Tenacious Magic ~ Chapter 11
A memory from another time, Katherine walks along the canal, a revealing dance performance, a gift
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Now, back to the story…
“It was dusky in the dining room and quite chilly, but all the same, Berthe threw off her coat. She couldn’t bear the right clasp of it another moment and the cold air fell on her arms. But in her bosom there was still that bright glowing place, that shower of little sparks coming from it. It was almost unbearable. She hardly dared to breathe for fear of fanning it higher. And yet she breathed deeply, deeply. She hardly dared to look into the cold mirror, but she did look. And it gave her back a woman radiant with smiling, trembling lips, with big dark eyes and an air of listening, waiting for something divine to happen, that she knew must happen infallibly.”
Katherine Mansfield, Bliss 1918
Katherine is reclining on the divan in her apartment, reading letters from home. Though her mother is an ocean away, she can still put her on edge. She jumps when the bell rings.
LM calls from the kitchen that’s she’s got it. Katherine hears voices at the door and then rapid footsteps down the hall. LM is suddenly standing in the doorway with her eyes bulging. Beatrice Hastings is right behind her, livid and snorting like a bull. She pushes LM aside and stands in the doorway.
“You bitch!” she shouts. Katherine sits up and gathers her robe around her. Her heart races. She fears Beatrice might actually hurt her. “I mean that literally, Katherine. You are a bitch dog in heat. Who haven’t you slept with?”
Beatrice flops into a chair and fumbles for a cigarette. She is fuming. When she gets it lit, she sits forward on the edge of the chair and points it at Katherine as she speaks.
“Don’t act like you don’t know what I’m talking about. I saw the painting. It’s you. There’s no doubt. Yes, they all look alike. But, the essence is there. He captures something about each of us. And he captured you. He tried to lie about it. He told me it was a prostitute he picked up in a bar. I almost believed him, but something bothered me. Something wanted me to put the pieces together.”
“Beatrice, I really don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Dedo. Modigliani. My lover. And I guess, your lover, too.” Beatrice looks crushed now. She begins to weep. Katherine tries to go to her, but the older woman urges her back, “Don’t. Don’t you touch me. Don’t try to console me. You know what you did is unforgivable. You knew you’d break my heart twice—once for him and once for the love lost between us. We were lovers first.”
Katherine feels the weight of the accusation settling in. It was so long ago she’ almost convinced herself Beatrice would never know. She almost believed it would all go away. And hasn’t she been paying for it? She feels a heaviness descend. She falls back onto the divan and covers her face with her arm.
“Bea, I am so sorry. We didn’t think.”
“I know you didn’t. You’re both bloody sensualists. You don’t think at all if will get between you and pleasure. Katherine, I defend you all the time. People talk. People say terrible things about you. They think you’re cheap. Easy. I tell them you’re not. You’re bohemian, free-spirited, too wild for your own good. You know what you are? Selfish. I would say I hate you, only I don’t. I love you.”
Beatrice seems to have released most of the heat now. She sits back. The two women look at each other.
“You have been following in my footsteps. I allowed it and I encouraged it. I’ve supported you, your writing. I was happy to do it. I wanted to help another woman get ahead—and you’re a damn good writer. Orage barely speaks to me now and you’re his favorite flavor. Then, I find out you slept with my lover and posed nude for him? Or was it the other way around?”
“It doesn’t matter. Beatrice, it was wrong. I knew it was wrong at the time, but I couldn’t stop it. I guess I thought you wouldn’t mind. He convinced me you wouldn’t mind. He said you had lovers, too.”
“How many times? No, don’t tell me. I don’t want to know.”
“It was years ago. It was brief. It was over as soon as it started. He didn’t want me and I didn’t want him. But, now I am stuck with him forever in a way. Bea, I am sick because of him. I really believe that. It could have been anyone…so many of us are carrying this damn disease. But, I think it was him. Two, maybe three times, we were together and I will pay for it dearly.” Katherine pauses, winded. “I’m not saying this for sympathy. You have every right to be angry. I’m saying it because I regret it. I do. I regret that I hurt you, and I regret that I hurt myself. It was a fling with unbearable consequences.”
