And then Qoorog was there, coming up the path, along the edge of it, plodding forward, his head down, his hair hanging down, knees up high, one after the other, like he was sleepwalking. The hill was steep and the steam thick. I waited for him. He was a heavy guy, thick jowls and stomach, but he wasn’t out of breath; he didn’t look at her as he approached.
“You smoke?” His voice wasn’t like she imagined; it was normal, like she was talking to someone in the park.
“Yes.” He had a big head, round and impressive, high heavy cheek bones, a wide jaw, a silvery walrus neatly trimmed mustache, large ears and a thick neck; his eyes were bright behind his wire-framed glasses, almost stern. “I don’t.”
“I’ve seen your cat.”
“Yes.” He was already moving past, his walking cadence the same, slow and hard, his feet shooting out ahead and then almost gliding, like a mute spirit-walker supreme.
Joe Simpson’s memoir of survival, Touching the Void, focuses on the battle within:
I had never been so entirely alone, and although this alarmed me it also gave me strength. And excited tingle ran down my spine. I was committed. The game had taken over, and I could no longer choose to walk away from it. It was as if there were two minds with me arguing the toss. The voice was clean and sharp and commanding. It was always right, and I listened to it when it spoke and acted on its decisions. The other mind rambled out a disconnected series of images, and memories and hopes, which I attended to in a daydream state as I set about obeying the orders of the voice. I had to get to the glacier. I would crawl on the glacier, but I didn’t think that far ahead. If my perspectives had sharpened, so too had they narrowed, until I thought only in terms of achieving predetermined aims and no further. Reaching the glacier was my aim. The voice told me exactly how to go about it, and I obeyed while my other mind jumped abstractly from one idea to another.
“I read about you in the newspaper.”
“My life’s a scandal.”
“My mother cried when she saw that story. I remember looking at the picture of your house. It was dark behind the trees. I didn’t understand.”“No.” Dee traced her finger on the swirling lines of the granite. “You didn’t read about that.”
“I remember my mother talking about it at my uncle’s, standing by the fireplace. I was looking into the fire, watching the logs move forward and fall into the ashes.” “My aunt told everyone about your father crashing his motorcycle, and they were talking about you. These people were all above me, adults talking like they knew things. That was the moment when I knew they didn’t. They knew nothing. They were scared. They just said these things that filled the air, that it was tragic and you were poor girl and there was nothing anyone could have done. And I looked at this fireplace and was suddenly terrified. I had felt like I was safe, that the fireplace meant something, the food on the table, the glasses in their hands, but it meant nothing. Everything was nothing. Nothing was nothing. It wasn’t just a word. It was all I knew.”
It was a long wooden walkway running down over the rocks to it, a dull yellow, low clapboard structure with small rectangular window and an unassuming bland metal chimney on the end, the calm water, ice and endless sky spreading out beyond it as far as she could see. That was their home for the next three weeks.Her mother played records from start to finish. Lai wasn’t allowed to just listen to her favorite songs. She had to get there. She had to hear all of the songs on the record, both sides, A and B. Puff was the second last song on Side A. And then This Land is Your Land. I couldn’t stand that song. Lai watched her mother, sitting there in a hand-knit sweater, a grey and white caribou herd across her chest. She looked old, not just the way she moved, but her face and neck. It was what she imagined for herself, wandering through darkness, not finding the right things, sitting and staring, because there was nothing else to do.
E.B. White wrote the following on May 11, 1929 in The New Yorker:
“Writing is not an occupation,” writes Sherwood Anderson. “When it comes to an occupation a certain amateur spirit is gone out of it. Who wants to lose that?” Nobody does, replies the semi-pro, sitting here straining at his typewriter. Nobody does, yet few writers have the courage to buy a country newspaper, or even quit a city writing job for anything at all. What Mr. Anderson says is pretty true. Some of the best writings of writers, it seems to us, were done before they actually thought of themselves as engaged in producing literature. Some of the best humor of humorists was produced before they heard the distant laughter of their multitudes. Probably what Mr. Anderson means, more specifically, is that life is apt to be translated most accurately by a person who sees it break through the mist at unexpected moments – a person who experiences sudden clear images. A writer, being conscientious, is always straining his eyes for this moment, peering ahead and around; consequently when the moment of revelation comes, his eyes poppy and tired and his sensitized mind has become fogged by the too-frequent half-stimuli of imagined sight. No figure is more pitiful to contemplate than the novelist with a thousand-dollar advance from a publishing house and a date when the manuscript is due. he knows he must invite his soul, but he is compelled to add, “And don’t be late, soul!”
