MORE ABOUT THIS BOOK
Short Letter, Long Farewell
"And once when they were strolling outside the town gate on a warm but overcast morning, Iffland said that this would be good weather to go away in--and indeed, the weather seemed made for travel: the sky lay close to the earth and the objects round about were dark, as though to confine the traveler's attention to the road he was going to travel."
Karl Philipp Moritz, Anton Reiser
The Short Letter
Jefferson Street is a quiet thoroughfare in Providence. It circles around the business section, changes its name to Norwich Street in the South End, and leads into the old Boston Post Road. Here and there Jefferson Street widens into small squares bordered by beech and maple trees. On one of these, Wayland Square, there is a good-sized building in the style of an English manor house, the Wayland Manor Hotel. When I arrived there at the end of April, the desk clerk took a letter from my pigeonhole and handed it to me along with my key. Before entering the elevator, I tore open the envelope, which, come to think of it, was barely sealed. The letter was short: "I am in New York. Please don't look for me. It would not be nice for you to find me."
As far back as I can remember, I seem to have been born for horror and fear. Before the American bombers came, someone carried me into the house; firewood was scattered all over the yard in the quiet sunlight. Drops of blood glistened on the side stepswhere hares were butchered on weekends. In a dusk more terrifying than black night, I stumbled, my arms swinging ridiculously, along the edge of the woods sunk in darkness; only the lichen on the outermost tree trunks still shimmered faintly; from time to time I stopped still and cried out in a voice made pathetically feeble by shame; then, when I was too horror-stricken to feel ashamed, I bellowed into the woods from the bottom of my soul, bellowed for someone who had gone into the woods that morning and hadn't come out; and again the fluffy feathers of fleeing chickens lay scattered all over the yard and the house walls in the sunlight.
As I entered the elevator, the old Negro operator told me to watch my step, and I stumbled a little over the slightly raised floor of the car. The Negro closed the door and the inner gate and set the elevator in motion with a lever.
There must have been a service elevator beside the passenger elevator, because, as we slowly rose, a tinkling as of piled cups kept pace with us and continued unchanged all the way up. I raised my eyes from my letter and studied the elevator operator, who stood bent over the lever in the dark corner and did not look at me. His deep-blue uniform made him almost invisible except for his white shirt ... Suddenly, as often happens to me when I am in a room with other people and no one has said anything for a while, I was sure that in another second the Negro would go mad and fling himself at me. I took the newspaper I had bought that morning before leaving Boston out of my coat pocket, and, bypointing at the headlines, tried to explain to the elevator operator that because various European currencies had just been revalued I would have to spend all my American money on my trip, since if I changed it back again on my return to Europe I would receive much less for it than I had paid. The elevator operator nodded and pointed at the pile of papers under the seat, on top of which lay the coins he had received for the papers he had already sold; the Providence Journal under the seat carried the same headlines as my Boston Globe.
Relieved that the elevator operator had communicated with me, I reached into my trouser pocket for a banknote, so as to hand it to him as soon as he opened my room door and put down my suitcase. But once in the room, I saw to my surprise that what I had in my hand was a ten-dollar bill. I shifted it to my other hand and, without taking my wad of bills from my pocket, rummaged for a dollar bill. When I thought I had found one, I transferred it directly from my pocket to the elevator operator. It was a five-dollar bill and instantly the Negro closed his hand over it. "I haven't been here long enough," I said aloud when I was alone. Still in my overcoat, I went into the bathroom and looked more at the mirror than at myself. I saw a few hairs on my coat collar and said, "I must have shed these hairs in the bus." I sat down on the edge of the bathtub, disconcerted because I had started talking to myself for the first time since I was a child. By talking rather loudly to himself, the child had provided himself with a companion. But here, where I had decidedfor once to observe rather than participate, I was at a loss to see why I was doing it. I began to giggle and finally, in a fit of exuberance, punched myself in the head so hard that I almost toppled into the bathtub.
The bottom of the tub was covered with crisscrossing, light-colored strips of something that looked like adhesive tape; they were supposed to prevent the bather from slipping. Between the sight of the adhesive tape and the thought of my conversation with myself I instantly saw a correspondence which was so incomprehensible that I stopped giggling and went back into the room.
In front of the window, which faced a rural-looking area with a sprinkling of small houses, there were tall birch trees. The leaves on the trees were still tiny and the sun shone through. I opened the window, pulled up an easy chair, and sat down; I put my feet on the radiator, which must have been hot early in the morning and was still slightly warm. The easy chair had casters; I rolled back and forth and looked at the envelope. It was a light-blue hotel envelope; on the back was printed "Delmonico's, Park Avenue at Fifty-ninth Street, New York." But the postmark said "PHILADELPHIA, PA."; the letter had been mailed there five days before. I saw the letters p.m. in the postmark, and said aloud, "In the afternoon."
"Where did she get the money for the trip?" I asked. "She must have a lot of money, I'm sure a room in that place costs thirty dollars." Delmonico's was known to me chiefly from musicals: country peopledanced in from the street and dined with rustic awkwardness in separated stalls. "On the other hand, she has no idea of money, not the usual idea in any case. Children always go in for swapping and she's never got over it, to her money is just something to be swapped. She loves everything that can be easily used up or at least easily exchanged, and money gives her both possibilities in one." I looked out as far as I could and saw a church that was obscured by the haze rising from a textile mill; according to my map, it must have been the Baptist church. "Her letter took a long time to get here," I said. "Could she have died in the meantime?" Once toward evening I had climbed a rocky hill to look for my mother. She had spells of melancholy, and I thought she must have jumped off it, or perhaps just let herself fall. I stood on the hilltop and looked down at the village in the early dusk. I saw nothing in particular, but a group of women, who had put down their shopping bags as if something frightening had happened and were soon joined by someone else, gave me the idea of looking for scraps of clothing on the ledges below me. I was unable to open my mouth, the air hurt me; everything in me had shriveled with fear. Then the lights went on in the village below, and a few cars went by with their headlights on. Up on the cliff it grew very still, only the crickets were still chirping. I felt heavier and heavier. The lamps went on in the gas station at the end of the village. But it was still light! The people in the street began to walk faster. While taking short steps back and forth on the hilltop, I saw someone moving very slowly among themand recognized my mother, who had recently taken to doing everything very slowly. And when she crossed the street, it was not directly, as usual, but in a long diagonal.
I rolled my chair to the bedside table and called Delmonico's Hotel in New York. It wasn't until I gave Judith's maiden name that they found her in the register. She had checked out five days before, without leaving a forwarding address; and, oh yes, she had forgotten a camera in her room: should they send it to her address in Europe? I said I would be in New York next day and pick it up myself. "Yes," I repeated after hanging up, "I am her husband." To avoid giggling again, I rolled back to the window.
Without getting up, I took off my coat and leafed through the traveler's checks which, having heard a good deal about all the mugging in America, I had procured before leaving Austria. The bank clerk, to be sure, had promised to take the checks back at the same rate, but now that the revaluation had been announced, he could hardly be held to his promise. "How can I spend all of three thousand dollars over here?" I asked. It had been pure caprice to exchange so much. Then and there I decided to spend the money living as lazily and frivolously as possible. I called Delmonico's again to reserve a room for the next day. When they told me none was available, I asked them to reserve one at the Waldorf Astoria, the first place that entered my head, but then I changed my mind and, thinking of F. Scott Fitzgerald, whose books I was reading at the time,switched to the Algonquin on Forty-fourth Street, where he had often stayed. At the Algonquin there was still a room to be had.
Then, as I was running water for a bath, it occurred to me that Judith must have drawn what money was left in my account. "I shouldn't have given her that power of attorney," I said, though I didn't really mind; actually I was amused and curious to know what would happen next, but only for a moment, because the last time I had seen her, stretched out on her bed one afternoon, she had become inaccessible and had looked at me in such a way that I stopped still on my way to her, knowing that I could no longer help her.
I stretched out in the tub and read the end of Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby. It is a love story about a man who buys a house on a bay for the sole purpose of seeing the lights go on every evening in a house on the other side of the bay, where the woman he loves is living with another man. For the great Gatsby's delicacy, his sense of shame, was as great as his obsession with his love, while the woman grew more cowardly as her love grew more desperate and shameless.
"Yes," I said, "on the one hand I have a strong sense of shame; on the other hand, where my feelings for Judith are concerned, I am cowardly. In my dealings with her I have always been afraid to come out of my shell. I see now that my sense of shame, which I have clung to because I thought it preserved me from putting up with everything, is a kind of cowardice. The great Gatsby's delicacy applied onlyto the formal aspect of the love that possessed him. He was polite. I would like to be as polite and ruthless as he was, if it's not too late."
I opened the stopper while still sitting in the bath. I closed my eyes and leaned back as the water slowly flowed out, and it seemed to me as though with the leisurely ebbing of the water I myself were growing smaller, until finally I dissolved altogether. It was not until I felt cold because I was lying in the waterless tub that I became aware of myself again and stood up. I took hold of my member, first with the towel, then with my bare hand, and began to masturbate. It took a long time; now and then I opened my eyes and looked at the frosted-glass bathroom window on which the shadows of birch leaves were moving up and down. When the sperm finally came, my knees buckled. Then I washed myself, sprayed out the bathtub, and dressed.
I lay on the bed awhile, unable to think of anything. For a moment this was painful, then I found it pleasant. I wasn't sleepy, only unthinking. From time to time I heard, at some distance from the window, a sound like a combined thud and crash, followed by the cries of the students who were playing baseball on the Brown University campus.
I stood up, washed a pair of socks with the hotel soap, and went down the stairs to the lobby. The elevator operator was sitting on a stool beside the elevator, with his head propped on his hands. I went out; it was late afternoon; the cab drivers on the square, who were chatting as they sat in their drivers' seatswaiting, called out to me as I passed. When I had gone some distance, I noticed that my reluctance to answer them with so much as a gesture had cheered me up.
"This is my second day in America," I said, stepping off the sidewalk into the roadway and then back onto the sidewalk. "I wonder if I've already changed." Involuntarily I cast a glance over my shoulder as I walked, then looked at my wrist watch impatiently. As happens occasionally when something I've read makes me want to have the same experiences for myself, the great Gatsby now commanded me to transform myself instantly. Suddenly the impulse to become different from what I was became a physical need. How, I wondered, could I show the feelings the great Gatsby had made possible in me, and act on them in my environment? They were feelings of warmth, attentiveness, serenity, and happiness, and I sensed that I had to banish forever my predisposition to fear and panic. My new feelings could be acted upon: never again would I be parched with terror! But where was the environment in which I would finally show that I'm capable of being different? For the present I had left my old environment behind me; in my new environment I was still incapable of being anything more than a someone who made use of public conveniences, walked on streets, rode on buses, lived in hotels, and sat on bar stools. Nor did I wish to be anything more, because to do so I should have had to show off. I believed that I had finally rid myself of the need to get attention by showing off. Nevertheless,determined to be alert and open to my surroundings, I quickly looked away from everyone who approached me on the sidewalk, soured by the sight of another face, disgusted as usual with everything that was not myself. Once, as I proceeded down Jefferson Street, I caught myself thinking of Judith and chased her away in the time it took to expel my breath and take a few steps; otherwise my mind was empty of human inhabitants, and my whole body was filled with a hot anger that became almost murderous because I could direct it neither at myself nor at anything else.
I turned into a side street. The street lamps had come on and the sky was very blue. The sun had set and the grass under the trees sparkled in the afterglow. A slow rain of blossoms fell from the bushes of the front gardens. Not far away, the door of a big American car slammed. I went back to Jefferson Street and had a ginger ale in a snack bar that didn't serve alcoholic beverages. When the ginger ale was gone, I waited until the two lumps of ice in my glass had melted, then drank the water; it tasted bitter, but pleasantly so after the sweet ginger ale. On the wall beside every table there was a box with which one could operate the jukebox without getting up. I put in a quarter and selected Otis Redding's "Sitting on the Dock of the Bay." I thought of the great Gatsby and became more self-assured than ever before in my life: to the point that I lost all awareness of myself. I would do many things differently. I would become unrecognizable! I ordered a hamburgerand a Coca-Cola. I felt tired and yawned. In the middle of my yawn, I felt a hollow inside me; instantly it filled with the image of a deep black forest, and once again, like a recurrence of fever, the thought that Judith was dead came over me. The image of the forest grew still darker when I looked into the gathering darkness outside the snack bar, and my horror became so great that I suddenly turned back into an inert object. I couldn't eat any more, I could only drink in short sips. I ordered another Coca-Cola and sat there with pounding heart.
My sense of horror and the need to change as quickly as possible and get rid of it made me impatient. The time passed so slowly that I looked at my wrist watch again. My old hysterical time sense took hold of me. Years before, I had once seen a fat woman bathing in the sea; every ten minutes I turned to look at her, because I seriously thought she must have grown thinner in the meantime. And now in the snack bar I kept looking at a man with a scab on his forehead, eager to know if the scab had finally gone away.