Beatrice is hearing her. She sighs, “What woman doesn’t know about that?”
The tension in the room breaks. Beatrice goes to her friend. “You could have told me so I didn’t have to find out like this…seeing your face in that painting, your body—I know it so well, Katherine—and putting the pieces together by myself. I felt paranoid. I felt sick…I’m sorry. You are sick. God, Katherine. No. I can’t stand it. Everyone I love is dying.”
“Beatrice, don’t say that!” Katherine is horrified. “I am going to recover. Bogey is taking me to the best doctors. There’s one in Menton near the sea. There are new treatments. I am going to beat this. I will not die. I have too much to do. It’s out of the question.”
The two women embrace. LM has been listening from the hallway, “How about some tea?”
“Yes, please,” they say in unison.
The Prieuré, Fontainebleau, November 1922
Katherine is staring at the high ceiling of her bedroom. Her cough is bothering her tonight. The first frost has set in and the boy forgot to stoke her fire before bed. She’d been too tired to notice when she turned in after dance practice.
“The French care so little about heating…” she says half aloud.
She climbs out from under the coverlet, feeling the chilly air through a thin nightgown. Her feet pad across the rug to the fireplace where she rakes the ashes and finds a few remaining embers. She sets up some kindling and blows. Smoke comes and then…inevitably…fire. She loves building fires, anyway. Fire…she thinks, might be my favorite element.
The kindling catches and she chooses a small log from the pile next to the fireplace. She places it just so and watches it catch. “There,” she thinks as she rubs her hands and holds them out to the flame, “There is something so satisfying about being able to make your own heat.” She goes to the chair and pulls it forward so her feet can warm as she rests her body.
Bzzzzzzzzzz….bzzzzzzzzzzzz…there is an electrical current running through the dark house or is it within her own body—no, it seems to fill the house. Her ears are ringing and she is filled with a very subtle buzzing as if she were inhabited by a hive of bees. It’s strongest around her heart and her brow. She knows it is related to Gurdjieff. It’s a lower voltage version of what she experienced that night in the library.
She lights a candle and reads the small copy of Cosmic Anatomy she’s brought with her. She takes a note into her journal:
To escape from the prison of the flesh—of matter, to make the body an instrument, a servant
To act, and not to dream. To write it all down at all times and at all costs.
What is the Universal Mind?
OM kratu smara kritam smara kratu smara kritam smar (OM mind, remember acts, remember mind, remember acts…)1
After a while, she thinks, “It must be close to dawn.” She rides the buzzing into sleep right there in the chair. She dreams of New Zealand.
Now, it’s morning and she’s hungry. She remembers with glee that Orage has promised to take her into town for a proper breakfast.
She dresses herself in a green wool skirt and jacket. The skirt is cut on the bias and accentuates what little she has left of hips. The jacket has the most beautiful bone buttons. Her look is demure, but accented by the dramatic cut of her dark hair and bright red lipstick, she looks striking. She hasn’t made herself up in a while and winks at her reflection, “You’ve still got it."
She glances one last time in the mirror approvingly. Then she remembers Ouspensky’s words of advice to her before setting out for France: Identify yourself not with the body or with Katherine, but with the energy that lives in the body called Katherine. Feeling her pulse quicken, she grabs her pocketbook and coat and heads down to the foyer.
Vasili drives Orage and Katherine into the town of Fontainebleau. It’s a quick trip. They pass the enormous Palace of Fontainebleau, which has been a residence of the French monarchy and a hunting lodge for the kings of France since the 12th century. Orage looks out the window.
“Right there, Napoleon abdicated…and tried to kill himself. Do you think he regretted not getting that right when he got to Elba?”
Katherine isn’t on the same wavelength. “I’m less impressed by the history of men here in Fontainebleu and more impressed by the landscape! The forest, the mountains of rocks. It’s a wild place, Orage. You know it’s named for a spring right there on the grounds of the palace. When I close my eyes, I feel the Barbizon painters…and the courtesans walking through the palace. The hunt replayed in the bedroom.” She has her eyes closed and breathes in deeply, no rattle thank goodness.
