henry bech’s preface john updike’s first bech book


” . . . I sound like some gentlemanly Norman Mailer; then that London glimpse of silver hair glints more of gallant, glamorous Bellow, the King of the Leprechauns, than of stolid old homely yours truly. My childhood seems out of Alex Portnoy and my ancestral past out of I. B. Singer: I get a whiff of Malamud in your city breezes, and am I paranoid to feel my `block’ an ignoble version of the more or less noble renunciations of H. Roth, D. Fuchs, and J. Salinger?”

(1970):

from Bech: A Book

Foreword

Dear John,

Well, if you must commit the artistic indecency of writing about a writer, better I suppose about me than about you. Except, reading along in these, I wonder if it is me, enough me, purely me. At first blush, for example, in Bulgaria (eclectic sexuality, bravura narcissism, thinning curly hair), I sound like some gentlemanly Norman Mailer; then that London glimpse of silver hair glints more of gallant, glamorous Bellow, the King of the Leprechauns, than of stolid old homely yours truly. My childhood seems out of Alex Portnoy and my ancestral past out of I. B. Singer: I get a whiff of Malamud in your city breezes, and am I paranoid to feel my `block’ an ignoble version of the more or less noble renunciations of H. Roth, D. Fuchs, and J. Salinger? Withal, something Waspish, theological, scared, and insulatingly ironical that derives, my wild surmise is, from you.

Yet you are right. This monotonous hero who disembarks from an aeroplane, mouths words he doesn’t quite mean, has vaguely to do with some woman, and gets back on the aeroplane, is certainly one Henry Bech. Until your short yet still not unlongish collection, no revolutionary has concerned himself with our oppression, with the silken mechanism whereby America reduces her writers to imbecility and cozenage. Envied like Negroes, disbelieved in like angels, we veer between the harlotry of the lecture platform and the torture of the writing desk, only to collapse, our five-and-dime Hallowe’en priests’ robes a-rustle with economy-class jet-set tickets and honorary certificates from the Cunt-of-the-Month Club, amid a standing crowd of rueful, Lilliputian obituaries. Our language degenerating in the mouths of broadcasters and pop yellers, our formal designs crumbling like sand castles under the feet of beach bullies, we nevertheless and incredibly support with our desperate efforts (just now, I had to look up ‘desperate’ in the dictionary for the ninety-ninth time, forgetting again if it is spelled with two ‘a’s or three ‘e’s) a flourishing culture of publishers, agents, editors, tutors, Timeniks, media personnel in all shades of suavity, chic, and sexual gusto. When I think of the matings, the moaning, jubilant fornications between ectomorphic oversexed junior editors and svelte hot-from-Wellesley majored-in-English-minored-in-philosophy female coffee-fetchers and receptionists that have been engineered with the lever of some of my poor scratched-up and pasted-over pages (they arrive in the editorial offices as stiff with Elmer’s glue as a masturbator’s bedsheet; the office boys use them for tea-trays), I could mutilate myself like sainted Origen, I could keen like Jeremiah. Thank Jahweh these bordellos in the sky can soon dispense with the excuse of us entirely; already the contents of a book count as little as the contents of a breakfast cereal box. It is all a matter of the premium, and the shelf site, and the amount of air between the corn flakes. Never you mind. I’m sure that when with that blithe goyische brass I will never cease to grovel at you approached me for a ‘word or two by way of preface’, you were bargaining for a benediction, not a curse.

Here it is, then. My blessing. I like some of the things in these accounts very much. The Communists are all good–good people. There is a moment by the sea, I’ve lost the page, that rang true. Here and there passages seem overedited, constipated: you prune yourself too hard. With prose, there is no way to get it out, I have found, but to let it run. I liked some of the women you gave me, and a few of the jokes. By the way, I never–unlike retired light-verse writers–make puns. But if you [here followed a list of suggested deletions, falsifications, suppressions, and rewordings, all of which have been scrupulously incorporated–ED.], I don’t suppose your publishing this little jeu of a book will do either of us drastic harm.

Henry Bech

Manhattan,
4-12 Dec. 1969

“in every soup you find a nazi”: thomas bernhard’s “the german lunch table”

"The German Lunch Table"

("Der deutsche Mittagstisch")

 

A Tragedy

to be performed

by the Vienna State Theatre

when Touring Germany

 

Thomas Bernhard

 

Translated by Gitta Honegger

 

 

 

 

Herr and Frau Bernhard, their daughters, their sons, their grandsons and granddaughters, their great-grandsons and great-granddaughters, and their closest relatives—ninety-eight people around a small, not quite round, lunch table. Natural oak.

 

HERR BERNHARD:

(Scoldingly.)

You must take your time

 

FRAU BERNHARD:

Take the time

 

HERR BERNHARD:

To eat

Think of your mother and of her mother and of the mother of your mother’s mother

 

(Everyone, except Herr and Frau Bernhard, looking at each other.)

 

FRAU BERNHARD:

 

The revolution will destroy all of you, then you won’t be getting soup like this anymore

 

THE YOUNGEST OF THE GREAT-GRANDSONS:

(Screams.)

And no more potatoes

 

THE OLDEST OF THE GREAT-GRANDSONS:

Not one potato in all of Germany.

 

FRAU BERNHARD:

(Hoarsely.)

Because cancer-care has eaten up everything

 

HERR BERNHARD:

 

And NATO

And those AWACS

 

FRAU BERNHARD:

(To everyone.)

Don’t you ever say out loud what we just said

 

(Asks.)

Isn’t this delicious soup

 

(Everyone nods.)

 

THE SECOND ELDEST GREAT-GRANDSON:

(Not great-great grandson!)

Our new President is a Nazi

 

THE THIRD ELDEST GREAT-GREAT GRANDSON:

(Not great-grandson!)

And our last President was a Nazi too

 

THE OLDEST GRANDSON:

The Germans are all Nazis

 

FRAU BERNHARD:

Stop talking about politics

Eat your soup

 

HERR BERNHARD:

 

(Jumps up.)

 

I had enough now

In every soup you find a Nazi

 

(Hits with both hands the bottom of his still full soup plate.)

 

Nazi soup

Nazi Soup

Nazi Soup

 

(Frau Bernhard has jumped up, screams and points her index finger at Herr Bernhard’s pants.)

 

FRAU BERNHARD:

 

There you see

He’s wearing Nazi pants

Nazi pants that’s what he’s wearing

 

 

THE OLDEST GREAT-GRANDSON:

(Screaming.)

 

The Nazi pants

The German Nazi-father-pants

 

(Frau Bernhard sinks back into her chair and covers her face with both hands.)

 

 

FRAU BERNHARD:

How ashamed I am

Good God

Oh God help me how ashamed I am

Like President Scheel like Scheel like Scheel

 

THE YOUNGEST GREAT-GRANDDAUGHTER:

(Loudly.)

 

And like President Carstens

And like Carstens

 

FRAU BERNHARD:

Do we have to go through this

 

HERR BERNHARD:

It’s always the same as soon as we sit down at our table around the oak someone finds a Nazi in his soup

Instead of our good old noodle-soup we’re getting Nazi soup every day now

Only Nazis and no noodles

 

FRAU BERNHARD:

Listen to me dearest husband

You can’t get noodles anymore anywhere in Germany only Nazis

No matter where we buy our noodles it’s Nazis we get

No matter what package we open it’s always Nazis spilling out and when we cook the stuff it’s always boiling over

It’s not my fault

 

(Everyone throws down their spoons.)

 

THE YOUNGEST GREAT-GRANDSON:

Why don’t you leave mother alone

 

FRAU BERNHARD:

(Her face buried in her German mother’s apron, meekly.)

After all all of you were spoon-fed on National Socialism.

 

(They all throw themselves on Frau Bernhard and strangle her. The oldest great-grandson screams into the silence:)

 

Mother

 

(Curtain.)

 

Translation copyright 1981 by Gitta Honegger.

 

science fiction from sir kingsley amis


Sir Kingsley Amis’ interest in genre fiction spanned most of his writing career—indeed, at the ceremony in which he was knighted, he told the Queen that he only read Dick Francis novels.  Invited to give a series of lectures at Princeton University as part of the 1959 Christian Gauss Seminars in Criticism, Amis chose science fiction as his subject matter. The lectures were then reworked and published as New Maps of Hell in 1960. Amis considered science fiction a viable means for social commentary of the kind which couldn’t be made in other forms of literature.

Amis also wrote his own speculative fiction, with novels like The Anti-Death League (1966), The Green Man (1971), The Alteration (1976)—described by Philip K. Dick as the best alternative history novel ever written, and Russian Hide-and-Seek (1980), a dystopic portrayal of a future Great Britain which has been conquered by Russia.

The following short story first appeared in The Spectator in 1960, ran in Fantasy & Science Fiction in July 1961, and was later collectd in Possible Tomorrows (1973) and other anthologies.

book cover of 

Possible Tomorrows 

by

Groff Conklin
 

 

 

“Something Strange”

By Kingsley Amis

 

 

Something strange happened every day. It might happen during the morning, while the two men were taking their readings and observations and the two women busy with the domestic routine: the big faces had come during the morning. Or, as with the little faces and the coloured fires, the strange thing would happen in the afternoon, in the middle of Bruno’s maintenance programme and Clovis’s transmission to Base, Lia’s rounds of the garden and Myri’s work on her story. The evening was often undisturbed, the night less often.                               

