1 Beyond the Zero
Nature does not know extinction; all it knows is transformation. Everything science has taught me, and continues to teach me, strengthens my belief in the continuity of our spiritual existence after death.
—wernher von braun
A SCREAMING COMES ACROSS THE SKY. It has happened before, but there is nothing to compare it to now.
It is too late. The Evacuation still proceeds, but it's all theatre. There are no lights inside the cars. No light anywhere. Above him lift girders old as an iron queen, and glass somewhere far above that would let the light of day through. But it's night. He's afraid of the way the glass will fall—soon—it will be a spectacle: the fall of a crystal palace. But coming down in total blackout, without one glint of light, only great invisible crashing.
Inside the carriage, which is built on several levels, he sits in velveteen darkness, with nothing to smoke, feeling metal nearer and farther rub and connect, steam escaping in puffs, a vibration in the carriage's frame, a poising, an uneasiness, all the others pressed in around, feeble ones, second sheep, all out of luck and time: drunks, old veterans still in shock from ordnance 20 years obsolete, hustlers in city clothes, derelicts, exhausted women with more children than it seems could belong to anyone, stacked about among the rest of the things to be carried out to salvation. Only the nearer faces are visible at all, and at that only as half-silvered images in a view finder, green-stained VIP faces remembered behind bulletproof windows speeding through the city. ...
They have begun to move. They pass in line, out of the main station, out of downtown, and begin pushing into older and more desolate parts of the city. Is this the way out? Faces turn to the windows, but no one dares ask, not out loud. Rain comes down. No, this is not a disentanglement from, but a progressive knotting into—they go in under archways, secret entrances of rotted concrete that only looked like loops of an underpass . . . certain trestles of blackened wood have moved slowly by overhead, and the smells begun of coal from days far to the past, smells of naphtha winters, of Sundays when no traffic came through, of the coral-like and mysteriously vital growth, around the blind curves and out the lonely spurs, a sour smell of rolling-stock absence, of maturing rust, developing through those emptying days brilliant and deep, especially at dawn, with blue shadows to seal its passage, to try to bring events to Absolute Zero . . . and it is poorer the deeper they go ... ruinous secret cities of poor, places whose names he has never heard. . . the walls break down, the roofs get fewer and so do the chances for light. The road, which ought to be opening out into a broader highway, instead has been getting narrower, more broken, cornering tighter and tighter until all at once, much too soon, they are under the final arch: brakes grab and spring terribly. It is a judgment from which there is no appeal.
The caravan has halted. It is the end of the line. All the evacuees are ordered out. They move slowly, but without resistance. Those marshaling them wear cockades the color of lead, and do not speak. It is some vast, very old and dark hotel, an iron extension of the track and switchery by which they have come here. . . . Globular lights, painted a dark green, hang from under the fancy iron eaves, unlit for centuries . . . the crowd moves without murmurs or coughing down corridors straight and functional as warehouse aisles . . . velvet black surfaces contain the movement: the smell is of old wood, of remote wings empty all this time just reopened to accommodate the rush of souls, of cold plaster where all the rats have died, only their ghosts, still as cave-painting, fixed stubborn and luminous in the walls . . . the evacuees are taken in lots, by elevator—a moving wood scaffold open on all sides, hoisted by old tarry ropes and cast-iron pulleys whose spokes are shaped like Ss. At each brown floor, passengers move on and off. . . thousands of these hushed rooms without light. . . .
Some wait alone, some share their invisible rooms with others. Invisible, yes, what do the furnishings matter, at this stage of things? Underfoot crunches the oldest of city dirt, last crystallizations of all the city had denied, threatened, lied to its children. Each has been hearing a voice, one he thought was talking only to him, say, "You didn't really believe you'd be saved. Come, we all know who we are by now. No one was ever going to take the trouble to save you, old fellow...."
There is no way out. Lie and wait, lie still and be quiet. Screaming holds across the sky. When it comes, will it come in darkness, or will it bring its own light? Will the light come before or after?
But it is already light. How long has it been light? All this while, light has come percolating in, along with the cold morning air flowing now across his nipples: it has begun to reveal an assortment of drunken wastrels, some in uniform and some not, clutching empty or near-empty bottles, here draped over a chair, there huddled into a cold fireplace, or sprawled on various divans, un-Hoovered rugs and chaise longues down the different levels of the enormous room, snoring and wheezing at many rhythms, in self-renewing chorus, as London light, winter and elastic light, grows between the faces of the mullioned windows, grows among the strata of last night's smoke still hung, fading, from the waxed beams of the ceiling. All these horizontal here, these comrades in arms, look just as rosy as a bunch of Dutch peasants dreaming of their certain resurrection in the next few minutes.
His name is Capt. Geoffrey ("Pirate") Prentice. He is wrapped in a thick blanket, a tartan of orange, rust, and scarlet. His skull feels made of metal.
Just above him, twelve feet overhead, Teddy Bloat is about to fall out of the minstrels' gallery, having chosen to collapse just at the spot where somebody in a grandiose fit, weeks before, had kicked out two of the ebony balusters. Now, in his stupor, Bloat has been inching through the opening, head, arms, and torso, until all that's keeping him up there is an empty champagne split in his hip pocket, that's got hooked somehow—
By now Pirate has managed to sit up on his narrow bachelor bed, and blink about. How awful. How bloody awful . . . above him, he hears cloth rip. The Special Operations Executive has trained him to fast responses. He leaps off of the cot and kicks it rolling on its casters in Bloat's direction. Bloat, plummeting, hits square amidships with a great strum of bedsprings. One of the legs collapses. "Good morning," notes Pirate. Bloat smiles briefly and goes back to sleep, snuggling well into Pirate's blanket.
Bloat is one of the co-tenants of the place, a maisonette erected last century, not far from the Chelsea Embankment, by Corydon Throsp, an acquaintance of the Rossettis' who wore hair smocks and liked to cultivate pharmaceutical plants up on the roof (a tradition
young Osbie Feel has lately revived), a few of them hardy enough to
survive fogs and frosts, but most returning, as fragments of peculiar alkaloids, to rooftop earth, along with manure from a trio of prize Wes-sex Saddleback sows quartered there by Throsp's successor, and dead leaves off many decorative trees transplanted to the roof by later tenants, and the odd unstomachable meal thrown or vomited there by this or that sensitive epicurean—all got scumbled together, eventually, by the knives of the seasons, to an impasto, feet thick, of unbelievable black topsoil in which anything could grow, not the least being bananas. Pirate, driven to despair by the wartime banana shortage, decided to build a glass hothouse on the roof, and persuade a friend who flew the Rio-to-Ascension-to-Fort-Lamy run to pinch him a sapling banana tree or two, in exchange for a German camera, should Pirate happen across one on his next mission by parachute.
Pirate has become famous for his Banana Breakfast. Messmates throng here from all over England, even some who are allergic or outright hostile to bananas, just to watch—for the politics of bacteria, the soil's stringing of rings and chains in nets only God can tell the meshes of, have seen the fruit thrive often to lengths of a foot and a half, yes amazing but true.
Pirate in the lavatory stands pissing, without a thought in his head. Then he threads himself into a wool robe he wears inside out so as to keep his cigarette pocket hidden, not that this works too well, and circling the warm bodies of friends makes his way to French windows, slides outside into the cold, groans as it hits the fillings in his teeth, climbs a spiral ladder ringing to the roof garden and stands for a bit, watching the river. The sun is still below the horizon. The day feels like rain, but for now the air is uncommonly clear. The great power station, and the gasworks beyond, stand precisely: crystals grown in morning's beaker, stacks, vents, towers, plumbing, gnarled emissions of steam and smoke. . . .
"Hhahh," Pirate in a voiceless roar watching his breath slip away over the parapets, "hhaahhh!" Rooftops dance in the morning. His giant bananas cluster, radiant yellow, humid green. His companions below dream drooling of a Banana Breakfast. This well-scrubbed day ought to be no worse than any—
Will it? Far to the east, down in the pink sky, something has just sparked, very brightly. A new star, nothing less noticeable. He leans on the parapet to watch. The brilliant point has already become a short vertical white line. It must be somewhere out over the North Sea . . . at least that far ... icefields below and a cold smear of sun. . . .
What is it? Nothing like this ever happens. But Pirate knows it, after all. He has seen it in a film, just in the last fortnight. . . it's a vapor trail. Already a finger's width higher now. But not from an airplane.
Airplanes are not launched vertically. This is the new, and still Most Secret, German rocket bomb.
"Incoming mail." Did he whisper that, or only think it? He tightens the ragged belt of his robe. Well, the range of these things is supposed to be over 200 miles. You can't see a vapor trail 200 miles, now, can you.
Oh. Oh, yes: around the curve of the Earth, farther east, the sun over there, just risen over in Holland, is striking the rocket's exhaust, drops and crystals, making them blaze clear across the sea. . . .
The white line, abruptly, has stopped its climb. That would be fuel cutoff, end of burning, what's their word . . . Brennschluss. We don't have one. Or else it's classified. The bottom of the line, the original star, has already begun to vanish in red daybreak. But the rocket will be here before Pirate sees the sun rise.
The trail, smudged, slightly torn in two or three directions, hangs in the sky. Already the rocket, gone pure ballistic, has risen higher. But invisible now.
Oughtn't he to be doing something . . . get on to the operations room at Stanmore, they must have it on the Channel radars—no: no time, really. Less than five minutes Hague to here (the time it takes to walk down to the teashop on the corner . . . for light from the sun to reach the planet of love ... no time at all). Run out in the street? Warn the others?
Pick bananas. He trudges through black compost in to the hothouse. He feels he's about to shit. The missile, sixty miles high, must be coming up on the peak of its trajectory by now . . . beginning its fall. . . now. . . .
Trusswork is pierced by daylight, milky panes beam beneficently down. How could there be a winter—even this one—gray enough to age this iron that can sing in the wind, or cloud these windows that open into another season, however falsely preserved?
Pirate looks at his watch. Nothing registers. The pores of his face are prickling. Emptying his mind—a Commando trick—he steps into the wet heat of his bananery, sets about picking the ripest and the best, holding up the skirt of his robe to drop them in. Allowing himself to count only bananas, moving barelegged among the pendulous bunches, among these yellow chandeliers, this tropical twilight. . . .
Out into the winter again. The contrail is gone entirely from the sky. Pirate's sweat lies on his skin almost as cold as ice.
He takes some time lighting a cigarette. He won't hear the thing come in. It travels faster than the speed of sound. The first news you get of it is the blast. Then, if you're still around, you hear the sound of it coming in.
What if it should hit exactly—ahh, no—for a split second you'd have to feel the very point, with the terrible mass above, strike the top of the skull. . . .
Pirate hunches his shoulders, bearing his bananas down the corkscrew ladder.
Across a blue tile patio, in through a door to the kitchen. Routine: plug in American blending machine won from Yank last summer, some poker game, table stakes, B.O.Q. somewhere in the north, never remember now. . . . Chop several bananas into pieces. Make Coffee in urn. Get can of milk from cooler. Puree 'nanas in milk. Lovely. I would coat all the booze-corroded stomachs of England. . . . Bit of marge, still smells all right, melt in skillet. Peel more bananas, slice lengthwise. Marge sizzling, in go long slices. Light oven whoomp blow us all up someday oh, ha, ha, yes. Peeled whole bananas to go on broiler grill soon as it heats. Find marshmallows. . . .
In staggers Teddy Bloat with Pirate's blanket over his head, slips on a banana peel and falls on his ass. "Kill myself," he mumbles.
"The Germans will do it for you. Guess what I saw from the roof."
"That V-2 on the way?"
"I watched it out the window. About ten minutes ago. Looked queer, didn't it. Haven't heard a thing since, have you. It must have fallen short. Out to sea or something."
"Ten minutes?" Trying to read the time on his watch.
"At least." Bloat is sitting on the floor, working the banana peel into a pajama lapel for a boutonnière.
Pirate goes to the phone and rings up Stanmore after all. Has to go through the usual long, long routine, but knows he's already stopped believing in the rocket he saw. God has plucked it for him, out of its airless sky, like a steel banana. "Prentice here, did you have anything like a pip from Holland a moment ago. Aha. Aha. Yes, we saw it." This could ruin a man's taste for sunrises. He rings off. "They lost it over the coast. They're calling it premature Brennschluss."
"Cheer up," Teddy crawling back toward the busted cot. "There'll be more."
Good old Bloat, always the positive word. Pirate for a few seconds there, waiting to talk to Stanmore, was thinking, Danger's over, Banana Breakfast is saved. But it's only a reprieve. Isn't it. There will indeed be others, each just as likely to land on top of him. No one either side of the front knows exactly how many more. Will we have to stop watching the sky?
Osbie Feel stands in the minstrels' gallery, holding one of the biggest of Pirate's bananas so that it protrudes out the fly of his striped pajarna bottoms—stroking with his other hand the great jaundiced curve in triplets against 4/4 toward the ceiling, he acknowledges dawn with the following:
Time to gather your arse up off the floor,
(have a bana-na)
Brush your teeth and go toddling off to war. Wave your hand to sleepy land, Kiss those dreams away, Tell Miss Grable you're not able, Not till V-E Day, oh, Ev'rything'll be grand in Civvie Street
(have a bana-na)
Bubbly wine and girls wiv lips so sweet— But there's still the German or two to fight, So show us a smile that's shiny bright, And then, as we may have suggested once before— Gather yer blooming arse up off the floor!
There's a second verse, but before he can get quite into it, prancing Osbie is leaped upon and thoroughly pummeled, in part with his own stout banana, by Bartley Gobbitch, DeCoverley Pox, and Maurice ("Saxophone") Reed, among others. In the kitchen, black-market marshmallows slide languid into syrup atop Pirate's double boiler, and soon begin thickly to bubble. Coffee brews. On a wooden pub sign daringly taken, one daylight raid, by a drunken Bartley Gobbitch, across which still survives in intaglio the legend SNIPE AND SHAFT, Teddy Bloat is mincing bananas with a great isosceles knife, from beneath whose nervous blade Pirate with one hand shovels the blonde mash into waffle batter resilient with fresh hens' eggs, for which Osbie Feel has exchanged an equal number of golf balls, these being even rarer this winter than real eggs, other hand blending the fruit in, not overvigorously, with a wire whisk, whilst surly Osbie himself, sucking frequently at a half-pint milk bottle filled with Vat 69 and water, tends to the bananas in the skillet and broiler. Near the exit to the blue patio, DeCoverley Pox and Joaquin Stick stand by a concrete scale model of the Jungfrau, which some enthusiast back during the twenties spent a painstaking year modeling and casting before finding out it was too large to get out of any door, socking the slopes of the famous mountain with red rubber hot-water bags full of ice cubes, the idea being to pulverize the ice for Pirate's banana frappés. With their nights' growths of beard, matted hair, bloodshot eyes, miasmata of foul breath, DeCoverley and Joaquin are wasted gods urging on a tardy glacier.
Elsewhere in the maisonette, other drinking companions disentangle from blankets (one spilling wind from his, dreaming of a parachute), piss into bathroom sinks, look at themselves with dismay in concave shaving mirrors, slap water with no clear plan in mind onto heads of thinning hair, struggle into Sam Brownes, dub shoes against rain later in the day with hand muscles already weary of it, sing snatches of popular songs whose tunes they don't always know, lie, believing themselves warmed, in what patches of the new sunlight come between the mullions, begin tentatively to talk shop as a way of easing into whatever it is they'll have to be doing in less than an hour, lather necks and faces, yawn, pick their noses, search cabinets or bookcases for the hair of the dog that not without provocation and much prior conditioning bit them last night.
Now there grows among all the rooms, replacing the night's old smoke, alcohol and sweat, the fragile, musaceous odor of Breakfast: flowery, permeating, surprising, more than the color of winter sunlight, taking over not so much through any brute pungency or volume as by the high intricacy to the weaving of its molecules, sharing the conjuror's secret by which—though it is not often Death is told so clearly to fuck off—the living genetic chains prove even labyrinthine enough to preserve some human face down ten or twenty generations ... so the same assertion-through-structure allows this war morning's banana fragrance to meander, repossess, prevail. Is there any reason not to open every window, and let the kind scent blanket all Chelsea? As a spell, against falling objects. . . .
With a clattering of chairs, upended shell cases, benches, and ottomans, Pirate's mob gather at the shores of the great refectory table, a southern island well across a tropic or two from chill Corydon Throsp's mediaeval fantasies, crowded now over the swirling dark grain of its walnut uplands with banana omelets, banana sandwiches, banana casseroles, mashed bananas molded in the shape of a British lion rampant, blended with eggs into batter for French toast, squeezed out a pastry nozzle across the quivering creamy reaches of a banana blancmange to spell out the words C'est magnifique, mais ce n'est pas la guerre (attributed to a French observer during the Charge of the Light Brigade) which Pirate has appropriated as his motto . . . tall cruets of pale banana syrup to pour oozing over banana waffles, a giant glazed crock where diced bananas have been fermenting since the summer with wild honey and muscat raisins, up out of which, this winter morning, one now dips foam mugsfull of banana mead . . . banana croissants and banana kreplach, and banana oatmeal and banana jam and banana bread, and bananas flamed in ancient brandy Pirate brought back last year from a cellar in the Pyrenees also containing a clandestine radio transmitter . . .
The phone call, when it comes, rips easily across the room, the hangovers, the grabassing, the clatter of dishes, the shoptalk, the bitter chuckles, like a rude metal double-fart, and Pirate knows it's got to be for him. Bloat, who's nearest, takes it, forkful of bananes glacées poised fashionably in the air. Pirate takes up a last dipper of mead, feels it go valving down his throat as if it's time, time in its summer tranquility, he swallows.
"It's not fair," Pirate moans, "I haven't even done me morning pushups yet."
The voice, which he's heard only once before—last year at a briefing, hands and face blackened, anonymous among a dozen other listeners—tells Pirate now there's a message addressed to him, waiting at Greenwich.
"It came over in a rather delightful way," the voice high-pitched and sullen, "none of my friends are that clever. All my mail arrives by post. Do come collect it, won't you, Prentice." Receiver hits cradle a violent whack, connection breaks, and now Pirate knows where this morning's rocket landed, and why there was no explosion. Incoming mail, indeed. He gazes through sunlight's buttresses, back down the refectory at the others, wallowing in their plenitude of bananas, thick palatals of their hunger lost somewhere in the stretch of morning between them and himself. A hundred miles of it, so suddenly. Solitude, even among the meshes of this war, can when it wishes so take him by the blind gut and touch, as now, possessively. Pirate's again some other side of a window, watching strangers eat breakfast.
He's driven out, away, east over Vauxhall Bridge in a dented green Lagonda by his batman, a Corporal Wayne. The morning seems togrow colder the higher the sun rises. Clouds begin to gather after all. A crew of American sappers spills into the road, on route to clear some ruin nearby, singing:
Colder than the nipple on a witch's tit! Colder than a bucket of penguin shit! Colder than the hairs of a polar bear's ass! Colder than the frost on a champagne glass!
No, they are making believe to be narodnik, but / know, they are of lasi, of Codreanu, his men, men of the League, they . . . they kill for him—they have oath! They try to kill me . . . Transylvanian Magyars, they know spells ... at night they whisper. . . . Well, hrrump, heh, heh, here comes Pirate's Condition creeping over him again, when he's least expecting it as usual—might as well mention here that much of what the dossiers call Pirate Prentice is a strange talent for—well, for getting inside the fantasies of others: being able, actually, to take over the burden of managing them, in this case those of an exiled Rumanian royalist who may prove needed in the very near future. It is a gift the Firm has found uncommonly useful: at this time mentally healthy leaders and other historical figures are indispensable. What better way to cup and bleed them of excess anxiety than to get someone to take over the running of their exhausting little daydreams for them ... to live in the tame green lights of their tropical refuges, in the breezes through their cabanas, to drink their tall drinks, changing your seat to face the entrances of their public places, not letting their innocence suffer any more than it already has ... to get their erections for them, at the oncome of thoughts the doctors feel are inappropriate . . . fear all, all that they cannot afford to fear . . . remembering the words of P. M. S. Blackett, "You can't run a war on gusts of emotion." Just hum the nitwit little tune they taught you, and try not to fuck up:
Fellow that's hav-ing other peop-le's fan-tasies, Suffering what they ought to be themselves— No matter if Girly's on my knee— If Kruppingham-Jones is late to tea, I don't even get to ask for whom the bell's ... [Now over a lotta tubas and close-harmony trombones] It never does seem to mat-ter if there's daaaanger, For Danger's a roof I fell from long ago —
I'll be out-one-day and never come back,
Forget the bitter you owe me, Jack,
Just piss on m' grave and car-ry on the show!
He will then actually skip to and fro, with his knees high and twirling a walking stick with W. C. Fields' head, nose, top hat, and all, for its knob, and surely capable of magic, while the band plays a second chorus. Accompanying will be a phantasmagoria, a real one, rushing toward the screen, in over the heads of the audiences, on little tracks of an elegant Victorian cross section resembling the profile of a chess knight conceived fancifully but not vulgarly so—then rushing back out again, in and out, the images often changing scale so quickly, so unpredictably that you're apt now and then to get a bit of lime-green in with your rose, as they say. The scenes are highlights from Pirate's career as a fantasist-surrogate, and go back to when he was carrying, everywhere he went, the mark of Youthful Folly growing in an unmistakable Mongoloid point, right out of the middle of his head. He had known for a while that certain episodes he dreamed could not be his own. This wasn't through any rigorous daytime analysis of content, but just because he knew. But then came the day when he met, for the first time, the real owner of a dream he, Pirate, had had: it was by a drinking fountain in a park, a very long, neat row of benches, a feeling of sea just over a landscaped rim of small cypresses, gray crushed stone on the walks looking soft to sleep on as the brim of a fedora, and here comes this buttonless and drooling derelict, the one you are afraid of ever meeting, to pause and watch two Girl Guides trying to adjust the water pressure of the fountain. They bent over, unaware, the saucy darlings, of the fatal strips of white cotton knickers thus displayed, the undercurves of baby-fat little buttocks a blow to the Genital Brain, however pixilated. The tramp laughed and pointed, he looked back at Pirate then and said something extraordinary: "Eh? Girl Guides start pumping water . . . your sound will be the sizzling night . . . eh?" staring directly at no one but Pirate now, no more pretense. . . . Well, Pirate had dreamed these very words, morning before last, just before waking, they'd been part of the usual list of prizes in a Competition grown crowded and perilous, out of some indoor intervention of charcoal streets ... he couldn't remember that well . . . scared out of his wits by now, he replied, "Go away, or I will call a policeman."
It took care of the immediate problem for him. But sooner or later the time would come when someone else would find out his gift, someone to whom it mattered—he had a long-running fantasy of his own, rather a Eugène Sue melodrama, in which he would be abducted by an organization of dacoits or Sicilians, and used for unspeakable purposes.
In 1935 he had his first episode outside any condition of known sleep—it was during his Kipling Period, beastly Fuzzy-Wuzzies far as eye could see, dracunculiasis and Oriental sore rampant among the troops, no beer for a month, wireless being jammed by other Powers who would be masters of these horrid blacks, God knows why, and all folklore broken down, no Gary Grant larking in and out slipping elephant Medicine in the punchbowls out here . .. not even an Arab With A Big Greasy Nose to perform on, as in that wistful classic every tommy's heard . . . small wonder that one fly-blown four in the afternoon, open-eyed, in the smell of rotting melon rinds, to the seventy-seven-millionth repetition of the outpost's only Gramophone record, Sandy MacPherson playing on his organ "The Changing of the Guard," what should develop for Pirate here but a sumptuous Oriental episode: vaulting lazily and well over the fence and sneaking in to town, to the Forbidden Quarter. There to stumble into an orgy held by a Messiah no one has quite recognized yet, and to know, as your eyes meet, that you are his John the Baptist, his Nathan of Gaza, that it is you who must convince him of his Godhead, proclaim him to others, love him both profanely and in the Name of what he is ... it could be no one's fantasy but H. A. Loaf's. There is at least one Loaf in every outfit, it is Loaf who keeps forgetting that those of the Moslem faith are not keen on having snaps taken of them in the street... it is Loaf who borrows one's shirt runs out of cigarettes finds the illicit one in your pocket and lights up in the canteen at high noon, where presently he is reeling about with a loose smile, addressing the sergeant commanding the red-cap section by his Christian name. So of course when Pirate makes the mistake of verifying the fantasy with Loaf, it's not very long at all before higher echelons know about it too. Into the dossier it goes, and eventually the Firm, in Their tireless search for negotiable skills, will summon him under Whitehall, to observe him in his trances across the blue baize fields and the terrible paper gaming, his eyes rolled back into his head reading old, glyptic old graffiti on his own sockets. . . .
The first few times nothing clicked. The fantasies were O.K. but belonged to nobody important. But the Firm is patient, committed to the Long Run as They are. At last, one proper Sherlock Holmes London evening, the unmistakable smell of gas came to Pirate from a dark
street lamp, and out of the fog ahead materialized a giant, organlike form. Carefully, black-shod step by step, Pirate approached the thing. It began to slide forward to meet him, over the cobblestones slow as a snail, leaving behind some slime brightness of street-wake that could not have been from fog. In the space between them was a crossover point, which Pirate, being a bit faster, reached first. He reeled back, in horror, back past the point—but such recognitions are not reversible. It was a giant Adenoid. At least as big as St. Paul's, and growing hour by hour. London, perhaps all England, was in mortal peril!
This lymphatic monster had once blocked the distinguished pharynx of Lord Blatherard Osmo, who at the time occupied the Novi Pazar desk at the Foreign Office, an obscure penance for the previous century of British policy on the Eastern Question, for on this obscure sanjak had once hinged the entire fate of Europe:
Nobody knows-where, it is-on-the-map,
Who'd ever think-it, could start-such-a-flap?
Each Montenegran, and Serbian too,
Waitin' for some-thing, right outa the blue—oh honey
Pack up my Glad-stone, 'n' brush off my suit,
And then light me up my bigfat, cigar—
If ya want my address, it's
That O-ri-ent Express,
To the san-jak of No-vi Pa-zar!
Chorus line of quite nubile young women naughtily attired in Busbies and jackboots dance around for a bit here while in another quarter Lord Blatherard Osmo proceeds to get assimilated by his own growing Adenoid, some horrible transformation of cell plasma it is quite beyond Edwardian Medicine to explain . . . before long, tophats are littering the squares of Mayfair, cheap perfume hanging ownerless in the pub lights of the East End as the Adenoid continues on its rampage, not swallowing up its victims at random, no, the fiendish Adenoid has a master plan, it's choosing only certain personalities useful to it—there is a new election, a new pretention abroad in England here that throws the Home Office into hysterical and painful episodes of indecision ... no one knows what to do ... a halfhearted attempt is made to evacuate London, black phaetons clatter in massive ant-cortege over the trusswork bridges, observer balloons are stationed in the sky, "Got it in Hampstead Heath, just sitting breathing, like . . . going in, and out . . ." "Any sort of sound down there?" "Yes, it's horrible . . . like a stupendous nose sucking in snot. . . wait, now it's . . . beginning to ...oh, no . . . oh, God, I can't describe it, it's so beast—" the wire is snapped, the transmission ends, the balloon rises into the teal-blue daybreak. Teams come down from the Cavendish Laboratory, to string the Heath with huge magnets, electric-arc terminals, black iron control panels mil of gauges and cranks, the Army shows up in full battle gear with bombs full of the latest deadly gas—the Adenoid is blasted, electric-shocked, poisoned, changes color and shape here and there, yellow fat-nodes appear high over the trees . . . before the flash-powder cameras of the Press, a hideous green pseudopod crawls toward the cordon of troops and suddenly sshhlop! wipes out an entire observation post with a deluge of some disgusting orange mucus in which the unfortunate men are digested—not screaming but actually laughing, enjoying themselves. . . .
Pirate/Osmo's mission is to establish liaison with the Adenoid. The situation is now stable, the Adenoid occupies all of St. James's, the historic buildings are no more, Government offices have been relocated, but so dispersed that communication among them is highly uncertain—postmen are being snatched off of their rounds by stiff-pimpled Adenoid tentacles of fluorescent beige, telegraph wires are apt to go down at any whim of the Adenoid. Each morning Lord Blatherard Osmo must put on his bowler, and take his briefcase out to the Adenoid to make his daily démarche. It is taking up so much of his time he's begun to neglect Novi Pazar, and P.O. is worried. In the thirties balance-of-power thinking was still quite strong, the diplomats were all down with Balkanosis, spies with foreign hybrid names lurked in all the stations of the Ottoman rump, code messages in a dozen Slavic tongues were being tattooed on bare upper lips over which the operatives then grew mustaches, to be shaved off only by authorized crypto officers and skin then grafted over the messages by the Firm's plastic surgeons .. . their lips were palimpsests of secret flesh, scarred and unnaturally white, by which they all knew each other.
Novi Pazar, anyhow, was still a croix mystique on the palm of Europe, and EO. finally decided to go to the Firm for help. The Firm knew just the man.
Every day, for 2 1/2 years, Pirate went out to visit the St. James Adenoid. It nearly drove him crazy. Though he was able to develop a pidgin by which he and the Adenoid could communicate, unfortunately he wasn't nasally equipped to make the sounds too well, and it got to be an awful chore. As the two of them snuffled back and forth, alienists in black seven-button suits, admirers of Dr. Freud the Adenoid clearly had no use for, stood on stepladders up against its loathsome grayish
flank shoveling the new wonderdrug cocaine—bringing hods full of the white substance, in relays, up the ladders to smear on the throbbing gland-creature, and into the germ toxins bubbling nastily inside its crypts, with no visible effects at all (though who knows how that Adenoid felt, eh?).
But Lord Blatherard Osmo was able at last to devote all of his time to Novi Pazar. Early in 1939, he was discovered mysteriously suffocated in a bathtub full of tapioca pudding, at the home of a Certain Viscountess. Some have seen in this the hand of the Firm. Months passed, World War II started, years passed, nothing was heard from Novi Pazar. Pirate Prentice had saved Europe from the Balkan Armageddon the old men dreamed of, giddy in their beds with its grandeur—though not from World War II, of course. But by then, the Firm was allowing Pirate only tiny Homeopathic doses of peace, just enough to keep his defenses up, but not enough for it to poison him.
Teddy Bloat's on his lunch hour, but lunch today'll be, ack, a soggy banana sandwich in wax paper, which he's packing inside his stylish kangaroohide musette bag and threaded around the odd necessities— midget spy-camera, jar of mustache wax, tin of licorice, menthol and capsicum Meloids for a Mellow Voice, gold-rim prescription sunglasses General MacArthur style, twin silver hairbrushes each in the shape of the flaming SHAEF sword, which Mother had Garrard's make up for him and which he considers exquisite.
His objective this dripping winter noon is a gray stone town house, neither large nor historic enough to figure in any guidebook, set back just out of sight of Grosvenor Square, somewhat off the official war-routes and corridors about the capital. When the typewriters happen to pause (8:20 and other mythical hours), and there are no flights of American bombers in the sky, and the motor traffic's not too heavy in Oxford Street, you can hear winter birds cheeping outside, busy at the feeders the girls have put up.
Flagstones are slippery with mist. It is the dark, hard, tobacco-starved, headachy, sour-stomach middle of the day, a million bureaucrats are diligently plotting death and some of them even know it, many about now are already into the second or third pint or highball glass, which produces a certain desperate aura here. But Bloat, going in the sandbagged entrance (provisional pyramids erected to gratify
curious gods' offspring indeed), can't feel a bit of it: he's too busy running through plausible excuses should he happen to get caught, not that he will, you know. . . .
Girl at the main desk, gumpopping, good-natured bespectacled ATS, waves him on upstairs. Damp woolen aides on the way to staff meetings, W.C.s, an hour or two of earnest drinking, nod, not really seeing him, he's a well-known face, what's'isname's mate, Oxford chums aren't they, that lieutenant works down the hall at ACHTUNG. . . .
The old house has been subdivided by the slummakers of war. ACHTUNG is Allied Clearing House, Technical Units, Northern Germany. It's a stale-smoke paper warren, at the moment nearly deserted, its black typewriters tall as grave markers. The floor is filthy lino, there are no windows: the electric light is yellow, cheap, merciless. Bloat looks into the office assigned to his old Jesus college friend, Lt. Oliver ("Tantivy") Mucker-Maffick. No one's about. Tantivy and the Yank are both at lunch. Good. Out wiv the old camera then, on with the gooseneck lamp, now aim the reflector just so ...
There must be cubicles like this all over the ETO: only the three dingy scuffed-cream fiberboard walls and no ceiling of its own. Tantivy shares it with an American colleague, Lt. Tyrone Slothrop. Their desks are at right angles, so there's no eye contact but by squeaking around some 90°. Tantivy's desk is neat, Slothrop's is a godawful mess. It hasn't been cleaned down to the original wood surface since 1942. Things have fallen roughly into layers, over a base of bureaucratic smegma that sifts steadily to the bottom, made up of millions of tiny red and brown curls of rubber eraser, pencil shavings, dried tea or coffee stains, traces of sugar and Household Milk, much cigarette ash, very fine black debris picked and flung from typewriter ribbons, decomposing library paste, broken aspirins ground to powder. Then comes a scatter of paperclips, Zippo flints, rubber bands, staples, cigarette butts and crumpled packs, stray matches, pins, nubs of pens, stubs of pencils of all colors including the hard-to-get heliotrope and raw umber, wooden Coffee spoons, Thayer's Slippery Elm Throat Lozenges sent by Slothrop's mother, Nalline, all the way from Massachusetts, bits of tape, string, chalk . . . above that a layer of forgotten memoranda, empty buff ration books, phone numbers, unanswered letters, tattered sheets of carbon paper, the scribbled ukulele chords to a dozen songs including "Johnny Doughboy Found a Rose in Ireland" ("He does have some rather snappy arrangements," Tantivy reports, "he's a sort of American George Formby, if you can imagine such a
thing," but Bloat's decided he'd rather not), an empty Kreml hair tonic bottle, lost pieces to different jigsaw puzzles showing parts of the amber left eye of a Weimaraner, the green velvet folds of a gown, slate-blue veining in a distant cloud, the orange nimbus of an explosion (perhaps a sunset), rivets in the skin of a Flying Fortress, the pink inner thigh of a pouting pin-up girl ... a few old Weekly Intelligence Summaries from G-2, a busted corkscrewing ukulele string, boxes of gummed paper stars in many colors, pieces of a flashlight, top to a Nugget shoe polish can in which Slothrop now and then studies his blurry brass reflection, any number of reference books out of the ACHTUNG library back down the hall—a dictionary of technical German, an P.O. Special Handbook or Town Plan—and usually, unless it's been pinched or thrown away, a News of the World somewhere too—Slothrop's a faithful reader.
Tacked to the wall next to Slothrop's desk is a map of London, which Bloat is now busy photographing with his tiny camera. The musette bag is open, and the cubicle begins to fill with the smell of ripe bananas. Should he light a fag to cover this? air doesn't exactly stir in here, they'll know someone's been in. It takes him four exposures, click zippety click, my how very efficient at this he's become—anyone nips in one simply drops camera into bag where banana-sandwich cushions fall, telltale sound and harmful G-loads alike.
Too bad whoever's funding this little caper won't spring for color film. Bloat wonders if it mightn't make a difference, though he knows of no one he can ask. The stars pasted up on Slothrop's map cover the available spectrum, beginning with silver (labeled "Darlene") sharing a constellation with Gladys, green, and Katharine, gold, and as the eye strays Alice, Delores, Shirley, a couple of Sallys—mostly red and blue through here—a cluster near Tower Hill, a violet density about Covent garden, a nebular streaming on into Mayfair, Soho, and out to Wembley and up to Hampstead Heath—in every direction goes this glossy, multicolored, here and there peeling firmament, Carolines, Marias, Annes, Susans, Elizabeths.
But perhaps the colors are only random, uncoded. Perhaps the girls are not even real. From Tantivy, over weeks of casual questions (we know he's your schoolmate but it's too risky bringing him in), Bloat's only able to report that Slothrop began work on this map last autumn, about the time he started going out to look at rocket-bomb disasters for ACHTUNG—having evidently the time, in his travels among places of death, to devote to girl-chasing. If there's a reason for putting up the paper stars every few days the man hasn't explained it—it
doesn't seem to be for publicity, Tantivy's the only one who even glances at the map and that's more in the spirit of an amiable anthropologist—"Some sort of harmless Yank hobby," he tells his friend Bloat. "Perhaps it's to keep track of them all. He does lead rather a complicated social life," thereupon going into the story of Lorraine and Judy, Charles the homosexual constable and the piano in the pantechnicon, or the bizarre masquerade involving Gloria and her nubile mother, a quid wager on the Blackpool-Preston North End game, a naughty version of "Silent Night," and a providential fog. But none of these yarns, for the purposes of those Bloat reports to, are really very illuminating. . . .
Well. He's done now. Bag zipped, lamp off and moved back in place. Perhaps there's time to catch Tantivy over at the Snipe and Shaft, time for a comradely pint. He moves back down the beaver-board maze, in the weak yellow light, against a tide of incoming girls in galoshes, aloof Bloat unsmiling, no time for slap-and-tickle here you see, he still has his day's delivery to make. . . .
Wind has shifted around to the southwest, and the barometer's falling. The early afternoon is already dark as evening, under the massing rainclouds. Tyrone Slothrop is gonna be caught out in it, too. Today it's been a long, idiot chase out to zero longitude, with the usual nothing to show. This one was supposed to be another premature airburst, the lumps of burning rocket showering down for miles around, most of it into the river, only one piece in any kind of shape and that well surrounded, by the time Slothrop arrived, with the tightest security he's seen yet, and the least friendly. Soft, faded berets against the slate clouds, Mark III Stens set on automatic, mustaches mouthwide covering enormous upper lips, humorless—no chance for any American lieutenant to get a look, not today.
ACHTUNG, anyhow, is the poor relative of Allied intelligence. At least this time Slothrop's not alone, he's had the cold comfort of seeing his opposite number from T.I., and shortly after that even the man's section chief, come fussing onto the scene in a '37 Wolseley Wasp, both turned back too. Ha! Neither of them returning Slothrop's amiable nod. Tough shit, fellas. But shrewd Tyrone hangs around, distributing Lucky Strikes, long enough to find at least what's up with this Unlucky Strike, here.
What it is is a graphite cylinder, about six inches long and two in diameter, all but a few flakes of its Army-green paint charred away. Only piece that survived the burst. Evidently it was meant to. There seem to be papers stashed inside. Sergeant-major burned his hand picking it up and was heard to holler Oh fuck, causing laughter among the lower paygrades. Everybody was waiting around for a Captain Prentice from S.O.E. (those prickly bastards take their time about everything), who does presently show up. Slothrop gets a glimpse— windburned face, big mean mother. Prentice takes the cylinder, drives away, and that's that.
In which case, Slothrop reckons, ACHTUNG can, a bit wearily, submit its fifty-millionth interbranch request to that S.O.E., asking for some report on the cylinder's contents, and, as usual, be ignored. It's O.K., he's not bitter. S.O.E. ignores everybody, and everybody ignores ACHTUNG. A-and what does it matter, anyhow? It's his last rocket for a while. Hopefully for good.
This morning in his IN basket were orders sending him TDY some hospital out in the East End. No explanation beyond an attached carbon copy of a note to ACHTUNG requesting his reassignment "as part of the P.W.E. Testing Programme." Testing? P.W.E. is Political Warfare Executive, he looked that up. Some more of that Minnesota Multiphasic shit, no doubt. But it will be a change from this rocket-hunting routine, which is beginning to get a little old.
Once upon a time Slothrop cared. No kidding. He thinks he did, anyway. A lot of stuff prior to 1944 is getting blurry now. He can remember the first Blitz only as a long spell of good luck. Nothing that Luftwaffe dropped came near him. But this last summer they started in with those buzzbombs. You'd be walking on the street, in bed just dozing off suddenly here comes this farting sound over the rooftops—if it just keeps on, rising to a peak and passing over why that's fine, then it's somebody else's worry . . . but if the engine cuts off, look out Jackson—it's begun its dive, sloshing the fuel aft, away from the engine burner, and you've got 10 seconds to get under something. Well, it wasn't really too bad. After a while you adjusted—found yourself making small bets, a shilling or two, with Tantivy Mucker-Maffick at the next desk, about where the next doodle would hit. . . .
But then last September the rockets came. Them fucking rockets. You couldn't adjust to the bastards. No way. For the first time, he was surprised to find that he was really scared. Began drinking heavier, sleeping less, chain-smoking, feeling in some way he'd been taken for a sucker. Christ, it wasn't supposed to keep on like this. . . .
"I say Slothrop, you've already got one in your mouth—"
"Nervous," Slothrop lighting up anyway.
"Well not mine" Tantivy pleads.
"Two at a time, see?" making them point down like comicbook fangs. The lieutenants stare at each other through the beery shadows, with the day deepening outside the high cold windows of the Snipe and Shaft, and Tantivy about to laugh or snort oh God across the wood Atlantic of their table.
Atlantics aplenty there've been these three years, often rougher than the one William, the first transatlantic Slothrop, crossed many ancestors ago. Barbarities of dress and speech, lapses in behavior—one horrible evening drunken Slothrop, Tantivy's guest at the Junior Athenaeum, got them both 86'd feinting with the beak of a stuffed owl after the jugular of DeCoverley Pox whilst Pox, at bay on a billiard table, attempted to ram a cue ball down Slothrop's throat. This sort of thing goes on dismayingly often: yet kindness is a sturdy enough ship for these oceans, Tantivy always there blushing or smiling and Slothrop surprised at how, when it's really counted, Tantivy hasn't ever let him down.
He knows he can spill what's on his mind. It hasn't much to do with today's amorous report on Norma (dimply Cedar Rapids subdeb legs), Marjorie (tall, elegant, a build out of the chorus line at the Windmill) and the strange events Saturday night at the Frick Frack Club in Soho, a haunt of low reputation with moving spotlights of many pastel hues, off limits and NO jitterbug dancing signs laid on to satisfy the many sorts of police, military and civilian, whatever "civilian" means nowadays, who look in from time to time, and where against all chance, through some horrible secret plot, Slothrop, who was to meet one, walks in sees who but both, lined up in a row, the angle deliberately just for him, over the blue wool shoulder of an en-gineman 3rd class, under the bare lovely armpit of a lindy-hopping girl swung and posed, skin stained lavender by the shifting light just there, and then, paranoia flooding up, the two faces beginning to turn his way. . . .
Both young ladies happen to be silver stars on Slothrop's map. He must've been feeling silvery both times—shiny, jingling. The stars he pastes up are colored only to go with how he feels that day, blue on up to golden. Never to rank a single one—how can he? Nobody sees the map but Tantivy, and Christ they're all beautiful ... in leaf or flower around his wintering city, in teashops, in the queues babushkaed and coatwrapped, sighing, sneezing, all lisle legs on the curbstones, hitch-
hiking, typing or filing with pompadours sprouting yellow pencils, he finds them—dames, tomatoes, sweater girls—yes it is a little obsessive maybe but ... "I know there is wilde love and joy enough in the world," preached Thomas Hooker, "as there are wilde Thyme, and other herbes; but we would have garden love, and garden joy, of Gods owne planting." How Slothrop's garden grows. Teems with virgin's-bower, with forget-me-nots, with rue—and all over the place, purple and yellow as hickeys, a prevalence of love-in-idleness.
He likes to tell them about fireflies. English girls don't know about fireflies, which is about all Slothrop knows for sure about English girls.
The map does puzzle Tantivy. It cannot be put down to the usual loud-mouthed American ass-banditry, except as a fraternity-boy reflex in a vacuum, a reflex Slothrop can't help, barking on into an empty lab, into a wormholing of echoing hallways, long after the need has vanished and the brothers gone to WWII and their chances for death. Slothrop really doesn't like to talk about his girls: Tantivy has to steer him diplomatically, even now. At first Slothrop, quaintly gentlemanly, didn't talk at all, till he found out how shy Tantivy was. It dawned on him then that Tantivy was looking to be fixed up. At about the same time, Tantivy began to see the extent of Slothrop's isolation. He seemed to have no one else in London, beyond a multitude of girls he seldom saw again, to talk to about anything.
Still Slothrop keeps his map up daily, boobishly conscientious. At its best, it does celebrate a flow, a passing from which—among the sudden demolitions from the sky, mysterious orders arriving out of the dark laborings of nights that for himself are only idle—he can save a moment here or there, the days again growing colder, frost in the morning, the feeling of Jennifer's breasts inside cold sweater's wool held to warm a bit in a coal-smoke hallway he'll never know the daytime despondency of ... cup of Bovril a fraction down from boiling searing his bare knee as Irene, naked as he is in a block of glass sunlight, holds up precious nylons one by one to find a pair that hasn't laddered, each struck flashing by the light through the winter trellis outside . . . nasal hep American-girl voices singing out of the grooves of some disc up through the thorn needle of Allison's mother's radiogram . . . snuggling for warmth, blackout curtains over all the windows, no light but the coal of their last cigarette, an English firefly, bobbing at her whim in cursive writing that trails a bit behind, words he can't read. ...
"What happened?" Silence from Slothrop. "Your two Wrens . . .
when they saw you . . ." then he notices that Slothrop, instead of going on with his story, has given himself up to shivering. Has been shivering, in fact, for some time. It's cold in here, but not that cold. "Slothrop—"
"I don't know. Jesus." It's interesting, though. It's the weirdest feeling. He can't stop. He turns his Ike jacket collar up, tucks hands inside sleeves, and sits that way for a while.
Presently, after a pause, cigarette in motion, "You can't hear them when they come in."
Tantivy knows which "they." His eyes shift away. There is silence for a bit.
"Of course you can't, they go faster than sound."
"Yes but—that's not it," words are bursting out between the pulses of shivering—"the other kind, those V-ls, you can hear them. Right? Maybe you have a chance to get out of the way. But these things explode first, a-and then you hear them coming in. Except that, if you're dead, you don't hear them."
"Same in the infantry. You know that. You never hear the one that gets you."
"Uh, but—" :
"Think of it as a very large bullet, Slothrop. With fins."
"Jesus," teeth chattering, "you're such a comfort."
Tantivy, leaning anxiously through the smell of hops and the brown gloom, more worried now about Slothrop's shaking than any specter of his own, has nothing but established channels he happens to know of to try and conjure it away. "Why not see if we can get you out to where some of them have hit. ..."
"What for? Come on, Tantivy, they're completely destroyed. Aren't they?"
"I don't know. I doubt even the Germans know. But it's the best chance we'll have to one-up that lot over in T.I. Isn't it."
Which is how Slothrop got into investigating V-bomb "incidents." Aftermaths. Each morning—at first—someone in Civil Defence routed ACHTUNG a list of yesterday's hits. It would come round to Slothrop last, he'd detach its pencil-smeared buck slip, go draw the same aging Humber from the motor pool, and make his rounds, a Saint George after the fact, going out to poke about for droppings of the Beast, fragments of German hardware that wouldn't exist, writing empty summaries into his notebooks—work-therapy. As inputs to ACHTUNG got faster, often he'd show up in time to help the search crews—following restless-muscled RAF dogs into the plaster smell,
the gas leaking, the leaning long splinters and sagging mesh, the prone and noseless caryatids, rust already at nails and naked threadsurfaces, the powdery wipe of Nothing's hand across wallpaper awhisper with peacocks spreading their fans down deep lawns to Georgian houses long ago, to safe groves of holm oak . . . among the calls for silence following to where some exposed hand or brightness of skin waited them, survivor or casualty. When he couldn't help he stayed clear, praying, at first, conventionally to God, first time since the other Blitz, for life to win out. But too many were dying, and presently, seeing no point, he stopped.