The driver stops in front of the iron gates topped with eagles at L’aigle Noir. Orage and Katherine jump out and walk through the courtyard to the hotel. They turn left just inside the door, waving to the clerk that they are headed to the restaurant.
The maitre d’ is a caricature of himself, short and thin, wearing black pants, a white shirt and a little white apron at the waist. His black hair is slicked down along with a small waxed mustache. When he they speak to him with English accents, he snarls. But, he cannot turn away good, paying customers. They are taken to a corner table.
The room is carpeted in a deep ruby red. The tables are set with silver, crystal glassware and white clothes. The clientele is business-like, not bohemian like you’d find in Paris or London. She’s glad she dressed up. It feels marvelous to be among ordinary people. She can feel the extraordinariness of their presence in comparison.
As they sit she whispers conspiratorially to her friend, “Oh, can you imagine what that table of financiers would think about our little commune? The cows eating scraps right there in the kitchen, women and men working side-by-side to build a sauna into the hillside, dances past midnight…” She can’t finish for laughing. The financiers glance her way.
Orage laughs, too, and takes out a cigarette. He packs it on the table and lights it, picking tobacco off his lower lip. He’s looking so well, she thinks. She can really see it in contrast to the urbanites around them. He looks alive.
“Do I look more alive to you, Orage? I can see the light in your eyes. I can almost see the blood moving beneath the skin. You have the most wonderful glow from the outdoors. Do I have that, too?”
Orage smokes and studies his dear friend thoughtfully. She looks pale, thinner, but somehow more peaceful. He says and means it, “My dear, you look radiant.”
She grabs his hand across the table, “Let’s hold hands for just a moment and make them think we’re lovers down for breakfast after an all-night lovemaking session. Let’s be risqué!”
They play for a moment at being sweethearts, attracting more attention from the surrounding tables. She loves it. She hasn’t been the center of attention for a while now. She misses the limelight. She misses touch.
The maitre d’ is also their waiter. She seems as annoyed to wait on them as he did to seat them. They order and talk about Orage’s work. Katherine has good business instincts. He likes to consult her about decisions he’s making.
“I wish you’d write something new for me,” he says at last.
She sighs heavily, “I do, too. I really do. I just don’t know if what I have to say right now is…en vogue. The new plays and stories are all so…psycologique. Do you think all literature of the future will be psychological in nature. Is this what its come down to? Mssrs Freud and Jung have left their mark on all of Western culture, it seems to me. Everyone putting their dysfunctional mommy and daddy issues out there for everyone else. It’s voyeuristic. I love human nature, you know I do…but, it’s not the head I’m interested in. It’s the body…and what happens between bodies.”
“What’s happening in your body? Write that.”
She frowns at him. “You know what’s happening in my body.” She lowers her voice. “I’m dying. I’ve gone from ‘sick’ to ‘dying,’ though no one will say the word. It’s almost too ghastly. But, I must. It’s natural. One can’t go on hiding the truth even from oneself.”
“Especially from oneself,” he says gently. “I think you’re enormously brave, Katherine. Maybe the bravest person I know.”
She smiles again and the food comes. A beautiful French omelette with goat cheese and heaps of tarragon is placed in front of her. Orage has ordered the steak frites. They’re both enjoying the strong black coffee.
“Just think, they’ve finished the breakfast gruel hours ago back at the Prieuré and are now up to their elbows in chores. This is just heavenly. I love it there, but oh, I needed a break.” They dig in voraciously.
“Is it too much to talk about while we eat?” He shakes his head and encourages her to continue, “This is a question I ask myself: have I left anything undone? Oh, heavens so many threads. I would have liked to have raised a child…to be a mother, you know. And maybe a true love…I had so many lovers and so few true loves….There is a question of the spirit. There is the question of continuity after death. There are so many mysteries. I guess I shall soon know…” she is reflective, ““I could write a series of Heavens…each one more beautiful than the last. I could write my way through this passage into the unknown. That’s the only thing that feels worth doing.”
