Daniel Martin, Page 2John Fowles
Then the prize-giving, Old Mr Luscombe stands by the assembled kill; a little embarrassed, unused to playing Solomon. One here, one there, a small one to a child, a fat brace to Babe, another to Old Sam. Then six to the boy who stocked.
Take ‘en down to the ash-tree, Danny.
And ‘Danny’, whose preferred name is Dan, walks down the field, three pairs of hind legs in each hand, Nimrod, to the spread tea.
Little Mrs Luscombe, with her eyebrows like commas, stands hands on hips by her twig fire, grinning at him.
You caught all they then, Danny?
I got two. One didn’t count actually. It was caught in the blades.
Poor thing, says his aunt.
Mrs Luscombe is politely but firmly scornful.
You didden have a stone wall round your garden, in’ dear, you woulden feel sorry for they.
And his aunt smiles at him, maternally, as Mrs Luscombe takes the rabbits, weighs them, approves, palping their haunches; picks a good couple.
There’s your supper, Danny.
Oh I say. Really? Thanks awfully, Mrs Luscombe.
Are you absolutely sure? asks his aunt. Then: I don’t know what we’d do without you.
Where’s father? asks the boy.
It seems the Rural Dean has called. About the porch.
He nods: nursing his solitude, his terrible Oedipal secret; already at the crossroads every son must pass.
He says, We’ll just finish the stocking.
And he walks back to where they have gone back to work, but there are many more hands now, as in a Brueghel. The children vying to lug the furthest sheaves closer for the men; even Babe sets to for that last twenty minutes.
Then back under the ash-tree, as ritual as Holy Communion, the old pink-and-white check cloth, the bread, the quart bowl of cream, the pots of raspberry and blackcurrant jam, the chipped white mugs, the two teapots, a browny-black with yellow bands, the same brown as the cake with all its hoarded sultanas and currants. Best the illicit scalded cream, its deep yellow crust folded into the voluptuous white. No cream since time began could equal it; the harvest hunger, sun, the circle of watching children, the smell of sweat. Byre and meadow and breath of Red Devons. Ambrosia, death, sweet raspberry jam.
Did ‘ee see ‘un, ma? Did ‘ee see ‘un, Miz Martin? Usall coulda touched ‘un, coulden us, Danny?
He is alone among the highest beeches, over the stooked and now empty field, the marly combe; where he comes each spring to find the first moschatel, strange little transient four-faces, smelling of musk. Another mystery, his current flower and emblem, for reasons he cannot say. The sun in the extreme west, as he likes it best. Its slanting rays reveal the lands in a pasture-field on the other side of the valley, the parallel waves where an ox-plough once went many centuries before; and where he must pay a visit soon, childish but another of his secret flowers, the little honeycomb-scented orchid Spiranthes spiralis, blooms on the old meadow there about now. He clings to his knowledges; signs of birds, locations of plants, fragments of Latin and folklore, since he lacks so much else. The leaves of the beeches are translucent in the westering sun. A woodpigeon coos, a nuthatch whistles somewhere close above.
He sits with his back to a beech-trunk, staring down through foliage at the field. Without past or future, purged of tenses; collecting this day, pregnant with being. Unharvested, yet one with this land; and that was why he had been so afraid. It wasn’t death, the agony in the mower’s blades, the scream and red stumps… but dying, dying before the other wheat was ripe.
Inscrutable innocent, already in exile.
Down, half masked by leaves. Point of view of the hidden bird.
I feel in his pocket and bring out a clasp-knife; plunge the blade in the red earth to clean it of the filth from the two rabbits he has gutted; slit; liver, intestines, stench. He stands and turns and begins to carve his initials on the beech-tree. Deep incisions in the bark, peeling the grey skin away to the sappy green of the living stem. Adieu, my boyhood and my dream.
D. H. M.
And underneath: 21 Aug 42.
‘But you must do.’
He smiles in the darkness.
‘Jenny, in writing there aren’t any musts.’
He says parentally, ‘You ought to be asleep.’
But he stands unmoving, staring out of the window into the night; out of the dark room, over the palms and poinsettias and castor-oil plants in the garden, beyond the garden. Downtown, the endless plain of trivial jewelled light. He closes his eyes a long moment, shutting it out.
‘All the ghosts here. They get you in the end.’
‘Now you’re being phoney romantic.’
‘You mean I haven’t yet been seen sitting dead drunk in a corner of the commissary.’
‘Oh Daniel. Come on.’
He says nothing. A silence. A flicker of lighter flame. On the glass of the window he catches her momentary face, the long hair, the amber shadows of the couch. A whiteness where the indigo kimono, unsashed, lies open. A nice angle; nicest because no lens, no stock, could ever get it. Mirrors. The dark room. Leaving the red point and sign of rebellion in the glass, one with the distant blue, diamond and garnet lake of sky-signs.
She murmurs, ‘Give a little.’
