01 - 12

کتاب: واشینگتون سیاه / فصل 12

01 - 12

توضیح مختصر

  • زمان مطالعه 12 دقیقه
  • سطح خیلی سخت

دانلود اپلیکیشن «زیبوک»

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متن انگلیسی فصل

12

FROM A DISTANCE the body looked whole. And yet, as we trod across the damp night grass towards the twist of clothes in the clearing, its desecration was obvious. It was as though a trunk of clothes had been split open in the field; bits of fabric hung off nearby branches. It shocked me to notice it; I could not recall seeing this before, I remembered nothing beyond his maimed face. The rags were like the radiance of some terrible star, bright and emanating from something already extinct. I thought suddenly of the night Titch had summoned me to live with him, the awe in his slender face as he bade me observe the pure surface of the moon.

He had been silent the long walk to the hunting grounds. Seeing his cousin’s dark form in tatters there, his face filled with anguish. But he did not cry out; he spoke no words at all. With damp eyes, he circled the mess in the clearing to retrieve from deep within the high grasses the gun.

I could go no farther. A vicious itch had broken out in the crooks of my elbows and knees; my breath caught in my throat. I could see the ruin of Mister Philip’s torn red face, the explosion of teeth and bone like bloated rice on the blood-slicked grass. And I could hear again the thin horn of his final cry, the moist thud of his body, as though a damp blanket had been thoughtlessly thrown. I heard also the strange punctuation of his phrases with that word, what, and the faint hiss of his gun being dragged through the grasses. I saw his hands on the barrel of that gun, I smelled the vile brown stink that filled the air. And I saw his weariness as he walked through the field, as if in his last minutes he were picturing the late morning hours spent on the verandah’s rocker, the honeyed light pooling on his skin, the warmth and the ease of it.

I could not bring myself to touch him.

— OF COURSE, that night I did not sleep. I pinched my eyes shut, but the images kept coming. Breathing hard against the sheet balled in my fist, I felt my heart would explode. Horrifying as the act itself had been, I understood it as Titch was not able to. Death by choice was an opening door; it was a release into another world.

What I did not understand was why Mister Philip had involved me. He had offered apology for my face; the decency of that gesture had been undermined by the utter destruction his act had now wrought upon my life. For though I was very young I understood beyond all doubt that his death must mean my own. I would be blamed; Titch could do nothing to shelter me. The master would discover the accident, and my presence at it, and I would be killed. My only hope was for a swift, unsentimental hanging, or an axe to the back of the head. I could only pray he would spare me the agony of grotesquely drawing it out.

Thinking I heard a noise, I raised my head, turning from the wall. But the room was silent, smelling of freshly washed stone and my own sweat. There were, I knew, only some hours till daybreak. I lay my head back down, thinking with bitterness of the great journey denied me and Big Kit when she could not kill us, the voyage back to her Dahomey. For I had come to believe that all Titch had said about death—that it was an ending, a blackness—applied only to deaths not chosen, which meant of course to killings. When I pictured myself being cut down by the master’s hands, severed brutally from the world, a taste like unripe apples filled my throat, and I saw the blackness Titch spoke of, the finality of it.

There it came again: a low silver tinkling in the hall, the hiss and drag of something being slid across the boards. I shifted onto one elbow, swung my feet down onto the floor. Finally I padded out.

It was Titch: fully dressed, barefoot, his boots folded up under one arm. He was creeping from room to room in the house, the dancing incandescence of his lantern cutting the dark. My heart was stamping hard in my chest. I followed him into his bedchamber.

“Titch?” I hissed.

He whirled, and stared at me a long, dark moment as though he did not know me. Then he nodded. “There you are,” he whispered, though from his tone I understood he was somewhat surprised to find me there. He lifted the lantern higher. I exhaled at the sight of his strained green eyes, the red skin beneath them raised like wax seals.

“What are you doing?” I said.

“Lower your voice,” he whispered. In the gauzy yellow light I could just make out his form cutting through the room. I heard the unsticking kiss-like sound of the tacky varnish on his armoire doors. Then came the muffle of clothes, the lisp of papers. The room was humid.

“Titch,” said I. “What is happening?”

“We are leaving, Wash. Keep quiet. Do not wake Esther.”

“Leaving?”

“For Saint Vincent. Or Saint Lucia. Any other island. Whichever way the winds will take us.”

I was beginning to understand. “Titch.”

“Go now, Wash. Dress yourself. Take only what you most value; we will find everything else anew. But be as silent as you can.”

“I will be in chains before we even leave port.”

“We will not take a boat, of course.”

I paused. “You cannot mean the Cloud-cutter. In all this darkness? The Cloud-cutter?”

He shoved something into what appeared to be my journeyman’s sack. “I have your sketching leads and your notebooks, some clothes, your magnifying lens.” He slapped it anxiously against my chest. “You may collect one or two things more. But think of the weight as you do.”

I stood quite numb in his doorway.

“Heaven’s sake, Wash,” he hissed. “Be quick about it.”

