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The Green Knight / Iris Murdoch

Upstairs in her room, Moy was sitting on the floor watching Anax drinking milk.
She had only lately discovered that he liked milk. She liked to watch him
drinking it. But was it good for him? He lifted his long grey muzzle and looked
at her. He looked sad. When she came back to him after school he wagged his
tail and put his pawn up. But she never saw in him the wild overflowing ecstasy
of his reunions with Bellamy. She reached out her hand and he came to her with
milk upon his furry mouth. She lightly brushed it away with the and of her
thick plait. She stroked him. They were both of them poor fugitives. Moy had
been making the masks for her birthday party. She made them out of various
materials, papier mache, cardboard, stiff furnishing fabrics, pliant tin, she
fixed them together with glue, string, plasticine, sellotape, bent paper-clips.
Guests who were invited to the party made, bought, or hired their own masks,
but the family wore Moy's masks which were of course secretly handed round
before the event. This year, partly because of the absence of Clive and Emil
and the Adwardens, and also necessarily of Bellamy, partly for other more
mysteroius reasons, the party was to be for family only. Moy put the masks
completed so far in a cupboard. She had put them on an open shelf but did not
like to see Anax looking at them. She rose and opened the cupboard door for a
moment. The masks were evil. She closed the door. Why were they evil, because
deception is evil? Even the happy masks were bad. She thought I won't make them
any more. She picked up one of her ugly flint stones and gazed through a tiny
fissure into its glittering interior, she watched a fly alight upon her hand,
probe her skin with his tongue, then wash its paws and draw them down over its
bowed head. She laid down the stone, the fly flew away.

Anax now slept upon her bed at night, not in his basket. She was glad of this,
but uneasy too. There was so much mysterious alien life in the room, so many
radiant centres of being. Was Anax afraid of the stones as he had been afraid
of the masks? At one moment she had thought he might attack the masks. Were the
stones hostile too? She had picked them up, so many, in so many places. Any
stone she touched she had to keep. The garden was full of stones. She had felt
they must be glad, out of such an infinite number, to be chosen. But perhaps
she was wrong? Now she touched cautiously a large conical stone covered with
golden lichen runes which she had found near a big grey rock in the hills near
Bellamy's cottage. Later, remembering, Moy had been overcome by the notion that
the rock and the stone, who had stood there along together on the grassy
hillside, for centuries, for millennia, were now pining for each other. Perhaps
she ought to take take the stone back? But she could not recall exactly where
she had found it, and anyway Bellamy was selling his cottage and she would
never go there again. Stones walked sometimes. Perhaps this poor stone would
set off one day through the streets of London seeking its lost friend who was
now forsaken. Once, coming back to her room, she had found the stone upon the

Turning away from afflicted stone she was aware of the calm infinitely sad gaze
of the polish Rider, travelling in the golden light of the dawn, thinking of
his mission, perhaps of his home which he may never see again, emerging out of
darkness into light, and looking far away at the still dark shapes of mountains
invisible before, courageous, gentle, truthful, wise alone.

As she moved away now towards the door she nursed the pain that was with
always. Destiny, solitude, grief, the sea. I am a girl upon the land, I am a
silky in the sea. And she thought about Colin and the black-footed ferret. She
thought about the pool of tears.


The Saturday after Peter Mir's appearance before the esteemed ladies Moy had
agreed to visit an art school to talk to a teacher there, a Mis Fox, who was a
friend of Moy's art teacher at school, Miss Fitzherbert. Miss Fitzherbert had
fixed this visit for Moy, saying of course it was not an interview, just a
matter of learning a few facts and picking up a few tips. Moy did not inform
her sisters and her mother, but slipped quietly away. (This was a usual
procedure.) She did not bring Anax with her, as the journey would involve a
long bus ride, and she did not like to take him too far afield for fear of
being somehow separated from him. She was constantly haunted by fears of losing
him; and also worried that he did not get enough exercise. She was carrying
with her a big portfolio containing paintings and drawings.

Sefton and her mother, especially Sefton, were constantly impressing upon Moy
that, wheter or not she were going to be a great artist, she must acquire some
sort of academic status, pass some serious exam or exams, before leaving
school, as such titles might always come in useful later. They had exhorted her
to work hard, it need only be for a short time, after all, at 'dull school
objects', such as English, French, History and Maths. Moy, who hated these with
the possible exception of English, had decided some time ago that she would not
work at these horrid subjects, would not take any of the beastly exams,and
would leave school as soon as possible. She occasionally tried to communicate
this decision to her family, but they simply refused to listen. Now she was
beginning to be more fully aware of the gamble she was making with her life.
Suppose she never got into art school, suppose she was not a painter after all?
Suppose the talents which other had persuaded her she possessed were to abandon
her overnight, or turn out to have been unreal all the time? Suppose she had to
take a typing course or live with a word processor? I would die, she thought, I
would kill myself or make myself die of grief. Already there was one great deep
relief in her life.

The meeting with Miss Fox was not a success. Miss Fox was clearly very busy and
had obviously only agreed to see Moy to please her friend or acquaintance Miss
Fitzherbert. Their conversation took place in a mean little room, an office,
into which other people constantly intruded. Miss Fox glanced perfunctorily at
Moy's offerings, made no comment on them, but said if Moy wanted to go art
school she should show up with something really original, something striking
and strange, not just tame copies from nature. A lot of girls, Miss Fox told
her, thought they were artists because they could do a watercolour of a
daffodil, and regarded art as a peasant occupation to dabble with while waiting
to get married. Such people had better not apply, Mis Fox said, the study and
practice of art was difficult and arduous, and required absolute dedication, as
well as of course considerable talent, which very few people possessed. She
added that anyway it was extremely difficult to get into art schools as
hundreds of applicants were chasing very few places. Moy, who felt the tears
rising in her eyes, thanked Miss Fox and left hurriedly.

