the Old Stone Fort
The story Bud was trying to write starred two lovers in a symbolic landscape. The story was to be self-reflexive in that it would reflect Bud’s own interest in the picturesque and the sublime; his notions of modern art would be disguised as his main character’s notions of modern art. Thus the story would encompass the strongest elements of the fictive and the essayistic, establishing Bud as a writer of merit at the razor edge of cross-genre, but with compassion, an emotional core, which set him apart from the postmortemists, showed he was a traditionalist in the best sense of the word, with an indebtedness to Chekhov, who said that every story exists between two poles, he and she, and it would be such a story that would have cats in there–a thematic link in Bud’s fiction and another Eliotic echo. A frame of reference for critics to begin.
The story would be set in a foreign land, away from the American Midwest that Bud always came limping back home to in his fiction after failing to be un-provincial someplace else. Yes, this story would be a departure, but, it would harken back to the Midwest somewhere so that Bud could put it in the same book with his other Midwest stories. Maybe it would be the last story in the collection, in the sequence, to signal the artist’s progression from provincial hayseed with a heart and poetic touch to sophisticated post-20th Century writer of ideas with a heart still, the best possible combination. Good dust jacket material.
The story’s protagonist would have the same name as the writer, Bud. The famous postmortemist Tom O’Brien did that in his best book, Heavy Things. Except that in his story, Bud the writer would be a painter; there was mileage yet in that old trick. The story would open with some bit of cryptic dialogue on the part of the love interest–Mona, he’ll call her–in order to get the reader knowing from the get go that the story is about more than it seems to be about, that the story has many latent elements.
“It’s going to tip,” Mona will say.
“It’s going to tip,” Mona said. She was always saying it was going to tip, and so far this trip, she had been right: lots of rain. Still, she’d been so gloomy. Bud made a mental note to pick her a flower. They were walking up Monte Urgell overlooking San Sebastian and La Concha, the famous beach, now passing the old British cemetery, feral cats scurrying behind the lichen-covered gravestones, the trail looping like garland up the hillside to the old stone fort on top. Atop the old stone fort was a statue of Jesus Christ, looking like old Chief Blackhawk himself, from this angle. The air was misty up there.
Finally, Bud thought, a symbolic landscape. Bud was painting again, finally, and in that enviable frame of mind where everything he saw related somehow to his work. He and Mona had been previously that week to visit the new Guggenheim in Bilbao and then just this morning to the annoyingly rhombusoidal Kursaal, below in the Gros district of San Sebastian. Silver imposters, Bud thought, both of them. Show him a silver rhombus in nature! Why were artists always blocking the view? Bud endeavored to expand the view.
“I haven’t been this much wet since I was an embryo,” Mona said. “What’s this, five days in a row?”
“We should have brought the paragua,” Bud said. Paragua was the Spanish word for umbrella, he had just learned. For water. Delightfully literal. “Have you noticed that all they sell in this city are swimsuits and brollies? Both are paraguas. Ha!”
The Spanish were so literal. This literalness was a quality Bud aspired to in his art. Coming around a bend in the trail, Bud’s aperture was filled with the Kursaal below to the east. What an eyesore! Anything that purported to be art, that simultaneously turned away from representation of nature and humanity, was anathema to Bud. Oh, the avant-garde had their theories of representation, but they made nonsense of the whole glorious tradition of realism. Bud could smell a rat in all those false theories of art.
He had tried to appreciate the avant-garde. Since moving to Spain he had tried. At the Reina Sofia in Madrid he had appreciated the Picasso. But the Miro? These orange and blue lines purporting to be birds? Give him the old Dutch masters across the street at the Thyssen, Bud was now fond of saying. Or even the Goyas, and especially the Velasquezes, over at the Prado.
As they climbed the dark stone stairway that led to Jesus’ feet, Bud had a sudden glorious awareness and pride in his expatriatism. He was an expatriate–for a few months–attending bullfights and studying Goya’s drawings of the corrida. Because he was only two weeks into his course at the Spanish opening school–Improving my Spanish Level, his T-shirt read–because of this, he told himself, it was OK to read Hemingway on Spain. Old Hemingway found a symbolic landscape in the bullring, that was for sure.
