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Tropic of Cancer[北回归线][En/Cn]






It was along the close of summer when Fillmore invited me to come and live with him. He had a studio apartment overlooking the cavalry barracks just off the Place Dupleix. We had seen a lot of each other since the little trip to Le Havre. If it hadn't been for Fillmore I didn't know where I should be today – dead, most likely. "I would have asked you long before," he said, "if it hadn't been for that little bitch Jackie. I didn't know how to get her off my hands."



 I had to smile. It was always like that with Fillmore. He had a genius for attracting Homeless bitches. Anyway, Jackie had finally cleared out of her own accord.



The rainy season was coming on, the long, dreary stretch of grease and fog and squirts of rain that make you damp and miserable. An execrable place in the winter, Paris! A climate that eats into your soul, that leaves you bare as the Labrador coast. I noticed with some anxiety that the only means of heating the place was the little stove in the studio. However, it was still comfortable. And the view from the studio window was superb.



In the morning Fillmore would shake me roughly and leave a ten franc note on the pillow. As soon a he had gone I would settle back for a final snooze. Sometimes I would lie abed till noon. There was nothing pressing, except to finish the book, and that didn't worry me much because I was already convinced that nobody would accept it anyway. Nevertheless, Fillmore was much impressed by it. When he arrived in the evening with a bottle under his arm the first thing he did was to go to the table and see how many pages I had knocked off.



At first I enjoyed this show of enthusiasm but later, when I was running dry, it made me devilishly uneasy to see him poking around, searching for the pages that were supposed to trickle out of me like water from a tap. When there was nothing to show I felt exactly like some bitch whom he had harbored. He used to say about Jackie, I remembered – "it would have been all right if only she had slipped me a piece of ass once in a while." If I had been a woman I would have been only too glad to slip him a piece of ass: it would have been much easier than to feed him the pages which he expected.



Nevertheless, he tried to make me feel at ease. There was always plenty of food and wine, and now and then he would insist that I accompany him to a dancing. He was fond of going to a nigger joint on the Rue d'Odessa where there was a good looking mulatto who used to come Home with us occasionally. The one thing that bothered him was that he couldn't find a French girl who liked to drink. They were all too sober to satisfy him – He liked to bring a woman back to the studio and guzzle it with her before getting down to Business. He also liked to have her think that he was an artist. As the man from whom he had rented the place was a painter, it was not difficult to create an impression; the canvases which we had found in the armoire were soon stuck about the place and one of the unfinished ones conspicuously mounted on the easel. Unfortunately they were all of a surrealistic quality and the impression they created was usually unfavorable. Between a whore, a concierge and a cabinet minister there is not much difference in taste where pictures are concerned. It was a matter of great relief to Fillmore when Mark Swift began to visit us regularly with the intention of doing my portrait. Fillmore had a great admiration for Swift. He was a genius, he said. And though there was something ferocious about everything he tackled nevertheless when he painted a man or an object you could recognize it for what it was.



At Swift's request I had begun to grow a beard. The shape of my skull, he said, required a beard. I had to sit by the window with the Eiffel Tower in back of me because he wanted the Eiffel Tower in the picture too. He also wanted the typewriter in the picture. Kruger got the habit of dropping in too about this time; he maintained that Swift knew nothing about painting. It exasperated him to see things out of proportion. He believed in Nature's laws, implicitly. Swift didn't give a fuck about Nature; he wanted to paint what was inside his head. Anyway, there was Swift's portrait of me stuck on the easel now, and though everything was out of proportion, even a cabinet minister could see that it was a human head, a man with a beard. The concierge, indeed, began to take a great interest in the picture; she thought the likeness was striking. And she liked the idea of showing the Eiffel Tower in the background.



Things rolled along this way peacefully for about a month or more. The neighborhood appealed to me, particularly at night when the full squalor and lugubriousness of it made itself felt. The little Place, so charming and tranquil at twilight, could assume the most dismal, sinister character when darkness came on. There was that long, high wall covering one side of the barracks against which there was always a couple embracing each other furtively – often in the rain. A depressing sight to see two lovers squeezed against a prison wall under a gloomy street light: as if they had been driven right to the last bounds. What went on inside the enclosure was also depressing. On a rainy day I used to stand by the window and look down on the activity below, quite as if it were something going on on another planet. It seemed incomprehensible to me. Everything done according to schedule, but a schedule that must have been deviscd by a lunatic. There they were, floundering around in the mud, the bugles blowing, the horses charging – all within four walls. A sham battle. A lot of tin soldiers who hadn't the least interest in learning how to kill or how to polish their boots or currycomb the horses. Utterly ridiculous the whole thing, but part of the scheme of things. When they had nothing to do they looked even more ridiculous; they scratched themselves, they walked about with their hands in their pockets, they looked up at the sky. And when an officer came along they clicked their heels and saluted. A madhouse, it seemed to me. Even the horses looked silly. And then sometimes the artillery was dragged out and they went clattering down the street on parade and people stood and gaped and admired the fine uniforms. To me they always looked like an army corps in retreat; something shabby, bedraggled, crestfallen about them, their uniforms too big for their bodies, all the alertness, which as individuals they possess to such a remarkable degree, gone now.



