Her Performance Emily Madapusi Pera 2018 1. Without Her The gaslit hall: no one about,no escape. In this direction, alone, get up noiselessly and light the gas, think of rounders in the garden, specks of bright amber in her eyes talking about free-will.
Tomorrow: a world without her, nothing now but governessing and muddles, an ordinary final flourish. 2. On Relief A dim religious, smiling tightly.Beneath her firelit face,the plain shape you like. Slenderly, with relief – Her outdoor things were off, with little rujabiba frills. Downstairs, rotten – Ghastly – Treacherously outspoken – A relief, this sense of relief. 3. What EverybodyHates Frivolous dimples fastened clean skin Over the bulge of a German professor.
Such splendid principles, she intoned, Such a lot in you. Just what everybody hates. 4. Glorious Thickish curves weeping, crimson spread and deepened. We’ll make ourselves glorious, said Eve, As she went down the great oval of dark. 5. Smiles Affable at first, smiles.
With closed eyes she dreamedand the staff crowded round her. Like hostesses loathing privilege, women’s smiles – self-satisfied, horrid. She clutched at her keep,and mountains, and tenderness. 6.
A Reversal The reversed snub: he neverincluded her or only sometimes, when she pretended, her long hair flinging back, her eyes gazing across him. Come bright morning, nothing was real but getting up. They flumped out of the high bed with a gasp.
“Hi!” they gurgled solemnly,and performed an uproarious toilet. 7. Fairy Tales Fairy tales stretched away into spaceas her large hands did their work. On her own shelf jesting as she watched – Swiss Family Robinson, delicate buffoonery,Grimm, quiet swearing,The Bible, voluntary incongruity – She quoted to herself and sang and revelled. Which and why, she could not remember.
8. VoiceDisappearing Thickset murmurs crept up the stairs; Carolled “don’t be long,”and stopped abruptly; Gasped “you’ll be a bonny woman,”and disappeared. He wanted her gonebut need no longer hate her, for they themselves never knewwhose voice it was. 9. On Dread (Published in Scout and Birdie) The convulsive force ofArms, her own dreadful.
Eager and dumb and remorsefulShe had stood, face To face sinking,Before each releasing paroxysm. There would be breakfast, cold;Exhaustion, an end;Her father. 10.
What He Wanted (Published in Scout and Birdie) Very good, she heard him say.Select, she heard,Daughters of gentleman. Her lonely Pilgrimage heart-sinking;Their dismay, her fear. Determination in insisting and carrying her,Poor dear. He always wantedHer to be the same. 11. Faces Condescendingly scuffling along the quay,he admitted Dutch faces with sturdy gaitand indifferent desire for windmills.
Rushing towards flat meadows, she began to think. Bright clearnessbrought tears to her eyes. His face excited and important,he was not listening. 12. GivingHappiness A fool’s errand:nothing to give scornful girlsshe had never thought of parsing.
The moment she imagined: analysis too late. There had been cahiers of them, her German girls. Read English to them and make them happy: on to the parts of speech. 13. Even Here A moment, an explanation was beyond her scope.
Whenever she feared they would despise her, she scented something of imminent catastrophe. Serene assurance disappeared –even here, disgrace ahead. Freedom, somewhere at hand – but would mean knowing German and being quick.
14. The Pale Face Solid money, more as she needed.The pale face had given her all the things. She felt she had a right, without fuss – like other people. With a false position ahead and after a short space, they would marry. 15. No One Else Her father gravely readingdiscontent:her own disappointingbirth, the narrowing ofhouse-life. With the sea creepingin,the disappearance ofred-walled garden.
Wading out through greenshallowshour after hour forweeks together, No one else knew the old stone jetty andcoves and cowrie shells. No one else had seenthe river valley andhills and oaks beyondshining up out of mist. 16. Practice The girl was practicing. Thin fingers hovered and fastened convulsivelylike cold, throbbing claws. Something flinched, relaxed.
Within her, a beginning of response. A great gonging had gone limpid. 17. Her Performance(Published in Scout and Birdie) A radiance for a moment.The gravity opened on her ribbon-knotted dress. Prepared for the differenceBetween the performance of these girls and nearly all.