Orage raises his eyebrows. He is interested in this idea. “What’s the first heaven?”
Katherine smiles, “It’s all green, you see, like an emerald forest. And there next to a quiet brook is a small table and two chairs and Chekov is sitting there waiting for me…If Chekhov is in heaven, it can’t be that bad.”
“You know. Sometimes I feel a little jealous of your situation,” Orage says pensively, “I feel so adrift and confronted by the aging process. I don’t really want to be an old man. I hated my father and he got worse the older he got. You know what they say, people don’t get older, they get more so. There’s something liberating in not having to face it, don’t you think?”
Katherine drains the last drops of coffee from her cup, “No. It’s not like that. Because the end is near, I can see how precious it all is—it’s all more vivid. I’ve been so vain, so petty. I wasted so much time. If only I could have more time. More energy. More life! I would make a great old woman, Orage.”
She looks around the room at all of the people completely unaware of their mortality, strangers to each other…even the people they’re sitting with.
“If there’s one thing I’m proud of it’s that I became the woman I set out to be. Against the odds, I made it. I became the writer I wanted to be. And not a bad one, at that…And I am grateful to have found Gurdjieff. He’s extraordinary. I feel like he can save what there is to save of me. Everyone else has given up. Do you think there’s time?”
“What is time? What kind of time? Time for what?”
“Time to become immortal.”
He laughed. “You see the contradiction in that?”
She laughed, too. Then exasperated and intense she said, “If I could find a way to stretch out time, to bend it to my will…I think if one stretched it so thin it nearly snapped like a piece of taffy…one would find immortality there…right there at the place where time had been and suddenly was not there. That’s the way. I believe in that place I could fly, or float, or travel backwards and forwards through my life until it bored me or I finished all the acts in the play…and I decided to move on. To the next heaven!”
“I say Katherine, you do have a way with metaphors. Time is taffy? That’s so American.”
“Why not?” She protests, “They say time is money. Why not taffy.”
He laughs, “Also very American.”
As their plates are cleared, Orage suggests they go for a walk in the gardens behind the palace.
They walk down the street and make a right at a small fountain. This takes them through the gates of the palace into the public gardens. Katherine walks slowly. When she sees the reflecting pools, she gasps. They are precise, long rectangles that seem to go on for miles. The water in them is perfectly still; reflecting the sky like giant mirrors.
Two white swans sit preening on the surface of the first pool. As they watch, the swans flap their wings and with some effort alight from the water and fly on to the next pool.
“Oh, let’s follow them!” Katherine suggests.
They walk along the south side of the Grand Canal under a canopy of trees; already autumn bare. The gravel crunches under their feet. Katherine pulls the collar of her jacket up around her neck for warmth. Orage puts her arm through his. She leans into him, feeling grateful. Ahead of them, pedestrians walk, children play, and some old men play pétanque.
“You know what they call us? The people in Fontainebleu and Paris who are aware of this experiment of the Institute?” She looks up at him and shakes her head, “The forest philosophers.”
“Oh! I love it. It’s perfect.”
He laughs, “It’s not meant to be complimentary.”
“But don’t you see, that’s exactly why it’s perfect. They don’t know what they’re missing. They don’t know how much philosophy there is in the forest. What did Shakespeare say?” She thinks and then recites from memory, “And this our life, exempt from public haunt, finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks, sermons in stones, and good in everything.”
They take in the resonance of the words. It’s truth for both of them now.
They sit on one of the benches to rest. As she becomes still and lets her gaze soften, she looks up into the crystal blue sky and searches for the small, white flecks of light she has known since childhood. Her housekeeper told her when she was quite young that they could heal anything and she should breathe them in, “Not everyone can see them, Kathleen,” she’d said conspiratorially, “you have to make yourself very quiet and peaceful. Not everyone can do that. Can you?”
