Arrival – Departure: The falling in between and the floating after
– By Rob Knijn
Even now, as Anna’s disintegrating body is slowly spreading out over a small area near the linden tree, she knows she will see the sun every day. Just like the night, for that matter. Twilight even twice a day.
They had never really understood each other, her mother and Anna. When Anna was four years old she still woke up crying every night. They may have gotten used to it, but neither of them understood why it was necessary all the time. Or when mother moved abroad to earn money and Anna was left with her aunt as a ten-year-old, there was little understanding, at least with Anna. On the other hand mother could never accept that Anna chose not to go to college, despite having the highest grades in her class. Or, and this is the last example, that mother insisted that Anna’s tonsils be removed simply because her own had been removed though such an operation had long since ceased to be standard practice.
Maybe it just didn’t really turn out as they had hoped it would. This did not really discourage them; they were both accepting the status quo.
Because of all the years of not understanding there was at most determined affection between them, not more. There was an idea of caring for the other though – the affection made that possible. Plus they didn’t give each other a hard time either, which sometimes even created a kind of lightness of being.
Last year, while she was still well, Anna’s mother told of her longing for the time before she was born. From before mother’s own birth, that is. She said she hoped the time after her death would be like that. Before she was born there had been nothing, a nothingness in the most neutral grey – a monochromatic perfection. It was very quiet there without being deafening (you sometimes hear that too – people speaking of deafening silence). The feeling there in the grey was very soft, quiet, supportive, secure. It’s no wonder she was an admirer of Vilhelm Hammershøi’s work. It smelled like water there, by the way.
The void before the presence. Being a painter herself, mother was very aware of the struggle that creation brought. The prodding on a canvas. Being in the dark most of the time, is the new work in progress ever worth seeing the light of day? To submerge oneself in grey taking the dispassionate Hammershøi approach, both in subject and in colour, seemed like such an elegant solution.
Now that her time here had been so long – to her life felt more like a free fall than something over which control was possible – she especially wanted less light and less pressure from the world. She longed more and more fiercely for neutrality, absence perhaps.
She went blind within a few months because of the light that seemed to burn in her eyes. Whether this was real or imagined was not entirely clear. In any case from a certain point on she had her dark sunglasses on permanently. She closed herself off more with each day having only sporadic contact with Anna in the end. It was like she was falling faster and faster.
Things cannot go on like this any longer Anna decided. And on 17th December, exactly on Saturnalia (you couldn’t deny Anna some sense of drama), she took over the role of mother from her mother quite smoothly. She fulfilled that role with as much dedication as her mother had done for her. That is, dutifully and minimally. That was enough, and perhaps Anna even grew a little bit closer to her mother, maybe this new role fitted her.
Anna brought her mother – as it was an old wish of hers – to the little cabin in the valley. This was a special place because the sun never touched it, even when it was high in the sky in summer. So it was always dark, one could not even really sense a difference between night and day. Strangely Anna’s eyes never got used to so much darkness.
A brief list of what was present in the very austere hut: two buckets, a small table, three chairs, some knives and an old silver-plated candlestick, but no candle. No windows, only one door. There was also no phone reception. Anna had been in the hut once before, a long time ago; her mother used to go down there every once in a while.
It may have been very black and quiet there all day and every day (can one even speak of day?), but it was not as one might assume, depressing. In the deepest depths of the ocean the most wonderful creatures live, also devoid of light, and one cannot say of them that they are necessarily depressed either. Or happy for that matter. They are also just living their lives, like us.
They don’t speak to each other much, mostly they say nothing. To be more precise, it is only Anna who sporadically makes a comment that does not require an answer, and there is none. The dissolution, insofar as it was still necessary between them, was well under way. Mother sat there unmoving, uncomfortable too, in that old chair. The continuous darkness quickly made their skin very pale, almost transparent. That didn’t really matter, especially as it was so dark you couldn’t see it anyway. Nor was there anyone else there to see it.
Anna had the feeling that all that was happening there at the bottom of the earth was just one moment, as if time was stacked, vertical. Maybe that was, she thought, because there was only the one long continuous night. And maybe also because actually nothing was happening anyway. Time ensures that not everything takes place at the same moment, but that’s not how it felt to Anna here. Could there be time without light, she wondered. With that thought she said to her mother ‘I’m leaving’. She has had enough of this apparent nothingness. She wanted to leave her mother and the cabin to be able to feel some light again or at least the alternation of light and dark.
Anna assured herself that her mother was as silent as she had been the rest of the days spent there and then made her way outside and up. With each step her strength slowly returned. This was necessary because she had a steep climb ahead of her. Atop the snowy mountain – by now quite exhausted after a few hours of climbing anyway – on the left side of the mountain-enclosed valley, and knowing that light would touch her every day, she lay down.
Rob Knijn is a Dutch painter. In his work he addresses the idea that we are essentially alone, unable to fully understand the other. This deficiency is the reason for suffering and conflict among other things. Despite this glumness, try to rejoice in the falling which is your life if you can. You will bump into some beauty on the way down.