Listen: Author Antje Rávic Strubel Reads from Into the Woods of the Human Heart
Antje Strubel Reads from Into the Woods of the Human Heart
During the fall semester, renowned contemporary German writer Antje Rávic Strubel read from her new episodic novel, Into the Woods of the Human Heart (2016). Following the reading, Strubel is joined in conversation by Jack Halberstam, whose work partly inspired Strubel's new novel.
Strubel is the author of six novels, two books of travel essays, and translations of the work of Joan Didion. She is the recipient of the Herrmann-Hesse Preis and the Deutscher Kritiker-Preis (German Critics Prize) and writes regularly for major German newspapers and magazines.
Speaker 1: Good afternoon everyone. My name is [inaudible 00:00:04], I'm the visiting Gender and Sexuality Studies Professor here at Swarthmore College. It is my absolute pleasure to welcome you today to the second half of our two day long event. In this event we bring theorist, Jack Halbertsam and writer Antje Ravic Strubel into dialog with each other to further the knowledge production and dissemination on female masculinities and potentially on transgender as an umbrella term.
Yesterday Jack Gave a brilliant talk titled, Trans-asterix, bodies and power in the age of transgenderism. Today we will Antje read from her newest novel, Into The Woods of The Human Heart,[German 00:00:55] from 2016, which has already been shortlisted for the prestigious [German 00:01:01] prize, the literature prize of the city of Bremen, in Germany.
Here she addresses queer desire as well as the crossing of multiple boundaries. Gender boundaries, national boundaries, the boundaries surrounding sexuality and the ones that we cross when we fall in and out of love.
In, In To The Woods of The Human Heart, Antje also conceptualizes a trans man, and this character may have been inspired by Jack's gender category of female masculinity.
Today's event will begin with this reading. A subsequent conversation between Antje and Jack on embodied and non-embodied gender and un-transing, or maybe trans-asterixing the category of gender will follow.
Before I introduce Antje however, I want to thank the program of Gender and Sexuality Studies, The German Program, The Intercultural center, the English Department as well as the [inaudible 00:02:08] office of Swarthmore College for making this event possible. Patty I hope I haven't forgotten anyone, and the Deans office of Swarthmore College.
In particular, I want to thank our Gender and Sexuality Studies Program Coordinator, Dr. Patty White and our administrative assistants, [Anna Avrats and Logan Teberry Warner 00:02:31]. For their invaluable help and committed work. I also want to thank my colleague Dr. [inaudible 00:02:44], who is not here today for his enthusiasm and his continuous support but also Dr. [inaudible 00:02:51] for her mentorship and her encouragement regarding this event, particularly in the early stages. Last but not least, I would like to thank our students for being here on the last day of classes and for the really brilliant and great questions that you guys asked yesterday. That made my day and made me really proud. And it also made Patty very proud, so I think we share that.
Let me take a minute to introduce German writer, Antje Ravic Strubel. I met Antje in 2012 at the Women and German conference where she was the guest of honor and read from her novel, When Days Plunge Into Night, or Sturz der Tage in Die Nacht, from 2011. I was not familiar with Antje's novel, nor with her work at that point in time but while listening to her read, the outstanding literary quality of her writing became immediately clear to me and impressed me deeply. It comes at so surprise that she turned out to be one of the most prolific and critically acclaimed contemporary German authors of her time actually.
Helen Finch characterizes her novels as quote, "Celebrating the liberating potential, to transcend narrow categories of nation and gender." End quote. Noting that her, quote, "Gender [inaudible 00:04:19] and characters deconstruct binary categories of East and West German identity, butch and [inaudible 00:04:28], male and female." End quote.
It is Antje's biography that informs the recurring theme of East and West German indentity in her work. She grew up in the [inaudible 00:04:42] and was 15 years old when the Berlin Wall fell. An experience that according to her, has changed her perception of seemingly natural realties of belonging and the Nation state. She tsarted to work on her first two novels, Open Shutters, Offene Blende and Snowed Under, Unter Schnee while studying German literature, psychology and Northern American literature at the University of Potsdam and NYU. Both novels were immediately published after Antje completed her Masters degree. She has also written two very well received travel essay books on Sweden and her Home Stay's [German 00:05:25], next to six other novels. Actually I had put down three but it was six, Antje reminded me that it was six so I was ... I should've known that but ...
