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The Pigeon Room

£12.00

A novel set in the Middle East, by Hannah Hutchinson

ISBN: 978-1-78382-148-8
Published: 2015
Pages: 198
Key Themes: forbidden loves, psychosis, hospitalization, stream of consciousness writing, exile and sanctuary.

Description

Three sisters, Two lovers, One Baby

The Pigeon Room is a novel, a story of forbidden loves, told through the eyes of Evie, a teacher on holiday visiting Jerusalem, and her sister, in the throes of a breakdown, as recorded in Simone’s journal and poems written as her condition worsens. The pigeon room, itself, is Evie’s refuge from her sister’s madness and will later become Simone’s sanctuary from her hospital incarceration.

Each of us has a skeleton in the cupboard, a key to open the door and an owner of the key.

Live one summer alongside suicide bombs, psychosis, salvation and pigeons on parade.

About the Author

The Pigeon Room is Hannah Hutchinson’s second published novel. She began writing at age five. Since then, and before attaining MA in her mid-forties, she has worked in diverse jobs - shop assistant, child-minding, general dogsbody; whilst a student: pulling pints, printers’ office design assistant, transport café and silver-service waitress, packing chocolate, debt-collector, groupie, Butlin’s concessionaire; in the USA: tennis coach, bus clippie cum fairground worker cum ice-cream vendor; pre-kids: teacher of French and EFL, native-informant at a French University, student accommodation officer; post-kids: resources librarian, administration assistant, languages tutor, Youth Employment training officer, teacher of French and Spanish, landlady, taxi-driver, PA and archivist, private tutor.

Now a poet with a published collection Home Truths (Chipmunka) and a writer, she lives in a quiet Cheshire backwater, close to her grand-daughter. She has a wide-ranging knowledge of mental health issues.

Book Extract

Anton had excused himself from the pigeon room, evidently in confusion, dashed down the stairs and had gone hammering on the Salkinas’ door, rousing Madame Salkina.

Ever since her youth she had only ever achieved a light sleep, alert to the unexpected door-knock. For wasn’t she the last survivor of her brothers and sisters? As a girl she had been waiting in a long queue to be deported along with her frightened family, in a cattle truck. A girl of about her own age, walking in shoes of freedom, had spat at her face and called her a dirty Jew whilst making a grab at her favourite doll. Rosa Kuffman had held tight. “I’m coming, I’m coming. What do you want?”

She opened the door, her large bosom shielded by a fluffy mauve wrap, which clashed with her coloured hair.

“Oh, it’s you.”

The two returned together moments later, the landlady tapping at first with some temerity on Evie’s half-open door; and then with a boldness, a degree of entitlement, like Hitler’s men had, at her father’s door.

She and her husband set great store by their Hotel Nogar, which was a misnomer, badly pronounced by the courier, and misremembered by them, a corruption of Nora, an ancient Roman archaeological site on the island of Sardinia, many thousands of miles away where they had spent a very belated honeymoon, twenty-five years into their marriage. She was the proprietor, after all.

Her husband stayed deep in slumber downstairs, he had watched a late-night film, a war film. Madame Salkina tended to avoid such re-enactions. She had lived the war.

The hotel, such as it was, was a pretty drab structure, fairly indistinguishable from any other building on this side of the street. They had the ground floor between them, no longer prisoners of the economic system; the camaraderie of their pioneering days long since evaporated. He tinkled on his piano. She had taken up painting. They had joined a bridge club and continued to play cards.

Sensing the advent of conflict on her beloved premises Madame Salkina entered, somewhat imperiously, to arbiter, knowing that both Anton and this English teacher woman would claim ownership of the room.

Evie was appraised straightaway that her intruder was a known guest. The Salkinas had not been expecting Anton, as he had thought, quite so soon. He had returned early, having experienced an asthmatic reaction to the dust up in the Galilee on his dig. Hotel Nogar was full to capacity. He was folding his lank body into the chair. Madame Salkina regarding them both with a controlled disdain, tried to suggest they share the room, at a reduced rate. Evie was indignant. She flushed, bringing colour to pale cheeks. That was impossible, she said, glowering at her adversary, taking a pace back, for she was sensitive to the early morning staleness of the breath of the landlady. The only place for Evie to go at this moment was to retreat to the bed, whence she had sprung.

