Eyes That Have Seen Another Land
IT had been night when I arrived and it was still night when I awoke. I looked up at the star-filled window and listened to the silence that lay over this dark and unfamiliar land. I listened and waited, feeling that something was going to happen. For a moment I did not remember what it was. Then, suddenly, I knew that to-morrow at this time we should again be together, and every day after that, forever. I had come to take her away, for the last time, from this place in which she had been so long alone. That was going to happen. But that was
not all. That was only the beginning. Looking out, I felt as though the whole world outside were filled with strange and beautiful things which were waiting for us, that the bright stars blown like grains of sand across the sky were things, events, that would be flung through the open window into our arms. I saw a star go out, and then another, and as the sky became lighter I felt drunk with the ending of night and the certainty of the approaching dawn.
My eyes were wide-open and my heart was beating hard from this high thin air to which I was unaccustomed. I got up and went over to the window. The street below was still silent and deserted, but the light was rising, and beyond the houses I saw a gray corner of the desert and the high mountains standing straight against the sky. As I looked, the light above them changed from green-blue, like cold sea water, to green and then to yellow. The snow appeared on their sides, then the first cool sunlight, making long shadows flow toward me from the mountains where she was waiting.
Now from below there were sounds of the awakening life of the town — the bark of a dog, cocks crowing, a sound of sweeping, a fall of footsteps. Next door to the hotel someone started a car. I felt the engine, hesitating at first, coughing, then beginning to run smoothly, then sounding with the fullness of its power, the gears being let in, and then the hum of it speeding down the road, smooth, effortless, and filled with its hard mechanical life. Above it the increasing day poured full into the window, upon me, upon my chest, heavy like a weight but at the same time light and wild, like wine, filled with the prodigal splendor of the vast and surging earth and sky.
I felt suddenly empty and as though I had not eaten for days. But it was not only food that I was hungry for. I was hungry for the world in which we had both been all this time alone.
I dressed quickly and went out into the quiet street. Near the station I found a lunchroom that was open. After I had ordered I turned around on the stool at the counter and looked at the square outside. One half of it was in shadow, but the sun became warmer and yellower as I watched it and I knew that soon it would fill the whole square with its light. Even from behind the glass through which I was looking I thought I could feel its strength filling every dark corner of the land, spreading it over with its warmth. In the sunny part of the square some people were already sitting on benches, their faces raised to the sun.
I had a memory of the dark gray streets, the straight stone towers of the cold cities that I knew and to which we were returning, and I envied everyone who could be in a place like this. But I did not want to sit in the sun and merely let it flow over me, merely let life come to me. I wanted to go toward it, to dive into it as I used to dive into deep water, and to be lost in it. I wanted to go with her into the centre of life until the arching sky and the disk of the earth enclosed us between them and we became like two insects in amber, but insects that lived and saw out of thousand-faceted eyes, intensely, each splinter of light that fell on a grass blade, each film of shadow that for a fleeting moment softened the sharp edges of a grain of sand.
When I had finished I went out into the station square. At the taxi stand in front of the station there was one car drawn up. The driver was sitting on the running board, his hat off, blinking in the sunlight. He was a long thin man, but his face was sunburnt and there was a flush of color on his cheeks under the tan. I told him where I wanted to go and got in the seat next to him.
‘It’ll be sort of early still when we get there,’ he said as we drove off. ‘You may have to wait awhile.’
‘Well, I’ll be able to have a look at the desert.’
‘There ain’t much to see,’ he said.
‘Well, it’s all new to me,’ I said. ‘I want to see it while I have the chance.’
He glanced at me for a second.
‘You mean you’re just on your way through, then?’
I nodded my head.
‘Got a friend out there?’
‘Yes,’ I said. ‘My wife.’
‘Oh . . . That’s tough. I know how it is.’
‘No, that’s all right,’ I said. ‘I’m taking her away. She’s well and we’re going away.’
He looked at me again, but without saying anything.
‘I couldn’t sleep any more,’ I said. ‘So I got up. I guess I must be excited about it.’
