This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
” J M Coetzee (2003 Nobel Prize in Literature)
THE NEW SUFFOLK HYMNBOOK
The New Suffolk Hymnbook .
The New Suffolk Hymnbook
a novel by Ben Oswest
First published in paperback in 2006 by Snailpress and Jacana Media
First published in paperback in 2006 by Snailpress and Jacana Media
This digital publication by: Ilex Omni Southern Africa 24 H Argyle Green 135 Grayston Drive Sandton 2196
© Ben Oswest, 2006 The moral right of the author has been asserted. All rights reserved. Cover photo: Room of the Ninja Turtles, 2003, used with the kind permission of the photographer, Roger Ballen. All rights reserved. ISBN 978-1-77009-213-6 (Paperback) ISBN 978-0-62056-694-0 (PDF) ISBN 978-0-62056-695-7 (ePUB)
Perhaps it is just as well that travelling is tough for us. That way the chances are good that we will stay at home, or if we travel, will plan to return home as soon as possible. Chinua Achebe Home and Exile
Jonah Secondo Miss V Secondo Piety Secondo Jarvis
11 31 53 69 87 129 151 179 203
Notes toward a portrait of the district
SING, CRIES JONAH, SOFTLY, as though the word were his last. He is heaving and rolling inside, like a shipful of men rowing for shore, but thwarted, ever thwarted, by the mighty tempest in the sea. The ship, he feels, his mind, may crack. What then? Would he sink down the fathoms, rest among the broken coral and lost pearls of his sanity? – Dream of mermaids’ solace, and barely hearken, when the hour arrived, the watery tolling of his death? The storm inside him bulges, overstuffed. It cannot but break into the world, wheeze through cracks into his lungs, which spasm as if to expel sand or sea-spray. He coughs several times. He wishes Dear God again for some outlet, some soothing poem to chant, or a song of ancient, charming powers to sing. Sing, he whispers. He has spoken unguardedly, too loudly, carried off by the currents. He sees this when the students in front of him shift in their desks and turn their heads. They have heard the word quite clearly. They greet it not, as one might expect of students, with confused silence. Rather, a mischievous opening of the air proceeds from the halos of their polished hair. They are ambitious. They are prepared, Jonah sees, with butterﬂy nets to swoop on any words which might ﬂutter from his mouth. He says to them with some spite – This is my ﬁnal lecture at the university. Let them prize that. It is what he had intended to say, not this Sing foolishness, this Sing betrayal. He takes some comfort from the notion of their suddenly dashed hopes. But to the students the announcement only conﬁrms that they have had good luck today. For it is obvious that this class, this ﬁrst – and last – Shakespeare’s Tragedies lecture of the year,
Ben Oswest is to be the scene of a Literary Moment. They bend their heads ﬁercely to their notebooks, hardly believing their fortune. They poise their pens like weapons, ready to strike upon the slightest further movement from the podium. Not a sentence shall be lost, they resolve. And years from now, they will show their notes, which record the spangled utterances the master is about to speak, with happy condescension to Those Who had not Been There. For surely this moment of all will be pointed to as the moment when – well, that’s the question. When the author of A Suffolk Hymnbook, after long brooding years and a particularly pregnant summer, ascends to another level, more transcendent, more luminous, of poetic greatness? Or when Jonah Behr, Poet of the Nation, ﬁrst publicly romps through the meadows of the mad? His state of dishevelment could lend itself to either apotheosis. His clothes are not ironed. His shirt is mis-buttoned. He appears not to have shaved for at least two days. And then there is the gossip, gaining momentum, about the new book. An early manuscript has purportedly been seen. A new if predictable title has been whispered. Suppose the master has indeed passed a threshold – into triumphant greatness? or scandalous ruin? It could be either. It doesn’t matter. The students will have Been There. They pay the setting its due attention. They gather the sun slanting through the dusty windows into the margins of their notes. They transcribe the smell of the hot classroom, opened for the ﬁrst time in months. They surreptitiously glance around to be sure of faces – so no outsider will be able to claim to have Been There. And when Jonah speaks again, with rather a lot of vehemence, and says that he wants to spend the hour proving that Shakespeare has no business here, is not signiﬁcant to Suffolk, the district, the hills, this entire country, they think to themselves, O this is going to be good, and write furiously to copy every word.
The New Suffolk Hymnbook In their zeal, however, the students are careless. They take the lecture, its dips and pauses and wild words, for truth. They are wrong. It is rote. For Jonah has that gift, common to many in his profession, of speaking something and thinking something else. He has come to the classroom for reasons he does not fully understand. Why even deliver a ﬁnal lecture? It is true that he is stubborn. And dogged by a need for closure. Too, there’s the new bitterness and ill will toward his department, an undeniable wish to inﬂict damage. To hang goitrous around the university’s neck. His judgement, however, is broken, like his front gate, and these reasons seem mockingly pedantic. He does not know what he is going to do. The lecture is simply something to do. It has form, yes, and voice, and is familiar. And Jonah has mused about it for some time. But, really, the lecture is empty, it does not whistle or creak or remember, as Jonah is doing, as the students do not see. They record his words – the hooting of an owl – and his looks – the inscrutability of a vagabond. They do not write about Jonah conjuring false remedies for a certain inscaped storm, do not record his fervent wish that the clouds inside would clear, that the moon would rise and inspire a song to soothe matters which have nothing in common, so Jonah believes, with what he is talking about. I curse you, the students scratch into their notebooks, for this is how he begins. He speaks these words with a nearly disabling passion. The students see the moist ﬂecks on his lower lip. He directs the curse at his department – at Peter, who, ironically, sparked the genesis of his lecture. It was two years ago. During a staff meeting. Peter droning on, as always, about reforming the curriculum. Jonah, to pass the time, inventing words with Peter’s name. Petercilious. Peter Cuttingedge. For Malcolm’s amusement later that evening over glasses of beer. Malcolm himself wise during Peter’s speech, as beﬁts the Head of Department, nodding and frowning, but with the slightest wrinkle of a wink for Jonah, at odd moments, to acknowledge conspiracy. Peteridiot.
Ben Oswest Then, as will happen to poets, as happens to Jonah at least, an event. A vision. Shakespeare appearing, huddled, right there on the co ee table. His clothes shivered to ribbons, his pointy beard full of snot. Mournful, like an abused, gentle dog in the eyes. Peter ﬂogging away with New Theory. The amused thought comes – Lucky for Shakespeare he never took time to travel. He would not have survived abroad. Too many savages and Peters about. An inward chuckle. But the thought not scuttling away, as expected. Rather rustling, secretly, like a pupa, while thousands of tiny complexities work themselves out, and then delivering itself in a suddenly more consequential form. Shakespeare does not belong in Su olk. A short bark of illumination in the middle of the sta meeting. Malcolm’s friendly inquiring eyebrows. Peterwilderment. Then Shakespeare and notion rolled away in an oak barrel, to be stored, and tasted from time to time, by that unpredictable vintner, Jonah’s muse. It was all supposed to have aged into a poem. But now it spills, brown vinegar, out of his sick mouth, no good, like the other poems that he so recently delivered, a messy stack of a decade’s work, into the maw of his ﬁreplace. What, he asks himself again, am I going to do, and words continue to drop out of the air on to the students’ notebook pages. They are writing about that wretch Caliban. But to proceed, declare their pens, we need a simpliﬁcation. For convenience reduce the world to two types. The black and the white. This is not fair but it is useful. It avoids certain delicacies. Now, how often has Caliban been nominated the symbol of the black man? The students make swift and neat marks. The Tempest, Act I. From which the master quotes, from memory, a not unexpected ability. You taught me language, Jonah says and they write. Now I can curse. The red plague rid you for learning me language! Thus Caliban to Prospero and Miranda. Cal, write the students, and Prosp, and Mira.
The New Suffolk Hymnbook And so the argument runs. Cal is the black man. Prosp and Mira are the white pilgrims. They usurp Cal’s domain, make him their servant, banish his god, force on him English. He strikes back. The slave’s only weapon. Using the language that oppresses to curse. Cal, the impudent, modern black man. So the argument runs. But here the master becomes canny, or so the students think, and allows silence to follow his next phrase, which is a question, So tell me, how many Cals do you know, yourself, here in Suffolk, down in these hills? They write the question and still their pens. Jonah is not silent for their beneﬁt, however. He breaks from speech not so they can ponder whether indeed they know any Cals. The ﬂoods inside him have vomited up for contemplation the face of the gardener, and, confronting a Cal of his own, he is forced to pause. The gardener’s face is like the Mona Lisa’s, pleasant without commitment. Jonah has become wellacquainted with it. How many times over the last sixteen years has he walked to work and not seen it? The face is a note in the memory-song which the walk has grooved into Jonah’s mind. The song begins, like a music box, on any single note – such as the gardener’s face – and faithfully proceeds to the entire tune, which starts with strains of anticipation, the walk to the university is pleasant, not too long, twenty minutes on a strong day. Jonah lives in a small house two doors down from the corner of Honey and Wormwood Streets. Relatively neglected streets for a relatively small town. Honey intersects three blocks up with Church and up that street lies the town proper. Six blocks of low shops that somehow seem always foreshortened in the walker’s perspective. At the head of it all, stopping Church Street like a cork, the Cathedral, the town’s glory, the town’s shame, a block of spires that fell, it seems, from a Middle European sky, and now rides the pastel hills of Suffolk County like a castle upon the ocean. It is difﬁcult to pass it without sniggering, as at a fat man who appears on
Ben Oswest his lawn in undershorts. But you must go past to get to work, contrive a means to outﬂank the Cathedral, and reaching the other side you enter the garden, compact and serene, a relief like oxygen after exhaust, and in the garden is the gardener’s face. It is there wherever you look, like a sunspot on the retina. Never anywhere else. It is the same face for sixteen years, getting older with your own, weathering the caprices of facial hair with your own, bearing with good cheer new furrows around the eyes and mouth with your own. It rises in the morning among the Carnations and Roses and picks its way to the copse of Bamboo where, upturned, it receives its daily dose of shaken-off dew. It worships at the Indian Rubber Tree, obeisant like the creeping roots. It lunches in the grove of Gums, by the brook, among the confetti leaves and paper bark. Its sovereign is the First Tree Planted, a hoary Elm at the heart of the garden, from which silent instructions emanate, dictating the gardener’s afternoon, a revolving affair of trowel and clippers until, at last, the Great Elm is reached, and the day’s acts of government are acknowledged with a sober survey of the verdure. Attention is turned to the ruler itself. A Great Elm leaf, perhaps, is clipped, which may show sickness. The gnarls and whorls of trunk and limb are carefully inspected (the tree is old – it must not die). And then the gardener’s face is turned away, which is like the shutting of the door of some spacious town hall, and the day is done, the night creeps up, the gardener wanders to the Camphor Lane, where aroma hangs like bats, and at the end of the passage the Banyan waits, entrance to Hades, raining its poles of rain. Later, once the pyrrhic evening’s spent, the weary gardener creeps back to the ﬂowers to make his bed. The face closes up like a black red rose, and waits for the dawn. Or so Jonah has imagined, garbing the familiar, as poets will do. The gardener features in A Suffolk Hymnbook, Hymns 7 and 24. That was years ago and Jonah is sure the gardener
The New Suffolk Hymnbook is still ignorant of his fame. They have never spoken. Jonah could not count, however, the number of times that they have exchanged a friendly wave. Beyond the garden the university begins. Blocks of buildings spaced like grazing cattle on wide, neat lawns. The walk to his ofﬁce involves an upslope – Jonah is breathing pleasantly hard when he arrives. And beyond his ofﬁce (which has the view) – the hills of Suffolk. Suffolk’s Thousand Hills to the tourists. The hills appear at ﬁrst to be the bottoms of mountains, but no, where you would expect a mountain there are only more hills, heaped upon one another, until, at a certain altitude, they ﬂatten into plains. You cannot see mountains from Suffolk, on the clearest day. You can arrive at a notion of the plains, once you come to understand the logic of the hills, which recede in blues and purples at sunset and feature more prominently than the gardener in A Suffolk Hymnbook. But the great mountains are far away, rearing freakishly, as on Mars. They hurt altogether different air, and appear in a single, non-committal Hymnbook poem. Beyond the mountains? The North. Slaughterhouses. Smokestacks. Coal and Gold. The North – where Jonah might ﬂee? As soon as he has ﬁnished this lecture? Not all the pens of his students have been idle during this pause, but with furtive, bird-like motions have written telegraphs to the future. Is he mad? His eyes – not wild. Now they take up once again in unison. They underline the question posed before, because Jonah repeats it, How many Cals do you know? Two reasons why you know none. First, the people of our land supposed to resemble Cal do not curse. On the bus, leaving town for the day, perhaps. When they are among themselves. In public they are more sophisticated. They do not spit about red plagues. They understand history. They point out contradictions. They list grievances. They talk of cruelty and demonstrate that it is something which tends to worsen.
Ben Oswest They explain how superiority suffers from itself. Or they are utterly silent. Mute as beasts of burden. Bending their heads attending to their brooms. Saving the cursing for the bus. It is either one or the other. Dumb – or declaiming in voices as well-equipped as ours. Second, Cals entail Prosps and Miras. But how many Prosps and Miras do you know? Think yourself one? Do you command the spirit Ariel? The noise, the sound, the sweet air who knows all of Cal’s life apart? Knows what Cal eats and where he sleeps and what he dreams and that he weeps to dream again? (Act III.) Knows what Cal conspires and with whom? What’s more (Act V) Ariel charms, controls and renders Cal as comedy. And sings everything back to Prosp. Prosp knows all Cal is and does. But what white knows all of black? Who has such command? Who keeps the magic books and staff of Prosp at home? None. Cal’s not a black. He is a character in a play. Words. Barely more than a dream (Act IV). That is the lecture distilled, at least, put into notation. The students have given up trying for every word. Because Jonah is thinking rapidly all the while, too rapidly for smooth speech free from stutters and skips and repetition. The students adopt new tactics, they strive for gist. The master does not pause. He has moved on, to King John, to Constance. Their pens race. Constance is his wife, of course. Is his ex-wife. In the storm of his mind she heaves, rolls, a ship’s ﬁgurehead. Constant Con he sometimes called her. Con-Con. The beating weather reﬁnes her features. What is not important bleaches away. Upon meeting her for the ﬁrst time he daydreamed for hours. Upon learning her name – the second or third rendezvous of chance (yes, rendezvous, and yes, chance, for Fate had involved Herself!) – he went straight home to King John. There was a memory of a certain name. Yes. Constance. He read the play again. Found that it was not true, this time, of Constance. She was no shrew, no infuriation on the page. His Constance was
The New Suffolk Hymnbook sweet, unprovoking, thoughtful. She lived without queenly ambition. She smiled at small things. She wore a wicker hat with a wreath of plastic ﬂowers that made her look as pretty as a ﬁgure in Rodin. He wrote a poem – The Liar Bard. It required nearly three weeks of his attention, and caused his face, upon completion of certain stanzas, to blush as he surveyed what he had done – uprooted the weeds which Shakespeare had planted in ten-syllable furrows and sown words of his own, woody iambic vines that grew thick and neat and bore fruit. He admitted to himself that it was a very good poem. He gave it to her, boldly. Later she said it was this boldness that attracted her to him, not really the poem. They married. Happiness. For three years. Then she leaves. One night she says she that after careful thought she ﬁnds she is going crazy. At the height of his inﬂuence and form. A Suffolk Hymnbook, his second book of poems, his second, in its nineteenth – nineteenth – printing in a year! Laurels upon laurels, most especially the sudden title of Poet of the Nation. International remark, even a few invitations for posts. He didn’t take them. Thought himself content. And he was. And he has been. But O. He should have followed the trail his slim volume blazed! He should have split from Suffolk, returning perhaps every few years to acclaim and adornment. All would be different. Constance might still have left – surely she would still have left – but all would be different. There would be no cause for storm. She leaves him in character. Sweetly, understanding, enragingly ﬁrm. She packs through the night and then her presence in the house is gone, except that hat that ﬁrst attracted him so. For a moment he gives in to the paranoia bred of anger and change and feels that she left it behind on purpose. In the kitchen! hanging lopsided on the fridge! the symbol of the woman! to torment him! For he does expect to be tormented. Lawyers perform a divorce. He will be tormented. She moves
Ben Oswest away to board with an aunt and sends legal documents by courier. He still expects to be tormented. He knows he will be miserable. In fact he is not. Without a wife to thwart them, certain tendencies that marked his life in Suffolk become habits. Such as – A Drink With Malcolm, an institution, where their friendship fastens, and their private system of communication, at ﬁrst unconscious, grows over the years into a closeness and an ability to anticipate that Jonah has never before experienced with a man. Certainly not with his father, who said stupid war things like – Straight as a riﬂe, that Old Tom! Jonah and Malcolm become best of friends. Jonah writes an ode to their brotherhood but, like a younger brother, reddens at the thought of sharing it. He gets the odd letter from Constance, which he only skims. They always end she hopes he is Taking Care and that he will Stay Well and once there was a P.S. I read the short stories and think they’re better than the poems. Nobody else notices that particular book. He sends very short replies to her. But what a smile on Malcolm’s face has come to mean to him! Uneasiness which has somewhere attended this recollection thunderclaps, and Jonah suddenly remembers that he is wrong, that he and the gardener have in fact spoken, in fact two days ago. Two days ago – the staff meeting of the Saturday before New Term. A tradition started by Malcolm before Jonah’s arrival at the university. It is like a court, he tells Jonah that ﬁrst year, in the classic sense of the word. Everyone gathers and we try to set a mood for the rest of the year. Often it works. Bring wine. Jonah brings wine, nice wine, and the gathering meets expectations. The ﬁrst year is warm intensity and friendliness. And through all the ﬁfteen later years the meeting more often than not acts as a useful almanac for things to come, if one is canny, if one values trends more than exact predictions. Such is Jonah’s nature, of course. So when Peter arrives, from a more fashionable university, and begins, on that very Saturday, at that
The New Suffolk Hymnbook ﬁrst assembling of the department, to preach Transﬁguration. Which is what Jonah likes to call it, uniting his distaste for religion and Peter. To pooh-pooh old, staid, readings and to advocate what he vaguely describes as Theory, as An approach involving Theory. Jonah feels no alarm whatsoever that the established order might be disrupted. He reads the year’s almanac very carefully. The trends are obvious. The faces are bemused, nowhere near conversion. The most important face, the Head of Department’s, which by now can be called venerable, shows delight at this young blood, but delight of a certain kind. The kind that implies supreme conﬁdence, the delight a father shows toward his bungling child, which begins How wonderful! and ends But wonderfully wrong! There will be no Transﬁguration. The almanac says to plant around the Peterweeds. And of course there is none. Peter wails on, Malcolm maintains, and winks from time to time at his good friend the poet. The poet who speaks voluminously as he watches the gardener’s face rise again, a placid face, like that of a child who watches an ant, like a god’s who looks from on high to see if men will drown. The poet who, as the students arrayed in front of him scratch Act III into their notebooks, and the words, When law can do no right let it be lawful that law bar no wrong, which is what Con shouts at the men in power (King J, King P, and the rest), remembers exactly what the gardener said two days ago, in fact watches as the gardener’s petal mouth unfolds and releases the clean-smelling words again, in better English than expected. Excuse me, sir, are you well? Jonah almost mouths the words himself and they are almost recorded as part of Constance’s speech in fourteen student notebooks. Instead he speaks curtly in his mind to a face which has approached too close to his own. Yes, I’m ﬁne.
he gestures at the park bench. Not curse. But since the afternoon. She knows the power is with the kings. preferably one involving innocence. better than Caliban. the main ﬂeet of his thoughts has been overtaken. which may present themselves at any moment. chasing inklings they can’t quite fathom. But he is brave. He feels that he will uproot this familiar contemptuous gardener and break him in half. And through the whole of the play Con supports her own cause. The rage which mounts might not be measurable. were only his thoughts clear on the matter. the traditional Saturday gathering. Can it be that he is shaking? O – the meeting. aware that he has intruded. In Con then the black man. Nay. to splinter his own craft. True words spoken and ignored. She will hear no other party’s voice if it dissents from her own. But the students. squinting. For does not Constance say what we’ve been hearing all along? If the law does no right then let it stop no wrong. But before they can write old man or frail or most subtly diminished the master speaks again and they are forced to write instead that Con is as good a model for our black man as any Cal. Can it be that he is shaking? No.Ben Oswest The gardener hesitates. So she uses words to shame. He would curse the gardener. rave at him in fury. The mark of true opposition. scuttled. you never sit. There’s only time to cut 22 . This better stands for their sophistication. Now it’s as if he’s captaining a dinghy through deep swirling mists. and begin to cast about for phrases. on rough seas. Not the spittle of a curse. approach truth for the ﬁrst time. It’s only that. This is what they say. boarded. and has no time to dread those other ships on the water. like looming faces mere feet away. It has been waiting for an excuse. Jonah has rested there for some minutes now. These are our own words used against us. His eyebrows deepen. Not I curse and red plague. And in our eyes and Shakespeare’s too she’s a shrew. to cause Jonah to do terrible things.
well. with humility. hear them ﬂap and shriek away. to call for oars. He opens the meeting room door. Someone seems about to speak. So why did we who decide about these things decide on Cal the wretch instead of Con the shrew? Or so Peter says on Saturday when Jonah arrives at the department meeting room. Earth. He gestures to Jonah’s chair. Not a man. Tortoise. to bid the anger to bellow your voice as you roar for whatever human strength is left to row. He is in fact of the devil. Jonah stands and the students write. Do not old 23 . He feels for no reason great sanguinity about the acclaim his new poetry will receive. And Cal justiﬁes these base and damning names. He repels. He’s adjudged a monster because he is one. today is different. Peter rises. Not of human shape. Jonah is refreshed – the walk as usual.The New Suffolk Hymnbook the sails free. He is in fact born a slave. He would rape Mira and people all the isle with Cals. He thinks with joy It has been a long time! He carries a bottle of very ﬁne wine that beﬁts his status. Jonah continues to stare at the trees. Devil-born. Jonah you’d better sit down. row for where you reckon is safe land. These are not unhappy chances. But Peter moves forward. Cal’s a creature. He is momentarily taken aback by the viciousness of his reaction to seeing Peter in Malcolm’s chair. at Malcolm’s right. It could be no other way. The others in the room betray alarm. with a gesture of apology. Act I. Peter says. Now we must be honest. His mother was a witch. And dismiss the gardener with a weak Yes. Scene 2. thoughts of himself through others’ eyes. A freckled whelp. or guilt. Malcolm is dead. Why was Con not chosen over Cal? The answer’s simple. They are his role. pitch it overboard. words like dapper and sagacious. The gardener removes. O How today is different. Today is different. to chop down the mast.
who proceeds by behaving as if Jonah had in fact obeyed the order to sit. Mutiny and rape. Don’t forget the beetle crouching under its special bush. Jonah does not sit and he senses vaguely that in not sitting he has created a stand-off. His hand affords no resistance to words building charge. To show the falsity of Shakespeare in Suffolk. Malcolm’s dead. two men facing each other with implacable intent until it is seen who is the quicker. to pummel Jonah for endless days and nights. who employs a strategy beyond Jonah’s understanding. Crush its grubs. armies and confrontation with false gods. To whom we turn. weakly fortifying against the sudden catastrophe. Jonah fails to defend against the intimate. The model is as ﬂawed as Hamlet. crafted barb Peter looses when he says – Jonah. In this case it is Peter. Dip your weapons in. As if something has now been asked of him which is beyond his powers. Mix them up. but the words themselves remain near Peter. Like Hamlet’s Denmark our land is one of poisons and ghosts.Ben Oswest books that fetch great prices see the world in terms of Prosps and Cals? The missionary texts? The early town gazettes? The decorated lieutenant’s memoirs? Cal’s a black because he ﬁts the shape of thought. I’m so sorry. Cal because he conﬁrms our fears. Their echo strikes him. Apparitions on the plains are reported in the papers as in the early Mail-and-Adverts of centuries ago. Perhaps his colleagues see an attempt to push Peter back? But in fact the gesture mirrors Jonah’s mind. indigestible. Ancestor worship still competes with our cathedrals. Panic. Cal here in Suffolk because he’s brave to curse? Cal the dispossessed? Only because we look at blacks and see not man but Cal. Not because of weak red plagues. producing heat. And a man is killed with one 24 . To show the easiness of models. hardens in his stomach. swelling until they’ve gained mass enough to rumble forward and release a deluge. The lore of olden days supplies a lode of omens. Not because of what he says. He reaches out.
We have agreed Malcolm would have wanted it this way. This from a man who has known Malcolm two years. Jonah sees. We have agreed that classes should proceed as usual. Jonah’s hand ﬂoats to his brow. The day-to-day matters however require immediate attention. But where is Jonah’s own voice now? How has this happened? He opens his mouth. And now turned commands her own to misery. It is cool and damp. Who knows what happens if you pour the grub-glue down his ear? Hamlet does. 25 . Malcolm wasn’t teaching this semester so this won’t be a problem. The more fundamental concerns will of course be settled after the funeral.The New Suffolk Hymnbook sharp poke. and one word only issues. are fawning dullards. weakly. She has sniffed the wind and cozened the new order. in childhood – a towel during a fever. Hamlet is the black man. let it paddle in her neck. Against Claudius. There’s nothing to do. The many sitting faces follow him. The Church. Prostitute. Hamlet could have lived here. Powerful but weak. Call Gertrude his wife several things. is his father. not Cal or Con. Business. Who got his power by devious means. Peter says. She has tossed the old ways. Suitable whores. His mother. Jonah gives in and sits. qualities he would expect from a foreign object. Who strikes the blow to old tradition. He continues to speak. perhaps. Points herself to greater defeat. Peter means of course Head of Department. Tradition. His fatal ﬂaw proceeds from strife between the old and new. Who refuses to follow the code which Hamlet lives by. Most subtle of all call her a sold-out black. Claudius the white man. old tradition. Father-ancestor haunts and urges action. The others pity him but are nervous. A queen but not respected. We were speaking of the future of the department. Against what? Against the new. The others. Nervous because Peter is in control.
Laertes is a pawn. He upholds the outer order. The way of sharecroppers and shack-dwelling men throughout this age. Wise and good they were when Old Hamlet had control. The hospital. now buried together in Old Hamlet’s grave? Hamlet kills him instead of Claud. The restaurant. Her fertility sloughs away. His own confused mistake. then doesn’t mourn. Peter turning left instead of right. Malcolm on his knees outside and ﬁnally in Peter’s car. I was with him. Jonah might pay more attention to the vague points of law that march and turn. A particular type of ﬁsh. Old Pol prattles like a parrot. notorious for causing illness if improperly prepared. too late. Nothing could be done. In Claudius’s rule their bearings go.Ben Oswest When? Early this morning. his noble ancient wisdom unsinewed. He ate a bad piece of ﬁsh. The others murmur sympathy for Peter’s trouble but a mad scene springs to Jonah’s mind. choking. I took him to the hospital. All promise of renewal dies. Ophelia the peasant girl cannot bear this strife. It was once so calm when Old Tradition reigned! She drowns herself. Peter taking him for a walk instead. Thus Pol and all his family massacred. The way of shantytowns in hundreds of hills. To thine own self be true? But what is self to Pol but long tradition. at the back of his mind. Peter watching coolly. guarding distant gates. A non-familial 26 . but Peter triumphant. foaming. Malcolm’s beloved delicacy. taking the long route. It is a pantomime where all the actors are mute. Malcolm powerless. memory and custom wed. Malcolm in a ﬁt. driving slowly. Hamlet and Laertes. Jonah. not his own. Ophelia Polonius and Laertes are the peasants of the land. Malcolm had no family so the faculty will arrange his funeral. each seek the other’s death. turned foes. but the foreground is impossible rearing black cumulonimbi and their dazzling jolts of light. His end by his hand sown. Malcolm needing a doctor. Malcolm wild with death and understanding.
like an antelope on its side. You will oppose. This is clear now. He will become Head of Department. Jonah ﬁnds that he stays still. as Malcolm would want. will he speak to Peter after the meeting. We have all agreed. The funeral will be on Thursday next. There is much leverage to be had in that. He cannot help but ponder suicide. Gloom continues to gather. Peter’s surprise is like a bullet wound. To be or not to be? He knows that old days are irrevocably old. Jonah. ribs shattered. there will have to be a separate university memorial service. Finally.The New Suffolk Hymnbook funeral. He knows that deﬁance leads to death. Something Malcolm wanted to say but never could. Hamlet is alone. and it feels as if Jonah’s arsenal of conﬁdences and signals has been retired or buried. And Malcolm would no doubt have passed the torch to you. No one to pilot him between Claud’s coral and Ger’s rocks. He knows he has some loyalty among the crowds if he can but show them how to act. Then who is caretaking poor Malcolm’s estate? He might have guessed the things to come right away. It is after the meeting and he and Peter are alone. Will he inform Malcolm’s closest students. 27 . Peter speaks. that you should deliver Malcolm’s eulogy. What will you do? You will ﬁght. True you are not young and in touch with current thought. Will he read the announcement Peter will write. It is a modern surprise. This will not improve our relationship but I must respect what I know were Malcolm’s wishes. So how to act? There’s something I need to tell you says Peter. Peter has the power of a juggernaut. as of course not everyone can attend the funeral. breathing quietly. But Malcolm is dead. you see. But you have friends among these academics. Jonah joins the rest who listen. He dimly follows those of Peter’s words meant for him. As it is he sits dumb like a shipwrecked soul far out at sea.
He can rush to the just-dispersed faculty and roar shame down their throats. O everything – has been taken 28 . But the main thing? To triumph over whites keep their modern ways appease the old ancestors? Loyalty to progress and to anthropology? When right is given by ghosts and politics? For the last year and a half. Are those the lengths to which that old poet will go? But on the other hand. Peter’s waiting to deny. The gesture is enormous. and ruin Peter forever.Ben Oswest Does Jonah imagine. If the images which now parade in Jonah’s mind are acceptable to him. as if he might have had some grief of late. He will ride to the department’s head on a wave of outrage. Jonah now holds Peter in his hands. Who saw the skies in certain eyes and an anchor down below to weigh when passion threatened force of breaking strain. He looks. That is if he trusts the truth of this confession. They will believe him. His ears ring as though a bolt has smote him. triumphant in indignation. There’s nothing like craftiness in Peter’s expression. He and Malcolm. says Peter. Could it be true? Is it possible that all – everything. Peter’s words continue but Jonah cannot hear them any longer. Of course Jonah cannot ﬁnd this in his inventory of beliefs. the tactic one of genius. even. he will say with disbelief? Ridiculous. Malcolm and I. A Malcolm who knew the sail-smile of young good white teeth. If there was indeed a pale ﬂabby Malcolm who demonstrated seamanship with the ropes of Peter’s muscles. that Peter is unsure of himself? Of course I expect you to receive this information in the same spirit of conﬁdence with which I offer it. Hamlet brushes them aside. If he trusts this Peter. for a moment. He speaks solemnly. That is simple. to denounce old Jonah as a crazy greedy man. It is a trap. Show to all that it is good to spurn such trinkets. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are baubles proffered by the white man who thinks that ploy still works.
no Bach. composed a semaphore that only he could read. Jonah cannot stay abreast of his thoughts. No catharsis. But is replaced by the model of things we know so well. I complete the paradigm by telling it to you. But see how wrong all this has been! How he wishes he could expel it all! How he has strained the last two days! But there’s nothing that can soothe his mind. 29 . Now it’s just Jonah and Malcolm. I Jonah Behr am good Horatio. by the close heat of brooding clouds. But no Homer. Peter leaves the room. which once. to die for his cause? Martyr and hero and selfpitying man – all three? True Claud dies too. by what you cannot say. No one knows if he will be seen again. none of his own humble hymns. no Beethoven.The New Suffolk Hymnbook from Jonah on this day? Only Peter knows. Not even a song. Until now music. he thought. He’s killed. Now he thinks – O hell! – probably. an amusement. to die with Ger? By Claud’s sword. He always is. the nuances in Malcolm’s lips. Everything repeats. Hamlet’s dying choice. What will Jonah do? It might all have been in his mind. He’ll rule through black Norse troops till history replaces him too. who has now prevented Jonah fond memories of the wrinkles of Malcolm’s eyes. best brought him quiet. By his own hand. Notes and words. the Malcolm who may or may not be true. Peter. Or Malcolm was false with him the whole time. A model’s not a model till it’s shared. Poor Hamlet cannot withstand the burden. because unwitting. because naive. no Housman. always. He fears he may sink into a feeling he can’t deﬁne. He must simply try to stay aﬂoat until the wheel of the world revolves the storm away. The revolutionary Fortinbras. generated by the globe of shaken waters in his mind. The fool-poet. But then? And until then? What will he do? O Malcolm – were you true? His students write for their posterity. Is this possible? Or is it lies? What are you going to do? Is this Malcolm true? Fortinbras is Shakespeare’s mark of history.
Some students note he has gone sing-song. Cal. With your minds there. Ham. can’t you see. maybe even sick. Con. Trauma whips the tempest in his mind. abandons a poem. You can do it to any of the plays. I boldly predict that he will become a recluse like the Catcher in the Rye fellow. Try Richard II. trust nobody. He looks very tired. Who dares to put a system on a poem? It’s so easy.Ben Oswest Because isn’t that defeat? To hang head and do what’s said? Or go to the horrid cities. Because Shakespeare does not belong in Suffolk. Jonah is ﬁnished with words and hardly notices the students ﬁling out with brave and happy looks. Not here. For what’s the good of singing when you’ve been swallowed whole? 30 . Read him there. Then it strikes him that his quest will only ever be in vain. Insight’s unhorsing lance. Who can know the pain of Hamlet? Is that sweat on his brow? He’s passed the forty-ﬁve minute mark. To shout the lecture that has solved nothing into air. to have a model. He leans against the podium. At any rate he speaks his last words very loud. Catharsis is the wrong cure utterly to yearn for. teach night school. He casts about again for something to distract himself. You’ll think of something. begins. but your thoughts will be quite hollow. Lights on. He belongs in Elizabethan England. Indeed a song is worthless. Not elsewhere. lead a private life. Or The Shrew.
she says. But Mama Kosi is wrong and though he is 31 . provides a path. He does not want to wake. leaning back and drawing breath. You are awake all right you are afraid to face Jo-Ann chews the word out of her mouth. She blasts on her harmonica. her body tilting back the chair. She stops.Secondo A RPEGGIO. She says it’s the two notes of a chord. when she smiles this boy has no idea what I’m talking about big and wide black gaps. The harmonica thrashes in her mouth love this. JO-A NN SAYS. She says but played one at a time. no such thing as coincidence of course her brow knit in blowing fury. She is expecting some thing to follow but that boy just stands there cold or furious I can’t tell my I wonder if you can see him when and says but that’s about the only Italian you are up you know you’re up so you’d better open your eyes and see what you’ve come to. The harmonica ﬂashes between her ﬁngers. Jo-Ann says this life and others patterned together as ideas kickstart an awakening and release is had at last. one two one two one two one. the sun shining on her hair the brown of horse. counting a sound and then uncounting. crinkling her eyes. the harmonica modulating. coincidence is remarkable. according to Mama Kosi. She smiles kindly. She leans back into the shadow. her eyes squeezed tight at the ground. better to count it when you’re asleep. Memory is a bad counting of things. her elbows sawing back and forth. arpeggio. head shaking and shuddering. cupped in her hands hope this doesn’t scare him they are sometimes afraid and leans out of the shadow of the trailer door. looking up as if Hallelujah! Praise Glory be to God! except there is no God per se Jo-Ann says. The sound is like the expression on her face I was searching for the right approach. and it seems to take some of her teeth with it. Memory is easier when it’s dreamed.
Not ever this home God bless us though. and then the birds. The package lies between them on the table. Yes yes. Then pain pain teaches you need a lesson and all its consequences. Here is the smokestack city he is ignoring me on purpose the erupted. I said that was a bad ﬁre yesterday did you hear me. he’s very quick this one. But we have lived here a long time some of us I have lost my dearest out back three times. Your name Secondo is why you are here. O how old women need comfort.Ben Oswest not awake you are awake he knows how this bad counting will go. More promises broken than kept. that he will ﬁrst feel the icy grass and then will hear the insects around him. Mama Kosi says eh that was a bad ﬁre yesterday. like a poke in the ribs. like a child you’re deceiving yourself closest to Mama Kosi the low-lying box of chocolates see if he gets any of these chocolates. Yes. Jo-Ann says pain is avoidable through concentration. all at once. Yes. creating a miniature landscape. out of which coalesces pain Jo-Ann and her instrument teaches if you heed Jo-Ann’s advice and concentrate and if you will but let it end. You are lucky it missed slowly. that still he shivers and shivers. the design and execution of the day before today. more distant. he remembers the last time. opened package. the strict ways that will order. Then the memory that he has shivered all night. Gordon came with this package yesterday and I promised to tell him the story it burdens 32 . communing among themselves in the bushes. The tissue papers make pink and blue crumpled hills and here is Suffolk a slim white envelope a brat further away in the farm country proving you are awake. slowly. She has opened it and spilled its contents on the table. an uncountable number of black grains in a luminous red land. He doubts whether you are awake though he can count further than that. A very dark faintly reddish soil lies fallow behind his eyelids.
He surfacing. truck does not stand out much from the light road or the dark hills. All objects are potential beginnings of distraction. grinding down the road. the six a. Can I – . Can I have a chocolate.m. 33 . a truck that once carried soldiers.m. O! You be patient now. truck.. full of must drive this truck slowly now back axle’s set to go plenty trouble if I spill these darkies out all over the damn road. Fought surfacing. It is a heavy truck. The six a. It’s six a. Before you were born but not so long ago to me surfacing. not too fast. The truck has toiled halfway up the hill.m. it turns the truck is no story. it moves like a bark-black insect creeping along bark.m. The space under the canopy of the truck you know is darker than any other point in the landscape and Secondo must simply be brought to an understanding of the possibilities for a story here. Can I have water.m. leaves the contour of the hill and follows a straight line away from the hill toward the top of another hill. it has almost reached the turning point. I have waited until now to open it because it comes from the place where your name comes from and it is important that you know about your name it’s how you can know about yourself an untruth so that when you grow up speaking without thinking. The truck is like a story. The truck. truck but it’s not light enough. It might be eight a. Your mother pufﬁng blowing hot the poor one on the ﬂoor than any dreamt Mama Kosi tale. He watches awake on his side. Jo-Ann says you are an old truck.The New Suffolk Hymnbook a bit perhaps I will tell him some of my burden. the eight a. My husband is dead you know that no need to go into it surfacing. grinds down the road below where Secondo lies. Can I abide this I made a promise though. The road turns away from Secondo.
I know Mama. A Saturday again.Ben Oswest Truck’s moving slow. Let him be. Hello creeping. How many days you reckon. Mama. The truck has toiled halfway up the sources of distraction in the hands of the weak is halfway up that hill but when it goes over the hill and Mama Kosi then like a rubber band pulled too taught by the truck isn’t it better to start now. Gordon my son how was work today. Your mother pufﬁng blowing hot the poor one on the ﬂoor. I’ll go for some things. Yes. And oh is that the package. And tomorrow? Yes I must go back in. Mm. Now I had a husband but he died bless him you know that no need to go into I promised but I’d be happier. eighteen outside. It’s getting on summer. Yes. And not so long ago but before you were born a great war the greatest war of all yes he fought for us and survived but he almost didn’t once is enough really this useless boy. only a long trip back the car had trouble. ﬁnding your way in this world. Hello. Fine. We’ll get that kid. I’m going to ﬁst and knife and asshole pieces of tin roof boards and kick despite that woman she’s through with him anyway. We should celebrate tonight. 34 . half-domesticated. Seventeen. Yes. Again. Yes. Sun’ll be up when we stop.
They are an easy people. I was walking to the guard house. All things whisper when snow is falling. I was taking a path that only we soldiers used. suddenly invisible. So my husband was almost the snow has fallen for days now. That is why I had my little shovel. drops cold and settles like sand settling upon sand. Most of the men used a different path but I liked this one. The Italians aren’t so bad. but whispered.The New Suffolk Hymnbook Hello. deserted and silent. roundabout. They curse under their breath. Ice is frozen water. a farm somewhere in the hills. Yes. dig the snow this way and that. the snowpetals ache in your hands when you ball them to throw at the playful Italians. 35 . Good. I was not walking to the bar. There you can drink with them. I was thinking. I was thinking about it. snow weightless falling ice. An idea I have. Each falling bit carves the air like a rose petal. See you later. a family deﬁnitely and also a bit about this vision I couldn’t shake. It was my shift to watch the guns we’d taken from the Italians. The Italians were forbidden from all paths to the guardhouse. They might curse or show their ﬁsts. maintain the paths that spider around the town. and the only other sound was my breath which stopped in the air and was blanketed to the ground by the snow. I do not fear the Italians. the guard house. My boots did not thump. Gave me something to think about watching the snow pour down for the next several hours. I liked to stroll through town before duty. Enjoying the story. The other thing I was carrying was my gun of course. running from town to the guard house. I’m something of a spectacle of course so they’re OK with me. The Italians shrugged their shoulders or greeted you and some would even sing a song. Good God how it grows. I was considering my plans after returning home. the barracks. Perhaps I’d start North and work down. but usually to other Italians. but show them your gun and they will humbly beg permission to shovel the snow out of your way as you walk to the bar.
my head cracked right where my heel slipped. I got depressed just like that. 36 . either. my husband always reckoned it should mean gift not what it means look at him look at those chocolates but only an angel could have found him there and then the whole family taking such an interest. then someone dug up the shovel and gun and left. Secondo! Your mother said it was the last thing she heard and when she came to it was best suited for the child is my son I can think of no other name not the same at all as I couldn’t believe I can’t believe so there you are. I saw it all. A gift an unexpected gift after the poor one he’s buried out there so beautiful you’re the Secondo you want a chocolate bless that poor one ashes to ashes dust to dust Secondo it’s better to be awake. I was wet and cold. Came to my mind just like that. You can’t be sure what an Italian will do with a shovel or a gun. The things I would have done. the shovel and gun pulling me down. knew all along that the instant my heel hits there the snow which covers the ice clears away like smoke. look at that picture on the TV. Now he has a family of his own. my shovel and gun splashed soundlessly into the snow. I didn’t want them to hurry back. and something was wrong with my legs. take stock of the situation.Ben Oswest I saw it coming before it happened. That Secondo who saved him was a gift-child from God. I did. I shouted. what a strange thought. Travel. The snow came down like rain. The Star of Italy. So when your mother pufﬁng blowing hot the poor one on the ﬂoor I couldn’t believe you no complications at all I shouted. I thought. I could see the footprints. They followed mine ﬁrst. Oddly enough I thought right away that I’d name my son a good strong name. it sounded like a bell. Sends us a package every year the memory of my husband on that mountain strong they never met a black man before. had my eye on it for some reason. work my way South. a family. my arms ﬂying out like a startled bird’s wings. then they tramped around. the ice ﬂashing sky blue. Someone came along while I was out. and then this idea I have Secondo which is why I know the name of the restaurant in town. Your mother was going to have a son still a son I am still going to have a son.
It’s a new world. An ant pauses on a stalk of grass. Their shadows fall tall among incomprehensible things that buzz small back and forth around them like messengers. it is a dark wet rodent. touches Secondo’s face. past six. and the children would chase after. they must still be drunk. It is morning. And later when the sun bakes and steams the no because the future’s never let out except on a leash memory holds tight. It used to be only instinct there in the Garden. His foot. to take note of where he fell asleep. his body nested in drooping. Leaving the Garden looking around then hundreds of men and women all of them in two-by-twos on a great ship the waters rise the ship heaves and in forty days Land! Land! The ship is anchored. It didn’t use to be like that. Now he is shivering. The grass buzzes. He pants heavily for long moments. He stops groaning. this is good and this is bad. But he rolls instead back into the grass and his voice wakens. The blood has brimmed out of his foot during the night and soaked his brow. And the future’s held tight until everything’s remembered everyone stands in the front yard. It has given him fever. All the delightful useful things. Zee and his brother. someone would be able to hear his teeth now his body aches it’s hard to say where now he stirs.The New Suffolk Hymnbook The icy grass droops. A lot of good but then O WHAT ARE YOU DOING. caught by the leg that will burst scrabbling in terror for the bush in the bush lick like a cool stream shade of leaves passing by his throat thirsts. They look around ﬁercely from under their eyebrows swaying at the hips. dew showers down. Two men. the land has come some way out of slate. somewhere near. It is not him. Birds. O the Garden is no more for you. His foot is poisoned meat. They are perhaps crawling over his body as well. Secondo would move the Earth to knock one of them down why for what purpose yes certainly. But the women might try to block him. The sky gains in blue. to take in the greening of the land. wet leaves of ice. Practically a dozen women. a quick dash right past Zee’s legs. they swim to land and dry off. shifts his legs to sit up. brushing. searching for dew beaded on his arms and legs. who missed the truck. everyone who’s around that is. bathe in the grass. 37 .
she’s got God knows how many children out here without mothers and fathers. Pete. She has obtained reprieve from all action pertaining to her property until the court makes its own assessment. The same goddamn court issued this piece of paper and I’m not leaving until she takes it off my hands. Look at him. you can’t serve this notice. it’s not her doing. God knows how many criminals. he folds the paper. he stops talking and looks down. Hello Zee uglyface hello sis ready for this one oh now. Wonder what that kid would think if I pushed fancy lawyer son of a bitch down the steps. If he gives me another OK – . Hello? Hello? But can you expect anything else from a fucking OK. and the bottom line is I am serving this notice. She has violated every single code on the books. Good morning. what will he do. No electricity. but even that’s not important as far as the court is concerned. ask the judge what the hell. There’s no schooling there’s no waste removal. he pushes it into the lawyer’s breast pocket. What is this. I’m going. she’s got unzoned and unﬁt buildings of every kind including domiciles. There’s no water. First of all. excuse me for saying so.Ben Oswest who knows how many of their children. Everyone in the front yard murmurs good morning. But he does not complete his thought for the door opens and Good morning steps out still in her bathrobe her face covered with white paste. So many staying home today. Well then there’s been a mix-up that’s all I can tell you our reprieve does not simply expire. and go back to the court. to leave this notice here. No proper sanitation. The one man is saying she’s got illegal commerce out here. He stands below the white men. these people have chosen this place. You don’t understand. 38 . And the two white men standing up there talking they don’t look happy. Secondo walks toward the house. Good morning Auntie. He sees Jesus Christ I can’t believe what’s going on out here.
