Opus 21 by Philip Wylie

OPUS 21

Descriptive Music

FOR THE LOWER KINSEY EPOCH
OF THE ATOMIC AGE

a Concerto for a One-Man Band

SIX ARIAS FOR SOAP OPERAS

Fugues, Anthems, & Barrelhouse

BY

PHILIP WYLIE

RINEHART & COMPANY, INC.

New York and Toronto

First Printing, April 1949
Second Printing, June 1949
Third Printing, September 1949
Fourth Printing, November 1951
Fifth Printing, October 1953
Sixth Printing, September 1956
Seventh Printing, October 1959
COPYRIGHT, 1949, BY PHILIP WYLIE

PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

TO MY WIFE
Ricky
AND MY DAUGHTER
Karen
I LOVINGLY DEDICATE
THIS ROMANCE

WARNING

Most of the characters in this book are unreal—and that is particularly true of the author…. Few of the events recorded here ever took place—exactly…. Even the time is somewhat out of joint, so purists are advised not to bother to compare the meteorology with the obituaries…. I never had (for instance) an elder sister named Georgianna, that I know of…. The difference between what is Real (or Truth) and what is Illusion (or Fiction) is left to such judgment as the reader may own—just as it is in all the other experiences of life.

P.W.
PART ONE: Scherzo, 3

Opus 21
[Pg 3]

PART ONE

Scherzo

Scherzo
1

It happens to millions.

They sit in doctors’ offices trying to hide nervousness in the pages of magazines. Wondering what germs their predecessors have deposited in Life and Harper’s Bazaar or Action Comics.

The nurse calls:

Mr. So-and-so. Mrs. So-and-so. Miss So-and-so.

They go in.

“Doctor,” they say, “just lately I’ve begun to notice….”

They have begun to notice Death.

And now the doctor notices, too.

Millions of us, in this century, find out before angina curls us like insects in flame. Before the stone is lodged in its screaming cavity. Before the final, involuntary issue of bowel or bladder or foamy lungs.

It is one of the marvels of science.

“Tom,” I said, for the doctor is an old friend, “lately I’ve noticed a feeling of fullness in my nasal passages. And this morning, before I flew down from the country, I looked at the back of my throat. Up behind the uvula. Something is—growing there.”

“Let’s take a squint.”

[Pg 4]

Tom was calm. He hadn’t spent his forenoon staring from an airplane window at the landscapes of New York and New Jersey, but seeing only a reflection in a bathroom mirror. A reflection of his face, yawning unpleasantly in the lavender fluorescence, the vertical tubes of light, and there, on his throat’s arch, a foreign tissue like a clot of paint scraped from a bright palette.

He had merely shaved, as the rest of us had shaved on thousands of mornings, thinking of this and that.

Now he switched on a light, tilted the circular reflector above his forehead and removed his gold spectacles. I yawned.

He said, “Hunh.”

So I knew.

We’d been friends, after all, for thirty-four years; by the inflection of a syllable, we could make lucid assertions. He thought—what I thought.

“Phil,” he said, “we better get a biopsy right away.”

“It’s in a bad spot.”

His instruments gagged me for a minute or two, brought tears in my eyes, probed at revolted mucosae. “Yes, Phil. And there’s a lot of it. You didn’t notice—anything—?”

“Earlier? Nope. This morning. I was flying down anyhow. I have a serial to correct.”

“Of course,” Tom said, “I’m not sure. It could be one of those rank lymphoid things. Radium blots them out. X-ray. Radioactive cobalt, these days, perhaps. But—”

But.

We looked at each other for a while. He said a kind thing: “We’re both—forty-six.”

He meant that we shared the hazards of time together. He also intended to start me thinking of all I had been and done, seen and known, felt and expressed, in four and a half decades of life.

His clock ticked.

His phone rang.

[Pg 5]

The receiver brought to my age-dulled ears the emery of a woman’s voice. And Tom, with the cultivated patience that masks a physician’s irritation, told her to take the “pink medicine” every two hours instead of every four.

The elixir alurate, I thought.

That brickbat on the safety valve of America: barbital.

I would soon be on morphine myself….

“How long?” I asked, when Tom hung up.

His pale eyes peered affectionately from behind his spectacles. I felt sorry for him. “Let’s get that biopsy, first.”

“No fooling, Tom. You’re nine-tenths convinced. The learned goons in your profession have told me my number was up, several times, before this. Sooner or later, one of you is bound to be right. And I don’t feel lucky today. How long?”

He picked up a letter he had dictated, read it, and put it in a tray. He straightened his prescription pad so it was square with the tooled leather corner of his desk blotter. He glanced at the photograph of Aileen, his wife, Joy and Lee, his daughters. “If it’s malignant—it’s where you can’t operate.”

“How long will I be—able to write?”

“Month. Two. Three. Maybe more. No way to tell.”

“Radiation—won’t slow it down?”

“Can’t use strong doses that near your brain, Phil.” He grasped his telephone again. He told his nurse to arrange the biopsy. Immediately. He wrote an address.

“I’m busy tonight,” he told me. “Can’t get out of it. What about tomorrow—for dinner?”

I said, “Swell. When will I have the report?”

“Monday.”

“Be quite a long weekend.”

He commenced writing a prescription.

I had told him how well he seemed, when the nurse had ushered me in. He didn’t seem well any more. The vestige of his White Mountain tan was saffron. In fifteen[Pg 6] minutes, circles had come under his eyes. He handed me two little rectangles of paper. “No—pain?”

“Not yet.” It was a cruelty.

He flinched minutely. “That’s for pb. Quarters. If you spook yourself up. And sodium amytal. Grain and a half. Sleep. You can take the whole bottle, if you want to. Then the biopsy will surely be negative and you’ll have thrown away your other six lives.” He put his arm around my shoulder. “See you tomorrow—at your hotel—around seven.”

I walked through the patients—through people who had nothing more serious than hypertension, or gastric ulcer, or diabetes. Or perhaps they did have fatal afflictions, though. Cancer, for example. You couldn’t say what they had—sitting there, tremulously thumbing the magazines. They looked at me. They looked at the fat girl who rose because her turn was next.

I lit a cigarette when I got outdoors.

Coal tar, I thought.

Too late not to light a cigarette.

I stepped down in the gutter—in gum wrappers, glittering bits of cellophane, the blanched drift of horse manure, a swatch of blue cloth, a letter that had been rained on, fresh Pekinese sign, and a little dry mud. All around me midday, midtown Manhattan soaked up August in its brick pores, its limestone pores—flashed back August from glass, from polished granite, and from all its million metal fixtures. The sky was bluely vague. An air-liner shoved up through it from La Guardia—a grinding abnormality.

I hailed a cab.

For the ordeal of biopsy, whatever it might be, I summoned my meager contempt. A long experience of surgery is a poor indoctrination for each new need of it. Ringed about with sadists in white suits, with sterile techniques, with inquisitional steel, I have been too often the Exposed Nerve. I do not hope much, any more—and only defy so[Pg 7] long as I am able. This artificial pose, garnished with calm and with smiling, is what some men call courage, and others dignity, but no man in his right mind evokes without cost: we are the hateful survivors of our sciences.

It was a little thing.

A needle’s prick in an alabastrine clinic. A numb diddling above the tonsil. Some blood to spit out.

The one sharp experience was the slight widening of the surgeon’s eyes when first he saw my throat.

Go on, I thought. Tell me that the cure of cancer depends upon its early recognition! Ask me if I haven’t read the advertisements of the Society! And ask yourself, you smooth-faced blue-eyed son-of-a-bitch, if you have checked the area behind your own uvula lately!

What I said was, “Just noticed it today.”

I came, I meant, as soon as I could. I wasn’t a dumbbell. I didn’t let that gob grow inside my neck, week after week, in secret fear. I did what you told me to do.

He said, “Well, well,” and injected me and clipped off a hunk and told me to come back on Monday at twelve o’clock. I went onto the street again.

It wasn’t bothering me any.

Nobody could catch it from me.

Another cab slid to a stop on another pile of metropolitan offal. I got in. The radio was talking about Babe Ruth, who had recently died of throat cancer. And metastases.

I thought of telling the driver to turn off the lush woe.

Life’s ironies amuse cynical people—who are, after all, sentimentalists, for only sentimental people would bother themselves to beget so foolish a self-defense as cynicism.

“Terrible loss,” the driver said, waiting for the Madison Avenue light.

I chose this better opportunity. “Loss, hell! A baseball player. A tough guy. Somebody with trick reflexes who could bat a ball farther than anybody else, oftener. And the whole[Pg 8] damned United States gets choked up and goes into mourning. Double-page spreads in the newspapers. When a really great man dies, he’s lucky to get one snapshot and a column.” I looked quickly at his framed license. Saul Kaufman. “Will the American people go on a morbid spree when Einstein dies?” I asked.

It got him. He glanced back appreciatively. “You said it!”

If his name had been Angelo Utrillo, I would have suggested Fermi. He wouldn’t have known who Fermi was, but my explanation would have filled him with pride. And if it had been Michael Riority, I would have tried De Valera.

“Babe Ruth,” I repeated when I paid my fare. “Did the Mirror and the News give Freud a double-page spread? The greatest mind in the twentieth century. Greatest Jew since Jesus. We should be proud to live in the same age. But what are we proud of? Babe Ruth. Baseball’s okay—but the way people act about it certainly shows what’s wrong with people.”

“You’re right, Mac.”

I tipped him a quarter. Money wasn’t going to be useful to me much longer.

Then I felt sick.

The money I possessed—the insurance—the money that might come from my books and perhaps from the posthumous sale of a few stories to the movies—would be all there was

for my wife

daughter

my wife’s mother

and some others.

I had two rooms—a bedroom and parlor. Sleep and reading in bed were thus kept separate from work, from the two hundred and eighteen pages of my serial which had to be cut sheet by sheet, line by line, to fit the precise requirements of a weekly magazine. This small suite was on the six[Pg 9]teenth floor. Here, the street sounds became boogie-woogie—set to rhythm by bouncing back and forth between the walls of Madison Avenue. Here the smell of the city was less toxic. And here the eye ranged over rooftops. My draperies, flowered and lined with sateen, moved now against the dark-green embrasures of the window—not in a breeze but in the upward eddy of diurnal heat. The yellow roses with which the management had greeted me dangled in their vase. I wondered whether to cut their stems or throw them out. If Ricky, my wife, had accompanied me, there would have been two dozen roses—and she would have known about the stems. I propped open the door to the hall with a book. Air sucked through the crack.

In a big mirror, over the mantel, over the chunks of topaz glass that represented coals in the artificial fireplace, I could see myself. Strained and pallid, sweat showing at the armpits of my dark-blue gabardine jacket.

I took it off.

My shirt was wet.

I took that off.

The man in the mirror was naked from the waist up. A man with a little fold of belly showing over his belt. A man whose back, when he turned, was well muscled at the shoulders and ridged with parallel sinews that made a valley of the spine. A man whose strength had come through effort and application, rather late. A man who stepped closer to the mirror and opened his mouth to study, inside it, a small, fresh wound.

He sat down on the divan, presently, and took a cigarette from the coffee table. Lighted it. Reached for the telephone.

And identified with himself again.

I wanted to call Ricky—in the country.

To call her from the vegetable garden, where she might be weeding, or from the rock garden, when she might be replanting the daffodil bulbs, to call her from a book, or[Pg 10] from washing the cocker pups, or from painting shelves, or from anything that she was doing. I wanted, with overwhelming urgency to tell her to come down to New York and share this weekend. Carry it with me and for me.

She would. She has the grit and the amenability to Nature. Besides, she knows me.

But I sat there, my fingers growing slippery on the phone.

If it proved to be harmless—then the consummate hours, the pain, the anxiety, and the quiet planning would be a mere excess.

If it proved malignant—what purpose would be served by destroying her tranquillity, by adding her dread to my own, until the hour when the fact was established?

She would willingly, wantingly, accept the burden—to ease my share of it.

But why should she?

Monday would be soon enough—win, lose, or get some cursed clinical draw. Radiation. Surgery. Artificial larynx. Gueules cassées, I thought. I’d seen friends. Getting their throats cut inchmeal. Burping to make speech. Shedding their chins.

The hell with it! I called the bookstore, instead, and ordered a tome on carcinoma of the throat.

I put the phone back on the table.

Clean shirt. The jacket of a ribbed, cotton suit, blue and white. I hadn’t sweated through my trousers—yet. They’d do as slacks.

I rang for the elevator.

2

One of the two restaurants in the Astolat Hotel, where we stay whenever we are in New York, is called the Knight’s Bar. It has been extended and refurbished recently. King Arthur’s retinue, armed, armored, gaudily caparisoned, and[Pg 11] mounted on some of the most unlikely steeds in mural art, charge, joust and canter on the walls. The place has indirect lighting, banquettes and chairs upholstered in red leather, and air conditioning. The food is excellent.

A pre-chilled atmosphere enveloped me when I came in and I felt it without gratitude. I like hot weather.

Jay, the headwaiter, saw me, glanced about at the tables—which were by now less than a third occupied—and beckoned me toward a place near the bar with a definitiveness unwarranted by the wide choice. I wondered why as I came forward—obediently, and hardly aware of the trifling inquiry in my mind.

Then I saw, around to the right, a pretty girl, sitting alone, reading a book. On each side of her were empty tables. Did Jay, out of subconscious loyalty to my wife, intend to rush me past this pitfall? Or had the girl asked for solitude? She wasn’t one of the Knight’s Bar regulars—or one of the hotel residents. I knew all of them, at least by sight.

Ordinarily, I would have meekly followed Jay to the table he had selected. But now I thought—why should I? Rather, I thought, there is very little time left for me on this earth. Why shouldn’t I use it as I please?

So I nodded at a table beside the girl. She would be something to look at besides my thoughts.

Jay is an American. But what he did now was European. He smiled slightly in understanding; he raised his eyebrows minutely in coappreciation of the young lady’s good looks; and he shrugged one shoulder—in patient recognition of the fact that a male is a male and the firmest marriage vows are warrants of mere intent.

I grinned back—and sat on the bench beside the young lady as soon as Jay pulled out the table. She looked at me—turning her head slowly—and afterward went on reading her book. Her eyes were gray, stained with some unguessable, dark residue of emotion. Her hair was pale blonde,[Pg 12] not quite ashen—parted in the middle and clipped at the back like a schoolgirl’s—with a wide gold barrette. She had small, smooth hands. She wore a square engagement ring and a wedding ring set with many diamonds. From time to time, too, she sipped a Martini. Her dress was a gray and white print—not fancy but fitted by somebody who knew the tricks. Bonwit’s, maybe, or Bergdorf’s. Her shoulders were fairly broad, for a girl’s. But she had large, firm breasts—or the synthetic equivalent thereof. I noticed, too, that the perfume she used was not right for her appearance—though perhaps it suited the self-estimate of her soul. It was one of the musky varieties—animal, nocturnal, full of erotic business.

In a restaurant where you have enjoyed a thousand meals, you look desultorily at the menu because, as a rule, you know what you are going to order. I took the fried sole, a boiled, parsley potato, and apple sauce.

Then, for a while, I forgot the girl.

I must plan, I thought.

First, the money.

Fifty thousand dollars’ worth of insurance. Several thousand dollars in war bonds. I had about ten thousand in the bank. Ricky had a few thousand. We owed a steep mortgage on the house we were building in Florida—in the country south of Miami, among live oaks and cabbage palms. It would be too big a home for Ricky and her mother and Karen, by themselves. Too big—and too expensive to keep up, without my income. They could sell it as soon as it was finished, and undoubtedly make a small profit. Or they could rent it each year for a much larger sum than the interest, amortization and upkeep—thus bringing to my estate an income of one or two annual thousands.

I would be paid twenty-four thousand dollars for the serial upstairs, when I had cut it.

Unfortunately, half of that would be turned over to the government, as income tax. Most of the balance was ear-[Pg 13]marked for furniture which Ricky now might or might not buy. I thought about the tax….

Business is the lone God of our Congress. Let a man open a pie factory or begin to mold cement blocks and he becomes Privileged. His property is taxed as a sacred, eternal entity. His costs are deductible. Only the profit he pockets is thought of by our Congress as income; his every barrel of flour or bag of cement is capital. But let a man create books or serials in his head and Congress sees him as a social inferior, a mere wage earner.

The accumulation of intellectual property for a book may require three-quarters of a life. Its sale, for a year or two, may be considerable. After that one book—or after two or three—an author may return to pittances. What he has written may become the mental and emotional capital of his countrymen, or of the world, for generations. Yet Congress does not deem it equal to pies or bricks and sometimes skims away in a year the whole capital of an author—as if it were but annual income. America bounteously provides for the makers of bricks and pies; it short-changes book-makers and the winners of Nobel Prizes. Indeed, such is the unconscious hostility of the mob toward the fruits of intelligence that, not long ago, a group of representatives, commercial he-whores and contumelious morons, endeavored to do away with copyright altogether on the grounds that what a man thought and wrote down, or what he felt and painted, belonged free of charge to the whole people: noneconomic, since it was Art. To such men as these, only junk fabricators, gadgeteers, tram operators, pop bottlers and the like are entitled to the best profit for their contribution to life. History will note the fact when history writes how American avarice held in open contempt all culture and all thought, decerebrated itself and so died headless.

As a man about to perish I could not but think bitterly of this. Had my labors, my work, my business, my investment of skill and thought and sweat been deemed equiva[Pg 14]lent, by my government, to the activities of a manufacturer of flea powder, I could have left the people I loved far better off.

A relative complaint, under the circumstances and in my case. But when I thought of the “successful” writers I knew who had been taxed into poverty for their genius, and when I thought of the potbellied yuts I’d met who turned up fortunes in sewer pipes, cemetery lots and toilet paper, my sentiments toward the people and their politicians were rude….

They would get along—Karen and Ricky and Ricky’s mother and those who would now depend on them. My death might even accelerate the sale of my books for a while. There might be movie sales. Plays. Posthumous editions. Anthologies. If I had led Ricky to be careless and extravagant, she would nonetheless be capable, under necessity, of good management. The hundred-year-old house in the country would continue to fend off the winters and to doze through the summers in its great lawns. Karen would attend Swarthmore. If Ricky wished, she could work again; she was well enough now. Marry again.

The thought jarred and I considered that sensation. Marry? Of course she would. She should. What is wickeder than inhibiting sentiment, than memory turned prison?

I am not a jealous man and even my envies are of an obscure sort. The momentary shock came from the fact that, never before, had I thought of Ricky as married to another man. Romantic about another man—perhaps. (Hadn’t I said, in fun and also meaning it, that if, in our seventies, she were to swear she had been faithful, I would regard it as sad? No man desires a wanton for a wife. But a great many men love their wives in such a fashion as to consider them people—human, curious, imaginative, subject to sensations of staleness, capable of discretion, and not intended to be—through every hour of all that is a life—belled, balled and chained, hobbled and kept like cattle. An academic point—[Pg 15]now. We might never see those seventies—note the envisaged smiles—or hear the candlelit confidence.) She would marry again. Karen would marry. The bonds I’d bought, the real estate, the insurance I’d purchased down the years—flush or borrowing—would provide a measure of security.

Come war? Come vast inflation? Costly sickness?

There is no security on our planet. There is no way, by money, wills, investments, legal instruments, or other means, to carry even the smallest wish or the most minimal responsibility beyond crematory and urn. Such is the aching truth—the irony we try to avoid. No one understands it better than I—but I had done what I could to avoid it, too. Done it—in spite of a national tax philosophy that evaluates authorship as a meaner trade than pawnbroking.

In all America are only five thousand of us who make our whole livelihood by writing, anyway. To Congress—a scattered, inconsequential number—vote-voiceless and therefore impotent. It is a figure—five thousand in one hundred and fifty millions—which the aspiring writer should bear in mind. And some are communists, or leftists, besides—which, in the miserable eyes of Congress these days, no doubt makes our whole profession suspect. Freedom is sick. Freedom is dying.

Why not?

Everything is sick and doomed.

Including me—now, I thought jeeringly.

My plate came—the toast-brown fish, the green-speckled potato, a salad I hadn’t ordered, tartar sauce in a dish, and the applesauce in another.

I pushed Congress out of my mind.

More accurately, the girl did.

She cleared her throat. A little sound, with faint annoyance clinging to it.

I had been sitting there, smoking two cigarettes, oblivious to her for ten minutes. She must have assumed that I had chosen to sit beside her because she was attractive—[Pg 16]which was true. But now, owing to the absence of sidewise glances, of self-conscious bread-buttering, of any aura of awareness, she had irritatedly cleared her throat. If I had spoken to her forthwith she would, perhaps, have made a short, polite, but discouraging reply. Since, however, I had broken off even the peripheral touching of consciousness, she coughed vexedly, exploringly.

So I glanced at her book. I had already noticed the jacket. It was Ape and Essence by Aldous Huxley. She had been reading with a slight frown. But now I saw that the jacket did not fit the book, which was thicker than Mr. Huxley’s post-atomic predictions. The jacket, then, was camouflage—for a larger book with maroon binding. What sort of reading, I wondered, would a glamorous young woman hide behind Aldous Huxley? And, abruptly, I knew: the Kinsey Report.

I leaned back and verified it.

This amused me.

The people of Miami Beach, where I had lived in the winter, and the people of New York, whom I had encountered in the spring, had been busy for both seasons with Dr. Kinsey’s refreshing work.

It was, at least, refreshing to me….

I am interested in psychology. For a quarter of a century I have known, by way of Freud, Krafft-Ebing, Stekel, Ellis, and many others, the same facts, in comparable orders of magnitude as those which Dr. Kinsey elicited by his scientific cross-questioning of cross sections. My own experience of life, taken with the confidences of my associates, has merely confirmed what others have noted. I have published such data in my books, years before Kinsey. And all that time I have reflected with a hooting pique upon the unconquerable illusions of Americans. What I have long known to be true, and often written down, they have refused to consider as real. Until the first of the Kinsey Reports, all erotic activity except that mechanical minimum[Pg 17] permitted by state legislatures has been regarded, even by most enlightened citizens, either as an accident carefully hidden in their own lives, or else as the perverted behavior of persons who, eventually, would land on the couches of psychiatrists—if not in prison. It is the most depraved truth about us.

Kinsey—with the august reputation of Rockefeller money to give his findings the one sort of credibility acceptable to Americans—had accomplished what hundreds of psychologists and scores of writers like myself had been unable to do: he had convinced multitudes that the sexual behavior of people is mammalian in every respect. He had shown, where we had failed, that erotic activity of some sort is universal, that the earlier and more vigorously such activities are commenced, the more potent and sexually capable its practitioners become—that use, not restraint (as the “pure” have decreed), develops the nerves, capillaries and muscles of the sexual organs precisely as it does those of other organs and that what we call sins and perversions are as ubiquitous as what we call normal sex acts. He had made an ass of the law and a fool of the church and held up an odious society in such a light that its heathen taboos and wholehearted hypocrisies were at long last more visible than the foul rags covering them.

I had seen, that winter, numbers of men relieved (and not always bothering to hide the fact) by the realization that some homosexual experience in their past was not a blot upon their lives without precedent or parallel. And I had seen other numbers of men—older men—stare back at the bereavement of their youth, hating themselves for that which barbaric fear (translated as noble character) had prevented them from doing, knowing, sensing, or enjoying. Often, these had turned their irreversible disappointment into a mockery of Kinsey, thus exposing the near-vacuum in which they had endured their decades—without being aware of the exposure. Americans are not mature enough, intelligent[Pg 18] enough, discerning or well enough educated to learn from psychology; but it is evident they are, in many cases, of an adequate spiritual development to learn from a Rockefeller-endorsed zoologist.

It didn’t matter to me where the facts came from—so long as people began to perceive they were facts—facts that made a far truer picture of man and sex than all the utterances of priests, preachers, legislators, and other sick-minded slobs put together.

We behave sexually like other mammals—apes, horses, dogs. Centuries of suppression alter us not a jot. It is a sterling proof that instinct, not vanity-calling-itself-reason, is our guide. It is the hardest blow yet struck against the bishops. In our time, they and their sickly minions will prevail. But after us, and them, some decent men may rise in the debris and put to a proper use what we all know and nearly all deny….

She was reading the Kinsey Report.

“What for?” I asked.

The question startled her, although the introduction itself did not. She was obliged to feign a social surprise. Her inward gray eyes met mine and moved away. She drew part of an annoyed breath. She shut the book. She made up her mind to say, “I beg your pardon. Were you speaking to me?”

She had a musical voice, pitched low but not husky.

“I wondered why you were reading the Kinsey Report so avidly—and my curiosity started talking. I usually do ask people things, when I want to know. It’s discourteous. But sometimes they tell me.”

That made her smile a little. “You might be asking quite a question.”

“Any question is quite a question. If I merely asked you how to get to Fifth Avenue, you would be telling me, in answering, where to take my life. I might be run over, doing it. I might get into a street fight. Or meet a blonde. If I asked you why you’ve been crying so much—that would be[Pg 19] quite a question, too. If I were a woman, I might ask, simply—what you wore under what, and where you bought it. The answer to that one would describe dozens of your attitudes toward dozens of important matters.”

She didn’t say anything. If she nodded, it was the smallest of her nods. She twirled her cocktail glass, sipped the last of the amber drink, and returned to her reading.

She wanted me to know that she didn’t flirt. I expressed my apperception by ordering lemon pie, which I didn’t want, and coffee, which I did—and further, by leaving my table and the restaurant while my place was being cleared and my dessert brought. I went across the hot street to the newsstand and bought Time magazine—which I used to read for information and read now to keep abreast of the Biases—and the Telegram. When I came back to the bar I found the girl had also ordered coffee—and brandy. That settled it.

“My name,” I said immediately, “is Philip Wylie. I’m a writer. The waiters will vouch for me. I live here.”

The strain left her eyes and they widened slightly. “I’ve read lots of things you’ve written! For heaven’s sake!”

Most Americans who get around have read lots of the things I’ve written. This is a great instant advantage—though often a present handicap—in picking up strangers. They are at first agreeably surprised; but they generally expect writers to “be like” the characters in their books—from God alone knows what an abysmal lack of imagination—and are therefore eventually disappointed.

Since I said nothing, she went on, “You’re the author who hates women!” There was shine in her eyes, then—challenge—amusement. Spite, too.

“Only moms,” I answered. “And not ‘hate’—deplore.”

“And Cinderellas, too!”

“Oh, yes. I’d forgotten the Cinderellas. I deplore them, also.”

“Maybe I’m one.”

[Pg 20]

“A superior specimen—if true.” I am semigallant.

“What made you hate women so violently? Did your mother beat you? And why do you blame everything that goes wrong on women?” Two hard lines showed the muscles around her teeth. “Don’t you realize that for everything you’ve written against women—you could say the same—and a hundred times as much—against men?”

“Lookie,” I said. “Many years ago, when I was younger and foolish, I wrote a book about a few of the more conspicuous and lethal flaws in our fair nation. The book was some three hundred and seventy pages long. I devoted all but about twenty pages to the calamitous follies of males. Men, as you call them. But I did, for some twenty pages of light blast, violate the ironclad altar of femininity and point out mom’s big mouth and little brain, her puffed crop and shaky pins. A few things. I hardly thought I had loaded the dice—inasmuch as half the people are female and I gave females only about a fifteenth of my slightly caustic attention. But ever since that book came out, almost every woman I’ve met has accused me of outrageously laying the blame for a manifestly hell-bound society on females. In the first place, this is not true. In the second place, such statements—the hundreds I’ve collected—tend to show that American women positively refuse to take any blame for anything whatever. They have no conscience and no sense of responsibility. They believe themselves to be as spotless as United States senators say they are, in campaign orations. They lack the capacity for admitting guilt. They are nearly all—I have thus found—psychologically far, far, far more destitute than I claimed only certain kinds of them to be.”

She laughed. “You’re still mad! Someday you’ll break down and write a wonderful novel about the woman who really poisoned you against them all.”

“I’ll break down,” I agreed. “But I’ll never write the novel! One reason is—there’s no such novel. Women have always been good to me—with a few exceptions I can tolerate.[Pg 21] Women have made love to me and they have been generous with me, and taught me, and they have been sensitive toward me. My daughter—who is sixteen—adores me. My first wife tried every combination she could think of to make me happy—and put up with me for ten years, when I was a drunkard. My second wife has gone even further. Past ten years—for one thing. And I quit drinking altogether, after we’d been married for a while. I—to repeat the most readily understandable expression—adore her. And I adore my daughter. I adore women, as a matter of fact. Such vexation as I have shown represented an aspect of that reverence: a good many women are fundamentally disappointing to anybody who cares much for women. And I resent the general damage such women do. A man”—I looked at her as loftily as I could—”has a curious faculty for resenting human sabotage even when he is not, himself, directly involved in the matter. A woman, as a rule, sees harm in the ruinous excursion of a nitwit only if she sees it as a real or potential menace to herself, loved ones, and assigns. It is a comfortingly personal outlook toward which I am hotly antipathetic.”

“You talk like your books,” she said.

“Why not? I wrote the damned things!”

She poured her brandy into her coffee and drank a little.

“Men,” I went on, “in this century, are deeply imbued with just that personal, feminine attitude. They refuse to meddle with evils that do not immediately threaten them. They have sold out their duty toward the whole species, for local, temporal advantages. They no longer live lives but merely cadge existences. If a guy is successful and well fixed, the ordinary American does not and cannot see that he has the reason or the right—let alone the need!—to take a dim view of anything on earth.” I picked up my copy of Time magazine and waved it at her. “Whenever one of my morally indignant volumes appears, this self-righteous periodical, for[Pg 22] instance, usually begins its reviews by saying that I own a palatial residence in Florida, earn big money writing commendable hack stories for the magazines, fish all the time, and yet—blackguard!—I have the gall to gripe! The inference is that I am a lunatic. Indeed, it has become more than an inference. This carburetor of the news called my latest effort a ‘whiff into midnight.’ Who is nearer the witching hour—the well-heeled gent who still sees imperfections in the planet and says so or the editor who unconsciously imagines that prosperity and criticism are incongruent? That is the Ivy League philosophy—suitable to cover the ruins it soon will bring about.”

“You’re mad at Clare Luce,” the girl said.

“There you go! Personal again! See here, ma’am. A man can get as intense feelings from statistical tables as a woman can from Sinatra’s brow wave. Vital statistics give them to me. I had such sensations when, after the publication of the Smythe Report, I pensively ran over the Periodic Table. Many other charts and graphs deeply affect me. I hardly know Clare Luce. I had cocktails with her once—though. Very attractive. Very—not bright—ardent. That’s the important thing in women, too. We disagreed about everything we discussed. But a woman who enters the field of ideas is obliged, naturally, to follow some man or men. Women have never left any ideas around for men or women to follow. Clare said she follows Monseigneur Fulton Sheen—another glitteringly ardent soul. I’m not mad at Clare Luce. In my situation I find it impossible to be mad at anybody on earth. And it was generally difficult for me, even before now.”

“What’s happened that made you change?”

“God has sent for me,” I said sarcastically.

“You mean—you’ve been converted?”

“If I am ever converted—in the common sense—it will be the hard way: posthumously and in the Presence. No. The change in me, what little I have so far discovered,[Pg 23] probably comes from atrophy. The peace and mellowness that men mistake for wisdom—that is in fact the result of calcium deposits, excess urea in the cells, and so on.”

“You’re forty!”

“And you’re twenty—instead of twenty-six.”

“You don’t look it.”

“You do. And as you well know, it’s a damn good age for a woman to look.”

She thought awhile. “You meet a lot of woman.”

“I meet a few.”

“Famous ones, I mean. What’s your wife like? Blonde? Brunette?”

“You know a movie actress named Maureen O’Sullivan?”

She nodded.

“Ricky—my wife—gets mistaken for her. We go into night clubs and sometimes they give us a swell table and people begin asking each other who the hell I am—thinking they’ve identified Ricky.”

“She’s sweet—Miss O’Sullivan.”

“Ricky is, too.”

“Who’s the most beautiful one you ever met?”

“The most beautiful one—I never met. Hedy Lamarr.”

“You could, though. Celebrities can meet each other.”

“I’m only about a Class D celebrity.”

“Suppose—?” She eyed me speculatively. “Suppose some glamorous dame and you met. Suppose you got a yen for her? What would you do?”

“God knows.”

“I’m serious. After all, you’ve written enough articles and books and stories about it. Do you mean what you say? Or are you just trying to be sensational?”

“Would I, in other words, after meeting the gorgeous Miss or Mrs. So-and-so, invite her to take a long drive in the country—or to picnic on a beach—to look at etchings? Would I, personally? I might. Sure.”

[Pg 24]

“What would Mrs. Wylie say?” The gray eyes were troubled—perhaps afraid.

“Maybe nothing. She would never hear of it. Does marriage have to end privacy entirely—every hour of it in a life? If she did hear—she might still say nothing. She might laugh at me. She might be hurt. She might be angry. It would depend on her mood at the moment.”

“Her mood just at the moment!”

“Sure.”

“Isn’t that—pretty”—she sought a term—”unstable?”

“Extremely stable. It would show that she regarded what we have been led to call infidelity a matter of so superficial a nature as to be colored by a superficial mood. This, in turn, would indicate that her more profound attitude toward me—and my feelings for her—was unshaken. Stable, as you would say. If, on the other hand, I knew she would have only one, single conceivable reaction—whether noncommittal or aggrieved—I could be certain that her feelings for me, and her deepest sense of my feelings, had become absolutist, rigid, probably dominating and demanding, certainly doctrinaire. I could deduce that she was in a most unstable situation—since people resort to the projection of absolutes on other people only when they are torn by uncertainty of themselves. Notice this in religions. The absolutes are defined to a hair—with different sorts of steeples, doorways, fonts and crucifixes marking infinitesimal splits over dogma—but with no commensurate variation in the effect on human conduct whatever. Is a Baptist nobler than a Methodist? Kinder? Wiser? No. So the different absolutes of both, seen detachedly, represent nothing more than the uncertainty, instability, self-doubt, inconfidence, distrust, and lack of magnanimity of both. Their passion to lay down the law, taken with the minuscule variants that ensue, is proof that Christians have no stability whatever. Sex follows the same rule—and so does everything else.”

“I would have been furious, though.”

[Pg 25]

She referred, still, to my hypothetical infidelity. And her reference was interesting. Without thinking, she had used the past perfect subjunctive. If, that is to say, her husband—the apparent supplier of the opulent rings—had trifled with a strange brunette at some lodge convention, this young lady’s reaction would have been fury. It apparently would not be, now. The assured presumption was, therefore, a rift between herself and her spouse. Coupled with her way of drinking cocktails while eating a sandwich, the brandy in her coffee, her reading matter, and, particularly, the blur of suffering I had seen in her eyes, this presumption led to further inference: the rift was recent and she was in flight from it, while yet attempting to understand its causes.

She was, that is to say, no habitual Martini drinker; these do not mix their cocktails with their viands. She was reading Kinsey not from the starved cupidity of hundreds of thousands of other women (for if she had been even that uninhibited she would have read it sooner) but in the effort to discover something. She was drinking not to drown her sorrow but to take away its edge: she had mixed her latest drink with the antidote of coffee. And, inasmuch as I had never seen her with her husband at the Astolat, it was a good guess, at least, that she was here as part of an act of abandonment rather than as a result of being abandoned by him. Her accent was vaguely eastern—but eastern rubbed against, and somewhat eradicated by, the flatter tones of the West. Like numberless other such women, she had fled to New York for refuge—and from a considerable distance. Texas, perhaps, or Arizona. And probably she had lived in Manhattan before now: the Knight’s Bar was unknown to tourists—with the exception of Europeans visiting America.

“You would have been furious,” I finally said. “Think that over. Here we are, engaged in a favorite national pastime—imagining flirtations with handsome persons in the public eye. I often reflect that picture stars—male and fe[Pg 26]male—are lucky to have so little imagination, on the average. If you can kill a person by sticking pins into a statue of him—which you cannot, unless he believes it—think of the possible result on a star of the lurid, lewd fantasies poured upon his photographs, or hers, by millions and millions of people. Grant any validity in the pin-sticking process and you have, in the photo-doting parallel, a curious possible explanation of what the press knows as Hollywood high jinks. Psychogenic. The effect, on the poor individual, of mass assault, mob lechery. But skip all that. The point I want to make is this: some ladies we have hypothesized are married. You can see yourself as enraged, if any husband of yours had his head turned—to continue the euphemisms—by one such. But it does not seem to occur to you that any possible husbands of the ladies also might feel themselves involved in the matter—and even experience traces of pain?”

“Men!” she said. “Why should anyone care what they feel?”

“O-h-h-h, because they’re so plentiful.”

She smiled a little—and poured plain coffee. “You haven’t asked me my name.”

“Naturally.”

“Naturally?”

“You’ve been wondering when I would. In such a case, the obvious thing to do is to let a girl go on wondering. Besides—my inquisitiveness is never casual. It might be a convenience to know your name. But very little else. A clue, maybe, to the good taste of your parents—or lack of it—and to the national strain of your husband’s paternal line.”

“It’s Yvonne Prentiss.”

“See what I mean? A handy—but otherwise irrelevant fact.”

She laughed. “Do you live here?”

“I’m staying here—on the sixteenth floor. For a few days.”

“I am, too.”

[Pg 27]

“You got mad at Mr. Prentiss,” I said then, “and fled from your sprawling mansion out in the golden West to the sidewalks of New York—familiar to you in your girlhood. Your problem was not ‘other women’—so what was it? Neglect? Brutality? Obsession? Bestiality? Stamp collecting? What?”

Her eyes filled with tears.

Just then, Fred came by. He’s a waiter I know pretty well. “Look, Fred,” I said, “I’ve made her cry. Bring another brandy.”

She was struggling. “Shouldn’t it be a beer?”

“If you go on crying.”

“I really don’t want another drink—”

“Then bring her some ice cream.”

“—but I’ll have one more.” Fred nodded and went. “How did you know all that?”

I told her.

“It’s Pasadena,” she said. She shivered a little.

So I talked. “Pasadena. How well I know it! Caltech, where people think the troubles of the world began. The peeling eucalyptus trees and the long shadows on the long sidewalk. Way back in the dear, dead beryllium days—”

“I haven’t the faintest idea what you mean!”

“Dr. Einstein,” I said, “walking around under his hair. Thinking so hard he never noticed the earthquake. It was the spring of nineteen-thirty-three. Perhaps I should explain that, in those days, when they wanted to split an atom, they generally used beryllium. A common element—half as heavy as aluminum and twice as strong—but difficult to recover. Poor Dr. E! Like all the reasonable men, seemingly he cannot perceive that what he thinks of as irrational is the force that governs human destiny! He assumes it’s just a matter of enlightening the politicians. The deification of reason—the worship of common logic—cuts off human personality from natural truth exactly as idolatry destroys the faculty of rational analysis. And for the same reason. The intellectual[Pg 28] paragon is as blind as any pagan—in the opposite direction. But we were talking about Pasadena—”

“Vaguely,” she said.

“I’ll be more explicit, then. I was working for Paramount in that blessed era when nothing upset the world worse than a depression. A curable malady—that. Anyhow, I had a producer who lived in Pasadena. A big, reddish house on one of those irrigated buttocks that grow out of the lower mountains. Completely surrounded by thornbushes—except for the entrance gate. The first time I went there was Sunday—a nine A.M. conference—and my producer’s butler served highballs right away to myself and the other writers. I shall never forget it—or ever recall a word that we said there that day. I was an animal-horror man, at the time—”

“A what?”

“Animal-horror man. That’s what the studio boss called me. In fact, he said I was pretty young to be an animal-horror man, the first time we met.”

She drank some of her brandy and then did a disturbing thing.

She took her pale, wavy hair in both hands and bent it back up over her head so that the curly ends fell everywhere around her face. When she did it, she looked at me in a certain way. We were both supposed to understand the gesture perfectly—and not to notice it at all. Wild horses weren’t supposed to be able to drag out of us an admission of what it meant.

“Those were not only the beryllium days, but the days of animal pictures and horror pictures. Frank Buck and Osa Johnson and Tarzan. Frankenstein. Paramount was trying to combine the grisliest features of all of them. They were making Wells’s Island of Dr. Moreau—for instance. And I was doing some of the writing. Hence I was an animal-horror man—and young for it, too. Precociously animalistic and horrible. Remember? Cobras fought mongooses? Tigers fought pythons and other unnatural antagonists? Zebus[Pg 29] fought gnus? My producer wanted to throw a half dozen lions into a school of big sharks—and get some red-hot close shots of the fights that would then ensue. That—I stopped. Even we ogres draw the line somewhere—and I know a good deal about sharks. The lions, if you once got the sharks hitting them, would not be fighting, as my producer imagined, but dying by mouthfuls.”

“How awful!”

“Pasadena, it was,” I reminded her. “Another conference at that big house amongst the thorns. I know the place like a book. I know the spirit of the place. You lived there?”

She stared at the room, empty now of all but waiters and two or three pairs of murmuring people. Full, however, of Musak. Light operettas.

“Somehow it’s easier to talk to strangers,” she said, “than to people you’ve known all your life.”

“Of course!” I replied in sober agreement—although I thought the idea was rubbish.

“And besides,” she went on, immediately contradicting herself, “I’ve read your articles and books and I feel as if I knew you better than you knew yourself.”

Unlikely, I figured. But this was important to her, so I nodded. “Maybe you do—in some ways.”

She had shown a certain economy of speech—owing possibly to the fact that I had given her little opportunity to show anything else. But her biography was fairly terse:

“I was born in Boston—and the family moved here when I was a baby. My dad graduated from Princeton in 1921. He’s a very intelligent, strong-willed, wonderful guy. My mother’s a chronic invalid—of her own making. I have one sister—older—and no brothers. I’m very fond of my sister—but I was always jealous of her when I was young. Dad tried to make her a substitute for a son—took her everywhere, taught her sports and games—and I wanted to be the one. She’s married and lives in Chicago. I went to school in Westchester—Rosehall—and came out here. At a[Pg 30] mass début. Dad’s in real estate. After I came out, I fiddled around awhile—Junior League, and Red Cross, and Bar Harbor in the summers—and then I met Rol.”

She took a breath that quavered like a musical saw. “He’s handsome. He has manners—buckets and barrels of manners. And money.” She looked angrily at her rings. “I tried to make something out of him. To put ambition in him. I got him to work for dad—and he quit. He wanted to go to California because he likes flowers. My God, how he likes flowers! We had greenhouses full. He thought he could become a botanist—or hybridize something—and he dawdled away his time with paintbrushes and pollen. I persuaded him to go into real estate out there—and he made a lot more money—but he gave it up. He began collecting a library of old books on botany—and writing a history of botany—and I was bottled up in botany. It got so he would hardly even dress up. Or shave. Overalls all day. I’d want to go places and see people and do things—and we’d be home, instead, with some French professor, maybe, for dinner, complete with beard, accent, ribboned glasses, and knee-patting under the table. Half the time, these professors and Rol—for Roland—talked Latin. I flunked it, three straight semesters, myself. Well—I took to going out alone—and he didn’t care. I even tried to make him jealous—and he positively seemed to approve. He told me I needed outside interests and that he was a dull fellow for me! I—” She bit her lip.

“—love the guy.”

“Not now. I did. What finally happened was—”

“Should I get that beer ready?”

She shook her head. For a while she was silent. Then she touched the book. “I heard—I knew—I suppose I shouldn’t even have been surprised—let alone driven out of my mind—but there’s so much that’s nice about him. Used to be, anyhow. Too nice—and that should have prepared me—”

[Pg 31]

I got it, then. “Not—other women, Yvonne. Men, huh?”

She shuddered. You don’t see people shudder very often—in restaurants, anyway. She shuddered because that was how it made her feel. She couldn’t help it. And when the spasm passed, her hands went on trembling—like glassware vibrating after a certain right note has been struck. “He hired an assistant—a young college graduate—that I liked, at first. Then—one day—I got so bored and lonely I went into the greenhouses, which I hated, looking for them. And I found them, all right.”

She began to cry again—and to talk through the tears. “It was only—two weeks ago. Rol was dreadfully upset. He promised—everything on earth he could think of. And I stayed a week more—but it was simply too awful. I finally bought tickets. I—I don’t like living at home—mother’s such a sobby mess all the time. I wanted to see dad—and of course he was about ready to go out and kill Rol. Somebody—somebody—” her voice sank—”told me that if I read the Kinsey Report I’d see that what happened to Rol happened to maybe a third of the men like Rol. I guess it does. What difference does that make?”

Children, I thought. No. Not even children. Children is just what they weren’t—just what they’d never been—or just what, if they’d ever been, they refused to let themselves remember. These angel-pusses, growing up everywhere in America, psychologically hamstrung or maybe wingstrung in their cribs. Turned into demons by their right-thinking, practical, realistic, common-sense, hard-headed fathers and mothers. Marrying, in no better condition for marriage than nuns and eunuchs. Phooie.

I slid my wrist in my cuff. It was after three. “Yvonne,” I said, “are you busy tonight?”

“I was going to have dinner with dad—as usual. He bucks me up.”

“Maybe you could do with a substitute bucker-upper, for a change.”

[Pg 32]

“Dad told me I ought to go out—call up old friends—”

“The hell with what dad told you. And I haven’t asked you, yet. I’m fussy, myself. Can you dance?”

She nodded.

“Rumba?”

“Rol was a swell dancer. And we used to have a teacher come to the house—in the days before he lost interest in—me.”

“Well, I’ll pick you up, around eight. The valet keeps my dinner things here—so put on a long dress.”

“I don’t need to be rescued, Mr. Wylie. It’s sweet of you. But I’d detest to go out feeling as if I was the object of a missionary project.”

“Then think of yourself as a missionary to me. I have no date. And I am very uninterested in spending this particular evening alone.”

“Why?”

“Because I’m a writer. I put my heart and brain and libido into the composition of gay, mad, happy stories. Then I have to pay for it—in compensatory funk. Nothing psychological is free. The illusion that it is amounts merely to a passing human fancy—about fifty thousand years old. Surely you’re familiar with the fact that humorous authors are melancholy babies, in the flesh? Well, I just miss being a humorous author—so I just miss being a one hundred per cent sourball.”

“What are you going to do now?”

“That’s a very possessive question,” I said, “in view of the shortness of our acquaintance. However, I am going to cut a serial from two hundred and eighteen pages to one hundred and seventy-eight pages.”

“Exactly?”

“Well—within a few lines. And not just this afternoon. It takes days. My wife is up in the country. We were having the house repapered and repainted. Every time I found a quiet corner and started to cut bleeding syllables from my precious prose, some damned craftsman with a mustache like[Pg 33] a character in Midsummer Night’s Dream spilled paste on my back. So, finally, I scrammed down here. If my wife had known I would have to put in more days on the serial—she’d have postponed the rural clowns. But, not knowing, and with artisans so touchy about their schedules—”

“Don’t tell me!” she exclaimed. “We just had the house in Pasadena done over!” Her eyes faded. “For what?” She murked about inside herself briefly. “I’d like very much to go out with you—if you really want me to. On one condition.”

“I know.”

She turned quickly, unbelievingly. “You do not!”

“Bet?”

“Bet you flowers for me tonight.”

“Generous wager, I must say. Indecently feminine! Okay. Promise to admit it—if I have the right answer? No hedging?”

“Promise.”

“You’ll go out—on condition I won’t make a pass at you.”

She flushed a faint peach color. “I thought you were going to guess I wanted to go Dutch.”

“I know you did.”

“How?”

“I know how women think, as they term it.”

“You’re right, though.”

I picked up her check and signed it and signed my own and signed the two sets of bar checks and gave Fred—who was loitering about in the background with overt patience—a sound tip.

“Buy yourself,” I said to her, “some dandy flowers. I like gardenias. I hate orchid-colored orchids. On second thought, if flowers remind you of Roland—”

“He never grew them to wear—or for bouquets. Just to breed.”

“See you. And thanks for the indiscreet lunch.”

[Pg 34]

3

It was, as they say, sweltering in my suite. Sweltering, like every term, is comparative and relative and also tentative. I like to swelter, as a rule. To work stripped and sweating, with a vasomotor system engaged in cooling me, rather than the opposite, which others prefer—a pumping system busy stoking the body against cold air. This—like most events and experiences—is more a matter of mental climate than physical. Such attitudes are self-taught, people-taught, or environment-taught.

One’s frontal lobes are liable—unless trained in every particular at autocriticism—to hypnotize the rest of the brain into compliance with the ego’s demand. Suggestion rises at some spot in the throbbing cerebral tissues, or from without, and is snatched up by the cortex to be delivered back as ultimate gospel to the whole human establishment: great balance of the brain and all the instincts in it, spinal cord, nerves, organs and muscles. These, then, like a converted Christian, are compelled by one fallible new layer of the organism to adjust to the command. When the whole man cannot, the cortex founders in neurosis or psychosis. Usually, however, the adjustment, farfetched or absurd though it may be, is sufficient so that the mechanism goes on with at least a semblance of effectiveness. Its nutty operator is allowed to live; people aren’t very critical—or even observant.

Only in human aggregates is the effectiveness shown to be mere semblance. Men seen locally in time and space appear purposeful enough, reasonable, even charitable. Seen whole, they are clearly insane. And only one in a thousand sees that this collective madness is but the sum of little acts of hypnosis performed by his own cortex on his whole man.

Thus, in trifling example, where you might have been sweltering, I was sweating without psychic trauma. You may[Pg 35] have taught yourself, been taught, or may have decided from observation that ninety degrees is an insufferable temperature. I have concluded it is pleasant. My constitution is no different from yours. The concept of thin blood is mythical—mine, indeed, is probably “thicker” than yours, for it contains a very high number of red cells. But the opinion my cortex holds of hot weather permits the rest of me to function in a hot room without the added burden of psychic pain. Your synthetic dread of hot weather may send you rushing to the seaside, where you then spend the day in a sun temperature of a hundred and twenty-five. You burn your skin. Or you exhaust yourself getting to the top of a mountain—where the unfamiliar and unseasonable coolness sets you sneezing with a cold.

I have observed that millions of people who are obliged to live in temperatures of ninety seem to do so with tranquillity and this is the message my cortex has delivered, not as gospel—not as the authority for a trance—but as submitted opinion. I have sent my brains the opposite message, in North Dakota, in the winter, with similarly good result.

The latitudes of tolerance are immense. The uses people make of them are meager. They pant too much on hot days, shiver too much on cold. About God and science, sex and business, they have hypnotized themselves to the great benefit, they think, of that bright, running dot of conscious vanity called “I.” Even asleep, they finally hear little but the repetition of their own opinion. It becomes the one voice on earth—God’s, of course.

The point here is—I liked the warm day.

But liking is another poor, irrelevant expression. What did it matter, now, whether I liked, disliked, or snored with apathy?

The elevator gnashed its teeth.

I entered the green-walled room and took off all my clothes but my shorts. I unpacked the typewriter-paper box that held the pages of my serial. I set up a card table and[Pg 36] put my portable machine on a corner of it. I gathered up cigarettes, an ashtray, Kleenex for my spectacles, pencils, and my pen.

I had used the soft hair, high breasts and haunted eyes of—of what in hell was her name?—Yvonne Prentiss—as a barricade. Now, it dissipated. The sad look in her eyes was gone; her smile, like the Cheshire Cat’s—that was gone. And the Ghoul came out from where it had been.

I had expected it would.

I said hello to the Ghoul.

I knew the bastard.

George T. Death.

The analgesia was absorbing, or it had been absorbed. My throat felt as if a tack were stuck in it. A stinging sensation—hardly noticeable (to the properly-hypnotizing cortex). One could scarcely expect a lavish use of clinical techniques for blocking off the mere prick of a biopsy. Still—it would be inconvenient to be reminded by my own flesh, prematurely, of what it had fallen heir to. There was stir enough in my gray matter on the topic, already; no additional goad was needed.

We death-dreaders—we victims of the marvels of science—souped up to the last ganglion by every advertisement, billboard, radio commercial, lecture, and editorial—by damned near every syllable we read or hear—to live to enjoy things (rather than to stand ready to die for the sake of ideas) are poorly prepared for carcinoma—for whatever your equivalent may be.

Or—was I afraid, not so much of dying as of the manner?

Get busy, I said to myself; you’ll have plenty of time to savor these notions.

Or—was I even afraid? Shocked, rather?

Work.

There’s the drug you need, boy.

I lay back on the divan, smoking.

[Pg 37]

George T. Death. I knew him of old.

In several guises.

I remembered the year I was ten, the year I had appendicitis, then peritonitis, then general blood poisoning. Sometimes, at night, the pain of my body, the pain of my tube-filled, pus-lathered guts will come back to me. And the smell. The fever. The thirst. They didn’t believe in giving you liquids, then—not any—and I know what it’s like to be on the Sahara without a drop to drink—and your viscera opened up, in the bargain.

I know.

Father came to the hospital during one of the spells of consciousness. His eyes were desperately gentle. “How’s the fight, son?”

“Am I going to die?”

“You’re pretty sick, son.”

I laughed a little with my curdled belly. Too soon to answer, You’re telling me. Nineteen-twelve. That was what I meant.

“But—will I die?”

His tender passion became tenderer still. “Would you be afraid to, son?”

“No.”

“Do you believe in God?”

“Of course.”

“Want to live—still?”

Still, he had said. He could see—what I could only feel.

“Yes.”

“Then—fight.”

That time I looked right smack into George T. Death’s eye sockets and fought. But I was a kid then—and kids are brave if they have brave parents.

In some ways, my father is the bravest man I’ve ever known; in others, a coward. Who’s different?

Who’s different without being more coward?

There was the time in Warsaw.

[Pg 38]

My half brother Ted and I had finished our tour of Russia and come shaken across the Polish frontier—like two unconvinced readers of Dante who had gone there ourselves to be sure which part was poetry and which was accurate reporting. We found out. Our Dante was a good journalist.

In Tiflis, after too much vodka, in the biggest, best restaurant where the rats were so bold they would sit under your table and nibble your crumbs and run off a little way if you took the trouble to skid your feet at them—in Tiflis, where every kind of man goes by on the street, Negro and Turk, redhead and ash-blond, because every kind of man has poured through the Caucasus for thousands of years on the way to conquer Europe or the way back in conquest of Asia—in purple-walled Tiflis where the archeological strata are as clear as the story of the stones in a cross-cut syncline and bare human feet have drilled deep paths in the rock floor of the old Roman baths—in Tiflis where Persians still sit cross-legged on tables and play what Ted called snake-charmer music on bulbous pipes—we talked too much.

We drank too much and talked too much—to a dozen tourists who sat about the big table, waiting for their late dinner—waiting an hour or two, as you do in Russia. Tourists who, for the most part, had come from France, Germany, England, and the United States so pre-entranced with communism, so ignorant of farming and industrial process, so self-blinded to horror and despair as to imagine, even after seeing some of it, that the Soviet Experiment offered hope to any man. Not being blind—being noncommittal at the outset—we had seen better.

Wait till we get home, Ted and I told them.

We’ll put the truth in America’s magazines.

Police state. Prison. Human abattoir. Endless steppes of horror. Perversion of the mind. Destruction of the spirit. A factory of torture to keep the factories running. Hunger and helpless hatred. Dirt.

The old, old, old abomination in new clothes: tyranny.

[Pg 39]

We’ll tell them.

It began, after that.

The GPU men everywhere we went—pretending they spoke no English and reddening when Ted and I blasphemed and insulted them in their hearing. The trip to the tea plantation in Batum—on a bus that deposited its other passengers and started up a series of hairpin turns—with a driver and Ted and myself on board. The slide—the driver jumping out. Ted and I jumped, too—but the bus didn’t go over the cliff. It merely caught on the edge and hung there. (Was the driver chagrined because it failed to go over—or because we jumped also—or because he had steered so incompetently? How could you tell?)

Odessa.

The bartender offered us a bottle of Scotch—the first we’d seen in the long, grim way from Leningrad. We drank some and gave the rest away. And took the night train for Shepatovka, exulting in the thought that we would never see the UCCP again, come the morrow.

There was no water on the train.

All night, we turned on the hard boards.

In the blazing forenoon our car was shunted onto a siding and the Red Army soldiers—its only other occupants—marched away. Nothing was in sight but the sparse wheat of the Ukraine and its scalding mirages. We waited—with our thirst. Hung-over, desperate. Another train finally picked up our car and we went on—at the galling pace of communist transportation.

I found the carafe of water in the toilet—where no water had been before. Recklessly, tremblingly, we drank it—equally dividing the thankful drops. And late that day, without further ado, we crossed the border to the relaxation, the seeming luxury, the comparative freedom of Poland.

It was some days later, in the Palace Polonia Hotel, in Warsaw, when I woke with the cramps in my belly and legs. With a climbing fever.

[Pg 40]

Time spun—hours commingled in the familiar wastes of pain. I knew belly-fire. I did not know my legs could hurt so hideously or curl up against my will. I lay vomiting, fainting, crawling to the bathroom and there, too weak to lift myself, pouring out rice water. Areas of my skin turned purple.

Ted, untouched by an affliction neither of us recognized, took care of me. On the fourth day he brought a doctor and a nurse. On the fifth, I was briefly better.

That evening, on my insistence, he left me for the first time since I’d fallen sick.

He came back to the hotel alone, late, and sober—for he talked awhile with the concierge. He went to his room—beside the one where I lay ill—and opened the French windows, apparently to stare at Warsaw in the vermilion dawn. They found him on the sidewalk five floors below—dead.

When the consul came to see me, and the pleasant young men from the embassy, we were unable to make out what had happened. Had he stepped too far out? Climbed up on the roof for a better view? Had the concierge mistaken his condition and had he lost his balance? Jumped? Or had he been pushed—in the fashion of political assassins who pursue their foes into other nations so as to conceal their bloody reach?

We can never know.

The embassy and the consulate thought he was murdered.

And when I told Tom, my friend and doctor, the step-by-step progress of the first phase of my sudden sickness—when I remembered the thirst and the miraculous appearance of a carafe of water—Tom said, “I think you had cholera. It could have been in the water. Some people are immune to it. Maybe Ted was.”

Maybe.

[Pg 41]

He was not immune to a five-story fall onto a cement sidewalk.

What matter?

Ted was dead.

I sent the cables.

And the second phase of my illness began. The swelling joints, the atrophy of muscles, the inflammation of nerves, the—why go into it? They sent to the largest institute for the best specialist in whatever this sequel might be.

And there was G.T. Death again.

The specialist seemed seven feet tall—a skinny man—who wore such a mustache as only the Poles can grow. He sat on my bed after the torturesome examination and told me about it, in French.

“I am afraid, my American friend, that I have bad news for you. You are a man. You will want the truth. It is a progressive malady. Your foot—your arm—already crippled. When it reaches the heart—”

He went away.

My nurse wept.

Ted was the one we counted on to be the great man. The strong, the good-humored, the precocious, the gifted, the good, the young Paul Bunyan of the family. Dead.

And now I had a turn at it.

I, the elder brother.

I, who had taken Ted on his first trip abroad.

I, who had led him to miserable accident, to foul execution, or to horrible impulse—bred, perhaps, in the vile durances of the vast nation we had traversed.

Abrupt hate of life.

I lay in that hotel bedroom—they had told me that a Warsaw hospital was to be avoided—and rehearsed the placid, polite syllables of the specialist.

He had been interested, as one foreigner inspecting another, to observe reactions.

I had therefore been careful to exhibit none.

[Pg 42]

Alone, I could react.

As now, I thought of my wife and my daughter and the insurance and the banks.

And having finished with that, I turned to rue.

Feeble fool. Wretched clot!

How little of what you felt and thought did you take the trouble to express!

When your corpse follows your brother’s to the crematory in Gdynia, what epitaph?

Here lies a minor author—an excessive curiosity and a penchant for investigation—who never bothered to write up his reports.

So every artist and would-be artist makes this same phrase.

I knew: I never got it said.

Isn’t it true of you, also?

Didn’t you know—and weren’t you always on the verge of saying so—when you had to go to the movies, lunch, the bathroom, bed, or the jute mill in quest of new shoes for baby?

Yanh-yanh.

Each generation learns enough too late to pass it to the next, for when the learning’s accomplished the newcomers have always been educated ahead of the achievement—in ignorance.

So when will cradles be rocked by wise men and good women?

They never know it will take a thousand years, and perhaps a thousand times a thousand years; they think it will be tomorrow; that is the trouble with them—it is the trouble with them all.

I lay in the Palace Polonia, with the European cars blatting in the sacrificial street and the trains hooting across the moribund way and it vividly occurred to me that in a few more years Hitler’s men would blow down these corridors and blow up those cobblestones. I lay in Jericho.

[Pg 43]

I thought, finally, about a palm frond.

There was a day in Florida when, in a mood of black despair, I stretched out beside the sea with all the cabanas of the Roney Plaza and all the dollars lying round about, reciting to myself the abhorrent antics of my compatriots and my own repulsive participation. The beach boys laughed; the handsome harlots splashed; and the purple sea came meaninglessly ashore. My eye, tired of the drenched blue firmament, came to rest on the frond of a coconut. It was a young leaf, very green, and it glistened in the sun like lacquered metal.

While I regarded it, the leaf had a sudden meaning—the meaning of life and growth and Evolution. Not the idea—but the felt significance. (You would say, doctor, that some biochemical process completed itself in that instant—a change came in the endocrines. Or you, doctor, that the individual unit shares with the group the Toynbean shift-to-the-opposite—the yin-yang—and hence, sometimes, joy-through-funk.) Anyhow, I looked at the damned palm frond and a great peace came over me, followed by an excitement. I decided to leave the American scene and make a personal inquiry of Hitler’s Germany and Mr. Stalin’s Russia and to take my brother along.

I got up and said so. The purple sea also took back its meaning, then, and all its other meanings. And that was that.

I flew with gulls once more, skittered with flying fish, and bathed in the limpid, tepid surf with every sand flea.

That is what I remembered, exactly, in Warsaw where I lay dying, as usual.

Remembering, I determined to go back to that sea.

My shoulder was disjointed and full of slime. Certainly. My left leg was also paralyzed. I was ankylosed and calcified and atrophied. But of course. Agony—sic. What was left of me might be a stumblebum but the outside part could somewhat swim still and the inside part could fly.

[Pg 44]

My brother was dead.

There was work to do.

To hell with Dr. Jerkski, great man of the Institute.

I would frustrate every specialist in Poland.

Take up your bed and totter, Wylie.

It required a year for the doing—in Warsaw and Paris, Manhattan, Connecticut, and California.

Then I had entirely recovered.

Trauma excepted.

Now that is what I thought of in the space of time it took to smoke a cigarette on my divan at the Astolat—that, and several thousand more items.

That is why, so to speak, I had nodded courteously at the Ghoul.

He is always hanging around.

One has only to turn one’s head fast enough—and there he is.

Most people, by the cortico-schizoid mechanism I have described a few pages back, partition him off.

He is not behind me, they convince themselves.

But he is.

There are always exactly enough Ghouls to go round. Billions of people apply the blindfold technique in another way:

He is not a Ghoul, they say, but the God of Heaven.

The Eternal Grocer, who will dole out milk and honey forever.

The Great Conductor whose baton will direct my Everlasting Harp.

The Keeper on the Inexhaustible Preserves who will set infinite game before my arrow in the Happy Hunting.

Chairman of the Greens Committee of the Elysian Fields.

The Sublime Pander who will fit an houri to me on the hour, each hour, and I shall be the Paramour of Paradise.

The Universal Usher who will take the stub of my[Pg 45] ticket and lead me to my seat in the Reserved Section at the Right Hand.

What asinine measurements of man are furnished by his Heavens!

My own opinion of the Functions of the Ghoul is different, as I am gradually trying to imply here. And I am certain, furthermore, no one really believes, in his heart, that such heavens be. His mouth says it, his cortex confirms it, and his heart gives him the lie; so he has his Hell.

For how could Nature come to as tawdry an end as Heaven?

Even human nature?

I told the Ghoul, after this sweating, to get behind me, like Satan, while I cut my serial.

4

This is the way of it.

You take out an adjective here, an adverb there, a prepositional phrase yonder—and so gain a line.

You make the first mark on a tally sheet. When you have four marks set parallel, you cross them with the fifth. When you have a row of twenty-eight marks, you have removed one page. When you have forty of these, you have completed the task—provided they are distributed through the installments in such a fashion that each part will be tailored to the desired length.

It was a story of manners—a light thing, with a plot.

I had enjoyed writing it.

I did not enjoy the cutting.

Every syllable scratched out is likely to take away some quality of a character upon which a subsequent event will turn. It is necessary to remember to the last detail what is removed and what remains. The elimination of a noun in the first installment may reduce the impact of a scene in the last. The contraction of a scenic description may ruin the[Pg 46] comprehensibility of the hero’s actions later on in the tale. And, when the most careful economy has been achieved, the goal of decimation may still be at a distance so that the writer is obliged to select this situation, that dialogue, yonder tender scene, and recast the whole in briefer compass, the while omitting no cogent phrase or fact, however trifling.

It is a big puzzle and a hard job.

It took me, I should think, another quarter of an hour to stow away my Ghoul completely, divert attention from the prick in my throat, and become immersed in the running words.

My editors say I am a good professional.

And that, my liberal-intellectual critics add, is all: a capable hack.

O liberals.

O cognoscenti.

O critics.

I give you my death-wish—and the atom bomb for its consummation.

Why didn’t you study it sooner?

You copied into your literature whatever you saw on washroom walls—and little else—while brighter boys copied Bohr’s equations from blackboards.

Both were true.

Both were real.

One was old.

The other new.

And where are you tomorrow?

Anyway, as I was suggesting, I write for money, usually.

I enjoy it—the writing and the dough. If writing isn’t fun, I give it up. And I spend the money.

Here today and marlin fishing tomorrow.

Here today and at the couturiers with Ricky tomorrow.

Night club today and novelette tomorrow.

Serial today, book, movie, play.

Sarcophagous tomorrow.

[Pg 47]

I am at least one two-billion-three-hundred-millionth responsible for the contemporary world and bear the burden gamely. Why not take up my burden and follow me as I, too, follow? The burden of Light.

Or why not take up, better than I have, the same burden and improve upon my shambling progress?

I am the occasionally somewhat rich man who finds the Kingdom of Heaven at hand this day—and the next, discovers in his private concerns and small affluence that the door has narrowed down and his camel is balked by its load. The little acre I have dedicated stays where it is but wants, sometimes, for cultivation. I have sinned; that is why I understand sin. Men have made enough things for me to last fifty lifetimes; I have given them away for newer, more expedient things. Enough substance has been dug out of the earth and grown upon it and sold to me to support a tenementful of more intent philosophers. And I cannot compare myself favorably with other men: perhaps they lacked my environmental opportunities—a Princeton education, for instance—or a youth’s experience of Montclair, New Jersey. (What grim lessons!). If, furthermore, my assigns perish with the yuts and their barbarous impedimenta, they will have no reason to remember me kindly.

But these are my problems.

And these are your problems, too.

Do you repent at all?

Or ever act?

Or merely join another lunch club and boost your voice loose? What fagins brought you up?