Right away her novels have found critical acclaim and he has been the recipient of several prestigious prizes such as the Herman Hesse Prize and The Germans Critics Prize, The [German 00:05:48]. More over, Antje has turned two of her novels into radio plays that aired in 2008 and 2011. She has translated Joan Didion's latest two books and a collection of essays. Joan Didion is a writer who has influenced her tremendously.
Antje will give today's reading from her novel, Colder Layers of Air, Kaltere Schichten der Luft, published in 2007 and Into The Woods of The Human Heart. The letter presents a continuation of the former with regards to and his conceptualizations of gender, queer desire and the crossing of boundaries. So please help me to welcome Antje Ravic Struble to Swarthmore College.
Antje Strubel : Thank you [Oota 00:06:41] and hello everybody. I'm very excited to be here. When [Oota 00:06:48] came up with this idea of inviting me and Jack Halbertsam together, I thought, "Wow this is cool, let's do it." Now I'm a bit nervous. But I want to thank you both [Oota 00:06:58] and Patty for inviting me, having me here and giving me the opportunity to talk to you, Jack. Can everybody hear me okay? Okay.
As you've heard I'm going to read some excerpts from these two novels but I also want to give you a little introduction into them and into my writing. So you have an idea about it because both novels are not fully translated into english or have appeared in American publishing house.
In the last ten years I wrote three novels, which each in their own way deal with, who we desire and how or who do we become in the act of desiring and who are we not supposed to desire. Since love and desire are still in some way connected to the romantic concept as it was invented in the late 18th century. I realized at some point that romantic love is based on the attraction of two people whoa re not related by blood and are of the opposite sex. So everybody is else is not supposed to feel romantic passion. It's not meant for a son and mother for instance, it's not meant for women who love girls being boys, for boys with a female body who refuse to be somebody's circus horse or celebrate men who were born as females and love women. But all these characters appear in these recent novels, which I consider for that reason a trilogy because they have the same umbrella topic.
Especially in Colder Layers of Air and this latest book, the episodic book, Into the Woods of the Human Heart. I have the feel I subvert ... this is what we call the binary gender concept and the [inaudible 00:08:49] narratives, which dominate nowadays literature, let alone life. What inspired me particularly to write Colder Layers of Air was the question, what would it be like, not only to live as two genders simultaneously but also to have two ages simultaneously? Like let's say being 15 and 30 at the same time. So my main character, Anja is a dropout in her early thirties, who spends the summer at the canoe camp in Sweden. There she gets to know a women who, in a way, appears from a lake, like she's this kind of fairy. She's not a fairy, she's a realistic person but she kind of appears from a lake. And addresses Anja as the [inaudible 00:09:40]. After a while these two women engage in a love story in which they are teenagers of the opposite sex. But at the same time they remain women so they never fully transit into being these teenagers and they also don't love each other as if they were teenagers. From my understanding it's their desire for which they become teenagers. One of them also becoming a boy.
Anja and the woman from the lake are present at the same time, these two teenagers are present and take shape on their bodies. In fact, it seems crucial for the desire of the woman from the lake that the boy [inaudible 00:10:24] is displayed against the backdrop of Anja's female body. This never ending transformation is reflected by a narrative, which constantly shifts between the first person and the third person. So you can see it as these images that go back and forth between two [inaudible 00:10:46] or depending on how I turn them.
In this book, I was interested, I think mainly in subverting the notion of this either or. The notion of being only the one or the other, like you have to decide to be one in particular. I aimed at undermining the gender dichotomy in to being one as well as the other and still to write a realistic text about it. Which is kind of difficult, I found.
So that you get an idea of maybe how it starts or how it works I'm going to read a very short excerpt of the beginning of this book, Kaltere Schichten der Luft. That you also get a feeling for the language in German, I'm going to read the first few sentences in German first.
This book starts with the description of light or how the light falls on to the lake. On one hand beautifully, on the other hand also signaling some threat or the threat of an exposure of being seen, of maybe being limited by the gaze. Now I'm going to read the english version and very fortunately I have a very good translator. It was translated by Zaia Alexander.
They had seen how the light made the pines and blackberry bushes appear matte in the rain. They had seen how the roads looked at 4 in the morning, devastated by falling rocks and at noon neatly mown Swedish front lawns. They knew it in the shimmering yellow from the heat and the greenish glow of the evening they could say how it looked above the roof of the tool shed on overcast days. They knew how faces changed when glaring light falls upon them. Every morning when they left their tents and went to the wash area they had to cross the grassy field that had been cleared from the forest. There the faces became stable, they changed from milky gray, the color of night into a harsh polished tan. They knew it, they saw it every morning and later when only a few clouds were left in the sky. This tan had a certain sharpness as faces only here have on this peninsula. It was brutal how the sun shown. Nobody spoke about the light.
