Where on the spectrum of loyalty and betrayal does song begin? And where does it end? I think each writer has to decide this over and over.
In late afternoon Tintin and Clavdia strolled arm in arm along the grassy trail leading to the summit of the ancient city.
“Come to Marlinspike, live with me. Inseparable and happy. Think now what has opened to us! We shall meet each day as an adventure, never to be bored or sad, always to do as we feel and wish. Clavdia, so few humans have our chances.”
“To wake in the mornings in our broad bed, under Egyptian sheets; to start our hearts to beat in lovemaking—I shall improve and make you happier—then to breakfast (only now do I understand how lovely that): silver trays aglow on the rich wooden table, on which rest Georgian silver forks and knives beside thick linen serviettes, on table and highboy the morning’s freshly cut flowers. Before I imagined sharing one with you, to me, all meals were merely necessary intervals that broke the day. Breakfast shall be our most sacred meal, as it is the one that heralds and fuels our each new day together. What would you like? Cold poached salmon with a touch of dill or capers, or perhaps a lighter fare, some spoonfuls of choice caviar between drafts of chilled French champagne? Then coffee, brewed from beans still fresh from the blue, wet hills of Jamaica … or some other kind of caffeinated beverage should you prefer.”
“My little menu, I’ve had all that all my life.”
“With someone you love and who loves you?”
“But all that does not count now. There’s never been happiness before. Why fasten the past to our present lips?”
“The past lives in my every cell. Every gesture of my every day.”
“Nonsense you! A man is his cohered world, all that which has made him his power, his cufflinks. A man is where and with whom he dines, the stitch and cut of his shoes, the lines of his luggage.”
“You loved me, not my monograms and suspenders.”
“And like you still. But we can’t make oaks from acorns in one night. My dear Tintin, take what we’ve had as a present of fortune, for that lovely moment it was. It is unfair to attempt to build on what was so captivating, so fleeting, so spontaneous an impulse. And of course, there is him.
Do you think I can cast off his weight like that? Sooner toss an iceberg. And when I do shed him and grief has its end, I must live my life anew and with no hint of the tainted past. There’s no less affection for you in that, but you can’t expect me to begin again with you or with anyone just yet.”
“Why not? You break my heart just now I’ve gotten one. It’s cruel of you.”
“No recriminations, no regrets. Don’t press me, or soon I shall loathe you, as I sometimes did my former guardian, my keeper. Let the future recall us tenderly.”
“My God, Clavdia, I feel it. It’s breaking. It’s the cliff for me too, then.”
“So be it. I can’t and won’t stop you. No one person is sufficient, no one person can be all for us for too long. I can’t endure any one person too long. Nothing for too long, especially myself.”
A condor soared above them in an ever-narrowing spiral, as if winging to some point of infinity in the leaden sky. A chilling cloud passed over Tintin’s heart.
“He will fly that way until his lungs burst,” Tintin said.
“That’s farfetched,” Clavdia answered, her voice terse.
“Perhaps, but for that creature it is true; he neither knows nor cares why he aspires so fatally upward, but it is his time to do so.”
“And what pretty analogy shall you make from that? Are we being signaled of man’s urge for the beyond, the above, the high?”
“Humans long for the everything.”
“Quite the philosopher! All this from one who only yesterday was incapable of—”
A sudden gust of wind blew across the trail, taking Clavdia’s words away with it to the gorge below.
“I grow to know less and less of yesterdays, Clavdia. These roses under my window make no reference to former roses or to better ones; they are for what they are; they exist with God today. There is no time to them.
There is simply the rose; it is perfect in every moment of its existence. Before a leaf bud has burst, its whole life acts; in the full blown flower there is no more; in the leafless root there is no less. Its nature is satisfied, and it satisfies nature in all moments alike. But man postpones or remembers; he does not live in the present, but with reverted eye laments the past, or, heedless of the riches that surround him, stands on tiptoe to foresee the future. He cannot be happy and strong until he too lives with nature in the present, above time.”
“Above time! Indeed. A gallant speech to direct at me, who is your elder and each day drifting to youth’s end. Your mouth grows wiser by the hour, but your heart stays offensively simple.”
“Your soul has no age, my Clavdia.”
“More pretty speeches. Is this rhetoric the fruit of your new learning?”
“I learn new things each day,” Tintin said, his blue eyes darkening.
“Wonderful! You learn all that which is common knowledge to most men.”
“I have had to begin from the naked origins of things, but I soon shall thrust ahead, far beyond the common scope.”
