Books: Brilliant Creatures — Chapter 18 |
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Brilliant Creatures: Chapter 18

~ eighteen ~

adat, Sadat, Sadat,’ said the wheels of the Shinkansen[1] as it raced south-west past Fujiyama on the way to Kyoto. Victor sat back in Green Car luxury and breathed through a hot towel draped over his face. The hot towel was the only item of Green Car luxury that Victor found luxurious. Otherwise it was a matter of being handed your shredded dried squid in a cardboard box tied with ribbon instead of string. Victor flapped the towel once to make it cold, cooled his hands with it, gave it back to the stewardess and looked at the holy mountain. From this distance you could not see that it was covered with pilgrims all toiling upwards — except, of course, for the equal number of pilgrims who were toiling downwards, having got what they came for. Victor, who was on a pilgrimage himself, was not contemptuous.

‘Sadat, Sadat, Sadat.’ All the way from Tokyo to Kyoto was one continuous urban area that changed its name every few miles. Victor could easily imagine what it must have been like when it was burning. A man who suffered much from bad dreams, he came to Kyoto almost every year at this time, not just because the blossoms were out on Honshu but because the moss was at its best in the temple[2]. While other people favoured the garden of raked sand, Victor preferred looking at the moss. He was there on a day when nobody else was allowed in. The head monk had arranged the privilege in perpetuity, as an acknowledgement of the favourable terms on which Victor had published the temple’s fund-raising book in the English-speaking countries. The same temple, and just possibly the same monk, had once done Kipling the same favour[3].

Victor made no attempt to sit cross-legged. He just sat, looking twice as big as he ought to in that context. He sat on the edge of a small, smooth wooden verandah with his feet on the brick rim of the garden. The moss covered the rocks in soft waves and faded gradually upwards on the trunks of the trees. As a man without religion Victor had nowhere to seek guidance, and now the person he most trusted he could not consult. In such circumstances the best you can hope for is to set your thoughts in order. He didn’t expect to find an answer, just a reprieve. The moss garden had the advantage of telling you exactly what you wanted to hear. It told you that the renewing impulse of nature could be irresistibly beautiful beyond any achievement of the human creative principle. It had the disadvantage, on the other hand, of proclaiming, subtly but in the most insistent way possible, the necessity for human discipline. How can you resist the force of new life? So go ahead and win everything. Accept this young blessing, make a shambles of your hard-won tranquillity, come back next year and tell us how you got on. Damned stuff isn’t even grass, thought Victor, leaving. You couldn’t feed a rabbit on it.

Back in Tokyo at the Imperial that evening, Victor rang Sally in London and caught her as she was getting up.

‘You’re alone?’ he asked.

‘In the morning, always. Where are you?’

‘I’m not sure, but the assistant manager just ritually disembowelled himself because I complained about my television set, so it’s probably not England.’

‘What time is it there?’

‘Night. They’re just wheeling in another television set with a basket of fruit and a suicide poem from the assistant manager. Have you had your breakfast?’

‘No. I’ve got nothing to eat and it’s raining like hell. I’ve been out on a story for two days. Some of the things in my refrigerator appear to be growing hair.’

‘The first and second television set wheelers have bowed out. Did you say you’d be in New York the week after the ball?’

‘For five days. I’m seeing some people.’

‘It looks as if I’ll be there for most of that week. Will you save me an evening?’

‘Wait a second. I’ve got the kind of diary that won’t stay open by itself.’

‘It’s another British technological breakthrough. If you give me two evenings I’ll take you to the opera as well.’

‘As well as what?’

‘What are you wearing?’

‘Nothing,’ said Sally, relaxing. ‘You’re very bold, suddenly.’

‘I can talk like this when I’m in Tokyo,’ said Victor.

‘And when we’re in New York, I suppose.’

‘I hope so.’

‘Not London, though.’


Then he rang Elena and talked for a long time while she was eating her breakfast in bed. As usual, being as near to her as possible while she was having breakfast seemed the only sane aim in life, so he wondered again whether he might not be losing his mind. After making some other calls in various directions he ordered a room service dinner and, while eating it, watched one of those Samurai serials in which the veteran hero beats off attackers in groups of sixteen. The attackers were very bad actors who on receipt of a fatal sword thrust reacted as if they had been shot. When they were all dead and stacked three deep, the veteran hero renounced the young princess before strutting off. You had to admit the Japanese knew how to cook a steak. With raw fish and bamboo shoots they might be hopeless, but give them a hunk of frozen meat from the Argentine and they were like men inspired. Another Samurai serial came on. This time the old warrior kept his sword sheathed until the last scene. Then he exploded into action and wiped out the standard group of heavily grimacing attackers, several of them familiar from the previous serial. They presented themselves to be despatched in strict sequence, crying out to advertise their presence if he happened to have his back turned. Eventually they were all dead and it was time for the old warrior to renounce the young princess. It was a different young princess but a very similar crooked path up which the superannuated swordsman, clearly suffering from piles, strutted towards the moonlit cyclorama.

Next on was a news programme in which one of the items seemed to emanate from London. A policeman was pointing towards the broken front window of a car. Victor rang Elena again to tell her about it but this time her telephones were both engaged. He kept trying and finally got her.

‘Are we all right?’ she asked.


‘I can’t tell you what the rain is like here. I’m doing designs for the ball but the gloom gets into them like mould. Why are you ringing me up again so nervously?’

‘I love you.’

‘Don’t say it to prove it. I should hope you do.’

They quarrelled, half made it up, quarrelled again, and he kept on calling until equilibrium had been restored. For her it should have been reassuring, being so like one of those battles that take place after you first fall for each other, having set out for India and found America instead. It’s all strange and limitless and you fight like savages. Later you get used to it and then you miss the tension. But Elena was not reassured. By now she was prepared to read guilt into his most innocent remarks, so the guilty ones sounded like sentences of death.