Car 7

Mrs Catherine Sobel

Outward appearance

Middle aged woman festooned with symbols of beauty: rings, a broach of a cat, a bracelet of semi-precious stones. Enters at Embankment, fingermarking her place in the Journal of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.

Inside information

Wealthy volunteer for the RSPB. Her family were Italian Jews who escaped the war by fleeing to Chicago. Her parents are dead; her cousins scattered to Chile or Israel. Her nephew has cancer.

Much troubled by peacocks. Catherine loves birds, but banshee wails from neighbouring Wimbledon Common plague her all night. Peacocks line up like fluorescent ghosts outside her window, peering in, demanding. They follow her footsteps, pecking at them. This morning they lined up across her drive, inflating their tails all at once in a phalanx, saying: remember?

What she is doing or thinking


When Catherine was 17, her synagogue put on a production of Fiddler on the Roof. She wasn't pretty, so they put her in charge of the lights. The hall was to be in darkness, until the first line. Catherine couldn't find the right switches. The hero entered a baldly lit temporary hall, and said, "Let there be light." Catherine plunged the hall into darkness.

Like the birds, this unnerved her. What had been meant to be beautiful had become terrifying: there was no light, not from God. Why else would so many of her people have been killed?

Nightmarishly, the carriage begins to dance; the party favours sound like peacocks.

Then, in the swirl of movement, Catherine understands: the darkness and the light are one.

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