Bud had just finished The Sun Also Rises, in which the hero, Jake Barnes, comes to San Sebastian to cool his heels after the gig at Pamplona. He swims in the ocean out from La Concha and notices this very headland, with the castle atop–sin Jesus Christo. Very interesting that Hemingway would edit out that important part of this symbolic landscape. More like Hemingway to take a poke at Jesus, call him El Rey de los Maricónes, or some such vulgarity, like he said of El Greco. Hemingway should stick to bulls.
“This place is a haven for cats,” Mona said. “Every stray in the city lives here.” Mona had always been a sucker for animals. She was younger than Bud, and more impressionable. She wasn’t an artist like him. She taught middle school. Bud was a part time lecturer at the university. He taught a course in correlation of the arts. On this, their summer off, Mona had become a carnivore again, so she could have more of an authentic experience. This afternoon, for their menu del dia, she had ordered conejo–rabbit. She was tickled rosado.
“We should eat cat,” Mona said, when a tortoise shell feral cat scurried across the trail. She giggled and held Bud’s hand. They headed up the trail. After the bullfight in Haro that weekend, Bud had taken her to the desarrollador, where they slaughter the six dead fighting bulls after the corrida, and where the butcher men hang the sides of bloody toros in the cold truck en route to market. The heads of the dead bulls and their black hides lay in haphazard piles on the bloody floor of the desarrollador. Nobody talks about this part of the bullfight, preferring to forget about the bulls after they are dragged out the red door of the bullring by the horses. “Out the red gate.” Hemingway had written, staccato hoof beats to oblivion. Bud had expected that Mona would be especially squeamish here, that he would placate her and tell her it was all integral to Spanish life. Spain was a country of meat eaters where they had a chain of restaurants called Museo Del Jamon, in English, Museum of Pig. Instead, Mona was steadfast. “We should eat bull,” she said. “It’s the only thing to do.” She was very much taken by the bullfight. Not finding any bull, they ate horse meat instead. It was muy rico, just as the sign had promised.
The top of the fort had impressive views of the city and out to sea. A crescent of cloud hung above La Concha, the shape of the beach itself. Canons even graced the battlements, everything looking as it might once have looked–a composition, not some scattering of color and line.
Bud was disappointed, though, that you couldn’t get up to the Christo. The savior was atop a sheer wall, where the Basque freedom fighters couldn’t debase him with their spray paint and ugly national font. Bud was disappointed also to find Christo a newer addition. A concrete mixture, to the old fort’s limestone, he looked to be less than fifty. So, Old Hem hadn’t edited out Christo after all. There was no Christo when Hem, cum Jake Barnes, was here in the twenties. Very disappointing.
“What’s he holding?” Mona asked. The big stone Christ, whose head was perhaps one hundred feet above them, held something in his hand. It would be fitting if it was a chalk–Christo, El Maestro!–but it was probably a needle.
“A needle?” Mona asked.
Bud was surprised that Mona hadn’t heard of the parable about the rich man and the eye of the needle. Bud himself remembered his Bible pretty well, and it always surprised him when other people didn’t know those old stories. He found it apropos that the richest city in Spain would be thus graced. Every day for their evening paseo the San Sebastian gentry would see Christo up there reminding them the consequences of hoarding their pesetas. The irony of Christo’s placement was not lost on Bud. At some point in history–say seven hundred years ago–the Spanish built a fort up here to protect the harbor and the city. Now, at some point in recent history, several hundred years later, the Spanish decide to build a stone Jesus on top of the fort, also to protect them, but more to remind them they need protection from themselves, from their own instincts to hoard wealth, make war. It was all so perfect and ironical. And yet the Spanish saw no irony. They were sincere. Bud decided he would paint this scene, all of it . . .
Mona picked this moment to go climb a battlement. Little soldier, she sure was cute up there. Put a wall in front of Mona and she’d climb right up it.
If only it were as simple as that. The rest of Western Europe might be living at the end of a Christian culture, but not Spain. The Spanish, hadn’t an ounce of cynicism. This would explain their acceptance of the Guggenheim, gauche fortress to protect modern art, itself protected by that ridiculous, though cute, flowering dog . . . .
