Inquest - Index   |  chapter 10   |  chapter 12

Chapter 11

The decision sinks in - and preparations are considered.
Still, Balfour finds time again to turn to a new book.


       Soraya can surprise, though usually it is her bluntness that does the trick. I might have believed that with a great deal of cajoling she could have been persuaded to return to Rystwycz for the one-month minimum period Morgenstern ordained -- though solely because the children had their hearts set on it, and to get it out of our systems, and to make absolutely sure we weren't missing something, and to enjoy a month completely away from any obligations and distractions. Grudgingly, I thought, she might have accepted this, letting us know all the while that she was dead set against it. As, sensibly, she should have been.
       This decision -- and its suddeness -- was completely unlike her. The kids recognized that too, and we didn't press her hard on why -- afraid she'd come back to her senses. In fact, Annabelle and Tancred soon scuttled off: to prepare, they said, though really just not to allow Soraya to tell them she had changed her mind.
       "So, is this what you wished for ?" Soraya asked me when we were left alone.
       "I think."
       "You do know that I really don't think it's a good idea."
       "I do. And I understand that. I'm not sure myself."
       "You know, I can't think of the last time I've done anything even remotely so foolish," Soraya said. "I think that's the reason. It goes so completely counter to my intuition and my beliefs ... but it does come with a fairly large safety net. The worst thing that happens is we've lost three months of our lives."
       "Three months ?" I let slip out.
       "If we're going, we might as well go whole hog."
       "This from someone who fights for every five minutes of time."
       "Yes," Soraya said. "Yes. Makes me nervous already, the thought of all that needs be done and won't be done." She got up, ready to tackle the workpile she had brought home. "Remember Balfour: you asked for it."
       She wasn't going to lay a guilt trip on me that easily. "Remember Soraya: you agreed."
       She nodded. "Fair enough. But I can't always be the one to save you, and us, and everyone."

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       By the next evening, when we reconvened at dinner, Soraya already had a tentative schedule which she presented for our comment and approval.
       "School ends June 12th, a Wednesday," she said. "I would suggest allowing for two days of final preparations and closing shop, and then a Saturday departure -- the 15th." We nodded: fine with us. "However," she continued, "I think one of us should go ahead. I think I should, leaving a week or ten days earlier, to ready what needs readying, etc. I suggest, for example, that we will want to have sent over a fair amount of things -- from clothes to some books to busy us. And there will be additional furniture to organize, transportation, whatnot."
       "You or me ?" I asked.
       ""Me, I think," she said with complete certainty. "I've already begun to clear my calendar. As to our return: school starts the 10th of September, so we should leave the week before. A bit less than three months, all in all, but it seems to be the limit of what we can do."
       "We could leave before school ends ..." Tancred offered, but Soraya shot that idea down.
       "So, that's settled ?" We nodded. "I'll contact the solicitors and have them make whatever arrangements they must make. Now, we only have two months of time left 'til our departure. We should begin to organize and plan."
       There was a long pause before I offered: "I don't think we envisioned much more than packing a suitcase or two."
       "Is that right ?" Soraya. "I think a fuller conception of how you wish to pass your time is called for, given the barrenness I described. I can assure you I'll be packing a box or two of books to ship ahead. A short-wave radio. We'll have to ask Clotwold about the possible computer connections there, or arrange for our own. Details, details, details. I think you'll find there'll be a lot of them. And I assure you I'll not tolerate a single whinge of complaint about some trifle forgotten or missed."
       She was right, no doubt, but in the still lingering excitement simply over the fact that we were going the kids and I weren't quite ready to consider things at the detail-level.
       "We'll see what Clotwold and associates have to say," Soraya said. "They should be able to give us a better idea of what needs be done and prepared for. Still: I suggest you consider what your requirements are and that we see to insuring that they will be met."
       I smiled, to myself. The kids nodded seriously.

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       I take my time with Three Uneasy Pieces in bed that night. It's barely a book -- 59 generously numbered pages -- and could be done with in half an hour, but it is a pleasure I want to hang on to, and so I peruse it with the utmost care and attention.
       Patrick White is horribly under-admired. He used to be one of my bookstore-gauges: a quick check of the shelves to see how many (and which) volumes of his (and a select few other authors) could be found there generally gave a good sense of the quality of the shop. It's almost useless now, as his works have largely been allowed to fall out of print in the United States. (Though what a thrill to find, in early 2002, at least Riders in the Chariot re-issued by the splendid New York Review Books.)
       The uneasy pieces contrast with the heavy tomes White is best known for, and they're spare compared even to the story-collections. I was never quite as much the enthusiast for his later, often more playful period, but he is almost invariably a master, and I continue to hunt down every last, unread volume. Now, this in hand, there's only a smattering of plays left outstanding.
       It's an attractive volume: a spare black cover, author, title. Reminding me of the Nabokov paperbacks at ... where was it, McGraw-Hill ? (How the publishing industry has changed .....) A glowing blurb from Anthony Burgess distracts on the back cover, but it's better than an author photograph. Burgess' encomium is masterfully direct: twelve words in two sentences, all high praise -- but he could always get carried away, and so his blurb-words can't carry all that much weight. (In any case: the blurb, per se, oh the blurb is a horrible thing that should never be trusted. To Soraya's chagrin I refuse to solicit them, despite the facts that they can be had so cheaply and that there are still foolish bookstore-browsers who let themselves be duped.)
       The "stories" grow geometrically. But first: the photo. Captioned: THREE POTATOES and Two Guest Stars. P. White, his mouth one immense droop, and companion (so I assume) standing at a kitchen table. On it: three potatoes. The two men looks so serious, for a joke.
       The first piece -- not even two pages -- is all summa. The whole collection, it's memory and tinged regret. It's old-age stuff, which I'm not entirely comfortable with: the physical decrepitudes and the longings for falsified pasts. (Lots are meant to be put up (and shut up) with: so say I.) But White's all right, 'cause he knows the futility of it all, knows how much is self-delusion. And you've got to love his screaming potatoes.
       Still: it's not something I could read to the kids, which bothers me. It's too world-wise -- and that coupled with a tone that uses world-weariness for effect, it makes for too much that has to be explained.
       The others are more story-like. Memory again dredged up. A dance, a wart. Standing in for perhaps too much.
       The object of The Age of a Wart, the missing alter ego ("the part of me I've always aspired to") is named Tancred. A fact to conceal: it might amuse, but the figures are too complicated for Tancred to deal with. It leads me to ponder my own failures: why would I not introduce such characters to my son ?
       White often makes for uncomfortable reading. And it's not just the tortured sexuality, most clearly seen in his Alex Xenophon Demirjian Gray or his Twyborn-creation. Most of White is unsettling reading, of a kind that one doesn't find much elsewhere. I think it would simply be too much for the kids. (Which, I suppose, is an admission, that the writing weighs more heavily on me than I might like too.)
       Soraya, immersed in a fat Dutch novel, asks whether I'm pleased with the book. I can't begin to tell her how. Fortunately, she, eager to continue with her own book, knows.

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