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Authors: Jane Urquhart

Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Literary, #Contemporary Fiction, #Literary Fiction

A Map of Glass

Jane Urquhart

A MAP OF GLASS

ebook ISBN: 978-1-59692-839-8

M P Publishing Limited
12 Strathallan Crescent
Douglas
Isle of Man
IM2 4NR
British
Isles
Telephone: +44 (0)1624 618672
email: [email protected]

MacAdam/Cage Publishing
155 Sansome Street, Suite 550
San Francisco, CA 94104
www.macadamcage.com

Copyright © 2006 by Jane Urquhart
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Urquhart, Jane.
A map of glass / by Jane Urquhart.
p. cm.
ISBN 1-59692-170-6 (alk.paper)
I.Title
PR9199.3U7M36 2006
813'.54–dc22
2006000360
The epigraph is taken from Robert Smithson’s essay “A Provisional Theory
of Non-Sites” (1968). published in
Robert Smithson: The Collected Writings
, edited by
Jack Flam. Copyright © 1996. Used by permission of the Estate and VAGA (Visual Artists and Galleries Association).
Book design by Dorothy Carico Smith.
Publisher’s Note: This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and
incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.
Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

For A.M. to the west of me
And A.M. to the east of me.
They encouraged and inspired.

“By drawing a diagram, a ground plan of a house, a street plan to the location of a site, or a topographic map, one draws a ‘logical two dimensional picture’. A ‘logical picture’ differs from a natural or realistic picture in that it rarely looks like the thing it stands for.”

– Robert Smithson,
The Collected Writings

H
e is an older man walking in winter. And he knows this. There is white everywhere and a peculiar, almost acidic smell that those who have passed through childhood in a northern country associate with new, freshly fallen snow. He recognizes the smell but cannot bring to mind the word
acidic
.
Snow
,
walking
, and
winter
are the best he can come up with – these few words – and then the word
older
, which is associated with
effort
. Effort is what he is making; the effort to place one foot in front of the other, the effort required to keep moving, to keep moving toward the island. It might have been more than an hour ago that he remembered, and then forgot, the word
island
. But even now, even though the word for island has gone, he believes he is walking toward a known place. He has a map of the shoreline in his brain; its docks and rundown wooden buildings, a few trees grown in the last century. Does he have the word for trees? Sometimes yes, but mostly no. He is better with landforms.
Island
– though it is gone at this moment – is a word that stays longer than most;
island
,
peninsula
,
hill
,
valley
,
moraine
,
escarpment
,
shoreline
,
river
,
lake
are all words that have passed in and out of his mind in the course of the morning, along with the odd hesitant, fragmented attempt at his name, which has come to him only partially, once as what he previously would have called the article
An
, then later as the conjunction
And
.

Tears are sliding over the bones of his face, but these are tears caused by the dazzle of the sun in front of him, not by sorrow. Sorrow and the word for sorrow disappeared some months ago. Terror is the only emotion that visits him now, often accompanied by a transparent curtain of blinding gold, but even this is mercifully fleeting, often gone before he fully recognizes it. He does not remember the word
gold
. He does not remember that in the past he saw the real colors of the world.

He senses an unusually cluttered form in his immediate vicinity: “a fence,” he once would have called it. It would have brought to mind the “path-masters” and surveyors of the past, but now he knows it only as something that has not grown out of the earth, something that is impeding his progress. As he stands bewildered near the fence, he looks at the intricate shadows of the wire created by sunlight on the snow in front of him and the word
tangle
slips into his mind. He walks right through the tangle of the shadow, but is not able to gain passage through the wires themselves.

He does not remember what to do with a fence, how to get over it, through it, past it, but his body makes a decision to run, to charge headlong into the confusion, and in fact this appears to have been the correct decision, for he has catapulted to the opposite side and has landed first on one shoulder, then on his stomach so that his face is in the snow. Snow, he thinks, and then, walking, which is what he must do to reach the island. He gropes for the word
island
, and has almost conquered it by the time he is back on his feet. But the shape and sound of it slips away again before he can grasp the meaning, slips away and is replaced by a phrase, and the phrase is
the place the water touches all around
.

He knows the island was the beginning – knows this in a vague way, not having the words for either island or beginning. He must get to the place that water touches all around because without the beginning he cannot understand this point in time, this walk in the snow, the breath that comes into his mouth and then departs in small clouds like the ghosts of all the words he can no longer recall. If he can arrive at this beginning, he believes he will remember what was born there, and what came into being later, and later again, and later again – a theorem that might lead him to the
now
of effort and snow.

He begins once again to move forward. Often he bumps against trees, but this does not worry him because he knows they are meant to be there, and will remain after he has passed by them. Like an animal, he is stepping by instinct through the trees, branch by branch, the smell of the destination on the edge of his consciousness. While he is among pines, an image of an enormous raft made of timber floats through his imagination and connects somehow, for an instant, with the word
glass
, which, in turn, connects again, for just an instant, with the word
ballroom
. In this daydream there are men with poles standing on the raft’s surface. Sometimes they are dancing. Sometimes they are kneeling, praying.

