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The Christine Brooke-Rose Omnibus Four Novels
Out Such Between Thru
By Christine Brooke-Rose
Carcanet Press LtdCopyright © 2012 The Estate of Christine Brooke-Rose
All rights reserved.
A FLY straddles another fly on the faded denim stretched over the knee. Sooner or later, the knee will have to make a move, but now it is immobilised by the two flies, the lower of which is so still that it seems dead. The fly on top is on the contrary quite agitated, jerking tremulously, then convulsively, putting out its left foreleg to whip, or maybe to stroke some sort of reaction out of the fly beneath, which, however, remains so still that it seems dead. A microscope might perhaps reveal animal ecstasy in its innumerable eyes, but only to the human mind behind the microscope, and besides, the fetching and rigging up of a microscope, if one were available, would interrupt the flies. Sooner or later some such interruption will be inevitable; there will be an itch to scratch or a nervous movement to make or even a bladder to go and empty. But now there is only immobility. The fly on top is now perfectly still also. Sooner or later some interruption will be necessary, a bowl of gruel to be eaten, for instance, or a conversation to undergo. Sooner or later a bowl of gruel will be brought, unless perhaps it has already been brought, and the time has come to go and get rid of it, in which case –
– Would you rather have your gruel now or when I come back from Mrs. Mgulu?
The question is inevitable, but will not necessarily occur in that precise form.
– Two flies are making love on my knee.
– Flies don't make love. They have sexual intercourse.
– On the contrary.
– You mean they make love but don't have sexual intercourse?
– I mean it's human beings who have sexual intercourse but don't make love.
– Very witty. But you are talking to yourself. This dialogue will not necessarily occur.
The straddled fly stretches out its forelegs and rubs them together, but the fly on top is perfectly still. Soon the itch will have to be scratched.
– Hello, is there anyone there? It's Mrs. Tom.
– Who is it? Oh, hello, Mrs. Tom, did you get my message?
– Yes, that's why I came, and how are you?
– I was delayed this morning by Mrs. Ned's tub, it was broken you see, so I was too late to catch Mrs. Jim. But Mr. Marburg the butler kindly offered to get in touch with you.
The itch is scratched very gently, so as not to disturb the flies. The fly on top trembles, quivers and sags, then stretches out its left foreleg to flicker some reaction out of the straddled fly, which, however, is now quite still. Sooner or later the knee's immobility will undergo a mutation, a muscle will twitch and the flies will be disturbed. But for the moment they are dead to the world, even to the commotion made at the door by the coming interruption, the question which sooner or later must occur, in some form or other.
– That was Mrs. Tom.
– I know, I heard her.
– She got my message in spite of everything. You see I was late at Mrs. Mgulu's this morning, on account of Mrs. Ned's tub.
– Look, two flies are making love on my knee.
The squint seems bluer today, and wider. The pale eye that doesn't move is fixed on the two flies, but the mobile eye wriggles away from them, its blue mobility calling out the blueness of the temple veins and a hint of blue in the white skin around. Then this eye too remains fixed, reproachful perhaps.
– Mrs. Mgulu looks quite ill you know, at least, as far as one can tell, with that wonderfully black skin. Yesterday apparently the doctor changed all her medicines, so she said I could have her old ones. This is for the thyroid. And this one's for the duodenum, look.
– Don't come too near, you'll frighten them.
The pale fixed eye stands guard over the flies. The other moves along the print.
– Duodenica is an oral antacid buffer specially prepared for easy absorption by the sick the aged and the very young its gentle action provides continuous antacid action without alkalisation or fluctuations reducing gastric acidity to an equable level of p H 4 which is sufficient to relieve pain and discomfort with practically no interference with the secretory balance of the stomach or other normal digestive mechanisms. Duodenica is particularly recommended in cases of over-alcoholisation supersatiation ulceration hyperacidity dyspepsia Duodenica is NOT a drug one capsule twice a day during or after meals NOT to be taken without a doctor's prescription.
In the sudden silence the fly on top is very still, so still that it seems dead under that pale policing eye.
– Would you rather have your gruel now or in a little while? It makes no difference to me, I have things to do.
– Sooner or later I shall have to disturb them.
The mobile eye shifts towards the knee and back, but the two flies lie quite still, as if dead to that extra light of awareness briefly upon them.
– Where's your fly-swatter? Ah, here.
– Don't! ... frighten them.
– There's hundreds of eggs in that fly. Think of the summer. It's the winter flies you have to kill. Well I'll leave the thyroid thing with you, and the Duodenica. There are some suppositories too, let's see, anti-infectious therapeutic and tonifying by means of bacteriostatic properties of four sulphonamides selected among the most active and least toxic, together with – ah no, that's for dogs, how silly of me.
