Mys­te­ri­ous Kôr

The Iowa Review - - CONTENTS - El­iz­a­beth Bowen

Full moon­light drenched the city and searched it; there was not a niche left to stand in. The ef­fect was re­morse­less: London looked like the moon’s capital—shal­low, cratered, ex­tinct. It was late, but not yet mid­night; now the buses had stopped the pol­ished roads and streets in this re­gion sent for min­utes to­gether a ghostly un­bro­ken re­flec­tion up. The soar­ing new flats and the crouch­ing old shops and houses looked equally brit­tle un­der the moon, which blazed in win­dows that looked its way. The fu­til­ity of the black-out be­came laugh­able: from the sky, pre­sum­ably, you could see ev­ery slate in the roofs, ev­ery whited kerb, ev­ery con­tour of the naked win­ter flowerbeds in the park; and the lake, with its shining twists and tree-dark­ened is­lands would be a land­mark for miles, yes, miles, over­head. How­ever, the sky, in whose glassi­ness floated no clouds but only opaque bal­loons, re­mained glassy-silent. The Ger­mans no longer came by the full moon. Some­thing more im­ma­te­rial seemed to threaten, and to be keep­ing peo­ple at home. This day be­tween days, this ex­tra tax, was per­haps more than senses and nerves could bear. Peo­ple stayed in­doors with a fer­vour that could be felt: the build­ings strained with bat­tened­down hu­man life, but not a beam, not a voice, not a note from a ra­dio es­caped. Now and then un­der streets and build­ings the earth rum­bled: the Un­der­ground sounded loud­est at this time. Out­side the now gate­less gates of the park, the road com­ing down­hill from the north-west turned south and be­came a street, down whose per­spec­tive the traf­fic lights went through their un­mean­ing per­for­mance of chang­ing colour. From the promon­tory of pave­ment out­side the gates you saw at once up the road and down the street: from be­hind where you stood, be­tween the gateposts, ap­peared the lesser strange­ness of grass and water and trees. At this point, at this moment, three French soldiers, di­rected to a hos­tel they could not find, stopped singing to lis­ten de­ri­sively to the wa­ter­birds wak­ened up by the moon. Next, two war­dens com­ing off duty emerged from their post and crossed the road di­ag­o­nally, each with an el­bow cupped in­side a slung-on tin hat. The war­dens turned their faces, mauve in the moon­light, to­wards the French­men with no ex­pres­sion at all. The two sets of steps died in

Re­pro­duced with per­mis­sion of Cur­tis Brown Group Ltd, London, on be­half of The Ben­e­fi­cia­ries of the Es­tate of El­iz­a­beth Bowen. Copy­right © El­iz­a­beth Bowen 1980.

op­po­site di­rec­tions, and, the birds sub­sid­ing, noth­ing was heard or seen un­til, a lit­tle way down the street, a trickle of peo­ple came out of the Un­der­ground, around the anti-panic brick wall. These all dis­ap­peared quickly, in an abashed way, or as though dis­solved in the street by some white acid, but for a girl and a sol­dier who, by their way of walk­ing, seemed to have no des­ti­na­tion but each other and to not be quite cer­tain even of that. Blot­ted into one shadow he tall, she lit­tle, these two pro­ceeded to­wards the park. They looked in, but did not go in; they stood there de­bat­ing with­out speak­ing. Then, as though a com­mand from the street be­hind them had been re­ceived by their syn­chro­nized bod­ies, they faced round to look back the way they had come. His look up the height of a build­ing made his head drop back, and she saw his eye­balls glit­ter. She slid her hand from his sleeve, stepped to the edge of the pave­ment and said: “Mys­te­ri­ous Kôr.” “What is?” he said, not quite col­lect­ing him­self. “This is—

‘Mys­te­ri­ous Kôr thy walls for­saken stand, Thy lonely tow­ers be­neath a lonely moon—’ —this is Kôr.”

