Originally published in The Evergreen Review Issue 10 in 1959, and featured 50 years later in issue 119 in August, 2009.
Sea scarcely audible.
HENRY'S boots on shingle. He halts.
Sea a little louder.
HENRY On. (Sea. Voice louder.) On! (He moves on. Boots on shingle. As he goes.) Stop. (Boots on shingle. As he goes, louder.) Stop! (He halts. Sea a little louder.) Down. (Sea. Voice louder.) Down! (Slither of shingle as he sits. Sea, still faint, audible throughout what follows whenever pause indicated.) Who is beside me now? (Pause.) An old man, blind and foolish. (Pause.) My father, back from the dead, to be with me. (Pause.) As if he hadn't died. (Pause.) No, simply back from the dead, to be with me, in this strange place. (Pause.) Can he hear me? (Pause.) Yes, he must hear me. (Pause.) To answer me? (Pause.) No, he doesn't answer me. (Pause.) Just be with me. (Pause.) That sound you hear is the sea. (Pause. Louder.) I say that sound you hear is the sea, we are sitting on the strand. (Pause.) I mention it because the sound is so strange, so unlike the sound of the sea, that if you didn't see what it was you wouldn't know what it was. (Pause.) Hooves! (Pause. Louder.) Hooves! (Sound of hooves walking on hard road. They die rapidly away. Pause.) Again! (Hooves as before. Pause. Excitedly.) Train it to mark time! Shoe it with steel and tie it up in the yard, have it stamp all day! (Pause.) A ten ton mammoth back from the dead, shoe it with steel and have it tramp the world down! (Pause.) Listen to it! (Pause.) Listen to the light now, you always loved light, not long past noon and all the shore in shadow and the sea out as far as the island. (Pause.) You would never live this side of the bay, you wanted the sun on the water for that evening bathe you took once too often. But when I got your money I moved across, as perhaps you may know. (Pause.) We never found your body, you know, that held up probate an unconscionable time, they said there was nothing to prove you hadn't run away from us all and alive and well under a false name in the Argentine for example, that grieved mother greatly. (Pause.) I'm like you in that, can't stay away from it, but I never go in, no, I think the last time I went in was with you. (Pause.) Just be near it. (Pause.) Today it's calm, but I often hear it above in the house and walking the roads and start talking, oh just loud enough to drown it, nobody notices. (Pause.) But I'd be talking now no matter where I was, I once went to Switzerland to get away from the cursed thing and never stopped all the time I was there. (Pause.) I usen't to need anyone, just to myself, stories, there was a great one about an old fellow called Bolton, I never finished it, I never finished any of them, I never finished anything, everything always went on for ever. (Pause.) Bolton. (Pause. Louder.) Bolton! (Pause.) There before the fire. (Pause.) Before the fire with all the shutters . . . no, hangings, hangings, all the hangings drawn and the light, no light, only the light of the fire, sitting there in the . . . no, standing, standing there on the hearthrug in the dark before the fire with his arms on the chimney-piece and his head on his arms, standing there waiting in the dark before the fire in his old red dressing-gown and no sound in the house of any kind, only the sound of the fire. (Pause.) Standing there in his old red dressing-gown might go on fire any minute like when he was a child, no, that was his pyjamas, standing there waiting in the dark, no light, only the light of the fire, and no sound of any kind, only the fire, an old man in great trouble. (Pause.) Ring then at the door and over he goes to the window and looks out between the hangings, fine old chap, very big and strong, bright winter's night, snow everywhere, bitter cold, white world, cedar boughs bending under load, and then as the arm goes up to ring again recognizes . . . Holloway . . . (long pause) . . . yes, Holloway, recognizes Holloway, goes down and opens. (Pause.) Outside all still, not a sound, dog's chain maybe or a bough groaning if you stood there listening long enough, white world, Holloway with his little black bag, not a sound, bitter cold, full moon small and white, crooked trail of Holloway's galoshes, Vega in the Lyre very green. (Pause.) Vega in the Lyre very green. (Pause.) Following conversation then on the step, no, in the room, back in the room, following conversation then back in the room, Holloway: "My dear Bolton, it is now past midnight, if you would be good enough—", gets no further, Bolton: "Please! PLEASE!" Dead silence then, not a sound, only the fire, all coal, burning down now, Holloway on the hearthrug trying to toast his arse, Bolton, where's Bolton, no light, only the fire, Bolton at the window, his back to the hangings, holding them a little apart with his