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Prism international Prism international Apr 30, 1960

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I   I J I SPRING, i960
Faux Pas de Deux a. c. annan 4
The Lodge anne Marriott 7
Refuge at Eight alden a. nowlan 26
A way of seeing it david wevill 27
Death of a fly david wevill 27
Daughter of Tantalus r. b. irvine 28
Letter from Beyond (No. 1) melvin walker la follette        32
Night Dive robin mathews 34
The Coat alden a. nowlan 35
The Compartment melvin kero 37
Godman's Master Margaret laurence 46 HEADQUARTERS FOR YOUR RECORD NEEDS
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MUtual 1-4711 Vancouver, B.C. Faux PAS
(from ballet
There is a window,
In the wall of the world,
Pale veiled
With vagrant scarves of mist,
Where I can see the Phoenix.
Cast on copper seas
And lost
In isles of lonely dark;
Fair urns,
Pearled in webs of snow;
Through halls of half remembered time
In luminous ruins
In tomorrow's fragile twilight,
Where hazes blend,
And faceted,
Like the fire within ice,
The music of creation comes.
Secret sounds sidereal
Lotus lulled and litteral,
Sonoresce; Ophicleides coalesce
With oxymelled sequential;
Sericeous sounds sarsenet,
Infloresce and sonoresce.
Timbrels timballed rataplan
With the Orphic tintinnabulum -
ting — rallentando ■— ting,
ting-ting sonoresce.
Shawm, seraphine and salicional,
Lie lagan with the lutanist.
Roulades revelled rare,
'Tell me, tell me, Talisman,
Flame coursed revenant.'
'It is only the ebb and flow,
Where vies the vervain
And viburnum,
Violaceous, riverained,
With sapiglossi,
Coral corollaed riparian.
With April sibylline,
Jewelled in ripples, modulate
With liquescent opals myriad
In empyreal symmetry.
Take your senses,
Cleft white and pure
As Parian;
As passion fields poppy grown with sympathy
And memory,
The myriorama
'There is rapture. There are bells ■—■'
'A summer murmur, sprinkled sweet
As bells
That silver-soft in babyhood
And tinkle less with age;
Like treasures mingled,
Talmi-gold and ormolu,
As incense
For the dead that pleasures
Those who live;
When September's sigh
With them; Fades —
And leaves
But brittle bells to break the air.
'And the wind?'
The arborescence turns,
'A sifneur
In an empty lune.'
The tides make medley,
As senescent echoes
'But it is Eden!'
Fuse eloquence and fantasy.
With the thaumaturge I see
Now, the orris,
Fall aphyllous,
As azure ashes
Laced with osmund
And amaranthine lovage
To dust that softens
Sifted shafts of light;
Antemundane, lotus-lulled
And soporose,
Deft and pure,
Stir strange the secret strings,
In tragedy,
Tendril twined,
Where blazes end.
The fire-lyre cools to winter song
With rampant rampion ramage
rivelled          As the music dies,
And so do I.
Is sordine for the strings,
The bells —
6 1
William Bowen came to the Lodge, it seemed, entirely by chance.
Sweet chance, he was to think at times during the next few days. (He had
a great liking for lyrics, unavowed because of its incongruity. Though he
preferred the Elizabethan. Not only Elizabethan lyrics, the whole period
charmed him. Come live with me and be my Love; ruffs, doublets and
swords. He would see himself then in a ruff and doublet and close his eyes.
Incongruous was too gentle a word. Of course there was Falstaff, but he
thought they had only the one thing in common—).
William was later leaving Vancouver than he had intended, in the oldish,
wide car that held himself, his bags and fishing tackle with room if not too
much comfort. The canyon was closed on and off for construction, and he
went the longer way by Princeton. By the time he was heading north, it
was getting dusk. There was no reason why he should be heading north, as
far as that went, no reason why he should be heading anywhere. But he
had to drive in some direction. North, in the slump of mind and emotion
that followed the summer school session with its uneasy ending, seemed as
good a way to turn as any other.
Presently he slowed into a service station beside the highway, pushed
himself out from under the wheel and into the stare, all too familiar, of the
boy at the gas pumps. Paying for the fuel, William said to. an older man
who was apparently the proprietor, "Any place around here you'd recommend — hotel or motel ?"
The man glanced toward the car, noticing the tackle on the rear seat.
"After trout?" He pondered. "There's a dandy place by the river but it's
rather far to go tonight. I tell you —" he paused, and William, finding it
pleasant to have another human being take even this minimal interest in
his well-being, said encouragingly, "I'm not fussy, as long as its clean. It's
only to sleep in."
"Yeah," the man's expression cleared. "Well, there's a place along the
third turn north of here. The Lodge, it's called. I'm new here myself—■
just took this place in the spring — but I've heard there's a lake in there
where the trout bite pretty good—" his face clouded again and William
again encouraged, "It's just for overnight—I'll be going on early tomorrow." "Sure," said the man, suddenly brisk, moving to give the windshield,
smeared by the boy, another polish. "Sure! — I've never heard a thing
against the accommodation at the Lodge —" He went round the other side
of the car with his squeegee; he squirted and rubbed, saying no more.
"Thanks!" William said, waving, as he pulled away.
"Good fishing!" the other called, waving back.
Watching for the third turn north, William felt cheered both by the
encounter and by having a goal, however temporary, for his travel. But
by the time he found the Lodge, far down a winding, bumpy gravel road,
the depression of the last two weeks had seeped back.
He turned into the flat space in front of a building beside an expanse of
dimly gleaming water, stopped beside several already parked cars — the
nearest, he noticed as his headlights turned, had a United States licence
plate. He switched off the lights and the ignition and sat there, feeling too
heavy and discouraged to make a move.
He looked over toward the building. Lights showed from windows —
and he felt the first faint sense of shock. Strange windows, he thought, to
find in this part of the country. He rolled down the car pane, staring through
the dimness, all at once not a few hundred miles from Vancouver but a few
thousand; transported too in time, a younger, eager teacher on the summer
tour of Britain, gazing at Shakespeare's house, at manors and cottages discovered like Tudor treasure in villages less-known than Stratford.
For this house — on a sandy flat beside a British Columbia lake surrounded with jackpines — was half-timbered. More accurately, an attempt
had been made, not too successfully in his judgment, to create an effect of
half-timbering. Logs had been sawn and placed in the familiar pattern; the
windows were, of all things, diamond-paned. But the style was clear enough
to bring him a remembered sense of excitement, a feeling of summer mornings, of setting out with notebook and camera forgetful of his own difficulties and sensitivities in the pleasures of the chase.
Then the uprush of recollection was overwhelmed by another, earlier and
less happy. The smell of the pines, peppery and sweetish at once, had filled
the car through the open window. Underneath and through the odour was
a second scent, that of dry, sandy soil cooling after a hot day. On a still
lower level, filtering more slowly but gradually permeating the other scents,
was the smell of lake water, low in late summer. Suddenly, painfully, he
was by another such lake, transported now further in time though not in
He was on the cot-bed in the back room of the whipsawn homestead
dwelling. His mother was bringing him a drink of water, still, on the hot
August day, not completely cooled from its precautionary boiling. (Boiling
all water, as far as he could remember, was the only concrete recommendation made by the doctor along the line, when his mother had driven twenty-
eight miles in a neighbour's Model-T truck to the nearest station to phone desperately for assistance.)
Parched still by the fever, which was dwindling now somewhat after the
weeks of his never-explained illness, he had grabbed weakly for the cup,
spilling a little.
Sitting by this lake, he remembered the flat lukewarmness of that gulped
draught, his craving for cold. "I wish," he had muttered, "the lake had ice
on it—"
His mother, looking out of the window, had turned, replacing the cheerful expression she kept on her weary face almost before he had seen it was
missing. "It won't be long," she assured him, "before the cold weather
comes, Billy. And by then you'll be well again. You'll be skating on the
lake with the other children —"
Though as far as he could remember he had never skated again.
A sudden breeze across this lake brought the odour of low water into the
car even more strongly. With pettish violence, he ran the window up. But
he still did not get out of the car. He had thought he had come to terms
with himself and his life long ago, yet here he was, physically motionless
but with a sense of emotional movement, looseness even, as if the whole
adjustment had been a delusion, was to do again from the start. And surely
all of it — the aimlessness, the despondency, was not entirely the result of
that last week of the summer course, of the small socials teacher with her
oval pretty face, her look of poised understanding, her manner of friendliness and acceptance?
A door in the centre of the Lodge opened. Someone looked out, a black
shape against light, peered forward into the darkness. William realized
that his arrival had been noticed — the lights of his car turning in, of course.
Whoever operated this place with its curious bastard design would be
wondering what he was taking so long over.
Well, he had to stay the night somewhere and it seemed reasonable that
it should be at the Lodge as the Lodge was where he had come. He
wondered if he should lock the car and decided he did not care enough to
The person awaiting him in the lighted doorway was, he saw as he
approached, a woman. Her hair appeared to be dark but as he came closer
he could see it was iron-grey. Her face was in shadow but its paleness had
a squarish shape; her silhouetted body too seemed rectangular, in a straight
skirt below which her legs were planted rather far apart.
William reached the edge of the patch of light cast from the door. For
an instant he hesitated, then moved into the illumination. He could not
yet see defined features, much less expression, on the woman's face, but its
pale square seemed to become one of the mirrors he tried, even in his happiest moments, to evade. He saw what she was seeing — a man, tall (thank
God at least for that), preposterously fat, looking about to burst from his
clothes no matter how carefully they were tailored. Above his full, pinkish, sweaty face his fair hair was, in spite of all his efforts, now quickly receding.
The woman spoke. At her voice he was back once more, the eager summer
traveller in Britain. It was not a voice he had heard too often — those
around him as he travelled had usually had more colourful accents, more
common, less inhibited tones. But in an expensive shop, a first-class railway
carriage, it had been familiar.
The voice was brusque in spite of the words. She said, "Welcome to the
William Bowen entered the Lodge, past the door with its wrought iron
hinges and slightly uneven nail-studding, to a burst of rock-and-roll music.
It broke out — there was no other word for it — exactly as the grey-haired
woman stepped aside for him to go through the doorway with his bag.
She stepped aside — but scarcely enough. He had a horrifying feeling,
long since, he had thought, outgrown, that he was going not only to bump
into her but helplessly topple her off the two low steps into the faint sandy
shape of a flower bed traced with thin wilting plants. (English annuals,
he knew, without clearly seeing them).
Then, when he was actually (miraculously, it seemed) past the woman
and moving into the doorway, a worse fear rose from some deeper layer
of his consciousness. He was going to become jammed, with his bag, in the
entrance way. He saw himself, penned there, his fat legs struggling to move
his body on and through, doing some monstrous dance to the rhythm hammered out by the raucous voice from inside exhorting, over and over,
"Rock! Rock!"
But then of course he was through the door with sufficient margin each
side and the woman came around and past him and went to a square
counter-desk at the right hand side of the large room, which seemed to be
combination hall and lounge. There was a bell on the counter with an
amateurishly-lettered card, "Please Ring for Service," a Vancouver telephone book, some odds and ends of cards and papers.
"Rock! Rock!" urged the frantic voice from the end of the room to William's left. Without turning to look, he had an impression of figures, one
in particular, in violent motion.
The woman, the combination of refined accent and brusque tone still
more noticeable at close range, said, "If you'd please register —" She looked
under the counter, she said with irritation, "The book's not here •— Valerie
must have left it in her office. Just a moment —"
She sent a hostile glare from eyes that William noticed were an odd pale
blue, under heavy brindled brows, in the direction of someone whom he did
not trouble to turn and identify.
"Wait a minute, please," she said. She strode away from him, toward an
archway that led evidently into the back part of the building. The straight skirt, William noticed, was typical English tweed, slightly out of shape at
the rear. The square legs were in lisle stockings, terminating in large brown
brogues. The stride took her on through the archway and out of sight.
"Rock!" the voice was working up to a climatic frenzy. William felt
himself swaying in time to it —asa balloon, anchored to earth, moves from
side to side in a flurry of air. But it was the wrong kind of simile, a balloon
was light —. He was suddenly disgusted with his introspection, he straightened his bulging shoulders and turned deliberately to look at the other occupants of the room.
At the end where the record player seemed almost to be jumping with
the force of the sound emanating from it, five people were dancing — an
older couple, attempting to do a more conventional step, with some difficulty, to the rhythm; a younger couple, their agility a little hampered by
their desire to clasp each other close, and a young man performing on his
own. He was tall, lithe; he had an abundance of the wavy blonde hair from
which William was so sadly parting. He pranced, cavorted, stamped. At
the same time he did not appear ridiculous; rather it was a fine athletic
display. William found himself enjoying it, with the vicarious sense of
achievement with which he watched the performances of the gymnastic
stars among his students.
"Rock!" cried the voice from the record player, and, having possibly
burst a blood vessel with the ultimate effort of the cry, was silent. The older
couple sat down, panting slightly. The young couple sat down, arms still
around each other. The young man, unruffled, went to the record player
and began turning over a stack of discs.
Losing interest in the group (they were possibly as transient here as himself) William looked about the big room. Around the plastered walls ran a
geometrically exact row of English hunting prints. Men with thin nostrils
wore pink coats, bestrode polished horses; hounds skirmished out from the
riders. (Out of the picture — out of the Lodge — to turn up perhaps a
grizzly bear? That would surely distend some of the pinched noses! Though
he did not know if this were the true territory for the grizzly —) William
left the hounds to their fate and looked over to where the wall, on the left
of the archway through which the woman had disappeared, bulged out into
a stone fireplace reaching to the ceiling. A brass bowl of pine boughs filled
the hearth —
The hearth. William had another sense of shock. They were so silent, so
unmoving, he had not realized one other person was in the room, much
less two. But of course, that was the direction in which the grey-haired
woman had shot that look of acidity.
