Wednesday, December 19, 2018

A Dove Descending: Part II of III

December 21, 2012

by Roger Scruton

This is the second of three installments of Roger Scruton’s novella A Dove Descending. If you haven’t done so already, be sure to read Part I. The story concludes with Part III.

VIII

 

The sweatshop existed in a space of its own, surrounded by betting-booths and pawnbrokers, amid slummy terraces, which protruded long gardens like junky tongues. People dressed provisionally here, in clothes that did not belong to them, and they loitered in groups, with an air of waiting for orders. Gestures seemed to hang in the air, awaiting completion; nothing was firm, nothing defined; everything festered with promiscuous impulse. Life itself seemed perverted, running like a river underground through dark, hidden passageways, and noticeable only as a brief, faint sigh, erupting from the churchyard and the corner-shops. It was in these spots that she paused for breath, listening to the tumult in far-off places, and fixing her mind on her goal.

            Out of this nameless region, at a place where the street ran out into dingy alleyways, there rose an iron staircase, which hugged a wall for twenty steps, and then ended in a metal door. Behind the door was another world: a world of light and noise and industry; a world where people of her kind shouted to each other in the language of her childhood, moving as though on air in a parody of girlishness. Only Anna stood outside this life: Anna and her boss. And to get to Anna, she must pass by Mr Tzouliadis.

            In the art of reducing Zoë to helpless exasperation, Mr Tsouliadis had no rivals. The very sight of his pumpkin head, with its smoothly plastered, greying hair, its vague, characterless eyes and protruding ears, reminded her that time was running out, that everything depended now on her being as soon as possible in some other place, that not a moment could be wasted; while his deep, hesitant voice, as it stumbled over pedantries like a cart-horse over stones, seemed to have been created expressly for the purpose of announcing, in a tone of pained revelation, that women differ from men, that war is an evil, that science has made many discoveries, that not all people are to be trusted, and that two plus two makes four. And yet he was a good, kind, simple man, an excellent husband and father, and a dependable colleague, who had gone out of his way to offer to the daughter of his late insurance-broker a job suited to her eccentric temperament. Indeed, the most exasperating feature of Mr Tzouliadis was his ability to induce a state of acute guilt in his victim who, trapped in unjustifiable rage, could only nod pleasantly, offering concessions, promises and favours, in the hope that they would not be taken up.

            He stood by the iron door with an eager expression on his face that seemed to indicate some advance knowledge of Zoë’s arrival.

            ‘Oh,’ she said, looking past him, ‘kalimera.’

            His thoughts tended to dwell at this time of day on the mysteries of the universe; stepping confidingly into Zoë’s path he began to discourse about the galaxies, their astonishing size, weight and remoteness.

            ‘What a small thing is man in so much matter, Zoë. So isolated, so helpless. What is the point of his toing and froing, always working, always running, always. . .’

            Zoë made an impatient gesture.

            ‘Getting and spending,’ she said in English. ‘We lay waste our days.’

            ‘What’s that? A quotation?’

            Mr Tzouliadis collected quotations, which he wrote down in a notebook – a process so efficient that he never referred to them again.

            ‘No,’ said Zoë, ‘just something that occurred to me. I must see Anna.’

            Putting out one hand to detain her, Mr Tzouliadis surveyed her with a gaze that was in all probability quite innocent, but which caused Zoë, as it roamed across her laced and buttoned person, to retreat within her clothes until a little film of air lay round her body, producing a faint tingling sensation. He began to lecture on stress – a peculiarly English disease, unknown, he argued, in the Mediterranean, where people divide the day into natural sections, giving leisure equal rights with work. Zoë let her thoughts start off in every direction, exploring the plans which she had not made. Into the Solitudes she would bring her father’s dear possessions, setting them side by side in their old relations. She would have her books there and maybe, if there was a garden, one or two of the pigeons. When the baby came they could take it in turns to work; or she could buy a Singer by instalments, one with electric action, and Anna would work from home. She wished she were a man, so as to shove Mr Tzouliadis away.

            He considered the question of stress from every angle, citing an article written by some expert in the Guardian, and another in a Greek magazine; then suddenly and without warning he mentioned Yannakis. She started and looked at him. With his lined, grubby skin, his fat lips and bulging eyes, he seemed like a blind man’s model of a face – a face guessed at by exploring fingers. The nose was a hillock, pinched at the sides, but globular in front as though it had been pulled from some plastic material. The cheeks were ridged, gritty, lined by bluish channels where the uncropped stubble gathered. The ears had been stuck on at different heights, with special care to exaggerate the hairless, knobbly spaces behind them, while the bulbous eyes seemed to reach forward like antennae, feeling what the artists could not see.

            ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about.’

            Her words were dead and distant. Mr Tzouliadis too seemed dead, a statue through which some alien voice was sounding. Ignoring her, he began to meditate on the need to harmonize their cultures – the English, so nervous, active, rootless and full of experimentation, and the Greek, so decent, loyal, religious and wrapped in blessed indolence. He had put considerable thought into how they might be reconciled, in some single personality, whole, outgoing, harmonious. And, he submitted, it could be done, provided the personality were feminine: Zoë, for instance. Men, her father included, labour under and incurable disadvantage; their whole identity must be expressed in work, and even when a man lived among other exiles, other creatures who dreamed, in their vacant moments, of irrecoverable home, he must enter the world around him and take hold of it or, failing that, must die. Contracts, duties, profits, the frenzied race against the other who will get there first in any case – all this compelled you into the flux of competition, forcing you to be an Englishman, though you could never be better than a second-class Englishman.

            ‘I might have stayed in Greece. I could have been a shepherd, for instance. Even a monk.’

            She heard herself laugh; cold and spectral. Locked again in his death, she must suffocate in used-up air. A panic seized her: there in the dark his form lay still and decomposing. The walls pressed close against her, and she gasped from empty lungs.

            ‘What’s the matter?’

            Mr Tzouliadis’s voice rang out in alarm. But she was past him, leaning on the bales of printed cloth outside his office.

            ‘I must see Anna.”

            ‘You are all tensed up, like an English girl.’

            ‘Maybe. Maybe that’s the trouble.’

            She looked at his spongy form, and felt a rush of distaste. For a long moment Zoë observed Mr Tzouliadis, whose eyes she had always avoided. This man had known Yannakis, and was still alive She could make nothing of the fact, and turned suddenly away from it. The sigh with which she left was all her thought: a cloud of darkness from a vast abyss. She paused in the doorway; the alphabet of blackness swam into words, drifted unreadably and decomposed again. Bad dreams, calling to her with a voice that would never be answered.