She realised that she had been very stupid, she had deliberately chosen her
more 'accomplished' and 'traditional' paintings to show to Miss Fox, figurative
paintings of (yes) flowers and trees, the pagoda in Kew Gardens, Anax asleep.
She ought instead to have brought her wilder more outrageous work, crazy
unfinished sketches, dotty fetishes, one of the masks, even one of her stones!
Well, there was one art school where she would not be admitted, Miss Fox would
damn her from the start. Clutching her paintings, which kept sliding away from
under her arm, she walked at random, unwilling to go straight home, and after a
while found herself beside the river. There was a fuzzy grey mist over the
Thames, the tide was out, the narrowed stream looked dull and sluggish, like
thick grey oil oozing along. Moy came to some steps, then saw, looking down,
that there were some stones upon the muddy beach at the foot of the steps. She
went down, stepping carefully upon the wet surfaces. She propped up her handbag
and her portfolio against the stone wall of the embankment, and began to
examine the stones. They were disappointing, shapeless and mud-colored. As Moy
felt a personal obligation to any stone which she picked up, or even noticed,
after guiltily discarding some with a murmur of apology, she felt obliged to
pocket some of the sensless stones. She walked down over the sticky mud to the
water's edge and saluted the river by dipping her hand into it. Here the sound
of traffic had become a woodland murmur, remote from the calm pace of the
eternal Thames. Moy still felt tearful and tried to calm herself by standing
very still and gazing at the fuzzy mist which was motionlessly pendent above
the water.

Then she became aware of a disturbance, the sound a little distance away of
violent splashing. She moved, trying to see through the mist. Some horrid fight
seemed to be going on in the water. Moy hated to see animals fighting each
other, she rushed at feuding birds to stop them, and shouted at aggressive dogs
and cats, once trying to separrate two snarling dogs she was bitten by both.
Something very improper now seemed to be taking place in the water involving a
swan, and something else, some creature whom the swan was attacking, a dark
squirming thing kept coming to the surface, to be violently thrust under again
by the swan. The bird was leaning forward, its long neck doubled, its wings
spread and beating, using its great distended breast as a weapon, battering
down the little black creature, pressing it under water and frustrating its
repeated attempts to rise. Meanwhile the swan was uttering a terrible fierce
loud hissing noise.

'Stop that!' cried Moy. 'Stop it at once! Leave him alone! Stop, you wicked
bird!' She took one of the senseless stones from her pocket and threw it toward
the swan. It missed bird, and Moy did not dare to throw another for the fear of
hitting the poor victim. She cried out again, 'Oh stop, please stop!' The swan
continued to clap its wings, which made a loud cracking sound as they struck
the water. It continued to hiss and to press its great white breast down upon
the black struggling thing.

Moy stepped in the water, waving her arms and shouting. She stumbled, trying to
lift her feet from the mud, and blundered forward. The water splashed about her
feet from the mud, and blundered forward. The water splashed about her, its
shocking coldness clasped her. She saw now, in a sudden glimpse of the scene,
that the creature which the swan was trying to drown was not a dog, but a small
black duck. In that instant the duck became free, it leapt away, spread its
wings, and rose from the water uttering a strange cry of terror, and flew away
into the mist. Then as Moy steadied herself, the swan was upon her, she saw the
great wings, unfolded and in the surface water the big black webbed feet
trailing like claws, as the swan fell upon her, pressing her down with its
descending weight, as it had pressed down the little struggling duck. Moy lost
her balance and slipped backward seeing the heavy curving breast above her, the
snake-neck like a rope of greying fur and for an instant, as if in a dream,
eyes glaring in a mad face. As she felt the terrible weight upon her she tried
to free a hand from the rising water to hold it away, trying to move her
clogged feet and attempting to scream. The next moment it was over, the swan
passed from her, beating the water violently with a loud sound with its wings,
rushing away over the surface of the river, then rising into the silence of the
gathering mist.

Moy made her way slowly back to the shore, her shoes full of mud, lifting her
feet with difficulty. It had all happened in a minute, perhaps two minutes. No
one had heard, no one had seen. She slipped on sudden stones, crawled out of
the water on hand and knees, and stood shuddering, uttering little moans. Her
coat was heavy with mud and water and she managed, fighting with it, to pull it
off and shake it. Dropping the coat, she stood there helplessly, weakly, trying
to wring the water out of her skirt. She found herself crying and knew that she
was crying because the tears were warm upn her cheeks. Trembling with cold she
gathered her wet hair andthrust it in a tangled jumble down the back of her
dress. She was thinking, as the tears flowed, I do hope I didn't hurt the swan.
She picked up her coat, realised she must wear it, and managed to haul it on
again. Hanging her head she made her way to the steps and began slowly to climb
them. When she neared the top she remembered her portfolio and her bag which
she had left propped against the wall, and went down again. Her chilled muddied
hands drooped water in upon the pictures. She climbed up again and began to
walk along the embankment. People passed her, staring at her and looking back
after her. Moy thought, I can't go on the bus like this, but it's too far to
walk, what am I to do, oh what am I to do! She went on crying, her coat heavy
upon her.

Iris Murdoch
The Green Knight, Hitnet - Duzyazi

Iris Murdoch'ın 'The Green Knight' kitabından Anax, Moy ve Kuğu ile ilgili bölümler
Doğan Gegeoğlu tarafından, 08/04/2001 tarihinde gönderildi.
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