Mm. The lawyer stays on the porch. One day soon Pete says. 39 . She has parked her trailer as usual at the edge of the grassless plot. The man walks to his car. she eyes him while she speaks. knocks at the door standing behind the door the whole time who knows why she came out lets him in. Do I need to do anything. Good morning. The front yard stirs no he can’t just come here what am I going to do the laundry with today I must ﬁnd David we’re out of bread hey do you think we could get that one now. Oh. who is walking against the brush of a breeze which smells of rain. Most of the children have arrived. He approaches slowly. hard. a green sedan. the dust like boiling water. it tumbles weakly toward Secondo. She looks into the front yard and grunts. It will rain later. Yes yes the lawyer says. she stands in front of the trailer door. Zee’s brother stays on his feet but Zee goes down they are shouting little I will murder him set him on ﬁre but he has already reached the horizon. Jo-Ann has seen him. I wouldn’t advise that because if you take it he can say you accepted the notice and then come back with the ofﬁcer. They all say good morning again as she closes the door. No it’s OK I’ll see the judge today. it billows around their legs. he has disappeared like a speck why did you for what purpose he jogs to the dirt ﬁeld. Secondo waits until Zee has made it a good way out of the yard it’s probably time for and up the driveway before he sprints toward them ten times as fast as the fastest plane the furnaces in his legs hot as he charges between them and keeps on like a star charging toward the Earth. May I see it. the dust has not yet settled around them sitting in the folding chairs. Shame later the children will want to play football here a pity as usual. Jo-Ann is there already.The New Suffolk Hymnbook It seems the court granted an order to the city but there’s probably a mistake.
They have noticed him before of that one. They giggle and croon and ah he skirts them toward Jo-Ann she says SHH. Do you understand? YE-ES Okay. It hits the opposite wall. YE-ES OK I want you to write A and when you’re done I want you to show your little brothers and sisters how to write A. Big brothers and big sisters do we know our ABCs. I was afraid you weren’t coming but he’s going to play intransigent except I’m in no mood for it OK. Secondo. Now. Jo-Ann eyes him she can decided to sulk today pretend he’s somehow hurt she says OK OK everyone quiet down sit sit SIT you can go home if you don’t want to listen. away from his foot. He can see out the door. They sit on either side of the tiny table in the shallow room. like children at an outcast dog. Jo-Ann says Secondo let me get them started. He kicks a piece of clutter. 40 . Do you understand? YE-ES And then B and then C and D and E all the way to Z. Did you do your homework. Give them the pencil when you’re done and let them write A. They go inside the trailer. They dash for the paper. the students are not working they are squinting into the doorway. ABCs today. I’ll be back in ﬁve minutes when I’m back I want to see two alphabets on every page. settles on the carpet. big brothers and sisters come and get a piece of paper. pencils. an empty box. Have a seat. one window opposite the door casting half a square of light on the brown carpet. she leaves the door open.Ben Oswest She says today is big brother big sister day so please big brothers and sisters ﬁnd your partners and while everyone jumbles together like dice rolling in a cup like children he slouches to the back of the classroom I insist that we call it a classroom for that is where we learn.
He looks out the door. Very he needs a home. She says Secondo. their pencils walking on stilts across the sheets of paper. Oh that’s more past a myth. places a game board on the table. Let me see it.The New Suffolk Hymnbook Secondo has an idea. Very good. the students are mostly working now. As far as conscience goes and community. they’re a better object of my time than you when you’re like this. Jo-Ann says yes Secondo I can see that 41 . This boy is so good sometimes. produces a box. noun. watching him now Jo-Ann blinks. opens it. She consults a piece of paper inside the box. a person could get lost. Secondo says koo. and I know you understand me. tumbling softly into and out of patterns. the military ofﬁcers who rule a country after a coup very good you did them all but what about this do you know what a coup is. sweetly going. She bustles in the clutter on her side. Now. he turns his head toward the students glances coyly sideways toward her and says the entire Alphabet. They place the pieces together. meandering. pulls it straight. Thank you. like in a dream. drifting. noun. she meditates. a take-over of government by he ﬁdgets with his hands the military. He takes a wad of paper from his pocket. Your move ﬁrst softly. I did my homework what is fairness is it giving equal time to all or is it distributing things to those best able to make use of them. She’s still. like clouds in a drowsy afternoon. Such a good boy. down a path now that I see it than I ﬁrst. And now for your reward as promised. gives it to Jo-Ann I’ve acted rightly so far she reads junta. Her breath comes out long like a deﬂating like someone vexed with you for good reason is there any way you can call that the advancement of anything much less. whole and beautiful. the trustworthiness shining from his eyes. peaceful. Secondo I try hard I’m not even sure if it’s right to privilege you. their heads bent. Now did you do your homework or do you have any questions for me. already. Uncomplicated feelings sweetly coming. The sweet beautiful pursing of his lips.
A stirring among the children pointing at you. Looking back he points straight at the one who yahs then turns and tramps on. trouble. He rests on the other side of the hill. His head rests on a patch of clay between weeds that sprout like trees above him into the blue day it’s like this he tries to keep his thoughts bobbing above the down there. No. He stands in the door and mutters. He does not lower his ﬁnger. Very well. Down there he sits among the worn-out weeds. The children can see where he’s going. we’ll play another game. their heads turning slowly. He crumples the paper into his pocket. she says. what will happen tonight he does not look back but throws back his ﬁnger. He walks quickly past the children in the classroom a brutal use of deﬁnition the children watch. Yes. his ﬁnger takes them all in now. here are your words for Monday should I give my wink. One yahs quietly one hisses it’s like this. A coup. it creates a wall that extends across the dirt.Ben Oswest and she places her foreﬁnger on the proud cranium dented football now slumping in the throne no sensation in my hands who are all those people watching me and jumbles the pieces. What? He glances at the game board. pushes up against the chest of the one who yahs and freezes him forever an act of fear. Secondo says. then he is off what it’s like it’s like this. that’s Monday. He reaches the foot of the hill still pointing. I won’t keep you now unless you have any questions. She no one in the world but us knows what it’s like searching for the right thing to say to hopelessness. They can see where he’s going mention it aloud they ride the blunt rim of his ﬁnger until he disappears like a speck over the hill is what it’s like. then lies back. Mama Kosi says it is respectful and our tradition and furthermore it is also our duty 42 . I’m back in three days. He keeps his thoughts shallow in the air above the valley between down there this hill and the next.
Secondo’s thoughts dropping like a tired bird he catches himself. He could skirt the graveyard but you may not skirt the graveyard Mama Kosi says it is in your character to experience passage through the graveyard. But that one particular it is in your future. Jo-Ann says. His thoughts have dropped. It will bring us good luck. the least of our worries. That was a drop. He. you see death’s the smallest of problems. in between the valley hidden from Mama Kosi’s front door. He will saunter among the shadows the crosses cast. What they get wrong is when we come back. Then you’re on your way. there’s luck. hovers higher. Jo-Ann says yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death so the Christians say and they’re not far off either. hissing and crackling.The New Suffolk Hymnbook down there. the grass curves elliptical around the valley. their shadows like toy swords lying fallen on the grass. Jo-Ann says human weakness is not an untruth. a cat’s-eye shape of grass laid concave in the valley. The brownness of the hill ends just outside of the B VAN DYK. Death is a valley of death. He lies on the hill what it’s like it’s like the blank TV late at night. a shadow. His luck is only for the luckless just over the next hill. He raises them. O Jesus how we miss you bless us. aware that he has never not taken this route. You understand that. heh. There’s duty. Mama Kosi says it’s tradition respectful our duty luck. A shadow. the plush thick green grass crosshatching under his feet. And in between. your thoughts soar in static. That is death exactly. crosses sprouting from it. He ignores the others passing right and left until he reaches the cement block PHILIP ABRAHAMS – 1927-1981 – RIP BELOVED – HUSBAND – 43 . From you mean to tell me there’s a what out here Christ unsanitary decomposing Secondo’s thoughts drop like a yolk from its shell and spread over the hot valley. Our duty says Mama Kosi you will never yes he walks down the hill in big jolting steps. Secondo lives just over the next let devils live where they may with the other shacks leaning like shacks. JUSTICE FELLOWS then TYE just TYE perhaps a dog then WIFE no dates. unreal.
That other he hasn’t reached yet. He looks back at the hill he has just walked down. Secondo feels bright and hot. The soul desires to do good. a midwife. 44 . yes about one-fourth fallow all the time with about two dozen farmers a couple of carpenters. everyone rooting out weeds straightening crosses singing trimming the grass. and takes steps away in a line as straight as possible. Mama Kosi says you must respect your ancestors they’ve made this place and truth be told your own blood is in the earth here. that one. The concrete ﬂashes in the sun at a certain angle but the words do not slide off it into the shadow. crop rotation to keep one-fourth. That other over there its shadow swording into it as noon approaches. Mama Kosi says I will not contradict you. twice a month. He supposes I will not contradict you explains itself in the way he rotates away from PHILIP ABRAHAMS. But further. my wife. pay your respects boy as often as you might they’re good people made it possible and who knows but they aren’t just watching over the hill appreciate your consideration send some luck your way. you see it will support a community of one-hundred adults if they do it right. Secondo squints at the concrete individuality is what destroys people Jo-Ann says. shadow. milking cattle and the rest working out in Suffolk I tell you a man can show the world a thing or two.Ben Oswest VETERAN – FOUNDER that’s all I need for this personal version of a renaissance. the children can inherit and acquire additional property. over there at the start of the far hill. dense and dark. Put the one house here the other nearby a well or two if there’s no stream. Tend to that I wonder why he’s so curious about over there. If he were to ride in a boat over these hills along this line the next wave would roll him to his will not. he stops at goodness. I’ve been out in it taps the concrete with his foot it’s smooth and clean. Because Mama Kosi. it ﬂashes full of sun. the creeping quadrangular edge. yes. The souls. Mama Kosi says out of love and respect for those who’ve gone before. our souls for instance feel it pulling them toward annihilation they want to do good you see. his face like the ﬂashing polished concrete. but wet too. But goodness is in the way. thick as blood in earth over there mixing up with the grass. goat.
The scene begins in his mind before. Girly particularly pretty particularly a locked place. in the gym of thought I was to make them appear hobbled.The New Suffolk Hymnbook It is made of two tree branches. with Girly. You are my girlfriend. a small army in the cat’s-eye valley of green. my look. you are my girlfriend. The coolness of shade this time of day. Jimi says again. But I was dreaming. He has done his duty. The sweetness of my soul infecting the very features of my face. up the hill. without motion even. my glance beginning the goodness of old times. It pokes straight and stout out of the grass. the dust disputing around their feet. Girly gapes ugh and ﬂings his arm away she has always been a strong girl there is that to consider. he crouches and edges to the hilltop. his head he imagines rising over the hill. In my deep clear eyes the sweet pure air through which men and women walk with catlike ease. But he has spoken not within the course of things to see them turn away from him after such a statement. He pulls from the ground the tendrils of a weed. and two nails. He turns. Now the tall command of Jimi the man-boy sixteen and so strong he twists her arm and says again with such 45 . from the other side of the hill. In my curving lips future girls bending to fetch water from brimming wells. ﬁnding my way out of mother guided by a woven dream. no exit in her blouse and skirt. my eyes were closed. Jimi says. as if kissed Secondo rides at the bottom of the hills. walks slowly. There is Jimi. But Jimi is more handsome than ever and twists Girly’s arm behind her back. discards them. not slats of wood. A straight. Tall handsome Jimi. stout body was my destiny. lurking on the fringes of the schoolyard always. He looks at the crosses. In my straight and ﬁne nose a new town plan of tidy streets. the words so conﬁdently delivered. Peace. All girls like Jimi of course. Serious Jimi come now you know it’s true the point urged with a suggestive touch. if I was to be a shade more athletic than my peers. on the instant. sturdy as a horse. against gravity. girls watch the ground when he is near. propping up the sky on my shoulders. Beams for thighs. to hunch up against the sky. And yes.
Not so handsome now. They both breathe hard. There is no one else about no. Girly crouches still. struggling for expression. For a moment their faces are the same. is it separable. Now he has fallen on his free arm as well. Jimi abandons. his tone gentler than before almost whispering to her that she can say yes anytime she wants. devil up there on the hill should I beat this devil out but smirks and places his arms akimbo waiting. She shakes her head. leaps away from Girly. Jimi barks in scorn. he speaks only one word. He has her arm. He warns that she better say yes. if so girl yes Girly is a girl but is Jimi acting the way one would expect a person to act toward his but what has Girly done but run the heel of her shiny dusty black shoe down Jimi’s shin she is not his Jimi yelps. he starts and stares down. stooping over Girly grinding her arm until she also cries in pain.Ben Oswest brilliant conﬁdence you are my what is a girlfriend. And with every whispered rocking yes suppose this happens the web of your forbearance will chill to brittleness and crack a freezing twisting groan rise from your belly to your mouth Secondo steps up. fumbling. They are indeed kneeling now. his lips are close behind her ear. Secondo is unprepared for Girly’s scream. he grits his teeth in anger and also is not quite as tall as he once was. Adrenaline washes his body. Secondo cannot help what you know. supporting herself with her free arm. The other he keeps twisting. eyes closed and tearful. He bends so low over her that they are both almost kneeling. there is. the dust settles around her balled body. 46 . Is she struggling with him. For a moment it seems march this shit somewhere do something but it seems he thinks of something else for he merely points at Secondo then trots off with easy shoulders in the direction of the house. no she has been mastered. She is staring up. bulging. he imagines an earth spirit rising from the hilltop. panting. But she has bitten her lip against saying suppose this will happen bleeding. Such courage compared to Jimi who is handsome and strong will see the issue through. she falls forward. Jimi mutters to her staring up at Secondo devil. he stands.
Can you imagine hours and hours. Love. A golden taut string separates the planks. made mostly of wood. freed when I am with my love for the soul tends to goodness it’s just culture gets in the way. though I feel it differently than most people say they feel it acting like hawks they think but really just pigeons is a mystery in the word’s old sense. and the busy patterns of his eyes. she rose there from the shameful dust to that little demon his face that demon it is intolerable. a revelation. His hovel. green residue of light. is cool. complete intoxication. Girly there is nothing to eat hardly an excuse. an aroma for the spirit to inhale. It took me long enough to peel the layers down I’m forty-two really why am I saying this what does he my spirit’s not nearly that old perhaps love reduces what is most important about you to its most and while he was doing it to me I tried to pretend that I was back in the mother’s love before I even went to Jo-Ann’s school I remember the light of the sun from one window would creep down the wall and across the ﬂoor getting thinner I never saw the part where it was too thin to see while he was doing it to me I pretended I was facing that wall watching the sun slide down it and bend on to the ﬂoor but it took so long it took hours and hours.The New Suffolk Hymnbook He knows for certain about the scream. Two thin triangles of sun cut into the shack’s dark. then she runs off too. But he can see nothing else. And of course but perhaps I perhaps he is a bit young there’s erotic I have always admired Jimi’s body he has walked by me before when I was standing with Shirley he walked by the way a man who has had a woman walks so purposeful he passed us looking straight ahead. looking away from the door. What a man fortunately I feel them both towards someone in town or perhaps I should say the feelings are allowed. He will hunt for scraps at dinnertime. Secondo walks down have you never been helpless the boys teasing you with their hands a single shout would scatter them but your mouth is to his blest and cursed by cowardice he leans two planks against the doorway. in the wildness of her breath and body. Shirley and I looked at each other. except. 47 . says Jo-Ann.
Girly’s face ﬂares. Auntie often has meat. friends of hers and his friends standing with them to see what will happen now shufﬂing and murmuring. Meat would be good tonight. lets them drop in his lap. Can you hear me devil you better come out. But perhaps if he comes tonight again I need to give him something may even have meat tonight. Smoke. Mama Kosi says. No music. Dinnertime. Jimi shouts again death is nothing a valley a shadow a pasture a process stay how long have you been where you are tall handsome 48 . you better come out you devil. He stares at the dark crack in his doorway. yes. He uncurls from his half-mattress and smells the air. crossing like tree branches like the limbs of about a dozen silhouettes in front of the dark blue sky in a night breeze don’t go out there heads like black heads dark bobbing balls. Just people out there talking. Jimi says you come out or we will burn you out. quoting her husband. As he leans to look through the crack Jimi’s voice knocks against the planks of his doorway like stones. He stretches his arms. No. It seems like forever since he’s eaten meat. several do not go out. He can feel emptiness in his stomach. Meat is a man’s meal. Girly’s sister says you devil we know who you are in league with Satan you have caused the children to sin. resumes his hunched form. Bone for the dog. falls.Ben Oswest The crack between the planks in his doorway has gone dark. The murmuring rises. a pretty nice breasts but too churchy near Jimi. Murmuring. A concentration of light like a dimple on one shiny cheek. Secondo sees arms and legs. He holds up a torch. He doubts everyone will have something for him. But no one comes here at back end who wants to live in that beyond the it might be Zee. It is obvious that if I can put on a good enough show I’ll cure my troubles tonight. he goes there too often. Jimi strikes a match and lights a branch he is carrying. a party. meat for the man Jimi like I was a dog a DOG I watched the man’s meat. He listens. Do not leave he hears noise incongruent with night noises. it is Girly’s older sister.
The shack begins its oration. The walls will collapse. Girly’s sister is thinking only about her sister what did Jimi tell her. but not before the roof falls and presses him into the baking earth cross blood dirt duty reverence empty things death is positivity in nothingness stay right where you Secondo the story of the man who feared death sought an antidote succeeded suddenly discovers that immortality is a wound oh how he wishes he would die of his wound. The scufﬂing feet retreat as the shack starts to crackle the small ﬂames climb ladders of wood. Secondo is still and quiet as a hunted creature. Secondo it is in giving in to them that you will compromise yourself returns to his mattress. Jimi says you asked for this be damned. The shack thunders as I walk through the valley of the shadow he wonders if but they want you to might open his eyes. He how can you betray yourself outside betray your clenches his teeth. Jimi get the bastard out he has led the children astray corrupted them soiled them Jimi says one last chance come out go out and live with lies to what they will force you to do. You must welcome the inevitable. He imagines that they see a bright square of 49 . breathing in hot smoke.The New Suffolk Hymnbook Jimi no one ever doubts. He hears faint exclamations outside. the ﬁre take my time. They all watch the shack. the coming heat will keep him ﬁxed a stone. Come out and answer to us. smoke hangs in the air above Secondo’s head. Loud and round. It throws back shadows in the torchlight. He closes his eyes death is the most childlike and innocent of events. his ﬁsts. no movement. He is as still as a man convinced ice. Secondo muse upon death for a lifetime it is walking deeper into still waters it is ﬁnding no joy in a woman it is singing and you are redeemed from fear curls tight on his mattress. The others gather around the shack he hears their scufﬂing. No sound. come to ﬁnd you. lies on his side. What did Girly death is inevitable.
he sits. Why bother with it when memories are made as easily as money and your own memory will ﬁnd for you all you need to know Secondo is shivering in the open grass. the ground sways and swelters. The apple lifted and eaten clinks in memory like coins. He does not know what will happen next. His body has always been tough. smokestacks belch. his arm in reﬂex catching Secondo’s lips and teeth but Jimi loses his balance and falls and the ﬁgure is too fast for the rest. It is true Jimi touches him for a moment. When he reaches the road. perhaps. pausing when the fever peaks and rings loudly in his ears. he staggers. he crashes across the hills until he trips. He can stand. The sun infests his brain. his hands shudder into earth. as well. he thinks. the polluted clouds blaze peach at sunset. he knows is a graceless thing. He spends the morning staggering down the long hill. He is almost immediately a dark shape blending into darkness. explanation. and at the awareness that the pain in his ankle might be too much for him for the trafﬁc between the stuffs of life. Memory you believe you remember. workers harvest. But they are unprepared for the speed with which the ﬁgure bursts from the shack. a silver strip in the mint hills. A man sips chastely from his cup of tea. Secondo runs and leaps and doesn’t stop. He has trouble believing that what he sees on the other side of the road is the 50 . two men travel to different places in the same land. He can stagger. which shimmers in the growing heat. between cars apples and outrage. He stands. There is just the road.Ben Oswest whiteness from which a short dark ﬁgure should presently burst don’t move curled like a sculpture of they will his mother panting birthing ice the poor one death is preferable to Mama Kosi reaching in both hands his mother screams pulls pushes out a heavy wet she cannot believe what she has been through Mama Kosi cradling it looking oh dear should I show it now gift gift Secondo his mother looks Secondo kicks out her feet like darting ﬁsh no the ﬂoor as wet and slippery as ice she wakes numb and shivering he is there still and ﬁne as a carving in ice you mustn’t you mustn’t while in her arms what has Mama Kosi put in her arms O what. He has nowhere to go.
He walks around. He experiences a troubling diffusion of mind. The truck brakes. He guesses that it heralds fevered unconsciousness. Hey what are you who are you shouts the driver. it stops down the road. It is very loud. a brown curtain. then. The driver might not what did he say or worse he might think that Secondo has what did that little shit say to me. but there it is. but they stop at the root of his tongue. peers into the darkness and sees the shape of a young man. The answer to them is long. The next few moments are life. He cannot say whether the blackness in front of his eyes is sleep or simply the roof of the canopy.The New Suffolk Hymnbook end of the world. He lies down. and he is greatly muddled. it will be the end of the world. It is a truck like the others on the road this morning. The driver hears him. Stomach juices cut into the back of his throat as he walks. They don’t know him. without malevolence. Who are you. or they don’t immediately will we have to accommodate now. to the truck. or we are men after all care. scraping a bit. increasingly pleasant. It can sound like a curse. When it ﬁnally stops they pile over him. But it is an unusual name. The man might going to sort this thing out right now. upright and in a straight line. He casts his arm into the air. He stands again. Secondo smells the fumes and sits up. He barely keeps conscious. he manages at last. Perhaps. The truck will not haul oh damn what’ve I brought into town now. The driver takes the truck to a service station. moving toward him. shouts over the engine and the wheels. He lifts himself under the canopy. where perhaps ten men sit. 51 . everyone speaks. He formulates a few sentences. yet your life is worthless now. one that used to carry soldiers. The truck jolts forward. They stare could be good or bad solemnly. Secondo struggles to think of how to explain. Secondo. pronounced in a certain way. multifaceted as the eye of a ﬂy. ﬁnds himself almost dreaming about men in the back of a truck. A truck approaches. it is dark under the canopy. Other questions follow but he is trying to keep up with the ﬁrst two.
it is no escape where do you think you have escaped to. Secondo lies down again. The truck moves. and two men’s voices he’s in bad shape stinks drunk let’s have a look.Ben Oswest But the man disappears. Minutes later it stops again. It is what he has wanted. He is given a blanket and water. Secondo is lifted out of the truck ugh and is laid on a concrete bench somewhere inside. 52 . The bench is clammy. The voices say thanks a lot for this go back and tell them OK shit thanks.
now. she supposes. This is playing time. sends him inside. pincers. This is not ﬁghting time. really. the drone – she was not. eye-to-eye. that the boy would forget a lecture – she might have knelt in the yard and. she might impress. spent the rest of the hour explaining why discord. Why waste energy on a boy disposed to ﬁght? Who will always remain a boy disposed to ﬁght. But not that she can see. in a thronging ant hill. There is order to it. So behave nicely. thank heavens. They are just like ants. Here comes the guardian ant. again. knows what they. she says. the novice. supposedly. 53 .Miss V A NTS IN THE SUN. the queen – to put the grubs in order. He runs off toward the playset. Her reprimand would seem inadequate to the other teachers. not from her height. antennae. but ﬂushed red from all their bawling – have risen up on their hind legs and are about to lock horns. We are all just like ants. she amends her thoughts to we. but she. IS WHAT CHIMES. A girl. this daily chaos during the lunch hour. Then she lets him go. in Miss V’s head when she steps out of the school for a better look at the children. in earnest tones. and bruise each other’s cheeks. The other she admonishes. running about. to preserve the peace of the colony. As she crosses the yard. running about. to exercise her power as a bigger ant. Just as there is. seem to have failed to learn. strife and war are bad – as quickly as he will forget her brief chiding. She takes one boy by his shirt. Two red ants – well. A ﬁght has developed in the corner of the yard – this is what has brought her from the shade of the doorway. not red. the veterans.
penetrating. spies. Conspiracies. the local bulletins. and hear the echo of a teacher’s reprimand. ruined family. kings. a woman bounding with a new life. cities. The heat of the sun has already drawn moisture from her skin. She mystiﬁes herself sometimes. a progressive teacher in a progressive school. Her recent vision of the world can be faulted for her rather grim mood. Or worse. This is playing time. all-encompassing. Names. certainly. Red as a blood orange. by the reports of war on every continent. dreadful international news hours. or after reading poetry. she suddenly sees it all – thus. not counting. cheerful. it has this cumulative effect on her. Then. The front pages. dark. all without a single face. allegiances. For war is bad. encountering other masses. the lot. if you please. dispersing. But he won’t pay attention now. She cannot help it – she. the boy. princesses. Provoked. How to put it? The swarming world? Ugh. the incessant. sees only preparation for war. having put his counting and spelling to good use in the world – for these are things that can be taught – might look back upon his desperate life. but thinking. No life-changes yet – it’s still too early. in a moment of passivity. regaining the shade. with great. war is bad. she. above all. nurturing.Ben Oswest but then a girl does not have this desire to – immediately – climb to the top of the playset and howl. at least. thriving masses of people on its surface. A shocking vision. No. Ants. kindly-disposed to children. parleys. Better simply to relate the facts. Miss V thinks as she crosses back to the school. exceedingly vivid. Or all with the same face. knaves. She can’t be bothered by it. atrocities. She hopes. a teacher. supposedly. They would never impress a lesson of calm and goodwill on a cantankerous boy. no doubt. Her eyes sweep the playground. all in that blindness to self fault which is journalism’s universal accent. building up in her unconscious until. during a vacant tea for instance. that she’s too young to perspire from anything else. Much further down the line. population movements. she thinks again. with progressive ways of teaching – not spelling. 54 . But of course she is.
she imagines. ﬁll. in childhood. Life. A stray cloud puts the children in shadow for a moment. catching at the lifting strains inside. the birds. which usually drew perplexed looks. Because her sense of this country is so profound. And before J. so so blue. she thinks to herself. Won’t have you doing that. J often says to V. High-falutin’ bunk. or go to the pub. I can’t believe you weren’t born here. they came like ribbons of dye. as though some huge ﬁgure has stepped between the sun and the school and is contemplating scattering the colony with a stick. She describes them to few people – in the last two years. I know where that comes from. press forward. Then he’d fetch his cigarettes. To look up and have it all sort of unexpectedly before you. His response was the same as when he found she had spent the evening outside the orchestra hall. to console himself for having a blooming aristocrat for a daughter. no one for a long time – not her husband. angle and deﬂect this way and that. only to J. Not all bad. She told her father once. Won’t have it in my house. only a childhood friend now and then. Don’t tell me.The New Suffolk Hymnbook Heads bobbing along in waves. but completely mad. worthless fantasies. It is a mad place. and so blue. And this. with no intelligence but that of the herd. But then. not her family. this is history. Called forth by she does not know what. A quarter-hour remains of lunch. 55 . watching the unbidden spectacle. from above. to cure her of this foolishness. Namely. Time enough for tea. rubbish. *** But she is actually quite pleased to host these visions. empty. for instance. who is rather impressed with them. It’s not something that can be written about. and in her articulation she often could only say. something like. which wants only to trample. her vision. One has to see it. above all cover.
such space. which are straight out of the hills. failing the Eleven Plus. this new life. cleaning. of the British. assess. the Be Satisﬁed With Yer Bread. for instance when someone has been rude. Of this J is sure. without learning or culture. J says. barely even literacy. says J. It must have been her father. The bell rings. Until now – beautiful Suffolk. V thinks as she sips her tea. and think – Ah. Miss V walks to her classroom with a particular phrase of J’s ringing in her head. 56 . but you can pronounce it. being lectured on the struggle of the workers. I know French. ruining her life. the Forty Hour Week and May Day Off. read. that ability to parse. but having that other thing. Bearish.Ben Oswest So to live in that dungeon. No admittance of anything different – life must be the Family. Boorish. J has said. You too will pitch over the cliffs. Typical working-class obsession with itself. allow her to smile a bit to herself. time for Maths. the Pub. But now. *** Their barbaric customs are their own disaster. That sums it up for V. of all the inhabitants of that depressing island. the Drop your Aitch or Rot in ‘Ell or Buckingham Palace. divorce. She takes a last sip. Why did it take. Miss V enters the classroom and ﬁnds the vision has passed. Typical. with these supreme visions! Cooking. V often wonders. This is what J says. but I have seen your head bobbing with all the others. in Suffolk. so long for her to admit to herself that she is intelligent after all. J being the type never to have visions. so precious. Lunch is over. of her father. secrets that make for quiet content. No crowding tenements – the grandeur of her visions (thus J) spreading out over boundless tracts. and completely unawares. what Miss V recalls as she walks to the classroom. And the exhilarating freedom of the visions. in those Middle Ages.
And look! Miss V produces a tinfoil-wrapped bar of chocolate. eager to pop back into the sunshine. or sometimes for Drama. for twigs and leaves and drops of water to view under a microscope. which she is liable to spring on them at any moment and which. to be outside again! They line up at the door. ﬁdgeting. But today addition and subtraction and multiplication – in the sun! Almost unbelievable – but there’s Miss V. They quiet down a bit when they see her. which can only mean one thing. for it is one of Miss V’s famous Outdoor Expeditions. though the students wouldn’t know this. The problems come from Whittingham’s Mathematical Puzzles and Brain Teasers for All Ages. once more than the rest of the school. The children screech with delight. a book which she found in a secondhand shop. An Outdoor Expedition – this time for arithmetic! Absolutely unheard of. there were the usual ﬁts of protest. To go outside again – just after lunch. children again. is the object of their most fervent passions and desires. she will walk into Maths class and say. A Story Problem today. to a shady corner of the yard where the last blades of grass have been ground to dirt by their merciless energetic legs. Every few weeks. at the head of the line. now children put on your thinking caps. which goes to the winner. unpredictably. the child who solves the problem. She always ensures that the answer is ﬁrmly pickled in her brain by the time class begins. and produce a prize. little well-dressed sparks. leading them to the glorious outdoors. She surveys them brieﬂy and with a mischievous smile says Maths – outdoors. sometimes impossible – Miss V usually has as much trouble with them as the children do – but the stories are fun to make up. so soon after lunch. when they are inside the school.The New Suffolk Hymnbook The children are there. Whittingham’s puzzles are always very difﬁcult. When the other teachers heard of her practice of putting the problems to the children. 57 . Outdoor Expeditions are only for Natural Science.
who received it with the same disapproval. But when she ﬁrst saw it. She didn’t even complete one page. but did not suggest she wipe the desk dry or offer to help. She would reply with all the tenets of the new school – progressiveness. Later working at the pub. you can’t go to varsity. and she arranges the class in a circle around the dirt and dust.Ben Oswest But must you segregate them by sex. Sewing and cleaning. The teacher – Mrs. she still remembers the name – handed her the test with disapproval. they asked. All that was wrong with the world. nothing unusual. took a seat. The perverse satisfaction of her father. It is rated Level Three. Miss V had to use her sleeve. taking beer to fat greasy loud men. Jeffery. you have failed the test. she says. She has been saving this problem for some time. The Eleven Plus. Two weeks later. he said. which only spread the water around. dripped all over the desk. one would have thought. Now boys. but disguised – besides. out of principle. You don’t go around losing what I’ve bloody well worked hard enough for. staring at this particular problem. An unruly bunch. Do. equality. Then – the test. Sewing and cleaning with her mother. sneezed. didn’t we see the other month that study which showed that girls – she would pause for emphasis – don’t get to contribute as much? Today it is the boys’ turn. It was raining. And so it was – after the last dank years of school. Her father wouldn’t buy her a new one until next winter. Perform. it tugged her memory for days until she remembered – it was a question from the Eleven Plus! It made her shudder to think of. Solve. but she had lost her slicker. Adults only. downstaring with doom over her glasses. leaping out at her. Any spare time 58 . thinking – and mixed in with all that. Explain. Jeffery. Just as he predicted. put on your thinking caps. Two horrible sections. Time was up. her own opinion. the highest level in the book. That horrible day. for on alternate occasions the problem was for the girls. the damp pages confused with diagrams and small writing. you can’t go to public school. She arrived sodden. She gave her test back to Mrs.
rarely.) But it is worse than that. And winter is coming to this island. where he has suffered. for his clothing is beginning to fall apart and he has no ability to make ﬁre. 59 . because turnips stop growing when it is cold. And in winter his only food will run out. this poor shipwrecked man. or perhaps. (Here she makes as if to tickle one of the boys. now boys. It is like living in the icebox. because the island is full of lions and bears and horrible wild dogs which are always chasing him to eat him up. far away. because today a man is in very grave danger and only you can save him. far. a very cold winter with nasty rains and sometimes even snow. icy trees to escape from the wild dogs. if not her problems. and you can’t dig in the ground for them anyway because it’s frozen.The New Suffolk Hymnbook spent wandering the streets for a nice bench with a good view of a beautiful building. which is turnips. *** Miss V takes measurements. and soon he will have no clothes and will have to run barefoot away from the lions and bears and climb cold. hard as stone. standing outside orchestra hall. and they all giggle with delight. He lives alone on an island. Put on your thinking caps very tightly. and the class quiets down. He’ll have to eat the old dried-up turnips which he’s saved. then draws a square in the dirt with a pointed stick and marks the drawing as Whittingham has marked it – 2 Then she says. for they enjoy her stories.
But they like to play with their victims before they eat their brains. you’d be a cannibal too. normal cannibals just put you in a pot and boil you up until you’re done. very carefully. so she judges she has most of them imagining now. horrible lunch. Or what if over that next hill there is a pack of wild dogs? Trotting along until they scent him and look up and see him peeking over the hill and then rush at him. This is terrible! And it gets even worse because they don’t want to eat him in the normal way which cannibals eat people. They know the part of your brain which. which will cause him all sorts of trouble. and are especially ﬁerce when they’re hungry. and he has to run and sit with his bare bottom on a tree branch. Play close attention because you could 60 . But these cannibals are very. And they have seen his footprints! So they know he’s there and now they want to eat him up. but they don’t ever pay attention. until they go away. but in a much more wicked way. and so they have left behind a note which has this problem written on it. if you didn’t have it. they make you one of them. So here’s the question. and pretty soon after that you have to eat someone else’s brains too. and says in a low voice. in fact they’ll take him wherever in the world he wishes to go. so she begins again. *** They don’t eat you up. Because a tribe of cannibals sails to the island each week! Each week they throw a dreadful party and eat their awful. shivering all the time and always hungry. says Miss V. not all of them. very clever. barking with their great fangs.Ben Oswest So this man will be in a very sad state soon. and – who knows but that a lion might be hiding behind that next tree. And here she looks at the children and ﬁnds that they are all looking at her – well. But it’s even worse than that. and the message that if he can solve it they won’t eat him. and imagining is the next step to thinking. for lions get hungry in winter too. which is cold as milk. some boys at the back are not paying attention.
and help him get home. it’s rather obvious. a man who takes her Away. and turns into a man whom even she. which seemed to mock her with smug certainty. There is an answer. waitressing. a man whom she marries. failer of the Eleven Plus. No public school for this girl. staring at the hearth-glow of the chandeliers inside. It is four square units in area. Her hands shook. foolish owner of a tobacco plantation. and found her home in these hills. She had turned the page. Put her in the last box. Her penmanship looped and scrawled into disaster. Hers in the last box. Pass. searching for anything which was even vaguely familiar. rain-soaked nights outside the orchestra hall. They would have dismissed her test halfway through marking it. can divorce. drink from the pub in her churning stomach. can you make a square eight square units in area? She watches the children carefully. can’t this girl ﬁnd it? She thinks of those who had marked the test. given to drink. but it’s the second time he’s seen her leaning against the concrete of the dirty building. 61 . a two-bedroomed ﬂat with crumbling steps and three cackling ﬂat mates.The New Suffolk Hymnbook save the poor man from a horrible fate. Achievement. Look at the square. Fail. until quite by accident someone invites her into the hall. a foolish man. Do any of these well-fed little bodies have that something which she lacked? So many years ago this very maths problem had caused her eyes to smart and tear and her mind to retreat in shock and misery. not even college-level aptitude shown. a magnanimous man from Abroad who’s sorry. It was cold that day. until the man becomes like the workers. Can you make a square double in size to the square in the dirt – that is. really a polluted scrap of land near a drab city where the crops grow stunted and the workers show no enthusiasm and the debts run higher. In the last box are the things of her future life. A few more years of school. Three boxes on the marker’s desk. By the end of the test she had written doubtful results for less than a quarter of the ridiculous questions. a man of whom she has seen nothing since she moved even farther away. Forget varsity. raining.
The latter is the only feeling in the whole of Suffolk which leaves her uneasy. Yes.Ben Oswest The boys move in closer. One of the two boys has taken control. If it was the girls’ turn she would say. J. It usually runs – a surprising predicament. some seem to agree with him. concern. she sees with no great surprise. Already the hierarchy has developed. Indeed. It appears that the children have reached consensus. Groups have their own rhythms down here. circling the square in the dust. The square might be too large. They seem secretive. What he says makes sense they say. The girls are quite bright this year. unusually quick. a conﬁdent proposal. Try the would-be leader’s idea. The others seem to approve of what he’s saying and cluster about him. three. In the moments before their tone becomes apparent she experiences doubt about whether she will shortly encounter empathy or self-conﬁdent aloofness. or of being surrounded. whose gift is predicting the conduct of people in small towns. which they braid and pull into new meanings when they talk among themselves. Their smile seems not so much happy as sly. A few hesitate – the square the leader has proposed might be too large. and perhaps stems from their astonishing facility with language. It is more like satisﬁed. expectations of assent. would have foreseen this. with her ability to be sociable with them. The leader grows in conﬁdence. Of the boys she thinks two might be capable of solving the problem. and which threatens Miss V with utter incomprehensibility. or blindness. asking one another a few tentative questions. as if to appreciate his view. behind him. Test it. she told V once. with a feeling of helplessness. She can never tell what to expect from them until she hears them speak. but yet some imagine the square he has proposed is too large. Or comfortable is not the word. It is. perhaps. a group comprised mostly of that type of – well. But yet Miss V senses hesitation. 62 . the darker type – which she has not yet become comfortable with. she is not yet satisﬁed with these people. Miss V’s other boy prodigy is in the group of doubters.
They would see it as only just. sort of. she was substandard? What if the Eleven Plus – Oh! that test! – had justly separated her from the smarter ones? If this boy can solve the problem. This she was resolved. glittering smile so curious among his kind. There was J. then he deserves to be one of the future’s custodians. it is true. 4 63 . how do you do? will you come sit by me? who is your family? what do you do? are you married? can I buy you a drink? And J says that’s brilliant V! Poetry! And so it goes. To which Miss V replied – you mean. suited to the limits of her nature. those dank. They would send her back. victorious. He is bright. brighter than she was. But they could force her back. asks Miss V for her stick. Someone has to serve beer to the working men. The other boy. And so what business has she of teaching him? What if one of the other teachers discovered her inadequacy – saw through her act? She would not go back to England. She looks at what the boy has drawn. after all. shrugging consent. given his consent. gloomy streets. grave misunderstandings. They could put her back into that box for failures. Now the leader of the doubters has shrugged. Such conﬁdence! Could he really have solved the problem? The insecurity of her school days creeps back and she thinks – what if. J would not let it happen.The New Suffolk Hymnbook arguments and cautions. the stinking air – No. laughing. smiled his opaque. spoken rapidly in ungraspable slang and then. thinking it only natural. looks of worry.
much less the situation in 64 . Very good. turning to the leader of the boys. what about three? No. who she thinks just might get it. what are we going to do? You see how clever these cannibals are. with importantsounding superﬂuous questions which are put down immediately with scorn. can make me a square twice as big as the ﬁrst one? A horrible. improbable thing follows. but he’d got it wrong. Their mutterings are of the stymied. So. Sixteen. that is – if we can’t think of one twice as large as the ﬁrst square. when out of absolutely nowhere (later she thinks he must have come from the back of the crowd of children. What an absurd task to ask of a child.Ben Oswest A square four units on a side! Miss V ﬂushes. The boys are holding further conference. And she is just about to make a helpful suggestion. boys. that’s very close. no that would make nine. because they very much want to eat his brains up. says Miss V. Are you sure? What’s three times three? Oh. Miss V is surreptitiously watching the other boy. triumphant. Oh. as. thank goodness – terrible thing to say. but fervently hopes not. which Whittingham also makes in his book. Teach us rather how to count and spell! She speaks kindly. can you see now that you have drawn a square that is actually four times as large as the one we want? The boy. what if we make one half as large as the second square? – which just might take one of the two clever boys to the answer. Yes. being preoccupied with the success or failure of the other boy – for how else could he have known the problem’s terms. He’d got it wrong. staring not so much at his square as at his feet. She calls on a girl. Then. had been there all the time – she simply hadn’t noticed him. They gave the poor shipwrecked man a very tricky problem here. confounded sort. well. mutters. but who can tell me what four times four is? The forest of hands erects itself. So now who.
nor before she sees the grime on its cheeks and the bits of paper in its tangled hair. perhaps too eagerly. he was positively blue) appears at her side with a stick (at ﬁrst she thought he was going to strike her. ugliest child she has ever laid eyes on (she tells J that his face – it was like a bud.The New Suffolk Hymnbook the ﬁrst place?) the darkest. of knowing nothing else in the world but this. or one of the children) and walks with concentration like a thundercloud on his face to the larger square. the answer to the problem – which is not even comprehensible. perhaps with the shock showing too evidently on her face. or perhaps it’s outrage at this overthrowing which the child has performed. of course. for the child starts. which is the reek of the street. he draws more lines – Which is not. a smaller square – And then. and by the clothes it wears. stained rags. but not before she identiﬁes it by the smell it exudes. so dense. with the same sharp strokes of absolute certainty. and the poor boy was blacker than anything she had ever seen. ﬁrst. Miss V advances on the child. everything falling in on itself. outrage which her face expresses. stares wildly at her and runs off. 65 . where to everyone’s astonishment he draws.
treacherously. preposterously as he melts into the air – I remembered it! *** 66 . she thinks of J. but for now remains trapped. conscious of her audience. riﬂed through her desk. she could swear. tumultuous.Ben Oswest She calls out. But she must know more about him. Was it a plan? Had this child been following her? Been in her house. never has a child run so fast. seen the Whittingham book? Was he sent by someone? An enemy. are aghast. Or was it an utterly random intrusion? So without shame she runs after him again. Turbulent thoughts distress her. His ﬁgure is obscured by the playset. Besides. which is as confused as she is. rollicking meaning. unbidden. The children. and even gives chase for a few steps. it comes to her suddenly in the middle of the day. or of the spinning globe – something which may yet one day visit her as a vision. though they don’t understand what the boy has done. for it is almost more absurd than the child itself. nothing more). She would not catch him – nor would any of the boys in her class. with the boy’s gruesome face. she is sure. shaking voice of that little boy who. or has failed to do. unknown? Brieﬂy. and probably more outraged. answers her shout as he disappears (when her sight line is restored the boy is gone – there is just the yard and the fence enclosing it. Behind it lies a vast. it now visits her dreams. she is positive – something on the order of the ocean. They will tell their mothers. but stops. She can’t help herself. But she hears something. something which makes her shudder. though they are undoubtedly better fed and rested. but nonetheless the high-pitched voice ﬂoats in her memory with resounding clarity. She shouts at him. something which she isn’t sure she even heard correctly. caged inside the tremulous. a response. She rounds the corner of the school – the boy is at the far end of the yard. she can’t say why to think of. as if by way of explanation. shouting unfathomably. or at all.
