves and mausoleums. I took in a deep breath and tugged my knees up against my chest, squashing my notebook close, pulling in the fresh scents of autumn. Everything was a flame-colour around me: green and pale blue, ruddy, rich, wine-bright. I breathed the colour in and felt the flame of it flicker through my veins.

“It is very peaceful here.”

A gust of wind blew through my hair, obscuring the world in bars and streaks of chocolate and copper. “So, you are not asleep.”

He turned his head to me, still resting it on the tree-trunk. I saw in his eyes the same as I felt: the languid sleepy richness of the open, the quiet open, which was to us like sleeping while awake. It was a good, comfortable, familiar thing to us, and he was happy—happy in that warm, half-melancholy way of his—and because he was happy I was too.

He asked, “What is it that you write?”

“Do you know what I wish?” I replied. I turned my head so that the wind blew my hair out of my eyes instead of into them. “I wish I had a quill that wrote with fire instead of ink.”

“Mm,” he purred understandingly.

There was a stream at the foot of the cemetery, quite a distance off and a thread of pure blue under the pure blue sky. I could see a little blot of darkness on the surface of it and thought how grand it must be for geese to have so many skies to fly in, overhead and on the looking-glass sky of water.

I had the habit of going outside myself, trance-like, whenever I spoke in my own familiar language, because I am shy. I did not need to do it for him, but somehow the scenery and the geese on the water and the autumnal sky pulled me out regardless, and I spoke in my familiar language.

“It is a death-scene of sorts, for it seemed a good time and place to write, here, where it is quiet, where I can think, and Death’s train is raking up the leaves behind him as he keeps vigilance.”

“Of sorts?” he queried, one brow rampant. But he folded his arms around his thin frame and hunched forward, gazing off with a pensive look that, if you did not know him so well as I, you might mistake for darkness. I watched him for some time as his eyes roved over the landscape, waking with light and quenching with shadow, and waking again; I watched him and the thoughts that ran through the light in his eyes.

“There is a deep thing in your face.” I broke the silence at last. “What do you think of?”

He continued to stare, but he was very with me when he said, “This is a good plot of land. I think I will take it.” The corners of his mouth, which always had a touch of unconscious bitterness to them, twisted the bitterness into consciousness once more. “Maybe it is the height and overlook. I’ve always felt that handicap of mine somewhat keenly.”

I frowned, but forced a smile through the frown. “What of that? So do I. But you are tall-seeming, and that is enough. And anyway,” I settled back around, sliding over to press my own tired back against the supporting tree, “I am your Bad Wolf. I give you immortality.”

The bitterness flickered away beneath his steady pulse of warmth. He scooted through the grass to a nearly prostrate position, folding his arms behind his head; I could see the sky reflected so pale in his eyes, his eyes were almost silver but for their single spots of jet. It was like looking in the blue-jay’s eye, and it made me shiver.

“I have been thinking about death,” he admitted.

I looked sidewise at him sharply.

He sniffed and canted his head on his arms, looking up at me. “Truth to tell, it’s a subject that has dogged me for almost all my life.”

I was sitting tailor-fashion, and leaned forward a little awkwardly to steal the handkerchief from his coat-pocket so that my hands might have something to meddle with. “So?” I replied carefully. “Truth to tell, it has dogged me too. I was too young then to remember it now, but my parents tell me I felt the need for God-life after my grandmother’s funeral.” I smiled wryly and gave the handkerchief a mighty tug between my hands. “Funny odd thing, isn’t it? I’ve always felt the need for things to be right. It seems right that death should have prompted my salvation.”

“Mm,” he said, and for a while we were silent.

I unfolded one corner of the handkerchief and rubbed my fingers over the shiny black thread of the monogram. I asked without looking up, “What were you thinking specifically about death?”

“After it.”

“You mean the afterlife?”

“No,” he insisted gently, “I mean the afterdeath.”

I waited patiently for him to go on, but he seemed to be thinking of this as he went, for it was rather a long time before he continued, and a cloud came across the sun meanwhile that chilled me. Thankfully it went away again, and I stretched my arms languidly in the light, like a cat.

“I mean after death,” my companion went on, stretching likewise. “You know me, Half-pint. I hate death. I hate pain. They are so uncomfortable and so wrong and so—ever-present. Death hangs over all of us. Death hangs over everything. That is the curse. Death is the midwife that brings us all into the world, the unknown certainty of death following every child to adulthood, and seen at the end of the road waiting to receive us at the end. We all expect it as we expect some horrible surgery that we cannot avoid.

“You and I can look beyond that. We can expect a life after death—or, rather, a life whose vein runs deeper than the knife of death can plunge. We look beyond death to something better. But I have been thinking, after a lifetime here of living under the looming shadow of death, who could help but look back from the other side of it with relief?”

He was a conjuror. His words, like magic, thrust into my chest and grabbed me, heart and lungs and throat. I could not breathe. I could not see through the sudden spate of tears. I hung suspended in the thinness of my limbo-state in which I lived solely on the throb of his words.