Yesterday happened to be a good day. They found a child, alive, a little girl, half-suffocated under a Morrison shelter. Waiting for the stretcher, Slothrop held her small hand, gone purple with the cold. Dogs barked in the street. When she opened her eyes and saw him her first words were, "Any gum, chum?" Trapped there for two days, gum-less—all he had for her was a Thayer's Slippery Elm. He felt like an idiot. Before they took her off she brought his hand over to kiss anyway, her mouth and cheek in the flare lamps cold as frost, the city around them at once a big desolate icebox, stale-smelling and no surprises inside ever again. At which point she smiled, very faintly, and he knew that's what he'd been waiting for, wow, a Shirley Temple smile, as if this exactly canceled all they'd found her down in the middle of. What a damn fool thing. He hangs at the bottom of his blood's avalanche, 300 years of western swamp-Yankees, and can't manage but some nervous truce with their Providence. A détente. Ruins he goes daily to look in are each a sermon on vanity. That he finds, as weeks wear on, no least fragment of any rocket, preaches how indivisible is the act of death . . . Slothrop's Progress: London the secular city instructs him: turn any corner and he can find himself inside a parable.
He has become obsessed with the idea of a rocket with his name written on it—if they're really set on getting him ("They" embracing possibilities far far beyond Nazi Germany) that's the surest way, doesn't cost them a thing to paint his name on every one, right?
"Yes, well, that can be useful," Tantivy watching him funny, "can't it, especially in combat to, you know, pretend something like that. Jolly useful. Call it 'operational paranoia' or something. But—"
"Who's pretending?" lighting a cigarette, shaking his forelock through the smoke, "jeepers, Tantivy, listen, I don't want to upset you but... I mean I'm four years overdue's what it is, it could happen any
time, the next second, right, just suddenly . . . shit. . . just zero, just nothing . . . and ..."
It's nothing he can see or lay hands on—sudden gases, a violence upon the air and no trace afterward ... a Word, spoken with no warning into your ear, and then silence forever. Beyond its invisibility, beyond hammerfall and doomcrack, here is its real horror, mocking, promising him death with German and precise confidence, laughing down all of Tantivy's quiet decencies . . . no, no bullet with fins, Ace . . . not the Word, the one Word that rips apart the day. . . .
It was Friday evening, last September, just off work, heading for the Bond Street Underground station, his mind on the weekend ahead and his two Wrens, that Norma and that Marjorie, whom he must each keep from learning about the other, just as he was reaching to pick his nose, suddenly in the sky, miles behind his back and up the river mementomori a sharp crack and a heavy explosion, rolling right behind, almost like a clap of thunder. But not quite. Seconds later, this time from in front of him, it happened again: loud and clear, all over the city. Bracketed. Not a buzzbomb, not that Luftwaffe. "Not thunder either," he puzzled, out loud.
"Some bloody gas main," a lady with a lunchbox, puffy-eyed from the day, elbowing him in the back as she passed.
"No it's the Germans," her friend with rolled blonde fringes under a checked kerchief doing some monster routine here, raising her hands at Slothrop, "coming to get him, they especially love fat, plump Americans—" in a minute she'll be reaching out to pinch his cheek and wobble it back and forth.
"Hi, glamorpuss," Slothrop said. Her name was Cynthia. He managed to get a telephone number before she was waving ta-ta, borne again into the rush-hour crowds.
It was one of those great iron afternoons in London: the yellow sun being teased apart by a thousand chimneys breathing, fawning upward without shame. This smoke is more than the day's breath, more than dark strength—it is an imperial presence that lives and moves. People were crossing the streets and squares, going everywhere. Busses were grinding off, hundreds of them, down the long concrete viaducts smeared with years' pitiless use and no pleasure, into haze-gray, grease-black, red lead and pale aluminum, between scrap heaps that towered high as blocks of flats, down side-shoving curves into roads clogged with Army convoys, other tall busses and canvas lorries, bicycles and cars, everyone here with different destinations and beginnings, all flowing, hitching now and then, over it all the enormous gas ruin of the sun among the smokestacks, the barrage balloons, power lines and chimneys brown as aging indoor wood, brown growing
deeper, approaching black through an instant—perhaps the true turn of the sunset—that is wine to you, wine and comfort.
The Moment was 6:43:16 British Double Summer Time: the sky, beaten like Death's drum, still humming, and Slothrop's cock—say what? yes lookit inside his GI undershorts here's a sneaky hardon stirring, ready to jump—well great God where'd that come from?
There is in his history, and likely, God help him, in his dossier, a peculiar sensitivity to what is revealed in the sky. (But a hardon?)
On the old schist of a tombstone in the Congregational churchyard back Home in Mingeborough, Massachusetts, the hand of God emerges from a cloud, the edges of the figure here and there eroded by 200 years of seasons' fire and ice chisels at work, and the inscription reading:
In Memory of Confiant Slothrop, who died March y 4th 1766, in y 29th year of his age.
Death is a debt to nature due, Which I have paid, and fo muft you.
Constant saw, and not only with his heart, that stone hand pointing out of the secular clouds, pointing directly at him, its edges traced in unbearable light, above the whispering of his river and slopes of his long blue Berkshires, as would his son Variable Slothrop, indeed all of the Slothrop blood one way or another, the nine or ten generations tumbling back, branching inward: every one, except for William the very first, lying under fallen leaves, mint and purple loosestrife, chilly elm and willow shadows over the swamp-edge graveyard in a long gradient of rot, leaching, assimilation with the earth, the stones showing round-faced angels with the long noses of dogs, toothy and deep-socketed death's heads, Masonic emblems, flowery urns, feathery willows upright and broken, exhausted hourglasses, sunfaces about to rise or set with eyes peeking Kilroy-style over their horizon, and memorial verse running from straight-on and foursquare, as for Constant Slothrop, through bouncy Star Spangled Banner meter for Mrs. Elizabeth, wife of Lt. Isaiah Slothrop (d. 1812):
Adieu my dear friends, I have come to this grave Where Insatiate Death in his reaping hath brought me. Till Christ rise again all His children to save, I must lie, as His Word in the Scriptures hath taught me.
Mark, Reader, my cry! Bend thy thoughts on the Sky, And in midst of prosperity, know thou may'st die. While the great Loom of God works in darkness above, And our trials here below are but threads of His Love.
To the current Slothrop's grandfather Frederick (d. 1933), who in typical sarcasm and guile bagged his epitaph from Emily Dickinson, without a credit line:
Because I could not stop for Death He kindly stopped for me
Each one in turn paying his debt to nature due and leaving the excess to the next link in the name's chain. They began as fur traders, cord-wainers, salters and smokers of bacon, went on into glassmaking, became selectmen, builders of tanneries, quarriers of marble. Country for miles around gone to necropolis, gray with marble dust, dust that was the breaths, the ghosts, of all those fake-Athenian monuments going up elsewhere across the Republic. Always elsewhere. The money seeping its way out through stock portfolios more intricate than any genealogy: what stayed at Home in Berkshire went into timberland whose diminishing green reaches were converted acres at a clip into paper—toilet paper, banknote stock, newsprint—a medium or ground for shit, money, and the Word. They were not aristocrats, no Slothrop ever made it into the Social Register or the Somerset Club—they carried on their enterprise in silence, assimilated in life to the dynamic that surrounded them thoroughly as in death they would be to churchyard earth. Shit, money, and the Word, the three American truths, powering the American mobility, claimed the Slothrops, clasped them for good to the country's fate.
But they did not prosper ,.. about all they did was persist—though it all began to go sour for them around the time Emily Dickinson, never far away, was writing
Ruin is formal, devil's work, Consecutive and slow— Fail in an instant no man did, Slipping is crash's law, still they would keep on. The tradition, for others, was clear, everyone knew—mine it out, work it, take all you can till it's gone then move on west, there's plenty more. But out of some reasoned inertia the Slothrops stayed east in Berkshire, perverse—close to the flooded quarries and logged-off hillsides they'd left like signed confessions across all that thatchy-brown, moldering witch-country. The profits slackening, the family ever multiplying. Interest from various numbered trusts was still turned, by family banks down in Boston every second or third generation, back into yet another trust, in long rallentando, in infinite series just perceptibly, term by term, dying . . . but never quite to the zero. . . .
The Depression, by the time it came, ratified what'd been under way. Slothrop grew up in a hilltop desolation of Businesses going under, hedges around the estates of the vastly rich, half-mythical cottagers from New York lapsing back now to green wilderness or straw death, all the crystal windows every single one smashed, Harrimans and Whitneys gone, lawns growing to hay, and the autumns no longer a time for foxtrots in the distances, limousines and lamps, but only the accustomed crickets again, apples again, early frosts to send the hummingbirds away, east wind, October rain: only winter certainties.
In 1931, the year of the Great Aspinwall Hotel Fire, young Tyrone was visiting his aunt and uncle in Lenox. It was in April, but for a second or two as he was coming awake in the strange room and the racket of big and little cousins' feet down the stairs, he thought of winter, because so often he'd been wakened like this, at this hour of sleep, by Pop, or Hogan, bundled outside still blinking through an overlay of dream into the cold to watch the Northern Lights.
They scared the shit out of him. Were the radiant curtains just about to swing open? What would the ghosts of the North, in their finery, have to show him?
But this was a spring night, and the sky was gusting red, warm-orange, the sirens howling in the valleys from Pittsfield, Lenox, and Lee—neighbors stood out on their porches to stare up at the shower of sparks falling down on the mountainside . . . "Like a meteor shower," they said, "Like cinders from the Fourth of July . . ." it was 1931, and those were the comparisons. The embers fell on and on for five hours while kids dozed and grownups got to drink Coffee and tell fire stories from other years.
But what Lights were these? What ghosts in command? And suppose, in the next moment, all of it, the complete night, -were to go out of control and curtains part to show us a winter no one has guessed at. ...
6:43:16 BDST—in the sky right now here is the same unfolding, just about to break through, his face deepening with its light, everything about to rush away and he to lose himself, just as his countryside has
ever proclaimed . . . slender church steeples poised up and down all these autumn hillsides, white rockets about to fire, only seconds of countdown away, rose windows taking in Sunday light, elevating and washing the faces above the pulpits defining grace, swearing this is how it does happen—yes the great bright hand reaching out of the cloud. ...
On the wall, in an ornate fixture of darkening bronze, a gas jet burns, laminar and gently singing—adjusted to what scientists of the last century called a "sensitive flame": invisible at the base, as it issues from its orifice, fading upward into smooth blue light that hovers several inches above, a glimmering small cone that can respond to the most delicate changes in the room's air pressure. It registers visitors as they enter and leave, each curious and civil as if the round table held some game of chance. The circle of sitters is not at all distracted or hindered. None of your white hands or luminous trumpets here.
Camerons officers in parade trews, blue puttees, dress kilts drift in conversing with enlisted Americans . . . there are clergymen, Home Guard or Fire Service just off duty, folds of wool clothing heavy with smoke smell, everyone grudging an hour's sleep and looking it... ancient Edwardian ladies in crepe de Chine, West Indians softly plaiting vowels round less flexible chains of Russian-Jewish consonants. . . . Most skate tangent to the holy circle, some stay, some are off again to other rooms, all without breaking in on the slender medium who sits nearest the sensitive flame with his back to the wall, reddish-brown curls tightening close as a skullcap, high forehead unwrinkled, dark lips moving now effortless, now in pain:
"Once transected into the realm of Dominus Blicero, Roland found that all the signs had turned against him. . . . Lights he had studied so well as one of you, position and movement, now gathered there at the opposite end, all in dance . . . irrelevant dance. None of Blicero's traditional progress, no something new . . . alien. . . . Roland too became conscious of the wind, as his mortality had never allowed him. Discovered it so ... so joyful, that the arrow must veer into it. The wind had been blowing all year long, year after year, but Roland had felt only the secular wind ... he means, only his personal wind. Yet. . . Selena, the wind, the wind's everywhere. . . ."
Here the medium breaks off, is silent awhile . . . one groan ... a quiet, desperate moment. "Selena. Selena. Have you gone, then?"
"No, my dear," her cheeks molded with previous tears, "I'm listen-ing."
"It's control. All these things arise from one difficulty: control. For the first time it was inside, do you see. The control is put inside. No more need to suffer passively under 'outside forces'—to veer into any wind. As if...
"A market needed no longer be run by the Invisible Hand, but now could create itself—ils own logic, momentum, style, from inside. Putting the control inside was ratifying what de facto had happened— that you had dispensed with God. But you had taken on a greater, and more harmful, illusion. The illusion of control. That A could do B. But that was false. Completely. No one can do. Things only happen, A and B are unreal, are names for parts that ought to be inseparable. ..."
"More Ouspenskian nonsense," whispers a lady brushing by on the arm of a dock worker. Odors of Diesel fuel and Sous le Vent mingle as they pass. Jessica Swanlake, a young rosy girl in the uniform of an ATS private, noticing the prewar perfume, looks up, hmm, the frock she imagines is about 15 guineas and who knows how many coupons, probably from Harrods and would do more for me, she's also sure. The lady, suddenly looking back over her shoulder, smiles oh, yes? My gosh, did she hear? Around this place almost certainly.
Jessica's been standing near the séance table with a handful of darts idly plucked from the board on the wall, her head bent, pale nape and top vertebra visible above the brown wool collar and through some of her lighter brown hair, fallen either side along her cheeks. Brass throats and breasts warm to her blood, quake in the hollow of her hand. She seems herself, gentling their feathered crosses, brushing with fingertips, to have slid into a shallow trance. . . .
Outside, rolling from the east, comes the muffled rip of another rocket bomb. The windows rattle, the floor shakes. The sensitive flame dives for shelter, shadows across the table sent adance, darkening toward the other room—then it leaps high, the shadows drawing inward again, fully two feet, and disappears completely. Gas hisses on in the dim room. Milton Gloaming, who achieved perfect tripos at Cambridge ten years ago, abandons his shorthand to rise and go shut the gas off.
It seems the right moment now for Jessica to throw a dart: one dart. Hair swinging, breasts bobbing marvelously beneath each heavy wool lapel. A hiss of air, whack: into the sticky fibers, into the dead center. Milton Gloaming cocks an eyebrow. His mind, always gathering correspondences, thinks it has found a new one.
The medium, irritable now, has begun to drift back out of his trance. Anybody's guess what's happening over on the other side. This sitting, like any, needs not only its congenial circle here and secular, but also a basic, four-way entente which oughtn't, any link of it, be broken: Roland Feldspath (the spirit), Peter Sachsa (the control), Car-roll Eventyr (the medium), Selena (the wife and survivor). Somewhere, through exhaustion, redirection, gusts of white noise out in the aether, this arrangement has begun now to dissolve. Relaxation, chairs squeaking, sighs and throatclearings . . . Milton Gloaming fusses with his notebook, shuts it abruptly.
Presently Jessica comes wandering over. No sign of Roger and she's not sure he wants her to come looking for him, and Gloaming, though shy, isn't as horrid as some of Roger's other friends. . . .
"Roger says that now you'll count up all those words you copied and graph them or something," brightly to head off any comment on the dart incident, which she'd rather avoid. "Do you do it only for séances?"
"Automatic texts," girl-nervous Gloaming frowns, nods, "one or two Ouija-board episodes, yes yes . . . we-we're trying to develop a vocabulary of curves—certain pathologies, certain characteristic shapes you see—"
"I'm not sure that I—"
"Well. Recall Zipf's Principle of Least Effort: if we plot the frequency of a word P sub n against its rank-order n on logarithmic axes," babbling into her silence, even her bewilderment graceful, "we should of course get something like a straight line . . . however we've data that suggest the curves for certain—conditions, well they're actually quite different—schizophrenics for example tend to run a bit flatter in the upper part then progressively steeper—a sort of bow shape ... I think with this chap, this Roland, that we're on to a classical paranoiac—"
"Ha." That's a word she knows. "Thought I saw you brighten up there when he said 'turned against.' "
" 'Against,' 'opposite,' yes you'd be amazed at the frequency with this one."
"What's the most frequent word?" asks Jessica. "Your number one."
"The same as it's always been at these affairs," replies the statistician, as if everyone knew: "death."
An elderly air-raid warden, starchy and frail as organdy, stands on tiptoe to relight the sensitive flame.
"Incidentally, ah, where's your mad young gentleman gone off to?"
"Roger's with Captain Prentice." Waving vaguely. "The usual Mysterious Microfilm Drill." Being transacted in some distant room, across a crown-and-anchor game with which chance has very little to do, billows of smoke and chatter, Falkman and His Apache Band subdued over the BBC, chunky pints and slender sherry glasses, winter rain at the windows. Time for closeting, gas logs, shawls against the cold night, snug with your young lady or old dutch or, as here at Snox-all's, in good company. Here's a shelter—perhaps a real node of tranquillity among several scattered throughout this long wartime, where they're gathering for purposes not entirely in the martial interest.
Pirate Prentice feels something of this, obliquely, by way of class nervousness really: he bears his grin among these people here like a phalanx. He learned it at the films—it is the exact mischievous Irish grin your Dennis Morgan chap goes about cocking down at the black smoke vomiting from each and every little bucktooth yellow rat he shoots down.
It's as useful to him as he is to the Firm—who, it is well known, will use anyone, traitors, murderers, perverts, Negroes, even women, to get what They want. They may not've been that sure of Pirate's usefulness at first, but later, as it developed, They were to grow very sure, indeed.
"Major-General, you can't actually give your support to this."
"We're watching him around the clock. He certainly isn't leaving the premises physically."
"Then he has a confederate. Somehow—hypnosis, drugs, I don't know—they're getting to his man and tranquilizing him. For God's sake, next you'll be consulting horoscopes."
"Hitler is an inspired man. But you and I are employees, remember. ..."
After that first surge of interest, the number of clients assigned to Pirate tapered off some. At the moment he carries what he feels is a comfortable case load. But it's not what he really wants. They will not understand, the gently bred maniacs of S.O.E. ah very good, Captain rattling sitreps, shuffling boots, echoes off of Government eyeglasses jolly good and why not do it actually for us sometime at the Club. . . .
Pirate wants Their trust, the good-whisky-and-cured-Latakia scent of Their rough love. He wants understanding from his own lot, not these bookish sods and rationalized freaks here at Snoxall's so dedicated to science, so awfully tolerant that this (he regrets it with all his heart) may be the only place in the reach of war's empire that he does feel less than a stranger. . . .
"It's not at all clear," Roger Mexico's been saying, "what they have in mind, not at all, the Witchcraft Act's more than 200 years old, it's a relic of an entirely different age, another way of thinking. Suddenly here we are 1944 being hit with convictions right and left. Our Mr. Eventyr," motioning at the medium who's across the room chatting with young Gavin Trefoil, "could be fallen upon at any moment—pouring in the windows, hauling dangerous tough Eventyr away to the Scrubs on pretending-to-exercise-or-use-a-kind-of-conjuration-to-cause-the-spirits-of-deceased-persons-to-be-present-in-fact-at-the-place-where-he-then-was-and-that-those-spirits-were-communicating-with-living-persons-then-and-there-present my God what imbecile Fascist rot..."
"Careful, Mexico, you're losing the old objectivity again—a man of science shouldn't want to do that, should he. Hardly scientific, is it."
"Ass. You're on their side. Couldn't you feel it tonight, coming in the door? It's a great swamp of paranoia."
"That's my talent, all right," Pirate as he speaks knowing it's too abrupt, tries to file off the flash with: "I don't know that I'm really up to the multiple sort ofthing. ..."
"Ah. Prentice." Not an eyebrow or lip out of place. Tolerance. Ah.
"You ought to come down this time and have our Dr. Groast check it out on his EEG."
"Oh, if I'm in town," vaguely. There's a security problem here. Loose talk sinks ships and he can't be sure, even about Mexico. There are too many circles to the current operation, inner and outer. Distribution lists growing narrower as we move ring by ring toward the bull's eye, Instructions To Destroy gradually encompassing every scrap, idle memo, typewriter ribbon.
His best guess is that Mexico only now and then supports the Firm's latest mania, known as Operation Black Wing, in a statistical way—analyzing what foreign-morale data may come in, for instance— but someplace out at the fringes of the enterprise, as indeed Pirate finds himself here tonight, acting as go-between for Mexico and his own roommate Teddy Bloat.
He knows that Bloat goes somewhere and microfilms something, then transfers it, via Pirate, to young Mexico. And thence, he gathers, down to "The White Visitation," which houses a catchall agency known as PISCES—Psychological Intelligence Schemes for Expediting Surrender. Whose surrender is not made clear.
Pirate wonders if Mexico isn't into yet another of the thousand dodgy intra-Allied surveillance schemes that have sprung up about London since the Americans, and a dozen governments in exile, moved in. In which the German curiously fades into irrelevance. Everyone watching over his shoulder, Free French plotting revenge on Vichy traitors, Lublin Communists drawing beads on Varsovian shadow-ministers, ELAS Greeks stalking royalists, unrepatriable dreamers of all languages hoping through will, fists, prayer to bring back kings, republics, pretenders, summer anarchisms that perished before the first crops were in ... some dying wretchedly, nameless, under ice-and-snow surfaces of bomb craters out in the East End not to be found till spring, some chronically drunk or opiated for getting through the day's reverses, most somehow losing, losing what souls they had, less and less able to trust, seized in the game's unending chatter, its daily self-criticism, its demands for total attention . . . and what foreigner is it, exactly, that Pirate has in mind if it isn't that stateless lascar across his own mirror-glass, that poorest of exiles. . . .
Well: he guesses They have euchred Mexico into some such Byzantine exercise, probably to do with the Americans. Perhaps the Russians. "The White Visitation," being devoted to psychological warfare, harbors a few of each, a Behaviorist here, a Pavlovian there. It's none of Pirate's Business. But he notes that with each film delivery, Roger's enthusiasm grows. Unhealthy, unhealthy: he has the sense of witnessing an addiction. He feels that his friend, his provisional wartime friend, is being used for something not quite decent.
What can he do? If Mexico wanted to talk about it he could find a way, security or not. His reluctance is not Pirate's own over the machinery of Operation Black Wing. It looks more like shame. Wasn't Mexico's face tonight, as he took the envelope, averted? eyes boxing the corners of the room at top speed, a pornography customer's reflex . . . hmm. Knowing Bloat, perhaps that's what it is, young lady gamming well-set-up young man, several poses—more wholesome than anything this war's ever photographed . . . life, at least. . . .
There's Mexico's girl, just entering the room. He spots her immediately, the clarity around her, the absence of smoke and noise ... is he seeing auras now? She catches sight of Roger and smiles, her eyes enormous . . . dark-lashed, no make-up or none Pirate can see, her hair worn in a roll down to the shoulders—what the hell's she doing in a mixed AA battery? She ought to be in a NAAFI canteen, filling Coffee cups. He is suddenly, dodderer and ass, taken by an ache in his skin, a simple love for them both that asks nothing but their safety, and that he'll always manage to describe as something else—"concern," you know, "fondness. . . ."
In 1936, Pirate ("a T. S. Eliot April" she called it, though it was a colder time of year) was in love with an executive's wife. She was a thin, speedy stalk of a girl named Scorpia Mossmoon. Her husband Clive was an expert in plastics, working out of Cambridge for Imperial Chemicals. Pirate, the career soldier, was having a year or two's relapse or fling outside in civilian life.
He'd got the feeling, stationed east of Suez, places like Bahrein, drinking beer watered with his own falling sweat in the perpetual stink of crude oil across from Muharraq, restricted to quarters after sundown—98% venereal rate anyway—one sunburned, scroungy unit of force preserving the Sheik and the oil money against any threat from east of the English Channel, horny, mad with the itching of lice and heat rash (masturbating under these conditions is exquisite torture), bitter-drunk all the time—even so there had leaked through to Pirate a dim suspicion that life was passing him by.
Incredible black-and-white Scorpia confirmed not a few Piratical fantasies about the glamorous silken-calved English realworld he'd felt so shut away from. They got together while Clive was away on a trouble-shooting mission for ICI in, of all places, Bahrein. The symmetry of this helped Pirate relax about it some. They would attend parties as strangers, though she never learned to arm herself against unexpected sight of him across a room (trying to belong, as if he were not someone's employee). She found him touching in his ignorance of everything—partying, love, money—felt worldly and desperately caring for this moment of boyhood among his ways imperialized and set (he was 33), his pre-Austerity, in which Scorpia figured as his Last Fling—though herself too young to know that, to know, like Pirate, what the lyrics to "Dancing in the Dark" are really about. . . .
He will be scrupulous about never telling her. But there are times when it's agony not to go to her feet, knowing she won't leave Clive, crying you 're my last chance . . . if it can't be you then there's no more time. . . . Doesn't he wish, against all hope, that he could let the poor, Western-man's timetable go... but how does a man... where does he even begin, at age 33. ... "But that's just it" she'd have laughed, not
so much annoyed (she would have laughed) as tickled by the unreality of the problem—herself too lost at the manic edge of him, always at engage, so taking, cleaving her (for more than when jerking off into an Army flannel in the Persian Gulf was some collar of love's nettles now at him, at his cock), too unappeasable for her not to give in to the insanity of, but too insane really even to think of as any betrayal of Clive. . . .
Convenient as hell for her, anyway. Roger Mexico is now going through much the same thing with Jessica, the Other Chap in this case being known as Beaver. Pirate has looked on but never talked about it to Mexico. Yes he is waiting, to see if it will end for Roger the same way, part of him, never so cheery as at the spectacle of another's misfortune, rooting for Beaver and all that he, like Clive, stands for, to win out. But another part—an alternate self?—one that he mustn't be quick to call "decent"—does seem to want for Roger what Pirate himself lost. . . .
"You are a pirate," she'd whispered the last day—neither of them knew it was the last day—"you've come and taken me off on your pirate ship. A girl of good family and the usual repressions. You've raped me. And I'm the Red Bitch of the High Seas. ..." A lovely game. Pirate wished she'd thought it up sooner. Fucking the last (already the last) day's light away down afternoon to dusk, hours of fucking, too in love with it to uncouple, they noticed how the borrowed room rocked gentry, the ceiling obligingly came down a foot, lamps swayed from their fittings, some fraction of the Thameside traffic provided salty cries over the water, and nautical bells. . . .
But back over their lowering sky-sea behind, Government hounds were on the track—drawing closer, the cutters are coming, the cutters and the sleek hermaphrodites of the law, agents who, being old hands, will settle for her safe return, won't insist on his execution or capture. Their logic is sound: give him a bad enough wound and he'll come round, round to the ways of this hard-boiled old egg of world and timetables, cycling night to compromise night. . . .
He left her at Waterloo Station. A gala crowd was there, to see Fred Roper's Company of Wonder Midgets off to an imperial fair in Johannesburg, South Africa. Midgets in their dark winter clothes, exquisite little frocks and nip-waisted overcoats, were running all over the station, gobbling their bonvoyage chocolates and lining up for news photos. Scorpia's talc-white face, through the last window, across the last gate, was a blow to his heart. A flurry of giggles and best wishes arose from the Wonder Midgets and their admirers. Well, thought Pirate, guess I'll go back in the Army. ...
They're bound eastward now, Roger peering over the wheel, hunched Dracula-style inside his Burberry, Jessica with bright millions of droplets still clinging in soft net to her shoulders and sleeves of drab wool. They want to be together, in bed, at rest, in love, and instead it's eastward tonight and south of the Thames to rendezvous with a certain high-class vivisectionist before the clock of St. Felix chimes one. And when the mice run down, who knows tonight but what they've run for good?
Her face against the breath-fogged window has become another dimness, another light-trick of the winter. Beyond her, the white fracture of the rain passes. "Why does he go out and pinch all his dogs in person? He's an administrator, isn't he? Wouldn't he hire a boy or something?"
"We call them 'staff,' " Roger replies, "and I don't know why Pointsman does anything he does, he's a Pavlovian, love. He's a Royal Fellow. What am I supposed to know about any of those people? They're as difficult as the lot back in Snoxall's."
They're both of them peevish tonight, whippy as sheets of glass improperly annealed, ready to go smash at any indefinite touch in a whinning matrix of stresses—
"Poor Roger, poor lamb, he's having an awful war."
"All right," his head shaking, a fuming b or p that refuses to explode, "ahh, you're so clever aren't you," raving Roger, hands off the wheel to help the words out, windscreen wipers clicking right along, "you've been able to shoot back now and then at the odd flying buzz bomb, you and the boy friend dear old Nutria—"
"Quite right, and all that magnificent esprit you lot are so justly famous for, but you haven't brought down many rockets lately have you, haha!" gurning his most spiteful pursed smile up against wrinkled nose and eyes, "any more than I, any more than Pointsman, well who's that make purer than whom these days, eh mylove?" bouncing up and down in the leather seat.
By now her hand's reaching out, about to touch his shoulder. She rests her cheek on her own arm, hair spilling, drowsy, watching him.
Can't get a decent argument going with her. How he's tried. She uses her silences like stroking hands to divert him and hush their corners of rooms, bedcovers, tabletops—accidental spaces. . . . Even at the cinema watching that awful Going My Way, the day they met, he saw every white straying of her ungauntleted hands, could feel in his skin each saccade of her olive, her amber, her Coffee-colored eyes. He's wasted gallons of paint thinner striking his faithful Zippo, its charred wick, virility giving way to thrift, rationed down to a little stub, the blue flame sparking about the edges in the dark, the many kinds of dark, just to see what's happening with her face. Each new flame, a new face.
And there've been the moments, more of them lately too—times when face-to-face there has been no way to tell which of them is which. Both at the same time feeling the same eerie confusion . . . something like looking in a mirror by surprise but. . . more than that, the feeling of actually being joined . . . when after—who knows? two minutes, a week? they realize, separate again, what's been going on, that Roger and Jessica were merged into a joint creature unaware of itself. ... In a life he has cursed, again and again, for its need to believe so much in the trans-observable, here is the first, the very first real magic: data he can't argue away.
It was what Hollywood likes to call a "cute meet," out in the neat 18th-century heart of downtown Tunbridge Wells, Roger motoring in the vintage Jaguar up to London, Jessica at the roadside struggling prettily with a busted bicycle, murky wool ATS skirt hiked up on a handle bar, most nonregulation black slip and clear pearl thighs above the khaki stockings, well—
"Here love," brakes on in a high squeak, "it's not backstage at the old Windmill or something, you know."
She knew. "Hmm," a curl dropping down to tickle her nose and put a bit more than the usual acid in her reply, "are they letting little boys into places like that, I didn't know."
"Well nobody's," having learned by now to live with remarks about his appearance, "called up the Girl Guides yet either, have they."
"Hurrah, that qualifies you for a ride, in this Jaguar here you see, all the way to London."
"But I'm going the other way. Nearly to Battle."
"Oh, round trip of course."
Shaking hair back out of her face, "Does your mother know you're out like this."
"My mother is the war," declares Roger Mexico, leaning over to open the door.
"That's a queer thing to say," one muddy little shoe pondering on the running board.
"Come along, love, you're holding up the mission, leave the machine where it is, mind your skirt getting in, I wouldn't want to commit an unspeakable act out here in the streets of Tunbridge Wells—"
At which moment the rocket falls. Cute, cute. A thud, a hollow drumroll. Far enough toward the city to be safe, but close and loud enough to send her the hundred miles between herself and the stranger: long-swooping, balletic, her marvelous round bottom turning to settle in the other seat, hair in a moment's fan, hand sweeping Army-colored skirt under graceful as a wing, all with the blast still reverberating.
He thinks he can see a solemn gnarled something, deeper or changing faster than clouds, rising to the north. Will she snuggle now cutely against him, ask him to protect her? He didn't even believe she'd get in the car, rocket or no rocket, accordingly now puts Pointsman's Jaguar somehow into reverse instead of low, yes, backs over the bicycle, rendering it in a great crunch useless for anything but scrap.
"I'm in your power," she cries. "Utterly."
"Hmm," Roger at length finding his gear, dancing among the pedals rrrn, snarl, off to London. But Jessica's not in his power.
And the war, well, she is Roger's mother, she's leached at all the soft, the vulnerable inclusions of hope and praise scattered, beneath the mica-dazzle, through Roger's mineral, grave-marker self, washed it all moaning away on her gray tide. Six years now, always just in sight, just where he can see her. He's forgotten his first corpse, or when he first saw someone living die. That's how long it's been going on. Most of his life, it seems. The city he visits nowadays is Death's antechamber: where all the paperwork's done, the contracts signed, the days numbered. Nothing of the grand, garden, adventurous capital his childhood knew. He's become the Dour Young Man of "The White Visitation," the spider hitching together his web of numbers. It's an open secret that he doesn't get on with the rest of his section. How can he? They're all wild talents—clairvoyants and mad magicians, teleki-netics, astral travelers, gatherers of light. Roger's only a statistician. Never had a prophetic dream, never sent or got a telepathic message, never touched the Other World directly. If anything's there it will show in the experimental data won't it, in the numbers . . . but that's as close or clear as he'll ever get. Any wonder he's a bit short with Psi
Section, all the definitely 3-sigma lot up and down his basement corridor? Jesus Christ, wouldn't you be?
That one clear need of theirs, so patent, exasperates him. . . . His need too, all right. But how are you ever going to put anything "psychical" on a scientific basis with your mortality always goading, just outside the chi-square calculations, in between the flips of the Zener cards and the silences among the medium's thick, straining utterances? In his mellower moments he thinks that continuing to try makes him brave. But most of the time he's cursing himself for not working in fire control, or graphing Standardized Kill Rates Per Ton for the bomber groups . . . anything but this thankless meddling into the affairs of invulnerable Death. . . .
They have drawn near a glow over the rooftops. Fire Service vehicles come roaring by them, heading the same direction. It is an oppressive region of brick streets and silent walls.
Roger brakes for a crowd of sappers, firefighters, neighbors in dark coats over white nightclothes, old ladies who have a special place in their night-thoughts for the Fire Service no please you 're not going to use that great Hose on me . . . oh no . . . aren't you even going to take off those horrid rubber boots . . . yesyes that's—
Soldiers stand every few yards, a loose cordon, unmoving, a bit supernatural. The Battle of Britain was hardly so formal. But these new robot bombs bring with them chances for public terror no one has sounded. Jessica notes a coal-black Packard up a side street, filled with dark-suited civilians. Their white collars rigid in the shadows.
He shrugs: "they" is good enough. "Not a friendly lot."
"Look who's talking." But their smile is old, habitual. There was a time when his job had her a bit mental: lovely little scrapbooks on the flying bombs, how sweet. . . . And his irritated sigh: Jess don't make me out some cold fanatical man of science. . . .
Heat beats at their faces, eye-searing yellow when the streams shoot into the fire. A ladder hooked to the edge of the roof sways in the violent drafts. Up top, against the sky, figures in slickers brace, wave arms, move together to pass orders. Half a block down, flare lamps illuminate the rescue work in the charry wet wreckage. From trailer pumps and heavy units, canvas hoses run fat with pressure, hastily threaded unions sending out stars of cold spray, bitter cold, that flash yellow when the fire leaps. Somewhere over a radio comes a woman's voice, a quiet Yorkshire girl, dispatching other units to other parts of the city.
Once Roger and Jessica might have stopped. But they're both alumni of the Battle of Britain, both have-been drafted into the early black mornings and the crying for mercy, the dumb inertia of cobbles and beams, the profound shortage of mercy in those days. ... By the time one has pulled one's nth victim or part of a victim free of one's nth pile of rubble, he told her once, angry, weary, it has ceased to be that personal. . . the value of n may be different for each of us, but I'm sorry: sooner or later . . .
And past the exhaustion with it there is also this. If they have not quite seceded from war's state, at least they've found the beginnings of gentle withdrawal . . . there's never been the space or time to talk about it, and perhaps no need—but both know, clearly, it's better together, snuggled in, than back out in the paper, fires, khaki, steel of the Home Front. That, indeed, the Home Front is something of a fiction and lie, designed, not too subtly, to draw them apart, to subvert love in favor of work, abstraction, required pain, bitter death.
They have found a house in the stay-away zone, under the barrage balloons south of London. The town, evacuated in '40, is still "regulated"—still on the Ministry's list. Roger and Jessica occupy the place illegally, in a defiance they can never measure unless they're caught. Jessica has brought an old doll, seashells, her aunt's grip filled with lace knickers and silk stockings. Roger's managed to scare up a few chickens to nest in the empty garage. Whenever they meet here, one always remembers to bring a fresh flower or two. The nights are filled with explosion and motor transport, and wind that brings them up over the downs a last smack of the sea. Day begins with a hot cup and a cigarette over a little table with a weak leg that Roger has repaired, provisionally, with brown twine. There's never much talk but touches and looks, smiles together, curses for parting. It is marginal, hungry, chilly—most times they're too paranoid to risk a fire—but it's something they want to keep, so much that to keep it they will take on more than propaganda has ever asked them for. They are in love. Fuck the war.
Tonight's quarry, whose name will be Vladimir (or Ilya, Sergei, Nikolai, depending on the doctor's whim), slinks carefully toward the cellar entrance. This jagged opening ought to lead to something deep and safe. He has the memory, or reflex, of escaping into similar darkness
from an Irish setter who smells of coal smoke and will attack on sight . . . once from a pack of children, recently from a sudden blast of noiselight, a fall of masonry that caught him on the left hindquarter (still raw, still needs licking). But tonight's threat is something new: not so violent, instead a systematic stealth he isn't used to. life out here is more direct.
It's raining. The wind hardly flickers. It brings a scent he finds strange, never having been near a laboratory in his life.
The smell is ether, it emanates from Mr. Edward W. A. Pointsman, F.R.C.S. As the dog vanishes around the broken remnant of a wall, just as the tip of his tail flicks away, the doctor steps into the white waiting throat of a toilet bowl he has not, so intent on his prey, seen. He bends over, awkwardly, tugging loose the bowl from its surrounding debris, muttering oaths against all the careless, meaning not himself, particularly, but the owners of this ruined flat (if they weren't killed in the blast) or whoever failed to salvage this bowl, which seems, actually, to be wedged on rather tight. . . .
Mr. Pointsman drags his leg over to a shattered staircase, swings it quietly, so as not to alarm the dog, against the lower half of a fumed-oak newel post. The bowl only clanks back, the wood shudders. Mocking him—all right. He sits on stairsteps ascending to open sky and attempts to pull the damned thing loose of his foot. It will not come. He hears the invisible dog, toenails softly clicking, gain the sanctuary of the cellar. He can't reach inside the toilet bowl even to untie his fucking boot. . . .
Settling the window of his Balaclava helmet snug and tickling just under his nose, resolved not to give way to panic, Mr. Pointsman stands up, has to wait for blood to drain, resurge, bounce up and down its million branches in the drizzly night, percolate to balance—then limping, clanking, he heads back toward the car to get a hand from young Mexico, who did remember, he hopes, to bring the electric lantern. . . .
Roger and Jessica found him a bit earlier, lurking at the end of a street of row houses. The V-bomb whose mutilation he was prowling took down four dwellings the other day, four exactly, neat as surgery. There is the soft smell of house-wood down before its time, of ashes matted down by the rain. Ropes are strung, a sentry lounges silent against the doorway of an intact house next to where the rubble begins. If he and the doctor have chatted at all, neither gives a sign now. Jessica sees two eyes of no particular color glaring out the window of a Balaclava helmet, and is reminded of a mediaeval knight wearing a casque. What creature is he possibly here tonight to fight for his king? The rubble waits him, sloping up to broken rear walls in a clogging, an open-work of laths pointlessly chevroning—flooring, furniture, glass, chunks of plaster, long tatters of wallpaper, split and shattered joists: some woman's long-gathered nest, taken back to separate straws, flung again to this wind and this darkness. Back in the wreckage a brass bedpost winks; and twined there someone's brassiere, a white, prewar confection of lace and satin, simply left tangled. . . . For an instant, in a vertigo she can't control, all the pity laid up in her heart flies to it, as it would to a small animal stranded and forgotten. Roger has the boot of the car open. The two men are rummaging, coming up with large canvas sack, flask of ether, net, dog whistle. She knows she must not cry: that the vague eyes in the knitted window won't seek their Beast any more earnestly for her tears. But the poor lost flimsy thing . . . waiting in the night and rain for its owner, for its room to reassemble round it...
The night, full of fine rain, smells like a wet dog. Pointsman seems to've been away for a bit. "I've lost my mind. I ought to be cuddling someplace with Beaver this very minute, watching him light up his Pipe, and here instead I'm with this gillie or something, this spiritualist, statistician, what are you anyway—"
"Cuddling?" Roger has a tendency to scream. "Cuddling?"
"Mexico." It's the doctor, sighing, toilet bowl on his foot and knitted helmet askew.
"Hello, doesn't that make it difficult for you to walk? should think it would ... up here, first get it in the door, this way, and, ah, good," then closing the door again around Pointsman's ankle, the bowl now occupying Roger's seat, Roger half-resting on Jessica's lap, "tug now, hard as ever you can."
Thinking young prig and mocking ass the doctor rocks back on his free leg, grunting, the bowl wallowing to and fro. Roger holds the door and peers attentively into where the foot vanished. "If we had a bit of Vaseline, we could—something slippery. Wait! Stay there, Pointsman, don't move, we'll have this resolved. ..." Under the car, impulsive lad, in search of the crankcase plug by the time Pointsman can say, "There isn't time Mexico, he'll escape, he'll escape."
"Quite right." Up again fumbling a flashlight from his jacket pocket. "I'll flush him out, you wait with the net. Sure you can get about all right? Nasty if you fell or something just as he made his break for the open."
"For pity's sake," Pointsman thumping after him back into the wreckage. "Don't frighten him Mexico, this isn't Kenya or something, we need him as close to normative, you know, as possible."
"Roger," calls Roger, giving him short-long-short with the flash.
"Jessica," murmurs Jessica, tiptoeing behind them.
"Here, fellow," coaxes Roger. "Nice bottle of ether here for you," opening the flask, waving it in the cellar entrance, then switching on his beam. Dog looks up out of an old rusted pram, bobbing black shadows, tongue hanging, utter skepticism on his face. "Why it's Mrs. Nussbaum!" Roger cries, the same way he's heard Fred Allen do, Wednesday nights over the BBC.
"You were ekshpecting maybe Lessie?" replies the dog.
Roger can smell ether fumes quite strongly as he starts his cautious descent. "Come on mate, it'll be over before you know it. Pointsman just wants to count the old drops of saliva, that's all. Wants to make a wee incision in your cheek, nice glass tube, nothing to bother about, right? Ring a bell now and then. Exciting world of the laboratory, you'll love it." Ether seems to be getting to him. He tries to stopper the flask: takes a step, foot plunges into a hole. Lurching sideways, he gropes for something to steady himself. The stopper falls back out of the flask and in forever among the debris at the bottom of the smashed house. Overhead Pointsman cries, "The sponge, Mexico, you forgot the sponge!" down comes a round pale collection of holes, bouncing in and out of the light of the flash. "Frisky chap," Roger making a two-handed grab for it, splashing ether liberally about. He locates the sponge at last in his flashlight beam, the dog looking on from the pram in some confusion. "Hah!" pouring ether to drench the sponge and go wisping cold off his hands till the flask's empty. Taking the wet sponge between two fingers he staggers toward the dog, shining the light up from under his chin to highlight the vampire face he thinks he's making. "Moment—of truth!" He lunges. The dog leaps off at an angle, streaking past Roger toward the entrance while Roger keeps going with his sponge, headfirst into the pram, which collapses under his weight. Dimly he hears the doctor above whimper, "He's getting away. Mexico, do hurry."
"Hurry." Roger, clutching the sponge, extricates himself from the infant's vehicle, taking it off as if it were a shirt, with what seems to him not unathletic skill.
"Right," Roger blundering up the cellar's rubble to the outside again, where he beholds the doctor closing in on the dog, net held
aloft and outspread. Rain falls persistently over this tableau. Roger circles so as to make with Pointsman a pincer upon the animal, who now stands with paws planted and teeth showing near one of the pieces of rear wall still standing. Jessica waits halfway into it, hands in her pockets, smoking, watching.
"Here," hollers the sentry, "you. You idiots. Keep away from that bit of wall, there's nothing to hold it up."
"Do you have any cigarettes?" asks Jessica.
"He's going to bolt," Roger screams.
"For God's sake, Mexico, slowly now." Testing each footstep, they move upslope over the ruin's delicate balance. It's a system of lever arms that can plunge them into deadly collapse at any moment. They draw near their quarry, who scrutinizes now the doctor, now Roger, with quick shifts of his head. He growls tentatively, tail keeping up a steady slap against the two sides of the corner they've backed him into.
As Roger, who carries the light, moves rearward, the dog, some circuit of him, recalls the other light that came from behind in recent days—the light that followed the great blast so seethed through afterward by pain and cold. Light from the rear signals death / men with nets about to leap can be avoided—
"Sponge," screams the doctor. Roger flings himself at the dog, who has taken off in Pointsman's direction and away toward the street whilst Pointsman, groaning, swings his toiletbowl foot desperately, misses, momentum carrying him around a full turn, net up like a radar antenna. Roger, snoot full of ether, can't check his lunge—as the doctor comes spinning round again Roger careens on into him, toilet bowl hitting Roger a painful thump in the leg. The two men fall over, tangled in the net now covering them. Broken beams creak, chunks of rain-wet plaster tumble. Above them the unsupported wall begins to sway.
"Get out of there," hollers the sentry. But the efforts of the pair under the net to move away only rock the wall more violently.
"We're for it," the doctor shivers. Roger seeks his eyes to see if he means it, but the window of the Balaclava helmet now contains only a white ear and fringe of hair.
"Roll," Roger suggests. They contrive to roll a few yards down toward the street, by which time part of the wall has collapsed, in the other direction. They manage to get back to Jessica without causing any more damage.
"He's run down the street," she mentions, helping them out of the net.
"It's all right," the doctor sighs. "It doesn't make any difference."
"Ah but the evening's young, " from Roger.
"No, no. Forget it."
"What will you do for a dog, then."
They are under way again, Roger at the wheel, Jessica between them, toilet bowl out a half-open door, before the answer. "Perhaps it's a sign. Perhaps I should be branching out."
Roger gives him a quick look. Silence, Mexico. Try not to think about what that means. He's not one's superior after all, both report to the old Brigadier at "The White Visitation" on, so far as he knows, equal footing. But sometimes—Roger glances again across Jessica's dark wool bosom at the knitted head, the naked nose and eyes—he thinks the doctor wants more than his good will, his collaboration. But wants him. As one wants a fine specimen of dog. . . .
Why's he here, then, assisting at yet another dognapping? What stranger does he shelter in him so mad—
"Will you be going back down tonight, doctor? The young lady needs a ride."
"I shan't, I'll be staying in. But you might take the car back. I must talk with Dr. Spectro."
They are approaching now a lengthy brick improvisation, a Victorian paraphrase of what once, long ago, resulted in Gothic cathedrals—but which, in its own time, arose not from any need to climb through the fashioning of suitable confusions toward any apical God, but more in a derangement of aim, a doubt as to the God's actual locus (or, in some, as to its very existence), out of a cruel network of sensuous moments that could not be transcended and so bent the intentions of the builders not on any zenith, but back to fright, to simple escape, in whatever direction, from what the industrial smoke, street excrement, windowless warrens, shrugging leather forests of drive belts, flowing and patient shadow states of the rats and flies, were saying about the chances for mercy that year. The grimed brick sprawl is known as the Hospital of St. Veronica of the True Image for Colonie and Respiratory Diseases, and one of its residents is a Dr. Kevin Spectro, neurologist and casual Pavlovian.
Spectro is one of the original seven owners of The Book, and if you ask Mr. Pointsman what Book, you'll only get smirked at. It rotates, the mysterious Book, among its co-owners on a weekly basis, and this, Roger gathers, is Spectro's week to get dropped in on at all hours. Others, in Pointsman's weeks, have come the same way to "The White Visitation" in the night, Roger has heard their earnest, conspir-
ators' whispering in the corridors, the smart rattle of all their shoes, like dancing pumps on marble, destroying one's repose, refusing ever to die with distance, Pointsman's voice and stride always distinct from the rest. How's it going to sound now with a toilet bowl?
