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OUR BOOKS > MINI–MAGS > ESCAPE

Escape

Story
Written by Chester Eagle
Designed by Vane Lindesay
DTP by Chris Giacomi
First published 2004 as a mini-mag by Trojan Press in conjunction with Avant Card free postcards, Sydney
Ten thousand copies; circa 9,500 distributed by Avant Card, circa 500 by the author
Circa 5500 words
Electronic publication 2006 by Trojan Press
Included in Australian Issue, World Literature, Beijing, November 2012

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Here’s what it says on the cover:

A wealthy man offers a stranger a place where she can meditate. Both crazy, the locals think. He envies her freedom, living at the edge. He brings supplies for her; they talk, exploring the frontiers of meaning, the usefulness of words. Then, requiriing an even greater solitude, she leaves. Distressed by her departure, he nonetheless comes to see that the mad woman may be the sanest of us all.


To read some extracts from the book click here:
Beginning
In the bath

To read about the writing of this book click here.

Beginning

‘ It’s one thing to escape,’ Harold said, ‘but where do you want to end up?’

Marlene had an answer. ‘I want to be where wisdom is.’

‘You want to be wise.’

‘I’ll never be wise. I’m too run-around, ragged, and stupid. I want to be where wisdom is.’

‘In the presence of truth.’

‘That’s where I want to be,’ she said. The men in the tiny bar wondered what the district’s richest man saw in this plain woman – nice body, though – with ragged hair and clothes culled from op-shops or left by people she’d lived with – when she had lived with people; it was said she’d had a year on an island, alone, alone, all alone. What had she done for conversation? Shrieked at the birds, or whispered to fishes, lurking beneath the waves? It was rumoured that she’d told someone, ‘Clouds were my friends: clouds and storms.’ She was a nut. She’d hitched a ride to their town and now she was talking to the only man mad enough to see anything in her: Harry Trethewan, who wanted to be called Harold, though only his family could be made to do it. It was typical of his arrogance, they thought, that he should find the most worthless woman who’d ever entered the place more interesting than they were. Insufferable bastard!

‘And you came here? Wisdom, if you look at the denizens, won’t be easy to find.’ He was amused, in a kindly way; her foolishness was on a scale that pleased him.

‘It’s a step to where I’m going.’

‘And where’s that?’

‘I have first to decide what wisdom is. My search is pointless if I don’t know it when I see it.

He screwed up his eyes as if to look into her. ‘I’m having one more drink, I’m buying a few supplies, then I’m going into the mountains. If you come with me I’ll show you your stepping-off point, a place lonely enough to drive you mad, on a ledge near a spring, with the remnants of a hut. You and I could fix it together, I’m sure you’re capable of improvising. It’s a place acquainted with infinity, and it has all the space the human brain ever needed. The place I’m offering you has the potential to let you find everything or anything you want. That’s the good prospect; the bad is that you’ll go mad with misery, yearning, and human need.’

‘That,’ she said, ‘will never happen. Show me this place. And when we get there you must be honest enough to tell me why you’re giving it to me.’

A wry, sarcastic jollity ran through him. ‘It’s a dialogue I’m looking forward to. Will you take alcohol into the hills?

She watched him pick up her glass. ‘If you bring it, I’ll drink it with you. Apart from that, I’ll abstain.’ He thought her answer good.

In the weeks that followed, they worked, she, when she had materials to work with, he, when he had time. They repaired the hut. They gave it a new roof of slightly less rusted corrugated iron. They stopped the more obvious holes where wind could get in. They built a tiny mezzanine under the roof, and cut steps – footholds, really – in a pole to give her access to the mattress where she would sleep. He brought piping so that spring water came to the hut. He surprised her one morning by bringing on his truck a copper for washing clothes, and a large green bath. She expected it to smash as he tried to get it down, but he had expertise with ropes that she hadn’t dreamt of. Loosing, tying, levering the gross thing with a crowbar to avoid trunks in its way, he got it down the steep slope to the ledge – it was no more – where she was to live. Together they pushed, rolled, pulled and dragged the bath to the spot he designated then they put rocks under and beside to stabilise it. ‘You want for nothing now,’ he said, puffing, and looking at her with his X-ray eyes, ‘except wisdom. Who knows where that will come from?’ he asked, rhetorical in performance though Marlene, by then, had sensed a trouble beneath his grandiloquence as if he was at one and the same time yearning for her to see behind his mask and doing everything he could to make it impossible.