Old Bob Durfree, editor of the magazine for which I’d written so many yarns about Cynthia Davis and Cynthia’s silly mother and Cynthia’s patient pop would welcome this one. My short stories, my serials, were a branded feature of Bob’s magazine. Struggling years! A hundred serials—froth composed of my blood and sweat and tears—were written for nothing. And then, at last, Success. Chimes in the mercantile[Pg 48] establishments! Fiesta for salesmen! Orgasms in banks! The Cynthia stories belonged more to Bob Durfree’s magazine than to me—and nearly as much to the taste of millions as to my taste, although I sometimes put spices in the meringue that offended the flaccid palate of Mrs. America and the lovely abscess she rears as a daughter.

At any rate, I poured it out on Bob Durfree’s yarn because of the dignities I have referred to—and in light scorn of those critics who can never tell if silver is alloyed in gold since they do not know what gold is. They will follow their wrong guesses into oblivion. Every time they cried Eureka another true prophet went flat on his face.

It was about five o’clock when my phone rang.

I was surprised it hadn’t rung sooner.

People are always calling me up. They want me to talk to Lions, Elk, Moose, and other quadrupeds. I never do. They want me to go on Information Please, or Town Hall, or Breakfast at Sardis. I never go. They want to know what boat to charter for a day’s fishing. I always tell them. They want to argue. Me, too.

I thought, friends, relatives. Max, maybe—my brother. I thought, We, the People, asking me to appear as a Voice.

“Sorry—I’m all booked up. Busy. Going to die in a few weeks. Yes—exactly. Keeps you jumping.”

“Phil! This is Paul! I’m down in the lobby!”

“Well, come up.” I gave him the room number.

Paul is the eldest of my nephews—twenty-five now, or perhaps only twenty-four. His last name’s Wilson. He is my older sister’s only son and he reminds me of myself at that age, sometimes. Gaunt and hectic—continually outraged by the course of human events and continually upset by his own doings as well as his failures to do. Erudite in many things. Phenomenally naïve, all but unteachable, in others. (Maybe I haven’t changed as much as I think.) And there is a difference between us of great magnitude. Where I was an interested but lazy mathematician, Paul is a genius; where I was[Pg 49] captivated by every discovery of every science and adept at none, Paul was captured in earliest childhood by physics. We are temperamentally alike, to some degree. But he concentrated and achieved where I dispersed my attention and mastered nothing. He has—as I have—the familial facility for expression; this is the common property of so many of my relations that when any of them turns out to be inarticulate he is regarded as a sport.

Paul’s mother, Georgianna Wylie, was such. Born two years before me, still more years before my brother, sister, half brother and half sister, and dispatched to an aunt after the death of my mother—which occurred when I was small—she was always a nebulous member of the family. A cumbersome, religious woman who wore plain-colored dresses—brown, as a rule—and rolled her hair in tight coils, like rusty screendoor springs. An introvert. She sang in the choir somewhere and studied for the missionary field. She never made it. Some remote Wylie cousin fell ill and Georgianna was drafted to take care of her. The illness turned chronic and young Georgianna’s assignment became penal servitude. She spent twenty years or so as a peon in a prairie village that straddled a State border. What was never bloom, faded gradually; but it did not quite die out. One night in Minnesota at a camp meeting she met a chemistry professor who had gone to the service for a lark. He had it. He got Georgianna pregnant on the spot—or within harmonium-shot of it—and she died giving birth to Paul.

Wilson, the professor, meantime had done the right thing by her; they were married by an uncle of mine.

“Georgianna,” my aunt used to say, “was the most docile, uncomplaining human being on earth. A true Christian. If she hadn’t met that vile seducer—that atheist, Willy Wilson—she’d be serving her Lord in some distant land to this very day. She expiated her sin, believe me. The night she died, she said so. ‘I’m going, Effie,’ she told me. ‘Bring up the boy in the Master’s steps.’ I failed her! Willy Wilson[Pg 50] insisted on taking the boy—and brought him up a nonbeliever, like himself. Poor Georgianna!

“‘I know He has forgiven me!’ Those were her last words—excepting for what she said after the delirium set in.”

My aunt would frown and shake her head at that point. “Two more mortal hours she lay there, twisting and trying to sit up—with me holding her. And the whole time she cursed the name of Wylie with words you wouldn’t believe a girl like that would know. Of course—she meant Wilson—it’s a common befuddlement. But whenever I think of the language she heaped on that evil man, I know what human torture is!”

It was one of our favorite family stories.

And, needless to say, Georgianna didn’t mean Wilson at all. He’s still a good chemistry prof—a husky, redheaded guy whom everybody likes. Georgianna was cursing her own blood the way people curse the day they were born—and for sufficient reasons. She had glimpsed—all but too late—the hypocrisy implicit in Scotch Presbyterianism. The strong, lucid mind that burned in silence beneath her clumsy exterior had finally cut through that wall between reason and instinct which men call Faith. Just before her “delirium” Georgianna had realized that Willy, not Jesus, had forgiven her (or would forgive her) for deserting him after their marriage, for working as a farm cook, and (as the result of over-fatigue) for falling down a back stairs in the ninth month of her pregnancy, thus bringing about her own demise through stubbornness and vanity. She had figured out the family—and Willy too. She got at least one moment of transcendent understanding, and followed it with two sound hours of profanity—crowding into the racing moments as many repressed sensations of her life as she had time for. Not a bad job, on the whole.

After Willy had explained it to me, I’d always wished I’d investigated Georgianna more attentively.

[Pg 51]

There hadn’t been much chance.

Paul—her son—came in. The one we were so proud of.

Pushed the door open, kicked the book away, and let the automatic closer snap the lock. He took off a seersucker jacket that had flapped around his slatty shoulders. He picked up the book and said, “Jesus Christ. I thought I explained quantum mechanics to you ten years ago!” He went through my bedroom to the bathroom. A firm, pounding stream. He kicked the toilet handle, missed, kicked again—and it flushed resentfully. His jacket had fallen to the floor. When he returned, he kicked that. It rose in the air and he caught it. He whipped off his shirt.

“Buy me a drink,” he said.

“What?”

“Scotch and soda.”

“Order it yourself—and order me a coffee.”

He went to the phone. I cut one more line, and then tidied up the bridge table, stacking things so I could start in quickly where I had left off.

“I didn’t know you were in town,” I said.

“I didn’t know you were. Took a chance. I had to see a gook who lives near here—so I stopped in. How’s Ricky? Recovered now?”

“Swell.”

“What you down for? Cheating?”

“Work.”

He considered that, pinching the flared nostrils of a long nose, peering luminously over his fist, wrinkling his forehead. “It’s possible, anyhow. You’re getting pretty old.”

“I’m not too old to take you on, Spare-ribs.”

His dark eyes twinkled. “No. You’re getting oaken, Phil. Late maturing and frost resistant. Someday, though, I’ll be like that myself—and then you’ll be a wizzled shard who goes around feeling young girls. I’ll bring over a pretty one to bait you up, and when you reach for her, I’ll wallop you till they have to put you in an iron lung.”

[Pg 52]

“By God, I believe you will!” I was laughing. “How’s physics?”

His face became taut. “Don’t you know Congress will crucify you for merely asking?”

Paul worked for Johann Brink, at the Belleau Lab. For the Atomic Energy Commission. Brink had picked him from a prepared slate of geniuses at M.I.T., Caltech, and several other schools. Paul was that good.

I said, “Congress has got one of my arms pinned down already and a hole in my foot, besides. If you don’t want to tell me how physics is—I’ll tell you. Put it this way. There was an atmosphere at Eniwetok you didn’t like—”

“What do you know about that?” he said swiftly.

“I just listen to what Truman says,” I answered, “and then I extrapolate.” I shook my head. “It’s funny. As soon as anybody has a dose of military security, he gets the soldier’s creed—assumes people stop thinking because certain thoughts are classified. Everything about atomic energy is secret, hunh? Well—who has Brink been seeing, lately? Who was he photographed with? Old man heavy water. So now you come in here—looking like an underfed caribou with the wind up—and what must I think? That your little cadre of nuclear physicists is fooling with the hydrogen-helium cycle and getting hotter than the rotor in a turbo-jet. You’re scared you’ll figure out that one-thousand-times-more-powerful-than-Nagasaki bomb. The atomic cloudmaker. The continental broom. The universal gene-mangler. Or crack light metals or separate isotopes by heat. Don’t tell me if I’ve read your mind, doctor. I would rather be calm in my surmises than fearful I might say something in my sleep that could be checked. Do you guys really think it is smart to cause officials to go around positively announcing that the number of bombs we have in our beloved stockpile is smaller than anybody who knew the prewar radium production could figure out? When you discuss atomic ‘weapons’ in the press—without specifying—doesn’t it seep into the dull heads of us[Pg 53] laymen that, for instance, hot isotopes would make a nifty charge for ordinary high-explosive bombs—against warships, for example? And can’t anybody make a pile, now—and start the isotopes flowing? Crop-dust cities? And don’t you incessantly talk too much about how long it will be before you can do thisa and thata? Remember when your spokesmen were telling us of the inutility of thorium? Cannot we, the plain people, add and subtract neutrons in our heads? Aren’t you protesting too much now about how long it will be before you can push a couple of hydrogen atoms into one helium, with great and beneficial new release of energy?”

Paul was unamused. “Someday G2 is going to walk in here and walk out with you.”

“Thought control,” I said. “Never worked. Never will. Whenever a nation uses it, you can know that nation’s washed up.” The coffee came in—and the highball. I signed the check and tipped Karl. “Danke schoen,” I said, and turned to Paul again. “G2 came after me long ago. I wrote a story before the war about uranium bombs and how they would be made and what they’d do—and it wasn’t accepted until 1945. It went to censorship automatically—and when the censors read it—they hit the ceiling. Thought there was a leak in the Manhattan District. The only leak was in their heads. They sent a major out after me—like the hounds on the tail of Uncle Tom—”

“I recall the escapade,” Paul said wearily. “You lead such a harrowing life, Mr. Wylie. And tell about it over and over.”

Nobody likes that one. I said, “Sorry,” and carried Paul his drink. He was sitting in one of my chairs; he had his legs on another; his elbow rested on my coffee table. I saw in my mirror that I was flushing a little: I felt embarrassed.

But Paul had already forgotten chiding me. “Phil,” he said, jiggling his glass to cool his psyche with the ice-clink, “it gets worse and worse. It is beyond horrible. Past hideous. More than unthinkable. And it surpasses the unbearable.”

[Pg 54]

“How about—tiresome?”

He remembered again—and grinned. “Quid pro quo? Okay. What do you want to talk about?”

“It,” I said. “You. Any damned thing you please.”

Paul sipped his highball. And that was another difference. At his age, I hadn’t sipped. I had guzzled. He appeared to be thinking over what he would like to discuss—as if it were a scientific problem. Finally he said, “Phil, what’s the matter with us?”

“Us who?”

“Physicists.”

“Religion,” I said.

“The faith of skepticism?” He leered at me. “If all you’ve got on it is that old chapter about the law of opposites, never mind.”

“Lack of skepticism,” I answered.

Paul chuckled. “Goody! Go ahead.”

“The religion of a physicist is his belief in pure reason. He has done so well with it that he regards it as the whole of consciousness. He is like a man who has discovered the shovel. It digs so much better than his hands that he never looks for—”

“—the steam shovel?”

“Dynamite.”

“Ouch!”

I laughed. “Take the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. This journal has been coming to me ever since you guys got frightened by What-Hath-God-Wrought-Now. I’ve been reading it for so long that I maybe ought to carry a pocket radiation meter to be sure I don’t read it too much. What is this noble publication? An inquiry, it claims, into the means for controlling atomic energy and assuring world peace.”

“And a pretty complete, exhaustive inquiry, too.”

“Is it? Is it even a scientific inquiry? The atomic bomb[Pg 55] will never go to war by itself. Men will drop, toss, or convey it.”

“Sure. And the Bulletin has taken up every known means by which people can be told what atomic energy is, and why it must be controlled, and how to do that. Every step of the debate in the House and the Senate—and the debates in the United Nations—has been followed. Every idea my fellow physicists could hit on has been aired—”

“With no result.”

“No result, my eye! If we hadn’t ganged up to make Congress see that atomic energy was more than a military matter—soldiers would control the whole business right now.”

“Grant that. You did get the AEC appointed. The brass doesn’t run the whole domestic show. But the world show is run entirely from the viewpoint of possible war.”

“Do you expect the physicists to be able to do anything about Russia and the Iron Curtain—when all the statesmen of all the nations can’t drive a pinhole in it?”

“Look. There are too many places where you lads aren’t really scientific at all. You run a magazine to investigate ways for avoiding atomic war. Men make war. But never in your Bulletin did I once see an article about human motivations. An article by a top-notch psychologist. A digest, even, of the existing science of human personality—and how that might apply to war, to atomic bombs, to international relations.”

“Psychology isn’t our business. We’re specialists.”

I slightly sneered at him. “Son, when you are trying to stop wars, psychology is the only business you’re in! You’re in the business of trying to answer the questions about what makes men tick—including the tick they make these days that sounds so much like an infernal machine. But you think that’s still the reason—business.”

“A lot of big shots,” Paul answered, “have called on the psychologists to contribute. Asked them to speed the work[Pg 56] on their science and the science of sociology—so we’ll have a solid technical basis for establishing peace.”

“Yeah. They have. And not one God-damned super-brain in the barrel has stopped to note for a moment—so far as I’m aware—that the psychologists are ‘way ahead of them. The science of personality—of behavior—of consciousness and instinct—is well along. The psychologists could tell them why men fight. They could tell them why—so far as present evidence indicates—men are going to go right ahead having wars—atomic bombs, germs, and all—into the far, foreseeable future.”

“Why?” he asked mildly.

“Oh—because they exploit individualism and never take any responsibility for it. Their hostilities and aggressions, frustrations and fears—add up, inside their groups, and burst out, since they’re never even noticed, let alone dealt with, on the personal and private level, where they originate.”

“So you have written,” he grinned. “So what? Should we pure scientists simply say that peace is hopeless? Quit cold? Or try for peace with what we do know?”

“You and your pure science! Pure is a word that should be forbidden all of you. What’s pure in a science that deals exclusively with the object and rules out the subject doing the dealing?”

“Just,” Paul answered, “the result. If we hadn’t ruled man out of man’s investigations, we’d still believe the earth was flat, the sky was a cup, and the stars were holes in it. We’d still be premedieval—”

“Yet—when you did establish the objective facts to a considerable degree—set up physics and chemistry and biology—did you boys then turn that knowledge and that method upon yourselves?”

“You claim,” Paul answered airily, “that the psychologists have done so.”

“Yes. And you needn’t pretend I have no right to make[Pg 57] the claim. You scientists, self-styled, let a few doctors—ridiculed by the public and unassisted by you—do the investigating of the consciousness you were applying to electrons and protons. They used your method—the empirical method. They have announced their results steadily for the past half century. You never even looked them over. So now what are you? Big cheeses in the high-tension labs. Mere mice, around the psychological clinics. Hunting in your Bulletin for a way to stop war when, really, you haven’t a good kindergarten knowledge of what war is and how it comes about.”

“If there were enough psychiatrists, then—we wouldn’t have to worry?”

“Be sarcastic!” I said. “All you birds need a good psychiatrist.” He winced at that, rather sharply, I thought. But I didn’t let up on him. “Guys like you are aware enough to see that perhaps Hitler could have used a psychoanalysis. You are not aware enough to see that any president of any big engineering school could use it, too. Why? Because you think pretty much as he thinks. And neither of you can see that your thinking is largely emotion and only somewhat logic. The great blunder of science was to imagine that science could be indefinitely developed for the physical benefit of man and never concurrently applied to his subjective needs, states, motives.”

“It was hard enough for the early scientists to get across the simple truth about objects. If they’d tampered with man’s beliefs—they’d all have been burned to death.”

“What about you later scientists, then? Would anybody burn old Johann Brink to death, today, say for studying Freud?”

Paul chuckled. “The picture is beyond imagining.”

“Yeah. And I’m sick of it. All your eminent predecessors rushed ahead investigating stars and bugs and drugs and air currents and left any inquiry into man himself to philosophers—who were usually ignorant even of physical science—[Pg 58]or to James and Wundt and a few trying, solitary people. You didn’t ever really apply science. Not all science to all reality. You just promulgated pure science along exactly half of its possible lines—and called it a job. Looking forever at the light outside—and never at the interior dark. Justifiable in a sense. But not bright. And not really scientific at all.”

“Hear, hear!”

“If the Greeks had worked out math and aerodynamics and built flyable air frames—without bothering to study the problem of engines, we would regard them as remarkably skillful imbeciles. They would have littered old Attica with the fusilages of Piper Cubs and maybe B-29’s that couldn’t get off the ground. In a sense, that’s what they did do: they pushed knowledge ahead along certain lines a certain distance—and never followed through. You goons are still doing the same half-baked job.”

“You want us to quit studying physics and start picking up stuff about the Oedipus complex and sibling rivalry?”

“It’s too late. That’s the assignment for the next civilization.”

He just looked at me.

After a while, I went on. “You birds say that knowledge is power—yet all your knowledge turns into impotence when you want it used for human harmony and peace. What is the power, then?”

“Let me guess. Instinct. You see—as an old Wylie reader—”

I heaved a cushion at him and enjoyed a little of my second cup of coffee. “Instinct. You dumb bastards! If you were really dedicated to science, as you say, the last war would never have happened. And the next one wouldn’t be forever imminent. You say you believe that scientific knowledge should be free to all. Freedom of knowledge, you say, to put it backwards, is essential to science. But every time the nations get miffed at each other—you lice lock yourselves up in the national labs and go to war against each[Pg 59] other as much as any soldier. The old herd instinct. The old ego. Intellectual fealty to scientific principles? You have none!”

“I kind of resent that,” Paul said slowly.

“You resent the accusation. We who are about to die of the fact resent your behavior. Or should. If you pure scientists were pure guys purely devoted to science, Hitler could never have hired a dozen of the lot of you in Germany, or Stalin coerced six. If you had insisted on keeping science free—the Wehrmacht could never have been armed. If you had been scientific men, not men practicing science—even granting you felt it necessary to wipe out the Axis—when the deed was done, you could simply have published all the atomic facts and be damned to the politicians and the so-called patriots. Left mankind to work out its destinies in a climate where knowledge was still free. As it is—Russia knows enough to wipe up America in a few more years—the patriots and politicians are living in a fool’s paradise—your Bulletin sweats monthly to explain that sinister fact—and all you gained by assenting to the current lockup of freedom of knowledge is a bureaucratic sweatbox to do your work in—and a terrible endless case of jitters. You don’t understand behavior well enough to predict the results of your own. Others do. And by far the most probable result of the failure of pure scientists to behave purely toward science will be the end of the possibility of further top-level scientific investigation for a century or two.”

“You think I should sit down and write out all the atomic secrets I know and print them and scatter them from a plane?”

“I do not. I think you should sit down and face the fact that science is precisely as hypocritical as religion—essentially no different from it—hamstrung in the opposite tendon by the same egotistical means. Sinful—call it. Guilty. The scientist can see the lack of logic in religion—so he rules it out. He doesn’t see the import of its universal exis[Pg 60]tence. The religious man can see that physical science offers precisely nothing of value to his inner sensibilities—but fails to see the meaning of logic. So he neglects to learn science and applies logic only when it flushes his toilet or eradicates his foes. You’re both apes.”

Paul swallowed the last of his ice. For a moment he sat without speaking, the reflected sunlight softening his sharp features. Then he said, “I hate to think anybody understands anything I don’t. And I strongly suspect you do.”

“I strongly know I damned well do.”

There was another pause. Paul pulled his nose. He drew a breath to speak—and gave up the impulse. His eyes turned inward. Little by little, his limbs sagged. An expression of the utmost melancholy passed like a shadow over his face and was followed by lines of resolution—lines I did not like because, visible in them, was conflict—unacknowledged discontent mixed with unknown resolve.

“I’m in a terrible mess, Phil.”

“Aren’t we—and so forth?”

“I want to quit.”

“The Lab?”

He nodded. “There is something positively bestial—in the worst sense—about going any further with schemes to turn physical theory into mere implements of death.”

“Instinct coming to your rescue. I thought you liked the work?”

“I did. As long as it was a series of problems. Now—it’s getting to be a cold choice of means for engineering murder. That’s no fun. It’s like spending all your time figuring out how to destroy your own home—after you’ve already hit on half a dozen nifty ways.”

“Why not quit, then?”

“Brink—for one. I like the old guy. I’m indispensable to him—I at least pretend. And I feel loyal.”

“Talk it over with him.”

[Pg 61]

“No use. He’s got the idea that he’s engaged in some sort of holy mission—a personal war against all tyranny, right or left. That he, and we, and guys like us, must keep out in front—from the weapons standpoint—until every tyrant’s done for.”

“Tyranny, Paul, isn’t a gent. It’s something inside everybody.”

He drew a long, sighing breath and abandoned the subject. Soon, he grinned at me. “Phil, I came as near praying you’d be in town today as I get to prayer. When the telephone operator put me through—I like to fainted with gratitude.”

“How much,” I asked caustically, “do you want to borrow?” Then I wondered if I ought to lend anybody more money.

He laughed. “Money, a guy like me can always use. Someday, though, I’ll take time out and invent a quicker way to make ice cubes, or a better zipper, and get rich and pay you back. I keep a record of the debt on a letter I got from Fermi—a cherished possession.”

He would, too, I thought. Get rich and pay back—Ricky. “Hundred bucks?”

“That wasn’t why I wanted to see you. But thanks.” He fumbled in his mind for some sort of beginning. “Oh, hell,” he finally said. “What I want to say can be put in two sentences. And they’re the hardest two I ever had to speak. I haven’t tried them on anybody yet. But I’ve got to—with someone. Meaning you. It goes like this.” For a full minute he sat there saying nothing. Then he pushed back his rather long chestnut hair and looked at me squarely—with an expression in his eyes that I would remember for a long time, if I had a long time to remember in. “I’m in love. And the girl’s a whore.” He turned away from me, after that, and looked toward the window, toward afternoon blue sky into which the sun still pointed. His chin was shaking.

I thought of several responses and picked one carefully.[Pg 62] “All right. It’s said—the whole thing. It leaves me fairly undisturbed, Paul.”

“I guess you don’t understand—don’t believe me. I mean it. The girl actually was—a professional tart. A call girl. What they hold to be a high-class one.”

“So I gathered. I’ve known several cases.”

“It—” He swallowed hard a time or two. “Mind if I have another Scotch?”

I shook my head.

He ordered and began once again. “I didn’t know it—like a dope—for a long time. I can’t even tell whether or not knowing it right off—would have made a difference. I suppose it would. I suppose I’d just have been bitter—because I couldn’t afford her. The name’s Marcia.”

“Nice name.”

“Yeah. Look, Phil. It was last winter—after I got back from Eniwetok. Some of the directors of a big corporation where I’d been called in for a conference asked me to a party. Marcia was there. I suppose that the other girls were the same.” He looked at his knuckles. “Scratch that. I know they were—now. Nobody said anything about it. Just—big corporation hospitality for people like me, whose advice might make them a few more millions. I sat around drinking cocktails and having a swell time and thinking that the girls had got prettier while I was in the Pacific, working. I didn’t know they were to take home—like candy—compliments of the management. And Marcia didn’t mention the fact when I asked her if she’d care to ditch the binge and have supper just with me.”

“No.”

“She merely went. She went—and was charming. You see—she caught onto my naïve assumptions, and she was being paid, and it amused her to be thought of as just an ordinary girl—a debutante, or the like—for whom a smart young physicist was falling like a ton of bricks.” He looked[Pg 63] at me again. His explanation was coming more easily. “Do you get the picture?”

“She must be bright. As well as attractive.”

He nodded. “She has a sense of drama. All I did—feeling suffused that evening with love—was to take her to her apartment and bid her a pleasant good night. She asked me in—sure. Even tried to argue me in. But I was thinking in terms of the long and sentimental pursuit. Or—at least—decorum. Not-the-first-night, baby. That’s me. Gentleman of the old school. I extracted her phone number—it wasn’t difficult—and escorted her home, and went out to Brooklyn to my flat—and dreamed into my pipesmoke. Happy me.”

He was silent for so long that I said, “And then?”

“I called her up the next afternoon. She was busy.” A muscle shaped itself in his temple, twitched, vanished. “So I made a date for another evening. We had dinner and danced around—at the Stork. On dough you lent me. And that evening I accepted the invitation to go into her apartment with her. You see—she wasn’t merely diverted by a dope—but she felt she owed me something. Something that corporation had paid for. Only—”

“It was different for her.”

He seemed surprised. “How’d you know?”

“I’m thinking of the difference that would understandably exist between a guy who was paying—and a guy in love with you.”

“It upset her.”

“So she tried to duck you.”

He was still more surprised. “She told me she’d be out of town for a couple of weeks.”

“And you waited—”

“—the all-time eager beaver. And phoned. She sounded—odd. She asked me if I’d like to come up to her place for dinner—said she didn’t feel like going out. She cooked. I know now that she had planned to tell me—that night.[Pg 64] Instead—well, she didn’t. She said she worked some as a model—which she had done. She said she had an income—not said, just hinted. I asked her to marry me—around three A.M.”

“Just what did she do about that?”

“She cried. Quietly. Told me that she’d taken a fall out of marriage—which was also true. Didn’t want to risk it again—not without being sure of the guy. And said there weren’t any such guys as—she needed.”

“Pretty close to being pretty nice.”

Paul answered the door, took the drink, and put his own dollar on Karl’s tray. “It went that way for about two months. Then she told me.” His ice clinked without his volition. “The whole story—straight out—beginning at dinner one evening in the Waldorf. The guy she married—a smug, sadistic twirp. Getting divorced. Coming to New York. Scrimping along on modeling jobs. Running into Hattie Blaine. Ever heard of her?”

Who hadn’t? Hattie was madam to Manhattan’s upper set. I gave a nod.

“Hattie sold her on the idea—after quite a campaign. Marcia went to work. That was about three years ago. I took her home that night—placidly enough—and went for the walk that lasts till they put out the sidewalks again. Then I phoned Johann I was sick—and got sick, drinking. For a month or so more, I tried the old Presbyterian anodyne: work. No use.”

“Not when you’re young.”

“Later?”

“It comes with time. Go ahead.”

“When I had all but burned out my main bearings, I phoned her. Maybe you won’t believe it—but Marcia was going to phone me that evening. We talked it over. She moved to my flat and got a job.”

“So?”

“We might get married.”

[Pg 65]

“She want to?”

“She refuses—now. I’m not always certain I want to, myself.” He stuck his forefinger into his shoe and tugged at the counter. “And I don’t know why. Why I want to marry her. Why I’m uncertain.”

“How do your—?” I broke that off.

But he got it. “My friends think she’s swell. You gathered she was good-looking. She’s a tall, slender gal with light-brown hair and blue eyes. Quiet. You’d never think—! But I went into that, didn’t I? She attended college, in Iowa, for a year—and she likes to read. By that I mean—”

“Nobody else—?”

“Christ, no. They think she’s a working gal—which she is, now: a nice friend of mine.”

“Someday—” I stopped there—again.

“Yes.” His face whitened. “A putty-chinned, overweight lodge brother from Keokuk, just tight enough to miss the stony stare and come up with the big hello. It’s happened.”

“I see.”

“She went home and had hysterics.”

“Bring her over.”

Paul looked at me thoughtfully. “You are upset.”

“Sure. Now. You are. So bring her over. Not tonight—or tomorrow night. I’m busy.”

“What about lunch tomorrow? She’s not working and I can slide out.”

“Lunch, then. Come around one.”

The family’s very fond of Paul and a good many of us have tried to spoil him. He was one of those irresistible kids—the kind that wears glasses, has braces on his teeth, raises bizarre pets, looks up everything in the encyclopedia, and is always engaged in a project about five years ahead of his current age—so that he is always in deep water and needs help. Everybody helped Paul. When he grew up—through one of the most gangling and precocious adolescences in the history of youth—the aunts, sisters, and female[Pg 66] cousins used to argue constantly about his looks. Was he genuinely handsome, did he merely have character in his face, or was he plain ugly but friendly-looking? The argument was never decided. But, at least, he looked better when his eyesight was corrected, the spectacles were abandoned, and the braces had come off his teeth.

I walked Paul to the door and pulled out my bill-clip. There were a couple of fifties in it and I gave them to him. Not much else—so—when he’d gone, I wrote a check to cash and phoned for Bill the bellman. He came up and took my check and brought the money back in a few minutes. I gave him fifty cents—knowing it was too much—knowing I had always tipped too much—knowing that I had never cared because I’d been brought up amidst nickel pinchers and because I like to please the people around me—and realizing all of a sudden that I would go right on being extravagant till the day I died which, luckily for my estate, probably wouldn’t be far off.

In this connection, one trifle should be mentioned which on looking over these minutes, I see I haven’t got to.

It crossed my mind at this point, as it had earlier in the day.

I walked over and sat on the arm of a wing chair, staring out at the hot evening. New York often has a marine sky to which, being a seaport, it is entitled. That night the clouds were low and small—evenly spaced and of a size. When the sun hit them, it turned them several different colors—a dappled effect, like a peacock’s tail in which orange, not iridescent blue-green, was the predominating tinge. It was getting on toward seven.

I thought about my dollar-strewing habits and the fact that I probably wouldn’t much reduce what funds I’d stored up myself and reluctantly but methodically amassed in the coffers of the Connecticut General Life Insurance Company.

Tom-the-doctor had said the damned excrescence in my craw, if mortal, wouldn’t be operable. That meant I[Pg 67] wouldn’t be lying around in some hospital, like so many of them, at umpteen bucks a day, while they slowly took out my neck. It meant, so far as I was concerned, that a day would come along when I would make up my mind the books no longer balanced. A day, that is, when pain or mechanical difficulties made it impossible to proceed with the prose. When I couldn’t write any more.

That day, I would have completed my best effort to get my affairs in order. I’d have seen the people I loved—and seen them before it was an ordeal for them to see me. I do not have a horror—but a kind of intellectual rage—over meaningless, agonizing, nonproductive, lingering existence. In my life, I’ve seen a great deal of it. I have seen people who were a stinking nursing problem twenty-four hours a day—who were afflicted with fantastic agony besides—and who implored their relatives, friends, and physicians to put them out of their misery—but who lived in that state for a couple of years.

By taking a reasonable amount of thought, and through a certain amount of luck, I have avoided several of the pitfalls into which man persistently topples. Into others, I’ve all but pitched myself. But this was one I intended to skip. In the kit I carry for boat trips is a hypodermic syringe and a thin little bottle of morphine tablets. I’ve never had to use them on the broken leg, the gasoline burn, the leader-wire cut, for which they are always ready. But, when the day came which, in my judgment, would turn the balance of life, I knew precisely what I would do. I had always known, even before I had owned such gentle means.

You dissolve all the tablets—five grains—and fill the barrel of the hypo. You jab yourself and push.

Simple.

The reader of these notes may therefore spare himself—as I spared myself—as all human beings should be spared—the anticipation of death dragged out excruciatingly by the miracles of science.

[Pg 68]

That is one of the items on the gigantic ledger in which are gathered those details that prove modern man is mad.

Too many people, for one thing,
when they get to dying,
want to top Jesus.
Wanting that,
inevitably,
they want to kill as many others as possible
by Christlike torture—
forgetting that even He
had his legs broken
as a method of mercy killing.
My apologies, then, for not entering this note sooner.

I sat at the window and I could have pulled out my own hair, or wept, (or roared with laughter) on account of Paul.

I knew Paul pretty well, and loved him.

And I did not believe he was enough of a realist or a humorist to marry a harlot and prosper in his soul.

Whoever she was, she would eat him away altogether, or eat away years of him. When he found himself out—that he could not accept himself with her—it might be too late. He was stubborn. The ordeal would continue—brave front and eroding guts. What should a man do?

I am not my brother’s keeper.

How often that wretched phrase has been used as the alibi for vicious neglect!

How rarely has it served in the intended sense. It is but a warning to Peeping Toms, to Meddlesome Matties and Interfering In-Laws, Overweening Do-gooders, Paul Prys, the Rabble of the Self-righteous.

Would God the Peepul understood the Words of Jesus had one meaning, always, and often the opposite of the convenient, accepted interpretation; that their Christ appreciated how nothing can be truly said of the Father that does not make a suitable apothegm for Beelzebub!

[Pg 69]

Who asked them to interpret, anyway?

He told them to act.

I am not my brother’s keeper.

The Holy Writ that John Sumner never comprehended, or Anthony Comstock, old Cotton Mather, and a dozen billion more.

What man, seeing even a pig caught under a fence, does not pull it out, although it might be the Sabbath?

Which is germane to the circumstance?

What of the Good Samaritan?

I left the sunset hanging over the gray composite of the roofs—the willow trees in penthouse gardens, the chimneypots that twirled with supper cooking, and the fly-eyed walls, the thousand-lenses, the bloodshot windows staring at New Jersey—staring from the square sides of skyscrapers that towered around me in stiff, unplanned attention, waiting for night, waiting with God knew what stony thoughts and brickish resignation—doubtless for Soviet rockets.

I pushed down my shorts, kicked them onto a bed as Paul had kicked his jacket, and turned on the water in the tub.

I lay down there, donning the warm garment gradually, the wet, the clean, the only other that fits as perfectly as the grave. I turned off the tap with my foot. I looked at my skin, which was still fairly smooth, for all the long time I’d worn it, weathered it, and given it unnatural chores of excretion.

Good-bye to All That. Good-bye Mr. Chips. And Miss Chippies.

Yak-yak.
This is the cup.
And
take this cup from me.
Nyanh-nyanh.
I soaped the person.
[Pg 70]The phone rang.
It does.
You get out of the bathtub. You wrap a towel around your midriff and make footprints on your rug. You sit and drip.

The operator says, “One moment, please. Rushford calling.”

If her boy friend had too many beers on the night before, she hurts your ear.

This mug must have been rolling.

“Hello, dear.”

Rickey’s voice was as clear as heaven’s door-chimes.

I could feel my heart jumping around inside me, trying to straighten things up in a hurry.

“Hello, Tud.” It rhymes with “good” and doesn’t mean anything to anybody but us.

“How are you—you sound—worried?”

My banging heart must have left a chair out of place somewhere. I took a good breath and pushed whatever it was back into the regular design. “Naw. Maybe tired. Been working. Paul was here. I’m worried about him—if that’s what you mean.”

“I guess so. I called up because I thought maybe you were planning to call me this evening.”

“Was.”

“Mother and I are going up to Brookses to play bridge. So we’d have been out, if you’d have called. What about Paul?”

“He’s living in sin with a dame he’s nuts about—and he found out after he went overboard that she’s an old understudy from Hattie Blaine’s finishing school for young ladies.”

“Oh, dear.” Rickey can put all her compassion into two syllables—and it’s compassion enough for a saint.

“I was dawdling around here cogitating ways and means—”

She giggled. “In the tub, I bet.”

[Pg 71]

“Think what Socrates accomplished in a tub. Not to mention Archimedes.”

“The butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker,” she replied amiably. “Then there was that show-girl who bathed in champagne. Her tub landed her in jail. Any number of people have opened their arteries in tubs. They put tubs under guillotines—north end. A tub cuts both ways, dear—”

“What should I do, then? Maybe you take dust baths. Maybe that makes people brighter. The genius is a quaking mass of emotional mincemeat. Hasn’t told a soul but me. Dumped it in my lap. Regarded it as an Act of God that I happened to be here when the confessional mood came over him. Typical physicist—solve any equation but the human.”

Rickey said, “Did you see her?”

“Tomorrow. Lunch.”

“It just won’t work—for him.”

“Yeah.”

“Is he—terribly—?”

“The works. Head-over-heels.”

“Oh, dear! Has it been long?”

“Six-seven months.”

“Then—it could take him six or seven years to—”

“Some kind of female arithmetic. But probably solid.”

“You could call up Hattie and talk to her and find out—”

“I’ve considered that. What do I ask Hattie? Is Marcia sincere—like sincere in a Freddie Wakeman character?”

“Marcia?”

“M’m’m’m.”

“If it was only Dolores! Or Fern or Pearl!”

“More woman-palaver. And it’s Marcia. And she was in college for a while. She reads books.”

“You could ask if she’s sweet. You know what to ask, dope.”

“I will pull a low-brimmed hat over my eyes, slip a[Pg 72] roscoe into my pocket, print up a few dozen private-eye calling cards, and fare forth—”

“It would help to know something more about her than Paul’s feelings. Then call me up. How’s the work?”

“Oh—a needle in every haystack.”

“You ought to have a little fun.”

“I’m enjoying every paragraph.”

“Why don’t you call up Murray’s and take some more lessons? Maybe if you put in enough roadwork and a few more thousand dollars—you could finally learn to tango.”

“Damn your pretty eyes! Why don’t you study how to follow?”

Ricky laughed. “No fooling! You work too much. If you don’t play some, you’ll burn yourself out in another forty-six years. You’ve been getting stale around here.”

“Tell me about the birds and the flowers and Popcorn.”

Popcorn is one of the cocker pups—all white. Quite a dog. Popcorn had got into the garbage pit and trapped himself for two hours. There had been a squall. The wind had blown over the delphiniums. The 2-4-D I’d sprayed around was already wilting weeds that had defied generations of her forebears. She was going to dig up and separate the crocuses in the rock garden. She had decided I wouldn’t finish building the water lily pool for another year and she was planning to use the excavation for composting. There were two young downy woodpeckers and an oriole at the bird feeding station that afternoon.

“Don’t work too hard,” she repeated. “And have some fun.”

“I’m weary and I’m bored and I’m lonely.” God knew I was lonely, anyhow.

“It’s good for you.”

“I hope you starve emotionally.”

“It is a big bridge party and I am going to sit beside Mr. Teel.”

Mr. Teel is an aging squire who lives in the lush[Pg 73] Genesee bottom land and can’t keep his hands off. I was laughing. I was also biting back the desire to tell her to drive to Buffalo and grab the night plane.

“The trouble,” I said, “with ladies and Mr. Teel is that they fidget and flush, squirm and put up with it. Personally, I think they like it.”

“Should I scream?”

“Lord, no. Worst possible technique. When you bid six spades and start playing it and you notice something on your knee of about the weight of a man’s hand, there are three good possibilities. Relax and enjoy it. This is what I recommend. However, you can also idly lower the tip of your cigarette and apply it. The third, very good, move is to lean forward as if staring myopically at the dummy—reach under the table yourself—and grab back in a way Mr. Teel will never forget.”

“You know everything, don’t you?”

“Need you ask?”

“Except that we’re wasting a lot of money on Long Distance. Are you sure you’re all right?”

Women’s ears! “Yeah.”

“Then good night.”

“Night, darling.”

What dripped now was not eau de Croton Reservoir. It came from Wylie’s pores.

Almost—I called her back about the plane.

She had sounded fine—thank God!

It was not always so.

We had been married, Ricky and I, for two years (was it three?) and built a candy-box house on an island in Biscayne Bay (before the sixty sewers of Greater Miami belched the water sludge-thick) when she fell sick. Brucellosis, they called it, or undulant fever. In cattle, Bang’s disease. The cows abort. They told us it was common everywhere in our fair land and caught from unpasteurized milk, or cheese, ice cream, or meat improperly inspected. The pasteurization[Pg 74] laws in those days, they said, were altogether inadequate; inspection was bad; and cattle owners—they said further—were loath to lose their stricken animals. For a small bribe, we were told, they might be warned of impending inspection. Thereupon, they could drive the afflicted members of their herds into hiding while the government agent went by. They were in business (after all) and a buck is sacred; so are American sacred cattle sacred; let the public look after itself. Some of the cowmen don’t believe the germ theory, anyhow; they think hygiene is one more racket like their own. And some, of course, like a certain proportion of the men in every business, would sell you leper’s dung (neatly packaged—nationally advertised) if there were money in it.

They sold the milk.

We drank it.

Some get brucellosis—some not. Some hundreds of thousands of free American citizens. It is one of the marvels of our Age.

Some die.

Some heal themselves, in due time.

Others, like my Ricky, drag out the years in pain, debility, and sorrow. Fits of fever seize them. They take to their beds for days, for weeks, for months—racked and suffering and exhausted, sick at their stomachs, sick in their heads. The gram-negative bacterium is (they say) neurotoxic. It inflames the ganglia of the brain. The patient may expect not merely fever and pains, but constant anxiety, causeless fears, a collapse of the calmest temper, hysterias, heebie-jeebies, screaming meemies, spasms, and incomprehensible alarms.

You must try to ignore it, Mrs. Wylie. Personality changes occur owing merely to the nature of your disease. Devote your (changed) self to a consideration of the change as physical phenomenology. You are lucky to get your trouble diagnosed. Hundreds of thousands of undulant fever sufferers spend their lives running from one doctor to an[Pg 75]other without avail. They’re told they have tuberculosis, intestinal poisoning, brain tumor, neurasthenia, and bad dispositions. Medicine is—though the fact’s not medicine’s fault—very laggard about recognizing this common malady. Consider yourself lucky.

Ricky threw into the tormented years her fortitude. She said she was fortunate. They knew the name of her ailment and they were doing all they could.

Hospitals and clinics, X rays and tests, sulfas and antibiotics, vaccines and sterile sores—a little improvement, a red-hot localization and the hospital again. Coming fine! Another year or two and you should feel—pretty much your old self. Patience. Courage.

Well. She had plenty.

The doctors—the dozens, the scores, mauled and mangled and encouraged.

We have great hope for this new immunizing serum.

She took it.

Stubborn case, Mrs. Wylie. You seem to be especially sensitive to brucella.

Streptomycin holds out hope.

We find it, in a chronic case like yours—ineffectual.

Some new mold is what we are searching for.

The years—two—three—five—continued with their hopes and horror.

It may be, Mrs. Wylie, that brucella sterilizes women in the same way it causes cattle to abort. Not all the sufferers—but a percentage. Of course, we aren’t sure. But I wouldn’t set my heart on having children, now. You’re not in condition now, anyway; and when you’ve recovered, you may find it is impossible.

She is a game girl, Ricky.

Two years ago, she began to get well.

We have had our fingers crossed—

crossed—and held tightly in the clamp of one more hope.

[Pg 76]

I thought about her.

These things—and how she was still that same calm girl.

And how could I tell her, that perhaps it was my turn?

Gradually I got myself into the tub again.

I shaved, then.

We are all afraid of Five O’clock Shadow. Such fears, indeed, have become paramount for most of us.

Yuts.

What was Paul’s idiom?

Cipher-faces—standing around waiting for somebody to put a minus one in front of them. Hitler, Stalin, or Huey Long. Zero-pusses, he called them. Zed-mugs. Neck-heads. Neonightmares. Two-legged negatives.

I shaved, thinking I was positive, anyhow. Wait till they focused their bright peepers on that biopsy!

I wished I had a little music to cheer up the joint. All I could hear was passing cargo on Madison Avenue, the elevator ruminating in its shaft, and some dame in the bathroom above me talking to a little kid with the motherly tones of a cement mixer. The sweet child was answering in words I could not distinguish, but it knew how to mix concrete, too.

Ricky and I haven’t owned a radio for years—except one that sneaked into the house in a record-player and we didn’t even notice we had that, for eight months. A man in this world encounters more than he can bear of the sort of thing that radio purveys; it is Heaven’s own mercy if he can avoid a part of it. The printed ads and the billboards get you willy-nilly; and second-class mail is always fooling you. You are eternally exposed to entertainment by chumps in the flesh.

But when I want a cerebral clyster I want something that won’t wash my brain out. And while I can eat with my mouth I propose to get along without the nutrient enema. Every orifice to its rightful function, I say.

[Pg 77]

But now I wanted music.

So I called Bill-the-bellman again. To think (as you are beginning to see) is to act, with me. Sometimes. And the Astolat doesn’t have what is correctly called piped radio in its rooms. Bill brought up a machine with knobs like the eyes of dead fish and an illuminated grin for a dial—such a grin as may be seen on any alligator lamp.

I spun through about eighteen of my fellow citizens who were uniformly engaged in lying to the public and finally hit a girl with too much rosin on her voice, which was what I wanted.

“When a Broadway baby goes to bed
It’s early in the morning—”
I did a feather and a few more Peabody steps and a couple of advance left turns.

The dame put a mute on the bridge of her nose.

Broadway dreamed off to her lullaby.

She began, “Say it with music—”

I thought of Palmer Gymnasium on the Princeton Campus in about 1922—the June, the quiet trees, the cigarettes like cherry-colored fireflies, the flappers, a cicada competing with strings and woodwinds, and me outside because I didn’t have the spondulix and the tux. My throat thickened with something sharper than carcinoma.

If only I had known then what I know now.

And suddenly I remembered that I had known.

In that musky dark, in the dark of a thousand other disappointed evenings, in the beam and blister of every day, I had been tightening the spring for the run. The anticipated journey—the slatting of my choo-choo train around its silver track.

I knew then because I was doing it.

And I knew now, but differently, because it was done.

That poignancy was not this.

Beneath the fragrant maples and beyond the envious desuetude had burned the gathering assurance.

[Pg 78]

The response to challenge.

Spondulix, tux, and young girls’ tongues, and stingers, too.

Incidents.

Repressions, Mr. Wylie. Inferiority, Phil.

What had kept me so steadfast despite my passions of despair? Despite all music—despite the Weltschmerz of underprivileged sophomores?

I looked at my old friend, The Typewriter.

“Somehow they’d rather be kissed To the strains of Chopin or Liszt—”

The more we succeed the more we fail.

When I am gone, who’ll write on you and say the same things better?

Plenty of them, Philip.

You never put the bar up where even you could jump.

Who ever did?

It was damned near eight o’clock.

I got dressed fast.

[Pg 79]

PART TWO

Tarantella

Tarantella
1

The desk clerk told me that Mrs. Prentiss had Room 1603—the apartment, not only next to mine but accessible from mine by a set of doors—now partly locked: I’d turned the key in the door on my side and tried the other, when I’d arrived.

“I thought,” I said, “that she was a few floors down—”

“She moved this afternoon, Mr. Wylie. To get out of the heat, where there was more air.”

Or more something.

I hung up and looked at the doors.

The promise not to make a pass at her naturally crossed my mind. It was, evidently, a one-sided commitment. At this season there weren’t many guests in the hotel so she’d had no difficulty in moving near me. I wondered whether she would admit it or pretend it was a coincidence; and bet the latter way. Honi soit qui mal n’y pense pas.

I checked myself in the mirror. Then I knocked on her door. The proper hall one.

She wore the gardenias in her hair—a white dress with a gold border stenciled around the hem—and her shoes and pocketbook were gold, too. The big diamond had evidently been sent down to the safe-deposit boxes, or left on her bureau—depending on which sort of person she was. Her[Pg 80] hair was done up—with the curls among the flowers. She looked as attractive as she intended. Cool, too.

“Am I stunning?”

I nodded. “But not ravishing. If the Hindus had untouchables at the top of the caste system—white priestesses, say—you’d qualify.”

“You obviously don’t know much about priestesses.”

I rang for the elevator.

“That,” I pointed, “is my demesne, abode, diggings—”

“I know. I asked. And moved.”

“Why, exactly?”

I suppose she wanted her eyes to be interesting. They were just—disturbed. “To tease you.”

“Tease whom?”

She blushed the peach tinge I’d noticed before. “Me.” Then she shook her head at herself. “Because I’m lonely, maybe. Because I have a kind of phobia about hotels. I don’t know.”

I took her to the Crépuscule—the steps down and the moonlit air conditioning—the blue leather benches—the violin, cello, and piano accordion—the little dance floor in the corner with mirrors on two sides—and the French cuisine. The trio there has rhythm and the cellist plays maracas when he feels like it, so you can rumba.

She had a dry Martini and I had tomato juice. Then I asked her and we danced a couple of fox trots. She was a little bit nervous for a minute or so and presently she wasn’t. I asked the trio for a bolero; the two other couples quit; and we danced alone. Afterward we danced to a piece called “Cu-Gu-Tu-Ru” which is also known as “Jack-Jack.” She understood, technically, about dancing the rumba and she gave some indication of feelings for the part that is more instinctive than planned. Once or twice she tried to lead me—without being aware of it.

If you know a good deal about dancing, you can tell a good deal about girls that you’d be a long time in learning[Pg 81] by any other means. People are animals—and dancing among animals is several hundred million years older than the species that calls itself Homo sapiens. There was rhythm on the planet long before there were ballrooms. So you can expect vestiges, at least, in woman-the-animal, of impulses which belong to the skeleton, muscles, and nerves and not to society—vestiges specifically interpreted, disciplined or repressed by the individual in your arms. The woman’s dancing says, This is what the world has done to me—or hasn’t. And it is the same for men—which is why women, who live closer to their instincts, like to dance.

This circumstance, alas, has for so long been repudiated by our forebears that the dancing of most American males is rude and boorish and clumsy, at once self-assertive and self-conscious, unimaginative, disrhythmic, unsubtle—paranoid. It is what the world has done to them.

You can talk to a woman all night and persuade her of nothing.

You can hold her hand and a chemical change will take place in her.

You can kiss her in certain ways and the Old Memories will do what rhetoric cannot.

And you can dance with her.

If you can dance.

You can dance by fox trot, the American way, the integration of surfaces. We know the same steps, the same skills, the same beat. We look well together. We make a matched pair. The thresholds of our sentiments mesh, dovetail, tongue-and-groove. We are, indeed, in the groove.

You can use the dance of conquest and gradual assent, the tango.

Or the rumba.

Which is African. Studied teleology, stylized candor, libido embedded in the music, suspended in cadences, arrested, sustained—beyond intellect, this side of ecstasy. It is a sophistication that northern countries never knew of—a[Pg 82] primitive deliberation, a hot-blooded coolness. For not knowing, they are punished by going without—and in other, obscure fashions. Very few northern women and fewer men, excepting among the young, are able to discover the essence.

They rumba—they say.

They wave their tails like pennants, the oscillating flesh corrupt in Christian purity.

Yvonne was one of the few.

She came honestly by the name, I thought.

“Huguenots,” she said when we sat down. “On mother’s side.”

How can the Americans ever cleanse themselves?

I ordered our dinner.

Again, she tried to lead—to change her mind—to demur—to say she wasn’t hungry—then to consider the cold roast beef.

“You’ll like it,” I said. If she had insisted, I’d have let her order for herself. But she didn’t want anything in particular to eat. She wanted to see what happened to her slight, vain whims. So I ignored them.

“You can have another Martini.”

“I guess I must?”

“Sure. Must. Dinner will take a few minutes and we won’t dance again till after.”

“You’re terribly positive.”

“Nonsense,” I said. “You’re used to men who have been beaten to death by women before you got hold of them.”

Her eyes fixed on me, dilated, and she laughed. “Rol.”

“Among all the others. Maleness has just about disappeared in your native land, sister. The boys are all brought up by women, and taught by women in school, and then they go to work to support women by manufacturing and distributing the things women think they want. It’s called civilization—and actually it’s only the highest form barbarism has yet reached. Trinket-and-gadget society. Domestic convenience society. A society that holds a handkerchief to[Pg 83] one end and sets the other on a flush toilet—a society that aims to make the linen germicidal and the toilet silent, colored, and perfumed.”

“And men? What do they do? Use fingers and squat?”

“You’re learning too fast. Live outdoors, avoid neurosis, and so escape the common cold. I think they could stand for the flush toilet—but they would be more concerned in getting the nitrogen back to the topsoil than they would in the orchid rims. First things first and a conscious sense of responsibility for the future—that’s us boys.”

“Phooie!”

“Who do you like—to go on from lunch? Gary Cooper, Clark Gable, George Raft, Rudolph Valentino, Gregory Peck, or some of the new boy friends of the bobby-soxers I’m too old to remember the names of?”

“None of them. And I never saw Valentino in a picture.”

“Meaning him.”

“At least—he acted as if he had manners.”

“On the contrary. He did, in a mannerly way, several things banned by the book of etiquette.”

“Isn’t that the same?”

“From the woman’s viewpoint.”

“Don’t you ever get tired finding imaginary inferiorities in women?”

“Did I say it was inferior? It isn’t. More realistic, in fact. Don’t you, on the other hand, prefer to be appreciated for differences—rather than to worry over the need of proving identities?”

“Modern Woman—the Lost Sex. You got it out of the book.”

“It’s a pretty good book.”

Yvonne watched the waiter exchange a filled glass for the empty one. She seemed to want to defer talking while she caught up with something in her mind. She sipped, and stared at the people eating dinner in the azure haze the place[Pg 84] calls light, and sipped again. She had a good-sized mouth with a pretty shape: the lipstick went where the lips were, and nowhere else.

“I wanted to talk to you. I was ready to pester you. That’s why I moved next door. I was going to let you find it out when we came back this evening. I was going to ask you in. I’m not afraid of you.”

“Smallest achievement in the history of courage.”

“I want to figure out what to do about Rol. You see—I’m still crazy about him.”

“Send him to a good psychiatrist.”

She exhaled with gentle violence. “Try it!”

“You said he was very upset—promised you anything. That was your chance to make him promise psychiatry. You seem to have read books about it—”

She shook her head. “Not many, really. You don’t understand. Rol wasn’t in the least bit upset because of what he’d done. He was upset about my attitude over it. He said it was a ‘trivial incident’—and told me he loved me—and said I was frigid and what did I expect. He said he didn’t consider he’d been unfaithful to me—and talked on and on about being ‘human.’ Imagine!”

“Are you?”

The blush came again. She spoke in a low voice, “Mostly.”

“People,” I said, “don’t want to know about people, nowadays.”

“Did they ever?”

“Here and there—by fits and starts. They had a short spell of wanting to find out about themselves through reason—a couple of centuries ago. Innumerable spells of trying to figure themselves out through religions.”

“But not now?” She was sarcastic. “Nobody knows anything now?”

“The average college graduate doesn’t even know where he is in relation to other objects. Couldn’t point to the ecliptic. Or explain the changing seasons. Couldn’t point[Pg 85] toward the sun, at night. Friends of mine, well-known writers, belong to a society that believes the earth is flat. There’s another buddyship of boobs who think the earth is hollow and we live inside. Till the government began financing research for war, America spent twice as much on astrology as on scientific investigation. The folks would rather, by twice, be fooled than find out the truth.”

“We’ve made a lot of progress.”

“Individuals have learned a lot. The people ignore it. They are interested in the applications of science—appalled by the implications. Our civilization is just one more swarm of low cheats. It won’t last because cheats can’t. Only inertia sustains the current shape of it, and that momentum is encountering more friction every day. A republic of crooked dumbbells can’t safely use the instruments of clever men. People not only don’t know how to behave, they don’t even know they are ignorant. Yet in the main, people are thoroughly satisfied with themselves. In view of sure catastrophes that loom on every margin toward which they hurry—the very self-satisfaction of people is the statistical guarantor of their doom. Hence that crack about pride going before a fall.”

“I think people behave rather well, on the whole.”

“Sure. They’ll even be decent about doomsday. Blame somebody else as they perish, like flies, but perish heroically. A pity.”

“You can’t depress me!”

I laughed. “Bear in mind that you brought up that word ‘depress.’ I’m not depressed. I’ve had to learn how to get along in the certainty that all I was taught to live for is either rubbish or a dream of a future that lies ages beyond the public expectation. People don’t know—won’t know—can’t know, in their present frame of mind. Take your little problem, for example.”

Her face changed. Interest replaced antagonism. “So all right. Take my problem. Kick that around awhile!”

“You believe in evolution?”

[Pg 86]

“A person can still believe in evolution—and in God!”

“Certainly. Something exists in men which they’ve given the name of all their gods. That’s fact. And evolution is a fact, too—a simple reality. A minority of the educated people in our land have accepted the fact that man’s body evolved from the bodies of other animals. A still smaller per cent realize that man’s mind—personality—spirit—also must have evolved from animals and the animal equivalent: instinct. The question is, How? Most of such people believe that it is the supreme function of the conscious human mind to repress instinct. That’s their answer.”

“But not yours!”

“I believe it’s the function of consciousness to rediscover instinct, understand it, and pursue it—in the ways that it has to go. That it does go—people by the billions to the contrary notwithstanding. So far, people have made only blind efforts in that direction. Unconscious efforts. Their religions—according to the soundest hypothesis I’ve encountered—are the results of such attempts: expressions of animal instinct, as it appears in men—and in men wholly unaware of what they are expressing.”

“Is that Freud?”

“It’s Jung. Freud never got that far. He merely demonstrated that instinct exists in man. The id—he called it. The raw cravings of the infant. To Freud—the id was pretty much what sin is to a preacher. A disgraceful bunch of bestial lusts and impulses. Society—through the parents, mostly—disciplined the id by disciplining the infant and the child; this produced the superego—or conscience, according to Freud. As far as Freud could see, man would always live amidst conflicts set up between his id and whatever superego, or culture, had been hammered around it—plus his own common sense, if any. Dismal view.”

“And Jung?”

“Well—Freud showed that instinct exists as a basic motivation of mankind. Not that anybody but a few psy[Pg 87]chiatrists have ever paid attention to the discovery. But there it was—the beginning of a science of psychological evolution of people. Jung asked what instinct was and how it worked. Jung found out several things Freud only began to realize. For instance, Jung looked at animals and perceived that their instincts unfold in them, individually, as they mature.”

“You mean, new-born beavers don’t start building dams immediately?”

“Exactly. So the id of infancy is only part of instinct. More instinct appears as the person ages—which is in line with the nature of instinct in all other living beings. Next, Jung noticed that instinct in animals, and in primitive people who hardly ever use reason and logic abstractedly, takes care of the whole life cycle of every species. So it cannot be viewed as mere lawless, infantile lust. If it were only that, animals, and primitive men, would tear up each other and themselves; all life would commit suicide. From the animal viewpoint—instinct includes whatever animals do that men would call ‘good,’ ‘virtuous,’ ‘unselfish,’ ‘self-sacrificing,’ and so on. Do you follow?”

“I think so.”

“There are—so to speak—checks and balances—compensations—counterinstincts. That’s the idea embodied in Chinese philosophy. In Taoism, for example. That’s the concept symbolized by the yin and the yang. It’s the idea embodied in Toynbee’s theory of history, too—right up till the present, when his own ego confuses its own description of instinct with history. At that point, Toynbee decided that the Church of England—his personal patternization of instinct—might salvage civilization. Which, of course, is pathetic. But let’s drag this bundle a little bit further before we drop it and go back to you. If all animals have a proper pattern of instinct—man has. But man is to some extent conscious—and therefore to some degree able to separate out a personal identity of himself—an ego—from the older, more powerful compulsions and countercompulsions of his in[Pg 88]stinct. And he has used his consciousness—largely—not to maintain and enhance the liaison between his ego and the forces that drive him statistically forever—but to swell up his ego and to conceal from it those fundamental forces.”

“I don’t understand that.”

“Well—man tries to deny he’s an animal. Or to hide the fact. To call everything that is animal subhuman. To call every success he makes his own achievement. To call every disaster no fault of his own. Because he is conscious—he has slowly learned to extend the physical capacities of every kind of animal—for his own, immediate benefits. He has telescope-microscope-X-ray eyes. He has atomic energy muscles. Brighter light at night than the fireflies. He can fly faster than any bird—speed through the water faster than any fish—store food for decades when a ruminant or a pelican can store it only for days. He has even developed quite a few techniques that have no good animal correlative, though most of man’s inventions were made ages before even apes appeared on the planet. Man has merely learned. But he tells himself he discovered and invented. It gives him a preposterous arrogance. And that’s largely what he has used consciousness to swell up.”

“We just skip his ideals—and philosophies—?”

“No. But we note that, to extend his physical capacities, he has used logic and reason. He has sometimes tried to employ them on his consciousness; but never—except intuitively, till recently—has it dawned on him that he is usually unconscious of his own real motives. That his cultures represent guesses—or trial and error. You take a creature that is governed by instinct—and doesn’t realize it—one who confuses instinct with deity and identifies deity with himself—a creature who has made logic work in every dimension of the objective world and is extremely smug about himself in view of the results—and you have an animal cut off from its own nature and hence from Nature itself. Modern men can’t tell whether anything they think[Pg 89] or say or do is suitable to them, or merely the result of a tradition—as the semanticists claim—or whether, perhaps, their motives rise in a desire to hide instinct, to deny the animal, to inflate ego, or what not.”

“I’m confused again.”

“Put anybody through psychoanalysis—all the way, not just far enough to scare the wits out of him, and so make him hide his fear from himself by turning upon and ridiculing psychoanalysis—and that person will discover there is more instinct in him that he didn’t know about than there is ego that he knew. Awful shock. Then put the same person through an analysis by a Jungian, and he will get numberless clues about the images and dreams and the feelings we have which are intended, by Nature, to make us conscious of the whole of human instinct as a pattern.”

Yvonne shook her head. “Let’s talk about me.”

I wanted—I always want—to continue that line of explanation. It seems logical to me that man would have in his head the means to recover a consciousness of instinct—and to find, in that recovered awareness, not just the psychological history of the past, as man finds history in his body, but intimations of the future, which also exist in his body, as countless extrapolating anthropologists have shown. There must be some way, I have always thought, to shove aside the immature id and also the disguising images, taboos, compulsions, and descriptions of the modern superego, and to see what lies beyond them both—looking backward and looking forward. Having at long last followed Jung’s inquiry into this process, having grasped his techniques and repeated, through idioms of my own personality, the same empirical experiences which Jung has demonstrated in hundreds of other human beings as well as in societies seen as wholes—I have been afflicted with an urge to bring the steps to wider attention and understanding.

And I suppose I shall try to do so, sporadically, all my life. But I realize now the futility of the effort as a “cause.”

[Pg 90]

I am the man who wanted, from childhood’s earliest dreams, to know what men would think in the future. And now that I believe I know I find that—save for individuals—present men cannot even reach toward such ideas and concepts. Could they, the better world would be at hand, and not a mere ignorant wish. It is a simple irony—an operation of the very law I learned—the law that I imagine all men will finally discover. And, while it supplies me with hope for my species, it condemns me to general incomprehensibility.

If you wished for the future—and were given it—you couldn’t use it today. Because it is the future.

Physicists feel this way—and rightly—concerning their urgent, brilliant, all-but-fruitless efforts to explain ideas in comparatively familiar and acceptable fields—ideas such as Relativity or the Quantum Theory. How much more, then, will psychologists feel it! The wide world of their awareness has as yet not even a basic glossary among people; they do not yet even use the arithmetic of that science in their daily lives.

Indeed, the psychiatrist, the practitioner of certain known principles of human psychology, the physician, is still prone to dodge the central fact of his science. “Psychology,” he says, dogmatically identifying his opinion with the science, “does not conflict or interfere with religion. There are areas in which the minister or priest is better equipped to deal than the psychologist. Psychiatry does not attempt to change a man’s beliefs. And it is not ‘all sex’—as is so often claimed. It is not concerned with sex morals, or any moral law.”

So, in his time, the churches made old Galileo lie, too. Made him lie to live at all.

And so the same churches in our day cause comparably enlightened men to lie concerning their knowledge—in order that any people may benefit by it at all. In order, truly, to go on living. It is one more expedient dishonor of scientists.

[Pg 91]

For psychology—though a thousand Presbyterian and Roman Catholic practitioners of its minor branches may not admit it—and though ten thousand better psychologists lie their faces black—has already put a period to orthodox religion. The old astronomers did away with the old cosmology for all the churches. The new investigators of awareness have done away with the ancient theologies and “moral” systems as completely—whether it takes the people a generation or a thousand years to find it out. Psychology is the scientific investigation of what man calls awareness and of what prompts him that he is unaware of. As such, it inevitably must analyze and resolve all man’s beliefs, religions, faiths and the mechanisms of them, as well as his politics, his economics, the motives of his arts, his morals, ethics and sex manners. Why should anybody be surprised that science, turned finally upon man’s inner self, should disclose different shapes from those held real by Stone Age man, barbarians, and a few later millenniums of men who decree that they are Christian but act more viciously than any beast?

The disavowing psychiatrists, opportunist weaselers or men who do not see that their science has set philosophy aside, will be historically remembered. Their acts will prove the shocking superstitiousness of the twentieth century and—in some cases—represent the public persecutions, the subjective witchburnings, which show this era to be a continuum of the Dark Ages.

As I said earlier, a smug people cannot even find the motive for asking if a science of psychology exists, let alone what it has learned. And we Americans are probably the most self-satisfied people who ever appeared. The whole world starves, brawls, perishes around us. Our own philosophy of progress is leading us to swift, continental exhaustion—to the resourcelessness of our own progeny. Yet we believe we are doing right and thinking rightly—a great, good, wonderful, near-perfect nation.

It will take generations of disaster to crack the hull of[Pg 92] such preposterous self-satisfaction. Only through despair and amidst ruins, in all likelihood, will men discover that humility which may lead to the honest assessment of man’s vanities, his insane traditions, pompous faiths, patriotisms, and excesses. But there is not much use talking about it or trying to explain. Knowledge cannot fend where the people refuse to know.

“Did you ever raise dogs?” I asked Yvonne.

She had been quietly eating lobster bisque—glancing at me from time to time while I reflected and while I ate, too. She nodded. “Several.”

“Then you’ve noticed that pups behave in every single way that would, in people, be called sinful, immoral, and perverse.”

“That’s the nastiest thing I ever heard in my life! How could animals be perverted!”

“Did I say they were? I merely said—or tried to—that dogs exhibit all the same curious activities your Professor Kinsey found abundant in human behavior.”

“They do not!”

I grinned. “Perhaps yours didn’t. Perhaps—whenever you saw in your pups a symptom of any sort of sex activity—you yelled at them. Pulled them apart. Swatted them with a switch—”

“I never used a thing but rolled newspapers!”

I laughed until she saw why. She flushed. I went on. “You imposed, by force, your sex manners—Episcopalian?—I thought so—on your dogs. If you left them alone—as I do mine—you’d see that pups are every bit as ‘perverted’ as people. Grown dogs, too, sometimes. So are wild animals. Put a bunch of male monkeys together—without females—”

“I detest monkeys!”

“They won’t mind. Anyhow—segregate the males and they’ll turn homosexual. My caustic acquaintance, Dr. Hooton, the anthropologist, has reported it. He says it is ‘disgusting’—a curiously unscientific term. The monkeys[Pg 93] weren’t disgusted, after all. Just having fun, getting relief, being excited.”

“What are you trying to prove now?”

I shrugged. “That mammalian sexual behavior has a pattern and men belong in it.”

“What nonsense! Men know what they are doing! Animals don’t!”

“Then why was Kinsey able to show that men do just exactly what the dogs and monkeys and all the other mammals do—in spite of church, law, state, parents, culture, schools, society, and every other restraint they can dream up, consciously?”

“Some men—maybe.”

“All I have been trying to point out, Yvonne, is that people who don’t know where they are in space—people as ignorant of simple, cultural fact as the average American college graduate—obviously cannot know anything much about their real sex natures, since these have been honestly examined only recently and only by a few men, and since sexual enlightenment is the great taboo in this era. To that I merely add that men do behave sexually like mammals, which has been shown, and mammals do not behave in any fashion resembling the sex mores of this age.”

Her gray eyes were bitter. “You think, then, that it would be perfectly acceptable, if you felt like it, to attack me right here and right now?”

“Yvonne. Even if I didn’t have vestiges of your Episcopalian superego, or its equivalent, and ideas of my own besides—all the other people here do have your attitude. And I’m not a lunatic.”

