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Three

Enderby dreamt about her that night. It was a nightmare really. She was playing the piano in her scanty green dress for a gang of near-closing-time pot-swinging male singers. But it was not a pub so much as a long dark gymnasium. On top of the piano lay a yawning black dog, and Enderby, knowing it was evil, tried to warn her against it, but she and the singers only laughed. At last, though, he dragged her out protesting into the winter night (but she did not seem to feel the cold) of a grimy Northern industrial town. They had to get away quickly, by bus or tram or cab, or the dog would be out after her. He rushed her, still protesting, to a main road, and he stopped, with no difficulty, a southbound truck. She began to think the adventure funny and she made jokes to the driver. But she did not see that the driver was the dog. Enderby had to open the truck cabin-door while the vehicle was in motion and get her on to the road again to thumb a new lift. Again it was the dog. And again. And again. The new drivers were always the old dog and, moreover, though they barked they were southbound, they would almost at once turn left and left again, taking their passengers back north. Finally Enderby lost her and found himself in a town very much like Tangier, though in a summer too scorching for North Africa. He had a room but it was at the top of a high stair. Entering, he met with no surprise this girl and her mother, an older Miss Boland. His heart pounded, he was pale, they kindly gave him a glass of water. But then, though there was no wind, the shutters of the window began to vibrate, and he heard a distant rather silly voice that somehow resembled his own. Im coming," it said. The girl screamed now, saying that it was the dog. But he swam up through leagues of ocean, gasping for air. Then he awoke.

He had foul dyspepsia, and, switching on the bedside lamp, he took ten Bisodol tablets. But the word love, he noticed, was in his mouth in the form of a remotish pickled-onion aftertaste, and he resented that. The moon was dim. Some Moorish drunks quarrelled in the distance and, more distant, real dogs started a chain of barking. He was not having it, it was all over. He drank from a bottle of Vittel, went brarrgh (and she had done that too, just once and with no excuse-me), then padded in his pyjama top to the bathroom. The striplight above the mirror suddenly granted him a grousing image of The Poet. He sat down on the lavatory seat and, a big heterosexual pornographic volume on his knees as writing-board, he tried to get the dream into a poem, see what it was all about. It was a slow job.


At the end of the dark hall he found his love

Who, flushed and gay,

Pounded with a walking hand and flying fingers

The grinning stained teeth for a wassail of singers

That drooped around, while on the lid above

The dog unnoticed, waiting, lolling lay.


She had been unwilling to give her name, saying it was not relevant. She had gone off about three oclock, back in green, swinging her towelless beach-bag, giving no clue where she was going. Manuel, out later to pick up the cigarette order, said he had seen her coming out of the Doggy Wog. Enderby was jealous about that: was she helping those filthy drug-takers with their filthy drugged verses? Who was she, what did she want? Was she an anonymous agent of the British Arts Council, sent out to help with culture in, in Blake's phrase, minute particulars?


He noticed, cried, dragged her away from laughter.

Lifts on the frantic road

From loaded lorries helpful to seek safe south

Slyly sidestreeted north. Each driver's mouth,

Answering her silly jokes, he gasped at after

The cabin-door slammed shut: the dogteeth showed.


She had better stop being a dream of boyhood, for it was all too late. He had reached haven, hadn't he? He would not be in the bar tomorrow morning (this morning really); he would be out taking a walk.


At last, weary, out of the hot noon's humming,

Mounting his own stair,

It was no surprise to find a mother and daughter,

The daughter she. Hospitable, she gave him water.

Windless, the shutters shook.


This was all messed up. The story wouldn't run to another stanza, and this stanza was going to be too long. And the rhythm was atrocious.


A quiet voice said: Im coming."

"Oh God God it's the dog," screamed the daughter,

But he, up the miles of leaden water,

Frantically beat for air.


A good discussion about that with somebody, over whisky or stepmother's tea: that was what was needful. The realisation suddenly shocked him. Had not the poet to be alone? He converted that into bowel language and noised it grimly in the still night, clenching the appropriate muscles, but the noise was hollow.