hand, looking out, white world, even the spire, white to the vane, most unusual, silence in the house, not a sound, only the fire, no flames now, embers. (Pause.) Embers. (Pause.) Shifting, lapsing, furtive like, dreadful sound, Holloway on the rug, fine old chap, six foot, burly, legs apart, hands behind his back holding up the tails of his old macfarlane, Bolton at the window, grand old figure in his old red dressing-gown, back against the hangings, hand stretched out widening the chink, looking out, white world, great trouble, not a sound, only the embers, sound of dying, dying glow, Holloway, Bolton, Bolton, Holloway, old men, great trouble, white world, not a sound. (Pause.) Listen to it! (Pause.) Close your eyes and listen to it, what would you think it was? (Pause. Vehement.) A drip! A drip! (Sound of drip, rapidly amplified, suddenly cut off.) Again! (Drip again. Amplification begins.) No! (Drip cut off. Pause.) Father! (Pause. Agitated.) Stories, stories, years and years of stories, till the need came on me, for someone, to be with me, anyone, a stranger, to talk to, imagine he hears me, years of that, and then, now, for someone who . . . knew me, in the old days, anyone, to be with me, imagine he hears me, what I am, now. (Pause.) No good either. (Pause.) Not there either. (Pause.) Try again. (Pause.) White world, not a sound. (Pause.) Holloway. (Pause.) Holloway says he'll go, damned if he'll sit up all night before a black grate, doesn't understand, call a man out, an old friend, in the cold and dark, an old friend, urgent need, bring the bag, then not a word, no explanation, no heat, no light, Bolton: "Please! PLEASE!", Holloway, no refreshment, no welcome, chilled to the medulla, catch his death, can't understand, strange treatment, old friend, says he'll go, doesn't move, not a sound, fire dying, white beam from window, ghastly scene, wishes to God he hadn't come, no good, fire out, bitter cold, great trouble, white world, not a sound, no good. (Pause.) No good. (Pause.) Can't do it. (Pause.) Listen to it! (Pause.) Father! (Pause.) You wouldn't know me now, you'd be sorry you ever had me, but you were that already, a washout, that's the last I heard from you, a washout. (Pause. Imitating father's voice.) "Are you coming for a dip?" "No." "Come on, come on." "No." Glare, stump to door, turn, glare. "A washout, that's all you are, a washout!" (Violent slam of door. Pause.) Again! (Slam. Pause.) Slam life shut like that! (Pause.) Washout. (Pause.) Wish to Christ she had. (Pause.) Never met Ada, did you, or did you, I can't remember, no matter, no one'd know her now. (Pause.) What turned her against me do you think, the child I suppose, horrid little creature, wish to God we'd never had her, I used to walk with her in the fields, Jesus that was awful, she wouldn't let go my hand and I mad to talk. "Run along now, Addie, and look at the lambs." (Imitating ADDIE'S voice.) "No papa." "Go on now, go on." (Plaintive.) "No papa." (Violent.) "Go on with you now when you're told and look at the lambs!" (ADDIE'S loud wail. Pause.) Ada too, conversation with her, that was something, that's what hell will be like, small chat to the babbling of Lethe about the good old days when we wished we were dead. (Pause.) Price of margarine fifty years ago. (Pause.) And now. (Pause. With solemn indignation.) Price of blueband now! (Pause.) Father! (Pause.) Tired of talking to you. (Pause.) That was always the way, walk all over the mountains with you talking and talking and then suddenly mum and home in misery and not a word to a soul for weeks, sulky little bastard, better off dead, better off dead. (Long pause.) Ada. (Pause. Louder.) Ada!
ADA (low remote voice throughout). Yes.
HENRY Have you been there long?
ADA Some little time. (Pause.) Why do you stop, don't mind me. (Pause.) Do you want me to go away? (Pause.) Where is Addie?
HENRY With her music master. (Pause.) Are you going to answer me today?
ADA You shouldn't be sitting on the cold stones, they're bad for your growths. Raise yourself up till I slip my shawl under you. (Pause.) Is that better?
HENRY No comparison, no comparison. (Pause.) Are you going to sit down beside me?
ADA Yes. (No sound as she sits.) Like that? (Pause.) Or do you prefer like that? (Pause.) You don't care. (Pause.) Chilly enough I imagine, I hope you put on your jaegers. (Pause.) Did you put on your jaegers, Henry?
HENRY What happened was this, I put them on and then I took them off again and then I put them on again and then I took them off again and then I took them on again and then I—
ADA Have you them on now?
HENRY I don't know. (Pause.) Hooves! (Pause. Louder.) Hooves! (Sound of hooves walking on hard road. They die rapidly away.) Again!
Hooves as before. Pause.
ADA Did you hear them?
HENRY Not well.
HENRY No. (Pause.) Could a horse mark time?