 

They all understood that ordinary temporal expressions had no meaning for people confined indefinitely, as they were, to a motionless steel sphere hanging in a region of space so empty that the light of the nearest star took some hundreds of years to reach them. The Standing Orders devised by Base, however, recommended that they adopt a twenty-four-hour unit of time, as was the rule on the Earth they had not seen for many months. The arrangement suited them well: their work, recreation and rest seemed to fall naturally into the periods provided. It was only the prospect of year after year of the same routine, stretching further into the future than they could see, that was a source of strain.

 

Bruno commented on this to Clovis after a morning spent repairing a fault in the spectrum analyser they used for investigating and classifying the nearer stars. They were sitting at the main observation port in the lounge, drinking the midday cocktail and waiting for the women to join them.

 

‘I’d say we stood up to it extremely well,’ Clovis said in answer to Bruno. ‘Perhaps too well.’

 

Bruno hunched his fat figure upright. ‘How do you mean?’

 

‘We may be hindering our chances of being relieved.’

 

‘Base has never said a word about our relief.’

 

‘Exactly. With half a million stations to staff, it’ll be a long time before they get round to one like this, where everything runs smoothly. You and I are a perfect team, and you have Lia and I have Myri, and they’re all right together – no real conflict at all. Hence ho reason for a relief.’

 

Myri had heard all this as she laid the table in the alcove. She wondered how Clovis could not know that Bruno wanted to have her instead of Lia, or perhaps as well as Lia. If Clovis did know, and was teasing Bruno, then that would be a silly thing to do, because Bruno was not a pleasant man. With his thick neck and pale fat face he would not be pleasant to be had by, either, quite unlike Clovis, who was no taller but whose straight, hard body and soft skin were always pleasant. He could not think as well as Bruno, but on the other hand many of the things Bruno thought were not pleasant. She poured herself a drink and went over to them.

 

Bruno had said something about its being a pity they could not fake their personnel report by inventing a few quarrels, and Clovis had immediately agreed that that was impossible. She kissed him and sat down at his side. ‘What do you think about the idea of being relieved?’ he asked her.

 

‘I never think about it.’

 

‘Quite right,’ Bruno said, grinning. ‘You’re doing very nicely here. Fairly nicely, anyway.’

 

‘What are you getting at?’ Clovis asked him with a different kind of grin.

 

‘It’s not a very complete life, is it? For any of us. I could do with a change, anyway. A different kind of job, something that isn’t testing and using and repairing apparatus. We do seem to have a lot of repairing to do, don’t we? That analyser breaks down almost every day. And yet -‘

 

His voice tailed off and he looked out of the port, as if to assure himself that all that lay beyond it was the familiar starscape of points and smudges of light. ‘And yet what?’ Clovis asked, irritably this time.

 

‘I was just thinking that we really ought to be thankful for having plenty to do. There’s the routine and the fruits and vegetables to look after, and Myri’s story…. How’s that going, by the way? Won’t you read us some of it? This evening, perhaps?’

 

‘Not until it’s finished, if you don’t mind.’

 

‘Oh, but I do mind. It’s part of our duty to entertain one another. And I’m very interested in it personally.’

 

‘Why?’

 

‘Because you’re an interesting girl. Bright brown eyes and a healthy glowing skin – how do you manage it after all this time in space? And you’ve more energy than any of us.’

 

Myri said nothing. Bruno was good at making remarks there was nothing to say to.

 

‘What’s it about, this story of yours?’ he pursued. ‘At least you can tell us that.’

 

‘I have told you. It’s about normal life. Life on Earth before there were any space stations, lots of different people doing different things, not this -‘

 

‘That’s normal life, is it, different people doing different things? I can’t wait to hear what the things are. Who’s the hero, Myri? Our dear Clovis?’

 

Myri put her hand on Clovis’s shoulder. ‘No more, please, Bruno. Let’s go back to your point about the routine. I couldn’t understand why you left out the most important part, the part that keeps us busiest of all.’

 

‘Ah, the strange happenings.’ Bruno dipped his head in a characteristic gesture, half laugh, half nervous tremor. ‘And the hours we spend discussing them. Oh yes. How could I have failed to mention all that?’

 

‘If you’ve got any sense you’ll go on not mentioning it,’ Clovis snapped. ‘We’re all fed up with the whole business.’

 

‘You may be, but I’m not. I want to discuss it. So does Myri, don’t you, Myri?’

 

‘I do think perhaps it’s time we made another attempt to find a pattern,’ Myri said. This was a case of Bruno not being pleasant but being right.

 

‘Oh, not again.’ Clovis bounded up and went over to the drinks table. ‘Ah, hallo, Lia,’ he said to the tall, thin, blonde woman who had just entered with a tray of cold dishes. ‘Let me get you a drink. Bruno and Myri are getting philosophical – looking for patterns. What do you think? I’ll tell you what I think. I think we’re doing enough already. I think patterns are Base’s job.’

 

‘We can make it ours, too,’ Bruno said. ‘You agree, Lia?’

 

‘Of course,’ Lia said in the deep voice that seemed to Myri to carry so much more firmness and individuality in its tone than any of its owner’s words or actions.

 

‘Very well. You can stay out of this if you like, Clovis. We start from the fact that what we see and hear need not be illusions, although they may be.’

 

‘At least that they’re illusions that any human being might have, they’re not special to us, as we know from Base’s reports of what happens to other stations.’

 

‘Correct, Myri. In any event, illusions or not, they are being directed at us by an intelligence and for a purpose.’

 

‘We don’t know that,’ Myri objected. ‘They may be natural phenomena, or the by-product of some intelligent activity not directed at us.’

 

‘Correct again, but let us reserve these less probable possibilities until later. Now, as a sample, consider the last week’s strange happenings. I’ll fetch the log so that there can be no dispute.’

 

‘I wish you’d stop it,’ Clovis said when Bruno had gone out to the apparatus room. ‘It’s a waste of time.’

 

‘Time’s the only thing we’re not short of.’

 

‘I’m not short of anything,’ he said, touching her thigh. ‘Come with me for a little while.’

 

‘Later.’

 

‘Lia always goes with Bruno when he asks her.’

 

‘Oh yes, but that’s my choice,’ Lia said. ‘She doesn’t want to now. Wait until she wants to.’

 

‘I don’t like waiting.’

 

‘Waiting can make it better.’

 

‘Here we are,’ Bruno said briskly, returning. ‘Right…. Monday. Within a few seconds the sphere became encased in a thick brownish damp substance that tests revealed to be both impermeable and infinitely thick. No action by the staff suggested itself. After three hours and eleven minutes the substance disappeared. It’s the infinitely thick thing that’s interesting. That must have been an illusion, or something would have happened’ to all the other stations at the same time, not to speak of the stars and planets. A total or partial illusion, then. Agreed?’

 

‘Go on.’

 

‘Tuesday. Metallic object of size comparable to that of the sphere approaching on collision course at 500 kilometres per second. No countermeasures available. Object appeared instantaneously at 35 million kilometres’ distance and disappeared instantaneously at 1500 kilometres’. What about that?’

 

‘We’ve had ones like that before,’ Lia put in. ‘Only this was the longest time it’s taken to approach and the nearest it’s come before disappearing.’

 

‘Incomprehensible or illusion,’ Myri suggested.

 

‘Yes, I think that’s the best we can do at the moment. Wednesday: a very trivial one, not worth discussing. A being apparently constructed entirely of bone approached the main port and made beckoning motions. Whoever’s doing this must be running out of ideas. Thursday. All bodies external to the sphere vanished to all instruments simultaneously, reappearing to all instruments simultaneously two hours later. That’s not a new one either, I seem to remember. Illusion? Good. Friday. Beings resembling terrestrial reptiles covered the sphere, fighting ceaselessly and eating portions of one another. Loud rustling and slithering’ sounds. The sounds at least must have been, an illusion, with no air out there, and I never heard of a reptile that didn’t breathe. The same sort of thing applies to yesterday’s performance. Human screams of pain and extreme astonishment approaching and receding. No visual or other accompaniment.’ He paused and looked round at them. ‘Well? Any uniformities suggest themselves?’

 

‘No,’ Clovis said, helping himself to salad, for they sat now at the lunch table. ‘And I defy any human brain to devise any. The whole thing’s arbitrary.’

 

‘On the contrary, the very next happening – today’s when it comes – might reveal an unmistakable pattern.’

 

‘The one to concentrate on,’ Myri said, ‘is the approaching object. Why did it vanish before striking the sphere?’

 

Bruno stared at her. ‘It had to, if it was an illusion.’

 

‘Not at all. Why couldn’t we have had an illusion of the sphere being struck? And supposing it wasn’t an illusion?’

 

‘Next time there’s an object, perhaps it will strike,’ Lia said.

 

Clovis laughed. ‘That’s a good one. What would happen if it did, I wonder? And it wasn’t an illusion?’

 

They all looked at Bruno for an answer. After a moment or two, he said: ‘I presume the sphere would shatter and we’d all be thrown into space. I simply can’t imagine what that would be like. We should be … Never to see one another again, or anybody or anything else, to be nothing more than a senseless lump floating in space for ever. The chances of -‘

 

‘It would be worth something to be rid of your conversation,’ Clovis said, amiable again now that Bruno was discomfited. ‘Let’s be practical for a change. How long will it take you to run off your analyses this afternoon? There’s a lot of stuff to go out to Base and I shan’t be able to give you a hand.’

 

‘An hour, perhaps, after I’ve run the final tests.’

 

‘Why run tests at all? She was lined up perfectly when we finished this morning.’

