The Curtain Blown by the Breeze by Muriel Spark

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Muriel Spark. Photograph: Frank Monaco/Rex Features

From The London Magazine January 1961

It is always when a curtain at an open window flutters in the breeze that I think of that frail white curtain, a piece of fine gauze, which was drawn across the bedroom windows of Mrs Van der Merwe. I never saw the original curtains, which were so carelessly arranged as to leave a gap through which that piccanin of twelve had peeped, one night three years before, and had watched Mrs Van der Merwe suckle her child, and been caught and shot dead by Jannie, her husband. The original curtains had now been replaced by this more delicate stuff, and the husband’s sentence still had five years to run, and meanwhile Mrs Van der Merwe was changing her character.

She stopped slouching; she lost the lanky, sullen look of a smallholder’s wife; she cleared the old petrol cans out of the yard, and that was only a start; she became a tall lighthouse sending out kindly beams which some took for welcome instead of warnings against the rocks. She bought the best china, stopped keeping pound notes stuffed in a stocking, called herself Sonia instead of Sonji, and entertained.

***

This was a territory where you could not bathe in the gentlest stream but a germ from the water entered your kidneys and blighted your body for life; where you could not go for a walk before six in the evening without returning crazed by the sun; and in this remote part of the territory, largely occupied by poor whites amidst the overwhelming natural growth of natives, a young spinster could not keep a cat for a pet but it would be one day captured and pitifully shaved by the local white bachelors for fun; it was a place where the tall grass was dangerous from snakes and the floors dangerous from scorpions. The white people seized on the slightest word, Nature took the lightest footfall, with fanatical seriousness. The English nurses discovered that they could not sit next a man at dinner and be agreeable – perhaps asking him, so as to slice up the boredom, to tell them all the story of his life – without his taking it for a great flirtation and turning up next day after breakfast for the love affair; it was a place where there was never a breath of breeze except in the season of storms and where the curtains in the windows never moved in the breeze unless a storm was to follow.

The English nurses were often advised to put in for transfers to another district.

‘It’s so much brighter in the north. Towns, life. Civilization, shops. Much cooler – you see, it’s high up there in the north. The races.’

‘You would like it in the east – those orange-planters. Everything is greener, there’s a huge valley. Shooting.’

‘Why did they send you nurses to this unhealthy spot? You should go to a healthy spot.’

Some of the nurses left Fort Beit. But those of us who were doing tropical diseases had to stay on, because our clinic, the largest in the Colony, was also a research centre for tropical diseases. Those of us who had to stay on used sometimes to say to each other, ‘Isn’t it wonderful here? Heaps of servants. Cheap drinks. Birds, beasts, flowers.’

The place was not without its strange marvels. I never got used to its travel-film colours except in the dry season when the dust made everything real. The dust was thick in the great yard behind the clinic where the natives squatted and stood about, shouting or laughing – it came to the same thing – cooking and eating, while they awaited treatment, or the results of X-rays, or the results of an X-ray of a distant relative. They gave off a fierce smell and kicked up the dust. The sore eyes of the babies were always beset by flies, but the babies slept on regardless, slung on their mothers’ backs, and when they woke and cried the women suckled them.

The poor whites of Fort Beit and its area had a reception room of their own inside the building, and here they ate the food they had brought, and lolled about in long silences, sometimes working up to a fight in a corner. The remainder of the society of Fort Beit did not visit the clinic.

The remainder comprised the chemist, the clergyman, the veterinary surgeon, the police and their families. These enjoyed a social life of a small and remote quality, only coming into contact with the poor white small-farmers for business purposes. They were anxious to entertain the clinic staff who mostly spent its free time elsewhere – miles and miles away, driving at weekends to the Capital, the north, or to one of the big dams on which it was possible to set up for a sailor. But sometimes the nurses and medical officers would, for a change, spend an evening in the village at the house of the chemist, the clergyman, the vet, or at the police quarters.

Into this society came Sonia Van der Merwe when her husband had been three years in prison. There was a certain slur attached to his sentence since it was generally felt he had gone too far in the heat of the moment, this sort of thing undermining the prestige of the Colony at Whitehall. But nobody held the incident against Sonia. The main difficulty she had to face in her efforts towards the company of the vet, the chemist and the clergyman was the fact that she had never yet been in their company.

