Friday, January 29, 2016

The furniture-shapes

Kate Atkinson's debut novel from 1995, Behind the Scenes at the Museum, has footnotes. Not the erratic footnotes of 1996's Infinite Jest that sprawl fatly and stare you down insolently with their sometime opacity. These are British footnotes, orderly and regular, if somewhat oversized, like a handkerchief drawer, each its own story interleaved with Ruby Lennox's days. But footnotes nonetheless.

Footnotes present me with great difficulty. I read them as they are noted in the primary text, which is the only right way, although often I will actually read through to the end of the sentence in which the note is cited. I have two bookmarks — one marking my place in the main narrative, the other in the footnote. I generally read on my commute of finite length; I have not always the luxury to read to the end of the chapter. The problem is knowing which bookmark is active. I've tried to leave the bookmark noting the active spot sticking out, and making sure the other bookmark was tucked all the way in, but the book itself sometimes changes its mind about these things while riding around in my purse. Suggestions?

There is also the problem of remembering to flip back, instead of reading on.
I have been here nearly a week. I don't think the twins sleep at night. I think they just lie very, very still. I can't sleep if I think they're awake and if I do drop into sleep it's always to wake in a state of terror. I clutch Teddy tightly under the covers. His hot little body is a great source of comfort to me. I can feel his furry little chest rising and falling with his breathing. The eiderdown that covers Daisy and Rose does not move at all, however, confirming that they do not have normal, human lungs. I have seen the way they look at Teddy and do not think their intentions are good.

In the dark, the furniture takes on a new malevolence — the bedroom is crowded out with furniture — big, heavy pieces that don't belong in a child's bedroom at all, not just the arctic waste of their double bed, but the huge, double-fronted wardrobe and matching dressing-table that's big enough to stow a corpse in. In the blackness of night, the furniture-shapes possess a profound ultra-blackness that hints at anti-matter.

Over in the other corner is their doll's house, a big four-storey Victorian one. It has pictures the size of postage stamps and postage stamps the size of dots; it has gilded chairs fit for a fairy-queen and chandeliers like crystal earrings and kitchen table groaning under the weight of plaster hams and plaster moulded blancmanges.

This doll's house is much coveted by Gillian who has frequently tried to persuade the twins to make a will and leave it to her. I doubt very much that they have. If it were willed me (which is even more unlikely) I would refuse to accept it. There's something eerie about it, with its microscopic plumbing (tiny copper taps!) and little, little leather-bound books (Great Expectations!). I would be frightened — I am frightened — of getting trapped in there and becoming one of the tiny ringletted and pinafored little girls up in the nursery who have to play with teeny-weeny dolls all day long. Or worse — the poor scullery maid, for ever consigned to blacking the kitchen range.

Perhaps the twins, with their galactic powers, will miniaturize me in the night and Auntie Babs will come in this room one morning and find the guest bed empty and the guest bed in the doll's house (much nicer than the camp bed) full of a doll-like Ruby Lennox clutching a teddy bear the size of an amoeba.
Of course Teddy breathes.

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