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In the bath

He nodded, then it occurred to him that the woman in the water with him would never become pregnant and give birth. He reached for the submerged breast on the side of his right hand: her left. ‘There’s a great sadness in a woman not becoming a mother.’

Speaking over his shoulder, addressing, he felt, the rocks on the mountainside, she intoned, ‘Continuing the human species involves declaring your membership. I left it years ago. She added, whimsically, ‘Resigned. Let my papers lapse. Stopped paying my dues. I put myself into the silence to see what I could hear.’

They listened. The very presence of mountains is a song. Orchestral air murmured about them, and a wind, high above, moved clouds to let a beam of light brighten the other side of their valley. He wanted to ask her questions, but knew it would break an unspoken rule.

‘My wife understands my position exactly, but she can’t remedy it, because she can’t take out of existence that nagging, gnawing part of the brain that disquiets me. I’m sure she thinks I’d be better without it, so she lulls me as much, and as best, she can. It’s ever so comforting, and I love her for it. No man ever had a better companion, but – and she understands this – I don’t particularly want a companion. What I want, I think, is someone whose restlessness is as great as my own.’

Another movement of cloud took the light from their valley. She splashed her face, ran her hands through her hair, then rested her head on the end of the bath, staring at the leaves above, or the sky beyond them, silent for so long that he wondered if she’d gone into meditation, then she spoke again.

‘Yearning is a form of cheating. A hope that someone else will do the work we have to do ourselves. The mountaineer feels inspiration on seeing a peak, but if he wants to stand on it, he has to put one foot after another, day after day, until he’s done the work of getting his body where his eyes desired to be. Advanced spiritual states require that we work to reach them. The problem is to know which actions, which thoughts, take us up, and which ones lead us down. The problem is easy to express, impossible to solve.’

He stood up. She looked at him, naked above her. ‘Out now,’ he said. ‘That’s the end of our first session. We won’t know for a long time whether it was any use or not. I think that promising is the best thing we could say about it. I want some tea, and a leg of that chicken, before I go back to work.’ She stood up, water dripping from her body, solider and less bony than his, a woman beside a man. ‘Papageno, Papagena,’ he tried to sing. She laughed, then put an arm around him. He chuckled. ‘Get dressed again, get that kettle on. I’ve got things to do.’.

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The writing of this book:

I was staying at a house in the mountains of East Gippsland, and my hosts took me to a hut a few kilometres away. Like the hut in my story, it was off the edge of high country, sitting on a ledge no larger than a suburban block. Words had been painted and/or charcoaled on the outside and there was more writing within. There was a pipe to bring water, a copper to heat it, and a bath for whomsoever felt inclined. What I saw that day is exactly as described in the story. I didn’t need to invent or imagine a setting because a perfect one had been shown to me. But what had happened here? My writer’s imagination let itself loose. I walked around the ledge where these delicious circumstances sat, and I knew that I was walking inside a story. What had happened here? That was for me to imagine. I think it is fairly rare for a writer to know that he is walking on the ground where a story will happen – as soon as he imagines it – and within the psychic space of a story. Stories are like incarnations, to writers, and I knew, that morning, that I was peculiarly blessed. I knew! The next day I drove back to Melbourne, and the day after, I started to write. It took me about five days, as I recall, to get my story down. My story: I felt free to embroider the few details of the hut’s one-time inhabitant which my hosts could give me. ‘Real’ life and the life of the imagination dance around each other, each accusing the other of excess! What happens in my story almost certainly didn’t happen, but it could have, in that curious and satisfying world which the imagination likes to bring into being.

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