Category: I Bismuth
The forces of evil will enjoy every word of it.
by I Bismuth
STAR Date 6530993002.362083825051397 (See Footnote)
As I crossed Richmond Lock Footbridge I saw a smart suit loitering on the silly side of the railing. Its wearer, youngish, male and pale, was frowning at the river, and one by one was nodding out the seconds, a jumper on his final countdown.
“Good afternoon,” I said as I reached the launch pad. “It’s not a bad day, is it?”
The countdown aborted, he looked over his shoulder.
“No, it’s not a bad day—as last days go.”
“But the forecast for tomorrow is not so good,” I said.
Perhaps this was not the most tactful observation I could make.
“Of course,” he went on, ignoring it, “I have no right to assert it’s not a bad day as last days go. What do I know about last days? I have no personal experience of them. Like everyone else’s last day, this is my first.”
He sighed at the river, preparing to start again from ten.
“May I ask you a personal question before you go?” I said.
“You are not a man who makes a religion of minding his own business, are you?”
“I just want to know why you decided to drown yourself.”
by I. Bismuth
Semi-jogging home along Market Street this afternoon, I passed a lone beauty at a bus stop. And after passing her, I mused to a halt, for I had heard her, or thought I had heard her, speak certain words into her mobile, words that are totally unacceptable in a decent society. Taking a breather (of which, inhabiting the body of a man half my age, I had no need) I made a show of staggering back towards the suspect, and leaned against the stop.
My intention was to monitor the remainder of her call and catch a possible repetition of the offending vocables, but by the time I could sag within eavesdropping range, she was saying good bye, love you, and now here was her bus.
This was frustrating. I did not have much on her, but letting her go would send the wrong message, if only to her loved interlocutor. Besides, she was guilty all right. She was guilty of having made herself a suspect. It was unthinkable that there would be no consequences.
Feeling I could gather more evidence from an entrapping interview with her before turning her in, I followed her on board and to the upper deck. She sat at the front. Waiting for my chance, I occupied the seat directly behind her and breathed on her hair.
But once the bus had moved off and I looked behind us, I saw that, after all, waiting was unnecessary. I had assumed I would have to let the other passengers disembark before I could tackle her in peace, but there were only five of them, and they were already gone. They were well gone. The first was shouting in Swahili up his sleeve, the second was being spasmodic to rhythms throbbing from his headphones like off-shored industry, the third was snoring, the fourth was cutting his toenails, and the fifth appeared to have been dead for several days.
So, satisfied I could go to work on her unmolested, I leaned slowly forward, tilted my head reassuringly, and whispered in her ear, “Don’t be frightened.”
by I. Bismuth
December 27: This evening, despite my pleas for a little quiet Scrabble, Rose treated herself to yet another orchestral concert. Lying on the sofa, legs comfortably crossed at the ankles, hands palms downward at her sides, eyes shut, and chin pointing to heaven, she was a soundbather. And as she received her ear-tanning, I was jealous of a periwigged composer. She was in his company, not mine. I was intruding. Here was a scene for two, and I was some poor devil at a keyhole. Once the last movement had finished with her, though she opened her eyes at me, her smile was for my rival in the machine.
But young old Mozart finds she is hard to please. The music lover is a greedy lover. The brief life of her illicit composer makes her peevish. She reproaches him with having breathed his last long before his inspiration was feeling even slightly run-down. The filling to capacity of Köchel’s catalogue is not enough for her. Only up to K626? No further? If he had employed better time management techniques to his last twenty-four hours on earth he could have dashed off a couple of divertimenti between death rattles. He had disappointed her.
No, even worse—his early departure was criminally inartistic, a kind of burglary. He is a note-thief who sneaked past her too young to his grave, his brain stuffed like a pocket with her rightful musical pleasure.
December 28: Though Rose turned me down yet again and I was expecting no triple word scores this evening either, I was in for a surprise.
She was still on the sofa, but her infidelity differed in three ways from yesterday’s: the concert was televised, and the untimely dier was not periwigged but bespectacled (Schubert was deputizing for Mozart). The third difference was that I came to see my misgivings about her relationship with music not as discreditably personal and motivated by resentment at her canoodling with the spectral masters of sonata form, but as socially responsible and motivated by the moral imperative of stamping out all traces of racism, wherever they may be found. Let me explain how I found them in the insolent beauty of a symphony.