One morning a girl was walking alone on the shore, the girl stepped between the boats, her dress blue. It was a light dress, nobody wore dresses here. In the camp they wore gortex sandles and gray or beige functional trousers with zippers at the thighs. When it got warm they simply tore off the pant legs.
The girl walked down to the docks, she moved drunkenly. She walked without stopping to remove her dress. She walked to the edge of the dock and plunged into the water. The people near the boats were startled by her body slapping the water. They looked over, the lake was calm, the girl surfaced next to a boy. Her hair stuck to her head. She swam back slowly. The others lost interest. They returned to their clip boards and wrote down the numbers of the boats that would go out that day. The girl climbed slowly back on land. She came ashore, the water running over her face didn't seem to bother her. She stopped close to the pines. "[inaudible 00:14:44]", she said. And she turned to me, "You are a smart boy, you paid close attention the whole time." She gazed at the swimming area covered in raspberry bushes and buckthorn and I saw she wasn't a girl anymore.
"I'm sure you can tell me where the towels are."
I was inadvertently standing close to where she came ashore. I wasn't by the boats. I stood somewhat apart from the dock. Now I moved as if I'd been standing there frozen for hours.
"I'm not [inaudible 00:15:13]", I said and "I'm not a boy.'
She tilted her head to the side and looked at me. Her brows were dark from the water and a very pale face. The lake was calm this morning, the sea birds drifted further on. The others had probably finished with the boats. She blocked my path as I moved to leave.
"I just want to see something", she said, and came closer.
Her skin was white, a white that was reminiscent of shiny smooth polished wood you sometimes find on wild beaches. Her toes briefly grazed the sand. She wanted to touch my naked foot, missed it and stumbled. She would've fallen if I hadn't held her. She put her arms around my neck, I smelled her wet hair. It was early morning, the sand was cool, the shadows fell long. We stood there like a billboard at the [inaudible 00:16:05] metro station. One of these glassy photos. Petite little girls nestled in the strong arms of confident boys. Boys who looked down at their girls and the [inaudible 00:16:15]. We fit perfectly into this image.
"Are you okay?" I said. She pressed herself against me. To the others it must have seemed as if I wanted to strip off her dress, slide the cloth slowly up her thighs. They must have imagined how she'd look naked, her hips, her but. How I'd hold her in the sand, on the shore. Hidden behind the bushes. Her body pulsated. Her skin glowed beneath the wetness. "You see?" She said in my ear. "I finally found you, I knew it." Then she let go of me immediately. She grabbed her towel from near the pines and walked across the sand towards the street. She walked quickly she didn't turn around. Her legs were lanky under the dress, it was a child's dress, a dress for very young girls. I wasn't sure. I kept looking at her and since nobody by the boats noticed her, I yelled, "Hey, why don't you get changed and have breakfast with us?" She didn't react, she reached the road. I went back to the others. They ?hulled a few boats from the water and tilted them belly up on the beach. Slowly it grew warmer.
Later in the washroom I looked at myself in the mirror. I wore jeans and a light blouse, unisex typical outdoor clothing. I was strong and slim, I was tanned like all the others. My hair had this straw color washed out look from swimming in the lake. I had been living outdoors for four weeks. The scar above my eyebrow was the only thing that distinguished me from the others. I went out into the sun again where they were busy planing wood. They were building a teepee from smooth polished tree trunks and it was going well. The bark peeled off in soft, long splinters. They knew how to apply pressure lightly to remove the upper layer without damaging the wood. They've done it often. I joined them for a while. I began at the tips. I watched the men covertly and found nothing in them that resembled me.
I was talking about Colder Layers first because I think without having written this book, I couldn't have written the one I'm going to talk about now. Because this Anja character is somewhat a [inaudible 00:18:30], like some ... I don't know what [inaudible 00:18:32] means. I used her as a base let's say. The lead character bid on this Anja becoming [inaudible 00:18:43] character. So she is maybe some kind of a mirror image or something of Leigh. Leigh is one of the characters in the book that I am going to talk about now.
