What to Look for in Winter: A Memoir in Blindness - Candia McWilliam (2012)
PART TWO: SEE/SAW
Chapter 10: Silver Wadding and the Smell of Remorse
I became conscious of death as a thing that trembled around us, my parents and me, in the air, as soon as I came to the sort of conscious thought that I can recall, so around three or four years old. Death sent its messengers, as it does to small children: among them dead animals in gutters, flat mice, soggy poisoned rats in the area, the hopeless nestlings my mother rescued, the shrew in her cardigan pocket that she could not revive, with its nose like a tube, dying rabbits on country walks, the shocking deaths of the zoo animals for which my mother felt so misshapenly, inappropriately, much.
The wallpaper in my nursery held in its pattern the family whom I called the Cauliflowers who brought death with them. They bulked into the nightmares that seemed to reach me from day into sleep as I lay trying to construe its pattern.
Burglars came into the house and left you dead, the life sucked from you into them through their faces that were masked but for the mouth. I saw burglars very clearly in my mind as silent monochromatic breachers of safety. I felt about them as some people feel about cats, that they understood only their own advantage and moved selfishly in silence around and through the world they wanted to depredate; the words ‘cat burglar’ and ‘footpad’ confirmed this fear.
I cannot remember when I didn’t know that my father was liable to fall down dead at any point from his dicey heart. I first met him when he was twenty-seven, thin, prone to a racking cough, a heavy smoker; I cannot recall at any time in our interrupted acquaintance (I love him deeply to this day, more than twenty years after his death, but we had the most formal of contact) not being anxious for my father. I listened for his breath, which was loud yet erratic in his thin chest, especially when he was writing, drawing or smoking. Mostly he was doing at least two of those at once.
I knew very early on that I would myself die. I was hoping that I could buy life for at least one of my parents, by getting my own dying over with; I had this concept caught by the age of five, when, I’m ashamed to say, because it is blasphemous, vainglorious and self-dramatising, I dreamed I redeemed my parents through crucifixion on the wall bars of the school gym. I certainly wasn’t cut out for any more conventional wall bar exercises.
My mother also felt to me imperilled. This was to do with her closeness to me and her failure to hide things from me, for which I am grateful to her. She told me for example, that she loved my father. That she told me this on the day before she was no more does not empty it of a meaning that I can utilise to reflect back into the marriage, although memory also suggests that, while it wasn’t a very happy marriage, they knew great happiness at some point in and with one another.
I do not think that happiness came into it much at that time. There were other things that life was for. Certainly, you did not set out to find happiness. I don’t think that that was untypical. The explicit tracking down of happiness through marriage or indeed otherwise was not so much to the fore. Satisfaction, achievement, things seen or heard or done, rooms warmed, socks darned, were proper aims. I suspect that my mother had an almost overmastering capacity for happiness that unsettled people and made her electric, both attractive and repellent. My father not. Or rather, not with my mother, not on our watch. I think he was happy in his second family and marriage.
My father, unlike my mother, was not a soul completed by an emotion or a mood. He was completed by a thing well done or a passage of visual or auditory proportion. He closed himself off against mood, which may be why my mother thought him distant and so glamorous, at once drawn by this sealedness and unknowingly encouraging him to evaporate into thought or execution.
I thought that she was going to die because I liked her so much. Then she did. I’m not sure if that left me thinking that love from me might be fatal.
Can I really never have had that thought until this moment, when I type it blind, released into these paragraphs of truth-telling by two things in the night here on Colonsay? I shall come to them, as I must try not to flinch politely away from whatever dark moth it is I am circling with my net around the prone form of my mother, on her front in a knitted green day-dress on my bed in my mushroom-grey brocade wallpapered nursery.
My mother attracted moths and butterflies. If she did not literally do so, there were more of them around in those days, and she drew my attention to them unerringly. I think of my mother with her long hair held back in a scarf or with cat’s-eye sunglasses, holding out a brown and orange butterfly to let it go back to land as we crossed over on the ferry to the Isle of Arran. I think of her saving gold heavy-bodied dusty moths from hot light bulbs at night, lamenting the moths’ short lives.