 

‘Fortunately.’

 

‘Fortunately indeed. One more variable and we might have found it impossible.’

 

‘Yes,’ Bruno said abstractedly. Then he got to his feet so abruptly that the other three started. ‘But we didn’t, did we? There wasn’t one more variable, was there? It didn’t quite happen, you see, the thing we couldn’t handle.’

 

Nobody spoke.

 

‘Excuse me, I must be by myself.’

 

‘If Bruno keeps this up,’ Clovis said to the two women, ‘Base will send up a relief sooner than we think.’

 

Myri tried to drive the thought of Bruno’s strange behaviour out of her. head when, half an hour later, she sat down to work on her story. The expression on his face as he left the table had been one she could not name. Excitement? Dislike? Surprise? That was the nearest – a kind of persistent surprise. Well, he was certain, being Bruno, to set about explaining it at dinner. She wished he were more pleasant, because he did think well.

 

Finally expelling the image of Bruno’s face, she began re-reading the page of manuscript she had been working on when the screams had interrupted her the previous afternoon. It was part of a difficult scene, one in which a woman met by chance a man who had been haVing her ten years earlier, with the complication that she was at the time in the company of the man who was currently having her. The scene was an eating alcove in a large city.

 

‘Go away,’ Volsci said, ‘or I’ll hit you.’

 

Norbu smiled in a not-pleasant way. What good would that do? Irmy likes me better than she likes you. You are more pleasant, no doubt, but she likes me better. She remembers me having her ten years ago more clearly than she remembers you having her last night. I am good at thinking, which is better than any amount of being pleasant.’

 

‘She’s having her meal with me,’ Volsci said, pointing to the cold food and drinks in front of them. ‘Aren’t you, Irmy?’

 

‘Yes, Irmy,’ Norbu said. ‘You must choose. If you can’t let both of us have you, you must say which of us you like better.’

 

Irmy looked from one man to the other. There was so much difference between them that she could hardly begin to choose: The one more pleasant, the other better at thinking, the one slim, the other plump. She decided being pleasant was better. It was more important and more significant – better in every way that made a real difference. She said: ‘I’ll have Volsci.’

 

Norbu looked surprised and sorry. ‘I think you’re wrong.’

 

You might as well go now,’ Volsci said. ‘Ila will be waiting.’

 

Yes,’ Norbu said. He looked extremely sorry now.

 

Irmy felt quite sorry too. ‘Good-bye, Norbu,’ she said.

 

Myri smiled to herself. It was good, even better than she had remembered – there was no point in being modest inside one’s own mind. She must be a real writer in spite of Bruno’s scoffing, or how could she have invented these characters, who were so utterly unlike anybody she knew, and then put them into a situation that was so completely outside her experience? The only thing she was not sure about was whether she might not have overplayed the part about feeling or dwelt on it at too great length. Perhaps extremely sorry was a little heavy; she replaced it by sorrier than before. Excellent: now there was just the right touch of restraint in the middle of all the feeling. She decided she could finish off the scene in a few lines.

 

‘Probably see you at some cocktail hour,’ Volsci said, she wrote, then looked up with a frown as the buzzer sounded at her door. She crossed her tiny wedge-shaped room – its rear wall was part of the outer wall of the sphere, but it had no port – threw the lock and found Bruno on the threshold. He was breathing fast, as if he had been hurrying or lifting a heavy weight, and she saw with distaste that there were drops of sweat on his thick skin. He pushed past her and sat down on her bed, his mouth open.

 

‘What is it?’ she asked, displeased. The afternoon was a private time unless some other arrangement were made at lunch.

 

‘I don’t know what it is. I think I must be ill.’

 

‘Ill? But you can’t be. Only people on Earth get ill. Nobody on a station is ever ill: Base told us that. Illness is caused by -‘

 

‘I don’t think I believe some of the things that Base says.’

 

‘But who can we believe if we don’t believe Base?’

 

Bruno evidently did not hear her question. He said: ‘I had to come to you – Lia’s no good for this. Please let me stay with you, I’ve got so much to say.’

 

‘It’s no use, Bruno. Clovis is the one who has me. I thought you understood that I didn’t -‘

 

‘That’s not what I mean,’ he said impatiently. ‘Where I need you is in thinking. Though that’s connected with the other, the having. I don’t expect you to see that. I’ve only just begun to see it myself.’                                                 

 

Myri could make nothing of this last part. ‘Thinking? Thinking about what?’

 

He bit his lip and shut his eyes for a moment. ‘Listen to this,’ he said. ‘It was the analyser that set my mind going. Almost every other day it breaks down. And the computer, the counters, the repellers, the scanners and the rest of them – they’re always breaking down too, and so are their power supplies. But not the purifier or the fluid-reconstitutor or the fruit and vegetable growers or the heaters or the main power source. Why not?’                                                             

 

‘Well, they’re less complicated. How can a fruit grower go wrong? A chemical tank and a water tank is all there is to it. You ask Lia about that.’

 

‘All right. Try answering this, then. The strange happenings. If they’re illusions, why are they always outside the sphere? Why are there never any inside?’

 

‘Perhaps there are,’ Myri said.

 

‘Don’t. I don’t want that. I shouldn’t like that. I want everything in here to be real. Are you real? I must believe you are.’

[The story concludes in the post immediately below].

kingsley amis’ “something strange”—conclusion


[Continued from the post immediately above].

‘Of course I’m real.’ She was now thoroughly puzzled.

 

‘And it makes a difference, doesn’t it? It’s very important that you and everything else should be real, everything in the sphere. But tell me: whatever’s arranging these happenings must be pretty powerful if it can fool our instruments and our senses so completely and consistently, and yet it can’t do anything – anything we recognise as strange, that is – inside this puny little steel skin. Why not?’

 

‘Presumably it has its limitations. We should be pleased.’

 

‘Yes. All right, next point. You remember the time I tried to sit up in the lounge after midnight and stay awake?’

 

‘That was silly. Nobody can stay awake after midnight. Standing Orders were quite clear on that point.’

 

‘Yes, they were, weren’t they?’ Bruno seemed to be trying to grin. ‘Do you remember my telling you how I couldn’t account for being in my own bed as usual when the music woke us – you remember the big music? And – this is what I’m really after – do you remember how we all agreed at breakfast that life in space must have conditioned us in such a way that falling asleep at a fixed time had become an automatic mechanism? You remember that?’

 

‘Naturally I do.’

 

‘Right. Two questions, then. Does that strike you as a likely explanation? That sort of complete self-conditioning in all four of us after … just a number of months?’

 

‘Not when you put it like that,’

 

‘But we all agreed on it, didn’t we? Without hesitation.’

 

Myri, leaning against a side wall, fidgeted. He was being not pleasant in a new way, one that made her want to stop him talking even while he was thinking at his best. ‘What’s your other question, Bruno?’ Her voice sounded unusual to, her.

 

‘Ah, you’re feeling it too, are you?’

 

‘I don’t know what you mean.’

 

‘I think you will in a minute. Try my other question. The night of the music was a long time ago, soon after we arrived here, but you remember it clearly. So do I. And yet when I try to remember what I was doing only a couple of months earlier, on Earth, finishing up my life there, getting ready for this, it’s just a vague blur. Nothing stands out.’

 

‘It’s all so remote.’

 

‘Maybe. But I remember the trip clearly enough, don’t you?’

 

Myri caught her breath. I feel surprised, she told herself. Or something like that. I feel the way Bruno looked when he left the lunch table. She said nothing.

 

‘You’re feeling it now all right, aren’t you?’ He was watching her closely with his narrow eyes. ‘Let me try to describe, it. A surprise that goes on and on. Puzzlement. Symptoms of physical exertion or strain. And above all a … a sort of discomfort, only in the mind. Like having a sharp object pressed against a tender part of your body, except that this is in your mind.’

 

‘What are you talking about?’

 

‘A difficulty of vocabulary.’

 

The loudspeaker above the door clicked on and Clovis’s voice said: ‘Attention. Strange happening. Assemble in the lounge at once. Strange happening.’

 

Myri and Bruno stopped staring at each other and hurried out along the narrow corridor. Clovis and Lia were already in the lounge, looking out of the port.

 

Apparently only a few feet beyond the steelhard glass, and illuminated from some invisible source, were two floating figures. The detail was excellent, and the four inside the sphere could distinguish without difficulty every fold in the naked skin of the two caricatures of humanity presented, it seemed, for their thorough inspection, a presumption given added weight by the slow rotation of the pair that enabled their every portion to be scrutinised. Except for a scrubby growth at the base of the skull, they were hairless. The limbs were foreshortened, lacking the normal narrowing at the joints, and the bellies protuberant. One had male characteristics, the other female, yet in neither case were these complete. From each open, wet, quivering toothless mouth there came a loud, clearly audible yelling, higher in pitch than any those in the sphere could have produced, and of an unfamiliar emotional range.

 

‘Well, I wonder how long this will last,’ Clovis said.

 

‘Is it worth trying the repellers on them?’ Lia asked. ‘What does the radar say? Does it see them?’

 

‘I’ll go and have a look.’

 

Bruno turned his back on the port. ‘I don’t like them.’

 

‘Why not?’Myri saw he was sweating again.

 

‘They remind me of something.’

 

‘What?’

 

‘I’m trying to think.’

 

But although Bruno went on trying to think for the rest of that day, with such obvious seriousness that even Clovis did his best to help with suggestions, he was no nearer a solution when they parted, as was their habit, at five minutes to midnight. And when, several times in the next couple of days, Myri mentioned the afternoon of the caricatures to him, he showed little interest.

