Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Ben had entered Otsego Lake Academy at the age of ten, the week after his father had died during the 1888 blizzard, with a black band around the upper part of his left arm, marking him out as a child who had had a death in the family. The black bands--there were three boys wearing them--as well as being an outward demonstration of mourning, like lowered blinds and black-edged writing-paper, might--generous-hearted souls could have chosen to believe--also have been designed to alert masters and other boys to treat their wearers with particular gentleness. The effect they actually produced was to identify easy targets for teasing, enticing little treats for the likes of Mr. Rappaport. Black bands were bull's-eyes for Brinkman, targets at which he aimed with all the sharp words of weaponry.


Oliver again, this time starting an incantation of the one Latin verb they knew how to conjugate, a proud declaration of defiance. They were like Christian martyrs going to their deaths singing hymns. With his strongly devoloped sense of irony, he would be well aware of the incongruity of their approaching the abode of The Beards chanting words that expressed all the varying ways they knew of declaring love.


He had always inagined that grammar would be austere and immutable, like the temperature at which water froze or boiled, the capital of Pennsylvania, the height of Mount Washington, or the price of thirty-nine pocket inkstands (their arithmetic books certainly believed in making the subject relevant) costing twelve cents each, but--as the weeks and months and years went by--and the lists and sentences grew down the blackboard, and in his exercise books (scrawled on the blackboard, neat and meticulous in the exercise book), Ben found, more and more, that--ignore it as he tried--emotion crept into the grammar, as he worked his way through the ink-stained textbooks with which they had by then been issued.

--Peter Rushforth, A Dead Language

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous8:39 AM

    I was so excited to see this excerpt. I'm just coming up to the end of 'Pinkerton's Sister' now and am looking forward to 'A Dead Language'. How do they compare? I don't suppose the latter is as packed with literary references? Does Alice make an appearance?


A bang, not a whimper

  Two months into L.'s retirement, and I'm finished with the stockpiling of books. No more book purchases! Or at least, no purcha...