Alla inlägg den 23 maj 2011

Av debbyhanxu debbyhanxu - 23 maj 2011 04:22

He made advances, in short?” “You must understand we talked always in French. Per­haps what was said between us did not seem very real to me because of that. I have never been to France, my knowledge of the spoken tongue is not good. Very often I did not comprehend perfectly what he was saying. The blame is not all his. Perhaps I heard what he did not mean. He would mock me. But it seemed without offense.” She hesitated a moment. “I ... I took pleasure in it. He called me cruel when I would not let him kiss my hand. A day came when I thought myself cruel as well.” “And you were no longer cruel.” “Yes.” A crow floated close overhead, its black feathers gleaming, splintering hesitantly in the breeze before it slipped away in sudden alarm. “I understand.” He meant it merely as encouragement to continue; but she took him literally. “You cannot, Mr. Smithson. Because you are not a wom­an. Because you are not a woman who was born to be a farmer’s wife but educated to be something ... better. My hand has been several times asked in marriage. When I was in Dorchester, a rich grazier—but that is nothing. You were not born a woman with a natural respect, a love of intelli­gence, beauty, learning ... I don’t know how to say it, I have no right to desire these things, but my heart craves them and I cannot believe it is all vanity ...” She was silent a moment. “And you were not ever a governess, Mr. Smithson, a young woman without children paid to look after children. You cannot know that the sweeter they are the more intolerable the pain is. You must not think I speak of mere envy. I loved little Paul and Virginia, I feel for Mrs. Talbot nothing but gratitude and affection—I would die for her or her children. But to live each day in scenes of domestic happiness, the closest spectator of a happy marriage, home, adorable chil­dren.” She paused. “Mrs. Talbot is my own age exactly.” She paused again. “It came to seem to me as if I were allowed to live in paradise, but forbidden to enjoy it.” “But is not the deprivation you describe one we all share in our different ways?” She shook her head with a surprising vehemence. He realized he had touched some deep emotion in her. “I meant only to suggest that social privilege does not necessarily bring happiness.” “There is no likeness between a situation where happiness is at least possible and one where ...” again she shook her head. “But you surely can’t pretend that all governesses are unhappy—or remain unmarried?” “All like myself.” He left a silence, then said, “I interrupted your story. Forgive me.” “And you will believe I speak not from envy?” She turned then, her eyes intense, and he nodded. Plucking a little spray of milkwort from the bank beside her, blue flowers like microscopic cherubs’ genitals, she went on. “Varguennes recovered. It came to within a week of the time when he should take his leave. By then he had declared his attachment to me.” “He asked you to marry him?” She found difficulty in answering. “There was talk of marriage. He told me he was to be promoted captain of a wine ship when he returned to France. That he had expecta­tions of recovering the patrimony he and his brother had lost.” She hesitated, then came out with it. “He wished me to go with him back to France.” “Mrs. Talbot was aware of this?” “She is the kindest of women. And the most innocent. If Captain Talbot had been there ... but he was not. I was ashamed to tell her in the beginning. And afraid, at the end.” She added, “Afraid of the advice I knew she must give me.” She began to defoliate the milkwort. “Varguennes became insistent. He made me believe that his whole happiness de­pended on my accompanying him when he left—more than that, that my happiness depended on it as well. He had found out much about me. How my father had died in a lunatic asylum. How I was without means, without close relatives. How for many years I had felt myself in some mysterious way condemned—and I knew not why—to solitude.” She laid the milkwort aside, and clenched her fingers on her lap. “My life has been steeped in loneliness, Mr. Smithson. As if it has been ordained that I shall never form a friendship with an equal, never inhabit my own home, never see the world except as the generality to which I must be the exception. Four years ago my father was declared bankrupt. All our possessions were sold. Ever since then I have suffered from the illusion that even things—mere chairs, tables, mirrors— conspire to increase my solitude. You will never own us, they say, we shall never be yours. But always someone else’s. I know this is madness, I know in the manufacturing cities poverties and solitude exist in comparison to which I live in comfort and luxury. But when I read of the Unionists’ wild acts of revenge, part of me understands. Almost envies them, for they know where and how to wreak their revenge. And I am powerless.” Something new had crept into her voice, an intensity of feeling that in part denied her last sentence. She added, more quietly, “I fear I don’t explain myself well.” “I’m not sure that I can condone your feelings. But I understand them perfectly.”

