Page Seventeen II: The Smell of Fear

Callendar’s shop window had been smashed by and angry girl who had thrown a bicycle through it. It was now boarded up and the timber slates bore the commemorative legend in white chalk:

“You agreed to take the beasts.”

The water was boiling and I sterilized the instruments. Infection can follow even the most rigid asepsis and his dusty kitchen for an operating theatre hardly gave the man on the table a sporting chance. For a minute I considered not operating at all and letting fate decide.

I went forward mechanically, swung the spade over my shoulder and smashed the blade of it with all my strength against the protruding chin. I felt and almost heard the fabric of his skull crumple up crisply like an empty eggshell. I do not know how often I struck him after that but I did not stop until I was tired.

It seemed to the Procurator that the cypresses and palms in the garden gave off the smell of roses, that the accursed smell of roses was mingled with the odors of the convoy’s leather gear and sweat.

He rolled his head back and sniffed, but there was no smell of roses in the room. He was getting dizzy and weak, but at least there was no smell of roses.

“Smells like an earthquake,” said Margaret, and dressed. Emily remembered the awful story about the governess and the hair-brush: certainly Margaret did not use one for its ordinary purpose, though she had long hair: so it must be true.

Seven short passages from seven page seventeens selected from various books lying about my person.

Live Now, Pay Later by Jack Trevor Story; The Island of Doctor Moreau by H.G. Wells; Donovan’s Brain by Curt Siodmak; The Third Policeman by Flann O’Brien; The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov; Last Call by Tim Powers; A High Wind in Jamaica by Richard Hughes.

7 Responses to “Page Seventeen II: The Smell of Fear”

  1. If this had been printed in one font color I don’t think I would have guessed the borders correctly.

    Plus, I want to read the rest of it!

  2. I was pleased with the way this one came together, and I’m always unsure whether the different colours add or detract. I do want it to feel like a single part of a bigger story. Continued next week…

  3. David Ehrenstein Says:

  4. David Ehrenstein Says:


    I’ve been greatly enjoying this Chaplin series and eagerly await your insights on his sound films (particularly “Monsieur Verdoux”) But what I’m writing to you about has to do with something qite central to Chaplin’s art –is mixture of humor and sentiment. Last night TCM screened the very fine documentary “What She Said :The Art of Pauline Kael.” As I trust you know Pauline’s very first review was a pan of “Limelight” The mixture of humor and sentiment mentioned above drove her right up the proverbial wall. I have no doubt others feel likewise though not as bluntly as Pauline. What say you?

  5. Well, Limelight is one of only two Chaplin talkies I’ve never seen all the way through, so I’m hugely looking forward to finally getting to it. Fiona is a particular admirer of Monsieur Verdoux and can’t wait to get to that one.

    Pathos in Chaplin totally works for me throughout the silent/wordless period from The Kid to Modern Times. The handling afterwards is maybe less sure-footed, with greater weight given to longer scenes of sentiment, but that seems appropriate to me in, say, The Great Dictator.

    Pretty sure I’m not going to pan Limelight. The scene with Keaton would be enough alone to prevent that and should have been enough to persuade any critic they were seeing a thing of wonder, whatever the flaws.

  6. David Ehrenstein Says:

    “Limelight” is a masterpiece and Kael is wrong (as she often is though I Iike her as a whole as a writer and personally too.) Working n Hollywood Chaplin evokes his childhood and the British music hall in intensely heartfelt ways.

  7. David Ehrenstein Says:

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