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«Inside Mr Enderby», Anthony Burgess

Иллюстрация к книге

Book 01 of the Enderby Quartet

To D'Arcy Conyers

– Allons, dernier des poetes,

Toujours enferme tu te rendras malade!

Vois, il fait beau temps, tout le monde est dehors,

Va donc acheter deux sous d'ellebore,

Ca te fera une petite promenade.

Jules Laforgue, Dimanches

 

Part One

Chapter One

1

Pfffrrrummmp.

And a very happy New Year to you too, Mr Enderby!

The wish is, however, wasted on both sides, for this, to your night visitors, is a very old year. We, whispering, fingering, rustling, creaking about your bedroom, are that posterity to which you hopefully addressed yourself. Congratulations, Mr Enderby: you have already hit your ball smack over the pavilion clock. If you awaken now with one of the duodenal or pyloric twinges which are, to us, as gruesome a literature-lesson spicer as Johnson's scrofula, Swift's scatophobia, or Keats's gallop of death-warrant blood, do not fancy it is ghosts you hear sibilant and crepitant about the bed. To be a ghost one has first to die or, at least, be born.

Perrrrrp.

A posterior riposte from Mr Enderby. Do not touch, Priscilla. Mr Enderby is not a thing to be prodded; he is a great poet sleeping. Your grubby finger out of his mouth, please, Alberta. His mouth is open for no amateur dental inspection but to the end that he may breathe. That nose is, at forty-five, past its best as an organ, the black twitching caverns-each with its miniature armpit-stuffed and obtuse. The world of smell is visited by his early poems, remember (pages 1 to 17 of the Harvard University Press selection which is your set book). There we have washed hair, pickles, gorse, bath-salts, skin, pencil-shavings, tinned peaches, post offices, Mrs Lazenby at the corner-shop in his native slum, cloves, diabetes. But it has no existence in his maturer work; the twin ports are closed for ever. That gentle noise, Harold, is snoring. That is so, Christine; his teeth, both upper and lower, are removable: they have been removed to that plastic night-jar there. Child, child, you have spilt denture-fluid on to Mr Enderby's landlady's carpet. No, Robin, the carpet is neither beautiful nor rare, but it is Mrs Meldrum's property. Yes, Mr Enderby himself is our property, the world's property, but his carpet is his landlady's. Mrs Meldrum's.

Now. His hair goes a daily journey from head to brush, squad by tiny squad on a one-way ticket. Here on the dressing-table are the imitation-silver-backed brushes bequeathed by his father, the tobacconist. The bristles are indeed dirty, Mavis, but great poets have other things to do than attend to the calls of hygiene. See how the bristles have trapped their day's quota of Mr Enderby's few remaining hairs. Holy relics, children. Do not rush. One each for everybody. There. Keep it safe, each of you, in your little diary of posterity's present year. Shed hairs, Henry, become the property of the picker. They are of no use to Mr Enderby, but they are already fetching, at classical auction-rooms, a pound or so each if nicely mounted. It is not proper, Audrey, that you should try to pick your hair alive. Such a rough tug at the scalp is enough to wake Mr Enderby.

Querpkprrmp.

You see? He's disturbed. Let him settle as one lets churned water settle. Right. A better view of Mr Enderby, you will agree, children, as he flops on his back cruciform and sends the bedclothes sliding and plopping to the floor. His belly bulges in two gentle hills, one on either side of the cutting pyjama-cord. There is a wealth of hair, see. It is one of the abominable ironies of middle age that hair should march down from the noble summit, the eagle's lodge, to leave that bare as an eagle, in order that the camps and barracks and garrisons of the warm vulgar body be crammed with a growth that is neither useful nor pretty. The flabby chest too, see. Rich in hair, aflame with whorls and tendrils of it. And for good measure, chin and jowls bristling. Horrent, Milton might say.

Yes, Janice, I am constrained to agree that Mr Enderby does not make a pretty sight when sleeping, even in total darkness. Yes, we all remark the scant hair, the toothless jaws, the ample folds of flesh rising and falling. But what has prettiness to do with greatness, eh? There is something for you all to ponder on. You would not like to have been married to him, Alberta? Might not the reverse also have applied, even more so, you stupid giggling silly thing? Who are you to think that you would ever be meet to mate with a great poet?

The extremities. The feet that trod Parnassus. Callosities on the intricate map of the sole, see. Torn toenails, though that of the great toe too rocky to be tearable. They could both do with a long sudsy soaking, agreed. The outstretched right hand, like a beggar's, really a king's. Gaze with reverence on those fingers that rest now from writing. Tomorrow they will write again, continuing the poem that he considers to be his masterpiece. Ah, what these fingers have produced! Each of you kiss the hand, more gently, though, than a fly crawling. I realize that the act of kissing needs an effort of will to overcome a certain natural revulsion. Here, however, is a little lesson for you in scholastic philosophy. The grubby knuckles, the nails with black borders, the deep stains of tobacco-tar (the cigarette was held interdigitally, forgotten, while the poet's mind soared above the smell of burning), the coarse skin-these are the accidents, the outer aspects of the hand, their concession to the ordinary world of eating and dying. But the essence of the hand-what is that? A divine machine that has made our lives more blessed. Kiss it, come on, kiss it. Althea, stop making that vomiting noise. Your face, Charles, is ugly enough without contorting it to a rictus of nausea. That's right, kiss it.

It has hardly disturbed him at all. He scratches it gently in his sleep, the tickle of a questing alighting moth. Listen. In his sleep he is going to say something. Your kiss has prodded a sleeping inspiration. Listen.

 

My bedmate deep

In the heavy labour of unrequited sleep.

 

No more? No more. There, children, what a thrill! You have heard his voice, a mumbly sleepy voice, true, but still his voice. And now let us pass on to Mr Enderby's bedside table.

Books, children, Mr Enderby's bed-reading. Blondes Like Bullets, whatever that means; Who Was Who in the Ancient World, useful, no doubt; Raffity's Deal, with a brutish cover; How I Succeeded, by a tycoon who died of arteriosclerosis; Little Stories of the Marian Martyrs, sensational. And here, dears, is one of Mr Enderby's own: Fish and Heroes, his early poems. What a genius he had then! Yes, Denis, you may handle it but, please, with care. Oh, you stupid boy, you have sent a shower of things to the floor. What are these, that were hidden between the well-thumbed pages? Photographs? Don't touch, leave them, they are not for you! Merciful heavens, the weaknesses of the great. What shame we have unintentionally uncovered. Do not giggle, Brenda and Maureen, and hand that photograph back to me this instant. You will wake Mr Enderby with those obscene girlish noises. What, Charles, are they doing? The man and woman in the picture? They are minding their own business, that's what they're doing.

Bopperlop.


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