The International Literary Quarterly

May 2010


Luis Cernuda
Sally Cline
Christine Crow
Paul Scott Derrick
Paulette Dubé
Sarah Glazer
Tomás Harris
Philippe Jaccottet
Pierre-Albert Jourdan
Susan Kelly-DeWitt
Peter McCarey
Deborah Moggach
Vivek Narayanan
Georges Perros
Tessa Ransford
Sue Reidy
Daniel Shapiro
Rebecca Swift
John Taylor
Yassen Vassilev
Alan Wall
Stephen Wilson
Tamar Yoseloff
Karen Zelas

Volta: A Multilingual Anthology
(One poem: 93 languages)

Issue 11 Guest Artist:
Catherine McIntyre

President: Peter Robertson
Deputy Editor: Jill Dawson
General Editor: Beatriz Hausner
Art Editor: Calum Colvin

Consulting Editors
Marjorie Agosín
Daniel Albright
Meena Alexander
Maria Teresa Andruetto
Frank Ankersmit
Rosemary Ashton
Reza Aslan
Leonard Barkan
Michael Barry
Shadi Bartsch
Thomas Bartscherer
Susan Bassnett
Gillian Beer
David Bellos
Richard Berengarten
Charles Bernstein
Sujata Bhatt
Mario Biagioli
Jean Boase-Beier
Elleke Boehmer
Eavan Boland
Stephen Booth
Alain de Botton
Carmen Boulossa
Rachel Bowlby
Svetlana Boym
Peter Brooks
Marina Brownlee
Roberto Brodsky
Carmen Bugan
Jenni Calder
Stanley Cavell
Hollis Clayson
Sarah Churchwell
Kristina Cordero
Drucilla Cornell
Junot Díaz
André Dombrowski
Denis Donoghue
Ariel Dorfman
Rita Dove
Denise Duhamel
Klaus Ebner
Robert Elsie
Stefano Evangelista
Orlando Figes
Tibor Fischer
Shelley Fisher Fishkin
Peter France
Nancy Fraser
Maureen Freely
Michael Fried
Marjorie Garber
Anne Garréta
Marilyn Gaull
Zulfikar Ghose
Paul Giles
Lydia Goehr
Vasco Graça Moura
A. C. Grayling
Stephen Greenblatt
Lavinia Greenlaw
Lawrence Grossberg
Edith Grossman
Elizabeth Grosz
Boris Groys
David Harsent
Benjamin Harshav
Geoffrey Hartman
François Hartog
Molly Haskell
Selina Hastings
Valerie Henitiuk
Kathryn Hughes
Aamer Hussein
Djelal Kadir
Kapka Kassabova
John Kelly
Martin Kern
Mimi Khalvati
Joseph Koerner
Annette Kolodny
Julia Kristeva
George Landow
Chang-Rae Lee
Mabel Lee
Linda Leith
Suzanne Jill Levine
Lydia Liu
Margot Livesey
Julia Lovell
Laurie Maguire
Willy Maley
Alberto Manguel
Ben Marcus
Paul Mariani
Marina Mayoral
Richard McCabe
Campbell McGrath
Jamie McKendrick
Edie Meidav
Jack Miles
Toril Moi
Susana Moore
Laura Mulvey
Azar Nafisi
Martha Nussbaum
Sari Nusseibeh
Tim Parks
Molly Peacock
Pascale Petit
Clare Pettitt
Caryl Phillips
Robert Pinsky
Elena Poniatowska
Elizabeth Powers
Elizabeth Prettejohn
Martin Puchner
Kate Pullinger
Paula Rabinowitz
Rajeswari Sunder Rajan
James Richardson
François Rigolot
Geoffrey Robertson
Ritchie Robertson
Avital Ronell
Élisabeth Roudinesco
Carla Sassi
Michael Scammell
Celeste Schenck
Sudeep Sen
Hadaa Sendoo
Miranda Seymour
Mimi Sheller
Elaine Showalter
Penelope Shuttle
Werner Sollors
Frances Spalding
Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak
Julian Stallabrass
Susan Stewart
Rebecca Stott
Mark Strand
Kathryn Sutherland
Rebecca Swift
Susan Tiberghien
John Whittier Treat
David Treuer
David Trinidad
Marjorie Trusted
Lidia Vianu
Victor Vitanza
Marina Warner
David Wellbery
Edwin Williamson
Michael Wood
Theodore Zeldin