At that moment she strode back into the lounge, a flat black book under
her arm. She said sarcastically toward the fireplace, "This had mysteriously
got into the strong-box along with the ledgers —" William got the impression that she would have liked to say more, that she repressed it with an effort. A slight brownish colour had come into her sallow, dry-skinned face.
"I'm sorry to keep you waiting so long." She suddenly assumed something
resembling the conventional hospitable charm of the innkeeper. "That was
quite inexcusable —" She opened the book, turned it right way up for him
to sign, extending a pen. "Your car licence number as well as your name
and address, please."
He began to write in his neat blackboard script, while she waited. "I just
want a room for one night —" he said, "I'll be going on early —"
"Perhaps we can persuade you to stay longer." It was still the conventional charm, mostly meaningless. "My name is Miss Greene — I'm the
owner of the Lodge." She exchanged the information for the register which
he handed back to her.
An old-fashioned telephone with a crank handle on the wall behind the
counter gave three rings.
"Excuse me —" the woman turned to it. "Hello. This is the Lodge. Yes,
Operator, I said this is the Lodge. Very well, I'll hang on —"
At the other end of the room, the blonde athlete started another record.
Miss Greene turned her back entirely to William, she covered her free ear
with her hand. "Really!" she said into the mouthpiece with extreme
The music was slower, sweeter this time. The couple danced as before,
the younger pair flattened against each other. The single young man
glanced toward the fireplace, he looked hurriedly away from it. He bent
over the pile of records; at the same time he danced, little steps, in one spot,
his face intent on the discs while his feet moved without a break in rhythm.
William noted this with slight interest. He looked again toward the fireplace. He continued to look; he knew in kindness he should look away —
who knew that better than himself ? — but could not.
As he was already aware, there were two people beside the hearth. One
was seated. She was a white-haired woman — no, her hair was not anything as positive as white, rather it seemed to have given up whatever colour
it might once have had. Like the woman now talking on the telephone,
she wore a tweed skirt, and a pullover sweater that lay limply on a thin
chest. In spite of the warmth of the night, of the room, this woman had a
Victorian-type shawl about her shoulders, a greyish lavenderish shawl, huddled around her long neck.
But at the moment he could only spare her a small undercurrent of speculation. It was the other person who so intently held his attention, who gave
him a sense of physical as well as emotional unease.
She looked no older — though she might well be — than some of his
students. She had a small, pale wedge-shaped face; an unkind person would
certainly have called it rabbitty. Her hair had a rabbitty look also — it was
soft, fine, but a nondescript brownish colour. It seemed merely to grow on
her head in no particular arrangement. The only thing which gave some interest to her appearance was the eyes
— too far from him for William to have any idea of their colour, they
showed only as unusually large. Perhaps too large, rather than adding
beauty, he thought after all they lessened it, over-dramatic, top-heavy.
Suddenly (as if, he thought disgustedly, he had not been reminded of
enough things and many of them painful, in the few minutes since he had
turned in the entrance to the Lodge) something new forced itself up from
memory. Or something old, something he had been trying to keep out of
conscious recollection for many months now, even years. He remembered
Lollie. This girl was like Lollie.
"Nonsense!" he said to himself angrily. There was not the slightest resemblance to Lollie, at least not in the ways in which ordinary people
counted resemblance. But in the ways which he counted—. He pushed
Lollie back into the ghost-chamber which she inhabited somewhere in his
head. He concentrated on the girl beside the fireplace.
She was leaning against the stonework, rather she was pressing back
against it. Her hands were at her sides, thrust so hard against the rough
stones that William could almost feel the rasp of rock on skin; his own
palms moved. She was staring at the young man by the record player.
William realized that, without being totally aware of it, he had seen out
of the corner of his eye, as the young man gave his swift glance toward the
fireplace, the girl make an eager, uncoordinated movement forward, instantly rejected.
But she was still gazing at the young man — nq, now, William observed,
she was staring at the whole separate scene at the end of the room, at the
dancing couples with their impression of gaiety and — well, you could call
it affection. Her look was the terrible one he had seen from time to time on
the face of students of both sexes — the hopeless, avid look of the one on
the outside looking in, paralyzed by the longing for inclusion, doubly paralyzed by the fear under the longing that, if by some miracle he were invited
inside, his situation would prove still more terrible — inside with no least
inkling of how to behave.
William made himself move his eyes from the girl's face. The ultimate
dread, he knew, was of being caught so, exposed. Because he had to look
somewhere, he looked back at the woman beside the girl. With another
small shock, he saw that she had the same disproportionate eyes; they had
in the woman even a faint residual beauty. He realized they were mother
and daughter.
The mother too, William saw, had been looking at the girl, had looked
away from her even as his own eyes moved. With a great deal more shock
he saw that the woman's face wore an expression, unbelievable but unmistakable, of satisfaction.
"Well!" said Miss Greene, behind the desk.
William realized that there had been the faint tinkling rasp of the tele-
13 phone being rung off. "Well!" she repeated. "People actually expecting us
to still have reservations available for the Labour Day weekend!" She came
around the counter, replacing the hospitable-innkeeper manner as she did
so, "I am so very sorry for these delays, Mr. Bowen. They really were unavoidable. But now let me take you to your room at once —"
He could see the foot of a staircase on the far side of the archway. As she
strode once again toward it, he picked up his bag, with the awkward lurch
necessitated by his figure, and followed her.
As he went he glanced, without consciously intending to, again toward
the fireplace. The woman had shrunk back into her shawl; she was looking
at the bunch of pine boughs as if their rough prickly shapes offended her.
The girl was looking at William.
For only a moment he caught her look; he was moving on, replying to
Miss Greene who, with hospitality almost over-intensified, was asking if he
liked fishing. But going up the stairs he saw, not the slightly stretched area
of Miss Greene's tweed skirt preceding him, but the girl's large eyes. The
look. What had it been ? Not the usual surprise, curiosity; not the occasional
revulsion nor amusement like the inebriated couple who, with great nudg-
ings, had asked him the way to the circus. If it had not been so palpably
absurd he would have said the girl looked at him with hope. Trying to
analyze it accurately he stumbled on the top step.
Then he forgot the look, saw only a door being opened ahead of him,
the room beyond, rather small but with a bed that appeared large enough
and strong enough to hold him in comfort. He was all at once overwhelmingly tired. No doubt it was the long day's driving — but even so, he could
scarcely remember such a sudden feeling of exhaustion.
He thanked Miss Greene and, the door closed behind her, with a
moment's cautious proving of the springs, not even bothering to take off
his shoes he sprawled across the spread and closed his eyes.
William had been lying on the bed for perhaps five minutes when he heard
the small sound. He had not yet begun to relax. When he closed his eyes
trees and rocks, rolling dry-belt hills and summer-low rivers circled and
zig-zagged in his mind. Behind the rivers and trees, as if the thoughts in a
deeper level of his mind were protruding up, half-obscured, into a nearer,
conscious level, faces and bodies seemed to move. There were blurred shapes
and features, long forgotten and of a significance which at present evaded
him, from his English trip, summoned he supposed by the voice of Miss
Greene. Zooming suddenly through them, in and out of focus, like a series
of frames from a surrealist film, was the calm oval face of the Socials
teacher at summer school. (Could he truly, fairly, lay the blame for his
depression at her door?) It changed abruptly, horribly, again with surreal-
14 istic effect into the face of Lollie as he had last seen her. (And that ghost,
one might say, not only should not reappear, but had no right to reappear!
It had been well and truly laid, by good sense and reason, long since. "I
will not recognize you!" he said.)
At the sound at the door, William opened his eyes and the confusion of
scenery and faces retreated. Or was there a sound ? It had scarcely been a
knock, more like a tiny scrabble. He lay listening; it was not repeated. He
decided he had been mistaken but then because, perhaps, the physical effort
of getting off the bed and opening the door would banish the waiting faces
he struggled up. He opened the door. The girl — Valerie, had Miss Greene
called her? — was standing in the corridor.
"Yes?" he said.
He had a feeling that a carefully prepared expression on her face had
disintegrated at his appearing; at any rate the small rabbitty mouth was
quivering. She moved back against the opposite wall, pressing into it as she
had pressed against the fireplace downstairs.
15 The mouth opened; it moved as if about to form words but the movement stopped, the lips closed. The large eyes — there was not enough light
in the hall for William to determine their colour even yet, though he could
see they were pale but not, he thought, as pale as those of Miss Greene —
the large eyes had an unfocussed look as if, seeing him before her, she was
trying not to see him, to make herself not here, the knock silenced, never
Regarding her, William felt his own sadness, the sadness of the faces
moving in his mind, his pity for all the unwanted and for his unwanted self
snowballing into a great cold weight inside him. The cold seemed to spread
through his limbs; he stood there, frozen, as paralyzed as she.
At last she made a faint sound, wordless. She turned her head away, she
inched sideways along the wall, away from him, looking toward the head
of the stairs as if to will herself across the intervening space.
The ice in William's veins melted, thawed by the necessity for immediate
action. Here was something to be said, done; even a few words might get
to this one before it was too late, do something to warm the frost already
thickening around her.
"Did you want me for something, Valerie — that's your name, isn't it?"
he asked gently.
The light-coloured eyes slewed around to his. Her face, as far as he could
tell in the indistinct light, became blotchily red. But she pushed herself
away from the wall, her narrow shoulders straightening. A new expression
appeared on her face — it was determinedly casual, light-hearted; it became
by degrees —■ oh, horrible, he thought, but perhaps oh, inevitable — faintly
and then atrociously coy.
She spoke at last. Her voice was light, tinkling — the voice of the better-
class shop and railway carriage. She said, "Would you care to come down
and dance ? — I'm supposed — to see that our guests have a good time,
you know —•" It had all the flatness of an over-rehearsed speech, it petered
out as if the girl herself heard the falsity and could not bear it. She put a
finger-nail between her teeth; she slithered away along the wall.
To dance! For a moment his own mouth opened at the irony of the suggestion. The face of the socials teacher, charming even when adamantine,
hung in the hall before him. But it dissolved, was dispelled, by the intensity
of the face actually confronting him. It was redder now, the mouth twisting, the teeth savage on the finger-nail.
"Thank you," said William, "that's very kind of you. I should like to
come down and dance."
The finger fell from between her teeth. "You would?" she said, "Really?"
Her thin body seemed to jolt with the shock of the unexpected; braced for
the expected, the rebuff, it relaxed jerkily.
"I'd better clean up a bit after my long drive," he said, "but it won't take
me long. I'll come down in a few minutes." He smiled at her. Still shocked,
16 she scarcely smiled in return.
He closed his door, turned toward the towel rack. To dance! Here, with
her! And the socials teacher, with her smoothness and suppleness — Oh
irony indeed. No, it was more — or less — than irony, it had turned into
low comedy. All that was necessary was for Miss Greene to supply the
custard pie. For the first time in days, William, drying his hands, began to
laugh. He felt suddenly refreshed and with more than soap and water.
William was, had the socials teacher but known — but no, it would have
made no difference — a reasonably good dancer. (Dancing was also the
only non-solitary activity he had made the not inconsiderable effort, for a
complexity of reasons, to master). Though there was always the moment
of awkwardness as he took hold of an unfamiliar partner, a difficult adjusting of position to accommodate his girth. But this time he scarcely felt the
uncomfortable seconds of his own self-consciousness, so aware was he of
From the instant he touched her he knew it would be as he suspected —
knew too, of course, why the young man, still dancing solo by the record-
player, had turned away with such decision — violence, almost — from
Valerie stiff with eagerness by the fireplace. She was stiff now, but with
fear. Her body seemed to have no young girl softness, even its surface seemed
rigid to brittleness. He was abruptly angry, even disproportionately so.
What had happened to this child ? And those two women — the one by the
fireplace with her foolish shawl, the one behind the desk with her heavy
brogues — what had they been doing to let this happen ? Those two pairs
of light eyes, watchful on her even now, he felt without seeing, were they
entirely blind?
"Let's go —" said William.
They took a few stumbling steps and stopped. "I'm sorry, Valerie — it
was my fault," he said encouragingly and untruthfully. They started again.
Slowly, infinitely painfully, Valerie lurching and tripping, they made a
circle of the lounge. She stood still, she pulled away from him.
"I'm sorry —" it was so low he could scarcely hear the tinkling voice, a
faint stream petering out, far away. "I'm terribly sorry. I — shouldn't have
asked — I just wanted — so much —." It dried up into silence.
"Listen, Valerie," he said. He put a hand on her shoulder but lifted it
quickly, with the sensation its hamlike weight would crack the thin sharp
bones. "Listen —" he tried to balance persuasion and authority in his tone,
it had struck him that a classroom manner might get some response. "All
that's the matter is that you're anxious — you're worrying about where to
put your feet. You have to relax. Concentrate on the music — the rhythm
— it will carry you along and your feet will take care of themselves."
She looked up at him. He saw that the approach had worked, that there
17 had been something in his tone that she recognized, that had penetrated to
her intelligence, her will. "Really?" she said, then with a slipping back,
"But probably you'd rather sit down — you would — I'm sorry."
"Look," he said, "I came down to dance. That's what I'd rather do. So
come on — let's try again —"
Gradually, there was the faintest improvement. "Your name is Valerie,"
he said, trying to distract her, "But I don't know the rest of it—not Valerie
"Nq, Valerie Paget," she said, "Miss Greene's my aunt — my mother's
Mrs. Paget, Miss Greene's sister."