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So he parried Sarah’s accusing look. “I am rich by chance, you are poor by chance. I think we are not to stand on such ceremony.” This indeed was his plan: to be sympathetic to Sarah, but to establish a distance, to remind her of their difference of station . . . though lightly, of course, with an unpretentious irony. “They are all I have to give.” “There is no reason why you should give me anything.” “You have come.” He found her meekness almost as disconcerting as her pride. “I have come because I have satisfied myself that you do indeed need help. And although I still don’t understand why you should have honored me by interesting me in your ...” he faltered here, for he was about to say “case,” which would have betrayed that he was playing the doctor as well as the gentleman: “...Your predicament, I have come prepared to listen to what you wished me ... did you not? ... to hear.” She looked up at him again then. He felt flattered. She gestured timidly towards the sunlight. “I know a secluded place nearby. May we go there?” He indicated willingness, and she moved out into the sun and across the stony clearing where Charles had been search­ing when she first came upon him. She walked lightly and surely, her skirt gathered up a few inches by one hand, while the other held the ribbons of her black bonnet. Following her, far less nimbly, Charles noted the darns in the heels of her black stockings, the worndown backs of her shoes; and also the red sheen in her dark hair. He guessed it was beautiful hair when fully loose; rich and luxuriant; and though it was drawn tightly back inside the collar of her coat, he wondered whether it was not a vanity that made her so often carry her bonnet in her hand. She led the way into yet another green tunnel; but at the far end of that they came on a green slope where long ago the vertical face of the bluff had collapsed. Tussocks of grass provided foothold; and she picked her way carefully, in zigzag fashion, to the top. Laboring behind her, he glimpsed the white-ribboned bottoms of her pantalettes, which came down to just above her ankles; a lady would have mounted behind, not ahead of him. Sarah waited above for Charles to catch up. He walked after her then along the top of the bluff. The ground sloped sharply up to yet another bluff some hundred yards above them; for these were the huge subsident “steps” that could be glimpsed from the Cobb two miles away. Their traverse brought them to a steeper shoulder. It seemed to Charles dangerously angled; a slip, and within a few feet one would have slithered helplessly over the edge of the bluff below. By himself he might have hesitated. But Sarah passed quietly on and over, as if unaware of the danger. On the far side of this shoulder the land flattened for a few yards, and there was her “secluded place.” It was a little south-facing dell, surrounded by dense thickets of brambles and dogwood; a kind of minute green amphitheater. A stunted thorn grew towards the back of its arena, if one can use that term of a space not fifteen feet across, and someone—plainly not Sarah—had once heaved a great flat-topped block of flint against the tree’s stem, making a rustic throne that commanded a magnificent view of the treetops below and the sea beyond them. Charles, panting slightly in his flannel suit and more than slightly perspiring, looked round him. The banks of the dell were carpeted with primroses and violets, and the white stars of wild strawberry. Poised in the sky, cradled to the afternoon sun, it was charming, in all ways protected. “I must congratulate you. You have a genius for finding eyries.” “For finding solitude.” She offered the flint seat beneath the little thorn tree. “I am sure that is your chair.” But she turned and sat quickly and gracefully sideways on a hummock several feet in front of the tree, so that she faced the sea; and so, as Charles found when he took the better seat, that her face was half hidden from him—and yet again, by some ingenuous coquetry, so that he must take note of her hair. She sat very upright, yet with head bowed, occupied in an implausible adjustment to her bonnet. Charles watched her, with a smile in his mind, if not on his lips. He could see that she was at a loss how to begin; and yet the situation was too al fresco, too informally youthful, as if they were a boy and his sister, for the shy formality she betrayed. She put the bonnet aside, and loosened her coat, and sat with her hands folded; but still she did not speak. Something about the coat’s high collar and cut, especially from the back, was masculine—it gave her a touch of the air of a girl coachman, a female soldier—a touch only, and which the hair effortlessly contradicted. With a kind of surprise Charles realized how shabby clothes did not detract from her; in some way even suited her, and more than finer clothes might have done. The last five years had seen a great emancipation in women’s fashions, at least in London. The first artificial aids to a well-shaped bosom had begun to be commonly worn; eyelashes and eyebrows were painted, lips salved, hair “dusted” and tinted ... and by most fashionable women, not just those of the demi-monde. Now with Sarah there was none of all this. She seemed totally indifferent to fashion; and survived in spite of it, just as the simple primroses at Charles’s feet survived all the competition of exotic conserva­tory plants. So Charles sat silent, a little regal with this strange suppli­cant at his feet; and not overmuch inclined to help her. But she would not speak. Perhaps it was out of a timid modesty, yet he began very distinctly to sense that he was being challenged to coax the mystery out of her; and finally he surrendered. “Miss Woodruff, I detest immorality. But morality without mercy I detest rather more. I promise not to be too severe a judge.” She made a little movement of her head. But still she hesitated. Then, with something of the abruptness of a disin­clined bather who hovers at the brink, she plunged into her confession. “His name was Varguennes. He was brought to Captain Talbot’s after the wreck of his ship. All but two of the others were drowned. But you have been told this?” “The mere circumstance. Not what he was like.” “The first thing I admired in him was his courage. I did not then know that men can be both very brave and very false.” She stared out to sea, as if that was the listener, not Charles behind her. “His wound was most dreadful. His flesh was torn from his hip to his knee. If gangrene had inter­vened, he would have lost his leg. He was in great pain, those first days. Yet he never cried. Not the smallest groan. When the doctor dressed his wound he would clench my hand. So hard that one day I nearly fainted.” “He spoke no English?” “A few words. Mrs. Talbot knew French no better than he did English. And Captain Talbot was called away on duty soon after he first came. He told us he came from Bordeau. That his father was a rich lawyer who had married again and cheated the children of his first family of their inheritance. Varguennes had gone to sea in the wine commerce. At the time of his wreck he said he was first officer. But all he said was false. I don’t know who he really was. He seemed a gentleman. That is all.” She spoke as one unaccustomed to sustained expression, with odd small pauses between each clipped, tentative sen­tence; whether to allow herself to think ahead or to allow him to interrupt, Charles could not tell. He murmured, “I understand.” “Sometimes I think he had nothing to do with the ship­wreck. He was the devil in the guise of a sailor.” She looked down at her hands. “He was very handsome. No man had ever paid me the kind of attentions that he did—I speak of when he was mending. He had no time for books. He was worse than a child. He must have conversation, people about him, people to listen to him. He told me foolish things about myself. That he could not understand why I was not married. Such things. I foolishly believed him.”

