Malone dies, p.5

Malone Dies, page 5

 part  #2 of  Molloy Series


Malone Dies

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  I see then I had attributed to myself certain objects no longer in my possession, as far as I can see. But might they not have rolled behind a piece of furniture? That would surprise me. A boot, for example, can a boot roll behind a piece of furniture? And yet I see only one boot. And behind what piece of furniture? In this room, to the best of my knowledge, there is only one piece of furniture capable of intervening between me and my possessions, I refer to the cupboard. But it so cleaves to the wall, to the two walls, for it stands in the corner, that it seems part of them. It may be objected that my button-boot, for it was a kind of button-boot, is in the cupboard. I thought of that. But I have gone through it, my stick has gone through the cupboard, opening the doors, the drawers, for the first time perhaps, and rooting everywhere. And the cupboard, far from containing my boot, is empty. No, I am now without this boot, just as I am now without certain other objects of less value, which I thought I had preserved, among them a zinc ring that shone like silver. I note on the other hand, in the heap, the presence of two or three objects I had quite forgotten and one of which at least, the bowl of a pipe, strikes no chord in my memory. I do not remember ever having smoked a tobacco-pipe. I remember the soap-pipe with which, as a child, I used to blow bubbles, an odd bubble. Never mind, this bowl is now mine, wherever it comes from. A number of my treasures are derived from the same source. I also discovered a little packet tied up in age-yellowed newspaper. It reminds me of something, but of what? I drew it over beside the bed and felt it with the knob of my stick. And my hand understood, it understood softness and lightness, better I think than if it had touched the thing directly, fingering it and weighing it in its palm. I resolved, I don’t know why, not to undo it. I sent it back into the corner, with the rest. I shall speak of it again perhaps, when the time comes. I shall say, I can hear myself already, Item, a little packet, soft, and light as a feather, tied up in newspaper. It will be my little mystery, all my own. Perhaps it is a lack of rupees. Or a lock of hair.

  I told myself too that I must make better speed. True lives do not tolerate this excess of circumstance. It is there the demon lurks, like the gonococcus in the folds of the prostate. My time is limited. It is thence that one fine day, when all nature smiles and shines, the rack lets loose its black unforgettable cohorts and sweeps away the blue for ever. My situation is truly delicate. What fine things, what momentous things, I am going to miss through fear, fear of falling back into the old error, fear of not finishing in time, fear of revelling, for the last time, in a last outpouring of misery, impotence and hate. The forms are many in which the unchanging seeks relief from its formlessness. Ah yes, I was always subject to the deep thought, especially in the spring of the year. That one had been nagging at me for the past five minutes. I venture to hope there will be no more, of that depth. After all it is not important not to finish, there are worse things than velleities. But is that the point? Quite likely. All I ask is that the last of mine, as long as it lasts, should have living for its theme, that is all, I know what I mean. If it begins to run short of life I shall feel it. All I ask is to know, before I abandon him whose life has so well begun, that my death and mine alone prevents him from living on, from winning, losing, joying, suffering, rotting and dying, and that even had I lived he would have waited, before he died, for his body to be dead. That is what you might call taking a reef in your sails.

  My body does not yet make up its mind. But I fancy it weighs heavier on the bed, flattens and spreads. My breath, when it comes back, fills the room with its din, though my chest moves no more than a sleeping child’s. I open my eyes and gaze unblinkingly and long at the night sky. So a tiny tot I gaped, first at the novelties, then at the antiquities. Between it and me the pane, misted and smeared with the filth of years. I should like to breathe on it, but it is too far away. It is such a night as Kaspar David Friedrich loved, tempestuous and bright. That name that comes back to me, those names. The clouds scud, tattered by the wind, across a limpid ground. If I had the patience to wait I would see the moon. But I have not. Now that I have looked I hear the wind. I close my eyes and it mingles with my breath. Words and images run riot in my head, pursuing, flying, clashing, merging, endlessly. But beyond this tumult there is a great calm, and a great indifference, never really to be troubled by anything again. I turn a little on my side, press my mouth against the pillow, and my nose, crush against the pillow my old hairs now no doubt as white as snow, pull the blanket over my head. I feel, deep down in my trunk, I cannot be more explicit, pains that seem new to me. I think they are chiefly in my back. They have a kind of rhythm, they even have a kind of little tune. They are bluish. How bearable all that is, my God. My head is almost facing the wrong way, like a bird’s. I part my lips, now I have the pillow in my mouth. I have, I have. I suck. The search for myself is ended. I am buried in the world, I knew I would find my place there one day, the old world cloisters me, victorious. I am happy, I knew I would be happy one day. But I am not wise. For the wise thing now would be to let go, at this instant of happiness. And what do I do? I go back again to the light, to the fields I so longed to love, to the sky all astir with little white clouds as white and light as snowflakes, to the life I could never manage, through my own fault perhaps, through pride, or pettiness, but I don’t think so. The beasts are at pasture, the sun warms the rocks and makes them glitter. Yes, I leave my happiness and go back to the race of men too, they come and go, often with burdens. Perhaps I have judged them ill, but I don’t think so, I have not judged them at all. All I want now is to make a last effort to understand, to begin to understand, how such creatures are possible. No, it is not a question of understanding. Of what then? I don’t know. Here I go none the less, mistakenly. Night, storm and sorrow, and the catalepsies of the soul, this time I shall see that they are good. The last word is not yet said between me and – yes, the last word is said. Perhaps I simply want to hear it said again. Just once again. No, I want nothing.