The Van der Merwes’ farm lay a few miles outside Fort Beit. It was one of the few farms in the district, for this was an area which had only been developed for the mines, and these had lately closed down. The Van der Merwes had lived the makeshift, toiling lives of Afrikaner settlers who had trekked up from the Union. I do not think it had ever before occurred to Sonia that her days could be spent otherwise than in rising and washing her face at the tub outside, baking bread, scrappily feeding her children, yelling at the natives, and retiring at night to her feather bed with Jannie. Her only outings had been to the Dutch Reformed gathering at Easter when the Afrikaners came in along the main street in their covered wagons and settled there for a week.

It was not till the lawyer came to arrange some affair between the farm and the Land Bank that she learned she could actually handle the fortune her father had left her, for she had imagined that only the pound notes she kept stuffed in the stocking were of real spending worth; her father in his time had never spent his money on visible things, but had invested it, and Sonia thought that money paid into the bank was a sort of tribute-money to the bank people which patriarchal farmers like her father were obliged to pay under the strict ethic of the Dutch Reformed Church. She now understood her cash value, and felt fiercely against her husband for failing to reveal it to her. She wrote a letter to him, which was a difficult course. I saw the final draft, about which she called a conference of nurses from the clinic. We were wicked enough to let it go, but in fact I don’t think we gave it much thought. I recall that on this occasion we talked far into the night about her possibilities – her tennis court, her two bathrooms, her black-and-white bedroom – all of which were as yet only a glimmer at the end of a tunnel. In any case, I do not think we could have succeeded in changing her mind about the letter which subsequently enjoyed a few inches in the local press as part of Jannie’s evidence. It was as follows:

Dear Jannie there is going to be some changes I found out what pa left is cash to spend I only got to sine my name do you think I like to go on like this work work work counting the mealies in the field By God like poor whites when did I get a dress you did not say a word that is your shame and you have landed in jale with your bad temper you shoud of amed at the legs. Mr Little came here to bring the papers to sine he said you get good cooking in jale the kids are well but Hannah got a bite but I will take them away from there now and send them to the convent and pay money. Your Loving Wife, S. Van der Merwe

There must have been many occasions on which I lay on my bed on summer afternoons in Worcestershire, because at that time I was convalescent. My schooldays had come to an end. My training as a radiotherapist was not to begin till the autumn.

I do not know how many afternoons I lay on my bed listening to a litany of tennis noises from where my two brothers played on the court a little to the right below my window. Sometimes, to tell me it was time to get up, my elder brother Richard would send a tennis ball through the open window. The net curtain would stir and part very suddenly and somewhere in the room the ball would thud and then roll. I always thought one day he would break the glass of the window, or that he would land the ball on my face or break something in the room, but he never did. Perhaps my memory exaggerates the number of these occasions and really they only occurred once or twice.

But I am sure the curtains must have moved in the breeze as I lay taking in the calls and the to and fro of tennis on those unconcerned afternoons, and I suppose the sight was a pleasurable one. That a slight movement of the curtains should be the sign of a summer breeze seems somewhere near to truth, for to me truth has airy properties with buoyant and lyrical effects; and when anything drastic starts up from some light cause it only proves to me that something false has got into the world.

I do not actually remember the curtains of my room being touched by the summer wind although I am sure they were; whenever I try to bring to mind this detail of the afternoon sensations it disappears, and I have knowledge of the image only as one who has swallowed some fruit of the Tree of Knowledge – its memory is usurped by the window of Mrs Van der Merwe’s house and by the curtains disturbed, in the rainy season, by a trifling wind, unreasonably meaning a storm.

Sometimes, on those restful afternoons, I was anxious. There was some doubt about my acceptance for training as a radiotherapist because of my interrupted schooling. One day the letter of acceptance came by the late post. I read the letter with relief and delight, and at that same moment decided to turn down the offer. It was enough that I had received it. I am given to this sort of thing, and the reason that I am drawn to moderate and tranquil motives is that I lack them. I decided instead to become a hospital nurse and later to follow my brother Richard, who was then a medical student, to Africa, and specialize, with him, in tropical diseases.

***

It was about a year after my arrival at Fort Beit that I came across Sonji Van der Merwe and, together with the other nurses, read the letter which was about to be sent to her husband four hundred miles away in the Colony’s prison. She posted the letter ritualistically the next afternoon, putting on her church-going gloves to do so. She did not expect, nor did she receive, a reply. Three weeks later she started calling herself Sonia.

