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.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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