I said, “Oh. In Byron’s war.” “Byron’s war?” said my father. “What makes you call it that? Byron didn’t fight in any war. He died of typhus. Then he’s dead, he’s the big hero, he died for the Greeks and so on.” He said this contentiously, as if I had been one of those responsible for this mistake, this big fuss over Byron. But then he calmed down and recounted for me or recalled for himself the progress of the war against the Ottoman Empire. He spoke of the Porte and I wanted to say that I’ve never been sure if that was an actual gate, or was it Constantinople, or the Sultan’s court? But it’s always best not to interrupt. When he starts to talk like this there’s the sense of a truce, or a breathing spell, in an undeclared underground war. I was sitting facing the window, and I could see through the net curtains the heaps of yellow-brown leaves on the ground in the rich generous sunlight (maybe the last of those days we’ll get for a long while by the sound of the wind tonight) and it brought to mind my relief as a child, my secret pleasure, whenever I could get him going, by
a question or by accident, on a spiel like this. Earthquakes, for instance. They happen in the volcanic ridges but one of the biggest was right in the middle of the continent, in New Madrid (pronounced “New Mad - rid,” mind you) in Missouri, in 1811. I know that from him. Rift valleys. Instability that there is no sign of on the surface. Caverns formed in limestone, water under the earth, mountains that given enough time wear away to rubble. Also numbers. I asked him about numbers once and he said, Well, they’re called the arabic numerals, aren’t they, any fool knows that. But the Greeks could have managed a good system, he went on to say, the Greeks could have done it, only they didn’t have the concept of zero. Concept of zero. I put that away in my mind like a package on a shelf, to open someday. If Mrs. B. was with us there was of course no hope of getting anything like this out of him. Never mind, he would say, eat your meal. As if any question I asked had an ulterior motive, and I suppose it did. I was angling to direct the conversation. And it wasn’t polite to leave Mrs. B. out. So it was her attitude to what caused earthquakes, or the history of numbers (an attitude not just of indifference but of contempt) that had to be deferred to, had to reign supreme. So we come round to Mrs. B. again. In the present, Mrs. B. I came in last night at about ten o’clock. I’d been out at a meet ing of the Historical Society, or at least at a meeting to try and organize one. Five people showed up and two of them walked with canes. When I opened the kitchen door I saw Mrs. B. framed in the doorway to the back hall — the hall that leads from the office to the washroom and the front part of the house.
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- Spring '15
- good woman, CECE, cece ferns, Mr. Willens