The current record stopped. William let Valerie go, she stood uncertain,
the finger creeping to her mouth. "I hope you're going to go on dancing
with me," he said (from one aspect, it was entirely true), "Just a minute,
though —"
The young man at the record player was about to put a new disc on the
turntable, humming under his breath, trying out a rhythm with one toe.
"Excuse me —" said William, "Excuse me, but — could we have something a trifle slower this time? Something with a fairly steady rhythm?"
He looked at the pile of records, he saw a title on top, recognized it, picked
up the disc. "If you don't mind —." Fie became aware that his classroom
manner had intensified, that the young man was looking at him with some
hostility, combined with a little contempt.
For a moment William thought the young man would refuse the record
he was extending, push it aside; might even — his mind leaping ahead, its
agility perhaps always a compensation for the lack of it in his body—might
even throw it cracking on the floor or — fitting fantasy in what seemed by
the moment this more fantastic place — split it over William's balding head.
But the young man laid the disc he was holding slowly back on to the
pile, and as slowly took the one from William's outstretched hand. His eyes
flickered over William — William felt them flick, from the bundle of fat
over his collar to the huge thighs for which his trousers never seemed to
provide enough room — and then to Valerie, standing hands slack at her
sides, her mouth sagging, not believing William meant to return, the
habitual acceptance of rejection forming in her face.
The young man shrugged his shoulders. "Suit yourself," he said, and put
the record on the player.
William and Valerie danced three records together. Their progress in the
third record, though an immeasurable distance from being smooth, was still
greatly improved from the agony of their beginning. And was there, he
debated, in that small rabbitty face, the first faint — intimation? Scarcely
as much as that — of reassurance? Something resembling a sky still as
18 black as midnight yet with some indefinable appearance about it that suggests dawn is not far off?
Nonsense, William thought. Wishful nonsense. As if a few dances, with
a man such as himself, could make any difference, lighten in the least the
darkness which had in ways unknown to him overtaken this girl. In imagining such a thing he was merely comforting his conscience, preparing the
way for an untroubled retreat to the comfortable room upstairs which
loomed more and more inviting in his mind. He would go up soon, satisfied
that he had done his compassionate duty to this girl — and, after all, what
more was required of him ? He had come down to dance — But this reasoning was all too like that which had occupied his mind for many months,
reasoning which had never — as tonight had amply shown — laid with any
effectiveness the ghost— "Enough of that!" he said to himself. He said to
Valerie, "You're improving — that was much better," as another record
ended and they came to a stop.
"Really?" she said.
Wishful thinking or not, there was a lightening in her face! The large
eyes, William had now had a chance to discover, were a soft light blue —
English skies, exactly, he thought. There had been this identical colour one
morning at Stratford —
The young man by the record player looked across at William and
Valerie. The exceedingly direct lighting of the Lodge (some of the electric
light bulbs ranged around the walls were lacking shades) gave his waving
blonde hair a film-star burnish. Valerie was looking now at the young man.
(She had been careful not to do so, William had thought, while they were
dancing). William wondered fleetingly if she admired the blonde hair.
Somewhere he felt a faint, astonished pang but it was forgotten as he met
the young man's eyes directly on his own. The tinge of contempt was still
indubitably present in the look, combined with a certain -and-what-are-
you-going-to-do-about-it challenge and determination. He took up a record,
his eyes still on William, then he turned and set the needle into the first
"Rock! Rock!" began the hurtling, exhorting voice once more.
William felt only a sense of relief. He could, now, with complete decency
excuse himself and make for the comfort of that adequate and soft bed.
"I'm afraid this is beyond my speed, Valerie," he said, "but it's been fun.
Don't forget next time you're dancing — relax and let the music take over.
Now, I think if you'll excuse me —"
But the finger had flown to the mouth again. "Oh—" she said. She
glanced, sidelong, in a curious furtive way toward the fireplace. William
had been aware, as they danced, that Miss Greene had come out from behind the counter-desk and had sat beside the hearth, the spiky pine boughs
in the brass bowl outthrust between her and her sister. The resemblance
between them was slight; in fact it only existed, William thought, in the eye
19 of the beholder aware of the relationship. But he had been too intent on the
skills needed for guiding Valerie's uncertain steps to pay the women any
attention, though he suspected that two pairs of light eyes followed all his
But now, with Valerie's unhappy glance, he was immediately and intensely aware of the two women and their watchfulness. He looked, casually,
in their direction. Miss Greene's square face was expressionless; she merely
stared, cold-eyed, apparently drawing conclusions from what she saw but
their nature unrevealed. On the other hand the woman with the shawl —
Mrs. Paget — seemed plainly distressed. On her pale face — it, too, seemed
to have given up whatever colour it might once have had — a furrowing
and wrinkling came and went and returned more deeply. Her hands plucked
at the shawl. Her lips formed a word, at first soundless, then audible.
"Valerie!" It was pitched low but with a guarded sharpness that reached
across the lounge, darting through the jumpy web of noise from the record
Valerie turned her back on her mother. She said rapidly, her face blotching with red, her tinkling voice frantically coy, "Wouldn't you like to go out
on the balcony? It's a very pretty view — the moonlight on the lake—"
From consultation of calendars while planning his holiday (if that uninterested consideration of routes could have been called planning) William
was quite sure that there would be no moonlight tonight.
"Well — just for a minute, then —" He did not realize how unwilling he
sounded until he saw her face, saw that in another instant she would begin
again to apologize, backtrack, lose whatever fraction of ground she had
gained during the dancing.
"— For just a minute, or I'm afraid I'll go to sleep standing up," he
amended, smiling at her. "You see, I've had a pretty long day's driving."
"Oh — of course," the rabbitty mouth lost its quiver. She put her hand
tentatively on his arm, "It's this way — the door at the far end —"
As they moved, William heard Mrs. Paget's voice again, louder as if she
were abandoning any pretence of discretion, "Valerie!" If Valerie heard
it — of course she could not help hearing it — her response was a quickening of their progress toward the distant door.
The balcony was completely dark. After a minute or two, the shapes of
the nearby pines became darker than the air around them; the lake took
form, gleaming dimly below. There was, of course, no moon. To William's
relief, Valerie did not apologize for the fact.
Actually she had said nothing since they came out; she leaned, he could
see presently, against a railing surrounding the three outjutting sides of the small platform that seemed an alien growth on the side of the half-timbering. William did not dare lean on the railing himself; he stood a foot or two
in from it, smelling the low lake water but receiving no further evocation
from the past. If the odour had any effect now, it merely increased his feeling of weariness. His legs, cramped all day in the car, now began to ache
from the weight of his body that seemed to sag down, heavier and heavier,
as if it were going to drag him down through the balcony floor, deep into
the earth unseen below.
Then he grew aware that Valerie was becoming increasingly nervous. She
fidgetted; he heard a sharp nibbling sound as she bit a fingernail. He tried
to think of something to say but the most satisfactory treatment of the situation eluded him. While he was still searching for it she turned abruptly toward him, the coyness more pronounced in her tone.
"Tell me all about yourself, William!"
From what passe romance had she garnered that approach, he wondered.
At least it had proved a point on which he had been in doubt — whether
such a phrase was ever used by an actual person, in real life. At the same
time he heard himself make the stock response, "There's really not very
much to tell."
Aware that this was about to cut the conversation off and make things
worse than they were before he added, "I mean — nothing very exciting.
I'm a teacher — High School English."
"Oh," she said. She sounded a little interested. "I liked English when I
was at school," she said, "at least I liked literature — that's what you mean,
isn't it? I hated grammar though—"
"It can be dull stuff," he conceded, then, "Where did you go to school,
Valerie ? Is there a high school near here ?"
"No," she said, "I took nearly all of my lessons by correspondence —"
He had a sudden, unlooked-for feeling of a bond. "So did I! All mine."
(He remembered the certain excitement there had been in the arrival of the
large envelope with his corrected papers, the eagerness to see his mark. He
remembered the pleasure of his swift progress through the English papers,
the laborious drag of mathematics. "Perhaps you'd better leave it, Billy —
I don't like you to get too tired since you were so ill —" his mother would
say, doubtfully, and he would put the algebra away, relieved and resentful;
he would be glad underneath his crossness when his father came in and insisted that the paper must be completed.)
"I had never been in a classroom until I went down to University," he
added. "But — you said nearly all —?"
"When I was fifteen, I went to the coast to school." It was a flat statement. She bowed over the railing; she seemed to curl away into herself, even
her voice seemed constricted. "A boarding-school."
"One of those girls' private schools? I know—" That, he thought, would
have helped the perpetuation of the English accent. "Were you there long?" "One year — nearly one year," she said. She seemed to shrink further
over the rail, then abruptly straightened, "Aunt made me go."
The four words had a violence and bitterness that shocked him, that, he
thought a minute later, made his only excuse for surely the most unpercep-
tive remark ever utttered, "Did you like it?"
She was entirely still and silent. "I liked the lessons," she said at last. The
four words were as flat and lifeless as the previous four had been charged
with violence. She moved away from William, he had a feeling that she
was withdrawing not only her body but her personality, far into some convoluted inner corridors and chambers where, if those about her were not
careful (those two inexplicable staring women, even, for this brief time,
himself) it might become entrapped, struggle hopelessly until it finally
perished. He said quickly, to bring her back from even a small retreat
(what had they done to her at that school?), "Tell me about your life in
England. How long is it since you came to B.C.?"
With relief he saw the withdrawal reversed; she turned to him, now
over-eager to communicate. "Oh, I don't remember England at all! I was
only a baby when we came to Canada — in the first year of the war. My
father had been killed, you see — he was in the Royal Air Force. He was
killed right at the beginning of the war — before I was born, actually. It
upset Mummy terribly —• she's never been the same since. Aunt thought
she ought to get her away from the raids and everything — and it would
be safer for us all — so we came out here."
"And your aunt built the Lodge?"
"Yes — at least, she helped to run a place down at the coast first of all,
but then she felt we must go somewhere where Mummy could have more
quiet. Aunt had had a guest-house in England — a very exclusive sort of
place of course — so she knew just what to do —" She stopped as suddenly
as she had begun.
William stood thinking of the ravaged face of the woman in the shawl.
Had she sat huddling her grief about her for — it must be twenty years ?
The faces and figures that had moved, obscured so that he could not
identify them, behind his immediate consciousness as he lay on the bed upstairs came forward abruptly so that he saw and knew them. And, as he
had thought, it had been the voice of Miss Greene that had summoned them
out of memory — that brusque yet refined accent, heard though in a different setting. He saw in his mind the lawn, a hundred years old, velvet —
no, satin in its smoothness — roses hanging heavy over loamy borders. For
an instant he smelt the roses, the tender grass, rather than the lake water,
the cooling sand, the dry pines.
Major and Mrs.—the name was there behind his consciousness and would
not come forward to label the faces. No matter. The Major had been the
uncle of an exchange teacher from England with whom William had worked
for a year. It had been a pleasant association, William eager to hear details of the country which was background of all he taught, the exchange teacher
— what was his name? Philip —■ Philip as eager to impart to a Canadian
these details of his older land.
Then, when William had gone to see the country for himself, Philip had
given him the address of the uncle and aunt. The aunt had written a hospitable letter inviting William for a weekend, but he (after all, Philip might
not have warned them; the bed, even the chairs at the dining table, might
not support him) —■ he had regretted being able only to drop in for tea. It
had turned out that he was the one who came to the meeting unwarned.
At this moment, in this illusory scent of roses, he saw himself lumbering
eagerly but nervously between stone gateposts and up a winding drive. Then
the strong masculine voice had hailed him. He had turned, for a moment
unable to locate it, and then seen, close to him, the chair.
All he could think of, as he stammered out greetings, was "How little is
left of him! To be still living — with so little left!" A trunk, the stump of
an arm — yet the eyes bright, the voice hearty, calling, "Mary! Philip's
Canadian friend is here!" asking questions, the face showing what was
surely genuine interest.
Presently, Mrs. — Mary — no, the surname remained out of reach —
had taken William on a tour of the roses, carrying a small basket and scissors to clip dying heads as she went. William, sweaty still with shock and
the effort to meet the situation with the casualness of its main participants,
had suddenly blurted, and been ashamed, "Was it — the war?"
"The First War," the wife had said a little coldly, (as he could imagine
Miss Greene being cold to any such personal enquiry).
The First War — that meant, he thought dizzily, more than thirty years
— like that. So little to have lived so long — he brushed the back of his fat
hand across his eyes. The Major's wife must have realized his distress for
she said, more kindly, "Our wars have done worse things than that to
people, you know. Things that don't always show as much —"
And was this, William wondered, the scent of roses vanishing and the
low lake water and dry pines replacing it, one of the worse things the wars
had done ? The woman by the fire in the greyish shawl — the effect of the
woman on this girl beside him? But that was jumping to a conclusion on
slight evidence, and he was letting Valerie stand silent withdrawing, for too
He said at random, "It must have been very sad for your mother—"
"Oh, yes," she leaned toward him, again communication gushed from
her, "especially as it had been such a romantic marriage! They actually
eloped! You see, Mummy was under age and aunt wouldn't give her consent, but they loved each other and he had to go into the war so they ran
away —■ All the women in our family fall in love and marry very young,"
she said, with the coyness returning. William scarcely noticed it except as
a small dismay in the greater one produced by the earlier fact Valerie had
23 disclosed. Mrs. Paget had eloped — under age — after the beginning of the
war. Therefore she could scarcely be forty. That faded, drained woman —
only a few years older than himself?
"Are you married, William?" He thought she had tried to ask it nonchalantly; it came out merely shrill.
"No," he said, resisting a silly temptation to add, "All the men in our
family marry late."