“You think, though”—her eyes went burningly around the room in search of effective illustration—”it would be perfectly all right for me to get a yen for the cashier, and show it, and let the cashier see it, too! Nobody should mind that—?”

She spoke with such emotion that I leaned forward to[Pg 94] see why she’d selected the cashier. The cashier was a dark-haired girl, a pretty girl, leaning into the rays of a desk lamp to add up a dinner check.

I said, “Charming.”

“You’re an evil person.”

“Did I pick out the cashier—or did you?”

She considered anger—and settled for laughter. “At least, you have one virtue. A person around you doesn’t have to censor what he says.”

“And the devil is shocked by virtue, too—is that right? How perfectly the closed mind bats them back! It must be marvelous never to be able to wonder what goes on outside your own head. The enviable situation of nearly everybody! And the everlasting chute-the-chutes to hell-on-earth. Here comes our next course, Miss Morals.”

“Can I have pêches flambeau?” she asked, somewhat later.

“I’ll join you.”

“I thought you didn’t drink?”

“I don’t. A brandied bonbon? Peaches with the alcohol mostly burned away? Sherry in the soup? I’m not absolutist, Yvonne—not stuck with it, quite. I don’t accidentally swallow the port in my fruit cocktail and then go out and get roaring drunk—excusing myself with the accident of the port. Maybe the sniff of alcohol will fold up the resolution of some reformed drunkards. My own problem—in that case—was different.”

“What was it, then?”

“It’s a long and sordid story that I am not going to tell you now.”

“Do you really understand all these things you’re talking about?”

I thought that one over. “Mostly,” I said, “my mental activity relates to errors in the concepts of other people. Let’s say—I’ve come to understand a good deal—by search[Pg 95]ing for blunder, by hunting for the sense of what brighter guys have learned. By relating them all.”

“If God came in here now, what would you ask Him?”

It was quite a question and I looked at her with surprise. Her face saddened. “Rol said that to me, once. But what?”

What would I ask?

I realized, with a strange feeling, that I wouldn’t ask anything. No questions. No further privileges. No favors. No additional enlightenment. That last impulse had stayed in my mind for a moment and I had then thought, if you want more enlightenment, the data is there, son. Enlighten yourself. Don’t ask, when there’s a chance of finding out on your own.

Superego?

Had my father told me that?

Or was that how I felt about life and the world?

I felt that way.

My father had his faith.

So it was not superego.

I would say hello to God.

What I did not know, what I knew that I did not express, others would learn, others would say.

There was a little instant of silence and remoteness around me as I underwent the experience that goes with such realization.

A calm.

The Crépuscule was a long way off—the sound and sight and smell of a dim restaurant.

The trio was playing “Ja-da,” I finally realized.

Yvonne snapped her fingers in my face and laughed. “If you must daydream, put me in the act.”

“What part do you want?”

“I’m a woman,” she said. “And, according to you, I can play only one part. I’ll be the sins of your mind. Do your[Pg 96] evil for you. Kiss the cashiers and encourage little children to undress each other. Throw stones at cathedral windows—”

“It’s your life. And your sin-list. Go ahead.”

“Your list.”

“You’re sticking to acts. And mighty compulsive ones, too. All I’ve done is to give such matters subjective consideration.”

“The thought is father to the deed.”

“Then for God’s sake be more attentive to what you think!”

“Jesuit!”

“I’m the nemesis of that whole philosophy.”

“At least—you’re sincere. I didn’t believe so, when I read your books. I thought you were just fond of shocking people.”

“I could never shock them a millionth part of the amount they’ve shocked me.”

“But you did your best?”

I laughed at that. “Sometimes.” A sad confession.

“Don’t you love burning brandy?”

We watched the peaches flame.

2

I took her over to the Amigo.

They had a rumba band there that would give sloe-eyed fantasies to a Norseman.

And it wasn’t crowded.

I haven’t said—was it necessary?—that I intended to make Mrs. Prentiss eat one or two of those gardenias. That is, I proposed in my mind to bring her to the point of withdrawing the order that I was to behave toward her in all chaste chivalry. As to what I would do beyond that, I had no idea. It could not possibly be important if I followed up a moral (or immoral) victory with what would then be an ethical (or unethical) act.

[Pg 97]

Mrs. Prentiss was a remarkably handsome young woman. She was somewhat educated and she had a fair degree of intellectual sensitivity. In telling me she had not understood what I was saying she had implied a considerable degree of comprehension and a reluctance to deal with whatever it was that she had gathered from my words. She was “mostly” frigid (an intriguing expression) in many different ways.

In any sexual encounter she would undoubtedly barricade herself from biological design with common artifact—and half the Pharmacopoeia, besides. She was avid and did not know it. I could see—as the reader has seen with me, no doubt—that her domestic debacle was the result of a projection of her own guilt-sense. She was a nubile dancer. But she used her dancing rather meanly—as a sly and enjoyable confession to herself which, she thought, was the most that society would permit of dancing. She was somewhat spoiled and very selfish—extremely prissy in the real, felt sense of the word: a bitch. Nobody, that is to say, existed for her excepting in that they existed for her desires.

She had moved to a room beside me. She had tried to lead me—at first—on the dance floor. She had thrust the eyes and lips of her psyche into the brunette cashier’s hair without caring in the least for the brunette or for any woman or for what happened to others. She had attributed the libidinous gesture to my imagination, when I had brought it to light. She had failed to add anything but frustration to the life of a man about whom I had heard, so far, what I regarded as almost nothing but good.

She had bought her world and was willing to pay in cash to keep it the way she wanted it—but not willing to pay in a dime’s worth of herself. She needed a lesson. For there were nice things about her.

The expression on her face when she talked about Rol was descriptive, to me, of many good qualities—of loyalty to emotions she did not understand, of untapped vehe[Pg 98]mences, of tenderness—of human characteristics she was unable to embody. She had been taught not to embody them—she had been taught such attributes were weaknesses—or she had been taught nothing concerning them at all. Her greedy mother. The cocksure extravert—her father—a man who, even from her brief account, plainly believed he knew all there was worth knowing on all topics, one who had reached final conclusions about Everything. Reached them—or was able to jump to them by a process requiring neither thought nor the machinery for evaluation. Reached them or jumped to them because his opinions were peeled like decalcomania from Precedents set up by businessmen who have graduated from good universities.

I knew the type. Sometimes I feel there is hardly any other. Yvonne’s dad—successful real estate man—Ivy League—New Yorker—daughter-adored. He had no reason to doubt his excellence. He was rich, which proved it. He had graduated from a superior university, which guaranteed his intelligence, knowledge and culture. And his success had been achieved in a tough game in the biggest city on the earth. Moreover, he was, apparently, a churchman. Hence not only the tradition of America, as a whole, and the judgment of upper-class America, but God Himself, attested to his superiority. On top of all that, he was, no doubt, a good guy. A good guy who had loved his elder daughter a little more (how?) than Yvonne.

It was not remarkable that Yvonne exhibited the characteristics and the reactions she’d sketched for me—or those I’d witnessed. She had been packaged in the best fashion of the richest and most powerful culture of the twentieth century by people who knew and felt less of the significance of life than any other group which has arisen in the species during its past ten or twenty parasitical millenniums. In representing the highest peak of what is called civilization she presented the least sensitive arrangement of what is human.

[Pg 99]

A nice bitch, then, with a father complex.

When we began dancing, I was still fiddling in my mind with fragments of the dinner monologue. A couple of things should be said about it.

As the reader has perceived, it represented in its way a conscious effort at self-assessment. It was a partial statement of philosophy—my own—urged upon me at that time because, under my circumstances, some review of philosophy was inevitable. When the Ghoul appears, one thinks about one’s thoughts.

For a while, we scarcely talked at all.

American women, as a rule, will rarely listen to a monologue by a man; when they do, it is usually because they want something from the man. Men have, generally, the better faculty for speech; in America they are not trained to use it. And they are, moreover, so accustomed to female authority in their formative years that they submit, all their lives, to the clamor of it. An aggregation of American people is thus conventionally dominated by the tongues of women and sounds like the continuous breaking of dishes.

Yvonne had listened through part of a lunch and all of a dinner and now we set our communication in a more definite language—one that followed the tempo of maracas and made use of the whole body.

“Rol,” she said once, during an Afro-Cuban number, “needs lessons.”

“Who doesn’t?”

“Did you take a lot?”

“Hundreds.”

She danced quietly for a while. “Did they teach you—?”

I held her a little closer. The gardenias smelled like nights in Florida. “It’s not in the book, Yvonne. But there’s nothing in the book, either, that says you shouldn’t go to Havana and find out what the steps mean—when you’ve learned how to do them.”

She said, “I think I better sit down.”

[Pg 100]

We went to our table and she ordered another Planter’s Punch. Her face was a damp, darker color now than peach; perspiration had curled small ends of her hair so that they were like the tendrils on vines. She was panting—and trying to disguise it—but I could hear the breath in her throat and see the dilation of her nostrils. We had been dancing hard. We both needed the long, slow drink of air—though the air here was warm, full of smoke, and had garish light in it that made too plain the grimed plaster on the walls. Too plain, that is, for the music and its mood.

“You do things to me,” she said.

“You do them to yourself. In sex, men respond to the subject, women to the object. I’m your object—but you’re the response.”

“I could be annoyed with that.”

“More of what you’d call antifeminist propaganda?”

She shook her head. “Annoyed on the grounds that you apparently never let yourself go.”

“On the contrary. I always let myself go. But I always let my brain go along, too.”

She thought about that. “Annoyed—then—on the grounds that there’s nothing reciprocal about the dance we had.”

“But you’d be wrong. After all—I asked you to dinner.”

“Because you were curious.” She spoke petulantly. “Because you like to find out what makes people tick. Because you’re full of half-baked missionary impulses.”

“Because you’re a damned good-looking dame.”

“You think so?”

“Don’t fish.”

“I’m not! Plenty of people think that I’m a spoiled brat with merely superficial good looks.”

“Girls that troll in my waters catch whatever is swimming by that’s hungry. Of course you’re a spoiled brat—and all good looks are superficial. So I was in a mood. I came down to lunch. I saw a blonde with a book—odd enough, in[Pg 101] itself, to be interesting. A hell of a good-looking blonde. And I sat down beside her and she told me the story of her life.”

She saw that she was not going to be appeased beyond that deliberately meager degree. She sighed and picked up the tall glass as soon as the waiter deposited it and drank perhaps a third of it, thirstily. Afterward, she tittered. “I’m going to get tight, if I do that again.”

“And if you get tight, I’ll take you home.”

“And if you take me home, I’ll pound on your door.”

“And if you pound on the door, I’ll put you under a cold shower.”

“And I’ll call the manager.”

“You won’t need to. He’ll be helping me with the shower.”

“I thought you were maybe hoping I’d get a little tight.”

“Why?”

“Don’t men?”

“Not me.”

“It’s supposed,” she said with a flirtatious glance, “to make it easier.”

“Make what easier?”

“Oh—being with girls.”

“I never found it difficult—except when they were tight. Then my impulse is to run.”

“There we go again! Women mustn’t drink. But you—being a man—don’t care if the boys get blind.”

“Did I say so? Having been a drunk—and quit—I detest drunks. A common example of the law of opposites in operation. I force myself to associate with them, sometimes, because I owe drunkenness a good deal of quid pro quo—”

“Like an Alcoholic Anonymous?”

“Like that—without the self-canonization. An American man—with a few drinks in his blood stream—is able to become a shade more human. To shed the posture of men demanded by his era and its women. To show he has feelings, to be introverted—unless he gets out of hand—and even to[Pg 102] think a little bit. To cherish and fear, to appreciate and revile, to show some evidence of the democracy and human brotherhood he is always talking about—and always doing his best to defeat by getting to the top in nefarious ways. I don’t mind guys being slightly tight. Excepting for the danger that they’ll go beyond that stage—which they so generally do.”

“But women! Dear, dear!”

“The average American female with three or four cocktails in her becomes a living exhibit of the frustrations inherent in the feminist myth of these days. Together with the compulsions.”

“Yes, Mr. Wylie?”

I grinned at her. “She sets out to prove the myth she has not been able to live up to, sober—that women are superior to men and also the exact equals of men. She does this by turning into a bad imitation of a man. She argues. She imagines her arguments are brilliant and crushing—when they are non sequiturs and ad hominems. She directs. She orders. She demands. She judges—she is a little tin magistrate hurling charges to unseen juries and handing out sentences on her enemies or auditors. She is both the defending and the prosecuting attorney. She is everything but a lady and everybody but the prisoner. Which shows, of course, that she feels imprisoned when sober, and also envious of males when she goes around in her sober mind trying to convince herself and everybody she is their equal and also their superior.”

Her voice suddenly became flat and cold. “I am beginning to get very tired of you, Mr. Wylie.”

I looked at her.

You have only to apologize, to crawl about for a moment, to resume flattery or a suggestion thereof, to dance again, to put your hand gently on her—in such a way that she would remove it firmly. Then everything will be stardust again. She will be a beautiful young woman enjoying,[Pg 103] with world sanction, the company of a suitable guy. Toying, perhaps, with the thought of an affaire. Toying would be her word and toy, her inept function.

And what had I been doing?

I looked for the waiter. If he had been visible in the smoke-spun, light-pulsing, low altitude of the big room, I would have asked for the check and taken her straight to her door and to hell with her. This was my night to howl, maybe. It was turning into my night to die. I had the right—or intended to make the right—to howl and die as I pleased and with whom I chose.

But while I was looking, she sensed my intention. “I’m sorry,” she said. “I didn’t mean to be rude! You hurt my feelings.”

So I dissembled. “I was hunting for our waiter. Let’s go someplace else.”

We walked down the staircase of a Latin spot off Eighth Avenue called the Cuban Paradise. A spot with a still lower ceiling, and no air conditioning or ventilation. Two small rumba bands alternate, so the music is constant, and nine-tenths of the customers are Cubans or Puerto Ricans or South Americans. The orchestras are not pretentious, but such as may be heard on a hundred side streets in Havana.

We took a little table at the wall. New Yorkers spend a good deal of their lives with their backs to walls, looking at things, eating things, drinking. We ordered coffee and the waiter dutifully told us there was a small minimum. It was Cuban coffee—thick and sweet—and we listened to rhythms musically naïve but emotionally more sophisticated than those of the big, smooth, uptown bands. Music is like accent in speech, and very few foreigners learn the language of another nation so well as to lose all traces of their own tongue—to talk like natives. At the Cuban Paradise, the Latins danced as they were supposed to and wanted to. Working people having fun. Immigrants remembering tropi[Pg 104]cal nights—and sounds never heard in Manhattan—trees never seen on its streets—flowers never sold in its markets.

There were pairs of girls dancing together—hopefully—and when I saw them, executing the slow, insidious steps of a bolero—I glanced at Yvonne. She was watching them, too—watching them so intently that my glance became a stare. She noticed and swept from her face its look of participation.

Again, I felt terribly sorry for her. Sorry as one feels sorry for a bird that has failed to migrate and sits on its branch in the dreary rain of autumn, knowing the world is wrong, feebly sensing a lost, warmer climate, but unable to resolve the quandary of the dream and the pain of its present. A bird can be a sharp thing with a reptile’s appetite—a bright bundle of vanity and vengeance. She smiled, though.

“Those two girls—the redhead and the one with blue-black hair—are very good, aren’t they?”

“The dark one’s beautiful—like an Indian.”

“Probably is part Indian—and also probably a Dodger fan who chews bubble gum and works in Macy’s stockroom.”

“I wish I could lead—the way she does!”

“That’s the boy’s department.” I laughed. “Sorry! Maybe you’re right. Maybe I am prejudiced. Though I regard it as merely the extreme and necessary product of my constant effort to keep track of prerogatives which are defiled and trampled every few seconds in this fair land!” I then added, “If you really want to learn dancing, you have to learn both parts. Yours—the girl’s.”

She was easily mollified. And she was—not tight—but less cautious about herself. “I never thought of that! It would be interesting!” She looked at me thoughtfully. “Did you ever dance with a man?”

“Of course.”

Her gray eyes kept looking. “Was it exciting?”

“Sailors,” I said, “dance together on battleships and[Pg 105] have fun. That’s why sailors are good dancers. I was never a sailor, however. The dancing I’ve done with guys was when my teacher despaired of being able to show me a step—and called in one of the boys to demonstrate—and to lead it.”

“Oh.”

She was disappointed. She had fled in revulsion from her husband’s act; she had no similar scruples about me.

On the contrary.

I thought that if she possessed even a little insight into that single pair of facts she might be a happier girl. And I also thought that any attempt to supply the insight by pointing out the two inconsistent attitudes would only tighten the hold of her small, personal dilemma. She would deny the very suggestion; she would use all her energy to authenticate the denial—immediately—and in the weeks, months, years to come—use it to kid herself. Not to investigate herself.

So I said, “It’s a good way to learn. Lots of gals get women teachers in dancing school. Men embarrass them.”

“Really?”

“Sure.”

“You mean—if I went and enrolled and asked for a girl teacher—nobody would think I was—queer?”

“Thousands do.”

“I never knew it.” She said that almost to herself—and hurried on, as if to expunge it. “We had a man teacher that came to the house—and I was always afraid to go to a school—for fear I’d get some slimy gigolo—”

“More likely a GI working his way through college.”

“Don’t you want to dance with me again?”

It was after one o’clock when we climbed back up on the humid street and the doorman flagged a cab. She said the night was young—and I said, but I was old. I said I had to get up early and work. I told the driver to go by way of Central Park and Seventy-second Street and while we[Pg 106] hummed between the lamplit green leaf walls she moved over to be kissed, so I kissed her, but not much. And after that I spoiled my breast-pocket handkerchief wiping off the lipstick, which is another convention. We went through the empty lobby. The night clerk was a tall, handsome gent and his eyes glimmered at me when I rang the elevator bell. Harry brought a car down, let out a policeman (who had been on God alone could imagine what errand) and hoisted us to Sixteen.

She took her key from the golden handbag and unlocked 1603. She turned up her face slightly. “It’s been a lovely evening.”

I tossed the key of 1601 and caught it. “Me, too.”

“It’s a pity a girl can’t ask you in for a nightcap. But you’d only be able to have Coca-Cola.”

“Gotta sleep. I’ll give you a buzz in the morning, Yvonne.”

“Will you?”

“Bet.”

She gave me a musical good night and opened her door slowly. I walked down the red carpet—and her door closed with a bang.

3

There was nothing for me in my own apartment.

The books—even Vogt’s Road to Survival, which I had almost finished—looked nervous. The many magazines—through all of which I had coursed while bathing, eating, sitting on the toilet, riding in the plane, idling—were like partly-consumed meals: there were bits here and there I still wanted to taste, to digest—but not now. I was, of course, neither sleepy nor intending to go to bed. I can get along for days, for weeks, on four or five hours of sleep, even without throat cancer. Often, when I am writing a long story, I begin with the sunrise, go to sleep at two or three[Pg 107] the next morning, get up with dawn again—and so continue until the job is done.

My body ad-libs its life. When its brain is electrified, when the aurora of thought and imagination and sensation ascends there as a means to work, to dream, to worry, to engage in reasoning or wild speculation, the thing that calls itself “I” follows after, like a boy after a rainbow—and I have found as many pots of gold as a bank president. And when my body has nothing to say or do or think about, I sleep. I lie on the ground. I hoe potatoes and corn, dig garbage pits, make tables and bookshelves, fix gadgets. I sit on a beach and stare at the accumulation of hydrogen cunningly mixed with oxygen. When my body is sick, the I runs to doctors, takes pills, eases itself—and pushes at pain only if it must, like a man wheeling a heavy barrow up a hill. I do not have the illusion of fortitude that makes sadists of, say, Englishmen. I suffer. And when my I is grayed with its own weather, or the bad chemistry of the body that owns it, I suffer, too—jittering and jizzling, mourning and dreading, a repelled, repellent object—a man with blues.

The construction of society does not permit such practices by most. They have the 8:02 to catch, the Monday wash, and their two weeks in July. The church bell rings not when the preacher feels he is close to God, but at eleven, on the Seventh Day. He who is weak with the length of winter cannot escape it; who faints in the summer must faint again upon recovering consciousness—or else employ his I to whip his body so that it will face summer without further protest.

No other animal would do itself such violences.

This is an age of schedules. The people of it have long since foundered in time. Time is a sea that presses them to its bottom—a sea that waterlogs their tissues—a sea that prevents them from the experience of its own medium as other than a weight and an absolute dimension.

Living is drowning with the first lesson at the clock and being drowned forever after that.

[Pg 108]

My body and my I had endeavored, with some success, to ignore the obsessional meridians. Others may travel them like a baby that has learned to walk and become so enamored of the skill as to proceed, steadily, for the rest of its days, in one straight line on time’s sea bottom. We have stopped—separately and together—somewhat explored time’s other dimensions—gone to the surface and seen the sun, for example—bought time, stolen it, ignored it, zigzagged, looked back through it, and seen the straight line of the compulsive infant for the circle it really is.

As Dr. E. has shown, time’s a human invention—a convenient illusion. As the body knows, it has no more significance, alone, than width, by itself. But the I has taken time, in most cases, for a universal measurement, notched it in hours and minutes, and set the whole world to counting time. Its mere recognition is subjective. Yet, how few subjects realize that if the subject be a baseball player, and if his subjectivity and objectivity live fifty years—then the subjectivity of Wordsworth, or Emerson, may have lasted for several hundred thousand?

So, in this frame of reference—this truer attitude—even I, compared with some of my timeserving fellow men, may be older than Methuselah.

The body is potentially immortal: it can reproduce itself. And so the I would be immortal in its self-sensation if it were oriented, like the lives of animals, toward that which it could reproduce—all men toward all men yet to be—rather than toward its wretched self-awareness, its greedy, permanent stoppage of time for narcissistic attitudinizing. The I is a mirror. It can see itself forever and any now as this now—if only it looks at the reflection to observe all those behind and all beyond, of which it is an integral. But if it ignores those behind—rules out even the next-lowest author of its instincts—and if it eschews the requirements of those to come which are the integral function of itself—if, that is, the I concentrates upon its one embodied reflection, reject[Pg 109]ing the panoply of life and repudiating past and present for its little now—then, truly that I is mortal. It is a suicide for that it is an assassin.

Such are all persons but a very few, these days.

So are they taught.

So inspired: unpunctuality and unproductivity are un-American.

So do they urgently maintain themselves—egoists without the sense of individuation.

And that is why the earth is perishing for man.

In the hatred people have for people.

And the absolute hatred of posterity that rises from the absolute rejection of our real ancestry.

There are moments when the circumstance is unutterably clear to me—and in these, I know—without respect to the immediate employment of my body or the thing called I.

There are moments when the time-easements I have bought grow clouded.

And then the knowledge escapes arms, legs, cranium, and I.

What man, reared as I was, domiciled in this earth’s insanity, has even the intimations, let alone the occasional assurance? And who, attached to his clocks, trains, bells, and the earth’s turned shadow, keeps a continual hold upon the vital principle? Very few.

Say it was late.

Say I did not want to sleep.

Say, if you will, I did not want to face my circumstances. It is not so. The space during which I sat on the green sofa smoking my cigarette was what you call ten minutes—an infinity that could not be shortened, made painful, or even touched at any point by measurement.

I picked up the telephone.

The colored girl had a soft voice. “Hello?”

“This is Phil Wylie—is Hattie there?”

“What’s the name again, please, sir?”

[Pg 110]

I spelled it. She was gone for a long time. I felt a little amused. If Hattie didn’t remember—I thought she would—they’d be obliged to consult books or files or whatever records they kept, that went back to the wild, drunk, bewildering years when my first marriage had worn patience thin, shattered it, and turned loose on the town a younger man. A decade and more ago.

Hattie’s voice—deep, harsh—worried, I thought. “Phil, for God’s sake! Where have you been keeping yourself? I heard you were a reformed character.”

“My wife told me to call you up.”

Hattie was unruffled. “Sometimes they do. How are you?”

“Swell.”

“I’m glad to hear it! What can we do for you?”

“It’s a long, fascinating story that I’d like to run up and tell you.”

“Be a pleasure. I’m losing at bridge. Looking for an out.” She chuckled. “Stingers? Side cars? What shall I get ready?”

“Coffee.”

“Better still! Viola keeps a percolator on—but I’ll have her make it fresh. Usually—it’s like French pot-au-feu—goes on forever.”

“You’ve doubtless—moved—?”

“Moved! We’re Manhattan’s most displaced persons!” She gave me a high number on the West Side.

There was never a rush hour at Hattie’s. But two a.m. was what might be called the peak. It embarrassed no one: she had plenty of sitting rooms. In any case, most of the customers knew one another—and knew one another as clients.

A white marble lobby. An elevator with much gilded fretwork. It was operated by a Negro with an exceedingly noncommittal face. Only one door in the hall on the top floor. A good-sized apartment building, I thought, as I[Pg 111] pushed the bell and heard the chimes; hence a good-sized bordello. The colored girl who had answered the phone answered the door, keeping the chain attached. I told her my name.

The foyer was dim and modernistic. Two halls branched from it. I could see doors along both—and hear music.

“Jes’ follow me, please.”

She said it all night.

The perfumes mingled, the way they do. It is a woman’s medley—expensive or cheap—with no other detectable difference. One door was open. Two girls sat there—pale, straight hair that fell to a sharp, sculptured point over a book and a pair of shimmering, nylon legs.

Viola went on.

She opened another door. Hattie was standing at the window in a green dress—her once-sleek orange hair dyed black, now, and fluffed out—her ankles no longer slim—and when she turned I hid, as all of us do, my inner response to the etching of the interval—that very Time which I so recently had seen to be without importance. She was now about fifty-five.

“Phil,” she said, “this is nice! You don’t seem a day older—just wiser. But look at me!”

“Brunette.”

“A harridan. The warmest heart in the world—and what happens? The opposite of Dorian Grey. I blame it on the high morals and low conduct of the cops. Hard years. I loved Fiorello—and he despised every bone in my body. I was even over in Jersey for a while. It was the lowest period in my life. Sit down over there in the red chair. Viola, bring us coffee. You know—I’ve often thought about you—when I read your books—or when one of the girls did—or when I read something of yours in a magazine. You aren’t around here much, any more, though, are you?”

[Pg 112]

I shook my head. “Miami Beach. And now—we’re building a house in Miami.”

“Florida. I went down last winter. Had a cold I simply couldn’t shake. Stayed at the Steinberg-Riviera. Hell of a place, Miami Beach! Wonderful weather, period. Everybody on the make. Shake a palm and out drops a chippy. A madam with ethics would starve there—and the news about good taste hasn’t got south of the Mason and Dixon Line.”

“I always think of it as the end of the American dream.”

“It’s the end, anyhow. Phil. Do you really want to see me? Because if you’re being polite for old time’s sake—maybe you’d rather put off the sentimental chitchat till later.”

Hattie is a thoughtful dame.

I was about to laugh at her when an abrupt inquiry held me for a second or two. I was surprised—a little. But the question postponed itself. “I came up—solely and utterly to call on you, Hattie.”

She shrugged one shoulder. She yawned. “Maybe we can return your calls. We used to. But—really—I’m delighted. Except when you were—overburdened—you were always fun to have around. It’s a dull life—just being chaperon to a lot of whores. And it seems to me the boys aren’t interested in philosophy any more. They used to spend more time chinning than cheating, around here. Back in the old days of humanism and liberalism and Coué and the market boom, when the world was full of fun. Why—I had to scout local campuses for girls who could keep in the debates! Now—the boys just come in tight and preoccupied—ask for a girl by hair color, like picking out paint for a kitchen—pay—and scram. I can’t recall how long it’s been since we held one of those impromptu breakfasts—for the celebrities and plain people who happened to be around! It’s depressing!”

I knew what she meant. Everybody knows.

Viola brought the coffee.

[Pg 113]

“Pretty,” I said.

Hattie looked at the door where Viola had gone. “Nice girl. Married and has two kids. The wages are no damned good—but the tips!—I think she does as well as I do, after taxes. More passes made at Vi than nearly anybody actually working. She’s a strict Baptist.”

“I wasn’t—” I thought of reminiscing a little. Then I thought it might be sad. Hattie seemed to have read my mind.

“Remember Elysse? The French girl with the brown bangs?”

I did.

“She’s married. Lives in Troy. Comes to see me once in a while. Lovely girl. And—Charmaine? The president of an oil company moved her onto Park Avenue—died—and left her his heap. Millions. She’s a good customer of mine. You know, Kinsey should interview me before he writes more books.”

Kinsey again.

“Why don’t you drop him a note? Volunteer?”

Hattie’s face wrinkled with amusement. “I wouldn’t want to shock the poor man.”

I laughed.

Her brows came together. They were ordinarily straight and level, red once, black now—like a crayon mark made with a ruler. She still had good-looking amber eyes, fiery but steady, and her forehead was very high. She was beginning to look like some sort of sachem—a tribal wiseman, or a poet. Quite an impressive dame.

“It’s funny,” she said. “I’ve even heard men right in these rooms argue that Kinsey was a liar and crazy and incompetent and a menace to society. Otherwise bright men. Heard them say that Kinsey only talked to screwballs and neurotics and people who were inventing stuff to show off. You’d hardly believe such self-kidding was possible!”

“They said it about psychiatrists and psychoanalysts,[Pg 114] too,” I agreed. “Said that their conclusions were obviously nutty because they never saw anybody but nutty patients. Never stopped to reflect that a neurotic is not a nut, that every patient did his best to tell the precise, detailed truth about his private life, and that every single one of those stories involved the sex behavior of many, many other people who are called normal. I mean—the psychologists learned a whole hell of a lot about what normal people did from every neurotic patient. So when they talked about sex—they had the dope. Most people never thought of that angle.”

“Most people,” Hattie said, “never think. And when it comes to sex, they think about ten times less than never.”

“Which brings me,” I nodded, “to the matter in hand. I got a nephew. A brainy apple and a good kid. And you had a girl here—or on your call list—till about six months ago, named Marcia something—who’s gone to live with Paul—he being the nephew.”

Hattie said, “Yes,” and waited.

I realized that a dozen years is a long time in which not to see anybody—a time long enough for a change, especially if one has quit drinking, married again, and so on and so on and so on. Hattie was afraid I was up to some sort of Presbyterian nasty-work—and she was ready to be disappointed. Ready not to help me call the cops on Marcia, so to speak, and ready to write off one more guy as a galvanized hypocrite.

I said, “In my frank opinion, Paul is not the sort who will be happy with an ex-houri. And I don’t say that because he’s my nephew and because I’m broad-minded about everybody but who-touches-me. Let me tell you what Paul’s like—and how he came to confide in me on the situation—how he got into it—and how he’s acting about it as of this afternoon.”

“Tell me.”

The longer she listened, the more she relaxed. When[Pg 115] finally I stopped talking she walked over to the window, where she had stood when I came in. Her broadening buttocks and shoulders blotted out most of the river-gleam and the Jersey-glow, which you could see from there—but not the boat-hoots which came up around her, wallowing through the city, buzzing the middle ears of the millions. She stood there a while. The frame of faraway light blinked around her and the ferry boats and the freighters hollered pensively at each other. When she turned around, there were tears not only in her eyes but on her cheeks.

“If people only knew what I know!” She said it in a quiet voice with nothing of the brash timber of her usual speech.

“I’ll buy that. I’ll even add a big apothegm, Hat. People have found out so much, they are now obliged to learn the rest. The whole God-damned, agonizing, exalted rest of it.”

She smiled in a woebegone way and got a Kleenex from a drawer. “It’ll take thousands of years,” she said. “They’ve been making the same mistakes, that long.”

“Yeah. Meanwhile, we’ve got Paul and Marcia. I’m supposed to have lunch with them tomorrow. You can see—from what I’ve told you—why I think the thing will fold—painfully. There is, however, a chance it won’t. A chance that depends on what sort of girl Marcia is, mostly. Which is why I came up here.”

She was shaking her head. “Not on the kind of girl she is—necessarily. On how much she loves him.”

“Okay. That.”

“Providing—she can love. Providing—she hasn’t kidded herself into a sweet little daydream that she got from reading too many women’s magazines. Or all those books. She sure was a reading girl. And smart. And attractive, too. How tough are you, Phil?”

“It’s something you do, isn’t it? Not fill out in a questionnaire?”

Hattie smiled. “I don’t want to offend those fine sensi[Pg 116]bilities of yours. Or make you think I’m something special in the she-Judas line. But you want to know whether the girl means it. Why not send your Paul back to his laboratory after lunch—he’d like that—like you to get acquainted with her—and why not—?”

“I’m not tough that way. That’s businessman tough.”

She dropped a hand. “Still—there’s hardly one of them in a thousand who wouldn’t—work out some breezy little arrangement—for a G, say. And she’d have to be such a one.”

“She might just see through it. You said she was smart.”

Hattie shrugged. “If she was smart enough to resist the G, maybe she’d be smart enough. However.”

“In other words, you don’t know about her.”

“Not Marcia. If it was ninety-nine in a hundred, I could tell you right off. Some of them make damned good wives—better sometimes for being here. With the kind of men who really understand what life is—and with the kind who don’t mind because they don’t understand anything at all. I like to see those girls get married. Lots more make swell mistresses for men who married hunks of flint. I could go calling at so many swank addresses that your head would swim. And sometimes I do. There are worse places to look for a wife than good bagnios. Any high-society party, for instance. Women’s colleges, too, I suspect. Most country clubs. The dud percentage—the lack of warmth—runs higher there—”

“Not to mention know-how.”

She sighed—and then chuckled. “Isn’t it crazy? Something that should be given more loving practice than music—something that needs extra experience and skill for civilized people. They think you can learn on one bridal night! Or from a book! A girl it would take a genius of sex to seduce satisfactorily marries a bright young college boy in the chopsticks class—and what have you got? The American home. Did you ever—” the question—indeed, the entire subject—seemed to have roused her—”ever once have an[Pg 117] affair with a plain American wife who was any good? Somebody else’s, I mean?”

“Once.”

“Once! And how many—?”

“Look, Hattie. I came to cross-question you—”

She thought awhile, when she saw I wouldn’t reply—looking out at the city and detesting it. “I’ve had lots of men bring their wives right here—to look and learn.”

“How many?” I grinned.

“God knows! I’m an old madam, Phil. But many a snooty female has lost her inhibitions in my parlors—and gained a little knowledge that went into making a happy home for some guy. The more people say physical sex is unimportant—the more it is likely to become the only thing that is important for them. And they don’t realize.”

“I know.”

“You know. And a lot of my clients know. And a lot of women. But they can’t change anything.”

“Yeah.”

“What do I really do here, then? Ask yourself. I’m in the business of supplying erotic fun to people who are made for it, born to it, urged from the cradle to the grave to take part in it, who depend upon it for mental health, for a decent feeling of good will toward others—and aren’t allowed to engage in it even with their own wedded wives, by the statutes of New York State and forty-seven other little penitentiaries! That’s my trade. And because I’m in it—I am regarded as the greatest blight in civilized society, by millions. Holy, jumped-up St. Peter’s be-hee!”

Through a recollected haze of alcohol I heard this same tirade from old and distant days. And Hattie was right, in her way. The theory of accession to culture and intelligence, to morality and Godliness, through the restraint of desire by the demeaning of it, had run its course in the Western world and unstrung nearly all of us. And where that thesis[Pg 118] did not exist, there were others, still more absurd, to bring other peoples to their repetitive, obnoxious dooms.

Quite suddenly, I felt like weeping.

She left the window and sat down. “Relax.”

The feeling passed like a bird’s shadow.

“What were you doing all evening?” she asked. “How come you’re up so late? Work?”

I thought of telling her—telling her the truth. Thought of it hard and seriously. “Out with a dame,” I said, which was not what I meant by the truth. “A wife. A pretty package of all the quality advertising, from Pasadena, who had caught her hubby in flagrante with a gent—and fled. Protesting too much, if you understand.”

“Half the girls in the country—if they had the nerve—!”

“A latent thing. In maturity, according to the psychologists, it becomes the psychological stuff by which we understand and appreciate our own sex.”

“And it does, too.”

“If you say so, it must be right, Hat.”

“There—you are damned tooting!” She looked at me. “So you took her out—?”

“Rumbaing. I’ve got good at it—since I knew you.”

“Really good?”

“Good enough to please the Cuban girls. So we danced. And I brought her back to the hotel—and turned her loose.”

“Nice guy!”

“I wanted her to exercise her mind. After all—I only met her at lunch—and she’s already moved up on my floor, next door.”

“You should change hotels, then.”

“Too lazy. Too busy. And I can deal with her. Spoiled—and too bad—because the guy she left sounds okay. I wish I could help her out. Taking—what they call—advantage of her, probably wouldn’t. And you can’t re-do a person’s atti[Pg 119]tude and background in a few days—especially with a serial to correct. Usually requires years, and a good analyst—”

“Another wife—to be hated.”

“By you?”

Hattie nodded. “I hate thousands of them. Some, I adore.”

We didn’t seem to find anything to say for a minute. I could have given her one more name for the short side of the ledger but I didn’t want to. Finally I said, “If you get any ideas about Marcia—?”

“Call me up—when you’ve met her. Better still—come by again.”

“I will.” I had no idea whether I would or not.

She got up. “Look. Do me a favor and autograph a couple of your books for me, will you? And have another cup of coffee while I go downstairs and get them?”

“All right.”

She went. Pretty soon a tall, redheaded girl came in without knocking, just as I’d expected one would. Brown-red hair—long, curled at the ends, and a pair of legs to look at. A girl like a mannequin—but no pose; no hauteur. She had enough sex appeal for the end of anybody’s chorus line. She smiled open a wide mouth on even teeth and fixed her hazel eyes on me. Hattie remembered: I had never approved of whores who looked like whores. This one looked like a bright assistant on a magazine—or maybe the wife of a lucky prof.

“My name,” she said, “is Gwen Taylor. Hattie got stuck for a few minutes—and told me to come in. I’ve heard a lot about you—here and there.”

I stood and shook her hand.

She briefly grabbed her lower lip with her upper teeth. “Or is that—indelicate?”

“No. I’m pleased. And not fooled for a minute. You see—I know Hattie.”

[Pg 120]

“After all,” said the girl, “it’s her profession. She said we were having coffee.”

Viola came again with a tray. Gwen poured. “There are half a dozen of us around. Would you like to meet them?”

“One’s enough.”

Her eyes flickered and she smiled. “Thanks.” She handed me the cup, served the sugar with tongs, poured cream, and fixed her own. “Warm night.”

We talked about that.

By and by she nodded toward the radio-phonograph. “Hattie said you like to rumba. So do I.”

I shook my head. “Sometime—”

She looked at me and smiled. “I hope!”

Hattie came with the books, by and by. She made an apology. I wrote in both volumes and signed my name and Hattie accompanied me down one of the two long halls with the many shut doors.

“Like Gwen?”

“Very much.”

“I thought you would. She’s—something! It’s been marvelous to see you, Phil. Call me up!”

The exceedingly noncommittal elevator man took me back to the street. It was gravy-thick with the smell of the river.

I got a cab.

It slatted downtown.

Once, I leaned forward to tell the driver to turn around.

But I didn’t speak.

4

There is a metal clip on every door in the Astolat; mail and written messages are put in it—so the guests won’t have to stoop. I had a letter. A tidy backhand with little circles for periods and dots over the i’s. It looked like a billet-doux from Yvonne—and it was:

[Pg 121]

You meanie!

Everything you said got me so tremendously stimulated I couldn’t sleep. I decided, after a struggle, if you were going to stir girls up that way, you were responsible for their condition. So I phoned you—and no answer! Don’t you know hell hath no fury like a woman scorned? If you feel like a little chitchat when you do come in, phone me. I don’t have to work tomorrow so you needn’t be scrupulous about the hour. And even if you don’t, thanks ever so much for a very disturbing, unsatisfying, lovely evening.

Yours,
Y
It was four o’clock and my body was tired, though my mind was running round and round like a toy electric train.

I didn’t want to see any more of Yvonne at the moment.

I turned out the lights in the sitting room, undressed, took a short, warm shower, and lay down on the double bed, naked. Usually, about two minutes after the lights go out, I fall asleep. But I knew it would take longer that night.

So I piled up the pillows and opened Vogt’s Road to Survival at the page where the jacket was enclosed.

Mr. Vogt’s thesis is simple and damning; I had somewhat reflected upon it earlier that evening.

It is the philosophy of modern man to produce. To industrialize himself. To learn the techniques and technologies of science and of applied science. This is progress. Chinese, Soviets, Americans—everybody strives to speed up production, distribution, consumption. It is also the object of all nations to increase their populations.

The earth cannot support either of these two goals.

The topsoil of the planet will not feed the existing numbers of us, even now—and our method of using it is diminishing it at a gruesome rate. Faster and faster, we starve; and as we multiply, more of us will starve. Medicine, which increases the percentage of persons who survive in[Pg 122]fancy and extends the life span of all these, is but rapidly adding to sure victims of starvation.

We are busy breeding mouths to eat our future out of house and home.

Ideas of this sort have been around since Malthus’s time.

These days, the facts accumulate.

I often reflect that man’s contemporary sexual taboos lead (as they must, by the law of opposites) to sexual excesses: these are seen in man’s witless overbreeding. His “moral” Catholic couch, his unregulated Baptist bed, sustains orgy and is the senseless agent of biological catastrophe. This is the riposte of Nature to man’s refusal to use reason concerning his own nature.

Vogt wants planet-wide birth control, before the teeming hordes locust up the hope of a human hereafter.

Try and get it!

There are other truths about ourselves of this same order:

The minerals. We are digging them up with the reckless violence of pigs after truffles. Truffles can grow again—but not minerals. We are converting the earth’s elements into forms all but irrecoverable even by the most immense expenditures of human energy and time.

Our genes—and the holy habit we’ve got into, of inhibiting birth among our most likely specimens—of proliferating boobs and nuts—of maintaining the feeble and the dim, abetting their rabbity bedding together—and of sending the cream of each generation to war’s slaughter. This, alone, will drive us back toward apehood faster even than our growing physical destitution. Some European nations are doubtless already floundering in the poverty of residual blood-lines—bereft of brains and leadership by their religious devotion and their glorious wars.

Also, of course, there is our failure to perceive our instinctual nature. My own elected department in the category[Pg 123] of dooms. Instinctively, as we must, all of us feel the weight of such colossal crimes against the meaning of instinct as those above—our cosmic disavowals (by our acts) of any responsibility toward men to come. That is why, at bottom, no one is happy in modern society—happy in his spirit, content, full of a sense of purpose and significance. It is why we shall have to remake civilization consciously—or to suffer its self-destruction.

Mr. Vogt, I thought, would feel the power of instinct, as it now blindly controls us, when he saw how religious men reacted to his simple indication of the necessity for using reason in our sex relations. And he would see the inertia of our traditions when he saw how utterly his warning was disbelieved, ignored, ridiculed, and forgotten. Others, with the same wild cry of despair, have had such reception, for the same reason.

It is not that man cannot do for himself.

But that he will not.

And he will not because he is self-flattered into the incredible illusion that Mr. and Mrs. America are doing very well already, thank you kindly.

After a long while, grinning over the tremendous sins of those who take it upon themselves to reject knowledge and yet to say what sin is, I closed the book.

Hell has one funny aspect.

It is where everybody lives.

I sent a thought to Messrs. Sheen, Niebuhr, and their ilk: The up-to-date devil, which you so earnestly seek, gentlemen, may readily be found—wearing the costume of your own minds: unconsciousness.

I slept like a log.

[Pg 124]

PART THREE

Andante

Andante
1

Reveille was the heat of burning gasoline, gears grating, rubber clattering on the sticky pavement and bits of shouts, floating around like confetti. I can remember when it used to be hoofbeats, quiet neighbor-talk, and sometimes, utter silence.

I lay glistening in a depression of the bed. At first, the big noise of the city, diminishing when the lights changed, and plunging up with new zeal a moment afterward, gave me only the pleasant sensation, the titillations and satisfactions, of being in New York. Then I remembered my circumstance. The frightened little animal that I am tore terribly around while I tried to catch it and to hold it and to remind it that the thin tissue on the front of its brain was capable of managing its panic. I spent some time at the job and sat up trickling.

All my life I have listened to a wearisome cell repeat an old saw: the coward dies a thousand times, the brave man once.

A person is afraid to be cowardly.

For many years, owing to this rather superficial sentence, I had to accept the inner humiliation of cowardice. A boy with my kind of imagination, my style of projecting,[Pg 125] could not but help finding in his head the taste of the thousand deaths.

And I am often cowardly still. In those few morning minutes, I chased my coward a long distance.

But I do think the aphorism should be discarded. Certainly the coward dies a thousand times. So, too, however, does the man of imagination. It is the manner of the thousand deaths that is important. And bravery—our poor, human bravery—is not necessarily consonant with faulty imagination or none at all, as this dumbbell’s apothegm implies.

I finally caught my animal—a real beast and not a dream.

I ordered coffee and stepped into the sitting room.

It was after nine.

The morning papers had been put at my door. There was mail.

A letter from Ricky.

I ripped it open and read it hungrily.

Dear:

Would you please, if you get a chance, go to the Lingerie Department at Saks and ask for Miss Drewson? Tell her I’d like to have three more slips like the blue satin ones I got last July when we were in town. I could order them by mail, but I want to be sure to get the same kind and she will know. Size twelve, which I guess I needn’t tell you. We miss you—everything is just the same, which is dandy—and have fun. I love you very much.

Ricky
I had a second little beast to chase, then.

There was a bank statement.

There were four publicity releases from business concerns which keep sending me their bilge even though I took the pains, almost a year ago, to write them that I’d quit[Pg 126] doing a newspaper column and had no way of airing their propaganda even if I felt the urge.

There were three letters from people who liked my books.

There was a letter from the assistant to the dean of a small college in Illinois:

Dear Wylie:

Just how does one go about getting so swellheaded and self-righteous that he thinks he can tell off everybody on earth? I would like to know, because it must be a wonderful sensation to balloon around so gassily. Look out for pins, though!

Please reply.

Sincerely,
John F. Casselberry.
I put the letter between my big toe and the next one, held it out at body length, and reflected.

There is nothing unusual about this letter; I get a version of it every few days, sometimes running into thousands of derogatory words. And, of course, it is true.

Of course, of course, of course.

Authorship is the supreme act of ego.

Whether it is good or evil, as an act, depends, I suppose not so much on what’s written, as how the writing is.

Most authors conceal the egoistic aspect of the business under the nom de plumes of their characters.

But exactly as every man is all that he thinks and does—and dreams, too—so is an author all he writes.

A mystery writer is a murderer in his head and he sets down his gory lore for an audience of murderers.

What does that make you, Wylie? You first-person author!

Did I use it to take the blame and the guilt—to take the responsibility—and to tear down the artifice of the third person? And was it true (as I felt) that, since my purpose was[Pg 127] to turn the thoughts of better authors into a vernacular more popular than their own, my I was the mere agent—and not the excreted vanity which it so constantly deplored? Or was the whole affair a secret exercise in look-ma-I’m-dancing?

God knows, some part of it had to be.

I fancied myself as a teacher.

I was mostly a ham.

What I knew, what I had learned, sought, made sure of, found comfort and understanding in—all this—and the long years I’d spent endeavoring to give it a dignified texture—forever emerged as the overemphasis of a self-enamored tyro reciting Hamlet. The truths were somewhat there. But the voice was the voice of cheap aspirations in a cheap world.

Some people heard my mentors. Yes.

A few, reading my wretched books, saw beyond the antic actor, the attention-compeller, the infantile see-how-I-do, to Freud and Jung and the physicists, to the mathematicians, to the calling world and the crying night ahead, to the ingenuity and inconceivable courage of those whom I ballyhooed.

But others—oh, how rightly—saw me!

Yakkety-yak.

Wylie’s next.

Shock you. Make you think. Inspire you. Scare the hell out of you. Set bristles standing on old Comstock’s neck.

Christ Jesus!

I had thought a havoc in prose might be a substitute for havoc itself—sparing a man here and a woman there from the reality of acquainting them with the instinct.

O tin messiah.

Tawdry complex.

Bawling calfcake.

Jackass of your own worst describing.

Balloon.

[Pg 128]

It must be a wonderful sensation.

Not truth, so much as show-off.

Not love of you—infatuation with me.

Not—for what I did—but, like most of us, for what I might have done—and used instead to inflate the First Person Singular with the airs of my hot compartments.

The extravert posing as the introvert.

The hoofer philosopher.

Shame, shame, shame!

Shame ran off me.

And I shall die, in it and with it.

I went to my window to look at the city the messy cubes in the haze and somebody’s radio performed an act of God.

Ja-da
Ja-da
Ja-da, ja-da, jing, jing, jing.
Shimmy, I thought.
Shimmy.
Shimmy in your B.V.D.’s.
You wear ’em in the winter and you wear ’em in the fall
You wear ’em in the summer if you wear ’em at all.
Shimmy.
Shimmy!
Shimmy in your B.V.D.’s.
This is a message to and of the American people.
The Dream.
The Cross.
Everybody
Loves my body
But my body
Don’t love nobody
But me.
Dear Dean Casselberry:

I have read all the books in your library. I am a God-fearing, patriotic American. I believe in brother-[Pg 129]love and liberty. In the folks, who made me what I am and from whom I cannot find myself different in any respect. Aside from that, you are right. I am sending you, under separate cover, my ear, which I have cut off for you. It is all I had to give and you may address it in the first person because it will then understand. Also, for the inflation of a balloon like mine, I send these directions: use equal parts of the outcries of the oppressed and laughter; for ballast—you will be there, and you should also carry a pail of tears.

Phil Wylie
Some give money
some give work
but if you give the person
brother, you’re a jerk.
It didn’t do me any good … for …
If you try to tell the truth
there’s only you telling it.
2

It was a hell of a morning.
3

From nine-thirty until twelve-thirty I cut that serial.
You wouldn’t be interested.
We’ll go on, anyway.
What the hell else can a man do?
4

Paul and Marcia, when they appeared for lunch, were expectably nervous.

The condition called strain is universal in this civilization, anyway. It begins in the cradle with the Freudian con[Pg 130]ditioning—the creation of each superego. Toilet training, the disciplines of the bawling id, meals according to schedule rather than appetite, the sting of parental palm on cheek, buttock, and wrist that follows erotic manipulation. All these, and countless other “punishments”—which change with changing social codes, change with changing fads amongst pediatricians, and differ from one home to another and one culture to another—set up such stresses that, by the age of two, there is hardly one civilized being in a thousand who is not loaded up with a lifetime of disparate indignities.

Add to this the regimentations of school—the musts and must nots of classroom and cloakroom. Impose upon it the innumerable stringencies of a religion. Require patriotism. Pepper the taut personality with familial prejudices and phobias. Jew-detestation, snake-dread. Now, in the passing years, fold in the Law—cop, truant officer, and prison bars—sidewalks not to be spit on, or park benches not to be initialed, or loud noises not to be made by individuals (but only corporations), and season with the regulations that rise around the older child, the adolescent, the adult.

Remove the person, then, from every natural source of his existence. Set him in a city where no useful plants grow and no animals graze—at the end of a steampipe that uses coal mined he knows not where, or oil sucked up ten thousand miles away. A city where no wood is chopped. Detach him, that is to say, from Nature—deprive him of its experiences and every direct sensation of the earth, upon which he depends. Bring even his water in far conduits, with chlorine added, so he will never know a spring’s taste.

Set him to work at earning a living without acquaintance of how the whole of any living is made. On the contrary. Let his life’s blood derive from some capillary of the flow. Let him take charge—not of house-building, or food-raising, or wood-gathering or fire-keeping, not of cookery or childbirthing or the weaving of fabrics—but of the twenty-[Pg 131]eighth step in the manufacture of one size of ball bearings. Call this earning a living.

Give him a town to defend against all other towns and cities, a county to boast of, a state to regard as superior to forty-seven other states, and a nation which anyone can see is the greatest on earth. Teach him to hold such superiority as the supreme goal—to believe that no more can be asked of him or of his fellows than that they maintain the greatest nation—however low the rest may sink. Teach him never to inquire if his superlatives are adequate for the conditions of his age. Let him live to the full—by odious comparison. Let him say—I am better than you, wherefore you—not I—need all the improvement.

Now. Set a few wars in his time, with their alarms, rigors, restrictions, and dull regimentations. Load up his era with means for bacteriological attack and with atomic bombs. Invent great secrets, with attendant rumors. Frighten him all day long—and at night. Tell him he is nevertheless a free man and that, above all else, he must cherish and protect his liberty. Next, at every corner and edge of freedom, hack, harass, chip, clip, steal, stain, bribe, sabotage, and smudge each meaning and application of liberty, so that he no longer gathers its fundamental sense and comes to imagine liberty is consonant with security—which is all that remains for him to dwell upon, since he has been deprived of every secure thing and every secure experience in God’s cosmos.

It makes you nervous, n’est-ce pas?

No one should be surprised that modern man shows signs of strain.

Nothing much in the world is sane.

Only the great instinct—the spaceless, timeless urge toward consciousness—continues its thrust of sanity. Because of it, even the maddest men are able to seize upon the illusion that they are sane by interpreting their own, spotty awareness as if it were the entirety of possible knowing.[Pg 132] Because of instinct, however, all the mad men and all the mad societies will be brushed like bugs from the earth’s crust and replaced by better, sensibler men or—if necessary—by silence. By silence while Evolution is retooled and instinct tries again with a new form—one which may not be so dazzled by its little consciousness or so greedy for the immediate fruits thereof as to attempt, with all the means and methods set down here, and ten million more, to deny instinct, repudiate Nature, and insist its petty Reason is the shape of truth entire.

So we three nervous wrecks sat down to lunch.

Marcia was a pretty girl, winsome, willowy, with eyes as blue as an upland lake and light-brown hair which, where the sun fell through undulant glass brick, turned opalescent, like duck feathers, and shone every color, as if it were composed of quintillions of submicroscopic prisms. She wore a light perfume—smelled like an April garden—and her voice was limpid.

Poor Paul.

Gloves on her hands—white little things, knit of string. She was nearly as tall as I am. A trembling came through the gloves. “So glad to meet you, Phil. Paul talks about you incessantly. It’s practically a fixation.”

Hot in the lobby, steamy; you could bake bread in the place. “Come in the Knight’s Bar,” I said, “and cool off.”

She bewitched me with her lakelike eyes a moment longer—and deep in them I saw the shadow glide, the fear—the numb, dark carnivore that had to eat, that looked up at me with a guilty but imploring gaze.

You see, I knew her.

I held the door. She went first, walking confidently in the face of the strangers in the restaurant. Paul hesitated halfway through the cold doorway—hesitated, and eyed me with a sort of regret. Regret—and inquiry. I nodded my head to say she was lovely.

Jay saw her—gestured with a menu. We sat.

[Pg 133]

They ordered Manhattans and I a coke.

Music sprayed from its electrical hose—garbled a little, echoing slightly, like music from a lawn sprinkler. This wash of counterpoint in every public place is an attempt to assuage nerves that burn like beds of coals. We do everything we can dream of to relax—except relax. If we did that—we would lose the world that we own. And we are afraid to find our souls.

“It broke the record today,” Paul said. Our best prop.

“Just over a hundred.” Marcia moved her long hair across her right shoulder and kept gazing at me to see—not if I remembered her, for we had already acknowledged that—but what the effect was to be. “You ought to see Park Avenue! It’s a parade—driving to the country!”

I tried to look like a man who had no memory—who regarded the earth as if it were a big flower. “Hot,” I agreed. “But I’m one of those unbearable souls who likes it that way.”

“Me, too,” said Marcia. “Two winters ago, I went to Miami. I was crazy about it—”

It was a defiant thing to say. For that was where I’d seen her—with Dave Berne, one morning when I’d stopped at his hotel, early, to take him fishing.

“A young lady left over from last night,” he said.

Miss Somebody-or-other, he had said. Marcia breakfasting in his bed. She exposed a nude shoulder to wave at me from the other room. Dave paid her and we went away.

He caught his first sailfish that day.

I supposed, now, that Marcia was offering me the opportunity to ask if I hadn’t seen her in Miami; I supposed she had pointed out the hurt to let me, if I wished, open it up. Paul had crushed his napkin. He was sitting beside her and across from me—wondering, probably, how to turn the conversation away from the heat wave, the weather, to a less self-conscious, more profitable subject.

“Workin’?” he asked.

[Pg 134]

“Miami,” I said to Marcia, “is quite a place.” Then I said to Paul, “Yeah.”

“He’s cutting a serial,” Paul told the girl. “When he gets through, they’ll pay him about five years of my salary for it. A month’s work, for him. A story about how some college football player married the Daisy Queen, I imagine. For that, he gets sixty bucks to my one. All I do, though, is make atom bombs. You can see the public would rather—”

“—have its ego blown up than its cities.”

She laughed. “What is it really about?”

I gave them an outline of the story. “You see,” I said, “it’s just the way Shaw put it. If you’re going to tell people the truth, you’ve got to make them laugh, or they’ll kill you.”

“Why will they?” Marcia asked.

“Because the truth doesn’t seem amusing to them at all. However—they have a feeling life should be amusing. So—if you can make them laugh, and still occasionally set down a fact, they assume it’s possible for somebody to know a few truths and still laugh. This permits them—in the long run—to ignore the truth you set down and go on laughing.”

“Does the truth seem amusing to you, Phil?” she asked.

“Infinitely.”

“It seems ghastly to me.”

“Infinitely ghastly, too. You have to approach it in both moods at once—or else, and this is commoner—in first one and then the other.”

“There is an unwritten law in this country,” Paul reminded us dryly, “that everything is just dandy all the time—and anybody who says different is a communist!”

I nodded. “There is also a superstitious belief that the act of stating an unpalatable truth will increase its danger to the folks. What you don’t know won’t hurt you. Innocence is bliss. Boost, don’t knock. If you haven’t anything good to say, don’t say it. This is the folklore of advertising. This is the theme song of radio. Everything has to be on the[Pg 135] up-and-up. Criticism is regarded as un-American and un-Christian. The nation was founded by a rebellion of the early fathers against British tyranny. Christ was the most passionate critic man ever had. But it is considered the essence of patriotism and the chief tenet of the Master to be anticritic. So the whole meaning both of our nation and of its principal religion have been thrown overboard—and we are all riding on a roller-coaster where no track inspectors are allowed.”

“Goodness!” Marcia said.

“Where,” I went on, “nobody is even sure that the tracks were ever laid to the end: looking ahead realistically also is forbidden.”

The drinks came.

Paul lifted his glass to the girl. She smiled at him warmly—with love, I suppose. What kind? It was a look of gratitude. A certain composition of her features. I compared that expression with the casual, collegiate, young-woman-of-the-world wave she had once given me from Dave Berne’s double bed. A high-spirited, working-prostitute salute.

Some part of her conscience was grateful to Paul for taking her out of professional circulation. She was, I presumed, a girl with a good deal of courage—and one with taste. A sensitive girl who could—still—accommodate her mind to the objective risks of her trade. But the attitudes of many men toward her would not be acceptable. To face them, she would have to sell pieces of her inner person. Paul had rescued her from that and her eyes thanked him.

But, far more, Marcia’s face expressed a maternal sentiment—warm and enveloping. He was, in a sense, her baby. Emotionally immature, romantic, and hence naïve, he had taken her for what she was not. She had played up to his assumption as an older woman to a child. In seducing him, she had seduced herself. She had adopted him as the symbol of the values she had discarded, the values that were now most precious to her because they were lost.

[Pg 136]

When I thought that over, I realized it was the point of extreme hazard in their relationship. Not social pressures, but the pressures of emotions—of instincts of which neither was conscious—would be the explosive condition of their two lives. The dangerous day would be the day when he matured sufficiently to dissociate the need to love from the need to be loved. In her case, the time would come then, too—when he demanded no more mothering in bowels or brain or heart. But it might come sooner—when she tired of that one function, or extended it, or spoiled its object, or devoured it, or cast it out for its own good.

For neither man nor woman can possess without being possessed, or consume without being consumed, and whether the process involves an object or another person, not to know the way of it and not to abide by the way is to be destroyed by it.

The lunch went along badly.

My habit of apostrophe and tirade, which usually fills such hollows as occur in talk—and forces its way, sometimes, beyond those decent opportunities—seemed inappropriate here. They had been depressed by what I had already said about the world. I guessed that, along with worries, they had hoped the visit would elicit an avuncular gaiety. They were young and in love, they thought, and should get from their elders the jocose disposition reserved for young love. I felt some of their expectancy, at any rate, and it only inhibited my rhetoric.

We talked of the news, of the airlift to Berlin which, by its very existence, constituted an immense Appeasement. We discussed the presidential candidates. We talked awhile of women’s clothes, of the veterans’ organization currently holding a convention in the city, and I described the house Ricky and I were building south of Miami, drawing a diagram on the tablecloth with a knife.

The effort to keep talk going—to find topics and to change them before attempt was disclosed—made me restive.[Pg 137] Paul wasn’t helping any. He’d eaten hungrily enough and then sat back—jerking and fidgeting about, making faces, pulling his nose, simpering, and smirking moonily.

She’d held up her end.

The trouble was, of course, that none of us was engaged in honest behavior.

Paul wanted to say: What do you think of her—and us?

Paul wanted me to say: She’s lovely—and I’m sure you’ll be happy.

I had become doubly certain—without yet entirely appreciating why—that it would never turn out. I had been generically sure, even before—just as Ricky had been sure: Paul wasn’t constructed to marry a harlot and live happily ever after.

I wanted to say: For God’s sake, cooky, send her back to her trade; she’ll find some other guy, eventually; she’s not for you.

Then I wanted to go up sixteen floors to my apartment with my troubles, my work, no women, no nephew.

What did the girl want to say?

I looked at her again—at her opalescent hair and her blue eyes.

And she looked back.

For a moment, the shadow stood still—stood still, and dissipated.

A wanton expression, brief and Lilith-like, reshaped the sharp, carmine edges of her mouth. She saw me not as the uncle of her now-beloved, but as the detached person—another man—and in this seeing me, she involuntarily recalled her long affair with lust. I have heard a woman say that, by merely quivering her underlip in a certain fashion, she had been able to change the tone, attention, and interest of nine men in ten with whom she’d ever talked—and there was nothing in her history to make me doubt the statement. And I have heard another woman say that all there was to Rudolph Valentino was the dilation of his nostrils. Watch[Pg 138]ing Marcia’s mouth, I could understand the sense of such matters.

So I was sure of still another thing.

Hattie Blaine had been dubious of her. Hattie had made the suggestion—the to me profoundly immoral suggestion—of tempting this girl.

Hattie had done it out of an unconscious notion that Marcia had some point in her nature which could not be lent to the kind of marriage Paul would need.

It wasn’t money.

It was mood.

Marcia caught me making this observation. She blushed a little, glanced at the table, and then raised her eyes—but whether anxiously or in a repetition of the look, I could not tell.

Passionate women are seldom ashamed of their passion.

What she felt was not bold; it was not arch; it was not mercenary; it was—simply—an essence of her own responses. A belonging, like the curved shape of her eyebrows or the narrowness of her red nails—which she accepted as no more and no less than that, and revealed as naturally.

I wanted to go, even more.

One can pick patterns in one’s life—rhythms, cadences, aggregates, cross sections, events that occur in pairs and threes—and the phenomenon is undoubtedly the result of chance. But one notices, one superimposes the pattern subjectively—and decides it is not chance but some obscure order, because one likes to feel that obscure orders occur in life. It is difficult to keep the ego perpetually lined up with statistical reality.

In twenty-four hours I’d looked at, talked to, explored, and somewhat learned three different, very handsome young women. Mrs. Yvonne Prentiss. Gwen Taylor—at Hattie’s. And Marcia.

They come in threes, I thought. I thought it had been a long time since I’d met even one girl so pretty as all these.[Pg 139] I reminded myself not to be an ass—to keep the view that grouping and variation in no way warp mathematical principle. The obsessive quality of all such ideas weighed on me. I hardly heard her account of their junket, on the preceding Saturday, to Jones’ Beach.

I began to invent an excuse for present departure—to think ahead about apologizing—my work—the check, please—

Then the busboy dropped the tray.

He had tripped, it proved, on a napkin.

There were heavy stacks of plates and side dishes on the tray—glasses of water—metal domes.

The boy staggered—and the wild gesticulation of his free arm was caught by my peripheral vision. So I saw the tray slant—saw its burden slide and crash onto the heads of a pair of buttressed dowagers, a few tables away. The noise seemed to continue for a long time and a scream permeated it as the boy lost hold entirely on his tray, fell against a chair-back, and dish after soiled dish cascaded onto flower hats, bright blouses, fat shoulders, and freckled necks.

A rush of waiters masked the scene. Guests stood to see better.

A bull-voiced beldame roared, “Send the manager!”

Her less hefty companion burst through the waiters, daubing at the stained area of her bosom and throwing bits of lettuce with every swipe. She made a beeline for the ladies’ room—followed by her smeared, stentorian colleague, whose hat was full of dill and parsley.

This commotion had hardly died down—Jay had no more than managed to clear the carpet, dispatch the wreckage on the table, send out the chairs for purging, and bite back the last traces of his mirth—when another oddity got under way.

“I want,” said a man seated beside Paul, “a baked apple.”

[Pg 140]

“But there are no baked apples.” Fred, the waiter, said this.

“Go and tell the chef I want a baked apple.”

“I did, sir. There are none.”

“Explain to him that I always have a baked apple, here.”

“There is applesauce—sir.”

Fred is Viennese. His sorrowful, wise eyes meandered over to meet mine. They were expressionless. But the fact that they had moved toward me was, in itself, communication.

“I do not like applesauce. Slippery pudding! Go and tell the chef I want my usual baked apple.”

The churl who spoke was familiar to me by sight. An Englishman—a VIP during the war—who had often stayed at the Astolat. A medium-sized man of sixty with a red face and eyes like gray gas. A brittle British voice, snotty in every particular. An iron-gray Kaiser Wilhelm mustache and a way of smacking his lips underneath it, when he was in a temper, that shook its points.

He was always accompanied by his wife. As a rule, they ate quietly—talking together now and then, and more often just swilling in food. She was a lank, vapid woman with a toadstool’s complexion, a chin like a fist, and hair tormented into little knobs—as if she absent-mindedly had cooked it, rather than coiffed it—and burned it in the process. Lumpy, burned hair, a disgusting dish of it—and a voice like claws, to match her master’s.

She stared, now, at her empty plate, and said nothing. She did not seem to be ashamed, or embarrassed, or to be waiting for a storm to subside. She was a woman born without the knack for yielding or apology. She merely looked at her plate because she would be God-damned if she cared to look at anything or anybody else.

Fred came back. He put on a sympathetic expression. “The chef says he is very sorry. He says that this is not the time of year for baked apples.”

[Pg 141]

“The stands are loaded with apples,” the Englishman snorted. “Seen ’em myself!”

“I know. But they’re eating apples. Not baking apples. They come later in the fall.”

The Englishman doubled his fist and lightly thumped the table. “I said I wanted a baked apple! All I wanted was a baked apple.”

“I have explained.”

“With cream. A baked apple with cream.”

I have seen Englishmen by the dozen go through this sort of routine. With the exception of certain Germans, some of them are, I believe, the rudest people on the earth. Badly brought-up babies—these empire builders.

