I once met a girl at a party at my friend Francois’ apartment who said she had known Umberto Eco personally. The Republican primary had just been called, and the night had a wistful, end-of-the-world feel to it. We got so drunk we could barely walk, and then we walked home.
On the way I fell over so much in the snow that my knees and hands were reduced to a bloodied mess. My palms were freezing and blue, with pools of red in their center. I looked like a paper-mâché beggar, recently cut down from a crucifix. (The lesser columnist might here comment a crucifix is like a column, but it is not. The cross-bar is uncolumnic, breaking integral verticality. And besides, columns are supposed to elevate us, not punish).
We took almost every wrong turn, and only found her house an hour later at the top of a tall hill. She explained to me that her house-lady was a well-meaning but severe Mrs. Hudson type who objected to her coming home in the early hours of the morning, and so we would have to enter through the balcony. This seemed reasonable to me, so I bent over and allowed her to stand on my back to hoist herself over the low balcony wall. Pulling myself up after her proved to be much more difficult. I had no subservient footstool to help me, and the only structural aids I could rely on were two large Corinthian columns made of stone.
The thing about climbing up two Corinthian columns to get into someone’s house is that you can’t really do it. Grabbing them was impossible, and they were just so far apart that there was no wedging in between them. Also, they were covered in frost, and burned my ungloved hands.
My companion tried lazily reaching down to me, but didn’t want to lean too far out of the window for fear of falling. She found an umbrella in her room and tried to extend it down, but when I grabbed it she couldn’t support me, and I fell down like a slow angel, hitting my head on the cold floor.
I lay on my back shivering and making snow angels, but with sporadic, random movements that looked like a slow-motion seizure. I was the kind of merciless, incomprehensible drunk that you feel you might never escape from. My companion looked down on me with a mix of pity and fatigued disinterest. My body hurt on account of the fall, and I was tired and lonely. Looking up at the columns, I couldn’t help seeing them as colossal barriers to everything I wanted in the world. I began to weep.
‘Go home’ she called out softly. But where was home? Somewhere else, and very far away. The columns were supposed to elevate us. But they had held things just out of reach.
Words and art by Harry Peter Sanderson.
This article first appeared in volume 88 edition 5 HOME.