She did her hair at the open window of their bedroom and butterflies came to her sticky newly lacquered fair fine hair and danced around her head in its staticky mist. I can see her as a healer of race-horses or an animal shrink, or an unemployed white witch. For sure, she drew familiars to herself. She was a hopeless teacher because she did things almost entirely by instinct, while my father was a splendid one, having clarity of intellect and fully trained consciousness of how our, and several other languages, had come about and what differentiated line. She would have been a marvellous…well…
My experience of her indicates that what she would have been pre-eminently, whatever job she took, is a marvellous mother. As in, a mother who provides marvels and who transmits the marvel in things.
I was reviewing her talents and atmosphere as I wrote, and it came to me without words, the sense of her kitchen and her small garden in our street, of the entertaining that she did with not much more than a cauliflower and some cheese and her stapled blue and white china bowls from junk shops. What she had was the presiding touch. Not much confidence, and less of it as her marriage progressed and she failed to live up to her mother-in-law, or to get jobs in shops, which as I recall is what she felt qualified to apply for.
Not much confidence, no, but many wasted gifts that did not yet at that time have a name, and not at all in the conventional Edinburgh of her short married life. She might be surprised to see that people pay nowadays for the things she did by nature: listening, amusing, seeing to the heart, making rooms feel whole, tracking down and reviving unloved objects, creatures, people.
My mother made jars of pink jelly that shone gold at their centre from the tart orange fruit of the rowans by the railway sidings along from the dog-racing stadium. She labelled the rowan-jelly jars with drawings of the Scottish kings (the rowan tree is the royal badge of Scotland). She made elderflower cordial with the powdery blossoms from the cemetery, after she had shaken them over muslin to spare the small flies therein a sugary death. My mother did two things or more at once and took account of other things all along, so that her life was in ribbons, but they were bright, if, by the end, pale.
It might have been enough for her to have been a wife, had her husband been at home, had he been a farmer or a farrier or something other than a man resident within his mind or else out of the house. She should have had a practical world to inhabit. Instead, and fortunes have in our time been built on such a thing (think of Cath Kidston), she made a fantasy of domesticity that was probably not to the taste of her husband, though it is a frail but vividly living thing for her daughter to handle in prose, when it would be best in transmission through re-enactment. It beats me where she got it from, this bee-loud domestic engine, as her mother could not endure anything that was unlike the neighbours’ way of life for fear, I suppose, that her origins be revealed, and her father liked his experience unvarying from day to day, shares, golf, more shares, meals, no talk, televised boxing.
Well, that is where she got it from, naturally. She was reflexive.
My mother, were the thought not transgressive, I think is the fashionable term, might have been a good wife to such a man as my first husband. I was awfully aware, when we married, that she would have been jealous of me, marrying a handsome man who understood horses, shared many of her inborn traits such as instinctive conservatism and innate faith, and who would have sheltered her gifts with pride. She would have adorned his world and been a good charity committee person, painting and gardening and sitting on the bench, mixing her magical attributes with her commonsensical ones, enjoying his authoritative capacities. My father would not exert authority unless he was forced to. His socialism and his classicism were each so pure that he simply could not allow for human weakness; he thought that in an ideal world people were likely to behave well, which meant modestly, unselfishly, according to principle and proportion. My mother’s humours did not accord with this conviction, requiring attention and explanation, in for which he did not go. It was his fortune later on to marry someone whose own disciplined upbringing supported him. I can offer to my mother’s shade the certainty that in his older daughter my first husband shelters aspects of her grandmother, my mother. Her way of being is in part in harbour now.
It comes to me that amid the stuttering mental pain of her last months, she did go frequently to organise things for the Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. I was baffled by this because she would dash to her friend Kitty’s house, where the meetings took place, or to Mrs Ross-Skinner, and I would catch the drift of her errand as her basket and her scarf and her scent flew ahead of me down the windy street–that she was on her way to do ‘cruelty to children’.
I could have believed it, with the bit of me that she slapped and shouted at, but I didn’t, since, though I did fear her temper, I far more feared my father’s, that held in it distaste. And I knew that I was an abnormally fearful child and that this was not a popular way to be and made me suspect among certain of my friends’ parents.
I can’t remember whether I approached death with the same sidling fascination as I approached the sexual. My own relationship with death was almost consoling. It was part of me, not something against which I made myself. That is, I was afraid of it, but I was used to being afraid of it, and when it came it was in each case not welcome, not a relief, but a thing that in that particular instance could never quite be repeated, each death being congruent in nothing but its nothingness–but peremptorily different in shape of loss.