“What did you learn today, for instance?”
“That you are discontent down to your marrow.”
“Revelation! You’re ablaze with perception.”
“Clavdia, your scorn wounds me and blurs you in my loving eyes. You grow harsh and hard.”
“Because you oppress me. I feel oppressed by you. You were delightful when innocent, someone to play with, a novelty. But you’ve grown too solemn. I admit you are better looking now, beautiful, in fact, golden, a man’s slim body, your voice mellow, your gestures smooth, but I’m weary of you. I am obscure by nature—though I think I hide it well—and need light, and light men, distance, distraction. If you were a tango dancer or a polo player, you would calm me by your natural indifference to my misery. But you want to protect me—and look at the results—you love me without proper reserve, and I’m growing to dislike you for it.”
“And I thought, still think in some dream I had of you, though that shall perhaps fade, that you were matchless. That while the world, save animals and plants and stones, was murky and plain, you illuminated this shadow earth.”
“And I thought,” Clavdia said sorrowfully, “often still think in some forgotten dream of ours, that you were intended for me, my cells matched to yours. Well, dream or no, I do care for you yet.”
“Then, Clavdia,” Tintin pleaded, “let us begin again, a new life together, come—
Contigo mano a mano
busquemos otro Ilano
busquemos otros montes y otros rios,
otras valles floridos y sombrios,
donde descanse y siempre pueda verte
ante de ojos mios
sin miedo y sobresalto de perderte.”
“Life has many paths, roads, stations, and we shall emerge and disappear, connect and disconnect, in different guises and moods. We have had our moment, but we have lingered over it too long, have let it ripen into sorrow and distraction, into what we now have become to each other,” Clavdia said, her hand caressing Tintin’s stricken face.
Tintin glared at her a moment through the dusk, and the next instant she felt his arms about her and his lips on her own lips. His kiss was like white lightning, a flash that spread, and spread again, and stayed.
Clavdia felt Tintin’s warm tears on her cheek and lips; she felt his soul strain to preserve itself, to remain within him, fearful lest it fly from the youth’s parted mouth into her own. She drew back abruptly, leaving him momentarily with his arms partly outstretched, his torso inclined as if preparing to board a train that had unexpectedly shot away.
Seeing him in such stunned solitude, his face careworn, his eyes swollen and red-rimmed, Cladvia felt herself soften, opening to him as a mother would to her own hurt child; she would press him to her breast, stroke him, call him sweet names, she would take him back to the hotel, bathe and feed him, undress and make love to him, she would take him into her tenderly, letting him release his anguish in her pitying embrace. But this impulse, noble and plausible as it first seemed, presently felt too imbued with the murky spirits of self-sacrifice and guilt and thus dangerous to her own safety and need for flight. Tintin would have to fend for himself in this world where human feelings change profoundly and suddenly, and if he broke, it was he in his untried soul who broke, but not she, who would return to her separate self once again.
“She turned from the young man, and much as her heart yearned toward him, she would not profane that heavy parting by an embrace or even a pressure of the hand. They parted, in all outward show, as coldly as people part whose whole mutual intercourse has been encircled within a single hour.”
Tintin watched Cladvia descend to the hotel, her steps slow, her head and shoulders cast downward. He would have pursued her, held her back, attempted, in some way, by argument or further expression of his passion, to win her to him again. But another yet stranger impulse gradually invaded him, displacing momentarily the dark trembling emptiness in his body with an anguish so deep as to make him reel. He felt his life current deserting him through his mouth and fingertips. He sat himself down on a smooth stone, his head bowed to his chest, his arms locked about himself in a tight embrace, eyes shut. He thought he would go to the precipice where Peeperkorn had hurtled off and take a plunge himself. “It’s the cliff for me, too, then,” he heard himself say once again. It was dark and silent; a single star glowed in the sky. Tintin attempted to rise, thinking to fling himself off the precipice, but felt too weak to pursue the effort. He wished his life would be kind enough simply, and with no exertion of his own, to cease.
“Stop, life!” he whispered to himself.
Suddenly a voice coming from the earth beneath him answered in mimic: “Stop, life. Listen to this kid, will ya? Stop, life. That’s a good one. Stop, life. Look at this, this guy’s gonna flood us with his little boy’s weepy eyes. Hey cut it out. You’re drenching me with that salty eyewash. Whatsa matter, big boy, your girl just ditch ya? Stop, life. That’s about the best I heard these last years. Hey, fool, why don’t you get going and blubber on someone else? I’m still trying to dry out from last week’s downpour.”