At this point in the story, with Mona still up on the battlement overlooking the Bay of Biscay, Bud the writer stops, an air of accomplishment and even enthusiasm. He has done it. Order from the void. Pure invention. But this is a tenuous moment. From moment to moment, now, hour to hour, the writer will feel like a success, then a failure, as he considers his day’s work, now a substantial, though incomplete imp, waiting patiently for him inside his small notebook. It is like a child there, but not his child, a child he is watching, nervously, for one of his many friends who have children–Bud has none. He always has dreams about watching his friend’s children and leaving the children somewhere–the produce aisle, say–and forgetting all about them until the friend shows up and says, “Where’s Sammy? Where’s my baby?”
This is the point in the story where the tide rises to cover La Concha, it does indeed tip, as the heroine predicted, and everyone goes home wet. The author realizes he has failed.
The problem of the story, the problem that Virginia Woolf–Bud thought it was Virginia Woolf– said kept every story from being written because of the doubt it created in the writer’s mind, the problem in this particular story, and every story Bud reckoned he ever wrote–there had been a few good ones–was that there was no story.
There were a lot of sentences–some long sentences even. Bud had been working at making his sentences longer because of a literary conference he went to in Stresa, Italy, where the keynote said, “There’s a lot you can’t say in the language of Hemingway, most of which I can’t say,” which also seemed to Bud to be an echo of Woolf. Yes, there were long sentences interrupted by short ones, and some sentences even rubbed against each other rather nicely, purring even–in between dashes, Bud loved it when they purred, it gave him more satisfaction in writing than anything–but there was no story. To have a story you needed to have el problemo. Man alone in ring with bull. Must kill bull. Sharp horns. Big problem. What was the problem his main characters, Bud and Mona, had to overcome? What were the sharp horns? Raindrops? Hard enough to get two characters interacting in a symbolic landscape without having to invent a problem for them, let alone solve it. That was always el problemo for Bud, and it was the problem now.
Another problem was how to get his own Mona in there, south pole to his north. His girlfriend in real life would be named Mona in the story; this much he had established. But real life Mona already knew that he, Bud, tended to write about his girlfriends in his fiction and give them names like Mona. He, Bud, has told Mona as much, has read her his stories in bed, even, and has told her how all these Mona characters are really the same character, how, in real life, he keeps making the same mistake over and over with the same women, and fussing over it in his stories, but how she–this new Mona, whose name Bud won’t reveal–is different.
Then they make love. Mona, oh Mona!
And now here she is here in the story Bud is trying to write, acting very much the same as the other Mona women, but a little quieter, hiding something from him. What’s the matter with her? Why doesn’t she talk more? What will real-life Mona think when she turns up in a new story with a name like that, looking and sounding just like the other Monas? It wouldn’t help that the fictional Bud and Mona were cavorting around the Basque country, the same country real-life Bud and Mona were also, coincidentally, cavorting: on their summer break. Bud guessed he would climb that fort when he came to it, and that maybe he would just tell her it was one of the old Monas and not her at all. But would she recognize herself?
He would just go on writing the story to see what would happen next. This would ease all the pressure that was keeping him from writing the story at all. He would start the next day, perhaps, make it a sunny day, and he would try abstractly to get the Midwest stuff in there to create the thematic unity, cats be damned. He would send Bud and Mona up another hill, with a view of the whitewashed farmhouses on the hills around Orditzia, Basque Country yet.
The sun-splotched Basque countryside looked to Bud like Wisconsin. Analogue to the red barns of Wisconsin were the whitewashed barns of Basque Country. Bud had traveled throughout Castille and La Mancha, Leon and Navarra, discovering facile analogues to the American Midwest everywhere, much to the chagrin of his lover and traveling partner, Mona, a west coaster. For instance, the rolling countryside of central and north-central Spain was interrupted infrequently by small pueblos, inevitably built on a hill, starring an old Roman bridge, the remains of a medieval cathedral, and another cathedral built in the 16th century, called El Cathedral Nuevo, because it was two hundred something years newer than the medieval cathedral. The high ground was good ground. Every hill had an old stone fort atop. For comic relief, storks nested atop these, big dipsy-diving kites up there with the gods.
Similarly, in the American Midwest, especially in the grain belt, the somewhat flatter landscape and vast horizon were regularly punctuated by large fortress-like structures called grain elevators, and less frequently now, red barns and silos. All these small towns were connected by the railroad still. For comic relief, sandhill cranes perambulated the field stubble.
