'Look,' said Esther, ' I don't know how to explain this, I know quite well that Claudio knows he hasn't seen a werewolf or spoken to a witch, but that so great is his power of — well, of what? of self-hallucination that he can persuade himself that he might have done? No, not even that. He knows he hasn't. But —' and Esther glanced at Liz in anxiety, in embarrassment, for never in all their years of close friendship had she ever made such a confession ' — the thing is, when I'm with Claudio, I find myself believing these things myself. It's as though I know I'd better believe them. that, when I'm with him, it's safer to believe them. Does that make any kind of sense at all? They did not know then, were not to know for many years, were never fully to understand what it was that held them together — a sense of being on the margins of English life, perhaps, a sense of being outsiders, looking in from a cold street through a lighted window into a warm lit room that later might prove to be their own? Irie studied a small slice of the Chalfen family tree, an elaborate illustrated oak that stretched back to the 1600s and forward into the present day. The differences between the Chalfens and the Jones/Bowdens were immediately plain. For starters, in the Chalfen family everybody seemed to have a normal number of children. More to the point, everybody knew whose children were whose. The men lived longer than the women. The marriages were singular and log-lasting. Dates of birth and death were concrete. And the Chalfens actually knew who they were in 1675. Archie Jones could give no longer record of his family than his father’s own haphazard appearance on the planet in the back room of a Bromley public house circa 1895 or 1896 or quite possibly 1897, depending on which nonagenarian ex-barmaid you spoke to. Clara Bowden knew a little about her grandmother, and half-believed the story that her famed and prolific Uncle P. had thirty-four children, but could only state definitively that her own mother was born at 2:45 P.M. on January 14, 1907, in a Catholic church in the middle of the Kingston earthquake. The rest was rumor, folktale and myth. When three hours had passed Dorset's voice was very loud, Elizabeth's too, and Elizabeth began to talk of Rose and how she and Rose had both written poems while they were young and hers, Elizabeth's, were longer with more words and had more titles. “No,” she repeated submissively. But she continued looking at something in front of her which he could not see. ...“Then nothing,” she said (still staring through the trees, across the fields of that calm September landscape, at whatever it was that he could not see). “Nothing:...” Coast to coast, most Americans would not be sure that war was still on, that we were still there, that men and women like Jeremy were still fighting and dying, that Afghans were still fighting and dying too. Any given year you should expect certain things. You can expect to see some horrifying act of terror, for example. A new beheading of a man in orange is a shock and will make you want to never leave the house, but not if you have budgeted for it. A new mass shooting in a mall or school can cripple you for a day but not if you've budgeted for it. That's this month's shooting, you can say. And if there isn't a shooting that month, all the better. You've come out ahead on the ledger. You have a surplus. A refund. It’s like the sparrows, than many of which we are of more value, they weren’t sparrows at all. You exaggerate. They weren’t sparrows at all! Does that put our price up? I have forgotten what way I am facing. You have turned aside and are bowed down over the ditch. Things are very dull today, I said, nobody going down, nobody getting on. Then as time flew by and nothing happened, I realized my error. We had not entered a station. If I could go deaf and dumb I think I might pant on to be a hundred. I have been up and down these steps five thousand times and still I do not know how many there are. I think Effie is going to commit adultery with the Major. Do not flatter yourselves for one moment, because I hold aloof, that my sufferings have ceased. Do not imagine, because I am silent, that I am not present, and alive, to all that is going on. I stumble in a daze as you might say, oblivious to my coreligionists. Suppose I do get up? Will I ever get down? What kind of a country is this where a woman can’t weep her heart out on the highways and byways without being tormented by retired bill-brokers! The loneliness of this country and the impermanence of the people who huddle on a land that belongs only to itself. ‘Don’t misunderstand me,’ said the priest, ‘I’m just pointing out the various opinions that exist on the matter. You mustn’t pay too much attention to opinions. The text is immutable, and the opinions are often only an expression of despair over it…’ Opinions vary as to whether the doorkeeper intends the announcement that he is going to shut the gate merely as an answer, or to emphasize his devotion to duty, or because he wants to arouse remorse and sorrow in the man at the last moment. He wants me to go to the zoo because the animals are real. I told him these are zoo animals. These are animals that live in the Bronx. On television I can see animals in the rain forest or the desert. So which is real and which is fake, which made him laugh. In the dark he thinks about the game. The game comes rolling over him in a great warm wave of contented sleep. The game was lost and then they won. The game could not be won but they won it and it’s won forever. This is the thing they can never take away. It is the first thing he will think of in the morning and one part of him is already there even as he falls asleep, waking up to think about the game. I lived responsibly in the real. I didn’t accept this business of life as a fiction, or whatever Klara Sax had meant when she said that things had become unreal. History was not a matter of missing minutes on the tape. I did not stand helpless before it. I hewed to the texture of collected knowledge, took faith from the solid and availing stuff of our experience. Even if we believe that history is a workwheel powered by human blood—read the speeches of Mussolini—at least we’ve known the thing together. A single narrative sweep, not ten thousand wisps of disinformation.
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