Oh, to be wrapped stiffly in paper!

January 15, 2010

They began to walk along the street, along the asphalt promenade, on one side of which, protected by brick and stucco, glass and iron, life was being led. But the other side, the sea side, flowed. They had put an iron railing between the asphalt and the sea. But this did not deter any latent desire. It was as much a protection as theory is from fact. This was the evening air damply stroking, wind fingering the bones, the opening and closing of violet and black on its oyster-bellied self, the sound of distance which is closer than thought. The iron railing spindled and dwindled in the evening landscape. Sometimes faces looked through the openings in brick and stucco, from their pursuits behind glass, or under the blunt planes, or in the elaborate bandstand, looked out to wonder at the extent of their own charade.

But only to wonder at, Theodora Goodman noticed. The most one can expect from the led life is for it to be lit occasionally by a flash of wonder, which does not bear questioning, it is its own light.

‘You see, Ludmilla,’ said Alyosha Sergei, ‘it is the same as anywhere else, the same. In the window above the quincaillerie there is a woman who will have a child in December. I have watched her adding it up. When the post-office clerk from Marseille, who has seen his future in a mirror, cuts his throat in the bathroom of his wife’s father, who has invited him for fifteen days to tell him his faults, they will stitch silver tears on crêpe and pretend that it was insanity, so that they can give him a tombstone and curse his grave.’

‘But it will not affect the calendar of the woman who is having a child in December,’ said Theodora Goodman.

‘No,’ said Alyosha Sergei. ‘Unfortunately, no. She will have her child, some eventually spotty boy, who will hate algebra, and marry the daughter of Madame Le Boeuf, and be killed in a war. This Madame Le Boeuf, who is at the moment wrapping a stiff fish in the sheet of the Petit Marseillais for the curé’s supper, is chiefly obsessed by eternity. She would like to know that her soul will be wrapped stiffly in a sheet of paper and not expected to swim.’

‘Through eternity,’ added Theodora Goodman.

‘Alas,’ sighed Sokolnikov.

Patrick White, The Aunt’s Story, London: Vintage, 1994: 178-9.


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