“Why,” he said, “it’s years since I’ve thought of that.” She said: “I think of it all the time—

‘Not in the waste beyond the swamps and sand, The fever-haunted for­est and la­goon, Mys­te­ri­ous Kôr thy walls——’

—a com­pletely for­saken city, as high as cliffs and as white as bones, with no his­tory——” “But some­thing must once have hap­pened: why had it been for­saken?” “How could any­one tell you when there’s no­body there?” “No­body there since how long?” “Thou­sands of years.” “In that case, it would have fallen down.” “No, not Kôr,” she said with im­me­di­ate au­thor­ity. “Kôr’s al­to­gether dif­fer­ent; it’s very strong; there is not a crack in it any­where for a weed to grow in; the cor­ners of stones and the mon­u­ments might have been cut yes­ter­day, and the stairs and arches are built to sup­port them­selves.” “You know all about it,” he said, look­ing at her. “I know, I know all about it.”

“What, since you read that book?” “Oh, I didn’t get much from that; I just got the name. I knew that must be the right name; it’s like a cry.” “Most like the cry of a crow to me.” He re­flected, then said, “But the poem be­gins with ‘Not’—‘ Not in the waste beyond the swamps and sand—’ And it goes on, as I re­mem­ber, to prove Kôr’s not re­ally any­where. When even a poem says there’s no such place—” “What it tries to say doesn’t mat­ter: I see what it makes me see. Any­how, that was writ­ten some time ago, at that time they thought they had got ev­ery­thing taped, be­cause the whole world had been ex­plored, even the mid­dle of Africa. Ev­ery thing and place had been found and marked on some map; so what wasn’t marked on any map couldn’t be there at all. So they thought: that was why he wrote the poem. ‘ The world is dis­en­chanted,’ it goes on. That was what set me off hat­ing civ­i­liza­tion.” “Well, cheer up,” he said; “there isn’t much of it left.” “Oh, yes, I cheered up some time ago. This war shows we’ve by no means come to the end. If you can blow whole places out of ex­is­tence, you can blow whole places into it. I don’t see why not. They say we can’t say what’s come out since the bomb­ing started. By the time we’ve come to the end, Kôr may be the one city left: the abid­ing city. I should laugh.” “No, you wouldn’t,” he said sharply. “You wouldn’t—at least, I hope not. I hope you don’t know what you’re say­ing—does the moon make you funny?” “Don’t be cross about Kôr; please don’t Arthur,” she said. “I thought girls thought about peo­ple.” “What, these days?” she said. “Think about peo­ple? How can any­one think about peo­ple if they’ve got any heart? I don’t know how other girls man­age: I al­ways think about Kôr.” “Not about me?” he said. When she did not at once an­swer, he turned her hand over, in an­guish, in­side his grasp. “Be­cause I’m not there when you want me—is that my fault?” “But to think about Kôr is to think about you and me.” “In that dead place?” “No, ours—we’d be alone here.” Tight­en­ing his thumb on her palm while he thought this over, he looked be­hind them, around them, above them—even up at the sky. He said fi­nally: “But we’re alone here.” “That was why I said ‘Mys­te­ri­ous Kôr’.” “What, you mean we’re there now, that here’s there, that now’s then? . . . I don’t mind,” he added, let­ting out as a laugh the sigh he had been hold­ing in for some time. “You ought to know the place, and for all I could tell you we might be any­where: I of­ten do have it, this funny feel­ing,