 

IX

 

They were playing the radio, and the air vibrated to a bass guitar, above which yells of sexual ecstasy danced like flames. The sound came from the nearest trestle, where a roll of cloth, printed with a design of flying doves, rocked through the air into jaws that hemmed and panelled it. It was warm in the sweatshop, with a faintly acrid smell. Strip-lights glowed like wands beneath the girders, and brightly coloured off-cuts patched the floor. Zoë hesitated for a moment; then suddenly her feet were light with purpose, and her small brown hand reached outwards with the swiftness of a bird. It had no doubts, this hand, that it was Zoë’s: and the silence as the radio ceased its screaming was filled with Zoë’s will.

            The girls looked up. Zoë was a Greek, and had no excuse to be so weird and arrogant. They took it in turns to brave her short-fused temper, to batter down her pride, and then (since they were not vindictive and lived as a herd) to include her in their small hilarities. Today it was the fat Melissa who waddled over to the radio. A pool of pink lipstick lived in the centre of her face, flowing freely in its search for pantomime smiles.

            ‘Zoë mou,’ she said, and wagged an admonitory finger. Clumps of red hair sprouted on the backs of Melissa’s hands, which were like the hands of a man. Bright-eyed Aliki blew a sarcastic kiss from pretty lips, while the Karavakou twins – who continued to coax their flock of doves into metal jaws – looked up with their bold mice faces and said ‘her again!’ in unison.

            Melissa asked, ‘Why are you so angry, Zoë?’

            And in truth she was angry, but for what she did not know. Or rather she knew a little: she knew that Mr Tzouliadis had affronted her; she knew that this music, which divided the soul like a metal blade, had exposed a seam of pain; she knew that the danger of her life, to which she could give no precise name, but which often rose up to surround her in these busy corners of normality, had somehow made itself felt. But it didn’t add up; the true object of her anger remained out of reach and indefinable.

            ‘You get brain damage from that stuff,’ she said at last apologetically.

            ‘Only if you’ve got a brain.’

            The speaker was Lisa, an ugly girl, boss-eyed from lacework, at which she was particularly skilled, and with a tongue as sharp as a needle. Picking up a tousled skein of orange cloth from Lisa’s table, Zoë blew her nose in it, just to make clear that the habits which were Cavafy’s were good enough for her.

            ‘Filthy bitch,’ said Lisa.

            Zoë stuffed the cloth into her trouser pocket.

            ‘I get brain damage from it,’ she said. ‘I’ve got to preserve my brain. I need it for survival.’

            Melissa agreed about Zoë’s brain and said how sorry she was. On the other hand, the problem was not incurable. With a man between her legs a girl forgets about the top part of her anatomy. Zoë should try it.

            Zoë hoped she would not blush, but the blood rushed to her face regardless, like a wild thing released from its cage. Soon the girls were laughing so much that Mr Tzouliadis came and stood in the doorway, staring beadily in both directions like a stuffed octoroon Turkey.

            ‘Go away!’ shouted Zoë, stamping her foot. With a baffled look he staggered backwards through the partition.

            ‘Look at you,’ said Lisa, when her boss had gone. ‘You’ve gone jealous all over your body!’

            And she hunched her little shoulders in a giggle.

            Melissa stepped forward to squeeze Zoë’s elbow. Her body exuded a soft vanilla smell.

            ‘It takes all sorts,’ she said. ‘You like Mozart. We like the Rolling Stones. You’ve got a brain, Lisa’s got a tongue, Aliki’s got a face. And I’ve got a bum like a stuffed hippopotamus.’

            Zoë raised her eyes from the floor. Rolls of cloth were stacked against the windows, whose small leaded panes, smeared with dust, trembled slightly form the hum of mass-production. Through the glass she glimpsed a row of yellow chimney pots, wedged in the white sky like teeth in custard.

            ‘So there you are darling. Just calm down.’

            ‘I am calm,’ said Zoë.

            ‘Who are you kidding? Sit and listen to the music. Have some coffee. We’ve got some loukoumia, with dates and almonds. Aliki’s granny sent it.’

            Zoë’s eyes sought the next partition, beyond which Anna waited. She rehearsed again the image of their future dwelling-place, with its great bay window, its kitchen, and the view across the garden down to the city. With a flick of the arm she escaped from Melissa’s fingers.

            ‘You know I don’t eat that Greek stuff. Turkish to be precise.’

            ‘Suit yourself. Cut off your nose, darling, if it feels better that way.’

            Melissa might have elaborated on the darker side of Zoë’s nature – a favourite topic, and one in which all the girls could join – had not Lisa chosen the moment to propound something entirely unexpected. Laying her hands on the table, and poking her crumpled face over the backbone of the sewing machine, she said, in the tone of one betraying a secret,

            ‘Zoë’s going to live with an Englishman.’

            At this piece of hilarious news, the twins chorused ‘an Englishman’, and Aliki clapped her hands. Zoë turned on Lisa.

            ‘Who told you that?’

            ‘A little bird,’ said Lisa, through a mouthful of giggles.

            ‘An old crow, you mean.’

            ‘Is that a way to speak of your mother?’

            ‘Whom did she speak to?’

            ‘Everyone,’ said Lisa. ‘Me and Melissa and the boss, and. . .’

            ‘Mr Tzouliadis?’

            ‘Of course. He needs to know. Reputation of the firm; influence on workmates; distress of clients. He will have to cut your salary.’

            Zoë’s blushes were insubstantial flowers; but the growth which they adorned was rooted deep in her body. Through shame the community reclaimed her, its ever-vigilant eye turned suddenly in her direction. So it was for all the girls, whose knees trembled, whose hands shot involuntarily upwards to shield their faces, whose voices were damp and half-extinguished with the force of this great emotion, as it swung them from their small ambitions and pledged them to the tribe. It was not the act which gave rise to shame, but the thought of someone knowing it. For Zoë, therefore, shame was the highest form of enslavement, a negation of her bid for life. She ran down the aisle between the trestles, swinging her duffle bag high in the air over the periscoped heads of her tormentors. She caught her thigh against a metal ruler, and seeing the v-shaped tear in her trousers, and the arrow of olive flesh beneath it, she began to cry.

            ‘No harm meant,’ said Melissa, with a faint suggestion of concern.

            The door of the partition resisted her.

            ‘Anna? Are you there?’

