Excerpt of White Blood by James Fleming
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Fathers swarthy epidermis was punctured without malice.
He was perhaps recumbent on a divan, perhaps quaking with
laughter, but probably moving restlessly in bed in a sticky Central
Asian night, so attractively odoured that cheops thought to
refresh himselfa beaker of the best. It sank its probe and
thereby donated to Father the gift it had had from the rat, its
hostthe plague bacillus.
Within two days the buboes had formed and before the week
was out my lovely father had died a gasping tossing bursting death.
We were in London when the news arrived. We had to engage
an English lawyer. And Father, who had died swollen with putrefaction,
in agony, with his glory stillborn, had his corpse stabbed
and stabbed with the dagger of his debts by a pilchard-faced
lawyer from Surbiton who at the end treated us to a sermon on
thrift. Instead of asking, But did George Doig enjoy his stay
among the living? this man did nothing but crab Papa for his
exceedings. I passed Mother a note during this session: May he take his
seat upon the hot nail of hell, which was a saying
in our family. And when the lawyer took his leave I said smiling
to him, Poshol v pizdu, which means disappear up your cunt.
Gravely he replied, Such a tragic business.
This was a hard spell for Mother and myself, but especially
for her. Then my great-uncle Igor, the head of the Rykovs,
rallied round. The creditors were paid off and Mother was settled
amongst artisans in a narrow red-brick house in Fulham,
London, until Id finished my schooling, for which Uncle Igor
also footed the bill.
This was at Battle Hall, outside Hastings, on the cliffs looking
towards France. Proprietor Capt. W. Slype, wedded to Muriel, who
wore a built-up shoe. She dragged this foot, which was out-turned,
and so could be heard approaching from a distance. Anyone caught
mimicking her was taken off and caned by Slype. It was a brisk
and biblical school that saw its purpose in supplying the Empire
with irrigation engineers, bureaucrats and quellers of riots.
Mamasha, I wrote, they treat me like a Russian peasant. Why
must the English always be so victorious? Lets go home, lets
go back to Moscow. But she, having weathered the emotional
catastrophe of exchanging Moscow for London and then having
Papa die, was determined to stick it out. I think this was in the
nature of a graveside vow, so to speak. Patience, she counselled.
And soon they had to stifle their scorn, these English schoolboys.
The heat of my anger drove them back: that Father had died,
that we were supported by the charity of relatives, that I was
taunted for being a foreigner by a bunch of barbarians. I learned
to punch first and punch hard. I carved out my territory with
Russian fists and Russian balls. The day I arrived a boy called
Morfet had me squeeze his testicles, I suppose to groom me for
some sodomitical game. They were like a pair of boiled baby
beetroots. I said to him, Dont worry, theyll fill up one day.
Later he became subservient to me. He was always short of
cashwhereas I never was since Mother would go without to
keep me in pocket money. Sometimes Id get soaked when out
birding on the cliffs. For threepence Morfet would sleep in my
wet clothes and have them dry and clean by roll-call. So things
got themselves advantageously sorted.
Excerpted from White Blood
by James Fleming Copyright © 2007 by James Fleming. Excerpted by
permission of Atria Press, a division of Simon and Schuster, Inc. All rights
reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted
without permission in writing from the publisher.