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Authors: Lloyd Jones

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Here at the End of the World We Learn to Dance

BOOK: Here at the End of the World We Learn to Dance
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Praise for Lloyd Jones and
HERE AT THE END OF THE WORLD WE LEARN TO DANCE

Shortlisted for the DEUTZ MEDAL FOR FICTION
at the 2002 MONTANA BOOK AWARDS

‘Just like the tango itself, heartbreaking and exhilarating…
Jones has solved something that's notoriously difficult:
how to write about music so that the words
themselves express its character.'
NZ Herald

‘Totally arresting and compelling all the way through.'
Radio New Zealand

‘Lloyd Jones reinvents himself in each new novel…It reads
like the effortless soar and dip of a grand piece of music.'
Age

‘Jones's prose is faultless.'
Publishers Weekly

‘Its fable-like quality is spellbinding; the depth of
its insights compelling.'
Canberra Times

‘Gentle, whimsical…with a lot of understated humour and
a strong sensuality. Jones's writing is easy and sophisticated,
reminding me of Steinbeck at his humorous best.'
Age

Praise for MISTER PIP

Winner of the
2007 COMMONWEALTH WRITER S' PRIZE

Winner of the 2008 KIRIYAMA PRIZE

Montana Awards:
READERS CHOICE AWARD,
MONTANA FICTION AWARD and the
MONTANA MEDAL FOR FICTION OR POETRY

Shortlisted, MAN BOOKER PRIZE, 2007

‘
Mister Pip
is a rare, original and truly beautiful novel.
It reminds us that every act of reading and telling is a
transformation, and that stories, even painful ones, may
carry possibilities of redemption. An unforgettable
novel, moving and deeply compelling.' GAIL JONES

‘As compelling as a fairytale—beautiful,
shocking and profound.'
HELEN GARNER

‘Jones has done something very difficult with this
novel: he has taken a recent and brutal piece of
contemporary history and has told a story that not
only reveals these events to the wider world but also
shows what they mean in the larger and more abstract
field of human behaviour.'
Sydney Morning Herald

‘Poetic, heartbreaking, surprising.' I
SABEL
ALLENDE

‘The accessible narrative, with its direct and graceful
prose, belies the sophistication of its telling as
Jones addresses head-on the effects of imperialism
and the redemptive power of art.'
Booklist

‘Lloyd Jones brings to life the transformative power
of fiction…This is a beautiful book. It is tender,
multi-layered and redemptive.'
Sunday Times

‘A bold inquiry into the way that we construct
and repair our communities, and ourselves,
with stories old and new.'
The Times

This wonderful, sad book wraps complex themes—faith,
race, imperialism and growing up—in a thrillingly
accessible package, returning again and again to
stories and the hope they can bring.'
Guardian

Lloyd Jones was born in New Zealand in 1955. His best-known works include
Mister Pip
, winner of the Commonwealth Writers' Prize and shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize,
The Book of Fame
, winner of numerous literary awards,
Biografi
, a New York Times Notable Book,
Choo Woo
and
Paint Your Wife
. Jones lives in Wellington.

Here
at
the
End   
of  
the   
World
We
Learn  
to  
Dance
  

LLOYD JONES  

TEXT PUBLISHING MELBOURNE AUSTRALIA

The paper in this book is manufactured only from wood grown in sustainable regrowth forests.

The Text Publishing Company
Swann House
22 William St
Melbourne Victoria 3000
Australia
www.textpublishing.com.au

Copyright © Lloyd Jones 2001

All rights reserved. Without limiting the rights under copyright above, no part of this publication shall be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise), without the prior permission of both the copyright owner and the publisher of this book.

First published by Penguin Books (NZ), 2001
This edition published by The Text Publishing Company, 2008

Design by Chong Weng-ho
Typeset by J&M Typesetters
Printed and bound in Australia by Griffin Press

National Library of Australia Cataloguing-in-Publication data:

Jones, Lloyd, 1955-

Here at the end of the world we learn to dance / author, Lloyd Jones.

Melbourne : The Text Publishing Company, 2008.

ISBN 9781921351556 (pbk.)

NZ823.2

To my family

‘The tango is man and woman in search of each other.

It is a search for an embrace, a way to be together.'

JUAN CARLOS COPES, choreographer and dancer

Contents

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

10

11

12

13

14

15

16

17

18

19

20

21

22

23

24

25

26

27

28

29

30

31

32

33

34

35

1

For eleven years an elderly man with a silver-knobbed cane visited Louise's grave with flowers. He came every Saturday with a plastic bucket, brush, cleaning fluids and a fold-up canvas chair. He was always impeccably dressed for the occasion. A black blazer, white slacks. A bright red flower in his buttonhole drew attention to his snow-white hair.

The year before his death it was his habit to visit the
cementerio
at La Chacarita with his ten-year-old granddaughter. While he sat by Louise's grave fanning his face with his fedora the granddaughter would go and stand in line with her plastic bucket and the other mourners at the water taps.

He had his own car, but for this particular excursion Paul Schmidt favoured the bus. The conductor helped him down the steps. He didn't experience any of the same uncertainty or hesitancy on the dance floor. He could always count on the same instruction,‘Careful of the traffic, Señor.' With a dismissive grunt Schmidt would set off across the busy road for the flower stand on Coronel Diaz.

