Você está na página 1de 124

A PE R M A N E N T MEMBER OF THE FA M I LY

RUSSELL BANKS

Alfred A. Knopf Canada


F OR M E R M A R I N E

After lying in bed awake for an hour, Connie finally pushes back the blankets and gets up. Its still dark. Hes barefoot and shivering in his boxers and T- shirt and a little hungover from one beer too many at 20 Main last night. He snaps the bedside lamp on and resets the thermostat from fifty- five to sixty- five. The burner makes a huffing sound and the fan kicks in, and the smell of kerosene drifts through the trailer. He pats his new hearing aids into place and peers out the bedroom window. Snow is falling across a pale splash of lamplight on the lawn. Its a week into April and it ought to be rain, but Connie is glad its snow. He removes his .45- caliber Colt ser v ice pistol from the drawer of the bedside table, checks to be sure its loaded and lays it on the dresser. By the time he has shaved and dressed and driven to town
1

russell banks

in his pickup, three and a half inches of heavy wet snow have accumulated. The town plows and salt trucks are already out. The plate glass windows of the M & M Diner are fogged over, and from the street you cant see the half- dozen men and two women inside eating breakfast and making low- voiced, sporadic conversation with one another. By choice, Connie sits alone at the back of the room, reading the sports section of the Plattsburgh Press-Republican. He has known everyone in the place personally for most of their lives. They are all on their way to work. He, however, is not. He calls himself the Retiree, even though he never officially retired from anything and nobody else calls him the Retiree. Eight months ago he was let go by Ray Piaggi at Rays Auction House. Let go. Like he was a helium- fi lled balloon on a string, he tells people. He sometimes adds that you know the economy is in trouble when even auctioneers start cutting back, indicating that its not his fault hes unemployed, using food stamps, on Medicaid, scraping by on social security and unemployment benefits that are about to run out. Its the economys fault. And the fault of whoever the hells in charge of it. Connie has already ordered his usual breakfast scrambled eggs, sausage patty, toasted English muffin and coffeewhen his eldest son, Jack, comes through the door. Jack nods and smiles hello to the other diners like a man running for office and pats the waitress, Vivian, on the shoulder. He shucks his heavy gray bomber jacket and pulls off his winter trooper
2

FORMER MARINE

hat, hangs them on a wall hook next to his dads Carhartt and forest green fleece balaclava, and takes the seat facing the door, opposite his dad. I was starting to think it was time to pack that stuff away, Jack says. Connie says, One of my goddam hearing aids just told me, Battery low. Like I cant tell when its dead and thats why Im getting no reception. Man my age, his batteries are always low, for chrissake. I dont need no hearing aid to tell me. Your hearing aids talk to you? Its a way to get me to buy new batteries before I really need them. Ill probably buy fifty extra batteries a year, one a week, just to get my goddam hearing aids to stop telling me my batterys low. Seriously, Dad, your hearing aids talk to you? You hearing voices? Yeah, Im a regular schizo. No, its these new computerized units Medicaid wont subsidize. Over six grand! I shouldnt have listened to that goddam audiologist and bought the subsidized cheapos instead. With these, theres a little lady inside whispers that your batterys low. Also tells you what channel youre on. I got five channels with these units for listening to music, for quiet time, reverse focus and what they call master. Masters the human conversational channel. And theres also one for phone. I cant tell the difference between any of em, except phone, which when youre not actually talk3

russell banks

ing on the phone is like a goddam echo chamber. It does help me hear with a cell phone, though. Vivian sets Connies platter of food and coffee in front of him. That gonna be it, Conrad? Please, Viv, for chrissake, dont call me Conrad. Only my ex- w ife called me Conrad, and thankfully I havent heard it from her in nearly thirty years. Im kidding, she says without looking at him. Connie, she adds. She takes Jacks order, oatmeal with milk and a cup of coffee, and heads back to the kitchen. For a few seconds, while his father digs into his breakfast, Jack studies the man. Jacks been a state trooper for twelve years and studies peoples behavior, even his seventy- year- old fathers, with a learned, calm detachment. You seem sort of agitated this morning, Dad. Everything okay? Yeah, sure. I was just teasing Viv about that Conrad business. But it is true, yknow, only your mother called me that. She used it to give me orders or criticize me. Like she was afraid Id take advantage of her somehow if she got friendly enough to call me Connie. You probably wouldve. Yeah, well, your mother took off before I really had a chance to take advantage of her. Smart gal. She quit before I could fire her. Thats one way to look at it. You have to let it go, Jack. She didnt want the job, and I
4

FORMER MARINE

did. In the end, everybody, including you boys, got what they needed. Youre right, Dad. Youre right. Theyve had this exchange a hundred times. Vivian sets Jacks coffee and oatmeal in front of him and scoots away as if a little scared of Connie, mocking him. Jack smiles agreeably after her and shakes out the front section of the newspaper and scans the headlines while he eats. Connie goes back to the sports page. Jack says, Looks like we got through March without another bank robbery. Maybe our boy has headed south, like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. He flips the front page over and goes on to national news. After a few minutes, without looking up, Connie says, You talk to Buzz and Chip recently? Jack looks over at his father as if expecting more, then says, No, not in the last few days. Everything the same with them these days? More or less. Far as I know. Wives and kids? Yep, the same, far as I know. All is well. No news is good news, Dad. I wouldnt mind any kind of news, actually. Theyre busy, Dad. Its easier for me, I dont have a wife and kids. Plus Buzz has that long drive every day up to Dannemora and back, and Chips taking criminal justice
5

russell banks

courses nights at North Country Community College down in Ticonderoga. And they both live way the hell over in Keese ville. Dont take it personally, Dad. I dont, Connie says and goes back to reading the sports page. Jack finishes his oatmeal, shoves his bowl to one side and cups his mug of coffee in his large red hands, warming them. Hes thinking. He suddenly asks, You ever consider it a little weird that all three of us went into law enforcement? I sometimes wonder about it. I mean, it isnt like you were a police officer. Like me and Chip. Or a prison guard like Buzz. I mean, you ran auctions. Yeah, but dont forget, Im a former Marine. And youre never an ex- Marine, Jack. So that was the standard you boys were raised by, the United States Marine Corps standard, especially after your mother took off. If my father had been a former Marine, I probably would have gone into law enforcement too. I always kind of regretted none of you boys were Marines. Dad, you cant regret something someone else did or didnt do. Only what you yourself did or didnt do. Connie smiles and says, See, thats exactly the sort of thing a former Marine would say! Jack smiles back. The old man amuses him. But he worries him too. The old mans in denial about his finances, Jack thinks. Hes got to be worse than broke. Jack gets up from the table, walks to the counter and tries to pay Vivian for both their
6

FORMER MARINE

breakfasts, but Connie sees what hes up to. He jumps from his seat and slides between his son and the waitress, waving a twenty- dollar bill in her face, insisting on paying for both his and Jacks meals. Vivian shrugs and takes Connies twenty, just to get it out of her face. She hands him his change, and father and son walk back to the table, where both men pull their coats and hats on. You take care of the tip, Connie says. Make it big enough so you and I come out even and Vivian ends up forgiving me for being an asshole. Dad, you sure youre okay? I mean, financially? Its got to be a little rough these days. Connie doesnt answer, except to make a pulled- down face designed to tell his son he sounds ridiculous. Absurd. Of course hes okay financially. Hes the father. Still the man of the house. A former Marine.

It s

a t h i rt y - m i l e dr i v e

from Au Sable Forks to Lake Placid,

forty-five minutes in good weather, twice that today. The roads are plowed and passable but slick all the way over slowing to a creep through Wilmington Notch, where the altitude is more than two thousand feet and the falling snow is nearing whiteout. Its a quarter to ten when Connie pulls his white, two-
7

russell banks

wheel- drive Ford Ranger into Cold Brook Plaza. Hes filled the bed of the truck with a quarter ton of bagged gravel to give the vehicle traction in weather like this. The truck is seven years old with a rust belt under the doors and along the seams of the bed. He parks it off to the windowless side of the Lake Placid branch of the Adirondack Bank, a low pop- up building not much larger than a double- w ide. There are no other vehicles in the parking area. Nobodys using the drive- through or the ATM. He notices in the employees lot behind the building a new Subaru Outback and one of those humpbacked Pontiac SUVs he hates looking at because theyre so ugly. The windshield wipers bump across runnels of ice forming on the glass, and he knows he should get out there with a scraper and clear the ice, but decides to let the defroster heat the glass from inside and melt it. He cant linger. Too easy to run into someone he knows, even this far from home. He sets the emergency brake, grabs the green gym bag off the floor beside him and steps from the truck, leaving the motor running and the defroster and heater on high. He walks around the truck, making sure that both license plates are covered in hardened road- slush. When he gets to the bank entrance, he turns away for a second and yanks down his fleece balaclava, transforming it into a ski mask, a not unusual sight on a snowy day in a ski town like Lake Placid. Then he pulls open the heavy glass door and enters the bank. There are two slender young tellers behind the chest- high
8

FORMER MARINE

counter, girls in their early twenties who appear to be counting money back there, and a middle- aged bank officer standing at the open door of her glassed- in cubicle. All three offer him a welcoming gaze when he comes through the door the first customer of the day. The bank officer holds a notary stamp press in her hands as if its a precious gift. Shes a redheaded, round- faced woman wearing a two- piece green wool suit and tangerine- colored blouse. To Connie she looks like a social worker, the kind who interviewed him for Medicaid and food stamps. That humpbacked Pontiac is probably hers. The tellers are dressed more casually, in matching gray pleated skirts, black tights, long- sleeved button- down shirts and fleece vests. They both have mud- colored shoulder- length hair and rosy cheeks. Connie thinks they must be twins and dress alike on purpose. Buzz and Chip, who are twins, used to do that in high school. Just to confuse people, he remembers. These girls are a little old for that. He leans back against the counter and says to the bank officer, Would you look at this, please? He puts his left hand deep into his jacket pocket and holds out the gym bag with his right. She comes up to him, and he hands her the open bag. She furrows her brow, puzzled, wary, but places the notary stamp press on the counter anyhow, takes the bag and peers into it. Its empty, except for five words hand- printed in capital letters with a black Magic Marker on a white sheet of paper: FILL WITH CASH. OWNER ARMED.
9

russell banks

Oh, dear, she says. She takes the gym bag and, avoiding his eyes, passes through the low gate and goes behind the counter where the confused tellers stand and watch. Connie says to the tellers, You girls just step back a few feet from the counter there and dont touch anything. Keep your hands where I can see them. Thisll all be over in a minute. To the white- faced bank officer he says, Less than a minute, actually. Thirty seconds. Im counting, he says and commences to count backward from thirty. By the time he reaches twelve, she has emptied the contents of the cash drawers into the gym bag. She zips the bag closed and passes it to him. Its nice and heavy, about three pounds of money, he guesses. He thanks her with a nod and, still counting out loud, backs quickly away from the counter toward the door, right hand holding the gym bag, left hand deep in his jacket pocket clasping the grip of his reliable old Colt M1911 ser vice pistol. At five he is outside the bank, and at one hes in his truck, then releasing the hand brake, and he has backed the truck up and turned, unseen, and headed west out of town on Old Military Road. In the falling snow traffic is light and slow moving. A mile beyond the city limits, where the road enters the hamlet of Ray Brook, a pair of state police cruisers, their lights flashing, speeds toward him, and he pulls slightly off to the right to let them zoom past. A minute later he passes the Ray Brook state police headquarters, where until a year ago his son Jack
10

FORMER MARINE

was stationed. If Jack were headquartered there today, hed likely be driving one of those cruisers that just blew by, and he might have recognized his dads white, rusted- out Ford Ranger and wondered what he was doing way over here. But Jacks stationed in Au Sable Forks now, not Ray Brook, and thats why, after robbing four branches of three different banks in Essex and Franklin Counties in the last seven months, Connie has waited until now to rob the Lake Placid branch of the Adirondack Bank and why afterward he drove west, away from Au Sable Forks and home. He doesnt want his sons to ask him any questions that he cant answer truthfully.

He

d r i v e s t h r o u g h t h e t ow n

of Saranac Lake, looping

via Route 3 gradually north toward Plattsburgh, where he spends the rest of the morning into the afternoon hanging out at the Champlain Centre mall like a bored teenager. With the gym bag locked in the pickup in the parking lot and the money uncounted, unexamined for all he knows it could be three pounds of one- dollar bills, although more likely its tens, twenties, fifties and hundreds, like the othershe roams through the tool department at Sears and drifts on to the food court, where he eats Chinese food, and then goes to a 2:00p.m. screening of Lincoln, which he likes in spite of being surprised that Abraham Lincoln had such a high, squeaky voice. While hes watching the movie, the temperature out11

russell banks

side rises into the mid- t hirties and the falling snow dwindles and finally stops. Its almost 5:00 p.m. when he comes blinking out of the multiplex and decides its safe now to drive back to Au Sable Forks. The six- lane Northway is puddled with salted snowmelt and slush. In Keeseville, still ten miles from home, he exits from the turnpike on the wide, sweeping off- ramp to Route 9N. Keeseville is where his two younger sons and their families live and is not so damned far from Au Sable Forks that they couldnt drop by to visit once a month if they wanted to, he thinks, and in order to power the truck through the curve, Connie guns it. The quarter ton of bagged gravel in the truck bed has shifted the weight of the vehicle from the front tires to the rear, and the centrifugal pull of the turn causes the rear tires to lose their grip on the pavement and slip sideways to the left. Connie automatically flips the steering wheel to the left, the direction of the slide, but the rear end whipsaws back to the right, putting the truck into a slow 180- degree spin, back to front, until hes facing the way hes come and the truck is sliding sideways and downhill toward the off-ramp guardrail at about forty miles an hour.

It s

o n ly a c o n c u s s i o n

and a busted collarbone, Jack ex-

plains to his father. But the collarbone broke in two places and as a result is in three separate pieces. They called in one of the
12

FORMER MARINE

sports docs from Lake Placid, guy who works on ski accidents all the time. He operated and put pins in it, but given your age and bone loss, he doesnt think the pinsll hold if you get hit in that area again. He said youll have to protect your right side like its made of glass. How long was I out? Connie asks. Hes just realized that Chip and Buzz are in the room, standing somewhere behind Jack. Hes woozy and confused about where he is exactly, although he can tell its a hospital room. Hes in a bed with an IV stuck in his arm and an empty bed next to his and a chair in the corner and a window with the curtain pulled back. Its dark outside. You were out when I got to the truck, which was no more than ten minutes after the accident, Id guess. A citizen with a cell phone in a car right behind you saw the truck go over and called 911. I happened to be driving north on 87 just below the exit. You came to in the ambulance, but they knocked you out when you went in for surgery. You dont remember the ambulance and all that? Last thing I remember is the truck going into a slide. Hello, boys, he says to Chip and Buzz. Sorry to bring you out like this. They look worried, brows furrowed, unsmiling, both in uniform, Buzz in his Dannemora prison guards uniform and Chip in his Plattsburgh police officer blues. All three of his sons wear uniforms well. He likes that. Hope you didnt have to leave work for this.
13

russell banks

Chip says that he was on duty, but since that had him here in Plattsburgh, it was no big deal to come right over to the hospital, and Buzz says that he was just getting home when Jack called, so it was no big deal for him, either, to drive back to Plattsburgh. Edie sends her love, Buzz adds. Yeah, Joan sends love, too, Dad, Chip says. Connie asks about his truck. He has just remembered the gym bag. Jack says, Totaled. Northway Sunoco came over and towed it out. You really put it all the way off the ramp and into the woods. Thicket of small birches stopped you. Good thing it wasnt a full-grown tree or youd have gone through the windshield. You werent wearing a seat belt. Where were you coming from? Plattsburgh. The movies at Champlain mall. I wanted to see that movie about Abraham Lincoln everybodys talking about. All four men are silent for a moment, as if each is lost in his own thoughts. Finally Chip says, Dad, weve got to ask you a couple of tough questions. Jack and Buzz nod in agreement. Connies heart is racing. He knows whats coming. Chip says, Its about the money in the bag. What bag? Jack says, The EMT guys gave me the bag, Dad, the gym bag, when they pulled you out of the truck. I didnt open it till after you were in surgery. I wasnt prying. I opened it in case
14

FORMER MARINE

there was a bottle in it that mightve broke or something. Although I dont think you were drinking, he adds. No, I wasnt! Not a drop all day! It was the snow and ice on the road that did it. Chip says, We need to know where you got the money, Dad. Theres a lot of it. Thousands of dollars. Buzz says, And we need to know why you were carrying your forty-five. Its not illegal, Connie says to him. Not yet, anyhow. Jack says, But the gun and the money, theyre connected, arent they, Dad? Ive been putting two and two together, you know. Connecting the dots, like they say. For instance, wondering where you got the money for those hearing aids that Medicaid wouldnt pay for. Im doing okay money- w ise. I had some savings, you know. Buzz says, I know what goes on inside prison, Dad. Its worse than anything you can imagine. I dont want you there. But youre looking at hard time. Armed robbery. Youll be there the rest of your goddam life. What the Christ were you thinking? Of the three Buzz is the only one who looks sad. Jacks face and Chips show no emotion, not even curiosity, but thats because theyre trained police officers. Connie says, I dont know what you guys are talking about. Buzz says, Dad, what the hell do you want us to do? What
15

russell banks

do you think we should do? Whats the right thing here, Dad? You dont have to do anything. As an American citizen I can carry my ser vice pistol if I want, and I can carry my money around in cash in a goddam gym bag if I want. Who can trust the goddam banks these days anyhow? Jack says, Its not your money! It belongs to the Adirondack Bank branch in Lake Placid that was robbed this morning. Robbed by a guy in a ski mask and a Carhartt jacket with a gym bag that had a note in it that said, Fill with cash, owner armed. The notes still in the bottom of the bag, Dad. Under the money. I checked. You checked? So you were snooping? Invading my privacy? Buzz says, Jesus Christ, Dad, make sense! Theres two of us standing here who can arrest you! Is that what you want? To be arrested by your own sons? And make the third your prison guard? Connie looks across the room at the window and through the glass into the darkness beyond. He wonders if its late at night or very early in the morning. He says, Sounds funny when you put it that way. Like I wanted it to happen. But its not what he wanted to happen. When his sons were little boys and their mother abandoned them all so she could go off to live with an artist in a hippie commune in New Mexico, Connie held it together with discipline and devotion to duty. All by himself, he held the fort and took perfect fa16

FORMER MARINE

therly care of his sons. And after they graduated high school he paid for Jack to go to college at Paul Smiths and for Buzz at Plattsburgh State for those two years when he wanted to be a radiologist. He paid for Chips Hawaiian honeymoon with Joan. He even took care of them when they were in their early thirties by taking out a second mortgage and home equity loan, borrowing against his trailer and the land in Elizabethtown he inherited from his father, so his sons could buy their first houses. He wanted to take impeccable care of his sons, and he did. And after the boys grew up and no longer needed him to take care of them, he planned on continuing to hold the family together by being able to take impeccable care of himself. That was the long- range plan. They would still be a family, the four of them, and he would still be the father, the head of the household, because youre never an ex- father, any more than youre an ex-Marine. But the way things turned out, he cant take care of himself. How can he explain this to his sons without them thinking hes pathetic and weak and stupid? First the real estate market tanked, and neither the trailer nor the land his father left him was worth as much as he owed on them, so even if he wanted to, he couldnt sell the properties for enough to pay off the loans and move into a government- subsidized room or studio apartment in town. Whod buy his trailer and land anyhow? Hed still owe the banks tens of thousands of dollars and would have to go on making the monthly payments. Then he lost his job at
17

russell banks

Rays Auction House. Without it he could no longer make the payments to the banks, and when he missed two consecutive months, the banks lawyers threatened to seize his trailer and the land. He was about to become an ex- father. How late is it? he asks. Jack says, Late. Quarter of three. What do you want us to do, Dad? Buzz says again. Connie asks them what theyve done with the money, and Jack says its still in the gym bag, which he put on the shelf in the closet of the hospital room, where they hung his clothes and coat. What about my ser v ice pistol? Wheres it at? A mans gun is not to be disturbed, especially when the man is your father and a former Marine. Its in the bag with the money, Buzz says. So nobody else knows about this yet, except for you three? Jack says, Thats right. Connie says, Then nobody has to do anything about this tonight, right? Its late. You boys go get some sleep, and tomorrow the three of you sit down together and decide what you want to do. Its your decision, not mine. I know that whatever you do, boys, itll be the right thing. Its what I raised you to do. They seem relieved and exhale almost in unison, as if all three have been holding their breath. Buzz reaches down and
18

FORMER MARINE

tousles the old mans thin, sandy gray hair, as if ruffling the fur of a favorite dog. He says, Okay. Sounds like a plan, Dad. Yeah, Chip says. Sounds like a plan. Jack nods agreement. Hes the first out the door, and the others quickly follow. They catch up to him in the hallway, and the three walk side by side in silence to the elevator. They remain silent in the elevator and down two floors and all the way out to the parking lot. They stop beside Jacks cruiser for a second and look back and up at the large square window of their fathers room. A nurse draws the blind closed, and the light in the room goes out. Jack opens the door on the drivers side and gets in. You want to meet for breakfast and figure out whats next? Where? Chip asks. Ive got the noon- to- nine shift, so breakfast is good. M & M in Au Sable Forks at eight? The old mans favorite breakfast joint. I can make it okay, Buzz says, but I have to be on the road to Dannemora by nine. Chip says, I guess we already know whats next, dont we? Buzz says, His pistol, is it loaded? I didnt check, Jack says, getting out of the car. Buzz is already walking very fast back toward the hospital entrance, and Chip is running to catch up, when from their fathers room on the second floor they hear the gunshot.

