The House Of Dust: Part 03: 04: Illicit by Conrad Aiken
Of what she said to me that night—no matter. The strange thing came next day. My brain was full of music—something she played me—; I couldn't remember it all, but phrases of it Wreathed and wreathed among faint memories, Seeking for something, trying to tell me something, Urging to restlessness: verging on grief. I tried to play the tune, from memory,— But memory failed: the chords and discords climbed And found no resolution—only hung there, And left me morbid . . . Where, then, had I heard it? . . . What secret dusty chamber was it hinting? 'Dust', it said, 'dust . . . and dust . . . and sunlight . . A cold clear April evening . . . snow, bedraggled, Rain-worn snow, dappling the hideous grass . . . And someone walking alone; and someone saying That all must end, for the time had come to go . . . ' These were the phrases . . . but behind, beneath them A greater shadow moved: and in this shadow I stood and guessed . . . Was it the blue-eyed lady? The one who always danced in golden slippers— And had I danced with her,—upon this music? Or was it further back—the unplumbed twilight Of childhood?—No—much recenter than that.
You know, without my telling you, how sometimes A word or name eludes you, and you seek it Through running ghosts of shadow,—leaping at it, Lying in wait for it to spring upon it, Spreading faint snares for it of sense or sound: Until, of a sudden, as if in a phantom forest, You hear it, see it flash among the branches, And scarcely knowing how, suddenly have it— Well, it was so I followed down this music, Glimpsing a face in darkness, hearing a cry, Remembering days forgotten, moods exhausted, Corners in sunlight, puddles reflecting stars—; Until, of a sudden, and least of all suspected, The thing resolved itself: and I remembered An April afternoon, eight years ago— Or was it nine?—no matter—call it nine— A room in which the last of sunlight faded; A vase of violets, fragrance in white curtains; And, she who played the same thing later, playing.
She played this tune. And in the middle of it Abruptly broke it off, letting her hands Fall in her lap. She sat there so a moment, With shoulders drooped, then lifted up a rose, One great white rose, wide opened like a lotos, And pressed it to her cheek, and closed her eyes.
'You know—we've got to end this—Miriam loves you . . . If she should ever know, or even guess it,— What would she do?—Listen!—I'm not absurd . . . I'm sure of it. If you had eyes, for women— To understand them—which you've never had— You'd know it too . . . ' So went this colloquy, Half humorous, with undertones of pathos, Half grave, half flippant . . . while her fingers, softly, Felt for this tune, played it and let it fall, Now note by singing note, now chord by chord, Repeating phrases with a kind of pleasure . . . Was it symbolic of the woman's weakness That she could neither break it—nor conclude? It paused . . . and wandered . . . paused again; while she, Perplexed and tired, half told me I must go,— Half asked me if I thought I ought to go . . .
Well, April passed with many other evenings, Evenings like this, with later suns and warmer, With violets always there, and fragrant curtains . . . And she was right: and Miriam found it out . . . And after that, when eight deep years had passed— Or nine—we met once more,—by accident . . . But was it just by accident, I wonder, She played this tune?—Or what, then, was intended? . . .