The two events of the rainy night in Colonsay are as follows. I dined with my not-brother Alexander and his family, his wife and son of fourteen, daughter of twelve. The willowy young people sat at the table, as some of the adults present wrangled noisily about the pre-existence of mind. The twelve-year-old retired to bed. The fourteen-year-old sat quietly, listened, took the shouty opinions, considered them, analysed them, cut them down to size and presented them back to us all, well groomed, but not thornless. He held his own soberly over the happily vinous table for about ten pleasurable minutes in the candlelight. It is particularly happy to watch the face of someone whom you have seen since babyhood and of whose parents you are fond. I held my forehead right up throughout the evening in order to watch the two children and their mother and father.
At four o’clock this morning, a helicopter took that boy to a cardiac unit on the Scottish mainland, where he presently is with his mother, while his father and sister are here on the island in the stair-rod rain. Nobody is over-reacting. The mode of this family in crisis is decidedly calm. But, while this had been going on, I was lying in bed thinking about all our ends, almost conversationally, while my cheap pink CD player relayed in the hush the speaking voice of a friend, reading his most recent book, that is, among other things a disquisition upon mortality.
‘Whenever the moon and stars are set,
Whenever the wind is high,
All night long in the dark and wet,
A man goes riding by’
the rain was saying, completely reassuringly.
‘Late in the night when the fires are out,
Why does he gallop and gallop about,
Whenever the trees are crying aloud,
And ships are tossed at sea’,
said the rain and the wind against my bedroom shutters, while I listened to my friend’s voice and was for a good part of the night less afraid than I have been for weeks, on account of the reassuring family supper; two of whose protagonists were during those same hours in another part of the house, praying for regularity to return to a beloved, faltering, human heart.
The last lines of Robert Louis Stevenson’s poem, which has been one of my lifelong sleep-charms, read first to me by a parent, brings something more frightening into focus. The lovely hoofed clatter of the lines returns insistently as a firmer knock altogether. Is the night rider someone more threatening than a highwayman?
By, on the highway, low and loud,
By at the gallop goes he.
By at the gallop he goes, and then,
By he comes back at the gallop again.
Deacon Brodie was the famous Edinburgh highwayman, a minister by day and a robber by night, robbing the rich to succour his poor. He died on a gibbet of his own devising. Miss Jean Brodie is, as she explains, his descendant. Each of them is meting out a certain sort of justice and living out that famous Scottish doubledness, in order to shake things up. The pub named for the Deacon, on the Royal Mile in Edinburgh, had a sign that used to haunt me when I was small, and that has supplied one face of my fears to this day. The deacon is masked, up close, his eyes seen through holes in a tight band of cloth.
With one of the earliest book tokens I was given aged about six, I bought, on my own, operating under some compulsion to look at what struck fear into me, an American paperback of A Journal of the Plague Year by Daniel Defoe, precisely because its cover bore a depiction of a face looking through a white mask of cloth. It was a good read for the child I was too, as it happens, full of herbs and philtres against death.
Aged ten, I read both Aldous Huxley’s The Devils of Loudun and a sort of shocker called The Nun of Monza, because they had covers that featured burning eyes staring through holes in otherwise anonymous masks of cloth. I cannot suppress fear at such spirit-extinguishing masks and my dreams employ extras in the tall pointed headwear of Ku Klux Klan or of Inquisition, hoods down over faces like snuffers over candle flames. I cannot bear large groups, in film or in life, of undifferentiated beings without faces. Orcs are perhaps are the worst, but wasps are bad, though I was ashamed to learn from the diaries of Simon Gray that wasps have specific jobs and roles in the wasp world and establish committed domestic loyalties. He learned this when he and his wife called in the pest control officer, who was a fond amateur of the creatures he was paid to exterminate, a relationship gamekeepers will find familiar.
Nothing more undoing to the tender heart than a glimpse of the exterminee’s home life.
Or so you might have hoped had people themselves, once the numbers are large enough, not disproved this.
