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A Lot to Learn
SOON AS ELIZA HAD LEFT for Europe, I visited the house on my own.
I told my parents that, as a diligent lad who took his duties seriously,
intended to get right down to work, and meant to go about this in an organized
way, I’d be spending most of Saturday looking the place over and making
an inventory of what was required, listing the jobs that would have to
be performed, and making a schedule on a calendar that I had been given
when I visited the showroom of Babbington Studebaker. I think I gave
a fine performance.
“Stay out of trouble,” said my father, but that
didn’t necessarily mean that he had seen through my act; he said it all
the time. There wasn’t any reason to think that he knew that what
I really intended to do was snoop around.
At the back door to Dudley’s house, I lifted the
mat and found the key. I picked it up. I held it in my hand.
It was heavy.
(Of course it was heavy, freighted as it was with
allegorical import. In the fairy tale version of this story,
a beautiful and worldly woman gives to an adolescent boy the secret of
the location of a hidden key that will unlock a door that leads into a
house—make that a castle—within which are hidden treasures physical, metaphorical,
and sexual, like rubies, gold, knowledge, power, and women of all ages.
He uncovers the key and takes it into his possession. He fits the
key into the lock. He pauses for a moment to give a thought to the
step he is about to take. We return to my story at that point.)
I held in my hand the key that would—could, might—unlock
the mystery of my paternity. I paused, since I had begun thinking
of myself as a character in an allegorical tale, and reflected on the step
I was about to take.
“This door,” I murmured aloud, acting the lead in
my own drama, “opens onto a new phase of my life.”
I opened the door. I stepped inside.
I was in the kitchen. It seemed not very different
from any other kitchen, and not at all like the start of a new phase of
I walked the length of the hall that ran down the
center of the house and looked through the glass set into the panels beside
the front door. I imagined Dudley waiting for my mother to come up
the walk and ring the bell, and I decided that if I were he I would not
be waiting there at the door, nervously watching out the window.
If I were awaiting a visit from the girl next door, I would be elsewhere,
in the kitchen, perhaps, fixing a snack, or in the living room, sitting
in front of the fire, reading a book, sipping a drink, scarcely aware that
the time had come when the girl was expected, certainly not annoyed that
the girl was late.
The living room was just off the entry hall, to
my right as I stood facing the front door. In front of the fireplace,
two chairs faced each other. I had often sat in one of those, with
Dudley in the other, and listened while he lectured. His lectures
were usually instigated by my mother, who would send me to Dudley if I
asked a question that she couldn’t answer—or didn’t want to answer.
I would pedal on down to Dudley’s house, usually in the evening.
He and Eliza would greet me, and we would all chat about nothing for a
while. Dudley would have a drink, and Eliza might, too. She
would make me cocoa if the weather was cold, lemonade if the weather was
warm, and then after a while she would excuse herself, close the pocket
door between the living room and dining room, leave through the door to
the hall, and close that behind her, leaving me alone with Dudley.
There had been a time when I had enjoyed those sessions, when I welcomed
the information and advice Dudley gave me, but I came to enjoy them less
and less as I came to think that I knew more and more. I no longer
wanted to know what he thought I ought to do; I wanted to decide for myself.
I was impatient with his counsel. I fidgeted while he spoke, and
I rarely did as he advised me to do. I didn’t want him as a mentor,
and he decided that he didn’t want me as a pupil.
“You’re becoming stubborn, willful, and headstrong,”
he told me at our last session. “I have the clear impression—and
clearly it is the impression you want me to have—that you think our talks
are no longer of any use to you. You think that I have nothing to
teach you. Correct?”
“I think that I can think for myself,” I said.
“And I think that you have a lot to learn.”
“That may be,” I said, “but the lot that I have
to learn is—” I stopped. I didn’t know what to say. If
there was something clever somewhere in my mind that I could stick onto
the end of my sentence, I couldn’t find it.
“Yes?” asked Dudley, with a hint of a smirk and
a raised eyebrow.
Nothing. I got up out of my chair and left
the room. I did not allow myself to run, though I wanted to run.
I closed the door behind me, and I stood in the front hall for a moment,
trying to recover my self-esteem. Eliza put her head around the corner
of the door to the kitchen and looked down the length of the hall at me.
“Peter?” she said.
“I’ve got a lot to learn,” I said, and I let myself
out the front door and into the night.
I should like to see the custom introduced of readers who are pleased
with a book sending the author some small cash token: anything between
half-a-crown and a hundred pounds. Authors would then receive what
their publishers give them as a flat rate and their “tips” from grateful
readers in addition, in the same way that waiters receive a wage from their
employers and also get what the customer leaves on the plate. Not
more than a few hundred pounds—that would be bad for my character—not less
than half-a-crown—that would do no good to yours.
Cyril Connolly, Enemies of Promise
Copyright © 2001 by Eric
Inflating a Dog is a work of fiction. The characters, incidents,
dialogues, settings, and businesses portrayed in it are products
of the author’s imagination and are not to be construed as real. Any
resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted
in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying,
recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without
permission in writing from the author.
Picador USA will publish Inflating a Dog in the summer of 2002.
For information about publication rights outside the U. S. A., audio
rights, serial rights, screen rights, and so on, e-mail
THE PERSONAL HISTORY
OF THE ENTIRE WORK
DO YOU STOP?
A PIECE OF WORK I AM
HOME WITH THE GLYNNS