The Dark - excerpt
The train had stopped at a remote station. The platform was stone gray with a faded white border, the remnants of a coat of whitewash. The building gave the impression of being low to the ground; the shabbiness of its walls seemed to reduce its height. While she waited, Delia’s friend had ample time to study the platform, which could only hold two cars. The sun set unimpeded, and the few trees that flanked the building caught no light. Their green was starting to fade; they’ve lost their strength, she thought. If someone had suddenly caught a glimpse of the scene they would have thought it had been staged: a girl standing at the window of a train car, looking out. Delia’s friend was distracted by shapeless ideas that were replaced by others before they could be fully formed, or which returned unexpectedly after having been left incomplete. She thought, for example, about how the train’s shadow disregards the tracks. The silhouette of the cars rests on the station floor, sketching out a step as it climbs the platform and continues, uninterrupted, before descending into the wild on the other side. This fact, the forceful contour of a shadow, left Delia’s friend deep in thought for a long time. She sensed that nature tended to be arbitrary, but preferred to reveal itself with caution. Her experience back home had taught her this, and the events that followed—like the dull sun above her, the silence of the station—and the things around her—arranged precisely to appear and break her attention—only confirmed it. She thought: “It’s not so bad, being alone,” or something like that. She was looking out the window and repeating this idea until something startled her: someone was watching her from nearby. She felt she was in danger, but her fear quickly subsided. She was pleased that she had caught the eye of a stranger: at least one thing in this overwhelming, though static, situation was directed at her. Later, she would remember the man’s steps as he approached, without being able to assign them any particular tempo: they were either innumerable or too few, but never the two things at once. She was confused, unsure what her reaction should be, when something else unsettled her even more: the stranger was carrying a small photo, from which he didn’t lift his eyes. She thought she heard a noise, maybe they were hitching another car to the train. The man finally reached her and stood in silence. A silence that said little, but which had the unmistakable eloquence of anticipation.
Delia’s friend didn’t know what to do; from the window she could see the faint shadow of the car, the even line of the roof. Just like trains in stations, people leave traces on one another that almost immediately fade away. The thought appealed to her, since she wanted the man to be gone as quickly as possible. She suddenly remembered stories she’d heard; the people from her neighborhood, all of whom were poor, tended to believe in miraculous scenarios in which millionaires unexpectedly find a long-lost daughter living in anonymity and neglect. Her mind raced, it seemed impossible to focus on the urgent thoughts that filled it. The man finally spoke, though it was only to ask her name. Delia’s friend did not know how to answer something so simple. All questions are difficult, but familiar ones are especially problematic. They involve an act of memory, like when an adult calculates his age based on what year it is. In the end, as she said her name, she realized—though she had been aware of this all along—that she was moving farther and farther from home. She knew that her response, though true, broke a bond that had been strong until that moment. The man, for his part, didn’t believe what he’d heard; “It can’t be,” he said, as he turned the photo around so she could see it. Delia’s friend grimaced. Her solitude had been ambushed at the flank where we are all most vulnerable. She saw her own image in the photo, recognized each of her features from the memory, for example, of her fingers touching her face. She repeated to herself that it was impossible, and wondered what the outcome of this adventure might be. In her innocence she thought that if she had lied, none of this would have happened, that the coincidence lay not between the image and her face, but between herself and her name. It should be said that the matter was never resolved. She immediately discovered a new problem that only made the situation worse: there was another difference, which, although it affected the physical resemblance, also emphasized it. The tone of their skin was not the same. Though this was obvious, the stranger did not notice. For Delia’s friend, seeing herself with different skin meant being transported: not to a future or a past, but to a simultaneous, contiguous time.
Later, repeating the story in Delia’s presence, the friend added that the photograph the man had been carrying was actually of a painting, an oval-shaped portrait with a dark background and a fake gold frame. What she had first imagined to be the photograph of a person, as true as a legal document, became a drawing that dissolved into an unimaginable series of mediations. A turn of the screw, she said in different words, that complicated things further still. Because if the evidentiary proof, as they say, was a painting, the model was less important than the hand that had given her form. It seemed that the artist, whether he was right or wrong, had created a patient prophecy: the encounter with the model would eventually take place; the time and distance that needed to be crossed before this occurred were secondary. And so the episode was fixed in Delia’s friend’s past against a backdrop of confusion. It could not be said that she had forgotten it, but the mystery, which still left her anxious and often on the verge of tears, was such that she did not want to remember.