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Age of Iron

Age of Iron

by J.M. Coetzee

Age of Iron Chapter 4 Summary

  • Mrs. Curren has a dream about Florence walking down Government Avenue with Hope and Beauty. In her dream, Mrs. Curren is supposed to be putting on some kind of public show, but Florence doesn't pay attention to her.
  • As the dream continues, Mrs. Curren performs some tricks with fire. She notices that Florence looks like a goddess – she's wearing a white slip and her feet are bare. She's pointing towards something. Mrs. Curren is covered in blue flames.
  • When she wakes up, Mrs. Curren tells Vercueil about her dream. He asks if it was real. She's like, no, everything in the dream was a symbol of something else. Clearly.
  • She tells Vercueil that she doesn't want to go to the hospital because she figures they'll put her in a drug-induced coma and she won't be able to dream anymore.
  • Later, Mrs. Curren asks Vercueil if he can fix her radio. He's like, why don't I just bring the TV into your room instead? She says no, but he brings in the TV anyway.
  • He plugs in the TV and turns it on. They see a blue flag waving as the anthem of the Republic plays. Mrs. Curren tells him to switch it off. Instead, he turns the sound up. She yells at him to stop it. He starts doing a groovy little dance to the national anthem. She starts screaming "OFF!" with rage.
  • Vercueil turns off the TV and tells Mrs. Curren to chill out. She tells him that she's afraid of going to hell and having to listen to that song forever.
  • Vercueil tells her that it's OK – all of this will be over soon (meaning the chaos in South Africa). Mrs. Curren tells him that she doesn't have time to wait for that. Then he tells her that maybe she does.
  • For whatever reason, Mrs. Curren gets sucked into the idea that she might actually survive. She and Vercueil grin at each other.
  • Mrs. Curren writes about how she doesn't want to be put to sleep, but how sleep is the only break she gets from her suffering.
  • Still, she feels like she might be going nuts. She wakes up finding herself drawing all over the walls. She calls the doctor and asks for a different prescription.
  • She gets some new pills and tells Vercueil that they don't work any better than the old ones. He tells her to take more – who cares what the label says, right?
  • Mrs. Curren asks Vercueil why he chose her. He says he didn't. She asks why he came to her house, and he said that she didn't have a dog and wouldn't make trouble.
  • Vercueil is like, "if you want me to help you, I'll help you." He puts his hands around her throat. She tells him to stop and starts crying.
  • She asks Vercueil if it's OK for his dog to sleep in her bed because she wants the extra warmth. Vercueil says that his dog will only sleep where he sleeps. Mrs. Curren tells Vercueil to sleep on her bed too – so the cozy friends sleep with the dog between them.
  • We learn that Vercueil lost the use of his fingers on one hand because they were crushed in a pulley when he was at sea and his boat got in an accident.
  • He sailed in Russia. He also lived in China for a while. Piece by piece, Mrs. Curren starts to put together Vercueil's story.
  • Mrs. Curren asks Vercueil what he'll do when she's dead. She tells him that he needs someone to watch over him. She'd volunteer to do it, but she's not yet sure what the afterlife has in store.
  • Mrs. Curren worries about Vercueil. She's not convinced that he can take care of himself. Case in point: his favorite thing to eat is "white bread fried in egg with tuna on the bread and tomato sauce on the tuna" (4.135). OK, we think this could be either really vile or surprisingly tasty. Just imagine it: Top Chef: Vercueil.
  • We learn that the two of them have been sharing a bed every night now, lying folded up on one another.
  • The letter breaks off. Mrs. Curren signs it "Mrs. V." (4.140). Interesting…
  • The letter picks back up on September 23rd. Mrs. Curren shows Vercueil some old photographs, and he remarks that her house is like a museum.
  • Vercueil helps Mrs. Curren wash her underwear.
  • We learn that when Mrs. Curren has her worst fits of pain, Vercueil holds her hand.
  • Vercueil asks Mrs. Curren what Latin is. She tells him that it's a dead language that she used to teach. He asks if she can teach him. She said that she could've taught him a lot if she had time.
  • Mrs. Curren asks Vercueil if he wants to go to the U.S. to deliver her papers to her daughter. She knows, though, that he won't go.
  • She realizes that she has no relationship with her grandchildren.
  • Mrs. Curren talks about how she needs Vercueil's help, yes, but Vercueil needs her help, too.
  • The letter seems to break off – she writes, "I am going to release you soon from this rope of words" (4.207).
  • Mrs. Curren wakes up feeling cold. Vercueil is standing on the balcony. The wind is blowing. She asks him if it is "time." He doesn't say anything.
  • She gets back into bed. He gets into bed with her, and for the first time she can't detect the faintest smell of him. He holds her tightly in his arms and she loses her breath. The novel ends with her remarking, "from that embrace there was no warmth to be had" (4.212).
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