Katherine watches a small girl playing at the edge of the water. She must be about seven. Her face is like an angel’s, clear and bright. Her dark eyes are intelligent. She is wearing a cardigan sweater, a skirt, and small brown boots. Katherine feels there is something familiar about her. She thinks, “She could almost be mine.”
The girl gets very close to the edge and nearly topples in. Katherine’s hand goes to her heart and she leaps to her feet. The girl’s mother comes running and gently guides her back onto the path. The mother, too…There is something familiar…Katherine studies them as they walk down the path away from her. It’s the same mother and child she saw outside Gurdjieff’s office window. She could swear it. She tries to draw Orage’s attention to them, but they have disappeared into the crowd.
The two swans fly further down the canal, landing almost out of sight now.
It is after 9:00. Katherine is walking through the dark to the Study House holding the arm of Olgivanna. The two women are laughing about something that was said at dinner. They’ve both had a good amount of wine and are feeling high.
They part the curtains and walk into the large room. The dancers are stretching and talking, some are on the floor, others are standing. The women are on the left side, the men on the right. Those who are ready for rehearsal to start, take their place on the stage.
They are rehearsing for a performance they will give in the new year. It is an abridged version of Mr. Gurdjieff’s Struggle of the Magicians. Katherine, who has recently mastered the Six Obligatory Exercises, has been cast as a secondary character. Her inability to perform the strenuous dances keeps her from doing more. She is happy to be included at all. In the first act, she plays a fishmonger’s wife, tending a stall in the marketplace. In the second, she plays a pupil of the White Magician and in the fourth, a pupil of the Black Magician. It is compulsory that all the dancers play roles as both white and black magicians. Gurdjieff says this is so they can inhabit the spirit of both schools. “The magic itself,” he says dryly, “is basically the same. It is the spirit that makes them different.”
Mr. Gurdjieff arrives with Mr. deHartmann. The atmosphere changes as soon as the teacher arrives. Gurdjieff greets some of the students warmly and then takes his usual seat next to the piano.
The dancers arrange themselves on their marks. Katherine is stage left standing behind an improvised market stall: a few planks nailed together. As they run through the action and the dances, she watches Mr. Gurdjieff. His expressions and his body shift with the movements of the play, as if he were living it with them. He is totally engaged. From time to time he shouts an order or makes a correction. The dances always flow more harmoniously after his instruction. Every once in a while, he takes the stage and demonstrates the moves himself. In these moments, she is struck by his command of the body. It is like no part of it is out of his awareness at any time.
Katherine’s job in this scene is to make a convincing play at selling fish to passersby. She has a comical moment when the main characters refuse her advances. She loves to see Mr. Gurdjieff smile at this part. She has always been a good mimic. She telegraphs slyness and then frustration.
The rehearsal moves on. They work on the scene in the school of the White Magician. Katherine sits near the window and joins the other pupils as they wait for the teacher to appear. The main female character, Zeinab, is being played by a Russian woman called Sofia. She is dark and beautiful, and Katherine thinks, perfect for the part. But tonight, Gurdjieff is frustrated with her performance. A lot of Russian is exchanged rapidly and loudly. deHartmann starts the score over and over again and eventually begins to shout, himself. Sofia seems angry now. Her movements are spiteful.
Gurdjieff raises his hand and the music stops. He says something forcefully and Sofia leaves the stage. The dancers stand still and silent and watch her gather her things and leave the Study House. When the door has closed behind her Gurdjieff says in English,
“I ask for the Whore of Babylon and she gives me the Queen of Sheba…”
The dancers relax and laugh. Gurdjieff looks about the room and then his eyes land on Katherine.
“Katherine, would you step into the role of Zeinab for us tonight?”
Katherine is surprised, but pleased. She walks lightly across the stage and through the doorway to wait in the wings. Her cue will come from the White Magician. She hears the music start and crescendo as he arrives. The pupils gather around him in adoration. He greets them one-by-one. Then, her cue. The music quiets and becomes anticipatory. There is one pupil missing. The White Magician searches and then, Katherine steps through the doorway onto the stage as Zeinab, his favorite.