Roger and Jessica leave the doctor at a side entrance, into which he melts, leaving nothing but rain dripping from slopes and serifs of an unreadable legend on the lintel.
They turn southward. Lights on the dash glow warmly. Searchlights rake the raining sky. The slender machine shivers over the roads. Jessica drifts toward sleep, the leather seat creaking as she curls about. Windscreen wipers brush the rain in a rhythmic bright warp. It is past two, and time for Home.
Inside St. Veronica's hospital they sit together, just off the war-neurosis ward, these habitual evenings. The autoclave simmers its fine clutter of steel bones. Steam drifts into the glare of the gooseneck lamp, now and then becoming very bright, and the shadows of the men's gestures may pass through it, knife-edged, swooping very fast. But both faces are usually reserved, kept well back, in the annulus of night.
Out of the blackness of the ward, a half-open file drawer of pain each bed a folder, come cries, struck cries, as from cold metal. Kevin Spectro will take his syringe and spike away a dozen times tonight, into the dark, to sedate Fox (his generic term for any patient—run three times around the building without thinking of a fox and you can cure anything). Pointsman will sit each time waiting for their talking to resume, glad to rest these moments in the half-darkness, the worn gold-leaf letters shining from the spines of books, the fragrant Coffee mess besieged by roaches, the winter rain in the downspout just outside the window. . . .
"You're not looking any better."
"Ah, it's the old bastard again, he's got me down. This fighting, Spectro, every day, I don't ..." pouting downward at his eyeglasses that he's wiping on his shirt, "there's more to damned Pudding than I can see, he's always springing his . . . senile little surprises. . . ."
"It's his age. Really."
"Oh, that I can deal with. But he's so damned—such a bastard, he never sleeps, he plots—"
"Not senility, no, I meant the position he's working from. Pointsman? You don't have the priorities he does quite yet, do you? You can't take the chances he can. You've treated them that age, surely you know that strange . . . smugness. ..."
Pointsman's own Fox waits, out in the city, a prize of war. In here the tiny office space is the cave of an oracle: steam drifting, sybilline cries arriving out of the darkness . . . Abreactions of the Lord of the Night. . . .
"I don't like it, Pointsman. Since you did ask."
"Why not." Silence. "Unethical?"
"For pity's sake, is this ethical?" raising an arm then toward the exit into the ward, almost a Fascist salute. "No, I'm only trying to think of ways to justify it, experimentally. I can't. It's only one man."
"It's Slothrop. You know what he is. Even Mexico thinks . . . oh, the usual. Precognition. Psychokinesis. They have their own problems, that lot. . . . But suppose you had the chance to study a truly classical case of. . . some pathology, a perfect mechanism. ..."
One night Spectro asked: "If he hadn't been one of Laszlo Jamf's subjects, would you be all this keen on him?"
"Of course I would."
Imagine a missile one hears approaching only after it explodes. The reversal! A piece of time neatly snipped out... a few feet of film run backwards . . . the blast of the rocket, fallen faster than sound— then growing out of it the roar of its own fall, catching up to what's already death and burning ... a ghost in the sky. . . .
Pavlov was fascinated with "ideas of the opposite." Call it a cluster of cells, somewhere on the cortex of the brain. Helping to distinguish pleasure from pain, light from dark, dominance from submission. . . . But when, somehow—starve them, traumatize, shock, castrate them, send them over into one of the transmarginal phases, past borders of their waking selves, past "equivalent" and "paradoxical" phases—you weaken this idea of the opposite, and here all at once is the paranoid patient who would be master, yet now feels himself a slave . . . who would be loved, but suffers his world's indifference, and, "I think," Pavlov writing to Janet, "it is precisely the ultraparadoxical phase which is the base of the weakening of the idea of the opposite in our patients." Our madmen, our paranoid, maniac, schizoid, morally imbecile—
Spectro shakes his head. "You're putting response before stimulus."
"Not at all. Think of it. He's out there, and he can feel them coming, days in advance. But it's a reflex. A reflex to something that's in the air right now. Something we're too coarsely put together to sense—but Slothrop can."
"But that makes it extrasensory."
"Why not say 'a sensory cue we just aren't paying attention to.' Something that's been there all along, something we could be looking at but no one is. Often, in our experiments ... I believe M. K. Petrova was first to observe it ... one of the women, quite early in the game really . . . the act merely of bringing the dog into the laboratory—especially in our experimental neurosis work . . . the first sight of the test stand, of the technician, a stray shadow, the touch of a draft of air, some cue we might never pin down would be enough to send him over, send him transmarginal.
"So, Slothrop. Conceivably. Out in the city, the ambience alone— suppose we considered the war itself as a laboratory? when the V-2 hits, you see, first the blast, then the sound of its falling . . . the normal order of the stimuli reversed that way ... so he might turn a particular corner, enter a certain street, and for no clear reason feel suddenly..."
Silence comes in, sculptured by spoken dreams, by pain-voices of the rocketbombed next door, Lord of the Night's children, voices hung upon the ward's stagnant medicinal air. Praying to their Master: sooner or later an abreaction, each one, all over this frost and harrowed city . . .
... as once again the floor is a giant lift propelling you with no warning toward your ceiling—replaying now as the walls are blown outward, bricks and mortar showering down, your sudden paralysis as death comes to wrap and stun I don't know guv I must've blacked out when I come to she was gone it was burning all around me head was full of smoke . . . and the sight of your blood spurting from the flaccid stub of artery, the snowy roofslates fallen across half your bed, the cinema kiss never completed, you were pinned and stared at a crumpled cigarette pack for two hours in pain, you could hear them crying from the rows either side but couldn't move . . . the sudden light filling up the room, the awful silence, brighter than any morning through blankets turned to gauze no shadows at all, only unutterable two-o'clock dawn . . . and . . .
... this transmarginal leap, this surrender. Where ideas of the opposite have come together, and lost their oppositeness. (And is it really the rocket explosion that Slothrop's keying on, or is it exactly this de-
polarizing, this neurotic "confusion" that fills the wards tonight?) How many times before it's washed away, these iterations that pour out, reliving the blast, afraid to let go because the letting go is so final how do I know Doctor that I'll ever come back? and the answer trust us, after the rocket, is so hollow, only mummery—trust you?—and both know it. . . . Spectro feels so like a fraud but carries on ... only because the pain continues to be real. . . .
And those who do let go at last: out of each catharsis rise new children, painless, egoless for one pulse of the Between . . . tablet erased, new writing about to begin, hand and chalk poised in winter gloom over these poor human palimpsests shivering under their government blankets, drugged, drowning in tears and snot of grief so real, torn from so deep that it surprises, seems more than their own. . . .
How Pointsman lusts after them, pretty children. Those drab un-dershorts of his are full to bursting with need humorlessly, worldly to use their innocence, to write on them new words of himself, his own brown Realpolitik dreams, some psychic prostate ever in aching love promised, ah hinted but till now . . . how seductively they lie ranked in their iron bedsteads, their virginal sheets, the darlings so artlessly erotic. . . .
St. Veronica's Downtown Bus Station, their crossroads (newly arrived on this fake parquetry, chewing-gum scuffed charcoal black, slicks of nighttime vomit, pale yellow, clear as the fluids of gods, waste newspapers or propaganda leaflets no one has read in torn scythe-shaped pieces, old nose-pickings, black grime that blows weakly in when the doors open . . . ).
You have waited in these places into the early mornings, synced in to the on-whitening of the interior, you know the Arrivals schedule by heart, by hollow heart. And where these children have run away from, and that, in this city, there is no one to meet them. You impress them with your gentleness. You've never quite decided if they can see through to your vacuum. They won't yet look in your eyes, their slender legs are never still, knitted stockings droop (all elastic has gone to war), but charmingly: little heels kick restless against the canvas bags, the fraying valises under the wood bench. Speakers in the ceiling report departures and arrivals in English, then in the other, exile languages. Tonight's child has had a long trip here, hasn't slept. Her eyes are red, her frock wrinkled. Her coat has been a pillow. You feel her exhaustion, feel the impossible vastness of all the sleeping countryside at her back, and for the moment you really are selfless, sexless . . . considering only how to shelter her, you are the Traveler's Aid.
Behind you, long, night-long queues of men in uniform move away slowly, kicking AWOL bags along, mostly silent, toward exit doors painted beige, but with edges smudged browner in bell-curves of farewell by the generation of hands. Doors that only now and then open let in the cold air, take out a certain draft of men, and close again. A driver, or a clerk, stands by the door checking rickets, passes, furlough chits. One by one men step out into this perfectly black rectangle of night and disappear. Gone, the war taking them, the man behind already presenting his ticket. Outside motors are roaring: but less like transport than like some kind of stationary machine, very low earthquake frequencies coming in mixed with the cold—somehow intimating that out there your blindness, after this bright indoors, will be like a sudden blow. . . . Soldiers, sailors, marines, airmen. One by one, gone. Those who happen to be smoking might last an instant longer, weak little coal swinging in orange arc once, twice—no more. You sit, half-turned to watch them, your soiled sleepy darling beginning to complain, and it's no use—how can your lusts fit inside this same white frame with so much, such endless, departure? A thousand children are shuffling out these doors tonight, but only rare nights will even one come in, Home to your sprung, spermy bed, the wind over the gasworks, closer smells of mold on wet Coffee grounds, cat shit, pale sweaters with the pits heaped in a corner, in some accidental gesture, slink or embrace. This wordless ratcheting queue . . . thousands going away . . . only the stray freak particle, by accident, drifting against the major flow. . . .
Yet for all his agonizing all Pointsman will score, presently, is an octopus—yes a gigantic, horror-movie devilfish name of Grigori: gray, slimy, never still, shivering slow-motion in his makeshift pen down by the Ick Regis jetty ... a terrible wind that day off the Channel, Pointsman in his Balaclava helmet, eyes freezing, Dr. Porkyevitch with greatcoat collar up and fur hat down around his ears, their breaths foul with hours-old fish, and what the hell can Pointsman do with this animal?
Already, by itself, the answer is growing, one moment a featureless blastulablob, the next folding, beginning to differentiate. . . .
One of the things Spectro said that night—surely it was that night—was, "I only wonder if you'd feel the same way without all those dogs about. If your subjects all along had been human."
"You ought to be offering me one or two, then, instead of—are you serious?—giant octopi." The doctors are watching each other closely.
"I wonder what you'll do."
"So do I."
"Take the octopus." Does he mean "forget Slothrop"? A charged moment.
But then Pointsman laughs the well-known laugh that's done him yeoman service in a profession where too often it's hedge or hang. "I'm always being told to take animals." He means that years ago a colleague—gone now—told him he'd be more human, warmer, if he kept a dog of his own, outside the lab. Pointsman tried—God knows he did—it was a springer spaniel named Gloucester, pleasant enough animal, he supposed, but the try lasted less than a month. What finally irritated him out of all tolerance was that the dog didn't know how to reverse its behavior. It could open doors to the rain and the spring insects, but not close them . . . knock over garbage, vomit on the floor, but not clean it up—how could anyone live with such a creature?
"Octopi," Spectro wheedles, "are docile under surgery. They can survive massive removals of brain tissue. Their unconditioned response to prey is very reliable—show them a crab, WHAM! out wiv the old tentacle, Home to poisoning and supper. And, Pointsman, they don't bark."
"Oh, but. No . . . tanks, pumps, filtering, special food . . . that may be fine up in Cambridge, that lot, but everyone here's so damned tightfisted, it's the damned Rundstedt offensive, has to be. ... P.WE. won't fund anything now unless it pays off tactically, immediately— last week you know, if not sooner. No an octopus is much too elaborate, not even Pudding would buy it, no not even old delusions-of-grandeur himself."
"No limit to the things you can teach them."
"Spectro, you're not the devil." Looking closer, "Are you? You know we're set for sound stimuli, the whole thrust of this Slothrop scheme has to be auditory, the reversal is auditory. . . . I've seen an octopus brain or two in my time, mate, and don't think I haven't noticed those great blooming optic lobes. Eh? You're trying to palm off a visual creature on me. What's there to see when the damned things come down?"
"A fiery red ball. Falling like a meteor."
"Gwenhidwy saw one the other night, over Deptford."
"What I want," Pointsman leaning now into the central radiance of the lamp, his white face more vulnerable than his voice, whispering across the burning spire of a hypodermic set upright on the desk, "what I really need, is not a dog, not an octopus, but one of your fine Foxes. Damn it. One, little, Fox!"
Something's stalking through the city of Smoke—gathering up slender girls, fair and smooth as dolls, by the handful. Their piteous cries . . . their dollful and piteous cries . . . the face of one is suddenly very close, and down! over the staring eyes come cream lids with stiff lashes, slamming loudly shut, the long reverberating of lead counterweights tumble inside her head as Jessica's own lids now come flying open. She surfaces in time to hear the last echoes blowing away on the heels of the blast, austere and keen, a winter sound. . . . Roger wakes up briefly too, mutters something like "Fucking madness," and nods back to sleep.
She reaches out, blind little hand grazing the ticking clock, the wornplush stomach of her panda Michael, an empty milk bottle holding scarlet blossoms from a spurge in a garden a mile down the road: reaches to where her cigarettes ought to be but aren't. Halfway out now from under the covers, she hangs, between the two worlds, a white, athletic tension in this cold room. Oh, well . . . she leaves him in their warm burrow, moves shivering vuhvuhvuh in grainy darkness over winter-tight floorboards, slick as ice to her bare soles.
Her cigarettes are on the parlor floor, left among pillows in front of the fire. Roger's clothing is scattered all about. Puffing on a cigarette, squinting with one eye for the smoke, she tidies up, folding his trousers, hanging up his shirt. Then wanders to the window, lifts the blackout curtain, tries to see out through frost gathering on the panes, out into the snow tracked over by foxes, rabbits, long-lost dogs, and winter birds but no humans. Empty canals of snow thread away into trees and town whose name they still don't know. She cups the cigarettes in her palm, leery of showing a light though blackout was lifted weeks and weeks ago, already part of another time and world. Late lorry motors rush north and south in the night, and airplanes fill the sky then drain away east to some kind of quiet.
Could they have settled for hotels, AR-E forms, being frisked for
cameras and binoculars? This house, town, crossed arcs of Roger and Jessica are so vulnerable, to German weapons and to British bylaws ... it doesn't feel like danger here, but she does wish there were others about, and that it could really be a village, her village. The searchlights could stay, to light the night, and barrage balloons to populate fat and friendly the daybreak—everything, even the explosions in the distances might stay as long as they were to no purpose ... as long as no one had to die . . . couldn't it be that way? only excitement, sound and light, a storm approaching in the summer (to live in a world where that would be the day's excitement . . . ), only kind thunder?
Jessica has floated out of herself, up to watch herself watching the night, to hover in widelegged, shoulderpadded white, satin-polished on her nightward surfaces. Until something falls here, close enough to matter, they do have their safety: their thickets of silverblue stalks reaching after dark to touch or sweep clouds, the green-brown masses in uniform, at the ends of afternoons, stone, eyes on the distances,
Until it touch them. Until something falls. A doodle will give time to get to safety, a rocket will hit before they can hear it coming. Biblical, maybe, spooky as an old northern fairy tale, but not The War, not the great struggle of good and evil the wireless reports everyday. And no reason not just to, well, to keep on. . . .
Roger has tried to explain to her the V-bomb statistics: the differ-ence between distribution, in angel's-eye view, over the map of England, and their own chances, as seen from down here. She's almost got it: nearly understands his Poisson equation, yet can't quite put the two together—put her own enforced calm day-to-day alongside the pure numbers, and keep them both in sight. Pieces keep slipping in and out.
"Why is your equation only for angels, Roger? Why can't we do something, down here? Couldn't there be an equation for us too, something to help us find a safer place?"
"Why am I surrounded," his usual understanding self today, "by statistical illiterates? There's no way, love, not as long as the mean density of strikes is constant. Pointsman doesn't even understand that."
The rockets are distributing about London just as Poisson's equa-
tion in the textbooks predicts. As the data keep coming in, Roger looks more and more like a prophet. Psi Section people stare after him in the hallways. It's not precognition, he wants to make an announcement in the cafeteria or something . . . have I ever pretended to be anything I'm not? all I'm doing is plugging numbers into a well-known equation, you can look it up in the book and do it yourself. . . .
His little bureau is dominated now by a glimmering map, a window into another landscape than winter Sussex, written names and spidering streets, an ink ghost of London, ruled off into 576 squares, a quarter square kilometer each. Rocket strikes are represented by red circles. The Poisson equation will tell, for a number of total hits arbitrarily chosen, how many squares will get none, how many one, two, three, and so on.
An Erlenmeyer flask bubbles on the ring. Blue light goes rattling, reknotting through the seedflow inside the glass. Ancient tatty textbooks and mathematical papers lie scattered about on desk and floor. Somewhere a snapshot of Jessica peeks from beneath Roger's old Whittaker and Watson. The graying Pavlovian, on route with his tautened gait, thin as a needle, in the mornings to his lab, where dogs wait with cheeks laid open, winter-silver drops welling from each neat raw fistula to fill the wax cup or graduated tube, pauses by Mexico's open door. The air beyond is blue from cigarettes smoked and as fag-ends later in the freezing black morning shifts resmoked, a stale and loathsome atmosphere. But he must go in, must face the habitual morning cup.
Both know how strange their liaison must look. If ever the Anti-pointsman existed, Roger Mexico is the man. Not so much, the doctor admits, for the psychical research. The young statistician is devoted to number and to method, not table-rapping or wishful thinking. But in the domain of zero to one, not-something to something, Pointsman can only possess the zero and the one. He cannot, like Mexico, survive anyplace in between. Like his master I. P. Pavlov before him, he imagines the cortex of the brain as a mosaic of tiny on/off elements. Some are always in bright excitation, others darkly inhibited. The contours, bright and dark, keep changing. But each point is allowed only the two states: waking or sleep. One or zero. "Summation," "transition," "irradiation," "concentration," "reciprocal induction"—all Pavlovian brain-mechanics—assumes the presence of these bi-stable points. But to Mexico belongs the domain between zero and one—the middle Pointsman has excluded from his persuasion—the probabilities. A chance of
0.37 that, by the time he stops his count, a given square on his map will have suffered only one hit, 0.17 that it will suffer two. . . .
"Can't you . . . tell," Pointsman offering Mexico one of his Kypri-nos Orients, which he guards in secret fag fobs sewn inside all his lab coats, "from your map here, which places would be safest to go into, safest from attack?"
"Every square is just as likely to get hit again. The hits aren't clustering. Mean density is constant."
Nothing on the map to the contrary. Only a classical Poisson distribution, quietly neatly sifting among the squares exactly as it should . . . growing to its predicted shape. . . .
"But squares that have already had several hits, I mean—"
"I'm sorry. That's the Monte Carlo Fallacy. No matter how many have fallen inside a particular square, the odds remain the same as they always were. Each hit is independent of all the others. Bombs are not dogs. No link. No memory. No conditioning."
Nice thing to tell a Pavlovian. Is it Mexico's usual priggish insensi-tivity, or does he know what he's saying? If there is nothing to link the rocket strikes—no reflex arc, no Law of Negative Induction . . . then . . . He goes in to Mexico each morning as to painful surgery. Spooked more and more by the choirboy look, the college pleasantries. But it's a visit he must make. How can Mexico play, so at his ease, with these symbols of randomness and fright? Innocent as a child, perhaps unaware—perhaps—that in his play he wrecks the elegant rooms of history, threatens the idea of cause and effect itself. What if Mexico's whole generation have turned out like this? Will Postwar be nothing but "events," newly created one moment to the next? No links? Is it the end of history?
"The Romans," Roger and the Reverend Dr. Paul de la Nuit were drunk together one night, or the vicar was, "the ancient Roman priests laid a sieve in the road, and then waited to see which stalks of grass would come up through the holes."
Roger saw the connection immediately. "I wonder," reaching for pocket after pocket, why are there never any damned—ah here, "if it would follow a Poisson . . . let's see ..."
"Mexico." Leaning forward, definitely hostile. "They used the stalks that grew through the holes to cure the sick. The sieve was a very sacred item to them. What will you do with the sieve you've laid
over London? How will you use the things that grow in your network of death?"
"I don't follow you." It's just an equation. . . .
Roger really wants other people to know what he's talking about. Jessica understands that. When they don't, his face often grows chalky and clouded, as behind the smudged glass of a railway carriage window as vaguely silvered barriers come down, spaces slide in to separate him that much more, thinning further his loneliness. She knew their very first day, he leaning across to open the Jaguar door and so sure she'd never get in. She saw his loneliness: in his face, between his red nail-bitten hands. ...
"Well, it isn't fair."
"It's eminently fair," Roger now cynical, looking very young, she thinks. "Everyone's equal. Same chances of getting hit. Equal in the eyes of the rocket."
To which she gives him her Fay Wray look, eyes round as can be, red mouth about to open in a scream, till he has to laugh. "Oh, stop."
"Sometimes . . ." but what does she want to say? That he must always be lovable, in need of her and never, as now, the hovering statistical cherub who's never quite been to hell but speaks as if he's one of the most fallen. . . .
"Cheap nihilism" is Captain Prentice's name for that. It was one day by the frozen pond near "The White Visitation," Roger off sucking icicles, lying flat and waving his arms to make angels in the snow, larking.
"Do you mean that he hasn't paid . . . ," looking up, up, Pirate's wind-burned face seeming to end in the sky, her own hair finally in the way of his gray, reserved eyes. He was Roger's friend, he wasn't playing or undermining, didn't know the first thing, she guessed, about such dancing-shoe wars—and anyway didn't have to, because she was already, terrible flirt . . . well, nothing serious, but those eyes she could never quite see into were so swoony, so utterly terrif, really. . . .
"The more V-2s over there waiting to be fired over here," Captain Prentice said, "obviously, the better his chances of catching one. Of course you can't say he's not paying a minimum dues. But aren't we all."
"Well," Roger nodding when she told him later, eyes out of focus, considering this, "it's the damned Calvinist insanity again. Payment.
Why must they always put it in terms of exchange? What's Prentice want, another kind of Beveridge Proposal or something? Assign everyone a Bitterness Quotient! lovely—up before the Evaluation Board, so many points earned for being Jewish, in a concentration camp, missing limbs or vital organs, losing a wife, a lover, a close friend—"
"I knew you'd be angry," she murmured.
"I'm not angry. No. He's right. It is cheap. All right, but what does he want then—" stalking now this stuffed, dim little parlor, hung about with rigid portraits of favorite gun dogs at point in fields that never existed save in certain fantasies about death, leas more golden as their linseed oil ages, even more autumnal, necropolitical, than prewar hopes—for an end to all change, for a long static afternoon and the grouse forever in blurred takeoff, the sights taking their lead aslant purple hills to pallid sky, the good dog alerted by the eternal scent, the explosion over his head always just about to come—these hopes so patently, defenselessly there that Roger even at his most cheaply nihilistic couldn't quite bring himself to take the pictures down, turn them to the wallpaper—"what do you all expect from me, working day in day out among raving lunatics," Jessica sighing oh gosh, curling her pretty legs up into the chair, "they believe in survival after death, communication mind-to-mind, prophesying, clairvoyance, teleportation— they believe, Jess! and—and—" something is blocking his speech. She forgets her annoyance, comes up out of the fat paisley chair to hold him, and how does she know, warm-skirted thighs and mons pushing close to heat and rouse his cock, losing the last of her lipstick across his shirt, muscles, touches, skins confused, high, blooded—know so exactly what Roger meant to say?
Mind-to-mind, tonight up late at the window while he sleeps, lighting another precious cigarette from the coal of the last, filling with a need to cry because she can see so plainly her limits, knows she can never protect him as much as she must—from what may come out of the sky, from what he couldn't confess that day (creaking snow lanes, arcades of the ice-bearded and bowing trees . . . the wind shook down crystals of snow: purple and orange creatures blooming on her long lashes), and from Mr. Pointsman, and from Pointsman's ... his ... a bleakness whenever she meets him. Scientist-neutrality. Hands that— she shivers. There are chances now for enemy shapes out of the snow and stillness. She drops the blackout curtain. Hands that could as well torture people as dogs and never feel their pain . . .
A skulk of foxes, a cowardice of curs are tonight's traffic whispering
in the yards and lanes. A motorcycle out on the trunk road, snarling cocky as a fighter plane, bypasses the village, heading up to London. The great balloons drift in the sky, pearl-grown, and the air is so still that this morning's brief snow still clings to the steel cables, white goes twisting peppermint-stick down thousands of feet of night. And the people who might have been asleep in the empty houses here, people blown away, some already forever . . . are they dreaming of cities that shine all over with lamps at night, of Christmases seen again from the vantage of children and not of sheep huddled so vulnerable on their bare hillside, so bleached by the Star's awful radiance? or of songs so funny, so lovely or true, that they can't be remembered on waking . . . dreams of peacetime. . . .
"What was it like? Before the war?" She knows she was alive then, a child, but it's not what she means. Wireless, staticky Frank Bridge Variations a hairbrush for the tangled brain over the BBC Home Service, bottle of Montrachet, a gift from Pirate, cooling at the kitchen window.
"Well, now," in his cracked old curmudgeon's voice, palsied hand reaching out to squeeze her breast in the nastiest way he knows, "girly, it depends which war you mean" and here it comes, ugh, ugh, drool welling at the corner of his lower lip and over and down in a silver string, he's so clever, he's practiced all these disgusting little—
"Don't be ridic, I'm serious, Roger. I don't remember." Watches dimples come up either side of his mouth as he considers this, smiling at her in an odd way. It'll be like this when I'm thirty . . . flash of several children, a garden, a window, voices Mummy, what's . . . cucumbers and brown onions on a chopping board, wild carrot blossoms sprinkling with brilliant yellow a reach of deep, very green lawn and his voice—
"All I remember is that it was silly. Just overwhelmingly silly. Nothing happened. Oh, Edward VIII abdicated. He fell in love with—"
"I know that, I can read magazines. But what was it like?"
"Just . . . just damned silly, that's all. Worrying about things that don't—Jess, can't you really remember?"
"Nothing that's really gone, that I can't ever find again."
"Oh. Whereas my memories—"
"Yes?" They both smile.
"One took lots of aspirin. One was drinking or drunk much of the time. One was concerned about getting one's lounge suits to fit properly. One despised the upper classes but tried desperately to behave like them. ..."
"And one cried wee, wee, wee, all the way—" Jessica breaking down in a giggle as he reaches for the spot along her sweatered flank he knows she can't bear to be tickled in. She hunches, squirming, out of the way as he rolls past, bouncing off the back of the sofa but making a nice recovery, and by now she's ticklish all over, he can grab an ankle, elbow—
But a rocket has suddenly struck. A terrific blast quite close beyond the village: the entire fabric of the air, the time, is changed—the casement window blown inward, rebounding with a wood squeak to slam again as all the house still shudders.
Their hearts pound. Eardrums brushed taut by the overpressure ring in pain. The invisible train rushes away close over the rooftop. . . .
They sit still as the painted dogs now, silent, oddly unable to touch. Death has come in the pantry door: stands watching them, iron and patient, with a look that says try to tickle me.
TDY Abreaction Ward St. Veronica's Hospital Bonechapel Gate, El London, England Winter, 1944
The Kenosha Kid
Kenosha, Wisconsin, U.S.A.
Did I ever bother you, ever, for anything, in your life?
Lt. Tyrone Slothrop
General Delivery Kenosha, Wise., U.S.A. few days later
Tyrone Slothrop, Esq. TDY Abreaction Ward St. Veronica's Hospital Bonechapel Gate, El London, England
Dear Mr. Slothrop: You never did.
The Kenosha Kid
(2) Smartass youth: Aw, I did all them old-fashioned dances, I did the
Old veteran hoofer: Bet you never did the "Kenosha," kid!
(2.1) S.Y.: Shucks, I did all them dances, I did the "Castle Walk," and I did the "Lindy," too!
O.VH.: Bet you never did the "Kenosha Kid."
(3) Minor employee: Well, he has been avoiding me, and I thought it
Superior (haughtily): You! never did the Kenosha Kid think for one instant that you . . .
(3.1) Superior (incredulously): You? Never! Did the Kenosha Kid think for one instant that you ... ?
(4) And at the end of the mighty day in which he gave us in fiery
These changes on the text "You never did the Kenosha Kid" are occupying Slothrop's awareness as the doctor leans in out of the white overhead to wake him and begin the session. The needle slips without pain into the vein just outboard of the hollow in the crook of his elbow: 10% Sodium Amytal, one cc at a time, as needed.
Maybe you did fool the Philadelphia, rag the Rochester, josh the
(The day of the Ascent and sacrifice. A nation-wide observance.
Got a hardon in my fist,
Don't be pissed,
Jackson, I don't give a fuck, Just give me my "ruptured duck!" Snap—to, Slothrop!
No one here can love or comprehend me,
They just look for someplace else to send . . . me ...
Tap my head and mike my brain, Stick that needle in my vein, Slothrop, snap to!
PISCES: We want to talk some more about Boston today, Slothrop. You recall that we were talking last time about the Negroes, in Roxbury. Now we know it's not all that comfortable for you, but do try, won't you. Now—where are you, Slothrop? Can you see anything?
Slothrop: Well no, not see exactly . . .
Roaring in by elevated subway, only in Boston, steel and a carbon shroud over the ancient bricks—
Rhy-thm's got me,
Oh baby dat swing, swing, swing!
Yeah de rhythm got me
Just a-thinkin' that whole-wide-world-can-sing,
Well I never ever heard-it, sound-so-sweet,
Even down around the corner-on, Ba-sin Street,
As now dat de rhythm's got me, chillun let's
Swing, swing, swing,
Come on ... chillun, let's . . . swing!
Black faces, white tablecloth, gleaming very sharp knives lined up by the saucers . . . tobacco and "gage" smoke richly blended, eye-reddening and tart as wine, yowzah gwine smoke a little ob dis hyah sheeit gib de wrinkles in mah brain a process! straighten 'em all raht out, sho nuf !
PISCES: That was "sho nuf," Slothrop?
Slothrop: Come on you guys . . . don't make it too ...
White college boys, hollering requests to the "combo" up on the stand. Eastern prep-school voices, pronouncing asshole with a certain sphinctering of the lips so it comes out ehisshehwle . . . they reel, they roister. Aspidistras, giant philodendrons, green broad leaves and jungle palms go hanging into the dimness . . . two bartenders, a very fair West Indian, slight, with a mustache, and his running-mate black as a hand in an evening glove, are moving endlessly in front of the deep, the oceanic mirror that swallows most of the room into metal shadows . . . the hundred bottles hold their light only briefly before it flows away into the mirror . . . even when someone bends to light a cigarette, the flame reflects back in there only as dark, sunset orange. Slothrop can't even see his own white face. A woman turns to look at him from a table. Her eyes tell him, in the instant, what he is. The mouth harp in his pocket reverts to brass inertia. A weight. A jive accessory. But he packs it everywhere he goes.
Upstairs in the men's room at the Roseland Ballroom he swoons kneeling over a toilet bowl, vomiting beer, hamburgers, Homefries, chef's salad with French dressing, half a bottle of Moxie, after-dinner mints, a Clark bar, a pound of salted peanuts, and the cherry from some RadclifFe girl's old-fashioned. With no warning, as tears stream out his eyes, PLOP goes the harp into the, aagghh, the loathsome toilet! Immediate little bubbles slide up its bright flanks, up brown wood surfaces, some varnished some lip-worn, these fine silver seeds stripping loose along the harp's descent toward stone-white cervix and into lower night. . . . Someday the U.S. Army will provide him with shirts whose pockets he can button. But in these prewar days he can rely only on the starch in his snow-white Arrow to hold the pocket stuck together enough to keep objects from . . . But no, no, fool, the harp has fallen, remember? the low reeds singing an instant on striking porcelain (it's raining against a window somewhere, and outside on top of a sheet-metal vent on the roof: cold Boston rain) then quenched in the water streaked with the last bile-brown coils of his vomit. There's no calling it back. Either he lets the harp go, his silver chances of song, or he has to follow.
Follow? Red, the Negro shoeshine boy, waits by his dusty leather seat. The Negroes all over wasted Roxbury wait. Follow? "Cherokee" comes wailing up from the dance floor below, over the hi-hat, the string bass, the thousand sets of feet where moving rose lights suggest not pale Harvard boys and their dates, but a lotta dolled-up redskins. The song playing is one more lie about white crimes. But more musicians have floundered in the channel to "Cherokee" than have got through from end to end. All those long, long notes . . . what're they up to, all that time to do something inside of? is it an Indian spirit plot? Down in New York, drive fast maybe get there for the last set— on 7th Ave., between 139th and 140th, tonight, "Yardbird" Parker is finding out how he can use the notes at the higher ends of these very chords to break up the melody into have mercy what is it a fucking machine gun or something man he must be out of his mind 32nd notes demisemiquavers say it very (demisemiquaver) fast in a Munchkin voice if you can dig that coming out of Dan Wall's Chili House and down the street—shit, out in all kinds of streets (his trip, by '39, well begun: down inside his most affirmative solos honks already the idle, amused dum-de-dumming of old Mister fucking Death he self) out over the airwaves, into the society gigs, someday as far as what seeps out hidden speakers in the city elevators and in all the markets, his bird's singing, to gainsay the Man's lullabies, to subvert the groggy wash of the endlessly, gutlessly overdubbed strings. ... So that prophecy, even up here on rainy Massachusetts Avenue, is beginning these days to work itself out in "Cherokee," the saxes downstairs getting now into some, oh really weird shit. . . .
If Slothrop follows that harp down the toilet it'll have to be headfirst, which is not so good, cause it leaves his ass up in the air helpless, and with Negroes around that's just what a fella doesn't want, his face down in some fetid unknown darkness and brown fingers, strong and sure, all at once undoing his belt, unbuttoning his fly, strong hands holding his legs apart—and he feels the cold Lysol air on his thighs as down come the boxer shorts too, now, with the colorful bass lures and trout flies on them. He struggles to work himself farther into the toilet hole as dimly, up through the smelly water, comes the sound of a whole dark gang of awful Negroes come yelling happily into the white men's room, converging on poor wriggling Slothrop, jiving around the way they do singing, "Slip the talcum to me, Malcolm!" And the voice
that replies is who but that Red, the shoeshine boy who's slicked up
Slothrop's black patents a dozen times down on his knees jes poppin' dat rag to beat the band . . . now Red the very tall, skinny, extrava-
gantly conked redhead Negro shoeshine boy who's just been "Red" to all the Harvard fellas—"Say Red, any of those Sheiks in the drawer?" "How 'bout another luck-changin' phone number there, Red?"—this Negro whose true name now halfway down the toilet comes at last to Slothrop's hearing—as a thick finger with a gob of very slippery jelly or cream comes sliding down the crack now toward his asshole, chevroning the hairs along like topo lines up a river valley—the true name is Malcolm, and all the black cocks know him, Malcolm, have known him all along—Red Malcolm the Unthinkable Nihilist sez, "Good golly he sure is all asshole ain't he?" Jeepers Slothrop, what a position for you to be in! Even though he has succeeded in getting far enough down now so that only his legs protrude and his buttocks heave and wallow just under the level of the water like pallid domes of ice. Water splashes, cold as the rain outside, up the walls of the white bowl. "Grab him 'fo' he gits away!" "Yowzah!" Distant hands clutch after his calves and ankles, snap his garters and tug at the argyle sox Mom knitted for him to go to Harvard in, but these insulate so well, or he has progressed so far down the toilet by now, that he can hardly feel the hands at all. ...
Then he has shaken them off, left the last Negro touch back up there and is free, slick as a fish, with his virgin asshole preserved. Now some folks might say whew, thank God for that, and others moaning a little, aw shucks, but Slothrop doesn't say much of anything cause he didn't feel much of anything. A-and there's still no sign of his lost harp. The light down here is dark gray and rather faint. For some time he has been aware of shit, elaborately crusted along the sides of this ceramic (or by now, iron) tunnel he's in: shit nothing can flush away, mixed with hard-water minerals into a deliberate brown barnacling of his route, patterns thick with meaning, Burma-Shave signs of the toilet world, icky and sticky, cryptic and glyptic, these shapes loom and pass smoothly as he continues on down the long cloudy waste line, the sounds of "Cherokee" still pulsing very dimly above, playing him to the sea. He finds he can identify certain traces of shit as belonging definitely to this or that Harvard fellow of his acquaintances. Some of it too of course must be Negro shit, but that all looks alike. Hey, here's that "Gobbler" Biddle, must've been the night we all ate chop suey at Fu's Folly in Cambridge cause there's bean sprouts around here someplace and even a hint of that wild plum sauce . . . say, certain senses then do seem to grow sharper... wow... Fu's Folly, weepers, that was months ago. A-and here's Dumpster Villard, he was constipated that night, wasn't he—it's black shit mean as resin that will someday clarify
forever to dark amber. In its blunt, reluctant touches along the wall (which speak the reverse of its own cohesion) he can, uncannily shit-sensitized now, read old agonies inside poor Dumpster, who'd tried suicide last semester: the differential equations that would not weave for him into any elegance, the mother with the low-slung hat and silk knees leaning across Slothrop's table in Sidney's Great Yellow Grille to finish for him his bottle of Canadian ale, the Radcliffe girls who evaded him, the black professionals Malcolm touted him on to who dealt him erotic cruelty by the dollar, up to as much as he could take. Or if Mother's check was late, only afford. Gone away upstream, bas-relief Dumpster lost in the gray light as now Slothrop is going past the sign of Will Stonybloke, of J. Peter Pitt, of Jack Kennedy, the ambassador's son—say, where the heck is that Jack tonight, anyway? If anybody could've saved that harp, betcha Jack could. Slothrop admires him from a distance—he's athletic, and kind, and one of the most well-liked fellows in Slothrop's class. Sure is daffy about that history, though. Jack . . . might Jack have kept it from falling, violated gravity somehow? Here, in this passage to the Atlantic, odors of salt, weed, decay washing to him faintly like the sound of breakers, yes it seems Jack might have. For the sake of tunes to be played, millions of possible blues lines, notes to be bent from the official frequencies, bends Slothrop hasn't really the breath to do ... not yet but someday . . . well at least if (when . . . ) he finds the instrument it'll be well soaked in, a lot easier to play. A hopeful thought to carry with you down the toilet.
Down the toilet, lookit me, What a silly thing ta do! Hope nobody takes a pee, Yippy dippy dippy doo ...
At which precise point there comes this godawful surge from up the line, noise growing like a tidal wave, a jam-packed wavefront of shit, vomit, toilet paper and dingleberries in mind-boggling mosaic, rushing down on panicky Slothrop like an MTA subway train on its own hapless victim. Nowhere to run. Paralyzed, he stares back over his shoulder. A looming wall stringing long tendrils of shitpaper behind, the shockwave is on him—GAAHHH! he tries a feeble frog kick at the very last moment but already the cylinder of waste has wiped him out, dark as cold beef gelatin along his upper backbone, the paper snapping up, wrapping across his lips, his nostrils, everything gone and shit-stinking now as he has to keep batting micro-turds out of his eyelashes, it's worse than being torpedoed by Japs! the brown liquid tearing along, carrying him helpless . . . seems he's been tumbling ass over teakettle—though there's no way to tell in this murky shitstorm, no visual references . . . from time to time he will brush against shrubbery, or perhaps small feathery trees. It occurs to him he hasn't felt the touch of a hard wall since he started to tumble, if that indeed is what he's doing.
At some point the brown dusk around him has begun to lighten. Like the dawn. Bit by bit his vertigo leaves him. The last wisps of shit-paper, halfway back to slurry, go ... sad, dissolving, away. An eerie light grows on him, a watery and marbled light he hopes won't last for long because of what it seems to promise to show. But "contacts" are living in these waste regions. People he knows. Inside shells of old, what seem to be fine-packed masonry ruins—weathered cell after cell, many of them roofless. Wood fires burn in black fireplaces, water simmers in rusty institutional-size lima-bean cans, and the steam goes up the leaky chimneys. And they sit about the worn flagstones, transacting some ... he can't place it exactly . . . something vaguely religious. . .. Bedrooms are fully furnished, with lights that turn and glow, velvet hung from walls and ceiling. Down to the last ignored blue bead clogged with dust under the Capehart, the last dried spider and complex ruffling of the carpet's nap, the intricacy of these dwellings amazes him. It is a place of sheltering from disaster. Not necessarily the flushings of the Toilet—these occur here only as a sort of inferred disturbance, behind this ancient sky, in its corroded evenness of tone—but something else has been terribly at this country, something poor soggy Slothrop cannot see or hear ... as if there is a Pearl Harbor every morning, smashing invisibly from the sky. . . . He has toilet paper in his hair and a fuzzy thick dingleberry lodged up inside his right nostril. Ugh, ugh. Decline and fall works silently on this landscape. No sun, no moon, only a long smooth sinewaving of the light. It is a Negro dingleberry, he can tell—stubborn as a wintertime booger as he probes for it. His fingernails draw blood. He stands outside all the communal rooms and spaces, outside in his own high-desert morning, a reddish-brown hawk, two, hanging up on an air current to watch the horizon. It's cold. The wind blows. He can feel only his isolation. They want him inside there but he can't join them. Something prevents him: once inside, it would be like taking some kind of blood oath. They would never release him. There are no guarantees he might not be asked to do something . . . something so ...
Now every loose stone, every piece of tinfoil, billet of wood, scrap
of kindling or cloth is moving up and down: rising ten feet then dropping again to hit the pavement with a sharp clap. The light is thick and water-green. All down the streets, debris rises and falls in unison, as if at the mercy of some deep, regular wave. It's difficult to see any distance through the vertical dance. The drumming on the pavement goes for eleven beats, skips a twelfth, begins the cycle over ... it is the rhythm of some traditional American tune. . . . The streets are all empty of people. It's either dawn or twilight. Parts of the debris that are metal shine with a hard, nearly blue persistence.
Now don't you remember Red Malcolm up there, That kid with the Red Devil Lye in his hair . . .
Here now is Crutchfield or Crouchfield, the westwardman. Not "archetypical" westwardman, but the only. Understand, there was only one. There was only one Indian who ever fought him. Only one fight, one victory, one loss. And only one president, and one assassin, and one election. True. One of each of everything. You had thought of solipsism, and imagined the structure to be populated—on your level—by only, terribly, one. No count on any other levels. But it proves to be not quite that lonely. Sparse, yes, but a good deal better than solitary. One of each of everything's not so bad. Half an Ark's better than none. This Crutchfield here is browned by sun, wind and dirt—against the deep brown slats of the barn or stable wall he is wood of a different grain and finish. He is good-humored, solid-set against the purple mountainslope, and looking half into the sun. His shadow is carried strained coarsely back through the network of wood inside the stable—beams, lodgepoles, stall uprights, trough-trestlework, rafters, wood ceiling-slats the sun comes through: blinding empyrean even at this failing hour of the day. There is somebody playing a mouth harp behind an outbuilding—some musical glutton, mouth-sucking giant five-note chords behind the tune of
red river valley
Down this toilet they say you are flushin'— Won'tchew light up and set fer a spell? Cause the toilet it ain't going nowhar, And the shit hereabouts shore is swell.
Oh, it's the Red River all right, if you don't believe it just ask that "Red," wherever he may be (tell you what Red means, FDR's little asshole buddies, they want to take it all away, women all have hair on
their legs, give it all to them or they'll blow it up round black iron in the middle of the night bleeding over Polacks in gray caps okies niggers yeh niggers especially . . .)
Well, back here, Crutchfield's little pard has just come out of the barn. His little pard of the moment, anyway. Crutchfield has left a string of broken-hearted little pards across this vast alkali plain. One little feeb in South Dakota,
One little hustler in San Berdoo,
One little chink run away from the railroad
With his ass just as yellow as Fu Manchu!
One with the clap and one with a goiter,
One with the terminal lepro-see,
Cripple on the right foot, cripple on the left foot,
Crippled up both feet 'n' that makes three!
Well one little fairy, even one bull dyke,
One little nigger, one little kike,
One Red Indian with one buifalo,
And a buffalo hunter from New Mexico ...
And on, and on, one of each of everything, he's the White Cocksman of the terre mauvais, this Crouchfield, doing it with both sexes and all animals except for rattlesnakes (properly speaking, "rattlesnake," since there's only one), but lately seems he's been havin' these fantasies about that rattlesnake, too! Fangs just tickling the foreskin . . . the pale mouth open wide, and the horrible joy in the crescent eyes.... His little pard of the moment is Whappo, a Norwegian mulatto lad, who has a fetish for horsy paraphernalia, likes to be quirt-whipped inside the sweat-and-leather tackrooms of their wandering, which is three weeks old today, pretty long time for a little pard to've lasted. Whappo is wearing chaps of imported gazelle hide that Crutchfield bought for him in Eagle Pass from a faro dealer with a laudanum habit who was crossing the great Rio forever, into the blank furnace of the wild Mexico. Whappo also sports a bandanna of the regulation magenta and green (Crutchfield is supposed to have a closetful of these silken scarves back Home at "Rancho Peligroso" and never rides out into the rock-country and riverbed trails without a dozen or two stashed in his saddlebags. This must mean that the one-of-each rule applies only to forms of life, such as little pards, and not to objects, such as bandannas). And Whappo tops off with a high shiny opera hat of Japanese silk. Whappo is quite the dandy this afternoon in fact, as he comes sauntering out from the barn.
"Ah, Crutchfield," flipping a hand, "how nice of you to show up."
"You knew I'd show up, you little rascal," shit that Whappo is such a caution. Always baiting his master in hopes of getting a leather-keen stripe or two across those dusky Afro-Scandinavian buttocks, which combine the callipygian rondure observed among the races of the Dark Continent with the taut and noble musculature of sturdy Olaf, our blond Northern cousin. But this time Crutchfield only turns back to watching the distant mountains. Whappo sulks. His top hat reflects the coming holocaust. What the white man does not have to utter, however casually, is anything like "Toro Rojo's gonna be riding in tonight." Both pardners know about that. The wind, bringing them down that raw Injun smell, ought to be enough for anybody. Oh God it's gonna be a shootout and bloody as hell. The wind will be blowing so hard blood will glaze on the north sides of the trees. The redskin'll have a dog with him, the only Indian dog in these whole ashen plains—the cur will mix it up with little Whappo and end hung on the meathook of an open meat stall in the dirt plaza back in Los Madrés, eyes wide open, mangy coat still intact, black fleas hopping against the sunlit mortar and stone of the church wall across the square, blood darkened and crusting at the lesion in his neck where Whappo's teeth severed his jugular (and maybe some tendons, for the head dangles to one side). The hook enters in the back, between two vertebrae. Mexican ladies poke at the dead dog, and it sways reluctantly in the forenoon market-smell of platanos for frying, sweet baby carrots from the Red River Valley, trampled raw greens of many kinds, cilantro smelling like animal musk, strong white onions, pineapples fermenting in the sun, about to blow up, great mottled shelves of mountain mushroom. Slothrop moves among the bins and hung cloths, invisible, among horses and dogs, pigs, brown-uniformed militia, Indian women with babies slung in shawls, servants from the pastel houses farther up the hillside—the plaza is seething with life, and Slothrop is puzzled. Isn't there supposed to be only one of each?
Q. Then one Indian girl. . .
A. One pure Indian. One mestiza. One criolla. Then: one Yaqui. One Navaho. One Apache—
Q. Wait a minute, there was only one Indian to begin with. The one that Crutchfield killed.
Look on it as an optimization problem. The country can best support only one of each.