 

‘Bruno, you are extraordinary,’ she said one evening. ‘What happened to those odd feelings of yours you were so eager to describe to me just before Clovis called us into the lounge?’

 

He shrugged his narrow shoulders in the almost girlish way he had. ‘Oh, I don’t know what could have got into me,’ he said. ‘I expect I was just angry with the confounded analyser and the way it kept breaking down. It’s been much better recently.’

 

‘And all that thinking you used to do.’

 

‘That was a complete waste of time.’

 

‘Surely not.’

 

‘Yes, I agree with Clovis, let Base do all the thinking.’

 

Myri was disappointed. To hear Bruno resigning the task of thought seemed like the end of something. This feeling was powerfully underlined for her when, a little later, the announcement came over the loudspeaker in the lounge. Without any preamble at all, other than the usual click on, a strange voice said: ‘Your attention, please. This is Base calling over your intercom.’

 

They all looked up in great surprise, especially Clovis, who said quickly to Bruno: ‘Is that possible?’

 

‘Oh yes, they’ve been experimenting,’ Bruno replied as quickly.

 

‘It is perhaps ironical,’ the voice went on, ‘that the first transmission we have been able to make to you by the present means is also the last you will receive by any. For some time the maintenance of space stations has been uneconomic, and the decision has just been taken to discontinue them altogether. You will therefore make no further reports of any kind, or rather you may of course continue to do on the understanding that nobody will be listening. In many cases it has fortunately been found possible to arrange for the collection of station staffs and their return to Earth: in others, those involving a journey to the remoter parts of the galaxy, a prohibitive expenditure of time and effort would be entailed. I am sorry to have to tell you that your own station is one of these. Accordingly, you will never be relieved. All of us here are confident that you will respond to this new situation with dignity and resource.

 

‘Before we sever communication for the last time, I have one more point to make. It involves a revelation which may prove so unwelcome that only with the greatest reluctance can I bring myself to utter it. My colleagues, however, insisted that those in your predicament deserve, in your own interests, to hear the whole truth about it. I must tell you, then, that contrary to your earlier information we have had no reports from any other station whose content resembles in the slightest degree your accounts of the strange happenings you claim to have witnessed. The deception was considered necessary so that your morale might be maintained, but the time for deceptions is over. You are unique, and in the variety of mankind that is no small distinction. Be proud of it. Good-bye for ever.’

 

They sat without speaking until five minutes to midnight. Try as she would, Myri found it impossible to conceive their future, and the next morning she had no more success. That was as long as any of them had leisure to come to terms with their permanent isolation, for by midday, a quite new phase of strange happenings had begun. Myri and Lia were preparing lunch in the kitchen when Myri, opening the cupboard where the dishes were kept, was confronted by a flattish, reddish creature with many legs and a pair of unequally sized pincers. She gave a gasp, almost a shriek, of astonishment.

 

‘What is it?’ Lia said, hurrying over, and then in a high voice: ‘Is it alive?’

 

‘It’s moving. Call the men.’

 

Until the others came, Myri simply stared. She found her lower lip shaking in a curious way. Inside now, she kept thinking. Not just outside. Inside.

 

‘Let’s have a look,’ Clovis said. ‘I see. Pass me a knife or something.’ He rapped at the creature, making a dry, bony sound. ‘Well, it works for tactile and aural, as well as visual, anyway. A thorough illusion. If it is one.’

 

‘It must be,’ Bruno said. ‘Don’t you recognize it?’

 

‘There is something familiar about it, I suppose.’

 

‘You suppose? You mean you don’t know a crab when you see one?’

 

‘Oh, of course,’ Clovis looked slightly sheepish. ‘I remember now. A terrestrial animal, isn’t it? Lives in the water. And so it must be an illusion. Crabs don’t cross space as far as I know, and even if they could they’d have a tough time carving their way through the skin of the sphere.’

 

His sensible manner and tone helped Myri to get over her astonishment, and it was she who suggested that the crab be disposed of down the waste chute. At lunch, she said: ‘It was a remarkably specific illusion, don’t you think? I wonder how it was projected.’

 

‘No point in wondering about that,’ Bruno told her. ‘How can we ever know? And what use would the knowledge be to us if we did know?’

 

‘Knowing the truth has its own value.’

 

‘I don’t understand you.’

 

Lia came in with the coffee just then. ‘The crab’s back,’ she said. ‘Or there’s another one there, I can’t tell.’

 

More crabs, or simulacra thereof, appeared at intervals for the rest of the day, eleven of them in all. It seemed, as Clovis put it, that the illusion-producing technique had its limitations, inasmuch as none of them saw a crab actually materialize: the new arrival would be ‘discovered’ under a bed or behind a bank of apparatus. On the other hand, the depth of illusion produced was very great, as they all agreed when Myri, putting the eighth crab down the chute, was nipped in the finger, suffered pain and exuded a few drops of blood.

 

‘Another new departure,’ Clovis said. ‘An illusory physical process brought about on the actual person of one of us. They’re improving.’

 

Next morning there were the insects. Their main apparatus room was found to be infested with what, again on Bruno’s prompting, they recognized as cockroaches. By lunch-time there were moths and flying beetles in all the main rooms, and a number of large flies became noticeable towards the evening. The whole of their attention became concentrated upon avoiding these creatures as far as possible. The day passed without Clovis asking Myri to go with him. This had never happened before.

 

The following afternoon a fresh problem was raised by Lia’s announcement that the garden now contained no fruits or vegetables – none, at any rate, that were accessible to her senses. In this the other three concurred. Clovis put the feelings of all of them when he said: ‘If this is an illusion, it’s as efficient as the reality, because fruits and vegetables you can never find are the same as no fruits and vegetables.’

 

The evening meal used up all the food they had. Soon after two o’clock in the morning Myri was aroused by Clovis’s voice saying over the loudspeaker: ‘Attention, everyone. Strange happening. Assemble in the lounge immediately.’

 

She was still on her way when she became aware of a new quality in the background of silence she had grown used to. It was a deeper silence, as if some sound at the very threshold of audibility had ceased. There were unfamiliar vibrations underfoot.

 

Clovis was standing by the port, gazing through it with interest. ‘Look at this, Myri,’ he said.

 

At a distance impossible to gauge, an oblong of light had become visible, a degree or so in breadth and perhaps two and a half times as high. The light was of comparable quality to that illuminating the inside of the sphere. Now and then it flickered.                                               

 

‘What is it?’ Myri asked.

 

‘I don’t know, it’s only just appeared.’ The floor beneath them shuddered violently. ‘That was what woke me, one of those tremors. Ah, here you are, Bruno. What do you make of it?’

 

Bruno’s large eyes widened further, but he said nothing. A moment later Lia arrived and joined the silent group by the port. Another vibration shook the sphere. Some vessel in i the kitchen fell to the floor and smashed. Then Myri said: ‘I can see what looks like a flight of steps leading down from the lower edge of the light. Three or four of them, perhaps more.’

 

She had barely finished speaking when a shadow appeared before them, cast by the rectangle of light on to a surface none of them could identify. The shadow seemed to them of a stupefying vastness, but it was beyond question that of a man. A moment later the man came into view, outlined by the light, and descended the steps. Another moment or two and he was evidently a few feet from the port, looking in on them, their own lights bright on the upper half of him. He was a well-built man wearing a grey uniform jacket and a metal helmet. An object recognizable as a gun of some sort was slung over his shoulder. While he watched them, two other figures, similarly accoutred, came down the steps and joined him. There was a brief interval, then he moved out of view to their right, doing so with the demeanour of one walking on a level surface.

 

None of the four inside spoke or moved, not even at the sound of heavy bolts being drawn in the section of outer wall directly in front of them, not even when that entire section swung away from them like a door opening outwards and the three men stepped through into the sphere. Two of them had unslung the guns from their shoulders.

 

Myri remembered an occasion, weeks ago, when she had risen from a stooping position in the kitchen and struck her head violently on the bottom edge of a cupboard door Lia had happened to leave open. The feeling Myri now experienced was similar, except that she had no particular physical sensations. Another memory, a much fainter one, passed across the far background of her mind: somebody had once tried to explain to her the likeness between a certain mental state and the bodily sensation of discomfort, and she had not understood. The memory faded sharply.

 

The man they had first seen said: ‘All roll up your sleeves.’                       

 

Clovis looked at him with less curiosity than he had been showing when Myri first joined him at the port, a few minutes earlier. ‘You’re an illusion,’ he said,

 

‘No I’m not. Roll up your sleeves, all of you.’

 

He watched them closely while they obeyed, becoming impatient at the slowness with which they moved. The other man whose gun was unslung, a younger man, said: ‘Don’t be hard on them, Allen. We’ve no idea what they’ve been through.’

 

‘I’m not taking any chances,’ Allen said. ‘Not after that crowd in the trees. Now this is for your own good,’ he went on, addressing the four. ‘Keep quite still. All right, Douglas.’

 

The third man came forward, holding what Myri knew to be a hypodermic syringe. He took her firmly by her bare arm and gave her an injection. At once her feelings altered, in the sense that, although there was still discomfort in her mind, neither this nor anything else seemed to matter.

 

After a time she heard the young man say: ‘You can roll your sleeves down now. You can be quite sure that nothing bad will happen to you.’

 

‘Come with us,’ Allen said.

