Valerie Pavilonis

It’s Wednesday, late morning. In Regent’s Park the crocuses peek through the grass in wild, purple clusters. London hangs between seasons. Groups of children crowd around park benches eating their treats, feeling the late morning spread across their foreheads.

I first read “Mrs. Dalloway” in Pontevedra, Spain, in early June. I was taking care of Claudia and Carlota, aged 7 and 8, respectively. In my free hours I took Virginia Woolf on a walk to the park and sat on a bench in my sundress, reading — parks overlayed on parks. I identified with Lucrezia then. She was exposed; she was surrounded by the enormous trees, vast clouds of an indifferent world, exposed; tortured; and why should she suffer? Why? In the afternoons when the girls grew stir-crazy I took them to my park and stood beneath a low tree as they climbed, ready to catch them if they faltered. We ran into their grandfather one afternoon. He pressed a euro coin into each of their small hands. At the corner store Claudia and Carlota each picked out 1 euro’s worth of the plasticky candy sweating inside the little drawers.

Back in the park I sat cross-legged, helping them decide which sweet to eat next. They took turns wearing my sunglasses. While the girls busied themselves with their candy, a man in his late 60s came up to me. He sneered. He looked beyond me, at the girls in their matching turquoise blouses. I stuffed the girls’ candy bags into my pockets and grabbed their hands, leading them away. Sweat pooled around my nostrils. I took the girls to the fountain in the plaza to dip our feet in.

“You’re not supposed to,” Claudia protested. I nudged her. “Says who?”

They’d be 10 and 11 by now. In Regent’s Park I look up from “Mrs. Dalloway.” There’s a fountain here, too, not warm enough for children to splash in. In the book Lucrezia follows her husband Septimus, sends for doctors, can’t do anything to save him. In London I’m only in charge of myself. After three months here I can map out the route the young couple took in the novel through the parks, can pause and look up to imagine the skywriting they saw disappearing across the summer blue. I wrap my sweater around my waist and turn toward Great Portland Street.

. . .

Each time you reread a book you find something new in it. I go alone to Venice the weekend after that first warm day in Regent’s Park, staying in a studio apartment by the Arsenale stop on the Vaporetto. There are no cars in Venice. Wherever you want to go, you must cross dozens of little canals to get there. I take to crossing over the Ponte dell’Accademia into the university, where I blend in among the dark-haired students reading books on benches with tiny paper cups of espresso. The sun turns the stone buildings and bridges pale orange. My “Mrs. Dalloway” has followed me so many places. I lie back on a bench, thumbing through the crispy sun-warmed pages, thinking about how whatever you read colors your experience of the world, so even Venice becomes another pageant of consciousness, sepia-toned. I feel like Elizabeth Dalloway then, headstrong and skeptical, only existing because others sees me. In Venice nobody sees me, I feel myself fading away.

At the museum in the Basilica San Marco I approach a sculpture called “The Deposition of Christ” by Archimede Seguso, a glass model of Jesus after the resurrection. An array of limbs and bones. Empty space in lieu of joints and tissue, so his features appear bubble-like and temporary. His head lolls to the side. The glass makes it nearly impossible to discern his distinctive features; the transparent sculpture suggest only the silhouette of a man. In sleep our joints unclench, our heads hang to the side, we join a technicolored collection of dreams. A golden mosaic depicting the Virgin’s family tree covers the wall behind the sculpture. It shines through the glass Jesus, making him look like the surface of the water at sunset. The mosaic was made in 1552, the sculpture in 1982, two histories collapsing into one, and I’m looking at it — me, the version of myself in Venice that particular weekend. I can call forth all those moments in the past: the way Claudia’s and Carlota’s hands felt clammy in mine, the cool splash of fountain water at my feet, the bench in Regent’s Park with the purple crocuses peeking up all around. She had the oddest sense of being herself invisible; unseen; unknown.

In the Venice evenings you can stand at the Arsenale vaporetto stop and watch the sun go down. The water, green and glinting during the day, appears an extension of the sky at sunset, both colorless and containing every color. You can stand there cataloguing the jostling of the waves until the sky grows dark, until the security guards at San Marco turn out the lights at closing time, erasing Jesus completely. Such are the visions which ceaselessly float up, pace beside, put their faces in front of, the actual thing; often overpowering the solitary traveller and taking away from him the sense of the earth, the wish to return, and giving him for substitute a general peace. You don’t need stones in your pockets; you just need to wait until the moment the last crescent of sun disappears behind the waves. You’re a person, a different person than the one you were, the ceaseless collapsing in of all those past selves who occasionally bubble up as if to say, “I’m still here; I’m still inside you.”

Sara Luzuriaga | .