This one was insulting the waiter and his wife, in the bargain—but I have rarely seen an Englishman who minded insulting his wife by making scenes. When crossed in matters like baked apples they seldom consider wives, children, strangers, decorum, or the reputation of Britannia. They merely behave like twirps.

Fred had said nothing.

“I suppose,” the Englishman at last went on, shivering his mustache, “you mean to tell me I am not to have a baked apple—?”

“Perhaps for dinner—one of the eating kind could be baked—”

The Englishman suddenly hurled his napkin on his plate. He stood. “No baked apple,” he said. “Well!”

He intended to stalk from the room.

However, Paul—who had at first been chortling over the slow-spilled tray and later watching the Englishman with intent, even exaggerated, care—now interposed, to my great surprise.

He sat next to the Britisher—on the same banquette. Thus when the infuriated man surged upright he stood alongside Paul and between our two tables.

[Pg 142]

Paul stretched out his foot, rested his shoe on the corner of the Englishman’s table, and untied the lace.

The man, barred by the long leg, said, “Good Gad!”

Paul retied the lace. He looked dimly at the Englishman—who, I honestly believe, had not so much as noticed or recalled a single person in the room but himself all during the baked apple affair. It is a kind of concentration peculiar to the British.

“Put down your foot, man!”

“Quintod!” Paul said, as if using rare syllables of opprobrium: “Quidhetch! Vassenoy!” He moved his foot this way and that, eying it. Even the Englishwoman was staring at it now, in some shock. After all, it was on her table, twenty inches from her picklelike nose, and not a victual.

Paul turned again to the standing man and hissed, “Kittenpitches!”

“Waiter!”

Fred was still standing there—still fairly impassive. He had the wit to say, “Yes, sir?”

“This person is drunk!”

Paul came to his feet then—and towered over the Englishman. He bent close. “Pomadiant nocrot,” he said harshly. “Cantapunce. Cabulate geepross. Dreek!”

The Englishman opened his mouth and emitted a thin, high, frightened squeak.

Paul scowled. “Nikerpole,” he said, sadly now. “Oose.”

Quite suddenly, Paul sat down. He spoke to Marcia in a perfectly matter-of-fact tone—but a tone loud enough to carry around the respectfully quieted room. “Never did understand why people came here without first learning the language. And the manners. I dare say my Japanese surprised him! Probably an admiral in civies, spying out the next war. Got a camera in his mustache, I presume, clever devils!”

The Englishman then left the room, shaking from head to foot.

[Pg 143]

His wife, however, remained staring at her plate. By and by Fred brought her a stewed fish with which she began to fill her baleful gizzard.

I would have thought—I would have bet—that this was the end of such things. The tray, alone, would have done as the month’s quota for this proper restaurant.

I was wrong.

Hardly had the Englishman departed—hardly had his wife commenced to make slushing sounds with the cream sauce on her fish—hardly had I dried my tears—when the corner of the eye opposite the one that had caught sight of the teetering tray drew my attention in its new direction.

This was toward the bar.

Here Mrs. Doffin was sitting at her regular table.

She had been sitting there, lunch and dinner, when I had first entered the Knight’s Bar in 1937. A tall, narrow woman with dyed red hair, who was given to wearing witches’ hats—such hats as women wore in Merlin’s day—round and pointed. A stovepipe of a woman with a face on which a bleached fuzz grew, and eyes that resembled spoon-backs.

Year in, year out, the four seasons through, Mrs. Doffin had five Martinis for lunch, five for dinner, five in the evening after dinner, and refreshments in her room, between-times. Some ten million dollars lay to her account in various banks, I understood, but, since the death of her husband in 1932, she had devoted herself entirely to one form of enjoyment, if the pointed hats be excepted.

Never soused, noisy, or shot—she was never remotely sober. Sometimes, late at night, if you came into the bar, you would see her lips move as she communed voicelessly with whatever shades or hallucinations accompanied the thirteenth or fourteenth Martini. Occasionally, in a moment of clarity, she would recognize this person or that—a waiter, the manager, Ricky, myself. She would nod regally then, wish you good morning, afternoon, or evening—approxi[Pg 144]mately according to the time—and flick her fingers flirtatiously.

She never bothered anybody.

She was not bothering anybody now.

She was sitting at her regular table, wearing a bright, vacant smile, and stuffing matches into her nose.

She had placed twenty or thirty when I spotted her.

She picked up another and delicately inserted it, pressing it up until its pink tip came even with the rest.

“Curious,” I said.

Marcia and Paul craned their necks. They watched awhile.

“I wonder how many it will hold,” Paul said.

“Another half dozen, I should think. She has a bit more room on the right side.”

“Does she light them when she gets a snoot full? Make quite a firework.”

“It’s new,” I answered. “First variation in ages.”

“Somebody should stop her!” Marcia said urgently.

Paul’s head shook. “On what grounds?”

“Good heavens, Paul—!”

Mrs. Doffin reached the point where neither nostril would contain another match. She tamped them pensively and nodded to herself. They protruded, I would say, the best part of an inch—all neat and even.

Mrs. Doffin then removed her hat. It was the first time I had seen the full billow of her hair. It looked like excelsior on which paprika had been sprinkled. She set the hat on the seat at her side and glanced with a bright smile and opaque eyes at the whole earth. I suppose the waiters had failed to notice her new gambit owing to the fact that she, and her soundless palaver, were fixtures in the place, like the intruding girders and the gaudy horsemen on the walls. All the waiters ever saw was her glass, when she emptied it. She could have breathed fire, or come in tattooed, and they would have observed no change.

[Pg 145]

From her hat, Mrs. Doffin withdrew a hatpin, long and as black as any of her garments or their accessories.

This, with the utmost aplomb, she thrust through both her cheeks, hesitating only momentarily at the midpoint, evidently in order to get her tongue beneath the line of direction. One does not—her pleased look seemed to say—absurdly and clumsily impale one’s tongue, in these little maneuvers.

“Fred,” I called at this point. “Mrs. Doffin needs you.”

He looked. His eyes bulged and his brows shot high. He hurried toward her.

She flirted her fingers at him.

He signalled to Jay.

Together they escorted Mrs. Doffin from the room.

Nobody ever saw her again.

There are homes for the rich to do such things in.

5

“The heat is getting people,” Paul said, as he and Marcia bade me good-bye in the lobby.

Marcia gave me one last look. She knew she hadn’t passed.

She ascribed the wrong cause to the fact.

She thought that, since I’d seen her sensual impulse was not confined to one person, I’d written her off as a slut.

Whose sensual impulses have ever been confined to one person?

Were they so limited, human breeding would be the rarest of activities and marriage almost unheard of.

I didn’t mind Marcia’s libido.

All I objected to was its orientation.

I rode up to my room and began dilatorily to strip once again.

[Pg 146]

6

I am told the female of ruff is reeve.

I am told the energy of one of the early atomic bombs is about equal to the energy that falls on a mile and a half square of the earth in a single day.

I am told that a bishop in Philadelphia ordered two motion-picture houses to close down their shows.

I am told that common goldfish will survive under winter ice while the fancy sorts will not.

I am told the kurbash is a whip.

I am told that Soviet fighter planes are buzzing our airlift.

I am told that Paris is unchanged this summer.

I am told that a committee is being formed to censor as un-American all books which, in its opinion, are sacrilegious or immoral.

I am told that no creature can travel faster than a hundred and twenty-five miles an hour, or thereabouts.

I am told that Truman reads Keats.

These are things I had not known before.

I subtract myself from them and find life going on as usual—the land I love deteriorating, the world I adore growing ever more miserable.

I throw the papers and magazines on my coffee table and go to work.

7

Once, I laughed.

Not at the slapstick landslide of dirty dishes on the dowagers.

Not at the weird vanishing of Mrs. Doffin.

But at the matter of a baked apple.

O England—culture uncultivated!

Brave boors.

[Pg 147]

8

Toward half past five I got my nose bloodied.

It happened this way:

I went down to the newsstand for a typewriter ribbon; the energy of my sentiments had worn holes in the incumbent tape.

While I was waiting for a red light on Madison Avenue I heard band music and saw people scurrying toward Fifth. I went over to see the parade.

It was a listless marching—veterans on gummy asphalt all along the limp trees by the Park. The older men from the older war rode in mimic locomotives that bucked their front wheels, hooted sirens, clanked bells. Some current soldiers marched—carrying rifles with hot metal parts, and behind them came a show of mechanized equipment, with bands interspersed. I listened to the bands and thought of Shakespeare’s reference to men who couldn’t contain their urine when they heard the bagpipes play. Brass bands, as much as anything, had undone the loose hold of the Germans on sense. Songs about rolling caissons and lifting anchors were flaring the eyes and dropping the chins of the street-lining crowds here, too. I studied these people, remembering all philosophers and the scientists and their faith in reason. Man’s monumental Thought—his pride—was silly in these surroundings. Plato, Aristotle, Socrates, Kant, Leibnitz, Spinoza, Descartes, Hume, Berkeley, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, James, and a hundred more—compartments of order in a chaos of shining orbs and panting tongues. Pretty compositions, real in themselves, and true enough—but floating in a flood their owners did not observe or—if they saw it—ruled irrelevant, nor realized they rode it, too. What old classic premise could stand the test of a brass band? None.

I watched the bright horns and the dull guns.

I stood at attention when the flags went by—feeling, as[Pg 148] I always do, the aspiration in those white stars and those red stripes.

We would continue to aspire—some of us—while breath stayed in us.

But this stirring—this patriotic thrill—did not debilitate my sphincters. Tightened them, rather, against the multimillion goons who would as soon sell all of liberty down any creek as their own two-bit integrity. What patriots remain these days must battle harder against their countrymen for truth, for dignity, for honesty and love than ever against an outside foe.

It proved a misfortune to be moved to lofty sentience, at that time.

The tiresome military iron clanked by as it has clanked through every city on the earth for thousands of years.

More men of the newer war came, canoe-shaped hats worn cock-eyed, bellies lean still, faces blank in the scalding sunshine.

I noticed, now, that many paraders were moving among the spectators—marchers who had been dismissed some distance up the Avenue. These men, from other states, ticketed like parcel post, badge-thick and boozy, shoved among the ordinary citizens, cawing and singing, carrying pails, and shooting water pistols. Occasional cops watched them with the fixed, tolerating smiles taught in the department—proper address toward large political groups. The men, in what they thought of as boisterous glee, peed out their pistol streams at any pretty girl, blotting blouses, stippling skirts with dark dribbles, and evoking, as often as not, coaxing screams.

I wandered through a block or two of this nickering infantilism, this petty and symbolic repayment for a thousand lacks and ten thousand wretched frustrations. Men will be boys, I thought. Boys, I knew, will hardly ever be men.

I came to a lamppost where a dozen pistoleers were[Pg 149] singing, “I want a girl just like the girl who married dear old dad.” Their mouths yearned it and the sun sparkled on the gold fillings in their teeth. This song, so far as I recall, is the only legitimate outlet for the Oedipus complex permitted in twentieth-century U.S.A. So I watched gents from Oklahoma and Idaho and Nebraska sing their incest, get their backs in it, and I wondered how much effort it would take to elicit from even one of them an acknowledgment of that emotion which, hidden deep inside him, gave him his particular inflection and look while he sang that particular song. I have wondered before while viewing luncheon clubs as they yearned for a girl like mother. To a face, every here and there, the anthem does memorable things. I supposed they would all rather be dead than have to admit the possibility of the truth. I supposed that the recognition of the baby alive in us all would require the hurdling of yet more dead bodies—billions, at least—to bring them to a happy acceptance of such affairs.

American babies are not allowed to be Freudian.

Not till they grow up, anyhow.

I pushed along.

There was a clearing in the crowd ahead. Out of it came such blats of laughter, animal calls, and whistlings as mark the approach to a feeding zoo—the same sound that is emitted by the amused radio audience.

I reached the edge.

Here the canoe-hats had formed an open oblong between the curb and an apartment front. It was necessary for anyone who went by to cross this area. On its rim stood a man with a stick, and heavy batteries. He wore a sergeant’s chevrons and his breast was a blaze of heroism. Men crossed the vacated cement untouched—and middle-aged women, also. But whenever a young girl made her way through the hem of the crowd and came unexpectedly into the hollow oblong, the sergeant sneaked forward with his stick, got[Pg 150] behind her, lifted the rear of her skirt, poked, and applied the juice.

The girls, shocked electrically, without warning, in this delicate and private part of their anatomies reacted frantically. Most of them screamed. All of them leaped—thrusting their hips forward convulsively. Some then ran—and dove into the crowd on the other side. One, a girl with long, dark hair, slipped after she leaped, fell, and tore a hole in her stocking. Another jumped, turned, and cursed. One tried to hit the sergeant with her pocketbook. Most endeavored to recover some shred of composure—to laugh—or to slip away without showing what they felt. Some wept instantly.

But the response of the delighted—the ecstatic onlookers, was always the same: a jarring salvo of catcalls, guffaws, finger whistles, ribald yells, mirth’s paroxysms.

I watched this business for quite a while—the bands going by behind me—the flags—the guns—and the sweating people standing all along the curb for miles of Fifth Avenue.

Finally, a fair-haired girl of about sixteen came innocently into the open place, looked about to find the reason for it, saw none, and began to cross. The sergeant slipped swiftly behind her. Quickly, with his stick, he lifted the little pink cotton of her skirt, bent as he walked, with ogling pool-room pantomine, took aim, and thrust. This girl did not leap but stood transfixed on the point of the electric stick. A great grin broke on the sergeant’s face and he thrust, now—again and again. Her head turned in slow horror. Whatever fantasy had seized her brain was shattered by the sight of the lewd man jabbing at her. The crowd roared like all the pottery on earth falling over a precipice. A look of the most pitiful terror came over her. At last, she found the nerves and muscles for running and escaped into the yapping multitude.

The sergeant straightened up. When he straightened, I stepped out and hit him on the mouth as hard as I could.

[Pg 151]

The approving roar stopped as if a noose had tightened on its throat.

The sergeant stared at me with addled menace. Blood trickled from between his lips, where I had felt his teeth loosen.

Then one of his buddies hit me from the side.

My nose blazed with pain.

The hollow lost its shape. Different—yet not much different yells were raised.

Someone cracked the back of my head.

I saw a place between two fat men, lunged at it, looked back. The sergeant was slowly sitting down, fumbling for his handkerchief.

Blows fell on me. A man in a navy uniform grabbed my arm. I hit him and he let go. The crowd closed around me.

When, after long minutes of pushing and weaving, I emerged on a side street, my nose was bleeding.

I wiped it and went, somewhat shakily, to the hotel.

The nosebleed stopped in a few minutes.

I turned on my radio and found a cello solo amongst the predinner music.

Ave Maria, as a matter of fact.

9

Tom Alden—Tom-the-doctor—had been thinking about me, off and on, for more than thirty hours, now.

He is the kind of person whose thoughts give birth more to inquiry than opinion.

We went to a Longchamps for dinner—the gold and vermilion decorations made bearable by air conditioning. Traffic was light; only a few people were about—people going tiredly in the heat-choked night. After dinner, we rode back in a cab to the Astolat and strolled over to the Park where we sat together on the Mall, listening to the concert.[Pg 152] Thousands of people had spread out newspapers in the lamplit dusk and lay upon them, asleep, talking, making love. The police had suspended the bans that one night. Tenements and penthouses were ovens; their refugees gasped on the grass. Kids played in the fountains and no one interfered. The city itself had an evacuated feeling; all who were able had fled the heat wave and the rest were in parks, in cool restaurants, or in the movie theaters. Stars shone hazily above the trees and the stagy skyscrapers. Music, coming down the Mall, was distorted by invisible eddies that still rose from the sun-baked cement; it soared and fell and wobbled through the furnace atmosphere.

Tom, as I said, is given to inquiry. This is not surprising in a man who practices several sciences. If we were old friends, we were also dedicated, in different ways, to the examination of all that surrounded ourselves and each other. Our sensibilities were tuned to the fact; they lacked the common diffidences of most such attachments.

“How’s it going?” That was his first question, when he arrived at my hotel rooms.

“Okay.”

He put down the black bag that lies within easy reach of his whole life.

“Jittery?”

“Not that I know of.”

“Tell Ricky?”

“No.”

“How is she?”

“All cured—we hope.”

His pale eyes fixed on me. “Let me have another look at the throat.”

He had another look—rearranging lights.

“I did a little reading on it, Phil. I can’t say for sure what it is.”

“I’m going on the assumption that it is—what-for.”

“Yes. You would. Most people would take the opposite[Pg 153] attitude—until the last possible fraction of the last possible second.”

“Why?”

He shrugged and put his tools away. “Wishful thinking.”

“More fun to know than wish—look than dream.”

“Not many agree with that.”

“They don’t know enough—look far enough. If you’re going to get yourself free—you’ve got a lot of illusion to hack through first.”

“Do you feel really free?”

I shook my head. “Not free at all. But I do feel I know what freedom is—what it means—what it’s for. Maybe that’s as near as you can get—these days.”

He went to the toilet and washed—in an absent-minded, habitual manner. “Hot night.”

“Hot.”

“You’ve been told your number was up before now. I’ve been considering that. You know what it’s like.”

“Sure.”

“What’s it like?” He asked it eagerly, and yet academically, as if there were a formula for the reply.

“Changes from minute to minute.”

“I suppose so.” He seemed disappointed.

That was when we started for Longchamps.

He took the bag along. He always does….

He ordered one Tom Collins. The tall glass was sweating even before the waiter could bring it from the bar.

“How are you—fixed?”

I told him that.

He peered at the room, the other diners, the gaudy colors. “Funny. I remember back in high school in Montclair when you were the class poet. Everybody thought you’d be a writer, sure. The last will and testament of our class left your pen to the juniors. Remember that?”

I remembered.

[Pg 154]

“But I don’t suppose anybody—including yourself—ever thought you’d rip out magazine serials like logs going through a circular saw. Get to be a popular writer. And then set people on their ears by writing about psychology. We all thought you were destined for the garret—a lot of reputation, maybe—but not Florida houses and—fifty thousand dollars’ worth of insurance—”

“No.”

“Did you?”

“Yeah.”

“You did!”

“No harm in daydreaming, was there? Back then?”

Tom meditated on those distant high school years. “You realized the daydream.”

“A person like me has a good many daydreams. When one comes true—he automatically starts on the next.”

“Do you consider yourself happy?”

“Enormously, Tom.”

“So do I. Why? How come? When you spend about ninety per cent of your time considering the unhappiness of the world?”

“Somebody has to collect the garbage or we’d all die of plague. And a born garbage collector loves his job.”

“There’s more to it than that.”

“Yeah. It’s not garbage. It’s what we discard, ignore, repress. The green fertilizer of the next crop. The yin to the coming yang. My contemplation of what you call the unhappy aspects of life is really the substance of what I find to be hope.”

“Jung changed you a lot, Phil.”

“I dunno. I got thinking—some years back—of a poem I wrote when I was twenty-one. Threw it away—lost it—haven’t any idea what happened to it. But in that poem was the fundamental Jungian idea—the idea that instinct directs human affairs—and that it’s a force in action which always has equal and opposite reactions—”

[Pg 155]

“Still—Archie—”

I thought of Archie—the psychiatrist to whom Tom had sent me for analysis. “Archie taught me psychology—Freudian, Jungian, Adlerian—and let me work out my own problems, aloud. He was a great teacher.”

“He died of cancer,” Tom mused.

“‘—too’?”

He looked at me and grinned gently. “Masochism takes funny forms in you.”

“In us all.” I went back a little way in the discussion. “When I was a young guy, I formed the habit of listening to, and looking at, everything that happened in my mind. Ruling out nothing. Trying to relate everything to everything else. That’s a good habit. That’s the natural mind. There are too God-damned many prohibitions and taboos in the life of a Presbyterian minister’s son to keep track of. So I started—as a game—ignoring all of them, in my head. Plenty of people do. I arrived—in that poem—at a pretty complete formulation of instinct and the laws of instinct—as Jung sees it working. As Toynbee sees it working collectively, on civilizations. As Northrop glimpses it. As Jesus tried to define it. As Aristotle didn’t even guess it.”

“So you think you really never underwent a philosophical change?”

“No. I lost sight of what I’d felt—when I was a dizzy, drunk Hollywood writer. But when Archie taught me Freud and Jung—I got back the insight—in contemporary terms and scientific formulations. That’s all. And it isn’t very much.”

“Are you ever frightened?”

“I’m protoplasm, for God’s sake!”

He chuckled. “That’s a relief! I’ve wondered what are you scared of. Sometimes—you seem haunted. Most of the time, I could swear you were afraid of nothing.”

“The shadow of the ego—the black streak behind it that it never looks around to see.”

[Pg 156]

“And what does that mean?”

“What I’m scared of. Inhumanity. Cruelty. To man—to me, also, I guess.”

“People get more humane.”

“Like hell!”

“If you lived a thousand years ago—or ten thousand you’d believe it. The trouble is, you’re supersensitive.”

I took a long breath.

“What do you read?” I asked. “What do you want to hear? A list of German concentration camps? An account of the cremation of some six million innocent people by Germany? A survey of conditions in Russian slave labor camps? A discussion of physical torture as it is used by modern police in America? Or by military men? Or as a political instrument in Europe? Or as a diplomatic measure, by, let us say, the English, in their colonies? Do you want to hear a discourse on the behavior of Jap troops in war? On our own troops? Would you like to have me run over the treatment of people in American lunatic asylums? Shall I touch on lynching details—and other minor unpleasant experiences of the American Negro? Would you like me to talk about how we Americans disposed of the Indian problem? Would you be interested in some studies of corporeal punishment as it is administered in American slum homes and on American farms? Shall I recite the prison methods and jail practices common amongst our agents of law enforcement? Or would a review of the various effects of intense radiation on the human body, as well as its genes, coupled with the fact that about every other American is sitting around these days asking why in hell we don’t atom-bomb Russia, tend to persuade you that we are not, essentially, humane people? Shall I discuss brutality in sports? Are you interested in considering our annual million smashed in automobiles as evidence of a certain basic scarcity of the humanitarian impulse? There are various business practices I could go into, in documenting the matter. Not the ruination of[Pg 157] widows and orphans. Not the adulteration and poisoning of products. Just the little results of the basic premise of business which is that making money is the whole object, without reference to kindness or love. Or would you like to review the various sorts of crimes committed by the people in our fair land? Would you like to contemplate the interesting and vicious psychology of many of the victims of these crimes? Shall we look at the degree of obliviousness, smugness, or rejection which Americans held toward the atrocities before the recent war—or hold now toward massacre and famine in India—famine in China—ruthless dictatorship in a dozen nations—Spain, for instance—Argentina—a lot more? Or shall we, on the other hand, investigate a whole field of cruelty as large as the one just hinted at: the psychological cruelties of modern men? It would double the scope of the survey. The teachers—devising torments to sweat off their frustrations on their pupils. The common office techniques of the average man-of-affairs. The torments of the soul written into the class structures of society. The awful havoc wreaked on man whenever a minister preaches hell-fire and damnation. No fooling! We are not humane. We are—per capita—the cruelest people who ever lived, because, unlike the poor thieves on the two other crosses—we do know what we do!”

Tom took off his fogged spectacles and wiped them. I pushed the advantage. “Cruelty among doctors. An interesting little sidetrack. I recall, for example—”

“Skip it.” He looked sorrowfully at me. “You win that one.”

“All I want,” I said, “is for people to be truly humane. Truly loving. But, to gain that, we’d be obliged to give up a great deal we now cherish dearly.”

We had lemon ice.

Later, we walked into the Park and sat down….

The people on the newspapers on the grass, the silo[Pg 158] smell of trees at night in heat waves, lamplight and music—as I have said….

“Cruelty in doctors,” Tom repeated musingly, after we found a bench on the Mall, where we could feel the breeze if one came.

“Last night,” I responded, when he didn’t go on, “I was reading a book that suggested the whole philosophy of medicine was cruel. Saving babies—increasing the life span—only so people will go hungry by millions.”

“Vogt? Osborne? I read them. What’s true humanity? I don’t know—except sometimes, in individual cases. What about old people, for instance?”

“What about them?”

He looked back over his shoulder as if he could see through the night, the trees of Central Park, and the blocks of buildings, to the East River. “Out on the Island—I take care of a ward filled with them. Chronics. Sixty years old. Seventy. Eighty. Ninety. Some been in bed for twenty years. No cure. No hope. No chance—in a high percentage—of doing a thing, ever. An organ’s shot—ruined beyond repair. Half of them touched with senile dementia; a quarter, sunk in it. Mess their beds. You feed ’em with spoons. And yet they go on—year after year after year.”

“I’ve seen the ward.”

“America has millions of such people. Only a fraction of ’em in hospitals. Moms and pops, grandmas and grandpas, hanging on to the last, sick gristle of existence. Spoiling the lives of other millions of people. Taking their time and their energy. Absorbing funds that young kids desperately need. All for nothing. Wheedling and whining and complaining if everything isn’t soft and easy for them. Reminding sons and daughters and grandchildren of their ‘duty.’ The duty to be enslaved by meaningless, useless senility. The food and the clothes, the beds and the service, the tax money, the energy, the topsoil, if you go for Vogt—and the metal—pours down their gullets and is worn out by their[Pg 159] worn-out bodies—and not one single, solitary useful thing is accomplished.”

“You’re stealing my act,” I said.

Tom laughed ruefully. “It’s an easy act for a doctor to crib! Tell me, why in hell do people look forward so much to old age? Nine times out of ten, it’s a mess. Even proud, independent people, when they get old, usually lose their pride and their independence—and go down begging for handouts.”

“The best reason I can think of,” I said, “is that they’re disappointed in life as they’ve lived it up to middle age.”

“The whole country grows older,” Tom went on, after nodding to himself. “The American landscape will soon be cluttered with human antiques. Pension-seeking, vengeful, dogmatic, persecuting, bloc-voting, parasitic millions. An ocean of wasteful protoplasm—Old Men of the Sea—and old Women—riding on the backs of everybody. Is a thing like that humane?”

“It is richly sentimental.”

“In the labs, thousands of my colleagues are sweating to bring it about. Studying the degenerative diseases. Trying to lick cancer and heart trouble and hypertension. Trying to lick aging itself—to keep the old, old indefinitely! Geriatrics—a whole science for the maintenance of second childhood! Sometimes, Phil, I actually think the world is as crazy as you say it is. Sometimes—when I run into a bright kid whose parents can’t afford to have its legs straightened—and then when I visit my ward—I’d like to sweep the place clean with a Thompson gun and move in the kids who need it.”

“There is the Townsend Plan,” I offered. “Two hundred dollars a month for everybody who’s old, if they spend it right away—and millions are too stupid to see the catch. In fifty years—Pensioned Old Age may be the great goal that progress and prosperity are today. Of course, there isn’t enough stuff to go around, and there will never be, so two[Pg 160] hundred bucks, if you gave it to the gaffers to spend, soon wouldn’t buy a good-sized roast. But they may try for it.”

Tom laughed somberly. “They are trying. You should see the pension literature in my ward. The letters they write. The voting they do. Should I shoot them? What the hell do you really believe about it?”

“There is the death wish,” I said.

“They don’t want to die! Not one in a dozen! Even if they’re blind, vomiting on the hour, spoon-fed, and in pain—they want to go on living—and are proud of it.”

“It’s Jung,” I answered, “who keeps talking about the law of opposites. The death wish is subjective. But we translate it into its opposite form—in this case, the objective. We want other people to die—to suffer—to bear our load—to take our responsibility. We hate. What did you say about your old folks? Vengeful and persecuting and parasitic? That’s the death wish turned wrong-side-out. Or—take this pair of opposites. We have applied reason to extending life. So we have automatically obliged ourselves to apply reason to death. That is a psychological consequence of administering life—stretching it, maintaining it—of baby-saving and so on. Only—being egoists—blind to the basic laws of instinct—we won’t kill anybody. Millions of Russians, maybe, but not one American. It’s even against the law for a person to kill himself, for whatever merciful and laudable a reason. So what? We insist on our right to save and maintain every life. We also insist on dodging the resultant duty at the other end of the natural spectrum: death. The living have no recourse left but to extravert their death wish. To hate others because of the hatefulness of the trap they’re in.”

“How do you work it out?”

“In the better world,” I said, “a person who had enjoyed the long conscious control of his life would feel somewhat responsible for controlling his death. When he got useless, he would give up. He would regard it as rational[Pg 161]—and as part of that ‘greater love’ that almost no man, these days, hath a sign of.”

“Voluntary euthanasia?”

“Why not? And if you came a header and couldn’t do it for yourself—the state would do it.”

“Do you think,” Tom said with asperity, “that the people would permit anything like that? Or think of it as idealism? Why—it’s a sin—!”

“Sure. Sin. It’s one of the sins that keep the churches full and the heads and hearts of the folks empty. Vested interest.”

“How many people would do it?”

I shrugged. “Couldn’t say. You’ve seen cases. You’ll likely witness another—my own—before long—”

“Good God! I’m sorry—Phil—!”

I laughed and he relaxed—visibly.

“The mass of humanity,” he went on after a time, “hasn’t that kind of insight, education, nerve—”

“No. Maybe not. Hasn’t—as I’d put it—even that much access to its own instincts. Doesn’t know even that clearly the relationship of ideals to acts. Of material gains to inner responsibilities. That’s the trouble with the mass of humanity. It decides to use atom bombs—the work of a few geniuses who, left to themselves, might not.”

“Appalling,” Tom said.

“Sure. But the moldboard plow is just as deadly as the bomb in the hands of the common mass. And the implications of plows are much easier for the common jerk to understand than the implications of nucleonics. But he doesn’t. So why worry about atomic bombs? Merely another aspect of the same, deep, and ubiquitous nonsense.”

We sat awhile.

“What,” Tom finally said, “will the better world be like?”

“Woodsy,” I answered.

[Pg 162]

I could hear his grin in his voice. “To restore and shore up the topsoil?”

“Yep. To maintain the ecology that maintains man. And besides, woods are pleasant.”

“The rivers would be clear. The factories would dump their wastes in the desert. And the sewage would go through processing plants and then be put back on the land.”

“Not many factories, anyhow,” I said.

“No? Why?”

“Not nearly so many people, for one thing. People would—people did—cherish each other more when they were scarcer. That’s a psychological aspect of overpopulation thus far hardly observed. There are so many of us getting in each other’s way and making life tough by merely being that we tend to hate each other just from congestion. Then—the people in the better world wouldn’t be so crazed over junk. A tenth of the factories we’ve got now would probably furnish all the junk they’d want.”

“Cities, do you think?”

“Maybe a few small ones—where people put in a few years before going back to the open country.”

“Villages? Small towns?”

“Sure. Lots of schools and colleges. Everybody would be pretty bright—and pretty anxious to learn. Everybody would be artistic. Everybody would want to do a certain amount of work with his hands.”

“Why?”

“That’s the instinct of the critter, isn’t it?”

“How come they’d all be bright?”

“Because the biggest fun we’re going to have—when we get that wise, if we ever do—is breeding bright people. Living for the sake of future generations—and having some happiness doing it. Happiness with sex, amongst other things, when it ceases to scare us to pieces.”

“Maybe,” Tom’s tone objected, “you might finally convince the folks that knocking themselves off when they got[Pg 163] useless was evidence of a great love—an assimilated employment of the death wish. I can even see certain remedial effects in the idea—if that were the common philosophy: people would want to make a bigger effort while they did live, for example. But you can’t get dumb babies to knock themselves off.”

“You could start—though—at the other end. Clamping down on the people who overproduce and are least qualified to do so.”

“Birth control for the morons? The Jukes and Kallikaks?”

“Yeah.”

“Too difficult. They fornicate when drunk.”

“Then set your lab wizards to find an easy, lasting system. They ought to work toward stopping the output of predefeated babies—of society-defeating hordes of nitwits—as a compensatory duty for working on longevity and the diseases of old age. Fill the drugstores with something you take a sip of that’ll sterilize you for five years straight. Chocolate flavor. And back it with national advertising.”

“Try to sell that idea! Every church would say it would mean the suicide of the race.”

“Suicide of church members, maybe! Kidding aside, the more intelligent specimens of mankind, who do use birth control, still do have offspring—on purpose. It’s just that they’re outnumbered—and the net result is genetic decline.”

“What else—in the better world?”

“No mummery about sex. No mysteries. The young allowed to develop according to their impulses—without shame or restraint so long as they aren’t hurtful. The sex manners and aesthetics of the mature built upon that background of unashamed, free experience.”

“And what would those manners be?”

“Don’t ask me! I’m a shame-produced human gimmick, myself.”

“You’re welching!”

[Pg 164]

“Not exactly. I suspect—in the better world—sex would be such a different set of ideas and acts and experiences and feelings that we can’t even imagine them.”

“Nobody would dare bring up kids that way.”

“People already have dared. A school in England does it. A school for difficult kids—not the socially elite specimens. And they turn out fine. Normal; and nice people. Which is something you definitely cannot say of the kids turned out by our own reform schools.”

“It’s hard to believe,” Tom said.

“Isn’t it! That’s the trouble with truth—these days.”

We went on talking for a long while about the better world.

As we designed it, that hot night, I kept thinking how much of our envisioned heaven-on-earth was constituted of what are now considered to be mortal sins.

By and by, Tom said, “Half the doctors in the Utopia would be psychiatrists—right?”

“No.”

“Doesn’t it follow—in your idea of the state of things? Half the people who go to doctors, you say, have psychological causes for their physical symptoms. And I’d just about agree. Half the hospital beds are occupied by nuts.”

“The better world, though, is designed to keep people from getting neuroses and psychoses—individually. And to stop the massive neuroses and psychoses of nations and races.”

“So it is!” He chuckled. “That’s your everlasting premise, isn’t it? If all the people understood themselves, they’d live according to their understanding, and be well, wise and happy, if not particularly wealthy.”

“Doctors, like factories, would be scarcer in the better world.”

“But what in hell would people do?”

“Oh—they’d do unto others as they’d be done by. And they’d add a step even to the Golden Rule. They’d do unto[Pg 165] the unborn generations as they would wish their ancestors had done unto them. The existing Golden Rule—which nobody practices anyhow—is objective. Its subjective counterpart refers to the people to come, not the people around at the moment. That’s the Golden Rule of instinct—what instinct is all about. Evolution. The increase of consciousness down the aeons. Obvious, isn’t it—that the history of evolution steadily spells increasing consciousness? Logical, therefore, that such is the inevitable bent of the future of life—as life is conveyed in man, or as it might someday be conveyed in another form, if man doesn’t catch on, consciously, to the scheme behind his consciousness.”

“Biological immortality,” Tom said.

“Psychobiological immortality. Only—modern man, being so pompous about what goes on in his cortex and repressing so much of what goes on in the rest of his brain, has construed the ‘immortal’ aspect of instinct as a property of his ego. The natural urge to live through his species, through kids—to love, that is—to be man’s father—is drained off into the asinine notion that his personal ego will live in a slap-happy eternity.”

“Man,” said Tom, “has a pretty damned powerful feeling about that personal immortality. Hard to shake.”

“Why not? It’s fashioned out of his most powerful instinct. The one that supports life itself, reproduction, and that at least accompanies evolution. Man takes that billion-year-old galaxy of instincts, filters it through his cortex, and comes up with the idea of Heaven. It’s a childish mistake. But even a child, when it’s mistaken about the actual nature of an instinct, still has as powerful a compulsion in his error as he would have if he were correct. Say he’s frightened by something that isn’t really frightful: he’s still just as much afraid. And we—most of us—are in that state about pretty much all of our inner selves.”

“And have been, you think, for a long while?”

“Sure. Since thousands of years before Christ. You guys[Pg 166] in medicine ought to quit studying tissue per se—and study its functioning some more. Contemporary man—as a rule—never gets even a glimmering of how his personality is split and how the conscious part can bamboozle the unconscious part—and believe it has got away with it. You know the fact—you ignore the implications. For instance, Tom, we actually see upside-down, right?”

“Sure.”

“In our first few weeks—as babies, we react according to the fact of our vision. We want to grab the top of something—but we reach for the bottom—because human vision is inverted.”

“It is.”

“We learn—by experience—that we see upside-down. As we age—month by month—we develop a ‘mind’ that makes the correction for us. By the time we’re some months old, everything ‘looks’ rightside-up. And only once in a while, under peculiar conditions, does anybody’s mind ever glimpse the world the way his eyes see it—inverted.”

“So what?”

“So—that is an example of useful autohypnosis. An immensely potent example. It shows how the ‘mind’ can establish a set of facts directly opposite to those observed by the eyes. A mind that can go through life looking at an inverted world but ‘seeing’ it the way it is—manifestly is capable of accepting almost any degree of suggestion from its other parts, and its various senses—of accepting true suggestion or false suggestion. Manifestly, it isn’t necessarily ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ about anything not proven.”

“An argument for empiricism.”

“Sure. But for psychological empiricism. That is—an argument for refusing to take for granted any human descriptions of the nature of mind, personality, spirit, psyche, soul—call it what you will—until the descriptions have been pragmatically checked. Take my proposition that all ideas of personal survival after death are misconstructions of an in[Pg 167]stinct designed to apply to the psychological and biological future of men on earth. Then look over some people who, as a group, reject the idea of Heaven. The communists, I mean.

“I’ve pointed out—and brighter men have pointed out before me—that when the materialist dialectic was applied on a mass of people, it became a religion. Reason and logic departed. Dogma, orthodoxy, emotion, creed, saints, apostles, holy orders, a Bible with gospels—the whole, compulsive paraphernalia of religion burst into being. What was intended as an abstract, atheistic, scientific, materialistic pattern for living turned into the most fanatical evangelism, the most bigoted crusade, the least logical movement the earth has seen for ages. Lately, where the facts of the science of genetics have proven contrary to communist dogma, the Soviet has abolished science. The Roman Catholic Church never did anything more religious, in the worst sense of that word—more superstitious—more compulsive—or more absurd.”

“What are you driving at?”

“Just this. What happened, psychologically, in Russia is one more great proof of instinct. Until and unless you find out pragmatically what instinct is, and what its laws are, no theory of government or system for living will be anything but a set of compulsive simulations of instinct. A religion. Communism was dialectical materialism so long as men just talked about it; when they tried to put it in effect, it became another faith, with the complete trappings of a faith. Dialectical materialism not merely denies that men are instinctual—it ignores the very possibility; as a result, its application drives instinct entirely into the unconscious mind. You can see the proof of that by reading in the daily papers what’s happening in Russia or by noting the Russian technique of debate. Pure theology. Pure nonsense.”

“I wish you’d written more along those lines,” Tom said.

“I’d planned to. I’d even started the first chapters. The[Pg 168] calm, collected, documented description of what instinct is and how it works. It was going to be a scientific contribution. Jung explained to the Freudians. Wylie explained to the Jungians.”

Tom sat stiff for a minute or so. “Essays?”

“Peaceful ones. Scholarly. No brass and no balloons.”

“Golly.”

“Why ‘golly’?”

“We need that tome.”

“Not really. Too soon. Jung wrote me, once, that he thought it would take about five hundred years before people began to understand generally the ideas he elicited.”

“More books might help shorten the interval.”

I nodded my head affirmatively. “Might. Time doesn’t matter, though. Not so much. When I first began to see what caused the immense and self-evident discrepancy between what some men would like to be and what most men actually are I burned up with the idea of noising the news around. I learned the hard way that the idea was one for just a few people—too few to be more than leaven in the coming centuries. I finally realized that my burn was, mostly, the desire to be the missionary myself. To get a by-line. Ego in a low form. And I also slowly realized that the truth would be there, always—and since it was there, steps could be taken by anybody, anytime, toward finding it again.”

“You just write off your whole civilization—like that.”

“It’s what we’re here for. To write ourselves off.”

“Usefully.”

“Well—our civilization has learned enough useful technical tricks to last for millenniums. We served a purpose.”

Tom looked at his watch—and sighed. “Gotta go.”

“I thought we were to have a long evening together.”

“So did I. But I have to go back to Medical Center. They called before supper. There’s a peculiar pneumonia up there—and something that isn’t leukemia but acts like it.”

[Pg 169]

We stood up and went across the grass, blinking in the gloom and stepping around prone figures.

“You seem all right,” he said.

“I’m all right.”

“I still think we could use that book—and I hope that we’ll get it.”

“Thanks.”

“Need anything?”

He meant medicine. I said I didn’t.

We both waved and a cab stopped.

He thanked me rather formally for dinner.

“So long, boy,” he said, then. “And don’t give up hope.”

“I’ve got plenty of hope—it just isn’t immediate, like the fiscal prospects of department stores.”

“I mean for yourself.”

“Hope isn’t for yourself,” I said.

“Night!”

His voice was gentle, affectionate. The door thwacked.

The cab went away into the torrid murk, its two little top lights blinking out when the driver threw the flag.

I stood on the corner, on cobblestones, shaded from nothing by the suffocating trees above me and thinking, I guess, about the book I wasn’t going to write. All of a sudden my eyes filled with tears. I felt so lost, so lonely, so ashamed of my body and so scared that I wanted to have someone put comforting arms around me.

A couple necking on a flat bench beside the Park wall diddled a battery radio and it began to sing through its nose.

“Alllll—thuh worrrrld—is waiting for the sunnnnrise—alll—”

All that was coming up was the stone moon.

Diagonally down Fifth Avenue, I noticed the spot where the canoe-hat had poked the girl who looked like my daughter.

I went over there. On the cement sidewalk—a broad,[Pg 170] pale path that sparkled in the street light—I saw the stains of that bastard’s blood.

I wanted to spit in them.

I had an impulse to look around for a tooth—something to have mounted for a watch charm.

I supposed he’d put them in his pocket to give to his dentist.

I didn’t feel so lonely after that.

10

It was about half past nine when I came back to my apartment.

I stripped off my clothes and put in two hours of work.

Then the phone rang.

I was sure it would be Ricky.

Some men’s wives, calling that late, would be checking up.

Ricky would just be missing me.

I jumped over to the phone.

It wasn’t that clear Hello Darling, like a star in clouds, a landfall in unknown, tedious seas.

“Hello. Phil Wylie?” A pleasant voice. Yvonne, perhaps.

“Yeah-me.” I wasn’t very civil since it wasn’t Ricky.

“This is Gwen. Can you talk?”

“Gwen?”

“We met last night. If you’ve forgotten so soon, it’s not my fault.”

The redheaded girl at Hattie’s—the one who looked studious and unaffected—the one who had made me think of the handsome wife of some fortunate professor. An interesting one.

“Oh,” I said. “Sure.”

“I’m not—interrupting—anything? Hattie said you were being a bachelor—and you sat up late. I just asked her.”

[Pg 171]

“I was working.”

“And I was hoping you were lonesome.”

“Well, I am, as a matter of fact.”

“Goody! I’ll take a cab.”

I was going to tell her to do no such thing. I sat down on the sofa to explain my intention of working until the words ran together and all I could manage was a dozen steps to bed sometime, probably, before dawn. But I leaned back and, in doing that, I looked into the other room. I saw myself sitting there, trying to read myself to sleep, eating some of Tom’s barbiturate to help—and solitude eating me.

I said, “All right.”

“You sound terribly nonchalant.”

“It’s the telephone,” I said. “You can’t see over it.”

She chuckled and drew in her breath just enough so I heard it and said, “Twenty minutes.”

I fixed up the manuscript and set the bridge table aside. Then I went into the bathroom and looked at myself in the mirror. “Why?” I said to myself.

This inquiry may seem to have a connotation of guilt. Such is not the case. It represented introspection, which I continued as I removed, in the now-tepid water that emerged from the tap marked “cold,” all track and trickle of the night’s labors.

My friend Dave Berne—whom I’d come upon with Marcia in dolce far niente—once quoted Forbisher-Laroche to the effect that there are fifteen hundred and six discrete reasons for associating with prostitutes and only nine even potentially commensurate objections. Dave and I, with an hour or so to spare at the time, were able to list three hundred and twenty of the fifteen hundred and six and felt, upon discontinuing the game, that we had every good prospect of recapitulating the lot from our own joint knowledge.

A degree of doubt was cast upon the Forbisher-Laroche figures in my subsequent association with Dave, owing to the fact that he quoted the same authority on so many other[Pg 172] matters—the breeding rate of hamsters, for example, the relative climbing efficiencies of various kite designs, and the esoteric causes of giddiness. It occurred to me that “Forbisher-Laroche” might serve my lawyer friend in lieu of the name of an authority or researcher which he could not call to mind—or even in lieu of better authority than his own. This, however, was remarkably good; so the table, even if specious, may be regarded as sound from the order-of-magnitude standpoint.

Among the nine objections to association with prostitutes were at least two (Dave said) which could be regarded as obsolete: the dangers of disease and of pregnancy. Of the remaining seven, only two more (he claimed) could be regarded as rational by the man of ethical detachment—one aesthetic; the other, the practical matter of costs. The rest were mere excursions into “morals”—a contradiction in itself since, were we to apply any genuine morality to sex and sexual conduct, we should have to begin by contemplating the field with simple honesty—a process in which the “Moralistical” objections would dissolve instanter, so he stated.

Of the two objections worth considering, then, one was the expense—a matter to be pondered in all deals and negotiations. The other was that old chestnut which appears in the endless series of candid books of advice to boys, books advertised as providing “complete sex enlightenment,” books which, in sum, horribly frighten their readers and leave them, as a rule, incapable of any real enlightenment for the rest of their lives. “Would you,” such books fiercely inquire, “walk into a cheap hotel, find that the stranger before you had left the tub filled with his dirty bath water, and immerse yourself in it?” This, in short, is the aesthetic objection.

It contains certain fallacies. One is the implied idea that sex relations are equivalent to ablution—that they are designed to transfer from each individual to the other such[Pg 173] foreign matter as may have accumulated on his or her person. There is the further implication that such individuals are thereafter unable to cleanse themselves of the alleged spotting and staining supposedly got in such a fashion. Carried to its logical conclusion, this thought would force hotels, as just one example, to discard a bathtub with the checking out of each guest. Industry could not keep up with such tub-scrapping.

In other words, the question is unfairly put. If cleaning one’s self is to be admitted as a pertinent analogue for love-making, the question should read, “Would you use the bathtub in a cheap hotel?” And why necessarily cheap?

“Would you,” the interrogator should ask in all equity, “dawdle voluptuously in the shining, sunken, marble tub of the most gaudy hostelry on Park Avenue?”

Again, modern chemistry being what it is, and business being ingenious, it is a safe inference that the tub in the palatial hotel and the tub in its humble competitor would be made ready by the identical advertised product—one having the same statistical effect upon the muck and microbes of the rich as upon the grime and germs of the impecunious. And, even if such were not the case, the Park Avenue situation per se cannot be ruled out.

But I fear the bathtub analogue is hardly intended to be examined for what it is. There is no integrity of thought behind it. Its author does not pause to consider that millions already do plunge daily into common tubs—swimming pools, which are, presumably, well chlorinated. Nor does he go on to inquire as to whether his reader uses the dishes in restaurants and drugstores and whether, before using them, he inspects the dishwashing facilities and practices. There is a lack of fairness in the man. He himself—for reasons he would never dare to inspect—regards prostitutes as he regards the standing pool of some rank stranger’s bath; and he deems it as his mission in life to promulgate this obscene and entirely unrealistic simile in the hope (and the good expecta[Pg 174]tion) that all his young readers will, for the rest of their lives, upon encountering the flossiest of doxies, think instanter of stale tub water.

The fact of the matter is that the bright and capable girl who engages in prostitution will be found, on any count, cleaner and shinier, better soaped, scrubbed, polished and perfumed than the average for all wives in the land. Statistically, she may be slightly more venereal than her married sisters, but only slightly—and, since we have given her brightness and capability, it is equally certain (statistically) that she will be more likely to be under treatment and so incapable of communicating afflictions which, as noted above, have themselves somewhat lost their menacing aspect. In short, were a woman to be chosen by lot from (a) the general married group or (b) the group of alert tarts, and were the criterion to be bodily aesthetic desirability, there would be no doubt as to which group one should draw from. Tubs are tubs.

It is at best a trifling matter.

The positive first item on the Forbisher-Laroche list (if you’re interested) and the first which Dave and I set down on our own impromptu schedule, was “fun.” The idea that sexual congress, erotic play, coition—call it what you will—is fun has very nearly vanished from Western society. To all persons who approach prostitution with the standing-tub-water philosophy, even the most faithful and the most sanctified relations between man and wife will hardly be even appetizing—since, by their acknowledged images, such people will find themselves condemned to a single tub of water in which they will be obliged to bathe all their lives. This, of course, is the inevitable penalty paid by every denigrator of sex activities: his own, under his best auspices, will still forever seem vile. Also this is the outlook of churches. It explains why the churchly so rarely have any fun and why, if they do, they make sure someone[Pg 175] pays for it later—preferably a heretic, and, if possible, in blood.

But (to go to the opposite pole for reference—a course which is implicit in all considerations of the well-educated man) even amongst the heretics—amongst sophisticated, intellectual, emancipated citizens—the concept of fun in relation to sexual activity is absent, or nearly so. These people—husbands, wives, bachelors, spinsters, teen-agers and precocious children—readers of popular slick magazines and the newsprint digests, subscribers to book clubs, members of frank discussion groups—rely for their sex facts upon certain nationally advertised texts which are dispatched through the mails in plain wrappers. All such volumes are offered as authoritative manuals of the art of love—no holds barred; rather the contrary.

I have read perhaps a dozen of these treatises with close attention and I am prepared to agree that their claims are not exaggerated. They do present, in considerable detail and with never a minced word, what might be termed the classic figures of love-making. And yet their readers—persons who are presumed to be doing skull-practice for an imminent marital event—will not find in any of these works a suggestion that the subject in hand involves what I have called fun.

The verbal diagrams suggest, instead, that an extremely intricate and arduous business is being considered—one to be approached in precisely the same fashion as an inquiry into the manly art of self-defense made by a nervous weakling who is about to be exposed, more or less against his will, to an environment swarming with tough, aggressive stevedores and millhands.

In all these treatises, emphasis is put upon the likelihood of early failure—the mere hope of subsequent success—and the stratagems which, if meticulously pursued, may ultimately bring about success. The directions read like those for boxing, savate, or judo. An encounter of the most[Pg 176] dire solemnity is envisaged. Painful knockdowns and other traumatizing incidents are constantly described. Yet it is pointed out repeatedly that a genuine knockout will result inevitably in Unhappiness, Infidelity, Divorce, Frigidity, Impotence, Neurosis, Neurasthenia, Psychosis, Premature Senility, Suicide, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

Thus the “sophisticated” individual comes to the practice of the art of love without room in his mind for the thought that it might be fun, pleasure, joy, glee, and a source of high laughter. He (or she) is, instead, nerved up for a clash, the outcome of which is most uncertain and potentially of extreme hazard, and the technique for which involves a repertoire like that of a concert organist, along with the timing, muscular co-ordination, and steady nerve of a trapeze performer.

It is scarcely necessary to remind the reader at this point that the manuals in question here are the works of accredited physicians, which is to say, of scientists. Their observations are astute, accurate and complete, from the objective standpoint—and, of course, highly reasonable. All they have omitted is the subjective, or instinctual, aspect of the matter—and here is as good an example of that phenomenal but widespread oversight as any.

Some of them even refer to the subject as the “science”—not the art—of love. Technique is a still commoner term. One can reflect sympathetically upon the plight of their mates. And, of course, one can also reflect that, at least in a few instances, these amatory scientists should be given the benefit of a solid doubt: were they to describe love-making as fun, and address themselves to the means of eliciting pleasure therefrom, rather than to the training-table and Olympiad aspects of the procedure, they would be denied the use of the mails even in plain wrappers and even if they had fifty university degrees. The United States Post Office is willing (in a gingerly way) to disseminate anatomical discourse on sex for the married or near-married; but it draws[Pg 177] an absolute line at any suggestion that sexual relations are, or could be, consonant with a good time.

Thus we see that the churches, on the one hand, and the cognoscenti, on the other, rule fun out of sex and are supported in the matter by the government.

The first good reason for associating with a prostitute is, however, unmistakably—pleasure.

The pleasure is reciprocal—self-evident for the gentleman, and frequently for the lady also. In cases where the gentleman is something less than that, the lady still has the pleasure of pecuniary profit. This is not a matter to be taken lightly in an era in which the United States is regarded as the last stronghold of capitalism—and the “money-incentive” is recognized as one of our chief Ideals.

There are, it is true, certain nigglers who claim that, since the prostitute lends her person to an act from which she may receive no particular direct pleasure (owing to surfeit or to disinterest) the profession itself is immoral—a violation of that American Ideal which regards sexual relations as permissible only for the Consummation of Romantic Love. Let all such note, then, that fully half the wives in the land report that they seldom or never enjoy consummation, and rarely even intense pleasure, in their relations with their husbands. Must we say all these wives are therefore prostituting themselves?

A similar question may be asked of those who are finicky about the straight cash aspect of professional cohabitation. Our magazine fiction, radio, motion pictures, and other media are engaged in a uniform campaign to indoctrinate Miss America with the theory that her best possible operation in life is to marry a man with millions, or with wealth in his background, with a good income, or—minimally—good prospects. Hardly one heroine of these legends in a thousand marries an oaf manifestly doomed to poverty. Money is an American Ideal—and the plain inference to be[Pg 178] drawn from our legends is that sexual desirability occurs for the acquisition of money.

The nation is elaborately stratified according to the amount of money obtained by each young woman upon marriage, or by other means. Of the girl who gets a rich husband we say (even though he has the manners of a gopher and the countenance of a quince), “Oh, well, she can own a convertible and sleep on percale.” Advertising, of course, is wholly directed to this association of ideas: one never sees a homely girl displaying a fur coat or a roadster or even pop. With such massive duress visited upon her from every direction—with women marrying and divorcing wealthy men one after the other and remaining the while on elective lists of America’s Leading Ladies—a girl cannot conceivably be criticized, on grounds logical or grounds emotional—for slightly short-cutting the standard technique and employing her fresh, gay, sex appeal to obtain the money directly, by a somewhat greater volume of relations at a lower net charge per unit. This is, after all, no more than the translation of another American Ideal—mass production—to a different field.

One associates with these young ladies, then, for one’s money’s worth of fun, as I have said. But, lest the reader doubt Forbisher-Laroche (as I do in a sense, myself) I set below, at random, a few of the putative 1,505 other reasons:

Company. A man often finds himself alone—as I did that evening.

Need. It has been pointed out that the so-called sexual drive of young men, at least, is on the order of five times as great as that of young ladies of equal age. This is a circumstance which, for some generations, our imbecile sires have endeavored to deny or conceal. Obviously, their absurd activities in that direction lie at the very heart of the insane condition of the modern mind. Since men have five times the passion of women in their youth, our sex mores must be[Pg 179] revised, and soon, five hundred per centum, or we shall all go wacky. It may have happened to us already, in fact.

It has been pointed out that, with the increase of age, this enormous sex discrepancy tends to diminish. The woman of thirty-five will have undergone an augmentation of desire—her mate a decrease. In an unpublished work, I tentatively suggested that—this being the biological fact—a new sex convention might be devised whereby relations between all women of more than, say, thirty-five—whether married or single—and all unmarried males of less than, say, twenty-one, would be publicly regarded as rising out of “innocent necessity” and not counted as in any way unchaste, or unfaithful, or otherwise compromising. The notion seemed inspirational to me. It would at once provide a remedy for a truly desperate situation now existing unrecognized among both sexes at certain diverse ages—and it would give useful and socially beneficial occupation to a slew of wives and single women in America who at present have nothing to do at all. It would provide boys and young men with experienced tutors—women who knew what was in the books but were able to enjoy themselves, to boot—and it might, indeed, revive the now-drooping flower of love in the whole land. My friends, however, after reading my feuilleton, advised me not to publish it, on the fantastic grounds that it would be regarded as frivolous!

But to go on with the random reasons:

Variety. It is a point upon which I feel no comment whatever should be needed.

Obedience. This term has its limitations for the intended meaning. The word “command” might serve, but it also has connotations not here intended.

In a marriage ceremony, it is true, the wife agrees, as a rule, to “obey” her husband—and he, her. However, in perhaps half of American marriages, obedience drops out of the relationship the moment the preacher closes his prayer book. In perhaps a quarter, the husband becomes the serf[Pg 180] of the wife—who has customs galore and the weight of American advertising to back her in her commands of what he must do, earn, obtain, provide, and so on.

Yet the sexual deed itself is one which, if there be command or obedience, requires that the command come from the male, the obedience from the female. (Male aggression, female passivity, the scientists insanely term it.) This circumstance, however loathsome to feminists, is—again—a simple fact of nature: a man is physiologically incapable of being commanded to make love. He cannot simulate. In acts so fundamental to his heart, mind, spirit, and soul as those related to sex, it is therefore not only psychologically evident, but physically plain, that a certain degree of obedience, or receptivity to command, or, if you prefer, co-operation, is necessary on the part of the woman. Without it, love-making, when possible at all, is at best a mere reflex.

Such is the condition of millions of women today, however—and not surprising, either, in view of the times and the customs—that they are inclined to refuse male address, and to whine, scold, heckle, disobey, begrudge, demean, belittle, routinize, particularize, censor, evade, scorn, shame, humiliate, et cetera, before or during or after sexual relations. This leaves the male relentlessly insatiate. Geared by Nature for cohabitation with a willing—nay, an enthusiastic—partner, he finds himself bedded with a cold and prissy marmot of a woman. It drenches his self-esteem, decays his manliness, and either reduces him to the shy, stammering estate of millions of our Milquetoasts or else sets him in a permanent rage against life so that he is ready to turn communist, or Ku-Kluxer, to take to drink, or to beat his children.

Prostitutes provide the only dependable respite from this dilemma, which man currently even somewhat allows himself. Inasmuch as they are sexually in the employ of the man, they will, if worthy of their hire, not critically submit to, but genially participate in his caprices. By this method,[Pg 181] millions of otherwise lost men keep alive somewhere within themselves at least a flicker of honest, male self-respect. Now and then—if only a night a year—and only for a price—they are obeyed by a woman.

Whim. This is related to the above. As I pointed out to Yvonne, the norm for the human approach to sex relations is the mammalian. Yet all forms save one specific approach are today prohibited. State dungeons await even husbands reported by their children as abed off the parallel and with angular deviations of more than a very few degrees. This is called “bestiality”—a term devised by no animal lover.

Being animals, we hunger to be harmlessly animals. Being forbidden by parents, schools, church and state, millions are confined in the domestic arts of love to that one simple stratagem which propels locomotives. But amongst ladies of easier, nobler virtue, the parched mammal may discover some surcease.

Beauty. This, too, is self-explanatory.
Relaxation. Ditto.
Peace. Also.
Health. Also.
Kindliness. Many lack it at home.
Warmth. Another occasionally marked domestic deficit.
Mirth. See above.
Femininity. Look over the wives and look over the trollops.
Youth. Who does not age?
Favor. Some say all women are masochistic and many wives surely are; for these, a slight indiscretion may be a pleasanter thing to suffer than the painless boredom of impeccable fidelity. Whoring as a favor to the frau may be a rare form—but it must not be overlooked.
Information. Whole books could be written on this topic alone.
Practice. Here, again.
[Pg 182]Courtesy. Helping worthy girls through college, and the like.
Testing. The litmus of another woman.
Tradition. No comment.
Courage. In these days, it takes a lot.
Conversation. A degree of candor is found among filles de joie that is elsewhere rare.

And so the list goes—to the alleged length of fifteen hundred and six excellent reasons for associating with hired damsels. They hardly furnish a good brief for the sexual slum and erotic underground of harlotry today; but they surely show the sores and shortcomings of the pure, the purulent, in heart.

Hence, when, at the beginning of this dissertation, I asked myself “Why?” I was speculating upon which of the multitude of possible motives governed my assent to Gwen’s proposition.

Beauty, to be sure; she was a handsome wench; Loneliness and Fun; Relaxation; Information and Conversation, perhaps; and perhaps, also (a reason Forbisher-Laroche himself had never thought of) the Imminence of Death. It is said that the imminence of death on any large scale historically produced mass orgy—that, for instance, the Roman streets were littered with connected couples whenever the plague closed in upon the city during medieval times. This urge—sired doubtless by Nature’s command to beget in every eleventh hour—may have had its dark and archetypal image within me somewhere.

11

These ratiocinations occupied me while I dressed, picked up the premises, and ordered from the Knight’s Bar a supply of ice in a thermos jug, some whisky, Coca-Cola, glasses, and carbonated water. The waiter had brought them—a waiter wet and odoriferous from a day’s running through[Pg 183] the high temperatures, but cheerful withal—and held the card for my signature, and departed, before she called from the lobby.

I gave her the number and went out to the elevator.

She had piled up the sleek filaments of her red-brown hair to keep cool a graceful neck. She wore a suit of thin cotton—green—and interesting shoes of a darker green. She came to my quarters laughing amiably. “I’m very pleased with myself!”

“You should be.”

She undid the catch of her jacket and took it off. The green blouse beneath was little more than a broad brassière—a sensible and summery thing that left bare a midsection of smooth, sunburned abdomen and rib. “It was my idea to call you up,” she said.

“Which pleases me with you.”

She sat down near the window, hopeful a breeze might come through it. Her eyes rested on mine with gay attentiveness. “It’s terribly slow at Hat’s,” she said. “It has been—all month.”

“Everybody,” I said, “is out of town.”

“Leaving nobody home to go out of the world with. Desolating!”

“I’ve got some Scotch—soda—”

“Weak,” she said, “and lots of ice.”

I mixed the drink. While I was doing it, she saw the manuscript in work and went over to the bridge table. She read a few lines. “It sounds amusing,” she said.

“It did to me—the first time through. And the second time—when I corrected it. Right now, I’m cutting it, and my own jokes are a little less than fresh.” I handed her the tall glass. “Too bad we don’t have airconditioning here at the Astolat.”

“I like heat waves. Besides—I spent the afternoon in an air-conditioned apartment. I’m all cooled off for the weekend.”

[Pg 184]

“If you change your mind—we’ll find a chilled spot later.”

“Then I’ll change it—” she looked across the glass-rim—”later. I was over at the apartment of a girl named Charmaine. Used to work for Hattie—and then became the friend of a lad who died and left her millions.”

“Nice gal?”

Gwen said, with a quick, small indrawn breath, “Darling!” Then she glanced at me again—and flushed.

“Hattie told me all about Charmaine,” I said.

“It—it—only makes me want a man—!” She was afraid I’d be indignant, or perhaps disgusted. “That’s true! In fact—that’s what Charmaine tries—to do. She likes to make people all hot and bothered. She—!”

The girl was embarrassed—and yet remembering, at the same time. The glass tilted a little in her hand. I went over to her and touched her. “Didn’t they tell you about me?”

She laughed, then, and sat down. “I was fussed, I guess. Some men—”

I said it for her. “Some men are so narrow-minded you can’t put a dime between what they don’t know and what they’ll never learn.”

The feeling that she might have made a faux pas—might have prejudiced me hopelessly against her—had gone from her eyes. She walked over to the windowsill where the radio was. She switched it on and turned the dial back to the minimal volume. While the tubes warmed, she leaned forward on the sill and looked out—across the brick terrace and the parapet, some half dozen feet away. My floor is on a slight setback. When she found she couldn’t see straight down, she pulled her head inside again, found a station playing dance music, tuned it in sharply, turned it very low, and smiled at me.

“Sex isn’t logical,” she said.

“Not from the standpoint we call logic.”

[Pg 185]

“Take me.”

“An idea.”

She nodded her head affirmatively and went on smiling. “What attracts me—sexually—to people—isn’t their sex. Not whether they’re men or women—or even little kids, for that matter. It’s something about them that I never know what it may be. The way they move—or the way they talk—or their expressions—or their looks. It can be any little thing. Sometimes I think it isn’t them at all—but how I feel at the time. And even then my feelings aren’t ever the same. According to what it is that attracts me, I’m different. Sometimes I see a man I’d like to have make love to me. Sometimes I see some college boy I’d just like to neck. Sometimes I see a woman I wish would have a crush on me and rush me—like college girls—and get herself terribly upset about wanting me around so much—and not knowing what to do. And sometimes I feel the way Charmaine seems to, about everybody she likes. I just try to see how excited I can make them be—and then let them be. Like that. Let them go away. Does it bore you?”

“No.”

“There are some feelings I can’t react to. Homosexuality in men. I don’t mean it revolts me, or anything. I just can’t see why they bother—even with all I can see. And the most peculiar part is noticing that the men who hate pansies the most are nearest to it. You find that out, in my kind of life. They’ll visit you and act strictly like Marine sergeants—and get very tight—and finally, perhaps, ask—probably pretending to kid—if there are only girls around the place. When anything like that happens—I feel perfectly blank. Yet that doesn’t seem—normal—under the circumstances.”

Gwen’s theory of normal libido required the possibility of erotic reaction to just about any object, it appeared.

I wondered how close that was to the actual nature of us all. The Freudians would have shrugged it off as adolescent.[Pg 186] A carrying-into-maturity of the unsorted, unspecialized yearnings of the infant and the child. I felt that—if a person could choose—he, or she, would be far better off with Gwen’s libido than the tormented fragment that the majority cherished. Cherished as the platform for all that they called love and integrity.

She was telling the truth. But presently I wondered if she had not told it a great many times, to men like myself, and to women—some women. Told it as a psychological tapestry against which to pose herself; as an advertisement, an inducement. It wouldn’t be the first time I’d heard a prostitute do that. Tell the truth readily enough—too readily. Personal history—anecdotes—subclinical material. Intellectual people would fall for it. They would be seduced by it. For they have been deprived not just of the erotic play their childhood naturally yearned for but, in most cases, of the opportunity for mere discussion of the subject, which they’d have enjoyed.

Suppose eating, not sex, were the taboo of our century? Suppose it was illegal for more than two people to eat together and suppose even they had to get a license for it and eat in secret, while children were fed alone in dark closets? Suppose our billboards and newspaper ads, movies and books and art, devoted themselves to pictures of food—but never to one glimpse of anybody eating? (That’s what we’d done about sex—or tried our best to do.) Wouldn’t it result in secret, general passions to try esoteric foods? And wouldn’t people like to get together, law or none, and talk about the tabooed object?

I thought about Bali, where people actually were a little ashamed of eating meals in public. An animal indecency to be ritualistically concealed.

I felt the familiar stab of indignation. How long would it take my fellow men to realize what they had done to themselves, and why they had done it?

[Pg 187]

To hide the real creature. To dress up the pretense that we are not instinctual.

Would we ever see? Learn? Break down the conceited barricade we’d lifted up since beyond the Stone Age—the wall between the old brain and the new cortex? Or would we, too, decay? Enter our Toynbean time of troubles, turn military, tyrannical, lucubricious and guilty—instead of loving and free, and so in the end fall prey to the outlying barbarian horde—the rest of the world, that outnumbered us sixteen to one? Was a Presbyterian, a Catholic, a collegiate agnostic, a Unitarian, a socialist nearer to insight than an old Roman?

I juggled the breathless doubt in my mind.

“The misery and aggression of the world, the hate and warlike sentiment,” a great psychiatrist had said the other day, “are due to two causes: physical hunger in the Orient; in the Occident, the fantastic sex repressions derived from Christianity, so called, and obtaining still in the materialist societies.”

