Strong men face strong crashes with bitterness or ecstasy. Bitterness claws the soul, vulture of unanswered "whys," black hunter hovering over moments frenzied by self-torment, shivering preys to the bird of doubt darting from the clouded mind. The sea has breathed thick rolling fog over rocks and cliffs. The foghorn ululates dull ravaging tones of death. They drop upon the brains they torture, rousing fever, implacable fever corroding the strength to bear the questioning of fate.
Why? oh, why?
Is it necessary that the body be racked, every bone be crushed before the caged embodied self may rise into freedom? Is it necessary that love decay into lust and the raving passion of males. Naked to torment as unavoidably as death to body? Is it necessary that concentrated life burst asunder the frame containing its pressures and leave it a wreck on the sea of moments, helplessly swaying with the tides of fate?
Why? oh, why?
Rocks were groaning under the sea-blows. They stood, though, harshly cemented to the earth with molecular compacts that only millenniums had power to dissolve. Redwoods aimed with red sap-anger dark arrows at gods they heard laughing and spitting fire in the storm. The fire struck perhaps; yet the love of root and bark for the soil knew centuries of fervent possession. All lives seemed strong, ever widening, ever assertive, rich with significance and completion between the two valves of earth and sky. Was man only the pearl, a shining disease to bejewel some satanic feast beyond the Milky Way, where dark nebulae hurl twisters of silence at life, sneering at its joys and its fulfillment?
Why? oh, why?
The rough grandeur of Carmel pounded upon the invalid — sledgehammer of sea and silence upon her mind at white heat. The cleft tongues of Lobos snaked the sea, the wind hissing through its scale-like cypresses, dark and contorted. The earth grew medusas from every cliff point to petrify the stars which might venture to look through the cloak of fog, woven by the motherly love of the waters. But even these would surge and harrow, clench the coast moaning under the demented fingers of the waves, clench the brown throat of the many canyons, until every living thing would resound and groan, with shrieking sea gulls overtoning, the walls. The summer months dragged endlessly, lost in grey dampness, cold fog, dull light. The cottage was closed in by four huge pines whose tears tapped the roof, ghostlike. Disheveled cypresses along the road muffled the insistent hollow rumble of the sea. Through their wildly stretched hair, one could see the sloping hills hesitate and disappear into the moving ocean. Up the valley the thinning grey gave promises of sun, beyond. It was poignantly beautiful, unreal. Rania lay down, shivering in the unusual dampness, wrapped in blankets, staring at birds wildly careening against the winds, screaming laughter and scorn at earth-glued humans and fools' agonies. Trampled wings, she crushed under the iron mockery of this age. She had lost selfhood — save for violent denials, convulsions of a broken "I." She was humanity hurt and shattered, watching, scanning, despairing, bitter, falling back in stoic silence to the peace of the stone, yearning to unconsciousness . . . because stars were hidden and gangrene was gnawing the frames of things, and muscles no longer had the power to say "yes" by acting out the within.
Why? oh, why?
She realized that something deep, inescapable had happened to her life; the body-dirge was but a symbol; or had it been a parturition, a needed holocaust? Within too, the frame of her selfhood had been crushed. No one there to mend the gaping wound through which unselved humanity was pouring into consciousness. Dimly, slowly she began to feel a sense of being beyond her actual self, of being a lens through which immanent life was being focused into awareness. She felt a strange splitting of substance: a part of her becoming very hard, strong and transparent — a crystal whose peculiar shape was being polished carefully by unknown hands grinding with pain the convexities; then, the other part very soft, almost liquescent, a colloidal something which could absorb anything, which was to be open to everything, defenseless, the plasma of lives-to-be. At times she felt herself almost as a huge eye shaped by wills pressing like superphysical muscles. She was an eye confronting life . . . but unfinished, still being made, still lacking optic nerve and the power to interpret images from without.
Yet, images were being formed in her, back of the lens; images that men were making with their lives and relationships — strange, ugly patterns of artificiality and decay. These images burned her consciousness. She had suffered often before from the thoughts of human misery and abjection. Thoughts only; now the lens reflected the very vibration, the very intensity of it all. Disintegration creep into her and stench overwhelm her defenseless being. She could not resist: there was no "one" to resist her. She had become a body: open, a great harbor filling with waste disgorged by steamers. The race was flowing into her; but the generations were of decay, rotting leaves of an ending vegetation. Fall had come. Rania knew herself as the earth damp with the rain, a bowl into which humus was being made out of the refuse of life.
