Stirring : A Literary Collection

Norman Lock


He had gone to Vienna to study the language of dreams, he said. And crossing the Ligurian Sea on his return to Africa, he had fallen in love with a woman whose parasol he now kept in his tent because -- he smiled shyly -- he was devoted to the delicate curve of its handle, its pale-green skirt. We hated him: Carlson, for his eyes that would mist ludicrously (at the thought, no doubt, of her, his Ligurian lady); McKay, for the presumption of his claim to mysterious realms from which we were excluded; and I -- for no other reason that I was sick of Africa, of our “work” there, and peevish that for months I had dreamt nothing more fruitful of interpretation than a mountain of dried elephant dung!

And so we walked into the jungle -- Carlson, McKay, and I -- each by a different path, so as not to make him suspicious, and met at Njoro on the edge of the Mau escarpment to discuss how he could best be dealt with.

“We could cut open the belly of a hippo and sew it up again with him inside,” suggested Carlson.

“A dead hippo?” I asked.

“Makes no difference.”

“We could throw him over the escarpment,” McKay proposed.

“He is too light,” said Carlson, who did not have to say more.

“Tie rocks to him first, then --”

McKay heaved, in pantomime.

“How about doing something painful with a slotted spoon?” mused Carlson.

I thought their methods crude and said so.

"What would you do then?” they chided.

I had no idea though I wondered aloud if a man mightn’t be tickled todeath. Neither Carlson nor McKay deigned to consider this further.

“I am here merely as an observer!” I protested, and set about immediately observing the distant Kitanga Hills.

In the end they decided to destroy the pale-green parasol.

“It’s a start,” said Carlson.

“It’ll show him how we feel,” McKay agreed.

“He will take it hard,” I said, “considering the strength of his attachment.”

“Fetishist!” McKay hissed with a cruelty that made even me shiver.

Carlson leaned over the escarpment and vomited “in disgust!”

That night while the Object of Our Hatred slept (dreaming his exquisite dreams!), we crept into his tent and stole the parasol, which by moonlight looked gray and unattractive. In spite of ourselves, we laid it carefully in the porters’ fire as if it were more than wood, metal ribs, and silk. As if it were talismanic!

“He must see it burn,” said Carlson.

McKay got his Springfield and let go a blast into the air, killing a porter by accident.

“A damned shame!” McKay cried fiercely.

“Cheer up!” said the always affable Carlson. “We can get another tomorrow.”

Meanwhile the Object of Our Hatred (whom I have taken an oath never to name) rushed into the clearing in his white nightshirt and cap, looking in the moonlight that was general throughout the region like a (what else?) ghost -- hurried, I say, into the clearing in time to see his beloved Ligurian parasol blacken and curl.

“It would have been better had you murdered me!”

Then, gnashing his teeth, he threw handfuls of earth into the air.

And wept.

We thought he was behaving shamelessly and determined to put an end to his miserable life.

(No! I tell you I am sworn to secrecy! Do not ask me his name again!)

While Carlson went to his tent for a rope with which to bind and deliver the Object of Our Hatred to the Mau escarpment and so hurl him, weighted, into oblivion, he -- most reprehensible of men, this dreaming idolater! -- picked what remained of the parasol out of the fire and besmirched himself head to foot with its soot, leaving marks whose meaning we could not guess.

Unless -- as McKay later said -- they were “the language of dreams.”

(What of the dead porter, you ask? We had no time to consider him!)

“The man’s insane!” cried Carlson, having returned with a rope.

“It’s better we hang him here and now,” suggested McKay. “To prevent needless suffering while we drag him through the jungle.”

And we did, or rather Carlson and McKay did. I merely observed.

(You thought he would fly away? Whatever gave you that idea? It was the dead porter who ascended, festooned with all his belongings as is their custom.)

That night I dreamt once more of the mountain of elephant dung.

Publications: Literal Latte, Stirring V2:E8, Archipelago, The Barcelona Review, The Cream City Review, Elimae, The Iowa Review, The Literary Review, New Letters, The North American Review, The Paris Review
Awards: The Aga Kahn Prize given by The Paris Review

Stirring : A Literary Collection

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