Firmly-poised, barewith absence. 18. Something Funny Those quite near to her prevented her risking with them any meeting. Something funny about her mouth, rabbity teeth,giggles hollow-cheeked,bodice askew. Her eyes at dinner-time cut towards the danger zone,someone named Hugowho did not wear a moustache. Her warm plump presenceguessed the details. She liked to take food, flash slowly,and reflect light nausea.
19. The Secret (Published in Scout and Birdie) Bright sweep of girls brought misery.The very minims had stiffenedand she had worked them and resented.She had a nice firm massand forgotten fear.She fumbled until the thumpingbegan again.
She had to reproduce the secret.Twice she succeeded and once laughed. 20. Fancy Work Settling down to fancy work, white-cuffed needles jerked and bent into light. She spread outtowards a featureless freedom,a great brightness, On and on, hastening:Her utmost experienceof fancy work. 21. Woman of Forty Her place square and stout,steadily down at the corners. Loose wrists flickered,her eyes like the eyesof a dog.
She played without music unfinished phrases with heavy fervor. She had let herself go old,a woman of forty. 22.
The Finger Game Rippling through swaying body,little hands rose and fell – The finger game. Jack playedvery sweetly, no prelude. At the end appeared two large hands shining red and shapeless with chilblains. Lied, not a note quite true –she pink-flushed, a love-sick Linden tree. 23.
Slang Drifts of slang and careless pronunciationgratified her to the worst. She was awfully slangy herself but delicate caustic,the purest. Rules borrowed from unremembered reading,decisive for cultured people. 24.
Evening Prayers It dawned bright and exceedingly uncomfortable – a huge Bible,vivid and real in this new tongue. With something child-like, a moment of revolt in spirit, she rose. Solomon fluttered the hymns heartily, his jewelsfearfully. How did it happen? She longed for the end – the girls were getting on their knees. Oh dear, every night. 25. She Had Heard The moment she dreaded. Desperate shaking hands adjusted her disguise.
This was Germany, no escape. No mention of grammar. German children knew namesand worse than that, the meaning of names. She had heard such things.
They all subsided and moanedthe whole sentence. They watched her not discover,in any sense. 26. Spiky GreenFigs She flew upstairs,saying the pointhad been faultlessly forgotten. Her wretched self had been real, half-conscious, strangelike those spiky green figs. Ready to swing forwardinto the rising storm of her page,she blinked. Only one tear fell and that was from the left eye towards the wall.
27. Responsibility She rediscovered all she had learned.Eagerly beginning, she told herselfto attach meaning to the familiar. Always omitting the first, she began to understand the fury.
“Ah!” she said aloud, “Women.” She sang once or twice, very quietly, but soon gave that up,her baby face full of responsibility. 28. Hair Washing Too late. Faces emerged and plumped her down upon the table.
Outrage imperative, nauseaas she surrendered. The woman briskly snappedher amazed ears, her flared face. Relentless disgust seizedher egg-sodden head. Her hair had been washed. 29.
Morning Coffee The snarling rattle sounded,grinding coffee. Girls were sitting in a fuzzy cloud as boiling water snored on. Coffee cups slid up Gertrude’s end and were rapidly filled by her. Like a country servant, she drank noisily and furtively. 30.
New Girl Her features shone like Greece and Rome. Her classic head, high and straight.Her classic knot like loosened marble. Looking into her like a mirror,their eyebrows trilled in wrath. How they hated the new girl. 31. Often She wanted them to come to her and taste the wonderful Germany she had achieved. She articulated silently and felt aloof from things they suggested.
She could have killed them oftenin her curious lipless way. 32. Stay A little gathering of people,All rush-seated and scrooping.
English, the way they would smileAnd take things for granted. She sat, chafingAgainst the side of her silky. She fidgeted and feltFor thoughts she tried to compose. From far away, a radiance.A large ostrich feather gleaming.
Best to stayWith the Germans. 33. Not Able On the watch,The next move longed for her. So sweet,Just the fact of their standing together. Afterwards, to confess hysteriaAmused her.
