Perform Small Tasks
‘One second!’ I said – for everything can go cold in a day or hot. For a man like me, there’s an on and off bulb that does the deciding.
I had to find a red, little glowing button – that I was able to find – that was on a timer switch, to get more light on. The furniture – like worn-out stumps sticking up – had turned into shadows.
I could then see her better – the woman I had settled upon to have intermittent leisure with – Evangeline. How clean she was and how calm. I saw clearly the receptacle for logs by the fireplace filled with firewood that I knew to be far too fine for a fire.
As I say, it takes some ability to get close to the extraordinary in life, and I was at the peak of my ability back then.
Back then, Evangeline had informed me that her eldest son, having survived into adulthood, had returned to the States.
I heard the click upon his entry and saw the jump of the flat door.
The boy’s girlish mother – who could look secretive with plans wherever you put her – withdrew and then she reappeared.
Do you get the picture? – how it worked?
Evangeline glanced affectionately at her boy.
Why was I afraid I could be struck by his anger? He did ask her what those things were around my waist.
She had earlier informed me he was one of the kindest and one of the most thoughtful boys in all the world.
She carried in from the kitchen – making two trips – several small domestic appliances I did not recognise, and she put those on the credenza.
Drunk or sober I understand the introduction of an omen. I have asked myself what darker purpose is being served when a magician pulls his rabbit out of the hat – to permit a dream, I think, to fill a bubble.
I felt a tap on my back, in the middle of my back, as I hurried away, past the matron and her son, with my hollow apologies.
I had the long, uneven road to drive. Evangeline showed up in her sporty car, where I live, on the morning of the following day.
And there was something wonderful in this – it’s the whole point of the story. She didn’t look more than 16, not obviously. She hadn’t been through too much, maybe.
My rooms have golden oak furniture and floors, rather cosy, that Evangeline likely admired. I am cosy here and rich, but nonetheless, cannot afford much more tragedy or even too much more comedy to speak of – and I don’t like older children.
Understand, the woman and I had become good friends, occasionally, for about an hour and a half at a time.
She said: ‘I am not blaming you.’
My father came down the stairs and my mother, too. I imagine they overheard us conversing and they were curious.
You would think the two of them would be good together, but they are not.
I located my reserve of protocol in order to give my parents a proper introduction.
I made my hand motion – something polite – first of all – as they reached the landing.
Evangeline was addressing me as ‘Norman Darling’.
My mother said: ‘You know she was married to Jerry! She’s talking nonsense.’
‘Norman!’ Dad said. ‘I didn’t think you wanted us to see her.’
I noted Evangeline’s breasts, shoulders, arms and hands – and her forehead and her wrists – in that order – with admiration.
‘Mother, where are you going?’ I cried. Yet, I was also walking away to prevent myself from running. My kitchen, which was where I retreated to, has an island range and the beauty of this island is difficult to convey, but petty problems can seem irrelevant when I am in the vicinity of my Viking.
I was thinking Evangeline had had her say. I thought she could depart now with a light heart.
When I left my kitchen retreat – why? – and returned to the curved space of the foyer, my father was holding the newel post. My mother – in her short, striped robe with her bare legs – had, since walking out and going back up the stairs, apparently remained up there.
I rejoiced that Evangeline – and I was very moved by this – was still waiting for me and I wondered if I would rise to my own occasion.
‘Evangeline,’ I said. I could have offered her a bowl of peaches together with the plums and the wine.
From a higher position in the house, my mother shouted: ‘They’re going to clean the air conditioners first!’ The Best Air van was in the drive beside Evangeline’s blue Triumph.
But I am forgetting the point. I have forgotten the point. Hoses were brought in. The wind blew through some window and through the open front door. There was enough force in it to refresh me.
As the men came in, I saw their big work boots, so they reluctantly took them off.
The foreman was in a zone. He faced the ventilating instrument to work with one hand and with his other hand he reached back toward his helper to say: ‘Channel wrench.’
Eventually, Evangeline gave up and went home. I did not deliberately do her harm and she behaved towards me with some hostility.
In the meantime, I got a few payments recorded, made out bank deposits and checked cash accounts. At some time during these moments, I was delighted – thinking I will be an ideal ally for somebody someday. My confidence is borne in magic.
Am I not like the vanishing bead? Presto!
Place me inside of any paper cup. In due course, I am in my own pocket, when I cap, when I carry through, or when I conclude.
You have people nowadays – the men in general, who were helping the woman – and that which they should not disturb, she had put into a crate.
She put a yellow-flowered plant into the crate.
The men’s names were embroidered on their shirt pockets, but truly, there was no need to address one or another of them. A question could just be asked of one – without use of a name.
The pockets of their garments were needleworks with thread in bright white. But for Marwood, somebody had devised an orange and mustard-yellow embroidery.
The woman was standing a step aside and didn’t have much to contribute, but she looked at a man – at what he was making ready to take – and she held her hands with her palms turned away from her body with her fingers spread, as if she had dirtied herself.
At the curb, the woman’s car was an Opel, and the hood was up, and the door to the car was out, and what was its colour? It was butterscotch and a man, up to his elbows, was under the hood. Now and again he’d go back into the car and try the starter engine. Ted – that was that one.
It could be lovely the woman was thinking. It was already lonely and there were mountains and mosses and grasses and violent deaths nowadays, and injuries and punishments, and the woman finds the merest suggestion of cheerful companionship and carousal – a bit too dramatic.
Send Letters To:
London Review of Books,
28 Little Russell Street
London, WC1A 2HN
Please include name, address, and a telephone number.