Portico ʌ Her Beauty


When you sleep beside a head full of images, there is an osmosis, a certain sharing in the night. So he thought. He thought a lot then; more than he ever had, perhaps. Or maybe he was just more aware of the process, and the identity of thought and passing time. Sometimes he felt as though every instant he spent with her was a precious capsule of sensation to be lovingly wrapped and carefully placed somewhere inviolable, away from harm.

But he was only aware of that later; it wasn’t something he was fully aware of at the time. At the time, it seemed to him that the only thing he was fully aware of, was her.



When he tried to tabulate his love, list all the things about her that drew him to her, he found himself starting at the larger facts – her beauty, her attitude to life, her creativity – but as he thought over the day that had just passed, or just watched her, he found individual gestures, single words, certain steps, a single movement of her eyes or a hand starting to claim equal attention. He would give up then, and console himself with something she’d said: that you could not love what you fully understood. Love, she maintained, was a process, not a state. Held still, it withered. He wasn’t too sure about all that; he seemed to have found a calm clear serenity in himself he hadn’t even known was there, thanks to her.



The fact of her talent – maybe her genius – played a role, too. It added to the extent of his disbelief, this ability to be more than the thing he loved, and to present to the outside world an entirely different aspect. She was what he knew here and now, complete and rich and measureless, and yet when both of them were dead (and he found he could think about his own death now again now, without fear), a world at least – many cultures, perhaps – would know her as something dissimilar, a poet;  a fabricator of sets of meanings that to him were just words on a page or titles that she sometimes mentioned. One day, she said, she would write a poem for him, but not yet.



She helped him, without knowing it. She mended him, reaching back to something so buried he’d thought it inaccessible forever, and drawing its sting. So perhaps it was also that which stunned him: the effect this one person was having on memories so terrible to him that he had long ago resigned himself to them only growing more potent with age. But she just ringed them off, cut them out, parceled them up and threw them away, and she didn’t even realize she was doing it, and had no idea the extent of her influence. He held her in his arms.



He felt her move and looked down. Her knuckles rubbed her eyes, her hair spilled, she patted her nose and cheeks and smiled at him. He looked at her smile. He had seen a few smiles he might have killed for, but never one he’d have died for.

What else could he do but smile back?


– Excerpts from ‘Use of Weapons’ by Iain M. Banks