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In the Fold
By Rachel Cusk
Little, BrownCopyright © 2005 Rachel Cusk
All right reserved.
Chapter OneI first met the Hanburys when Adam Hanbury's sister Caris invited me to her eighteenth birthday party. The invitation read as follows:
Caris Hanbury invites you to celebrate her eighteenth birthday at Egypt on Saturday 21 July at 8 P.M. Carriages at Dawn RSVP
"Where's that?" I asked Adam.
"It's where we live," he said, after a pause.
"Why's it got that name?"
"I don't know. Everyone's always called it that."
"Well, how are you meant to find it when it doesn't say where it is?"
There wasn't an address or a map or any directions. There wasn't even a telephone number.
"Everyone knows where it is," said Adam.
Adam Hanbury and I occupied adjacent rooms in the university hall of residence: I had surmised, vaguely, that he was different from me, but such differences I regarded as somehow ornamental; as though, suspended between the involuntary world of childhood and the open road of adult life, our student characteristics were a temporary form of self-adornment. We were like a bank of flowers in their season, a waving mass of contemporaneous heads whose stalks and roots were for the time being obscured. The other two rooms on our floor were occupied by a pair of girls named Fiona and Juliet, who spoke in accents of biting gentility and were generally amiable, except in matters pertaining to the shared bathroom, where they exercised flaying powers of discrimination with which I now see they were biologically equipped and which, as they got older, no doubt unfolded into the visible characteristics of a social type. At the end of the year Fiona and Juliet wrote Adam and me a letter, which they pinned to Adam's door.
Dear Boys, it read.
Out of sympathy for your neighbors next year we thought it might interest you to hear some HOME TRUTHS about yourselves, as it is obvious no one ever loved you enough to tell you how not to disgust and revolt people, and there is obviously no chance of you getting girlfriends, who might have told you that if you want people to like you, it's a good idea not to do your washing up in the bath, or at least to clean the bath out afterward so that the next person doesn't think they've stumbled on a scene from the TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE. Also not to leave pubic hairs in the sink, lest people wonder how they got there. We've counted at least ten-it's actually quite off-putting when you're trying to clean your teeth. On that subject ...! Did your mothers abandon you at birth, or have they just forgotten to tell you that using other people's toothbrushes is unhygienic and rude, and in fact these days is tantamount to a criminal offense? Haven't you heard of AIDS?!!! Come to think of it, you always seemed suspiciously close. Though on second thoughts, at least gays are meant to be TIDY. Is this some kind of double bluff we've uncovered here? I think we should be told. Yours,
Fifi and Jules
A few years later I met one of them at a party and she expressed a surprising depth of regret for this missive. I had forgotten it by then, but she gave the impression of having thought of little else in the intervening period than how stupid, how pathetic she was to write it. I told her I didn't see why it worried her so much, when everything it said was basically correct. For some reason this observation actually intensified her remorse. I remembered once opening the door to her room to drop off her post, in the mistaken belief that she was out, and finding her standing there naked except for high heels and some items of exotic underwear that she was in the process of fastening. I apologized and was shutting the door again, but she said hello and gave me a horsey hostessy smile, so with a thudding heart I handed over her letters. The other one, her friend, was always talking about her mother, who was tyrannical and upset her strangely and who reported her to the college dean for staying overnight with her boyfriend, even though there was no rule against doing this.
"Don't you think that's a bit pretentious?" I said to Adam.
"Not particularly," he said.
"Well, what about people who don't know where it is? What are they supposed to do?"
"I think it's more the opposite. It suggests the only people she's inviting are friends of my parents."
"She's never even met me," I said, though at that time it was not in my constitution to refuse invitations. "Why is she inviting someone she's never even met?"
We drove there in Adam's car, which was so decrepit that the doors were tied shut with string, so that the only way to get in and out was through the windows. When people saw you doing this they clearly thought something criminal was occurring, although they could never establish exactly what it was. Inside, the car was warm and rancid-smelling, and the compostable matter worked into its floor and upholstered surfaces gave off a rich atmosphere, generating heat as it lived out its cycle of maturity and decay. I often experienced feelings of comfort and security in Adam's car. Being driven in it was like being carried in the warm, smelly mouth of a kindly animal. We drove south and west from Bristol, and then for more than an hour along a narrow road that dallied interminably down the coast, above intermittent glimpses of a marbled sea. The road was like a pointless, rambling sentence that never succeeds in conveying information or reaching any meaningful conclusion. Under a heavy gray summer sky it passed by ragged farms and fields, by the static contemplation of cows and sheep, by yards strewn with the muddied metal skeletons of farm machinery, by more farms and fields and villages neither diminishing nor increasing but always in more or less the same quantity, so that a feeling I often used to have in those days was gradually forced on me, the feeling that I had unintentionally left the proper path of my life and was now lost and far from home. At that time there seemed a constant risk of this occurring. It was as though my existence were a small room in a huge, complicated building, to which at the end of every day I was presented with the challenge of finding my way back. It began to oppress me that Adam kept his foot on the accelerator. I saw us worrying the seam of the meandering road with an inexplicable persistence. I began to look down every little lane we passed, glimpsing in the shady, silent tributaries a deep, expectant anonymity, like a dark body of water waiting at the bottom of an irresistible slope. I guessed that "Egypt" was not going to be found down one of these lanes. We thundered by them without a backward glance. I received in that moment an intimation of the notion of privilege, of a world set apart from the world that was at hand.
