Forty-Nine | Edward Mc Whinney
Hear this, all ye people; give ear, all ye inhabitants of the world. Forty-nine was a significant number in my back pages. I twice lived at an address with forty-nine in it. I was once engaged to a girl from Canada and went on to follow the forty-niners while living in San Francisco and now there were forty-nine days to the final deadline for the completed manuscript to be presented to the faculty as agreed in the contract. It was warm. The humidity was high. I felt the sweat breaking out across my brow as I sat down before the typewriter. The letter N was jammed. It was the forty-ninth letter on the keyboard if you counted from top of the right. It would be awkward producing pages minus words with the letter N. I leapt up and leaned on the window sill. The daily sounds seemed as arbitrary as the patterns made by the swifts, cutting out their noisy daily routine in the quadrangular space between the tower blocks of apartments. However, on closer observation their flight patterns were not arbitrary, as certain repeated movements became distinguishable. A vertical swoop down, quick left-hand horizontal turn across and double-back to half that line, then a sharp up and down and swoop across the quadrangle to make a long vertical sweep upwards followed by a loop back onto the mid-way point of that upward lunge.
I decided to go to the cinema. I had plenty of time. I would have at least ten pages for Isabella, the faculty leader, by the weekend, this was only Monday, no problem. Tomorrow I'd bring the typewriter somewhere to be fixed. I checked the newspaper for films in the version original and amazingly discovered that Powell and Pressburger's film, The Forty-Ninth Parallel starring Laurence Olivier, made in 1949, well, no ‘41 actually, was showing at the Filmoteca.
I had a few hours to kill before the film. I walked, just an old stroll along with nothing big like a visit to a gallery or the zoo in mind. As always as I walked I inclined mine ear to a parable: I opened my dark saying upon the harp, that is to say I pondered upon things. My jaw for example. I concluded that my jaw was not strong enough and that my daily, outdoor expression should be more austere as one fixed upon a distant peak in the Tibetan wilderness. I also concluded that I'd fail the basic tests of character suggested by Krasskey such as what to do when confronted by the insults of thoughtless morons, the mindlessly provocative taunts of idiots. I refer to an incident, the previous evening when a tall, drunken girl came up to me outside the metro station at Collblanc, obviously mistaking me for someone else, someone who had been in a conflict with her on the train, maybe. She had a face like a rotten doorway. She put that face right up to mine. Her little, black piercing eyes looked drugged and I smelled drink from her breath. She put her face as close as she could get it, making her nose sharp like a knife and she began to snarl venomous words, giving you an idea what ancient Greek warriors had to contend with when faced by Amazonians and Maenads. Her boyfriend hopped out of the mouth of the metro station and grabbed her, obviously explaining that she was picking on the wrong person. I stood there looking at them wrestling their way along the path, the girl unconvinced that I was not the one who had upset her somehow, looking back over her shoulder with a vicious, snapping mouth. And as I stood there helplessly unable to do anything, I thought; my mouth shall speak of wisdom; and the meditation of my heart shall be of understanding though of course I didn't understand all her words only some of the more colourful, oft repeated ones like gilipollas. An old Catalan woman touched me on the elbow and said something comforting, her husband shrugged and put a finger against his head, that girl was bad, loca.
All of a sudden I felt tired but I kept walking till I found a bar with the number forty-nine over it. I ordered a beer and the 49th item on the menu, a grilled trout with head and tail, arrived, no-one there who would care to provoke me in any way, as I sat in glorious anonymity, no-one to test my resolve to be serious and withdrawn and tough. I thought about phoning my ex-fiancée, Celine, the Canadian from the 49th Parallel. I could step into a locutorio. It would be her voice and it would be my voice. I loved her but she snored and she'd wander around the house at 2 a.m. when not snoring, watering the plants or tidying things in the kitchen. The more time I spent with her, the more I loved her. She fascinated me, my ingénue, my muse, but it wasn't to be. In her I saw a very fine person with one or two quaint, inbred faults. In me she saw something else. I picked at the grilled trout, head and tail. I wandered back onto the humid street. It was another hour to the start of the film. I paused at a cross-street and saw children in a school-yard seated under a basketball hoop, two very young monitors seated among them, green and blue, beige and rum. A monitor in an orange t-shirt with a lean frame and long black locks curling onto his chin, stood looking at some children rummaging through the shrubbery, his job, minding other people's children, a long career ahead of him, someone has to do it. When he turned, I noted the expression on his face and I noted the cigarette smouldering between his fingers and then I saw it; the number 49 emblazoned on the front of his shirt.
The Filmoteca de Catalunya offers old films in the original language. That afternoon I sat through Powell and Pressburger's The Forty-Ninth Parallel of 1941. If only I'd been near home when I came out, feeling tough and vigorous and ready to hit that typewriter, the broken N key would not have been a deterrent. I didn't really know how far from home I was. But I knew that by the time I got there things would be different.
By the way, lest I forget, that very night I dreamed that I shot the rotten girl outside Collblanc metro station with an FN49. Like sheep they are laid in the grave; death shall feed on them; and the upright shall have dominion over them in the morning.