“Eternity is inside us”



No. 16 by Elizabeth Bowen

“Eternity is inside us – it’s a secret that we must never, never try to betray. Look where just time has brought me; look at where it’s left me.”

…In “the end house […] tacked, living, to the hulk of the terrace.”

Another seminal, serial Null Immortalis story, where Jane visits the (once) famous author Maximilian Bewdon, now down on his creative luck, who had reviewed her proud book of prose, now wanting to hear her poems. Always to return to see if he was still there within this Bowenly cracked end house of an otherwise empty terrace, even a ghostly piano being played in the empty no. 15, next door — a St John’s Wood area that had seen better days, Maximilian living with his caring, tired, confusedly endearing wife.

Young Jane should never have come, having missed the telegram not to come because of his currently suffering another era’s earlier version of influenza. Jane had it, too, so both feverish minds wandering, with near delirium, his with dementia, too, I guess, his mind as old as mine, even though he was then probably physically younger than I am now. I can empathise. 

They end up sleeping together while the wife slept upstairs. But not exactly, but you will know what I mean should you read it. 

“Every corner brings you to something out of the scheme – even without a touch of fever on you (and Jane Oates had more than a touch of fever) some starts of taste or fancy look like catastrophes.”

“To walk there is to have a crazy architectural film, with no music, reeled past. Every corner brings you to something out of the scheme – even without a touch of fever on you (and Jane Oates had more than a touch of fever) some starts of taste or fancy look like catastrophes. Pale tan brick blocks of flats, compressed cities, soar up over studios all trellis and vine.”

But what about the bunch of coloured, if flaccid, balloons, he had hanging inside? 

“They [Jane & Maximilian] looked like a suicide pact. The room smelled of the scorching of Bewdon’s rug. Mrs Bewdon, when she had drawn the curtains, stooped and gave Jane’s shoulder a light pat. ‘Tea-time,’ she said.”

Jane ends up back at home, finding the telegram asking her not to go. Does that mean she is forced to go again and again, to match the pattern of unconscious defiance in the nature of time? To go play the piano at no. 15 for real? As a feverish poltergeist?

She ends up with a pillow, a pillowghost, I infer. Ever within the pact of their co-vivid influenza dream of going back not simply to thank Mrs B for her ‘chagrining’ kindness but, above all, to hear Maximilian say to her again and again: “Don’t write”, and to burn her book? As he had burnt his rug? That telegram from lost time is sent by time yet again and again? This time with an invitation to a party, the balloons now strung pointedly outside the derelict terrace to show at which number the party is taking place?

“Eternity is inside us – it’s a secret that we must never, never try to betray. Look where just time has brought me; look at where it’s left me.”

***

All my Bowen story reviews: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2021/10/05/the-collected-stories-of-elizabeth-bowen/

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