The gap of time, p.1

The Gap of Time, page 1


The Gap of Time

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The Gap of Time



  Art and Lies

  Boating for Beginners

  Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit

  Sexing the Cherry

  The Passion

  The Powerbook


  The World and Other Places

  Written on the Body

  Gut Symmetries

  Midsummer Nights (editor)

  The Stone Gods


  The Daylight Gate


  Art Objects

  Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?

  Children’s Books

  The Lion the Unicorn and Me

  The King of Capri


  The Battle of the Sun

  This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

  Copyright © 2015 by Jeanette Winterson

  All rights reserved.

  Published in the United States by Hogarth, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, New York.

  HOGARTH is a trademark of the Random House Group Limited, and the H colophon is a trademark of Penguin Random House LLC.

  Simultaneously published in Great Britain by Hogarth UK, a division of Random House Group Limited, a Penguin Random House company, London.

  Grateful acknowledgement is made to the following:

  BMG Rights Management (US) LLC for lyrics from “Shiver Me Timbers,” words and music by Tom Waits, copyright © 1974 by Fifth Floor Music Inc. (ASCAP). All rights administered by BMG Rights Management (US) LLC. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

  BMG Rights Management (US) LLC for lyrics from “It’s In His Kiss,” words and music by Rudy Clark, copyright © 1963 by Trio Music Company (BMI) / By The Bay Music (BMI). All rights administered by BMG Rights Management (US) LLC. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

  Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC, for an excerpt from “For Sheridan” from Collected Poems by Robert Lowell, copyright © 2003 by Robert Lowell. Reprinted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC. All rights reserved.

  Hal Leonard Corporation for lyrics from “She’s Always a Woman,” words and music by Billy Joel, copyright © 1977 by Impulsive Music. Copyright renewed. All rights administered by Almo Music Corp. Used by permission. Reprinted by permission of Hal Leonard Corporation. All rights reserved.

  Music Sales Corporation for lyrics from “Mrs. Robinson,” words and music by Paul Simon, copyright © 1968, 1970 by Paul Simon (BMI). International copyright secured. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

  Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

  Winterson, Jeanette, 1959–

  The gap of time: a novel/Jeanette Winterson.—First United States edition.

  pages ; cm.—(Hogarth Shakespeare)

  “The Winter’s tale retold.”

  I. Shakespeare, William, 1564–1616. Winter’s tale. II. Title.

  PR6073.I558G37 2015

  823'.914—dc23 2015022024

  ISBN 9780804141352

  eBook ISBN 9780804141369

  Cover design by Christopher Brand



  To Ruth Rendell 1930–2015

  Past fifty, we learn with surprise and a sense

  of suicidal absolution

  that what we intended and failed

  could never have happened—

  and must be done better.

  “For Sheridan,” Robert Lowell



  Also by Jeanette Winterson

  Title Page







  Watery Star

  Spider in the Cup

  Bawdy Planet

  Is This Nothing?

  Goads Thorns Nettles Tails of Wasps

  My Life Stands in the Level of Your Dreams

  Feathers for Each Wind

  Strangely to Some Place

  Kites Ravens Wolves Bears




  The Day of Celebration

  Time’s News



  Ghosts That Walk

  I Would Not Prize Them Without Her Love

  Here in Your City

  If This Be Magic…

  Music Wake Her


  The Place. The play opens in Sicilia—one of Shakespeare’s many fantasy islands.

  The Time. Invented.

  The Story. Polixenes, King of Bohemia, has been staying with his childhood friend Leontes, King of Sicilia, for the past nine months. Polixenes wants to go home. Leontes tries and fails to persuade him to stay.

  Leontes’s pregnant wife, Hermione, intervenes, and Polixenes agrees to stay a little longer.

  But Leontes believes that Polixenes and Hermione are having an affair and the child she will soon give birth to belongs to Polixenes.

  Leontes calls his manservant, Camillo, and orders him to poison Polixenes. Instead, Camillo warns Polixenes that Leontes intends to murder him. Polixenes escapes, taking Camillo with him.

  Leontes is enraged at the escape and immediately and publicly accuses his wife of infidelity. He throws her in prison—deaf to the protests of the entire court, especially the noblewoman Paulina, the only person brave enough to stand up to Leontes.

  Leontes hates the fact that no one believes his mad, vile denunciations of Hermione, and to avoid being called a tyrant he sends an envoy to consult the Oracle at Delphi.

  Meanwhile, Hermione gives birth to a daughter. Leontes disowns the child as a bastard and decrees her death.

  Paulina brings the child in to Leontes, hoping it will soften his rage. Instead he threatens to dash out its brains. Not quite able to face down Paulina, he agrees that the child can be taken to some remote place and cast out to fortune. Paulina’s husband, Antigonus, must do the deed.

  While Antigonus is gone, Leontes brings Hermione to trial, humiliating her in front of the Royal Court. The more he abuses her, the more dignified she seems, remarkable by her composure, and her steady denial of his madness.

