On February 14, 2001, I went to a certain pub in North Hobart to attend a local writers' open mic event, with a theme, rather appropriately, of Valentine's Day. I'd seen some fliers around. I went alone, carrying my journal in my bag. I was so nervous. My heart was in my throat the whole time. I didn't know what to order from the bar. I don't drink beer and I hadn't yet discovered the delights of sparkling wines. I settled on a Stones and ginger. I sat way at the back of the room. I watched and listened as, one after another, people went up to a small impromptu lectern and read stories, poems, letters and essays, all somehow related to the phenomenon of love in all its varied manifestations, aloud to the audience, perhaps some two dozen people. As each person finished their piece, there would be a moderate, polite round of applause. I was unsure as to the protocol or procedure for getting up the front to read, so I waited until it seemed that most people had already read, and there was an appropriate gap in proceedings. I got up to the mic. My heart was pounding, my whole body was trembling, I hoped imperceptibly, and it was an extraordinary effort to control the catch in my voice and put on my best Public Speaking accent and enunciation.
I read a page and a half from my journal, something of a short story, dated January 14, 2000. I was in Switzerland at the time I wrote it - just one of those mysterious, unbidden things that come out of nowhere and landed on my journal page, all in a complete piece, no drafting or planning or rewriting. I kept my Public Speaking voice together quite well. I came to the end and I looked up.
Something had happened that I didn't understand. The whole mood and atmosphere had altered palpably. People were sitting with stunned expressions, jaws slightly agape, as if they had had some kind of shock, or perhaps consumed several of those beers in a hurry, in the time I had been reading. There was silence. No one clapped. My cheeks flushed and burned. I put my journal back in my bag and slunk out of there as quickly as decently possible.
It was some years later that I happened to meet a man who had been the co-ordinator and organiser of that particular event. He told me with great excitement that everyone had been extremely impressed by my performance, and the group had hoped for a long time that I would come back, and that he was so glad he finally found me and got to meet me. I told him of my experience of the shocked faces and conspicuously absent applause. We shared a moment of wonder at the subjectivity of experience, and human misunderstandings, and the prospect of an alternate universe in which I had hung around, met people and perhaps done that sort of thing again.
Anyhow. This is the story that I told.
When I left you were still sleeping. Forgive me, I could not bear the awkwardness of meeting each other naked in the morning light, and I am sorry for the moment when you reached over to hold me and your embracing arm found only an empty space, size and shape of me, but you see it is best this way.
I awoke before the Sun, touched your eyelids for the last time and packed my things in the next room, careful not to disturb you sleeping so soundly under your blanket of soft fur, silently I folded and stuffed, silent but for the rasp of my uncertain breathing.
I stole out into the street in the first grey light of the new day, the first day of my life without you. You will see, it's best this way. I moved lightly under my heavy pack, down the slopes of the hill on which we lived, down into the valley where the morning mist lay, ready and waiting to cover my tracks as though we had arranged it all beforehand. By the time the mist fades under the midday sun I will be long gone, downstream to the next valley where the river opens out into the sea. I hear there are many fishing boats, maybe I can find some work.
I did not leave a note but a kiss folded up in an envelope I recycled from yesterday's newspaper. Trust me, it's best this way.
We lived together for many years in the little green hut made of moss and branches. Early in the afternoon you would return up from the market in town carrying the vegetables, and I would return down from the orchards where I had picked the fruit. In the evening you would read aloud to me in the speech of many tongues while I spun fibres all of the same colour. I was making for myself a travelling coat, long with a hood and deep pockets, though I did not know so at the time. But in the mornings we never spoke and never met, preparing ourselves for the day in our separate rooms, for the morning light is strongest in these parts and the window faces east.
And so as the sun set on that evening when we found the place where we no longer had edges but melded together into one, the moon rose fat and full like the egg that passed through the night of the interior of the body to meet your seed. Westward she sank as we sank exhausted into sleep, side by side. But alas that we chose the eastern room, the morning light threatens us, exposing every flaw and bleary line as it reflects off the edges of ourselves, the edges we denied. And so you see that is is best this way, now the morning light will shine on my path as I travel and I will no longer have need to withdraw from it, careful of exposure, but as you sit alone in the fading light tonight, know this my love:
I would follow you to the ends of the earth if you would take me, yea, I would summon all my courage to follow you to the eastern horizon and there in the dazzling dawn all the stories you told would fade from their pages, the fibres I spun would disintegrate and we would be left naked and without a language, defenseless against the eternal newness of the day, raw and without edges I will look at you and I promise you that I will not falter.
So until you are ready to leave, it is best this way: the birds will bring me news of you, and while I travel west into the fading light I do not close my ears to their song.