Excerpt of Parrot and Olivier in America by Peter Carey
(Page 7 of 7)
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He was a fright, I won’t pretend he wasn’t. For although he was a
young man and had therefore often walked the earth and seen the sun,
he seemed, at that moment, like one of those transparent creatures
they say live in rivers far below the earth. His hair was fine as silk, and
long and white, not like the English but the Swedes. His forehead was
very tall, and so white and smooth it seemed as if it must be carved
from ivory. He had pale projecting eyebrows, and eyes like water.
“Now put it down,” he said.
“What?” I asked, having heard him perfectly.
“Put down the filthy pot,” he pleaded, “on the stinking floor.”
I saw no reason to be afraid of such a nervous creature, but when I
obeyed he gave me an awful cuff across the head and took me by the
ear and twisted it.
“If you ever leave me waiting again,” he whispered, “I will come
out the hard way”—that was how he put it—“and Piggott don’t want
that. Smell it,” he cried, his voice cracking. “Smell.”
He meant his room. I looked above his shoulder and saw he was like
all men who work with black ink and white paper. That is, his printed
sheets were as clean as sawn timber and his narrow bed was tightly
made. He shared his snug space with a guillotine and the first iron hand
press I ever saw. He was all hunched over, his arms were long and thin
and he held them across his chest in a way that made me think of the
roots of a pot-bound tree. I could not make out how tall he was.
It would be many years, on the other side of the world, before I
understood that Piggott’s house had been designed by Nicholas Owen,
a clever fellow who had devised the many hiding places for priests in
the reign of Elizabeth I. Whether Piggott had inherited or purchased
the property, I still don’t know. At the time, of course, I did not care,
for while it had been easy enough to crawl along the tiny passageway,
it was quite another matter to return, nudging and sliding the sloshing
chamber pot. Gently, gently catchee monkey. This was now my job—
penny both ways, a fortune—to bring Mr. Algernon Watkins his sandwiches
and take away his slops three times a day and if I was ever to
breathe so much as a word to anyone, then I would be murdered and
my body bricked up inside the house. “That’s an exaggeration,” my
Excerpted from Parrot and Olivier in America
by Peter Carey. Copyright © 2010 by Peter Carey.
Excerpted by permission of Knopf. All rights
reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted
without permission in writing from the publisher.