Associate Editor: Jeff Barry
Associate Editor: Neil Langdon Inglis
Assistant Editor: Ana de Biase
Assistant Editor: Sophie Lewis
Assistant Editor: Siska Rappé
Art Consultant: Angie Roytgolz

Click to enlarge picture Click to enlarge picture. Excerpt from The Visitor, Chapter 5 by Sally Cline  


Other Homes . Church Walk . London

The 40s

Under the stairs, in our house at Church Walk, the woman they called my mother had a Good Cupboard and a Bad Cupboard. Her husband, if he thought about the cupboards at all assumed they were for junk or women’s stuff. He never spoke about them.

Neither cupboard had a light inside. Mice certainly lived there in the pitch black, scrabbling and scratching as they tried to find an exit. She never let them out. So the stench grew. She never let anyone even peer inside except on a Thursday. That was the day, the same day every week, when she issued her frightening Invitation to the Cupboards. She only issued the Invitation to the Cupboards to me and what scared me was that I never knew whether I would be invited to crawl inside the Bad Cupboard , if I had been Worse–Than- Usual or the Good Cupboard if I had been Not- Quite-As- Bad.

What these labels referred to was never clear as she changed the rules for my behaviour each week. If I refused to eat spinach or semolina one week, that was a route towards punishment inside the Bad Cupboard; but another week the same ‘arrogant eating attitude’, as she called it, would only merit twenty minutes (or however long it took) crouched under the dining table, like our dog Rover, eating the cold chewed spinach and semolina mixed together, from Rover’s dog bowl. But it would not count towards time in the Bad Cupboard.

Some days he, her husband, weakly remonstrated: “Isn’t it a bit much to put Sam under the table? ‘

Her reply was stony. “If she won’t behave like a lady and eat everything up at the table then she will have to be treated like an animal and eat where they eat.”

She loathed challenges to her authority and he rarely offered any. Occasionally after an incident he would call me into the garden and shifting uncomfortably from foot to foot he would say: “She doesn’t mean to be hard on you. She tries to do things for the best, Sam. “

When he put a hand on my shoulder I shrugged it away quickly. “Can I go now?”

Today I recognise he was probably as terrified of her wrath as I was. He certainly didn’t want to discover more than she told him. That was their bond.

I knew what was in the Good Cupboard because every two weeks I accompanied her to the Fortnightly Book Sales in the East Finchley and Muswell Hill second hand book shops. Occasionally she let me wander around the store. More often she would choose a poetry book for me to read, then deposit me on a stool in the dusty interior and expect me to have learnt the first two stanzas off by heart, by the time she had made her choices and we left the shop. If I could say them correctly, and her own repertoire of poetry was so wide and knowledgeable that she would not have to check the page, that would be one of the books stowed away in the Good Cupboard, along with her new batch .I had a good memory as a child but my fear of her and of what might lie ahead, made me stumble over several of the lines. Even today I cannot get through ‘Dover Beach’ by Mathew Arnold without shaking slightly. If I made one mistake in the book test then that was added relentlessly to my other failings due for the punishment meted out in the Bad Cupboard.

On Thursday, at four pm when I returned from school, she took out her red book and turned to the page headed Samantha’s Marks. There were two columns, one for the Worse-Than-Usual, the other for the Not-Quite-As-Bad. Almost every week the bold black letters in the long Worse column glared at me, whilst the small number of Not-Quites in pale blue biro seemed to shrivel.

We walked in complete silence through the hall to the two under stair cupboards. “Which cupboard is your reward or punishment today, Samantha? “ she said, as we stood looking at them. I was too scared to speak but I pointed, almost every time, to the Bad Cupboard. She nodded, a thin smile escaping her tight lips. “Just so.” She put her bony hands on my shoulders and pushed me roughly to the ground.

“But let us see what you have given up through your wickedness”.

Then she indicated I could open the Good Cupboard and gaze at the books I was not allowed to read. I was usually crying by then but through a thin film of tears I saw the longed for books piled and jumbled in the filthy interior.

Then it was time. She closed the Good Cupboard and made me open the Bad Cupboard door.

