The Many-Chambered Thing

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I went to see my dead father’s lover, to see what she could tell me about the missing man. She was not surprised to see me, though we had only met obliquely in stories. Like most lovers, she held tightly to the idea that what she had shared with my father was the true thing, above all others. I suppose she had to in order to bear the indignity, the essential complicity and the long silences. I did not have the heart to tell her that a man is a many-chambered thing.

If anything, I left feeling less informed than I had come. She did not tell me anything I did not know. It was worse: her stories added splotches of gray to the little I thought I knew. I had gone to her trying to approach a fading memory before it receded further. Instead, her stories pushed it out of reach.

When I got up to leave, she took no notice and went on talking. I did not feel bad about going because she was talking to him. I don’t think she even registered my leaving at all. I shut the door softly and left them alone together, for eternity.

Afterwards, I felt hollowed out by her words, as if they had somehow taken from me what I already had and reduced it to dust. Perhaps I had sought her out thinking that if I could peer into that distant fading mirror I would be able to see things about myself. But her stories were her memories — not mine — and I realized that mere words were not hardy enough to help me across the gulf that separated me from what she had shared with him. To an outsider they looked like an elaborate, dissolving web of self-deception; to her, they were the well-engineered bridge she used each day to reach him.

It is troubling to think that there are people you love who you will never, ever know. They are lost to the past they way we are lost to the future and any chance of knowing them in a real way is gone. Time keeps pulling us further and further apart. Even the details which one could use now, as an adult, to construct a fuller picture are lost because the child did not know how to watch and did not log what he observed without understanding, for some future use.

It is ironic that I went where I did looking for truth. In a relationship built on deceit, I went looking for the hard truth. No wonder she couldn’t give it to me. But the truth she showed me inadvertently was of the very hardest kind: whatever there was to know lay written in a chamber at the end of a passage down which I could never go.

One response to “The Many-Chambered Thing”

  1. Barbara Hontalas Avatar
    Barbara Hontalas


    What do we really know, anyway??


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