The next excerpt from Beatrice Allen Page’s “Landscape with Figures” manuscript:
“As I was walking by that yellow house with the beautiful lawn on the edge of the village today, there came out of the side door a young woman with skin as brown and glossy as a chestnut, dressed in a nurse’s uniform, carrying a pair of scissors in one hand and a small tray in the other. What held my attention was not her appearance but the unhurried manner in which she made her way across the grass to the split-rail fence with the yellow roses growing on it. I couldn’t find the adjective for that leisurely movement. It was smooth and fluent, but too strong to be called “graceful,” which has a connotation of delicacy. She walked as if she were barefoot and enjoyed the sensation of the earth against the soles of her feet. Strangely, though she moved with such ease and could not have been more than thirty, I was baffled by what I felt as an ancient quality about her.
She set the light tray down on the grass beside the fence, bending gently and effortlessly, straightened up again and turned toward the roses in the same unhurried way, slipped her left hand under a rose that dropped of its own weight, and cut the stem with the scissors in her right. Then she made a quarter turn with that easy bend that was something like genuflection, both in the motion itself and its implied reverence, and laid the rose on the tray as if it were a votive offering.
She repeated that flowing sequence of motions until they began to seem almost stylized, like the conventional gestures of Oriental dances. It was that, I decided, that gave me the paradoxical impression of great age in an obviously young woman. It wasn’t personal, it was traditional. But that still wasn’t quite the word I was looking for. Would it be “atavistic?”
I felt as if I were looking at the expression of some inborn trait or emotion, as much a part of woman as the maternal instinct, which reached back to the beginning of the human race but had become buried and almost lost in some deep crypt of our consciousness.
When I got home I stood on the porch and pretended that the railing was the rose-covered fence, but without benefit of other “props,” I tried to mime her actions. I repeated the sequence several times. And then suddenly, for an instant, something astonishing happened. I had not only copied the movement, I had recreated it from the inside out. In that fleeting moment I had the startling conviction that I knew that young woman, how she felt, what she thought about, her griefs, her joys, her loves. But before I could formulate my understanding in words, a teenage boy and girl drove down the road on the way to the beach, eyed me curiously as they passed, and the spell was broken. I tried again and again to recapture the feeling but I failed.
I went indoors, ran upstairs, and tried again in front of the full-length mirror in the hall, using the back of the chair for the fence. That was a worse mistake and I should have known better. All I saw was an elderly woman apparently enacting a charade and looking ridiculous.”