            The sun shone on the dirty workshop windows, a watery yellow which alighted on a slice of wall and trembled there like a visiting insect.

            ‘I don’t care,’ Zoë said, to no one in particular.

 

X

 

A key turned in the lock, and the door moved inwards haltingly. Zoë stepped through the musty cupboard. Anna’s back was turned in taut refusal, as she swept her long green skirt across the floor and swirled into the bucket chair behind the sewing machine. Her fingers settled at last unpeacefully on a sheet of pale blue cotton.

            ‘Something’s wrong,’ said Zoë.

            ‘Yes. You have been crying. And your trousers are torn.’

            Zoë sat on the edge of the bench and, taking a needle from the pin-cushion which stood beside the sewing machine, began to probe the rent in her armour.

            ‘I was being silly. That awful music – like a spray of acid. I meant something’s wrong with you.’

            ‘Nothing’s wrong with me.’

            The long lashes came down firmly over Anna’s pale brown eyes.

            ‘My mother rang, and of course she has been telling you dreadful things.’

            Anna’s fingers bunched the pale blue cloth into little hillocks. Then suddenly she lifted it to her face, gripped a loose thread with her teeth and worried it. Her face was locked in the present moment, like the face of an animal; the pieces that lay beneath it on bench and floor were like the remains of victims, scattered about her lair. The off-cuts were of pink, blue, lamé and lichen green; Zoë recognised the designs for Perverts’ Panto which Bill needed for November. She felt the distance between Bill’s world and Anna’s world, and a rush of warm protective feeling for the Cypriot girl ran through her body and into her finger tips. She reached out to touch the hair, which was the hair of an animal, without meaning to its owner, but to Zoë full of light. How good it would be to look after her. Anna had said her father was a surgeon and her mother a nurse, but Zoë knew that Anna’s parents were disreputable, the one a drunkard, the other (who met the Kostaina in St Nikodemos’s church, where they stood side by side in the choir) a kitchen maid in a Greek taverna. Zoë would take Anna into realms she had never dreamed of – realms of light and exploration; she would show her England.

            Anna looked up with a fierce expression and drew her head away.

            ‘You told your mother about me.’

            Zoë let her hand fall. It was true. In the course of their squabbling, and because it had been necessary to prove a point, she had mentioned Anna’s case. What had she not said and invented in those dreadful battles?

            ‘It was stupid of me,’ she said. ‘I lost control. But I made her promise never to tell.’

            ‘She’s no better at keeping a promise than you are. In fact, she has told my mother.’

            ‘When?’

            ‘This morning.’

            ‘I think I understand,’ said Zoë. ‘She wanted to find another of our crowd whose daughter has disgraced her.’

            Anna turned back to her work, and shrugged her thin shoulders. There was something hard and defensive in the manner that Zoë did not like. She did not believe Anna’s friendship could be ended by so small a mistake.

            ‘Forgive me Anna. Please. Listen, I am going to rent a couple of rooms, and you can have one of them. I’ll look after you…’

            ‘You? I thought you were going to live with an Englishman?’

            Zoë raised her hands to her face.

            ‘Oh God! I said that only to annoy the Kostaina.’

            ‘Well, you certainly succeeded. She’s not having you back in the house.’

            Anna gave a small triumphant smile.

            ‘Good,’ said Zoë; but a chill ran through her, to know that sentence had been publicly passed.

            ‘What do you think of my idea, of renting somewhere?’

            ‘In some house where no one speaks Greek, and curious men come knocking at all hours of the day?’

            ‘But I shall be there.’

            ‘Of course you’ll be there, filling the place with intellectual music, unreadable books, arty posters, and those weird friends of yours – like that filthy lesbian, who can’t see a piece of cloth without thinking how it would turn out as knickers. If only she’d keep her fingers out of my hair, at least. No thanks!’

            Zoë sat for a moment with downcast eyes.

            ‘I thought we were friends,’ she said at last. ‘I thought you wanted my help.’

            ‘I did. But that time is over. Now it’s you who want my help.’

            Zoë looked curiously at Anna who, for some stubborn cause that Zoë could not fathom, was discarding her only chance. She began to describe how it would be at the Solitudes, where they could live as they liked. She would teach Anna English, introduce her to English people – Michael, for instance; she would take her to the theatre, and to the museums and galleries on Saturdays. And she would buy a Singer, on the never-never, so that Anna could work from home. Zoë would cook: calamari and octopus, which you could buy for next to nothing in places where the kipper-eating natives lived.

            Zoë told the story with a child’s belief in it. She remembered their mornings, when she and Manolis would climb into the big bed with its lace-fringed counterpane, he on his mother’s side, she on her father’s. And clinging to their slumbering parents, they would peep across at each other, choking back their giggles, rising and ducking like buoys on the waves that dappled the morning sea and cast their gay reflections on the ceiling. And on that ceiling they would paint in words their paradisal landscape – fruit-filled gardens, houses brimming with children, animals running, leaping and tumbling, fairies, dragons, saints and witches, and in the midst of this Yannakis and his bride, enthroned within the temple of their marriage, the beginning and end of all the Kostas possibilities. As they threw drunken words like coloured ribbons across their bothered parents, a feeling of safety stole over them. And the wilder their fancies, the more deeply protected did they feel, as though the real world too obeyed them. Zoë recalled that sensation, as she rounded off her narrative with the idea that Anna might not have to work at all, that she, Zoë would get another job, give up those stupid classes from which she didn’t learn much anyway, and work enough for two.

            Anna’s beauty was the beauty of dreams, the beauty of Aretousa in the tale of Erotokritos. On her breast she wore a lizard brooch of moonstone set in silver: her lover’s only gift besides the baby. And it reminded Zoë of those long hours in the garden, teasing pale grey lizards on the grey-stone walls. They slithered nervously from stone to stone, froze into lichens, and disappeared at last like water down some dark crevasse. Yannakis told her to respect them, for they cleared the air of insects, and also, he said – though she never quite believed him – carried messages to the dead, who picknicked in darkness below the garden, patiently waiting for the words to come.

            Anna’s silence, her solitary ways, the soft light that flaked along her cheek-bones, the magic of her pregnancy – all these spontaneously confirmed in Zoë’s mind the girl’s release from calculation. Zoë expected her to melt at last, and to raise those big veiled eyes in a look of gratitude, as a wave of resignation passed below the grey-green muslin robes like the rustle of a creature that finally overcomes its shyness and slides from its hiding place. To her astonishment, however, Anna sat coldly through the narrative, and then, with another shrug, reached out again for her work.