Anja [inaudible 00:18:56] as you've heard was basically written in an eye perspective before changes into the third person narration sometimes. Leigh on the other hand, that is one of the characters in the new book, is always seen through the eyes of others. So I never go into his perspective but I always look at him through the eyes of other characters. Here the third person narrative leaves no doubt about Leigh's masculinaties. He's always signified with the male personal pronoun. Although he has a female body. With him, I think I wanted to create a transgender character who the reader perceives in a certain way through the eyes of, Emily, who's also a character I'm going to read. She's part of the story I'm going to read now. Emily perceives them as erotic and desirable.
Maybe I'll tell you a bit more about the book in general, because I only have the small excerpt. Leigh is one of ten characters who circle around each other in an erotically charged and melancholic [inaudible 00:20:06]. If you think of [inaudible 00:20:08] it's kind of the same principal that the characters appear and disappear and then appear again in different situations and are all linked in a certain way to each other. Sometimes this [inaudible 00:20:18] is also violated by mostly male but not only brutality. So there are 12 interwoven episodes, and the overall topic for me is transformation, transition, passages, being on the way to something, never arriving there or something like that. Every episode is like a chamber piece between two or three characters. All of them are thrown into an overwhelming and sometimes threatening landscape. So they are all situated in ... as we will here in the Sequoia Park, in the US, in Swedish Lapland, in Germany, on some island, or in the icy forests of Finland. All these characters they don't live there, they just happen to be there or go there on holidays or passing through.
The conflict that I'm showing in each episode causes a severe change in the characters who are involved in it. Either their living situation changes or their emotional landscape or their language changes, or their sexuality, or their gender. You could say their emotional movements are in a way reflected by the geographical movements. As they move from one place to the other, from one landscape to another. I will give you maybe two examples of how it works, although it might be a bit confusing since you haven't read the book. But just, yeah, maybe you'll see how it works. There is for instance, Helen, a girl from Germany who goes to LA to study there. There she meets Faye and falls in love with Faye. Faye is a university teacher, Faye is still mourning about her childhood friend, Emily. But finally Faye falls in love with Helen and gives up her teaching job and moves to Germany. Meanwhile, Helen though, fell in love with [Sara 00:22:07], who was formally married to Norman. So Faye, Helen and [Sara 00:22:11] end up living in a relationship of three. This is one story, right.
Then going back to Emily and Leigh, whom I'm going to introduce you to now. Emily meets Leigh at the University in California. They separate, or rather Emily disappears after having met him. She leaves The United States, she becomes a translator and falls in love with another character, who before was together with [Kattiya 00:22:43] and [Kattiya 00:22:44] is the second transgender character in this book. Because [Kattiya 00:22:49] turns out to be Kat in the end of the book. Kat is an androgenous man who has a love story with a woman but is insecure about his sexuality or about having sex rather.
So maybe I'm just going to read now the beginning of this episode with Emily and Leigh. It's the second episode in the book and it's called, The White Rock.
The White Rock, Sequoia National Park, California, USA. They had booked a room in the [inaudible 00:23:28] Lodge. It was a spacious room, with two large beds and a balcony. Sequoia stood close to the window, the trees were too tall to see the tops. Ancient giants with massive trunks and reddish brown bark, that looked like [inaudible 00:23:43] skin. The trees were so famous that the area where they grew in, where they grew in great quantities was named after them and declared a national park. The entrances to the park were marked with red posts and a boom gate that stayed open during the season. Signs warned about the dangers of the wilderness. Visitors were reminded that they wanted to leave the park alive and therefore requested to keep alert.
Emily had made fun of it, wasn't that actually the point. To get out unharmed, out of a car, a bed, an illness, a dream. Wasn't that the point? As long as you live to emerge from life unscathed. Leigh had said such things were posted at the entrance to all national parks. They marked the boundary between what people thought was natural and actual nature. But they were basically just barometer. The dramatic science indicated the degree humans feared the wilderness, which varied by the season and had nothing to do with life's real dangers. Emily nodded since Leigh had more experience in these things. Since she ...
They had parked the rental care informant of the lodge and checked into their room. It was two in the afternoon, Tom wasn't there yet. Leigh left the room and went over to the restaurant one more time. It was [inaudible 00:25:03] mountain restaurant, a dining room with massive wooden tables, coarsely planed benches and a long bar that also served as the reception. Lots of whisky and tequila bottles lined the shelves behind it. Evidence that neither Mexico nor Texas was far away. Next to the bottle rack somebody had stuck a piece of handwritten cardboard on the wall to cheer up the guests. "If all else fails there is always delusion."