“Go on. Get in. “

I began to scream. I was terrified of darkness and couldn’t bear the little thin white bodies of mice with their pink noses.

“Get in.”

She was implacable. “Perhaps next week you will do better.”

She tried to push me inside, her foot on my bottom. Fear made my body rigid so she had to bend down to my level and use both hands to hurtle me into the blackness. She locked the door and went into the kitchen. If she heard my screams she turned up the radio louder. An hour later she would unlock the door and send me to my room to do my homework.

It was a rare Thursday that I merited the reward of the Good Cupboard. But there were a few weeks when I had obeyed every instruction, had not spoken back, had not voiced “arrogant opinions”, had not been unpunctual, lazy, untidy, or hidden dirty thoughts. In those weeks I had never let a hair stray from my tight plaits and ensured my shoes shone daily so that I would be allowed near the Fortnightly Books.

The only piece of disobedience she never knew about was that occasionally, in secrecy and silence, her husband entered my bedroom, with the shoe cleaner concealed in his trouser pocket, and polished my shoes. He extracted his recompense the following night.

The previous week on a Book Sales hunt she had purchased second hand copies of two Frances Hodgson Burnett novels: ‘The Secret Garden’ and ‘Little Lord Fauntleroy’. I knew the stories of each book from countless trips to the shop. I identified completely with Mary Lennox, the sickly sour faced little girl who is forced to keep out of sight as her appearance and character will upset her mother and father. I had already suffered two serious bouts of rheumatic fever and the woman they called my mother hated my sickly appearance. Frequently she told me to change my sour expression. Like Mary Lennox in ‘The Secret Garden’, I kept out of her way as much as I possibly could.

The small portions I had read of ‘Little Lord Fauntleroy’ had cheered me immensely. Cedric Errol was a poor but smiling American boy who suddenly finds he is the heir to a wealthy British Earldom. One day he will be the next Earl of Dorincourt. Meanwhile he goes to live with his British grandfather, the bitter twisted old Earl and his mother is forced to live next door. She is not allowed into the Earl’s estate. How I wished that would happen to me. How I wished I had a grandfather, even a bitter and twisted one, who would call me to come and live with him, and not allow my mother to live in the same house.

The third book I had anguished for was ‘Ballet Shoes’ by Noel Streatfield, whose cover told me that Pauline , Petrova and Posy Fossil were sisters who had all been adopted. That was all I knew, but it was enough to make me desperate to read inside. Imagine being adopted. Imagine the heaven.

Now all three books lurked in the Good Cupboard. I tried to obey all week but made the mistake of telling her which three books I wanted most. Her eyes glinted. On Thursday she invited me to the Cupboards.

“Which Cupboard is your reward or punishment today, Samantha?”

I was terrified of pointing towards the Good Cupboard and being told that was presumptuous or arrogant and therefore merited time in the Bad Cupboard. But if I pointed towards the Bad Cupboard when I felt in my heart I had earned the Good Cupboard that might be seen as a Lying Thought and I would certainly spend an hour in the blackness. So eager, so anxious, was I to read at least one of those books that I dared to risk pointing to the Good Cupboard. She hardly seemed to take in the information. She had other plans. Before pushing me to the ground, she knelt down, with a sharp vegetable knife she had brought from the kitchen. She opened the Good Cupboard door, stuck a torch inside and began to root about. Oh no, I thought, she will cut up my three books. She will cut them into shreds. Then I heard loud piteous shrieks from inside the Good Cupboard, small thumps, and blood began to ooze out of the door.

“Go on” she said, standing up, leaving the door wide open. “Get in there. Get your books! Don’t think of coming out without those three in particular”.

She threw me inside where the corpses of the dead mice were bleeding all over the book jackets. I would have done anything to get out of that hell hole. Four corpses had fallen on two of the precious books. I flung myself against the door then threw out the books with the dead animals slithering across their jackets. I struggled through the door and vomited on the carpet. Her fury was beyond even her grasp of vicious vocabulary.

“My cream carpet! You have been sick on my new cream carpet! “

She pulled me by my plaits until my head was level with the vomit. Then she thrust my face in it. “Act like a dirty dog, Samantha and you will be treated like one.”

She went into the kitchen and returned with a bowl of water, a mop, carpet stain remover and some Dettol.

“Clean it up” she said.