Q. Then what about all the others? Boston. London. The ones who live in cities. Are those people real, or what?
A. Some are real, and some aren't.
Q. Well are the real ones necessary? or unnecessary?
A. It depends what you have in mind.
Q. Shit, I don't have anything in mind.
A. We do.
For a moment, ten thousand stiffs humped under the snow in the Ardennes take on the sunny Disneyfied look of numbered babies under white wool blankets, waiting to be sent to blessed parents in places like Newton Upper Falls. It only lasts a moment. Then for another moment it seems that all the Christmas bells in the creation are about to join in chorus—that all their random pealing will be, this one time, coordinated, in harmony, present with tidings of explicit comfort, feasible joy.
But segway into the Roxbury hillside. Snow packs into the arches, the crosshatchings of his black rubber soles. His Ar'tics clink when he moves his feet. The snow in this slum darkness has the appearance of soot in a negative ... it flows in and out of the night. . . . The brick surfaces by daylight (he only sees them in very early dawn, aching inside his overshoes, looking for cabs up and down the Hill) are flaming corrosion, dense, deep, fallen upon by frosts again and again: historied in a way he hasn't noticed in Beacon Street. . . .
In the shadows, black and white holding in a panda-pattern across his face, each of the regions a growth or mass of scar tissue, waits the connection he's traveled all this way to see. The face is as weak as a house-dog's, and its owner shrugs a lot.
Slothrop: Where is he? Why didn't he show? Who are you?
Voice: The Kid got busted. And you know me, Slothrop. Remember? I'm Never.
Slothrop (peering): You, Never? (A pause.) Did the Kenosha Kid?
"Kryptosam" is a proprietary form of stabilized tyrosine, developed by IG Farben as part of a research contract with OKW. An activating agent is included which, in the presence of some component of the seminal fluid to date  unidentified, promotes conversion of the tyrosine into melanin, or skin pigment. In the absence of seminal fluid, the "Kryptosam" remains invisible. No other known reagent,
among those available to operatives in the field, will alter "Kryp-tosam" to visible melanin. It is suggested, in cryptographic applications, that a proper stimulus be included with the message which will reliably produce tumescence and ejaculation. A thorough knowledge of the addressee's psychosexual profile would seem of invaluable aid.
—prof. dr. laszlo jamf, "Kryptosam" (advertising brochure), Agfa, Berlin, 1934
The drawing, on heavy cream paper under the black-letter inscription GEHEIME KOMMANDOSACHE, is in pen and ink, very finely textured, somewhat after the style of von Bayros or Beardsley. The woman is a dead ringer for Scorpia Mossmoon. The room is one they talked about but never saw, a room they would have liked to live in one day, with a sunken pool, a silken tent draped from the ceiling—a De Mille set really, slender and oiled girls in attendance, a suggestion of midday light coming through from overhead, Scorpia sprawled among fat pillows wearing exactly the corselette of Belgian lace, the dark stockings and shoes he daydreamed about often enough but never—
No, of course he never told her. He never told anyone. Like every young man growing up in England, he was conditioned to get a hardon in the presence of certain fetishes, and then conditioned to feel shame about his new reflexes. Could there be, somewhere, a dossier, could They (They?) somehow have managed to monitor everything he saw and read since puberty . . . how else would They know?
"Hush," she whispers. Her fingers stroke lightly her long olive thighs, bare breasts swell from the top of her garment. Her face is toward the ceiling, but her eyes are looking into Pirate's own, long, narrow with lust, two points of light glittering through the thick lashes . . . "I'll leave him. We'll come here and live. We'll never stop making love. I belong to you, I've known that for a long time. . . ." Her tongue licks out over her little sharpened teeth. Her furry quim is at the center of all the light, and there is a taste in his mouth he would feel again. . . .
Well, Pirate nearly doesn't make it, barely gets his cock out of his trousers before he's spurting all over the place. Enough sperm saved, though, to rub over the blank scrap enclosed with the picture. Slowly then, a revelation through the nacreous film of his seed, in Negro-brown, comes his message: put in a simple Nihilist transposition whose keywords he can almost guess. Most of it he does in his head. There is a time given, a place, a request for help. He burns the message, fallen on him from higher than Earth's atmosphere, salvaged from Earth's prime meridian, keeps the picture, hmm, and washes his
hands. His prostate is aching. There is more to this than he can see. He has no recourse, no appeal: he has to go over there and bring the operative out again. The message is tantamount to an order from the highest levels.
Far away, through the rain, comes the crack-blast of another German rocket. The third today. They hunt the sky like Wuotan and his mad army.
Pirate's own robot hands begin to search drawers and folders for necessary vouchers and forms. No sleep tonight. Probably no chance even to catch a cup or cigarette on route. Why?
In Germany, as the end draws upon us, the incessant walls read WAS TUST DU FÜR DIE FRONT, FÜR DEN SIEG? WAS HAST DU HEUTE FÜR DEUTSCHLAND GETAN? At "The White Visitation" the walls read ice. Graffiti of ice the sunless day, glazing the darkening blood brick and terra cotta as if the house is to be preserved weatherless in some skin of clear museum plastic, an architectural document, an old-fashioned apparatus whose use is forgotten. Ice of varying thickness, wavy, blurred, a legend to be deciphered by lords of the winter, Glacists of the region, and argued over in their journals. Uphill, toward the sea, snow gathers like light at all windward edges of the ancient Abbey, its roof long ago taken at the manic whim of Henry VIII, its walls left to stand and mitigate with saintless window-hollows the salt wind, blowing as the seasons replay the grass floor in great cowlicks, green to blonde, to snow. From the Palladian house down in its resentful and twilit hollow this is the only view: the Abbey or else gentle, broadly mottled swoops of upland. View of the sea denied, though certain days and tides you can smell it, all your vile ancestry. In 1925 Reg Le Froyd, an inmate at "The White Visitation," escaped—rushed through the upper town to stand teetering at the edge of the cliff, hair and hospital garment flickering in the wind, the swaying miles of south coast, pallid chalk, jetties and promenades fading right and left into brine haze. After him came a Constable Stuggles, at the head of a curious crowd. "Don't jump!" cries the constable.
"I never thought of that," Le Froyd continuing to stare out to sea.
"Then what are you doing here. Eh?"
"Wanted to look at the sea," Le Froyd explains. "I've never seen it. I am, you know, related, by blood, to the sea."
"Oh aye," sly Stuggles edging up on him all the while, "visiting your relatives are you, how nice."
"I can hear the Lord of the Sea," cries Le Froyd, in wonder.
"Dear me, and what's his name?" Both of them wetfaced, shouting for the wind.
"Oh, I don't know," yells Le Froyd, "what would be a good name?"
"Bert," suggests the constable, trying to remember if it's right hand grasps left arm above elbow or left hand grasps . . .
Le Froyd turns, and for the first time sees the man, and the crowd. His eyes grow round and mild. "Bert is fine," he says, and steps back into the void.
That's all the townsfolk of Ick Regis had from "The White Visitation" in the way of relief—from summers of staring at the pink or sun-freckled overflow from Brighton, Flotsam and Jetsam casting each day of wireless history into song, sunsets on the promenade, lens openings forever changing for the sea light, blown now brisk, now sedate about the sky, aspirins for sleep—only Le Froyd's leap, that single entertainment, up till the outbreak of this war.
At the defeat of Poland, ministerial motorcades were suddenly observed at all hours of the night, putting in at "The White Visitation," silent as sloops, exhausts well muffled—chromeless black machinery that shone if there were starlight, and otherwise enjoyed the camouflage of a face about to be remembered, but through the act of memory fading too far. . . . Then at the fall of Paris, a radio transmitting station was set up on the cliff, antennas aimed at the Continent, themselves heavily guarded and their landlines back mysteriously over the downs to the house patrolled night and day by dogs specially betrayed, belted, starved into reflex leaps to kill, at any human approach. Had one of the Very High gone higher—that is, dotty? Was Our Side seeking to demoralize the German Beast by broadcasting to him random thoughts of the mad, naming for him, also in the tradition of Constable Stuggles that famous day, the deep, the scarcely seen? The answer is yes, all of the above, and more.
Ask them at "The White Visitation" about the master plan of the BBC's eloquent Myron Grunton, whose melted-toffee voice has been finding its way for years out the fraying rust bouclé of the wireless speakers and into English dreams, foggy old heads, children at the edges of attention. . . . He's had to keep putting his plan off, at first only a voice alone, lacking the data he really needed, no support, trying to get at the German soul from whatever came to hand, P/W interrogations, Foreign Office Handbooks, the brothers Grimm, tourist
memories of his own (young sleepless Dawes-era flashes, vineyards sunlit very green bearding the south valley-slopes of the Rhine, at night in the smoke and worsted cabarets of the capital long frilled suspenders like rows of carnations, silk stockings highlighted each in one long fine crosshatching of light. . . ). But at last the Americans came in, and the arrangement known as SHAEF, and an amazing amount of money.
The scheme is called Operation Black Wing. My what a careful construction, five years in the making. No one could claim it all as his own, not even Grunton. It was General Eisenhower who laid down the controlling guideline, the "strategy of truth" idea. Something "real," Ike insisted on: a hook on the war's pocked execution-wall to hang the story from. Pirate Prentice of the S.O.E. came back with the first hard intelligence that there were indeed in Germany real Africans, Hereros, ex-colonials from South-West Africa, somehow active in the secret-weapons program. Myron Grunton, inspired, produced on the air one night completely ad lib the passage that found its way into the first Black Wing directive: "Germany once treated its Africans like a stern but loving stepfather, chastising them when necessary, often with death. Remember? But that was far away in Südwest, and since then a generation has gone by. Now the Herero lives in his stepfather's house. Perhaps you, listening, have seen him. Now he stays up past the curfews, and watches his stepfather while he sleeps, invisible, protected by the night which is his own colour. What are they all thinking? Where are the Hereros tonight? What are they doing, this instant, your dark, secret children?" And Black Wing has even found an American, a Lieutenant Slothrop, willing to go under light narcosis to help illuminate racial problems in his own country. An invaluable extra dimension. Toward the end, as more foreign morale data began to come back—Yank pollsters with clipboards and squeaky new shoe-pacs or galoshes visiting snow-softened liberated ruins to root out the truffles of truth created, as ancients surmised, during storm, in the instant of lightning blast—a contact in American PWD was able to bootleg copies and make them available to "The White Visitation." No one is sure who suggested the name "Schwarzkommando." Myron Grunton had favored "Wütende Heer," that company of spirits who ride the heaths of the sky in furious hunt, with great Wuotan at their head—but Myron agreed that was more a northern myth. Effectiveness in Bavaria might be less than optimum.
They all talk effectiveness, an American heresy, perhaps overmuch at "The White Visitation." Loudest of all, usually, is Mr. Pointsman, often using for ammo statistics provided him by Roger Mexico. By the
time of the Normandy landing, Pointsman's season of despair was well upon him. He came to understand that the great continental pincers was to be, after all, a success. That this war, this State he'd come to feel himself a citizen of, was to be adjourned and reconstituted as a peace—and that, professionally speaking, he'd hardly got a thing out of it. With funding available for all manner of radars, magic torpedoes, aircraft and missiles, where was Pointsman in the scheme of things? He'd had a moment's stewardship, that was all: his Abreaction Research Facility (ARF), early on snaring himself a dozen underlings, dog trainer from the variety stage, veterinary student or two, even a major prize, the refugee Dr. Porkyevitch, who worked with Pavlov himself at the Koltushy institute, back before the purge trials. Together the ARF team receive, number, weigh, classify by Hippocratic temperament, cage, and presently experiment on as many as a dozen fresh dogs a week. And there are one's colleagues, co-owners of The Book, all now—all those left of the original seven—working in hospitals handling the battle-fatigued and shell-shocked back from across the Channel, and the bomb- or rocket-happy this side. They get to watch more abreactions, during these days of heavy V-bombardment, than doctors of an earlier day were apt to see in several lifetimes, and they are able to suggest ever new lines of inquiry. P.W.E. allows a stingy dribble of money, desperate paper whispering down the corporate lattice, enough to get by on, enough that ARF remains a colony to the metropolitan war, but not enough for nationhood. . . . Mexico's statisticians chart for it drops of saliva, body weights, voltages, sound levels, metronome frequencies, bromide dosages, number of afferent nerves cut, percentages of brain tissue removed, dates and hours of numbing, deafening, blinding, castration. Support even comes from Psi Section, a colony dégagé and docile, with no secular aspirations at all.
Old Brigadier Pudding can live with this spiritualist gang well enough, he's tendencies himself in that direction. But Ned Pointsman, with his constant scheming after more money—Pudding can only stare back at the man, try to be civil. Not as tall as his father, certainly not as wholesome looking. Father was M.O. in Thunder Prodd's regiment, caught a bit of shrapnel in the thigh at Polygon Wood, lay silent for seven hours before they, without a word before, in that mud, that terrible smell, in, yes Polygon Wood ... or was that—who was the ginger-haired chap who slept with his hat on? ahhh, come back. Now Polygon Wood . . . but it's fluttering away. Fallen trees, dead, smooth gray, swirlinggrainoftreelikefrozensmoke ... ginger . . . thunder ... no use, no bleeding use, it's gone, another gone, another, oh dear . . .
The old Brigadier's age is uncertain, though he must be pushing 80—reactivated in 1940, set down in a new space not only of battlefield—where the front each day or hour changes like a noose, like the gold-lit borders of consciousness (perhaps, though it oughtn't to get too sinister here, exactly like them . .. better, then, "like a noose")—but also of the War-state itself, its very structure. Pudding finds himself wondering, at times aloud and in the presence of subordinates, what enemy disliked him enough to assign him to Political Warfare. One is supposed to be operating in concert—yet too often in amazing dissonance—with other named areas of the War, colonies of that Mother City mapped wherever the enterprise is systematic death: P.WE. laps over onto the Ministry of Information, the BBC European Service, the Special Operations Executive, the Ministry of Economic Warfare, and the F.O. Political Intelligence Department at Fitzmaurice House. Among others. When the Americans came in, their OSS, OWT, and Army Psychological Warfare Department had also to be coordinated with. Presently there arose the joint, SHAEF Psychological Warfare Division (PWD), reporting direct to Eisenhower, and to hold it all together a London Propaganda Coordinating Council, which has no real power at all.
Who can find his way about this lush maze of initials, arrows solid and dotted, boxes big and small, names printed and memorized? Not Ernest Pudding—that's for the New Chaps with their little green antennas out for the usable emanations of power, versed in American politics (knowing the différence between the New Dealers of OWI and the eastern and moneyed Republicans behind OSS), keeping brain-dossiers on latencies, weaknesses, tea-taking habits, erogenous zones of all, all who might someday be useful.
Ernest Pudding was brought up to believe in a literal Chain of Command, as clergymen of earlier centuries believed in the Chain of Being. The newer geometries confuse him. His greatest triumph on the battlefield came in 1917, in the gassy, Armageddonite filth of the Ypres salient, where he conquered a bight of no man's land some 40 yards at its deepest, with a wastage of only 70% of his unit. He was pensioned off around the beginning of the Great Depression—went to sit in the study of an empty house in Devon, surrounded by photos of old comrades, none of whose gazes quite met one's own, there to go at a spot of combinatorial analysis, that favorite pastime of retired Army officers, with a rattling intense devotion.
It occurred to him to focus his hobby on the European balance of power, because of whose long pathology he had once labored, deeply,
all hope of waking lost, in the nightmare of Flanders. He started in on a mammoth work entitled Things That Can Happen in European politics. Begin, of course, with England. "First," he wrote, "Bereshith, as it were: Ramsay MacDonald can die." By the time he went through resulting party alignments and possible permutations of cabinet posts, Ramsay MacDonald had died. "Never make it," he found himself muttering at the beginning of each day's work—"it's changing out from under me. Oh, dodgy—very dodgy."
When it had changed as far as German bombs falling on England, Brigadier Pudding gave up his obsession and again volunteered his services to his country. Had he known at the time it would mean "The White Visitation" . . . not that he'd expected a combat assignment you know, but wasn't there something mentioned about intelligence work? Instead he found a disused hospital for the mad, a few token lunatics, an enormous pack of stolen dogs, cliques of spiritualists, vaudeville entertainers, wireless technicians, Couéists, Ouspenskians, Skinnerites, lobotomy enthusiasts, Dale Carnegie zealots, all exiled by the outbreak of war from pet schemes and manias damned, had the peace prolonged itself, to differing degrees of failure—but their hopes now focusing on Brigadier Pudding and possibilities for funding: more hope than Prewar, that underdeveloped province, ever offered. Pudding could only respond by adopting rather an Old Testament style with everyone, including the dogs, and remaining secretly baffled and hurt by what he imagined as treachery high inside Staff.
Snowlight comes in through tall, many-paned windows, a dark day, a light burning only here and there among the brown offices. Subalterns encrypt, blindfolded subjects call Zener-deck guesses to hidden microphones: "Waves . . . Waves . . . Cross . . . Star . . ." While someone from Psi Section records them from a speaker down in the cold basement. Secretaries in woolen shawls and rubber galoshes shiver with the winter cold being inhaled through the madhouse's many crevices, their typewriter keys chattery as their pearlies. Maud Chilkes, who looks from the rear rather like Cecil Beaton's photograph of Mar-got Asquith, sits dreaming of a bun and a cup of tea.
In the ARF wing, the stolen dogs sleep, scratch, recall shadowy smells of humans who may have loved them, listen undrooling to Ned Pointsman's oscillators and metronomes. The drawn shades allow only mild passages of light from outdoors. Technicians are moving behind the thick observation window, but their robes, greenish and submarine through the glass, nutter more slowly, less brightly. ... A numbness has taken over, or a felt darkening. The metronome at 80 per second
breaks out in wooden echoes, and Dog Vanya, bound atop the test stand, begins to salivate. All other sounds are damped severely: the beams underpinning the lab smothered in sand-filled rooms, sandbags, straw, uniforms of dead men occupying the spaces between the win-dowless walls . . . where the country bedlamites sat around, scowling, sniffing nitrous oxide, giggling, weeping at an E-major chord modulating to a G-sharp minor, now are cubical deserts, sand-rooms, keeping the metronome sovereign here in the lab, behind the iron doors, closed hermetically.
The duct of Dog Vanya's submaxillary gland was long ago carried out the bottom of his chin through an incision and sutured in place, leading saliva outside to the collecting funnel, fixed there with the traditional orange Pavlovian Cement of rosin, iron oxide and beeswax. Vacuum brings the secretion along through shining tubework to displace a column of light red oil, moving to the right along a scale marked off in "drops"—an arbitrary unit, probably not the same as the actually fallen drops of 1905, of St. Petersburg. But the number of drops, for this lab and Dog Vanya and the metronome at 80, is each time predictable.
Now that he has moved into "equivalent" phase, the first of the transmarginal phases, a membrane, hardly noticeable, stretches between Dog Vanya and the outside. Inside and outside remain just as they were, but the interface—the cortex of Dog Vanya's brain—is changing, in any number of ways, and that is the really peculiar thing about these transmarginal events. It no longer matters now how loudly the metronome ticks. A stronger stimulus no longer gets a stronger response. The same number of drops flow or fall. The man comes and removes the metronome to the farthest corner of this muffled room. It is placed inside a box, beneath a pillow with the machine-sewn legend Memories of Brighton, but the drops do not fall off. . . then played into a microphone and amplifier so that each tick fills the room up like a shout, but the drops do not increase. Every time, the clear saliva pushes the red line over only to the same mark, the same number of drops. . . .
Webley Silvernail and Rollo Groast go sneaky-Peteing away down the corridors, nipping into people's offices to see if there are any smokable fag-ends to be looted. Most offices right now are empty: all personnel with the patience or masochism for it are going through a bit of ritual with the doddering Brigadier.
"That old-man has, no-shame," Géza Rözsavölgyi, another refugee (and violently anti-Soviet, which creates a certain strain with ARF)
flicking his hands up Brigadier Puddingward in gay despair, the lilting Hungarian gypsy-whisper bashing like tambourines all around the room, provoking, in one way or another, everyone here except for the aged Brigadier himself, who just goes rambling on from the pulpit of what was a private chapel once, back there on the maniac side of the 18th century, and is now a launching platform for "The Weekly Briefings," a most amazing volley of senile observations, office paranoia, gossip about the War which might or might not include violations of security, reminiscences of Flanders . . . the coal boxes in the sky coming straight down on you with a roar . . . the drumfire so milky and luminous on his birthday night . . . the wet surfaces in the shell craters for miles giving back one bleak autumn sky . . . what Haig, in the richness of his wit, once said at mess about Lieutenant Sassoon's refusal to fight . . . the gunners in springtime, in their flowing green robes . . . roadsides of poor rotting horses just before apricot sunrise . . . the twelve spokes of a stranded artillery piece—a mud clock, a mud zodiac, clogged and crusted as it stood in the sun its many shades of brown. The mud of Flanders gathered into the curd-clumped, mildly jellied textures of human shit, piled, duckboarded, trenched and shell-pocked leagues of shit in all directions, not even the poor blackened stump of a tree—and the old blithering gab-artist tries to shake the cherrywood pulpit here, as if that had been the worst part of the whole Passchendaele horror, that absence of vertical interest. . . . On he goes, gabbing, gabbing, recipes for preparing beets in a hundred tasty ways, or such cucurbitaceous improbabilities as Ernest Pudding's Gourd Surprise—yes, there is something sadistic about recipes with "Surprise" in the title, chap who's hungry wants to just eat you know, not be Surprised really, just wants to bite into the (sigh) the old potato, and be reasonably sure there's nothing inside but potato you see, certainly not some clever nutmeg "Surprise!", some mashed pulp all magenta with pomegranates or something . . . well but this is just the doubtful sort of joke that Brigadier Pudding loves to play: how he's chuckled, as unsuspecting dinner-guests go knifing into his notorious Toad-in-the-Hole, through the honest Yorkshire batter into—ugh! what is it? a beet rissolé? a stuffed beet rissolé? or perhaps today some lovely pureed samphire, reeking of the sea (which he obtains once a week from the same fat fishmonger's son wheeling his bicycle, puffing, up the chalkwhite cliff)—none of these odd, odd vegetable rissoles do resemble any ordinary "Toad," but rather the depraved, half-sentient creatures that Young Chaps from Kings Road have Affairs With in limericks—Pudding has thousands of these recipes and no shame about
sharing any of them with the lot at PISCES, along with, later in the weekly soliloquy, a line or two, eight bars, from "Would You Rather Be a Colonel with an Eagle on Your Shoulder, or a Private with a Chicken on Your Knee?" then perhaps a lengthy recitation of all his funding difficulties, all, dating back to long before the emergence of even the Electra House group . . . letter-feuds he has carried on in the Times with critics of Haig. . . .
And they all sit there, in front of the very high, blacked, lead-crossed windows, allowing him his folly, the dog people skulking over in one corner, passing notes and leaning to whisper (they plot, they plot, sleeping or afoot they never let up), the Psi Section lot clear over the other side of the room—as if we have a parliament of some kind here . . . everyone for years has occupied his own unique pew-seat and angle in to the ravings of reddish and liver-spotted Brigadier Pudding—with the other persuasions-in-exile spread between these two wings: the balance of power, if any power existed at "The White Visitation."
Dr. Rozsavölgyi feels that there well might, if the fellows "play their cards right." The only issue now is survival—on through the awful interface of V-E Day, on into the bright new Postwar with senses and memories intact. PISCES must not be allowed to go down under the hammer with the rest of the bawling herd. There must arise, and damned soon, able to draw them into a phalanx, a concentrated point of light, some leader or program powerful enough to last them across who knows how many years of Postwar. Dr. Rozsavölgyi tends to favor a powerful program over a powerful leader. Maybe because this is 1945. It was widely believed in those days that behind the War—all the death, savagery, and destruction—lay the Führer-principle. But if personalities could be replaced by abstractions of power, if techniques developed by the corporations could be brought to bear, might not nations live rationally? One of the dearest Postwar hopes: that there should be no room for a terrible disease like charisma . . . that its rationalization should proceed while we had the time and resources. . . .
Isn't that what's really at stake for Dr. Rozsavölgyi here in this latest scheme, centered on the figure of Lieutenant Slothrop? All the psychological tests in the subject's dossier, clear back to his college days, indicate a diseased personality. "Rosie" slaps the file with his hand for emphasis. The staff table shudders. "For exam-ple: his Minneso-ta, Mul-tipha-sic Personality Inventory is tremen-dously lopsided, always fa-vor of, the psycho-pathic, and, the unwbole-some."
But the Reverend Dr. Paul de la Nuit is not fond of the MMPI.
"Rosie, are there scales for measuring interpersonal traits?" Hawk's nose probing, probing, eyes lowered in politic meekness, "Human values? Trust, honesty, love? Is there—forgive me the special pleading— a religious scale, by any chance?"
No way, padre: the MMPI was developed about 1943. In the very heart of the War. Allport and Vernon's Study of Values, the Bernreuter Inventory as revised by Flanagan in '35—tests from before the War— seem to Paul de la Nuit more humane. All the MMPI appears to test for is whether a man will be a good or bad soldier.
"Soldiers are much in demand these days, Reverend Doctor," murmurs Mr. Pointsman.
"I only hope that we won't put too much emphasis on his MMPI scores. It seems to me very narrow. It omits large areas of the human personality."
"Precise-ly why," leaps Rozsavolgyi, "we are now proposing, to give, Sloth-rop a complete-ly dif-ferent sort, of test. We are now design-ing for him, a so-called, 'projec-tive' test. The most famil-iar exam-ple of the type, is the Rorschach ink-blot. The ba-sic theory, is that when given an unstruc-tured stimulus, some shape-less blob of exper-ience, the subject, will seek to impose, struc-ture on it. How, he goes a-bout struc-turing this blob, will reflect his needs, his hopes—will provide, us with clues, to his dreams, fan-tasies, the deepest re-gions of his mind." Eyebrows going a mile a minute, extraordinarily fluid and graceful hand gestures, resembling—most likely it is deliberate, and who can blame Rosie for trying to cash in—those of his most famous compatriot, though there're the inevitable bad side-effects: staff who swear they've seen him crawling headfirst down the north facade of "The White Visitation," for example. "So we are re-ally, quite, in agreement, Reverend Doctor. A test, like the MMPI, is, in this respect, not adequate. It is, a struc-tured stimulus. The sub-ject can fal-sify, consciously, or repress, un-consciously. But with the projec-tive technique, nothing he can do, con-scious or otherwise, can pre-vent us, from finding what we wish, to know. We, are in control. He, cannot help, himself."
"Must say it doesn't sound like your cup of tea, Pointsman," smiles Dr. Aaron Throwster. "Your stimuli are more the structured sort, aren't they?"
"Let's say I find a certain shameful fascination."
"Let's not. Don't tell me you're going to keep your fine Pavlovian hand completely out of this."
"Well, not completely, Throwster, no. Since you've brought it up.
We also happen to have in mind a very structured stimulus. Same one, in fact, that got us interested to begin with. We want to expose Slothrop to the German rocket. ..."
Overhead, on the molded plaster ceiling, Methodist versions of Christ's kingdom swarm: lions cuddle with lambs, fruit spills lushly and without pause into the arms and about the feet of gentlemen and ladies, swains and milkmaids. No one's expression is quite right. The wee creatures leer, the fiercer beasts have a drugged or sedated look, and none of the humans have any eye-contact at all. The ceilings of "The White Visitation" aren't the only erratic thing about the place, either. It is a classic "folly," all right. The buttery was designed as an Arabian harem in miniature, for reasons we can only guess at today, full of silks, fretwork and peepholes. One of the libraries served, for a time, as a wallow, the floor dropped three feet and replaced with mud up to the thresholds for giant Gloucestershire Old Spots to frolic, oink, and cool their summers in, to stare at the shelves of buckram books and wonder if they'd be good eating. Whig eccentricity is carried in this house to most unhealthy extremes. The rooms are triangular, spherical, walled up into mazes. Portraits, studies in genetic curiosity, gape and smirk at you from every vantage. The W.C.s contain frescoes of Clive and his elephants stomping the French at Plassy, fountains that depict Salome with the head of John (water gushing out ears, nose, and mouth), floor mosaics in which are tessellated together different versions of Homo Monstrosus, an interesting preoccupation of the time—cyclops, humanoid giraffe, centaur repeated in all directions. Everywhere are archways, grottoes, plaster floral arrangements, walls hung in threadbare velvet or brocade. Balconies give out at unlikely places, overhung with gargoyles whose fangs have fetched not a few newcomers nasty cuts on the head. Even in the worst rains, the monsters only just manage to drool—the rainpipes feeding them are centuries out of repair, running crazed over slates and beneath eaves, past cracked pilasters, dangling Cupids, terra-cotta facing on every floor, along with belvederes, rusticated joints, pseudo-Italian columns, looming minarets, leaning crooked chimneys—from a distance no two observers, no matter how close they stand, see quite the same building in that orgy of self-expression, added to by each succeeding owner, until the present War's requisitioning. Topiary trees line the drive for a distance before giving way to larch and elm: ducks, bottles, snails, angels, and steeplechase riders they dwindle down the metaled road into their fallow silence, into the shadows under the tunnel of sighing trees. The sentry, a dark figure in white webbing, stands port-arms in
your masked headlamps, and you must halt for him. The dogs, engineered and lethal, are watching you from the woods. Presently, as evening comes on, a few bitter flakes of snow begin to fall.
Better behave yourself or we'll send you back to Dr. Jamf !
When Jamf conditioned him, he threw away the stimulus.
Looks like Dr. Jamf's been by to set your little thing today, hasn't he?
—Neil Nosepicker's Book of 50,000 Insults,
§6.72, "Awful Offspring,"
The Nayland Smith Press,
Cambridge (Mass.), 1933
pudding.-But isn't this—
pudding: Isn't it all rather shabby, Pointsman? Meddling with another man's mind this way?
POINTSMAN: Brigadier, we're only following in a long line of experiment and questioning. Harvard University, the U.S. Army? Hardly shabby institutions.
PUDDING: We can't, Pointsman, it's beastly.
POINTSMAN: But the Americans have already been at him! don't you see? It's not as if we're corrupting a virgin or something—
pudding: Do we have to do it because the Americans do it? Must we allow them to corrupt us?
Back around 1920, Dr. Laszlo Jamf opined that if Watson and Rayner could successfully condition their "Infant Albert" into a reflex horror of everything furry, even of his own Mother in a fur boa, then Jamf could certainly do the same thing for his Infant Tyrone, and the baby's sexual reflex. Jamf was at Harvard that year, visiting from Darmstadt. It was in the early part of his career, before he phased into organic chemistry (to be as fateful a change of field as Kekulé's own famous switch into chemistry from architecture, a century before). For the experiment he had a slender grant from the National Research Council (under a continuing NRC program of psychological study which had begun during the World War, when methods were needed for selecting officers and classifying draftees). Shoestring funding may have been why Jamf, for his target reflex, chose an infant hardon.
Measuring secretions, as Pavlov did, would have meant surgery. Measuring "fear," the reflex Watson chose, would have brought in too much subjectivity (what's fear? How much is "a lot"? Who decides, when it's on-the-spot-in-the-field, and there isn't time to go through the long slow process of referring it up to the Fear Board?). Instrumentation just wasn't available in those days. The best he might've done was the Larson-Keeler three-variable "lie detector," but at the time it was still only experimental.
But a harden, that's either there, or it isn't. Binary, elegant. The job of observing it can even be done by a student.
Unconditioned stimulus = stroking penis with antiseptic cotton swab.
Unconditioned response = hardon.
Conditioned stimulus = x.
Conditioned response = hardon whenever x is present, stroking is no longer necessary, all you need is that x.
Uh, x? well, what's x? Why, it's the famous "Mystery Stimulus" that's fascinated generations of behavioral-psychology students, is what it is. The average campus humor magazine carries 1.05 column inches per year on the subject, which ironically is the exact mean length Jamf reported for Infant T.'s erection.
Now ordinarily, according to tradition in these matters, the little sucker would have been de-conditioned. Jamf would have, in Pavlov-ian terms, "extinguished" the hardon reflex he'd built up, before he let the baby go. Most likely he did. But as Ivan Petrovich himself said, "Not only must we speak of partial or of complete extinction of a conditioned reflex, but we must also realize that extinction can proceed beyond the point of reducing a reflex to zero. We cannot therefore judge the degree of extinction only by the magnitude of the reflex or its absence, since there can still be a silent extinction beyond the zero.'1'' Italics are Mr. Pointsman's.
Can a conditioned reflex survive in a man, dormant, over 20 or 30 years? Did Dr. Jamf extinguish only to zero—wait till the infant showed zero hardons in the presence of stimulus x, and then stop? Did he forget—or ignore—the "silent extinction beyond the zero"? If he ignored it, why? Did the National Research Council have anything to say about that?
When Slothrop was discovered, late in 1944, by "The White Visitation"—though many there have always known him as the famous Infant Tyrone—like the New World, different people thought they'd discovered different things.
Roger Mexico thinks it's a statistical oddity. But he feels the foundations of that discipline trembling a bit now, deeper than oddity ought to drive. Odd, odd, odd—think of the word: such white finality in its closing clap of tongue. It implies moving past the tongue-stop — beyond the zero—and into the other realm. Of course you don't move past. But you do realize, intellectually, that's how you ought to be moving.
Rollo Groast thinks it's precognition. "Slothrop is able to predict when a rocket will fall at a particular place. His survival to date is evidence he's acted on advance information, and avoided the area at the time the rocket was supposed to fall." Dr. Groast is not sure how, or even if, sex comes into it.
But Edwin Treacle, that most Freudian of psychical researchers, thinks Slothrop's gift is psychokinesis. Slothrop is, with the force of his mind, causing the rockets to drop where they do. He may not be physically highballing them about the sky: but maybe he is fooling with the electrical signals inside the rocket's guidance system. However he's doing it, sex does come into Dr. Treacle's theory. "He subconsciously needs to abolish all trace of the sexual Other, whom he symbolizes on his map, most significantly, as a star, that anal-sadistic emblem of classroom success which so permeates elementary education in America...."
It's the map that spooks them all, the map Slothrop's been keeping on his girls. The stars fall in a Poisson distribution, just like the rocket strikes on Roger Mexico's map of the Robot Blitz.
But, well, it's a bit more than the distribution. The two patterns also happen to be identical. They match up square for square. The slides that Teddy Bloat's been taking of Slothrop's map have been projected onto Roger's, and the two images, girl-stars and rocket-strike circles, demonstrated to coincide.
Helpfully, Slothrop has dated most of his stars. A star always comes before its corresponding rocket strike. The strike can come as quickly as two days, or as slowly as ten. The mean lag is about 4'/2 days.
Suppose, Pointsman argues, that Jamf's stimulus x was some loud noise, as it was in the Watson-Rayner experiment. Suppose that, in Slothrop's case, the hardon reflex wasn't completely extinguished. In that case he ought to be getting one on at any loud noise that's preceded by the same kind of ominous buildup he would've found in Jamf's lab—as dogs to this day find in Pointsman's own lab. That points to the V-1 : any doodle close enough to make him jump ought to be giving him an erection: the sound of the motor razzing louder and louder, then the cutoff and silence, suspense building up—then the explosion. Boing, a hardon. But oh, no. Slothrop instead only gets erections when this sequence happens in reverse. Explosion first, then the sound of approach: the V-2.
But the stimulus, somehow, must be the rocket, some precursor wraith, some rocket's double present for Slothrop in the percentage of smiles on a bus, menstrual cycles being operated upon in some mysterious way—what does make the little doxies do it for free? Are there fluctuations in the sexual market, in pornography or prostitutes, perhaps tying in to prices on the Stock Exchange itself, that we clean-living lot know nothing about? Does news from the front affect the itch between their pretty thighs, does desire grow directly or inversely as the real chance of sudden death—damn it, what cue, right in front of our eyes, that we haven't the subtlety of heart to see? . . .
But if it's in the air, right here, right now, then the rockets follow from it, 100% of the time. No exceptions. When we find it, we'll have shown again the stone determinacy of everything, of every soul. There will be precious little room for any hope at all. You can see how important a discovery like that would be.
They walk down past the snow-drifted kennel runs, Pointsman in Glastonburys and fawn-colored British warm, Mexico wearing a scarf Jessica's lately knitted him whipping landward a scarlet dragon's tongue—this day the coldest so far of the winter, 3 9 degrees of frost. Down to the cliffs, faces freezing, down to the deserted beach. Waves run up, slide away to leave great crescents of ice fine as skin and dazzling in the weak sunlight. The boots of the two men crunch through to sand or shingle. The very bottom of the year. They can hear the guns in Flanders today, all the way across the Channel on the wind. The Abbey's ruin stands gray and crystal up on the cliff.
Last night, in the house at the edge of the stay-away town, Jessica, snuggling, afloat, just before sleep was to take them, whispered, "Roger . . . what about the girls?" That was all she said. But it brought Roger wide awake. And bone-tired as he was, he lay staring for another hour, wondering about the girls.
Now, knowing he ought to let it go, "Pointsman, what if Edwin Treacle is right? That it's PK. What if Slothrop's—not even consciously—making them fall where they do?"
"Well. You lot'd have something then, wouldn't you."
"But. . . •why should he. If they are falling wherever he's been—"
"Perhaps he hates women."
"Mexico. Are you actually worried?"
"I don't know. Perhaps I wondered if it might tie in, in any way, with your ultraparadoxical phase. Perhaps ... I want to know what you're really looking for."
Above them now throb a flight of B-17s, bound somewhere uncommon today, well out of the usual corridors of flight. Behind these Fortresses the undersides of the cold clouds are blue, and their smooth billows are veined in blue—elsewhere touched with grayed-out pink or purple. . . . Wings and stabilizers are shadowed underneath in dark gray. The shadows softly feather lighter up around curves of fuselage or nacelle. Spinners emerge from hooded dark inside the cowlings, spinning props invisible, the light of the sky catching all vulnerable surfaces a uniform bleak gray. The planes drone along, stately, up in the zero sky, shedding frost as it builds, sowing the sky behind in white ice-furrows, their own color matching certain degrees of cloud, all the tiny windows and openings in soft blackness, the perspex nose shining back forever warped and streaming cloud and sun. Inside it is black obsidian.
Pointsman has been talking about paranoia and the "idea of the opposite." He has scribbled in The Book exclamation points and how trues all about the margins of Pavlov's open letter to Janet concerning the sentiments d'emprise, and of Chapter LV, "An Attempt at a Physiological Interpretation of Obsessions and of Paranoia"—he can't help this bit of rudeness, although the agreement among the seven owners was not to mark up The Book—it was too valuable for that sort of thing, they'd had to put in a guinea apiece. It was sold him on the sly, in the dark, during a Luftwaffe raid (most existing copies had been destroyed in their warehouse early in the Battle of Britain). Pointsman never even saw the seller's face, the man vanishing into the hoarse auditory dawn of the all-clear, leaving the doctor and The Book, the dumb sheaf already heating up, moistening in his tight hand . . . yes it might have been a rare work of erotica, certainly that coarse hand-set look to the type . . . the crudities in phrasing, as if Dr. Horsley Gantt's odd translation were in cipher, the plaintext listing shameful delights, criminal transports. . . . And how much of the pretty victim straining against her bonds does Ned Pointsman see in each dog that visits his test stands .. . and aren't scalpel and probe as decorative, as fine extensions as whip and cane?
Surely the volume preceding The Book—the first Forty-one Lectures—came to him at age 28 like a mandate from the submontane Venus he could not resist: to abandon Harley Street for a journey more and more deviant, deliciously on, into a labyrinth of
conditioned-reflex work in which only now, thirteen years along the clew, he's beginning to circle back, trip across old evidence of having come that path before, here and there to confront consequences of his younger, total embrace. . . . But she did warn him—did she not? was he ever listening?—of the deferred payment, in its full amount. Venus and Ariadne! She seemed worth any price, the labyrinth looking, in those days, too intricate for them—the twilit pimps who made the arrangement between a version of himself, a crypto-Pointsman, and his fate . . . too varied, he thought then, ever to find him in. But he knows now. Too far in, preferring not to face it just yet, he knows that they only wait, stone and sure—these agents of the Syndicate she must also pay—wait in the central chamber, as he draws closer. . . . They own everything: Ariadne, the Minotaur, even, Pointsman fears, himself. He gets flashes of them these days, naked, athletes poised and breathing about the chamber, terrible penises up mineral as their eyes, which glisten with frost or flakes of mica, but not with lust, or for him. It's only a job they have. . . .
"Pierre Janet—sometimes the man talked like an Oriental mystic. He had no real grasp of the opposites. 'The act of injuring and the act of being injured are joined in the behavior of the whole injury.' Speaker and spoken-of, master and slave, virgin and seducer, each pair most conveniently coupled and inseparable—The last refuge of the incorrigibly lazy, Mexico, is just this sort of yang-yin rubbish. One avoids all manner of unpleasant lab work that way, but what has one said?"
"I don't want to get into a religious argument with you," absence of sleep has Mexico more cranky today than usual, "but I wonder if you people aren't a bit too—well, strong, on the virtues of analysis. I mean, once you've taken it all apart, fine, I'll be first to applaud your industry. But other than a lot of bits and pieces lying about, what have you said?"
It isn't the sort of argument Pointsman relishes either. But he glances sharply at this young anarchist in his red scarf. "Pavlov believed that the ideal, the end we all struggle toward in science, is the true mechanical explanation. He was realistic enough not to expect it in his lifetime. Or in several lifetimes more. But his hope was for a long chain of better and better approximations. His faith ultimately lay in a pure physiological basis for the life of the psyche. No effect without cause, and a clear train of linkages."
"It's not my forte, of course," Mexico honestly wishing not to offend the man, but really, "but there's a feeling about that cause-and-
effect may have been taken as far as it will go. That for science to carry on at all, it must look for a less narrow, a less . . . sterile set of assumptions. The next great breakthrough may come when we have the courage to junk cause-and-effect entirely, and strike off at some other angle."
"No—not 'strike off.' Regress. You're 30 years old, man. There are no 'other angles.' There is only forward—into it—or backward."
Mexico watches the wind tugging at the skirts of Pointsman's coat. A gull goes screaming away sidewise along the frozen berm. The chalk cliffs rear up above, cold and serene as death. Early barbarians of Europe who ventured close enough to this coast saw these white barriers through the mist, and knew then where their dead had been taken to.
Pointsman has turned now, and . . . oh, God. He is smiling. There is something so ancient in its assumption of brotherhood that—not now, but a few months from now, with spring prevailing and the War in Europe ended—Roger will remember the smile—it will haunt him—as the most evil look he has ever had from a human face.
They've paused in their walking. Roger stares back at the man. The Antimexico. "Ideas of the opposite" themselves, but on what cortex, what winter hemisphere? What ruinous mosaic, facing outward into the Waste . . . outward from the sheltering city . . . readable only to those who journey outside . . . eyes in die distance . . . barbarians . . . riders. . . .
"We both have Slothrop," is what Pointsman has just said.
"Pointsman—what are you expecting out of this? Besides glory, I mean."
"No more than Pavlov. A physiological basis for what seems very odd behavior. I don't care which of your P.R.S. categories it may fit into—oddly enough none of you's even suggested telepathy; perhaps he's tuned in to someone over there, someone who knows the German firing schedule ahead of time. Eh? And I don't care if it's some terrible Freudian revenge against his mother for trying to castrate him or something. I am not grandiose, Mexico. I am modest, methodical—"
"I have set myself limitations in this. I have only the reversal of rocket sounds to go on ... his clinical history of sexual conditioning, perhaps to auditory stimuli, and what appears to be a reversal of cause-and-effect. I'm not as ready as you to junk cause-and-effect, but if it does need modifying—so be it."
"But what are you after?"
"You've seen his MMPI. His F Scale? Falsifications, distorted
thought processes. . . . The scores show it clearly: he's psychopathi-cally deviant, obsessive, a latent paranoiac—well, Pavlov believed that obsessions and paranoid delusions were a result of certain—call them cells, neurons, on the mosaic of the brain, being excited to the level where, through reciprocal induction, all the area around becomes inhibited. One bright, burning point, surrounded by darkness. Darkness it has, in a way, called up. Cut off, this bright point, perhaps to the end of the patient's life, from all other ideas, sensations, self-criticisms that might temper its flame, restore it to normalcy. He called it a 'point of pathological inertia.' We're working right now with a dog . . . he's been through the 'equivalent' phase, where any stimulus, strong or weak, calls up exactly the same number of saliva drops . . . and on through the 'paradoxical' phase—strong stimuli getting weak responses and vice versa. Yesterday we got him to go ultraparadoxical. Beyond. When we turn on the metronome that used to stand for food—that once made Dog Vanya drool like a fountain—now he turns away. When we shut off the metronome, oh then he'll turn to it, sniff, try to lick it, bite it—seek, in the silence, for the stimulus that is not there. Pavlov thought that all the diseases of the mind could be explained, eventually, by the ultraparadoxical phase, the pathologically inert points on the cortex, the confusion of ideas of the opposite. He died at the very threshold of putting these things on an experimental basis. But I live. I have the funding, and the time, and the will. Slothrop is a strong imperturbable. It won't be easy to send him into any of the three phases. We may finally have to starve, terrorize, I don't know ... it needn't come to that. But I will find his spots of inertia, I will find what they are if I have to open up his damned skull, and how they are isolated, and perhaps solve the mystery of why the rockets are falling as they do—though I admit that was more of a sop to get your support."
"Why?" A bit uneasy, there, Mexico? "Why do you need me?"
"I don't know. But I do."
"Mexico." Standing very still, seaward half of his face seeming to have aged fifty years in the instant, watching the tide three full times leave behind its sterile film of ice. "Help me."
I can't help anyone, Roger thinks. Why is he so tempted? It's dangerous and perverse. He does want to help, he feels the same unnatural fear of Slothrop that Jessica does. What about the girls? It may be his loneliness in Psi Section, in a persuasion he can't in his heart share, nor quite abandon . . . their faith, even smileless Gloaming's, that
there must be more, beyond the senses, beyond death, beyond the Probabilities that are all Roger has to believe in. ... Oh Jessie, his face against her bare, sleeping, intricately boned and tendoned back, I'm out of my depth in this. . . .
Halfway between the water and the coarse sea-grass, a long stretch of pipe and barbed wire rings in the wind. The black latticework is propped up by longer slanting braces, lances pointing out to sea. An abandoned and mathematical look: stripped to the force-vectors holding it where it is, doubled up in places one row behind another, moving as Pointsman and Mexico begin to move again, backward in thick moiré, repeated uprights in parallax against repeated diagonals, and the snarls of wire below interfering more at random. Far away, where it curves into the haze, the openwork wall goes gray. After last night's snowfall, each line of the black scrawl was etched in white. But today wind and sand have blown the dark iron bare again, salted, revealing, in places, brief streaks of rust ... in others, ice and sunlight turn the construction to electric-white lines of energy.
Farther up, past buried land mines and antitank posts of corroding concrete, up in a pillbox covered with netting and sod, halfway up the cliff, young Dr. Bleagh and his nurse Ivy are relaxing after a difficult lobotomy. His scrubbed and routinized fingers dart in beneath her suspender straps, pull outward, release in a sudden great smack and ho-ho-ho from Bleagh as she jumps and laughs too, trying not too hard to squirm away. They lie on a bed of faded old nautical charts, maintenance manuals, burst sandbags and spilled sand, burned match-sticks and unraveled cork-tips from cigarettes long decomposed that comforted through the nights of '41 and the sudden rush of heart at any glimpse of a light at sea. "You're mad," she whispers. "I'm randy," he smiles, and snaps her garter again, boy-and-slingshot.
