Shylock Is My Name

Shylock Is My Name by Howard Jacobson Read Free Book Online

Book: Shylock Is My Name by Howard Jacobson Read Free Book Online
Authors: Howard Jacobson
quizzed by journalists as to the fondness he appeared to feel for his dummy, and indeed the fondness it inspired, he offered no reply in his own voice but left it to the doll to say that if the unintended consequence of his fame was that half the youth in France was giving Nazi salutes that was better than their making the Star of David.
    Plurabelle was astonished to learn that half the youth of France had been making the Star of David.
    D’Anton waved away her concern. “He’s amusing,” he said, “in a vindictive and perhaps even mendacious way, but he’s essentially sound and good value to have at a party.”
    Plurabelle understood the distinction and told D’Anton to bring him and his dummy along. She was pleased to discover they were both good dancers. But for his being wanted by the police she would have had him, or at least his puppet, on
The Kitchen Counsellor
in argument with a rabbi.
    A rabbi, ideally, who was also a ventriloquist, so that their dolls could have gone at it hammer and tongs.
    What it was about him that appealed particularly to sportsmen neither she nor D’Anton could have said, but his puppet’s hallmark Nazi salute was soon being copied in France by footballers who had been to see his act in underground cabarets in Marseilles, and in Cheshire by footballers who thought it chic to do what the French did, though of these Gratan Howsome—the latest of D’Anton’s invitees—was the only professional so far actually to perform it on the field of play.
    “He’s the godson of a very dear friend of mine, now deceased,” D’Anton explained, when Plurabelle expressed surprise at the affection there seemed to be between the two men. She had a fondness for tattoos and piercings herself, and liked men who padded around you like a dog and turned up with a different haircut every time you met them, but she wouldn’t have imagined any of this would appeal to D’Anton. It seemed, however, that their goodwill—and something even stronger than that—was of long duration. “It’s complicated,” D’Anton told her, “as explanations of deep but apparently incongruous affections often are. I inherited an obligation I would go so far as to call sacred from a friend who had inherited it from a friend of his. If I say that poor Gratan is something of a football in all this I don’t want you to think I’m being flippant. He is, in all but name, an orphan. In a manner of speaking I stand in watch and ward over him.”
    “He would seem to me to have more people watching over his welfare than most orphans,” Plurabelle said with an irritation that surprised herself.
    Could she have been jealous of Gratan for enjoying a protection she had come to see as hers alone?
    “Then I have not explained myself well enough. His mother left him. His father maltreated him. He was abused by an uncle. But for the intervention of Federico and then Slavco there’s no knowing what would have become of him. I must continue where they left off.”
    “You make it sound like a chore.”
    “Not a bit of it. The obligation I’ve inherited I undertake willingly. What else are we for if we do not answer when the helpless call? Especially if, by so doing, we go on remembering friends who have been taken from us. In Gratan I see something of the gentle temperament of those who cared for him, no matter that he might sometimes strike some people as a bit of a brute. In fact, he has a physical vulnerability rare in a footballer. And a sweet nature for all his reputation as a womaniser.”
    “And his reputation as a Nazi?”
    D’Anton laughed and shook his head. “Oh, that’s only recent,” he said. “Since his coming here and meeting Mehdi Mehdi, in fact. He has a twitchy arm, that’s all. I think the world of him.”
    According to Gratan himself, the salute was a misunderstanding. Given that other players (no names) were performing it surreptitiously, pretending they were scratching their ear or taunting the opposition

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