Conrad Aiken: The Collected Short Stories of Conrad Aiken

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Conrad Aiken The Collected Short Stories of Conrad Aiken
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    The Collected Short Stories of Conrad Aiken
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    Современная проза / на английском языке
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This indispensable volume, which includes the classic stories “Silent Snow, Secret Snow” and “Mr. Arcularis,” is a testament to the dazzling artistry of one of the twentieth century’s most influential writers. A young woman passes through the countryside to visit her dying grandmother for a final time. A cabbie, exhausted from a long day’s work, fights to get an intoxicated woman out of his taxi. A man on his way to a bachelor party tries to come to grips with the brutishness that lies within every gentleman—and finds that Bacardi cocktails do nothing to help.  A master craftsman whose poetry and prose offer profound insight into the riddle of consciousness, Conrad Aiken thrills, disturbs, and inspires in all forty-one of these astute and eloquent tales.

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Conrad Aiken

The Collected Short Stories of Conrad Aiken



Miss Rooker dreamed that she was on board the Falcon in Marblehead Harbor. Dr. Fish was uncorking a bottle of champagne, contorting his face grotesquely, his gray mustache pushed up so that it seemed to envelop his red nose. Dr. Harrington, tall and thin in his white flannels, stood beside the gramophone, singing with wide open mouth, his eyes comically upturned towards the low cabin ceiling; his white flannel arm was round Miss Paine’s waist. As he sang he seemed to draw her tighter and tighter against his side, his face darkened, Miss Paine began to scream. The cork came out with a loud pop, froth poured onto the napkin. Miss Rooker held out her glass to be filled, and a great blob of champagne froth fell upon the front of her skirt. It was her white duck skirt which buttoned all the way down with large mother-of-pearl buttons. “Oh—Dr. Harrington!” she cried. Dr. Fish reached down a hand to wipe it away—she was transfixed with delight and horror when instead he unbuttoned one of the buttons, at the same time bringing his mustached face very close to hers and intensely smiling. She had no clothes on, and he was touching her knee. Dr. Harrington sang louder, Miss Paine screamed louder, the gramophone cawed and squealed, and now Dr. Fish was uncorking one bottle after another—pop! pop! pop! She sat in the stern of the tender, trailing one hand in the water of the dark harbor, as they rowed rapidly away from the yacht. Dr. Harrington, slightly drunk, was driving rather recklessly—from side to side of the Boulevard went the car, and Miss Rooker and Dr. Fish were tumbled together; he pinched her side. She would be late—they would be late—long after midnight. The sky was already growing light. Birds began singing. A sparrow, rather large, ridiculously large, opened his mouth wide and started shouting in through her window: “Bring! Bring! Bring! Bring! Bring!…” She woke at this. A sparrow was chirping noisily in the wild cherry tree outside her window. She was in Duxbury. It was a hot morning in summer. She was “on a case”—Mrs. Oldkirk. Mrs. Oldkirk would be waking and would want her glass of hot milk. Perhaps Mrs. Oldkirk had been calling? She listened. No. Nothing but the sparrows and the crickets. But it was time to get up. Why on earth should she be dreaming, after all this time, of Dr. Harrington and Dr. Fish? Five years ago. Possibly because Mr. Oldkirk reminded her of Dr. Fish.… Brushing her black hair before the mirror, and looking into her dark-pupiled brown eyes, she felt melancholy. She was looking very well—very pretty. She sang softly, so as not to disturb Mrs. Oldkirk in the next room: “And when I told—them—how beautiful you were—they wouldn’t be—lieve—me; they wouldn’t be—lieve—me.” Delicious, a deep cold bath on a sultry morning like this; and today the bathing would be good, a high tide about twelve o’clock. Mr. Oldkirk and Miss Lavery would be going in.… Miss Lavery was Mrs. Oldkirk’s cousin.… Well, it really was disgraceful, the way they behaved! Pretending to “keep house” for Mrs. Oldkirk! Did anybody else notice it? And Mr. Oldkirk was very nice-looking; she liked his sharp blue eyes, humorous. “And—when—I—told—them—how beautiful you were—”

Mrs. Oldkirk was already awake, her hands clasped under her braided hair, her bare white elbows tilted upward.