J often comes on rainy days. if you knew what to look for. And this boy. clear her thoughts of the bracken of false logic. huddled supervised in the hallway as if in some queue. But even now she knows that she mustn’t be too shocked. some of whom are crying at the shock. Good and bad. if the mothers hear of my chasing after street children then they will ﬁnd out the truth about J. Reading and Crafts. who tried to communicate something. women raped. The warm rain that threatened earlier begins to fall half an hour into the ﬁnal class. J will help her ﬁnd reasons for the child’s appearance. who has always lived here. she has experienced. She wanders back to the children. Perhaps J will come. populations to be displaced. waiting for their parents. if you looked for them. will take her into town for a milkshake. and herds them into the schoolhouse. trod in a certain way. Things sort of everywhere down here. Things her father never heard of. as she has with other things. She copes. children starved. one who can teach Reading.The New Suffolk Hymnbook The day is ruined. is one of these things. and this keeps the children quiet after school. such as. She needs J now more than ever. things she could never have imagined. explore the dizzying consequences of the afternoon. tentatively establish the degree of damage to her psychic foundations. and maybe will be less perplexed down the years. There are two more classes left. sheltered from the elements of the school. For since she set foot in this country – no. will see she has been upset. dividing herself into two people. to help her thresh it out. who come earlier than usual on rainy days. probably. well. She is much more calm at the end of the schoolday. Since she moved away from that wretched tobacco farm. But still she needs J. maybe. or if the child meant to say remembered – remembered – then cities will continue to crumble. will do something about it. one who can. And now she hears loud steps in the hall. And maybe she will see more of it now. and she smiles and thinks I’m going to be all 67 . She sits at her desk and thinks.
because it is a symbol. and just as she ﬁngers hers. and she ﬁngers her gold chain. exactly the same. for she’s certain that it’s J. but invaluable. standing in the doorway. a vision. and perhaps all the uncertainties are dispelled now. because J wears the very same one. bought just last week. one of the less expensive chains. the sounds in the hall come to a halt. because they pooled their money and bought two chains at a discount. with the kindest of faces. and she senses something. perhaps warm. perhaps loving. She turns around – and there is J. perhaps secret. a perfect vision. 68 .right. to be sure.
their clothes on a line walking about on the sidewalks. see what have I got today? I got sandwiches with roast beef. they’ll soon disappear into the bank into the P. women’s lunchtime calves never do look as good as in the fresh morning. shameful before their ﬁrst cup of coffee. We’ve got a notion that they like this is how it’s going to be. And it all begins with this little jig from the fab four going all the way back to sixty-nine. I was told. pants. and four short hours from now they’ll start coming out solid. Tell me what 69 . real people. shirts. Frik says the radio plays shit these days lift your gaze and thrust it out into the middle of the morning street. They’ve got the money. into Decorum. the copy place. I mean this morning last year we’d get news. Damn I knew I should never have given that kid food. all along the street they’ll be pushing into the walls. the people inside them only half-real at this hour. ﬁltering through skirts. half-transparent. All the trends. heavy. sandwiches of all kinds. Quick easy packaged breakfast foods. purposeful half-people. melding with the brick. Too local Frik. howcome they don’t come for breakfast if they like it for lunch. unheavy.Secondo MUSIC MUSIC MUSIC FOR THE NEXT not ten not twenty but yes THIRTY minutes un-un-un-interrupted says the radio. hats. neverending. Coming over here for lunch. and then talk. Quick money. crossing the wide street. Yup says Bobby. It’s what people want in the mornings.O. ﬂeshy people. straight. Well you know what I think the tourists can do. to hear the mayor taking calls. They’ve lost it will be talk about the radio. clean sunshine pooling into shoes.
Frik resumes gazing with Bobby into the place where he comes from coughed him up. because you know the saying about the morning street. Near Bobby a sandwich board reads NEW – BREAKFAST BITES – BEFORE WORK. This is the third morning in a row says Frik to Secondo who when I tell my husband what I saw today oh my look at that did you ever to the side of Frik’s counter in the wake of the pedestrians. Bobby and Frik study what’s this now. Bobby and the sandwich board obstruct the steady foot trafﬁc. no. Then most days I’m reliable I’m hungry. not until you sell more breakfast bites at least. Please says Secondo. you can’t deal with every single other person’s trouble in the world. un-eatable I reckon like one of Frik’s breakfast bites. I only start with it after work. he’s not going anywhere. Frik. Friendly radio my ass. No one steps up to Frik’s counter. Which one. What am I going to do about this now says Frik. a counter over which he serves his food. Good one. he’s a burden to you. I say. haw. Bobby take no satisfaction from the sidewalk on a stool that Frik produces for him each morning. only thing to do is wear him down say no don’t say when business picks up no. Music is the same as my beer. Bobby doesn’t reply you want to know what you do you just go on ignoring him like this. A man and a woman are standing directly across. oh no. They’ve lost touch for sure. just no don’t let him in not even a toe in the doorway. on the opposite sidewalk. The man and woman kiss lightly like china dolls before work but at lunchtime standing at my counter on two sticks of Greek meat in pointy 70 . Frik leans on his elbows. haw. They will rest for a moment now into the street.tourist is over there drinking coffee in Decorum for the music right now. then diffuses. I am cornered. don’t look at him don’t talk to him. which weary of this life. which diverts in a curve to the edge of the street.
shoes walk off in opposite directions. force my hand. Secondo my place is the place where Bobby gets his morning stool. Bobby appeals to Frik with a look of I’ll tell you what to do. in scenarios of brinkmanship his eyes look at the concrete remember the last thing you want the spot between the sandwich board and 71 . an inexplicable attraction to this stool the axis apparently of Bobby’s morning. expand the possibilities here. You’re not getting if this bastard what’s the word toward me I’m liable to do anything today ok. don’t have to worry only when Bobby stands up do you have to worry which he is slow to do and meanwhile I have regularly proven myself with either a shrug or a sigh. Secondo stays put. Frik and Bobby stare at the wall which the couple has unscrolled. things must be sound. and if you keep standing there my options are the radio to squat in corners and to gibber. Buy. amuse myself Secondo. Secondo count to ten. You give me money I give you food. Why can’t you ﬁnd a job. and society will emulate Frik muses wistfully over the street. He no I’ll hold out. Bobby draws my turn to look kid he says why don’t you just go on. Buy. boy. Buy. free from disturbance. Frik here’s not a national governmental whatsit he’s trying to run a business an ideal like an ideal human being or vice versa. Bobby stares did you hear what I said go on. to eat the air as rust an apple a new song a steady uncorrupted sequence of clear tones. You’re healthy why don’t you go work on a farm and then come back and I’ll give you abandoning it because the grand potential is never exhausted. the pearly granite of the P.O. It means you buy food from me as the number of possibilities grows you need to start inquiring of your resolve buy. nothing else important now no thinking what next don’t betray yourself not the bookshop not Decorum not the museum not that lady getting out of her car though she does look promising just look away now in the periphery. You must be sound. steady pressure. just stare at the tree and remember the last thing you want in this world is food Frik sighs success and leans farther out. so playing the odds GO ON he says much louder. Do you know what it means to have a job.
eh? Frik snorts. contempt is the word the little shit is treating me with. I’ll pretend you weren’t even born. Convenience convenience convenience. that’s it. Sure. Thanks. Breakfast Bites down into the dump. the proﬁts the crowds the snack angle too. Secondo saunters past justiﬁed because the pecking order must crinkling the packet what do they say on tv they say he’s giving it how to me Bobby shifts and the stool is to Bobby as the axis to the Earth Frik it’s your show I guess. Secondo steps forward like a rabbit reaches up born perfect coming out of mother immutable. Grease has already stained the packet from within. Sell three of the damn things a day and I can hardly give the rest away to charity cases. Convenience will suit you just ﬁne. Jesus says Bobby. Secondo smiles at the free now till noon. for the task of being perfect to mother. ﬂowering out of all the ﬂuid already a ﬂower. Don’t push me on the other hand what the hell to do about tomorrow’s twenty-ﬁve breakfast bites perhaps I am cut out for charity. his face contempt. for years now. thump. ready for tasks. He reaches down with the packet. It’s all right but remember about tomorrow. 72 . and nuns and social workers probably don’t lie as much as businessmen I mean it. Frik reappears with two breakfast bites in a paper packet. Sure. and when I get into it. Dick Doolittle drives proﬁts twenty percent with instant whatever. before work. Only only if you come back tomorrow. I’ve been Jewd or Hindood take your pick. Here I’ve got twenty more I’m going to throw away anyway but if you pick up anything today it all says the same. contempt. she infecting the thank you. a slump. four days in a row I can’t be expected to do. So go ahead eat it all up I’ve certainly had my ﬁll. Frik sighs success mutters what the hell. infecting her with perfection. Bobby sits in silence on the stool.Ben Oswest Bobby’s feet. He disappears from his window-counter.
put a sort of social twist on the words. away from the cathedral. my humble wares. whoops. that white wall. which if he looked back he would see leaning greedily over the town. don’t covet. nab him there cautiously turns the corner into Snowden. no that’s also mine. perhaps. yes.The New Suffolk Hymnbook It’s not like I open early for any of these people says Frik with a wide gesture. no leave it alone now. obligations. sits against the wall and looks into his packet the sun tolerable-pleasant an hour after sunrise greasy and warm. we’re just tryin’ to make a livin’ knowhatImean. I says no it’s all knowhatImean. papa captain I says. the steeple blazing with the early sun the grass in the park isn’t dry yet. for instance. Jesus papa captain please don’t covet my humble items. because how can. its clockface fat and jowlish. chews 73 . waiting to see if anyone can help him. Secondo walks either I must let go of her hand or we both must jump into the street better to be seen pulling her than pushing I guess perhaps she’ll like me more for it a show of need of togetherness the bank opens in ﬁve oh what next really shame the psalms only. as wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way. they said that’s a ﬁne hat we all laughed what are you doing I’ve never seen lift her arm up no pull her close move her closer to the wall where do now my stove’s coal-burning. I’ve got a trough full of shiny black coal out there in the backyard and I tell you that coal is kitchen clean compared He saunters up Church Street. that’ll do. without our help. though I should ﬁrst consult I must speak to that man it only encourages give her a look wait for her eyes she’ll have to look up soon mm mm mm nice ass keep walking that’s it. a smirking red moon. I says I see you my friends. we’ll expect him there but don’t forget ﬁrst the corner of Church and Snowden. like a bully all wound up inside. that’s my piece thankyou. yes.
no. engines. what can be said about the noises of footsteps. So – . where you can shelter your face. not as hard as pavement. have you come to wash my car for me. I understand one hundred percent. on warmer nights straight legs are ok. the reason I’m late. Mornings mornings mornings. It’s ﬁne. while on the other hand he ﬁnishes. Listen. can you imagine. I’ve been there an hour. breezes. Well you’re doing at least as well as the rest of us. I was at the mechanic’s after breakfast. there. here is a rag and a towel? OK. newspapers. eyes closed. Sleep during the day is foolish hears Jackie’s voice inside the building on the other hand the human voice is the ﬁnest tool of prevarication coming out through the window above his head. but do not tell yourself that it is sleep. closes his eyes. No. newspapers. Oh breathing in breathing out. except that they are the noises of footsteps. Howayou.Ben Oswest loudly and the sound mixes with the morning sounds are closer to the truth. stand outside like before when you’re done OK? See you soon. Here is a bucket. Now it’s just been to the mechanic so please be careful. breezes. here is a bottle of water. not squeezed. Last night he did not sleep dirt is best. Yes. Good good. Deb I’ll be back. Thought is acceptable. here is soap. Yes. else nightmares. at the door for you malingerer. How awful. 74 . that it must be sleep. Then pretend nothing. stays warm long. take your time. Lie down in your place. engines. Sleep needs your good word. your knees touch your chest. says hello there. where the wind doesn’t blow. Jackie moves through the shop to the door. rests his forehead on his knees which under most circumstances it is good to appear small. cardboard on dirt. So what needs to – . Oh. She leads the way to her car.
Mornings mornings how can I help. tell me how these two separate women are to be judged. Western Union don’t charge anything to receive money all the charges are prepaid. Thanks. with the contract it’s seven hundred. Jackie.The New Suffolk Hymnbook Secondo Jackie that’s wonderful. four times a week. I think he just needs a home. and never acts on her desires. and after a while one of you will snap. Nice air con. Yes. it’s only expressed in public. You can’t be an individual by yourself. The rate is six nine two seven ﬁve eight six. One of the women wants to leave her husband and her son. Well my car does need it and you can tell he’s well sort of. you’re a dependable person but it is important to remember that you are not a mother after all. and the one with the evil desires conceals them perfectly from others. It will last about so long and then where will he washes it’s true. so that no one suspects. He is lucky. Jackie this sounds terrible but did you park. Yes. Or no. but imagine now Jackie if you had to plan three. yes over on High Street. 75 . Yes you do what you like. You act like one. How much how much. You buy cash then it’s that price. Can I have a look around. Two ﬁve nine nine I thought it was seven hundred. each has a husband. Take two women. He places the rags and soap in the bucket and walks back. If in other respects the women are identical. Touched. He stands in the doorway. You think so come back at noon it’s terrible. The other wants nothing more than a happy family. The basis of individuality is difference from others. Only when a person’s deeds Jackie’s car true true what you say is true.
oh. Now let me get you a paperclip. At the door. just cards. that I’m here and dips her ﬁngers into a basket on the counter. Jackie. 76 . Good. a real drama. Yes. the welcome mat but why on Earth would he want that. just watch enters a back room. OK. have you ﬁnished? Yes. reappears quickly with something in her hand. Guess what Perry’s doing this afternoon. It’s a drama. nothing serious. Perry it could take up to six months. to show I know he needs. what’s over there to take anyway. I have compassion.Ben Oswest Jonathan handed the query form into the Post Ofﬁce. Hello there. Jackie the DOOR. it means to him that I am trying. Have a good day furious you can see it in his eyes hear it in his voice and then I walk out the door and what do I see? I am insulted twice. where two women attend to two men. But Jackie walks back to the far counter. I’ll take those. who knows. He’s going to visit the postman. Yes. starts for the door. Nathan found his marbles yet. Yes. it could be a toy. Ha-lo. by bigotry ﬁrst and the living example of can you believe that. but suddenly halts as if useless useless I know it is but even if it is nothing at least it’s something. OK hang on look in the book when in doubt the book tells all. Through the open door just watch. Then she walks to the door. She murmurs to the two women behind the counter. to the postmaster. who can know what people think. OK. Just further up the road past the cafe they’ll cash that. Ridiculous. yes it’s unfair and I agree with you but yes his name’s – yes. the impact on business is. but it might send a message apart from what it actually is. a token of compassion. asking for the exchange rate. but he then needs to pass it on to central mail.
She places a purseful of coins into Secondo’s hands. Stay away from such a person. don’t let me catch you. His only hope to avoid destruction will stay here for some minutes more however. hey. take care. but the ofﬁcer after all forbade him to always move about. Regarding the people in his position in society have you ever come across a healthy soul. And number one on the list of things he will learn is who is his enemy. She hands him a small plastic object. listen. and handed him a bottle of aspirin ten to one against anyone caring. The park the only good gift is a whore’s gift. Then he said wait over there at that bus stop. eh? Ok. vigilance against not always moving about. And this. nothing on your mind but that one particular the ofﬁcer said. His newfound situation will damage it permanently. Not me. Do you hurt more than I thought or just between waiting and loitering. it says. I’ll have another job for you next week. a small white-haired lady sitting on a far bench. The park is empty except for one other. Jackie leans close. and. Hey. His own sudden kind is what will get him in the end. He lies on his back. you are going over there to do that one speciﬁc thing. they will give him plenty of help at ﬁrst. a warm mid-morning nap after food and work. There is the matter of his soul. After work they’ll pick you up but listen I must never pick you up again. A nasty knock on your ankle. propped up. Loitering’s making trouble. I’m sure my car is very clean. my giving has no place. Waiting is sitting on that bench over there until they pick you up. whore whore. he said. Secondo pockets the money. Thanks. oh I feel dirty to the enfolding warmth of the grass.The New Suffolk Hymnbook Here you go. A person like him. His knees. Secondo closes his eyes and draws air through his nose. until sundown. It is so easy to make the jump. come and see me then. ok? By-ee my heart. He will heed his instincts. I’ve got to go now or those women will start to mutter. He could almost fall asleep. YOUR OWN MAGNETIC BOOKMARK. loll and splay. She is upside77 . Take two of these every two things which I am sure of aspirin never killed anybody and this boy is not going home to and wait on that bench. is it better off or worse. walk with purpose boy.
or was it Cain. yet you open your stable doors wide and seek birds out. and my! how we shall test today our character – whether the strong shall be allowed to dominate the weak. He walks across thither direct your steps. as sacred as memories of home. beckon them over. He will tear us apart. but perhaps it is not at I must admit I can’t be more pleased than with that line of trees. a white blotch sticking to a vast green ceiling of turf. Not uninteresting creatures but they are best kept away from. in fact why allow even the possibility. your own all-knowing self will be full. only before that one judge. but what they could have hoped for only 78 . my own noble parliament and oh! how grave shall our decisionmaking be. and therefore to the moment if you can make it seem so. Full ninety-seven people survived and several boxes came in on the waves undamaged. the wide circle of trees. what was that riddle about Jews not being able to abide and hopes that the schoolyard is the one thing you can know. each leaf a bright green painted leaf or come here my little one come here don’t be she may even be preparing the ﬂock will soon assemble. the entire park. In one of these a cache of acorns. The woman may be thinking the same thing as the it is also good to acknowledge that motivation is directly proportional to distance. he can hear as he approaches. they planted. O beast. take their cue from the beneﬁcent sunshine and encourage a quick drowse. The turf.Ben Oswest down. To commemorate. The acorns travelled with them. The school is around the corner and up the block but the voices of the children if birds nest in the rafters from them will drop lice. It is full. He cannot tell where she is looking. indeed a momentous day is at but to give someone an excuse is to put yourself at their mercy so he rolls over and rises horrors! a slouching rough something encroaching upon our peace. O son of Cain. we must be brave and thinks of the school another space to occupy should always be recess at the school and perhaps the teacher will lead out her class again. scatter us to the four winds. provide nesting hay and he stops at the tree they charged up out of the surf on their horses! Then they returned for round after round and dragged the half-drowned to shore. each one reminds me of a painting.
or are powerless on tiles. We don’t remember the horror of the crib. the school over there. tag. the reason that we curve our beautiful lips into a smile. the only true happiness. Children circulate from swings and the jungle gym and the sand box to peripheral games. Secondo sits in the tree among the green leaves we cry for our father and mother. We seem to ﬂoat in tiny cries and the softest substance we have ever touched. Not much later. We know very little of the world. all around this tree these historic buildings. and it is accompanied by father’s laugh. then 79 . But the ganglions inside us. as if we were suspended in a breeze. the government houses. It is the next day that we are taken to see the kittens. then lowers us until our face brushes a kitten’s tail. until at last they come to the crib. Then we are lifted above all danger and carried close by father or mother and placed safe beneath the thick blankets. was the second growth. bumping strange things in the dark. the makings of a town. in a group. Father holds us high above.The New Suffolk Hymnbook fearfully. thick branches. because it no longer exists. We are weightless. hurl themselves against the mesh fence that surrounds the school. from which children regularly appear. wrestling. which will turn out in later years to be lamps and ottomans and chairs. though some areas are framed out of his vision by foliage. testing its strength. the awesome fulﬁllment of safety. register wonder. The school itself hides a back lot. aside from slender saplings. where he can cross his legs and lean back against the trunk. and back to the hubs again without apparent design. Nor do father and mother. He can see most of the schoolyard from here. running at full speed. Their plaintive speech calls to us. The main schoolyard is clamorous. admiring girls. thickening. we imagine that we are running to them. coming to rest upon two close. a church. Boys. or we dream we have stumbled on the stairs. jump rope. Simple safety alone is real. and we have tried our hand at commanding them around ourselves. between warm father and mother. A girl demonstrates how shrilly she can scream to other. The descendants of the navigators steered and sailed in these streets this tree their stars these buildings their climbs the tree. There are numerous ﬁghts and persecutions. when a good pile of the objects that swirl around our parents have snagged in our own minds.
you must listen carefully. generated perhaps by their sudden orientations. our conspiracy. There we have taken hold of our father’s hat. You’ll know they’re there. yes. We fret. we take in the most transﬁxing images. and we clench it tight. But no window opens on to angels. But how can something that brought us into the world. it betokens his wide hands. Smooth and thick. This new knowledge troubles us very much. we are asked. They love you. We are taken to a room apart. for instance. The outside world becomes continuous with the world at home. no no not ever. The angels will protect us from the evils of the dark. on things that we know. has become a sound of life. but they speak with other voices. It is as if a small voice directs us. and we whisper it rapidly to 80 . It might emanate from our parents. They let you know this when they speak. yes. yes. We sleep and hope. intangible things are not real. We revolve in the ﬂat plane of our yard. for the same familiar smell manifests in our noses. Here we know that it is suppertime. swift. allow us to come to harm? Angels brought us here? We remain doubtful. you’ll be with them in your dreams. we’re told. sometimes. And each new acquaintance carves a runnel of delight in our memory. But we act differently out of doors. Close your eyes. we are told. crouch drooling on ants. ﬁnd a coin in grass. It compels us so. On the television screen. Invisible. tells us instantly whether we are right or wrong. Is it possible to forget that ﬂickering screen? No. as if upon a window. And our minds cast tentatively about. awash with happiness that it has met our expectations. Wherever we gaze a new sight trailblazes in our mind and keeps us wide-eyed. Or. We cannot see them. rushing. Yet they are the reassurance we are offered at night. no. sit on our bed and gaze at all our room’s possessions. But.Ben Oswest we are told of the angels for the ﬁrst time. soundless. They are from Heaven. The voices hush. a shopkeeper will bend over us and pat us on the head and give us a sweet and then we think we hear something too. For our senses grow more acquisitive by the day. On Sundays there is church. We see our father and mother. people pass by. It becomes our code. sometimes. we’re told. playing in the yard. and every moment our imagination closes in. Each week we must learn a sentence from the Sermon. The sound of cars. and we hear steady discrimination.
He has dreamt that someday he will have the courage to abandon the tree. is a plan. two things. that tell us what’s right and what’s wrong. He has dreamt that she would allow him to join. perhaps made by a dog. He dreams of crawling through this breach and into the atmosphere of the woman’s academy. then ﬁle inside. Happiness is like pain. She will challenge the students with a problem that requires but it is in our best interests to play dumb until the next bell. They will gather around where she stops. An afternoon not long after this we are out in the yard to say goodbye. Life.The New Suffolk Hymnbook one another. and listen with better we hardly hear a word she says. Perhaps the woman will lead her class outside again. and we are coming alive to the great spectrum of subtlety in the tones. Secondo waits for more stately events to proceed. and we giggle what shall we eat what shall we eat what shall we eat. apparently. The schoolyard seems almost frozen in its new stillness. in that spasm. We watch with little interest. She sounds like a baby. are the voices of the angels. We understand. It would not be long 81 . The angels soothe us. Now we understand. But mother begins to bounce us up and down. Often when we are alone they sound just one note at a time. The students line up along the wall of the school. We dream of demons in the trees. A whole symphony of angels thrills us. or the new toys we have been given. We get to know it better and better. The angels emanate from all quarters. We observe people shufﬂing down our street. in the earth under the fence at a far corner of the schoolyard. During the day we learn and play. and turns us toward father’s face in the receding window. when the adult’s out of the room. or beyond the fence at school. mother says softly. and the voices we’ve been hearing. creep to a bush which grows on either side of the schoolyard fence. Bye-bye. These things don’t really form any part of the plan until the bell rings and recess is over. and our angels gossip as we talk of sexual parts. Secondo has noticed a breach. everyone pray until I get back. and we crow and crow. and mother hoists us up as the car pulls out. Bye-bye. How like the ensuing seizure is to shitting and pissing! Something in us breaks and we are ﬂooded as our mother holds us. A disquisition will follow.
The scientist holds very still. Secondo a man’s giving is his most capricious. just waiting. and hurries back to his original position. 82 . Thick arteries of ants pulse over the ﬂoors. what are you doing in here hey Hey I said this house must be clean everyday I walk in the front door what do I see socks fucking toys c’mere c’mere Come Here are there damp unclean corners. bending close to the dirt and watching the activity there with great interest. Secondo cannot hear what he is muttering resembles nothing less. He has caught her looking off from the children from time to time. that’s the worst As Secondo suspected. Secondo stops on the walk that leads to the house. But reiterate. Secondo descends from the tree. She is privy to glimpses of truth than most. Only push Secondo walks off without haste. The scientist is observing miraculous ants. The scientist scuttles to the far end of the yard. his nose close to the dirt. nothing to wait for. has come out for the day. as if observing something out of everyone else’s sight. squints for a moment. you can manufacture luck. O you must waits. Presently the scientist yelps with satisfaction and stands wonderfully and sees Secondo. most unfathomable. the scientist sometime friend. He crouches on all fours in his yard. then resumes his breathless attitude. my beatiﬁc countenance eleven o’clock. stagnant wells of pain in which to pitch a child only ﬁnd out. the bell of the cathedral also my unwounded hands. An hour before noon. Their small outposts dot the straggly grass. the walls. madam as for all day I lean about and wonder – What was his name? – Robert. But the academy does not manifest today. He throws a sudden look at his watch. With the second school bell. The dilapidated house and worn yard have become their home. so far away it comes in parts which I can’t put together waiting.Ben Oswest before this boy has done this boy wrong I must take him at once to see her voice soft and equitable.
or you think you’ve discovered. Do you understand? Anger! 83 . I know how it works. Don’t try me now I am ready to strict control of all variables but one. And yet it lives! It thrives! The temperature of the hive is one degree higher than that of humans. you see. but ﬁrstly not ever would I myself. how’you? What do you want. then. a binary string. no. this time I truly want to understand what is it exactly that you again and again my belief is conﬁrmed that there is no life so pure as an insect’s.The New Suffolk Hymnbook Hello. even develop tools for testing. a dependable source. The cardinal rule is never to ask Secondo down. response. one a one. So which is more mysterious so I can’t help you. no says the scientist. But – . Stimulus. it would be the same as with my ants oh you thought maybe I could give you some lunch did the less experience the he looks down upon Secondo. but I know. You want food. one stimulus produces a zero. I’m trying to explain my point of view so you know why I can’t have you coming yes they have undone me. the object of the experiment is to pin down the true source and status of the twitch and as far as controls are concerned your position is very simple. and of course there must not be any possibility that the subject might inﬂuence conditions with speech. ants. indulge myself with fantasy. precision. that’s all. volume. But my position is rather more and also as someone who will always talk and talking leaves open the possibility for just stop what I’m doing these observations require timing. Having procured it from me on more than one occasion you’ve discovered. They have undone me. or lack of response. Yes. striding down a plank of wood in his yard. I would give much to strengthen this analogy with a few hours of simple research. yes. I know I would be further undone. no variation and each individual the same exact rigid being. Each limb. No. red in the face in theory. a source with high probability of success. ﬁxed immobile. That does not mean I cannot plan. No the subject must just accept what is to happen and in the end the subject’s own enlightenment will be its own anger.
oh so delicately. until the subject cannot withhold and then – one. so you can afford patience. this fever must pass. you don’t think it will clash do you. 84 . and some other odd things. a single basis with which your interests for lunch. yes. The publisher said about a hundred. There is no. No. every strand of it is tied to me. This conversation is ﬁnished I’m sorry I’ll say. No I haven’t but it’s a beautiful cover and he’s quite well-known of course. at bottom. vibrating when I pluck noon. and this is where heart rate and blood pressure might be monitored for interest’s sake while I delicately. Good-bye. It’s easy to go to one. ﬂowers and trees than in man when the church bells experience it in another dimension. My desk will be his for the night. one on oriental mythology. and I know who he is. Can you imagine in my little shop. He wonders am not healthy. from good day. All paid for by the publisher. Jo-Ann says she can’t abide a person who can’t abide people so the most valuable advice. salmon mousse. I’ve had to move things around. Only a single difference will produce – zero. He will preparing for the reception tonight? Yes. cloth-covered clutter. or nearly so. a detective novel I was quite surprised. Well I’ve never done one before. it all regularly cycles Secondo leaves the yard and continues along the wide street. but to actually engage the man in intelligent conversation. And of course my regular cake and coffee and tea and things. Some nice white wine and some lovely hors d’oeuvres. He passes under the red and yellow canopy of the trees until he is near the middle of town again. for signing. but to actually have to put one together. no. you see. say. Yes yes several books. The scientist shufﬂes back to the house and when he opens the door Secondo sees brieﬂy the dim. And then where’s the psychic difference. yes exactly in case people want a little something more.Ben Oswest Please. he’s been in. and the same acrid smell is carried to his nose. Oh could you. quiet and still. of course. Secondo has much time yet. am a wretch. the scientist’s house out of passions are always more dependable in. Well. let me see. I’ve already eaten a few. Yes that’s what I’m hoping.
Up I steam. Have you decided? I hurry down. up and down. I make sure to smile. Everyone watches. It’s crazy I know or he will liberation! Liberation until two and then Paige can bitch all she likes there’s only three hours left. that we have ten-thousand bits of sparkle 85 . It’s twelve steps back down step step step step – step step step step – step step step step – I give Cook six orders. dears. And twenty half-wits. Hello would you like a seat by the window yes go ahead Janice will be with you soon. You understand of course. Menus menus. Clack. You can hear her a mile away. I steam up the stairs. No that’s unfair. I spin with my counter-weight the platter. that Abraham Meltzer will be standing right here tomorrow afternoon reading his keynote address. and she’ll need help. Just hold a moment. There’s little space. It’s true though. A few men from the bank have beat me upstairs. Yes it is. Clack. Coffee. coffee? In twenty seconds all four of them have coffee. exactly. says the ﬁrst one’ll be ready by the time I’m back from starting that table in Janice’s section.The New Suffolk Hymnbook say a half hour before? That would be wonderful. In they come up they go. One of them says thank you very much you’re doing well and I feel so happy I could hop into his lap. how did you guess. All the tables are full now and they know I’m doing my best. I do wish she’d tell me what she is taking I’d love to share some of it. Of course you will. Up I steam. Cook is ringing the bell. They’re watching. Like a slow machine gun. And then comes Paige. He’s miraculous. Hello. Janice is busy in a corner and she’s stressed. who’ve already seated themselves. I wink at Janice. Clack. Janice is doing ok on her side but soon the place’ll be full. You understand of course. I move like a dancer and I can see that everyone appreciates it and you know I’m going to feel the difference in my pocket at the end of the rush. Rome was not built in a day much less an – Entire – New – Display. Involving two ﬂoors. Up I steam. Down I dash and pour the coffee. They love it but they’re in a hurry. Paige. I scoop up the platter. Janice will be your waitress. I glide over. coffee. Clack. Let me throw him something and call you back ok or he will love the lunch hour so much I actually want to cover the tables upstairs. afternoon sir afternoon ma’am afternoon. hot milk. slide the orders to Cook there’s a couple waiting.
She asks too much. No decrees in Suffolk. Suffolk. babe. Suffolk.to glue to insects’s wings with tweezers. I can’t wait to see her on her hands and or he will 86 . she doesn’t understand where she is.
The ﬁt will subside soon. though. She sleeps. into place. empty because the words slip too easily. his state of happiness becomes inarticulate.Piety GAYLE HUMS. At the gym he has heard her muttering to herself on the stationary bike – Cunts to the left of me. he stares up at the darkened ceiling. and you black out. he supposes. and she will sleep. uninhibitedly. your blood pressure dips. She turns away from him to dampen the noise. Things are good right now. cunts-they’re-all-a-round. At a certain point. too. But he cannot think of another way to 87 . It simply takes her to a place. In heavy trafﬁc recently she glared about and declared. AS USUAL. but it ceased to bother him long ago. It is better. But it’s not that. too precisely. Hum hum hum. The noise has acquired power over him. cunts to the right of me. actually. shake and convulse. impossible to locate. deep rest. which he might brush with his lips to pacify. I wish I could show these bastards I would show THESE BASTARDS WHAT TO DO. She insists that she never falls unconscious. Hum hum hum. and anywhere. As curse she will. She’s aware of what she’s doing. after he has switched off the light and they are about to sleep. like the musky imprint she leaves on the sheets and his clothes. Hum hum ha. Her slight shoulders. It suggests a mood. Things are actually very good. her voice rising until he winced. musical breath induces her own rest. He does not comprehend how the quick. Anytime. Tonight. in other situations. They fail to grant her her wholeness. During her ﬁts he makes for her an empty excuse. He should be well on his way. than cursing yourself to sleep. Abnormally fast breathing lowers the level of carbon-dioxide in your bloodstream.
Jeanne asked me to write for her. until she said – What’s that. Mrs. Two questions occurred to him simultaneously. you ﬂy off for an international stint. and he felt helpless and weak. but that’s exactly the problem. Sliding out of an envelope. It’s not her fault. She was already home. until now. Please come see him and accept your responsibility. This is your son Samuel. she cannot help it. He is fourteen years old. He should have weathered a thunderstorm this evening. In the dusky halflight of the bedroom he’s still expecting the ﬂashes and peals. And now. Piety was genuinely unaware. and an address with instructions and a hand-drawn map.Ben Oswest put it. you are utterly removed from that life. Just weather the burst. Dear Piety. watching the news instead. Yet here were Jeanne and this 88 . though you’ve returned to the vicinity – in national terms – of your childhood. You leave your home for fourteen years. a headshot of a smiling young boy and a brief note. and what will Gayle do. it never developed. The ﬁrst question was not as damning as it would have sounded. How did these people ﬁnd me. It’s out of her control. spoken aloud. Sincerely. You receive two degrees. We are always home. He opened his without much attention. of Samuel’s existence. But he found it disturbing that his early life should have so effortlessly fastened on to him again. Philip Williams A telephone number followed. as if he had been mugged. sitting on the couch with the mail. He came home from work.
which is probably what they want. At dinner she asked about his day. then stood and walked to the kitchen. for once completely calm. But Gayle. like lingering perfume. They eat quietly. in all likelihood. toast. He and Gayle had crossed more than one divide. He will visit Jeanne. Then accept responsibility. According to his limited experience. then turns back with a jerk. She returned it gravely. for the child’s education. but the second question hung over him like a sword. Hum hum hum. him rather jumpily. He replied tentatively. prodded with a bit of footsie or a pulled face. then she suggested bed. changing his clothes. and he held his breath. but demurred to the plate. She would not meet his gaze. She places her head in the cradle of his arm. In his thoughts she had acquired an immediacy. half an imploring for forgiveness. lovers share a secret which can’t be put into words but which each fully comprehends. she says. then in the bedroom. It’s easy to sleep after that. No storm. tried to watch television. the humming begins again. no demands. he and Gayle were 89 . See the child.The New Suffolk Hymnbook Mrs. He’s a handsome young man. He tried to ﬁnish his mail. It is not a brooding quiet. Her humming stops. and eggs with bits of onion and tomato in them like jewels. But he was sick with misgiving. toward a certain future. Noises. half a fearful expectation of judgement. wondering if she was erecting a barrier of denial. Question Mrs. Suddenly she rolls over. Late one night. no accusations. smells ensued. He dithered on the couch. The next morning Gayle makes coffee. He had been leaning toward certain plans. Bafﬂement would have constituted his chief response. with sadness or incipient hysteria he could not tell. she squeezes him with her whole body. Presently. He sighs. but the kind which might succumb to mirth. and Jeanne gently. embraces him with her arm and leg. Piety is glad to perceive. appearing like accusing phantoms. Williams and Samuel. early in their relationship. They watched the ﬁrst half of the late movie. She is asleep. But what would Gayle do now? His look must have been nauseating. of course. Williams thoroughly. Twitching.
he will have to answer questions. perhaps in ﬁve minutes. where you may coax. or preen with far greater effect than when you are isolated in your ofﬁce. She will screen him before he will be allowed to speak meaningfully to Jeanne or Samuel. and she giggled. Eleven o’clock will be perfect. The phone is used to arrange face-to-face encounters. At the breakfast table this morning. that is one of his ﬁrm beliefs. He and Gayle mug at each other over their plates. Piety is known at work for his ability to establish rapport with a handshake. She is especially adept at mimicking his face. will tomorrow afternoon be a good time? Piety prefers to be brief on the phone. he was cautiously undressing her. equally disarming. or bristle. Mrs. He tells himself to enjoy the moment. He contemplates the day’s plan. Later. he whispered. After. who wrote 90 . There is a cool side. He disarms people. He should be able to handle Mrs. That’s us. they never apprehend the degree of reconciliation you must achieve with yourself for true change. gazing blankly out the window. producing the required warmth. It was their secret. They made glorious love. when they held each other in silence. People never change. I would like to meet with Jeanne and Samuel. He will conduct a brief conversation. and the television showed two stars slowly spinning into one. was a maddeningly reticent girl. he decides. He felt something deep inside him which he did not want to lose. it does not seem to have lost any of its pull. I received your letter. Williams. Eleven o’clock. how to work in the call to Jeanne and Mrs. it had been generated in their loving. too. with hardly a spark of volition. Piety was concerned to see that the two stars had shrunk and were drifting aimlessly in different directions. and he hoped Gayle was not watching. will be the best time. although he has few true friends. known to fewer people. He feels joyous. even after yesterday. Williams. Eleven o’clock is neither eager nor unconcerned. ludicrously romantic. Piety remembers. and Jeanne. She is still his star.Ben Oswest kissing on the couch. Williams.
He detects merriment and sobriety at once in her eyes. probably. smelled and touched by them both. He knows what to expect. She takes the bus. Mrs. commitment made. he feels. Williams? You are – or were – a housewife. and attached expectations to them. Williams. She will have worked out arguments. and she likes the bus. a coupon. dilapidated stables. felt. or employer? – or merely a guardian-friend. Suffolk. no cursing – she says. out in the country – the instructions entail a good bit of driving. animates her. So you live on a farm. 91 . They kiss again. no singing or shouting. He calls her to the breakfast table to account for herself. and Jeanne and Samuel are staying with you. working for you? He grimaces. does it not. Williams must concede that she also sees his point of view. if not legally then out of concern for Jeanne and Samuel’s welfare? That you are a stubborn old bird is beyond doubt. will surely also speak for her. Her letter. growing up between them on a slender stem. Samuel may indeed be his – the photo doesn’t imply otherwise – so he will make concessions. She’ll redeem it this evening. Their mutual secret. could use some assistance? He must be careful. an emaciated horse that has clipped the grass down to the dust. would you be grateful if I looked after the education of the child? Perhaps you. At the interview’s end. Mrs. he says. yourself. With the extraordinary calm that has marked her morning – no doors slammed. but only a few. or older cousin. Mrs. This number rings a phone in your home. or what passes for one. requests. Can we talk tonight. Coupon clipped. You do understand why I can only do so much? Gayle chooses their kiss goodbye to extract from him what they have come to call.The New Suffolk Hymnbook for her. Your address. but they work on opposite sides of the city. but if you reach the actual town you’ve gone too far. The rural poor. in banter. Too old to be Jeanne’s friend. A musty brick-and-plank house. understood because seen. though terse. He drives to work. He would drop her. Aunt. is like an inﬂorescence at this moment. in advance. Of course.
been referred to her.Ben Oswest Miss the bus and I miss my people. she has suffered thrice. His mother was his people. and left with more than advice. The notion. Her conviction in that phrase. An hour with Gayle and you learn that you can take control. which. and he remains a clinician at heart. manages it. has no need for a people. Gayle is his people. a thousand guess-what-I-saw-this-afternoons. Piety has been an alcoholic for the last ten years. he discovered after four years of privation and toil. they will become his people. usually by means of eight charmed people who have arrived at her agency for help. names it. she says. phone topics. leaping and swinging from the corners of the hours. if you answer to the following description. He has no people. black. But his inclination to shy from fellowship was bolstered by his new acquaintance with the mind’s peculiarities. you are justiﬁed if you take a jaundiced approach to the world – and all its peoples. the connection. a people. with an example. my people. He switched ﬁelds for the next piece of parchment. propelling dinner conversation. as she says. His habit of detachment from his fellow men formed much earlier than his addiction. a heavenly Father. For if he has suffered. gossipy. and after that same day she has generated a few stories of her own. for he has never felt obliged to use it. makes allowances for her syndrome. He studied psychology as an undergraduate. Imagine the apes which confound her. He marvels at Gayle’s endowment of faith. chattering. He has not had a drink in three. successful. deepened his leeriness of fraternity. It did not fall his lot to make. suspicious. because there is no smooth-running prosperity in psychology. As for the rest. But Gayle works through the very same day. however. a man observing the monkey who is man. functions like the notion. hostile. bemuses him. which ripple through homes at dusk. intelligent. backyard talk. But ﬁnancial freedom. If he ever has a son or daughter. Gayle breeds a thousand stories a day. alcoholic. was his main aspiration. explains it to those who will listen. 92 . as Gayle calls it without a trace of irony.
To be sure. They are all variations on a 93 . and has succeeded in embodying. Her ﬁnger pounces. jerks back. He seemed to know even then that he would not let Gayle go – and felt wryly curious about his suddenly ﬁxed fate. musty textbooks. She ghosts away with his toxic frustration and malice. And recently he has discovered her tapping the stove. in his house. Rather than driving him to exasperation. massive body tics which give her great pleasure. He can make out. the syndrome still surprises him – of late new. Their sum effect is soothing – they remind him that she is here. He pushes through the revolving door to ﬁnd Lester’s grinning face. She radiates morale. a shape leaning against the receptionist’s counter. That is partly why she loves him. to his ofﬁce building. lovely life. He parks and walks briskly from his bay. There are moments when he can hardly hold euphoria at bay. he knows. which bears his name in yellow paint. She responds to the call of brotherhood. sisterhood. has since been borne out by his response to her paroxysmal temperament. He is prone to the inner feast of anger. pushed all her hurt from her core. beyond the tinted glass. until it feels perfect. that he and Gayle were meant for each other. She won’t stop. hovers over the red-hot plate. and ﬁnds himself spontaneously entered by his lover. she hopes to reform him with her love. the tentative. Lester is one of the corporation’s lifers. He should have identiﬁed the meaty shoulders. its biology.The New Suffolk Hymnbook It’s as if she’s undergone an elemental cycle of pain. Like a Christian. a call which rings either dead or duplicitous in her lover’s ears. This conviction. with unconstrained zeal. Piety went to his garage. the ﬁts reassure Piety of her fundamental strength and lovingness. she says with glee. got his hands around one of the thick. the burner turned to High. Her goodness suffuses him. part of his life. for all his good fortune at having found her. partially successful treatments. pounces again. As soon as they met. Like an orgasm down to my ﬁngertips. like a tiny percentage of the rudiments of Earth. and read the section on Gayle’s syndrome. she says.
and. university for the precocious teenager. Piety chuckles. Good morning Pete. They want to replace electrical cord right in the middle of week two. pair of yearold loafers. You’re the boss. says Reynelda brightly. a fact that marks him like a red letter stitched to his lapel. It yields. there’s no doubting it. three days before the test. And the trials of Trust School – ? Piety raises an eyebrow at Lester. straightening. allowing for one or two private family horrors. married proportions. I wanted to talk to you about something else. I’ll tell Vicky to expect it. says Lester. Excruciating. Piety is conﬁdent that he has completed the portrait discerningly. wondrously. free dental care.Ben Oswest theme – slightly stooped bodies of mid-life. dependably. a few questions on the test. Good morning Lester. the minor miracles of running taps. contentment. says Lester. Good morning. with a dramatic account of the next few 94 . the stuff of their hearts’ desire. no lights. can’t possibly do it some other time. van Rooyen the Nazi. who would probably like to trade places with Gayle. concern. admittance to father and son chess competitions. no hot water. and so on. when they worked together. blue. That’s ﬁne. They take leave of Reynelda and walk together to the elevators. Piety’s imagination indulges him. called the Board of Directors Up-upstairs. You’ll take it Up-upstairs? Lester and Piety. didn’t use to be the boss. ample khaki pants. Can you imagine it. their chief. A whorl at the top of a head of thinning hair. the black man with the business law degree. The lifers know and are fond of their place. Yes. Morning Reynelda. buttondown shirts. Are you ready for this? I’m dealing with housing now. That is all there is to them. call me. A face kneaded by the ﬁngers of children into kindliness. broad. smiling. as always. They’ve had it scheduled for a year. takes orders from no one. hot food. Call me around three. Piety. If it turns into an emergency. Actually.