And so she was there again in the lemony Tangerine sunlight of near-winter, this time bringing her towel. The old men, perhaps frightened of the gunpowder running out of the heels of their boots, had stayed away, but there were other customers. Two youngish film-men, in Morocco to choose locations that might serve for Arizona, kept going ja at each other and greedily scoffing Antonio's tapas-fat black olives; hot fried liver on bread; Spanish salad of onion, tomato, vinegar, chopped peppers. An Englishman, in fluent but very English Spanish, expressed to Manuel his love of baseball, a game he had followed passionately when he lived three miles outside Havana. A quiet man, perhaps a Russian, sat at the corner of the counter, steadily and to no effect downing raw Spanish gin.

"Not worth writing," she said, "a poem like that." She had changed back into a crimson dress even briefer than the green one. The baseball aficionado, greying vapidly handsome, kept giving her frank glances, but she did not seem to notice. "You yourself may be moved by it," she said, "because of the emotional impact of the dream itself. But it's dreary old sex images, isn't it, no more. The dog, I mean. North for tumescence. And youre trying to protect me from yourself, or yourself from me-both silly." Enderby looked at her bitterly, desirable and businesslike as she was. He said:

That love in the first line. I'm sorry about that. I don't mean it, of course. It was just in the dream."

"All right, were scrapping it anyway." And she crumpled the work of three hours of darkness and threw it on the floor. Tetuani gladly picked it up and bore it off to nest with other garbage. "I think," she said, "we'll go for a walk. There's another sonnet we have to work out, isn't there?"

"Another?"

"One you mentioned yesterday. About the Revolt of the Angels or something."

Im not sure that I -" He frowned. She punched him vigorously on the arm, saying:

"Oh, don't dither so. We haven't much time." She led him out of the bar, stronger than she looked, and the customers, all of whom were new, assumed that Enderby was an old customer who had had enough.

"Look," Enderby said, when they stood on the esplanade, I don't understand anything about this at all. Who are you? What right have you? Not," he added, "that I don't appreciate-But really, when you come to consider it -"

The wind whipped rather coldly, but she felt no cold, arms akimbo in her ridiculously brief dress. You do waste time, don't you? Now how does it begin?"

They walked in the direction of the Medina, and he managed to hit some of it out into the wind. It was as though she were telling him to get it all up, better up than down.


Sick of the sycophantic singing, sick

Of every afternoon's compulsory games -


Sturdy palms set all along the sea-front, the fronds stirred by that wind. The donkeys with loaded panniers, an odd sneering camel.

That's the general idea, isn't it? Heaven as a minor public school. Did you go to a minor public school?"

"I went, said Enderby, "to a Catholic day-school." It was Friday, and the devout were shuffling to mosque. The imam or bilal or whatever he was was gargling over a loudspeaker. Brown men, of Rif or Berber stock, followed the voice, looking at her legs, though, with bright-eyed frank but hopeless desire. "It's a lot of superstitious nonsense," she said. "Don't, whatever the temptation, go back to it. Use it as mythology, pluck it bare of images, but don't ever believe in it again. Take the cash in hand and waive the rest."

"An indifferent poet, Fitzgerald." Enderby loved her for saying what she had said.

"Very well, let's have something better."


Sick of the little cliques of county names,

The timebomb in his brain began to tick -


Luncheon in a little restaurant crammed with camp military gear, not too far from the Hotel El Greco. It was run by two men in love with each other, one American, the other English. A handsome Moorish boy who waited on seemed himself in love with the Englishman, who was flaxen, bronzed, petulant and given to shouting at the cook. The Moor was not adept at hiding emotion: his big lower lip trembled and his eyes swam. Enderby and she had a thin dull goulash which she said loudly was bloody terrible. The English lover tossed his head and affricated petulantly against his alveolum, then turned up the music-a sexy cocksure American male voice singing, against a Mahlerian orchestra, thin dull caf'e society songs of the thirties. She prepared to shout that the bloody noise must be turned off: it was interfering with their rhythm. Enderby said:

"Don't. Please. Ive got to live in this town."

Yes," she said, her green eyes, their gold very much metal, hard on him. You lack courage. Youve been softened by somebody or something. Youre frightened of the young and the experimental and the way-out and the black dog. When Shelley said what he said about poets being the unacknowledged legislators of the world, he wasn't really using fancy language. It's only by the exact use of words that people can begin to understand themselves. Poetry isn't a silly little hobby to be practised in the smallest room of the house."

He blushed. What can I do?