After a while we came over a rise and the countryside opened out before us, sloping, green, and wooded, with the flat, calm spread of the sea around it. The gray wadded sky stayed behind us, stolid, diminishing, and ahead a great arc of blue stood over everything. A town was clustered around the small bay, and the sun cast shadows on its buildings so that it seemed highly contoured and quaint, like a toy town, with its little bright boats in the harbor and its houses splashed up the hill behind it.
"This is Doniford," said Adam. He sat up straight and put his face close to the windscreen.
"Should I have heard of that too?"
"It's a hilarious place, actually."
I was to hear this repeated often by the Hanburys, that Doniford was "hilarious." I still don't really know what they meant by it, which is a pity, because I'm sure they only said it for the benefit of visitors such as myself.
"Does that mean it doesn't have a pub?"
"Of course it has a pub."
We went to a pub overlooking the little harbor, which Adam reached by driving the car right up onto the wooden esplanade and jettisoning it directly outside the entrance, a strategy that proved useful an hour later when we were forced to search the disgusting interior for money to pay for our drinks. Afterward we climbed back in through the windows, in view of a small crowd of people that had gathered around the car on the esplanade. There was no communication between Adam and these people. The only thing that suggested his familiarity here was the confidence with which he ignored them. He careened off the esplanade and roared on through the town with his window rolled down and his open shirt flapping madly at his neck in the sun. A cavalier spirit seemed to have seized his body. He drove faster, until the houses looked askew, like great trees falling in our path, and the road undulated crazily in front of us.
"I've got to get up speed for the hill," he shouted above the noise of the engine.
We rolled up and out of Doniford and shot into a narrow lane that steeply ascended the flank of green that lay massively behind the town. A feeling of weightlessness possessed the car, as though we had taken flight. I glanced at Adam and felt the first intrusion of a process with which I am by now familiar. It is the process by which wholehearted acceptance becomes slowly interred in recrimination. With his hands gripping the wheel and the summer sun gilding him from the west, Adam Hanbury had the look of a demon. What gave him that look was the fact that he was going home: he was connected to the earth; suddenly he was subjective, malevolent, interested. I felt him peeling away from me, as though with the adhesive of prior experience. I saw that I would have to fend for myself. The car slowed almost to a halt as we approached the rise. It crawled over and then spun away victoriously down a little slope before biting on a second incline. The green hill opened out in the sunshine. The muddle of the countryside along the coast had given way to a landscape of great, unfamiliar splendor. It was as though we had risen through the clouds up into the roots of another world. It looked bold and somber even in summer. The grass was like felt, and the shadows were dark blue and inky. On that golden day it looked like a painting, executed as though from memory: its sheep and horses, its fields and fences, looked recollected, dreamt-of, in their little auras of sunlight. Right in the lap of the hill, shimmering as though they were surrounded by water, were two smaller rises of a strange, distinctly pyramidal shape.
The road passed through a pair of broken stone pillars and became a track studded with potholes and protruding bits of rock and brick. On one side were a pair of new gray industrial-looking structures. On the other the lush green flank of the hill rose farther still. Distant clouds of sheep passed across it, parting and re-forming around the thick trunks of trees.
I said, "What do you grow?"
"You can't grow anything up here," scoffed Adam. "It's too high. The time and money people waste trying to find a crop you can sustain on a hill farm," he continued, as though I myself were responsible for this scandal. "The only things that have any business on a hill farm are sheep. That's all there's ever been at Egypt and all there ever will be."
We jolted along for about a quarter of a mile until we came to a pond that ruminated in a circle of trees and beyond that a range of old buildings-round, rectangular, barnlike, some decrepit-that culminated at the far end in a large house. The house was white and flat-fronted and exposed, and faced with a startled expression down the hill toward the sea. The outbuildings were made of a softer, golden-colored stone and stemmed from the side of the house, as though in mitigation, by a series of uneven steps and archways, until they subsided into a pretty conical ruin with a pointed, rotten roof. Chickens were roosting in the glassless windows. At the front of the house I saw a green table of lawn pierced by croquet hoops. A warm wind blew in through the open window. When it passed through the trees outside, it made a rushing sound like the sound of the sea.
Adam said, "We're here."
He said it sighingly, as though succumbing to the irresistible force of the status quo. The cooling engine made ticking noises. In the black window frames where the fat, rust-colored chickens sat, I suddenly saw a face. It was the white face of a boy.
"Who's that?" I said.
"Who?" said Adam.
"Up there with the chickens. I saw him looking at us."
The face had gone: the dark void of the ruined interior replaced it.
"It was probably Brendon," said Adam. "He's always up there."
"My brother. Come on, let's go."
