Bruto and Harvey’s eyes are locked in parallels of fire. Helen, Kato’s ethereal mother, is staring off into space, working through a chess or philosophical problem [e.g What is the nature of rage?]. Her face expresses irritation, which her son doubts has anything to do with the situation at hand.
Orphelia has reached out across the dining table and dug her fingers into the underbrush on her husband’s left forearm. Her slender fingers are describing ovals, applying pressure. Her smile despite its many rehearsals amounts to nothing more than a rictus.
– Bruto, please! Your brother invited us over for dinner. Why can’t we all play friendly for once. Good food and good wine. It shouldn’t be that hard, should it? Just pretend you were adults.
– Pretend this were none of your business.
Kato watches the vast slab of flesh and hair, his uncle, loosen up a bit. His father has gone back to dissecting the veal, cuts off another perfectly rectangular section of it and carefully deposits it in his widely opened mouth. He makes it look like a cargo operation at a major global shipping hub: the cranes, the containers, that kind of thing.
Kato’s own next bite is bloodier than any products of the pretensions of subtle cuisine. It tastes of iron, bringing up an unwelcome image: the empty vat. Coldness! Not lodged in his own body but radiating from that possible other one. He pulls himself together and glances at Orphelia who looks away like those who have just been observing one. She removes her hand from her husband’s arm and lets her sore smile whither.
– No, it’s just nothing. I know the two of you like to bash one another’s heads. But not everybody appreciates that. Some of us just came here for a good meal and some pleasant conversation. Isn’t that right Helen?
– Yes, sure, certainly. Conversation. How’s that project coming along Bruto? That glass-steel-sky office tower thing? I always thought there was something slightly paradoxical about trying to blow a bubble with something that so very much resembles a needle, no?
She is looking at her brother in law the way someone might study a work of art one is unhappy with. Something that does not live up to the promise implied in it. Meanwhile Kato is studying his mother’s hands (sinewy, spotted and claw-like), made into fists gripping the fork on the left and the knife on the right, each index extended along half the length of the implement. The hands are resting perfectly symmetrical to either side of the plate. How come she takes formalisms so goddamn seriously when other than that she’s a breathing corpse? Her son does not understand but unlike with his father whom he despises, her impenetrability just makes Kato feel miserable, left out. He remembers reading in a book about mother-love, how it is instinctive and undying, etc. and flung that book into a far corner.
Given the food and family members the only thing to look at without consulting the inner Mandrill is Orphelia. She returns Kato’s gaze with the blackness of her own while she licks clean the knife’s serrated blade. The pulsation he feels watching her, dressed slinky and below her years, other males oblivious, is ancient and dictatorial. It makes the youth momentarily forget the cruel cage of family life.
Kato has no desire to kill himself but neither is he very excited about living, despite his young years. What he is interested in in a detached if not scientific way is to see how things will turn out. Good, bad or bitter, the last one of which seems the most likely option.
Until age ten he had a younger sister called, like her mother, Helen. She had been two years his younger and a good five hundred times more lively. It seemed to him back then that little, good-cheer Helen did simply not understand what a somber affair it is to live in the family Kuhn. She was too small so the big, complicated feelings could not get inside her. Moreover, venturing out onto the estate’s wild-growing meadow to explore fauna and flora kept Helen away from many of the surgical scenes that took place in the domestic sphere.
For example one day Helen the mother had been dusting off the paintings and one of the more ancient ones had fallen to the floor and suffered a crack in its golden, baroque, angel-adorned frame. This was too good an opportunity to let slip: Kato’s father and mother got into a shouting match. Technically it was not a “match” because dark-clouded Harvey was the one doing all the shouting while mother Helen stoically shook her head in negation. Kato’s baboon noted the slightly dialectical nature of the argument.
Towards the end of the fight Harvey exclaimed, “I hate you!” He managed to make it sound like a scientific statement from a study the findings of which had been arduously compiled, analyzed and thus irrefutable. At that point Kato’s mother Helen, skulking around the kitchen isle, got hold of a peeling knife and threw it in the general direction of her husband. It was a small, harmless blade but a knife nevertheless. Its handle struck Harvey in the temple.