The huge square windows gave out on endless winking plains of light. while Lester hauls himself down busy cavernous arteries. each a spellbound womb of rich red luxury. It won’t be long. No – at some point. or peruse the morning newspaper. placed on a three-legged corner table. left to meddle with the souls of another time. another race. and. straighten your tie above poppies in the great. Overhead. He once stood on the top ﬂoor of the highest building in the world. are touched rather than pushed. queerly. stinkwood-framed mirror. some good luck. jerked into the 20th century. Piety’s future. develops into a string of similar enclosures. which brachiates you from Lester to a separate turnstile. a globe shines softly in a colonial-style plate glass lamp. penthouses.The New Suffolk Hymnbook moments. He’s rising. The elevator begins its ascent more smoothly and powerfully than a limousine. The vertigo was satisfying. Thick carpeting absorbs the heels of his shoes like wet sand. though. automobiles. He fancied himself. He will not always ride these speciﬁc heights. there are only seven. extracts your wallet. a young hero of antiquity. where the amniotic talk of power rustles over wood and leather. until the elevator arrives. the degrees you’ve acquired. and ﬂick alight to acknowledge his command. The feeling of stepping into this elevator is still new to Piety. each action blown into disproportionate signiﬁcance. and ushers you to a carpeted vestibule where. glides through the cardreader with the elegant click of a gold cufﬂink. The numbers. of course. but while Lester’s remains dull lead. Whereas when 95 . Your hand slides to your pocket. he will transfer to a city of greater breadth and depth. He pored over the million lights below. boardrooms. soothing. long hours. the beady-eyed afﬁrmative action marsupial – into ﬂashing gold. He’s going up. You and Lester each produce a card. you may repose in a gilded chair. It is on the twenty-third ﬂoor. yours has transformed – by an alchemy that you have got right without a complete understanding of the ingredients – your quick mind. It was night. monitored from this elevator.
The elevator smoothes and halts. But not with these junior execs. that she has reserved the term for someone more special than Piety. becomes the guardian of a thoroughbred name – a name on a nine-carat plate. Vicky. Mr. an oil multinational. just so you know. 96 . Sinclaire’s morning memo on your desk. of course. The city is a stop on a tour. and puts his head in. X. Good morning. in one eclipsed distance. Good morning. Good morning. for the most part. It is more likely. When Vicky. To Lester she would probably just say Hi. I’ve put Mr. the ﬁve buildings stand like forlorn stumps in a luminescent undergrowth. But the city fails to achieve any measure of majesty. and what Piety presumes are Italian heels. who turn over once a year and get sir. It is not as far as Piety wants to go. to the hills. sir. discourses with his secretary. When the sun settles. who wears her brown hair down. the people of two banks. Lester Ellman from UT will phone around three.Ben Oswest he reaches the eighteenth ﬂoor of his current building. Yes. Medium and small fry. He walks to his secretary’s ofﬁce. He does not rule out the possibility that she cannot bring herself to do it. He remembers Lester. dresses in a red wool jacket and skirt. though. cluster around the towers of coral – there are several good ten-story buildings in the vicinity. The doors part. and an insurance conglomerate. he sees – a city shoaled in a bowl. takes his plush seat and gazes out the window at what is admittedly a pleasant panorama. and in the other. I think he wants to speak with you right away. where the door is ajar. to the sea. sir. though he’s been on the eighteenth ﬂoor for two weeks now. and he is not sure how to take this. Vicky has never yet addressed him with the preﬁx Mr. fastened to a door near the boardroom – then she will esteem it with Mr. The people in it cater. over the lip of which spills a succession of drab green elevations cut by two major roads which drive. to the legal needs of the people in the other four. she replies. The building is one of ﬁve tall buildings downtown.
These people. it’s Phil. I need you on Mickleson. B. Did you see the memo? Forget it. Pete. A review of his holdings and how spreading them around or consolidating them will get by those taxes. which he always does to clear 97 . if he doesn’t buy it. wanted to give me fair warning. But if it were to become a problem. She chugs through like a train. tears and reconciliation. Phoned me at breakfast this morning. to inhibit him with irritation. despite much lobbying. and I want a spreadsheet of those taxes. Sinclaire hangs up and Vicky buzzes and he knows what she’s going to say before she says it. A little late but as bad as we thought. he says. therefore Mr. Vicky. okay? Walk it up when you’re ready. He unstraps his watch and places it in his desk drawer. He is to Sinclaire what she is to him. to inform him of the sir’s arrival. Ugh. Senior VP. I need two things by three. Remorse. a showdown would precipitate. and chugs out. Vicky would buzz Philip Sinclaire. drops the ﬁles. We obviously don’t want to lose seventy eighty ninety percent of Mickleson. at last. Sinclaire.. are efﬁcient at least. Of course she would use Mr. relax again in their own ofﬁces. and he would accuse her of nosewrinkling at his skin. The phone rings as he seats himself. she has fetched Mr. Sinclaire. Naturally. sir? A sure path to ofﬁce smirking. swings round on her rails. property trusts. referring to the national budget in which investment taxes. and she would tell him what she really thinks of working for him. Then ironic jokes and feigned deep friendship until he’s promoted or poached and each can. He’s talking about a seventy eighty ninety percent withdrawal. Mr. shall she bring them in. sir. Should he mention it? Or – Why don’t you call me Piety? Excuse me. It’s 9:09. something for him to measure up to. Mickleson’s ﬁles.The New Suffolk Hymnbook Thanks. He is worried that the time will come when he will wince each time she knights him with her sir. The repercussions we looked for begin today. Sinclaire is talking. were increased. He continues down the passage to the private door of his ofﬁce. with Sinclaire. how we can do his land trusts. grief.
Piety jerks his desk drawer open. It precipitates good business. Dave ambles over. Time is now like a bar of gold. perhaps it will rain. Gayle quickly became aware. on the legal pad at any rate. as Piety plops a tea bag into his hot water. His mother. drops it sodden on to a paper plate. mostly common sense. styrofoam cup in hand. He supposes he can sneak a cup of tea. Piety does not golf either. Forty tea bags in one week! But no. plied him with it. dipping the same ration of tea leaves into hot water four or ﬁve times a day. says Dave. He bends to the ﬁles. is a rich SOB and I’m his what’s his name. he has always drunk terriﬁc amounts of tea. in his mind. Drinking coffee with associates is like having a good stroll down a fairway. an innocuous man who also reports to Sinclaire. of his weariless palate for tea. when she moved in. which he must beat and tinker into two reports. only Piety and Dave. It’s 11:09. 98 . The other execs will be congregating for a mid-morning break. when she considered him big enough. After several days. she told him. So how’s Mickleson. she wondered aloud whether Piety had used the drink to rehabilitate himself. A business professor advised him once to switch to coffee. During his childhood poverty was taken for granted – not matched. It kept him alert for school. His hands scribble and type for an undeﬁned period that ends abruptly when he stretches and stiﬂes a groan. Mickleson. Clouds are building in the distance. supervising as he sipped it. is ﬁnished. with destitution – and tea remains a comfort. Among the junior execs of the 18th ﬂoor. the father of Tiny Tim in that story. drink tea. They raise eyebrows at each other when Piety enters the lounge. which was comparable to the pantries in fairytales. he says. Piety bites. dangling a hook. not a galling reminder of the nights he went hungry.Ben Oswest his mind. The ﬁrst report. A polished phrase. a memory of his mother’s love. avoiding the subject of their pantry. He removes his tea bag. the professor said.
Williams and Jeanne might swell with just a few words! Washing him from his ofﬁce. or. disgrace him. He sees with relief that she has not. whelming him to previous depths. did he forget? A case of denial. How. he says. suggest a period of leave. who like to roll wealthy names in their mouths like restaurant mints. he allowed his job to compromise his detachment. His thoughts entertain rapid possibilities. would balk at planning a surveillance. His greatest 99 . He takes it. She holds the note expectantly. who takes strictly pragmatic interest in material gain. The irresponsible black man. the part of him that he discerns as the true Piety. Nor does he detect irony trembling in her mouth. At 11:30 they reach an agreement to disagree about Asia’s tycoons of industry. worse. Vicky peels off a note. Piety stops at Vicky’s ﬁrst. contrary to his fears. who would come down. her son? It cannot be Jeanne herself. or mischief confecting in her brow. is that the source of her information? Or is someone following him – her brother. at conceiving the idea much less minding it through. He was to have called them at eleven o’clock. strangling panic. In their persistence they would deploy the legion stereotypes waiting to administer the coup de grace. With his address Mrs. and retreats to the hall. Williams. The promiscuous black man. or why. Williams and her charge could pepper him with letters. The dark wave that Mrs.The New Suffolk Hymnbook They talk about the rich SOBs of the world. Thank you. With his number at work they have the power to incubate a scandal. Piety paves his secretary with his eyes. after accumulating resources and nerve. Has Mrs. They might bumble upon Sinclaire. attracting a small crowd of the other execs. who was not very clear. Or. tell him to sort things out. Did anyone call? Only a Mrs. visit him. but she left this number. The stonyhearted black man. and disperse back to their ofﬁces. She was not an energetic girl. He surveys the wasteland of his desk. Williams hired a private detective. adopted a pose of prim disapproval.
He must. stopwatch fashion. But when Piety appears in his ofﬁce door. Or if in fact she lives on a farm she may be in the ﬁelds. She may be out on an errand. several portfolios at once. the stables. conﬁdent. voluble. The topic agitates him and Gayle almost daily. and take reassurance. then a phone starts ringing. Williams. he tells himself ﬁercely. Several exchanges click in his ear. If this crisis widens beyond his control. After he judges a half hour has passed he lifts the receiver and presses redial. He concedes that her position holds the upper hand but muses about Us. from 12:21 to 12:22. Our greed. Our susceptibility. She blames Them. and assure her of his intention to visit. Their damned outlook. try to ascertain how canny she is and how lucky. They toss accusations rapid-ﬁre in the car. extending the reports like a handshake. He places his watch in the drawer and begins to type his 9:09-11:09 notes. goes six or seven pages deep. Vicky will tell Sinclaire about the skipped lunch. as the gold second hand of his watch sweeps its ﬁne circle. malevolent is more like it. She may be hanging clothes to dry. he will know the businessman who is at fault. for exactly a minute. He will have to sacriﬁce lunch to ﬁnish the reports. Sinclaire will note that the newest protégé can handle. restringing it for dissonance with other responsibilities? The writing on his legal pad. He will call Mrs.Ben Oswest folly would be to think only as a businessman. He takes out his watch and holds it in his hand. punches Mrs. He lifts the receiver. He wonders to himself – From 9:09 to 11:09 this morning was an infant malevolence creeping about in his heart. Concern will purse Sinclaire’s face – he doesn’t want a junior exec who needs extra time to be competent. she says. Their miserable blindness. He lets it ring for a full minute. as was wagered. unbroken. Williams’s number. 100 . She dribbles and spits that the word indifferent under-represents certain whites in this country. The precedents are numerous. Our repression. Piety can accommodate ambition and conscience. across the dinner table. It is almost twelve.
But Vicky says that she’s taken only a few internal queries. The table between the chairs is an objet d’art. who sits conspicuously behind a broad polished desk. ﬁnishes the second report. two from overseas.The New Suffolk Hymnbook then replaces the receiver. and vies in a short race. Now she is raking leaves with Jeanne and Samuel. private secretary of twelve years and undoubtedly Vicky’s object of envy. Scotch 101 . It’s 2:41. for needful things. but types it directly out. behind which towers a wall of gilded law books. After about half an hour he tries Mrs. Fortunately he created a tax spreadsheet just after the national budget. It is a quiet day. Williams again. If he was a visitor he’d be offered a drink – coffee or tea in the outer ofﬁce. Williams might be doing unless she’s gone to the town. Williams through. He replaces the watch. He waits for what he thinks is an hour. He remembers in sudden panic that he didn’t tell Vicky to let calls from Mrs. He puts the watch away. Halfway through he takes out his watch. While the phone rings it comes to him that if she were to answer he would not have time to talk to her. Suffolk. sees that he has four minutes to ﬁnish. Not even two minutes pass before he stands in front of Hannah. It is all right. on a hunch. Sinclaire is taking a call but should be ﬁnished soon. activates the spreadsheet software and enters data. It is an impressive outer ofﬁce. Vicky buzzes. then holds the receiver to his ear while the second hand describes the difference between 1:01 and 1:02. He replaces the receiver in disgust. and what if. a lead-and-glass mosaic of triangles supported by four slim pewter legs. When Vicky returns he knows it’s 1:30 but can’t imagine what Mrs. At 2:55 with two folders under his arm he tells Vicky that he’s going up to Sinclaire and walks to the elevator. She’s going to take a 12:30 lunch sir if it’s all right. She gestures to two dark leather chairs in the corner of the room. during which he ﬁnishes the ﬁrst report and begins the second. allowing ten for printing and the trip to Sinclaire’s. works for what he thinks is half an hour. He does not write notes for the second report. It’s 2:14. Mr. A newspaper rack hangs three dailies.
Good. go on in. line is history. Hannah says. Exactly.Ben Oswest inside with Sinclaire. good. How are you these days. Sinclaire’s ready. sir – . 102 . The doors click. Sinclaire. There’s a spreadsheet in here? Yes. thanks. thank you. history is stability. No reason to complain right. and we’re better with trusts in general as he knows. who has come around his desk. Working every day. That’s what I’m going to tell him when we have dinner tonight. The point of these ofﬁces is not to display wealth – any visitor who sits in Piety’s chair will be acquainted with wealth – but to prove taste. Well. A man who works in a splendidly appointed environment will be trusted to arrange words around money. Any plans for the long weekend? No. stability is growth. Taste speaks to his ambitions. Tell me about yourself Pete. He strides through. Do you have time for a minute? Of course. we’ll stay at home. thanks Hannah. He discreetly absorbs the elements of the outer ofﬁce. Save the trip for a real vacation. Putter around. It’s possible he only wants to keep us on our toes. Well. They sit in the two low-backed green leather chairs in front of Sinclaire’s desk. Taste is pedigree – pedigree is line. Good. Piety sits back. Mr. takes the ﬁles and places a hand on his shoulder. I’m doing well. says Sinclaire. Phil. Even if he withdraws from investments. Also quite well. are we going to keep Mickleson? I think so. How’s your girl. She opens the double doors for him. it makes administrative sense to give us his next portfolio. Phil Phil c’mon now I insist. Good.
What a wonderful day. he says to the ceiling. Conﬁdent. seems to be enjoying the life. Of course. stored chemically. So Phil how’s the new boy doing. exhales. He is fuming. thanks. Sinclaire leans back. glares at the city bowl. Sinclaire? He slams his ofﬁce door.The New Suffolk Hymnbook But Piety refuses to recount the rest of the conversation to himself as he descends from ﬂoor 22 to 18. Any calls. On the one hand Piety does good work. a report that will contribute to the next ring of girth in their tree of knowledge about Piety. he’s black. Nods of approval. growling about politicians. Nods of knowing. It has indeed been an unaccountably 103 . a brutish meaty hand. He did good work for me on Mickleson last week. and Piety will be promoted again or he will have to ﬁnd work elsewhere. Williams had somehow got through to Sinclaire and wreaked destruction upon his career. The stories will accumulate over the years until at last the Chairman moves to adopt policy on the matter. He buzzes Vicky. He can imagine the scene. like ingested steak and cheese. Sinclaire who was appointed by the BOD to select the next protégé. On the other he’s secretive. nods like winks. and it now remains Sincliare’s brief to acquaint the Circle of Kings upstairs with the progress in Piety’s career and life. just an update. and he only just restrained himself from snapping at Sinclaire. Doesn’t talk much about himself but he’s been with one girl for quite a while now. No resolutions passed. chewing over the merits of tailors. And he looks well. On the one hand. Because of prying Sinclaire’s Quarterly Reports. maybe a bit too conﬁdent. he’s black. He stamps his foot in the elevator. Piety’s dread switched to anger. On the other. It was Sinclaire who interviewed him for junior executivehood. Grunts and chuckles. when the Chairman asks Sinclaire. counsel taken in by every one of them. How’s Mrs. Just the one from Lester Ellman you were expecting. sir. sits heavily. How dare Sinclaire ask about Gayle! What if Piety had asked. ﬁne and gloved. the men ringed around the great table as if they were playing cards. After several harrowing moments during which he was certain that Mrs.
retrieves his jacket. Lester is concerned with the wording of a couple of the Trust School exam questions. 18 to M in something like ten seconds. black man. He leaves his watch on and spends the time writing suggestions on his legal pad for a revised equity-to-land policy and collecting unanswered rings from Mrs. Menaced by Mrs. affecting self-absorption. if not morose.Ben Oswest wonderful day. Upstairs the sly chauvinism is strangled into sycophancy. Lester says. with the tycoons of industry. talking about sport. Chatted up by Sinclaire. through the buzzer. The elevator’s speed is a true wonder. How much do you want to bet that Lester won’t be around now too? But Lester’s voice chirps on the line after only one ring and Piety feels relief all out of proportion to this bit of luck. bottled and stymied by her implacable country phone. Piety taped some time ago a lime-green note 104 . Made a slave of by work. resists like a moody gambler the urge to press redial one last time. it never fails to cull a meniscus of pressure from his stomach. No lunch. It’s 3:45. take care. Hiya. The inscrutable. They sort it out. an hour and a quarter before he can drive away from a miserable business day. each remark more an admittance that you would side. Sorry I missed you earlier. then blocked. Thanks Pete. Williams’s line. Piety does not join them. There are three rosy-faced men from 20th in the elevator. sir. At 4:55 Vicky wishes him a good weekend. in a crisis. On the lip of his car’s dashboard. and hangs up. hanging over and partially obscuring the dials. Among the lifers irony still has its health. Up or down. No problem. Then Lester says. leaving Piety with a dull telegraphic buzz. This is what Piety misses about working downstairs. and departs. So you don’t have to endure the company of other junior execs for long. He tidies his desk. suspending their disbelief that two people of different ironical castes can work productively together. Williams. it’s in my contract to stay loyal.
as Piety has done. swings to. It is a joke. A computer game. notably. Then the car backs out. Gayle – no. replacing the note from time to time. 105 . He’s been in the habit for years. from which he chooses at random the next note for his question mark. The question mark signiﬁes condoms. black question mark drawn on it. greet Gayle like a guilty dog. It has become tradition among some of his acquaintances – Lester. The latest gift looked like a condom wrapper and bore a condom-maker’s brand name. white. always yellow. Fruit. a blonde wig. yes. old man. It appears to be a rare day – he can go straight home.The New Suffolk Hymnbook with a thick. in fact. among other items. So he sits in the car before starting off and reels in breakfast’s commentary and observation. orange. and will order a pizza. For – the thought slips in unreasonably but then again does not seem incongruent – silk underwear. Piety says aloud. He laughs and ﬁres his engine. rouge and lipstick. I’ve pegged you now. bread. Heads for – . It used to be yellow. to Piety. Lester heads for home. pink. He watches the lifer climb into his car. He starts the car. he’ll be too lazy to shop at the suburban markets. and rolls for the exit. but he grew complacent toward yellow and the note’s powers faded. butter. Does he have an after-work meeting? Does Gayle want anything from town? Gayle – any important dates coming up? If Piety arrives home without thinking through his needs. yellow. as in – Do you need them? Do you need milk? Juice. For a moment Lester sits and stares. call with apologies. hot sauce? Fruit? Tomatoes? Chicken? The object of the device is to get him to THINK before he makes the irrevocable freeway commitment towards home. He doublechecks his memory for commonplace omissions. and a few of Gayle’s girlfriends – to surprise him with a novel notepad. Now he keeps a rainbow of notepads at home. For children and books and pets. some oddlyshaped. Tea. pink pumps. etc. some ruled. some fringed. nothing. Lester’s tiny ﬁgure works across his rearview mirror in a far parking lot. yes.
So long as there are no outright cessations of progress – the car can be inching along and he’s ﬁne. too. in the particularly slow snarls. because they will anyway. his thoughts to wander like a bee in a ﬂower bush. The music crows and beats out his triumph and Piety winces like a person listening to an alarm. As soon as he was in the driver tweaked his volume knob. too. resting his head back. The snarl usually crawls for ten minutes and the music pours green and gold out of the car’s windows like perverted and threatening Chinese dragons. forcing his way in. The driver passed up Piety’s berth and gunned to the end of the lane. emotional synthesis with high and ﬂat yearning white music. ripples on water. in italics. Piety checks their faces. occasion for that white ceremony of victory. When he splashed out of his mother and was carried through the sterile halls to the nursery his fate was foreordained. He lay there. at the mouth of the second slowdown. are frowning – their anger. Images open and widen and fade. He leaves a berth in front of him so that other drivers may cut him off. Piety can imagine exactly this man’s empty life up to now. He’s just performed various dilettante white life-improving acts in the city and now he’s slotted perfectly into trafﬁc with a malicious kite of a smile ﬂying on his white face. The cars drone around him. Piety’s the only person he knows who enjoys this part of the day. the moment that he is embracing the sentiment of his bucking stereo. on the side. He allows his eyes to slacken. It towers and swoops and ﬂashes insolently at the other motorists. rockets towards exasperation. a dollop of white 106 . He’s white and he’s feeling good about himself. fearing he must begin a wakeful nightmare of endurance. which periodically shifts into a vast snowy plain. They.Ben Oswest Trafﬁc never aggravates him. and he can be caught. however. a car which has merged ﬁve or six cars ahead begins to play loud music. Today. eyes closed or glassily ﬁxed on the stretched white vinyl of the car’s ceiling. The needle diddles between 10 and 0. A small blue job with the word CABRIOLET painted.
His face youthens. which anointed him with his jackpot future. Spacious one-bedroom ﬂat near chic coffee shops. piping their oily siren songs. the muscles of his stomach and the small of his back relax. six cars ahead. which coasts him to a stop sign. She fades away. and ﬁnally the slow drive-chain keen up the inclined driveway. and the white cloning will begin all over again. stimulating a frenzy of white fucking. Streetlights pop on and hiss like divers’ ﬂares. Piety’s body relaxes. It’s beyond your control. After that consultant work. Piety’s needle hikes uphill. sinking. which pools and rises like placid dark water. Gayle is home. crooning to herself. imprint the air with faint aquatic 107 . a series of arcs through the wide humped streets that the car practically knows itself. There. cut loose from his anger. The sun. blowing him a kiss. displaces evening. The lights are on.The New Suffolk Hymnbook among forty other dollops and awaited the hand of Destiny. lenient television upbringing in a backyard white suburb. steady suburbs. A white girl walks into his life. Piety’s own exit comes up soon after. The moist secret moment when he convinces his wife to assume new responsibilities with him is nigh. she whispers. They perform familiar beloved routines in silence. Trafﬁc begins to liven up. There is a pleasure like rest after exercise in downshifting for the off-ramp. for the next exit. His shoulders sink like poles in mud. feeling good about himself. its ﬂoating gnashing menagerie in tow. Disembodied window panes ﬂoat. low-slung roomy prep schools. Gayle strokes his head from the back seat. submerging Piety and Gayle’s street. unsocial glowing monsters of the deep. Inside the house Piety and Gayle drift around each other like affectionate ghosts long-drowned in the same shipwreck. an exorbitantly-priced university. there. looking out the side window at the regular. Need it be added – white wedding? Now he’s rushing home to her. a succession of simpering assless white vaginas ﬂexing throatily. As soon as he reaches the speed limit he watches the cabriolet drift. The music is nothing to get worked up about.
emotionally and in the physical sense. Finally. pretending to read but really concentrating on each other. He would walk. He grew close to her because her silence seemed to indicate a need for his manhood. and she would acquiesce.Ben Oswest ripples. Jeanne was your ﬁrst fuck. His story will sail over her interjections. She had things to do during the day. the ﬁrst summer without real work. Jeanne was – . he says. They met on the beach. It is her version of body language. shy. verbally or otherwise. Piety sighs long and blustery. exactly what it appears to be. not to collect his thoughts but to squeeze out reserve and sponge up frankness. being interviewed for the Mecklenburg. Jeanne was my ﬁrst love. He was educated. balanced. I don’t even recall her full name. One day he brought a blanket and they went to the bushes behind the dunes. He returns to the sands of his childhood. Then he won 108 . Gayle says – Tell me about Jeanne. He makes the decision then to get it over in a single impervious paragraph. Jeanne was his ﬁrst and only summer ﬂing. then pauses. he reminds himself. bad world. a big step for him. undisturbed by the swishing. so he kissed her. He would suggest. as if being with him pushed back a different. he says. murky activity above the silt ﬂoor outside. made vocal instead of visual. Gayle makes chicken and Spanish rice. They made love – he made love to her – often after that. untroubled. respectively. Then they ﬁnd themselves sitting in different places in the living room. Gayle mutters an insult. longing gestures of their eyes. A pattern quickly developed. he doesn’t remember what. She was so quiet he didn’t know what to do. They cling together in marine suspension above the diningroom table and take in the spectacle of the food’s disappearance. arrest each other with the secret. or so it seemed because she hardly talked. He was eighteen. she was not. Jeanne. work at a textile mill perhaps. the things Gayle hates and loves most in him. That was where they always met. she would trail after. she responds off handedly.
This compared with his ﬁrst encounter with Gayle. COAA over there. honest nose. It would be insulting to explain why he had to accept the Mecklenburg. He cannot even dredge up the ﬁrst time he met Jeanne. For crossing the ﬂoor to greet him was an elegant unmercenary long-sought beauty. which drew up like a syringe a hectic series of destinations and experiences and plunged them into his veins. She severed his continuity with the other beachgoers. And yet he remembers faintly. hair sculpted in a shell shape. the games and calls and splashing a static residue. she was dull but poor. that being with someone who wouldn’t add her chatter to the great cacophony was like being in a deserted landscape. Among those who live in an outskirt city settlement where families appear and plunge away like leaves in the streams after rain. soft cotton black dress on bold brown skin. He arrived at the ballroom at 11:45. eyes wide and merry. exist in altered dimensions which resist deep probing. He hadn’t seen her since. a stain of activity quite remote. He was eighteen. that shirtless pre-Mecklenburg boy on that damp and dirty stretch of beach. he was smart but poor. His manner. a smile that could have polished a diamond. ﬁfteen minutes before the music stopped. men and women. sand and air and water formed a jurisdiction from which everyone else was barred. a wide. The Syndromer’s Ball at the Holiday Inn. He and Jeanne were never alone on the beach. winking black shoes. mirrors his feelings of self-pity and exculpation. whether it be in beds or rooms or streets or on beaches. hadn’t recollected her in years. this kind of liaison is not uncommon. He had thought he would have spent the ball guessing syndromes. another alcoholic here. When he was with her. But that time and that place. more feeling than image. and immediately cursed the cynicism that had headlocked him on the sofa in front of the TV all night. the maelstrom of new life. as he talks. a bevy of neurasthenics on Prozac huddling 109 . Piety on clean-up duty to garner a few AA credits. Where strangers are as common as shared space. there were always dozens of other boys and girls.The New Suffolk Hymnbook the Mecklenburg.
Do you suppose every Mecklenburg boy leaves behind a little bundle? Piety understands that she is speaking on behalf of all women. 110 . drawn like thread through her tightly-bound shawl of nerves. you know the truth about proving yourself. This is his moment. in motion and in stillness. You endured your ten-thousand stupefying trials. You knelt once in obeisance to a need greater than lust’s fervid. but now he was prepared to make a deal with the Devil. indeed. through spontaneity. Piety hears himself say that he is going to visit them tomorrow. She is not going to leave you. while you gape in wild stricken horror. he says. No. ramiﬁed into her blood and ﬂesh. The gesture seems fragile but it is as bold as scratching a line in the sand. No. You prove yourself by ﬂexing and releasing muscles. but eludes most. Gayle sits low on the sofa as if exhausted.Ben Oswest in that corner. She asks. whatever you want. The social worker’s pragmatism. The law is simple. for men. found the noose unexpectedly lifted from around your neck. the feminist’s righteousness. the lover’s uncertainty. She is asking you – What are you going to do? She has proved herself with the question. a tender central emotion as easily damaged as brain-matter. Williams. torturing goad. You know. It wouldn’t surprise me. with certainty – there is a self. another amber bottle to your lips – this is proof. For this woman. What are you going to do about yours? Piety can map the question’s rivers and tributaries. Your hand does not convey. and you are required to acknowledge her pride and vulnerability with an act that is her due. Jeanne and Samuel and Mrs. I don’t know. whom he couldn’t reach on the phone today. to be proven. through consistency – the advice of magazines. How do you prove yourself to someone you love? For women. him snickering like a malicious bell hop.
she says. to something that amounted to corporate prosecution. aside from circumstances. a halting shufﬂe. and the air three-dimensional stationery on which she writes her secret grievances. his presence enormous and imposing. Samuel is handsome. The element of surprise. leading her to a familiar task. he directing the talk. and seems to want to say something more. He watches her nose and lips begin. Tea in Mrs.The New Suffolk Hymnbook It is enough. Piety likens her to a fountain pen. The letter is sealed away forever from his jealous eyes. I’ll get him apprenticed. Williams’s cramped front room. that might shape his fate more into a likeness of his mother’s than his fathers? Gayle starts to her feet and makes stormy headway toward the kitchen. She says. none of which are apparent in the head and shoulders Mrs. stop. And an appraisal of his son. a kind of dance which deposits her at the kettle. even by her presence in his house. wistfully – He is a handsome boy. If he challenged Jeanne in court. and wonders whether it’s possible that. a son in the presence of his unfamiliar father? Gayle is no ﬂatterer. venting emotion. maybe start a trust fund. The talk. Height. The complicated – to other’s eyes torturous – conﬁguration of her body through space restores her. Williams sent. begin. The speech – slow and drawn or rapid and alert? Or just mute. She nods gravely. It would be nice to acknowledge that tempering if inconsequential doubt. build. The prospect of a country drive tomorrow actually pleases him. That is good. Piety might win. if it isn’t too late. hears her ﬁddle with water and kettle and china. I will pay for his education. But what things weigh against the boy. again. And lose Gayle. He had hoped she might mention that he can’t be sure – that the uncertainty can’t be banished – whether Jeanne’s child is truly his. an agreement to talk again. 111 . A little talk. But the twitching ceases. She would never lend herself. The landscape that rolls out yellow and green and blue. He watches her half-step into the kitchen. mental quickness. never a disadvantage. nothing more. If it is.
A thin crooked line of water dribbles down a cupboard door. her ﬁsts close to her ears and her torso thrashing as if she was being shaken. She does not scream. It comes to him that he should make it seem that he is very far away from her at this moment. His face jumps into a smile and he laughs. slamming and locking the door. He bounds into the kitchen where she stands pouring and creeps up on her like a panther. He glances around the uncommunicating kitchen. Then the ﬁt commences. her face contorted and reddening. rubbing the cupboard door. but taking a breath bucks him off. She blocks his arm and lopes for the bathroom.Ben Oswest when the time comes. Mrs. Williams and Samuel. Her arms seize. The water from the kettle splashes on the skin between her blouse and pants and brims around her waist before it soaks into the fabric. brooding on Gayle and Jeanne. two baby-blue cups nearby. But something goes wrong. She loves him. carefully stepping around the wet spots. Or will she list away from him as she has just done. her cheeks and brow a wakened hive. She stands bowlegged. She must have been waiting for his yes or no. because when he places both hands on her hips and growls she makes a quick sharp sob and falls back against him. and there are splotches trailing out of the kitchen where Gayle stepped. With a nurse’s calm she places the kettle back on the counter. drawing with her body a hex that imprisons him in his world while she leaves it behind? He stares through the glass top of the coffee table. The kettle on the counter sweats in a shallow pool. inscribing regret. Would monsieur care for tea? she shouts from the kitchen. Piety reaches for her. unheedful of his presence behind her. and sops up the water on the counter. takes out a clean green-striped washrag. He crouches. He wrings the rag into the sink. She does not draw breath. ﬁnding the water on the door’s 112 . she will descend to his mean. material level for a single breath and accept him. Gayle will you marry me. but glowers murderously at the ﬂoor. He opens a drawer. It is as if a child has tickled him. one of them steaming. He is attentive.
like muscles which outperform the laws of physics during emergencies. Her voice sounds as if played on a faulty tape. which is blowing on him like hot wind from the direction of the bathroom. Eastern-European landscapes slide over the screen. But all he can think of is a single ﬂower. she says. Gayle should drink sugar water or barring that orange juice. dry dishtowel. He walks meekly to the bathroom door. Then the doorknob clicks and a hand reaches out. Their feet should rest higher than their heart. and watches the unconnected images of the news. He catches a glimpse. Gayle’s breath shudders. turns on the television. In the kitchen he ﬁnds orange juice. A wet face-cloth hangs over the side of the bathtub. He taps. Yes. There is a pause. He gives her the ice. He pours a glass of water and mixes two tablespoons of sugar in it and pours a glass of orange juice. He empties the one teacup. She’s been sitting on the toilet with her pants down. He stands in his glaring clean kitchen and his mind pages without order through a catalogue of ideas for one that will inspire him to alter the space – so that Gayle will come upon a testimony of remorse that will dispel her reproach. he says. Brief water burns cause pain but not deep damage. 113 . Gayle you should ice it. She takes it without touching him. in a vase. A fastblooming thought reminds him that burn victims can go into shock. on the spot where the kettle stood. and puts the other away. and that’s no good. The door is closed. sugar and ice. Gayle’s burn should be iced. And you should drink this. Piety doesn’t believe he’s ever been told anything about shock ﬁrstaid. He wrings out the rag. cancels its sound. are you all right. People in shock should be lain down and covered with a blanket. Perhaps his mind is transcending itself. He wraps a trayful of ice in a clean. He thrusts through the sugar water. He says it like a boy who has accidentally crushed his sister’s hand underfoot.The New Suffolk Hymnbook top edge and around the doorknob. I’ve got some ice. He goes about on hands and knees and dries the ﬂoor. washes it. He retreats to the living room. Gayle. a rose. Steam would have been worse.
can imagine her half-covered breasts – but she will know what’s happening and feel rudely uncaring and return to sleep 114 . Goodnight. He wakes before dawn without much fatigue. Gayle surely hears the electric yawn of the garage door – he can imagine her half-sitting up to listen. This morning he will not act as if he inhabits the house. cool. The juice goes warm in his hands. a silhouette accreting substance. She creeps from the bathroom as stealthily as a thief. He drifts off wondering how often he is destined to receive the blessing of her mercy. The sound of weight heaved on a mattress. A light clicks. and proceeds. He’s losing time. but he hears her. where an unfamiliar ﬂag is hoisted. Another click.Ben Oswest He wanders back to the television with the orange juice and sits. to the garage. on the road. breakfast. Gayle has not emerged. He arranges these on the sofa. sits and stares at the dim carpet for a moment. Shock victims often sleep deeply once they feel safe. A tractor unlike any Piety has seen marauds in wheat. pulls on yesterday’s clothes. Goodnight. tea. At last he places the orange juice on the coffee table. Bedclothes rustle. He stirs. replaced by a woman skating low over a track of ice. The farmers have ﬂickered away. Images of plains alternate with farmers’ ruddy faces. He thinks – Gayle won’t want to sleep with me tonight. praises himself for leaving his suit jacket on the back of a diningroom chair. He says to the blackness. He waits. He will take care of necessaries. far ahead of a pack. He is the type who resists sleep outside of normal circumstances. like a sigh. bathroom. He can smell the dark orange juice. He guesses that ﬁve minutes pass before Gayle says. empty bed in which to convalesce. not sparing a moment for her syndrome’s eccentricity. He plods to the bedroom where he gathers blankets and a pillow. But he does not move from his chair. folds his sheets and places them with his pillow in a neat square on the couch cushion. love. If he was burnt he would want a spacious. It’s nearly eleven. He decides to sleep. Then a triumphant medal ceremony.
With dawn. He rented a camper and drove to a national park with a great jangling of impulse-bought gear. he went camping. By the time the garage door shuts he’s a block away. and if there’s an accident. Two years ago Piety did something for the very ﬁrst time.The New Suffolk Hymnbook disappointed with men. delivering him to a black sea that rolls. impervious 115 . A year-old company car. Not true camping. the hills. his car suddenly a yacht doggedly staying its course. He drops coins into the automatic coffee and tea machine and buys a day-old banana mufﬁn. That’s right. Then he’s in the deep back-supporting seat of his car for good. and what if it should break down. with apologies and chagrin. No one is going his way. a company policy of regular service to hedge even minimal decrepitude. says Piety. however. A faultless car. which he hopes will be met with rational acceptance. But he never rested better. past recall. The air unfolded in his body until he felt like a forest in miniature. today’s dawn proposes a lavish toast to that feeling. chewing and cruising one-handed down a black ribbon he has all to himself. are shown to be motionless. a tank that will travel with him almost a quarter of the nation’s girth. Fill it up? asks the attendant. Williams’s letter and directions lie open on the passenger seat. an airbag. Mrs. open a crack. not in a tent. however. leaving the meshed awning of the vehicle open as he slept. breathing as a forest breathes. a seatbelt. But it won’t. The freeway carves a wide yaw past the city and its outskirts. He uses the clammy men’s room. The roadlights end like palings on a quay. He stayed three nights. A few cars pass in the opposite direction. the manifold trunks and branches dressed in cool atmosphere. The car cruises onward. pale as water. He remembers that he knows nothing about his car. The All Nite One Stop waits for dawn by the highway. The birds saw to it that he woke at four o’clock – in three nights not more than twelve hours of sleep. and a company towing policy. swells and dips. Given three and a half hours up and back he should return for dinner. Through his window. The smell is the same.
where the water scalded. Several aloe plants grow in his front yard. by his reading. cursing without discrimination. Perhaps ten minutes later a faded signboard points to Suffolk without giving the distance. the freeway a black zipper seaming the sides together. a man to be reckoned with. to be sure. Piety asks. even now. Cows stand as if in postholes in wet yellow and green ﬁelds. He crests a high hill and registers an imprint of the land – green. the map’s right. like a bullet. Which way. It will seem to Mrs. The tank has been reduced by an eighth. He exits the freeway for a twolane county road that has not received attention in a long while. No. He stops. He drives silently. There remains so much he wants to do for his mother. That way. blue and yellow hills lofted like a lumpy quilt to the horizon. Williams’s map. The ﬁrst turnoff is about ﬁve minutes from here. Piety’s ﬁrst concern is the accuracy of Mrs. Samuel would have pleased her greatly. shiny red welt at her waist. Inside the shop the pasty-skinned teenager behind the counter says. Despite the circumstances. She’ll call him a fool and this will ﬁll him with reassurance. She’s probably nursing herself in the kitchen right now – in the spotless kitchen – with coffee and open glistening rinds of aloe. He should have left a leaf or two on the dining-room table. Barbed-wire fences speed along with him. The car of a man of consequence. Their jerky motion reminds him somewhat of Gayle and he imagines a raised. 116 . He tells the attendant to ﬁll it. watching him go by.Ben Oswest to contingency. at an even speed. He jerks his thumb in the direction Piety’s been driving. he would have liked his mother to know Samuel. He should call Gayle at the next stop. Williams and Jeanne what it would have seemed to his mother. Aloe is very good for skin burns. But as she said often enough. The kid gives him a look. when a 24-hour Supaline heaves into view. if you want to hear God laughing tell him your plans. He should have passed the exit to Suffolk some time ago. But at eight o’clock. He’s sure Gayle knows this too.
But the past. A small truck closes in. conﬁdent that the place it has picked will yield up a soft wriggling body at some point. Piety adjusts his mirror. His own road does its best among the hills. His mother died of typhoid fever. but it’s just as well – he must make two more turnoffs before he reaches the road that passes Mrs. Piety checks his map. like a man who has been duped. Piety says – Shit. which induced a vague premonition. he thinks. and he isn’t allowed another all-encompassing view. a silo like a gigantic barrel lowering behind it. He thinks of the tourist maps hanging folded above the teenager at the Supaline. at which point a low. auctioneers. and he doesn’t want to miss them. She survived only a day after his arrival and the bulk of his time he spent with hospital administrators.m. It winds for ﬁfteen minutes. Shit.The New Suffolk Hymnbook At the edges tufts of grass grow through the tar. and takes the turn. he won’t heed. and in awkward. a burial society. A black sheep. He slows considerably. This could be it. panicky safaris for booze. The two white men in the truck study him nonchalantly. 117 . crochets patiently in a corner like an unconcerned spider. Up ahead. to himself. For no reason. ﬁghting inclines and declines. he is severed from you. privileging the common and level contour. He sounds. The truck speeds up the road. After his ﬁrst drink he called home. Never more call for this young man. He should have known – naturally rural people don’t live on land with good access to anything but a road that leads to more rural roads. He thumps over potholes and passes a sign bearing the shape of a sheep. One day after a torts lecture he reached home just as the phone stopped ringing. then passes. The new road is gravel and not wide enough for two cars. His mother’s death delivered an ultimatum to his childhood. He has been driving down a driveway. He was away from school for a week. the shoulder widens and aprons into a turnoff. it seems. he says again. whitewashed house with a triangular gable appears. When he reaches the main road again it’s 10 a. Williams’s home.
But his volition has been stolen. He does something rare. is that the right road. announcing a guest house in several languages. contemptuous by now of dirt paths that pretend to be anything but driveways. may I use your phone. and second. A road appears on his left. because unlike the halfdozen driveways he’s explored. the pasturage rising and plunging with regularity enough to make him feel seasick. The radio offers a tough choice – silence or the Sixties. Nothing. nearly alights from his car with relief to the surprised European faces. Piety’s cell phone has long lost contact with any transmitters. Gayle is eating lunch with no pants or panties on. He ﬁne-tunes. but he doesn’t even slow. He travels grimly down the road. reading in the all-purpose cookbook about salves and poultices and wondering if he’s fool enough to stay away for the whole day without calling. some with great thoroughness. He has already given up when down in the dregs of the dial a notch of music parts the crackle. will be the right road for the second turn. He is sweating and praying that this road. at last. the kind so rarely played for the listening public. He turns the radio on loudly. He squints and wonders which direction the road is taking him. North? South? East? West? Is he pointed toward or away from the long-gone city? A sign swings by.Ben Oswest Around noon. cattle grazing on gentle slopes beyond his windows or I Want to be Your Man. It is not that he dislikes music. then grimaces. the ﬁrst he’s seen in hours. Should this be the correct road the next turnoff he must take is to the left. Static crashes like mad timpani in the car. this one is paved. then turns carefully through the FM frequencies. He nearly brakes – he nearly tracks this gravel road to the house. I’ll pay of course. he feels stunned and recalcitrant and his foot does not lift from the accelerator. to manger his thoughts someplace other than the monotonous terrain. He loves it. the right kind. His hand gropes for the volume. The kind of music – and even from the tinge of recall Piety’s heart beats with more urgency – that you want to press like a red-hot brand 118 . nearly asks of them. ﬁrst.
and he half-anticipates the moment when all signs of the modern world will falter. He snatches up Mrs. the ﬁrst one to the one he’s on right now. He ﬁrst sees a car like a toy in the distance. squinting. What can I say. it gets to me. He must drive even more slowly. and he will nose his car toward the place the settlers called a frontier but for which the natives already had a proper name. Three right angles. The men are gingerly walking around the tree and telephone pole.The New Suffolk Hymnbook against your chest. William’s map. the road will taper to two brown ruts tunnelling through the grass. near the tree’s base in the elbow of the fork. He turns the radio off. Piety stops well out of crashing distance. from the freeway to the ﬁrst road. white. The music which is currently playing is practically sacrilegious by comparison. The three men. The tree is actually broken – one side of its lower trunk. if pressed – It gets to me. Behind it a monstrous tree. and this one to the one he’s looking for. The driveways have ceased entirely to mushroom off the shoulder. leaning at an unnatural angle. Three right angles. Piety wouldn’t say that the blues take him to a place. Not a trace of anything resembling a fork. the fences will end. Piety drives up. the kind that sustains you like a gritty vision through a manhood ritual. gave up and decided to split the road in two. They graze by the roadside. unwisely Piety judges. looking up. It is possible that the third represents 119 . have parked their vehicle. A few sheep have found their way through holes in the fences. defeated even as they considered it. He doesn’t have the energy to fumble through his CDs. having ruptured into a splintery gash – and its huge torso balances precariously over the left fork of the road on a hammered and jarred telephone pole. A fork in the goddamned road. satisﬁed with their proof that the grass is truly greener. It’s as if the roadmakers couldn’t cope when they arrived at the tree. of her syndrome. as Gayle. which is thick as a shack. he would simply say. At 2:00 he reaches the fork in the road. that you ﬁnd in the blood behind your eyes making love.
the one with the behemoth tree lording over it. didn’t break. How far up the left fork until the road to Suffolk? About forty-ﬁve minutes. last night’s storm. He cannot navigate around the tree. powerless rage. It’s the second road. You turn right. a farmer’s fence. In Piety’s suddenly kirilian mood disbelief at the litany of his frustrations cohabits with thickening. Dry lightning. The man pauses. says Piety. He gestures across the ﬁelds. To get to Suffolk you take which fork? The right one goes right through Suffolk. They got the rain down that way. Behind the tree – probably the true reason for the road’s forking – an improbable sharp upslope of yellow grass. There isn’t much for lightning to hit but that tree. 120 . Near Suffolk. Terrible about the tree isn’t it? It wouldn’t do to explode at the roadside in this small glazed plate of ﬁeld and three white men and a wrecked tree. He climbs from his car and stalks toward the tree. To the left of the road. then with some courage asks – Were you staying at the treehouse? It sounds as if he is testing a hypothesis about the vocabulary of strangers. The man greets him as he places a triangular hazard marker between them. unfazed. cannot take the left fork. Storm passed by. black skin and entitled pose producing a sum as unequal to the known surrounding farmland as a ghost ship. the German car. What happened.Ben Oswest the left fork up ahead. No. says Piety. The left one will take you to a road that will take you there. He speaks with as little bitterness and nausea as possible. Which way were you headed? he asks. he adds with a sigh. It’s easy to ﬁnd. We’ll cut it down. It’s lucky to have lasted this long. He is doing his best to conceal his curiosity toward Piety’s existence. One of the men is walking amiably toward him. He waits. thick branches poling down like prison bars. Well. but there was plenty of charge in the air.