She moved still closer to him; he was used enough to the darkness now
to see her finger again between her teeth. He could feel the tentativeness,
the uncertainty with which she made the move; he was neither stirred nor
repulsed but only embarrassed for her. The tone of her next question — had
she found it, too, in some passe romantic novel ? — increased his discomfort.
"William is an awfully long name," she said with the dreadful coyness,
"May I call you Bill?"
"If you wish," he said reluctantly. Though it did not matter. He would
scarcely see her to speak to before he left in the morning —
He saw then that she had not heard his reply. She was listening, tense.
Brisk footsteps were coming toward the door to the balcony from the
lounge. As the door opened, Valerie faced it, pushing back against the balcony railing as she had done against the fireplace. William put out a hand,
a reflex action, for fear she would lean back too far, topple.
For the second time that night Miss Greene stood a square shape black
against a lighted doorway, though this time she was close enough to William
for the expression on her face to be immediately discernible. The look was
entirely for Valerie; the hospitable innkeeper had been swamped with a
bitterness and anger as fierce as that which had sounded in Valerie's voice
when she said, "Aunt made me go." Her words too were for Valerie only.
"Will you kindly come in at once?"
"But—it's not late," Valerie whispered, "It's—only about half past ten—"
"That makes no difference," said Miss Greene. "You know perfectly well
how your poor mother must be feeling — after what has happened in the
"But —" said Valerie again, "I — we only —"
"Mr. Bowen naturally does not know what I am referring to," said Miss
Greene, without moving the light hard gaze in his direction, "but I am
quite sure he would not want to upset your mother — after all she's been
through —"
William experienced a moment of empathy as vivid as it was unexpected.
Valerie's will was his will; he felt it struggle, desperate to strengthen, maintain itself; even as it struggled it was forced down; it turned limp, wilted
She moved forward from the railing ,her feet scraping the slightly uneven
balcony floor. "All right," she said, "It — I know it's time for me to read
to her—■"
24 "Excuse all this please, Mr. Bowen," Miss Greene said, though her eyes
still did not leave the girl. As Valerie wavered she made an imperative gesture for her to come past her, into the building.
Valerie stepped forward; she turned abruptly back. "You'll still be here
tomorrow, won't you?"
William was not sure if the face looking up at his was shaking or if it was
again the overwhelming, disproportionate anger, turned against himself as
well as the others, making his huge body tremble. In either case, the result
was the same. (Or was it even Valerie's face trembling, or, unbidden, ineradicable, Lollie's?) Though he managed, he thought, to speak with sufficient casualness.
"Oh, yes," he said, "I'll be staying over tomorrow."
Darkness, the smell of clay, the smell of apples,
the cellar swallowed me. I dreamt I died,
saw both blind parents mad with guilt and sorrow,
my ghost sardonic. Finally I cried.
26 A way of seeing it
Like nerves or currents our connections break —
A bridge's shadow swimming
Like a flock of quick fish upstream —
All that struggles to hold must be a dream
A shattered fortress seen across a lake
A flock of fishes upstream scattering
To become the closest human counterpart
Weaving the insidious current with
Propellor fins: scatter, cling together
Wide-eyed, tight-gilled, float and feather
Down determined currents, reckless as an art
Frightened by fortresses, by bridges, by man's myth.
Death of a fly
No humming nectar, only cold leftovers
Sustained the dull green wine bottle on wings;
Tirelessly it hungered flying in rings
From screen to screen across the warm south-east.
Eventualities gathered: some day it may
Have distended a web, or met a deadly feathered
Beak. Somehow these failed until to-day
Dead in a corner ant-outriders found it
And like Gulliver among the little men, or
Untriumphant Caesar it became a procession's prize.
And soon a crackling shell (if we could hear
Those jaws like fire rip out the dull button eyes).
But if a fly's life was ephemeral, there was chance
In larger things its wings never outgrew.
For us who have heard that angels never die
Death is jealous, more gluttonous than the ants.
27 Daughter of Tantalus
The man in the water was naked but for his socks. He was a young man
with rose flowers tattoed on his arms. He moved his arms slowly, keeping
himself afloat. Rising and falling with the slow deliberate ground-swell, he
squinted his eyes against the brilliant morning sun, watching the small boat
that approached him over the empty sea, its outboard engine chattering
noisily. It came from a wooded island where white specks on the shore were
summer cottages and it pointed to the mainland half a mile distant.
Blind in the dazzling sun, it was only by merest chance the woman in the
boat noticed him. She sat upright in the stern, tall and angular, with artificially-colored cheeks and painted eyebrows. Necklaces lay among the
ruffles of her blouse. A long-visored sun-cap made of pink straw sat on blue
fluffed-out hair. Her faded eyes stared ahead uneasily and she made constant nervous changes to her course.
She saw him when he raised a hand and shouted. She turned the boat
towards him.
She failed to stop the engine soon enough, however, so that the cold icy
fingers that reached for her outstretched hand failed to hold on as the boat
swept by, carried by its momentum. For a second she looked into dark
brown anxious eyes. They were large and very round, dark brown solid-
colored eyes under a thick straight line of eyebrows. Black hair lay straggled on his forehead. His lips were gray.
Then he was left astern, floundering.
28 She had some difficulty with the engine before its staccato beat began
The second time she managed better. She stopped the engine soon enough
and came up to him slowly so that when he reached for the gunwale, his
puffy fingers caught it, held, and then he hung, suspended, looking up at her.
Looking down into his round grateful eyes, she said, "We'll have you in
in just a minute." He answered something in a language she did not
She saw his sunburned neck, the red roses on his arms and, in the wavering translucent water down below the boat his white naked body.
She drew her ringless hands up and away to hold them against her breast.
She looked towards the mainland.
He glanced to right and left, calculating how best to lift himself to safety.
Then he began to clamber in without waiting for permission, hoisting a
long white leg up sideways, hooking a heel on the gunwale. The sock on the
foot was red with the big toe showing through a hole. He pulled himself up,
making the boat rock, and clamped a brown forearm over the side tightly.
He kicked with his legs and jerked, making the boat rock heavily. A coal-
oil can standing on the middle seat with letters and a list of groceries, fell
clanking and rolled about. The woman cried, "Oh, do take care," and
clutched the sides.
After a moment, he slipped back, down into the water and the boat became still and safe. Holding with both hands, he rested. Far off, an outboard engine, far beyond shouting distance, throbbed inshore by the green
plush island.
The woman picked up the oil-can and set it right. She settled her sun-
cap more securely in her hair and sat straight again, biting her knuckles.
29 The man began a second time. But now, before lifting his foot to hook a
heel over the side, he hoisted his body first until his shoulders were level
with the gunwale. This second time, the woman came to his assistance,
moving with difficulty, unsure of her balance in the unsteady boat. Her
fingers touched the roses on his slippery arms but the arms were clamped
so tightly on the gunwale she could not hold them anywhere. She touched
his head tentatively as if confused by feeling a man's ice-cold bristly face
between her hands or as if she thought she would hurt his ears or get her
fingers in his eyes. He jerked and pulled, the boat tipped, the oil-can fell
again, rolling about, banging the woman's ankles. "Oh, do take care, oh,
please." The man strained, grunting and making crying noises, the muscles
corded in his shoulders — then his foot slipped again and he fell back.
Motionless, hanging in the green transparent water, he stared up at her
and she looked down, into his dark puzzled eyes.
A sea-gull, passing overhead, screamed. Wavelets made tiny lapping
sounds against the boat. The woman knelt on the floor-boards to tug at
something underneath the seat. "Wait a minute. Wait. I'll get the life-
But he did not wait. He tried again, a third time, lifting his red-socked
heel to hook it, dripping, on the gunwale. "Oh, do take care. You'll upset
us. Wait." But he continued.
She stood up, empty-handed, and moved forwards clumsily holding the
sides. She grasped his ankle with both hands and, as he hoisted himself,
bringing his chest level with the gunwale, she dragged his naked leg up, in
over the side, with all her strength, wrenching it sideways, threatening dislocation. The man, bruised against the boat, cried out with sharp agony
and let go with his hands to fall back splashing.
30 He was on his back now, facing the clear blue sky, with one ankle held
by the woman up above him.
The boat lurched and with each lurch, the man's face sank beneath the
water despite the furious thrashings of his arms. He kicked with his free
foot to loose the hands that held him upside down. The boat rocked, his
face ducked under the surface, the oil-can banged about, the woman staggered, almost lost her balance, but persisted, holding tightly with her eyes
averted, straining to pull him up into the boat until with a convulsion,
struggling, thrashing in violent foam, throwing his body from side to side,
he kicked with such fury she let go.
She staggered back and almost fell from the boat on the other side.
She recovered herself and knelt again to tug the life-preserver but after
a second, stopped. The motion of the boat was different. It rocked lightly.
And, when she looked, she did not see his fingers on the gunwale.
She stood. The sea was empty but, in the shadow of the boat, small
bubbles rose and burst. Below in the trembling water he was visible, out of
reach, floating with one arm flung out (she saw the roses), his feet higher
than his head. The eyes were open.
The eyes. The round, reproachful eyes. Downwards into the green water,
looking back, the features of his face blurred, became indistinct until only
the round brown eyes were left and then, they too, were gone. He was a
vague irregular shape, then a shadow in the green deep and after that,
nothing. A few last tiny bubbles rose.
The wet marks on the gunwale were already drying. The woman's blouse
was hardly more than damp in front. The oil-can lay on the floor-boards.
Except for those things there was nothing to show that anything at all had
3i Letter from Beyond (No. i)
A negro man (I thought him rather daft)
With hair like frost came to my room last night
And said: "I hear that crying noise again,
Out in the hills, beneath my weathered window"
And I was cross with him, for it was late
And I would sleep, but when I saw his hand
Reach like a poor thin claw from his jacket pocket
And show me a sign, I had to follow him;
Call it compulsion, call it a wicked dream,
The wood was fierce with fairies where he stood
With blazing eyes among the lightning bugs
Though all the sky was black without a star;
His old pink palm took mine, and led me on
Through the fabulous trees, the owl enchanted glade;
But there was no sound, no musical of fear,
No tortured glide of love or scale of torment,
Nothing but him and me and the choking dark,
Bending our bones to soft white chalk and sand.
The negro man, with lips as pink as roses,
Spoke through his black black skin and said: "I think
We are close to them now, those feverish, pestering voices,
Perhaps we will catch them tonight. It has been so long
And I have always been alone before
32 And could not catch them, for I am too old,
But you are young and fast." And then he laughed,
Took out the knife and honed it with his finger,
Laughed again as my foot stuck in the slime,
Squashing a toad; then all the silent fairies
Fled from the path, and the owl's wings cut the air
Without a sound,
and then,
he threw me down.
Oh! His hands were claws, his feeble arms
Grew tighter than pythons about my kicking body,
He was all over me, squeezing my breath like a dream,
And he whispered in my ear, lips pink as roses,
Lurid in light that bled between his eyes,
"I hear it now" he squealed, "I hear it now,
I hear the crying and I know the cause."
Just as the knife slipped in my pounding heart,
Tearing the echo from each muscled chamber
And patches of rose and ochre closed my eyes,
I heard it.
I did.
Just as the world turned blue
Above my head, I heard the crying too.
33 Swifter than swallows
Chrysalis bursting,
the diver
he shatters
dips down dream,
the mirror,
uncoils, meteoric, a brown flame,
basks on the moonsward, bright, bronze adonis;
flings behind
in a splatter of glass
caged in the lyre
earth and stars.                                   J^^    T    1   g
1    I        1 f     I     '                                     of his limbs.
Life-leaver plunges                              J^     ^(    m.  ^___
J _JL    JL       M                                    Water around him
under air,
ripples in
shuttles swift                                              -_—,^
-_-     -_. -———                                                 harmony.
through the weaving metaphor of wet;                          I         >  B
^k     /    li                          Worlds are wound in the net of his song.
threads down tide                                            1         1 1
%/      rl                                                    Nebulae
till flesh, flame-wavering,                                  -M.—^ JL.
▼      -M.—-4                                         hang in the swirl
of his wake.
Borne into black, he                                                     ROBIN
mathews                                                              Quietly cutting
is buried
a trail
in silence,
of seashine,
fumbles beyond phyla, sinks toward slime;
he pulls the shore to him; stands up in the ripple;
then, torch white,
is nothing
tears above clay, making
of dive, but the diver
for heaven.
unoceaned. The Coat
My grandmother's boy is dead,
his skull fractured he did not speak
as she knelt down on the dirt road
and wept on his face, her hand under his head.
My grandmother's boy was wild
as the blackbirds in Minard's clearing.
He stood up on the pedals, yodelling;
the wind too seems to ride toward death.
My father took the corduroy coat
of my grandmother's boy and hid
it behind a beam where she found it and came
weeping with it hugged to her breast,
walking slowly under the clothes line
down the pathway beside the woodshed.
There were bloody stains and the stains of mud
almost indistinguishable on the coat,
and her black dress with its red flowers
came like a ghost berating
my father as though he'd killed.
When he took the coat from her
he was so gentle I was amazed. Afterwards
he cursed and poked the coat viciously,
using a stick to crowd it
into the kitchen fire.
The seat Paul had taken was beside the window, facing towards the front
of the train, the only seat on that side of the compartment and set into a
kind of shallow alcove. To his right, the remainder of his side of the compartment from his seat to the sliding door was a flat metal wall painted
mechanically to resemble a dark wood. At several places along the alcove
corner the thin paint had been worn through to the steel beneath. The wall
above the long seat facing him, where the old man now sat in the corner
by the door, was of the same imitation wood, finished off at the top with a
green classical key pattern which repeated meaninglessly around the whole
compartment, bordering the stamped floral design of the ceiling. Overhead,
to Paul's right, in the centre of the design, a weak electric bulb burned yellow through its dusty frosted glass shade.
