“Slightly to the right and below them, below the gigantic red evening, whose reflection bled away in the deserted swimming pools scattered everywhere like so many mirages, lay the peace and sweetness of the town.”

“Sickness is not only in body, but in that part used to be call:  soul.  Poor your friend, he spend his money on earth in such continuous tragedies.”

“Though tragedy was in the process of becoming unreal and meaningless it seemed one was still permitted to remember the days when an individual life held some value and was not a mere misprint in a communique.”

“A sense of fear had possessed him again, a sense of being, after all these years, and on his last day here, still a stranger.  Four years, almost five, and he still feels like a wanderer on another planet.”

“M. Laruelle looked into the west; a knight of old with tennis racquet for shield and pocket torch for scrip, he dreamed a moment of battles the soul survived to wander there.”

“The shattered evil-smelling chapel, overgrown with weeds, the crumbling walls, splashed with urine, on which scorpions lurked – wrecked entablature, sad archivolt, slippery stones covered with excreta – this place, where love had once brooded, seemed part of a nightmare.  And Laruelle was tired of nightmares.”

“But his desire to get wet had deserted him.  He put his tennis racquet under his coat and ran.  A troughing wind all at once engulfed the street, scattering old newspapers and blowing the naphtha flares on the tortilla stands flat:  there was a savage scribble of lightning over the hotel opposite the cinema, followed by another peal of thunder.  The wind was moaning, everywhere people were running, mostly laughing, for shelter.  M. Laruelle could hear the thunderclaps crashing on the mountains behind him.  He just reached the theatre in time.  The rain was falling in torrents.”

“Yet what a complicated endless tale it seemed to tell, of tyranny and sanctuary, that poster looming above him now, showing the murderer Orlac!  An artist with a murderer’s hands; that was the ticket, the hieroglyphic of the times.  For really it was Germany itself that, in the gruesome degradation of a bad cartoon, stood over him. – Or was it, by some uncomfortable stretch of the imagination, M. Laruelle himself?”

“But by this time the poor Consul had already lost almost all capacity for telling the truth and his life had become a quixotic oral fiction.”

“For myself I like to take my sorrow into the shadow of old monasteries, my guilt into cloisters and under tapestries, and into the misericordes of unimaginable cantinas where sad-faced potters and legless beggars drink at dawn, whose cold jonquil beauty one rediscovers in death.  So that when you left, Yvonne, I went to Oaxaca.  There is no sadder word.”

“No, my secrets are of the grave and must be kept.  And this is how I sometimes think of myself, as a great explorer who has discovered some extraordinary land from which he can never return to give his knowledge to the world:  but the name of this land is hell.”

“I think I know a good deal about physical suffering.  But this is worst of all, to feel your soul dying.  I wonder if it is because to-night my soul has really died that I feel at the moment something like peace.”

“Love is the only thing which gives meaning to our poor ways on earth:  not precisely a discovery, I am afraid.”

“The fresh coolness of rain-washed air came through the jalousie into the cantina and he could hear the rain dripping off the roofs and the water still rushing down the gutters in the street and from the distance once more the sound of the fair.”

“To Oaxaca. – Remember Oaxaca?”
“- Oaxaca? – ”
“-Oaxaca.-”
“- The word was like a breaking heart, a sudden peal of stifled bells in a gale, the last syllables of one dying of thirst in the desert.”

“…how, unless you drink as I do, can you hope to understand the beauty of an old woman from Tarasco who plays dominoes at seven o’clock in the morning?”

“Regard:  the plantains with their queer familiar blooms, once emblematic of life, now of an evil phallic death.  You do not know how to love these things any longer.  All your love is the cantinas now:  the feeble survival of a love of life now turned to poison, which only is not wholly poison, and poison has become your daily food, when in the tavern- ”

“Ah, a woman could not know the perils, the complications, yes, the importance of a drunkard’s life!”

“He was not the person to be seen reeling about in the street.  True he might lie down in the street, if need be, like a gentleman; but he would not reel.”

“Ah none but he knew how beautiful it all was, the sunlight, sunlight, sunlight flooding the bar of El Puerto del Sol, flooding the watercress and oranges, or falling in a single golden line as if in the act of conceiving a God, falling like a lance straight into a block of ice-”

“He also had a dog named Harpo, back in London.  You probably wouldn’t have expected a communist to have a dog named Harpo – or would you?”

“Hugh put one foot up on the parapet and regarded his cigarette that seemed bent, like humanity, on consuming itself as quickly as possible.”

“Yet the banality stood: that the past was irrevocably past.  And conscience had been given man to regret it only in so far as that might change the future.  For man, every man, Juan seemed to be telling him, even as Mexico, must ceaselessly struggle upward. What was life but a warfare and a stranger’s sojourn?  Revolution rages too in the tierra caliente of each human soul.  No peace but that must pay full toll to hell-”

“Hugh felt the sense of change, the keen elemental pleasure one experienced too on board a ship which, leaving the choppy waters of the estuary, gives way to the pitch and swing of the open sea.  A faint carillon of bells sounding in the distance, rising and falling, sinking back as if into the very substance of the day.  Judas had forgotten; nay, Judas had been, somehow, redeemed.”

“Darkness, disaster!  How the world fed on it.  In the war to come correspondents would assume unheard of importance, plunging through flame to feed the public its little gobbets of dehydrated excrement.”

