This is part one of a two-part story.
Read part two here.
Shortly after dawn, or what would have been dawn in a normal sky, Mr. Artur Sammler with his bushy eye took in the books and papers of his West Side bedroom and suspected strongly that they were the wrong books, the wrong papers. In a way it did not matter much to a man of seventy-plus, and at leisure. You had to be a crank to insist on being right. Being right was largely a matter of explanation. Intellectual man had become an explaining creature. Fathers to children, wives to husbands, lecturers to listeners, experts to laymen, colleagues to colleagues, doctors to patients, man to his own soul, explained. The roots of this, the causes of the other, the source of events, the history, the structure, the reasons why. For the most part, in one ear out the other. The soul wanted what it wanted. It had its own natural knowledge. It sat unhappily on superstructures of explanation, poor bird, not knowing which way to fly.
The eye closed briefly. A Dutch drudgery, it occurred to Sammler, pumping and pumping to keep a few acres of dry ground. The invading sea being a metaphor for multiplying facts. The earth being an earth of ideas.
He thought, since he had no job to wake up to, that he might give sleep a second chance to resolve certain difficulties imaginatively for him, and pulled up the disconnected electric blanket with its internal sinews and lumps. The satin binding was nice to the fingertips. He was still drowsy, but not really inclined to sleep. Time to be conscious.
He sat and plugged in the electric coil. Water had been prepared at bedtime. He liked to watch the changes of the ashen wires. They came to life with fury, throwing tiny sparks and sinking into red rigidity under the Pyrex laboratory flask. Deeper. Blenching. He had only one good eye. The left distinguished only light and shade. But the good eye was dark-bright, full of observation through the overhanging hair of the brows as in some breeds of dog. For his height he had a small face. The combination made him conspicuous.
His conspicuousness was on his mind; it worried him. For several days, Mr. Sammler returning on the customary bus late afternoons from the 42nd Street Library had been watching a pickpocket at work. The man got on at Columbus Circle. The job. the crime, was done by 72nd Street. Mr. Sammler if he had not been a tall straphanger would not with his one good eye have seen these things happening. But now he wondered whether he had not drawn too close, whether he had also been seen seeing. He wore smoked glasses, at all times protecting his vision, but he couldn’t be taken for a blind man. He didn’t have the white cane, only a rolled umbrella, Britishstyle. Moreover, he didn’t have the look of blindness. The pickpocket himself wore dark shades. He was a powerful Negro in a camel’s-hair coat, dressed with extraordinary elegance, as if by Mr. Fish of London, or Turnbull and Asser of Jermyn Street. (Mr. Sammler knew his England.) The Negro’s perfect circles of gentian violet banded with lovely gold turned toward Sammler, but the face showed the effrontery of a big animal. Sammler was not timid, but he had had as much trouble in life as he wanted. A good deal of this, waiting for assimilation, would never be accommodated. He suspected the criminal was aware that a tall old white man passing as blind had observed, had seen, the minutest details of his crimes. Staring down. As if watching open-heart surgery. And though he dissembled, deciding not to turn aside when the thief looked at him, his elderly, his compact, civilized face colored strongly, the short hairs bristled, the lips and gums were stinging. He felt a constriction, a clutch of sickness at the base of the skull, where the nerves, muscles, blood vessels were tightly interlaced. The breath of wartime Poland passing over the damaged tissues—that nerve-spaghetti, as he thought of it.
Buses were bearable, subways were killing. Must he give up the bus? He had not minded his own business as a man of seventy in New York should do. It was always Mr. Sammler’s problem that he didn’t know his proper age, didn’t appreciate his situation, unprotected here by position, by privileges of remotion made possible by an income of fifty thousand dollars in New York—club membership, taxis, doormen, guarded approaches. For him it was the buses, or the grinding subway, lunch at the Automat. No cause for grave complaint, but his years as an “Englishman,” two decades in London as correspondent for Warsaw papers and journals, had left him with attitudes not especially useful to a refugee in Manhattan. He had developed expressions suited to an Oxford Common Room; he had the face of a British Museum reader. Sammler as a schoolboy in Cracow before World War I fell in love with England. Most of that nonsense had been knocked out of him. He had reconsidered the whole question of Anglophilia with numerous cases of Salvador de Madariagas, Mario Prazes, André Maurois, and Colonel Brambles. He knew the phenomenon. Still, confronted by the elegant brute in the bus he had seen picking a purse —the purse still hung open—he adopted an English tone. A dry, a neat, a prim face declared that one had not crossed anyone’s boundary; one was satisfied with one’s own business. But under the high armpits Mr. Sammler was intensely hot, wet; hanging on his strap, sealed in by bodies, taking their weight and laying his own on them as the fat tires went around the giant curve on 72nd Street with a growl of flabby power.
He didn’t in fact appear to know his age, or at what point of life he stood. You could see that in his way of walking. On the streets, he was tense, quick, erratically light and reckless, the elderly hair stirring on the back of his head. Crossing, he lifted the rolled umbrella high and pointed to show cars, buses, speeding trucks, and cabs bearing down on him the way he intended to go. They might run him down, but he could not help his style of striding blind.
With the pickpocket we were in an adjoining region of recklessness. He knew the man was working the Riverside bus. He had seen him picking purses, and he had reported it to the police. The police were not greatly interested in the report. It had made Sammler feel like a fool to go immediately to a phone booth on Riverside Drive. Of course the phone was smashed. Most outdoor telephones were smashed, crippled. They were urinals, also. New York was getting worse than Naples or Salonika. It was like an Asian, an African, city from this standpoint. The opulent sections of the city were not immune. You opened a jeweled door into degradation, from hypercivilized Byzantine luxury straight into the state of nature, the barbarous world of color erupting from beneath. It might well be barbarous on either side of the jeweled door. Sexually, for example. The thing evidently, as Mr. Sammler was beginning to grasp, consisted in obtaining the privileges, and the iree ways of barbarism, under the protection of civilized order, property rights, refined technological organization, and so on.
Mr. Sammler ground his coffee in a square box, cranking counterclockwise between long knees. To commonplace actions he brought a special pedantic awkwardness. In Poland, France, England, students, young gentlemen of his time, had been unacquainted with kitchens. Now he did things that cooks and maids had once done. He did them with a certain priestly stiffness. Acknowledgment of social descent. Historical ruin. Transformation of society. It was beyond personal humbling. He had gotten over those ideas during the war in Poland— utterly gotten over all that, especially the idiotic pain of losing class privileges. As well as he could with one eye, he darned his own socks, sewed his own buttons, scrubbed his own sink, wintertreated his woolens in the spring with a spray can. Of course there were ladies, his daughter, Simla, his niece (by marriage), Margotte Arkin, in whose apartment he lived. They did for him, when they thought of it. Sometimes they did a great deal, but not dependably, routinely. The routines he did himself. It was conceivably even part of his youthfulness—youthfulness sustained with certain tremors. Sammler knew these tremors. It was amusing— Sammler noted in old women wearing textured tights, in old sexual men, this quiver of vivacity with which they obeyed the sovereign youth-style. The powers are the powers—overlords, kings, gods. And of course no one knew when to quit. No one made sober, decent terms with death.
The grounds in the little drawer of the mill he held above the flask. The red coil went deeper, whiter, white. The kinks had tantrums. Beads of water flashed up. Individually, the pioneers gracefully went to the surface. Then they all seethed together. He poured in the grounds. In his cup, a lump of sugar, a dusty spoonful of Pream. In the night table he kept a bag of onion rolls from Zabar’s. They were in plastic, a transparent uterine bag fastened with a white plastic clip. The night table, formerly a humidor, copper-lined, kept things fresh. It had belonged to Margotte’s husband, Ussher Arkin. Arkin, killed three years ago in a plane crash, a good man, was missed, was regretted, mourned by Sammler. When he was invited by the widow to occupy a bedroom in the apartment on West 90th Street, Sammler asked to have Atkin’s humidor in his room. Sentimental herself, Margotte said, “Of course, Uncle. What a nice thought. You did love Ussher.” Margotte was German, romantic. Sammler was something else. He was not even her uncle. She was the niece of his wife, who had died in Poland in 1940. His late wife. The widow’s late aunt. Wherever you looked, or tried to look, there were the late. It look some getting used to.
Grapefruit juice he drank from a can with two triangular punctures kept on the windowsill. The curtain parted as he readied, and he looked out. Brownstones, balustrades, bay windows, wrought iron. Like stamps in an album, the dun rose of buildings canceled by the heavy black of grilles, of corrugated rainspouts. How very heavy human life was here, in forms of bourgeois solidity. Attempted permanence was sad. We were now flying to the moon. Did one have a right to private expectations, being like those bubbles in the flask? But then also people exaggerated the tragic accents of their condition. They stressed too hard the disintegrated assurances; what formerly was believed, trusted, was now bitterly circled in black irony. The rejected bourgeois black of stability thus translated. That too was improper, incorrect. People justifying idleness, silliness, shallowness, distemper, lust—turning former respectability inside out.
Such was Sammler’s eastward view, a soft asphalt belly rising, in which lay steaming sewer navels. Spalled sidewalks with clusters of ashcans. Brownstones. The yellow brick of elevator buildings like his own. Little copses of television antennae. Whiplike, graceful thrilling metal dendrites drawing images from the air, bringing brotherhood, communion to immured apartment people. Westward the Hudson came between Sammler and the great Spry industries of New Jersey. These flashed their electric message through intervening night. Spry. But then he was half blind.
In the bus he had been seeing well enough. He saw a crime committed. He reported it to the cops. They were not greatly shaken. He might then have stayed away from that particular bus, but instead he tried hard to repeat the experience. He went to Columbus Circle and hung about until he saw his man again. Four fascinating times he had watched the thing done, the crime, the first afternoon staring down at the masculine hand that came from behind lifting the clasp and tipping the pocketbook lightly to make it fall open. Sammler saw a polished Negro forefinger, without haste, with no criminal tremor, turning aside a plastic folder with social security or credit cards, emery sticks, a lipstick capsule, coral paper tissues, nipping open the catch of a change purse, and there lay the green of money. Still at the same rate, the fingers took out the dollars. Then with the touch of a doctor on a patient’s belly moved back the slope leather, turned the gilded scallop catch. Sammler, feeling his head small, shrunk with strain, the teeth tensed, still was looking at the picked patent-leather bag on the woman’s hip, finding that he was irritated with her. That she felt nothing. What an idiot! Going around with some kind of stupid mold in her skull. Zero instincts, no grasp of New York. While the man turned from her broad-shouldered in the camel’shair coat. The dark glasses, the original design by Christian Dior, a powerftd throat banded by a tab collar and a cherry silk necktie spouting out. Under the African nose, a cropped mustache. Ever so slightly inclining toward him Sammler believed he could smell French perfume from the breast of the camel’s-hair coat. Had the man then noticed him? Had he perhaps followed him home? Of this Sammler was not sure.
He didn’t give a damn for the glamour, the style, the art of criminals. They were no social heroes to him. He had had some talks on this very matter with one of his younger cousins once or twice removed, Angela Gruner, the daughter of Dr. Arnold Gruner in New Rochelle, who had brought him over to the States in 1947, digging him out ot the DP camp in Salzburg. Because Arnold (Elya) Gruner had Old World family feelings. And studying the lists of refugees in the Yiddish papers, he had found the names Artur and Simla Sammler. Angela, who was in Sammler’s neighborhood several times a week because her psychiatrist was just around the corner, often stopped in for a visit. She was one of those handsome, passionate, rich girls who were always an important social and human category. A bad education. In literature, mostly French. At Sarah Lawrence College. And Mr. Sammler had to try hard to remember the Balzac he had read in Cracow in 1913. Vautrin the escaped criminal. From the hulks. Trompe la mart. No, he didn’t have much use for the romance of the outlaw. Angela sent money to defense funds for black murderers and rapists. That was her business of course.
However, Mr. Sammler had to admit that once he had seen the pickpocket at work he wanted very much to see the thing again. He didn’t know why. It was a powerful event, anti illicitly—that is, against his own stable principles—he craved a repetition. One detail of old readings he recalled without effort—the moment in Crime and Punishment at which Raskolnikov brought down the ax on the bare head of the old woman, her thin gray-streaked grease-smeared hair, the rat’s-tail braid fastened by a broken horn comb on her neck. That is to say that horror, crime, murder did vivify all the phenomena, the most ordinary details, of experience. In evil as in art there was illumination. It was, of course, like the tale by Charles Lamb, burning down a house to roast a pig. Was a general conflagration necessary? All you needed was a controlled fire in the right place. Still, to ask everyone to refrain from setting fires until tire thing could he done in the right place, in a higher manner, was possibly too much. And while Sammler, getting off the bus, intended to phone the police, he nevertheless received from the crime the benefit of an enlarged vision. The air was brighter—late afternoon daylight saving time. The world, Riverside Drive, was wickedly lighted up. Wicked because the clear light made all objects so explicit, and this explicitness taunted Mr. Minutely-Observant Artur Sammler. All metaphysicians please note. Here is how it is. You will never see more clearly. And what do you make of it? This phone booth has a metal floor; smooth-hinged the folding green doors, but the floor is smarting with dry urine, the plastic telephone instrument is smashed, and a stump is hanging at the end of the cord.
Not in three blocks did he find a phone he could safely put a dime into, and so he went home. In his lobby the building management had set up a television screen so that the doorman could watch for criminals. But the doorman was always oft somewhere. The buzzing rectangle of electronic radiance was vacant. Underfoot was the respectable carpet, brown as gravy. The inner gate of the elevator, supple brass diamonds folding, grimy and gleaming. Sammler went into the apartment and sat on the sofa in the foyer, which Margotte had covered with large squares of Woolworth bandannas, tied at the corners and pinned to the old cushions. He dialed the police and said, “I want to report a crime.”
“What kind of crime?”
“Just a minute, I’ll connect you.”
There was a long buzz. A voice toneless with indifference or fatigue said, “Yes.”
Mr. Sammler in his foreign Polish Oxonian English tried to be as compressed, direct, and factual as possible. To save time. To avoid complicated interrogation, needless detail.
“I wish to report a pickpocket on the Riverside bus.”
“OK. I said OK, report.”
“A Negro, about six feet tall, about two hundred pounds, about thirty-five years old, very good looking, very well dressed.”
“I thought I should call in.”
“Are you going to do anything?”
“Were supposed to, aren’t we? What’s your name?”
“All right, Art. Where do you live?”
“Dear sir, I will tel! you, but I am asking what you intend to do about this man.”
“What do you think we should do?”
“We have to catch him first.”
“You should put a man on the bus.”
“We haven’t got a man to put on the bus. There are lots of buses, Art, and not enough men. Lots of conventions, banquets, and so on we have to cover, Art. VIP s and brass. There are lots of ladies shopping at Lord & Taylor’s, Bonwit’s, and Saks’, leaving purses on chairs while they go to feel the goods.”
“I understand. You don’t have the personnel, and there are priorities, political pressures. But I could point out the man.”
“Some other time.”
“You don’t want him pointed out?”
“Sure, but we have a waiting list.”
“I have to get on your list?”
“That’s right, Abe.”
Tensely sitting forward in bright lamplight, Artur Sammler like a motorcyclist who has been struck in the forehead by a pebble from the trivially stung, smiled with long lips. America (he was speaking to himself)! Advertised throughout the universe as the most normal of all nations.
“Let me make sure I understand you, officermister detective. This man is going to rob more people, but you aren’t going to do anything about it. Is that right?”
It was right—confirmed by silence, though no ordinary silence. Mr. Sammler said, “Good-bye, sir.”
After this, when Sammler should have shunned the bus, he rode it oftener than ever. The thief had a regular route, and he dressed for the ride, for his work. Always gorgeously garbed. Mr. Sammler was struck once, but not astonished, to see that he wore a single gold earring. This was too much to keep to himself, and for the first time he then mentioned to Margotte, his niece and landlady, to Simla, his daughter, that this handsome, this striking, arrogant pickpocket, this African prince or great black beast was seeking whom lie might devour between Columbus Circle and Verdi Square.
To Margotte it was fascinating. Anything fascinating she was prepared to discuss all day, from every point of view, with full German pedantry. Who was this black? What were his origins, his class or racial attitudes, his psychological views, his true emotions, his aesthetic ideas? Unless Sammler had private thoughts to occupy him, he couldn’t sit through these talks with Margotte. She was sweet but on the theoretical side very tedious, and when she settled down to an earnest theme, one was lost. This was why he ground his own coffee, boiled water in his flask, kept onion rolls in the humidor, urinated even in the washbasin (rising on his toes to a meditation on the inherent melancholy of animal nature, continually in travail, according to Aristotle). Because mornings could disappear while Margotte in her goodness speculated. Me had learned Iris lesson one week when she wished to analyze Hannah Arendt’s phrase “The Banality of Evil,” and kept him in the living room, sitting on a sofa (made of foam rubber laid on plywood supported by two-inch sections ol pipe, backed by trapezoids oi cushion all covered in dark gray denim) . He couldn’t bring himself to say what he thought. For one thing, she seldom stopped to listen. For another, he doubted that he could make himself clear. Moreover, most of her family had been destroyed by the Nazis like his own, though she herself had gotten out in 1937. Not he. The war had caught him, with Shula and his late wife, in Poland. They had gone to liquidate his father-in-law’s estate. Lawyers should have attended to this, but it was important to Antonina to supervise it in person. But she was killed in 1940, and her lather’s optical-instrument factory (a small one) was dismantled and sent to Austria. No postwar indemnity was paid. Margotte received payment from the West German government for her family’s property in Frankfurt. Arkin hadn’t left her much; she needed this German money. You didn’t argue with people in suc h circumstances. Of course he had circumstances of his own, as she recognized. He had actually gone through it, tost his wife, lost an eye. Still, on the theoretical side, they could discuss the question. Purely as a question. Uncle Artur, sitting, knees high in the sling chair, his pale-tulted eyes shaded by tinted glasses, the forked veins coming down from the swells of his forehead, and the big mouth determined to be silent.
“The idea being,” said Margotte, “that here is no great spirit of evil. Those people were too insignificant. Uncle. They were just ordinary lowerclass people, administrators, small bureaucrats, or Lumpenproletariat. A mass society does not produce great criminals. It’s because of the division of labor all over society, which broke up the whole idea of general responsibility. Piecework did it. It’s like instead of a forest with enormous trees, you have to think of small plants with shallow roots. Modern civilization doesn’t create great individual phenomena anymore.”
The late Arkin, generally affectionate and indulgent, knew how to make Margotte shut up. He was a tall, splendid, half-bald, mustached man with a good subtle brain in his head. Political theory had been bis field. He taught at Hunter College. Charming, idiotic, nonsensical gills, he used to say. Now and then, a powerful female intelligence, but very angry, very complaining, too much sex-ideology, poor things. It was when he was on his way to Cincinnati to lecture at some Hebrew college that his plane crashed. Sammler noticed how his widow tended now to impersonate him. She had become the political theorist. She spoke in his name, as presumably he would have clone, and there was no one to protect his ideas. The common fate also of Socrates and Jesus. Up to a point, Arkin had enjoyed Margotte’s tormenting conversation, it must be admitted. Her nonsense would please him, and under the mustache, he often grinned to himself, long arms reaching to the ends of the trapezoidal cushions, and his stocking feet set upon each other (he took off his shoes the instant he sat down). But after she had gone on a while, he would say, “Enough, enough of this Weimar schmaltz. Cut it, Margotte!” That big virile interruption would never be heard again in this cockeyed living room.
Margotte was short, round, full. Her legs in black net stockings, especially the underthighs, were attractively heavy. Seated, she put out one foot like a dancer, curved forward. She set her strong little fist on her haunch. Arkin once said to Uncle Sammler that she was a first-class device as long as someone aimed her in the right direction. She was a good soul, he told him, but the energetic goodness could be tremendously misapplied. Sammler saw this for himself. She couldn’t wash a tomato without getting her sleeves wet. The place was burglarized because she raised the window to admire a sunset and forgot to lock it. The burglars entered the dining room from the rooftop just below. The sentimental value of her lockets, chains, rings, heirlooms was not appreciated by the insurance company. The windows were now nailed shut and draped. Meals were eaten by candlelight. Just enough glow to see the framed reproductions from the Museum of Modern Art, and across the table, Margotte serving, spattering the tablecloth, her lovely grin, dark and tender, with clean, imperfect small teeth, and eyes dark blue and devoid of wickedness. A bothersome creature, willing, cheerful, purposeful, maladroit. The cups and tableware were greasy. She forgot to flush the toilet. But all that one could easily live with. It was her earnestness that gave the trouble—considering everything under the sun with such German wrongheadedness. As though to be Jewish weren’t trouble enough, the poor woman was German too.
“So. And what is your opinion, dear Uncle Sammler?” At last she asked.
Uncle Sammler had compact cheeks, his color was good for a man in his seventies, and he was not greatly wrinkled. There were, however, on the left side, the blind side, thin long lines like the lines in a cracked glass or within a cake of ice.
To answer was not useful. It would produce more discussion, more explanation. Nevertheless, he was addressed by another human being. He was old-fashioned. The courtesy of some reply was necessary.
“The idea of making the century’s great crime look dull is not a banal idea. Politically, psychologically, it is an idea of genius. The banality was only camouflage. What better way to get the curse out of murder than to make it look ordinary, boring, or trite? Modern political genius consists in knowing just how to disguise these things. Intellectuals do not understand. They get their notions about matters like this from literature. They expect a wicked hero like Richard III. But do you think the Nazis didn’t know what murder was? Everybody knows what murder is. That is very old human knowledge. The best and purest human beings, from the beginning of time, have understood that life is sacred. To defy that old understanding is not banality. Banality is the adopted disguise of a very powerful will to abolish conscience.”