ADA I'm not sure that I know what you mean.
HENRY (irritably). Could a horse be trained to stand still and mark time with its four legs?
ADA Oh. (Pause.) The ones I used to fancy all did. (She laughs. Pause.) Laugh, Henry, it's not every day I crack a joke. (Pause.) Laugh, Henry, do that for me.
HENRY You wish me to laugh?
ADA You laughed so charmingly once, I think that's what first attracted me to you. That and your smile. (Pause.) Come on, it will be like old times.
Pause. He tries to laugh, fails.
HENRY Perhaps I should begin with the smile. (Pause for smile.) Did that attract you? (Pause.) Now I'll try again. (Long horrible laugh.) Any of the old charm there?
ADA Oh Henry!
HENRY Listen to it! (Pause.) Lips and claws! (Pause.) Get away from it! Where it couldn't get at me! The Pampas! What?
ADA Calm yourself.
HENRY And I live on the brink of it! Why? Professional obligations? (Brief laugh.) Reasons of health? (Brief laugh.) Family ties? (Brief laugh.) A woman? (Laugh in which she joins.) Some old grave I cannot tear myself away from? (Pause.) Listen to it! What is it like?
ADA It is like an old sound I used to hear. (Pause.) It is like another time, in the same place. (Pause.) It was rough, the spray came flying over us. (Pause.) Strange it should have been rough then. (Pause.) And calm now.
HENRY Let us get up and go.
ADA Go? Where? And Addie? She would be very distressed if she came and found you had gone without her. (Pause.) What do you suppose is keeping her?
Smart blow of cylindrical ruler on piano case. Unsteadily, ascending and descending, ADDIE plays scale of A Flat Major, hands first together, then reversed. Pause.
MUSIC MASTER (Italian accent). Santa Cecilia!
ADDIE Will I play my piece now please?
Pause. MUSIC MASTER beats two bars of waltz time with ruler on piano case. ADDIE plays opening bars of Chopin's 5th Waltz in A Flat Major, MUSIC MASTER beating time lightly with ruler as she plays. In first chord of bass, bar 5, she plays E instead of F. Resounding blow of ruler on piano case. ADDIE stops playing.
MUSIC MASTER (violently). Fa!
ADDIE (tearfully). What?
MUSIC MASTER (violently). Eff! Eff!
ADDIE (tearfully). Where?
MUSIC MASTER (violently). Qua! (He thumps note.) Fa!
Pause. ADDIE begins again, MUSIC MASTER beating time lightly with ruler. When she comes to bar 5 she makes same mistake. Tremendous blow of ruler on piano case. ADDIE stops playing, begins to wail.
MUSIC MASTER (frenziedly). Eff! Eff! (He hammers note.) Eff! (He hammers note.) Eff!
Hammered note, "eff!" and ADDIE'S wail amplified to paroxysm, then suddenly cut off. Pause.
ADA You are silent today.
HENRY It was not enough to drag her into the world, now she must play the piano.
ADA She must learn. She shall learn. That—and riding.
RIDING MASTER Now Miss! Elbows in Miss! Hands down Miss! (Hooves trotting.) Now Miss! Back straight Miss! Knees in Miss! (Hooves cantering.) Now Miss! Tummy in Miss! Chin up Miss! (Hooves galloping.) Now Miss! Eyes front Miss! (ADDIE begins to wail.) Now Miss! Now Miss!
Galloping hooves, "now Miss!" and ADDIE'S wail amplified to paroxysm, then suddenly cut off. Pause.
ADA What are you thinking of? (Pause.) I was never taught, until it was too late. All my life I regretted it.
HENRY What was your strong point, I forget.
ADA Oh . . . geometry I suppose, plane and solid. (Pause.) First plane, then solid. (Shingle as he gets up.) Why do you get up?
HENRY I thought I might try and get as far as the water's edge. (Pause. With a sigh.) And back. (Pause.) Stretch my old bones.
ADA Well why don't you? (Pause.) Don't stand there thinking about it. (Pause.) Don't stand there staring. (Pause. He goes towards sea. Boots on shingle, say ten steps. He halts at water's edge. Pause. Sea a little louder. Distant.) Don't wet your good boots.
HENRY Don't, don't . . .
Sea suddenly rough.
ADA (twenty years earlier, imploring). Don't! Don't!
HENRY (do., urgent). Darling!
ADA (do., more feebly). Don't!
HENRY (do., exultantly). Darling!
Rough sea. ADA cries out. Cry and sea amplified, cut off. End of evocation. Pause. Sea calm. He goes back up deeply shelving beach. Boots laborious on shingle. He halts. Pause. He moves on. He halts. Pause. Sea calm and faint.