The sky in the Western Isles moves from dark to light to dark with flashy effect upon mood. It’s as enlivening as strobe lights, disconcerting, choppy, dashing. The sun is forever stripping right down to pure light and then bundling all its grey shawls on again. Today has delivered three dousings of rain from a black sky, several seemingly tented interludes of white sun from a white sky, and one golden bolt out of the blue that came down to earth with a pennant of tight respective strips of rainbow, only loosening into pallid pink green blue violet rayed haze when the next rain, as it had to, came. I feel the weather on my back as I work by the open window and I feel it over my own shawled eyelids.
In one of these gaps of light over dark, Alexander has set off in his little aeroplane towards the mainland with his daughter. He’s taken a packed lunch on the plane for when they all meet up in hospital in Glasgow. He gets into the air, and sometimes, if things are jaunty and he feels like it, he tips his wing at whichever members of his family he’s leaving behind.
I never saw this gesture in war, of course, but have seen it in countless films. It is hard not to get a lump in the throat, the tall man and the small machine.
Two writer friends, Janice Galloway and Julian Barnes, have recently written autobiographical works that stressed they were not autobiographies, each emphasising in its title a word of negation, even, denial. It’s the intelligent way. It’s the only remotely truthful way; all ambiguity in that phrase fully loaded and intentional. Her This Is Not About Me and his Nothing to Be Frightened Of both deployed to the full their very different powers of negative capability. Her book was nicotinous with slanted, smoking recall, the underskirt under the skirt, while his boned out to its full pit-haunted beauty the typical cleverness of that title. You cannot deflect his eye from the heart of his matter.
It is indeed nothing itself of which we should be frightened.
This book is among his most imaginative work. Apparently conversational, certainly lively, it is nevertheless made of prose so very clean, so deadly serious in intent, that it should hold out longer than bronze, prose that, its author knows, will, naturally, not so last.
These books are under-books, if I may make up a term for the works that form first as clouds then distil then fall during the life of a writer, who is making, or thinks he or she is making, quite other works. They are what else is going on.
The trouble with writing any book at all, though, is that it will produce its under-book, so the process is, by definition, an endless one. During the writing of fiction, this can be a beneficent, even invigorating, force. The shape of the next book consolidates beneath the one you are extracting from the waters. Reasonable enough to object that I can’t have much experience of this, as I’ve not written a novel for so long, but that does not mean they haven’t been circling me, and showing their backs up through the deep.
As a by-product of a memoir already written, the notion of the under-book leads to the sort of puzzle that is by turns a charming and a terrifying idea, one that first took hold in me when I saw in a doll’s house a doll’s house that contained a doll’s house. I think that this realisation of infinite contained diminution comes to every child in one collapsed flash at around the age of three. It then returns, complicating and developing itself, over all the coming years as they pull themselves out of what looked like just the one vessel, but is actually a telescope, diminishing but not terminating–until it does.
My experience of Russian dolls was later, when I was about four, and somehow less interesting, because so well defined, the big capacious hollow doll on the outside, the little solid doll in one piece at the end of the, not actually in detail identical, row. The idea of the infinitude of entities fills the mind much more crammingly than its embodiment in wood and varnish dolls.
I saw the idea animated out at sea off the northernmost point of Colonsay. I mentioned the sight before in my spoken memoir, and round it has come again; it is what lies beneath, coming up each time from further below.
In engravings of sea battles, you may sometimes see in the corner, near the compass rose or churning against a fleet in order of battle, big-mouthed fish swallowing fish swallowing fish swallowing fish right down to sprats, and, it may be imagined, to fish too small to be drawn, smaller than a water drop, a single egg this size.
We were mackerel fishing in a clinker-built boat, adults and children, dipping and shaking darrows with metal and rubber lures at intervals along the simple line. The sea was neatly choppy, then stood still like setting jelly.
A breath was taken, somewhere. There began a sequence too remorseless to have been organised by anything but nature. From the sea dimpled a cloud of million upon million tiny fish the size of escaped swarming semicolons from this page, full-stop eyes and transparent comma tail. Next came the fish the length of little sentences, strips in the air, many more. Behind them and pulling some sea up with them came the flock of good-sized pollock, about a paperback long, soft and floppy and innumerable, followed by the vigorous black-printed hard-backed spines of the mackerel themselves, purposeful, rigid, silvery in flight, determined to avoid whatever it was by leaving their element. Some even fell into the boat they braved in their great print-run of collaborative fright.