Explanations! thought Sammler. All will explain everything to all, until the next, the new, common version is ready. This version, a residue of what people for a century or so say to one another, will be, like the old, a fiction. More elements of reality perhaps will be incorporated in the new version. But the important consideration was that life should recover its plenitude, its normal contented turgidity. All the old fusty stuff had to be blown away, of course, so we might be nearer to nature. To be nearer to nature was necessary in order to keep in balance the achievements of modern Method. The Germans had been the giants of this Method in industry and war. To relax from rationality and calculation, machinery, planning, technics, they had romance, mythomania, peculiar aesthetic fanaticism. These, too, were like machines—the aesthetic machine, the philosophic machine, the mythomaniac machine, the culture machine. Machines in the sense of being systematic. System demands mediocrity, not greatness. System is based on labor. Labor connected to art is banality. Hence the sensitivity of cultivated Germans to everything banal. It exposed the rule, the might of Method, and their submission to Method. Sammler had it all figured out. Alert to the peril and disgrace of explanations, he was himself no mean explainer. And even in the old days, in the days when he was “British,” in the lovely twenties and thirties when he lived in Great Russell Street, when he was acquainted with Lord Keynes, Lytton Strachey, and H. G. Wells and loved “British” views, before the great squeeze, the human physics of the War, with its volumes, its vacuums, its voids (that period of dynamics and direct action upon the individual, comparable biologically to birth) he had never much trusted his judgment where Germans were concerned. The Weimar Republic was not attractive to him in any way. No, there was an exception —he had admired its Plancks and Einsteins. Hardly anyone else.
In any case, he was not going to be one of those kindly European uncles with whom the Margottes of this world could have day-long high-level discussions. She would have liked him trailing after her through the apartment while, for two hours, she unpacked the groceries, hunting for lunch a salami which was already on the shelf: while she slapped and smoothed the bed with short strong arms (she kept the bedroom piously unchanged after the death of Ussher—his swivel chair, his footstool, his Hobbes, Vico, Hume, and Marx underlined), discussing things. He found that even if he could get a word in edgewise it was encircled and cut oft right away. Margotte swept on, enormously desirous of doing good. And really she was good (that was the point) , she was boundlessly, achingly, hopelessly on the right side, the best side, of every big human question: for creativity, for the young, for the black, the poor, the oppressed, for victims, for sinners, for the hungry.
A significant remark by Ussher Arkin, giving much to think of after his death, was that he had learned to do the good thing as if practicing a vice. He must have been thinking of his wife as a sexual partner. She had probably driven him to erotic invention, and made monogamy a strange challenge. Margotte, continually recalling Ussher, spoke of him always as her Man. “When my Man was alive . . . my Man used to say.” Sammler was sorry for his widowed niece. You could criticize her endlessly. High-minded, she bored you; she made cruel inroads into your time, your thought, your patience. She talked junk, she gathered waste and junk in the flat, she bred junk. Look, for instance, at these plants she was trying to raise. She planted avocado pits, lemon seeds, peas, potatoes. Was there anything ever so mangy, trashy, as these potted objects? Shrubs and vines dragged on the ground, tried to rise on grocer’s string hopefully stapled fanwise to tlie ceiling. The stems of the avocados looked like the sticks of fireworks falling back after the flash, and produced a few rusty, spiky, anthrax-damaged, nitty leaves. This botanical ugliness, the product of so much fork-digging, watering, so muc h breast and arm, heart and hope, told you something, didn’t it? First of all, it told you that the individual facts were filled with messages and meanings, but you couldn’t be sure what the messages meant. She wanted a bower in her living room, a screen of glossy leaves, flowers, a garden, blessings of freshness and beauty —something to foster as woman the germinatrix, the matriarch of reservoirs and gardens. Humankind, crazy for symbols, trying to utter what it doesn’t know itself. Meantime tlie spreading fanlike featherless quills: no peacock purple, no blue, no true green, but only spots before your eyes. Redeemed by a feeling of ready and available human warmth? No, you couldn’t be sure. The strain of unrelenting analytical effort gave Mr. Sammler a headache. The worst of it was that these ratty plants would not, could not, respond. There was not enough light. Too much clutter.
But when it came to clutter, his daughter, Simla, was much worse. He had lived with Simla for several years, just east of Broadway. She had too many oddities for her old father. She passionately collected things. In plainer words, she was a scavenger. More than once, he had seen her hunting through Broadway trash baskets (or, as he still called them, dustbins) . She wasn’t old, not bail looking, not even too badly dressed, item by item. The full effect would have been no worse than vulgar if she had not been obviously a nut. She turned up in a miniskirt of billiard-table green, revealing legs sensual in outline but without inner sensuality: at tHe waist a broad leather belt; over shoulders, bust, a coarse strong Guatemalan embroidered shirt; on her head a wig such as a female impersonator might put on at a convention of salesmen. 1 ler own hair had a small curl, a minute distortion. It put her in a rage. She cried out that it was thin, she bail masculine hair. Thin it evidently was, but not the other. She had it straight from Sammler’s mother, a hysterical woman certainly, but anything but masculine. But who knew how many sexual difficulties and complications were associated with Simla’s hair? And, from the troubled widow’s peak, following an imaginary line of illumination over the nose, originally fine but distorted by restless movement, over the ridiculous comment of the lips, painted dark red, and down between the breasts to the middle of the body—what problems there must be!
Sammler kept hearing how she had taken her wig to a good hairdresser to have it set, and how the hairdresser exclaimed please to take the thing away, it was too cheap for him to work on. Sammler did not know whether this was an isolated incident involving one homosexual stylist, or whether it had happened on several separate occasions. He saw many open elements in his daughter. Things that ought, but failed actually, to connect. Wigs, for instance, suggested orthodoxy; Simla in fact had Jewish connections. She seemed to know lots of rabbis in famous temples and synagogues on Central Park West and on the East Side. She went to sermons and free lectures everywhere. Where she found the patience for this, Sammler could not say. He could bear no lecture for more than ten minutes. But she, with loony, clever, large eyes, the face full of white comment and skin thickened with concentration, sat on her rucked-up skirt, the shopping bag with salvage, loot, coupons, and throwaway literature between her knees. Afterward she was the first to ask questions. She became well acquainted with the rabbi, the rabbi’s wife and family—involved in discussions about faith, ritual, Zionism.
But she had Christian periods as well. Hidden in a Polish convent for four years, she had been called Slawa, and now there were times when she answered only to that name. Almost always at Easter she was a Catholic. Ash Wednesday was observed, and it was with a smudge between the eyes that she often came into clear focus for the old gentleman. With the little twists of kinky hair descending from the wig beside the ears and the florid lip dark red, skeptical, accusing, affirming something substantive about her life-claim, her right to be whatever—whatever it all came to. Full of comment always, the mouth completing the premises stated! from an insane angle by the merging dark eyes. Not altogether crazy, perhaps. But she would come in saying that she had been run down by mounted policemen in Central Park. They were trying to recapture a deer escaped from the zoo, and she was absorbed, reading an article in Look, and they knocked her over. She was, however, quite cheerful. She was too cheerful for him. At night she typed. She sang at her typewriter. She was employed by Cousin Gruner, the doctor, who had this work invented for her. Gruner had saved her (it amounted to that) from her equally crazy husband, Eisen, in Israel, sending Sammler ten years ago to bring Shula-Slawa back to New York.
Unusually handsome, brilliant-looking, Eisen, wounded at Stalingrad, with other wounded veterans in Rumania, was thrown by his comrades from a moving train because he was a Jew. Eisen had frozen his feet; his toes were amputated. “Oh, they were drunk,”said Eisen in Haifa. “Good fellows— tavarishni. But you know what Russians are when they have a few glasses of vodka.” He grinned at Sammler. Black curls, a handsome Roman nose, shining sharp senseless saliva-moist teeth. The trouble was that he kicked and beat Shula-Slawa quite often, even as a newlywed. Old Sammler in the cramped, stone-smelling, whitewashed apartment in Haifa considered the palm branches at the window in warm, clear atmosphere. Simla was cooking for them out of a Mexican cookbook, making bitter chocolate sauce, grating coconuts over chicken breasts, complaining that you could not buy chutney in Haifa. “When I was thrown out,” said Eisen cheerfully, “I thought I would go and see the Pope. I took a stick and walked to Italy. The stick was my crutch, you see.”
“I went to Castel Gandolfo. The Pope was very nice to us.”
After three days Mr. Sammler saw that he would have to remove It is daughter.
He took a taxi to visit Galilee, for the historical interest of the thing, as long as he was in the vicinity. On a sandy road, he found a gaucho. Under a platter hat fastened beneath the large chin, in Argentinean bloomers tucked into boots, with a Douglas Fairbanks mustache, he was mixing feed for small creatures racing about him in a chicken-wire enclosure. Water from a hose ran clear and pleasant in the sun over the yellow meal or mash and stained it orange. The little animals though fat were lithe; they were heavy, their coats shone, opulent and dense. These were nutrias. Their fur made hats worn in cold climates. Goats for ladies. Mr. Sammler, feeling red-faced in the Galilean sunlight, interrogated this man. In his bass voice of a distinguished traveler—a cigarette held between his hairy knuckles, smoke escaping past his hairy ears—he put questions to the gaucho. Neither spoke the language of Jesus. Mr. Sammler fell back on Italian, which the nutria breeder in Argentine gloom comprehended, his heavy handsome face considering the greedy beasts about his boots. He was Bessarabian-Syrian-South American—a Spanish-speaking Israeli cowpuncher from the Pampas.
Did he butcher the little animals himself? Sammler wished to know. His Italian had never been good. ”Uccidere?” “Ammazzare?” The gaucho understood. When the time came, he killed them himself. He struck them on the head with a stick.
Didn’t he mind doing this to his little flock? Hadn’t he known them from infancy—was there no tenderness for individuals—were there no favorites? The gaucho denied it all. He shook his handsome head. He said that nutrias were very stupid.
“Son rnuy tontos.”
“Arrivederci” said Sammler.
Mr. Sammler’s hired car took him to Capernaum, where Jesus had preached in the synagogue. From afar, he saw the Mount of the Beatitudes. Two eyes would have been inadequate to the heaviness and smoothness of the color, parted with difficulty by fishing boats—the blue water, unusually dense, heavy, seemed sunk under the naked Syrian heights. Mr. Sammler’s heart was very much torn by feelings as he stood under the short, leaf-streaming banana trees.
“And did those feet in ancient time walk upon. . .”
But those were England’s mountains green. The mountains opposite, in serpentine nakedness, were not green either but ruddy, with smoky cavities and mysteries of inhuman power flaming above them.
The many impressions and experiences of life seemed no longer to occur each in its own proper space, in sequence, each with its recognizable religious or aesthetic importance, but human beings suffered the humiliations of inconsequence, of confused styles, of a long life containing several separate lives. In fact the whole experience of mankind was covering each separate life in its flood. Making all the ages of history simultaneous. Compelling the frail person to receive, to register, depriving him because of volume, of mass, of the power to impart design.
That was Sammler’s first journey to Israel. A decade later, for a different purpose, he went again.
Rescued from Eisen, who walloped her, he said, because she went to Catholic priests, because she was a liar (lies infuriated him; paranoiacs, Sammler concluded, are more passionate for pure truth than other madmen). Shula-Slawa set up housekeeping in New York. Creating, that is, a great clutter-center in the New World. Mr. Sammler, a polite Slim-Jim (the nickname Dr. Gruner had given him) , a considerate lather, muttering appreciation of each piece of rubbish as presented to him, was in certain moods explosive; under provocation, more violent than other people. In fact, his claim for indemnity from the Bonn government was based upon damage to his nervous system as well as his eye. Fits of rage, very rare but shattering, laid him up with intense migraines, put him in a post-epileptic condition. Then he lay most of a week in a dark room, rigid, hands gripped on his chest, bruised, aching, incapable ol an answer when spoken to. With Shula-Slawa, he had a series of such attacks. First of all, he couldn’t bear the building Gruner had put them into, with its stone stoop slumping to one side, into the cellar stairway of the Chinese laundry adjoining. The lobby made him ill, tiles like yellow teeth, set in desperate grime, and the stinking elevator shaft. The bathroom where Shula kept an Faster cluck from Kresge’s until it turned into a hen that squawked on the edge of the tub. The Christmas decorations which lasted into spring. The rooms themselves were like those dusty red paper Christmas bells, folds within folds. The hen with yellow legs in his room on his documents and hooks was too much one day. He was aware that the sun shone brightly, the sky blue, but the big swell of the apartment house heavyweight vaselike baroque, made him feel that the twelfth-story room was like a china cabinet into which he was locked, and t he Satanic hen-legs of wrinkled yellow clawing his papers made him scream out.
Shula then agreed that he should move. She told everyone that her father’s lifework, his memoir of H. G. Wells, made him too tense to live with. She had H. G. Wells on the brain, the large formation of a lifetime. He was the most august human being die knew of. She was a small girl when the Sammlers lived in Bloomsbury and with childish genius accurately read the passions of her parents—their pride in high connections. their snobbery, how contented they were with the cultural best of Fngland. Old Sammler thinking of his wife in prewar days interpreted a certain quiet, bosomful way that she had of conveying with a downward stroke of the hand, so delicate you had to know her well to identify it as a vaunting gesture: we have the most distinguished intimacy with the finest people in Britain. A small vice—almost nutritive, digestive—which gave Antonina softer cheeks, smoother hair, deeper color. If a little social climbing made her handsomer (plumper between the legs—the thought rushed in and Sammler had stopped trying to repel these mental rushes), it had its feminine justification. Love is the most potent cosmetic, but there are others.. And the little girl may actually have observed that the very mention of Wells had a combined social-erotic influence on her mother. Judging not. and recalling Wells always with respect, Sammler knew that he had been a horny man of labyrinthine extraordinary sensuality. As a biologist, as a social thinker concerned with power and world projects, the molding of a universal order, as a furnisher of interpretation and opinion to the educated or hall-educated masses—as all of these he appeared to need a great amount of copulation. Nowadays Sammler would recall him as a little lower-class limes, and as an aging man of declining ability and appeal. And in the agony of parting with the breasts, the mouths, and the precious sexual fluids of women, poor Wells, the natural teacher, the sex-emancipator, the explainer, tlie humane blesser of mankind, could in the end only blast and curse everyone. Of course he wrote such things in his final sickness, horribly depressed by World War II.
What Shula-Slawa said came back amusingly to Sammler through Angela Gruner. Simla visited Angela in the East Sixties, where her cousin had the beautiful, free, wealthy young woman’s ideal New York apartment. Without envy, without self-consciousness. Shula with wig and shopping bag, her white face puckering with continual inspiration (receiving and transmitting wild messages) , sat as awkwardly as possible in the super comfort of Angela’s upholstery, blobbing china and forks with lipstick. In Shula’s version of things her father had had conversations with H. G. Wells lasting several years. He took notes to Poland in 1939, expecting to have spare time for the memoir. Just then the country exploded. In the geyser that rose a mile or two into the skies were Papa s notes. But (with his memory!) he knew it all by heart, and all you had to do was ask what Wells had said to him about Lenin, Stalin, Mussolini. Hitler, world peace, atomic energy, the open conspiracy, the colonization of the planets. Whole passages came back to Papa. He had to concentrate of course. Thus site tinned about his moving in with Margotte until it became her idea. He bad moved away to concentrate better. He said he didn’t have much time left. But obviously he exaggerated. He looked so well. He was such a handsome person. Elderly widows were always asking her about him. The mother of Rabbi Ipsheimer. The grandmother of Ipsheimer, more likely. Anyway (Angela still reporting), Wells had communicated things to Sammler that the world didn’t know. When finally published they would astonish everybody. The book would take the form of dialogues like those with A. N. Whitehead which Sammler admired so much.
Low-voiced, husky, a hint of joking brass in her tone, Angela (just this side of coarseness, a beautiful woman) said, “Her Wells routine is so great. Were you that close to H. G., Uncle?”
“We were well acquainted.”
“But chums? Were you bosom buddies?”
“Oh? My dear girl, in spite of my years, I am a man of the modern age. You do not find David and Jonathan, Roland and Olivier bosom buddies in these days. The man’s company was very pleasant. He seemed also to enjoy conversation with me. As for his view’s he was just a mass of intelligent views. He expressed as many as he could, and at all times. Everything he said I found eventually in written form. He was like Voltaire, a graphomaniac. His mind was unusually active, he thought he should explain everything, and he actually said some things very well. Like ‘Science is the mind of the race.’ That’s true, you know’. It’s a better tiling to emphasize than other collective facts, like disease or sin. And when I see the wing of a jet plane I don’t only see metal, but metal tempered by the agreement of many minds which know the pressure and velocity and weight, calculating on their slide rules whether they are Hindus or Chinamen or from the Congo or Brazil. Yes, on the whole he was a sensible, intelligent person, certainly on the right side of many questions.”
“And you used to be interested.”
“Yes, I used to be interested.”
“But she says you’re composing that great work a mile a minute.”
She laughed. Not merely laughed, but laughed brilliantly. In Angela you confronted sensual womanhood, without remission. You smelled it, too. She wore the odd stylish things which Sammler noted with detached and purified dryness, as if from a different part of the universe. What were those, white-kid buskins? What were those sheer tights, where did they lead? That effect of the hair called frosting, that color under the lioness’ muzzle, that swagger to enhance the natural power of the bust! Her plastic coat inspired by cubists or Mondriaan, geometrical black and white forms; her trousers by Courreges and Pucci. Sammler followed as well as he could in the Times, and in the women’s magazines sent by Angela herself. He did not read too much. Careful to guard his eyesight, he passed pages rapidly back and forth before his eye, his large forehead registering the stimulus to his mind. The damaged left eye seemed turned in another direction, preoccupied separately with different matters. Thus Sammler knew, through many rapid changes, Warhol, Baby Jane Holzer while she lasted, the Living Theater, the outbursts of nude display more and more revolutionary, Dionysus in 69, copulation on the stage, the philosophy of the Beatles; and in the art world, electric shows and minimal painting. Angela was in her thirties now, independently wealthy, with ruddy skin, gold-whitish hair, big lips. She was afraid of obesity. She either fasted or ate like a stevedore, and she trained in a fashionable gym. He knew her problems—he had to know, for she came and discussed them in detail. She did not know his problems. He seldom talked and she seldom asked. Moreover, he and Simla were her father’s pensioners, dependents—call it what you like. So after psychiatric sessions, Angela came to Uncle Sammler to hold a seminar and analyze the preceding hour. Thus the old man heard what she did and with whom and how it felt and all that she knew how to say.
Sammler in his Gymnasium days once translated from Saint Augustine: “The Devil hath established his cities in the North.” He thought of this often. In Cracow before World War I he had had another version of it—the tireary liquid yellow mud to a depth of two inches over cobblestones in the Jewish streets. People needed their candles, their lamps and their copper kettles, their slices of lemon in the image of the sun. This was the conquest of grimness with the aid always of Mediterranean symbols. Dark environments overcome by imported religious signs and local domestic amenities. Without the power of the North, its mines, its industries, the world would never have reached its astonishing modern form. And regardless of Augustine, Sammler had always loved his Northern cities, especially London, the blessings of its gloom, of coal smoke, gray rains, and the mental and human opportunities of a dark environment. But now Augustine’s statement needed new interpretations. Listening to Angela carefully, Sammler perceived different developments. The labor of Puritanism now was ending. The dark satanic mills changing into light satanic mills. The reprobates converted into children of joy, the sexual ways of the seraglio and of the Congo bush adopted by the emancipated masses of New York, Amsterdam, London. Old Sammler with his screwy visions! He saw the increasing triumph of Enlightenment—Liberty, Fraternity, Equality, Adultery! Enlightenment, universal education, suffrage, the rights of the majority acknowledged by all governments, the rights of women, the rights of children, the rights of criminals, the unity of the different races affirmed, social security, public health, the dignity of the person, the right to justice —the struggles of three revolutionary centuries being won while the feudal bonds of Church and Family weakened and the privileges of aristocracy (without any duties) spread wide, democratized, especially the libidinous privileges, the right to be uninhibited, spontaneous, urinating, defecating, belching* coupling in all positions, tripling, quadrupling, polymorphously, noble in being natural, primitive, combining the leisure and luxurious inventiveness of Versailles with the hibiscus-covered erotic ease of Samoa. Dark romanticism now took hold. As old at least as the strange Orientalism of the Knights Templar, and since then filled up with Lady Stanhopes, Baudelaires, Nervals, Stevensons, and Gauguins—those South-loving barbarians. And now all the tourism and local color, the exotics of it, had broken up, but the mental masses, inheriting everything in a debased state, had formed an idea of the corrupting disease of being white and of the healing power of black. The dreams of nineteenth-century poets now polluted the mental atmosphere of the great boroughs and suburbs of New York. Add to this the dangerous, lunging, staggering, crazy violence of fanatics, and the trouble was very deep. Tike many people who had seen the world collapse once, Mr. Sammler entertained the possibility it might collapse twice. He did not agree with refugee friends that this doom was inevitable, but liberal beliefs did not seem capable of self-defense, and you could smell decay. You could see the suicidal impulses of civilization pushing strongly. You wondered whether this Western culture could survive universal dissemination—whether only its science and technology or administrative practices would travel. Or whether the worst enemies of civilization might not prove to be its petted intellectuals who attacked it at its weakest moments—attacked it in the name of proletarian revolution, in the name of reason and in the name of irrationality, in the name of visceral depth, in the name of sex, in the name of perfect and instant freedom. For what it amounted to was limitless demand—insatiability, refusal of the doomed creature (death being sure and final) to go away from this earth unsatisfied. A full bill of demand and complaint was therefore presented by each individual. Non-negotiable. Recognizing no scarcity of supply in any human department.