She feels the spirit of the character animate her. She is suddenly filled with the confidence of a budding magician, a star pupil. The Magician smiles at her adoringly. She receives his love, but is conflicted. She explains through gestures why she is late. There was a boy in the marketplace, a leper, he was in need of help, she had to get him care…the Magician comforts her and walks her to her seat. She sits and the music stops.
Everyone waits. Katherine is glowing in the center of the stage.
“Lovely, my dear. Very good. One small, but not insignificant instruction will make the performance perfect. You must know this about Zeinab…she thinks she is a pupil, but she is actually the priestess. She does not remember herself. The Magician, of course, he knows this. He can see her, saw it the moment he met her. But, she has forgotten. By the end, she will remember. But, for now…you must act like a priestess who thinks she is a pupil. There is dignity, grace and also humility, naiveté. She cannot look so…awestruck. In Reality she is as powerful as he is. They are together, one. She will come to understand this.”
They take their places again. Katherine waits in the wings. She can feel something stirring deep within her as she thinks about his direction. She is a priestess…”I am a priestess, I am the priestess…Remember. I will remember…” She is saying to herself. At the cue in the music, she steps onto the stage and greets the White Magician. What passes between them when their eyes meet is so strong she swoons. She takes two faltering steps and falls to the ground unconscious.
Everything is white. White light. Radiance. She cannot see…like a blissful white blindness. “This is what peace must feel like,” she thinks. In the light a shape begins to emerge and then another. One shape is sitting on the ground ahead of her. He comes into focus, a beautiful young man with long, black hair tied in a knot. The other figure is beside her, she turns to look and sees Gurdjieff. He is younger, more vivid somehow, more himself. Etheric.
“That’s my friend,” he says. “His name is Siddhartha.”
She makes the connection, but before she can speak, Siddhartha offers her a plate of croissants. They look so delicious. She can almost taste the butter. She wants one, but decides against it. Gurdjieff smiles.
They walk forward, deeper into the light. The light is warming, wonderful. She sees two trees appear before them. Giant, old oak trees. They are standing about six feet apart, both wrapped in ivy. They are gnarly, ancient, alive. She stops and he says, “This one is fear…” he points to the left. “And this one is desire.” Pointing to the right. Where we stand right now is ignorance. If we are going to go through them, we must be free from all fear and desire.” His English is perfect, but then she realizes they are speaking telepathically.
She considers the trees. “But they are so beautiful. How can they be fear and desire?”
“There’s nothing wrong with fear. Fear is the extreme energy of seeking. It is titilating. A life without fear is worthless. But one must move beyond it.” She nods, “And there is nothing wrong with desire…as long as it is without attachment. Pure desire is the soul’s compass. Otherwise, desire is the mind’s attempt to avoid the present moment in favor of something more pleasurable. This one has plagued you, I think. Desire for men, women, fame, pleasure, success…love.” She feels momentarily ashamed.
“Don’t be ashamed. I want to show you what’s on the other side. Let’s be free from these feelings, shall we? I need you to try. Use your mind. Use the Universal Mind. Imagine. Use the techniques you have been learning.”
She stands there in the light. She brings acceptance and compassion into her heart and the shame disappears. The fear disappears without much work. The desire is tenacious. He helps her.
“Like this. Dry. Clear like the mirror of the water. Remember a time before you felt lack. Before you felt broken.”
She remembers childhood, a moment at the beach with her family. She has everything. She is sitting there on the blanket in the sun and she feels fulfilled.
In this moment, he takes her hand and they walk between the trees. On the other side, they are inside a great cathedral. It seems to be made of crystal. It is luminous. They walk down the central aisle together. She understands suddenly, “We are getting married…”
They arrive at the altar. It is an enormous stone…one stone…almost as tall as she is and six feet long. It is draped with a crimson altar cloth. Gold embroidery shifts and morphs…one moment it is a cross, the next the Star of David, the next a Tibetan knot, the next the enneagram…”
She looks at him and sees the love of union in his eyes. They are bride and groom.