Judith had no sense of time, I thought. True, she never forgot an appointment, but she was always late, like the women in jokes. Her feeling simply didn't tell her that the time had come. She seldom knew what day it was. If anyone told her the time, it frightened her; whereas I went to the phone almost every hour to find out what time it was. She always cried out, "Oh, it's so late!" She never said, "Oh, it's so early!" She was incapable of thinking that it couldever be time to do this or that. I said to her, "Maybe it's because you've moved so often ever since you were a child, because you've lived in so many places. You always know where you were before, but never when you were there. And the fact is that your sense of direction is much better than mine; I often get lost. Or maybe it's because you had a job with fixed working hours much too soon. But to tell you the honest truth, I'm certain that if you have no feeling for time it's simply because you have no feeling for other people." She answered, "No, that's not true, it's only for myself that I have no feeling." "In addition," I said, "you have no money sense." She agreed: "No, I have no head for figures." "And even your sense of direction makes me dizzy," I went on. "When you go up to a house, you always say you're going down; long after we've stepped out of the house, you say the car is outside; and when you drive downtown, you say it's uptown, because the street goes north."
On the other hand, I now thought, it's my exaggerated sense of time, meaning perhaps my exaggerated feeling for myself, that prevents me from achieving the attentive detachment I'm aiming at.
I stood up, this reminiscence was too silly. I took my check to the cashier and stupidly, without a word, put down a banknote; that was the way I felt at the moment, and I was glad that this gesture required little change in my attitude. As I was leaving, an at first angry, then euphoric revulsion toward all the concepts, definitions, and abstractions in terms of which I had just been thinking made mestop still for a moment. I tried to belch; the Coca-Cola helped. Outside, a chubby-cheeked crew-cut student wearing sneakers and Bermuda shorts that revealed his fat thighs came toward me; I looked at him in horror, aghast at the thought that someone might still dare to make a general statement about this individual figure, that someone might classify him and set him down as a representative of something else. Involuntarily I said hello and looked at him without embarrassment. He too said hello. He was an image that had suddenly come to life, and now I knew why for some time I had been able to read only stories about individuals. Take the cashier at the snack bar! Her hair was bleached, the black roots peeped out, and beside her she had a small upright American flag. What of it? Nothing at all. In retrospect her face actually began to gleam and took on the obstinate look of a saint. I turned back to the fat student. A likeness of Al Wilson, the singer in the Canned Heat Show, was printed on the back of his shirt. Wilson was short and stocky. He had pimples that you could see clearly on TV, and wore glasses. A few months before, he had been found dead in his sleeping bag outside his house in Laurel Canyon near Los Angeles. In a delicate high voice he had sung "On the Road Again" and "Going up the Country." I felt differently about him than about Jimi Hendrix or Janis Joplin, who, like rock music in general, were beginning to leave me cold; I still ached with his death, and his short life, which I then thought I understood, often came back to me in painful half-waking thoughts. On my way back tothe hotel two lines I had often put together occurred to me:
"I say goodbye to Colorado" and
"It's so nice to walk in California."
Next to the barbershop in the basement of the hotel there was a bar; I sat at a table in the dark, eating potato chips and drinking tequila; from time to time the waitress brought a fresh bag of potato chips and emptied it into my plate. Two men were sitting at the next table; I listened to their conversation long enough to find out that they were businessmen from the nearby city of Fall River. The waitress sat down with them and I watched the three of them attentively but without curiosity. Their table was rather too small for three; in between the whiskey glasses, which the waitress perhaps intentionally neglected to remove, they were playing poker dice. Except for them it was almost silent in the room--only a small ventilator over the bar was purring gently--and I could hear the clicking when the dice struck the glasses; now and then the tape that was being rewound behind the bar made a flapping sound. I noticed that little by little I was beginning to take in the surroundings without any sense of strain.
The waitress signaled me to move to their table, but I didn't accept the invitation until one of the businessmen drew up another chair and pointed to it. At first I only watched; then I joined in the game, but soon stopped because one of my dice kept falling on the floor. I ordered another tequila. The waitressbrought the bottle from the bar and turned on the tape recorder. Back at the table she sprinkled salt over the back of her hand, licked it off, spilling a few grains on the table, and took a sip of tequila from my glass. On the bottle there was a picture of an agave in the middle of a desert with glittering yellow sand. From the tape recorder came Western music: a male chorus sang the song of the U.S. Cavalry, then came a postlude without voices, in which the trumpets dropped out little by little until in the end only a harmonica was playing softly. The waitress told me her son was in the army, and I said I'd like to join in the dice game again.
Then something strange happened to me: I needed a particular number; when I tipped the cup, all the dice except one came instantly to rest; while this one was rolling between the glasses, the number I needed flashed up at me and vanished; when the die stopped rolling, another number was on top. But the brief appearance of my number had made such a strong impression that I felt as if my number had really come up--not now but AT SOME OTHER TIME.
This other time was not the future or the past, it was in essence a time OTHER than the time in which I ordinarily lived and thought forward and backward. I was filled with a sense of ANOTHER time, in which there must be places different from any present place, in which everything must have a different meaning than in my present consciousness, in which feelings were different from present feelings, so that I myself at that very moment was in the same state as the lifeless earth on the day when, for the first timeafter thousands of years of rain, a raindrop fell that did not instantly evaporate. Quickly as it passed, this feeling was so penetrating and painful that it was echoed in a brief, unthinking glance from the waitress, which I at once recognized to be unblinking though not rigid, infinitely wide-eyed, infinitely awake, and at the same time infinitely spent, a glance so full of longing as to tear the retina and provoke a faint cry, the glance of ANOTHER woman at that OTHER TIME. There had to be something more than the life I had been living up until now! I looked at my watch, paid my check, and went up to my room.
I slept a sound dreamless sleep, but all night my whole body was suffused with a feeling of expectant happiness, which left me only toward morning. Then I began to dream and awoke feeling ill at ease. My socks were laid out on the radiator and there was an irregular gap at one side of the window curtain, which was imprinted with scenes from American history: jiggling in the breeze, Sir Walter Raleigh was smoking a cigar in his Virginia colony; the Pilgrim Fathers, tight-packed aboard the Mayflower, were landing in Massachusetts; George Washington was listening, while Benjamin Franklin read the Constitution; on their way from the Missouri to the mouth of the Columbia River, Captains Lewis and Clark were shooting Blackfoot Indians (one of the Indians, on a hill far in the distance, was still holding his arm half upraised in the direction of the rifle barrel); and to one side of the battlefield at Appomattox, Abraham Lincoln, leaning slightly backward, was holding out his hand to a Negro.
I opened the curtain but did not look out. The sun shone in on the floor and warmed my bare feet. When I saw the Bible on the bedside table, I thought of the story about Judith cutting Holofernes' head off. "She has always stepped, or rather stumbled, on my feet," I said. "In fact, she was always stumbling over something. She hopped and danced along, and then she stumbled. Then she would start hopping again and bump into someone who was coming toward her, and a little later she would slip and jab herself with the knitting needle she always carried around, though she seldom finished knitting anything and always had to unravel it.
"And yet she's efficient," I went on while taking my bath, while shaving, while dressing and packing: "she could drive nails without ever bending one, lay carpets, paper walls, cut clothes, make wooden benches, hammer out bumps in the car, but when engaged in these activities she kept slipping, stumbling and trampling on other things, until I couldn't bear to look. And her gestures! Once she came into the room and wanted me to turn off the record player: standing rigidly in the doorway, she jerked her head slightly in the direction of the record player. Another time the doorbell rang: she got there before I did and saw a letter lying on the doormat. She left the door ajar; when I arrived she opened it again so as to let me pick up the letter. She did it without thinking, but my hand slipped. I slapped her in the face. Luckily my aim was bad, it was only a glancing blow, and we soon made up."
I paid the hotel bill with a traveler's check andhailed a taxi, which here in Providence was not yet yellow but black as in England, and drove to the Greyhound bus terminal.
During the ride through New England I had time for ... for what? I thought. I soon got sick of looking out, because the color of the Greyhound bus windows gave the landscape a somber look. From time to time we stopped at a toll station and the driver handed a few coins out the window to a toll-taker. When I opened the window to get a better view, someone told me an open window upset the air-cooling system and I closed it again. The closer we came to New York, the more written advertisements gave way to pictures: gigantic overflowing beer mugs, a catchup bottle as big as a lighthouse, a life-size picture of a jet plane flying above the clouds. Beside me, peanuts were eaten and cigarettes smoked, and though drinking was prohibited, beer cans were passed secretly from mouth to mouth. Since I seldom looked up, I saw no faces, only activities. On the floor lay walnut and peanut shells, some wrapped in chewing-gum paper. I began to read Gottfried Keller's Green Heinrich.
Heinrich Lee's father had died when he was five years old. All he remembered about his father was how one day the man had pulled up a potato plant and shown him the tubers. Because the boy was always dressed in green, he soon came to be known as Green Heinrich.
The bus took the Bruckner Expressway through the Bronx, turned off to the right, and crossed theHarlem River to Manhattan. As it made its way slowly, but as fast as possible, down Fifth Avenue through Harlem, the people in the bus brought their Kodaks and movie cameras into play. It was Saturday, the black inhabitants of Harlem were taking the air on sidewalks bordered by wrecked cars and tumble-down tenements, only the ground floors of which were still inhabited. Some were reading the paper, boys were playing baseball and girls badminton in the street. The usual signs such as HAMBURGERS and PIZZA seemed strangely out of place. The bus drove on past Central Park and finally turned into a dark bus terminal on Forty-first Street. There I took a cab, which was now yellow, and drove to the Hotel Algonquin.
The Algonquin was a narrow, not very tall building with small rooms; when I closed the door to my room, an intervening crack remained, as if the door had often been tugged at. As I passed, I saw signs of scratching on some of the locks. This time I succeeded in giving the Japanese who carried my suitcase a dollar bill without incident.
The room was on a court; so, apparently, was the kitchen, for I saw steam rising from the ventilators and heard the rattling of dishes and cutlery. It was very cool in the room, the air conditioning roared, and because I had been conveyed all day with no effort on my part, I began to shiver while sitting on the bed to calm myself. I tried to turn off the air conditioning but couldn't find a switch. I called the desk and they shut it off from down below. Theroaring stopped. In the silence the room seemed to get bigger. I lay down on the bed and ate the grapes out of the fruit bowl that I found on the bedside table.
At first I thought it was the grapes that were bloating me so. My torso swelled up, while my head and limbs shrank into animal appendages, a bird's skull and a fish's fins. In the middle I was crushed by the heat, at the extremities I was freezing. There ought to be some way of pushing back these excrescences! A vein in my hand quivered furiously; my nose began to burn, as though it had collided violently with something, and it was only then that I realized that my fear of death had taken body again now that I had been set down after a long trip, not fear of my own death but an almost insane fear of other people's sudden death. My nose suddenly cooled off, the quivering vein in my hand relaxed, and before me I saw the image of a dark, breathlessly still deep-sea valley without a living soul in it.
I called the hotel in Providence and asked if there was a message for me; there wasn't. I gave them the address of my hotel in New York. Then, wishing to provide another forwarding address, I leafed through the Philadelphia section of my guidebook and chose at random the Barclay Hotel on Rittenhouse Square. I called the desk again and asked the clerk to book me a train ticket to Philadelphia. Then I rang Delmonico's Hotel and asked if my wife had picked up her camera in the meantime; she hadn't. I said I would be there myself in an hour. I waited a few minutes, dialed zero, and said I wishedto make a call to Europe. The hotel operator connected me with the overseas operator, and I gave him my mother's phone number in Austria. Was it a person-to-person call or would I speak to anyone who answered? The latter, the operator informed me, would cost much less. "I don't care who answers," I said. It was a relief to be playing the part of an unknown interlocutor: in such a role you could lose yourself completely. The operator asked me for my number and, when I had read it off the phone, told me to hang up.
I sat still, looking at the empty clothes hangers in the closet that I had opened on coming in. Now I could hear loud voices from the kitchen. By then it must have been early afternoon. From time to time phones rang in other rooms. Then mine rang loudly; the overseas operator told me to hold on. The telephone crackled; I spoke into it but received no answer. For a long time I heard only a buzzing and a soft hissing sound. Then some more crackling, followed by the same sounds as before, but not quite the same, and, sure enough, a moment later came a long-drawn-out signal that was repeated several times. I held on. The Vienna operator answered, and I heard the overseas operator giving her my number. I heard the number being dialed in Vienna; again there was a ringing, and I heard a woman on another line laughing and saying in Austrian dialect, "I know!" And then another woman: "You don't know a thing." The ringing broke off, and as though disguising his voice the boy next door shouted his name into the phone. I tried to tell himwho and where I was, but he was so confused, as if awakened out of a sound sleep, that he could only repeat, "She's taking the last bus! She's taking the last bus!" Quickly but for no particular reason, very quietly, I hung up. Then I saw another image: by the side of a forest path stood a hunter's blind and beside the blind a cross, and in front of the cross marsh grass was slowly springing up.