Emily grabbed the towels from the beds. They were of the same brown tone as the bed spreads tucked tightly over the mattresses. Despite the glaring sun, the room was dim. Emily brought the towels into the bathroom and then Leigh came back and said, "He's already here."
And hastily gathered his things, a pad of paper with a list of questions, both books if he needed to look up quotes, the small recording device, and the scarf he had with him for all the other interviews.
"It's too hot." Said Emily. "It's almost 90 degrees out there."
"I know, I'm not wearing it to protect me from the cold, clothes ought to be less about conforming to meteorology. The functions of things like clothing and not only clothing should be suspended more often. I think people should use them differently."
"30 degrees and a scarf." Emily said. "Tom will think you're either sick or crazy, that's what I think."
Leigh looked at her, "I'll get us a table in the shade."
Emily liked being on the road with Leigh. She liked hitting the bars in [inaudible 00:26:31] City with him on Friday nights until it got light. And then eat nachos for breakfast with him on the steps outside his house. And now she loved nothing more than to be here alone with him.
At the beginning of the semester he had said an a poorly attended seminar. He wore a baggy jeans, a jacket that protruded over the shoulders, a pair of round sunglasses on his short hair. Emily had felt the need to be near him. She didn't know him, she had never seen that student before. As she headed towards his table, he looked up, calmly without smiling, gazed at her, a stop a mind makes between uncertainties. He made no attempt to talk to her. Just pushed scattered books with his arms over to his side of the table, but from this moment Emily sat next to him. But from the moment Emily sat next to him, she wasn't restless anymore.
Now here's a big piece of the story missing so let me quickly summarize it for you. What's missing is that Leigh is interviewing this Tom, he's a writer and he's interviewing him for his Master's thesis. Tom starts a conversation or talks about, how the moral in society changed during the last years. He says that first sexuality was the means for transgression and now genuine feelings and emotions are the new frontier. Since gang rape and porno and all this crap have replaced any real encounter, where you have to put yourself on the line. Then he says something like, nobody can tell kitsch from violence anymore. While Leigh is interviewing this writer Emily meets a biker gang and a guy comes on to her. He asks her in an abusive way to take a ride with him. So I have two different masculinities here, once is the masculinity of the motorcyclist, like the group. On the other hand it's this writer Tom is cynic but then actually also shows a very soft and fragile side and this is kind of the background for Leigh's own masculinity. After this interview, they drive out to the white rock because Tom recommended to go there. It's supposedly very beautiful and they have to see it, so they do it.
The white rock was two miles away from the [inaudible 00:28:58] Lodge. For the [inaudible 00:29:00] it had been a holy site, they had worshiped it before they were driven out and the area placed under the protection of the authorities. Emily and Leigh took the car. They parked it in front of the boom gate in the woods, only rangers were allowed to drive any further. Although it was late in the afternoon, the light fell starkly between the trunks and made them look narrower. They walked one behind the other, Emily behind Leigh. Before they reached the rock she said, "luckily you got Tom to talk before I joined you."
"He was talking." Leigh said, "But you didn't say anything."
They followed the stream until the path branched off, it was exactly as Tom had described it to Leigh. After a short hike, they reached the edge of the forest, before them lay a large, flat, somehow polished stone. Solitarily it stood out from the woodlands. It was completely white. The surface was slanted, it looked like a lodge in an [inaudible 00:30:01] theater, human by nature. Before the stage of the white sprawling valley.
"I was furious." Emily Said, "He didn't take you seriously."
They sat down on the stone, it was warm and smooth and it was nice to sit there and feel the texture of the rock on the soles of the feet and bare legs.
"He just did the same old routine." Emily said.
"At the end he said a couple of unexpected things."
Before them lay the valley danced with leaves, the crowns of the sequoia stood out from the swaying green tree tops.
"When the moon rises it supposed to be insanely beautiful." Said Leigh.
And Emily nodded, and then Leigh got undressed. He folded the scarf, pulled the the-shirt over his head, unbuttoned his jeans and took them off. He lost his balanced and laughed. He dropped his jeans carelessly, stripped off his shorts and shed the tight, sporty, tank top.