At this she wakes from the vision. She is back in the Study House, on the stage. Gurdjieff’s face is looming over hers. His deep brown eyes are steady and compassionate. She looks around in mild confusion.
“Where am I?”
“You’re in the classroom of the White Magician,” he says. The concerned faces of the students around him melt with relief. Katherine sits up and looks at Gurdjieff like she’s seeing him for the first time.
“You gave us quite a scare,” he says.
Through the rest of the rehearsal she rests on a couch at the side of the room. Olgivanna brings her sugared biscuits and tea. She feels better. She looks like she is watching the performers, but her mind is replaying the vision. Are we? Am I? Yes, she is sure of it now. She hadn’t seen it before, but now she does. Seeing it seems to change everything.
The music comes to a close. DeHartmann’s fingers hover over the final keys. The room is still and then he and all the dancers look towards Gurdjieff, sitting absolutely still, legs crossed, hands clasped in his lap. His face is alert and expressionless. They all expect to run through the last scene again, but a reprieve is granted.
“Alright, dostatochno. Thank you. Spacibo. Until tomorrow…” They all relax. It is enough for now.
Katherine still feels a little weak. She stays seated.
“Can I help, Katya? Do you want me to walk you? Or I can have two of the men take you back inside and upstairs?”
Katherine shakes her head and smiles at her helpful friend, “No, no. It’s ok. Spacibo. I will make it on my own, I just need a minute.”
It is close to midnight. Katherine should be sleepy, but she is wide awake. Her mind is buzzing. The dancers are gathering their clothes and shoes and moving towards the door. There is a lot of chatter and chaos. Suddenly, from where he sits at the piano, Gurdjieff shouts, “STOP!”
Everyone stops. Frozen like statues. No one moves. The room falls into a deep silence. Katherine, too, performs the exercise. It always startles her, which is partly the point. At the command, everyone must stop everything that is happening in their body, mind and being. Stop the eyes from roaming. Notice what you are seeing. Stop the body from moving. Be in the discomfort of the present moment. Stop the mind’s thoughts. Notice their content and quality. Stop even noticing. No one ever knows how long this will last. Tonight it is a full minute before Gurdjieff’s voice comes again, “Davay.” They all resume their movements, only with more coherence now. One by one, they leave the space.
Gurdjieff and Hartmann stay at the piano working through a piece of music. Gurdjieff is tapping on the top of the piano with his fingers and humming the tune he wants. Hartmann is trying to replicate the effect on the piano. They go back-and-forth like the collaborators they are. Arguing, agreeing, arguing, and then triumphing. Katherine watches from the couch.
Gurdjieff notices her and crosses the room like a large cat. He sits on the arm of the couch. His nearness is palpable. Hartmann is playing a beautiful piece of music—his own composition.
They exchange a few words about the performance. He compliments her and then asks how she is feeling.
“Oh, fine now. I don’t know exactly what happened. Maybe the wine and then the movements, the lights, the energy on the stage…suddenly, I was just…out.”
“Out?” He asks.
She isn’t sure if the question is one of translation or something more. “Yes…out…unconscious.”
“But there was consciousness? Where did it go?” He waits expectantly.
How can he know about the vision? She feels exposed. She must tell him now or he’ll know she is hiding it. She blurts out, “I’ve realized something: we’re married...you and I.”
His body and face give nothing away. But there is a brief hesitation that betrays his surprise, “In what sense?” His voice is steady.
Her eyes are imploring him to help, to confirm what she now knows to be true, “In the sacred sense. In the highest sense.”
He pauses and looks around him, seeming to listen into the space. She feels she will die if he doesn’t acknowledge it. It’s the most intimate conversation they have had, but she is emboldened. She now feels more capable of meeting him…like it’s her role.
He does not deny it, but says enigmatically, “The sun has many wives…the planets.” His response sends her mind spinning. She literally becomes a planet, orbiting his sun. He does not move. Neither does she. But, they are both coming into a new constellation. Just then, Olgivanna rushes in.
“Oh! There you are. I went to check on you and your room was empty. I was worried.”
