- Author: Tatiana Rosnay
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To my father,
who taught me how to look at the future
Not only our memories, but the things we have forgotten are “housed.” Our subconscious is “housed.” Our soul is an abode.
—The Poetics of Space, Gaston Bachelard
So I am doing what seems the best thing to do.
VIRGINIA WOOLF, March 28, 1941
This can obviously be held accountable to a nervous breakdown.
ROMAIN GARY, December 2, 1980
SHE VISITED TWENTY APARTMENTS before finding the right one. Nobody could imagine what an ordeal it had been, especially for a writer obsessed with houses, with what walls remembered. The building had been completed last year. It wasn’t far from the Tower, or what was left of the Tower. After the attack, the neighborhood had suffered. For years, the place remained a dusty and wrecked no-man’s-land ignored by all. Little by little, the vicinity was able to rise from its ashes. Architects had thought out harmonious neoclassical structures, as well as a vast green garden including the memorial and the space where the identical Tower was yet to be rebuilt. With the passing of time, this part of town had been able to recover its serenity. Tourists came flocking back.
Mrs. Dalloway’s soft voice was heard.
“Clarissa, you have incoming emails. One is from Mia White, not in your contact list, and one is from your father. Do you wish to read them now?”
Her father! She checked her watch. One A.M. in Paris, midnight in London, and the old chap was still awake. Getting on for ninety-eight and full of beans.
“I’ll read them later, Mrs. Dalloway. Please turn the computer off. And the lights in the living room.”
In the beginning, she had felt guilty, bossing Mrs. Dalloway around. But she had gotten used to it. It was quite pleasurable, in fact. Mrs. Dalloway never appeared. She was merely a voice. But Clarissa knew Mrs. Dalloway had eyes and ears in every room. Clarissa often wondered what she would have looked like, had she existed. It was believed Virginia Woolf modeled Mrs. Dalloway’s character after a woman named Kitty Maxse, a frivolous party giver who had been a close friend, and who had met a tragic end, tumbling over her own banisters. Clarissa had looked up Kitty Maxse, and discovered photographs of a perfectly groomed lady with an hourglass figure and a dainty parasol.
She stood in the dark living room, facing the window, clasping the cat close to her. The computer no longer glowed into the deepening darkness. Would she ever get used to this flat? It wasn’t so much the smell of new paint. There was something else. She couldn’t quite place it. She loved the view, though. High up above the ground level, away from the action, she felt safe, tucked into her own private shelter. Was she really safe? she wondered as the cat purred against her and the black night seemed to hem her in. Safe from what, safe from whom? Living alone was proving to be more difficult than she’d thought. She wondered what François was doing now. He was still in their old apartment. She imagined him in their living room, binge-watching a TV show, feet up on the table. What was the point of thinking of François? No point at all.
Clarissa’s shortsighted eyes gazed down to the street, far below, where tipsy vacationers staggered, their laughter wafting up to her in a muffled roar. This new area of the city was never empty. Hordes of tourists materialized ceaselessly on sidewalks, in a dusty synchronicity that befuddled her. She had learned to avoid certain boulevards, where swarms of sightseers stood, vacuously, brandishing cell phones at what remained of the Tower, and the construction site of the new one. She had to wade through their compact mass, sometimes even had to elbow through them in order to get past.
Watching the building across the street and all those beings behind each window would never tire her. Within the past weeks, since she’d been living here, she’d learned to pick out each occupant’s routine. She already knew who was sleepless, like she was, who worked late in front of a screen, who enjoyed a snack in the middle of the night. She couldn’t be seen; she was too high up, tucked away behind the stone cornices. Sometimes, she used her field glasses. She never felt guilty, although she would hate it if anyone spied on her that way. She always checked to see if someone was looking back at her. And even if no one was, why did she still feel an eye upon her?
Other people’s lives unfolded in front of her, enticing alveoli forming a giant hive in which she could forage at her will, fueling her imagination boundlessly. Each opening was like a Hopper painting, lush with detail. The second-floor woman did her yoga every morning on a mat she rolled out with care. The third-floor family never stopped bickering. The slamming of those doors! The person on the sixth spent hours in the bathroom (yes, she could see through panes that weren’t opaque enough). The lady of her age on the fifth floor daydreamed on her sofa. She didn’t know their names, but she knew nearly everything about their daily existence. And it fascinated her.
When she started to look for her new abode, she hadn’t realized to what extent she was going to trespass into unknown people’s intimacy. Each room told