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Authors: Austin Clarke

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BOOK: The Bigger Light
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Milestones
’, he promised himself to have Bernice’s young man, who knew everything about classical music and other kinds of music, explain it to him; the things about his moods, well, he could get that explained by the Canadian young fellow, in a “strictly philosophical way.” He could feel the music (“Man, I really have to get this piece explained. This is a serious piece of music, in truth”) doing something to his body, he could see how it quickened, and how his own pulse and heartbeat responded to it; he could see that Miles Davis was making the beat go faster, and although he could not understand that in terms of music (“Lew going have to explain that part to me, next time we talk”), yet he knew something was happening. He found himself being weakened by the music, as he had had a feeling of being soothed while in bed, and then falling off to sleep, and waking up with a start to find the radio still playing, and Dots snoring, and to discover that he had slept for only
ten minutes
and not for a lifetime. He had discovered this strange trick that time and his body were playing on him; if it was not always time by itself, then it was his body: he would be sitting reading the newspapers, and he would fall off into a doze, and from that moment when one reality ended he
would be capsized into another reality, and this new world would take him and carry him miles all over the place, sometimes to Barbados, sometimes right into the subway steps seven flights down below from the very chair in which he had been sitting, and he would romp and play, look and see, talk (for only his dreams were the loci of conversations), and then when he re-emerged back into the chair, still dressed as he had been before that first death, when the dream became death and his loneliness, life, he would be out of sorts, like a drunken man, amazed that he lived two lives, and such long ones (one longer than the other, of course, but still two lives) in such a short time. It would be about the space of three or five minutes.

He is drifting off now, because the music is like a horse cantering, and he can feel himself being carried on the rollicking flesh through the up and down canefields back in Barbados, and then it is soft, as if the horse has fallen down, but he does not experience the fall of the horse, the horse just falls and he is still lying on the horse … in his mind, he is riding Dots (“Boy, you riding me like a bloody horse,” she said when he was bothering her about something, or when he was in the same difficult mood, as he seemed to be always in, these days), and Dots, though not a horse, though not his horse, or anybody’s horse, was underneath him (“Boysie, why don’t you drop your blasted horse-stylish manners when you are talking to me!” is what she would say when he was gruff); he thinks of when she is unpalatable, when he would prefer to be riding the strange, unknown woman, who herself walks like some kind of horse; and to satisfy himself with Dots, he imagines that it is the woman in the music of his cantering thighs; and he doesn’t tell this to anyone, because it would be like murder; just as he had not told anyone of having seen his wife with the man crossing the road, his wife crossing the road with the man
holding her hand … and he sees her now, from his shielded car, from his car with the tinted windshield, and he sees her coming out of the same junky West Indian restaurant, with the orderly (he is dressed like an orderly, in white trousers and white shirt), and the man is more daring this time, because he has his arms round Dots’s waist, and there is not a car, nor a pedestrian, nor a streetcar in the road, so he could not be shielding her from any of them; Dots becomes tense, and he wants to drive the car over them, but he sits and waits and plans in his mind the attack he shall make on her as she comes through the door.

Tonight, as is his custom, he will not leave at five o’clock, because she comes home punctually at five o’clock, and because he wants to see her; tonight, this afternoon, he will be waiting for her to come through the door, and “I’m going to go up to her, and drop my fist in her blasted face, so hard that she won’t know what hit her, the bitch; a woman her age should be ashamed even to mention the name ‘man’ in front of anybody. I am going to sit down here, in the bedroom, with the lights turned off, that way she would think that I have left as usual, and when she walks into the bedroom, bram! my hand will be in her arse, in the dark, and then I am going to turn on the light and let her know what hit her, the bitch; a old woman like her, out with a man so young, horning me, a man like me! I am going to sit here peaceably, and when she comes in, we are going to talk, she will say, ‘Boysie’; and I will say, ‘Dots,’ and after this conversation, I am going to wait until she has food in her mouth and then I will say, ‘Look woman, you playing the arse! What the hell do you mean walking all over Toronto with a man?’ Or I will pretend I am sick and sleeping, and when she comes in, I will open my eyes and make her see the light …”

