Best of 2020

BOOKS

Fiction / Non-Fiction

Stand By Me : Wendell Berry
The Falconer : Dana Czapnik
Some Kids I  Taught and  What They Taught Me : Kate Clanchy
All Among the Barley : Melissa Harrison
Long Bright River : Liz Moore
Olive, Again : Elizabeth Strout

Re-reading …

Anne Enright
Kent Haruf
Thomas McGuane

Poetry

Country Music : Will Burns
When the Tree Falls : Jane Clarke
New Hunger : Ella Duffy
Yes But What Is This? What Exactly? : Ian McMillan
How I Learned to Sing : Mark Robinson
Sweet Nothings : Rory Waterman
Squid : Matthew Welton

FILMS

The Perfect Candidate : Haifaa Al-Mansour
Rocks : Sarah Gavron
The County : Grimur Hakonarson
Da 5 Bloods : Spike Lee
A  White,  White Day : Hlynur Palmason 
Portrait of a Lady on Fire : Celine Sciamma
So Long, My Son : Wang Xiaoshuai

MUSIC

Albums

From An Old Guitar : Dave Alvin
Ballads : Paula Cole
Time : Jess Gillam
Piano 2 : Pete Judge
Bach, Goldberg Variations : Pavel Kolesnikov
Monk – Palo Alto : Thelonious Monk
Winter Hill : Liz Simcock
Avenging Angel : Craig Taborn

Tracks

The Oil Rigs at Night : The Delines
All in the Past : Dave Ellis & Boo Howard
Straight Back To You : Everything But the Girl
Angry All the Time : Tim McGraw
Inside : Bill Morrissey
Wichita : Gretchen Peters
Angels & Acrobats : Rod Picott
You Tattooed Me : Tom Robinson
Old Chunk Of Coal : Billy Joe Shaver
Flowers on Valentine’s Day : Liz Simcock
Sister Mercy : John Stewart
Tryin’ To Hold the Wind Up With a Sail : Jerry Jeff Walker

Books in a Good Cause

On Twitter recently, I offered signed copies of the penultimate Resnick novel, Cold in Hand, in exchange for donations to Médecins Sans Frontières – or Doctors Without Borders – an international medical organisation working in conflict zones and countries affected by endemic diseases. The take-up was pleasing enough to send me scouring the shelves in search of other gems with which to broaden the offer.

Here’s the deal: email me at info@mellotone.co.uk, giving a mailing address and letting me know which book you want and if you’d like a dedication as well as a signature. Then, once I’ve confirmed the book is still available, you make a donation (a tenner?) to MSF. and I send you the book. Simple.

And these are the books …

BODY & SOUL
Pegasus Books (US) hardcover edition, 2018.
The fourth and final book in the Frank Elder series

“When he’d said he’d drive in and meet her at the station, she’d said there was no need, she’d catch the bus. Lengthening his stride, he was in time to see its headlights as it rounded the hill; time to see her step down and walk towards him – ankle boots, padded jacket, jeans, rucksack on her back – uncertainty flickering in her eyes seen as she summoned up a smile.
‘Kate . . . It’s good to see you.’
When she reached out her hands towards his, he struggled not to stare at the bandages on her wrists.”

BLUE WATCH
Troika paperback, 2019.
A ‘Young Adult’ novel set in London 1n 1940, during the heart of the Blitz, it follows the adventures of Jack, a fifteen year-old Fire Brigade messenger, and his friendship with Lilith, a young refugee. A good read for anyone of secondary school age and beyond – quite a few adult readers have liked this a lot.

“It was one of those nights when it seemed as if the whole of London was on fire.”

dav

OUT OF SILENCE
New & Selected Poems
Smith|Doorstop, 2014
New poems – well, new in 2014 – along with Peter Sansom’s selection from two earlier collections, Ghosts of a Chance & Bluer Than This.

Driving through Camberwell
the rain slides down black across the windscreen
and as we pass the lights for the third time
you push a cassette into place
the click and hiss of tape and then it’s him:
Rhythm-a-ning. Charlie Rouse on tenor,
Sam Jones on bass, Art Taylor at the drums.
New York City, February, 1959 . . .

