Saturday, September 19, 2015

Day of the Dead by Malcolm Lowry

“Have you ever been to Canada?” he asked her.

“I’ve been to Niagara Falls.”

They rode on, Hugh still holding her bridle. “I’ve never been to Canada at all. But a Canuck in Spain, a fisherman pal of mine with Macs-Paps, used to keep telling me it was the most terrible place in the world. British Columbia, at any rate.”

“That’s what Geoffrey used to say too.”

“Well, Geoff’s liable to be vague on the subject. But here’s what McGoff told me. This man was a Pict. Suppose you had land in Vancouver, as seems reasonable. So far not so good. McGoff didn’t have much use for modern Vancouver. According to him it has a sort of Pango Pango quality mingled with sausage and mash and generally a rather Puritan atmosphere. Everyone fast asleep and when you prick them a Union Jack flows out of the hole. But no one in a certain sense lives there. They merely as it were pass through. Mine the country and quit. Blast the land to pieces, knock down the trees and send them rolling down Burrard Inlet.  .  . As for drinking, by the way, that is beset.” Hugh chuckled, “everywhere beset by perhaps favorable difficulties. No bars, only beer parlors so uncomfortable and cold that serve beer so weak no self-respecting drunkard would show his nose in them. You have to drink at home, and when you run short it’s too far to get another bottle –“

“But-“ They were both laughing.

“But wait a minute.” Hugh looked up at the sky of New Spain. It was a day like a good Joe Venuti record. He listened to the faint steady droning of the telegraph poles and wires above them that sang in his heart with his pint-and-a-half of beer. At this moment the best and easiest and most simple thing in the world seemed to be the happiness of these two people in a new country. And what counted seemed probably the swiftness with which they moved. He thought of the Ebro. Just as the long-planned offensive might be defeated in  its first few days by unconsidered potentialities, so a sudden desperate move might succeed precisely because of the number of potentialities it destroys in one fell swoop.  .  .

“The thing to do,” he went on, “is to get out of Vancouver as fast as possible. Go down to one of the inlets to some fishing village and buy a shack slap spang on the sea, with only foreshore rights, for, say a hundred dollars. Then live on it this winter for about sixty a month. No phone, no rent. No consulate. Be a squatter. Call on your pioneer ancestors. Water from the well. Chop your own wood. After all, Geoff’s as strong as a horse. And perhaps he’ll be able really to get down to his book and you can have your stars and the sense of the seasons again; though sometimes you can swim as late as November. And get to know the real people: the seine fisherman, the old boat-builders, the trappers, according to McGoff the last truly free people left in the world. Meantime you can get your island fixed up and find out about your farm, which previously you’ll have used as a decoy for all you’re worth, if you still want it by then – “

“Oh, Hugh, yes – “

She all but shook her horse with enthusiasm. “I can see your shack now. It’s between the forest and the sea and you’ve got a pier going down to the water over rough stones, you know, covered with barnacles and sea anemones and starfish. You’ll have to go through the woods to the store.” Hugh saw the store in his mind’s eyes. The woods will be wet. And occasionally a tree will come crashing down. And sometimes there will be fog and that fog will freeze. Then your whole forest will become a crystal forest. The ice crystals on twigs will grow like leaves. Then pretty soon you’ll be seeing the jack-in-the-pulpits and then it will be spring.

They were galloping.  .  . Bare level plain had taken the place of scrub and they’d been cantering briskly, the foals prancing delightedly ahead, when suddenly the dog was a shoulder-shrugging streaking fleece, and as their mares almost imperceptibly fell into the long untrammeled undulating strides, Hugh felt the sense of change, the keen elemental pleasure one experienced too on board a ship which, leaving the choppy waters of the estuary, gives way to the pitch and swing of the open sea. A faint carillon of bells sounded in the distance, rising and falling, sinking back as if into the very substance of the day. Judas had forgotten: nay, Judas had been, somehow, redeemed.

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