They watched Ethan step back from the table, trying to look calm.
“He’s really into it.” Robi’s voice cracked.
“You don’t gamble?” Angelica asked.
“Yeah, I’ve gambled. I’ve lost everything and tried to get more to make it all back.”
“I couldn’t do it.” Angelica sighed. “I just couldn’t lose money like that.” “I’ve lost money. Shit, it wasn’t that bad. It was just stupid.” Robi sat forward, his cheek lightly against the stucco pillar. “I lost $3500 on Blackjack. I just didn’t know when to go to bed.”
“I don’t get it,” Angelica tilted her head.
“It’s just…you’re there and you believe that you will win. It’s incredibly real. It’s faith.”
“Sounds like boredom to me,” she replied.
“You ever see Capricorn One? You ever see that, Nico?” She didn’t wait for him to reply. “James Brolin, O.J. Simpson. I fucking loved that movie.”“The mission to the moon that went wrong. They faked it because they didn’t have the budget, and then the capsule dissolved in re-entry. And so they had to kill the pretend pilots. It turned stupid in the end, little evil black helicopters chasing them around.”
Nico hunched over his screen and turned a switch. “There will be something else tomorrow, Dee, another slaughter, another crime against humanity. And we all know exactly that. We wait for the next thing. And it’s always worse than we can imagine.”
“What about Twilight’s Last Gleaming? The gang that hijacks the nuclear silo, with Burt Lancaster.” He looked around at Dee. “Burt Lancaster claims that there is some kind of secret doctrine about the Vietnam War being fought to prove to the Soviets that they could sacrifice their men. Yes, I remember it.”
“You know, I used to believe all of that.” She spoke too fast, shorthand for what was in her head “It was a revelation. I believed it. I couldn’t understand why the government didn’t fall. It took me a long time to realize it’s not like that. I’m still not there. People are people. We are just who we are. There is no evil emperor, no star chamber, nothing. It’s just us and our demons, pretending that all of this is decided by someone different. And it’s just us.”
“Everyone is exceptional in one thing.”
“Only idiots believe something like that.”
“Yeah, well, I can eat a whole bag of cookies like it was nothing.” “I tell myself it’s going to be just two or three. I eat those and then another. And then the row, the entire row, and I put the bag back. I sit down for like a minute, less than that, and go back and eat another row. It’s half gone then. It seems right to leave it like that. It’s supposed to be just another row because there’s supposed to be another row after that. And there isn’t. I’ve eaten them all.”
I can see in the dark, you know. I’ve been here for quite a while.*
*Mr. Robinson to Benjamin in Mike Nichols’ The Graduate
She was hiding under the covers and then I was under her dress, tucked against her breasts. She tried to push me away but she liked it too much, her body taut, pushing into my face and then pulling away. I loved her like that, her lips and breasts, her hips rolling up, so bent on the edge. I liked that emptiness, holding that demand in me, hard, and I couldn’t stop.She was still wearing her panties and part of her top, or at least I thought she was, and saw her lean away, her face go to one side, eyes closed as she lifted her knees and grabbed my shoulder. I was frozen, seeing her like that, pent up, wanting to explode, me wanting nothing but that, to be there, my hand down her stomach, pulling at her top and breasts, down onto her hips, pulling her panties down, all of her naked, she turning around, pushing back, wiggling, hanging on in a desperate act, burning, her back arched and pulling me inside. It was terrifying – for a moment anyway – how much I liked it.