"I'll never get used to the telephone," I said. "It wasn't till I went to the university that I made my first call from a phone booth. I started doing a good many things when I was too old to take them for granted. That's why there are so many things I can't get used to. When once in a blue moon I'd get to the point of feeling unreflectingly at ease with somebody, I always had to start all over again the next day. Today life with a woman sometimes strikes me as an artificial state of affairs, as absurd as a filmed novel. I feel that I'm overdoing it when I order something for her in a restaurant. Often when I'm walking beside her or sitting beside her, I feel as though a mime were doing it and I were only pretending."
The phone rang again; the receiver was still moist because I had held it so long while waiting. The hotel operator told me what my conversation had cost and asked me whether to put the seven dollars on my hotel bill. I was delighted: that made seven dollars less. I asked where in the neighborhood I could get out-of-town newspapers. Only then did it occur to me that in Europe it was already night. The operator suggested Times Square, and I went out.
I walked east on Forty-fourth Street. "No, west!" I turned around and went in the opposite direction, thinking I would come to Broadway. I had crossed Fifth and Madison Avenues before I realized that I had not really turned around. I must only have imagined that I had turned around and gone in the opposite direction. However, because I felt turned around, I stood still and thought it over until my head was spinning. Then I went down Madison Avenue to Forty-second Street. There I turned, proceeded slowly, and actually reached Broadway at Times Square.
I bought the Philadelphia Inquirer and looked through it at the newsstand. There was no mention of Judith. Since I hadn't expected to find anything, I put my paper back on the pile, bought some German papers, and read them while drinking American beer at a bar. I soon noticed that I had already read them on the plane to Boston. I had only glanced through them, but I must have absorbed them, because I now remembered every detail.
I walked east on Forty-second Street and turned north at Park Avenue. I felt as I had for a period in the past when in telling someone what I had just been doing I compulsively described all the partial actions of which the total action was composed. If I went into a house, I never said, "I went into the house," but, "I wiped my shoes, turned the door handle, pushed the door, went in, and closed the door behind me"; or if I had written someone a letter, I always (instead of saying, "I wrote him a letter") said, "I took out a clean sheet of paper, removedthe cap from my fountain pen, wrote the letter, folded it, put it in an envelope, addressed the envelope, affixed a stamp, and dropped my letter in the mailbox." In unfamiliar surroundings, as I am now, I tried to deceive my own sense of ignorance and inexperience by dissecting the few activities within my reach as though speaking of momentous undertakings. And now in very much the same way I crossed Fifth Avenue and Madison Avenue, walked up and over to Park Avenue and up Park to Fifty-ninth Street, stepped under a marquee, pushed a revolving door, and entered Delmonico's.
The desk clerk had the camera ready for me. He handed it to me without looking at my passport. It was the large Polaroid camera I had once bought at an airport, where it cost much more than it would have anywhere else. By the number on the paper tab sticking out of one side, I saw that Judith had taken a few pictures. So she had seen something she wanted to remember. That struck me as so auspicious an omen that on leaving the hotel I felt utterly carefree.
It was a bright day and the wind made it seem even brighter; the clouds were racing across the sky. Out on the street I stopped and looked around. Two girls were standing in a phone booth outside the hotel. One was talking into the phone; from time to time the other leaned over and took up the conversation, meanwhile pushing her hair back behind one ear. At first the sight of them merely arrested my attention, then it cheered me, and I took genuine pleasurein watching the two of them in the tiny booth, as one or the other kept pushing the door open with her foot, as they laughed, passed the receiver back and forth, exchanged whispers, inserted another coin, and continued to take turns in bending over the phone, while outside the booth the steam from the sewer poured out of the street gratings and drifted off across the asphalt. The sight relieved me of all burdens. I watched them in a paradisiacal state of lightness, a state in which one has no desire but to see, and in which to see is to know. Then I went back down Park Avenue until it changed its name to Park Avenue South, and on to Eighteenth Street.
I went into the Elgin Theatre, where one of Johnny Weissmuller's Tarzan pictures was playing. From the start I had a feeling that I was seeing something forbidden, but something I could visualize in advance. A small airplane was flying low over the jungle. An interior view of the plane disclosed a man, a woman, and a baby. The plane roared and jiggled strangely as a real plane would never do. Suddenly the jiggling sparked a memory of the bench on which I had seen this same film as a child. "They're on their way to Nairobi," I said aloud. But the name of the city was not mentioned. "And now they're going to crash!" The parents held each other in an embrace; then the plane was seen from outside, whirling downward and vanishing among the trees. It fell with a crash, and no, not smoke but air bubbles rose from a twilight landscape, which later, when that part of the picture came along, I recognized as the pond beneath whose surface Tarzan,with a knife between his teeth, and the orphaned baby, who had grown in the meantime to be a boy, were breathing out air bubbles at long intervals while slowly swimming about as though lost in a dream. Immediately after the plane crash, my memory, which subsequently hardened into a firm image, began, by a mysterious process of anticipation, to move in the rhythm of the air bubbles which, later, released by the two swimmers, rose to the surface of the water.
Although the picture otherwise bored me, I did not leave. Comics don't amuse me any more, I thought; they stopped amusing me long before I came over here. For a time I read a lot of comics. What I should have avoided was comic books. One adventure begins and ends and another starts right in. I remember a bad night I had had after reading Peanuts; each one of my dreams stopped after four frames and was followed by a new dream, which in turn consisted of four frames. I had the feeling that in every fourth frame my feet were pulled out from under me and I fell flat on my face. And then another adventure story started up! The same with the movies. I wouldn't want to see any more silent comedies, I thought. Their praise of clumsiness would no longer flatter me. The heroes who can't walk down the street without having their hats blown into the paths of steamrollers, or bow to a lady without pouring coffee on her skirt, had come to strike me more and more as exemplars of an inhuman life that survives only in the minds of children: breathless, floundering, distorted figures who also distort theirsurroundings, whose only desire is to look up at the world, at things and people. On the one hand, Chaplin's scornful Schadenfreude, on the other, the way he cuddles up to himself and mothers himself; Harry Langdon's way of rolling in and attaching himself to people. Only Buster Keaton, with that obstinate alert look of his, searched frantically for a way out, though he would never know what was happening to him. I still liked to look at his face, and it was also nice when Marilyn Monroe combined a frown, a helpless grin, and the candid gaze of Stan Laurel.
When I came out of the movie theater, it was getting dark. Wondering what to do next, I walked rather slowly. In front of me a tall girl was also walking slowly, as though propelled by her dangling handbag. She had black hair and was wearing blue jeans, but because of her relaxed movements they didn't look like blue jeans; they neither creased at the buttocks at every step, nor did they, as usual, bag behind the knees. She looked around--and kept on walking, as slowly as before. Suddenly I was overcome with excitement because I knew I was going to speak to her. We walked along almost side by side, then she took the lead, then I overtook her. By the time we reached Broadway, I was so excited that I wanted to topple her over on the street. But when at last I spoke to her, I only asked if she would have a drink with me.
She said, "Why not?" but then it was over. Both of us still flushed with the excitement of our meeting,we just walked on side by side. If we had speeded up as if we were going somewhere, our hurried movements might have excited us still more and driven us into a doorway; but as it was, we just went on about as slowly as before and had to start in again from the beginning. Nevertheless I tried to take hold of her. She took it as an unintentional collision.
We went into a cafeteria. When I saw we would have to wait on ourselves, I wanted to leave, but she had already taken her place in line. I too took a tray and put a sandwich on it. We sat down at a table, I ate my sandwich, and she drank coffee. She asked me my name, and without knowing why I was lying I told her it was Wilhelm. That made me feel better and I offered her a bite of my sandwich. She broke off a piece. After a while she stood up, said she had a headache, waved her hand vaguely, and left.
I got myself a bottle of beer and sat down again. Through the narrow curtained door I looked out at the street. The visible area was so small that the movements I saw in it took on a particular clarity; the people who traversed it seemed to move very slowly, as though displaying themselves; it was as if they were not passing the doorway but strolling back and forth in front of it. Women's breasts had never seemed so beautiful and so provocative. The sight of these women was almost painful, and yet I was glad that I wanted only to watch them strolling back and forth, so pleased with themselves in the light of the big electric signs. A woman came to a stop in the doorway, apparently looking for something. It was frightening how much I wanted to go out to her, buta moment later I thought, "What could I do with her? It would be irresponsible." And then I relaxed. It had become so impossible for me to imagine myself caressing a woman that the mere thought of holding out my hand to one made me feel desperately tired.
Someone had left a newspaper on the next table; I picked it up and began to read. I read what had happened and what was yet to happen, page after page with an increasing sense of well-being. A baby had been born on the Long Island Rail Road; a gas station attendant was walking on his hands from Montgomery, Alabama, to Savannah, Georgia. In the Nevada desert the cactus was already in bloom. Whatever I saw in print aroused a compulsive sympathy in me; I felt drawn to every place or person mentioned; even the judge who had an obstreperous defendant chained to his chair, though I couldn't approve, left me with an uncanny sense of well-being. I felt a kinship with everyone I read about. A woman columnist wrote that she would hide her head in shame if she had conscientious objectors for sons; looking at her picture, I was unable to ward off a quick feeling of affinity; and when a captain testified in court that looking down on the rice paddy from a helicopter he had seen something that looked like a group of women and children but might equally well have been "a man and two water buffaloes," the mere reading of the words gave me a pang of regret that I hadn't been in the captain's place. Every human being and even more so every placethat was still unknown to me became, as I read, so congenial to me that I was stricken with wanderlust. Reading about a telegraph office in Montana and a street in an army camp in Virginia, I instantly wanted to be there and stay awhile; otherwise, I felt, I would be missing something that could never be retrieved.
Such feelings were not new to me; even as a child, I would suddenly, in the middle of an argument or fight, be taken with a feeling that everything was all right; I would stop arguing or let myself be thrown; or when running away from someone, screaming for all I was worth, I would stop running and perhaps even sit down, looking at my pursuer so innocently that he usually passed me by as if he had actually been chasing someone else. If I was bawling someone out, I could seldom keep it up very long; just to be talking put me in a friendly mood, I stopped, and we made up. In the early years when Judith and I started shouting at each other, our quarrel soon became, for me at least, a quotation about a quarrel, not because I found the bone of contention trivial, but because the fact of talking or shouting gave me a sudden sense of the ridiculous. Later on, I continued to feel in the midst of our hostilities that I might just as well burst out laughing the next moment, and sometimes I actually couldn't help laughing, but by then we were getting on each other's nerves so badly that any unilateral interruption of a quarrel, even a conciliatory laugh, could only have been taken as an insult by the other. It frightened me that here in New York, while reading the paper, I should again,after so long a time, feel so strangely attracted to everything and everybody; but at the moment I didn't want to worry about it. Besides, the feeling didn't last; when I began to think about it, it was gone and forgotten. Once out in the street, I was alone again.
I wandered about aimlessly but full of curiosity. On Times Square I looked at some albums of nude photographs; the latest news was spelled out for me in electric lights on the Allied Chemical Building. I looked at the clock and set my watch. The square was so bright that I was blind for a moment when I turned into one of the dark side streets. I had read in the paper that a restaurant in Central Park had just reopened after being destroyed by fire, and that some of the charred beams had been used in the new interior. While I was walking along looking for a cab to take me there, someone offered me a ticket for a musical. I was going to ignore him, but then it occurred to me that the cast included Lauren Bacall, who many years ago, playing the part of a strong young woman in Howard Hawks's picture To Have and Have Not, had leaned over the piano-player's shoulder in a waterfront dive and sung a song in a deep, husky voice. I gave the man twenty dollars and, ticket in hand, hurried to the theater.