            Anna pushed the blue cotton into the jaws of the sewing machine, and set the needle going. The bonnet of hair fell across her face, and the delicate thin shoulders, hunched against the world, were those of a distrustful child. When she looked up at last, it was with a hard, self-centred glance, so that Zoë stepped back a pace from the bench on which her hand had been resting.

            Anna said, ‘You go round looking for perfection, when nothing even half bit good is allowed to happen in this world. It’s so exhausting!’

            ‘Everything is allowed to happen,’ said Zoë urgently. ‘Don’t you see?’

            ‘No, I don’t see. You think I am allowed to live with someone half-crazy, and bring up a baby in a rooming house full of drunks and drop-outs and Englishmen? And if such things are allowed, they oughtn’t to be.’

            ‘What will you do, then?’

            ‘I’m sorry, Zoë. I didn’t mean it. Only – I’ve just had enough.’

            ‘Enough of what?’

            ‘Enough of unrealities.’

            ‘I see,’ said Zoë, who didn’t. How dingy and close had Anna’s cell become: all dust and dreariness and the sickly smell of repetition. Nothing of world entered here, save only a few thin rays from the partitioned window, which honed a blade of light against the whitewashed wall, competing faintly with the neon brightness. All of a sudden her image of Anna slipped away, and nothing stood between the girls save fear, and the calculation born of fear, ruthless as war.

            ‘Tell me your plans.’

            ‘Well,’ said Anna, with a sly smile. ‘I’m not going to live with an Englishman. In fact, I shall live with your mother.’

            ‘The Kostaina? Impossible!’

            ‘Not impossible at all. It’s natural for two disgraced women to live together.’

            ‘But this is ridiculous! You’ll go mad!’

            ‘I am mad. So’s she. It’s the perfect solution. We’ll close ranks together – her and me. So she said. She was really kind. Also she said you’re a whore, and that you corrupted me.’

            ‘Panayia!

            The blood rushed to Zoë’s face, and she put out a hand to steady herself. How quickly the Kostaina had acted, to impose her full measure of shame. Zoë envisaged Anna, occupying her room with the immovable selfishness of a breeding beast. The Kostaina would take the moral credit that was to have been Zoë’s, and fill the house with a routine of sacrifice. She recognised a terrible truth. Her intention in leaving home had been provisional; she had counted on the possibility of return, and all her courage, in setting forth that morning, had been the mere bravado of a prodigal child. She must leave her father’s possessions, his clothes and antiquities, his books and his birds, in the hands of other women, women who refused to be free. She sat down on the empty bench behind her.

            ‘You can’t do it!’ she cried. ‘You can’t live there.’

            ‘I don’t see why not. You lived there.’

            ‘I had to. You don’t understand.’

            ‘Don’t worry Zoë. I won’t touch your things. I’ll just curl up in a corner and give birth.’

            Anna gave an embittered smile, and looked away.

 

XI

 

As she tripped through the sweatshop Zoë thought of Anna’s smile. It was a thin line drawn across her world, like a crossing-out of cancelled words, making them legible for the first time. The girls were talking of sex – and yet they were virgins, dancing on this vast desire like the flies which hug the crest of moving waters and are never wet. Gay peals of laughter mingled with the radio. When Zoë came into view the laughter did not cease but turned in her direction, became languid and expectant, gently annulling her movement, until she looked up timidly with a shamed paltry smile.

            ‘Sorry for my temper.’

            Melissa left her trestle and gave Zoë a masculine hug.

            ‘We never believed it. Zoë make it with an Englishman! You’d have to switch the sun off first!’

            ‘She will,’ said Lisa. ‘She’ll find some wet artistic type in jeans and fall flat on top of him – mop him up like a sponge.’

            ‘She will, she will!’ chorused the Karavakou twins, and Melissa hit them with a roll of cloth. Laughter splashed about like threads of a cataract. Zoë thought of Michael, and said,

            ‘Lisa’s right. That’s what I’ll do.’

            As she walked with regal posture through the door, she felt sick inside and trembling. Mr Tzouliadis was waiting for her, with an expression of theatrical amazement.

            ‘Get away,’ she said. ‘I’m going.’

            He nodded sagely; Zoë paused on the iron stairway, holding the outside door ajar, and looking down into the street. A man in red trousers was pacing back and forth, as though impatiently waiting for someone. The chill smell of masonry was suddenly extinguished, as she raised her hands to her face and breathed the iron scent of railings. She looked back at Mr Tzouliadis.

            ‘You had better find another representative. I’m quitting.’

            Again he nodded.

            ‘You owe me some money. I’ll come back to collect it.’

            Something pitying in his expression caused Zoë to run down into the street.

 

XII

 

Bridges, some steel, some brick, some stone with balustrades and raised abutments, connected the towpaths over the canal. Along one side the crumbling warehouses stretched their rusting cranes above the water; lights shone here and there in the austere windows, where the newer, smaller industries had taken root in the dereliction. Between them were non-conformist churches, empty now and boarded, with schematic facades of gothic sandstone. A row of terraced houses stood propped against each other, bewildered and unvisited like childless old people who wait for death. Rubble-filled wastelands divided the buildings, their marshy clumps of brown willow-herb resting the eyes from the igneous glitter of cast-off metal and broken glass.

            The canal, after rainless weeks, was low, black and rimed with duckweed. The few trees on the towpath were parched, their papery leaves brown and wrinkled. Zoë looked up at the Edwardian clocktower of the town hall, with its classical clockface framed by pilasters, and a voluted copper dome, smeared with verdigris, sitting like a helmet on its top. The Peacock described it as a phallic symbol, and would point to it from the lecture room at Bewley whenever he needed, as he frequently needed, to refer to sex. To Zoë it symbolised a society that had once believed in itself and in its right to rule over people like Yannakis. It stood there, a memory of England amid the ruin of England, signalling its hopeful message of reprieve. We do not go unnoticed into the dark, it declared, and our lives are righteous and full of dignity. And beneath was the milling crowd of satirists and drop-outs, the Peacocks who scoffed and the Michaels who kept silent counsel. To neither did its message make sense.

            A shabby middle-aged man passed the bench where she sat, a raggle-taggle dog stringing along at his heels. The man wore an old black jacket from a uniform too small for him, which he had tied with string across his paunch. On his head was a toy policeman’s helmet, held by an elastic chin-strap. He limped on stout legs towards the water, looked down at it, and shook his head reprovingly – man, so social in his loneliness, so keenly aware, as he drifts into the endless space of solitude, of uniforms and offices and rules.