Sammler saw this in Shula-Slawa. She came to do his room. He had to sit in his beret and coat, for she needed fresh air. She arrived with cleaning materials in the shopping bag—ammonia, shelf paper, Windcx, floor wax, rags. She sat out on the sill to wash the windows, lowering the sash to her thighs. Her little shoe soles were inside the room. On her lips—a burst of crimson asymmetrical skeptical fleshy business-and-dream sensuality—the cigarette scorching away at the tip. There was the wig, too, mixed yak and baboon hair and synthetic fibers. Shula, like all the ladies perhaps, was needyneeded gratification of numerous instincts, needed the warmth and pressure of men, needed a child for sucking and nurture, needed to gratify social demands, needed the exercise of the mind, needed continuity, needed interest—Interest!—needed flattery, needed triumph, power, needed rabbis, needed priests, needed fuel for all that was perverse and crazy, needed noble action of the intellect, needed culture, demanded the sublime. No scarcity was acknowledged. If you tried to deal with all these immediate needs you were a lost man. Even to consider it all the way she did, spraying cold froth on the panes, swabbing it away, left-handed with a leftward swing of the bust (ohne Bitstenhalter), was neither affection for her, nor preservation for her father. When she arrived and opened windows and doors, the personal atmosphere Mr. Sammler had accumulated and stored blew away, it seemed. His back door opened to the service staircase where a hot smell of incineration rushed from the chute, charred paper, chicken entrails. and burnt feathers. The Puerto Rican sweepers carried transistors playing Latin music. As if supplied with this jazz from a universal unfailing source, like cosmic rays.
“Well, Father, how is it going?”
“What is going?”
“The work. H. G. Wells?”
“People take up too much of your time. You don’t get enough reading done. I know you have to protect your eyesight. But is it going all right?”
“I wish you wouldn’t make jokes about it.”
“Why, is it too important for jokes?”
“Well, it is important.”
He was drinking his coffee. Today, this very afternoon, he was going to speak at Columbia. One of his young Columbia friends had persuaded him. Simla had hired university students to read to him, to spare his eyes. She herself had tried it, but her voice made him nod off. Half an hour of her reading, and the blood left his brain. She told Angela that her father tried to fence her out of his higher activities. As if they had to be protected from the very person who believed most in them! It was a very sad paradox! But for four or five years she had found student-readers. Some had graduated, now were in professions or business but still came back to visit Sammler. “He is like their guru,” said Shula-Slawa. More recent readers were student activists. Mr. Sammler was quite interested in the radical youth movement. To judge by their reading ability the young people had had a meager education. Their presence sometimes induced (or deepened) a long, still smile which had the effect more than anything else of blindness. Hairy, dirty, without style, levelers, ignorant. He found after they had read to him for a few hours that he had to teach them the subject, explain the terms, do etymologies for them as though they were twelve years old. “Janus—a door, janitor—one who minds the door.” “Lapis, a stone. Dilapidate, take apart the stones. One cannot say it of a person.” But if one could, one would say it of these young persons. Some of the poor girls had a bad smell. Bohemian protest did them the most harm. It was elementary among the tasks and problems of civilization. thought Mr. Sammler, that some parts of nature demanded more control than others. Females were naturally more prone to grossness, had more smells, needed more washing, clipping, binding, pruning, grooming, perfuming, and training. These poor kids may have resolved to slink together in defiance of a corrupt tradition built on neurosis and falsehood, but Mr. Sammler thought that an unforeseen result of their way ol life was loss of femininity, of self-esteem, fn their revulsion from authority they would respect no persons. Not even their own persons.
Anyhow, be no longer wanted these readers with the big dirty boots and the helpless vital pathos ot young dogs with their first red erections, and pimples sprung to the cheeks from foaming beards, laboring in his room with hard words and thoughts that had to be explained, stumbling through Toynbee, Schweitzer, Burckharclt, Spengler. For he had been reading historians of civilization—Karl Marx, Max Weber, Max Scheler, Freud. Side excursions into Adorno, Marcuse, Norman O. Brown, whom he found to he worthless fellows. Together with these he took on Doktor Faustus, Les Noyers D’Altenbourg, Ortega, Valery’s essays on history and politics. But after four or five years of this diet, he wished to read only certain religious writers of the thirteenth century—Suso, Tauler, and Meister Eckhart. In his seventies he was interested in little more than Meister Eckhart and the Bible. For this he needed no readers. He read Eckhart’s Latin at the public library from microfilm. He read the Sermons and the Talks of Instruction—a few sentences at a time, a paragraph of Old German, presented to his good eye at close range. While Margotte ran the carpet sweeper through the rooms. Evidently getting most of the lint on her skirts. And singing. She loved Schubert lieder. Why she had to mingle them with the zoom of the vacuum eluded explanation. But then he could not explain a liking for certain combinations: for instance, sandwiches of sturgeon-Swiss-cheese-tongue-steak-tartar-and-Russian-dressing in layers—such things as one saw on fancy delicatessen menus. Yet customers seemed to order them. No matter where you picked it up, humankind supplied more oddities than you could keep up with.
A combined oddity, for instance, which drew him today into the middle of tilings in spite of his decision to proceed coastwise, alone: one of his ex-readers, young Lionel Feffer, had asked him to address a seminar at Columbia University on the British .Scene in the Thirties. For some reason this attracted Sammler. He was fond of Feffer. An ingenious operator, less student than promoter. With his florid color, brown beaver beard, long black eyes, big belly, smooth hair, pink awkward large hands, loud interrupting voice, hasty energy, he was charming to Sammler. Not trustworthy. Only (harming. That is. it sometimes gave Sammler great pleasure to see Lionel Feffer working out in his peculiar manner, to hear the fizzing of his vital gas, his fuel.
“You must come and talk to these fellows, it’s of the utmost importance. They have never heard a point of view like yours,” said Feffer. The pink oxford cloth shirt increased the color of his face. The beard, the straight large sensual nose, made him look like Francois Premier. A hustling, affectionate, urgent, eruptive, enterprising character. He had money in the stock market. He was vice president of a Guatemalan insurance company covering railroad workers. His field at school was diplomatic history. He belonged to a corresponding society called The Foreign Ministers’ Club. Its members took up a question like the Crimean War or the Boxer Rebellion and did it all again, writing one another letters as the foreign ministers of France, England, Germany, Russia. They obtained very different results. In addition, Feffer was a busy seducer, especially. it seemed, of young wives. But he found time as well to hustle on behalf of handicapped children. He got them free toys and signed photographs of hockey stars; he found time to visit them in the hospital. He “found time.” To Sammler this was a highly significant American fact. Feffer led a high-energy American life to the point of anarchy and breakdown. And yet devotedly. And of course he was in psychiatric treatment. They all were. They could always say that they were sick. Nothing was omitted.
“The British Scene in the Thirties—you must. For my seminar.”
Sammler didn’t know what seminar this was. Not always attentive, he failed to understand clearly; perhaps there was nothing clear to understand; but it seemed that he had promised, although he couldn’t remember promising. But Feffer confused him. There were so many projects, such cross-references, so many confidences and requests for secrecy, so many scandals, frauds, spiritual communications—a continual llow backward, forward, lateral, above, below: like any page of Joyce’s Ulysses, always in medias res. Anyway, Sammler had apparently agreed to give this talk for a student project to help back waul black pupils with their reading problems.
He called for Sammler in a taxi. They went uptown in style. Feffer stressed the style of it. He said the cab must wait while Sammler gave his talk. The driver refused. Feffer raised his voice. He said this was a legal matter. Sammler persuaded him to drop it as he was about to call for the police. “There is no need to have a taxi waiting for me,” said Sammler.
Then Feffer led him into a large room. He had expected a small one, a seminar room. He had come to reminisce, for a handful of interested students, about R. H. Tawney, Harold I.aski, Zilliacus, George Orwell, H. G. Wells. But this was a mass meeting of some sort. His obstructed vision took in a large, spreading, shaggy, composite human bloom. It was malodorous, peculiarly rancid, sulfurous. The amphitheater was filled. Standing room only. Was Feffer running one of his rackets? Was he going to pocket the admission money? Sammler mastered and dismissed this suspicion, ascribing it to surprise and nervousness. For lie was surprised, frightened. But he pulled himself together. He tried to begin humorously by recalling the lecturer who had addressed incurable alcoholics under the impression that they were the Browning Society. But there was no laughter, and he had to remember that Browning Societies had been extinct for a long time. A microphone was hung on his chest. He began to speak of the mental atmosphere of England before the Second World War. The Mussolini adventure in East Africa.. Spain in 1936. The Great Purges in Russia. Stalinism in France and Britain. Blum, Daladier, the Peoples’ Front, Oswald Mosley. The mood of English intellectuals. For this he needed no notes, he could easily recall what people had said or written.
Doubly foreign, Polish-Oxonian, with his outrushing white back hair, the wrinkles streaming below the smoked glasses, he pulled the handkerchief from the breast pocket, unfolded and refolded it, touched his face, wiped his palms with thin elderly delicacy. Without pleasure in performance, without the encouragement of attention (there was a good deal of noise) , the little satisfaction he did feel was the meager ghost of the pride he and his wife had once taken in their British successes. In his success, a Polish Jew so well acquainted, so handsomely acknowledged by the nobs, by H. G. Wells. Included, for instance, with Gerald Heard and Olaf Stapledon in the Cosmo polis project for a World State, Sammler had written articles for “News of Progress” for the other publication, The World Citizen. As he explained in a voice that still contained Polish sibilants and nasals, though impressively low. the project was based on the propagation of the sciences of biology, history, and sociology and the effective application of scientific principles to the enlargement of human life; the building of a planned, orderly, and beautiful world society: abolishing national sovereignty, outlawing war, subjecting money and credit, production, distribution. transport, population, arms manufacture, et cetera, to worldwide collec tive control, offering iree universal education, personal freedom (compatible with community welfare) to the utmost degree; a service society based on a rational scientific attitude toward life. Sammler, with growing interest and confidence recalling all this, lectured on Cosmopolis for half an hour, feeling what a kindhearted, ingenuous, stupid scheme it had been. Idling this into the lighted restless hole ot the amphitheater, with the soiled dome and caged electric: fixtures, until he was interrupted by a clear loud voice. He was being questioned. He was being shouted at.
A man in Levi’s, thick-bearded but possibly young, a figure of compact distortion, was standing shouting at him.
“Hey! Old Man!”
In the silence, Mr. Sammler drew down his tinted spectacles, seeing this person with his effective eye.
“Old Man! You quoted Orwell before.”
“You quoted him to say that British Radicals were all protected by the Royal Navy? Did Orwell say that British Radicals were protected by the Royal Navy?”
“Yes, I believe he did say that.”
“That’s a lot of shit.”
Sammler could not speak.
“Orwell was a fink. He was a sic k counterrevolutionary. It’s good he died when he did. And what you are saying is shit.” Turning to the audience, extending violent arms and raising Jus palms like a Greek dancer, he said, “Why do you listen to this effete old shit? What has he got to tell you? His balls are dry. He’s dead. He can’t come.”
Sammler later thought that voices had been raised on his side. Someone had said, “Shame. Exhibitionist.”
But no one really tried to defend him. Most of the young people were against him. I he shouting was hostile. Feffer was gone, had been called away to the telephone. Sammler, turning from the lectern, found his umbrella, trench coat and hat behind him and left the platform, guided by a young girl who had rushed up to express indignation and sympathy, saving it was a scandal to break up such a good lecture. She showed him through a door, down several stairs, and he was on Broadway at 116th Street. Abruptly out of the university.
Back in the city.
And he was not so much personally offended by the event as struck by the will to offend. What a passion to be real. But real was also brutal. And the acceptance of excrement as a standard? How extraordinary! Youth? Together with the idea of sexual potency? All this confused sex-excrementmilitancy, explosiveness, abusiveness, teetb-showing, apish howling. Like the spicier monkeys in the trees, as Sammler once had read, defecating into their hands, and shrieking, pelting the explorers below.
He was not sorry to have met the facts, however saddening, regrettable the facts. But the effect was that Mr. Sammler did feel somewhat separated from the rest of his species, if not in some fashion severed —severed not so muc h by age as by preoccupations too different and remote, disproportionate on the side of the spiritual, Platonic, Augustinian, thirteenth-century. As the traffic poured, the wind poured, and the sun, relatively bright for Manhattan-shining and pouring through openings in his substance, through his gaps. As if he had been cast by Henry Moore, with holes, lacunae. Again, as after seeing the pickpocket, he was obliged to events for a difference, an intensification of vision. A delivery man with a floral cross, his bald head dented, seemed to be drunk. His short wide pants were blowing in the wind like a woman s skirts. Gardenias, camellias, calls lilies, sailing above him under light transparent plastic. Or at the Riverside bus stop Mr. Sammler enjoyed the proximity ot a waiting student, and used his eye-power to note that he wore wide-waled corduroy pants of urinous green, a tweed coat of a carrot color with burls of blue wool; that sideburns stood like powerful bushy pillars to the head; that civilized tortoise-shell shafts intersected these; hair thinning at the front; a Jew nose, a heavy all-savoring, all-rejecting lip. Oh, this was an artistic diversion of the streets for Mr. Sammler when he was roused to it by some shock. He was studious, he was bookish, and had been trained by the best writers to divert himself with observation. When he went out, life was not empty. Meanwhile the purposive, aggressive, business-bent, conative people did as mankind normally did. If the majority walked about as if under a spell, sleepwalkers, circumscribed by, in the grip of, minor neurotic, trifling aims, individuals like Sammler were only one stage forward, awakened not to purpose but to aesthetic consumption of the environment. Even if insulted, pained, somewhere bleeding, not broadly expressing any anger, not crying out with sadness, but translating heartache into delicate, even piercing observation. Particles in the bright wind, flinging downtown, acted like emery on the face. The sun shone as if there were no death. For a full minute, while the bus approached, squirting air, it was like that. Then Mr. Sammler got on, moving like a good citizen toward the rear, hoping he would not be pushed past the back door, for he had only fifteen blocks to go, and there was a thick crowd. The usual smell ot long-seated bottoms, of sour shoes, of tobacco muck, of stogies, cologne, face powder. And yet along the river, early spring, tire first khaki—a few weeks of sun, of heat, and Manhattan would (briefly) join the North American continent in a day of old-time green, the plush luxury, the polish of the season, shining, niticl, tiie dogwood white, pink, blooming crabapple. Then people’s feet would swell with the warmth, and at Rockefeller Center they would sit on the polished stone slabs beside tire planted tulips and tritons and tire water, all in a spirit of pregnancy. Human creatures under the warm shadows of skyscrapers feeling tIre heavy pleasure of their nature, and yielding. Sammler too would enjoy spring—one of those penultimate springs. Of course he was upset. Very. Of course those students were comical, too. And what was the worst of it (apart from the rudeness) ? There were appropriate ways of putting down an old bore. He might well be, especially in a public manifestation, lecturing on Cosmopolis, an old bore. The worst of it, from the point of view of the young people themselves, was that they acted without dignity. They had no view of the nobility of being intellectuals and judges of the social order. What a pity! old Sammler thought. A human being, valuing himself for the right reasons, has, and restores, order, authority. When the internal parts are in order. They must be in order. But what was it to be arrested in the stage of toilet training! What was it to be entrapped by a psychiatric standard (he blamed the Germans and their psychoanalysis for this)! Who had raised the diaper flag? Who had made shit a sacrament? What literary and psychological movement was that? Mr. Sammler, with bitter angry mind, held the top rail of his jammed bus, riding downtown, a short journey.
He certainly had no thought of his black pickpocket. Him lie connected with Columbus Circle, He always went uptown, not down. But at the rear, in his camel’s-hair coat, filling up a corner with his huge body, he was standing. Sammler against strong internal resistance saw him. He resisted because at this swaying difficult moment he had no wish to see him. Inside, Sammler felt an immediate descent; his heart sinking. As sure as fate, as a law of nature, a stone falling, a gas rising. He knew the thief did not ride the bus for transportation. To meet a woman, to go home—however he diverted himself—he unquestionably took cabs. He could afford them. But now Mr. Sammler was looking down at his shoulder, the tallest man in the bus, except for the thief himself. He saw that in the long rear seat he had cornered someone. Powerfully bent, the wide back concealed the victim from the other passengers. Only Sammler because of his height could see. Nothing to be grateful to height or vision lor. The cornered man was old. was weak; poor eyes, watering with terror; white lashes, red lids, and a seamucus blue, his eyes; tire mouth open, with false teeth dropping from the upper gums. Coat and jacket were open also, the shirt pulled forward like detached green wallpaper, and the lining of the jacket ragged. The thief tugged his clothes like a doctor with a clinic patient. Pushing aside tie and scarf, he took out the wallet. His own homburg he then eased back (an animal movement, simply) slightly from his forehead, furrowed but not with anxiety. The wallet was long—leatherette, plastic. Open, it yielded a few dollar bills. There were cards. The thief put them in his palm. Read them with a tilted head. Let them drop. Examined a green federal-looking check, probably social security. Mr. Sammler in his goggles was troubled in focusing. Too much adrenalin was passing with light, thin, frightening rapidity through his heart. He himself was not frightened, but his heart seemed to record fear, it had a seizure. He recognized it—knew’ what name to apply: tachycardia. Breathing was hard. He wondered whether he might not faint away. Whether worse might not happen. The check the black man put into his own pocket. Snapshots like the cards fell from his fingers. Finished, he then dropped the wallet back into the gray torn lining, flipped back the old man s muffler. In ironic calm, thumb and forefinger took the knot of the necktie and yanked it approximately, but only approximately, into place. It was at this moment that, in a quick turn of the head, he saw Mr. Sammler. Mr. Sammler seen seeing was still in rapid currents with his heart, Like an escaping creature racing away from him. His throat ached, up to the root of the tongue. There was a pang in the bad eye. But he had some presence of mind. Gripping the overhead chrome rail, he stooped forward as if to see what street was coming up. 96th. In other words, he avoided a gaze that might he held, or any interlocking of looks. He acknowledged nothing, and now began to work his way toward the rear exit, gently urgent, stooping doorward. He reached, found the cord, pulled, made it to the step, squeezed through the door, and stood on the sidewalk holding the umbrella hv the fabric, at the button.
The tachycardia now running itself out, he was able to walk, though not at the usual rate. His stratagem was to cross Riverside Drive and enter the first building, as if he lived there. He had beaten the pickpocket to the door. Maybe effrontery would dismiss him as too negligible to pursue. The man did not seem to feel threatened by anyone. Took the slackness, the cowardice of the world for granted. Sammler, with effort, opened a big glass blackgrilled door and found himself in an empty lobby. Avoiding the elevator he located the staircase, trudged the first flight and sat down on the landing. A few minutes of rest, and he recovered his oxygen level, although something within felt attenuated. Simply thinned out. Before returning to the street (there was no rear exit), he took the umbrella inside the coat, hooking it in the armhole and belting it up, more or less securely. He also made an effort to change the shape of his hat, punching it out. He went past West End to Broadway, entering the first hamburger joint, sitting in the rear and ordering tea. He drank to the bottom, to the tannic taste, squeezing the sopping bag and asking the counterman for more water, feeling parched. Through the window his thief did not appear. By now Sammler s greatest need was for ids bed. But he knew something about lying low. He had learned in Poland, in the war, in forests, cellars, passageways, cemeteries. Things he had passed through once which had abolished a certain margin or leeway ordinarily taken for granted. Taking for granted that one will not he shot stepping inter the street, or dubbed to death as one stoops to relieve oneself, or hunted in an alley like a rat. This civil margin once removed, Mr. Sammler would never trust tiie restoration totally. He had had little occasion ter practice the arts of hiding and escaping in New York. But now, although his bones ached for the bed and his skull was famished for the pillow, he sat at the counter with his tea. He could not use buses anymore. From now on it was the subway. The subway was an abomination.
But Mr. Sammler had not shaken the pickpocket. The man obviously could move fast. He might have fenced his way out erf the bus in midblock and sprinted back, heavy but swift in homburg and camel’s-hair coat. Much more likely, the thief had observed him earlier, had once before shadowed him, had followed him home. Yes, that must have been the case. For when Mr. Sammler entered the lobby erf his building the man came up behind him quickly, and not simply behind but pressing him bodily, belly ter back. He did not lift his hands to Sammler but pushed. There was no building employee. The doormen, also running the elevator, spent much of their time in the cellar.
“What is the matter? What do you want?” said Mr. Sammler.
He was never to hear the black man’s voice. He no more spoke than a pinna would. What be did was to force Sammler inter a corner beside the long blackish carved table, a sort of Renaissance piece, a thing which added to the lobby-melancholy, by the buckling canvas of the old wall, by the red-eyed lights of tfie brass double fixture. There the man held Sammler against the wall with His forearm. The umbrella fell ter the Hoot with a sharp crack erf the ferride on the tile. It was ignored. The pickpocket unbuttoned himself. Sammler heard the zipper descend. Then the smoked glasses were removed from Sammler’s face and dropped on the table. He was directed, silently, to look downward. The black man had opened his fly and taken out His penis. It was displayed to Sammler with the great oval testicles, a large tan and purple uncircumcised thing— a tube, a snake; metallic hairs bristled at the thick base and the tip curled beyond the supporting, demonstrating hand, suggesting the fleshy mobility erf an elephant’s trunk, though the skin was somewhat iridescent rather than thick or rough. Over the forearm and fist that held him Sammler was required to gaze at this organ. No compulsion would have been necessary. He would in any case have looked.