Our visits to the farm began to take the place of evenings spent at the vet’s, the chemist’s and the clergyman’s, to whose society Sonia now had good hopes of access. And every time we turned up something new had taken place. Sonia knew, or discovered as if by bush-telegraph, where to begin. She did not yet know how to travel by train and would have been afraid to make any excursion by herself far from the area, but through one nurse or another she obtained furnishings from the Union, catalogues, books about interior decoration and fashion magazines. Travel-stained furniture vans began to arrive at her bidding and our instigation. Her first move, however, was to join the Church of England, abandoning the Dutch Reformed persuasion of her forefathers; we had to hand it to her that she had thought this up for herself.

We egged her on from week to week. We taught her how not to be mean with her drinks, for she had ordered an exotic supply. At first she had locked the bottles in the pantry and poured them into glasses in the kitchen and watered them before getting the house-boy to serve them to her guests. We stopped all that. A contractor already had the extensions to the house in hand, and the rooms were being decorated and furnished one by one. It was I who had told her to have two bathrooms, not merely one, installed. She took time getting used to the indoor lavatories and we had to keep reminding her to pull the chain. One of us brought back from the Capital a book of etiquette which was twenty-eight years old but which she read assiduously, following the words with her forefinger. I think it was I who had suggested the black-and-white bedroom, being a bit drunk at the time, and now it was a wonder to see it taking shape; it was done within a month – she had managed to obtain black wallpaper, and to put it up, although wallpaper was a thing unheard of in the Colony and she was warned by everyone that it would never stick to the walls. There was in this bedroom a white carpet and a chaise-longue covered with black-and-white candy-striped satin. It was less than a year before she got round to adding the Beardsley reproductions, but by that time she was entertaining, and had the benefit of the vet’s counsel, he having once been a young man in London.

She told us one day – lying on the chaise-longue and looking very dramatic with her lanky hair newly piled up and her black chiffon dressing-gown – the story of the piccanin, which we already knew:

‘It was through that window he was looking. Yere I was sitting yere on the bed feeding the baby and I look up at the window and so help me God it was a blerry nig standing outside with his face at the window. You should of heard me scream. So Jannie got the gun and caught the pic and I hear the bang. So he went too far in his blerry temper so what can you expect? Now I won’t have no more trouble from them boys. That’s the very window, I was careless to leave the curtain aside. So we show them what’s what and we get a new set of boys. We didn’t have no boys on the farm, they all run away.’

There was a slight warm breeze floating in little gusts through the window. ‘We’d better be getting back,’ said one of the girls. ‘There’s going to be a storm.’

***

A storm in the Colony was such that before it broke the whole place was spasmodic like an exposed nerve, and after it was over the body of the world from horizon to horizon moved in a slow daze back into its place. Before it broke there was the little wind, then a pearly light, then an earthen smell; the birds screamed and suddenly stopped, and the insects disappeared. Afterwards the flying ants wriggled in a drugged condition out of the cracks in the walls, found their wings, and flew off in crazy directions, the more extreme colours of the storm faded out of the sky in a defeated sort of way, and the furniture felt clammy from the ordeal. One day I was caught at Sonia’s house when a storm broke. This was when she had already settled in to her status, and the extensions to the house were completed, and the furniture all in place. Night fell soon after the storm was over, and we sat in her very Europeanized drawing-room – for she had done away with the stoep – sipping pink gins; the drinks were served by a native with huge ape-like hands clutching the tray, his hands emerging from the cuffs of the green-and-white uniform which had lately glared in the light of the storm. Sonia kept saying, ‘I feel I’ve made a corner of civilization for myself in doing up this house.’ It was a version of one of the clergyman’s chance compliments on one of his visits; she had seized on it as a verity, and made it known to all her visitors. ‘I feel I must live up to it, man,’ she said. I was always amazed at her rapid acquisition of new words and highly useful sayings.

