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448 pages, Hardcover
First published January 1, 1999
And so he hesitated. And so he refrained from pulling up her skirt and throwing himself on top of her, even when he felt the gentle press of her hands on his back, like an invitation. He tried to excuse himself to her; he wasn’t ready, he said, whispered breathlessly….Still, though, he was afraid – afraid of this lust, afraid that one day, instead of life, a desire to do the right thing, he would make do with a sex life. It was always there, just under the surface….
Later Jonas would contemplate the choice he had made in this and in similar situations. Because what if sex was life? And what if the life in which he might attain the ‘lofty goals’ toward which he strove was the life of the nether regions?
‘I did not deem him…worthy,’ she said. That word ‘worthy’ was to become a catchword in Jonas’s life.
‘Did you ever find someone who was worthy?’ he asked, doing his best to pronounce the word with the same gravity as Karen Mohr, stretching the vowels, and rolling the ‘r’.
‘No, I never did.’ And then, anticipating Jonas’s next question. ‘But I have never reproached myself’.
Jonas could not know that many times in the future his eyes would fill with tears at the memory of her face as she spoke of this. She had provided him with a mainstay, one that would stand within him forever; she taught him something about the uncompromising nature of love….Karen Mohr had received an offer from a man admired by half the world, but had not deemed him worthy. Love is no mere bagatelle, that’s for sure, was Jonas’s first thought.
Mr Dehli was an expert climber; he would venture out onto the thinnest branches of a line of reasoning, then with a sudden swoop come swinging back to the trunk, possibly on a creeper. This, for Jonas, was more thrilling than the trapeze artists at the circus. Frequently he would sit at his desk, following – heart in mouth, almost – their master’s exposition of a complex topic, with one thought leading to another as he scrawled key words and phrases on the board. And just when Jonas was sure that their poor teacher had lost his way completely, when Mr Dehli, with his hair covered in chalk dust and his bow tie woefully askew, was stammering ‘and…and…and…’, suddenly it would come, that blessed ‘but…’, and a sight of relief would run through the classroom, to be followed by the master’s closing triple-somersault of an argument, which he delivered while circling some of the key words and drawing a couple of connecting lines that made Jonas gasp with surprised understanding.
I spent a year in Marbury, a non-authoritarian school modelled on Summerhill. It was all too weird for words. Next time you wonder why I don't know what continent Spain is in, or why places that are further away have times that are closer or...keep in mind that my geography text book for the year was The Naked Ape.
Well, I say it was that sort of school like it's to blame for my appalling ignorance of geography. If only I'd chosen a normal school instead. But truth be told, the next year I did choose an ordinary school - Methodist Ladies College - and blow me down if the maths teacher didn't turn out to be a girl who made us do things like write poetry. 'Your maths assignment for today is to write a poem in the style of Jabberwocky' It's moot whether my maths is worse than my geography.
Sigh. I wouldn't mind so much if my poetry was any good.