Bud noted the picturesque similarity between the Basque countryside and the Wisconsin. This was dairy country. The evidence was everywhere: in the way that the hills overlapped each other like waves, leaving precious little tillable land; in the smell of manure that brought Bud home so unexpectedly; in the heavy clank, clank of cowbell that occasionally rose above the babble of trout water; in the billy goat chained to a tree, standing on the doghouse; and in the evidence on the road, the manure flattened by tires; the empty beer can nestled like an egg in green ditch grass; the road signs riddled with buckshot. Bud hadn’t gone anywhere. The landscape was a study in green, the whitewashed houses and barns a homogenous assertion of humanity and communion.
Bud and Mona climbed a one-lane road snaking up a hill. They passed a goatherd with an honest-to-goodness shepherd’s hook watching a flock of goats picturesquely. On the grassy hillside a blasted oak stood like art. The goats were fenced. On the way past they waved, “Hola.” Then,“Como estas?” Then, “Que tal?” The goatherd stared statuesquely on. Around a bend they stopped in a ditchful of wildflowers.
“What’s this one?” Mona asked, holding up a little yellow thing. It was a lazy day. They had no particular hurry. But there were so many flowers begging to be picked. In a half an hour, they found seventeen different varieties of wild flower in the same ditch. Mona held the wild flowers in her small fist, constantly re-arranging them by color, size and texture. She seemed happier today, contented. Give a girl a flower . . .
Bud himself was amazed at the variety here. How difficult to know a ditch, even. He called, “Here’s a new one,” handed the new jewel to Mona.
“What’s this one?” Mona said.
“I don’t know what it’s called. It’s a wildflower. A bluebell maybe.”
“But it’s purple. It looks like an Iris? Do they have a wild Iris?”
“How the hell do I know?
Mona’s face was pink. She stood in a petal of sunlight, examining the bunch of flowers, noticing them individually.
“What’s this one? Its pink bleeds into its tan. How about this one?”
“Look it up!”
She turned abruptly.
Why did Mona have to know the names of everything. She had such an officious little mind. He wasn’t a scientist. He didn’t quantify. He was an artist. He had an eye. He painted things. He wanted to tell her just because he painted something didn’t mean he knew the word for it. There, tractor noise. Green. There, cowbell. Black Hear that? Someone hammering a fence post. White. Grey. Discord. Harmony. I get it down right. You call it what you will.
Bud was stomping in the wildflowers now. He was glad he didn’t know the names of these things. Queen Anne’s Lace was probably in there. That yellow one looked like mustard weed. Nowadays, in the art world, everyone who could run off the names of wildflowers was said to be a landscape painter. What the hell? Do up your backyard garden and you know the land?
Mona looked hurt. Now he’d done it. Her head was bent. She was holding the flowers upside down now, blood rushing to all their colorful heads. She turned and walked on down the hill ahead of him, alone, her dungarees rolled, her hair in a bun. He watched her go. For a moment she looked like a farmer girl, part of the landscape. She walked toward the vanishing point, where the slim road curved down through the green land and out of sight. There was a whitewashed barn squatting crookedly right there. Could he capture that? The idea arrested him. In the girl’s other hand there should be a dangling lead rope. He could change those maudlin flowers to a clump of clover. Yes. She has lost something. She’s gone off looking for it. . . .
There were two schools of realist art, Bud, alone now on the hillside ditch, reckoned. The first school, call it the Van Gogh school, demanded that you paint what you saw in nature, and the quality of the work might be judged by its verisimilitude. You had to haul your easel everywhere: out by the dung heap if you’re painting the dung heap. The other school, call it the Gaugin school, demanded that you paint from memory, that you overlay a realistic landscape with a symbolic, creating a palimpsest of expression and impression. Getting it down right was mere sense perception, mere journalism. Bud belonged to the Gaugin school. Nothing in his paintings ever looked quite as it really looked. But he was a grudging Gaugin disciple. Maybe some day he could admit that the reason he painted from memory was that he was afraid he couldn’t get it just as it was. The real thing was always just beyond his reach.
In his loose compositions Bud covered what he couldn’t get right with suggestive color, wooing the looker’s eye away from his mistakes. Bud looked out to the sagging white barn at the vanishing point of the landscape, at the place where Mona disappeared. He went to the barn. A carpenter, some old Basque wood butcher, built the barn by covering up one mistake after another until pretty soon he had a structure with a roof–not a plumb wall in the place. Looking closely he could see that the whole barn was a tangle of mistakes and misjudgements, imperfect lines and angles, each mistake an adjustment to an earlier mistake. Somehow, though, Bud trusted the structure. When it tipped, he reckoned, the roof would shed water.