Av debbyhanxu debbyhanxu - 23 maj 2011 04:19

The interior of Burger Bliss is so bright that his fingernails, with their big mauve moons, gleam and the coins he puts down in payment seem cartwheels of metal. Beyond the lake of light, unfriendly darkness. He ventures out past a dimmed drive‑in bank and crosses the bridge. High slender arc lamps on giant flower stems send down a sublunar light by which the hurrying cars all appear purple. There are no other faces but his on the bridge. From the middle, Brewer seems a web, to which glowing droplets adhere. Mt. Judge is one with the night. The luminous smudge of the Pinnacle Hotel hangs like a star. Gnats bred by the water brush Rabbit's face; Janice's desertion nags him from within, a sore spot in his stomach. Ease off beer and coffee. Alone, he must take care of himself. Sleeping alone, he dreads the bed, watches the late shows, Carson, Griffin, cocky guys with nothing to sell but their brass. Making millions on sheer gall. American dream: when he first heard the phrase as a kid he pictured God lying sleeping, the quilt‑colored map of the U.S coming out of his head like a cloud. Peggy's embrace drags at his limbs. Suit feels sticky. Jimbo's Friendly Lounge is right off the Brewer end of the bridge, a half‑block down from Plum. Inside it, all the people are black. Black to him is just a political word but these people really are, their faces shine of blackness turning as he enters, a large soft white man in a sticky gray suit. Fear travels up and down his skin, but the music of the great green‑and‑mauve‑glowing jukebox called Moonmood slides on, and the liquid of laughter and tickled muttering resumes flowing; his entrance was merely a snag. Rabbit hangs like a balloon waiting for a dart; then his elbow is jostled and Buchanan is beside him. "Hey, man, you made it." The Negro has materialized from the smoke. His overtrimmed mustache looks wicked in here. "You didn't think I would?" "Doubted it," Buchanan says. "Doubted it severely." "It was your idea." "Right. Harry, you are right. I'm not arguing, I am rejoicing. Let's fix you up. You need a drink, right?" "I don't know, my stomach's getting kind of sensitive." "You need two drinks. Tell me your poison." "Maybe a Daiquiri?" "Never. That is a lady's drink for salad luncheons. Rufe, you old rascal." "Yazzuh, yazzuh," comes the answer from the bar. "Do a Stinger for the man." "Yaz‑zuh." Rufe has a bald head like one of the stone hatchets in the Brewer Museum, only better polished. He bows into the marine underglow of the bar and Buchanan leads Rabbit to a booth in the back. The place is deep and more complicated than it appears from the outside. Booths recede and lurk: darkwood cape‑shapes. Along one wall, Rufe and the lowlit bar; behind and above it, not only the usual Pabst and Bud and Miller's gimcracks bobbing and shimmering, but two stuffed small deer‑heads, staring with bright brown eyes that will never blink. Gazelles, could they have been gazelles? A space away, toward a wall but with enough room for a row of booths behind, a baby grand piano, painted silver with .one ofthose spray cans, silver in circular swirls. In a room obliquely off the main room, a pool table: colored boys all arms and legs spidering around the idyllic green felt. The presence of any game reassures Rabbit. Where any game is being played a hedge exists against fury. "Come meet some soul," Buchanan says. Two shadows in the booth are a man and a woman. The man wears silver circular glasses and a little pussy of a goatee and is young. The woman is old and wrinkled and smokes a yellow cigarette that requires much sucking in and holding down and closing of the eyes and sighing. Her brown eyelids are gray, painted blue. Sweat shines below the base of her throat, on the slant bone between her breasts, as if she had breasts, which she does not, though her dress, the blood‑color of a rooster's comb, is cut deep, as if she did. Before they are introduced she says "Hi" to Harry, but her eyes slit to pin him fast in the sliding of a dream.

