My uncle sat in the great chair at the head of the table, a tiny slumped figure against the vast gloom behind him, and picked at his food with sharp little jabs like a bird. We ate cold mutton and boiled potatoes. He had frequent recourse to the decanter, which was filled with a sweet Rhenish wine, and with every glass his speech grew more fluting, more rapid, and more inflected with the fancies of a failing mind, such that I had constantly to steer him away from the wild places where he seemed inclined to wander, and back to the track of his narrative. And all the while the silent Percy flickered in and out of the candlelight like a moth, again and again refilling my uncle's tall crystal goblet with that undrinkable sweet white wine.
Oh, we talked on long after the last dish had been removed, and the candles had burned down to guttering stubs, and still the wind could be heard out on the marsh, and the boughs of the trees slapped against the high windows of the house. Later I made my way upstairs with a candle, to a cold room with a damp bed where I lay sleepless for many hours as the storm exhausted itself and I attempted to digest not only my uncle's mutton but his story as well.
Excerpted from Martha Peake by Patrick McGrath Copyright© 2000 by Patrick McGrath. Excerpted by permission of Random House, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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