The symphony in question was Schubert’s in C major, nicknamed “Great” for the benefit of the tin-eared.
by I. Bismuth
November 10: It should have been a productive morning. At nine o’clock I was due to chair a meeting of the Over-Whiteness Monitoring Panel, at ten to act as facilitator in a workshop on the standardization of difference celebration, and at eleven to give the Board of Governors my latest recommendations on the Hidden Attitudes Self-Accusation Guidelines. It should have gone all the more smoothly for taking place in the inspiring setting of the newest university building, the Tolerance Tower, fifteen storeys of hope not hate, its design by the leading architects Peter Schlemiel Associates meant to suggest the soaring tip of a gigantic assegai. However, Sunlit Uplands and society as a whole were robbed of those three hours of equality-promotion. A chilling incident was to propel the morning in quite another direction.
It was ten minutes to nine and I was about to enter the Tolerance Tower when my attention was caught by a long streak of studiousness topped off with a crest of startled hair. He had paused to contemplate the statue of Jambo Owambo that stands before the main entrance. There was something troubling about the angle at which he was holding his head that made me watch him. True, any admirer of the bronze statesman at close quarters must have an elevated chin, but it should not be elevated so as to suggest a 1930s propaganda poster and a hero fixing his gaze on the resurgent Aryan future (though admittedly this hero’s heroism was compromised by his resorting to styling gel).
Never one to rush to judgment, I waited for Gel-Head’s next move. And how unsavoury his next move turned out to be! After only a few curt seconds he grounded his gaze, and I was horrified to see him quit the presence and lope away in the direction of the library, setting his coiffure aquiver with each stride.
by I. Bismuth
October 10: Rose and I were at my uncle’s house today. His cantankerousness is as great as his antiquity, so we space our visits to him as widely as my nephewly sense of obligation will allow.
In fact, it was war that was the source of the trouble during the second cup of tea. Somehow the topic of the distant death daily in the news came up, and Uncle O felt we needed a slice of his opinions to supplement the chocolate sponge.
“What are all these wars for?” he said. “Our being in them makes no sense. The disputes of alien races may be interesting to us, but they ought not to be important to us. If they are, something is wrong. That something is either that we are intervening in their affairs or they are intervening in ours. A third and equally unhygienic possibility is that each has a finger in the other’s pie.”
“I’m sorry, that is a complete—” I began, only to be kicked in the shin by my ever-peacekeeping wife.
“You certainly knew what you were fighting for in the Second World War,” she said, fancying she was putting us back on safe ground.
“We thought we did,” said Uncle O, looking grimmer than ever. “War is a gamble. But not a normal gamble. In a normal gamble, you know what you will win if you win and what you will lose if you lose.”
“Have you done any more paintings recently?” said Rose, getting a little shrill, I thought.
by I. Bismuth
September 24: We spent this evening side by side on the sofa doing what we are underpaid to do. While I was busy marking the work of my undergraduates, Rose was tapping away at a re-telling for pre-school tolerance workshops of the traditional African tale of the entire Yoruban kingdom that yearns to be re-located to a nice part of Oxfordshire.
She had reached the point in the narrative just after the Brits-to-be have finalized their plan to apply for a grant to open a Yorubas-This-Is-Your-Lucky-Day Dating Agency, the first ever in rural England, only to receive the devastating news that there will be a delay of a fortnight in issuing their new passports. She was uncertain about the most appropriate characterization of this chilling hitch. Was a delay of two weeks best described as fascist, racist, or Nazi?
With my wide experience of the struggle against evil I was able to offer her an authoritative guide to correct usage. Fascist would be a delay of three weeks. Racist would be a delay of four weeks. And Nazi would be a request to consider the consequences of the re-location of an entire Yoruban kingdom to a nice part of Oxfordshire on the inhabitants of that nice part of Oxfordshire. Le mot juste for a delay of two weeks in issuing the passports is extremist.
She nodded and agreed that this captured the exact nuance of hate involved, and I reapplied myself to the essays of the next generation of the professionally sensitive.
By I Bismuth
September 5: I am hung over from the flu, or a flu, or a flu-like illness, or a viral infection, or a don’t-bother-to-bother-an-overworked-medical-professional-self-limiting-mystery-malady. Whatever it was, it utterly prostrated me. I was flat on my back for a week. And even to an overworked non-medical professional, a bandying of words with an unsavoury brother-in-law does not seem indicated in the latter stages of convalescence.
But I have a sister who was irresponsible enough to graft herself on to a skin specialist (that is to say, an SS man) and who lives just around the corner, so bandyings of the kind I had this afternoon are an all too frequently paid price for my not disowning my relatives.
While Rose and Meg and a cross-section of my nephews and nieces amused themselves in the garden by worrying worms, Walter amused himself in the sitting-room by worrying me.
“Now, Bizzy,” he said, his fingers closing on a wine glass belonging to me filled with wine belonging to me, “you are very hot in your rejection of discrimination on the grounds of race, and yet you admit you are not in principle opposed to discrimination.”