The Subtle Knife Extract

His Dark Materials - The Subtle Knife

Under the Hornbeam Trees

The air of the place had something Mediterranean or maybe Caribbean about
it. Will had never been out of England, so he couldn't compare it with
anywhere he knew, but it was the kind of place where people came out late
at night to eat and drink, to dance and enjoy music. Except that there was
no one here, and the silence was immense.

On the first corner he reached there stood a café, with little green tables
on the pavement and a zinc topped bar and an espresso machine. On some of the
tables glasses stood half-empty; in one ashtray a cigarette had burned down
to the butt; a plate of risotto stood next to a basket of stale rolls as
hard as cardboard.

He took a bottle of lemonade from the cooler behind the bar and then thought
for a moment before dropping a pound coin in the till. As soon as he'd shut
the till, he opened it again, realising that the money in there might say
what this place was called. The currency was called the corona, but he
couldn't tell any more than that.

He put the money back and opened the bottle on the opener fixed to the counter
before leaving the café and wandering down the street going away from the
boulevard. Little grocery shops and bakeries stood between jewelers and
florists and bead-curtained doors opening into private houses, where
wrought-iron balconies thick with flowers overhung the narrow pavement,
and where the silence, being enclosed, was even more profound.

The streets were leading downward, and before very long they opened out
onto a broad avenue where more palm trees reached high into the air, the
underside of their leaves flowing in the streetlights. On the other side
of the avenue was the sea.

Will found himself facing a harbour enclosed from the left by a stone
breakwater and from the right by a headhland on which a large building
with stone columns and wide steps and ornate balconies stood floodlit
among flowering trees and bushes. In the harbour one or two rowboats
lay still at anchor, and beyond the breakwater the starlight glittered
on a calm sea.

By now Will's exhaustion had been wiped out. He was wide awake and
possessed by wonder. From time to time, on this way through the
narrow streets, he'd put out a hand to touch a wall or a doorway or
the flowers in a window box, and found them solid and convincing.
Now he wanted to touch the whole landscape in front of him, because
it was too wide to take in through his eyes alone.
He stood still, breathing deeply, almost afraid.

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