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A propos de cet article
Titre : Ruby's Spoon
Éditeur : Chatto & Windus, London
Date d'édition : 2010
Reliure : Hardcover
Etat du livre :Fine
Etat de la jaquette : Fine
Signé : Signed By Author
Edition : First Edition.
A propos de ce titre
Fly, a. 1. Knowing, wide-awake. 2. Of the fingers: Nimble, skillful. Cradle Cross was circled round with water, and Ruby could not cross it. To the east ran Ludleye Gutter, a brook that carved a broad but shallow conduit through the clay. To the north and south and west, canals curbed Cradle Cross—filthy slits of water called the Cut; beneath the waterline, wood rotted down to slime, and wire and rusted iron. Not like the sea, where you don’t know what the tide might bring—a whale, off-course; a raft; a barrel full of something rare and bright—the Cut brought barges loaded up with steel tubes, salt and coal and rivets. And two weeks before the fire that burned Horn Lane, the Cut brought Isa Fly to Cradle Cross.
The Cut ran right behind Horn Lane—it kinked round at the southern end of Blickses and swelled out to a basin where the barges turned when they’d unloaded heads of Russian cows or picked up sacks of blood-bone fertilizer for the farms. The Cut then narrowed and ran straight for half a mile behind the vast vaulted horn shed, behind the little row of houses, up and under Wytepole Bridge and on for Lapple. For years now Ruby hadn’t dared to walk along the towpath, but she could just manage sitting above it, on the top of the three steep stone steps out the back of Captin’s Fried Fish Shop, with her back safely pressed against the doorframe. This night—the night the Cut brought Isa Fly—was hot even for July and Ruby came out every now and then, just when the shop was quiet, and sat with Captin’s best knife and a bucket, starting on potatoes for the next day. She could peel potatoes without looking down, angling the knife so when it hit her thumb it wouldn’t slip into her skin, and from her top step she watched the inky, shifting waters—the Cut could not be trusted and it needed watching. Captin’s narrowboat, his Ferret, nodded gently at its mooring. Looking left, she could see as far down as the gas lamp in the wall on Blickses Kink, and right, to the lantern hanging from a ring sunk in the capstone on Wytepole Bridge. Not much traffic on the Cut on Friday nights.
She’d worked for Captin (Fridays, Saturdays) since she was ten, and she was saving for a boat. Three years she’d stood beside him at the counter, dishing up fish suppers to the well-off women, serving out chip ends and skate knobs to the rest. The pattern of the evening, every week: first off, little boys with a penny between them, asking for a bag of bits. Later, courting couples wanting to share a packet so they could stand elbow to elbow. At closing time, the young men from the Leopard would come, taking swigs of vinegar for bets when they thought she wasn’t looking. She’d want to lean across the counter with her spatula and smack their sticky fingers; shout, “I saw that, Alf Malpass! Bog off, Jimmy Male!” But instead, she knew, she’d look away and take her pinny to the fat, blind jar of pickled eggs and polish up the glass.
That half-hour lull before the pub closed, Captin and Ruby enjoyed the easy quiet and didn’t talk much while they worked: he checked the range and flicked a glob of batter in to test the fat; she scoured the counter and put out fresh greaseproof squares beside the paper, ready to wrap chips, then Captin wiped the counter down again. “It ay as I doe trust yo, Ruby, yo knows that. The only way as fish-friers thrive—”
“Is if weem cleaner than a queen.”
This was not the whole truth, Ruby knew: brushed fingernails, ungritty counters—they would keep your reputation clean enough. The test was, Captin taught her, in the stomaching, in the buying of the fish up at the wet market in Muckeleye; cheap fish, but not rotten. There was a woman, Ruby read in Captin’s Muckeleye Gazette, been jailed for selling poison fish; a man, for trying to fry his chips in motor oil.
“S’ all right, Captin. It woe be your countertops as see yo banged up in Winson Green,” said Ruby. “It ull be for flogging fish that’s green under the batter.”
“Ay I taught yo nothing, Ruby?” He reached over for the broom and swept at her feet while she jumped and giggled. “Who will I leave me fishy empire to if Ruby plays so light and careless wi it? If her goes bringing me good name to disrepute?”
