Tuesday, August 14, 2012

But a day or two passed and the Major was still at the Majestic. By now he had succeeded in doing something about the most obvious sources of misery (finding sheets, avoiding morning prayers by having breakfast in his room), but there was a sadness hanging in the empty rooms and corridors like an invisible gas which one could not help breathing.
            Angela remained behind a closed door (it was impossible to tell which, there were so many) and was quite certainly ill, though nobody said so. Indeed, nobody made any reference to her at all in his presence. Perhaps they thought he would "understand"; perhaps they thought he had not even noticed that she was not there; perhaps this was the Spencers' method of dealing with unhappiness, by simply failing to mention it, as, in one of Angela's letters, a reference to the dog called Spot (who had presumably been carried off by distemper) had been omitted. At this moment, for all the Major knew, Edward was compiling lists of the living beings at the Majestic which failed to mention his daughter Angela.
            One day, passing through the Palm Court on his way to the Imperial Bar, which he had taken to sharing with the tortoiseshell cat, he heard an elderly lady, a new arrival, asking in a ringing whisper if that was poor Angela's unfortunate young man. Turning involuntarily, he had been met by a battery of pitying, interested glances.
            Once or twice again (in truth, several times), before or after meals, he had met the cook on the stairs carrying the invalid's tray. Whether she was struggling up or down the stairs it seemed to make very little difference, he noticed, to the amount of food on the plate. Only, coming down, the meat and vegetables might be somewhat disarranged, mixed up together, one might suppose, by a listless hand. And a fork might be lying on the plate, though the knife was rarely touched; most often, on the way down, it lay beside the plate, clean and shining as it had been on the way up. Similarly, the apple on the tray usually made the return journey with its skin unflawed; if baked, though, with custard, it might be squashed a little or the meat dug out of the skin and spattered with the yellow, viscous fluid; if stewed and sprinkled with brown sugar as much as half of it might disappear. Apples--after all, there was a mountain of them in the apple house which had to be eaten--played a significant part in the diet of those living at the Majestic. One day, however, he noticed a raw apple travelling upstairs that looked so fresh and shining that it might even have been an early arrival of the new season's crop. On the way down it was still there on the tray but one despairing bite had been taken out of it. He could see the marks of small teeth that had clipped a shallow oval furrow from its side, the exposed white flesh already beginning to oxidize and turn brown, like an old photograph or love-letter. He was extremely moved by this single bite and wanted to say something. He paused and almost spoke, but the cook, as in fear, was already hastening clumsily down the stairs away from him. Every time they met on the stairs now she would nervously avoid his eye and once or twice she even blushed deeply, as if she had caught him doing something indecent. And it was true that he had become fascinated with this tray and often tried to be on the stairs when it was going up or down. Usually, though, he tried to limit himself to one casual, greedy glance that would note everything.

- J.G. Farrell

No comments:

Post a Comment