Sunday, July 15, 2007

three stories

"It's only a short one, so she reckons that's all right. Anyway it's mink or something, some vermin. Master and Mistress both smoke like chimneys. She has a cigarette-holder to keep her fingers from going yellow."

"But it must get horrible inside."

"Yes it does. Sometimes a bit of black comes out and it sticks to her teeth. She has them professionally cleaned every six months. She's got one gold one with a diamond inset..."

"So Flounce and Floozy - "

"Nothing's too good for them. They have coats made from the same material as Master's suits. He's taken out a funeral plan with Heavenly Pets. Mistress thinks burials are messy so they're going to be cremated and have the ashes kept in studded casks. With their portraits on the outside. Painted by a local artist. She's already been round to make sketches."


*

"While I was waking up I was thinking about this idea I've got for something called 'Jamembert'."

"What is that, a kind of spread?"

"I haven't decided yet. It's just a name at the moment."

Gradually people began to laugh about the idea of 'Jamembert' and to embroider on it. Matty began to warm up.

"Yesterday I thought of a new extreme sport called 'stormbathing'. Well, basically the idea is going swimming in dangerous conditions. I'd market a clothing range, the catalogue would have lots of pictures of models standing around on rocky coasts with bursts of spray. It would be technical gear, technical but sexy."

"Or you could call it 'white-water swimming'."

At each invention there was a bellow of laughter. Pint-glasses, nearly drained and slathery with froth, were banged enthusiastically on the table-top. Other people chipped in. The clothing range could be called 'Red Flag'.... One section could be called 'après-storm'...

After a few minutes they dried up, it got a bit too elaborate. There was a pause, people sighed and drank and the quizmaster's voice came through: Now, Question 29. Who was the first footballer to be knighted. That's right, it WAS Sir Stanley Matthews. Stan the Man, God bless him. The answer to Question 29, Sir Stanley Matthews. OK, we're nearly there. Question 30. I think a few of you might have had trouble with this one. It's a saying.

They went up to the bar. Matty made Chris's girlfriend giggle - not about white-water swimming exactly. He saw Becky shoot them both a curious look but he continued to feel unconcerned.

*

With each passing year he felt more burdened with - more rewarded with - secrets. It was not so much the definite secrets that he learned in the course of professional duties. As time passed, he found that his thinking on so many subjects had become too complex to explain. In a serious conversation his habitual part was not to express his own beliefs but instead to exult in miracles of tact and to yield no grounds for suspecting his entirely divergent opinion of the matters at hand. Instead, he emitted a qualified approval of the other person's prattle. He - well, he tinkered as deftly as he could, strengthening one thought with high praise, passing over another as if it had not been said. He understood the mentalities of people who came to see him as patterns that had been too long formed for drastic adjustment. Patterns that were admirable in their way, often praiseworthy, at worst an earnest response that he might well have shared with them if he had suffered the same portion of experience. It was not his fault that he saw further than they. Indeed he was now so unused to expressing his own thoughts that he was prone to take refuge in confessing that he no longer knew exactly what they were. And perhaps this was actually true. His flexibility, his total responsiveness to the tones and assumptions of those around him was, he hoped, comfortable and attractive. It had become rather important to be on everyone's side. Why he hardly knew. But companionship, after all, was more important than sounding off about what one thought. Love was what mattered most in our world; God knows it was lonely enough without useless confrontations. And no doubt his thoughts were often mistaken anyway, so why rock the boat? Yet at the very outset he made his own diagnosis of the other person's trouble; instantly, and secretly. It might very well not be a matter on which he could claim in a demonstrable way to be qualified to decide. Nonetheless he was sure he was right. He had seen it all before. It was all nonsense. What was the point in exposing his diagnosis to the public view and to the same weary lines of questioning about its relevance or his capacity to judge? That is, if he could even gain a hearing for it - and if he did, he was prone to stumble in the exposition and to become so impatient with the details of his case that he ended up leading people to infer that he believed something silly, something different from what he really believed; perhaps something more like what they believed themselves, or else its mere inverse. Then it seemed he was wilfully contradictory and they began to take offense, unfairly in his view. So it was better to withhold everything. At night he walked in the avenues of his secrets, only on desperate occasions turning aside to scrutinize them; on others, happily much more common, merely quieted by a vague approval of their huge soft shadows.

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