From his window seat on the plane he looks out over the ocean, which looks like a tangle of lines in this light. The light makes the water look alive. He can’t solve what time it is where he is, because he’s not sure where he is, precisely. The sky is the bright, kinetic blue of light and dark switching places, crossing paths over the planet. The light changes late here in the sky, later than it does at home. The moon appears to be at eye level and looks about the shape of a human ear. He’s drowsy. At liftoff he took a pill to help him get to sleep.
“I’m bigger than you,” he says, outward to the moon.
“Ha!” the moon says.
“You fit between my finger and thumb,” he says. “You fit in my eye.”
“I can’t even see you, that’s how small you are,” the moon says. “I can’t hear you either, boy. I can’t dream up conversations you and I might have, because to me you are that small.”
“You can’t dream at all,” he says.
“No, I can’t,” the moon says, and returns to being a silent moon.
He first blamed the jet lag, but now he can’t get up before nine a.m. and it’s been days. His habit is to rise at six and on principle, he does not use an electronic alarm. He is supposed to be a man in tune with his environs! At home, he just wakes up, inspired by some fine combination of having slept enough and the celestial cues aligning.
What is the problem?
I will solve this myself, he thinks, with olden tools, with ink and paper. I will discover the nature of the distance between the version of myself that wants to be here and the version wishing he were at home. He takes out a notebook and draws a diagram of the planet, all the continents, with special detail given to his home continent, North America, and a sloppy Europe, all chewed up and hard to solve, with its small countries, its inlets and seas, and off of Europe’s western shore, where he is now. He thinks back to geography classes, the talk of maps, projection issues, the impossibility of making a sphere into a flat, accurate shape.
Iceland presented a special problem because of its nearness to the pole. Or was it Greenland? Or a different kind of problem between the two lands, something in the trick of the names, naming Iceland something unpleasant to fool other sailors into thinking it rocky and cold, when Greenland was the rockier, colder place. Nice trick, first-arriving sailors! They couldn’t pull it off now.
I am not an artist, he thinks, examining the land blobs.
He looks out the window at the electric, marshy land, the wildflowers, the orderly red and green houses. His drawing bears so little resemblance to the place it represents. Scale is a problem, but it isn’t the only problem.
He draws a picture of his face here, the face tired and sad, but its sadness looks funny.
He draws a picture of his face there, at home, the face happy and rested, but its happiness looks false.
3. In Other Gowns, Other Nouns
Anyone can wear a dress.
4. Oh Well
While watching a televised interview of an artist who claims both men as influences, he realizes that he cannot identify the difference between George Orwell and Orson Welles. There are the shared sounds (or/well factor), and the name George has never struck him as memorable. He has never known a distinctive George. He knows both men were famous for creative work and yet he has no clue who might have done what or when, and supposes this means he was never taught much about the work of either man. He has the impression that their work is impressive and that he was supposed to have become acquainted with their work but it failed to happen through schooling. Everyone else seemed to have become acquainted with it, perhaps while he was using the restroom.
He has gotten in the habit of nodding knowingly but discouragingly when either man’s name is referred to in polite company, a move that he has always felt a subliminal twinge of guilt about. The accumulation of such twinges over the years has caused him to dislike, summarily, both Orwell and Welles, and it has also caused him to dislike, to a lesser degree, people who reference either Orwell or Welles in conversation.
5. Divine Proportion
Gagunk! A fly lands on an arm.
6. One Boat in Particular
“Red sails,” he says, pointing out a striking boat with a navy hull and pronounced curves. The hooked sails remind him of medieval weapons he’s seen in museums and the crest of the hull reminds him of great Viking vessels he’s seen in picture books.
They had been watching the boats for hours as they rose and fell with the arrival of the tide, some boats returning from the day’s work and some empty and anchored. An afternoon mist had settled like a layer of cooled fat on top of the channel.
“I don’t see it,” she says.
“There,” he says. “Dark red, blood red.”
She squints, looking out the large window of the vacation home.
“I don’t know,” she says, shaking her head.
He sits by the window for hours, unable to look away until the sky is such that he can no longer tell the red from the black.
7. In the Picture As It Is
Dinner in white, reads the caption. The couple smiles. The couple wears white clothes and their skin and hair are beige and pink and straw colored against a soft blue sky. Wealth’s palette in summer. The couple looks good in white. Only the food is bright: sliced red tomatoes over fluffed greens, charred and bleeding cuts of cow, cold berries and torn herbs afloat in aperitifs.
The beach behind them is tan. Brownish white. Reads as white from a distance; more white than not. Like twilight’s beginning or mood lighting in a sitting room.
Beyond the tan is a line of blue that barely differs from the blue of sky. The texture tells you it is water. Up close, the water would look green, brown, or clear, depending on your relationship to it. If you went into the water and it got in your eyes, the sting of salt might cause your eyes to tear and close, and you might see red or some color mixed with red, maybe blue.
If their photograph had been taken later at night, the smiling couple would look different to you. Their mood would be seen inversely without the articulate ambiance in the picture as it is. You could say they were bored. Uncomfortable, you could say, or anxious. Deceitful, if the light fell just so. In the picture as it is they look very much at home.