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Язык: Английский
Год издания: 2018 год
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“I like the bitterness.”

She pulled a face. “Next time I’m in Charleston I’m going to bring you some really nice brandy,” she said.

“Brandy’s overrated,” I remarked.

“It’s good if you dissolve a little cocaine in it. Have you ever tried that? That gives it a nice kick.”

“Cocaine dissolved in brandy?”

“It goes down so smoothly, and you don’t get a nose filled with grey boogers the next morning.”

“I don’t have any need for cocaine. Marietta. I get along quite well with my gin.”

“But liquor makes you sleepy.”


“So you won’t be able to afford so much sleepiness, once you get to work.”

“Am I missing something here?” I asked her.

She got up, and despite her contempt for my English gin, refilled her glass and came to stand behind my chair. “May I wheel you out onto the balcony?”

“I wish you’d get to the point.”

“I thought you Englishmen liked prevarication?” she said, easing me out from in front of my desk and taking me around it to the french windows. They were already wide open—I’d been sitting enjoying the fragrance of the evening air when Marietta entered. She took me out onto the balcony.

“Do you miss England?” she asked me.

“This is the most peculiar conversation…” I said.

“It’s a simple question. You must miss it sometimes.”

(My mother, I should explain, was English; one of my father’s many mistresses.)

“It’s a very long time since I was in England. I only really remember it in my dreams.”

“Do you write the dreams down?”

“Oh…” I said. “Now I get it. We’re back to the book.”

“It’s time, Maddox,” she said, with a greater gravity than I could recall her displaying in a long while. “We don’t have very much time left.”

“According to whom?”

“Oh for God’s sake, use your eyes. Something’s changing, Eddie. It’s subtle, but it’s everywhere. It’s in the bricks. It’s in the flowers. It’s in the ground. I went walking near the stables, where we put Poppa, and I swear I felt the earth shaking.”

“You’re not supposed to go there.”

“Don’t change the subject. You are so good at that, especially when you’re trying to avoid your responsibility.”

“Since when was it—”

“You’re the only one in the family who can write all this down, Eddie. You’ve got all the journals here, all the diaries. You still get letters from you-know-who.”

“Three in the last forty years. It’s scarcely a thriving correspondence. And for God’s sake, Marietta, use his name.”

“Why should I? I hate the little bastard.”

“That’s the one thing he certainly isn’t, Marietta. Now why don’t you just drink your gin and leave me alone?”

“Are you telling me no, Eddie?”

“You don’t hear that very often, do you?”

“Eddie…” she simpered.

“Marietta. Darling. I’m not going to throw my life into turmoil because you want me to write a family history.”

She gave me a sharp little look and downed her gin in one throatful, setting the glass on the balcony railing. I could tell by the precision of this motion, and her pause before she spoke, that she had an exit line in readiness. She has a fine theatrical flair, my Marietta.

“You don’t want to throw your life into turmoil? Don’t be so perfectly pathetic. You don’t have a life, Eddie. That’s why you’ve got to write this book. If you don’t, you’re going to die without having done a damn thing.”

III (#ulink_f2e4231a-65f7-5b25-b0f7-7ffa07291297)


She knew better of course. I’ve lived, damn her! Before my injury I had almost as great an appetite for experience as Nicodemus. I take that back. I was never as interested in the sexual opportunities afforded by my travel as he was. He knew all the great bordellos of Europe intimately; I preferred to wander the cathedrals or drink myself into a stupor in a bar. Drink is a weakness of mine, no question, and it’s got me into trouble more than once. It’s made me fat too. It’s hard, of course, to stay thin when you’re in a wheelchair. Your backside gets big, your waistline spreads; and Lord, my face, which used to be so well made I could walk into any gathering and take my pick of the female company, is now pasty and round. Only in my eyes might you glimpse the magnetism I once exercised. They are a peculiar color: mingled flecks of blue and gray. The rest of me’s just gone to hell.