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I ask but one hour of your time.” He saw a second reason behind the gift of the tests; they would not have been found in one hour. “If I should, albeit with the greatest reluctance—“ She divined, and interrupted in a low voice. “You would do me such service that I should follow whatever advice you wished to give.” “It must certainly be that we do not continue to risk—“ Again she entered the little pause he left as he searched for the right formality. “That—I understand. And that you have far more pressing ties.” The sun’s rays had disappeared after their one brief illumi­nation. The day drew to a chilly close. It was as if the road he walked, seemingly across a plain, became suddenly a brink over an abyss. He knew it as he stared at her bowed head. He could not say what had lured him on, what had gone wrong in his reading of the map, but both lost and lured he felt. Yet now committed to one more folly. She said, “I cannot find the words to thank you. I shall be here on the days I said.” Then, as if the clearing was her drawing room, “I must not detain you longer.” Charles bowed, hesitated, one last poised look, then turned. A few seconds later he was breaking through the further curtain of ivy and stumbling on his downhill way, a good deal more like a startled roebuck than a worldly En­glish gentleman. He came to the main path through the Undercliff and strode out back towards Lyme. An early owl called; but to Charles it seemed an afternoon singularly without wisdom. He should have taken a firmer line, should have left earlier, should have handed back the tests, should have suggested— no, commanded—other solutions to her despair. He felt outwitted, inclined almost to stop and wait for her. But his feet strode on all the faster. He knew he was about to engage in the forbidden, or rather the forbidden was about to engage in him. The farther he moved from her, in time and distance, the more clearly he saw the folly of his behavior. It was as if, when she was before him, he had become blind: had not seen her for what she was, a woman most patently dangerous—not consciously so, but prey to intense emotional frustration and no doubt social resentment. Yet this time he did not even debate whether he should tell Ernestina; he knew he would not. He felt as ashamed as if he had, without warning her, stepped off the Cobb and set sail for China. It wasn't my fault," he calls huskily, injustice a sieve in his throat. "Dad, he says it was my fault." "You baby, I didn't say that exactly." "You did. He did, Dad, and it wasn't." "All I said was he spun out too fast. He always spins out too fast. He flipped on a loose stone, now the headlight is bent under and it won't start." "If it wasn't such a cheap one it wouldn't break all the time." "It's not a cheap one it's the best one there is almost and anyway you don't even have any -" "I wouldn't take one if you gave it to me -' "So who are you to talk." "Hey, easy, easy," Harry says. "We'll get it fixed. I'll pay for it." "Don't pay for it, Dad. It wasn't anybody's fault. It's just he's so spoiled." "You shrimp," Billy says, and hits him, much the same way that three weeks ago Harry hit Janice, hard but seeking a spot that could take it. Harry separates them, squeezing Billy's arm so the kid clams up. This kid is going to be tough some day. Already his arm is stringy. Peggy is just bringing it all into focus, her insides shifting back from that kiss. "Billy, these things will happen ifyou insist on playing so dangerously." To Harry she says, "Damn Ollie for getting it for him, I think he did it to spite me. He knows I hate machines." Harry decides Billy is the one to talk to. "Hey. Billy. Shall I take Nelson back home, or do you want him to spend the night anyway?" And both boys set up a wailing for Nelson to spend the night. "Dad you don't have to come for me or anything, I'll ride my bike home in the morning first thing, I left it here yesterday." So Rabbit releases Billy's arm and gives Nelson a kiss somewhere around the ear and tries to find the right eye of Peggy's to look into. "Okey‑doak. I'll be off." She says, "Must you? Stay. Can't I give you supper? Another drink? It's early yet." "This guy's waiting," Rabbit lies, and makes it around her furniture to the door. Her body chases him. Her vague eyes shine in their tissuepaper sockets, and her lips have that loosened look kissed lips get; he resists the greedy urge to buy another box of Dots. "Harry," she begins, and seems to fall toward him, after a stumble, though they don't touch. "Yeah?" "I'm usually here. If‑you know." "I know. Thanks for the g.‑and‑t. Your view is great." He reaches then and pats, not her ass exactly, the flank at the side of it, too broad, too firm, alive enough under his palm, it turns out, to make him wonder, when her door closes, why he is going down the elevator, and out. It is too early to meet Buchanan. He walks back through the West Brewer side streets toward Weiser, through the dulling summer light and the sounds of distant games, of dishes rattled in kitchen sinks, of television muffled to a murmur mechanically laced with laughter and applause, of cars driven by teenagers laying rubber and shifting down. Children and old men sit on the porch steps beside the lead‑colored milk‑bottle boxes. Some stretches of sidewalk are brick; these neighborhoods, the oldest in West Brewer, close to the river, are cramped, gentle, barren. Between the trees there is a rigid flourishing of hydrants, meters, and signs, some of them ‑ virtual billboards in white on green directing motorists to superhighways whose number is blazoned on the federal shield or on the commonwealth keystone; from these obscure West Brewer byways, sidewalks and asphalt streets rumpled comfortably as old clothes, one can be arrowed toward Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington the national capital, New York the headquarters of commerce and fashion. Or in the other direction can find Pittsburgh and Chicago. But beneath these awesome metal insignia of vastness and motion fat men in undershirts loiter, old ladies move between patches of gossip with the rural waddle of egg‑gatherers, dogs sleep curled beside the cooling curb, and children with hockey sticks and tape‑handled bats diffidently chip at whiffle balls and wads of leather, whittling themselves into the next generation of athletes and astronauts. Rabbit's eyes sting in the dusk, in this smoke of his essence, these harmless neighborhoods that have gone to seed. So much love, too much love, it is our madness, it is rotting us out, exploding us like dandelion polls. He stops at a corner grocery for a candy bar, an Oh Henry, then at the Burger Bliss on Weiser, dazzling in its lake of parking space, for a Lunar Special (double cheeseburger with an American flag stuck into the bun) and a vanilla milkshake, that tastes toward the bottom of chemical sludge.

