Grimus - Salman Rushdie

PART ONE

TIMES PRESENT

I

MR VIRGIL JONES, a man devoid of friends and with a tongue rather too large for his mouth, was fond of descending this cliff-path on Tiusday mornings. (Mr Jones, something of a pedant and interested in the origins of things, referred to the days of his week as Sunday, Moon-day, Tiusday, Wodensday, Thorsday, Freyday and Saturnday; it was affectations like this, among other things, that had left him friendless.) It was five a.m.; for no reason, Mr Jones habitually chose this entirely random time to indulge his liking for Calf Island’s one small beach. Accordingly, he was tripping goat-fashion down the downward spiral of the path, trailing in the nimbler wake of a hunchbacked crone called Dolores O’Toole, who had an exceptionally beautiful walnut rocking-chair strapped to her back. The strap was Mr Jones’ belt. Which meant he was obliged to use both his hands to hold his trousers up. This kept him fairly preoccupied.

Some more facts about Mr Jones: he was gross of body and short of sight. His eyes blinked a lot, refusing to believe in their myopia. He had three initials: V. B. C. Jones, Esq. The B was for Beauvoir and the C for Chanakya. These were historical names, names to conjure with, and Mr Jones, though no conjurer, considered himself something of an historian. Today, as he arrived at the dead greysilver sands of his chosen island, surrounded by the greysilver mists that hung forever upon the surrounding, sundering seas, he was about to make his rendezvous with a small historical event. If he had known, he would have philosophized at length about the parade of history, about the historian’s inability to stand apart and watch; it was erroneous, he would have said, to look upon oneself as an Olympian chronicler; one was a member of the parade. An historian is affected by the present events that eternally recreate the past. He would have thought this earnestly, although for some time now the parade had been progressing without his help. However, because he was shortsighted, because of the mist and because he was trying to keep his trousers on, he didn’t see the body of one Flapping Eagle floating in on the incoming tide; and Dolores O’Toole was spared the trouble of being an audience.

Sometimes, people trying to commit suicide manage it in a manner that leaves them breathless with astonishment. Flapping Eagle, coming in fast now on the crest of a wave, was about to discover this fact. At present he was unconscious; he had just fallen through a hole in the sea. The sea had been the Mediterranean. It wasn’t now; or not quite.

The crone Dolores placed the rocking-chair on the sands. Mr Jones supervised approvingly. The rocking-chair faced away from the sea and towards the massive forested rock of Calf Mountain, which occupied most of the island except for the small clearing, directly above the beach, where Mr Jones and Dolores lived. Mr Jones sat down and began to rock.

Dolores O’Toole was a lapsed Catholic. She sometimes took unholy pleasure in the act of stimulating herself with church, or roman, candles. She did this because she was separated from her husband but not from her desires. Her sometime spouse, Mr O’Toole, ran a drinking establishment in K, the town high on the slopes of Calf Mountain, and she disapproved of K in general, of drinkers in particular and of her husband most particularly of all. She gave vent to this disapproval by living in isolation with Virgil Jones (far from K, from Mr O’Toole’s bar and from his favourite place of