The interval was long. The man’s expression was not directly menacing but oddly, serenely masterful. The thing was shown with mystifying certitude. Lordliness. Then it was returned to the trousers. “Quod Erat Demonstrandum.” Sammler was released. The fly was closed, the coat buttoned, the marvelous streaming silk salmon necktie smoothed with a powerful hand on the powerful chest. The black eyes with a light of super candor moved softly, concluding the session, the lesson, the warning, the encounter, the transmission. He picked up Sammler’s dark glasses and returned them to his nose. He then unfolded and mounted his own, circular, of gentian violet gently banded with the lovely Dior gold. Then he departed. The elevator, with a bump, returning from the cellar opened simultaneously with the street door. Retrieving the fallen umbrella, lamely stooping, Sammler rode up. The doorman offered no small talk. For this sad unsociability one was grateful. Better yet, he didn’t bump into Margotte. Best of all, he dropped and stretched on his bed, just as he was, with smarting feet, thin respiration, pain at the heart, stunned mind, and—oh!—a temporary blankness of spirit. Like the television screen in the lobby, white and gray, buzzing without image. Between head and pillow, a hard rectangle was interposed, the marbled cardboard ot a notebook, sea-green. A slip of paper was attached with scotch tape. Drawing it into light, passing it near the eye, and with lips spelling mutely, bitterly, he forced himself to read the separate letters. The note was from S (either Simla or Slawa).
“Daddy: These lectures on the moon by Doctor V. Govinda Lai are on short loan. They connect with the Memoir.”Wells, of course, writing on the moon circa 1900. “This is the very latest. Fascinating. Daddy—you have to read it. A must! Eyes or no eyes. And soon, please! as Doctor Lai is guestlecturing at Columbia. He needs it back.”Frowning terribly, patience, forbearance all gone, he was filled with revtdsion at his daughter’s single-minded, persistent, prosecuting, horrible-comical obsession. He drew a long, lung-racking, body-straightening breath. Then bending open the notebook, he read, in sepia, in rust-gilt ink. The Future of the Moon. “How long,” went the first sentence, “will this earth remain the only home of Man?”
How long? Oh, Lord, you bet! Wasn’t it the time —the very hour to go? For every purpose under heaven. A time to gather stones together, a time to cast away stones, (ionsidering the earth itself not as a stone cast but as something to cast oneself from—to be divested of. To blow this great blue, white, green planet, or to be blown from it.
The mean radius ot the moon, 1737 kilometers; that of the earth, 6371 kilometers. The moon’s gravity, 161 cm/sec²; the earth’s, 981 cm/sec². Faults and crevices in tire lunar bedrock and mountains caused by extremes ol temperature. Of course there is no wind. Five billion windless years. Stone crumbles but without the usual erosion. The split rock is slow to fall, the gravitational force being lower and the angle of fall correspondingly sharper. Moreover, in the moon’s vacuum, stones, sand, dust, or explorers’ bodies would all have the same rate of fall, so before attempting to climb, it is essential to study the avalanche perils from all sides. Information organs are rapidly developing. Mass spectrometers. Solar batteries. Electricity produced by radioactive isotopes, strontium 90, polonium 210, by thermoelectric energy conversion. Dr. Lal had thoroughly considered telemetry, data transmission. Had he neglected anything? Supplies cotdd be put in orbit and brought down as needed by a braking system. The computers would have to be exceedingly accurate. It you needed a ton of dynamite at point X, you didn’t want to bring it down Son kilometers away. And what if it were essential oxygen? And because of the greater curvature oi the moon’s surface the horizons are shorter and present apparatus cannot send order signals beyond the horizon. Even more precise coordination will be necessary. For the good ol the moon-personnel, to increase their inventiveness, and simply as a desirable stimulus to the mind, Dr. Lal recommended the brewing ol beer in the pioneer colonies. For beer oxygen is necessary, for oxygen gardens, for gardens big hothouses. A brief chapter was devoted to the selection ot lunar flora. Well, tough members of the plant kingdom lived in Margotte’s parlor. Open two doors, and there they were; potato vines, avocados, rubber plants. Dr. Lai had hops and sugar beets in mind.
Sammler thought, this is not the way to get out of spatial-temporal prison. Distant is still finite. Finite is still feeling through die veil, examining the naked inner realits with a gloved hand. Howewer, one could see the advantage of getting away from here, building plastic igloos in the vacuum, dwelling in quiet colonies, necessarily austere, drinking the fossil waters, considering basic questions only. No question of it, Shula-Slawa had brought him this time a document worth his attention. She was always culling interesting titles on Fourth Avenue, from sidewalk bins, books with bleached spines and rain spots—England in the twenties and thirties, Bloomsbury, Downing Street, Clare Sheridan. The shelves were stacked with bargain rubbish hauled in splitting shopping bags. And even the books he himself had bought were largely superfluous. After you had expended great effort on serious writers you found out little you hadn’t known already. So many false starts, blind alleys, postulates which decayed before the end of the argument. Even the ablest thinkers groping as they approached their limits, running out of evidence, running out of certainties. But whether they were optimists or pessimists, whether the final vision was dark or bright, it was generally terra cognita to old Sammler. So Dr. Lal had a certain value. He brought news. Of course it should be possible still to follow truth on the inward track, without elaborate preparations, computers, telemetry, all the technological expertise and investment and complex organization required for visiting Mars, Venus, the moon. Nevertheless, it was perhaps for the same human activities that had shut us up like this to let us out again. The powers that had made the earth too small could free us from confinement. By the homeopathic principle. Continuing to the end the course of the Puritan revolution which had forced itself onto the material world, given all power to material processes, translated and exhausted religious feeling in so doing. Or, in the crushing summary of Max Weber, known by heart to Sammler, “Specialists without spirit, sensualists without heart, this nullity imagines that it has attained a level of civilization never before achieved.” So conceivably there was no alternative but to push further in the same direction, to wait for a neglected force, left in the rear, to fly forward again and recover ascendancy. Perhaps by a growing agreement among tire best minds, not unlike the Open Conspiracy of H. G. Wells. Maybe the old boy (Sammler, himself an old boy, considering this) was right after all.
But he laid aside the sea-textured cardboard notebook, the gilt-ink sentences of V. Govinda Lai written in nineteenth-century pedantic Hindu English to go back—under mental compulsion, in fact—to the pickpocket and thing he had shown him. What had that been about? It had given a shock. Shocks stimulated consciousness. Up to a point, true enough. But what was tiie object of displaying the genitalia? Qu’est-ce que cela preuve? Was it a French mathematician who had asked this after seeing a tragedy of Racine? To the best of Mr. Sammler’s recollection. Not that he liked playing the old European culture game. He had had that. Still, unsummoned, sentences came to him in this way. At any rate, there was the man’s organ, a huge piece of sex flesh, half-tumescent in its pride and shown in its own right, a prominent and separate object intended to communicate authority. As, within tiie sex-ideology of these days, it well might. It was a symbol of superlegitimacy or sovereignty. It was a mystery. It was unanswerable. The whole explanation. This is the wherefore, the why. See? Oh, the transcending, ultimate, and-silencing proof. We hold these things, man, to be self-evident. And yet, such sensitive elongations the anteater had, too, uncomplicated by assertions of power, even over ants. But make Nature your God, elevate creatureliness, and you can count on gross results. Maybe you can count on gross results under any circumstances.
Sammler knew a lot about such elevated creatureliness without even wanting to know. For singular reasons he was much in demand these days, often visited, often consulted and confessed to. Perhaps it was a matter of sunspots or seasons, something barometric or even astrological. But there was always someone arriving, knocking at the door. As he was thinking of anteaters, of the fact that he had been spotted long ago and shadowed by the black man, there was a knock at his door.
Who was it? Sammler may have sounded more testy than he felt. What he felt was rather that others had more strength for life than he. This caused secret dismay. And there was an illusion involved, for, given the power of the antagonist, no one had strength enough.
Entering was Walter Bruch, one of the family. Walter, Margotte’s cousin, was related also to the Gruners.
Cousin Angela once had taken Sammler to a Rouault exhibition. Beautifully dressed, fragrant, subtly made up, she led Sammler from room to room until it seemed to him that she was a rolling hoop of marvelous gold and gem colors and that he, following her, was an old stick from which she needed only an occasional touch. But then, stopping together before a Rouault portrait, both had had the same association: Walter Bruch. It was a broad, low, heavy, ruddy, thick-featured, wool-haired, staring, bake-faced man, looking bold enough but obviously incapable of bearing his own feelings. The very man. There must be thousands of such men. But this was our Walter. In a black raincoat, in a cap, gray hair bunched before the ears; his reddish-swarthy teapot c heeks; his big mulberry-tinted lips—well, imagine the Other World; imagine souls there by the barrelful; imagine them sent to incarnation and birth with dominant qualities ah initio. In Bruch’s case the voice would have been significant from the very first. He was a voice-man from the soul-barrels. He sang in choruses, in Temple choirs. By profession he was a baritone and musicologist. He found old manuscripts and adapted or arranged them for groups performing ancient and baroque music, His own little racket, he said. He sang well. His singing voice was fine; his speaking voice singularly gruff, rapid, throaty.
Approaching when Sammler was so preoccupied, Bruch, in his idiosyncrasy, got a very special reception. Roughly, this; Things met with in this world are tied to the forms of our perception in space and time and to the forms of our thinking. We see what is before us, the present, the objective. Eternal being makes its temporal appearance in this way. The only way out of captivity in the forms, out of confinement in the prison of projections, the only contact with the eternal, is through freedom. Sammler thought he was Kantian enough to go along with this. And he saw a man like Walter Bruch as wearing out his heart within the forms. This was what he came to Sammler about. This was what his clowning was about, for he was always clowning. Shula-Slawa would tell you how she was run down while absorbed in a Look article by mounted policemen pursuing escaped deer. Bruch might suddenly begin to sing like the blind man on 72nd Street, pulling along the Seeing Eye dog, shaking pennies in his cup: “What a friend we have in Jesus—God bless you Sir.”He also enjoyed mock funerals with Latin and music, Monteverdi, Pergolesi, the Mozart C Minor Mass; he sang “Et incarnatus est” in falsetto. In His early years as a refugee, he and another German Jew, employed in Macy’s warehouse, used to perform Masses over each other, one lying down in a packing case with dime-store beads wrapped about the wrists, the other doing the service. Bruch still enjoyed this, loved playing corpse. Sammler had often enough seen it done. Together with other clown routines. Nazi mass meetings at the Sportspalast. Bruch using an empty pot for sound effects, holding it over his mouth to get the echo, ranting like Hitler and interrupting himself to cry “Sieg Heil.” Sammler never enjoyed this fun. It led, soon, to Bruch’s Buchenwald reminiscences. All that dreadful, comical, inconsequent senseless stuff. How suddenly, in 1937, saucepans were offered to the prisoners for sale. Hundreds of thousands, new. from the factory. Why? Bruch bought as many pans as he could. What for? Prisoners tried to sell saucepans to one another. And then a man fell into the latrine trench. No one was allowed to help him, and he was drowned there while the other prisoners were squatting helpless on the planks. Yes, suffocated in the feces!
“Very well, Walter, very well!" Sammler severely would say.
“Yes, I know, I wasn’t even there for the worst part. Uncle Sammler. And you were in the middle of the whole war. But I was sitting there with diarrhea and pain. My guts! Bare Arschloch
“Very well, Walter, don’t repeat so much.”
Unfortunately, Bruch was obliged to repeat.
First he clowned, and then he wept. Sammler was sorry. He was annoyed and he was sorry. And with Walter, as with so many others, it was always, it was ever and again, it was still, interminably, the sex business. Bruch iell in love with women s arms. They had to be youngish, plump women. Dark as a rule. Often they were Puerto Ricans. And in the summer, above all in the summer, without coats, when women’s arms were exposed. He saw them in the subway. He went along to Spanish Harlem. He pressed himself against a metal rod. Way up in Harlem, he was the only white passenger. And the whole thing—the adoration, the disgrace, the danger of swooning when he came! Here, telling this, he began to finger the hairy base of that thick throat of his. Clinical! At the same time, as a rule, he was having a highly idealistic and refined relationship with some lady. Classical! Capable of sympathy, of sacrifice, of love. Even of fidelity, in his own Cynara-Dowson fashion.
At present he was, as he said, “hung up" on the arms of a cashier in the drugstore.
“I go as often as I can.”
“Ah, yes,” said Sammler.
“It is madness. I have ray attache case under my arm. Very strong. First-class leather. I paid $38.50 for it at Wilt Luggage on Fifth Avenue. You see?’
“I get the picture.”
“I buy something for a quarter, a dime. Gum. A package of Sight-Savers. I give a large bill—a ten, even a twenty. I go in the bank and get fresh money, so it is hard to count.”
“Uncle Sammler, you have no idea what it is for me in that round arm. So dark! So heavy!'
“No, I probably do not.”
“I put the attache case against the counter, and ! press myself. While she is making the change, I press.”
“All right. Walter, spare me the rest.”
“Uncle Sammler, forgive me. What can I do? For me it is the only way.”
“Well, that is your business. Why tell me?”
“There is a reason. Why shouldn’t I tell you? There must be a reason. Please don’t stop me. Be kind.”
“You should stop yourself.”
“Are you sure?”
“I press. I have a climax. I wet myself.”
Sammler raised his voice. “Can’t you leave out anything?”
“Uncle Sammler, what shall I do? I am over sixty years old.”
Then Bruch raised the backs of his thick short hands to his eyes. His flat nose dilated, his mouth open, he was spurting tears, and apelike, twisting his shoulders, his trunk. And with those touching gaps between his teeth. And when he wept he was not gruff. You heard the musician then.
“My whole life has been like that.”
“I’m sorry, Walter.”
“I am hooked.”
“Well, you haven’t harmed anybody. And really, people take these things much less seriously than they once did. Couldn’t you concentrate more on other interests, Walter? Besides, your plight is so similar to other people’s, you are so contemporary, Walter, that it should mean something to you. Isn’t it a comfort that there is no more isolated Victorian sex-suffering? Everybody seems to have these vices, and tells the whole world about them. By now You are even somewhat old-fashioned. Yes, you have an old nineteenth-century Krafft-Ebing trouble.”
But Sammler stopped himself, disapproving of the light tone that was creeping into his words ol comfort. But as to the past he meant what he said. The sexual perplexities of a man like Bruch originated in the repressions of another time, in images of woman and mother which were disappearing. He himself, born in the old century and in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, could discern these changes. But: it also struck him as unfair to lie in bed making such observations. However, the old, the original Cracow Sammler was never especially kind. He was an only son spoiled by a mother who had herself been a spoiled daughter. An amusing recollection: when Sammler was a little boy he had covered his mouth, when he coughed, with the servant’s hand, to avoid getting germs on his own hand. A family joke. The servant, grinning, redfaced, kindly, straw-haired, gummy (odd lumps in her gums) Wadja, had allowed little Sammler to borrow the hand. Then, when fie was older, his mother herself, not Wadja, used to bring lean, nervous young Sammler his chocolate and croissants as he sat in his room reading Trollope and Bagehot, making an “Englishman” of himself. He and his mother had had a reputation for eccentricity, irritability in those days. Not compassionate people. Not easily pleased. Haughty. Of course all this, for Sammler, had changed considerably in the last thirty years. But then Walter Bruch with his old urchin knuckles in his eyes sat in his room and sobbed, having told on himself. And when was there nothing to tell? There was always something. Bruch told how fie bought himself toys. At F. A. O. Schwarz or in antique shops lie bought wind-up monkeys who combed their hair in a mirror, who banged cymbals and danced jigs, in little green jackets or red caps. Nigger minstrels had fallen in price. He played in his room witli them, alone. Ele also sent denunciatory, insulting letters to musicians. Then fie came and confessed and wept. He didn’t weep for display. He wept because he felt he had lost his life. Would it have been possible to tell him that lie hadn’t?
It was easier with a man like Bruch to transfer to broad reflections, to make comparisons, to think of history and themes of general interest. For instance, in the same line ol sexual neurosis Bruch was exceeded In individuals like Freud’s Rat Man, with his delirium of rats gnawing into the anus, persuaded that the genital also was ratlike, or that he himself was some sort of rat. By comparison, an individual like Bruch lvad a light case of fetishism. If you fiad the comparative or historical outlook you would want only the most noteworthy, smashing instances. When you had them you could drop and forget tlte rest, which were only a burden or excess baggage. If you considered what the historical memory of mankind would retain, it would not bothei to retain the Bruc hs; nor, come to that, the Sammlers. Sammler didn’t much mind his oblivion, not with such as would do the remembering, anyway. He thought he detected misanthropy in the whole idea of the “most memorable.” It was certainly possible that the historical outlook made it easier to dismiss the majority of instances. In oilier words to jettison most of us. But here was Walter Bruch who had come to his room because he felt he could talk to him. And probably Walter, when fiis crying stopped, would be hurt by the Krafft-Ebing reference, by the assertion that his deviation was not too unusual. Nothing seemed to hurt quite so much as being ravaged by a vice that was not a top vice. And this brought to mind Kierkegaard s comical account ol people traveling around the world to see rivers and mountains, new stars, birds of rare plumage, queerly deformed fishes, ridiculous breeds of men—tourists abandoning themselves to the bestial stupor which gapes at existence and thinks it lias seen something. This could not interest Kierkegaard. He was looking for the Knight of Faith, the real prodigy. That real prodigy, having set its relations with the infinite, was entirely at home in the finite. Able to carry the jewel of faith, making the motions of the infinite, and as a result needing nothing but the finite and the usual. Whereas others sought the extraordinary in the world. Or wished to be what was gaped at. They themselves wanted to be the birds of rare plumage, the queerly deformed fishes, the ridiculous breeds of men. Only Mr. Sammler, extended, a long old body with brickish cheekbones and the easily electrified back hair riding the back of the head—only Mr. Sammler was worried. He was concerned about the test of crime which the Knight of Faith had to meet. Should the Knight of Faith have the strength to break humanly appointed laws in obedience to God? Oh, yes, of course! But maybe Sammler knew things about murder which might make the choices just a little more difficult. He thought often what a tremendous appeal crime had made to the children of bourgeois civilization. Whether as revolutionists, as supermen, as saints, Knights of Faith. Even the best teased and tested themselves with thoughts of knife or gun.
“Walter, I’m sorry—sorry to see you suffer.”
Odd things occurred in Sammler’s room, with its papers, books, humidor, sink, electric coil, Pyrex flask, documents.
“I’ll pray for you, Walter.”
Bruch stopped crying, clearly startled.
“What do you mean, Uncle Sammler? You pray?”
The baritone music lett his voice, and it was gruff again, and he gruffly gobbled his words.
“Uncle Sammler, I have my arms. You have prayers?” He gave a belly laugh. He laughed and snorted, swinging his trunk comically back and forth, holding both his sides, blindly showing both his nostrils. He was not, however, mocking Sammler. Not really. One had to learn to distinguish, To distinguish and distinguish and distinguish. It was distinguishing, not explanation, that mattered. Explanation was for the mental masses. Adult education. The upswing of general consciousness. A mental level comparable with, say, that of the economic level of the proletariat in 1848.
“I will pray for you,” said Sammler.
After this the conversation sank for a while into mere sociability. Sammler had to look at letters Bruch had sent to the Post, the Telegram, the Times, tangling with their music reviewers. This again was the contentious, ludicrous side of things, the thick-smeared, self-conscious, performing loutish Bruch. Just when Sammler wanted to rest. To recover a little. To put himself in order. And Bruch’s rollicking, guttural Dacia routine was contagious. Go, Walter, go away so that I can pray lor you, Sammler felt like saying, infected by Bruch’s own ways. But then Bruch asked. “And when are you expecting your son-in-law?”
“Yes, he’s coming. He’s maybe here already.”
“I didn’t know that. He’s threatened to come, many times, to set up as an artist in New York. He doesn’t want Simla back.”
“I know that,” said Bruch. “And she is afraid of him.”
“Certainly it would not work. He is too violent. But I agree. He has forgotten all about wives and marriage and wants to show his paintings on Madison Avenue.”
“He thinks he is that good?”
“He learned printing and engraving in Haifa. I was told in his shop that he was a dependable worker. But then he discovered Art, and began to paint in his spare time and to make etchings. Then he sent each member of the family a portrait of himself copied from photographs. Did you see any? They were appalling, Walter. An insane mind and a frightening soul made those paintings. 1 don’t know how he did it, but by using color he robbed every subject of color. Everybody looked like a corpse, with black lips and reel eyes. Face a kind of leftover cooked-liver green. At the same time it was like a little schoolgirl learning to draw pretty people, with cupid mouths and long eyelashes. Frankly I was stunned when I saw myself. In that shiny varnish he uses, I looked really done for. It was as if one death was not enough for me, but I had to have a double death. Well, let him come. His crazy intuition about New York may be right. He is a cheerful maniac. Now so many highbrows base discovered that madness is higher knowledge. If he painted Lyndon Johnson, General Westmoreland, Rusk, Nixon, or Mr. Laird in that style he might become a celebrity of the art world. Power of course does drive people crazy—I mean great power does. So why shouldn’t people also gain power through being crazy? They would all deserve each other.”
Sammler had taken off his shoes, and now the long trail feet in brown stockings felt cold and he covered them with the blanket with its frayed silk binding. Bruch took this to mean that he was going to sleep. Or was it that the conversation had taken a turn that didn’t interest him. He said goodbye.
