zingmagazine10 autumn 1999







about zing


8 poets making it new
generation z
lutwidge finch
the back of beyond

He planted the point into the ground next to them and sat, holding onto the knob that rose between his legs in a way that irresistibly reminded one of a child on a hobbyhorse.
“It is rare to see you in the morning,” Choir said.

“I took the day off,” the old man answered. “As I age, I find life competes even more fiercely with fiction. Time was when my creations were rich enough to keep me living in them twenty-four hours a day. I would only go through the motions of eating and drinking, sleeping and waking. All the while I was really with my characters, herding them across streams, helping them climb rock-faces, encouraging them to commit murder or make love. Now, I seem to see all that happening around me, in what I believe is called ’real life’, and what I write is, by comparison, dry and insubstantial, though no less interesting for that.”

He cared not that the two young people looked at him as if he had just recited a poem in Jugoslavian. He was quite content this morning, sexually satiated for once, after his night with Doris, freed both from the gnawing demands of the flesh as well as the more subtly ingrained habit of working each day. He felt in a book. That was what he had been trying to explain. The Home For Retired Novelists, he mused, riding his wooden horse, would consist of a book in which one was a minor character, observing and commenting on the action from a safe distance, with the occasional compliant maid thrown in.

“Ah, here we go,” the Earl said, disengaging himself from Miss Ethyl and rubbing his hands.

A large burlap sack was produced and torn into strips. The contestants paired off, linked arms, and raised their adjacent ankles like chorus girls. The strips were applied twice on each, at the ankle and knee, and knotted securely so that between them they had only three legs.

“One could view this as a metaphor,” Mister MacIntyre said idly, not sure himself if he was referring to the contestants or the ill-suited couple before him. “People bound together in a way that diminishes, not combines, their strength. Or one can look at it as the soul and the body, capitol and labor, nature and nurture, yoked awkwardly--”

“Tighten that knot!” Choir ordered, pointing with his cane to the last couple. “Got to watch out,” he explained to Miss Ethyl. “Can’t allow these boys any freedom of movement. Give them an inch they’ll take a yard, so to speak.”

The race itself was a disappointment for the Earl. His judgement of the prepubescent calf proved sound, in that the team of Jimmy and his brother burst into the lead, flailing their way forward like a pair of drunken sailors trying to reach their ship before it sailed, but three-quarters of the way through, the houseboy’s knee gave out. He fell to the ground, dragging his partner with him, and had to be tended by onlookers.

“Hard cheese,” Mister MacIntyre sympathized, taking the Earl’s tendered note.

“I do not understand it,” Choir grumbled. “They were champions of the village just last week. Now he seems to have come up lame.”

“Injuries and accidents,” Mister MacIntyre said, spying Doris massaging her young brother’s leg, “are what make life a sporting proposition.”

Of course a little inside information never hurt, he added silently.

“Look,” Miss Ethyl pointed. “Isn’t that Mr. Finch?”

“So it is.” The Earl waved his stick. “Lutwidge! What ho!”

“He did not hear you.”

“On his way to the Reviewing Stand, no doubt,” Mister MacIntyre nodded sagely. He had a knack for divining. Incorrect divinations, more often than not, but his age and the serene confidence with which he uttered them gave his judgements the air of prophecy.

“We best be going there as well,” Choir sighed. “I promised to stand in for the Baron and award the ribbon for Prize Sow.”

Surely she had not sprinkled perfume on the pages, that would be too cruel. Her notepaper must be scented. But no, it was simply the paper one found in one’s room, plain sheets with an engraving of the Hall. The lingering smell must come from her touch alone. Lutwidge resisted the urge to remove the sheets from his pocket again, for then he would have to reread them, which would be doubly painful both for what they said as well as deciphering the tortured, crabbed script, as if some arthritis of emotion had afflicted her hand.

The fair spun around him, emblem of summer’s easy grace turned suddenly sordid and chaotic. He stepped in something, looked down, mechanically wiped his shoe clean on the grass--a beast with its hoof, he thought--and passed on, out of the crowd now, into town itself. There were screams behind him, screams of pleasure, pain, what did it matter? Vaguely he knew he was due somewhere, expected, as always. He discharged his obligations faithfully, reliable as a clock, a “perfect gentleman” indeed! Lutwidge Finch, that’s who I am, he remembered. He had forgotten, for a blessed moment.

A black carriage stood parked beside the Town Hall. Finch took it in as emptily as he did everything else: the unheeded greetings, the deserted street, his two insane feet continuing to progress. Where? Oh yes, Colonel Carter’s wedding, where he had agreed to be best man. The hollow in his chest. And this damned scent, some strange olfactory hallucination, cloyingly intense, her perfume seeping from the envelope, permeating his clothes, his soul. “I have lost her,” he said, trying to make it seem less tragic by putting it in simple words, spoken aloud. The black carriage, where had he seen that before? It was in the Park, meeting with the Baroness that first time, to speak of Her. How pathetic his propriety seemed now, his asking if there were any relatives or guardians to approach. The carriage and...that unsettling episode he and the Baroness had witnessed but never discussed. No, it could not be the same coach. Not here. He turned to see if it was, and startled, coming out of the shuttered, cloaked interior (yes, it was the same, with that ornate top and that glossy team of black Arabians) none other than Inspector Jenkins, still wearing his mouse-colored trench coat. The Inspector scowled and did not greet Lutwidge but quickly walked off, as if hoping he had not been seen.