Pascal was five that summer, a demiurge of childhood, unconscious of the life and beauty that brimmed over in him and spilled on everyone who came near, causing each one to smile his or her own smile, compound of memory and desire, of impudent hopes and impossible regrets, as if the most delicate issues in the past were still undecided, waiting for the movement that would release them.
He had a dimpled smile that came easily and quick deep blue eyes that held no shame.
He was rarely still.
Nothing seemed to offend him.
I was not quite four times his age, young, too, although I felt very old then, as if I carried great weights whose names I did not know on my back and had no hope of putting them down, as I could hardly tell them apart from myself.
I have lost so much of what weighed on me and feel the poorer for it, for freedom can impoverish, rob us of definition, even of aspiration.
I am sixty-one years old, a solid citizen who still retains an imagination and a feeling that he is subversive even as everything around him subverts him just as it sustains him.
In my mind Pascal remains forever five. Suppose he is still alive and forty-five -years old. Inconceivable. Suppose he is dead. Also inconceivable. He lives in my mind and remains five years old.
But there is another possibility.
Suppose he is alive and a father or even a grandfather and from him or from one who has come from him there has sprung another little boy, another Pascal, not a copy but another original, off whose curls reflects the golden light of summer in just the slightest breeze at mid-day, so that they do not tremble but teeter right on the edge of indefinite complex movement.
Do I possess what I imagine or does it possess me?
The past is not over, is never over so long as I have life and life has me, is not over until death brings all of time crashing down, past and future along with presence.
Pascal lives in my mind, an image and a feeling from long ago, beautiful, in no way remote. Not someone to be known. Not someone to be reached.
A mystery, that is, a falsification that wears the costumes of truth and allure all at once.
A mystery with whom I have been intimate in ways beyond count all down through these years.
Was I once Pascal?
Was it nostalgia that made him seem so perfectly self-contained, as if he came from a different realm where hopes and images and their comings together were complete?
Why do I go back to this now at the end of winter when the last snow is just melting?
I have gone decades without thinking of Pascal, without any desire to touch that image inside me that refreshes me and intrigues me and tires me out, sending subtle feelers into so many different regions of my mind and memory.
He has waited patiently, even as addition, the implacable accretion of seconds, has changed everything, no doubt, for him as well as for me.
He has waited patiently in my mind, almost an invention, but not so, for long ago I saw him, watched him shyly watching, tuned to his mother, who took both pleasure and pride in her creation.
He stands for everything that stood around him, for his beautiful young mother, for that village at a short remove from Angers, for who I was and how I was then, so full of doubts that my doubts built what was tantamount to a rampart of certainty.
It was the summer that the combine came for the very first time and devoured the little village’s entire wheat harvest in one day, abolishing ways, almost rituals, that had endured for centuries.
After lifting the heavy sacks all day, I plunged into the cold Hyrome to wash the chaff off me. Then I walked back to the village square, tired and happy. I went into the cafe that Pascal’s parents owned to eat and drink some wine before the sun set.
The combine had not perturbed Pascal at all.
He was the same little boy, complete in himself, at rest in the world that he made of the world that had made him, as if time meant nothing at all to him, for whom now was all there was and all there could be, an eternity in presence.
He stood near his mother at the end of the table and listened or did not listen. His head rose up above her elbow and she lifted her hand to pat his head, which brought only a fugitive smile, modest and ravishing all at once, to his face.
“The heart has reasons that reason knows not.”