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Like his brother, Pierrot had the knack of depriving his lines of any sense. He intoned a roll call of words: “Do-you-think-you-can-escape-from-my-clutches?” All present and correct.
“It’s a question,” Briony cut in. “Don nike air max 1 ’t you see? It goes up at the end.”
“What do you mean?”
“There. You just did it. You start low and end high. It’s a question.”
He swallowed hard, drew a breath and made another attempt, producing this time a roll call on a rising chromatic scale.
“At the end. It goes up at the end!”
Now came a roll call on the old monotone, with a break of register, a yodel, on the final syllable.
Lola had come to the nursery that morning in the guise of the adult she considered herself at heart to be. She wore pleated flannel trousers that ballooned at the hips and flared at the ankle, and a short-sleeved sweater made of cashmere. Other tokens of maturity included a velvet choker of tiny pearls, the ginger tresses gathered at the nape and secured with an emerald clasp, three loose silver bracelets around a freckled wrist, and the fact that whenever she moved, the air about her tasted of rosewater. Her condescension, being wholly restrained, was all the more potent. She was coolly responsive to Briony’s suggestions, spoke her lines, which she se nike air max emed to have learned overnight, with sufficient expression, and was gently encouraging to her little brother, without encroaching at all on the director’s authority. It was as if Cecilia, or even their mother, had agreed to spend some time with the little ones by taking on a role in the play, and was determined not to let a trace of boredom show. What was missing was any demonstration of ragged, childish enthusias cheap air max m. When Briony had shown her cousins the sales booth and the collection box the evening before, the twins had fought each other for the best front-of-house roles, but Lola had crossed her arms and paid decorous, grown-up compliments through a half smile that was too opaque for the detection of irony.
“How marvelous. How awfully clever of you, Briony, to think of that. Did you really make it all by yourself?”
Briony suspected that behind her older cousin’s perfect manners was a destructive intent. Perhaps Lola was relying on the twins to wreck the play innocently, and needed only to stand back and observe.
These unprovable suspicions, Jackson’s detainment in the laundry, Pierrot’s wretched delivery and the morning’s colossal heat were oppressive to Briony. It bothered her too when she noticed Danny Hardman watching from the nike air max classic doorway. He had to be asked to leave. She could not penetrate Lola’s detachment or coax from Pierrot the common inflections of everyday speech. What a relief, then, suddenly to find herself alone in the nursery. Lola had said she needed to reconsider her hair, and her brother had wandered off down the corridor, to the lavatory, or beyond.
Briony sat on the floor with her back to one of the tall built-in toy cupboards and fanned her face with the pages of her play. The silence in the house was complete—no voices or footfalls downstairs, no murmurs from the plumbing; in the space between one of the open sash windows a trapped fly had abandoned its struggle, and outside, the liquid birdsong had evaporated in the heat. She pushed her knees out straight before her and let the folds of her white muslin dress and the familiar, end cheap nike air max earing, pucker of skin about her knees fill her view. She should have changed her dress this morning. She thought how she should take more care of her appearance, like Lola. It was childish not to. But what an effort it was. The silence hissed in her ears and her vision was faintly distorted—her hands in her lap appeared unusually large and at the same time remote, as though viewed across an immense distance. She raised one hand and flexed its fingers and wondered, as she had sometimes before, how this thing, this machine for gripping, this fleshy spider on the end of her arm, came to be hers, entirely at her command. Or did it have some little life of its own? She bent her finger and straightened it. The mystery was in the instant before it moved, the dividing moment between not moving and moving, when her intention took e nike air max 90 sale ffect. It was like a wave breaking. If she could only find herself at the crest, she thought, she might find the secret of herself, that part of her that was really in charge. She brought her forefinger closer to her face and stared at it, urging it to move. It remained still because she was pretending, she was not entirely serious, and because willing it to move, or being about to move it, was not the same as actually moving it. And when she did crook it finally, the action seemed to start in the finger itself, not in some part of her mind. When did it know to move, when did she know to move it? There was no catching herself out. It was either-or. There was no stitching, no seam, and yet she knew that behind the smooth continuous fabric was the real self—was it her soul?—which took the decision to cease pretending, and gav cheap nike air max trainers e the final command.
