Friday, 14 April 2000

From "Mercier and Camier"

by Samuel Beckett.

It was chiming midday when they left the house. In the porch they paused.
Oh the pretty rainbow, said Camier.
The umbrella, said Mercier.
They exchanged a look. Camier vanished up the stairs. When he reappeared, with the umbrella, Mercier said:
You took your time.
Oh you know, said Camier, one does what one can. Are we to put it up?
Mercier scrutinized the sky.
What do you think? he said.
Camier left the shelter of the porch and submitted the sky to a thorough inspection, turning celtically to the north, the east, the south and finally the west, in that order.
Well? said Mercier.
Don’t rush me, said Camier.
He advanced to the corner of the street, in order to reduce the risk of error. Finally he regained the porch and delivered his considered opinion.
In our shoes I wouldn’t, he said.
And may one inquire why not? said Camier. It’s coming down, if I am to believe my eyes. Can you not sense you’re wet?
Your inclination would be to put it up?
I don’t say that, said Mercier. I simply ask myself when we’ll put it up if nwe do not do so now.
To the unprejudiced eye it was less an umbrella than a parasol. From the tip of the spike to the ends of the stays or struts was a bare quarter of the total length. The stick was terminated by an amber knob with tassels. The material was red in colour, or had been, indeed still was in places. Shreds of fringe adorned the perimeter, at irregular intervals.
Look at it, said Camier. Take it in your hand, it won’t bite you.
Where was it dug up at all? said Camier.
I bought it at Khan’s, said Mercier, knowing we had only one raincoat to our name. He asked a shilling for it, I got it for eight pence. I thought he was going to embrace me.
It must have come out about 1900, said Camier. The year I believe of Ladysmith, on the Klip. Remember? Cloudless skies, garden parties daily. Life lay smiling before us. No hope as too high. We played at holding fort. We died like flies. Of hunger. Of cold. Of thirst. Of heat. Pom! Pom! The last rounds. Surrender! Never! We eat our dead. Drink our pee. Pom! Pom! Two more we didn’t know we had. But what is that we hear? A clamour from the watch-tower! Dust on the horizon! The column at last! Our tongues are black. Hurrah none the less. Rah! Rah! A craking as of crows. A quartermaster dies of joy. We are saved. The century was two months old.
Look at it now.
A silence ensued which Camier was the first to violate.
Well, he said, do we put it up now or wait for the weather to worsen?
Mercier scrutinised the inscrutable sky.
Go take a look, he said, and see what you think.
Camier again gained the corner of the street. On his return he said:
There is perhaps a little light below the verge. Would you have me go up on the roof?
Mercier concentrated. Finally he exclaimed, impulsively:
Let us put it up and pray for the best.
But Camier could not put it up.
Give it here to me, said Mercier.
But Mercier had no better success. He brandished it above his head, but controlled himself in time.
What have we done to God? he said.
Denied him, said Camier.
Don’t tell me he is all that rancorous, said Mercier.
Camier took the umbrella and vanished up the stairs.

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