In the uplands a line of cylindrical blocks to cripple the silent King Tigers that now will never roll the land chains away like so many white muffins across the dun pasture, among the low patches of snow and the pale lime outcrops. Out on a little pond the black man is down from London, ice-skating, improbable as a Zouave, riding his blades tall, dignified, as if born to them and ice not desert. Small townschil-dren scatter before him, close enough to have their cheeks stung by curved wakes of powdered ice whenever he turns. Until he smile they dare not speak, only follow, tag, flirt, wanting the smile, fearing it, wanting it. ... He has a magic face, a face they know. From the shore, Myron Grunton and Edwin Treacle, both chain-smoking, brooding over Operation Black Wing and the credibility of the Schwarzkoni-
mando, watch their magic Negro, their prototype, neither caring to risk the ice, loping Fen or any style, in front of these children.
The winter's in suspense—all the sky a bleak, luminous gel. Down on the beach, Pointsman fishes a roll of toilet paper, each sheet stenciled property of H.M. government, from a pocket to blow his nose. Roger now and then pushes hair back under his cap. Neither speaks. So, the two of them: trudging, hands in and out of pockets, their figures dwindling, fawn and gray and a lick of scarlet, very sharp-edged, their footprints behind them a long freezing progress of exhausted stars, the overcast reflecting from the glazed beach nearly white. . . . We have lost them. No one listened to those early conversations—not even an idle snapshot survives. They walked till that winter hid them and it seemed the cruel Channel itself would freeze over, and no one, none of us, could ever completely find them again. Their footprints filled with ice, and a little later were taken out to sea.
In silence, hidden from her, the camera follows as she moves deliberately nowhere longlegged about the rooms, an adolescent wideness and hunching to the shoulders, her hair not bluntly Dutch at all, but secured in a modish upsweep with an old, tarnished silver crown, yesterday's new perm leaving her very blonde hair frozen on top in a hundred vortices, shining through the dark filigree. Widest lens-opening this afternoon, extra tungsten light laid on, this rainiest day in recent memory, rocket explosions far away to south and east now and then visiting the maisonette, rattling not the streaming windows but only the doors, in slow three- and fourfold shudderings, like poor spirits, desperate for company, asking to be let in, only a moment, a touch . . . She's alone in the house, except for the secret cameraman and Os-bie Feel, who's out in the kitchen, doing something mysterious with a harvest of mushrooms from up on the roof. They have shiny red-orange cups with raised patches of whitish-gray veil. Now and then the geometry of her restlessness brings her to glance in a doorway at his boyish fussing with the Amanita muscaria (for it is this peculiar relative of the poisonous Destroying Angel that claims Osbie's attention, or what passes with him for attention) —flash him a smile she means to be friendly but which to Osbie seems terribly worldly, sophisticated, wicked. She being the first Dutch girl he's ever spoken to, he's surprised at finding high heels instead of wooden shoes, struck in fact a bit witless by her so groomed and (he imagines) Continental style, the intellect behind the fair-lashed eyes or dark glasses she affects out on the street, behind the traces of baby fat, the dimples countersunk each side of her mouth. (In close-up her skin, though nearly perfect, is seen to be lightly powdered and rouged, the eyelashes a touch darkened, brows reshaped a matter of two or three empty follicles. . . .)
What can young Osbie possibly have in mind? He is carefully scraping out the inside of each persimmon-colored mushroom cup and shredding the rest. Dispossessed elves run around up on the roof, gibbering. He now has a growing heap of orange-gray fungus, which he proceeds to add in fistfuls to a pot of steaming water. A previous batch also simmers atop the stove, reduced to a thick gruel covered with yellow scum, which Osbie now removes and purees further in Pirate's blending machine. Then he spreads the fungoid mush over a tin cookie sheet. He opens the oven, removes with asbestos potholders another sheet covered with dark caked dust, and replaces it with the one he has just prepared. With a mortar and pestle he pulverizes the substance and dumps it into an old Huntley & Palmers biscuit tin, reserving only enough to roll deftly up in a Rizla liquorice cigarette paper, light, and inhale the smoke of.
But she happens to've glanced in just at the instant Osbie opened the echoing oven. The camera records no change in her face, but why does she stand now so immobile at the door? as if the frame were to be stopped and prolonged into just such a lengthwise moment of gold fresh and tarnished, innocence microscopically masked, her elbow slightly bent, hand resting against the wall, fingers fanned on the pale orange paper as if she touches her own skin, a pensive touch. . . . Outside, the long rain in silicon and freezing descent smacks, desolate, slowly corrosive against the mediaeval windows, curtaining like smoke the river's far shore. This city, in all its bomb-pierced miles: this inexhaustibly knotted victim . . . skin of glistening roofslates, sooted brick flooded high about each window dark or lit, each of a million openings vulnerable to the gloom of this winter day. The rain washes, drenches, fills the gutters singing, the city receives it, lifting, in a perpetual shrug. . . . With a squeak and metal slam the oven is closed again, but for Katje it will never close. She has posed before the mirrors too often today, knows her hair and make-up are perfect, admires the frock they have brought her from Harvey Nicholls, a sheer crepe that flows in from padded shoulders down to a deep point between her breasts, a rich cocoa shade known as "nigger" in this country, yards and yards of this delicious silk spun and thrown, tied loosely at the waist, soft pleats
falling to her knees. The cameraman is pleased at the unexpected effect of so much flowing crepe, particularly when Katje passes before a window and the rainlight coming through changes it for a few brief unshutterings to murky glass, charcoal-saturated, antique and weather-worn, frock, face, hair, hands, slender calves all gone to glass and glazing, for the celluloid instant poised—the translucent guardian of a rainfall shaken through all day by rocket blasts near and far, downward, dark and ruinous behind her the ground which, for the frames' passage, defines her.
At the images she sees in the mirror Katje also feels a cameraman's pleasure, but knows what he cannot: that inside herself, enclosed in the soignée surface of dear fabric and dead cells, she is corruption and ashes, she belongs in a way none of them can guess cruelly to the Oven ... to Der Kinderofen . . . remembering now his teeth, long, terrible, veined with bright brown rot as he speaks these words, the yellow teeth of Captain Blicero, the network of stained cracks, and back in his nightbreath, in the dark oven of himself, always the coiled whispers of decay. . . . She recalls his teeth before any other feature, teeth were to benefit most directly from the Oven: from what is planned for her, and for Gottfried. He never uttered it clearly as threat, nor ever addressed to either of them directly, but rather across her trained satin thighs to the evening's guests, or down the length of Gottfried's docile spine ("the Rome-Berlin Axis" he called it the night the Italian came and they were all on the round bed, Captain Blicero plugged into Gottfried's upended asshole and the Italian at the same time into his pretty mouth) Katje only passive, bound and gagged and false-eyelashed, serving tonight as human pillow for the Italian's whitening perfumed curls (roses and fat just at the edge of turning rancid) . . . each utterance a closed flower, capable of exfoliation and infinite revealing (she thinks of a mathematical function that will expand for her bloom-like into a power series with no general term, endlessly, darkly, though never completely by surprise) ... his phrase Padre Ignacio unfolding into Spanish inquisitor, black robes, brown arching nose, the suffocating smell of incense + confessor/executioner + Katje and Gottfried both kneeling, side by side in dark confessional + children out of old Märchen kneeling, knees cold and aching, before the Oven, whispering to it secrets they can tell no one else + Captain Blicero's witch-paranoia, suspecting them both, Katje despite her NSB credentials + the Oven as listener/avenger + Katje kneeling before Blicero in highest drag, black velvet and Cuban heels, his penis squashed invisible under a flesh-colored leather jockstrap, over which he wears a false cunt
and merkin of sable both handcrafted in Berlin by the notorious Mme. Ophir, the mock labia and bright purple clitoris molded of—Madame had been abject, pleading shortages—synthetic rubber and Mipolam, the new polyvinyl chloride . . . tiny blades of stainless steel bristle from lifelike pink humidity, hundreds of them, against which Katje, kneeling, is obliged to cut her lips and tongue, and then kiss blood-abstracts across the golden ungessoed back of her "brother" Gottfried. Brother in play, in slavery . . . she had never seen him before coming to the requisitioned house near the firing sites, hidden in the woods and parkland of this settled tongue of small farms and estates that reaches eastward from the royal city, between two expanses of polder, toward Wassenaar—yet his face, for that first time, seen in autumn sunlight through the great west window of the drawing-room, kneeling naked except for a studded dog collar, masturbating metronomic, at shouted commands from Captain Blicero, all his fair skin stained by afternoon a luminous synthetic orange she has never before associated with skin, his penis a blood monolith, its thickly gasping mouth audible in the carpeted silence, his face raised to none of them, but as if to something on the ceiling, or in the sky which ceilings may in his vision stand for, eyes-down as he seems most of the time to be—his face, ascending, tightening, coming, is so close to what she's been seeing all her life in mirrors, her own studied mannequin's stare, that she catches her breath, feels for a moment the speeded percussion of her heart, before turning just such a stare toward Blicero. He is delighted. "Perhaps," he tells her, "I will cut your hair." He smiles at Gottfried. "Perhaps I'll have him grow his." The humiliation would be good for the boy each morning at quarters, ranked with his battery near Schußstelle 3, where horses thundered once before the frantic, the losing railbirds of the old peace—failing inspections time after time yet protected by his Captain from Army discipline. Instead, between firings, day or night, short of sleep, odd hours, suffering the Captain's own "Hexeszüchtigung." But did Blicero also cut her hair? She can't remember now. She knows she wore Gottfried's uniforms once or twice (pushing her hair, yes, up under his forage cap), looking easily his double, spending these nights "in the cage," as Blicero has set the rules, while Gottfried must wear her silk stockings, her lace apron and cap, all her satin and her ribboned organdy. But afterward he must always go back again to the cage. That's how it is. Their Captain allows no doubt as to which, brother or sister, really is maidservant, and which fattening goose.
How seriously is she playing? In a conquered country, one's own occupied country, it's better, she believes, to enter into some formal,
rationalized version of what, outside, proceeds without form or decent limit day and night, the summary executions, the roustings, beatings, subterfuge, paranoia, shame . . . though it is never discussed among them openly, it would seem Katje, Gottfried, and Captain Blicero have agreed that this Northern and ancient form, one they all know and are comfortable with—the strayed children, the wood-wife in the edible house, the captivity, the fattening, the Oven—shall be their preserving routine, their shelter, against what outside none of them can bear—the War, the absolute rule of chance, their own pitiable contingency here, in its midst. . . .
It isn't safe, even inside, in the house . . . nearly every day a rocket misfires. Late in October, not far from this estate, one fell back and exploded, killing 12 of the ground crew, breaking windows for hundreds of meters all around, including the west window of the drawing-room where Katje first saw her golden game-brother. The official rumor stated that only fuel and oxidizer had gone off. But Captain Blicero, with a trembling—she must say nihilistic—pleasure, said that the Amatol charge in the warhead had also exploded, making them as much target as launch site. . . . That they were all condemned. The house lies west of the Duindigt racecourse, quite the other direction from London, but no bearing is exempt—often the rockets, crazed, turn at random, whinnying terribly in the sky, turn about and fall according each to its madness so unreachable and, it is feared, incurable. When there's time to, their owners destroy them, by radio, in mid-convulsion. Between rocket launches there are the English raids. Spitfires come roaring in low over the dark sea at suppertime, the searchlights in the city staggering on, the after-hum of sirens hangs in the sky high above the wet iron seats in the parks, the AA guns chug, searching, and the bombs fall in woodland, in polder, among flats thought to be billeting rocket troops.
It adds an overtone to the game, which changes the timbre slightly. It is she who, at some indefinite future moment, must push the Witch into the Oven intended for Gottfried. So the Captain must allow for the real chance she's a British spy, or member of the Dutch underground. Despite all German efforts, intelligence inputs still flow from Holland back to RAF Bomber Command in a steady torrent, telling of deployments, supply routes, of which dark-green crumble of trees may hide an A4 emplacement—data changing hour-to-hour, so mobile are the rockets and their support equipment. But the Spitfires will settle for a power station, a liquid-oxygen supply, a battery commander's billet ... that's the intriguing question. Will Katje feel her obligation
canceled by someday calling down English fighter-bombers on this very house, her game's prison, though it mean death? Captain Blicero can't be sure. Up to a point he finds the agony delightful. Certainly her record with Mussert's people is faultless, she's credited with smelling out at least three crypto-Jewish families, she attends meetings faithfully, she works at a Luftwaffe resort near Scheveningen, where her superiors find her efficient and cheerful, no shirker. Nor, like so many of them, using party fanaticism to cover a lack of ability. Perhaps there's the only shadow of warning: her commitment is not emotional. She appears to have reasons for being in the Party. A woman with some background in mathematics, and with reasons. . . . "Want the Change," Rilke said, "O be inspired by the Flame!" To laurel, to nightingale, to wind . . . wanting it, to be taken, to embrace, to fall toward the flame growing to fill all the senses and . . . not to love because it was no longer possible to act . . . but to be helplessly in a condition of love. . . .
But not Katje: no mothlike plunge. He must conclude that secretly she fears the Change, choosing instead only trivially to revise what matters least, ornament and clothing, going no further than politic transvestism, not only in Gottfried's clothing, but even in traditional masochist uniform, the French-maid outfit so inappropriate to her tall, longlegged stride, her blondeness, her questing shoulders like wings—she plays at this only . . . plays at playing.
He can do nothing. Among dying Reich, orders lapsing to paper impotence he needs her so, needs Gottfried, the straps and whips leathern, real in hisi hands which still feel, her cries, the red welts across the boy's buttocks, their mouths, his penis, fingers and toes—in all the winter these are sure, can be depended on—he can give you no reason but in his heart he trusts, perhaps only, by now, in the form, this out of all Märchen und Sagen, trusts that this charmed house in the forest will be preserved, that no bombs could ever fall here by accident, only betrayal, only if Katje really were a spotter for the English and bade them—and he knows she cannot: that through some magic, below the bone resonance of any words, a British raid is the one prohibited shape of all possible pushes from behind, into the Oven's iron and final summer. It will come, it will, his Destiny . . . not that way— but it will come. . . . Und nicht einmal sein Schritt klingt aus dem tonlosen Los. ... Of all Rilke's poetry it's this Tenth Elegy he most loves, can feel the bitter lager of Yearning begin to prickle behind eyes and sinuses at remembering any passage of ... the newly-dead youth, embracing his Lament, his last link, leaving now even her marginally
human touch forever, climbing all alone, terminally alone, up and up into the mountains of primal Pain, with the wildly alien constellations overhead. . . . And not once does his step ring from the soundless Destiny. . . . It's he, Blicero, who climbs the mountain, has been so climbing for nearly 20 years, since long before he embraced the Reich's flame, since Südwest . . . alone. No matter what flesh was there to appease the Witch, cannibal, and sorcerer, flourishing implements of pain—alone, alone. He doesn't even know the Witch, can't understand the hunger that defines him/her, is only, in times of weakness, bewildered that it should coexist in the same body as himself. An athlete and his skill, separate awarenesses. . . . Young Rauhandel at least had said so ... how many years back into the peace . .. Blicero had watched his young friend (even then already so blatantly, so pathetically doomed to some form of Eastern Front) inside a bar, out in the street, wearing whatever tight or awkward suit, whatever fragile shoes, react in all grace to the football which jokers would recognizing him toss out of nowhere—the deathless performances! that one impromptu boot so impossibly high, so perfectly parabolic, the ball soaring miles to pass exactly between the two tall, phallic electric columns of the Ufa-theatre on the Friedrichstrasse . . . the head-control he could keep up for city blocks, for hours, the feet articulate as poetry. . . . Yet he could only shake his head, wanting to be a good fellow when they asked, but unable really to say—"It's ... it happens . . . the muscles do it—" then recalling an old trainer's words—"it's muscular," smiling beautifully and already, by the act, conscripted, already cannon fodder, the pale bar-light across the grating of his close-shaved skull—"it's reflexes, you see. . . . Not me. . . . Just the reflexes." When did it begin to change for Blicero, among those days, from lust to simple sorrow, dumb as Rauhandel's amazement with his own talent? He has seen so many of these Rauhandels, especially since '39, harboring the same mysterious guests, strangers, often no more bizarre than a gift for being always where shells were not... do any of them, this raw material, "want the Change"? Do they even know? He doubts it. ... Their reflexes are only being used, hundreds of thousands at a time, by others—by royal moths the Flame has inspired. Blicero has lost, years ago, all his innocence on this question. So his Destiny is the Oven: while the strayed children, who never knew, who change nothing but uniforms and cards of identity, will survive and prosper long beyond his gases and cinders, his chimney departure. So, SO. A Wandervogel in the mountains of Pain. It's been going on for much too long, he has chosen the game for nothing if not the kind of end it will bring him,
nicht wahr? too old these days, grippes taking longer to pass, stomach too often in day-long agony, eyes measurably blinder with each examination, too "realistic" to prefer a hero's death or even a soldier's. He only wants now to be out of the winter, inside the Oven's warmth, darkness, steel shelter, the door behind him in a narrowing rectangle of kitchen-light gonging shut, forever. The rest is foreplay.
Yet he cares, more than he should and puzzled that he does, about the children—about their motives. He gathers it is their freedom they look for, yearningly as he for the Oven, and such perversity haunts and depresses him ... he returns again and again to the waste and senseless image of what was a house in the forest, reduced now to crumbs and sugar-smears, the black indomitable Oven all that remains, and the two children, the peak of sweet energy behind them, hunger beginning again, wandering away into a green blankness of trees. .. . Where will they go, where shelter the nights? The improvidence of children . . . and the civil paradox of this their Little State, whose base is the same Oven which must destroy it. ...
But every true god must be both organizer and destroyer. Brought up into a Christian ambience, this was difficult for him to see until his journey to Südwest: until his own African conquest. Among the abrading fires of the Kalahari, under the broadly-sheeted coastal sky, fire and water, he learned. The Herero boy, long tormented by missionaries into a fear of Christian sins, jackal-ghosts, potent European strand-wolves, pursuing him, seeking to feed on his soul, the precious worm that lived along his backbone, now tried to cage his old gods, snare them in words, give them away, savage, paralyzed, to this scholarly white who seemed so in love with language. Carrying in his kit a copy of the Duino Elegies, just off the presses when he embarked for Südwest, a gift from Mother at the boat, the odor of new ink dizzying his nights as the old freighter plunged tropic after tropic . . . until the constellations, like the new stars of Pain-land, had become all unfamiliar and the earth's seasons reversed . . . and he came ashore in a high-prowed wooden boat that had 20 years earlier brought blue-trousered troops in from the iron roadstead to crush the great Herero Rising. To find, back in the hinterland, up in an outstretch of broken mountains between the Namib and the Kalahari, his own faithful native, his night-flower.
An impassable waste of rock blasted at by the sun . . . miles of canyons twisting nowhere, drifted at the bottoms with white sand turning a cold, queenly blue as the afternoons lengthened. . . . We make Ndjambi Karunga now, omuhona ... a whisper, across the burning
thorn branches where the German conjures away energies present outside the firelight with his slender book. He looks up in alarm. The boy wants to fuck, but he is using the Herero name of God. An extraordinary chill comes over the white man. He believes, like the Rhenish Missionary Society who corrupted this boy, in blasphemy. Especially out here in the desert, where dangers he can't bring himself to name even in cities, even in daylight, gather about, wings folded, buttocks touching the cold sand, waiting. . . . Tonight he feels the potency of every word: words are only an eye-twitch away from the things they stand for. The peril of buggering the boy under the resonance of the sacred Name fills him insanely with lust, lust in the face—the mask— of instant talion from outside the fire . . . but to the boy Ndjambi Karunga is what happens when they couple, that's all: God is creator and destroyer, sun and darkness, all sets of opposites brought together, including black and white, male and female . . . and he becomes, in his innocence, Ndjambi Karunga's child (as are all his preterite clan, relentlessly, beyond their own history) here underneath the European's sweat, ribs, gut-muscles, cock (the boy's own muscles staying fiercely tight for what seems hours, as if he intends to kill, but not a word, only the long, clonic, thick slices of night that pass over their bodies).
What did I make of him? Captain Blicero knows that the African at this moment is halfway across Germany, deep in the Harz, and that, should the Oven this winter close behind him, why they have already said auf Wiedersehen for the last time. He sits, stomach crawling, glands stuffed with malaise, bowed over the console, inside the swarm-painted launch-control car. The sergeants at motor and steering panels are out taking a cigarette break—he's alone at the controls. Outside, through the dirty periscope, gnarled fog unloosens from the bright zone of frost that belly-bands the reared and shadowy rocket, where the liquid-oxygen tank's being topped off. Trees press close: overhead you see barely enough sky for the rocket's ascent. The Bodenplatte—concrete plate laid over strips of steel—is set inside a space defined by three trees, blazed so as to triangulate the exact bearing, 260°, to London. The symbol used is a rude mandala, a red circle with a thick black cross inside, recognizable as the ancient sun-wheel from which tradition says the swastika was broken by the early Christians, to disguise their outlaw symbol. Two nails are driven into the tree at the center of the cross. Next to one of the painted blaze-marks, the most westerly, someone has scratched in the bark with the point of a bayonet the words in HOC SIGNO VINGES. No one in the battery will admit to this act. Perhaps it is the work of the Underground. But it has
not been ordered removed. Pale yellow stump-tops wink around the Bodenplatte, fresh chips and sawdust mix with older fallen leaves. The smell, childlike, deep, is confused by petrol and alcohol. Rain threatens, perhaps, today, snow. The crews move nervously gray-green. Shiny black India-rubber cables snake away into the forest to connect the ground equipment with the Dutch grid's 380 volts. Erwartung. . . . For some reason he finds it harder these days to remember. What is framed, dirt-blurry, in the prisms, the ritual, the daily iteration inside these newly cleared triangles in the forests, has taken over what used to be memory's random walk, its innocent image-gathering. His time away, with Katje and Gottfried, has become shorter and more precious as the tempo of firings quickens. Though the boy is in Blicero's unit, the captain hardly sees him when they're on duty—a flash of gold helping the surveyors chain the kilometers out to the transmitting station, the guttering brightness of his hair in the wind, vanishing among trees. . . . How strangely opposite to the African—a color-negative, yellow and blue. The Captain, in some sentimental overflow, some precognition, gave his African boy the name "Enzian," after Rilke's mountainside gentian of Nordic colors, brought down like a pure word to the valleys:
Bringt doch der Wanderer auch vom Hange des Bergrands nicht eine Hand voll Erde ins Tal, die alle unsägliche, sondern ein erworbenes Wort, reines, den gelben und blaun Enzian.
"Omuhona. . . . Look at me. I'm red, and brown . . . black, omuhona. ..."
"Liebchen, this is the other half of the earth. In Germany you would be yellow and blue." Mirror-metaphysics. Self-enchanted by what he imagined elegance, his bookish symmetries. . . . And yet why speak so purposeless to the arid mountain, the heat of the day, the savage flower from whom he drank, so endlessly . . . why lose those words into the mirage, the yellow sun and freezing blue shadows in the ravines, unless it was prophesying, beyond all predisaster syndrome, beyond the terror of contemplating his middle age however glanc-ingly, however impossible the chance of any "providing"—beyond was something heaving, stirring, forever below, forever before his words, something then that could see a time coming terrible, at least as terrible as this winter and the shape to which the War has now grown, a shape making unavoidable the shape of one last jigsaw piece: this Oven-game with the yellowhaired and blueeyed youth and silent dou-
bleganger Katje (who was her opposite number in Südwest? what black girl he never saw, hidden always in the blinding sun, the hoarse and cindered passage of the trains at night, a constellation of dark stars no one, no anti-Rilke, had named . . .)—but 1944 was much too late for any of it to matter. Those symmetries were all prewar luxury. Nothing's left him to prophesy.
Least of all her sudden withdrawal from the game. The one variation he didn't provide for, perhaps indeed because he never saw the black girl either. Perhaps the black girl is a genius of meta-solutions— knocking over the chessboard, shooting the referee. But after the act of wounding, breaking, what's to become of the little Oven-state? Can't it be fixed? Perhaps a new form, one more appropriate . . . the archer and his son, and the shooting of the apple . . . yes and the War itself as tyrant king ... it can still be salvaged can't it, patched up, roles reassigned, no need to rush outside where . . .
Gottfried, in the cage, watches her slip her bonds and go. Fair and slender, the hair on his legs only visible in sunlight and then as a fine, imponderable net of gold, his eyelids already wrinkling in oddly young/old signatures, flourishes, the eyes a seldom-encountered blue that on certain days, in sync with the weather, is too much for these almond fringes and brims over, seeps, bleeds out to illuminate the boy's entire face, virgin-blue, drowned-man blue, blue drawn so insatiably into the chalky walls of Mediterranean streets we quietly cycled through in noontimes of the old peace. . . . He can't stop her. If the Captain asks, he'll tell what he saw. Gottfried has seen her sneak out before, and there are rumors—she's with the Underground, she's in love with a Stuka pilot she met in Scheveningen. . . . But she must love Captain Blicero too. Gottfried styles himself a passive observer. He has waited for his present age, and the conscription notice, to catch him, with an impudent terror like watching the inrush of a curve you mean to take for the first time in a controlled skid, take me, gathering speed till the last possible moment, take me his good-nights' one prayer. The danger he thinks he needs is still fictional for him: in what he flirts and teases with, death is not a real outcome, the hero always walks out of the heart of the explosion, sooty-faced but grinning—the blast is noise and change, and diving for cover. Gottfried hasn't yet seen a stiff, not up close. He hears now and then from Home that friends have died, he's watched long, flabby canvas sacks being handled in the distances into the poisoned gray of the trucks, and the headlamps cutting the mist. . . but when the rockets fail, and try to topple back on you who fired them, and a dozen of you press down, bodies jammed together in the slit trenches waiting all sweat-stunk wool and tense with laughter held in, you only think—What a story to tell at mess, to write to Mutti. . . . These rockets are his pet animals, barely domesticated, often troublesome, even apt to revert. He loves them in the way he would have loved horses, or Tiger tanks, had he pulled duty somewhere else.
Here he feels taken, at true ease. Without the War what could he have hoped for? But to be part of this adventure . . . If you cannot sing Siegfried at least you can carry a spear. On what mountainslope, from what tanning and adored face did he hear that? All he remembers is the white sweep upward, the quilted meadows mobbed with cloud. . . . Now he's learning a trade, tending the rockets, and when the War ends he'll study to be an engineer. He understands that Blicero will die or go away, and that he will leave the cage. But he connects this with the end of the War, not with the Oven. He knows, like everyone, that captive children are always freed in the moment of maximum danger. The fucking, the salt length of the Captain's weary, often impotent penis pushing into his meek mouth, the stinging chastisements, his face reflected in the act of kissing the Captain's boots, their shine mottled, corroded by bearing grease, oil, alcohol spilled in fueling, darkening his face to the one he can't recognize—these are necessary, they make specific his captivity, which otherwise would hardly be different from Army stifling, Army repression. He's ashamed that he enjoys them so much—the word bitch, spoken now in a certain tone of voice, will give him an erection he cannot will down—afraid that, if not actually judged and damned, he's gone insane. The whole battery knows of the arrangement: though they still obey the Captain it's there, in their faces, felt trembling out along the steel tape-measures, splashing onto his tray at mess, elbowed into his right sleeve with each dressing of his squad. He dreams often these days of a very pale woman who wants him, who never speaks—but the absolute confidence in her eyes . . . his awful certainty that she, a celebrity everyone recognizes on sight, knows him and has no reason to speak to him beyond the beckoning that's in her face, sends him vibrating awake in the nights, the Captain's exhausted face inches away across the silk of wrinkled silver, weak eyes staring as his own, whiskers he suddenly must scrape his cheek against, sobbing, trying to tell how she was, how she looked at him. ...
The Captain's seen her, of course. Who hasn't? His idea of com-
fort is to tell the child, "She's real. You have no say in this. You must understand that she means to have you. No use screaming awake, bothering me this way."
"But if she comes back—"
"Submit, Gottfried. Give it all up. See where she takes you. Think of the first time I fucked you. How tight you were. Until you knew I meant to come inside. Your little rosebud bloomed. You had nothing, not even by then your mouth's innocence, to lose. . . ."
But the boy continues to cry. Katje won't help him. Perhaps she's asleep. He never knows. He wants to be her friend, but they hardly ever speak. She's cold, mysterious, he's jealous of her sometimes and at others—usually when he wants to fuck her and through some ingenuity of the Captain's cannot—at such times he thinks he loves her desperately. Unlike the Captain, he has never seen her as the loyal sister who'll free him from the cage. He dreams that release, but as a dark exterior Process that will happen, no matter what any of them may want. Whether she goes or stays. So, when Katje quits the game for good, he is silent.
Blicero curses her. He flings a boot-tree at a precious TerBorch. Bombs fall to the west in the Haagsche Bosch. The wind blows, ruffling the ornamental ponds outside. Staff cars snarl away, down the long drive lined with beeches. The half-moon shines among hazy clouds, its dark half the color of aged meat. Blicero orders everyone down into the shelter, a cellarful of gin in brown crocks, open-slat crates of anemone bulbs. The slut has put his battery in the British crosshairs, the raid can come at any moment! Everybody sits around drinking oude genever and peeling cheeses. Telling stories, mostly funny ones, from before the War. By dawn, they're all drunk and sleeping. Scraps of wax litter the floor like leaves. No Spitfires come. But later that morning Schußstelle 3 is moved, and the requisitioned house is abandoned. And she is gone. Crossed over the English lines, at the salient where the great airborne adventure lies bogged for the winter, wearing Gottfried's boots and an old dress, black moiré, calf-length, a size too large, dowdy. Her last disguise. From here on she will be Katje. The only debt outstanding is to Captain Prentice. The others—Piet, Wim, the Drummer, the Indian—have all dropped her. Left her for dead. Or else this is her warning that—
"Sorry, no, we need the bullet," Wim's face in shadows her eye can't compensate for, bitterly whispering underneath the Schevenin-gen pier, ragged crowd-footfalls on the wood overhead, "every fucking bullet we can get. We need the silence. We couldn't spare a man to get
rid of the body. I've wasted five minutes with you already . . ." so he will take up their last meeting with technical matters she can no longer share. When she looks around, he's gone, guerrilla-silent, and she has no way to bring this together with how he felt last year for a while under the cool chenille, in the days before he got so many muscles, and the scars on shoulder and thigh—a late bloomer, a neutral man goaded finally past his threshold, but she'd loved him before that. . . she must have. . . .
She's worth nothing to them now. They were after Schußstelle 3. She gave them everything else, but kept finding reasons not to pinpoint the Captain's rocket site, and there is too much doubt by now as to how good the reasons were. True, the site was often moved about. But she could've been placed no closer to the decision-making: it was her own expressionless servant's face that leaned in over their schnapps and cigars, the charts Coffee-ringed across the low tables, the cream papers stamped purple as bruised flesh. Wim and the others have invested time and lives—three Jewish families sent east—though wait now, she's more than balanced it, hasn't she, in the months out at Scheveningen? They were kids, neurotic, lonely, pilots and crews they all loved to talk, and she's fed back who knows how many reams' worth of Most Secret flimsies across the North Sea, hasn't she, squadron numbers, fueling stops, spin-recovery techniques and turning radii, power settings, radio channels, sectors, traffic patterns—hasn't she? What more do they want? She asks this seriously, as if there's a real conversion factor between information and lives. Well, strange to say, there is. Written down in the Manual, on file at the War Department. Don't forget the real Business of the War is buying and selling. The murdering and the violence are self-policing, and can be entrusted to non-professionals. The mass nature of wartime death is useful in many ways. It serves as spectacle, as diversion from the real movements of the War. It provides raw material to be recorded into History, so that children may be taught History as sequences of violence, battle after battle, and be more prepared for the adult world. Best of all, mass death's a stimulus to just ordinary folks, little fellows, to try 'n' grab a piece of that Pie while they're still here to gobble it up. The true war is a celebration of markets. Organic markets, carefully styled "black" by the professionals, spring up everywhere. Scrip, Sterling, Reichsmarks continue to move, severe as classical ballet, inside their antiseptic marble chambers. But out here, down here among the people, the truer currencies come into being. So, Jews are negotiable. Every bit as negotiable as cigarettes, cunt, or Hershey bars. Jews also carry an ele-
ment of guilt, of future blackmail, which operates, natch, in favor of the professionals. So Katje here is hollering into a silence, a North Sea of hopes, and Pirate Prentice, who knows her from hurried meetings—in city squares that manage to be barracksfaced and claustrophobic, under dark, soft-wood smells of staircases steep as ladders, on a gaffrigger by an oily quai and a cat's amber eyes staring down, in a block of old flats with rain in the courtyard and a bulky, ancient Schwarzlose stripped to toggle links and oil pump littered about the dusty room—who has each time seen her as a face belonging with others he knows better, at the margin of each enterprise, now, confronted with this face out of context, an enormous sky all sea-clouds in full march, tall and plum, behind her, detects danger in her loneliness, realizes he's never heard her name, not till the meeting by the windmill known as "The Angel." . . .
She tells him why she's alone—more or less—why she can't ever go back, and her face is somewhere else, painted on canvas, hung with other survivals back in the house near Duindigt, only witnessing the Oven-game—centuries passing like the empurpled clouds, darkening an infinitesimal layer of varnish between herself and Pirate, granting her the shield of serenity she needs, of classic irrelevance. . . .
"But where will you go?" Both of them hands in pockets, scarves tightly wrapped, stones the water has left behind shining black wait like writing in a dream, about to make sense printed here along the beach, each fragment so amazingly clear yet...
"I don't know. Where would be a good place?"
" 'The White Visitation,' " Pirate suggested.
" 'The White Visitation' is fine," she said, and stepped into the void. . . .
"Osbie, have I gone mad?" a snowy night, five rocket bombs since noon, shivering in the kitchen, late and candlelit, Osbie Feel the house idiot-savant so far into an encounter with nutmeg this evening that the inquiry seems quite proper, the pale cement Jungfrau asquat, phlegmatic and one gathers nettled in a dim corner.
"Of course, of course," sez Osbie, with a fluid passage of fingers and wrist based on the way Bela Lugosi handed a certain glass of doped wine to some fool of a juvenile lead in White Zombie, the first movie Osbie ever saw and in a sense the last, ranking on his All-Time List along with Son of Frankenstein, Freaks, Flying Down to Rio and perhaps Dumbo, which he went to see in Oxford Street last night but midway through noticed, instead of a magic feather, the humorless green and magenta face of Mr. Ernest Bevin wrapped in the chubby trunk of
the longlashed baby elephant, and decided it would be prudent to excuse himself. "No," since Pirate meantime has misunderstood whatever it was Osbie said, "not 'of course you've gone mad, Prentice,' that wasn't it at all. . . ."
"What then," Pirate asks, after Osbie's lapse has passed the minute mark.
"Ah?" sez Osbie.
Pirate is having second thoughts, is what it is. He keeps recalling that Katje now avoids all mention of the house in the forest. She has glanced into it, and out, but the truth's crystal sheets have diffracted all her audible words—often to tears—and he can't quite make sense of what's spoken, much less infer to the radiant crystal itself. Indeed, why did she leave Schußstelle 3 ? We are never told why. But now and then, players in a game will, lull or crisis, be reminded how it is, after all, really play—and be unable then to continue in the same spirit. . . . Nor need it be anything sudden, spectacular—it may come in gentle—and regardless of the score, the number of watchers, their collective wish, penalties they or the Leagues may impose, the player will, waking deliberately, perhaps with Katje's own tough, young isolate's shrug and stride, say fuck it and quit the game, quit it cold. . . .
"All right," he continues alone, Osbie lost in a mooning doper's smile, tracking the mature female snow-skin of the Alp in the corner, he and the frozen peak above and the blue night . . . "it's a lapse of character then, a crotchet. Like carrying the bloody Mendoza." Everyone else in the Firm packs a Sten you know. The Mendoza weighs three times as much, no one's even seen any 7 mm Mexican Mauser bullets lately, even in Portobello Road: it hasn't the grand Garage Simplicity or the rate of fire and still he loves it (yes, most likely it's love these days) "you see, it's a matter of trade-off, i'n't i'," the nostalgia of its Lewis-style straight pull, and being able to lift the barrel off in a second (ever tried to take the barrel off of a Sten?), and having a double-ended striker in case one breaks. . . . "Am I going to let the extra weight make a difference? It's my crotchet, I'm indifferent to weight, or I wouldn't have brought the girl back out, would I."
"I am not your responsibility." A statue in wine-colored façonné velvet from neck to wrists and insteps, and how long, gentlemen, has she been watching from the shadows?
"Oh," Pirate turning sheepish, "you are, you know."
"The happy couple!" Osbie roars suddenly, taking another pinch of nutmeg like snuff, eyeballs rolling white as the miniature mountain. Sneezing now loudly about the kitchen, it strikes him as incrediblethat he has both these people inside the same field of vision. Pirate's face darkening with embarrassment, Katje's unchanging, half struck by light from the next room, half in slate shadows.
"Should I have left you, then?" and when she only compresses her mouth, impatient, "or do you think someone over here owed it to you to bring you out? "
"No." That reached her. Pirate only asked because he's begun to suspect, darkly, any number of Someones Over Here. But to Katje a debt is for wiping out. Her old, intractable vice—she wants to cross seas, to connect countries between whom there is no possible rate of exchange. Her ancestors sang, in Middle Dutch,
ic heb u liever dan en everswîn,
al waert van finen goude ghewracht,
love incommensurate with gold, golden calf, even in this case golden swine. But by the middle of the 17th century there were no more pigs of gold, only of flesh mortal as that of Frans Van der Groov, another ancestor, who went off to Mauritius with a boatload of these live hogs and lost thirteen years toting his haakbus through the ebony forests, wandering the swamps and lava flows, systematically killing off the native dodoes for reasons he could not explain. The Dutch pigs took care of eggs and younger birds. Frans carefully drew beads on the parents at 10 or 20 meters, the piece propped on its hook, slowly squeezing the trigger, eye focused on the molting ugliness while closer in the slow-match, soaked in wine, held in the jaws of the serpentine, came blooming redly downward, its heat on his cheek like my own small luminary, he wrote Home to Hendrik the older brother, the ruler of my Sign . . . uncovering the priming-powder he'd been keeping shielded with his other hand—sudden flash in the pan, through the touchhole, and the loud report echoing off the steep rocks, recoil smashing the butt up along his shoulder (the skin there at first raw, blistered, then callused over, after the first summer). And the stupid, awkward bird, never intended to fly or run at any speed—what were they good for?— unable now even to locate his murderer, ruptured, splashing blood, raucously dying. . . .
At Home, the brother skimmed the letters, some crisp, some sea-stained or faded, spanning years, delivered all at once—understanding very little of it, only anxious to spend the day, as usual, in the gardens and greenhouse with his tulips (a reigning madness of the time), especially one new variety named for his current mistress: blood-red, finely tattooed in purple. . . . "Recent arrivals all carrying the new snaphaan ... but I stick to my clumsy old matchlock ... don't I deserve a clumsy weapon for such a clumsy prey?" But Frans got no closer to telling what kept him out among the winter cyclones, stuffing pieces of old uniform down after the lead balls, sunburned, bearded and filthy—unless it rained or he was in the uplands where the craters of old volcanoes cupped rainfall blue as the sky in upward offering.
He left the dodoes to rot, he couldn't endure to eat their flesh. Usually, he hunted alone. But often, after months of it, the isolation would begin to change him, change his very perceptions—the jagged mountains in full daylight flaring as he watched into freak saffrons, streaming indigos, the sky his glass house, all the island his tulipoma-nia. The voices—he insomniac, southern stars too thick for constellations teeming in faces and creatures of fable less likely than the dodo—spoke the words of sleepers, singly, coupled, in chorus. The rhythms and timbres were Dutch, but made no waking sense. Except that he thought they were warning him . . . scolding, angry that he couldn't understand. Once he sat all day staring at a single white dodo's egg in a grass hummock. The place was too remote for any foraging pig to've found. He waited for scratching, a first crack reaching to net the chalk surface: an emergence. Hemp gripped in the teeth of the steel snake, ready to be lit, ready to descend, sun to black-powder sea, and destroy the infant, egg of light into egg of darkness, within its first minute of amazed vision, of wet down stirred cool by these southeast trades. . . . Each hour he sighted down the barrel. It was then, if ever, he might have seen how the weapon made an axis potent as Earth's own between himself and this victim, still one, inside the egg, with the ancestral chain, not to be broken out for more than its blink of world's light. There they were, the silent egg and the crazy Dutchman, and the hookgun that linked them forever, framed, brilliantly motionless as any Vermeer. Only the sun moved: from zenith down at last behind the snaggleteeth of mountains to Indian ocean, to tarry night. The egg, without a quiver, still unhatched. He should have blasted it then where it lay: he understood that the bird would hatch before dawn. But a cycle was finished. He got to his feet, knee and hip joints in agony, head gonging with instructions from his sleeptalkers droning by, overlapping, urgent, and only limped away, piece at right shoulder arms.
When loneliness began to drive him into situations like this, he often returned to a settlement and joined a hunting party. A drunken, university hysteria would take hold of them all, out on night-rampages where they'd be presently firing at anything, treetops, clouds, leather
demon bats screaming up beyond hearing. Tradewinds moving up-slope to chill their nights' sweating, sky lit half crimson by a volcano, rumblings under their feet as deep as the bats' voices were high, all these men were caught in the spectrum between, trapped among frequencies of their own voices and words.
This furious host were losers, impersonating a race chosen by God. The colony, the venture, was dying—like the ebony trees they were stripping from the island, like the poor species they were removing totally from the earth. By 1681, Didus ineptus would be gone, by 1710 so would every last settler from Mauritius. The enterprise here would have lasted about a human lifetime.
To some, it made sense. They saw the stumbling birds ill-made to the point of Satanic intervention, so ugly as to embody argument against a Godly creation. Was Mauritius some first poison trickle through the sheltering dikes of Earth? Christians must stem it here, or perish in a second Flood, loosed this time not by God but by the Enemy. The act of ramming Home the charges into their musketry became for these men a devotional act, one whose symbolism they understood.
But if they were chosen to come to Mauritius, why had they also been chosen to fail, and leave? Is that a choosing, or is it a passing-over? Are they Elect, or are they Preterite, and doomed as dodoes?
Frans could not know that except for a few others on the island of Reunion, these were the only dodoes in the Creation, and that he was helping exterminate a race. But at times the scale and frenzy of the hunting did come through to trouble his heart. "If the species were not such a perversion," he wrote, "it might be profitably husbanded to feed our generations. I cannot hate them quite so violently as do some here. But what now can mitigate this slaughter? It is too late. . . . Perhaps a more comely beak, fuller feathering, a capacity for flight, however brief. . . details of Design. Or, had we but found savages on this island, the bird's appearance might have then seemed to us no stranger than that of the wild turkey of North America. Alas, their tragedy is to be the dominant form of life on Mauritius, but incapable of speech."
That was it, right there. No language meant no chance of co-opting them in to what their round and flaxen invaders were calling Salvation. But Frans, in the course of morning lights lonelier than most, could not keep from finally witnessing a miracle: a Gift of Speech ... a Conversion of the Dodoes. Ranked in thousands on the shore, with a luminous profile of reef on the water behind them, its
roar the only sound on the morning, volcanoes at rest, the wind suspended, an autumn sunrise dispensing light glassy and deep over them all... they have come from their nests and rookeries, from beside the streams bursting out the mouths of lava tunnels, from the minor islands awash like debris off the north coast, from sudden waterfalls and the wasted rain-forests where the axeblades are rusting and the rough flumes rot and topple in the wind, from their wet mornings under the shadows of mountain-stubs they have waddled in awkward pilgrimage to this assembly: to be sanctified, taken in. ... For as much as they are the creatures of God, and have the gift of rational discourse, acknowledging that only in His Word is eternal life to be found . . . And there are tears of Happiness in the eyes of the dodoes. They are all brothers now, they and the humans who used to hunt them, brothers in Christ, the little baby they dream now of sitting near, roosting in his stable, feathers at peace, watching over him and his dear face all night long. . . .
It is the purest form of European adventuring. What's it all been for, the murdering seas, the gangrene winters and starving springs, our bone pursuit of the unfaithful, midnights of wrestling with the Beast, our sweat become ice and our tears pale flakes of snow, if not for such moments as this: the little converts flowing out of eye's field, so meek, so trusting—how shall any craw clench in fear, any recreant cry be offered in the presence of our blade, our necessary blade? Sanctified now they will feed us, sanctified their remains and droppings fertilize our crops. Did we tell them "Salvation"? Did we mean a dwelling forever in the City? Everlasting life? An earthly paradise restored, their island as it used to be given them back? Probably. Thinking all the time of the little brothers numbered among our own blessings. Indeed, if they save us from hunger in this world, then beyond, in Christ's kingdom, our salvations must be, in like measure, inextricable. Otherwise the dodoes would be only what they appear as in the world's illusory light—only our prey. God could not be that cruel.
Frans can look at both versions, the miracle and the hunt of more years than he can remember now, as real, equal possibilities. In both, eventually, the dodoes die. But as for faith ... he can believe only in the one steel reality of the firearm he carries. "He knew that a snaphaan would weigh less, its cock, flint, and steel give him surer ignition—but he felt a nostalgia about the haakbus ... he didn't mind the extra weight, it was his crotchet. ..."
Pirate and Osbie Feel are leaning on their roof-ledge, a magnificent sunset across and up the winding river, the imperial serpent,
crowds of factories, flats, parks, smoky spires and gables, incandescent sky casting downward across the miles of deep streets and roofs cluttering and sinuous river Thames a drastic stain of burnt orange to remind a visitor of his mortal transience here, to seal or empty all the doors and windows in sight to his eyes that look only for a bit of company, a word or two in the street before he goes up to the soap-heavy smell of the rented room and the squares of coral sunset on the floorboards—an antique light, self-absorbed, fuel consumed in the metered winter holocaust, the more distant shapes among the threads or sheets of smoke now perfect ash ruins of themselves, nearer windows, struck a moment by the sun, not reflecting at all but containing the same destroying light, this intense fading in which there is no promise of return, light that rusts the government cars at the curbsides, varnishes the last faces hurrying past the shops in the cold as if a vast siren had finally sounded, light that makes chilled untraveled canals of many streets, and that fills with the starlings of London, converging by millions to hazy stone pedestals, to emptying squares and a great collective sleep. They flow in rings, concentric rings, on the radar screens. The operators call them "angels."
"He's haunting you," Osbie puffing on an Amanita cigarette.
"Yes," Pirate ranging the edges of the roof-garden, irritable in the sunset, "but it's the last thing I want to believe. The other's been bad enough. ..."
"What d'you think of her, then."
"Someone can use her, I think," having decided this yesterday at Charing Cross Station when she left for "The White Visitation." "An unforeseen dividend, for somebody."
"Do you know what they have in mind, down there?"