“Don’t worry,” Katherine says. “I was just going over the role of the priestess with Mr. Gurdjieff.”
She stands and smiles at Gurdjieff. He smiles back. The conversation is unfinished, but she knows without a doubt it will be resumed. This is a conversation, she now knows, they have been in for a very, very long time—time that begins to stretch like taffy.
A few days later, Katherine is sitting by the fire reading Chekov. Olga knocks on the open door and announces, “Mr. Gurdjieff and the students have a surprise for you. Can you come now?” Katherine rouses herself and starts to the door.
“You’ll need your coat,” says Olga.
“Why are you smiling like that? What are you hiding? Where are we going?” She has never seen Olga looking so gleeful.
Katherine goes to grab her coat from the wardrobe. She passes the mirror on the door and sees a beautiful creature staring back at her. She has never looked so serene. Something is glowing again in her chest. She thinks it must be the embryo of her soul.
She follows Olga—fit and physical—downstairs and out the kitchen door to the backyard. They walk towards the cowshed where the goats and milking cows are kept. Katherine, who loves a surprise, is deliciously curious.
As they enter, she breathes in the scent of hay and livestock. It’s a strong smell and one she’s always loved. Light filters in through the stall doors and the windows, but it is dim inside. As Katherine’s eyes adjust she sees a group of about ten students, including Olgivanna and Orage, standing there with Gurdjieff.
“Surprise!” they shout and gesture up towards the hay loft. A few of the students peek over the edge at her. Gurdjieff’s eyes dance. “Go ahead,” he says and gestures to the stairs against the far wall, a narrow, but manageable set.
She climbs up awkwardly to find the loft has been converted into a sitting room and study. There is a daybed, a writing desk ready for use, a large oriental carpet covers the floor. A small wood stove warms the place sufficiently and the light from the fire dances. Her mouth is open and her hands have flown like little birds to her cheeks.
Suddenly, a lamp is lit. Alexandre is standing there, watching her face as his work comes into view. He has painted a magnificently playful mural on the wall. She hugs him and studies the elaborate jungle scene with amusement. Then her amusement turns to sheer joy as it dawns on her that the animals are all caricatures of the friends she has made here.
“OH! You’re the monkey!” she says marveling at Alexandre, “Look at him painting! And the giraffe, is Vasili…with the pince-nez! And Mr. Gurdjieff?” She looks around the scene…She laughs, “Of course…the lion.” They all laugh.
Gurdjieff has climbed up and smiles proudly. His eyes twinkle at her, “For our writer-in-residence…a proper study. It is an old Caucasian remedy for lung conditions to breathe the air of the animals. I hope, my dear, that this place will bring you peace in the body and inspiration for the kind of writing you want to do. You must spend much time here.”
Katherine is deeply touched. No one has ever presented her with such a gift. She plops down on the daybed and breathes deeply; then puts her hand to her heart and holds back tears of gratitude.
She hears the lowing of the mother cow, below.
“You will also be responsible for milking her sometimes,” one of the kitchen girls teases from the ground.
Gurdjieff admonishes, “Not Katherine Mansfield. She will be writing great plays for us. Maybe even cinema pictures.”
Someone shouts, “Who will play you, Mr. Gurdjieff?”
“Valentino, of course,” another student answers without missing a beat. They all laugh.
Snacks are brought from the kitchen and those who can stay balance tea cups and chat in the barn and loft. Gurdjieff pulls out the desk chair for Katherine. She takes her seat and looks out the little window in front of her. It looks onto the gardens and towards the house. She can see her own bedroom window from here.
“You can find your inspiration here,” he says. “I will never be far.”
She looks up at him with love. Yes, it is the first time she knows that she loves him. She thinks of aphorism 34 from the Study House wall, which she has puzzled over:
Conscious love evokes the same in response. Emotional love evokes the opposite. Physical love depends on type and polarity.
Like all of his wisdom, it seems to make sense only in the living of it. She hopes she can get it right.
Notebook 20, p. 311 The Katherine Mansfield Notebooks