Fauvism for Dogs

For human readers, see Katherine Mansfield’s ‘Bank Holiday’

A stout man with a grey face wears dingy white flannel trousers, a grey coat with a grey handkerchief showing, and a straw hat much too small for him, perched at the back of his head. He makes noises from a big woody stick. A little chap in white canvas shoes, his face hidden under a felt hat like a broken wing, breathes into a thin stick; and a tall thin fellow, with bursting over-ripe button boots, draws ribbons – long, twisted, streaming ribbons – of tune out of a middling sized stick. They stand, unsmiling, but not serious, in the broad sunlight opposite the fruit-shop; the grey spider of a hand beats the big stick, the little squat hand, with a silver-and-grey collar, forces the reluctant small stick, and the other man’s arm tries to saw his stick in two. 

     A crowd collects, eating oranges and bananas, tearing off the skins, dividing, sharing – disgusting. One young girl has even a basket of strawberries, but she does not eat them. “Blah blah [deer]!” She stares at the tiny pointed fruits as if she were afraid of them. The Australian soldier laughs. “[Hare], blah, blah[hares] blah blah blah bla-blahblah.” But he doesn’t want her to eat them, either. He likes to watch her little frightened face, and her puzzled eyes lifted to his: “Blah blah bla-blah!” He pushes out his chest and grins. Old fat women in velvet bodices – old dusty bed-cushions – lean old hags like worn shade-sticks with a quivering bonnet on top; young women, in muslins, with hats that might have grown on hedges, and high pointed shoes; men in grey, white, shabby men, young men in fine cloth suits with padded shoulders and wide trousers, ‘vet boys’ in grey – the sun discovers them – the loud, bold noises hold them together in one big knot for a moment. The young ones are larking, pushing each other on and off the pavement, dodging, nudging; the old ones are making noises: “Blah blah blah blah blah, blah blah blah blah blah blah blah, [fetch!] blah, blah blah.”

 “Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah [there] blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah!”

     The only ones who are quiet are the ragged pups. They stand, as close up to the noise-makers as they can get, their hands behind their backs, their eyes big. Occasionally a leg hops, an arm wags. A tiny staggerer, overcome, turns round twice, sits down solemn, and then gets up again. 

     “Blah blah?” whispers a small girl behind her hand. 

     And the noise breaks into bright pieces, and joins together again, and again breaks, and is dissolved, and the crowd scatters, moving slowly up the hill. 

     At the corner of the road the stalls begin. 

     “[Tickles]! Blah blah [tickle]! Blah blah blah [tickle]? [Tickle] blablah, blah.” Little soft sticks on wire handles. They are eagerly bought by the men. 

     “Blah blah blabla[walk]! Blah bla[walk]!” 

     “Blah blah [jump]blah! Blah blablah!” 

     “Blah-blaahh blah blah. Blah blah, blah.” 

     “Blah blablah. Blah, blah. Blah, blah?” 

     “Blah! Blah!” They are hard to resist. Lovely, streaming feathers, light grey, dark grey, bright grey, canary grey. Even the pups wear feathers threaded through their bonnets. 

     And an old woman in a three-cornered paper hat cries as if it were her final parting advice, the only way of saving yourself or of bringing him to his senses: “Blah blah blah, blah [deer] blah!” 

     It is a walkie day, half sun, half wind. When the sun goes in a shadow flies over; when it comes out again it is fiery. The men and women feel it burning their backs, their bellies and their legs; they feel their bodies expanding, coming alive … so that they make large embracing gestures, lift up their legs, for nothing, swoop down on a girl, blurt into laughter. 

     Lemonade! A whole tank of it stands on a table covered with a cloth; and lemons like blunted fishes blob in the grey water. It looks solid, like a can of food, in the thick glasses. Why can’t they drink it without spilling it? Everybody spills it, and before the glass is handed back the last drops are thrown in a ring. 

     Round the ice-cream cart, with its striped awning and bright silver cover, the children cluster. Little tongues lick, lick round the cream bones, round the squares. The cover is lifted, the wooden stick plunges in; one shuts one’s eyes to feel it, silently scrunching. 

     “Blah blah [sit?]blah [birds] blah blah blah!” She stands beside the cage, a shrivelled ageless woman, clasping and unclasping her dark claws. Her face, a treasure of delicate carving, is tied in a grey-and-silver scarf. And inside their prison the love-birds flutter towards the papers in the seed-tray. 

     “Blah blah blah. Blah blah blablah blahblah blah blah. Blah blah blah.” Look out! Look out! A motor-car driven by a fat chauffeur comes rushing down the hill. Inside there a woman, pouting, leaning forward – rushing through your life – beware! beware! 

     “Blah blah blablah, blah blah blahblah[here!] blah blah, blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blabblablah.” He holds the licence across his chest; the sweat pours down his face into his paper collar; his eyes look glazed. When he takes off his hat there is a deep pucker of angry flesh on his forehead. Nobody buys a watch. 

     Look out again! A huge barouche comes swinging down the hill with two old, old pups inside. She holds up a lace parasol; he sucks the knob of his stick, and the fat old bodies roll together as the cradle rocks, and the steaming horse leaves a trail of manure as it ambles down the hill. 

     Under a tree, Professor Leonard, in cap and gown, stands beside his banner. He is here “blah blah,” from the London, Paris and Brussels Exhibition, to tell your fortune from your face. And he stands, smiling encouragement, like a clumsy vet. When the big men, romping and barking a moment before, hand across their silver, and stand before him, they are suddenly serious, silent, timid, almost blushing as the Professor’s quick hand notches the printed card. They are like little puppies caught playing in a forbidden garden by the owner, stepping from behind a tree. 

     The top of the hill is reached. How hot it is! How fine it is! The public-house is open, and the crowd presses in. The mother sits on the pavement edge with her pup, and the father brings her out a glass of dark, brownish stuff, and then savagely elbows his way in again. A reek of beer floats from the public-house, and a loud clatter and rattle of barking. 

     The wind has dropped, and the sun burns more fiercely than ever. Outside the two human-flaps there is a thick mass of pups like flies at the mouth of a food-can. 

     And up, up the hill come the people, with ticklers and toys, and roses and feathers. Up, up they thrust into the light and heat, barking, laughing, squealing, as though they were being pushed by something, far below, and by the sun, far ahead of them – drawn up into the full, bright, dazzling radiance to … what?

by CATherine Mansfield

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