The seat pleased him. For the first time since the tour began, he was able
to see a part of Europe as it should be seen. Up to now, it had been a day
in Bordeaux, a stop-over in Carcasonne, another in Perpignan for changing
trains, two days in Barcelona, and always with the group. He had spoken
to no one else. There was never time. But tonight he would have the whole
night before the train arrived in Madrid. He leaned back and relaxed.
It was the repeated sound of the opening and closing of other compartment doors, regular in interval, gathering in loudness, that first caught his
ears. It had started somewhere at the front of the coach, beyond hearing,
and he listened to it, so that when he heard the door of the neighbouring
compartment close, he was already watching his door and he saw the three
of them through the pane of glass before they came in.
They stepped into the compartment together and set their caps into the
luggage rack with the same movement, almost in unison, then sat down
across from Paul, shoulder to shoulder, making a solid block of sleek khaki
37 against the vague bluish colour of the faded plush seat. They did not speak
a word to each other.
From the next compartment where his friends had crowded in, came a
burst of laughter. They were probably trying out the wineskins they had
bought as souvenirs that morning when they had gone sightseeing. He
looked at the three men who had just come in.
He decided that they did not know each other very well and merely happened to be travelling together back to their army base. He smiled and
nodded to them.
The two older ones over to his right stared at him for a moment, then
turned their eyes again to the wall in front of them. The young one who
had taken the seat by the window, across from Paul, either did not see the
nod or ignored it, but he paid no attention at all. His face was turned towards the window and he was looking out through the streaky glass, over
the tracks to the slowly passing harbour and the ships at anchor there.
Paul felt foolish. At home it was usual for people to talk to each other on
trains, especially to someone from another country. Besides, the old man
sitting there by the door, had smiled and answered something in Spanish
when Paul had spoken to him as he had come into the compartment. He
was dozing now, his eyes shut.
Paul looked out through the window. The train was at least a half mile
from the station by then, but it was still moving slowly along the shoreline
of the city and its harbour, no different at night from a thousand others of
its kind, with its warehouses and quays and strings of lights that led out
on the piers to the lighted ships moored at them. He listened to the sounds
from the next compartment.
Laughing . . . talk that he couldn't quite make out, and a sound that
he would recognize anywhere. Al Munro's cackle. It used to collapse the
class and almost drive the poor English instructor up the wall. Al would be
starting in engineering when the fall semester began.
He had tried to talk Paul out of sitting alone. "You're just cultivating
that morbidity of yours, you know," he had said, "You'll have a better time
with the rest of us, even if it is crowded. All we have to do is squeeze together a bit, or pile some suitcases on the floor for one of us to sit on. And
38 there's an extra skin of wine — Melnic won't touch his, now that he knows
that the hair is on the inside. Anyway, if you're so keen to observe the
fauna of the golden Iberian Peninsula why not wait for daylight?" Paul
looked back at the men across from him.
He had not expected to see Spanish army officers in a second class carriage, but it was the last train for the weekend and reservations had been
required for every class but third. Probably the officers had not made their
first class ones early enough.
They were not like soldiers he was used to seeing every day around
Seattle, fellows no older than he, mooching about downtown with nothing
to do, or strung with cameras and light meters, gazing solemnly from Volunteer Park over the avenues of flowering chestnuts to the blue city beyond.
Eager to talk. These were more anonymous, more motion picturishly military. In fact, impeccable.
The yellow light, bright where they sat, caught on their buttons and on
the high polish of their riding boots. It cut a crisp shadow along the presses
of their sleeves and breeches, and brought almost a phosphorescence to the
white lanyards which looped around their necks, under their epaulettes and
down to the steel ring on the butt of their automatic pistols. The two older
officers were fat, and as many fat people do, looked alike, as they stared
vacantly in front of them. Paul noticed that the one nearest him had his
hand on his knee, and on one of his thick white fingers, dumpling fingers,
he had a ring, gold, set with a large green stone.
In comparison, the old man in his neat tatty suit looked skinnier than he
really was. He was asleep now, his head forward, rocking slightly with the
sway of the coach. A peasant—no, not in a second class carriage—peasants
would ride third—an artisan, a tradesman, heading perhaps for one of the
villages on the way towards Madrid.
He could have been from anywhere for all that identified him as Spanish.
Paul had the sense of having seen his kind all his life at home in Seattle,
sitting in parks or on rainy days, thumbing through books in the public
library. Like too the old section hands who used to come to visit the house
in Idaho where he was born and lived until his father quit the railroad to
work at a war plant in Seattle. Czechs and Poles like his father, and they
39 would always bring something for Paul, something they thought he might
like — carved animals, agates, or willow whistles in spring when the sap
was running; and always stories about the Old Country, about their youth
there. It had been the same in Seattle at the Polish hall that his parents
had joined; most likely it was the same everywhere in America where
foreign-born people lived. With ethnic consciousness, or whatever one called
it, all the children were infused with something that left them with an
awareness of their European origin.
The voices in the next compartment softened suddenly. Paul listened.
Something banged against the wall high up, above the officer's heads. Something being moved on the luggage rack.
The officer nearest the old man crossed his legs. Paul saw that he wore
spurs. All of them did — the young man too. He had not turned his head
from the window. Paul could see his eyes moving, following the lights that
passed by, watching them idly, without any particular interest, not as though
he were looking for something or as though he were seeing the city for the
first time. Paul wondered if the young officer had seen him nod. Most likely
not. He did not seem like the two who had come in with him. Against his
left arm, Paul began to feel the window-sill nudging him. He looked out.
The train was beginning to change direction, curving to the right. They
were leaving the lighted waterfront and were moving into the fringes of
the city.
The darkness of Barcelona had struck him, particularly because everyone
seemed to stay up so late. Over American cities, from a distance at night
like the bright embers of beach fires, a pink glow was always cast against
the sky. In Barcelona, even downtown, the night hung, nearly touching the
It was past midnight now. Tonight, like the night before, in the heart of
the city, along the Ramblas and the Plaza de Cataluna, evening crowds
would still be moving about under the lamps, like moths, among the
benches, coffee concessions and the shoe shine stands of aggressive, hard-
faced children. He had pointed apologetically to his suede shoes when they
had pleaded with him.
Here in the suburbs, the intense darkness pressed against the dusty glass.
40 Now and then only, slits of light rode by, slivers of windows shuttered
against the night. Where a nearby street light stood, the face of a building
would be caught in a raking glare for a moment until another building
blocked it out.
Close in, the red globe of a lighted switch passed by. A mile away, a blue
light blinked. Above it, a string of lights twinkled on a black hillside. Automatically, Paul reached up to rub the dust from the glass.
Through the wall behind the officers came a few experimental plinks of
a guitar. Then the talking began again, louder. Harry Rickson had bought
the guitar in one of the shops near the Columbus monument. A gaudy
mother-of-pearl instrument — bought, he said, for a gag. Al had joined
Harry in dickering for it — whooping, pleading, waving his arms until the
little onion behind the counter had lowered the price by a hundred and
twenty pesetas.
The talking stopped. The guitar thrummed twice, picked up a ballad
melody and broke it off — a key higher, began another, stopped at a note —
repeated it.
Plink. The sound rose, higher.
Plink. Thinner, tighter still.
The young officer shifted his feet. One of his spurs scraped across the
base board of the seat awkwardly. He moved his feet carefully back as they
had been.
A chorused shout drummed through the wall, mixed with hooting and
laughter. A regular strumming began and a voice joined it, singing slowly,
heavily — Harry Rickson's voice. The Blue Tail Fly.
Paul had heard Rickson sing it many times before, at parties at home.
He could sing and play well enough, but only with a kind of twanging competence that covered up a complete lack of real talent. In the compartment
now, though, it sounded better than usual.
Paul looked across to the young officer by the window. His eyes were no
longer watching the lights. They were focussed on the varnished window
divider. His face had not altered its expression but he was listening closely.
Paul tried to guess what he thought of the music.
Rickson got almost to the burial under the 'simmon tree when the officer
4i leaned back slightly, put his arm up on the window-sill and with a self-
conscious sort of movement, rubbed the side of his face with his fingertips.
Paul turned toward the two fat officers. They sat as impassively as a pair
of great bullfrogs. So far as he could tell, they had not moved.
In the corner, the old man still slept, leaning more now towards the narrow wall beside him. The song finished and the murmur of talk began, rose
a little and stopped.
Rickson began playing again. Frankie and Johnny. Another of his
favourites. On the second verse a voice, a high, thin one, Al's, joined him
in a harmony that quavered deftly just above or below the correct note. It
would fall behind the beat, then in a burst of speed catch up, only to slip
back again.
Rickson began to sing louder. As he did so, the thin, braying voice
launched out to balance it, as brave and off-key as a Revival meeting tenor.
The young officer was smiling.
Rickson was the tour group's leader. He spoke some French and Spanish
and he was conscientious and thorough.
As the singing grew louder, several other people picked up the words in
support of Al's valiant but rather spindly counterpoint. Gradually they
began to sing louder and louder and each time Rickson realized that his
voice was being drowned, he would raise it. Paul watched the young officer.
He didn't seem to know what to do with his eyes. They moved carefully
up the varnished wood of the window divider to the top where the upper
frame intersected, stayed there for a moment and came slowly down again.
Verse by verse, the song picked up in volume until Rickson was almost
The officer tried at first to conceal his laughter by leaning his face hard
against his hand, but it was useless. He turned and with his head almost
touching the glass, he peered out, his shoulders shaking in silent laughter.
Paul watched him, trying not to smile. The officer could not have been
in the army very long. Twentyish, twenty-one at most, a year or two older
than Paul. Probably just out of military school.
The song fell apart in laughter. The officer was still giggling silently.
Talking began in the next compartment. It went on. Probably Rickson's
42 feelings had been hurt and they were trying to persuade him to play some
Paul looked out the window. Poor Rickson. Again and again since he had
taken on the leadership of the group, they had led him through apparent
mistakes in language into various traps, but he never seemed to realize that
he was being needled until it was too late.
Outside there were only a few lights now, sprinkled like fish boats on a
dark sea. The small farms around a city. A level crossing flashed by, exposed nakedly under the bare lamps as if in the glare of summer lightning.
The talking in the next compartment had become a murmur.
Suddenly, singing burst through the wall again. The Big Rock Candy
Mountains — loudly and slowly so that every word was clear. Paul listened.
He knew that it was intended as a joke for him. One night at dinner, his
mother had told Al about the way that Paul as a baby would listen hour
after hour to the song, then at bed-time ask her to tell him about the place,
about how the mountains were always frosty pink candy, how the sunlight
grass grew right down from them to the lakeshore where a slow train
clacked along, about how the grassy hillside was dotted with little rubber-
toothed bulldogs, and about the tin jail you could always walk out of.
Al had thought the story delightful and had teased him about it at times
as they sat smoking late at night on the balcony upstairs in Paul's house,
looking across Lake Union to the downtown area shimmering in its incandescent mist. At first he had tried to explain to Al his feelings about the
beauty of what he saw, but Al would usually yawn and say that it was
merely the miasma of rottenness and every particle of the glow was a
radiant spirochete. There was never any use arguing.
Paul turned his eyes again to the young man across from him. He still
had his arm up on the window-sill and he was staring, concentrated, probably not knowing what to think about the chanting noise, trying perhaps
to make something of the words.
The singing stopped abruptly.
There was not a sound now from the next compartment. The young officer looked out through the window again, intently, as though he were
watching something out in the darkness.
43 Paul guessed that the conductor was coming through the train. He
reached into his pocket for his book of kilometric tickets and held it ready.
The door of the next compartment was slid closed. A few seconds later,
Paul's door opened. In the space stood a short fat man in a hat and a dirty
pale raincoat. He stepped inside.
Automatically, the three officers reached into their inside tunic pockets
and handed the man little leather-backed folders. He opened them one at
a time, glanced at them and handed them back together. Gracias.
Then he looked at Paul. Paul looked back at him. What did the guy
want? The man reached his hand out, rubbing his thumb against his fingers impatiently. Thick fingers stained with tobacco.
"Bureau de Securite. Votre passporte," he said, without any attempt to
make it sound like French.
Paul reached into his pocket and handed the passport to the man. He
glanced at the cover and opened it. He thumbed through to the photograph,
looked at Paul, closed the passport and handed it back.
Paul watched him turn to the old man sleeping by the door, saw him
standing there regarding him for a few seconds, and then pull his boot back
slowly and kick the old man in the ankle as hard as he could.
With a grunt of sudden pain, the old man awoke. He glanced up at the
fat silent person over him blocking out the light. He reached into his breast
pocket and put a small bent folder into the extended hand.
Paul and the three officers watched. The man in the raincoat opened the
folder with one hand, held it close up to his face in the dim light. He compared the photograph with the old man, flipped the folder shut and pushed
it into the old man's hand. He stepped back, nodded to the officers, and
slid the door to.
Paul's stomach had tightened and he felt ill with anger. He stared at the
old man, did not take his eyes off him. Upright now, the old man sat, without moving, without any sign of pain or anger or emotion of any kind, his
hands in his lap, the folder sticking out between his fingers just as it had
been left by the man in the pale raincoat.
The fat officer nearest to Paul put his hand up to his face, yawned, and
rubbed his eyes.
44 Paul turned to the young man across from him. Their eyes met directly
for the first time.
"Why did that fat son of a bitch kick the old man?" Paul said. The officer
looked back without answering, as if he had not heard.
"Why didn't you stop him or something?"
The officer looked at him for a moment longer, then swung his eyes away
to the left, cutting Paul off as if he did not exist any more.
The old man stared down at the base of the wall. Slowly he put the
identification card back in his breast pocket.