We got our bags and went around the side of the house, through the succession of archways into a small courtyard, where a little potbellied dog hurtled around over the cobblestones, yapping, and through a low door into the house itself. Another dog barked from somewhere inside. We entered a cool, gloomy tiled hall full of dark furniture. I could hear voices.
"-only six of white wine."
"Six? There can't only be six-Paul, why didn't you get more wine?"
"I don't want them pissed. I don't want pissed teenagers on my property," said a man's voice.
"-milk and country dancing."
"The problem is that they vomit."
"-thought they should have nonalcoholic drinks."
"White wine is a nonalcoholic drink," said the man's voice. It was a particularly carrying voice.
"I want to make Kirs."
"Darling, she says she wants to make Kirs."
"Kirs are a woman's drink!"
"I told you. I told you that was what I wanted."
"What about Jasper? Hasn't he got any? Darling, go and ask Jasper."
"I don't want to ask Jasper!"
I followed Adam into a large, low-ceilinged room whose far wall was entirely occupied by a black hearth tall enough for an adult to stand in and twice as wide. In the center of the room was a table like a big door plinthed on thick wooden legs. Its weathered surface was instantly mesmerizing. It was scarred and polished like skin, and it seemed to undulate a little, as though it were a living medium, a living presence in the room. The walls were full of things, on shelves and racks and hooks, things stacked or hanging or made to stand in lines, all different and densely patterned with light and orderly, convened, so that the place had the atmosphere of an eccentric sort of museum. Two women and a man sat at the table. Another man was standing by the black maw of the fireplace with a gray, rough-haired dog prostrate at his feet. A girl was sitting by the open window, on top of a wooden sideboard. The warm, twittering day stood immured behind her, beyond the glass. In the instant before they registered our arrival I formed an impression of the drama, almost the theatricality, of their grouping. I was accustomed to the bright, depthless circle of people my own age, who spilled out into the world like some fast-flowing liquid, spreading and spreading until we found something to block our path. The people in the kitchen were not like that: in their somatic presence I discerned wells of motivation, as though bored into the ground beneath them. It seemed that they might never move but might remain there, like musicians holding their bows, situated in a meaningful entanglement. The girl looked up.
"Look what's blown in," she said.
The two women at the table were of a similar age, somewhere in their late forties, I guessed. One was dark and the other fair. They were different and yet the same. They had an uncanny, conspiratorial look about them, like a pair of witches or two characters from a fairy tale.
"Now the men arrive," said the fair one. "Now the party can begin. We just needed the men to arrive, as a catalyst. Now we can work up our enthusiasm."
"He went and bought three kegs of bitter," said the dark one. "Isn't that the end? Don't you think that's the end?"
The dark one was big and thin and angular, with complicated, jointed parts like a mathematical instrument. She had closely cut hair and a dull, sallow complexion. Her narrow face had a downward aspect to it: her nose sloped and her mouth was downturned and her eyes drifted down at the corners too, which gave her a mournful expression, as though her hopes were gradually subsiding.
"Three kegs of bitter for a summer party," she said gloomily, "and six bottles of white wine."
"That was not the plan," said the fair one. She had a loud, distinct, drawling way of speaking. She seemed perpetually to be smiling and speaking out of the side of her mouth. "That was not the idea at all."
"This is Michael," said Adam.
They all looked at me while Adam spoke their names. I couldn't catch them: they passed over me quickly, like the shadows of birds. Only the name of the man by the fireplace, Paul, snagged in my ears. There was another man at the table, but I wasn't sure which of them was Adam's father.
"Would you have bought three kegs of bitter for a summer party?" said the dark woman, to me. "Perhaps you would, being male. The women won't drink it, though. That's the problem with letting the men organize the drink. They only think about themselves, don't they?"
Excerpted from In the Fold by Rachel Cusk Copyright © 2005 by Rachel Cusk.
Excerpted by permission.
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Michael¿s family adheres to rigid social customs so he knows little else. That is until he attends the eighteenth birthday party of Caris Hanbury, the sister of his university roommate Adam. He finds an entirely different world at Egypt Hill. --- Years later, Michael resides in Bath with his edgy spouse Rebecca and their troubled withdrawn young son Hamish. They live in a beautiful house given to them by her parents the artistic amoral Alexanders, control freaks who in their eccentric way live an inflexible lifestyle that they expect everyone in their circle, including Michael and Hamash, to follow the lack of conformity that is paradoxically similar yet different from the Hanburys. Worried about his son, Michael takes Hamash with him on a pilgrimage to Egypt Hill where he first learned to break out of the binds of society, but nothing remains the same as he learns you can¿t go home. He always thought of the place since his first visit but realizes that his dream place is just an illusion. --- IN THE FOLD is a deep look at relationshsips between people that will keep the audience pondering after finishing the novel what truly makes a family besides DNA. The story line lacks action as the plot concentrates on varying individuals interacting or not with some turning destructive and others illogical. Not for everyone, Rachel Cusk provides a potent look at the essence of an individual just surviving and mostly living in a society trying to file them in the appropriate drawer some will rebel while others will quietly acquiesce. --- Harriet Klausner