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by Joanna Rachins

     Hiking my skirt up above my ankles and tying the sides together, I walked my feet into the cool sea water. The pebbles amidst the gelatinous dark green moss caressed the spaces between my toes. It was dusk. Darkness was beginning to descend. The weather was cooling down and I wrapped my arms around myself for warmth. How would Dono and I navigate the evening, I wondered. A shiver ran through me. I dried my feet on the hilly grass and undid the knots at the hem of my skirt. Dono took my hand and in silence I let him lead me up through the grass to the glass doors of the cottage. Once inside, there was nowhere to go except toward the mattress. I stood not knowing what to do. He lit a match and put it to the wick of a small white candle on the floor by the side of the mattress. Beside that was a little lamp. I bent down and turned it on. He patted the mattress for me to sit and slid a tape into the recorder. We sat with our backs resting against the wall side by side, our legs stretched out in front of us. The low light of the lamp and the single flame from the candle, darting about in blue and red flickers created a dim light in the room. Then that voice, that lush, full extraordinary Richard Burton voice began in his heaviest of Welch accents reading: It is spring, moonless night in the small town, starless and bible-black, the cobblestreets silent and the hunched courters’ and rabbits’ wood limping invisible down to the sloe-black, slow, black, crowblack, fishingboatbobbingsea. By this time, Dono is finding it hard to contain his utter delight. This is his life he’s listening to. He’s listened to this a thousand times. I’m remembering Susan Strasberg bringing Richard Burton home after theatre, all of us standing around in the kitchen, she falling in love with him, we talking about him when they leave, walk down the long dark hall to her suite, in our guts knowing this wasn’t going to end well. Dono is sharing his prized possession with me: Richard Burton reading Dylan Thomas’ “Under Milkwood”. I don’t know whether it’s the words, Burtons heavy accent, or Dono’s joy at hearing these words, but as we hear, “The houses are blind as moles (though moles see fine tonight in the snouting, velvet dingles)”……..we begin to laugh. At first it is the joyful but after a few starts, it becomes uncontrollable. With total abandon, we are five year olds, holding our stomachs, rolling on the bed, having left the day, the entrapment in that flying machine that almost drowned us, the ringer of the ride in that vehicular coffin, the emotional roller coaster, the misgivings, the wondering what am I doing here. What have I done? His not liking the synthetic material my clothing is made from, only liking natural fibers, and now we’re done with the uncertainty of what we would find in each other, with the discomfort of the impending night and how to behave and what to do and when, and Buront’s voice saying, “or blind as Captain Cat.” Here we are, Dono and I, virtual strangers, listening to our bedtime story, our love poem, and we sailing through our joined laughter onto clouds of love, love of shared appreciations and sensibilities and the sound of Richard Burton’s voice, of Dylan Thomas’ words. What did it matter what got me to love. Love was love. Richard Burton’s voice, images of Susan and the Strasberg kitchen, here I was, no time to feel awkward. “Hush, the babies are sleeping, the farmers, the fishers, the tradmen and pensioners, cobbler, schoolteacher, postman and publican, the undertaker and the fancy woman drunkard, dressmaker, policeman, the webfoot cocklewoman and the tidy wives. Holding my body as I laughed, he moving down on the mattress so he was lying flat…….laughing………..laughing…….the double mattress on the floor…….We, now feeling familiar like children playing a game of discover: the huge cultural chasm between us: his Scottish background with its refined folklore, my genetic memories of potato latkes, sour cream and onions, his slight little boys body, my curvaceous body, this was not a relationship build on passion, but for the moment we simply liked each other. “Young girls lie bedded soft or glide in their dreams, with rings and trousseaux, bridesmaided by glowworms, down the aisles of the organplaying wood. The boys are dreaming wicked of the bucking ranches of the night and the jollyrodgered sea. Then………… the ashram…………..

      The Pavilion was lit with the moon shining through the thick monsoon darkness, a huge firepit in the middle of that enormous space. I was close enough on the darshan line to see the folds of orange silk that adorned the Swami. Five hours had passed. It could have been five minutes. My heart was at rest, pumping steady sounds in my ears. But as I moved slowly slowly forward, ever nearer to the Swami, I could hear my heart beat growing louder. Then I was next. I watched the woman in front of me on her knees, bent forward, receiving the glance of those powerful eyes, those molten black eyes, eyes that had seen what exactly, the light of creation itself, the light of the essential Self from which we all spring, the heart that held all of creation in its bosom? The woman rose up and floated away. Then it was me, humbled in a deep bow, my forehead touching the cool marble, my body heat burning all sense of itself to a crisp. In that moment, that moment that lasted an eternity, time stopped. All outer me disappeared. My heart could no longer be heard. Mind dissolved. There was only my eternal Self, the one who had always been and always would be and was all that was now…………