The door of the compartment was rammed open. It was Al. He stood
there with one hand on the door and the other on the frame.
"Good evening," he said, "Did a dirty finger come by?" He looked at
the five of them sitting silently in the compartment. "Man, you're really
having a ball in here, aren't you." He cocked his head critically and
squinted at the three officers. They ignored him. Al shook his head. "That
fauna doesn't look so good to me .... Say Paul. Why don't you come up
front with us. There's plenty of wine left and if you're still interested in
these specimens later on, you can come back. They appear to be dormant
at present. Come on." He gestured with one hand and hung on with the
Paul looked at him and then turned back to the four men on the long
seat. Then he stood up.
"Yeah. I think I'll come along."
He stepped across in front of the fat officers and stopped in front of the
old man.
"Do you want to come with us," he asked,, pointing to the next compartment. The old man raised his eyes and looked at Paul. He shook his head.
Paul stepped out the door and slid it closed. Through the pane of glass
he looked back in at the officers. The young one faced the window again.
There were no more lights outside in the night. Over the sill, there was only
another compartment projected into the darkness.
Al put his face up to the glass. "Do they bite?" he asked.
The sky cracked open like a broken bowl that held a sea-full. The moment
the rain began, the thick heat vanished. Humans and animals would shudder in the unaccustomed cool until the returning sun made the drenched
foliage steam. Hours passed, and the dense rain went on, soaking the palms
down to their fibrous roots, turning the forest moss spongy and saturated,
causing the great ferns to droop like bedraggled peacocks. The water coursed
down the flanks of the hardwood trees, and in high and sighing branches
the ravens and scarlet-winged parrots huddled, their bold voices overcome
by the wind's even more raucous voice. In the weird wood of grey-green
whorled and gnarled baobab trees, the egrets wrapped their cloak-wings
around themselves like flocks of sorcerers, white as mist. The wild bees and
dancing gnats and tribes of flies all disappeared as though they had never
been. The children of Ananse, the Father of Spiders, from the giant hairy
banana-spiders down to diminutive crimson jewel spiders, all crept back
into the deep and hidden womb of their mother the forest.
Moses Adu knew he was driving too fast, but he wanted to cover as much
of the journey as possible before nightfall. The spiral road through the hills
was bad enough in the grey light of the day rain; in the dark it could be
dangerous. He braked around a corner, blinking his solemn eyes and trying
to stare away the rain which slanted down on the windscreen and seemed
almost to be flowing across his own glasses. The windscreen wipers were
not working properly. Moses wondered uneasily if he had been cheated on
the price of the old Hillman. He did not know much about cars. He had
bought this one two weeks ago, the day he arrived back in Africa. He could
not really afford a car yet, but he had not wanted to ride a mammy-lorry,
like any labourer or bushboy, when he went to see his parents after four
years away at university in England. The car might not be much good, but
it had been worth the money, Moses decided. The visit had gone well. His
father, who was a government clerk, had been almost inarticulate with the
new pride of having a pharmacist son. His mother, of course, had been
upset that Moses would not stay with them longer, but even she had been
placated when he told of the job that was waiting for him in the coast city.
Night was coming on, when Moses saw a village ahead. He slowed the car.
The huts and shanties came into focus, red mudbrick dull-glossed with wet,
the walls partially eaten away by years of rains like this, rains that would
lick and spit until finally the dwellings melted and crumbled like huts of
No movement at all in the village, no sign of inhabitants. Only the hypnotic persistency of the rain. Then — and Moses' nerves jerked with shock
— a quick frightened darting of some live thing onto the road directly
in front of the wheels. Moses braked hard; the car slithered on the rain-
greased road. There was a thud as the car hit the creature and came to a
For a moment Moses could not look. He had hit a child — he could think
of nothing but that. Finally he opened the door. When he saw that the dead
thing was not a child but a goat, his relief was so great he could barely
climb back in the car and light a cigarette .
Within ten seconds, the car was surrounded by a dozen villagers. Al-
47 though they spoke in Twi, which was Moses' mother-tongue, the fact that
they all shouted at once made it difficult to follow any one of them. The
gist, however, was plain. The goat would have to be paid for.
Moses was willing to pay for the goat, but he refused to pay the sum
demanded by the throng.
"Too much," he said firmly. "You know it's too much for that miserable
The goat's owner, a loose-limbed man with the unsmiling face and shrewd
eyes of a peasant-farmer who knows he will never be anything but poor,
began to shake both fists at Moses.
"As the proverb says, the stranger has large eyes but they see nothing
in the village. The goat was pregnant — look there, do I have to slit her
belly? I have lost two goats."
"I am willing to pay for one," Moses said irritably, "but not two. I'm
not a fool, and I'm not a rich man, either."
Laughter, bitter as woodsmoke.
"He says he is not a rich man, Kobla. Look at his clothes — see? Did you
notice his shoes when he stepped outside a moment ago? Here — look, if
you stick your head in this window you can see them. Not rich — ei! They
say a crab cannot walk straight ahead nor a city man tell the truth —"
Moses knew it was no use. He was, of course, a wealthy man to them.
He would not stand outside in the pelting rain as they did. They had only
their skins to get soaked, and the loincloths bound around bony hips. The
silver rain streaked down them, making their bodies glisten as though with
oil and their muscles contract and clench against the chill. Moses felt
ashamed, keeping them standing there, hunched and shaking, like dogs
without shelter.
"Do you have to stand there and drown?" he said brusquely. "If there
is a place to go, I will come with you."
The village had one chop-bar, they told him. Moses struggled into his
trench-coat and followed them. The chop-bar was clay and wattle, like the
other dwellings, but it had a roof of corrugated iron. Inside, a kerosene
lamp burned, feebly pushing away the shadows from the narrow room. Low
wooden benches were placed haphazardly around the clay floor, and under'
one bench a hen sat ruffling grimy white feathers and glaring with malevolent ebony eyes. The air reeked of smoke and the red palm-oil used in
cooking. On a wooden counter stood an old marmalade jar full of pink and
dusty paper roses.
"They sell beer here," one of the village young men told Moses shyly,
"and palmwine."
And an old man, the boy's father, perhaps, or his uncle, turned on him
and told him with furious pride to hold his tongue, for they were not beggars. So Moses bought half a dozen bottles of beer, as the villagers had
confidently expected he would.
48 Back to the question of the goat. When Moses enquired if there were
any police in the village, they shook their heads. No, they said, the gods
had spared them that kind of outsider, although sometimes a constable
arrived from somewhere on his bicycle, but whatever he asked about, they
never told him anything, so he soon went away again.
"A chief, then?"
Yes, they all agreed. That was the thing to do, the very thing. The matter
should be taken before the chief, who would decide whether the stranger
owed for one goat or two.
"Fine," Moses said. "Let us go and see him now."
Their chief would be delighted to see him, the villagers said. Nana Owosu
was well-known for the graciousness with which he received strangers.
Further, he had a fine house — made of stone, it was, and every man in the
village had helped to build it — a house worth seeing. There was, however,
one small difficulty. Nana Owosu was away at the moment, visiting his
daughter at Tafo. He would, they said hopefully, almost certainly be back
within a week.
Moses managed a semblance of calm.
"Look here — I will give you three pounds for the she-goat, and two
bottles of palmwine for the unborn one. How is that ?"
No, they chorused gravely, it would not do at all. That was not the sum
they had in mind. The goat's owner was a poor man, greatly afflicted — he
had no children, think of the shame of it — and here was a rich stranger,
trying to cheat him on the best goat in his herd, and what an insult to offer
only two bottles of palmwine for what might have been another fine animal.
"I am not trying to cheat you," Moses said helplessly. "But if we cannot
settle it —"
The solution appeared to strike all of them at the same moment, as though
they possessed not individual minds but a corporate mind, all nerves and
ganglia mysteriously inter-connected.
"Of course," they said, with obvious relief. "Why did we not think of it
before? We will take him to the oracle."
Moses grinned in embarrassment.
"Oracle? Some sort of 'suman,' a fetish?"
"No, no," they said. "An oracle. His priest also possesses powerful 'suman,'
but the oracle is an 'obosom,' a god. He will tell us what to do. He cannot
be wrong, you see. He lives in a box in the house of his priest."
Moses had never encountered an oracle, or the priest of an oracle. A
box? He wondered what the trick would be. Ventriloquism? Should he go
and see? He wanted to go, and yet he felt a repugnance about taking part
in such a game, even as onlooker. He was not an especially religious man,
but he did, after all, belong to a family that had been Christian for three
generations. As a pharmacist, too, one who was pledged to fight with sulpha
and nivaquine the ancient darkness of fetish and necromancy, could he
49 consult an oracle, even if it were done only to appease the complex simplicity of the village men? Moses turned his face away from the villagers,
in case their illiterate eyes should be able to read him.
A god-in-the-box. Like the up-jumping jacks, the toy men, the hawk-
nosed clown men who stayed still until you pressed the spring, then leapt
and bowed, grimacing in paint, frightening children too young to know
wood from flesh.
"It is not far to the dwelling of the oracle," the goat's owner was saying.
"You will come with us?"
And Moses, surprised at himself, nodded abruptly and got to his feet.
The house of the oracle's priest was not mudbrick. Made of cement
blocks, it had been whitewashed and the corrugated roof painted green. A
wealthy house, for this village. But the yard was untended. The coarse grass
grew hip-high, and around the stoep and lintel the moonflower vines hung
like great green clotted spiderwebs, the clustered blossoms torn and shredded
by rain.
Moses shivered in the wet wind, and found himself imagining how humiliated he would be if by any chance he were to experience fear in this
There was no answer to their knock and no light visible within the house.
Moses' glasses were blurred by rain, so the carved door and the blown
moonflowers and the crouched villagers all looked to him as though they
existed in some deep pool, and he, peering and straining, could see them
only vaguely through the shifting waters. He took off his glasses and put
his face close to the blank window. And saw, looking out at him, not two
eyes but one. One gleaming amber eye.
Moses drew back, startled and then irritated. The tricks had begun
already. Just then the door was opened by a girl child. She seemed not to
notice the familiar men of the village. Her wide alarmed eyes were fixed
on Moses, sombre and stocky in his good beige trench-coat. He laughed
and bent down to her.
"Do not be afraid, little queenmother."
But she turned and fled. He could hear her voice shrilling from the back
of the house.
"A stranger is here! A strange man — one we have not seen before."
And a man's voice, harsh.
"I know. I know. Hush, foolish one."
The man appeared in the open doorway. The single eye was explained^
for in one empty socket the skin hung loose and scarred. Otherwise, he was
a handsome man. His cheekbones were high and prominent, his features
well-shaped. He wore a headband of leather, bound with amulets and
charms. His bracelets, too, were fetish-pieces — cords, knotted with lumps
5° of 'nufa' medicine, links of iron chain, snippets of red cloth and the bones
of small animals. His cloth, draped around him in the traditional style, was
yellow velvet, brown-patterned to resemble a leopard's pad-marks.
"I am Faru," he said in an expressionless voice. "Why have they brought
you to me ?"
The villagers explained, and after the oracle's fee had been discussed at
length and finally agreed upon, the priest led them inside, still looking
dubiously at Moses.
The oracle's room was lighted with a kerosene lamp of white china
sprinkled with enamelled violets. On a wall hung an old 'afona,' a sword,
with a double-bulbed handle and a broad cutlass blade that was now thick
with rust. On the same wall was a string of Muslim prayer beads, red and
black, and nearby an ebony cross, with its Saviour dying in a gilt agony.
On the bare unswept floor stood two figures, male and female, crudely
carved in a pale wood and smeared with cockerel's blood and the hard
dried yolk of sacrificial eggs.
Moses, looking at the conglomeration of symbols, felt queasy and apprehensive. He remembered hearing once about the fetish grove at Elmina,
where a crucifix and baptismal bowl were said to be used in the rites of
the god Nana Ntona, who had centuries before been Saint Anthony when
the Portugese built a chapel there. Moses had found a sour amusement in
that transformation — history's barb, however slight, against the slavers.
But this assimilation was different. The presence of the crucifix bothered
him, here in this foetid room with the eye of Faru the priest winking
Against the far wall stood a long table, containing at one end a 'kuduo,'
an ornate jar with twisted handles, cast in brass a long time ago and now
encrusted with dirt and verdegris. In the center of the table rested a mahogany box, perhaps two and a half feet long, in appearance not unlike a
child's coffin. The lid of the box was tightly shut.
The villagers squatted on their haunches, looking around the room with
nervous reverence. Moses stubbornly remained standing, ignoring the chair
that the oracle's priest pointed out to him.
In a deep resonant voice, Faru addressed the oracle, explaining the predicament. A moment's silence. The villagers leaned forward expectantly,
and even Moses breathed softly and slowly as he listened. Then from the
box came a sound.
A tiny cough, as though a butterfly had cleared its throat.
The voice that followed was small and tenuous, entirely different in pitch
and emphasis from the voice of Faru.
"Listen while I speak." The voice quivered, stopped to cough, then resumed. "The stranger is a good man. Some men would have run away and
refused to pay at all, and what could you do about it, Kobla Oware? You
must take what the stranger has offered you and be satisfied. If you do so,
51 and if you give my priest twenty shillings and also three bottles of palmwine so he may pour libation to me, then your good heart will be remembered. Your wife will at last conceive and you will be mocked at no more."
Moses had heard ventriloquism in England, but never a performance
like this one. The oracle's priest was facing them squarely. His mouth was
clamped shut and his jaw rigid, not a flicker of movement. He was — it
had to be admitted — a master.