the first minute or two when I’ve come up out of the Un­der­ground. Well, well: join the Army and see the world.” He nod­ded to­wards the per­spec­tive of traf­fic lights and said, a shade craftily: “What are those, then?” Hav­ing caught the quick­est pos­si­ble breath, she replied: “Inex­haustible gasses; they bored through to them and lit them as they came up; by chang­ing color they show the chang­ing of min­utes; in Kôr there is no sort of other time.” “You’ve got the moon, though: that can’t help mak­ing months.” “Oh, and the sun, of course; but those two could do what they liked; we should not have to cal­cu­late when they’d come or go.” “We might not have to,” he said, “but I bet I should.” “I should not mind what you did, so long as you never said, ‘What next?’” “I don’t know about ‘next,’ but I do know what we’d do first.” “What, Arthur?” “Pop­u­late Kôr.” She said: “I sup­pose it would be all right if our chil­dren were to marry each other?” But her voice faded out; she had been re­minded that they were home­less on this his first night of leave. They were, that was to say, in London with­out any hope of any place of their own. Pepita shared a two-roomed flat­let with a girl friend, in a by-street off the Re­gent’s Park Road, and to­wards this they must make their half­hearted way. Arthur was to have the sit­ting-room di­van, usu­ally oc­cu­pied by Pepita, while she her­self had half of her girl friend’s bed. There was re­ally no room for a third, and least of all for a man, in those small rooms packed with fur­ni­ture and the two girls’ be­long­ings: Pepita tried to be grate­ful for her friend Cal­lie’s for­bear­ance—but how could she be, when it had not oc­curred to Cal­lie that she would do bet­ter to be away tonight? She was more slow-wit­ted than nar­row-minded—but Pepita felt she owed a kind of ruin to her. Cal­lie, not yet known to be home later than ten, would be now wait­ing up, in her house-coat, to wel­come Arthur. That would mean three-sided chat, drink­ing co­coa, then turn­ing in: that would be that, and that would be all. That was London, this war—they were lucky to have a roof—london, full enough be­fore the Amer­i­cans came. Not a place: they would even grudge you shar­ing a grave—that was what even mar­ried cou­ples com­plained. Whereas in Kôr.. . In Kôr.. . Like glass, the il­lu­sion shat­tered: a car hummed like a hor­net to­wards them, veered, showed its scar­let tail-light, streaked away up the road. A woman edged round a front door and along the area rail­ings timidly called her cat; mean­while a clock near, then an­other set fur­ther back in the daz­zling dis­tance, set about strik­ing mid­night. Pepita, feel-

ing Arthur re­lease her arm with an abrupt­ness that was the in­verse of pas­sion, shiv­ered; whereat he asked brusquely: “Cold? Well, which way?—we’d bet­ter be getting on.”

Cal­lie was no longer wait­ing up. Hours ago she had set out the three cups and saucers, the tins of co­coa and house­hold milk and, on the gas-ring, brought the ket­tle to just short of the boil. She had turned open Arthur’s bed, the liv­ing-room di­van, in the neat invit­ing way she had learnt at home—then, with a mod­est im­pulse, re­placed the cover. She had, as Pepita fore­saw, been wear­ing her cre­tonne house­coat, the near­est thing to a host­ess gown that she had; she had al­ready brushed her hair for the night, re­braided it, bound the braids in a coro­net round her head. Both lights and the wire­less had been on, to make the room both look and sound gay: all alone, she had come to that peak moment at which com­pany should ar­rive—but so sel­dom does. From then on she felt wel­come be­gin­ning to wither in her, a flower of the heart that had bloomed too early. There she had sat like an im­age, fac­ing the three cold cups, on the edge of the bed to be oc­cu­pied by an un­known man. Cal­lie’s in­no­cence and her still un­sought-out state had brought her to take a pro­pri­etary pride in Arthur; this was all the stronger, per­haps, be­cause they had not yet met. Shar­ing the flat with Pepita, this last year, she had been con­tent with re­flect­ing the heat of love. It was not, sur­pris­ingly, that Pepita seemed very happy—there were times when she was pal­pa­bly on the rack, and this was not what Cal­lie could un­der­stand. “Surely you owe it to Arthur,” she would then say, “to keep cheer­ful? So long as you love each other—” Cal­lie’s calm brow glowed—one might say that it glowed in place of her friend’s; she be­came the guardian of that ide­al­ity which for Pepita was con­stantly lost to view. It was true, with the sud­den prospect of Arthur’s leave, things had come nearer to earth: he be­came a propo­si­tion, and she would have been as glad if he could have slept some­where else. Phys­i­cally shy, a broth­er­less vir­gin, Cal­lie shrank from shar­ing this flat with a young man. In this flat you could hear ev­ery­thing: what was once a three-win­dowed Vic­to­rian draw­ing-room had been par­ti­tioned, by very thin walls, into kitch­enette, liv­ing-room, Cal­lie’s bed­room. The liv­ing-room was in the cen­ter; the two oth­ers open off it. What was once the con­ser­va­tory, half a flight down, was now con­verted into a draughty bath­room, shared with some­body else on the girl’s floor. The flat, for these days, was cheap—even so, it was Cal­lie, earn­ing more than Pepita, who paid the greater part of the rent: it thus be­came up to her, more or less, to ex­press good will as to Arthur’s mak­ing a third. “Why, it will be lovely to have him here,” Cal­lie said. Pepita ac­cepted the good will with­out much grace—but then, had she ever much