‘I guess you must be.’ He half smiled at me. ‘But aside from that ... I mean it’s a funny thing. People get out here at first and they can’t sleep. It’s the altitude. Your heart gets to beating and you just feel wide-awake. I don’t sleep good even now.’
‘You don’t come from here?’
He shook his head.
‘Most folks around here come from somewheres else.’
‘Well, it’s no wonder,’ I said. ‘With this air. It’s bound to be healthy.’
‘That’s what they claim,’ he said.
‘I never felt so much energy this early in the morning.’
‘Yeah, that’s why you can’t sleep. You feel all steamed up. It’s funny country.’
Beyond the town the long straight road slid by beneath us like a film being unreeled, pouring out the picture of the world before me, showing the enormous world spread out in space and air and illimitable distance. The high sun sucked the color out of the earth and the distant mountains, and the heat that rose in shimmering waves from the flat ground made their outlines seem hazy and unreal. Here and there was a patch of gray mesquite or a cactus. Nothing else grew. You could probably call it a desolate land, but it was a splendid desolation, and as you penetrated toward its heart you sensed its austere and lonely beauty. As I watched it move past I felt that already I was closer to her than before, seeing and understanding the land on which her eyes had looked so long alone.
‘Yes,’ the man said suddenly, ‘it’s funny country. You get all steamed up but then you try and do something and you get tired right away.’ He glanced at me. ‘Didn’t you feel that?’
‘Well, I’ve only been here a few
hours,’ I said. ‘And I spent those sleeping mostly.’
‘Well, maybe you’re one of them that gets used to it right away,’ he said. ‘There are some like that.’
‘Aren’t you used to it?’ I asked him.
‘Me? No. But then maybe with me it’s . . .’
He stopped. I waited for him to go on, but he didn’t say anything.
‘It’s what?’ I said.
‘Huh? Oh, nothing ... I mean . . . well, some folks just never do, that’s all. Get to feeling just right. . . .’ He pointed to one side of the road and some distance ahead. ‘That’s it up there. That’s Dr. Corwin’s place.’
I looked at the white building on the side of the mountain.
‘That’s a long way off, isn’t it?’ I said. ‘Or maybe it isn’t. It’s hard to tell about distances out here.’
‘Yeah, you get fooled a lot when you’re first here. But it’s not so far.’
‘Well, let’s go,’ I said, looking at the speedometer.
He laughed and said, ‘Not going fast enough for you? We’ll be too early as it is.’
‘Maybe we will,’ I said. ‘But . . .’
Just then there was a sputtering sound from the engine and the car began to lose speed. He tapped his foot on the accelerator, but nothing happened and the car came to a gradual stop. He stepped on the starter. It worked, but the engine didn’t respond.
‘Well, doggone!’ He pushed his hat back and scratched his head. ‘Now what do you know about that?’
We got out. There was enough gas in the tank, so he raised the hood and began to look at the engine. I knew I couldn’t do anything to help, so I started to go over to the side of the road, where there was a pile of rocks. I thought I’d climb up on them and look around from up there. As I walked toward them he straightened up and called to me.
‘You better not go over there, mister. There might be snakes in them rocks.’
I stopped, looking down at the rocks, then came back.
‘Rattlers,’ he said, leaning down closer to the engine. ‘They’re not so good.’
‘So I’ve heard,’ I said.
‘Boy, you heard right. You suddenly find one of those babies lookin’ you straight in the eye . . . No, sir!’
I watched him a moment longer, then I crossed over to the other side of the road. There was a small mound of sand there and I sat down, leaning back on my elbow on the warm sand. I looked at my watch. It was still early and we probably shouldn’t have to stay here long. I looked over at the other side of the road, at the pile of rocks. I thought of the snakes that might be there and I felt the slight stirring of fear which things like that give you. But it was not a disagreeable feeling. It gave just that touch of hardness and danger, lying below the surface like a taut armature, that gives strength and reality to a land.
Presently the man straightened up again, wiped his forehead with the back of his hand, and came toward me.
‘Doggone if I know what’s wrong.’ He shook his head. ‘It’s got me.’