When Bruch bustled out—black coat, short legs, sack-wide bottom, cap tight, bicycle clips at the bottoms of his trousers (the suicidal challenge of cycling in Manhattan)—Sammler was again thinking of the pickpocket, the pressure of his body, the lobby and canvas walls, the two pairs of dark glasses, the lizard-thick curving tube in his hand, dusty stale chocolate color revealing the pink filling, and in size not far from the infant it was there to beget. Ugly, odious, laughable, but nevertheless important. And Mr. Sammler himself (one of those mental rushes there was no longer any point in attempting to withstand) was accustomed to put his own very different emphasis on things. Of course he and the pickpocket were different. Everything was different. Their mental, characterological, spiritual profiles were miles apart. In the past, Mr. Sammler had thought that in this biological respect he was comely enough, in his own Jewish way. It had never greatly mattered, and mattered less than ever at seventy-four. But a sexual madness was overwhelming the Western world. Sammler now even vaguely recalled hearing that a President of the United States was supposed to have shown himself in a similar way to the representatives of the press (asking the ladies to leave), and demanding to know whether a man so well hung could not Ire trusted to lead his country. The story was apocryphal, naturally, but it was not a fiat impossibility, given the President, and what counted was that it should spring up and circulate so widely that it readied even the Sammlers in their West Side bedrooms. Take as another instance the last exhibit of Picasso. Angela had brought him to the opening at the Museum of Modern Art. It was in the strictly sexual sense also an exhibition. Old Picasso was wildly obsessed by sextial fissures, by phalluses. In the frantic and funny pain of his farewell, creating organs by the thousands, perhaps tens of thousands. I.ingam and Yoni. Sammler thought it might be enlightening to recall the Sanskrit words. Bring in a little perspective. But it didn’t really do much for such a troubled theme. And it was very troubled. He fetched back, for example, a statement by Angela Gruner, blurted out after several drinks when she was laughing and evidently feeling free (to the point of brutality) with old Uncle Sammler. “A Jew brain, a black cock, a Nordic beauty,” she had said, “is what a woman wants.” Putting together the ideal man. Well, after all, she had charge accounts at the finest shops in New York, and access to the best of everything in the world. If Pucci didn’t have what she wanted, she ordered from Hermes. All that money cotdd buy, luxury cotdd offer, personal beauty could bear upon the person, or that sexual sophistication could reciprocate. If she cotdd find the ideal male, her divine synthesis —well, she was sure she could make it worth his while. The best was not too good for her. There seemed to be no question about that. At moments like this Mr. Sammler was more than ever pleasantly haunted by moon-visions. Artemis—lunar chastity. On the moon people would have to work hard simply to stay alive, to breathe. They would have to keep a strict watch over the gauges of all the devices. Conditions altogether different. Austere.
If it wasn’t Bruch forcing his way in with confessions, if it wasn’t Margotte (for she was now beginning to have affairs of the heart after three years of decent widowhood—more discussion than sex, surely: discussion, earnest examination ad infinitum), if it wasn’t Feffer with his indiscriminate bedroom adventures, it was Angela who came to confide. It confidence was the word for it. Communicating chaos. Getting to be oppressive. Especially since her father was now sick, at this moment in the hospital. Sammler had ideas about this chaos—he had his own view of everything, an intensely peculiar one, but what else was there to go by? Of course he made allowances for error. He was a European, and these were American phenomena. Europeans often misunderstood America totally. He cotdd remember that many refugees had packed their bags to take off for Mexico or Japan after Stevenson’s first defeat, certain that Ike would install a military dictatorship. Certain European importations were remarkably successful in the United States—psychoanalysis, existentialism. Both related to the sexual revolution.
In any case, a mass of sadness had been waiting for free, lovely, rich, ever-so-slightly coarse Angela Gruner, and she was now flying under thick clouds. For one thing she was having trouble with Wharton Horricker. She was fond of, she liked, probably she loved, Wharton Horricker. In the last two years Sammler had heard of few other men. Fidelity, strict and literal, had never been Angela’s dish, but she had an old-fashioned need for Horricker. He was from Madison Avenue, some sort of market-research expert and statistical wizard. He was younger than Angela. A physical culturist (tennis, weight lifting). Tall, from California, marvelous teeth. There was gymnastic apparatus in his house. Angela described the slanted board with footstraps for sit-ups, the steel bar in the doorway for chinning. And the chrome-metal, cold marble furniture, the leather straps and British folding officers’ chairs, the op and pop objets d’art, the indirect lighting, and the prevalence of mirrors. Horricker was handsome. Sammler thought so too. Cheerful, somewhat unformed as yet, perhaps intended by nature to be rascally. (What was all that muscle for? Health? Not banditry?) “And what a dresser!” said Angela with husky, comedienne’s delight. With long California legs, small hips, crisp long hair with a darling curl at the back, he was a mod dandy. Extremely critical of other people’s clothes. Even Angela had to submit to West Point inspection. Once when he thought her improperly dressed, he abandoned her on the street, lie crossed to the other side. Custom-made shirts, shoes, sweaters were continually arriving from London and Milan. You could play sacred music while he had his hair cut (no, “styled!”), said Angela. He went to a Cheek on Fast 56th Street. Yes, Sammler knew a good deal about Wharton Horricker. His health foods. Horricker had even brought him bottles of yeast powder. Sammler found the yeast beneficial. Then there was the matter of neckties. Horricker’s collection of beautiful neckties! By now the comparison with his own black pickpocket was unavoidable. This cult of masculine elegance must be thought about. Something important, still nebulous, about Solomon in all his glory versus the lilies of the field. We would see. Still, despite his selfpampering fastidiousness, his intolerance of badly clothed people, despite his dressy third-generationfew name, Wharton received serious consideration from Sammler. He sympathized with him, understanding the misleading and corrupting power of Angela, insidious without intending to be. What she intended to be was gay, pleasure-giving, exuberant, free, beautiful, healthy. As young Americans (the Pepsi generation, wasn’t it?) saw the thing. And she told old Uncle Sammler everything —the honor of her confidences belonged to him. Why? Oh, she thought he was the most understanding, the most European-worldly-wise-tionprovincialmen tally-diversified-in tell i gen t-young-in-heart of old refugees, and really interested in the new phenomena. To deserve this judgment he had perhaps extended himself a little. If so, he was offended with himself. And, ves, it was so. If he heard things he didn’t want to hear, there was a parallel—on the bus he had seen things he didn’t want to see. But hadn’t he gone a dozen times to Columbus Circle to look for the black thief?
Without restraint, in direct terms, Angela described events to Iter uncle. Coming into his room, taking off the coat, the head scarf, shaking tree the hair with its dyed streaks like raccoon fur, smelling of Arabian musk, an odor which clung afterward to the poor fabrics, seat cushions, to the coverlet, even to the curtains, as stubborn as walnut stain on one’s fingers, she sat down in white textured stockings—fees de poule, as the French tailed them. Cheeks bursting with color, eyes dark sexual blue, a white vital heat in the flesh of the throat, she carried a great statement to males, the powerful message of gender. In this day and age people tell obliged to temper all such powerful messages with cornedv, and she provided that, too. In America certain forms of success required an element ol parody, self-mockery, a satire on the-thing-itself. Mae West had this. Senator Dirksen had it. One taught glimpses of the strange mind-revenge on the alleged thing itself in Angela. She (tossed her legs on a chair too fragile to accommodate such thighs, too straight for her hips. She opened her purse lot a cigarette, and Sammler offered a light. She loved his manners. The smoke came bom her nose, and she looked at him, when she was in good torm, cheerfully, with a touch of slyness. The beautiful maiden. He was the old hermit. When she became hearty with him and laughed, she turned out to have a big mouth, a huge tongue. Inside the elegant woman he saw a coarse one. The lips were red, the tongue was often pale. That tongue, a woman’s tongue—evidently it played an astonishing part in her free, luxurious life.
To her first meeting with Wharton Horricker, she had come running uptown from Fast Village. Something she couldn’t get out of. She had used no grass that night, only whiskey, she said. Grass didn’t turn her on as she best liked turning on. Four telephone calls she made to Wharton from a crowded joint. He said he had to get his sleep: it was alter 1 A.M.; he was a crank about sleep, health. Final!) she burst in on him with a big kiss. She cried, “We re going to fuck all night!" But first she had to have a bath. Because she had been longing all evening for him. “Oh, a woman is a skunk. So many odors, Uncle,”she said. Taking off everything but overlooking the tights site fell into the tub. Wharton was astonished and sat on the commode covet in his dressing gown while site, so ruddy with whiskey. soaped Iter breasts. Sammler, by her way of speaking about herself, knew quite well how the breasts must look. Little, after all. was concealed by her low-cut dresses. So she was soaped and rinsed, and the wet tights with joyful difficulty were removed, and site was led to the bed by the hand. Or did the leading. For Horricker walked behind her and kissed her on the neck and shoulders. She cried “Oh!" and was mounted.
Mr. Sammler was supposed to listen benevolently to all kinds of intimate reports. Curiously enough, though with more thought and decency, H. G. Wells had also talked to him about sexual passion. From such a superior individual one might have expected views more in line with those of Sophocles in old age. “Most gladly have I escaped the thing of which you speak; I leel as it I had escaped from the hands ol a mad and furious master.”No such thing. As Sammler remembered it. Wells in his seventies was still obsessed with girls. He had powerful arguments for a total revision of sexual attitudes to accord with the increased life-span. When the average man died at thirty, toil-ruined, ill-fed, sickly mankind was sexually finished before the third decade. Romeo and Juliet were adolescents. But as the civilized life expectancy approaches seventy, the old standards ol brutal brevity, early exhaustion, and doom must be set aside. Rancor, and gradually even rage, came over Wells at a certain point in the discussion as he talked about the powers of the brain, its expansive limits, the ability in old age for taking a fresh interest in new events diminishing. Utopian, he didn’t believe that the hoped-for future would bring excess, pornography, sexual abnormality. Rather, as the old filth and gloonn sickness were cleared away, there would emerge a larger, stronger, older, brainier, better nourished, better oxygenated, more vital human type, able to eat and drink sanely, perfectly autonomous and well regulated in desires, going nude, attending tranquilly to duties, performing his fascinating and useful mental work. Yes, gradually the long shudder of mankind at the swift transitoriness of mortal beauty, pleasure, would cease, to be replaced bv the wisdom born of prolongation.
Oh, wrinkled faces, gray beards, eyes purging thick amber or gum, a plentiful lack of wit together with weak hams, out of the air, erabwise, into the grave: Hamlet had his own view of it. And Sammler, listening to Angela as he lay in bed, considering two sets of problems (at least) with two different-looking eyes, a tense stitch between rib and hip making him draw up one leg for an ease he did not attain, had a slight look of rebuke as well as the look of receptivity. His daily tablespoon of nutritional yeast, a primary product from natural sugars, dissolved and shaken to a pink foam in fruit juice, kept hint in fresh color. One result, possibly, of longevity was divine entertainment. Sent could appreciate God’s entertainment from the formation of patterns which needed time for their proper development. Sammler had known Angela’s grandparents. They had been Orthodox. This gave a queer edge to his acquaintance with her paganism. Somewhere he doubted the fitness of these Jews for this erotic Roman voodoo primitivism. At an intimate depth, close to the center, near the soul, he had misgivings about it, strong doubts. He questioned whether release from long Jewish mental discipline, hereditary training in lawful control, was obtainable upon individual application. Although claims for erotic leadership had also been made by modern Jewish spiritual and mental doctors, and there was undoubtedly a Jewish initiative in Dionysian negritude and exotic belly consciousness, Sammler had his doubts.
Accept and grant that happiness is to do what most other people do. Then you must incarnate what others incarnate, if prejudices, prejudice. If rage, then rage. If sex, then sex. But don’t contradict your time. Just don’t contradict it, that’s all. Unless you happened to be a Sammler and felt that the place of honor was outside. However, what was achieved by remoteness, by being simply a vestige, a visiting consciousness which happened to reside in a West Side bedroom, did not entitle one to the outside honors. Moreover, inside was so roomy and took in so many people that if you were in the West Nineties, if you were in fact here, you were an American. And the charm, the ebullient glamour, the almost unbearable agitation that came from being able to describe oneself as a twentieth-century American was available to all.
To everyone who had eyes to read the papers or watch the television, to everyone who shared the collective ecstasies of news, crisis, power. To each according to his excitability. But perhaps it was an even deeper thing. Humankind watched and described itself in the very turns of its own destiny. Itself the subject, living or drowning in night, itself the object, seen surviving or succumbing, and feeling in itself the fitsof strength and the lapses of paralysis—mankind’s own passion simultaneously being mankind’s great spectacle, a thing of deep and strange participation, on all levels, from melodrama and mere noise down into the deepest layers of the soul and into the subtlest silences, where undiscovered knowledge is. This sort of experience, in Mr. Sammler’s judgment, might bring to some people fascinating opportunities for the mind and the soul, but a man would have to be unusually intelligent to begin with, and in addition unusually nimble and discerning. He didn’t think even that he himself qualified by his own standard. Because of the high rate of speed, decades, centuries, epochs condensing into months, weeks, days, even sentences. So that to keep up you had to run, sprint, waft, fly over shimmering waters, you had to be able to see what was dropping out of human life and what was staying in. You could not be an old-fashioned sitting sage. You must train yourself. You had to be strong enough not to be terrified by local effects of metamorphosis, to live with disintegration, with crazy streets, filthy nightmares come to life, addicts, drunkards, and perverts celebrating their despair openly in midcity. You had to be able to bear the tangles of the soul, the sight of cruel dissolution.
You had to be patient with the stupidities of power, with the fraudulence of business. Daily at 5 or 6 A.M. Mr. Sammler woke up in Manhattan and tried to get a handle on the situation. He didn’t think he could. Nor, if he could, would he be able to convince or convert anyone. He could leave the handle to Shula in his will. She could disclose possession to Rabbi Ipsheimer. She could whisper to Father Robles in the confessional that she had it. What could the main thing be? Consciousness and its pains? The flight from consciousness into the primitive? Liberty? Privilege? Demons? The expulsion of those demons and spirits from the air, where they had always been, by enlightenment and rationalism? And mankind had never lived without its possessing demons and had to have them back? Oh, what a wretched, itching, bleeding, needing, idiot, genius of a creature we were dealing with here! And how queerly it was playing (he, she) with all the strange properties of existence, with all varieties of possibility, with antics of all types, with the soul of the world, with death. Could it be condensed into a statement or two? Humankind could not endure futurelessness. As of now, death was the sole visible future.
Should one want tiiis filled out, Sammler could easily furnish from daily life the necessary materials. Dr. Gruner, it now was evident, could not live long. As a doctor, he knew it, but be wotdd not acknowledge or discuss anything. An artery to the brain, the carotid, had begun to leak through weak walls. Sammler was slow to grasp what this meant. He had perhaps a practical reason for such reluctance. Since 1947, he and Shula had been Dr. Gruner’s dependents. He paid their rents, invented work for Shula, supplemented the social security and German indemnity checks. He was generous. Of course lie was rich, but the rich were usually mean. Not able to separate themselves from the practices that had made the money : infighting, habitual Iraud, mad agility in compound deceit, the strange conventions of legitimate swindling. To old Sammler, considering, with smallish ruddy lace, the filmed bubble of the eye, and slightly cat-whiskered —a meditative island on the island of Manhattan— it was plain that the rich men lie knew were winners in local struggles of criminality, ot permissible criminality. In other words, triumphant in forms ol deceit and hardness of heart considered by the political order as a whole to be productive; kinds of cheating or thieving or (at best) wastefulness which on the whole caused the gross national product to increase. Wait a minute, though: Sammler denied himself the privilege of the high-principled intellectual who must always be applying the purest standards and thumping the rest of his species on the head. When he tried to imagine a just social order, he could not do it. A noncorrupt society? He could not do that either. There were no revolutions that he could remember which had not been made for justice, freedom, and pure goodness. Their last state was generally more nihilistic than the first. So if Dr. Gruner had been corrupt, one should glance also at the other rich, to see what kinds of heart they had. No question. Dr. Gruner who had made a great deal of money as a gynecologist and even more, later, in real estate was on the whole kindly and had a lot of family feeling, far more than Sammler, who in his youth had taken the opposite line, the modern one of Marx-Engels-private-property-the-origins-of-the-state-and-the-family. (In old age he concluded that such ideas, the joy of freedom-lovers and emancipators—haters of old pieties —were also a terrific break for the powers of darkness.)
Sammler was only six or seven years older than Gruner, his nephew by an amusing technicality. Sammler was the child of a second marriage, born when his father was sixty(Evidently Sammler’s own father had been sexually enterprising.) And Dr. Gruner had longed for a European uncle. He was elaborately deferential, positively Chinese in observing old forms. He had left the old country at the age of ten; he was sentimental about Cracow, and wanted to reminisce about grandparents, aunts, cousins with whom Sammler had never had much to do. He couldn’t easily explain that these were people from whom he had thought he must free himself and because of whom he became so absurdly British. But Dr. Gruner after sixty years was still something of an immigrant. In spite of the grand Westchester house and the Rolls-Royce glittering like a silver tureen, covering his courteous Jewish baldness. Dr. Gruner’s wrinkles were mild. They expressed patience and sometimes even delight. He had large, noble lips. Irony and pessimism were also there. It was a pleasant face.
And Sammler, an uncle through his half-sister— an uncle really by courtesy, by Gruner’s pious antiquarian wish—was seen (tall, elderly, foreign) as the last of that marvelous old generation. Mama’s own brother, Uncle Artur, with big pale tufts over the eyes, with thin wrinkles augustly flowing under the big brimmed perhaps romantically British hat. Sammler understood from his “nephew’s" face with the grand smile and conspicuous ears that his historical significance for Gruner was considerable. Also his experiences were respected. The War.
Because of his high color, Gruner always looked healthy to Sammler. But the Doctor one day said, “Hypertension, Uncle, not health.”
“Maybe you shouldn’t play cards.”
Twice a week, at his club, in very long sessions, Gruner played gin rummy or canasta for high stakes. So Angela said, and she was pleased with her father’s vice. She had hereditary vices to point to—she and her younger brother, Wallace. Wallace was a born plunger. He had already gone through his first fifty thousand, investing with a Mafia group in Las Vegas. Or perhaps they were only would-be Mafia, for they hadn’t made it. Dr. Gruner himself had grown up in a hoodlum neighborhood and sometimes dropped into the hoodlum manner, speaking out of the corner of his mouth. A widower, his wife had been a German Jewess, above him socially, so she thought. Her family had been 1848 pioneers. Gruner was an Ostjude immigrant. Her job was to refine him, to help him build his practice. The late Mrs. Gruner had been very proper, with thin legs, bouffant hair sprayed stiffly, and Peck 8c Peck outfits, geometrically correct to the last millimeter. Gruner had actually believed in the social superiority of his wife.
“It’s not the rummy that aggravates the blood pressure. If there were no cards, there would still be the stock market, and if there weren’t the stock market, there would be the condominium in Florida. there wotdd be the suit with the insurance company, or there would still be Wallace. There would be even Angela.
Tempering his great glowing affection, mixing fatherly pride with curses, Gruner would mutter “Bitch" when his daughter approached with thighs, bosom, hips displayed with a certain feigned innocence. maddening (certain) men. Infuriating women. Under his breath, Gruner said “Cow!” or “Sloppy cunt!” Still, he had settled money on her so that she could live handsomely on the income. Millions of corrupt ladies, Sammler saw, had fortunes to live on. Foolish creatures, or worse, squandering the wealth of the land. Gruner would never have been able to bear the details that Sammler heard from Angela. There was always the feeling, emanating from Angela, that hei confidences could be highly damaging to her father, shattering, even. But the truth was inevitably dispersed m the family atmosphere and saturated the minds of all concerned. It was all in Angela’s calves, in the cut of her blouses, in the motions of her fingertips.
Dr. Gruner had taken to saying, “Oh, yes, I know that broad. I know my Angela. And Wallace!”
Sammler didn’t at first understand what an aneurysm meant; he heard from Angela that Gruner was in the hospital for throat surgery. The day after the pickpocket had cornered him, he went to the East Side to visit Gruner. He found him with a bandaged neck.
“Well, Uncle Sammler?”
“Elya—how are you? You look all right.” And the old man, reaching beneath himself with a long arm, smoothing the underside of the trench coat, bending thin legs, sat down. Between the tips of cracked wrinkled black shoes he set the tip of his umbrella and leaned with both palms on the curved handle, stooping toward the bed with Polish-Oxonian politeness. Meticulously, the sickroom caller. Finely, intricately wrinkled, the left side of his face was like the contour map of difficult terrain.
Dr. Gruner sat straight, unsmiling. His expression after a lifetime of good-humored appearance was still mainly pleasant. This was not pertinent at present, merely habitual.
“I am in the middle of something.”
“The surgery was successful?”
“There is a gimmick in my throat, Uncle.”
“To regulate the flow of blood in the artery—the carotid.”
“Is that so? Is it a valve or something?”
“More or less.”
“It’s supposed to reduce the pressure?”
“Yes, that’s the idea.”
“Yes. Well, it seems to be working. You look as usual. Normal, Elya.”
Evidently there was something which Dr. Gruner had no intention of letting out. His expression was neither dire nor grim. Instead of hardness Mr. Sammler observed a curious kind of tight lightness. The Doctor in the hospital, in paisley pajamas, was a good patient. He said to the nurses, “This is my uncle. Tell him what kind of patient I am.”
“Oh, the Doctor is a wonderful patient.”
Gruner had always insisted on having affectionate endorsements, approbation, the goodwill of all who drew near.