 

Myri and the others followed the three men out of the sphere, across a gritty floor that might have been concrete and up the steps, a distance of perhaps thirty feet. They entered a corridor with artificial lighting and then a room into which the sun was streaming. There were twenty or thirty people in the room, some of them wearing the grey uniform. Now and then the walls shook as the sphere had done, but to the accompaniment of distant explosions. A faint shouting could also be heard from time to time.

 

Allen’s voice said loudly: ‘Let’s try and get a bit of order going. Douglas, they’ll be wanting you to deal with the people in the tank. They’ve been conditioned to believe they’re congenially aquatic; so you’d better give them a shot that’ll knock them out straight away. Holmes is draining the tank now. Off you go. Now you, James, you watch this lot while I find out some more about them. I wish those psycho chaps would turn up – we’re just working in the dark.’ His voice moved farther away. ‘Sergeant – get these five out of here.’

 

‘Where to, sir?’

 

‘I don’t mind where – Just out of here. And watch them.’

 

‘They’ve all been given shots, sir.’

 

‘I know, but look at them, they’re not human any more. And it’s no use talking to them, they’ve been deprived of language. That’s how they got the way they are. Now get them out right away.’

 

Myri looked slowly at the young man who stood near them: James. ‘Where are we?’ she asked.

 

James hesitated, ‘I was ordered to tell you nothing,’ he said. ‘You’re supposed to wait for the psychological team to get to you and treat you.’

 

‘Please.’

 

‘All right. This much can’t hurt you, I suppose. You four and a number of other groups have been the subject of various experiments. This building is part of Special Wefare Research Station No. Four. Or rather it was. The government that set it up no longer exists. It has been removed by the revolutionary army of which I’m a member. We had to shoot our way in here and there’s fighting still going on.’

 

‘Then we weren’t in space at all.’

 

‘No.’

 

‘Why did they make us believe we were?’

 

‘We don’t know yet.’

 

‘And how did they do it?’

 

‘Some new form of deep-level hypnosis, it seems, probably renewed at regular intervals. Plus various apparatus for producing illusions. We’re still working on that. Now, I think that’s enough questions for the moment. The best thing you can do is sit down and rest.’

 

‘Thank you. What’s hypnosis?’

 

‘Oh, of course they’d have removed knowledge of that. It’ll all be explained to you later.’

 

‘James, come and have a look at this, will you?’ Allen’s voice called. ‘I can’t make much of it.’

 

Myri followed James a little way. Among the clamour of voices, some speaking languages unfamiliar to her, others speaking none, she heard James ask: ‘Is this the right file? Fear Elimination?’

 

‘Must be,’ Allen answered. ‘Here’s the last entry. Removal of Bruno V and substitution of Bruno VI accomplished, together with memory-adjustment of other three subjects. Memo to Preparation Centre: avoid repetition of Bruno V personality-type with strong curiosity-drives. Started catching on to the set-up, eh? Wonder what they did with him.’

 

‘There’s that psycho hospital across the way they’re still investigating; perhaps he’s in there.’

 

‘With Brunos I to IV, no doubt. Never mind that for the moment. Now. Procedures: penultimate phase. Removal of all ultimate confidence: severance of communication, total denial of prospective change, inculcation of "uniqueness" syndrome, environment shown to be violable, unknowable crisis in prospect (food deprivation). I can understand that last bit. They don’t look starved, though.’

 

‘Perhaps they’ve only just started them on it.’

 

‘We’ll get them fed in a minute. Well, all this still beats me, James. Reactions. Little change. Responses poor. Accelerating impoverishment of emotional life and its vocabulary: compare portion of novel written by Myri VII with contributions of predecessors. Prognosis: further affective deterioration: catatonic apathy: failure of experiment. That’s comfort, anyway. But what has all this got to do with fear elimination?’

 

They stopped talking suddenly and Myri followed the direction of their gaze. A door had been opened and the man called Douglas was supervising the entry of a number of others, each supporting or carrying a human form wrapped in a blanket.

 

‘This must be the lot from the tank,’ Allen or James said.

 

Myri watched while those in the blankets were made as comfortable as possible on benches or on the floor. One of them, however, remained totally wrapped in his blanket and was paid no attention.

 

‘He’s had it, has he?’

 

‘Shock, I’m afraid.’ Douglas’s voice was unsteady. ‘There was nothing we could do. Perhaps we shouldn’t have -‘

 

Myristooped and turned back the edge of the blanket. What she saw was much stranger than anything she had experienced in the sphere. ‘What’s the matter with him?’ she asked James.

 

‘Matter with him? You can die of shock, you know.’

 

‘I can do what?’

 

Myri, staring at James, was aware that his face had become distorted by a mixture of expressions. One of them was understanding: all the others were painful to look at. They were renderings of what she herself was feeling. Her vision darkened and she ran from the room, back the way they had come, down the steps, across the floor, back into the sphere.

 

James was unfamiliar with the arrangement of the rooms there and did not reach her until she had picked up the manuscript of the novel, hugged it to her chest with crossed arms and fallen on to her bed, her knees drawn up as far as they would go, her head lowered as it had been before her birth, an event of which she knew nothing.

 

She was still in the same position when, days later, somebody sat heavily down beside her. ‘Myri. You must know who this is. Open your eyes, Myri. Come out of there.’

 

After he had said this, in the same gentle voice, some hundreds of times, she did open her eyes a little. She was in a long, high room, and near her was a fat man with a pale skin. He reminded her of something to do with space and thinking. She screwed her eyes shut.

 

‘Myri. I know you remember me. Open your eyes again.’

 

She kept them shut while he went on talking.

 

‘Open your eyes. Straighten your body.’

 

She did not move.

 

‘Straighten your body, Myri. I love you.’

 

Slowly her feet crept down the bed and her head lifted.

 

with “a kind of sweet panic” he runs: Rabbit Angstrom lights out for the territory

"Rabbit comes to the curb but instead of going to his right and around the block he steps down, with as big a feeling as if this little sidestreet is a wide river, and crosses… His hands lift of their own and he feels the wind on his ears even before, his heels hitting heavily on the pavement at first but with an effortless gathering out of a kind of sweet panic growing lighter and quicker and quieter, he runs. Ah: runs. Runs."

John Updike dead at age 76

 
 

 


The final pages of John Updike’s Rabbit, Run:

 

"How would you support me? How many wives can you support? Your jobs are a joke. You aren’t worth hiring. Maybe once you could play basketball but you can’t do anything now. What the hell do you think the world is?"

          "Please have the baby," he says. "You got to have it."

          "Why? Why do you care?"

          "I don’t know. I don’t know any of these answers. All I know is what feels right. You feel right to me. Sometimes Janice used to. Sometimes nothing does."

          "Who cares? That’s the thing. Who cares what you feel?"

          "I don’t know," he says again.

          She groans from her face he feared she would spit and turns and looks at the wall that is all in bumps from being painted over peeling previous coats so often.

          He says, "I’m hungry. Why don’t I go out to the delicatessen and get us something. Then we can think."

          She turns, steadier. "I’ve been thinking," she says. "You know where I was when you came here the other day? I was with my parents. You know I have parents. They’re pretty poor parents but that’s what they are. They live in West Brewer. They know. I mean they know some things. They know I’m pregnant. Pregnant’s a nice word, it happens to everybody, you don’t have to think too much what you must do to get that way. Now I’d like to marry you. I would. I mean whatever I said but if we’re married it’ll be all right. Now you work it out. You divorce that wife you feel so sorry for about once a month, you divorce her or forget me. If you can’t work it out, I’m dead to you; I’m dead to you and this baby of yours is dead too. Now: get out if you want to." Saying all this unsteadies her and makes her cry, but she pretends she’s not. She grips the back of the chair, the sides of her nose shining, and looks at him to say something. The way she’s fighting for control of herself repels him; he doesn’t like people who manage things. He likes things to happen of themselves.

          He has nervously felt her watching him for some sign of resolution inspired by her speech. In fact he has hardly listened; it is too complicated and, compared to the vision of a sandwich, unreal. He stands up, he hopes with soldierly effect, and says, "That’s fair. I’ll work it out. What do you want at the store?" A sandwich and a glass of milk, and then undressing her, getting her out of that cotton dress harried into wrinkles and seeing that thickened waist calm in its pale cool skin. He loves women when they’re first pregnant; a kind of dawn comes over their bodies. If he can just once more bury himself in her he knows he’ll come up with his nerves all combed.

          "I don’t want anything," she says.

          "Oh you got to eat," he says.

          "I’ve eaten," she says.

          He tries to kiss her but she says "No" and does not look inviting, fat and flushed and her many-colored hair straggled and damp.

          "I’ll be right back," he says.

          As he goes down the stairs worries come as quick as the click of his footsteps. Janice, money, Eccles’ phone call, the look on his mother’s face all clatter together in sharp dark waves; guilt and responsibility slide together like two substantial shadows inside his chest. The mere engineering of it the conversations, the phone calls, the lawyers, the finances seems to complicate, physically, in front of his mouth, s., he is conscious of the effort of breathing, and every action, just reaching for the doorknob, feels like a precarious extension of along mechanical sequence insecurely linked to his heart. The doorknob’s solidity answers his touch, and turns with a silky click.

