"A great honour, ja," said Mr Holden from behind massed flowers of the season. In the adjoining office typewriters clacked. Standing before Mr Holden were Hogg and John the Spaniard, respectively flashing gold and caries and looking dour about the great honour. "Smallish and very select, and the Saddleback is just about the right-sized pitch, ja. So it'll be cocktails in the Sty, and this is where you, brother Hogg, show your batting strength. We'll be having some waiters from the Sweet Thames Run Softly bar, sort of extra cover. You'd better start boning up on your cocktails, fella, read up your sort of bar-tender's Wisden. Horse's necks, sidecars, manhattans, snowballs, the lot. You reckon you can carry your bat?"
"I know them all," said Hogg, "including some that haven't been thought of yet."
"I show him," said John, "if he not know."
"A pop-group, you say?" said Hogg.
"You ought to know these things," said Mr Holden. "You get plenty of time for reading the papers. A sort of belated celebration, a kind of late cut to the off. They've been making this movie in the Bahamas, as you should know, and only now have they been able to get this fixture organised. There's a lot to celebrate. A new golden disc, the birthday honours, and now Yod Crewsy gets this F.L.R.S. thing. Ja, plenty to celebrate. Mucho," he added for John's benefit.
"Usted habla bien espa~nol."
"T.R.S.L.?" Hogg queried. "Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature?"
"Not bad, not bad, fella. Keep on like that, eye on the ball and all that palooka. Ja, he got the Hangman award for some book of poems he wrote and then this F.S. thing sort of automatically followed."
"Heinemann award?" frowned Hogg. "And what do you say this lot are called?"
"Ah, Jesus, you'll never get off the reserve list," said Mr Holden. "The Crewsy Fixers. You mean to say you never heard of the Crewsy Fixers? England's best ambassadors they've been termed, a little Test team all on their own, ja, doing all in their power to protect the wicket of your shattered economy. Foreign earnings, that is, an export drive to the boundary, and Her Majesty the Queen" (Mr Holden bowed his head) "is no doubt dooly grateful. Hence, fella, those medals. So now you know, but I guess you should have known already."
"S'i s'i s'i," agreed John. "Already he should know."
"I would call that a very blasphemous name," said Hogg coldly. "Not," he added hastily, "that I'm at all a religious man, you understand. What I mean is, it seems to me in very bad taste."
"To the pure," said Mr Holden, "all things are pure. There's Yod Crewsy and his Fixers, so they become the Crewsy Fixers. Right? If you're thinking it sounds like something else, then you're on a very shaky wicket yourself, fella, so far as taste goes. And they're very very religious boys, which again you should have known. Molto religioso," he added to John.
"Lei parla bene italiano."
"I bet," divined Hogg, "that he called himself Crewsy just so he could make up that blasphemous name. And that Yod bit doesn't sound Christian to me. Yod," he told Mr Holden, "is a letter of the Hebrew alphabet."
"Now you'd better watch that," said Mr Holden very sternly. "Because that sounds to me very much like racial prejudice. And if there's one thing the policy of this hotel group says out out out to, it's racial prejudice. So watch it."
"He say too," intimated John, "about Spanish people not good."
"Right, then," said Mr Holden. "We'll have harmony, efficiency, and team spirit. A very special luncheon for very special people. The confectionary chefs are working out a very special ice pudding for the occasion. And there's going to be a very exotic dish not before served here. It's called -" he consulted a draft menu on his desk, "- lobscowse. Something Arabic, I guess. Those boys sure scored big in Saudi-Arabia."
Hogg stood transfixed. "Ice pudding," he said. "In Saudi-Arabia. It melts as it is made. Like time, you know."
"You feeling all right, Hogg?" While Mr Holden frowned, John the Spaniard poked his right temple with a brown finger, shaking his head in sad glee. "You sure you feel up to this, fella? If not, we can always get Juanito here to take over. I reckon he can face the bowling if you can't."
"It has to be a Hogg," said Hogg, distracted. "He may be a pig but he's not a Hogg. It's coming," he added. "There's something there all right. The gift's coming back. Something special. I'll have to go and put it down on paper."
"Ah, a cocktail," nodded Mr Holden, relieved. That's okay, then. Something special, eh? You go right off and get it down, fella. And don't forget that we own the copyright. One more thing. Wigs. There's got to be wigs. They needn't fit too good, but there's got to be wigs. Okay. Back to the pavilion."
Hogg left in a small daze. "Useless to hope to hold off," he muttered, "the unavoidable happening." What the hell was it all about? She was there all right; she was playing silly hide-and-seek, finger in mouth, up and down the corridors. She was wearing a very short dress. John the Spaniard said:
"What you mean, hombre? You call me pig."
"Big, I said big," said Hogg, distracted. "Look, the bar doesn't open for another hour. I've got to go to my room."
"Big pig, you say? I hear. Not bloody daft, man."
Hogg made a dash for the staff lift which, he saw, was just about to land. It opened, and a very natty though puffy young man came out, bearing what looked like the disgorgements of one of the hotel computers. He seemed to look direly at Hogg, as though it was his character that had been programmed. Hogg got in frowning, his brain full of words that were trying to marshal themselves into an ordered, though cryptic, statement. John the Spaniard tried to follow, but the puffy young man was in the way. Hogg pressed the right button and saw the door slice fist-shaking John laterally until there was nothing left of him save the after-image of the glow of his fillings. The lift-car seemed to remain where it was, and only the flash of the floor-numbers spoke of rising to 34A, a floor not accessible to the hotel guests. A high-powered car rushing on to it, whether you will or not. Hogg nearly fainted.
