45. Chestnut Tree Cafe

It was the lonely hour of fifteen and the Chestnut Tree was almost empty. Winston sat in his usual corner, gazing into an empty glass. Now and then he glanced up at a vast face which eyed him from the opposite wall. BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING YOU, the caption said. Unbidden, a waiter came and filled his glass up with VICTORY GIN. He picked up his glass and cleaned it at a gulp. As always, the gin made him shudder and even retch slightly. The stuff was horrible, with a flat, oily smell which dwelt with him night and day, mixed up in his mind with the smell of those - - . He never named them, even in his thoughts, and so far as it was possible, he never visualized them. They were something that he was half-aware of, hovering close to his face, a smell that clung to his nostrils.

Winston had grown fatter since they released him. His features had thickened, the skin on his nose and cheekbones was coarsely red, even the bald scalp was too deep a pink. A waiter, again unbidden, brought the chess board and the current issue of The Times, with the page turned down at the chess problem. They knew his habits. He had always plenty of money nowadays. He even had a job, a sinecure, more highly-paid than his old job had been. Twice a week he went to a dusty, forgotten-looking office in the Ministry of Truth and did a little work, or what was called work. He had been appointed to a sub-committee of a sub-committee which had sprouted from one of the innumerable committees dealing with minor difficulties that arose in the compilation of the Eleventh Edition of the Newspeak Dictionary. They were engaged in producing something called an Interim Report, but what it was that they were reporting on he had never definitely found out. It was something to do with the question of whether commas should be placed inside brackets, or outside.

Winston was listening to the telescreen. At present only music was coming out, but at any moment there might be a special bulletin from the Ministry of Peace. A grave voice was warning: "Stand by for an important notice at fifteen-thirty. Fifteen-thirty! This is news of the highest importance. Take care not to miss it. Fifteen-thirty!"

The tinkling music struck up again. The news from the African Front was disquieting in the extreme. On and off he had been worrying about it all day. A Eurasian army (Oceania was at war with Eurasia: Oceania had always been at war with Eurasia) was moving southward at terrifying speed. It was not merely a question of losing Central Africa: for the first time in the whole war, the territory of Oceania itself was menaced. If they could get hold of the whole of Africa, it would cut Oceania in two. It could mean defeat, breakdown, the redivision of the world, the destruction of the Party. He drew a deep breath. A violent emotion of fear or excitement flared up in Winston and struggled inside him.

His thoughts wandered. In these days he could never fix his mind on any one subject for more than a few moments at a time. Almost unconsciously he traced with his finger in the dust on the table:

2 + 2 =

"They can't get inside you," she had said.

But they could get inside you.

"What happens to you here is for ever," O'Brien had said.

That was a true word. There were things, your own acts, from which you could not recover. Something was killed in your breast: burnt out, cauterized out.

He had seen her; he had even spoken to her. There was no danger in it. He knew as though instinctively that they now took almost no interest in his doings. He could have arranged to meet her a second time if either of them had wanted to. It was by chance that they had met. It was in the Park, on a vile, biting day in March, when the earth was like iron and all the grass seemed dead and there was not a bud anywhere except a few crocuses which had pushed themselves up to be dismembered by the wind. He was hurrying along with frozen hands and watering eyes when he saw her not ten metres away from him. It struck him at once that she had changed in some ill-defined way. They almost passed one another without a sign, then he turned and followed her, not very eagerly. He knew that there was no danger, nobody would take any abruptly in them. Presently they were in among a clump of ragged leafless shrubs, useless either for concealment or as protection from the wind. They halted. It was vilely cold. The wind whistled through the twigs and fretted the occasional, dirty-looking crocuses. He put his arm round her waist.

There was no telescreen, but there must be hidden microphones: besides, they could be seen. It did not matter, nothing mattered. They could have laid down on the ground and done that if they had wanted to. His flesh froze with horror at the thought of it. She made no response whatever to the clasp of his arm; she did not even try to disengage herself. He knew now what had changed in her. Her face was sallower, and there was a long scar, partly hidden by the hair, across her forehead and temple; but that was not the change. It was that her waist had grown thicker, and, in a surprising way, had stiffened. Her body felt more like stone than flesh. He did not attempt to kiss her, nor did they speak. As they walked back across the grass she looked directly at him for the first time. It was only a momentary glance, full of contempt and dislike. He wondered whether it was a dislike that came purely out of the past or whether it was inspired also by his bloated face and the water that the wind kept squeezing from his eyes. They sat down on two iron chairs, side by side but not too close together. He saw that she was about to speak. She moved her clumsy shoe a few centimetres and deliberately crushed a twig. Her feet seemed to have grown broader, he noticed.

"I betrayed you," she said baldly.

"I betrayed you," he said.

She gave him another quick look of dislike.

"Sometimes," she said, "they threaten you with something - something you can't stand up to, can't even think about. And then you say, 'Don't do it to me, do it to somebody else, do it to So-and-so.' And perhaps you might pretend, afterwards, that it was only a trick and that you just said it to make them stop and didn't really mean it. But that isn't true. At the time when it happens you do mean it. You think there's no other way of saving yourself, and you're quite ready to save yourself that way. You want it to happen to the other person. You don't give a damn what they suffer. All you care about is yourself."

"All you care about is yourself," he echoed.

"And after that, you don't feel the same towards the other person any longer."

"No," he said. "you don't feel the same."

There did not seem to be anything more to say. The wind plastered their thin overalls against their bodies. Almost at once it became embarrassing to sit there in silence: besides, it was too cold to keep still. She said something about catching her Tube and stood up to go.

"We must meet again," he said.