Thank you. requires urgent use of the left fork. Someone calls the mayor of Suffolk away from his breakfast. says Piety. which becomes. even if the branches took some of the impact. arrive in the afternoon. It was a truly great tree. They’ll get nothing done today. Gayle transmits as weakly as a star.The New Suffolk Hymnbook How far until the ﬁrst road? Well. Urgent – as in a couple of delivery trucks hauling timber and Coca-Cola every few hours. in his state of weariness. At 4:00 he passes another sign for the guesthouse. however. I’m afraid we’ll have to cut those lines. He understands in retrospect the man’s question. assuming he could ﬁnd them after taking the right fork. Tree Haus Cottages Next Left Welcome Welkommen Bienvenue. Sure. The men are moving their vehicle out of range of the tree. He tracks down his deputies. except lowering the tree completely to the ground. is Tuesday morning. Piety plods back to his car. Good luck with the tree. The telephone pole should not have stood up to the crash. The tree is moved like a stage prop behind a hill in his mirror as Piety drives back the way he came. Jeanne and Samuel – inaccessible. resigned. a half-hour. Mrs. It connects some way down with Suffolk South Road. He won’t reach home before 121 . He wouldn’t reach them before nightfall. Can you turn left on to this ﬁrst road? An apology seems to ﬂutter about the man’s face. He’s tired. when work trafﬁc. a pine of some sort with branches wide as an elm’s. as if he has fathomed Piety’s errand and feels sorry for his inconvenience. It must have stood taller than the hill behind it and bristled to both edges of the fork. a suggestion. The deadline they’re working against. These three men. How did the news of the calamity spread? Last night’s lightning. Gayle – . the undertakers. he says. A morning milk truck makes a detour. Williams. not motorists enjoying the long weekend.
I would like a room for the night if you have a vacancy. fat-faced black woman regards him with mute alarm. It bends around a hill and collects in a cul-de-sac at the foot of a long. also in brass. Wait. But we keep half the deposit so we’re not unhappy. the upper half of the door opens again. also thatched. regale her with the trip’s exasperations. I would like to rent a room for the evening. she says. It’s like a vacation. Piety is not sure whether this means yes or no. and name a more acceptable time for his reunion with Gayle. in an accent he can’t place – Yes. A heavyboned white woman with a tight mouth says. He detests night driving.Ben Oswest midnight at the earliest. How may I help you. explain. The front door of the house bears brass lettering – the establishment’s name above three small stars. We had a group cancel yesterday. cluster on either side of a man-made stream which trickles under a footbridge and disappears into pasturage. To the right. she recites. Hello. So – may I have a room? 122 . the cookie-cutter shape of the fallen tree. behind the house. and shuts the door. A small. None of them are occupied. Below the stars. Minutes later. Yes? she says. and comment on Mrs. What can Gayle be doing right now? Lying in a lukewarm bath. Williams and other chimeras. Five inside and ﬁfteen in the cottages. Do you have space? We have twenty rooms. He will ask her how she is feeling. After a moment the door’s upper half parts with its lower. The driveway is quite practical compared with the others he’s charted. He will leave without breakfast tomorrow morning to arrive in time to take her to lunch. He presses the doorbell. He hears her call out. several cottages. a red snake coiled around her waist. represented in unfelled glory. dining-hall shaped house with a thatched roof. tomorrow. low. It would be better to call.
pink curtains are drawn back from a large window which brightens pastel hues unﬂatteringly. Well. Mrs. Dinner at seven. and does not refrain from licking her lips as she watches to see whether he will pass this test. Piety writes his name and address. The air smells as if the kettle has been humidifying it. We will give you the Black Forest room. are separated by a table crowded with two lamps. Two twin beds. and breakfast. He feels obliged to chuckle. You don’t need a whole cottage for just one night. depicting unrelieved forest which is inhabited by long names with thick black capitals and carpet-knife serifs. Well. BLACK FOREST. The maid. too. bed. we will see you at seven. Then she names an outlandish sum.The New Suffolk Hymnbook Yes. she adds. she explains. for dinner. as puffed as loaves of white bread and covered with pink and white ﬂoral duvets. like the other. Shower. Tienappel conducts a brief tour. We charge it at the end of your stay. come and go as you please. and a basket of teabags. Piety’s side there represented by a storybook candy window. she points. Instead. furnished in dark tones. Please sign the book. That’s ﬁne. Phone. The woman says – My name is Mrs. she points. who was partaking of the spectacle behind her employer. scuttles around a corner. She takes his card and makes an imprint. Do you have any special requirements? No? Good. a kettle. she says. upholstered like a smoking den. Tea and biscuits. a cool realm of tree shade and boars and mushrooms. gesturing to a brass nameplate above the registration table. The room is not. she points. Well. It is very expensive. Tienappel. His hand produces his wallet and thumbs forward a card. Come in. She unlatches the lower half of the door. gold. He follows her to his room. she says. No. yes of course! One is not a problem so much. 123 . It. bears its name in brass. The sole item incongruous with the room’s motif remains unexplained – a framed map like a square of damp on the wall. as he expects. In the fuming pink stufﬁness the map is like a portal to a second world.
It is not often that we have a black staying with us. listens. and comes right out with it. The window. his mouth. Piety contemplates the man’s quietly aggrieved face for several minutes without thinking another thought. telling himself. steaming at the edges. The day’s troubles melt. We’ll have to cut those wires. 124 . Tienappel. The man who impressed Piety the most told the journalist that during his torture. He turns off the tap. He towels himself. After driving showers are like a massage. It is time to call Gayle. He is now a relatively important politician.Ben Oswest It is only in the shower – he puts that selﬁshness ahead of phoning Gayle – that Piety understands. he said to himself that this was not the worst. and remembers what the workman at the tree said. shows deepening dusk. thick and rosy in tweed. His strategy worked – for each successive ordeal he tricked his body into believing that the state of torture was status quo. big brown feet planted near the drain. he remembers an evening when he and Gayle sat watching a show which featured survivors of torture. literally buttonholes him into a study before he reaches the diningroom. only half-jokingly. The shower has further thickened the air. his cheeks. As he turns to the showerhead and allows the warm water to patter his eyelids. He wipes his eyes and stares down at his feet. He lounges on the left bed with the Reader’s Digest edition of The Magic Mountain and Death in Venice bound in one volume. He dials. The map – the Black Forest – the Tienappels – Tree Haus – Germany. You give way to the loosening of tension. The water steams into his scalp. Then with a jolt he perceives that he is on the verge of sleep. when his ﬁngers were broken and his testicles were shocked. still coming. The water dribbles down the tile in beads. emotional and rejuvenating. leaves his clothes aside for dinner. At dinnertime Mr. The phone is dead. and tramps wet-footed to the phone. when he was suspended by his wrists for hours. that the worst was coming. that he did not drive by accident into a different universe when he left the city. He was not broken.
The ornate. Mr. Please continue. I was asking what you are going to do now. Well. Follow me. He has owned this farm for seventeen years. Tienappel. He came here ﬁrst as a tourist. You understand that we have skipped a bit of ceremony for only one guest. Tienappel asks him what he would like to drink. Our guest was commenting. cooked carrots and beans. three types of bread. They look inquiringly over their spoons. it does not translate into English. Piety has arrived.The New Suffolk Hymnbook he says. beetroot slices. a salad as bushy as a ﬂoral arrangement. looking sharply for the maid. The tree – . covered gravyboats and butterdishes. She and her husband exchange glances. Oh yes. But when he saw how many others were coming as tourists. Mr. mashed pumpkin and – soup ﬁrst. Would you like a Schiedamer – an apéritif ? Piety declines. Ah. mirror-polished diningroom table is set for three but heaped with food for a half-dozen. Ja. Of course. Yes? Don’t you know why the phone lines are down? No. potatoes. to me the same. And stops. declares Mrs. to stoke Herr 125 . Just water. whites. Do you hear that? The dinner bell. I was talking of our tree. Tienappel. The phone lines are down? Why did Eunice not tell us. says Mrs. And what are you going to do now. sick with epiphany. to consummate all the hausfrau’s expectations of calamity. asks Piety mildly. Tienappel smiles. Tienappel shrugs. says Mrs. Why do you ask? Piety says. Roast. turkey. Tienappel. Mr. a sooty suitcaseless devil. The maid ladles cold pink soup into his soup plate. There is a word for that tree in German. ham. blacks. Tienappel. he knew hew was in business. Have you seen our tree? You have no German? Ah. Do you know the history of our tree? Wait. says Mr. yes.
The curtains remain open. Tienappel demands with sudden alarm. But now. The feast in front of Piety assumes the rankness of carrion. All your life. She remains bolt. and to reap among the souls of this place. What is the matter with the tree. He wanders down the abandoned hall. Tienappel jumps up. Like a marathon runner’s. shrieking in German now and laden with camera equipment. Mr. that it wouldn’t be an acknowledgement to Tree Haus of any receipt of hospitality to watch TV. watching his thoughts like ﬂotsam in a stream. Wheels tear at gravel. She mutters. Her mouth begins to work. on a telephone pole. He has not eaten lunch. however. and crashes out of the room. pausing as he reaches the diningroom from which master and mistress have ﬂed. he is still staring at the bright ceiling. It has – it fell. What? He shouts. He decides he wouldn’t mind watching television.Ben Oswest Tienappel to immolation. lies on his bed and tries to rest. Marathoners run marathons inside marathons. ﬁrst under her breath. standing. he tells himself. Today has been only a hill. then she shrieks it – Wait! and leaps and runs out the opposite door. she is ﬂying back through the dining room. His eyes grope at his wife. They sit upright and mute in their chairs as if bound and gagged by a burglar. Then – I’m going! He shouts. unlike in the shower. After night’s total enclosure of the Tienappel farm. After today you will continue to run and run. He has indeed been running a marathon. He returns to his room without sampling from the table. measured out by a ponderous celestial bureaucrat. then aloud – Wait. his body keeps vigil against rest as well as hunger. his body seems shored against exhaustion. He is not much taller. A motor roars. Chill presses in from the window. paying hunger no heed. The sound quickly diminishes to a drone and disappears. Then Mr. The maid is sitting where 126 . Moments after. or even a real breakfast. Last night it was struck by lightning.
Then – Ollantaytanbo. a plate of food under busy attack by her knife and fork. Piety squints. and presses MUTE on the remote control. and when it happens it catches them just before they round the corner. He ﬁnds the television and the news. London. But it is not the Tienappels. a black man in the passenger seat. Italy. A painting of a park in which a faceless scarecrow inclines his head toward a newspaper. The byline reads. like the one that felled the tree. A man re-enacting the scene in the real park. Prague. A billboard announcing Anthony Slate in Milton’s Isle. A statue seeming to ﬂoat on a carpet of water which pours over its pedestal. Five students sit around an Indian whose crumpled hat obscures his face. her cheeks like the mumps. and all Piety can make out is a lump hulking toward the gloom of the pasture. Peru.The New Suffolk Hymnbook he sat. betting on the odds. Piety vaguely wonders why the house has power. Piety stands by the curtains watching. Low mountains. Cusco. which is clearly a poor shoulder. The two men alight. The window pane doesn’t ﬂash. the light is snuffed. their 127 . Perhaps the Tienappels use a generator. A scene from the play. A sandy-haired white man who was driving. the mindless comfort of a soundless TV. The lower half of the purple window ﬂashes. The return of the Tienappels. A verdigris dome. The TV is not bright enough to illuminate the room – they will not see him. but no phone service. but glows for several moments and darkens – headlights. and winks violently. Then the passenger door thumps shut. Arles. Peasants. Politicians standing and shouting. The window ﬂashes again – another night lightning storm moving in. and his retina is burned with the negative image of two toppling men. The driver puts his arm around the black man’s shoulder. France. watches in the dark. He remembers last night. The window behind the television seems a stained glass pane of dark purple. The driver’s door opens and two heads bask in the map light’s glow. She looks up. Verona. He strains to keep up. dressed shabbily and exhibiting the deference of the country poor. and a panned shot of an archaeological dig.
He pictures the boy’s most recent impression. of rushing into the bedroom a joyful supplicant. comfort – triﬂing pleasures. He sees his life now as if he were entrusted to extract a single still moment of goodness in it. then hums along the road. He should have asked for her hand months ago. Something pulls his own eyes to a source of light. The freeway is near. a pair of dwindling pinprick taillights. The boy is plunged instantly back down the waterspout of darkness. He is elated with humiliation. which ﬂares like the sign into momentary existence. His car crackles down the Tienappel driveway. He should never have stopped. After timeless fevered driving a rain-streaked sign ignites in his headlights. until it has taken the shape of the road. the lime-green note on his dashboard. He laughs aloud at the prospect. A chaos like a swarm of moths. He has been a fool. Gayle represents the end of marathons. nothing – if you run it well it’s your ﬁnal race my boy. an exulting supplicant if the combination is possible. a whirring screen at the end of Piety’s racing mind. Nothing else matters. acquires mechanism. standing at the alter. To think that he never made the effort to say it in words before. He hurtles past another night object. It is a boy. keys and wallet. He bumps the Black Forest’s doorframe on his way out.Ben Oswest arms tight around each other. The thick. The boy’s stormclouded face comes to him. past the deserted carcass of dinner. glowing faintly. rimed with light. near dawn he reckons. a man bursting at the heart to prostrate himself. black question mark which he has drawn on it seems to grow. Success. in camaraderie or struggle he couldn’t say. 128 . He strides back to his bedroom. It has begun to sprinkle. half-turning to look at the car. back-lit by the dials. humping along the side of the road. He and Gayle. Nothing matters but Gayle. If he is the ﬁrst to her then all races end. which only hastens his stumbling escape. and collects his jacket.
my hands pressed into them. and a vision appeared in that same instant. It is like I am always hungry but the man. you have your eyes out on the road. They smelled of washing powder. a thousand pictures of a man. cleansmelling. A washerwoman must have toiled and toiled to scrub those stains from black to brown.Secondo MOTOR OIL IS MOTOR OIL I praise the morning. I tell you. Three dark bands of greased hair are striped across his bald head. Then the man sighs. A ﬁne product. His leg slides down to the stepladder and he straightens. I received them. Oil is oil. Ronnie you cannot ever account for each one of them the new bottle sure is full of ﬁne concoctions. He gazes down at Ronnie. your elbows. And I knew. You have your hands in the engine. his torso rises. in refrain one leg locked straight on the stepladder. His jowls look like pepper mixed with salt. from a certain point of view. then. Your forearms. Ronnie speculates about the morning I was given these overalls. as a journey. Just bring me the cheap stuff. looking at the eggs as if he was hungry. Your ﬁngertips play over the delicate issue of the moment. bent in two. His arms push. I was sure. merely grunts an engine is as appealing. sitting down to breakfast. soft. back in the engine. The sun is an egg. my nametag on top. That was my future going on forever. The activity in the deep well of the so he is a conversationalist is he. they read the engine surfaces and it is a veritable proclamation 129 . the other leg propped like a dog’s over the lip of the roaring happiness and his torso spills down into the engine. It strikes me each day. The body hangs lifeless for a moment. The super handed them over folded. frozen in the act. A mirror reﬂected in a mirror. the tops of your knuckles are pressed on by the stony slick steel that has cooled down.
Here’s my goddamn miracle. A woman shouts from the car don’t forget to shut the doors Stafford and Sarah come back right now and shut the doors. In both cases you are quiet and meditating. The memories surface unforced. and fucking insolent and insipidly stupid people I could murder him for his face the Mini Mart. She dances and feints like a doe separated from the herd. running headlong for the door of the Mini Mart. The same way your eyes roll over a ribbon of land. Ronnie does not walk further down this road. even though it’s brand-new it has a long. and soon you see that it’s your future too. A brown sedan journeys to the pump and its motor is cut like a sigh should be taken for one reason only. long history. 130 . After I made the decision. and you ﬁnd in the objects a continuous and unseparated freedom of being. your work. a boy on the far side. and thinking about your history and your future in that garage is almost like prayer while make sure he knows you’re not nervous yessir. or to a hawk hanging in the sky. Flick them brieﬂy from the road to a hill. all your work. This is your history. the roads you’ve been down and the roads you will be down. I’d go and stare at it for hours. Do you follow? It’s a goddamn miracle. and the next day it’s in my garage. To travel in self-interest the two rear doors burst open. stalks to Stafford’s. The woman heaves out of the sedan. your dad. ﬁfty bucks chief it may look like all the others but it has its own individuality. She ignores him. no joke. compulsion of duty. I mean. He drifts back to the garage. your mother.Ben Oswest of unity. a girl on the near side of the pump. The tip of your tongue returns to the old spot with exploratory satisfaction and you remember childhood feelings. slams it. slams Sarah’s door. while the man speaks to the attendant. Get up at midnight and go down and sit in it until two or three. I’m going to beat you. but he skips ahead and blocks her way. suddenly you’re twiddling a loose milk tooth when you’re ﬁve. The boy careens around the sedan taunting his sister I’m going to beat you. a child ﬂying out of each.
is that self-love encourages the false belief that individuality exists. But it is true that I am not interested in church. tinkering in the engine. wipes his hands on his trousers. quiet. They all melt into the soil during the weekends and only surface – like worms – Monday afternoons. She closes the door and says. be it for food. The children follow. I believe advancing querulously around the side of the station.The New Suffolk Hymnbook When she does not immediately emerge the man here we go the horn it debilitates physically. none are bothersome. The man in the engine pushes himself up. is that societies adopt the same pose. eating chocolate. The man starts the engine. for what man will deny himself his desire. Another sedan pulls up to the pump. beyond the frown of disapproval he might encounter at home? As far as your soul is concerned. but still true. I hope you didn’t give that man a truth. when he is in foreign parts. though. then. Of the people I know who go to church. as she slides into the front seat. The second. 131 . Ronnie approaches the truck with a can of oil in each hand. This is for a laugh at my expense. doesn’t see this. The man. the certain consequences of travel are far more with her head down as if pulling something heavy. clears his throat and says your oil sir. who crawl inside. and faces Ronnie. my wife goes every Sunday. The woman holds the door for Stafford and Sarah. less obvious. Ronnie stops a few paces before the stepladder and regards the man’s lower body and although I’m not personally in the habit of attending church. then if he has gone to the men’s room I’m prepared to push him around a bit. Ronnie proffers the cans. though. and I think I can spy a reason or two for the man fails to rear up from the engine. by excess. or drink. or sweet dark passion. We can only conclude that the result must be an attitude of its us versus halts to allow a Mercedes to thunder by and is anyone prepared to claim that contempt and belligerence are useful and just? The attendant watches the sedan. My wife likes to say that men are interchangeable. except my wife.
young daughter. squinting professionally. Engine trouble? No. hands on his half-crouched knees. Well I’ll tell you what you cruise on out of here and leave your complaint behind and with a tankful too don’t you do you understand? Or do I have to say it again? Ronnie I am a man. young man. just checking my tools. I’ll need it in just a sec. you have made it to the age of majority and there is the door. no trouble. But as he is bending back into the engine revenge lurches out of the Mini Mart roaring I thank my wife and the Lord ten times daily that none of her eggs ever hatched. but can you imagine the absolute damnation of twenty-four seven. 132 . Let’s get things straight here. these black fuckers and kids all know what’s coming to them if they don’t keep their get over here! Now! the man points at the ground with his index ﬁnger. The sedan oh for God’s sake. Sure. then appraises the man’s situation. And you can bet the house that I’d run things like in the old-timey days too. Ronnie shufﬂes to the man from the Mini Mart who continues to shout. the garage. will you? The man indicates the foot of the stepladder. Ronnie places the cans in the gravel. three-sixtyﬁve? For eighteen years? Sure enough I’d kick them out after eighteen years. women. his head snaps back over his shoulder. he says. He watches. it’s bad enough to sit twelve hours from breakfast till dinner with a parade of darkies that never grew up. I am a man his feet. Look. What have I told you? When a car pulls up you don’t and the look that bitch gave at me when she paid for her kids’ candy as if it was my fault they can’t get it into their heads that quick service is what people want. Can I help you with the oil? The other attendant comes running from behind the what the hell someone needs to learn he’s at work puts his face close to the driver’s window. Men. His hands thrust into the engine. Seek and ye shall ﬁnd. The man on the stepladder scans the pump.Ben Oswest Put them there. the Mini Mart.
or he will bolt like a wild rabbit. you can get through most of a book in two or three days. long haul. The man looks over his shoulder. Those books. all that coffee. On the stepladder the man watches over his shoulder. new book. sleeping up in the truck. I ﬁnish on my night off.The New Suffolk Hymnbook God. the man says. that you were something fantastic like an ape. But he stops in his tracks when he ﬁnally notices the little bastard behind before my eyes of what’s about to happen. The next day. I get in several hours of reading a day. and something of an insomniac. He stoops for his oil. then back. The other attendant. and I’ll have him by the scruff. and crouches down to inspect the wheelwell. however. dislodging his cap. I cut quite a picture. and those trips. then maybe a dog. nearly everytime. I block trafﬁc for about ten minutes – people get murderous – and get a book that either I’ve heard about or one the bookseller likes. and their eyes I read a lot. Two or three days per trip. shadebathed and peering under the high clearance at the attendant’s oncoming legs. On the road. and then sees for the ﬁrst I admit that I thought you weren’t real for a moment. are like little compartments. himself heading back to the garage. So what does he think is better for him? The man descends laboriously from the stepladder as the attendant approaches. and stamps back into the Mini Mart. Ronnie reclaims his cap from the ground and lists toward the pumps. Then he cuffs Ronnie on the head. and others are empty. greasy clothes. It works out to one book per trip. when he notices something. Remembering is dipping a hand into a compartment and bringing 133 . ﬁngers all stained holding a fresh book. waiting for their book. new trip. that’s a one-way trip. and then there’s the night off to polish it off. he either will allow me to scoop him up like a tame rabbit. a small near the shell on the other side of my experience. greasy cap to hide my hair. but I will be able to turn on my heel and call out and point him out. where the sedan is pulling away. but at last I fathomed what you are. avoids Ronnie. his hand dangling for a can. for a moment in the same attitude as when he watched Ronnie and the manager. and in some of the compartments I’ve put a book.
It’s best to begin by asking how a man experiences. our ears and ﬁngers and tongues. I don’t have much in the way of family or friends. relationships like these reduce to the single concept of family. Her heart beating reached forth and gripped my own and the static cavern resonated with sounds. whether of imagination or of reality. the ones I do two or three times a month.Ben Oswest out a book. especially when we’re talking about the regular trips. see. and pinched my soft skull. The existence of the family 134 . people whose lives are essentially the same. What is experience based upon? There are two sources of experience. I think the key to this brotherhood – if you live a life that’s not made up of plenty of beginnings and endings then you’re not part of it. hearing. I have been touched by everything that has touched you. taste and feel. I’ll undertake the long proof if necessary – we should not spare a thought for ourselves when the truth is anything but clear. where you headed son. now. our noses. Mother’s ghoulish cries never ceased to wake my own terror. A family is individuals who conﬁrm the reality which imprints the senses with which they perceive one another. and in fact our deﬁnition of the concept should run. Time’s triumph ceaselessly summoned my own high expectations. immediately or once-removed. but I feel I belong to a certain brotherhood. What we experience is no more than what we hear. they’re bleached in memory. reality and imagination. occurs by the direct touch of the world upon us. its two echoes. though the book is different each time. prodded my stomach. though I’ve got to admit that the book is often faded or blurred. The air stung my skin. what is imagination if not a combination of words and imprints? And what are imprints if not the ideas of the senses – culled from our eyes. Now when I identify a brother I says. the mother heart. It is plain that experience. To the city says Secondo don’t entertain any fanciful notions I entreat you. as a woman and her son. smell. smell. experience is sight. I was greased on every side by the oil in mother’s sack. and the antlike rushing of the blood. At last long ﬁngers felt their way around my legs. The blanket scratched it raw. We are inseparable as kittens of a new litter. taste and touch. in a low voice. I touch what you touch. But. Consider the family.
betters the single worth of any one 135 . a fat palm covered with a sheen of oil and sweat. you will forget who you are. The man says. You will vanish. For a moment they make a triangle.The New Suffolk Hymnbook proves the existence of experience. No not you the man says. Brotherhood. and watches the wrist and arm swivel and crane into the engine. The ring of brotherhood must not be yes. Secondo and the man by the wheel and the attendant ﬁxed out in front as if his shoes were glued to the ground. Secondo waits friendship between men forms out of mental attraction. what’s your secret that’s all I want to know. Secondo moves to join the man. Come over here. The attendant. Secondo carefully places the open can of oil into the man’s backoffered palm. He looks between Secondo and the man. well. I’ll take that ﬁrst can. The members of the family see in their family several slightly different products of their own experiences. And the family is predicated on granite brotherhood. Don’t acknowledge such a thing on any other terms but walks past the man. familiarity of circumstances or identity of interests. You smarted in the musty light. Come on over here then he calls loudly. want a lift. Secondo sacriﬁce and duty are the holiest forms of work. you lay in the dwelling right alongside and you were touched reaching back without looking. about to turn the corner around the obstruction to where where crouches is he calling after me. or the admixture of these. There says the man after a moment. The man mounts the stepladder. The hand snakes back. and if you are going to award anything with your consistent attention and energy you must be sure that it betters your own worth. physical appeal. The kid. his head jammed in the engine. Hand up the oil when I call for it will you. Now for number two. The attendant it’s only that I’ve been here three years and never seen. Secondo stands. true brotherhood. softly. The man stands. and nothing here obtains. The attendant starts off and of no business of mine. they verge closest to marriage between earthly and soulful consistency.
maybe slicing some cheese. Never drink when you’re working and smoke until your lungs give out. put it on the stove to warm it. 136 . hauls himself up to the wheel. He turns the key.Ben Oswest claps it closed and fastens it. when he recommends a book. I’m headed to three cities. Then you’re doing something else. What? Secondo. He rocks slightly. You sure you want to tell me how a book is different from a man. Gil says through the window be right back and ambles toward the Mini Mart. when all your thoughts are washed suddenly as clean as a sunny hill after rain. the self dies. Well. the engine a perfect moment in the kitchen. though. I don’t ﬁnd any attraction in tobacco. You put the soup into your pot. the body submits. he is nothing more or less than that same book. I reckon it’s time to get going. wheels crackling and internal processes hooting. this is my challenge to the world. to the brink of the then there’s the story about the sailor who must sail through a particularly tight place. My truck and I. The man hasn’t lived a day unlike my name is Gil. Welcome aboard my roadtrain. He descends the stepladder where Secondo is waiting. only one of which I violate. Secondo. But to any one of them is a long trip. The smell inside there are two sacred codes in my profession. consume our weight in other little quantities and if you’re peculiarly sensitive you can tell what just by and from the dashboard the sharp report of varnish. the soup steam of course and the true beloved rolls. set the burner on say 3. quietly going about its business. testing the bounce. It only comes a few moments later that there’s a new presence in the kitchen. and the strait is narrow as a virgin’s – well. Yes the will tires. Gil returns. The bookseller. Well up you go then. He opens the door and Secondo climbs two steps and seats himself on springy vinyl.
Breathing a lie with the ﬁrst breath in this contorted place. Similarities and differences enforce a notion of the place. a container for the qualities about yourself you 137 . Nice place. then stampedes and ﬁnally thunders without prejudice right for her What Is To Come. And as their sense of place tends more and more to depend upon what is salient. she knows you’ll come along. maybe even the knockout punch. I have family in the lies. People who travel more quickly have less time to know the land they travel through. a shadow. Like I said I’m headed to truth. then their sense of self grows monolithic with their unfamiliarity. Oh. where can I take you. There she is. Why you moving on. they are half truth and half lies so what’s your pleasure. and nothing at all. Excuse me. then trots. hell and monsters to the left. An easy lie isn’t possible in places where you have lived brother. which is the case with all men abroad.The New Suffolk Hymnbook Something of that sea wind blowing in my face too when I set off. I’m carrying around an already vanished empty disappearance? Yes I have it the moment that time is made an object. Miss Future. to stop you from being smashed to so where do you come from. You are already what you are not. Mm. enduring the blows. not reﬂection. My conﬁrm the corruption. You do have never begrudged were you with in Suffolk. and necessarily of yourself. It is quite a feeling. which is mere fancy when you return home. ﬂoating lazy in that watercourse. hell and monsters to the right. I mean. bumping and rolling in the current. in the roadtrain. Home becomes. and fails to uncover what prevails in vast and subtler patterns. which trickles. I – . When you have little time to know someplace else. or is this the end of a life. Well you haven’t been on the road for too long. really. too. then rushes. Suffolk. You’ve got family anywhere. preparing for who knows. you rely on comparison. You’ll be coming at speed.
and the tall grasses whistled by whipping our senses to houndish joy. our eyes bounding into the future so that for moments we divided in two and existed in separate. it ﬂashes in the sun. Good place I know about forty-ﬁve minutes ahead. The moment of individuality. and pockets it. ecstatic forms. got a nice view of the road. How old are you? Want to give it a try? She offers the harmonica. it enables men to plunge in bands as brothers across time and space. says Jo-Ann. how we ran and played. toggling it furiously in her mouth. why what? Do you want me to drop you any particular place when we get there. paradise. until arpeggio. which merged and split as we caught up and were left behind. the grass a river. then sucks on the harmonica. sleep if you like.Ben Oswest found distilled abroad. is possible only when man does not know that he lives in paradise. Maybe later. then. our noses yelping at smells which burst like ﬂocks of birds out of the bushes. Show me where you live. it follows. She grins. like we were on all fours. Yes. Secondo glides away from Jo-Ann like a balloon. He ﬂies over 138 . Then she can draw no more breath and she stops. This is why time must never be allowed to proceed beyond the call of certain voices. galloping. our tongues lolling stung by cold water. and it destroys utterly the brotherhood of man. When I was a boy we used to run those hills like the descendants of dogs that generations ago breached the fences. She recedes until she is a tiny ﬁgure watching him inscrutably. our ears animating the land with our heartbeats. Anywhere. Make yourself at home then. go on. the hills throbbing and revolving as we dashed along. I ﬁrst picked this up when I was your age. panting. take in the sights. brings with it two consequences. she says. as recklessly as their invention allows. These consequences are not contradictory. Well. We’ll stop again soon for lunch. a pretty little perch isn’t it. which is impossible once men travel. a wild pack. I never miss it. There’s a bunk up top. The brotherhood of man.
I am here as quiet as a stone. helpless to resist. It seems to come from the blue. it is a road. He ﬂies over the children. The long window above the bunk glows phosphorescently. aware of his swollen tongue. Do you want a hamburger? It’s time for lunch. over Mama Kosi’s house. he sees. whispers Gil. The wailing grows louder when he sights a thin silvery stream. He drifts with the road until he is a man. who are looking for him but don’t know where he’s gone. describes an arc that he follows. and I can tell you that the people in your life will be left behind. 139 . He hears a wailing but he cannot identify the source. when as true twin brothers we shall meet which is when the wailing stops. Secondo. and being above it he knows now that the wailing is coming from the road. the green and brown of the land faded. Gil has parked among a dozen trucks. Secondo opens his eyes. An insistent force. without thoughtful arrangement. the long. He has accustomed himself to the sound as all old men must accustom themselves to whistling in their ears. Yes. she’s sitting in her green chair watching TV. more pull than push. the sky gone white. He drifts above the road. The cramped room is like an oven. and mother sank into rest at last.The New Suffolk Hymnbook the dusty yard. The truck has halted. Suffolk slips past like a many ships. He passes above the shacks and the stable and over the graveyard. many-wheeled torsos at haphazard angles with the monstrous heads. Soon he is an old man. He is drifting with the purple motionless me lying as attentive as a doll while she crowed. a dropsical drifting balloon. Shapes gel outside. whispers Secondo. because the blotchy land below is mute. Hey. set down like toys on a dusty plot. but it is not water. The road is a pattern of narrow smoothness that he knows by some sixth sense. he can see through it. He sits up and peers through it. which is transparent. which bends in the ground to take up and mirror his trajectory. but busy in my silence. and by its sound. his sight dimmed. You awake.
Sure. how? You may try to imagine.Ben Oswest OK. OK. Gil swings the door open and claps it shut. They bolt and remain skittish long after the event. Secondo watches from the window. zooming through the desert. Mountains are driven under. OK. Just the prayers change. can they be very different at all? Is it not the case that you are always participating in a prayer? Either as respectful observer or as the actual pray-er. There’s a toilet at the back of that building too. lakes are parted. Such thoughts we might ﬁnd in the minds of men. But if you were to jumps to the ground. The thin ribbon of asphalt scarcely holds its terrestrial lashings. But how. The gentle driver struts stifﬂy to uncramp his legs and disappears. See you. There’s a lot of rigs here today. What types of prayer do you know? The type of prayer that you heed and the type of prayer that you pray. He pushes heavily against the door to close it. Men sometimes imagine that they are drivers of roadtrains. And yet. agreed. Just discretion being the operative word inside short squat little black. The truck nearest Gil’s truck is merely a prayer in which your beseechment changes every few days. Stretch your legs if you want. These two types enfold all the possibilities. an action by which you show that you are familiar with the conventions of prayer. Secondo descends and sits behind the steering wheel with the hope that he might escape truth. 140 . What else? Water please. You never actually stop praying. The cracked brown earth groans at their approach. Animals lose their senses at this display of random wrath. but still you have come to a prayer. The fact of the praying does not change. It may take a little bit. the driver of the roadtrain cruises with the consequence of an emperor.
the rivets would loosen. spread the alarm. their screams for all to hear. says Secondo. moo he shouts at the cattle. obscuring them. you partake of the conventions of the prayer. The other cattle perceive its anxiety and a trembling passes through the body of the rig. A cow somewhere in the middle of the other side of the rig all it would take to shake this cage down. 141 . Moo O emperor who may take his pleasure why with his arms raised like a hobgoblin. are stamping and butting and lowing freedom freedom freedom shakes and thunders like a cathedral toppling in a terriﬁc storm. Moo. beware the kine. the creatures which crouched at ﬁrst would now reveal themselves and spring away. If you come to the prayer. A din arises from the rig. At the top of the fourth column a cow facing Secondo lows and stamps and a shimmer of dust sifts to the row below. Several cattle stamp their hooves on the grating. the bars would fall to pieces. the land is fraught. says Secondo. some facing out. a scramble on top of one another and then off. Moo. a clatter which sends the nearby sparrows into the sky and the cattle low their consternation given to the birds to carry off and sprinkle down like seeds. then. a cow in the third row butts its head against the Nature Herself would show submission. moo. Dust rises among the lower rows of cattle. and their panic intensiﬁes until all the cattle. beware the kine the rig’s shaking transmits to the cab. hooves and hide against metal. On one hand all the cows of a ﬁeld herded into a crate and hitched to the gigantic engine. out of sight green and yellow manure slicks down one of the struts and pools near the hind hooves of a cow on the bottom row. put to ﬂight runs to the other side of the rig shouting moo.The New Suffolk Hymnbook if not the precise words being prayed. which rocks gently as if buffeted by wind. some to be cut down. others in. in whatever capacity. sturdy trees would lose their obstinacy and be felled. a simple stampede. churning up the ground. The cow nearest him shifts its weight nervously.
I’m taking him to his relatives. What the fuck. He’s probably never seen anything like it before. Fucking devil. He pushes Secondo roughly with his foot. Who the fuck are you anyway. his right boot wheeling round and catching Secondo in the midriff. He’s just a young boy. one for each ﬁnger and toe. stopping face up. skirt on the periphery of his anger. Then he can teach his relatives and they can hold a fucking school and soon there won’t be one of them around that doesn’t know a little respect. But the man swivels on his left leg. He cannot breathe. shaking Secondo. Goddammit. it will fall on you in shards a good lesson. Is that what you want you little fuck? Whoa. It is Gil. What. He drops the sky has always been the most sanctimonious of liars. What the fuck the man shouts. He didn’t mean any harm. He’s just a kid.Ben Oswest Moo shouts Secondo. They still could die. If any of your stock die I’ll give you my license number. stretched like a ﬂag overhead but thin as an empty eggshell. Don’t do that. He has stepped into the irregular ring made by the onlookers. He could’ve killed one of those cows. I aim to teach him what it means to fuck with me. carrying a paper sack. Secondo rolls. upside-down. Fuck you he didn’t mean any harm. waving his arms devil that feeds on fear has rounded the truck with a roar. The man shoulders past Gil. says a voice. You can look me up. Others. who have dashed out with the man. Why don’t you fuck off. as you’re about to discover. a lofty slanderer. I’ll compensate you one hundred percent. and hundreds and hundreds nesting in those disgusting coils of hair and is lifted and pinned aloft. I can count one for every gleaming tooth. 142 . charges for the incarnation of my whole life’s sorrows.
unconscious of any audience. I’m not saying you deserved to be kicked. according to the law. Your haul’s got to be at the slaughterhouse a day after it’s been put on the train. The sound of the engine rolls through the air. On the other hand. Now you understand that that was stupid. roll off. Yes. The cattle falters from the rear. Really stupid. Gil helps Secondo up. but don’t ever screw with a man’s rig. How are you doing. the truck gains the highway and picks up speed. Did it once. and it pleases you. They are the last to stop skittish. Let’s get back on the road. the prayer prays you when you pray puts his hands on his knees and coughs. Presently he straightens. for the leaders fear trampling by those they lead and continue to run. I never run cattle. but Secondo cannot answer. OK? OK. unconscious even of yourself. You all right he says. which means either you break the law and drive like 143 . Took all morning to load them on to the truck. Everybody ignores that law. Nailed in the solar plexus. The only thing is to walk it off. Secondo nods. but you can only go so fast. see. He carries on out of sight. You got the wind knocked out of you. a haul is a haul. Then you bolt them down. not by any signal from the leaders.The New Suffolk Hymnbook There’s your fucking one hundred percent he says. but that has to be the worst. You see your dedication as beyond conventional. facing the earth. Secondo nods. In moments when you are not displaying the grip of your passion you are still reminded. I know it. Are you OK? He coughs. that you become unconscious when you pray. but Secondo hears him open and slam the door of his cab. says Gil when they are in the cab together. Secondo leans on Gill while they tramp in a circle where the cattle were parked wholly proper to describe you as a passionate man.
One for each of us. Gill is pointing low and ahead to the which engages in its own sort of prayer in its dips and rises but is best understood as representative of the million prayers of men dark ﬁgure perched on it rapidly approaching them. I said truth of what. We sit at one of the picnic benches. I reckon. I said those are dark secrets you’re after. Oh! You see that? Secondo looks.Ben Oswest a maniac or you don’t have that sort of consecrated ability whatsoever. Anyway I was driving back the night it 144 . though it’s doubtful whether the two are different. Just talking. I hope you don’t think I’ve been holding out on you Milly. But that is to get ahead to pay the rancher. Just the truth about men and women. Here’s to Milly’s. They even made a movie there once. See what you can ﬁnd. out of which Secondo takes two wrapped sandwiches and two plastic containers of cold drink. But then I’ve always got a story. that’s called Round House Hill. That hill over there. Used to be a great big house on top of it built in a circle. it neither touches nor is touched by just beautiful. Been something of a weary day for you. as opposed to a cultivated call. One time she said she would just like to know the truth. Far too much risk. lifting his sandwich. Best hamburger on the highway. says Gil. which is why it’s have a story for her when I come back this way won’t I. I’d lie if I said these weren’t some of my happiest times. It’s ridiculous. Believe it. They said it was owned by a diamond miner. A haul is a haul but I don’t run cattle. She puts red onions in the meat. The bird ﬂashes past the bird he’s spying for a snake beyond even the most tenuous kind of intercourse. Nice woman too. says Gil. She said oh no. ten to one that’s a kit. Sometimes I stop over as much as an hour. That’s a kit. Your urge resides in what might be called decency. like a wagon wheel lying ﬂat. We ﬁnd our bench and there go the days since we last met. You look like you could use it. Gill offers the paper bag. Here. I know it like I know the back of my hand. She said I know it passing through now.
ﬁrst time in four years or so. you are not left unsure of yourself. That will be full to the brim with wheat soon. There were some chickens. You bathe and shave. revolving on the axis of the truck. I could do with another. You observe her and imitate her and do as she instructs. and decide that we like each other. No one was in it and they never determined what caused your decency from your mother. thank you. You? No. thanks. Here’s our plan. Did you ever have to harvest anything? No. Well what attracts you and me. except what’ll it be and that’s ﬁfteen ninety-six and sorry we’re out of that brand and see you again. We’ll be at when we must ask the question. 145 . they say. Why is that? I said it’s mostly wheat. OK. Keep stock? No. The rains have been perfect. for the fowl and the stock of the brown sea on which he has set us aﬂoat in our Ark. and talk. for instance to go pray. and do it again. but already you know how to attend a and farmers are about all you get out here. You prepare yourself properly. You see that? He points to a bright red grain silo. I’m just confused why it is that we should meet. anchorless in his Care. when every day of the year I meet men who run the same route as you as regularly but to whom I’ve said not more than two dozen words in my life. she said. You come from a farm? Yes. for keeping our larder.The New Suffolk Hymnbook burned down. It’s quite possible that you are a complete novice when it comes to praying. are differences in intricacy differences of quality or of degree? That is. for casting off the hawsers of vice and steering us in his Grace. But you can also see that be to God for His bounty. I’m not being forward. so when it comes time for you to leave the house on your own. you don formal clothing. our table you like that? Yes. I should have bought another. But you come around and I hand things over to Honey and have myself this long break. for instance.
No questions asked. all the kinds of hassles I want to avoid in work. I could be sitting at a desk making more money but then I’d have to worry about the boss coming round and checking on me. It is an emotion. like the world has breathed on me. Or decent. it catches at my legs and slows me down. is that what we end up with then.Ben Oswest how is the priest’s prayer. I raise the bundle and set off. How I tremble inside. there’d be meetings. I will make it back safely. the emotion that I was once a child too. It comes upon me sometimes as regularly as I place a stick in my bundle. I must hurry. what do you know about me? I didn’t know what to say. except to say that you know it. I like you. I am aware only that my back aches. Milly. but my head cannot answer why I don’t envy anyone the work they do. It is almost not a memory. Maybe you can’t say anything about the truth. and the same goes for you. children to put down. I search and gather as swiftly as the land allows. She said. different from the congregation member’s prayer. Is it because you’re honest? I don’t know you well enough to say if you’re honest. There are meals to be cooked. I said. which may still be divine? Though there may be fewer steps in achieving the attendance of church than in achieving priesthood aren’t ideals in each case being striven for? You can see that a difference of degree work. and that the shadows are lengthening. Work is work. I was happy once. or kind. She said I like you too but don’t take this as an insult I’m curious about why I like you. I don’t know you but I know I like you had a job? 146 . When I know I have enough there is usually still light. I’d have to write reports. I just know I do. Shadows are gaining power. I’d have to ﬁle. Maybe the truth can’t be talked about. My heart asks a question of my head. I know that. though it never affords an easy step. Other times it stays distant while I work in the bleak day. I have no choice. I know I like you. I’d rather hassle with an impossibility. which is of the highest order. gathering ﬁrewood but I bet you’re pretty familiar with I can hardly believe I was a child too. Everything has its ups and downs. I can’t say just what it is exactly makes me enjoy a conversation with you. |and I must breathe it in. and then it comes.