ADA Don't stand there gaping. Sit down. (Pause. Shingle as he sits.) On the shawl. (Pause.) Are you afraid we might touch? (Pause.) Henry.
ADA You should see a doctor about your talking, it‘s worse, what must it be like for Addie? (Pause.) Do you know what she said to me once, when she was still quite small, she said, Mummy, why does Daddy keep on talking all the time? She heard you in the lavatory. I didn't know what to answer.
HENRY Daddy! Addie! (Pause.) I told you to tell her I was praying. (Pause.) Roaring prayers at God and his saints.
ADA It's very bad for the child. (Pause.) It's silly to say it keeps you from hearing it, it doesn't keep you from hearing it and even if it does you shouldn't be hearing it, there must be something wrong with your brain.
HENRY That! I shouldn't he hearing that!
ADA I don't think you are hearing it. And if you are what's wrong with it, it's a lovely peaceful gentle soothing sound, why do you hate it? (Pause.) And if you hate it why don't you keep away from it? Why are you always coming down here? (Pause.) There's something wrong with your brain, you ought to see Holloway, he's alive still, isn't he?
HENRY (wildly). Thuds, I want thuds! Like this! (He fumbles in the shingle, catches up two big stones and starts dashing them together.) Stone! (Clash.) Stone! (Clash. "Stone!" and clash amplified, cut off. Pause. He throws one stone away. Sound of its fall.) That's life! (He throws the other stone away. Sound of its fall.) Not this . . . (pause) . . . sucking!
ADA And why life? (Pause.) Why life, Henry? (Pause.) Is there anyone about?
HENRY Not a living soul.
ADA I thought as much. (Pause.) When we longed to have it to ourselves there was always someone. Now that it does not matter the place is deserted.
HENRY Yes, you were always very sensitive to being seen in gallant conversation. The least feather of smoke on the horizon and you adjusted your dress and became immersed in the Manchester Guardian. (Pause.) The hole is still there, after all these years. (Pause. Louder.) The hole is still there.
ADA What hole? The earth is full of holes.
HENRY Where we did it at last for the first time.
ADA Ah yes, I think I remember. (Pause.) The place has not changed.
HENRY Oh yes it has, I can see it. (Confidentially.) There is levelling going on! (Pause.) What age is she now?
ADA I have lost count of time.
HENRY Twelve? Thirteen? (Pause.) Fourteen?
ADA I really could not tell you, Henry.
HENRY It took us a long time to have her. (Pause.) Years we kept hammering away at it. (Pause.) But we did it in the end. (Pause. Sigh.) We had her in the end. (Pause.) Listen to it! (Pause.) It's not so bad when you get out on it. (Pause.) Perhaps I should have gone into the merchant navy.
ADA It's only on the surface, you know. Underneath all is as quiet as the grave. Not a sound. All day, all night, not a sound.
HENRY Now I walk about with the gramophone. But I forgot it today.
ADA There is no sense in that. (Pause.) There is no sense in trying to drown it. (Pause.) See Holloway.
HENRY Let us go for a row.
ADA A row? And Addie? She would be very distressed if she came and found you had gone for a row without her. (Pause.) Who were you with just now? (Pause.) Before you spoke to me.
HENRY I was trying to be with my father.
ADA Oh. (Pause.) No difficulty about that.
HENRY I mean I was trying to get him to be with me. (Pause.) You seem a little cruder than usual today, Ada. (Pause.) I was asking him if he had ever met you, I couldn't remember.
HENRY He doesn't answer any more.
ADA I suppose you have worn him out. (Pause.) You wore him out living and now you are wearing him out dead. (Pause.) The time comes when one cannot speak to you any more. (Pause.) The time will come when no one will speak to you at all, not even complete strangers. (Pause.) You will be quite alone with your voice, there will be no other voice in the world but yours. (Pause.) Do you hear me?
HENRY I can't remember if he met you.
ADA You know he met me.
HENRY No, Ada, I don't know, I'm sorry, I have forgotten almost everything connected with you.
ADA You weren't there. Just your mother and sister. I had called to fetch you, as arranged. We were to go bathing together.
HENRY (irritably). Drive on, drive on! Why do people always stop in the middle of what they are saying?
ADA None of them knew where you were. Your bed had not been slept in. They were all shouting at one another. Your sister said she would throw herself off the cliff. Your father got up and went out, slamming the door. I left soon afterwards and passed him on the road. He did not see me. He was sitting on a rock looking out to sea. I never forgot his posture. And yet it was a common one. You used to have it sometimes. Perhaps just the stillness, as if he had been turned to stone. I could never make it out.