In its own time, the basking shark surfaced, voluminous, dark, impossible to read, never seen entire until finished, forming and pressing aside the waters from its back, as slow as the last word, holding time up; as the small fry before it had splintered time into fraught literal quickness.
Our own amateur dipping into that sea for a few fish to clean and split, to dip in oatmeal and place in butter in a pan, was shown up as the interruption we humans are to what is actually always going on.
After that easier time in February of this year staying with Fram and Claudia in Oxford, I understood that habituation was what I must use to drive out habit, and that, were I to be confronted with the reality of their life together, I would not be able to cleave so dearly to some trapping notion of their life’s perfected surface. Not that their life is any less happy than I imagine it, but instead of being as far from it as I can arrange to be and thinking of nothing but it, I can try although I am blind, to see it in truth.
It is not so dreadful not to be loved as it is not to feel able to give love: ‘Let the more loving one be me.’ It was the thing I could do, and somehow I have so scared myself as to feel that even the love I give, that came so easily, to my children, has been chilled by my shutting myself out in the cold.
I’m running out of things to lose and therefore find myself, to my shame, with rather less to give. It happened more suddenly than I had reckoned with. I think that it must be like that for everybody. It’s always too soon.
The weekend after I had spent quite a time in Oxford with them, Claudia invited me to stay again. Toby again cooked a roast with vegetables from his allotment and an aunt of Claudia’s was staying. Claudia has many aunts. There are many parts for women in her family drama.
The oven hadn’t been cleaned for a bit, so there was a smell of cooking. Fram is exigent about smells; they lighten or darken his mood. He was once angry when I made popcorn before Steven Runciman came to lunch at our flat in Oxford. The great student of the patriarchate of Constantinople was then in his late nineties. The air in the flat where we lived was blue with popped kernels and burnt corn oil, a seedy sort of hecatomb. Why did popcorn suggest itself as an appropriate snack?
That Friday evening in Oxford decades later by now in our own lives, Fram was scratchy, though the supper was delicious. I wondered whether it was all a put-up job, Claudia being so considerate of my feelings that she arranged to rile Fram to show me that their relationship isn’t perfect. Or the two of them setting it up, with Toby, spreading carbonised fat on the innards of the stove. Or…these are the tergiversations of my obsession in all its banality.
The evening passed happily, robustly, confidentially. I didn’t cry that much in bed after we had said goodnight and I managed to do what I do so that I will not howl like a dog, which is to have Proust ready in CD form on the turntable of the CD machine I take with me and put on the pillow next to me if I’m in a double bed. I hold another pillow and lie and listen.
Sometimes I wake up in the night and remember that I am I and what has gone before and I burn. My eyes stare open at these times, but what’s the point? They aren’t open, like water to light, for reading. They look at the carnage and they sting from the carbon of the burnt-up days and hopes. I burn with remorse. Its name, Remorse, suggests it is a practice form of death, ‘mors’, though its root is not death but the bite that it holds on the spirit.
No professional associated with the so-called ‘psychological approach’ to my blepharospasm had taken seriously the idea of remorse by this point. Every one of them flinched from any term that implied moral judgement or any system beyond the pragmatic, what you might call, even, the self-centred. How swiftly self has replaced even the sense of social responsibility. There is a free-market psychiatric bias in the establishment.
Perhaps the most rapacious free marketeer so far has been the hypnotist, famous and by all accounts highly effective, whom I visited just once in the New Year of this year. Her secretary took my credit card number. The waiting room offered the usual macabre trailer for what is to come. As has become familiar to me, magazines are laid out with exaggerated care as though they were learned journals, and loose-leaf files of before-and-after shots of plastic surgery procedures are helpfully disposed on a side table near the artificial flowers, that are periodically refreshed with scented spray by outside contractors. In the winter months, there may be a replacement flower arrangement in carmine and spruce. At Christmas the tree will be equipped with shiny empty presents hanging from the plastic-needled boughs.
I entered the studio (too creative in arrangement to be called a consulting room) of the renowned hypnotist, and she addressed me, looking at my woven leather handbag that I’d bought from a hippie outlet online. She spoke one word, which will be familiar to fancy shoppers.
‘Bottega?’ (Bottega Veneta is a, very expensive, Italian fashion house.)
No, I said, my bag wasn’t from there.
She interrogated any of my clothes that were susceptible of such a nakedly undeserved upgrade, and, when I wouldn’t play, she laid me low on a long leather lounger with a sticky bolster for my head. There was an almost fresh towel over it.