Is it God. she said. those who perform the prayer and those who hearken while it’s prayed. you say. They call me with the extra work. I said sure. or stupid. But I didn’t get up. It’s a fact. You can say we’ve agreed that at a prayer there are two types of pray-ers. but also I’m just one truck. It’s amazing. or desperate. Today I’m pulling. with the intent of performing skilfully and with grace. He will meet with people. The clerks at the warehouse call it. But I’m independent. She said. be judged. light candles. The man who attends the prayer most likely has further plans for the day. set off little ﬁrecrackers. Load that gear. I’m at full-weight. But it’s just birthday party trimmings. well maybe could you think about it for me then. they say and get going. 147 . They have dozens working for them every day of the year. Well. I shouldn’t hold you back with gloomy talk. observe social conventions. or are you good and am I good and do good people wear party hats. Is it the devil. so you know something about it. undress and sit dully until the next prayer? How absurd. you’ve been to school then. especially when you think how big the haul is. Now what could be so important that a company’s got to ship every day of the year as often as not with contract drivers like me. She looked down. even dim ones. Think about what it is makes two people who don’t know each other decide they like each other. And I’m hauling for them all the time. There’s pain and pleasure in all things. I think you will readily perceive that he is doing nothing if he is not praying. She said. I haul for big companies but that’s just on contract. like she was old all of a sudden and didn’t like what she had done for all those years. She looked depressed. gear. are you ready. into action. Ok. the kind that stay lit and the kind that blow out in one try. So what happens after? Does the man who attends unpray his way out? Does he retreat home.The New Suffolk Hymnbook No. you won’t guess. Transforming ideas. Yes – yes. The good part is. judge. you can choose your pains and pleasures. hey you’ve got a lot of time to think. including holidays. Is it because we’re lazy.
by working at the prayer. If I lie in my shawl at night and look upon the whorl of the stars I will not judge that I perceive the ﬁngerprint of evil unless I’ve judged wrong. by praying every day of the week verges on this this particle with a destiny in a high hotel room I will in a high hotel room he will like this like this it comes into being and passes away and comes into being and passes away leaving behind what has passed away this little out of the ordinary we’ve seen dozens already only what’s that take a look at that particle with a destiny of food in a restaurant this tonight this this the verge of negation fended off by what’s this a particle with a destiny that grows like a tree into one thousand years ahead starting tonight in a high hotel room this family this particle with a destiny to negate the moment of this I say but I’ll be God-damned if I haven’t given it more than a minute’s thought the question is given 148 . park my rig. and I will not hate the land for spiting me. I will never capture a mouse and squeeze it wickedly in my ﬁst. The conclusion is easy to see. I will never kill a bird. She used to sell them at the roadside. I drift out there and sometimes I’m sure I’m the Lamb. jelly candies and marshmallow building blocks. soldiers you can eat. How do you pray beautifully? I can hear your answer. and celebrate ten thousand birthdays a prayer of phenomenal proportions but still fundamentally a prayer. Everyone’s a person who prays. I will not hate the ugly hills. the sun may blight my eyes without fear of my curse. Then they have to serve the cake on party plates with plastic forks and spoons. fear not. It was no thing to sew them together for a shawl. This being true you can say that everyone shares a pray-er’s dream. fear not. and meanwhile the room’s got to be decorated with streamers and everyone’s got to have a mask with their best cartoon character on it and the tablecloth was made by my mother. which come in all shapes and sizes. I say to the nesting bird. I compose lists of my deeds. I will pity the cattle and sheep.Ben Oswest decorate their cakes with all sorts of toys. and it is the correct one. I will fast. What is this dream? To pray beautifully. But I could literally drive into a town. Or unless their ﬁgures are off. and to the ﬁeld mouse. I will not abhor the hawks. little trucks and trains. I will not hate the long wet grass.
I don’t have the proper orientation to do the kind of thinking that she wants. No use making a man’s life more difﬁcult. the grasses mustering and dispersing. We are the eye of the storm. where is the place with the most likelihood that your urge will develop into art of understanding the inﬁnite. we. it would mean his thoughts are in tune with the road like the road is feeding into my head. they start looking for ﬁghts. My thoughts are the thoughts of the road doesn’t that strike you as funny too. Ages are passing. The wind roars. eagles and cattle roaming under my dome and ﬂickering away in an instant. The word is vicissitudes. Where else but home can you anticipate the thoughts of others in such a way that your prayer will go unmolested? Where but home will your artistic instincts ﬂourish into visions and where else may you pursue these visions with adequate intensity? At home you may sniff out the last dark corner of intuition. Do you see what I’m saying? That’s how I see the world. All national vicissitudes come back to us. But I ease up a little. It means changes and possibilities. That’s a fact. If there’s a strike and the roads are blocked it comes back to us. I am motionless but everything under the dome changes rapidly. They sleep on the road. if another car came up. Our lives are affected by every last national issue you can come up with. Now isn’t that clear that 149 . I’m a guy with a truck hauling birthday gear at the moment and there are other guys in other trucks and we never have a chance of approaching anything like perfection anywhere but home. hills rising and levelling. They drive crazy. Now that’s spite. just because. So it’s those things that strike me as a contradiction but is it the rate I walk or the path I take a guy with a gun would probably speed up right now. But it just makes them reckless. Here we have guys who carry everything under the sun from every point A to every point B on the map. People have got to have birthdays so it comes back to us. Especially if something went wrong. All the guys I know do. not at truckstops. we don’t change one bit. Can you see that? But we.The New Suffolk Hymnbook that you’re a pray-er. like my head is a dome of sky. where is the best place for you to pray. But abroad you keep a gun. the drivers.
now we’re both dead. You have left home. 150 . and for her to crack open an egg and watch it fall into the bowl. which is just long enough for me to travel another wheel length on my tractor. Doomed yourself to the stumble. our lives are lived. because you will be ugly when we will ﬁnd nothing of merit in your prayer in the city. our bodies have long since been clutched by the earth and we are sucked like feathers into the vacuum you displace well of course you can but even ghosts go on up Secondo. because her eighty years of cooking and washing and raising children are a different eighty years. the shamble peculiar prayer but you’ll never meet my sister. she’ll have died before you get the chance. you will have eclipsed them in a matter of seconds.you have sinned against yourself. we’re ghosts who’ve lost our attachments to the land.
in the glass. this is Jarvis. he feels. are crossed. Her legs. bare. THIS IS JARVIS. The hemline of her skirt stops short of her knees. She is perhaps twenty-four? But the yellow block which sustains her is left behind by the train and she becomes as clear and ageless as a stream. Her blonde hair. but it remains sealed to its twin as if glued. She has taken the universal defensive posture of women. She is wearing an admirably-ﬁtted white blouse and a casual. but which appears best suited to the lighter expressions. he is safe from discovery should he look directly at the girl. hangs like silk to her delicate jawbone and frames her face. leaning over until his forehead touches the window. The whistle blows and the train rolls. Were she to swing the top leg it would brush playfully into his space. His eyes lower. too. The yellow platform sign slides by like a goldﬁsh. the man chants under his breath. creme suit. does not detract from her allure. It has conjured and ﬁxed the girl as if by photographic process on the plate of the window. Or – the warm. he mutters to himself. as happens during a period of enforced 151 .Jarvis JARVIS. milk. and little else. gently-rocking train occasions a second possibility – it may be that her calm deportment is a ruse. which. pouring inscrutably and cold over the city façades. His lips are there. murmuring like a penitent’s. as though polite conversation has tested her hunger for life. graze the crease of his pants. like a prayer. which he has not yet dared to visit with a direct glance. She is looking down at the magazine in her lap. Jarvis. and eyes the girl’s reﬂection in the window. of course. JARVIS. From this vantage. modishly cut. that her eyes are glazing over the pictures without focus and.
charmed by the spectacle of youth. (A granny taking cookies to her grandson? A visit to a friend in a nursing home?) The booth was blissfully empty for uncounted moments. a small ﬂame has kindled at the back of her mind. better. which match her suit. and where families endorse public appearances which reﬂect upon their wealth. and to taste. The better to smell. then. Designs on the walls dance in the light. Reserve of bearing is desirable. She produced her magazine and assiduously ignored her booth companion. a booth either unoccupied or. where an old woman smiled at her beatiﬁcally. She is young and beautiful and. A single strap on each tethers her shoes. to harvest your fresh hair. until an athleticlooking sport with a large briefcase boarded and marched down the aisle on sharp lookout. She composed herself. Casting about for a seat she chose one which posed few difﬁculties. my dear. She sat. Her feet descend gracefully from the heels into snub-nosed caps. that the biddy had stayed. where she doubtless boarded. The top shoe is pressed tightly to her calf as if. without indicating precisely her state of mind – of defensiveness. whose stop arrived a few minutes later. but so too is an acknowledgement of terms of intimacy with couture. indeed. or private paralysis. to her ankles. The old woman struggled to her feet and with a kindly but unrewarded glance hobbled to the exit. Out of sheer insidiousness the man sat right next to her. thrives inside her. It illuminates a cavern she knows. It is incontrovertible truth that men sit near women on trains to leer. Not a hair out of place.Ben Oswest idleness. The girl wished. ferociously. she is sliding down a vine of fancy. carry off the scent of 152 . His eyes drop. The reasons are obvious. or even honest preoccupation with her magazine – her posture implies that her trip has diverged from the ideal. not an unruly thread. She was completely vulnerable. Her legs squeeze around a notion which thrives in idle moments. She bears the mark of a girl from Claremont. She imagined his odious voice whispering his intentions.
Green Tie. clasp your knees with the strong arms of my mind. His nose. His suit was cut by a machine. not by the hands of a bespoke tailor. parted callously. The shoulders drooped slightly. I could cut him out of a newspaper. rested its head near the man’s crotch and radiated ﬂame-green against his chest. stockbroker-short. From them hung a dark.The New Suffolk Hymnbook your perfume. however. as still as if they were posing for a portrait. inspecting his full-length reﬂection – yet the tie made him completely what he was – it was there in the mirror. His thighs. Her composition lacked an element. somewhat unreﬁnedly. ruddy. which rumpled around a pair of shoes that had perhaps been worn for a week. They sat in silence for several stops. In truth. a ﬂat. exotic tie. he was not unhandsome. She didn’t glance up from her magazine. Nouveau riche. lent themselves to a displeasing air of self-satisfaction. but a process of montage. while admirable specimens. and the girl suspected she could imagine this man. unclothed. working in her peripheral vision. until a vain urge to replace them overcame him. and though its bearer was not unhandsome. and would perhaps last four or ﬁve more. It was a living. brimmed big under the surface of his pants. His hair. The tie. The jacket was too big. as she had remarked – her mother often said that a man who did not look at himself in every mirror he passed was not worth the trouble. expensive pinstripe suitcoat – but not quite as it should. Loathing coursed in her veins. she thought. slack against his hairy chest – a lizard. His broad shoulders testiﬁed to considerable strength. and the instant this mistake was rectiﬁed her picture was given its title. The units of time slipped down the scale 153 . glistened black and wavy and helmeted his black eyes in soldierly insouciance. studying her with cold appetite. delivered him whole to her. a snake. silken creature. lips and close-shaven chin. A blackand-white man-model.
It half-seemed that the train was a private carriage delivering her to a tryst. Her heart thumped in her ears. Preying on this hesitation to reject Green Tie with all her being. an automatic gesture which the newcomer returned. But the shade of his motivation was dark to her. The seed was planted. suddenly. She crossed her legs familiarly. hours for minutes. although the sheer fact of his presence did not diminish. she squirmed inwardly at his body’s prickly closeness. Green Tie did not betray interest in the event. Caressing her oceanically Green Tie sat unmoved from the position he had taken upon ﬁrst choosing his seat. The train was more crowded now than when she had boarded. She did not rein in this ﬁgment. she woke. faint heat in her cheeks. The knife’s edge of his nearness softened. just boarded. Though she insisted to herself that he be ignored. in all honesty. The tie slipped down a dark hold. Green Tie had occasioned a rictus inside her which. Her face settled into mendacious calm while a frolic grew like a welt in her imagination. In the close environment of the booth Green Tie prevailed as the salient element. He ﬂicked his eyes once. Part of him. The tie ﬁxed itself in the eye of her thoughts. Another man. however. doubtless. A tempted woman sat next to the man on the train. The pleasure of the girl’s daydream ruptured into exasperation. craved her. which was 154 .Ben Oswest – minutes for seconds. and amid the confusion of her inner revolt it beaconed an alternative to which. No sooner had he been awarded tenure among her thoughts. than his achievement threatened to pale. the most ancient of sequences lowered into the girl’s trip from Claremont to town. Another one! Was this to be her lot in life – vexed at every turn by voiceless insinuations? She regarded the newcomer. A pleasant fever bloomed under her skin. slid down the booth’s twin bench until he faced the girl. charged with vile power. was less than unbearable. her female essence. She tried to discern whether this heightened or lessened the design in his choice of a seat.
If Green Tie had stepped from the creamy pages of newspaper fashion. The descriptions ﬂitted from her mind and imprinted his person. won’t say can’t. thirty-one. Part of him simply wanted to sit and enjoy the rushing vista. A junior manager in a mid-sized engineering ﬁrm. She might ﬂip through the back of her magazine or scan the daily classiﬁed smalls and lift a perfectly good. places grafted to the city. a masturbator. horrible urchins. Her trip would proceed more bearably. enjoys restaurants. a well-born wife. She returned to her magazine. She hadn’t kept track of the stations.The New Suffolk Hymnbook washing the booth in bright waves. Bachelor. The assessments led quickly to an unexpected. She stiﬂed a snort. susceptible to beggars. A man who masturbates about the women at work. stirring the morass which had circulated slowly since Green Tie had chosen her 155 . An MA. and perhaps one child would usher him closer to this dream. the newcomer seemed to have been composed merely with words in mind. Claremont was nearly countryside. Normal guy but no cretin. A wife and child could be had quite quickly. abstains from nightclubs. Again the tapered reptilian strip appeared in the girl’s mind. computer literate. tucked the mansions back into shaded removes. He was staring out the window. could she weigh his purposes. violent conclusion – but who was to say that the last thought which came to her before she looked down again carried less truth than the rest? A peeping Tom. a dork. A single man in his late twenties. immaculate. for the likes of him. break-ins. each modifying his shape. until he seemed to be imperfectly redrawn from instant to instant. The title to a property in Claremont probably constituted Green Tie’s highest ambition. Slices of land. A promotion. City clerk with extensive experience of municipal courts. familiar with chessboard. enjoys red wine at home. two-sentence description of him. of course. Where had the newcomer boarded? Somewhere in the middle suburbs – Rosebank or Linden.
before then. which would require her. slight her own sensibilities by taking drastic action. The two men. were they not. distastefully. and she began to dread stiﬂing. But she could not lift her eyes again. thin and upright. She felt an odd admonishment to keep her place. later on. She would leave her companions to their separate worlds. with a sweeping glare. a claim she could not challenge. Beyond a certain point the men were powerless. the train would reach the end of the line. With one she might protect herself against the other. nourish them with her closeness. then fell theatrically and settled. She kept perfectly still. She’d had enough. and she girlishly chided herself. She should merely sit quietly. The pages on her lap lost their vestiges of signiﬁcance. Then the newcomer splayed his legs in the manner of his rival. Her plight was not so dire. She reasoned playfully with herself. 156 . their perversions. She wanted to repudiate them both. But at the same time the chaste and demure qualities of her personality intensiﬁed. She stared at them but they seemed blank. such as ﬁnding a new seat. The two men were offering her a choice. The magazine restored her conﬁdence. alone. She was ﬂying on rails in the bright sunshine. It wavered. and now the newcomer marked time absorbing her though his pores. in a men’s room. At some point. soon. like usurping barbarians. She discovered boldness enough to ﬂip the page. further cramping her space. en route to cosmopolitan pleasures. to step over the two men. Her eyes wove welcome over the glossy sheets. She knew who she was. First Green Tie had pushed her into a silent swoon. The pictures in her lap returned to the pure semblances which pierced her like stabs of light. so why not choose? It might be fun. sweating her out through an automatic ritual of gratiﬁcation. attended to her breathing. She need not. Their voraciousness disquieted her. She pictured both men. had laid claim to the booth.Ben Oswest booth. She could fairly hear Green Tie hiss.
She lifted a hand from her lap and. The senses of the men sharpened. But the hair-pat proved the single indulgence of her newfound security. Their hopes approached wild joy. as happens. but their destinies 157 . She had arrived at an equilibrium bordering the sublime. The doors would part. without raising her eyes. with the forced graciousness of competitors. which was rolled like a hundred coppers to the brim of its grey. She withdrew into an accustomed pose – her features smoothed without palpable movement. one. momentarily impregnable disinterest. The luxuriant gesture served its latent function. She moved willingly into the shelter of thralldom. Fear assaulted them. In the booth. Behind newly coy eyes rules were made about the judging of the two men – who would most willingly court the will-o-thewisp? A brief struggle ensued. The train slipped into and out of Tracy Street station. the men lived a paradox. The two men played and tussled under her supervision until. They waited for her to nominate her master. The new taxonomy – streets. foul and wraithlike. yearling bitch.The New Suffolk Hymnbook It would task her little until the train adroitly delivered her to freedom. The girl had changed. She would step through them and blink from existence like a fairy. for ineffable reasons. She was charged with fresh secrecy. In that moment she made her choice. She sat as placid and impenetrable as a doll. encouraged a measure of bias. It remained to reconsider the men. and then. like dogs thrown in with a proud. polluted shore. Their states of being were ﬁxed. not suburbs – indicated the verge of the long city. full. through the typical expansions of fortune. They suffered. then. bearing arch. The station would roll up and halt. The train was ten minutes late. Swift currents which had encountered resistance swept her away. in the form of a game. patted her hair. Is there any fate more dire than inconsequence? They became sensitive to her very breathing. stepped into outright preferment.
clenched their jaws. this morning’s had nearly ended. for a new bag. end of the line. In particular. The train commenced one of its longer portages. Great Brown would declare of their ineffectual jockeying a draw. Great Brown! The name was as fresh and livening as a sharp wind which had its birth somewhere far out on the water. Her lathery daydream.Ben Oswest guttered. displayed the wherewithal to disrupt what must surely have terminated in intolerable impotence. the girl was to keep a lunch date with her ﬁancé. like her magazine when the ﬁnal stop arrived. a covert ﬂick of her pastel eyelids. and be ungraciously discarded. Great Brown would cover her and shufﬂe her and deal her from one of its exits into the arms of an expectant. though complicit. Beyond the pale of her entrancement the men. He 158 . The girl would breeze away without cause to describe her journey as anything but unremarkable. a locked box. She would be more careful. then. who would hold her jealously close against any prying by the citizen brothers and sisters of the city. The girl between them was also ﬁxed. which was a loss. and afterwards she would perhaps shop. to which the men. adrift in wretchedness. before returning to Claremont. They poked through the southern end of the city. pinned to her seat in fact at the pith of desire. had no access. but her destiny was dilating like light. As it was. The booth hurtled. Her half-closed eyes did not ﬂutter or bat. sustained her as if in amber. advancing toward Great Brown. to avoid a war on two fronts. Disconsolateness and delirium presided over the speechless trio. The clip of the train slackened and he straightened from his slouch. a change in posture which dismantled into a nudge – but she could not be disturbed from her reverie. at last. fade. Too soon the men would corrupt. If she would show even the slightest gesture of deference their ﬁerce straits might ease – an arching in the corner of her lips. They anticipated the end of the line with cold despair. who had already made junior partner. Green Tie.
The New Suffolk Hymnbook gathered his briefcase from the ﬂoor and placed it across his knees. Green Tie glowed with triumph. He showed his broad and pitiless back. Then it was over. But her carapace would suffer a violent wrench when he left. Green Tie lingered to inculcate the impression of an eternity of failure and shame. all but proposing a contract which. The game of tenterhooks the girl had invented was up. He showed. Train and platform were resolute on synchronicity and exchange. The girl turned to him. would bind them in something like love. but he turned with great speed. a suggestion of contempt for an uninteresting situation. She hadn’t much time. His expression did not alter in the least. Then he turned to the girl and 159 . accressant. For the portion of a second during which their eyes met they coupled violently. The sweetness of her voice checked any hint of temerity. locked in an antic and murderous collet of excitement. bracing his arms against it. coiled in the corners of Green Tie’s ﬁrm mouth. He was leaving. the barest sneer. to address the girl. Green Tie stood. his face altered for the ﬁrst time – not swept with surprise. whose face offered a sort of stammering deﬁance. she said. She continued. precisely. would brook no delay before the ﬁrst of his depredations. who was leaning expectantly toward him. as throughout. The fantasy which she nurtured would turn on her in croupous inutility. She had chosen what was better for her and could have it. for its momentary duration. Signs iterated in the window. an innocent – What stop is this? Green Tie did not whirl. This was crushed by imperious contempt. The girl gazed up at him with mischievous beatiﬁc grace. The girl had openly declared her preference. Excuse me. The newcomer. Green Tie studiously directed his attention to the newcomer. not Great Brown. stretching his back. She achieved her escape in the moment of uttterance. but conﬁgured into the ugly shape of triumph. It was now quite clear that he would alight at the next stop.
She was free. Green Tie replied.Ben Oswest discharged his duty in her armorial code. That random city name. or watch the city outside. so that in their clothes and facial modes they discerned likeness where others beheld chaotic empty urban encounters. How could it hope to compare with the puissance. Jarvis. The girl almost shuddered with pleasure upon this conclusion of their little deal. She might read. Her thoughts could follow what course they pleased until the train delivered her to Great Brown from Jarvis Street station. To look at the newcomer was to look at nothing. but the name Jarvis would darken quickly. of the name which now ﬁlled the girl’s mind like the thought of Christmas when 160 . this is Jarvis. which Green Tie had spoken in exultation. to the next stage of incarnation. affecting their public carriage. would be dropped from her memories almost immediately. where her paramour had passed on. though associated with the girl’s deliverance. the resounding vibration. This she did not witness – Green Tie stepped lightly off the train. She snapped her magazine like a newspaper and pored over it. so to speak. Humiliation would keep him in his place. the assurance of her partiality borne high by his soul – but on the other hand he had not exactly left. pervading their very senses of self. which the newcomer now perceived had grouped Green Tie and the girl from the start. or slip back into the scented room from which she had been called by Green Tie’s departure. He was available to her at the inly drop of a handkerchief. Jarvis. a likeness which in its reﬁnements mantled Green Tie and the girl with perpetual auras – a victor and his blushing prize – and relegated the newcomer to a caste so far below them that he wallowed like a slave. like the face of a person who had stopped her for the time. From time to time for the rest of her life odd minutiae would prompt ﬂashbacks of the block-and-chisel face and the audacious necktie. though it hardly mattered now where she put her eyes.
she would gladly kneel. Only an word or two remains possible. Her attitude consigns him. In between the buildings the light is let through at a new angle. and now. then is pushed from sight by the city towers. His own proﬁtless name. He feels ﬂeetingly moved to set aside his chagrin. A glinting high-rise ﬁlls the girl’s reﬂection for an instant. Great Brown is seconds away. pump. The vividness of her journey’s predicaments has been outstripped by this ﬁnal certainty. Soon. an ensemble which Green Tie helped her pick out. except as a nondescript place where those bound for Great Brown endure another minute of their commute. His last inclination to impart to her an observation about the morning’s ride is drained – the observation. Great Brown! Insinuated in the manifold literatures of the nation. Jarvis. that is. that the doors will part and she will waltz off. She sits clothed in cool repose. Next stop Great Brown. ﬁtful with adoration. in silence and with patience. that he and the girl blow and suck soundlessly like ﬁsh out of water. buzz. he cannot. so many things to so many people that that notion itself remained the supreme evocation. Jarvis is lamentably not to be thought of. engage the girl on the problems of the day. calling for obligatory pause at its mere utterance. The train is slowing. the newcomer mutters. The irony is as sour as vinegar. mocking him in another’s mouth. It strobes across the window. this is Jarvis. next to his natural impulse to show compassion. axle. comfort her with friendliness. She sits in the only posture available to her. hurting his eyes. either. Great Brown. which spring up and stack higher and higher on either side of the train. multitudinous bedlam thoroughfare. The few words. hub. Great Brown. Jarvis. the single phrase 161 . he ﬁnds. deny certain feelings of spite. to oblivion.The New Suffolk Hymnbook she was ten? A name before which. parroting his rival. But the time in which he could address her diminishes. the doors will part and she will waltz off.
chat about the train. as he pitched forward. this is Jarvis. She wouldn’t listen. were he to summon the range of his powers in the composition of a purest phrase. He hatches a plan to hurry through the turnstile. What could he say that would interest her more than Green Tie’s conspiratorial pledge? Were he to entrust her with his last words. people. follow at a distance until a moment presents itself. He would fall on it himself. he says. He stands on tiptoes and catches her blonde hair. the shoulders of her ﬁne suit. He feels. him. distributing the professional crowds. Joy was restored to her upon her release from the carriage. On the other side a magical curtain will veil her from those who seek her with impure hearts. She is already there among them. a fallen soldier who fell on his sword. She twists through the turnstile and is lost. To begin with. Normally. It is an unusual day. make sorties. Perhaps she is a dancer. It is after all an unusual day.Ben Oswest he could pronounce would do no good. Jarvis. pumping forward with the gaiety and assuredness of a dancer on stage. a phrase that chimed as he spoke it – were he to extinguish his life in the birthing of the phrase – he would see it. He says nothing to her. shake her. fall like iron at her feet. Weariness threatens to deprive him of the will to continue his day. He whispers to himself. The train halts. His stop is at the 162 . suddenly. It is a matter of turning the turnstile. competing with the quicker. She is moments from making full escape from the dull crushing mundus of the commuters. keenly. He mentally closes the episode. he takes a much earlier train and exits with the crush for the buses which shuttle in an oblong loop around the city. He discards the plan immediately. automatically agile in skipping and feinting. But after a moment this heartache passes. His head clears. her. sidestepping the slower. He leaves her alone. it is a day off from work. The commuters lunge for the doors and seethe around the turnstiles. a desire to go to her. his words.
calling in sick. It is refugee talk – the repetitious subject of the time of sanctuary. two or three years down the line. The day of the great bivouac to the peaceful countryside. left behind. The city has always invigorated him. in the corporation’s opinion. but he rebels against the idea that it’s his time to be numbered among refugees. drawing nigh. as his colleagues must be. when the sun is charioteering and the clouds are held at bay the water is like a bright square of tinfoil laid ﬂat at the bottom of each street. city dweller. The site of a new head ofﬁce. and hopes that today he has found one. No one is dissatisﬁed. ascends on the escalators. The cityfolk glimpse water brimming at the end of each deep wide urban channel. The pre-meditated lie this morning. latitudinal strips of boulevard dominate the metropolitan grid. adjacent to a town an hour’s drive from the city. At Great Brown he pushes through the turnstile with the vulgarity of one ﬁt for gross regimens in the city. The Grande Dame must regretfully be divorced. He turns into his building after a block and a half. The corporation is swelling. the subject of much talk among the employees. In summer.The New Suffolk Hymnbook northeast corner of the loop. picks his way among the cubicles. He has been looking for another job since the day he signed his contract with the corporation. He has plans which do not separate from it – which evolve rapidly in his imagination. He passes through security. which he has marked with very little – a calendar from his mother. is in decline. Jarvis is no seeker of sanctuary. He is visited by lovely ﬂattering visions of aggrandizement 163 . sloughing fancies like the attachments of childhood. At his own. but the city. a mug sprouting an enamel rainbow for his pens – he sits and continues yesterday’s travails for emporia. It no longer provides a suitable setting for a company whose proﬁts are jumping ﬁve percent a quarter. is eagerly anticipated. has been settled on. He is well-paid and well-liked. but never straying from the idea at heart – Jarvis. Untrammelled.
It is merely a gambit which may lead him to his prize. sirs. can he say to the trafﬁc department ofﬁcials who. notwithstanding unusual circumstances. its ceaseless broadcast. upon review of his education and experience. He sees himself pacing up and down scorched asphalt among gridlocked cars. It seems that tenacity is required above any deﬁnite civic trade-skills. As it is. after all. He is unsure of the ﬁnal duties of the job. He is a shark among the meek cubicle ﬁshes. The change 164 .Ben Oswest amidst the heaped city shapes. long since ushered past half-life. His plans diverge from the collective plan of the head ofﬁce. now minuted on the public roll. If he fails he may take consolation in the proof of his seriousness. He is incited to the twin celebratory acmes of joy and deﬁance when he spends any period traversing its lengths. It will be his task. at eleven o’clock. The advertisement was vague. marking a clipboard. to convince the duly-appointed panel of his merit for such work. steadfast metropolitan ﬁxity. the gambit probably suffers too much from playfulness. Jarvis intends to remain in the city. yammering into a two-way radio. Your servant. He must stymie his interlocutors with the novelty of his existence – a promising executive who wants less pay for more and rougher toil. impervious to the plaints and aspersions which bombard trafﬁc assessors daily. His ﬁrst gambit. their grandeur. not a youth ﬂed from commerce. He will decamp from the decampers ﬁrst. computer literacy helpful. He will not remove with the rest when the time comes. the interview. fattened him on the decay. Administration plus accounting plus data gathering on site. Jarvis intends to leave the head ofﬁce. as if their radiance. there in the records for anyone who needs it ascertained. He is due at a job interview at City Hall in just under two hours. What. They need a man with a bruiser’s physique and burnished guts. will straightaway suspect him of charlatanry? They need a hardhead to ﬁll the position. He alone responds to the city’s hubris.
yes. This morning he walks fast – he lopes – to the bistro he loves most dearly but has had few opportunities. The wind sings off the water. Part of him spirals heavenward. vendors swearing billingsgate.The New Suffolk Hymnbook begins as soon as he steps into the main chamber of Great Brown. crazed and mothy. the pedestrians display no insolence. The waitress is pleased to see him. An ache for selfexpression across the landscape intoxicates him. He ﬁnishes his third dark frothy cup – truly a juice for the ages – he leaves ample notes on the table – why should not plenty be shared when one has had a plenteous season? – he parts ﬂirtatiously with the waitress. all the spices and sauces requisite – he is caught in the great dilemma of having to choose between pleasures. the raving of mattoids. his senses hunting. But the food requires a rash abandon that brooks no delay. He is shown to a table with a view. the time of his interview is at hand. and behind all the tramp of the dailybread earners – provoke near lycanthropy in his temperament. cold fruit. of late. It will work off in the walk to City 165 . He walks – apparently in pursuit. a fagot’s worth of sausage. but pursuing nothing more than the giddy sting of his happiness. hot covered croissants. Thus with a peculiar mix of regret and gusto he begins to eat and does not glance up again until coffee is served. eleemosynary squabble between derelicts and urchins. The view stirs him to feelings of worthiness. those in submission to the workaday routine. He could have caught the bus. The sparkling water hails him. He becomes as happy as a savage. He sets off into the city with his vitality whipped up. to frequent. The buildings dazzle with sunlight. but the bus is for the meek. To enter the city without immediate obligations is to oppose oneself to routine. It is a long walk. he emerges to the wind and sunlight with the pleasant stunned feeling of satiety. is still being served. and when the plates arrive – a bowl of slippery fried eggs. He arrives at the bistro with a mighty appetite. Breakfast. malingering plainclothesmen. Too soon. where stimuli – colporteurs’ cant.
in which he has just scribbled notes – we’ll see you again at least twice. Anyone entrusted to follow him now would marvel at how he moves. his attention. He charges ﬁercely down the thoroughfares. Unplanned expeditions require. But. then sidles with cunning into alleyways. He receives directions from a woman at the information desk. up six ﬂights. exploring with enthusiasm and delight. Jarvis takes the compliment. and if you didn’t make it to stage two then you were a particularly abject specimen of weed. Llwellyn says. He reaches the corner at a brisk pace and turns inland. overtaking left and right. Llwellyn says that this is only a preliminary interview. He feels imbued and noble. He wanders widely. shunning elevators. There are another several hours of roaming in the city. His skin jumps with caffeine. and continues to mount. 166 . to thrive in the city. His interview lasts as long as a trial postponement. mastering himself. Jarvis almost feels threatened by the man’s élan. a weeding stage if you liked. The director. which is unexpected. to go by this account of your life – he taps Jarvis’s ﬁle. You know we’re serious when you come back twice. of course. losing everything. sent in weeks ago. For a precarious moment he nearly bristles. in which he constitutes a ﬁne adept delineation. Once more he disdains the bus. urgently. He is joking. He needs to record a few addenda to Jarvis’s credentials. galleries. He is told to wait. He thanks the director and departs. winking.Ben Oswest Hall. garner some small elaboration on a point or two. and Jarvis can be off. The director is behind schedule. whereupon he presents himself at an ofﬁce labelled TRAFFIC. where he advances with more direct speed. After twenty minutes he is permitted through. a man named Llwellyn. He mounts the City Hall steps at ﬁve-to-eleven. The city is known to him as an immemorial design. is invincibly cheerful. He dogs and accelerates according to sweetly clear principles. like him. he chooses instead to warm to this being who appears.
until only standing room is available. as if he might obliterate the tired classes around him with the force of a terrible thought. because of the connotations of sumptuousness and impermanence.The New Suffolk Hymnbook newsstands. bilious and resigned after the day’s livelong moil. its rays being purloined. He appreciates a ﬁne. He alights at his stop happy to have been ignored by the dull herd. He enters his front door and peers about – it is dim inside. Their father’s and grandfather’s gifts for taming the city – biting into the pavement with their brogues. another man unfolds the morning’s paper. He feels exultant. The train stops and the people pour in. To his left. His front room is wainscoted in mahogany. Jarvis is himself wedged by the window again. bookstores. effeminate man and a plump woman with large moles on her neck have fallen into conversation. His brow needs mopping and there is scarlet in his cheeks. large room. The others must think he ran for the train. a jumble of slaves. not bedrooms and a bath. Their blood is denuded of heritage. He has a good vantage of the rest of the carriage. He lets the image of his rooms come to him. strangles mercy. but he would not enjoy the same peace. though not hastily. pawnshops. The sun lingers in its last quadrant. Across the booth. Light enough remains for sharp difference between exterior and interior and. He is a savage among chattel. He likes to think of them as rooms. He spends a good amount on rent. but the truth is simply that the city has excited him to the point of feverishness. like all secrets. If he lived in a cheaper place his rooms might fare better for furniture. to stay resort to electricity. and wallpapered in a white print patterned with faint gold tracery. The mansion in which 167 . It is an anthropological crowd. Despite this quiescence. which had been carefully preserved in his briefcase. a small. his secret remains active within him and. Then the prerogative eases. smashing the glass and steel with careless laughter – are lost to them. He allows the commuter eddy to collect him and pawn him off at Great Brown. once the eyes are accustomed.
a veritable caudillo in his time) and bow over it half the night. His thoughts ﬂy to his letter 168 . The book dealers know his tastes. He pauses lengthily in his study. In his bedroom Jarvis removes his suit jacket. despite certain lacks. He loiters in the doorway until. eat slowly. then push aside the plates. He will sleep in his undershirt with the window cracked – the air promises to be cool. The ﬂoors are of gleaming parquet. He will prepare his habitual supper. vaporous. chicken and rice. In the morning he will ﬁnd himself as before – a comfortable man. dons slippers and a white undershirt which clings comfortably to his skin. and he keeps in them the only other real object of his salary’s attention. replaced with green and white tiles which lend the kitchen an aquatic feel. Jarvis does not own a gun. The parquetry ends at the kitchen doorway. waiting for him in the dark. when the city boasted two paved streets and the country began a stone’s throw from the post ofﬁce. The study walls have been rebuilt as inlaid bookshelves. shirt and tie. He sits on the edge of his bed rubbing his scalp. and concealments. They send along what comes their way of the city arcana. he infers the presence of a second person. the books keep obedient vigil. He likes to wander barefoot through his rooms at night. retrieve a book from his library (a biography of a city mayor. pretensions. It has been extensively renovated. He tramps in slippered feet from the bedroom to the kitchen.Ben Oswest his rooms – which had been servant’s quarters – are situated was once the manor house of an extensive country residence. to the uncanny impression that a change – perhaps fateful – will soon be effected in his life. The city will visit him. The lamp overhead glows in the polished parquetry. set contemplation adrift. and his shoes. ﬁngering a modest glass of wine. prey. But before he crosses the threshold he hesitates. He looks forward to the evening. his library. suddenly. preternaturally. at last. a salad of greens. He keeps almost every volume.
prompting him. the lack of which leaves him short as he meets the girl’s gaze for the ﬁrst time. Lightheaded and dangerously out of balance.The New Suffolk Hymnbook opener. he breathes. Courage swirls up through his nostrils and sparkles in his brow. The moments of indecision begin to dizzy him. even as he studies the girl – wholly involved with her. to which he yields. a man in the grip of his own dread. he steps softly into the darkness and. Hopelessness hovers over him. to live in several different moments and places. It is the girl from the train. But he is not adept at combat – nor is he particularly strong. and meanwhile the second presence lurks. Relief temporarily drains him – Thank Christ. a trail of occurrences that lies like unwound yarn now all over the ﬂoors of his rooms. gleaming on his desk in the study. with considerable effort. swift processes had been at work. truly. an urge to crash into the kitchen with a cry. fanciful notions to impossible extremes. ﬂickering before the girl like a deck of cards. a painter studying a dish of fruit – to follow with another part of his mind diverse. in the city’s long history. patient. He resists. He blinks. The other’s breathing. He swells perceptibly as he appraises a singular event. he never once sniffed it out. For all his devotion to the city. steady creature which he always hoped would stir in his breast at the ﬁrst whiff of danger has failed him utterly. He studies the girl. strange. preparing to settle. His senses interpret – or fabricate – a soft whirring from the stove’s quarter. claws for the light. far beyond the scope of his conceiving. It becomes plain that he lacks the creativity to resolve his predicament. But he inhales deeply. shufﬂing through scenes until he has exhausted them and has arrived back 169 . and blows out an iridescentlyhued store of emotion. reduced to a single course of action. So too he leaves her. serene. The shrewd. While he had been cavorting in the deep heart of downtown. He feels miserable. Pink returns to his cheeks. lungs drawing sharply. pausing brieﬂy in each. His own breathing has become ragged.
His body stands alert but relaxed. Jarvis records the sea-green panorama. His charcoal pants. clamped at the wrists. the rogue kidnappers. they bent the world to their wills and wrought their work. raising her head against the angle of the neck ring. He has not yet moved from the lightswitch. His mind swings high in the starry night. crumpling around them. Vertigo strikes the room. Her hair rolls in layers toward the ﬂoor. A pair of tortoiseshell sunglasses. The others – the men and perhaps women who pierce hard city minutes with warped clarity. Terror and hope vie for expression upon her lips. are planted in her hair atop her brow. have left all unmarked. a drone headed for an ofﬁce. their identities veiled. Jarvis was not meant to know who was involved. a smooth. The light from the kitchen doorway widens. standing in his kitchen. searches his memory of the train ride for the smallest evidence of deception – but Green Tie was exactly who he appeared to be. and sojourn among the fragments and echoes of their perception – have disappeared. then hangs her head. She knows Jarvis from the train. The girl beseeches him wordlessly. Losing strength. beltless. The cupboards 170 . the panels of light set into the murky buildings. is penetrated.Ben Oswest where he started. ride low on his hips and taper to his slippers. the dark breezes. near the sink where he set it down half a day ago. leapt back into the shadows. she drops her eyes. cinematic. It is unthinkable that he could be involved. recording at his direction the silver glowing clouds. untouched. luminous sheet. which had been tucked away on the train. hang limp and white. doubled over in the pillory. having just switched on the light. Her hands. the intruders. speckled with crumbs. passed through. swinging freely. Jarvis notes his breakfast plate. For an instant he suspects Green Tie. From his slippers the green and white mosaic ﬂoor spreads to the corners. the brightness of his undershirt casting slight shadows on his face. His own building looms close. like sculptors. engulfs. Save the corner of his kitchen where.
a ghostly moral. Her legs. has been staged. But the room withdraws from surreality. brieﬂy. are straight and taut. Normal light and perspective are restored. scarcely wider than her body. The pillory pays homage to the distant giants. Or. imperial but already cast adrift from the world’s advancement. struck as she crossed one of the wide avenues. whether she died in the city after emerging from Great Brown. ﬂung horribly to her rest.The New Suffolk Hymnbook and shiny sink and clean white oven spin with the veering tiles. Vertigo slows and ceases. and smooth and white as ivory. granite. She ﬂinches at the sound of his slippers slithering over the tiles. she ceased at last. nor stirred again. A vision of youth and beauty. She has not spoken. unlooked for but somehow read as a necessity within the weave of the days. he chants quietly. cold with panic. Her spirit has now appeared to him. He wonders. but she does not lift her face. The city is a black cofﬁn. as if braced at the knees. He admires her practicality. Her clothes have not changed. anything but a ﬁgment. to struggle against strong anonymous hands. since he switched on the light. perhaps. Her back is forcibly curved like a cat’s. which she might have felt under 171 . She is shivering slightly. he can only guess. split to shoulder-width at her shoes. She is real. The girl and the pillory remain solidly ﬁxed in place. He hears her tremulous breathing. which reaches to the ceiling and glowers down with severe stateliness. marble. Jarvis identiﬁes the symbol at once. and submitted to the snufﬁng of her life. and moves toward her. dank place. The girl and the device into which she has been locked swoop by. The pressure to surrender. The pillory which conﬁnes her has sloughed medieval crudeness for an elegant black lacquered frame. the venerable skyscrapers of the city. Life seized in steel. Jarvis. sand – the girl’s perfectly groomed body achieves its highest expression in the half-living sculpture. this is Jarvis. as a celebration of fortune and caprice in the city. in a dim. Its shadow crosses souls without warning. Her presence in his home.
