A Thing of the Moment is a novel that explores the themes of self and identity from the perspectives of three women. Here we have Isabella, who has changed her name to Gaia, and who ‘lives’ the intellectual, Cartesian mind/body split. She has learnt to do so as a coping mechanism, needing to draw a distinction between her – the essence of her – and the things that have been done to her – to her body.
‘Gaia.’ Pierre beckons me, his eyes shifting left to right, along the dark and empty corridor, down and up, from my high-heeled shoes to my halter top, his cocked finger frozen in summons, his pupils black pricks in a backlit head, the silver halo of his hair interrupted symmetrically by two jugged ears, his mouth and nose grey scars on a wasteland. The whole is a Rorschach inkblot the meaning of which is indubitably clear.
My immediate thought is that Wanda must be away.
The light from Pierre’s office streams past and around him, finds me and pulls me in. I am back in Papa’s study: the look in Pierre’s eyes is the same as the look Papa had in his, the look of wanting something he shouldn’t have, of having what he shouldn’t want, of a man who has relegated shame and conscience to another time and place. The office is windowless and the couch in it stained. We both place our hands on my halter top; when he pulls up, I tug down. I clutch my breasts so that he can’t.
‘Don’t be ridiculous!’ pants Pierre. His exertion and anger in the artificial light lend him the illusion of having applied rouge. I can’t help but see his point of view: when I sleep with so many, why not with him?
My point of view is clear to me: I am my own homunculus, I sit behind the bridge of my nose and look out of two clear blue windows the shades of which fall and rise as I blink. Pierre insults me, or tries to; what he says is mostly correct. My resistance infuriates him.
From my pilot’s seat on the bridge, I manoeuvre towards an escape. I feel I am of my body but not my body, in it but not part of it; it is a craft to which I am essential but not it to me. I have to stand to better navigate and watch my feet below my lower eyelids’ lashes. I am clumsy: Pierre protests I have hurt him and holds his hand to his lip. I need to get out of his office and to think. It occurs to me, on this the first occasion I have defended my body, that my body might be essential to me. I am desperate to think. I turn the office door handle.
Wanda contemplates Pierre and me. He and I run our hands through our hair and pat it down at the same time, as though one were a mirror of the other. I smooth my halter top down. Pierre tugs at his shirt sleeves. Wanda’s eyes are dead in the gloom of the corridor but I don’t have to see them to know that I will have to find work elsewhere.
I look at Pierre who looks at Wanda who looks at me. We all know that we are what the other sees us to be.
I pull one lever and push another and turn, steady myself against the corridor wall and start to make my way up, driving forward and up, one mechanical step after the other, up.