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Shade - Neil Jordan

1 I KNOW EX­ACT­LY WHEN I died. It was twen­ty past three on the four­teenth of Jan­u­ary of the year nine­teen fif­ty, an af­ter­noon of bright un­sea­son­a­ble sun­light with a whip­ping wind that scur­ried the white clouds through the blue sky above me and gave the Irish sea be­yond more than its nor­mal share of white hors­es. Even the riv­er had its com­ple­ment of white. It was a rare wind, I knew from my child­hood by that riv­er, that would mould the waves into run­nels of white foam, but it was a rare wind that day. I had stud­ied those black wa­ters as a child, sat on the bank of its smaller trib­u­tary with the hem of my yel­low skirt be­tween my chin and knees, be­cause waves and all of their mo­tions held a strange fas­ci­na­tion for me. From the inkily sil­ver re­flect­ing sur­face, un­touched by air, to the pa­rab­o­las of rip­ples that would ap­pear and then van­ish, to the reg­u­lar lap­ping of small pyr­a­mids of wa­ter, to the sculpted crests with their flecks of white. It was those the riv­er had that day, and more. A good force five, a sail­or would say. And George, who killed me, had been a sail­or in his time. George killed me with his gar­den­ing shears, the ones with which he cut the over­grown ivy on the house and trimmed the ex­panse of lawn, hedge and gar­den that de­scended to­wards the mudflats and trib­u­tar­ies of the Boyne riv­er. He had large hands, gar­den­er’s hands, scarred in many places by the blades he wielded: shears, sec­a­teurs, lawnmower and scythe. He had one fin­ger mis­sing and a face marked with the mem­o­ry of fires long ago. If one could have cho­sen one’s kill­er, need­less to say one would not have cho­sen George. One would have cho­sen softer hands, or more ef­fi­cient ones, the kind of hands that you see in films or read about in books. Def­i­nite­ly five-fin­gered hands, that could smoth­er eas­i­ly, break a neck in one ges­ture. But life, as we all know, rare­ly im­i­tates fic­tion, nor does it move with the strange ef­fi­cien­cy of the films I once acted in. And if George’s life had pre­pared him for an­y­thing, it was to de­liv­er me a death that was, like the house, Geor­gian. He held the shears to my neck in the glass­house, and with quite spec­tac­u­lar clum­si­ness opened a moonlike gash on my throat. He mis­took my loss of con­scious­ness for death, then brought the world back to me while he dragged me through the roses, the world with its scud­ding clouds above. He watched the last of my blood flow into the mud­dy chan­nel and aug­ment­ed it with tears of his own. He de­cid­ed against a wa­tery gra­ve and car­ried me like a lifesize doll to the sep­tic tank, then re­al­ised I was still liv­ing while low­er­ing me in. He spent one last en­er­get­ic mi­nute sev­er­ing the head from the body he had known, in one way or an­oth­er, since his ear­ly child­hood. And so my last sight was not of sky, sea or riv­er, but of his blood-spat­tered watch on his thick wrist, and the time on that watch read twen­ty past three. Time ended for me then, but noth­ing else did. I can’t ex­plain that fact, mere­ly mar­vel at the nar­ra­tive that un­rav­els, the most im­pos­si­ble and yet the commonest in the books I read in that house as a child. The nar­ra­tor for whom past, pre­sent and to some ex­tent the fu­ture are the same, who flips be­tween them with in­hu­man ease. My Pip is my Es­tel­la and both are my Joe Gargery, and what Joe says to Pip I would say to George. What larks, Pip. So there I am, aged sev­en, rock­ing on the wood­en swing be­neath the chest­nut tree at the bot­tom of the slop­ing field that curved be­low the grass-cov­ered man­hole. There are Greg­o­ry and George, be­hind me or be­neath me. I’m wor­ried about wheth­er they can see my knick­ers, then odd­ly not wor­ried at all, star­ing at the tall, sad wom­an who is star­ing back at me, dressed in a grey fur coat, black be­ret and a pair of Wel­ling­ton boots. This wom­an is me, and they are my gar­den­ing clothes. I have an at­ti­tude of el­e­gance, de­spite the tuft­ed coat, I am smil­ing, de­spite the air of an­gu­lar sad­ness, and I am my own ghost. I am glad I didn’t know that then, glad the girl that I was could lux­u­ri­ate in this com­fort­ing pres­ence, this fa­mil­i­ar, with­out know­ing how fa­mil­i­ar it ac­tu­al­ly was. But I knew, when he fi­nal­ly de­pos­ited my re­mains in that sep­tic sphere, re­plac­ing the cov­er­ing of rusted met­al, smooth­ing the grass above it with his blood­ied nine fin­gers. I knew it all then. You saw me play Ros­a­lind in the school hall, George, I would have said if I could. But of course I couldn’t and his name twisted into an­a­grams in what­ev­er con­scious­ness I had. George, Eorgeg, Egg Roe, Ogre, Greg­o­ry. Men have died from time to time, and worms have eat­en them, but not for love. But men have killed for love, end­less­ly. And when he dumped me into my ex­cre­men­tal gra­ve it was per­haps in the dim hope that the body he’d longed for would seep one day where all the old ef­flu­ent seeped, into the riv­er and thence to the sea. And may­be it was an act of flawed, bruised af­fec­tion, that at­tempt to send me into the mouth of the riv­er I had loved, and into the fi­nal em­brace of that sea, which had seemed to