  The Lamberts. The Lamberts found it difficult to live, I mean to make ends meet. There was the man, the woman and two children, a boy and a girl. There at least is something that admits of no controversy. The father was known as Big Lambert, and big he was indeed. He had married his young cousin and was still with her. This was his third or fourth marriage. He had other children here and there, grown men and women imbedded deep in life, hoping for nothing more, from themselves or from others. They helped him, each one according to his means, or the humour of the moment, out of gratitude towards him but for whom they had never seen the light of day, or saying, with indulgence, If it had not been he it would have been someone else. Big Lambert had not a tooth in his head and smoked his cigarettes in a cigarette-holder, while regretting his pipe. He was highly thought of as a bleeder and disjointer of pigs and greatly sought after, I exaggerate, in that capacity. For his fee was lower than the butcher’s, and he had even been known to demand no more, in return for his services, than a lump of gammon or a pig’s cheek. How plausible all that is. He often spoke of his father with respect and tenderness. His like will not be seen again, he used to say, once I am gone. He must have said this in other words. His great days then fell in December and January, and from February onwards he waited impatiently for the return of that season, the principal event of which is unquestionably the Saviour’s birth, in a stable, while wondering if he would be spared till then. Then he would set forth, hugging under his arm, in their case, the great knives so lovingly whetted before the fire the night before, and in his pocket, wrapped in paper, the apron destined to protect his Sunday suit while he worked. And at the thought that he, Big Lambert, was on his way towards that distant homestead where all was in readiness for his coming, and that in spite of his great age he was still needed, and his methods preferred to those of younger men, then his old heart exulted. From these expeditions he reached home late in the night, drunk and exhausted by the long road and the emotions of the day. And for days afterwards he could speak of nothing but the pig he had just dispatc
hed, I would say into the other world if I was not aware that pigs have none but this, to the great affliction of his family. But they did not dare protest, for they feared him. Yes, at an age when most people cringe and cower, as if to apologize for still being present, Lambert was feared and in a position to do as he pleased. And even his young wife had abandoned all hope of bringing him to heel, by means of her cunt, that trump card of young wives. For she knew what he would do to her if she did not open it to him. And he even insisted on her making things easy for him, in ways that often appeared to her exorbitant. And at the least show of rebellion on her part he would run to the wash-house and come back with the battle and beat her until she came round to a better way of thinking. All this by the way. And to return to our pigs, Lambert continued to expatiate, to his near and dear ones, of an evening, while the lamp burned low, on the specimen he had just slaughtered, until the day he was summoned to slaughter another. Then all his conversation was of this new pig, so unlike the other in every respect, so quite unlike, and yet at bottom the same. For all pigs are alike, when you get to know their little ways, struggle, squeal, bleed, squeal, struggle, bleed, squeal and faint away, in more or less the same way exactly, a way that is all their own and could never be imitated by a lamb, for example, or a kid. But once March was out Big Lambert recovered his calm and became his silent self again.

  The son, or heir, was a great strapping lad with terrible teeth.

  The farm. The farm was in a hollow, flooded in winter and in summer burnt to a cinder. The way to it lay through a fine meadow. But this fine meadow did not belong to the Lamberts, but to other peasants living at a distance. There jonquils and narcissi bloomed in extraordinary profusion, at the appropriate season. And there at nightfall, stealthily, Big Lambert turned loose his goats.