… and still some copies of

COLD IN HAND
Harcourt (US) hardcover edition, 2008
The penultimate book in the Charlie Resnick series

At first he thought what he heard as he stepped into the hall was the sound of a car backfiring, then knew, in the same breath, that it was not.

Back to Ronnie’s

Watching Ronnie’s, Oliver Murray’s excellent documentary about Ronnie Scott and the club that bears his name, my mind, inevitably, ran back over the many evenings spent there, some blurred by time, others, like a particular evening when Ronnie himself was playing – and playing beautifully – I remember more clearly. Here’s Charlie Resnick sharing that memory in the novel, Living Proof.

Betty Carter was singing ‘Body and Soul’ on the car stereo as he drove, mingling the words and tune with those of a second, similar song, so that the final, climactic chorus seemed forever delayed, but that wasn’t it. Not exactly. More confusing still, the words of yet another song were worrying away at some part of Resnick’s mind.
‘Send in the Clowns’.
He had heard Betty Carter live just once. A rare trip to London, a weekend in early spring, and she had been at Ronnie Scott’s. A striking black woman, not beautiful, not young; warm and confident, good-humoured, talking to the audience between numbers with that slight slow-business bonhomie that set Resnick’s teeth painfully on edge. But when she sang … He remembered ‘But Beautiful’, ‘What’s New?’, the way she would move around the stage with the microphone, her body bending to the shapes of the words with a combination of feeling and control that was unsurpassable.
Scott himself, nose like a hawk and gimlet-eyed, his sixty-odd years showing only where the skin hung thinly at his neck, had been leading his quartet through the support slots on the same evening. Tenor saxophone, piano, bass and drums. After several rousing numbers, Scott had played a two-chorus version of Sondheim’s ‘Send in the Clowns’, almost straight, bass and drums dropping out, the tone of his saxophone ravishing and hard, one of the best ballad performances Resnick had ever heard, silencing the club and striking him straight to the heart.

When the book was published, I sent a copy to Ronnie Scott, along with a tape (!) on which I read some of my poems with accompaniment by the band, Second Nature. Here’s his reply …



https://www.waterstones.com/book/living-proof/john-harvey/9780099585732

https://www.hive.co.uk/Product/John-Harvey/Living-Proof–Resnick-7/14678739

https://www.kobo.com/gb/en/ebook/living-proof-4

A Far Cry from Aldeburgh

I greatly enjoyed Randall Wright’s film about the artist, Maggi Hambling, Making Love to Paint, that was shown recently on BBC2. Hambling herself has such a strong and idiosyncratic personality and it was fascinating to hear her talk about the constant preparatory work she does in advance of making the paintings themselves. I knew her turbulent sea paintings from an exhibition at the National Gallery, but little of her portraits – some with a nod in the direction of Bacon, others reminding me of Auerbach – all clearly her, strong and deeply felt.

Maggi Hambling

One work of Hambling’s I’m very aware of is Scallop, a large stainless steel sculpture in memory of the composer Benjamin Britain, which is installed, controversially, on the beach in Aldeburgh.

Scallop, Maggi Hambling, 2003

I used the sculpture and the setting in a 2009 novel, Far Cry. The central character, Ruth, has suffered the terrible experience of a daughter, Heather, dying in an accident while on holiday in Cornwall; since then she has done all she can to put her own life back on track: she remarries, and, with her new husband, she has another child, Beatrice. In this chapter from the book, Ruth and Beatrice have taken advantage of the good weather and driven to Aldeburgh for a day out by the sea.