19

A Permanent Member of the Family


By Russell Banks
A sterling collection of short stories from the author of Rule of the Bone and The Sweet Hereafter--his first in almost fifteen years--including six never-before-published works. One of our most prestigious writers, Russell Banks is a literary icon whose works probe the recesses of the human condition. His novels and stories offer rich portraits that are profound and deeply resonant--appearing regularly in anthologies and collections such as The Best American Short Stories and The PEN/O. Henry Prize Stories. This collection of twelve short works showcases this master at the peak of his intuitive powers. As he did in such works as the classic The Sweet Hereafter, the revered Rule of the Bone, and the haunting Lost Memory of Skin, Banks limns provocative and morally complex themes with pathos and sharp insight. Each of the stories in this powerful collection demonstrates the range and virtuosity of his narrative prowess and startlingly panoramic vision. A Permanent Member of the Family is a stunning addition to the canon of a writer "whose great works resonate with such heart and soul" (Janet Maslin, The New York Times).

Buy a copy of A Permanent Member of the Family Hardcover Amazon | Indigo eBook Amazon Kindle | Kobo | Sony Reader | iBookstore | Google

Excerpted from A Permanent Member of the Family by Russell Banks. Copyright 2013 by Russell Banks. Excerpted by permission of Knopf Canada, a division of Random House of Canada Limited. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

THE SON OF A CERTAIN WOMAN


WAYNE JOHNSTON

alfred a. knopf canada

F S S

ost of the people who knew my mother either slept with her or wished they had, including me, my aunt Medina and a man who boarded with us; though he was neither old nor someones father, he went by the name of Pops. I know thats ambiguous, but its better left ambiguous for now. As for me wanting to sleep with my mother, if you disapprove, try spending your childhood with a face that looks long past its prime, with hands and feet like the paws of some prehuman that foraged on all foursand then get back to me. Or better yet, read on. Its hard to describe what your own face looks like. Its hard to be honest, but its also hard, period, because most faces defy description. Mine inspires description. They used to say that the Inuit had a hundred words for snow. Thats about as many ways as my face has been described. Someone once told me it looked as if it had been worked on by an abstract tattoo artist. A boy asked me

wa y n e j o h n s t o n

if my mother had eaten more than the medically recommended amount of beets on the day she had me. Another said that I should wear a mask three hundred and sixty-four days of the year and go outside without one only on Halloween. You may have seen people with birthmarks like mine. Something like mine, anyway, for mine are at the far worst end of the spectrum. Doctors call them port wine stains even though no one, when they see one, thinks of port. Theyre also described as strawberry coloured, even though theyre not. My mother said they call them strawberry to put the best face on it, then apologized for what she said was an unintended pun. When asked, I would try to explain that my birthmark was called a birthmark because it was discovered at birth, not because my face was marked by birth, but most people couldnt let go of the idea that something must have gone wrong as I was being born. My mother said they didnt like the idea of a fetus that was beetfaced, just lurking there in her womb, waiting to come out and spoil everything, because it made my birthmark seem more like Gods mistake than hers. She added that people didnt like the idea of fetuses at all, so it was doubtful that one with a face that could stop a clock would change their minds. For my first two weeks I was thought to have some kind of rare congenital syndrome. What I in fact had was the benign version of that syndrome which mimics the real thing for a short while after birth until the most sinister features simply fade away and all that remain are port wine stains and, in my case, oversized hands and feet. The false syndrome is even rarer than the real thing. Its called False Someone Syndrome. FSS. The Someone stands for three someones, three doctors with hyphen-joined last names who convinced my mother and the doctors at St. Clares that I was doomed. The more names in front of a syndrome, the worse it istwo hyphens, three names, a syndrome that took three doctors to discoveror invent, as its often seemed to me.

The doctors warned of possible complications that might manifest as I grew older. The stains, the ones on my face especially, might darken, spread, swell, blister, become infected, require tending to by dermatologists, the nearest of whom was in Halifax, five hundred miles of the North Atlantic away, to the west of St. Johns, which itself is at the far eastern end of the island of Newfoundland. People like me are apparently just one gene away from some major disability, and we so closely resemble those who have that disability that we are often mistaken at birth as having it. The only way to be sure is to wait to see if the sinister symptoms go away in a couple of weeks. My mothers doctor didnt wait two weeks. He told her I had Someones Syndrome, told her I was unlikely to make it through my teens and would have to live in a special home of some kind. But two weeks latertwo weeks I spent in hospitalhe told her that I had FSS, a kind of watered-down version of the syndrome. I had an overabundance of blood-engorged capillaries that, luckily for me, stayed clear of my brain. She told me that when he gave her word of what she called my reprieve, she cried more than when she thought I was as good as gone, then sought him out and told him he was a watered-down version of a doctor. She said it wasnt like finding out that Id been healthy all along, but as if Id been dead and had come back to life merely because someone had changed his mind. I was so happy, Perse, she said. The doctor seemed oblivious to the change in my mothers mood, so thrown off was he by her attractiveness. A couple of weeks after having a baby and she looked, he said, like Elizabeth Taylor. My mother pointed to his wedding ring with the finger on which she wore her engagement ring. Flustered, the doctor then said that he was thrown off in his diagnosis of me by the local gigantism that was almost always a symptom of the real syndromelocal gigantism not meaning that you grow to eight or nine feet tall, but that parts of you are oversized, most often the extremities. In my case, as I said, my

wa y n e j o h n s t o n

hands and feet werein addition to being stained like my face larger, which was better than having just one or two toes or fingers that were oversized, as is sometimes the case, and which would have made it necessary for me to have custom-made, and very odd-looking, gloves and shoes. I know youre wondering if a certain other part of me was oversized. It wasnt, but that didnt stop people from assuming that it was, or speculating, or gossiping about it, and of course it didnt stop me, once I reached a certain age, from claiming it was oversized. My large hands looked as though they were stained with blood, front and back, and flopped aboutor so it seemed to meon the ends of my wrists like empty gloves attached by a string lest I lose them. Hairless hands the size of a grown mans, a butchers begrimed and exfoliated by his profession, they might as well have been grafted onto me. They barely fit into the pockets of my slacks and my blazer, and when I withdrew them, my pockets turned almost completely inside out. I always looked as if I were wearing shoes or boots that were far too big for me, boots handed down from a father or much older brother because my parents couldnt afford to buy me ones that fit. Hands and feet like fins I had, except there was no webbing between the fingers and the toes. My red feet made it look as if Id stood for far too long in ankle-deep, scalding water. I had a swollen lower lip of the sort associated with a lack of intelligence and that made me speak as if there was still some freezing left from a trip to the dentists. What did the people of St. Johns see when they looked at me? A slobbering, jabbering aberration, I suppose, whose mind, character and personality must likewise be aberrant, altered for the worse by whatever something had marred me from the moment of my conception, some God-willed conflux of mishaps in my makeup, in the chaos that attended my creation. That my mother named me before the good news has always made me feel a little as though I bear someone elses name, that of

the poor infant who lived for just a few weeks and whose death was not mourned but celebrated. Sometimes, perverse though it seems, Ive found myself feeling sorry, even guilty, about that other, helpless Percy whom I supplanted, Percy the First, whose reign was brief, illusory. My mother told me she had chosen the name Percy before I was born. Percy in case of a boy. I named you after the poet, Percy Bysshe Shelley, she said. You came this close to going through life named Bysshe. So I missed total catastrophe by a genetic whiskerand wound up with a watered down catastrophe. Despite countless reassurances, I worried that this whisker in my makeup would wither or be worn away and the real version of the syndrome would be activated. I told my mother I had heard someone say theres a first time for everything. Its just an expression, Perse, she said. There isnt a first time for everything. Most things have never happened and never will. But what if it happens? It cant happen. It wont happen. It has never happened and it never will. During the first two weeks Id spent in hospital after I was born, my mother believed that she would never take me home, that I would never speak, that I would be blind, and that my other senses would be almost as badly compromised. She believed that she would visit me in a home as often as she could stand to for however long I had on earth. And the prospect of all this hit her, she said, just seven months after my father had lit out for what he must have thought was greener grass.

y mother still wore her engagement ring. Call me Miss Havisham, M she often said, though at the time I didnt know what she meant.

wa y n e j o h n s t o n

My father ran off when my mother was two months pregnant, making me the bastard child of Penny Joyce. Born out of wedlock, though my parents were engaged. My mother changed her last name, which had been Murphy, to Joyce. It was wrongly assumed she did this because, even though her fianc Jim Joyce had left her, she still loved him and wanted their child to bear his name. I like to wear the engagement ring, she said. It has a discouraging effect on men, those who know me and those whod like to. The boys at school said it was because my parents couldnt wait for marriage that I was born beet-faced. Some said that it was because my mother couldnt wait, a woman who wouldnt take no for an answer from her fianc. They had planned to marry on the one-year anniversary of their engagement. Although it was the general opinion that making your fiance pregnant would not be held against you in the long run, it being so common, the widely repeated version of the story was that Jim Joyce had run off out of shame for what hed done. But the most widely held belief was that there must be something more to the story, that perhaps I was not Jim Joyces son, which he would have been certain of if he and my mother had never done it or had done it at a time that did not jive with that of her pregnancy. My mother, if not exactly regarded with suspicion, was the subject of many wink-and-nudge jokes and much skeptical speculation. The truth is that Jim Joyce is, or washe might be long gonemy father. There will be no surprise revelations to the contrary. The eternally engaged Penelope Joyce, a fiance forever. She had a Gallic complexion, was said to be descended from the Black Irish, the children supposedly born from the mingling of those who survived the sinking of the Spanish Armada with Irish women who took them in after the British blew their fleet to smithereens, Spaniards who crawled, swam, thrashed and washed ashore on the east coast of Ireland and were hidden by the English-loathing Irish. There was not a single authenticated

instance of this having happened and therefore no recorded instances of Black Irish emigrating to the New World, but about one in ten Newfoundlanders was Latin-looking for no other even half-convincing reason that anyone could name. My mother was one of the ten percent, or rather one of the five percent of exotic, hot-blooded, passionate, reputedly fuck-loving women. The Catholic Black Irish were known as Black Micks to Protestants, and even to those who lived on the Mount. I was not a Black Mick. Jim Joyce wasnt one. Genetically speaking, having a Black Mick mother didnt make you more likely to be a Black Mick than anyone else. That portion of me that was not port wine coloured did not bear the complexion of someone long tanned by the sun. It bore the complexion of someone who, like most Newfoundlanders, was long deprived of sunlight. My hair was not as slick and black as my mothers, nor my eyes as dark as hers. Many people on the Mount who didnt know, or pretended not to know, what Black Irish meant took it to mean that blacks from Africa perched somewhere, somehow, in the family tree, that my mother was coloured, that her being coloured had something to do with my being miscoloured; how much mixing of races could there be before the result was a calamity like Percy Joyce? Priests, nuns and other missionaries were dying in Africa in an effort to convert the pagans of that continent to Christianity, and here at home were the Joyces, unconverted blacks or coloureds of some kind, my mother a recalcitrant, non-churchgoing maverick and me an unbaptized, non-denominational renegade, walking therefore the high wire above the abyss of damnation, liable to fall at any time yet allowed to go on working without the net that others (including my mother) hadthe safety net of baptism by which the fallen are caught far short of Hell. The thing about rumours, half-truths, misconceptions, is that people believe them all, so it doesnt matter if one contradicts the otheryou are credited and blamed as if all of them are true.

wa y n e j o h n s t o n

I was black. I was a Mick. I was a Black Mick whose face just happened to be purple. I was a Catholic because my mother was onethe whole not being baptized thing was just a technicality. But my mother was a lapsed Catholic, which was worse than being non-Catholic. There was hope for non-Catholicsthey might someday be convertedwhereas someone who had been shown the truth and had turned away from it, well, that was what rebel angels such as Satan and Lucifer had done. My mother was looked down on by some for being a Black Mick, a sexual animal, a descendant of the same people as the Spanish fishermen who, smoking their foul-smelling cigarettes, prowled the St. Johns waterfront in search of whores. She was lusted after by most men for having that little bit of Spanish blood that supposedly made her such a fire-fuck. I often compared myself to my mother. The facial stain extended from my scalp to within about an inch of my Adams apple, which made it look as if every other inch of my torso must be thus discoloured, even though I have no other stains on it except a small one that has my belly button at the centre. My mother was relieved that I had no stains on my backside or on what she said might be considered the worst possible place. I sometimes complained of the unfairness of the stain on my face, which could just as easily have been discreetly located on the soles of my feet or in my armpits, but my mother reminded me of how close I had come to a life in which the location of my stain would have been the least of my problems. And my mother? My mother was five-eight, big-breasted, wide-hipped, bust and waist in perfect proportion, full-lipped, high-cheekboned, the Sophia Loren of the Mount. I can only faintly remember a time when my ardour for her was not at least equal to the most Penny Joycepining, Black Irish cuntcoveting, balls-aching adolescent on the Mount, the name for the hill on which St. Johns is built. And forget Freud. If Mrs. Clancy next

11

door had been my mother, I wouldnt have, couldnt have, thought of her in that way. Id be happy to trade my looks for yours, Medina said to my mother. Would you be happy to trade your looks for mine? I asked my mother. Sure I would, squirt, she said, and kissed me on top of the head. Youre afraid to kiss my cheek, I said. And suddenly she was stamping my face all over with kisses as if it were a well-travelled passport. Kiss, kiss, kiss, kiss. Medina, my aunt, Jim Joyces sister, had a kind of Betty Boop look: short, tightly curled black hair, round, dark, lashy eyes. She was more attractive than she gave herself credit fortall, largeboned, with long, lanky legs that were a touch too thick just below her bum. I was first known throughout the neighbourhood as the Joyce Baby, a euphemism that stood both for my stain and for my father being on the lamthe expression used until it was clear he wasnt coming back. When I was old enough to walk with my mother about the neighbourhood, I became known as the Joyce boy. My mother said people made too big a deal of my birthmark. She said they probably thought that if Helen Keller had been given the added burden of my limbs and face, shed never have amounted to anything. Some thought that physically manifested within me were the qualities of the sort of man who would desert his pregnant fianceand so I would forever be a reminder to the world, as well as to my mother and myself, of his inexplicable offence though my mother also thought that people believed she was somehow to blame.

The Son of A Certain Woman


By Wayne Johnston
Longlisted for the Giller Prize Percy Joyce, born in St. Johns, Newfoundland, in the fifties is an outsider from childhood, set apart by a congenital disfigurement. Taunted and bullied, he is also isolated by his intelligence and wit, and his unique circumstances: an unbaptized boy raised by a single mother in a fiercely Catholic society. Soon on the cusp of teenagehood, Percy is filled with yearning, wild with hormones, and longing for what he cant havewanting to be let in...and let out. At the top of his wish list is his disturbingly alluring mother, Penelope, whose sex appeal fairly leaps off the page. Everyone in St. Johns lusts after herincluding her sister-in-law, Medina; their paying boarder, the local chemistry teacher, Pops MacDougal; and...Percy. Percy, Penelope, and Pops live in the Mount, home of the citys Catholic schools and most of its clerics, none of whom are overly fond of the scandalous Joyces despite the seemingly benign protection of the Archbishop of Newfoundland himself, whose chief goal is to bring little Percy Joyce into the bosom of the Church by whatever means necessary. In pursuit of that goal, Brother McHugh, head of Percys school, sets out to uncover the truth behind what he senses to be the complicated relationships of the Joyce household. And indeed there are dark secrets to be kept hidden: Pops is in love with Penelope, but Penelope and Medina are also in lovean illegal relationship: if caught, they will be sent to the Mental, and Percy, already an outcast of society, will be left without a family. The Son of a Certain Woman brilliantly mixes sorrow and laughter as it builds toward an unforgettable ending. Will Pops marry Penelope? Will Penelope and Medina be found out? Will Percy be lured into the Church? It is a reminder of the pain of being an outsider; of the sustaining power of love and the destructive power of hate; and of the human will to triumph.

Buy a copy of The Son of A Certain Woman Hardcover Amazon | Indigo eBook Amazon Kindle | Kobo | Sony Reader | iBookstore | Google
Excerpted from The Son of A Certain Woman by Wayne Johnston. Copyright 2013 by Wayne Johnston. Excerpted by permission of Knopf Canada, a division of Random House of Canada Limited. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

CRAIG DAVIDSON CATARACT CITY


a Novel

doubleday c anada

duncan diggs
-

f the 2,912 nights I spent in prison, two were the longest: the first and the last. But then, most cons would tell you the same. That first was endless, even more so than those long-ago nights in the woods with Owen when the wind hissed along the earth and the darkness was full of howling. In the woods an animal might rip you to shreds, sure, but it had no goal other than to protect itself and its offspring. The Kingston Pen housed animals whod flatline you for looking at them cockeyed or breathing their air. My cot felt no thicker than a communion wafer, coils corkscrewing into my spine. Penitentiary darkness was different than the outside-the-walls variety. A prison never achieves full black: security lamps forever burning behind mesh screens in the high corners of the cellblock, hourly flashlight sweeps. Your eyes become starved for true nightanything is better than granular, gummy semi-dark where shapes shift, half glimpsed, at the edges of your sight. Still, you get used to it, in time. You get used to everything. Then comes that last night. Wed talk all about it, you know?

craig davidson

Some guys had been in and out a few times; it didnt mean as much to them. But for most of us it was . . . listen, its like my buddy Silas Garrow says: We all owe, and were all paying. What else is prison but the repayment? Then they set you loose. But some part of you figures you havent quite paid enough. Youve paid what the law demands, sure, but some debts exist beyond that. Blood dues, you could say. And those arent collected in the usual way, are they? Those ones tiptoe up behind you like a sneak-thief. That last night I lay in my cota new one, still pricklythinking Id die. The dread certainty entombed itself in my skull. It wouldnt be anything crazy, nobody was going to stab me in the neck with a sharpened toothbrush or anything like that. No, itd be a boring and commonplace kind of death. An itty-bitty shred of plaque might detach from an artery wall, surf through my bloodstream, lodge in a ventricle and kill me dead. That would be fair and right, too, because Id killed a man myself. A fair one-to-one transaction, blood cancelling blood. Fairer still that it should happen in the hours before my release. Youve got to figure thats just the way such debts get repaid: with a gotcha. I mustve sweated off half my body weight that night. You couldve wrung my cot like a sponge. When the first wave of sunlight washed across the cell floor . . . to be honest, I didnt know what to make of it. I could still die two steps outside the gates, I guess. Thatd meet the accepted terms just as well. And so it happened that one afternoon, nearly eight years after Id scrubbed with delousing powder and donned an orange jumpsuit, my prison term ended. I collected the items Id been admitted with: $2.32 in change, half a roll of cherry Life Savers stuck with pocket lint. I shook a few quarters out of the manila envelope and slid them into the prisons pay phone.

cataract city

It was a surprise to everyone who I called. Truth? I surprised myself. Exiting the penitentiary was a shocking experience. Maybe its meant to be. Two guards led me down a tight hallway, hands cuffed. A steel door emptied into a small yard, its clipped grass shadowed by the high wall. Jesus, grass. One guard removed the cuffs while the other stood with a shotgun at port arms. I rubbed my wristsnot because the cuffs were tight but because Id seen it done in films when the jailers took the cuffs off a criminal. Which I was. The fact cold-cocked me. For the past eight years Id been a red fish swimming in a tank with other red fish. But Id be freed into a sea of blue fish, law-abiding fish, and I was fearful Id stick outthe prison bars permanently shadowing my face, even in clean sunshine. The guards opened another door set into the grey wall. I walked between them. No tearful goodbyes. The door locked softly behind me. I stood in an archway ten feet from a main road. The Saint Lawrence Seaway was a strip of endless blue to the south. Cars motored up and down the hill, entering and exiting my sightline with strange suddenness. I hadnt seen anything move so fast in eight years; my eyes needed to adjust. I took a few tentative steps. A tight group of onlookers clustered on the far sidewalk, gawking at me. Id heard about these people; they hung around the gates hoping for this exact sightthe first fumbling steps of a long con as he squinted into the new sunlight, his legs trembling like a newborn foals. Ghouls. I ought to flip them the bird! But the idea of doing so filled me with shapeless fearI pictured one of them making a call, then the prison doors opening to swallow me up again.