  Strange to say this gift that Lambert possessed when it came to sticking pigs seemed of no help to him when it came to rearing them, and it was seldom his own exceeded nine stone. Clapped into a tiny sty on the day of its arrival, in the month of April, it remained there until the day of its death, on Christmas Eve. For Lambert persisted in dreading for his pigs, though every passing year proved him wrong, the thinning effects of exercise. Daylight and fresh air he dreaded for them too. And it was finally a weak pig, blind and lean, that he lay on its back in the box, having tied its legs, and killed, indignantly but without haste, upbraiding it the while for its ingratitude, at the top of his voice. For he could not or would not understand that the pig was not to blame, but he himself, who had coddled it unduly. And he persisted in his error.

  Dead world, airless, waterless. That’s it, reminisce. Here and there, in the bed of a crater, the shadow of a withered lichen. And nights of three hundred hours. Dearest of lights, wan, pitted, least fatuous of lights. That’s it, babble. How long can it have lasted? Five minutes? Ten minutes? Yes, no more, not much more. But my sliver of sky is silvery with it yet. In the old days I used to count, up to three hundred, four hundred, and with other things too, the showers, the bells, the chatter of the sparrows at dawn, or with nothing, for no reason, for the sake of counting, and then I divided, by sixty. That passed the time, I was time, I devoured the world. Not now, any more. A man changes. As he gets on.