Kobla Oware, the childless one, sat perfectly still. Not wanting to see
the look of tremulous exultation that changed and lighted the villager's
dour face, Moses looked away and as he did so he found himself staring
straight into the tiger eye of the priest. Moses glared angrily, but the priest's
gaze never faltered. Then, as Moses handed Kobla Oware the money for
the dead goat, he could feel the ravenous eye slipping away from himself,
losing interest, coming to rest on the notes in the villager's hand .
Faru joked and laughed with the village men as he led them out of the
room. Moses, who had just deposited his share of the oracle's fee in the
brass 'kuduo,' was about to follow when something stopped him.
The box coughed once more, a gentle apologetic sound.
Moses swung around, feeling both foolish and terrified
"Who —■ what is it?" he whispered.
There was a flutter of movement inside the box.
"I beg you, I beg you, I beg you —" the small voice gasped, "let me free!"
Hardly knowing what he was doing, or why, but moved by the urgency
of the voice, Moses stepped quickly over to the box and began wrenching
at the lid.
"Hurry, hurry, before he gets back," the voice pleaded. "The latch is on
the other side, stupid."
52 Moses found the latch, fumbled at it and finally raised the lid. He forced
himself to look inside.
There lay the manforsaken little god.
The creature's face was old, as old as Africa, as old as all earth. But it
was not the leathery oldness of health. The skin of this face was pouched
and puffy; it had a look of unpleasant softness, like skin soaked too long
in water. The eyes were so sorrowfully wise they seemed not to own the
ludicrously stunted body, palpitating with panic under its tangle of rags.
Moses could not move a muscle. He could only look and look. The
creature, now struggling weakly to rise from the straw-lined box, was certainly a man, but it seemed impossible that he possessed the same component parts as other humans. Everything about him must surely be different — his liver a frail mauve like a wild orchid, his heart as green and
trembling as a blade of grass.
"Quick, quick," the little creature squeaked. "Open that window and
put me outside. You go out the door. I will meet you on the road. Oh,
There was no time to think. Moses could hear the priest's heavy voice,
still talking with the villagers. He opened the window and thrust the oracle
outside into the darkness. Then he walked rapidly out of the room.
Moses never knew how the creature managed to scuttle across the road
and past the villagers without being noticed. But when he himself had
finally reached the car, his heart thundering, the oracle was there before
him. They climbed in, and Moses, despite the rain and the treacherous
road, drove away from the village as though he were being pursued by
demons who rode the black wind.
When they were at a safe distance, Moses slowed the car. Immediately,
the little man, who was still shaking like a withered moonflower in a storm,
began to babble his gratitude.
"Oh, I bless your name, I bless it! He kept me there — oh, a long time,
I cannot remember how long. I will bless your name every day of my life.
There were holes in the box, but I had to breathe very small and small and
small. Oh, you would not believe how foul the air was — it has ruined my
lungs; lately I cough all the time. I heard the servant child say it was a
stranger coming, someone not of the village. Not many strangers came. The
last was a Dagomba man — Faru knew his language, a little, but I did not,
for I speak only Twi. I was afraid you might be the same — a different
tongue — but then I heard you speak, and I knew you would save me. Oh,
I bless your name."
"Who are you?" Moses asked.
"I am Godman Pira," the ex-oracle replied. "One of the 'pirafo,' you
know, a dwarf. Can I help it? Does that make me any less a man? I am
53 different, maybe, but I am as much a man as any of them. Do you think
so? Do I seem that way to you? To one who has lived in a box for so long,
it is sometimes hard to tell—"
"You are a man," Moses said gruffly. "Of course you are."
He wished he could look at the creature without feeling a slight shock
of revulsion. Perhaps it was the humidity in the box that had given the
water-logged appearance to the creases of the face.
"I want to be a man," Godman Pira said. "I have always belonged to
some priest, you see. Before this one, it was another, and before him, another. Always the same thing. It is a very hard life, to be an oracle. Some
of the 'pirafo' used to be court jesters to the kings of Ashanti. But not any
more. No one wants to laugh any more, perhaps."
"Why did you never reveal yourself to one of the villagers?" Moses asked.
"Why did you not tell them you were human?"
"It would have been no use," Godman said. "They would not have known
what to do. They are afraid of Faru, and anyway, they would not have
believed I was a person like themselves. If I am an oracle, they know how
to act with me. They pour libation, and ask questions, and I stay in my
box and they do not have to approach me very closely. But if I am a man,
what are they to do with me ? It would only have confused them. They are
good people, but they do not like to look at things they have not seen
Moses remembered the owner of the goat.
'Godman, why did you tell Kobla Oware his wife would conceive?"
The little man laughed softly.
"Easy," he boasted. "It is not so difficult to astound people by prophesying. She has conceived already, but Kobla does not know it yet. We have
informants, you see. Two of the village crones. Faru was the clever one. The
things I could tell you —"
He chortled again, hugging his short arms around himself.
"I wouldn't have thought," Moses said stiffly, "that you would find much
in Faru to admire."
"Oh, I didn't!" Godman cried. "I hated him. You cannot know how
much I hated him. Every day I used to pray to the real gods that his bowels
would be knotted and closed until he died of putrefaction."
Then the little man began to tremble once more.
"How angry he will be when he finds the box empty! Maybe he will
follow us and find me and take me back. Or else he will kill me. You will
not let him? You will keep him away? Say you will keep him away!"
"I do not think he will dare to follow," Moses said. "And if he did, how
could he find you in the city?"
"He sees through walls," Godman quavered. "His eye sees everywhere.
So he used to say."
"You don't really believe that, do you ?"
54 "I don't know —" Godman hesitated. "Now that I am with you it seems
— oh, it is hard for me to know. Do you think all he said might have been
lies? I thought so sometimes, but when you are in a box, you are not sure
what you think. Sometimes it seems that you are only dreaming you are
awake, when all the time you sleep and sleep —"
"He lied to you," Moses said firmly. "You do not need to be afraid of
him any longer."
"Do you really think so? Tell me once more, then I will believe it. He
might not bother to follow me. He knew I was growing ill, and he thought
I would die soon. I would have died, too, if I had stayed there. Perhaps
he will journey and find another dwarf — it would pay him better. Yes, I
think that is what he will do. But — oh, what if he does seek me out ? You
will not let him take me back ?"
"There are police in the city," Moses said reassuringly. "I will go to
them, if you like, and explain about Faru. Perhaps they —"
"Oh, I have just remembered!" Godman cried. "If there are police where
we are going, I think Faru will not approach that place. He was once put
in a prison, a long time ago, and he would never allow himself to be put
there again. He is like a leopard, you know — he could not endure a cage."
"Yet he kept you in one."
"He did not think that was the same thing," Godman said simply. "And
after all, he did buy me."
"But—" Moses protested, "don't you realize? A man cannot buy another man. A law forbids it. Why, that is as bad as the slavers, in the old
days. People are not allowed to do that sort of thing now."
"Really?" Godman said. "There—you see? I am learning so much from
you already. Soon I will know everything about how to live as a man."
"What—■ what are you planning to do, once we reach the city?"
"I do not mind," G'odman said promptly. "You are very clever. You
will think of something."
"I mean — where will you go?"
Godman Pira settled himself more comfortably on the seat of the car.
"Wherever you are going," he said. "I will go with you, wherever you
Moses looked at him, appalled.
Moses often thought afterwards that he ought never to have allowed
Godman to know where he lived. But when they reached the city, the little
man seemed on the point of collapse with exhaustion and the excitement of
his escape. Moses had previously rented two frugally furnished rooms; they
were not large, but neither was Godman, so Moses reluctantly granted him
shelter, telling him emphatically that he must leave as soon as he was rested.
The next evening, however, Godman was still there. Moses tried to reason
55 with him.
"You will have to find some kind of work. That is what men do — they
work. You cannot stay here. It is impossible."
The little man coughed and shivered, and his sickly damp-looking face
took on an expression of calculated pathos.
"What could I do?" he asked, lowering purplish-lidded eyes but managing to watch Moses' face all the time. "Alone, what could I do? I know
only how to be an oracle. I swear it — I will be no trouble to you. I will eat
no more than the bird that picks at the teeth of the crocodile. I do not take
up much room. I will be so quiet you will forget I am here — yes, as quiet
as the little lizards who never waken you when they run across your walls
at night. And I will help — I will wash your clothes, and if you get another
broom, not that monstrous thing there, I will sweep your house for you.
Oh, you will see how well I work —"
Moses snorted.
"You? Sweep the house? You haven't the strength."
"There, you see—" Godman twittered^ waving his hands, "you have
said it yourself. What work could I do in this city where everything is so
big? If you turn me out, I will die. Oh, the pity — to be freed only to die
like a mouse —"
"But Godman, you're not my responsibility. I have work to do, troubles,
"You brought me here," Godman said sulkily.
"You asked me to bring you!" Moses cried.
"I did not know it would be like this," Godman said miserably. "So many
people, and the noise, and those high buildings —"
He turned to Moses and held out both his hands.
"Oh, I am frightened in this unknown place. How shall I know what to
do, unless you are with me, to tell me what to do ?"  "
"All right, all right," Moses said grudgingly, "A week, then, until you are
more accustomed to the city. Perhaps you will be stronger by then, too.
But whether you are or not, you must go. Do you understand?"
"Oh yes!" Godman said gaily. "I understand. When I am with you, I
understand everything."
At the end of the week, the scene was enacted all over again. And once
more, Godman stayed.
Only a child is agile enough to be small. Inside the house, Godman
managed fairly well, but on the street his stump-legs stumbled with his fear.
At first he could not be persuaded to go out alone at all, and when finally he
ventured out timidly, he refused to go more than a few blocks away. The
cars and bicycles, the jostling market-women with their huge wheel-like
head-trays, the quick children whose voices could so easily turn to jeering,
the high and heavy shops white-blazing in the sun, the streets close and
tangled as vines, streets where anyone might easily lose the way and where
56 a very small man might conceivably never find it again — all these, and the
eyes of the city's curiosity, were terrifying enough to Godman, but they
were not all.
"I know Faru will never find me in this place," he said gravely to Moses
one evening. "I know it very well. But — somehow, I know it so much
better when you are with me."
So for the most part the dwarf remained indoors, waiting all day for
Moses to return from work. Despite the promise of silence, after the restricted years Godman's loquaciousness now knew no bounds. The moment
Moses arrived home, the voice began to chirp and never ceased until Godman went to sleep. Moses would try to read and would angrily tell Godman to keep quiet. But concentration would still be impossible, because
Godman in abject apology would squeeze and fold himself together until
he seemed no bigger than an embryo and would maintain a silence so
plainly sorrowful that Moses would finally throw down his book in disgust
and tell the little man he might speak. Immediately, Godman would jump
up, put on the tea-kettle, and come marching back, wearing a chaplet of
leaves and carrying in his hand a lime stuck on a twig.
"Omanhene, great chief, see — I am your soulbearer, and here is my
And Moses would laugh despite himself, and be annoyed at his laughter.
When Moses stripped himself to bathe, Godman would be there, perched
like a great-eye owl on the dresser that held the wash-basin, admiring with
gentle clucking exclamations the immensity of Moses' parts compared with
his own, until Moses, embarrassed, and annoyed at his embarrassment,
would order him out of the room. And always Godman would go, humbly,
never knowing what his offense had been but never questioning that Moses
was right.
A hundred times Moses was on the point of telling the little man he
must leave. But where could he go ? What would he be able to do, by himself, in this city of giants? Moses could imagine Godman squashed like a
brown cockroach under the heedless trampling feet of the markets and
Gradually, the dwarf's health improved. He would never be anything
but fragile, but the exhausting cough disappeared and he seemed to find
breathing less a burden than it had been. His skin, mercifully, lost some of
its crinkled sogginess. Moses no longer found him repulsive to look at, but
whether this change was due to an actual improvement in Godman's appearance or merely to an acceptance born of familiarity, Moses did not
know. He brought home bottles of cod-liver oil and samples of vitamin pills
for the ex-oracle. He was not prompted by sentiment or any real concern.
But a pharmacist could not allow an obvious case of malnutrition and vitamin deficiency to remain untreated in his house. Besides, as Godman grew
stronger, he was able to earn his board by doing some of the household
57 tasks. Moses prided himself upon being a practical man.
And yet, one night when Godman went out to buy cigarettes for Moses
from a trader mammy who had a stall across the road, and did not return,
Moses set out to look for him. He finally found him near a cluster of roadside stalls some distance away, crouched in a gutter, unable to fend off the
stick-thrusting urchins who were tormenting him. The trader woman near
the house had closed her stall, and he had not wanted to return without the
cigarettes. Moses slapped and swore at the boys, who seemed stunned at
his sudden and furious descent upon them. Then he picked up Godman
and carried him home like a child.
In the months that followed, Godman became quite adept at cooking.
He often spent most of the day preparing some favorite food for Moses —■
groundnut stew, 'nkontomire' soup with snails, ripe plantain cakes.
"I like to see you eat," he said once, as Moses took another helping.
"What an appetite you've got! No wonder you are such a strong man. Now,
I'll tell you how I learned to make this dish. The big woman upstairs —
you know, the big big one, wears an orange cloth patterned with little insects, they look like dung beetles to me, just the thing for her, her breath
stinks, no wonder, she's always eating sweets, what can you expect — well,
she showed me. She put her charcoal burner on the stoep outside our window and she saw me watching her, so she offered to show me just how she
made the soup. The cocoyam leaves must not be boiled too long, that's the
thing. And when you take the snails out of their shells, you wash them in
water with lime juice. Clever, eh ?"
"Very clever," Moses said, with his mouth full. "If you learned man's
work half as well as you learn woman's, you would be a great success."
Godman looked offended.
"The whitemen have men for their cooks," he said, "and you are more
important than any whiteman. Of course, if you do not want me to make
soup for you —"
"I was joking," Moses said hastily. "I'm sorry. The soup is fine. I have
never tasted better."