When the sun came out, however, things looked different. There was a ray of hope in their eyes, they walked more elastically, they showed a little enthusiasm. Then the color of things peeped out graciously and there was that fuss and bustle so characteristic of the French; at the bistro on the corner they chattered gaily over their drinks and the officers seemed more human, more French, I might say. When the sun comes out, any spot in Paris can look beautiful; and if there is a bistro with an awning rolled down, a few tables on the sidewalk and colored drinks in the glasses, then people look altogether human. And they are human – the finest people in the world when the sun shines! So intelligent, so indolent, so carefree! It's a crime to herd such a people into barracks, to put them through exercises, to grade them into privates and sergeants and colonels and what not.



As I say, things were rolling along smoothly. Now and then Carl came along with a job for me, travel articles which he hated to do himself. They only paid fifty francs a piece, but they were easy to do because I had only to consult the back issues and revamp the old articles. People only read these things when they were sitting on a toilet or killing time in a waiting room. The principal thing was to keep the adjectives well furbished – the rest was a matter of dates and statistics. If it was an important article the head of the department signed it himself; he was a half wit who couldn't speak any language well, but who knew how to find fault. If he found a paragraph that seemed to him well written he would say – "Now that's the way I want you to write! That's beautiful. You have my permission to use it in your book." These beautiful paragraphs we sometimes lifted from the encyclopaedia or an old guide book. Some of them Carl did put into his book – they had a surrealistic character.



Then one evening, after I had been out for a walk, I open the door and a woman springs out of the bedroom. "So you're the writer!" she exclaims at once, and she looks at my beard as if to corroborate her impression. "What a horrid beard!" she says. "I think you people must be crazy around here." Fillmore is trailing after her with a blanket in his hand. "She's a princess," he says, smacking his lips as if he had just tasted some rare caviar. The two of them were dressed for the street; I couldn't understand what they were doing with the bedclothes. And then it occurred to me immediately that Fillmore must have dragged her into the bedroom to show her his laundry bag. He always did that with a new woman, especially if she was a Française. "No tickee, no shirtee!" that's what was stitched on the laundry bag, and somehow Fillmore had an obsession for explaining this motto to every female who arrived. But this dame was not a Française – he made that clear to me at once. She was Russian – and a princess, no less.



He was bubbling over with excitement, like a child that has just found a new toy.



"She speaks five languages!" he said, obviously overwhelmed by such an accomplishment.



"Non, four!" she corrected promptly.



"Well, four then… Anyway, she's a damned intelligent girl. You ought to hear her speak."



The princess was nervous – she kept scratching her thigh and rubbing her nose. "Why does he want to make his bed now?" she asked me abruptly. "Does he think he will get me that way? He's a big child. He behaves disgracefully. I took him to a Russian restaurant and he danced like a nigger." She wiggled her bottom to illustrate. "And he talks too much. Too loud. He talks nonsense." She swished about the room, examining the paintings and the books, keeping her chin well up all the time but scratching herself intermittently.



Now and then she wheeled around like a battleship and delivered a broadside. Fillmore kept following her about with a bottle in one hand and a glass in the other. "Stop following me like that!" she exclaimed. "And haven't you anything to drink but this? Can't you get a bottle of champagne? I must have some champagne. My nerves! My nerves!"



Fillmore tries to whisper a few words in my ear. "An actress… a movie star… some guy jilted her and she can't get over it… I'm going to get her cockeyed…""I'll clear out then," I was saying, when the princess interrupted us with a shout.



"Why do you whisper like that?" she cried, stamping her foot. "Don't you know that's not polite? And you, I thought you were going to take me out? I must get drunk tonight, I have told you that already."



"Yes, yes," said Fillmore, "we're going in a minute. I just want another drink."



"You're a pig!" she yelled. "But you're a nice boy too. Only you're loud. You have no manners." She turned to me. "Can I trust him to behave himself? I must get drunk tonight but I don't want him to disgrace me. Maybe I will come back here afterward. I would like to talk to you. You seem more intelligent."



As they were leaving the princess shook my hand cordially and promised to come for dinner some evening – "when I will be sober," she said.



"Fine!" I said. "Bring another princess along – or a countess, at least. We change the sheets every Saturday."

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