My seat was in the front row, right over the booming orchestra. Like everyone else I had my coat in my lap. Lauren Bacall was the oldest on the stage, even the men looked younger. She no longer lounged or slunk as she had in the waterfront dive,but was very sprightly in her movements. In one number, she and a group of young, rather long-haired men, with chains around their necks, danced on tables. Even while sinking with weariness, she had, in mid-collapse, to jump up again and do something different. To keep the attention of the audience from flagging, each of her movements had to be canceled out by the next movement. While telephoning, she had to slip into her shoes, so as to be able to run off the moment she hung up, and after every sentence she spoke she changed her posture, or at least shifted her legs. She had rather large eyes, and her eyeballs went along with each one of her gestures. In each new scene she appeared in an entirely different outfit, though she could hardly have had time to change. I only felt good about her once--when she was doing nothing but holding out a whiskey glass with her long arm. The rest of the time I had the impression that, with her movie career behind her, it no longer amused her to make a living with gestures that were not her own. It was like watching a man who is doing work that is beneath him and who is sure to feel offended at being watched. I thought of Judith: her routine movements were composed of the many little poses that Lauren Bacall's body was running through like a machine. In a dress shop, I thought, she quite unintentionally adopted the gestures of a lady of fashion: she would stop in the entrance and look around but not at anyone; only when the salesgirl approached her did she focus her eyes, as though startled at her presence. But on the stage she was transformed: thesimplicity of her movements was not the unthinking negligence with which simple people saunter about even on the stage; rather, they expressed relief that on the stage it became possible for her to be serious. Everywhere else she might act up and put on airs, but on the stage she calmed down, became selflessly attentive to others, and played her part so naturally that afterward one almost forgot her.
A police car outside the theater drove through my thoughts with its wailing siren that the orchestra made almost inaudible. A page from somebody's program floated very slowly down from the balcony, and the fluttering paper made me feel certain that at that very moment Judith was sitting carefree in a restaurant, eating but already lifting her little finger to order something else, and that she was too engrossed in what she was doing to think of other things. From time to time the conductor bobbed up in the orchestra pit! The actors' trousers were so beautifully pressed! And the way Lauren's rival picked the olive out of her martini and licked it before popping it into her mouth! Nothing could possibly have happened to her. It was inconceivable that she should not be enjoying herself somewhere. On my money! I was getting hungry; I left in the intermission and took a cab to the restaurant in Central Park.
The trees in the park rustled softly, as though it were going to rain soon. In the restaurant even the menus had artificially charred corners, and on the cloakroom desk there was a guest book with print asluminous as that of half-burned newspapers. Outside, a police siren was wailing again. One of the waiters drew the curtain over the window where he was standing, another went to the door and stood with folded arms looking out. The siren was very shrill, and for a moment the ice cubes trembled in the glass of water that had been put on my table as soon as I sat down. Only a few people were still at the tables and their faces were half in shadow. The room was almost empty and so large that while the siren faded away in the distance I began to feel very tired. As I sat motionless, something began to move back and forth in my head in a rhythm resembling that of my wanderings about New York that day. Once it stopped, then for a long while it ran straight ahead, then it zigzagged, then it circled awhile and subsided. It was neither an image nor a sound, only a rhythm that now and then pretended to be one or the other. It was only then that I saw inside me the city that up until then I had almost overlooked.
A city, which during the day I had merely passed by, caught up with me. Rows of houses and streets took form from the vibrations, the sudden stops, the jolts and crisscrossings it had left in me. Then the vibrations became sounds, the surge and roar of a torrent sweeping over a quiet flooded plain. The heavily curtained windows were no barrier to the sounds and images, because they were in my head; now and then they paled into mere vibrations and rhythms, but soon my head so speeded their pace that they sounded and flared up again: the streetsbecame longer, the buildings taller than ever, and horizons moved spasmodically farther and farther into the distance. Nevertheless, it was pleasant: the pattern of New York spread out peacefully inside me and didn't oppress me. I sat there relaxed yet alive with curiosity, ate the roast lamb to which I had treated myself, drank California red wine that made me thirstier with every swallow, and the compressed, still-rumbling city became for me a gentle panorama of nature. Everything that I had hitherto seen close up, plate glass, stop signs, flagpoles, electric signs, now expanded, because for hours I had been unable to look into the distance, into a landscape that was open as far as the eye could see. I wanted to lie down in it and read a book.
When I had finished eating, I kept looking through the menu and read the names of dishes as insatiably as I had once read the lives of saints in my prayer book. A steak Alamo, a Louisiana pullet, a bear hock à la Daniel Boone, a cutlet à la Uncle Tom. The few diners were still there and were now talking in loud voices. A newsboy came in and threw a few papers on the cloakroom desk. A heavily made-up old woman went from table to table with flowers. A waiter deftly poured cognac over a souffle at the table of a corpulent couple, the lady struck a match for him, he took it with a bow, and held it over the frying pan. The souffle flared up and the couple clapped their hands. The waiter smiled, transferred the souffle to a plate, and served it to the lady. Then with his napkin he took a bottle of white wine out of the ice bucket and poured it, holding hisfree arm behind his back. A pianist turned up from somewhere and began to play softly. A cook stuck his head through the kitchen window and listened. I ordered another carafe of red wine and drank it up, but made no move to leave.
A waiter went into the kitchen and came back chewing. The cloakroom attendant laid out a game of solitaire. She had a pin in her mouth and, while playing, stirred a cup of coffee that was perched on the rail. Then she put the spoon down, let the pin drop out of her mouth, and drank her coffee at one gulp. She swirled the cup to dissolve the residue of sugar, tipped it into her mouth, and went on with her solitaire. Two women came in from outside, one waved a long glove at the waiters, the other sat down at the piano. The pianist changed over to another tune, and she sang:
"In the days of old, in the days of gold,
In the days of forty-nine."
Long after midnight I walked back to the hotel, where I sat down in the Blue Bar and drank Kentucky whiskey. I drank slowly and didn't get drunk. I found some picture postcards of the hotel on a table and wrote to a lot of people, including some I had never written to before. I got airmail stamps out of the vending machine in the lobby and dropped my cards in the hotel mailbox. I went back to the bar, sat down in a big leather swivel armchair, and held my glass in front of me on the palm of my hand. From time to time I bent over and took a sip. The bartendercame over and put an ash tray on a table at which an old woman was sitting. From time to time she giggled; after each giggle she took a notebook out of her quilted bag and wrote something with a little silver ballpoint pen. Finally, for the second time that night, I felt tired, took another picture postcard from the pile, and went up to my room. On my way I addressed the card and dropped it into the mail slot on my landing. On the way down it rattled once or twice.
When I got to my room there was a sheet of white paper on the floor. Thinking it was a message for me, I picked it up. But it was only the hotel manager's card, which had been on top of the fruit bowl. I called the desk again and asked them to turn the air conditioning back on. Then I went to bed without washing and opened Green Heinrich.
I read how at school Heinrich Lee acquired his first enemy. A schoolmate encouraged him to bet on everything that stirred in nature: what fence post a bird would sit on, how low a tree would bend in the wind, whether every fifth or every sixth wave in the lake would be a big one. Heinrich developed betting fever; he lost and couldn't pay up. The two friends, now enemies, met for the last time on a narrow mountain path. Neither said a word; they just flung themselves on each other and fought bitterly. With deadly calm Heinrich clutched his enemy and punched him rhythmically in the face. But every time he punched him he felt a furious pain; never in all his life was he to suffer more deeply. Soon he had to leave school and move to the country. There forthe first time he found freedom in nature and began to sketch it with a pleasure he had never before experienced.
I had grown up in the country and it was hard for me to imagine that nature could free anyone from anything. It had only oppressed me; at any rate, it had been distasteful to me. I detested stubble fields, fruit trees, and pastures, there was something repulsive about them. I saw them from too close at hand: in the stubble fields I ran barefoot; when I climbed trees, the bark scraped my skin; in the pastures I went about in rubber boots, chasing pissing cows in the rain. Only now did it dawn on me that I had been so keenly aware of these little annoyances because I had never been able to move about freely in nature: the fruit trees belonged to other people that I had to run away from, across the fields, and my only reward for tending the cows was rubber boots that I needed only for tending the cows. Because I was driven into nature as a child, because nature was my place of work, I never developed an eye for it; at the most, I was curious about crevices, hollow trees, holes in the ground, anything I could disappear into, especially underground caves. I was also attracted by underbrush, corn fields, hazelnut thickets, sunken lanes, and gullies. But to nature I preferred houses and streets, where there were more forbidden things to be done. When the wind ruffled a wheat field, it only annoyed me by blowing my hair in my face. Later on, to be sure, I often thought of wheat fields waving in the wind to persuade myself that nature hadn't really been so distasteful to me, and to tell thetruth, it was distasteful to me only because in my nature days I could never do as I pleased.
I put the book down and lay in the dark. The air conditioning purred softly, and I watched myself gradually falling asleep. The bathroom door turned into a white house on a hill. Someone was trying to breathe through his nose, and at the foot of a cliff far below me a dog whimpered in answer. I turned over on the other side and immediately rolled down a slope. I fell into the dry bed of a brook--it was full of clothes hangers and chopped-up rubber boots--and curled up to sleep. The rain was pouring down, a flash flood was approaching with an uproar, but never got to me. "I've forgotten to sign the register!"
Next morning, shortly before noon, I went to Pennsylvania Station and took a Penn Central train to Philadelphia.
Thinking back, I can't understand it; that day passed as quickly for me as the days in horror films. You stepped into a subterranean station, escalators carried you farther and farther down; pushed forward by the last step of the escalator, you passed through an open door, and it was only after you had sat down and were moving that you knew for sure you were on a train. For a few minutes it was dark outside the windows, while the train was passing through the tunnel under the Hudson River; when it rose to the surface in New Jersey, you were in a twilight landscape and the gloom was deepened by the tinted windows. In the car it was bright, the pages of your book almost glittered when youturned them; but each time you looked out, the clouds seemed darker than ever and the land below them emptier: garbage heaps instead of houses, yellow smoke on the horizon but no chimneys, a car without tires lying upside down in a fallow field, scraggly woods in which trees uprooted by the wind hung withering on the leafy green branches of their neighbors, here and there on the sand hills, scraps of parachute silk--sea gulls that had flown inland by mistake. The railroad line had recently gone into bankruptcy, and many of the way stations had been closed down. You passed through cities that seemed depopulated because the houses faced away from the tracks. After two hours, rows of soot-covered houses with boarded-up windows on which skulls and crossbones had been painted closed in on the right of way and it became so dark in the car that you didn't notice it when the train entered the tunnel leading to the subterranean Philadelphia station.
More escalators; a large square you could step right out into without going down any steps. I looked to see if anyone had come to meet me. I said, "There's no need for you to hide. You were watching me from behind one of those pillars in the station, weren't you? I have no desire to find you." "Don't blackmail me with myself," I said. "I don't scare easily, not any more at least. I'm no longer defenseless against fear." Two Quakers in long black coats and flat broad-brimmed hats crossed the square to an open car beside which a young Negro chauffeur, with a small radio in his shirt pocket, was standing. A marine, whom I had seen on the train,came running after the Quakers and showed them something. They only smiled; one of them made a negative gesture, while the other got into the car. Then he got out again and pointed at me. I was frightened. They motioned to me and I went slowly toward them. The marine raised his arm and brandished my camera; I had left it in the train.
I crossed the square with the marine. Neither of us knew where he was going, each was following the other. In front of a statue of William Penn I took his picture and he put it in his pocket when it was dry. In return, he took out a newspaper clipping and unfolded it, holding it firmly by the edges like an important document. It was a story about his return to his home town of Red Wing, Minnesota. He had been welcomed by the American Legion and had made a speech which, according to the clipping, had been simple but had won all hearts with its easy good humor. "Actually," said the marine, "I only talked about the time Bob Hope and his girls entertained us, and I told a few of his jokes. But everybody was in a good humor and nobody asked any questions." And he went on, "Then later on I showed Red Wing how to rock. First I practiced at home with my girl, then one night I picked 'Jailhouse Rock' on the jukebox; we began to dance as if it was a waltz and then all of a sudden I threw her over my shoulder." "I admire Elvis Presley," said the marine. "He spent more than two years in the army and now he's back in business again. I'm not crazy about being a marine, but it's my job. One time I saw a reed growing in shallow water. There were a few other reedsnearby, but they all moved. This one reed didn't move. We had to kill somebody now and then or we'd have been killed ourselves." The marine had a round face with large nostrils. He wore glasses, and dandruff had fallen on them from his eyebrows. His lips were very pale; he had a gold tooth and spoke softly. At the end of every sentence he went into a singsong and his voice went up, as though he needed a nod to go on. He took off his cap and showed me his long hair. As he did so, his glasses slid down over his nose and there was a blind, indifferent friendliness in his eyes, which didn't see me at all. It came to me that this was the first time in months that I'd been able to look at someone close up without strain. It was as if someone else were looking at the marine. At the same time I felt offended that he had picked me to tell his story to. Why was it that people always told me their stories? One look at me must have told them I wouldn't like it. But that didn't prevent them from telling me the stupidest stories with perfect calm, as if they took it for granted that I'd listen with the ears of an accomplice.
"Do I still have to act myself out to be seen as I am?" I asked myself when I had left the marine on the pretense of having to make a phone call. "Is it only when I talk and contradict that people can see what I'm like and want to be like? Can't they tell from the way I move, from the way I hold my head and look around?" "Or," I asked myself in the cab on the way to my hotel, "do I still have the same gestures as before? Do I still have to think up a new attitude at every step? Can people see that among manygestures I always have to choose one? And does that make them think I'm ready to accept every possible opinion?"