Av debbyhanxu debbyhanxu - 23 maj 2011 04:15

I don't know, Ollie used to keep things like that, but when we moved I think it all stayed with him." She and Ollie Fosnacht had lived in an asbestos‑shingled semi‑detached some blocks away, not far from the county mental hospital. Ollie lives in the city now, near his music store, and she and the kid have this apart­ment, with Ollie in their view if they can find him. She is rum­maging in a low cabinet below some empty bookcases. "I can't see any, it comes in envelopes. How about gin and something?" "You have bitter lemon?" More rummaging. "No, just some tonic." "Good enough. Want me to make it?" "If you like." She stands up, heavy‑legged, lightly sweating, relieved. Knowing he was coming, Peggy had decided against sunglasses, a sign of trust to leave them off. Her walleyes are naked to him, her face has this helpless look, turned full toward him while both eyes seem fascinated by something in the corners of the ceiling. He knows only one eye is bad but he never can bring him­self to figure out which. And all around her eyes this net of white wrinkles the sunglasses usually conceal. He asks her, "What for you?" "Oh, anything. The same thing. I drink everything." While he is cracking an ice tray in the tiny kitchenette, the two boys have snuck out of Billy's bedroom. Rabbit wonders if they have been looking at dirty photographs. The kind of pictures kids used to have to pay an old cripple on Plum Street a dollar apiece for you can buy a whole magazine full of now for seventy‑five cents, right downtown. The Supreme Court, old men letting the roof cave in. Billy is a head taller than Nelson, sunburned where Nelson takes a tan after his mother, both of them with hair down over their ears, the Fosnacht boy's blonder and curlier. "Mom, we want to go downstairs and run the mini‑bike on the parking lot." "Come back up in an hour," Peggy tells them, "I'll give you supper." "Nelson had a peanut‑butter sandwich before we left," Rabbit explains. "Typical male cooking," Peggy says. "Where're you going this evening anyway, all dressed up in a suit?" "Nowhere much. I told a guy I might meet him." He doesn't say it is a Negro. He should be asking her out, is his sudden frightened feeling. She is dressed to go out; but not so dolled‑up it can't appear she plans to stay home tonight. He hands her her g.‑and‑t. The best defense is to be offensive. "You don't have any mint or limes or anything." Her plucked eyebrows lift. "No, there are lemons in the fridge, is all. I could run down to the grocery for you." Not entirely ironical: using his complaint to weave coziness. Rabbit laughs to retract. "Forget it, I'm just used to bars, where they have everything. At home all I ever do is drink beer." She laughs in answer. She is tense as a schoolteacher facing her first class. To relax them both he sits down in a loose leather armchair that says pfsshhu. "Hey, this is nice," he announces, meaning the vista, but he spoke too early, for from this low chair the view is flung out of sight and becomes all sky: a thin bright wash, stripes like fat in bacon. "You should hear Ollie complain about the rent." Peggy sits down not in another chair but on the flat grille where the radiator breathes beneath the window, opposite and above him, so he sees a lot of her legs ‑ shiny skin stuffed to the point of shapelessness. Still, she is showing him what she has, right up to the triangle of underpants, which is one more benefit of being alive in 1969. Miniskirts and those magazines: well, hell, we've always known women had crotches, why not make it legal? A guy at the shop brought in a magazine that, honestly, was all cunts, in blurred bad four‑color but cunts, upside down, backwards, the girls attached to them rolling their tongues in their mouths and fanning their hands on their bellies and otherwise trying to hide how silly they felt. Homely things, really, cunts. Without the Supreme Court that might never have been made clear. "Hey, how is old Ollie?"

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DAYS, pale slices between nights, they blend, not exactly alike, transparencies so lightly tinted that only stacked all together do they darken to a fatal shade. One Saturday in August Buchanan approaches Rabbit during the coffee break. They are part of the half‑crew working the half‑day; hence perhaps this intimacy. The Negro wipes from his lips the moisture of the morning whisky enjoyed outside in the sunshine of the loading platform, and asks, "How're they treatin' you, Harry?" "They?" Harry has known the other man by sight and name for years but still is not quite easy, talking to a black; there always seems to be some joke involved, that he doesn't quite get. "The world, man." "Not bad." Buchanan stands there blinking, studying, jiggling up and down on his feet engagingly. Hard to tell how old they are. He might be thirty‑five, he might be sixty. On his upper lip he wears the smallest possible black mustache, smaller than a type brush. His color is ashy, without any shine to it, whereas the other shop Negro, Farnsworth, looks shoe‑polished and twinkles among the printing machinery, under the steady shadowless light. "But not good, huh?" "I'm not sleeping so good," Rabbit does confess. He has an itch, these days, to confess, to spill, he is so much alone. "Your old lady still shackin' up across town?" Everybody knows. Niggers, coolies, derelicts, morons. Numbers writers, bus conductors, beauty shop operators, the entire brick city of Brewer. VERITY EMPLOYEE NAMED CUCKOLD OF WEEK. Angstrom Accepts Official Hornsfrom Mayor. "I'm living alone," Harry admits, adding, "with the kid." "How about that," Buchanan says, lightly rocking. "How about that?" Rabbit says weakly, "Until things straighten out." "Gettin' any tail?" Harry must look startled, for Buchanan hastens to explain, "Man has to have tail. Where's your dad these days?" The ques­tion flows from the assertion immediately, though it doesn't seem to follow. Rabbit says, puzzled, offended, but because