These thoughts were as familiar to her, and as comforting, as the precise configuration of her knees, their matching but competing, symmetrical and reversible, look. A second thought always followed the first, one mystery bred another: Was everyone else really as alive as she was? For example, did her sister really matter to herself, was she as valuable to herself as Briony was? Was being Cecilia just as vivid an affair as being Briony? Did her sister also have a real self concealed behind a breaking wave, and did she spend time thinking about it, with a finger held up to her face? Did everybody, including her father, Betty, Hardman? If the answer was yes, then the world, the social world, was unbearably complicated, with two billion voices, and everyone’s thoughts striving in equal importance and every cheap nike air max one’s claim on life as intense, and everyone thinking they were unique, when no one was. One could drown in irrelevance. But if the answer was no, then Briony was surrounded by machines, intelligent and pleasant enough on the outside, but lacking the bright and private inside feeling she had. This was sinister and lonely, as well as unlikely. For, though it offended her sense of order, she knew it was overwhelmingly probable that everyone else had thoughts like hers. She knew this, but only in a rather arid way; she didn’t really feel it.
The rehearsals also offended her sense of order. The self-contained world she had drawn with clear and perfect lines had been defaced with the scribble of other minds, other needs; and time itself, so easily sectioned on paper into acts and scenes, was even now dribbling uncontrollably awa y. Perhaps she wouldn’t get Jackson back until after lunch. Leon and his friend were arriving in the early evening, or even sooner, and the performance was set for seven o’clock. And still there had been no proper rehearsal, and the twins could not act, or even speak, and Lola had stolen Briony’s rightful role, and nothing could be managed, and it was hot, ludicrously hot. The girl squirmed in her oppression and stood. Dust from along the skirting board had dirtied her hands and the back of her dress. Away in her thoughts, she wiped her palms down her front as she went toward the window. The simplest way to have impressed Leon would have been to write him a story and put it in his hands herself, and watch as he read it. The title lettering, the illustrated cover, the pages bound—in that word alone she felt the attraction of the neat, limited and controllable form she had left behind when she decided to write a play. A story was direct and simple, allowing nothing to come between herself and her reader—no intermediaries with their private ambitions or incompetence, no pressures of time, no limits on resources. In a story you only had to wish, you only had to write it down and you could have the world; in a play you had to make do with what was available: no horses, no village streets, no seaside. No curtain. It seemed so obvious now that it was too late: a story was a form of telepathy. By means of inking symbols onto a page, she was able to send thoughts and feelings from her mind to her reader’s. It was a magical process, so commonplace that no one stopped to wonder at it. Reading a sentence and understanding it were the same thing; as with the crooking of a finger, nothing lay between them. There was no gap during which the symbols were unraveled. You saw the word castle, and it was there, seen from some distance, with woods in high summer spread before it, the air bluish and soft with smoke rising from the blacksmith’s forge, and a cobbled road twisting away into the green shade . . .
She had arrived at one of the nursery’s wide-open windows and must have seen what lay before her some seconds before she registered it. It was a scene that could easily have accommodated, in the distance at least, a medieval castle. Some miles beyond the Tallises’ land rose the Surrey Hills and their motionless crowds of thick crested oaks, their greens softened by a milky heat haze. Then, nearer, the estate’s open parkland, which today had a dry and savage look, roasting like a savanna, where isolated trees threw harsh stumpy shadows and the long grass was already stalked by the leonine yellow of high summer. Closer, within the boundaries of the balustrade, were the rose gardens and, nearer still, the Triton fountain, and standing by the basin’s retaining wall was her sister, and right before her was Robbie Turner. There was something rather formal about the way he stood, feet apart, head held back. A proposal of marriage. Briony would not have been surprised. She herself had written a tale in which a humble woodcutter saved a princess from drowning and ended by marrying her. What was presented here fitted well. Robbie Turner, only son of a humble cleaning lady and of no known father, Robbie who had been subsidized by Briony’s father through school and university, had wanted to be a landscape gardener, and now wanted to take up medicine, had the boldness of ambition to ask for Cecilia’s hand. It made perfect sense. Such leaps across boundaries were the stuff of daily romance.
What was less comprehensible, however, was how Robbie imperiously raised his hand now, as though issuing a command which Cecilia dared not disobey. It was extraordinary that she was unable to resist him. At his insistence she was removing her clothes, and at such speed. She was out of her blouse, now she had let her skirt drop to the ground and was stepping out of it, while he looked on impatiently, hands on hips. What strange power did he have over her? Blackmail? Threats? Briony raised two hands to her face and stepped back a little way from the window. She should shut her eyes, she thought, and spare herself the sight of her sister’s shame. But that was impossible, because there were further surprises. Cecilia, mercifully still in her underwear, was climbing into the pond, was standing waist deep in the water, was pinching her nose—and then she was gone. There was only Robbie, and the clothes on the gravel, and beyond, the silent park and the distant, blue hills.
