The Folly

The Folly by Ivan Vladislavic

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Authors: Ivan Vladislavic
camp, where the boxes of nails were standing one on top of the other, and Malgas ventured to walk at Nieuwenhuizen’s side.
    With Malgas’s enthusiastic assistance, the mapping out of the ground-plan proceeded apace. A less elaborate drafting procedure was called for now, and the acrobatics of the early morning therefore gave way to more conventional pacing and pointing; and while before there had been as many different marks as there are parts of the human body, now there was one standardized sign, a plump full stop made with the heel, so that the apprentice could not fail to recognize it.
    Malgas politely commandeered the bandoleer and took charge of placing the nails according to Nieuwenhuizen’s wishes. Althoughhe assumed that the grid system was finally coming into its own, he accepted the given division of labour and made no attempt to decipher the plan: he concentrated instead on inserting the nails expertly. Now was the time to explore the ins and outs of the undervalued art of hammering. As he perfected his swing, he brought the effort required for each insertion down to a single preliminary tap to make the nail stand on end; two decisive double-fisted smashes to sink it; and a concluding salvo of tiny blows to ensure that the head was protruding above the surface to the specified extent (the thickness of his thumb).
    Nieuwenhuizen sang a song. It was his tent-pitching song, and its haunting tones brought the bitter-sweet memory of his advent into Malgas’s mind as clearly as if it was yesterday. However, it also broke his concentration, and he was relieved when Nieuwenhuizen fell silent and focused on the measurements.
    As for Nieuwenhuizen, when he judged that Malgas had mastered the full stop, he added the colon and the ellipsis to his repertoire, although he was careful to keep the combinations simple. Malgas took it in his stride.
    The world turned. The sun trundled like a brass ball across the leaden bowl of the sky. They didn’t miss a beat.
    At one o’clock Mrs Malgas flung her window open and offered “Lunch!,” and was turned down by the muted rhythm of the mallet and the sky resounding like a cracked gong. She shut the window and went away.
    Hour after hour, Nieuwenhuizen fumed over the plot, disseminating his indelible punctuation. Malgas dogged his footsteps, dischargedvolley after volley of nails, reloaded the bandoleer again and again, and never once complained.
    Night fell at last. The second box of ammunition was broached. By now the nails had been scattered far and wide; their heads glistened everywhere, like tiny pools holding the lees of the light. Still there was work to be done.
    Nieuwenhuizen lit the lamp and carried it with him, swinging wildly from one hand, as he paced. He held it so close to the action that he singed the hairs on Malgas’s arm. And through it all he kept demanding, “More light!” and imploring the moon to rise, which it didn’t. Then Malgas took the unprecedented step of running a lead-light through his kitchen window (Mrs wept) and they soldiered on with new vigour. In the light cast by the cowled globe Nieuwenhuizen acquired the stature of a giant, striding across immense, uninhabited plains, while Malgas, shambling after him, brought his master’s mallet crashing down on nails as tall as flagstaffs.
    Finally the moment came when Malgas reached into the box and grasped nothing but a mulch of shredded paper. Permission was granted for him to tear open the brown-paper bundle containing the Twelve. He intended to slip these too into the bandoleer, but Nieuwenhuizen intervened. The final dozen required special attention.
    Nieuwenhuizen curled the forefinger and thumb of his left hand into a loophole and peered through it with his right eye. He panned across the entire landscape, apprehending each and every nail both as a distinct entity and as part of a complex pattern, computing the most abstruse distances and obtuse angles, and considering entirelyunexpected

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