          Outside in the air his fears condense. Globes of ether, pure nervousness, slide down his legs. The sense of outside space scoops at his chest. Standing on the step he tries to sort out his worries. Two thoughts comfort him, let a little light through the dense pack of impossible alternatives. Ruth has parents, and she will let his baby live; two thoughts that are perhaps the same thought, the vertical order of parenthood, a kind of thin tube upright in time in which our solitude is somewhat diluted. Ruth and Janice both have parents: on this excuse he dissolves them both. Nelson remains: here is a hardness he must carry with him. On this small fulcrum he tries to balance the rest, weighing opposites against each other: Janice and Ruth, Eccles and his mother, the right way and the good way, the way to the delicatessen gaudy with stacked fruit lit by a naked bulb and the other way, down Summer Street to where the city ends. He tries to picture how it will end, with an empty baseball field, a dark factory, and then over a brook into a dirt road, he doesn’t know. He pictures a huge vacant field of cinders and his heart goes hollow.

          Afraid, really afraid, he remembers what once consoled him by seeming to make a hole where he looked through into under lying brightness, and lifts his eyes to the church window. It is, because of church poverty or the late summer nights or just carelessness, unlit, a dark circle in a limestone facade.

          There is light, though, in the streetlights; muffled by trees their mingling cones retreat to the unseen end of Summer Street. Nearby, to his left, directly under one, the rough asphalt looks like dimpled snow. He decides to walk around the block, to clear his head and pick his path. Funny, how what makes you move is so simple and the field you must move in is so crowded. His legs take strength from the distinction, scissor along evenly. Goodness lies inside, there is nothing outside, those things he was trying to balance have no weight. He feels his inside as very real suddenly, a pure blank space in the middle of a dense net. I don’t know, he kept telling Ruth; he doesn’t know, what to do, where to go, what will happen, the thought that he doesn’t know seems to make him infinitely small and impossible to capture. Its smallness fills him like a vastness. It’s like when they heard you were great and put two men on you and no matter which way you turned you bumped into one of them and the only thing to do was pass. So you passed and the ball belonged to the others and your hands were empty and the men on you looked foolish because in effect there was nobody there.

          Rabbit comes to the curb but instead of going to his right and around the block he steps down, with as big a feeling as if this little sidestreet is a wide river, and crosses. He wants to travel to the next patch of snow. Although this block of brick three-stories is just like the one he left, something in it makes him happy; the steps and windowsills seem to twitch and shift in the corner of his eye, alive. This illusion trips him. His hands lift of their own and he feels the wind on his ears even before, his heels hitting heavily on the pavement at first but with an effortless gathering out of a kind of sweet panic growing lighter and quicker and quieter, he runs. Ah: runs. Runs.

 

 

“An unlikely rabbit: the world’s first look at Harry Angstrom:

 

Rabbit, Run

By John Updike

 

The motions of Grace, the hardness of the heart; external circumstances.

 

—Pascal, Pensée 507

 

Boys are playing basketball around a telephone pole with a backboard bolted to it. Legs, shouts. The scrape and snap of Keds on loose alley pebbles seems to catapult their voices high into the moist March air blue above the wires. Rabbit Angstrom, coming up the alley in a business suit, stops and watches, though he’s twenty-six and six three. So tall, he seems an unlikely rabbit, but the breadth of white face, the pallor of his blue irises, and a nervous flutter under his brief nose as he stabs a cigarette into his mouth partially explain the nickname, which was given to him when he too was a boy. He stands there thinking, the kids keep coming, they keep crowding you up.

          His standing there makes the real boys feel strange. Eyeballs slide. They’re doing this for themselves, not as a show for some adult walking around town in a double-breasted cocoa suit. It seems funny to them, an adult walking up the alley at all. Where’s his car? The cigarette makes it more sinister still. Is this one of those going to offer them cigarettes or money to go out in back of the ice plant with him? They’ve heard of such things but are not too frightened; there are six of them and one of him.

          The ball, rocketing off the crotch of the rim, leaps over the heads of the six and lands at the feet of the one. He catches it on the short bounce with a quickness that startles them. As they stare hushed he sights squinting through blue clouds of weed smoke, a suddenly dark silhouette like a smokestack against the afternoon spring sky, setting his feet with care, wiggling the ball with nervousness in front of his chest, one widespread white hand on top of the ball and the other underneath, jiggling it patiently to get some adjustment in air itself. The cuticle moons on his fingernails are big. Then the ball seems to ride up the right lapel of his coat and comes off his shoulder as his knees dip down, and it appears the ball will miss because though he shot from an angle the ball is not going toward the backboard. It was not aimed there. It drops into the circle of the rim, whipping the net with a ladylike whisper. "Hey!" he shouts in pride.

          "Luck," one of the kids says.

          "Skill," he answers, and asks, "Hey. O.K. if I play?"

          There is no response, just puzzled silly looks swapped. Rabbit takes off his coat, folds it nicely, and rests it on a clean ashcan lid. Behind him the dungarees begin to scuffle again. He goes into the scrimmaging thick of them for the ball, flips it from two weak grubby-knuckled child’s hands, has it in his own. That old stretched-leather feeling makes his whole body go taut, gives his arms wings. It feels like he’s reaching down through years to touch this tautness. His arms lift of their own and the rubber ball floats toward the basket from the top of his head. It feels so right he blinks when the ball drops short, and for a second wonders if it went through the hoop without rifling the net. He asks, "Hey whose side am I on?" 

 

 

…four books later, the death of Rabbit:

 

Tears are in Janice’s eyes constantly ever since the blue police lights appeared but this remark and the old man’s wise and kind manner freshen them. Dr. Morris paid closer attention to Harry toward the end than she did. In a way since those glimpses of him shining on the basketball court she had slowly ceased to see him, he had become invisible. "Did he mention me?" she asks, wondering if Harry had revealed that they were estranged.

          The old doctor’s sharp Scots gaze pierces her for a second. "Very fondly," he tells her.

          At this hour in the morning, a little after nine o’clock, with dirty breakfast trays still being wheeled along the halls, there is no one else in the ICCU waiting room, and Nelson in his own agitation keeps wandering off, to telephone Pru, to go to the bathroom, to get a cup of coffee and some Frosted Flakes at a cafeteria he’s discovered in another wing.The waiting room is tiny, with one window looking toward the parking lot, damp at the edges from the lawn sprinklers last night, and a low table of mostly religious magazines, and a hard black settee and chairs and floor lamps of bent pipes and plastic shades, they don’t want you to get too comfortable, they really want the patient all to themselves. While she’s in this limbo alone Janice thinks she should pray for Harry’s recovery, a miracle, but when she closes her eyes to do it she encounters a blank dead wall. From what Dr. Olman said he would never be alive the way he was and as Dr. Morris said, sometimes it’s time. He had come to bloom early and by the time she got to know him at Kroll’s he was already drifting downhill, though things did look up when the money from the lot began to be theirs. With him gone, she can sell the Penn Park house. Dear God, dear God, she prays. Do what You think best.

          A young black nurse appears at the open door and says so softly, yet with a beautiful half-smile, "He’s conscious now," and leads her into the intensive-care unit, which she remembers from last December- the central circular desk like an airport control tower, full of TV sets showing in jumping orange lines each patient’s heartbeat, and on three sides the rows of individual narrow bedrooms with glass front walls. When she sees her Harry lying in one of them as white as his sheets with all these tubes and wires going in and out of him, lying behind the wall of glass, an emotion so strong she fears for a second she might vomit hits her from behind, a crashing wave of sorrow and terrified awareness of utter loss like nothing ever in her life except the time she accidentally drowned her own dear baby. She had never meant never to forgive him, she had been intending one of these days to call, but the days slipped by; holding her silence had become a kind of addiction. How could she have hardened her heart so against this man who for better or worse had placed his life beside hers at the altar? It hadn’t been Harry really, it had been Pru, what man could resist, she and Pru and Nelson had analyzed it to the point of exhaustion. She was satisfied it wouldn’t happen again and she had a life to get on with. Now this. Just when. He called her stupid, it was true she was slower than he was, and slower to come into her own, but he was beginning to respect her, it was hard for him to respect any woman, his mother had done that to him, the hateful woman. Though all four of their parents were alive when they courted at Kroll’s she and Harry were orphans really, he more than she even. He saw something in her that would hold him fast for a while. She wants him back, back from this element he is sinking in, she wants it so much she might vomit, his desertions and Pru and Thelma and all whatever else are washed away by the grandeur of his lying there so helpless, so irretrievable.

          The nurse slides the door open. Above his baby-blue nose tubes for oxygen his blue eyes are open but he doesn’t seem to hear. He sees her, sees his wife here, little and dark-complected and stubborn in her forehead and mouth, blubbering like a waterfall and talking about forgiveness. "I forgive you," she keeps saying while he can’t remember for what. He lies there floating in a wonderful element, a bed of happy unfeeling that points of pain now and then poke through. He listens to Janice blubber and marvels at how small she grows, sitting in that padded wheelchair they give you, small like something in a crystal snowball, but finer, fine like a spiderweb, every crease in her face and rumpled gray saleswoman’s suit. She forgives him, and he thanks her, or thinks that he thanks her. Hebelieves she takes his hand. His consciousness comes and goes, and he marvels that in its gaps the world is being tended to, just as it was in the centuries before he was born. There is a terrible deep dryness in his throat, but he knows the sensation will pass, the doctors will do something about it. Janice seems one of those bright figures in his dream, the party they were having. He thinks of telling her about Tiger and I won but the impulse passes. He is nicely tired. He closes his eyes. The red cave he thought had only a front entrance and exit turns out to have a back door as well.

          His wife’s familiar and beloved figure has been replaced by that of Nelson, who is also unhappy. "You didn’t talk to her, Dad," the kid complains. "She said you stared at her but didn’t talk."