            She thought again of Michael, who had gone open-eyed into loneliness, leaving every deity behind. All other men alarmed her, especially the Peacock, with his ironical manner and his air of knowing her desires. Yet the Peacock could tell her where Michael lived, and in a peculiar way she needed him. Queer though it was, she needed the unprincipled permission that he extended to the world, and which included even her. Especially did she need him now – hearing in her mind the gates clang shut behind her and knowing that the piety and prudence of home, which even in their fiercest quarrels had surrounded them, were locked away for ever. Someone must tell her that she could do what Lisa so horridly said that she would do. She sat by the stagnant water, studying the shadows that fell on it from figures that she dared not see. And her thoughts took the form of so many crimes, from which only the Peacock could absolve her. Thinking of him, she shuddered and closed her eyes.

            Dr Leacock worked in many fields – sociology, philosophy, literary theory, politics – and advanced the same idea through all of them. Modern Man, he argued, was trapped and denatured by the discourse of power. To every question Dr Leacock brought the incandescent light of disobedience, seeking authority everywhere, so as to declare his rebellion against it. In the course of time, therefore, Bewley College, which existed more to massage the attitudes than to improve the learning of its students, and which had long thought of itself as part of Her Majesty’s permanent opposition, had entrusted the thirty-year-old Peter Leacock with its most popular evening courses, in social philosophy, literature, political theory and the performing arts. To these courses came people like Zoë, people who had lost their way, and had caught – in a novel perhaps, a political movement, a love affair, or a spurt of oriental religion – some distant glimpse of a certainty of which they felt themselves deprived.

            Dr Leacock made no distinction among those who might be prompted to admire him, and was therefore a man of egalitarian convictions. He treated every student as a victim, and offered to each the path of liberation that passed through himself. He would bless them with a look of intense personal concern, coaxing the dreary narrative of their disappointments, searching their features with his eager forget-me-not eyes, and uttering soft words of encouragement. Then, at a certain point, he would switch on his megawatt smile, throw back the hair from his handsome forehead, and lean forward across his desk. His voice would resume its special quality of seductive vigour, as he explained the student’s misfortunes in terms of the conspiracy of power which ruled over England. And as he unfolded the tale of general misery, touching on matters as far afield as the laws of association and the style of Kingsley Amis, his patients would experience a warm feeling of relief. Their sufferings expanded under his gaze to fill the whole tragic space allotted them. Listening they thrilled to the vision of struggle, and were joined with all the other victims in a sacred communion of revolt. The men were inspired to admiration, and the women frequently to love.

            With Zoë the technique had not worked. Visibly moved by her looks – and Zoë appeared in Bewley like a golden pheasant in a chicken run – impressed too by her air of propriety, he muffed his lines. She had never gone further by way of confession than to express her dissatisfaction with the Orthodox Church, a form of bondage which – not belonging to the ‘system’ of England – he was not in the habit of condemning. In fact the Peacock favoured everything alien, everything offensive to the way of life surrounding him, and therefore quickly passed over Zoë’s grievance, in search of some more seething cause. She offered none, and it was quickly settled between them that his advances were unavailing. Thereafter Zoë assumed the habit of calling on the Peacock, wary always of his eyes and hands, yet pleased to be treated as an equal – or as near an equal as his nature recognised. His failure to tame her caused him to be especially brilliant in her presence. He would look at her from his bright blue eyes, the hair falling in blond ridges over his head like a regiment of napkins, and he would blaze out his peculiar smile, parading his thoughts through the room as though she herself had summoned them. In his office she ceased to be a student and became instead a partner in the most elaborate intellectual game. No one else besides Yannakis had credited her with a mind, and she could listen to the Peacock’s scintillating banter, as he debunked one by one the myths and meanings of the world around them, with a sense of wandering outside the cage of her life, into forbidden areas where no Kostas had ever been before.

            At the same time there was something unreal in the experience, as though she wandered also outside her body. The walls of his office were pasted with ladies: ladies by Vermeer and Rembrandt, ladies by Gainsborough, Boucher and Ingres, ladies by Bonnard and Dégas, and ladies from the centre page of Playboy. Sometimes, sitting there, overlooked by so much greedy incarnation, she would feel like a spirit, returned to the curious changed world of living things. A queer mournful light then played around her, a light of disbelief, such as shines in tragedy. It was as though she stood on some bleak promontory of feeling, utterly alone, before a sea of turmoil. Sometimes, when the feeling came over her, he would laughingly snap his fingers before her face, saying ‘Wake up Zoë!’ and doing the little dance of self-congratulation which was his habit. She would indeed wake up, and long to be elsewhere, away from the contamination of his presence. And yet the next day she would return, not knowing what compelled her, and unable to look him in the face.

            Once, in the pub, the Peacock had taken Zoë’s hand, catching it suddenly in mid-air, as though trapping a bird. His grip was soft but strong, and she fluttered helplessly inside it. Eventually she withdrew her life from the captured extremity, and existed for the five minutes of her imprisonment without a hand. She neither looked at the Peacock nor spoke to him, until he had relinquished her fingers.

            ‘OK,’ he said, ‘you win. I’ll buy a round to celebrate.’

            And all the students drank at his expense. How gross and sycophantic they looked, as they downed their pints of beer, their lips moustachioed with froth like disfigured posters. All except Michael, who refused the Peacock’s offer, and stared at the floor. Yet she had not blushed. For even on this occasion there had been something that did not displease her in the Peacock’s attentions: a sense of his bafflement, perhaps, and something else – a feeling of power, of being above and beyond this world which ached so much to include her.

            Sometimes, emerging from the Peacock’s office, after one of those impromptu sermons which passed for tutorials, Zoë thought that deep down she was a conservative – not sexually only, but morally, socially, even politically. Of course, she would not admit to such a failing in Bewley, where it would lead to immediate ostracism. Nevertheless, while she enjoyed the Peacock’s wit and erudition; while she agreed with his vision of England, as built upon the alienation of the many and the power of the few, she had no faith in alternatives. The task is to find one’s place in the world that is, and then to live in freedom: so she had been taught by Yannakis, and so she would always believe. The force which animated the Peacock, as he shook the pillars of society and fulminated against the ways of power – this constant sparking of negative energy – was the exhilaration of the short circuit, which casts a deceptive light, but which gives power to nothing, and vanishes, leaving a whiff of sulphur.

