FIRST VOICE In the blind-drawn dark dining-room of School House, dusty and echoing as a dining-room in a vault, Mr and Mrs Pugh are silent over cold grey cottage pie. Mr Pugh reads, as he forks the shroud meat in, from Lives of the Great Poisoners. He has bound a plain brown-paper cover round the book. Slyly, between slow mouthfuls, he sidespies up at Mrs Pugh, poisons her with his eye, then goes on reading. He underlines certain passages and smiles in secret.
MRS PUGH Persons with manners do not read at table,
FIRST VOICE says Mrs Pugh. She swallows a digestive tablet as big as a horse-pill, washing it down with clouded peasoup water.
MRS PUGH Some persons were brought up in pigsties.
MR PUGH Pigs don't read at table, dear.
FIRST VOICE Bitterly she flicks dust from the broken cruet. It settles on the pie in a thin gnat-rain.
MR PUGH Pigs can't read, my dear.
MRS PUGH I know one who can.
FIRST VOICE Alone in the hissing laboratory of his wishes, Mr Pugh minces among bad vats and jeroboams, tiptoes through spinneys of murdering herbs, agony dancing in his crucibles, and mixes especially for Mrs Pugh a venomous porridge unknown to toxicologists which will scald and viper through her until her ears fall off like figs, her toes grow big and black as balloons, and steam comes screaming out of her navel.
MR PUGH You know best, dear,
FIRST VOICE says Mr Pugh, and quick as a flash he ducks her in rat soup.
MRS PUGH What's that book by your trough, Mr Pugh?
MR PUGH It's a theological work, my dear. Lives of the Great Saints.
FIRST VOICE Mrs Pugh smiles. An icicle forms in the cold air of the dining-vault.
MRS PUGH I saw you talking to a saint this morning. Saint Polly Garter. She was martyred again last night. Mrs Organ Morgan saw her with Mr Waldo.
MRS ORGAN MORGAN And when they saw me they pretended they were looking for nests,
SECOND VOICE said Mrs Organ Morgan to her husband, with her mouth full of fish as a pelican's.
MRS ORGAN MORGAN But you don't go nesting in long combinations, I said to myself, like Mr Waldo was wearing, and your dress nearly over your head like Polly Garter's. Oh, they didn't fool me.
SECOND VOICE One big bird gulp, and the flounder's gone. She licks her lips and goes stabbing again.
MRS ORGAN MORGAN And when you think of all those babies she's got, then all I can say is she'd better give up bird nesting that's all I can say, it isn't the right kind of hobby at all for a woman that can't say No even to midgets. Remember Bob Spit? He wasn't any bigger than a baby and he gave her two. But they're two nice boys, I will say that, Fred Spit and Arthur. Sometimes I like Fred best and sometimes I like Arthur. Who do you like best, Organ?
ORGAN MORGAN Oh, Bach without any doubt. Bach every time for me.
MRS ORGAN MORGAN Organ Morgan, you haven't been listening to a word 1 said. It's organ organ all the time with you..
FIRST VOICE And she bursts into tears, and, in the middle of her salty howling, nimbly spears a small flatfish and pelicans it whole.
ORGAN MORGAN And then Palestrina,
SECOND VOICE says Organ Morgan.
FIRST VOICE Lord Cut-Glass, in his kitchen full of time, squats down alone to a dogdish, marked Fido, of peppery fish-scraps and listens to the voices of his sixty-six clocks, one for each year of his loony age, and watches, with love, their black-and-white moony loudlipped faces tocking the earth away: slow clocks, quick clocks, pendulumed heart-knocks, china, alarm, grandfather, cuckoo; clocks shaped like Noah's whirring Ark, clocks that bicker in marble ships, clocks in the wombs of glass women, hourglass chimers, tu-wit-tuwoo clocks, clocks that pluck tunes, Vesuvius clocks all black bells and lava, Niagara clocks that cataract their ticks, old time-weeping clocks with ebony beards, clocks with no hands for ever drumming out time without ever knowing what time it is. His sixty-six singers are all set at different hours. Lord Cut-Glass lives in a house and a life at siege. Any minute or dark day now, the unknown enemy will loot and savage downhill, but they will not catch him napping. Sixty-six different times in his fish-slimy kitchen ping, strike, tick, chime, and tock.
SECOND VOICE The lust and lilt and lather and emerald breeze and crackle of the bird-praise and body of Spring with its breasts full of rivering May-milk, means, to that lordly fish-head nibbler, nothing but another nearness to the tribes and navies of the Last Black Day who'll sear and pillage down Armageddon Hill to his double-locked rusty-shuttered tick-tock dust-scrabbled shack at the bottom of the town that has fallen head over bells in love.
POLLY GARTER And I'll never have such loving again,
SECOND VOICE pretty Polly hums and longs.
POLLY GARTER (Sings) Now when farmers' boys on the first fair day Come down from the hills to drink and be gay, Before the sun sinks I'll lie there in their arms For they're good bad boys from the lonely farms,
But I always think as we tumble into bed Of little Willy Wee who is dead, dead, dead...
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