They ate their sandwiches in the lee of one of the numerous fishing huts, keeping a wary eye out for the more predatory of the gulls wheeling and gliding above. A light haze was settling over the further reaches of the sea, so that the horizon had all but disappeared and sea and sky were one.
‘Come on,’ Ruth said, stuffing things back down into the rucksack, ‘there’s something I want to show you.’
From a distance, the steel constructions rising up from the shingle at the north end of the beach looked like giant fans and then, as they drew nearer, like angel wings.
‘What are they?’ Beatrice asked.
‘Wait and then you’ll see.’
The nearer they got, the bigger they became, until they stood some twelve feet high at their tallest point and almost as wide.
‘They’re shells,’ Beatrice said.
‘That’s right, scallop shells.’
‘What on earth are they doing here?’
‘An artist designed them, Maggi Hambling. A tribute to Benjamin Britten.’
‘Who?’
‘He’s a composer. Was. Used to live near here. A lot of his music was about the sea.’
Beatrice shrugged and pressed her hand against the surface of the iron shell. ‘It’s warm.’ She leaned her face against it and closed her eyes.
I love you, Ruth thought. So much. I really do.
‘Look,’ Beatrice said, ‘there’s writing round the top. What does it say?’
‘Read it.’
‘I hear those voices that will not be drowned.’
‘It’s from an opera,’ Ruth explained. ‘Peter Grimes.’
‘By that man?’
‘Yes.’
‘What does it mean?’
‘What d’you think?’
Beatrice flapped her hands. ‘I don’t know.’
‘Do you like it, though? The sculpture?’
‘It’s okay.’
‘Some people don’t. People who live here. They’ve poured paint over it and everything. They think it should be taken down or moved.’
‘That’s stupid.’ Beatrice shielded her eyes. ‘Can we go now?’
Half way on their journey back to the car, Beatrice let go of Ruth’s hand and started lagging behind, head down.
‘Come on,’ Ruth said cheerily. ‘Not far now. We’re nearly there.’
By the time Ruth had reached the beginnings of the town, Beatrice was a good fifty metres adrift. She swung the rucksack down from her back and sat on a bench to wait.
When Beatrice caught up she stood, swivelling first on one foot and then the other, looking anywhere but into her mother’s eyes.
‘What’s the matter?’ Ruth asked.
No reply.
‘You don’t want to tell me?’
A shake of the head.
‘Come and sit here, then. Let’s just rest for a minute before we get back to the car.’
At first it seemed as if Beatrice was going to stay put, but then, grudgingly, she went and sat beside her mother, close but not close enough to be touching, flip-flops trailing on the ground.
‘Voices that will not be drowned,’ she said eventually. ‘That’s her, isn’t it? Heather. That’s why we came here, because of her. It is, isn’t it?’
‘Not really, no.’
‘But you’ve been here before? With her?’
‘Yes,’ Ruth admitted.
‘To look at that – that scallop thing?’
‘No, that wasn’t here then. But to Aldeburgh, yes. A long time ago.’
Beatrice turned away, back hunched.
‘Beatrice, don’t … ‘
‘I hate her,’ Beatrice said. ‘I hate her.’
Ruth reached for her and felt her body stiffen, before she turned, sobbing, and pressed herself against Ruth’s chest.
‘It’s all right,’ Ruth said softly, her face resting close against the top of Beatrice’s head, smelling her little girl smell, the warmth of the sun in her hair.
‘It’s all right,’ she lied.

Far Cry: Book  https://www.waterstones.com/book/far-cry/john-harvey/9780099539438

https://www.hive.co.uk/Product/John-Harvey/Far-Cry–Grayson–Walker/148311

https://blackwells.co.uk/bookshop/product/Far-Cry-by-John-Harvey/9780099539438

Ebook: https://www.kobo.com/gb/en/ebook/far-cry-1

Audiobook: https://www.kobo.com/gb/en/audiobook/far-cry-5https://www.waterstones.com/audiobook/far-cry/john-harvey/mike-grady/9781407449326

Resnick on Radio …

I’ve always relished the opportunity to write for radio, whether adapting another writer’s work – I’ve been fortunate enough to be let loose on such as Graham Greene, A. S. Byatt and Paul Scott – or dramatising my own. The process of reducing a novel or short story to its essentials before beginning the process of building them up again in a different form is a task I’ve always enjoyed. A task for which I was unknowingly prepared by all those grammar school English lessons in which we were called upon to summarise a longer and usually very dull piece of writing into something succinct that captured its essence – the art, in other words, of précis. [I doubt, nowadays, if even the idea of it is allowed through the school gates. Though I’d like to be proved wrong.]