Outside, the night sounds were coming back. One could hear the beasts finding each other again by their calls whenever Sonia stopped talking, and even further in the distance, the drum business, with news of which kraals had been swamped and wrecked, or perhaps no news, for all we understood of their purpose. Just outside the window there was an occasional squelch of bare feet on the wet gravel drive which Sonia had constructed. She rose and adjusted the light window curtains, then drew the big ones. She was better now. During the storm she had squatted with hunched shoulders on the carpet like a native in his but, letting the waves of sound and light break over her. It was generally thought she had some coloured blood. But this, now that she had begun to reveal such visible proof of her glamorous fortune and character, was no bar to the society of the vet, the chemist and the clergyman. Many of the doctors from the clinic visited her and were enchanted by her eccentric grandeur, and much preferred her company to that of the tropical-skinned vet’s wife and the watery-blonde chemist’s wife and the music-loving clergyman’s wife, at sultry sundowner times in the rainy season. My brother Richard was fascinated by Sonia.

***

We nurses were astonished that the men were so dazzled. She was our creature, our folly, our lark. We had lavished our imagination upon her eager mind and had ourselves designed the long voile ‘afternoon’ dresses, and had ourselves put it to her that she must have a path leading down to the river and a punt on the little river and a pink parasol to go with the punt. There was something in the air of the place that affected the men, even those newly out from England, with an overturn of discrimination. One of the research workers at the clinic had already married a brassy barmaid from Johannesburg, another had married a neurotic dressmaker from the Cape who seemed to have dozens of elbows, so much did she throw her long bony arms about. We too were subject to the influence of the place but we did not think of this when we were engrossed in our bizarre cultivation of Sonia and our dressing her up to kill. At the time, we only saw the men taking our fantasy in earnest, and looked at each other, smiled and looked away.

***

In the year before Jannie Van der Merwe was due to be released from prison I spent much of my free time at Sonia’s with my brother Richard. Her house was by now a general meeting-place for the district and she conducted quite a salon every late afternoon. About this time I became engaged to marry a research worker at the clinic.

I do not know if Richard slept with Sonia. He was very enamoured of her and would not let anyone make fun of her in his hearing.

She said one day: ‘Why d’you want to marry that Frank? Man, he looks like your brother, you want to catch a fellow that doesn’t look like one of the family. I could get you a fellow more your type.’

I was irritated by this. I kept Frank from seeing her as much as possible; but it was not possible; all our lives outside the clinic seemed to revolve round Sonia. When Frank began to ridicule Sonia I knew he was in some way, which he was afraid to admit, attracted by her.

She chattered incessantly, her voice accented in the Afrikaans way. I had to admire her quick grasp of every situation, for now she was acquainted with the inner politics of the clinic, and managed to put in effective words here and there with visiting Government officials who took it for granted she had ruled the district for years and, being above the common run, pleased herself how she dressed and what she did.

I heard her discussing our disagreeable chief radiologist with an important member of the Medical Board: ‘Man, he got high spirits I tell you, man. I see him dig the spurs into the horse when he pass my house every morning, he goes riding to work off those high spirits. But I tell one thing, he’s good at his job. Man, he’s first rate at the job.’ Soon after this our ill-tempered radiologist, who did not ride very frequently, was transferred to another district. It was only when I heard that the important man from the Medical Board was a fanatical horse-lover that I realized the full force of Sonia’s abilities.

‘God, what have we done?’ I said to my best friend.

She said, ‘Leave well alone. She’s getting us a new wing.’

***

Sonia made plans to obtain for Richard the job of Chief Medical Officer in the north. I suspected that Sonia meant to follow him to the north if he should be established there, for she had remarked one day that she would have to get used to travel; it must be easy: ‘Man, everyone does it. Drink up. Cheerio.’

Frank had also applied for the job. He said – looking at the distance with his short-sighted eyes, which gave to his utterances a suggestion of disinterestedness – ‘I’ve got better qualifications for it than Richard.’ So he had. ‘Richard is the better research worker,’ Frank said. This was true. ‘Richard should stay here and I should go up north,’ Frank said. ‘You would like it up there,’ he said. All this was undeniable.

It became apparent very soon that Frank was competing with Richard for Sonia’s attention. He did this without appearing to notice it himself, as if it were some routine performance in the clinic, not the method but the results of which interested him. I could hardly believe the ridiculous carry-on of these two men.

‘Do they think she will really have any influence in the question of that job?’

‘Yes,’ my best friend said, ‘and so she will.’

That important member of the Medical Board – he who was passionate about horses – was in the district again. He had come for a long weekend’s fishing. It was all mad. There was no big fishing at Fort Beit.

