The Wilderness

The Wilderness by Samantha Harvey

Book: The Wilderness by Samantha Harvey Read Free Book Online
Authors: Samantha Harvey
she wanted him to tell Henry about his illness and he could not.They quarrelled, but gently. Everything is always gentle now, even violence and quarrelling. He looked at the prison and felt the stab of pride that he had built it and that it was still standing. Eleanor coughed when she started up the engine and punched at buttons to get the radio working. It was raining heavily. The moors were puddling around the dykes.
    All of this he remembers and can see as plain as day—he just can't say when it happened. Like a photograph that cannot be placed anywhere specific in the album.

    His colleagues are sitting around the long oak table and when he walks in they turn and some of them hold their hands together as if they are going to clap. He eyes the bar, the stone floors, the mirrors behind the glass shelves, the window through which the rope of dusty light always used to sling itself, cutting in angles over Rook's figure on a barstool, and he decides he will not succumb to that last refuge of the old—nostalgia. It sounds like a disease, a weakening of the body. Neuralgia, nostalgia. And besides, he is here to look forward, not back.
    Whenever he sees these people together, out of context, he is instantly compelled to think of them as he has always done, as the
council corps;
they have always thought of themselves as a muted collective, low in flair and kudos, striving onwards in mediocrity. He realises, as he places himself and Eleanor amongst them, that he has come to feel this too. He has become a member of a group that doesn't know whether to stick together for safety or fly apart for escape.
    He sits amongst them: all architects except for one, a girl. She waves across the table at him and he waves back, though he is certain they've never met before. There are so few women in architecture that he would remember if they had. He always wondered why more women didn't become architects, and he never came up with an answer, except maybe that women forget to think big, and for this reason they are not engineers or aeroplane builders. An inbuilt humility means they never imagine they can create something bigger than their own bodies, whereas with men—well, all he has ever wanted to do is just that. And despite his own standards, he would still maintain for this very reason that one of his ugly and defunct high-rises is better than no high-rise at all.
    “Drink, Jake?” This is Fergus, his peer he supposes. Fergus with his lank and rangy physique and pale Irish complexion. Before he can anticipate it Fergus is leaning across the table and clutching his forearm in a gesture of solidarity. “What can I get you?”
    “A bourbon,” he says. “With ice, and a little sugar if they have it.” He offers a twenty-pound note which Fergus declines. He insists, but Fergus is adamant.
    It becomes clear that this evening is to be his, and this means that it is all organised for him, and he just has to sit here and behave. In his wallet is a packet of mint which he now lays on the table in a vaguely petulant frame of mind. He considers that he could drink until blind—yes, what an idea! Drink mint juleps until eloquent, like he has so many times at this very table.
    Over dinner he is fretful at first, worrying about Eleanor, worrying that she is out of her depth and that these men, whohave all known and liked Helen, should be offended by his replacement of her. But this feeling wanes as the bourbon relaxes him and as he learns that if he is indeed being inappropriate there is a perennial pleasure in that. He would like more of it. Prompted by Lewis, one of the younger architects, he indulges in talk of ideals. There is an unspoken creed to being a member of the
council corps
that says one cannot afford to have architectural ideals. Even theories—even theories without the slightest ambition—are aggravating.
    “The modernist project,” he says, “is not just about lack of ornament—it's about the lack of a
need
for ornament.

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