“…Yet suddenly now all our constraint vanished and we were at last able to talk. It was as if this outburst had exploded the bubble of listlessness in which we had been enveloped all evening. ‘You see a different me’ she cried in a voice almost of triumph. ‘But once again the difference lies in you, in what you imagine you see!’ Her words rattled down like a hail of sods on an empty coffin.

‘How is it that you can feel no resentment against me? To forgive such treachery so easily – why, it is unmanly. Not to hate such a vampire? It is unnatural. Nor could you ever understand my sense of humiliation at not being able to regale, yes regale you, my dear, with the treasures of my inner nature as a mistress. And yet, in truth, I enjoyed deceiving you, I must not deny it. But also there was regret in only offering you the pitiful simulacrum of a love (Ha! that word again!) which was sapped by deceit. I suppose this betrays the bottomless female vanity again: to desire the worst of two worlds, of both words – love and deceit. Yet it is strange that now, when you know the truth, and I am free to offer you affection, I feel only increased self-contempt. Am I enough of a woman to feel that the real sin against the Holy Ghost is dishonesty in love? But what pretentious rubbish – for love admits of no honesty by its very nature.’ So she went on, hardly heeding me, arguing my life away, moving obsessively up and down the cobweb of her own devising, creating images and beheading them instantly before my eyes.

What could she hope to prove? Then she placed her head briefly against my knee and said: ‘Now that I am free to hate or love it is comical to feel only fury at this new self-possession of yours! You have escaped me somewhere. But what else was I to expect?’ In a curious sort of way this was true. To my surprise I now felt the power to wound her for the first time, even to subjugate her purely by my indifference! ‘Yet the truth’ I said ‘is that I feel no resentment for the past. On the contrary I am full of gratitude because an experience which was perhaps banal in itself (even disgusting for you) was for me immeasurably enriching!’ She turned away saying harshly: ‘Then we should both be laughing now.’ Together we sat staring out into the darkness for a long while.

Then she shivered, lighted a cigarette and resumed the thread of her interior monologue. ‘The post-mortems of the undone! What could you have seen in it all, I wonder? We are after all totally ignorant of one another, presenting selected fictions to each other!

I suppose we all observe each other with the same immense ignorance. I used, in my moments of guilt long afterwards, to try and imagine that we might one day become lovers again, on a new basis. What a farce! I pictured myself making it up to you, expiating my deceit, repaying my debt. But … I knew that you would always prefer your own mythical picture, framed by the five senses, to anything more truthful. But now, then, tell me – which of us was the greater liar? I cheated you, you cheated yourself.’ These observations, which at another time, in another context, might have had the power to reduce me to ashes, were now vitally important to me in a new way. ‘However hard the road, one is forced to come to terms with truth at last’ wrote Pursewarden somewhere. Yes, but unexpectedly I was discovering that truth was nourishing – the cold spray of a wave which carried one always a little further towards self-realization. I saw now that my own Justine had indeed been an illusionist’s creation, raised upon the faulty armature of misinterpreted words, actions, gestures.

Truly there was no blame here; the real culprit was my love which had invented an image on which to feed. Nor was there any question of dishonesty, for the picture was coloured after the necessities of the love which invented it. Lovers, like doctors, colouring an unpalatable medicine to make it easier for the unwary to swallow! No, this could not have been otherwise, I fully realized…”

Lawrence Durrell, The Alexandria Quartet (Clea).


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