In Olga Tokarczuk’s Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead, the narrator is an older woman who lives alone in a small rural community in southwest Poland. Walking in the forest one day, she meets an entomologist and, upon learning that he has been sleeping under the trees, invites him to stay with her and sleep on her sofa. The eccentric capitalization mimics the writings of William Blake, the English Romantic poet, artist, and mystic.
Boros’s presence reminded me what it’s like to live with someone. And how very awkward it is. How much it diverts you from your own thoughts and distracts you. How another Person starts to irritate you without actually doing anything annoying, but simply by being there. Each morning when he went off to the forest, I blessed my glorious solitude. How do people manage to spend decades living together in a small space? I wondered. How can they possibly sleep in the same bed together, breathing on and jostling each other accidentally in their sleep? I’m not saying it hasn’t happened to me too. For some time I shared my bed with a Catholic, and nothing good came of it.
* * *
As we were off to bed, emboldened by the wine, Boros and I embraced, to say thank you for this evening. A little later I saw him in the kitchen, taking his pills and swallowing them with water from the tap.
It occurred to me that he was a very good Person, this Boros. And it was a good thing he had his Ailments. Being healthy is an insecure state and does not bode well. It’s better to be ill in a quiet way, then at least we know what we’re going to die of.
He came to me in the Night and squatted by my bed. I wasn’t asleep.
“Are you asleep?” he asked.
“Are you religious?” I had to put the question.
“Yes,” he replied proudly. “I’m an atheist.”
I found that curious.
I raised the quilt and invited him to join me, but as I am neither Maudlin nor Sentimental, I shall not dwell on it any further.—pp. 157, 166-67