I began to want Richard to get the job. I cooled off where Frank was concerned; he did not notice, but I cooled off. Richard had become highly nervous. As soon as he had free time he raced off in his car to Sonia’s. Frank, who was less scrupulous about taking free time, was usually there first.

I was at the tea-party when the ageing, loose-mouthed, keen-eyed chief of the Medical Board turned up. Richard and Frank sat at opposite ends of a sofa. Richard looked embarrassed; I knew he was thinking of the job, and trying not to seem to be exploiting his attachment to Sonia. I sat near them. Sonia, reciting a long formula from her book of etiquette, introduced us to the important man. As she did so it struck me that this recitation might to some ears sound like a charming gesture against the encroaching slackness of the times. She sat the man between Richard and Frank, and clearly she meant business.

She stood by. She had a beautiful shape; we nurses had not provided that, we had only called it forth from the peasant slouch. She said to the old man, ‘Richard yere wants to talk to you, Basil, man,’ and touched Richard’s shoulder. Frank was peering into the abstract distance. It occurred to me that Frank was the administrative type; none of the research workers I had known were dispassionate, they were vulnerable and nervous.

Richard was nervous. He did not look at the man, he was looking up at Sonia’s face with its West End make-up.

‘Applied for the job up north?’ said this Basil to Richard.

‘Yes,’ Richard said, and smiled with relief.

‘Want it?’ said the man, casually, in his great importance.

‘Oh, rather,’ Richard said.

‘Well, have it,’ said the man, flicking away the invisible job with his forefinger as lightly as if it were a ping-pong ball.

‘Well,’ Richard said, ‘no thank you.’

‘What did you say?’ said the man.

‘What that you say?’ said Sonia.

My brother and I are very unlike in most ways, but there are a few radical points of similarity between us. It must be something in the blood.

‘No thank you,’ Richard was saying. ‘After all, I feel I ought to go on with research in tropical diseases.’

Sonia’s fury only made a passing pattern on her face. Her first thought was for the old man, fussed and suddenly groundless as he was. ‘Basil, man,’ she said, bending over him with her breasts about his ears, ‘you got the wrong chap. This yere Frank is the boy I was talking of to you. Frank, may I have the honour to introduce to you this yere distinguished –’

‘Yes, we’ve met,’ said the man, turning to Frank.

Frank returned from the middle distance. ‘I’ve applied for the job,’ he said, ‘and my qualifications are, I think –’

‘Married?’ ‘No, but hoping to be.’ He turned duly to me and I smiled back most nastily.

‘Want the job?’

‘Oh, rather.’

‘Sure?’

‘Oh yes, quite sure.’

The old man was not going to be caught again. ‘I hope you really want the job. There are a good many excellent applicants and we want a keen –’

‘Yes, I want the job.’

Sonia said, ‘Well, have it,’ and I thought, then, she had really done for the whole thing and outrun her influence.

But the old man beamed up at her, took both her prettily restored hands in his, and I nearly saw his slack mouth water.

Other people were pressing round for a word with this Medical Board man. Sonia was treating Richard with ostentatious neglect. Frank was leaning against the wall, now, talking to her. Suddenly I did not want to lose Frank. I looked round the company and wondered what I was doing there, and said to Richard, ‘Let’s go.’

Richard was looking at Sonia’s back. ‘Why do you want to go?’ Richard said. ‘It’s early yet. Why?’

***

Because the curtain was fluttering at the open window, letting in wafts of the savage territory beyond the absurd drawing room. The people were getting excited; I thought soon they might scream, once or twice like the birds, and then be silent. I thought, even, that Richard might change his mind again about the job, and tell Sonia so, and leave it to her to sort it out for him. It was the pull of Sonia that made him reluctant to leave. She was adjusting Frank’s tie and telling him he needed looking after, for all the world as if she had been brought up to that old line; we must tell her, I thought, not to do that sort of thing in public. And I would gladly have stayed on till sundowner time in order to jerk Frank back into a sense of my personality; but there was a storm coming, and it was no fun driving home through a storm.

Richard is stronger-willed than I am. After this party he kept away from Sonia’s and stuck in to his work. I broke off my engagement. It was impossible to know whether Frank was relieved or not. There were still three months before he was to take up his appointment in the north. He spent most of his time with Sonia. I was not sure how things stood between them. I still drove over to Sonia’s sometimes and found Frank there. I was dissatisfied and attracted by both of them and by their situation. In the dry spells they would often be down the river in the punt when I arrived, and I would wait for the sight of the returning pink parasol, and be glad of the sight. Once or twice when we met at the clinic Frank said to me, factually, ‘We could still be married.’ Once he said, ‘Old Sonia’s only a joke, you know.’ But I thought he was afraid I might take him at his word, or might do so too soon.