The winter flies lie quite still, dead to the removal of that pale light of awareness briefly upon them. Sooner or later there will be a movement to make, a bladder to go and empty and a bowl of gruel to go and eat. The fly-swatter is made of bright red plastic. Through it, the high small window looks trellised in red, a darker red against the light, almost a wine-red. Through the trellis the winter sky is blue and pale, paler than the summer sky. But it is difficult to re-visualise the exact degree of blueness in the summer sky without interposing picture postcards as sold in the city streets. No sky is as blue as that, not even here in the South. It is difficult to re-imagine the exact degree of heat, and picture postcards are cold. The winter flies lie quite still, dead to their present framing in a circle of dark red plastic, dead to the removal of the red plastic frame around the light of awareness on them. Sooner or later they must be interrupted, but now there is only immobility.
The knee lowers itself gently, an earth transferred, a mountain moved by faith. The leg stretches slowly to a horizontal position. The elbows on which the recumbent body rests have to straighten out so that the body can rise from the mattress on the floor, using the hands to lean on. In the process the knees bend up again slightly. The winter flies take off, locked in a lurching flight, at eye-level, then, together still, they sway up towards the high small window a long way from the floor, and land their conjugal bodies on the transverse bar, where they lie very quiet, so quiet they might be dead.
Even at eye-level the flies lie quiet on the transverse bar, so quiet they might be dead.
The kitchen door is framed by the bedroom door. At the end of the short dark passage, almost cubic in its brevity, the kitchen through the open door seems luminous, apparently framed in red. The doors however are of rough dark wood. The walls of the passage are at right angles when curving is desired.
The circle of steaming gruel in the bowl is greyish white and pimply.
A conversation occurs.
A microscope might perhaps reveal animal ecstasy among the innumerable white globules in the circle of gruel, but only to the human mind behind the microscope. And besides, the fetching and the rigging up of a microscope, if one were available, would interrupt the globules. If, indeed, the gruel hadn't been eaten by then, in which case a gastroscope would be more to the point. And a gastroscope at that juncture of the gruel's journey would provoke nausea.
– Mrs. Mgulu looks quite ill, you know, but then she will complicate life for herself. She was expecting toys for the children this morning, and it was important they shouldn't see them arrive, so they were sent out with the nanny and Mrs. Mgulu stayed home, so that delayed her, and by the time she got to town she was late for the hairdresser and he kept her waiting, though really, she doesn't need it, her hair looks lovely and smooth, in the middle of all those preparations, and pheasants too, and seven servants away ill. Well, she was grateful to me, I can tell you, she even gave me a bonus. So I bought a tin of pineapple fingers. You never know when it may come in useful.
A rectangle of light ripples on the wooden table. The wrinkled wood inside the rectangle seems to be flowing into the wrinkled wood outside it, which looks darker. If the source of rippling light were not known to be an oblique ray of winter sun filtering through the top segment of the slightly swaying beads over the doorway, the wrinkled wood might be thought alive, as alive, at any rate, as the network of minute lines on the back of the wrist. But the minute lines on the back of the wrist do not flow as the wrinkled wood seems to flow. A microscope might perhaps reveal which is the more alive of the two.
The rectangle of light is only a refracted continuation of the oblong thrown on the red stone floor between the doorway and the table. The beads ripple the light of this oblong also, turning the red stone floor into a red river. Sometimes it is sufficient to envisage a change for the change to occur. The hanging beads are still, however, and the red river is only a stone floor.
– Take one or more tins of Frankfurt sausages allowing two per person gently split each sausage down the middle and insert one pineapple finger into each split simmer in pineapple juice for two to three minutes meanwhile open a tin of either spinach or garden peas and warm up but do not boil in thick bottomed saucepan serve the pineapple sausages piping hot on a bed of spinach or garden peas. That sounds very good. Would you like some more gruel?
The circle of gruel in the bowl is greyish white and pimply. It steams less, and appears quite flaccid. In the rectangle of rippling light a fly moves jerkily.
The squint is not so blue, or so wide, in the luminosity thrown by the oblong of moving light on the red stone floor and the rectangle of rippling light on the wooden table. It is good that the gruel was not brought but come to, arrived at. Sooner or later movement, which is necessary but not inevitable, will lead to attainment. Yet, frequently, the gruel is brought.
– Mrs. Ned's tub was broken, you see, and I helped her mend it. So naturally I arrived too late this morning to catch Mrs. Jim. Mr. Marburg the butler said she waited as long as possible, but then she had to go or she'd get the worst of the market. Because of course she knew from yesterday that I would have a message for her to give to Mrs. Tom, but she didn't know that Mrs. Ned would delay me with her tub. So then when she got back I hadn't been able to give her the message. Well in the end it didn't matter because Mr. Marburg the butler was most obliging and said he would contact Mrs. Tom and himself give her the message, but he charged me for the call, pocketing the money no doubt because I can't see that Mrs. Mgulu would know one way or the other, but he said she keeps a careful check on such things.
Some of the gruel's globules remain attached to the rounded white sides of the bowl, which looks like the inside of the moon. Nobody has ever photographed the inside of the moon. To see inside a bladder the instrument is called a cystoscope. The inside of a bladder is framed in pink.