grace to spare?—she was as rest­lessly se­cre­tive, as self-cen­tered, as a lit­tle half-grown black cat. Next came a puz­zling moment: Pepita seemed to be hint­ing that Cal­lie should fix her­self up some­where else. “But where would I go?” Cal­lie mar­velled when this was at last borne in on her. “You know what London’s like now. And, any­way”—here she laughed, but hers was a fore­head that coloured as eas­ily as it glowed—“it wouldn’t be proper, would it, me go­ing off and leav­ing just you and Arthur; I don’t know what your mother would say to me. No, we may be a lit­tle squashed, but we’ll make things ever so homey. I shall not mind play­ing goose­berry, re­ally, dear.” But the homi­ness by now was evap­o­rat­ing, as Pepita and Arthur still and still did not come. At half-past ten, in obe­di­ence to the rule of the house, Cal­lie was obliged to turn off the wire­less, where­upon si­lence out of the step­less street be­gan seep­ing into the slighted room. Cal­lie rec­ol­lected the fuel tar­get and turned off her dear lit­tle table lamp, gaily painted with spots to make it look like a toad­stool, thereby leav­ing only the hang­ing light. She laid her hand on the ket­tle, to find it gone cold again and sigh for the wasted gas if not for her wasted thought. Where are they? Cold crept up her out of the ket­tle; she went to bed. Cal­lie’s bed lay along the wall un­der the win­dow: she did not like sleep­ing so close up un­der glass, but the clear­ance that must be left for the open­ing of door and cup­boards made this the only pos­si­ble place. Now she got in and lay rigidly on the bed’s in­ner side, un­der the hang­ing hems of the win­dow cur­tains, train­ing her limbs not to stray to what would be Pepita’s half. This shar­ing of her bed with an­other body would not be the least of her sac­ri­fice to the lovers’ love; tonight would be the first night—or at least, since she was an in­fant—that Cal­lie had slept with any­one. Child of a shel­tered mid­dle-class house­hold, she had kept phys­i­cal dis­tances all her life. Al­ready re­pug­nance and shy­ness ran through her limbs; she was preyed upon by some more ob­scure trou­ble than the ex­pec­ta­tion that she might not sleep. As to that, Pepita was rest­less; her toss­ings on the di­van, her bro­ken-off ex­cla­ma­tions and blurred pleas had been to be heard, most nights, through the di­vid­ing wall. Cal­lie knew, as though from a vi­sion, that Arthur would sleep soundly, with as­sur­ance and majesty. Did they not all say, too, that a sol­dier sleeps like a log? With awe she pic­tured, asleep, the face that she had not yet, awake, seen—arthur’s man’s eye­lids, cheek­bones and set mouth turned up to the dark­ened ceil­ing. Want­ing to savour dark­ness her­self, Cal­lie reached out and put off her bed­side lamp. At once she knew that some­thing was hap­pen­ing—out­doors, in the street, the whole of London, the world. An ad­vance, an ex­tra­or­di­nary move­ment was silently tak­ing place; blue-white beams over­flowed from

