A is A
When she opened her eyes, she saw sunlight, green leaves and a man’s face. She thought: I know what this is. This was the world as she had expected to see it at sixteen – and now she had reached it – and it seemed so simple, so unastonishing, that the thing she felt was like a blessing pronounced upon the universe by means of three words: But of course.
She was looking up at the face of a man who knelt by her side, and she knew that in all the years behind her, this was what she would have given her life to see: a face that bore no mark of pain or fear or guilt. The shape of his mouth was pride, and more: it was as if he took pride in being proud. The angular planes of his cheeks made her think of arrogance, of tension, of scorn – yet the face had none of these qualities, it had their final sum: a look of serene determination and of certainty, and the look of a ruthless innocence which would
not seek forgiveness or grant it. It was a face that had nothing to hide or to escape, a face with no fear of being seen, or of seeing, so that the first thing she grasped about him was the intense perceptiveness of his eyes – he looked as if his faculty of sight were his best-loved tool and its exercise were a limitless, joyous adventure, as if his eyes imparted a superlative value to himself and to the world – to himself for his ability to see, to the world for being a place so eagerly worth seeing. It seemed to her for a moment that she was in the presence of a being who was pure consciousness – yet she had never been so aware of a man’s body. The light cloth of his shirt seemed to stress, rather than hide, the structure of his figure, his skin was suntanned, his body had the hardness, the gaunt, tensile strength, the clean precision of a foundry casting, he looked as if he were poured out of metal, but some dimmed, soft-lustered metal, like an aluminum-copper alloy, the color of his skin blending with the chestnut-brown of his hair, the loose strands of the hair shading from brown to gold in the sun, and his eyes completing the colors, as the one part of the casting left undimmed and harshly lustrous: his eyes were the deep, dark green of light glinting on metal.
He was looking down at her with the faint trace of a smile, it was not a look of discovery, but of familiar contemplation – as if he, too, were seeing the long-expected and the never-doubted.
This was her world, she thought, this was the way men were meant to be and to face their existence – and all the rest of it, all the years of ugliness and struggle were only someone’s senseless joke. She smiled at him, as at a fellow conspirator, in relief, in deliverance, in radiant mockery of all the things she would never have to consider important again. He smiled in answer, it was the same smile as her own, as if he felt what she felt and knew what she meant.
“We never had to take any of it seriously, did we?” she whispered.
“No, we never had to.”
And then, her consciousness returning fully, she realized that this man was a total stranger.
She tried to draw away from him, but it was only a faint movement of her head on the grass she felt under her hair. She tried to rise.
A shot of pain across her back threw her down again.
“Don’t move, Miss Taggart. You’re hurt.”
“You know me?” Her voice was impersonal and hard.
“I’ve known you for many years.”
“Have I known you?”
“Yes, I think so.”
“What is your name?”
She looked at him, not moving.