by Ursula K. Le Guin

She wrote a story in the past tense. Her story told how she waited in the garden while he crossed the deserts and sailed the seas and won great victories and at last came home to her where she waited in the garden under the high green hill. "And so," the story ended, "they were married."

He wrote a story in the past tense. His story told how he sought for his father. Yearning, the young man left all who loved him, wandered through forests and cities, crossed the deserts and sailed the seas, ever seeking, ever yearning, until at last he found the lost father, and killed him. "And so," the story ended, "I came home."

She read the story. She read slowly, because the language was not her native tongue. It did not speak to her, it did not say "You." But it was a sad, beautiful story, that made her weep while she read it.

She writes a story in the present tense. It tells of the moment she sees her daughter huddled in a chair, snatching a brief rest, looking frail, with so much to do, more than her share, more than can be done. She sees her daughter is not as beautiful as she was a year ago. She writes a story of that moment, saying, "I see you worn out but willing, like a good horse, a good workhorse never biting, never kicking, never breaking free. You never can go out into the garden. You are weary to the bone at the end of every day." As she writes she wonders: Did anyone ever look at me and see me that way? Yes, she thinks, I remember the way my mother looked at me once; I think she was seeing me as I see my daughter now. But was I as weary as my daughter is? I don't know. She was more beautiful then. Was she angry? I do not know how to tell this story. It does not end with a marriage.

He writes a story in the present tense. It tells how the son leaves home to seek his father. The young man is tricked by crooks in the cities, he fights enemies, he is betrayed by faithless women, he wages war, he flies through space to other worlds, ever seeking, ever yearning, and at last he finds his father. They embrace, and the father dies. The story ends, "And so I have come home at last."

She reads his story. She reads it slowly. She wonders if she understands it. She wonders if she wants to understand it. It is a sad, beautiful story, but she does not feel like crying.

What we shall never know, he writes, is what a woman wants.

What I want, she thinks, is to write a story. But before I write the story I want to know why my mother looked at me that way. She looked at me with pity. Did she look at me with admiration? Did she look at me with rage? I look now at my daughter, that strong little woman who sits huddled in a chair for a moment before she gets up again to do more than can be done. I look at her with pity, with admiration, with rage. How beautiful she is! She is as beautiful as my mother was and her daughter will be. And so I must write her story in the second person in the future tense. It is to do with a different way of being. It is to be understood. It is to be complicated, unlike the simple, vertical singularity of the first person.

The first person singular travels all over the world, from world to world, through space and time. The first person loves and hates and seeks and kills. The first person is loved, hated, yearned for, sought for, killed. The first person is pitied. Oh, I pity myself! Just as I pity him, and as he pities himself, and as she pitied me! The first person can even be admired. Oh, how I admire myself! Just as he admires himself! But the first person cannot be raged for. I rage not for myself but for her, and she for me, in the old silence of collusion.

It is our rage that tells me how to tell the story. You will be more beautiful, I write. You will not do more than can be done. You will neither betray nor collude. I am writing the story of how you will walk in the garden under the high green hill. You will open the garden gate. You will walk up the hill and over it, across the fields, into the forests, through the cities, finding your way, finding our silences, in which you will speak.

And all the time I write, she writes, I will be at home, where you have always been. We know where to find each other.

"Findings," copyright © 1992 by Ursula K. Le Guin; first appeared as a chapbook from Ox Head Press; from the author's collection, UNLOCKING THE AIR AND OTHER STORIES; used by permission of the Author and the Author's agents, the Virginia Kidd Agency, Inc.

Ursula K. Le Guin has been writing all her life. Among the honors she has received are a National Book Award, five Hugo and five Nebula Awards, the Kafka Award, a Pushcart Prize, and the PEN/Malamud Award for Short Fiction. Her official website is www.ursulakleguin.com

Also in Fiction
Justified | Welcome to Hawa's