She encouraged me to think of a beach, on which I was lying, maybe in company, ‘feeling great about myself’. I took a beach from my extensive collection, a good cold beach, with pebbles and reeking seaweed. I added litter. I am made itchy by the idea of the hot palm-fringed beaches of the brochures, so in a way I was selecting a more relaxing setting in which to become porous to her trickling syrup.
She told me that I was right under now and that men preferred blonde to grey hair, so I might think of getting my hair highlighted. I was there because I couldn’t see, not because I was looking for Mr Anyone at All. Her own hair, I could not help having noticed, was what advertisers believe all men adore to run their craggy yet strangely sensitive fingers through, teased, red, and full of product. She encouraged me, in a special swooping, supercaring voice that sometimes left her grammar in trouble, to find a secret place within myself where I was ‘very very calm’.
I’d rather have been reading a book.
When she started talking in a normal, coarse, ‘real life’ voice again, I sat up and hoped that I could disappear for good.
‘It says on your paperwork you are a writer,’ she began. ‘I’ve written a book. Would you mind casting an eye over it? It’s going to be called I’m Alright, so Fuck You.’
The extraordinary thing is that I didn’t say, ‘I came to you because I cannot see and it is driving me mad.’ I said, ‘Oh, how very interesting. Is it about self-esteem issues?’
‘You are very sympathetic, Candida,’ she said. ‘You could be in my line of work.’
So now I know. I could talk rubbish to desperate people and be paid for it.
I cancelled the next two sessions (you had to book in batches, such was the demand). The secretary explained in a soothing voice that they would have to keep my deposit for the missed sessions. A hundred per cent. It may indeed be my path on life’s winding yet rewarding journey to utilise my prodigious empathic powers to print money with the sad press of others’ credulity. The book, over which no eye of mine had been cast, emerged, and is a big seller. That’s most likely because I went nowhere near it. Unsympathetic magic.
The worst of the remorseful nights have been in hospital, where you are more alone for not being alone. You cannot weep. It would be cruel and selfish, among the sick and dying. And if you start to weep, you may start to howl, and call down the shape that is lying in wait for us all in the dark, coming back at the gallop (or jig, or silent tread) again. Always coming back for more.
The next day, in Oxford after the smoky roast, Fram asked me how to clean an oven. I told him and he bought the materials. Because no one else in the household bothers, he did it, and took pleasure in it. I offered to do it, and with some patience he resisted the temptation to say, ‘You silly bitch, your willingness to clean the ovens of others blind while they pick flowers has got you where you are today.’
While he cleaned the oven, wearing gloves, with bicarbonate of soda, I cleaned the silver, much of it his parents’, that had lived so tidy–though not tidy enough–a life with us, but a tidy life that had let it down. It was now rubbing along with all kinds of impurities and no one was bleeding.
I reunited forks with forks, knives with knives, rubbed with silver-polish-impregnated wool, and realised that I was achieving nothing but the temporary cleaning of some silver, and that it was not a metaphor for anything at all.
If I was cleaning silver, it was just so that the silver might be clean. I had lived my life trying to implement the beautiful ideal of Fram’s subject of study, George Herbert, ‘Who sweeps a room, as for Thy laws, Makes that, and the action, fine’, but I had confused the terms of life and art. I was cleaning a lot of forks that would get dirty again as they should in the ordinary process of life.
I must not place myself in the category of one whose life is not real, since it is the life that I have.
I cleaned the bath, here on Colonsay, doing it by feel, with gloves, and a pungent wholesale chemical scouring ointment that suited just fine. It is dangerous to live wholly through others if there is anything at all impure in your nature. I must put myself out into the warm and light, that I am convinced I do not deserve. I lie cold and burning in the drawer where I have stowed myself away like an old knife, blackening and growing self-sharpening as remorse grinds at me, burning away like this in the cold.
This pain is not even useful.
I think that I’ve seen it off every time, this shameful pain.
But it returns.
It is the sense that I earned my blindness by every lovely thing I saw and my unhappiness by every moment in my life that was good that galls and imprisons me. It is so trite, so dull, so inutile.
It is cold and the doves are roosting in the garden on this island. Soon it will be dark, or the light that passes for the dark in the North in spring.