There it was—in the words of a psychological scientist.

Not a single statesman that I knew of had picked up the thought.

“A penny,” Gwen said.

I apologized. “It’s too intricate. It’s a summing up of various truths rejected or denied. We’re out of the habit of seeing them. So it might take me a couple of years to explain.”

Gwen laughed. “Swell! I’ll come by, an hour a day—and lie on your couch—and you can explain.”

“Maybe,” I said, “if they’d listened to you just now—and compared what you said with what they honestly feel—but they won’t!”

“They will if you get them in the mood—and alone.”

“Many?”

“Darned near all—that I ever see. You’d be astonished.”

“Still—that doesn’t matter. Because when they act they[Pg 188] act as a mob. And as a mob—they never admit what they really think and feel and dream and wish and long for. They just fight.”

An expression came into her eyes that was part speculative and part cautious. “Some like that, too. Like to be hurt.”

“Sure. The guilt again. The old quid pro quo.”

She watched me. “They get a kick out of it.”

“Pain’s their license for any fun. Not in Nature—just in people. And what—incidentally—is your feeling about that?”

“Being hurt? I’d hate it.”

“Me, too. Hurting, then?”

Her wary eyes decided. She raised a shoulder and let it fall. “What would you do if a guy who loved it asked you to beat him? If you knew it was the only kick he could get out of life? If he brought you a switch—”

“—just like the kind his mother used—”

“—and begged you?”

I said, “Scram.”

“Suppose a girl did?” She looked at me intently.

It was an idea that had never crossed my mind. I thought it over. “Scram,” I repeated. “There’s pain enough in life—even in loving—without asking for more.”

Gwen’s eyebrows went up. “It’s another thing I can’t feel, either.” She gestured with her hand, pushing the idea away from herself.

She’d finished her highball long since. She made another, now—a stronger one. I didn’t want any more Coca-Cola at the moment—any more anything. Any more her, even.

And that shocked me.

What had the sensation come from?

From her most recent confession?

No. It was familiar—undistressing in that connotation—a known, acknowledged, assimilated phenomenon, like[Pg 189] any other biological datum of birds, bees, flowers, our earth. Nothing surprising at all.

It went back to the question “Why?”: To Loneliness, Beauty and Fun and all that.

The truth was, I had been unwilling, once again, to face the night unsleepy and alone. I didn’t want a girl; this one, or any one, except Ricky.

But the not-wanting of solitude was the greater negative.

She’d turned to another radio station and found a slow rumba. She drank deeply—standing—and moving her hips in tempo.

“Come on,” she said.

Unwillingly, and unwilling to protest the heat of the night, I began to dance with her. She was, as Hattie had promised, very good.

I thought that presently I would stop this and send her home. It would be awkward.

And then, as the music quickened and we made a spot turn in the center of the room, I saw through the doors to the doors beyond—the doors that led to Yvonne’s room. Mine was no longer flatly parallel with the wall.

I raised my voice. “Come on in, Yvonne!”

I had never relocked the door on my side.

She came in.

Gwen looked at her, at me, at Yvonne again—not troubling to hide the fact that she was astonished. But not irritated.

I would have expected Yvonne to be embarrassed—who would not?

She wasn’t. Her gray eyes met mine steadily.

“I hoped you’d call me today,” she said. “When you didn’t—I had dinner with dad. I got back after the theater—and I heard your radio go on. I finally decided to knock on your door. But when I unlocked the one on my side—I[Pg 190] found yours open. I was just about to say boo! and ask for a drink. I’ll be good and go quietly afterward.”

She said it steadily, rapidly, so that I knew, and Gwen knew, she had prepared it.

“Mrs. Prentiss,” I said, “Yvonne Prentiss—Miss Gwen Talyor.”

Yvonne turned and held out her hand.

She was wearing a black dinner dress; black was certainly for her.

Gwen took her hand and kept it and said to me, “Does a beautiful brunette live on the other side?”

I laughed. “And a platinum blonde across the hall. Just below me lives—”

“I know,” Gwen answered. “Don’t tell us.”

I carried my glass to the bathroom, rinsed it, and made a highball.

“We met yesterday,” I said to Gwen. “She comes from Pasadena.” I handed the drink to Yvonne. “Miss Taylor—is an old friend of an old friend of mine.”

Gwen said, “She knows. She’s been listening.”

Yvonne wouldn’t look at me, then. But she said, “I told her. Do you mind terribly much? It’s your own fault—for unlocking the door.”

I ignored that. “Lemme see, then. Just where the hell were we?”

“You were dancing. And I wish you’d go on.”

“Not the heat—” I began—”but—”

Gwen came over to my chair. “Come on.”

So we danced a little—not very well.

“I wish,” Yvonne said, “I could do that step.”

I took a good look at her. And I looked back, in my mind, at her stylized past.

Her gray eyes were wide open and very bright. Otherwise she was composed. She didn’t seem to realize how unprecedented it was for her not to mind that she had been caught eavesdropping on a man she’d known for a day who[Pg 191] was alone with a girl she did not know at all. She should have been shocked—shocked as much as if she had suddenly found she had gone up on the stage and begun ad-libbing a part in a play. But she wasn’t even concerned; she behaved as if she had always been in the cast.

Maybe she had.

When she said she wished she could do the off-beat step, I stopped dancing.

“Show her,” I said to Gwen.

Gwen looked straight into my eyes—her back to Yvonne. One curved brow went up, inquiringly. I nodded the least bit.

Gwen let go of me as if I had disappeared. She turned and smiled and held out her arms.

Yvonne set her drink down carefully and got up and walked to Gwen. They began dancing—not trying the step—but just dancing. In a moment—in the same moment—without either of them saying a word—they switched; Yvonne led Gwen.

I sprawled back on the divan.

They danced for a long time and as they danced it seemed to me Yvonne relaxed a millimeter at a time—until she moved like a nebula—all gold and white and black. Gwen just smiled—looking at nothing for a long time, and finally looking down—an inch or so—into Yvonne’s eyes.

When they stopped, Yvonne said softly, “That was wonderful!”

“Like it?”

“I never felt I was doing a rumba before. Even”—she laughed lightly toward me—”with the eminent professor Wylie.”

“He’s good,” Gwen said. “But you have to be experienced.”

“I used to think I was.”

“You will be, lamb,” Gwen said.

An announcer lengthily discussed various food products.[Pg 192] Gwen turned him down to an indecipherable mutter. When strains of music returned thinly, Yvonne asked, “Can you tango?”

Gwen nodded.

So they danced again and, by and by, as they passed me, Yvonne said, “Mind if I borrow your girl friend for a brief chitchat?”

I shook my head.

Yvonne danced Gwen through the other room and through the doors.

They closed quietly.

Moments before, I had been embarrassed by Gwen’s presence—by the realization that I had wanted companionship rather than passion. Now my feelings changed, showing how incomplete my awareness of them had been. I was alone and I did not want to be. Yvonne had deprived me of my casual date. I was not precisely jealous of one woman over another, but I was distressed. And this sentiment was not relieved by the plain fact that I was responsible, through a series of negative acts, for my situation.

I could have sent Yvonne packing. I could, by not nodding my head, have kept Gwen with me. On the evening before, I could have accepted Yvonne’s invitation for a nightcap, or accepted the later invitation in her note to me. I’d been somewhat Olympian on both occasions—a little more detached than there was detachment in the sum of the parts of my nervous system.

But what should one do?

What would others do?

This is a question which I sometimes test by projecting myself into others, not to examine their circumstances, but to imagine what they would do in mine.

I switched off my radio.

I stretched out on my divan, lighted a cigarette and cogitated.

A great many of the men I know would refuse to be[Pg 193]lieve or weigh the facts as they existed. Their knowledge of homo sapiens is so superficial, so repressed, or so compartmented, that they could not even assume an Yvonne would want to take a Gwen into her boudoir, let alone that one had done so.

And the majority of my male friends would label any narrative of my past two days as a boast. They would doubt that I’d encountered two such extremely attractive girls in so short a space of time. Two? Three, by the reckoning of these men—for they would include the scalding stare of Marcia as a sexual coup. They would assume I’d somewhat mistaken my own libido for any description I gave of the three girls, in the bargain.

They would forget how disturbed Yvonne was; hence they would fail to see that the interest she had shown in me was motivated not by myself, or any possible charm of mine, but by her wish for escape, or for anodyne, or for revenge—and perhaps, also, for mere experiment with her insatieties. These men would also overlook the fact that Gwen was a prostitute. Such liking as she felt for me was merely a fortunate vicissitude of business. She would have called me up even if she had disliked me: trade was slow and I had the price. Such men—and I knew many—would even overlook Marcia’s attachment to Paul, on the opposite grounds that she was, after all, a prostitute. They would imagine every woman’s hot-eyed glance as evidence of their irresistibility. In my place, they would conclude that three women, young and handsome, had given them a tumble because of what they were.

Three handsome young women had certainly invited me; but not one for myself.

There is also, among some of my friends, an inverted form of chivalry which causes them to feel they are obliged to respond to every feminine beckon with assent. But they take no responsibility for the results—the tangible and psychological results—of whatever behavior follows such[Pg 194] assent. These imagine themselves great lovers and great understanders of women; they actually hold toward women about the same attitude they hold toward roast beef.

To all these last men, the fact that I had failed to wait upon Yvonne the night before, and dispatched Gwen with a nod, and responded to Marcia’s luncheon leer with nothing more than analysis, would seem a great waste of opportunity, a failure to meet obligation, and even a kind of hypocrisy. For they would be men who knew that I held no brief for absolute fidelity in marriage. Knowing that, they would conclude any refusal of mine to commit adultery was Pharisaic. Such men are black-white viewers; they go through life blind to the color spectrum.

I knew still other men—a few, at least—who would regard my association with prostitutes and loose women (which is what they would call Yvonne) as proof that I was a bum. To these, all that I did, thought and expressed would be discredited by the antics of some of my companions. “Wylie,” they would say, “hangs out with scum.” Ergo Wylie’s discernment, his art, his intellectual ability is manifestly nil.

This is the common attitude of “Christians”—though how they explain their own Christ’s various companions is beyond my guessing.

Two or three more of my friends would take what might be called the anthropological view of my situation. They would argue that, being away from my wife and needing sexual refreshment, having the opportunity, but not taking it, I was acting weakly. These would overlook not merely the motives of the ladies, and my feelings about my wife, but also the fact that my share of everyman’s borrowed time was apparently running out—a circumstance which in itself alters the libido.

To some of my friends, then, I would have to excuse myself for what I had already done; to others, I would have[Pg 195] to make excuses for what I had failed to do. To myself, I had nothing much to say.

In a minute, an hour, or on the morrow, my reasons, moods and motives would change once more and my behavior might be different. Hence this empathetic review had merely shown again how men behave according to sets of compulsions—patterns of conscious virtue, conscious sin, or conscious animalism—which stem in every case from arbitrary mores. And neither amongst the overtly virtuous nor the subtly sinful is the pattern valuable; it makes hypocrites of the former and deprives the latter of joy. The animalists, too, have no solution: they fornicate as through a wall, knowing a person exists on the other side but not what a person is.

So any instinct, when unseen, compels men to abide by some formulation of itself. They accept a Faith and are then obliged to play they are the God who rules that Faith. So, too, a man like myself, who quests beyond these compulsive faiths (and is therefore called faithless by Believers of every stamp) foolishly plays God whenever he does not quite know himself.

I sat there, sneering at the pompous fashion in which I had behaved and wondering how to make peace with my solitude, my recovered mortality. Even I had wanted more than I had found for myself. Not redheads and ash blondes abed in the night of that heat-glazed city, but their company, their tempting presence. It would be a matter worth thinking about in the future—if my future was to be long enough for that kind of thought.

I came close, again, to calling Ricky, at that point.

Telling her. Summoning her.

And I thought that most of the men I knew would do precisely that. They like to ride downhill alone; but when the burden grows heavy and the grade steep, their wives become wheels on the wagon of their difficulties. So American marriage is too often both trouble-sharing and a pri[Pg 196]vate sport. “If you love her,” they would say, “and if she loves you, it is your duty to let her know and she would be hurt if you did not.” These, I think, are little boys married to their mothers. If I had known the truth of my condition, Ricky would have been the next to know. But I was not certain—quite. Let her sleep the night through, then. Live two more contented days. She is my wife. She nurtures me and I her and if I told her when I did not need to tell her, that would be a true weakness in my lexicon.

Even while thinking that, I looked at the phone again and touched it. But I am not quite such a schoolboy.

I may be the only male in America who feels as I do but my feeling is definite: from the age of about six, I did not want a girl who was necessarily just like the girl that married dear old dad.

It may be that there are no real men left in America.

America may be as barren of actual masculinity as Sodom of holy folk.

Some of us, however, still take an occasional crack at keeping alive the memory of what men once were—or fanning the hope of what they may be.

Once, for instance, men behaved with compassion toward women; they were even interested in how women feel; what women did was actually important to men—once. It may again be so.

But the likelihood is that nobody ever escaped Sodom alive. Lot’s wife looked back for a last squint at the new streamlined dish washers—and turned to a pillar of salt. Lot, a moment later, tried to save a charred copy of the financial page—and turned into a pillar of bicarbonate of soda.

I got to about that point in my estimates when the doors opened again. Yvonne appeared—flushed and tousled—a drink in one hand and some books in the other.

“Lonesome?” she asked.

“Far from it,” I said. “I was working with the Lord.”

She laughed. “Join us?”

[Pg 197]

I shook my head.

“I thought not. Here! Amusez-vous!” She threw the books on my bed and shut the door again.

I looked at the books. Three mystery stories in the conventional getup of gaud and grue and one volume without a jacket: Huxley’s Ape and Essence, which Yvonne had denuded to camouflage another treatise. I passed up the mysteries—the immunizing doses of mayhem, the habit-forming homicide—with which so many of the better people try to allay their critical sensations in this civilization. I took the Huxley back to my living room and read in it here and there.

It was unfortunate, I thought, that the bright Aldous had seen fit to show the world that he, too, could write a screenplay. Did he need a studio job, I wondered?

But it was only funny that the public and the critics had misjudged the tale. For Huxley’s portrait of post-atomic California was not, as most persons assumed, the flight of a delirious brain. It was, by every relevant index, the most likely prediction that an intelligent man could make, these days. It was just what good actuaries and capable business forecasters should anticipate. Six hundred years ago, I reflected, the Great Plague had reduced Western Europe to a similar condition: religion had become corrupt, rogues had seized the government, the expiring feudal system had been finally shattered, and the people had roamed amidst half-empty towns and cities, living by robbery, raping, burning witches, and indulging every horrid superstition, while knowledge vanished and science stood still. This condition had lasted for more than a century.

The intervening twenty generations had not been enough to change man a particle. He was the same specious brainist and therefore the same potential dupe of his unaltered instincts. His opposite possibilities were perhaps even stronger—since he had exploited vanity for six more centuries. Atomic bombs, likely, would be worse than Plague[Pg 198] and have long-lasting, ancillary effects of the very sort described by Huxley. And there would be new plagues—-military diseases.

Yet it had not occurred seriously to anybody, so far as I knew, that the mordant scenery of Ape and Essence was a logical extension of current events. Wild fantasy, the critics thought—having insufficient imagination to evaluate past or present and no education in the sciences whatever, as a rule.

Well, I thought, when and if we reach the state of cannibalism, I shall try to eat a critic. There should be good crackling around fat heads.

And next I thought that even Huxley made too little of the fact that, after our earth was literally Hell for a hundred years, man produced the Renaissance.

I also thought how no one apparently had realized that the Californian cult of Belial was an inversion of the Roman Catholic parades, liturgies, chants and other idolatrous measures. And I thought how the Huxleyan method disclosed, with considerable vim and penetration, that Christian worship—Catholic or Protestant—is all but completely a paean for Satan today. The Godly serve the Devil through hatred, hypocrisy, materialism, conceit and big death wishes. They need only a change of names and symbols to align what they actually do with their pretension. Belial already reigns over the Church—not God.

Someday, after the atomic wars—I thought—a practitioner of the corrupted religion of his time, a science-hater (for what he deemed science had done to man), a legless character with three arms and two navels (owing to the general damage done the genes of all living things), a cannibal (but one who could still read a little), might discover this volume in the silence of a wrecked library and hail Huxley as a great prophet—a man with valuable new ideas for worship and fresh notions about sex relations in public places. Thus Huxley might contribute (contrary to his in[Pg 199]tent but in the same fashion as many other prophets) to the majestic rites of human degradation.

No critic, however, could possibly contemplate such a matter as anything but a joke.

I wondered how the great-grandchildren of critics would view it.

Thus wondering, I went to bed.

It was late, of course.

I put out my light and listened to the seismic nocturne of the city.

From the next room came a bold, cajoling giggle.

Then quiet.

The building quivered.

The planet turned.

Exhaustion lowered me into sleep on a jerky rope that did not loosen me for a long time.

12

Contrary to expectation, the end of civilization came about through a series of events connected in no way with war or atomic bombardment. Of these events the earliest, so far as careful inquiry could determine at the time, was initially observed by Malcolm Calk of 2531 North Munley Street, Urbana, Illinois. Mr. Calk had just become engaged to Dorothea Lurp of the same address—the boarding establishment of Sarah L. Rev, or Reev—and they were celebrating the happy occasion by spending a weekend at the Chicago home of Miss Lurp’s parents. The day being warm—it was the 9th of August, in the hot summer of 1953—the young couple determined to repair to the beach.

They were contentedly ensconced at the lakeside when Mr. Calk’s eyes wandered from the person of his fiancée, who was in wading, to the clouds overhead. These were of a cumulus nature, for the most part widely spaced, and drifting southward on a wind reported later by the Weather[Pg 200] Bureau as of twelve miles per hour at mean cloud altitude. Calk’s mind was, as may readily be imagined, turned toward those fancies which are commonly described as “building castles in the air.” He reports, indeed, that the phrase passed through his thoughts as he looked at the vaporous structures overhead.

Within them he observed a certain slight turbulence or agitation to which he at first paid scant heed. Clouds revolve and turn themselves inside out in a manner that bespeaks air currents and their own diaphanous consistency—a manner that sometimes suggests they have a life of their own in a weird fourth dimension of the blue up yonder. But the young Calk gave the phenomenon only a cursory, occasional glance; his head was already “in the clouds”—another phrase upon which he recalls musing at the time. He was apparently a person of whimsey—a patternmaker employed by the Racine Forge and Tool Company of Urbana.

Presently, however, his focus was drawn with insistence toward the slow-tumbling clouds and, as people will, he gave free play to his imagination, seeing in the changing shapes now a dragon, now a cat’s face, and now the chuck of a turret lathe. These gossamer figures wove themselves, vanished, and eddied into yet different forms until, ultimately he found himself viewing a large letter N. About this he saw nothing remarkable—at first. A letter of the alphabet is probably shaped by the clouds as often as any boar’s head or serpent.

The “N,” however, took on contour and texture until it seemed a deliberate thing—resembling, as Calk put it later, “Sky-writing done backwards in a newsreel so that the frayed-out smoke pulled together again to make a real clean-cut N.”

At the moment, however (so uncritical was his brain and so unrelated was the celestial phenomenon to his thoughts), he came to a different conclusion. When the N established itself as a clear and sharply defined capital letter,[Pg 201] some two miles in length and many thousands of feet above Lake Michigan, Calk informed himself that it was, actually, the work of a sky-writer. This is a kind of rationalization which any psychologist will recognize. Because what he saw did not quite conform to his past experience, Calk discounted his sensory impression and interpreted an external fact in terms of orderly recollections rather than of observable reality. Donner, Bates, Breesteen, Cavanaugh, Cohen and Wilstein, among other authorities, have noted the similiarity of this process to that by which prejudices are often established.

“Look, honey,” Mr. Calk called to his fiancée. “Sky-writer.”

Miss Lurp looked and nodded in agreement. “Yeah. Bet it’s cold up there! Lucky fellow—the pilot.”

No one else in the vicinity appeared to be aware of the process overhead. Miss Lurp continued to wade—Mr. Calk to watch her and to cast an occasional glance at the sky. A letter U was slowly formed alongside the perfect N.

Miss Lurp at this point stepped on a clamshell, or possibly a broken bottle, which hurt her foot although it did not break the skin. Exaggerating the injury, she hopped ashore to solicit comfort, which Mr. Calk readily supplied. Thereafter, sitting side by side, they gazed up at the NU, near which yet other clouds were shifting and shaping themselves.

“Why,” said Miss Lurp, “that’s not sky-writing at all! It’s just the clouds coming together accidental-like.” To another couple, sitting on the sand nearby, she called, “Look, people! The clouds are having a spelling bee!”

One upturned countenance, or even two, may not serve to divert a throng from its preoccupations, whether sordid or sublime. But four faces intently elevated will permeate any mass of people and constrain nearly all of the individuals in it to join. This contagion of curiosity now spread over the beach. Soon, persons everywhere—on the sand and the[Pg 202] walk behind and in the water—bathers, loafers, nurses with perambulators on the Drive, and policemen who were supposed to patrol it but who were more attentive to the nurses—looked up to see, in a vast blue area above, three letters:

NUT

Sedately the word moved toward the city area. People began to speculate about the product thus being advertised. Two or three of the quicker-thinking formed hat-pools for dimes and quarters—best guess to take all. At the same time, a considerable discussion arose over the fact that these letters were not being formed by a plane—a glinting speck at the head of a comet of smoke—but were the result of a composing of clouds which had thitherto appeared to be in the random distribution familiar to all. A vague alarm became observable in the voices and the postures of the beholders although it was suggested by the calm among them that the sky-writer had lost the first part of his message—a PEA, for example, or a GRAPE. At the same time, the discomforting fact remained that no performer, and no aerial equipment of any nature, could be descried.

The growing strain—and strain came easily amongst persons who had lived through eight years of the Atomic Age—rather suddenly diminished. Clouds boiled, rotated and stretched out to make what people began to recognize (in the order of individual percipience) as a pluralizing S and an exclamation point. The great letters on the sky said:

NUTS!

This, clearly, was a joke. Someone who possessed a slightly malicious sense of humor, some technician with a novel trick, had seen fit to write above Lake Michigan a laconic comment: NUTS! People laughed and went back to their activities—and their deliberate eschewals of all activity.[Pg 203] Other clouds appeared and offered no further entertainment. A few cars on the Lake Shore Drive ground to a stop. Their operators and passengers looked up to see what still intrigued the residual gazers—chuckled—and drove on.

Perhaps only Calk, of all those myriads, had a real premonition of evil. He referred it, not unnaturally, to the fact that this was the occasion of his engagement. Looking at the long, shiny limbs of Miss Lurp, the nodes on them, at her rather dangly breasts and her somewhat overteased brown hair (that now smelled of a plastic bathing cap into which had been “built” a perfume that did not quite eradicate the cap’s original odor of phenol) he could not help wondering if it was auspicious to behold, upon their first venture as affianced persons, a great NUTS! floating overhead. Following the word with his eye, as it drifted toward the metropolis, he also observed, with distaste, that it maintained its continuity better than any sky-writing he had ever seen.

Other citizens, not having witnessed the formation of the word, took it for granted that some prankster had done the deed and, since Chicago is a city where a burp will bring down the house, hugely enjoyed it. The Sun had a box about it. The News had a cartoon about it—bad municipal government shuddering as the word in the sky threatened. The Tribune carried a long editorial attributing the whole affair to communists.

The next day was rainy.

The day after, however, was immaculately clear and from the azure reaches above the lake there floated to and over Chicago a second giant syllable:

CRAP!

The formation, this time, was witnessed by the officers and crew of the Matthew T. Handless, a freighter. Her skipper, acting as spokesman for the group, seemed less[Pg 204] awed by the reporters and news cameramen than by his memory. “It was an absolutely cloudless morning out there,” he said. “Dry weather. Barometer at 30.46. Nothing in sight. Then clouds just seemed to appear of their own accord in the sky. Not a wave below—flat calm. They worked themselves into this here, now, word—and they started drifting for Chicago on a high-altitude breeze. I watched pretty much the whole thing with my glasses—and they’re good glasses. I just had ’em checked at Davis’s Optometrical, and there was no plane of any sort.”

The news spread across an amused United States.

WRITING IN SKY PANICS CHI

“Disgruntled Chicagoan” was the universal solution. Disgruntled Chicagoan with a new process for sky-writing. Somebody sore about the housing shortage, the garbage disposal, the taxes, the materials scarcities, the innumerable blanks to be made out for local, state and federal governments, the new bonus, the rising menace of prohibition, the thousand things at which people were indignant in 1953. “Chicago per se,” the New York Times rather uncouthly suggested.

It was not until the 14th of August, however—a day much like the 9th—that the matter took on different proportions. For, by then, the marshaled resources of science were as ready as set rattraps. When the clouds began to churn significantly, no less than one hundred and eighteen planes, not counting the planes of photographers and mere sightseers, climbed to the region from fields all around the Windy City, which, of course, as on the ninth, was enjoying a mild zephyr.

A huge S took shape. Traffic stopped. Customers and employees poured out of stores like lava, offices regurgitated their hordes, housewives left bacon burning and babies sodden; all were witness to an impromptu air circus. It had[Pg 205] three phases, or acts. First, police planes and military aircraft drove off unofficial spectators—light planes and helicopters belonging to the curious and two or three commercial pilots who carried their fares off the flyways for a closer look. Second, science went to work.

The letter S was photographed. Samples of it were taken. The air currents in and around it were measured by instruments operated through ports in airplanes readied just for the task. Various tagged atoms were then dusted into the letter and their courses were pursued by scientists in helicopters, armed with counters. From the ground, spectroscopes were trained upon the initial and diffraction gratings laid bare its spectrum. Everything was done that had been planned at the University of Chicago—and elsewhere in the city—and by a variety of physical scientists who phoned and wrote in their suggestions. Meantime, an H formed next to the S and subdued titter filled the watching streets.

The third plane followed when an ineluctable I was added to the throbbing sky-scene. As if this was carrying cosmic anagrams too far, military aircraft undertook to break up the phenomenon—also according to plan.

Four-letter words, so called, are one of the great American taboos. In this connotation, nuts and crap are not considered precisely forbidden, though each has a special reference which is impermissible. All people know all the four-letter words, of course, since they are scribbled everywhere and commonly used by lower caste persons when under duress. And substitute words are employed, by the most devout, for every profane or obscene term. So the taboo is of a magical nature (speaking anthropologically). Primitive people, such as the Americans, generally employ medicine men, witch doctors, or priests against magical threats. In this case, however, physical rather than spiritual results were expected from the efforts of the airmen.

First, formations of jets flew through the cloud-spelling—along its own paths and then in series of crisscrosses.[Pg 206] Nothing much happened; the streaming jets blew wisps and curls of mist out of alignment but it swiftly filled itself in again. Heavy bombers followed, but the washes of their props were equally ineffectual. During the bomber maneuvers, furthermore, one Paul Kully, a student flier, eluded the police and ventured close to the now-completed T. The pilot of the leading bomber, a B-36, took evasive action too late, and Mr. Kully’s light plane, shorn of a wing and set on fire, came spiraling to earth—a sight enormously exciting to the already enthralled Chicagoans.

This ended the main spectacle. Most of the planes descended to earth. The word—awful, unprintable, unacknowledgable, obscene and illegal—which, as has been noted, many use in private and in public, and everybody sees constantly chalked on fences and carved into cement by rude boys—and which is pronounced “shucks” by the super-superstitious—now rode in the Chicago heavens. The breeze dropped. Surrounding cumulus clouds retreated as if to frame the sign; air movement died aloft; the four corrupt letters and their following exclamation point came to rest directly over the Loop. This was widely regarded as the supreme practical joke—until the extras began to appear. These were in a way disappointing: photographers had spiraled vainly in the high blue, for not one newspaper made bold to print a picture of what all could see if they bent their necks.

But the published statement concerning the scientific investigation had a tendency to diminish the widespread mirth. Dr. A.B. Cummings, acting for a General Committee, wrote the report. It said, in part: “… a gross examination showed a special arrangement of clouds which cannot be accounted for by the laws of chance. Emphasis should be made of the fact that absolutely no clue to human agency, domestic, enemy, or other—either in the air or on the ground—was found. There was no evidence of interference from the stratosphere above. No abnormal radiation was[Pg 207] detected. No use of sonic devices may be presumed in view of the study. After the mass became stationary, it was found that currents of air were moving as they should (according to all known laws and principles of meteorology) above, below, and on both sides of the phenomenon.

” … that last fact, taken by itself, is perhaps the most disturbing, although it is possibly equaled by one other. Viz—the mass is not subject to the known laws of dissipation. The slipstream of jets and the wash of huge propellers ought to have caused it to disintegrate in a few minutes. They made only a moderate and local effect which, again in violation of understandable principles, was offset by the reassemblage of the mass along its original contours. It has been proposed that if there is a repetition of this totally unprecedented and inexplicable effect, antiaircraft artillery with ordinary fused shells be used in an attempt to break it up. In such a case, citizens will have to be sheltered from falling fragments during the bombardment. This will probably be tried—although the tendency of the mass to hold its shape, resembling as it does a similar tendency in plastics of special molecular structures, at least suggests that even artillery may not be effective….

” … the demand made by a committee of quite understandably outraged churchmen, led by Msgr. Loyola O’Tootle, of St. Plimsol’s Roman Catholic Cathedral, that an atomic bomb be used to disperse the sacrilege is, of course, impractical, as such a bomb, in the caliber now being stored by our government, would destroy not only the cloud mass in question (presumably) but (predictably) the entire city of Chicago for a radius of four miles. Any smaller atomic bomb is no more to be thought of in connection with the riddance of this bizarre pest, as not only demolitional but genetic effects….

“To sum up, the mass seems to consist merely of cloud material, somewhat more densely packed than usual. Its formational aspects cannot be traced to any conceivable[Pg 208] person or device. Its violation of certain simple physical laws is the great scientific puzzle of it. But it is definitely not poisonous or harmful. The only ‘danger’ to be expected from it, so far as the most elaborate examination and the most learned extrapolation can discern, is psychological. Until science explains the phenomenon, the layman should regard it without dismay—or other emotion, if possible. Doubtless when the formed-mass principle is unraveled the explanation will not only be quite simple, but of some currently unguessable great value to engineering, to industry, to the military, and hence to the whole people.”

Dr. Cummings’s job was detached, thorough—and satisfied nobody.

For it was a statement of absolute mystification.

Auburn-haired little Jeanne Sheets, aged seven, of Mallow Road Apartments, running into her yard that afternoon, cried, “Mummy, there’s a dirty word in the sky!”

“Yes, dear.”

“Who put it there?”

“Mummy doesn’t know, dear.”

“Can I say it? It’s in the sky—real big.”

“No, dear.”

“Maybe God put it there?”

“You mustn’t think things like that, you naughty child!”

Jeanne Sheets knew as much about it as Cummings, or any other physicist or any meteorologist, or anybody.

The next day, through unimpeachable sources in Sofia, a world that had been amused—and somewhat agog—learned that, over the city of Moscow had appeared:

МАЈІАРХЍ

The smile on the world’s face faltered.

Why?

Here the subtleties of the human spirit are evinced.[Pg 209] People were stunned for the obvious reason that the appearance of an expletive over the Soviet capital tended to indicate human enmity was not involved in the phenomenon. There was a deeper reason. The Moscow affliction gave universality to what had been, thitherto, an ailment of the skies over the guilty-feeling democracies. The profanation of the Soviets, in other words, eliminated all subconscious hope of escape into the Opposite, that natural area which the aware mind detests, or at least resists, but upon which the instincts depend. Laughter ceased and the world made up its mind that steps had to be taken instantly to solve, resolve, and dissolve the indecent chimera.

Then, on the morning of August 27th, in the city of New York, between the Empire State Building and Rockefeller Center, a great B took shape against a cloudless zenith. No Gorgon’s head could have paralyzed the city more effectively. All traffic stopped and most persons who were physically able descended to the hot streets. Amateurs’ telescopes on Long Island and slot-machine viewers as far away as Eagle Rock Park in New Jersey were turned upon the pale sky in which Manhattan’s buildings had for so long fastened their lean teeth.

New York’s streets solidified. Even ambulances ceased to attempt to move—their drivers either helping patients out for a look or resigning themselves to the delivery of D.O.A.’s. Ministers of churches, priests, and rabbis now made some attempt at excoriation. A band of volunteer hymn singers fought against the steadily forming BAS at Trinity Church; censors swung and holy water splashed about St. Pat’s. Useless. The TARDS! filled itself out with no regard for fear or fury, lewd ripostes or prayers. And all could see that this new comment was less general than its precursors. Here the sky had not simply engraved an expletive upon itself but called the most numerous people of any city a vile name.

[Pg 210]

At the same time, moreover (9:12 in the morning when the first wraith of cloud was observed), strange events were occurring elsewhere on earth. An underling at the near-deserted offices of the AUP, watching the clatter of a ticker, yelled to his superior some seconds after 9:30, “Hey, chief! They got it in Paris.”

“What does it say?”

The youth perplexedly spelled it out. His chief, better educated and possessed of a greater imagination, envisioned the jam-packed Champs-Élysées and the azure vault above the Arc de Triomphe inscribed

MERDE, ALORS!

New York was the first city to stampede.

Before the S in BASTARDS! was completed, a loft caught fire in Seventh Avenue. The engines were unable to reach it, the fire spread, a wall fell into the crowd, and horrified survivors pressed both north and south in the thoroughfare, screaming. Their hysteria went ahead of them and, since the neck-craning throngs could not know the cause of it, they interpreted the oncoming roar in the wildest fashions. They, also, turned to run. Central Park furnished a place in which one-half of this tumultuous and trampling herd was able to spread out and regain some composure, though it had left the streets behind dotted with the maimed and slain. There was no sizable park to the south, however, and those who took that direction (save for a few thousands who sought shelter in the Pennsylvania Station) built up an avalanche of humanity which pelted and thundered clear to the Battery, itself its own Juggernaut.

The infection spread to side streets and to other avenues, inevitably. Within an hour, a great part of middle and lower Manhattan became such an abattoir as history has no record of. The show-windows along Fifth Avenue were[Pg 211] burst in by the push of people who were then sliced and guillotined by the cascading glass. Wooden buildings were knocked askew in places.

Nobody could cope with such a situation but the mayor did his resourceful best. He ordered airplanes equipped with loud-speakers of great power to fly over the self-beleaguered city and explain what the source of the great stampede had been. Every morgue and hospital in the city and in its environs was mobilized. All bridges and tunnels were instantly cleared for the transport of the injured, as Manhattan’s hospitals could not handle five per cent of the casualties. Police, using pistols with little ceremony, brought to a partial halt the epidemic of looting that occurred in the early afternoon. People were commanded to take the equivalent of air-raid shelter and to stay there.

The military, acting with their usual belated but firm ineffectuality, again essayed the problem of the Word itself. Unveiling a new weapon—a rocket adapted for air-to-air combat, with a warhead of a secret explosive—the Army launched squadrons of fighters and bombers to the attack. A great cannonade over the city began near five o’clock. It was futile: the blasts disrupted edges and fringes of the letters in the sky but they mended themselves as fast as they were tattered. Army Ordinance then tried its supersecret, twenty-four-inch rockets. Careless fusing caused one of these to explode at a low level, destroying the upper stories of the Metropolitan Life Insurance Building—but subsequent accurate salvos of the tremendous weapon merely caused the letters to undulate.

Shortly after six o’clock the Navy, carrying out a suggestion of Cardinal Bleatbier, tried a new tactic—the interposition of a smoke screen between the abomination and the desolated city. The idea was greeted by officers with enthusiasm. The effect of it was not. For, after some fifty Navy planes had laid a great, brown carpet underneath the Word[Pg 212] and above the buildings, there came new and hitherto unobserved eddyings of the air and the Navy smoke was drawn into the writing on the heavens—not only fortifying and clarifying what it had been intended to obscure but also giving the letters a phosphorescent glow which became visible as soon as twilight descended.

That night, as electricity began to fail in the city, the surviving people undertook to leave en masse. They had no stomach for another day such as they had passed through. An additional factor urged them on. During the years of the Atomic Age they had been living—like people of every city—with keen, increasing queasiness. It is not conducive to urban content to know that any of a dozen foreign governments can, or potentially can, blot out you and yours in an eye-twinkling. Indeed, for many years, people had been trickling away from cities everywhere—either openly giving their reason or offering some excuse.

Finally, from the very onslaught of B Day, there had poured forth a succession of orders setting up various official hierocracies for the emergency—deputy police, wardens, and so on, along with the rationing of gasoline, restrictions on subway use, abrogation of power supply, and other such matters. Americans are not a patient people and of all Americans, New Yorkers are the most impatient. Unlike Britains, Russians, and Europeans, they had never accepted the brash contempt of the public exhibited continually both by government and industry after World War II. Nor had they become reconciled to bureaucratic rule. They had resented the multiplication of authorized agents and official personnel. Hence, not being schooled to such vicissitudes at the time of B Day, they lost their tempers. They left town. By midnight, the tunnels, bridges, and ferries could no longer be held open for the evacuation of casualties. By three in the morning, every bridge and every tunnel and every boat was swarming with one-way, antlike movement as New[Pg 213] Yorkers abandoned New York. All the next day the human tide welled into metropolitan environs.

The contagion spread to other cities as words began to form above them and in some instances even before their skies developed a C or a J or a P or an A or the like. Terror begat terror. Various metropolises were soon without electricity, water, food, gasoline, and so on. Fires began to rage in them. In no time, Cleveland, Detroit, Birmingham, Boston, Los Angeles, and other centers were in a condition like that of cities over which a powerful enemy has gained absolute control of the air.

There is, of course, no general record of the total effect of this exodus. Towns, villages, hamlets, and lone farms were unprepared to house or to feed the scores of millions who descended upon them—rich refugees in limousines piled high with canned foods and guns—slum masses in rags and on foot, with nothing but fear and hunger to drive them ahead. Here and there some man of feudal abilities organized bands of the fugitives and these forcibly evacuated whole communities, taking possession of them—only to be driven out by bands better armed and more ruthless. Theft and violence became the national way of life; and murder—murder that took the lives of millions—the means to obtain a meal or a woman or a bauble in some as yet unsmashed village store window. City people had become the sworn enemies of country people—and vice versa. The Hindus and Mussulmans of India on the days after its liberation were more kindly disposed to one another than these—and dealt more mercifully.

So it went—fire, blood and turmoil, death, epidemic and ruin.

Only Russia maintained, for a little while, the mask of order. No obscenity in its skies was able to break the disciplined ranks of the proletariat. But this calm—this grimly enforced maintenance of socialІ decorum—was ulti[Pg 214]mately shattered. On the 3rd of September, while the Kremlin exulted over the downfall of each and every empire and democracy, there appeared, almost experimentally, over the city of Kiev the phrase:

јІЕНИН ДИСИВД

No mere exposure of lewd words could faze the Soviets; but the hideous violation of the proprieties represented by the simple statement that “Lenin deceived” sent consternation whistling from the Baltic to theҪИ Black Sea. The next day, the sky of Moscow reported that Stalin had lied methodically; and the day after that, the people of Ordzhonikidze were informed that the Kremlin feasted, the party guzzled, the people starved. Russia rose against its government and Politburo heads were carried from city to city on stakes. Exodus followed. From the hot wheatfields of the Ukraine to the cool timberlands of Siberia, the panoply of death began.

Last to enjoy the fruits of organized society, perhaps, were the atomic scientists and their families at Los Alamos. These persons, impounded by a series of fences and protected by guards trained not only to mistrust rumor, but to bear silently all knowledge of however weird a nature, and to shoot without asking questions, were protected through the precedents and methodologies of what is called security. The town and its laboratories were stocked with food and water against possible air attack and resultant isolation by radiation. Hence the planetary debacle, while it became known to the scientists, did not greatly affect the local status quo. The guards were ordered to destroy such bands of wandering refugees as made their way across the deserts to the vicinity. This was done.

Meantime, the scientists took measures to study and if possible to arrest the universal disintegration of humanity.

[Pg 215]

It is the custom of journalists (and it is the habit in fiction) to depict scientists as impractical, dreamy men, absent-minded, innocent, and not competent to deal with simple situations—men forever in need, like infants, of overseers. Nothing could possibly be further from the truth. Indeed, it may fairly be said that, had the people of the world understood this fallacy about scientists, they might themselves have been more scientific—which is to say aware—and so prevented their catastrophe. Actually, it was known—known statistically—even before World War II, that scientists as a group were possessed of an all-round superiority over their fellows. They were not merely precocious, but like the precocious everywhere, they had on the average larger physiques, more strength and endurance, quicker reflexes, greater athletic ability, and better looks than common Homo sapiens. However, although this fact had been published a thousand times and proved in a hundred ways, the people preferred to cling to the myth that scientists were inept in all but their métier—naïve, absent-minded, and rather foolish.

That but affords another index of the general foolishness.

New York’s tragedy convinced the farsighted physicists, chemists, biologists, and others at Los Alamos that the nation and possibly the world would be swept with unprecedented panic. The steps anent local guards which have been already described were immediately taken. Under Xerxes Cohn, the scientists organized research parties; in fifteen planes, they took off to study the situation at first hand. Within forty-eight hours they had assembled a full report of events in a dozen urban areas and of the gory melee in progress everywhere in the countryside. (They had, naturally, all the information available on the Words from Calk’s first account in the Chicago papers, through Cummings’s initial survey, to the latest military data—as well as reports of many great[Pg 216] savants made before their own flights from various cities of the earth.)

These data were now screened, and evaluated. Charts were prepared. A discussion meeting was held in the hall for top-secret conferences. Various papers were read, including the following:

Tead’s Hypothesis that energy, in whatever form, has a sort of subnuclear consciousness and will power and that the watery masses which made up clouds, revolted by the wretched spectacle of humanity, had taken up word-spelling as a form of rebuke, i.e., as Nature talking to human nature.

Schilch’s Theory that there were no words and that the whole grisly phenomenon was the result of mass autohypnosis. This proposition (which might valuably have been given further investigation) was discarded by the scientists for empirical reasons: they, themselves, they felt, could not be hypnotized and certainly their instruments could not be. (It will be noted that there was no discussion of the possibility that the scientists could be so hypnotized as uniformly to misread their instruments.)

Boden’s Proposal that the human unconscious mind actually formed the Words by telekinesis. To defend this (another idea worthy of deeper scrutiny) he cited J.B. Rhine—and was laughed off the rostrum.

Jetefti’s remarkably erudite Demonstration—following studies of cosmic radiation around various Words—studies of ionization, of stratospheric air currents, of polarization, of the uninterruptibility of streams of neutrons, gamma rays, alpha particles, electrons, photons, and other forms of radiation with which the Words had been surrounded, of the Heaviside Layer, etc., etc.—that no external (i.e., interplanetary) agency or intelligence had projected the Words on city skies.

Poglief’s Discussion of God which concluded, “Religious Fundamentalism has been the recourse of millions, as might[Pg 217] be expected. These persons hold either that God has permitted the Devil thus to rebuke humanity, which may be a sound moral observation but which is not good physics; or else that the Words represent the imminence of the Day of Judgment and the approach of the Opening of the Gates of Paradise. This latter theory, gentlemen, is not, I feel, borne out by the specific nature of the abundant tokens.”

Hearty laughter greeted this conclusion. And again—the opportunity to consider the nature of God, a third valuable occasion, was missed.

Ultimately, it was decided that

(a) No direct harm whatever had come from the Words

(b) Thus the disaster was of psychological occasion, up to the present time

(c) Wherefore Los Alamos should immure itself as a fort against all threat from the ravening masses, until

(1) they calmed down (unlikely for years)

(2) they all perished (not probable)

(3) a manageable remnant remained (most likely)

(d) In which last case Los Alamos could be the nucleus of a new and spreading social culture, factual and scientific in nature, which would gradually recapture and restrain humanity with a view

(z) to establish a true freedom

(y) to abolish racialism

(x) to end wars

(w) to limit birth to numbers the planet’s resources could maintain indefinitely

(v) by the use of genetics and eugenics to raise constantly all levels of health and intelligence

(u) and thus to bring about the halcyon world which had been within the very grasp of the stupid species when they had all but destroyed themselves.

So propitious was this program that a banquet to celebrate its inauguration was called for that night. The entire[Pg 218] community, dressed in its best, assembled in a mood of new hope to dine from trestle tables in an airplane hangar.

It was during this festival, while postprandial brandies were being served, that Xerxes Cohn stepped outdoors to take a breath of the thin, poignant night air of New Mexico and, perhaps, to turn a covertly exultant face upon the raw landscape; after all, through persons like himself, man would triumph despite man’s folly and its cost. He stepped into the gloom, then, and because he was an astrophysicist as well as a nuclear expert, he turned his eyes to the familiar constellations. His stocky body grew stiff. There, in the region of Ursa Minor, glowed a hitherto unknown star—a nova of approximately the third magnitude. At once he called into the laughter-filled area behind him, “Oh, Tead! Schilch! Boden! Come on out! We’ve got a sign, too—a nova.”

People—including those summoned—began to join the great man and murmur with a sort of primitive awe. As they looked, the light from yet another new star—reaching the planet earth after years of journeying at its absolute speed—burst before their gaze. The sign was doubled in the heavens—and, soon enough, trebled. It was Jetefti—the Italian-Czech—whose keen imagination caused him first to whisper, “I say, Xerx, it couldn’t be—?”

Silence fell everywhere. More novae flashed into being. And there could no longer remain a doubt amongst even the most skeptical of this enlightened residue of the race. The stars had set forth an unimaginably vast initial of their own, an

[Pg 219]

F

[Pg 220]

13

The phone split my sleep. I was unready for the sound, or any sound, ripping open my peaceful bivouac—bayoneting dreams and my poor respite.

I grabbed in the dark. “Yeahhhh?”

“Can I come up?”

“For God’s sakes, Paul, what time is it?”

“She’s gone!”

“Okay, okay. Where—?”

“Downstairs!”

I found the light. Four-fifteen. Went to the door and propped it open with a chair. Turned on the shower and stepped into it—letting the multiple streams rattle against my sleepy skull and sweep away the salty acids on my body.

The door slammed. Paul stuck his head around the curtain. “I can’t find her!”

“For God’s sakes, it’s not that hot! She won’t melt! Go get yourself some whisky. Or would you rather have coffee?”

“Christ. What do I care?” His brow was fissured. Sweat had soaked his unshaved face—which he had wiped with hands increasingly grimed by junketing about the city all night. He looked like a hung-over mechanic.

“You need a bath, yourself,” I said, stepping out.

“You don’t understand! I’ve got to find her! Before she does anything desperate.”

“Look, Paul. If she’s going to pull one, on the spur—it’s pulled. If it’s not done now—she won’t hurry about it.” I daubed myself with a towel; perspiration came immediately where the water had just been. It was muggier than Miami before a hurricane. “Don’t get the idea that because it’s your first, it’s her primary emotional crisis, either! Marcia’s been through a lot!” I opened the hot-water tap, let it run, and filled a tumbler. I went into the living room, took a jar of powdered coffee from the desk pigeonhole where I kept it, dumped in a couple of spoonfuls, went back, and stirred with my toothbrush handle. Then I took a[Pg 221] couple of lumps of sugar from a horde I’d been accumulating at the Astolat’s expense, plunked them in, and stirred more. I drank about half of the hot coffee and lit a cigarette.

Paul had followed every step of this gambit. I felt a little less like a roused-up mummy with the coffee inside me, so I said, “I’m sorry as all hell, cooky. Tell me about it.”

“You did it!” His eyes despised me for a moment. Then tears came. “I guess I should have known enough not to bring her around to see you.”

“What did I do?”

“Made her self-conscious. Made her think it wasn’t ever going to work out for us. She said that when you looked at her it made her feel like a tart.”

It had gone the other way around: when she’d looked at me, she’d felt—not like a tart, necessarily—but not like a faithful wife, either. And I was being blamed for that. I skipped the point. “You two kids retired in good order.”

“That’s what I thought. We got about a block away before she blew up.”

“I’m sorry.”

He tossed himself into a chair. He slipped down his tie and stared at me. “What in hell did you do?”

“Nothing.”

“It wasn’t—a pleasant—lunch. If all those idiotic things hadn’t got us laughing—then paralyzed—”

“Go on. She blew up?”

“Sure. She said about a thousand crazy things—things like never being able to go around with me where people knew—because she realized she’d always see them knowing—and thinking. I had to get back to the lab. We’ve got the pile set at—we’ve got stuff cooking. I managed to calm her down enough so she promised to go home and get dinner. But when I got there—” He held out a note:

Paul, dear—For people like us, it should always be quick, clean, permanent, and no hard feelings. I love you—that’s why. M.

[Pg 222]

“Sounds like—going away. Nothing more drastic.”

“Drastic enough! And she can’t get away with that! I won’t let her! We’d have made it.”

“What did you do? Bloodhound around the city?”

“Went to her old apartment, first. Then—to the people who’d been her friends. Routing them out. Bribing doormen to let me knock and wake them up. Finally—when I ran out of ideas—I went to Hattie Blaine’s. Good God—what a hideous place!”

I skipped that one, too. It was no time to argue that Hat’s, while it had a few dim facets of one sort or another, was in my opinion (or had been, anyhow)—rather enchanting. A kindlier spot than many a hearth or any city street.

“What did Hat say?”

“Ye gods! She talked. She talked the grimmest bunch of obscene sophistries I ever heard in my life! She tried to get me drunk! She even tried to get one of the girls to—entertain me!”

“It never passed through your cold, reasoning, scientific cranium that perhaps she was trying to be decent to you?”

“Decent!”

“Did she know where Marcia was?”

“If she did—she wasn’t saying. She said she had no idea on earth. Hadn’t heard from her for months. Or seen her—naturally. I begged her—beseeched her—to give me any useful address. Any name. Any scrap of a suggestion—”

I picked up the phone. After ringing me, the Astolat switchboard operator had fallen back to sleep and I listened to the buzz for a long while before she plugged in—irritably. The number I gave wasn’t in the book. But Hattie wouldn’t be asleep—yet. Not unless she’d changed.

Viola answered and Hattie came on in a moment. “Hello, Phil. What’s cooking? You and Gwen quarrel?”

Since waking, I hadn’t thought about Gwen—or Yvonne. The question startled me. “Nope,” I said. “Gwen, incidentally, has—has gone out for a bit with a friend of mine. Nice gal, Gwen. It’s about my nephew, Paul.”

[Pg 223]

“Oh. Is he there?”

“Yeah.”

“Phil, that lad’s in very bad shape.”

“Yeah.”

“I’m serious. I know men. He’s apt to do—anything!”

“Yeah. Maybe so. Look. You don’t have any ideas about Marcia—that you’d give me, but not him?”

“Too many!”

“I don’t understand.”

“I couldn’t very well give Paul the names and addresses of all the boys who have liked her, could I? In the shape he’s in—he’d rout out God Almighty, or run a one-man posse through hell.”

“Yeah.”

“Phil. He shouldn’t see her now—even if I knew where she was—and I haven’t a single good idea about that. Just—lots of possibilities. I don’t know what she’d do—I doubt if she’d do anything violent—but she has a right to be wherever she wants, hasn’t she?”

“Of course. I just thought—if you did have any hunches—he’s sitting here chewing the rug—”

Hattie sighed. “Old enough to do better! Maybe he’s a great physicist—but, believe me, he’s in kindergarten on women! I tried to tell him so—gently. But he just sat there looking wilder than a priest trapped in the ladies’ can! If I hear anything tomorrow, Phil, I’ll give you a ring. If I were you—I’d slip Paul a Mickey Finn, or something, to cool him down.”

I thanked her.

She told me she was glad I liked Gwen and I said again that I thought Gwen was a good deal of damsel and I hung up.

“Nothing?” Paul had been on his chair-edge.

I shook my head. “Hattie’s calm about it—and she really knows the girl.”

“Really knows Marcia? That bat-faced old strumpet? The hell she does!”

[Pg 224]

“Okay,” I said. “Okay.”

“Who’s Gwen?”

“One of her girls. She was down here earlier. She’s gone.”

He jumped up and came over to the sofa where I sat with the phone. “Fine thing! I thought you said you were here working—not cheating!”

“A slight relapse, say. What of it?”

“Relapse!” His voice was thin and high. His fists were doubled. His face streamed as if he were shoveling in a boiler room. “Sweet guy, you are! Oh—you’ve got a good brain! Even talent! But all you do is whore around with your brains and your god-damned talent! And yourself! You look at a woman—you just look at her—and you make her feel like a slut! You’ve got a wife that’s too good for a good guy—and a thousand times too good for you! So what? A weekend off—and you louse the place up with a chippy—! Somebody tries to dig a decent, lovely girl out of a bad spot—and you come along and roll your dirty eyes on her—!”

I said, “Look, Paul. If you’re going to rage around at people for keeping tarts in their homes, start with your own, will you?”

He swung but he didn’t follow hard and I ducked it.

So he began to sob, then—back in his chair.

I went to the bathroom, broke out a clean tumbler, dumped in the contents of three of the sodium amytal capsules Tom had prescribed for me, added water, swished it around, slogged back to the sitting room, poured in three fingers of whisky, and handed it to him. He took a deep, lunging breath and drank the whole business.

He sobbed a while longer.

Then, in a low, self-pitying voice, he began a rhapsody, or maybe threnody, on Marcia. The drink hit him, and the pills; he grew detailed and intimate; finally he said he’d lie down for an hour before going on with the search.

It was getting light by that time.

[Pg 225]

PART FOUR

Rondo

Rondo
1

Paul’s “hour” of sleep would last, I felt certain, for the best part of the morning.

I went into my bedroom and looked at him. He had taken off his shirt and his shoes. He lay on his back with his mouth open, his lips nursing the air, his brow creased with wrinkles set there by a life of concentration—and distorted now with sorrow and pain. He was sweating like the inside of a still: the drops welled and ran on his face and his hairy chest and his ribs. Even his feet were bright-sprinkled. As I looked at him he stirred; a murmurous sound of protest and despair came out of the poor guy—a sound tragic and pitiful and weird, for there was nothing human about it. Hurt animals make such noises. Ridiculous—but I remembered how a young man could feel about a girl.

I would like to say that I dressed, girded my spirit, and took some step on Paul’s behalf—or even that I sat down at my table with grim and relentless character and put the milk-cart morning to good account by knifing further excess from my serial.

Such was not the case.

I lay on my sitting room couch with the purpose of gathering my forces for both efforts—but I met with failure.

My head ached. Vague pains beset my body—squirting[Pg 226] about mysteriously from neck to gut to ankle and back again by way of knee and pelvis and teeth. My tongue burned—dry and yet sticky—inflamed and evil-tasting to itself—the tongue of us millions who sedulously obey the cigarette advertising. (And just possibly the throat of some of us, too, I thought wincingly.) Idiot infantilism, scalding oral eros, obsession, compulsion, tobacco! I smoked on defiantly, wretchedly. The jiffy coffee lay in my stomach like a solid and the heat of it ran from my pores.

I stared at my body—the wens and scars and indurations and red blots—the warts and excrescences and moles—the minor tumors that are our common response to age and attrition—the crinkling paper of my skin—the sun-tan that reflected from a mirror like youth itself but that, at chin-length, lost its satin and was seen to be marched and counter-marched with freckles and a rash of prickly heat. I surveyed the expanded, slack viscera beneath an irreducible fat that slid when I turned, like a hot-water bottle under my flabby epidermis. I noticed the cord inside my bent elbow, standing out like an old man’s now, and poorly covered with a crêpy mantle that lacked elasticity—the time-shrunk backs of my hands—my toes, warped out of alignment, marked and marred with the miles and with the leather boxes we wear—their nails, turned in, split, chitinous—small, magenta lace of erupted capillaries—shine and scale on my shins—myself: waxwork—worn battlefield—warrant of decay, incipient cadaver.

I did not need to see my face.

Fatigue dwelt in me always, now. Oh—(barring such incidents in a single one of these tired cells as neoplasm, of course)—I would have exhibited my inordinate energy, my vitality, my apparent arrestation of age for another ten years or twenty or thirty—I might have been an agile old man, supple and good at games (with suitable allowance for the years) whose eyes never clouded, whose hair never fell, diving off tall dolphins to amuse my grandchildren and dancing[Pg 227] gracefully with Ricky to the applause of other septagenarians and the infinite boredom of teen-agers. But I was old already—scribbled with the nasty information of years, apprised of slinking hurts, debilities, transient toxicities and nauseas that would increase and increase and increase—or would have done so except for that one, rambunctious cell.

Who wants to be old?

What man, in his so-called prime, fails to note his coming scenery—the bandaged varicosities, the braces, the cut bunions, the scarification and bloodless horn, the smells and tastes of himself, the thickening spectacles, the hearing aids, the pills and petit prostheses, the gouty overpall, the migraine and vertigo, rheum, sour burp, dyspnoeia, heart-kick, cracking, and the myriad painful impediments of urination, defecation, respiration, transpiration, the organic wheeze, the gradual invasion of death?

He wants to be old who accepts it.

But we, the people of the United States of America, have rejected it in toto: there must be some way to keep grandpa a gamin and mom nubile; meantime, let us pretend there is a way.

Millions for senescence and not one cent for sense.

So, okay, I said, it is happening to me with the short and sweet just around the corner and a good thing too, perhaps.

Or a bad thing.

A thing, I realized, of no import.

Now is a sufficient tomorrow for all my yesterdays—if I will see to the circumstance in person.

This summary was a current that carried away the incubus of that early morning and left me sound asleep on the divan.

When I woke up I saw by my watch—which slid on its gold band when I moved my thin, saturate wrist—that it had passed nine o’clock. I budged and yawned and swam up[Pg 228] into the room. I felt better—the other side of age having somewhat returned during the nap.

Paul still lay on his back, mouthing and snoring and sweating.

Room service brought cold orange juice and good, hot coffee with a civilized cup to drink from.

I needed assistance—which is to say, Paul needed it. A friend. An attorney. I could hardly spend the whole day with him unless there was no alternative. Yet certainly he should not be alone with his callow impetuosity. And certainly his young colleagues would be too inept for a proper handling of all the potential dilemmas. He needed a Danaos—he had always needed one, a wise older slave to manage his love affairs—a shrewd promoter. Lacking such a companion he had invested the meaningless savings of youth’s passion in one whore. Profligate, comical, and a disaster.

I considered Johann Brink.

Women, he would say, do not exist in the laboratory.

When you switch on the cyclotron, you switch off She.

It was too damned bad they hadn’t taken women along in there with the atoms—flame inspiratrice, man’s soul. They might have discovered more concerning the nature of the velocity of light and the behavior of particles and even the essence of packing fractions than they’d learned by the castrate inspection of their micros and macros and milles.

Which other set of barbarian priests was it who emasculated themselves before accepting Holy Orders?

I couldn’t remember.

Brink the mental giant and pigmy person would be as much help here as a handful of ice cubes against a forest fire.

I dialed Dave Berne.

His man Veto answered.

“This is Phil Wylie.”

“Just a minute.”

[Pg 229]

“Hello, you toothless cobra! What the hell are you doing in town? Waiting for the women to faint?”

“Some of us,” I said, “don’t have to wait.”

He roared. “No kidding! What gives? God, isn’t it hot? If I had a human head, I could shrink it right here on my terrace—and it’s only nine-twenty, A.M.!”

“Dave, I got trouble.”

I told him about Paul.

“I have a ten-thirty conference with some movie moguls,” he said when I finished, “so I’ll be right over.”

He was there in less than a half hour.

David Abraham Lincoln Berne is the most interesting man I know—a statement which covers quite a few interesting men.

A lawyer.

A lawyer, furthermore, whose principal employ is with the movie companies.

He was not always a lawyer….

Dave was born over a delicatessen, in Madison, Wisconsin, of serious minded, musically gifted, orthodox Jewish parents in the winter of 1906, the fourth child of eight, and no culls in the lot. As soon—he says—as he could pound with his porringer, they gave him a violin. But—again, according to him—he swiftly saw that he was going to be only a semiprodigy, so he turned to other fields. He did well in school. One of his playmates, a Milwaukee realtor nowadays, who liked Dave in spite of his personal limitations, long ago told me about that—and succinctly: “Some of those bastard Jews are born with a high school education!”

Dave finished at fifteen—and took an extra year to grow in, working nights at the delicatessen and reading, for entertainment, philosophy.

He has a remarkable memory. He might not be able to recall his laundry mark when he was in Virginia. But no one who knows him well would bet even on that.

A compact guy who—because he is loose-jointed—[Pg 230]seems anything but solid. Indeed, his flexibility is such that he could probably learn a yogin’s basic postures in one sitting.

Everybody liked him in Madison.

This was not true in Virginia.

He majored in psychology and went out for football. He’d played on his high school team. The backfield coach was impressed equally by the length of his accurate passes and the fact that he mastered the signals in one night’s concentrated study. Letter-perfect and reflex-fast. But a pair of racially pure Nordic behemoths from Minnesota, sent proudly to the team by scouting old grads, decided that, although they had nothing personal against the yid, no yid would call their signals. In Dave’s first game they managed to break both his legs.

Dave got the idea. He let his uniform hang there, the next year—when he’d got off crutches.

He made the newspaper—but not the fraternity he’d set his heart on.

He made summa cum laude.

He went next to Pennsylvania—tutoring, tending furnaces, minding babies, mowing lawns, as usual—and took both an M.A. and a Ph.D. in psychology. He got a job teaching it to pre-med students in Iowa. His thesis on “Formulations of Subjective Sexuality in Man” almost landed him the thing he wanted—a psycho-sociological research position with a big foundation. They wrote him, however, that they felt certain group attitudes (outrageous, but there they are!) would prejudice his fact-gathering efforts.

A Gentile took over the project.

Several of America’s brilliant young men in psychology, psychiatry, and psychoanalysis are former students of Dave.

A Dr. Wiswell was put over him in Iowa.

That was when he began to read law.

He took the New York Bar exams in 1935 and went to work for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer that year.

[Pg 231]

During the war, he was commissioned a captain in the Medical Corps and sent (by a General Muller, a Regular Army doctor who thought Hitler a great man and psychiatry bunk) to Alaska, to study the effects upon mental stamina of cold, isolation, and monotony.

For the first time in his life, and after twenty months of Alaska, Dave pulled strings in his own behalf.

He was assisting the OSS—a major, then—in figuring out methods of hastening the deterioration of Nazi morale—when they came through the Bulge. Dave stayed at a forward subheadquarters to manage the tourniquet on his colonel’s bomb-shattered leg.

Hurrying German troops took the colonel prisoner and shot Dave four times, on sight.

Some of Patton’s men found him, still alive, in a cellar, three days later. Two of his toes had to be amputated because they’d frozen. He limps when he’s weary—but he’s still a handball champ.

The Nazis didn’t take care of his colonel’s tourniquet and the colonel died. Dave has a Purple Heart, plain—but nothing else to bespeak what, in a Gentile, might possibly have been regarded as courage beyond the line of duty.

He had, you will recall, reluctantly decided that there would always be a Dr. Wiswell over him, in the field of psychology. He had also come to the reluctant conclusion that a Jew without money in America was like an unarmed man in a city of quick-draw experts. So he had studied law.

Problems to which he put the lever of his mind usually yielded. The problem of money was one such. He is a completely honest man; he no longer saw any objection to applying his honesty, and talents, in places where money was abundant. He is worth, I should imagine, a quarter of a million, and he has only started.

Dave is the ugliest man I know—or, at least, know well.

A huge but thin hooked nose divides his face vertically. Hitler’s trained anti-Semites needed only a look at that to[Pg 232] shoot. His large, round ears are set almost at right angles to his head. He has a conspicuous Adam’s apple which—in talk, or merely from emotion—rides up and down with the acceleration and quick braking of a humming bird before a hollyhock. His forehead bulges; his mouse-brown eyebrows look as if they had been sprayed on as a random afterthought. He is almost bald. His mouth takes a generous cut into his pale, gaunt cheeks and his chin retreats. Only his eyes contrast with a face they cannot redeem: they are an immortal blue—living proof of compassion, of reflection, and of mirth.

He is a bachelor.

He was in love, once, with a stately girl from Boston—a quiet, brainy brown-eyed girl who wore sensible shoes and braids but sometimes had the look of wanting to lie in the grass with a man, or even of being ready to pull a man down. I had hoped that Dave would be granted this one exception by the unwilling gods. He wasn’t. She married an opera singer—and divorced him two years later—and went to live in Milan.

My Campfire Girl, Dave called her, after that.

He meant the part about Camps.

It was in Hollywood that I met Dave.

I was weaving down Sunset Boulevard one night, drunk, desultory, and alone. Very much alone. My first wife had taken my kid back East—and no blame for that. She was sick of the way it was.

I’d spent the afternoon at an address in Beverly Hills where you could do what you pleased.

I’d spent the evening at a gambling place up on the hillside, sprinkling my money around and my IOUs—with a bunch of other writers, directors, junior producers, and picture girls. You’d know their names if I told you and the hell with that.

Up on the hill above the canyon at the Casa Crap.

Up there among the carbolic mountains—the near knees[Pg 233]—the far, white peaks with snow on their nasty heads. Down below, the spot where God sat on the seventh day, and—in the big, flat print of His behind—Los Angeles. Ninety square miles of costume jewelry, Technicolor starshine, neon and sodium and all other colored gases, signboards with fifty-foot women in ten-foot brassières and men smoking four-foot pipes, boulevards under the palms and cloverleaf intersections with the billion paired headlights streaming and swirling, bungalow courts and drugstores, pool halls and bingo parlors, buses and trolley cars, acacias and roses and pepper trees, open markets with fruit piled in metaphysical polyhedrons, and the fog rolling in on the thin, chilly, sting-sinus air of California.

You can keep it.

I’d spent all my money and cashed a few IOUs to impress the girls.

The girls.

I’d played Mr. Bones with the bright young writers who go out there for the girls—searching amongst the girls in skirts for the girl that’s their soul—Medea, Medusa and Circe, Sappho and daughter Eve, Calliope, Clio, Erato, Euterpe, Melpomene, Polymnia, Terpsichore, Thalia, Urania—and Aglaia and Euphrosyne, too—and Lilith—searching for her on the wrong coast—all evening, a badminton of wisecracks, battledore and shuttlecock with the soulless prizes going to the heads that stayed clear the longest, the pocketbooks that were the deepest, the tallest gold lettering on office doors, and never a Muse or a Grace in the joint.

I hadn’t been able to find my car in the sepulcher parking yard.

Too lost, ingrown, ashamed to ask the attendant.

Too penniless to hire a cab.

I walked down that Golconda Golgotha, stopping to puke, with my fists in my pockets holding to wet handkerchiefs.

[Pg 234]

It was on the Boulevard, with the rich night traffic, the skimmed scarlet scum of the studios and the magnates from Pasadena with their cold, oiled working-model blondes.

The bells rang.
The iron hands came down.
Stop civilization. Go civilization.
Red lights green lights cracking my drunken brain.
The acrid flavor of tomorrow in my mouth.
Alarm.
Headsplitting daylight.
How about this?
She sees him get out of the ice wagon.
She throws a snowball at him.
Go sell it to the Eskimos, she says.
I’ve got it!
She throws the snowball. That’s good. So okay—her mitten sticks to it and soaks him square in the puss and instead of spitting out the mitten—which he gets in his teeth—he makes like it’s a mustache!