Having stripped the story down to its bare bones, its skeleton, the next task is to build it up again in a manner which does as much justice as possible to the original author’s style and intention; a task which, a certain amount of voice over narration and the occasional internal monologue aside, is achieved almost entirely through dialogue. Dialogue which has the function of revealing character and situation while propelling the story forward.

Where bringing Resnick to the radio is concerned, I was fortunate to work throughout with an experienced and sympathetic producer, David Hunter. We began in 1995 with a 2 part dramatisation of the fifth Resnick novel, Wasted Years, and then, a year later, a triple episode version of the third novel, Cutting Edge. Slow Burn, broadcast in 1998, was from an original two-part script, set in and around a Nottingham jazz club and later published as a short story, and this was followed in 2001 and 2002 by two single plays, Cheryl and Bird of Paradise.

All in all, a fair run, and Radio 4 Extra has been generous in lining them up for not infrequent repeats. Cheryl, in fact, is due to be heard again on Friday, October 30th. And they are all, as from today, October 22nd, available as an Audio Download from BBC Audio with the added attraction (?) of my stint as a guest on Radio 3’s Private Passions.

Quite frequently, repeat broadcasts bring forth a small flurry of questions. The theme song in Wasted Years, for instance: who is the singer and where can I get hold of a copy? And why on earth are there so many different Resnicks?

Last things first. in 1992/3, Tom Wilkinson had played Resnick in the televised adaptations of the first two books – Lonely Hearts and Rough Treatment – that were produced by Colin Rogers of Deco Films & TV for the BBC, and he seemed the perfect choice to continue in the role on radio. After Wasted Years, he was pencilled in for its radio sequel, Cutting Edge, but film work interceded and the role went to Tom Georgeson, who was familiar with the character, having played one of a pair of cat burglars in the TV version of Rough Treatment

[Keeping up so far … ?]

Phillip Jackson, complete with authentic East Midlands accent, was Resnick in Slow Burn, followed three years later by Keith Barron, who played Charlie in both Cheryl and Bird of Paradise, reuniting in the first of those with his sparring partner from the long-running television sitcom, Duty Free – the wonderful Gwen Taylor.

Which brings us, finally, to the music in Wasted Years. The lyric and melody were written by the fine folk singer, Liz Simcock, whose demo was the basis for the version heard on the programme, which, appropriately, is sung by Gillian Bevan who plays the singer Ruth Strange.

Body and Soul / Le Corps et l’âme

A quick check suggests my fiction has been translated into twenty plus languages by thirty or so different publishers and with contrasting results. A strong commitment has, unsurprisingly, proved more successful in terms of sales, whereas a single book, slipped like a wary toe into the water, has tended to make a mere ripple before withering away, forgotten. Worse still, there was a time when I was concerned about the effect I was having on the Italian publishing industry: no sooner, it seemed, had a contract for one or more of my books been signed than the business failed and went into administration.

No such problems, thankfully, in France, where Les Éditions Payot & Rivages have published and strongly supported all of my work, beginning in 1993, when the first Resnick novel, Lonely Hearts, made its debut as Coeurs Solitaires in the Rivages/Noir collection under the direction of François Guérif, up to the final book in the Resnick series, Darkness, Darkness / Ténèbres, ténèbres. And in January, 2021, they will publish Body & Soul / Le Corps et l’âme, the fourth and final novel in the Frank Elder series – and my final novel all told.

Mon dieu, how I love that cover!

By way of introduction to the novel, there is a short video made by Molly Ernestine Boiling, in which I talk about the novel’s beginnings in an unshakable dream, then read a section from the first chapter.

Wallander, Mankel and Me … a footnote

A quick follow-up to my previous post about re-watching the two series based upon Henning Mankel’s Wallander novels.