‘Well, look here . . .’ I began.
‘Oh, somebody’ll be along after a while,’ he said, and sat down on the ground next to me. ‘Don’t worry. I’ll get somebody to fix it.’
‘I know,’ I said, ‘but I’m in a hurry.’
‘Well, I don’t know what we can do about it.’ He glanced at me. ‘I won’t charge you for the time. Don’t worry.’
‘I’m not worrying about that, but I don’t want to spend all day out here. Hell!’
‘Listen,’ he said, ‘I sure am sorry about this, but . . . well, you see I ain’t been driving a cab a long time. I don’t know much about them. Engines, I mean . . .’
I looked around at the empty land and felt the increasing silence.
‘Well, I guess there’s no use getting stewed up about it,’ I said.
‘That’s it. When you’re out here awhile you learn it don’t do any good to try and rush things. You just got to be patient.’ He leaned forward a little, looking at me more closely. ‘Ain’t that so?’
I nodded my head and for a time we didn’t say anything more. Then he said, ‘Anyway, it’s a funny thing. Cars . . . you go along driving them for years and nothing happens and then when something does go wrong you get sore right away. You just sort of take it for granted nothing’ll happen, and then when it does — why, you get sore.’
‘An engine like that can’t go on forever without something going wrong with it, can it? It stands to reason.’
‘No, but . . .'
‘You just got to let things take their course, that’s all.’
‘I guess you get a different point of view on things after you’ve been out here awhile,’ I said.
‘Boy, I’ll say you do!’ he said, and gave a short laugh.
I looked around at the flat circle of the earth and the deep round arch of the sky. As the sun rose higher and drew the color out of the land it seemed to draw some of the life out of it as well. I listened again to the silence. I looked at the white building over on the side of the mountain where she was waiting for me. I thought of starting to walk toward her, but I knew that the car would probably be fixed before I got there. Meanwhile there was nothing to do but sit here.
As if I stood apart, I saw myself and this man sitting together in the centre of this still and barren circle, enclosed there, like two specimens, motionless under a rounded dome of glass. It made me impatient and I again looked at my watch. It seemed too early. Then I saw that the second hand had stopped. The realization that the watch was not going seemed to add to the increasing silence. I felt the shining metal wheels of the watch and of the engine of the car motionless out here in the centre of the desert.
‘Everything seems to be stopping,’I said.
The man nodded his head.
‘That happens a lot out here.'
‘What time have you got?’ I asked him.
‘I haven’t. I couldn’t go on having it cleaned every few weeks. Anyway, you don’t have much use for a watch out here.'
I picked up a handful of sand from the ground and looked at it. It was pinkishbrown in color and very fine. It was not like the sand of the sea. The grains did not reflect the light. They were dull and dry-looking. But as I looked down at it it reminded me of something. I didn’t know what it was, but I had that feeling of a kind of door half opening somewhere back in my memory, letting in a dim ray of light but not revealing what was behind it. I waited. I let the fine sand run slowly down between my fingers into the other hand. It formed a soft conical little mound and then I knew what it reminded me of. I saw the kitchen at home.
‘I know,’I said to the man. ‘It’s like the sand they use in an hourglass. I remember we used to have one at home.’ I let the grains sift slowly down between my fingers again. ‘A small one. We used it to time boiled eggs with.’
He nodded his head and we watched the grains flowing down into my hand. I remembered the day she had bought it at the Five-and-Ten.
‘Damn it!’ I said.
‘It’s no good thinking about it.’
‘I know,’ I said, ‘but just to-day, of all times!’
‘Oh, I don’t blame you,’he said. ‘I know how you feel.’
But he didn’t. Nobody could know how I felt. As I sat there and thought about her I began again to feel as I had that morning. I felt that life was now really beginning for us again and I was impatient for life. I wanted it. I had been dead too long. I didn’t want to sit here any longer, doing nothing. I got up and began to walk back and forth.
‘There’ll be somebody along,’the man said. ‘Any time now.’