Buchanan is a Negro not knowing how to evade him, "He's taking two weeks off so he can drive my mother back and forth to the hospital for some tests." "Years." Buchanan mulls, the two pushed‑out cushions of his mouth appearing to commune with each other through a hum; then a new thought darts out through them, making his mustache jig. "Your dad is a real pal to you, that's a wonderful thing. That is a truly wonderful thing. I never had a dad like that, I knew who the man was, he was around town, but he was never my dad in the sense your dad is your dad. He was never my pal like that." Harry hangs uncertainly, not knowing if he should commiser­ate or laugh. "Well," he decides to confess, "he's sort of a pal, and sort of a pain in the neck." Buchanan likes the remark, even though he goes through pep­pery motions of rejecting it. "Oh, never say that now. You just be grateful you have a dad that cares. You don't know, man, how lucky you have it. Just 'cause your wife's gettin' her ass looked after elsewhere don't mean the whole world is come to some bad end. You should be havin' your tail, is all. You're a big fella. " Distaste and excitement contend in Harry; he feels tall and pale beside Buchanan, and feminine, a tingling target of fun and ten­derness and avarice mixed. Talking to Negroes makes him feel itchy, up behind the eyeballs, maybe because theirs look so semi­liquid and yellow in the white and sore. Their whole beings seem lubricated in pain. "I'll manage," he says reluctantly, thinking of Peggy Fosnacht. The end‑of‑break bell rings. Buchanan snaps his shoulders into a hunch and out of it as if rendering a verdict. "How about it, Harry, steppin' out with some of the boys tonight," he says. "Come on into Jimbo's Lounge around nine, ten, see what dev­elops. Maybe nothin'. Maybe sumpthin'. You're just turnin' old, the way you're goin' now. Old and fat and finicky, and that's no way for a nice big man to go." He sees that Rabbit's instincts are to refuse; he holds up a quick palm the color of silver polish and says, "Think about it. I like you, man. If you don't show, you don't show. No sweat." All Saturday the invitation hums in his ears. Something in what Buchanan said. He was lying down to die, had been lying down 'for years. His body had been telling him to. His eyes blur print in the afternoons, no urge to run walking even that stretch of tempt­ing curved sidewalk home, has to fight sleep before supper and then can't get under at night, can't even get it up to jerk off to relax himself. Awake with the first light every morning regardless, another day scraping his eyes. Without going much of anywhere in his life he has somehow seen everything too often. Trees, weather, the molding trim drying its cracks wider around the front door, he notices every day going out, house made of green wood. No belief in an afterlife, no hope for it, too much more ofthe same thing, already it seems he's lived twice. When he came back to Janice that began the second time for him; poor kid is having her first time now. Bless that dope. At least she had the drive to get out. Women, fire in their crotch, won't burn out, begin by fight­ing off pricks, end by going wild hunting for one that still works. Once last week he called the lot to find out if she and Stavros were reporting for work or just screwing around the clock. Mildred Kroust answered, she put him on to Janice, who whis­pered, "Harry, Daddy doesn't know about us, don't ever call me here, I'll call you back." And she had called him late that after­noon, at the house, Nelson in the other room watching Gilligan's Island, and said cool as you please, he hardly knew her voice, "Harry, I'm sorry for whatever pain this is causing you, truly sorry, but it's very important that at this point in our lives we don't let guilt feelings motivate us. I'm trying to look honestly into myself, to see who I am, and where I should be going. I want us both, Harry, to come to a decision we can live with. It's the year nine­teen sixty‑nine and there's no reason for two mature people to smother each other to death simply out of inertia. I'm searching for a valid identity and I suggest you do the same." After some more of this, she hung up. Her vocabulary had expanded, maybe she was watching a lot of psychiatric talk shows. The sinners shall be justified. Screw her. Dear Lord, screw her. He is thinking this on the bus. He thinks, Screw her, and at home has a beer and takes a bath and puts on his good summer suit, a light gray sharkskin, and gets Nelson's pajamas out of the dryer and his toothbrush out of the bathroom. The kid and Billy have arranged for him to spend the night. Harry calls up Peggy to check it out. "Oh absolutely," she says, "I'm not going anywhere, why don't you stay and have dinner?" "I can't I don't think." "Why not? Something else to do?" "Sort of." He and the kid go over around six, on an empty bus. Already at this hour Weiser has that weekend up‑tempo, cars hurrying faster home to get out again, a very fat man with orange hair standing under an awning savoring a cigar as if angels will shortly descend, an expectant shimmer on the shut storefronts, girls clicking along with heads big as rose‑bushes, curlers wrapped in a kerchief. Saturday night. Peggy meets him at the door with an offer of a drink. She and Billy live in an apartment in one of the new eight‑story buildings in West Brewer overlooking the river, where there used to be a harness racetrack. From her living room she has a panorama of Brewer, the concrete eagle on the skyscraper Court House flaring his wings above the back of the Owl Pretzels sign. Beyond the flowerpot‑red city Mt. Judge hangs smoky‑green, one side gashed by a gravel pit like a roast begin­ning to be carved. The river coal black. "Maybe just one. I gotta go somewhere." "You said that. What kind of drink?" She is wearing a clingy palish‑purple sort of Paisley mini that shows a lot of heavy leg. One thing Janice always had, was nifty legs. Peggy has a pasty helpless look of white meat behind the knees.

