Saturday, January 1, 2011

Patrick White: 'Riders in the Chariot' (end of chapter four)

... She walked a little. The acid of light was poured at nightfall into the city, to eat redundant faces. Yet, she survived. She walked, in the kind of clothes which, early in life, people had grown to expect of her, which no one would ever notice, except in amusement or contempt, and which would only alter when they fitted her out finally.

Mrs Godbold walked by the greenish light of early darkness. A single tram spat violet sparks into the tunnel of brown flannel. Barely clinging to its curve, its metal screeched anachronism. But it was only as she waited at a crossing, watching the stream churn past, that dismay overtook Mrs Godbold, and she began to cry. It seemed as if the group of figures huddled on the bank was ignored not so much by the traffic as by the strong, undeviating flood of time. There they waited, the pale souls, dipping a toe timidly, again retreating, secretly relieved to find their fellows caught in a similar situation, or worse, for here was one who could not conceal suffering.

The large woman was simply standing and crying, the tears running out here and down her pudding-coloured face. It was at first fascinating, but became disturbing to the other souls-in-waiting. They seldom enjoyed the luxury of watching the self-exposure of others. Yet, this was a crying in no way convulsed. Soft and steady, it streamed out of the holes of the anonymous woman's eyes. It was, it seemed, the pure abstraction of gentle grief.

The truth of the matter was: Mrs Godbold's self was by now dead, so she could not cry for the part of her which lay in the keeping of the husband she had just left. She cried, rather, for the condition of men, for all those she had loved, burningly, or at a respectful distance, from her father ... she cried, finally, for the people beside her in the street, whose doubts she would never dissolve in words, but understood, perhaps, from those she had experienced.

Then, suddenly, the people waiting at the crossing leaped forward in one surge, and Mrs Godbold was carried with them. How the others were hurrying to resume their always importunate lives. But the woman in the black hat drifted when she was not pushed. For the first moment in her life, and no doubt only briefly, she remained above and impervious to the stream of time. So she coasted along for a little after she had reached the opposite side. Although her tears were all run, her eyes still glittered in the distance of their sockets. Fingers of green and crimson neon grappled for possession of her ordinarily suety face, almost as if it had been a prize, and at moments the strife between light and darkness wrung out a royal purple, which drenched the slow figure in black.

The Nobel Prize in Literature 1973: Patrick White

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