For Gabriel García Márquez, written for the occasion of The Bluebird Reading series: cien minutos de recuerdos para Márquez, hosted by Jessica Ceballos.
“Just as real events are forgotten, some that never were can be in our memories as if they happened.”
― Gabriel García Márquez, Memorias de mis Putas Tristes
Outside the window he saw the evening light, sky dimming. The evening, as usual, seemed endless to him. And though he had never really understood the meaning of that phase, he felt the magnetization of the moon which had moved slightly since yesterday and the window, like an eye desaturated by dust and glass, stood between him and the rustling leaves outside. He could not hear the leaves but felt the resonance as seen by the visibly moving leaves, side to side, swaying, dusty, still warm and very pale.
He imagined himself a bird and remembered the many deaths of his friends, bold public demonstrations on the streets and in the skies, so many winged creatures that would fall from the sky.
“When I was a bird,” he said to himself, before pouring himself another drink, hands unsteady and shaking. He paused to consider the phrase “time passed” and wondered about this inexplicable fear that had been entering into his diaphragm every evening after settling darkness. He ran his finger along the edge of his glass before lifting it to take a drink, to try and settle the unsettledness that came with the settlingness of night.
“When I was a bird,” he started again, imagining a bird, sitting on an electric wire, perhaps watching the sunset or perhaps watching the people below, or perhaps not paying attention to anything around him, simply sitting in perpetual grace and indignity.
A fight could break out below and the bird could simply sit, an inconsequential witness to an inconsequential event.
“When I was a bird, I could confess my memories into the sky.”
He had stopped going to confession years ago. After his mother died, it had been difficult for him to continue any of the relationships that had really revolved around her. He had never seen the point of prayer, though in these times of darkness, certain wounds would reveal themselves and he would imagine himself inside the confessional, difficulty breathing, sparrow hands shaking, unfamiliar voice on the other side offering forgiveness for things he didn’t really believe he needed forgiveness for. Those moments inside that wooden box had seemed endless, strange witnessing of dancing shadows on walls and foot tapping against the side, a polished stone in one hand and a dead crow in the other. He was sitting just to sit, and when his mother would pull him out by his hand, he only knew to nod when she nodded and to cry when she cried.
He had read a book on Scholastic philosophy and had come across the term “aevum,” the mode of existence experienced by angels and by the saints in heaven. It was a state that lay logically between the eternity and timelessness of God and the temporal experience of human beings. In other words, it was a sort of “improper eternity,” a strange receding into the permanence of being but the maintenance of a peculiar distance from the relationships between moving bodies that made time possible and felt. That is, these evenings when the sky would sit beautiful and pale and yellow and rusty, the world seemed to deepen according to a certain time that felt endless yet gradual, imperceptible yet known by color and coldness. His nose felt frigid and this indicated to him a certain time of day that wasn’t quantifiable yet recognizable.
And yet, these evenings he would remember his mother and he could recall that it had been exactly 721 days 13 hours and 7 minutes since his mother’s heart had stopped beating, her yellowing face the only memory he could see clearly, the only one he clung to even while pushing her away as the light dimmed and deepened outside, the perception of color changing the course of events, changing all of history laid out like a desperate road untangling itself through the woods.
The memory of his mother’s death of course was independent of the sun setting yet the twisting of his stomach tied these two events inextricably and now, having had quite a bit to drink already, he felt a strange and uncomfortable warmth creep up to where his heart might be.
Any measure of time also measured the changeableness of choice and yet the endless evening swallowed any attempt at regret that might emerge and all he could recall was the scene from this morning: a recently dead crow in the middle of the road, probably hit by an oncoming car. Another crow kept circling and landing on the ground next to the dead crow and flapping its wings, desperately trying to protect the body and perhaps ward off traffic, but none of the cars stopped, hardly slowly down or even steering out of the way while the frantic crow was forced to watch the body of the other crow repeatedly get trampled by car after car after car.
“When I was a bird,” he mouthed.
One scholar had written, “Aevum is the proper sphere of every created spirit… At death, [the body’s] distracting relation to matter’s time ceases to affect the soul so that it can experience its proper aeviternity.”
But he knew that eternity or time out of time did not and could not exist. His mother’s body was rotting beneath the ground, after all, and any duration between time and eternity would still fall victim to light and darkness and at the end of the day, all he could do was wait and watch and remember.
Another drink, he thought. When I was a bird, he thought. I used to be frightened, he thought.
Stuck in the “middest” of his world, he smelled the almonds burning in the kitchen and decided to let them burn, that the memories of almonds were like layers of fog, intent and regret rolled into the aroma of nuts, yet the burning smell, in its unpleasantness, the smoke slowly permeating into his room and dancing spirals on the cold glass of the window, masked that felt duration of endlessness, of “time passed,” and in the burning and smoke and fire he could remember something besides his mother, besides her death, besides the violence of loss that shook him awake at night and left him shaking there on top of his sheets until the light permeated his eyelids. He could now remember when he used to be a bird.
Outside, the bird, sitting on the wire, continued to sit. There is little more that is as elegant as a bird, sitting, its erect posture, the silhouette of its beak against the pale orange sky, existing just to exist, sitting just to sit. And yet there is little more that lacks dignity as the bird, utterly naive to the other world, one in which moments are organized into previously calculated units and counted by fingers and hands, one in which it is possible to be late and it is possible to be early.
Of course in the end, when all the people have perished, the birds will remain, their silhouettes still elegant against the setting-sun-sky.
The bird sits because it sits in a mode in which things can be perpetual without being eternal. Breath enters through its diaphragm and the experience of falling in love is irrelevant to the bird but the sky continues to change color, continues to—
The bird sits to observe the wounds, extensions, oblivions, and swallowing-ups of the world, the everything else. It understands the patterns of the sky. It understands that the sun sets and rises each day, that it must eat to survive. It understands that in order to fly, it must use its wings.
The bird, like the man, is an artist, utterly tied to the world around him and utterly ignored for its efforts. In its world, loss is natural and necessary but also expansive and felt and momentary. The bird, like the man, is needed by no one but knows to persist anyway, and because the sky asks gently and forcefully, and because the darkness always comes, it will continue to persist by any means necessary.