Company (short story)

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First edition (publ. John Calder)

Company is a short novel by Samuel Beckett, written in English and published in 1979.

Together with Ill Seen Ill Said and Worstward Ho, it was collected in the volume Nohow On in 1989. It is one of Beckett's '"closed space" stories. The novella takes place in close quarters. In the case of Company, as the opening stanza has it:

A voice comes to one in the dark. Imagine. [...] To one on his back in the dark. This he can tell by the pressure on his hind parts and by how the dark changes when he shuts his eyes and again when he opens them again.

A person, a male, is lying on his back listening to a voice telling him about the past, the present and sometimes the future. These stories are presented in tableau-like scenes, each centred on one dreamlike remembered situation, such as the following:

A small boy you come out of Connolly's Stores holding your mother by the hand. You turn right and advance in silence southward along the highway. After some hundred paces you head inland and broach the long steep homeward. You make ground in silence hand in hand through the warm still summer air. It is late afternoon and after some hundred paces the sun appears above the crest of the rise. Looking up at the blue sky and then at your mother's face you break the silence asking her if it is not in reality much more distant than it appears. The sky that is. The blue sky. Receiving no answer you mentally reframe your question and some hundred paces later look up at her face again and ask her if it does not appear much less distant than in reality it is. For some reason you could never fathom this question must have angered her exceedingly. For she shook off your little hand and made you a cutting retort you have never forgotten.

The text also contains directions that may be directed at the reader, or may be meant for the person on his back. For example:

Use of second person mark the voice. That of the third that cankerous other. Could he speak to and of whom the voice speaks there would be a first. But he cannot. He shall not. You cannot. You shall not.