all of us, since child­hood, in­fi­nite. To have car­ried me into that sea, to have low­ered me into the scarfed wa­ters of that riv­er, might have been love, a love at least that Ros­a­lind could have mused upon. But corpses don’t seep like ef­flu­ent. George, in fact, left me un­dis­cov­ered in that un­dis­cov­ered coun­try, nev­er to reach that sea or glimpse that shore be­yond which is no oth­er shore. He would be ar­rested, since the trail of blood and tis­sue would be as messy as it could have been. But fo­ren­sics wouldn’t ex­hume my body, he had seen to that. The plot be­side my par­ents’ gra­ve in Baltray church­yard would re­main un­o­pened. And I would re­main in a cir­cle of old ef­flu­ent with­in the sphere of a sep­tic tank. I look at my­self, with eyes as pre­ter­nat­u­ral­ly qui­et as the eyes with which George looked at me that af­ter­noon of scud­ding clouds, wind and mur­der. I could fear for my­self, but fear will be sin­gu­lar­ly use­less.. The girl that I was will fol­low her course and noth­ing I, her fa­mil­i­ar, could do would pre­vent it. But there’s a com­fort in her gaze and I’m try­ing to com­pre­hend it. She is swing­ing, still, over the run­nel of the larg­er riv­er on that swing her fa­ther so care­ful­ly built her, swing­ing high, so she can see be­yond the wa­ters, be­yond the dull green swathe of mud she will one day call Mo­zam­bique to where the white caps gar­nish the sea it­self. I turn, to fol­low her arc­ing gaze to­wards the shore be­yond which is no oth­er shore, and her face co­mes lev­el with the back of my head, and I feel the wind of life brush my dead hair into move­ment and I turn again and find my­self look­ing di­rect­ly into those won­der­ful eyes. I can see my­self in those eyes, my own re­flec­tion, re­treat­ing from me as she swings away, gain­ing on me as she swings back, and I re­al­ise the com­fort lies in the fact that I am seen, I am seen and there­fore am. I know it with a cer­tain­ty I only came close to when he hacked the head from my body and was cer­tain that death was com­ing, sweet ease­ful death, and the cer­tain­ty is that I am, I ex­ist, some­how, in those pools of lus­cious brown, swing­ing to­wards me and away, on the swing Dan Turnbull and her fa­ther built her, or was it me. So her nar­ra­tive be­gins, as it will end, with a ghost. 2 SHE HAD BEEN born in the house some time be­fore the new cen­tu­ry, three years ex­act­ly, but her aware­ness of the sad pres­ence co­in­cid­ed with the new era. Three years old, in or around the year nine­teen hun­dred, and her moth­er found her in the curve be­low the large stair­well, talk­ing qui­et­ly and in­ti­mate­ly to some­body who wasn’t there. The sun­light came through the bubbled glass of the tall con­vex win­dow, and she sat be­low it in the dark­ness, her doll clutched to her tiny chest, talk­ing to noth­ing in par­tic­u­lar. “Nina Har­dy,” said her moth­er—for that was her name, Nina, and Eliz­a­beth was the moth­er’s—“what­ev­er are you do­ing, talk­ing to your­self on the draughty stairs? Come down and have your break­fast.” “Can she come too?” asked Nina, and when her moth­er asked who, Nina point­ed to the noth­ing in par­tic­u­lar she had been ad­dress­ing. “Of course she can,” said moth­er, who was a wom­an wise enough not to ques­tion the pri­vate world of chil­dren, and took Nina’s hand and led her down the stairs to the stone floor of the kitch­en, where the flags were cold be­neath her bare feet, where the white­washed lime­stone arched above the deal ta­ble and the range where Mary Dagge pre­pared her eggs. “Now Nina,” said Mary Dagge, “here’s your egges.” She pro­nounced eggs with two syl­la­bles be­cause she came from the town near­by, Drog­he­da, where eggs were pro­nounced “egges.” And when she placed the cracked plate with its blue cas­tel­lat­ed pat­tern and its damp yel­low pile of scrambled eggs be­side Nina, Nina di­vid­ed it neat­ly in two, one for her­self and one for her un­seen play­mate. And over the years to come Mary Dagge would grow ac­cus­tomed to this di­vi­sion of spoils, to the por­tions of meals left un­eat­en on the right-hand side of her plate, to the sug­ar-coat­ed sweets care­ful­ly shared with no­body in par­tic­u­lar and to the con­ver­sa­tions with shad­ows in iso­lat­ed cor­ners of the draughty house. For Nina was an im­ag­i­na­tive child, her large brown eyes were pools into which one could sink, glad­ly, and the house was large, too large for an only child like her. The house was on a bend of the es­tu­ary of the riv­er Boyne, close to where it en­tered the sea in a small del­ta of mudflats. There were un­kempt gar­dens lead­ing to the riv­er’s trib­u­tary, over which a chest­nut tree in­clined, and her fa­ther at­tached two ropes to its stur­di­est over­hang­ing branch which he tied in turn to a small wood­en swing. So Nina could swing, when the weath­er permitted, over the coal-black wa­ters and glimpse the white caps of the waves on the ocean be­yond, pro­vid­ing, that is, she swung high enough. There was a glass­house to one side and a veg­e­ta­ble gar­den, the walls of which con­tin­ued, along the roadside, to the banks of the riv­er it­self. To be pre­sent at the be­gin­ning of a new cen­tu­ry pleased her fa­ther, she could tell that in­stinc­tive­ly, though she might not have known what