Only that they're brewing up something that involves a giant octopus. But no one up here in London knows with any precision. Even at "The White Visitation" there's this sudden great coming and going, and a swampy ambiguity as to why. Myron Grunton is noted casting less than comradely looks at Roger Mexico. The Zouave has gone back to his unit in North Africa, back under the Cross of Lorraine, all that the German might find sinister in his blackness recorded on film, sweet-talked or coerced out of him by none less than Gerhardt von Göll, once an intimate and still the equal of Lang, Pabst, Lubitsch, more lately meshed in with the affairs of any number of exile governments, fluctuations in currencies, the establishment and disestablishment of an astonishing network of market operations winking on,
winking off across the embattled continent, even as the firefights whistle steel up and down the streets and the firestorms sweep oxygen up in the sky and the customers fall smothered like bugs in the presence of Flit . . . but commerce has not taken away von Göll's Touch: these days it has grown more sensitive than ever. In these first rushes the black man moves about in SS uniform, among the lath and canvas mockups of rocket and Meillerwagen (always shot through pines, through snow, from distant angles that don't give away the English location), the others in plausible blackface, recruited for the day, the whole crew on a lark, Mr. Pointsman, Mexico, Edwin Treacle, and Rollo Groast, ARF's resident neurosurgeon Aaron Throwster, all playing the black rocketeers of the fictional Schwarzkommando—even Myron Grunton in a nonspeaking role, a blurry extra like the rest of them. Running time of the film is three minutes, 2 5 seconds and there are twelve shots. It will be antiqued, given a bit of fungus and fer-rotyping, and transported to Holland, to become part of the "remains" of a counterfeit rocket-firing site in the Rijkswijksche Bosch. The Dutch resistance will then "raid" this site, making a lot of commotion, faking in tire-tracks and detailing the litter of hasty departure. The inside of an Army lorry will be gutted by Molotov cocktails: among ashes, charred clothing, blackened and slightly melted gin bottles, will be found fragments of carefully forged Schwarzkommando documents, and of a reel of film, only three minutes and 25 seconds of which will be viewable. Von Göll, with a straight face, proclaims it to be his greatest work.
"Indeed, as things were to develop," writes noted film critic Mitchell Prettyplace, "one cannot argue much with his estimate, though for vastly different reasons than von Göll might have given or even from his peculiar vantage foreseen."
At "The White Visitation," because of erratic funding, there is only one film projector. Each day, about noon, after the Operation Black Wing people have watched their fraudulent African rocket troops, Webley Silvernail comes to carry the projector back down the chilly scuffed-wood corridors again to the ARF wing, in to the inner room where octopus Grigori oozes sullenly in his tank. In other rooms the dogs whine, bark shrilly in pain, whimper for a stimulus that does not, will never come, and the snow goes whirling, invisible tattooing needles against the nerveless window glass behind the green shades. The reel is threaded, the lights are switched off, Grigori's attention is directed to the screen, where an image already walks. The camera fol-
lows as she moves deliberately nowhere longlegged about the rooms, an adolescent wideness and hunching to the shoulders, her hair not bluntly Dutch at all, but secured in a modish upsweep with an old, tarnished silver crown. . . .
It was very early morning. He stumbled out alone into a wet brick street. Southward the barrage balloons, surfriders on the combers of morning, were glowing, pink and pearl, in the sunrise.
They've cut Slothrop loose again, he's back on the street, shit, last chance for a Section 8 'n' he blew it. ...
Why didn't they keep him on at that nut ward for as long as they said they would—wasn't it supposed to be a few weeks? No explanation—just "Cheerio!" and the onionskin sending him back to that ACHTUNG. The Kenosha Kid, and that Crouchfield the Westward-man and his sidekick Whappo have been all his world for these recent days . . . there were still problems to be worked out, adventures not yet completed, coercions and vast deals to be made on the order of the old woman's arrangement for getting her pig Home over the stile. But now, rudely, here's that London again.
But something's different . . . something's . . . been changed . . . don't mean to bitch, folks, but—well for instance he could almost . swear he's being followed, or watched anyway. Some of the tails are pretty slick, but others he can spot, all right. Xmas shopping yesterday at that Woolworth's, he caught a certain pair of beady eyes in the toy section, past a heap of balsa-wood fighter planes and little-kid-size En-fields. A hint of constancy to what shows up in the rearview mirror of his Humber, no color or model he can pin down but something always present inside the tiny frame, has led him to start checking out other cars when he goes off on a morning's work. Things on his desk at ACHTUNG seem not to be where they were. Girls have found excuses not to keep appointments. He feels he's being gently separated from the life he lived before going into St. Veronica's. Even in movies there's always someone behind him being careful not to talk, rattle paper, laugh too loud: Slothrop's been to enough movies that he can pick up an anomaly like that right away.
The cubicle near Grosvenor Square begins to feel more and more like a trap. He spends his time, often whole days, ranging the East End, breathing the rank air of Thameside, seeking places the followers might not follow.
One day, just as he's entering a narrow street all ancient brick walls and lined with costermongers, he hears his name called—and hubba hubba what's this then, here she conies all right, blonde hair flying in telltales, white wedgies clattering on cobblestone, an adorable tomato in a nurse uniform, and her name's, uh, well, oh—Darlene. Golly, it's Darlene. She works at St. Veronica's hospital, lives nearby at the Home of a Mrs. Quoad, a lady widowed long ago and since suffering a series of antiquated diseases—greensickness, tetter, kibes, purples, im-posthumes and almonds in the ears, most recently a touch of scurvy. So, out in search of limes for her landlady, the fruit beginning to jog and spill from her straw basket and roll yellowgreen back down the street, young Darlene comes running in her nurse's cap, her breasts soft fenders for this meeting on the gray city sea.
"You came back! Ah Tyrone, you're back" a tear or two, both of them down picking up citrus, the starch khaki dress rattling, even the odd sniffle from Slothrop's not unsentimental nose.
"It's me love . . ."
Tire tracks in the slush have turned to pearl, mellow pearl. Gulls cruise slowly against the high windowless brick walls of the district.
Mrs. Quoad's is up three dark flights, with the dome of faraway St. Paul's out its kitchen window visible in the smoke of certain afternoons, and the lady herself tiny in a rose plush chair in the sitting-room by the wireless, listening to Primo Scala's Accordion Band. She looks healthy enough. On the table, though, is her crumpled chiffon handkerchief: feathered blots of blood in and out the convolutions like a floral pattern.
"You were here when I had that horrid quotidian ague," she recalls Slothrop, "the day we brewed the wormwood tea," sure enough, the very taste now, rising through his shoe-soles, taking him along. They're reassembling ... it must be outside his memory . . . cool clean interior, girl and woman, independent of his shorthand of stars ... so many fading-faced girls, windy canalsides, bed-sitters, bus-stop good-bys, how can he be expected to remember? but this room has gone on clarifying: part of whoever he was inside it has kindly remained, stored quiescent these months outside of his head, distributed through the grainy shadows, the grease-hazy jars of herbs, candies, spices, all the Compton Mackenzie novels on the shelf, glassy ambrotypes of her late husband Austin night-dusted inside gilded frames up on the mantel where last time Michaelmas daisies greeted and razzled from a little Sevres vase she and Austin found together one Saturday long ago in a Wardour Street shop. ...
"He was my good health," she often says. "Since he passed away I've had to become all but an outright witch, in pure self-defense." From the kitchen comes the smell of limes freshly cut and squeezed. Darlene's in and out of the room, looking for different botanicals, asking where the cheesecloth's got to, "Tyrone help me just reach down that—no next to it, the tall jar, thank you love"—back into the kitchen in a creak of starch, a flash of pink. "I'm the only one with a memory around here," Mrs. Quoad sighs. "We help each other, you see." She brings out from behind its cretonne camouflage a great bowl of candies. "Now, " beaming at Slothrop. "Here: wine jellies. They're prewar."
"Now I remember you—the one with the graft at the Ministry of Supply!" but he knows, from last time, that no gallantry can help him now. After that visit he wrote Home to Nalline: "The English are kind of weird when it comes to the way things taste, Mom. They aren't like us. It might be the climate. They go for things we would never dream of. Sometimes it is enough to turn your stomach, boy. The other day I had had one of these things they call 'wine jellies.' That's their idea of candy, Mom! Figure out a way to feed some to that Hitler 'n' I betcha the war'd be over tomorrow!" Now once again he finds himself checking out these ruddy gelatin objects, nodding, he hopes amiably, at Mrs. Quoad. They have the names of different wines written on them in bas-relief.
"Just a touch of menthol too," Mrs. Quoad popping one into her mouth. "Delicious."
Slothrop finally chooses one that says Lafitte Rothschild and stuffs it on into his kisser. "Oh yeah. Yeah. Mmm. It's great."
"If you really want something peculiar try the Bernkastler Doktor. Oh! Aren't you the one who brought me those lovely American slimy elm things, maple-tasting with a touch of sassafras—"
"Slippery elm. Jeepers I'm sorry, I ran out yesterday."
Darlene comes in with a steaming pot and three cups on a tray. "What's that?" Slothrop a little quickly, here.
"You don't really want to know, Tyrone."
"Quite right," after the first sip, wishing she'd used more lime juice or something to kill the basic taste, which is ghastly-bitter. These people are really insane. No sugar, natch. He reaches in the candy bowl, comes up with a black, ribbed licorice drop. It looks safe. But just as
he's biting in, Darlene gives him, and it, a peculiar look, great timing this girl, sez, "Oh, I thought we got rid of all those—" a blithe, Gilbert & Sullivan ingenue's thewse—"years ago," at which point Slothrop is encountering this dribbling liquid center, which tastes like mayonnaise and orange peels.
"You've taken the last of my Marmalade Surprises!" cries Mrs. Quoad, having now with conjuror's speed produced an egg-shaped confection of pastel green, studded all over with lavender nonpareils. "Just for that I shan't let you have any of these marvelous rhubarb creams." Into her mouth it goes, the whole thing.
"Serves me right," Slothrop, wondering just what he means by this, sipping herb tea to remove the taste of the mayonnaise candy— oops but that's a mistake, right, here's his mouth filling once again with horrible alkaloid desolation, all the way back to the soft palate where it digs in. Darlene, pure Nightingale compassion, is handing him a hard red candy, molded like a stylized raspberry . . . mm, which oddly enough even tastes like a raspberry, though it can't begin to take away that bitterness. Impatiently, he bites into it, and in the act knows, fucking idiot, he's been had once more, there comes pouring out onto his tongue the most godawful crystalline concentration of Jeez it must be pure nitric acid, "Oh mercy that's really sour," hardly able to get the words out he's so puckered up, exactly the sort of thing Hop Harrigan used to pull to get Tank Tinker to quit playing his ocarina, a shabby trick then and twice as reprehensible coming from an old lady who's supposed to be one of our Allies, shit he can't even see it's up his nose and whatever it is won't dissolve, just goes on torturing his shriveling tongue and crunches like ground glass among his molars. Mrs. Quoad is meantime busy savoring, bite by dainty bite, a cherry-quinine petit four. She beams at the young people across the candy bowl. Slothrop, forgetting, reaches again for his tea. There is no graceful way out of this now. Darlene has brought a couple-three more candy jars down off of the shelf, and now he goes plunging, like a journey to the center of some small, hostile planet, into an enormous bonbon chomp through the mantle of chocolate to a strongly eucalyptus-flavored fondant, finally into a core of some very tough grape gum arabic. He fingernails a piece of this out from between his teeth and stares at it for a while. It is purple in color.
"Now you're getting the idea!" Mrs. Quoad waving at him a marbled conglomerate of ginger root, butterscotch, and aniseed, "you see, you also have to enjoy the way it looks. Why are Americans so impulsive?"
"Well," mumbling, "usually we don't get any more complicated than Hershey bars, see. ..."
"Oh, try this," hollers Darlene, clutching her throat and swaying against him.
"Gosh, it must really be something," doubtfully taking this nasty-looking brownish novelty, an exact quarter-scale replica of a Mills-type hand grenade, lever, pin and everything, one of a series of patriotic candies put out before sugar was quite so scarce, also including, he no-dees, peering into the jar, a .455 Webley cartridge of green and pink striped taffy, a six-ton earthquake bomb of some silver-flecked blue gelatin, and a licorice bazooka.
"Go on then," Darlene actually taking his hand with the candy in it and trying to shove it into his mouth.
"Was just, you know, looking at it, the way Mrs. Quoad suggested."
"And no fair squeezing it, Tyrone."
Under its tamarind glaze, the Mills bomb turns out to be luscious pepsin-flavored nougat, chock-full of tangy candied cubeb berries, and a chewy camphor-gum center. It is unspeakably awful. Slothrop's head begins to reel with camphor fumes, his eyes are running, his tongue's a hopeless holocaust. Cubeb? He used to smoke that stuff. "Poisoned ..." he is able to croak.
"Show a little backbone," advises Mrs. Quoad.
"Yes," Darlene through tongue-softened sheets of caramel, "don't you know there's a war on? Here now love, open your mouth."
Through the tears he can't see it too well, but he can hear Mrs. Quoad across the table going "Yum, yum, yum," and Darlene giggling. It is enormous and soft, like a marshmallow, but somehow—unless something is now going seriously wrong with his brain—it tastes like gin. "Wha's 'is," he inquires thickly.
"A gin marshmallow," sez Mrs. Quoad.
"Oh that's nothing, have one of these—" his teeth, in some perverse reflex, crunching now through a hard sour gooseberry shell into a wet spurting unpleasantness of, he hopes it's tapioca, little glutinous chunks of something all saturated with powdered cloves.
"More tea?" Darlene suggests. Slothrop is coughing violently, having inhaled some of that clove filling.
"Nasty cough," Mrs. Quoad offering a tin of that least believable of English coughdrops, the Meggezone. "Darlene, the tea is lovely, I can feel my scurvy going away, really I can."
The Meggezone is like being belted in the head with a Swiss Alp. Menthol icicles immediately begin to grow from the roof of Slothrop's mouth. Polar bears seek toenail-holds up the freezing frosty-grape alveolar clusters in his lungs. It hurts his teeth too much to breathe, even through his nose, even, necktie loosened, with his nose down inside the neck of his olive-drab T-shirt. Benzoin vapors seep into his brain. His head floats in a halo of ice.
Even an hour later, the Meggezone still lingers, a mint ghost in the air. Slothrop lies with Darlene, the Disgusting English Candy Drill a thing of the past, his groin now against her warm bottom. The one candy he did not get to taste—one Mrs. Quoad withheld—was the Fire of Paradise, that famous confection of high price and protean taste—"salted plum" to one, "artificial cherry" to another . . . "sugared violets" . . . "Worcestershire sauce" . . . "spiced treacle" . . . any number of like descriptions, positive, terse—never exceeding two words in length—resembling the descriptions of poison and debilitating gases found in training manuals, "sweet-and-sour eggplant" being perhaps the lengthiest to date. The Fire of Paradise today is operationally extinct, and in 1945 can hardly be found: certainly nowhere among the sunlit shops and polished windows of Bond Street or waste Belgravia. But every now and then one will surface, in places which deal usually other merchandise than sweets: at rest, back inside big glass jars clouded by the days, along with objects like itself, sometimes only one candy to a whole jar, nearly hidden in the ambient tourmalines in German gold, carved ebony finger-stalls from the last century, pegs, valve-pieces, threaded hardware from obscure musical instruments, electronic components of resin and copper that the War, in its glutton, ever-nibbling intake, has not yet found and licked back into its darkness. . . . Places where the motors never come close enough to be loud, and there are trees outside along the street. Inner rooms and older faces developing under light falling through a skylight, yellower, later in the year. . . .
Hunting across the zero between waking and sleep, his halfway limp cock still inside her, their strengthless legs bent the same angle . . . The bedroom deepens into water and coolness. Somewhere the sun is going down. Just enough light to see the darker freckles on her back. In the parlor Mrs. Quoad is dreaming she's back in the gardens at Bournemouth, among the rhododendrons, and a sudden rain, Austin crying Touch her throat, Majesty. Touch! and Yrjö—a pretender but the true king, for a very doubtful branch of the family usurped the throne in 1878 during the intrigues over Bessarabia—Yrjö in an old-fashioned frock coat with golden galloons shining at the sleeves, bending toward her in the rain to cure her forever of King's Evil, looking exactly as he does in the rotogravure, his lovely Hrisoula a step or two behind kindly, seriously waiting, around them the rain thundering down, the King's white ungloved hand bending like a butterfly to touch the hollow of Mrs. Quoad's throat, the miracle touch, gently . . . touch . . .
And Slothrop is yawning "What time is it?" and Darlene is swimming up from sleep. When, with no warning, the room is full of noon, blinding white, every hair flowing up from her nape clear as day, as the concussion drives in on them, rattling the building to its poor bones, beating in the windowshade, gone all to white and black lattice of mourning-cards. Overhead, catching up, the rocket's rush comes swelling, elevated express down, away into ringing silence. Outside glass has been breaking, long, dissonant cymbals up the street. The floor has twitched like a shaken carpet, and the bed with it. Slothrop's penis has sprung erect, aching. To Darlene, suddenly awake, heart pounding very fast, palms and fingers in fear's pain, this hardon has seemed reasonably part of the white light, the loud blast. By the time the explosion has died to red strong flickering on the shade, she's begun to wonder . . . about the two together .. . but they're fucking now, and what does it matter, but God's sake why shouldn't this stupid Blitz be good for something?
And who's that, through the crack in the orange shade, breathing carefully? Watching? And where, keepers of maps, specialists at surveillance, would you say the next one will fall?
The very first touch: he'd been saying something mean, a bit of the usual Mexico self-reproach—ah you don't know me I'm really a bastard sort ofthing—"No," she went to put her fingers to his lips, "don't say that. . . ."As she reached, without thinking he grabbed her wrist, moved her hand away, pure defense—but kept holding her, by the wrist. They were eyes-to-eyes, and neither would look away. Roger brought her hand to his lips and kissed it then, still watching her eyes. A pause, his heart in sharp knocks against the front of his chest . . . "Ohh ..." the sound rushing out of her, and she came in to hug him, completely let-go, open, shivering as they held each other. She told him later that as soon as he took her wrist that night, she came. And
the first time he touched her cunt, squeezed Jessica's soft cunt through her knickers, the trembling began again high in her thighs, growing, taking her over. She came twice before cock was ever officially put inside cunt, and this is important to both of them though neither has figured out why, exactly.
Whenever it happens, though, the light always gets very red for them.
Once they met at a teashop: she was wearing a red sweater with short sleeves, and her bare arms glowed red by her sides. She hadn't any make-up on, the first time he'd seen her so. Walking to the car, she takes his hand and puts it, for a moment, lightly between her moving legs. Roger's heart grows erect, and comes. That's really how it feels. Up sharply to skin level in a V around his centerline, washing over his nipples ... it is love, it is amazing. Even when she isn't there, after a dream, at a face in the street that might against chance be Jessica's, Roger can never control it, he's in its grasp.
About Beaver, or Jeremy, as he is known to his mother, Roger tries not to think any more than he has to. Of course he agonizes over technical matters. She cannot possibly—can she?—be Doing The Same Things with Jeremy. Does Jeremy ever kiss her cunt, for example? Could that prig actually—does she reach around as they're fucking a-and slide a mischievous finger, his English rose, into Jeremy's asshole? Stop, stop this (but does she suck his cock? Has he ever had his habitually insolent face between her lovely buttocks?) no use, it's youthful folly time here and you're better off up at the Tivoli watching Maria Montez and Jon Hall, or looking for leopards or peccaries in Regents Park Zoo, and wondering if it'll rain before 4:30.
The time Roger and Jessica have spent together, totaled up, still only comes to hours. And all their spoken words to less than one average SHAEF memorandum. And there is no way, first time in his career, that the statistician can make these figures mean anything.
Together they are a long skin interface, flowing sweat, close as muscles and bones can press, hardly a word beyond her name, or his.
Apart is for all their flip film-dialogue, scenarios they make up to play alone for themselves in the nights with the Bofors door-knocking against her sky, with his wind humming among the loops of barbed wire down along the beach. The Mayfair Hotel. "We are quite the jet-propelled one aren't we, only half an hour late."
"Well," Wrens and NAAFI girls, jeweled young widows side-glancing on by, "I'm sure you've put the time to good use."
"Time enough for several assignations," he replies, looking elabo-
rately at his watch, worn WWII style on the inside of his wrist, "and by now, I should say, a confirmed Pregnancy or two, if not indeed—" "Ah," she blithely jumps (but upward, not on), "that reminds me ..." "Yaaahhh!" Roger reeling back to a potted plant, among the lilting saxophones of Roland Peachey and his Orchestra playing "There, I Said It Again," and cowering.
"So, thaïes on your mind. If mind is the word I want." They confuse everyone. They look so innocent. People immediately want to protect them: censoring themselves away from talk of death, Business, duplicity when Roger and Jessica are there. It's all shortages, songs and boy friends, films and blouses . . .
With her hair pulled back of her ears, her soft chin in profile, she looks only 9 or 10, alone by windows, blinking into the sun, turning her head on the light counterpane, coming in tears, child's reddening wrinkling face about to cry, going oh, oh . . .
One night in the dark quilt-and-cold refuge of their bed, drowsing to and fro himself, he licked Jessica to sleep. When she felt his first warm breaths touch her labia, she shivered and cried like a cat. Two or three notes, it seemed, that sounded together, hoarse, haunted, blowing with snowflakes remembered from around nightfall. Trees outside sifting the wind, out of her sight the lorries forever rushing down the streets and roads, behind houses, across canals or river, beyond the simple park. Oh and the dogs and cats who went padding in the fine snow...
". . . pictures, well scenes, keep flashing in, Roger. By themselves, I
But here. Oh, this young lady. Checked gingham. Ragged eye- '/
brows, grown wild. Red velvet. On a dare once, she took off her blouse, motoring up on the trunk road near Lower Beeding.
"My God she's gone insane, what is this, why do they all come to me?"
"Well, ha, ha," Jessica twirling the necktie of her Army blouse like a stripper, "you uh, said I was afraid to. Di'n't you. Called me 'cowardly, cowardly custard' or something, 's I recall—" No brassiere of course, she never wears one.
"Look here," glaring sideways, "do you know you can get arrested? Never mind you," just occurring to him, here, "I'll get arrested!"
"They'll blame it all on you, la, la." Lower teeth edging out in a mean-girl's smile. "I'm just an innocent lamb and this—" flinging a little arm out, striking light from the fair hairs on her forearm, her small breasts bouncing free, "this Roger-the-rake! here, this awful beast! makes me perform, these degrading ..."
Meantime, the most gigantic lorry Roger has ever seen in his life has manoeuvred steel-shuddering nearby, and now not only the driver, but also several—well, what appear to be horrid . . . midgets, in strange operetta uniforms actually, some sort of Central European government-in-exile, all of them crammed somehow into the high-set cab, all are staring down, scuffling like piglets on a sow for position, eyes popping, swarthy, mouths leaking spit, to take in the spectacle of his Jessica Swanlake scandalously bare-breasted and himself desperately looking to slow down and drop behind the lorry—except that now, behind Roger, pressing him on, in fact, at a speed identical with the lorry's, has appeared, oh shit it is, a military police car. He can't slow down, and if he speeds up, they'll really get suspicious. ...
"Uh, Jessie, please get dressed, urn, would you love?" Making a show of looking for his comb which is, as usual, lost, suspect is known as a notorious ctenophile ...
The driver of the huge, loud lorry now tries to get Roger's attention, the other midgets crowding at the windows calling, "Hey! Hey! " and emitting oily, guttural laughs. Their leader speaks English with some liquid, unspeakably nasty European accent. Lot of winking and nudging up there now, too: "Meester! Ay, zhu! Wet a meeneh', eh?" More laughter. Roger in the rearview mirror sees English cop-faces pink with rectitude, red insignia leaning, bobbing, consulting, turning sharply now and then to stare ahead at the couple in the Jaguar who're acting so—"What are they doing, Prigsbury, can you make it out?"
"Appears to be a man and a woman, sir."
"Ass." And it's out with the black binoculars.
Through rain . . . then through dreaming glass, green with the evening. And herself in a chair, old-fashioned bonneted, looking west over the deck of Earth, inferno red at its edges, and further in the brown and gold clouds. . . .
Then, suddenly, night: The empty rocking chair lit staring chalk blue by—is it the moon, or some other light from the sky? just the hard chair, empty now, in the very clear night, and this cold light coming down. . . .
The images go, flowering, in and out, some lovely, some just awful . . . but she's snuggled in here with her lamb, her Roger, and how she loves the line of his neck all at once so —why there it is right there, the back of his bumpy head like a boy of ten's. She kisses him up and down the sour salt reach of skin that's taken her so, taken her nightlit along this high tendoning, kisses him as if kisses were flowing breath itself, and never ending.
One morning—he had not seen her for about a fortnight—he woke in his hermit's cell at "The White Visitation" with a hardon, scratchy eyelids and a long pale brown hair tangled in his mouth. It wasn't one of his own hairs. It wasn't anybody's he could think of but Jessica's. But it couldn't be—he hadn't seen her. He sniffled a couple of times, then sneezed. Morning developed out the window. His right canine ached. He unreeled the long hair, beaded with saliva, tooth-tartar, mouth-breather's morning fur, and stared at it. How'd it get here? Eerie, dearie. A bit of the je ne sais quoi de sinistre, all right. He had to piss. Shuffling to the lavatory, his graying government flannel tucked limply inside the cord of his pajamas, it came to him: what if it's some mauve turn-of-the-century tale of ghostly revenge and this hair here's some First Step ... Oh, paranoia? You should've seen him going through all the combinations as he moved around doing lavatory things among the stumbling, farting, razor-scraping, hacking, sneezing and snot-crusted inmates of Psi Section. Only later in this did he even begin to think of Jessica—of her safety. Thoughtful Roger. What if, if she'd died in the night, an accident at the magazines . . . with this hair the only good-by her ghostly love had been able to push back through to this side, to the only one who'd ever mattered. . . . Some spider-statistician: his eyes had actually filled with tears before the Next Idea—oh. Oboy. Turn off that faucet, Dorset, and get hep to this. He stood, half-stooped, over the washbasin, paralyzed, putting his worry for Jessica on Hold for a bit, wanting very much to look back
over his shoulder, even into the, the old mirror, you know, see what they're up to, but too frozen to risk even that. . . now ... oh yes a most superb possibility has found seedbed in his brain, and here it is. What if they are all, all these Psi Section freaks here, ganged up on him in secret? O.K.? Yes: suppose they can see into your mind! a-and how about—what if it's hypnotism? Eh? Jesus: then a whole number of other occult things such as: astral projection, brain control (nothing occult about that), secret curses for impotence, boils, madness, yaaahhh—potions! (as he straightens at last and back in his mind's eyes to his office now glances, very gingerly, at the Coffee mess, oh God . . . ), psychic-unity-with-the-Controlling-Agency such that Roger would be he and he Roger, yes yes a number of these notions rambling through his mind here, none of them really pleasant, either—especially inside this staff latrine, with Gavin Trefoil's face this morning colored bright magenta, a clover blossom flashing in the wind, Ronald Cherrycoke hawking fine-marbled amber phlegm into the basin—what's all this, who are all these people. . . . Freaks! Freeeeaks! He's surrounded! they've been out there night and day all the war long tapping his brain, telepaths, witches, Satanic operators of all descriptions tuning in on everything—even when he and Jessica are in bed fucking—
Try to hold it down old man, panic if you must but later, not here.... Faint washroom light bulbs deepen the thousands of old clustered water and soap spots on the mirrors to an interfeathering of clouds, of skin and smoke as he swings his head past, lemon and beige, oilsmoke black and twilight brown in here, very loosely crumbled, that's the texture. . . .
Lovely morning, World War Two. All he can keep in front of his mind are the words / want a transfer, kind of humming tunelessly at the mirror, yes sir got to put in a chit right away. I'll volunteer for duty in Germany's what I'll do. Dum de dum, de dum. Right, there was an ad only Wednesday in the classified section of Nazis in the News, sandwiched between a Merseyside Labour branch that was looking for a publicist, and a London advertising agency with positions open immediately on demob, they said. This ad in the middle was placed by some arm of the G-5-to-be, trying to round up a few "re-education" experts. Vital, vital stuff. Teach the German Beast about the Magna Carta, sportsmanship, that sort of thing, eh? Out inside the works of some neurotic Bavarian cuckoo clock of a village, were-elves streaking in out of the forests at night to leave subversive handbills at door and window—"Anything!" Roger groping back to his narrow quarters, "anything at all's better than this. ..."
That's how bad it was. He knew he'd feel more at Home in mad
Germany with the Enemy than here in Psi Section. The time of year makes it even worse. Christmas. Bwweeeaaaagghh, clutching to his stomach. Jessica was all that made it human or tolerable. Jessica . . .
He was taken over then, for half a minute, shivering and yawning in his long underwear, soft, nearly invisible in the December-dawn enclosure, among so many sharp edges of books, sheafs and flimsies, charts and maps (and the chief one, red pockmarks on the pure white skin of lady London, watching over all... wait. . . disease on skin . . . does she carry the fatal infection inside herself? are the sites predestined, and does the flight of the rocket actually follow from the fated eruption latent in the city . . . but he can't hold it, no more than he understands Pointsman's obsession with the reversal of sound stimuli and please, please can't we just drop it for a bit. . . ), visited, not knowing till it passed how clearly he was seeing the honest half of his life that Jessica was now, how fanatically his mother the War must disapprove of her beauty, her cheeky indifference to death-institutions he'd not so long ago believed in—her unflappable hope (though she hated to make plans), her exile from childhood (though she refused ever to hold on to memories). . . .
His life had been tied to the past. He'd seen himself a point on a moving wavefront, propagating through sterile history—a known past, a projectable future. But Jessica was the breaking of the wave. Suddenly there was a beach, the unpredictable ... new life. Past and future stopped at the beach: that was how he'd set it out. But he wanted to believe it too, the same way he loved her, past all words—believe that no matter how bad the time, nothing was fixed, everything could be changed and she could always deny the dark sea at his back, love it away. And (selfishly) that from a somber youth, squarely founded on Death—along for Death's ride—he might, with her, find his way to life and to joy. He'd never told her, he avoided telling himself, but that was the measure of his faith, as this seventh Christmas of the War came wheeling in another charge at his skinny, shivering flank. . . .
She trips fussing about the dormitory, bothering other girls for puffs off of stale Woodbines, nylon-repair kits, sparrow-bright war-wisecracks passing for sympathy. Tonight she'll be with Jeremy, her lieutenant, but she wants to be with Roger. Except that, really, she doesn't. Does she? She can't remember ever being so confused. When she's with Roger it's all love, but at any distance—any at all, Jack—she finds that he depresses and even frightens her. Why? On top of him in
the wild nights riding up and down his cock her axis, trying herself to stay rigid enough not to turn to cream taper-wax and fall away melting to the coverlet coming there's only room for Roger, Roger, oh love to the end of breath. But out of bed, walking talking, his bitterness, his darkness, run deeper than the War, the winter: he hates England so, hates "the System," gripes endlessly, says he'll emigrate when the War's over, stays inside his paper cynic's cave hating himself. . . and does she want to bring him out, really? Isn't it safer with Jeremy? She tries not to allow this question in too often, but it's there. Three years with Jeremy. They might as well be married. Three years ought to count for something. Daily, small stitches and casings. She's worn old Beaver's bathrobes, brewed his tea and Coffee, sought his eye across lorry-parks, day rooms and rainy mud fields when all the day's mean, dismal losses could be rescued in the one look—familiar, full of trust, in a season when the word is invoked for quaintness or a minor laugh. And to rip it all out? three years? for this erratic, self-centered—boy, really. Weepers, he's supposed to be past thirty, he's years older than she. He ought to've learned something, surely? A man of experience?
The worst of it's that she has no one to talk to. The politics of this mixed battery, the professional incest, the unwholesome obsessions with who said what to whom in the spring of 1942 for God's sake, outside of Grafty Green, Kent, or someplace, and who ought to have answered what but didn't but told someone else instead thus provoking hatreds that have thrived wonderfully down to the present day—six years of slander, ambition and hysteria make confiding anything to anyone around here an act of pure masochism.
"Girl in distress, Jess?" Maggie Dunkirk on the way by, smoothing her gauntlets. On the Tannoy a BBC swing band is blaring hotly syncopated Christmas music.
"Got a fag, Mag?" pretty automatic by now, you guess, Jess?
Well— "Thought it looked somewhat like a bloody Garbo film around here, not at all the usual nicotine starvation, sorry wrong again, ta-ta. ..."
Oh be on your way. "Thinking about me Xmas shopping."
"What're you getting the Beaver then."
Concentrating on gartering her nylons, the older pair, up-in-front-down-in-back mnemonically stirring in wafts among her fingers, laundry-white puckered elastic being stretched fine and tangent now to the gentle front curve of her thigh, suspender-clips glittering silver under or behind her lacquered red fingernails, passing like distant foun-
tains behind red topiary trees, Jessica replies, "Oh. Mm. A Pipe, I suppose. ..."
Near her battery one night, driving Somewhere in Kent, Roger and Jessica came upon a church, a hummock in the dark upland, lamp-lit, growing out of the earth. It was Sunday evening, and shortly before vespers. Men in greatcoats, in oilskins, in dark berets they slipped off at the entrance, American fliers in leather lined with sheep's wool, a few women in clinking boots and wide-shouldered swagger coats, but no children, not a child in sight, just grownups, trudging in from their bomber fields, balloon-bivouacs, pillboxes over the beach, through the Norman doorway shaggy with wintering vines. Jessica said, "Oh, I remember ..." but didn't go on. She was remembering other Advents, and hedges snowy as sheep from her window, and the Star ready to be pasted up on the sky again.
Roger pulled over, and they watched the scuffed and dun military going in to evensong. The wind smelled of fresh snow.
"We ought to be Home," she said, after a bit, "it's late."
"We could just pop in here for a moment."
Well, that surprised her, but def, after weeks of his snide comments? His unbeliever's annoyance with the others in Psi Section he thought were out to drive him dotty as they were, and his Scroogery growing as shopping days till Xmas dwindled—"You're not supposed to be the sort," she told him. But she did want to go in, nostalgia was heavy in tonight's snow-sky, her own voice ready to betray her and run to join the waits whose carols we're so apt to hear now in the distances, these days of Advent dropping one by one, voices piping across frozen downs where the sown mines crowd thick as plums in a pudding . . . often above sounds of melting snow, winds that must blow not through Christmas air but through the substance of time would bring her those child-voices, singing for sixpences, and if her heart wasn't ready to take on quite all the stresses of her mortality and theirs, at least there was the fear that she was beginning to lose them—that one winter she would go running to look, out to the gate to find them, run as far as the trees but in vain, their voices fading. . . .
They walked through the tracks of all the others in the snow, she gravely on his arm, wind blowing her hair to snarls, heels slipping once on ice. "To hear the music," he explained.
Tonight's scratch choir was all male, epauletted shoulders visible under the wide necks of the white robes, and many faces nearly as white with the exhaustion of soaked and muddy fields, midwatches, cables strummed by the nervous balloons sunFishing in the clouds, tents whose lights inside shone nuclear at twilight, soullike, through the crosshatched walls, turning canvas to fine gauze, while the wind drummed there. Yet there was one black face, the counter-tenor, a Jamaican corporal, taken from his warm island to this—from singing his childhood along the rum-smoky saloons of High Holborn Street where the sailors throw mammoth red firecrackers, quarter of a stick of dynamite man, over the swinging doors and run across the street giggling, or come walking out with high-skirted girls, girls of the island, Chinese and French girls . . . lemon peels crushed in the gutters of the streets scented the early mornings where he used to sing, O have you seen my darlin' Lola, with a shape like a bottle of Coca-Cola, sailors running up and down in the brown shadows of alleys, flapping at neckerchief and pants-leg, and the girls whispering together and laughing . . . each morning he counted out half a pocket full of coins of all nations. From palmy Kingston, the intricate needs of the Anglo-American Empire (1939-1945) had brought him to this cold fieldmouse church, nearly in earshot of a northern sea he'd hardly glimpsed in crossing, to a compline service, a program tonight of plainsong in English, forays now and then into polyphony: Thomas Tallis, Henry Purcell, even a German macaronic from the fifteenth century, attributed to Heinrich Suso:
In dulci ubilo
Nun singet und seid froh! Unsers Herzens Wonne Leit in praesipio, Leuchtet vor die Sonne Matris in gremio. Alpha es et O.
With the high voice of the black man riding above the others, no head falsetto here but complete, out of the honest breast, a baritone voice brought over years of woodshedding up to this range ... he was bringing brown girls to sashay among these nervous Protestants, down the ancient paths the music had set, Big and Little Anita, Stiletto May, Plongette who loves it between her tits and will do it that way for free—not to mention the Latin, the German? in an English church? These are not heresies so much as imperial outcomes, necessary as the black man's presence, from acts of minor surrealism—which, taken in the mass, are an act of suicide, but which in its pathology, in its dreamless version of the real, the Empire commits by the thousands every
day, completely unaware of what it's doing. ... So the pure countertenor voice was soaring, finding its way in to buoy Jessica's heart and even Roger's she guessed, risking glances at his face sideways and up through brown ghosts of her hair, during recitatives or releases. He wasn't looking nihilistic, not even cheaply so. He was . . .
No, Jessica's never seen his face exactly like this, in the light of a few hanging oil lamps, the flames unguttering and very yellow, on the nearest the verger's two long fingerprints in fine, pollen V-for-victory up around the belly of the glass, Roger's skin more child-pink, his eyes more glowing than the lamplight alone can account for—isn't it? or is that how she wants it to be? The church is as cold as the night outside. There's the smell of damp wool, of bitter on the breaths of these professionals, of candle smoke and melting wax, of smothered farting, of hair tonic, of the burning oil itself, folding the other odors in a maternal way, more closely belonging to Earth, to deep strata, other times, and listen . . . listen: this is the War's evensong, the War's canonical hour, and the night is real. Black greatcoats crowd together, empty hoods full of dense, church-interior shadows. Over on the coast the Wrens work late, down inside cold and gutted shells, their blue torches are newborn stars in the tidal evening. Hullplates swing in the sky, like great iron leaves, on cables that creak in splinters of sound. At ease, on standby, the flames of the torches, softened, fill the round glass faces of the gauges with apricot light. In the pipefitters' sheds, icicled, rattling when the gales are in the Straits, here's thousands of old used toothpaste tubes, heaped often to the ceilings, thousands of somber man-mornings made tolerable, transformed to mint fumes and bleak song that left white spots across the quicksilver mirrors from Harrow to Gravesend, thousands of children who pestled foam up out of soft mortars of mouths, who lost easily a thousand times as many words among the chalky bubbles—bed-going complaints, timid announcements of love, news of fat or translucent, fuzzy or gentle beings from the country under the counterpane—uncounted soapy-liquorice moments spat and flushed down to sewers and the slow-scumming gray estuary, the morning mouths growing with the day tobacco and fish-furred, dry with fear, foul with idleness, flooded at thoughts of impossible meals, settling instead for the week's offal in gland pies, Household Milk, broken biscuits at half the usual points, and isn't menthol a marvelous invention to take just enough of it away each morning, down to become dusty oversize bubbles tessellating tough and stagnant among the tar shorelines, the intricate draftsmanship of outlets feeding, multiplying out to sea, as one by one these old tooth-
paste tubes are emptied and returned to the War, heaps of dimly fragrant metal, phantoms of peppermint in the winter shacks, each tube wrinkled or embossed by the unconscious hands of London, written over in interference-patterns, hand against hand, waiting now—it is true return—to be melted for solder, for plate, alloyed for castings, bearings, gasketry, hidden smokeshriek linings the children of that other domestic incarnation will never see. Yet the continuity, flesh to kindred metals, Home to hedgeless sea, has persisted. It is not death that separates these incarnations, but paper: paper specialties, paper routines. The War, the Empire, will expedite such barriers between our lives. The War needs to divide this way, and to subdivide, though its propaganda will always stress unity, alliance, pulling together. The War does not appear to want a folk-consciousness, not even of the sort the Germans have engineered, ein Volk ein Führer—it wants a machine of many separate parts, not oneness, but a complexity.... Yet who can presume to say what the War wants, so vast and aloof is it... so absentee. Perhaps the War isn't even an awareness—not a life at all, really. There may only be some cruel, accidental resemblance to life. At "The White Visitation" there's a longtime schiz, you know, who believes that he is World War II. He gets no newspapers, refuses to listen to the wireless, but still, the day of the Normandy invasion somehow his temperature shot up to 104°. Now, as the pincers east and west continue their slow reflex contraction, he speaks of darkness invading his mind, of an attrition of self. . . . The Rundstedt offensive perked him up though, gave him a new lease on life—"A beautiful Christmas gift," he confessed to the resident on his ward, "it's the season of birth, of fresh beginnings." Whenever the rockets fall—those which are audible—he smiles, turns out to pace the ward, tears about to splash from the corners of his merry eyes, caught up in a ruddy high tonicity that can't help cheering his fellow patients. His days are numbered. He's to die on V-E Day. If he's not in fact the War then he's its child-surrogate, living high for a certain term but come the ceremonial day, look out. The true king only dies a mock death. Remember. Any number of young men may be selected to die in his place while the real king, foxy old bastard, goes on. Will he show up under the Star, slyly genuflecting with the other kings as this winter solstice draws on us? Bring to the serai gifts of tungsten, cordite, high-octane? Will the child gaze up from his ground of golden straw then, gaze into the eyes of the old king who bends long and unfurling overhead, leans to proffer his gift, will the eyes meet, and what message, what possible greeting or entente will flow between the king and the infant prince? Is the baby smiling, or is it just gas? Which do you want it to be?
Advent blows from the sea, which at sunset tonight shone green and smooth as iron-rich glass: blows daily upon us, all the sky above pregnant with saints and slender heralds' trumpets. Another year of wedding dresses abandoned in the heart of winter, never called for, hanging in quiet satin ranks now, their white-crumpled veils begun to yellow, rippling slightly only at your passing, spectator . . . visitor to the city at all the dead ends. . . . Glimpsing in the gowns your own reflection once or twice, halfway from shadow, only blurred flesh-colors across the peau de soie, urging you in to where you can smell the mildew's first horrible touch, which was really the idea—covering all trace of her own smell, middleclass bride-to-be perspiring, genteel soap and powder. But virgin in her heart, in her hopes. None of your bright-Swiss or crystalline sea son here, but darkly billowed in the day with cloud and the snow falling like gowns in the country, gowns of the winter, gentle at night, a nearly windless breathing around you. In the stations of the city the prisoners are back from Indo-China, wandering their poor visible bones, light as dreamers or men on the moon, among chrome-sprung prams of black hide resonant as drumheads, blonde wood high-chairs pink and blue with scraped and mush-spattered floral decals, folding-cots and bears with red felt tongues, baby-blankets making bright pastel clouds in the coal and steam smells, the metal spaces, among the queued, the drifting, the warily asleep, come by their hundreds in for the holidays, despite the warnings, the gravity of Mr. Morrison, the tube under the river a German rocket may pierce now, even now as the words are set down, the absences that may be waiting them, the city addresses that surely can no longer exist. The eyes from Burma, from Tonkin, watch these women at their hundred perseverances—stare out of blued orbits, through headaches no Alasils can ease. Italian P/Ws curse underneath the mail sacks that are puffing, echo-clanking in now each hour, in seasonal swell, clogging the snowy trainloads like mushrooms, as if the trains have been all night underground, passing through the country of the dead. If these Eyeties sing now and then you can bet it's not "Giovinezza" but something probably from Rigoletto or La Bohême— indeed the Post Office is considering issuing a list of Nonacceptable Songs, with ukulele chords as an aid to ready identification. Their cheer and songfulness, this lot, is genuine up to a point—but as the days pile up, as this orgy of Christmas greeting grows daily beyond healthy limits, with no containment in sight before Boxing Day, they settle, themselves, for being more professionally Italian, rolling the odd eye at the lady evacuees, finding techniques of balancing the sack
with one hand whilst the other goes playing "dead"—doe, conditionally alive—where the crowds thicken most feminine, directionless . . . well, most promising. Life has to go on. Both kinds of prisoner recognize that, but there's no memo mono for the Englishmen back from CBI, no leap from dead to living at mere permission from a likely haunch or thigh—no play, for God's sake, about life-and-death! They want no more adventures: only the old dutch fussing over the old stove or warming the old bed, cricketers in the wintertime, they want the semi-detached Sunday dead-leaf somnolence of a dried garden. If the brave new world should also come about, a kind of windfall, why there'll be time to adjust certainly to that.. . . But they want the nearly postwar luxury this week of buying an electric train set for the kid, trying that way each to light his own set of sleek little faces here, calibrating his strangeness, well-known photographs all, brought to life now, oohs and aahs but not yet, not here in the station, any of the moves most necessary: the War has shunted them, earthed them, those heedless destroying signalings of love. The children have unfolded last year's toys and found reincarnated Spam tins, they're hep this may be the other and, who knows, unavoidable side to the Christmas game. In the months between—country springs and summers—they played with real spam tins—tanks, tank-destroyers, pillboxes, dreadnoughts deploying meat-pink, yellow and blue about the dusty floors of lumber-rooms or butteries, under the cots or couches of their exile. Now it's time again. The plaster baby, the oxen frosted with gold leaf and the human-eyed sheep are turning real again, paint quickens to flesh. To believe is not a price they pay—it happens all by itself. He is the New Baby. On the magic night before, the animals will talk, and the sky will be milk. The grandparents, who've waited each week for the Radio Doctor asking, What Are Piles? What Is Emphysema? What Is A Heart Attack? will wait up beyond insomnia, watching again for the yearly impossible not to occur, but with some mean residue—this is the hillside, the sky can show us a light—like a thrill, a good time you wanted too much, not a complete loss but still too far short of a miracle . . . keeping their sweatered and shawled vigils, theatrically bitter, but with the residue inside going through a new winter fermentation every year, each time a bit less, but always good for a revival at this season. . .. All but naked now, the shiny suits and gowns of their pubcrawling primes long torn to strips for lagging the hot-water pipes and heaters of landlords, strangers, for holding the houses' identities against the winter. The War needs coal. They have taken the next-to-last steps, attended the Radio Doctor's certifications of what
they knew in their bodies, and at Christmas they are naked as geese under this woolen, murky, cheap old-people's swaddling. Their electric clocks run fast, even Big Ben will be fast now until the new spring's run in, all fast, and no one else seems to understand or to care. The War needs electricity. It's a lively game, Electric Monopoly, among the power companies, the Central Electricity Board, and other War agencies, to keep Grid Time synchronized with Greenwich Mean Time. In the night, the deepest concrete wells of night, dynamos whose locations are classified spin faster, and so, responding, the clock-hands next to all the old, sleepless eyes—gathering in their minutes whining, pitching higher toward the vertigo of a siren. It is the Night's Mad Carnival. There is merriment under the shadows of the minute-hands. Hysteria in the pale faces between the numerals. The power companies speak of loads, war-drains so vast the clocks will slow again unless this nighttime march is stolen, but the loads expected daily do not occur, and the Grid runs inching ever faster, and the old faces turn to the clock faces, thinking plot, and the numbers go whirling toward the Nativity, a violence, a nova of heart that will turn us all, change us forever to the very forgotten roots of who we are. But over the sea the fog tonight still is quietly scalloped pearl. Up in the city the arc-lamps crackle, furious, in smothered blaze up the center-lines of the streets, too ice-colored for candles, too chill-dropleted for holocaust. . . the tall red busses sway, all the headlamps by regulation newly unmasked now parry, cross, traverse and blind, torn great fist-fuls of wetness blow by, desolate as the beaches beneath the nacre fog, whose barbed wire that never knew the inward sting of current, that only lay passive, oxidizing in the night, now weaves like underwater grass, looped, bitter cold, sharp as the scorpion, all the printless sand miles past cruisers abandoned in the last summers of peacetime that once holidayed the old world away, wine and olive-grove and pipe-smoke evenings away the other side of the War, stripped now to rust axles and brackets and smelling inside of the same brine as this beach you cannot really walk, because of the War. Up across the downs, past the spotlights where the migrant birds in autumn choked the beams night after night, fatally held till they dropped exhausted out of the sky, a shower of dead birds, the compline worshipers sit in the un-heated church, shivering, voiceless as the choir asks: where are the joys? Where else but there where the Angels sing new songs and the bells ring out in the court of the King. Eia—strange thousand-year sigh—eia, warn wir da! were we but there. . . . The tired men and their black bellwether reaching as far as they can, as far from their sheeps' clothing as the year will let them stray. Come then. Leave your war awhile, paper or iron war, petrol or flesh, come in with your love, your fear of losing, your exhaustion with it. All day it's been at you, coercing, jiving, claiming your belief in so much that isn't true. Is that who you are, that vaguely criminal face on your ID card, its soul snatched by the government camera as the guillotine shutter fell—or maybe just left behind with your heart, at the Stage Door Canteen, where they're counting the night's take, the NAAFI girls, the girls named Eileen, carefully sorting into refrigerated compartments the rubbery maroon organs with their yellow garnishes of fat—oh Linda come here feel this one, put your finger down in the ventricle here, isn't it swoony, it's still going. . . . Everybody you don't suspect is in on this, everybody but you: the chaplain, the doctor, your mother hoping to hang that Gold Star, the vapid soprano last night on the Home Service programme, let's not forget Mr. Noel Coward so stylish and cute about death and the afterlife, packing them into the Duchess for the fourth year running, the lads in Hollywood telling us how grand it all is over here, how much fun, Walt Disney causing Dumbo the elephant to clutch to that feather like how many carcasses under the snow tonight among the white-painted tanks, how many hands each frozen around a Miraculous Medal, lucky piece of worn bone, half-dollar with the grinning sun peering up under Liberty's wispy gown, clutching, dumb, when the 88 fell—what do you think, it's a children's story? There aren't any. The children are away dreaming, but the Empire has no place for dreams and it's Adults Only in here tonight, here in this refuge with the lamps burning deep, in pre-Cambrian exhalation, savory as food cooking, heavy as soot. And 60 miles up the rockets hanging the measureless instant over the black North Sea before the fall, ever faster, to orange heat, Christmas star, in helpless plunge to Earth. Lower in the sky the flying bombs are out too, roaring like the Adversary, seeking whom they may devour. It's a long walk home tonight. Listen to this mock-angel singing, let your communion be at least in listening, even if they are not spokesmen for your exact hopes, your exact, darkest terror, listen. There must have been evensong here long before the news of Christ. Surely for as long as there have been nights bad as this one—something to raise the possibility of another night that could actually, with love and cockcrows, light the path Home, banish the Adversary, destroy the boundaries between our lands, our bodies, our stories, all false, about who we are: for the one night, leaving
only the clear way Home and the memory of the infant you saw, almost too frail, there's too much shit in these streets, camels and other beasts stir heavily outside, each hoof a chance to wipe him out, make him only another Messiah, and sure somebody's around already taking bets on that one, while here in this town the Jewish collaborators are selling useful gossip to Imperial Intelligence, and the local hookers are keeping the foreskinned invaders happy, charging whatever the traffic will bear, just like the innkeepers who're naturally delighted with this registration thing, and up in the capital they're wondering should they, maybe, give everybody a number, yeah, something to help SPQR Record-keeping . . . and Herod or Hitler, fellas (the chaplains out in the Bulge are manly, haggard, hard drinkers), what kind of a world is it ("You forgot Roosevelt, padre," come the voices from the back, the good father can never see them, they harass him, these tempters, even into his dreams: "Wendell Willkie!" "How about Churchill?" " 'Any Pollitt!") for a baby to come in tippin' those Toledos at 7 pounds 8 ounces thinkin' he's gonna redeem it, why, he oughta have his head examined. . . .
