"When Adam Delved"
"When Adam Delved".
Peter Blaggerwith was enthusiastic, as helping his mother wash the dishes, he heard the conclusion of a delayed broadcast on the Springboks. A close victory over a depleted country team. "Well, Mum, what do you reckon now ?" "Don't be silly, Peter, how should I know ? Anyway, it's only their third game." "Arh, you'll never commit yourself will you ... enjoy yourself, I'm off." He reached for coat, hat and door handle in one athletic curve. "Where're you going ?" shrilly petulant she called. "Oh, hu, back soon, talk with Charlie and Paul." "Don't wake me when you return." She rather hoped that he would. She did so want to caress him, nothing left of the past save Peter.
She felt that her vitality was only sufficient to exist, no longer to live with whimsy. "Oh!" She twisted herself, affecting a curtsy, gasped to rise on sciatic legs. Half tearfully, she saw in the mirror the face of a woman too tired to apply the simulacrum of lipstick and powder to Mrs. Blaggerwith. "Poor old dear, don't fret," she chided her image, brushing away the liquid canals in the crow's feet of her eyes. "You'll die sometime soon." She extracted this paradoxical consolation for herself. Till then, she thought, flopping to the sofa, no drink anyway, not her; no getting slovenly, and no acting like those rusty old battleaxes, knitting interminably and shouting at each other. Keeping the house clean and being brave, they'd fill her time, and the garden, "My garden," and she shed another tear; all the gladiolae, and the chrysanthemums and delphiniums - - - what was that rhyme of Milne's ? - - - and the passion fruit that Herbert - - - "Boo-hoo-hoo" - - - planted. The cushion's quite wet, and you'll leave a stain. Silly, that satin's awfully expensive, and how can you buy more wool for Peter's jersey, pearl and polo neck; but anyway a cry's good, and look at my nice hair that Peter likes, and men grow bald because they can't, or won't, cry; but "Herbert, Herbert," as she lit a cigarette recklessly, with a little moue after a surreptitious look at her index finger, "I'm still full, and I wish you were here to hug me tonight." And you a widow, Agnes Blaggerwith: well, Beethoven loved and Stokovski married page 18late, didn't he ? She coughed and screwed her eyes as the smoke spiralled up, all wavy, wavy spells, whatever she wanted them to be. She switched on the radio: an agonised wail "Oh my Papa", convulsing in a paroxism of frustration she silenced it, ground out the cigarette and abandoned herself to the cushions, crying on them, crooning to them.
Peter walked, or rather stalked with deliberately long steps, springing each time on the ball of his foot. He was conscious of a lack of impressive bulge in the calf, and wanted to fix that for next year's tennis, and Cynthia, "Arghrr, Cynthia" - - - a short-sighted old man clinking his milk bottles fended off the attack of a gate which had just snarled like Paddy next door - - - Whaki oh! But what the Hell's she got to go off to Masterton for, right when I'm all set for her, damn her. Silly wench, but who cares for that, all the better, I say, and he stopped beneath a lamp and waved the baton of his finger to an orchestration of stars. "Yeah! you know, eh, you dirty man", and the Great Bear just winked.
"Roaming in the gloaming
On the bonny banks of Clyde,
Roaming - - - -"
and he laughed, damn everything, Oh Cynthia, Cynthia.
A stone scuffed his shoe. Deliberately he walked back, Okey Geffin, and kicked it, edged it, swore and lunged furiously at it, not satiated in this sudden passion till the stone was lying at last in a ruptured bush. He grinned, "Getting like Mum, poor thing. Must kiss her goodnight; she really ought to be in a dairy or something, company, games, cards, talk, that's what's needed." No. 48, squeak, lazy bastards, should have oiled it years ago. Knocked at a peeling door, dirty orange in the street lamp's light. "Nawh, Charlie and Paul're out, kin I help you ?" Lonely black dots, flickering like adders' tongues, and a red smear of lips, and arms taut against the wall, from shoulders avid for love. "Nope, come again Naomi, so long", he looked back at the dejected profile, "Buck up, something'll turn up." She pouted and closed the door. He kicked shut the gate, stroked the miserable costal cat, and pranced back, with canine obliggato, home.page 19
"Just off to bed dear, got a headache." She looked chumpy, corsetless and lifeless. He kissed her forehead and watched the white figure receding down the narrow passage, darkening till she reached her bedroom, a silhouette, and then she bravely closed the door: to bed, to dream, of Peter, the only thing that wasn't too remote. And later Peter in bed was dreaming, rub the silver fern on his All Black jersey and ask the genie, a house, here it is, lonely, but not frightening, and slowly warming; a queer box - shaped house, room within room, a Chinese box, and in the middle, swathed in satin as he pulled his way nearer, diaphanous, till at last - - - -