Hell! He’s a football player, isn’t he—not just an ice-man? Going to be a big-shot brain specialist someday, isn’t he? Quick thinker. So okay. So he leaps and spears the mitten and the snowball like it’s a long forward and he runs at her and tackles her and spills her—not real hard—but hard—and there’s how they meet, the both of them lying down in the snow with her on her back and the guy on top. Is that good—or is it terrific?

And there, so help me Christ, after eleven days, and twenty-three thousand dollars, is how they do meet.

Wrong coast for Aglaia, I say? I’m sure I did.

That morning’s taste.

The rest of them. The contract. The months.

The arms and the lights and the bells became lost in the prospect and I stepped from the curb and brakes trilled.

“Want a lift? You need one, pal.”

That was Dave.

[Pg 235]

At my apartment, I made some coffee and later we went back together to the address in Beverly Hills—because he didn’t know it, and he was a lonely guy, too.

In fact he still is.

The most brokenhearted guy in the world.

You see

nobody told him about the six-pointed star on the box he was shipped in—he had to find out for himself.

And he wants to be sure, when he checks out, that he kept it bright while he had the use of it.

Dave came in.

“By God,” he said, “Wylie! The old, articulate cryptogram in person, nude as a saint’s stool!” It might have been a bracing autumn forenoon: “I’m glad to see you! I was saying to a friend only the other night—a jerk named Staunton—Staunton, the town’s not the same—Wylie’s not here. The old termite has moved to the country—turned himself out to pasture! And Florida in the winter! The son-of-a-bitch is chasing the analema! Where’s the patient?”

I pointed.

Dave took a look and came back.

“Shall we wake him up? I can take him to the office and get some of my minions looking for his wench. Private dicks, too. They won’t find her. They couldn’t find a luminous memorandum in a two-drawer filing cabinet. But it might wear him down a little.”

“Let him sleep, for now.”

Dave sat down. “This is swell! Send for a barrel of iced tea, will you—with a clear gin on the side? I had a hard night last night. A bunch of the super-big-shots came in on the Super-Chief and the Super-Century last night. Things in Hollywood are so bad that two of them stayed sober the whole damned evening.”

I phoned Room Service. “There’s a depraved guest of mine up here who wants some neat gin and a lot of iced tea—”

[Pg 236]

Dave had picked up one of my ashtrays and was looking at it intently. When I hung up he said, “Depraved? Depraved, you say? Me? Don’t I detect not just one, but two colors of lipstick here?”

“Callers from the other rooms,” I answered. “Came in to consult the oracle.”

“Depraved,” he repeated. “That’s the trouble with you Gentiles. Two rules for everything. ‘If thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out.’ But—’Let not thy left hand know what thy right doeth.’ Something of that sort. So you reconcile the pair by going around plucking out other people’s right eyes; and not letting your open hand know the other is gouging. Consulting the oracle! What a phrasemaker!”

I told him about Gwen and Yvonne.

He pretended to be still more deeply outraged. “There you are! A perfect Wylie situation. God, what an imposter! Not one lovely girl—but two—are sent on silver salvers. You entertain them. You get all the social opprobrium and none of the benefits. What confidence can youth have in you, after a trick like that? Here you are—the last hope for phallic worship in a dying world. The man with the one message that makes sense. Either the boys get their breeches back—and do things to make the dames respect ’em—or Nature will throw us out of the party. You proclaim it with your foghorn and you play it on your xylophone. But when it gets right down to the bedrocking—what do you do? You personally, Mr. Prophet? Welsh! Walk out on the act!”

“Times are changing,” I told him. “Phallic worship? Can you build good rituals around our businessmen? A healthy restoration of phallic worship would ruin the profitable activities of every vested institution in the land, from its banks to its churches. People wouldn’t even care if the trains ran on time, any more. Think of that!”

Dave was leering at me pensively. “By God. It might be the thing to revive Hollywood.”

“Yeah,” I said. “You open with a prologue that shows[Pg 237] modern psychology has found the roots of love in our love lives. Then you fade to the American Home, where a Husband is trying to figure out how to arouse or enchant or even slightly interest one Beautiful Blonde Mother. She is rushing about the house swatting her children for bringing home a magazine full of art studies. Her husband tries to slip his arm around her—but she knows he is suffering from neurotic hay fever, makes his living by manufacturing second-rate household appliances which he sells owing to better advertising, is afraid of his stockholders, never had the earning capacity of Joe Benson or Harvey Tekker or Don Oaker, and is scared of her, besides. Great subject for phallic worship! We fade to a contented pagan maiden in the South Sea Isles—ukeleles and moonlight—”

“And the MPPA comes in and tosses out the film! It’s a conspiracy!” he said in a Durantean tone.

“You guys have worked out the vein—that’s all. There can’t be any more very interesting movies till there’s a new public attitude about life. You’ve got to where there’s no permissible area that you haven’t canvassed a hundred times. The new pictures are all remakes. People get sick of such things. Jam yesterday, today and tomorrow is as bad as none today. All the movies are self-plagiarisms. I even went to one with Ricky this summer.”

“We’re grateful.”

“Remember the Three Little Pigs—and the song about the ‘Big Bad Wolf’ that people sang to kid themselves in the Depression?”

“I remember.”

“So all right. We went to see this movie—and we also saw a remake of the Little Pigs. Same story. Same art. Same theme song. At the finale, the new inspiration is this: the wolf pops down the chimney of the little pig in the brick house—hind end first. And the pig fills a caldron with turpentine. The wolf lands in same—and the picture irises down on the wolf roaring away, his hind legs held high, his[Pg 238] turpentined anus dragging, his forelegs pulling—like any dog. Now—I was brought up to believe that you can’t tell the same joke twice. And I was also taught that putting turps on animals’ rears was sadistic. I still think it is. And I think it’s too vulgar a way to try for a laugh—cruelty to animals aside. That, my boy, is truly obscene—the dying effort of a perishing industry. Fortunately—television is coming in—and it will be far more vulgar. Television will really speed up the fertile necessity of a great change in this disgraceful Western world. Right?”

“Right,” said Dave. “I saw that short. I psychologically snapped my petits fours.” He looked at me for a while. “Phil—why’d you call me over here, this morning?”

Karl came with the gin and tea. I signed. He went.

Dave’s question startled me. I suddenly saw it from his angle. I’d allowed him to skip—or postpone—an important conference because (I’d said) my nephew was on an emotional binge and I needed aid. Dave would know that, all else being equal and normal, I could handle my nephew. He’d know that, barring some editorial crisis, the cutting of a serial wasn’t so important I couldn’t set it aside for a day or so to row a relative through the waters of a soul-struggle. He’d know, by my cursory attention to Paul—and by the way my talk had slatted around—that I had more on my mind than Paul’s problem. So he had realized—and I had not—that I’d decided to call in a friend—for myself.

“I need a good lawyer,” I said.

“Oh—oh!”

I looked at him cross-eyed. “What an evil mind you have! I keep my accounts and the tax people are not particularly interested in me. No brunette has letters of mine and is asking for a thousand bucks. Nobody is suing me for plagiarism. I just noticed a little nuisance in the back of my throat the other day and went over to see Tom and had a biopsy—and I want my affairs in order.”

[Pg 239]

I shouldn’t have done it that way. He turned sheet-white.

“There isn’t any report on the biopsy yet,” I said. “Won’t be till Monday. Makes quite a long weekend. But I have a hunch—”

“You God-damned dour Scotchmen! Maybe it’s nothing.”

“Tom thinks it’s something.”

He looked out the window for a long time—with his shoulders folded forward and the sun beating on his face, reflecting into it from the cement top of the parapet and bouncing at it from the tile terrace between. That ugly, fond mug.

“I suppose,” he finally said, “when they have taken everything else and everybody else they come around for you in person.”

“I never really expected to get even this old. When I was a kid, I was sure I’d never see thirty. As I recall, I didn’t want to. Seemed a stale age.”

Dave grinned feebly. “Ricky?”

I shook my head.

“She well now?”

“We think so.”

“Get her down here, man!”

I shook it again. “Give her the two more days. And it just might—might—and then—”

“You didn’t take a drink?”

Again.

“By God! What a reform!”

“I’m trying to get that serial done—”

“—strictly on Presbyterianism.”

I thought that over. “Maybe. They’ll need the dough. And it’s a favorite old anodyne of mine—rolling up the sleeves.”

Dave poured out a second glass of iced tea and gulped it. He nodded his head toward my bedroom. “When he[Pg 240] wakes up, tell him to come down to my office. Tell him we’re working for him. We’ll do what we can think of. I’ll keep him stooging around—and sober, if possible—and see you later.”

“Going?”

He came across the room and put an arm around my shoulder. “You said you wanted to work. I’ll be back.”

“Okay.”

2

I remember, one day on the way to California, when the Chief stopped at Needles. It was summertime and the thermometer on the station wall in the shade said 125 degrees. I was standing around, dizzy, when I saw a guy pacing up and down the platform as if he enjoyed it. I ventured out in the sunshine to see if he’d lost his mind and he turned around—a dark-skinned character. Royalty, it proved later, from Hyderabad. He liked it.

My apartment, that morning, was something like the Needles station on the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe. No baking sand, red-hot rocks, or mountains pitching on the miraged distance, of course. Needles was dry, too, and Manhattan was close to saturate.

I worked along—not minding much.

But after all, even Negroes sunburn—even Papuans get lazy.

Around one o’clock I began to feel—not hungry but empty—and I went in to check on Paul. He was still snoring and sweating.

Four and a half grains of sodium amytal, by itself, wouldn’t have knocked him that flat that long. He’d have wakened in six or seven hours, I thought—feeling fuzzy and feeble and maybe a little sick. He still seemed good for more time, to me. It showed just how much sleep he’d left out in the past weeks, past months—worrying about that girl and worrying about making weapons with his beloved mathe[Pg 241]matics. It was possible, of course, that he’d explode awake any moment—look at his watch—throw an outside loop—and get going like a jet plane.

I wrote him a note saying I was downstairs in the Knight’s Bar and that I had a new search in progress. That would bring him.

I got dressed. The gabardine was like wet newsprint.

This time, air conditioning was a relief. I sucked in a lungful and Jay came up.

“Want to sit with Mrs. Prentiss?”

“Sure.”

Exactly two days before, she had leaned over the same table, an immaculate grooming operation—hurt, snooty, aloof, reading her disguised book. A Cinderella. Avid and anxious—haughty and pretty hateful—beautiful and not much good. I could say what was different about her now but it would be difficult to convey the true impression of that. Her hair, for one thing. It was just neatly combed—just casual, gold-blonde hair whose owner hadn’t taken pains for once, with every single filament. Her dress. Another plain, costly print—but the body inside it was relaxed and not subconsciously trying to avoid creases. It didn’t seem to fit quite as perfectly, and yet it suited her better: it made—would make—anybody, any man, look at the girl inside and the clothes after—not the other way around. The Musak was giving out with “Dardanella” and her foot was keeping time under the table.

“Hello, Yvonne.”

She glanced up—from the morning paper.

“‘Lo, Phil.”

“Want company?”

“Love it.” She moved over a little. I came around the table and sat down.

“You look right sweet this morning. Noon. Whatever it is.”

She folded up the paper.

[Pg 242]

I ordered some cold salmon and potato salad and iced coffee.

She studied me—gravely for the most part. Once, she showed a dimple. But her voice was placid. “You could be annoyed at me.”

“What for?”

“Don’t be obvious!”

“Last night? Annoyed? I was tired. In a talky mood. It was my guest’s own idea to come down. I said sure—and after she’d been there awhile—I changed my mind.”

“That’s what Gwen thought.” She ate a little of her fruit salad. Maybe her hand shook. Certainly not much. She drew a straight, easy breath. “I imagined I could learn something from her.”

“Did you?”

She looked at me with frank, gray eyes. She smiled into herself. “You know I did.”

“What?”

“Isn’t it strange how much we attach to trifles—love and sex trifles? Set up a whole lifetime for happiness—but fix it so that one little act for a handful of minutes will ruin the whole thing.”

“That.”

She flicked her head to put back her hair. “It’s mad! To imagine such things are so important! To imagine whole lives and people and families can be ruined by anything—so little!”

I gave her the red schoolhouse riposte. “Knocking a person on the head is a little thing that hardly takes even one minute. But it’s murder. Slipping a hundred G’s out of the cash cage takes only a sec—but it’s robbery—”

“And kissing you in a cab the other night,” she answered, “took only a couple of blocks and I don’t love you in the least. We touched. A moment or two. It was fun. We’ll never do it again. Or, say—we do. Is that like murder and robbery? Should it ruin lives?”

[Pg 243]

“Not to my way of thinking. I don’t feel wrecked.”

“Neither do I,” she said softly. “Neither do I! On the contrary! You have to find out that how you feel is terribly important—terribly. But what you do—unless you make it important—that’s such a tiny thing!” She smiled. “When you think that just forty-eight hours ago—I was sitting here shuddering over Rol—”

“It occurred to me.”

“It seems—” she sought for the proper words—”sort of—caddish. Unchivalrous. And hideously unsympathetic.”

“Aren’t you pushing yourself?”

“What do you mean?”

“You could have a reaction.”

“I’m having one.”

My lunch came.

“I mean,” I said, “a reaction to this reaction.”

She considered that and her curls moved. “I doubt it. I’m—cured.”

“Cured one way. Maybe you’re going to suffer in another.”

She seemed frightened for a bare moment. “I don’t know,” she finally said. “How can I tell?”

“Wait and see.”

“If I suffer, I suffer,” she finally said. And her eyes weren’t alarmed.

“Good for you!”

“May I ask a question?”

“Shoot.”

I waited while she ate a little and formulated.

“Phil, what would you think of me now if I were your wife?”

It was quite a one. It was the second really tough one she’d put to me. “What would you ask God if He came in?” was the other.

“I hope,” I said, “that I’d cherish you more than ever.”

“But you might not?”

[Pg 244]

“I leave room for the possibility. I don’t know, after all.”

“Why would you cherish me?”

“For at last being honest with yourself about yourself.”

“Easy answer. Why might you not?”

“I dunno. You might have found yourself—by that honesty—to be somebody who wouldn’t like me. Ergo—how could I go on insisting—?”

“Only that?”

“Only that. It’s a lot.”

“You sure, Phil? Certain?”

“My-God-yes! A great, great many of the people I know, and am fond of, and admire, would look at your sin as just a sort of timid, dainty experiment. I suppose you’re fishing around for rebuke. You’ll never get much. Most women learn by doing—some men, by just thinking. What are you doing tonight, for instance?”

“I—I don’t know yet.” She flushed peach-pink. “I haven’t—decided.”

“Unh!”

“You sound like Rol. Like Rol—after— Before I left. Dainty—he talked like that.”

“They bring us up—in a desert,” I said. “Because that’s where they grew up.” I thought of Needles and the metallic sunlight and the Moslem prince. “Still—there are other things in life besides sex.”

“Not if sex isn’t right, there aren’t. Not any other things worth living for.”

“Back to Freud and the Western neurosis. Yvonne—I have to scram in a moment. Work. And a nephew. Maybe you’d care to meet him?”

“You’ll forget to call me.”

“Then you call me—later on.”

“Probably I will.”

I scraped up the last of the salmon and tipped the ice cubes in my coffee glass against my upper lip.

Yvonne reached over and took my left hand. She ran the[Pg 245] backs of her fingers slowly through it and shivered with a small ecstasy. “Phil! I’m all new!”

“You certainly let your hair down.”

She leaned toward me. “I let down—!” She smiled and shook her head. “Am I so wicked?”

“Nope. If you tried, you might make it. Right now—”

I left her in that subdued, shiny-eyed jizzle.

3

The door slipped out of my somewhat moist palm when I opened it and was slammed not by the day’s breeze, for there was no breeze, but by a draft that sucked through the Astolat Hotel—a current of air bearing the odors of food, carpets, paint, luggage, and the scents of rich women—a damp, thermal issue that would have incubated eggs.

Paul sat bolt upright in my bed.

He saw me, first. He stared at the room. He swung his feet to the floor.

“Gotta get going. Any news of her?”

“Take it easy, bo.”

“What time is it?”

I told him.

“You’ve let me waste half the day?” His voice broke.

“Not waste it. Thought the rest would do you good. Bring you back to your senses a little. Seems not.”

“God damn you—you should have waked me up. I feel horrible.”

“Snap out of it! Try to remember what the poet says about rags, bones, hanks of hair—and a good cigar is a smoke.” His eyes were so wild that I took pity on him. “Jump in the shower. I’ve got Dave Berne—an old pal of mine—working on your Marcia. He probably has detectives on the hunt this minute.”

Paul heavily rubbed the stubble on his face. “I thought you’d take charge.”

[Pg 246]

While he used my shower and my razor I had his clothes pressed and ordered some breakfast for him.

But he ate the food only because he had to wait for the valet. I couldn’t remember having seen anybody in such a tizzy about a girl since the days of my youth—since my own tizzies. And tizzy wasn’t the right word for Paul’s condition. It was pretty nearly psychopathic.

He ate and ran from my rooms, after I’d made him promise to report back later in the day.

I got into the serial again and the sun moved across the blue-hot sky, driving from Manhattan everybody with the fare.

Ambulances were collecting prostration cases.

Cops were going around shutting off the fire hydrants which wilted citizens were opening with wrenches. Cops trying to save the water supply against fall drought, against fires, against winter snow that could be flushed into the sewers, and in behalf of the thirst, cookery, and cleanliness of the millions.

The heat wave had become big headlines in the papers.

Sometimes I looked out the window at the glaring roofs of the metropolis and tried archmeasures of cortical autohypnosis, imagining the sky gray, snow falling in hushed and steady spirals, shop windows green and red for Christmas, and Salvation Army Santa Clauses ringing handbells beside their tripods and kettles on the main intersections. It wasn’t any good. My personal limits of trained tolerance had been exceeded by a great, tormented gob of atomic fire ninety-three million miles away and right here on my windowsill.

Still—I made fair progress.

The light was losing its intensity, though the air was no less fevered, when I got a call.

“Is this Phil Wylie?” It was a man’s voice—bland, on the booster side.

“Yo.” I was not very enthusiastic about being Phil Wylie.

[Pg 247]

“This is Socker Melton. Friend of your father. He told me to look you up, here—and I’ve tried a time or two before now. Glad to catch you in. May I come up?”

What do you do? I told him I was working hard—on a rush operation—but to come up anyhow.

Then I raged around the sitting room for a bit.

Christ badger every old friend of the family!

The oaf’s knock was pompous. Bonk and pause, bonk and pause, bonk.

Like the pass-signal to a kid’s shanty.

I opened the door, being careful to cling to the knob.

My dimmest view was justified.

Socker Melton was a big chum—sixty-two or -three and about two-hundred and twenty-five. He had a face that would have been square if he’d sacrificed his extra chin—large, blue, eager-beaver eyes—a babyish snub nose—and a rather thick mouth, not very clearly defined; but there was nothing repulsive in the ensemble—he looked like a star Buick salesman. He wore—maybe I should say sported, since he probably thought of it that way—a white flannel suit of a light weight and he carried a panama hat, the sweatband of which was earning its keep. A poor day for those big boys and I felt sorry for him. His clerical collar was doing its best to stand up for Jesus—but there were folds in it and his black dickey was mussed.

I propped the door open.

He inventoried the place after a passing gander at me. You could see that he liked nice things—and the Astolat is well heeled. His eye rested especially on some mirror-backed hanging shelves.

“I hate to intrude like this—”

“Any friend of pop’s—” I said.

He gave the panama a scale—to show me he was an informal guy like me—and dropped into one of my chairs. The thing squeaked hard and braced itself. I figured to be charming for about ten minutes.

[Pg 248]

I’m a sucker for people who get to see me, anyway. I like most people—as individuals, to begin with; and although I do what I can—and the family does what it can—to keep the more extraverted oddities from jimmying doors and peering through bedroom windows, I spend a God-awful amount of time chitchatting with visiting strangers of all sorts.

The chair he’d taken was in reach of my MS, so he reached for it. It is possible that he was trying to adjust to the fact that I was wearing only a pair of shorts.

“Sounds amusing,” he said, after reading a few lines.

That was what Gwen had said the night before. I was glad to see the Cloth in agreement with the professionally unclad. Competent magazine fiction should appeal to all tastes.

“Pleased that you think so.”

I told myself that I had no right to be irritated at the preacher’s patronizing tone, or at his unasking and uninvited reading of my manuscript. After all, when artists paint in public places, people feel free to look over their shoulders.

“I’m the rector of St. Shadows, over on Park,” he said. “But don’t hold that against me.”

I’d heard of the guy. The “Socker” came from intercollegiate boxing—at which he had been champ of his class many long years ago. My old man thought he was a “great personality, a liberal, a true intellectual of the church, and a profound modern philosopher.”

“I won’t hold it against you if you say not.”

He laughed—about four watts too heartily. “Mind if I take this coat off?”

I did mind—because that meant he’d stick around longer. But I’d asked him up. What the hell! I usually give myself a break around four or five, anyhow—for coffee.

I told him that. “I was about to knock off—” and so on. “Would you like something to drink?”

[Pg 249]

He said he’d have a sloe gin fizz. This was to get across his modernity and liberality.

“Don’t drink, myself.” I took some trivial pleasure in his visible surprise.

“I thought all authors—?”

“Used to be a lush. Quit.” I told Room Service about this new guest and his taste for wild plum juice.

He had said, “Oh,” anent my confession. I hung up and he grinned at me. He’d taken off his collar and dickey by that time and was sitting there in a wet undershirt. “In town for long?”

“Nope.”

“You’re here a good deal, though, your father tells me.”

“Sometimes. At the moment—we’re building in Florida—and my kid attends school there—so Florida is where we spend most of our time.”

“Hot, in the fall and spring, isn’t it?”

“Not this hot!”

He thought that was amusing, too. “Hurricanes,” he said.

“Yep. Hurricanes.”

“You’ve been in them?”

“Repeatedly.” I passed up a grade-A chance to dramatize Wylie, since it would give him equal privileges, when his turn came.

“I’ll tell you, frankly, why I’m here,” Socker said. “I want you to do me a favor.” He gave me that ministerial look—the beaming meekness of a man who is never denied a favor.

“Like what?”

It dashed him a trifle. “Well, Phil—” (old friend of dad, I reminded myself) “I don’t suppose you’ve been in a church for a long time.”

“Not to my knowledge.”

That got him again. “And I don’t suppose you’ve ever been in a church like mine. Don’t get the idea I’m about to[Pg 250] ask you over to hear me preach. A preacher like yourself—you see, I’ve read your books—wouldn’t be much interested in the rhetorical efforts of a chap like me.” He was a little nervous, now, and actually a shade humble. “What I’m driving at is this. We’ve got a young people’s society that has thrown doctrine out the window—not caring how much stained glass broke—and is trying to get some meaning out of religion by putting some new meaning in it.”

“Sounds trenchant.”

“I want you to come over, Phil, and talk to my young people. They’re readers of yours. We’ve discussed your books at meetings—gone through them chapter by chapter—had some real battles! It’s our feeling that, at bottom, you’re as earnest a Believer as any of the rest of us. I’ve sprung some surprises on my young folks—Phil—but springing you would really rock them.”

The Buick salesman touch.

I told him—as nicely as I could—about never making speeches, and why. It’s always embarrassing.

He covered up his very annoyed disappointment and decided all I needed was a working-over. He began this by ignoring the invitation—after a little more pressure got him nowhere. He talked about his church and the young people and their outlook:

“You’d be interested in learning what’s going on among religious liberals, Phil. In fact, you owe it to yourself to find out! And your writing shows you don’t know! Dogma has simply gone overboard—and I mean overboard. We’re studying psychology as hard as you are. We take up a book like the late Liebman’s Peace of Mind—and learn to understand it. Hell-fire and damnation—original sin—that sort of rubbish—is out. We’ll listen to a communist over there as attentively as to a priest. We believe Christ would have made the fair distribution of goods His business—if He were alive now. We sit around and air sex problems as frankly as the professors. Use their lingo. We don’t believe religion[Pg 251] ought to be a lifelong way of pain and hardship and self-torment and sorrow—”

I’d been thinking about the Law of Opposites. What he was saying, I’d said, myself, in some instances. But not all. Some of it made me a little sick. I tried to interrupt but he barged ahead:

“To us, religion is a practical attitude and a source of joie de vivre—or it’s mistaken. We’ve got a gymnasium in my church and we hold weekly dances and weekly bingo games there. When we talk about the Master—we talk about a Man who is our Friend—not an Oriental mystic who left His disciples puzzled by contradictory advice. If you can’t see your way clear to visiting with us—at this time—you certainly ought to be able to see the value of catching up with the status of modern Christianity—”

“There are a couple of points that worry me,” I said.

“Come and thresh them out with us!”

“I don’t imagine Jesus would have been interested in communism, for example.”

“Because it’s antagonistic to orthodox religion? Wasn’t He an antagonist of orthodoxy, Himself?”

“The logic escapes me, there. If I’m not mistaken, Jesus was exclusively concerned with the inner world. He was completely antimaterialist. Social systems were superficial to Him. He was agin the obsessive materialism of Near East capitalists two thousand years ago—and I strongly suspect He would see dialectical materialism as a mere spread of that unilateral pall over the conscious minds of the masses.”

“Superb! Come over and tell us that!”

“You’re supposed to know it, already,” I answered. “And to be teaching it. Besides, I am a firm believer in Original Sin.”

“What!”

The sloe gin and my iced coffee arrived.

He offered to pay—a unique point—clumsy, but pleasant.

[Pg 252]

George looked him over twice. George had never seen a clergyman in my haunts, except my father, whom he knew.

“I believe in Original Sin,” I said, when George went and when the parson had taken a cool, deep pull, “since I believe every religion is the attempt, the compulsive and unconscious attempt, to make a schemata of instincts that will be palpable to the sense perceptions of human personality—and since I also believe that religions have generally failed in that function—causing the sin.”

“Failed how?”

“Failed by being turned to the support of the ego.”

“But we’d agree with you, there!”

“So I must conclude there is some basic error in the entire religious phenomenon. Believing that religions express a genuine psychological compulsion—a need to discover the inner pattern of behavior, the inner design of consciousness—but observing that the orthodox patterns offered so far have led only to a succession of material advances that ended in social collapse—I must conclude that there is some human error which repeats itself down the millenniums. Some terribly deep perversion of Nature that at first lets man advance a little—then throws him back nearly the whole distance—gets him going once more with a newer, ‘truer’ religion—and so on, ad infinitum. This perversion is what I call Original Sin.”

“Pretty abstract,” he said.

“Not at all. Here’s the Sin. Religions have been used not so much as formulations for guidance as to convince their various Believers that man is, himself, godlike, wherefore God. Not an animal with a fresh neurological awareness. Not a beast of the field, who knows it and who therefore knows that what goes on inside beasts is nothing to sneer at. But God Almighty, personified according to His self-personifications of Zeus, Amon-Ra, the Prophets, Jehovah, or Who-not. God Almighty—destined to live for[Pg 253]ever with all the numerous Gods-Almighties—in the Elysian Fields, Nirvana, or Wherever. You follow me?”

“I think so.”

“You don’t. Let’s try it again. Imagine a band of apes that developed self-awareness. Apes that suddenly saw themselves as selves. Imagine those apes interpreting the new cortical phenomenon not as a fresh and fascinating development amongst animals—but as evidence of their metamorphosis from the flesh to something Higher. They don’t know what, exactly. They work out What in a series of mythologies and religions. ‘What’ turns out, in our era, to be Sons of God, Brothers in Christ, Redeemed Eternally by Grace. That’s where they are today. Not humble animals, carrying on the business of Evolution for species yet unguessed. They feel sure (in Christ) that they are the perfect biology right now. They sit at the end of an age-old endeavor to acquire that seeming. An endeavor which has shucked off or hidden every aspect of animal reality it can.”

He was shaking his head. “I feel puzzled—”

“The use of religions, in effect, has been to conceal and deny the animal nature of man. That is perverse. Man eats—a simple, animal activity. How many religious rituals—turned into social functions in how many cases—could you list, all of which were designed to give a nonanimal cast to eating? Hundreds?”

“I suppose you mean feasts and fasts and such?”

“Food taboos, food rituals, food symbols—like your bread and wine—religious dietary laws. Sure. Man—like the beasts—must eat. But he has tried ten thousand tricks to make it seem nonanimal, or ‘godlike.’ Now. Consider sex—another human function which is exactly like its animal counterpart. Here there is less exigency than in eating—more time-lag for ritual and style. Man went passionately into the business of developing systems which would conceal the animal and instinctual nature of sexuality and lend[Pg 254] to it the superior qualities of his various gods, religions, his self-glorifying self-images.”

“I think I begin to see—”

“Exactly. By now—we dwell amid a species that is twenty or thirty or forty thousand years away from the contemplation of its instincts as germane to animal instincts. The distance in time is matched by countless steps in illusion. It is hardly possible for a man to think of himself as an animal in the true sense, any more. It is all but impossible for him to feel, to experience, his animal fact. And—since I believe instinct seen locally in time and space is as ‘good’ as it is ‘evil’—and that, in sum, it is all good—I find this long attempt to translate natural instincts into ridiculous and unnatural dogmas and god-images—is a very sad mistake. A very great sin—the ‘original’ sin of assuming a superiority toward terrestrial, psychological, and cosmic Nature.

“Each new religion may be—usually is—an ‘improvement’ in some way upon its discarded or waning predecessor. But each is, always, founded on the premise that man is ‘above’ that which works within him and occurs around him. So, in the end, even though intelligent religious premises may benefit humanity in many ways—for instance, the search for truth inspired by Jesus, led haltingly to the birth of the scientific method—the fundamental premise is always false and the benefits are finally fouled by the basic blunder. Instinct frustrated by the delusions of Believers of all sorts has to go into autonomous operation on the multitudes, simply because they deny and repress instinct until this society or that—and all of them—fails to meet their instinctual needs. And instinct, acting in violent fashion, upon such blind, willful repudiators of necessary process—always brings calamity. It has to wipe out or at least reduce each new aggregate of the self-deceived. So another civilization topples. Then another creed arises and we begin again. Until we get straightened out about what instinct is—get, so to speak, a real picture of our inner selves, of what it is in[Pg 255] us that we have made into all gods and theology—a picture congruent with such truths as we can see and can admit—we’re bound to operate in this roller-coaster fashion.”

“In other words, your Original Sin is the church itself!” He sounded disturbed.

“It’s—any ism. Any person or group with sure-fire dogmas that you have to accept on faith—as offering ends justifying physical means and psychological means that are illogical, unethical, unreasonable, that fail to take into account the innate facts of our animal instinct, that exclude valid opposites to their tenets, and so on.”

“And you think God is what might be called the cause in instinct?”

“The cause, the pattern, the existence of it in animals and man, the physical laws and forms of the universe, and the instincts of living things that match those laws and forms. What’s the difference between the laws of instinct—the great drives of life taken with the opposed drives that balance them and the harmony possible in a person who understands these—and other laws? The attraction and repulsion of electrical energy, for instance? We do not regard them as ‘mutually exclusive.’ What are you going to say about a question like Schrodinger’s? He shows that one fragment of one atom hitting another atom in a gene will change the nature of the resulting being. I’d add that the instincts may change, too. Schrodinger shows you that what we know of energy lies at the heart of what we know of form. You can also see that form lies at the heart of what we know of behavior and of consciousness. When they understand the laws of the energy in atoms—they’ll probably have a brand-new parallel, like that of other natural laws, for instinctual laws. They may even have a potential new insight into instinct. For how can anybody who notices the perfect instinctual pattern that corresponds with every living form, and who sees these forms evolving in awareness down the aeons, doubt that the universe has purpose or wonder what[Pg 256] its purpose is? Unfortunately, in this putrid day and age, new discoveries in many fields are military secrets—so we, the people, won’t be told them.”

“You sound extremely bitter about that.”

“Bitter? Yes, I’m bitter, in a way. All my life I’ve devoted myself to following the inquiry into the nature of Nature. This pursuit has led me—by way of psychology—into finding out a great deal about what is popularly called the nature of God. But now, knowledge at the source is restricted, classified, forbidden, secret—to protect the damned atom bomb. My government, as a security measure, has cut off my inquiry into God, my power to extend my own religion, my equivalent of your faith, my access to truth. Perhaps I’d never even manage to persuade anybody that the time has come to connect instinct and energy by theory. But the right that I hold most valuable has been taken from me. And from you. And from everybody—if they stopped to think. Freedom—that precious necessity—is actually freedom for the mind. There is no other pure liberty. All other freedoms stem from intellectual freedom—but all others are qualified by the material, social, political, and spiritual desires of people. What we call liberty in America is the right to know and to change: to extend or limit this liberty for the sake of that advantage or because of that prejudice—and then to learn better and shift the position once again—and so on forever. That is all there is to liberty insofar as it concerns behavior. But when the behavior of the mind is circumscribed, liberty is dead in its one absolute sense. It is dead today. We live in a midnight imposed by fear—a time like all dark ages. Truth and learning have gone underground. I am forbidden to know any more. What I think might be centuries in advance of what common people are thinking. It is still—at least potentially—obsolete, or inadequate, in relation to what other men may know—that I am not allowed by my government to find out. Wouldn’t you be bitter—or sad—if your church were shut up by the Congress,[Pg 257] if you were forbidden to learn more about your God, and if you were obliged to confine even your thinking to bootlegged guesses?”

“It’s a pretty remote argument,” he said.

“Is it? Remote to destroy the source of freedom?”

“Would you have us tell the Soviets how to make a bomb?”

“Is that the question? They know how! You have been told and told and told that they know how and have known since the Smythe Report appeared. And even that’s not the point. When it became evident that the people of the United States faced the alternatives of maintaining the freedom of knowledge—at the risk of atomic conflict—or of destroying liberty at the source to gain the dubious advantage of a few years’ time—the people chose the phony safety of secrecy for a mere unknowable dozens of months. They were too dumb to see they had sold their birthright.”

“What would you have done?”

I shrugged. “The hell with it! If we had understood science and if we had believed in freedom we would have been willing, the minute the problem appeared, to fight for both—because they’re one. We would not have permitted any bleak tyranny to interfere with the world-wide course of knowledge and the existence of our freedom.”

“You’re asking a good deal.”

“I ask nothing. I merely point out that the fear of holocaust has been made permanent by our fearful failure to act. Freedom throttled will be difficult to revive. The habit of intellectual tyranny is already seeping into the pores of a world destined to be more panicky each year until either freedom of knowledge is restored or the far more likely chaos ensues. After chaos will come the regimentation, by opportunists, of a world that will have lost its grip on liberty. We bought a little time at the cost of all the values our ancestors piled up for us in the ages. It is a cheapskate civilization.”

[Pg 258]

The Reverend Socker Melton suddenly chuckled. He had, in the midst of at least mild anxiety, hit on some straw, some philosophical prop. “Don’t take it so hard! You sound as if you felt responsible for all the woes of man!”

“Don’t you?”

“Good Lord! Certainly not!”

“You are a man, though.”

“Just one man.”

“Just one. But if you had access to instinct, you might realize that each one, to the degree he is aware, is all men.”

“A cold, distant, impersonal idea, I must say!”

“The hell it is! The idea I’m putting forward involves being and acting what instinct orders in us—and the constant sense of that process. It relates me to every man—to every king and statesman and politician and movie queen and carpenter and garbage man—to every creature that walks and flies and swims and crawls—and to the sea, the setting sun, the stars. I see them all and I find in them the response that rises from being related to them. I consider them in my cortex—but my God consists also in feeling them. I do not stumble about in schisms and dichotomies. An infinite number of aspects of life which seem antithetical to most people seem merely two manifestations of one awareness to me. You’re the kind of fellow, reverend, I bet, who goes around saying, like Will Rogers, that you never met a man you didn’t like. I can buy that—and still know, besides, I never met a man I did like altogether, including me. I can say, there was never a moment when I altogether liked myself, or disliked. Warm sentiments pervade my coldest thoughts. Heaven and hell are here in this one room.

“There—you see—we get back to the original sin, again: the static standards that must be maintained if the ego is to be kept intact. This is evil—that is good; he is saved—she is damned; my opinion is right—yours is wrong; my faith makes me perfect and whole—yours, meaning all the other faiths on earth, is imperfect and fragmentary at[Pg 259] best. For why? Simply because my faith is mine. Me, me, me. I, I, I. That is what happens—that is the tragifarce—of taking instinct away from the brain and being entire, and investing the gigantic force of it in the little front lobes. From then on—’I have faith—and I, alone, am right. I, alone, am God.’

“Well, in my book, I am God, padre, and so are you, and so are all the people on the street down there, and so is the heat wave, and so are scorpions and rattlesnakes and botuli bacilli, and so are the intergalactic clouds. One thing. It is not necessary for me to elevate myself above these—to commit original sin by defining that unity in terms of my fatuous self-admiration. I do not have to give my days, my doings and my dreams to the establishment of the general illusion that I am no animal—whether by fasts or feasts, by fish on Friday or by Easter celebrations, by shutting the door when I tend my body, and especially, dominie, I do not have to pretend the procreative urge in me is superior to that same urge in cosmos—by delimiting it, stylizing it, codifying it, and hiding it wherever and whenever it must have expression. Chastity, celibacy, virginity, purity—these are the lowest terms of original sin. These condemn the animal to a vile psychological and social beastliness by forcing him to pretend he is not the unashamed pure animal that he is.”

“You want free love—promiscuity—no moral ethic—”

“Nonsense! I want to build our sex behavior around what is learned to be true nature of man—to establish an aesthetic from instinct—not from the instinct-perverting demands of ego and superego.’

“And what would it be?”

“Loving, for a start.”

He moved impatiently. “Spiritual love—”

“I mean the same. What spiritual love has man today? What friendliness toward other men? What regard for Nature? Man fears. Man hates. And as to Nature—he is the hostile parasite on the whole of it, and calls himself its con[Pg 260]queror. Let him conquer his ego—and then—if he should prove to be—in some almost unimaginable era of clean passion—capable of as wide a variety of ways of loving as he is capable of simulating and extending the other faculties of other species—he will have to build his aesthetics around that. Love takes two people. If neither is injured, made less, turned hateful, rendered afraid—if the purposes of instinct, become aware and consciously directed, are not finally frustrated—no specific behavior will offend this dim-seen Nature. Shameless awareness lies far nearer to a way for mankind to grow loving than any so-called love of a Jesus which requires a man to think he is impure, vile, inevitably born a sinner, inferior physically to all other living things in Eden’s Garden—and this, so he may publicly proclaim himself and secretly imagine himself to be their ‘spiritual’ superior. Isn’t that clear?”

“Sometimes I follow you—sometimes not.”

“Look at it this way. You say you’ve chucked out heaven and hell—or hell, anyhow—you modern religionists. I say, you cannot do so. I say—if your God is a god of what you consider pure goodness—you have to have a devil to balance Him. I say that all the saints and holy men and all the simple, human people who have managed, by one religion or another, to get some sense of the integration of their instincts, have done it because the religions did give them a semantic for instinct—a heaven-hell formulation of their nonverbal impulses—a yang-and-yin for Christianity, so to speak—or a Jehovah-Satan for Taoism. Take that away—and you take away all opportunity for the religious—the instinctual—experience. You produce a bunch of gassy bounders who—since hellishness is everywhere but since they’ve discarded hell—confuse the goodness of the species with goods, good health, prosperity, long life—things that may be possible devils for the species. They lose sight of the inwardness of the nongood and see evil as a material fact, entirely. Modern devil-seekers—men like Sheen, like Niebuhr—are closer to[Pg 261] the mechanics of human nature than these idiot modern congregations that throw out Satan and his kingdom and as a result are condemned to evil behavior because they have made themselves blind to evil’s source. Closer—but still not very damn close.”

“What, then, is your criterion of good and evil?”

“I could give you dozens. I give you a sample. When you consider what you are doing, or what any man does, or any group of men—ask yourself whether that particular deed will benefit or injure the chances of future generations to evolve toward increased consciousness.”

“Great heavens, man—most preachers wouldn’t be able to decide a question like that! Let alone plain folks!”

“Sure. Did I say that preachers—let alone plain folks—or any handful of contemporary men—knew what they were doing? Or why? Or what anybody else was doing? They don’t know. So they go on by instinct—the statistical sweep of impulses that lop off nations as readily as the wind lops trees. I said we could know. I said we weren’t trying. Instinct is the immortal property—the urge in behalf of the future. Ants are doing what they can for ants, bees for bees, fish for fish—without much individual hesitation. But not men for men. Men today are trying either to get themselves into heaven, or to make a mint, or just to get by, as individuals. The future, to most men, means their own here—or their reward in heaven. To instinct, the future means the future of awareness, and men are but its most conspicuous exponents here and now. If we began to plan life for our progeny—what a world!”

I was getting sick of the guy. Sick, rather, of myself—my endless efforts to put a simple idea in some form that would perfuse skulls hardened against it—sometimes even by what they imagined to be open-mindedness. “Look. You believe, don’t you, that you could sit down and write out a mode of behavior satisfactory for man to the end of time?”

“I could take a crack at it,” he said.

[Pg 262]

“Well—I don’t. I believe that future men should be left free to make up their minds without consulting any bulls and fiats from me. I get some sense of orientation, a raison d’être, from giving thought to the rights of the species now and to come. Not saving adult souls for present bliss—or spiritual cradle-snatching, either—but forwarding the whole, rolling business of biology on this sin-drenched planet, is the fun—for me.”

“You are totally pessimistic about the present scene, apparently.”

I looked out the window. It was getting on toward sunset. “Excepting for a few physical technologies—are we so different from our human predecessors? Crueler, it may be. And weaker physically, perhaps. Otherwise—not any different. And has there ever been a time in our past history when optimism for even one era or one society was warranted? History says not—the record. It is hardly an encouraging fact.”

“No hope, then? No fringe of lining on the cloud—?”

“I didn’t say that. The record has at least—continued. I hardly expect mankind to be blotted out. I just don’t have a very high opinion of man’s present works in relation to what he really is, desperately needs, and someday could be. There are compensations. I give you one. We won’t be missed.”

He began putting on his dickey. It plastered itself against his sodden undershirt. He ran his thick fingers around his collar.

“You’re a hard person, Phil.”

“I am a very gentle guy, Socker. The men of the earth are hard. They have confused another instinct here—and think to be hard is estimable.”

“Somehow, I believe you’re all wrong.”

“Of course. So much of what I think is the opposite of what you do. And then—I believe a lot that Jesus said. While you don’t believe any of it at all.”

[Pg 263]

He flushed. “I’m not sure I’d want you to talk to my young people.”

“You relieve me. And you’ve been very decent to listen—yourself.”

“Oh,” he said, fairly jovially, now that he was about to be gone, “I listen to them all. Crackpots, nuts, psychiatrists, anybody—”

“Listen to yourself, once.”

Suddenly he was sore. “Who in hell do you think you are?”

“Somebody,” I answered, “whose religion doesn’t insist it knows all about all truth for all people for all time. Somebody who isn’t a stuck-up, luxury-struck, fatuous, patronizing jerk in a black vest who carries around God’s credit card in his hip pocket and keeps in the collection-plate business by holding smut sessions in the church gymnasium. Now, for God’s sake, get out of here and let me work.”

He stood at the door. He smiled again. “I’m sorry for you, Phil. Truly sorry. You’re a brave man—in a way—and so arrogantly blind.”

“Sure. We all are.”

“Do me one favor?”

“Do me one. Cross the hall—poke the bell—”

“Pray.”

“You pray. Wear holes in the sky. Tell God you’re coming, soon. And tell Him I am, too, while you’re at it. See you there!”

When he was gone, I felt washed out.

Why had I bothered to try something that couldn’t come off? Didn’t I know the work I’d done—the hells I’d gone through to get my Inkling—would never tempt that fat bastard past the first six steps of a million rugged miles?

Houses on sand
paper roofs
putty pillars
no brains
[Pg 264]

What is conscience but fealty to truth?

What man can have good conscience if his beliefs conceal the smallest truth—or especially if they conceal himself from himself?

With honesty toward science—and toward the inner sciences—man and ethic are one.

Ethos is, indeed, what man has, and is.

Come off it, Wylie! The serial!

4

But I couldn’t work, any longer.

I filled my tub, instead, with the coolest water in the tap.

You pray.

He would, too.

A lugubrious joke uttered itself within me.

Father, bring insight to this sincerely mistaken man—

(Taking the words out of my mouth: you right—me wrong)

Or,

Spare us the ineffable harm of the intellectual, the Antichrist—

(All who oppose us oppose Jesus—but didn’t He say, In my house are many mansions?)

Prince of Peace!
(Peace, in a pig’s eye.)
A mighty fortress.
Onward, Christian soldiers.
The Son of God Goes Forth to War.
He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible
swift sword—
All the clayfaces, upturned to the ceramic excellence
of the dominie
Let us pray:
[Pg 265]Father, forgive them—
The hypocrites!
Perhaps some—the widow kneeling in the stained-glass effulgence—clutching her mite—debating love against appetite—a possibly hungrier widow against bread and her own belly—she might see God there—

Our organ cost thirty-six thousand dollars and has five keyboards

God,

we migrants, traveling with galaxy, sun, slogging sphere, geological budge of continent, movement of races, American transportation, feet,

we
on our journey-forever in time-space
are sure as hell, unmistakably, definitely—as the saying goes—
en route.
Hence,
I deem the status quo of ego
unimaginative.
Is this a sin?
A sin to hunger for more Light?
Or is it
goodness
to reject the surrounding brilliance—call it The Dark—in order to make personal hay with the pewee flashlight of Episcopalianism.

Judge not that ye be not judged, Wylie, He said.
Then shall I sit
like a Buchmanite on the john
waiting for guidance?
And there shall be laughter in heaven
They omit that chapter.
Anger is their meat:
Gabriel’s pinfeathers, torn out by handfuls.
Pluck yourself a quill, pal.
[Pg 266]Make yourself a pen from a seraphim.
Remind them they should enjoy it.
Nature, that’s all, simply telling us to fall
In love.
And that’s why Chinks do it—
Japs do it—
I got out of the tub, scattering water, and turned the radio loud.

Let me communicate again in the idiom of man—
my conceit has suddenly tired me out.
I lay
forlornly in the water, the water browned off by rust
in the
Astolat’s pipes, the waters of life, but not much left.
Sadness encompassed me.
The sadness of little children dying by merely growing up
of mature men turning childish again
of American trees
of the disinherited
the stood-up
the disappointed
the deserted
the uncomprehended
of the walking wounded
I hate to see
that evening sun go down
The love songs of the world are sad.
The old English ballads quaintly drone—murder and rue.

Gypsy violins have wet the eyes of European centuries.

Italians shake their opera houses with love’s grief.

Don Juan dies young—and Romeo grows old.

The Hindu on his fetid riverbank throbs to the guillotine moon.

The damsel in Xanadu may be different—it doesn’t go on to say.

[Pg 267]

But—

Frankie shot Johnny.

We Americans have had to borrow rue from our slaves; they have enough, and to spare

We call it blues—and the origin’s appropriate to us.

The child in his cradle listens to locomotives talking themselves up the long grades, bidding the counties farewell in the night.

Ours is a civilization of pistons, motors turning, electrons peppering filaments into light. We are

a racy people.
We got rhythm.
The tempo of our love and the momentum of our woe are one.

Our exultation soars with edifices that scrape the sky—then falters underground where we have iron rivers to carry the people home—and there is no home when they get there but only the percussant streets again, the shooting tabernacles, the radiance, the tumult in time.

We sleep.
Morning comes.
In the mammoth sunshine of our cities we remember our blues the way the slaves remember.

No heart, no intellect, but we got rhythm!
Look at the towers!
Look at the sky—that’s blue, too, baby!
The streets are straight, the blocks are square, the intersections regular. The shadows are geometry—they dive one hundred stories. It is a gameboard, ruled and sharp by transit here and plummet there, concrete and rectilinear.

This
we call traffic.
It is the way we move on the board.
Trucks and taxis playing fast chess to the beat of the Christmas-colored signals. We are a great, free, democratic people whose trains run approximately on time. In this[Pg 268] civilization, eight-o’clock children make skip-ropes of rainbows and slide down the balustrades of sunbeams. One contraction of our chamber of commerce ventricle will thrust ten thousand tons of ore from Duluth to Pittsburgh.

We rate fireflies in kilowatts.

But we hate to see the evening sun go down.

Paul Bunyan’s ox was blue. So—our hills, the evening in our thoroughfares, our dying lips.

Hence, when we talk about rue in these United States, brother, we do it in brass! We put

pistons and kilowatts in our lament, grief, sorrow, lostness!

We take a breath of our American air and we-the-people burst.

That’s blues!

The mood would have led to God knows what charade in the auditorium of my senses—the multitude of watching, listening “mes” reacting in all their various ways at once; it might have become a ululation you could have heard on Mars—or frozen as if the head of Medusa had come on stage—or, by that third unanimity, blazed into laughter, revolted ecstasy at ecstasy itself.

The singing woman stopped.
There was a knock.
I yelled, “Come in!” relieved—thinking it might be Paul.

For more than an hour, now, worry over him had cankered me.

(Do you imagine I tell you all that happens, here? I nearly would if I could—it is not that. But the compendium of the eighteen simultaneous trains of consciousness (the intrications and alternations and separate chains that run in a man’s mind and that you could see in your own if you tried) would, in a weekend fill up all the books a man might read in his life. I give you hardly the essence, my friend—[Pg 269]but only a sample of the aggregate—a biopsy of its own sort.)

A knock, then.

I realized it was the door in the bedroom.

“May I come in?” Yvonne asked.

“Certainly.”

“Your radio’s positively shaking the building!”

“Turn it down. I hope you won’t mind I’m in here—slightly naked.”

“Oh!” I couldn’t see her, or she, me. The rooms waited because she had stopped. “Slightly!”

“Barely, if you prefer. Barely nude. Covered in a meager depth with rusty water. Concealed in soapy murk, besides. And, in addition, protected by scum. It’s hard water, you know—Croton.”

Presently the radio went down and out—a moron throttled in midspiel. “I’ll sit in here,” she said.

“Any place you like.”

“I’ll bet! I’ll bet if you heard me coming—you’d grab the shower curtain—”

“Flowers for tonight?”

“You certainly have a long, mean memory, Philip Wylie! So that’s just what I do bet!” She was approaching. She exclaimed, “What do you mean—soapsuds?”

“An invention for the Puritan mind. A burlesque. After all—!”

“After all—what?”

“In a better world—but skip it.”

She did. “You certainly know how to upset people,” she said.

“Now what?”

“After lunch—I phoned Gwen—to come over this evening.”

“So?”

“And after that—I began to feel jittery.”

“And now?”

[Pg 270]

“I came over here.”

“To ask me how to feel? Ye Gods! I recommended having your own feelings—and I thought you were catching on.”

She was wearing a faintly rose-pink frock of some shiny, translucent material. You could see the garments beneath—you were supposed to see. There were two—and the lace hem of the lower one showed below the blush of her dress—as it was supposed to show. She looked like a kid.

“I’ve got too many feelings at once.” She walked toward the window, where I could now see her only by leaning a little. “I almost called Rol this afternoon.”

I said nothing.

“Did you hear me?”

“Yeah. Why didn’t you?”

“Because I wanted to see Gwen again. Once more, anyway.”

“Suppose she couldn’t have come?”

“That’s unkind of you!”

“Would a friend have done as well?”

She didn’t answer for so long that I leaned out again. She was swinging the cord of the window blind. The last debilitated glow in the sky made her look like a flower at twilight—like a single tinted object in a black-and-white photograph of a room. She caught sight of me.

“Maybe even better,” she said falteringly. “What sort of person am I!”

“The sort that a person is, when a person begins finding out what sort.”

“But not the final discovery?” The turn and set of her head was eager. I couldn’t see her eyes.

“Who is?”

“You mean—you think everybody—?”

“Yes,” I said, swirling the water around. “Everybody. Most—when they’re young. Most grow out of it. Some—hardly notice it. Some have a minor case of it all their lives. To others—it’s an intermittent hint—a leftover that[Pg 271] crops up as a suggestion, not a fact. Lots—are carried off stage for good by it. The great majority insist they have no such feelings—never could and never did and never will. The result of that—”

“Is what?”

“Look out the window and see the crummy mess yourself, honey! If you’ll toss me my dressing gown—from the closet—”

“I’m scared,” she said, when I came into the sitting room.

I kissed her once.

She said, “Again.”

So I really kissed her.

She stepped away, afterwhile. “I’m not so scared now.”

“It’s good for you to be.”

“Why is it?”

“Because you so seldom knew you were. You spent your time trying to frighten other people—instead of knowing.”

“Not frighten. Impress, maybe—”

“Another word for the same dirty deed: convince them of your inherent and cultivated superiority. Whenever people achieve that—they also convince others of their relative inferiority. And when that conviction comes from a false estimate of the situation—believe me, it’s upsetting. Frightening is the realer word.”

“Which implies that I’m not superior to anybody in any way.”

“Check.”

She stood there, looking at me through the murk. “Not even—prettier?”

“What’s prettiness? The power to attract. If you were a genuine, all-around, Grade-A woman—you’d have the power to attract, without trying to impress a soul. As a pretty girl—you’re not superior to a hundred thousand others—and inferior to tens of thousands.”

“At least,” she murmured, “I’m trying.”

[Pg 272]

“Are you?”

“Am I not?”

“Who can really tell but you? For all I know, Yvonne, you may just be indulging in some new paroxysm of the spoiled rich matron.”

“I did want to call Rol, though.”

“Sure. When you had the jitters. Flight, maybe.”

“Then do you think I ought to wallow in myself?”

“It’s your word—wallow.”

She was silent for quite a while. Finally she drew a breath and stretched voluptuously. “Did you ever feel as if you’d like to seduce everybody you saw?”

“Just the good-looking women.”

“Are you trying to impress me—now?”

I laughed. “Guess so.”

“Couldn’t I begin with you?”

I shook my head. “You don’t know yourself well enough to suit me, at the moment. And—anyway—I’m booked.”

“A date!”

“A wife.”

She considered that at length, too. “Gwen said last night she knew from the minute she saw you that you wanted company, but not particularly a pretty girl. Just a person. She said she told you all those things about herself, hoping—”

“They had their little effect,” I reminded Yvonne.

“Your Ricky,” she answered, “must be some gal.”

“She’s my gal—which makes her some gal to me.”

The door knocked again—the front door, this time.

It was a box of flowers—yellow roses, again.

For a minute I thought the manager had slipped up.

There wasn’t any card.

Then I knew.

That, I thought, was what it meant: a perception of the nature of other people.

Flowers are for the living, and I’m fond of yellow roses.

[Pg 273]

They’d be no use to me, dead. So I had these now. To remind me that the idea of flowers for the living, though seldom put in practice, describes the immortal essence.

Except for taking Paul off my back awhile, there wasn’t anything else that Dave could do or say. But this, he did and said.

I stood there, rooted with the comprehension.

Yvonne fumbled womanishly through the stems.

“Who sent them?”

“A guy I know.”

She gasped. “Guy!”

“It’s the grown-up manifestation.”

“Manifestation of what?”

“Put them in water while I get dressed,” I said. “Of something you might learn—someday.”

5

We had dinner together in the Knight’s Bar.

She with one white orchid.

Jay received us with just the right look of appreciation for her—just the right glimmer for me. He was sorry such things happened, but he admired my taste.

The hotel staff, I knew, was by now vigorously discussing the matter. The girls who ran the elevators, the telephone girls, the room-service checkers, the cashiers, the waiters, the bellboys. Pros and cons:

He’s an artist—and they’re different. She’s just another of those rich wives on the make. I bet you wish you were one, yourself, you hypocrite! Poor Mrs. Wylie! She’s a nice, quiet girl and I’ll bet he swept her off her feet—because that’s what newspapermen and writers all are: chasers. Those quiet ones knock over more husbands than all the flashy jobs in town! We all do, if we get a chance. I don’t blame either of them. I think both of them are stinkers. Whose business is it?

[Pg 274]

Up with the dishes, down with the cars, in with the stapler, out with the phone plugs—and on and on while typewriters paused and adding machines stood briefly still. Romance or scandal—take your choice. And never a sign to me but Jay’s gleam—never a future syllable to Ricky: a conspiracy of employed custom, reinforced by a small world of reciprocal liking.

I wondered what they’d think if they knew the truth.

But, then, I always wonder that.

I’m the silly jackass who does.

Look—waiters, busboys, and you over there in the cage with the pointed auburn haircut and the long eyelashes and the tight dress—here we have a handsome young woman who has set about, by means not nearly so rare or unorthodox as you pretend among yourselves—to find one or two universals, or fundamentals, which are not in the book.

What book?

Not in any?

Oh—yes—those banned novels. And those mournful characters who thought only of their pale, poetical brows plunging into the Pit, the lonely well. Or sordid sun-tan oil on Jackson’s vulgar beach.

When will the poets get the censors off their backs, too—and write like men, for a change? God’s no fairy, or Satan, either.

What foul compulsion is this—that every page of the Tragedy must itself be mournful stuff, sinister, or sick?

Farce, instead!

Does the tragic deer, the beautiful, the doomed, imbue his every poolside hour with dolorous contemplation? Must all the activities of the woodchuck be regarded as dismal? To write the stark terms of our essence on every breath and sentence of the moment is to be the own advocate of death, the white bones himself, and to overlook the splendor with such eyeless concentration that the poem becomes a joke on the poet.

[Pg 275]

I flirted with Yvonne—told her stories of Paris and Hollywood and Miami Beach—held her hand—all, in chivalrous camouflage.

Paul came at last.

I hardly needed to see the stoop—the broken reach to push open the doors that enclosed our cold air cube—to know that, between us, we had not lifted his oppression. For, when it is succubus that’s lost, incubus perforce remains.

He looked disapprovingly at Yvonne. “Mrs. Prentiss, this is my nephew,” I said. “Paul Wilson.”

“Hello, Mrs. Prentiss.” He turned from her. “I’ll barge along, Phil. I thought you’d be alone.”

“Oh, hell, sit.”

“Really—it’s not possible!” His ardent features were emphasized by pallor—and shooting about on his face, besides.

“Sit,” I said, “and eat—or otherwise you’ll force me to leave the lady and go with you. She has a date after dinner, anyhow.”

He groaned and sat down—nipping the menu from the waiter’s hands roughly. “No news.”

“Tough.” I turned to Yvonne. “His—fiancée—is lost.”

“How awful! What happened?”

Paul glared at me for a moment. “Your friend Dave,” he finally said, in a tone more polite than his facial expression, “did all he could. Got an agency looking. Sent a fellow over to stay in my—our—place. We hunted up some more friends of hers—that Dave got track of—and they told us of others. We’ve been seeing them. It isn’t much fun.”

“Why not quit, then? Wait for her?”

“If all she did was walk out,” Yvonne agreed, “that’s absolutely the only thing to do. Sit tight. Have a good time. Suppose she finds out you’re apparently raising heaven and earth to locate her? She’ll just hide in a safe spot and enjoy things that much more.”

Paul turned to her. “Are you serious?”

[Pg 276]

Yvonne was working on him—signaling interest with her gray eyes (they had come considerably alive)—tossing the organized gold shower of her hair—moving herself about in such a way as to emphasize her sex. “It’s a darned good generalization. But what happened?”

I wondered how he’d put it.

“Marcia—” he began, and described her. We were made to see a woman somewhere between Elaine-the-Fair and Florence Nightingale. “I was just about licked when we met! I’m a physicist—work on atomic energy. She made me live—filled me with new feelings—taught me what love could mean to a man like me. Then—we scrapped. Over nearly nothing!” His eyes moved reproachfully to me—then back, confidingly, to the girl. She was listening, nodding with understanding, frowning with sympathy, and keeping her red lips parted the whole time. “We scrapped. She decided we weren’t suited to each other. So she left me. That was—yesterday. I’d give everything I own to get her back! Everything I own—and am!”

“What exactly did you fight about?” Yvonne asked.

Paul’s expression became vague. “Never mind. It wasn’t important.”

“Are you sure?”

He gave both of us a dark, defiant stare. “Yes.”

“Then,” Yvonne said, “I’m right. You mustn’t continue this search operation. You should wait. And entertain yourself. Let her do the coming back—since she ran away.”

It was the first hope he had felt. “I wish I could believe it would work.”

“Take my word for it. I’m a woman.”

“And how,” he asked scornfully, “do I start this gay, forgetful act?”

“With me,” Yvonne said. “I’ll break my date. You can escort me to the most conspicuous place in town.”

“You?” Paul took his first careful look at her. She undoubtedly satisfied him. But he was not altogether persuaded[Pg 277] of the plan. It represented merely a new idea—and, as such, offered a small unexpected degree of optimism.

“I’d like it,” Yvonne went on. “For a lot of reasons. I wasn’t sure I wanted to keep my date. I think you’re nice—even if terribly foolish. And Phil bailed me out of a tizzy the other night—so I could hardly do less for a nephew of his.”

“What if I did it—acted blasé as hell—and Marcia was just relieved when she found out?”

“Then, Paul,” she said, “nothing would have helped, anyhow.”

You could see him grinding his jaw down on that one. He wanted Marcia. He was determined to get her back. Into what he regarded as his love had gone a good deal of unrecognized pride. Furthermore, he had undertaken to recover her by what he thought of as logical steps—ignoring his own hysterical condition—and unaware that his brand of logic did not, would not, could not apply in such a situation.

Yvonne knew that to interest men you talked about them. She started, indirectly. “Is he a good scientist?” she asked me.

“Terrific!”

I told her of his achievements in school; of his appointment. “He didn’t quite make Saipan for the first bomb drop. But he was at Bikini. And he commutes to Eniwetok.”

“I guess they’re born,” she said.

Paul took that up. “Born, hell! Made. You have the urge to study something. You happen to get going on math. In the end, you’re a physicist.”

I argued that. I thought an argument would change the subject from Marcia—on whom he’d concentrated ever since he’d brought up her name on Thursday. “Aptitude’s hereditary. You can’t take ten kids—even with high IQs—and turn out ten mathematicians.”

“I say you can!”

“So does the Soviet. Marx, Lenin, Stalin. Communism depends on the theory that, given the right environment,[Pg 278] people will turn out the way you want—since they start with equal possibilities. If that isn’t so—communism doesn’t make sense.”

“It’s silly on the face of it,” Yvonne said.

“The geneticists think the communist idea is silly,” I agreed. “In fact, they know so.”

Paul said, “Nuts.”

“Do you,” I asked, “know anything about genetics? Are you au courant in this particular affair?”

“No. But—”

“Then stay out of it. Good God! Isn’t that like a damned scientist?” I turned to Yvonne. “He’d laugh at me if I tried to argue with him about mesons. He’s been briefed to the eyeballs on that. But he’ll argue with anybody about genes and chromosomes and heredity—because he hasn’t bothered to learn the known facts!”

Paul didn’t rise. “Okay!” he said. “Okay. So communism is based on that fallacy. Others, too. We have a few fallacies to contend with, in this country.”

“Sure,” I agreed. “I pointed one out to the Reverend Socker Melton, who called on me today. Old friend of pop’s. Pointed out that, if we understood the importance of our celebrated liberty—we’d have been ready and willing to go to war the instant we realized that the Soviet holdout was going to force a restriction of knowledge. So what? Do our faults entitle other people to faults? Or vice versa? That’s merely the maudlin attitude of Joe Doaks!”

Paul looked at the girl with a mock sneer. “Phil hates the common man.”

“Hate, hell. I’m about the last friend he has left. Nearly the only one who refuses to boost common man exclusively, so as to exploit him—consciously or unconsciously. I’m one of the few who still care enough about poor old common man to criticize him. Everybody else is a planner or a mere booster—presidential candidates—Stalin—Hitler—just rah-[Pg 279]rah-for-humanity boys. I’m still trying to save common man from himself.”

“You chill me,” Paul said sarcastically.

“Chill you?” I would have picked up any lead to keep this bicker alight. It wasn’t about Marcia.

He spoke to Yvonne. “Phil is the champion lost-cause defender of them all. Whatever he’s for is sure to fail. He has the mildew-touch. My childhood is pockmarked with embarrassments that came from having people read his stuff—or having them barge over to see us and tell my dad that his brother-in-law was off the beam again.”

“I can imagine,” Yvonne said.

“Phil was out there hollering for rearmament in the thick of the old pacifist days. He was an air-power promoter when the brass was folding ’em in like eggs in puddings. He predicted we’d have to fight the Soviet a dozen years ago—and our boys immediately chummed up with Stalin. He went roaring out for intervention in the last war—bucking isolationists and practically cracking his insides when England and France went in without us. The minute the bomb was shot off—he started battling military control and telling the folks the mess we’d be in—and are in—right now. Once—down in Miami—where he lives—he started a big health crusade. It’s a prize pesthole. But that collapsed in his face, too. What he says is usually right—but what happens always makes him look like a louse. If he’s championing common man now—well—draw your own conclusion.” He winked at me.

“I’m championing the Better Man, these days,” I said. “Breeding the Better Common Man. Another noble prospect doomed to fail in our time.”

Paul snorted. “I’m for training them better. Education.”

“And I’m not against education—either. But you can’t polish a brick. You can’t make—”

“Watch it! The chemists can make anything out of anything.”

[Pg 280]

“Take me,” I said. “All my life, I’ve hired somebody to give me lessons in something.”

Paul grinned a little. “You are a hard case. We admit that.”

Yvonne laughed. “If he means dancing lessons—he’s done all right.”

“People,” I plugged along on the new topic, “ought to summarize their professional, postschool lessons and see what they’ve learned. Consider me. In New York, I once took boxing lessons. Can’t box for a damn. In Hollywood, I hired a strong man to live with me and teach me to lift weights. I got all beefed up—and then got sick in Poland—and the beef evaporated. I took lessons on the piano accordion for a year, once. I’ve also taken piano lessons, saxophone lessons, and mandolin lessons. Ukelele, too, in 1919. Can’t play a note. Took golf lessons for years. The last few times I played, I pushed 110. Took tennis lessons. Haven’t hit a ball over the net in twenty years. Got a whiz to teach me ping-pong—for five bucks a throw. Can’t return the serves of children. Studied a couple of foreign languages, besides the ones in school and college. Can’t even say, ‘Good morning’ and ‘Thanks’ in ’em, any more. And horses! Great God! Hired cowboys to murder me every day, all day, for six months. Went to a dude ranch in the Carolinas and got briefed in eastern saddles. Hundreds of saddle-hours. And what? Hate to ride. Never do, if I can avoid it. Is that all? I haven’t begun! Hired some Olympic champs to give me fancy diving lessons. Got going good—and found out in a couple of years I was slowing up—couldn’t snap around any more. Had to quit that. Spent a lot of time in the North Woods. Had an Indian for a guide. Learned to stalk game. Learned to shoot—taught by experts. Can’t hit a barn. Don’t enjoy hunting. Spent a fortune deep-sea fishing. Don’t even rate as an ‘Expert’ at my club. Bridge lessons—God Almighty, the time I’ve fussed with that! And what? Some days I’m fair—and some days I can’t remember through[Pg 281] jacks—which is how I was when I began! Learned once to identify all the flora and fauna in the Adirondacks. Moved away and never seen the region since. Couldn’t tell bluebells from burdock. Well, maybe those. But—”

“Is all that the truth?” Yvonne asked doubtfully.