"Yes," she said, "we must meet again."

He followed irresolutely for a little distance, half a pace behind her. They did not speak again. She did not actually try to shake him off, but walked at just such a speed as to prevent his keeping abreast of her.He had made up his mind that he would accompany her as far as the Tube station, but suddenly this process of trailing along in the cold seemed pointless and unbearable. He was overwhelmed by a desire not so much to get away from Julia as to get back to the Chestnut Tree Cafe. He had a nostalgic vision of his corner table, with the newspaper and the chess board and the everflowing gin. Above all, it would be warm in there. The next moment, he allowed himself to become separated from her by a small knot of people. When he had gone fifty metres he looked back. The street was not crowded but already he could not distinguish her.

Something changed in the music that trickled from the telescreen. A cracked and jeering note, a yellow note, came into it. And then - perhaps it was not happening, perhaps it was only a memory taking on the semblance of sound - a voice was singing:

"Under the spreading chestnut tree
I sold you and you sold me - -"

The tears welled up in his eyes. A passing waiter noticed that his glass was empty and came back with the gin bottle. He took up his glass and sniffed at it. The stuff grew more horrible with every mouthful he drank. But it had become the element he swam in. It was his life, his death, and his resurrection. It was gin that sank him into stupor every night, and gin that revived him every morning. When he woke, seldom before eleven hundred, with gummed-up eyelids and fiery mouth and a back that seemed to be broken, it would have been impossible even to rise from the horizontal if it had not been for the bottle and teacup placed beside the bed overnight. Through the midday hours he sat with glazed face, the bottle handy, listening to the telescreen. From fifteen to closing-time he was a fixture in the Chestnut Tree. No one cared what he did any longer, no whistle woke him, no telescreen admonished him.

Uncalled, a memory floated into his mind. He saw a candle-lit room with a vast white-counterpaned bed, and himself, a boy of nine or ten, sitting on the floor, shaking a dice-box, and laughing excitedly. His mother was sitting opposite him and also laughing. It must have been a month or so before she disappeared. He remembered the day well. His mother had gone out in the rain, to a little general shop which was still sporadically open nearby, and came back with a cardboard box containing an outfit of Snakes and Ladders. His mother lit a piece of candle and they sat down on the floor to play. Soon he was wildly excited and shouting with laughter as the tiddlywinks climbed hopefully up the ladders and then came slithering down the snakes again. They played eight games, winning four each. His tiny sister, too young to understand what the game was about, had sat propped up against a bolster, laughing because the others were laughing. For a whole afternoon they had all been happy together, as in his earlier childhood.

He pushed the picture out of his mind. It was a false memory. He was troubled by false memories occasionally. They did not matter so long as one knew them for what they were. Some things had happened, others had not happened. He turned back to the chess board and picked up the white night. Almost in the same instant it dropped on to the board with a clatter.

A shrill trumpet-call pierced the air. It was the bulletin! Victory! It always meant victory when a trumpet-call preceded the news. A sort of electric thrill ran through the cafe. An excited voice was gabbling from the telescreen, but it was almost drowned out by a roar of cheering from outside. The news had run round the streets like magic. Fragments of triumphant phrases pushed themselves through the din: "Vast strategic manoeuvre - perfect coordination - utter rout - half a million prisoners - complete demoralization - control of the whole of Africa - bring the war within measurable distance of its end - victory - greatest victory in human history - victory, victory, victory!" Under the table Winston's feet made convulsive movements. He had not stirred from his seat, but in his mind he was running, swiftly running, he was with the crowds outside, cheering himself deaf. He looked up again at the portrait of BIG BROTHER. The colossus that bestrode the world! The rock against which the hordes of Asia dashed themselves in vain!

He thought how ten minutes ago - yes, only ten minutes - there had still been equivocation in his heart as he wondered whether the news from the front would be victory or defeat. Ah, it was more than a Eurasian army that had perished! Much had changed in him since that first day in the Ministry of Love, but the final, indispensable, healing change had never happened, until this moment.

The voice from the telescreen was still pouring forth its tale of prisoners and booty and slaughter, but the shouting outside had died down a little. The waiters were turning back to their work. One of them approached with the gin bottle. Winston, sitting in a blissful dream, paid no attention as his glass was filled up. He was not running or cheering any longer. He was back in the Ministry of Love, with everything forgiven, his soul white as snow. He was in the public dock, confessing everything, implicating everybody. He was walking down the white-tiled corridor, with the feeling of walking in sunlight, and an armed guard at his back. The long-hoped for bullet was entering his brain.

He gazed up at the enormous face. Forty years it had taken him to learn what kind of smile was hidden beneath the dark moustache. O cruel, needless misunderstanding! O stubborn, self-willed exile from the loving breast! Two gin-scented tears trickled down the sides of his nose. But it was all right, everything was all right, the struggle was finished. He had won the victory over himself. He loved BIG BROTHER.



Reader believes George's inspiration for the Chestnut Tree Cafe is the 1945 song "I'll Be Seeing You"

Is every memory worth keeping? (pills to make you forget). Washington Post, Oct 30, 2004. Go to PILL TO FORGET JFK

Brain operation performed live on TV (patient given an amnesiac agent so he wouldn't remember surgery). Telegraph, Oct 30, 2004

40.Electric Shock Brainwashing and 43.Winston Talks In Sleep






Back to the USSR (hammer & sickle T-shirts worn in the Communist Party Cafe). National Post, Feb 1, 2003. Go to 27.Goodthink

Jackie Jura
~ an independent researcher monitoring local, national and international events ~

email: orwelltoday@gmail.com
website: www.orwelltoday.com