An unconvincing Elvis impersonator lighting a cigarette in the Luxembourg Gardens. Sudden snowfall in Beijing. The desecration of the Vatican. Initiation rituals of the Texan rape gangs. A frail Paul Coelho, addressing the crowds in the Maracanã stadium.
Morgan came too quickly. The pills were too strong. He lay upon the bed, almost feverish from his high. Elena lay beside him, stroking his shoulder, whispering soothingly into his ear. Humiliated, when Morgan finally came around, he tried to deflect her attention.
‘You don’t seem to have settled,’ he said. ‘I guess this place isn’t everyone… I had doubts myself when I first arrived… I have to say, I don’t know why you’re here.’
He may have been hoping to goad her into an argument. Instead, Elena sat up from the bed. ‘I want to show you something,’ she said. Morgan watched as she walked naked towards the far wall, her movements graceful and erotic. In comparison, he found his own body mean and unsightly; he covered himself with a sheet. Elena retrieved a black paperback book from the shelf upon the far wall.
‘What is that?’ Morgan asked.
‘The I Ching. A book that’s followed me around the whole world.’ She sat down next to him on the bed. Morgan reached out and laid his hand upon her side. She had a large mole the shape of a triangle upon her hip. His fingers brushed against the raised, chaotic flesh.
‘I was at work,’ Elena said. ‘I’d just covered something on the Beijing Conference. There’s something in the I Ching about trusting in the small, about the time for great acts being passed. After watching those people, world leaders claiming to act in our interests when they are so far from being answerable to us… I felt I needed to get away. I decided to come here.’
Morgan could see a vein underneath the pale skin of her right breast, a curved blue cord. ‘And now you’re here,’ he asked. ‘Putting faith in the small. Do you feel better?’
She tossed the book back onto the bedclothes. ‘Now I’m here, I can’t quite escape the feeling of guilt.’
‘I thought this was meant to be a time of self-reflection?’ Morgan sang a little irony into the words, but he felt irritated. Why can’t she just relax into things?
‘Well, there’s guilt in action,’ Elena went on. ‘But there’s guilt in inaction too. You can’t ignore it. Sit still in the middle of an empty field and you’re affecting someone’s life.’
‘I don’t see how…’
Elena didn’t even let him finish. ‘Just because you’ve retreated from the world doesn’t mean the world stops feeling your influence. There’s an intimacy of connection which I don’t think you understand.’
‘Like I said, you obviously haven’t taken to the place.’ He felt confused, threatened, exposed. The evening was ruined. They bickered tiredly. Finally Elena said:
‘I just want you to admit that everything you want to achieve out here is an illusion of time. Your poetry, for example. Do you think you’d worry about that when a mudslide is coming for your home? Or your plane is heading into the sea? Or your children are dying of dehydration?’ As she lay back, Morgan found her nakedness provocative and intimidating. ‘Check your history. The chance to lead an individual life has usually been the province of kings. So tell me. How does it feel to be one of the kings?’