“Ah, the harbour bells of Cambridge! Whose fountains in moonlight and closed courts and cloisters, whose enduring beauty in its virtuous remote self-assurance, seemed part, less of the loud mosaic of one’s stupid life there, though maintained perhaps by the countless deceitful memories of such lives, than the strange dream of some old monk, eight hundred years dead, whose forbidding house, reared upon piles and stakes driven into the marshy ground, had once shone like a beacon out of the mysterious silence, and solitude of the fens.”

“Accept it; one is a sentimentalist, a muddler, a realist, a dreamer, coward, hypocrite, hero, an Englishman in short, unable to follow out his own metaphors.”

“They climbed the Calle Nicaragua, always between the parallel swift streams, past the school with the grey tombstones and the swing like a gallows, past high mysterious walls, and hedges intertwined with crimson flowers, among which marmalade colored birds were trapezing, crying raucously.”

“These rooms struck him as spots where diabolical plots must be hatched, atrocious murders planned; here, as when Saturn was in Capricorn, life reached bottom.  But here also great wheeling thoughts hovered in the brain; while the potter and the field-laborer alike, early-risen, paused a moment in the paling doorway, dreaming…”

“As for the demons, they were inside him as well as outside; quiet at the moment – taking their siesta perhaps – he was nonetheless surrounded by them and occupied; they were in possession.  The Consul looked at the sun.  But he had lost the sun:  it was not his sun. Like the truth, it was well-nigh impossible to face; he did not want to go anywhere near it, least of all, sit in its light, facing it.”

“How loathsome, how incredibly loathsome was reality.  He began to walk around the room, his knees giving way every step with a jerk.  Books, too many books…Might a soul bathe there or quench its draught?  It might.  Yet in none of these books would one find one’s own suffering.  Nor could they show you how to look at an ox-eye daisy.”

“He was reaching the edge of the fair.  Mysterious tents were shut up here, or lying collapsed, enfolded on themselves.  They appeared almost human, the former kind awake, expectant; the latter with the wrinkled crumpled aspect of men asleep, but longing even in unconsciousness to stretch their limbs.  Further on at the final frontiers of the fair, it was the day of the dead indeed.  Here the tent booths and galleries seemed not so much asleep as lifeless, beyond hope of revival.  Yet there were faint signs of life after all, he saw.”

“He replaced his dark glasses, set his pipe in his mouth, crossed his legs, and, as the world gradually slowed down, assumed the bored expression of an English tourist sitting in the Luxembourg Gardens.”

“This darkness, though, was associated in his mind with velvet curtains, and there they were, behind the shadowy bar, velvet or velveteen curtains, too dirty and full of dust to be black, partially screening the entrance to the back room, which one could never be sure was private.”

“Senora Gregorio took his hand and held it.  “Life changes, you know,” she said, gazing at him intently.  “You can never drink of it.  I think I see you with your esposa again soon.  I see you laughing together in some kernice place where you laugh.”  She smiled.  “Far away.  In some kernice place where all those troubles you har now will har-” The Consul started:  what was  Senora Gregorio saying?  “Adios,” she added in Spanish, “I have no house only a shadow.  But whenever you are in need of a shadow, my shadow is yours.”

“…a quiet rustling of futility, a rustling of whispers, in which the dust, the heat, the bus itself with its load of immobile old women and doomed poultry, might have been conspiring, while only these two words, the one of compassion, the other of obscene contempt, were audible above the Indian’s breathing.”

“There was no callousness in their faces, no cruelty.  Death they knew, better than the law, and their memories were long.  They sat ranked now, motionless, frozen, discussing nothing, without a word, turned to stone.  It was natural to have left the matter to the men.  And yet, in these old women, it was as if, through the various tragedies of Mexican history, pity, the impulse to approach, and terror, the impulse to escape (as one had learned at college), having replaced it, had finally been reconciled by prudence, the conviction it is better to stay where you are.”

“The cripples jerked themselves slowly past.  Men muttered by in whose faces all hope seemed to have died.  Hoodlums with wide purple trousers waited where the icy gale streamed into open parlours.  And everywhere, that darkness, the darkness of a world without aim – the best for less – but where everyone save herself, it seemed to her…was capable…of finding some faith.”

“Their future would stretch out before them pure and untrammeled as a blue and peaceful lake, and thinking of this Yvonne’s heart felt suddenly light as that of a boy on his summer holidays, who rises in the morning and disappears into the sun.”

“Silence was as infectious as mirth, she thought, an awkward silence in one group begetting a loutish silence in another, which in turn induced a more general, meaningless, silence in a third, until it had spread everywhere.  Nothing in the world is more powerful than one of these sudden strange silences – ”

“How indeed could he hope to find himself, to begin again when, somewhere, perhaps, in one of those lost or broken bottles, in one of those glasses, lay, forever, the solitary clue to his identity?  How could he go back and look now, scrabble among the broken glass, under the eternal bars, under the oceans?”

“The Consul’s eyes focused a calendar behind the bed.  He had reached his crisis at last, a crisis without possession, almost without pleasure finally, and what he saw might have been, no, he was sure it was, a picture of Canada.”

“The evening was filled with odd noises, like those of sleep.  The roll of a drum somewhere was a revolution, a cry down the street someone being murdered, brakes grinding far away a soul in pain.  The plucked chords of a guitar hung over his head.  A bell clanged frantically in the distance.  Lightning twitched.  Half past sick by the cock…”

[Photo credit: Rex]

Copyright: 1947 by Malcolm Lowry

author bio:  https://www.britannica.com/biography/Malcolm-Lowry

Guardian article on Lowry:  https://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/jan/05/100-best-novels-observer-malcolm-lowry-under-the-volcano

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