  In the filthy kitchen, with its earth floor, Sapo had his place, by the window. Big Lambert and his son left their work, came and shook his hand, then went away, leaving him with the mother and the daughter. But they too had their work, they too went away and left him, alone. There was so much work, so little time, so few hands. The woman, pausing an instant between two tasks, or in the midst of one, flung up her arms and, in the same breath, unable to sustain their great weight, let them fall again. Then she began to toss them about in a way difficult to describe, and not easy to understand. The movements resembled those, at once frantic and slack, of an arm shaking a duster, or a rag, to rid it of its dust. And so rapid was the trepidation of the limp, empty hands that there seemed to be four or five at the end of each arm, instead of the usual one. At the same time angry unanswerable questions, such as, What’s the use? fell from her lips. Her hair came loose and fell about her face. It was thick, grey and dirty, for she had no time to tend it, and her face was pale and thin and as though gouged with worry and its attendant rancours. The bosom – no, what matters is the head and then the hands it calls to its help before all else, that clasp, wring, then sadly resume their labour, lifting the old inert objects and changing their position, bringing them closer together and moving them further apart. But this pantomine and these ejaculations were not intended for any living person. For every day and several times a day she gave way to them, within doors and without. Then she little cared whether she was observed or not, whether what she was doing was urgent or could wait, no, but she dropped everything and began to cry out and gesticulate, the last of all the living as likely as not and dead to what was going on about her. Then she fell silent and stood stockstill a moment, before resuming whatever it was she had abandoned or setting about some new task. Sapo remained alone, by the window, the bowl of goat’s milk on the table before him, forgotten. It was summer. The room was dark in spite of the door and window open on the great outer light. Through these narrow openings, far apart, the light poured, lit up a little space, then died, undiffused. It had no steadfastness, no assurance of lasting as long as day lasted. But it entered at every moment, renewed from without, entered and died at every moment, devoured by the dark. And at the least abatement of the inflow the room grew darker and darker until nothing in it was visible any more. For the dark had triumphed. And Sapo, his face turned towards an earth so resplendent that it hurt his eyes, felt at his back and all about him the unconquerable dark, and it licked the light on his face. Sometimes abruptly he turned to face it, letting it envelop and pervade him, with a kind of relief. Then he heard more clearly the sounds of those at work, the daughter calling to her goats, the father cursing his mule. But silence was in the heart of the dark, the silence of dust and the things that would never stir, if left alone. And the ticking of the invisible alarm-clock was as the voice of that silence which, like the dark, would one day triumph too. And then all would be still and dark and all things at rest for ever at last. Finally he took from his pocket the few poor gifts he had brought, laid them on the table and went. But it sometimes happened, before he decided to go, before he went rather, for there was no decision, that a hen, taking advantage of the open door, would venture into the room. No sooner had she crossed the threshold than she paused, one leg hooked up under her breech, her head on one side, blinking, anxious. Then, reassured, she advanced a little further, jerkily, with concertina neck. It was a grey hen, perhaps the grey hen. Sapo got to know her well and, it seemed to him, to be well known by her. If he rose to go she did not fly into a flutter. But perhaps there were several hens, all grey and so alike in other respects that Sapo’s eye, avid of resemblances, could not tell between them. Sometimes she was followed by a second, a third and even a fourth, bearing no likeness to her, and but little to one another, in the matter of plumage and entasis. These showed more confidence than the grey, who had led the way and come to no harm. They shone an instant in the light, grew dimmer and dimmer as they advanced, and finally vanished. Silent at first, fearing to betray their presence, they began gradually to scratch and cluck, for contentment, and to relax their soughing feathers. But often the grey hen came alone, or one of the grey hens if you prefer, for that is a thing that will never be known, though it might well have been, without much trouble. For all that was necessary, in order that it might be known whether there was only one grey hen or more than one, was for someone to be present when all the hens came running towards Mrs. Lambert as she cried, Tweet! Tweet!, and banged on an old tin with an old spoon. But after all what use would that have been? For it was quite possible there were several grey hens, and yet only one in the habit of coming to the kitchen. And yet the experiment was worth making. For it was quite possible there was only one grey hen, even at feeding-time. W
hich would have clinched the matter. And yet that is a thing that will never be known. For among those who must have known, some are dead and the others have forgotten. And the day when it was urgent for Sapo to have this point cleared up, and his mind set at rest, it was too late. Then he was sorry he had not understood, in time to profit by it, the importance that those hours were one day to assume, for him, those long hours in that old kitchen where, neither quite indoors nor quite out of doors, he waited to be on his feet again, and in motion, and while waiting noted many things, among them this big, anxious, ashen bird, poised irresolute on the bright threshold, then clucking and clawing behind the range and fidgeting her atrophied wings, soon to be sent flying with a broom and angry cries and soon to return, cautiously, with little hesitant steps, stopping often to listen, opening and shutting her little bright black eyes. And so he went, all unsuspecting, with the fond impression of having been present at everyday scenes of no import. He stooped to cross the threshold and saw before him the well, with its winch, chain and bucket, and often too a long line of tattered washing, swaying and drying in the sun. He went by the little path he had come by, along the edge of the meadow in the shadow of the great trees that bordered the stream, its bed a chaos of gnarled roots, boulders and baked mud. And so he went, often unnoticed, in spite of his strange walk, his halts and sudden starts. Or the Lamberts saw him, from far off or from near by, or some of them from far off and the others from near by, suddenly emerge from behind the washing and set off down the path. Then they did not try to detain him or even call goodbye, unresentful at his leaving them in a way that seemed so lacking in friendliness, for they knew he meant no harm. Or if at the time they could not help feeling a little hurt, this feeling was quite dispelled a little later, when they found on the kitchen-table the crumpled paper-bag containing a few little articles of haberdashery. And these humble presents, but oh how useful, and this oh so delicate way of giving, disarmed them too at the sight of the bowl of goat’s milk only half emptied, or left untouched, and prevented them from regarding this as an affront, in the way tradition required. But it would appear on reflection that Sapo’s departure can seldom have escaped them. For at the least movement within sight of their land, were it only that of a little bird alighting or taking to wing, they raised their heads and stared with wide eyes. And even on the road, of which segments were visible more than a mile away, nothing could happen without their knowledge, and they were able not only to identify all those who passed along it and whose remoteness reduced them to the size of a pin’s head, but also to divine whence they were coming, where they were going, and for what purpose. Then they cried the news to one another, for they often worked at a great distance apart, or they exchanged signals, all erect and turned towards the event, for it was one, before bowing themselves down to the earth again. And at the first spell of rest taken in common, about the table or elsewhere, each one gave his version of what had passed and listened to those of the others. And if at first they were not in agreement about what they had seen, they talked it over doggedly until they were, in agreement I mean, or until they resigned themselves to never being so. It was therefore difficult for Sapo to glide away unseen, even in the deep shadow of the trees that bordered the stream, even supposing him to have been capable of gliding, for his movements were rather those of one floundering in a quag. And all raised their heads and watched him as he went, then looked at one another, before stooping to the earth again. And on each face bent to the earth there played perhaps a little smile, a little rictus rather, but without malice, each wondering perhaps if the others felt the same thing and making the resolve to ask them, at their next meeting. But the face of Sapo as he stumbled away, now in the shadow of the venerable trees he could not name, now in the brightness of the waving meadow, so erratic was his course, the face of Sapo was as always grave, or rather expressionless. And when he halted it was not the better to think, or the closer to pore upon his dream, but simply because the voice had ceased that told him to go on. Then with his pale eyes he stared down at the earth, blind to its beauty, and to its utility, and to the little wild many-coloured flowers happy among the crops and weeds. But these stations were short-lived, for he was still young. And of a sudden he is off again, on his wanderings, passing from light to shadow, from shadow to light, unheedingly.

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