erro passes through lisbon (7)
one may in fact step in the same river twice — for a river is defined by recursion, repetition, and nonlinear spirals rather than a smooth path into the future. And so here we are arriving back in Europe, as quietly as possible, spiraling into the west coast of Portugal. We had just arrived in Lisbon. It had been a long slow boat trip up the coast of Africa, when we heard that Jacques Ehrman had died. We borrowed a phone charger and for the first time since leaving London for Madagascar the year before, we plugged the phone in and left it charging and beeping as the notifications began arriving. Hundreds of messages. We went over the square to look at Velasquez’s Las Meninas in the gallery stein und song. It was the middle of the afternoon, September. We stood, and then sat there looking at the painting for an hour. Eventually leaving the painting behind and drank tea, feeding Fern before walking slowly round the square back to the hotel. One of us talked to the baby on our hip, the other tried to remember what Jacques had said about the painting, “The key is…” he said. But it was a few years ago and I couldn’t remember what he’d said. We went back to the hotel and collected our phone before going downstairs to sit in the courtyard and have a drink. Sitting with bare feet in the sunshine and looked at the messages. There were several hundred messages, voice mail, a legion of emails. I wondered if anyone would notice we were back in Europe. I was feeding the baby again when the telephone rang, i could hear the sounds of traffic outside the hotel. I was still thinking I was on the ship traveling at 15 or 20 knots traveling across the clear blue sea in the early morning, Hello. Is that Erro? Yes… The signal wavered a little. Hello this is Paula Cassis, Jacques Ehrman died yesterday and his funeral is taking place at 5PM on Thursday. I will send you the address… Hello, hello I said. The line disconnected. They didn’t say bye. First phone call in a year and a persons died and they hang up. I looked at the received calls log, there was only one. No number recorded. I looked at the phone and waited for the message with the address. It was very hot in Lisbon and we and the baby stayed around the hotel.
A message and an address from Paula Cassis arrived the next day. We went across the city to see Paula Cassis at three in the afternoon. She is on the phone, it shouldn’t be long, her secretary told me. You haven’t been available for a while, what is it? five months? A year or more I said.Taking the baby out of the pushchair and resting her on my left leg. We sat in the dark shade of the veranda and waited, I don’t have long we told her. Paula Cassis took us into her office, she invited us to sit on a couch beneath the window. The windows were open and the air in the room was almost as hot as outside. The walls were dark in a style that I didn’t recognize. How did he die ? I asked. He had a terminal disease and committed suicide, didn’t you know ? No, I have been away. I said. What was the disease ? She seemed very stressed her hands together on her lap. He was very ill, was living on the drugs and killed himself when he heard he had stage four. When did you hear ? I asked Paula Cassis. A month ago, he said goodbye to everyone who meant something. I would be grateful if you don’t come to the funeral. Paula Cassis said. I wasn’t going to. I just wanted to know how he died. The house was silent except for her stressed breathing, she was a racist and it appeared in the room in the distance between us. <Humans are simply hopeless.> < They are, I agreed.> Where is his body? we asked. At the Free Hospice where he died. We thought about leaving and I wondered, we wondered why Paula Cassis had contacted us. I came to visit you because I was coincidentally here, we said. You, you never understood him, Paula Cassis said her hands holding onto the chair. We put the baby into her chair beside me, to enable my body to move rapidly. Her expression was stressed, angry, resentful. You never understood him, she said, you are too alien, too young to understand Jacques Ehrman. I never claimed to, we said. We merely met by chance through my work and… You never knew him, you believed his fictional past. He told you stories that were untrue about himself. He told you about his anarchist parents, his miserable life in America. This fiction you believed. All untrue, he was the child of landowners, a beautiful childhood. He, like me was a nationalist. A helicopter flew by just above the rooftops drowning out what she was saying. She was looking at me with contempt. We considered silencing her with a punch to her throat. Instead we stayed silent. I assume you liked him. Yes, what do you mean ? I don’t understand, we said. You are incapable of understanding me, you do not want to understand me, reality is not understandable by people like you. You prefer your docile culture, I will not go into detail. Good, we said. I think you should stop speaking, I will go now. We could hardly tell which one of us was speaking now. Stop speaking, Paula Cassis said. Yes, stop. We looked at each other in silence. We stood up and hung our brown leather bag across the body. You’ve said enough, I’ll be going now. The baby, is it his? I would never let a fascist like Jacques Ehrman touch my body. We said. I have a letter for you from him. I put the letter into my bag. I feel sorry for you, she said. Really? that is very stupid of you. We washed our hands on the way out with soap and water.
When we got back to the hotel, after changing the baby and washing her. We opened the letter. It contained a few lines of self pity and regret that he’d lied to me. < He didn’t know we knew everything, he naively thought we didn’t investigate customers like him…> We both said. I felt more human when we knew him, the intervening years changed everything. I phoned Jean Grenier as soon as she was asleep. Hello Jean, i said, I’m back in Southern Europe, I will be back in a few days, three or four at the most. Is everything all right ? He asked us. Yes, of course, I just have to arrange a flight or two to London. Do you need me to arrange anything? Tell anyone? He asked. No, nothing. I probably need to arrive quietly, I’ll tell you everything when I get back. The codes are the same, do you remember them? Yes… We talked about where we were. I was surprised I told him we were in Lisbon. It was earlier in London and he was still in the office. He sounded happy at the thought of seeing us.
