CITIES OF THE PLAIN
(an approximate continuity)

 

Red sun low and cold.
Spread out below the tower, an old red brick city and the canal that runs through it.
A WOMAN by the window looks down on this place and in the light of the low sun her hair is like flames.

Spread out on a table in the architects' office: an odd representation of greater Europe. It is a map that shows only significant cities, with red shapes, like various amoebas, marking the actual extent of these metropoles. The areas in between are blue in color and blank, except for many lines that indicate the different routes of communication from one metropole to another:

"Seen from the point of view of the Metropole, the Matrix (those regions that lie between one Metropole and another) represents an amalgam of archaic practices…."
The WOMAN writes at her computer. She is in her 30's, handsome, well dressed, self-assured. Smoke from a cigarette curls around her in the reddish light.
"….It is a blueprint of anomalies, historical peculiarities and poor planning. The very existence of the Matrix, the dogged persistence of its practices, pose remarkable problems for a Metropole mind and its habitual methods."
The architects' office is large: worktables are crowded together without partitions. There are some traditional signs of architecture and planning but mostly there are computer screens. She is alone there and in the silence there is only the whisper of electricity.

The WOMAN is by the window again. There is no sun now, and in the darkness the old red brick city is only an idea of itself, while the canal that runs through it has become a strip of dim metal.

A BOAT moves slowly along the canal. A lantern hangs from the bow. His face hidden by a hood, CHARON rows. The OLDMAN stands looking out: mist rises off the still water, and in the half-light the canal has become his River Styx.

It is BLACK. The creak of the oars continues and the slap of water, and gradually other sounds arrive composing a world: the OLDMAN's world. There are voices from a foyer, doors and footsteps and toilets, and in particular the sound of someone knocking and entering his room. A voice,
--Happy birthday.
--It is?
A rustle of clothes, of cellophane, and the OLDMAN says,
--Thank you. I didn't know.
Perhaps you can hear him touching the flowers and smelling them, and the OLDMAN says, "I know these," and he gives the names of the flowers and their colors.

His blind EYES.

He sits on a bed in a small room with the flowers on his lap: the foyer.
The AIDE-SOCIALE says,
--Because it is your birthday, you don't have to go today.
--It doesn't matter, he says.
--The doctor can see you another day.
--I don't mind, he says.

The corridors and stairs and entrance hall of the foyer: young people, different colors and styles, greetings, the OLDMAN and the AIDE-SOCIALE stop frequently.

The AIDE-SOCIALE leads him through the old brick hospital.

It is BLACK. Sounds compose the hospital. The DOCTOR says:
--It is a difficult treatment, and very hard on your body.

The DOCTOR is young, ill at ease:
--Do you understand?
--I understand, the OLDMAN says.
--You must begin the treatment immediately.
--I will think about it.
--There is nothing to think about. It has to be done.
--I will think about it.
--No, there is nothing to think about. You must begin immediately. The DOCTOR thinks that the old man doesn't understand. Maybe this old blind man is crazy. He mimes these thoughts to the AIDE-SOCIALE. Because the OLDMAN knows this he says:
--I have lived this long. Today is my birthday and you give me important news. Now I will think about what you have given me. --Thinking won't change your condition.
--I don't think so, he says.
The DOCTOR writes a note for the AIDE-SOCIALE.

The OLDMAN is in the marketplace. A small, bright-eyed BOY leads him. Life swirls around him, and this is pleasant; he smells things and touches things, and many people greet him. He finds a place to sit down in the back of one of the merchant's stalls. Perhaps he is resting, perhaps he falls asleep, it is hard to say.

It is BLACK. Sounds of the market mix with the creak of the oars, and inside this blackness there is a flash of oar blades and swirling water in the mist, and on the shore the MOTHER holding a lantern high as if to guide the boat toward her.
The OLDMAN is standing in the boat, and emerging from his old man's face a YOUTH's face: him when he was young.

The YOUTH is on the station platform as an old train pulls out. It is all the arrivals, a stranger in a strange land, with clothes that come from far away, with an old cheap suitcase clutched to his chest so it won't be stolen, with a scrap of paper which must be directions for all the attention he gives it.

The YOUTH is on the passerelle: to the right, to the left, turning as if in a dance: red brick, frisch, chimneys, tracks, red sun low in the sky. So this is where I have come! Why have I come here? As the trains pass in the dusk making the rusting passerelle quiver and the red brick streets open out in front of him in the nightlight.

To describe it in the way that the OLDMAN sees it now: there was hard work when he was young.
The YOUTH hanging inside huge boilers scraping them clean, muscles strained in the dim light, black from head to toe with the scum they are scraping. Swinging up the carcasses of the slaughtered pigs and carrying them into the refrigerator. The sound of the looms is deafening, a sort of accompaniment for his fingers flying through the loops of the knots he ties over and over.
The café is warm and crowded and loud. What he remembers is the closeness of the bodies, FRIENDS he knows from work, and how good the drink tastes. That night there was a fight and before they could break it up someone was hurt. He likes AMELIE, the way her blond hair catches the light, an angel who has just dropped out of the sky, but he didn't know how to talk to her right, and the night goes on. He carries the bricks in the freezing morning, lays them out for the mason. The scoop digs up the clay. He pushes the wagons fully loaded with this clay. Carefully he puts the bricks as they must be for proper drying. It is hot in the enormous shed above the ovens. He shovels coal into the distributors that sift it down onto the glowing bricks below. He loves to look down there into that incandescence: a rush of heat onto his face which is black with coal dust, the vents of the oven like white-hot eyes staring up into his eyes.