The subject of barns, coupled with the authentic barn here, now, excited Bud. The strange impulse in him, the artistic impulse, awoke. He couldn’t look at the barn, any barn, without getting a distinct picture of humanity. He decided then he would paint an elegiac series on Midwestern barns. Their off-angles were angles of repose. Not a straight line in nature. Barns, such a integral part of the Midwestern landscape, would be a thing of the past in a generation or two. Their functionality gone, no one seemed to notice their passing. Now, no one needed barns. Sway-backed antiquities, they were a place to park the old Chevy with the cracked block, so if the barn fell on her, you could collect insurance money on plant and equipment.
With these new aluminum elevators you could take your crop to town and wait for the price to come up before you sold. Dairy outfits had these fancy milking parlors: you could put up a new aluminum Morton building to house the equipment. About the only thing you used the barn for was hay, and nowadays you just chopped hayledge and blew it wet into long white plastic sleeves in the pasture: prone, impermanent silos, hay-filled condoms, vulgar analogue to haystacks. This was the postmodern sublime: Guggenheim, Kursaal. Aluminum? Stainless steel? How would it age? It wouldn’t. It was news that would become old news, not news that would sag into art with time, showing the suffering of its aging in its skin.
Bud, in frothy reverie, remembered the joke about all the red barns in the Midwest.
“Why are all barns in the Midwest red?” someone asks the farmer.
“Red paint’s the cheapest,” says the farmer.
“Why is red pain the cheapest?” someone asks at the feed store, where they sell paint.
“That’s what we sell the most of,” the feed man replies.
It had gotten dark on Bud. He had been alone for a long time. All the light was gone out of the day. He was all done now with his discourse on barns. Where was Mona? He walked downhill after his Mona. He noticed that the goatherd and his flock were gone. Just like that. The fence, even, had disappeared: grass shorn and mammals moved on, the landscape felt denuded. There was an intersection he didn’t remember. Bud looked around. This road was a different road than the one he walked up, he was sure of it. Where was the wildflower ditch? He was lost. Mona, his love, was gone. A Spanish motorbike motored menacingly by. The new, ugly noise echoed panic. Bud was lost and alone. “Mona!”
But there were pellets on the road. Goat pellets. The panic washed away to littleness. Desolation and salvation on the same length of road! The goatherd had moved his flock down the road ahead of him, and the goats had shat on the road, a trail for Bud to follow. “Mona!” he called, and heard back the old sound: the clank, clank of cowbell. “Mona! Mo-na! Moo. . . .”
Gloomy business, failure. Every story has the artist in it somewhere, mooing on about his art, and the other characters just sit there like cow-eyed students, taking their medicine, or else they sidle quietly off the stage while the artist moos on to no one. The end. Bud the painter was a blowhard, Bud the writer could see clearly now, all his huffing had blown poor Mona away. Bud the writer had had no crisis of representation. For him it was character or nothing. Nothing, now. If Bud the painter was a blowhard then what the writer? Bud better change his name in the story. He better cut out all the self-reflexive crap and just tell a story right.
It had gotten dark on Bud the writer, in San Sebastian, in the two room apartment Bud and Mona rented for the summer. The lovely hillside Bud had created, gotten lost upon, had become a stark room, his forlorn farmer girl had gone out to the pharmacy. She still wasn’t feeling well. Bud worried over the drafts of story before him. His art was middling, he knew, but occasionally, he moved himself by making it, and what did he want but that? More often, as now, he became ashamed of it. If creating a work of art is a process of outgrowing it, as Bud believed, his problem was that he outgrew his puerile creations too soon, before they matured. Bud never finished anything anymore.
Structure was the other problem. Structure and story. If someone could give Bud both of those, he could be a writer of merit. He could fill in the structure with nicely covered-up mistakes and he could solve the problem in a tricky and evanescent waterproof way that would please clever readers. But instead there was this problem of waiting for the structure to reveal itself. The big idea was that every force evolves a form, and if the force were true enough, and if the writer true enough, he would find the structure while wading around in the ditch grass. It would dawn on him, like a cliché he suddenly recognized he had written.
