Essay English Patient

83526 Words Jul 10th, 2015 335 Pages
1
In memory of Skip and Mary Dickinson
For Quintin and Griffin
And for Louise Dennys, with thanks
‘Most of you, I am sure, remember the tragic circumstances of the death of Geoffrey Clifton at Gilf Kebir, followed later by the disappearance of his wife, Katharine Clifton, which took place during the 1939 desert expedition in search of Zerzura.
“I cannot begin this meeting tonight without referring very sympathetically to those tragic occurrences.
“The lecture this evening ...”
From the minutes of the Geographical Society meeting of November 194-, London
I
The Villa
SHE STANDS UP in the garden where she has been working and looks into the distance. She has sensed a shift in the weather.
There is another gust of wind, a buckle of
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She loves the hollow below the lowest rib, its cliff of skin. Reaching his shoulders she blows cool air onto his neck, and he mutters.
What? she asks, coming out of her concentration.
He turns his dark face with its grey eyes towards her. She puts her hand into her pocket. She unskins the plum with her teeth, withdraws the stone and passes the flesh of the fruit into his mouth.
He whispers again, dragging the listening heart of the young nurse beside him to wherever his mind is, into that well of memory he kept plunging into during those months before he died.
There are stories the man recites quietly into the room which slip from level to level like a hawk. He wakes in the painted arbour that surrounds him with its spilling flowers, arms of great trees. He remembers picnics, a woman who kissed parts of his body that now are burned into the colour of aubergine.
I have spent weeks in the desert, forgetting to look at the moon, he says, as a married man may spend days never looking into the face of his wife. These are not sins of omission but signs of preoccupation.
His eyes lock onto the young woman’s face. If she moves her head, his stare will travel alongside her into the wall. She leans forward. How were you burned?
It is late afternoon. His hands play with a piece of sheet, the back of his fingers caressing it.
I fell burning into the desert.
They found my body and

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