Money: a roll of bills the YOUTH takes out of his pocket. A post office. The WOMAN behind the window says,
-- All communications have been suspended. We can't accept any money orders.
--?
--No telegrams, mail, or money orders. The postal service has been suspended indefinitely.
Staring down at the money between them on the counter, his blackened hand offering the bills.

The YOUTH fishes in the canal behind the briquetterie. It's something he's brought with him from his childhood back there, and he fishes in the old way.
On the opposite bank, a WALKER. A car stops and three men get out. The WALKER sees them, starts to run, the others chase him as he disappears in the underbrush. The YOUTH continues to fish.

The OLDMAN's blind eyes. He is there fishing as he was when he was that youth, he can see the men running and feel the damp line between his fingers, and he remembers how still he was then and that he did not do anything, and he can still see very sharply the hunt going on in the underbrush, as if he was the one being hunted.

It is BLACK: the terrified shriek and flailing of an animal as its throat is cut. Rattle of breath as its blood spills slowly into a bowl. Many voices speak in different languages.

In the dim light of the studio the carcass of a lamb. The OLDMAN stands with a bloody knife in his hand. Murmurs in different languages, a rustle of clothes as the FANTOMS gather at the edge of light. He pushes a gleaming silver bowl to the edge of darkness and the FANTOMS crowd forward. The OLDMAN waves them back with the bloody knife. He lets one woman through to drink from the bowl and his MOTHER drinks hungrily.
--If I could only hold you, he says.
He tries to embrace her: she steps back into the darkness.
--My son, my poor sad son! You know there is nothing here to hold, that's foolishness.
The OLDMAN says,
--Everywhere I look the earth is covered over. The air is full of sound. I want a warm body next to mine!
The MOTHER laughs, she says,
--You were too young when you left me.
--A kid, he says. You sent me. I was too young to be your friend.
--My friend!
He tries to hold her and she slips back into the darkness. She says,
--None of this matters, put it out of your head.
--When I went back for you, I didn't understand their language.
Our town was gone. I couldn't find where you were buried.
--I wasn't buried. You know this. The crows ate me. I told you how I was killed.
--I know this. But I keep walking the same streets.
--Then walk, she said, walk until you're tired of it.
He is staring at the slaughtered lamb. He says,
--Help me!
She comes toward him standing with the knife. He says,
--There is so much more to see!
She smiles the way a mother might smile at a son, she opened her arms to him although they could never touch, and the arms opening seems to release the murmur of voices in different languages, and with these voices she says,
--Our love for you is so great!

It is BLACK: the voices mix and fade with the sounds of heavy trucks, of crates being unloaded, of a market being set up.

The canal, trucks, a tall brick chimney, a frisch, a different market around the frisch: the OLDMAN passes led by the same bright-eyed BOY. The BOY describes what's around them, the OLDMAN asks, they are friends. The BOY leaves the OLDMAN by a door.

The school of the blind children. The OLDMAN works with a group: it is a detailed sense of what he hears and touches, of how he composes the world around him. He is completely absorbed. There is something about one of these children. There is a specific yet indefinable relationship. The OLDMAN grows still. He seems to slip away. Rising up out of the OLDMAN, the MAN that he was.

And this MAN is watching as his small old truck is loaded with fruits and vegetables at the wholesale market. He is open and energetic, he has a word for everyone, and you feel he is at the center of a web of relationships and everyone looks to him to arrange their affair. There is a feel of deals and mic-macs, and in the back of the truck, there are also cartons which might be cigarettes, liquor, appliances, and which he is discretely selling off to the workers who are loading his truck with the crates of vegetables.

The MAN is carrying the crates from the truck into a vegetable store. With the shopkeeper, "you asked for 2." "One of each." "two-five." Money passes. The MAN returns with fresh unopened packing cases of a TV and VCR.
The MAN looks around the store appreciatively, he touches the white tiles: it is the idea, "and what if this was mine?"

Her face, AMELIE's face suspended in time. As if remembering this one moment: empty dim red brick streets, sodium lights; the MAN standing there just looking at her, her breathing, her laughing as the MAN sweet-talks her; her murmuring about her dreams for a future, what she would like that life to be and about her singing and how that might also be. Endless labyrinth of streets around them and the lightness of her hand as he held it, and the whiteness of the skin above her breasts. Feeling all the emptiness of those poor streets around him, and crushing her in his arms as if his life depends on it.