Av debbyhanxu debbyhanxu - 23 maj 2011 04:12

Five uneventful days passed after the last I have described. For Charles, no opportunities to continue his exploration of the Undercliff presented themselves. On one day there was a long excursion to Sidmouth; the mornings of the others were taken up by visits or other more agreeable diversions, such as archery, then a minor rage among the young ladies of En­gland—the dark green de rigueur was so becoming, and so delightful the tamed gentlemen walking to fetch the arrows from the butts (where the myopic Ernestina’s seldom landed, I am afraid) and returning with pretty jokes about Cupid and hearts and Maid Marian. As for the afternoons, Ernestina usually persuaded him to stay at Aunt Tranter’s; there were very serious domestic matters to discuss, since the Kensington house was far too small and the lease of the Belgravia house, into which they would eventually move, did not revert into Charles’s hands for another two years. The little contretemps seemed to have changed Ernestina; she was very deferential to Charles, so dutiful-wifely that he complained he was beginning to feel like a Turkish pasha—and unoriginally begged her to contra­dict him about something lest he forget theirs was to be a Christian marriage. Charles suffered this sudden access of respect for his every wish with good humor. He was shrewd enough to realize that Ernestina had been taken by surprise; until the little disagree­ment she had perhaps been more in love with marriage than with her husband-to-be; now she had recognized the man, as well as the state. Charles, it must be confessed, found this transposition from dryness to moistness just a shade cloying at times; he was happy to be adulated, fussed over, consulted, deferred to. What man is not? But he had had years of very free bachelorhood, and in his fashion was also a horrid, spoiled child. It was still strange to him to find that his mornings were not his own; that the plans of an afternoon might have to be sacrificed to some whim of Tina’s. Of course he had duty to back him up; husbands were expected to do such things, therefore he must do them—just as he must wear heavy flannel and nailed boots to go walking in the country. And the evenings! Those gaslit hours that had to be filled, and without benefit of cinema or television! For those who had a living to earn this was hardly a great problem: when you have worked a twelve-hour day, the problem of what to do after your supper is easily solved. But pity the unfortunate rich; for whatever license was given them to be solitary before the evening hours, convention demanded that then they must be bored in company. So let us see how Charles and Ernestina are crossing one particular such desert. Aunt Tranter, at least, they are spared, as the good lady has gone to take tea with an invalid spinster neighbor; an exact facsim­ile, in everything but looks and history, of herself. Charles is gracefully sprawled across the sofa, two fingers up his cheek, two others and the thumb under his chin, his elbow on the sofa’s arm, and staring gravely across the Axminster carpet at Tina, who is reading, a small red moroc­co volume in her left hand and her right hand holding her fireshield (an object rather like a long-paddled Ping-Pong bat, covered in embroidered satin and maroon-braided round the edges, whose purpose is to prevent the heat from the crackling coals daring to redden that chastely pale complex­ion), which she beats, a little irregularly, to the very regular beat of the narrative poem she is reading. It is a best seller of the 1860s: the Honorable Mrs. Caroline Norton’s The Lady of La Garaye, of which The Edinburgh Review, no less, has pronounced: “The poem is a pure, tender, touching tale of pain, sorrow, love, duty, piety and death”—surely as pretty a string of key mid-Victorian adjectives and nouns as one could ever hope to light on (and much too good for me to invent, let me add). You may think that Mrs. Norton was a mere insipid poetastrix of the age. Insipid her verse is, as you will see in a minute; but she was a far from insipid person. She was Sheridan’s granddaughter for one thing; she had been, so it was rumored, Melbourne’s mistress—her husband had certainly believed the rumor strongly enough to bring an unsuccessful crim. con. action against the great statesman; and she was an ardent feminist— what we would call today a liberal. The lady of the title is a sprightly French lord’s sprightly wife who has a crippling accident out hunting and devotes the rest of her excessively somber life to good works—more useful ones than Lady Cotton’s, since she founds a hospital. Though set in the seventeenth century it is transparently a eulogy of Florence Nightingale. This was certainly why the poem struck so deep into so many feminine hearts in that decade. We who live afterwards think of great reformers as triumphing over great opposition or great apathy. Opposition and apathy the real Lady of the Lamp had certainly had to contend with; but there is an element in sympathy, as I have pointed out elsewhere, that can be almost as harmful. It was very far from the first time that Ernestina had read the poem; she knew some of it almost by heart. Each time she read it (she was overtly reading it again now because it was Lent) she felt elevated and purified, a better young woman. I need only add here that she had never set foot in a hospital, or nursed a sick cottager, in her life. Her parents would not have allowed her to, of course; but she had never even thought of doing such a thing. Ah, you say, but women were chained to their role at that time. But remember the date of this evening: April 6th, 1867. At Westminster only one week before John Stuart Mill had seized an opportunity in one of the early debates on the Reform Bill to argue that now was the time to give women equal rights at the ballot box. His brave attempt (the motion was defeated by 196 to 73, Disraeli, the old fox, abstaining) was greeted with smiles from the average man, guffaws from Punch (one joke showed a group of gentlemen besieging a female Cabinet minister, haw haw haw), and disapproving frowns from a sad majority of educated women, who maintained that their influence was best exerted from the home. Nonetheless, March 30th, 1867, is the point from which we can date the beginning of feminine emancipation in England; and Ernestina, who had giggled at the previous week’s Punch when Charles showed it to her, cannot be completely exonerated. But we started off on the Victorian home evening. Let us return to it. Listen. Charles stares, a faint opacity in his suitably solemn eyes, at Ernestina’s grave face. “Shall I continue?”

