A.S. Byatt, “The Narrow Jet”

Two old men emboldened by their lack of necessity set about designing and building a fountain in a nearby pond, much to the surprise of the creature who lives in it.

(from The Paris Review, #173)

As a film, probably some sprawling international indie job, this tale would hardly be worth the caffeine it would take to get through it. But in Byatt’s careful hands, it is an exciting and fun story. The actions of the old men are put in context of their complex feelings of self-worth and values. The creature’s thoughts, or, at least, her motivations, are also delivered with understanding, care and whimsy.
There were some pleasant, rare words in this story: hermitage, plashing, cannikin, rowlocks, macerated woad, pochards, sticklebacks, muniments, surcoat, integument. Four things were given the “she” tag: The creature, the boat, the model and the siren fountain.

I read this story late at night in Nethers, and wrote this entry in the early morning with the unceasing soundtrack of the mighty Hughes River rushing by just below my window. All night a giant bird which apparently means me no harm delivered its spooky caw at nearly regular intervals. Once I realized we had a deal, I slept soundly.

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