The horror of it seemed unbearable. Underneath all the mock our lives, the eye which she was X-rayed the alcoholic fermentation of death. Faces opened to her which she casually met; a hypocrisy, conceit, moral cancer, bared themselves. They glared her; they preyed on her. She was defenseless. The eye would not close.
She could hardly walk. They drove her through the canyons; touched tall, fervent trees; she lay over the rock warmed by fleeting sun-rents in the fog, or, deep inland, she rolled over sear meadows with the soil pungent like roast coffee. Frantically she wanted to move, to go, to go; but the eye would not close. It was inescapable.
Oh, to sleep long moldering stone-sleeps unaware of tides, saplings pushing through, of swaying suns and moons . . . unaware of men, slime, grown vertical, dropping lusts like poisonous seeds in the womb of life! Weariness, weariness of the hours and days avid with unbearable woe that was of no one an everyone, ubiquitous, protean woe that had to be breathed, taste made clean again perhaps . . . But how? By what mysterious tragic alchemy?
Reading. Of course, she was reading. But what was worthwhile. She tried novels, but heroes and heroines would become so real to her supersensitive faculties that she would suffer their agonies, yet laugh at their puny pleasures. With passion she would sink herself into human souls, and there had to see, had to remain, had to absorb. She craved loss of boundaries, loss of I, loss of all that men hold precious and holy. If she had been able, she would have walked in the wide streets of some huge city. She would have called to her all the sufferers, all the restless and unappeased. She would have held them tightly to her breast, close to her warmth . . . and given, given, given; till there were no more, no more, nothing more that was alone, that was yearning, that was burdened.
It would be horrible, yet so marvelous. Perhaps something might open somewhere, men might smile, perhaps the vertical ooze might vie with beautiful trees, fly like sea gulls, shatter with the thunder of young energy. Reading . . . There was little else left; that and drawing. Slash the white sheets with black scimitars; scar the virgin paper with outbursting frames, hurled masses and lights tearing through in unbearable radiance! When the sun was out, she would drive to Lobos or the farther cliffs and capture with quick motions the dark selves of cypresses and rock, the strained thighs of the hills hip-bathing into the sea. She would fling her breasts against the earth, sharp with cut straw, bare her breasts against the earth, and cry, "My earth! my earth! take me into thy nothing, into thy silence! I cannot bear it. It hollows me. It hurts me. It is burning me, your woe and your men's woe. Take me. I want to sleep. I want to sleep . . . forever."
The suffering burnt so deep she became almost insensitive. She was silent, staring at the farthermost, as if watching from tower-top for a messenger. Mrs. Falkner, who had respected her strange moods and had attributed them to the purely physical tragedy of the accident and her wasted life, began to feel anxious. There was something unnatural in these blue wide-opened eyes that seemed never to close, that seemed to strike bottom in all things, even the most trivial. Her drawings, she thought, were on the verge of madness. They had a tragic fervor which seemed inhuman. They were epic with a passion that laughed at all shams and all littleness. They were cosmic dances disdainful of men.
But Rania was still very calm outwardly, very affable. Many friends would come to visit her. Conversations would run in Carmel fashion from seaweeds to personal problems, and household bothers to cosmic consciousness. Women came to her with their tortured selves begging for cure. A strange company of human beings! Men and women (mostly women) coming from everywhere; because, having lived, they wanted to settle to their death; because, dissatisfied and hurt by cities, they craved the shelter of pines and sands; because they needed silence to face issues or deface old structures of fate; because life being easy and cheap, needs lessened, one could afford being with oneself, independent of others, freed from job slavery; because earth and sea told their love in thrilling stanzas that poets and painters could capture and eternalize. Underneath all, they were drawn inescapably by the mysterious power that oozed out of the peninsula, that made the air and stones and trees tense with rugged will and excruciating selfhood, that drew one with the fateful pull of cosmic adjustment when destiny called for the marriage of Carmel and human soul; a strong catalytic, fateful conjugation.
