Monthly Archive December 2018

Byweimiaow

Leagues away, in a one-room hut of mud and straw

Leagues away, in a one-room hut of mud and straw with a thatched roof and a smoke hole and a floor of hard-packed earth, Varamyr shivered and coughed

and licked his lips. His eyes were red, his lips cracked, his throat dry and parched, but the taste of blood and fat filled his

mouth, even as his swollen belly cried for nourishment. A child’s flesh, he thought, remembering Bump. Human meat. Had

he sunk so low as to hunger after human meat? He could almost hear Haggon

growling at him. “Men may eat the flesh of beasts and beasts the flesh of men, but the man who eats the flesh of man is an abomination.”

Abomination. That had always been Haggon’s favorite word. Abomination, abomination, abomination. To eat of

human meat was abomination, to mate as wolf with wolf was abomination, and to seize the body of another man was the

worst abomination of all. Haggon was weak, afraid of his own power. He died weeping and alone when I ripped his second life from him. Varamyr had

devoured his heart himself. He taught me much and more, and the last thing I learned from him was the taste of human flesh.

For example, there was the Piscine Deligny, the city’s oldestpool, dating back to 1796, an open-air barge moored to

theQuai d’Orsay and the venue for the swimming events of the1900 Olympics. But none of the times were recognized by theInternational Swimming Federation

because the pool was sixmetres too long. The water in the pool came straight from theSeine, unfiltered and unheated. “It

was cold and dirty,” saidMamaji. “The water, having crossed all of Paris, came in foulenough. Then people at the pool made it utterly disgusting.”

Inconspiratorial whispers, with shocking details to back up hisclaim, he assured us that the French had very low standardsof personal hygiene. “Deligny was bad

enough. Bain Royal,another latrine on the Seine, was worse. At least at

Delignythey scooped out the dead fish.” Nevertheless, an Olympic poolis an Olympic pool, touched by immortal glory. Though it

 

wasa cesspool,

Mamaji spoke of

Deligny with

a fond smile.

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Byweimiaow

Then the pack was on them.His one-eyed brother

Then the pack was on them.

His one-eyed brother knocked the tooth-thrower back into a snowdrift and tore his throat out as he struggled. His sister

slipped behind the other male and took him from the rear. That left the female and her pup for him.

She had a tooth too, a little one made of bone, but she dropped it when the warg’s jaws closed around her leg. As she fell,

she wrapped both arms around her noisy pup. Underneath her furs the female was just skin and bones, but her dugs were

full of milk. The sweetest meat was on the pup. The wolf saved the choicest parts for his brother. All around the

carcasses, the frozen snow turned pink and red as the pack filled its bellies.

It was on my own, a guilty pleasure, that I returned to thesea, beckoned by the mighty waves that crashed down

andreached for me in humble tidal ripples, gentle lassos thatcaught their willing Indian boy.

My gift to Mamaji one birthday, I must have been thirteenor so, was two full lengths of credible butterfly. I finished sospent I could hardly wave to him.

Beyond the activity of swimming, there was the talk of it. Itwas the talk that Father loved. The more vigorously he

resistedactually swimming, the more he fancied it. Swim lore was hisvacation talk from the workaday talk of running a zoo.

Waterwithout a hippopotamus was so much more manageable thanwater with one.

Mamaji studied in Paris for two years, thanks to the colonialadministration. He had the time of his life. This was in

theearly 1930s, when the French were still trying to makePondicherry as Gallic as the British were trying to make

therest of India Britannic. I don’t recall exactly what Mamajistudied. Something commercial, I suppose. He was a

greatstoryteller, but forget about his studies or the Eiffel Tower orthe Louvre or the cafés of the Champs-Elysées. All his storieshad to do

 

with swimming

pools and

swimming

competitions.

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Byweimiaow

A man alone was a feeble thing. Big andstrong,

A man alone was a feeble thing. Big and strong, with good sharp eyes, but dull of ear and deaf to smells. Deer and elk and even hares were faster, bears and boars

fiercer in a fight. But men in packs were dangerous. As the wolves closed on the prey, the warg heard the wailing of a pup, the crust of last night’s snow breaking under clumsy man-paws,

the rattle of hardskins and the long grey claws men carried.

Swords, a voice inside him whispered, spears.

The trees had grown icy teeth, snarling down from the bare brown branches. One Eye ripped through the

undergrowth, spraying snow. His packmates followed. Up a hill and down the slope beyond, until the wood opened before them and the men were there.

One was female. The fur-wrapped bundle she clutched was her pup. Leave her for last, the voice whispered, the males are the danger. They were roaring at each

other as men did, but the warg could smell their terror. One had a wooden tooth as tall as he was. He flung it, but his hand was shaking and the tooth sailed high.