Hearing the bite in his voice—he who rarely grew impatient—I felt suddenly cold. I heard then what must have been there all along: the vague hiss of wind in some cracked window.

“Victuals are already packed and on the porch,” Titch whispered. “We can take little, given the weight. But they should do us fine until landfall.”

Suddenly it became real, and I was filled with a sort of disbelieving terror. I shuffled nervously in the doorway. It struck me then, all he was risking to save me. “Please, Titch. I will accept whatever punishment awaits. I will hand myself over to Master Erasmus.”

He turned sharply to me. “Get dressed. Make haste. We have not time at all.”

When still I hesitated, he said something that has stayed with me all these years. “I am not doing this for you alone. I will not stay in this awful place. This is not a life for me.”

Did he say this because he knew my mind? Because he knew I would not decline, if he were to risk his life regardless?

I frowned. “Do you truly feel the Cloud-cutter is ready?”

“If it will not rise now, it will not rise ever. I have been inflating it all night. Now, enough, enough talk. Quickly.”

I hesitated.

He turned fully to me in the dark. “Esther has already revealed that you went away with him—you understand she despises you, don’t you? She will do everything she can to implicate you in the death. Not that Erasmus will actually believe you responsible—but he will most certainly pretend to as a means of forcing me to hand you over. Consider, Wash—he had already requested your return even before this misfortune. What do you imagine will befall you now? What do you imagine awaits?” He paused, his voice going quiet. “Sadly, you are caught in an ugly game between brothers. More than a game, now.” He exhaled slowly, harshly. “You are welcome, of course, to choose your own path, but in doing so ask yourself what is just. Look at the truth of this matter, and ask yourself what is rightful.”

I faltered; his tone was flat, but still his words unsettled me. I stepped forward into the stain of the lantern light, and I took up my bag.

In the hot, mulchy room a silence passed; then he raised the lantern to his face and blew out the light.

— AND SO WE FLED, staggering under our sacks in the grey half-light.

The moon had dimmed. Titch relit the lantern and dropped a cloth over it, and we walked by the weak orange light, stumbling over the path we had traversed so many times. In silence we fumbled and scrambled our way slowly up towards Corvus Peak. I could see the mountain, black and alien against the grey sky. I felt an increasing dread, thinking of Mister Philip’s body nearby, for in the end Titch had not been able to collect up the remains, so that we’d only covered the outrage with a blanket he had brought. On the desk in his study he’d left behind a note detailing the suicide and a map where his cousin might be found.

I feared we must be discovered; I feared the master must have some manner of guard or watch that would alert him to our passage. But Titch did not seem to share my fear; he walked steadily, distracted, weighed down by the seriousness of what he was about to do. As we neared the scrub edging the mountain, I searched and searched for the blood-marked blanket but could see nothing in the darkness.

When we reached the peak, we slid our packs off, our legs trembling, our faces damp with sweat. A wind was blowing; the Cloud-cutter roared, creaked, leaning into its ropes. The wind was warm, unpleasant, with the scent of iron and rain in it. I watched Titch’s dark figure move to adjust the canister of gas in the blackness, grunting and cursing softly. The canopy hung high above me, a scorch against the lighter sky.

Titch called to me urgently, and I clambered into the wicker-and-wood gondola, its oars stretching like antennae into the sky, its four odd wings creaking like rudders in the wind. How terrifying it all looked, in the dark; a great hot fear of death went through me. As Titch was double-checking the bolts and knots, he paused to give me a strange, quiet look. But I said nothing, and he said nothing, and in the silence he turned back to his preparations.

“Well, Wash,” he said at last.

“Well,” I said, terrified.

Then, without another word, he adjusted the canister. A higher column of fire surged upwards into the canopy, and the fabric began to shudder and shake. The shaking was terrible. My teeth rattled in my skull. I stared in fascinated terror at the broad black mouth sucking up fire.

The air stank of char and smoke, of burning oil. Finally Titch leaned over and severed each rope in its turn. All around me I could hear the hissing of the grass as the wicker basket was dragged across it—a vicious, final sound.

In the half-light I could just make out the hollows of Titch’s face, his eyes blacked out, only the white shards of his teeth distinct and visible. I felt a give in my belly; I clutched at the oars of the Cloud-cutter in dread. The air around us began to howl; the sky rushed towards us. We were rising.

I can barely describe the sight of it. I saw the threatening sky below, a great red crack of light, like a monstrous eye just opening. The sky was still black where we were, but the wind was already hurling us seaward. I watched the half-cut cane fields in the faint light, the white scars of harvest glistening like the part in a woman’s hair.

What did I feel? What would anyone feel, in such a place? My chest ached with anguish and wonder, an astonishment that went on and on, and I could not catch my breath. The Cloud-cutter spun, turned gradually faster, rising ever higher. I began to cry—deep, silent, racking sobs, my face turned away from Titch, staring out onto the boundlessness of the world. The air grew colder, crept in webs across my skin. All was shadow, red light, storm-fire and frenzy. And up we went into the eye of it, untouched, miraculous.

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