"Or are they only trying to frighten me?" I thought in the doorway of the hotel, while watching the cab driver hand my suitcase to the hotel porter. "Maybe people can see at a glance that I'm the kind that puts up with anything, that the usual precautions people take when getting acquainted are pointless, that they can be friendly from the start, because we like everything and everybody so much that anything goes and there's nothing to fear."
Without thinking, I tilted my head back as if I had had a nosebleed: the clouds glittered bright; I was afraid that would make the night fall sooner. In the morning I had taken a short train ride; then I had strolled around the square with the marine for a little while, and already it was late afternoon: the shadows were long when the sun came out for a moment just to show that it would soon be dark and everything would mean something different. With a feeling that the foot I was putting forward was too light and the one that stayed behind too heavy, I followed the porter deep into the hotel to the registration desk. I quickly signed my name in the book and waited in the elevator only long enough for someone to be pushed in in a wheel chair; but by the time I got to my room the sun was setting. When I stepped out of the bathroom, it was dusk; and after I hung my coat in the closet, perhaps a little more carefully than usual, it was dark.
"You beast!" I said. "I'll beat you to a pulp, I'll beatyou to a pulp. Please don't let me find you, you monster. It wouldn't be nice for you if I found you."
Someone was thrashing about, they carried him out of the house, I ran out and watched him gasping and choking--"from pollen!"; someone who was holding him slipped and fell, I helped to carry the dead man into the house, then I slowly slipped away; I was barefoot, I stepped on a sharp stone and an intense pain electrified me from the soles of my feet to the top of my head. Some women behind me whispered that he was dead, but very softly and considerately; they didn't even whisper, only their dresses rustled, two toad's eyes looked out of a swamp, a door handle moved slowly up and down--con--siderately? I stretched my bare legs and they went into a clump of nettles. A lizard darted by at the edge of my field of vision; but it was only the hotel emblem on my door key, which was swinging back and forth in the lock. "I don't want to be alone any more," I said.
I had written a woman in Phoenixville, a small town west of Philadelphia, to say that I might go and see her. Her name was Claire Madison. Three years before, on my previous visit to America, we had made love just once. We hardly knew each other; because of the way I had precipitated matters, I often thought about it.
I looked her up in the phone book and called her. "Where are you?" she asked. "In Philadelphia," I said. "I'm leaving for St. Louis tomorrow with my child," she said. "Would you like to come along?"We arranged that I should go to Phoenixville for lunch next day; we would start out after the child's afternoon nap.
Then she hung up and I remained by the telephone. There was a small electric clock on the bedside table. Its dial cast a somber glow deep into the room. Each minute the number changed with a soft click. I pulled out the clock plug and the room was in total darkness. Claire had been about thirty when we met for the first time. She was a big girl, with wide lips that didn't open but only narrowed slightly when she smiled. Her face was big too, not the kind of face it seemed appropriate to stroke. Altogether it was impossible to caress her. She never talked about herself, and it never occurred to me that there could be anything to say about her. She was always so physically present that there was nothing to be said. So I talked about myself or about things outside the window; there was no other way to show affection. Anything else would have required a skipping of steps that would have put a strain on us both. The last time I went to see her, she called out to me to come in, that the door was open: the open door and the way, when I went in, that she was leaning against the door leading to another room, arranged themselves, as in a dream, into a signal to take her in my arms and thrust my leg between her legs. Recalling the scene, I stood up, sat down again, and closed my eyes so hard that it hurt. And then the prolonged murmurs while she was taking her clothes off! We stood looking to one side, speaking with unnatural voices; then we turned and gazed at each other longand silently with feverish yet empty eyes and caressed each other until our desire made us cough aloud. Bewildered, we would break apart and look up from each other's loins till our eyes met. Then we would have to turn away again, and again one of us would murmur in that unnatural voice, until the other interrupted with mannered caresses. Actually the door she was leaning against was only the door of a large American refrigerator. Suddenly, in the course of our half-hearted caresses, I was inside her. I wanted to murmur her name but couldn't. She was a German instructor at some college. Her father had been stationed in Heidelberg after the war, and instead of sending for her, he had only written her letters telling her to learn German. She had been married for a time. Her child was not by me.
Deep night. My room was on the top floor, too high for the street lamps to shine in; the buildings across the street were office buildings and the cleaning women had gone. Once a glare swept across my walls, when a plane flew over with blinking lights. I phoned a few hotels in Philadelphia that were expensive enough for Judith to stop at: the Sheraton, the Warwick, the Adelphia, the Normandie. Then it crossed my mind that she might be right here at the Barclay, and I called the desk. Yes, she had stayed here, but had checked out two days before. She had left nothing in her room and had paid her bill in cash.
I was furious; then my anger passed and my horror became so great that the objects in the roomseemed to flutter like bats' wings. Then the horror passed too, giving way to an enormous feeling of disgust, because I was still my same old helpless self. I called room service and ordered some toast and French red wine and put on all the lights, producing an effect ordinarily seen only in photos advertising hotel rooms. I also turned the light on in the bathroom. After the waiter had wheeled in his cart with its ludicrous still life of toast and wine, I switched on the color TV. I ate and drank, casting an occasional glance at the screen when a woman screamed or when there was a long silence. Once when for some time there had been no sound but the hum of the television set, I looked up and saw a row of deserted German middle-class houses in the background: in the foreground, so close that I could only see his head, a monster whished by. Intermittently, a man in a chef's hat praised the qualities of a five-course dinner in a cellophane bag, that one had only to immerse in boiling water for a few minutes; the chef also showed how to cut the bag open with scissors and then, in close-up, plopped the steaming dishes down on paper plates. Later, still drinking my wine, I switched to another channel and watched an animated cartoon in which a cat blows a wad of bubblegum so big that it bursts and the cat chokes to death. It was the first time I had ever seen anyone die in an animated cartoon.
At that point I had had enough of my room. Leaving the TV running and the lights on, I rode down in the elevator. It being Sunday, the bar was closed, so I went out. In Philadelphia the streets run parallelor at right angles to each other. I went straight ahead, turned into Chestnut Street, which is one of the main thoroughfares, and then again went straight ahead. The streets were all very quiet. I dropped into what looked like a nightclub and caught sight of the marine; he seemed to be drunk, though no liquor was being served. He was leaning against the wall watching the dancers, who were all very young. No longer in uniform, he was wearing a leather jacket; his glasses were in the breast pocket. I nodded to him. He waved but didn't seem to recognize me. I sat down at a table with a dark-colored drink that tasted burned and was called root beer. I couldn't take my eyes off him.
The band had withdrawn, only one of the singers stayed on. He picked up a steel guitar and sat down on a stool by the mike. He began to sing a talking blues. The people, who had stopped dancing, gathered around the singer and listened. His story was about a feeble-minded girl, who had been raped by a farmer she was working for and given birth to a child. "And I was that child!" said the singer, striking a chord, which echoed on while he continued his story. "She had the child while she was going out to the well for water; she wrapped it in her apron and carried it into the house, and the farmer and his wife raised me as their own child. And one day I climbed up a fence and got stuck. The feeble-minded woman, who couldn't even talk, came running and helped the child down. And the child said to the farmer's wife, 'Hey, Ma, why are the idiot girl's hands so soft?' And that idiot girl was my mother!"the singer screamed. Then he took the guitar and played a series of long, tremulous chords.
Suddenly, as the music became more incisive and impatient, the marine came to life. He raised his arms as though to stretch. He was pushing something upward but, arrived at head height, it would go no farther, and, frustrated, his hands clenched into trembling fists. He closed his eyes so tight that his eyeballs began to tremble. Fighting against insuperable resistance, he bent his head to one side, then jerked one shoulder, trying to hit his ear with it. His lips opened, he ground his teeth. Every movement he attempted was blocked by an equal countermovement. His face was twisted and his head bent far back. Over and over, he struggled to lift a weight; each time his arms fought their way to shoulder level, began to shake, lost height, thrashed about for a moment, and steadied themselves with a last muscular exertion; even letting his arms fall seemed to demand a painful effort. He raised one knee, forced his head down, and rubbed his forehead against his knee. The sweat poured from his long sideburns, his gums were bright with saliva, yet I watched him with respect and affection. His ecstasy was not artificial and imitative like the movements of the other people, who had meanwhile resumed their dancing; it had taken him by surprise and he didn't know what to do with it. No longer able to speak or even to stammer, he tried to free himself by acting as if some primeval monster were dying inside him. Then suddenly he was still and there was a knife in his hand. Someone who had been watching himstruck him on the forearm and the knife fell to the floor. Only a few people were looking on as the marine was led away.
I went back to the hotel and read about Green Heinrich, how he began to sketch from nature but looked only for what was grotesque and mysterious in nature. He tried to go nature one better, to make himself interesting as an observer by imagining blasted willow trunks and cliff-ghosts. He invented fantastically grimacing trees and rocks and peopled his landscape with weird ragged figures, because he knew so little about himself that nature as he found it still meant nothing to him. Then a cousin, who had always lived in the country, showed him that all the trees he drew looked alike, and that none looked like a real tree. "These boulders couldn't be piled up like that for a second without collapsing!" His cousin gave him an assignment: to sketch his property. And though his cousin spoke as a proprietor, Heinrich was now obliged for the first time to look at things. Now the simplest objects, even the tiles on the roof, gave him more trouble than he would ever have thought possible. It occurred to me that for a long time my own vision of the world around me had been twisted: when I tried to describe something, I never knew what it looked like; I remembered only its anomalies, and if there weren't any, I made them up. All the people I described were giants with birthmarks and falsetto voices. Most often they were escaped convicts, who sat for hours on tree trunks in the woods, telling their stories to the wind. I wasquick to see cripples, blind men, and idiots, but even these I could not have described in detail. I was more interested in ruins than houses. I liked to spend my time in graveyards and always counted the suicides' graves along the wall. I could be with someone for hours and then, if he went away and came back, fail to recognize him; at the most I might remember that he had a pimple or lisped. Only abnormalities and bad habits held my attention; after the first glance I stopped looking at everything else and had to invent things if anyone asked me to tell what I had seen. Since at that time my imagination also knew nothing, I lied, throwing in distinguishing marks as though making out a warrant, and these distinguishing marks would take the place of whole landscapes, situations, and biographies. It was only when I met Judith, and for the first time really experienced something, that I began to see the world with something more than a malignant first glance. I became more patient and stopped collecting distinguishing marks.
I had fallen asleep without turning out the lights and in my dream the sun shone in my face. I was waiting at a crossroads; a car stopped beside me; I went over and moved the windshield wiper to the middle of the windshield. A woman sitting beside the driver leaned out and pulled it down again. She pointed at the sky and I saw the sun was shining. I laughed; the driver, a Frenchman, joined in my laughter, and yet, as though my dream had been a nightmare, I woke up with an erection but no excitement. I turned out the lights. Toward morningsomeone clapped his hands violently. I shouted, "Yes!" and jumped out of bed. It was only a pigeon that had fluttered past my window.
Phoenixville is a small town with a population of about fifteen thousand, some twenty miles from Philadelphia. I settled the price with a cab driver and started after breakfast. On the way we made one stop; I bought a harmonica for the child and some film packs for the Polaroid camera in a discount store, where they only cost half as much as at airports. A present for Claire would only have embarrassed her. I couldn't think of anything that would have been right for her, and I couldn't visualize her with something in her hands; it would have looked incongruous.
Nevertheless, she was carrying a suitcase out to the car when my cab drew up to her house on Greenleaf Street. The car was an Oldsmobile, the trunk was open. The child was toddling awkwardly up and down in front of Claire, carrying a little draw-string bag. The house door was open, a few suitcases were standing beside it, the front lawn was still sparkling with dew.
I got out of the cab and took my bag over to the car. We exchanged greetings and I put my bag in the trunk. Then I brought the other bags over from the doorway and passed them to her. She stowed them away. The child screamed at her to close the trunk. The child was a girl, about two years old; she had been born in New Orleans and her name was Delta Benedictine. Claire closed the trunk and explained,"I can't leave anything open in front of Benedictine. It frightens her. Yesterday she began to scream and wouldn't stop; finally I found out what the trouble was: a button was open on my blouse." She picked up the child, who refused to walk in my presence, and we went inside.
"You've changed," said Claire. "You look more carefree. It doesn't bother you any more to be wearing a dirty shirt. Three years ago you always came to see me in a white shirt, a new one each time, I could still see the creases on the chest. And here you are in the same old coat, it's been darned with nylon thread."