AMELIE's face, flushed and laughing as the champagne overflows her glass in a cascade of foam. The MAN is already drunk, fills other glasses around him, animated, burning, close to the ear of this one, an arm around that one. A low smoky cave. Packed. Hardly room to dance to the slows and rhythm n' blues from the local band.
A SPECTER at the bar. He has an unusual quality: the eyes, the way he is looking at the MAN, alone at the bar as if he knows no one here and has only come there to follow him with his eyes.
Something starts in the back between blacks and arabs. The MAN is there: he's in between them, he knows everyone and he knows his scene. His FRIENDS move in behind him, the thing calms. But he takes one guy to the door, gives him some money. Then the POLICE are at the door, it's routine, perhaps it's the noise, who knows? The guy slips by them and away and the MAN talks to the POLICE with the same easy manner, my wedding, my day, I got it covered. And then, "why don't you come in, have a drink. Hey! Get these Messieurs a drink!" and taking them to the bar, the way it is done well.
Bright bright eyes, more champagne, but there is the SPECTER still leaning on the bar watching him: wanting something? Trying to tell him something? Pushing him? The MAN tries but can't place him.
And the MAN is distracted by the sound of her voice. AMELIE on the little stage singing in the garish light, a big voice, the blues, with the band. And he goes toward her, is drawn toward her like a moth to light, pushing through the crowd to stand there still and enthralled.
But he can still feel the SPECTER's eyes on him, pulling him out of the music. At last he locates the eyes, in the darkness behind him in the crowd. AMELIE's music: the eyes: he tries to stay inside the song. Unable to resist he goes toward the eyes, but the SPECTER has disappeared in the crowd moving as the music ends.
By the bar, close together, AMELIE says,
--My own life…my friends…. I won't let my life stop now. I want to keep singing you know, I won't let you stop me.
Crying, the words hardly come out. He tries to touch her but she won't let him. The MAN says,
--I want you to do what you want to. I'll take care of you. I want you to be happy.
Looking around at the few people still dancing. He says,
--I've always worked. Hard work, unbelievable! Like an animal. OK, I had to do it, I did it, and sometimes I could feel the whole weight pushing me down, weighing on me and I'm going down until my knee touches the ground. It happens. It can happen to anyone. I'm sinking you know but something starts to rise up in me: I'll never put the other knee down! Never on my knees, never! Not for anyone.
Looking at the remains of a party around him he says,
--I don't want you down. I want you proud and beautiful like you are. I want you to do what will make you happy. We can do this together. I promise you.
Early morning street, empty.
Fruits and vegetables gleam as brightly as the white tile walls of the vegetable store. The MAN arranges the grapes as they arrive, placing them as if they were jewels.
The DELIVERER offers the bill: "make me another one without the tax," the MAN says. Reluctance, hesitations, and the MAN says, "do it this way each time and I'll take 3 more crates," he gives him a large roll of bills, "next delivery I'll have a leather jacket for you."
And the MAN turns to greet a customer: but he knows this old man! He crushes the VILLAGER in his arms. "So long! Your health?"
Gazing into this old man's face.
"What can I get for you? Oranges? My mother is well? She's getting the money I send?" Putting the oranges in a sack.
The VILLAGER says,
--She's tired. She's getting old. Like me.
--Yes, but she has what she needs?
--?
--The money?
--Maybe she gets some of it….
They look into eachother, and in this silence all the possible stories of a specific village, and the MAN only has to fill in the blanks.
--Her brother?
--When I saw her she was tired. Like me.
Awkward and uncomfortable the VILLAGER is fumbling to pay for the oranges, but the MAN forces the sack on him.
The VILLAGER looking back now: his old face against the white tiles is what the MAN remembers.

Good cards in his hand magnified out of all proportion, ace-2-3-4-5 of spades,
--Drinks all around, the MAN says.
Lights of the poker café shimmer like Van Gogh, backs at the bar, hands at the pool table, the MAN knows all of them, all the faces in his kingdom! He pushes a pile of chits into the pot,
--This is history. Raise the limit!
Laughing, shifting in his chair and in his fashionable clothes, throwing an arm around one of the FRIENDS who sits behind him,
--Tell him I can do it for 2000 each. But he has to buy 10. If he doesn't want to, no problem. Less than 10 it costs him 2.5. Even that's good for him. A gift.
Hesitations around the table,
--I fold.
--I see.
--Stop fucking around, play!
Pressed against the window the face of his DAUGHTER.
And he is slow to react,
--Hold the pot, wait, he says, wait one minute now.
Motioning her in, turning trouble into an event,
--Look who's here! the MAN says to everyone,
waving them all along with him to the door to greet his little DAUGHTER, and they all say how fine she looks, and he wants her to say hello to this one or that one, a kiss for the FRIENDS, but she keeps turning her face away from all those big faces and breath and smoke, and all she wants to say is what she was sent here for:
--Mama is waiting for you…she wants you to come home.
He can't hear her whispering to him,
--What? he says, What is it?
--Mama wants you to come home….
Holding her at arms' length, making her look around the poker café and at all these men,
--Home! Here I am. We're in my home!
His face next to her small serious face and whirling her around toward the bar,
--Ananas, orange, coca?
Shouting at the card players,
--Wait! Wait! I'm coming! that's my money-hand on the table! Nobody moves!
Putting her up on the bar where she is very small and still under the shimmering lights:
--We'll go in a few minutes, the MAN says, I just have to do a few things, then we'll go.
And what the OLDMAN remembers now is the way she is sitting there, the stillness, as if she is frozen in an otherness that he is never still enough to get to: this is what he remembers.

Gray pixilated desolation of bricks and crushed bodies, soldiers carry civilians: newspaper news picture from anywhere. Stillness around the MAN sitting there in his suit. Morning in the morning café. Coffee, cigarette, the street is empty outside his window.

