04 - 12

کتاب: واشینگتون سیاه / فصل 43

04 - 12

توضیح مختصر

  • زمان مطالعه 4 دقیقه
  • سطح خیلی سخت

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12

WE RETURNED TOGETHER to England with our specimen, and it was never a question that I would again be leaving.

I did not want to bring her to Morocco, to a place possibly inhospitable and dangerous to her. There was also Ocean House to prepare, and the frailty of her father to consider. For though Goff was hearty and in the best of health, he was still sixty-six years old, and we did not want him climbing ladders and lifting heavy equipment. His was a peculiar old age in which the outward strength of his body seemed to signal an inner weakness. It was as though some hidden thing lay waiting to break out, as though he would wake suddenly one morning white-haired, blind, deaf and stumbling, in an explosion of old age.

And yet, to our surprise, Goff gave his blessing, even insisted. He had discovered almost at once that Tanna had accompanied me to Amsterdam. Wandering in New Bond Street one afternoon to clear his head, he’d glanced up and spied his sister Judith herself leaving Savory and Moore’s Pharmacy. He accosted her, and the bewildered woman wept openly in the street, confused at his anger. He followed her to her carriage, ranting and raving as she cried great loud thespian sobs, pleading that she knew nothing of the matter, so that at last a man tried to intervene, thinking Goff was a random harasser. Goff returned home, and was just then making plans to hunt us down when we arrived with the porpoise in tow, glistening like onyx on its freshened bed of ice.

He was too shocked by the creature to scream at us. Staring down at it, his face blanched and he was silent a long while. Finally he said, “I have never seen such beauty in such ugliness.”

We were scolded for our lie, but that was all. The next days were spent making arrangements for the two-headed creature, testing Visser’s suggested methods of long-term preservation, discussing the ways in which it might best be displayed. If our octopus from Nova Scotia did not recover, this, perhaps, might be our centrepiece.

Goff began to speak of another colleague of his, a marine zoologist in Marrakesh. “He wrote of a very rare squid.” He spent the evening mapping out the location where we might find the man.

And so the weeks passed in making preparations for our journey, and in hard work. A silence reigned at Ocean House, the outside world dropping away. With the door shut tight, the air reeked greenly of preservative fluid and rotted plants, of stagnant, murky water. Sun streamed through the dirty windows, dust spinning in its glow. I turned all about, seeing our tanks of Aesop prawns and molluscs and crabs and sea worms and polyps. A display of velvet fiddlers writhed silently in the corner.

I felt, in those moments of looking around, ferociously proud—of this strange, exquisite place where people could come to view creatures they believed nightmarish, to understand these animals were in fact beautiful and nothing to fear. But a part of me felt also somehow anguished, ravaged, torn at. For I glimpsed, in each and every display, all my elaborate calculations, my late nights of feverish labour. I saw my hand in everything—in the size and material of the tanks, in the choice of animal specimens, even in the arrangement of the aquatic plants. I had sweated and made gut-wrenching mistakes, and in the end my name would be nowhere. Did it matter? I did not know if it mattered. I understood only that I would have to find a way to make peace with the loss, or I would have to leave the whole enterprise behind and everyone connected with it.

One tank held the drifting pink rag of a jellyfish, and next to it I watched one filled entirely with nudibranchia. Very slowly I went to it, and I pressed my hand to the cool glass.

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