The structure could, however, be simple. In simplicity was possibility for redemption. Bud, writer, teacher of art, knew that to represent simplicity was a sophisticated act. A true act. Take two lovers to Reina Sofia, Madrid, where they see Picasso’s Guernica, set-to, resolve. Next day, take two lovers to the real place, Gernika, Spain, where they have another set-to, but this time one lover, probably the male, goes too far, administers the coup de grâce. Ultimate realization: relationships are battles, and best not visit battlefield itself. The end. Jimmie Anne Mason had done that famously in her story, “Gettysburg.”
The other possibility, as long as Bud was fishing for possibilities, was to paint something that was beyond criticism. If you’re a wood butcher your task is the centuries-old task to construct something that will perform a required function: every force evolves a form. It is taken for granted that the barn must keep grains dry. But what if you change the rules? What if you essay that barns as barns are clichéd, obsolete, that the essence of your task is to create, in an increasingly suburban, psuedo-sophisticate environment, not barns, but barnness: something to make the reader feel the debilitating loss of the genuine which they somehow don’t manage to feel–Christ knows why–on their own. Barnness could be evinced with three rusted iron rods, or even a strip of red across a wheat-yellow canvas. Suddenly, your barn is beyond criticism; as concept it can’t be judged by the same criteria by which actual barns have always been judged: how solid their structure, how well they perform their principle task, and how well over time. Similarly the writer of experimental prose, or avant-garde wood butcher.
It was all so tiring. Bud would have to sleep on this one. Anyway, here came Mona, back from the store. Tomorrow was a day off from the drudge work of writing, a field trip, research day.
In the morning, as they prepared for their trip to Las Cuevas de Alta Mira, real-life Mona solved one of the problems for real-life Bud.
“I’m pregnant,” she said.
“What?” said Bud. “What about the pills?”
“What about the pills?”
Bud might be forgiven for reacting to this news first as an artist, for he realized just then how his story must end. He would take his main characters to the caves of Alta Mira, in Cantabria, the very same place he would take his Mona, and end it there, down in the darkness of the caves where neolithic man had drawn those beautiful–verisimilar, mind–animals, fourteen thousand years ago, using mammoth tallow for both light and paint. It would be a good ending, an inevitable ending, self reflexive to the core, and Bud would work in there how Picasso went to the caves at Lascaux, and when he emerged, was rumored to have said, “We have invented nothing.” For this story though, Picasso was going to Alta Mira, since it was closer to Gernika, and in Spain, anyway.
Mona must have recognized the rhuemy look Bud got in his eyes when he was off in la la storyland.
“This isn’t a story, Bud,” she said. “I’m going to have a baby. You’re going to be its daddy.”
“Let’s just go to the caves,” Bud said. He would deal with the aesthetic problem first.
Two problems, though, when they got to the caves: first, Bud found that the wait to get into the caves was very long. Three years in fact. What the hell?
Mira, puedes comprar billetes para el museo de las cuevas, the clerk said in condolence, handing over the tickets, no hint of irony. Second, or perhaps first, Mona had dropped one hell of a bomb on him, the power of its offering beginning to overcome him. This latent element was the ironical one. No wonder she had been so quiet! No wonder the strange appetite! Conejo asado, indeed.
The thing about a real-life epiphany is that it doesn’t end anything. Like orgasms, they recede too quickly. How many times has Bud learned this lesson: you put any two people together for any length of time and there’s bound to be trouble. Just wait. It was right there in the pictures of the pictures in the cave. Bulls with sharp horns. Horses with tender, ochre flanks And there was Mona, quiet maker, standing in the false shadow of the false cave.
Now the structure was so suddenly evident, present in the fabric all the while: two hills and a cave. When they walked by the first time the goatherd was there and the goats were fenced. When Bud walked back alone, the goatherd was gone, and even the fence was gone. Two hills and a dale. Jesus Christo, savvy wood butcher, looked like Chief Blackhawk from a distance, holding an arrow to make heap big war on paleface. Blackhawk was hollow as a log, and Bud in his boyhood used to climb up his leg, through his innards and gander out over the Red Rock River from his eyeholes, unknowingly re-enacting the creation narrative each time up.
We have indeed invented nothing, Bud muttered, and closed the book on this one.