            The Peacock was not only the absolver of crimes; he was also their cause and object. Once his image had settled in her mind, it began to seem as though there were no step she could take from this place that would not be the first of many errors. How careful he was, when Zoë said or did something in his presence, to operate on it until, by some chance working of her panic, she would throw up the word or gesture he was seeking and show herself to be, like him, an animal. She would be mad to see him.

            A small dumpy man in black was watching her, looking as though he had been carved from a fat black radish. A surging blue mass of verminous pigeons had gathered around her, clawing one another, outlining Zoë’s legs as though to conjure into the space they occupied some more beneficent existence. She looked down at them with loathing, recalling the runculations of the dovecote, and feeling disbelief that a single species could produce Evyenia and these. The cold beads of their eyes reflected nothing – no love or interest had found itself in them, no dream had shone back from their depths. Zoë kicked them aside, saw the black radish wince in disapproval, and then glanced at the sky. A rook paddled past, and the last swallows, which had been skimming low on the ground with beaks twittering after the fainting insects, rose in the air, staggered, and settled softly on the wires above the towpath. A breeze struck up and then died again. The sun moved on, and the shadow of a warehouse touched her face: time to go. She jumped to her feet, untied her scarf, bunched her hair, and tied it again. Lifting the duffle bag she went with rapid steps to the lane which led to Bewley College. As she turned behind the houses, she looked back at the staring radish, and quickly put out her tongue.

 

XIII

 

Bewley’s day-time culture was androgynous. The boys wore long dyed hair, lipstick and ear-rings; the girls jeans and denim jackets, their hair cropped to combat length, their unsmiling faces tense with military resolve. They provisioned themselves from the Paki shops in Spicetown, as Zoë called the nexus of streets north of the college building; you would find them leaning against the glazed walls at every hour of the day, pushing parathas into their mouths with saffron-coloured fingers. They did not speak, for they belonged to a race which had dispensed with words, and which gleaned its sparse information from images alone. In the evenings they listened to music so loud that words could not compete with it, and if they moved occasionally under the rhythm’s impulse, it was only so as to emphasise the solitude that surrounded them, like a negative electric field. Only on Demo Days did they exercise their lungs, gathering spontaneously into surprisingly ordered lines, and goose-stepping up and down to the promptings of a bearded officer with a megaphone, who would direct their shouting against the target of the day.

            It was the first week of the term, and the day’s demo had been large and well attended, scattering its hate-filled leaflets through all the surrounding streets. She heard the distant shouting – ‘Out! Out! Out!’ – as the cohorts wound their slow way towards the place of battle. And on the steps of the college, looking after them with an air of ironical approval, stood the Peacock, his buttocks neatly cupped in jeans and wearing a scant summer tee-shirt which showed his chest – hard, lustrous and curved like a shield – to all who cared to notice it.

            ‘Zoë!’ he cried, and his face shone down at her.

            ‘Can I see you for a moment?’

            He observed her with that ecumenical calm, that imperturbable acceptance of every cranky emotion – even of decency and shame – which comes from believing nothing.

            ‘Of course you can. That’s why I’m here.’

            She hurried past him into the corridor. This was a mistake; but she needed the sanctuary of his office, the contours of which no longer threatened her.

            ‘I guess you’re in trouble,’ the Peacock said, as he closed the door. He gestured, as he always did, to the long couch spread with durries and carpet cushions. And she sat, as she always did, on the hard chaste chair against the wall.

            ‘Do I look like someone in trouble?’

            She fixed herself in her accustomed posture, dropped the duffle bag on the floor beside her, and placed one hand on the half-mended tear in her trousers. She stared at the objects on the Peacock’s desk – an exercise which had a calming effect, since it translated him from the realm of necessity into the fast-flowing tide of accident. Books, papers, string and letters; trays, knives, scissors and elastic bands; cigarette packets, paperweights, lumps of ethnic wood and arty fibreglass; suggestive postcards, soiled handkerchiefs and a coronation mug; tapes, films, paperclips, and a broken-heeled woman’s shoe in red morocco – all fought for space, clinging, struggling, clambering each over each as though magnetised by the desktop. Whenever he sat down the Peacock cleared with a sweep of his strong hand a new space before him; the objects arched and bristled into their new positions, clinging with the same angry tenaciousness as to the positions they had lost. Strangely nothing ever fell from the desk, which was always acquiring things, never losing them. When the ritual hand-sweep was over, Zoë allowed herself to glance at the Peacock’s face, which was smiling volubly. Quickly she turned away.

            Through the window she could see the courtyard of Bewley College, where a tall plane-tree grew, its dry leaves tinged with yellow. At the far end a row of Victorian houses extended their backs towards her, and here and there a line of washing waved in the breeze. The Peacock took a cigarette and an old tin lighter from the desk before him. As he bent his head, Zoë turned from the window, and she felt a strange sensation at the sight of his sinewy neck. He lit the cigarette with a vast orange flame, and shot a smoke-veiled look at her. A faint smell of paraffin filled the office.

            ‘Of course,’ he said, ‘you always do.’

            ‘So then, there’s nothing special about today.’

            She sat in the glare of his covetous glance, impregnable as stone, and his eyes, after briefly trying their rights over every inch of her body, drifted lazily away.

            ‘Well, baby, you haven’t come here to talk about the weather.’

            ‘No,’ she said truthfully, ‘I like coming here. Except when you call me baby.’

            ‘Good. That you like coming, I mean.’

            The Peacock took the cigarette from his mouth and leaned back in his chair.

            ‘You’re beautiful, Zoë. Did you know that? The most beautiful woman I know.’

            ‘So you tell me. But it’s not the greatest of my disadvantages.’

            He laughed, a long happy horsey sound.

            ‘Well, Zoë, I have a disinterested scientific curiosity in the disadvantaged. That’s why I work in this place. So why don’t you tell me about your other problems.’

            ‘What, all of them?’

            ‘All that you wish. Except that damned Orthodox Church. It bores me rigid.’

            ‘It bores me rigid too.’

            ‘So then, what’s up? Except that you’ve forgotten how to breathe?’

            Zoë took a deep breath, and smiled wanly.

            ‘You see, it’s crazy, but I want your help.’

            ‘Why’s that crazy?’

            ‘Because I can’t give anything in return.’

            ‘My God, Zoë, you are about as encouraging as the Ten Commandments.’

            ‘That suits me fine.’

            ‘OK, you don’t need to tell me I repel you. I guess you think of me as an animal. An ape, perhaps, or an ox; a pig even.’