The OLDMAN remembers it this way.
There are many customers in the vegetable store. His EMPLOYEE serves, but slowly and stingy! He rushes from behind the register,
--How often I tell you…a good weight…if you don't like the work go somewhere else! ca sert a quoi! Go! Go!
And the MAN pushes the EMPLOYEE on to the next customer, and in his suit he is there, helping the HEAVY WOMAN with her turnips, kind talk and adding extras,
--Watch! This is how we do it here! Friends, not customers…come here every day…the carrots are incredible, like sugar, very cheap too…
While AMELIE and their DAUGHTER now stand by the street watching him. AMELIE, who looks bad, tired, unkempt, dark rings under her eyes, with her daughter pushed up against her leg.
--Don't let me see you take out a piece to make the weight, add a piece, be generous….
Giving AMELIE money from his large roll of bills. Touching his DAUGHTER's head, letting his hand go in her long hair, his face close to hers face.
When the VILLAGER says,
--Please, a minute….
The old man out of breath from going fast, and his whispers hard to hear above the street noise,
--The town…sudden, unprepared…last week, he just got
here…your mother….
--My mother!
And a kind of panic has taken him. He doesn't know what to do first. He holds his DAUGHTER.
--I have to go there, he says.
Cold light in AMELIE's face, a look that is almost contemptuous, or sly. The MAN looking from AMELIE's face to his DAUGHTER and back again, as AMELIE says,
--You'll be gone a long time.
--Long?
Frantic, not thinking or caring about what she says,
--Time, I don't care, he says, what do I know?
The old VILLAGER watching him as he tries to hold a woman and a girl in one clumsy embrace that is false, that's what he remembers.

The MAN runs across the passerelle with a suitcase held in his arms. A train passes.

It is BLACK. Sounds of this and other trains, a truck, a border crossing, loud speakers, rough voices, questions, a rush of different languages, boots on cement, a prison, jail doors and keys.
Airy: the open space of a small town, distant voices and gunshots even farther away, cold wind, fire, footsteps over rubble, bricks grating underfoot. The cold wind sings, and crows cry above the rush of water in the stillness, crows.

In the studio the MOTHER seems to materialize. She is crazy, her clothes ripped and bloody, her long white hair writhing like snakes. The MAN tries to plug his ears with wax to block out the sound of the voices that intone a text, he tries to cover his eyes.
"Oh, my son, the most unhappy of mortals!"
The OLDMAN watches, seated on a simple wood chair: but his is the eye that sees all this:
Before him is the silver bowl filled with dark blood, a champagne glass, a rusty iron bar. A snake is coiled before him.
"C'est le regret, c'est le souci de toi, c'est mon amour pour toi qui m'ont ote la douce vie!"
The MOTHER, AMELIE, the DAUGHTER, and the WOMAN the daughter will become, flow very slowly around the MAN like a powerful whirlpool sucking him down, while in the darkness that is everywhere around, the eyes of the SPECTER seem to direct the dance.
"Les nerfs ne tiennent plus ni les chairs ni les os ensemble."
The MAN touches his daughter's head-so lovingly!-lets his hand play in her hair, but the SPECTER takes the DAUGHTER away, they dance, and he joins the DAUGHTER with the WOMAN, and the WOMAN'S hair becomes a mass of fire.
"Mais la force de feu qui se consume les detruit aussitot que la vie a quitte les ossements blancs."
They are all joined, the MOTHER and AMELIE, the DAUGHTER and the WOMAN, and now the OLD MAN sees that the WOMAN has become the MOTHER, that she has those same staring eyes and ripped bloody clothes, and she takes the long white hair from the MOTHER and wraps it around her like a cloak, caressing the hair and seducing the MAN. "L'ame, elle comme un songe, s'est enfui a tire-d'aile."
The MAN tries to get to the SPECTER but he cannot reach him. Each woman blocks him as he turns and he always ends up in the same place, and then the SPECTER is gone.
The women surround the MAN beating him down and cutting him with shrieks of rage and joy, and there is the gleam of bright knives in an ancient sacrifice.
The MAN is alone with the voices and the crows and lit by flames from the fire in an iron pot.

The crows cry with the fire, and woken by the noise from a party next door to his foyer room, the OLDMAN turns in his bed.
Sitting there he is still surrounded by images from his dreams, and he sees, rising up out of his DAUGHTER like something complex being born from something small and simple, the figure of the WOMAN she has become. And the presence of this WOMAN devours the child, and like a plant suddenly sprouting leaves, her nudity is clothed as she is in this world today, and the OLDMAN sees:

The WOMAN, his daughter grown up now, at the bottom of a vast cylindrical concrete space. The WOMAN passes the pools of water by the huge concrete pillars, and the escalator carries her up through this emptiness at the center, this modern cathedral: past the cars parked behind glass, the traffic on the highway behind glass, through the web of steel walkways. She moves upward through a reverberation of cars and trains and electricity that is dense enough to be its own atmosphere. Walking slowly, as if swimming through this atmosphere of the Metropole that is heavy as water.