In the hotel room in Lisbon later that night we stood in the main window of the hotel in her room and with child sleeping on the bed behind us, and looking out at the world and confessed, with a rueful smile on one of our faces.
The next day, later, using my British passport, We caught a morning train from Lisbon to Paris, with our baby, my two suitcases, one full of clothes, toiletries and the the things of everyday life. The other full of the things I had collected collected collected during my exile in Madagascar. I managed to get the last berth in first class. The conductor helped me find my place at the back of the train, the compartment was supposedly for four people but I was on my own. I didn’t think I would sleep well, but was surprised to find that I slept soundly, only waking up when she needed feeding or attention and finally as the conductor announced breakfast. I washed the baby and changed its clothes in the changing room. And then as the train stopped south of Chartres, I drank coffee and ate soft Italian rolls as the train waited for the signal to change. I could see the cathedral spire from the window, dominating the plateau. A japanese woman passenger leaned over and cooed at the baby, “What’s her name?” She asked in Japanese. I told her Fern’s name in my perfect English accent. “Oh I thought you were a fellow country…” I’m on my way home to London, we have been in Lisbon for a few days visiting my mother. “You look like someone I know.” she said. Really? Sorry it’s not me. I’m going home to a place where it rains. Where my husband will complain about the rain, simply because he is english. “Sorry to interrupt your feeding her….” The japanese woman said. It’s always nice to talk to adults whilst traveling with a baby, I replied, whilst I mashed up some banana on a saucer and began to feed her with a sterilized plastic spoon. I lined up my pills on the table, calcium, iron and multivitamin supplements and took them with a glass of milk. Having a baby was exhausting I said to her. I thought about Jacques Ehrman , and wondered if he had died as the voice announced.
I took a taxi across Paris to the other terminal and hung around the station for an hour or so before catching the train to London. The customs official looked at my passport before allowing me on the train, you have been out of the country for a long time. The pandemic caused me to stay in Madagascar, then I couldn’t travel because i was too pregnant. The embassy was very helpful… Did you like it there? What was so interesting? Poetry and music, I answered. What’d you mean? he said quietly as he stamped the passport. If you can’t leave a place you have to work out how to live there. Will you go back there ? No, unless Fern wants to go there one day. He handed me my passport. My records entered the system and we wondered if anyone would notice or care.
I sat down on the two business class seats I’d booked. A few minutes, perhaps 10 or 15 minutes later the doors closed with a hiss and thud. The lights flickered and the fast train to London pulled out of the station. I was on a train out of Paris, which I had been on so many times in the years before I had to hide in Madagascar. I felt a strange sensation, a memory of another version of me who had believed themselves to be safe. In love with a man who I had to leave, I never told him about the baby besides me. I wondered if I could bring myself to tell him about her. And then there was Jean who had been looking after the cat and me whilst we were away, did he expect anything of us? <We should have brought him a present from Madagascar> The other said. <True, why didn’t we think of that?> <Too excited, and then we didn’t know…>
I wondered how Jacques Ehrman would have reacted to the idea of me having a child. That isn’t a good concept Jacques Ehrman would have said, we need to speak of diagrams and assemblages and not meaningless things like ideology and babies. He would be scrutinizing my face and thinking about how a schizophrenic could function like this. A great psychiatrist said this[“ “] . And then he’d start talking about Laing and Guattari. You can think of me as a schizophrenic if it helps you, we said to him, but that’s just because you lack a concept that defines us. I had come to see him in his North London house, on the Downhill Road, it was early evening and we were meeting some friends of his who needed moving to a safe house. He waited for me sitting in the window. That time we were collecting the family from Baixa and transporting them to a safe house in Buckinghamshire. They were frightened, The security team checked and repacked their luggage, the van and the car drove off leaving me with him on the pavement. We walked back through the confusion of the streets, crossing the main road, along the wide pavements. We are already in the anti-psychiatric zone, Jacques Ehrman said. Let’s follow a schzioanalytic itinerary he would say, drifting along streets and allays. Why was he such a reactionary? I wondered. During these early evening hours the streets were still busy. He was a practitioner of metaphysics, he understood that we were outside the scope of his thought, that we, as he would say, deterritorialized him. I never explained what it actually was and now we never could. I can imagine the fear on his face when I turned up with my child. Two of them, he would say, there are two of them. Not understanding that there were three or four of us…
I returned to London 384 or 5 days after leaving, I stepped off the train back into the same river for the second time… with my bags and baby, who was complaining about the noise. I took a black cab to the warehouse. The cabby asked me how old the baby was? Nearly five months I told him, just brought it home for the first time. I’m glad to be back, i missed my husband. We tell him. We phoned Jean Grenier, I’ve arrived I told him, I’ll get a cab home. I can see the windows are open facing the street. I hope the lifts working, I say to the cabbie, waving goodbye….