The sun was glowing orange on the horizon. Emily looked straight into the blinding center. When she turned back around, Leigh was lying next to her on his back on the rock. He had closed his eyes and it was up to Emily whether or not to look at his body. It was a tanned, muscular body, naked on a white stone. Emily was still wearing her knee length summer dress.
"It's insanely beautiful right now." She said, softly.
It was warm and the scent of night blooming jasmine hung in the winters air.
"You never told me when you knew."
"What?" Murmured Leigh.
"When you knew you are a boy."
Leigh didn't move, his arms were stretched out, the palms facing downwards as though tracing the firmness of the stone. Only a small muscle that ran from the elbow to the rest tends briefly. And as a following and almost unconscious impulse, Emily leaned forward and kissed a spot where the muscle had just appeared.
"Not so long." Said Leigh.
Emily's lips burned, it made her think of the glowing threads Tom had talked about, and of the snow.
"And you?" Said Leigh. "How long have you wanted to ask me that?"
"From the very first day when you took off your sunglasses."
"I thought so, that's how you always looked at me."
Emily said nothing.
"I've known it since I first felt it." Said Leigh. "Firsthand, ever since then I've felt like I've outgrown everything."
"Outgrown everything, like a sequoia?"
"Yes." Leigh smiled with his eyes closed. "Like a sequoia."
Emily poured cola into the two metal cups they'd brought and filled each of the cups a generous splash of bourbon. Even though the bartender had warned that Makers Mark was to mild to mix with other drinks. Emily took a sip and didn't think the bourbon was too mild or the cola too sweet. The ratio of the mix was exactly right.
"And now you view everything from above?"
"I wish." Leigh stretched out an arm and Emily handed to him the metal cup. He looked at Emily over the rim of the cup. "I don't view anything." He said. "I've outgrown everything, like clothes that are too tight."
"Can't you find new ones?"
"You don't have anything that's not too tight?" Emily asked.
"Nope." Said Leigh.
"Then there's no exception whatsoever?"
"Nope." Said Leigh again. And hit the rock with the flat of his hand.
Emily stared into her cup, "And what was it like when you noticed it?"
"I was 21."
Emily swirled the whisky cola around a few times before taking a big gulp.
"She was two years older than me." Said Leigh, paused. "I needed to look at her all the time, I wanted to hear her voice, I wanted to inhale her. I wanted to watch her sleep." Leigh lay on his back with his eyes closed and Emily looked at him. "I wanted to sleep with her on the floor, on the blanket in the woods, on the beach, in the car, I wanted to be slow, I wanted to consume us, I wanted her to burn me up, thighs, loins, my abdomen, my palms. It was so intense, it hurt. As if the body was being painfully expanded. Tom put it nicely earlier."
Leigh's chest and curved chin and forehead shimmered in the light that now was red. A reflection of the sun that disappeared behind the trees.
"I couldn't think about anything else." Leigh said. "I kept imagining it all the time, on her, above her, in her. Then we did it, she showed me and it was right. Even though I didn't have a cock yet."
Emily focused on the arms, she studies Leigh's upper arms and elbows and then her gazed slid down the body to the feet, which were turned slightly outwards. The heels resting on the rock. They were sturdy feet with long slender toes. "But you were already a boy?" She said.
"Yes, the rest came later, weeks, months later. When I bought my first pair of blue boxer shorts and I found a gorgeous specimen at the doodle factory that suited me perfectly. That wasn't the main thing, it was just an addition."
"Show me." Whispered Emily.
"The main thing was the longing." said Leigh. "This totally unprecedented longing had obsessed me completely."
"Show me." Said Emily again.
Leigh laid there and said nothing as the sky grew darker and with the darkness came a chill. Leigh's nipples hardened, his shoulders had goose bumps.
"Just a little." Said Emily quietly and without looking at him. "Just while we are here on this rock."
"It doesn't work."
"Why not?" Emily asked after a while but Leigh did not answer. She reached into the bag behind her and pulled out the towel. She carefully spread the towel over his legs and belly. "You don't have it with you." She said.
Leigh grabbed a stone, "Somebody has to ignite it."
"And I can't?"
Leigh tossed a stone into the sky and they followed it with their eyes.
"You don't need to fall in love right away." Said Emily.
Leigh pulled a towel a little higher to his chest. Now his angle peeped out from under the brown towel which outlined the shape of his legs, the curvature of his knees, thighs, the hollow of the lap where the cloth gave way. The towel was not long enough to cover the breasts and Emily thought about what Leigh had said earlier. About the glowing thread. And she thought about the stone she had tossed in the air and that it hadn't landed.