I suppose that happens to everybody sooner or later. Even Marietta, who is a pure-blooded Barbarossa, has said that over the years she’s noticed some subtle signs of aging; it’s just much, much slower than it would be for a human being. One gray hair every decade or so isn’t anything to bitch about, I remind her, especially when nature had given her so much else: she has Cesaria’s flawless skin (though neither she nor Zabrina are quite as black as their mother) and Nicodemus’s physical ease. She also shares my delight in getting drunk, but as yet it’s taken no toll on her waist or her buttocks. I digress; again. How did I get onto the subject of Marietta’s backside? Oh yes, I was talking about how I traveled as my father’s envoy. It was wonderful. I stood in the shit in a lot of stables over the years, of course, but I also visited some of this planet’s glories: the wilds of Mongolia, the deserts of North Africa, the plains of Andalusia. So please understand that though I’m now reduced to being a voyeur, this wasn’t always the case. I don’t write as a theorist, pontificating on the state of a world that I only knew from my newspapers and my television screen.

As I get deeper into the story I’ll no doubt season it with talk of the sights I saw and the people I knew on my journeys. For now, let me just talk of England, the country where I was conceived. My birth mother was a woman by the name of Moira Feeney, and, though she died a short time after my birth, of a sickness I’ve never quite comprehended, I passed the first seven years of my life in her native country, looked after by her sister, Gisela. It was not by any means a cosseted existence; Gisela was enraged when she discovered the father of her sister’s child did not intend to bring us into his charmed circle, and rather than accept the substantial sums he offered her to help raise me, she proudly, and foolishly, refused all subsidy. She also refused to see him. It wasn’t until Gisela also died (she was struck, somewhat suspiciously, by lightning) that my father appeared in my life, and took me with him on his travels. In the next five years we lived in a number of extraordinary houses, the guests of great men who wanted my father’s advice as a horse breeder (and Lord knows what else besides; I think he was probably shaping the destinies of nations behind the scenes). But for all the glamour of those years—two summers in Granada, a spring in Venice; so much more that I can’t recall—it is my years in Blackheath with Gisela that I still return to most fondly. Gende seasons these; and my gentle human aunt, and milk and rain and the plum tree at the back of the cottage, from the topmost branches of which I could see the dome of St. Paul’s.

I have a pristine memory of what it was like to perch in those gnarled branches, where I would linger for hour upon hour, lulled into a happy trance by rhymes and songs. One of those rhymes I remember to this day.

It seems I am,

It seems I was,

It seems I will

Be born, because

It seems I am,

It seems I was,

It seems I will

Be born because—

And so on, round and round.

Marietta’s right, I do miss England, and I do what I can to keep remembrance of it. English gin, English syntax, English melancholy. But the England I yearn for, the England I dream of when I doze in my chair, no longer exists. It was just a view from a plum tree, and a happy child. Both went into history a long time ago. It is, however, the second reason why I am writing this book. In opening the floodgates of memory, I hope to be carried, at least for a little while, back into the bliss of my childhood.


I should tell you, just briefly, about what happened the day I told Marietta I’d begun this book, because you’ll understand better what it’s like to live in this house. I had been sitting on my balcony with the birds (there are eleven individuals—cardinals, buntings, soldier-wing blackbirds—who come to feed from my hand and then stay to make music for me), and while I was feeding them I heard her down below having a furious argument with my other half-sister, Zabrina. As far as I could gather Marietta was being her usual imperious self, and Zabrina—who keeps out of everybody’s way most of the time, and when she does encounter one of the family doesn’t say much—was for once standing up for her own opinions. The gist of the exchange was this: Marietta had apparently brought one of her lovers into the house the previous night, and the visitor had proved to be quite the detective. Apparently she’d got up while Marietta was asleep, had gone wandering around the house and seen something she should not have seen.

Now she was apparently in a state of panic, and Marietta was quite out of patience with her, so she was trying to cajole Zabrina into cooking up some spiked candy that would wipe the woman’s memory clean. Then Marietta could take her back home, and the whole untidy business could be forgotten.

“I told you last time I don’t approve—” Zabrina’s voice is normally reedy and thin; now it was positively shrill.

“Oh Lord,” said Marietta wearily. “Don’t be so highhanded.”

“You know you should keep ordinary folks away from the house,” Zabrina went on. “It’s asking for trouble, bringing somebody here.”

“This one’s special,” Marietta said.
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