it, silt­ing, drop­ping round the edges of the muf­fling black-out cur­tains. When, start­ing up, she knocked a fold of the cur­tain, a beam like a mouse ran across her bed. A search­light, the most pow­er­ful of all time, might have been turned full and steady upon her de­fended win­dow; find­ing flaws in the black­out stuff, it made veins and stars. Once gained by this idea of pres­sure she could not lie down again; she sat tautly, drawn-up knees touch­ing her breasts, and asked her­self if there were any­thing she should do. She parted the cur­tains, opened them slowly wider, looked out—and was face to face with the moon. Be­low the moon, the houses op­po­site her win­dow blazed back in trans­par­ent shadow; and some­thing—was it a coin or a ring?—glit­tered half-way across the chalk-white street. Light marched in past her face, and she turned to see where it went: out stood the curves and gar­lands of the great white mar­ble Vic­to­rian man­tel­piece of that lost draw­ingroom; out stood, in the pho­tographs turned her way, the thoughts with which her par­ents had faced the cam­era, and the hum­ble puz­zle­ment of her two dogs at home. Of sil­ver bro­cade, just faintly pur­pled with roses, be­came her house­coat hang­ing over the chair. And the moon did more: it ex­on­er­ated and beau­ti­fied the late­ness of the lovers’ re­turn. No won­der, she said her­self, no won­der—if this was the world they walked in, if this was whom they were with. Hav­ing drunk in the white ex­pla­na­tion, Cal­lie lay down again. Her half of the bed was in shadow, but she al­lowed one hand to lie, blanched, in what would be Pepita’s place. She lay and looked at the hand un­til it was no longer her own. Cal­lie woke to the sound of Pepita’s key in the latch. But no voices? What had hap­pened? Then she heard Arthur’s step. She heard his un­slung equip­ment dropped with a weary, dull sound, and the plonk of his tin hat on a wooden chair. “Sssh-sssh!” Pepita ex­claimed, “she might be asleep!” Then at last Arthur’s voice: “But I thought you said—” “I’m not asleep; I’m just com­ing!” Cal­lie called out with rap­ture, leap­ing out from her form in shadow into the moon­light, zip­ping on her en­chanted house-coat over her night­dress, kick­ing her shoes on, and pin­ning in place, with a trem­bling firm­ness, her plaits in their coro­net round her head. Be­tween these move­ments of hers she heard not an­other sound. Had she only dreamed they were there? Her heart beat: she stepped through the liv­ing-room, shut­ting her door be­hind her. Pepita and Arthur stood the other side of the table; they gave the im­pres­sion of be­ing lined up. Their faces, at dif­fer­ent lev­els—for Pepita’s rough, dark head came only an inch above Arthur’s khaki shoul­der—were alike in ab­sten­tion from any kind of ex­pres­sion; as though, spir­i­tu­ally, they both

still re­fused to be here. Their fea­tures looked faint, weath­ered—was this the work of the moon? Pepita said at once: “I sup­pose we are very late?” “I don’t won­der,” Cal­lie said, “on this lovely night.” Arthur had not raised his eyes; he was look­ing at the three cups. Pepita now sud­denly jogged his el­bow, say­ing, “Arthur, wake up; say some­thing; this is Cal­lie—well, Cal­lie, this is Arthur, of course.” “Why, yes of course this is Arthur,” re­turned Cal­lie, whose can­did eyes since she en­tered had not left Arthur’s face. Per­ceiv­ing that Arthur did not know what to do, she ad­vanced round the table to shake hands with him. He looked up, she looked down, for the first time: she rather be­held than felt his red-brown grip on what still seemed her glove of moon­light. “Wel­come, Arthur,” she said. “I’m so glad to meet you at last. I hope you will be com­fort­able in the flat.” “It’s been kind of you,” he said af­ter con­sid­er­a­tion. “Please do not feel that,” said Cal­lie. “This is Pepita’s home, too, and we both hope—don’t we, Pepita?—that you’ll re­gard it as yours. Please feel free to do just as you like. I am sorry it is so small.” “Oh, I don’t know,” Arthur said, as though hyp­no­tized; “it seems a nice lit­tle place.” Pepita, mean­while, glow­ered and turned away. Arthur con­tin­ued to won­der, though he had once been told, how these two un­alike girls had come to set up to­gether—pepita so small, ex­cept for her too-big head, com­pact of child­ish brusque­ness and of un­child­ish pas­sion, and Cal­lie, so se­date, waxy and tall—an un­lit can­dle. Yes, she was like one of those can­dles on sale out­side a church; there could be some­thing vo­tive even in her de­meanour. She was un­con­scious that her good man­ners, those of an old fash­ioned coun­try doc­tor’s daugh­ter, were putting the other two at a dis­ad­van­tage. He found him­self touched by the grave good faith with which Cal­lie was wear­ing that tar­tish house-coat, above which her face kept the glaze of sleep; and, as she knelt to re­light the gas-ring un­der the ket­tle, he marked the strong, del­i­cate arch of one bare foot, dis­ap­pear­ing into the arty green shoe. Pepita was now too near him ever again to be seen as he now saw Cal­lie—in a sense, he never had seen Pepita for the first time: she had not been, and still some­times was not, his type. No, he had not thought of her twice; he had not re­mem­bered her un­til he be­gan to re­mem­ber her with pas­sion. You might say he had not seen Pepita com­ing: their love had been a col­li­sion in the dark. Cal­lie, de­ter­mined to get this over, knelt back and said: “Would Arthur like to wash his hands?” When they had heard him stum­ble down the half-flight of stairs, she said to Pepita: “Yes, I was so glad you had the moon.” “Why?” said Pepita. She added: “There was too much of it.”