Anton flung his head backwards and emitted a roar of laughter from the chair, which convulsed his lean body. The only place for him to sleep would be in the wardrobe, or on the floor under the bed. He was reminded of a gory English novel he had read in translation: Territorial Rights by Muriel Spark, which he had pinched from his sister on vacation study, in which a man loved by two women is hacked in half by them after his death, since they cannot agree who should “own” the corpse!

Evie supposed that at a pinch she could go to her sister’s. She needed a moment to think. Could she tolerate this fellow? She imagined he was fairly harmless. She hadn’t brought that much luggage. But why should she have to tolerate this fellow? Summer’s freedom was hard-won.

“I insist I stay in this room, here,” she announced calmly, clearly, “there can be, will be, no room share.”

Madame Salkina hesitated, then, taking it upon herself to exercise the wisdom of King Solomon - the biblical personification of the quality of wisdom itself - who had ruled that the mother who opposed the partitioning of the child was the true mother, she acquiesced. It was with relief, after Madame Salkina had backed down, when she noticed that Evie, her lip curling upwards, graciously accepted Anton’s apology.

She was devilishly attractive, he thought to himself with some satisfaction. Then he resorted to his native language. “Aber es is nicht genug Platz? Nein? Entschuldigen sie bitte. Haben sie nicht ein Zimmer obere?" Rather than find alternative accommodation he was insisting on access to one of the upstairs rooms reserved for the Salkina extended family.

***

If you smile too much they think you’re delusional; if you don’t smile they think you are stifling hysteria; if you remain neutral they think you have become withdrawn emotionally, a potential catatonic. The more you try to act sane the more crazy you look. There’s nothing wrong with me. And I am not going to take medication. I’m not going to take medication when I don’t know what it is, what it does. Don’t they get it? I’m agitated, that’s all. Not hysterically. Yet they forced my mouth open until I nearly choked. “No, no, no,” I screamed. Two nurses came to restrain me, grappling with me on the floor. They pinned me down. It was like a rugby scrum. Two others leant over me. One of them slapped my face. They forced my mouth open one more time and then shut it tight around two tablets, locking my jaw. An injection was administered into my backside. I woke subdued, many hours later, probably the next day. My stomach was empty. I was empty. My insistent experiment with monosyllabic communication has failed miserably. It is far too restrictive, like the codes of practice here … It feels to me like today, this morning, autumn has arrived without warning - an angel without wings. There is condensation in the air, a nostalgic hint of woollen socks and sleeves. He, too, has arrived without warning. Like a ghost Dan’s image returns to me, spectral, in uniform sleeves. A nostalgic hint of his body odour, animalistic. The evolutionary purpose of human kindness, I believe, is Darwinian altruism. Evie knows that, too. But violence is rooted in our genes. It is an unstoppable fact of evolution, of our brute ancestry. Truth and ignorance, good and evil - these are the great concerns of the philosopher. Fuck them, fuck him. Everyone knows how fragile women are, no logic and all emotion. I’ve got nothing left to hide. He’d been celibate up there on his mountain top for three years. His family had emigrated from Tashkent thirty years previously, had acclimated well to Israel. His three young sisters struggled, taking in sewing at home, helped their mother with chores, whilst their father conducted an experimental period of study at a yeshiva, after which, called up to serve, Dan’s father had been on guard over the reactor at Nachal Sorek in ’68, during which time he had died from a severe chill under canvas. The ambulance corps, overstretched, had been unable to reach him. Dan, born posthumously, had, sixteen years later, understandably, trained as a volunteer for the Magen Dovid Adom ambulance service and he had developed into a tower of strength for his aging, widowed mother. A broken love affair coinciding with the passing of his mother stirred him to leave Be’er Sheva. He migrated further south, became a beach bum for a short while, falling lucky right into his job one night having got into drunken conversation with his predecessor, who, about to settle down into normal routine life once more, was enjoying a night off at ground level, celebrating his decision to do so. Dan had made his way over to Masada and decided to offer himself for work and was recruited there and then. He had expected me to offer myself to him. But men should not assume intimacy before it is properly established. It was monstrous. I can’t have been the first to end up in a forest without clothes. When I had missed the first period and he had long gone back to his lookout post up the mountain, the laughter lines on my face ceased, and I began living deep inside myself, sombre. I was stupefied by panic, shamed by my own degradation. I did not want a child to be born fatherless, its soul adrift, to face this world alone. When the second month passed, waves came crashing down on my heart and mind. I was caught in the riptide of life. I was lost at sea and my very soul was drowning. If I had the child I vowed I would dedicate it to God. Like Hannah with Samuel. I would take back my dignity, repossess what was mine. But after the pregnancy test showed positive, of which I had had little doubt, I was beginning to lose the ability to think straight. There was no further time for soul-searching. There was no longer any doubt. I could not bring myself to confide in anyone, least of all Evie. Yet I had to tell her. Had cajoled her to come over for a lengthy visit during her summer vacation. In making a final decision, the issue was resolved. The more final it had grown the more monstrous it became. But if I was not for myself, etc.; that sentiment of Hillel still echoes. I had thought my intention to abort feasible. I had thought I had made everything watertight. On arrival I’d been asked if I had any allergies, what blood group I am, and had had my blood pressure taken. All were precautionary and preliminary routine measures. But I had overlooked some detail. I had come back to bad reality. It was criminal. They must think I am a murderer, a child-murderer. I killed the child I was carrying. What future would it have had, the child of my womb? What life would she or he have had? Should I have borne the baby out of humility? I was lost. It was lost, like my self-respect. I know now self-respect exists only in cracks of paving stones.

