She didn't come in the following morning, and he didn't expect her. Yet there had been no good-bye, not yet. She had high-heeled into the kitchen, glowing, clothed, even perfumed (yet smelling somehow, to his fancy, of drowned poets) to see him watching the bubbling coffee as if it were an alchemical experiment. And she hadn't liked the coffee: too weak, too minor-poetic. Well, he had never been good at coffee. Tea, now, was altogether a different matter. Anyway, she had to fly: so much to see to before really flying. And then, lightly and without satire, a kiss on each cheek for him, as at the award of some prix for minor poetry. And off.
Tossing in his bed, he had wondered about minor poets. There was T. E. Brown, three legs of Man, who had said: "O blackbird, what a boy you are, how you do go it," and given to British gardens pot or plastic godwottery. And Leigh Hunt, whom Jenny had kissed. And the woman who'd seen Faunus in Flush, later married to a poet deemed major. Minor Poets of the Twentieth Century (OUP, 84s), with a couple or three of his well separated, because of the alphabetical order, from that one of Rawcliffe. But once they had thought Aurora Leigh the greatest thing since Shakespeare, and Hopkins to be just Jesuitical hysteria. It all depended on posterity. One kiss, two kisses. And he saw that her name didn't matter.
He sighed, but not hopelessly. He had gone back to the Horatian Ode this morning, in a rather crowded bar.
So will the flux of time and fire,
The process and the pain, expire,
And history can bow
To one eternal now.
He had to get behind the counter, expert, Hogg of the Sty (When you say gin, Piggy knows you mean Yeoman Warder. False smile flashing over the shaker in some glossy advertisement), to mix a Manhattan for a dour Kansan who believed the drink was named for the university town in his own state. And a young but archaic what-what haw-haw Englishman, doggy scarf in his open shirt, had brought in two girls, one of them called Bunty, and said that nobody in this town knew how to mix a hangman's blood. But he, Enderby, Hogg, knew, and the man was discomfited. Three old men had been in, the fourth, the one with skin like microscope slides, not being too well, confined to his room. Doubt if he'll see another spring. Won the Bisley shoot in, let me see, when was it? MC and bar, but never talked about it much.
What was emerging, Enderby saw, was a long poem based on the characters in Hamlet. The Horatian Ode was for the King, type of the absolute ruler who would seal a timeless Denmark off from the flux of history. An epithalamium for him and Gertrude, the passion of the mature. He'd written a good deal of that in Gloucester Road, when Vesta went off to work for the day, bitch.
The greenstick snaps, the slender goldenrod
Here cannot probe or enter. Thin spring winds
Freeze blue lovers in unprotected hollows, but
Summer chimes heavy bells and flesh is fed
Where fruit bursts, the ground is crawling with berries.
Something like that. It would come back to him in time. A long soliloquy for Hamlet. Marsyas, was he, he Enderby, risking a minor poet's flaying? Never mind. On with bloody job is best way, hombre.
She came in when he was ready for his stew, followed by tea and siesta. She was dressed rather demurely, not unlike Miss Boland, beige suit, skirt to her knees, stockings of a gunmetal colour, shoes sensible and well-polished. There were blue rings, half-rings really, under her eyes. She wore a hat like a Victorian sailor's. She said:
"I've got a cab waiting outside." Meaning over the sand, up the steps, across the railway line and pavement, by the kerb with a palm strongly clashing above. The wind was high. "You're not to worry too much about anything," she said. "Do what you can do. Don't try and tame dogs or enter a world of visions and no syntax." This was very sybilline talk.
"I'm doing a long poem based on the characters in Hamlet. I don't quite know yet what the overall theme is, but I daresay it'll come out in time. Could I make you a cup of tea? Antonio's got the day off. He's gone to see a man in Rabat."
"Good. No, thanks. I'll be back to visit you. Next year perhaps. I suppose I should have come before, but I have so much to do." Enderby was aware now that there was no point in asking further questions: taking your degree in English, are you; doing a thesis on contemporary poetry, is that it? These things didn't apply, no more than curiosity, which he no longer felt, about her identity or origin or age. All things to all poets, but to this poet perhaps less than to some others. No envy. Posterity would sort things out. But, of course, posterity was only those snotnosed schoolkids.
"I'm grateful," he said, though, out of habit, grudgingly. "You know I am."
"You can't be blamed," she said, "if you've opted to live without love. Something went wrong early. Your juvenilia days." Enderby frowned slightly. "Look," she said, "I really must rush now. I only came to say good-bye. But not good-bye really," grimacing at her watch. Enderby stood up, wincing a bit. A spasm in the right calf, altogether appropriate to middle age. "So," she said, and she walked the three paces up to him and gave him one brief kiss on the lips. His share, his quota, what he was worth. Her mouth was very warm. The final kiss and final-As if she knew, she gave him the referent, leaving the words to him, very briefly grasping his writing fingers, pressing them. Her gloves were beige, of some kind of soft and expensive skin. Tight pressure of hands. That was it then, the poem finished. But the whole thing was a lie (opted to live without love), though it would not be a lie to anybody who could use it, somebody young and in love, saying an enforced good-bye to the beloved. Poets, even minor ones, donated the right words, and the small pride might swallow the large envy.
"Right, then," she said. They went together to the door, almost with the formality of distinguished customer and bowing patron. He watched her climb up to her taxi, feeling a spasm of hopeless rage, briefer than a borborygm, at the last sight of her neatly moving buttocks. But he had no right to that feeling, so the feeling quickly modulated, as a nettle-sting modulates to warmth (the bare-legged legionaries had kept themselves warm in British winters by lashing themselves with nettles: might there not be a poem there?), to something which had, as one of its upper partials, that very pride. She waved before getting in, and then called something that sounded a bit like all the anthologies, anyway, but a passing coach, full of sightseers collected from the Rif, roared at it. The gear ground, for time himself will bring, but this was only a decrepit Moroccan taxi. The wind blew hard. She was gone; like a hypodermic injection it was all over. He wondered if it might not be a pious duty to find out more about Rawcliffe's slender and thwarted oeuvre, edit, reprint at expense of mattress. There might be odd things, juvenilia even, concealed about the place, perhaps even in those tomes of pornography. But no, best keep away. He had enough work of his own to do, the duty of at least being better than T. E. Brown or Henley or Leigh Hunt or Sir George Goodby or Shem Macnamara. Whatever the future was going to be about, things ought to be all right, namely not too good, with enough scope for guilt, creation's true dynamo. It would be polite to reply to Miss Boland's letter, perhaps. If she proposed visiting him he could, if he wished, always put her off. He would go in now to his gross stew and stewed tea, then sleep for a while. The C major of this life. Was Browning minor? He turned to face the Atlantic but, going brrrrrr, was glad to be able to hurry in to escape from it.