“Everyone, even the earth, has a voice these times,” Tintin answered.
“Shove off, will ya? Go kiss and make up, yeah, and make out while ya at it. Give her a good one for me, and cut out the bull. Stop, life! Look, I’ve seen it all, kiddo. I’ve been a regular sex mattress for a couple a million years. Everything’s made it here, snakes, jaguars, rabbits, snails ‘n’ a zillion tons a humans, all plowing away like there’s no tomorrow. So where do you come off with all that stuff? You think you’re the first chump ever got creamed by love? Beat it, you’re making me old before my time. STOP LIFE!”
“I don’t take to your insolence.”
“Well, ain’t that tough? Whatta you gonna do, piss on me? Kick me to pieces? For a smart guy like you you’re one dumb dummy. Take some friendly advice: Shove the sob story, and find yourself another girl—everyone’s dating these days. A good looking guy like you shouldn’t have himself no trouble. STOP LIFE.”
“What you say, however coarsely expressed, is sensible, my friend earth. But what to do? I love and am not loved. I suffer.”
“Suffering’s unfashionable, kiddo. I know you got a dreamy side, but ‘believe me … you know not what is requisite for your spiritual growth, seeking, as you do, to keep your soul perpetually in the unwholesome region of remorse. It was needful for you to pass through that dark valley, but it is infinetly dangerous to linger there too long; there is poison in the atmosphere, when we sit down and brood in it … Has there been an unalterable evil in your young life? Then crowd it out with good, or it will lie corrupting there forever, and cause your capacity for better things to partake its noisome corruption!’”
Moved by this advice and the thousand thoughts it bred, Tintin knelt to the earth and fervently kissed the humid soil.
“Now you’re getting the point, Tintin. One last word then, before I leave you, with my blessing. Remember always, ’The soul goes steadily forwards creating a world away before her, and leaving worlds always behind her; she has no dates, nor rites, nor persons, nor specialties, nor men. The soul knows only the soul. All else is idle weeds for her wearing.’ Go then, life’s wonderful child, take to your vision, and leave all else beside.”
Tintin absorbed these words with a sigh, each word penetrating and healing even the darkest reaches of his misery. He need not to be alien to himself, provided he took the requisite measures.
He reckoned now that his former self had died, that all he had taken as life, encounters, alliances, tables, the palaver of the street, bore the same relationship as the top of the sea to the life beneath it. He had, all these years, skirted the surface of the water merely; now he would swim and dive among the sharks as well as minnows.
“Henceforth I shall commence each day with START LIFE,” Tintin said humbly, the tears in his eyes shed no longer in remorse and grief but in gratitude for the lessening of his pain and for the quickening sense of hope and renewal. He would follow life wherever it lead him, even to the sources of its pain and joy; he would live, not as do most men, married to guilt and fear, ill from want of love, dreading time and failure, but with a calm in the certainty of life’s plentitude.
Love, he thought had made him human, had given him reference to the deepest longings of his species; the sorrow of love had triggered his desire for death—the beautiful good, consoling motherfather, the great dark purple river—and had transformed him before he had a chance to break him into something higher than human, had elevated him among the recluses and seers, but he had yet to undergo another transformation, one more accelerated and radical than that which he had recently experienced. Mysterious how, by the moment, new sensations, ideas, powers, coursed their way through him; how, even now, Clavdia seemed an intense incident in his intense compressed history—although he knew that his grief would return time and time again.
When Tintin returned to the hotel the earliest light of morning had spread over the mountains, he found Captain Haddock, blazer rumpled, his face sagging with fatigue, waiting for him on the veranda.
“Worried about you, my boy.”
“No need, Captain. Get some rest.”
Something’s up, Snowy thought raising himself from Haddock’s side, knew it when that sad lady came back alone, her face white as a desert bone. Better stay close by.
“Too late now for that. We’re all leaving for Cuzco on the morning bus, Tintin.”
“Without me, my dear friend.”
Snowy’s ears froze; his little body quivered.
“Thundering castanets! You’re going too far.”
“Beyond,” said Tintin with a slight wave of his hand.
This is an excerpt from Tintin in the New World. The novel will be out in June from William Morrow. Frederic Tuten is the author of two previous books, The Adventures of Mao on the Long March, and Tallien: A Brief Romance. He lives and works in Paris and New York.
Where on the spectrum of loyalty and betrayal does song begin? And where does it end? I think each writer has to decide this over and over.