And after a while we did see dust moving down the road in our direction, and presently a car came up and stopped when we waved at it. The driver got out and did some things to the engine and in a few minutes he had it fixed and was driving on.
We drove faster now, but it seemed to take a long time to get there. As we came nearer I kept trying to see her. On the balconies facing the sun there were beds and chairs with people in them. They all looked alike, just black dots lined up in a row. They didn’t count, because I knew she wouldn’t be one of them, and after one glance at them I kept my eyes fixed on the porch on the ground floor and didn’t look up at them again. But the porch was in shadow, and I couldn’t see who was there or if anyone was there until we drew up in front of it and stopped.
I saw her.
I remember a lot of other faces, but I remember them only as you remember the things around you when you’re very drunk.
We drove away.
We talked all the time, but I don’t remember what we said. We drove across the desert toward the town, but I didn’t notice it. It no longer existed.
When we came to the place where the car had broken down, the man who was driving half turned around and said, ‘Here’s where we got stuck.’
I had forgotten about it.
‘Boy, he sure was impatient,’the man said.
She and I looked at each other.
‘I told him it didn’t do no good to try and hurry things,’ the man said.
‘’Course I knew how he felt, just waiting there.’
Her hand moved a little, tightening on mine. Its touch brought back our past and we were no longer here, riding across the desert , under the huge western sky. We Were home, far from here. The past was ended, and the future was already here.
‘I was waiting too,’ she said.
‘Then he was gonna go over and sit down with the snakes on them rocks,’ the man said, and laughed.
Her hand tightened again and a look came into her eyes that I had not seen for a long time. For a moment I could not remember when I had seen her eyes look like that. Then I remembered. It was when she had left me to come out here. There had been the same look in them then, as though she were seeing things about which I knew nothing, looking forward into a kind of darkness.
‘Well,’ the man said, ‘it takes a little while to get used to it, don’t it, ma’am?’ He waved his hand toward the land. ‘All this country . . .’
‘Yes, she said. ‘Yes, it does.’
She looked out for a moment, then lowered her eyes.
Soon we were in the town. The square in front of the station was filled with sunlight and the benches were crowded with people, sitting with their eyes half closed against the sun.
She looked at them, then she said to me, ‘When does the train go?’
‘There’s one late this afternoon,’ I said. ‘Or we could stay over till tomorrow if you want.’
‘No,’ she said. ‘No, let’s not.’
‘There’s one in half an hour,’ the man said. ‘You might get that one.’
‘Yes,’ she said. ‘Let’s get that one.'
‘You’re sure you don’t want to rest?’ I said.
She shook her head.
We stopped by the station and I went in and got the ticket. Coming out, I passed by the people sitting on the benches in the sunlight. I thought this was a good life, sitting in the sun doing nothing. But as I walked past them they all looked at me. I suddenly felt all their eyes upon me. I was still holding the long yellow strip of ticket in my hand. Their eyes looked at it. I hurried to the car.
‘I’ve got the ticket,’ I said.
I looked down at it. With this piece of paper we were going to another land.
‘The train leaves in twenty minutes,’ I said.
We drove to the hotel to get my things and then back to the station. The train arrived a minute after we did.
We got on and went to our compartment. I closed the door.
Soon the train started, moving slowly out of the station, then faster, then out of the town and into the open desert. The dry hard earth swept past us, trembling in the heat and the speed of the train.
We both watched it from the window, then she turned away.
I pulled the window curtain partly down.
‘Don’t you want to see it?’ she said.
‘I don’t mind,’ she said. ‘Really.’
‘I know how you feel about it,’ I said.
‘No,’ she said. ‘It’s not that.’
‘You’ll never see it again,’ I said. ‘Never.’ I pulled the curtain all the way down. ‘There. It’s finished. It doesn’t exist any more.’
She smiled at me, then glanced for a moment at the blank green surface of the curtain.
‘See?’I said. ‘It’s gone.’
She raised her eyes.
‘You’re never going away from me again,’ I said. ‘You’ll never see this place again,’ and I looked at the blank green curtain behind which, with one motion, I had shut out this land from which I was taking her away forever.