To all these wanderers, analyzers, yearners, questioners, Rania afforded a strangely warm, yet distant indifference. Most felt richer and more alive when they left, yet in a curious way empty, with nothing to recall, nothing to lay hands on, no remembrances of her. She seemed intensely alive and yet "she" was never to be sensed. There were words spoken; words which slashed and whipped and hurt and brought light; words that one seemed to be saying to oneself, "The strange girl, steel-eyed abyss, was nowhere to be found, nowhere to be touched."
Perhaps she would show a few of her drawings. Suddenly, from them, a terrific elemental being would stare at one, a being of incomprehensible passion and power. One would lift one's eyes and glance at the woman whose hands materialized such scenes and witness only the fatness of bereavement, a baffling infinite unframed, unclosed, unthinged. Had the deep fog made her in its likeness?
Outside, in the chill of evening the foghorn ululated and moaned the death of horizon, wept for rocks and hills vanished, unselved into grey. Outside, the felted streets lay with magnified pines booing shadows at lost travelers through Carmel darkness. Outside, loveliness and mystery, along the coast scissored by passionate hands cutting a saw to sunder the earth. Strength and silence. Relentless vigor. And shadows of old disappeared races, gigantic manhood, that had wrenched from the gods Promethean fire.
Mrs. Falkner's life had been a tragic one. Her husband drank and gambled, with money and lives. They lived in wealth. She had been educated as a society girl, from ball to ball; she disliked it, but as an only child she felt compelled to carry on the traditional routine which led her to an early marriage. Soon after, she began to feel that her husband's business was not all that it might be. She wondered, rebelled, implored him. He sneered at her prudery and old-fashioned honesty. She had a daughter. Duty bound her. He drank more, dared more. One day the police came to seize papers in the house safe. Jail faced the man. He chose suicide.
Her health broke down. She was prostrated for weeks. A friend had brought her books on New Thought. She read avidly. She had to reconstruct her world. It lay grinning death at her feet. For years, she felt a wound inside and as if her dead husband was breathing poisoned fumes into her; nearly every night, for years. The girl, Hilda, refused to marry. A boy who loved her enlisted out of despair and was killed while flying. She felt herself a murderess. No word was spoken about it.
The mother felt a change was necessary. They went west. Something opened in them as they crossed the mountains, as they saw the sun set in the waters. The New Thought seed grew. Mrs. Falkner began to devote herself to study. Her world was waxing strong again. The dreams suddenly stopped. She felt her husband was in some way released. At all events, she was freed. Hilda followed courses in Berkeley. Years passed. They discovered Carmel; it was the place. As with many others, the recognition had been immediate. They bought a cottage; books, radios, a few beautiful things of the Orient filled in the space of living, which became animated with a quiet, somewhat shut-in, activity.
To them Rania had come from her long months of immobile torture. Hilda loved her with a strange attachment that grew at times almost wildly, then somehow seemed to subside as if frightened by the clear emptiness of the invalid's being. How could one love transparent space? Rania knew; said nothing. She was infinitely grateful for the nurse's devotion. She loved the girl with her remote, translucid love. Hilda gazed at her often in silence; nothing said. Hilda turned pale: "Are you looking at me, Rania?"
"Well yes, don't you see?"
"Oh! no, not at me — somewhere, far, far through me. You frighten me. I feel sometimes a great face of jade, a goddess, is standing back of your hair; and your face is but a little strange hole through which the goddess looks at me. She is beautiful, but so far, so far. . . ." Rania laughed. She would like to see the goddess! She would draw her. The following day Hilda was looking at some drawings Rania had made, when she exclaimed: "The goddess! Here, look, Rania — that really is the face I told you I could sense behind your head. Did you know it?" No, of course, she did not know. There was another face on the sheet also. A powerful man's visage of Oriental type with strong arched nose. Who was he? Rania had drawn both one morning, waking up. Dreams, perhaps . . . perhaps memory, recognition. It did not matter.