craig davidson

What charge? A red fish failing to swim submissively amongst the blue fish? Owen leaned on the hood of his Lincoln, his right kneethe bad oneslightly bent to take the weight off. Thanks for coming, I said. His face tilted upwards, smiling at the sun. Hop in, man. The Kingston Pen stood atop a hill, a monstrosity of conical turrets and razorwire. Id forgotten how beastly it looked from the outside. I unrolled the car window. Wind curled over the earth, pulling up the smell of springtime grass. I inhaled deep, dizzying breaths. Owen drove down a switchback and hit the highway. My breath came in a shallow rushI was nearly hyperventilating. Stands of Jack pine blurred into a green wall topped by a limitless sky. I hadnt seen unbroken sky in so long. Its too easy to forget the sheer size of the world. We didnt speak at all until we hit Cataract City limits. It wasnt uncomfortable. So, Owen said, do I need to watch my ass? Well, old buddy, its like this. Every night for the past eight years Ive lain in bed with a three-hundred-pound schizo squealing in his sleep underneath me. You figure Id want to wrongfoot you if it meant winding up back with all that? Owen said: Fair enough. We reached our old street, driving past the house Owe used to live in. Not much had changed. The cars were rustier. I got out, then leaned in through the open window. Theres something Ill want to talk to you about. I thought we just settled that. Yeah, we did. Dead issue. This is something else. Remember what side of the law Im on, Dunk. I cocked my head. Arent we on the same side?

cataract city

He gave me a quick half-smile. Of course, same side. Run it by me any time. The front door to my parents house was locked but the key was hidden under a chunk of pinkish granite in the flowerbed, where itd always been. The house was untouched: same photos in their familiar frames, floorboards squeaking in the same spots they had when as a teenager Id sneak out to watch the stock-car races. The TV was new but the fridge was the same faded green number my folks had owned since Moses wore diapers, running on a compressor my dad scrounged from the Humberstone dump. A note sat on the kitchen table, written in Moms neat cursive. Sorry not to be home, Duncan. Both at work. Make yourself at home and this IS your home, for however long you need it. Love, Mom & Dad. My room was pretty much as Id left it. The poster on the wall of Bruiser Mahoney was yellowed and curling at its edges, but the sheets on my bed were fresh. I knelt at the closet door as Id done so many times as a boy and peeled back a flap of carpeting. Pried up the loose floorboard and took out the cigar box my father had given me: Sancho Panza, it said. My dad had passed it around the waiting room after my birth, back when smoking in hospitals wasnt a crime. I sat on the floor cross-legged, opened the lid and pulled out an old Polaroid: Me and Owe and Bruiser Mahoney, snapped in the change room of the Memorial Arena. I turned it over, read the words on the back. To Duncan and Dutchie, two warriors in the Bruiser Mahoney armada. Yours, BM. I lifted out the boxs final item. It had remained in my backpack next to my hospital bed when I was twelve. Nobody had bothered to poke through the pack: not the cops, not my folks, nobody. When

craig davidson

my parents drove me home from the hospital Id placed the item in the box under the floorboards, where itd sat now for . . . how long? Over twenty years. The silver finish was tarnished but the weight was true. I cracked the cylinder, spun it, spellbound by the perfect coin of light that glinted through each empty chamber.

Cataract City
By Craig Davidson
Shortlisted for the Giller Prize

Owen and Duncan are childhood friends who've grown up in picturesque Niagara Falls--known to them by the grittier name Cataract City. As the two know well, there's more to the bordertown than meets the eye: behind the gaudy storefronts and sidewalk vendors, past the hawkers of tourist T-shirts and cheap souvenirs live the real people who scrape together a living by toiling at the Bisk, the local cookie factory. And then there are the truly desperate, those who find themselves drawn to the borderline and a world of dog-racing, bare-knuckle fighting, and night-time smuggling. Owen and Duncan think they are different: both dream of escape, a longing made more urgent by a near-death incident in childhood that sealed their bond. But in adulthood their paths diverge, and as Duncan, the less privileged, falls deep into the town's underworld, he and Owen become reluctant adversaries at opposite ends of the law. At stake is not only survival and escape, but a lifelong friendship that can only be broken at an unthinkable price.

Buy a copy of Cataract City Hardcover Amazon | Indigo eBook Amazon Kindle | Kobo | Sony Reader | iBookstore | Google

Excerpted from Cataract City by Craig Davidson. Copyright 2013 by Craig Davidson. Excerpted by permission of Doubleday Canada, a division of Random House of Canada Limited. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

The Luminaries

E L E A N O R C AT TO N

M E RC U RY I N S AG I T TA R I U S

In which a stranger arrives in Hokitika; a secret council is disturbed; Walter Moody conceals his most recent memory; and Thomas Balfour begins to tell a story.

The twelve men congregated in the smoking room of the Crown Hotel gave the impression of a party accidentally met. From the variety of their comportment and dressfrock coats, tailcoats, Norfolk jackets with buttons of horn, yellow moleskin, cambric, and twill they might have been twelve strangers on a railway car, each bound for a separate quarter of a city that possessed fog and tides enough to divide them; indeed, the studied isolation of each man as he pored over his paper, or leaned forward to tap his ashes into the grate, or placed the splay of his hand upon the baize to take his shot at billiards, conspired to form the very type of bodily silence that occurs, late in the evening, on a public railwaydeadened here not by the slur and clunk of the coaches, but by the fat clatter of the rain. Such was the perception of Mr. Walter Moody, from where he stood in the doorway with his hand upon the frame. He was innocent of having disturbed any kind of private conference, for the speakers had ceased when they heard his tread in the passage; by the time he opened the door, each of the twelve men had resumed his occupation (rather haphazardly, on the part of the billiard players, for they had forgotten their places) with such a careful show of absorption that no one even glanced up when he stepped into the room. The strictness and uniformity with which the men ignored him

A Sphere within a Sphere

might have aroused Mr. Moodys interest, had he been himself in body and temperament. As it was, he was queasy and disturbed. He had known the voyage to West Canterbury would be fatal at worst, an endless rolling trough of white water and spume that ended on the shattered graveyard of the Hokitika bar, but he had not been prepared for the particular horrors of the journey, of which he was still incapable of speaking, even to himself. Moody was by nature impatient of any deciencies in his own person fear and illness both turned him inwardand it was for this reason that he very uncharacteristically failed to assess the tenor of the room he had just entered. Moodys natural expression was one of readiness and attention. His grey eyes were large and unblinking, and his supple, boyish mouth was usually poised in an expression of polite concern. His hair inclined to a tight curl; it had fallen in ringlets to his shoulders in his youth, but now he wore it close against his skull, parted on the side and combed at with a sweet-smelling pomade that darkened its golden hue to an oily brown. His brow and cheeks were square, his nose straight, and his complexion smooth. He was not quite eight-and-twenty, still swift and exact in his motions, and possessed of the kind of roguish, unsullied vigour that conveys neither gullibility nor guile. He presented himself in the manner of a discreet and quick-minded butler, and as a consequence was often drawn into the condence of the least voluble of men, or invited to broker relations between people he had only lately met. He had, in short, an appearance that betrayed very little about his own character, and an appearance that others were immediately inclined to trust. Moody was not unaware of the advantage his inscrutable grace afforded him. Like most excessively beautiful persons, he had studied his own reection minutely and, in a way, knew himself from the outside best; he was always in some chamber of his mind perceiving himself from the exterior. He had passed a great many hours in the alcove of his private dressing room, where the mirror tripled his image into prole, half-prole, and square: Van Dycks Charles, though a good deal more striking. It was a private practice, and one he would likely have deniedfor how roundly self-examination is

27 JANUARY 1866

condemned, by the moral prophets of our age! As if the self had no relation to the self, and one only looked in mirrors to have ones arrogance conrmed; as if the act of self-regarding was not as subtle, fraught and ever-changing as any bond between twin souls. In his fascination Moody sought less to praise his own beauty than to master it. Certainly whenever he caught his own reection, in a window box, or in a pane of glass after nightfall, he felt a thrill of satisfaction but as an engineer might feel, chancing upon a mechanism of his own devising and nding it splendid, ashing, properly oiled and performing exactly as he had predicted it should. He could see his own self now, poised in the doorway of the smoking room, and he knew that the gure he cut was one of perfect composure. He was near trembling with fatigue; he was carrying a leaden weight of terror in his gut; he felt shadowed, even dogged; he was lled with dread. He surveyed the room with an air of polite detachment and respect. It had the appearance of a place rebuilt from memory after a great passage of time, when much has been forgotten (andirons, drapes, a proper mantel to surround the hearth) but small details persist: a picture of the late Prince Consort, for example, cut from a magazine and afxed with shoe tacks to the wall that faced the yard; the seam down the middle of the billiard table, which had been sawn in two on the Sydney docks to better survive the crossing; the stack of old broadsheets upon the secretary, the pages thinned and blurry from the touch of many hands. The view through the two small windows that anked the hearth was over the hotels rear yard, a marshy allotment littered with crates and rusting drums, separated from the neighbouring plots only by patches of scrub and low fern, and, to the north, by a row of laying hutches, the doors of which were chained against thieves. Beyond this vague periphery, one could see sagging laundry lines running back and forth behind the houses one block to the east, latticed stacks of raw timber, pigpens, piles of scrap and sheet iron, broken cradles and umeseverything abandoned, or in some relative state of disrepair. The clock had struck that late hour of twilight when all colours seem suddenly to lose their richness, and it was raining hard; through the cockled glass the yard was

A Sphere within a Sphere

bleached and fading. Inside, the spirit lamps had not yet succeeded the sea-coloured light of the dying day, and seemed by virtue of their paleness to accent the general cheerlessness of the rooms decor. For a man accustomed to his club in Edinburgh, where all was lit in hues of red and gold, and the studded couches gleamed with a fatness that reected the girth of the gentlemen upon them; where, upon entering, one was given a soft jacket that smelled pleasantly of anise, or of peppermint, and thereafter the merest twitch of ones nger towards the bell-rope was enough to summon a bottle of claret on a silver tray, the prospect was a crude one. But Moody was not a man for whom offending standards were cause enough to sulk: the rough simplicity of the place only made him draw back internally, as a rich man will step swiftly to the side, and turn glassy, when confronted with a beggar in the street. The mild look upon his face did not waver as he cast his gaze about, but inwardly, each new detailthe mound of dirty wax beneath this candle, the rime of dust around that glasscaused him to retreat still further into himself, and steel his body all the more rigidly against the scene. This recoil, though unconsciously performed, owed less to the common prejudices of high fortunein fact Moody was only modestly rich, and often gave coins to paupers, though (it must be owned) never without a small rush of pleasure for his own largessethan to the personal disequilibrium over which the man was currently, and invisibly, struggling to prevail. This was a gold town, after all, newbuilt between jungle and surf at the southernmost edge of the civilised world, and he had not expected luxury. The truth was that not six hours ago, aboard the barque that had conveyed him from Port Chalmers to the wild shard of the Coast, Moody had witnessed an event so extraordinary and affecting that it called all other realities into doubt. The scene was still with himas if a door had chinked open, in the corner of his mind, to show a band of greying light, and he could not now wish the darkness back again. It was costing him a great deal of effort to keep that door from opening further. In this fragile condition,

27 JANUARY 1866

any unorthodoxy or inconvenience was personally affronting. He felt as if the whole dismal scene before him was an aggregate echo of the trials he had so lately sustained, and he recoiled from it in order to prevent his own mind from following this connexion, and returning to the past. Disdain was useful. It gave him a xed sense of proportion, a rightfulness to which he could appeal, and feel secure. He called the room luckless, and meagre, and drearyand with his inner mind thus fortied against the furnishings, he turned to the twelve inhabitants. An inverted pantheon, he thought, and again felt a little steadier, for having indulged the conceit. The men were bronzed and weathered in the manner of all frontiersmen, their lips chapped white, their carriage expressive of privation and loss. Two of their number were Chinese, dressed identically in cloth shoes and grey cotton shifts; behind them stood a Maori native, his face tattooed in whorls of greenish-blue. Of the others, Moody could not guess the origin. He did not yet understand how the diggings could age a man in a matter of months; casting his gaze around the room, he reckoned himself the youngest man in attendance, when in fact several were his juniors and his peers. The glow of youth was quite washed from them. They would be crabbed forever, restless, snatching, grey in body, coughing dust into the brown lines of their palms. Moody thought them coarse, even quaint; he thought them men of little inuence; he did not wonder why they were so silent. He wanted a brandy, and a place to sit and close his eyes. He stood in the doorway a moment after entering, waiting to be received, but when nobody made any gesture of welcome or dismissal he took another step forward and pulled the door softly closed behind him. He made a vague bow in the direction of the window, and another in the direction of the hearth, to sufce as a wholesale introduction of himself, then moved to the side table and engaged himself in mixing a drink from the decanters set out for that purpose. He chose a cigar and cut it; placing it between his teeth, he turned back to the room, and scanned the faces once again. Nobody seemed remotely affected by his presence. This

A Sphere within a Sphere

suited him. He seated himself in the only available armchair, lit his cigar, and settled back with the private sigh of a man who feels his daily comforts are, for once, very much deserved. His contentment was short-lived. No sooner had he stretched out his legs and crossed his ankles (the salt on his trousers had dried, most provokingly, in tides of white) than the man on his immediate right leaned forward in his chair, prodded the air with the stump of his own cigar, and said, Look hereyouve business, here at the Crown? This was rather abruptly phrased, but Moodys expression did not register as much. He bowed his head politely and explained that he had indeed secured a room upstairs, having arrived in town that very evening. Just off the boat, you mean? Moody bowed again and afrmed that this was precisely his meaning. So that the man would not think him short, he added that he was come from Port Chalmers, with the intention of trying his hand at digging for gold. Thats good, the man said. Thats good. New nds up the beachshes ripe with it. Black sands: thats the cry youll be hearing; black sands up Charleston way; thats north of here, of courseCharleston. Though youll still make pay in the gorge. You got a mate, or come over solo? Just me alone, Moody said. No afliations! the man said. Well, Moody said, surprised again at his phrasing, I intend to make my own fortune, thats all. No afliations, the man repeated. And no business; youve no business, here at the Crown? This was impertinentto demand the same information twicebut the man seemed genial, even distracted, and he was strumming with his ngers at the lapel of his vest. Perhaps, Moody thought, he had simply not been clear enough. He said, My business at this hotel is only to rest. In the next few days I will make inquiries around the diggingswhich rivers are yielding, which valleys are dryand acquaint myself with the diggers life, as it were.

27 JANUARY 1866

I intend to stay here at the Crown for one week, and after that, to make my passage inland. Youve not dug before, then. No, sir. Never seen the colour? Only at the jewellerson a watch, or on a buckle; never pure. But youve dreamed it, pure! Youve dreamed itkneeling in the water, sifting the metal from the grit! I suppose . . . well no, I havent, exactly, Moody said. The expansive style of this mans speech was rather peculiar to him: for all the mans apparent distraction, he spoke eagerly, and with an energy that was almost importunate. Moody looked around, hoping to exchange a sympathetic glance with one of the others, but he failed to catch anybodys eye. He coughed, adding, I suppose Ive dreamed of what comes afterwardsthat is, what the gold might lead to, what it might become. The man seemed pleased by this answer. Reverse alchemy, is what I like to call it, he said, the whole business, I meanprospecting. Reverse alchemy. Do you seethe transformationnot into gold, but out of it It is a ne conceit, sir,reecting only much later that this notion chimed very nearly with his own recent fancy of a pantheon reversed. And your inquiries, the man said, nodding vigorously, your inquiriesyoull be asking around, I supposewhat shovels, what cradlesand maps and things. Yes, precisely. I mean to do it right. The man threw himself back into his armchair, evidently very amused. One weeks board at the Crown Hoteljust to ask your questions! He gave a little shout of laughter. And then youll spend two weeks in the mud, to earn it back! Moody recrossed his ankles. He was not in the right disposition to return the other mans energy, but he was too rigidly bred to consider being impolite. He might have simply apologised for his discomture, and admitted some kind of general malaisethe man seemed sympathetic enough, with his strumming ngers, and

10

A Sphere within a Sphere

his rising gurgle of a laughbut Moody was not in the habit of speaking candidly to strangers, and still less of confessing illness to another man. He shook himself internally and said, in a brighter tone of voice, And you, sir? You are well established here, I think? Oh, yes, replied the other. Balfour Shipping, youll have seen us, right past the stockyards, prime locationWharf-street, you know. Balfour, thats me. Thomas is my Christian name. Youll need one of those on the diggings: no man goes by Mister in the gorge. Then I must practise using mine, Moody said. It is Walter. Walter Moody. Yes, and theyll call you anything but Walter too, Balfour said, striking his knee. Scottish Walt, maybe. Two-Hand Walt, maybe. Wally Nugget. Ha! That name I shall have to earn. Balfour laughed. No earning about it, he said. Big as a ladys pistol, some of the ones Ive seen. Big as a ladysbut, Im telling you, not half as hard to put your hands on. Thomas Balfour was around fty in age, compact and robust in body. His hair was quite grey, combed backward from his forehead, and long about the ears. He wore a spade-beard, and was given to stroking it downward with the cup of his hand when he was amusedhe did this now, in pleasure at his own joke. His prosperity sat easily with him, Moody thought, recognising in the man that relaxed sense of entitlement that comes when a lifelong optimism has been ratied by success. He was in shirtsleeves; his cravat, though of silk, and nely wrought, was spotted with gravy and coming loose at the neck. Moody placed him as a libertarian harmless, renegade in spirit, and cheerful in his effusions. I am in your debt, sir, he said. This is the rst of many customs of which I will be entirely ignorant, I am sure. I would have certainly made the error of using a surname in the gorge. It was true that his mental conception of the New Zealand diggings was extremely imprecise, informed chiey by sketches of the California goldeldslog cabins, at-bottomed valleys, wagons in

27 JANUARY 1866

11

the dustand a dim sense (he did not know from where) that the colony was somehow the shadow of the British Isles, the unformed, savage obverse of the Empires seat and heart. He had been surprised, upon rounding the heads of the Otago peninsula some two weeks prior, to see mansions on the hill, quays, streets, and plotted gardensand he was surprised, now, to observe a well-dressed gentleman passing his lucifers to a Chinaman, and then leaning across him to retrieve his glass. Moody was a Cambridge fellow, born in Edinburgh to a modest fortune and a household staff of three. The social circles in which he had tended to move, at Trinity, and then at Inner Temple in his more recent years, had not at all the rigid aspect of the peerage, where ones history and context differed from the next man only in degree; nevertheless, his education had made him insular, for it had taught him that the proper way to understand any social system was to view it from above. With his college chums (dressed in capes, and drunk on Rhenish wine) he would defend the merging of the classes with all the agony and vitality of the young, but he was always startled whenever he encountered it in practice. He did not yet know that a goldeld was a place of muck and hazard, where every fellow was foreign to the next man, and foreign to the soil; where a grocers cradle might be thick with colour, and a lawyers cradle might run dry; where there were no divisions. Moody was some twenty years Balfours junior, and so he spoke with deference, but he was conscious that Balfour was a man of lower standing than himself, and he was conscious also of the strange miscellany of persons around him, whose estates and origins he had not the means to guess. His politeness therefore had a slightly wooden quality, as a man who does not often speak with children lacks any measure for what is appropriate, and so holds himself apart, and is rigid, however much he wishes to be kind. Thomas Balfour felt this condescension, and was delighted. He had a playful distaste for men who spoke, as he phrased it, much too well, and he loved to provoke themnot to anger, which bored him, but to vulgarity. He regarded Moodys stiffness as if it were a fashionable collar, made in some aristocratic style, that was unbearably

