During the production of this bibliography the compilers came upon several unpublished pieces by NMM, and asked permission to include one of them in this bibliography. NMM kindly gave us permission to print this one.


"On the Edge"

But of course, I found myself saying, first entirely to myself, and then so that I could just hear the words. Words muttered. What a kitchen word: muttered. But words must have an explanation. It couldn't really have happened. Look, I mean, ten minutes, perhaps five, I was running down the road, jumping over things, making a noise, lots of us making noises, the joy, the delight of letting the noise jump out of one's mouth to join the other mouths, the other noises. That was real. I want it back, my legs want to jump. I want the others. I need them. Where are they? No, don't speak, I almost know. The shivers are coming.

No, I don't do that jumping and squealing. Surely not; I would be ashamed. Not now, not ever. I was never part of it. But did I? Is it myself that I am remembering? Being. The problem is of course whether I believe in myself, this self which the others seem to be certain of. Or are they all that certain, these others, for at least I suppose they are others, not something I have invented, made up? But why should I suppose that? Is it because they seem to be existing on their own? Walking towards me. Looking at me. Talking to one another. There - talking to me. Only good morning but meant I had been seen, so I must be real, not something I have made up or dreamed. But if I had only been that, where would real me have got to? Where? But perhaps who? Let us start again.

Yes, I can go back clearly for some days. I bought some cherries, shiny ones. You could almost see your face reflected. If, that is, you had a reflectable face. You, by the way, is for a moment, I. Or Me. What else did this I, this Me, do? I? Aye? Bundled into bed. Dreamed. Ah yes, dreaming might tell me, if only I could catch it by the tail. But what tail, on the end of what vertebra? A true tale? In any case it was a dream. A dream in a case. Cases of dreams, silver cases, jewel cases, locked cases. Which not even the cleverest lawyers and judges, putting all their three heads together, could make into something not out of a dream.

I agree. The true sense would have eluded them, as it does me, or indeed you, for I am speaking to my mirror self, the reader. Have you, for instance, ever done this to yourself? Split enough to have a conversation? Perhaps all this only happens with age, when one is old enough for some of the strings which tie oneself together to begin giving way. To be looked at as in a mirror. Probably this can continue for some time but is exhausting, since one is bound to hope that the two sides will come together from time to time. Or even appear to do so. For this constant awarement of the split is tiring. It can of course be covered up by the side that is writing this, pulling itself together, preferably doing or being touched by, something stronger than itself, a piece of work, a love, even a newspaper, that is to say a mirror of an apparently genuine world.

Let me go now.

So. Thanks a lot. Now let me clear myself up. This is important, at least to me, for I don't want to find myself talking to one of these nice, sympathetic doctors who all the same - but of course they think they are going through the right actions, and perhaps they are - I would prefer not to be touched by. I feel as if I might break. Break, break on thy cold grey Tennyson. Or not perhaps all that, but at least a crack through the vision of the universe which is generally acceptable, even by those strict thinkers whom we admire but are glad not to be. Naturally I cannot manage strict thinking because if I did I would have to decide who I was, or perhaps out of what book or, at the very least, out of what other person's imagination I can imagine myself to have come. I would have to decide which side of the mirror I am and in doing so I might accidentally wipe out the whole image. And then what?

So, what have I done? Have I leapt over twenty or forty years? Or more, dreadfully more? Yes, I must have done just that because I remember all that has happened, the hopes, the explanations, the killings, the occasional brilliant happiness, the delight, that happiness that appeared to be for ever, outside time. I remember the tearing pain about something, somebody - but who? Somebody in far back then, not any longer in now. If I steel myself to reach back for somebody there is nothing there. No hand, no face, nothing. Enough.

Through what measurements can we accept ourselves, know that is is really ourselves, although we cannot properly be certain that we are not someone quite else whom we have invented? This is especially clear if we are in some trade or position in which we make other people, the stage, the telly, the fashion setter and, yes of course, the writer, the fiction maker. Should we think in terms of goodness, of virtue? Or of what? Perhaps of movement, the movement of the hand, the green branch bobbing over, the wasp my hand is trying to kill? The plane buzzing in the sky, at least a quarter of a mile away? No, nothing dated or important. Only the ordinary human mirror of the environment.

So. It appears I must accept that I was running down the road, that I jumped and yelled and the others, the un-named, jumped and yelled and all felt happy and springing, the feet and legs delighting to make the small effort, the take-off from the toes, the knees passing it on. But could that have been in my body, my very own? Or in some other person's body, whom I have invented? I only want to make it clear that I am two selves - but why stop there? - and all that is between them. And one of them is muttering for the other to remark on the word mutter, and meanwhile the runner has gone out of sight. Of sight or mind. Of myself or itself. Stop.
Copyright © Naomi Mitchison, 1997