            ‘I’m no zoologist.’

            He laughed again, and stubbed out the cigarette, which lay in the ashtray like a broken column.

            ‘And you look at me from Byzantine eyes, fresh but faraway, like a miraculous icon, which moves when you pray to it. All buttoned up and jerky and full of zigzags like an old mosaic.’

            ‘Thanks.’

            ‘Aren’t you flattered?’

            ‘Not much. Anyway, that’s all irrelevant.’

            The Peacock nodded sagely, and then clapped his hands together behind his head, which he rested on them as he rocked back and forth.

            ‘OK, you win. Back to business. So you’ve run away from home.’

            ‘How did you know?’

            ‘I wasn’t born yesterday. Tell me about it.’

            ‘There’s nothing to tell. I just thought, maybe you could give me the addresses of some of the students – Enid, for instance, or Jimmy. One of them might have a room.’

            ‘If that’s all it is, you’ve got the solution right here. There’s a spare room in my place. I intended it for the kid, but his bitch of a mother won’t allow him to visit.’

            He spoke in cheerful tones, as though summarising the life of someone he had never met.

            ‘I couldn’t,’ she replied in alarm.

            ‘Of course you couldn’t,’ he pursued; ‘ridiculous idea, but try anything once. So let’s consider the students. By the way Zoë, do you believe in God? No, you don’t.’

            ‘I believe in – in the transcendental.’

            And a vision came to her of something large, white and unpolluted: something infinitely beyond the shabby world of fact. Even as she pondered the image, however, it fluttered and folded, adopted human form, and fell like a winding sheet through interstellar spaces. She started up in surprise.

            ‘A poor second best,’ said the Peacock, whose head was buried in a drawer. ‘Too far away to be reached and not sufficiently like us to take an interest. Sometimes I believe in God, formed in man’s image, only awfully old and worn out, lacking the will to take charge of things, now that we’ve buggered them up. In the end,’ he said, surfacing with a file, ‘God is the self. So let’s consider the students, since that’s all we’ve got. Enid for instance.’

            Enid was an exceedingly thin girl, probably anorexic, with mousey hair and sharp angular features, who drifted quietly in and out of the class with a look of startled apprehension, as though she were not quite certain that she was real. Her skin was the colour of stewed onions, and her greenish clothes – always too big for her, and perhaps handed out as a kit by some organisation that had temporary charge over her life – seemed like a form of camouflage. When she spoke, which was rarely, it was in a squeaky voice, full of halts and hesitations, as though some hidden accomplice pinched and prompted her. Taking a sheet of paper from his file, the Peacock recited the basic facts of Enid Winterstone, born August 1947, educated Haringey High School, occupation artist, also part-time sales assistant.

            ‘Enid,’ he said, ‘goes faintly after life, like a cage in search of a bird.’

            He mimicked her tone of voice, her mispronunciations (‘pair too’ and ‘freedge’ for Pareto and Frege), her frightened glances, the murine scrapings of a creature which startles at the scent of human flesh. According to the Peacock, Enid nibbled green leaves and biscuits in a rented kitchen, and dreamed of carcasses and the drip of blood. A tyrannical mother visited, large, angry and respectable, and against this mother there was only one defence – the boyfriend, whom Enid had pieced together from tough American novels, soap operas and glum modernist plays, before discovering him in the local health-food restaurant, brooding over a tofu sandwich. Henry did something bohemian and distinguished, like proof-reading or cartoon graphics. He was large, with a winter coat of rabbit-skin worn to the hide. He had the special smell – cornflakes, tobacco, motor oil, with an after-scent of armpits – which women of a certain kind take for the smell of wisdom. His slow unfocused eyes created in Enid the impression of a man who looks through every fact to its hidden core of meaning, and, since he responded to her rare bursts of discourse with judicious silences, she had decided that he alone, of all the many who would otherwise have courted her, could see into the depths of her soul. Magnificent though he was, however, Henry had one serious defect – which was that, after an initial show of interest, he visited only rarely, was inexplicably absent from his telephone during the evenings, and unobtainable during the day. Confined to her kitchen, Enid expressed her grief in art, returning in the afternoons from the shop to stand before a square of varnished hardboard, which she slopped and dolloped and pollocked with raw acrylic colours until the inner turmoil had subsided, and the new creation could be imprisoned in its frame of steel. Then, dry and doomed, Enid would ferret around the kitchen, obedient to her small routines, putting on and off her woolly clothes, and meditating on death. Sometimes, in her solitude, she imagined the high towers and pinnacles of the city, beneath which she scraped among sewers and wires; then she would venture out, to the arts centre, to the health-food restaurant, to Bewley College, in the hope of meeting Henry or another like him, only to discover that no orders had been given for her rescue, and that she was better off at home. Day after day the nightmare continued, to be out-kafkaed now and then by some special gesture of fruitless defiance, such as the fifty-page letter to her mother, who had spirited Henry away.

            The proprieties of Bewley College were inscrutable. For all Zoë knew, tutors were advised by the high command to dissect the students for each others’ instruction; maybe this was an essential part of the Bewley therapy. She had discovered too that the English were in the habit of story-telling, setting their acquaintances in impromptu novels, and maintaining the peculiar distance which comes from being not quite convinced that the other person is real. Mr. Tzouliadis, who had been the cause in Zoë of so much innocent torment, had never aroused contempt – he was part of her, just as Anna was and Melissa and the Kostaina, and their battles and exasperations took place against a background of tenderness, of tribal immersion, which no Englishman could ever understand. Henceforth, the Peacock was reminding her, such battles would be comfortless and real.

            Prickling with embarrassment, Zoë sat without a murmur through the Peacock’s narrative, which was in any case embellished with frequent marginalia of a well-meaning kind, as though he wished also to give vent to a frustrated charitable concern. If he described Enid, he implied, it was not because there was anything special about her case – on the contrary, any of the students would have offered the same moral opportunity. His purpose was to draw a picture of Zoë’s future solitude, and to offer himself as the cure. All this went rapidly through Zoë’s mind as she listened, thinking the Peacock to be quite the most disagreeable and most brilliant person she had ever met.

            ‘Oh yes,’ he was saying, ‘she made at last the definitive modern gesture, turned to her mother and said excuse me, but I reject your definition of me. And now she floats like a drowned baby down the tide of herself. Look,’ he added cheerfully, and pointed through the window.