12

A Sphere within a Sphere

conning to the wearerhe saw all conventions of polite society in this way, as useless ornamentationsand it amused him, that the mans renement caused him to be so ill at ease. Balfour was indeed a man of humble standing, as Moody had guessed. His father had worked in a saddlery in Kent, and he might have taken up that mantle, if a re had not claimed both father and stable in his eleventh yearbut he was a restless boy, with frayed cuffs and an impatience that belied the dreamy, half-focused expression he habitually wore, and the dogged work would not have suited him. In any case, a horse could not keep pace with a railway car, as he was fond of saying, and the trade had not weathered the rush of changing times. Balfour liked very much to feel that he was at the vanguard of an era. When he spoke of the past, it was as if each decade prior to the present year was an ill-made candle that had been burned and spent. He felt no nostalgia for the stuff of his boyhood lifethe dark liquor of the tanning vats, the rack of hides, the calfskin pouch where his father stored his needles and his awland rarely recalled it, except to draw a comparison with newer industries. Ore: that was where the money lay. Coalmines, steelworks, and gold. He began in glass. After several years as an apprentice he founded a glassworks of his own, a modest factory he later sold for a share in a coalmine, which in due course was expanded to a network of shaft mines, and sold to investors in London for a grand sum. He did not marry. On his thirtieth birthday he bought a oneway ticket on a clipper ship bound for Veracruz, the rst leg of a nine-month journey that would take him overland to the Californian goldelds. The lustre of the diggers life soon paled for him, but the ceaseless rush and hope of the elds did not; with his rst dust he bought shares in a bank, built three hotels in four years, and prospered. When California dried he sold up and sailed for Victoriaa new strike, a new uncharted landand thence, hearing once again the call that carried across the ocean like a faery pipe on a rare breeze, to New Zealand. During his sixteen years on the raw elds Thomas Balfour had met a great many men like Walter Moody, and it was a credit to his temperament that he had retained, over these years, a deep affection

27 JANUARY 1866

13

and regard for the virgin state of men yet untested by experience, yet untried. Balfour was sympathetic to ambition, and unorthodox, as a self-made man, in his generosity of spirit. Enterprise pleased him; desire pleased him. He was disposed to like Moody simply for the reason that the other man had undertaken a pursuit about which he evidently knew very little, and from which he must expect a great return. On this particular night, however, Balfour was not without agenda. Moodys entrance had been something of a surprise to the twelve assembled men, who had taken considerable precautions to ensure that they would not be disturbed. The front parlour of the Crown Hotel was closed that night for a private function, and a boy had been posted under the awning to watch the street, lest any man had set his mind on drinking therewhich was unlikely, for the Crown smoking room was not generally celebrated for its society or its charm, and indeed was very often empty, even on the weekend nights when the diggers ooded back from the hills in droves to spend their dust on liquor at the shanties in the town. The boy on duty was Mannerings, and had in his possession a stout bundle of gallery tickets to give away for free. The performanceSensations from the Orient!was a new act, and guaranteed to please, and there were cases of champagne ready in the opera-house foyer, courtesy of Mannering himself, in honour of opening night. With these diversions in place, and believing that no boat would risk a landing in the murky evening of such an inclement day (the projected arrivals in the shipping pages of the West Coast Times were, by that hour, all accounted for), the assembled party had not thought to make provision for an accidental stranger who might have already checked in to the hotel some half-hour before nightfall, and so was already inside the building when Mannerings boy took up his post under the dripping porch facing the street. Walter Moody, despite his reassuring countenance, and despite the courteous detachment with which he held himself, was nevertheless still an intruder. The men were at a loss to know how to persuade him to leave, without making it clear that he had intruded, and thus exposing the subversive nature of their assembly. Thomas

14

A Sphere within a Sphere

Balfour had assumed the task of vetting him only by the accident of their proximity, next to the rea happy conjunction, this, for Balfour was tenacious, for all his bluster and rhapsody, and well accustomed to turning a scene to his own gain. Yes, well, he said now, one learns the customs soon enough, and everyone has to start where you are standingas an apprentice, I mean; knowing nothing at all. What sowed the seed, then, if you dont object to my asking? Thats a private interest of mine what brings a fellow down here, you know, to the ends of the earthwhat sparks a man. Moody took a pull on his cigar before answering. My object was a complicated one, he said. A matter of family disputation, painful to relate, which accounts for my having made the crossing solo. Oh, but in that you are not alone, Balfour said cheerfully. Every boy here is on the run from somethingyou can be sure of it! Indeed, said Moody, thinking this a rather alarming prospect. Everyones from somewhere else, Balfour went on. Yes: thats the very heart of it. Were all from somewhere else. And as for family: youll nd brothers and fathers enough, in the gorge. You are kind to offer comfort. Balfour was grinning broadly now. Theres a phrase, he said, waving his cigar with such emphasis that he scattered feathers of ash all over his vest. Comfort! If this counts as comfort, then youre a very Puritan, my boy. Moody could not produce an appropriate response to this remark, so he bowed againand then, as if to repudiate all puritanical implication, he drank deeply from his glass. Outside, a gust of wind interrupted the steady lash of the rain, throwing a sheet of water against the western windows. Balfour examined the end of his cigar, still chuckling; Moody placed his own between his lips, turned his face away, and drew lightly upon it. Just then one of the eleven silent men got to his feet, folding his newspaper into quarters as he did so, and crossed to the secretary in order to exchange the paper for another. He was wearing a collarless black coat and a white necktiea clergymans dress, Moody

27 JANUARY 1866

15

realised, with some surprise. That was strange. Why should a cleric elect to get his news in the smoking room of a common hotel, late on a Saturday night? And why should he keep such silent company, in doing so? Moody watched as the reverend man shufed through the pile of broadsheets, rejecting several editions of the Colonist in favour of a Grey River Argus, which he plucked out with a murmur of pleasure, holding it away from his body and tilting it, with appreciation, towards the light. Then again, Moody thought, reasoning with himself, perhaps it was not so strange: the night was very wet, and the halls and taverns of the town were likely very crowded. Perhaps the chaplain had been obliged, for some reason, to seek temporary refuge from the rain. So you had a quarrel, Balfour said presently, as if Moody had promised him a rousing tale, and had then forgotten to begin it. I was party to a quarrel, Moody corrected him. That is, the dispute was not of my own making. With your father, I suppose. It is painful to relate, sir. Moody glanced at the other man, meaning to silence him with a stern look, but Balfour responded by leaning further forward, encouraged by the gravity of Moodys expression to believe the story all the more worth his hearing. Oh, come! he said. Ease your burden. It is not a burden to be eased, Mr. Balfour. My friend, I have never heard of such a thing. Pardon me to change the subject But you have roused me! You have roused my attention! Balfour was grinning at him. I beg to refuse you, Moody said. He was trying to speak quietly, to protect their conversation from the rest of the room. I beg to reserve my privacy. My motive is purely that I do not wish to make a poor impression upon you. But youre the wronged man, you saidthe dispute, not of your making. That is correct. Well, now! One neednt be private about that! Balfour cried. Do I not speak truly? One neednt be private about another fellows

16

A Sphere within a Sphere

wrong! One neednt feel ashamed of another fellowsdeeds, you know! He was being very loud. You describe personal shame, Moody said in a low voice. I refer to the shame that is brought upon a family. I do not wish to sully my fathers name; it is my name also. Your father! But what have I told you already? Youll nd fathers enough, I said, down in the gorge! Thats no turn of phraseits custom, and necessityits the way that things are done! Let me tell you what counts for shame on the diggings. Cry a false eld thats worthy. Dispute the pegging on a claimthats worthy. Rob a man, cheat a man, kill a manthats worthy. But family shame! Tell that to the bellmen, to cry up and down the Hokitika-roadtheyll think it news! Whats family shame, without a family? Balfour concluded this exhortation with a smart rap of his empty glass upon the arm of his chair. He beamed at Moody, and lifted his open palm, as if to say that his point had been so persuasively phrased as to need no further amendment, but he would like some kind of approbation all the same. Moody gave another automatic jerk of his head and replied, in a tone that betrayed the exhaustion of his nerves for the rst time, You speak persuasively, sir. Balfour, still beaming, waved the compliment aside. Persuasions tricks and cleverness. Im speaking plain. I thank you for it. Yes, yes, Balfour said agreeably. He seemed to be enjoying himself very much. But now you must tell me about your family quarrel, Mr. Moody, so that I may judge if your name is sullied, in the end. Forgive me, Moody murmured. He glanced about, perceiving that the clergyman had returned to his seat, and was now absorbed in his paper. The man next to hima orid type, with an imperial moustache and gingery hairappeared to have fallen asleep. Thomas Balfour was not to be deterred. Liberty and security! he cried, waving his arm again. Is that not what it comes down to? You see, I know the argument already! I know the form of it! Liberty over security, security over liberty . . . provision from the father, freedom for the son. Of course the father might be too

27 JANUARY 1866

17

controllingthat can happenand the son might be wasteful . . . prodigal . . . but its the same quarrel, every time. Lovers too, he added, when Moody did not interject. Its the same for lovers, too: at bottom, always, the same dispute. But Moody was not listening. He had forgotten, for a moment, the creeping ash of his cigar, and the warm brandy pooling in the bottom of his glass. He had forgotten that he was here, in a hotel smoking room, in a town not ve years built, at the end of the world. His mind had slipped, and returned to it: the bloody cravat, the clutching silver hand, the name, gasped out of the darkness, again and again, Magdalena, Magdalena, Magdalena. The scene came back to him all in a snatch, unbidden, like a shadow passing coldly over the face of the sun. Moody had sailed from Port Chalmers aboard the barque Godspeed, a stout little craft with a smartly raked bow and a gurehead of painted oakan eagle, after St. John. On a map the journey took the shape of a hairpin: the barque set off northward, traversed the narrow strait between two seas, and then turned south again, to the diggings. Moodys ticket afforded him a narrow space below decks, but the hold was so foul-smelling and close that he was compelled to spend most of the voyage topside, hunched below the gunwales with his leather case clasped wetly to his chest and his collar turned up against the spray. Crouched as he was with his back to the view, he saw very little of the coastlinethe yellow plains of the East, which gave way by subtle incline to greener heights, and then the mountains, blue with distance, above them; further north, the verdant fjords, hushed by still water; in the West, the braided streams that tarnished when they met the beaches, and carved ssures in the sand. When the Godspeed rounded the northern spit and began her passage southward, the weatherglass began to fall. Had Moody not been so ill and wretched he might have felt afraid, and made his vows: drowning, the boys on the docks had told him, was the West Coast disease, and whether he could call himself a lucky man was a question that would be settled long before he reached the goldelds, and long before he rst knelt down to touch the edge of his dish to the stones. There were as many lost as landed. The master

18

A Sphere within a Sphere

of his vesselCaptain Carver was his namehad seen so many lubbers washed to their deaths from his station on the quarterdeck that the whole ship might properly be called a gravesidethis last spoken with a hushed solemnity, and wide eyes. The storm was borne on greenish winds. It began as a coppery taste in the back of ones mouth, a metallic ache that amplied as the clouds darkened and advanced, and when it struck, it was with the at hand of a senseless fury. The seething deck, the strange whip of light and shadows cast by the sails that snapped and strained above it, the palpable fear of the sailors as they fought to hold the barque on her courseit was the stuff of nightmare, and Moody had the nightmarish sense, as the vessel drew closer and closer to the goldelds, that she had somehow willed the infernal storm upon her self. Walter Moody was not superstitious, though he derived great enjoyment from the superstitions of others, and he was not easily deceived by impression, though he took great care in designing his own. This owed less to his intelligence, however, than to his experiencewhich, prior to his departure for New Zealand, could be termed neither broad nor varied in its character. In his life so far he had known only the kind of doubt that is calculated and secure. He had known only suspicion, cynicism, probabilitynever the fearful unravelling that comes when one ceases to trust in ones own trusting power; never the dread panic that follows this unravelling; never the dull void that follows last of all. Of these latter classes of uncertainty he had remained, until recently at least, happily unconscious. His imagination did not naturally stray to the fanciful, and he rarely theorised except with a practical purpose in mind. His own mortality held only an intellectual fascination for him, a dry lustre; and, having no religion, he did not believe in ghosts. The full account of what transpired during this last leg of the voyage is Moodys own, and must be left to him. We think it sufcient to say, at this juncture, that there were eight passengers aboard the Godspeed when she pulled out of the harbour at Dunedin, and by the time the barque landed on the Coast, there were nine. The ninth was not a baby, born in transit; nor was he a stowaway; nor

27 JANUARY 1866

19

did the ships lookout spot him adrift in the water, clinging to some scrap of wreckage, and give the shout to draw him in. But to say this is to rob Walter Moody of his own taleand unfairly, for he was still unable to recall the apparition wholly to his own mind, much less to form a narrative for the pleasures of a third. In Hokitika it had been raining for two weeks without reprieve. Moodys rst glimpse of the township was of a shifting smear that advanced and retreated as the mist blew back and forth. There was only a narrow corridor of at land between the coastline and the sudden alps, battered by the endless surf that turned to smoke on the sand; it seemed still atter and more contained by virtue of the cloud that sheared the mountains low on their anks and formed a grey ceiling over the huddled roofs of the town. The port was located to the south, tucked into the crooked mouth of a river, rich in gold, which became a lather where it met the salt edge of the sea. Here at the coast it was brown and barren, but upriver the water was cool and white, and said to gleam. The river mouth itself was calm, a lakelet thick with masts and the fat stacks of steamers waiting for a clearer day; they knew better than to risk the bar that lay concealed beneath the water and shifted with each tide. The enormous number of vessels that had foundered on the bar were scattered as unhappy testament to the hazard below. There were thirty-some wrecks in total, and several were very new. Their splintered hulks wrought a strange barricade that seemed, dismally, to fortify the township against the open sea. The barques captain dared not bring the ship to port until the weather improved, and instead signalled for a lighter to convey the passengers over the rolling breakers to the sand. The lighter was crewed by sixgrim Charons to a man, who stared and did not speak as the passengers were lowered by chair down the heaving ank of the Godspeed. It was awful to crouch in the tiny boat and look up through the impossible rigging of the ship aboveshe cast a dark shadow as she rolled, and when at last the line was struck and they pulled away into open water, Moody felt the lightness on his skin. The other passengers were merry. They exclaimed about the weather, and how splendid it had been to come through a

20

A Sphere within a Sphere

storm. They wondered about each shipwreck that they passed, sounding out the names; they spoke of the elds, and the fortunes they would nd there. Their cheer was hateful. A woman pressed a phial of sal volatile into the bone of Moodys hipTake it quiet, so the others dont come wantingbut he pushed her hand away. She had not seen what he had seen. The downpour seemed to intensify as the lighter neared the shore. The spray from the breakers brought such a great quantity of seawater over the gunwales that Moody was obliged to assist the crew in bailing the boat, using a leather pail thrust wordlessly upon him by a man who was missing every tooth except his rearmost molars. Moody did not even have the spirit to inch. They were carried over the bar and into the calm of the river mouth on a white-capped wave. He did not shut his eyes. When the lighter reached her mooring he was the rst out of the boat, drenched to the skin and so giddy he stumbled on the ladder, causing the boat to lurch wildly away from him. Like a man pursued he staggered, half-limping, down the wharf to solid ground. When he turned back, he could only just distinguish the fragile lighter bucking against her mooring at the end of the wharf. The barque herself had long since vanished into the mist, which hung in plates of clouded glass, obscuring the wrecked ships, the steamers in the roadstead, and the open sea beyond. Moody reeled on his feet. He was dimly aware of the crew handing bags and valises out of the boat, the other passengers running about, the porters and stevedores shouting their instructions through the rain. The scene was veiled to him, the gures gauzedas if the journey, and everything pertaining to it, had been claimed already by the grey fog of his uncertain mind; as if his memory, recoiling upon itself, had met its obverse, the power of forgetting, and had conjured the mist and driving rain as a kind of cloth, spectral, to screen him from the shapes of his own recent past. Moody did not linger. He turned and hurried up the beach, past the slaughterhouses, the latrines, the breakwind huts along the sandy lip of the shore, the tents that sagged under the greying weight of two weeks rain. His head was down, his case clutched

27 JANUARY 1866

21

tightly against him, and he saw none of it: not the stockyards, not the high gables of the warehouses, not the mullioned windows of the ofces along Wharf-street, behind which shapeless bodies moved through lighted rooms. Moody struggled on, shin-deep in slurry, and when the sham front of the Crown Hotel rose up before him he dashed towards it and threw down his case to wrench with both hands at the door. The Crown was an establishment of the serviceable, unadorned sort, recommended only by its proximity to the quay. If this feature was an expedience, however, it could hardly be called a virtue: here, so close to the stockyards, the bloody smell of slaughter intermingled with the sour, briny smell of the sea, putting one in mind, perpetually, of an untended icebox in which an uncured joint has spoiled. For this reason Moody might have disdained the place offhand, resolving instead to venture northward up Revell-street to where the fronts of the hotels broadened, brightened in colour, acquired porticoes, and communicated, with their high windows and their delicate fretwork, all those reassurances of wealth and comfort to which he was accustomed, as a man of means . . . but Moody had left all discerning faculties in the pitching belly of the barque Godspeed. He wanted only shelter, and solitude. The calm of the empty foyer, once he had closed the door behind him, muting the sound of the rain, had an immediate and physical effect upon him. We have noted that Moody derived considerable personal benet from his appearance, and that this was a fact of which he was wholly sensible: he was not about to make his rst acquaintance in an unfamiliar town looking like a haunted man. He struck the water from his hat, ran a hand through his hair, stamped his feet to stop his knees from shaking, and worked his mouth in a vigorous way, as if testing its elasticity. He performed these motions swiftly and without embarrassment. By the time the maid appeared, he had arranged his face into its habitual expression of benign indifference, and was examining the dovetailed join at the corner of the front desk. The maid was a dull-seeming girl with colourless hair and teeth as yellow as her skin. She recited the terms of board and lodging,

22

A Sphere within a Sphere

relieved Moody of ten shillings (these she dropped with a sullen clatter into a locked drawer beneath the desk), and wearily led him upstairs. He was conscious of the trail of rainwater he left behind him, and the sizeable puddle he had created on the foyer oor, and pressed a sixpence upon her; she took it pityingly and made to leave, but then at once seemed to wish she had been kinder. She ushed, and after a moments pause, suggested that he might like a supper tray brought up from the kitchensTo dry out your insides, she said, and pulled back her lips in a yellow smile. The Crown Hotel was lately built, and still retained the dusty, honeyed trace of fresh-planed lumber, the walls still beading gems of sap along each groove, the hearths still clean of ash and staining. Moodys room was furnished very approximately, as in a pantomime where a large and lavish household is conjured by a single chair. The bolster was thin upon the mattress, and padded with what felt like twists of muslin; the blankets were slightly too large, so that their edges pooled on the oor, giving the bed a rather shrunken aspect, huddled as it was beneath the rough slope of the eave. The bareness lent the place a spectral, unnished quality that might have been disquieting, had the prospect through the buckled glass been of a different street and a different age, but to Moody the emptiness was like a balm. He stowed his sodden case on the whatnot beside his bed, wrung and dried his clothes as best he could, drank off a pot of tea, ate four slices of dark-grained bread with ham, and, after peering through the window to the impenetrable wash of the street, resolved to defer his business in town until the morning. The maid had left yesterdays newspaper beneath the teapot how thin it was, for a sixpenny broadsheet! Moody smiled as he took it up. He had a fondness for cheap news, and was amused to see that the towns Most Alluring Dancer also advertised her services as the towns Most Discreet Accoucheuse. A whole column of the paper was devoted to missing prospectors (If this should reach the eyes of EMERY STAINES, or any who know of his whereabouts . . .) and an entire page to Barmaids Wanted. Moody read the document twice over, including the shipping notices, the advertisements for lodging and small fare, and several very dull campaign speeches, printed in full.

