03 - 11

کتاب: واشینگتون سیاه / فصل 30

03 - 11

توضیح مختصر

  • زمان مطالعه 6 دقیقه
  • سطح خیلی سخت

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11

SO THIS WAS HIM: my ghost. This man small and calm and emboldened by outlandish morality tales and borrowed quotations. This was he, the one from whom I had been running these three years, the creature of nightmare who had driven me through landscapes of heat and wind and snow, whose shadow had forced me aboard boats and carriages and even a shuddering Cloud-cutter by night, whose face I’d pictured so many waking days and imagined so many sleepless nights, the man who’d forced me away from all I had known, so that I was obliged to claw out a life for myself in a country that did not want me, a country vast and ferocious and crusted in hard snow, with little space, little peace for me.

I sat in the roar of the grill-house, my sticky bowl touching the back of my hand. My throat was very dry, and I felt a great fear spreading through me, and it was a fear touched with wonder.

Was it some madness on my part to believe he might actually have encountered Titch in Liverpool? Willard was obviously a sinister creature, not worth the believing. And yet. I sensed the possibility of it, the way I had always known in my blood that Big Kit was dead. But perhaps these feelings had no basis, were only superstition, hope or the absence of it.

No; I did not believe it.

Nor did I believe that Willard had tracked me down in all this fashion simply to talk. He was no longer interested in my flesh, he’d said; he was a claimsman now. And yet there had been such a tension underlying all he uttered that even now I felt the heat of his hatred, his contempt. I despaired to think of him in the streets, roaming, restless.

I rose to find my legs shaking, and I had to sit. Breathing deeply, I stood again and placed my own money on the counter alongside his. I gathered my ledger and satchel and went out.

The evening was quiet, the vacant streets echoing distantly with the clattering of far-off carriages. I looked constantly over my shoulder, staying close to the buildings. The wind was soft and smelled of lavender, and I could hear my shoes stirring the gravel on the uneven path. Dry leaves rasped in the gutters. My mind was afire, going in all directions. Big Kit, Philip, Mister Wilde; I had suddenly the image of Titch at the window of his residence, leaning over his long steel scope. And I thought of Willard quoting Aristotle.

I had long seen science as the great equalizer. No matter one’s race, or s@x, or faith—there were facts in the world waiting to be discovered. How little thought I’d given to the ways in which it might be corrupted.

I passed now a blackened alley. It ended in a bricked-up wall before which a heap of trash had been dumped. A small shadow broke off with a squeal, went dashing across; a large rat, or a cat. The wind filled an old canning jar with a deep hum, and I was flooded by a memory, of myself in the field at four years, climbing up to sit on an old fence I’d sat on many times before, a fence weathered and aged, the wood so grey and flaking it looked like bones half-rotted, and all at once I was filled with presentiment, a feeling the fence would break beneath me, and though I told myself the fear was stupid, unfounded, a dread entered me as I clambered up, my knees swinging, and seconds later came the angry snap, and I was falling, falling at the field’s edge, the pale screech of restless birds above as the old familiar fence gave way, driving its wreckage and splinters into my thigh.

I was turning away from the alley’s dark mouth when the blow fell hard on my forehead. I staggered, the crack resounding in my teeth, my nose filling with the stench of hot tin. Above me the moonlight swayed crazily between the rooftops and I planted my feet to stop from falling when a blow dropped on my collarbone, the pain flaring up my arm in a wave of fire, and I fell, the gravel spraying from under my knees. I could hear him heaving up there, swinging some hard object down, and I rolled instinctively out of his path, so that the hammer or baton or board struck the dust in a shimmer of grit.

All was darkness. I blinked the blood out to see the frenzy of his small white hands grabbing at me, the claws of them as he dug viciously into my cheeks so that I felt my hardened skin tearing away, the scars of many years, and I cried out, shocked, shaking, sickened at the rope of blood pouring down my face, filling my mouth with a taste of rust. I struggled away, smelling his milky stink of sweet unwashed skin and whisky, hearing the moisture of his mouth as he began to curse in a stream as I drove my own nails into his face. I was afraid he would take up his weapon again and I sought his neck, praying I might grip it strongly enough to cut his breath.

A bird hooted in the masonry; wind rustled the trash. I flailed for his neck, trying to shift my own body so he could not get at me, praying beyond all hope for some drunk to stumble from the eatery and aid me.

“Audacious nigger,” hissed Willard, his right hand grasping my throat as he groped with the other for the weapon tossed somewhere in the dust. “You will not humiliate me. You will not embarrass me.”

I shifted back and forth on the gravel, the stones grinding into my spine so that I felt my back bleeding. There was the smell of primrose and whisky, of blood and rotted leaves and clean rock dust. He fastened his hands at my throat, hot and callused, and I kicked out, my legs sprawling, my hands clenching at his own throat as I felt my breath choking off. In that moment I could see the gleam of his crooked white teeth, the sheen on his dirty spectacles. I felt the bulk of his body on my abdomen and was surprised by the lightness of him, the thin, wiry weight of his power.

The knife, I suddenly remembered it—the ivory-handled kitchen knife I’d taken from a sideboard drawer and carried daily in my forepocket. I tried to take my hands from his sweating neck but found myself overpowered, breathless, and had to put them back on. We lay in the dust choking each other, his left hand feeling wildly for the weapon in the thin moonlight. Slowly I eased a hand free, and in a single swift motion I groped the blade from my front pocket, cutting my own thumb, and swung it briskly up under his spectacles, driving the tip in as deeply as I could.

His scream I will never forget. Rearing back, he clutched in anguish at his face and I shoved him off then, kicking at him, crawling to my knees and panting fiercely for breath. We kneeled side by side, like worshippers at an altar, him screaming in agony and me just breathing. And then I stood, retching, broken-shouldered, blood coursing down my face, and, gripping the side timber of the building, stumbled slowly away.

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