For someone with a huge deception at the centre of his life, Schmidt prided himself on cultivating many small loyalties. That particular bus conductor, for instance. Another was the Paraguayan flower vendor from whom he always bought blue irises.

One Saturday morning a special flower of a competing vendor's display caught his eye—buttercup and broom—arousing in him an old memory. With some difficulty, as the bus was still moving, he stood out of his seat and stumbled past the knees of the woman sitting next to him.The bus lurched, and as his hands pawed at the dangling hand grips his cane clattered into the aisle. He didn't give it a second thought. Later, the conductor would recall Schmidt stooping to catch the receding view of the flowering broom in the back window, his hand on the shoulder of an unprotesting woman to steady himself.

At the next stop (not his usual stop) Schmidt struggled down the steps. The conductor caught up with him and handed him his cane. The old man gave it a brief regard and took it without thanks. The conductor smiled.They had an understanding, and in a manner of speaking had forged a friendship based on two predictable moments in each other's life. One, where the Señor picked up the bus and where he got off. The other significant moment arrived in the week leading up to Christmas when the Señor would give him a box of expensive cigars. It was always a last-minute thing. As the bus slowed down to his stop the cigars would be quickly produced and given without fuss as if he had no further use for them; for his part the conductor always received the cigars with noises of gratitude and false humility.

Now in the window of the bus he followed the old man's progress across the wide and busy road. He saw him poke his cane at the oncoming traffic. Later, the flower vendor would say that the Señor's ‘eyes, face and memory were so closed around his flower display' (not merely the yellow flowering broom, note, but
his
flower display), ‘that he did not see the bottle truck coming the other way.' Meanwhile, from the bus window a hollow warning rose in the conductor's throat. He closed his eyes to avoid the final moment of impact. It was a story he would tell many times. First, the distraction. The old man's sudden rush of blood to the head. Then, his wilfulness. The broken routine and—as a result the loss of the cigars at Christmas. It was a cautionary tale.

2

In death there are no secrets. At La Chacarita, the wealthy are laid to rest in huge pharaonic tombs; mausoleums are styled after famous chapels. Sculpted angels and lute-players pirouette in cement and plaster. Biblical scenes are lavishly carved out of stone. If a rich life must be seen to continue on into death the same could be said of the poor who are parked end to end, on top of one another, sandwiched in to the massive walls of vaults. These older burial walls form inner walls of the
cementerio.
The newer vaults have been constructed by a mall developer. Bodies are stacked in galleria after galleria, and stairways descend two and three floors into the earth to work benches and cemetery workers in blue overalls shouldering brooms. The air is closed with the sickly fragrance of old flowers stuck in the coffin handles.

There was almost nothing that Schmidt could not have afforded. His widow had imagined a small family crypt, perhaps with some orchestral theme to symbolise the family business interests.

Instead, to his wife's great surprise, and the family's, Schmidt's final instructions were for a simple burial alongside his devoted shop assistant; a plain and quiet woman, the ‘English woman' whom Señora Schmidt had known simply as Louise.

They had exchanged pleasantries. Proper conversation had always required extra effort. The woman's Spanish was at best infantile. When she shopped she pointed at the items she wanted, extending the word on the end of her finger. Now that Schmidt's wife tried to recall all those other times they had met the occasions were so brief that nothing particularly telling or revealing had stuck.

Once, during a summer storm, at her insistence Schmidt had dropped the ‘shop assistant' off home in a taxi. She remembered glancing up at a grey building with a pink and blue plaster relief (a rosette, she seemed to recall) and the shop assistant's face suddenly dropping into the window to thank her for this kindness. Her hair was wet and unruly; her face washed out, a dark smear of eyeliner running from a corner of her eye. No one would ever say she was a classic beauty.

Louise had been dead for eleven years but one elderly woman, a former neighbour, remembered ‘the English woman'. She recalled that she had kept to herself. The old woman shouted: ‘She could not speak.' And no, she did not seek friendship. ‘What about visitors? Did she have many?' The neighbour's face grew thoughtful. Schmidt's widow briefly considered offering money, but then the woman spoke: ‘Many, no. Not many. But there was one…' And she began to describe her late husband, his shock of white hair, his smooth face, his chestnut eyes, the cane, his careful dress. ‘You know how it is, Señora. Some people end their days having conquered time. Others are still running on the spot as they leave this world. The Señor was of the former category.' The conversation took place on the landing. A leaky tap could be heard along the way. It was such a rundown place. Her husband had always been so fussy. She couldn't place him here, on this landing. She began to walk along the hall. She stopped and looked back to check. ‘This room at the end?' The woman nodded. ‘Si, Señora, that is the room.' She thought, he must have seen this view, the same cold angling light in the end window, the same bare floorboards creaking under his feet. But what must he have felt? Excitement? A lift in his heart? The neighbour caught up with her. ‘Señora, I can show you the courtyard if you wish. The gentleman and the foreign woman sometimes sat in the garden beneath the lime tree. The tree is no longer, I regret to say…'

BOOK: Here at the End of the World We Learn to Dance
8.17Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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