"I've lost interest in buying clothes," I said. "I hardly look at shop windows any more. In the past I wanted to wear something different every day, now I wear the same thing for months. As for my shirt, there was no laundry service at the hotel yesterday."
"What have you got in your bag?" Claire asked.
"Underwear and books," I said.
"What are you reading now?"
"Green Heinrich by Gottfried Keller."
She hadn't read it and I said I'd read parts of it to her. "Maybe tonight, before we go to bed," she said.
"Where will that be?" I asked.
"In Donora, south of Pittsburgh," she said. "I know a motel there, it's off the road, it will be quieter for the child. I hope we get that far, it's almost three hundred miles and the Allegheny Mountains are in between. Have you learned to drive in the meantime?"
"No," I said. "Never again will I let anybody examine me. The thought of someone asking me questions and making something depend on my answers has become intolerable to me. In the past, say ten years ago, it would have disgusted me and made me furious, but I'd have let them examine me. Now I won't."
"You keep talking about 'the past' and 'now,'" said Claire.
"It's because I can't wait to be older," I said, and couldn't help laughing.
"How old are you?" Claire asked.
"In three days I'll be thirty," I said.
"In St. Louis," she said.
"Yes," I said. "And I can't wait."
"To get to St. Louis or to be thirty?"
"To be thirty and in St. Louis," I said.
She fed the child while I went into the bathroom and washed my hair. She had packed the dryer, so I sat down on the front lawn with my wet hair. It struck me as quite extraordinary that the sun should be shining that day.
When I came back in, she was undressing the child, and I watched her. She zipped her into a sleeping bag and put her to bed in another room. I heard her drawing the curtains. Then she came out; for lunch we had roast beef and dumplings with beer.
"Do you like Austria any better now?" she asked.
"Yes," I said. "I was glad to be there. I realized that I had gone so far as to imagine that they had different sets of symbols from the rest of the world.But now I saw the same traffic signs, the same bottle shapes, the same screw threads as everywhere else. In all seriousness I was surprised to find hotels, department stores, paved roads, all perfectly available. Maybe I was so surprised because this was the country of my childhood and because as a child I didn't see those things and what I did see wasn't available to me. Little by little, I'm even beginning to see nature, which used to make me nervous and miserable, with new eyes." There I stopped. I had meant to say something else.
After lunch I cleared the table and got myself a bottle of beer out of the refrigerator. Claire explained that she was going to visit friends in St. Louis during the college vacation. "They're lovers," she said. And another reason for going to St. Louis was that a German dramatic group was at the university there, doing some classical plays she had never seen performed.
I wanted to help with the dishes, but since my last visit she had acquired a dishwasher. She showed me how it worked. "A few things still have to be washed by hand," she explained. "Silver, for instance, and pots and pans that are too big for the machine. I haven't got any silver, but I have to use big pots because I often cook for weeks ahead. I keep the stuff in the deep freeze." She showed me the frozen soup in the deep freeze. "I'll be able to eat it when I get back in the fall," she said, and I had a feeling that nothing could possibly go wrong before the fall came and she would thaw out the soup.
When the dishwasher had shut itself off, we put the dishes away. If anyone had asked me, I wouldn't have known, but once I set to work I remembered where everything belonged. I tossed the beer bottles into the garbage disposal, then I turned on the record player without looking to see what record was on it. With a glance at the door behind which the child was sleeping, Claire turned down the volume a little. The record was called She Wore a Yellow Ribbon and consisted of some tunes from John Ford's movies played on the jew's-harp. "In Providence I heard a regimental band playing those things," I exclaimed, and repeated the sentence very softly, as though Claire couldn't have understood it when I said it in a loud voice.
She went about barefoot, collecting little things for the trip, needles, medicines the child might need, a fever thermometer, the child's inoculation certificate, a straw hat to shade her from the sun. Then she brewed fennel tea in soda water for the road. It was a pleasure to watch her: all so wonderfully innocent.
She disappeared into one of the rooms, and when she came out of another, I looked up and didn't know her. She was wearing a different dress, but that had nothing to do with it. We went outside and she lay down in a hammock; I sat in a rocking chair and told her about my life during the last three years.
Then we heard the child calling and Claire went in and dressed her, while I sat rocking. I noticed that some articles of the child's clothing were still hangingon the clothesline. Without telling Claire, I stuffed them into the bag she had used for the other odds and ends. I was infected with the serenity of my surroundings. With the child in the back seat, we drove out of Phoenixville.
On the way to Interstate 76, she remembered the clothes on the line, and I pointed to the bag where I had put them. "I also unplugged the record player and the hot water heater," I told her.
Interstate 76 from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh is known as the Pennsylvania Turnpike and is more than three hundred miles long. We entered it from State Route 100, near Downingtown, after the eighth toll station. On the seat beside her Claire had a box full of coins; at each toll station she would toss a few of them out the window into the hopper without coming to a full stop. From there to Donora we passed another fifteen toll stations. In the course of the day Claire tossed more than five dollars into hoppers.
We didn't talk much, and then only to the child, who asked questions about various things in the landscape. The sky was cloudless, the hops and wheat had begun to sprout. Smoke rose from towns tucked away behind the hills. Although every inch of ground looked as if it had just been cultivated, there wasn't a living soul in the fields, which were impersonating unspoiled nature. And nowhere on the road, which seemed new, were there men at work; the asphalt glittered peacefully; the cars drove slowly, no one did more than seventy. Once an airforce plane flew over very low, casting so big a shadow I thought it was going to crash. There seemed to be less wind in the distance than in the bushes nearby. A flock of white birds changed direction suddenly and turned black. The air was pure and clear; only rarely was an insect dashed against the windshield. From time to time I saw animals that had been run over; the dogs and cats had been moved to the side of the road, the hedgehogs had been left in the middle. Claire told the child there was water in the big aluminum globes on top of the farmhouses.
I felt like using the camera, though there wasn't much to be seen, and in quick succession took several pictures that were almost all alike. Then I took one of the child standing on the back seat, looking out. Last, I snapped Claire, moving away from her as far as possible because the camera was no good for close-ups. I had used up the last film pack by the time we passed Harrisburg. I lined up the pictures on the windshield and looked back and forth between them and the countryside.
"You've changed too," I said to Claire, surprised that there was something to be said of her, and pointed at one of the photographs. "You look as if you are always thinking of what your next thought will be. You used to go off into absences, half the time you were hardly awake, now you look so businesslike and somehow troubled."
"Yes, somehow," I said. "I can't quite put my finger on it. You walk faster, you move more briskly,you're more determined, you talk louder, you make more noise. As if you were trying to distract attention from yourself."
She answered by blowing the horn, but said nothing. After a while the child, who had been listening, ordered us to go on talking.
"I'm more forgetful than before," said Claire. "No, it's not that, it's just that I remember less. Sometimes somebody tells me about something we did together a few days ago, but I just don't want to remember."
"Since I've been in America, I remember more and more," I said when she stopped talking. "I only have to take an escalator and I remember how scared I was the first time I stepped onto an escalator. If I walk into a blind alley, all the forgotten blind alleys I've ever strayed into come back to me. Most of all, I've come to understand since I've been here why the only memory I ever developed was for frightening things. I never had anything with which to compare the things I saw every day. All my impressions were repetitions of impressions that were already known to me. It wasn't just that I didn't get around much, but also that I didn't see many people whose circumstances were different from mine. Since we were poor, nearly all the people I knew were poor. We saw so few things that there was very little to talk about and we had the same conversation almost every day. In those surroundings anyone who was more talkative was a character if he was funny and amused people; if he only spun fantasies like me, he was a dreamer; because I had no desire to be a character. In the world I lived in, my dreams werereally fantasies, because they had no connection with anything in that world, there was nothing comparable that would have made them possible. As a result, I never became fully conscious of the world around me or of my dreams, and that's why I never remember them. All I remember is moments of terror, because at such moments my world and my dreams, which at other times were unrelated, suddenly became one and the same thing. My world provoked my dream, and my dream made me see the world, which otherwise I had simply ignored in my fantasies. So states of fear were for me ways to knowledge; it was only when I was afraid that I paid attention to my surroundings, looking for a sign to tell me whether things would get better or still worse, and later on I remembered those moments of fear. But that kind of memory was something that happened to me from outside, I never learned to cultivate it. If I had moments of hope in those days, I've forgotten them."
We had been climbing steadily, though there were no big mountains to be seen. The sun was halfway down the sky and now and then a sparkling went up from the hillsides. The child wanted to hear us talking again. Claire told her we'd be talking a good deal later on. I gave her a cup of fennel tea to drink. She held the cup in both hands and gave it back when it was empty. After New Baltimore, there was a tunnel and Claire put the child beside her on the front seat. When we got out of the tunnel, she asked me to move the child back again. Now there were darkshadows between the hills and I could see the moon through the back window.
"If we get to Donora before seven," said Claire, "the child can come to dinner with us. There's a restaurant across from the motel. The Yellow Ribbon, it's called."
We stopped at a gas station. While the tank was filling up, Claire took the child to the back to do her business. While waiting, I got a can of soda out of the vending machine. It was late in the day, the machine must have been almost empty, because my can tumbled down from a considerable height and foamed over when I opened it. The red, white, and blue oval AMERICAN sign over the gas station rotated slowly, and the child talked about it when she came back with Claire. As we drove off, the child suddenly let out a yell; we turned around and saw that the lights had gone on in the gas station. "But it wasn't dark yet!" Suddenly it seemed to me that the country we had been driving through was country that one could also arrive in. I began to talk and was relieved to find that I had stopped hearing my own voice.
"I think I'm developing something that looks like an active memory," I said. "Up until now I had only a passive memory. But in this active remembering I don't try to repeat complete experiences; all I want is to prevent the first little hopes I felt in connection with those experiences from relapsing into fantasies. As a child, for instance, I used to bury things, hoping that when I dug them up they'd have turned into treasure. I don't regard this as a childish game anymore, I'm no longer ashamed of it as I used to be; today I remember such things on purpose in order to assure myself that if I was unable to change the things around me or see them in a different light, my nature was not to blame, but only momentary dullness or bad humor. I see this even more clearly when I remember how often I pretended to be a magician. What I wanted was not so much to make something out of nothing or change one thing into another as to enchant myself. I twisted a ring or pulled a blanket over me and said it would spirit me away. Of course it was ridiculous when somebody pulled the blanket away and I was still there, but what was more important for memory was the brief moment when I really thought I wasn't there any more. Today I interpret that feeling not as a desire to vanish from the face of the earth, but as joyful anticipation of a future when I would cease to be the person I was at the moment. It's very much the same now when every day I tell myself that I'm one more day older and that it must show. It's got so I really want the time to pass and make me older."
"And die," said Claire.
"I seldom think of my own death," I said.
Before Pittsburgh, where the turnpike continues northwestward, we turned off to the southwest onto Interstate 70, where there were no more toll stations, and reached Donora soon after sunset. In the lobby of the motel a movie was showing on TV; Henry Fonda in the role of a police officer had just found out that his daughter was taking drugs. Next to theTV set a canary was pecking at a cuttlebone in its cage. We took two adjoining rooms.
Crossing the parking place to the car, I saw a narrow little cloud that was still lit up by the sun, which had vanished behind a hill. The hill had been transformed into a flat surface, and above it the cloud shimmered so white that at first I saw a cuttlebone in the sky. All at once I understood how illusions and mistaken identities give rise to metaphors. The quarter of sky where the sun had just gone down was more dazzling than the direct rays had been before. When I looked at the ground, glowworms were hopping up and down, and even in my room I groped for a moment in darkness. "My whole being hearkens in silence": that was how people used to feel in the presence of natural phenomena; but what nature gave me at such moments was a clear sense of myself.
I opened the door to the other room and watched while Claire changed the child's dress for a pair of pants and a sweater. The sight of these human activities comforted me. Then we crossed the highway on the overpass and went to the Yellow Ribbon, in front of which there was a luminous statue of a pioneer woman with a yellow neckerchief. The waitresses also wore yellow neckerchiefs whose ends hung down over their shoulders. The child had milk and corn flakes; now and then Claire gave her a bite of the trout she and I were eating. The sky outside the big windows grew darker, and again the hills brightened. Then the hills too grew dark and when I looked out, all I could see was some of myself in thewindowpanes. The child became very talkative, her pupils dilated, she left the table and ran out into the middle of the room. Claire said the child was tired; she let her run about for a little while, then picked her up and carried her to the motel after promising to come back as soon as the child was asleep.
After a while she reappeared, smiling. In the meantime I had ordered some wine and filled our glasses. "Benedictine wanted to know why your fingernails are so dirty," said Claire. "She fell asleep right away."
I began to explain my dirty fingernails; then I stopped talking about myself and we talked about America.