Nothing much mattered. After months of tense cruel sufferings as if harboring all the distress of man, a dull indifference had come again with jerks of bitterness and rebellion. What did it matter? She had brought death in her wake. She had been clawed by that same fatality. Well, that was the great play of life. Millions of redwood seeds are dropped, after spring and all the warmth and wealth of the earth have seemingly labored to bring forth those seeds. One here and there strikes roots; millions decay. The same hilarious waste everywhere, the same folly of gestation, struggle, race for the seed, seeding, waste, death, death, gestation — endless, endless wheel.
Men talked about it. She knew it. She had been it. She had sunk herself into it. The great eye had seen. The vision had hurt. It was all right. Pain does good. It keeps one beyond the image of selfhood. Flesh hurts also. Bone-breaking does not smother entirely the fire. The fire does strange deeds when the self is gone. It is all chaotic. it has no form. It leaps forth. It must carve an opening. It burns the walls of body — one body, then another. Oh! strange life-passion which corrodes, which rebels against fate, the queer fate of humans lost in paroxysms of pain and love, bitterness and ecstasy!
The great eye has closed. Rania's face, too, perhaps. It has become more self, less open. Hilda does not see the goddess behind the dark hair; the dark hair has unloosened. It is warm, like spring grass on the sun-matured hills. It flows upon one with the swift stir of the wind that fans the green fire, the bouncing, cracking flames of un-nuptial love.
Rania smiles, tenderly. Her hands are winged, impalpable motion of desire. Fog, fog — long weeks now, unceasing. One must be warmed and glow, where life blurs all things into greyishness. Hands may rouse colors, too, out of soft bodies. They draw, they sculpture the quivering resilience of the limbs. They make patterns. Bodies make patterns in the silent room trembling with excruciating tenderness.
Gestures, many strange gestures we perform. It is queer how little we know the slope of our destiny. Our gestures run in canyons we never suspected. They become brooks. They dance to the sea. They are lost. A woman scans the distant breakers from one hilltop. They are not disturbed because the brooks dash jauntily to drink the shore sands and the bitter taste of the ocean.
Rania has become translucent again. The eye has opened and sinks his ray into the soul of a wounded girl. The goddess face is back again. Hilda stares helplessly. Was it a dream? Her eyes question. How can there be any answer? There is never any answer. Man is a strange being who never may answer. He often believes he does. He only thinks aloud. Gestures answer. Deeds. And no one can tell, only he who tastes of the quality of the deed, unrelated to memories or anticipations, unladen with potential regrets. Morals are subterfuges to capture deeds and pin them for display on corks of respectability.
Rania smiles, this morning. A warm wind has blown the fogs westward. The sun is strong. She smiles at Hilda, who rushes to the garden, fumbles about, pulling weeds, pushing stonelets to and fro — the young body that does not know love, that flushes with dear remembrances the soul dares not face.
"Hilda, you must grow stronger. You must grow vast and open like all great things of nature. You must not be afraid of your desire. It may be worthless, not your own, a starved craving of nerves which have no peace and feel here and there for the true tone that shall release the flame pent up within. You are still bound in a fear, bound in the experience of another. You came to me with the whole of you hurting your hands, so tensely it had rushed to the farthest of your nerves. You came with your desire trembling, yearning to be released. I am an open door to all living guests, Hilda. If the door has brought death to several who entered, it is not my task to bewail. I have acted freely from the roots of my nature. I have never forced my nature with mindborn phantasms. It has been fulfilled. Tragedy fulfilled it. It has pounded my bones; it has made me an invalid, unable to mother bodies into birth. I accept this as fulfillment; as I shall accept death, however tragic, as fulfillment. It may be useless. It is a bitter woe to think of uselessness. It has made me weary and craving the stone-peace sung by our Carmel poet. But I have no happiness, as he had. I am alone. That too, means fulfillment. So I have sunk myself into the mire of Man. I do not despise. I refuse not to love. Because I am alone. That showed me my nature. Yes, this aloneness, this broken body. It has shown me my nature, which is my destiny. I shall not withdraw . . . Do not look at me with tears. I have died too many times to weep any longer. You cry because you have not been born. You opened the gates of me to find yourself. Now you are afraid. I am not closing these gates. But I know that you will not come again, because you have found yourself. That is why you cry: not because of what we did, but because of what you have not yet been, because of your unfulfilled nature."