27 JANUARY 1866

23

He found that he was disappointed: the West Coast Times read like a parish gazette. But what had he expected? That a goldeld would be an exotic phantasm, made of glitter and promise? That the diggers would be notorious and slyevery man a murderer, every man a thief ? Moody folded the paper slowly. His line of thinking had returned him to the Godspeed, and to the bloody casket in her hold, and his heart began to pound again. Thats enough, he said aloud, and immediately felt foolish. He stood and tossed the folded paper aside. In any case, he thought, the daylight was fading, and he disliked reading in the dusk. Quitting his room, he returned downstairs. He found the maid sequestered in the alcove beneath the stairs, scrubbing at a pair of riding boots with blacking, and inquired of her if there was a parlour in which he might spend the evening. His voyage had wrought considerable strain in him, and he was in sore need of a glass of brandy and a quiet place to rest his eyes. The maid was more obliging nowher sixpences must be few and far between, Moody thought, which could be useful later, if he needed her. She explained that the parlour of the Crown had been reserved that night for a private partyThe Catholic Friendlies, she claried, grinning againbut she might conduct him instead, if he wished it, to the smoking room. Moody returned to the present with a jolt, and saw that Thomas Balfour was still looking at him, with an expression of intrigued expectation upon his face. I beg your pardon, Moody said, in confusion. I believe I must have drifted off into my own thoughtsfor a moment What were you thinking of ? said Balfour. What had he been thinking of ? Only the cravat, the silver hand, that name, gasped out of the darkness. The scene was like a small world, Moody thought, possessed of its own dimensions. Any amount of ordinary time could pass, when his mind was straying there. There was this large world of rolling time and shifting spaces, and that small, stilled world of horror and unease; they t inside each other, a sphere within a sphere. How strange, that Balfour had

24

A Sphere within a Sphere

been watching him; that real time had been passingrevolving around him, all the while I wasnt thinking of anything in particular, he said. I have endured a difcult journey, that is all, and I am very tired. Behind him one of the billiard players made a shot: a doubled crack, a velvet plop, a ripple of appreciation from the other players. The clergyman shook out his paper noisily; another man coughed; another struck the dust from his shirtsleeve, and shifted in his chair. I was asking about your quarrel, Balfour said. The quarrel Moody began, and then stopped. He suddenly felt too exhausted even to speak. The dispute, prompted Balfour. Between you and your father. I am sorry, Moody said. The particulars are delicate. A matter of money! Do I hit upon it? Forgive me: you do not. Moody ran his hand over his face. Not of money! Thena matter of love! You are in love . . . but your father will not approve the girl of your choosing . . . No, sir, Moody said. I am not in love. A great shame, Balfour said. Well! I conclude: you are already married! I am unmarried. You are a young widower, perhaps! I have never been married, sir. Balfour burst out laughing and threw up both his hands, to signal that he considered Moodys reticence cheerfully exasperating, and quite absurd. While he was laughing Moody raised himself up on his wrists and swivelled to look over the high back of his armchair at the room behind him. He had the intention of drawing others into their conversation somehow, and perhaps thus diverting the other man from his purpose. But nobody looked up to meet his gaze; they seemed, Moody thought, to be actively avoiding him. This was odd. But his posture was awkward and he was being rude, and so he reluctantly resumed his former position and crossed his legs again. I do not mean to disappoint you, he said, when Balfours laughter subsided.

27 JANUARY 1866

25

Disappointno! Balfour cried. No, no. You will have your secrets! You mistake me, Moody said. My aim is not concealment. The subject is personally distressing to me, that is all. Oh, Balfour said, but it is always so, Mr. Moody, when one is youngto be distressed by ones own history, you knowwishing to keep it backand never to share itI mean, with other men. That is a wise observation. Wise! And nothing else? I do not understand you, Mr. Balfour. You are determined to thwart my curiosity! I confess I am a little startled by it. This is a gold town, sir! Balfour said. One must be sure of his fellowsone must trust in his fellowsindeed! This was still more odd. For the rst timeperhaps because of his growing frustration, which served to focus his attention more squarely upon the scene at handMoody felt his interest begin to stir. The strange silence of the room was hardly testament to the kind of fraternity where all was shared and made easy . . . and moreover, Balfour had offered very little with respect to his own character and reputation in the town, by which intelligence Moody might be made to feel more assured of him! His gaze slid sideways, to the fat man closest to the hearth, whose closed eyelids were trembling with the effort of pretended sleep, and then to the blond-haired man behind him, who was passing his billiard cue from one hand to the other, but seemed to have lost all interest in the game. Something was afoot: of this he was suddenly certain. Balfour was performing a role, on behalf of the others: taking his measure, Moody thought. But for what purpose? There was a system behind this battery of questions, a design that was neatly obscured by the excess of Balfours manner, his prodigious sympathy and charm. The other men were listening, however casually they turned the pages of their papers, or pretended to doze. With this realisation the room seemed suddenly to clarify, as when a chance scatter of stars resolves into a constellation before the eye. Balfour no longer

26

A Sphere within a Sphere

seemed cheery and effusive, as Moody had rst believed him to be; instead he seemed overwrought, strained; even desperate. Moody wondered now whether indulging the man might serve better purpose than denying him. Walter Moody was much experienced in the art of condences. He knew that by confessing, one earned the subtle right to become confessor to the other, in his turn. A secret deserves a secret, and a tale deserves a tale; the gentle expectation of a response in kind was a pressure he knew how to apply. He would learn more by appearing to conde in Balfour than by openly suspecting him, simply because if he placed his trust in the other man, freely and without reservation, then Balfour would be obliged to confer his own trust in exchange. There was no reason why he could not relate his family storyhowever vexing it might be to recall itin order to purchase the other mans trust. What had happened aboard the Godspeed, he had no intention of divulging, of course; but in this he did not need to dissimulate, for that was not the story that Thomas Balfour had requested to hear. Having reected upon this, Moody changed his tack. I see that I must win your condence yet, he said. I have nothing to hide, sir. I will relate my tale. Balfour ung himself back into his armchair with great satisfaction. You call it a tale! he said, beaming again. Then I am surprised, Mr. Moody, that it concerns neither love nor money! Only their absence, I am afraid, Moody said. Absenceyes, Balfour said, still smiling. He gestured for Moody to continue. I must rst acquaint you with the particulars of my family history, Moody said, and then lapsed into silence for a moment, his eyes narrowed, his mouth pursed. The armchair in which he was sitting faced the hearth, and so nearly half of the men in the room were behind him, sitting or standing at their various sham pursuits. In the several seconds grace he had secured for himself by appearing to collect his thoughts, Moody let his gaze wander to his left and right, to make note of the listeners sitting closest to them, around the re.

27 JANUARY 1866

27

Nearest the hearth sat the fat man who was feigning sleep. He was by far the most ostentatiously dressed in the room: a massive watch chain, thick as his own fat nger, was slung across his chest, between the pocket of his velvet vest and the breast of his cambric shirt, and afxed to the chain at intervals were knuckle-sized lumps of gold. The man next to him, on Balfours other side, was partly obscured by the wing of his armchair, so that all Moody could see of him was the glint of his forehead and the shiny tip of his nose. His coat was made of herringbone, a thick woollen weave that was much too hot for his proximity to the re, and his perspiration betrayed the posture of apparent ease with which he had arranged himself in the chair. He had no cigar; he was turning a silver cigarette case over and over in his hands. On Moodys left was another wingback armchair, pulled so close to his own that he could hear the nasal whistle of his neighbours breath. This man was darkhaired, slim in build, and so tall that he appeared folded in two, sitting with his knees together and the soles of his shoes planted at upon the oor. He was reading a newspaper, and in general, he was doing a much better job of pretended indifference than the others, but even so his eyes were somewhat glassy, as if they were not quite focused upon the type, and he had not turned a page in some time. I am the younger son of two, Moody began at last. My brother, Frederick, is ve years my senior. Our mother died near the end of my school yearsI returned home only for a short time, to bury herand shortly thereafter my father married again. His second wife was unknown to me then. She wasshe isa quiet, delicate woman, one who frighted easily, and was often ill. In her delicacy she is very unlike my father, who is coarse in his manner and much inclined to drink. The match was poor; I believe both parties regretted the marriage as a mistake, and I am sorry to report my father treated his new wife very badly. Three years ago he disappeared, leaving her, in Edinburgh, without provision to live. She might have become a pauper, or worse, such was the sudden destitution in which she found herself. She appealed to meby letter, I mean; I was abroadand I returned home at once. I became her protector, in

28

A Sphere within a Sphere

a modest sense. I made arrangements on her behalf, which she accepted, though somewhat bitterly, for the shape of her fortunes was much changed. Moody gave an awkward dry cough. I secured for her a small livingemployment, you understand. I then travelled to London, with the purpose of nding my father. There I exhausted all possible methods of locating him, and spent a great deal of money in the process. Finally I began to see about turning my education into an income of a kind, for I knew that I could no longer rely on my inheritance as surety, and my credit in the city had become very poor. My elder brother knew nothing of our stepmothers abandonment: he had left to seek his fortune on the Otago goldelds, some few weeks before my father disappeared. He was inclined to ts of whimsy of this kindan adventurous spirit, I suppose you might call him, though we were never close with one another after childhood, and I confess I do not know him well. Months passed, and even years; he did not return, and nor did he send any news at all. My letters to him went unanswered. Indeed I still do not know if they ever reached his hands. At length I too booked my passage on a ship bound for New Zealand, my intention being to inform my brother of the changes in our familys position, and if he was alive, of courseperhaps to join him on the diggings for a time. My own fortune was gone, the interest on my perpetuity was long since exhausted, and I was in a great deal of debt. While in London I had studied at the Inner Temple. I suppose I might have stayed on, and waited to be called to the Bar . . . but I have no real love for the law. I could not stomach it. I sailed for New Zealand instead. When I landed at Dunedin, not two weeks ago, I learned that Otagos gold had been all but eclipsed by new ndings here on the Coast. I hesitated, not knowing where to venture rst, and was rewarded for my hesitation in the most unexpected way: I met my father. Balfour made a murmur, but did not interrupt. He was staring into the re, his mouth pursed judiciously around his cigar and his hand loose around the base of his glass. The eleven others were

27 JANUARY 1866

29

equally still. The billiard game must have been abandoned, for Moody could no longer hear the click of the balls behind him. There was a sprung quality to the silence, as if the listeners were waiting for him to reveal something very particular . . . or fearing that he might. Our reunion was not a happy one, Moody continued. He was speaking loudly, above the drumming of the rain; loudly enough for every man in the room to hear him, but not so loudly as to make it seem as if he was aware of their attention. He was drunk, and extremely angry that I had discovered him. I learned that he had become extraordinarily rich, and that he was married again, to a woman who doubtless was innocent of his history, or indeed of the fact that he was legally bound to another wife. I was, I am sorry to admit, unsurprised. My relations with my father have never been warm, and this was not the rst time I had caught him in questionable circumstances . . . though never in a situation of this criminal magnitude, I should hasten to say. My real amazement came when I inquired after my brother, and learned that he had been my fathers agent from the outset: they had orchestrated the abandonment together, and had journeyed south as partners. I did not wait to encounter Frederick tooI could not bear it, to see them both togetherand made to leave. My father became aggressive, and attempted to detain me. I escaped, and made the immediate plan to journey here. I had money enough to return to London directly, if I wished, but my grief was of a kind that Moody paused, and made a helpless gesture with his ngers. I dont know, he said at last. I believed the hard labour of the diggings might do me well, for a time. And I do not want to be a lawyer. There was a silence. Moody shook his head and sat forward in his chair. It is an unhappy story, he said, more briskly. I am ashamed of my blood, Mr. Balfour, but I mean not to dwell upon it. I mean to make new. Unhappy, indeed! Balfour cried, plucking his cigar from his mouth at last, and waving it about. I am sorry for you, Mr. Moody, and commend you, both. But yours is the way of the goldelds, is

30

A Sphere within a Sphere

it not? Reinvention! Dare I sayrevolution! That a man might make newmight make himself anewtruly, now! These are words of encouragement, Moody said. Your fatherhis name is also Moody, I presume. It is, Moody said. His Christian name is Adrian; perhaps you have heard of him? I have not, Balfour said, and then, perceiving that the other was disappointed, he added, which means very little, of course. Im in the shipping line of business, as I told you; these days I dont rub shoulders with the men on the eld. I was in Dunedin. I was in Dunedin for three years, near about. But if your pa made his luck on the diggings, hed have been inland. Up in the high country. He might have been anywhereTuapeka, Clydeanywhere at all. Butlistenas to the here and now, Mr. Moody. Youre not afraid that he will follow you? No, Moody said, simply. I took pains to create the impression that I departed immediately for England, the day I left him. Upon the docks I found a man seeking passage to Liverpool. I explained my circumstances to him, and after a short negotiation we swapped papers with one another. He gave my name to the ticket master, and I his. Should my father inquire at the customhouse, the ofcers there will be able to show him proof that I have left these islands already, and am returning home. But perhaps your fatherand your brotherwill come to the Coast of their own accord. For the diggings. That I cannot predict, Moody agreed. But from what I understood of their current situation, they had made gold enough in Otago. Gold enough! Balfour seemed about to laugh again. Moody shrugged. Well, he said coldly, I shall prepare myself for the possibility of their arrival, of course. But I do not expect it. Noof course, of course, Balfour said, patting Moodys sleeve with his big hand. Let us now talk of more hopeful things. Tell me, what do you intend to do with your pile, once you have amassed a decent sum? Back to Scotland, is it, to spend your fortune there? So I hope, Moody said. I have heard that a man might make

27 JANUARY 1866

31

a competence in four months or less, which would take me away from here before the worst months of winter. Is that a probable expectation, in your mind? Quite probable, Balfour said, smiling at the coals, quite probable, indeedyes, one might expect it. No mates in town, then? Folk to meet you on the quay, join uplads from home? None, sir, Moody told him, for the third time that evening. I travelled here alone, and, as I have said to you already, I intend to make my own fortune, without the help of other men. Oh, yes, said Balfour, making your ownwell, going after it, in the modern way. But a diggers mate is like his shadowthats another thing to knowhis shadow, or his wife At this remark there was a ripple of amusement around the room: not open laughter, merely a quiet expulsion of breath, issued from several quarters at once. Moody glanced around him. He had sensed a slackening in the air, a collective relief, at the conclusion of his narrative. The men had been afraid of something, he thought, and his story had given them reason to put their fear aside. He wondered for the rst time whether their trepidation was connected in some way to the horror he had witnessed aboard the Godspeed. The thought was strangely unpleasant. He did not want to believe that his private memory might be explicable to another man, and still less, that another man might share it. (Suffering, he thought later, could rob a man of his empathy, could turn him selfish, could make him depreciate all other sufferers. This realisation, when it came, surprised him.) Balfour was grinning. Ayhis shadow, or his wife, he repeated, nodding appreciatively at Moody, as though the jest had been Moodys, rather than his own. He stroked his beard several times with the cup of his hand, and laughed a little. For he was indeed relieved. Lost inheritance, falseness in marriage, a highborn woman put to workthese betrayals belonged to a different world entirely, Balfour thought; a world of drawing rooms, and calling cards, and gowns. It was charming to him, that such changes in fortune might be counted as tragediesthat the young man might confess them, with the stern, controlled embarrassment

32

A Sphere within a Sphere

of a man who had been taught to believe, from the moment of his birth, that his estate would never change. To speak of that here at the vanguard of the civilised world! Hokitika was growing faster than San Francisco, the papers said, and out of nothing . . . out of the ancient rotting life of the jungle . . . out of the tidal marshes and the shifting gullies and the fog . . . out of sly waters, rich in ore. Here the men were not self-made; they were self-making, as they squatted in the dirt to wash it clean. Balfour touched his lapel. Moodys story was pathetic, and had aroused in him an indulgent, fatherly feelingfor Balfour liked very much to be reminded that he himself was modern (entrepreneurial, unencumbered by connexion) while other men still foundered in the trappings of an outworn age. This, of course, was a verdict that said less about the prisoner than about the judge. Balfours will was too strong to admit philosophy, unless it was of the soundest empirical sort; his liberality could make no sense of despair, which was to him as a fathomless shaft, possessed of depth but not of breadth, stied in its isolation, navigable only by touch, and starved of any kind of curiosity. He had no real fascination with the soul, and saw it only as a pretext for the greater, livelier mysteries of humour and adventure; of the souls dark nights, he had no opinion. He often said that the only inner void to which he paid any kind of notice was appetite, and although he laughed when he said it, and seemed very well pleased, it was true that his sympathy rarely extended to situations where sympathy was expected to extend. He was indulgent towards the open spaces of other mens futures, but he was impatient with the shuttered quarters of their pasts. In any case, he went on, mark this as your second piece of advice, Mr. Moody: nd yourself a friend. Plenty of parties about thatd be glad for an extra pair of hands. Thats the way, you knownd a mate, then form a party. Never known a man to make it solo. You kitted with a costume, and a swag? Im afraid I am at the mercy of the weather on that count, Moody said. My trunk is still aboard ship; the weather was too inclement to risk crossing the bar tonight, and I was told to expect my belongings at the customhouse to-morrow afternoon. I myself

27 JANUARY 1866

33

was conveyed by lightera small crew rowed out, very bravely, to fetch the passengers in. Oh, yes, Balfour said, more soberly. Weve seen three wrecks in the past month alone, coming over the bar. Its a frightful business. Theres a penny to be made in it, mind. When the ships are coming in people dont pay too much attention. But when theyre going outwhen theyre going out, theres gold aboard. I am told that the landing here at Hokitika is notoriously treacherous. Notoriouslyoh yes. And theres nothing to be done about it, if a vessels on the long side of a hundred feet. She might blow off a full head of steam and its not enough to force her over. Capital rework show, with the ares shooting up all around. But then its not just the steamers. Not just the big ones. Its any mans game on the Hokitika Bar, Walter. That sand will ground a schooner on the wrong tide. I well believe it, Moody said. Our vessel was a barquenone too large, agile, hardy enough to weather the most dreadful of stormsand yet the captain wouldnt risk her. He elected to drop anchor in the roadstead, and wait for the morning. The Waterloo, that her name? Shes a regular, in and out from Chalmers. A private charter, as a matter of fact, Moody said. Name of Godspeed. He might have pulled a pistol from his pocket, such was the shock that name produced. Moody looked around (his expression was still mild) and saw that the attention of the room was now openly xed upon him. Several of the men put down their papers; those who had been dozing opened their eyes; and one of the billiard players advanced a step towards him, into the light of the lamp. Balfour, too, had inched at the mention of the barques name, but his grey eyes held Moodys gaze coolly. Indeed, he said, seeming in an instant to shed all the effusion and bluster that had characterised his manner up until that point. I confess to you the name of that craft is not unknown to me, Mr. Moodynot

34

A Sphere within a Sphere

unknownbut I should like to conrm the captains name also, if you have no objection. Moody was searching his face for a very particular qualityone that, if he had been pressed, he would have been embarrassed to name aloud. He was trying to see if Balfour seemed haunted. He was sure that if the other mans mind leaped to imagine, or to remember, the kind of preternatural horror that Moody himself had encountered aboard the Godspeed, then its effect would be only too visible. But Balfour merely looked wary, as when a man hears of the return of one of his creditors, and begins in his mind to tally his excuses, and methods of escapehe did not look tormented, or afraid. Moody was certain that anyone who had witnessed what he had would bear the mark of it. And yet Balfour was changed there was a new shrewdness to the other mans aspect, a new sharpness to his gaze. Moody felt energised by the alteration. He realised, with a surge of excitement, that he had underestimated him. I believe the captains name was Carver, he said slowly, Francis Carver, if I remember rightly; a man of considerable strength, with a brooding look, and a white scar upon his cheekdoes that description match your man? It does. Balfour was scanning Moodys face, in turn. I am very curious to know how you and Mr. Carver came to be acquainted, he said after a moment. If you would indulge the intrusion, of course. Forgive me: we are not acquainted, Moody said. That is, I am sure he would not recognise me if he saw me again. He was resolved, in accordance with his strategy, to eld Balfours questions politely and without reservation: it would give him licence later to demand some answers of his own. Moody had no small genius for the art of diplomacy. As a child he had known instinctively that it was always better to tell a partial truth with a willing aspect than to tell a perfect truth in a defensive way. The appearance of co-operation was worth a great deal, if only because it forced a reciprocity, fair met with fair. He did not look about him again, but instead kept his eyes wide and his face open, and

27 JANUARY 1866

35

directed his speech wholly to Balfour, as if the eleven staring men on his periphery did not trouble him in the least. In that case, Balfour was saying, I shall hazard to guess that you purchased your ticket from the ships mate. Paid him into his own pocket, sir. You had a private arrangement with the man? The scheme had been devised by the crew, with the masters consent, Moody replied. An easy enough way to turn an extra shilling, I suppose. There were no berths of any kindone was allotted a place below decks, and instructed to stay sharp and keep out of the way. The situation was not at all ideal, of course, but my circumstances compelled my immediate departure from Dunedin, as you know, and Godspeed was the only scheduled departure on the day I wished to leave. I did not know the mate prior to our transaction, nor any of the other passengers, nor any of the crew. How many passengers came in under this arrangement? Moody met Balfours gaze levelly. Eight, he said, and put his mouth on his cigar. Balfour was quick to pounce upon this. Thats you and seven others? Eight in sum? Moody declined to answer the question directly. The passenger list will be published in Mondays paper; of course you may examine it yourself, he said, with a slightly incredulous expression, as though to imply that Balfours need for clarication was not only unnecessary, but unbecoming. He added, My real name, of course, will not appear there. I travelled under the name Philip de Lacy, this being the name of the man whose papers I purchased in Dunedin. Walter Moody, as the authorities have it, is currently somewhere in the South Pacicbearing eastward, I expect, towards the Horn. Balfours expression was still cool. Please allow me to inquire one thing further, he said. I should like to knowmerelywhether you have cause to think well or ill of him. Mr. Carver, I mean. I am not sure that I can answer you fairly, Moody said. I have on my authority only suspicion and report. I believe that the man was under some duress to leave Dunedin, for he was anxious to

36

A Sphere within a Sphere

weigh anchor despite predictions of a coming storm, but I am entirely ignorant of the business that compelled his haste. I did not formally meet him, and saw him only from a distance during the voyage, and then only rarely, for he kept to his cabin much of the time. So you see my opinion is not worth very much. And yet And yet . . . Balfour prompted, when Moody did not go on. He waited. To be frank with you, sir, Moody said, turning squarely to face the other man, I discovered certain particulars concerning the ships cargo, while aboard, that made me doubt her errand was an honest one. If I am certain of one thing, it is this: I wish never to make an enemy of Mr. Carver, if that event is in my power to avoid. The dark-haired man on Moodys left had stiffened. Found something in cargo, you said? he interposed, leaning forward. Aha! Moody thought, and then: now is the time to press my advantage. He turned to address the new speaker. Please forgive me if I neglect to elaborate, he said. I mean no disrespect to you, sir, but we are strangers to one another; or rather, you are a stranger to me, for my conversation with Mr. Balfour tonight has reached more ears than his alone. In this I am disadvantaged, not unto myself, as I have represented myself truthfully, but unto you, for you have made my acquaintance without introduction, and heard my piece without invitation or reply. I have nothing to conceal, concerning this or any journey I have made, but I confess, (he turned back to Balfour) it rankles to be questioned so relentlessly by an interrogator who divulges nothing of his own design. This was rather more aggressively worded than was Moodys habit in speech, but he had spoken calmly and with dignity, and he knew that he was in the right. He did not blink; he stared at Balfour and waited, his mild eyes wide, for the other mans response. Balfours gaze ickered sideways to the dark-haired man who had made the interruption, and then back to meet Moodys own. He exhaled. He rose from his chair, tossed the stump of his cigar into the re, and held out his hand. Your glass needs relling, Mr. Moody, he said quietly. Please be so kind as to allow me.

