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Collected stories, p.1
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       Collected Stories, p.1

           Peter Carey
 
Collected Stories


  COLLECTED STORIES

  Peter Carey was born in 1943 in Australia and lives in New York. He is the author of the highly acclaimed selection of short stories, The Fat Man in History, six novels, Bliss, Illywhacker (shortlisted for the 1985 Booker Prize), Oscar and Lucinda (winner of the 1988 Booker Prize), The Tax Inspector, The Unusual Life of Tristan Smith and Jack Maggs, and a book for children, The Big Bazoohley. Oscar and Lucinda has been made into a film by Gillian Armstrong starring Ralph Fiennes.

  by the same author

  THE FAT MAN IN HISTORY

  BLISS

  ILLYWHACKER

  OSCAR AND LUCINDA

  THE TAX INSPECTOR

  THE UNUSUAL LIFE OF TRISTAN SMITH

  JACK MAGGS

  for children

  THE BIG BAZOOHLEY

  VINTAGE CANADA EDITION, 1999

  Copyright © 1995 by Peter Carey

  All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions.

  Published in Canada by Vintage Canada, a division of Random House of Canada Limited, Toronto.

  Originally published in Great Britain by Faber and Faber Limited, London, in 1995.

  Canadian Cataloguing in Publication Data

  Carey, Peter

  Collected stories

  eBook ISBN: 978-0-307-36764-8

  I. Title.

  PR9619.3C37C64 1997 823 C96-932179-1

  v3.1

  Contents

  Cover

  About the Author

  Other Books by This Author

  Title Page

  Copyright

  Acknowledgements

  “Do You Love Me?”

  The Last Days of a Famous Mime

  Kristu-Du

  Crabs

  Life & Death in the South Side Pavilion

  Room No. 5 (Escribo)

  Happy Story

  A Million Dollars’ Worth of Amphetamines

  Peeling

  A Windmill in the West

  Concerning the Greek Tyrant

  Withdrawal

  Report on the Shadow Industry

  Joe

  The Puzzling Nature of Blue

  Conversations with Unicorns

  American Dreams

  The Fat Man in History

  The Uses of Williamson Wood

  Exotic Pleasures

  A Schoolboy Prank

  The Journey of a Lifetime

  The Chance

  Fragrance of Roses

  He Found Her in Late Summer

  War Crimes

  A Letter to Our Son

  ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

  Four of these stories have not been previously collected: ‘Joe’ (first printed in Australian New Writing), ‘Concerning the Greek Tyrant’ (The Tabloid Story Pocket Book, Wild & Woolley), ‘A Million Dollars’ Worth of Amphetamines’ (Nation Review) and ‘A Letter to Our Son’ (Granta). The remaining stories were first published in The Fat Man in History (University of Queensland Press, Australia, 1974) and War Crimes (University of Queensland Press, Australia, 1979). A number of stories from both these collections were included in the British edition of The Fat Man in History (Faber and Faber, 1980).

  “Do You Love Me?”

  1. The Role of the Cartographers

  Perhaps a few words about the role of the Cartographers in our present society are warranted.

  To begin with one must understand the nature of the yearly census, a manifestation of our desire to know, always, exactly where we stand. The census, originally a count of the population, has gradually extended until it has become a total inventory of the contents of the nation, a mammoth task which is continuing all the time — no sooner has one census been announced than work on another begins.

  The results of the census play an important part in our national life and have, for many years, been the pivot point for the yearly “Festival of the Corn” (an ancient festival, related to the wealth of the earth).

  We have a passion for lists. And nowhere is this more clearly illustrated than in the Festival of the Corn which takes place in midsummer, the weather always being fine and warm. On the night of the festival, the householders move their goods and possessions, all furniture, electrical goods, clothing, rugs, kitchen utensils, bathrobes, slippers, cushions, lawn mowers, curtains, doorstops, heirlooms, cameras, and anything else that can be moved into the street so that the census officials may the more easily check the inventory of each household.

  The Festival of the Corn is, however, much more than a clerical affair. And, the day over and the night come, the householders invite each other to view their possessions which they refer to, on this night, as gifts. It is like nothing more than a wedding feast — there is much cooking, all sorts of traditional dishes, fine wines, strong liquors, music is played loudly in quiet neighbourhoods, strangers copulate with strangers, men dance together, and maidens in yellow robes distribute small barley-sugar corncobs to young and old alike.

  And in all this the role of the Cartographers is perhaps the most important, for our people crave, more than anything else, to know the extent of the nation, to know, exactly, the shape of the coastline, to hear what land may have been lost to the sea, to know what has been reclaimed and what is still in doubt. If the Cartographers’ report is good the Festival of the Corn will be a good festival. If the report is bad, one can always sense, for all the dancing and drinking, a feeling of nervousness and apprehension in the revellers, a certain desperation. In the year of a bad Cartographers’ report there will always be fights and, occasionally, some property will be stolen as citizens attempt to compensate themselves for their sense of loss.