"I haven't got an America I can go away to like you," said Claire. "It's as if you'd come over on a time machine, not for the change of place but for a glimpse of the future. Over here we've lost all sense of where we're going. If we draw any comparisons, it's with the past. And we've given up wanting anything, except perhaps to be children again. We're always talking about the first years, our own first years and the first years of our history; not to repudiate them, but with a kind of longing to be little again. You'll see that most of our mental cases don't rave, they just relapse into childhood. You look at them on the street, and suddenly they have the faces of children. They start singing lullabies or reciting historical dates, and they keep it up till their dying day. Most European madmen talk in religious formulas; even when American madmen are talkingabout food, they have to stop now and then and reel off lists of our nation's victorious battles."
"The first time I was over here," I said, "I was only interested in images: gas stations, yellow taxis, drive-in movies, advertising posters, highways, a Greyhound bus, a bus-stop sign on the highway, the Santa Fe Railway, the desert. There were no people in my consciousness and I felt good about it. Now I'm sick of all these images, I want to be something different but I don't feel good as often, because people are still too new to me." "But you feel good right now?" Claire asked. "Yes," I said.
I saw I'd been talking about myself again and asked if I could take her back to the motel and read her a few pages of Green Heinrich. We took the overpass again. The stars had come out and the moon was so bright that the cars had big shadows when they swung around the curve up the road. When they came closer, in the lights of the motel and the restaurant, they lost their shadows and shrank. We looked down for a while, then we crossed the long court, where the stillness increased at every step, to our rooms.
She looked in on the child, then came into my room. She sat down on the bed and leaned back. Now and then a car whished softly by. I sat in a big armchair with my legs over one arm and read how when Heinrich Lee embraced a girl for the first time an icy coldness came over him and he and the girl suddenly felt like enemies. They went home together and Heinrich fed the horse while the girlstood at the open window, undoing her hair and watching him. "The slow movements of our hands in the silence that lay over the yard filled us with a profound and, all in all, happy peace; we would have been glad to go on like that for years; from time to time I bit into a piece of bread before giving it to the horse, whereupon Anna took some bread out of the cupboard and ate it at the window. That made us laugh, and just as dry bread tasted so good after the festive, noisy meal, so the way we were now living together seemed to be the right channel; we had put into it after our little storm, and that was where we should stay." I also read about another girl whom Heinrich loved because the look on her face told him that she longed to be thinking whatever he happened to be thinking.
I saw that Claire had closed her eyes and was almost asleep. We sat silent for a while; then she said, "It's late. All that driving has made me tired." A little dizzily she went to her room.
That night the time passed too slowly, even when I was sleeping. The bed was so big; I kept moving from side to side, and that made the night longer. But here for the first time in months I dreamed of being with a woman and wanting to make love to her. During the last six months with Judith, when the mere sight of each other made us dry in the mouth with hatred, I hadn't even dreamed of touching a woman. I don't mean that the thought disgusted me, I mean that I wasn't even capable of such a thought. Of course, I remembered that thesethings were possible, but I wasn't even tempted to visualize them. I cultivated my condition, and little by little it developed into a frozen detachment that frightened me. Now at least I had dreamed about being with a woman; that filled my long night with excitement and I woke up in a state of impatience. I wanted to tell Claire about my dreams, but then it seemed better to wait until they recurred.
When I heard the child talking in the other room, I dressed and went in. I helped Claire to pack up, we ate breakfast and drove off. We wanted to be in Columbus, Ohio, before noon, and it was more than two hundred miles. That, we reckoned, would take about five hours, because in Ohio we would have to drive through several cities and we could count on being held up at intersections. We planned to eat lunch in Columbus; then the child would take her nap in the car. Our goal for the day was Indianapolis, something under four hundred miles in all.
Again the day was cloudless; the sun, which had just risen, shone into the car through the rear window. I put the straw hat on the child; she was frantic because I hadn't put it on straight and began to scream. No sooner had she calmed down than a car passed us with its trunk partly open because of some sacks inside. She started screaming again, but we managed to make her understand that the trunk had to be open because of the sacks.
After leaving Pennsylvania, we drove a few miles through the northern tip of West Virginia. I remembered a sentence I had once read in an adventurestory: "What is a Virginia meadow compared to a Texas prairie?"
We crossed the Ohio River into Ohio. It was hot in the car. The child sat quietly, looking out with interest. There were beads of sweat on her upper lip, though we had opened the windows a little. Then she grew restless and kept standing up and sitting down again. I tried to pass her the bottle of tea but she wouldn't take it. She looked terrified. Claire suggested that maybe I was holding the bottle "in the wrong hand." I shifted it to the other hand. Then she took it and drank with a long sigh. After putting the bottle away, I spoke to her, calling her by her two names. "Better stick to one name," said Claire. "It was a mistake to give her two names. I used to switch back and forth between them, and when I felt especially affectionate, I even made up new ones. It got her all mixed up. She wanted to be called by one name, any change upset her.
"I made a lot of mistakes with the child," said Claire. "I've mentioned one: calling her by different names. But that wasn't all: when I felt especially loving, I would use pet names for familiar objects, and that confused her even more. I finally understood that she attached herself to the first name I called a thing by; any other drove her crazy. Sometimes she'd be playing quietly with something or other, and I'd be watching her. After a while it was more than I could bear to be with her and not talk to her. When I began to talk, it wrenched her out of her continuity and I'd have to comfort her. Another big mistake was not wanting to give her an Americanupbringing. I didn't want her to act as if the world belonged to her or to regard what belonged to her as the world. I thought an American upbringing encouraged possessiveness and I didn't want that. I never bought her toys; I'd only let her play with things intended for other purposes, such as toothbrushes, shoe-polish cans, and household utensils. She played with them and then when she saw them put to their proper use, she didn't mind. But if somebody else wanted to play with them, she wouldn't stand for it, she was just like other children with their toys. She's getting possessive after all, I thought, and tried to persuade her to share with the other child. But she'd cling to whatever it was, and then I'd take it away, because I still interpreted her behavior as possessiveness. Later on I came to understand that what made her cling to things was fear, and now I feel sure that when children can't part with some object, the trouble isn't possessiveness but fear. A panic comes over them when suddenly something that belonged to them a moment ago is somewhere else and the place it occupied is empty, and the reason is that when that happens they don't know where they themselves belong. But I was so blinded by my determination to be rational that instead of seeing the child I saw only her behavior patterns, which I automatically interpreted."
"How is it now?" I asked.
"Sometimes I'm at my wits' end," said Claire. "Especially when she's away from home for any time, she gets upset, because when things keep changing around her she can't get her bearings. I'm gladyou've come along, that gives her two fixed points to revolve around."
I was going to say something to the child but stopped myself, because she had just calmed down.
"Once somebody stole a wrist watch from me," I said. "The watch didn't mean anything to me, I'd stopped noticing it, but all the same it was a long time before I could look at the empty place on my wrist without feeling frightened."
There was a row of poles in a field and one of them slanted. Again the child began to scream. We stopped outside a shopping center and Claire took the child for a little stroll. Then she put her on a toy elephant that rocked when you inserted a dime. The rocking seemed to relax her. Then suddenly she clamored to be taken off; apparently she had seen the black dog stains on the elephant's base. She looked at various objects but quickly turned away, as though stricken with horror. Claire tried to point out a buzzard that was circling slowly over the building, but the child struck down her mother's hand. Claire laid her down in the back seat of the car. She made no move to get up, but ordered us to rearrange the photographs on the windshield. Claire went into the shopping center for some orange juice, and I got to work on the photographs. I tried every possible combination; none seemed to suit her, but she wouldn't let me put them away. As I was shifting one of the pictures, the child bellowed with panic, her voice was almost that of a grownup. She must have set her mind on some secret pattern. In each of my helpless attempts I seemed to begin right and then go wrong.When Claire came back, the child was frantic. I halted in my manipulations and instantly she was quiet, though I couldn't make out any particular order in the pictures. Claire filled the bottle with orange juice and gave it to the child to drink. None of us spoke. The child's eyes widened, she blinked more and more infrequently, then she fell asleep. We bought some sandwiches and fruit and drove on.
"All of a sudden I was in the child's place," I said after a time. "The first thing I remember in my life is the scream I let out when I was being bathed in the washbasin and suddenly the stopper was pulled out and the water gurgled away under me."
"Sometimes I forget her completely," said Claire. "That's when I feel most carefree. I don't even notice her, she runs around me like a dog or a cat. Then I notice her again and it comes to me how I love her. And the greater my love is, the greater becomes my fear of death. Sometimes when I've been looking at the child for a long time, I can't distinguish between my love and my fear of death. Once when I felt that way I took a piece of candy out of her mouth, because I thought I saw her choking." Claire spoke calmly, as though surprised at herself. She checked the green signs over the highway to be sure of taking the detour around Columbus. For some time now the road had been almost straight, there had hardly been a curve in the last hour. That made it easier for the child to sleep. Here the hills were smaller, the fields a denser green, and the wheat higher than in Pennsylvania. After ColumbusClaire pointed at the rearview mirror and I saw the child was waking up; the hair on her temples was wet, her face was flushed. For a time she lay still with her eyes open; then she saw she was being watched and grinned. She said nothing, just looked quietly around. It was a game, each of us was waiting for someone else to say the first word or make the first move. In the end I lost by shifting my position; the child began to talk.
We turned off the highway, stopped on a back road, and walked a short way into a pasture. The breeze ruffled our hair. I saw that the child's temples were still wet; we bent over her and saw that down there at the child's level the air was almost motionless. Claire picked her up and her hair soon dried. We sat down at the edge of a pond. The grass was as hard as marsh grass, there were little white mushrooms in the cows' footprints. Here and there mounds of mud rose above the surface of the water; frog spawn and bits of cow dung clustered around them. Now and then a dancing gnat sent a ripple over the water; foam gathered around a half-sunken log, the air over the pond was hazy.
We ate our sandwiches; the sun was getting too hot, so we stood up and headed for a clump of trees. The child let me carry her, and I picked my way through oaks and elms. Claire lagged behind and after a while stopped altogether. There must have been a railroad line nearby, because after the child had torn some leaves off the trees, her hands were covered with soot, though the leaves had hardly opened. We came to a clearing beside a brook thatwas almost hidden by swamp growth. Out of the corner of my eye I saw a big animal; I swung around, but it was only a water rat. It crawled away under the leaves and stopped still; its tail was still sticking out. I bent down, looking for a stone to throw at it, but there weren't any. When I straightened up, I saw we had sunk into the mud a little; water had gathered around our shoes. I took a long step to one side and my leg sank to the knee in the warm mud. Though I heard nothing, I felt rotten branches cracking under my foot, deep down in the mud.
I stood motionless with my legs wide apart but sank no deeper. The water rat's tail had disappeared. The child clung to me; she was breathing heavily. I called out for Claire, making my voice as calm as I could. "Don't shout!" said the child. I tugged at my leg. Before it was quite free, I jumped back to the trees and my shoe stayed in the mud. I thought the child was screaming with fear, but she was laughing at the way I was hopping. Claire sat leaning against a tree trunk, asleep. I sat down near her; the child found some acorns among the fallen leaves and lined them up beside me. After a while, Claire opened her eyes as though she had only been pretending to be asleep; instantly she saw that I was missing a shoe and that my trousers were coated with mud. As though describing a dream, she told me what had happened to me and I confirmed her story. "Were you afraid?" "Not exactly," I said. "More angry than afraid."
We went back across the pasture. Swallows wereflying high overhead; as a rule it's only in big cities that they fly so high. "In America," Claire said, "hardly anybody goes walking. They drive around in cars or they sit outside the house in rocking chairs. If you go walking in the country, people look at you." She pointed to a man in a checkered shirt who was running toward us across the field; he was carrying a big club. When we stood still, he stopped running; then, apparently noticing that we had a child with us, he too stood still, dropped his club, and tossed a cake of cow dung on it. He waited. As we were slowly starting off, he pulled out his penis and urinated in our direction, moving slowly back and forth as in sexual intercourse and splattering his trousers and shoes; in the end, he lost his balance and fell over backward.
Still walking very slowly, we watched him. Claire said nothing. In the car, before starting the motor, she broke into a soundless laugh. She laughed so hard she had to hold her head in her hands.