But on the way Home tonight, you wish you'd picked him up, held him a bit. Just held him, very close to your heart, his cheek by the hollow of your shoulder, full of sleep. As if it were you who could, somehow, save him. For the moment not caring who you're supposed to be registered as. For the moment anyway, no longer who the Caesars say you are.
O Jesu parvule,
Nach dir ist mir so weh . . .
So this pickup group, these exiles and horny kids, sullen civilians called up in their middle age, men fattening despite their hunger, flatulent because of it, pre-ulcerous, hoarse, runny-nosed, red-eyed, sore-throated, piss-swollen men suffering from acute lower backs and all-day hangovers, wishing death on officers they truly hate, men you have seen on foot and smileless in the cities but forgot, men who don't remember you either, knowing they ought to be grabbing a little sleep, not out here performing for strangers, give you this evensong, climaxing now with its rising fragment of some ancient scale, voices overlapping three- and fourfold, up, echoing, filling the entire hollow of the church—no counterfeit baby, no announcement of the Kingdom, not even a try at warming or lighting this terrible night, only, damn us, our scruffy obligatory little cry, our maximum reach outward—praise be to God!—for you to take back to your war-address, your war-
identity, across the snow's footprints and tire tracks finally to the path you must create by yourself, alone in the dark. Whether you want it or not, whatever seas you have crossed, the way Home. . . .
Paradoxical phase, when weak stimuli get strong responses. . . . When did it happen? A certain early stage of sleep: you had not heard the Mosquitoes and Lancasters tonight on route to Germany, their engines battering apart the sky, shaking and ripping it, for a full hour, a few puffs of winter cloud drifting below the steel-riveted underside of the night, vibrating with the constancy, the terror, of so many bombers outward bound. Your own form immobile, mouth-breathing, alone face-up on the narrow cot next to the wall so pictureless, chartless, mapless: so habitually Hank. . . . Your feet pointed toward a high slit window at the far end of the room. Starlight, the steady sound of the bombers' departure, icy air seeping in. The table littered with broken-spined books, scribbled columns headed Time / Stimu/us / Secretion (30 sec) / Remarks, teacups, saucers, pencils, pens. You slept, you dreamed: thousands of feet above your face the steel bombers passed, wave after wave. It was indoors, some great place of assembly. Many people were gathered. In recent days, at certain hours, a round white light, quite intense, has gone sliding along and down in a straight line through the air. Here, suddenly, it appears again, its course linear as always, right to left. But this time it isn't constant—instead it lights up brilliantly in short bursts or jangles. The apparition, this time, is taken by those present as a warning—something wrong, drastically wrong, with the day. . . . No one knew what the round light signified. A commission had been appointed, an investigation under way, the answer tantalizingly close—but now the light's behavior has changed. . . . The assembly adjourns. On seeing the light jangling this way, you begin to wait for something terrible—not exactly an air raid but something close to that. You look quickly over at a clock. It's six on the dot, hands perfectly straight up and down, and you understand that six is the hour of the appearance of the light. You walk out into the evening. It's the street before your childhood home: stony, rutted and cracked, water shining in puddles. You set out to the left. (Usually in these dreams of Home you prefer the landscape to the right—broad night-lawns, towered over by ancient walnut trees, a hill, a wooden fence, hollow-eyed horses in a field, a cemetery.... Your task, in these dreams, is often to cross—under the trees, through the shadows—before something happens. Often you go into the fallow field just below the graveyard, full of autumn brambles and rabbits, where the gypsies live. Sometimes you fly. But you can never rise above a certain height. You may feel yourself being slowed, coming inexorably to a halt: not the keen terror of falling, only an interdiction, from which there is no appeal . . . and as the landscape begins to dim out. . . you know . . . that. . .) But this evening, this six o'clock of the round light, you have set out leftward instead. With you is a girl identified as your wife, though you were never married, have never seen her before yet have known her for years. She doesn't speak. It's just after a rain. Everything glimmers, edges are extremely clear, illumination is low and very pure. Small clusters of white flowers peep out wherever you look. Everything blooms. You catch another glimpse of the round light, following its downward slant, a brief blink on and off. Despite the apparent freshness, recent rain, flower-life, the scene disturbs you. You try to pick up some fresh odor to correspond to what you see, but cannot. Everything is silent, odorless. Because of the light's behavior something is going to happen, and you can only wait. The landscape shines. Wetness on the pavement. Settling a warm kind of hood around the back of your neck and shoulders, you are about to remark to your wife, "This is the most sinister time of evening." But there's a better word than "sinister." You search for it. It is someone's name. It waits behind the twilight, the clarity, the white flowers. There comes a light tapping at the door.
You sat bolt upright in bed, your heart pounding in fright. You waited for it to repeat, and became aware of the many bombers in the sky. Another knock. It was Thomas Gwenhidwy, come down all the way from London, with the news about poor Spectro. You slept through the loud squadrons roaring without letup, but Gwenhidwy's small, reluctant tap woke you. Something like what happens on the cortex of Dog during the "paradoxical" phase.
Now ghosts crowd beneath the eaves. Stretched among snowy soot chimneys, booming over air-shafts, too tenuous themselves for sound, dry now forever in this wet gusting, stretched and never breaking, whipped in glassy French-curved chase across the rooftops, along the silver downs, skimming where the sea combs freezing in to shore. They gather, thicker as the days pass, English ghosts, so many jostling in the nights, memories unloosening into the winter, seeds that will never take hold, so lost, now only an every-so-often word, a clue for the living—"Foxes," calls Spectro£ across astral spaces, the word in-
tended for Mr. Pointsman who is not present, who won't be told because the few Psi Section who're there to hear it get cryptic debris of this sort every sitting—if recorded at all it finds its way into Milton Gloaming's word-counting project—"Foxes," a buzzing echo on the afternoon, Carroll Eventyr, "The White Visitation" 's resident medium, curls thickly tightened across his head, speaking the word "Foxes," out of very red, thin lips . . . half of St. Veronica's hospital in the morning smashed roofless as the old Ick Regis Abbey, powdered as the snow, and poor Spectro picked off, lighted cubbyhole and dark ward subsumed in the blast and he never hearing the approach, the sound too late, after the blast, the rocket's ghost calling to ghosts it newly made. Then silence. Another "event" for Roger Mexico, a round-headed pin to be stuck in his map, a square graduating from two up to three hits, helping fill out the threes prediction, which lately's being lagged behind. . . .
A pin? not even that, a pinhole in paper that someday will be taken down, when the rockets have stopped their falling, or when the young statistician chooses to end his count, paper to be hauled away by the charwomen, torn up, burned. . . . Pointsman alone, sneezing helplessly in his dimming bureau, the barking from the kennels flat now and diminished by the cold, shaking his head no . . . inside me, in my memory . . . more than an "event" . . . our common mortality . . . these tragic days. . . . But by now he is shivering, allowing himself to stare across his office space at the Book, to remind himself that of an original seven there are now only two owners left, himself and Thomas Gwenhidwy tending his poor out past Stepney. The five ghosts are strung in clear escalation: Pumm in a jeep accident, Easterling taken early in a raid by the Luftwaffe, Dromond by German artillery on Shellfire Corner, Lamplighter by a flying bomb, and now Kevin Spectro ... auto, bomb, gun, V-l, and now V-2, and Pointsman has no sense but terror's, all his skin aching, for the mounting sophistication of this, for the dialectic it seems to imply. . . .
"Ah, yes indeed. The mummy's curse, you idiot. Christ, Christ, I'm ready for D Wing."
Now D Wing is "The White Visitation" 's cover, still housing a few genuine patients. Few of the PISCES people go near it. The skeleton of regular hospital staff have their own canteen, W.C.s, sleeping quarters, offices, carrying on as under the old peace, suffering the Other Lot in their midst. Just as, for their part, PISCES staff suffer the garden or peacetime madness of D Wing, only rarely finding opportunity to swap information on therapies or symptoms. Yes, one would
expect more of a link. Hysteria is, after all, is it not, hysteria. Well, no, come to find out, it's not. How does one feel legitimist and easy for very long about the transition? From conspiracies so mild, so domestic, from the serpent coiled in the teacup, the hand's paralysis or eye's withdrawal at words, words that could frighten that much, to the sort of thing Spectro found every day in his ward, extinguished now ... to what Pointsman finds in Dogs Piotr, Natasha, Nikolai, Sergei, Katinka—or Pavel Sergevich, Varvara Nikolaevna, and then their children, and—When it can be read so clearly in the faces of the physicians . . . Gwenhidwy inside his fluffy beard never as impassive as he might have wished, Spectro hurrying away with a syringe for his Fox, when nothing can really stop the Abreaction of the Lord of the Night unless the Blitz stops, rockets dismande, the entire film runs backward: faired skin back to sheet steel back to pigs to white incandescence to ore, to Earth. But the reality is not reversible. Each firebloom, followed by blast then by sound of arrival, is a mockery (how can it not be deliberate?) of the reversible process: with each one the Lord further legitimizes his State, and we who cannot find him, even to see, come to think of death no more often, really, than before . . . and, with no warning when they will come, and no way to bring them down, pretend to carry on as in Blitzless times. When it does happen, we are content to call it "chance." Or we have been persuaded. There do exist levels where chance is hardly recognized at all. But to the likes of employees such as Roger Mexico it is music, not without its majesty, this power series
rocketfalls per square, the Poisson dispensation ruling not only these annihilations no man can run from, but also cavalry accidents, blood counts, radioactive decay, number of wars per year. . . .
Pointsman stands by a window, his own vaguely reflected face blown through with the driven snow outside in the darkening day. Far across the downs cries a train whistle, grainy as late fog: a cockcrow— . —.——, a long whistle, another crow, fire at trackside, a
rocket, another rocket, in the woods or valley . . .
Well . . . Why not renounce the Book then Ned, give it up that's all, the obsolescent data, the Master's isolated moments of poetry, it's paper that's all, you don't need it, the Book and its terrible curse . . . before it's too late. . . . Yes, recant, grovel, oh fabulous—but before whom? Who's listening? But he has crossed back to the desk and actually laid hands on it. ...
"Ass. Superstitious ass." Wandering, empty-headed . . . these episodes are coming more often now. His decline, creeping on him like the cold. Pumm, Easterling, Dromond, Lamplighter, Spectro . . . what should he've done then, gone down to Psi Section, asked Eventyr to get up a séance, try to get on to one of them at least . . . perhaps . . . yes . . . What holds him back? "Have I," he whispers against the glass, the aspirate, the later plosives clouding the cold pane in fans of breath, warm and disconsolate breath, "so much pride?" One cannot, he cannot walk down that particular corridor, cannot even suggest, no not even to Mexico, how he misses them . . . though he hardly knew Dromond, or Easterling . . . but . . . misses Allen Lamplighter, who would bet on anything, you know, on dogs, thunderstorms, tram numbers, on street-corner wind and a likely skirt, on how far a given doodle would get, perhaps ... oh God . . . even the one that fell on him. . . . Pumm's arranger-style piano and drunken baritone, his adventuring among the nurses. . . . Spectro . . . Why can't he ask? When there are a hundred ways to put it. ...
I should . . . should have. . . . There are, in his history, so many of these unmade moves, so many "should haves"—should have married her, let her father steer him, should have stayed in Harley Street, been kinder, smiled more at strangers, even smiled back this afternoon at Maudie Chilkes . . . why couldn't he? A silly bleeding smile, why not, what inhibits, what snarl of the mosaic? Pretty, amber eyes behind those government spectacles . . . Women avoid him. He knows in a general way what it is: he's creepy. He's even aware, usually, of the times when he's being creepy—it's a certain set to his face-muscles, a tendency to sweat. . . but he can't seem to do anything about it, can't ever concentrate for long enough, they distract him so—and next thing he knows he's back to radiating the old creepiness again . . . and their response to it is predictable, they run uttering screams only they, and he, can hear. Oh but how he'd like someday to give them something really to scream about. . . .
Here's an erection stirring, he'll masturbate himself to sleep again tonight. A joyless constant, an institution in his life. But goading him, just before the bright peak, what images will come whirling in? Why, the turrets and blue waters, the sails and churchtops of Stockholm— the yellow telegram, the face of a tall, cognizant, and beautiful woman turned to watch him as he passes in the ceremonial limousine, a woman who will later, hardly by chance, visit him in his suite at the Grand Hotel . . . it's not all ruby nipples and black lace cami-knickers, you know. There are hushed entrances into rooms that smell of paper,
satellite votes on this Committee or that, the Chairs, the Prizes . . . what could compare! Later, -when you're older, you'll know, they said. Yes and it grows upon him, each war year equal to a dozen of peacetime, oh my, how right they were.
As his luck has always known, his subcortical, brute luck, his gift of survival while other and better men are snatched away into Death, here's the door, one he's imagined so often in lonely Thesean brush-ings down his polished corridors of years: an exit out of the orthodox-Pavlovian, showing him vistas of Norrmalm, Södermalm, Deer Park and Old City. . . .
One by one they are being picked off around him: in his small circle of colleagues the ratio slowly grows top-heavy, more ghosts, more each winter, and fewer living . . . and with each one, he thinks he feels patterns on his cortex going dark, settling to sleep forever, parts of whoever he's been now losing all definition, reverting to dumb chemistry. . . .
Kevin Spectro did not differentiate as much as he between Outside and Inside. He saw the cortex as an interface organ, mediating between the two, but part of them both. "When you've looked at how it really is," he asked once, "how can we, any of us, be separate?" He is my Pierre Janet, Pointsman thought. ...
Soon, by the dialectic of the Book, Pointsman will be alone, in a black field lapsing to isotropy, to the zero, waiting to be last to go. . . . Will there be time? He has to survive ... to try for the Prize, not for his own glory, no—but to keep a promise, to the human field of seven he once was, the ones who didn't make it. ... Here's a medium shot, himself backlit, alone at the high window in the Grand Hotel, whisky glass tipped at the bright subarctic sky and here's to you then, chaps, it'll be all of us up there onstage tomorrow, Ned Pointsman only happened to survive that's all. . . TO STOCKHOLM his banner and cry, and after Stockholm a blur, a long golden twilight. . . .
Oh yes once you know, he did believe in a Minotaur waiting for him: used to dream himself rushing into the last room, burnished sword at the ready, screaming like a Commando, letting it all out at last—some true marvelous peaking of life inside him for the first and last time, as the face turned his way, ancient, weary, seeing none of Pointsman's humanity, ready only to assume him in another long-routinized nudge of horn, flip of hoof (but this time there would be struggle, Minotaur blood the fucking beast, cries from far inside himself whose manliness and violence surprise him). . . . This was the dream. The settings, the face changed, little of it past the structure
survived the first cup of Coffee and flat beige Benzedrine pill. It might be a vast lorry-park just at dawn, the pavement newly hosed, mottled in grease-browns, the hooded olive trucks standing each with a secret, each waiting . . . but he knows that inside one of these . . . and at last, sifting among them, finds it, the identifying code beyond voicing, climbs up into the back, under the canvas, waits in the dust and brown light, until through the cloudy oblong of the cab window a face, a face he knows begins to turn . . . but the underlying structure is the turning face, the meeting of eyes . . . stalking Reichssieger von Thanatz Alpdrucken, that most elusive of Nazi hounds, champion Weimaraner for 1941, bearing studbook number 416832 tattooed inside his ear along through a Londonized Germany, his liver-gray shape receding, loping at twilit canalsides strewn with debris of war, rocket blasts each time missing them, their chase preserved, a plate etched in firebursts, the map of a sacrificial city, of a cortex human and canine, the dog's ear-leather mildly aswing, top of his skull brightly reflecting the winter clouds, into a shelter lying steel-clad miles below the city, an opera of Balkan intrigue, in whose hermetic safety, among whose clusters of blue dissonance unperiodically stressed he's unable to escape completely because of how always the Reichssieger persists, leading, serene, uncancelable, and to the literal pursuit of whom he thus returns, must return time and again in a fever-rondo, until at last they are on some hillside at the end of a long afternoon of dispatches from Armageddon, among scarlet banks of bougainvillea, golden pathways where dust is rising, pillars of smoke far away over the spidery city they've crossed, voices in the air telling of South America burned to cinders, the sky over New York glowing purple with the new all-sovereign death-ray, and here at last is where the gray dog can turn and the amber eyes gaze into Ned Pointsman's own. . . .
Each time, each turning, his own blood and heart are stroked, beaten, brought jubilantly high, and triggered to the icy noctiluca, to flare and fusing Thermite as he begins to expand, an uncontainable light, as the walls of the chamber turn a blood glow, orange, then white and begin to slip, to flow like wax, what there is of labyrinth collapsing in rings outward, hero and horror, engineer and Ariadne consumed, molten inside the light of himself, the mad exploding of himself. . . .
Years ago. Dreams he hardly remembers. The intermediaries come long since between himself and his final beast. They would deny him even the little perversity of being in love with his death. . . .
But now with Slothrop in it—sudden angel, thermodynamic sur-
prise, whatever he is ... will it change now? Might Pointsman get to have a go at the Minotaur after all?
Slothrop ought to be on the Riviera by now, warm, fed, well-fucked. But out in this late English winter the dogs, thrown over, are still ranging the back-streets and mews, sniffing the dustbins, skidding on carpets of snow, fighting, fleeing, shivering in their wet pools of Prussian blue ... seeking to avoid what cannot be smelled or seen, what announces itself with the roar of a predator so absolute they sink to the snow whining and roll over to give It their soft and open bellies. . . .
Has Pointsman renounced them in favor of one untried human subject? Don't think he hasn't doubts as to the validity of this scheme, at least. Let Vicar de la Nuit worry about its "rightness," he's the staff chaplain. But . . . what about the dogs? Pointsman knows them. He's deftly picked the locks of their awareness. They have no secrets. He can drive them mad, and with bromides in adequate doses he can bring them back. But Slothrop . . .
So the Pavlovian dithers about his office, feeling restless and old. He should sleep but he can't. It has to be more than the simple conditioning of a child, once upon a time. How can he've been a doctor this long and not developed reflexes for certain conditions? He knows better: he knows it is more. Spectro is dead, and Slothrop (sentiments d' emprise, old man, softly now) was with his Darlene, only a few blocks from St. Veronica's, two days before.
When one event happens after another with this awful regularity, of course you don't automatically assume that it's cause-and-effect. But you do look for some mechanism to make sense of it. You probe, you design a modest experiment. . . . He owes Spectro that much. Even if the American's not legally a murderer, he is sick. The etiology ought to be traced, the treatment found.
There is to this enterprise, Pointsman knows, a danger of seduction. Because of the symmetry. . . . He's been led before, you know, down the garden path by symmetry: in certain test results ... in assuming that a mechanism must imply its mirror image—"irradiation," for example, and "reciprocal induction" . . . and who'd ever said that either had to exist? Perhaps it will be so this time, too. But how it haunts him, the symmetry of these two secret weapons, Outside, out in the Blitz, the sounds of V-l and V-2, one the reverse of the other. . . . Pavlov showed how mirror-images Inside could be confused. Ideas of the opposite. But what new pathology lies Outside now? What sickness to events—to History itself—can create symmetrical opposites like these robot weapons?
Sign and symptoms. Was Spectro right? Could Outside and Inside be part of the same field? If only in fairness ... in fairness . . . Pointsman ought to be seeking the answer at the interface . . . oughtn't he ... on the cortex of Lieutenant Slothrop. The man will suffer—perhaps, in some clinical way, be destroyed—but how many others tonight are suffering in his name? For pity's sake, every day in Whitehall they're weighing and taking risks that make his, in this, seem almost trivial. Almost. There's something here, too transparent and swift to get a hold on—Psi Section might speak of ectoplasms—but he knows that the time has never been better, and that the exact experimental subject is in his hands. He must seize now, or be doomed to the same stone hallways, whose termination he knows. But he must remain open— even to the possibility that the Psi people are right. "We may all be right," he puts in his journal tonight, "so may be all we have speculated, and more. Whatever we may find, there can be no doubt that he is, physiologically, historically, a monster. We must never lose control. The thought of him lost in the world of men, after the war, fills me with a deep dread I cannot extinguish. ..."
More and more, these days of angelic visit and communiqué, Carroll Eventyr feels a victim of his freak talent. As Nora Dodson-Truck once called it, his "splendid weakness." It showed late in life: he was 35 when out of the other world, one morning on the Embankment, between strokes of a pavement artist's two pastels, salmon darkening to fawn, and a score of lank human figures, rag-sorrowful in the distances interlacing with ironwork and river smoke, all at once someone was speaking through Eventyr, so quietly that Nora caught hardly any of it, not even the identity of the soul that took and used him. Not then. Some of it was in German, some of the words she remembered. She would ask her husband, whom she was to meet that afternoon out in Surrey—arriving late though, all the shadows, men and women, dogs, chimneys, very long and black across the enormous lawn, and she with a dusting of ocher, barely noticeable in the late sun, making a fan shape near the edge of her veil—it was that color she'd snatched from the screever's wood box and swiftly, turning smoothly, touching only at shoe tip and the creamy block of yellow crumbling onto the surface, never leaving it, drew a great five-pointed star on the pavement, just upriver from an unfriendly likeness of Lloyd George in heliotrope and
sea-green: pulling Eventyr by the hand to stand inside the central pentagon, seagulls in a wailing diadem overhead, then stepping in herself, an instinctive, a motherly way, her way with anyone she loved. She'd drawn her pentagram not even half in play. One couldn't be too safe, there was always evil. , . .
Had he felt her, even then, beginning to recede . . . called up the control from across the Wall as a way of holding on? She was deepening from his waking, his social eye like light at the edge of the evening when, for perhaps a perilous ten minutes, nothing helps: put on your glasses and light lamps, sit by the west window and still it keeps going away, you keep losing the light and perhaps it is forever this time ... a good time of day for learning surrender, learning to diminish like the light, or like certain music. This surrender is his only gift. Afterward he can recall nothing. Sometimes, rarely, there may be tantalizing— not words, but halos of meaning around words his mouth evidently spoke, that only stay behind—if they do—for a moment, like dreams, can't be held or developed, and, presently, go away. He's been under Rollo Groast's EEG countless times since first he came to "The White Visitation," and all's normal-adult except for, oh once or twice perhaps a stray 50-millivolt spike off a temporal lobe, now left now right, really no pattern to it—indeed a kind of canals-of-Mars controversy has been in progress for these years among the different observers—Aaron Throwster swears he's seen slow delta-wave shapes out of the left frontal and suspects a tumor, last summer Edwin Treacle noted a "subdued petitmal spike-and-wave alternation, curiously much slower than the usual three per second"—though admittedly Treacle was up in London all the night before debauching with Allen Lamplighter and his gambling crowd. Less than a week later the buzzbomb gave Lamplighter his chance: to find Eventyr from the other side and prove him to be what others had said: an interface between the worlds, a sensitive. Lamplighter had offered 5-to-2 odds. But so far he's been silent: nothing in the soft acetate/metal discs or typed transcripts that mightn't be any of a dozen other souls. . . .
They've come, in their time, from as far away as the institute at Bristol to gape at, to measure and systematically doubt the freaks of Psi Section. Here's Ronald Cherrycoke, the noted psycHometrist, eyes lightly fluttering, hands a steady inch away framing the brown-wrapped box in which are securely hidden certain early-War mementos, a dark-maroon cravat, a broken Schaeffer fountain pen, a tarnished pince-nez of white gold, all belonging to a Group Captain "Basher" St. Biaise, stationed far away north of London ... as this
Cherrycoke, a normal-looking lad, perhaps a bit overweight, begins now to recite in his lathe-humming Midland accents an intimate résumé of the Group Captain, his anxieties about his falling hair, his enthusiasm over the Donald Duck cinema cartoons, an incident during the Lübeck raid which only he and his wingman, now passed on, shared and agreed not to report—nothing that violated security: confirmed later, in fact, by St. Biaise himself smiling a bit openmouthed well the joke's certainly on me and now tell me how'd you do it? Indeed, how does Cherrycoke do it? How do any of them? How does Margaret Quartertone produce voices on discs and wire recorders miles distant without speaking or physically touching the equipment? And what speakers are now beginning to assemble? Where are the five-digit groups coming from which the Reverend Dr. Paul de la Nuit, chaplain and staff automatist, has been writing for weeks now, and which, it is felt ominously, no one up in London quite knows how to decrypt? What do Edwin Treacle's recent dreams of flight mean, especially as time-correlated with Nora Dodson-Truck's dreams of falling? What gathers among them all, that each in his own freak way can testify to but not in language, not even the lingua franca of the offices? Turbulences in the aether, uncertainties out in the winds of karma. Those souls across the interface, those we call the dead, are increasingly anxious and evasive. Even Carroll Eventyr's own control, the habitually cool and sarcastic Peter Sachsa, the one who found him that day long ago on the Embankment and thereafter—whenever there are messages to be passed across—even Sachsa's become nervous. . . .
Lately, as if all tuned in to the same aethereal Xth Programme, new varieties of freak have been showing up at "The White Visitation," all hours of the day and night, silent, staring, expecting to be taken care of, carrying machines of black metal and glass gingerbread, off on waxy trances, hyperkinetically waiting only the right trigger-question to start blithering 200 words a minute about their special, terrible endowments. An assault. What are we to make of Gavin Trefoil, for whose gift there's not even a name yet? (Rollo Groast wants to call it autochromatism.) Gavin, the youngest here, only 17, can somehow metabolize at will one of his amino acids, tyrosine. This will produce melanin, which is the brown-black pigment responsible for human skin color. Gavin can also inhibit this metabolizing by—it appears—varying the level of his blood phenylalanine. So he can change his color from most ghastly albino up through a smooth spectrum to very deep, purplish, black. If he concentrates he can keep this up, at
any level, for weeks. Usually he is distracted, or forgets, and gradually drifts back to his rest state, a pale freckled redhead's complexion. But you can imagine how useful he was to Gerhardt von Göll during the shooting of the Schwarzkommando footage: he helped save literally hours of make-up and lighting work, acting as a variable reflector. The best theory of how is Rollo's, but it's hopelessly vague—we do know that the dermal cells which produce melanin—the melanocytes—were once, in each of us, at an early stage of embryonic growth, part of the central nervous system. But as the embryo grows, as tissue goes on differentiating, some of these nerve cells move away from what will be the CNS, and migrate out to the skin, to become melanocytes. They keep their original tree-branch shapes, the axon and dendrites of the typical nerve cell. But the dendrites are used now to carry not electric signals but skin pigment. Rollo Groast believes in some link, so far undiscovered—some surviving cell-memory that will, retrocolonial, still respond to messages from the metropolitan brain. Messages that young Trefoil may not consciously know of. "It is part," Rollo writes Home to the elder Dr. Groast in Lancashire, in elaborate revenge for childhood tales of Jenny Greenteeth waiting out in the fens to drown him, "part of an old and clandestine drama for which the human body serves only as a set of very allusive, often cryptic programme-notes— it's as if the body we can measure is a scrap of this programme found outside in the street, near a magnificent stone theatre we cannot enter. The convolutions of language denied us! the great Stage, even darker than Mr Tyrone Guthrie's accustomed murk. . . . Gilt and mirroring, red velvet, tier on tier of box seats all in shadows too, as somewhere down in that deep proscenium, deeper than geometries we know of, the voices utter secrets we are never told. . . ."
—Everything that comes out from CNS we have to file here, you see. It gets to be a damned nuisance after a while. Most of it's utterly useless. But you never know when they'll want something. Middle of the night, or during the worst part of an ultraviolet bombardment you know, it makes no difference to them back there.
—Do you ever get out much to ... well, up to the Outer Level?
(A long pause in which the older operative stares quite openly, as several changes flow across her features—amusement, pity, concern— until the younger one speaks again.) I-I'm sorry, I didn't mean to be—
—(Abruptly) I'm supposed to tell you, eventually, as part of the briefing.
—Tell me what?
—Just as I was told once. We hand it on, one generation to the
next. (There is no piece of Business plausible enough for her to find refuge in. We sense that this has not yet become routine for her. Out of decency now, she tries to speak quietly, if not gently.) We all go up to the Outer Level, young man. Some immediately, others not for a while. But sooner or later everyone out here has to go Epidermal. No exceptions.
—But isn't it ... I thought it was only a—well, a level. A place you'd visit. Isn't it... ?
—Outlandish scenery, oh yes so did I—unusual formations, a peep into the Outer Radiance. But it's all of us, you see. Millions of us, changed to interface, to horn, and no feeling, and silence.
—Oh, God. (A pause in which he tries to take it in—then, in panic, pushes it back:) No—how can you say that—you can't feel the memory? the tug . . . we're in exile, we do have a Home! (Silence from the other.) Back there! Not up at the interface. Back in the CNS!
—(Quietly) It's been a prevalent notion. Fallen sparks. Fragments of vessels broken at the Creation. And someday, somehow, before the end, a gathering back to home. A messenger from the Kingdom, arriving at the last moment. But I tell you there is no such message, no such Home—only the millions of last moments ... no more. Our history is an aggregate of last moments.
She crosses the complex room dense with its supple hides, lemon-rubbed teak, rising snarls of incense, bright optical hardware, faded Central Asian rugs in gold and scarlet, hanging open-ribbed wrought-ironwork, a long, long downstage cross, eating an orange, section by acid section, as she goes, the faille gown flowing beautifully, its elaborate sleeves falling from very broadened shoulders till tightly gathered into long button-strung cuffs all in some nameless earth tone—a hedge-green, a clay-brown, a touch of oxidation, a breath of the autumnal—the light from the street lamps comes in through philodendron stalks and fingered leaves arrested in a grasp at the last straining away of sunset, falls a tranquil yellow across the cut-steel buckles at her insteps and streaks on along the flanks and down the tall heels of her patent shoes, so polished as to seem of no color at all past such mild citrus light where it touches them, and they refuse it, as if it were a masochist's kiss. Behind her steps the carpet relaxes ceilingward, sole and heel-shapes disappearing visibly slow out of the wool pile. A single rocket explosion comes thudding across the city, from far east of here, east by southeast. The light along her shoes flows and checks like af-
ternoon traffic. She pauses, reminded of something: the military frock trembling, silk filling-yarns shivering by crowded thousands as the chilly light slides over and off and touching again their unprotected backs. The smells of burning musk and sandalwood, of leather and spilled whisky, thicken in the room.
And he—passive as trance, allowing her beauty: to enter him or avoid him, whatever's to be her pleasure. How shall he be other than mild receiver, filler of silences? All the radii of the room are hers, watery cellophane, crackling tangential as she turns on her heel-axis, lancing as she begins to retrace her path. Can he have loved her for nearly a decade? It's incredible. This connoisseuse of "splendid weaknesses," run not by any lust or even velleity but by vacuum: by the absence of human hope. She is frightening. Someone called her an erotic nihilist. . . each of them, Cherrycoke, Paul de la Nuit, even, he would imagine, young Trefoil, even—so he's heard—Margaret Quartertone, each of them used for the ideology of the Zero ... to make Nora's great rejection that much more awesome. For . . . if she does love him: if all her words, this decade of rooms and conversations meant anything ... if she loves him and still will deny him, on the short end of 5-to-2 deny his gift, deny what's distributed in his every cell . . . then . . .
If she loves him. He's too passive, he hasn't the nerve to reach in, as Cherrycoke has tried to. ... Of course Cherrycoke is odd. He laughs too often. Not aimlessly either, but directed at something he thinks everyone else can see too. All of us watching some wry news-reel, the beam from the projector falling milky-white, thickening with smoke from briers and cheroots, Abdullas and Woodbines . . . the lit profiles of military personnel and young ladies are the edges of clouds: the manly crepe of an overseas cap knifing forward into the darkened cinema, the shiny rounding of a silk leg tossed lazily toe-in between two seats in the row ahead, the keen-shadowed turbans of velvet and feathering eyelashes beneath. Among these nights' faint and lusting couples, Ronald Cherrycoke's laughing and bearing his loneliness, brittle, easily crazed, oozing gum from the cracks, a strange mac of most unstable plastic. . . . Of all her splendid weaklings, it is he who undertakes the most perilous trips into her void, looking for a heart whose rhythms he will call. It must astonish her, Nora-so-heartless, Cherrycoke kneeling, stirring her silks, between his hands old history flowing in eddy-currents—scarves of lime, aqua, lavender passing, pins, brooches, opalescent scorpions (her birth sign) inside gold mountings in triskelion, shoe-buckles, broken nacre fans and theatre programs, suspender-tabs, dark, lank, pre-austerity stockings ... on his unaccustomed knees, hands swimming, turning, seeking out her past in molecular traces so precarious among the flow of objects, the progress through his hands, she delighted to issue her denials, covering up his hits (close, often dead on) skillfully as if it were drawing-room comedy....
It's a dangerous game Cherrycoke's playing here. Often he thinks the sheer volume of information pouring in through his fingers will saturate, burn him out . . . she seems determined to overwhelm him with her history and its pain, and the edge of it, always fresh from the stone, cutting at his hopes, at all their hopes. He does respect her: he knows that very little of this is female theatricals, really. She has turned her face, more than once, to the Outer Radiance and simply seen nothing there. And so each time has taken a little more of the Zero into herself. It comes down to courage, at worst an amount of self-deluding that's vanishingly small: he has to admire it, even if he can't accept her glassy wastes, her appeals to a day not of wrath but of final indifference. . . . Any more than she can accept the truth he knows about himself. He does receive emanations, impressions . . . the cry inside the stone ... excremental kisses stitched unseen across the yoke of an old shirt... a betrayal, an informer whose guilt will sicken one day to throat cancer, chiming like daylight through the fourchettes and quirks of a tattered Italian glove . . . Basher St. Blaise's angel, miles beyond designating, rising over Lübeck that Palm Sunday with the poison-green domes underneath its feet, an obsessive crossflow of red tiles rushing up and down a thousand peaked roofs as the bombers banked and dived, the Baltic already lost in a pall of incendiary smoke behind, here was the Angel: ice crystals swept hissing away from the back edges of wings perilously deep, opening as they were moved into new white abyss. . . . For half a minute radio silence broke apart. The traffic being:
St. Biaise: Freakshow Two, did you see that, over.
Wingman: This is Freakshow Two—affirmative.
St. Biaise: Good.
No one else on the mission seemed to've had radio communication. After the raid, St. Biaise checked over the equipment of those who got back to base and found nothing wrong: all the crystals on frequency, the power supplies rippleless as could be expected—but others remembered how, for the few moments the visitation lasted, even static vanished from the earphones. Some may have heard a high singing, like wind among masts, shrouds, bedspring or dish antennas of winter
fleets down in the dockyards . . . but only Basher and his wingman saw it, droning across in front of the fiery leagues of face, the eyes, which went towering for miles, shifting to follow their flight, the irises red as embers fairing through yellow to white, as they jettisoned all their bombs in no particular pattern, the fussy Norden device, sweat drops in the air all around its rolling eyepiece, bewildered at their unannounced need to climb, to give up a strike at earth for a strike at heaven... .
Group Captain St. Biaise did not include an account of this angel in his official debriefing, the W.A.A.E officer who interrogated him being known around the base as the worst sort of literal-minded dragon (she had reported Blowitt to psychiatric for his rainbowed Valkyrie over Peenemünde, and Creepham for the bright blue gremlins scattering like spiders off of his Typhoon's wings and falling gently to the woods of The Hague in little parachutes of the same color). But damn it, this was not a cloud. Unofficially, in the fortnight between the fire-raising at Lübeck and Hitler's order for "terror attacks of a retaliatory nature"—meaning the V-weapons—word of the Angel got around. Although the Group Captain seemed reluctant, Ronald Cher-rycoke was allowed to probe certain objects along on the flight. Thus the Angel was revealed.
Carroll Eventyr attempted then to reach across to Terence Overbaby, St. Blaise's wingman. Jumped by a skyful of MEs and no way out. The inputs were confusing. Peter Sachsa intimated that there were in fact many versions of the Angel which might apply. Overbaby's was not as available as certain others. There are problems with levels, and with Judgment, in the Tarot sense. . . . This is part of the storm that sweeps now among them all, both sides of Death. It is unpleasant. On his side, Eventyr tends to feel wholly victimized, even a bit resentful. Peter Sachsa, on his, falls amazingly out of character and into nostalgia for life, the old peace, the Weimar decadence that kept him fed and moving. Taken forcibly over in 1930 by a blow from a police truncheon during a street action in Neukölln, he recalls now, sentimentally, evenings of rubbed darkwood, cigar smoke, ladies in chiseled jade, panne, attar of damask roses, the latest angular pastel paintings on the walls, the latest drugs inside the many little table drawers. More than any mere "Kreis," on most nights full mandalas came to bloom: all degrees of society, all quarters of the capital, palms down on that famous blood veneer, touching only at little fingers. Sachsa's table was like a deep pool in the forest. Beneath the surface things were rolling, slipping, beginning to rise. . . . Walter Asch ("Taurus") was vis-
ited one night by something so unusual it took three "Hieropons" (750 nig,) to bring him back, and even so he seemed reluctant to sleep. They all stood watching him, in ragged rows resembling athletic formations, Wimpe the IG-man who happened to be holding the Hiero-pon keying on Sargner, a civilian attached to General Staff, flanked by Lieutent Weissmann, recently back from South-West Africa, and the Herero aide he'd brought with him, staring, staring at them all, at everying . . . while behind diem ladies moved in a sibilant weave, sequins and high-albedo stockings aflash, black-and-white make-up in daintily nasal alarm, eyes wide going oh. . . . Each face that watched Walter Asch was a puppet stage: each a separate routine.
. . . shows good hands yes droop and wrists as far up as muscle relaxant respiratory Depression . . .
. . . same . . . same . . . my own face white in mirror three three-thirty four march of the Hours clock ticking room no can't go in no not enough light not enough no aaahhh—
. . . theatre nothing but Walter really look at head phony angle wants to catch light good fill-light throw a yellow gel. . .
(A pneumatic toy frog jumps up onto a lily pad trembling: beneath the surface lies a terror ... a late captivity . . . but he floats now over the head of what would take him back ... his eyes cannot be read. . . .)
. . . mba rara m'eroto ondyoze . . . mbe mu munine m'oruroto ayo u n'omuinyo . . . (further back than this is a twisting of yarns or cordage, a giant web, a wrenching of hide, of muscles in the hard grip of something that comes to wrestle when the night is deep . . . and a sense, too, of visitation by the dead, afterward a sick feeling that they are not as friendly as they seemed to be ... he has wakened, cried, sought explanation, but no one ever told him anything he could believe. The dead have talked with him, come and sat, shared his milk, told stories of ancestors, or of spirits from other parts of the veld—for time and space on their side have no meaning, all is together).
"There are sociologies," Edwin Treacle, his hair going all directions, attempts to light a pipeful of wretched leftovers—autumn leaves, bits of string, fag-ends, "that we haven't even begun to look into. The sociology of our own lot, for example. Psi Section, the S.P.R., the old ladies in Altrincham trying to summon up the Devil, all of us on this side, you see, are still only half the story."
"Careful with that 'we,' " Roger Mexico distracted today by a hundred things, chi-square fittings that refuse to jibe, textbooks lost, Jessica's absence. . . .
"It makes no sense unless we also consider those who've passed
over to the other side. We do transact with them, don't we? Through specialists like Eventyr and their controls over there. But all together we form a single subculture, a psychical community, if you will."
"I won't," Mexico says dryly, "but yes I suppose someone ought to be looking into it."
"There are peoples—these Hereros for example—who carry on Business every day with their ancestors. The dead are as real as the living. How can you understand them without treating both sides of the wall of death with the same scientific approach?"
And yet for Eventyr it's not the social transaction Treacle hopes it is. There's no memory on his side: no personal record. He has to read about it in the notes of others, listen to discs. Which means he has to trust the others. That's a complicated social setup. He must base the major part of his life on the probity of men charged with acting as interface between what he is supposed to be and himself. Eventyr knows how close he is to Sachsa on the other side, but he doesn't remember, and he's been brought up a Christian, a Western European, believing in the primacy of the "conscious" self and its memories, regarding all the rest as abnormal or trivial, and so he is troubled, deeply. . . .
The transcripts are a document on Peter Sachsa as much as on the souls he puts in touch. They tell, in some detail, of his obsessive love for Leni Pokier, who was married to a young chemical engineer and also active with the K.P.D., shuttling between the 12th District and Sachsa's sittings. Each night she came he wanted to cry at the sight of her captivity. In her smudged eyes was clear hatred of a life she would not leave: a husband she didn't love, a child she had not learned to escape feeling guilty for not loving enough.
The husband Franz had a connection, too vague for Sachsa to pass across, with Army Ordnance, and so there were also ideological barriers that neither one found energy enough to climb. She attended street actions, Franz reported to the rocket facility at Reinickendorf after swallowing his tea in an early-morning room full of women he thought were sullen and waiting for him to leave: bringing their bundles of leaflets, their knapsacks stuffed with books or political newspapers, filtering through the slum courtyards of Berlin at sunrise. . . .
They are shivering and hungry. In the Studentenheim there's no heat, not much light, millions of roaches. A smell of cabbage, old second
Reich, grandmothers' cabbage, of lard smoke that has found, over the years, some détente with the air that seeks to break it down, smells of long illness and terminal occupation stir off the crumbling walls. One of the walls is stained yellow with waste from the broken lines upstairs. Leni sits on the floor with four or five others, passing a dark chunk of bread. In a damp nest of Die Faust Hoch, back issues no one will read, her daughter Ilse sleeps, breathing so shallow it can hardly be seen. Her eyelashes make enormous shadows on the upper curves of her cheeks.
They have left for good this time. This room will be all right for another day, even two . . . after that Leni doesn't know. She took one valise for both of them. Does he know what it means for a woman born under the Crab, a mother, to have all her Home in a valise? She has a few marks with her, Franz has his toy rockets to the moon. It is really over.
As she used to dream it, she'd go directly to Peter Sachsa. If he didn't take her in, he'd at least help her to find a job. But now that she's really broken away from Franz . . . there's something, some nasty earth-sign belligerence that will rise up in Peter now and then. . . . Lately she isn't sure about his moods. He's under pressure from levels she guesses to be higher than usual, and he isn't handling it well. . . .
But Peter's worst infantile rages are still better than the most tranquil evenings of her Piscean husband, swimming his seas of fantasy, death-wish, rocket-mysticism—Franz is just the type they want. They know how to use that. They know how to use nearly everybody. What will happen to the ones they can't use?
Rudi, Vanya, Rebecca, here we are a slice of Berlin life, another Ufa masterpiece, token La Bohème Student, token Slav, token Jewess, look at us: the Revolution. Of course there is no Revolution, not even in the Kinos, no German October, not under this "Republic." The Revolution died—though Leni was only a young girl and not political— with Rosa Luxemburg. The best there is to believe in right now is a Revolution-in-exile-in-residence, a continuity, surviving at the bleak edge over these Weimar years, waiting its moment and its reincarnated Luxemburg. . . .
AN ARMY OF LOVERS CAN BE BEATEN. These things appear on the walls of the Red districts in the course of the night. Nobody can track down author or painter for any of them, leading you to suspect they're one and the same. Enough to make you believe in a folk-consciousness. They are not slogans so much as texts, revealed in order to be thought about, expanded on, translated into action by the people. ...
"It's true," Vanya now, "look at the forms of capitalist expression. Pornographies: pornographies of love, erotic love, Christian love, boy-and-his-dog, pornographies of sunsets, pornographies of killing, and pornographies of deduction—ahh, that sigh when we guess the murderer—all these novels, these films and songs they lull us with, they're approaches, more comfortable and less so, to that Absolute Comfort." A pause to allow Rudi a quick and sour grin. "The self-induced orgasm."
" 'Absolute'?" Rebecca coming forward on her bare knees to hand him the bread, damp, melting from the touch of her wet mouth, "Two people are—"
"Two people is what you are told," Rudi does not quite smirk. Through her attention, sadly and not for the first time around here, there passes the phrase male supremacy . . . why do they cherish their masturbating so? "but in nature it is almost unknown. Most of it's solitary. You know that."
"I know there's coming together," is all she says. Though they have never made love she means it as a reproach. But he turns away as we do from those who have just made some embarrassing appeal to faith there's no way to go into any further.
Leni, from inside her wasted time with Franz, knows enough about coming alone. At first his passivity kept her from coming at all. Then she understood that she could make up anything at all to fill the freedom he allowed her. It got more comfortable: she could dream such tendernesses between them (presently she was dreaming also of other men) —but it became more solitary. Yet her lines will not deepen fast enough, her mouth not learn hardening past a face she keeps surprising herself with, a daydreaming child's face, betraying her to anyone who'll look, exactly the sort of fat-softened, unfocused weakness that causes men to read her as Dependent Little Girl—even in Peter Sachsa she's seen the look—and the dream is the same one she went to find while Franz groaned inside his own dark pain-wishes, a dream of gentleness, light, her criminal heart redeemed, no more need to run, to struggle, a man arriving tranquil as she and strong, the street becoming a distant memory: exactly the one dream that out here she can least allow herself. She knows what she has to impersonate. Especially with Ilse watching her more. Ilse is not going to be used.
