Joe Treasure: The Book of Air

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Joe Treasure The Book of Air
  • Название:
    The Book of Air
  • Автор:
  • Издательство:
    Clink Street Publishing
  • Жанр:
    sf_postapocalyptic / Современная проза / на английском языке
  • Год:
    2016
  • Город:
    London
  • Язык:
    Английский
  • ISBN:
    978-1-911525-09-7
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    5 / 5
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The Book of Air: краткое содержание, описание и аннотация

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Retreating from an airborne virus with a uniquely unsettling symptom, property developer Jason escapes London for his country estate, where he is forced to negotiate a new way of living with an assortment of fellow survivors. Far in the future, an isolated community of descendants continue to farm this same estate. Among their most treasured possessions are a few books, including a copy of , from which they have constructed their hierarchies, rituals and beliefs. When 15-year-old Agnes begins to record the events of her life, she has no idea what consequences will follow. Locked away for her transgressions, she escapes to the urban ruins and a kind of freedom, but must decide where her future lies. These two stories interweave, illuminating each other in unexpected ways and offering long vistas of loss, regeneration and wonder. The Book of Air

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Joe Treasure

THE BOOK OF AIR

For my father Wilfrid Treasure, craftsman and house builder

And they that shall be of thee shall build the old waste places: thou shalt raise up the foundations of many generations; and thou shalt be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of paths to dwell in.

(Isaiah 58:12)

Agnes

This is how I write my name when we’ve made paper and sharpened our pens. Agnes child of Janet. When we copy out our texts in the study. But this is not a text. What is it then?

Our paper in the study is not like this. Not smooth as butter. And not bound like this into a book. A book that is not a book, having no words in it. None until I write them.

Because here are the words. And where do they come from? Out of my head on to the paper.

There are four books. Everyone knows this. Everyone who is not too dull even to learn the Book of Moon when they are six summers old. Four books. The Book of Moon, which is for all the people of the village. The Book of Air, which is for those clever enough to study and with the time to leave off field work. The Book of Windows which is for one or two maybe in a lifetime. The Book of Death which is for no one living, not until the world is soon to end. Four books. What book is this then?

I found it two days past, in an attic at the Hall, behind a big iron box that had a use maybe in the endtime. I was hiding from Roland. He searches for me and wins a kiss. A childish game I thought it was. But since the turn of the year his kisses have grown stronger. His lips press harder on mine, and mine on his until I begin to feel his closeness not only on my mouth, but deep down in my belly.

Should I strike those words out? I would be ashamed for Sarah to see them. But why should I strike out words not meant for her? If I think of Sarah I must strike out all the words. I should suck the ink back off the paper, and leave it as pale and smooth as an onion, which I know can never be done. This book has pulled these thoughts out of my head, and if Sarah saw them she would tell the Mistress who is mean and shrivelled, and the Mistress would have me flogged.

The men were looking to see where the roof leaked and left the ladder up. And so I climbed into the attic. And so I found this book. If the roof hadn’t leaked, if I hadn’t climbed the ladder, the world would still be as it was. If Roland’s kisses hadn’t filled me with longing and made me want to hide so I couldn’t be found. But there I was. And there was the book softened by cobwebs in the grey light. Though I gasped with fear to do it, I slipped it in the pocket of my apron. And down the ladder I crept, and down the staircase, with my eyes closed, as I do sometimes when I imagine myself a person of leisure, trailing my fingers down along the ancient handrail, turning at each flight, until I feel the wooden dog that lies carved on the final post, looking over his foreleg to see who might come in at the front door.

My mother calls me now to bring in wood and boil water for the beans. Our cottage is smoky already from the fire and I have no appetite for supper, but I must go, or see her disappointed in her wilful child. And still my hand keeps moving, dipping the nib, forming the words as I think them. A fifth book. But there are only four books. I think of my dead father, and my gran who once sang me to sleep, and all the dead before them, gone without names, back and back to the endtimers who left us Talgarth Hall and all its treasures, Maud, Mother Abgale, Old Sigh and others long forgotten. So is this the Book of Death? It might well be, such power it has over me.

Jason

I’ve been wandering. I sleep and wake and have difficulty telling the difference.

I was dreaming of the future. I got up from my bed and the place was full of strangers – the staircases and passageways – and no one could see me. I was a ghost in my own house. I opened a door and I was in the orchard. And then you came to me, Caroline, bright and fresh as though you were still alive.

I open my eyes and the world ends all over again.

Was Maud in here again during the night trying to feed me cabbage soup? I hear them down in the kitchen making a racket with pans and knives – Maud and Abigail. They were in the yard earlier, chopping wood and talking to the chickens. Abigail talking. Maud doesn’t talk. I scare her, but she comes anyway. I saw them together on the landing, Maud with an oil lamp, Abigail stroking her hair. She dresses like an old woman, Maud does – headscarf, wellies, layers of cardigans – though she can’t be more than seventeen. Nice enough looking if she ever cracked a smile.

Abigail’s not exactly a stylish dresser, but there’s something about her, the way she holds herself – she knows what she’s worth. And she’s scared of nothing. She put a wet flannel on my face when I was burning up, pressed it to my mouth. A shock of water, ice cold in the throat. When was this? Last night? A week ago? It can’t have been that long because I seem not to be dead yet.

‘I’m sorry, Jason, to see you in this state.’ She spoke in a murmur, looking away, almost as if she was talking to herself. She didn’t want to agitate me, perhaps. At first I couldn’t make my voice work to ask her who she was, but she told me anyway. ‘My name is Abigail.’ An oddly formal way of speaking she has. And she rinsed the flannel and pressed it again to my face.

‘Do you know me?’ I asked her, and she said, ‘This is your house, Talgarth Hall. Your room. We put you here to bed.’ I asked if it was day or night and she said it was early evening and Maud was milking the cows.

‘Whose cows?’

She smiled at that and said, ‘The cows don’t much care whose cows they are.’

Was that one conversation, one facecloth? Or does she come every night?

Maud doesn’t make conversation, but I know it’s her even in the dark. She smells of soup. I swore at her when I first arrived. I think I did. I was in my own fog and whatever I said didn’t come out right. What the fog was she doing in my house? How the fog did she get in? If she knew what was good for her she’d fog off out of here before I called the police. I would’ve been on my face if I hadn’t had the door to hold on to. She backed off up the hall anyway, poor mute Maud, as if I was about to hit her.

Call the police! That’s a laugh. You couldn’t get the police out to deal with squatters even before, even when everything still worked. Before the world caught the sweats. No wonder she kept her distance. What planet had I dropped from?

That’s when I started singing – strange noises I’d never thought of making in my life. You’ll understand this, Caroline, even though I can hardly make sense of it myself. You know how it goes, how the virus takes you. You’ve been through it. Here’s how it went for me. I was of the multitude of the heavenly host. But I was also myself, and more entirely myself than I’d ever been, with a cry for you, Caro, and for all the dead. Come back! A cry of joy, because for that moment I believed I could reach you. I had to let go of the door because my arms were impelled to move. Only the legs let me down. The impulse was there, shuddering through the joints, but I couldn’t stop the legs from buckling. I had my eye on the newel post at the foot of the stairs – the carved greyhound curled up with its snout under its paw. If I could get that far the world would be saved. It didn’t feel mad. It felt powerful.

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