“You’re tired. Arthur looks tired, too.” “How would you know? He’s used to marching about. But it’s all this hav­ing no place to go.” “But, Pepita, you—” But at this point Arthur came back: from the door he no­ticed the wire­less, and went di­rect to it. “Noth­ing much on now, I sup­pose?” he doubt­fully said. “No; you see it’s past mid­night; we’re off the air. And, any­way, in this house they don’t like the wire­less late. By the same to­ken,” went on Cal­lie, friendly smil­ing, “I’m afraid I must ask you, Arthur, to take your boots off, un­less, of course, you mean to stay sit­ting down. The peo­ple be­low us—” Pepita flung off, say­ing some­thing un­der her breath, but Arthur, re­mark­ing, “No, I don’t mind,” both sat down and be­gan to take off his boots. Paus­ing, glanc­ing to left and right at the di­van’s fresh cot­ton spread, he said: “It’s all right is it, for me to sit on this?” “That’s my bed,” said Pepita. “You are to sleep in it.” Cal­lie then made the co­coa, af­ter which they turned in. Pre­lim­i­nary trips to the bath­room hav­ing been worked out, Cal­lie was first to re­tire, shut­ting the door be­hind her so that Pepita and Arthur might kiss each other good night. When Pepita joined her, it was with­out knock­ing: Pepita stood still in the moon and be­gan to tug off her clothes. Glanc­ing with hate at the bed, she asked: “Which side?” “I ex­pected you’d like the out­side.” “What are you stand­ing about for?” “I don’t re­ally know: as I’m in­side I’d bet­ter get in first.” “Then why not get in?” When they had set­tled rigidly, side by side, Cal­lie asked: “Do you think Arthur’s got all he wants?” Pepita jerked her head up. “We can’t sleep in all this moon.” “Why, you don’t believe the moon does things, ac­tu­ally?” “Well, it couldn’t hope to make some of us much more screwy.” Cal­lie closed the cur­tains, then said: “What do you mean? And— didn’t you hear?—i asked if Arthur’s got all he wants.” “That’s what I meant—have you got a screw loose, re­ally?” “Pepita, I won’t stay here if you’re go­ing to be like this.” “In that case, you had bet­ter go in with Arthur.” “What about me?” Arthur loudly said through the wall. “I can hear practically all you girls are say­ing.” They were both star­tled—rather that than abashed. Arthur, alone in there, had thrown off the lig­a­tures of his so­cial man­ner: his voice