The sequence was illogical—the drowning scene, followed by a rescue, should have preceded the marriage proposal. Such was Briony’s last thought before she accepted that she did not understand, and that she must simply watch. Unseen, from two sto nike air max 95 ries up, with the benefit of unambiguous sunlight, she had privileged access across the years to adult behavior, to rites and conventions she knew nothing about, as yet. Clearly, these were the kinds of things that happened. Even as her sister’s head broke the surface—thank God!—Briony had her first, weak intimation that for her now it could no longer be fairy-tale castles and princesses, but the strangeness of the here and now, of what passed between people, the ordinary people that she knew, and what power one could have over the other, and how easy it was to get everything wrong, completely wrong. Cecilia had climbed out of the pond and was fixing her skirt, and with difficulty pulling her blouse on over her wet skin. She turned abruptly and picked up from the deep shade of the fountain’s wall a vase of flowers Briony had not noticed before, and set off with it toward the house. No words were exchanged with Robbie, not a glance in his direction. He was now staring into the water, and then he too was striding away, no doubt satisfied, round the nike air max 90 side of the house. Suddenly the scene was empty; the wet patch on the ground where Cecilia had got out of the pond was the only evidence that anything had happened at all.
Briony leaned back against a wall and stared unseeingly down the nursery’s length. It was a temptation for her to be magical and dramatic, and to regard what she had witnessed as a tableau mounted for her alone, a special moral for her wrapped in a mystery. But she knew very well that if she had not stood when she did, the scene woul cheap nike air max d still have happened, for it was not about her at all. Only chance had brought her to the window. This was not a fairy tale, this was the real, the adult world in which frogs did not address princesses, and the only messages were the ones that people sent. It was also a temptation to run to Cecilia’s room and demand an explanation. Briony resisted because she wanted to chase in solitude the faint thrill of possibility she had felt before, the elusive excitement at a prospect she was coming close to defining, at least emotionally. The definition would refine itself over the years. She was to concede that she may have attributed more deliberation than was feasible to her thirteen-year-old self. At the time there may have been no precise form of words; in fact, she may have experienced nothing more than impatience to begin writing again.
As she stood in the nursery waiting for her cousins’ return she sensed she could write a scene like the one by the f nike air max sale ountain and she could include a hidden observer like herself. She could imagine herself hurrying down now to her bedroom, to a clean block of lined paper and her marbled, Bakelite fountain pen. She could see the simple sentences, the accumulating telepathic symbols, unfurling at the nib’s end. She could write the scene three times over, from three points of view; her excitement was in the prospect of freedom, of being delivered from the cumbrous struggle between good and bad, heroes and villains. None of these three was bad, nor were they particularly good. She need not judge. There did not have to be a moral. She need only show separate minds, as alive as her own, struggling with the idea that other minds were equally alive. It wasn’t only wickedness and scheming that made people unhappy, it was confusion and misunderstanding; above all, it was the failure to grasp the simple truth that other people are as real as you. And only in a story could you enter these different minds and show how they had an equal value. That was the only moral a story need have.
Six decades later she nike air max would describe how at the age of thirteen she had written her way through a whole history of literature, beginning with stories derived from the European tradition of folktales, through drama with simple moral intent, to arrive at an impartial psychological realism which she had discovered for herself, one special morning during a heat wave in 1935. She would be well aware of the extent of her self-mythologizing, and she gave her account a self-mocking, or mock-heroic tone. Her fiction was known for its amorality, and like all authors pressed by a repeated question, she felt obliged to produce a story line, a plot of her development that contained the moment when she became recognizably herself. She knew that it was not correct to refer to her dramas in the plural, that her mockery distanced her from the earnest, reflective child, and that it was not the long-ago morning she was recalling so much as her subsequent accounts of it. It was possible that the contemplation of a crooked finger, the unbearable idea of other minds and the superiority of stories over plays were thoughts she had had on other days. She also knew that whatever actually happened drew its significance from her published work and would not have been remembered without it.
However, she could not betray herself completely; there could be no doubt that some kind of revelation occurred. When the young girl went back to the window and looked down, the damp patch on the gravel had evaporated. Now there was nothing left of the dumb show by the fountain beyond what survived in memory, in three separate and overlapping memories. The truth had become as ghostly as invention. She could begin now, setting it down as she had seen it, meeting the challenge by refusing to condemn her sister’s shocking near-nakedness, in daylight, right by the house. Then the scene could be recast, through Cecilia’s eyes, and then Robbie’s. But now was not the time to begin. Briony’s sense of obligation, as well as her instinct for order, was powerful; she must complete what she had initiated, there was a rehearsal in progress, Leon was on his way, the household was expecting a performance tonight. She should go down once more to the laundry to see whether the trials of Jackson were at an end. The writing could wait until she was free. ③

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