Bowen-Inspired

LATE ARRIVAL (3) by DF Lewis

The imagination of Elizabeth Bowen

The bungalow-house contained a pet parrot as well as a pet owner by the name of Marjorie Smith who wore a hat and coat indoors as well as out. Both these pets chatted to each other the day long, while the bungalow-house itself stayed quite quiet, its two dormer windows in the renovated roof staring out balefully towards the grey skies of December.

From a nearby bungalow-house – that no doubt had its own (different) pets – could be heard the quiet tinkle of Debussy on the piano. Further down the road, were two children playing up a tree, pretending to be parrots themselves, escaped parrots, squawking not in words, like Marjorie Smith’s parrot did, but in tranches of meaninglessness that they imagined parrots to speak when not taught (parrot-fashion) real English words by real old ladies like Marjorie Smith.

Marjorie walked across the carpet towards the back window of her bungalow-house and heard the apples on the apple tree in the garden dropping its pet apples one by one, with a relentless rhythmic thump thump thump, as if betokening Marjorie’s own death with the ominous imagination of plodding ghostly funeral-workers from an otherwise impossible future.

As on most other days, she expected several visitors today – but none of them ever came. She had a statue in the garden (near the apple tree) dedicated to all false expectations, a stone image of Eva Trout with a shotgun, sculpted by a famous artist she once knew in better days when she lived in a large house on the outskirts of Highgate. He was a visitor like those she expected today in downtown Seaside where she lived now disguised under a pseudonym…

…but this was not really an effective pseudonym because the name that the pseudonym was intended to conceal had been forgotten and was no longer important to avoid being called. Her novels and stories were these days the possession of a mere coterie and even the films that had been based on her fiction mouldered away in rusty round tins. Fame was no longer even a danger. She could live here anonymously with her parrot and apple tree … except she had decided to send off a new story to a publisher she once knew in the good old days … but first she had to write it./

The front door bell went. It must be those damned children from down the road, she thought, running away even as their finger had barely left the bell-push rather than the visitors (old friends from the past) whom she expected to come. But she went to the door, hoping against hope that it was not Halloween. They had called her dead old dried apple-core last time. She opened the door tentatively…

“It’s a Witch, It’s a Witch,” squawked the parrot from its distant perch in the parlour.

Standing on the newly donkey-stoned step, was a man with a rusty round tin of what looked to be hardened half-used red polish that housewives used to spread on their prized dining-tables to make them shine like the best of memories. His cupped palm was extended towards her…

She wondered how it all would end. With a thump thump thump as each fashioned word fell off the page like a parrot’s?

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CÆSURA by DF Lewis

Though I never lived during that kingdom of war—the one that rained in London—I could easily imagine the colourlessness (or, rather, variegated brown) in every wet afternoon, prefiguring the contrast of night’s man-made lightning.  Séances were being held amid the chintz of every blitz-free sitting-room; tears being shed in every outhouse; tender hands held, over and over again, in every beach hut and every park. 

­            Well, for every every, amen.  I shook my shoulders—not a shrug as such; more of a shudder.  I tramped the back-end streets, wondering if I had been transported in time to those very afternoons when shapes in fragile freedom from the night’s shelters (the Underground included) became the slowly nudging together of lightly-fleshed ghosts in the hope that something worthwhile or tangible would emerge by this serendipity of touch.  Ghosts, I guessed, were to be everybody, even you and me.­

            This was to have been a poem.  But it felt like a story, with all the trappings of a plot, albeit missing a beginning, a middle or an end, if not all three.  I could have gutted this story of its protagonists, but then nobody would have been there to report its waywardness.­

            I met Nadia in a park where courting couples were more colourless than most, if less tearful.  She was someone with whom I assumed an immediate mutuality.  She smiled, wiping away her tears with a burnt hankie.  Collateral damage, she said, from last night’s bombs.  I didn’t take umbrage at her false modernity.  I knew she joked; this was then, not now. ­

            A fleeting image of an evening when Nadia and I did walk under a fleet of doodlebugs—and suddenly a thing like a plum-pudding bursting with a fiery sauce came down and a lot of glass fell out of the windows on to us.­

            “Good job we were not there”: my first ever set of words to Nadia upon meeting in the park.  My second: “Ghosts were simply the future.”­

            “Ghosts will forever be the past,” were my sweet Nadia’s last.­

            But truth told no rhymes.

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D F LEWIS 

Rooflines 

“What are regrets? They are small insects, darling, that crawl over your soul in the early hours of the morning.” (from ‘The Willow Cabin’ by Pamela Frankau)

 Lest he be subtle, Gerry always managed to hit home with his glance. Unkindness was his method of being natural. He knew his women wanted at least that to be himself. The modus operandi of his eyes. 

“A poem is like a story with all the stuffing taken out…” he started. 

Myrtle grimaced. A slanting ricochet of looks. She felt her stomach grip around a plum-puddding, uneaten yet lodged in the gut nonetheless. 

“…the plot of a poem being the meaningfulness between the words and, yes, Myrtle, let’s not forget, ghosts speak such spaces as their bread-and-butter of communication …”

 Gerry was fast losing Myrtle. The pudding was steeped in a fiery sauce and broken glass fell from some window above. The couple scattered to avoid the plummeting shards. Wartime had bombs even when there were no planes in the sky. They seemed to be offloaded from nowhere in those erstwhile days of black-and-white, threatening the roofliness of rooflines. 

“….only going to show that the spaces we move into are safe as houses…” 

Myrtle did not have time to engage in argument. Regrets were merely the way people those days decked out death with the accoutrements of intestacy. Nobody could fathom the precariousness of pantiles nor gauge their durability or, even, their provi­dential provenance as landscape. 

Myrtle gagged on tens of tanners. Gerry ran for cover. Another wartime story. With such aborted protagonists caught in world-wide webs of silver spew and crossfire. I was not even begun to be conceived, let alone considered ripe enough to construe this poem. 

“Lest this be too subtle, his tone was unkind enough to drive at least his will to unkindness home. It did: she withdrew from the pocket her other hand in order to, self-protectively, fold her arms.” (from ‘The Heat of the Day’ by Elizabeth Bowen)

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One response to “Bowen-Inspired

  1. For those who read my article ‘Towards The Drogulus’ about Elizabeth Bowen in WORMWOOD Journal No. 11 (Autumn 2008), may be interested in this astonishing quotation from a single entry in Charles Ritchie’s diary of 1941 after his initial meetings with Elizabeth (a quotation taken from a new book ‘Love’s Civil War’ Simon & Schuster 2009 containing extracts from her letters to him and from his diaries about her):

    “She is as acute as a razor blade and about as merciful … She is a witch, that’s what it is. In the first place how can a woman of forty with gold bangles and the face of a woman of forty and the air of a don’s wife, how can such a woman have such a body – like Donatello’s David I told her when I first saw what it was like. Those small firm breasts, that modelled neck set with such beauty on her shoulders, that magnificent back… Would I ever have fallen for her if it hadn’t been for her books? I very much doubt it. But now I can’t separate her from her literary self. It’s as if the woman I ‘love’ were always accompanied by a companion spirit infinitely more exciting and more poetic and more profound than E herself… When it comes to writing, well I had a letter from her the other day so blunderingly expressed, so repetitive, that the least of her characters in one of her books would never have been guilty of it.”

    That “witch” or “companion spirit”: the ‘demon of EBness’ I wrote about in my article??

    PS: I don’t usually read biographical material about writers (eg: letters and diaries), but I have made an exception for Elizabeth Bowen!

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