"What's keeping the moon?"
They looked across the darkening valley, the green of the trees had transformed into a black wall, before which a single shadowy sequoia stood out. It stood out against the dark line of the horizon, which resembled a low fence by comparison. They stayed there for a while, their arms propped behind them and watched whether the moon rose.
"Do you think Tom saw something?" Leigh said.
"He was suddenly so different."
"What's a guy like him going to see?"
"He looked at me totally differently as if I'd thrown him."
"But that wasn't you." Said Emily.
Leigh sat up, he pushed the towel aside and Emily saw the beautiful dark body against the brightness of the stone one more time. Before Leigh stood up to gather his things that were scattered over the rock. Leigh got dressed. First he put on his shorts and the jeans, then the tank top and T-shirt and everything went in reverse motion.
"Because of the scarf." He said. "Maybe it made me look crazy after all. Usually they turned it into a big deal when they realize sometimes not quite right. That suddenly they can't recognize themselves in the person sitting across from them anymore."
"Who recognizes themself in anything?" Said Emily fiercely.
She poured whisky into the cups, the metallic gray blurred with white shadow of the rock and she had to be careful not to miss the cup.
"No matter how you look, and Tom isn't exactly the smartest cookie in the jar about those things."
"Maybe." Leigh said quietly. "But what if you don't want to keep your illusions as the only reality anymore.
"Sure you can pack your bags and take off the question is where you'll end up."
"When in doubt, nowhere." He said. In the internal life outside of this great society in which we live. Tom definitely saw something."
"You sure are smug about it." Emily said.
"So what do you think I look like?"
Behind them the rock slopped slightly upwards until it reached the edge of the woods and before them was the valley. And if you wandered northwards to the furthest end it would lead into the desert. Emily shivered, her summer dress was thin and as night was falling, it grew cold.
"Anyway, there's no moon today." She said.
"If we'd thought of it earlier we could have gathered some wood so we could at least make a fire."
Leigh took off his scarf and put it around Emily's shoulders.
"You were right about the looks, they don't matter as long as you don't get into trouble for using public ladies rooms."
"You will notice segregation." Said Emily. "Cut the crap with your French theorists. When you read them all you end up with is carbonated blood. But guess what I read, Scandinavians put [inaudible 00:39:26] icons on their bathroom doors. Stick figures with one leg and pants, the other in a skirt."
"The question remains." Said Leigh. "Why we have this endless need to mark a basic necessity. Which is shared by all species in the animal world with a cultural gender code. When our pissing habits aren't much different than bears."
Emily drank the rest of the whisky cola.
"If the moon doesn't rise." She said. "We won't find our way back."
It had suddenly grown dark, the blackness around them wasn't broken by anything except for a very faint glow from the stone.
"Are you scared?"
"We don't have a flashlight."
Emily thought of the warning signs in front of the park entrances. A while back in the [inaudible 00:40:17] Mountains a family was mauled by a mountain lion. The [inaudible 00:40:21] mountains were not the Sequoia Park but there were mountain lions everywhere and in Sequoia Park there were also rattle snakes and brown bears that sometimes were visible from the hiking trails.
"Tom knew we'd be in trouble without the moon."
"Bullshit." Said Leigh. "If you want I'll go and look."
Leigh stood up to look for the path they had taken, as long as he stayed on the white rock his silhouette was visible. But after a few steps into the darkness it became one with it. The problem was finding the point where the dirt trail led to the rock. The path didn't have a sign, the transition from being out in the open to the enclosed trees at the edge of the forest was not marked. And the afternoon parts of the parts were hidden by foliage from last autumn. Emily wrapped the scarf tightly around her. Her toes started hurting again, she was cold. She started to imagine what it would feel like to sleep next to Leigh. Lie with him on the bare rocks on his body, wrapped in the towels and in his scarf. Protected from mountain lions and brown bears. In a night like this she would get to know everything. The restlessness of spring would be resolved. She couldn't imagine what she thought would get to learn, know, anything. But that was part of it because it's always learned, flashed through her mind, as long as you don't know something about another persons body. It is impossible to imagine anything.
Leigh knew that. He had more experience than she. Emily listened into the night, it was still, there was no noise, the air didn't move, the darkness was a big balloon that expanded and she became smaller in it's center. The points on contact with the rock she was sitting upon also became smaller and in order to hold on to something she turned around.