Climbing, she remembered a description of a play from long ago—a nun, who in love with someone, is replaced by the Virgin.1 On stage, she wears a great stone cloak, this mountain of divine love, while the nun goes forth into the world of sin she has mistaken for fulfilment.2 There is Anna and there is Anna: one cloistered within a love so safe that there is no question of danger, but no question of living. The second Anna realises what love is when one lets go, prying affections from the cracks of indifference, or is it fear? She climbs this stone Virgin who remains still, this faux-Anna distracting Guillaume while she runs about this new world with Thomas in her brightly coloured dresses, Thomas who has lived outside the walls of the nunnery and does not understand this new Anna who looks at the world as if it has only been created, retreads her paths with the delight of someone with a secret: the secret is that Anna is now Anna, the Anna she feels she was meant to be, while Guillaume, for now unknowing, continues the same life with Anna the Virgin, her blessed conspirator who diverts his love out of love. There is no sinner who has not first worn that holy cloak of constancy, its weight finally cracking and compressing the bones and the soul until it cries out for it to be lifted. In the play the one whom the nun runs away with is evil, but there is no evil for Anna, only a curious game where she must keep the second Anna from Guillaume, even though that Anna also loves him in the sheltered way one loves safe things. But the more she remembers this safety the more she wants Thomas to be a raging flame, Thomas who flickers occasionally but is drawn to this breath of wind in her new dress silently urging him to grow until he consumes them both, for that’s what Anna wants, to burn in this new unsafe world. And when Anna returns to the faux-Anna, the placeholder Virgin, she remembers the safety of Guillaume, a box of matches only set alight when presented with the correct surface, while Thomas burns without knowing it, with his ‘bleak, acrid scent’3 which she hates at first, not realising she smells ashes which will bank in the pit of her stomach, waiting to be restored. All Anna knows now is that the love she knew was not life, the love she thinks she knows now—for she is rubbing and rubbing to kindle this flame between her and Thomas, to make it burn high and bright so he realises it is life too and they are meant to burn together—is a conflagration. The Anna-Virgin patiently sits in her stone cloak, knowing Anna may or may not return repentant, too burned to be extinguished, and anyway, so many sinners like the flames that even she cannot reproach them, she who gladly takes up their forms in situ while they stray from the safety of their walls. Poor Guillaume, not knowing Anna from Anna the Virgin, until one day he does, a crack in the cloak perhaps, a false grip in the mountains they climb; a climber who understands where to place their hands before they even look knows instinctually where the stone is starting to crumble away. And Guillaume, he suddenly feels this unsteady grip, and realises it is Anna who is crumbling, falling to earth where Thomas, sullen Thomas, stands in curiosity to catch Anna, fallen in more ways than one. Now Anna has fallen into the flames of Thomas, now fully roused by the oxygen of her desire, and Anna screams: now she has her fire, and she cannot stop herself from screaming, ‘she howls as if she had been touched by a flame, by something unbearable’.4 The very touch of Thomas has awakened something else in Anna—Descartes’ animal spirits now move through her with ‘their lively and pure flame’.5 She pulls away for a moment, but only a moment, her body pulsating with the familial madness she has always known she was destined for. In that shared fragment of time, the Virgin-Anna’s stone cloak cracks, permanently damaged by its irreversible knowledge that Anna has chosen to let go of her holy decoy, just as Guillaume finally releases his grip of love from the mountain that was once Anna Lore.
The Beginners by Anne Serre, translated by Mark Hutchinson, is published by New Directions.
Tomoé Hill’s work has been featured in publications such as Socrates on the Beach, Exacting Clam, The London Magazine, Music & Literature, Numeró Cinq and Lapsus Lima, as well as the anthologies We’ll Never Have Paris (Repeater Books) and Azimuth (Sonic Art Research Unit at Oxford Brookes University). Songs for Olympia, a personal and critical response to The Ribbon at Olympia’s Throat by Michel Leiris will be forthcoming in 2023 from Sagging Meniscus Press. Twitter @CuriosoTheGreat
1 The Miracle (play), https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Miracle_(play)
2 Szerlip, B. Alexandra. The Man Who Designed the Future: Norman Bel Geddes and the invention of Twentieth-Century America. Brooklyn and London: Melville House, 2017, p. 82
3 Serre, Anne. The Beginners. Translated by Mark Hutchinson. New York: New Directions, 2021, p. 24.
4 Ibid, p. 84.
5 ‘Descartes and the Pineal Gland’, https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/pineal-gland/#BodySoul