27 JANUARY 1866

37

He went to the sideboard in silence, followed by the dark-haired man, who, when he had unfurled himself to his full height, almost grazed the low ceiling of the room. He leaned close to Balfour and began to mutter something urgently in his ear. Balfour nodded and muttered something back. It must have been an instruction, for the tall man then moved to the billiard table, beckoned the blond-haired man to approach him, and conveyed a whispered message to him. The blond-haired man began nodding, vigorously and at once. Watching them, Moody felt his habitual quickness return. The brandy had roused him; he was warmed and dried; and nothing caused his spirits to lift more surely than the promise of a tale. It often happens that when a soul under duress is required to attend to a separate difculty, one that does not concern him in the least, then this second problem works upon the rst as a kind of salve. Moody felt this now. For the rst time since he had disembarked from the lighter he found that he was able to think upon his recent misadventure clearly. In the context of this new secret, his private memory was somehow freed. He could recall the scene that haunted himthe dead man rising, his bloody throat, his cryand nd it fabular, sensational; still horric, but somehow much more explicably so. The story had gained a kind of value: he could turn it into prot, by exchange. He watched the whispered message pass from man to man. He could not distinguish any proper nounsthe jumble of unfamiliar accents made that impossiblebut it was evident that the matter under discussion was one that concerned every man in the room. He forced his mind to evaluate the situation carefully and rationally. Inattention had led him to err in judgment once already that evening; he would not err again. Some kind of heist was in the ofng, he guessed, or maybe they were forming an alliance against another man. Mr. Carver, perhaps. They numbered twelve, which put Moody in mind of a jury . . . but the presence of the Chinese men and the Maori native made that impossible. Had he interrupted a secret council of a kind? But what kind of council could possibly comprise such a diverse range of race, income, and estate?

38

A Sphere within a Sphere

Needless to say that Walter Moodys countenance did not betray the subject of his thoughts. He had calibrated his expression precisely between grave bafement and apology, as if to communicate that he was very sensible of the trouble he was causing, but he had no idea what that trouble might be, and as to how he should proceed, he was willing to take anyones direction but his own. Outside, the wind changed direction, sending a damp gust down the chimney, so that the embers swelled scarlet and for a brief moment Moody could smell the salt of the sea. The movement in the hearth seemed to rouse the fat man nearest the re. He levered himself from his armchair with a grunt of effort and shufed off to join the others at the sideboard. When he had gone, Moody found himself alone before the re with the man in the herringbone suit; the latter now leaned forward and spoke. I should like to introduce myself, if you have no objection, he said, snapping open his silver cigarette case for the rst time, and selecting a cigarette. He spoke with an accent identiably French, and a manner that was clipped and courteous. My name is Aubert Gascoigne. I hope that you will forgive that I know your name already. Well, as it happens, Moody said, with a little jolt of surprise, I believe I also know yours. Then we are well met, said Aubert Gascoigne. He had been shing for his matches; he paused now with his hand in his breast pocket, like a rakish colonel posing for a sketch. But I am intrigued. How is it that you know me, Mr. Moody? I read your address this evening, in Fridays edition of the West Coast Timesam I right? If I remember correctly, you penned an opinion on behalf of the Magistrates Court. Gascoigne smiled, and pulled out his matches. Now I understand. I am yesterdays news. He shook out a match, placed the side of his boot against his knee, and struck his light upon the sole. Forgive me, Moody began, fearing that he had offended, but Gascoigne shook his head. I am not insulted, he said when his cigarette was lit. So. You arrive as a stranger in an unfamiliar town, and what is your rst

27 JANUARY 1866

39

move? You nd a day-old paper and read the courthouse bulletin. You learn the names of the lawbreakers, on the one hand, and the law enforcers, on the other. This is quite a strategy. There was no method in it, Moody said modestly. Gascoignes name had appeared on the third page of the paper, beneath a short sermon, perhaps the length of a paragraph, on the iniquity of crime. The address was preceded by a list of all the arrests that had been made that month. (He could not recall any of those names, and in truth had only remembered Gascoignes because his former Latin master had been Gascoyenthe familiarity had drawn his eye.) Perhaps not, Gascoigne returned, but it has brought you to the very heart of our disquiet nonetheless: a subject that has been on every mans lips for a fortnight. Moody frowned. Petty criminals? One in particular. Shall I guess? Moody asked lightly, when the other did not go on. Gascoigne shrugged. It doesnt matter. I am referring to the whore. Moody raised his eyebrows. He tried to recall the catalogue of arrests to his mindyes, perhaps one of the listed names had been a womans. He wondered what every man in Hokitika had to say about a whores arrest. It took him a moment to nd the words to form an appropriate answer, and to his surprise, Gascoigne laughed. I am teasing you, he said. You must not let me tease you. Her crime was not listed, of course, but if you read with a little imagination you will see it. Anna Wetherell is the name she gives. I am not sure I know how to read with imagination. Gascoigne laughed again, expelling a sharp breath of smoke. But you are a barrister, are you not? By training only, Moody said stify. I have not yet been called to the Bar. Well, here: there is always an overtone in the magistrates address, Gascoigne explained. Gentlemen of Westlandthere is your rst clue. Crimes of shame and degradationthere is your second.

40

A Sphere within a Sphere

I see, Moody said, though he did not. His gaze ickered over Gascoignes shoulder: the fat man had moved to the pair of Chinese men, and was scribbling something on the yleaf of his pocketbook for them to read. Perhaps the woman was wrongly indicted? Perhaps that is what captured everyones attention? Oh, she wasnt gaoled for whoring, Gascoigne said. The sergeants dont care a straw about that! As long as a man is discreet enough, they are quite content to look the other way. Moody waited. There was an unsettling quality to the way that Gascoigne spoke: it was both guarded and conding at once. Moody felt that he could not trust him. The clerk was perhaps in his middle thirties. His pale hair had begun to silver above his ears, and he wore a pale moustache, brushed sideways from a central part. His herringbone suit was tailored closely to his body. Why, Gascoigne added after a moment, the sergeant himself made a proposition of her, directly after the committal! The committal? Moody echoed, feeling foolish. He wished that the other man would speak a little less cryptically, and at greater length. He had a cultivated air (he made Thomas Balfour seem as blunt as a doorstop) but it was a cultivation somehow mourned. He spoke as a disappointed man, for whom perfection existed only as something rememberedand then regretted, because it was lost. She was tried for trying to take her own life, Gascoigne said. Theres a symmetry in that, do you not think? Tried for trying. Moody thought it inappropriate to agree, and in any case he did not care to pursue that line of thinking. He said, to change the subject, And the master of my vesselMr. Carver? He is connected to this woman somehow, I presume? Oh yes, Carvers connected, Gascoigne said. He looked at the cigarette in his hand, seemed suddenly disgusted with it, and threw it into the re. He killed his own child. Moody drew back in horror. I beg your pardon? They cant prove it, of course, Gascoigne said darkly. But the mans a brute. You are quite right to want to avoid him. Moody stared at him, again at a loss for how to reply. Every man has his currency, Gascoigne added after a moment.

27 JANUARY 1866

41

Perhaps its gold; perhaps its women. Anna Wetherell, you see, was both. At this point the fat man returned, with his glass refreshed; he sat down, looked rst to Gascoigne and then to Moody, and seemed to recognise, obscurely, a social obligation to introduce himself. He leaned forward and thrust out his hand. Names Dick Mannering. Its a pleasure, Moody said, in a rather automatic tone. He felt disoriented. He wished Gascoigne had not been interrupted quite at that moment, so he could have pressed him further on the subject of the whore. It was indelicate to attempt to revive the subject now; in any case Gascoigne had retreated back into his armchair, and his face had closed. He began turning his cigarette case over again in his hands. Prince of Wales Opera House, thats me, Mannering added, as he sat back. Capital, said Moody. Only show in town. Mannering rapped the arm of his chair with his knuckles, casting about for a way to proceed. Moody glanced at Gascoigne, but the clerk was staring sourly into his lap. It was clear that the fat mans reappearance had severely displeased him; it was also clear that he saw no reason to conceal his displeasure from its objectwhose face, Moody saw with embarrassment, had turned a very dark shade of red. I could not help but admire your watch chain, earlier, Moody said at last, addressing Mannering. Is it Hokitika gold? Nice piece, isnt it? Mannering said, without looking down at his chest, or lifting his ngers to touch the admired item. He rapped the arms of his chair a second time. Clutha nuggets, in actual fact. I was at Kawarau, Dunstan, then Clutha. I confess Im not familiar with the names, Moody said. I assume theyre Otago elds? Mannering assented that they were, and began to expound on the subject of company mining and the value of the dredge. Youre all diggers here? Moody said when he was done, moving his ngertips in a little circle in the air, to indicate that he meant the room at large.

42

A Sphere within a Sphere

Not oneexcepting the Chinamen, of course, Mannering said. Camp followers is the term, though most of us started off in the gorge. Most gold on a goldelds found where? At the hotels. At the shanties. Mates spend the stuff as soon as they nd it. Tell you what: you might do better to open a business than to head to the hills. Get yourself a licence, start selling grog. That must be wise advice, if you have acted upon it yourself, Moody said. Mannering settled back into his chair, seeming very contented with the compliment. Yes, he had quit the elds, and now paid other men to work his claims for a percentage of the yield; he was from Sussex; Hokitika was a ne place, but there were fewer girls than was proper in a town of such a size; he loved all kinds of harmony; he had modelled his opera house upon the Adelphi at the West End; he felt that the old song-and-supper could not be beat; he could not abide public houses, and small beer made him ill; the oods at Dunstan had been dreadfuldreadful; the Hokitika rain was hard to bear; he would say again that there was nothing nicer than a four-part harmonythe voices like threads in a piece of silk. Splendid, Moody murmured. Gascoigne had made no movement at all during this soliloquy, save for the compulsive rhythm of his long, pale hands, as he turned the silver object over in his lap; Mannering, for his part, had not registered the clerks presence at all, and in fact had directed his speech at a spot some three feet above Moodys head, as if Moodys presence did not really concern him either. At length the whispered drama that was taking place on their periphery began to approach a kind of resolution, and the fat mans patter subsided. The dark-haired man returned, sitting down in his former position on Moodys left; Balfour came after him, carrying two sizeable measures of brandy. He passed one of the glasses to Moody, waved his hand at the latters thanks, and sat down. I owe an explanation, he said, for the rudeness with which I was questioning you just now, Mr. Moodyyou neednt demur, its quite true. The truth isthe truth iswell, the truth, sir, deserves a tale, and thats as short as I can make it.

27 JANUARY 1866

43

If you would be so kind as to enter our condence, Gascoigne added, from Balfours other side, in a rather nasty show of false politeness. The dark-haired man sat forward in his chair suddenly and added, Does any man present wish to voice his reservations? Moody looked around him, blinking, but nobody spoke. Balfour nodded; he waited a moment more, as if to append his own courtesy to that of the other, and then resumed. Let me tell you at once, he said to Moody, that a man has been murdered. That blackguard of yoursCarver, I mean; I shant call him Captainhe is the murderer, though Ill be dned if I could tell you how or why. I just know it, as sure as I see that glass in your hand. Now: if youd do me the honour of hearing a piece of that villains history, then you might . . . well, you might be willing to help us, placed as you are. Excuse me, sir, Moody said. At the mention of murder his heart had begun to beat very fast: perhaps this had something to do with the phantom aboard the Godspeed, after all. How am I placed? With your trunk still aboard the barque, is what he means, the dark-haired man said. And your appointment at the customhouse to-morrow afternoon. Balfour looked faintly annoyed; he waved his hand. Let us talk of that in a moment, he said. I entreat you, rst, to hear the story out. Certainly I will listen, Moody returned, with the slightest emphasis on the last word, as though to caution the other man against expecting, or demanding, anything more. He thought he saw a smirk pass over Gascoignes pale face, but in the next moment the mans features had soured again. Of courseof course, Balfour said, taking the point. He put down his brandy glass, laced his knuckles together, and cracked them smartly. Well, then. I shall endeavour to acquaint you, Mr. Moody, with the cause of our assembly.

The Luminaries
By Eleanor Catton
Winner of the Man Booker Prize! In 1866, a weary Englishman lands in a gold-mining frontier town on the coast of New Zealand to make his fortune and forever leave behind his family's shame. On arrival, he stumbles across a tense gathering of twelve local men who have met in secret to investigate what links three crimes that occurred on a single day, events in which each man finds himself implicated in some way: the town's wealthiest man has vanished. An enormous fortune in pure gold has been discovered in the home of a luckless drunk. A prostitute is found unconscious on a deserted road. But nothing is quite as it seems. As the men share their stories, what emerges is an intricate web of alliances and betrayals, secrets and lies in which everything is connected and everyone plays a part, whether they know it or not. Part mystery, part fantastical love story, and full of diabolical twists and turns, The Luminaries is a breathtaking feat of storytelling that reveals the ways our interconnected lives can shape our destinies. Bursting with characters and event, it is a story and a unique, richly atmospheric world that readers will gladly lose themselves in.

Buy a copy of The Luminaries Hardcover Amazon | Indigo eBook Amazon Kindle | Kobo | Sony Reader | iBookstore | Google

Excerpted from The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton. Copyright 2013 by Eleanor Catton. Excerpted by permission of McClelland & Stewart, a division of Random House of Canada Limited. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

m y g h o s t s
m ary s w a n

Alfred A. Knopf Canada

a b s e n c e

September
n her room at the top of the house, Clare is thinking about I time. Thinking with her eyes closed in the poky little space up under the roof, where things scuttle and rustle. Stifling in the summer and far too cold in winter and not anything like the room that will be hers a few years from now, when they all move to the new double house on Pembroke Street. The one where the scent of lilacs drifts through all the open windows. But thats in the future, and the future, like the past, is nowhere in her mind. Instead shes thinking about time in a different way. Thinking about what it is, and why it is. Think ing about how it can be Eternal, and yet gone forever. About how it is a thing that has carried on for everyone else these past hours or days while she was lying in her narrow bed, thinking nothing at all. he room has two small windows, east and west, and when T the word morning floats into her mind she knows that its there

mary swan

because of the faint bar of light that falls on her quilt through the panes to her right. The patchwork glows along that bar, a watery blue block at the edge of it. They each have a quilt their mother has made, sleep beneath patterns of worn-out clothing. The blue is from a shirt Wee Alan wore before he died on the crossing. Before he was sewn into a tiny shroud and tipped into the cold sea, while even Clares father wept. Thats a story they all know, although she doesnt remember anyone telling it. In her bed she realizes how far one word has brought her, and she closes her eyes and falls back down into the dark. t some point she uses the chamber pot. When she gets up A to use it again it is clean and that means someone has been there, her mother or her sisters. Maybe while she slept, if thats what shes been doing. Sometimes the light falls through the window to her left, sometimes to her right, and she has no idea where shes been in between. A thing that might worry her, if she wasnt so very tired. She wonders, idly, if this is what it is to lose your mind. Or maybe its her body, the thin white hands she holds before her eyes; maybe her body is the thing thats been left behind. Clare thinks that thought and then its gone, and she finds herself in a moment when the light is neither left nor right; she is standing on legs that feel like India rubber, then walking a few paces. Sometime after that she sips broth from a white bowl, her sisters face wavering and strange through the steam. Eight days, Kez says, when she asks. You missed your birthday, we had to eat all sixteen tarts without you. Then she says, Are you feeling any better? I dont know, Clare says. I dont seem to know anything at all.

my ghosts

1!
uite suddenly she remembers that her mother is two years Q dead, and not emptying anyones chamber pot. Not sitting beside the bed before dawn, not placing a cool hand on Clares forehead, nor singing that quiet song. Her leaving was so easy that its always felt that she hasnt really gone. That shes somewhere just out of sight, standing by a window before the lamps are lit, or sitting on a chair in the next room. Maybe holding Wee Alan on her knee, while he pats her face with his baby hands. Its not a thing shes thought before, but it makes sense to Clare if thats what Heaven is. Not a place, exactly, but something like a fold, like the part of a let-down hem that has stayed as bright and clean as it was in the beginning, while all the rest fades and fades. Maybe there is a fold like that in time, a sort of sidestep that lets you stay with the ones you loved, lets you watch them and hold them up. But no work to be done, no fretting or cares. When they opened the bedroom door that morn ing, only the white curtains moved in the light. Their mothers eyes were closed, all the lines in her face smoothed away. t one time it could barely hold them all, this tall, narrow house A where Clare lies thinking, cheek resting on her folded hands. Like a dance, the way they moved through the rooms, turning sideways, stepping forward and back to keep from crashing into each other. Her brothers thundering boots and the way they knocked and cuffed each other, up and down the stairs. Her sisters singing and her mother calling one name or another, and always underneath the snick of heavy scissors and the sound of the treadle from the front room where her father cut and stitched fine suits, by the only window that let in enough light.