In the WOMAN's mind, representations of space: architects' drawings rising to the surface and disappearing again into the solid world around her. And that solid world around her is a labyrinth of marble halls with windows and clothes and chrome, and then it is a huge empty place with an arching overpass, steel passageways with many lines of tracks below, and red brick cities flying past the window.

The architectural plans become more precise, they dominate more until they have completely covered the solid world she moves through. These images detail the area and specificity of a Metropole: the density of its population, its racial and economic distribution, and how this has changed, and will change, in the years to come.
What began as two-dimensional images have become solid representations of a geographical area in flux. The mass changes with the changing input of data, and now vivid slashes of color indicate the principle arteries of communication. For all the world like images of the geological transformations of the surface of the planet itself, these representations of highways and train lines swell and diminish, as they reflect the changing volume of the passage of human bodies through space and time.

These images melt into the two-dimensional surface of a complex plan as it comes out of the printer in the map room of the architects' office. The WOMAN watches the plan emerge. Air conditioning, a room filled with memory banks, she is a handsome woman, attractive, strong and cold, and with the light behind her, she is as she was in the studio.

Many people work in the architects' office, most of them in front of their computers. On the WOMAN's screen, variations of the now familiar representations of the Metropole, which settle into an odd cell-form that is the actual shape of this conglomeration. DAVID leaves as the WOMAN begins to type at her computer. She writes:
"At one extreme, the practices of these outlying regions, the Matrix, have a certain folkloric value; at the other extreme they are counterproductive, unhealthy, and potentially very troublesome to the ultimate designs of a world order that the Metropole represents."
Perhaps she is troubled to have written this. She writes,
"My mother? Me? Who is this history in me? In which factory?"
She closes her eyes, the smoke from her cigarette curls around her like snakes. She writes,
"We are at sea. The final separation has happened."
A hand lies in her lap, lightly stroking her thigh; the other moves across the keyboard: calls up a detailed map of a section of Shanghai. She changes the view as if walking through this city.
One key and the telephone dials automatically. She says,
--Did I wake you up?
--Are you alone?
--What do you see from your window?
On her map she can identify the streets and buildings. She says,
--Yes, the big one to the east. And you can see the new buildings?
--That bad?…. Sure, he always repeats his own story.
The hand calls up another detail of Shanghai, and she says,
--The demolition near the Opera is finished?
--Where do they move the people?
--And then it's done.
--Done.
The hand moves across the keyboard calling up other images she has stored.
--Enough rice for a month.
Her screen shows bodies, objects, machines in a floating sexual trance,
--What are you wearing? She says.
--Oh, really! How nice. As nicely as I do it?
--Blue silk, I think. My hand is there, pressing just a little.
--Starting to get hard….
Laughing,
--Tonight, she says, I'm sitting here with 20 people, my dear.
An odd change of mood, a lassitude, the cigarette, her hand no longer in her lap as the images continue to change. She says,
--You have to help me get me out of here.
--Too crazy.
--Whatever I have to do.
--No, the scale. It's too small-mind here. Timid.
--Just don't put that in writing anywhere.
--That's why you're in China, I would too. It's the past here.
--Like hard drugs. Give up and go.
--Too many…scruples.
--I'd leave in a day and see you the day after.
--I've been here too long.
--Let them knock it all down. Start over.
--Just do it for me.
--I'll be as nice to you as your fantasies.

Standing by the window of the tower in the low red sun her hair is like flames. And spreading out far below her is the old red brick city with the canal that runs through it. And it is as if the OLDMAN is standing behind her looking down with her on their old city.

Fields, terriles, red brick factories, a train brings the man back to where he started.

A train leaves. The MAN stands in front of the station in the same way the BOY did so long ago. The same fences and frisch, crossing the same passerelle.

The MAN arrives at the vegetable store. Closed, a lock and chain, a sign that says this place is for rent. Forgetting the suitcase where it is, frantic:

Running now, running through the empty nighttime streets with their sodium lights in the rain. What he hears is the echo of his shoes, and his breath, that is the sound of his homecoming.

Seeing the fine house that was their house. All dark. His key in the door: hesitant, a fine cold sweat, not wanting to open this door.
It is all very neat and clean inside, but there are empty spaces where things have disappeared. There is no sign of life here. The DAUGHTER's room is empty. The bed is gone. AMELIE's clothes are gone! All the things he bought her are gone.
The telephone by the bed:
--It's me, he says.
Listening…listening….
--She's dead, he says, I was too late.
Eyes range around the bedroom,
--I'm here. I know. Tell me, he says.
Devouring the bareness. Listening until he just hangs up the telephone. His pistol is where he hid it: puts it in his pocket.

What he remembers is tower bridge looming up and its reflection in the canal.