          O. K., he thinks, what else am I doing wrong? He feels sorry about what he did to the kid but he’s doing him a favor now, though Nelson doesn’t seem to know it.

          "Can’t you say anything? Talk to me, Dad!" the kid is yelling, or trying not to yell, his face white in the gills with the strain of it, and some unaskable question tweaking the hairs of one eyebrow, so they grow up against the grain. He wants to put the kid out of his misery. Nelson, he wants to say, you have a sister.

          But does he say it? His son’s anxious straining expression hasn’t changed. What he next says, though, shows he may have understood the word "sister."

          "We phoned Aunt Mim, Dad, and she’ll get here as soon as she can. She has to change planes in Kansas City!"

          From his expression and the pitch of his voice, the boy is shouting into a fierce wind blowing from his father’s direction. "Don’t die, Dad, don’t!" he cries, then sits back with that question still on his face, and his dark wet eyes shining like stars of a sort. Harry shouldn’t leave the question hanging like that, the boy depends on him.

          "Well, Nelson," he says, "all I can tell you is, it isn’t so bad." Rabbit thinks he should maybe say more, the kid looks wildly expectant, but enough. Maybe. Enough.

 

 

frederico garcía lorca on the wall street crash, and more from his “poet in new york”

“I was lucky enough to see with my own eyes the recent stock-market crash, where they lost several million dollars, a rabble of dead money that went sliding off into the sea. Never as then, amid suicides, hysteria, and groups of fainting people, have I felt the sensation of real death, death without hope, death that is nothing but rottenness, for the spectacle was terrifying but devoid of greatness…. I felt something like a divine urge to bombard that whole canyon of shadow, where ambulances collected suicides whose hands were full of rings.”

 

—Frederico García Lorca

 

 

From "A Poet in New York," Lecture, March 1932, Madrid. Published in Poet in New York (1940, translated 1988).

 

 

From Part III of Poet in New York:

 

 

            III
Streets of Dream

 

 

Death of Death

 

The mask. Look at the mask!
See it come to New York out of Africa!

The pepper trees went away,
and the little buds of phosphorus.
The camels with torn flesh went away
and the valleys of light that the swan raised on its beak.

It was the time of dry things,
wheat in the eye, and the run-over cat,
the time of rusting iron on great bridges,
and the definitive silence of cork.

It was the great reunion of dead animals,
transfixed by the swords of light;
the eternal delight of the ashen-footed hippo
and the gazelle with a dried flower in her throat.

In the withered solitude, no waves,
the bruised mask danced.
One half of the world was of sand,
the other, sleeping sun and mercury.

The mask. Look at the mask!
Sand, alligator, fear above New York!
……………………………..*
Lime gorges imprisoned an empty sky,
you heard the voice of those who died beneath the guano.
A sky cleansed and pure, like itself,
with the down and sharp-edged iris of its invisible
……………………………..mountains,

finished with the lightest tendrils of song
and fled to the packed deluge of sap,
acrosss the calm of the last silhouettes,
lifting bits of mirror with its tail.

When the Chinaman wept on the roof
without discovering the nakedness of woman,
and the bank director looked at the pressure gauge
that measures the cruel silence of money,
the mask reached Wall Street.

It’s not a strange place for the dance,
this columbarium that turns the eyes yellow.
From the sphinx to the treasure-chest goes a taut thread
through the hearts of working-class children.
The primitive impulse and mechanical impulse
dance in frenzy, unaware of the original light.
For if the wheel forgets its formula
it can sing with the horse herds, naked;
and if a flame devours the frozen plans
heaven must flee before the noise of broken windows.

I say, it’s not a strange place for the dance.
The mask will dance between columns of blood and of
……………………………..numbers,
between hurricanes of gold and the groans of laid-off
……………………………..workers
who will howl, dark night, for your time without lights.
Oh, savage North America! Shameless and savage!
sprawled on the frontier of snow.

The mask. Look at the mask!
What a wave of filth and glow-worms on New York!

On the terrace I fought with the moon.
Swarms of windows pierced a thigh of the night.
The sweet cows of heaven drank from my eyes.
And the breezes of great oars
hit the ash-coloured glass of Broadway.

The drop of blood sought the light in the yolk of a star
to fake a dead apple seed.
A wind of the plain, pushed by shepherds, quivered
with the fear of a shell-less mollusc.

But the dead do not dance,
I am sure.
The dead are shrunken, gnawing their own fingers.

It’s the others who dance, with the mask and with its
……………………………..guitar.
The others, those drunk on silver, the cold men
those who sleep in the crossing of thighs and hard flames,
who seek the worm in a landscape of stairways,
those who drink in the bank a dead girl’s tears
or eat small pyramids of dawn on the corners.

The Pope must not dance!
No, not the Pope!
Nor the King
nor the millionaire with blue teeth
nor the cathedral’s fagged dancers,
nor builders, nor emeralds, nor madmen, nor sodomites.
Only this mask,
this mask of old scarlet fever,
only this mask!

Now the cobras will hiss on the topmost floors,
the nettles shake patios and terraces,
the Stock Exchange be turned into a pyramid of moss,
the lianas come after the rifles
and very soon, very soon, very soon now,
Alas, Wall Street!

The mask. Look at the mask!
How it spits the jungle’s venom
through New York’s imperfect pain!

 

 

Landscape of the Vomiting Crowd (Twilight at Coney Island)

 

The fat lady came out first,

tearing out roots and moistening drumskins.

The fat lady

who turns dying octopuses inside out.

The fat lady, the moon’s antagonist,

was running through the streets and deserted buildings

and leaving tiny skulls of pigeons in the corners

and stirring up the furies of the last centuries’ feasts

and summoning the demon of bread through the sky’s clean-swept hills

and filtering a longing for light into subterranean tunnels.

The graveyards, yes the graveyards

and the sorrow of the kitchens buried in sand,

the dead, pheasants and apples of another era,

pushing it into our throat.

 

There were murmuring from the jungle of vomit

with the empty women, with hot wax children,

with fermented trees and tireless waiters

who serve platters of salt beneath harps of saliva.

There’s no other way, my son, vomit! There’s no other way.

It’s not the vomit of hussars on the breasts of their whores,

nor the vomit of cats that inadvertently swallowed frogs,

but the dead who scratch with clay hands

on flint gates where clouds and desserts decay.

 

The fat lady came first

with the crowds from the ships, taverns, and parks.

Vomit was delicately shaking its drums

among a few little girls of blood

who were begging the moon for protection.

Who could imagine my sadness?

The look on my face was mine, but now isn’t me,

the naked look on my face, trembling for alcohol

and launching incredible ships

through the anemones of the piers.

I protect myself with this look

that flows from waves where no dawn would go,

I, poet without arms, lost

in the vomiting multitude,

with no effusive horse to shear

the thick moss from my temples.

 

The fat lady went first

and the crowds kept looking for pharmacies

where the bitter tropics could be found.

Only when a flag went up and the first dogs arrived

did the entire city rush to the railings of the boardwalk.

 

 

Landscape of the Urinating Crowd (Nocturne at Battery Place)

 

The men kept to themselves:
they were waiting for the swiftness of the last cyclists.
The women kept to themselves:
they were expecting the death of a boy on a Japanese schooner.
They all kept to themselves-
dreaming of the open beaks of dying birds,
the sharp parasol that punctures
a recently flattened toad,
beneath silence with a thousand ears
and tiny mouths of water
in the canyons that resist
the violent attack on the moon.
The boy on the schooner was crying and hearts were breaking
in anguish for the witness and vigilance of all things,
and because of the sky blue ground of black footprints,
obscure names, saliva, and chrome radios were still crying.
It doesn’t matter if the boy grows silent when stuck with the last pin,
or if the breeze is defeated in cupped cotton flowers,
because there is a world of death whose perpetual sailors will appear in the arches and
freeze you from behind the trees.
It’s useless to look for the bend
where night loses its way
and to wait in ambush for a silence that has no
torn clothes, no shells, and no tears,
because even the tiny banquet of a spider
is enough to upset the entire equilibrium of the sky.
There is no cure for the moaning from a Japanese schooner,
nor for those shadowy people who stumble on the curbs.
The countryside bites its own tail in order to gather a bunch of roots
and a ball of yarn looks anxiously in the grass for unrealized longitude.
The Moon! The police. The foghorns of the ocean liners!
Facades of urine, of smoke, anemones, rubber gloves.
Everything is shattered in the night
that spread its legs on the terraces.
Everything is shatter in the tepid faucets
of a terrible silent fountain.
Oh, crowds! Loose women! Soldiers!
We will have to journey through the eyes of idiots,
open country where the docile cobras, coiled like wire, hiss,
landscapes full of graves that yield the freshest apples,
so that uncontrollable light will arrive
to frighten the rich behind their magnifying glasses-
the odor of a single corpse from the double source of lily and rat-
and so that fire will consume those crowds still able to piss around a moan
or on the crystals in which each inimitable wave is understood.

 

 

Murder (Two Voices at Dawn on Riverside Drive)

 

“How did it happen?”
“A cut on the cheek.”
That’s all!
A nail that presses the stem.
A pin that dives in
until it finds the roots of the scream.
And the sea stops moving.
“How did it happen?”
“Just like that.”
“Stop it! Like that?”
“Yes.”
The heart came out on its own.
“Oh my!”