Ruby wouldn’t play this way in front of other people, and there was no queue yet, but when a bent-up woman came in and tried to stand up tall against the counter, Captin shooed Ruby out. Ruby knew the bent-up woman wouldn’t ask for anything, not while she was there—the woman never did. With care, eyes fixed on Captin, she would place whatever coin she had to spare flat on the counter, and Captin Len would smile and then be gruff and say that he was sure he’d fetch her something, like a bag of cods’ heads to stretch out with mash into a fishcake. But he would pack it up with extras, like some chips in with her bits. Been doing this for years. It was Captin Len’s Fried Fish Shop kept the Cradles fed, since the hungry winters of the War and women driven to cobbling War-loaves fit for only pigs (more potato in than wheat) to keep their children from being starved into coffins small enough to carry on their laps.
So, when Captin started wrapping up jellied roe and a whole scoop of batter-bits, Ruby went when she was told, no hesitation, through to the back. This, Ruby loved in Captin: how he was so careful with the dignities of strangers and the dignities of friends, how he cradled them so lightly, yet weighted down his pockets with responsibilities that were not his to bear.
“I doe mind a cup of tea either, Ruby,” Captin called to her. “Bring it back wi yo when yoom finished out the back.”
Ruby left the door between the fish shop and the back room slightly open. She stopped by the shallow sink in Captin’s scullery to rinse scourings from her fingers and fill the kettle; she started at the spit and fizz of fresh chips dropping in the fat. (A lesson Captin taught her early: never leave your range too long without some chips to cool the fat. “Yo doe want the chip fat catching else we’ll all go up.” All that grease sunk deep into the wall, and bowls of rendered fat about the place.) She took the top sheet from the pile of old Gazettes that Captin kept for wrapping up bad fish, and pulled on Captin’s sweater—big on her, but something between her and the low wind that brought the sulphur in off the canal. It was treacherously dark down by the Cut, but light swung out through the doorway and flung Ruby’s shadow long across the water. Eyes flicking up to keep the Cut in check, she steadied herself (a hand on each side of the doorframe, the paper pinched between a finger and thumb) and lowered herself down onto the top step.
She reached into the pocket of her pinny and pulled out a small book bound in soft, scratched leather. It was tied shut with a shoelace, and when she undid the knot, the book eased open, pages splayed. The book had been her mother’s, and Captin’s before that, passed down to Ruby when she had turned seven. Inside the cover, a tidy, careful “Leonard Salt, Cradle Cross,” and underneath, in a looser hand, “given over by Captin to Bethy for her Birthday.” Despite the binding, Captin’s book was cheap and not meant to be kept beyond the year—the print bled on damp fingers, the pages tore, and on the title page, The Coastal Companion, Severnsea, Almanac for 1899 was set askew. Within, the times of tides; a chart of all the stars; the lunar calendar. Some pages—registered importers and their agents, best bait for sea trout, the breeding patterns of the slob trout in the estuary—were obscured with pasted lists of Places I will Go when I have got a Boat, or maps, “From Cradle Cross to Ludleye Port, by water,” drawn on scraps of sugar packet, flattened out, or advertisements: “Clamp a Johnson’s Sea-Horse to your boat”; “Our spring-knit slims even the most amorphous mermaid.”
She laid her Almanac—she liked the way that sounded—on her lap, shook out the sheet of newspaper and held it up so it would catch the light. She read the headlines and no more (“Miss Brenda Paul to go to Prison,” “Criminal Libel: Verdict in Mr. X Case,” “New Orchid Named ‘Lady Mayoress’?”) until she came to one that caught her: “Sleepwalker’s Fall into the Sea.” Ruby read enough to be sure this was what she wanted (“they traced the wet footprints to the forecastle, where they found a heap of wet clothes and Alexander Middleton, a young deckhand, lying naked in his bunk.”), and with a pair of trimming scissors from her pinny she clipped the two-inch square of story out and slipped it in between the pages of her Almanac for pasting later. Nothing on the breeze to show this night was different. Not quite yet.
She had put her book safely away and crumpled up the paper for the fire—the kettle singing, now, and Captin wanting tea—when she heard dislocated voices on the Cut, resounding hard and clear, and then she saw the swinging light approaching around the kink as it curved behind Blickses. She stood up quickly and stepped back inside the doorway, leaning out and peering at the lurching lamp, but holding to the frame. Boats, Ruby loved. It was the water that they traveled on that troubled her. Each time a boat passed by she’d fix herself to something firm on land because she would be, suddenly, afraid that if she moved from where she stood she might step out towards the water. So as the light swayed side to side along the Cut, Ruby set her back against the frame and pressed her feet hard down against the stone. It looked to Ruby like a common barge—room for the payload, wi...
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