A world of broken mirrors
A fractured lid, lip eye,
and sky and sky
Empty bullets of sun, holes of light twitched on her legs making them look especially still, dead even. ‘Peace infinitum’. Death was everywhere. So completely inside her body and out, she drifted between the two. So that the strings of flickering light at once scribbled vanishing patterns on thin legs and burned them fiercely with the pace of the initial shot. She was. A tired body that didn’t know it yet, lying in the perfect mess of a perforated ‘little fortress’. Since their arrival in 1936, she woke every morning to this feeling of displacement. They had let themselves devour and be devoured by the revolution, feeding off each other’s fever. Late nights, telephone calls with comrades, plans and plans and plans. They ran, tripped, skipped away from it all and landed in the desert, words half spoken and caught in throat. Every night she slept in Russia and woke in Mexico, and the confusion of it all made her turn her mind to him before she looked. Expanding or shrinking her awareness to find him first then moving and planning from there. He was already up. At his desk probably and she felt it, she was sure, even though she could have guessed. He had never stopped writing – replying, recruiting, drafting. Reproducing the Fourth International with every written line. She wondered just for a moment whether he woke with the same feeling; whether he wrote to replace it. Perhaps what he understood was not his responsibility to a workers collective, but to her. The revolution that led a coup and fed a love thirty years ago had become the lace that tied their lives to one another, to meaning, to anything beyond Coyoacan and madness. The Blue House. Perhaps he saw this all, how the shape of their laughs, the colour of time even was sculpted by this projected reality –The Fourth International! Bright and true like Rivera’s paintings. Even the irresponsibility of the Frieda affair was talked about in terms of the damage it could do to the cause of the Fourth International. Everything was the revolution. Or perhaps nothing. Sometimes it seemed nothing more than the currency with which they bargained their time.
Really it was early still and she could have gone back to sleep but the calm of remembering and locating the character of her purpose, had sharpened her focus. Her hard eyes fixed a crack on the ceiling and quietly she planned the day.
Breakfast in the garden. Heijenoort had been at the dancehall and if he was up in time, he would feel his dulled wits and sore head all the more for the comments Leon would make. She hoped he would not wake. If he didn’t Leon might talk to her about his book and listen to her thoughts. She liked hearing him talk about this book more than the others. Kerensky, Zinoviev, Rykov – names of people whose faces she’d forgotten long ago had fallen away from his writing, or at least it appeared that way. He had slowed down and whereas in the afternoon as his siestas grew longer, this elicited a sting of panic, in the mornings she could enjoy his peace.
Her body moved through the morning leaving her thoughts steady on the ceiling. She’d never seen the crack before. There hadn’t been the time. Time hadn’t always wedged itself between her mind and her movements. Her feet, like thoughts were warm on cold stone. She disagreed with the environment where before it had breathed with her. When she prepared their apartment for his return to St. Petersburg in 1905, (her feet), the floor, the bread, the windows she cleaned conspired together and her sweat reeked of the revolution. She didn’t feel the dusty boards because she didn’t have time to. He had given the speech in October from the balcony and they had laughed and fought and sang into the night of each other’s bodies. They hadn’t even had time to get married and now that it had grown up all around her like a weed, she spent her days swinging between memories, trying to push beyond. Last week she’d read an article on the war on Islam in Uzbekistan -women had been murdered for unveiling themselves. She’d found in it, as she always could, evidence for the failure of the Stalinist regime to incite the revolution in its satellite states. A murmur of tension, her heart and her mind engaged. But in the moment between laying down the pages and picking up the pen to write a review for Munis she sensed the disjuncture of it all. ‘Women’s liberation’, ‘religious oppression’ but no way of feeling the temperature, to live through and amongst the people. Review and critique. A silent life: a page turned, a nib scratched. They wrote furiously and maintained correspondence in an attempt at feeling but hindsight and foresight bound them in limbo. Their present was a discordant mixture of was and will be.
Time fled through the little house, swept Natalia up and moved the day through its motions. Onions browned, garlic sweating, three carrots, one chicken boiled. Letters opened, letters replied, letters ‘To Read’. She slid into the garden and let the morning fall away.
