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ELEVEN

This, children, is New York. A vicious but beautiful city, totally representative of the human condition or, for any embryonic existentialists among you, la condition humaine. What's that when it's at home, you vulgarly ask, Felicia? You will find out, God help you, soon enough, child. It is named New York in honour of the Duke of York who became King James II of Great Britain-a foolish and bigoted monarch who tried to reimpose Catholicism on a happily Protestant nation and, as was inevitable, ignominiously failed. No, Adrian, this is no longer a British city: it is part of a great free complex or federation of states that are welded together under a most un-British constitution-rational, Frenchified, certainly republican. They revolted against the British king to whom they had once owed allegiance and tribute. No, Charles, that was a Protestant king and also bigoted and foolish. Let us swoop a little lower-how beautiful those exalted towers in the Manhattan dawn now we have descended to clear air under the enveloping blanket, Wilfrid. The jagged teeth of a monostomatic monster? One way of looking at it, Edwina.

We are here, under the aegis of Educational Time Trips, Inc., to seek out our poet. This is a great city for poets, though there are few like ours. We swim aerially over the island a little way, north of the midtown area, nearer to the Hudson than to the East River. He is round here somewhere. Yes, Morgana, we will have to peek a little. Through the dawn windows of 91st Street, as they call it (a rational city, a numerical city). Avert your eyes, Felicia; what they are doing is entirely their own affair. Here, dear dear, a young man is murdering his bedmate in postcoital tristity. Those two middle-aged men are actually dancing: it would seem somewhat early for that. A tired girl eats an insubstantial breakfast at a kitchen table. A man in undress and blue spectacles peers at the obituary page of The New York Times. Look at the squalor of the bedroom of that scholarly-seeming youth-cans and bottles and untidy stacks of an obviously filthy periodical. Here another murder, there a robbery, and now-the contortions in the name of pleasure, God help us.

That is interesting, that round bed. Do you see the round bed, Felicia, Andrea? Very unusual, a round bed. And on the round bed a skeletal lady sleeps alone, telling (if that tangent touches at twelve) the right time-astonishing! Eight-ten, if her lower limbs are the hour hand. But here. And now. Look look. We have found him! Gather round, children, and see. Mr. Enderby, temporary professor as we are told he is in this fashed fag end of his days, asleep naked in a nest of pouffes. Ugly, hairy, fat-ah yes, he always was. The television set, to which he is not listening, discourses the morning news, which is all bad. He seems, dear dear, to have been somewhat incontinent in his sleep. Gracious, the weaknesses of the great!

And now-a little surprise for you. A black woman, key in hand, of pious face but ugly gait, waddles in, sees him, is disgusted, holds up her key in pious deprecation of his besmirched nudity. But, soft. She goes closer, looks closer, touches. She holds up both her hands in expression of a quite different emotion, runs out of the room with open mouth, strange words emanating therefrom. So we now know, and it is a sort of satisfaction, for nunc dimittis is the sweetest of canticles. Remember us in the roads, the heaven-haven of the Reward. Let him caster in us, be a dayspring to the dimness of us, be a crimson-cresseted east. No, hardly that, I go too far perhaps? Is there anything of his own that will serve? Yes, Edmund?


The work ends when the work ends,

Not before, and rarely after.

And that explains, my foes and friends,

This spiteful burst of ribald laughter.


Stop giggling will you, all of you? You are both foolish and too clever for words, Edmund, with your stupid and irreverent and meaningless doggerel improvisation. You will all smile on the other sides of your faces when I get you back to civilisation. All right, all right, I am aware that I involuntarily rhymed. Come on, out of it. Another instalment of the human condition is beginning. Out of it: he is well out of it, you say, Andrea? But no: he is in it, we are all and always in it. Do not think that anyone can escape it merely by-I will not utter the word: it is quite irrelevant. Out of it, indeed; he is not out of it at all.


Rome, July 1973



64. GROUP SHOT | The Clockwork Testament (Or: Enderby 's End) |