Tuesday, June 07, 2005


Amongst a number of hilariously harsh short stories by SAKI I've read this week is this one in which the narrator is haunted by the mean-spirit of a tight-fisted acquaintance. Before tormenting his parsimonious pal into an early grave, the narrator had related that:

"I have known him indulge in agonies of perjury rather than admit the incriminating possession of a copper coin when change was needed to tip a waiter...The knowledge of this amiable weakness offered a perpetual temptation to play upon Laploshka's fears of involuntary generosity. To offer him a lift in a cab and pretend not to have enough money to pay the fair, to fluster him with a request for a sixpence when his hand was full of silver just received in change..."

We all know people like this!

I also enjoyed The Background in which Henri Deplis, a commercial traveller from Luxembourg, finds that he has become the human canvas for a priceless work of art, The Fall of Icarus, etched into his skin by a body art genius. Unable to pay his debt to the tattoo artist's widow, ownership of the masterpiece passes to the City of Bergamo:

"Public interest and official vigilance increased as the matter became more widely known, and Deplis was unable to take a simple dip in the sea or river on the hottest afternoon unless clothed up to the collar-bone in a substantial bathing garment. Later on the authorities of Bergamo conceived the idea that salt water might be injurious to the masterpiece, and a perpetual injunction was obtained which debarred the muchly harassed commercial traveller from sea bathing under any circumstances."

When told that he will no longer be able to travel due to Italy's strict export controls, Deplis turns to politics. The Icarus is eventually irretrievably ruined when at an anarchists' convention one of his fellow delegates breaks a phial full of corrosive liquid over his back.

"In the quieter streets of Paris, especially in the neighbourhood of the Ministry of Fine Arts, you may sometimes meet a depressed, anxious-looking man, who, if you pass him the time of day, will answer you with a slight Luxemburgian accent. He nurses the illusion that he is one of the lost arms of the Venus de Milo, and hopes that the French Government may be persuaded to buy him."

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