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  • Writer's pictureSimon Howard

EDNA (From World's End, Chapter 4 - Shadow Lives)

Updated: Oct 30, 2020

‘Why do you work for this ghastly idiot?’ asks Vladimir Bartok, the Central European mish-mash, of Edna, my half-blind cleaning woman who has broken the last of my possessions since I arrived at World’s End, with the clock travelling backwards outside my flat. ‘Why?’ ‘It’s the references,’ says Edna, looking at me affectionately in her half-blind way across the painted floor. ‘He gives me lovely references.’ It’s true. I have recently given her a lovely reference so that she can break the vases of an antique dealer living along the King’s Road. An antique dealer wants a cleaner, so you oblige. A cleaner needs more work, so you help out. What could be simpler? The trouble is, the cleaner breaks more than she cleans, and the broken vases turn out to be fakes because the antique dealer’s a crook. This is an impossible age. Nobody can concentrate on anything for more than two seconds. Look at me: I keep raising points about class and gender, and I don’t follow through. Nobody’s expected to do anything well. You don’t have to be a Renaissance man or woman any longer. You need only one skill, but don’t develop it too highly. All Edna has to do is clean. Dust and wipe. Occasionally scrub. That’s it. Nothing else is required of her. She isn’t expected to analyse Wittgenstein or recite Koranic texts, or talk about thermo-nuclear dynamics – whatever they or that is or are. No: dust, clean, wipe, occasionally scrub, nothing more. But she can’t. What she does is break, smash, shatter. And I give her a reference so that she can do it over a larger radius, making me into a perverse post-modern reworking of the old boy network. An impossible age, and a stupid one. I’ve adapted R. D. Laing’s theory about the wrong people being in the lunatic asylums. I believe the wrong people are in everything, and every job. Everyone is inappropriately placed. And Gaby has taught me that most people are trapped inside an inappropriate sexuality too. An impossible age. Cleaners don’t clean, poets have no poetry in them, plumbers can’t plumb, teachers can’t teach or even learn, students know nothing, doctors kill, nurses are cruel, soldiers betray, lovers hate… In Fidelio Leonora knows how to love and be faithful. She’s saved Florestan’s life. ‘Liebe fϋhrte mein Bestreben, Wahre Liebe fϋhrchtet nicht…’ ‘Love it is that guided me, True love that knows no fear…’ They could be Gaby’s words. I’d like to get up and walk over to her, leaving footsteps of love in the paint on the newly-painted floor. I’d like to stop making stupid calculations about how long it will take the hands of this insane World’s End clock to travel through the Black Death or anything else. ‘O welche Lust…’ Lust lust lust. I am in love. And, to answer an earlier question: yes, I would die for it. I nearly did.


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