Que sera. his mind fumes with sensations of inﬁnity. delicate as foam. with exquisite care. sera. nestles them in his palm. gasps. His cheeks begin to burn. Within his reach lies a plunder of textures novel to his bachelor hands. Heat from the shackled girl’s body curls around him like incense. He is overcome by their sheer weightlessness. however. It is Wednesday. He unfolds the sunglasses and holds them to the light. too. his friend. apple – her ﬂesh. weighted like water. It is ﬁnding its way briskly now to meet her. their insubstantiality. her tortoiseshell sunglasses. The boy – young man? – began appearing at his door more than a year ago. He stands close. has been obviated. connect into the web of a plan. her lips. He wishes for 172 . he remembers. toyish token. concerned. Wednesday evenings his front room opens – a vestigial organ half-stirring to life – to the city’s vast circulation. Having closed so leisurely near to her – and yet she waits for the remaining space between them to be embroidered with his ﬁnal advance – cupping in his hand her life’s glamorous. who lives in relative abundance – but it is true. the leather of her shoes. slippery and eggshell-thin. and has succeeded in appealing to Jarvis. Her hair. and seems to fall forward. persistent tapping at his front door.Ben Oswest different circumstances. hardly disturbing a single hair. knocking softly for his supper. then refolds them. There will be no quarrel with the future. Jarvis has attached embryonic feelings to the mercurial face – he styles the boy. he hears familiar. and admits one-pea’s-worth of the streets’ posterity. He rests a moment. drunk with possession. that when the boy fails to appear for their weekly breadbreaking Jarvis retires to his bed downcast. like gossamer threads. But he refrains from action. Before certain ideas. her skin. along with any urge on his part to aspire to power over her. The girl stiffens. her blouse and skirt. It is of the utmost importance that he think clearly. Their relationship pares easily to basic economics – the boy has nothing. Then following his instincts he bends over the girl and removes. almonds.
except on the occasion she petitions for use of the toilet. to remind them both that they are not equals. who says he is from a place Jarvis does not know.The New Suffolk Hymnbook a moment that. and not always then. calls himself Matthew. At the door Matthew is a smudge behind the clouded glass – then is pushing puckishly for entrance. Jarvis and the girl will be alone again. Perhaps she is preparing to scream. Remember this isn’t your house? I haven’t invited you in? Matthew’s face screws into a scowl. The boy. on this of all nights. exasperated by the ritual which Jarvis performs at each of their meetings. He delights himself with a sudden inspiration for bridling her hopes. An unexplained city tremor jostled them together. suspects that it appears only when the public is disposed to its convenience and simplicity. leaving the girl to ponder the new twist in her fate involving her keeper’s rendezvous with another man. ringing down the sink drain – Matthew! Hold on! I’m coming! – and he tosses the sunglasses skittering across the counter and strides from the kitchen. and the boy will nod his head. But what harm could the boy do? His visits never stray beyond the front room. They must respect the distance which separates them on each night of the 173 . glancing off the varnished cupboards. Then the boy will depart. Why should tonight be different? Jarvis and the boy will co-produce their usual encounter. a second might at any moment shake them apart. Jarvis suspects this name is false. The girl’s body tenses again. ensuring her silence. He stares over his shoulder into the night. Nevertheless he shouts it out – the name reverberates through the kitchen. Three panes of clouded glass set in the front door allow the kitchen light to reach the boy’s eyes. Jarvis blocks the way. the city had kept the boy packed away. He will know that Jarvis is home. curious but unwilling to endanger the bond he enjoys with his benefactor. Jarvis will make excuses for any noise which escapes from the kitchen.
please. throughout the room. That’s good. The boy frowns at the table. A sweet pungency untainted by corruption or evil – the boy reeks of unwashed sweat. day upon day.Ben Oswest week except Wednesday. In the kitchen the girl’s hair is swinging. He has slung the canvas bag which Jarvis gave him into its familiar corner near the door and. please. His legs splay and close like a resting butterﬂy’s wings. How are you? How was your week? OK. nothing worse. binding his face like grief. Would you like to come in. The boy knows to wait for what is proffered. I’m well. and a glass of water? Yes. thank you. a Promethean torment. Wait here – I won’t be long. whose every generosity is subtracted from by stiffness. then 174 . strained to catch his conversation with Matthew. Did you ﬁnd any work? Washing cars. But Jarvis prefers to retain the initiative. Can I make you something to eat? The smell of the boy soon wafts and swirls. of the heart. somewhat. Jarvis asks ﬁnally. gracelessly dropped into a chair at the table. Can I make you a cheese sandwich? Yes. How’you? asks the boy. his skin shines lustrous and healthy. Milk and extra sugar. It has occurred to Jarvis that with a blunt object the boy might make quick work of his imperfect patron-angel. like dust. Would you like something to drink? Coffee. with a gush. Jarvis is just old enough to be the boy’s father. Violence has never once clouded the boy’s eyes. his wild hair gleams with oil. She had lifted her head. a failing. Hunger probes him. His chest has broadened. He has seen the boy grow measurably in the past year – thriving on what Jarvis presumes to be the city’s ugliest abuse. But Jarvis remains unafraid.
a tomato. He lays out four slices of bread. An idea shambles among them. he also wins. And despite internal protest – even outrage – Jarvis often acquiesces. too? The girl’s perfume and the boy’s sweet stench mingle. milk. The kitchen begins to smoke and steam. But he would not trust himself with an egg in his state of excitement. he loses the struggle with mysterious. his shoulders sag. Can I use your toilet? In the kitchen Jarvis sighs. On the nights when he does not cold gloom congests the front room. The boy knows that he mustn’t ask to use the toilet – that he may not use the toilet – yet still the question breasts. perhaps. and has. ﬁll his lungs. like a bald challenge. wordless. I suppose. Jarvis calls. tending the yolk until it wobbled under the slightest skein. A city deity leads the boy to the bathroom. He has been visited in riddle form with the girl. clothed in a sheet of heavy. sometimes. The girl. He contemplates frying an egg. The boy bolts his food and slinks out the door. butter. a struggle which. to be a surprising torment. He starts his electric frying pan and puts on his kettle. He has failed to understand the toilet’s rise as the most emotional aspect of his tie to the boy. 175 . unaccountably. unpleasant assent. withdraws into spiritlessness. Was the boy not part of the plan. seen the riddle solved with the boy. vibrant fabric from Holland – he admits to an epicurean delight in the way his rooms have ﬂeshed out. As before. and instant coffee which he keeps specially for Matthew. Yet after Jarvis has set the table – oak. disregarded at ﬁrst – but because the boy lives his life on luck he rouses himself after a few minutes and ﬂoats his voice like an insect to Jarvis’s ear. He would fondle it with his knife and fork – puncture it. From the refrigerator he takes cheese. Jarvis works quickly under the spell of the task.The New Suffolk Hymnbook quickly resumed her insentient pose. As the egg melted – it would be as if he had punctured the tension between himself and the girl. hailing his victory. for whom suspense ceased. In the outside room the boy’s thoughts diffuse over the scant events of the day. hours ago. Go ahead. Yes.
helping to mix concrete or watch a fruit stall. Yes. To be free. says the boy. He has washed his hands and face and dampened his hair. The boy remains unapologetic about his brazen encroachment. His voice brushes across a wide canvas. the plunge into the dark sewers. picked up weekly and dropped – menaced by the greatest calamities. ethereal. will sleep. the girl – represent an instant of perfection in the city. The boy is waiting like a lost coin. who is waiting like the city itself. Where he has slept. the boy. to drift over the green parks and the glinting suburbs. picked up but then dropped again – dropped by the Jarvises. he replies. unprotected against the quick slit. It’s raining. They chew their sandwiches in solidarity. Blush-rose. He will open his eyes to boundless design. In the bathroom the water runs warmer under the tap. what he has seen on his long 176 . The boy sits at the table. tarnished. The three ﬁgures distributed evenly across his household – he. On previous evenings their small talk has parted the drapes blocking a view of the boy’s life a fraction. to be held. effacement into dross. He closes his eyes. Then – Do you like your sandwich? It’s good. powerless against slow garrotted collapse. weakened by the city’s heady ripeness. washing a car. The roughly-treated towel in the bathroom will bear a dark stain. The luxury lies with Jarvis. It is neither’s luxury to act upon their wants. says the boy. Each has what the other wants. leaving Jarvis to surmise the depth of his feelings of peace during ablution. The girl is waiting like a balloon on a stick. rendering a dim ﬂat swathe of abstractions which elude Jarvis’s grasp. walking door-to-door with ﬂyers. Each is waiting.Ben Oswest He sits down to his plate. Concerning all matters else the boy is as courteous and grateful as could be expected. Whether he found work in the week. At the sound of droplets pattering against the windows he and the boy raise their heads. Washed into the city gutters. The second hand sweeps over the face of the kitchen clock. helpless to tug toward the heights. Their circumstances in this crystalline moment are equal.
And he has also been seen. He wonders how the boy would act if he led him into the kitchen. He wants to work as a seaman. Jarvis strolled to the window and looked in. plastered to the wall of the shop. At the table Jarvis ﬁghts a wave of nausea. really – nothing at all. took sight of the boy’s ﬁgure at some distance. living in orbit around various sources of liquor. The boy’s hologram replaced him at the window. watched. The boy is a stranger. aged through a ﬂight of years – a toothless vagrant. He senses the time for him to make something of himself spilling fast into an ocean of wasted promise. Jarvis thinks of the girl. of her apple-sized heart throbbing painfully. The boy’s father and mother are dead. regarding each other across a table. on the back of the boy’s neck. Then he started. just a few years older. Jarvis. He has seen the men. The feeling manifests whenever they meet – the breath of ruin. his hands cupped to his temples. Thanks. close. But he knows nothing of the boy. eh? he says. walked off. nodding toward the plate. The hush of the kitchen barely intrudes. 177 . They ﬁnish their sandwiches. The boy gulps his water. he claims. Her breasts lifted to the wind like the snouts of rodents. leering crazily. The boy’s desperation struck him then. left its mark. rounding a corner once. The boy peered through the window of a motorcycle dealership. Her crotchless bikini revealed shaven nubs. extracting the last dregs of its warmth. ﬁlthy. He backed away. The stranger drains his coffee and grins shyly. freaks of the city. as much at his own reﬂection as at the sordid picture. A woman’s bruised gaze confronted him. Now there is only the hush of the room – two strangers. She stared ﬁercely past her mascara and rouge. He will tarry over the coffee.The New Suffolk Hymnbook foot-bound journeys across the city. he a stranger to the boy. of the catch in her throat which gags back any dislodgment of sound. looked around furtively. He hid. Their strangulated afterdinner conversation may now creep over previously-covered ground – but the boy seems disposed to silence. He searches the depths of his mug.
Take care of yourself. rises.The boy murmurs. says the boy. stretches. Then – Thanks. OK. Jarvis also rises. free to return to the episode with the girl. OK? I’ll see you next week. Raindrops begin to wet the parquetry. opens the door. leaving Jarvis. ducks and vanishes into the night. whose head has begun to ache slightly. He collects his bag. He shoulders his bag. . eh? He casts his eyes back to the table.
It is plentiful this time of year and I presume he visits a market once every few days or so. plaintive thing. I was sweet and airy for a time. there was a problem. I should have approached 179 . But the emotions which I engender are awkward and wan. I am not insensitive when it comes to a church’s relationship with its bank account. I am sure. so I offered a few bills for the purchase of the squash. People simply don’t care to listen. We jerked and stalled in the space between us. But I was too popular for my own good. I gave him enough for a cartload of the stuff. I seemed never to vary and the repetitions became tiresome. he can eke it out over the next several weeks. When people heard me they felt innocent again. His arms. I was forgotten on the whole. I strain for the applause which once met me at every turn. telling me what to cook. It has been my goal from the start to project a certain sunniness. Immediately. summoned inexplicably from the afterworld of tunes and melodies. with a dark stare. No one matches my efforts anymore. up to his elbows. Perhaps I committed a breach of protocol. Today I found the cook after breakfast – he was washing dishes – and asked if it would be much trouble to put squash on the dinner menu. until ﬁnally I anchored the notes under a saucer. Who does this woman think she is. Now I am here. however. He couldn’t take the money.Jane I THINK HE THINKS I’M LIKE A TUNE spoiled by over-whistling. loading on more work? But I sense that he was more upset than angry. were wallowing in the dishtub. though it costs them little. but the clouds have closed over me with the speed of weather in these hills. I am a gangly. I faded. I am deemed boring or frivolous. He ﬁxed them. and then me. People take their happiness seriously in the pettiest moments. at any rate. I might say that he bristled at my presumption. I cut the shape of a true creature.
Father Bayley may have noticed. tomorrow most likely. And the conclusion that I made about myself years ago will get around. I was sitting straight as a mast while we ate. Father Bayley may have seen this. no one else. This woman. an inner hold relaxed. Father Bayley. with soft sympathy. for a split-second. *** I nearly broke down today. I rambled on about graveyards. who is caught up with an idea only to the point when it’s taken over by someone else. People scooped up their food and soon chairs were scraping back and there was a mass wandering to the TV lounge. I beamed and tugged hard on the loose tooth of conversation. less likely. I said. I can hear it now. He grunts and makes little cries of ah! when I speak. and so is my request. Only myself. There is nothing easy about me except that I am harmless. My lower lip buckled. it’s ﬁt only to nurse his irritability. Fortunately I am also harmless. If so he decided against pursuing a potentially dreary and embarrassing intimacy. It was then that the awful sequence jiggled under my breast. When his mouth was full again he raised his eyes to mine and said – Nnh. Father Bayley is the type. I will eat my squash. Once it’s no longer his. remained behind. What a difﬁcult woman he must consider me to be. but it wouldn’t give. who was hovering for our plates. When people bury their dead. My smile was starched into my face. I was ignored. Towards the end of lunch. a servant. the squasheater. Has it yet? No. I’m beginning to see. and the cook. they are speaking to their children. He chortled ah! and cutlassed about on his plate. Father Bayley munched along looking from me to the peas he was chasing with his knife and fork. Or. At the cost of a lighter purse and a heavier reputation. he may wish to raise the subject of my vulnerabilities in private. 180 .Ben Oswest him in the general terms of mankind before strapping on blinkers and perceiving only a cook. Nothing apparently so high-minded and abiding can have wriggled out of sight as quickly. My ostensible hope was to ferret out the interest he showed in my project when we knew each other as names only. what a drag.
No. I am not a seed cast in Father Bayley’s sermon. He did not stay after scraping up the last pea but begged a desk positively buckling with correspondence (his words). that nearly ushered me from sensible contact with the world. remains low. The seed germinates. My lower lip buckled. dates – so much litter. This is what happens in society. isolation will break. judged by their general remembrance. stripped for a moment of her social graces. my face felt like a stopped heart. for the discoveries I was making are the lightest details on the green Earth. It had been no more than a few minutes when I began to tremble. Jane the human. We identify one another with eye contact. perhaps ﬂoated at the back of his mind – with a pinch of guilt. breathtaking alarm of imminent collapse. Lunch was the ﬁrst I saw of him since Sunday mass. Yesterday after trawling through the weeds of the old cemetery I returned graced with emotions. then return to unshared worlds the moment I begin to speak. The old girl’s lonely already. He may have seen it. But there’s a memory that he looked down too quickly. And certainly on top of his neglect my status among the – I still can’t think of what to call them. the women’s rocky soil – but my situation is no more dire than the new girl’s at school. though he certainly has hoisted sail and left me stranded. Tombstones. suffering iron neglect until I expire. I believe. I will ﬁgure on these women’s checklists soon enough. the inmates. the inmate women. picking among the graves. I can conﬁrm that. however – like the ice in Nordic countries. and instant recovery to full strength. Isolation breaks. We hardly interact. I think that by this time Father Bayley had gone back to his peas. I have been abused by two brands of honesty here – the priest’s careless sower’s hand. crosses. Father Bayley will reappear on the horizon. it was tenderness. with variations. People inevitably take account of other people.The New Suffolk Hymnbook Sudden weakness. This remains a puzzlement. Speech will bubble up. The trigger inside me that sets me to crying was squeezed halfway. names. It’s not true. on which loneliness is an occasional looker-in. just the women I suppose. 181 . This is an excuse I imagine I’ll hear again. There are no paths to the plot. Thus I am isolated.
as if I had been stung and my body forced rest to process the poison. an air-borne microbe. I scratched around. aloud. convert fear into welcome relief. Two hours before my usual time. which made things worse. because the sound startled me. I was ready to ﬂop back. I sweated like a cheese all night. northwest corner. Perhaps I’d picked something up from one of the women. I’d bet. like glow from the thinnest moon. My skin tingled. gruesomely. The embarrassing thought crossed my mind that I was about to be haunted. My blood cycled through me like water. I was voracious. Fifteen to twenty graves. seemed an adequate response. one would have thought. in a small depression near the property line. The survey which Father Bayley gave me when I arrived mentions a Family Cemetery. Fifteen to twenty bodies deposited under the topsoil. I went for the exercise as much as from a sense of professionalism. I imagined them. But I felt unrelated to that episode now. There was little to expect. I was trembling. But as I tramped down the grass and dandelion (which kept many secrets – perhaps I can pay the cook to mow the area) an impression of extent crept up and then jumped at me. I had slept half a day. Sickness can be a cause of emotions.Ben Oswest I had to sniff it out. Then. The bedclothes were soaked at ﬁve o’clock when I woke up. I looked out the window to ﬁnd ambient darkness. being tickled by the roots of the weeds among which I was making my little scene. But instead I ﬂopped back and fell asleep. I caved in. I exchanged morning pleasantries with the district. I hurried back to the dormitory. I remembered. Three. my immune system had more than coped with it in the night. absurdly. four tombstones at the most. simultaneously remembering the cemetery. lolling submerged in kelp. face up. The quiet bodies. If so. The slimmest evidence of light at the horizon. What on Earth would I do until breakfast. appearing and vanishing so quickly. It lies over the mission’s western hill. almost breaking my ankle in a rodent’s hole. The so-called Family Cemetery is enormous. I wondered. because I was not at all sleepy. made neither uneasy nor mirthful 182 . underfoot. I would sit up feeling fresh. in a newly brightened room. I imagined fat brown sea lions. When I reached my bed I was out of breath. I laughed at myself. putting on a show – of bravery or rationality I cannot say.
would fall like a cake if I ate. I went and ate. I walked on my hesitant zig-zag errands. I simply saw the shapes of events that had passed. I made my bed with military zeal. a dent in my wakefulness. I saw too. Then I sat to write about this place. I wanted to stave off eating entirely. observations. moustache hanging with food. vacuum that it was. directions for research. I beamed at everyone. sucked me out. The world beyond my room. where the sun was now shining brightly. to have suffered such scandal. I carried the dent around all morning. I ordered my tiny room from the top down. and then I might solve two problems at once. I should have been furious. Arrayed at his ugliest at that moment – hunched over a messy plate. jaws working. chewing. I rose and worked. names. hoping he would take an interest in the cemetery on his grounds. this purply-faced ﬁgure hurrying his meal to be rid of me. as one dusts. His face is pocked. I had dreamed in the night. the tawdry chapel. but I was dissatisﬁed with the faces. Nothing had been built for my true compassion. the rural elements. I could remember nothing. But during the ﬂash of eye contact. in which the fantasies had whirled.The New Suffolk Hymnbook by my conduct. I caught myself not paying attention – because I was probing for a connection beyond spatial relationships. a low warbling inside me. notes on structures. the overdue Entry One of my sociological record. but the sphere which had lain on my brain. wonderfully and portentously. the smoky hills. in his imagination. But I couldn’t resist the day. I attempted conversation with Father Bayley. I worked until after breakfast had begun. He merely chortled – Ah! and. it could not have been longer 183 . pulling until the sheets would bounce a ball. and thus an interest in me. My hunger. By lunchtime I was fascinated by my other-worldly preoccupation. Nor had I any substance as a dear thing. was good. said – Nnh. I found. Flecks of scalp are cached in his full black hair. and where there was a buzzing to and fro. voices. It subtracted from the vividness of things. If I nourished it I would reach a state of small exhilaration. Looking straight at me. however. a feeling close to gladness. My speech had no purchase. left its imprint. trying to force my way through. there was small talk and the business of phone calls. eyes on me like a dog’s whose bark is worse than its bite. The spiritual fuel.
*** When Father Bayley introduced me. hooks a strand of orange. The rest of dinner is done. Had Father Bayley noticed? I was left to speculate. found none. plastic chairs. everything changed. the person I am now. Released emotion clapped through me. I was in a realm of angels for that instant. The room was again the old room and I was my old self. a tatty poster telling the Lord’s Prayer. cinnamon. Father Bayley. promoting in me the agony-tenderness that mothers feel for their sons. in particular. The constituents of the room remained the same – myself. from which a creative linguist has fashioned the new. My heart seemed to fail. perhaps black pepper. I have been busying myself with the other things. Father Bayley. slovenly priest. my stomach wrenched. There is a mound of it on my plate. dark orange and heavy. The juices drip down my gullet. angel-love pouring from my heart. tufted like a cloud. I saw the beauty of creation and the glory of humanity in the poor. I don’t know what spices he uses – sugar. The world was made anew. two long tables. sunlight from the windows. 184 . salt. was a source of pain. gifted with angel-sight. pet (I hope) nickname of Peachtree.Ben Oswest than a sparrow’s wingbeat. a buttery sweet ﬁlament. My face twitched. My fork strays. It slides off on my tongue. a thrilling self-punishment. At a certain point during dinner I can ignore it no longer. been corrected. he read out my name like a title. putting off the ﬁrst bite. The thought of the squash gets the better of me. perhaps clove. like a tennis ball unsqueezed. Sometimes now I am called Peaches. my lip buckled. The pain in the beauty of things nearly arrested my breathing. The moment passed. I ﬁll my mouth with squash and hold it there a moment. *** The cook purées his squash. I automatically probed myself to detect damage. I eat the meat and greens and drink my milk. the cook. But I never quite ﬁnish these. But the dent had disappeared. Jane-Thompson-P-aitch-D. my self of yesterday before the cemetery.
though I seldom pose as anything but a listener. the births. the room resounds with the day gone by. crescendos. I have taken to sitting by a young woman named Ruth. In a humble banquet hall Our Lord’s feast rolls apace. I ask about her day. viewed from above – a great meditative affair of reaching and pulling. Our meal asserts itself. We settle into it. quite faraway. Everyone has saved their speech for this moment. swells. the unexpected phone calls. aniseed. I chew very slowly. there is a headwoman. cold beets and the squash. We lose sight of ourselves. I am not excluded from it. Everyone cackles. She is quiet like me but she giggles violently when accused of quietness. sauced chicken.The New Suffolk Hymnbook and something from the tropics. The dining room tables. Chatter drops – words are pushed from sides of mouths. There is no shame in our eating. But this squash is divine. she asks about mine. cardamom. The food has always been very good here. and somewhat incredibly I’m to be found there. I am tugged at of course by the delectable question of the squash – Is now the moment of the ﬁrst bite? Is it now? – but I am not unreceptive to other states of mind. Stories bluster about like the four winds. Chronic tribulations get their airing out. I fall prey. meanwhile. new potatoes. falters. after the blessing (which Father Bayley as often as not is present to give – if not. to moments. possessed of some secret happiness at this moment. Some of the women will skip breakfast or lunch but they all turn out for dinner. I notice that Ruth smiles to herself. swallow with deliberation. somewhat. an agitated young 185 . When the meal commences. the ailments. One hears in patches the news of simple lives – the deaths. ﬂicker to life. I am one of many in the dining room. Occasionally a ritual question booms down the table for my beneﬁt – So what’s new. clearly the most elaborately religious and clearly aware of her importance). We work on the ample portions of creamed spinach. The conversation crescendos. eating with good steam alongside the priest and his dozen-and-a-half healthy-sized inmates. The food may be compared to manual work. I suppose. Heads bow. In an altogether different room. as during the blessing. Different scenes open. One hears talk of distant men. Doctor? There is a respectful lull but I demure.
Then her hands slide with purpose. I sit blinking with the others. As if in the grip of a mania she repeats the motion. She presses her hands to her breasts and pushes ﬁrmly down to her hips. she hardly knows. A sense of approval pervades the room. a thirty-ﬁve-year-old. She gently walks her ﬁngers until they reach just – there. I am as docile as they – neither the fool who gets up halfway through a good meal nor the glutton who stays behind for scraps. a girl at ﬁfteen. There is not a soul around me. mixed with appreciation for the cook. Beyond. like the girl. Were I to close my eyes. Especially now. beset by self-pity and doubt. plunged in grass. They cup her buttocks. If you can just ﬁnd a way to make contact with yourself. I feel.Ben Oswest girl is drawing deep breaths. My tastebuds humble me. On the far side of the window the hard brown trunk of a tree. She stands up quickly on her tiptoes. who is not ignoring me. I tremble inside. There is nothing that is not pure sensation to this girl. because the time has come – I place a heap of squash in my mouth – and the act is as secret as the girl’s. We ﬁnish together. Her body surges with excitement. I want to call to the people. the world scintillates with painful intensity. To give birth to yourself in a thousand acts of inner mothering. This mischievous girl! I have to suppress a chuckle at the table. The feeling of wholeness (even if induced by your tongue and an urgent swallow) is a true redemption. What is this girl feeling? Oh. She is taken with the idea that they are not her own hands. to raise a scandal. I would see patterns unfold like ﬂowers. a forty-year-old. and me. restless. 186 . is surmounted by a wild green blaze. with the stuff on my tongue. a thirty-year-old. She braces against the sill of the window. I almost forget that I am eating. I see her perfectly. But of course I don’t close my eyes or shout. and it would not do to attract attention. like sumptuously-hued waves of silk. I recover the emotional fact that I have been many women. I know the beautiful consolings of memory. a twenty-six-year-old. a ten-year-old sent into transports by a new doll. never particularly in love. deeply resentful of her parents. I feed myself more. I want to shout. We are all of us there – the girl and I and many others. wishing composure upon herself. here at the table next to Ruth – all of us in the spice and fullness of the squash in my mouth. even Ruth. childless.
Lines streamed from point A as if it were the sun. There was a question in my throat. he said. I’m told. The two who have not been caught are members of the second gang. lower-left. toward us and Suffolk. But then it is a ﬁne squash. My aim is simply to see whether anyone is watching mine. might have made it to Suffolk. it left a quick. They left this. C is Suffolk. up the road about an hour. *** The police were here. But I have not detected a single eyebrow raised in my direction. He spoke to me like a captain to a hand on deck. Indeed. some people behave strangely when they eat – there is Peaches over there. He indicated. A crude map had been drawn on the paper – point A in the top-right corner. Last night they had a mass escape. The words established our relationship at once. curtly. he said. negative impression.The New Suffolk Hymnbook The meal is like any other here. Those lines show how far each escapee made it until he was caught. or indeed. away from us. being good to herself. it appears one gang ﬂed north. There is no way of telling where they are. Two are still on the run. I can’t help imagining things said about me. They didn’t get them all. An odd gesture. and A is the Waterman prison. point C. it may pass without comment. he said. He paused. The police have a theory. B is us. and the other south. Once outside. They might easily have reached us by now. 187 . as if he had blurted something. point B in the middle. though. both a piece of paper on his desk and that I should sit. Brieﬂy. She’s doing what comes natural. The dogs have not picked up any new scents. who obviously enjoys her squash. I watch the faces as closely as possible without being rude as we stretch and head for other rooms. The escapees were members of two gangs which banded together brieﬂy. our little town. The food and the cook’s skill are simply taken for granted. It was the ﬁrst thing out of Father Bayley’s mouth when I entered his ofﬁce.
my butterﬁngers as I searched my pocketbook the sole sign of an incoherent protest. clothing.Ben Oswest We sat in his gloomy ofﬁce. There is another factor. The police don’t have the men. He would telephone the police every hour. One of the two at large is suspected of having a connection with a woman here. to search a wide area and protect us day in and day out. auguring our path through the crisis. He held out his hand and I acquiesced immediately. We would sleep there and eat there and leave. playing the expert. he said. his and my own. mixed with a business-like stolidity. We were a bevy of women and only two men. Father Bayley. could not have been more plain. in tones I haven’t heard from him before. He wore an expression of expectation. be conﬁned to the dormitory. if necessary. Then he leaned toward me and spoke urgently. My bewilderment. food. Is she in any danger? I asked. He would use 188 . Most signiﬁcant. rapid speech. Afterwards he. would lock both sets of keys in the ofﬁce safe. supervised from a window. eye contact. including himself and the cook. The next thing to do was to make security arrangements. money. We were a likely target regardless of one of the women’s possible relationship with the convicts. he said. he said. we had access to resources. The cook would park the cars in the old stable. which fortunately housed the kitchen. I’m sure. The ﬁrst thing to do was remove these from sight. The two they are looking for have been convicted of crimes of violence. We were isolated. in groups. It could mean the worst if we don’t protect ourselves. Prison escapees often seek out their women. He would need my keys. The keys jangled in the air between my thumb and foreﬁnger and then disappeared from sight. He hadn’t stopped speaking. No one should be alone until the danger had passed. I have sought advice accordingly and it’s best if we make several decisions right now. He had resolved that everyone. And there were two cars at the mission. Then an explosion of breath. water. because he sounded for all the world like a security ofﬁcial. He closed his eyes and inhaled deeply through his nostrils. The power of a priest – I apprehend it with newfound respect. Perhaps the ofﬁcer with whom he had spoken had impressed him. The police seem to think we are all in danger.
I know nothing about the man. nor does the chill suggestion of design. Now we are prevented from hearing any reports but the priest’s own. he would conduct roll call in the TV lounge. but I am more disconcerted by the ease with which the priest has erected a house of rules to conﬁne me – I. Ten o’clock – the news hour. the genuineness of his scrap of paper. I ﬁnd myself in Ruth and Ilse’s room. my back to them. And I. But the goings-on in the hills of Suffolk do not merit national attention. the TV is switched off. creeping up your back. but the heat of the days has not diminished. he said. He is reclining on my bed now. Time will tell. who might just as easily have been advised to leave. a double. the cook most likely relegated to my ﬂoor. go to the toilet in twos. I only just had time to snatch my journal and a few articles of clothing. Before meals and at 10 p. and come back when the danger had passed. I am afraid of the fugitives. at their desk. O Lord. I am here for the duration.The New Suffolk Hymnbook the phrase. I have been here less than half a month. from Psalm 25. the difﬁcult woman. using the logic that it is nearest the toilet to be cordoned off for the men’s use. if there was an emergency. but I have an ominous feeling. The land is swooning with late summer. our senses stammer through the air to render sight and sound. The world turned on its meridian months ago. Unto Thee.m. sat silently! I saw neither the policeman nor his vehicle. He proceeded to dispossess me of my room. It is wintry there – cold deliberation suffers no hindrance. We were to lock our bedroom doors at night. Ruth. do I lift up my soul. I will have to live with the question of the priest’s honesty. Languid minutes and torpid hours preside in the dormitory amongst the women. *** Father Bayley enters the room. We would see nothing of our predicament on the 189 . Ilse and I drew straws (I had to insist) and I get the ﬂoor tonight. I can come back for anything if necessary. I have been made an inmate. But the effects of the heat are not felt in Father Bayley’s ofﬁce. It is difﬁcult to think without concentration. drive off in my valuable car.
I want to be as the two sitting near me. the long walk to the stable. I want to leave this room. Beyond that. by wants which oppose one another. with a child’s anguished envy. Where has my spirit gone? I would stalk up to the priest right now and demand my keys – righteousness has been burning in me like enmity. who are penned and prodded but who nevertheless maintain an impregnable reserve. I have several times been moments from confronting him – were it not that I dread. Anything might happen there. sullenly preoccupied.Ben Oswest screen. crash into the tall grass. I wait swamped with dejection and loneliness for the evening to end. The two with me are insufferably bored. I want nothing to do with this man and his plain relish of control. 190 . funny Peaches. with real fear. I believe. I glance at his ill-lit ﬁgure. Father Bayley drones on. I want. I want to stand and denounce the priest. He thanks us for our patience. At the back of the room where I sit. Watching them I am seized. which is out of sight and swamped in tall grass. go running down the road. secretive venal event. two normally voluble women slouch in their chairs. than sexual release. to be included in the silent club of the mission women. ﬁnd my car and escape. like a child. childishly trekking around the room. but petty control satisﬁes him more. He voices the hope that this. will be our last. I might also slouch down and set my face remorselessly distant. A person from the priest’s universe mimicking like a clown. My attention marches off. They don’t hide it. Father Bayley tells us with a sigh that the police have failed to recapture either fugitive. bitterness at my captivity. He is squinting to see the names. He begins to read from his list. and his mortiﬁcation afterwards. the second evening roll call. I must remain plain Jane. Solidarity! But how unbearably comical. pausing to examine faces as the women answer to names. A sign to Father Bayley of one thing and to the women of another. My jaundiced imagination paints the scene of his most recent. primarily. He would shy away from anything so consequential as true power. My silent accusation reﬂects. I admit that I taste a case of nerves. the lonely spinster come to spin her tale about this repository for women.
having square housing. looking directly at me. My sarcasm. I stare at the fan during the prayer. Everyone is present. but – . in shapes like those on a contour map. I feel nauseous. Bone-white. than anyone. reveal powder-blue and bone-white coats underneath the green. beams the priest. This detail niggles me. Sí. wearily shows its teeth. Jane. ﬁlls the open space perfectly. My name ﬂoats casually over the heads of the seated women. The women do likewise. I mean merely to say that the priest is a hypocrite. He bows his head. I slide my eyes over the walls and ceiling. Has my helplessness increased? I fear what would happen to me out here. So the fan is a fossil. thinking with alarm. Estoy aqui. The cook. my ﬁnal preservation. 191 . The rejoinders are inﬁnite. he continues. then closed the window ﬁrmly down on the fan.The New Suffolk Hymnbook A fan has been placed in the window at my elbow. Someone threw up the sash. Father Bayley repeats. and in the opposite direction when air passes back into the district. the priest. as if I’ve been publicly shamed. who is standing like a guard by the door. The window was painted frozen shut over it three times. newly animated. powder-blue and olive-green paint cakes the fan. I do not respond. he mutters. And I am here. Let us pray and then you can go to bed. forgetting my disrespect. Jane. marking his ledger. nods and utters words that at ﬁrst I think I haven’t heard correctly. Here and there shallow craters. more obviously present. says the cook. A test of my spirit. and Cook is here. the cook? The Spanish words buzz in my head like a fever. The propeller spins listlessly in one direction when air enters the room. its stub a green hump under the sill’s paint. He needn’t call out. should I become disabled by hallucinations. The fan’s cord was clipped indeterminable years ago. Jane is here. I am more easily identiﬁed. Then I recall that the ugly coat which predominates in most rooms – casting its drab pall over our enforced gathering – is the same green as spackled and drizzled in the fan. then. balanced the fan on the sill. I have not noticed it before. I say nothing. who are these men. which. The priest permits a ground-level window to gape open.
looking darkly about. embracing. He wishes us a good day. Not so our policeman. ululating a hosanna. kissing. He grins at us. given any chance.Ben Oswest I watch the propeller spin one way. Bedlam. Father Bayley invites him to stay for breakfast. He expresses his gladness that we are all safe. We hear from the policeman that one man was splashing up Eye River. Hell. We watch the entry. Father. he adds. as one expects a policeman to grin. But I thought you people had packed up. pleased. who is fairly tumbled out by the rising ruckus. we caught our prisoners this morning about an hour before dawn. For a moment I am susceptible to the impression that the house is breathing. uncertain footfalls sound outside the dining room. our horror quickening. We are momentarily too weak to exhibit reaction. says Father Bayley. and your front door is wide open. I alone of the group am not stretching. In two days of captivity. joyous bedlam. We couldn’t sniff the one prisoner out of the river. *** Like a nest of rodents we start. We have the best damned dogs. recomposed. as if the lookout bird has cried warning of a snake. then ﬁlls its frame. no sign of life. both several hours’ walk from the mission. Unfamiliar. so they tracked him down with their ears. exclaims a policeman. clasping hands across the table. He is visiting the farms in this area to deliver the word of safety. In different places. as if he were outdoors. says the policeman. Just when Father Bayley begins to rise the awaited shape peeps around the doorway. Certain people – especially policemen – draw the air after them when they leave a room. he continues. The future narrows into a tenuous blind tunnel. but he has much ground to cover this morning. That’s probably Cook. Show’s over everybody. I boil at the priest’s enthusiasm. He booms out. I thought you had deserted this place. the other following railroad tracks. quick to recriminate. He stands there and marvels. Where did you catch them? Relief is being passed around the table with jollity like food. I have become envenomed. then the other. But what good news. 192 . No cars. erupts.
I press the pace. almost woundedly. We’re free again. Even when new this stable was rough – made for goats. The front gates stand ﬁxedly open. Later in the morning my keys are plunked down (I am sitting in the TV lounge. As I pass the dormitory’s threshold the air offers a roasted pungency to my nose. but I sense by instinct that. superintended by the priest. Priests are the mortal voices of God. menacing nearby insects. I have resolved. I ﬁx him balefully.The New Suffolk Hymnbook He waves down the table to those he cannot reach. Orpah. It is not merely that my arms and legs take pleasure in once more swinging under the sun. an electro-generative reserve is ﬁlling to capacity and will overﬂow. created by the cars when the cook turned them off the road. He has his answer ready. It is a ﬁne attempt at a stable. We made it. however. To my car ﬁrst. By the time I reach the stable I’m happy. The low roof. 193 . thinking faraway thoughts) and I set off to my car. that the engine will mystiﬁably fail to turn over. The grass bows halfway to the earth in twin swaths. then to my room. I must face a prime anxiety – that the car has broken down. Sarah. perhaps. I laugh aloud at the poor structure – a compassionate laugh. The green in these hills. has slumped away at one corner. But I haven’t learned my lesson. The party ﬂourishes. calling. supported by six posts. not horses. so that I can see right through. Before I can speak he reads my intent from the corner of his eye and pauses from the celebration to snap. I’ll return your keys to you right after breakfast. I hear them laboriously reachieve their pitch once I’m safely past. deep within. Jane. It happens. This stable is no stable. like the child’s was a ﬁne attempt at standing. My shoes crunch over gravel. Sweat springs to my brow on the slight uphill – my body under pressure. Grass has invaded and grown to a good height. We stand wholly fathomed before them. I am silenced. I turn on to the disused track which used to service the stable. The back wall. sags but will take the seasons’ punishment for several more years. The trip will give the men ample time to move out of my room. foreknowledge of my question or not. Rachel. The stable lies beyond a long hump of meadow. like that of a woman who has seen a child fall on its rump. I prepare to open my mouth.
The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away. I rend a web in doing so. My rearview mirror is ablaze with the meadow behind me. and look brieﬂy for the spider. I mutter. Or perhaps the cop. I sense the chief peril of immobility out here. Just start. The sun’s rays would slither back through the weeds. I take a few breaths. Through the glass I face the dank portion of the stable wall which remains erect. cage me. It wears the guise of rest. I press the heels of my palms to my eyes. in this haven between the wall and the meadow. Laughter sprouts up from my stomach. I cannot smother it. She is a muse of ironies. The fugitives would have snorted at the sight. that’s all I ask. But I deserve reproval for foolhardy optimism. I see my wrinkled. I have never uttered that phrase in my life and I am beside myself with the absurdity of it. but it has scuttled off. let the engine idle. spurs me to laugh the harder. I must enter on the passenger side. Their tail ends jut out into the sunshine. Until the mirror turns dark with night. correcting. a bar of doubt for every minute of light lost. I think of the men ﬁrst. The blue of the sky has never seemed more promising than when I sit in my sunbathed car on this empty road. grimly sheltering. I am being watched – I am suddenly certain of it. blot tears of laughter. Dejection would catch me. Moments later. I twist in my seat. where it was chauffeured at the will of a possibly guileful priest. I pat my car’s dashboard and pray. I am an old woman retrieving her car from a shack. but leads only to despair. When I have laughed alone I feel most commensurate with myself. happy face in the mirror. I throw my head back and gasp. I have been visited by the muse of this place. struggling 194 . The priest – the cook.Ben Oswest The cook parked the cars front-ﬁrst. My car ﬁnally jounces through the slight roadside ditch and on to the driveway. The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away. I sob against the wheel. I could stay here for some time. The image of the displaced spider. But the private restful feeling is snuffed by a new alertness. I steadily back down the grass to the gravel. My car is parked tightly against a post. I nearly wish Father Bayley had accompanied me. to by nettled by the oaﬁsh outcome of his plan. how pleasing to note the sureness of my motherly touch. judging. I concentrate on the rearview mirror.
I know it with ﬁrmness now. waits and puffs exhaust. I know it. I slouch against the car seat. *** I confront the priest before breakfast.The New Suffolk Hymnbook to bring the watcher in sight. We were simply returned to our previous shadowy 195 . Nothing stirs. I hear only my car and the insects. turn left and disappear? I feel a pang at the loss of some clothing to which I am attached. I am nearly weeping as I escort myself back to the dormitory. I giddily imagine the speeds which my car is capable of attaining. like a decisive clap on the shoulder. polished by the sun. I am ready to return to grace. God Damn It! The car settles into reverse. I eye the road for possibilities. excited. What would it cost me to put the car into ﬁrst and roll to the neglected asphalt. It dawns on me that I have no desire to return to the dormitory. I have been watching myself all this while. (But that word misses its mark. ¿Donde esta Jane? I am here in my car. The oddly-shaped buildings of the mission cling together amidst the multitude of hills. On the long gravel driveway which connects the mission with the paved road a blue car. for me to note with fond nostalgia when I recall the hour of my escape. as its equal. I sit. I grip the wheel. But already this pang has lifted like a kite and hangs above. I sigh. Several minutes pass before the matter is decided. like a fox which has bested the hunt. What will I do? I am nervous. It is the second morning since the policeman appeared with his tidings of freedom. of fences galloping alongside to keep up. The low hills are spotless. I think of telephone poles ﬂashing past. the old cemetery yields further to ants and weeds. I am waiting for the divine hand to choose me. These indifferent ﬁelds hide no pair of human eyes. From a bird’s height a vision of the countryside appears to me. I long for the breachable moment to present itself. But defeat takes hold of me instead. I know a small amount of Spanish. I need to reacquaint myself with freedom. I watch to see what I will do. however. I’m going nowhere. I curse and scream. It is true that conﬁnement has put me on edge. like an unfrequented quadrant of ocean. The outcast stable sinks lower to the earth.
I listen tensely to his tone. I place the papers on his desk. 196 . our last fruitless contact before I vanish down the pike of time. it would suffer the same fate as this armful. he queries. The history of the mission continues perfectly. You are leaving us. This project was ﬂawed from the start. He is neither mocking me nor thrusting with sarcasm. I reply. tax statements. pleased to have discovered the language with which to dismiss myself. I speak again. Perhaps he has already moved on to the future. I haven’t sorted through these. Perhaps he is already breathing air in which I have not breathed. But when he admits me to his ofﬁce difﬁdence congeals like phlegm in my throat. wills and photographs. I seek the priest mindful of a short. If I came to you after weeks of work and presented a report. Dr. Sincere regret could not possibly have moved him either. I cannot imagine the role a new armful of papers would play here. if life here is lived in something other than freedom. What’s more. clippings. I place the thick. I report lamely. It’s all right. Perhaps he is telling himself a sophisticated joke. Thompson? Yes. rehearsed speech. Whatever I might have come up with would have been less than that. he says.Ben Oswest state upon receiving the policeman’s news. He sees the papers I am carrying. which seems wonderfully patent now. They would be heaped together like so much bureaucratic waste and relegated to a purgatory of papers somewhere. She received deeds. Now she has given them back. I stand beetling over the little golem of a man. A woman came to the mission. I say. greasy folder on his desk. I continue. But I have not the energy to bore beyond this insight. My opening gambit ravels. to taint the priest’s memory with the sound of my voice. what a shame things didn’t work out. then the fugitives represented something other than death. and is reminiscing about this moment. The light in his black eyes glitters. In effect this represents the best report I could have made. After a mutual pause.) I spent the intervening day coming to my decision. because it is the last thing your mission needs. From the thought of my near departure a fresh impulse of impetuousness pinches me.
I go to sit on the dormitory’s front steps. He starts again. Thank you. Perhaps it is the sort of life which I shall grow into in the coming years. the cook’s ﬁnal dinner is supped (I ate almost nothing but the squash) and the time has come for a last walk. I leave his ofﬁce. It was his last recourse. a fencepost makes a corner. The priest and his mission have lost their moorings and are drifting away. The sun has shattered an early-morning cloud and I close my eyes for the light that is pouring through. He has inadequately expressed his anger. arriving at a place where. I will miss them. living here. I have chosen a path which takes me into their embrace. In a moment such as this I am prepared to believe that the day has been a successful one. Please feel free to stay on for a few days if you need to make arrangements. It is six-thirty. Your are – he starts. I have been given a glimpse of a different life. I’m sorry you’ve not been happy here. but then stops. employed after the waters had already separated us. From there a tresspasser need hike only a short distance further (or so the survey has told me) to reach the top of a modestly-high hill. From my particular shore I see perfectly where I stand. My stay at the mission. The priest’s attempt at a rebuke tastes like victory in my mouth. The trek there ought to put much time to bed. Long periods of tranquillity will visit me. I begin to feel. It’s a shame things didn’t work out. the tract which I stammered out to the priest has cleared the air (I am no longer an enigmatic ﬁgure on this strange campus). Goodbye. I say. Everything is packed (one of my two cases stands expectantly at the head of the stairs. *** The eve of my departure. The hills here are beautiful toward dusk. skirting the bog of graves. will have proved good for me in the long run. I have seen this hill’s sunny crest from odd angles on my walks. I would like to take in the view from its far side. though I haven’t even ﬁlled my stomach yet. placed there by an inmate-turned-maid). I presume. A parting shot.The New Suffolk Hymnbook The priest nods. I will grope in the sediments 197 .
I huff and puff up to the fence. I remember indisputable facts. and risk a topple. She enumerates mistakes and sorrows. as if I have been sipping wine. It leaves. I yield to sensations. I have confessed and been accepted. She judges herself. I remember these days. I remember the hard ground of this slope and these cooling swirls of air. My cheeks ﬂush with the hearty feelings of shame and glory. It becomes clear to me that I have been wrong about myself. Hers are the pangs which have caught me off guard in these weeks. I swish through the grass. superﬂuous act – are sifting down to join the bottom sediments. It is impossible that I have not known love. of no carriage except to their remembrance. Love is the least permanent thing. the corner post. risking scratches and entanglement. after a day of hard work. breathe my spirit into them. These lonely days of mine – this gentle gradient which I am trudging up for my ﬁnal. successes and joys.Ben Oswest of my past. The atmosphere in which she steadily works has visited me at times like the gentle shadow of a cloud. Love is the least identiﬁable thing. The fence line. She is sustained by a peculiar kind of feeling – a resigned but hopeful love for a woman at the peak of her life. shape them. I have lain prone with a certain ﬂash in my eyes and I have closed them at the behest of strange hands. When you come to know. They will settle in their own pattern. I hold the wires ﬁrmly between their barbs and pull them wide. My body has replied dumbly to tender whispers. I have covered a man with myself. The further precipitation of time will cover them. The mission’s peculiar fragrance wreathes my head. gather them. an ordeal of doubt is over. therefore. Fences such as this blocked the way to solo adventures 198 . is in sight. still in my professional clothes. I have confessed and been spurned. giggling. crying. speaking absurdly. sharing worldly exhaustion. unsure of whether to surmount it. or to part the ﬁrst and second wires and step through. I will live the memoirist’s life. I will never feel the way I have felt in moments of love again. But I am already riding in the memoirist’s frozen chariot. On the question of love there is so much to take into account. at last. But I can grasp it now in my hands. the most inﬁnite impression. I hesitate a moment. I opt to step through. that you have known love. This fact about my knowledge of love nearly secures my happiness.