the word cen­tu­ry meant. But when she saw him su­per­vise the riv­et­ing of the rope to the wood­en chair of the swing, the rope spliced neat­ly round the piece of met­al shaped like a tear-drop, the screw’s thread be­neath it fit­ting neat­ly into the precut hole in the wood, she knew it was part of a pro­cess that was ex­act and in­dus­tri­al, it was to do with met­al and meas­ure­ment and that this swing would be a su­pe­ri­or swing to those built long ago. And when her fa­ther lifted her at last, placed her on the fin­ished swing, and Dan Turnbull, who had screwed the fi­nal bolts, pushed her from be­hind, it felt odd to be swing­ing on a seat so new and to be star­ing over the wa­ter, at the face of the sad and love­ly pres­ence who was part of a sto­ry she would nev­er know, that must have hap­pened long ago. Her fa­ther was old too, but so much in love with new­ness that his oldness fit­ted in, some­how, with eve­ry new thing. She could nev­er im­ag­ine lov­ing an­y­one more than her fa­ther, ex­cept per­haps her se­cret friend, dur­ing her more se­cret mo­ments, but be­cause she was se­cret that didn’t count. No, her fa­ther was part of the world that de­clared it­self as real and she loved him for it, as much as for his love of all things new. And when he brought her to the shell­fish fac­to­ry he had built by the mouth of the Boyne riv­er, on a late sum­mer’s day when the salm­on were al­ready leap­ing, to show her the new ice-ma­chine, she loved him most of all. He led her by the hand into the low, stink­ing in­te­ri­or, pierced by the rays of the sum­mer sun from the win­dows on one side, where the shell­fish work­ers stood and touched their caps as he passed to­wards the sound of rhyth­mic clunk­ing in the back. There were clouds like steam, but it was a cold steam, and the clunk­ing had two causes, that of the en­gine-belt which rattled as it moved, and that of the great ice-blocks which hit the wood­en base with a thump, shat­tered in clouds of that cold steam and shat­tered again un­der the force of the sledge­ham­mers which the shirt­less men swung down. When he told her it would keep the shell­fish alive and fresh un­til they reached the cit­ies of Eng­land, it was im­pos­si­ble not to share his pleas­ure, though she was un­cer­tain what this meant. She was glad, if the truth be known, when he led her out of that hell­ish in­te­ri­or, but was hap­py again when he knelt with her by the riv­er and watched its mol­ten im­men­si­ty flow past and told her once more the sto­ry of the riv­er’s birth. How the well at its source blinded an­y­one who was bold enough to gaze at their re­flec­tion. How a girl of sur­pas­sing beau­ty, with flow­ing locks like her own, came to wash her hair in it. How the wa­ters rose, shocked at her beau­ty, how she ran to es­cape them and how they fi­nal­ly over­took her here, at the sea­shore near Mornington, de­prived her of both her sight and her life. Her name was Boinn, so the riv­er was called Boyne, af­ter the name of its first vic­tim. There were long ten­drils of sea­weed be­neath the wa­ter which rippled with the mov­ing tide. And look­ing down on them, she could well im­ag­ine a long bed of hair be­neath the shift­ing riv­er, the young girl of sur­pas­sing beau­ty still be­neath it, the wa­ters per­pet­u­al­ly wash­ing her ever-grow­ing hair. Look­ing up, she could see the ob­e­lisk of bar­na­cled stone that sprang up where the riv­er met the sea and was called the Lady’s Fin­ger. Be­yond it was the ru­ined hulk of the Maid­en’s Tow­er. When sail­ors wished to en­ter the riv­er’s mouth, her fa­ther told her, they would shift their boats un­til the Lady’s Fin­ger was in line with the Maid­en’s Tow­er, then know they were at an an­gle to strike the bar. What strike the bar meant she had no idea, but a riv­er whose mouth was guard­ed by the Lady’s Fin­ger and the Maid­en’s Tow­er and whose source was a young girl’s hair seemed with­out doubt to be a wom­an­ly riv­er. And the men who an­gled their sails through her, who pulled the fish from her in dark wet nets, who dragged the scal­lops, cock­les and mus­sels from her seaweedy depths were lucky to have a wom­an of such boun­ty. She won­dered were the drowned girl and her se­cret com­pan­ion one and the same. But she de­cid­ed on re­flec­tion that they could not be, since her ghost wore clothes that were of a lat­er time and the clothes were nev­er, ever wet. ~ Shade. Of a bat’s wing, of a syc­a­more at noon, of an ash in thin moon­light, in the big­gest shade of all. Night­shade. Shade of what was. I am that oddest of things, an ab­sence now. A ru­mour, a shade with­in a shad­ow, a re­mem­brance of a mem­o­ry, my own. A stray dog for­ages with my Wel­ling­ton boot, bur­ies it in the po­ta­to patch, digs it up again, bur­ies it again. George sits in his cot­tage in the grounds af­ter the event and lis­tens to the ac­counts of af­ter­noon race meets on his ra­dio. There is a dis­tant creak from the ironwrought gate by the house en­trance as the post­man pushes it open. The faint sound of crunch­ing foot­steps, as he wheels his bike down the curv­ing av­e­nue, stuffs a hand­ful of bent brown en­ve­lopes through the letterbox which fall on the var­nished floor. As the tide turns, the winds drop and the clouds qui­et­en their move­ment, the white hors­es