“I am completely in the surgeon’s hands. I do exactly as he says.”
“He is a good doctor?”
“Oh, yes. He’s a hillbilly. A Georgia red-neck. He was a football star in college. I remember reading about him in the papers. He played at Georgia Tech. But he’s professionally very able; and I take orders from him, and I never discuss the case.”
“So you’re satisfied completely with him?”
“Yesterday the screw was too tight.”
“What did that do?”
“Well, my speech got thick. I lost some coordination. You know the brain needs its blood supply. So they had to loosen me up again.”
“But you are better today?”
The mail was brought, and Dr. Gruner asked Uncle Sammler to read a few items from the Market Letter. He lifted the paper to his right eye, concentrating window light upon it. “The U.S. Justice Department will file suit to force LingTemco-Vought to divest its holdings of Jones & Laugldin Steel. Moving against the huge conglomerate . . .”
“Those conglomerates are soaking up all the business in the country. One of them, I understand, has acquired all the funeral parlors in New York. I understand that Campbell’s, Riverside, has been bought by the same company that publishes Mad magazine.”
“Youth is big business. Schoolchildren spend fantastic amounts. If enough kids get-radical, that’s a new mass market, then it’s a big operation.”
“I have a general idea.”
“Very little is holding still. First making your money, then keeping your money from shrinking by inflation. How you invest it, whom you trustyon trust nobody—what you get with it, how you leave it . . . those are the worst problems in life. Excruciating.”
Uncle Sammler now understood fully how it was. His nephew Gruner had in his head a great blood vessel which had worn thin and grown frayed with a lifetime of pulsation. A clot had formed from leakage. The whole jelly trembled. One was summoned to the brink of the black. Any beat of the heart might open the artery and spray the brain with blood. He would die of a hemorrhage. Did Gruner know this? He was a physician, so he must know. But he was human, so he could arrange many things for himself. Both knowing and not knowing—one of the more frequent human arrangements. Then Sammler, making himself intensely observant, concluded after ten or twelve minutes that Gruner definitely knew’. He believed that Gruner’s moment of honor had come, that moment at which the individual could call upon his best qualities. Mr. Sammler had lived a long time and understood something about these cases of final gallantry. If there was time, occasionally good things were done. If one had a certain kind of luck.
“Uncle, try some of these fruit jellies. The lime and orange are the best. From Beersheba.”
“Aren’t you watching your weight, Elya?”
“No, I’m not. They’re making terrific stuff in Israel these days.”The Doctor had been buying Israeli bonds and real estate. In Westchester, he served Israeli wine and brandy. He gave away heavily embossed silver bail-point pens made in Israel. You could sign checks with them, tor ordinary purposes they were not useful. And now and then, in past years, Dr. Gruner, as he was picking up his fedora, might say, “I believe I’ll go to Jerusalem for a while.”
“When are you leaving?”
“Just as you are?”
“Just as I am. I can buy my toothbrush and razor when I land. I love it there.”
He had his chauffeur drive him to Kennedy Airport.
“I’ll table you, Emil, when I’m coming back.”
In Jerusalem were more old relatives like Sammler, and Gruner did genealogies with them, one of bis favorite pastimes. More than a pastime. He had a passion for tracing kinships. Sammler found this odd, especially in a physician. As one whose prosperity had been founded in the female generative slime, he might have had less specific sentiment about his own tribe. But now, seeing a fatal dryness in the circles under his eyes, Sammler better understood the reason for this. To each according to his intimations. Gruner had not worked in his profession for ten years. He had had a heart attack and retired on insurance. After a year or two of payments, the insurance company insisted that he was well enough to practice, and there had been a lawsuit. Then Di. Gruner learned that insurance companies kept the finest legal talent in the city on retainer. The best lawyers were tied up, and the courts were deliberateh choked with trivia! suits by the companies, so that it was years before his case came to trial. But he won. Or was about to win. He had disliked Itis trade—the knife, blood. He was still, however, fastidiously manicured like a practicing surgeon. Here in the hospital the manicurist was sent for, and during Sammler’s visit Gruner’s fingers were being soaked in a steel basin. The strange tinge of male fingers in the suds. The woman in her white smock, every single hair of the neckless head the same hue of dyed black, without variation, was gloomy, sloven-footed in orthopedic white shoes. Heavy-shouldered, she bent with instruments over his nails, concentrating on her work. She had quite a wide, tear-pregnant nose. Dr. Gruner had to woo reactions front her.
As it might not be mans times more the room was filled with sunny light. In which familiar human postures were struck. From which no great results had come in the past. From which little could be expected at this late hour. What if the manicurist were to take a liking to Dr. Gruner? What if she should requite his longing? What was his longing? Mr. Sammler had a thing about these unprofitable instants of clarity. Seeing the singular human creature ask for more when the sum of human facts cannot yield more. He did not like such instants, but they came, nevertheless.
The woman pushed back the cuticle. She would not be tempted up from her own underground galleries. Intimacy was refused.
“Uncle Artur, can you tell me anything about my grandmother’s brother in the old country?” “Who?”
“Hessid was the man’s name.”
“Hessid? Hessid? Yes, there vcas a Hessid family.”
“He had a mill for cornmeal, and a shop near the Castle. Just a small place with a few barrels.”
“You must be mistaken. I remember no one in the family who ground anything. However, you have an excellent memory. Better than mine.”
“A fine-looking old man with a broad white beard. He wore a derby, and a very fancy vest with watch and chain. Called up often to read from the Torah, though he couldn’t have been a heavy contributor to the synagogue.”
“Ah, the synagogue. Well, you see, Elya, I didn’t have much to do with the synagogue. We were almost freethinkers. Especially my mother. She had a Polish education.”
Sammler regretted that he was so poor at family reminiscences. Contemporary contacts being somewhat unsatisfactory, he would gladly have helped Gruner to build up the past.
“I loved old Hessid. You know, I was a very atlectionate child,”
“I’m sure you were,”said Sammler. He could hardly remember Gruner as a boy. Standing, he said, “I won’t tire you with a long visit.”
“Oh, you aren’t tiring me. But you probably have things to do. At the public library. One thing, before you go, Uncle—you’re in pretty good shape still. You took that last trip to Israel very well, and that was a tough one. Do you still like to run in Riverside Park, as you used to do?”
“Not lately. I feel too stiff for it.”
“I was going to say, it’s not safe to run down there. I don’t want you mugged. Anyway, if you are a little stiff you’re still far from feeble. 1 know you’re not a sickly type, apart from your nervous trouble. You still get that small payment from the West Germans? And the social security? Yes, I’m glad we had the lawyer set that up, about the Germans. And I don’t want you to worry, Uncle Artur.”
“About anything at all. Security in old age. Being in a home. You stay with Margotte. She’s a good woman. She’ll look after you. I realize Simla is just a little too nutty for you. She amuses other people but not her own father. I know how that can be.”
“Yes, Margotte is decent. You couldn’t ask for better.”
“So, remember, Uncle, no worries.”
“Thank yon, Elya.”
A confusing, frowning moment, and, getting into the breast, the head, and even down into the bowels and about the heart, and behind the eyes—sometiling gripping, aching, smarting. The woman was buffing his nails, and Gruner sat straight in the fully buttoned pajama coat; above it, the bandage hiding the throat with its screw. His large ruddy face was mainly unhandsome, his baldness, his bigeared plainness, the large tip of the nose; Gruner belonged to the common branch of the family. It was, however, a virile face, and when superficial objections were removed, a kindly face. Sammler knew the defects of his man. Saw them as dust and pebbles, as rubble on a mosaic which might be swept away. Underneath, a fine, noble expression.
“You’ve been good to Simla and me, Elya.”
Gruner neither acknowledged nor denied this. Perhaps by the rigidity of his posture he fended off gratitude he did not deserve in full.
In short, if the earth deserves to be abandoned, if we are now to be driven streaming into other worlds, starting with the moon, it is not because of the likes of you, Sammler would have said. He put it more briefly, “I’m grateful.”
“You’re a gentleman, Uncle Artur.”
“I’ll be in touch.”
“Yes, come back. It does me good.”
Sammler, outside the rubber-silenced door, put on his Augustus John hat. A hat from the Soho that was. He went down the corridor in his usual quick way, favoring the sightful side slightly, putting forward the right leg and the right shoulder. When he came to the anteroom, a sunny bay with soft plastic orange furniture, he found Wallace Gruner there with a doctor in a white coat. This was Elya’s surgeon.
“My dad’s uncle—Dr. Cosbie.”
“How do yon do, Dr. Cosbie.” The conceivably wasted fragrance of Mr. Sammler’s manners. Who was there now to be.aware of such Old World stuff! Here and there perhaps a woman might appreciate his style of greeting. But not a Doctor Cosbie. The ex-football star, famous in Georgia, struck Sammler as a sort of human wall. High and flat, his face was mysteriously silent and very white. The upper lip was steep and prominent. The mouth itself thin and straight. Somewhat unapproachable, he kept his hands behind his back. He had the air of a general whose mind is on battalions in a bloody struggle, just out of sight over a hill. To a civilian pest who came up to him at that moment he had nothing to say.
“How is Dr. Gruner?”
“Makin’ good progress sub. A very fine patient.”
Dr. Gruner was being seen as he wished to be seen. Every occasion had its propaganda. Democracy was propaganda—government. Propaganda entered every aspect of life. You had a desire, a view, a line, and you disseminated it. It took, everyone spoke of the event in the appropriate way, according to design. In this case Elya, a doctor, made it known that he was tire patient of patients. An allowable foible; boyish, but what of it? It had a certain interest.
Faced with a doctor, Sammler had his own foible, for he often wanted to ask about his symptoms. This was repressed of course. But the impulse was there. He wanted to mention that he woke up with a noise inside his head, that his good eye built up a speck at the corner which he couldn’t scratch out, it stuck in the fold, that Iris feet burned intolerably at night, that he suffered from pruritis ani. Doctors loathed laymen with medical phrases. All, naturally, was censored. T he tachycardia last of all. Nothing was shown to Cosbie but a certain cool, elderly rosiness. A winter apple. A busyminded old man. Colored specs. A wide wrinkled hat brim. An umbrella on a sunny day— inconsequent. Long narrow shoes, cracked but highly polished.
As usual, even in the midst of conversation, Wallace with round black eyes was dreaming away. He also had a very white color. In his late twenties he was still little brother with the curls, the lips of a small boy. A bit careless perhaps in his toilet habits, also like a small boy, he often transmitted to Sammler in warm weather (perhaps Sammler’s nose was hypersensitive) a slightly unclean odor from the rear. The merest hint of fecal carelessness. This did not offend his great-uncle. It was simply observed, by a peculiarly delicate recording system.
Actually, Mr. Sammler rather sympathized with the young man. Wallace fell into the Simla category. There was even a family resemblance, especially in the eyes—round, dark, wide, filling the big bony orbits, capable of seeing all, but dreamy, apparently drugged. He was a kinky cat, said Angela. With Dr. Cosbie, he was discussing sports. Wallace took no common interest in any subject. With him all interests were uncommon. He caught fevers. Horses, football, hockey, baseball. He knew averages, performance records, statistics. You could test him by the almanac. Dr. Gruner said that he would be up at 4 A.M. memorizing tables and jotting away left-handed at top speed across the body. With this, the intellectual if slightly paedomorphic forehead, the refinement of the nose, somewhat too small, and the middle of the face, somewhat too concave, and a look of mental power, virility, nobility, all slightly spoiled. Wallace nearly became a physicist, he nearly became a mathematician, nearly a lawyer (he had even passed the bar and opened an office, once), nearly an engineer, nearly a Ph.D. in behavioral science. He was a licensed pilot. Nearly an alcoholic, nearly a homosexual. At present he seemed to be a handicapper. He had yellow pages of legal foolscap covered with team names and ciphers, and he and Dr. Cosbie, who seemed to he a gambler, too, were going over these intricate, many-factored calculations, and plainly the doctor was fascinated, not simply humoring Wallace. Slender Wallace in the dark suit was very handsome. A voting man with stunning gilts. It was puzzling.
“You may be out of line on the Rose Bowl, said the doctor.
“Not at all,”said Wallace. “Just take a look at this yardage analvsis. I broke clown last year’s figures and fitted them into this special equation: Now look . .
This was as much of the conversation as Sammler could follow. He waited awhile at the window’ observing traffic, women with dogs, leashed and unleashed. A vacant building opposite marked tor demolition. Large white X’s on the window-panes. On the plate glass of the empty shop were strange figures or nonfigures in thick white. Most scrawls could he ignored. These lor some reason caught on with Mr. Sammler as pertinent. Eloquent. Of whatr Of future nonbeing. But also of the greatness of eternity which shall lift us horn this present shallowness. At tit is time forces, energies that might carry mankind up carried it down. For finer purposes of lite, little was available. Terror of the sublime maddened all minds. Capacities, impressions, visions amassed in human beings from the time of origin, perhaps since matter first glinted with grains of consciousness, were bound up largely with vanities, negations, and revealed only in amorphous hints or ciphers smeared on the windows of condemned shops. All naturally were frightened ol the future, the concentration of the full soul on eternal being. Mr. Sammler believed this. And in the meantime there was the excuse of madness. A whole nation, all of civilized society, perhaps, seeking the blameless state ol madness. The privileged, the almost aristocratic state of madness. Meantime there spoke out those thick loops and open curves across an old tailor shop window.
It was in Poland, in wartime, particularly during three or four months when Sammler was hidden in a mausoleum that he fust began to turn to the external world for curious ciphers and portents. The dead life of that summer and into autumn when he had been a portent watcher, and very childish, for larger forms of meaning had been stamped out, and a straw, or a spicier thread or a stain, a beetle or a sparrow had to be interpreted. Symbols everywhere, and metaphysical messages. In the tomb of a family called Mezvinski he was, so (o speak, a boarder. The peacetime caretaker ol the cemetery let him have bread. Water, too. Some days were missed, but not many, and anyway Sammler saved up a small bread reserve and did not starve. Old Cieslakiewicz was dependable. He brought bread in his hat. It smelled of head. And during (his period there was a yellow tinge to everything, a yellow light in the skv. In this light, bad news for Sammler, bad news for humankind, bad information about the very essence of being was diffused. Something hateful, and at times overwhelming. At its worst it seemed to go something like this: You have been summoned to be. Summoned out of matter. Therefore here you are. And though the vast overall design may be of the deepest interest, whether originating in a God car in an indeterminate source which should have a different name, you yourself, a finite instance, are obliged to wait, painlully. anxiously, heartachingly, in this yellow despair. And why! But you must! There was more to this, when Sammler was boarding in the tomb. No time to be thinking, perhaps, but what else was there to do? There were no events. Events had stopped. There was no news. Cieslakiewicz, with hanging mustache, swollen hands, palsy, his ugly blue eyes—Sannnler’s savior—had no news or would not give it. Cieslakiewicz had risked his lite for him.
The basis of this fact was a great oddity. They didn’t like each other. What had there been to like in Sammler?—halt-naked, lamished, caked hair and heard, crawling out ol the forest. Long experience of the dead, handling of human bones had perhaps prepared the old Pole for the apparition of Sammler. He had let him into the Mezvinski tomb, brought him some rags for cover. Alter the War Sammler had sent money, parcels, to Cieslakiewicz. There was correspondence with the family. Then, alter some years, the letters began to contain antiSemitic sentiments. Nothing very vicious. Only a touch of the old stuff. This was no great surprise, or only a brief one. Cieslakiewicz had had his time of honor and charitv. He was an ordinary human being and wanted again to be himself. Enough was enough. Didn’t he have a right to be himself? It was only the “thoughtful" person with his exceptional demands who went on with self-molestation —responsible to “higher values,” to “civilization,” and so on. It was the Sammlers who kept on vainly trying to perform some kind of symbolic tasks. The only result of which was unrest, exposure to trouble.
Mr. Sammler had a symbolic character. He, personally, was a symbol. His friends and family had made him a judge and a priest. And of what was he a symbol? He didn’t even know. Was it because he had survived? He hadn’t even done that, since so much of the earlier person had disappeared. It wasn’t surviving, it was only lasting. He had lasted. For a time yet he might last. A little longer, evidently, than Elya Gruner with the damp or screw in his throat. That couldn’t hold death off very long. A sudden escape of red fluid, and the man was gone. With all his will, purpose, enterprise, card games, loyalty to Israel, dislike of De Gaulle, with all his kindness of heart, greediness of heart, with his mouth making passionate love to the manifest, with his money talk, his Jewish fatherhood, his love and despair over son and daughter. When his life—or this life, that life, the other life—had gone, taken away, there woidd still remain that bad literalness, the yellow light of Polish summer heat behind the mausoleum door. It was the light also of that china-cabinet room in the apartment where he had suffered confinement with Shula-Slawa. Endless literal hours in which one is internally eaten up. Eaten because coherence is lacking. Perhaps as a punishment for having failed to find coherence. Or eaten by a longing for sacredness. Yes, go and find it when everyone is murdering everyone. When Antonina was murdered. When he himself underwent murder beside her. When he and sixty or seventy others, all stripped naked and having dug their own grave, were fired upon and fell in. Bodies upon his own body. Crushing. His dead wife nearby somewhere. Struggling out after some hours from the weight of corpses, crawling out of the loose soil. Hiding in a shed. Finding a rag to wear. Lying in the woods some days.
Some thirty years after which, in March days, sunshine, springtime, another season, the rush and intensity of New York City about to be designated as spring; leaning on a soft, leatherlike orange sofa; feet on an umber Finnish rug with a yellow core or nucleus—with mitotic spindles; looking down to a street; in that street, a tailor’s window on which the spirit of the time through the unconscious agency of a boy’s hand had scrawled its augury.
Is our species crazy?
Plenty of evidence.
All of course seems man’s invention. Including madness. Which may be one more creation of that agonizing inventiveness. At the present level of human evolution propositions were held (and Sammler was partly swayed by them) by which choices were narrowed down to sainthood and madness. We are mad unless we are saintly, saintly only as we soar above madness. The gravitational pull of madness drawing the saint crashwards. A few may comprehend and very few saints at that. And those few comprehend that it is the strength to do one’s duty daily and promptly that makes saints and heroes. Not many. Most have fantasies of vaulting into blessed states, feeling just mad enough to qualify.
Take someone like Wallace Gruner. The doctor was gone, and Wallace with his yellow papers was standing gracefully, handsomely, with his long lashes. What normalcy, what stability had Wallace sacrified to obtain the grace of madness?
“Ah, yes, Wallace.”
Some were eccentric, some were histrionic. Probably Wallace was genuinely loony. For him it required a powerful effort to become interested in common events. This was possibly why sporting statistics cast him into such a fever, why so often he seemed to be in outer space. Dans la lune. Well, at least he didn’t treat Sammler as a symbol, and he apparently had no use for priests, judges, or confessors. Wallace said that what he appreciated in Unde Sammler was his wit. Sammler, especially when greatly irritated or provoked, when he felt galled, said witty things. Often these signaled the approach of a nervous fit.
But Wallace, when he began a conversation with Sammler, was immediately smiling, and sometimes he repeated the punch lines of Sammler’s witticisms.
“Not a well-rounded person, Uncle?”
Referring to himself, Sammler once had observed, “I am more stupid about some things than about others; not equally stupid in all directions; I am not a well-rounded person.”
Or else, a recent favorite with Wallace. “The billiard table, Uncle. The billiard table.”
This had to do with Angela’s trip to Mexico. She and Horricker had had an unhappy Mexican holiday. In January she had had enough of New York and winter. She wanted to go to Mexico, to a hot place, she said, where she could see something green. Then abruptly, before he could check himself, Sammler had said, “Hot? Something green? A billiard table in hell would answer the description.”
“Oh. Wow! That really cracks me up,” said Wallace.
Later he would ask Sammler if he had the exact words. Sammler smiled, the small cheeks began to flush, but he refused to repeat his sayings. Wallace was not witty. He had no such sayings. But he did have experiences, he invented curious projects. Several years ago he flew out to Tangiers with the purpose of buying a horse and visiting Morocco and Tunisia on horseback. Not bringing his Honda, he said, because backwards people should be seen from a horse. He had borrowed Jacob Burckhardt’s Force and Freedom from Sammler, and it affected him strongly. He wanted to examine peoples in various stages of development. In Spanish Morocco he was robbed. He then flew on to Turkey and tried again. Somehow he managed to enter Russia on his horse. In Soviet Armenia he was detained by the police. After Gruner had gone five or six times to see Senator Javits, Wallace was released from prison. Then, once again in New York, Wallace, taking a young lady to see the film The Birth of a Child, fainted away at the actual moment of birth, struck his head on the back of a seat, and was knocked unconscious. Reviving, he was on the floor. He found that his date had moved away from him in embarrassment, changed her seat. He had a row with her for abandoning him. Wallace, borrowing his father’s Rolls, let it somehow get away from him; carelessly parked, it ended up at the bottom of a reservoir somewhere near Croton. He drove a city bus crosstown to pay off debts. The Mafia was after him. His bookie gave him two months to pay. The handicapping hadn’t worked. He flew with a friend to Peru to climb in the Andes. Said to be quite a good pilot. He offered to take Sammler into the air (“No, I believe not. Thank you just the same, Wallace”). He volunteered for the domestic Peace Corps. He wanted to be of use to little black children, to He a basketball coach in playgrounds.
“What does this surgeon really think of Elya’s chances. Wallace?”
“He’s going to take new X rays of his head.
“Are they planning brain surgery, now?”
“ft depends on whether they can get to the place. They may not be able to reach it. Of course, it they can’t reach it. they can’t reach it.”