held the whole au­thor­ity of his sex—he was im­pa­tient, sleepy, and he be­longed to no one. “Sorry,” the girls said in uni­son. Then Pepita laughed sound­lessly, mak­ing their bed shake, till to stop her­self she bit the back of her hand, and this move­ment made her el­bow strike Cal­lie’s cheek. “Sorry,” she had to whis­per. No an­swer: Pepita fin­gered her el­bow and found, yes, it was quite true, it was wet. “Look, shut up cry­ing, Cal­lie: what have I done?” Cal­lie rolled right round, in or­der to press her fore­head closely un­der the win­dow, into the cur­tains, against the wall. Her weep­ing con­tin­ued to be sound­less: now and then, un­able to reach her hand­ker­chief, she staunched her eyes with a cur­tain, dis­turb­ing sliv­ers of moon. Pepita gave up mar­vel­ling, and soon slept: at least there is some­thing in be­ing dog-tired. A clock struck four as Cal­lie woke up again—but some­thing else had made her open her swollen eye­lids. Arthur, stum­bling about on his padded feet, could be heard next door at­tempt­ing to make no noise. Inevitably, he bumped the edge of the table. Cal­lie sat up: by her side Pepita lay like a mummy rolled half over, in for­bid­ding, tena­cious sleep. Arthur groaned. Cal­lie caught a breath, climbed lightly over Pepita, felt for her torch on the man­tel­piece, stopped to lis­ten again. Arthur groaned again: Cal­lie, with move­ments sound­less as they were cer­tain, opened the door and slipped through to the liv­ing-room. “What’s the mat­ter?” she whis­pered. “Are you ill?” “No; I just got a cig­a­rette. Did I wake you up?” “But you groaned.” “I’m sorry; I’d no idea.” “But do you of­ten?” “I’ve no idea, re­ally, I tell you,” Arthur re­peated. The air of the room was dense with his pres­ence, over­hung by to­bacco. He must be sit­ting on the edge of his bed, wrapped up in his over­coat—she could smell the coat, and each time he pulled on the cig­a­rette his fea­tures ap­peared down there, in the fleet­ing, dull red­dish glow. “Where are you?” he said. “Show a light.” Her ner­vous touch on her torch, like a re­flex to what he said, made it flicker up for a sec­ond. “I am just by the door; Pepita’s asleep; I’d bet­ter go back to bed.” “Lis­ten. Do you two get on each other’s nerves?” “Not till tonight,” said Cal­lie, watch­ing the un­cer­tain swoops of the cig­a­rette as he reached across to the ash­tray on the edge of the table. Shift­ing her bare feet pa­tiently, she added: “You don’t see us as we usu­ally are.”

“She’s a girl who shows things in funny ways—i ex­pect she feels bad at our putting you out like this—i know I do. But then we’d got no choice, had we?” “It is re­ally I who am putting you out,” said Cal­lie. “Well, that can’t be helped ei­ther, can it? You had the right to stay in your own place. If there’d been more time, we might have gone to the coun­try, though I still don’t see where we’d have gone there. It’s one harder when you’re not mar­ried, un­less you’ve got the money. Smoke?” “No, thank you. Well, if you’re all right, I’ll go back to bed.” “I’m glad she’s asleep—funny the way she sleeps, isn’t it? You can’t help won­der­ing where she is. You haven’t got a boy, have you, just at present?” “No. I’ve never had one.” “I’m not sure in one way that you’re not bet­ter off. I can see there’s not so much in it for a girl these days. It makes me feel cruel the way I un­set­tle her: I don’t know how much it’s me my­self or how much it’s some­thing the mat­ter that I can’t help. How are any of us to know how things could have been? They for­get war’s not just only war; it’s years out of peo­ple’s lives that they’ve never had be­fore and won’t have again. Do you think she’s fan­ci­ful?” “Who, Pepita?” “It’s enough to make her—tonight was the pay-off. We couldn’t get near any movie or any place for sit­ting; you had to fight into the bars, and she hates the star­ing in bars, and with all that milling about, ev­ery street we went, they kept on knock­ing her even off my arm. So then we took the tube to that park down there, but the place was as bad as day­light, let alone it was cold. We hadn’t the nerve—well, that’s noth­ing to do with you.” “I don’t mind.” “Or else you don’t un­der­stand. So we be­gan to play—we were off in Kôr.” “Core of what?” “Mys­te­ri­ous Kôr—ghost city.” “Where?” “You may ask. But I could have sworn she saw it, and from the way she saw it I saw it, too. A game’s a game, but what’s a hal­lu­ci­na­tion? You be­gin by laugh­ing, then it gets in you and you can’t laugh it off. I tell you, I woke up just now not know­ing where I’d been; and I had to get up and feel round this table be­fore I even knew where I was. It wasn’t till then that I thought of a cig­a­rette. Now I see why she sleeps like that, if that’s where she goes.” “But she is just as of­ten rest­less; I of­ten hear her.”