sub­side. A low, end­less mack­er­el sky forms a back­drop to the fall­ing sun. Oys­ter­catch­ers pick their way along the mudflats of the es­tu­ary. A film of ice forms along the edges of the riv­er. The blood on the grass grows white with hoar-frost. The world be­comes a paint­ing with­out me in it. George rises from the car seat that is his only chair, walks out of his cot­tage leav­ing the door ajar, the ra­dio on. He moves be­tween the copse of ash and el­der like a ghost him­self. He wades across the riv­er in his twine-tied boots, leav­ing el­e­phan­tine prints in the mud be­hind him. The wa­ter reaches his neck, al­most washes him clean. He makes his way along the oth­er side of the riv­er as the moon rises, picks mus­sels from the fro­zen shore, eats them raw. The words in his head are es­tu­ary, an­glo-sax­on, mon­o­syl­lab­ic—mulch, shit, loam, earth. He lies face down in the wet sand and feels the brine seep­ing through his old tweed jack­et with the leath­er el­bow-patches. The casts of lug worms stretch away be­fore his eyes to the rippled sand of the shore where the wa­ter laps slug­gish­ly in the moon­light. If he could bur­row his way into the sand be­neath him, he would. If he could shed his coat, his flan­nel shirt, his greasy jeans and the or­ange twine that binds them, his flesh and the tis­sue that binds it, if he could shed the whole of him and throw it up as wet cast, he would. He is be­yond con­nec­tive thought, but the words thrum through him. What co­vers the earth is mulch and de­cay and he has de­liv­ered the liv­ing to it. He has par­tak­en in the sav­age or­der of things. And George now feels the mur­mur of re­new­al in­side him. A spi­der crab crawls be­tween his fin­gers and edges into a worm­hole. A kit­ti­wake squawks and he rises, walks along the Mornington shore and the suck of wet sand be­neath his feet changes to the crunch of bro­ken sea­shell. Scal­lop, cock­le, mus­sel, per­i­win­kle, eve­ry foot­fall tells him of the ne­ces­si­ty of death and how the earth needs its skel­e­tons. Mornington, Bettystown, Laytown, he co­vers each strand and wades waist-deep through the mouth of the Nan­ny riv­er, a large hunched fig­ure dark against the phos­pho­rous glow of the break­ing waves. He is on a jour­ney back from rea­son, to the place he was re­leased, St. Ita’s psy­chi­at­ric hos­pi­tal, Portrane. It is morn­ing when he reaches it. He walks from the shore past the round tow­er to the lawns with the red-bricked cit­a­del of the asy­lum in the back­ground. The nurses are ar­riv­ing in their wrap­pings of stiff white. Be­neath the barred win­dow he once knew he stands cov­ered in brine, sand, silt, any trace of the blood he spilt en­crusted be­neath it. He seems lost and wants asy­lum, in the old sense. Dr. Hannon drives by in a black Ford car, stops and says, “George, what on earth.” And George says, sim­ply, “Home.” 3 HER MOTH­ER, UN­LIKE her fa­ther, seemed un­ex­cit­ed by the on­set of the new cen­tu­ry. The house was hers, had come to her through her fa­ther, Jer­e­mi­ah Tynan, whose for­tune rose stead­i­ly from the ear­ly days of the Drog­he­da Steampacket Com­pa­ny and who bought it with the prof­its gleaned from the first iron paddlesteamer, the Col­leen Bawn, on the Drog­he­da-Liv­er­pool route. He had died be­fore the launch­ing of the Kath­leen Ma­vour­neen, the larg­est steam­er built for the Drog­he­da Steampacket Com­pa­ny, two hun­dred and six­ty feet long, with a beam depth of one hun­dred and fif­ty feet and a gross ton­nage of nine hun­dred and nine­ty-eight. But the for­tune re­mained in­tact, in­deed pros­pered, un­til the com­pa­ny was sold and the house passed to his wife and even­tu­al­ly his youngest daugh­ter, by which time it seemed to have been theirs for ever. Baltray House, on the north­ern banks of the mouth of the Boyne riv­er, with a view of Mornington, across the riv­er, to the south. His only daugh­ter had been spared the vi­cis­si­tudes of trade, had been ed­u­cat­ed at the Si­ena Con­vent on the Chord Road, Drog­he­da, founded by Moth­er Cath­e­rine Plunkett, grand-niece of the mar­tyred St. Ol­i­ver, for the ed­u­ca­tion of young Cath­o­lic la­dies. On her grad­u­a­tion she had trav­elled to Si­ena it­self in the com­pa­ny of a nun of her moth­er’s choosing and had there ac­quired, in­stead of a taste for the mys­ti­cism of St. Cath­e­rine of Si­ena, a taste for the fine arts. In Arez­zo she du­ti­ful­ly cop­ied the Pie­ro del­la Fran­ces­cas, and lat­er, in Flor­ence, the Raph­a­els at the Uffizi and the tow­er­ing mar­ble of Mi­chel­an­ge­lo’s Da­vid at the Accademia. And there, in front of the Da­vid, she met a young Eng­lish­man named Da­vid Har­dy who was trac­ing, on his rec­tan­gu­lar pad, eve­ry­thing about the stat­ue but its mar­ble pe­nis. A con­ver­sa­tion was struck up un­der the watch­ful eye of the chap­er­on­ing nun which was re­sumed two years lat­er, af­ter a chance meet­ing in the Na­tion­al Gal­lery in Tra­fal­gar Square un­der the can­vas of Velázquez’ Im­mac­u­late Con­cep­tion, Eliz­a­beth Tynan hav­ing trav­elled to Lon­don to fur­ther her stud­ies in the fine arts. There were tears stream­ing down his face and the rea­son for those tears, when she ques­tioned him gen­tly, moved her deep­ly. They were caused, he told her, as he dried his cheeks on the