At the same time as the second series, featuring Kenneth Branagh, was being made, I was approached by BBC Scotland to see if I would be interested in presenting a documentary examining the world-wide success of Mankel’s novels and the popularity of their central character, both in print and on screen.

Hmm, I thought … a trip to Ystad in southern Sweden, where the stories are set and where Branagh was filming, along with a couple of days in Stockholm and, hopefully, the opportunity of interviewing the rather reclusive Mankel at his home in Gothenburg … why not? I knew the novels quite well and liked them a great deal, admiring Mankel as a socially conscious writer whose strong political values underscored his fiction without it ever coming close to propaganda.

Who is Kurt Wallander? was shown on BBC Four to coincide with the Branagh series, and later made available as an ‘extra’ on the BBC DVD containing the first three episodes. Aside from the embarrassment of watching myself walking through fields of wheat in my baggy linen suit while talking to camera, I was pleased with the finished programme, in particular the interview with a surprisingly relaxed Mankel, in which his intelligence and sense of purpose showed through clearly.

And if that’s whetted your appetite and you’re sitting there thinking, Damn! I wish I’d seen that!, the good news is that a nicely abridged and edited version [complete with Spanish sub-titles!] is now available on YouTube, its central focus the Mankel interview.

“Watching Wallander … again and again …

One of the advantages of ageing – aside from the fact that when travelling via public transport – in the rush hour, say, on the London Underground (when it was safe to travel on the London Underground) or once, memorably, on the delayed 17.57 from Leeds to Hebden Bridge via Bradford Interchange – one, at least, of your fellow passengers will eagerly offer you their seat – will, in fact, be quite offended if, in your embarrassment, you decline – [and I sympathise if, reading this sentence, you are beginning to feel you are clinging on by your very fingertips] – one of the advantages, I suggest – and now, finally, we get to it – is the realisation that the loss of short term memory can, in certain situations, be a blessing.

It is perfectly possible, for example, to rewatch the television adaptations of Henning Mankel’s excellent Kurt Wallander novels as if each were made up from a series of revelatory events, some of which may have faint echoes of a distant past. A somewhat fractured viewing process which has its effects doubly charged by the fact that Wallander himself is haunted by the fear of descending into the same terrifying blankness of dementia that overwhelmed his father. And the fact that there are, as some of you will know, two separate series – separate though using, in the main, the same basic stories – in which Wallander is played by two quite distinct actors – Krister Henriksson in the original Swedish version and Kenneth Branagh in the later British one – serves only to taunt the memory and further contribute to an overall state of confusion.

Kirster Henriksson as Kurt Wallander
Kenneth Branagh as Kurt Wallander

Branagh seeks to bludgeon any suggestion of a growing loss of powers with loud and sometimes violent anger – you can ‘see’ him acting – whereas Henriksson’s denials are more private, more controlled. The scene, late on, in which he smooths aside the clothes hanging in his wardrobe to reveal photographs of his work colleagues taped to the wall alongside their names, is quietly devastating and, once seen, impossible to forget. Whatever else may fall away.

Aslant But Still Standing

ASLANT COVER10

Beautifully produced by Nottingham’s Shoestring Press, Aslant contains fourteen poems – some about jazz, some not – some haunted by thoughts of mortality – in addition to a dozen photographs by Molly Ernestine Boiling. Now Molly has made a neat little video, newly available on YouTube, in which my reading of two of the poems is juxtaposed with a selection of her photographs and just a touch of Thelonious Monk.

You can view it here …

“John Harvey’s poetry is spacious, unhurried, measured, taking its time to unfurl its effect but keeping its hooks in the reader by careful control of pace and by making every word count.

The photos by Molly E. Boiling are abstract conceptions, many based on buildings seen from unusual angles and reflect the poet’s interest in abstract art. They certainly contribute to what is a very attractive book-object.”
Robin Thomas: The High Window

Aslant 14

Aslant 6

Aslant 8

“Aslant places John Harvey’s poems alongside evocative photographs by Molly Boiling which provide sharp-edged images of steps, shadows, girders and corners of high buildings. These pictures often suggest entrances and exits or incidental glimpses alongside the telling of a story. Hence they combine well with Harvey’s poems which usually have a strong narrative and reminiscent thread.