 

 

Christmas on the Hudson

 

This gray sponge:
this sea-farer, lately beheaded!
This mighty river.
This wind from the shadowy zenith.
And this cutting-edge, love, this cutting edge!
Four sailors wrestled a planet,
a world of discernible angles,
an uncrossable world, save by horses.
One sailor, one hundred, one thousand,
wrestling the critical speeds of a planet,
and unaware, all of them,
that the world was alone in the sky.

 

 

City Without Sleep (Nocturne of the Brooklyn Bridge)

 

In the sky there is nobody asleep. Nobody, nobody.
Nobody is asleep.
The creatures of the moon sniff and prowl about their cabins.
The living iguanas will come and bite the men who do not dream,
and the man who rushes out with his spirit broken will meet on the
street corner
the unbelievable alligator quiet beneath the tender protest of the
stars.

Nobody is asleep on earth. Nobody, nobody.
Nobody is asleep.
In a graveyard far off there is a corpse
who has moaned for three years
because of a dry countryside on his knee;
and that boy they buried this morning cried so much
it was necessary to call out the dogs to keep him quiet.

Life is not a dream. Careful! Careful! Careful!
We fall down the stairs in order to eat the moist earth
or we climb to the knife edge of the snow with the voices of the dead
dahlias.
But forgetfulness does not exist, dreams do not exist;
flesh exists. Kisses tie our mouths
in a thicket of new veins,
and whoever his pain pains will feel that pain forever
and whoever is afraid of death will carry it on his shoulders.

One day
the horses will live in the saloons
and the enraged ants
will throw themselves on the yellow skies that take refuge in the
eyes of cows.

Another day
we will watch the preserved butterflies rise from the dead
and still walking through a country of gray sponges and silent boats
we will watch our ring flash and roses spring from our tongue.
Careful! Be careful! Be careful!
The men who still have marks of the claw and the thunderstorm,
and that boy who cries because he has never heard of the invention
of the bridge,
or that dead man who possesses now only his head and a shoe,
we must carry them to the wall where the iguanas and the snakes
are waiting,
where the bear’s teeth are waiting,
where the mummified hand of the boy is waiting,
and the hair of the camel stands on end with a violent blue shudder.

Nobody is sleeping in the sky. Nobody, nobody.
Nobody is sleeping.
If someone does close his eyes,
a whip, boys, a whip!
Let there be a landscape of open eyes
and bitter wounds on fire.
No one is sleeping in this world. No one, no one.
I have said it before.

No one is sleeping.
But if someone grows too much moss on his temples during the
night,
open the stage trapdoors so he can see in the moonlight
the lying goblets, and the poison, and the skull of the theaters.

 

 

Blind Panorama of New York

If it is not the birds
covered with ash,
if it is not groans that beat on the windows during the wedding,
it will be the delicate creatures of the air
that flow with new blood in perpetual darkness.
But no, it is not the birds.
Because the birds will soon become oxen.
With the moon’s help they can become white rocks
and are always wounded boys
before the judges lift the cloth.

All know of the sorrow intertwined with death,
but true sorrow is not found in the spirit.
Nor in the air, nor in our lives,
nor in terraces teeming with smoke.
True sorrow that keeps things awake
is a tiny but incessant burn
in the innocent eyes of other systems.

An abandoned suit weighs so much on men
that sometimes the sky groups them into unruly mobs;
and those who die giving birth know in the final hour
that all rumor will be stone and all tracks beaten.
We do not recognize that thought has ghettoes
where the philosopher is devoured by Chinese and caterpillars
and some foolish children in kitchens found
little swallows with crutches
who knew how to speak the word love.

No, it is not the birds.
It is not a bird that expresses the crowd frenzy of a lake,
or the urge for murder that presses on us at each moment,
or the metallic hum of suicide that revives us at each dawn.
It is a capsule of air where the whole world pains us,
it is a small bright space in the mad unity of the light,
an indefinable ladder where clouds and roses forget,
the Chinese clamor that bustles in the disembarking of the blood.
I lost myself many times
searching for the burn that keeps things awake
and I only found sailors cast onto the railings
and little creatures of the sky buried under the snow.
But true sorrow was in other places
where crystallized fish were dying in trunks;
places for ancient untouched statues under foreign skies
and for the tender intimacy of volcanoes.

There is no sorrow in the voice. Only teeth exist,
but the teeth will stay quiet, isolated by black satin.
There is no sorrow in the voice. Here only the earth exists.
The earth with its timeless gates
that lead to the blush of fruit.

 

Dawn

 

The New York dawn has
four columns of mud
and a hurricane of black pigeons
splashing in fetid waters.
The New York dawn groans
along vast stairs
searching between the edges
for spikenards of sketched anguish.
The dawn arrives and nobody receives it in the mouth
because tomorrow and hope are not possible there:
sometimes furious swarms of coins
drill and devour abandoned children.
The first to get out know in their bones:
they know they are headed into the mud of numbers and laws,
to artless games, to fruitless labors.
The light is buried under chains and noise
in a shameless challenge of rootless science.
Through the boroughs people hesitate sleepless
as if they have emerged from a shipwreck of blood.

gabriel josipovici explains (sort of) one of his short stories…

 

 

“And if artists are better than scholars at rediscovering the riches of the past, they also secretly long for amnesia. History, for all of us, is a nightmare from which we are forever trying to awake. If the work I am currently engaged upon is to be any good, then I have to forget all I ever knew. Then, in time, the work itself may teach me to remember.”

 

 


 

 

I began… by asserting that there was an unbridgeable gap between the making of art and all talk about art. I have tried to show that every artist has to be a reader; has, that is, to find what help he can in the masters of the past. But I have also insisted that the critical activity must come second. And that is the danger of talking about the subject as I have done this evening. And it is of course that danger inherent in all teaching, even when that teaching is most congenial. For there is knowledge and knowledge. Each work is a struggle to discover what it is one knows, what it is one wants to say. And when it is done, it is all to do over again. And if artists are better than scholars at rediscovering the riches of the past, they also secretly long for amnesia. History, for all of us, is a nightmare from which we are forever trying to awake. If the work I am currently engaged upon is to be any good, then I have to forget all I ever knew. Then, in time, the work itself may teach me to remember.

 

That is why I should now like to stop talking about art and end by reading you a story. It is the shortest story I have ever written, barely a page long. I want to read it partly as a commentary on this lecture and partly as an experiment, to demonstrate that though it will still be my voice that you will be hearing, and though that voice will still be speaking words intended by me, the story is both much more and much less my own than the lecture. The precise nature of that "much more" and "much less" is what I hope you will ponder as you leave this hall.

 

The story was sparked off by the title of a picture by Paul Klee, "At the Edge of the Fertile Land." I didn’t know the picture, but when I came across the title I found I couldn’t rest until I had somehow made it my own. When I had finished the story, I found that Klee’s title wasn’t quite right for it, and so changed it from "At the Edge of the Fertile Land" to the simple "In the Fertile Land." Not very logical, you will say, if the story was only written to try and make senseof Klee’s title. But whoever gave you the impression that making artefacts was a logical business?

 

 

“In The Fertile Land”

By Gabriel Josipovici

 

WE LIVE in a fertile land. Here we have all we want. Beyond the borders, far away, lies the desert where nothing grows.

 

Nothing grows there. Nor is there any sound except the wind.

 

Here, on the other hand, all is growth, abundance. The plants reach enormous heights, even we ourselves grow and grow so that there is absolutely no stopping us. And when we speak the words flow out in torrents, another aspect of the general fertility.

 

Here, the centre is everywhere and the circumference nowhere.

 

Conversely, however, it could be said-and it is an aspect of the general fertility here that everything that can be said has its converse side-conversely it could be said that the circumference is everywhere and the centre nowhere, that the limits are everywhere, that everywhere there is the presence of the desert.

 

Here, in the fertile land, everyone is so conscious of the desert, so intrigued and baffled by it, that a law has had to be passed forbidding anyone to mention the word.

 

Even so, it underlies every sentence and every thought, every dream and every gesture.

 

Some have even gone over into the desert, but as they have not come back it is impossible to say what they found there.

 

I myself have no desire to go into the desert. I am content with the happy fertility of this land. The desert beyond is not something I think about very much, and if I occasionally dream about it, that contravenes no law. I cannot imagine where the limits of the desert are to be found or what kind of life, if any, exists there. When I hear the wind I try to follow it in my mind across the empty spaces, to see in my mind’s eye the ripples it makes on the enormous dunes as it picks up the grains of sand and deposits them in slightly altered patterns a little further along-though near and far have clearly a quite different meaning in the desert from the one they have here.

 

In the desert silence prevails. Here the talk is continuous. Many of us are happy even talking to ourselves. There is never any shortage of subjects about which to talk, nor any lack of words with which to talk. Sometimes, indeed, this abundance becomes a little onerous, the sound of all these voices raised in animated conversation or impassioned monologue grows slightly disturbing. There have even been moments when the very abundance of possible subjects and of available directions in which any subject may be developed has made me long for the silence of the desert, with only the monotonous whistling of the wind for sound. At those times my talk redoubles in both quantity and speed and I cover every subject except the one that obsesses me-for the penalty for any infringement of the law is severe. Even as I talk, though, the thought strikes me that perhaps I am actually in the desert already, that I have crossed over and not returned, and that what the desert is really like is this, a place where everyone talks but where no-one speaks of what most deeply touches him.

 

Such thoughts are typical of the fertility of our land.

 

 

—from Gabriel Josipovici, “Writing, Reading, and the Study of Literature,” New Literary History, Vol. 21, No. 1, (Autumn, 1989), pp 75-95.