hand­ker­chief she had lent him, by his feel­ing of ut­ter in­ad­e­qua­cy in the face of the per­fec­tion of the can­vas in front of him, a per­fec­tion he could nev­er hope to match. In fact the tears, she would learn some eight years lat­er, when the son that had been de­nied him en­tered their lives, had quite a dif­fer­ent source. But in front of the can­vas, the se­rene beau­ty of the Vir­gin’s face seemed a more than ad­e­quate ex­pla­na­tion, and soon she was cry­ing too. So he gave her back her hand­ker­chief, and their fin­gers touched. In­dif­fer­ent art­ists both, their in­ter­est in Velázquez was soon over­whelmed by their in­ter­est in each oth­er, and a court­ship en­sued, an ir­reg­u­lar one, giv­en that both were or­phans in ef­fect, the last par­ents on both sides hav­ing re­cent­ly died, the moth­er in her case, the fa­ther in his. And soon the first of many trips across the Irish Sea be­gan, from Liv­er­pool to Drog­he­da on the Kath­leen Ma­vour­neen, now in the own­er­ship of the Brit­ish and Irish Steampacket Com­pa­ny in which Eliz­a­beth, with her four broth­ers, re­tained a sub­stan­tial in­ter­est. Da­vid Har­dy, of suf­fi­cient means to be un­em­bar­rassed by his fi­an­cee’s es­tate, fell in love with the ship, the mu­sic of its name and, when he saw it, the thin, dun-coloured vis­ta of the Boyne es­tu­ary which re­minded him of noth­ing so much as the Flem­ish land­scapes of Ja­cob van Ruis­dael. Per­haps he fell in love with it be­cause he needed to, needed a home for his tur­bu­lent emo­tions, so rad­i­cal­ly dif­fer­ent from an­y­thing he had hith­er­to known. That he was in love with Eliz­a­beth was for him be­yond ques­tion. And per­haps, again, he should have ques­tioned that emo­tion, as to wheth­er the long dra­ma it was lead­ing him to­wards was a symp­tom of the short dra­ma he had left be­hind. But there is a third sup­po­si­tion, that this mo­ment was for­tu­i­tous in the way few mo­ments are, that he could bring what­ev­er con­so­la­tion was needed to the small-boned hand that he held in his. And when he leaned against the curved met­al cas­ing of the gi­ant steam-pad­dle, placed his oth­er hand around Eliz­a­beth’s thin waist and saw the ob­e­lisk of the Lady’s Fin­ger drift by, with the Maid­en’s Tow­er in line with it and be­yond them both the long stretch of Mornington Strand, he felt that strang­est of af­fec­tions, for a land­scape and coun­try he had nev­er seen be­fore, nev­er im­ag­ined he would see. ~ As night co­mes down again the ra­dio speaks to it­self in George’s emp­ty cot­tage. A weath­er-man pre­dicts un­sea­son­a­ble sun­shine. The am­ber lamp in the ra­dio dial il­lu­mi­nates the frost­ed win­dow. A pale wash of moon­light pen­cils each branch of the ash trees be­yond. Sad­ness, if I could feel sad­ness, would be what that dis­em­bod­ied voice would evoke. He left it on, and the com­ing days of win­ter sun­shine are broad­cast to noth­ing hu­man. As the night progresses and the moon moves and all the shad­ows of the trees move with it, it seems the calm the ra­dio pre­dicted has al­ready de­scended. The winds that have blown for the last three days are bound for the Azores. I should have read the signs, of course. George, like all of us, had his weath­er too. He had seemed rest­less be­cause of those winds, obey­ing in­struc­tions oth­er than mine. In­stead of grass verges clipped, ma­nure was spread around the roots of the black­cur­rants and cherries in the walled gar­den. “It is win­ter, George, the ground is fro­zen, why ma­nure the fro­zen ground?” “I’m do­ing what I’m told,” he said. “I didn’t tell you,” I said. “No,” he said, “what do you know about gar­dens?” By the riv­er’s bank I had found a spar­row with its head cut off. “Who would de­cap­i­tate a spar­row, George?” I asked him. “A mink,” he said. He point­ed to­wards Baltray, where the mink farm was. But the head had been sliced neat­ly, as if with a shears. “May­be it was you, George, clip­ping.” “Why would I clip,” he had asked me, “in the mid­dle of win­ter?” Why in­deed, I won­dered, and for­got about it. I had come upon him that af­ter­noon, ly­ing face down in the fro­zen grass be­neath the ap­ple tree. “You’ll freeze, George,” I told him. “May­be,” he said, “but I’ll warm the earth.” “And I’m sure the earth will ap­pre­ci­ate your ef­forts, George,” I said, “but why not let the spring do it for you?” “The spring needs help,” he said, “the sum­mer needs help too.” “Are you an Ado­nis then, George, in over­alls?” “Who is Ado­nis?” he asked. “Ado­nis re­vived the earth,” I told him. “He was a gar­den­er then?” “Yes,” I told him, “of a kind.” “We used to lie here,” he said, “just like this, the four of us.” “Yes,” I said, “but in the sum­mer and the grass was high and we were chil­dren then.” He raised him­self at that and stood, awk­ward­ly, as if re-en­ter­ing his over­sized adult limbs. “You took my part,” he said, or I thought he said, and turned away. “I what?” I asked. And he re­peat­ed, over the blow­ing wind, “You took my part.” I stared at the out­line his body had left in the crushed win­ter grass. I re­mem­bered the tiny the­a­tre of the four of us be­neath that ap­ple tree in the long Sep­tem­ber grasses of my child­hood. His part had been Touch­stone, not Ado­nis. And he would strike me more dead than a great reck­on­ing in a lit­tle room. [End of Sam‍ple]