“To look at him you’d never think . . . He looks so well.”
“Oh, yes,” said Wallace. “Why not?”
Sammler guessed how well pleased the late Mrs. (Tuner must have been with her Wallace, his shapely head, long neck, crisp hair, and fine eyebrows, the short clean line of the nose, and the neat nakedness of his teeth, the work of skilled orthodontia.
“It’s hereditary, having an aneurysm. You happen to be born with a thin wall in an artery, f may have it, Angela may. too, though I’d be surprised if she had a thin place anywhere. But people, voting people, too. perfect in every other respect sometimes drop dead of it. Walking along strong, beautiful, full of beans, when it explodes inside. They die. There’s a bubble first. Such as lizards blow from the throat, maybe. Then death. You’ve lived so long, vou’ve probably come across this before.”
“Even for me, there’s always something a little new.”
“I had a lot of trouble with last week’s crossword , puzzle, the Sunday one. Did vou work on it?”
“You sometimes do.”
“Margotte didn’t bring home the Times.”
“Amazing how vou know words.”
For some months Wallace had actually prac- licctl law. His father had rented the office; his mother had furnished it. calling in Croze, the interior decorator. For six months Wallace rose punctually like any commuter and went to business. But it soon came out that lie worked on nothing but crossword puzzles, locking the door, taking the phone off the hook, lving on the leather sofa.
That was all. No, one thing more: he unbuttoned the stenographer’s dress and examined her breasts. This information came from Angela, who had it from the girl, direct. Win did she permit it? Maybe she thought it would lead to marriage. Placing hopes in Wallace? No sane woman would. But his interest in the breasts had evidently been scientific. Something about nipples. Like Jean Jacques Rousseau. who became so engrossed in the breasts of a Venetian whore that she pushed him away and told him to go study mathematics. (More of Uncle Sammler’s wide reading, his European culture.)
“I don’t like the people who make up the puzzles. They have low-grade minds,” said Wallace. “Why should people know so much trash? It’s Eastern-seaboard-educated trash. Smart-ass Columbia University quiz-kid miscellaneous information. I actually telephoned you about an old English dance, fig, reel, and hornpipe were all I could come up with. But this one began with an m.”
“An m? Might it have been morrice?”
“Oh, damn! Of course it was morrice. Jesus, your mind is in good order. How do you happen to remember?”
“Milton. Com us. ‘A wavering morrice to the moon.’ ”
“Oh, that’s pretty. Oh. that’s really lovely, a wavering morrice.”
“Now to the Moon in wavering Morrice move. It’s the fishes, bv the billions, I believe, and the seas themselves, performing the dance.”
“Why, that’s splendid. You must be living right, to remember such pretty things. Your mind is not devoured by fool business. You’re a good old guy, Uncle Artur. I don’t like old people. I don’t respect many individuals—a few physical scientists. But you—you’re very austere in a was, but you have a good sense of humor. The only jokes I tell are the ones I hear from you. By the way, let me make sure I have the De Gaulle joke right. He said he didn’t want to be buried under the Arc de Triomphe next to an unknown. A cote d’un inconnu. Right?”
“And he wouldn’t go into the Invalides with Napoleon, who was onh a lousy corporal. But the Israelis wanted to charge him a hundred thousand bucks for space in the Holy Sepulchre, but De Gaulle said, ‘For three days? It’s too much money.’ Pour trois jours?' Now, that, I think, is very fttnny.”Wallace’s grave judgment. “Poles love to tell jokes,”he said.
“Conquered people tend to be witty.”
“You don’t like Poles very much, Uncle.”
“I think on the whole I liked them better than they liked me. Besides, a Pan once saved my life.”
“And Simla in the convent.”
“Yes, that too.”
“I can remember Simla years ago in New Rochelle, coming downstairs in her nightgown, kneeling in front of everybody in the parlor and praying. Did she use Latin? Anyway that nightgown was damn flimsy. I thought she was trying to get your goat, with her Christian act. It was a putdown, wasn’t it, in a Jewish house? Some Jews, anyhow! Is she si ill such a Christian?”
“At Christmas and Easter, somewhat.”
“And she bugs you about H. G. Wells. But fathers are soft on daughters. Look how Dad favors Angela. He gave her ten times more. Because she reminded him of Mae West. He was always smiling at her boobs. He wasn’t aware of it. Mother and I saw it.”
“What do you think will happen, Wallace?”
“My dad? He won’t make it. He’s got about a 2 percent chance. What good is that screw?”
“Any fish will fight. A hook in the gill. It gets jerked into the wrong part of the universe. It must be like drowning in air.”
“All, that is terrifying,” said Sammler.
“Still, to some people death is very welcome. If they’ve spoiled their piece of goods, I’m sme many would rather be dead. What I’m finding out is that when the parents are living, they stand between you and death. They have to go first, so you feel pretty safe. But when they die, you’re next, and there’s nobody ahead of you in line. At the same time I see already that I’m taking the wrong slant emotionally, and I know I’ll pay for it later. I’m part of the system, whether I like it or not.”Another moment of silent aberrant thought—Mr. Sammler felt the density and the unruliness of it. Then Wallace said, “I wonder why Dr. Cosbie is so keen on football pools.”
“Not the way I was. Dad told him how much I know about pro football. College football, too. It was like Dad offering me to the surgeon, so I would do something for him, so that we woidd all be close and friendly.”
“But it’s something else you’re keen on now?”
“Yes. Feffer and I have a business idea. It’s practically all I can think about.”
“All, Feffer. He brought me yesterday to speak at Columbia, and I haven’t seen him since. I wondered even whether he was trying to make money on me.”
“He’s a terribly imaginative businessman. Here’s what we’ve come up with, as an enterprise. Aerial photographs of country houses. Then the salesman arrives with the picture—not just contacts but the fully developed picture—and offers you a packagedeal. We will identify the trees and shrubs on the place and band them handsomely, in Latin and English. People feel ignorant about the plants on their property.”
“Does Feffer know trees?”
“In every neighborhood, we’d hire a graduate student in botany. In Dutchess County, for instance, we could get someone from Vassar.”
Mr. Sammler could not keep from smiling. “Feffer would seduce her, and also the lady of the house.”
“Oh, no. I’d see he didn’t get out of hand. I can control that character. He’s a top salesman. Spring is a good time to start. Right now. Before the leaves are too thick for aerial photography. In the summer we could work Montauk, Chilmark, Wellfleet, Nantucket from the sea. My father won’t give me the money.”
“Is it a great deal?”
“A plane and equipment? Yes, it’s considerable.”
“You intend to buy a plane, not rent one?”
“Rent doesn’t make sense. If you buy you get the tax write-off—depreciation. The secret of business is to make the government cover your risk. In Dad’s bracket we’d save seventy cents on the dollar. The IRS is murder. Lie doesn’t file a joint return, and isn’t head of a family since Mother died. Lie doesn’t want to give me another lump sum. It’s set up for me in trust so I’ll have to live on the income. When I had my chance I dropped fifty thousand in that boutique.”
“Gambling, I thought. Las Vegas.”
“No, no, it was a motel complex in Vegas, and we had the clothing shop, the men’s boutique.”
A furious dresser and adorner of men’s bodies Wallace would have been.
“Uncle Artur, I’d like to put you on our payroll. Feffer agrees. Feffer loves you, you know. If you don’t want to do it, we’ll put Shula on at fifty bucks a week.”
“And? In return for this? You want me to talk to your father?”
“Use your influence.”
“No, Wallace, I’m afraid I couldn’t.”
“You wouldn’t upset him. He thinks the same thoughts whether you talk to him or not. Six of one, half a dozen of the other. He’s brooding on this anyway.”
“Well, that’s your decision. There is something else, though. There’s money at home, in New Rochelle. In the house.”
“Excuse me?” From curiosity, uncertainty, Sammler’s voice went up.
“Hidden cash. A large amount. Never declared.”
“It can’t be, can it?”
“Oh, yes, it can, Uncle. You’re surprised. If the inside of a person were only as simple as a watermelon-red meat, black seeds. Now and then, as a favor to highly placed people Papa performed operations. Dilatation and curettage. Only when there was a terrific crisis, when some young socialite heiress got knocked up. Top secret. Only out of pity. My dad pitied famous families, and got big gifts of cash.”
“Wallace, look. Let’s talk straight. Elya is a good man. He stands close to the end. You’re his son. You’ve been brought up to think that for your health you have to throw a father down. You’ve had a troubled life, I know. But this old-fashioned capitalistic-family-and-psychological struggle has to be given up, finally. I’m telling you this because you’re basically intelligent. You’ve done a lot of peculiar things. No one can call you boring. But you may become boring if you don’t stop. You could retire honorably now with plenty ol interesting experience to point to. Enough. You should try something different.”
“Well, Uncle Sammler, you have good manners.
I know it. You put up with people’s shenanigans and schtick. It’s just your old-lashioned Polish politeness. All the same, there is also a practical question here. Nothing but practical. My father has X-thousands of dollars in the house, and he won’t tell where it is. He’s sore at us. He’s in the capitalistic-family-psyc hology struggle. You’re perfectly right—why should a person burn himsell out with neurotic fever. There are higher aims in life. I don’t think those are shit. Far from it. But you see, Uncle, if I have that plane, I can make a nice income with a few hours of flying. I can spend the rest of my time reading philosophy. I can finish up my Ph.D. in mathematics. Now listen to this idea. People are like simple whole numbers. Numbers also bear an important relation to people. The series ol numbers is like the series ol human beings— infinite numbers of individuals. The characteristics ol numbers are like the characteristics of matter, otherwise mathematical expressions could not tell us what matter will or may do. Mathematical equations lead us to physical realities. Things not yet seen, I.ike the turbulence of heated gases. The equations preceded the actual observations. So what we need is a similai system of signs for human beings. In this system, what is One? What is the human integei like? Now, you see, you’ve made me talk seriously to you. But just lor a minute or two, I want to go on with that other thing. There is money in the house. I think there are phony pipes through the attic in which he hid the hills. He borrowed a Mafia plumber once. I know it. You might just slip in a reference to pipes or to attics in your next conversation. See how he reacts. He may decide to tell you. I don’t want to have to tear apart the house.”
On Second Avenue the springtime scraping of roller skates was heard on the hollow, brittle sidewalk, a soothing harshness. Turning from the new New York of massed apartments into the older New York of brownstone and wrought iron, Sammler saw through large black circles in a fence daffodils and tulips, mouths of these flowers open and glowing, and on the pure yellow the fallout of soot already sprinkled. You might in this city become a flower washer. There was an additional business opportunity for Wallace and Feffer.
He walked once around Stuyvesant Park, only a large square with tlie statue of the peg-legged Dutchman. Tapping the flagstones with his ferrule every fourth step, Sammler held The Future of the Moon under his arm. He had read it on tlie subway, though he didn’t like being conspicuous in public, passing pages back and forth before the eye, pressing back tlie hat brim and his face intensely concentrated. He seldom did that.
And Sammler had learned to be careful on public paths in New York, invariably dog-fouled. Within the iron-railed plots the green lights of the grass were all but put out, burned by animal excrements. The sycamores, blemished bark, but very nice, brown and white, getting ready to cough up leaves. Red brick, the Friends’ School, and ruddy coarse warm stone, broad, clumsy, solid, the Episcopal Church. St. George’s. Sammler had heard that the original J. Pierpont Morgan had been an usher there. In Austro-Hungarian-Polish-Cracovian antiquity old fellows who had read of Morgan in the papers spoke of him with high regard as Piepernotter-Morgan. At St. George’s, Sundays, the god of stockbrokers could breathe easy awhile in the riotous city. In thought, Mr. Sammler was testy with White Protestant America for not keeping better order. Cowardly surrender. Not a strong ruling class. Eager in a secret way to come down and mingle with all the minority mobs. Beating swords into plowshares? No, rather converting dog collars into gee strings. But this was neither here nor there.
Watching his steps (the dogs) , looking for a bench for ten minutes, to think of Gruner, perhaps despite great sadness to read a few paragraphs of this fascinating moon manuscript, he noted a female hum drunkenly sleeping like a dugortg, a sea cow’s belly rising, legs swollen purple; a short dress, a mini-rag. At a corner of the fence, a wino was sullenly pissing on newspapers and old leaves. Cops seldom bothered about these old-fashioned derelicts. Younger people, autochthonous-looking, were also here. Bare feet, the boys like Bombay beggars, beards clotted, breathing rich hair from their nostrils, heads coming through woolen ponchos, somewhat Peruvian. Natives of somewhere. Innocent, devoid of aggression, opting out, much like Ferdinand the Bull. No corrida for them; only smelling flowers under the lovely cork tree. How similar also to the FJoi of H. G. Wells’s fantasy The Time Machine! Lovely young human cattle herded by the cannibalistic Morlocks who lived a subterranean life and feared light and fire. Yes, that tough brave little old fellow Wells had had prophetic visions after all. Simla wasn’t altogether wrong in her campaign for a memoir. A memoir should be written. Only there was little time left for relaxed narration about this and that, about things fairly curious in themselves, like Wells at seventy-eight still bucking for the Royal Society—his work (on earthworms?) was not acceptable. Not earthworms. “The Quality of Illusion in the Continuity of Individual Life in the Higher Metazoa.”They would not make him a Fellow. Hut to unscramble this would have taken weeks, and there were no tree weeks for Sammler. He had other necessities, higher priorities.
He shouldn’t even be reading this—this being the pages of Govinda Lal in bronze ink and old-fashioned (tenmanship. But Mr. Sammler having seen through so much had no resistance to real fascination. On page seventy, Lai had begun to speculate on organisms possibly capable of adapting themselves in exposed lunar conditions. Were there no plants which might cover the moon’s surface? Water and carbon dioxide would have to be present, extremes of temperature would have to be withstood. Lichens, thought Govinda, possibly could make it. Also certain members of the cactus family. The triumphant plant, a combination of lichen and cactus, certainly wotdd look weird to the eyes of man. But life’s capacities are even now inconceivably diverse. What impossibilities has it not faced? Who knows what the depths of the seas may yet yield? Creatures, perhaps even one to a species. A grotesque individual which has found its equilibrium under twenty miles of water. Small wonder, said Govinda, that human beings stress so fiercely the next realizable possibilities and are so eager to bound from the surface of the earth. The imagination is innately a biological power seeking to overcome impossible conditions.
Mr. Sammler raised his face, aware that there was someone hastening toward him. He saw Feffer, Always in a hurry. Feffer was stout, should have lost weight. He had trouble with his back, and wore at times an elastic orthopedic garment. Large, with fresh color, with the vivid brown Francois Premier beard and straight nose, Feffer always seemed to demand haste from his body, his legs. An all-but-running urgency. The hands, awkward and pink, were raised just in case he was to meet another rush exactly like his own. The brown eves were key-shaped. As he grew older, the corners would be more elaborately notched.
“I thought you might stop here a minute,” said Feffer. “Wallace said you had just left, so I ran down.”
“Indeed? Well, the sun is shining, and I was in no hurry to go down into the subway. I haven’t seen you since the lecture.”
“That’s right. I had to go to the telephone. I understand that you were wonderful. I genuinely apologize for the behavior of the students. That’s my generation for you. I don’t even know if they were real students or just tough characters—you know, militants, dropouts. It’s not the young people who start the trouble. All the leaders are older. But Fanny looked after you, didn’t she?”
“The young lady?”
“I didn’t just disappear. I assigned a girl to look after you.”
“I see. Your wife, by chance?”
“No, no.” Feffer quickly smiled, and quickly went on, sitting on the edge of the bench. He wore a dark-blue velvet double-breasted jacket with large pearl buttons. His arm reached the backrest of the bench and lay affectionately near Sammler’s shoulder. “Not my wife. Just a girl I fuc k now and then, and look after.”
“I see. ft all seems so rapid. It strikes me that there is something electronic about your contacts. She was very nice. She conducted me from the hall. I didn’t expect such a large crowd, 1 thought you might be making money on me.”
“I? No. Never. Believe me—no. It was a benefit for black children, just as I said. You must believe me, Mr. Sammler. I wouldn’t put you into a con, I have too much regard for you. You may not know it, or it may not matter to you, but you have a special position with me, which is practically sacred. Your life, your experiences, your character, your views—plus your sold. There are relationships I would do anything to protect. And if I hadn’t been called to the phone, I would have blasted that guy. I know that shir. He wrote a book about homosexuals in prison, like a poor man’s Jean Genet. Buggery behind bars. Or being a pure Christian angel because you commit murder and have beautiful male love affairs. You know how it is.”
“I have a general idea. But you misled me, Lionel.”
“I didn’t mean to. At the last minute a speaker didn’t show for another student tiling, and some of mv graduate-school buddies who were frantic got hold of me. I saw a way to double the take. For the remedial-reading project. I assumed it wouldn’t make so much difference to you, you would understand. I made a deal. I got the best of them.”
“What was the subject of the missing speaker?”
“Sorel and Modern Violence, I think it was.”
“And I talked about Orwell and what a sane person he was.”
“Lots of young radicals see Orwell as part of the cold-war anti-Communist gang. You didn’t really praise the Royal Navy did you?”
“Is that what you heard?”
“If it hadn’t been such an important call I would never have left. It was a question of buying or not buying a locomotive. The federal government creates these funny situations with tax-breaks to encourage investment. Where it thinks dollars ought to go. You can buy a jet plane and lease it to the airlines. You can lease the locomotive to Penn Central or the B & O. Cattle investments get similar encouragement.”
“Are you already making such sums that you need these deductions?”
Sammler didn’t want to lead Feffer into dreamconversation, exaggeration, fantasy, lying. He didn’t know how much the poor young man was making up simply to impress, to entertain, Feffer had a strange need to cover himself with the brocade of boasts. And being deficient in contemporary American information, Sammler was tentative here. It was, however, no kindness to listen to this big talk. Sammler appreciated the degree of life in young Feffer, the marvelous high color of his cheeks, the passion-sounds lie made. The voice resembling an instrument played with higher and higher intensity but musically hopeless— the undertones appealing really for help.
Rut sometimes Mr. Sammler fell that the way he saw things could not be right. His experiences had been too peculiar, and lie feared that he projected peculiarities on life. Life was probably not blameless, but he often thought that life was not and could not he what he was seeing. And then again, most powerfully, he occasionally felt on the contrary that he was a million times exceeded in strangeness by the phenomena themselves. What oddities!
“ Really, Lionel, you aren’t about to buy a whole locomotive?”
“Not alone. As part of a group. One hundred thousand dollars a share.”
“And what about this other plan, with Wallace? Photographing houses and identifying trees.”
“It does sound hokev, but it’s really a very good business idea. I intend to experiment with it personally. 1 have a great gift for salesmanship. I’ll say that for myself. If the thing pans out, I’ll organize it nationally, with sales crews in every part of the country. We’ll need regional plant specialists. The problems would be different in Portland, Oregon, from Miami Beach or Austin, Texas. ‘All men by nature desire to know.’ That’s the first sentence of Aristotle’s Metaphysics. I never got much farther, but I figured that the rest must be out of date anyway. But if they desire to know, it makes them depressed if they can’t name the bushes on their own property. They feel like phonies. The bushes belong. They themselves don’t. And I’m convinced that knowing the names of things braces people up. I’ve gone to shrinkers for years, and have they cured me of anything? They have not. They have put labels on my troubles, though, which sound like knowledge. It’s a great comfort, and worth the money. You say, ‘I’m manic.’ Or you say, ‘I’m a reactive-depressive.’ You say about a social problem, ‘It’s colonialism.’ Then the dullest brain has these internal fireworks, and the sparks drive you out of your skull. Well, the way to wealth and power is to latch on to this. When you set up a new enterprise, you redescribe the phenomena and you have a feeling that you’re getting somewhere. If people want things named or renamed, you can make dough by becoming a taxonomist. Yes, I definitely intend to try out this idea of Wallace’s.”
“Does he have to have a plane?”
“I can’t say if it’s essential, but he seems to have a thing about piloting. Well, that’s his bag. Other people have other bags.”
This last statement about other people was injected with much significance. Sammler saw what was happening. Feffer was pretending to hold back, out of a delicacy he didn’t have, a piece of information he couldn’t wait to release. His eagerness shone from his face. In the eyes. Over the ready lips.
“What are you referring to?”
“I’m really referring to a certain Hindu scientist. I believe that his name is Lai. I think that this Lai is a guest lecturer at Columbia University.”
“What about him?”
“Several days ago, after his lecture, a woman approached him. She asked to see his manuscript. He thought she just wanted to glance at something in the text and let her take it. There was a small crowd of people around. I believe H. G. Wells was mentioned. Then the lady disappeared with the manuscript.”
Mr. Sammler removed his hat and placed it on his lap over the sea-marbled cardboard.
“She walked off with it?”
“Disappeared with the only copy of the work.”
“Ah. How unfortunate. The only, eh? Quite bad.”
“Yes, I thought you might think so. Dr. Lai thought she might come back with it, that she was just an absentminded person. He didn’t say anything for twenty-four hours. But then he went to the authorities. Is it the department of astronomy? Or some space program Columbia has?”
“How is it that you always have information of this sort, Lionel?”
“I have to have so many contacts in my way of life. Naturally I know the university security people-campus cops. Anyway, they weren’t equipped to handle this. They had to call in investigators. The Pinkertons. The original Pinkerton was picked by Abraham Lincoln himself to organize the Secret Set vice, you know. You do know that, don’t you?”
“It doesn’t seem to me an item of great importance. I suppose these Pinkertons will know how to recover this article. Isn’t it stupid to have only one copy? With all these Xeroxes and reproducing machines, and the man is a scientist.”