            In one of the distant backyards a woman in a yellow shift was gesticulating, her lips apart in what may have been a scream – though no sound reached across the courtyard and the face hung open like the jaws of a dummy. A man in shirt and braces suddenly bowled his body from the back door of the house; a hand shot out from it, slapping the woman’s mouth. The two fought each other to the ground, disappeared, and then rose again, clutching urgently and running indoors as though impatient to be alone.

            ‘Strange things happen everywhere,’ said the Peacock in a relaxed voice, ‘things you couldn’t necessarily deal with; things you would have to try not to see.’

            ‘I can manage,’ she said.

            ‘Oh yes, better than Enid, certainly.’

            Zoë caught her breath indignantly.

            ‘Dr Leacock, I don’t think…’

            ‘Peter.’

            ‘I don’t think you have the right to make fun of Enid.’

            He roared with laughter.

            ‘Listen Zoë, only a genius could make Enid amusing.’

            ‘It’s true you’re not a genius.’

            ‘Ouch!’

            ‘I mean, Dr Leacock…’

            ‘Peter.’

            ‘I mean…’

            Defeated, she turned to him. His brilliant smile was shining into her eyes. Then, without warning, he switched it off and leaned across the desk. Something strange and new came into his expression: a kind of vulnerability, as though he appealed to her for help.

            ‘You don’t need to tell me that we’re not suited, Zoë. I haven’t knocked around the world for as long as this without learning a thing or two about the matter which is of the most pressing interest to me, namely the effect I have on women. I can read the signs well enough, and though I suspect my mind appeals to you for its radicalism, it isn’t to be honest a patch on your mind, and the radicalism is partly a bluff since it is so much easier to make an effect by denying things than by affirming them. There, I’ve never thought of that before!’ he added, breaking off and staring before him with a startled look.

            ‘In a very short time,’ he continued, ‘you will see how inadequate I am even in those areas which have gained your attention – which is why you should consider my offer very carefully. I am not a rapist, not even a seducer; I am offering you a bed – not my bed, but a bed, and a room all to yourself – in full consciousness of the fact that you won’t like me for longer than it’ll take to find a place of your own. Why not accept?’

            ‘Thanks. It wouldn’t be right. I’ll try the students. Not Enid perhaps; but just give me Ellen’s number; and Michael’s.’

            As the blood rose to her face, his supplicating look intensified.

            ‘I’m offering you what you really need, Zoë: an arrangement that is thoroughly non-committal, temporary, free of obligations. I understand you. I admire your old-fashioned chastity, I really do. Just think: the amount of energy released between the sexes when they come together is proportional to the distance between them when they are held apart. What insipid encounters we liberated people have, and how we long for such as you – I exaggerate – how we admire such as you, who rescue sex from nature and turn it into art – the female transfigured into the feminine. Ah!’

            He caught sight of something through the window, and the queer, soft expression gradually receded from his features.

            ‘I thought they were at it again! Filthy buggers, pardon my French. Michael, you say, with that face sunless as a mushroom farm, Michael Ashley?’

            He met her gaze, and something he read in it – something defiant and committed, like the glint of an animal defending its lair – caused him to hesitate.

            ‘It is conceivable that Ellen has a telephone, unlikely that Michael even has an address. Ah, you see,’ he went on, shaking the papers, ‘I am right: a number for Ellen, but nothing for Michael, except “obtainable during the day, in case of emergencies, at 14 Capey St.” Well Zoë, are you an emergency? Capey Street is right across the canal, you could walk there, no need even to call an ambulance.’

            He switched on his smile, and leaned back contentedly.

            ‘I’ll try Ellen,’ she said.

            ‘Suit yourself: there’s the number, right before you. And if you run out of luck, you know where to turn.’

            ‘Thanks.’

            ‘Thanks for zilch.’

            A wave of desolation swept across her. She was utterly alone, a leaf on the autumn wind, a dove whose cote has been rifled and thrown to the flames. Her trim had been kept this long, but must soon disintegrate as weariness conquered and she fluttered to the ground. She thought sadly of Anna, whose distrust was Zoë’s doing, of the Kostaina who had calculated so coolly behind the veils of rage. And she thought of Yannakis, whose dear face came to her in dreams and shone with undiminished vigour from the wall of his possessions. A strange rustling transpierced these things, as though the people in her little world floated beside her, carried by a tireless wind. ‘Holy God,’ they whispered, ‘holy and strong, holy and immortal, have mercy on us.’ Eternity in person managed the breeze that carried them, buoyed them up to realms of breathlessness, and then suddenly ceased and betrayed them, so that one by one the souls plummeted to destruction. Perhaps some unhoped-for providence could be summoned by prayer; but she doubted it. The Peacock, as he gently swayed behind his desk, his eyelids drooping over electric eyes, was like a watching satyr. He was one of the kallikantzari, whom the priests hunt with incense, and whose mesmerising antics lure the pure souls from their azure fields, and bring them fretting to earth.

            She started to her feet. She must move out of his reach, so as to fall, when she fell, in some cleft that he could not see. She remembered a flamingo, flown in from the Caspian sea, which had tumbled from the skies above the village. It lay dead in a bed of rockroses, its eye half-closed, its long neck bruised and broken; and around it the smell of myrrh. It was Yannakis, with his bird-catching eye, who had seen the creature fall; together they buried it beneath a carob tree, where the seed-pods clinked in the sultry breeze, an endless tinkling farewell.

            ‘I’ll see you this evening, Zoë.’

            ‘Maybe.’

            ‘What do you mean, maybe? You’re starting us off, remember? And Bonini’s coming: all the way from Florence, to tell us about the semiotics of the unconscious.’

            ‘It’s too far ahead; I can’t tell.’

            He shook his head slowly.

            ‘I don’t make you out, Zoë, just don’t make you out.’

            ‘I think you make me out very well.’

            ‘You won’t stay for lunch?’

            ‘Thanks. No.’

            ‘I’ll come out with you.’

            ‘There’s no need, Dr Leacock.’

            ‘Peter.’

            ‘There’s no need, Peter.’

            ‘At last!’

            And with a robust laugh he stood to open the door. She scraped past him as best she could, but not before a part of him had rubbed against her arm, making a patch of heat which seemed afterwards to grow and spread until it invaded the whole of her body.

Continued in Part III of A Dove Descending

See also Part I.

Roger Scruton is Visiting Professor of Philosophy at the University of Oxford and Senior Research Fellow of Blackfriars Hall. The collection of stories in which this novella first appeared, also entitled A Dove Descending, can be ordered here. For a list of Prof. Scruton’s other works, please see his website.

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