Boysie is in the bathroom, and it is night, very late at night, and there is no one at home but himself, and he feels lonely again, but with the same kind of tragic alienation from everything, and he is standing in front of Dots’s dresser, and he fumbles inside the drawer where she keeps her underwear, and he counts the number of pairs of panties (there were ten dirty pairs in the washbasin in the bathroom), and he sees there are six. The book of matches is still there, and the bar of soap with something written on it. He searches, expecting to find something: it is not anything about the young man who is the orderly, but it is about Dots. He does not know anything about Dots. She comes. She goes. She cooks. She cleans. He lies in bed, alive sometimes, dead most of the time. He comes out of the bedroom and pauses just before he enters the living room, for Dots has flashed through his mind, he sees her crossing a street and she is alone … and he sits back in his chair and listens to the music. The music is still
Milestones
, but before he makes himself comfortable in his brown double-breasted suit, he goes into the bedroom, for he can feel the sound that Dots makes, in the bedroom which he has just left. He goes in expecting to see her, in her aging pink quilted housecoat with the quilted appearance, in which she dresses and in which she lies, not more than five minutes after she has come home, even with her clothes under it; and in her bed, he sees the cat, barely to be seen, under the housecoat which it has somehow managed to wrap itself into.

Boysie opens his eyes and looks at his watch, and tries to understand where he is and in what state, for the music that is playing on the record player is
Milestones
, and the time is three minutes past that time at which he had first put the record on, for there are four or five other cuts on that same side; and he has gone so far in life, and yet it is only three minutes past
whatever it was. He looks at his watch; the woman has not come in spite of all the time it has taken him through his travels sitting in that chair, nodding and cantering with the music, and so he brushes his suit, makes it tidy, takes the record off, and decides to take a drive somewhere; perhaps he would see the woman coming up the steps of the subway, if he got around by that street in time …

Boysie went into a discount store nearby to buy a package of cigarettes. He saw some magazines with SEX written on their covers; he pondered on the wisdom of buying one of them, but then changed his mind. He had tried before to get a better picture, to see the bigger light about Dots and about women in general (when he used to run about with Henry, he and Henry felt they knew everything about women). But that was when neither of them was very close to a woman. Now Dots is close, so close to Boysie in the physical sense, that sometimes he wonders whether she doesn’t have a friend, another nurse’s aide, with whom she could talk, or even gossip. He feels this lack of friends in her, because more than once, when rifling through her chest of drawers, and expecting to find something, he had set his mind on finding some letter written to her by somebody. But never has Dots written anybody, and nobody so far as he could discover has ever written to Dots. But he wants to know her, inside out, and he stands now in front of the revolving rack of books, that has so many books about sex and getting to know a woman … 
Everything Anybody Ever Asked About Sex! …
was that the name? or was it
What You Always Wanted to Know About Sex and Was Afraid to Ask
? He took this book out of the rack, and as he turned the pages he noticed the manager of the store looking at him. There was a smile on the man’s face. Boysie put the book back down, and
paid for the cigarettes. The man kept smiling even as Boysie went through the door.

The envelope was stamped
SPECIAL DELIVERY
. It was an official envelope, and the address was typed tidily in a block. Her name was on it, but she could not think of anyone in the world who would be writing her. All the letters she ever received, in fact, all the envelopes she ever received, had a small rectangular window in them, which showed her name, and a part of the name of the company which had sent it to collect her unpaid balance. They were all bills: for the payments on the furniture, for the payments on the clothes which she bought from Eaton’s and for the colour television set she had just bought. The only real envelopes without windows came around Easter, and Christmas, and occasionally one would come from a European nurse’s aide who was getting married, or from a family member thanking Dots for looking after some patient, or for sending flowers. She picked up the envelope as she entered the door, and she closed the door and went straight to the window where the light was strongest to see whether she could see through the envelope and therefore have some idea of the news inside. But the light was not strong enough: it was late March, or was it April? … Dots knew only the days on which paydays fell … and it was a dull afternoon, and she had to turn on one of the table lamps. The cat emerged from the bedroom, dragging her nightgown behind it, and after bending itself into an arc, it rubbed itself against her ankles.