He got out blindly when the door automatically opened, fumbled for his key, almost tumbled into his cheerless cell. Paper. He had a lined writing-pad, in keeping with his new image. He sat panting heavily on his cot and began to scribble. She breathed hard into his left ear; her voice had become, for some reason, a lisping child's one. He wrote:
Useless to hope to hold off
The unavoidable happening
With that frail barricade
Of week, day or hour
Which melts as it is made,
For time himself will bring
You in his high-powered car,
Rushing on to it,
Whether you will or not.
And then sudden silence. What was it all about? What did it mean? Too much meaning in your poetry, Enderby. Somebody had said that once. You worry, my dear Enderby, far too much about meaning. Rawcliffe, one of the special trinity of enemies. And there was Wapenshaw, trying to crush his skull. He saw the strong hairy fingers, but the skull only grinned. The consolation of bone, the bone's resignation. But what thing was going to happen that he had to resign himself to? A handshake of finality, the welcome of whole fields of empty time. No, no, it was not quite that. With a rush like blood it came:
So, shaking hands with the grim
The consolation of bone
Resigned to the event,
Making a friend of him,
He, in an access of love,
Renders his bare acres
Golden and wide enough.
The prophetic tingling, as of something thrilling to welcome and then to lose and not to mind losing. He could have wept. The Muse stood by his wash-basin. What, then? What was the covenant to be? He might have to wait for a dream for the full disclosure. There was a hammering on the door. She hid, sliding through its door, into his tiny clothes-cupboard.
"Puerco, puerco!" called John the Spaniard. "You get tonic water for bloody bar, man!"
"For cough!" cried Hogg. "Go away, you garlicky bastard!" And then, radiating from the clothes-cupboard, it announced itself as the last stanza:
And this last margin of leaving
Is sheltered from the rude
Indiscreet tugging of winds.
"You bastard! You pull pudding in there! I bloody know!" Hogg wrote, like a dying message:
For parting, a point in time,
Cannot have magnitude
And cannot cast shadows about
John's thudding drowned the final whatever it was. The Muse, hidden in the cupboard, shook her sad child's head. Hogg-Enderby, enraged, got up and unlocked his door. Then he pulled it open. John almost fell in.
"Right," Hogg-Enderby clenched. "You've had this coming a long time, bloody hombre. You and bloody Franco and wanting bloody Gibraltar. Right." Well, Wapenshaw and the rest wished him to be involved in the world, didn't they-low, vulgar, an ordinary citizen ungiven to civilised restraints? John grinned dirty gold and put out mean claws. Hogg, as low barman, at once kicked him on the shin. While John was hopping mad, Hogg pushed him on to the bed. John sat there nursing his pain and trying to kick at the same time, mouthing the foulest bodega provincial Spanish with no refined lisp in it. Hogg looked for something to hit him with and picked up the cheap bedroom chair from near the clothes-cupboard. By the time he had raised it John was on his feet again. He leered very terribly and said:
"Momenta de verdad." Hogg thought he saw peasant's muscles underneath the cheap bar-waiter's clothes; his heart failed; he was too old; he shouldn't have started this. He put the chair gently down on the floor again. He said:
"All right. Here's my bloody throat." And he proffered it. John did not expect this. He said:
"You give kick on flaming leg, hombre. Not good."
"Listen," said Hogg, "listen." He, who had done Latin at school, who had spoken soldier's Italian in Catania but also read Dante with a crib, for some reason was now impelled to draw on this Romance equipment and create, nearly from scratch, not merely a language for Spain but a literature as well. "La consolaci'on del osso," he suggested. John cocked an ear and said:
"That's right," Hogg agreed. "La consolaci'on del hueso resignado al evento." He didn't know whether that was right or not, but he felt it ought to have a place somewhere along the line of colonial deformation of Latin. In any case, John went pale. It was Orpheus with his lute, by God, who (so Hogg as schoolboy Enderby had believed, taking the first line of the song as a semantic entity) made trees. "And," said Hogg, very recklessly now, To say adi'os, no `e que un punto tempor'al."
"Y un punto can't have a bloody ombra."
"No puede tener sombra, s'i, claro."
"And so there can't be any sombras around the something fin'al." (There was a rhyme there, wasn't there? He was actually rhyming in Spanish.)
"Ah," and as though they were both merely trying to remember a Spanish poem that actually existed, "el beso." Beso, baiser, bacio. Kiss.
And cannot cast shadows about
The final kiss
Tears came into Hogg's eyes. He felt unutterably wretched. He said to John, tearfully, "You can have the job any time you like. I don't want it. I want to be a poet again, that's all."
John nodded. Garlicky sod as he was, he understood. "Poetry no money," he said. "Go on National Assistance, man." Like most immigrants, he knew everything about the resources of the British Welfare State. And then he said: "No, no good. Wait is best. Wait." He knew all about destiny too, being a foreigner. "Wait for," he said, "el acaso inevitable."
Hogg looked at him in wonder. The unavoidable happening.