Martin Edmond

The Cashier and the Assistant Bookkeeper

On the first pages of the Margaret Jull Costa translation of Fernando Pessoa’s (or Bernardo Soares’) The Book of Disquiet (Serpent’s Tail, 1991) we read:

Freedom would mean rest, artistic achievement, the intellectual fulfilment of my being. But suddenly, even as I imagined this (during the brief holiday afforded by my lunch break), a feeling of displeasure erupted into the dream: I would be sad.

Yes, I say it quite seriously: I would be sad. For my boss Vasques, Moreira the bookkeeper, Borges the cashier, all the lads, the cheery boy who takes the letters to the post office, the errand boy, the friendly cat—they have all become part of my life.

I could never leave all that behind without weeping, without realising, however displeasing the thought, that part of me would remain with them and losing them would be akin to death.

Later in the book comes this (in the Richard Zenith translation):

And my entire world of all these souls who don’t know each other casts, like a motley but compact multitude, a single shadow—the calm, bookkeeping body with which I lean over Borges’ tall desk, where I’ve come to get the blotter that he borrowed from me.

Borges (Bourgeois, Burgher, Burgess etc.) is a common name in Europe but still. Here’s Daniel Balderson, from a paper given in 2005:

It would seem reasonable that Borges learned of Pessoa earlier . . . perhaps, indeed, during the family’s visit to Lisbon in 1924. Pessoa was a celebrity in literary circles in the mid-twenties, even though the majority of his writings would not be published until after his death in 1935.

Borges, with his associations with avant garde groups and literary magazines in Madrid, and in Buenos Aires in the 1920s, would perhaps have looked into what was happening in Portugal; if he talked to anyone in literary circles he would have heard about Orpheu and maybe about Pessoa himself.

It is tempting to posit a visit by Borges to the cafés frequented by Pessoa . . . or a conversation Borges could have had with Pessoa, and maybe with Pessoa’s heteronyms, in Lisbon during his six weeks there in May-June 1924.

An unfinished Pessoa poem:

What woe that tastes of the end.
If the ship was abandoned
And the blind man fell by the road
— Forget them, that’s the way it is.

Edgar Allan Borges

It was some kind of convention but I cannot now recall what it was about. All I remember is the venue, Rotorua, and a group of us sitting around empty wooden tables in a wide open room like a warehouse or a barn. In the shadows, the dark-skinned boys with lustrous eyes, waiting hopefully and expectantly to join our deliberations, were certainly Aboriginal. I wanted to buy a pot of honey and asked therefore where the nearest shops were. Lake Road, my friend said, so off I went into the town to look for them. Sometimes when we become lost in dreams we never find our way again but I did at last come to the right street and walked down it past brand new condominiums and office buildings made of steel and glass. The newsagent in the basement of tower there, naturally, did not sell honey but, as I went on across a glittering plaza, a secretive young man walked past me with his eyes fixed reverentially upon a small jar he was holding in both hands before him. A fair way along the road I came upon a café. Black and white chequered floor, bare tables, metal chairs, no-one in attendance. On one of the tables, an ornate bank note, of large denomination, in a currency I did not recognise; on another, a pile of small books with soft red covers. It was an honesty system. I paid my money and took away my copy. A strange script, cursive, stained like old blood on brownish paper. There were line drawings too, in black ink, hectic and a bit over done. The stories were by Edgar Allan Poe and two of them—a short one near the front, a long one towards the back—were on Māori subjects. I read them with growing excitement as I walked back up Lake Road. Yes, I heard a woman's voice say, we smuggled them out of America, we don't have copyright clearance, but it seemed important that these stories should be known in the country that inspired them. I was standing in the small porch of the public hall reading when out the door my father came. He looked handsome, relaxed, at ease, glowing with health and vitality. I hugged him. You look wonderful, I said. I feel good, he replied, grinning at me. About the age I am now or maybe a little younger. He and his friend went out into the yard, took off their sports jackets and began setting the bonfire that we would later light. I felt a sudden doubt: Poe? Or Borges? The Dutch owner of the cafe where I bought the book came up. A huge man with a perfectly bald head. Laughing at my brief temptation to steal the currency left upon his table. The Dream of Coleridge, he boomed. You know it? Who is to determine the ownership of dreams? Perhaps, and I know you have already had this thought, we have things precisely the wrong way round. You are not the dreamer but the dream.

Martin Edmond lives in Sydney. His next book, Isinglass, a ficcione about the fate of an asylum seeker, is due out from UWAP in February, 2019.
previous page     contents     next page


Post a Comment

<< Home