Paul chortled. “The funny thing is, it is! Old Phil’s spent his whole life trying to discover something he could learn!”

“I draw myself up,” I answered, “with dignity. As a modern gentleman, I am the complete sciolist. The most-smattered man you’ll meet in your lifetime. There is almost nothing that I’m not slightly versed in and pretty poor at. Why—I even took archery lessons, once. Got second prize in Palm Springs—”

“Good heavens!” she said.

“I gave him some lessons in quantum theory, myself,” Paul continued. “Rotten student. Wants to know the final formulation and what it means—and detests to brush up his calculus first. He can do magic tricks, too—earned his high school pin money that way. He used to spin ropes—jump through ’em. When I was a very small kid, I looked forward to seeing him. Like a one-man circus. Then I caught on—at about four years old. Uncle Phil was in kindergarten in about every subject there was. Never got any farther. Just took different primary courses every year.”

“In a minute,” I said, “I’ll leave you guys to your libel and go back to my serial. Somebody taught me how to write fiction, along there someplace—”

Paul grinned and said, “Touché—a little.”

I felt better than I had all weekend. Paul surely would calm down with Yvonne. And she wasn’t going to loiter with Gwen that evening.

It left me with nothing to worry about except a no longer very sore spot in my throat—and with no emotion to grapple—except a feeling of being lonelier than God.

[Pg 282]

I went back to my room and turned the lights on bright and sat down and looked at the roses Dave had sent.

They were my flowers-for-the-living and, being alive, they should be appreciated.

There they stood—with lighter green stems and leaves than most roses and perilous, pale-green thorns. The blooms weren’t quite full blown, in spite of the heat, and they were as large as any I’d ever seen—as long as my fingers. The many lamps in the room highlighted the curved outer edges of the flowers and left only the deep, inner shadows. The petals were as voluptuous as a woman’s skin; they seemed to glow, like an aniline dye in ultraviolet rays. A slightly sharp perfume filled the room—a mnemonic of things that could not be materialized, of tea roses in childhood gardens and people who had been nice to you and died a long time ago. There they stood—stiff and radiant and hopelessly beautiful.

I let myself feel them—feel them the way you let yourself feel when the concert hall goes dark and the baton makes its first, swift oval.

They came from hothouses.

I thought of gardens.

All the gardens I had made or cared about.

Roses of my own, on carefully pruned canes standing in New England mulch. Rented roses on rose trees in Hollywood. I thought of sweet peas—fragrant rainbows along old fences. Of delphiniums—hybrids taller than my head, rockets frozen at the climax of blue burst. Lilies and phlox and poppies. I thought of annuals—of planting the grains, setting out the frail seedlings—and walking the later carpet—a hundred styles of color: zinnias and marigolds and asters, verbenas and lavender, sweet William and candytuft and pansies, nasturtiums, forget-me-nots and primroses. I thought of foxglove, too, and Canterbury bells. For a long time, of hollyhocks regimented against white clapboard—red, mauve, yellow, pink, purple, orange. Then I thought of sunflowers[Pg 283] growing like Jack’s beanstalk. Spring flowers and the years I’d spent changing a steep rise of field into a rock garden, plowing, bulldozing, wading in a cold brook to collect the great, flat stones, trucking them home, embedding them one by one in the slope—on aromatic rainy days, in the sweet spring sun, and in the hard dirt of October. A wall here, steps there, an outcrop yonder, and a place for a pool below.

Then the little hill opened into memory’s bloom of crocus and narcissus, daffodil, tulip, hyacinth and scilla, the creams and livid whites, pale yellows and money-gold hues, and the many blues of springtime, bright, pastel, lilac. The bells and stars and cups—and the spring scent that is the honeyed promise of summer coming.

Next, I thought of the woodland flowers—flowers before men found them. The precious arbutus, inexhaustible spring beauties, violets, the anemones, the lady-slippers, bloodroot, showy orchis standing in a wet glade beside a moss-shawled log, and pitcher plants—red rubber flowers on the sphagnum belly of weird bog. All summer long the rues and cardinal flowers and gentians; ferns—goldenrod, when the clear air cooled—when night’s sky throbbed with wings and carried to earth the enthusiastic, strange twitter of migration.

I, too, migrated.

I came to my other home in Florida—the crashing flowers, the trees bigger than houses and bright as a florist’s potted plants: poinciana, bauhinia, spathodia, jacaranda. Extravagant vines—alamanda, yellow as these roses, trumpet flowers as orange as Mexico’s sunsets, pandoreas, solandras, and the holy, nepenthic stephanotis. Jasmine. Glade hammocks with orchids blooming on stumps like swarms of sucking butterflies—great white wading birds watching and vultures pinned above in the blue, cloud-dappled sky.

Brief glory of flower-upholstered deserts.

Alpine flowers in the high, thin, whimpering air with near snow.

[Pg 284]

And trees. Great God, the trees!
It was, taken by itself, a many lifetimes.
All good.
All beautiful.
A great magic given to the modern man who thought of beauty never. Or who thought beauty was a ship’s engine, or the line of high ferroconcrete, or the color scheme of a porch, or—adoring Christ forgive us, a new car! Something he made, anyhow.

This was some of my lives.

Ricky had shared a number of them with me—created and divided the hours and days in the years of the flowers.

Why should I wonder concerning anything, who knew and loved flowers like this—why not, in the continual floral celebrations, take all content from marvel itself?

Men missed it, most of them.

Generals detailed insensate GIs to set square borders of ageratum around the headquarters lawn.

Statesmen wore bachelor’s-buttons into their deadlocks. Or maybe carnations.

Dowagers and whores—cattleyas: spilled on avid breasts and icy shoulders.

Millionaires decreed. Gardeners dug. Who looked—who saw?

Business executives had something sent up for the office, daily, and never noticed the color or knew the name. Flowers executed and embalmed to add their priceless prestige to dirty bucks.

Schoolboys planted beans and watched the halved cotyledons ascend. Then grew and prospered and spent their lives sawing women in half.

At last, tired relatives recriminated while they embedded melancholy metal pots in the green grittiness of graves.

Who cherished?

Who left them alone in the forest?

[Pg 285]

Who else—like Ricky—knew each plant to be an individual?

I put a call through.

“Hello, darling,” said her clear voice.

Oh, look—love—we’ve had—centuries together—so beautiful, so various—people, yes—each other, yes—the topaz mornings and the amorous unsleepiness—the vague rainy Thursday afternoons—the incandescent, rose-petal you—the touching—we’ve had—places—Havana, for instance—this vaulting steel town—but also flowers, dear. I was thinking how long flowers really lasted. Surely, you won’t mind, that the end is here? After entire histories of evolution shared by just the two of us? I knew you wouldn’t—now.

I said, “How’s Rushford?”

“More important—how are you?”

“Sprung-witted. Weary. And pursuing.”

“Nearly finished?”

“I should make it—tomorrow. If I hold out tonight.”

“Phil! What’s wrong?”

The echo—the electrical overtone—that long way.

“Nothing’s wrong, dear. Things are picking up. I picked up a blonde, for instance—and Paul’s taking her out. So maybe his mental health is improving.”

“And maybe you should have taken her out yourself! You sound like somebody playing an ocarina in Mammoth Cave; positively sepulchral.”

“The heat. Expanded my sinuses. Gives me that hollow ring. Is it hot up there?”

“Eighty-six tonight. The natives are dying of it.”

“It must be a hundred here.”

“I read about it in the Buffalo papers. Gee!”

“It’s pretty lurid. They had a veterans’ parade yesterday—and I went over to Fifth to watch—and it was damn near immobilized in the asphalt. It would have been funny—millions of guys stuck there—blocking traffic all winter—![Pg 286] If you go out just to get a paper, you need asbestos shoes. Any minute, this joint may run like paraffin.”

“I think you ought to knock off and go see somebody.”

“Town’s evacuated. Wouldn’t be emptier if Molotov was threatening to A-bomb.”

“Do you feel all right?”

“Sure, Tud. As all right as you can when you’re standing by to swim up out of your own sweat, any minute. How’s mother? What new mess has Popcorn made?”

She gave me the country news.

“Won’t be too long now,” I said.

“Miss you.”

“Miss you. Been thinking about the gardens. See you day after tomorrow—barring acts of God.”

“I’d rather wait longer—and have you sounding better.”

“You wait till I get there and I’ll do my own sounding.”

“Good night,” she said. “I love you.”

When I hung up, I was quivering.

I’d come pretty close:

Well, Ricky, I am worried. I went to Tom’s. Of course, it’s probably going to turn out to be nothing. But until I know for sure I feel—the hell with it! I’m ashamed of being this way!

I sat there, taking divots out of myself and not getting on the green.

I looked at the roses again.

They were just yellow roses—big ones—in a glass vase. I yanked out the bridge table, batted the bridge lamp around, sat, and bent into it.

6

Yvonne came through the connecting doors about one o’clock. I was still bent—bent enough so it took a moment to turn and straighten after she said, “Hello, Svengali!”

[Pg 287]

She was drunk. Not happy-drunk, or mean-drunk, either. Nervous-drunk.

“Your pure relation left me,” she said.

“Left you how?”

“Left me in this condition. Buy me a Scotch.”

I sent the word.

She threw herself on the divan, blew down the front of her rose-pink dress—which was wrinkled now, wet under the armpits, city-smudged at the edges—and fixed her fidgety eyes on me. “We went down to the Palais and danced a bit. He’s lousy. We started in having a flock of drinks. He talked. Good God, how Wylies talk! He told me the story of his life—including the full saga of Marcia. He got to that later—at the Club Mauve.”

“Nice little spot!”

“He said we were both in a revolting mood and so we should go to some repulsive place.”

“Then you told him the story of your life, too?”

“Up to when I met you.”

“Is that going to be a date, from now on? Milestone? And millstone, too? Try to bear in mind—it’s your life and you’re of age.”

“So all right, lambie-pie! No hard feelings. The point is—the more he told me about his Marcia—the less he noticed me. We switched to Planter’s Punches, in due time, and had a zombie somewhere along the way. For a while I thought the rum was going to do what my gilded fleece couldn’t. We necked. It’s dark as a bat’s groin there, anyhow.”

“Pretty metaphor.”

“We necked, I said. Back in the old days—last week—I could neck with a boy from the time he cut me out at the prom until bacon and eggs at Child’s—and never feel a thing I didn’t want to feel. Tonight—though—I lost ground so fast you’d think I was a juvenile delinquent trying her first reefer.”

“Poor premise—but I get the idea.”

[Pg 288]

“And what?”

She turned and smiled with excess brightness at George, when he carried in the round, silver tray.

“And what—?” She revived the question. “Just as your cute little Paulie-pie was getting interesting—and I thought, interested—he talked himself right into going on the hunt for his Marcia again!”

“That’s too bad.”

“It’s too bad—and what are you going to do about it?”

“Remember what I said concerning how I don’t like girls when they drink too much? Even a little bit too much?”

Yvonne gulped explosively. “All right, then! So I call up Gwen! And that’s your fault!”

“Telephone’s right beside you.”

She looked at it sulkily. Then she grabbed it and gave the number.

“Hello … this is Mrs. Roland Prentiss … is Gwen Taylor there?” She stuck out her tongue at me. “Gwen, darling!… dad’s gone, at last … sure … that would be lovely … of course!”

“Ace-in-the-hole,” I said.

“Don’t be—” She shrugged and laughed restlessly. “Oh—all right. It’s my life, though, isn’t it?”

“That’s the idea.”

“Phil!”

“Present—and unaccountable.” I didn’t feel witty.

“You come with me—” She was standing and she finished the highball standing.

I shook my head. “I’m going after Paul.”

“Where?”

“Here and there.” I had one idea, anyway.

She undid her dress and stepped out of it and threw it over her arm. She looked at me for another moment with eyes both jumpy and expressionless. “You wouldn’t regret it.”

“Some other time, baby. I got to go find that cluck.”

[Pg 289]

“See you,” she said and swept out in her bra and petticoat.

This time, when I heard her shower begin, I locked my door. Then I put on a dry, newly pressed seersucker, a light silk tie, and went out before she decided to try again.

The cab tooled along Fifth Avenue a ways, dove through the Park, and rattled into a semislum section—an area of delicatessens and bowling alleys, dated, disreputable hotels, massage parlors, shrieking truck brakes, trickling electric signs, jaded cafeterias, and a crosshatch of streets narrower than the avenues, darker, lined on both sides with identical brownstones that exuded a smell of senescence and rotted brick tenements upon the façades of which hung rusty fire escapes. On the fire escapes were people, their pets, bedding and potted plants, beer pails and radios, along with their accents of Crete, Sicily and the Balkans, Bohemia and Slovakia and Sudetenland—the wonderful poor, the authority for democracy—they said, the intellectuals who had made gods of them without touching them.

I looked, listened, sniffed attentively.

Last chance.

And I remembered.

Not far away, probably torn down, probably only a greasy ghost sharing the fourth dimension of some new structure with a marquee and a doorman, was a hall bedroom within spitting distance of the curved rails of an extinct elevated railroad where I’d made my abode for a year. Not far away, the loft in which I’d earned my eighteen simoleons a week with the other sweated youths. The counters of that department store where, with the stupendous poor, I’d cut yard goods. Far away, though, the farms I’d labored on and farther still the crewmen of the freighter. In time, however, Rushford was near—the American rustic who will not call himself a peasant because he drives a Ford. Cruel, unwashed, suspicious, insanitary louts and ugly lasses—poor.

Salt of the earth. Savor of dung.

[Pg 290]

Backbone of the nation. Spineless.

In a properly informed electorate, the majority will make intelligent decisions.

Agreed.

Then, gentlemen,

shall we not inform the electorate that this is the age of knowledge? Shall we not rectify the schizoid discrepancies between these people on the fire escapes, bumpkins, and the inhabitants of penthouses? Give the good-natured fornications of the poor back to the taut middle classes? Inform the poor of the ways of children? Release the entombed libido of them all? Having done that, so they may vote sanely—having revealed the democracy of desire—how shall we set about to teach them advanced algebra, genetics, relativity, and bacteriology—so that their acts will be in some small measure relevant to the exigencies of our times?

Freedom of the mind is immured in the vaults of the Navy and the War Department and the Air Forces.

Freedom of speech is chained in the cellars of the churches.

Freedom of action is spread-eagled on the wheel of business.

There is no information in the electorate.

Instinct only.

It is a fact we had better face unless we are prepared to lose our own selves in the stunted years of an American feudalism.

Liberty, or death, gentlemen.

We who would not fight for liberty because we did not see the involvement of it are staring into the hot barrels of death.

The time for sacrifice is at hand. What have we? Production, instead! And compulsory reproduction.

I went up to Hattie’s bagnio because I am a middle-class American male in the higher brackets, of Princeton extraction, who was denied the poor man’s access to females[Pg 291] during adolescence and early maturity and who (owing probably to that abnormal deprivation) belongs to a distinguished group that makes blah per cent of its sex contacts with prostitutes, blah per cent by unorthodox means, and blah per cent with males. That is evidently why I knew the address. I went, owing to the fact that a member of the generation behind me—a prodigy, similarly conditioned—of superior stature, superior health, superior life expectancy, superior stability (sic), and a superior happiness quotient—far above the average by the tables!—had come a psychological cropper in a tart’s arms owing to the fact that the Age of Kinsey is also the Atomic Age and he, briefed in the latter, was emotionally distrait over the conundrum: how to tell the people on the fire escape all about the effect of neutrons on chromosomes—a datum to be regarded as utterly essential for political judgment. And other troubles.

Personally, I was of the opinion the poor could not be told at this late date and would have to learn by doing. Also the rich. And this judgment, while it in no way impaired my faith in democracy, and while it gave me a good assurance of the long future, singularly blighted my assessment of so-called democratic practices in the land during the past century and filled me with a ribald contumely for the poor-doting, poor-blind, wisdom-spurning, technologically blank intellectuals, together with nearly everybody else.

I wanted to get my nephew out of a jam before he got into one.

This is a sentiment I bear toward all humanity.

My successes in its prosecution are, sometimes, trivial.

Besides which

a man who thinks he is soon to die

enjoys kiting around in a city he has cherished all his life, among the people he loves, at night, in a cab.

I rode up through the marble lobby and past the floor-ledges of the building in the gold elevator cage with the colored boy whose face showed no trace of his fascinating,[Pg 292] perennial opportunity to look upon (before and after) the persons and countenances of hundreds of the great, the prominent, and the rich, who were not quite satisfied with the legal sex mores of their environment and the permissions of their acquaintances.

I inhaled the many-doored hallway.

“Hattie,” said Viola, “is out at a party.”

“Is my nephew Paul here?”

She shook her elegant head. “He hasn’t been in.”

Well, I could have phoned. Why didn’t I?

“Miss Taylor’s here.” The jungle-bright eyes sloped darkly toward me and away.

“Is she? I thought—”

“I’ll call her.” She led me to the same room—Hattie’s parlor.

I sat down. I could stick around a while. Paul might not come here, in his humiliating chase. He probably would. He’d had—no doubt—other leads to check first.

Gwen appeared. She was wearing her hair down, tonight, and a silk dress the color of a new penny. A matching dress. “‘Lo, Phil.” She walked gracefully to the phonograph, clicked records, turned dials, and filled the room with soft bongoses, maracas, the background thud of a conga drum.

“I thought you were going downtown?”

“Soon. Did you mind—about last night?”

“Tonight—I never mind about last night. Rule of my life. Look, Gwen. How did you know—so quickly—exactly what that gal was like?”

“I told you,” she said. “I get feelings.”

“I don’t. Just surprises.”

“You try to think,” she said. “Figure. Then you go by the results of that. It’s no good. You just—relax—and see what your sensations are.”

“We were never allowed to relax about it. From the cradle to the crematory—we have to be either tensely on guard or else proficiently on the job.”

[Pg 293]

“It’s a wonder people like you ever have babies.”

“We don’t have many.”

Gwen smiled. “On guard?”

“And proficient.”

“Nature’s way,” she said, “of reducing the number of real dopes! Tell me something.”

“Sure.”

“If Yvonne hadn’t busted in last night—?”

“The answer is no.”

“That’s what I thought.”

“It wasn’t you.”

She stirred her red-brown hair. “I know that. If it had been me—if I’d thought so—I’d have repressed my own feelings about your blonde roommate.”

“What’s going to happen to her?”

Gwen curved one shoulder toward me and straightened it—a shrug that dismissed responsibility. “How do you think a girl like me feels—about one like her? She has everything. She’s always had it. And thrown herself away.”

“Save the tough act for somebody you can fool!”

Gwen came over and put her fingers in my hair and turned my head up and kissed me where it wouldn’t show. “She wants to know—that’s all. Why shouldn’t she? She’s been dying all her life from not knowing.”

“A hundred and fifty million people—”

“Save out a few million, Phil. Not everybody has the sordid past or no past at all—or none to speak of. Some just grow up naturally.”

“I’d like to meet ’em.”

“Oh—” she sat down near me—”you’d never know, anyhow. Because if you found out—or anybody found out—they couldn’t go on being natural any longer. It’s against the law to be a person in this world. Naturalness—that relaxation I spoke of—has to stay in the bootleg department, to stay at all.”

“Pity.”

[Pg 294]

“You’re telling me!” She thought awhile. “I’ll give you some news. I don’t know whether Hattie would, or not. Marcia’s here.”

I waited till a small shock was absorbed. “Yeah?”

“Came in this afternoon.”

“What doing?”

“Working.”

“Why?”

“Want to talk to her?”

“Yeah.”

She kissed me again. “If the unfaithful mood ever comes over you—”

“Don’t count on it.”

She chuckled. “You’re one of the lucky ones. Only—you don’t know it. That’s the way they are, mostly.”

“Some compliment.”

She nodded. Her metallic hair swung before my eyes. She got up from the arm of my chair. “So long! Don’t worry about—you know who.”

Marcia came to the door in a few minutes. She was wearing a black dress—a thin black dress and—nothing else. Her blue eyes were defiant.

“Hi!”

“Paul is apt to barge in here any minute.”

“I know. I thought he might.” She shut the door.

I went over to the window and squinted through the dark heat at the Jersey rivage. “He might. And you were going to have him sent in. You were going to go through a prepared routine. You were going to disillusion him—but quick—break his heart right now—and get it over with. You were going to tell him about the cute salesman who dropped in around four. The newspaper publisher who stopped by at five. The nice banker who hung around till he was late for dinner. And the college kid who’d just left.”

“You read minds,” she said.

“Don’t.”

[Pg 295]

“Why not?” She walked over to me. “What else? All you had to do the other day was to take one quick look at me and see I was a tramp. Oh—I could feel you paw me. I could see you putting your damned twenty bucks on my bureau. You knew—so you knew how to look. And—sooner or later—everybody would know. And know how to look. And look that way. And where would a good kid’s wife be, then?”

“You might have thought of that sooner,” I said, ignoring the false charges for the moment.

“I suppose I make the world go around! What did I think about? What would anybody think about? They’d think—this is how a sweet guy treats a nice girl. This is how he talks. This is how he holds your hand. Holds your hand, for God’s sake! You’d get a real kick out of that—the realest one you’d had in years. You’d think—maybe. Maybe the life could end. Maybe I could have an apartment someplace and kids and a guy people respected. Maybe I could get into the bridge games and the theater parties and the midnight snacks next door and the church suppers, even, and drive a sedan around a suburb, buying groceries at the chain stores and not forgetting to pick up Junior’s shoes.”

“Forsaking all others?”

“Yes,” she said, “I thought about that, too! I’m human. Feelings come over me. I’m maybe even like a kleptomaniac that can’t resist a box of tacks in a hardware store or a pair of cheap earrings on a counter. Maybe I could learn to choke it down. Control it. I did—for months.”

“And now?”

“Now it doesn’t matter.”

“Months isn’t years.”

Her eyes fixed on mine. They were not defiant now—but speculative. “Sure. So I’m human. So Paul knew that. I told him he couldn’t expect a letter-perfect show, forever.”

“Did you?”

[Pg 296]

“Certainly, I did. And what did he say? He said I couldn’t expect one from him, either.”

“He’s being pretty—devoted—right now.”

“That’s what has to stop. That’s why I hope he does come in here. That’s why I asked Hattie to let me stay here—instead of just putting me on the phone exchange, the way it used to be. I wanted to go back with a bang. After the way you looked me over the other noon—that’s exactly what I wanted to do.”

“Funny.”

“I see nothing funny.”

“I thought—you were looking me over.”

She sat down suddenly—folded in the middle and dropped into a chair. “You did?”

“Yes, I did.”

“Well—here I am.” She spoke in a low tone—not with resignation, not with spite. “All you have to do is say so.”

I skipped that. “Marcia, I never needed to consider what sort of person you were. All I needed to think about was what sort of guy Paul is. And I could see—I thought I could—the whole thing coming apart—slowly, painfully, rottenly—”

“Go on. Play God with us poor mortals.”

“My opinion—that’s all—sure. I know Paul pretty well, though.”

“Better than I do?” She grinned sarcastically.

“Better. I know better what he comes from. Then I saw you. I had the impression, Marcia, that your maternal instincts were involved. You were pulling the child to your warm breast and nourishing his starved little body. Feelings like that. No-good feelings, for wives.” She had sucked her lips into a point; she glanced at me almost with fear; so I went on. “Maybe you thought about running errands for his kids. But actually you did more thinking about fondling his emotions—taking care of him—working for him. And you even did work. You sat there in the Knight’s Bar looking[Pg 297] at Paul like a proud female parent—like a doting mother sharing in her son’s discussions of his conquests. You were the conquered—but you were the string-pulling mamma, too. Take it or leave it—that’s how I felt you felt about him! And then I caught you looking at me—looking at me the way a girl with warm insides looks at a man. So if I didn’t give you the impression I was struck silly with the possibilities of the match—that’s also why. I’m sorry—but there’s the whole answer.”

She was breathing evenly—but more deeply than anybody needed to breathe, just sitting. Down the hall, doors opened and shut. Raucous, faintly nervous male laughter echoed. “Some of the boys from the convention,” she said, almost reluctantly—as if she found it necessary to explain so I wouldn’t stop, and as if she was afraid the explanation would stop me.

I looked at her—at a breathing, beautiful girl—and I thought for a moment about the canoe-hats. Then I shook it off. “If a good gal—a sweethearted dame who had no stomach for the life—had started living with Paul, I’d have objected. In your case—I didn’t believe you were even that—”

Feet marched on happy excursions down the hall. Somebody tried the door—opened it, to his surprise—and apologized gruffly without daring to carry the impulse through and look in.

Marcia was staring at me. “So all right,” she said. “Paul’s just a little kid. He’s not even a good boyfriend. Too jittery. I thought I could teach him. He doesn’t really want to learn. He thinks a dame is made of soap bubbles and lives on a pedestal a mile high. He thinks sex is something for pack trips in the mountains and spruce boughs. I got sick to death of his pack-trip monologue! Who wouldn’t? Lying with a guy on a good inner-spring mattress and listening to him yak about pine needles! Drenching myself in cologne—and hearing him rave about stable smells! I was[Pg 298] ready to spring myself, when we had that lunch. And you gave me the excuse. I’d saved up mad enough for six girls—and I let him have it.”

“He asked for it.”

“Did he!”

“But you gave him the wrong medicine. Why didn’t you tell him it wasn’t the disapproval of an uncle—the looks to come from men—but—the spruce routine?”

“Haven’t you any feelings? That was his dream. Why louse that up, too? Let him dream! Someday, God knows, he may even meet one of those spruce-loving dopes with cute little things in her flannel blouse and her jodhpurs. Let him have her! I got tired of my uptown personality the minute I realized it led straight to the Rocky Mountains—and the farther from camp the better.”

“He grew up in the West.”

“Pardon my spurs!” Tears filled her eyes. “I’m a sap, too. For a while—I really was in heaven. I really thought—this is love. Ye gods! What can happen to people who should know better is—unfair to humanity! And then I began looking for an out. I worked. Sure. Honest working wife—for a couple of weeks. Then—working wife has lunch with the floor manager—in a hotel room rented for the lunch. One club sandwich—and one good, busy change from Paul. Then the stockboy—a hot-looking wop with long hair—took me out in his department to show me the new materials—and the place was deserted. So I knew I was a sap!”

I thought that over. “I’m glad you told me. I know how it is. I don’t mind. It’s you—and that’s that. But there’s one thing I wish you’d do. Write Paul a letter. Don’t try to teach him a lesson by letting him see you here. He’d just tear up the place—or maybe hurt you—”

“We’ve got a boy in the kitchen to take care of rough stuff.”

“So Paul would get tossed on the street. And come back. And you’d have to call cops. I’m sure Hattie knows the ones[Pg 299] to call. Then I’d get a buzz from jail. And Paul would have that indignity to sweat out—on top of everything else. Don’t you see he holds the whole business against me—and he likes me? Against family, friends, the kind of people from whom he comes? Against the people he cares about—and the way of life he’s been brought up in? If you’d write him the truth—he could transfer the damage to the place where it belongs. He’d hate you for a while—and what would that mean to you? Nothing. By and by—he’d see that he didn’t even hate you—maybe even liked you. Understood. Then he’d be pretty grown up. Enough to hate the way we do on the earth, all of us, if he had to go on hating anything.”

Marcia smiled gently. Her eyes were inaccessible. “You’re right. I liked you—at lunch.”

“Good.”

“It could be. I’ll tell you what. I’ll write—on one condition.”

“What?”

She moved quickly. She moved into my lap and put her arms around me. “My room’s just three doors from here.”

I didn’t say a word.

“You’ll remember it all your life. And I’ll have something to remember, too. Paul’s uncle! They all go for Marcia! Then—there’s about Gwen—”

“What?”

“She told us this afternoon. I’m jealous of Gwen. I’d like—just for once—to fix her. After all—you’re not like Paul; it isn’t as if you’d never met a girl in my trade before. What have you got to lose? And I’ll write that letter. When he sees it—he’ll toss his damned torch in an icebox.”

What about this Greater Love stuff? I asked myself.

She was kissing me—giving me, not invitations, but commands.

I got up with her and set her on her feet.

“No, baby. You’re something. I don’t blame Paul. But I play only for myself. Never mix romance in a deal.”

[Pg 300]

She slapped me and ran out of the room.

My ears ring all the time, anyway—night and day, day and night, as in the song, a sound like spring peepers at a distance, sometimes like a million dinner bells tinkling, tinkling, tinkling, and at other times like a flutenote I’d give a great deal to stop. They rang harder, now. She’d hit with her hand taut and compressed hard air against the shrill, soniferous membrane. It hurt like the dentist. I scrunched myself together and let the sweat roll and looked out the window. The pain calmed down and I kept staring out, hating the earth, afraid, miserable, cheap. I fought back.

Once upon a time, billions of years ago, there was a Knower who is identified these days by the name of God.

He was totally conscious.

He was the Custodian, which is to say the Other Property, of mass-energy and space-time. He was the sublime entropy of the primordial atom, It, the universe, the stable pattern, the All, harmoniously balanced, a fixed ecstasy unmoving and so without Age.

Unfortunately, He-She developed an Ego. (Serpent? Eve? The Old Adam?)

It occurred to Him that the perfection whereof he was the Cognizant Comptroller might be more interesting if set in motion. A slight swirl, perhaps: something gentle, along an elliptical path.

(Such an impulse, of course, expresses a Flaw in God’s consciousness, or perhaps only an extra electron in the whole, or—it may be—the infinite tedium of Infinity; most likely of all, the idea that Perfection is predictably unpredictable.)

Anyhow—one deduced that He gave all His electrons and His positrons a twist. Naturally, there followed an explosion. Naturally, this puffed Space into existence, to make room for itself.

(Out went the windows, the doors, and the walls.)

[Pg 301]

It follows that a fragment was a writer in the pre-Sanskrit tongues, and another was Abbé le Maître.

Of course—we want to be God’s Little Helpers, wee bits of Him, and put it back together again so as to become Timeless composites of His Awareness.

Shall we, therefore, on the epochal day when the island universes start homing, be wise enough to rejoice?

When brighter, brighter, brighter glows the firmament?

When night becomes as day, and day as a blast furnace?

(Or—will the infalling clots by then be cold and ourselves so drowned and immobilized at the bottoms of hydrocarbon oceans as to be already avid for one more experimental whirl?)

Think why you fornicate! Is it not to bring together again these thunderous, silent fires? To perform your little, local reassertion of the reburgeoning I-am-so-God-is?

Look at the stars! What suitable illumination shines for love from every pretty pore of heaven!

Look at the city! The noisiest palaver of tenement, of factory and store—the talked-up edifices that speak back anathema—(removed some ways, or in some degree) lose their ugliness. Even they are like the stars which are beauty at a distance and might be beautiful close up—if you knew how to see, there.

Heat’s haze—night’s dark—snow—the gentle perspectives.

Look at the night!

The infernal Jersey shore battled the oblivion with Mazda bulbs, neon, sizzling arcs, and the globe’s shadow eliminated all but beauty. Lights swam on the river. Antediluvian animals with pairs of red-green eyes swam up and down the Hudson. Fish from the abyss—mammoth—with ladders of light along their shining sides surfaced and sloshed in the current, hooting and humming. Ah, Jersey! Fields of phosphorescent flowers and hills set out with lantern-bearing trees! Night-blooming paradise! The magic is our own—col[Pg 302]lective. What matter that beneath one particular lavender string of streetlights mad boys pitch clinking pennies—curse—push frowsy, young, reluctant girls up alleyways—and mad, obscene old men tipple in bars that reek with millenniums of human hellishness—and mad, subpersonal old women maliciously fling slops in the yards of their neighbors? This is not the one man but his panorama.

For can they not, all of them, stinking of their sweat and overswarming with diseased intent, look east across their river and see a pattern of illumination that would have made Nero hang himself with envy and Rameses change his gods?

Manhattan!

They look. Great Heaven, they never see!

Directly below, on the sidewalk, a woman went one by one through the circular pools of street light. I could hear her heels crossing my life and every time she reached a new radiant circle I could see she had golden hair. The very beasts in the river ceased boasting to let her print the small, enchanting sound of woman’s passage on the attentive dark. Her dress was green.

I soon took my leave.

7

My double bed was a sea and I was its derelict.

I read an article by a steelmaker that tish-pished those who are concerned over the possible exhaustion of America’s iron ore. Run out in twenty years? this tycoon asked. Ridiculous! There is iron enough for a century and no corporation is anxious at all, where such extensive futures can be seen.

I gave this oaf a hundred years to come to his senses in the third generation.

It was an insufficient period. The iron ran out and he[Pg 303] still foraged—a ghost rummaging in the raped premises of his great-great-grandchildren.

Go rue the deserts man’s already made!

Paul didn’t come.

I read some poetry I could not understand in Harper’s.

I got out the medical book on cancer and looked at throats for a while.

I took the Gideon Bible from the bureau drawer and read the Thirteenth Chapter of First Corinthians.

Then Psalms, awhile.

Then Luke, awhile.

I went into my bathroom and swallowed one of Tom’s capsules.

8

It could have been morning; it could have been night; the light on the airfield was such as seeps across the northern pole in winter. Engines hiccupped and caught fire within themselves. Gouts of blue fire streamed from their steel nostrils and human figures warily aimed extinguishers as they crouched under the great wings. One B-29—a special craft—sucked up its ladder.

“Good luck!” a thin voice called.

The slam of a hatch replied. The plane snorted, bellowed, vibrated against its chocks, and lurched about. Like a house on casters—like a house-sized aluminum insect, it moved in the opalescent murk.

There was a pause.

At Flight Control, the ground officers of the Twentieth Air Force made a last check. It was not sergeant’s work, or lieutenant’s. Brass looked at the weather maps—high brass read the bulletins, squinted into the instruments, followed the meterological balloons, talked through telephones. Anxious brass at the hangar interrogated the mechs—studied the quadruple checks, the four-colored V’s ranged after a list of thirteen hundred and eleven critical parts of[Pg 304] a very heavy bomber. In the officers’ mess, captains, young majors, young lieutenant colonels filled their trays, walked to the tables, sat, listened while the juke box sang—

My mammy done tole me—

Listened not to the song but to the quartet of motors on the gloomy, loud field.

Above the coughing and the clamor, the roar and thump of other engines—came the long run, tightening nerves.

“There she goes!”

“War’s over.”

“Shut up! And who told you, lieutenant, anyhow? And what?”

The ship—wider than she was long and just under a hundred feet from tailfin to bombardier’s glass snout—gained altitude. Below, the island sank in the sea of air—palms, runways, warm, damp tropical odor of mold, hangars and administration buildings, flags.

There was now only the sky and the Pacific….

They would—someday—laugh at the B-29 even while they admired her, and more especially, the men who flew her. Schoolkids in a museum of the far centuries—walking along plush ropes—examining the early aeronautical exhibits. “What a clumsy contraption! How dangerous! They used to explode in the air, you know. They could only fly about five thousand miles—bumped along at three hundred an hour. Hour, mind you! What on earth did they do to pass the time in such tight quarters? They fought with guns—yeah—those tubes. Central fire control, they called it—they could shoot eleven pairs at once. Shoot? A chemical explosion that pushed streamlined bits of metal from the tubes at low velocities—fast enough, though, to kill a man—or bring down such a crazy craft. Who’d think—one just like that—took the first real missile—?”

The bright kids-to-be, perhaps. Their galleons and triremes.

She took off—the then-perfect air-frame, slick and silver[Pg 305] —a multiplicity of engineering feats. She climbed. Five thousand. Eight.

“Okay. Pressurize.”

The ears, hearts, lungs of sixteen men lost the feel of altitude and swiftly accepted the bubble of air that now flew in a metal skin.

Colonel Calm turned over the controls to Major Waite. The colonel’s famous fighting smile flashed upon the proud navigator, the flight engineer, the idle bombardier, and the co-pilot. “You know the course, major.”

The course, he meant, to the enemy.

The major had set plenty of cities on fire in his time. His brief time; he was twenty-six. Twenty-six years old and he’d flown courses that had burned out, smothered, smashed, and otherwise eliminated something on the order (he figured, being a man of mathematical bent) of three billion hours of human life. Expunged on that milk run. (You take the average life expectancy in enemy cities, multiply by days in a year and hours in a day, and multiply that by two further factors: average fatalities in a raid and number of raids led by Major Waite. Three billion man-woman-child hours, conservatively).

Colonel Calm glanced at Mr. Learned, the lone journalist permitted to go along—to write the eyewitness account. Mr. Learned sat on a parachute, his spectacles aslant, his hair awry, lost sleep whitewashed on his sharp countenance. His knees made a desk for an aluminum hospital chart board and on this, on yellow paper, using a pencil of a soft sort with which his pockets bulged, he scribbled. Once, he hitched at the collar of his unfamiliar uniform. A moment later, he glanced up. He smiled.

Colonel Calm nodded and scrambled into the tunnel that ran to the rear of his ship.

It was a journey he detested.

The passageway—a straight, metal intestine lined with cloth—traversed the bomb bay and was of a diameter suffi[Pg 306]cient to contain one crawling man. If a pressurized B-29 were hit badly—or if it blew a blister—a man in the tunnel would be rammed through it by compressed air like a projectile and hurled against a bulkhead—head first, or feet first—at the speed of a hundred and sixty miles an hour.

The colonel crawled—gnawed by claustrophobia. He pushed his chute ahead in the dim tube—because that was regulations. He wished he had chosen to drag it, instead. The thing stuck. He lunged up over it and his ribs came in contact with the curved top of the tunnel. He was half-jammed there. Sweat broke out on him—he tried to breathe—his ribs hurt. He could yell—they could get a rope around his foot and haul him back. He inched clear of the chute—pushed it forward, and went on more slowly, struggling now with the afreets of panic—putting them down like mutineers, savagely.

Now he thought of the bomb bay—the oblong maw atop which he fought his way. Big as a freight car. Big as two garages set end to end. Big enough to hold—how many horses? A dozen? And what did it contain?

His sweat dried up. His skin pimpled. Coldness seemed to flush the tube as coldness flushes a belly into which ice water has been gulped. Was the air here invisibly alive? Did uranium exude invisible, lethal rays—like radium? Or did it lie inert—in uncritical masses of unknown sizes (but not big)—waiting for union?

He went on.

When, at last, his head appeared at the far end of the tunnel he wore, again, his placid fighting smile.

The top CFC man dawdled in his swivel chair. The two blister gunners nodded and looked back into the neutral nothing of their provinces. The third chap smiled softly.

Colonel Calm came down the ladder, stretched, picked up his chute familiarly, and went on to the radar room. It was, he thought, glancing back at the tunnel opening, hardly[Pg 307] bigger than a torpedo tube. The craft in many ways resembled a submarine, when you thought about it.

There were four men in the radar room. Two at tables. One squatting, rocking with the plane’s slight motion; and one stretched on the Army cot. He saw the colonel.

“‘Shun!” he bawled.

“At ease, for God’s sake!” Colonel Calm went to an old man who stared into the hood of a scope with the fascinated pleasure of a child seeing his first stereopticon slides. “Well, doctor? How is it going?”

Sopho glanced up—and he smiled, too. That was the thing about the colonel’s mouth and eyes: you saw and you also smiled. Even when the kamikaze had connected, when Number 3 engine was on fire—pluming smoke and the CO2 wasn’t making headway, when flak splashed black flowers on the morning, when tracers rose like tennis balls, the deck was slick with gunners’ blood, and when the inadequate, high, freezing air whistled through the ship—scaling fast, bits of plexiglass. Even then, he smiled—and you smiled back—and went on.

“Wonderful gadget,” Dr. Sopho said, pointing to the hood, within which the colonel could see a scanning light-streak and the radiant wake, following and fading perpetually. “After this trip,” the scientist went on, “maybe we can go back to work. Real work. Maybe—” he pointed at the scope—”use that for saving a few lives, instead.”

“Hope so.” The colonel thought of his tedious wife—of weary years in Washington—desiccated military establishments in Texas—the drain and drag of peacetime. “Hope so,” he lied. “Everything set?”

Sopho grinned. “Hope so.”

“There’s a chance of a dud—?”

“Some. Partial dud, anyhow.”

The colonel seemed agitated. “In that case, wouldn’t they get the secret?”

The old man had a goatee. He reached for it. “Yes. Yes,[Pg 308] they might. And spend the next twenty years trying to put one together.”

Colonel Calm continued down a narrow passage and opened a small door. Freckles Mahoney was taking his ease at the breeches of his tail guns—rocked back—staring at the vault where the powdery light was least. Daydreaming of a gum-chewing, short-haired, underbreasted Kalamazoo High School babe—and keeping his eyes peeled.

The door shut.

The colonel nerved himself for the return passage. Worse than being born—so far as he could remember. Dragging a placenta of parachute and harness through an aluminum canal with an atomic bomb beneath. He gave the three gunners his smile and they did not know it was—this time—a smile of fighting himself. At any rate, he thought, after one more crawl through eternity he could stay in the control compartment, forward. Unless Sopho wanted him.

He took hold of the ladder, sighted through the black tube to freedom’s eye at the far end—and his blood turned to water.

Three men besides the gunners?

He felt horror between his shoulder blades—gun, knife, and worse. He checked crew and passengers.

He pretended to be untangling his chute straps, preparing to go through the round-eyed hell. Jordan on the top blister. Smith left, here. White right—and the unknown man beside him. No visible rank. Coveralls—insignia worn or torn off. Bearded like a submariner or the men he had relieved on Guadal. Hawk nose, brown eyes—extraordinarily intelligent, too—firm mouth, a gentle, definitely civilian look. Never saw him before.

This, the colonel realized, was obviously impossible.

He’d trained the crew, himself—picked each man, with special help from Headquarters—and met all the passengers weeks ago—old Sopho last—but, still—weeks ago.

Each member of the company—cleared, checked, quad[Pg 309]ruple-checked, traced by G2 back through every childhood peccadillo, back through generations. Truman himself couldn’t have got a man on board without the colonel’s okay—his invitation and acquaintance.

He felt sick and feeble; he clung to the ladder under the tunnel mouth and staggered as the B-29 dived ponderously through a downdraft. Some last-minute thing, he decided; certainly the impossible passenger did not appear to be dangerous. One could not look at him and think of sabotage at the same time. These bloody, accursed, God-damned scientists! Very Important Person—he looked every inch a VIP—a VIP in science, not military affairs. No bearing to speak of—and that kindly smile at the corners of that mouth.

Last-minute stuff.

It would be assumed the colonel knew—but his four-way check had slipped.

When he returned to base—chevrons would fall. Lieutenants, captains, majors would drop back a grade.

See who he is.

The colonel went over to Smith, squatted.

“Skipper!” Smith said, returning the smile, the Air Force treasure.

The ship thrummed. Buzzed. Hummed. Ate air. Hurried toward the enemy islands.

Colonel Calm feigned to look from the blister. He supposed he saw, in the gray below, the corrugations of the Pacific, and above, the pearly heavens, the solid stretch of wing, the streamlined engine-housing. They were there, at least.

“The man with White. His name. Can’t think of it.”

“Chris.”

“Chris what?”

Smith seemed embarrassed. “All I know. He came through the tunnel half an hour ago. ‘Call me Chris,’ he said. And he said, ‘Mind if I sit?'”

[Pg 310]

The smile was a mask. He could keep it on his face even now. Eyes lighted up by the battery of will, corners crinkled, lips relaxed, a human twitch of the nose—man-loving, disdainful of blood and death, enemy and calamity. He could.

Came through the tunnel.

The man had not been in the control cabin, to begin with.

No bearded man.

No—Chris.

The colonel turned on his bent toes, the stranger watching.

Should he jump the guy?

Tell Smith to dive in with him?

Go back for a pistol and shoot from the tunnel?

The man smiled pleasantly.

Colonel Calm stood up, went round the post and track—the high barber’s chair—and the gear and machinery that subtended the gunner in the top blister.

“Hi,” the colonel said.

“Wonderful—a ship like this!”

“I’ve forgotten your last name.”

“Chris.”

“Oh. I don’t believe I’ve had the pleasure—?”

The man held out his hand. “We’ve met. It was long ago, though.”

Colonel Calm had the momentary sensation of remembering. Seen him somewhere—that’s a fact.

Chris was smiling. “My being along was arranged late.”

“I see.”

“You’ll want to look over my papers, perhaps? My orders, I should say.”

“Yeah. White House stuff?”

The man shrugged. “Pretty high up, I’ll admit.” He began unbuttoning his coveralls.

The colonel wished the man would stop looking so[Pg 311] directly at him. Powerful eyes—like a lot of those scientific birds. They could, with a glance, give you an impotent sensation—a feeling that you weren’t in command at all. A feeling that they commanded a force which could outlast you and would defeat you in the end. They made you feel—Christ bite them!—like a tin soldier, sometimes. And yet—high up. VIP. This was a trick mission—the trickiest of the war. You couldn’t afford to make a fool of yourself. “Never mind,” the colonel said. “My major probably checked you in—and forgot to mention it. The strain—”

“I know your major, yes. Sad.”

“Sad? Greatest flying officer who ever took a plane off a base!”

“Cold-blooded.”

“Right! Veins full of liquid helium. Have to be!”

“Have to be? Perhaps. I always hesitated—though—to think of men as numbers.”

The colonel felt relieved. Major Waite’s discussion of flight plans—his harangues in the briefing rooms—sometimes left the colonel a little chilled. Emptied-out. Obviously this Chris knew the major. He wasn’t—fantastically—impossibly—an agent of the enemy. Now the colonel gestured toward the bomb bay—the radioactive uterus of the plane. “You—helped put it together?”

The man seemed to grow pale. His smile disappeared. “No.”

“Then what—? In God’s name what—?”

“I am here,” Chris said in so low a tone his voice scarcely carried through the pulsing air, “because I promised.”

“Promised? Promised who—when—?”

“Because I said it. Lo, I shall be with you always, even unto the end of the world.”

The colonel stared—and remembered. He turned the color of ashes. His right hand, ungoverned, made upon[Pg 312] brow, shoulders and chest the sign of the Cross. His knees bent tremblingly.

But before he could genuflect the man called Chris touched his arm. “Don’t, colonel!”

The officer, in his distraction, was muttering a woman’s name, over and over.

Chris smiled painfully. “I am here.” He glanced, then, at the watching gunners.

The colonel looked that way, too, and recovered something of his fighting smile. They were—after all—his command. It wouldn’t do to let them see him prostrate. The gunners responded to the direct glance—and the return of the smile—by a brightening of their eyes and a faint curving of the corners of their mouths; their attention went back to duty—the duty of scanning the void outside the domes of plexiglass.

“My Lord—” the colonel all but whispered—”what shall we do?”

“Return.”

The soldier’s eyes faltered. “Abort the mission!”

“I hoped I might persuade you.”

“Another would merely follow—!”

“And them.”

“But—duty!”

“To whom is duty?”

A head appeared in the round mouth of the tunnel. Learned, the journalist, grinned like an imp. “Nasty crawl,” he yelled. “Hope they’ve got that thing well insulated. Otherwise—I’m unsexed—or hotter than radium myself!” He saw the stranger, and halfway down on the ladder stood still. His eyes, ordinarily shrewd and compassionate, showed first a little amazement—and then twinkled. “A ringer! You would pull one like that, colonel! The American press wants to know who he is!” Learned chuckled and dropped to the metal floor. Strode the two steps forward. Gave his name.[Pg 313] Held out his hand. Explained himself. “You’re a physicist, I take it?”

“My name is Chris.” The dark eyes were luminous and kind.

“Chris who?”

The colonel took the journalist’s arm in a hand like steel and whispered.

Learned, also, grew pale. He stared first at the colonel and then, uneasily, he eyed the stranger. Twice, the gleam of sardonic doubt shone. And twice, with all his will and concentration, he endeavored to make some satirical reply: to say, skeptically, that this would be the greatest interview in two millenniums.

Or to ask how things were in the Blue Up Yonder.

He failed. He—too—abruptly knew. The resources of his training abandoned him—left but the residue of naked personality. His tongue circled his lips. He gave the stranger another uncertain glance, a hopeful glance—and suddenly, on the impulse, took out his cigarettes and offered them.

Chris shook his head. “Thanks, Learned.”

“Do you mind—”

“Of course not.”

Now the journalist and the colonel shakily fumbled with cigarettes and the wavering flame of a match.

Chris had turned. He was looking expectantly toward the narrow door that led to the radar room and from it, presently, Sopho came. “Thought I’d run a counter through the tunnel,” he began. “Check things.” He saw Chris. “Hello! Didn’t realize I hadn’t met the ship’s full complement.”

The colonel and the reporter watched.

“My name is Chris, doctor.”

“Can’t place you. The Chicago Group, perhaps. I didn’t meet them all.”

“No.”

[Pg 314]

“Army, then? White House? OSS? I’m a physicist. Sopho’s the name.”

“This man,” said Learned, in a hoarse, uneven voice his ears had never heard before, “comes from—another place.” He told the physicist.

Dr. Sopho’s right thumb and forefinger touched his small beard. Across the back of his hand—tanned to leather by his long residence in the desert—skin pimpled and the reddish hairs rose. The tiny phenomenon passed—passed like the eddy of air that dimples still water and disappears. His great head with the thin nose and the straight, exaggerate brow bent forward attentively. He was searching the stranger for obvious signs of madness. It became apparent that he found none.

“Incredible,” he murmured.

“You do not believe me?”

The scientist shook his head. “My dear fellow—I do not even believe in you. So—naturally—” He turned with abruptness to the colonel. “How did he get aboard? His papers?” He now saw the colonel’s frantic, imploring eyes. “Great God, man—you don’t accept—?”

“It’s the truth,” Colonel Calm responded.

Sopho looked quickly at Learned—who glanced away.

The scientist seemed, for the first time, alarmed. Not alarmed at the statement made by the man but at its effect upon two persons whom he had considered impervious to wild suggestion. Obviously, it was up to him to break the lunatic’s spell. Some fabulous stowaway—and the journalist and the soldier—drawn overfine by the magnitude of this mission—had become prey to imagination.

One humors the mad—at any rate, to begin with. “I see,” said Sopho.

He now faced the stranger—who stood in their midst. “Tell me. Just why did you decide to accompany this particular raid?”

[Pg 315]

Chris, still smiling, repeated his words about his promise—and after that, the promise.

“End of the world, eh?” Sopho chuckled. “You sure?”

“Your world—perhaps.”

“You want us to give it up? The mission?” Sopho pointed at the bomb bay. “That?”

Chris looked steadily at him. “If I remember rightly, doctor, you began the preparation of—that—” he, also, pointed—”not to use against men, but to have on hand if your other enemy employed such instruments. He did not. He lies defeated.”

Sopho nodded. “Right. Now we are using it to shorten the war. Save lives.”

“Save lives?”

“By shortening the war, man! Simple arithmetic—!”

“What about—the next war? And the next? The wars beyond that?”

“This weapon should—and in my opinion will—put an end to war.”

Slowly, Chris shook his head. “Strange reasoning. A weapon will put an end to war.”

“An absolute weapon, man! The world will never again risk going to war. Never again dare take the risk!”

“It will fear too much, you think?”

“Precisely.”

“But isn’t it fear, doctor, that has always caused men to wage war? Fear in this form today—tomorrow in that form—?”

“Can you think of a better means of ending wars—foolish wastes!—than an absolute weapon? We have changed the whole picture of war!”

“But not changed men!”

There ensued a moment without talk.

Chris presently said, “This weapon. Where it falls, the genes of men will be broken. Perhaps their children—perhaps their grandchildren—will carry the heritage. Headless[Pg 316] bodies. Eyeless faces. There—teeth everywhere. And yonder—no voice. Generation after generation, for a thousand years—this great invention will go on waging your present war, doctor, against the unborn.”

The colonel grabbed the scientist’s arm. “Is that true?”

Sopho shrugged. “In a certain per cent of cases, where radiation is extreme but not fatal—naturally, the reproductive capacity will display unpredictable, permanent damage. Recessive damage. When, however, two persons mate who exhibit matching gene deterioriation—then—as this man says—”

The colonel’s hand dropped. “I didn’t know,” he murmured. “Not certainly. I didn’t even know that you men were sure.”

Learned spoke. “War against the generations! Good—!” He checked himself.

Chris said, “Have you that right?”

Sopho replied angrily, “That’s a right implicit in any war! If you kill a soldier—you destroy all his potential progeny—not simply endanger a few of them. The same fact applies to civilians.”

“You do not,” Chris answered, “corrupt the children of the survivors for centuries to come. No.” He meditated a moment. “If the salt of the earth shall lose its savor, wherewith shall ye resavor it?”

Sopho said, “If changing man’s environment will not change the evil of war—”

“Evil?” Chris repeated questioningly. “But does not man always believe his wars are just? Whatever cause—whichever side?”

Sopho ignored the inquiry. “—how do we change man?”

“Love one another,” Chris said.

A slow smile came upon the physicist’s face. “We should have loved the Nazis? And love the Jap who lies ahead?”

“Of course.” Chris nodded soberly. “If you had loved them, you would never have let them sink into the pit of[Pg 317] their despair—arm—turn upon yourselves. Had you loved them, you would have assisted them—before you were compelled to restrain them by such violence.”

“The rights of nations—” Sopho began.

“—exist in the minds of men. You did not love them. You loved yourselves. You saw torment born in them all, and saw it grow, and feared it—and stood, like any Pharisee, reciting your virtues but not lifting a finger to assist them.”

“He’s right.” Learned shook his head ruefully. “How right he is!”

“Love!” Sopho said the word scornfully. “Little you know of Nature. Little of love you’ll see there!”

“It’s strange,” Chris answered, “that I see in Nature nothing else but love. Pain—yes. Sorrow—yes. Tragedy—yes. To every individual. Yet—in the sum of Nature—only love.”

Sopho’s eyebrows arched skeptically. “Do you really believe that the primitive phrases of a man who possibly existed—some two thousand years ago—could fix the attention of a modern scientist?”

“Evidently they do not.” Chris bent and peered through the round, bowed window of the ship as if he could orient himself even among the traceless clouds. He looked at them again. “I talked in very simple words, doctor, to very simple people. The extreme simplicity of the formulations should—I thought—make the concepts increasingly understandable, as men pursued truth. I advised them, remember, to know the truth. I meant all of truth. I warned them that an excessive fascination with worldly goods—to the exclusion of inner goodness—would undo all peace of mind—”

Sopho chuckled. “Surely—we’ve pursued truth? What we carry today represents a great accumulation of truth! And I’ll also agree that most men who merely amass worldly goods—the rich—aren’t greatly interested in science. In truth. In anything but money. Still—”

[Pg 318]

Chris had raised his hand. “This ship—the bomb it carries—all the equipment and paraphernalia of the universities which lie behind it—the projects undertaken and achieved there—what are they, too, doctor—if not worldly goods?”

“Then you would have us put science aside? Stop seeking such truth—?”

“Seek truth in two ways, doctor. Within—and without.” He drew a breath, frowned and spoke again. “Love—in man—takes various forms. Love of self. Love of woman. Love of other men. Love of cosmos. Each is an altruism so designed that, through love, man shall preserve himself in dignity, procreate, and preserve all others even at the cost of his own life. Greater love hath no man than this last. Not one of these altruisms can be peacefully maintained unless the others also are given their proportionate due. The conscience of a man rises from the relatedness of these loves and is his power to interpret how valuable, relatively, each one is—not to him alone, but to all men, as each man is beholden to all. To reason only in the mind is to express the love of worldly goods, alone. Have you ever reasoned in your heart, doctor?”

“Irrational emotions! Reason has no place there!”

“But it has. As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he. You scientists refuse to study how your hearts think. Repent, I said. Confess, the churches say—and worldliness encompasses them! Join, they say. But I say, when you have yielded up your vanity you will contain the immortal love. My time is short, gentlemen. I thought to remind you.”

“I remember—!” the colonel’s lips pronounced the inaudible words.

Learned looked at the floor. “How do you tell them—now?”

Sopho said disgustedly, “Metaphysics!”

“Light was the symbol I tried to give them,” Chris went on gently. “The Cross was the symbol they adopted.[Pg 319] The pain of self-sacrifice was obvious to them. The subjective reward—incomprehensible. Thus they changed it all. I told them of many mansions. They chose this mansion or that—and scoured each other off the earth, to set one heaven in place of the heaven of those they defeated. Holy wars! Is such a thing conceivable to God as a holy war? Alas. The words—the images—the effort is still uncomprehended. I said Light. I said Truth. I said Freedom. I meant enlightenment. Yet nearly every church that uses my name is a wall against light and a rampart against enlightenment, using fear, not love, to chain the generations in terror and pain and ignorance.” He pointed again. “And now—this is called civilization, and in my name, also! Enlightenment! Knowledge!” He fell silent; but at last, smiled a little. “A few knew. A few will always know. Francis of Assisi—he guessed. Thomas à Kempis. Most who knew were church heretics in their day—as I was in mine. And what I say is still heresy.”

He became silent again. He looked from face to face. “Colonel. You are a soldier. You are ready by your profession to die for other men. It is a noble readiness. Will you turn back?”

The colonel retreated a step and leaned against the riveted bulkhead. Sweat once more broke upon his countenance, poured down; he crossed himself again and Chris sadly shook his head.

Finally the colonel could speak. “You ask me to be disloyal.”

“I ask you—only to decide in your own self—what loyalty is.”

“I cannot turn, then.”

“Learned?”

The journalist’s eyes were steady—and tragic. “Nothing would be gained. Others would merely follow in place of us.”

“I but asked you to decide for yourself—not for them.”

[Pg 320]

The journalist flushed. “In my profession we do not even agree to stand ready to die for other men. I am here not to determine, but merely to report.”

“Sopho?”

The physicist’s eyes blazed suddenly. “Yes,” he said. “I’ll go back! I was never certain. I am always ready to re-study a problem!”

Chris put his arm around the old man. “You!”

But the scientist pulled away. “On one condition.”

“And that?”

“Prove yourself!”

“But, doctor, it is you who must provide the testimony—!”

“Empirical evidence is my condition. Something measurable. Suspend, for one moment, one natural principle—”

Ruefuly, Chris laughed. “To simple men—fishermen, farmers, tax collectors—the power of any genuine conviction seemed miraculous because of its accomplishments. I healed the neurotics of my day. By suggestion, I added to the innocent gaiety of many a gathering. But even that poor, positive procedure is inverted now; many churches find their miracles in the hysterics of their own sick—bleeding, stigmata, fits!” He sighed. “Surely you, doctor, a miracle-maker in reality—are not naïve enough to ask that the very heart of truth be magically violated so you may accept truth? The evidence is—within you. I never said more. Find it there, man!”

“I thought so,” the doctor replied in a cold voice.

Chris spoke persuasively. “You could work a miracle of transformation within yourself. But—even if I should suspend the very forces upon which that possibility depends—you would exert the last resource of your ingenuity to find out by what mechanical trick I achieved your illusion, as you’d call it! Prove, doctor, that you would not!”

“Let’s see the experiment.” Sopho’s eyes were hard.

[Pg 321]

The stranger thought a moment and presently chuckled to himself. “The unsolved riddle of the cause—the source—the nature—of the energy in your atoms, doctor! Would you like to understand that next step in your science?”

“Impossible!”

Chris looked ardently at the old man.

A moment later, the scientist’s eyes shut. An expression of immense concentration came upon his features. Perspiration welled and trickled on his countenance—as on the colonel’s. Suddenly his eyes opened again. He grabbed the colonel’s arm. “Great God, man! I’ve cracked the toughest problem in physics! The thing just came to me this moment! Why! With this equation—we’ll be able to make bombs that will assure American domination for a century! I’ll win my second Nobel Prize! Every nuclear physicist’s head will swim with envy! The financial possibilities—billions!—trillions! I’ll just get it on paper—!” He broke off. “Wasn’t there—somebody else—standing here?” he said perplexedly. “Never mind! Lend me a pencil, Learned!”

“Somebody else?” The colonel shook his head. “Nobody but the three of us. And the gunners. Jesus, I wish this mission was ended! I’ve been having a terrible struggle in my conscience about it!”

Learned said, “Have you? Me—too. I kind of hate humanity today. I kept wishing—something would break down, and stop the whole thing. I get a choked-up feeling when I think of those people.”

The scientist was crouching, now—gazing at the streaming gray desolation beyond the windows. “Funny,” he said to the gunner at his side. “A minute ago—I was sure I’d got a new insight into a very complex problem. Now—I can’t even remember my approach.”

The gunner, who held palaver of the brass and all VIPs to be but one more nuisance of war, said, “Yeah?”

The B-29 flew on toward its as yet unspecified destination.

[Pg 322]

The City of Horror and Shame.

Back at the base, the brass was laying plans for a second run—to the City of Naked Sorrow.

9

A scorcher.

It was my father’s phrase and came back to me as familiarly, when I opened my eyes, as the heard reveille of my childhood. The sun glared on the dark window-blinds, penetrating them at myriad pinpoints. I remembered summer mornings in Massachusetts, Ohio, North Dakota, Jersey, and on the cool, bright shores of Lake George.

“Rise and shine, everybody! It’s a scorcher!”

The buoyant baritone of a man of God, excited by his life, frustrated in every excitement by his Faith; a man in there, as we used to say, trying.

The room was a fumarole—its atmosphere spent by my breathing and stained with the carbonic reek of yesterday’s cigarettes. Nothing came through the windows; they were open to the eye—but invisibly walled by the heat. A stratum of smoke and dust lay across a sunbeam; the light pierced it, struck the corner of a mirror, broke, and rebounded to the ceiling in a prismatic dazzle: red, green, blue, yellow, purple.

The little awl had ceased pecking my throat. I swallowed—without unnatural sensation—reached for the phone, ordered coffee, and sat up naked on the bed’s edge, leaving a damp plaster cast of myself in the sheet. I took a short shower and picked up the Sunday papers cautiously.

Karl didn’t speak.

Saving his strength for the exhaustion of the day.

Ten-fifteen.

The coffee set my nerves dancing like a swarm of gnats, without bringing relief from the deadness, the ache, the recollection of sleep in every cell—fatiguing sleep—and the yearn for youth’s restful slumber.

[Pg 323]

I dialed Paul’s Brooklyn number on the private line.

The phone rattled in his heat-trap and not even a ghost took it up to listen.

Lint on the divan—lint and threads—and I began to pick compulsively.

Nothing much in the papers.

The airlift.

(How could we, the American people, take pride in our freight flights when we had permitted ourselves to be euchered into the extravagance—only to meet force again in sillier forms? The effort was without dignity, without principle, without understanding, without sense.)

The pennant race.

(I remembered Babe Ruth.)

A call girl had been arrested, after the cops had tapped her telephone and listened. I viewed her attractive face in the tabloids and read the elaborate report of her dialogue with her clients.

(Since when had freedom stooped to tap the phones of prostitutes? What excellence of police was this, in a world community where hardly an honest man or woman remained, where half a billion people slowly starved, where thieves and cheats were commoner than spots of oil or horse-dung in streets? And how the cops enwhored Lady Liberty when they invaded the life of that busy lass! Truly dirty deeds bought their own big privacies: corporations burned their books and politicians lost their records. Mere tarts, however, had their phones tapped and their words recorded. What a splendid free nation I had come to live in! With what marvels of detective science!)

Well—not for long.

My weary effort would soon peter out.

Maybe then I could go and watch Kipling splash on his big-league canvas with brushes of comet’s hair.

I pondered for a while over those hairy comets.

Well. All of us had short arms. We all reached too far.

[Pg 324]

I dialed Dave.

Veto said he was asleep and would call me when he woke.

When will Monday come?

Never?

Why be impatient? Isn’t it better to not-know?

Not for Joe! No, no, no.

Finally, I got my chassis, frame, machine, chemical factory, over to the bridge table and, though my pilot was still missing, I began to fly better on my iron mike.

(Isn’t it great to be up-to-date?)

At noon, the phone screamed.

“Hi, boy!”

“Hey. Thanks.”

(I should have used those roses in my crise. They were there. I wasn’t.)

Dave took a fraction of a second to decide not to say what he had been about to say. Perhaps that he was afraid I’d think him foolish.

I looked at the flowers and the pilot was sitting amongst them.

“Any news of our Paul?” he asked.

“My agent lost the trail around midnight.”

“I’ve got bulletins up to three A.M.—last time he called. He’d been to Madam Blaine’s—and she’d given him the runaround.”

“Marcia’s there,” I said.

“I know. I called after that and Hattie put her on. Rough gal.”

“Yeah.”

“In a bad mood. Wanted me to come up.”

“I went there and caught her act, personally.”

Dave said, “I honest-to-God didn’t think there was any need of putting a tail on the lad. Maybe I should have. Now what?”

[Pg 325]

“Now we wait till he gets hungry, sleepy, or runs out of dough.”

“I’ll keep you posted from my end. I’ll send Charlie over to Paul’s apartment again. Do a couple of other things. And stop by later.”

“If he checks with me, I’ll let you know.”

“Good. I’ve got a meeting with my moguls right after lunch. They are trying to dream up a cycle. Yesterday—they ran through the Frankenstein possibilities and then got in your territory—animal horror. You should have been there! You would have yorked parade floats.”

“You might suggest phallic worship. Remember? They could put it in the past. You know, Mu, Atlantis, Lemuria, Ancient Rome. I doubt if the censors would gather what it was. Think it was educational. How about a documentary of Pompeii?”

“I’ll enter it on my agenda.” Dave whistled down the scale. “Some weather! I took in my human head. It had stopped shrinking. I was afraid it might explode.”

“You better pack a little dry ice in your own hat!”

“How you feeling?”

“About like Utah.”

He considered that. “Jesus,” he said. “Take it easy! Be over by and by.”

I got dressed and went downstairs.

There were people—maybe two dozen—in the Knight’s Bar, for lunch, resuscitation, or the pelt of the dog that bit them.

Not Yvonne, though. A bit early.

The city was shockingly quiet. When the traffic lights changed, sometimes, nothing else did. You could hear one car pass on the street. Even the buses seemed enfeebled: their special arrangements for traumatizing man roared, ground, and hammered only at long intervals.

The Musak was trying hymns, or an unreasonable facsimile thereof.

[Pg 326]

With twenty-one cold shrimps, a couple of ounces of mayonnaise, some lettuce, and a few gills of iced coffee inside me, I felt better.

When I got out on the sixteenth soaking pit I discovered Yvonne knocking on my door—my hall door, for a wonder. After a little bickering, I went back to the cold restaurant with her. Not too much bickering.

It was the New Yvonne. Anybody could see that. She was dressed up in dark-blue linen and she ordered crustaceans, too, on my recommendation. Then she began to talk.

“I’m going back to Pasadena on the afternoon plane,” she said. “I’ve been talking to Rol about half the morning. I talked away a fortune. But it was worth it. I told him—everything.”

“Everything?”

She nodded. Her gray eyes were gentle, inaccessible, fixed on a plane-landing a couple of thousand miles away, and night in the lamplit, lower hills of California, where the eucalyptus trees grow. She repeated the opening gambit on Long Distance:

It’s me, Rol. I want to come back…. I know you want me to…. But I don’t know if you will when…. Look! Think of why I went…. Don’t apologize! Don’t be like that! Because—Rol—me, too!

He didn’t believe her.