I went there with him three times a week throughout mychildhood, a Monday, Wednesday, Friday early morning

ritualwith the clockwork regularity of a good front-crawl stroke. Ihave vivid memories of this dignified old man

stripping down tonakedness next to me, his body slowly emerging as he

neatlydisposed of each item of clothing, decency being salvaged at thevery end by a slight turning away and a magnificent

pair ofimported athletic bathing trunks. He stood straight and he wasready. It had an epic simplicity. Swimming

instruction, which intime became swimming practice, was gruelling, but there wasthe deep pleasure of doing a

stroke with increasing ease andspeed, over and over, till hypnosis practically,

the water

turningfrom

molten lead to

liquid light.

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Byweimiaow

“It was a pool the gods would have delighted to swim in.

“It was a pool the gods would have delighted to swim in.
Molitor had the best competitive swimming club in Paris. Therewere two pools, an indoor and an outdoor. Both were as bigas small oceans. The indoor

pool always had two lanesreserved for swimmers who wanted to do lengths. The waterwas so clean and clear you could have used it to make yourmorning

coffee. Wooden changing cabins, blue and white,surrounded the pool on two floors. You could look down andsee everyone and everything. The porters who marked yourcabin door with chalk to show that it was occupied

werelimping old men, friendly in an ill-tempered way. No amount ofshouting and tomfoolery ever ruffled them. The showers gushedhot, soothing water.

There was a steam room and an exerciseroom. The outside pool became a skating rink in winter. Therewas a bar, a cafeteria, a large sunning deck, even

two smallbeaches with real sand. Every bit of tile, brass and woodgleamed. It was – it was…”It was the only pool that made Mamaji fall silent, hismemory

 

skating rink in winter. Therewas a bar, a cafeteria, a large sunning deck, even

two smallbeaches with real sand. Every bit of tile, brass and woodgleamed. It was – it was…”It was the only pool that made Mamaji fall silent, hismemory

making too many lengths to mention.
Mamaji remembered, Father dreamed.

“Er, no, you didn’t. That is, well, you have to be told—”

“Is something wrong, Mr. Trowbridge?” she asked quietly.

“Well, er, yes there is—”

“Anything happened to Mother or—”

“Oh, no, what a blundering ass I am; but, you know, it’s this way, the stock market—well, you’ve heard how it broke a lot of people. We have to—er,

reduce expenses, er, you see—there was a meeting, and some of the pilots have to go—I’m

sorry, hate to

lose you, hate

it like fury, and

so does Wallace.”

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Byweimiaow

The Piscines Hébert, Ledru-Rollin and Butte-aux-Cailles

The Piscines Hébert, Ledru-Rollin and Butte-aux-Cailles werebright, modern, spacious pools fed by artesian wells. They

setthe standard for excellence in municipal swimming pools. Therewas the Piscine des Tourelles, of course, the city’s other greatOlympic pool, inaugurated

during the second Paris games, of1924. And there were still others, many of them.
But no swimming pool in Mamaji’s eyes

matched the gloryof the Piscine Molitor. It was the crowning aquatic glory ofParis, indeed, of the entire civilized world.

“Ah, the waiter.” The man appeared and the meal was eaten almost in silence. Twice Roberta tried to break the

awkwardness of22 the situation, but the replies from her companion were the briefest possible, so she gave up the

attempt after the second failure. She was glad when the meal was over and they returned to Nike. They took their places

and several times during the return trip, the pilot saw her companion give her short quick glances.

There was something about Mrs. Pollzoff which made Roberta recall the time Phil had been employed to take an old man on

regular trips to Philadelphia. Young Fisher had described his passenger as “falling to pieces,” but after a number of

trips, Roberta had chanced to see the pair in the air; the ancient man pressing a pistol to the back of his pilot’s head. It wasn’t a pleasant memory, in fact it added

greatly to the girl’s uneasiness, but, if her companion’s intention was evil, she gave no evidence of it. They reached the field

in good time without mishap, and as soon as they were out

“Tomorrow I shall come at the same time.”

“Wild as a plate of soup.” Roberta told him how she had spent the hours and what had been passing through her mind. They walked slowly toward the office and Phil listened thoughtfully.

“Let them know at the office,” Roberta replied mechanically. Just at that

moment23 Phil’s Moth came roaring over the field and lighted close by. He waved to Roberta, who waited for him.

“Have a wild time?”

of the cockpit,

the passenger

turned for

an instant.

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Byweimiaow

“Wonder what her game is anyway? I’m going to tell

“Wonder what her game is anyway? I’m going to tell Trowbridge to have some—”

“I say, Kingsley.” Someone called the president’s son, and with a nod to his companion, he strode off to see what was wanted.