What he remembers is his hand on the metal of the fence, and he climbs over. There are lights in the garden house. Silently, down the garden path.
What he could see when he could see was AMELIE in the arms of her LOVER, the two of them watching television together, and whatever thoughts he had or intentions vanish and he goes crazy. He starts to scream, and it is a rush of words, of which these are only a little sketch,
--Come out of there you fucking bitch! You cunt! You whore! I'll kill you!
AMELIE and the LOVER scramble up,
--I go for my mother! To help my mother! And you do this to me!
The lights go out, the house is dark, dogs are barking,
--Come out here you whore! You can't walk out on me!
He is pounding on the door, throwing himself against the door,
--Amelie you come out here! Come out here right now! Or I'll rip you apart I swear!
Windows opening, neighbors shouting with the dogs, he is waving the pistol, never even thinking to aim it at something, it is only an object flying around in his hand,
--I did everything for you! I gave you everything you have! Where is the clock! Where is the television! They're mine! All of it is mine! I want you!
Which is when a light went on upstairs, and also the blue lights of a police car approaching,
-- Come out here with my daughter now! Where is my daughter! I want my daughter now! I want….
And there at the window was his DAUGHTER with her sleepy face pressed up against the glass, he was stunned!
His own DAUGHTER looking down on him like he was a piece of dead meat, and the police are around him.
An arm pulls the DAUGHTER away from the window, the light goes out, and he is alone with the POLICE.

The lights of tower bridge go out. Gray dawn and the canal. Cold and stiff, the MAN gets up with difficulty.

In front of the door of the garden house he says quietly,
--Amelie, please come out. I won't hurt you. I'm begging you. I only want to talk. Just 5 minutes. I don't understand anything. Please. I'm so sorry for all the things I said. I won't touch you. I promise. I'll wait for you in the café.

A coat thrown over her robe, unwashed and uncombed, AMELIE says,
--When were you there? You were never there.
--I was working. All the time, for the three of us.
--You never made time for me. You don't know how alone I was.
--I thought you were with her.
--You didn't think.
--I did everything for the two of you. I got you anything you wanted. It was all for you.
She is looking around the morning café, the glasses of beer in front of the men, and she says,
--For me? You never cared about me.
--You're all I care about.
--No. No.
--I love you.
--You don't love me. You don't know who I am.
--Of course I do.
--Oh, my skin maybe, my breasts. But you don't know me.
--Amelie…
--Once we married it was over. You never saw me again. I was another thing you bought. No. You have no idea what I want. I tried to tell you. But you can't hear. You don't know what's in front of your face.

This bar is old and dirty and hard. The MAN, a bartender now, serves drinks and takes another for himself. The surface of liquid in the glass is alive with its own life. He is unshaven, uncared for. He plays cards with some men on the corner of the bar. The MAN plays a card.
It is strange what happens: his eye is taken by a detail, by the incredible complexity of the folds of fabric in the coat of another player. This small area of texture and form seems to grow in complexity, it is compelling and important, it contains everything,
--Play!
--Come on, play!
Startled, the MAN looks at his hand but the cards mean nothing and he picks one at random,
--Putain de merde!
--What's the matter with you?
But the MAN has slipped away again, his eyes held by a momentous arrangement of table and chair, the gleam of light on the surface, the grain, the deep shadow below that holds everything that was or will be in darkness.
When it is his turn to play again and they all cry at him, he just drops his hand.
At the other end of the bar, alone, beginning to wash the glasses, it is the front window that holds his eye. Or not precisely the window, but what is happening between the glass of the window, its transparency, the light within and the headlights passing outside, a play of elements that seems to describe as fully as anything else whatever he has known in his life. And when a face appears in front of him, and that is all right too and only adds to the composition, and for a moment he sees that the lips are moving but he does not hear any words.

The boat goes slowly along the canal. The oars creak. The lantern at the bow lights the water surface which is like a mirror before the boat's passing breaks it into an infinity of movement. In the distance, the MAN is fishing.

The damp fishing line itself in his hands, the stillness of its point of contact with the water. His hands are cold.
He hears or doesn't hear, he doesn't care: a car stopping, car doors opening and closing. He is just there. His breath steams and the fine tip of the rod follows the floater as it moves out with the current. Three YOUNG MEN surround him: dressed like vigiles or imitation commandos. The usual: "our canal," "foreigner," "garbage like you." He was so slow to react! The first boot caught him in the ribs. Rolling away he catches a leg and drags a man down. All the rage explodes in him: he is pure rage. Holding onto the leg, driving his own head into the man's crotch. The others kicking at him until he catches a boot and twists with all his strength, and he throws himself on this man who has fallen, going for his eyes, trying to gouge out his eyes, the man screaming and trying to push him away, and he has the man's hand in his mouth, biting hard and deep the blood flowing from his mouth as he claws at the man's face.
Which is when the other one hit him in the head with an old rusted iron bar. An incredible sound, hollow and solid with a sharp crack inside it and an explosion of light.

It is BLACK. Sounds of the hospital. The creak of his chair, rustle of his clothes, his breathing, the presence of another person, and the DOCTOR says,
--And your family?
But the MAN says nothing, so the DOCTOR says,
--You will have to decide where to live.
--I will think about it, the MAN says.
--There's time. You'll be here a few more weeks.
Sounds of the place fill the silence between them. The MAN says.
--You are around 40?
--41, the DOCTOR says, just 41 last week.
--Happy birthday, the MAN says. And then,
--One meter 80?
--78, the DOCTOR says, close enough.
--Like a bat.
The DOCTOR laughs, "goodbye," he says, "I'll stop in tomorrow," and the MAN can hear him leaving. And the sounds of the world reconstitute the world, sounds of the hospital, the street below, and gradually he is aware of a source of light, a certain luminosity increasing within the darkness.