Those were the only shoes I had. We stopped at the next shopping center and bought another pair. When we were moving again, I looked at the mud on my trousers; it hadn't dried yet, and that made me irritable and impatient. I kept looking to see if it was dry, and finally transferred my impatience to the country we were driving through. I looked from the mud that refused to dry to the landscape that refused to change, and our motion seemed so futile that I couldn't conceive of our ever getting to Indianapolis. I had a disagreeable feeling that we hadcome to a stop with the motor running, and at the same time I wished we would really stop. I kept looking to see when the Ohio license plates would give way to Indiana plates, when instead of THE BUCKEYE STATE the plates on the cars we passed would say something else. Then there began to be more and more cars from THE HOOSIER STATE. Once we were in Indiana, the dry mud began to flake off my trousers, but still my impatience grew; I counted the milestones that still separated us from Indianapolis, because they were the only sign of change in the unchanging landscape. My breathing took on the rhythm of the intervals between them and my head began to ache. I was sick of having to put distances behind me when I wanted to be somewhere else, and the pressure of Claire's foot on the accelerator struck me as absurd, even useless. At the same time I wanted her to step on it and was tempted to prod her foot with the heel of my new shoe; my impatience grew so great that I could have murdered someone in my exasperation. Though the sun was setting, the light was as bright as ever, there was no darkening, and later on, as we drove into Indianapolis in the dusk and I glanced at Claire's profile, the imperturbable, disembodied calm that came over me felt like the calm of a murderer.
I didn't want to see the city. As though it had disappointed me in advance and I already had enough of it, I looked at the floor while Claire was asking for two rooms at the Holiday Inn, right behind the Speedway. In the room I immediately drew the curtain and phoned the hotel in Providence.Someone had called the day before, they had given him my addresses in New York and Philadelphia. "Him?" "No, it was a lady," said the operator. I phoned the Algonquin, then the Barclay in Philadelphia; Judith had called the Barclay and asked if I was still there, but had left no message. I gave them my address in Indianapolis and said I would call again next day and give them my address in St. Louis. I had hardly hung up when the phone rang. It was Claire. There was no connecting door between our rooms, so she had phoned to ask if I was all right and if I wanted to go down to the restaurant for dinner.
I wasn't hungry. I suggested a walk after the child was asleep. She agreed. While hanging up, I heard a bell ring briefly behind the wall as she too rang off. I opened the curtain and looked out but saw nothing in particular. An even rhythm outside the window lulled me and at the same time sharpened my perception. Some distance away there was a cypress on a little hill. Its branches looked almost bare in the evening light. It swayed gently back and forth in a movement that resembled my own breathing. I forgot the cypress, I also forgot myself and stared into space. But then the cypress, still gently swaying, moved closer with every breath and finally penetrated my chest. I stood motionless, the pulse in my temples stopped beating, my heart stopped. I ceased to breathe, my skin died away, and with a sense of will-less well-being I felt that the movement of the cypress was taking over the function of my respiratory center, making me sway with it, and freeing itselffrom me. At length, feeling that I no longer offered resistance, that I was superfluous, I detached myself from its gentle motion. Then my murderous calm left me and I fell on the bed, weak and pleasantly sluggish. It no longer mattered to me where I was or when I could be somewhere else; the time passed quickly. Already it was night, and already Claire was knocking at my door.
We were sitting in Warren Park in Indianapolis; one of the chambermaids at the Holiday Inn had promised to look in on the child from time to time. It was only then that the full moon rose; the benches and bushes stood white around us, like phantoms. The globe of one of the street lamps was broken, a moth fluttered about inside and caught fire. The moonlight was very bright, but not bright enough to make you think you were bursting. My heart pounded painfully and now and then, when I took a breath, I sighed. Along the paths there were flowers with long stems, their white petals were wide open in the moonlight, totally motionless in a paroxysm of madness, and I no longer had strength enough to set them in motion; from time to time a bud popped. There was a rustling in one of the trash baskets, and then again silence. The grass was gray, as though scorched, the short shadows of the trees looked like burns, and though the air was rather cool, I felt hot inside. Behind the palms and tulip trees glittered the arrow and five-pronged star of the Holiday Inn.
"Since coming to America," I said, "I've been having the same experiences as in childhood. Fears andlongings that I thought I'd forgotten have been cropping up again. I have the same feeling as when I was little that the world around me might suddenly burst and turn into something entirely different, a monster's maw, for instance. In the car today I longed to have seven-league boots, so it wouldn't take any time to cover distances. When I was little, I couldn't bear to think there was another place that I couldn't get to in a flash. Today it's the same, except that then the thought sent me into a frenzy whereas now I talk about it, draw comparisons, and learn. Any attempt to interpret these enigmas would strike me as absurd; I speak of them only because it makes me feel less isolated than I did then. I've thrown off my embarrassment, I talk a lot, I laugh a lot, I wish I were fat enough to move a revolving door with my belly, and I'm glad to say that I've almost stopped noticing myself."
"Green Heinrich didn't want to interpret things either," said Claire. "All he wanted was to be as detached as possible; he looked on as one experience interpreted the last, and so on down through the chain of experiences. He let experience pass before his eyes and never got involved; the people he knew just danced by him. He neither challenged them nor withdrew from the dance. He made no attempt to decipher anything; one event would simply follow from another. You're the same way, I think; you just let the world dance past you. As if life were taking place on a stage and there were no need for you to get mixed up in it. As if the world were a big bundle of Christmas presents, all for you. You watch whileit's being unpacked; to help would be rude. You just let the world unfold, and if something happens to you, you take it with surprise, you marvel at its enigmatic aspects and compare it with past enigmas." I thought of Judith; I was aghast and so ashamed that I broke out in sweat; I had to stand up and walk about in the moonlight.
"That's true," I said, carefree again, as untouched as if I were playing a game. "When I see something and it enters into my experience, I think, 'Yes, this is it. This is the new experience I needed!' I check it off, so to speak. The moment I begin to get involved in something, I extricate myself by formulating it; instead of going through with the experience, I let it pass me by. 'So that was it,' I think, and wait to see what will come next."
"And yet," said Claire playfully, "Green Heinrich is lovable, even if he does make you want to push his nose into things. Because when he sidesteps an experience, it's not out of cowardice or faintheartedness, but because he's afraid that it's not meant for him, and that if he gets involved he'll only be rebuffed as he was always rebuffed as a child."
"But isn't that cowardice?" I said. Claire stood up and I stepped aside. She smoothed her dress and sat down, and I sat down beside her. Talking so much had broken our resistance. We didn't embrace yet, we didn't even touch each other, but we sensed that our mere closeness to each other was an exchange of affection. I knew she had rebuked me but felt as self-assured as if I had been flattered. I was afraid that Claire had been right, but in the next momentglad she hadn't been. That was often my reaction when someone spoke to me of my character; he had hit the mark, but at the same time what he said was a bare-faced lie. When I went into someone else's character, I didn't lie, but I felt like a show-off. "And now," I said to Claire, "the story of Green Heinrich is at an end."
As though in agreement she took a breath, and as she breathed it was as though her body slowly expanded and touched me. She didn't actually touch me, my imagination had merely anticipated what I was looking forward to so eagerly yet uneasily. I thought of the man who had urinated in front of us, but his image no longer troubled me. I began to tremble for fear of giving myself away. I stood up, eager but still without impatience. I touched Claire's arm, outwardly a signal that we should go back to the motel, and at the same time tried to hold back from her. Before standing up, Claire stretched. Again I stepped up to her and in a brief pantomime helped her up but without touching her. "My neck aches from looking straight ahead all day," Claire said, and it gave me a start to hear her mention a part of her body, as though she had now given herself away. I walked faster so as not to show my excitement, and Claire followed me slowly, dazzled by the moonlight.
The sound of her steps behind me made me think of an old John Ford picture, The Iron Horse; it was about the building of the transcontinental railroad from Missouri to California between 1861 and 1869.Beginning at the opposite ends, two railroad companies were laying tracks toward the middle, the Central Pacific from the west, the Union Pacific from the east. Years before, a man had dreamed of this railroad and gone west with his son to look for a passage through the Rocky Mountains. While he took leave of his neighbor, his little son awkwardly kissed the neighbor's still littler daughter goodbye. The father was killed, but later on, now a grown man, the son found the passage. The neighbor became the president of the Union Pacific. After long years, which were painfully long in the picture as well, for the construction work was shown in great detail, the two lines met at Promontory Point, Utah, and the president drove a golden spike into the last tie. Whereupon the dreamer's son and the president's daughter kissed for the first time since their parting as children. Though I didn't know why, I had felt wretched throughout the picture--shooting pains in my chest, compulsive swallowing, internal soreness, itching, chills--but the moment the spike was driven in and the two fell into each other's arms, I felt their embrace inside me and I stretched inwardly with a sense of infinite relief: my whole body had hungered for the two of them to come together.
I let Claire catch up with me and side by side we went back to the Holiday Inn. The chambermaid told us the child was sleeping peacefully. I noticed that I was hungry. I ate something or other and, leaning back with her hands in her lap, Claire watched me. She blinked seldom and hesitantly, as though her eyes were closing. I looked back attentively.All at once we saw the time we had made love, and now we understood. The feeling for Claire that came over me was so strong that I had to look away. That OTHER TIME, which I had experienced in Providence when the right number had briefly flashed up on the die, now lay stretched out before me like another world that I had only to enter to be rid at last of my fear-ridden nature and its limitations. But then I took fright; it occurred to me how empty and unbeing, how without life of my own, I should be in that other world; overcome by a feeling of universal bliss, free from fear and tension, I myself, as in the play of the cypress, ceased to exist, and for a moment I was so horrified at that empty world that I experienced the child's boundless dread at suddenly seeing nothing in a place where only a moment before it had seen something. In that moment I lost forever my longing to be rid of myself; the thought of my often childish fears, of my reluctance to become really involved with other people, my spells of obtuseness, filled me with sudden pride, followed by a sense of well-being that seemed almost self-evident. I knew that I would never again want to be rid of all those limitations, and that from then on only one thing would be important: to fit them all into an order and mode of life that would do me justice and enable others to do me justice. And as though all this had merely been a test, I caught myself thinking, "This is it! This is serious!"
I sensed that Claire was still looking at me. "The poor thing!" I said to myself, but the thought was nobarrier between us. Often in the past I had been overcome by confusion and disgust at the thought that someone was different from myself, but in these moments I calmly let the thought think itself out and instead of egotistical disgust I felt a profound pity for Claire, because she couldn't be in my place and couldn't experience what I was experiencing--how tedious it must be for her to be Claire!--and then again I felt envious because conversely I couldn't be in her place. But these thoughts no longer took on an existence of their own, they were only brief entrances and exits in a long episode, rich in vicissitudes, that revolved around something entirely different. I told Claire about seeing John Ford's Iron Horse and my feelings at the time.
She had seen the picture at her college film club and remembered that whenever the Irish workers were shown laying ties they had sung the same song at the top of their lungs. "But that picture was a silent!" she exclaimed suddenly. Between the two of us we remembered that a bar of music had always appeared over the heads of the singing workers. We went on talking, but not about ourselves; we told stories, more and more of them, neither of us wanted to let the other have the last word, though not to be in the bedroom yet was almost unbearable. Finally, while I with pounding heart was telling a story about a pig and a coach, Claire grew so grave that I wouldn't have known her. At one time I might have thought she was going mad, but that night, taking an almost forgotten pleasure in past solemnities,I experienced this moment as the moment of a truth that made my own madness, my fear that someone might go mad in my presence, forever ridiculous.
We made love almost sleepily, scarcely moving, then holding our breath. In the middle of the night, I thought of the child lying in the other room and felt so sorry for her that I said we ought to go and take a look at her. "The thought that Benedictine is alone," I said, "makes me miserably lonely for her. Not because we're together here, but because when I think that there's no one with her I experience her not-yet-consciousness as a state of cruel boredom. I feel I ought to wake the child up, talk to her, and drive away her boredom. I sense that the monotony of her sleeping and dreaming makes her suffer, and I want to lie down beside her, to comfort her and help her through her long loneliness. It's intolerable that when someone is born into the world, he can't automatically come to consciousness. Now I understand all those stories about somebody trying to save somebody." I told Claire about the soldier in Philadelphia and how he had been in need of being saved.
We went to the other room and I watched as the child lay sleeping.
While Claire was in the bathroom, I secretly woke her up. She opened her eyes and talked confusedly in her dream. She yawned a long yawn, I looked into her pink mouth, her tongue quivered, she was asleep again. Claire came back, we lay side by side; then she too fell asleep and snored softly, exhausted by thetrip. I looked at the darkly shimmering television screen; the arrow and five-pronged star of the Holiday Inn were reflected on it in miniature. While falling asleep, I took a last look at my wrist watch; it was long after midnight and it came to me that I was now thirty years old.
I slept uneasily, I stuck a knife into an overcooked chicken, which instantly fell apart, a fat woman and a thin woman stood side by side, the thin one melted into the fat one, they burst, a governess with a child walked on a knife blade into the open door of a subway car, there were special delivery letters, signs in the sand which a stupid gardener watered like flowers, plants that formed words, secret messages written on gingerbread hearts at a church fair, an AUSTRIAN hotel room with four beds, only one of which was made up. I awoke from my nightmares with an erection, penetrated the sleeping Claire, went limp, and fell asleep again.
Copyright © 1972 by Suhrkamp Verlag, Frankfurt am Main,