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Hopscotch

1 In Paris the gambling was hidden but easy enough to find. This one was in the fifteenth arrondissement near the Citroën factory. The thick door had an iron ring for a handle; a thug absurdly disguised as a doorman admitted Kendig and there was a woman at a desk, attractive enough but she had a cool hard air. Kendig went through the tedium of establishing the credentials of his innocence--he was not a flic, he was not Sicilian, he was not Union Corse, he was not this or that. "Just a tourist. I've been here before--with Mme. Labrie. There isn't a message for me by any chance?" There wasn't. Kendig paid the membership admission and crossed to the elevator. There will be an interesting message for you tonight at the Club Rouge. It had been typed, no signature; delivered to his concierge by an urchin clutching a five-franc note. He went up in a lift cage piloted by a little fellow whose face was the texture of old rubber dried grey by a desert sun: the look of an Algerian veteran. The old fellow opened the gate on the third étage. "Bonne chance, M'sieur." Behind the smile was a leering cynicism. Kendig's fathomless eyes looked past the tables at a desolate emptiness of his own. The crowd was moderate, the decor discreet, the costumery tiresomely fashionable. Soft laughter here, hard silence there: winners and losers. The bright lightingleeched their faces of color. Kendig drifted among the felted tables. A croupier recognized him from somewhere and smiled; he was in the uniform--the tuxedo that only appeared to have pockets; to discourage temptation. Kendig said, "They've moved the poker?" "You must speak with the maître." The croupier glanced toward a largish man in black who loomed over the neighboring wheel. Kendig had a word with the maître and had to show his bankroll to the cashier behind a cage. He bought five thousand francs in rectangular chips and the maître guided him officiously past the tables to an oak door with massive polished brass fittings. Beyond it Kendig found the game, six players around a table that accommodated eight chairs. A houseman stood in the shadows. There was one woman in the game; he knew who she was but they'd never met. He knew the American, Paul Jaynes; the others were strangers. Jaynes gave him a debonair greeting and the others glanced at him but Kendig hung back until they had finished the hand. They were playing seven stud--unusual for a room like this. And the house wasn't dealing. The woman won the hand and gathered the pot; the maître bowed his way out and Kendig pulled out one of the empty chairs and sat down with his chips. His place was between Jaynes and the woman, with the woman on his left; he knew Jaynes's manner of play and it didn't trouble him to be downwind of the American. "Been a while," Jaynes said with his beefy smile and Kendig nodded acknowledgment. Jaynes had a deep suntan and a huckster's compulsion to touch anyone to whom he spoke. He was a film producer of independently financed sex-and-sandal epics. The others had the same look: businessmen, promoters--two Frenchmen, a German, a Swede. The woman he knew by sight and reputation; he'd seen dossiers on her--she'd spent a few years as patroness of American exiles in Algeria before she'd tired of the game or been frightened out of it by the professionals. She had been married to a banker but there'd been a divorce and she'd reverted to her maiden name. "Pot limit of course," Jaynes told him, laying out the ground rules. "Check-raise. It's not table stakes--you can go into your pocket if you want to. Or you can tap out. We try to make it easy on ourselves." He smiled; it was a little nervous--it looked as if he might have started with a larger stake than he had now. "Ante twenty-five francs to the player. The house takes one ante for its cut." "Seven stud or dealer's choice?" "Seven only." The woman said, "We decided by majority when we began." "Suits me." It didn't matter. The game proceeded. He tried to take an interest in it but most of it came to him like the adult voices you half-heard when you were a small child dozing in the next room. It was one of the things he found soothing about gambling: its detachment from everything. He folded out of three hands on the first round of each; on the fourth he caught a pair of wired jacks in which he had little faith but he strung them along to the sixth card before he dropped out, unimproved; that cost him three hundred francs. "You're getting cool cards for a newcomer," the woman said apologetically. "You must be disappointed." He made a soundless reply, a courteous expression. She was wrong, actually; disappointment only follows expectation and he'd had none of that. After the first half hour he was a thousand francs in the hole and had won only two hands. There had been one extravagant pot; he had not participated in it; the woman won it. That was what the game amounted to--like surfing; you endured the ordinary waves while you waited for the occasional big one. The players who approached it professionally would have none of that--they played every hand to win--but the big ones came their way too and whatever their denials it came to the same thing. The woman was pushing the big ones hard and he