Excerpt from Timothy by Verlyn Klinkenborg, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Notes of an Abject Reptile

by Verlyn Klinkenborg

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  • First Published:
    Feb 2006, 192 pages
    Jan 2007, 192 pages

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Mr. Gilbert White writes. Mad dog from Newton great farm bites dogs in the Selborne street. Farmer Berriman's cow, he reports, "got into the barn's floor in the night, and gorged herself so at an heap of thrashed wheat, that she dyed what they call sprung, being blown up to a vast size." Seventeen residents of Newton farm, and a horse, have gone in a cart to be dipped in the sea. Mrs. John White knits beside Mr. Gilbert White. One row for her old life, one for the new.

Parlor-cat turns electric in dry nights of frost. Parlor-fire rages. Close-stools freeze beneath beds. Horses breathe their stable-fog. Lambs drop from the womb and freeze to the ground. Venus shadows. Walls stream with water. Thatch reeks in the sun. Fields pour torrents into the lanes that worm their way toward Selborne. Waking dreams of the human winter.

My blood creeps along a dark endless track. On quiet feet. Circles round and round as though it had lost its way but always finding its way again. No counting the circuits it makes under the compass-rose of my carapace.

One day corpuscles prick as they pass. Agitation in the capillaries. New trails through the underwood of flesh. Fresh tide washes over the rocks. Rushing millstream spills through the heart. I rouse before I know I'm rousing. Hatched from the great egg of Earth. Spring-wrecked on the surface, my living to make. Pipped again.

I blink and blink. Look into my crater, the nest that bears me over and over and over and over. Surprised to come up always just where I went down. To be the only hatchling. Surprised to find myself in the parish of Selborne, county of Southampton, garden of Mr. Gilbert White.

I remember Ringmer. Mrs. Rebecca Snooke. A post-chaise. A servant's basket. A ship. The empty city of my origins, far away. Warm salt sea spreading at its feet. Cyprus in the distance. Nike and Hermes in mosaics underfoot. As weathered as old Hercules but far more ancient. A country swollen with emptiness and heat. I once had other expectations.

I heave up the mould. Unbury myself. In this place, I am considered a sign of spring, like the budding of beeches on the Hanger or the return of the first birds of passage. But I am a sign of spring the way flooding in Gracious Street is a sign of high water. Over the goose-hatch. The thing itself. The season advances directly through me.

Year after year Mr. Gilbert White notes the occasion. He has been up for months. Stands over me while rising still blinds me, before hunger returns. Long winter lingering in mouth and bowel. Mr. Gilbert White records the date, the weather. Conjunction, at my arrival, of a bat, a redstart, a daffodil, a troop of shell-snails.

"Timothy the tortoise begins to stir," he writes; "he heaves up the mould that lies over his back."

"Timothy the tortoise heaves up the sod under which he is buried."

"Timothy the tortoise heaves-up the earth."

"Timothy the tortoise roused himself from his winter-slumbers and came forth."

No other news in Selborne? No mad dog a-biting? No cow a-springing on a barn floor? What makes my rising momentous to anyone but me?

I have seen these humans in their disarray. Far more common than any finery. Hair wrung into knots. Stockings fallen. Skirts clotted with mud and manure. Eyes, noses red from fist-rubbings, coarsening wind. Eruptions on rough hands from hop-picking. Itching tumors from harvest-bugs. Jaws tied up with the tooth-ache, the head-ache. Faces choked with drink, sweat, sleep, stupidity, confusions of the rut. Such a bulk of being to regulate. Disorder stalks them day and night. They stalk it back.

But I. Consider that I have no hair, no fur, no raiment to disarrange. No silver-trimmed livery-hat to hang on a peg, like Thomas. No grizzle wig to keep free of lice. No hog'd breeches or cambric shirt-bosom to be worked by Mrs. Roill. No shoes to keep soled and blacked. No buckles to polish or under-garments to fetter the nose.

Excerpted from Timothy; or, Notes of an Abject Reptile by Verlyn Klinkenborg Copyright © 2006 by Verlyn Klinkenborg. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, 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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