She would not be able. 34. Beginning toFeel Refuse to derive solace– To pretend interest. Men’s sermons, worsethan women’s smiles – You could not stop themanUntil your brain wassick.
Despise it all – Make it plain – No heed. If she should ask,Everything would comeout. She wished she couldtellThe things she wasbeginningTo feel about women. Strange – The logical fallacy,The winking grimace. 35. First Line Now–thank–all–God. She read that first line again and felt how much better the thing was, without “we” and “our.” A perfect phraseto mark time to, A jerk to each syllablewith a twisted glove-finger tip.
Now, thank all, God –They all felt it. 36. Lessons School-routine, as sheknew it,had no place in this new world. A framework of fortuitous days was not securely calculable. Half-impatient, half-exasperated booming came to her from the lectures of German men, who despised women.
Why teach anything at all? The girls sat round bookless and politely attentive. There was no kind of preparation for these lessons. 37. Finished She remembered up the hillwhere girls were “finished” As if they had no minds,no dreaming. Teachers were formal towards the facts they flung out, Faintly wheezy tones bleatingwords and syllogisms, bolster-like. It was an expensive school. 38. Go Back Her agony at the thoughtthat she could never go back.
If only she could really beginknowing what she wanted. Things would get clear,results visible. Lilla would think thatvery funny, and would not care for her,now that she was old. 39. Life Story Woven through herretrospective appreciations,a doubt: Brought up differently,would she have grown up modern? Would she have been affected by the Aesthetic Movementor troubled about Ireland and India? Or would she have been like most girls,placid and serene, shopping and directing? She would have been astounded to discoverwhat she still regarded with provisional suspicion,she decided. She would have envied the life-storyof some poet. 40.
The Signal On a master’s morning the girls collected one by one, occupations devised apparently from hour to hour. Time after breakfast was full of uncertainty and surmise, the lack of any planned programme a standing annoyance to the English. The German side was uncriticaland prophecies always fulfilled, an air of knowledgestricken into certainty: the appearance of the signal for bounding anticipations. 41. A Third Person Uncertainty hung over hoursprolonged by a provisional distribution:ten girls, five pianos. Neither she nor mademoisellereceived any instructions,awaiting the possible arrival of a third person. Quite odd when he came:he would watch her every time with fresh wonder.
She did not want her place,though it meant a quiet alcove of freedom. 42. Her Aurist Obliged to a seriesat the hands of her aurist, whose tangible odor added a great deal to her abhorrence, She looked about for visible signsof an invisible fog pervading the premises with pungency,a quality of onions that multiplied.
She could not explain his character; she imagined: His meals, his slippers, his dingy books in the roomwhere Minna started and moaned; His effect of indigestion so that his very name exasperated her. 43. Her Nose Dreaded expeditions reflected doctor’s treatmentFor her nose and her perpetual cheerfulness. A pang capped in pity of all the careBestowed on her person, her disconcerting nose. A nose that would do splendidlyFor charades. 44. At Home Abroad Thoroughly at home abroad,Germany all around them.
Here she sat, securely adrift.Here they sat, free. It must be changing them,Having got away.
Decision in their bearing,They could shout if they liked. They had the same horridnessBut they did not pretend. 45. Source ofTrouble Come back safe and happy to the beehive,she instructed,stabbing at them all the while. Relentlessly through the throngthey promenaded streets,a recurring Saturday humiliation.
The great foreign paradise,tantalizingly half-seen; The chocolate,required to be described; The careless, alonemeandering in their excesses; And the main source of her trouble:a complete failureof her polyglot role. 46. How to Begin Growing conviction and distress of it were confirmed,a daily spectacle She could not escapeand was growing to hate. Making mockery of her attemptswere others carrying out the designwith no clear idea That they were carrying out any design at all.
She remembered trying hardand making no impression,struggling to know How to begin. 47. Conversations Now and again, she thought:a stirring of animation. Then someone was being discussed or perhaps beginning to tell her about food. Each left her more puzzled and helpless,gravely walking aloof. She would grow cold and constrainedand conversation would drop. She did not know whyher presence led to silence. 48.