  Because of the importance of their job the Cartographers have become an elite — well paid, admired, envied, and having no small opinion of themselves. It is said by some that they are overproud, immoral, vain and footloose, and it is perhaps the last charge (by necessity true) that brings about the others. For the Cartographers spend their years travelling up and down the coast, along the great rivers, traversing great mountains and vast deserts. They travel in small parties of three, four, sometimes five, making their own time, working as they please, because eventually it is their own responsibility to see that their team’s task is completed in time.

  My father, a Cartographer himself, often told me stories about himself or his colleagues and the adventures they had in the wilderness.

  There were other stories, however, that always remained in my mind and, as a child, caused me considerable anxiety. These were the stories of the nether regions and I doubt if they were known outside a very small circle of Cartographers and government officials. As a child in a house frequented by Cartographers, I often heard these tales which invariably made me cling closely to my mother’s skirts.

  It appears that for some time certain regions of the country had become less and less real and these regions were regarded fearfully even by the Cartographers, who prided themselves on their courage. The regions in question were invariably uninhabited, unused for agriculture or industry. There were certain sections of the Halverson Ranges, vast stretches of the Greater Desert, and long pieces of coastline which had begun to slowly disappear like the image on an improperly fixed photograph.

  It was because of these nebulous areas that the Fischerscope was introduced. The Fischerscope is not unlike radar in its principle and is able to detect the presence of any object, no matter how dematerialized or insubstantial. In this way the Cartographers were still able to map the questionable pairs of the nether regions. To have returned with blanks on the maps would have created such public anxiety that no one dared think what it might do to the stability of our society. I now have reason to believe that certain areas of the country disappeared so completely that even the Fische
rscope could not detect them and the Cartographers, acting under political pressure, used old maps to fake in the missing sections. If my theory is grounded in fact, and I am sure it is, it would explain my father’s cynicism about the Festival of the Corn.

  2. The Archetypal Cartographer

  My father was in his fifties but he had kept himself in good shape. His skin was brown and his muscles still firm. He was a tall man with a thick head of grey hair, a slightly less grey moustache and a long aquiline nose. Sitting on a horse he looked as proud and cruel as Genghis Khan. Lying on the beach clad only in bathers and sunglasses he still managed to retain his authoritative air.

  Beside him I always felt as if I had betrayed him. I was slightly built, more like my mother.

  It was the day before the festival and we lay on the beach, my father, my mother, my girlfriend and I. As was usual in these circumstances my father addressed all his remarks to Karen. He never considered the members of his own family worth talking to. I always had the uncomfortable feeling that he was flirting with my girlfriends and I never knew what to do about it.

  People were lying in groups up and down the beach. Near us a family of five were playing with a large beach ball.

  “Look at those fools,” my father said to Karen.

  “Why are they fools?” Karen asked.

  “They’re fools,” said my father. “They were born fools and they’ll die fools. Tomorrow they’ll dance in the streets and drink too much.”

  “So,” said Karen triumphantly, in the manner of one who has become privy to secret information. “It will be a good Cartographers’ report?”

  My father roared with laughter.

  Karen looked hurt and pouted. “Am I a fool?”

  “No,” my father said, “you’re really quite splendid.”

  3. The Most Famous Festival

  The festival, as it turned out, was the greatest disaster in living memory.

  The Cartographers’ report was excellent, the weather was fine, but somewhere something had gone wrong.

  The news was confusing. The television said that, in spite of the good report, various items had been stolen very early in the night. Later there was a news flash to say that a large house had completely disappeared in Howie Street.

  Later still we looked out the window to see a huge band of people carrying lighted torches. There was a lot of shouting. The same image, exactly, was on the television and a reporter was explaining that bands of vigilantes were out looking for thieves.

  My father stood at the window, a martini in his hand, and watched the vigilantes set alight a house opposite.

  My mother wanted to know what we should do.

  “Come and watch the fools,” my father said, “they’re incredible.”

  4. The I.C.I. Incident

  The next day the I.C.I. building disappeared in front of a crowd of two thousand people. It took two hours. The crowd stood silently as the great steel and glass structure slowly faded before them.

  The staff who were evacuated looked pale and shaken. The caretaker who was amongst the last to leave looked almost translucent. In the days that followed he made some name for himself as a mystic, claiming that he had been able to see other worlds, layer upon layer, through the fabric of the here and now.

  5. Behaviour when Confronted with Dematerialization

  The anger of our people when confronted with acts of theft has always been legendary and was certainly highlighted by the incidents which occurred on the night of the festival.

  But the fury exhibited on this famous night could not compare with the intensity of emotion displayed by those who witnessed the earliest scenes of dematerialization.

  The silent crowd who watched the I.C.I. building erupted into hysteria when they realized that it had finally gone and wasn’t likely to come back.

  It was like some monstrous theft for which punishment must be meted out.