How uncomplicated to lose oneself in the leagues of hills. As I ascend the hill I weep softly for the moments of love which will not be with me during the long sleep. I must descend before my path is obscured. I wish I could strike out west instead. I conﬁrm a truth in their shades – that love has proliferated stealthily into all my days. I ﬁnd that my old expertise in foiling them never deserted me. I take the ﬁrst steps reluctantly. As it is. Hills seem to ﬂoat. My independence is a scandal. will not be cherished tightly in my breast of dust and ashes. In my bosom lies 199 . I swing down the hill. I stand aright in territory which is not the mission’s and brush myself off. Nothing is visible of the dormitory. that each distinct blue and green and red is bruised with a moment of it. The heart moves the blood at a ﬁne. This is plainly seen in the kernel of a single moment of love. I reach the top and look back. even tempo. The day laps at the shoreline of other days. It may not be enough time. I have discovered an allegiance with idleness. because of all the Devil’s mischief. A single window is illuminated. I turn from the priest. but so difﬁcult to recover once lost. The sun has set. He is at work at his desk. in this moment. myself. I have heard before that a priest should never be idle. Who knows what adventures might befall me. an archetypal ﬁgure. I have arrived at the perfect time. hard and unbreakable and precious. With much effort I will go to my grave wealthy with them. I give in for a moment to fantasy. The land stretches to the place where the sun has retired. I have the rest of my life to count the moments when I have known love. buoyed by translucence. darkness begins to sap the strength of the lavish display. In that sense I will be abroad on this hill forever. deepen and brighten. I watch the light ﬂicker and change. I am the maiden of the homestead who has shirked her chores. The scene is wondrous. I make out the priest’s cottage through watery eyes. in the west. I am remembering it now even as it passes. observing the animation of my love.The New Suffolk Hymnbook when I was a child. But some inevitably will be buried with my body like rings and bracelets – unable to follow where I go. I face the hill’s best prospect. then laugh myself free of it. Breath comes and goes like the trafﬁc of birds. It is exhausting to contemplate the activity in his mind.
This 200 . Here. I reach it in no time and tromp up the front steps aiming for my room’s quiet and the chance to sleep curled up with the wonderful night. I say. Good evening. ﬁnally – It’s true. I peer into the darkness to my right. It is the cook. They will remain unsaid because I would need a day’s preparation to say them. You look in ﬁne ﬁg. slouched against the house. As the ground levels the dormitory comes in view. his eyes glinting. staring out into the inky dark. Did you grow up here? Me? No. no matter their antagonism to my interests. he explains. tomorrow morning. Night indeed has closed over the district. Peaches. Peaches. It was extraordinary. I swing down the hill full of hope. It has no will of its own. I wish it no evil. But it is not his job. He watches me. In several minutes the very darkest blues will disappear from the sky. Do you know. I detect the fumes in his voice. He is casually holding a bottle. I don’t speak for so long that he says. he says. He raps the siding. taken aback for the second time by this man’s language. that I was born here? Here? In Suffolk? No. He chuckles. This is my last night at the mission. Before it was made into this place for women. sitting on boards. in this house. he says. and the stars will burn coldly. A silence falls between us. The fence presents no obstacle. So you are saying goodbye. I duck under it with hardly a break in stride. I have a feeling that he could say them for me. eye with jealous avidity – hope. A man’s voice stops me. I grew up elsewhere. I reply.Ben Oswest a treasure which all parties. leaning toward me. Have you been to see the sunset? Yes. I tell myself. I was a ship’s cook. But on this night I feel anything but ungenerous. he murmurs. Yes. My hope never wavers. Things which haven’t been said remain between us. Tomorrow I leave the mission. Perhaps under different circumstances I would chide him.
being so excited. I would like to see a great blossomy apple or guava. *** Now. Except a wife. of course. more or less.The New Suffolk Hymnbook enterprise of mine. he adds. I push through the front door and skip up the stairs. washing at my feet. Then his eyes regard me with unmistakable signiﬁcance. the cook tells me. Even come the cold rains of winter – 201 . and the cheap saplings available at the nurseries will never bear fruit in time for me to enjoy it. I have the cook to thank for this. Good luck. There is anger. It is excellent. and beautiful white graceful freesias. I live in my garden. Had I completed my report. I too am in my garden. I was years in getting serious about the little plot. All routes to fortune have been closed to me. too. perhaps. I would have had to have started again. My garden lacks only a tree. like a child waiting for her birthday. I suddenly feel great sorrow. Does Father Bayley know this? I ask with exasperation. I monkey around in the underbrush with pansies and marigolds each summer. I am. turning the soil with a trowel. Father Bayley does not want to know about anything. Thank you. I must be content. how well I will sleep. I ask. I mentally erase the professional faults which I have accused myself of. The inertia which impelled me down the hill springs back to life in my breast. Good night. at this very moment. is at its end. I have roses. however. He pronounces the syllables as if he is used to people ruining them. I should get plenty of rest for the trip tomorrow but I wonder. and birds of paradise. of many kinds. Again silence glides in from the dark. I will miss your cooking. of the mission’s. I am happy to be leaving. then stumbled across this fact. What is your name.
with a blanket and tea. and study my little green patch. It will be a radiance. for when I was to be truly old. though. is best compared to the sun. Perhaps in my garden. My visitors are by now quite bored with it. I do not shudder.Ben Oswest I sit in my chair. I am truly old. ages ago. if one thinks carefully enough about it. at the thought of the shrunken. on her side under a fern. sweet-smelling creature. I will die at home. But this is the very picture which I reserved for myself. 202 . Death. like those who ﬁnd me will shudder.
According to tree rings and lake cores they were smiled upon from the 203 . to the satisfaction of gawkers and sneerers alike – then the debt is owed to the ancient folk society which turned the phrase. then – – We know from potsherds that this distinct. The people settled. central culture cleaved a thousand years ago. uttered at times of greatest solemnity. One complement of pioneers crossed the mountains and forged through the foothills down into the hills. Speculations about its ﬁrst utterance abound. at least as credible.Notes toward a portrait of the district NOW TO PLUCK OUT THESE NOTES – – If the old byword of the district still circulates – and is not merely a quaintism bearing a plastic shield in the town square. who carried the words with them during periods of migration. They may be put to any use: included in the most uproarious joke. Their faithfulness guards the immortality of a ﬁgure no less great – – the archaeologist’s summary. The locals invoke their proverb with the satisfaction of those who have rendered unto Caesar. their society (evidenced by later. yielding a splendidly supple harvest. more elaborate potsherds) in the ascendant. The words entered the land’s cycle of life. in a bountiful. In Suffolk number all riches. rings truer to an outsider’s ears. But popular doctrine. Among the academics it is vogue to credit an almost imaginary source – a people who lived deep in BC. far-off land. year after year as it turned the soil.
usurping them with the primacy of her own. The king had failed to plant his seed of life within her. Their remarkable queen is to be found – her rightful place – in nearly every snippet connected to this spate of prosperity. at the very least. who might have coined it instead. The people herded and farmed with varying degrees of expertise. mild seasons. strictly speaking. Where she is not regally present as the terrible. presumably. Even she could not avoid the customary hiatus of women. waxed until. She had not conceived. 204 .Ben Oswest heavens: the ﬁrst half of the second millennium AD saw plentiful rains. (Or. after their ﬁrst tussle she left his bedchamber stinking of her strength. a relentless harridan by day. she forced his inexperienced successor to betroth her as chief wife. The town saying cannot. demarcating a wide territory. voracious for tribute. She cruelly exposed his impotence during the ﬁrst council. fathomless progenitor of action. Then. given her story. They grew. he slept that night with her smell robust in his nostrils. and she retreated from the king and his court to bleed in silent fury. from notes inked on parchment by the early men of God to the songs and celebrations videotaped nowadays by the bright young things from the university. a relentless succubus by night. be credited to her – the disyllable suffolk was never pronounced in her time – but the phrase is chorused at her every appearance in the songs. He was still reeling from her nuptial onslaught when she returned from seclusion.) For a month she would not leave his side. probing between his imaginary legs for a penis. and it is difﬁcult to imagine. which derived from her ﬁrst husband the king and a certain talent for prophecy. in tones which had everyone roaring (an entire poem extant on this speech) each of the 30-or-so acts of coitus. aping his virginal naiveté. The queen’s power. she raped him. detailing. the king unexpectedly dying without heir. she is the indignant bider-of-time. She called him a woman. however. who swats aside unrelated tales.
precocious hunter. The future promised splintering. painted & feathered. the nation’s pearl. humiliated. realignment. Inﬁnite delights. Her command broke upon them like thunder: Find me another husband! The weakling king was deposed by the whipped-up council.The New Suffolk Hymnbook a worse-than-woman. For the ﬁrst time the queen’s celestial uterus makes new music. Then – a miracle. indignant. 205 . years of war. (By all accounts this man was a thoroughbred – the queen must have delectated over him. after a good sweat is worked up. The mystics of the kingdom. It had no mechanism to check a rampant queen. She demanded to know whether the council would be ruled by a sexless effete boy. does his manly duty by his wife. smooth and perfect as a god.” A polyp inside her adopts her heartbeat. Their queen balloons. on his duff. theatrical. celebrated wrestler. indulge in weary vindicatory conferences. so recently under strain. The very ﬁrst night. His successor (sounding possibly the most tragic note in the roulade of the queen’s reign) fared no better. Consternation seethed in the court. Many prayed for & several plotted the queen’s quick death. a eunuch. She misses her “moon. Five “moons” after his induction the young nobleman – a dashing specimen. The bristling army of days which stands between her and immortality quails. But the holy men were with her. insecurity tormented the peasants. imported from over the mountains in last-ditch desperation. King number eleven. especially the schadenfreude thrill of the female of the species deciding her mate’s fate in the throes of passion. who might remain queen as long as she was wife to the king. She chewed up & spat out seven more. She herself was her people’s vitality incarnate at that moment – proud. afﬁrming that a king who could not impregnate his wife could not be divine and therefore could not be king. cocksure and eager to rule – was out. the destiny-child is conceived.) The society’s system of rule was turned on its head. mighty.
The queen has retired after the opening dance. dead. marked by the club foot. Her chamber suddenly crowds with ancestors. as expected & prayed for (or as prayed for & expected?). Everyone looks on. have in their care all at once the skies & the ﬁelds & the stock & a tottering browbeating queen big as the world itself – a plague of omens to intercept and rituals to prescribe. The audience shrinks from her. She ﬁghts the darkness until the universe is stripped bare of time. She bellows like a slaughter animal when the contractions come: a difﬁcult birth. but the inner circle’s mandarin smiles. In her chamber the queen calls for a stick. The moon rises full and the dark dome glistens with stars on the ﬁrst night of the feasts. By her side several unctuous medicine men incant and contort themselves.Ben Oswest A second army of days. waves of pain – the queen’s consciousness threatens to drown. the feasts of the harvest. she merely closes her eyes. Recovering from the shock. she grinds her molars against it. They chatter and laugh. the witch doctors. her womb churning. The queen glimpses it before it is bundled up and whisked off. competing for proximity to the ﬁrstborn. There is no public word yet. meanwhile. The murmurs and salutations of well-wishers outside ﬂap unheeded around the room. She is alternately made to kneel and squat. The baby is born: a boy. and the disappearance from the crowds of select women – midwives – and from the performers of select men – the high hippocrati – has everyone braced for joy. enjoying themselves. It is placed between her teeth and held there. is falling before the approach of another time of celebration. The queen shrieks. Half a dozen midwives take turns holding her by the armpits and spreading her thighs. 206 . The medicine men. midnight-blue. a brave midwife steps forward and yanks it. The distant ecstasy of the feasts stirs the dust. She initiates no cry of lament for the lost child. A maelstrom of activity. A club foot drops from her womb.
That is why he wrote it. They told the journalist their story. What he has written will do. now lost to her.) The journalist has come 207 . The moment carries such beautiful resignation and destructive irony that it is never forgotten. A poor feast.The New Suffolk Hymnbook rests her head. & abandoned. Generations down the line the rivers shrank to trickles. released the words up again to the stony gods: In Suffolk number all riches – – A break. Rare steak. The ivory nut curio. she mutters a eulogy for her realm. The power of her perverse magic. which was what they wanted. The journalist wonders whether he is past the age of making discoveries about his subjects. (The journalist is good at his job. moved to bitter grief. The two landsleit who own the B&B invited the journalist to share their supper. likely. Just for that – it will be left to eddy along the banks. seems to encourage his waking estrangement from his profession. re-heated. travels with a packed suitcase of facts. And yet. A hangman’s. It is either a skinny turtle or a pregnant lizard. was such that the most powerful measures were required to expel it. The journalist was charmed by its crooked grin. With calm understanding of her fate. impaled. He would like to know its secret. taken to a lonely spot. Great sighs and groans. The Lizard: southernmost point of Great Britain. but the expense account grows ampler. the great drought – which lasted 73 years by treering calibration – was foretold in the queen’s life and death. In Suffolk number all riches. Under a drum-tight sky. parched hills (with the certain type of eyesight prevailing a half-millennium ago) and. Lechers after fame provoke a certain temperament of the journalist’s. which he acquired at the roadside. and nutrition-free salad. one looked out across the overabundant. The queen died badly. She was trussed up. which had held the nation in thrall for so long. the soil turned to gritty wax. According to the stories. He knew it from the start.
as a rule – his character is tepid as forgotten tea. unhappy about the gelatinous roselle in tomorrow morning’s fruit spread. In 20 years zero changes. and on the very ﬁrst day he knows. Suffolk – the sheltering landscape brushed against him like a stem full of pollen. He does not make one. Strawberry spread on toast. His biggest ﬂaw is also his best asset. Or not. offending roselle. The shops. not a doer. restless. its worshippers. His permeability keeps him awake. that a chrysalis has been crushed under a leaf somewhere. But a single great change. For if it is granted that the people of Suffolk “live in a land of numberless riches. and with it all the land’s mystery gone extinguished. or thinks he knows. plural. His tongue slides along the roof of his mouth. He consents to impressions. Because – the change might be in himself. the Jewish bachelors. when he was out driving and strolling. He is a watcher. The sticky. quiet as gravity. He will eat it because on the road the journalist eats everything.” One system of counting has not proved superior to the next – – the last several census ﬁgures & then – – After culture had taken ﬁrm root in the district. Suffolk’s black valley soil and rich sloping pasturage generated widening 208 . demands his alertness. that Cathedral. daubs of oil ﬁxed on a serene canvas ages ago.Ben Oswest to Suffolk – . Has returned to Suffolk.” it is as dearly-held that the people of Suffolk “live numberless in the land. and is appreciative of the change. eyes alight with the dream of seeing their names and his byline together. the dainty houses. It is painful to write down. bending the light in Suffolk. & today. bending for a ﬂower & tuning his ears to the sound of machines in a distant quarry. In Suffolk number all riches but mystery – – The district’s chief mystery shares a narrow space in the sleepy minds of the townsmen and women with their cherished motto – that place in consciousness where the lore of the natives slumbers and lolls all day like a big cat behind glass.
) History here perpetrated a sophistication: the size of the kingdom became conceptually dependent upon the outlandishness of the feast. and. most contrary to local sense. and offered a small gold shield to the chief whose subjects could display that which was most strange. most repugnant to local sensibilities. This is properly regarded as a defensive act. This Festival of the New evolved smartly (a model of cultural ﬁtness under these conditions) into grand tradition – one of the social congresses by which time came to be understood. nothing less than the extravagant raking of taboo would sufﬁce to win a judge’s nod. sponsored a prestige event. The land buzzed as the year swung around. encroached upon the district. crept from the forests. The ruling confederacy of royals and divines. Stories spread like the seed of wildﬂowers. wise to the threat in a juggernaut of newcomers. A thousand tribes’ worth of memory and rite ﬂowed underground. The king’s tribute gatherers sat soberly together while the New unfolded itself in 209 . (Flirtation with incest was not unknown – nor human sacriﬁce. to roar like a cataract at the appointed hour. a celebration of exotica. The human menagerie recumbent in far-ﬂung lands – the clans and their totems – stirred to the fragrance.The New Suffolk Hymnbook admiration. though not seamlessly. settled into allegiance with the original hilldwellers. Mysterious new rituals augmented the established feasts – as did immigrant shibboleths worm into democratic use – until the New itself became a ritual. cooling for a year. some bossling having carried off the tawdry shield. and inevitably to dry up again. the politics of all immigrants are the politics of entrée) shook the upstart traditions from the sky. The subsequent trample of outisders for the prize (which promised social entrée . sprouting up with dewy authenticity leagues distant from last year’s meadows. in their repertoire of foreign worship. expectations grew globose. these men knew what they were about.
adjudged. too late. The question of import was: how splendidly numberless? Metaphor rendered the census. It did not appear. two men. took the shield. and was now becalmed rather than spent. The judges. The taxmen extolled the kingdom’s abundance much as they had the year before. then they retired. and decreed the year’s taxes. Present-day reckoning of population. which overarched the whole of aboriginal life. one of the 3 calculated it a Tuesday – they yielded to what seemed divinely ordained expedience – that the savages should be thus desirous of hearing the Word! – and performed the Sabbath mass with scrupulously conserved wine and local bread. blew off like smoke). But the shrewdest observers sensed the ﬁrst tremblings of the slow billowy collapse of that vast canopy. Numberless were the people who thronged in the hills – this was happily evident to anyone with eyes. performing a noisome rite. (When the ﬁrst band of whites arrived. one woman. was inﬁnitely remote from conception. The proportions of the nation were ﬁnally to be understood by the vacuum which blew hollowly beyond its horizons. Like a furnace. that the hills were empty (though families lifted from them. to the Feast.) In the state of resplendence that the nation had attained it was unprepared to struggle against decline. by head-count. the kingdom drew. The unimaginable was its only standard of measure. like all great nations. Transubstantiation lacked vim. and it began this struggle. to those who remained. by the lands depopulated. Another troupe. merely that some had 210 . A halcyon tone enters their telling of the last chiefs – as if the empire had rolled & crested magniﬁcently through time. per custom. & a cross. ignored them.Ben Oswest chant and dance. The stories do not mourn. It hardly aroused incredulity. hitherto unguessed at. by the foreignness of those who exhibited at the Festival of the New. they were invited. with most of the crowds. Though slotted for a Thursday – some debate about this.
Reminiscence lost its place among their activities: the hill-people were preoccupied with tying the seasons together. slightly less and the bard would have avoided them. It dispersed all but the most tenacious (or least visionary?) families. Drought settled on the hills. They preferred 211 . Many celebrations. Thus was Babylon preserved – through the indulgence of the dust-scratching peasantry. enraptured. If the people had been slightly more prosperous they would have lacked enthusiasm for his stories. The Feast of the New did not count among them. ultimately. it matured during times of frequent anni mirabili. His throat channelled it. while the names of others were recessed deeply into the mouths of the old. dropped away. The bard drifted into & out of their midst. It was born of a generation of expansion. which was. Only the obscure & lazy bard. when the population. never above suspicion (his coming might bode a pestilence on the march. They cherished it to their hearts. he cadged. the faint voice of the old culture. slept with virgins. like a holy ﬂame. It was ill-suited to the mood of the subsequent orderly Götterdämmerung. Whites eventually bumpkined into the hills – a stout breed embittered by subconscious contempt for nature. guzzled & devoured. aﬂood. pendulous with spectacle but unilluminated by the true genius of the society. subsisting on parched land. A lush empire grew before their very eyes. The elasticated calendar of feasts tautened between the moons. his larynx ampliﬁed it. disgorged wonders & horrors. supplanted by the enervation of drought. They sat at his feet when they should have been sleeping. But they lived between extinction and progress. an unforgiving antagonist.The New Suffolk Hymnbook become ungeographical: language failed to reach certain hills altogether. covered great distances by unaccountable means) tended. Those which survived ﬂourished in the novel simplicity. From his mouth sang out an orotund past which displaced the arid present.
For a period immeasurable to either. like the pariahs from Eden. decided them: the promise of a violent confrontation. the farmers lived in obliteration with the bowed heirs to tales of Babylon. What the land truly offered them was a spirit to match their own. They had taken to the wilderness roads. The signiﬁcance of this furtive man’s advent lay not in the stacks of grain and gaudy fabrics which he stocked. Most important. ﬁnally. This. the wagon: not a great creaking toolbox which crushed the frontier under its wheels. early sun. grimly gleaming under the strong. the dusts rose.” contended a great sea captain of a bygone age. They were chastened by the belief that they would reap a blessing from toil on their new property. the dark proprietor (Greek? Jew? Portuguese?) sweltered at his counter. So. It was a great distance from the coast. A general store appeared at a crossroads. Inevitability gained momentum. touching the landscape with new melancholy. newfangled seed planters. withdrawal was possible here even from one another. But they deceived themselves. men who had forfeited their destinies. however. blades. and the generic facts spawned once more across a stretch of hinterland. nor in the items of greater worth – handles. forced from the coast by industrious outsiders who bore yokes of law & commerce. the native settlements were sparse.Ben Oswest deﬁance to any form of obedience. The goods baked & warped beneath the corrugated iron roof. they thought they detected in the land a gleam of secret beauty. In their souls they heartened to a challenge that they had not faced with horses and servants: the land was unbroken. The wind stiffened. machine212 . be it even to a life in which they would prosper. The enormous wagons pitched & rolled like ships. it might oppose their wishes with a mastering strength. (“Ship is mind. following ﬁrst the dirt tracks. but less romantically. then known rivers. or a shadow of latent grace.) When they arrived in what is now Suffolk (not their name for the place) they found it satisfactory. but mind. piloted at last according to hearsay.
The New Suffolk Hymnbook cut leather – but in the ﬂowing literacy of his right hand. as. the land was made their enemy. to keep to themselves. it was ignominiously shaken out over the ﬂoor – and lo! The store’s scrip had multiplied into tax notices and legal papers. The farmers had ceded (something ineffable – the grip of their secret visions) to the population of the growing town. Receipts for goods purchased turned up in the backmost hills. more tellingly. too. 213 . This much passes for history in the district. government deeds and telegrams. submitted to brandy. did the store’s scrip. Before Suffolk’s rise the scenario they faced was much the same as the farmers’: to live in the seasons. Suffolk. desponded in prison. of the natives’ plight since the original dun buildings were bound to the name. stuffed to repletion. The worm in the little scraps went undetected until the time when papers were handed out which could neither be accepted nor refused. and the many-hued issuances of a half-dozen merchants. ﬁne embroidered ﬂowers. The development of the town and its lagging countryside. from then until the present. Suffolk sent paperwork into the farming district ceaselessly. Among the farmers. the proprietor’s handwriting was folded into the pages of the great hinged Bibles in the rooms of their homesteads where meals were taken. taken amiably home. its spine threatened to crack. then twice or thrice a month. several times a year. The early merchants did not scruple against payment from natives. They worked whites’ ﬁelds. grief. But the stories of Suffolk tell stories. trekked hollowly to the barren acreages reserved for their kind. then monthly. at a popular verse. which noted a coveted item’s terms. they lack fragrance. long since incorporated as Suffolk. they sank into anger. At last. and receipts were stuffed into leather purses. There are close accounts. A piece of paper placed inside. Brieﬂy. The Good Book fattened to bursting. Fenced off it. is well-documented. It rankled there like sin.
a misguided response to suffering. Words no longer lofted. But the minutes & seconds of its transmission ticked in darkness. In this instance. in the hills. It peters out as it’s told. That the hills of the district could be called numberless. alone but for each other. Farmers delicately came to preordained agreement upon subjects which they had forgotten were lent to them.” Suffolk’s population. Neither fact nor testimonial wants – these are had copiously – but the ligature of the conjunctions which have occurred here. with tellurian hunger. light of meaning. The mystery is hauled down the generations. What it fails to supply: the animus of a moment stolen to consider the hills. The pedigree of the tradition is clear. is merely evidentiary. It became a pleasantry that the district’s population was best reckoned by the number of strides taken to reach the nearest farm. the long-interred Festival of the New ministered to the farmers. more deeply. a farce. its thirst for a living wisdom. fructifying with justness. Visitors to the Suffolk Tourist Bureau are today encouraged to register “the current population of Suffolk” by noting in the guestbook their mileage next to their names – 214 . like empty wire hangers & old mattresses in an abandoned house. During the impossibly obscure era when farmer and native dwelt. In the rippling waves of grass details shimmer and dart. which after time he presumed it had never lacked. It’s no solace to know – sympathetic understanding fails to kindle. and. The little joke betrayed the community’s chronic fear of news. into the air. the farmer yielded to his antagonist’s contours.Ben Oswest The mystery of that “unfathomable number. A new valence suffused his speech. entwinement occurred alongside separation. Even as he strove to push the other away. but dropped softly to the earth. The story amounts to: a wayward feeling for beauty. and consequently that they afforded security in anonymity – for a man might always make his fastness beyond yet another rise – counted among these subjects. barren of climax. no progress is made – that the superstition has kept up with modern times. beyond grasp.
a miserable Laodicean. Which lives on behind his eyelids. No dictionaries – fast type. One day & one night of hard word (a monumental Freudian slip! – work). this is a moment to record the comfort of handling a dictionary. Living pure lives in lives of pure words. This is the time of satisfaction after the act.The New Suffolk Hymnbook – The pleasure of re-reading one’s own bombast. but gratiﬁed not to be found a Philistine. It faces east. And yet. Of course. A dictionary’s not indispensable. The maps need redrawing. that wriggling thing which made him a poet. It’s impossible to travel with one. The weakness of the journalist for a dictionary’s brand of love – one of the traits which prevented him from reaching his secret dream. in tatters. To be a hack. They give of themselves. At the window all is quiet. Reliance on them enfeebles. The butane luminosity in their eyes. The dictionary. The hacks who lope in the streets & mash out their stories with stained ﬁngers. at rest. Big & so clumsily endearing. please. The lamp of the journalist must be the sole lamp left burning. Well. The same – ? – as the poet’s who comes across a ﬁrst poem & ﬁnds. Or not – because then one would despise one’s greatest work? Find it unbearably accomplished. one’s brain grows listless. The series on our 215 . where the adolescent joy is found. Bernards of books. A hoary tome. of course. The entries begin with capital letters. which belongs to the B&B. in his own. something killed in it. under the ﬂorid adjectival sentimentality. It renders the journalist. It represented the whole world once. its top-gilding besmirched with the dust of years.m. won’t peep in for hours yet. keep it ‘til you leave. a journalist must be pleased with himself at 4 a. The sun’s a-travailing in China. They are the St. Who lumber among the printing presses like bears. The look on the old Jew’s face – May I take this upstairs? Offended for the abruptness. To the journalist whose reputation precedes him. Now – how sadly old-fashioned. The journalist at rest. and – the key to the essay is to be found in the notes.
Then to the kitchen and. The main thing was to articulate – in more than so many words – Suffolk’s like any other place – stuffed with paradox. some interview. It’s time for another – – A break to re-read what’s been re-read. Let it not be said that the journalist ever trusted himself. Two days left. Circulated to petty thousands. They will hold. you may re-enter the room! Seven paid days to gather material. elsewhere. The beard tells all to those who look for signs. Young. A sharp glance earlier still stings mildly at the back of the scalp. The journalist rules this out. And. Satisfaction. The fellow was intelligent. marked the journalist straightaway. Tragedy is supposed to have occurred here. There you have it. & a second. like a good epigone. Thought this high tragedy once. No mystery there. the journalist will begin to cook. some truly rare fungus if possible. 4 a. The journalist imagines him naked on the bed. sprinkling liberally from his notes. of course. His tastes aren’t what passes for typical. rises in a graceful column up the sideburns. a habit of the venerated. There are few more expert chefs d’oevre in his corner of the trade. The journalist does not hide behind it so much as ﬂoat it as 216 . Tragedy requires mystery. Atypical prospects. sozzled. utterly unmysterious. And the work for the most part ﬁnished.m. less two on the ends for travel – so ﬁve days to ﬁnd the right stuff. The smoky taste of Scotch on the soft palate. A common trufﬂe. But – the notes will hold. whiskey after work. A close-cropped beard which muzzles the mouth & tapers sharply to the jawbone. The journalist sleeps alone tonight. Having picked up. Next month: the lyrical hills of Suffolk. The journalist will spend them trufﬂe hunting. The beard is handsome. Nuzzling in his soft white ﬂanks. Pride. A literary journalist. Printed with sharp serifs on ﬁne sewn cotton linen. feeling hangdog. are quite good – once the lay of the land is known.Ben Oswest national literary geography continues. judiciously. Thin & pale. however.
for his new ﬂock yearned after regular chastening. he heard the Call ring out from among the starved-eyed natives. a private museum opens Tuesdays to visitors who’ve booked. The young man was not about to miss it. he grew rich & respectable. and truly prospered. and chose Suffolk for his parish. disposed to harangue. his dream of civic order. Reaching an age at last. But his disposition changed. On the cusp of his middle years he was converted a moralist. In his youth the Rev. wearying listeners who pick up the telephone. Coffee & sunning in the courtyard. by turns.’s presence may also be felt in Suffolk’s tax & legal codes. His fame widened. The journalist makes a good living. meddle & bask. he preponderated in weighty matters of church & state. saved souls: an idealist. bequeathed by the Rev. The evenly celebrated & maligned Cathedral of Suffolk is the greatest – most infamous – of Calhoun’s latter-year works. Like faggots’ tongues – positively mathematical. A special train conveyed his effects. He rode out. rubicund & jovial as a Roman senator. The Old Parsonage Museum. more or less. delectable morseaux in hand – – On the northern outskirts of town. which was once true countryside & remains today quite rustic. His quick dark transmission of current – curiosity & something devilish. At home – indentations in the bedsheets. Not worth it in Suffolk. Think of the old men downstairs. 217 . There was need among his own people. Breakfast for two. and the town’s layout reﬂects. But the journalist disappointed him. He saw the Light: God helped those who helped themselves. Literary whore. whose coming sundered Suffolk epochally. (The Rev.The New Suffolk Hymnbook a lure – & watches & waits. please. Their tongues. he sought to live as a retired parson. Good night – – The next day the journalist and his fat conceited beaming cochon have returned in triumph. Calhoun. walked past. the singularity which placed the town on the proverbial map. later.
were erected outside the Cathedral to suggest an abundance of holy space within. climbed heavenward. was raised to support the ceiling (which bears a trefoil design – it resembles the cuspated inverse of a pleated pincushion). capped with miniature domes. snapping shut at a tremendously tall & broad lancet peak. fortiﬁed. or perhaps it merely embodies the lesson which small towns repeatedly fail to learn. in his vision. while four pillars. suffered from the frenzy of its creation. that it’s best to resist seduction by an individual. The walls of the nave. to anchor ship Suffolk in the waters of a new category of town. (It seats two thousand but no record shows that it has ever been ﬁlled. Lower down in this great shaft. Its shape. The Cathedral radiated deﬁance. ﬁt neither for God’s eminence nor his. of course. the Rev. perhaps. evocative at once of a barn’s gambrel stolidity & of Byzantium’s arched giddiness. it is the Cathedral which hoists Suffolk’s banner and carries it brightly forward. standing to the nave’s height. At the time of its consecration it was 218 . gave up the ghost six months after the ribbon cutting. ﬁlliped with disdain at the distressed townsfolk. no matter his charm & gold. which in turn supported a spire to prick the ﬁrmament. A boxy steeple was lain against the façade like a siege tower. a dial (intended. double-thick & separated by a stone’s throw. and tolled the hour to the last reaches of the district. His Cathedral. The structure’s foundation nearly overran the original property lines.” a sizeable plot which was. Within months of his arrival he acquired what he deprecated as his “erg in the village. perhaps. To the credit of his stubbornness.Ben Oswest but the Cathedral tells in the viscera. and it elevated a gabled belfry to a fantastic height.) Calhoun had found the district’s existing churches lowly. to replace the moon) shone silvery with the time. Calhoun cheated death of the usual satisfaction: the Cathedral went up in record time. on three levels. by his great wealth (which he did not hesitate to wield like a shillelagh). A forest of interior columns.
Of the eight pendulum clocks (all have stopped) three are the same. concerning the shade of Calhoun’s esteem for his possessions – did he covet them merely. boxes of table silver are stacked ﬂoor to ceiling. He left his liquid estate to the establishment of a College (now the University) near the Cathedral. dreaded an auction. the town’s dubious glory. ivory decorations. indiscriminately.) For decades a tall hedgerow and numerous quickly-maturing trees represented an attempt to foist modesty upon the structure. He surrounded himself expensively. (The Rev. so did the Museum grow. but now the town openly dares repudiation. while his ﬁxed and moveable assets were given each other.’s study. or from them derive real joy? – raises a spectral image which. & all roads lead to it. to quote the poet. unremarkable etchings crowd rare maps on the walls.The New Suffolk Hymnbook doubtful whether Suffolk could muster 2. The provisions of Calhoun’s will were somewhat eccentric. the town’s impressive shame. 219 . An undercurrent of ambiguity. A claustrophobe would suffer here. and made saleable: his Suffolk residence was to be bought with its effects. It is. display china. to stand in the Rev. It is housed today in two rooms of the old residence.) As subsequent owners found fewer uses for Calhoun’s old things.000 (white) souls. is to be warded off – the image of an SS storehouse. This is probably how it was. which no longer resembles the original structure and is inhabited by a cheerful family of four. splendid armoires open to shelves of crystal baubles. Suffolk Cathedral lords over the district without obstruction. The dismemberment of his corpus – a torment reaching past the grave. but it was perverted by mammon. The space is too small for the collection – the painstaking arrangements are foiled by an inescapable feeling of clutter – but the feeling which the museum conveys is correct. Calhoun had a collector’s eye. ﬁnally. In these rooms the Old World gleams.
nor the sough of the dead parson. to take leave of – make peace with. ghostly. to the museum’s most impressive piece. under the arches.Ben Oswest Morbid stillness clings. Elegant columns frame prodigious archways. on this last day. The old bookcase suffered riddling with Suffolk long ago. Matchless relief work endows the cornices and panels with knops.’s bookcase. draped with hallowed dimension. passed on to Elysium. 220 . and the height thereof thirty cubits. preside over the scene of its gloaming. The bookcase is Suffolk Cathedral’s secret counterpart. The time of its intended purpose. and the breadth thereof twenty cubits. The soughing of grass – raspy and dead in winter. crumbling to dust while the Hebrews suffered scattering from Israel. who slumbered afternoons away in a leather armchair & awoke to the sight of Solomon’s glory. a soughing evocative of a dry wind passing over Moab. cherubim. If. And the length thereof was threescore cubits. like that of a ruin of Rome. It looms against the back wall of the second room. It endures the sorrow of museum pieces: abandoned. ﬂowers & palm trees. it is yet a captive in abandonment. The bookcase is a model of the Temple of Solomon. the Rev. across the minute parquetry and between the deserted columns. The bookcase seems as forlorn as the original temple. Its ancient design is rendered Gothic by its present straits: it is empty of books & burdened with yet more of Calhoun’s trivialities (a dozen lead-glass vases may be counted. Not. the bookcase produced a sound – as a conch – then it would be a soughing. where the books were shelved. waving in the window of a small room. ripe and soft in summer – would wash. It speaks its moral dumbly: permanence is an idol – – There is more to be done but the journalist stilled his ﬁngers and went for a walk. and now bright. unmythical ﬁelds. especially. a dusty epergne proclaims the lopsided peace). however. bells & pomegranates.
They resolve. He didn’t give it a second look – astonishment assailed the woman in the dark interior. hummed along with him. particulate. his and the journalist’s own. he knows everything that he needs to know. The hills stopped him short. Ultimately sent out to the landﬁll with the other household debris. The madness which madness isn’t – an eminent philosopher’s assessment of his profession. He marched triumphant through parks and over bridges. His father was the sun. But he felt ﬂung at them. 221 . For a moment. nodding hours of printer and postman. He feels certain the proprietors will treasure it. He danced along like a piper. But this time – several heartstrings have been mended. the breezes. the river winked back. (!) He swung past the antique shop where. like a man lashed to the mast of a pitching ship. something nonsensical – The carnival games are gaffed! – and hear it swallowed up. No mystery? No matter! The Cathedral was spoiling for a ﬁght. broke the spell. His demure mother Earth tittered with happiness underfoot. And Suffolk’s handled. The journalist had wanted. Quick proofs – his editor is excellent – then the nictitating. to shout across the hills. It beamed with pride. He follows his route. a guéridon had been tormenting him. He strolled coolly past. He winked at the river. ﬂipped through. after a week’s time. But meanwhile the journalist is diverged from all that. The town’s excitable cottages drew back at his gay approach. And listen closely after.The New Suffolk Hymnbook (The journalist has decided not to pack the ivory-nut lizard. into a single piece.) The journalist took it all in once more. through the lens of ﬁne commercial writing. No venturing there. transposes on to his notes. The image of Suffolk. in the window. The he bowed to them magnanimously. perhaps paused over. He hummed and his cousins. He braced against the hills. But there was no need. Suddenly he felt cut from the same cloth as the elements. He sauntered back to the B&B. also. It will be a memento of his stay at the B&B.
eyes popping. the old poet’s gardener. took in the entire conversation. He is recalled to a moment (& so few like this. She levitated. He hung up. retired abruptly. She halted – a nymph which has discovered a mortal. He called it his ﬁrst true blue suit. as now. stranding his apprentice) 222 . He stepped right over and she looked right up and they fell to pieces with laughter. The journalist feels like weeping. For all the tenderness in that moment when he knew he loved himself – – Or is he just coughing up bilge again – – The gardener (who is still learning the ropes – the old one. If it does not. She grew serious with awe. When he ﬁnished his shower and she lay in the hallway on purpose. And from there. Her uncle’s gaze nabbed her. He told her it was French and kissed her on the top of her head. But his mellow voice commenced with gobbledygook instead. as a young man. His body a pleasing array of angles which she might climb. placing a telephone call. His waist-high niece charged around the corner. For several minutes after her wonder did not cease. possessed by her childhood. She perched on the bed. She hoped this would be like that time. he stood in his older sister’s bedroom. And clothed in long bolts of dark blue. the Devil has found him out.Ben Oswest Finds another temporary home. She remembered the time she had seen up his towel. Her uncle communicated in cool and liquid syllables which escaped her like water through her ﬁngers. like the soul of a mayﬂy. Her uncle’s mouth was anticipating speech. it must be clung to) unjaded and sublime – the kind he might have had more often were his hours measured in poet’s lengths. in his work. The journalist’s work evanesces. as Christian Scientists would say. Then laughter. freshly-minted fabric. then more gobbledygook. When. he simply tries to avoid the Devil. Her uncle was a splendid creature! Black wavy hair and a grin and a wink for her. because they were both absolutely innocent. she would never forget it.
helped him to develop concinnity on the inside. was not the kind. and for several moments he took the measure of the middle distance. ostensibly. The mate never left the ship. It rocked gently in the rookery of dark objects – one of the largest and. but still he tracked down the mate to ask a few hours’ leave. just what he wanted to hear: a determined jauntiness which augured failure. even less than the captain. his eyes narrowing despite the shade from his crumpled hat. He had had no good reason to disembark. when hard questions were asked. stained down in his cheeks) voiced the suspicions native to a man who relied on sailors. But the gesture had always. as now. This was a habit from his days at sea brought ashore. He issued threats and returned to his business. The light in his eyes showed that he had not forgotten what he had learned. The gap between the mate and the applicant’s bootsteps widened. answered the wrong question. Sheets of silence were riveted to the bulkheads. the Indian three times and the Paciﬁc once. by dint of its tonnage. and his face relaxed. The mate (his face a dilapidation in memory – all the expressions bled together. concerned less with an answer than with the arising of the question at all. The city lights were crazed in the water. asked to make a man doubt himself. or hard statements made. from that time of long spells between ports of call. Why had he returned to Suffolk? As he turned it over he found that words came to him which. and the question before the gardener was not so hard. He heard. especially quiet. most of the hands were ashore. anyway. The hills of Suffolk did not sparkle with the quotidian indifference of the ocean. Then. where the sun lay like a blade.The New Suffolk Hymnbook sighed and looked off. But that was not his worry. in the ring of the departing boots. the simplicity of beginnings held its appeal. 223 . it behoved a man not to drop his eyes to the deck – lack of pride was equated with cowardice – but to keep them steady on the waves. He had crossed the Atlantic a dozen times or more. The ship was docked until late the next morning. At sea.
they were swells and storms and dazzle. He felt his legs drain of liquid and dredge up the ﬁxed. This habit had earned him the name. A man took woolly delight in a woman’s naff. still pleased him the most. making a promise of rain which it might fail to keep. Oily water slapped at the wharf ’s deep concrete. He grew up relative to the ports. A sailor drank on dry land to get back his sea legs. Then. over the words he had learned for a woman’s soft. ignoring the breeze which carried the sound of the city. el Toro. went the joke. producing terriﬁc whangs. The cook rarely caroused the night before his ship left port. The sky coiled lazily. was inured to the cankers of the open sea. The oceans never changed. The Bull. twice. but the ports and cities respected time. even if he did not victual the galley until the last minute. however. ﬁll with solid balance. He mused. then his left. once again. And it was best to show leniency to a good cook. But he did not belittle weakness in others. mother ground. like sooty smoke. and would be dragging his boots back aboard as soon as exhaustion proved his equal. The cook’s face lacked secrets. before he had reached the legal age of work. nether triangle. he stamped his right boot hard. The mate. but an admission which never parted his lips was that he often felt closer to the child. a woman’s naff soothed a child burying its head. he acceded to restlessness when it pressed him.Ben Oswest Another man was joining the search for nectarous remedies. But a sailor harmed his reputation staggering around before he was drunk. on advice that he could play the stowaway should anyone ask. and the galley a drumtight heartbeat below deck. and knew him. They were a 224 . The shock numbed the base of his skull. He was far from being a loner. her naff. Naff. The city glimmered low. in other parts. He became a cook. He had ﬁrst shipped out from these briny quays. The men’s sardonic smiles had assured him no one ever would. himself. He cocked his head and listened to the hundred wharves of his tenure at sea. The evening was lush with time.
but then he was banished from the sky and fell back into his body. stirring only behind his eyelids. She did not mind. learning ﬁrst of all what he had lost. a sailor’s life came to this moment. his ear. & see the shabby. cramped room. tucked away on the desolate ship. This was what whores were paid for. He lay in the demimonde of a sailor’s night and gasped. She had sailed in his thoughts for hours. She shifted. and planned to keep her there. He was still planted deep inside her. He left the long winding jetty to salt out what was different and what remained familiar. folded carefully into sailcloth. his gasps were sobs. like the sun. and her gaze. and confusion tangles him like seaweed. He had added.The New Suffolk Hymnbook reprieve. cruciform and constant with the wild bird. But he lay like a man beaten. encouraging him to lift his head & see her face. which touched the ceiling placidly. mourning. His mouth tasted like he had held 225 . until the world relumed in his forehead. lifting against the gale. the remex of an albatross – a broad. tense with beauty. was communicated. A soft aimless song began in her throat which would be heard only once. His collection of feathers. She cooed and stroked him. wrung of its youth. sorrowful. Later. pressed to her jaw. time was a reprieve. He shuddered. He was in love. this night. He picked over the feathers. For a moment he soared. She brushed him tenderly with the ten lips of her ﬁngers. some hours before dawn. and now love prostrated him over her. and the wake slops at his ﬁerceness. pinned and thoughtful. thrummed with her patient heart. not two weeks ago. love & its second part. was conjured to him. unmolested quill. whispering. this city. prepared or no: when the vessel inside him pulls cleanly through the chop and vanishes. temporarily. Mourning broke inside him like a wave. and was learning its terms. & recover his independence. He reposed in her golden body as though he had coupled with the sun. It seemed as though he had come to agreement with another life.
his ship. from the lazy vantage of contentment – or if not contentment then of a word which a Greek had taught him during a sugar run in the Caribbean. wounded & throbbing. A truck picked him up. placidly delayed where hours of empty air should have blown. watching the countryside build and change. the reverence with which the homesick man pronounced it. When. whether the clouds refused to sift their load of rain. For days he was on the road. He did not bother to imagine how the crew would account for his absence. so very well. whether dawn had peeked in the east before he left the whore’s arms. He gazed long. ﬁnally. pulled him through a familiar nightmare. mutely. the hills of the region hailed his return with a fanfare. whether he tramped for hours in gloom.Ben Oswest a coin there. would be shaken out overboard and would ﬂap away. all seamen shipped to their horizons. She told him to dress & he obeyed. benevolent breath. in that moment. Waking or sleeping. If he had returned to the pier – he felt sure of his luck. when found. his accomplishment. or whether he walked merely. he rested his weary body on a Suffolk park bench and surveyed. everywhere 226 . He spared a wistful thought for his feathers. whether the stunted root of an urchin’s knowledge. Do you have a desire to go back to the sea? But the waters of the sea annealed around a ship like amber. which he had forgotten along with much else that was not truly important – but he remembered vividly the feeling of the word. and took gladness in the driver’s steady. accepting rides. walking. unsure of the conclusion he had reached. But fortune had put the wind in his sails. whistling and keeping to roads which rose to greet his faith in himself. The gardener’s face did not speculate. He would not remember. the state of peace which it denoted – whether the pavement ran slick & orange that night with the glow of streetlamps. spurred by a perfunctory curse. which. He began to walk. a sailor was entombed. he would have found the dull sea cow.
He would die in Suffolk and be buried here.The New Suffolk Hymnbook he looked. the activity in the hills stirred him. His story was satisfying. No. Over his grave would be sung a hymn that he had passed away. passed away. he would not go back. A scrap of moon drifted high up in the blue. He felt no need to display bravery in the face of certain death – – & not immortality. more satisfying was the conﬁrmation that he was a keeper of stories – untold stories. 227 .
This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
We've moved you to where you read on your other device.
Get the full title to continue listening from where you left off, or restart the preview.