Enter my husband, most lauded cartographer of our day.
Who truly loves nothing more than hosting his colleagues for dinner, where they can relax and talk department and eat the flesh of animals.
Or perhaps loves nothing more than the exhibition of our tablecloth, which I spend my time mending and amending: a thick map of his design woven with silk and sendaline, landforms of millefleur stuccoed green and gold, seaforms pricked with taffeta asters. The borders drawn blackly in thread.
My role at the dinners is to mind the cloth and not to speak. To be present, so to speak.
This evening all is de rigueur. There is food on the landmasses and wine on the estuaries. My husband and his colleagues talk of sprezzatura and deep time, of a man called Marianus.
As usual, Erik the palaeontologist takes advantage of the table’s subterranea and puts his hand on my knee, talking loudly of his proclivity for layers while I sit still as a fossil, i.e., vibrating furiously.
Fürchtegott the theologian is more composed; he holds forth about ecclesia and the hot bun of Christ. Tonight there’s a papery crust around his mouth like yeast.
My husband contends. He passes his hand over a nearby tundra and asks, is creation not a vesture; does the world not accentuate God the way a dress hints at a woman’s divine curvature?
The moment is punctured by the arrival of the langoustine.
I raise my eyes from the tablecloth and drop my mouth:
The poor dish looks just like me.
I become aware of breathing heavily; my breath comes out in clouds over the territory and each one leaves a contrail, stinking softly of feathers.
The clouds segue on the far side of the table and begin to rain formic acid over the crudités.
No one speaks as an atmosphere pulls itself together.
My husband the cartographer becomes annoyed; he is disinclined to weather. The excess moisture begins to crease the cloth and his attempts to smooth it down simply make the folds migrate and reassemble elsewhere.
I gulp down the clouds and try to smile in a way that conveys don’t worry darling, it’s simply the appearance and reappearance of form –
. . . his left hand turns white from its grip on the fish knife . . .
At a loss I open my mouth and point at it, meaning, the natural world is in here –
But it’s too late. Erik comes for my left arm and Fürchtegott for my right; they push my head down and my husband the cartographer lifts the tablecloth up over me, forcing me under on all fours as the dishes and aperitifs clatter away from my terrible orogeny –
Soon my eyes adjust to the underseas and counter-earths and the reverse stitching of territories.
From somewhere above comes the muffled voice of my husband, apologising . . . you see, she is vulnerable and subject to historical flux . . .
Erik replies that the discourse is the backdrop.
Fürchtegott says the meaning won’t stand for itself.
Artwork: Abraham Mignon, Still life with fruit, a lobster and a goldfinch, 1670-1679