That night, after Evie and I had met in the park and the girls had been invited out, I retraced the route, gazing absent-mindedly ahead. It was dusk, that time back home between the dog and the fox. Buildings, passers-by and cyclists all began to swim, to merge and surge, revolving as if dancing in circular motion. Aware the bleeding had already begun I had hardly been able to drag myself there. I felt like sitting or lying down, out there in the streets. Any stranger could see me - confused, pallid, looking ill. I shuddered. People were eyeing me up and down, as if they knew. They were staring at me. I knew they could not be thinking of anything else, only my misfortune. It could not have been my imagination. I wished I had been less conspicuous. I wandered round in despair and anguish, for I know not how long. I revisited the bar, boasting all of six tables and a maximum capacity of twenty, where afterwards he had drunk deeply and said nothing. I had tried then, to stare him out. I remember it had felt as though he was taking a walk on my head, shut up as he was, in the circle of his own self-involved thoughts. Peering through the windows of the still-closed bar I thought then, that I was going insane. I was struck by a terrible coldness. My teeth began to chatter and I shook. Maybe I was coming down with a fever? I could think of nothing then except I had to go home. I thought: I don’t want to go on living. Yet I could not go home without first finding the scene of the incident. People wandered aimlessly, the Sabbath now having come to its full conclusion. At the first turning I stopped for a moment. A drunken soldier with a cigarette firmly lodged between his lips seemed to be looking for something he couldn’t quite remember. I’m cursed. I shall spend the rest of my life looking for peace. The crowds were becoming more dense. I walked on past bars and side cafés, my eyes downcast, squeezing myself into the thick of it, drawn on by an irresistible urge to find the gap between the streets, which would lead to the square. Beyond it I found myself in a side lane, made a detour, a troop of pigeons in my wake. In the thickening darkness my eyes could just distinguish the small wooded area. There was something familiar, yet strange. I shouted aloud in bewilderment. “Here”, I moaned, inspecting the ground. The memory was outrageous. Had he fucked me before, or after, he fellated me? My heart bled.

I fled. I marvel at how I found the strength to slam closed the house door before collapsing on to the bed. Slamming doors was my dear darling mother’s legacy. The tablets to take away the pain were slugged down. A gin bottle was to hand. That night I bled some more. I was in desperate solitude. I am not so sure now what is the value of scratching at old scabs. I feel like a hare staying stuck in my hole, and they’re going to have to smoke me out. And if they do there’s little point in trying to find me because I’m not really here.

I’m not anywhere. It’s so hard to stay in one place. I know we cannot control time. It moves backwards and forwards of its own accord. When I’d tried to explain to the doctor - the psychiatrist I called Dr Barbaric - he’d said, “I see.” “No, you don’t,” I’d contradicted. He’d ended our interview by saying, “You’ll be fine, and there shouldn’t be any problem your signing this.” “What is it?” I had asked him. “Your consent form for ECT.


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This product was added to our catalog on Thursday 15 January, 2015.

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