“This is no ordinary book: the well-chosen images and the way they complement some consistently satisfying high-quality poems make it, in my view, well worth a tenner of anybody’s money.”
Thomas Owens: London Grip

Aslant is available from bookshop@fiveleaves.co.uk  or contacts@centralbooks.com
or, indeed, bookshops anywhere …

 

 

 

 

Grabianski, Degas & The Sisters of Our Lady of Perpetual Help

Jerzy Grabianski, as I mentioned in a recent post , first appeared in the second Resnick novel, Rough Treatment; one half of a skilled team of cat burglars, a bulky, perhaps surprisingly humane man with a propensity for falling inappropriately in love. Too interesting a character for me to leave alone; not least for the similarities – physical and genetic – between Resnick and himself. So, after a gap of some years, he featured prominently in the short story, Bird of Paradise, first published in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine and collected in Now’s The Time (2002) , and appeared again in 1997, in the ninth Resnick novel, Still Water.

Time 1

still water

And it’s to Still Water that we go for a little of Grabianski’s background …

Grabianski was thinking of his father; the half-sister, Kristyna, he had never seen. The family had fled Poland in the first year of the war – and a slow, cold fleeing they’d had of it, walking, occasionally hitching a lift, hiding beneath the heavy tarpaulin of a river barge: Czechoslovakia, Austria, Switzerland. Kristyna had drowned in the waters of Lake Neuchatel; she had been eleven years old.
His father, a textile worker from Lodz, had flown as a navigator for both the French and British forces; parachuted out over the Channel, plummeting towards the black, unseeing water with images of Kristyna, her stiff, breastless body, trapped tight behind his eyes.
He had survived.
Jerzy Grabianski had been born in South London, his mother a nurse from St. George’s, his father sewing by electric light in the basement room in Balham where they lived. Weekends, when his mother was working, his father would walk him to Tooting Bec Common, sit with him in the Lido, dangling Grabianski’s flailing legs down into the shallow water, never letting go.

And here, in the opening paragraphs of Bird of Paradise, is Grabianski, ornithologist and burglar, first sighting the woman with whom he becomes infatuated  …

It was still surprisingly cold for the time of year, already well past Lent, and Sister Teresa kept her topcoat belted but unbuttoned, so that the lower part of it flared open as she strode through the stalled traffic at the corner of Radford Road and Gregory Boulevard, revealing a knee-length grey wool skirt and pale grey tights which Grabianski, watching from the window of an Asian confectioner’s, thought were more than pleasingly filled.
He popped something pink and sugary into his mouth and smiled appreciatively. One of life’s natural observers, he never failed to enjoy those incidental pleasures that chance and patience brought his way: a brown flycatcher spied on the edge of Yorkshire moorland, the narrow white ring around its eye blinking clear from its nest; a chink of light just discernible through the blinds of a bedroom window, four storeys up, suggesting the upper window may have been left recklessly unfastened; the stride of a mature woman, purposeful and strong, as she makes her way though the city on an otherwise unremarkable April day.
Casually, Grabianski stepped out on to the street. He was a well-built man, broad-shouldered and tall, no more than five or six pounds overweight for his age, somewhere in the mid-forties. His face was round rather than lean and freshly shaved; the dark hair on his head had yet to thin. His eyes were narrowed and alert as he angled his head and saw, away to his right, the woman he had noticed earlier, passing now between two youths on roller blades, before rounding the corner and disappearing from sight.
Dressed in civilian clothes as Sister Teresa was, Grabianski would have been surprised to have learned she was a nun.