mary swan

lare is the youngest and for so long it seemed that everyC thing happened over her head. Talking and joking and secrets passing back and forth up above her. Some laundry days the sheets were boiled then draped all over the kitchen to dry and she liked to sit under them, steamy at first but cooling fast, a muffled white world and nothing outside but empty land and sky. Her brother Ross told her once about the Eskimo who lived in the frozen North; its the only thing she really remembers about him. Even when she was older, and knew differently, she had the idea that was where Ross went when he left. Pictured him dressed in skins and furs, no sound but the snow squeaking under his heavy feet. he tries now to remember how the Eskimo tell time, and S decides that she never knew. Only that their days and nights are different, long periods when the sun never sets and others when theres nothing but dark. The reason for that a thing she did know once, and she squeezes her eyes shut, trying to bring it back. She thinks of those problems she used to love at school, the ones that came with a story: If a man travels 150 miles in 5 days when the days are 12 hours long, in how many days of 10 hours each will he travel 500 miles? Easy enough to solve, once shed learned to close her mind to the picture of the man and the road he walked, winding through a forest, and between bare summer hills. His jaunty pace slowing and his boots wearing thin, the sun beating down on his dusty cap. Easy enough if she stopped wondering just where the man was going, that the days were becoming shorter. Who he had left behind, and if he ever missed them. oss was already gone when their father took sick, but even R though the mails were slow where he was, there would have

my ghosts

been plenty of time for him to come home. When their mother read his letter out, their father said, He has so much to do, land to clear and a cabin to build, of course he cant come back. Then he coughed and coughed, his hair stuck flat to his sweating forehead. Kez and Nan muttered across Clare, in the bed they all shared, saying, That Ross, he always did think only of himself. There was a time when she thought his leaving was like one of those old songs, a great quarrel and a disowning, the details hidden somewhere in the words that bounced around above her head. But it may have been as her sisters said, that Ross just turned his back, and walked off into a life all his own. No care for their fathers long death. No thought for their mother and the way she sat down at the table when his rare letters came, her fingers tracing each word before she read them slowly out loud. How many trees cut and split, and the cow stumbling into a mire. The birth of a baby girl, named for his wifes dead sister. And the boys who came after, that shed never hold in her arms. lare wants to keep thinking about time, but the past keeps C intruding, and she wonders if thats a clue. Like the hints her teacher used to give, trying to draw answers from their blank faces. Think about it this way, he would say. Think about what you know. The same teacher who showed them a card with a drawing of a girl, an old-fashioned cap perched on her head. Long hair flowing over her shoulders and a dark line of ribbon around her neck. Keep looking, Mr. Dunbar said, and suddenly it became a picture of an old crone; the same white cap, but the chin now a hooked nose, the necklace a dark slash of mouth. Once you had seen that, your eyes switched back

mary swan

and forth, but you could never see them both at once, could never catch whatever it was that made the picture change. She doesnt know why she feels as if theres a puzzle to solve. Steps to take, questions to ask. But remembering the magic picture makes her think of Aunt Peach, who lived with them before Clare went to school. Not really an aunt, but some kind of cousin with nowhere else to go. Always cold, her crooked hands clutching at her grey shawl, a whistle in her breathing, in her voice. She used to wander out in the street, calling the long dead in for supper. Set off for the shops in the middle of the night, her bony feet bare and bruised by the stones in the road. A sudden cry in the housePeacheys out, shes out!and everyone running to search for her. Even in her chair by the stove Aunt Peach didnt know anyones right name. Clares mother said that her memories were all scrambled up, like a big mess of eggs. Now she thinks that Aunt Peach was somehow cut loose from time, the way she herself has been. Whats my name? Aunt Peach used to say. Whats my name? And when they told her, shed repeat it again and again, like the name of a town, or a river in Africa. Something to memorize, something just as removed. You had a fever, thats all, Kez says. Clare isnt sure that was all, but its enough to know for now. Kez climbs the stairs with a bowl and spoon rattling on a tray, with the pale china jug. She helps Clare wash, waits while she spoons in soup or stew, tears off small pellets of bread. Its not like Kez to be so patient, to speak so soothingly. Nan is the soft one, the one who will listen to anything. The one who used to whisper, Sorry lovey, so sorry honey, as she cleaned and bandaged a scraped shin. More motherly than their own mother if that was how you

my ghosts

measured it, but maybe she just had more time. Clares mother was always in motion, and she fretted about the rent, about the accounts her father took so long to collect. The price of sugar, and how quickly the boys grew out of their boots. Always food to prepare and washing to do and mounds of mending, her needle held close to the light. A pat on the head, a quick touch on the shoulder, but no time, or not that Clare can remember, to sit quietly with her arms wrapped around a child on her lap. Wheres Nan? she thinks to ask. Shes not caught my fever, has she? Kez tells her that Nan hurt her knee, that its swollen up like anything and she cant do the stairs. She says it happened when they were dancing in the kitchen, that Ben was there, that Charlie had stopped by and was showing them some steps he said were all the rage. Im surprised you didnt hear us all the way up here, Kez says, we were laughing so hard. It might be true. Their brother Charlie usually brings some wildness with him and he always has the latest knot in his tie, the most fashionable collar. She can picture her brothers and sisters dancing all over the kitchen, the table and chairs moved aside and steam hitting the dark windows, running down in streams. It might have happened, and Nan might have twisted her knee, but she thinks it more likely that Kez is making it up, a cruel reminder that all kinds of things are going on without her. er sleep is still sudden and deep; days pass, and when shes H awake her floating mind snags on thoughts that she tries to examine. Something has happened to her body, she knows that. A walk across the room wears her out, her limbs at the same time so heavy and so weak. Shes not sure why, but she senses that its important to keep her mind tethered to this notion of time, to rein it in when it scatters and wanders too far. Another

10

mary swan

kind of exercise, like the way Kez makes her shuffle from her bed to the doorway, so her feet dont forget what its like. Clare doesnt think theres anything in her books that will help, and besides, someone has taken them away. The little wall shelf empty, except for the doll her father made from bits of wood and knotted string, a faceless circle for its head, topped with a mess of fine woollen hair. Shes puzzled by the doll, doesnt think that it has always been there, but thats not what she wants to be thinking about, so she closes her eyes and tries to remember, instead, all the things she knows about time. People used to believe that the sun rode the sky like a fiery horse and chariot, dragging the night behind; she remembers learning that. An answer to a question that was satisfying enough, that let them live their lives by the broad rhythm of light and dark, free to eat when they were hungry, rest when they were tired. Now she asks herself why that wasnt the end of it, why someone felt a need for more order, and then more. For sundials and church bells, for school bells and ticking clocks and watches. For the time-ball that dropped like a slow stone, her father lifting her onto his shoulders to see over the tall people in front of them. All of it marked out, ticking away, days and hours and minutes, the present divided into smaller and smaller pieces, as if that could keep you from looking into the great black expanse of the future. Darkness on the other side as well, years and years, thousands of them, millions, its said, since the world began. Time that existed so long before there were men to think of it. Clare imagines that kind of time as the inky black cloth her father rippled out onto his long table. A dark, flowing mass that he measured and cut, tamed to take on the shape of a man. She used to hide under that table, too, listening to

11

my ghosts

the stories he told himself as he worked, the songs he sang so softly. Not even thinking until much later that he had known she was there, of course he had, and the stories were for her. Tamlane with the Elfin Queen, and Thomas the Rhymer. The long song about the cold blowing wind. Little pitchers, she remembers him saying sometimes, when her mother stood, cross, in the doorway. She cant picture her fathers face, except at the end. Those last days at his bedside, when the time between his eyes flickering open grew longer and longer, as if he was getting used to how it would be. But she remembers how strong his arms once were, lifting her through the air. And she remembers his foot tapping when he played his old fiddle, and how she loved the times when the neighbours came with more fiddles and drums, when the music was loud in the crowded kitchen, everything a swirl of colour and sound. Hands clapping and her fathers eyes closed, his knee bent and lifting and his boot crashing down. After he died they had to sell the long table and the sewing machine, the box of chalk his fingers had held. Their mother wrapped his fiddle in a baby-sized quilt and sent it to Ross, even though Charlie was the one who made music from everything he touched. A pair of spoons or sticks of kindling, the battered squeezebox he spent hours cleaning and patching, and working the stuck buttons free. He must have minded about the fiddle, but thats just how it was, everyone in their place and things decided. Ross the eldest, if you didnt count Wee Alan, and entitled to certain things, even though hed walked away. Ben, the next son, stepping into Rosss place, handing his pay envelope to their mother and later to Kez and Nan, who cooked and cleaned, who walked together to the shops every

12

mary swan

day and always came home with something theyd found, even if it was only a story to tell. No question but that Charlie would apprentice to the jeweller on King Street, a man from the same church, who dressed in plain suits their father had made. Or that Clare would become a teacher; what better way to earn her living, to make use of all shed learned. A girl always top of her class. A girl who loved everything about going to school, loved even the smell of the classroom. The sleepy, chalk-dust light that fell through the tall windows.

October
he season is changing, autumn-blue sky hard against the attic T window. Theres a perfect red leaf on the tray Kez brings; Its glorious outside, she says. Clare keeps the leaf until it dries and curls, crumbles it to powder and watches how it hangs in the air when she blows. Thinking, Thats time too, what it does. Later, her brother Ben climbs the stairs, to tell her that Principal Thomas has stopped by. That he drank a cup of tea, ate two pieces of Nans seed cake and said hed had to hire another teacher to take Clares place. Perhaps next fall, hed said, when she had completely recovered, perhaps then he could find her a new position. He left this for you, Ben says, tugging a thin green book from his pocket. He said youd been discussing it. Clare has no memory of that discussion, but when Ben is gone she runs her fingertips over the cover of the little book, a beautiful deep green, like the trees in Moss Park when the light is beginning to fade. Its called Elementary Astronomy, and she turns the clean pages slowly, looking at the simple illustrations.

13

my ghosts

Circles and ovals and lines with arrows, a tiny man on a hill with a telescope. The patterns of the fixed stars that you can only see when youre told what theyre meant to be. She knows its not right, but all she feels is relief at losing her place. As if shes put down some heavy thing she hadnt even realized she was carrying. She remembers, but distantly, how proud she was of her first class certificate, how happy when Principal Thomas opened the door and showed her the empty classroom that would be hers. She remembers counting off the days last summer, waking earlier and earlier as the time drew closer. But when the first day of school finally came it was hard to open her eyes, and the bedclothes seemed an impossible weight. She remembers how carefully she began to brush her hair, and then her arm was so tired and she realized that shed been brushing and brushing for who knew how long, staring at herself in the mirror. Pull yourself together, she said then, and the moment she said it she felt as if she was fraying at the edges, sliding away. The dishes Nan set on the table made a hollow sound, and the buildings she walked by on her way were all sharp lines and colours, like the rows of thin-shouldered children, their piercing voices. She understands now that her fever was coming on, but that day all she knew was that things were not quite right, and she thought that she just needed to concentrate. But the next day was the same, only more so. Like a dream, in the moments before you realize that it is a dream, that terrible feeling of everything sliding out of control. Next fall is a long way off, but it feels as if a door has closed quite firmly; she cant imagine herself trying to do it all again.

1!

14

mary swan

ez has brought her the old brown sewing box, the button jar K and the smooth darning egg Clare loves to hold in her hands, along with a pile of things to be mended. Nothing too tiring, she says, as she leaves with the tray, but it will give you something to do. Clare thinks for the first time of how much extra work shes causing, how its not only her days and nights that have changed. She will do the mending, make herself useful, and she thinks that she might even learn something from the tears and frayed seams, messages from the lives going on in the rest of the house. Theyre none of them the mud-slinging, tree-climbing children they once were, but Ben still sheds buttons almost daily, and his jacket pockets often tear from the notebooks and sharpened pencil stubs he stuffs them with. Nans blue dress has a pattern of tiny singed holes near the hem, sparks scattered from their fathers old pipe when she knocks it on the sole of her shoe. Sitting on the back steps in the dark, having her quiet smoke, her body in their fathers shape, elbows on her knees and right hand cupped around the bowl. They all know not to say a word, if they happen to open the door to a curl of scent that reminds them of another time. The clothes in the mending pile have only the usual types of damage, tell her nothing she doesnt already know. She concentrates on her neat, small stitches, the tiny snap of the thread in her teeth. Was it Rumpelstiltskin? Kez says, when she picks them up in the morning. She gives a little jump and tries to click her heels, laughs the witchy cackle their mother used to do when they begged for one of her stories, a thing Clare hadnt known she remembered. She thinks of something Ben told her once, a trick he used when he studied for exami nations. He said that he imagined the tall old dresser in the kitchen, that he lined his facts up, put them in different spots

15

my ghosts

in different shelves and drawers, and he said that he could always call that picture to mind, find anything he needed that way. It never worked for Clare, but she thinks now that maybe her mind is something like that dresser after all, drawers and compartments swollen shut by age and weather; she wonders what else might be hiding there, waiting to slide suddenly free. lares sister Nan has a very round face, and her sister Kez has C ears that stick out. They call each other Moon and Jug, but no one else does. They were born as close together as they could be, without being twins; impossible to think of one without the other, even though theyre nothing alike. Nans round, kind face hides a secret sorrow, another thing Clare knows, though she doesnt know how. She has two friends from church, the Misses Simp, Kez calls them, although ones a widow and they arent related at all. But they both have long, thin noses and pale faces, sit very straight and hold their saucers up in front, set their teacups down with the tiniest of sounds. Long pauses in their conversation, while the clock ticks. Kez says they make her want to break wind loudly, she says one day shell pin them down, knees on their bony shoulders, and smear rouge on their sagging, pale cheeks. Oh stop! Nan says, through her laughing, and Kez does stop, although she wouldnt for anyone else. Kez is a joker, like Charlie, but with a meaner edge, someone who would tickle you into nothing but pain. She cant let anything go and its worse since their mother died, no one to check her tongue. For Heavens sake, Im only joking, shell say, as if words shouldnt cut within the walls of your own house. Still, shes the one youd want with you if theres a dull, hard job to be done. Her arms are skinny but strong and she pushes up her sleeves and jumps in, something like their mother in

16

mary swan

the way shes rarely still. Pretend this carpets the mean old landlords face, she says, when its draped over the line outside. Take that, Kez says, giving it a whack with the beater. Take that and that. And they do it until their arms are so tired, the dust thats left only a shiver in the air. Shes good at thinking up games while they wring out the laundry, knead and peel things at the kitchen table. What kind of animal would the fat man next door be, the grocers wife, the butcher with his missing fingertips. What would be the best meal you could ever eat, every single ingredient. Or what do you think the princess would do, if the prince never came to the tower? A fever, Kez says, a collapsewhat does it matter? This is where we are, and soon youll be better, and thats that. She tells Clare not to think so much, tells her the doctor said that too, just like their mother always did. The doctor came? Clare says, but Kez bats the question away. Only a few times, she says, only those first days. Just rest, is what he said, and he left a nasty tonic for your heart, but we couldnt get you to take it. She puts on her witchy voice and says she poured the bottle out the back door, says it bubbled and seethed and burned the ground black, and Clare knows shell hear nothing more about the doctor, how worried they must have been to call him. Ill try, Clare says. She knows she cant explain it to Kez, how safe she feels in her dark-walled room. How its beginning to feel like a gift, this time with nothing to do but think. Although it must be what wears her out; she does nothing else but sew a few buttons and walk the room end to end, read a paragraph about the changing face of the moon. Nans knee is better and shes sometimes there when Clare opens her eyes. Other times Kez is sitting in the chair by her

17

my ghosts

bed, or Ben, and sometimes even Charlie, who brings her a book on repairing clocks and watches. Thats not really the kind of time shes been wondering about, but when hes gone she turns the pages, looks at the diagrams, all the tiny parts hidden beneath the plain face. Trains and bridges and pinions, levers and springs and jewels. The escapement, which regulates everything, makes the wheels turn at a steady rate that equals the passing of time, shown by the moving hands. She covers the page and tries to see it in her mind, each part of the mechanism, and what its purpose is. In one of the illustrations the pieces are exploded out, each one separate with its own neat label. But you can see that they are all in order, that at any moment they could fall back into place with a tiny sound and become whole again, and then time will go ticking on. hen Charlie comes next theres been a first, early snow; he W bends his head so she can feel it in his hair. Then he sits in the chair, fidgeting with his cuffs, his open collar. Scratches at his earlobe. His nails are bitten down, there are dark smudges under his eyes, and Clare thinks that he looks like the person he might be if he wasnt always so lively. Charlie is next to her in age, and there was a time they were always together. Wandering through alleyways and the wilder parts of the park, climbing over fences and up through the branches of swaying trees. Once they tried to rig a tightrope, but the knots didnt hold, and after they saw the Wild West show they galloped down all the back laneways for days, on their way to rob the two oclock train. Clare was the lookout, her job to peek around the corner and then give the special whistle that would bring Charlie thundering past, a torn-off sleeve tied over his nose and mouth. Noisy bullets flying from

18

mary swan

his cocked thumb and finger. She doesnt remember exactly when it changed. When she began to spend the sleepy afternoons scrubbing potatoes at the battered table, or whispering behind her hand with the other girls at school. Charlie fixing his part just so with a wet comb and stroking the soft hairs above his lip, walking with a new, lazy slouch and not telling her anything that mattered. Clare knows, they all do, that hes not happy where he is. Always complaining about the fine, close work and the bad temper of Mr. Howell, and about his tiny room above the shop. Looking at him now theres barely a trace of the smooth-skinned boy, but she remembers sitting beside him, throwing stones that gulped into a pond, the smell of wild grass all around. And she remembers sitting on the hot roof of a shed while he told her what theyd do with all their stolen gold. The fine house theyd live in together, soft green lawns through the window where horses chased each other and shook their manes, their long brown heads. Heavy linen napkins snapped out in their hands when they sat at a long table spread with covered silver dishes, each one holding some food theyd heard of but never tasted. She wonders now where that picture came from, nothing like a life either of them had ever seen. And she wonders if theres another kind of sidestep, like the one shes decided Heaven must be. A place where she and Charlie still sit in the hot sun, chewing on blades of fresh spring grass with their shoulders touching, not one sad thought in their heads. Shes just about to ask him what he thinks about that when he gives a huge sigh, and his hands fall open, palms up on his splayedout thighs. I dont want it, Charlie says. A little life like this.

1!

19

my ghosts

fter hes gone, his footsteps fading on the stairs, Clare smooths A the rucked-up chair cover and thinks that in a strange way those few words are the most Charlies ever said to her. As if he slipped out of a cloak as he came through her doorway. She thinks that maybe Kez does too, something softer showing, that Clare never thought was there to be seen. Even Ben, who climbs the stairs most evenings and talks about whats gone on at the Telegraph Office, tells her about an idea hes working on, switches and currents and relays. It doesnt matter that its nothing she can follow; as he talks he pulls out his notebook and begins to draw, to scribble down figures, and soon the only sound is the scratch of his pencil, and the soft pss pss pss of breath through his teeth. But lately he drifts, with a little smile on his lips, and once he asked her about hair combs, and was that a gift that a woman might like. What kind, did she think, for hair that was lighter than hers, and straighter. Hair that had a sort of gleam. Arranging the cover she thinks of the chair too, a gift from Kez and Nan when she got her certificate. Something they found on one of their prowls. Walk with them to the shops or down any street and youll notice how their heads swivel, how they see the worth in all kinds of things other people think they no longer want or need. A dented fire screen, the old squeezebox that made Charlies eyes open wide, a bouquet of flowers, barely wilted. Somehow they dragged the heavy chair home, found a place to hide it while Ben fixed the broken leg, the wobbly arm. They dyed a sheet deep blue and draped it to cover the leaking stuffing, huffed it up the stairs for Clare to find when she came home, a sign pinned on that said Teachers Chair. When she thinks of that, she feels a wash of shame at the way she keeps herself apart. The fever itself is long past, and maybe

20

mary swan

shes not as weak as she feels, maybe she needs to make herself get up, make herself set aside whatever it is that keeps her from the stairs. That keeps her from taking her place at the kitchen table, from going on with her life like a normal, happy girl.

November
he hard blue sky has turned a gloomy grey. Day after day a T rainy light, although it must be falling softly, no sound on the roof that slants above her. No difference in the hours of the day. Clare thinks what it would be like to be trapped in an eternal, hazy present. Like the man in the problem, walking his endless road. Maybe thats why someone began to think about measurement. Maybe someone understood that being able to mark time in a different way could keep you from going mad, from thinking that nothing would ever change. She wonders if thats what it was like for Aunt Peach, who was buried with the only things she owned. A dark grey dress and shawl, a thin gold ring on her crooked little finger. They used to say that she was content enough, that she didnt know; a blessing, really, that she had no idea at all. But maybe it was a choice, that wandering of mind and body. Leaving the chair by the stove, one way or another, to look for the place, the time when she lived a real life, when her mind worked as well as anyones. Clare wonders what she would choose, if she became an old woman in a house of noisy strangers. Where she would go, while she twisted her ring around and around. Maybe shed run down those laneways with Charlie, or perch on her fathers shoulders, holding her breath while the time-ball fell. Maybe shed choose the classroom, Mr. Dunbars boots squeaking as

21

my ghosts

he paced the oiled floor, while her pencil flew over the page. Or the very first one, kind Miss Bell with her pitted cheeks, soft hands. Trailing the faintest scent of flowers when she walked between the rows, or looked over Clares shoulder and whispered, Oh, very good. Very good. inutes and hours are the same length, and days have twentyM four hours, even when the light changes according to the seasons. The same length everywhere in the world, although Clare knows that the actual hour varies. Knew that even before Bens stories from the Telegraph Office, a man in Toronto receiving word of a death in Edinburgh, that in some way hadnt happened yet. And then there is time that seems to go on forever, yet on looking back has vanished in a blink. For so long the house could barely hold them all, and then it went quiet; she could walk into a room and find no one there. A dancing of motes in the light, disturbed by no one alive, although at those moments Clare has always felt that if she can only listen hard enough, she will hear her mothers voice. That she has just left the room, a flicker in the doorway, that shes always almost there. Its not the same with her father. Wherever he is, its not here, and she wonders if that means he didnt love them enough. Or if maybe hes somewhere deeper, a fold within the fold, another layer where he stays apart with her mother and Wee Alan. Because Wee Alan was the first of them, from a place not even Ross remembers. From a time glimpsed when her father used to play his fiddle, his head bobbing and a lost look on his face. A time when his heart was all open. lares friends came calling, shes been told, when she was far C too ill to see them. They still do, though not as often, and she

22

mary swan

tells Kez that shes still too tired to see anyone, that she fears a lively visit will wear her out, undo all the slow progress shes made. Easier than trying to explain how that life they were part of feels impossibly distant. Shes used to her drifting days, doesnt want to be cheered up, to be distracted from things she needs to think about. Though sometimes now her eyes open in the middle of the night. She turns her head toward the window and looks at a sliver of moon, the rest of its pocked, dark circle. Wonders if thats really what she sees, or if her mind fills in what she knows must be there. Its terribly quiet and she suddenly thinks that maybe theyve all gone away. That theyve either forgotten her or had enough of her, nothing but empty rooms left below. If she could make her legs move down the stairs, thered be nothing at all to find. Or maybe she died from the fever, if it was a fever; maybe shes as much of a ghost as her mother is, as Wee Alan, as all the wandering souls. She pinches her thigh, but what good is that? Who knows if the dead still feel pain. At those moments she longs to be back in her warm place between her sleeping sisters, even if Kez sometimes flings out a sharp elbow and Nans long toenails scrape her shins. She folds her hands together and squeezes, tries to focus on that, and just in time she hears the creak of someone turning in bed, the faraway tick of the old clock in the hall.