And Godman, mollified, sang to himself in an unmusical croak as he
cleared away the dishes.
Moses bought several pieces of tradecloth for the dwarf, to replace his
flimsy rags. When Godman saw them, he seized one and draped it around
himself at once. Then he rushed around the room to the dresser, scrambled
up, and stood for a long time, silent, looking into the mirror, awed by his
own splendour.
"Oh, I am a chief, a king. See there, the fishes on the cloth, that blue
one, he with the tail like a palm leaf—oh, and the red of his eyes! The
greatest of all fish, isn't he? And the snail, see, just like the ones I put in
the soup. Oh, did any person ever see such a fine cloth as this?"
Moses turned away, feeling a sense of sadness and shame at how little
58 this richness had cost him.
That same week, Moses first met Mercy Ansah. Mercy was a teacher in
a primary school; she was pretty and intelligent; her family was reasonably
well-off but not so rich that Moses need feel the girl was out of his reach.
He began to take her out frequently, and several times he went to her home
for dinner. He wondered if it would be proper to invite her to his place.
He had no family here, but Godman would prepare the meal.
Godman. Moses felt sick. Could he say to Mercy Ansah — "There is a
certain dwarf, formerly an oracle, who shares my dwelling—?" Mercy
would think he was insane. The situation had gone far enough. However
helpless, Godman would have to go.
But if Godman went, Moses would have to go back to preparing his own
unappetizing meals. Either that or buy his food in some grimy chop-bar. All
at once Moses saw that he was wondering not how the dwarf would manage
alone, but how he himself would manage without Godman.
Moses was so distressed by the realization that he refused to think about
it. He invited Mercy for dinner, and he explained nothing. Mercy, far from
being repelled by the dwarf, seemed to find him interesting. Perhaps she
regarded Godman only as a curiosity—Moses could not tell. But she praised
the little man's cooking, and when Godman had left the room, she spoke of
him again.
"You are quite lucky, Moses, to have such a good servant."
Moses blinked. Of course. That was why Godman's presence had not
seemed strange to her. She had simply assumed Godman was his servant.
"Yes," he said slowly, "perhaps I am lucky."
"Do you pay regular wages for such a small man?" Mercy laughed.
Moses did not reply.
When he returned after taking Mercy Ansah home, Moses found Godman still awake and waiting for him.
"What a fine woman she is! What a splendid choice! Is her father rich?
You will marry her ? She has a good heart — in her voice and her eyes, it
was plain. She is gentle. You must marry a gentle woman, not one of those
shrewish ones who nag and yelp. What a pair you will make! And oh my
master, what children you will have!"
Moses sat down tiredly.
"Godman, listen to me. I cannot afford to have a servant, and anyway,
I do not want one. Somehow I had not seen it until tonight — it happened
so gradually — the work you do —"
"Do I not work well? Are you displeased with me? The groundnut stew
— oh, I prepared it carefully, carefully, I swear it —"
"Yes, yes, it was a fine stew," Moses said impatiently. "Only — you do
not know some things about living as a man. A man — a man has to work
59 and be paid for it. I cannot pay you, Godman."
"Sometimes you speak so strangely. It grieves me when I do not know
what you mean. Pay? You do, pay me. You protect me. What could I do
alone? Without you, I am nameless, a toad that the boys stone. Oh, I bless
your strength — have I not said so? Where is there a man like my master?"
"Stop it!" Moses shouted. "You must not call me that. You are not my
"I have called you master before, many times," Godman said reproachfully, "and you never became angry. Why are you so angry now?"
Moses stared.
"Before? You said it before? And I did not even —"
"Anyway, what does it matter?" Godman continued. "It is all foolishness, this talk. Why should I not call you master? You are my master —
and more —"
Then he capered like a dusty night-moth.
"Oh, I see it now!" he cried. "Of course you are angry. I am stupid,
stupid. My head is the head of an earthworm, small and blind. Every servant says 'master' and what does he mean by it? Nothing. But for me, it
was not that. Did you not know—can you not have realized what I meant?"
"What are you trying to say? Say it."
"You are my priest," Godman said. "What else?"
Moses could not speak. Godman's priest, the soul-master, he who owned
a man. Had Godman only moved from the simple bondage of the amber-
eyed Faru to another bondage ? And as for Moses himself — what became
of a deliverer who had led with such assurance out of the old and obvious
night only to falter into a subtler darkness where new-carved idols bore the
known face, his own? Horrified, Moses wondered how much he had come
to depend on Godman's praise.
"Godman, try — try to understand. That is a word you must not speak.
Not to me. Never, never to me."
Godman looked puzzled.
"You saved me," he said. "You cannot deny that you saved me. I would
have died if I had stayed there much longer. You lifted the lid of the box
and let me out. It was no other man. You were the one. Who else, then,
should protect me? Who else should I serve? Who else's name should I
forever bless? You freed me; I am yours."
Moses put his head down on his hands.
"There is more to freedom," he said, "than not living in a box."
Godman fixed ancient eyes upon Moses.
"You would not think so if you had ever lived in a box."
Moses raised his head and forced himself to look at the dwarf. He and
Godman were bound together with a cord more delicate, more difficult to
60 see, than any spun by the children of Ananse. Yet it was a cord which could
"You have been here too long," Moses said dully. "The time has come
for you to go."
The little man, seeing from Moses' face that he was in earnest, began to
moan and mourn, hugging his arms around himself and swaying to and
fro in an anguish that was both ridiculous and terrible.
"Why, why, why? What have I done? How have I offended you? Why
do you forsake me? Oh, I did not know you had such a sickness in your
heart. And I am not ready to go — I am not ready yet — I will die,
Moses felt a saving anger.
"No one is ever ready," he said. "And you will not die."
But later, after the arguments and the explanations he knew to be useless, when at last he locked his door and turned off his lamp and could
hear only the sound of his own breathing, Moses no longer felt certain. All
that night he lay awake in case there should be a faint rustling at his door.
But none came.
In the next few weeks, Moses worried a good deal and asked himself
unanswerable questions and sometimes saw in dreams the oracle as he had
appeared in that first glimpse— a fragment of damp and flaccid skin, a
twist of rag on the festering straw. Then Moses would waken, sweating and
listening, and would smoke one cigarette after another until he was able to
push the picture from his mind. But after awhile he thought of Godman
less and less, and finally he thought of him scarcely at all.
One evening, about a year later, when he returned after work to the
whitewashed bungalow that was his home now, his wife Mercy handed him
that day's newspaper.
"Look, Moses —"
It was a large advertisement for a travelling troupe of jugglers, snake-
charmers and sleight-of-hand magicians. In one corner was a photograph
of a very small man, a man not three feet tall, a toy-sized man dressed in
an embroidered robe and a turban.
Moses read the words under the picture.
Half god Half man
Hundreds of years old
Smallest man alive.
Foretells future
Moses put down the paper.
"An oracle —" he said. "It was the only thing he knew how to be. Half
man — did you see? A halfman."
61 "Moses — don't blame yourself."
Moses turned to her.
"Who else? I should have known no one would hire him for any proper
"He really couldn't have stayed," Mercy said primly. "It was all very
well when you were a single man. But I could not have stood it for long —-
to have him running around the house like a weird child, wrinkled and
old —"
"That is not why I made him go," Moses snapped. "It was — something
"I know," Mercy said at once. "Yes, I know. You told me."
It was true that he had told her. But she did not know. No one knew,
least of all Godman himself.
"I — I thought I was doing what had to be done," Moses said, "but how
can anyone be certain? Now he has gone right back — back to his beginning. I wonder who owns him this time?"
"Will you go there ?" Mercy asked.
"No," Moses said fircely. "I don't want to see him—like that. Not again."
But of course he did go. The show was in a great grey flapping tent at
the edge of town. Moses pushed and elbowed his way through the crowd
that waited to be admitted, shouting youngmen and their gay-talking girls.
Inside the tent was a long stage, and there sat Godman, flamboyant as a
canna lily in scarlet turban and green robe. When the little man saw Moses,
he jumped down and ran towards him.
"Mister Adu! It is my old friend! I never thought to see your face again.
Here — come and sit down behind this curtain. We can talk until the people
come in."
"How are you, Godman?" Moses asked uncertainly. "Do they treat you
"Oh yes. They give me money, you know, and the food is plentiful. Moving around all the time, I find it is hard on my lungs — different air in
each place, so the lungs have trouble sometimes. My old cough comes back
in the rainy season. But I cannot really complain. Do you like my robe? I
have four, all different colours, and a silk turban to go with each."
"You are still an oracle," Moses said tonelessly. "You have not changed
The little man looked at him in surprise.
"What did you expect?" he said haughtily. "Did you think I would turn
into a giant ? Lucky for me I am alive at all, after the way you treated me.
Oh, I don't hold it against you now, but you must admit it was cruel, almost
as cruel as Faru, whose eye still burns at me when I sleep. I stayed under
the niim tree outside your house that night — you never knew I was there.
I could not move my legs; they were dead with fear, two pillars of stone.
But in the morning I crawled away and oh, the things that have happened
62 since that day — it would take me a year and more than a year to tell you.
For I ate cat, and slept cold, and trapped cutting-grass, and shrivelled in
the sun like a seed. And I drank palmwine with a blind beggar, and pimped
for a painted girl, and sang like a bird with a mission band for the white-
man's god. And I rode a blue mammy-lorry with a laughing driver who
ifeared the night voices, and I walked the forest with a leper who taught me
to speak pidgin, and I caught a parrot and tamed it and put into its mouth
the words 'money sweet' and we begged together until I tired of it and sold
it to an old woman who had no daughters. And — the rest I forget."
"You are the same," Moses said, bewildered, "and yet — you are not
quite the same."
A tall, heavily built man slouched past, arranging his black and turquoise
cloth casually over one shoulder. Godman called out to him in pidgin.
63 "Hey, you Kwaku! Meka you ready?"
"I ready one-time. Go 'long, man. I coming."
Moses peered questioningly at Godman.
"Who's that?" he asked sharply. "Not another—? Not your—?"
"That one?" Godman said offhandedly. "Oh, that is only Kwaku. We
do the oracle part together. These youngmen who pay to see us — they do
not believe, you know, but we make them laugh. They like me — you would
be surprised. It is not such an easy thing, to find where the laughter is hidden, like gold in the rock. One has to be skilled for this work. The 'pirafo'
used to be fine jesters, and now, perhaps, again."
He touched Moses lightly on the hand, and Moses, looking at the man,
began to comprehend.
"You have done well," Moses said slowly. "At first I did not see it, but
now I see it."
Godman shrugged.
"I have known the worst and the worst and the worst," he said, "and yet
I live. I fear and fear, and yet I live."
"No man," Moses said gently, "can do otherwise."
The band began to assemble. Two boys with the broad brown faces of
coast fishermen, but now wearing pink striped shirts and fancy sombreros,
grinned as they clambered onto the stage with their battered cornets. A
lanky desert man, his ancient past burned onto his face in the long gashes
that told his tribe, began to plink at a flower-painted guitar. The drummer
set up the kettle drum and the bass drum, new and shiny, beside the graceful thonged drums and the carved-wood drums born of the forest longer
ago than anyone could tell. Shuffling feet, scraping chairs, as the crowd
came in.
And Godman Pira waved to Moses and hopped up to take his place with
the other performers on the broad and grimy stage.
For your future peace of mind
start saving now
is a third-year Arts student at the University of British Columbia.
Faux Pas de Deux is his first professional publication.
was born in Calgary, has lived principally in Montreal, and now resides in Vancouver. "An accountant turned writer," he has published
fiction in various publications.
teaches at the Vancouver School of Art, of which he is a graduate.
Has exhibited his paintings in Vancouver and Winnipeg, and won
several art awards.
"lived as a child in mining towns, frittered a year in the R.C.A.F.,
graduated from the Vancouver School of Art, tried work in foundries,
laundries and store design, married, went to Europe," and is now
teaching school in Vancouver. "The Compartment" is his first professional publication.
was born in Evansville, Indiana in 1930. He has an M.A. in Creative
Writing and Literature from Iowa and is presently working to complete his Ph.D. at California. His poetry has appeared in numerous
periodicals, including New World Writing and the New Yorker, and
recently a volume of his work, The Clever Boy, was published by The
Spenserian Press,  San Francisco.
is Manitoba-born, and presently living in Vancouver. She has spent
some years in Africa, the setting of much of her writing. Her stories
have appeared in Story, Queen's Quarterly and Prism. Her novel, This
Side Jordan will be published in the Fall in Canada by McClelland
and Stewart, in England by Macmillan and in the United States by
St. Martin's Press.
has a distinguished reputation as a poet, having won the Governor-
General's Award in 1942 with the publication of Calling Adventurers.
Three other volumes of her verse have appeared: The Wind Our
Enemy, Salt Marsh, and Sandstone, and she has published poetry and
short stories in numerous Canadian and American periodicals. At
present Miss Marriott is working on the novel, The Lodge, of which
we have published the first chapter.
is studying for his Ph.D. in English literature at University of Toronto.
He has held teaching posts at University of British Columbia and Ohio
State University, and has been a producer for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. His work has previously appeared in Counterpoint
and Fiddlehead.
edits a weekly newspaper in Hartland, New Brunswick. He has published poetry in various Canadian publications, and recently had a story
in Fiddlehead. Two collections of his verse are The Rose and the Puritan (University of New Brunswick) and A Darkness in the Earth (E.
V. Griffeth, California).
is lecturing in English at the University of Mandalay in Burma. He
was born in England in the 30's, and has published work in several
English periodicals, including the London Observer and the Cambridge
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