In the dim light of the studio, he sees that each particle of sand gleams intensely, and the silver bowl is filled with dark blood and also radiates light. An iguana moves slowly across the sand.
--Conte-moi l'aventure de l'Inventif, qui pendent des annees erra, voyant beaucoup des villes, decouvrant beaucoups d'usages…
He hears the murmuring voice and the iguana is still, its tongue flicks, it moves toward him, seeking him with its flat ancient eyes. And the one voice is joined by other voices in other languages, making a weird sad music he has never known before,
--souffrant beaucoup d'angoisses dans son ame sur la mer pour defendre sa vie et le retour de ses marins…
and above him he sees nothing, blackness, thick and of an indescribable density, and he shouts but the voices are stronger,
--sans en pouvoir pourtant sauver un seul, quoi qu'en eut: par leurs propre fureur ils furent perdus en effet…
and on the sand he sees old red bricks, worn and half covered with the sand, and there is money scattered and buried as if blown by the same wind, and jewels and binoculars and a compass,
--tous les autres, tous ceux au moins qui avaient fui la mort, se retrouvaient chez eux loin de la guerre et de la mer;
on either side of him, behind him, there are bodies: men? women? they are presences, FANTOMS that do not seem solid, and he cannot know them because they are wrapped in loose shrouds that gleam like metal, --lui seul encor sans retour et sans femme,
but gradually he realizes that there are many more FANTOMS, that they are with him and a part of him, and looking down he sees meat with its blood draining into the sand. Sand stained dark now, and the iguana moving slowly toward the dampness, its body leaving faint traces in the sand.
And spreading out is a sound he has never heard. He looks for it in the darkness. It is like the earth moving and splitting, and above it, thin and fine and cutting through the darkness like a perfect beam of light, one line, a continuous unbroken note, a perfect note with breath around it and making it, and when he looks again the sand is clean, smooth, as if it has never been touched. The flowers lying on the sand are luxurious to see, an intense light makes iridescent the relief of the petals, each drop of water is alive, as if it was seen through a microscope, and there is rich ripe fruit, and in the silver bowl, water that sparkles with fire.

In the hospital room the MAN can still hear still hear the continuous unbroken note before it fades. His broken arm is in a sling; his head is heavily bandaged with the gauze passing over his eyes. He gets up slowly. He moves cautiously, limping a little, feeling his way. And as he touches things he begins to murmur to himself, describing as precisely as he can the thing he is touching: not so much what it is; but its texture and temperature, the associations its shape or contour bring, its weight or the probable source of the matter it is made of, and how this material has been worked to give it the qualities that he now experiences emanating from it.

The OLDMAN seems to listen.
There are many people waiting their turn in the administrative offices.
The OLDMAN waits too. At last the AIDE-SOCIALE says,
--Why do you want to withdraw all your money?
--I want to give my daughter a present before she leaves.
The AIDE-SOCIALE is surprised,
--Where is she going?
--Soon, he says, I think so.
The AIDE-SOCIALE has learned that there is no use in pressing him. At last she says,
--The hospital has been calling me.
--?
--They want to know when you will start the treatment.
He acts like she didn't say anything.
--When will you start?
--In a couple of weeks. When the weather is better.
--The weather?
--Spring. I like spring.
The AIDE-SOCIALE studies him thoughtfully.
--You can stop staring at me, he says. Just do your job.
--I am. You must start the treatment now.
The OLDMAN actually flaps at her with his white cane!
--You annoy me! Some fucking lawyer controls my money! A snotty young doctor wants me to run on his time!
She has the impression that he can see her as clearly as if he could see, and she tries to compose herself. She says,
--I'm sorry but…
--Don't be sorry, just listen to what I say.
He pats her on the arm, he smiles, he says,
--I'll do what's necessary. I promise.

They are only fantoms, reflections as immaterial as a candle's flicker, the WOMAN and DAVID drifting through the dimness.
--I have my ideas, she says, but they don't count for much. There are too many other elements.
It seems like a hall of mirrors but it is only the way that the displays are organized, the glass and low light, the unfathomable perspectives.
--And a pressure is building everywhere, the forces are too great. We're going there, we're being taken there, wherever that is. You're either on the plane or not.
Behind the glass, detailed models of walled cities with vast empty plains spreading around them.
--Apparently you're on the plane, he says.
The WOMAN touches his face softly, then lets her arm rest on his shoulder. She says,
--Oh, it might seem that way, but you and I know better.
--I think you want to be on the plane.
She stares at him a long moment and then she only shrugs.
The WOMAN floats, drifts effortlessly away into the darkness: gone. And all DAVID sees then are the small walled cities surrounded by their empty plains.

Outside, the WOMAN is looking up at the fabulous mirror façade that reflects an empty square and the old palace, and also must reflect her too somewhere on its bright surface, since all the elements that define this space are there, and she is also one of these elements.

Beyond the window ducks waddle and swim in a small artificial pond. The OLDMAN sits at a table in the foyer café. YOUNG MEN sit with him talking the usual talk back and forth. The café is crowded. Kids from school, chomeurs and voyous, and he is pleased to sit there and slurp his tea. When the bright-eyed BOY comes to get him he says goodbye, shaking each hand and knowing names that go with the hands.