  In the middle of this kangaroo court, the Oracle is brought back from Delphi. The Oracle declares that Leontes is a jealous tyrant; that Hermione and Polixenes are innocent; that the baby is innocent and that Leontes will have no heir until the lost child is found.

  Leontes flies into a frothing rage and declares the Oracle a lie. As he does so, a messenger runs in to tell him that young Mamilius, his only son, is dead.

  Hermione collapses. Leontes repents. It is too late. The Queen is dead.


  The Place. Bohemia. Now part of the Czech Republic. It has never had a sea-coast.

  The Story. Antigonus leaves the baby, Perdita, on the shores of Bohemia, with money and some tokens of her birth, and tries to get away before the breaking storm. His ship capsizes. Antigonus is killed in the world’s most famous stage direction: Exit pursued by a bear.

  The local rogue Autolycus notices everything but does nothing, other than pick a pocket or two, as Perdita is found by a poor shepherd and his dimwitted son, Clown. They take pity on the baby and bring her up as their own.


  The Time. Sixteen years later.

  Prince Florizel, son of Polixenes, has fallen in love with Perdita. He believes she
s a shepherd’s daughter.

  The scene is set at a joyful party—the sheep-shearing festival where our Shepherd and his son, the Clown, are rich, thanks to the money they found wrapped up with Perdita.

  Florizel is pretending to be an ordinary guy, not a rich prince. Impulsively he offers to marry Perdita—and asks two older strangers to bear witness.

  The strangers turn out to be his father Polixenes and Camillo in disguise.

  While Perdita and Florizel declare their love, the rogue Autolycus is busy stealing everyone’s money, and lying and entertaining his way through the feast.

  He is Shakespeare’s most lovable villain—witty, mercurial and uncrushable. And the unlikely means to a happy ending…

  As the Clown is busy entertaining his lady friends, Mopsa and Dorcas, and the Shepherd is congratulating everyone on their good fortune, Polixenes rips off his disguise and threatens the whole party with instant death.

  He storms off, ordering Florizel never to see Perdita again. Camillo realises this is his chance to go home. He offers to take Florizel and Perdita to Sicilia. They agree and escape.

  Following behind come the Shepherd, the Clown and Autolycus.


  The Place. Sicilia.

  The Time. A fast-moving present.

  The Story. Florizel and Perdita arrive at Court. Leontes briefly falls for Perdita then discovers she’s his own daughter, when the Shepherd and the Clown show up with their box of proof left over from her birth.

  Polixenes, tailing the fugitives, is reconciled to both Leontes and Florizel. The end is in sight. Paulina invites everyone to her house to look at a statue of Hermione. This statue is so lifelike that Leontes moves to kiss it, but is warned back by Paulina, who then offers to make the statue step down.

  The end of the play, without explanation or warning or psychological interpretation, throws all the characters forward into a new life. What they will make of it is left to “the gap of time.”

  I saw the strangest sight tonight.

  I was on my way home, the night hot and heavy, the way it gets here this time of year so that your skin is shiny and your shirt is never dry. I’d been playing piano in the bar I play in, and nobody wanted to leave, so I was later than I like to be. My son said he’d come by in the car but he never came.

  I was on my way home, maybe two in the morning, a cold bottle of beer heating up in my hand. Not supposed to drink on the streets, I know, but what the hell, after a man’s been working nine hours straight, serving shots when the bar’s quiet, playing piano when it gets busy. Folks drink more when there’s live music, and that’s a fact.

  I was on my way home when the weather broke in two and the rain came down like ice—it was ice—hailstones the size of golf balls and hard as a ball of elastic. The street had all the heat of the day, of the week, of the month, of the season. When the hail hit the ground, it was like throwing ice cubes into a fat fryer. It was like the weather was coming up from the street instead of down from the sky. I was running through a riddle of low-fire shrapnel, dodging doorway to doorway, couldn’t see my feet through the hiss and steam. On the steps of the church I got above the bubbling froth for a minute or two. I was soaked. The money in my pocket was stuck together and my hair was stuck to my head. I wiped the rain out of my eyes. Tears of rain. My wife’s been dead a year now. No use in sheltering. Might as well get home.

  So I took the shortcut. I don’t like to take the shortcut because of the BabyHatch.

  The hospital installed it a year ago. I watched the builders day by day while I was visiting my wife. I saw how they poured the concrete shell, fixed the steel box inside the shell, fitted the seal-shut window, wired the heat and light and the alarm. One of the builders didn’t want to do it, thought it was wrong; immoral, I guess. A sign of the times. But the times has so many signs that if we read them all we’d die of heartbreak.

  The hatch is safe and warm. Once the baby is inside and the hatch is closed, a bell rings in the hospital and it doesn’t take long for a nurse to come down, just long enough for the mother to walk away—there’s a street corner right there. She’s gone.

