‘They look so fine, and young, and wrapped up in each other. Love is so fresh and clean at that age. Don’t you think?’
‘Margareta! I’m surprised at you! We both know there’s no such thing as love!’
‘What do you call it?’
Tatyana snuffed our her cigarette. That sly smile. ‘Mutations of wanting.’
‘You’re not serious.’
‘I am quite serious. Look at those kids. The boys want to get the girls into bed so they can have their corks popped off their bottles and forth. When a man blows his nose you don’t call it love. Why get all misty-eyed when a man blows another part of his anatomy? As for the girls, they’re either going along for the ride because they can get the things they want from the boys, or else maybe they enjoy being in bed too. Thought I doubt it. I never knew an eighteen-year-old boy who didn’t drop the egg off his spoon at the first fence.’
‘But that’s list! You’re talking about lust, not love.’
‘Lust is the hard sell. Love is the soft sell. The profit margin is the same.’
‘But love’s the opposite of self-interest. True, tender, love is pure and selfless.’
‘No. True, tender love is self-interest so sinewy that it only looks selfless.’
The ship rolls and her timbers creak like a barn in a gale.
‘Have you considered turning apothecary ashore, Mr Nash?’
‘Not I, sir.’ Nash does not smile at the pleasantry.
‘I can see Nash’s Patented Elixir arrayed in a row of china bottles.’
‘Men of commerce, sir…’ Nash counts out laudanum drops into the pewter beaker ‘… for the most part, had their consciences cut out at birth. Better an honest drowning than slow death by hypocrisy, law or debt.’
Act, implores the Ghost of Future Regret. I shan’t give you another chance.
Jacob hurries past the tomatoes and catches her up near the gate.
‘Miss Abigawa? Miss Aibagawa. I must ask you to forgive me.’
She has turned around and has one hand on the gate. ‘Why forgive?’
‘For what I now say.’ The marigolds are molten. ‘You are beautiful.’
She understands. Her mouth opens and closes. She takes a step back…
… into the wicket gate. Still shut, it rattles. The guard swings it open.
Damn fool, groans the Demon of Present Regret. What have you done?
Crumpling, burning and freezing, Jacob retreats, but the garden has quadrupled in length, and it may take a Wandering Jew’s eternity before he reaches the cucumbers, where he kneels behind a screen of dock leaves; where the snail on the pail flexes its stumpy horns; where ants carry patches of rhubarb leaf along the shaft of the how; and he wishes the Earth might spin backwards to a time she appeared, asking for rosemary, and he would do it all again, and he would do it all differently.
How vulgar, this hankering after immortality, how vain, how false. Composers are merely scribblers of cave paintings. One writes music because winter is eternal and because, if one didn’t, the wolves and blizzards would be at one’s throat all the sooner.