There was a moral somewhere in that, I thought.

“After all that waiting, after all that tension of waiting, what spirit would not look back on the veil, on the darkness, on the surgery, and think, ‘It’s done’? It’s done. The worst is behind. There would be yet the resurrection, and nothing will be right until the resurrection, but death will be done and over with and behind us. The last worst pain. The last worst loss. The last worst severing from all earthly constraints. The last unknown into which we must go. We can look back on it from there and say—”

“It’s done.”

The words out of my mouth seemed to send spider-fine cracks across the surface of my thinness. Any moment now they would break, and I would be bare under that cold November wind.

He sat back up, hunched forward once more with his arms laid across his knees. With the sun and the wind in my eyes everything was like looking through cut glass, sharp, distorted, blinding bright.

“It is still frightening,” I said suddenly.

He thrust both shoulders up in an admitting way. “Of course. Just because you will be on the other side of the surgery does not make the surgery itself any less frightening. But there is an end to the surgery, and there is an end to death, too.” He smiled grimly. “I wonder what death will look back on.”

“The wonders of Ozymandius,” I supplied.

“And despair.”

I nodded.

“No,” he went on rapidly, “we’ll have a new king, and a new minting, and sin’s old coinage will be obsolete.” He turned up one hand and began idly rubbing his right thumb into his left palm, as if he could feel a kind of coin there already. “It is going obsolete already. We will pay the last toll exacted from all mankind. You have never been in debt—you don’t know the relief of having the last cent paid off and your books cleared.”

With characteristic stiffness he got to his feet, groaning a little, and stood against the racing backdrop of light and shadow, his hands in his pockets, the wind in his hair. I sat at his feet still, looking first from his face, which was far from me and almost awful, and then at the landscape, outflung like the wing of a phoenix before us.

His voice was hushed and urgent. “How like Janus we are, Half-pint! How curious it is that the Everlasting Now of God is broken up for us into pasts and presents and futures. I have spent my life thinking of now, and on occasion I have looked back, and I have thought of then—” he withdrew one hand and pointed to the far horizon, west of west “—but not until recently have I thought of looking back from then. It is a curious and strangely relieving thing.”

“I have found,” I remarked, getting up and taking him by the arm, for it was nearly time to go. “I have found that God’s curious things usually are.”

His eyes flashed laughter like a kingfisher's wing. "Come, you!" he said, bending to snatch up my notebook and thrusting it into my free hand. "Finish writing the death-scene of sorts for this story before he finishes writing yours."

"I have broken the thunder of my pen," I said accusingly, "now that we have gone on so long. Besides, I don't believe death writes us out at all. That is the problem with most thought."

My companion reached back and did violence to the collar of his coat, jerking it up around his ears as the wind, now that we were most free of the low turf, blew with an angry sea-fierceness into our faces. "No, no," he said, waving me off with his words. "I have tea and small-talk to conjure. That is a conversation you and I must have another day."

I laughed and went down the hill with him, though which of us supported the other, I could not say.

5 ripostes:

  1. Thank you, Jenny! :) I feel honored indeed to be the recipient of such a gift. Your words gave me a wistful, not wholly comfortable, but entirely pleased sensation--rather as if the thoughts they contained were too big to be thought by my small mind. :) Isn't it marvelous that as Christians, we don't need to fear death? That there will be a looking-back with a great, overwhelming sense of relief? :) Thanks again, dear!

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  2. This is a masterful piece of writing; the way you weave each word, it's really quite stunning. I particularly like this part:

    "I have broken the thunder of my pen," I said accusingly, "now that we have gone on so long. Besides, I don't believe death writes us out at all. That is the problem with most thought."

    This is a job well done. I would love to read more of similar material, if you ever do post it.
    Also, as Rachel said, it is a comforting thing that, as Christians, we need not fear death. The picture painted in my mind is really quite exciting, when you speak of turning ones gaze back to the painful surgery-like experience of death and being filled with that overwhelming sense of relief.

    God bless!

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  3. This left me breathless with it's beauty, Jenny. Thank you for sharing it with us. :)

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  4. I have been away from this blog, from your Thoughts, for far too long. JennyThoughts are beautiful things, they are. I feel awful for my absence, and for letting all your wisdom slip past me and my busy life.

    I breathed the colour in and felt the flame of it flicker through my veins.

    Your writing is Beauty, Jenny. I know this feeling. I've lived it. And to have you put it into the words that I could not express, left me full of almost an icy joy. My heart lurched and jumped to no end, crying "She understands!"

    “I have found that God’s curious things usually are.”

    I love you. Thank you for writing, and for sharing your little works with us fellow scribblers.

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  5. One other thing, Jenny. You've written in the finest tradition of women observing and writing about men, lovingly, with our feminine sensibility. A smaller thing than such great thoughts, but wonderful. I like the fact that you finish with the two walking down again hand-in-hand.

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