“Then she doesn’t al­ways make it. Per­haps it takes me, in some way— Well, I can’t see any harm: when two peo­ple have got no place, why not want Kôr, as a start? There are no re­stric­tions on want­ing, at any rate.” “But, oh, Arthur, can’t want­ing want what’s hu­man?” He yawned. “To be hu­man’s to be at a dead loss.” Stop­ping yawn­ing, he ground out his cig­a­rette: the china tray skid­ded at the edge of the table. “Bring that light here a moment—that is, will you? I think I’ve messed ash all over these sheets of hers.” Cal­lie ad­vanced with the torch alight, but at arm’s length: now and then her thumb made the beam wob­ble. She watched the lit-up in­side of Arthur’s hand as he brushed the sheet; and once he looked up to see her white-night­gowned fig­ure curv­ing above and away from him, be­hind the arc of light. “What’s that swing­ing?” “One of my plaits of hair. Shall I open the win­dow wider?” “What, to let the smoke out? Go on. And how’s your moon?” “Mine?” Mar­vel­ling over this, as the first sign that Arthur re­mem­bered that she was Cal­lie, she un­cov­ered the win­dow, pushed up the sash, then af­ter a minute said: “Not so strong.” In­deed, the moon’s power over London and the imag­i­na­tion had now de­clined. The siege of light had re­laxed; the search was over; the street had a look of sur­vival and no more. What­ever had glit­tered there, coin or ring, was now in­vis­i­ble or had gone. To Cal­lie it seemed likely that there would never be such a moon again; and on the whole she felt this was for the best. Feel­ing air reach in like a tired arm round her body, she dropped the cur­tains against it and re­turned to her own room. Back by her bed, she lis­tened: Pepita’s breath­ing still had the reg­u­lar sound of sleep. At the other side of the wall the di­van creaked as Arthur stretched him­self out again. Hav­ing felt ahead of her lightly, to make sure her half was empty, Cal­lie climbed over Pepita and got in. A cer­tain amount of warmth had trav­elled be­tween the sheets from Pepita’s flank, and in this Cal­lie ex­tended her sword-cold body: she tried to com­pose her limbs; even they quiv­ered af­ter Arthur’s words in the dark, words to the dark. The loss of her own mys­te­ri­ous ex­pec­ta­tion, of her love for love, was a small thing be­side the war’s to­tal of un­lived lives. Sud­denly Pepita flung out one hand: its back knocked Cal­lie lightly across the face. Pepita had now turned over and lay with her face up. The hand that had struck Cal­lie must have lain over the other, which grasped the py­jama col­lar. Her eyes, in the dark, might have been ei­ther shut or open, but noth­ing made her frown more or less steadily: it be­came cer­tain, af­ter an­other moment, that Pepita’s act of jus­tice had been un­con­scious. She still lay, as she had lain, in an avid dream, of which Arthur had been the source, of which Arthur was not the end. With him she looked this way,

that way, down the wide, void, pure streets, be­tween stat­ues, pil­lars and shad­ows, through arch­ways and colon­nades. With him she went up the stairs down which noth­ing but moon came; with him trod the er­mine dust of the end­less halls, stood on ter­races, mounted the ex­treme tower, looked down on the stat­ued squares, the wide, void, pure streets. He was the pass­word, but not the an­swer: it was to Kôr’s fi­nal­ity that she turned.

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