Tassell Rue

The bird’s voice was such a thick voice – it could never have been carried away by the high wind. It was a passionate voice that might have answered the question, ‘What am I living for?’ – had there only been words to accompany it.

And I did get to see the bird out on a limb, opening and closing its mouth, its breast pulsing.

Ruby had said, There is the bird that is singing!

Perhaps we had gotten this far flung once before, where we found the beautiful tassel rue that has such an ugly common name – false bugbane – together with large and sharp, saw-toothed leaves.

‘See the bird!’ Ruby cried again, and I said, ‘That’s maybe a robin –’ or a robin gone wrong. It had a robin’s shape, but the colouring was off – speckled earth tones.

It stayed nearby – turned out it was a wood thrush. It flew away and then it returned to stand exactly in the same place.

‘Is it lost?’ Ruby asked. ‘Can a bird get lost?’

It stood. It stood, but, of course, it was uninclined to lie down endlessly at our side, like a dog.

If only I could have said often with clear conscience, ‘I’ll go – then I’ll be right back for just a minute and then you will never see me again –’ Something like that, on so many occasions, to some women …

A young man in a cap swung around with his back to us when he came into the clearing. He lunged forward, then drew in the bent leg, lunged again, and then departed. He might have been very handsome.

‘You can tell, I think,’ Ruby said, ‘by how somebody moves that he is a good person. That man, I can tell, is a good person. He is not combative.’

I thought, no, he’s as irritating as a gnat, as I picked a flower, then picked the flower apart. Some flowering plants provide an inspiration to do what? – to be elegant – suave?

I tell myself I am a prominent supporter of Ruby’s and well familiar with her tendency toward idealising. I am actively involved with that sort of thinking too, but not just in dreams. I have been pleading that we stay on together.

‘Do you remember?’ I asked her, ‘– what we agreed?’

‘What we agreed?’

A complication. She bent her head lower and lower and at close range, in her curly hair, I saw the number six, the letter C, and a fish hook.

Hadn’t she just been spirited and was she now distraught? – and I felt love for her.

And on this Sunday afternoon we were supposed to be recompensed for the week of work, but apparently I had upset her.

My purpose is to hold Ruby or to catch or contain or to tame her.

I watched sparrows eating, tearing into dandelion buds. A robin was beating his head into the ground and Ruby kept on with, ‘See that!’ and ‘See that!’ and ‘What is that?’

We were hearing a series of shouts from a group of grackles and the area was piled high with the language of birds.

Emerging from the mouth of one of them was a hard passage I wished I could call my own. It had a hammering rhythm and made bold, heroic strokes.

I have a terrible tendency toward jealousy.

What else?

I intend to be unreservedly triumphant in love – that sounds good – also undefeated in all of the other drastically risky aspects of my life.

— Diane Williams, “Tassel Rue,” London Review of Books, Vol. 42 No. 24 · 17 December 2020

Tassel Rue

Tassell Rue

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