A Very Vulgar He had a very vulgar,too vulgar to be spoken; it was breathed in the half-light. Miriam was begged to forget;remember only the beautiful that preceded it. Timidly she responded and received no more. 49. Less Than Silly Ashamed of her share,she grieved over things felt: Dreaming that life was beauty,finding it was duty; Young people wanting reform,and nothing done. She could do nothing, no good; She did less than silly. 50.
Bath Story A gentle decisive voice went onabout sponge-bags, those monuments of bathing, Each large enough to containa veritable family of sponges. General approval was registered for soaps,best when scented lavender,kept separate from sponges. Bath stories prolonged until breakfast, rejoicing over washstand jestsand bubble incidents. 51.
In With theSpecials The message came panting:You’re one of the distinguished ones, A swell,in with the specialsand the classic knot. No idiots admittedto read Goethe,breathed a low voice. She paid no heedas chattering flew.
Holding her arms out,she gave herself upto undulating blank verse. 52. The Heiress Her pitch sounded out rich and full and liquid, trembling her slight body and echoing against the wallsof her face. Entreating tones and despairing ululationroused mademoiselle heavily as she issued a fascinating gaze,an indulgent smile,a flashing hatred. The little heiress frowned.
53. Past Baths Water lathered her in blissful warmth. Between tea and dinnerthey were fragrant,tubbing in steamy air. Splashings echoed sponge-fightsand cleaved wavelets, her laugh raucousin the glass-roofed bath. She let her shoulders sinkand paused dreaming, recalling past baths,so characterless now. 54. Quick Clever The prophecy: she might be ill one day,Never ill and sad and helpless.
Half-withdrawn, she plunged in,Her vacant eyes unveiled. The vision: she could imagine That girl married. She could not faceHer quick clever movements. 55. Charades A lavishly decked tea-tableAwaited English girls to act charades. A timid suggestion supplied singsong,Fussy little absurdities they laughedThrough all evening. Planning farcical scenes for syllables,Her face upturned so the audience would catchThe clear outline and refrain. She felt herself in a vast spaceAlight with approving voices.
People always liked her on the stage. 56. Cobwebs The bell sounded and they blew out the candle piercing the darkness. Shadows bobbed and dartedin little quick dancing steps. She got to her feet and went marching gentlyround the room near the walls. Cobwebs up there, dangling in corners,volleying high over her head.
She began recover breath,sighing brokenly. She saw the room again,swelling and shrinking. 57. Blouses Real grand proper blouses,within an inch of her life. One, squashed strawberry,smart but not too much. The other, buffy,zephyr cotton. She fumbled the disarranged conclusion: Extraordinary blouses would make a difference.
The duffer at the tennis-club would be flabbergasted. 58. English Lesson Hours that lay ahead would bring testsand opportunities to see her incapability.She wanted to be still, and smaller,in the green fields and woods. She heard Fraulein talking in Englishof councilors and centuries,taunting words.She did not know what to say.
Fraulein’s eye passed hera look of intelligence,and she rallied to repeatingEnglish names earnestly. Pigs. Poultry.
Hay. Straw. A moment of relief to look easilyat the little pigs trotting,as they reached the cobbled open spaceand stood still.
Peaked houses stood all round themand she almost cried aloud. 59. Old-TimeGermany She turned a radiant faceand Fraulein made some movement with her lips:”I think you have something of the German in you.
” Little sounds of affectionate raillery encouraged response. “You like old-time Germany?” Fraulein pressed. She stirred heavily and looked up, flushing,her eyes avoiding the German arbors.
Of course there wasn’t anything a bit like Germany in England. She paused in her mental comment,a crimson tide bridling. “All towns are beautiful, perhaps.”And comparisons, odious.
60. Ending At sunset, minutes were passing;soon they must go. She wanted to stayin the musty room behind the quiet dim,more than anything in her life. Fraulein beckoned girls to collect in a little group,and listen as she quoted: “Still we of the wild are the better men.” She felt her eyes grow strong and clear,a coolness flowing through her.