A Magic River

I said that when my sons were the ages of those two leaping boys, they were so intimate it would have been hard to disentangle their separate natures. They used to play together from the moment they opened their eyes in the morning to the moment they closed them again. Their play was a kind of shared trance in which they created whole imaginary worlds, and they were forever involved in games and projects whose planning and execution were as real to them as they were invisible to everyone else: sometimes I would move or throw away some apparently inconsequential item, only to be told that it was a sacred prop in the ongoing make-believe, a narrative which seemed to run like a magic river through our household, inexhaustible, and which they could exit and reenter at will, moving over that threshold, which no one else could see, into another element. And then one day the river dried up: their shared world of imagination ceased, and the reason was that one of them — I can’t even recall which one it was — stopped believing in it. In other words, it was nobody’s fault; but all the same it was brought home to me how much of what is beautiful in their lives was the result of a shared vision of things that strictly speaking could not be said to exist.
I suppose, I said, it is one definition of love, the belief in something that only the two of you can see, and in this case it proved to be an impermanent basis for living. Without their shared story, the two children began to argue, and where their playing had taken them away from the world, making them unreachable for hours at a time, their arguments brought them constantly back to it. They would come to me or to their father, seeking intervention and justice; they began to set greater store by facts, by what had been done and said, and to build the case for themselves and against one another. It was hard, I said, not to see this transposition from love to factuality as the mirror of other things that were happening in our household at the time. What was striking was the sheer negative capability of their former intimacy: it was as though everything that had been inside was moved outside, piece by piece, like furniture being taken out of a house and put on the pavement. There seemed to be so much of it, because what had been invisible was now visible; what had been useful was now redundant. Their antagonism was in exact proportion to their former harmony, but where the harmony had been timeless and weightless, the antagonism occupied space and time. The intangible became solid, the visionary was embodied, the private became public: when peace becomes war, when love turns to hatred, something is born into the world, a force of pure morality. If love is what is held to make us immortal, hatred is the reverse. And what is astonishing is how much detail it gathers to itself, so that nothing remains untouched by it. They were struggling to free themselves from one another, yet the very last thing they could do was leave one another alone. They fought over everything, disputed ownership of the most inconsequential item, were enraged by the merest nuance of speech, and when finally they were maddened by detail they erupted into physical violence, hitting and scratching one another; which of course returned them to the madness of detail again, because physical violence entails the long-drawn-out process of justice and law. The story of who had done what to whom had to be told, and the matters of guilt and punishment established, though this never satisfied them either; in fact it made things worse, because it seemed to promise a resolution that never came. The more its intricacies were specified, the bigger and realer the argument grew. Each of them wanted more than anything to be declared right, and the other wrong, but it was impossible to assign blame entirely to either one of them. And I realized eventually, I said, that it could never be resolved, not so long as the aim was to establish the truth, for there was no single truth any more, that was the point. There was no longer a shared vision, a shared reality even. Each of them saw things now solely from his own perspective: there was only point of view.

— Rachel Cusk, (pp. 80-83) Outline


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