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It is an afternoon in early May. Pauline is looking out of the window of her study at World's End. She looks not at the rich green of the field sweeping up to the cool blue of the sky, but at Teresa, who stands outside the cottages with Luke astride her hip, staring up the track towards the road. Pauline sees Teresa with double vision. She sees her daughter, who is holding her own son and waiting for the arrival of her husband. But she sees also an archetypal figure: a girl with a baby, a woman with a child. There is a whole freight of reference there, thinks Pauline. The girl, the child, the sweep of the cornfield, the long furrowed lines of the rough track reaching away to elsewhere. Seen through one lens, Teresa is a Hardy heroine -- betrayed no doubt, a figure of tragedy. Seen through another, she is a lyrical image of youth and regeneration. And for Pauline there shimmers also a whole sequence of intimate references, other versions of Teresa which hitch them both to other days and different places. It is a day in May at World's End, but it is also the extent of two lives -- three fives, if Luke's fifteen months are to be considered.
In fact, Teresa is standing where she is for good reason. She has already spotted the glint of the sun on the windscreen of Maurice's car as it turned off the main road, and now indeed here comes the car, creeping in the distance like some sleek dark beast amid the rippling green. And Luke too has seen it. His whole body registers attention and anticipation. He twists his head. He points with all four fingers. 'Da!' he says. 'Da!' Here comes my father, he is announcing.
Pauline hears him,through the open window. She too notes the car. She watches its approach, she sees it pull off the track on to the area alongside the cottages that serves as a parking space. Maurice gets out. He kisses Teresa and they go together into the cottage, into their half of the pair of cottages which is World's End. Pauline turns from the window and looks down again at her desk. She picks up her pencil and makes a note on the manuscript in front of her.
World's End is itself something of an archetype, and as such is unreliable. It is a grey stone building set on a hillside somewhere in the middle of England. The stone is weathered, the hilI behind reaches up to a crown of trees which are a delicate tracery against the sky. Adroitly photographed, it could be used as an advertisement by car manufacturers (you need one to get there), the bread industry (there grows the good healthy wheat) or those who operate the tourist trade (come with us and you too will see such scenes). The building appears to be locked still into the early nineteenth century -- a terrace of three two-storey cottages with attic dormer windows, constructed of stone dug from a quarry a few miles away and roofed with stone slate also of local provenance. There it sits, tucked snug into the fields. It could have simply grown of its own accord, you feel -- made from the very bones of this land. It is an emanation of a time and a place.
The truth is that World's End is suspended in this landscape like a space capsule, with its machinery quietly humming -- its computers, its phones, its faxes. Its microwaves, its freezers, its televisions and videos. World's End in fact is nicely disguised, like one of those turfed-over bunkers kitted out as command posts in the event of nuclear attack.
The building has been gutted. Three dwelling are now two, with nothing left of the original construction but windows, fireplaces, a few oak beams and a staircase. The front door of the left-hand, larger cottage -now used by Teresa and Maurice -- opens straight into a big open-plan kitchen. Behind that a new extension provides the sitting-room which overlooks the garden common to both cottages. A cleverly constructed space-saving staircase twists up out of one corner of the kitchen to the bedroom and bathroom floor above. The attic is Maurice's study.
The smaller cottage -- Pauline's -- is rather different. Kitchen and sitting-room are paired at each side of a tiny hallway, from which the original staircase rises to the upper floor. It is a disconcertingly precipitate staircase, much too steep and with narrow treads. Pauline has had hand rails put at either side, but even so visitors have to be warned. She wishes occasionally that the staircase had been ripped out when the building was done over, but at the time it seemed appealing and in some way integral to the cottage, and now she cannot be bothered with any further upheaval.
The whole place is of course radiant with electricity and central heating. It ticks and tocks with timing mechanisms and remote-control devices. Green digits blink from display panels. Telephones are poised for action. Computers and faxes stand waiting in Pauline's study and in Maurice's. Both of them can tap into a global communication network, both can conjure up the information resources of distant libraries. World's End is a wolf in sheep's clothing - it is no more rooted in a time and a place than is the flight deck of a 747
A curious name for a row of cottages -- World's End. When Pauline bought the place ten years ago she was puzzled by the term but found no explanation until Maurice pointed out that such names were often given to farm labourers' dweUings sited out in the fields in the last century -- new constructions away from village centres and labelled accordingly, places that seemed remote, or -- ironically -- idyllic.Heat Wave. Copyright © by Penelope Lively. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.