  I saw it happen once. I ran after her. I called out, “Lady!” She turned round. She looked at me. There was a second, the kind that holds a whole world—and then the second hand moved on and she was gone.

  I went back. The hatch was empty. A few days later my wife died. So I don’t walk home that way.

  There’s a history to the BabyHatches. Isn’t there always a history to the story? You think you’re living in the present but the past is right behind you like a shadow.

  I did some research. In Europe, in the Middle Ages, whenever that was, they had BabyHatches back then. They called them Foundling Wheels; a round window in a convent or a monastery, and you could pass a baby inside and hope that God would take care of it.

  Or you could leave it wrapped up in the woods for the dogs and wolves to raise. Leave it without a name but with something to begin the story.


  A car skids past me too fast. The water from the gutter douses me like I’m not wet enough already. Asshole. The car pulls up—it’s my son, Clo. I get in. He passes me a towel and I wipe my face, grateful and suddenly tired out.

  We drive a few blocks with the radio on. The freak-weather report. A supermoon. Giant waves at sea, the river over its banks. Don’t travel. Stay indoors. It’s not Hurricane Katrina but it’s not a night out either. The cars parked either side of the road are halfway up their wheels in water.

  Then we see it.

  Up ahead there’s a black BMW 6 Series smashed full frontal into the wall. The doors are open both sides. Some small junky car is rammed into the back. Two hoods are beating a guy into the ground. My son leans on the horn, drives straight at them, window down, shouting, “WHAT THE FUCK WHAT THE FUCK!” His car slews in as one of the men fires a shot at us to take out the front tyre. My son spins the wheel, thuds the car into the kerb. The hoods jump in the BMW, scraping it the length of the wall, shunting the junky car across the street. The beaten-up guy is on the ground. He’s wearing a good suit. He’s maybe sixty. He’s bleeding. The blood is washing down his face under the rain. He says something. I kneel next to him. His eyes are open. He’s dead.

  My son looks at me—I’m his father—what do we do? Then we hear the sirens start up from somewhere far off like another planet.

  “Don’t touch him,” I say to my son. “Reverse the car.”

  “We should wait for the cops.”

  I shake my head.

  We bounce the busted tyre back round the corner and drive slowly down the road that passes the hospital. An ambulance is leaving the emergency garage.

  “I need to change the wheel.”

  “Pull into the hospital lot.”

  “We should tell the cops what we saw.”

  “He’s dead.”


  My son stops the car and goes to get the gear to change the wheel. For a moment I sit sodden and still on the soaked car seat. The lights of the hospital slice through the windows; I hate this hospital. I sat in the car like this after my wife died. Staring out of the windscreen seeing nothing. The whole day passed and then it was night and nothing had changed because everything had changed.

  I get out of the car. My son jacks the back and together we lift off the wheel. He’s already rolled the spare from the trunk. I put my fingers into the ripped rubber of the dead tyre and pull out the bullet. Whatever we need we don’t need this. I take it to drop it down a deep drain at the edge of the kerb.

  And that’s when I see it. The light.

  The BabyHatch is lit up.

  Somehow, I get a sense this is all connected—the BMW, the junky car, the dead man, the baby.

  Because there is a baby.

  I walk towards the hatch and my body’s in slow motion. The child’s asleep, sucking its thumb. No one has come yet. Why has no one come yet?

  I realise without realising that I’ve got
the tyre lever in my hand. I move without moving to prise open the hatch. It is easy. I lift out the baby and she’s as light as a star.

  Abide with me; fast falls the eventide;

  The darkness deepens; Lord, with me abide;

  When other helpers fail and comforts flee,

  Help of the helpless, oh, abide with me.

  The congregation is strong this morning. Around two thousand of us filling the church. The floods didn’t put anybody off coming. The pastor says, “ ‘Many waters cannot quench love, neither can floods drown it.’ ”

  That’s from the Song of Solomon. We sing what we know.

  The Church of God’s Delivery started in a shack, grew to a house and became a small town. Mostly black. Some whites. Whites find it harder to believe in something to believe in. They get stuck on the specifics, like the seven days of Creation and the Resurrection. I don’t worry about any of that. If there is no God I won’t be any worse off when I’m dead. Just dead. If there is a God, well, OK, I get what you’re saying: so where is this God?

  I don’t know where God is but I reckon God knows where I am. He got the world’s first global app. Find Shep.

  That’s me. Shep.

  I live quietly with my son, Clo. He’s twenty. He was born here. His mother came from Canada, her parents came from India. I came here on a slave ship, I guess—OK, not me, but my DNA, still with Africa written in it. Where we are now, New Bohemia, used to be a French colony. Sugar plantations, big colonial homes, beauty and horror all together. The ironwork balustrades the tourists love. The little eighteenth-century buildings painted pink or yellow or blue. The wooden storefronts with their big glass windows curved onto the street. The alleys with dark doorways leading down to the ladies of pleasure.

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