DISMISS

Max Porter

Tall, pale, bookish, sleepy, poorly-postured, European, sentimental

Born in High Wycombe, England. Based in London, England, UK

Writers main Categories

Fiction

Languages spoken

English

About

Max Porter is Editorial Director of Granta and Portobello Books.

His debut novel Grief is the Thing with Feathers was published in 2015 and will be translated into 23 languages. It won the International Dylan Thomas Prize.

He lives in South London with his wife and children. 

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Fiction Extract

Extract from Grief is the Thing With Feathers

BOYS

There’s a feather on my pillow.

Pillows are made of feathers, go to sleep.

It’s a big, black feather.

Come and sleep in my bed.

There’s a feather on your pillow too.

Let’s leave the feathers where they are and
sleep on the floor.


DAD

Four or five days after she died, I sat alone in the
living room wondering what to do. Shuffling around,
waiting for shock to give way, waiting for any kind of
structured feeling to emerge from the organisational
fakery of my days. I felt hung-empty. The children
were asleep. I drank. I smoked roll-ups out of the
window. I felt that perhaps the main result of her
being gone would be that I would permanently
become this organiser, this list-making trader in
clichés of gratitude, machine-like architect of routines
for small children with no Mum. Grief felt fourthdimensional,
abstract, faintly familiar. I was cold.

The friends and family who had been hanging around
being kind had gone home to their own lives. When
the children went to bed the flat had no meaning,
nothing moved.

The doorbell rang and I braced myself for more
kindness. Another lasagne, some books, a cuddle,
some little potted ready-meals for the boys. Of
course, I was becoming expert in the behaviour of
orbiting grievers. Being at the epicentre grants a
curiously anthropological awareness of everybody
else; the overwhelmeds, the affectedly lackadaisicals,
the nothing so fars, the overstayers, the new best
friends of hers, of mine, of the boys. The people I still
have no fucking idea who they were. I felt like Earth
in that extraordinary picture of the planet surrounded
by a thick belt of space junk. I felt it would be years
before the knotted-string dream of other people’s
performances of woe for my dead wife would thin
enough for me to see any black space again, and
of course – needless to say – thoughts of this kind
made me feel guilty. But, I thought, in support of
myself, everything has changed, and she is gone and
I can think what I like. She would approve, because
we were always over-analytical, cynical, probably
disloyal, puzzled. Dinner party post-mortem bitches
with kind intentions. Hypocrites. Friends.

The bell rang again.

I climbed down the carpeted stairs into the chilly
hallway and opened the front door.
There were no streetlights, bins or paving stones. No
shape or light, no form at all, just a stench.

There was a crack and a whoosh and I was smacked
back, winded, onto the doorstep. The hallway was
pitch black and freezing cold and I thought, ‘What
kind of world is it that I would be robbed in my home
tonight?’ And then I thought, ‘Frankly, what does it
matter?’ I thought, ‘Please don’t wake the boys, they
need their sleep. I will give you every penny I own
just as long as you don’t wake the boys.’

I opened my eyes and it was still dark and everything
was crackling, rustling.

Feathers.
There was a rich smell of decay, a sweet furry stink of
just-beyond-edible food, and moss, and leather, and
yeast.

Feathers between my fingers, in my eyes, in my
mouth, beneath me a feathery hammock lifting me up
a foot above the tiled floor.

One shiny jet-black eye as big as my face, blinking
slowly, in a leathery wrinkled socket, bulging out
from a football-sized testicle.

SHHHHHHHHHHHHH.
                                                     shhhhhhhh.

And this is what he said:

I won’t leave until you don’t need me any more.

Put me down, I said.

Not until you say hello.

Put. Me. Down, I croaked, and my piss warmed the
cradle of his wing.

You’re frightened. Just say hello.

Hello.

Say it properly.

I lay back, resigned, and wished my wife wasn’t
dead. I wished I wasn’t lying terrified in a giant
bird embrace in my hallway. I wished I hadn’t been
obsessing about this thing just when the greatest
tragedy of my life occurred. These were factual
yearnings. It was bitterly wonderful. I had some
clarity.

Hello Crow, I said. Good to finally meet you.

*

And he was gone.

For the first time in days I slept. I dreamt of
afternoons in the forest.


CROW

Very romantic, how we first met. Badly behaved. Trip
trap. Two-bed upstairs flat, spit-level, slight barbederror,
snuck in easy through the wall and up the attic
bedroom to see those cotton boys silently sleeping,
intoxicating hum of innocent children, lint, flack,
gack-pack-nack, the whole place was heavy mourning,
every surface dead Mum, every crayon, tractor, coat,
welly, covered in a film of grief. Down the dead Mum
stairs, plinkety plink curled claws whisper, down to
Daddy’s recently Mum-and-Dad’s bedroom. I was
Herne the hunter hornless, funt. Munt. Here he is.
Out. Drunk-for white. I bent down over him and
smelt his breath. Notes of rotten hedge, bluebottles.
I prised open his mouth and counted bones, snacked
a little on his un-brushed teeth, flossed him, crowly
tossed his tongue hither, thither, I lifted the duvet.
I Eskimo kissed him. I butterfly kissed him. I flatflutter
Jenny Wren kissed him. His lint (toe-jam-rint)
fuck-sacks sad and cosy, sagging, gently rising, then
down, rising, then down, rising, then down, I was
praying the breathing and the epidermis whispered
‘flesh, aah, flesh, aah, flesh, aah’, and it was beautiful
for me, rising (just like me) then down (just like me)
pan-shaped (just like me) it was any wonder the facts
of my arrival under his sheets didn’t lift him, stench,
rot-yot-kot, wake up human (BIRD FEATHERS
UP YER CRACK, DOWN YER COCK-EYE, IN
YER MOUTH) but he slept and the bedroom was
a mausoleum. He was an accidental remnant and I
knew this was the best gig, a real bit of fun. I put my
claw on his eyeball and weighed up gouging it out for
fun or mercy. I plucked one jet feather from my hood
and left it on his forehead, for, his, head.
For a souvenir, for a warning, for a lick of
night in the morning.
For a little break in the mourning.
I will give you something to think about, I whispered.
He woke up and didn’t see me against the blackness
of his trauma.
                           ghoeeeze, he clacked.
                                                             ghoeeeze.