She sighed. "Get all these old things out of your system first. Then push on."


Beating out number. As arithmetic,

As short division not divided aims,

Resentment flared. But then, carved out in flames,

He read: That flower is not for you to pick.


It's time," she said, "you started work on a long poem."

"I tried that once. That bastard stole it and vulgarised it. But," and he looked downhill, seaward, "he's paid. Wrapped in a Union Jack, being gently gnawed." You can get something here. This is a junction. Deucalion's flood and Noah's. Africa and Europe. Christianity and Islam. Past and future. The black and the white. Two rocks looking across at each other. The Straits may have a submarine tunnel. But it was Mallarm'e who said that poetry is made with words, not ideas."

"How do you know all this? You're so young."

She spat out breath very nastily. "There you go again. More interested in the false divisions than the true ones. Come on, let's have that sestet."

The sestet ended in a drinking-shop not far from the Souk or Socco, over glasses of warmish pastis. Drab long robes, hoods, ponchos, ass-beaters, loud gargling Moghrabi, nose-picking children who used the other hand to beg. Sympathetic, Enderby gave them little coins.


Therefore he picked it. All things thawed to action,

Sound, colour. A shrill electric bell

Summoned the guard. He gathered up his faction,

Poised on the brink, thought and created hell.

Light shimmered in miraculous refraction

As, like a bloody thunderbolt, he fell.


"That bloody," Enderby said. "It's meant really to express grudging admiration. But that only works if the reader knows I've taken the line from Tennyson's poem about the eagle."

"To hell with the reader. Good. That needs a lot of going over, of course, but you can do that at leisure. When I'm gone, I mean. Now we'd better take a look at that Horatian Ode thing. Can we have dinner at your place?"

"I'd like to take you out to dinner," Enderby said. And, "When you're gone, you said. When are you going?"

"I'm flying off tomorrow evening. About six."

Enderby gulped. "It's been a short stay. You can get a very good dinner at a place called the Parade. I could get a taxi and pick you up about -"

"Still curious, aren't you? Bit of a change for you, isn't it, this curiosity about people? You've never cared much for people, have you? From what you've told me, anyway. Your father let you down by marrying your stepmother, and your mother let you down by dying too young. And these others you've mentioned, men and women."

"My father was all right," Enderby said. "I never had anything against him." He frowned, though ungrudgingly.

"Many years ago," she said, "you published a little volume at your own expense. Inevitably it was very badly printed. You had a poem in it called 'Independence Day'."

"I'm damned if I remember."

"A rather bad poem. It started:


Anciently the man who showed

Hate to his father with the sword

Was bundled up in a coarse sack

With a frantic ape to tear his back

And the squawking talk of a parrot to mock

Time's terror of air-and-light's lack

Black

And the creeping torpor of a snake."


"I can't possibly have written that," went Enderby, worried now. "I could never possibly have written anything as bad as that."

"No?" she said. "Listen.


Then he was swirled into the sea.

But that was all balls and talk.

Nowadays we have changed all that,

Into a cleaner light to walk

And wipe that mire off on the mat.

So when I knew his end was near

My mind was freer

And snapped its thumb and finger then

At the irrelevance of birth,

And I had a better right to the earth

And knew myself more of a man,

Shedding the last squamour of the old skin."


"That's somebody else," said Enderby urgently. "Honestly, it's not me."

"And you love your mother because you never knew her. For all you know she might have been like your stepmother."

"It's different now," pleaded Enderby. "I forgive my stepmother, I forgive her everything."

"That's very generous of you. And who do you love?"

"I was just coming to that," said Enderby with approaching banners of wretchedness. "What I wanted to say was -"

"All right, all right. Don't pick me up in a taxi. You can't anyway, because you don't know where I am. I'll pick you up about eight. Now go home and work on your bloody Horatian Ode. No, leave me here. I go in a different direction." She seemed needlessly irritable, and Enderby, having once, though briefly, lived with a woman, wondered if it was possibly-She was old enough, wasn't she, to have -

"Gin and hot water," he suggested kindly, "are said to work wonders." But she didn't seem to hear. She seemed to have switched off Enderby like a television image, looking blankly at him as if he had become a blank screen. A very strange girl altogether. But he thought that, having got the better of the moon, he could perhaps this time live with his fear.


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