The order to which the good Sister belongs is The Sisters of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, as detailed in chapter four of Still Water

The Sisters of Our Lady of Perpetual Help lived in an undistinguished three-storey house midway between the car park for the Asda supermarket and the road alongside the Forest recreation ground where the local prostitutes regularly plied their trade.
There but for the grace of God, as Sister Bonaventura used to remark, bustling past. Whether she was referring to whoring or working at the checkout, Sister Teresa and Sister Marguerite were never sure.
All three of them were attached to the order’s outreach programme, living in one of the poorer areas of the city and administering as best they could to the unfortunate and the needy, daily going about the Lord’s business without the off-putting and inconvenient trappings of liturgical habits but wearing instead civilian clothes donated by members of the local parish. Plain fare for the most part, but ameliorated by small personal indulgences.
Sister Marguerite, who came out in a painful rash if she wore anything other than silk closest to her skin, purchased her underwear by mail order from a catalogue. Sister Bonaventura stuck pretty much to black, which she relieved with scarlet Aids ribbons and a neat metallic badge denoting Labour Party membership. “Who do you think He would vote for, if he came back down to reclaim his Kingdom on earth?” she would ask when challenged. “The Conservatives?”
And Sister Teresa, whose mother had stopped measuring her against the kitchen wall at fourteen when she had reached five foot seven, was forced to make her own arrangements as the kind supply of cast-offs rarely matched her size. Regularly, she would bundle up a pile of pleated skirts and crimplene trouser suits and take them to the Oxfam shop where she would exchange them for something more fitting.

When Grabianski and Sister Teresa finally get to speak, in a scene from Bird of Paradise, it is when he rescues her from being physically attacked by a fiercely angry man whose battered wife she has been trying to help.

Hearing the sound of someone at his back, Palmer half turned and met the heel of Grabianski’s outthrust hand full force upon his nose. The snap of cartilage was dredged through snot and blood.
“Don’t … ” began the woman, easing herself up on to all fours. “Please, don’t … ” as she levered herself back against the wall, head sinking gingerly forward till it came to rest against her knees.
“Don’t what?” asked Grabianski gently, bending down before her.
“Don’t hurt him.”
He recognised the dull sparkle of the ring upon her hand. Why was it they always defended them, no matter what? One of her eyes was already beginning to close.
“A beating,” Grabianski said. “No more than he deserves.”
“No, no. Please.” She fumbled for then found his wrist and clutched it tight. “I pray you.”
Something about the way she said it made Grabianski think twice; he recognised her then, the woman who had been striding out in shades of grey, and felt a quickening of his pulse. Somehow instead of her holding his wrist, he was holding her hand. Behind them, he heard her attacker scurry, slew-footed, away.
The muscles in the backs of Grabianski’s legs were aching and he changed position, sitting round against the wall. Sister Teresa, blood dribbling from a cut alongside her mouth, was alongside him now, shoulders touching, and he was still holding her hand.
She found it strangely, almost uniquely, reassuring.
She said, “Thank you.”
He said it was fine.
She asked him his name and he her’s.
“Teresa,” she said.
“Teresa what?”
And she had to think. “Teresa Whimbrel,” she said and he smiled.
“What’s amusing?” she asked.
“Whimbrel,” Grabianski said, “it’s a bird. A sort of curlew.” The smile broadened.    “Notably long legs.”
He looked, she thought, decidedly handsome when he smiled – and something else besides. She wondered if that something – whatever it was – might be dangerous.
She was looking at the fingers of his hand, broad-knuckled and lightly freckled with hair and curved about her own.
“I think you should let go,” she said.
“Um?”
“Of my hand.”
“Oh.” He asked a question instead. “Was that your husband? The man?”
“Not mine, no.”
He could feel the ring on her finger, no longer see it. “But you are married?”
“In a way.”
Grabianski raised an eyebrow. “Which way is that?”
“A way you might find difficult to understand.”

 

Back, finally, to Still Water, in which Grabianski, learning that Sister Teresa is interested in visual art, invites her to join him in London to visit the exhibition of Degas’ paintings at the National Gallery ….

Grab 1

Grab 2 copy

 

Time 2

French Time

 

McMinn and Cheese

A chip on my shoulder you can see from space

Salt and Stone Poetry

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