saw she was the player to beat. The Frenchman Deroget tapped out and left the table in vile spirits. He left nine thousand francs in the game. When the Frenchman was gone Paul Jaynes said, "More than two thousand dollars. Not much for a game like this one--but too much for a shrimp like him. I've heard it around that he's in pretty deep. They'll be keeping a close eye on him." He meant the casino: if a man committed suicide his pockets would be stuffed quietly with money to discourage any idea he might have killed himself over his losses. A few hands came Kendig's way and he raked them in without particular joy. He was only marking time. The fifth card of the hand was dealt around; Kendig's was a queen and it gave him three hearts face-up. The woman had two nines in sight but she checked them. Kendig checked as well; Jaynes had a pair of fives showing and was eager to bet them--he was cheerfully transparent about it. There were a thousand francs in the pot by then; Jaynes opened the round's betting with a hundred-franc wager and two of the players beyond him called the bet; the German folded and then it was Mlle Stein's turn and she saw the bet and raised five hundred francs. It made a nineteen-hundred-franc pot and when Kendig saw the raise it doubled the size of the pot; and Kendig raised the limit. "The raise is three thousand eight hundred." About a thousand dollars by the day's exchange rate. Jaynes called the raise without hesitation but he didn't raise back; it meant he had his third five but not his full house. The Swede and the Frenchman folded their hands. The woman smiled a little, thought about it and then called the raise. It ended the round's betting and there was a good sum on the table now: a little over fifteen thousand francs. Two cards remained to be dealt to each player; there would be two more rounds of betting in the hand. Mlle Stein's card was another four-spot and gave her two pair in sight, nines over fours. The Swede dealt Kendig the king of spades--no visible improvement of his three-hearts-to-the-queen. Jaynes bought the jack of diamonds: his third suit and no evident help for his matched fives. The three-handed betting began with the woman: she counted out five thousand francs into the pot. It could mean anything. Either she had her boat and wanted to build the pot or she didn't have it and wanted to frighten her opponents into not raising. It was Kendig's turn and he knew every card that had been shown. The hearts were a screen; he had two more queens wired in the hole and he hadn't seen a single king or deuce anywhere in the table's up-cards. Caution dictated a straight call but he made the ten-thousand-franc raise and it folded Jaynes and then the woman was smiling again with her valentine mouth and she bumped him back: "I think I must raise you twenty thousand." It was as much as some men made in a year. Kendig shrugged and turned to Paul Jaynes. "Can you cover my check?" "What bank?" "American Express. Paris branch." "Will it buy me a peek at your hole cards?" "No." Jaynes said, "You've got enough to cover it of course." He said it with a bit of an edge on his voice: not quite a threat. "Yes." Kendig had a hundred thousand in that bank and a lot more than that in Switzerland. Most of it had come from gambling of one kind or another. Jaynes knew that much about him. Jaynes said finally, "All right. You can play shy here." "Thank you." Kendig said it without inflection; he really hadn't cared that much. He pulled the woman's stack of twenty thousand shy and said, "Call." "What, no reraise M'sieur?" She was amused. It meant nothing about her cards; she was too good a player to coffeehouse any revelations. The final card was dealt face-down and of course the woman had to come out betting; it would have made no sense to sandbag and in any case the bet only encouraged one's opponent to believe it was a bluff: checking the bet couldn't be a bluff. She bet twenty-five thousand and Jaynes nodded tautly, covering Kendig. Kendig didn't have to perform any calculations to know there were one hundred and ten thousand francs in the pot which the woman could collect if he folded his hand. If he were to call the bet it would make it a 135,000-franc pot--nearly thirty-five-thousand dollars. She had been reading him for the heart flush but if he raised she would have to change her thinking. He looked at Paul Jaynes. "Blank check?" "The size of the pot? Christ that's more than I have to pay a top star for two weeks' location work." Jaynes looked at the three men who'd dropped out of the hand. "Anybody want to lay a side bet against Kendig?" The German had been very impressed by the woman's play tonight; and perhaps he wanted to prove something because she was a Jew....The German said, "Fifty thousand francs?" "You're faded," Jaynes said. "All right, Kendig." Kendig looked at the woman. She was watching him, waiting without expression. He said, "Raise the pot." "I don't have that much in chips." But she was smiling. "It's not a table-stakes game," Kendig said. She studied him. He'd doubled the pot and it would cost her 135,000 francs to call his bet. It was a big pot now and if she called the bet it would be a hundred-thousand-dollar pot--that much on a single poker hand. Kendig had never wagered as much in his life; such a hand came only