Last night was the second evening in my knitting-and-listening marathon, and I suspect this will become something of a routine for me in the weeks to come. I am trying to finish the Frost Flowers & Leaves shawl, and in the absence of good TV I’ve turned to audio-books from the local library. There are lots of reasons, most of them not very good, why I have not read anything really good, really moving, in a long, long time. In a way, the interval makes the experience I’m having now all the more visceral and present.
There was one winter my family spent Christmas in Tahoe, and my sisters and I would sit in the hot tub until we were dizzy and sated from the heat. We’d climb out of the tub, tiny limbs akimbo, and jump into the nearby snow bank, the heat from our bodies and wet swimsuits sinking us into the snow. Then, when we started to feel the cold, we’d roll out of the snow and slide back into the hot tub. In that moment, near frozen toes hitting the steaming water, there was a jolt and tingle that shot up our legs. The snow was cold, the water was hot, but the sudden juxtaposition of the two created an entirely fresh and different sensation
I am coming in from the cold, sliding my toes into the hot pool of literature and language. I’ve wrapped myself in the quiet repetition of a now-familiar pattern and with the near-silent sound of silk and wool sliding through my fingers, the clear, very British voice of Rosalyn Landor creates a kind of cocoon around me. I am listening to Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go, and it’s a story about a group of clones raised at a boarding school and intended, in their young adulthood, to be organ donors. Told as a memoir, the novel captures perfectly the way that people both accept the realities they’re presented with but also how emotion, love, pushes people to challenge any boundary. The writing is austere, even slow in places, and the simple plot unfolds gently, without any shocking science-fiction detail or grizzly surgery scenes. Most of the piece is a long reminiscence by the narrator, a clone named Kathy, of her childhood at an idyllic, pastoral boarding school. Like adopted children who grow up knowing the word adoption before they can understand it’s meaning, Kathy and her friends know the facts of their futures from childhood, never questioning their destinies. Even in their wildest dreams, the clones never want anything more than a brief reprieve.
There is something deliberate and inevitable about the progression of the story, which, like the progression of my knitting, and like life itself, has a finite end. Even so, I’m reminded of weekends in college, when it got dark at 4:30 and I’d climb into the car with my best friend behind the wheel, and we’d drive off into the darkness. I was eighteen yet I still didn’t know how to drive, and somehow that made our journeys all the more sacred, since I could never be more than a passenger. The rural roads were dark, and even if it wasn’t actually snowing, the sky was usually clouded over. Inside the warm car we were completely encapsulated in silence or our conversation. It was easy to believe that the entirety of life, of existence, was contained in that car, so that even the back seat or the road beyond the headlights was unreal and imaginary. Although the isolation was frightening, it was also severely comforting. The bare trees and the stark landscape flew by, and sometimes, when the snow was falling thickly, the headlights illuminated each individual flake so that as we sped into the night I imagined we were flying through a starry sky. Time kept moving but was out of sequence, swirling into a languid circle instead of a straight line.
Ishiguro’s prose makes me feel that way, like I am somehow outside of time. The motion in my hands makes the soft intonation of his words land more solidly, and I have the sensation that the story has no finite end-point, that I might sit in my blue velvet chair, knitting this shawl, forever. And while the idea of such permanence is frightening, it is comforting too.