When he comes to a break in the forest, he is perplexed by an area of openness that curls off to the left and to the right. Then, quite suddenly, inexplicably, he remembers a fact about winter rivers and their tributaries, how they become frozen, covered with snow. He is momentarily aware of some of the natural things he used to think about. He enunciates, quite clearly, the syllables of the word
watershed
, then straightens his shoulders, attentive to, and briefly suspicious of, the deep, bell-like sound of his own voice.

He walks for some time on the hard, pale river, his left sleeve now and then brushing against the arms of snow-laden pines. Eventually his body comes to know it is exhausted and takes the decision to lie on the smooth bed of ice and snow. By now the sun is gone; it is a deep winter night of great clarity and great beauty. He can see points of light that he knows are stars, and yet he no longer knows the word for stars. When he rolls his head to the left and then the right, the still, leafless branches of the trees on the bank move with him, black against a darkening sky. “Tributaries,” he whispers, and the word fills him with comfort, and also with something larger, something that, were he able to recognize it, would resemble joy.

He sleeps for a long time. And when he wakens he discovers that his body has been covered by a thick, drifting blanket that is soft and cold and white. The whole unnamed world is so beautiful to him now that he is aware he has left behind vast, unremembered territories, certain faces, and a full orchestra of sounds that he has loved. With enormous difficulty he lifts his upper body from the frozen, snow-covered river and allows his arms to rest on the drift in front of him. The palms of his gloved hands are open to the sky as if he were silently requesting that the world come back to him, that the broken connections of heart and mind be mended, that language and the knowledge of a cherished place re-enter his consciousness. He remains alert for several moments, but eventually his spine relaxes and his head droops and he says, “I have lost everything.”

This is his first full sentence in more than a month. These are his last spoken words. And there is nobody there to hear his voice, nobody at all.

The Revelations

A
t the northeastern end of Lake Ontario, toward the mouth of the wide St. Lawrence River, a number of islands begin to appear. Some of these are large enough to support several farms, a pattern of roads, perhaps a village, and are still serviced year-round by a modest flotilla of ferries that departs from and returns to Kingston Harbour. One or two minor islands are completely deserted in winter, having always been summer playgrounds rather than places of employment. There is a small, difficult-to-reach island, however, an island that a hundred years ago was busy with ships and lumber, that is now a retreat for visual artists and, for this reason, its single serviceable nineteenth-century building – a sail loft – has been renovated as a studio where an artist can live and work for a limited period of time, alone.

On the final leg of his journey from his Toronto studio to this sail loft, Jerome McNaughton had kept his back to the mainland view and had watched instead the skeletal trees and tilting grey buildings on the island grow in size and, behind them, the less definable evergreen forest enlarging, like a motionless black cloud, as the boat drew nearer. He had chosen the equinoctial period of late winter, early spring for his residency on the island, and he had chosen it because of the transience he associated with the heavy sinking snow, the dripping icicles of the season. The difficulty of arriving at the place when the ice was either uncertain or breaking up altogether – the enforced isolation brought about by these diffculties – had attracted him as well.

He had left Kingston Harbour on a Great Lakes coast guard icebreaker, onto the deck of which he had loaded a stack of firewood, enough food to last at least two weeks, a couple of bottles of wine, some whiskey, camera equipment, and a backpack filled with winter clothing. Though it was only a mile or so from the city to the island, the men on board had thought him reckless to go out there alone in this season. They were somewhat mollified, however, when he admitted he had a cell phone. “You’ll be using it soon enough,” the captain had ventured. “Pretty grim out there this time of year.”

Grim was what Jerome was after. Grimness, uncertainty, difficulty of access – a hermit in a winter setting, the figure concentrated and small against the cold blues and whites and greys that made up the atmosphere of the landscape, the season.

Ordinarily, residencies were not permitted during the winter months, but the oofficials at the Arts Council were aware of his work, his growing reputation, knew from his
Fence Line Series
that he preferred to work with snow. A young woman whose voice had indicated that she was impressed by his dedication had made the arrangements with the coast guard and had speeded his application through the usual channels. In a matter of days he had found himself standing on the deck of the vessel, his whole body vibrating with the hum of the engine, then shuddering with the boat’s frame as the bow broke through the ice. The wind had repeatedly punched the side of his face, and there was not much warmth in the late March sun, but Jerome had preferred to remain on the deck in order to dispel the impression that there was a look about him, a scent maybe, that suggested longing, dependence.

The captain was right though, he would be using the phone soon, to call Mira. He had to admit that he wanted to please the girl who had miraculously remained in his life for almost two years, that he felt concern for her and must honor her affection for him. In this way he had been able, so far, to slip easily around the disturbing truth of his own feelings, the pleasure he felt when thinking of her, and the ease with which he remained in her company. He was almost always thinking about her.

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