The countries we long for occupy a far larger place in our actual life, at any given moment, than the ordinary country we happen to be in.” Marcel Proust

He was embarking on a journey to a faraway place, an undiscoverable country that he will never actually visit. It is the subject of much speculation and its constantly changing landscape is febrile with possibilities. Once there he can speak and move with freedom and he might gain a coign of vantage allowing him to see more clearly from where he had arrived, no longer feeling in exile from himself. He had just finished reading “There Were Some Countries” for class. Everything he understands about life and people comes from reading.

He also knows the place he is looking for can only be reached by travelling on roads that appear in his most private of maps. Upon arrival, he would be likely to see a young girl, hardly yet a woman, whose outline from a distance might at first be indistinct, but coming closer he would recognize the auburn-haired girl who sits directly across from him in class and has what he thinks of as a more knowing yet not untroubled gaze. This beautiful, auburn-haired girl will be sitting on a bench along a path bordered by lilacs and hawthorn where she has been reading and, as the pages faintly flutter in the warm breeze, he imagines she is reading sentences he has yet to write.

When she looks up, as he is looking askance at her pretending to look elsewhere, he would like to think that a smile of understanding would cross her face. He has made these journeys before and has a secret museum filled with images of events he might mistake as memories of things that actually transpired. Time is observed in clockless hours here, and a seeming eternity might last but a few minutes.

Now he finds himself at the window in the quiet of his room. The blue-gray outline of the foothills surrounding campus are barely visible in the crepuscular light. Melancholy will soon make its unwelcome visit, as he dwells on things that he wishes he did not know. He read in another story that almost anything was possible except, of course, the actual. The thought of this makes him inconsolable with the fear that he will never become the person that he might have been; the auburn-haired girl will never read the words he might have written for her to make a proper accounting of himself; and the true destinations on his most private of maps might forever remain beyond the horizon.

“His most private of maps” from There Were Some Countries. “Almost anything was possible except, of course, the actual” from Land Deal. Both in the collection Stream System by Gerald Murnane (Farrar, Strauss & Giroux, 2018)

Kimmo Rosenthal, after teaching mathematics for many years, has turned his scholarly focus from mathematical research to writing. His work has appeared in Prime Number (nominated for a Pushcart Prize), EDGE, decomP, KYSO Flash, The Fib Review, The Ekphrastic Review, Hinterland, and After the Art.