Yet frequently, the gruel is brought. It has then been sufficient merely to imagine movement for the movement to occur. Or not, as the case might be.
The skin around the eyes, both the mobile eye and the fixed eye, is waxy. But the eyelids are the right colour. More so, at any rate, than usual, at least in the luminosity thrown by the oblong of moving light on the red stone floor.
– Yes, I am pale, but look at my eyelids, they are the right colour, for the time of year, I mean.
– So they are. It is a pity, of course, that the colour has gone out of fashion.
– Very witty. But you are talking to yourself. This dialogue does not necessarily occur.
The waxiness is due to a deficiency in the liver.
In the rectangle of rippling light on the wrinkled wood of the kitchen table there is no fly.
– Did you bring the Duodenica? It said during or after meals, or was it before? What does it say?
The formula printed on the bottle marked Duodenica is Aluminium glycinate (dihydroxy aluminium aminoacetate) 850 mg. light magnesium carbonate B.P. 150 mg.
– I think you ought to take this, not me.
– Oh thank you, I was hoping you'd say that. Then you can have this heart extract, o point two grammes of heart extract, corresponding to o point eight o six grammes of fresh organs. Or this one. It's for the bladder. Hexamethylene tetramine crystallised and chemically pure both preventive and curative diuretic it constitutes an active dissolvant of uric acid especially for all infections of bilious and urinary ducts colitis angiocholitis pyelitis pyelonephritis etcetera its antiseptic powers are reinforced by a minimal addition of potassium citrate to the hexamethylene tetramine. By the way did you go to the Labour Exchange this morning?
The waxiness could even be due to cancer.
The bedroom door is framed by the kitchen door. In the short passage, almost cubic in its brevity, the lavatory door to the left is certainly another possibility. To the right of the kitchen door, facing the lavatory door, the door to the front verandah room, where the lodgers live, is not a possibility. If the waxiness were due to cancer then the eyelids would not be the right colour, but of course the colour of the eyelids might have reflected the luminosity from the rectangle of rippling light. On the other hand, the luminosity thrown by the rectangle of light would also have affected the waxiness of the skin elsewhere around the eyes. A microscope might perhaps reveal, a teinoscope might perhaps reveal, from this position between the small high window and the mattress on the floor, through the cubic passage and the angular framework of the kitchen door, that the squint is less wide and less blue, less noticeable in the luminosity thrown by the oblong of moving light on the red stone floor. A telescope might perhaps reveal a planet off course, a satellite out of orbit.
The transverse bar of the window is dark and flaking with age. At eye-level it is empty of flies. The old wood has cracked considerably, as if the flies had caused much commotion in their wintry love-making. Flies do not make love, they have sexual intercourse. Only human beings make love. The transverse bar at eye-level is quite empty. The vertical bar is empty too, and the window-sill, and the window-panes, and the vertical wall around the window, and the other three walls, and the low cracked ceiling, all are empty of flies in their wintry occupation.
– I am a builder.
Behind the trellis the bland black face looks patched like wet asphalt with curved oblongs and blobs of white light.
– A builder? But your hands. They look such sensitive hands.
– Ah, but have you seen my eyelids, they are the right colour.
– You know very well this dialogue cannot occur. Start again. Occupation?
– I am a builder.
– The truth is after all unimportant in a case like this.
– I haven't actually built for a long time, you see. I am as you might say a master builder, a man of ideas, which others carry out. No, well, they haven't for a long time, it's true. In my country they did, before the displacement of course. I had many people under me. I built many houses, in many different styles, as for example the miniature stately home style. That used to be very fashionable you know. I lived in a miniature stately home style house I built myself. I also built office blocks. The old glass house style, you seem to like it here. I was very successful –
– Look, since you're inventing this dialogue you ought to give something to the other chap to say.
– But I must get all those facts in.
– He won't let you, he exists too, you know.
– I suppose so, with his beautiful bland black face patched like wet asphalt in curved oblongs and blobs of light. And the facts, anyway, are not true.
– I know. You must be more realistic. Say for instance that you were trained at a Resettlement Camp.
– I built the tower of Pisa and it leant.
– Inside it spirals. A bronchoscope might perhaps reveal –
– Oh shut up.
At eye-level through the window, about three metres away, and to the left of the fig-tree which overlooks the road, there is Mrs. Ned's bungalow. Some people would call it a shack. The windowless clapboard wall immediately opposite is dark with age and the cunonia at the corner of it is dead, its dark red spike dried up. To the right, at the front of the bungalow, the verandah looks dilapidated and at the back the straw shed over the wash-tub is crumbling down. The wash-tub has a bar of new pale wood nailed along its top edge. The shack is exactly similar to this bungalow and exactly in line with it, but too close, for it blocks the view. Some people would call the verandah a porch.
Excerpted from The Christine Brooke-Rose Omnibus Four Novels by Christine Brooke-Rose. Copyright © 2012 The Estate of Christine Brooke-Rose. Excerpted by permission of Carcanet Press Ltd.
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