It is terrible, like a nausea at times like this, but an unkilled adolescent in him still prizes the thousand-times-seen view; remains excited, smug, achieved; mocks all he has known, learnt, rationally valued.
He turns and crosses the room to a fake Biedermeier table by the door.
‘Do you want anything?’
‘Only you. And neat. Just for once.’
He adds water to his whisky, tastes it, adds some more; turns.
‘I really ought to tuck you in. It’s so late.’
‘For Christ’s sake come and sit down.’ Her head twists, staring at him over the back of the couch. She says, ‘You’re making me act.’
‘I have enough of that during the day. If you remember.’ He goes and sits beside her; then leans forward and sips his whisky. ‘When did it begin?’
He divides conversation into two categories: when you speak, and when you listen to yourself speak. Of late, his has been too much the second. Narcissism: when one grows too old to believe in one’s uniqueness, one falls in love with one’s complexity as if layers of lies could replace the green illusion; or the sophistries of failure, the stench of success.
‘This afternoon. When you ran over. I went out and wandered round the lot. All those empty stages. Just a feeling of… wasted time. Effort. Something.’
‘And having to wait for me.’
‘It wasn’t your fault.’
‘But it was that?’ He shakes his head. ‘The star and her stud.’
‘That’s just the old dialect. The myth.’
‘But they still believe in it.’
‘One must pay the natives something, Jenny.’
She sits with an arm crooked on the back of the couch, observing his face in profile.
‘That’s what I hate about the Prick. He thinks he’s so cool, so this year, baby. Every time he sees you he gives me one of those looks. Those little old way-back looks. One day I’m going to ask him why he wears French letters in his eyes.’
‘That should add zing to your scenes.’
She stands and wanders across to the window, stubs out her cigarette yes, she is acting in a pottery dish by the telephone; then stares out, as he had, at the infamous city’s artificial night.
‘It’s the one thing I’ll never understand about this creepy town. How they’ve so totally managed to ban naturalness from it.’ She turns and comes back, stands with folded arms, looking down at him. ‘I mean, why are they all so frightened of it? Why can’t they just accept we have our own private little English… oh Dan.’ She sits
, and makes him put his arm round her; takes the hand and kisses its back, then leads it to a bare breast and holds it there. ‘All right. So you walked round the lot. That doesn’t explain why come on.’
He stares across the room.
‘I suppose it was about reality. Failures to capture it. Those stages, the flats still standing there. Movies no one even remembers any more. How all the king’s plays and all the king’s scripts… and nothing in your present can ever put you together again.’
‘Tell me when to touch the tears from my eyes.’
There is a little rush of air down his nostrils; he gives the bare breast a gentle squeeze, then removes his arm.
‘Proves my point.’
‘Well someone’s fishing.’
‘Not the smallest hook.’
‘You don’t even… and you know it.’
‘Only by local standards.’
‘Darling, when you’re—’
‘Oh Gawd, here we go again.’
He is silent a moment. ‘When I was your age I could only look forward. At mine you…’
‘Then you need your eyesight tested.’
‘Not really. If you want to know what the shored fragments are worth, ask the ruin.’
‘“Why then I’ll fit you. Hieronymo’s mad again.”‘ She sits away and grins at him in the night, raises a reproving finger. ‘You’d forgotten that was the next line. Right? You shouldn’t get literary with actresses. We may be cows, but we can always cap you.’
‘Stage point. Not a real one.’
She looks down. ‘You’re such a lousy casting.’
‘Inverted vanity. Looking back at my immortal oeuvre.’
‘Oy veh. So we aren’t Shakespeare.’
He murmurs, ‘I think I’d better go.’
But she makes him sit back, once more put an arm round her, and lies with her face against his shoulder.
‘I’m being flip.’
She kisses his skin through his shirt; then buries her forehead against him. ‘I know you’re in ruins somewhere. It’s just I hate having to feel I’m making them worse.’
He holds her a little tighter. ‘You’re one of the very few fragments that make sense.’
‘If only I…’
‘We’ve settled all that.’
She takes one of his hands. ‘Tell me about this afternoon. What really happened.’
‘It was on the old Camelot set. It suddenly hit me. How well I matched it. The betrayal of myths. As if I was totally in exile from what I ought to have been.’ He added, ‘Done.’
‘And what’s that?’
‘Something to do with the artifice of the medium.’
‘That if I could ever hope to describe it, it would have to be beyond staging or filming. They’d just… betray the real thing again.’
‘God knows, Jenny. The real history of what I am? This is all disgustingly solipsistic.’
‘As you once convinced me all art was.’
He waits, staring across the room.
‘I’ve spent most of my adult life learning how to use the least possible words, how to get scenes crisp. How you pack your meaning in between the lines. How you create other people. Always other people.’ He pauses again. ‘As if I’d been taken over by someone else. Years ago.’
‘What kind of someone else?’
‘Some kind of fink.’
‘Rubbish. But go on.’