Roberta proceeded, but as she went she wished she had not spoken to Phil of her nervousness. Probably it was just silly and she certainly didn’t want to be

relieved of the responsibility because she was afraid. After all, there wasn’t a thing in the world to be afraid of, nothing but a collection of wild guesses. It

was unlike the time the “old man” had tried to appropriate the Moth, for then the country was filled with horrible stories of “Blue Air-pirates,” but now everything was as it should be. In fact, life was a bit dull except24 for the

unending joy of racing into the sky. By that time she reached Mr. Trowbridge’s office, but as she opened the door she heard Mr. Wallace saying

angrily, “Well, I’ll be darned if I see it. Oh, oh, hello Miss Langwell.” With that he rushed out of the room and banged the door so hard that it jarred the place.

“Oh, er, oh,” Mr. Trowbridge glanced at her, then began to fumble with some papers on his desk. “Wallace is a bit upset, you’ll have to excuse him.”

unending joy of racing into the sky. By that time she reached Mr. Trowbridge’s office, but as she opened the door she heard Mr. Wallace saying

angrily, “Well, I’ll be darned if I see it. Oh, oh, hello Miss Langwell.” With that he rushed out of the room and banged the door so hard that it jarred the place.

“Sorry if I interrupted—”

“It was a pool the gods would have delighted to swim in.
Molitor had the best competitive swimming club in Paris. Therewere two

pools, an indoor and an outdoor. Both were as bigas small oceans. The indoor pool always had two

lanesreserved

for swimmers

who wanted

to do lengths.

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Byweimiaow

I went there with him three times a week throughout mychildhood,

I went there with him three times a week throughout mychildhood, a Monday, Wednesday, Friday early morning ritualwith the clockwork regularity of a good front-crawl stroke. Ihave vivid memories of this dignified

old man stripping down tonakedness next to me, his body slowly emerging as he neatlydisposed of each item of clothing, decency being salvaged at thevery

end by a slight turning away and a magnificent pair ofimported athletic bathing trunks. He stood straight and he wasready. It had an epic simplicity.

Swimming instruction, which intime became swimming practice, was gruelling, but there wasthe deep pleasure of doing a stroke with increasing

ease andspeed, over and over, till hypnosis practically, the water turningfrom molten lead to liquid light.

It was on my own, a guilty pleasure, that I returned to thesea, beckoned by the mighty waves that crashed down andreached for me in humble tidal

ripples, gentle lassos thatcaught their willing Indian boy.
My gift to Mamaji one birthday, I must have been thirteenor so, was two full lengths of credible butterfly. I finished sospent I could hardly wave to him.

Beyond the activity of swimming, there was the talk of it. Itwas the talk that Father loved. The more vigorously he resistedactually swimming, the more he fancied it. Swim lore was hisvacation talk from the workaday talk of shlf1314

running a zoo. Waterwithout a hippopotamus was so much more manageable thanwater with one.

Having taken the woman every day for over two weeks, Roberta knew pretty well how high and fast she preferred to travel, so they did not waste any time

on discussions, but shot ahead swiftly. Almost as soon as she was seated, Mrs. Pollzoff got the powerful field glasses out of their case, and as soon as they were over the water, trained them on its smooth surface. The day was clear,shlf1314

the sky blue, and the sea calm, so the task of piloting was not arduous, and Roberta let her mind wander on speculations about her companion. That the woman was wealthy was obvious, but for the first time the girl began to shlf1314

wonder about her interest in things in the ocean. It occurred to her that the woman might be looking for sunken vessels, or something of that nature, but she had never let a word drop regarding what she sought. Then it struck

Roberta that she was a bit mysterious. Although it wasn’t necessary for passengers to

explain their

businesses

or hobbies,

still when

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Byweimiaow

He tried to teach my parents to swim, but he never gotthem

He tried to teach my parents to swim, but he never gotthem to go beyond wading up to their knees at the beach andmaking ludicrous round motions with their arms, which, if theywere practising the breast-stroke, made them

look as if theywere walking through a jungle, spreading the tall grass aheadof them, or, if it was the front crawl, as if they were runningdown a hill and flailing their arms so as not to fall. Ravi wasjust as unenthusiastic.

Mamaji had to wait until I came into the picture to find awilling disciple. The day I came of swimming age, which, toMother’s distress, Mamaji claimed was seven, he brought medown to the beach, spread his arms seaward and said,shlf1314

“This ismy gift to you.””And then he nearly drowned you,” claimed Mother.
I remained faithful to my aquatic guru. Under his watchfuleye I lay on the shlf1314

beach and fluttered my legs and scratchedaway at the sand with my hands, turning my head at everystroke to breathe. I must have looked like a child

throwing apeculiar, slow-motion tantrum. In the water, as he held me atthe surface, I tried my best to swim. It was much moredifficult than on land. But Mamaji was patient and encouraging.shlf1314

When he felt that I had progressed sufficiently, we turnedour backs on the laughing and the shouting, the running andthe splashing, the blue-green

waves and the bubbly surf, andheaded for the proper rectan-gularity and the formal flatness(and the paying admission) of the ashram swimming pool.shlf1314