The sun was balancing above the tree at the furthest end of the garden, resting on its descent from midday, as Jan Frankel showed Jacson in to the house. He was young and serious and didn’t catch Natalia’s smile from the bench where she sat. Here, a person presented himself burning with the revolution and it shocked her. He had marched across the lawn practically blazing his path, the path whilst she mourned its dissolve from the shrubbery. The character of his face had been the last she saw in Russia and it reminded her of that frantic last day. The stream of well-wishers, pretending not to know the gravity of the situation, bid them farewell with eager eyes reflecting a future that still shone. She remembered so well the texture of the day. Her palms were damp with sickness and a heat hung about her head that made her cringe with every snap of suitcase buckle and jolt as it dropped the steps from their apartment. But the people themselves she couldn’t see. She had known they would be gone only a while and would return soon. Sentiment wasn’t necessary. She hadn’t known then that Alma Ata would become Turkey, then France, then Norway.
Her mind settled on the cactus near the door to the house and it bore the weight of her reflection. Before, they hadn’t kept plants; flowers weren’t required. If they had been, it would be because the revolution willed it and the flowers would have grown like they had from its soil. Now, she thought, an old man plants a seed and prays. Or rather watches and thinks, writes. Watches nature’s force, disconnected. The revolution had once been faceless, inevitable. Everyday now, was a challenge to reach beyond the familiar – she tried to find inevitability, ineffability in his ageing face. She sighed. It had been a morning of focused contemplation but not of and towards the revolution. It was shameful, she felt herself separate in place, in time, in league from a worker’s collective, like a rain drop broken from the body of water and feeling its boundaries in the air. She looked towards the house and felt the tug – he was in the study. There was purpose in the immediate future – more filing and cooking to do. She dispelled stagnant thoughts as a symptom of age. She trusted Leon to know where to concentrate efforts and saw now the young man with the strong eyes, Jacson, with the clarity of his insight. Freed from her introversion, he appeared a blazon of hope, (a signal of change?), fresh interest, an oasis amidst the burgeoning super-reality of relations in Coyoacan. She felt the strength of his drive from a distance. The gap in feeling that had been widening all morning made this man appear as she’d remembered the war with the whites: a red line moving across white paper charting Leon’s progress. He had changed the country then, bringing colour where he went, painting the countryside red. She closed her eyes and her mind flew across the ocean towards the USSR, leaving a trail of purples and blues. She was walking on Nevsky Prospekt in the snow. Scarves choking the chatter of huge coats shuffling through. The wind only whistled a bitter yawn, but she walked naked feeling the dirty slush squeeze between her old toes. And the snow! It fell thick and every nearing flake carried her wonder, her eyes.
Time hiccupped and she woke to a yelp. The pace of the cry bypassed thought and sent her running towards his study. Leon and Jacson’s body’s were taught and moved together in a quivering dance in the centre of the room. She remembered now how her eyes had traced his legs and back and found the axe thick in his skull. How her breath stuck and she’d joined the dance. A well of anguish. No sound, no picture, no touch, no frame.
She didn’t know how long their bodies had struggled in a gyrating trance but sitting now on a plastic chair, hands frozen to his, it felt like the last movement she’d make. She’d frenzied chased tails of thoughts through her mind – a memory of an image, a taste, tomorrow – but her chest hardly rose with breath. The low sun swelled the room red and then filled in black. Her thoughts jammed on – how they’d come so far from a peopled force to rest in this tainted mirage. Everything here existed in interpretation: perception and recreation so that the sun now shone a funeral of light, red -a bloody ribbon that laced together his life and death. She saw in the contrast of the long evening shadows how the revolution had been mocked and distorted in a landscape of poetics. Carlo, Rivera, Peret had bled the revolution for its drama and whored it for their art. She felt him draining from her strong fingers, pulling her down into a catapult and as he dropped away she was flung into a space of no meaning.
She’d seen a truth – (the one he’d perhaps worked so hard to keep hidden) – in a butchered representation, a mirage. The revolution lay broken about her in the desert; shards of mirror reflecting piecemeal its fractured reality