HENRY Keep on, keep on! (Imploringly.) Keep it going, Ada, every syllable is a second gained.
ADA That's all, I'm afraid. (Pause.) Go on now with your father or your stories or whatever you were doing, don't mind me any more.
HENRY I can't! (Pause.) I can't do it any more!
ADA You were doing it a moment ago, before you spoke to me.
HENRY (angrily). I can't do it any more now! (Pause.) Christ!
ADA Yes, you know what I mean, there are attitudes remain in one's mind for reasons that are clear, the carriage of a head for example, bowed when one would have thought it should be lifted, and vice versa, or a hand suspended in mid air, as if unowned. That kind of thing. But with your father sitting on the rock that day nothing of the kind, no detail you could put your finger on and say, How very peculiar! No, I could never make it out. Perhaps, as I said, just the great stillness of the whole body, as if all the breath had left it. (Pause.) Is this rubbish a help to you, Henry? (Pause.) I can try and go on a little if you wish. (Pause.) No? (Pause.) Then I think I'll be getting back.
HENRY Not yet! You needn't speak. Just listen. Not even. Be with me. (Pause.) Ada! (Pause. Louder.) Ada! (Pause.) Christ! (Pause.) Hooves! (Pause. Louder.) Hooves! (Pause.) Christ! (Long pause.) Left soon afterwards, passed you on the road, didn't see her, looking out to . . . (Pause.) Can't have been looking out to sea. (Pause.) Unless you had gone round the other side. (Pause.) Had you gone round the cliff side? (Pause.) Father! (Pause.) Must have I suppose. (Pause.) Stands watching you a moment, then on down path to tram, up on open top and sits down in front. (Pause.) Sits down in front. (Pause.) Suddenly feels uneasy and gets down again, conductor: "Changed your mind, Miss?", goes back up path, no sign of you. (Pause.) Very unhappy and uneasy, hangs round a bit, not a soul about, cold wind coming in off sea, goes back down path and takes tram home. (Pause.) Takes tram home. (Pause.) Christ! (Pause.) "My dear Bolton . . ." (Pause.) "If it's an injection you want, Bolton, let down your trousers and I'll give you one, I have a panhysterectomy at nine," meaning of course the anaesthetic. (Pause.) Fire out, bitter cold, white world, great trouble, not a sound. (Pause.) Bolton starts playing with the curtain, no, hanging, difficult to describe, draws it back, no, kind of gathers it towards him and the moon comes flooding in, then lets it fall back, heavy velvet affair, and pitch black in the room, then towards him again, white, black, white, black, Holloway: "Stop that for the love of God, Bolton, do you want to finish me?" (Pause.) Black, white, black, white, maddening thing. (Pause.) Then he suddenly strikes a match, Bolton does, lights a candle, catches it up above his head, walks over and looks Holloway full in the eye. (Pause.) Not a word, just the look, the old blue eye, very glassy, lids worn thin, lashes gone, whole thing swimming, and the candle shaking over his head. (Pause.) Tears? (Pause. Long laugh.) Good God no! (Pause.) Not a word, just the look, the old blue eye, Holloway: "If you want a shot say so and let me get to hell out of here." (Pause.) ‘We've had this before, Bolton, don't ask me to go through it again." (Pause.) Bolton: "Please!" (Pause.) "Please!" (Pause.) "Please, Holloway!" (Pause.) Candle shaking and guttering all over the place, lower now, old arm tired, takes it in the other hand and holds it high again, that's it, that was always it, night, and the embers cold, and the glim shaking in your old fist, saying, Please! Please! (Pause.) Begging. (Pause.) Of the poor. (Pause.) Ada! (Pause.) Father! (Pause.) Christ! (Pause.) Holds it high again, naughtyld, fixes Holloway, eyes drowned, won't ask again, just the look, Holloway covers his face, not a sound, white world, bitter cold, ghastly scene, old men, great trouble, no good. (Pause.) No good. (Pause.) Christ! (Pause. Shingle as he gets up. He goes towards sea. Boots on shingle. He halts. Pause. Sea a littlee louder.) On. (Pause. He moues on. Boots on shingle. He halts at water's edge. Pause. Sea a little louder.) Little book. (Pause.) This evening . . . (Pause.) Nothing this evening. (Pause.) Tomorrow . . . tomorrow . . . plumber at nine, then nothing. (Pause. Puzzled.) Plumber at nine? (Pause.) Ah yes, the waste. (Pause.) Words. (Pause.) Saturday . . . nothing. Sunday . . . Sunday . . . nothing all day. (Pause.) Nothing, all day nothing. (Pause.) All day all night nothing. (Pause.) Not a sound.