“Good morning, Miss Rooker,” she said languidly.

“Good morning, Mrs. Oldkirk. Did you sleep well?”

“No, it was too hot … far too hot … even without a sheet. The ice melted in the lemonade. It was disgusting.”

“Will you want your hot milk this morning?”

“Oh, yes—certainly. What time is it, Miss Rooker?”

“Just seven-thirty.”

All the windows in the house were open, as Miss Rooker passed through the hall and down the stairs. The sea-wind sang softly through the screens, sea-smells and pine-smells, and the hot morning was like a cage full of birds. “Bring! Bring!” the sparrow had shouted—remarkable dream—and here she was, bringing, bringing hot milk on a hot morning, bringing hot milk to a lazy neurotic woman (rather pretty) who was no more an invalid than she was herself. Why did she want to stay in bed? Why did she want a nurse? A slave would have done as well—there wasn’t the slightest occasion for medical knowledge. The massage, of course. But it was very queer. There was something wrong. And Miss Lavery and Mr. Oldkirk were always talking together till past midnight, talking, talking!

Hilda was lighting the fire in the kitchen range, her pale face saturated with sleep, her pale hair untidy. The green shades were still down over the windows, and the kitchen had the air of an aquarium, the oak floor scrubbed white as bone.

“Good morning, Hilda—how was the dance last night?”

“Lovely.… But oh, sweet hour, how sleepy I am!”

“You look it. You’ll lose your beauty.”

“Oh, go on!”

The fire began crackling in the range; small slow curls of blue smoke oozed out round the stove lids. Miss Rooker went to the ice-chest, took out the bottle of milk. Holding it by the neck, she returned upstairs. On the way she saw Mary setting the breakfast table; she, too, looked pale and sleepy, had been to the dance. “And when I told—them—” She poured the creamy milk into the aluminum saucepan and lit the alcohol lamp. Then she went to the window and watched the sea-gulls circling over the naked hot mud flats. Seals sat in rows. On the beach, fringed with eel-grass, near at hand, Mr. Oldkirk’s green dory was pulled far up, and rested amid gray matted seaweed.

By the time she had given Mrs. Oldkirk her hot milk, bathed the patient’s face and hands and wrists (beautiful wrists, languid and delicate) with cold water, and combed her hair, breakfast was half over.… Mr. Oldkirk, leaning forward on one elbow, was regarding Miss Lavery with a look humorous and intent. Iced grapefruit.

“Ah, here’s Miss Rooker,” said Mr. Oldkirk, glancing up at her quizzically, and pulling back her chair with outstretched hand.… “Good morning, Miss Rooker. Sit down. We have a problem for you to solve.”

Miss Lavery was wearing her pale green satin morning gown. It was becoming to her—oh, quite disgustingly—set off, somehow her long, blue eyes, lazy and liquid, tilted up at the corners a little like a Chinaman’s. But far too negligee. The idea of coming down to breakfast like that—with Mr. Oldkirk!

“I’m no good at riddles. Ask me an easy one.”

“Oh, this is extremely simple,” Mr. Oldkirk said, with just a hint of malice, “merely a question of observation—observation of one’s self.”

Miss Lavery thought this was very funny—she gave a snort of laughter, and stifled it behind her napkin. Really! thought Miss Rooker—when she leaned forward like that!—with that low, loose morning gown! Scandalous.

“You’re good at observing, Miss Rooker—tell us, how long does a love affair last—a normal, you know, ordinary one, I mean?”

“Well, upon my soul!” cried Miss Rooker. “Is that what’s worrying you?”

“Oh, yes, poor man, he’s terribly worried about it.” Miss Lavery snickered, eying Mr. Oldkirk with a gleaming mock derision. “He’s been wrangling with me, all breakfast through, about it.”

“Seriously, Miss Rooker”—he pretended to ignore Miss Lavery—“it’s an important scientific question. And of course a charming young lady like you has had some experience of—er—the kind?”

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