Then he thought it was—masochistic experiment.

Don’t you see, darling, that’s why I was so extra frantic? So weirdly angry? I had to find that out.

“Then he was jealous!” Yvonne laughed softly—happily. “I think that was good for him.”

“No doubt.”

“In the end—all he could say was, ‘Hurry! Hurry! Hurry!'”

“And you feel like hurrying?”

She spoke reproachfully. “Wouldn’t you?”

“Yes.”

[Pg 327]

“I want to have eighteen kids,” she said. “And I want them all to grow up florists and nurserymen and horticulturists. I understand me. Us. He had to spend all his time in the greenhouses because I spoiled the whole rest of his world. I’ll get him out oftener, now. Not too much. Enough.”

I looked at her—the clear amethyst irises, the gilded cascade of her hair, the expectation of her body. “You sure will.”

“I’m so—full—so—complete. So—ready.”

“There are other girls like Gwen,” I said. “Some.”

“I’ll be busy. Don’t you think? The children, for one thing. And my libido will be preoccupied, I imagine. Don’t you? And suppose I had a small emotional accident some foggy afternoon at Malibu?”

“Rol would raise hell.”

Her dimples showed. “I would try to make certain he never found out about it. My privacy. And I am quoting you, Dr. Wylie! Oh, I could hug you right here and now! And anyway—it isn’t so much something you do. It’s something to know is unlocked, that’s all. When you can—you probably never do; when you can’t—you hardly do anything but yearn; and never know for what. You know that—don’t you? That’s why Gwen—?”

I picked up her hand and looked at the big, square diamond.

“Pin none of your flowers on me, cooky. It was a dangerous prescription. I tried to weasel out of the charge that I’d compounded it. But I did. Mr. Wylie’s toxic monologue.”

“Mr. Wylie’s elixir for the self-righteous.”

“America,” I said, “is the wrong climate for taking a capsule of that so-called sin and expecting a cure. In some other country—or age—”

“Don’t orate today. I couldn’t listen.” She ate a shrimp. “I wish I knew more about you.”

“Me, too.” I went on, “Be good to Rol. Remember—[Pg 328]these high tides run out. And remember—they always come in again.”

“You going?” She said it almost without interest. She didn’t need company any more.

I nodded. “The last installment is passing through the chopper. Here’s another item, cooky. People who live in greenhouses mustn’t cast the first stone.”

For a moment, her gaze faltered.

I watched delicate changes of her color; she had beautiful skin. I watched the old stain reappear in her eyes. Her chin thrust out a little and shook a little and was firm. Her eyes turned amethyst again. “I’ll remember,” she said.

I thought she would, maybe.

“Do me a favor?” She was opening her handbag. “I haven’t told dad I was flying back. I don’t want to go through all the argument. Will you call him—after five-thirty?”

“If I don’t forget.”

She closed the bag. “I bet you would! So thanks anyhow. I can wire him—from La Guardia.”

“Safer.”

She said, “Good-bye, Phil.”

I kissed her.

10

It didn’t seem possible to work.

For half an hour I fussed around—trying to feel cooler—looking at my throat in the living room mirror and then the mirror on the medicine chest in the bathroom—hunting for a sunless spot in the forest-green sitting room—shunting the bridge table about.

I condensed the opening of Part Six in my mind, then tapped out the result on the portable. I thought Durfree would like it. Editors are fond—overfond of brevity. I took a shower and tried to write wet, but it ran down me, and my tail itched on the turkish towel. Finally, I got cutting again.

[Pg 329]

Paul showed up around four—when I had about ten pages—an hour—left to go.

He looked like an adolescent registering despair in an amateur play.

“Nothing,” he said, and he sat down listlessly in an over-stuffed easy chair that was covered with chintz in full leaf. He didn’t bother even to loosen his tie.

I looked at him and compassion melted out of me.

“Eaten?”

He nodded. “Had to. Have to keep going.”

I said, “Nuts.”

It was time, I thought, for Dr. Wylie to reverse the field. We had been running with sympathy too long.

Tears filled his eyes. “I hate to make such a spectacle of myself!”

“How right you are!”

“Phil—I’m caving in! I can’t think of another thing to do. My guts are full of ground glass. All I see—is Marcia—in my mind. I can’t go on this way—”

“Want to quit—going on that way?”

“How can I?” It sounded as if he didn’t want to quit.

I said, “Listen, Paul, if you care to go to the cleaner, the dentist and down a gantlet all at once—you can quit.”

“What do you mean?”

“Want a look at the real score? Or do you prefer to carry the torch of your slap-happy illusions forever?”

He stared. “You know something you’ve kept from me!”

“Certainly. I know a lot I couldn’t tell you if I tried.”

“For Christ’s sake—!”

“All right. And remember, you asked. You went up to Hattie’s last night—”

“That fat she-fiend—!”

“—and they said Marcia wasn’t there. But she was.”

He leaped to his feet. “I’ll grab a cab—”

I got to my feet, too—not by leaping, and stood in front[Pg 330] of him. “You’ll grab no cab, Paul. Sit down—or shall I sit you down?”

“Go on—” he said. “Tell me, then.”

“Marcia is up at Hattie’s—working.”

He looked at me dementedly and snatched the phone.

“You won’t get them to put her on,” I said. “She doesn’t want to talk to you.”

“I’m calling the cops,” he answered. “I’ll bust that joint wide open and get her out, if it’s the last thing—!”

I hung up his telephone by reaching out with my foot. “Listen, Paulo. Listen good, once. You’ve made a lot of mistakes. Some, you admit. Some, you haven’t caught on to—in spite of the infallible, scientific mind. And others—you haven’t the empirical data to guess.”

“For the love of God, say what you’re going to say!”

“Marcia is a whore. Was, is, and always will be. Sit still. I am giving you the advantage of a certain amount of background. And I am not the kind of guy who says that a girl who sells her body always sells her soul. You know it! The trouble with you isn’t Marcia—it’s neurotic stubbornness. Trying with all your might to make a cheesy setup turn beautiful. Chopping yourself down at the knees. Then—when you’re on your knees—chopping off the stump where your manhood ought to be. And so on up—through the guts and the heart. All that’s left is a crazed beezer. I had a long talk with your Marcia yesterday. If you’ll try to stay in one piece, I’ll tell you about it, in a sec. But—meanwhile—somebody ought to brief you on the fact that there may be only one kind of love in the folklore of the U.S.A.—but there are five thousand kinds in people. Marcia had a kind for you that didn’t match your sentiments for her. Look at it that way.”

Then I told him about my séance with his lambent, incorrigible girl friend.

He did listen.

I have to say that.

[Pg 331]

He listened like a man in the hands of the Gestapo trying to see if, perhaps, keeping quiet and not moving a muscle will help the pain.

When I wound it up, my compassion was coming back:

“I’m sick of it, Paul! Dave’s sweating over you when he already has plenty to keep him busy. We’ve chased around for you the whole damned weekend—both of us with other things to do, and troubles of our own. Why? We think a lot of you. Because you’re having the rough end of the rough time, we are, too. You were shot from worrying about the state of the world. A damned good-looking babe moved in on you and made it twice as rough. And you don’t understand yourself. But the time has come to shut the book, Paul. The chapter’s finished. There’s no epilogue. It isn’t one of my stories, boy. No happy ending. You couldn’t get her back if you were the chief of police. You could get her back if you were Midas—and that way you wouldn’t want her. She got a big throb out of you. She was as honest as she’s able to be—for a time. Her mother instinct kept her going awhile. But she was soon laying the boys in the back room even though she was doing your cooking, nights. She offered me a deal—and if that doesn’t cure you, son—” I racked the brain for a conclusion—”well, go on up and buy a hunk.”

He didn’t say anything.

I suppose he sat for five minutes.

His face was just—sweaty, like everybody’s—and gray, and apparently relaxed.

When he walked over to the window, I thought I’d won, and my nerves gave an inch or two—so I could go on living a little while longer, myself.

But he leaned way down, lifted his long, slatty leg, stepped out on the terrace, and hopped up on the parapet. Sixteen stories of straight wall.

I went after the God-damned fool.

He turned around and sat there.

[Pg 332]

“Don’t come any nearer,” he said. His voice was like bad brakes.

So I leaned against the sill.

He saw, quicker than I, that his ankles were in range of a dive. He pulled them up, pivoted, and stretched out on the top of the wall. It was cement—about a foot wide. And baking hot. He rocked and wriggled for a minute, took off his coat, folded it, and stuffed it under himself. While doing that, he almost lost his balance. He caught a fingerhold on the inside edge of the concrete, which stuck out over the bricks a half or three-quarters of an inch.

“Paul,” I said, “for God’s sake, come in.”

“I like it here.”

“Okay.”

“I want to think.”

“Help yourself.”

“You wouldn’t understand.”

I went back through the window and into my apartment. I was quivering like a broken spring and my mind wasn’t tracking. I shoved into the bathroom and poured a glass of water. Equal parts of fright and fury—as intense as I’d ever felt—slopped the water. I drank what was left. Then I went back to the window.

“Listen,” I said. “I can’t stop you, if you want to knock yourself off. But this is my apartment. Jump from somewhere else, will you?”

“I haven’t decided.”

“Well, then, come on in and make up your mind. I’m high-shy. I don’t like to stand on that terrace. And seeing a guy—even you—silhouetted against my skyline makes me sick at the stomach.”

“It’s the only thing I ever heard of that makes you sick! New experience for you. You like new experiences. Try to get a kick out of it.”

“Okay,” I said. “Jump, then, you yellow sissy.”

He nearly did. He swung around so his legs dangled in[Pg 333] the air—all those stories above the sidewalk. His fingers on the concrete rim turned white and his muscles vibrated.

“Paul!” I moaned at the fool.

He pulled back. “I’m not afraid,” he said—as if to himself and in a surprised tone. “It’s just that—I haven’t quite decided.”

“Please, cooky!” I put all the begging I have into it.

He shrugged. “Maybe—later.”

He let go and fished in his pockets.

“Wait,” I said.

I climbed out again with the cigarettes. Possibly—

“Toss ’em!”

I threw one—he reached—and it sailed out of sight, the sun catching it at the top of its arc. I tossed another. He got that one.

“Better go back inside,” he said.

He lighted up and commenced to smoke.

I went in.

By then I was beginning to think a little. If I had a rope, I might get it over him. Only I didn’t have a rope. And I might fail on the first try—in which case there probably would not be a second chance. If I could distract him for a bit, I still might grab him. Only, if there was any slip-up about that—he’d dive the sixteen floors. Well, then—what did you try to remind them of? How bright they were? How young? Or did you keep taunting them until they either went, or gave up? It looked as if that last wasn’t right for Paul.

My phone rang.

“Mr. Wylie? This is Mr. Harrison—at the desk.” He sounded upset. He’s a nice guy—the assistant manager.

I said, “Yes.”

His sigh seemed relieved. “Would you mind looking out your window? A woman has just come into the lobby who says there’s a man in shirt sleeves sitting on the parapet.”

“There is,” I said. “It’s my nephew, Paul Wilson.”

[Pg 334]

Mr. Harrison laughed uneasily. “Pretty dangerous—”

I glanced at Paul. He was staring straight down again. “He’s on the verge of jumping.”

“Jumping!”

“And I can’t get near enough to grab him. Whatever you do in a case like this—for God’s sake start doing it quick! Only—if anybody tries to snatch him and he knows it—he’ll probably go.”

“Oh-my-God!”

“It’s a mess. I’m sorry. And I need help. Intelligent help—quick.”

“Do what I can.”

I went back to the window.

“Who was that?” Paul asked. “Another whore?”

“The management,” I said. “You’re attracting attention.”

He grinned acidly. “I know. Quite a few people already.”

“Showing off?”

“Not giving a damn.”

I sat down in a chair. I needed to sit down. Presently I called out to him, “If I get Marcia on the phone, will you talk to her?”

“No.”

“Why?”

“Because things are past that.” He looked up Madison Avenue toward nothing. “Way, way past that.”

I smoked a couple of cigarettes.

Nothing happened. The sun went down a few more inches. I suppose the top of the parapet got cooler. Big, square shadows began to ride up the buildings across the street.

“Paul, come on in! Let’s talk. You’re in no condition to be doing what you imagine is thinking—and you know it! Anybody can put a period after his life, any time. What you need is a vacation. A decent one—with jack to spend—may[Pg 335]be at the seashore or up at Lake George. I’ll give it to you. I’ll persuade Brink you need the time off—”

He laughed—laughed like somebody masticating gravel. “All the dough in the world couldn’t buy me off this perch.”

“Nobody’s trying to buy you. I’m trying to—”

“Oh, shut up. I want to think.”

There was a light knock on my door, at that point. I opened it. A cop stood out there and a fireman behind him and Mr. Harrison behind them. The cop had a tough, smart face and he whispered. “Will he jump if we come in?”

“Search me.”

“You okay?”

“More or less.”

“Can you keep him talking? We’re rigging a net in the apartment below there. We’ve got a couple of experts on the way, besides. Leave this door ajar—so they can get to your bedroom.”

I nodded.

They slipped away.

Paul asked, when I came back, “Who was it?”

“The maid.”

He accepted that.

“Cigarette?”

“Thanks.”

I got outside and sat on my windowsill, about ten feet from him.

“I remember,” I said, “the first time it happened to me.”

“What happened?”

“The first time I was really in love. Her name was Ruth. She was a little gal. Light-brown hair and the kind of eyes that look up at you. Little breasts and shy, inquisitive hands. I—”

“Save it for the magazines.”

“I was crazy about her. But I had to go to college and I couldn’t afford to see her often. Couldn’t afford to take her[Pg 336] to the proms. A Christmas vacation came around and we threw a party at the house of a friend whose folks had gone south. We all got tight. I missed her when I was dancing—and started looking. I found her upstairs—in a bedroom—with a guy in my class. After that—”

“—you knew they were just like trolley cars.”

“When I was working on the New Yorker—I fell again. A gal from Holyoke—”

“Horse manure to Holyoke.”

“Paul. What are we supposed to think—to do—when we spend all the energy and time and dough to make a brilliant adult out of a promising kid? By ‘we’—I mean at least a hundred men and women. The kid turns out to be super-good. Everybody chips in to make sure he has every possible opportunity. He is tops in his class. He gets an inside hot spot on the most important project in his nation. Every single person who ever knew him—loves him—and is button-popping proud of him. But one day he has his feelings hurt badly—and there’s not one thing we can do for him. We try. But it’s no dice. So he climbs out of a window and slams about a billion dollars’ worth of brains and the time and energy, and hope of other people, to smithereens, on the curb. We bury what’s left of him. And then we sit around asking each other what the use is. Our best wasn’t good enough for him or for us. We keep asking ourselves what the hell he did expect of life—and of us—that he didn’t get.”

Paul at least listened—which was a clue: he’d listen to a piece about himself.

But he said coldly, “Your values are pretty sleazy, Phil. Only a day or two ago, you were telling me that we physicists had sinned. That we deserved to be punished. That all we’d done was evil. Now—because you’re in a corner—physics is suddenly the most important thing in the nation. May I repeat—horse manure!”

“Sins of omission,” I said. “You guys think of yourselves as honest—and you are, in one way. About science, you don’t[Pg 337] cheat or lie, ever. It’s the solitary triumph of our age. And look at the results. Progress in objectivity accelerates by a factor of hundreds—thousands—in a couple of centuries. I’m for that. But that—alone—isn’t enough. You birds look at your objective integrity as if it were all there is to virtue. It’s not. Listen, Paulo. There are two functions of virtue: one is to find new truths; the other is to dispel old lies; the whole man practices both, equally.”

“Grant that—but don’t we educate people as fast as we can?”

I shook my head. “Look at you. The scientific description of your situation on this bloody shelf is known to tens of thousands. But not to you. You’re the victim of old lies. You’re about to toss yourself into the late afternoon because you were so busy learning new truths in physics that you never bothered to dispel the old lies in your psychology. You’re a damned anachronism! A burnt offering to Woman. You’re a puppet of a lot of myths and legends and poor child training. You might as well be a pagan male virgin—offered up to some fat, female goddess by your tribe. A man that isn’t a man. A scientist from the neck up—and a howling heathen from the waist down. Unaware of the fact. A pretty picture!”

“I suppose,” he said with the utmost bitterness, “that I would be sitting in your apartment chortling happily—if I had ideals like yours. The scientific integrity of a whore-master.”

“My ideals,” I said, “at least keep a mediocre author plugging to the end. Yours, apparently won’t save one of the world’s top mathematicians from one lousy pair of legs.”

“That’s all you feel about a woman!”

“That’s all you feel! Fate took away your candy and now you won’t play. It was public candy, anyhow—and only good for all the boys. You wouldn’t face that. But if you want to love women realistically, that’s just what you’ll have to face, among a lot of other things. Love lies a long way beyond Marcia’s behavior.” I tried to grin at him. “I’m sup[Pg 338]posed to be a psychologist, myself. There should be a way by which I could persuade what’s left of your senses to stop playing Prometheus and get off your rock.”

“Outsmart me?”

“Shouldn’t I be able? If my dope’s any good?”

“It isn’t any good, though. Just a flashy bunch of extrapolation and phony biology. You’re no real philosopher, Phil.”

“Maybe not. Still—it isn’t my product. It’s Jung’s. He’s something of a brain.”

“Horse manure.”

“There is plenty of it down there in the street,” I said. “If you want to add yourself—by a method that will make you indistinguishable from the rest of it—”

He doubled up his fist and smacked the concrete. “Can’t you see I’m tormented—?”

I shook my head a few times. “Yeah. Everybody can—for blocks.”

He began to sob. I inched up from the sill and braced myself. All it would take was about one tear-blinded second—

He must have heard something on the floor below because he stopped gasping, suddenly, and leaned way out. Then he began hitching along the wall. He hitched right past me—his eyes on mine the whole way—and I have never seen any eyes exactly like that, before. They knew what was going on behind them—and didn’t know. They weren’t maniacal—but they were not sane, either.

When he was well beyond my reach, he looked down again and then hitched some more. He passed the corner of my apartment and came to the end of the parapet. A flat brick wall, rising for fifteen feet, made a backstop for him. He was in a corner. And there weren’t any windows below him—because that was how the architect had designed the building. The net idea was out. And so, I thought, was the idea of some sort of expert jump at him from an unexpected[Pg 339] angle. Unless the roof offered possibilities. I’d never been up there.

I walked down the terrace.

“That’s near enough,” Paul said.

I leaned on the hot parapet and looked down. About a thousand people had gathered in Madison Avenue—though it had been almost empty an hour before. In spite of the heat wave, in spite of the desertedness of the whole city, there they were—like bugs spilled out of a tin can. Cops among them—hollering and waving traffic through.

Every insect was white on top where the neck had craned the face up toward us.

I let myself absorb the vertical drop until I was weak.

Vertigo gets to me fast. My psychiatrist said he thought it was a symbol—in my case—for striving. I spent too much effort trying to get to some summit where skill, not effort, alone could take anybody. And the struggle was reflected as a physical horror of high places. There must have been something in it, because after assimilating the idea, I was at least able to live in high rooms without feeling queasy. But there may be even more in it—since I still get sick, hanging around the edge of sixteen-story walls.

Paul also was looking down at all the people and the people constantly arriving.

“I’m going in,” I said.

He hardly paid any attention.

Such clothes as I had on were soaked clear through again. I was thinking about changing when the door knocked and the cop stood there with some other men—in and out of uniforms.

“He’s moved.”

“I know.”

“We can’t get at him good, there. A net won’t be possible. We’ve got some guys looking over the picture on the roof. But it’s risky. Twice, that squad has gotten a line around somebody—and had them get loose and go. One[Pg 340] bird threw the rope off before they could pull it tight. And a woman cut it while she was hanging over the street. Can we come in?”

I opened the door. They looked at me. “My name’s Black,” one said. “Captain—your precinct.” He introduced the rest the way an undertaker presents pallbearers to each other. They all went over near the windows and knelt and peeked furtively at Paul.

“Should I stay out there?” I asked.

The tough, bright-looking cop gave me the once-over. “High-shy?”

“Some.”

“Do you think he’s likely to go?”

“Christ knows! I’m not an expert in this sort of thing.”

“Still—you do know him. Mr. Harrison, here, says he works on the atom bomb.”

“That’s right.”

Black swore. “Make dandy headlines. Police allow suicide of scientist.”

The younger cop said, “What sort of kid is he? Determined? Gutty? He looks that way.”

“Yeah. And a little spoiled.”

The cop whistled without making any sound. “Girl?”

I nodded.

“Where’s she?”

“Hattie Blaine’s,” I replied, after thinking it over.

He looked out the window and shook his head. “Jesus!”

I sketched in a little. The men listened.

Black said, “I could send a cruise car up for her—and get her back here—”

I shook my head. “I suspect—he’d bail out for sure, then. His life plan was based on the idea that what she had been—would be rubbed out. Forgotten. If you understand. But she went back to work.”

“The higher they are the harder they fall!” Black was grimly amused at the accuracy of the cliché.

[Pg 341]

And the younger cop said, “It isn’t possible to be smart all ways at once, is it?”

“What do we do?” I asked.

He looked at me some more. “Take a shower and put on dry clothes, Mr. Wylie. We’ll figure for a while. These things can last hours.”

I did that.

They didn’t figure much.

“The best we can do,” Black informed me, “is to get set up there on the roof. The angle’s bad—but we have two good men. If he shows signs of definitely going, we’ll take a chance and try to rope him.”

They’d been out on the narrow terrace, talking to him. The young cop was fascinated. “He told us that he was working out a personal problem against a background germane to the problem and equivalent to the other stresses of his life. Something like that. What the hell does ‘germane’ mean?”

“Appropriate,” I said. It was near enough.

“When those double-domes go nuts—they still keep talking in their double-dome lingo.”

“The nut,” I said, “never realizes he’s nutty. He thinks you are. That’s why there’re so many of them.”

The cop nodded. “I’d say—the majority of people, sometimes.” He shrugged. “I guess when you get into the atom-bomb class of brains, you get pretty chinchy everywhere else.”

I shook my head. “The fact is otherwise. The brighter they are—the less likely they are to pull one like this. Only—they still do, occasionally.”

Captain Black absently tossed his smoking cigar butt into the artificial fireplace and stepped over the windowsill. We could hear him, down the terrace, talking to Paul—but not the words.

“He got a family we could send for? Anything like that?” the young cop asked.

[Pg 342]

I shook my head. “His mother died—not by what’s called suicide, but by the psychological means that amounted to the same thing. He’s a case of a dame-starved kid growing up with too much emphasis on dames and too little knowledge about what they’re really like.”

The cop gazed at me with a different speculation. “Tough for you.”

“I can stand it. I like him. It makes me angry. And it’s—embarrassing.”

“I’ll say.”

Time passed.

“They ought to have a gadget!” I talked to pass more time. “Something that they could shoot at a man on such a spot. A light, large net discharged by a Very pistol—maybe—that went too fast to duck and tangled you all up.”

The cop wiggled his chin affirmatively. “The number of good, practical ideas buried in Headquarters runs to thousands.”

Captain Black came in. “No dice.”

Then Dave Berne arrived.

His eyes were the same faithful blue, but unnaturally vivid. He patted my back and shook hands with Black, whom he knew. He stood in the room a moment, peeling off a light-weight jacket and looking at the yellow roses. Then he went over and leaned out the window.

“Hi, Paul!”

“Et tu?” Paul called back.

Dave chuckled. “You’ve got quite a crowd down there. Had trouble pushing through!” He pulled his head back and said to us, “What gives?”

We told him such plans as existed.

Dave listened and smelled the flowers and moved his eyes to whoever was talking. Finally we’d finished and he grinned. “Well,” he said, sighing a little, “let’s go and get the damned fool in.”

[Pg 343]

He went and I went after him and the others stayed, peering into the fading light.

Dave whispered to me to hang back a little and I did and he moved on along the parapet till he came to a point just out of range. Paul was watching him with a wary, scornful expression. Dave leaned over the parapet and looked down—and Paul took a look, too.

“Funny,” Dave said. “All those yokels. I suppose most of ’em will go along home pretty soon. Suppertime. And soon be too dark to see the fun, anyhow. But some of ’em would hang around all night—even though the street is a God-damned stove-top. Waiting. Waiting and hoping. Hoping. Imagine it! Hoping to see a human being come sixteen stories in slow somersaults. Hoping to see him hit and spatter. Hoping his feet will burst and his shoes will fly off—the way they do, sometimes. Hoping they’ll be a Christ-to-be-Jesus big puddle of blood to tell the family about—and blood spattered up to the second story. And a dent in the sidewalk. What the hell is wrong with a bunch of yahoos that’ll stand around for hours on account of a hope like that?”

“Very graphic,” Paul said.

Dave took a long look, then, at the surrounding roofs—the vertical rows of windows, some now electrically lighted, and some flared with the last copper rays of a sun that was going down in Jersey behind the Orange Mountains where I used to make field maps when I was a Boy Scout. He took still another look at the blue-powder sky, drew one deep breath, and hopped lightly up astride the parapet.

Paul was startled.

So was I.

And so were the cops. They yelled, “Hey!”

Dave made a “cease-fire” gesture behind his back. He inched along the parapet toward Paul, a ways. “You’re going inside in a bit, son,” he said quietly.

“I haven’t decided. And don’t rush me.”

[Pg 344]

“But you will. Look, Paul. You know me—pretty well. And you know a good deal about me. From Phil. So listen. I’m a no-account yid bastard who never got—and will never get—a fair shot at using the ability he thinks he has. All I can do is outsmart other corporation lawyers—and get paid big dough for it.”

Paul said sneeringly, “If you want to start a self-pity contest—”

“Nope. I was thinking about something else. Pride. Real pride. Things to be proud of. One’s you. You weren’t born behind any eight-ball. You’ve got ten times the brains of Phil, here, and me put together. You’re in there fighting. And you’re a guy—one of the guys who run about three in a hundred—who can look at a yid like me and not see that two thousand year old, imaginary eight-ball. I appreciate that. I’m proud some people can be like that.”

“Don’t be childish.”

“I’m not. I’m just pointing out that—potentially—you’re valuable. I have no value. You—and the guys like you—can probably figure out the stuff we need to go on fighting for freedom. You can probably lick the new tyranny, and maybe even without carving holes in the country and paying out the best young blood. And then we’ll have a chance to go on with the liberty scrap. That’s what you can do. It means a lot to guys like me—who never had a chance to draw one free-and-equal breath in his life. Not you as a person. You as ideas. So all right. That’s that. Maybe you hate your job. Maybe it’s a wrong thing. Maybe all the world has left, for now, is a choice among wrong ways. Personally—if that’s so—I take our choice. America’s. I’m no Stephen Decatur—but that’s how my feelings go.”

“If you don’t mind,” Paul said, “I’d just as soon be spared the patriotic harangue.”

“Sure. I’m through. And you’re coming in, soon, now.” Dave let go of the ledge, pulled back his shirt sleeve, and peered at his wrist watch. “You’re coming in—or I’m bailing[Pg 345] out. In five minutes, Paul, my son, if you don’t get off—I take off.”

I was listening to Dave’s voice and a terrible fear possessed me. But Paul heard only the shouting of agony within himself. “Wiseguy,” he said.

Dave smiled a slow, gentle smile. “Wiseguy? Maybe so. But how long this wiseguy lives—is up to you, now.”

“Do you think I believe you? Do you think I’m so stupid?”

“I mean it.” Dave looked up from his watch and his eyes fixed on Paul. “I’m not kidding, son.”

I could see the color change in Paul’s cheeks. He’d been pale. He became ghostly. He locked eyes with Dave Berne.

The slightest stir moved the hot, early-evening air.

People sat at windows and on roofs; people stood in penthouse gardens with highballs and binoculars, enjoying the sensation, making a new ritual of it. A flashbulb blazed up and died in the instant, on a setback, across and down the street, where some news cameraman with a telephoto lens was getting a shot for his tabloid.

“I have,” Dave said quietly, “about two hundred seconds left.”

“What a cheap thing to do!” Paul spoke harshly.

Dave smiled even more and he nodded. “It’s all I have—my life. Cheap—I said so.”

Paul stood up.

It was horrifying. He’d been sitting that long while. His arms were cramped. His legs must have been asleep. He tottered to his feet, rocked on the near-motionless air, careened his arms, stamped, glanced down with a round and dreadful focus of his eyes, caught his balance, and looked triumphantly at Dave.

“You’re kind of forcing my hand,” he said.

Dave stood up, too, then—very quickly, and without tottering. Stood up—and looked at his watch. “I mean, too, of course, Paul, that if you go—I’ll also go. I’ll try for you[Pg 346]—and standing, like this—we’ll go together. You see—you have no choice but to go in, or take me along. And there’s only about a minute left.”

I went closer. “Dave, for the love of God!” My voice was a cackle. “If this thing has to be gone through with—I’m the guy. After all, Dave—I’ve only got a little bit left anyhow! Get down, for Christ’s sake—and let me get up—”

Dave hardly glanced at me. “Be quiet, Phil. Stay where you are.” He turned again to look at Paul.

And there they stood, swaying slightly, their eyes, their wills fastened together in conflict over the simple stake of life and of death. They defied each other—against the pale-blue heat of the evening sky. A murmur came up from the street, a muddled sob, as the watchers noted the change of position, the new precariousness, and sensed the imminence of climax. The sound boiled and grew and beat the bricks all the way up from the infested thoroughfare.

“Half a minute,” Dave said, above the susurration.

I couldn’t move.

Paul couldn’t tear away his eyes from Dave: each instant stood alone and almost still.

“Ten seconds,” Dave said. And he turned around—facing nothing—to jump.

A great cry escaped Paul.

He toppled on the terrace—and passed out.

Dave about-faced and stepped down lightly.

11

It was twenty-one o’clock, which is to say, nine that evening.

Dave had eaten dinner with me and gone off to another meeting of his maestros. To look, he said, for the silver lining of the silver screen.

Not even mentioning Paul.

Not seeming to be affected….

[Pg 347]

Paul was in a hospital.

A private hospital. The cops had wanted to send him to Bellevue for observation. But Dave had persuaded them and arranged to have my nephew taken on a stretcher down the service elevator and transported by ambulance to a safe place.

I’d called Ricky and told her about it. Told her again that I’d be back in Buffalo by the following evening, in all likelihood.

And I’d called Karen, my daughter, and warned her of what she would see and read when the morning papers reached her country doorstep in Connecticut.

Nine o’clock.

The next day would be Monday.

I waited.

Dr. Adams was late. The charred cigarettes piled up.

At last, he phoned from the lobby.

Come up.

One of those psychiatrists about whom interviewers write:

… nothing of the abnormal about him; he would be mistaken anywhere for a successful businessman….

Because Dr. Adams took considerable pains to look exactly like a successful American businessman who would be mistaken anywhere.

dark, chalk-striped suit, polished brown brogues, foulard tie, fifty-one years old, seventy-one inches high, a hundred and seventy-one pounds, heavy horn-rims in his breast pocket with the Parker 51, smoothly brushed iron-gray hair, smoothly brushed iron-gray eyebrows, smoothly unbrushed iron-gray eyes, the outdoor complexion that is imperative for indoor men of distinction, and the prize already awarded for filling in the last line of the limerick:

Healthy, wealthy and wise.

You couldn’t help liking him if you tried, and believe me, I tried. I tried because Adams (Hargrave H.P.) was the[Pg 348] head of the private hospital where Dave had sent Paul and I wouldn’t have one of those top-notch third-rate psychiatrists fooling with my nephew.

He said he’d always wanted to meet me and I said I’d never heard of him and he laughed because he was amused, not because he laughed when he didn’t know what else to do, like an American businessman.

He sat down in one of my chairs and refused a drink and said, “Tell me all you think I ought to know about Paul.”

Three hours and several hundred questions later he left.

Paul was going to be all right.

Not soon—but someday when he’d learned the masochisms, sadisms, castration complexes, repressed homosexual feelings, mistaken anima identification, archetypal possessions, and other data not shown by the meters in his laboratory.

Hargrave H.P. Adams had plenty of what it would take. I wouldn’t have minded asking him some of my own questions. He had come up with a few suggestions and formulations unknown to me….

That brought the evening up past midnight.

I felt wretched.

You are apt to, when you think they’re going to stand you against the stone wall the next morning.

There were, of course, Tom’s pills.

I rolled them out in my hand and just looking at them gave me a fuzzy taste in my mouth so I rolled them back.

It was one to think yourself out of.

I went into the living room and climbed through the window and peered down into the glittering slot of Madison Avenue until, all of a sudden, I began to shake. I almost threw up before I could scramble back into the apartment.

I sat down and stared at the sky.

[Pg 349]

You could still see a few stars in the haze. The night was as close as a pressure cooker.

My nausea left slowly; my shakes subsided.

In states of this sort I usually try, if possible, to make a list of Things to Do.

Things to Do on Sunday Night in the Big City, after the witching hour.

[Pg 350]

One can walk the streets.
Go to the Park.
Read.
Eat.
(But not sleep.)
One can take a sightseeing bus to Chinatown.
The taxi dance halls are open.
The all-night movies.
Any of numerous friends—
or my brother—
would sit up and talk till morning.
I could
by simply lifting the telephone and dialing a number
fill my apartment with assorted pretty girls.
Or just Gwen.
Why not?
The image appeared
the woman-lines, the dry-martini taste of a woman’s
libido
Gwen’s cuprous hair;
and it was not Gwen at all
but an image in myself.
Who she was, I had no idea.
But I knew
I’d had enough of the Gwens in this world
to last until
my next reincarnation
or, possibly,
the second coming of Christ
in Anno Double-Domini.
(Tomorrow, I thought, begins
another reincarnation)
It was enough of a list.
I had now collected sufficient Things to Do so as to go on sitting in my chair, which was all I desired to do: I had somewhat collected myself.

The sky belched light.

I leaned forward, looked, and half of the hazy stars were erased, gone, done for, hidden behind an invisible tumble of nimbus.

My nerves let themselves down another degree.

I went around the room, emptying an ashtray the night maid had overlooked, fixing myself a glass of hot, powdered coffee.

And back to my chair.

Now, across the parapet, across the well-learned silhouette of buildings opposite, the undersides of clouds were heated up. Their contours showed in brief, stammering flashes of lavender, as if they were gigantic lamps which some celestial electrician was trying to connect with a frayed cord.

At my side, the exhausted curtain came to momentary life—then perished again in the swelter of the room.

Gwen was an image. Whoever she was, I saw what I saw, looking from within to what lay within. Another item for Forbisher-Laroche: Why visit the fille de joie? Because she is more I than She.

Yvonne, then?

I gave the matter my consideration—and half an eye to the approaching weather.

[Pg 351]

“Blow, blow, thou bitter wind
Thou art not so unkind
In this man’s latitude.”
Hark ye, Sir Bughouse:
You don’t know anything.
All you know about Yvonne is what you read in the newspaper advertisements.

She is a collection of costly, streamlined surfaces.

An accumulation from high-class department store counters.

And a statistic from a book that has not yet been published owing, doubtless, to pressures from the Neo-Christian-Centrist-Totalitarian Renaissance.

Did you think she was a woman?

She was a dream.

An arrangement of electrons, a mess of mesons, in your cranium, Sir Spatterwit.

There must be blah-diddie-blah-blah (statistics, pal) happy homosexual hours for housewives and houris

ergo
we, Wylie, have witnessed Onesuch.
What a premise! What a casual conclusion.
O Lydian ease!
O languorous Lesbos!
(O legislators!
You left out the ladies!
And our legally innocent Yvonne has homed to Pasadena’s passes, also

Healthy, wealthy and wise.)

Must it not be assumed that blah people are happy and blah people are given to such excursions, wherefore blah per centum of the excursionists are happy?

Certainly.
But Yvonne?
What is she?
Sir Psychologist, Lord Hack, Keeper of the Happy Ending, can you not also hypothesize a hundred different valid denouements?

Certainly.

When the poor, unknown child returns, what Weltschmerz may not seize hold upon her? What nostalgia? What[Pg 352] fantasy or recollections? What esoteric envies? What odd curiosities? What cooling after the confidences? What illogical new distastes? What unexpected spousely piques? What dither? What clandestine or common experiment with all what unsweet ensuite?

Never congratulate the Fates, emir;

it makes them self-conscious … undependable.

A point to remember should you ever set down a hundred hours of pseudo-autobiography:

Lessons in Light Lycanthropy: seven essays by Philip Gordon Prismaggot.

Now came thunder, like sounds in the intestines of distant elephant herds; now, my curtain rose as eerily as a medium’s table and flopped back to lank alignment with the wall.

I saw the point:

In the quest for the woman-in-skirts, some of us fail to notice that the woman-within may be partly and helplessly a perverse wench, attesting by default to all the oversights of her masculine lord: us.

It was a remarkable discovery and explained occasional tendencies of numbers of my gentlemen companions.

Given another five years, caliph, and you could resolve this situation—this exotic act of the inner She who rules whatever crannies her master shuns in conscious male conceit.

If you happen to be the kind of person who, out of mere idleness, or from scientific motive, or in our poor common cause, is willing to trephine his own soul for a better look, you will find such dances going on there, such images and integers of the complicated flesh.

If you announce the results, however, you are liable to go to Hecate. Hecate County, I mean.

Unless you do so, that is, in plain wrapper and with a Ph.D. Cf.:

“The inner natures of all men and women partake of[Pg 353] the natures of the opposite sex—a psychological phenomenon in some forms openly expressed by modern society (O moms, O Mummers!), but in other forms suppressed with the full force of public opinion. What public opinion suppresses, the individual endeavors to conceal both from himself and from society. Nevertheless, were the individual not equipped with the psychological elements of the opposite sex, comprehension and sympathy between the two would be impossible. And this ‘feminine’ quality of a man—for example—may even project on real women, in inverted form, those universal, adolescent feelings toward his own sex which the conscious adult man repudiates. Hence, as Cadwallader, Pratt and Razzle say, in their lucid monograph—”

But if you express the results in terms of palpable feelings and acts—rather than in this lack-life lingo of pedagogy—the very gents and gals who share the same sensations will rise as one (owing to the general habit of suppression) and breathe down your neck with a blowtorch.

When you see them coming you will know what troubles them that they do not know.

It is, always, their responses to your perceptions.

Themselves—not you.

Yvonne, to put it in the terse form, like Gwen,

was also in a sense a shimmering fragment of a dislocated inner me.

If you are distressed by her,

the time has come to bore a hole in the thick skull of your own soul and see the remarkable tittup going on there.

Lightning struck a graph on the sky.

I sat learning about myself.

If, indeed, the Final Report was due, I might as well review my material. At God’s Great Judgment Seat, witnesses who did not bother to notice what was really happening inside themselves—and, of course, prejudiced or dishonest witnesses—will undoubtedly go to the Hotter Hecate.

[Pg 354]

I thought about Paul for a while and decided it was time for Paul to think about himself.

I thought of Socker Melton and perceived there was no reason, any more, for a single soul to go to any church, save instinct—

which the churches denied thrice whenever they opened their sanctimonious mouths three times.

I thought lovingly of my country

and lovingly of the whole world.

I sent greetings to the Chinese and the Hindus and the Africans.

I wished that I might live to see if the bombs fell

and what the people did afterward.

Then I appreciated that, following any resolution of such affairs—

of bombs or none, airborne plagues or none—

I would wish in this same fashion to live to see

what they did

when a billion starved

when four or five billions, produced in the uncontrolled birthorgies of the devout and the innocent, over-horded this little globe

what they did when the metals ran thin—in a century or so

when idiotic breeding decayed the human line to a rabble incapable of sustaining liberty or order or technology

when the last water under the earth dried up

when the sea thickened

when the moon approached.

Indeed, there is no limit to wishing one might assist at meeting challenges old Toynbee may never have thought of—

inevitabilities that only man can avoid and that, as yet, he does not even consider as Necessary Works. They are denied by Time magazine.

Aortas of lightning and branched arteries of electric[Pg 355] fire now diagrammed the clouds. Across the roofs, thunder ricocheted; it rolled like tumbrils in the avenues.

A steady press of air flapped the curtains and I moved my chair a little to escape their nervous abrasion.

This fetid wind depressed me.

My thoughts settled in a muddy ooze and lived beneath the riffled surface enviously, for that it seemed alive.

And in this separation I saw more views.

The intellectual, I deplore—scholar, economist, sociologist, big literary man. The sorry lot have spent half the twentieth century admiring the engines of their minds and not bothering to feed knowledge into them or raw materials; now, with the gauges falling, they have nothing to say excepting only to repeat their proud, intellectual admission of obsolescence.

The critic, I deplore; he sits upon his flagpole with his radio, his sandwiches and his displayed latrine, handing down opinions of what is happening under the earth, from which he sees an occasional man emerge whom he invariably deduces to be a Troglodyte or a Morlock.

The philosopher of modern times is my favorite joke; he stands at the head of the Faculty—without faculties of his own; he sums up the wisdom of the mind without appreciating he no longer understands what his own mind is. Were he even as honest as the psychiatrist he disdains, he would get his psyche analyzed before he undertook to forward the discussion of awareness. But what philosopher ever consented to an effort at learning something of himself before pontificating upon the All of everybody else? That still, small science of psychology, which he elbows behind his panoply of classic names, has turned him into a quack—an astrologer among astronomers and the barker for a medicine show at a convention of true physicians.

The preacher—dressed in the anonymous odds and ends of all the instincts of the animal kingdom and holding this shoddy surplice to be a white and spotless raiment—the one,[Pg 356] true robe for Ascension—is my jester, for being mad and comical and also for speaking so much wisdom and for his good heart, when he has one.

This is what I believe about them—

and they are what I am:

Intellectual, critic, philosopher, and preacher.

Hoist by my own plutonium petard.

For all my data have, still, an inadequate access to my heart. It laughs and weeps too often without consulting the encyclopedia in my head or the new Book of Rules I have commenced there.

I saw Excalibur and could not wrench it from the sea,

Touched the Grail—and could not swallow,

Wandered the far mountains, came upon a new Decalogue, and could not lift the tablets to bring them down.

Prophet, maybe.
Pilgrim, perhaps.
But only in
the intellectual, critical, philosophical, evangelical
senses….
Happy?
The ego was often happy—his big ego.
At Peace?
He had tranquillity where other men did not and joy where they were only confused; but, in their simple pleasures, it was he who felt confusion, he who too frequently was but a spectator, he who failed with his blood to pursue the truth his brain so lucidly, so uselessly delineated.

Human nature, he decreed, need not be dishonest or dishonorable; let us throw off this old-church myth, this pew-filler, that men are by their very substance evil and undependable. Having said his say he daily marched into the humanities and acted with a good deal less than integrity complete. Like a very ass.

[Pg 357]

Still he believed it.
The truth shall make ye free.
Still he cried out that men are born for freedom.
And he died, a prophet without particular honor in the
home town of himself.
He shouted:
Forever learn the new
Down with everything as is
Seek God beyond his Holy Names
Behold yourself
(Intellectual, critic, philosopher, preacher)
The while, he beheld but morsels of himself, and—like
other men—admired them as if they were the fabric of reality
and not the gingerly scissored swatches of one awareness.
Well, go away now, Wylie.
It is the time, as you so intellectually predicted, for an
improved you or a better somebody to take over the problem.
Good night, sweet hypocrite.
Dauntless disappointment.
Oaf.
Of course, I argued with myself against self-condemnation.
I am a contemporary man, I insisted.
Too conditioned by father and mother, school, church, America, the common law, and this and that, and you, and you, to expect in a single lifetime (not too long, either) that I could, by whatever authenticity of effort, penetrate thousands, thousands, thousands of years of the unpenetrated stuff in my superego and discover the true whole of me beyond: the conveniently overlooked, the misrepresented, the tabooed, the forgotten, the unfrocked, the submerged structure of humanity itself.

[Pg 358]

And I argued:
Even if I did this, it would be nothing.
What I said was reason, they would say was sacrilege.
What I said was love, they would call obscene.
What I said was truth, they would call nonsense.
My hope would bring them but despair.
My laughter would wring their panicky tears.
My God would also be their Devil.
And some of my ideals would seem un-American.
They would call my route to understanding a blind
labyrinth.
Their scientists would find me emotional.
Their priests—cold, analytical, and heartless.
Every instinct of my society would belabor me whenever I pointed out its valid opposite. And when I said, These are but local, temporal contradictions—seen together, they can be transcended, understood, contained by a man who rises above them to look down upon them, or by a man who shoulders them, why!!! All who live by the exploitation of one side of any paradox, all the mighty engineers and all the honored men of God, would jump at me.

And they would finally corner me somewhere, breaking my own rules.

The storm was upon the city, now. The oncoming cold front had won the battle of the isobars. Lightning hissed and hit some nearby edifice, accompanied by a blast of thunder. The hammer of Thor, the flashbulbs of Zeus flooded the metropolis with pale, stroboscopic light. Buildings quivered under the cannonade. Inside them the millions cowered and crossed themselves or stood admiring at their windows, each, according to his nature, responding to the grandeur of liberation.

The first drops splashed upon my parapet. My curtain stretched like a flag. Papers blew. I shut the window and ran about in the pleasant excitement of the arriving storm, making fast my small interior. The world beyond churned in ecstasies of rain, din, and colored light that showed no more than light’s existence. My lamps glowed for a moment a sinister red, and came up again.

I sat there after finishing my little errands, preoccupied with the loud allegory in the street.

The psyche has its climate.

[Pg 359]

Every burning drought serves by its precise degree to lift the waters of the earth for rains—and floods, too. Every deluge brings fertile substance to the spirit’s plains and exposes the rich minerals on its crags. In the cold, the plants rest; in summer, they make ready the ice-resistant seeds. The trick is not—as men believe—to become but a willful rain-maker—endeavoring by rites, fasts, dances, or sleets of solid carbon dioxide to alter the immutable for some hour’s advantage. This is failure; whatever such methods steal here must be repaid elsewhere. The great accomplishment of man is to understand the relationships of climate, appreciate them all, adapt his soul to every temporal vicissitude—in the knowledge that whoever is free from pride in this one good or prejudice against that special evil cannot be engulfed, or eroded, or burned alive, or frozen into the sparse tundra of intellect, of asceticism.

He—and he alone—conveys the mutations of consciousness who tends his green valley undismayed by knowing it is the valley of winter shadow. And could he own all the reasoning power of man—could his soul present within him all that women know but cannot say—he would be as God.

After a time the storm somewhat diminished. The city hissed like the embers of a great fire that resists hose and bucket.

Now, I was invaded by that projection of self-pity which Catholics think is love and Protestants believe is duty. I saw Ricky and Karen and my family, all my fond, patient friends—in sorrow. Great tears glistened inside me and their tiny counterparts ran on my cheeks.

No, I cried. Spare me not for myself—I am reconciled; but for them.

I investigated such intricate delicacies in Ricky as I have not attempted to describe here and I saw how sorrow would run through them all; I watched the infinite loyalty of a daughter turned by the slab of a tomb; I saw my family lifting up the load of their one more bereavement and my[Pg 360] friends kicking stones, not selfishly, but for the world they hoped I might someday somehow bring my jot of meaning to.

I paced the muggy flat and cursed.

And more.

I shall not tell you for you already know the sentiments whereby love, and duty, too, are transferred. Only at long, long last I realized how much I, who own nothing but my inner self, had imagined I owned them.

It was an injury I’d done them.

And so one more illusion set aside its mask, at least for that while, that now.

How many there were!

How often I saw them on other countenances; how rarely I lifted them from my own.

Finally, I fell asleep.

An old, old man—sitting in a chair.

[Pg 361]

PART FIVE

Coda

Coda
Rain teemed in the stone-gray morning.

My little Big Day.

A tepid stew was strained from the colander of heaven and dripped in lachrymose gray juice that steamed on every brick and tile and slate and on the asphalt acreage of the street.

I sent for my drab breakfast. You are familiar with its one element. A cup and a cup and a cup.

I set myself to my last installment. For a while, the inked deletions wavered and ran off the track. I went to the window and watched the rain smoke on my parapet—looked up at the insipid sky—found no one there—and finally turned to the roses which drooped a little in the corner of the room—drooped but glowed—and perfumed every glaucous shadow of the morning with fond recollection. The lines came straighter, after that.

By and by I called Hugo about my ticket.

“Closed in,” he said. “They’re landing a few planes still—but they’ve delayed departures. Later, it’s supposed to clear—and it’ll be cooler. This is the front of a high coming in from Canada.”

Closed in.

“Shall I try the evening flight?”

[Pg 362]

“Sure,” I said.

I gave the number of the sanitarium.

“Oh, yes, Mr. Wylie, Mr. Wilson had a comfortable night. He’s talking to Dr. Adams, now. I couldn’t interrupt. He seems quite cheerful—said if you phoned to tell you he’d call back when he finished his consultation.”

I turned over the last page—read, cut one more paragraph, marked the lines on my long tally sheet, counted them, and felt, suddenly, the negative pressure of completion—the vacuum’s strain, the sense of deprivation. Work can be addictive—one more self-enchantment of the cortex—another of the infinite autohypnoses. And when the addict’s done with it, what comfort is there for his unemployment?

I stacked the many pages, scribbled a note to Harold, and phoned to his office that the manuscript would be ready for his messenger at the desk. A few merry hours and a little excitement for the profligate, dun days of my fellow citizens, God bless and pity them—a vicarious trip beyond the confines of mass production—a description of the flavor of a few of the trees they had cut down.

Bill came for it and carried it to the lobby.

Now, my clothes.

My costume.

Everything was finished

with the possible exception of me.

Rain fell all around the marquee—in a wet, funereal fringe.

The doorman stood in the street beneath his great umbrella, whistling. Two old ladies waited impatiently, jostling each other and batting annoyedly at their pocketbooks. They seemed to expect the whistle to conjure up a yellow taxi from the fourth dimension and because it took Al five minutes to hail an empty, the elder of the two put back her dime in her purse and snapped it with the righteous authoritative sound of a Norn’s shears.

[Pg 363]

“Let’s go to Gimbel’s first,” she said.

But the other wanted to start in Lord and Taylor’s.

They whisked away debating this.

And I went soon—through the leaden atmosphere, on the black and slippery pavement.

The people were there in the office ahead of me.

Mr. So-and-so. Mrs. So-and-so. Miss So-and-so.

The nurse was there, too.

It was where we had come in. Where we all do. Where we leave.

I sat, batting the drops from my trouser cuffs, smelling the damp feathers of the anxious poultry.

I found my magazine.

At last

“Mr. Wylie.”

It was still a different doctor—a plump little man wearing glasses which took the radiance of his floor lamps as a shield so I could not see his eyes. His neutral hair was cut as short and even as fur.

“I’m glad to make your acquaintance,” he said. “Have a cigarette. I’ve read your books.”

I took his cigarette. Inauspicious token.

The condemned man smoked a hearty breakfast.

“Not all of us physicians deserve such a keel-hauling.” He laughed at the way I’d rubbed the nose of his trade in its sins and pomposities. This was to show me his nose was immaculate.

“Sure.”

He lighted his own and smoked the way doctors often do—like schoolkids with Cubebs.

“Personally, I think it’s a shame a man with ability like yours for putting words together should get mixed up in this Jungian stuff.”

The place had been done by a decorator—a decorator who saw a surgeon’s waiting room as something soothing in ivories and sepia and faint gold. And putting words together[Pg 364] is just a trick, too; it doesn’t involve knowledge or sense—just lucky knack.

I cut a smile in my face for him. “Talk it over, sometime,” I said.

He smirked interest in himself. “I’m a sort of cross between a Freudian and a semanticist, Wylie. What do you think of semantics?”

“The poets understood it before Korzybski.”

“Very good! Very! Still—”

“—a means. A useful insight.” I felt a bead of sweat roll from my armpit down my corrugated ribs. “The basic assumption is mistaken, though. It omits instinct. No cortical rearrangement will accomplish much, even with semantics, until it admits instinct—”

“I always wondered whether you understood the subject. Guess you do. But I still don’t see Jung’s slant.”

How cleverly the thumb and finger de-wing the caught fly! And how the fly beats its legs in satisfactory protest! If I had injured his composure in some book or other, some essay, he would avenge it now. I stared at the flaring spectacles of this penny-ante sadist and swore to myself that he could sweat me—and all his full waiting room—till Gabriel put his brass horn to his lips before I’d twitch my foot. And in this outlandish, familiar crisis of our everyday relations, I brought forth with the energies of wrath another formulation.

I blew smoke at the fat little hamster. “You can put it this way. Jung sees the source of the superego as unconscious, too—just as Freud sees the id. To Jung—both are continuums of instinct. That’s all. Any culture—even the culture of you physical scientists, which is mostly yet to come—rises from instinct, not from the frontal lobes. If you think of superego as subconscious in source and merely the opposite of id, you can understand Toynbee—and Toynbee’s error about a churchly salvation for this day and age. You might actually understand Jesus—and what Christianity was[Pg 365] intended to be to people. You can understand a great deal that even most psychologists don’t know about.”

“Interesting,” he said, and he gave up. There were papers on his desk. “Like to mull it over with you someday.” He discarded two or three sheets. “I’ve got a report on you here somewhere.” He found it, finally. “Negative.” He glanced at me and chuckled. “Cobb, my associate, was fooled. Told me he was all but sure of carcinoma. The thing—” he read to himself—”is a rather rare lymphatic growth. But two or three mild doses of X-ray will obliterate it. You’ll never be able to see the site. Cobb will give you the first treatment straight off. Only take a few minutes. Just hold your mouth open—and shed your troubles.” He chuckled again. “Mighty glad to meet you, Wylie. Maybe, someday, you’d come up to Westchester and talk to a little group I’m a member of—”

I said I would, breaking my rule. And that was that.

It happens to millions. The frightful diagnosis, the aching interlude, the laboratory check, reprieve. Till next time. It is one of the you-knows.

Half an hour later I went down to the level of the street. The lobby of this particular medical building was a poorly lighted, sparsely furnished marble sepulcher and along it lay a track of corrugated rubber matting upon which were the coming and going footprints of us all. I sat on a stone bench.

Weakness was for a while my only sensation.

My thoughts ran feebly.

They had given it back to me.

I was getting used to the process.

I should exult—

deliver myself of some noble message, immediately.

I have nothing to offer you but the Four Biles: blood and sweat and tears and W.C.

A doorman appeared from behind a fern that had been handed down from Pharaoh.

[Pg 366]

“Something funny, Mac?”

“Not very. It’s just that I’ve lost my mind.”

“People have lost everything else in this damned hall!”

He went away.

Out in back, I suppose he had a boat to ferry people across the Styx.

Soon I stumbled to the skirling thoroughfare and waved at cabs until one stopped.

Or maybe it was a hearse.

Or maybe it was a singsong boat plying in the rain alongside the doorman’s draped dinghy.

Certainly it was occupied by a multitude of people, many of them dead and many of them trollops.

Want Immortal Life?

Want me?

My reaction would come—next week—next month—never.

I’d already had it.

Since Thursday, I had been consumed by my reaction.

This was robust information.

My heart resumed its job.

The infinite, posterior brain relaxed.

The small, frontal analogue took sensible direction.

Our house in Florida would go on building now—for us. The flower-filled patio and the white roof with bunting vines abloom—the cypress bedroom up among the branches of live oaks, melaleucas, orchid trees, and sweet frangipanis—the workroom with books all around, a raised fireplace and a rail to put my feet on while someday, perhaps, I marked the typed pages of the long-projected Explanation. I could write it. I could devote all my time to it: twenty-four thousand dollars were going—not into my estate—but my account.

I spun the Astolat’s revolving door.

Ricky stood there—bright omen and good harbinger! Prayer answered and that best conduct I am capable of,[Pg 367] rewarded. She wore a violet suit to match the strangest tint of her bejeweled gaze. She wore a hat with a violet feather to joust adversity and make the place for joy. Raindust glittered in her dark curls and the silver in her curls. She was smiling as she signed the register. How much she smiles!

She saw me.

“Darling!”

We kissed casually. We always do. Perhaps we are a little self-conscious in public and this may be because we are not, when we are alone with each other.

I thought she was there in response to the mute messages of the weekend. To go back with me if I wanted to go back—to stay if I wanted to stay. Possibly to shop for a day. But suddenly I could sense the wrongness of that.

“I decided I better fly down to see the doctor,” Ricky said. “You won’t mind waiting over another day?”

“What’s the matter?”

You would have to know Ricky to know all that made up her expression, then. In her eyes was the way she felt about herself, about me; her mouth spoke of courage. “I’m afraid the undulant fever’s back.”

“No. Please God, no!”

“I think I ought to be checked. The past few days, I’ve been running a temperature. And the old megrims have begun.”

She smiled again.

It was one of her masterpieces.

We were together.

We had our lives….

I patted her. The wings of my spirit began to beat against her pitiable prospect—the racking weeks ahead, the shots and blood tests, clinical examinations, probings and slides and stains, reports, hospitalizations while the doctors observed, sweats, chills, toxic horrors, frets, pains, and bravery summoned every morning from the deep well of her to last another day.

[Pg 368]

The elevator rose.

“Hell,” I said, the best I could say, “we’ll get you on the vaccine today. You phone Dr. Frank immediately. And then lie down. I’ll unpack you. In a few weeks, you’ll be right as rain.”

I fumbled my key into the lock and automatically took from the doorclip my accumulation of morning mail and messages. She asked about Paul and I told her the tale.

Afterwards, she went to the phone, dialed, and watched me with loving, apologetic eyes—as if it were her fault she was infected.

While she described to the specialist the symptoms of this new malevolence I went through the mail, stopped at a letter from my lawyer, ripped it open.

Enclosed in it was a note from my accountant. The Bureau of Internal Revenue, he wrote, wanted, on the following Thursday, to go over with me the records pertaining to my income tax declarations for 1945 and 1946. Records in filing cabinets in storage in Miami Beach. Records on high closet shelves in Rushford. Records stored here in the cellar of the Astolat. In suitcases, boxes, portfolios and old trunks. Records they would not be able to check over next Thursday—because it would take a week and cost hundreds of dollars to get them together. They’d be willing to wait the week and they did not care about the cost to me; their interest would be to see if perhaps, after interminable scrutiny of the dollars and cents of forgotten years, they could find any reason to add a few more hundreds, or a thousand, to the taxes already paid.

Were I a businessman, enamored of columns of figures, such a prospect might scarcely have scarred the surface of my attention. I am not. The order was another garnishee of tranquillity—from then until I had assembled the records, held the conferences, and paid up, if any misjudgment were claimed or any disagreement ensued. I felt chained to a tor[Pg 369]mented system I could forever deplore but never alter. The wasteful exigency closed around me like a jail.

Ricky hung up. I put the letter into my pocket. She would be harassed by it—because I was. Let it wait till some happier time.

“Dr. Frank wants me to come right down,” she said.

“Before lunch?”

“I’m not hungry, anyway, dear.”

“I’ll go with you.”

“You stay here and eat!”

“You need somebody along—”

“Nonsense! I’m used to it. I won’t hear of your going!”

And so we argued a little and she had her way. She went out alone in the rain with her misery.

There was a message saying that Harold had called.

I phoned back.

His usually calm voice was raised with emotion. “I got word the serial was done and Bob Durfree called before I sent for it. I’ve got some bad news for you, Phil. They’ve been dissatisfied with Durfree’s editorial policy for quite a while. Over the weekend, the Board met and they’ve hired a new editor. Serials are out, from now on. I reminded the new editor that the characters in your story belong to them—and you can’t sell it anywhere else. He said he was sorry; said he wanted short stories about Cynthia, as usual. But no serials. You know, they never consider a request as a commitment. I’m as sore as I can be! I realize you were counting on the money for your new house. But—can’t you change the characters and do it over and let me try it on somebody else? It’s a mighty good story!”

Harold is not just my literary representative. He is my friend. I didn’t want him to guess how I really felt.

I told him I’d decide later whether to write the serial over or to chuck it. I hung up. Went to the desk. The carbon copy of my summer’s work was sitting there, mute and blurry in its box. I took it out and fingered it and won[Pg 370]dered how long it would be before I’d get to that sober book which would try to tell what certain men had learned of human instinct and how different it was from what most of the rest of mankind believed.

Quite a while, I thought.

There were other things to do first. A wife to heal, a kid to send to school, a house to finish, taxes to pay, trips to make, furniture to buy.

Maybe a war to fight at some frustrated desk.

But then

the future didn’t belong to me, anyway.

It doesn’t belong to you.

It belongs to our children and their children; to God—whom I call instinct—whom you may never call or call upon—or whom you may prayerfully confuse with your own good opinion of yourself.

Look and see.

I went down to the Knight’s Bar alone.

I was hungry.

(This is one of the marvels of Nature.)

Jay brought a menu.

“Terrible, about your nephew,” he said.

“It’s all right, now. He’ll pull out of it.”

“That kind of thinking, I guess, is more than men can stand.”

“It’s the thinking they don’t do that they can’t stand.”

Jay smiled a little. “Then they aren’t any different from the rest of us.”

“They aren’t. Only—they don’t know it.” Jay glanced down at the menu. “Sole,” I said, “and parsley potatoes Tartar sauce and a baked apple.”

My mind flared and guttered over the anticlimaxes of the day. Soon, it commenced to take its ribald revenge.

I sent a message to the neurologists:

Gentlemen:

Yours of the twentieth century received and lack of con[Pg 371]tents noted. Item. You have cut out hunks of the anterior brains of monkeys and found, after the surgery, they were able to live in the jungle just as well as before. Item. You have hacked out hunks of the posterior cerebral tissue of cats with the result that they lost their instincts: they no longer tended to their kittens, fed them, or defended them. Item. Your colleagues in medicine are getting similar results with human prefrontal lobotomies. And yet—you still deny that man and his works repeat the great pattern of his instincts! You deny that his reason, his image of himself which he alone deems reasonable, is but another reflection of this same pattern in another dimension. In closing, nuts.

I sent a message of truth to the theologists:

Dear Fellow Compulsives:

To insist you know God when you do not know logic or science is hideous. Those who say they know God and yet reject truth, however selectively, are playing at being God. And those men who play they are God, perforce use men as toys. When will you end this dreadful game? Sincerely.

A time will come, I thought, when man’s chief passion will be to observe and to learn dispassionately—his passions.

But you won’t be there, Mac.

For this reason, I sent a telepathic message to the School for Advanced Study at Princeton, New Jersey, where—at long last—the professors are assembled to try to find out something to teach:

Persons:

Cease trying to rectify the Bhagavad-Gita by means of the Uncertainty Principle. Try algebra—since you are so much simpler than you think. Query: When will you exchange truths evenly with the Believers? So long.

As I say, I nonwired this missive. I got no answer.

The oscilloscope of my mind rippled sadly. Its little line ran straight, then finally shot up with further inquiry:

Who sees that day is the augury of coming night? And who—looking at the darkened sky—sees it to be the daylight[Pg 372] of a trillion suns? Who further sees the great initial in the stars themselves—the F for Freedom that I dreamed of in a dream? Whose brain will abide it all? Who will continue our Quest?

And next, I felt my solitude.

If any man is more alone than I in this society I would know it, for I would have met him in the spaces I inhabit.

True, I’ve seen a few in my distances. And Ricky goes there with me sometimes—as she must.

In another sense, indeed, the whole company of my contemporaries is with me and I am alone only in knowing it.

For the dignity and purpose we dreamed of in the youth of this century has gone. We do our work. We mind our manners. But our young hope has been dimmed by the predictabilities. Hence we all know how temporary we are, how brief our routines, how probably it is futile to quarry or to breed, to build or to wish, to sell or to instruct, to make these civilized exertions.

Camus’ plague is on us; it has been here a long while. We call it materialism.

Progress that excludes Man.

We have no peace of mind.

And here is the question of it that the theologists and the scientists have not yet hit upon:

So long as one man suffers unjustly from his fellows, be he yellow or black or white, there shall be no peace of mind for anybody.

And here is the demonstration:

Whatever Man does that he should not, and knows he should not, and whatever man does not, that he knows he should, becomes the substance of the fear of every man, lest it happen to him in his turn.

Integrity of man to man is not a paltering “ideal”; it is man’s most essential ingredient, for it measures his potential[Pg 373] for continuum in the sufficient space and patient time of God.

Whoever thinks to have peace of mind, these days, is therefore the figment of his own imagination; whoever wants it for himself without thought to others is a criminal.

Only the man-concerned ever knows that fragmented trifle of tranquillity permitted by our noxious times and customs. The rest are dead already in their souls—of science, of religion, of egoistic lust, of a deliberate return to childishness, of every fatal evidence of our plague.

Now a man—the Englishman—opened a newspaper noisily at his table across from me.

This is what I read:

Soon, fifteen million Americans would be organized (voluntarily, they call it) for Civil Defense.

A tenth of us regimented—willingly—for Civil Defense.

(Yet everyone who knows, proclaims there is no defense!)

The men without imagination have spoken.

We shall be ready to police and put out fires, to evacuate and rope off radioactive areas, to deal with gas, bacterial clouds, falling fungi and shots caromed off the moon.

In the name of courage, fifteen million of us will be, if possible, meticulously imbued with the latter-day alarms.

Who says now that we are even a little sane?

For a moment, my mind was blacked out by despair.

But again and still its show went on.

We, who did not have knowledge enough of ourselves to fight, when the time came, for liberty at its source—for freedom of knowledge itself—are day by day losing the rest of our freedom.

It is a working of the great law.

And in what noble names the old tyrant takes us over!

Perhaps, I thought, we may understand in time, or be lucky, and get back a brighter version of the lost principle of freedom. And if not, the quicker we are slaves the better—[Pg 374]for the necessity of freedom shall become plain that much the sooner.

I could see the exultant marching of the fifteen million defenders of the indefensible. The burial squads of the Atomic Age are forming. Soon it will be fashionable for women to knit Geiger counters. Two-minute speakers, hastily instructed at the Y.M.C.A. will explain the need for volunteers and tell us what must be done when it is too late to do anything. Boy Scouts will learn to decontaminate the same, old, innocent surfaces. And the prizes at ladies’ bridge will have the shape of guided missiles.

A great age to be alive in

while it lasts.

And that is how I began to laugh again.

For God is in His Heaven and all is well with Him.

Now the sun thrust a raffish beam through the clouds and gave to the room a curious, amber glow. All of us sitting there shared this discrete cube of light as fish share the water in an aquarium. And all of us, or nearly all, failed like the fish to penetrate the dimensions of our environs. Whichever way we looked we saw, not the great world outside, but only the image of ourselves. It was the nature of the place, we said; we never noticed that it was our failure to look anywhere save at our side of the glass walls.

This extra light also disclosed a fresh secret of the Knight’s Bar. I had thought that the mural horsemen were on their way to Elaine’s tower in Astolat. It seems not. Over the weekend the artist had fixed to the wall his final composition, a painting of the Grail, silk-muffled and centered in a rosy halo. It occupied a circular place directly over the bar.

How apt!

The very effort of questing leads most but to a deeper unconsciousness.

This is the moral of Faith—so far.

And the moral of Research—so far.

Why is that so?

[Pg 375]

Because they go in conceited search of salvation for themselves, or in search of knowledge for what is pompously called its own sake.

Now the Musak took up a suitable accompaniment for my mirth.

Ja-da
Ja-da
Ja-da, ja-da, jing, jing, jing!
Segue into silence, fade-out, and fast iron curtain.
The End