Sonia spoke again of travelling. She was learning to study road maps. She told one of the nurses, ‘When Frank’s settled up at the north I’ll go up and settle him down nicer.’ She told another of the nurses, ‘My old husband’s coming from gaol this month, next month, I don’t know, man. He’ll see some changes. He get used to them.’

One afternoon I drove over to the farm; I had not seen Sonia for six weeks because her children had been home for the holidays and I loathed her children. I had missed her, she was never boring. The house-boy said she was down the river with Dr Frank. I wandered down the path, but they were not in sight. I waited for about eight minutes and walked back. All the natives except the house-boy had gone to sleep in their huts. I did not see the house-boy for some time, and when I did I was frightened by the fear on his face.

I was coming round by the old ox-stalls, now deserted – since Sonia had abandoned farming, even with a tractor, far less a span of oxen. The house-boy appeared then, and whispered to me. ‘Baas Van der Merwe is come. He looking in the window.’

I walked quietly round the stalls till I had a view of the house, and saw a man of about fifty, undernourished-looking, in khaki shorts and shirt. He was standing on a box by the drawing-room window. He had his hand on the curtain, parting it, and was looking steadily into the empty room.

‘Go down to the river and warn them,’ I said to the boy.

He turned to go, but ‘Boy!’ shouted the man. The houseboy in his green-and-white clothes rapidly went towards the voice.

I got down to the river just as they were landing. Sonia was dressed in pale blue. Her new parasol was blue. She looked specially fabulous and I noticed her very white teeth, her round brown eyes and her story-book pose, as she stood dressed up in the middle of Africa under the blazing sun with the thick-leaved plants at her feet. Frank, looking nice in tropical suiting, was tying up the punt. ‘Your husband has returned,’ I said, and ran fearfully back to my car. I started it up and made off, and as I sped past the house over the gravel I saw Jannie Van der Merwe about to enter the house, followed by the servant. He turned to watch my car and spoke to the native, evidently asking who I was.

Afterwards the native deposed that Jannie went all through the house examining the changes and the new furniture. He used the lavatory and pulled the chain. He tried the taps in both bathrooms. In Sonia’s room he put straight a pair of her shoes which were lying askew. He then tested all the furniture for dust, all through the house, touching the furniture with the middle finger of his right hand and turning up his finger to see if it showed any dust. The house-boy followed, and when Jannie came to an old oak Dutch chest which was set away in a corner of one of the children’s rooms – since Sonia had taken against all her father’s old furniture – he found a little dust on it. He ordered the native to fetch a duster and remove the dust. When this was done Jannie proceeded on his tour, and when he had tried everything for dust he went out and down the path towards the river. He found Sonia and Frank at the ox-stalls arguing about what to do and where to go, and taking a revolver from his pocket, shot them. Sonia died immediately. Frank lingered for ten hours. This was a serious crime and Jannie was hanged.

I waited all the weeks ahead for Richard to make the first suggestion that we should move away. I was afraid to suggest it first lest he should resent the move all his life. Our long leave was not due for another year. Our annual leave was not due for some months. At last he said, ‘I can’t stand it here.’

I wanted to return to England. I had been thinking of nothing else.

‘We can’t stay here,’ I said, as if it were a part in a play.

‘Shall we pack up and go?’ he said, and I felt a huge relief.

‘No,’ I said.

He said, ‘It would be a pity to pack it all in when we’ve both gone so far in tropical diseases.’

In fact I left the following week. Since then, Richard has gone far in tropical diseases. ‘It’s a pity,’ he said before I left, ‘to let what’s happened come between us.’

I packed up my things and departed for dear life, before the dry season should set in, and the rainy season should follow, and all things be predictable.


Scan_20160107This troubling piece of short fiction by Scottish writer Muriel Spark was first published in TLM in 1961. One of several stories she wrote based on her time in Africa, the narrative highlights uncomfortable realities of colonialism in her characteristically dispassionate style. It appears in The Complete Short Stories by Muriel Spark, Canongate Books, 2011.