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“You read most beautifully.” She clears her throat delicately, raises the book again. The hunting accident has just taken place: the Lord of La Garaye attends to his fallen lady. “He parts the masses of her golden hair, He lifts her, helpless, with a shuddering care, He looks into her face with awestruck eyes;— She dies—the darling of his soul—she dies!” Ernestina’s eyes flick gravely at Charles. His eyes are shut, as if he is picturing to himself the tragic scene. He nods solemnly; he is all ears. Ernestina resumes. “You might have heard, through that thought’s fearful shock, The beating of his heart like some huge clock; And then the strong pulse falter and stand still, When lifted from that fear with sudden thrill, Which from those blanched lips low and trembling came: ‘Oh! Claud!’ she said: no more—but never yet Through all the loving days since first they met, Leaped his heart’s blood with such a yearning vow That she was all in all to him, as now.” She has read the last line most significantly. Again she glanced up at Charles. His eyes are still closed, but he is clearly too moved even to nod. She takes a little breath, her eyes still on her gravely reclined fiance, and goes on. “’Oh! Claud—the pain!’ ‘Oh! Gertrude, my beloved!’ Then faintly o’er her lips a wan smile moved, Which dumbly spoke of comfort from his tone— You’ve gone to sleep, you hateful mutton-bone!” A silence. Charles’s face is like that of a man at a funeral. Another breath and fierce glance from the reader. “Ah! happy they who in their grief or pain Yearn not for some familiar face in vain— CHARLES!” The poem suddenly becomes a missile, which strikes Charles a glancing blow on the shoulder and lands on the floor behind the sofa. “Yes?” He sees Ernestina on her feet, her hands on her hips, in a very untypical way. He sits up and murmurs, “Oh dear.” “You are caught, sir. You have no excuse.” But sufficient excuses or penance Charles must have made, for the very next lunchtime he had the courage to complain when Ernestina proposed for the nineteenth time to discuss the furnishings of his study in the as yet unfound house. Leaving his very comfortable little establishment in Kensing­ton was not the least of Charles’s impending sacrifices; and he could bear only just so much reminding of it. Aunt Tranter backed him up, and he was accordingly granted an afternoon for his “wretched grubbing” among the stones. He knew at once where he wished to go. He had had no thought except for the French Lieutenant’s Woman when he found her on that wild cliff meadow; but he had just had enough time to notice, at the foot of the little bluff whose flat top was the meadow, considerable piles of fallen flint. It was certainly this which made him walk that afternoon to the place. The new warmth, the intensification of love between Ernestina and himself had driven all thought, or all but the most fleeting, casual thought, of Mrs. Poulteney’s secretary from his conscious mind. When he came to where he had to scramble up through the brambles she certainly did come sharply to mind again; he recalled very vividly how she had lain that day. But when he crossed the grass and looked down at her ledge, it was empty; and very soon he had forgotten her. He found a way down to the foot of the bluff and began to search among the scree for his tests. It was a colder day than when he had been there before. Sun and clouds rapidly succeeded each other in proper April fashion, but the wind was out of the north. At the foot of the south-facing bluff, therefore, it was agreeably warm; and an additional warmth soon came to Charles when he saw an excellent test, seemingly not long broken from its flint matrix, lying at his feet. Forty minutes later, however, he had to resign himself to the fact that he was to have no further luck, at least among the flints below the bluff. He regained the turf above and walked towards the path that led back into the woods. And there, a dark movement! She was halfway up the steep little path, too occupied in disengaging her coat from a recalcitrant bramble to hear Charles’s turf-silenced approach. As soon as he saw her he stopped. The path was narrow and she had the right of way. But then she saw him. They stood some fifteen feet apart, both clearly embarrassed, though with very different expres­sions. Charles was smiling; and Sarah stared at him with profound suspicion. “Miss Woodruff!” She gave him an imperceptible nod, and seemed to hesi­tate, as if she would have turned back if she could. But then she realized he was standing to one side for her and made hurriedly to pass him. Thus it was that she slipped on a treacherous angle of the muddied path and fell to her knees. He sprang forward and helped her up; now she was totally like a wild animal, unable to look at him, trembling, dumb. Very gently, with his hand on her elbow, he urged her forward on to the level turf above the sea. She wore the same black coat, the same indigo dress with the white collar. But whether it was because she had slipped, or he held her arm, or the colder air, I do not know, but her skin had a vigor, a pink bloom, that suited admirably the wild shyness of her demeanor. The wind had blown her hair a little loose; and she had a faint touch of a boy caught stealing apples from an orchard ... a guilt, yet a mutinous guilt. Suddenly she looked at Charles, a swift sideways and upward glance from those almost exophthalmic dark-brown eyes with their clear whites: a look both timid and forbidding. It made him drop her arm. “I dread to think, Miss Woodruff, what would happen if you should one day turn your ankle in a place like this.” “It does not matter.” “But it would most certainly matter, my dear young lady. From your request to me last week I presume you don’t wish Mrs. Poulteney to know you come here. Heaven forbid that I should ask for your reasons. But I must point out that if you were in some way disabled I am the only person in Lyme who could lead your rescuers to you. Am I not?” “She knows. She would guess.” “She knows you come here—to this very place?”

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