He strokes the side of her hair. ‘It’s such a soft option. You write, Interior, medium shot, girl and man on a couch, night. Then you walk out. Let someone else be Jenny and Dan. Someone else tell them what to do. Photograph them. You never really stake yourself. Let it be no one else. Just you.’ He stops stroking, pats her hair.
‘That’s all, Jenny. I don’t really want to start a new career. Just a way of saying I’m sick of screenplays.’
‘And Hollywood. And me.’
‘But you wish you could go home.’
‘Not literally. Metaphorically.’
‘Then where we began. Memoirs.’
‘I’ve invented quite enough paper people without adding myself to the list.’ He added, ‘Anyway, libel. I couldn’t make reality honest.’
‘Then write a novel.’ He sniffs. ‘Why not?’
‘I wouldn’t know where to begin.’
She sits away on her knees, contemplating him.
He smiles. ‘With the ravings of the male menopause and a naked film-star in Harold Robbins Land?’
She closes her kimono. ‘That’s a filthy thing to say. About both of us.’
‘Sated with sex and trying to remember his Aristotle, he outlined his theory of’
‘I’m not a film-star. I’m your Jenny.’
‘Who’s being much too indulgent.’
‘You’ve got the money, you could make the time.’
‘Too many dead fish on my conscience.’
‘What does that mean?’
‘That I’ve gutted too many of the damn things to create a living one.’
‘Then you know the traps. I don’t see what you’ve got to lose.’
‘Your last what?’
‘The thing cobblers are meant to stick to.’
She is silent, scrutinizing.
‘Is all this to do with the new script?’
He shakes his head. ‘It bores me into the ground, but I can do scenario in my sleep. Like a computer.’ He stands and goes to the window again. She twists round on the couch and watches his back. After a moment, he goes on, but in a quieter voice. ‘If you run away, Jenny, you can’t find your way back. That’s all I meant. Trying to, it’s only a pipedream. Trying to crawl back inside the womb. Turn the clock back.’ He turns and smiles across at her. ‘Late-night maundering.’
‘You’re so defeatist. All you have to do is put down exactly what we’ve just said.’
‘That’s the last chapter. ‘What I’ve become.’
She looks down, a little pause; a ‘beat’, in the jargon.
‘Bill was on about you the other day. Why you’ve never directed.’
‘I told him what you told me.’
‘And what did he say?’
‘Something rather perceptive. How being a perfectionist and being scared are often the same thing.’
‘That was sweet of him.’
‘And right of him?’
He smiles through the darkness at her accusing face. ‘Calling me yellow will get you nowhere.’
She waits a moment, then stands and walks to him, and kisses him quickly on the mouth; pushes him back so that he has to sit in an armchair by the picture window; kneels on the carpet and rests her forearms on his knees. A faint light from the city sky outside.
‘My Highland great-grandmother had the second sight.’
‘As you told me.’
‘This is the first chapter.’
‘And the next?’
‘Something will happen. Like a window opening. No, a door. Like a door in a wall.’ She kneels back, arms folded over her breasts, biting her lips, playing sibyl.
‘And through it?’
‘Your story. Your real history of you.’
He has a tired grin. “When?’
‘Before you have your way and we… go our separate ones.’ His grin dies. ‘You can reconstitute this conversation? It’s very important. You must remember it.’
‘I only want out because I’m in love with you. You realize that?’
‘Answer my question.’
‘I shouldn’t think so.’
‘Then I’ll try and write some of i
t down for you. Tomorrow. Between takes. Just the gist.’
‘And my question?’
‘Or a version of it, anyway.’
And they stare at each other. In the end he says quietly, ‘God, how I loathe your generation.’
And she smiles up at him, like a praised child, so overcome that in the end she has to bow her head. He reaches forward and ruffles her hair, then makes to stand. But she stops him.
‘Wait a minute. I haven’t finished with you yet.’
‘This is mad. You must get your sleep.’
She turns to the telephone table behind her; kneels there, switches on the lamp; pulls the Los Angeles directory out on the carpet, stares at its cover a moment, then gives him a little speculating look back. He sits perched forward, ready to go.
She stares down again. ‘Something solitary. Devious.’ Then she opens the directory, crouches to read its small print. ‘Oh God, there aren’t any English names.’
‘Tell me what you’re doing.’
But she says nothing. Suddenly she turns towards the back, riffs pages quickly; halts, cranes, finds something; flashes a grin back at him.
‘As in lone. But with an e.’ She is back to running her finger down a list of names. ‘That’s it. S. You can’t get more wriggly than that. Altadena Drive, wherever that is.’
‘Behind Pasadena. And if you’
‘Shut up. Stanley J. That’s no good.’ She closes the directory, examines him like a coper before a doubtful horse, then suddenly points. ‘Simon.’ She folds her arms. ‘Since you’re so simple, too. You may drop the J.’
He looks down at the carpet. ‘How long is it since you were spanked?’
‘But you can’t use your own name in a novel. Anyway, it’s so square. Who’d ever go for a character called Daniel Martin?’