It all fades away again to this, to a boy walking down the suburban streets, talking to himself, sometimes arguing, sometimes agreeing; sometimes stopping dead to puzzle or admire; the sky a mottled white and silver, dizzying, above him: the warning barks of crows, the caution of cats. He is in love, always gravely in love. The objects of his love change: they move to other towns, or vanish to other classrooms. But he has always been in love. It's what he does, it's how his life organizes itself. Sometimes he walks in the rain, and sometimes under the cloudy sky.
(He avoids the sun when he can: it makes his skin redden and his head ache and his nose bleed. Cloud and rain are his native element. He scowls when the sun comes out, and keeps to the shade.)
He ponders the girl he's in love with, recalls everything about her, how she held her head, how her glance fell across him, the exact cock of elbow and hip as she leaned to the bookshelf. The lines of her face and body are incised in his mind: forty-five years later he will be able to call them up, instantly; they are the curves that appear as the silhouettes of hills, coils of snakes, branches of trees, in all his drawings ever after. The flow of line makes him catch his breath. It's not clear to him what he would want to do with her, should she return his attention. When in fact she does, in the third grade, they dash to the swings every recess, sit side by side, swing, and talk: talk solemnly about books and history and politics. He's happy for a the few months that lasts: as happy as it is in him to be. But mostly of course they don't return his attention. He is an odd boy, slow but intense: when he turns his attention on you it feels like a huge, ponderous telescope has swiveled around, aimed itself at you, and focused. Flattering perhaps, but disquieting.
A week or two has passed, since then. The sky has altered a little though not much. The clouds make towers more often now: and they carry, more often, the same slowly shifting lines that first arrested his attention as the lines of a curved cheek or a bare shoulder – the lines still haunt him. Hair has grown on his chest, and bleached to white. He still walks on the suburban streets at odd times, dawn and twilight, talks, explains, argues, laughs.
Is he still in love? He propounds the question, and frowns, and starts several mutually contradictory answers. He presses himself for a simple answer. He falls silent a while, and watches a cloud move obliquely, climbing gradually up the telephone wire like an albino sloth. “Of course I'm still in love,” he says. But feeling the question linger, he adds: “But this is what has happened: I can imagine, now, not being in love. It hasn't happened, but it's conceivable to me. And I don't know what happens, if I'm not in love. Do I die? Do I become someone who cares about something else? Or about nothing? It's the only mainspring I've ever known.”
He stops, crouches, examines a fir cone on the sidewalk: its flaking scallops, its fading petals and the pattern they make.
“It could be,” he offers, “that the lines remain, even when the women are all gone. That the watch doesn't stop.”
But he wrinkles his forehead as he stares at the play of the cloud. “I don't know,” he says. “I don't know.”