Fragments

 

What did he see?
Broken remains; pieced together, broken again.

‘D—n the scoundrel, it is he himself that now speaks, and not Ossian.’ He rubs his eyes, heavy with the strain of candlelight.
‘What is the matter?’ His companion looks up from his own work, across the word-strewn room.
‘Nothing, friend. It is nothing.’ He rises from his desk as from a mire and walks into the room, where the fragments, manuscripts curled with journey-damp, lie about him on the floor. The page corners cross one another, interlocking like stones on a riverbed; the edges blur in his tired eyes, a pale river of words forming beneath his feet. Where to step to keep from plunging in and muddying the water?
Voices – old and frail, ancient and booming – rise from and sink within the words: they argue softly in his mind, like a young man with his grandfather. He bends down and strokes with his finger the smudges his fervour made in the ink, the figures he stretched across the page with his careless thumb. He sighs at the little ripples made in the dragging of the words from one language to another. Translation is no mere carrying across, he thinks, to himself. It is already a remaking, to roll the words over new tongues, to fit them in new ears.
And yet the words persist; like ancient river stones, remaining as they are even as they change. The rock wears and smoothes in the water, is changed irrevocably by time and other hands, but something of its old self always survives. If not in form, then in texture.
He gathers a few sheets in his hand and tries to fix the words, the tales, in his gaze. Before the candlelight, the words bleed through the paper, fragments on the sheets behind projecting through, pale veins in skin. The shadow of his own hand shows through most of all.
‘Why not my own?’ He sits down to work again; piecing together, breaking open.

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