by Brenda Ludeman

He is listening to her as she reads from a novel. Her reading is silent, the fleeting thoughts that animate her features in response to the text and an elusive murmur of words form an imperceptible narrative. There is no dialogue, no speech or exchange of words between the characters. Nor are they given names, being referred to with the simple designation of a pronoun. The precise black letters are fixed to the page. Words cluster together. Phrases are separated from each other. It seems that the story began with a single sentence, a sentence which might have signalled the demise of the narrative as well as its beginning. Which was it to be? The sentence was already old, it predated its appearance in this particular narrative by several years.

Yet there are other versions to be listened to, all of which arise out of the image of a woman reading, silent and absorbed. Her precarious repose in the open pages of a book has been captured in a photograph. She sits on the edge of a chair, holding the book in her weathered hands. It appears as though she inhabited a pause in the narration and is somehow absent from the listener.

You read the text of a notebook, a small black volume held together by a white stitch. It had belonged to him and contained fragments of his writing - incidental sentences, minute entries and unrelated notes. The notebook held a record of items described again and again. And of his despair, as though unable to relinquish the habit, he had continued the act of recording. The simple black cover and the sheaf of notes that it contained, lay abandoned on a ledge.


She repeats the words from the novel. The letters are delayed in the stalk, now released by gentle pauses, now bound by the shelter of a parenthesis. But the words do not hold, they flow through the brake. The phrase is split, the sentence shattered. In the margin we cluster, as though it were possible to pass by a bridge untouched, to conceal the bursting of the rind, at one end of the scarp, at the base of a flute; where he and she, we and you, remain intact. When they take the first step, the sentence recedes. They find the last faint word, that appears to vanish in accordance with the slow sinking of the sun.

She seems to be immersed in the pleasure of words, collected together, as though they were objects of delight. He is making a copy of the text, of the tier of letters leading from one level to the next, from page to page. Each phrase seems to be remote and unsustainable. For him the words on the page and the short sentences are undeniably foreign. In this version of the story the pronouns are magnified, like a word upon which a drop of water has fallen, so that the globe of liquid enlarges the single letter beyond its ordinary proportions.

We gather the pronouns, in a linguistic transference. You draw a tenuous phrase from a single volume. As she reads the light continues to alter, passing from the beginning of dawn to the fall of dusk. He leaves an impression on the text, as though it were possible to find an indelible image in the use of anonymous words and phrases. She records a pathemic response to the flesh of a lip, or the bridge of a nose, a wide mouth and the crease made by a smile. We follow the words in a logical procession. She reads without speaking. He is inarticulate. You are aware of the resemblance.


Concealed between the pages of her book is a photograph of him, it might be an image of the writer, taken just before his death. It is impossible not to know that his vacant eyes, pale against the falling light, were dulled by poverty. And he already has this knowledge. It is in the solitary nature of the work that he undertakes, the slow agrarian method of wasting away, of speaking to himself, scraps of sentences and truncated phrases. In the still a cloud gathers, it seems to be opaque, like the blank matter of words. It is a heart returning from the centre of some tumultuous mass. As she reads the words form a chain of cells. of details bearing a contiguous relation to events, or stars, minute reflections of a particular phrase.

The pronoun rests between the resilient frame of the sentence. The cover of the notebook falls away, it is frayed at the spine. He turns his head and follows with her the line of letters on the page. She is overwhelmed by the flight of birds, now concealed in the vast landscape. The trees are a rival for the words that accompany her.

She is preoccupied with the small dark notes, now fixed to the page like simple objects, now in a state of flux. Her reading leaves him suspended and forgotten. He can hear the faithful phrase as it ceases to exist. His writing dissolves. He dreams of the infinite stream of letters and the miraculous gap between the phrases. The pages of his notebook do not support the weight of speech. The black letters are no longer linked, they are split, cleaved one from the other. As are he and she.


In the small notebook he wrote a collection of single words and phrases. Beside one of these entries he had written the French word colÚre, as if seeking the language of estrangement. Where he mentions her fidelity to the art of reading, it takes the form of an excerpt, a strain of words, of scrolls and flutes.

He had confined his research to the use of the single phrase, in the event that it was he, himself, who was about to vanish in the continuum of words. For in this last version of a story, his life is coming to an end. The notebook lies on a ledge with the cover split open. A phrase returns. She waits, along with him, for the passage of a word. When his sentence founders, she follows the trajectory of the isolated phrase.

She found the notebook after his death, found then that although he did not read, he had written, vague notes and indiscriminate phrases. But now the binding was loose at the spine, he was beyond the limit of an emotional labour. She found no explanation for the material, or the delicate stem which elongated a singular word. It seems that he had considered the immense task of being without words, through the parturition of a phrase. The passage retained a sense of proceeding in the opposite direction, as though he were just then being born.

In an accretion of words and phrases, of letters that overlap and fuse, we find both he and she, together; they vanish and reappear. It seems that her preservation of a single phrase has brought the two into an intimate proximity. They are divided, yet joined, like the perfect basal cleavage of two words on a page.