What to Look for in Winter: A Memoir in Blindness - Candia McWilliam (2012)


Chapter 9: Two Instances of Spring

The darkness brought down by my closed eyes is a new way of being shut out. Since that darkness is my circumstance, unless this operation which I am awaiting works, it is surely the right thing to turn that darkness into a new way to be alone.

The stay with Fram and Claudia over Minoo’s birthday was full of things that worked, as long as I kept the past from my mind. If I ceased thinking of my own life, that I had no job, no home and no systems within which to do more than exist as an organism from day to day, beyond the sketchy membranes of prayer and washing, then it was pleasant to be part of this busy house with the comings and goings of young people, conversation, and the tenor of wit and shared myth that lies at the heart of full lives.

Fram said, I am sure truthfully and I know welcomingly, that it was a matter of indifference to him whether I stayed for two hours or two years with them, they would carry on as they do with their lives, to which I might be as much of an addition as I wished. Claudia finds me easier. I second-guess his boredom and in doing so bring it into being.

Clementine and Rose came for Minoo’s birthday lunch, and Olly in the evening. At lunch, there was prosecco and a roast made by the twins’ father, Toby, and Clem and Rose brought presents wrapped in sparkly paper that left granular silver dust on our hands. Both girls had silvered their eyes like fish scales. Claudia’s son Xavier was there, and they shared a cake sent by Cousin Audrey in Edinburgh. The garden was sunny and early flowers were through in Fram’s newly made garden, scented paperwhites and wintersweet with its strong scent of milky Earl Grey tea. Clem likes Fram’s gardening and enjoyed the thin squeaky-stemmed fragrant narcissi. I was glad for her that the vase and the cutlery, the napery and some of the plates were familiar to her.

I loved it that she enjoyed the ironed flowered napkins that reminded her of Fram’s mother, who had chosen and hemmed them. Fram’s parents were fond of my older two children.

At tea that day, there arrived Claudia’s cousin Alexander with his family. He crowned the day by telling Clem and Rose that he and Claudia are their cousins. This gave plurality and wreathing life to the already happy day, so far is Alexander Waugh from the dead hand of genealogy and self-importance, unlike those satiating moments when Marcel notices how often he hears the word ‘cousin’ in the world of the Faubourg Saint-Germain.

Minoo became twenty, his siblings and coevals celebrated, several of his parent figures rejoiced, and his parents spent the week roughly under the same roof.

It was a blossomy time when I was in Oxford, a forward part of the country. Colonsay is slower to come into bower, so I’ve had two springs this year.

Claudia was establishing a new outlet for a small independent publishing house during that week, so she was busy in the most congenial of ways to a blind onlooker. Fram showed towards her the mock-exasperated mixture of pretend scepticism and actual loyalty that is his braced and bracing form of support. Their days went forward in separateness together, that state praised by Fram’s friend and colleague John Bayley in his book Iris.

Claudia introduced me to a friend of hers who does massage. I am struck among some of her friends by their attention to the state of their own health. I might have done well to take account of the rules by which they are defending and monitoring their bodily lives, but at their age and younger, I would have thought it narcissistic to be so in touch with the body; my mistake, my very Scottish mistake. I think mean old baglike thoughts about their comparative youthful being and my own blown body and disability.

This woman however did something unlike any other massage I had undergone. There were no words, oils or embarrassing wavy or whaley soundtracks.

She used wordless intuition to make me breathe so slowly and deeply that my thoughts ceased for a time to race and repeat themselves. Her discipline has been learned over decades; she is not a proselytiser. Something really works. Regrettably, she lives on a beach with sharks in its sea at the very top of northern Queensland, but this spring I met her as often as possible before she and I went to our separate homes on islands of very different size. She has done more than most to see off the incessant internal instructions I give myself. You can attempt to defy what she does by pulling tension and acid into your mind, but she feels what you are doing and makes minutely inflected pressures that force you to release the knots and poisons. She leaves your organs with nowhere to hide. Meanwhile, you are fully clothed and forgetful of self. The sense afterwards is that you may, after all, have another chance, that you may have the equipment remaining within you with which to love.