The OLDMAN and the BOY go through the tunnel over the canal and across the rustic bridge, and through the market by the frisch, with its chimney and trucks. And sometimes it is the YOUTH walking with the BOY, and sometimes it is the MAN, and sometimes the OLDMAN finds that they are all there together.

When they reach tower bridge they are close to the garden house.
The OLDMAN touches the fence he climbed over so long ago. He holds on and waits.
Another old man, the LOVER, is working the early spring earth. He seems inseparable from his small garden, and maybe he's already started drinking. The LOVER who went away with Amelie says,
--Ca va, toi?
--Et toi?
But the he doesn't stop digging, turns the soil with perhaps even more determination to do nothing else but the spade, and hearing voices AMELIE appears at the door. An elderly misshapen woman at the door of her house, just looking at the OLDMAN with his shoulder bag and his hand resting on a BOY. The OLDMAN says,
--How is the garden?
--Too much rain.
--But I'm sure it's a good garden.
Each of them keeps doing what they're doing: the OLDMAN waits patiently.
When he hears the WOMAN approaching, his daughter, he turns to her. Coming toward him from another world-the shoes, the clothes, the way of carrying herself, above all a confidence and will-and she stops at a certain distance. The OLDMAN says,
--How are you?
--I'm fine, papa, and you?
--Oh fine, yes.
--And your health?
--Nothing to think about it. As it should be.
--That's good, she says, you look well.
--And your work?
--A lot of it…and complicated.
--I know, he says.
--You know what?
--I know it's complicated.
The WOMAN says nothing, although she will feel badly later that she didn't tell him she is leaving. At last she says,
--I have to go in, papa, it's too cold for me.
--Then go in, he says.
But as she is passing he reaches out to touch her, lightly, across her back and up into her hair: a movement so effortless it might seem to someone that he was only waving goodbye. The movement hangs there in space and time: it stops her.
--Au revoir, she says.
But he only nods because he does not think he will see her again. And so he stands there, in that odd immovable way he has, as she goes past the old man LOVER on his knees now in the garden, and toward her mother waiting at the door.

On the banks of the canal, wide holes in the ground, cement piers, pile drivers and steam shovels, and above, steel girders of the new blue bridge that will carry the new highway across. There are men in the mud, and their intricate promiscuity with machines.

Sounds of construction of the blue bridge carry easily across the still water.
The OLDMAN and the BOY prepare the line; they dig the many hooks into small live fish.
The line lies across the water.
The OLDMAN cleans the knife, puts it back in his bag. Familiarity, neatness, precision.
Stillness around them amid the sounds of construction. The OLDMAN says,
--Take this. This is for you.
Pushing his old shoulder bag toward the BOY.
--But it's yours!
--And inside there is money, which is also for you. Buy a good rod or a bicycle, or whatever you want.
Inside the bag, on top of a fisherman's accumulation, is a little leather pouch with some bills.
--Remember, it's for you. Hide it until you know what you really want.
The BOY is amazed:
--But what if you want to fish?
--You're my associe. We fish together. Now you carry the sack. One by one the BOY begins to examine all the treasures in the bag, discovering, for example, that the knife he is so familiar with seems so different now that it is his.
--What if you want to go alone, the BOY says.
--You lend it to me.
The ground is cold, everything is cold, their breath steams.

It is BLACK. In the dimness of the studio the OLDMAN sees himself sitting on sand, sitting in the same way he is sitting now beside this canal, with the bag beside him. And he lies down on his side on the warm sand.
The sand is close to his eyes. From this closeness the sand is infinite like a desert and the discrete grains are like rocks.
But he tires, the precision of the grains of sand diminishes into darkness, he dreams.
In this dream there is color, the pure dense colors of the spectrum as if reflected through a prism, and perhaps it is because the prism moves that the colors are constantly merging and changing. And above these colors he hears the sound of the forest and the roar of wild animals; and then the clash of sword blades and war cries; a terrible metallic echo of a pistol being armed, and then only the volume and mass of modern warfare.
And then the OLDMAN sees that he is not lying on the sand anymore, he is nowhere to be seen, the sand is smooth although his footprints lead to the place he slept, and the sound that rises up is the whispery silver rush of electricity, and the babble of communications passing through us and in the air around us.

The WOMAN is a small figure at the bottom of the vast cylindrical concrete space. She has two new suitcases. The escalators carry her up through the concrete and cars and stainless steel into a space of cables and glass and the sound of trains.

The WOMAN's high heels and the wheels of the suitcase, glass and chrome and polished stone. The boutiques are luxurious, perfumes and garments and music, the departure board spins out names of all the Metropoles everywhere: "Bombay, Lagos, Kuala Lumpur…." Her face has that absence of no place. Her eyes read a world. "Singapore, London, Buenos Aires, New York, Shanghai…." The WOMAN's hands rest calmly in her lap.

And heavy-bellied planes lift off with difficulty, more like sluggish fish than insects or birds, they swim upward through the yellowish morning light and disappear fast in the haze.

 

Robert Kramer
Le Fresnoy
Tourcoing
8/02/99

 

notes for a movie

opening page | snap shots | biography | filmography | letters of rejection | description of a movie | hideyuki
miyoka
| quests | timeline | ways of seeing | letter of life |
creating doc | cities of the plain | lust for life