  They stormed into the Shell building next door and smashed desks and ripped down office partitions. Reporters who attended the scene were rarely impartial observers, but one of the cooler-headed members of the press remarked on the great number of weeping men and women who hurled typewriters from windows and scattered files through crowds of frightened office workers.

  Five days later they displayed similar anger when the Shell building itself disappeared.

  6. Behaviour of Those Dematerializing

  The first reports of dematerializing people were not generally believed and were suppressed by the media. But these things were soon common knowledge and few families were untouched by them. Such incidents were obviously not all the same but in many victims there was a tendency to exhibit extreme aggression towards those around them. Murders and assaults committed by these unfortunates were not uncommon and in most cases they exhibited an almost unbelievable rage, as if they were the victims of a shocking betrayal.

  My friend James Bray was once stopped in the street by a very beautiful woman who clawed and scratched at his face and said: “You did this to me, you bastard, you did this to me.”

  He had never seen her before but he confessed that, in some irrational way, he felt responsible and didn’t defend himself. Fortunately she disappeared before she could do him much damage.

  7. Some Theories that Arose at the Time

  1. The world is merely a dream dreamt by god who is waking after a long sleep. When he is properly awake the world will disappear completely. When the world disappears we will disappear with it and be happy.

  2. The world has become sensitive to light. In the same way that prolonged use of, say, penicillin can suddenly result in a dangerous allergy, prolonged exposure of the world to the sun has made it sensitive to light.

  The advocates of this theory could be seen bustling through the city crowds in their long, hooded black robes.

  3. The fact that the world is disappearing has been caused by the sloppy work of the Cartographers and census takers. Those who filled out their census forms incorrectly would lose those items they had neglected to describe. People overlooked in the census by impatient officials would also disappear. A strong pressure group demanded that a new census be taken quickly before matters got worse.

  8. My Father’s Theory

  The world, according to my father, was exactly like the human body and had its own defence mechanisms with which it defended itself against anything that either threatened it or was unnecessary to it. The I.C.I. building and the I.C.I. company had obviously constituted some threat to the world or had simply been irrelevant. That’s why it had disappeared and not because some damn fool god was waking up and rubbing his eyes.

  “I don’t believe in god,” my father said. “Humanity is god. Humanity is the only god I know. If humanity doesn’t need something it will disappear. People who are not loved will disappear. Everything that is not loved will disappear from the face of the earth. We only exist through the love of others and that’s what it’s all about.”

  9. A Contradiction

  “Look at those fools,” my father said, “they wouldn’t know if they were up themselves.”

  10. An Unpleasant Scene

  The world at this time was full of unpleasant and disturbing scenes. One that I recall vividly took place in the middle of the city on a hot, sultry Tuesday afternoon. It was about one-thirty and I was waiting for Karen by the post office when a man of forty or so ran past me. He was dematerializing rapidly. Everybody seemed to be deliberately looking the other way, which seemed to me to make him dematerialize faster. I stared at him hard, hoping that I could do something to keep him there until help arrived. I tried to love him, because I believed in my father’s theory. I thought, I must love that man. But his face irritated me. It is not so easy to love a stranger and I’m ashamed to say that he had the small mouth and close-together eyes that I have always disliked in a person. I tried to love him but I’m afraid I failed.

  While I watched he tried to hail taxi after taxi. But the taxi drivers were only too we
ll aware of what was happening and had no wish to spend their time driving a passenger who, at any moment, might cease to exist. They looked the other way or put up their NOT FOR HIRE signs.

  Finally he managed to waylay a taxi at some traffic lights. By this time he was so insubstantial that I could see right through him. He was beginning to shout. A terrible thin noise, but penetrating nonetheless. He tried to open the cab door, but the driver had already locked it. I could hear the man’s voice, high and piercing: “I want to go home.” He repeated it over and over again. “I want to go home to my wife.”

  The taxi drove off when the lights changed. There was a lull in the traffic. People had fled the corner and left it deserted and it was I alone who saw the man finally disappear.

  I felt sick.

  Karen arrived five minutes later and found me pale and shaken. “Are you all right?” she said.

  “Do you love me?” I said.

  11. The Nether Regions

  My father had an irritating way of explaining things to me I already understood, refusing to stop no matter how much I said “I know” or “You told me before”.

  Thus he expounded on the significance of the nether regions, adopting the tone of a lecturer speaking to a class of particularly backward children.

  “As you know,” he said, “the nether regions were amongst the first to disappear and this in itself is significant. These regions, I’m sure you know, are seldom visited by men and only then by people like me whose sole job is to make sure that they’re still there. We had no use for these areas, these deserts, swamps, and coastlines which is why, of course, they disappeared. They were merely possessions of ours and if they had any use at all it was as symbols for our poets, writers and film makers. They were used as symbols of alienation, lovelessness, loneliness, uselessness and so on. Do you get what I mean?”

 
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