“Where am I? There is nothing here I recognize. This isn’t the world I know, the little ship I’ve trimmed and rigged.” (101)
When Elgin tells the narrator about Louise’s cancer everything they know is shaken, “Where am I? There is nothing here I recognize” (101). A couple lines before, “‘Louise tells me everything,’ I said coldly. ‘As I do her.’” (100), the narrator has this absolute certainty about their relationship with Louise, and to an extent a certainty about the world around them.
In this passage the narrator returns to the metaphor of a ship on the open seas. This is not the first time this metaphor of a ship on the seas is used “the journeys they made were beyond common sense; who leaves the hearth for the open sea? especially without a compass, especially in winter, especially alone” (81), but it is the first time it is used in a negative manner. For the narrator their relationship is an exploration of something new; Louise is the ocean and the narrator a ship. This metaphor is commonly used during sex, the first time the narrator begs Louise to let them “sail in you over the spirited waves” (80).
For the narrator Elgin took the map they had so carefully and painstakingly drawn and ripped it apart, “this isn’t the world I know, the little ship I’ve trimmed and rigged” (101).
This passage is about the narrator’s loss of balance and certainty in everything. This relates to the whole of novel because for the first we saw the narrator passionate and in love with someone just as passionately in love with them, the first person we know of that chose them, possibly the first time the narrator truly was loved by their partner as more than a dirty little secret. And now the narrator is faced with losing this, and not just to another person but to death.
What would you do? Pass the body into the hands of strangers? The body that has lain beside you in sickness and in health. The body your arms till long for dead or not. You were intimate with every muscle, privy to the eyelids moving in sleep. This is the body where your name is written, passing into the hands of strangers.
This passage is unusual because the narrator refers to Louise as “the body” because ze is in a cemetery and believes Louise to be dead and cannot bear to refer to Louise as a dead body yet. The narrator also speaks to the reader directly asking, “What would you do? Pass the body into the hands of strangers?” referring to the embalming process before burial and how people used to bury their dead themselves instead of passing them off. The narrator believes the past was more romantic, as a family would take care of their dead as an act of love before burial but now families don’t want to see the dead. Nowadays people fear death, and the narrator is no different, with the slight exception that ze fears more about Louise’s death than zir own. This fear translates into a desire to see Louise again, but ze fears it will only be at Louise’s funeral.
The narrator has also tried to block Louise from zir mind while living outside of London to reduce the pain caused by her diagnosis and imminent death. This is why ze cannot bring zirself to say “Louise’s body” and instead adopts a tone as if ze were addressing the reader and the body the reader longs for, not Louise. The narrator cannot admit that ze longs for Louise and her body nor does ze want to pass Louise off to strangers to prepare her for her death, which is exactly what ze does when ze allows Elgin to attempt to cure her. The narrator is beginning to regret zir decision to leave Louise and realizes that passing a loved one’s body to strangers removes the acts of love one does for the dead. The narrator is trying to reconcile this idea with zir thought processes about leaving Louise because up to now, the narrator truly believed ze had helped Louise by leaving her. In fact, the opposite is true, and the narrator now deeply regrets sending zir lover off to strangers when ze could have stayed with Louise and tried to cure her zirself.