“As I lay in the ward after the operation (in those days they kept the patient at least a week) I began to plan my third novel, the forlorn hope. I called it The man within, and it began with a hunted man, who was to appear again and again in later less romantic books. But curiously enough there came to me also in the ward, with the death of a patient, the end of a book which I would not begin to write for another six years.
It was our second death. The first we had barely noticed: an old man dying from cancer in the mouth. He had been too old and ill to join in the high jinks of the ward, the courtship of nurses, the teasings, the ticklings and the pinches. When the screens when up around his bed the silence in the corner was no deeper than it had always been. But the second death disturbed the whole ward. The first was inevitable fate, the second was contingency.
The victim was a boy of ten. he had been brought into the ward one afternoon, having broken his leg at football. He was a cheerful child with a rosy face and his parents stayed and chatted with him for a while until he settled down to sleep. One of the nurses ten minutes later paused by his bed and leant over him. Suddenly there was a burst of activity, a doctor came hurrying in, screens went up around the bed, an oxygen machine was run squeaking across the floor, but the child had outdistanced them all to death. By the time the parents reached home, a message was waiting to summon them urgently back. They came and sat beside the bed, and to shut out the sound of the mother’s tears and cries all my companions in the ward lay with their ear-phones on, listening -there was nothing else for them to hear- to Children’s Hour. All my companions but not myself. There is a splinter of ice in the heart of a writer*. I watched and listened. This was something one day I might need. The woman speaking, uttering the banalities she must have remembered from some woman’s magazine, a genuine grief that could communicate only in clichés. ‘My boy, my boy, why did you not wait till I came?’. The father sat silent with his hat on his knees, and you could tell that even in his unhappiness he was embarrassed by the banality on his wife’s words, by the scene she was so badly playing to the public ward, and he wanted desperately to get away home and be alone. ‘Human language,’, Flaubert wrote, ‘is like a crackled kettle on which we beat our tunes for bears to dance to, when all the time we are longing to move the stars to pity’.”
A sort of life
Vintage Classics 2002 (publicado originalmente en 1971 por The Bodley House).
*Una de mis frases favoritas sobre el oficio.