THE NEXT GLADE by Robert Aickman
“‘Have a chocolate finger?’ she said,…”
…not said by Noelle to her husband, the ambidextrous Melvin, but to her prospective fancy man with a fancy name whom she picked up at a party….
I have two editions of this story, the original, and a reprint, whereby in the latter, perhaps significantly, the boy Agnew is actually ‘misprinted’ twice as Agnes. ‘Agneau’ in French is the word for ‘Lamb’: “Hoodwink’d with faery fancy; all amort, / Save to St. Agnes and her lambs unshorn,…” from the famous Keats poem about St. Agnes, and see also the above famous painting of Judith shearing off a head, and this is a deadpan story about the loose marriage conducted by Noelle and Melvin (the latter with career frustrations and rivalries) and their two children Agnew and Judith, a marriage so loose that Noelle allows herself to be cuddled by a fancy man with a strange morphing double-barrel of a name when they are alone together in the suburban woods near the marital home at the time Melvin is away on difficult business abroad in the New World.
Men who sort of come and go like Stepford Husbands almost mindlessly in a farrago of leanings that lead to a visionary epic in a pit forever near or within the ever-next glade, a Blakean or John Martin epic of commercial double-dealing exploiting the labouring men and typing women (an epic bodily interweaving a human panoply not unlike the vision in BIND YOUR HAIR), all amidst the gluey resistances of passage while wading through them wearing shoes and boots as in the same BIND YOUR HAIR story appropriately reviewed by me just before this one; in fact this story and that one are kindred stories that somehow deal with the complex relationships and jobs and mindless pretensions that both men and women conduct. Toward family ruin et al.
Here Melvin’s downfall (even before the men in white coats could come for him first as he feared) takes place when he is childishly role-playing a sort of Wild Bill Hickok scenario in the woods with a deadly lumber knife…. And then thoughts of ‘an infection poisoning his brain.’ But who shears whom, and by what means? Whose ‘fine fabric’ business suit becomes just another Mr Millar mistexturing?
“It seemed to Noelle that the din was rising in a degree entirely out of proportion with the distance she was covering, as presumably she advanced towards it.”
“In the stream of light from the passage, Noelle could see Agnew’s wild head.”
Noelle as a sort of female Christ or Christ’s Mother? Her Lamb of God pressed against her breasts at the end. Time itself, meanwhile, had to have exactitude when children were involved, this story says.
“Men and their dreams!” — Eskimo carpet and Australian boomerang stretching as if globally? Any “conjectural rats”, notwithstanding. But never any butterflies.
No Fragonard or Watteau — nor even this story’s mention of wigs or ribboned shepherd crooks — involved. But the trees are mysteriously architectural. As we readers struggle with dark meanings always hovering halfway through to the next glade of light. At a time when colour TVs needed to be specifically called, as in this story, colour ones, to differentiate from black and white.
“‘I’m sure the whole thing’s a fantasy, as I said before.’
‘It is, and yet it isn’t,’ said Noelle.”
My other reviews of Aickman: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/robert-aickman/