December
he knows theyre becoming shorter, but the days feel longer. S She tries now to keep herself awake, so the nights will be unbroken, sews or reads in the Teachers Chair. The book

23

my ghosts

about watches, the book about the skies, and even a terrible novel the Misses Simp have sent over, all ringlets and sighs and Gods tests and forgiveness. Her thoughts still go around and around, but they all seem familiar, as if shes reached the end of where her own mind can take her. When she hears Kez and Nan leave for the shops, the door closing loudly behind them, she stands on stronger legs and carries her tray downstairs, washes the dishes and leaves them dripping in the rack. At first she climbed straight back up the stairs, but now she walks through each small room, her eyes taking in clues from the lives going on without her. Bens damp trousers are draped over a chair and that means he was home very late the night before, walking through the sudden sleety rain that clattered on the roof over Clares head. He used to use the same attic space for his tinkering, his inventions. Drawings in coloured ink tacked up all over the walls. Until once when Kez helped him do something with glass and two wires; there was a loud bang, a singed smell growing stronger as the rest of them ran up the narrow stairs. Ben and Kez were sitting on the floor where theyd landed, laughing so hard. Are we dead? Kez said. Are we dead? Laughing with a sooty streak on her cheek, a thin trail of blood near her eye. Their mother didnt laugh. She tore all the drawings off the wall, leaving tiny white flags that still flutter, stood with her arms folded while Ben packed everything away. He was already working at the Telegraph Office and had asked for the use of a basement storeroom; thats where he would have been until late. Barely noticing the slush that soaked his pant legs as he made his way home, his head filled with diagrams, with arrows and letters and possibilities.

24

mary swan

There are more signs in the kitchen; the sugar tin empty and three cakes cooling on wire racks mean that Nan is a little sad about something. And Kez must be having trouble sleeping again, the good silver teapot gleaming on the kitchen table, beside a puddled, blackened cloth. Its as if theyve all left messages for her, or not messages, exactly, but things set out to tempt her. A plate and fork beside those cooling cakes, a magazine open to an article about sundials, a clipping on the table about distant stars. The intention making her think of that black and white dog Ben tried to tame, years ago, and how patiently he worked at it. Leaving scraps of food in the yard, luring it closer and closer to the back steps, any sudden noise or movement making it bound away. An angry bite on his hand, kept wrapped and hidden, from trying to pat its head too soon. Remembering that, she snaps her teeth together twice, a startling sound. n truth she is ready to let herself be coaxed. Sometimes now I she can see her breath in the attic room, reminding her what its like in deep winter, the need to fall asleep before the last bit of warmth leaves the cloth-wrapped bricks at her feet. Shed claimed the space when Bens things were gone, said it was too crowded in bed with her sisters, said that now that she was at the high school she needed a quiet place to do her lessons. Shed forgotten that, how she suffered the cold but wouldnt complain. Wrapped in blankets, making notes with the pen in her thick, gloved fingers. Her mother holding Clares face in her hands, giving it a little shake and saying, My stubborn girl, where do you get it from. So one evening she comes down to supper, and then every one after that. She doesnt have much to say at first, but the others

25

my ghosts

talk about the usual things, pass her the salt and fill her glass, and no one behaves as if her presence is a thing to be noticed. And maybe it isnt, but she knows how all of them, especially Nan, are good at playing a part. That time their neighbour came banging and shouting, Nan just smiled her sweet smile and told him that he was mistaken. That Charlie had been home with her all day and couldnt have broken the window; it must have been a completely different boy he saw, running away. After the meal Clare helps with the washing-up, sits for a time with the day-old newspaper her sisters have carried home, climbs the stairs like she used to, after saying good night. She remembers, as she slides toward sleep, how that scruffy dog came to know Ben, sat up with its ears perked when he opened the back door. Let him scratch behind those ears and even let himself be brushed with Nans good hairbrush, until she found out. But one day they heard a terrible whining and found the dog lying, splayed, at the base of the step, trickles of green bile from its mouth. Poison taken from someones hand, thats what their mother thought. Better for him if hed stayed fierce and wild, not been fooled into thinking that one kind hand meant that all were, but Clare knows thats only one way of looking at it. o one has said, but she knows her small salary is missed. The N price of everything is going up and they feel the pinch; they always have. Theres talk around the table of taking a lodger; its been a luxury really, the way theyve kept their parents room as it was. The quilt on the bed, the watch and the brush on the dressing table, the silver hatpin. The white curtains they wash every spring and fall, a clean scent rising with them when the window is open.

26

mary swan

Charlie pushes away his empty plate and says that he has a key that will unlock gold and jewels enough for all of them. Of course well have to light out for the West, he says, and then its a joke, Kez saying that first theyll have to learn to ride horses. She rummages through the jumble in the dresser drawer, pulling out bits of twine, and Charlie knots them together, fashions a loop. They take turns twirling it, trying to throw it over the high stool and then over each others heads, until Bens glasses go flying, a crack in one lens that gives him a desperate look. Im just joking, Charlie says, when he meets Clares eye, and she hopes he means it. here are still days when shes too tired to leave her bed, times T shes swept under, no way to know if for minutes or hours, except for the slanting light. But mostly she comes downstairs when she knows the others have gone out; theres nothing to fear in the familiar rooms, though she keeps her eyes away from the world that seems to breathe and press at the tall windows. So different from those in her own room, the small squares of sky in different shades, with wisps or crumples of cloud. Shes been coaxed this far, but she knows it will go no farther. Shakes her head when Kez asks her to come along to the shop, when Ben says why doesnt she walk with him to his office, or Charlie buys tickets to that new play. Things she once would have done without a thought. She knows she must be the same person, but it feels as if shes peeled away from that life, from the girl with the clear path to follow. She tries to remember what it felt like to be that girl, but its difficult. What comes into her head instead is a leaf-tossed day, a wind that roared and howled like something from the frozen North except that it was warm, that wind, though just as fierce.

27

my ghosts

She remembers walking down a street with her parents, holding on to their hands. All kinds of things flapping and tumbling past them, newspapers and twigs with green leaves still attached. A battered black hat, pieces of flimsy fruit crates, even a small child rolling over and over, though when she thinks of that now shes sure it couldnt have happened. Maybe a joke someone made, or a dream she had, but she can see the child, trailing a grey blanket, buffeted right past them and away down the street. She has no idea where they were going, or why it was just the three of them. No idea how long it lasted, but she remembers how her body felt, how solid. Her parents bent forward, her fathers eyes half closed against the grit and her mothers skirt fluttering out behind, while she herself was quite steady, held firm to the ground by their warm hands.

January
an says shes looking better every day, More like your old N self. The others agree, and must think theyre helping by talking about the future, about the note Principal Thomas has sent. As if this time is just a short side line that will soon link up with the main track again. Clare knows its not like that, but she hasnt said, trying first to have a plan, some other way to earn money and add her share. The difficulty is that her sewing skills are basic, nothing anyone would pay her for, and she has no talent for music or drawing, cant think of any kind of lessons she could give in the safety of the house. Whats left is to find work in a shop, or an office of some kind, and the thought is terrifying. But she remembers that skittish stray dog, not his sad end but the way he conquered his fear, a little bit more

28

mary swan

each day. Tells herself that she can do it like that, no reason, no good reason why not. And she tries so hard to feel her parents anchoring hands when she stands by the tall front windows, making herself look out to all thats there. t does become easier, in the empty house in the mornings. She I stands in the cold front room a little longer each day, shifting her feet when they begin to numb. The people who pass by are dark, bundled shapes, only their glittering eyes showing through the visible breath that circles their heads, and she tries to follow them with her mind when they pass out of sight. Down to the end of Teraulay, to the grocers on the corner with the round-bodied stove, to the snow-dusted, busier sidewalks on Yonge. Places she knows so well and nothing, she tells herself, not anything to be afraid of. She tells herself that again the morning she stands with one hand on the brass knob of the back door. Determined to open it, determined to step out, even while the thought of entering all that space is making her heart beat so hard she feels it pulsing to the tips of her fingers. She gives the door a hard push and black birds rise, screaming, from the bare trees. They wheel through the enormous sky and she feels herself whirling with them, scattered to a thousand dark, beating wings. Every bit of her blasted and separate, like the pieces of the watch in Charlies book, and nothing at all at the core. She doesnt remember the stairs, but she hears her own hard breathing when she burrows under the covers of her bed, curling as small, as tight as she can. Wishing she was still in that muffled white Eskimo world, still that little girl under her fathers long table, his voice singing beyond the folds of black. Little pitchers, little pitchers, he said when her mother came in with a cross voice, a jumble of wool in her

29

my ghosts

hands. When her mother said, Look at this mess, have you seen her? Said, That child, I love her like she was my own, but honestly... ts never really been a secret. Another thing she just knows, I knowledge that seeped in from things overheard, from questions asked. Usually she didnt think about it at all but there were times when the questions of who she really was flared and she tried to work it out for herself, knowing no one would give her a proper answer. When she was small her father said the fairies brought her, and once Kez told her that theyd picked her out from a bin in a shop, carried her home along with a sack of flour. The most her mother ever said was that it was a thing to talk about when Clare was older. There were times she imagined she was a stolen princess, every squeaking cart wheel the sound of a gilded coach. Her real, royal family, come to sweep her away, the imagining followed always by a complicated shame. As she grew older Clare asked more cunning questions, thought about the most likely answers. Ben and Charlie were too young, but not Ross, whose leaving then became banishment or flight. Or maybe she belonged to one of her so-called sisters; when she was thinking that way she followed them from room to room, stared hard at their hands, holding a duster or resting flat on the kitchen table, looking for similarities. When they were pulling on their stockings she tried to see if one had a curled-over baby toe like her own, but they both did, so that told her nothing. From time to time the question of who she really was would squat in her mind and it would matter, but then the season would change, or examinations would be just ahead, and it would disappear. Though she

30

mary swan

realizes now that its been like a splinter thats driven in deep. You get used to picking things up, to moving a certain way, until a careless touch makes you feel it. ts cold in the attic room, but her breath has warmed the space I where Clare burrows, and her damaged heart is calmer. She thinks of the way the word morning floated up in her mind, all those months ago. A simple, familiar word, but once it appeared there was no going back to the timeless place shed been. She thinks of secrets that arent really secrets, of things that can be glimpsed but not seen. A drawing that can be two things at once, a kind of magic that cant be pinned down. And she thinks about time, another simple word, used so easily and often. Yet a word you could spend your whole life thinking about, without reaching the end of the mysteries it contains. Clare thinks of her mothers cross words sliding free, like the way a solution to a problem can suddenly appear when youre thinking of other things. But she knows the remembering is not an explanation, knows that she hasnt arrived anywhere. The words are just another knot on the long string of memories that plays through her mind. Like Ben with the twitching dogs head in his lap, like her father bathing Peacheys poor bruised feet. Like the first time she heard Kez crying in the dark. Think of what you know, her teacher used to say. Start from there, but maybe thats not the best way. For centuries the astronomers she read about in the small green book watched the strange tracks of the planets, and tried to make sense of their movements around the Earth. Looped, uneven paths that sometimes went forward, sometimes turned back on themselves, ever more complicated and mysterious. Until

31

my ghosts

Copernicus came along, and emptied his mind of all assumptions. Thought about those paths and imagined himself standing, not on Earth, but on the fiery Sun. The planets tracks now simple and constant, and Earth not the centre at all but just one of them, moving forever on its own, solitary course. She wonders then if shes been like those ancient astronomers, building everything on false assumptions. Wonders if shes really some strangers child, not brought by the fairies but left somewhere, found somewhere. If her mother had lived until she thought Clare was old enough, is that what she would have told her? That she was a stray, taken in and cared for like Aunt Peach, but with even less reason. A kind of charity that had nothing to do, not really, with love or belonging. If so, she owes a simpler kind of debt. If thats how it was, then nothing is certain, and even her mothers ghostly presence might be nothing more than a wish. here are voices downstairs, loud groans and laughter as Kez T and Nan set their heavy bags on the scrubbed kitchen table. Clare thinks of how shakily she stood, at first, how easily her legs move now, and shes suddenly sure she can make a small, closed place for herself, thinks maybe thats all shes ever wanted. Those beating black wings still whir softly, but an idea begins to glimmer and grow. Shes already memorized the diagrams and she can teach herself everything else in Charlies book, send for the other titles that are listed in the back. Kez and Nan can tack up notices in the neighbourhood, put a small sign in the window. Watches are always losing time, clocks seizing up; it wont be a regular wage, but shell be able to contribute, no need to force herself into the terrible world. Shell find her missing books, put them back on the shelf, and therell

32

mary swan

be time to read and think, and it can be enough, she tells herself, why not? A quiet little life like that. Clare swings her feet to the floor and smooths her hair; in a moment shell go down and tell them her plan. There will be a pause, while Kez and Nan exchange a look, but then theyll get caught up in it, theyll see that its the only solution. And she knows there are things she could ask them now, knows that they might actually tell her; perhaps thats what holds her back. Questions and answers that cant be unsaid, half secrets maybe kept out of nothing more than kindness.

August
lare wakes with the answer clear in her mind; sometimes it C happens like that. Or sometimes when shes emptying a bucket out the back, or smoothing a newspaper to read. When she opens the door to her workroom off the kitchen, sunlight is falling on the table and she sees that shes right, knows exactly what to do. One part of the escape wheel is just slightly out of true, an easy thing to remedy, and then she can move on to the mantel clock that apparently loses so much time that its been used as a paperweight for years. At first she worked with the books propped open, Charlies and the more detailed one she sent for. She copied out some of the diagrams, making them larger, and practised with her fathers watch, taking it apart again and again, until her fingers knew what to do by themselves. Then she hung it on a nail above her work table, where she can always hear it ticking. Kez and Nan still think she should use the front parlour; they fret about her eyesight, but she tells them that the morning light

33

my ghosts

is fine in Aunt Peachs old room, that she needs a small, bare space she can keep free from dust. Its mostly watches she works on, a few small clocks. Shes found that its usually just a matter of taking them apart and cleaning the jewels, the pivots and escapements. Carefully oiling with the proper-sized wire at each stage of the reassembly. She has a few tools, nippers and burnishers and oilers, and a small collection of springs and other pieces. If she needs to replace a cracked or missing face, Charlie finds one for her, buys it on tick, he says. Each job a little puzzle to solve, a series of small satisfactions. When she senses that the work will be beyond her ability, she simply names a ridiculous price; so far no one has persisted. he room is cool in the afternoons, when the sun slips to T the other side of the house. She doesnt miss the shady pathways in the park, the breeze that ruffles the water of the lake, when you wade through. And she wonders sometimes if Aunt Peach found the same comfort in the voices that drift in from the street, the sounds of children running wild in the laneway. The constant chatter in the kitchen that becomes a kind of underlying music, beyond the closed door. Word has been spreading slowly and she has enough work to fill several days each week, enough money to set a little aside for the books she wants to send for. Time passes easily inside the house, and shes only a little sad to think that maybe she hasnt peeled away from anything, maybe this is the life she was always meant to have.

1!

34

mary swan

December
ts probably Charlies idea. Clares not even sure how it hapI pened; one moment she was thinking of the clock on her work table, the pieces laid out, clean and lightly oiled, waiting for the morning light, and then she was outside in the cold dark. Kez and Nan linking each arm, Charlie in front of her and Ben behind; like a prisoner, she thinks, but it doesnt really feel like that. In order to move ahead their steps have to be perfectly in time, and somehow that happens easily. Her niggles of unease have no time to grow when theyre walking this quickly, and she feels something clean washing through her with the cold air. They pass houses with lamp glow, but it must be late, no one else outside. The park gate is closed but not locked; it opens with a screech that follows them to the edge of the pond, where Aunt Peach used to throw crusts to the ducks and laugh at their bobbing heads. Charlie dumps the sack hes been carrying, a jumble of skates and laces, and there is some discussion about the ice as they sort them out. Nan is worried, and Ben tries to recall exactly how many freezing days there have been. Kez says, I dont care, and shes out there first, the tails of her long red scarf working free and lifting as she goes faster and faster, until they can only hear the scrape of her blades, then Charlies, following after. Its cold, but soon they dont feel it, someone always holding Clare up as they follow the path of the almost-full moon, her body remembering how its done. The push and the glide, sleeping muscles called on to work again; thats all shes thinking of. But as it gets easier, other thoughts seep in. Long cold days and the glittering skiffs of snow on the bumpy ice, her

35

my ghosts

mother laughing as she thumped down on her thick skirts, and her father warming her frozen toes in his hands. The cold lips of a boy Clare barely knew, who skated her off to a place where the black branches swept low. Out of the dark comes Bens voice, calling, Crack the whip! and they join together, only five of them but the line feels longer, as if all the others have come back. Wee Alan at the centre, grown to a man, the sum of all their imaginings. Their mother and father on either side, Ross with his big fur hood thrown back, and even Aunt Peach, her filmy eyes grown clear in the night air. A weaving, jerking line, Clare at the end, holding tight to someones fingers. nd then she just lets go. The momentum carries her off in A a spin, but she doesnt fall, she holds on to her balance while the whirling inside slows down. And she tips her head back where she is, in the middle of the dark pond, far away from everyone, from the bushes and the overhanging trees. She can hear the others calling her name, and she understands then that it doesnt really matter who they are, who she might be. With her head tipped back she watches the breath leave her mouth, heading up to the sky, black as time and stretched over everything. And the pinpoints of light that are stars, so far away they might already be gone, but still sending their light for her to see.

My Ghosts
By Mary Swan
From Mary Swan, the bestselling author of the Scotiabank Giller finalist The Boys in the Trees, comes a dazzling and intricate new novel that tracks one family across 150 years, unearthing long-buried secrets and capturing moments that reverberate unexpectedly across the generations. In My Ghosts, with an uncanny eye for the telling detail, Mary Swan brings to vivid life a household of Scottish orphans trying to make their way in Toronto in 1879. The youngest, Clare, has rheumatic fever; the oldest brother has run away. The fate of them all rests on the responsible Ben, the irrepressible Charlie and the two middle sisters: Kez, sarcastic with big ears and a kind heart, and Nan, benignly round but with a hidden talent for larceny and mischief. Fascinating lives spool out from these siblings: a cast of indelible strivers and schemers, spinsters and unhappy spouses, star-crossed lovers and hidden adulterers, victims of war and of suicide--proof of how eventful the lives of "ordinary families" can be. Swan leaves us with the contemporary Clare, widowed and moodily packing up her house. She isn't sure what she'll do next, and she knows nothing of her family's past. But we do: we recognize the ghosts and echoes, the genetic patterns and the losses that have shaped her as much as her own choices and heartbreaks. My Ghosts is entrancing fiction that pulls you into its characters' lives at the same time as it inspires you to think about your own ghosts, your own forgotten past.

Buy a copy of My Ghosts Hardcover Amazon | Indigo eBook Amazon Kindle | Kobo | Sony Reader | iBookstore | Google

Excerpted from My Ghosts by Mary Swan. Copyright 2013 by Mary Swan. Excerpted by permission of Knopf Canada, a division of Random House of Canada Limited. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.