once in a lifetime, win or lose. It didn't matter. His mind began to drift. He accepted the woman's scrutiny, neither evading it nor challenging it. Jaynes looked on, agape, hands trembling with anticipation. The German watched with his face as stiffly controlled as that of an addict who was declining a fix three weeks after taking the cure. The Frenchman and the Swede were hardly breathing. She had two pair showing; she probably had her full house; she might even have four nines or four fours. Kendig was a stranger betting with another man's money--a man he didn't appear to know too well--and she'd know Jaynes well enough to know he wouldn't shill for anybody. So it was honest play and she had to make her decision on the assumption that Kendig wouldn't bluff with Jaynes's money. She had therefore to conclude Kendig had four queens. She did not call his raise; she folded her hand. "Well done, M'sieur." * * * Jaynes buttonholed him at the bar. "Well?" "She didn't pay to see it." "But I did, didn't I? At least I offered to. How was I to know whether you had that much in the bank?" "Why should I have lied about it?" That stupefied Jaynes. "You had four queens. You must have had." "I'll tell you this much. I had three queens going in." "Then you bought the fourth queen on the last down-card?" "I don't know," Kendig said. "I never looked." "The hell you didn't. I saw you look at it." "I shuffled them around. That wasn't the seventh card I looked at." Jaynes smiled slowly. "Jesus H. Christ. How the hell could you keep from looking?" Kendig shrugged. The plain fact was he hadn't cared; but it wouldn't be worth the effort to convince Jaynes of that. "Well we both did all right, didn't we," Jaynes said. Kendig escaped into the toilette and afterward went back into the poker chamber to collect his winnings. The woman was alone at the table adjusting her hair in a handbag mirror. She must have been close to fifty but she hadn't begun to go to seed. "You're leaving?" "Leaving this game." "That's hardly sporting." But it was not said unkindly; she was smiling. "You don't take much of an interest in it, do you." "I suppose not." "Such a shame," she murmured. Then her smile changed. "I don't know which is worse--a helpless puppy or a lost American. The only thing you really want is to get home, isn't it." "What makes you think that?" "I've never met an American who didn't. Why don't you?" "Perhaps I will." "You'll feel better then." "Will I?" He nodded to the houseman, who swept the chips into a sack and went away with them after Kendig finished making the count. She said, "You are the one who hounded my trail in Algiers, aren't you?" "I was one of them. For a little while. They moved me out after a few months." "And now?" "I'm retired," Kendig said. "I see." She didn't believe it for a minute but she was amused rather than angry. "Our Swedish friend just finished telling me what a success you've been on the Continent. Gambling, motorcars, skiing, flying aeroplanes. You've a rather interesting sort of retirement." "Yes," he said because that was easier than denying it. She pushed the cards together and her hands became still: she stared at his face. "Would you care to come home with me tonight?" "Thank you," he said, "I think not." He executed a slight bow and left the room. The cashier was waiting for him. "M'sieur prefers cash or our cheque?" "Cash, please." "It is a dangerous sum to be carrying on one's person, M'sieur." "All the same I'll have it in cash if you don't mind." "As M'sieur wishes." The maître approached, burly and discreet. "Monsieur Kendig? Téléphone, s'il vous plâit....Par ici." He took it in someone's office. He picked up the receiver but didn't speak into it until the maître had backed out and shut the door. "Yes?" "C'est vous, Kendig?" "Oui." "Ici Michel." Kendig recognized the voice. It was Mikhail Yaskov. Now Yaskov spoke in English: "You received my note then." "Yes." "I should like to meet with you, old friend." "For what purpose?" "To discuss a matter which may prove mutually beneficial." "I doubt the existence of any such matter, Mikhail." "Nevertheless perhaps you will humor me?" Kendig's shoulders stirred. "Why not then?" "It must be tout de suite I am afraid. I am only in Paris another twenty-four hours." "Tomorrow then?" "Tomorrow," Yaskov said, his voice very controlled. "I shall be with the messieurs Citroën and Mercier. Do you know them?" "Yes." It wasn't far from here: the intersection of the quai André Citroën and the rue Sebastien Mercier, just below the Mirabeau bridge on the left bank. It was a workers' neighborhood, narrow passages leading back, their drab walls daubed with Communist slogans. Fitting enough. Yaskov said, "We shall meet at Number Sixteen, yes?" Sixteen hundred hours: four o'clock in the afternoon. Harmless enough. "All right, Mikhail." "I assure you the transaction will interest you." Kendig doubted it but he made no reply. "I'll see you tomorrow." "Yes. Bonne chance, old friend." A soft chuckle and then the line died. Kendig cradled it and went out and collected his envelope from the cashier. Jaynes waved at him eagerly from across the room but he only waved back and followed the maître to the lift; he rode down in the cage with the old Algerian veteran and went out into the night with a pocketful of money.