“There is to be a test for the racing machines this evening, Miss Langwell,” the instructor called as he brought the car to a stop close to where the two were

standing. Roberta noticed that the Federal man gave her companion a swift, all-inclusive glance, but since that was the way with Mr. Howe, and he always

looked everybody up and down, she did not think anything about it.shlf1314

“Hope I can watch it,” she replied.shlf1314

“All set, Miss Langwell.” Nike came to a stop a few yards away, so, forgetting everything else, Roberta turned her whole attention to the task at hand.shlf1314

Presently all was ready, and in another moment, Nike was leaping into the air, carrying her pilot and passenger up a steep climb until they were well in the

air, then her nose was leveled and she shot east18 and south,shlf1314

as Mrs. Pollzoff

designated the

direction she

wished to take.

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Byweimiaow

I was named after a swimming pool. Quite peculiarconsidering my

I was named after a swimming pool. Quite peculiarconsidering my parents never took to water. One of myfather’s earliest business contacts was Francis Adirubasamy. Hebecame a good friend of the family. I called him

Mamaji,mama being the Tamil word for uncle and ji being a suffixused in India to indicate respect and affection. When he was ayoung man, long before I was born, Mamaji was a championcompetitive swimmer, the champion of all

South India. Helooked the part his whole life. My brother Ravi once told methat when Mamaji was born he didn’t want to give up onbreathing water

and so the doctor, to save his life, had to takehim by the feet and swing him above his head round andround.

“It did the trick!” said Ravi, wildly spinning his hand abovehis head. “He coughed out water and started breathing air, butit forced all his flesh and

blood to his upper body. That’s whyhis chest is so thick and his legs are so skinny.”I believed him. (Ravi was a merciless teaser. The first timehe called

Mamaji “Mr. Fish” to my face I left a banana peel inhis bed.) Even in his sixties, when he was a little stooped anda lifetime of counter-obstetric gravity had

begun to nudge hisflesh downwards, Mamaji swam thirty lengths every morning atthe pool of the Aurobindo Ashram.

“She will not find my work dull, but it will be cold, for it may take her to the Bering Sea,” Mr. Howe informed them. “I expect to be ready for her soon.”

“It sounds no end exciting,” Roberta said and her eyes sparkled. A job that would take her to the Bering Sea appeared to have endless possibilities and she was keenly interested. Just then the phone rang and Mr. Trowbridge answered it.

“Your passenger has arrived,” he told Roberta.shlf1314

“I’ll go right down.”shlf1314

“See you later,” Mr. Howe called after her as she hurried away. Ten minutes later Nike,17 her own prize plane, was taxied to the edge of the field, where Roberta and her passenger, a tall, slender woman, whose flying costume,shlf1314

however, gave her huge proportions, waited. The machine came up just as Mr. Wallace and Mr. Howe, in the

company’s carrying

automobile started

for the further

end of the field.

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Byweimiaow

Within a couple of days I could stand, even make two,

Within a couple of days I could stand, even make two, threesteps, despite nausea, dizziness and general weakness. Bloodtests revealed that I was

anemic, and that my level of sodiumwas very high and my potassium low. My body retained fluidsand my legs swelled up tremendously. I looked as if I hadbeen grafted with a pair of elephant legs. My urine was adeep, dark yellow

going on to brown. After a week or so, Icould walk just about normally and I could wear shoes if Ididn’t lace them up. My skin healed, though I still have scarson my shoulders and back.

The first time I turned a tap on, its noisy, wasteful,superabundant gush was such a shock that I becameincoherent and my legs collapsed beneath me and I fainted inthe arms of a nurse.

The first time I went to an Indian restaurant in Canada Iused my fingers. The waiter looked at me critically and said,”Fresh off the boat, are you?” I

blanched. My fingers, which asecond before had been taste buds savouring the food a littleahead of my mouth, became dirty under his gaze.

“A small one. Several governments—ours and a couple of others, are trying to trace down illegal seal fishing; catch the lads who don’t follow the rules.

Contact.” They were off, and Roberta inquired no more about the government work because Phil’s account of it sounded quite as tame as piloting Mrs.

Pollzoff. Presently the Moth dropped out of the sky, landed near the office of the Lurtiss Airplane Company and a bit later the girl sky-pilot presented

herself at the private office of Mr. Trowbridge for whom she worked when she first joined the organization as a secretary. Mr. Wallace, one of the special

instructors, was already there, and when Roberta entered, they both rose to their feet to wish her good morning.

“Anything special?” she asked when greetings were exchanged.

“Only Mrs. Pollzoff. She ought to be here any minute,” Mr. Trowbridge replied.

“Howe is coming in

this morning,” Mr.

Wallace added.

16 “Phil told me—”

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