She got on the telephone and dialed a number. As she waited for the telephone to be answered, she wondered whether in fact the letter hadn’t been addressed to her husband; and so she looked at the name again, and saw that it said Mrs. Boysie Cumberbatch. But still, the typewriter could have made a
mistake. Boysie himself never got any letters, either; most of the envelopes in their letter box were addressed to her — except those at Easter and Christmas, and she knew that Boysie paid all his bills in cash.

“It’s me!” She had called Bernice. “Not too bad. And you? And Estelle? And the boy?” She took the telephone to a chair and sat down. She threw her shoes off her feet and the cat ran to them. The shoes were too heavy for the cat to lift or carry, but it tried nevertheless, and this made Dots laugh. “Looka, you blasted cat … I talking to this cat, here … that’s true, because sometimes I think that I myself am going mad as hell, always talking to a bloody cat! Looka, cat, looka you!” She gave the cat a slight kick. “What I called you for is, do you know anybody who would be writing me a letter in a big official envelope?”

“Wait,” Bernice said. Her voice was clear. “Let me go into the bedroom and talk to you.”

Llewellyn was visiting her. He had taken his books with him, to study, but he had not got around to doing that yet. Estelle was at the hairdresser’s, and Mbelolo was with his father.

“I could now talk,” Bernice said. “Lew was too near to me for me to hear you good enough.”

“I axe you if you could think of anybody who would write me this letter.”

“Noooo …”

“It typed, too.”

“Really?”

“Let me read you the address it have on the top. The Clark Institute … you know where there is?”

“That is the mad people’s place where they does examine you to find out if you have a mental breakdown. Did you say you get a letter from there? Perhaps Boysie getting you
committed, girl!” And Bernice laughed, just as Dots would have laughed had she made the joke. And when she sensed the silence at the other end, she said, “Why don’t you open the letter and read it?”

It was such an ordinary suggestion to make, but Dots had not thought of it.

“I know,” Bernice consoled her. “You been looking at it through the light!” She had done the same thing, many times. “Open it, man, and read it to me, then. I will keep you company as you read it, if it is bad news.”

“But before I open it, I want to tell you something, though.”

Bernice thought she was stalling for time, and she said, “Lew here. And I can’t spend too much …”

“All right, all right. I opening it, I open it!” Her hands trembled a bit, and she snatched the letter out of the envelope and shook it open (it was difficult doing it with the receiver in her hand), and with some surprise she looked at the one-line letter before she read it to Bernice. “Oh Christ, I thought this was a letter, in truth! Lissen to this.
My dear Dots, It’s been so long since we have seen each other that I wonder how you are. Yours truly, Agatha
.”

“Is that all she could think of writing to you?”

“And in a big letter this size!”

“You think she wanted to write something more?”

“Now that you mention it, I think so. We haven’t been exactly friendly to Agatha. Not since Henry, her husband, died. He and Boysie were so close! I can feel sometimes how deep Boysie must miss Henry. He don’t tell, but I know. Feelings.”

“We should really answer-back the letter, though. Even if the two o’ we sign it. I always wonder where Agaffa is, whatever happen to her! The address …”

“Clark Institute is all.”

“Poor child, you know.”

“I blamed her for killing Henry. And that is a thing that I can never understand. Whether it is she who really kill Henry, or if Henry commit suicide, as the newspapers claim.”

“That is a part of our lives that we can’t talk too much about, Dots. All we know for sure is that Henry dead. He dead a long time now. Only yesterday, Estelle and me was talking ’bout Henry. I dreams about him sometimes.”

“I never tell you that before, but I dream about Henry sometimes, too. And in some of my dreams, me and Henry are in bed together. But I won’t tell Boysie about them dreams!”

BOOK: The Bigger Light
4.17Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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