Catalogue


The question /
Austin Clarke.
imprint
Toronto : M&S, c1999.
description
243 p. ; 22 cm.
ISBN
0771021283 :
format(s)
Book
Holdings
More Details
imprint
Toronto : M&S, c1999.
isbn
0771021283 :
local note
Fisher canlit copy: Advanced reading copy from uncorrected proofs.
catalogue key
3253367
 
Purchase; Steven Temple Press; 1999; (copy 2)RB349765.
A Look Inside
Awards
This item was nominated for the following awards:
Governor Generals Literary Awards, CAN, 2000 : Nominated
First Chapter
She and I were sitting on the wooden deck. Thirteen other men and women were in the garden. We were at the house of the woman who had made the deck herself, she told me soon after I had sat down beside her. “Fuck-all job, don’t you feel?” she said to me, as if she wanted to put some distance between herself and the woman. I did not know the woman. “Isn’t it a shitty job?” She had this manner of raising her voice, as if asking a question, even though she was making a statement. Her statements were clear, and blunt, and filled with opinion, and spoken in an aristocratic voice, declarations of confidence.

She and I were the only ones sitting and talking, and behaving as if we had been friends before this afternoon, as if we were now seducing each other with the words passing between us, from one lip wet with the red wine, from her reddened lips to mine, back and forth, but more from her lips. And we knew it. We knew what we were doing.

A small dog was lying at our feet. It was hearing her words about the deck, and the words that sounded like jabs, like sparring, daring and venturing into a relationship – words passing between us. The dog raised his ears once or twice, and then he ignored the two of us. He then looked as if he was sleeping; and then he looked as if he was dead. Or almost dead. I do not like this dog: I did not grow up liking dogs.

But she and I were not, in spite of the words flying between us, building a relationship with those words. Neither the words that were spoken, nor the acknowledgement of those words, had any real meaning. At least to me. It was just talk. It was summer. Strawberries were in glass bowls of sour cream, sliced watermelons like clotted wedges of blood, with small round black bones in them, were in platters with ice on them, and champagne was in the hands of most of the other guests standing on the lawn, amongst the beds of red and pink impatiens. It was summer. And frivolous. And we had time. Although this summer, like all summers, is short. But we had time.

It was as if we were moving over a vast interminable body of water that was blue, with white clouds low over the water, and were taking our time to travel and saunter in our conversation, and make our words have the life of the waves in the tropical water, never-ending in this journey that was meant to be long and logged with pleasure and with curiosity.

“Do you know, I don’t know five of the people here,” she said, and then behaved as if she hadn’t spoken.

But I could feel that even though it was a journey of imagination and not of acquaintance, of getting to know her, and her getting to know me, making up a bed to lie in, it was not going to be all fun and gaiety, placid water and peace. Perhaps it was even one of those journeys with no destination. The words that passed between us, cut off from the rest of the party, in our secret journey were themselves longer, deliberately longer than the words spoken by the other guests who were now standing in knots on the grass which seemed wet, as if they were standing in dew. Some of them seemed as if they were getting ready to leave. But it was only their nervousness and their discomfiture, as if they too did not know any of the other guests. Without uttering a word, she and I knew it would be good if they were to disappear and leave us alone on the deck.

The two of us were going to remain on the wooden deck, with our conversation, with the uneven slabs of cedar, with the heads of nails jutting from the floorboards biting into our thin summer shoes; one woman passed us from the kitchen with a pile of white plates with blue rims, and shrieked, and stopped to look at the sole of her right foot, and saw the spot of blood. She said, “What could this be?” and looked at us; and that seemed to convince us that we were going to sit together on this same dangerous deck, and would see the end of the warm night through the journey of our words. We would be happy, in spite of the lingering dog which has just risen as if from the dead, and has run his tongue over my ankles, and then jumped into my lap. I try to ignore it. This dog cannot think in my terms, may not even be able to think, has no mind like mine. But something about his behaviour tells me that he has a mind of his own. A mind conditioned by the way its owner behaves with it. Who is its owner? Perhaps it is a trained mind, in a trained dog.

This woman I am sitting beside has reddish hair, and when she lifts her glass, I can see thin hairs under her arms, like thin lines drawn without precision; and her lips are full and the smear of lipstick makes them seem wet and red to suit the colour of the wine she is drinking. I can see her legs, for she crosses her legs each time she makes a point, each time she ends her statements with the raising of her voice. If we should stand up, she would reach to my neck. She could be five-foot-eight. Her skin is darkened with the sun of summer in a backyard much like this one, on a chair of unpainted wood and blue canvas, like those that the English sit in in parks. But it is her breasts, and their shape, and their size, which I am always coming back to, as I try to admire them, focus on them, without being caught, and then have to blush about doing this, as if it is wrong, incorrect to fall in love with a woman’s breasts before I know something about her mind.

Excerpted from The Question by Austin Clarke
All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.
Reviews
This item was reviewed in:
Quill & Quire, December 1999
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