Rubin's Response II
By Simon Barget
When Rubin had been a child, all had been very different. There had been a feeling of abundance of fulfilment, not necessarily of joy and happiness but the moments had been full, pregnant and entirely satisfactory.
He had two older sisters, and each had fought over him to safeguard his wellbeing, which he had enjoyed, but it was only recently that he had an inkling that the by-product of this treatment was that he might have been seen as the fragile one, or that his own sense of his own fragility had been forced onto him as a consequence of their protective behaviour. Either way, he found himself now casting his mind back for the source of this vulnerability as if it were now an important endeavour for him to understand it, and as if he had only recently noticed it. Barbara was the eldest and Lotte was one year younger, and it was naturally more Barbara who had acted as shepherd and seemed to think it her rightful role to act responsibly and parentally whenever her mother or father seemed to retreat to some degree. Her mother wasn’t absent-minded but failed to demonstrate an all–encompassing, motherly, protective attitude, so that Barbara sometimes accepted what she saw as a tacit invitation to take over. She had inherited this controlling streak from her father. She had seen her father direct and had understood at some juncture that it was appropriate for her to adopt this role towards Rubin.
His memories were mainly of the holidays they took as a family, a time which seemed so distant to him now and never really recallable. There were two facets to this sense of remoteness; firstly he could simply not remember all the sensations, impressions, nuances, colours, and sounds, all the information that had bombarded his senses; secondly and more significantly his inability to recall with clarity prevented him from ever reliving the memories and enjoying them, cherishing them. So they receded and the past grew ever more faint. Their sanctity had been broken, since the essence of a memory was its completeness, and if it wasn’t, you had a faint inkling of something at the very best, something tantalising which could never be adequately brought to mind which left Rubin with a fractured sense of his own psyche. It was about continuity and flow. There had been no feeling of continuity from the age of seven to now, now he was thirty-one. There was not even a sensation of having lived; he always felt startlingly fresh and new, as if he had just sprung up from non-existence that very morning. And he wasn’t prepared to live each moment as a rebirth. He wanted continuity.
But thankfully and by the grace of who knows what, a moment of mental clarity would strike, and he would be able to recall the image of a road below his feet as he got out from the backseat of his father’s blue Audi. The seats were velours-covered, soft and velvety, and he was reluctant to leave them. He underwent a sensation of being forced downwards as he swung his legs out from the back seat. He could often remember this sensation of being small, of not being very far from the ground and in particular, he remembered that his gaze was always drawn downwards, as if he had to be careful to watch his step when he was walking in case he might fall over. It was difficult to negotiate his small body from the expansiveness of an adult passenger seat. The open sky and the horizon were an immense backdrop that never came into view and he never even considered them. Recalling this sensation was important for Rubin because it brought back something real that could not be accounted for in any other way than by the explanation that he had experienced these moments, which means that they must really have existed.
The road might have been in a number of places; it could have been the rising tarmac driveway of the grand hotel in Switzerland to which they tended to go in summer, a road that was always scarred by the sun, a sun whose heat was hotter than expected, baking hot, but whose coruscating light was more of a prevalent factor. It blinded you and forced you to look askance somewhere into the rhododendron bushes or at the rear windscreens of the lines of Milan-plated Mercedes. And then he waited for his father to appear from the car and lead him somewhere. Or it could have been a road stood upon a plateau; also in the hills, and, if imbued with further mythical pathos, in the ether, a causeway almost, a road that circumnavigated a Greek island, and he remembered the side of this road where the tarmac merged into gravel and into wilted, shrivelled grass, yellowy dead grass that made Rubin feel desolate and alone. There were countless memories of this harsh, bright European summer sun, which he just accepted and took for granted even though they were still very much remote.
It was this broken connection with his childhood that troubled him deep down, as if he were not a person that had evolved from the young Rubin, the child-Rubin, or the teenage-Rubin, or even the Rubin that attended university.
If he looked at photos of himself when he was young, photos of himself in the family, he had no sense that this was him, that this was the person that had been him, and he found it quaintly comforting that he could rightfully claim to be this satisfied boy. He was reassured that in front of him lay this inextricable evidence of his existence, not just as a younger Rubin but his existence whatsoever. How could he be sure he existed now? Even if he looked at himself in the mirror, there was some other thing inside him looking at the image on the glass, and there wasn’t an entire conviction that in that moment this was Rubin. Then again, if the image and the onlooker were not different, the image was not really separate; further proof that the Rubin that Rubin was looking for could never be found. These photos, by representing much less of him, were far greater confirmation that he had been there as an independent entity, and it could be said that on that July the 9th in 1987, where he appeared in the right hand corner of the shot, somewhere on the Adriatic coastline with his maternal grandparents and his mother’s unmarried cousin, David, and Barbara and Lotte of course that this was really Rubin. Freckled Rubin, squinting but cosseted in the family bosom. There were just loads of photos and Rubin could have looked at them for ages. He noticed these freckles, his diffidence; he had forgotten all about the freckles which seemed to suggest vulnerability and something fleeting. In fact, Rubin bore a camouflaged figure; he blended in, and the person most prominent in the pictures was his father, where the tiny beady eyes shot out, humble but deceptive eyes that sought to convey serenity and contentment. Only Rubin knew that it was a semblance, not a contrivance, just how his father appeared in public through habit, the habit that made him feel most at ease.
His father was still a shadowy figure to Rubin, despite the photos. There was his neat hair which always came to mind, hair that was combed back, straight and with precision, stuck to his head, and to the left-side in the old-fashioned way. There was something of the throw-back about him, something suggesting favouritism for a bygone age, not nostalgia, but a support for what he saw as more efficient times, times that worked better and were more appropriate. There was his clean, slightly snub-tipped nose and his small pupils. He had this effect of just looking at you beneficently. But he also bore the fastidious look of a sportsman or a mountaineer, someone in good shape. Rubin remembered that he ate healthily at all times and insisted upon it, often sparingly, often bananas and lots of coffee. They would always stop for coffee, not really for lunch, and the whole family would go hungry, but his father needed coffee, good coffee either prepared in a cafetière or a double espresso, and there was a feeling that, although the family were invited to eat, that he really preferred them to look on and behold the father sustaining himself with nothing but genuine, strong coffee, and that when the coffee had been drunk, they would get back in the old Audi and make their way on to wherever. Rubin did not fully realise, although he suspected, that this was not spartan self-sufficiency or low-level martyrdom, it was a man who needed the limelight just like everyone else, despite or because of his terse and diminutive character. He was still a man of economy, a man that used only as many words as was necessary and Rubin remembered his father often saying ‘of course!’ and nothing more in his cheery, upbeat rhythm in response to one of Barbara’s probing inquiries shot from the back of the car which sought a confirmation about this or that. An ‘of course’ that would gee everyone up apart from Rubin’s mother who could not be drawn into this artificial attempt to raise energy, to create enthusiasm out of nothing.