Rebecca's been carrying on an argument with Vanya, half flirting, Vanya trying to keep it all in intellectual code, but the Jewess reverting, time and again, to the bodily ... so sensual: the insides of her thighs, just above the knee, smooth as oil, the tenseness of all her mus-
clés, the alert face, the Judenschnautze feinting, pushing, the flashes of tongue against thick lips . . . what would it be like, to be taken to bed by her? To do it not just with another woman, but with a Jewess. . . . Their animal darkness .. . sweating hindquarters, pushing aggressively toward her face, black hairs darkening in fine crescent around each buttock from the crevice . . . the face turned over a shoulder smiling in coarse delight... all by surprise, really, during a moment's refuge in a pale yellow room, while the men wandered the halls outside with drugged smiles . . . "No, not that hard. Be gentle. I'll tell you when to do it harder. ..." Leni's fair skin, her look of innocence, and the Jewess's darker coloring, her rawness, contrasting with Leni's delicacy of structure and skin, pelvic bones stretching cobwebs smoothly down groins and around belly, the two women sliding, snarling, gasping . . . / know there's coming together . . . and Leni waking alone—the Jewess out already in some other room of the place—never having known the instant at which she fell into her true infant sleep, a soft change of state that just didn't happen with Franz. ... So she brushed and batted with fingertips her hair to show something of how she felt about the night's clientele and strolled down to the baths, stripped without caring what eyes were on her and slid into the body-warmth, the conventional perfume of it. ... All at once, through a shouting and humidity that might have made it hard to concentrate, she saw, there, up on one of the ledges, looking down at her . . . Yes he was Richard Hirsch, from the Mausigstrasse, so many years ago . . . she knew immediately that her face had never looked more vulnerable—she could see it in his eyes. . . .
All around them the others splashed, made love, carried on comic monologues, perhaps they were friends of his—yes wasn't that Siggi frog-kicking by, we called him "the Troll," he hasn't grown a centimeter since then . . . since we ran Home along the canal, tripped and fell on the hardest cobblestones in the world, and woke in the mornings to see snow on the spokes of the wagon wheels, steam out the old horse's nose. . . . "Leni. Leni." Richard's hair pushed all the way back, his body golden, leaning to lift her from the cloudy bath, to sit beside him.
"You're supposed to be . . ." she's flustered, doesn't know how to put this. "Someone told me you hadn't come back from France. . . ." She stares at her knees.
"Not even the French girls could have kept me in France." He's still there: she feels him trying to look in her eyes: and he speaks so simply, he's so alive, sure that French girls must be more coercive than
English machine guns . . . she knows, filled with crying for his innocence, that he can't have been with anyone there, that French girls still are to him beautiful and remote agents of Love. ...
In Leni, now, nothing of her long employment shows, nothing. She is the child he looked at across park pathways, or met trudging Home down the gassen in the crust-brown light, her face, rather broad then, angled down, fair eyebrows troubled, bookpack on her back, hands in apron pockets . . . some of the stones in the walls were white as paste . . . she may have seen him coming the other way, but he was older, always with friends. . . .
Now they all grow less raucous around them, more deferent, even shy, happy for Richard and Leni. "Better late than never!" pipes Siggi in his speeded-up midget's voice, reaching on tiptoe to pour May wine in all their glasses. Leni goes to get her hair resryled and lightened a shade, and Rebecca comes with her. They talk, for the first time, of plans and futures. Without touching, Richard and she have fallen in love, as they should have then. It's understood he'll take her away with him. . . .
Old Gymnasium friends have been showing up in recent days, bringing exotic food and wine, new drugs, much ease and honesty in sexual matters. No one bothers to dress. They show one another their naked bodies. No one feels anxious, or threatened about the size of her breasts or his penis. ... It is all beautifully relaxing for everyone. Leni practices her new name, "Leni Hirsch," even sometimes when she's sitting with Richard at a café table in the morning: "Leni Hirsch," and he actually smiles, embarrassed, tries to look away but can't escape her eyes and finally he turns full into her own look, laughs out loud, a laugh of pure joy, and reaches his hand, the palm of his dear hand, to hold her face. . . .
On a multi-leveled early evening of balconies, terraces, audiences grouped at the different levels, all looking downward, in toward a common center, galleries of young women with green leaves at their waists, tall evergreen trees, lawns, flowing water and national solemnity, the President, in the middle of asking the Bundestag, with his familiar clogged and nasal voice, for a giant war appropriation, breaks down suddenly: "Oh, fuck it . . ." Ficht es, the soon-to-be-immortal phrase, rings in the sky, rings over the land, Ja, fickt es! "I'm sending all the soldiers Home. We'll close down the weapon factories, we'll dump all the weapons in the sea. I'm sick of war. I'm sick of waking up every morning afraid I'm going to die." It is suddenly impossible to hate him any more: he's as human, as mortal now, as any of the people. There
will be new elections. The Left will run a woman whose name is never given, but everyone understands it is Rosa Luxemburg. The other candidates will be chosen so inept or colorless that no one will vote for them. There will be a chance for the Revolution. The President has promised.
Incredible joy at the baths, among the friends. True joy: events in a dialectical process cannot bring this explosion of the heart. Everyone is in love. ...
AN ARMY OF LOVERS CAN BE BEATEN.
Rudi and Vanya have fallen to arguing street tactics. Somewhere water is dripping. The street reaches in, makes itself felt everywhere. Leni knows it, hates it. The impossibility of any rest . . . needing to trust strangers who may be working for the police, if not right now then a little later, when the street has grown for them more desolate than they can bear . .. She wishes she knew of ways to keep it from her child, but already that may be too late. Franz—Franz was never much in the street. Always some excuse. Worried about security, being caught on a stray frame by one of the leather-coated photographers, who will be always at the fringes of the action. Or it was, "What'll we do with Use? What if there's violence?" If there's violence, what'll we do with Franz?
She tried to explain to him about the level you reach, with both feet in, when you lose your fear, you lose it all, you've penetrated the moment, slipping perfectly into its grooves, metal-gray but soft as latex, and now the figures are dancing, each pre-choreographed exactly where it is, the flash of knees under pearl-colored frock as the girl in the babushka stoops to pick up a cobble, the man in the black suitcoat and brown sleeveless sweater grabbed by policemen one on either arm, trying to keep his head up, showing his teeth, the older liberal in the dirty beige overcoat, stepping back to avoid a careening demonstrator, looking back across his lapel how-dare-you or look-out-not-me, his eyeglasses filled with the glare of the winter sky. There is the moment, and its possibilities.
She even tried, from what little calculus she'd picked up, to explain it to Franz as At approaching zero, eternally approaching, the slices of time growing thinner and thinner, a succession of rooms each with walls more silver, transparent, as the pure light of the zero comes nearer. . . .
But he shook his head. "Not the same, Leni. The important thing is taking a function to its limit. At is just a convenience, so that it can happen."
He has, had, this way of removing all the excitement from things with a few words. Not even well-chosen words: he's that way by instinct. When they went to movies he would fall asleep. He fell asleep during Nibelungen. He missed Attila the Hun roaring in from the East to wipe out the Burgundians. Franz loved films but this was how he watched them, nodding in and out of sleep. "You're the cause-and-effect man," she cried. How did he connect together the fragments he saw while his eyes were open?
He was the cause-and-effect man: he kept at her astrology without mercy, telling her what she was supposed to believe, then denying it. "Tides, radio interference, damned little else. There is no way for changes out there to produce changes here."
"Not produce," she tried, "not cause. It all goes along together. Parallel, not series. Metaphor. Signs and symptoms. Mapping on to different coordinate systems, I don't know ..." She didn't know, all she was trying to do was reach.
But he said: "Try to design anything that way and have it work."
They saw Die Frau im Mond. Franz was amused, condescending. He picked at technical points. He knew some of the people who'd worked on the special effects. Leni saw a dream of flight. One of many possible. Real flight and dreams of flight go together. Both are part of the same movement. Not A before B, but all together. . . .
Could anything with him ever have lasted? If the Jewish wolf Pflaumbaum had not set the torch to his own paint factory by the canal, Franz might have labored out their days dedicated to the Jew's impossible scheme of developing patterned paint, dissolving crystal after patient crystal, controlling tie temperatures with obsessive care so that on cooling the amorphous swirl might, this time might, suddenly shift, lock into stripes, polka-dots, plaid, stars of David—instead of finding one early morning a blackened waste, paint cans exploded in great bursts of crimson and bottle-green, smells of charred wood and naphtha, Pflaumbaum wringing his hands oy, oy, oy, the sneaking hypocrite. All for the insurance.
So Franz and Leni were very hungry for a time, with Ilse growing in her belly each day. What jobs came along were menial and paid hardly enough to matter. It was breaking him. Then he met his old friend from the T.H. Munich one night out in the swampy suburbs.
He'd been out all day, the proletarian husband, out pasting up bills to advertise some happy Max Schlepzig film fantasy, while Leni lay pregnant, forced to turn when the pain in her back got too bad, inside their furnished dustbin in the last of the tenement's Hinterhöfe. It was
well after dark and bitter cold by the time his paste bucket was empty and the ads all put up to be pissed on, torn down, swastikaed over. (It may have been a quota film. There may have been a misprint. But when he arrived at the theatre on the date printed on the bill, he found the place dark, chips of plaster littering the floor of the lobby, and a terrible smashing far back inside the theatre, the sound of a demolition crew except that there were no voices, nor even any light that he could see back there ... he called, but the wrecking only went on, a loud creaking in the bowels behind the electric marquee, which he noticed now was blank. . . .) He had wandered, bone-tired, miles northward into Reinickendorf, a quarter of small factories, rusted sheeting on the roofs, brothels, sheds, expansions of brick into night and disuse, repair shops where the water in the vats for cooling the work lay stagnant and scummed over. Only a sprinkling of lights. Vacancy, weeds in the lots, no one in the streets: a neighborhood where glass breaks every night. It must have been the wind that was carrying him down a dirt road, past the old army garrison the local police had taken over, among the shacks and tool cribs to a wire fence with a gate. He found the gate open, and pushed through. He'd become aware of a sound, somewhere ahead. One summer before the World War, he'd gone to Schaffhausen on holiday with his parents, and they'd taken the electric tram to the Rhine Falls. They went down a stairway and out on to a little wood pavilion with a pointed roof—all around them were clouds, rainbows, drops of fire. And the roar of the waterfall. He held on to both their hands, suspended in the cold spray-cloud with Mutti and Papi, barely able to see above to the trees that clung to the fall's brim in a green wet smudge, or the little tour boats below that came up nearly to where the cataract crashed into the Rhine. But now, in the winter heart of Reinickendorf, he was alone, hands empty, stumbling over frozen mud through an old ammunition dump grown over with birch and willow, swelling in the darkness to hills, sinking to swamp. Concrete barracks and earthworks 40 feet high towered in the middle distance as the sound beyond them, the sound of a waterfall, grew louder, calling from his memory. These were the kinds of revenants that found Franz, not persons but forms of energy, abstractions. . . .
Through a gap in the breastwork he saw then a tiny silver egg, with a flame, pure and steady, issuing from beneath, lighting the forms of men in suits, sweaters, overcoats, watching from bunkers or trenches. It was a rocket, in its stand: a static test.
The sound began to change, to break now and then. It didn't sound ominous to Franz in his wonder, only different. But the light
grew brighter, and the watching figures suddenly started dropping for cover as the rocket now gave a sputtering roar, a long burst, voices screaming get down and he hit the dirt just as the silver thing blew apart, a terrific blast, metal whining through the air where he'd stood, Franz hugging the ground, ears ringing, no feeling even for the cold, no way for the moment of knowing if he was still inside his body. . . .
Feet approached running. He looked up and saw Kurt Mondau-gen. The wind all night, perhaps all year, had brought them together. This is what he came to believe, that it was the wind. Most of the schoolboy fat was replaced now by muscle, his hair was thinning, his complexion darker than anything Franz had seen in the street that winter, dark even in the concrete folds of shadow and the flames from the scattered rocket fuel, but it was Mondaugen sure enough, seven or eight years gone but they knew each other in the instant. They'd lived in the same drafty mansarde in the Liebigstrasse in Munich. (Franz had seen the address then as a lucky omen, for Justus von Liebig had been one of his heroes, a hero of chemistry. Later, as confirmation, his course in polymer theory was taught by Professor-Doctor Laszlo Jamf, who was latest in the true succession, Liebig to August Wilhelm von Hofmann, to Herbert Canister to Laszlo Jamf, a direct chain, cause-and-effect.) They'd ridden the same rattling Schnellbahnwagen with its three contact arms frail as insect legs squeaking along the wires overhead to the TH.: Mondaugen had been in electrical engineering. On graduating he'd gone off to South-West Africa, on some kind of radio research project. They had written for a while, then stopped.
Their reunion went on till very late, in a Reinickendorf beer hall, undergraduate hollering among the working-class drinkers, a jubilant and grandiose post-mortem on the rocket test—scrawling on soggy paper napkins, all talking at once around the glass-cluttered table, arguing through the smoke and noise heat flux, specific impulse, propel-lant flow. . . .
"It was a failure," Franz weaving under their electric bulb at three or four in the morning, a loose grin on his face, "it failed, Leni, but they talk only of success! Twenty kilograms of thrust and only for a few seconds, but no one's ever done it before. I couldn't believe it Leni I saw something that, that no one ever did before. ..."
He meant to accuse her, she imagined, of conditioning him to despair. But she only wanted him to grow up. What kind of Wandervögel idiocy is it to run around all night in a marsh calling yourselves the Society for Space Navigation?
Leni grew up in Lübeck, in a row of kleinbürger houses beside the Trave. Smooth trees, spaced evenly all along the riverward edge of her cobbled street, arched their long boughs over the water. From her bedroom window she could see the twin spires of the Dom rising above the housetops. Her fetid back-court existence in Berlin was only a decompression lock—must be. Her way out of that fussy Biedermeier strangulation, her dues payable against better times, after the Revolution.
Franz, in play, often called her "Lenin." There was never doubt about who was active, who passive—still she had hoped he'd grow beyond it. She has talked to psychiatrists, she knows about the German male at puberty. On their backs in the meadows and mountains, watching the sky, masturbating, yearning. Destiny waits, a darkness latent in the texture of the summer wind. Destiny will betray you, crush your ideals, deliver you into the same detestable Bürgerlichkeit as your father, sucking at his pipe on Sunday strolls after church past the row houses by the river—dress you in the gray uniform of another family man, and without a whimper you will serve out your time, fly from pain to duty, from joy to work, from commitment to neutrality. Destiny does all this to you.
Franz loved her neurotically, masochistically, he belonged to her and believed that she would carry him on her back, away to a place where Destiny couldn't reach. As if it were gravity. He had half-awakened one night burrowing his face into her armpit mumbling, "Your wings . . . oh, Leni, your wings ..."
But her wings can only carry her own weight, and she hopes Ilse's, for a while. Franz is a dead weight. Let him look for flight out at the Raketenflugplatz, where he goes to be used by the military and the cartels. Let him fly to the dead moon if he wants to. ...
Ilse is awake, and crying. No food all day. They ought to try Peter's after all. He'll have milk. Rebecca holds out what's left of the end crust she's been eating. "Would she like this?"
Not much of the Jew in her. Why are half the Leftists she knows Jewish? She immediately reminds herself that Marx was one. A racial affinity for the books, the theory, a rabbinical love of loud argument. . . She gives the crust to her child, picks her up.
"If he comes here, tell him you haven't seen me."
They arrive at Peter Sachsa's well after dark. She finds a séance just about to begin. She is immediately aware of her drab coat and cotton dress (hemline too high), her scuffed and city-dusted shoes, her lack of jewelry. More middle-class reflexes . . . vestiges, she hopes. But most
of the women are old. The others are too dazzling. Hmm. The men look more affluent than usual. Leni spots a silver lapel-swastika here and there. Wines on the tables are the great '20s and '21s. Schloss Vollrads, Zeltinger, Piesporter—it is an Occasion.
The objective tonight is to get in touch with the late foreign minister Walter Rathenau. At the Gymnasium, Leni sang with the other children the charming anti-Semitic street refrain of the time:
Knallt ab den Juden Rathenau, Die gottverdammte Judensau ...
After he was assassinated she sang nothing for weeks, certain that, if the singing hadn't brought it about, at least it had been a prophecy, a spell. . . .
There are specific messages tonight. Questions for the former minister. A gentle sorting-out process is under way. Reasons of security. Only certain guests are allowed to go on into Peter's sitting room. The preterite stay outside, gossiping, showing their gums out of tension, moving their hands. . . . The big scandal around IG Farben this week is the unlucky subsidiary Spottbilligfilm AG, whose entire management are about to be purged for sending to OKW weapons procurement a design proposal for a new airborne ray which could turn whole populations, inside a ten-kilometer radius, stone blind. An IG review board caught the scheme in time. Poor Spottbilligfilm. It had slipped their collective mind what such a weapon would do to the dye market after the next war. The Götterdämmerung mentality again. The weapon had been known as L-5227, L standing for light, another comical German euphemism, like the A in rocket designations which stands for aggregate, or IG itself, Interessengemeinschaft, a fellowship of interests . . . and what about the case of catalyst poisoning in Prague—was it true that the VI b Group Staffs at the Chemical Instrumentality for the Abnormal have been flown east on emergency status, and that it's a complex poisoning, both selenium and tellurium . . . the names of the poisons sober the conversation, like a mention of cancer. . . .
The elite who will sit tonight are from the corporate Nazi crowd, among whom Leni recognizes who but Generaldirektor Smaragd, of an IG branch that was interested, for a time, in her husband. But then abruptly there'd been no more contact. It would have been mysterious, a little sinister, except that everything in those days could reasonably be blamed on the economy. . . .
In the crowd her eyes meet Peter's. "I've left him," she whispers, nodding, as he shakes hands.
"You can put Ilse to sleep in one of the bedrooms. Can we talk later?" There is to his eyes tonight a definite faunish slant. Will he accept that she is not his, any more than she belonged to Franz?
"Yes, of course. What's going on?"
He snorts, meaning they haven't told me. They are using him—have been, various theys, for ten years. But he never knows how, except by rare accident, an allusion, an interception of smiles. A distorting and forever clouded mirror, the smiles of clients. . . .
Why do they want Rathenau tonight? What did Caesar really whisper to his protégé as he fell? Et tu, Brute, the official lie, is about what you'd expect to get from them—it says exactly nothing. The moment of assassination is the moment when power and the ignorance of power come together, with Death as validator. When one speaks to the other then it is not to pass the time of day with et-tu-Brutes. What passes is a truth so terrible that history—at best a conspiracy, not always among gentlemen, to defraud—will never admit it. The truth will be repressed or in ages of particular elegance be disguised as something else. What will Rathenau, past the moment, years into a new otherside existence, have to say about the old dispensation? Probably nothing as incredible as what he might have said just as the shock flashed his mortal nerves, as the Angel swooped in. ...
But they will see. Rathenau—according to the histories—was prophet and architect of the cartelized state. From what began as a tiny bureau at the War Office in Berlin, he had coordinated Germany's economy during the World War, controlling supplies, quotas and prices, cutting across and demolishing the barriers of secrecy and property that separated firm from firm—a corporate Bismarck, before whose power no account book was too privileged, no agreement too clandestine. His father Emil Rathenau had founded AEG, the German General Electric Company, but young Walter was more than another industrial heir—he was a philosopher with a vision of the postwar State. He saw the war in progress as a world revolution, out of which would rise neither Red communism nor an unhindered Right, but a rational structure in which Business would be the true, the rightful authority—a structure based, not surprisingly, on the one he'd engineered in Germany for fighting the World War.
Thus the official version. Grandiose enough. But Generaldirektor Smaragd and colleagues are not here to be told what even the masses
believe. It might almost—if one were paranoid enough—seem to be a collaboration here, between both sides of the Wall, matter and spirit. What is it they know that the powerless do not? What terrible structure behind the appearances of diversity and enterprise?
Gallows humor. A damned parlor game. Smaragd cannot really believe in any of this, Smaragd the technician and manager. He may only want signs, omens, confirmations of what's already in being, something to giggle over among the Herrenklub—"We even have the Jew's blessing!" Whatever comes through the medium tonight they will warp, they will edit, into a blessing. It is contempt of a rare order.
Leni finds a couch in a quiet corner of a room full of Chinese ivory and silk hangings, lies on it, one calf dangling, and tries to relax. Franz now will be Home from the rocket-field, blinking under the bulb as Frau Silberschlag next door delivers Leni's last message. Messages tonight, borne on the lights of Berlin . . . neon, incandescent, stellar . . . messages weave into a net of information that no one can escape. . . .
"The path is clear," a voice moving Sachsa's lips and rigid white throat. "You are constrained, over there, to follow it in time, one step after another. But here it's possible to see the whole shape at once— not for me, I'm not that far along—but many know it as a clear presence . . . 'shape' isn't really the right word. . . . Let me be honest with you. I'm finding it harder to put myself in your shoes. Problems you may be having, even those of global implication, seem to many of us here only trivial side-trips. You are off on a winding and difficult road, which you conceive to be wide and straight, an Autobahn you can travel at your ease. Is it any use for me to tell you that all you believe real is illusion? I don't know whether you'll listen, or ignore it. You only want to know about your path, your Autobahn.
"All right. Mauve: that's in the pattern. The invention of mauve, the coming to your level of the color mauve. Are you listening, Generaldirektor?"
"I am listening, Herr Rathenau," replies Smaragd of IG Farben.
"Tyrian purple, alizarin and indigo, other coal-tar dyes are here, but the important one is mauve. William Perkin discovered it in England, but he was trained by Hofmann, who was trained by Liebig. There is a succession involved. If it is karmic it's only in a very limited sense . . . another Englishman, Herbert Canister, and the generation of chemists he trained. . . . Then the discovery of Oneirine. Ask your man Wimpe. He is the expert on cyclized benzylisoquinilines. Look into the clinical effects of the drug. I don't know. It seems that you might look in that direction. It converges with the mauve-Perkin-Canister line. But all I have is the molecule, the sketch . . . Methoneirine, as the sulfate. Not in Germany, but in the United States. There is a link to the United States. A link to Russia. Why do you think von Maltzan and I saw the Rapallo treaty through? It was necessary to move to the east. Wimpe can tell you. Wimpe, the V-Mann, was always there. Why do you think we wanted Krupp to sell them agricultural machinery so badly? It was also part of the process. At the time I didn't understand it as clearly as I do now. But I knew what I had to do.
"Consider coal and steel. There is a place where they meet. The interface between coal and steel is coal-tar. Imagine coal, down in the earth, dead black, no light, the very substance of death. Death ancient, prehistoric, species we will never see again. Growing older, blacker, deeper, in layers of perpetual night. Above ground, the steel rolls out fiery, bright. But to make steel, the coal tars, darker and heavier, must be taken from the original coal. Earth's excrement, purged out for the ennoblement of shining steel. Passed over.
"We thought of this as an industrial process. It was more. We passed over the coal-tars. A thousand different molecules waited in the preterite dung. This is the sign of revealing. Of unfolding. This is one meaning of mauve, the first new color on Earth, leaping to Earth's light from its grave miles and aeons below. There is the other meaning . . . the succession ... I can't see that far yet. . . .
"But this is all the impersonation of life. The real movement is not from death to any rebirth. It is from death to death-transfigured. The best you can do is to polymerize a few dead molecules. But polymerizing is not resurrection. I mean your IG, Generaldirektor."
"'Our IG, I should have thought," replies Smaragd with more than the usual ice and stiffness.
"That's for you to work out. If you prefer to call this a liaison, do. I am here for as long as you need me. You don't have to listen. You think you'd rather hear about what you call 'life': the growing, organic Kartell. But it's only another illusion. A very clever robot. The more dynamic it seems to you, the more deep and dead, in reality, it grows. Look at the smokestacks, how they proliferate, fanning the wastes of original waste over greater and greater masses of city. Structurally, they are strongest in compression. A smokestack can survive any explosion—even the shock wave from one of the new cosmic bombs"— a bit of a murmur around the table at this—"as you all must know. The persistence, then, of structures favoring death. Death converted into more death. Perfecting its reign, just as the buried coal grows
denser, and overlaid with more strata—epoch on top of epoch, city on top of ruined city. This is the sign of Death the impersonator.
"These signs are real. They are also symptoms of a process. The process follows the same form, the same structure. To apprehend it you will follow the signs. All talk of cause and effect is secular history, and secular history is a diversionary tactic. Useful to you, gentlemen, but no longer so to us here. If you want the truth—I know I presume—you must look into the technology of these matters. Even into the hearts of certain molecules—it is they after all which dictate temperatures, pressures, rates of flow, costs, profits, the shapes of towers. . . .
"You must ask two questions. First, what is the real nature of synthesis? And then: what is the real nature of control?
"You think you know, you cling to your beliefs. But sooner or later you will have to let them go. ..."
A silence, which prolongs itself. There is some shifting in the seats around the table, but the sets of little fingers stay in touch.
"Herr Rathenau? Could you tell me one thing?" It is Heinz Rip-penstoss, the irrepressible Nazi wag and gadabout. The sitters begin to giggle, and Peter Sachsa to return to his room. "Is God really Jewish?"
Pumm, Easterling, Dromond, Lamplighter, Spectro are stars on the doctor's holiday tree. Shining down on this holiest of nights. Each is a cold announcement of dead ends, suns that will refuse to stand, but flee south, ever south, leaving us to north-without-end. But Kevin Spectro is brightest, most distant of all. And the crowds they swarm in Knightsbridge, and the wireless carols drone, and the Underground's a mob-scene, but Pointsman's all alone. But he's got his Xmas present, fa la la, he won't have to settle for any spam-tin dog this year mates, he's got his own miracle and human child, grown to manhood but carrying, someplace on the Slothropian cortex now a bit of Psychology's own childhood, yes pure history, inert, encysted, unmoved by jazz, Depression, war—a survival, if you will, of a piece of the late Dr. Jamf himself, past death, past the reckoning of the, the old central chamber you know. . . .
He has no one to ask, no one to tell. My heart, he feels, my heart floods now with such virility and hope. . . . News from the Riviera is
splendid. Experiments here begin to run smoothly for a change. From some dark overlap, a general appropriation or sinking fund someplace, Brigadier Pudding has even improved the funding for ARE Does he feel Pointsman's power too? Is he buying some insurance?
At odd moments of the day Pointsman, fascinated, discovers himself with an erect penis. He begins making jokes, English Pavlovian jokes, nearly all of which depend on one unhappy accident: the Latin cortex translates into English as "bark," not to mention the well-known and humorous relation between dogs and trees (these are bad enough, and most PISCES folk have the good sense to avoid them, but they are dazzling witticisms compared with jokes out of the mainstream, such as the extraordinary "What did the Cockney exclaim to the cowboy from San Antonio?"). Sometime during the annual PISCES Christmas Party, Pointsman is led by Maudie Chilkes to a closet full of belladonna, gauze, thistle tubes, and the scent of surgical rubber, where in a flash she's down on her red knees, unbuttoning his trousers, as he, confused, good God, strokes her hair, clumsily shaking much of it loose from its wine-colored ribbon—here what's this, an actual, slick and crimson, hot, squeak-stockinged slavegirl "gam" yes right among these winter-pale clinical halls, with the distant gramophone playing rumba music, basses, woodblocks, wearied blown sheets of tropic string cadences audible as everyone dances back there on the uncar-peted floors, and the old Palladian shell, conch of a thousand rooms, gives, resonates, shifting stresses along walls and joists . . . bold Maud, this is incredible, taking the pink Pavlovian cock in as far as it will go, chin to collarbone vertical as a sword-swallower, releasing him each time with some small ladylike choking sound, fumes of expensive Scotch rising flowerlike, and her hands up grabbing the loose wool seat of his pants, pleating, unpleating—it's happening so fast that Pointsman only sways, blinks a bit drunkenly you know, wondering if he's dreaming or has found the perfect mixture, try to remember, amphetamine sulphate, 5 mg q 6 h, last night amobarbital sodium 0.2 Gm. at bedtime, this morning assorted breakfast vitamin capsules, alcohol an ounce, say, per hour, over the past. . . how many cc.s is that and oh, Jesus I'm coming. Am I? yes . . . well . . . and Maud, dear Maudie, swallowing, wastes not a drop . . . smiling quietly, unplugged at last, she returns the unstiffening hawk to its cold bachelor nest but kneels still a bit longer in the closet of this moment, the drafty, white-lit moment, some piece by Ernesto Lecuona, "Siboney" perhaps, now reaching them down corridors long as the sea-lanes back to the green shoals, slime stone battlements, and palm evenings of Cuba ... a Vic-
torian pose, her cheek against his leg, his high-veined hand against her face. But no one saw them, then or ever, and in the winter ahead, here and there, her look will cross his and she'll begin to blush red as her knees, she'll come to his room off the lab once or twice perhaps, but somehow they're never to have this again, this sudden tropics in the held breath of war and English December, this moment of perfect peace. . . .
No one to tell. Maud knows something's up all right, the finances of PISCES pass through her hands, nothing escapes her. But he can't tell her ... or not everything, not the exact terms of his hope, he's never, even to himself... it lies ahead in the dark, denned inversely, by horror, by ways all hopes might yet be defeated and he find only his death, that dumb, empty joke, at the end of this Pavlovian's Progress.
Now Thomas Gwenhidwy too senses change fibrillating in the face and step of his colleague. Fat, prematurely white Santa Claus beard, a listing, rumpled showman, performing every instant, trying to speak a double language, both Welsh comic-provincial and hard diamond gone-a-begging truth, hear what you will. His singing voice is incredible, in his spare time he strolls out past the wire-mesh fighter runways looking for bigger planes—for he loves to practice the bass part to "Diadem" as the Flying Fortresses take off at full power, and even so you can hear him, bone-vibrating and pure above the bombers, all the way to Stoke Poges, you see. Once a lady even wrote in to the Times from Luton Hoo, Bedfordshire, asking who was the man with the lovely deep voice singing "Diadem^" A Mrs. Snade. Gwenhidwy likes to drink a lot, grain alcohol mostly, mixed in great strange mad-scientist concoctions with beef tea, grenadine, cough syrup, bitter belch-gathering infusions of blue scullcap, valerian root, motherwort and lady's-slipper, whatever's to hand really. His is the hale alcoholic style celebrated in national legend and song. He is descended directly from the Welshman in Henry V who ran around forcing people to eat his Leek. None of your sedentary drinkers though. Pointsman has never seen Gwenhidwy off of his feet or standing still— he fusses endlessly pitch-and-roll avast you scum down the long rows of sick or dying faces, and even Pointsman has noted rough love in the minor gestures, changes of breathing and voice. They are blacks, Indians, Ashkenazic Jews speaking dialects you never heard in Harley Street: they have been bombed out, frozen, starved, meanly sheltered, and their faces, even the children's, all possess some ancient intimacy with pain and reverse that amazes Pointsman, who is more polarized upon West End catalogues of genteel signs and symptoms, headborn anorexias and constipations the Welshman could have little patience with. On Gwenhidwy's wards some BMRs run low as ~35, ~40. The white lines go thickening across the X-ray ghosts of bones, gray scrapings from underneath tongues bloom beneath his old wrinkle-black microscope into clouds of Vincentesque invaders, nasty little fangs achop and looking to ulcerate the vitamin-poor tissue they came from. A quite different domain altogether, you see.
"I don't know, man—no, I don't," flinging a fat slow-motion arm out of his hedgehog-colored cape, back at the hospital, as they walk in the falling snow—to Pointsman a clear separation, monks here and cathedral there, soldiers and garrison—but not so to Gwenhidwy, part of whom remains behind, hostage. The streets are empty, it's Christmas day, they are tramping uphill to Gwenhidwy's rooms as the quiet snow curtains fall on and on between themselves and the pierced walls of the institution marching in stone parallax away into a white gloom. "How they persist. The poor, the black. And the Jews! The Welsh, the Welsh once upon a time were Jewish too? one of the Lost Tribes of Israel, a black tribe, who wandered overland, centuries? oh an incredible journey. Until at last they reached Wales, you see."
"Stayed on, and became the Cymri. What if we're all Jews, you see? all scattered like seeds? still flying outward from the primal fist so long ago. Man, I believe that."
"Of course you do, Gwenhidwy."
"Aren't we then? What about you?"
"I don't know. I don't feel Jewish today."
"I meant flying outward?" He means alone and forever separate: Pointsman knows what he means. So, by surprise, something in him is touched. He feels the Christmas snow now at crevices of his boots, the bitter cold trying to get in. The brown wool flank of Gwenhidwy moves at the edge of his sight, a pocket of color, a holdout against this whitening day. Flying outward. Flying . . . Gwenhidwy, a million ice-points falling at a slant across his caped immensity, looking so improbable of extinction that now, from where it's been lying, the same yawing-drunk chattering fear returns, the Curse of the Book, and here is someone he wants, truly, with all his mean heart, to see preserved . . . though he's been too shy, or proud, ever to've smiled at Gwenhidwy without some kind of speech to explain and cancel out the smile. . . .
Dogs run barking at their approach. They get the Professional Eye from Pointsman. Gwenhidwy is humming "Aberystwyth." Out comes the doorkeeper's daughter Estelle with a shivering kid or two under-
foot and a Christmas bottle of something acrid but very warming inside the breast after about the first minute it's down. Smells of coal smoke, piss, garbage, last night's bubble-and-squeak, fill the hallways. Gwenhidwy is drinking from the bottle, carrying on a running slap-and-tickle with Estelle and getting in a fast game of where'd-he-go-there-he-is with Arch her youngest around the broad mouton hipline of his mother who keeps trying to smack him but he's too fast.
Gwenhidwy breathes upon a gas meter which is frozen all through, too tight to accept coins. Terrible weather. He surrounds it, curses it, bending like a screen lover, wings of his cape reaching to enfold— Gwenhidwy, radiating like a sun. ...
Out the windows of the sitting-room are a row of bare Army-colored poplars, a canal, a snowy trainyard, and beyond it a long sawtooth pile of scrap coal, still smoldering from a V-bomb yesterday. Ragged smoke is carried askew, curling, broken and back to earth by the falling snow.
"It's the closest yet," Gwenhidwy at the kettle, the sour smell of a sulfur match in the air. After a moment, still on watch over the gas ring, "Pointsman, do you want to hear something really paranoid?"
"Have you consulted a map of London lately? All this great meteoric plague of V-weapons, is being dumped out here, you see. Not back on Whitehall, where it's supposed to be, but on me, and I think it is beast-ly?"
"What a damned unpatriotic thing to say."
"Oh," hawking and spitting into the washbowl, "you don't want to believe it. Why should you? Harley Street lot, my good Jesus Christ."
It's an old game with Gwenhidwy, Royal Fellow-baiting. Some unaccustomed wind or thermocline along the sky is bringing them down the deep choral hum of American bombers: Death's white Gymanfa Ganu. A switching-locomotive creeps silently across the web of tracks below.
"They're falling in a Poisson distribution," says Pointsman in a small voice, as if it was open to challenge.
"No doubt man, no doubt—an excellent point. But all over the rucking East End, you see." Arch, or someone, has drawn a brown, orange, and blue Gwenhidwy carrying a doctor's bag along a flat horizon-line past a green gasworks. The bag's full of gin bottles, Gwenhidwy is smiling, a robin is peeking out from its nest in his beard, and the sky is blue and the sun yellow. "But have you ever thought of why? Here is the City Paranoiac. All these long centuries,
growing over the country-side? like an intelligent creature. An actor, a fantastic mimic, Pointsman! Count-erfeiting all the correct forces? the eco-nomic, the demographic? oh yes even the ran-dom, you see."
"What do you mean 'I see'? I don't see." Against the window, back-lit by the white afternoon, Pointsman's face is invisible except for a tiny bright crescent glowing off each eyeball. Should he fumble behind him for the window catch? Is the woolly Welshman gone raving mad, then?
"You don't see them," steam in tight brocade starting to issue from the steel-blotched swan's mouth, "the blacks and Jews, in their darkness. You can't. You don't hear their silence. You became so used to talking, and to light."
"To barking, anyway."
"Nothing comes through my hos-pital but fail-ure, you see." Staring with a fixed, fool-alcoholic smile. "What can I cure? I can only send them back, outside again? Back to that? It might as well be Europe here, corn-bat, splint-ing and drug-ging them all into some minimum condition to get on with the kill-ing?"
"Here, don't you know there's a war on?" Thus Pointsman receives, with his cup, a terrible scowl. In truth, he is hoping with nitwit irrelevancies to discourage Gwenhidwy from going on about his City Paranoiac. Pointsman would rather talk about the rocket victims admitted today to the hospital down there. But this is exorcism man, it is the poet singing back the silence, adjuring the white riders, and Gwenhidwy knows, as Pointsman cannot, that it's part of the plan of the day to sit inside this mean room and cry into just such a deafness: that Mr. Pointsman is to play exactly himself—stylized, irritable, uncomprehending. . . .
"In some cities the rich live upon the heights, and the poor are found below. In others the rich occupy the shoreline, while the poor must live inland. Now in London, here is a gra-dient of wretchedness? increasing as the river widens to the sea. I am only ask-ing, why? Is it because of the ship-ping? Is it in the pat-terns of land use, especially those relating to the Industrial Age? Is it a case of an-cient tribal tabu, surviving down all the Eng-lish generations? No. The true reason is the Threat From The East, you see. And the South: from the mass of Eu-rope, certainly. The people out here were meant to go down first. We're expendable: those in the West End, and north of the river are not. Oh, I don't mean the Threat has this or that specific shape. Political, no. If the City Paranoiac dreams, it's not accessible to us. Perhaps the Ci-ty dreamed of another, en-emy city, float-ing across the sea to
invade the es-tuary ... or of waves of darkness . . . waves of fire. . . . Perhaps of being swallowed again, by the immense, the si-lent Mother Con-tinent? It's none of my Business, city dreams. . . . But what if the Ci-ty were a growing neo-plasm, across the centuries, always changing, to meet exactly the chang-ing shape of its very worst, se-cret fears? The raggedy pawns, the disgraced bish-op and cowardly knight, all we condemned, we irreversibly lost, are left out here, exposed and wait-ing. It was known, don't deny it—known, Pointsman! that the front in Eu-rope someday must develop like this? move away east, make the rock-ets necessary, and known how, and where, the rockets would fall short. Ask your friend Mexico? look at the densities on his map? east, east, and south of the river too, where all the bugs live, that's who's getting it thick-est, my friend."
"You're right, Gwenhidwy," judicious, sipping his tea, "that is very paranoid."
"It's true." He is out with the festive bottle of Vat 69 now, and about to pour them a toast.
"To the babies." Grinning, completely mad.
"Ah. I've been keep-ing my own map? Plot-ting da-ta from the maternity wards. The ba-bies born during this Blitz are al-so fol-lowing a Poisson distribution, you see."
"Well—to the oddness of it, then. Poor little bastards."
Later, toward dusk, several enormous water bugs, a very dark reddish brown, emerge like elves from the wainscoting, and go lumbering toward the larder—pregnant mother bugs too, with baby translucent outrider bugs flowing along like a convoy escort. At night, in the very late silences between bombers, ack-ack fire and falling rockets, they can be heard, loud as mice, munching through Gwenhidwy's paper sacks, leaving streaks and footprints of shit the color of themselves behind. They don't seem to go in much for soft things, fruits, vegetables, and such, it's more the solid lentils and beans they're into, stuff they can gnaw at, paper and plaster barriers, hard interfaces to be pierced, for they are agents of unification, you see. Christmas bugs. They were deep in the straw of the manger at Bethlehem, they stumbled, climbed, fell glistening red among a golden lattice of straw that must have seemed to extend miles up and downward—an edible tenement-world, now and then gnawed through to disrupt some mysterious sheaf of vectors that would send neighbor bugs tumbling ass-OVer-antennas down past you as you held on with all legs in that constant tremble of golden stalks. A tranquil world: the temperature and hu-
midity staying nearly steady, the day's cycle damped to only a soft easy sway of light, gold to antique-gold to shadows, and back again. The crying of the infant reached you, perhaps, as bursts of energy from the invisible distance, nearly unsensed, often ignored. Your savior, you see. . . .
Inside the bowl, the two goldfish are making a Pisces sign, head-to-tail and very still. Penelope sits and peers into their world. There is a little sunken galleon, a china diver in a diving suit, pretty stones and shells she and her sisters have brought back from the sea.
Aunt Jessica and Uncle Roger are out in the kitchen, hugging and kissing. Elizabeth is teasing Claire in the hallway. Their mother is in the W.C. Sooty the cat sleeps in a chair, a black thundercloud on the way to something else, who happens right now to look like a cat. It's Boxing Day. The evening's very still. The last rocket bomb was an hour ago, somewhere south. Claire got a golliwog, Penelope a sweater, Elizabeth a frock that Penelope will grow into.
The pantomime Roger took them all to see this afternoon was Hansel and Gretel. Claire immediately took off under the seats where others were moving about by secret paths, a flash of braid or of white collar now and then among the tall attentive uncles in uniform, the coat-draped backs of seats. On stage Hansel, who was supposed to be a boy but was really a tall girl in tights and smock, cowered inside the cage. The funny old Witch foamed at the mouth and climbed the scenery. And pretty Gretel waited by the Oven for her chance. . . .
Then the Germans dropped a rocket just down the street from the theatre. A few of the little babies started crying. They were scared. Gretel, who was just winding up with her broom to hit the Witch right in the bum, stopped: put the broom down, in the gathering silence stepped to the footlights, and sang:
Oh, don't let it get you,
It will if they let you, but there's
Something I'll bet you can't see—
It's big and it's nasty and it's right over there,
It's waiting to get its sticky claws in your hair!
Oh, the greengrocer's wishing on a rainbow today,
And the dustman is tying his tie ...
And it all goes along to the same jolly song, With a peppermint face in the sky!
"Now sing along," she smiled, and actually got the audience, even Roger, to sing:
With a peppermint face in the sky-y,
And a withered old dream in your heart,
You'll get hit with a piece of the pie-ie,
With the pantomime ready to start!
Oh, the Tommy is sleeping in a snowbank tonight,
And the Jerries are learning to fly—
We can fly to the moon, we'll be higher than noon,
In our polythene Home in the sky. . . .
Pretty polythene Home in the sky, Pretty platinum pins in your hand— Oh your mother's a big fat machine gun, And your father's a dreary young man. . . . (Whispered and staccato):
Oh, the, man-a-ger's suck-ing on a corn-cob, pipe, And the bank-ers are, eat-ing their, wives, All the world's in a daze, while the orchestra plays, So turn your pockets and get your surprise—
Turn your pockets and get-your surpri-se,
There was nobody there af-ter all!
And the lamps up the stairway are dying,
It's the season just after the ball...
Oh the palm-trees whisper on the beach somewhere,
And the lifesaver's heaving a sigh,
And those voices you hear, Boy and Girl of the Year,
Are of children who are learning to die. ...
Penelope's father's chair, in the corner, next to the table with the lamp, is empty. It faces her now. She can see the crocheted shawl over the back, many knots of gray, tan, black, and brown, with amazing clarity. In the pattern, or in front of it, something is stirring: at first no more than refraction, as if there were a source of heat directly in front of the empty chair.
"No," she whispers out loud. "I don't want to. You're not him, I don't know who you are but you're not my father. Go away."
Its arms and legs are silent and rigid. She stares into it.
I only want to visit you.
"You want to possess me."
Demonic possessions in this house are not unknown. Is this really Keith, her father? taken when she was half her present age, and returned now as not the man she knew, but only the shell—with the soft meaty slug of soul that smiles and loves, that feels its mortality, either rotted away or been picked at by the needle mouths of death-by-government—a process by which living souls unwillingly become the demons known to the main sequence of Western magic as the Qlip-poth, Shells of the Dead. ... It is also what the present dispensation often does to decent men and women entirely on this side of the grave. In neither process is there any dignity, or any mercy. Mothers and fathers are conditioned into deliberately dying in certain preferred ways: giving themselves cancer and heart attacks, getting into motor accidents, going off to fight in the War—leaving their children alone in the forest. They'll always tell you fathers are "taken," but fathers only leave—that's what it really is. The fathers are all covering for each other, that's all. Perhaps it's even better to have this presence, rubbing the room dry as glass, slipping in and out of an old chair, than a father who still hasn't died yet, a man you love and have to watch it happening to. ...
In the kitchen, the water in the kettle shakes, creaks toward boiling, and outside the wind blows. Somewhere, in another street, a roofslate slides and falls. Roger has taken Jessica's cold hands in to warm against his breast, feeling them, icy, through his sweater and shirt, folded in against him. Yet she stands apart, trembling. He wants to warm all of her, not just comic extremities, wants beyond reasonable hope. His heart shakes like the boiling kettle.
It has begun to reveal itself: how easily she might go. For the first time he understands why this is the same as mortality, and why he will cry when she leaves. He is learning to recognize the times when nothing really holds her but his skinny, 20-pushup arms. ... If she leaves, then it ceases to matter how the rockets fall. But the coincidence of maps, girls, and rocketfalls has entered him silently, silent as ice, and Quisling molecules have shifted in latticelike ways to freeze him. If he could be with her more ... if it happened when they were together— in another time that might have sounded romantic, but in a culture of death, certain situations are just more hep to the jive than others—but they're apart so much. . . .
If the rockets don't get her there's still her lieutenant. Damned Beaver/Jeremy is the War, he is every assertion the fucking War has
ever made—that we are meant for work and government, for austerity: and these shall take priority over love, dreams, the spirit, the senses and the other second-class trivia that are found among the idle and mindless hours of the day. . . . Damn them, they are wrong. They are insane. Jeremy will take her like the Angel itself, in his joyless weasel-worded come-along, and Roger will be forgotten, an amusing maniac, but with no place in the rationalized power-ritual that will be the coming peace. She will take her husband's orders, she will become a domestic bureaucrat, a junior partner, and remember Roger, if at all, as a mistake thank God she didn't make. . . . Oh, he feels a raving fit coming on—how the bloody hell can he survive without her? She is the British warm that protects his stooping shoulders, and the wintering sparrow he holds inside his hands. She is his deepest innocence in spaces of bough and hay before wishes were given a separate name to warn that they might not come true, and his lithe Parisian daughter of joy, beneath the eternal mirror, forswearing perfumes, capeskin to the armpits, all that is too easy, for his impoverishment and more worthy love.
You go from dream to dream inside me. You have passage to my last shabby corner, and there, among the debris, you've found life. I'm no longer sure which of all the words, images, dreams or ghosts are "yours" and which are "mine." It's past sorting out. We're both being someone new now, someone incredible. . . .
His act of faith. In the street the children are singing:
Hark, the herald angels sing:
Mrs. Simpson's pinched our King ...
Up on the mantelpiece Sooty's son Kim, an alarmingly fat crosseyed Siamese, lurks waiting to do the only thing he enjoys these days. Beyond eating, sleeping or fucking his chief obsession is to jump, or topple, on his mother, and lie there laughing while she runs screaming around the room. Jessica's sister Nancy comes out of the loo to break up what's becoming a full-scale row between Elizabeth and Claire. Jessica steps away from Roger to blow her nose. The sound is as familiar to him as a bird's song, ip-ip-ip-ip NGUNNGG as the handkerchief comes away . . . "Oh sooper dooper," she says, "think I'm catching a cold."
You're catching the War. It's infecting you and I don't know how to keep it away. Oh, Jess. Jessica. Don't leave me. ...