“Well, I don’t know. There was Carlyle. There was T. E. Lawrence. Brilliant people weren’t they? And they both lost the only copy of a masterpiece.”
“By now the campus is covered with posters. Manuscript missing. And there is a description of the lady. Often seen at public lectures. She wears a wig, carries a shopping bag, is associated somehow with H. G. Wells.”
“Yes, I see.”
“You wouldn’t know anything about it, would you, Mr. Sammler? Naturally I want to help out.”
“I am astonished by the amount of information that sticks to you. You remind me of a frog’s tongue, it flips out and comes back covered with gnats.”
“I didn’t think I was doing any harm. Where you ate concerned, Mr. Sammler, 1 have only one interest, and that is protection. I have a protective instinct toward you. I am aware it might he Oedipal—the names, again—but I have a feeling of veneration toward you. You are the only person in the world with whom I would use a word like veneration. That’s the kind of word you write down, not say.”
“Yes, I understand that somewhat, Lionel.” Mr. Sammler’s forehead, grown damp, was itching. He touched it finely with his ironed pocket handkerchief. It was Simla who brought his handkerchiefs back ironed so smooth and flat.
“I know that you are trying to condense w’hat you know, your life experience. Into a testament.”
“How do you know this?”
“You told me.”
“Did I? I don’t remember ever saying that. It is very private. If I am saying things unaware, it’s a bad sign. I certainly never meant to mention it.”
“We were standing in front of the Bretton Hall Hotel, that miserable bunch of decay, and you were leaning on the umbrella. And may I say"—there were signs of an upward expansion of feeling—“I may have doubts about other people, whether they’re human, but I love you without reservation. And to relieve your mind, you didn’t discuss anything, you only said that you would like to boil down your experience of life to a few statements. Maybe just one single statement.”
“Sydney Smith.” “Smith?”
“He said, ‘Short views, for God’s sake, short views.’ An English clergyman.”
To hear what ShulaSlawa had done (folly-devotion-to-Papa-comedytheft) filled oppressively certain spaces for oppression which had opened and widened during the last three decades. Before 1939 Sammler could recall no such heaviness and darkness. Was there anywhere in tire world a shrinking-tincture that could be prescribed for such openings? Mr. Sammler did try to turn toward the fun of the thing, imagining Simla in space shoes, disorderly crimson on the mouth, coming up like a little demon-body from Grimm’s Fairy Tales, making off with the treasure of a Hindu sage. Sammler himself was treated like some sort of Enchanter by Simla. She thought he was Prospero. He could make beautiful culture. Compose a memoir of the highest distinction, so magical that the world would long remember what a superior tiling it was to be a Sammler. The answer of private folly to public folly (in an age of overkill) was more distinction, more high accomplishments, more dazzling brilliants strewn before admiring mankind. Pearls before swine? Mr. Sammler, thinking of Rabbi Ipsheimer, whom he had been dragged by Simla to hear, revised the old saying. Artificial pearls before real swine were cast by these jet-set preachers. To have thought this made him more cheerful. His nervously elegant hand made a bridge over the tinted spectacles, adjusting them without need on the nose. Well, he was not what Simla believed him to be. Moreover, he was not what Fetter thought. How could he satisfy the needs of these imaginations? Fetter in the furious whirling of his spirit took him for a fixed point. In such hyperenergetic revolutions you fell in love with ideas of stability, and Sammler was an idea of stability. He made sure his large hat was covering the notebook entirely.
“Is there anything you would like me to do?” said Fetter.
“Why, yes, Lionel.” He rose. “Walk with me to the subway. I’m going to Union Square.”
By the wrought-iron gate they left the little park, westward past the Quaker Meeting House, and then the cool sandstone buildings set back among trees. The chained bellies of garbage cans. One of the chains even wore a sheath. And there were dogs, more dogs. Devoted dog-tendance—by schoolchildren, by women in fairly high style, by certain homosexuals. One would have said that only the Eskimos had nearly so much to do with dogs as this local branch of mankind. The veterinarians must be sailing in yachts, surely.
I shall get hold of Shula right away, Mr. Sammler decided. He hated scenes with his daughter. She might set her teeth, burst into screams. He cared too much for her. He cherished her. And really, his own contribution to the continuation of the species! It filled him with heartache and pity that he and Antonina had not blended better. Since she was a child he had seen, especially in the slenderness of her neck, so vulnerably valved, in the visible glands and blue veins, in the big bluish eyelids and top-heavy head, a pitiful legacy, loony, frail, touching him with a fear of doom. Well, the Polish nuns had saved her. When he came to the convent to get her, she was already fourteen years old. Now she was over forty, straying about New York with her shopping bags. She would have to return the manuscript immediately. Dr. Govinda Lai would be frantic. Who knew what Asiatic form that man’s despair was taking.
Meantime, too, there was in Sammler’s consciousness a red flush. Possibly due to Elya Gruner’s condition. This assumed a curious form, that of a vast crimson envelope, a sky-filling silk fabric, the flap fastened by a black button. He asked himself whether this might not be what mystics meant by seeing a mandala, and believed the suggestion might have been implanted by association with Govinda, an Asiatic. But he himself, a Jew, no matter how Britannicized or Americanized, was also an Asian. The last time he was in Israel, and that was very recent, he had wondered how European after all Jews were. The crisis he witnessed there had brought out a certain deeper Orientalism. Even in German and Dutch Jewry, he thought.
Through 15th Street ran a warm spring current. Lilacs and sewage. There were as yet no lilacs, but an element of the savage gas was velvety and sweet, reminiscent of blooming lilac. All about was a softness ol perhaps dissolved soot, or of air passed through many human breasts, or metabolized in multitudinous brains, or released from as many intestines, and it got to one—oh, deeply, too! Now and then there tame an appreciative or fanciful pleasure, apparently inconsequent, combined from accidents out of the ruddy dun of sandstone, out ol cool corners of the warmth. Bliss from his surroundings! Eor a certain period Mr. Sammler had resisted such physical impressions—being wooed almost comically by momentary and fortuitous sweetness. For quite a long time he had not felt that he was necessarily human. Had no great use, during that time, for most creatures. Very little interest in himself. Gold even to the thought of recovery. What was there to recover? Little regard for earlier forms of himself. Disaffected. His judgment almost blank. But then, ten or twelve years after the War, he became aware that this too was changing. In the human setting, along with everyone else, among particulars of ordinary life he was human—and, in short, Creatureliness crept in again. Its low tricks, its doggish hind-sniffing charm. So that now, really, Sammler didn’t know how to take himself. He wanted, with God, to be tree from the bondage of the ordinary and the finite. A soul released from Nature, from impressions, and from everyday life. For this to happen God Himself must he waiting, surely. And a man who has been killed and buried should have no other interest. He should be perfectly disinterested. Eckhart said in so many words that God loved disinterested purity and unity. God Himself was drawn toward the disinterested sold. What besides the spirit should a man care for who has tome hack from the grave? However, and mysteriously enough it happened, as Sammler observed, that one was always, and so powerfully, so persuasively, drawn back to human conditions. So that these flecks within one’s substance will always stipple with their reflections all that a man turns toward, all that Hows about him. The shadow of his nerves will cast stripes, like trees on grass, like water over sand, the light-made network, It was a second encounter of the disinterested spirit with fated biological necessities.
Therefore, walking toward the BMT, Union Square Station, one hears Feller explain why it is necessary to purchase a diesel locomotive. A beautiful stroke of business. So apt! So congruent with spring, death, Oriental mandalas, sewer gas edged with opiate lilac sweetness. Bliss from bricks, from the sky!
Mr. Artur Sammler, confidant of New York eccentrics; curate of wild men and progenitor of a wild woman; registrar of madness. Once take a stand, once draw a baseline, and contraries will assail you. Declare for normalcy, and you will he stormed by aberrancies. All postures are mocked by their opposites. This is what happens when the individual begins to be drawn back from disinterestedness to creaturely conditions. Portions or aspects of his earlier sell revive. The former character asserts itself, and sometimes disagreeably, weakly, disgracefully. It was the earlier Sammler, the Sammler of London and Cracow, who had gotten off the bus at Columbus Circle foolishh eager to catch sight of a black criminal. He now bad to avoid the bus, dreading another encounter. He had been warned, positively instructed, to appear no more.
“Just a minute, now,” said Feffer. “I know you hate subways. Isn’t there a switch here? I thought you were positively claustrophobic.”
Feffer was extremely intelligent. He had been admitted to Columbia without a high school certificate by obtaining unheard-of marks in the entrance examinations. He was sly, shrewd, meddling, as well as iresh, charming, and vigorous. In his eyes a strangely barbed look appeared, a kind of hooking intensity. Sammler, the earlier Sammler, had had little power to resist such looks.
“It isn’t because of the crook you saw on the bus, is it?”
“Who told you about him?”
“Your niece, Mrs. Arkin, did. Yesterday when I came to pick you up for the lecture.”
“She did, did she?”
“Yes, about the fancy dress, the Dior accessories, and all of that. What a terrific gas! So you’re afraid of him. Why? Has he spotted you?”
“Something like that.”
“Did he speak?”
“Not a word.”
“There’s something going on, Mr. Sammler. I think you’d better tell me about it. You may not understand the New York idiom. You may be in danger. You should tell a younger person.”
“You confuse me, Feffer. There are moments when I am ever so slightly not myself under your influence. You muddle me. You’re very noisy, very turbulent.”
“ The man has done something to you. I know.
I just know it. What has lie done? He may hurt you. You may be in trouble, and you shouldn’t keep it to yourself. You’re wise, but you’re not clever, and this cat, Mr. Sammler, sounds dangerous. Really! You’ve seen him in action?”
“And he’s seen you looking?”
That’s serious. Now what has he done to scare you off the bus? You told the cops.”
“I tried to. Come, Feffer, you’re involving me in things I dislike. I don’t care for this.”
“It’s being driven from the bus that should bother you, interference with your customs, your habits, and so on. Are you afraid of him?”
“Well, I was aroused. My heart beat very hard. The mind is so odd. Objectively I have little use for such experiences, but there is such an absurd craving for actions that connect with other actions, for coherency, for forms, for mystery or fable. I may have thought that I had no more ordinary human curiosity left, but I was surprisingly wrong.”
“When he saw you, did he chase you?” said Feffer.
“He came after me, yes. Now let’s drop the matter.”
Feffer was unable to do that. His face was flaming. It seemed to prickle with modern passions within the old-fashioned frame of the beard. “He followed you but he didn’t say anything? He must have gotten his message through, though. What did he do? He threatened you. Did he pull a switchblade on you?”
“No gun. Had Sammler been in good balance he would have been able to resist, Fetter’s hook would not have gotten in. But His balance was not good. Descending to the subway was a trial. The grave, entombment, the Mezvinski vault in Zamosht.
“But he found out where you live?” said Feffer.
“Yes, he tracked me home. He must have found out some time ago. He followed me into my lobby.”
“But what did he do, Mr. Sammler! For God’s sake, why won’t you say!”
“What is there to say? It is ludicrous. It is not worth discussing. Simply nonsensical. But perhaps you have a natural claim to these bizarre nonsensical things, you have such a hungry curiosity about them. The man exhibited himself to me.”
“He didn’t! That’s just wild! To you? That’s far out. Did he corner you?”
“In your own lobby and pulled his thing on you? He flashed it?”
Sammler would say no more about it.
“Stupendous!” said Feffer. “What the devil was it like?" He was smiling, and if Sammler was any interpreter of smiles, Feffer was dying to see this phenomenon. To protect Sammler, yes. To guide him through the dangers of New York, yes. But to see, to meddle, to intrude, that was Lionel all over. Had to have a piece of the action—Sammler believed that was the current expression. “He yanked out his cock? Didn’t say a word? Just flashed? What did he mean? How big did you say it was? You didn’t say. I can imagine. It could be a line from Finnegans Wake. ‘Everyone must bare his crotch!’ And he operates between Columbus Circle and Seventy-second Street in the rush hours? Well, what does one do about this? New York is really a gas city. And ten guys running lor mayor like a bunch of lunatics. And Lindsay, just imagine Lindsay campaigning on his record. His record, no less, when they can’t even send a cop to arrest a bandit. And Wagner with his record! There must be a couple of injuries he missed inflicting on the town, and he wants another term. Mr. Sammler, I know a guy at NBC television who has a talk show. It’s really Fanny’s husband. We ought to put you on that to discuss all this.”
“Oh, come, Feffer.”
“It would do everyone a hell of a lot of good to hear you. I know, I know, it’s as the man said, it’s not the mind of the viewer you’ll reach but his backsides. You’ll tickle his backsides with beautiful feathers of deep thought.”
“And yet, Mr. Sammler, to have influence and power. Or just confronting the phony with the real thing. You should denounce New York. You should speak like a prophet, like from another world—and you might like coming out ot isolation. ”
“We did that at Columbia yesterday, Feffer, I came out of isolation. You’ve already turned me into a performer.”
“I’m only thinking of the good you could do.”
“You’re thinking of the arrangements you could promote, how you could get a finder’s fee from Fanny’s husband, and how close you could bring together the TV and that person’s genitalia. Mr. Sammler was intensely smiling. Another moment, and he would actually have been laughing, drawn out of his preoccupations.
“Very well,” said Feller. “I don’t have the same ideals of privacy as you. Anyway, let’s drop it.’
“By all means.”
“I’ll ride uptown on the bus with you.”
“To make sure no one bothers you.”
“What you want is to have me point him out.”
“Really, I know how you dislike, you hate, subways.”
“It’s quite all right.”
“Of course you’ve stirred up my curiosity, why should I deny it. I know you finally told me about him to get rid of me, and here I am pestering you still. You say he wears a camel s-hair coat?”
“I thought it was that.”
“A homburg? Dior shades?”
“Homburg I’m certain of. The Dior is a guess.’
“You’re a good observer, I take your word for it. A mustache, also, fancy shirts and psychedelic neckties. He’s a prince of some kind, or thinks he is.”
“Yes,” said Sammler, “a certain majesty is assumed.”
“I have an idea about him.”
“Let him be. Leave him alone, I advise you.”
“I wouldn’t actually tangle with him. I’d never do that. He wouldn’t even suspect I was there. But cameras can be introduced anywhere. They even have photos of the child in the womb, Somehow they got a camera in. I just acquired a new Minox which is as small as a cigarette lighter.’
“Don’t be stupid, Lionel.”
“He’d never know. I assure you. Wouldn t be aware. Pictures could be valuable. Catch a criminal, sell the story to Look. Do a job on the police at the same time, and on Lindsay, who has no business being mayor while running for President. A triple killing.”
The low wall of Union Park, the raised green platform of lawn parted by dry gray pathways, and the fast traffic. Sammler did not need Fefler’s hand on his elbow. He drew away.
“I go down here.”
“This time of day I can’t get a taxi. The shift is changing. I’ll ride uptown with you.”
Sammler, still holding hat and notebook by his side, the umbrella hooked on his wrist, pursued his way in the half-light of the corridors in the smoke ol grilled sausages. The quick turnstiles metered the tokens with a noise ot ratchets, The bisonrumble of trains. Sammler wanted to ride alone. Feller could not let him go. feller could not be quiet. His need was to be perpetuall) arresting, radiant with fresh interest. And, of course, because he respected Sammler so much he had to make tests or insert small notes or hints of disrespect, a little here, a bit there, liberties, familiarities, insinuations, exploring lor spoilage. My clear fellow, why look so hard? There is corruption in certain places. I could show you.
“This Fanny—the girl who guided you—Fefter, forbear.”
“She’s very willing,” said Fefter. “Nowadays girls are. Still somewhat shy. Not really so marvelous in the sack. Big tits. Married, of course. The husband works at night. He has the talk show I referred to . . .
“And I like companionship. We spend a lot of time together . . .
“Then when the insurance adjuster came . . .”
“What adjuster was that?” said Sammler.
“I put in a claim on a piece of luggage damaged at the airport. The fellow came over when Fanny was visiting, and he fell in love with her. He was a swinger, too, with chimpanzee teeth. Said he was a dropout from the Harvard School ot Business. A real yellow face, and sweating. Awful. He looked like an oil filter that should have been changed five thousand miles ago.”
“Ah, did he?”
“So I encouraged his interest in Fanny. Good for my claim. Would I give him her phone number? I certainly did so.”
“With her permission?”
”I didn’t think she’d mind. Then he phoned and said, ‘This is Gus. Meet me for a drink.’ But her husband had picked up the phone. He works nights. And next time Gus came I said, ‘Boy, Gus, her husband is really sore. Stay away. He’s tough, too.’ Then Gus said . . .”
Was there no Eighteenth Street station? There was Twenty-third, Thirty-fourth. At Forty-second you changed to the IRT.
“Gus said, ‘What am I afraid of? Look, I carry a gun.’ He pulled out a pistol. I was flabbergasted. But it wasn’t much of a gun either. I said, ‘A thing like that? You couldn’t shoot through a telephone book with it.’ And before f knew it, he had the telephone book on a music stand and was aiming at it. That crazy sonofabitch. He was only five feet from it, and he fired. I never heard such a bang. The whole building heard. But I was right. The bullet went in only two inches. Couldn’t pierce the Manhattan directory.”
“Yes, a poor weapon.”
“You know something about weapons?”
“Well, you could just about wound a guy with that gun. Probably wouldn’t kill unless you shot him in the head at short range. What a lot of lunatics around.”
“But I’m getting about two hundred, bucks from insurance, which is more than the suitcase is worth, a piece of trash.”
“Yes, clever business.”
“Next day Gus came again and wanted me to write a recommendation for him.”
“To his superior in the adjuster’s office.”
At Ninety-sixth Street they ascended together into the full blast of Broadway. Fetter accompanied Sammler to his door.
“If you need assistance, Mr. Sammler . . .”
“I won’t invite you up, Lionel. The fact is I’m feeling tired.”
“It’s spr ing. I mean it’s the temperature change,”said Fetter.
Mr. Sammler in the elevator, extracting the Yale key from his change purse. He pushed into the foyer. In honor of spring, Margotte had set forsythia in Mason jars. One was overturned at once. Sammler brought a roll of paper towels from the kitchen, ascertaining as he went through the house that Ins niece had gone out. Soaking up the spilt water, watching the absorbent paper darken, he then lifted the telephone onto the maple arm of the sofa, sat on the bandanna covers, and dialed Simla.
No reply. Perhaps she had turned off her telephone. Sammler had not seen her for several days. Now a thief, she very likely was in hiding. If Eisen was actually in New York, she had an added reason for locking herself away. Sammler could not imagine, however, that Eisen would actually want to molest her. He had other irons in the fire, he had other fish to fry (how fond old Sammler was of suc h expressions!).
Carrying the paper towels, the sopping and the dry, back to the kitchen, Sammler cut himself several slices of salami with the large chef’s knife (Margotte seemed to have no small knives, she pared onions, even, with these great blades). He made a sandwich. Colman’s English Mustard, still a favorite. Margotte s noncaloric cranberry juice. Unable to find clean glasses, he sipped from a paper cup. The feel of wax was disagreeable, but he was on his way out of the house and had no time for washing and drying. He went at once across Broadway to Simla’s apartment. He rang, he rapped, he raised his voice and said, “Simla, it’s Father. Open. Simla?” He then wrote a note and slipped it under the door. “Call me at once.” Then, descending in the black elevator (how rusty and black it was!) , he looked into her mailbox, which she never locked. It was full, and he sorted through the mail. Throwaway stuff. Personal letters, none. So she was evidently away, hadn’t taken out her letters. Maybe she had taken the train to New Rochelle. She had a key to the Gruner house. Sammler had refused the offer of a key to her apartment. He didn’t want to walk in when she was with a lover. Such a lover as she would have was surely to be dreaded. Undoubtedly she had one now and then. If only for her complexion, when it was bad. He once had heard this said.
When he returned, he asked Margotte, “You haven’t seen Simla, have you?”
“No, Uncle Sammler, I haven’t. You had a call, though, from your son-in-law.”
“Eisen has called?”
“I told him you were at the hospital.”
“What did he seem to want?”
“Why, to see the family. Though they don’t come to see him when they’re in Israel, not Elya and not you. He really sounded hurt.”
Margottes sympathies, so readily available, so full, made others feel stony-hearted.
“And Elya, how is he?” she said.
“Not well, I’m afraid.”
“Oh, I must go and visit poor Elya.”
“Perhaps you should, but very briefly.”
“Oh, I wouldn’t tire him. As for Simla, she’s afraid to see Eisen. She thinks she did him a terrible injury when you forced her to leave.”
“I never did. She seemed glad to go. He seemed glad, too. Did Eisen inquire for her?”
“Not a word. Didn’t even mention her name. He talked about his work. His art. He’s hunting for a studio.”
“Yes . . . well, it won’t be easy to find in this city of artists. Lofts. But, then, of course he fought at Stalingrad, he could winter in a loft.”
“He wanted to go to the hospital and do a drawing of Elya.”
“A thing we should prevent, by any means.”
“Uncle Sammler, would you join me for a cutlet? I’m cooking schnitzel.”
“Thank you, I’ve eaten.”
He went to his room.
With a reading glass held trembling in the long left hand, Sammler threw quivering transparencies on the writing paper. From the desk lamp, glassy nuclei of brightness followed the words he wrote.
Dear Professor Doctor:
Your manuscript is sale. The woman who borrowed it is my daughter. She meant no harm. It was only her thick-handed, clumsy way of helping me and advancing an imaginary project that obsesses her.
Please ask the authorities to call off their search. My daughter evidently believed you were lending her the document, though it must seem treacherous of her not to give her name and address. However, I would be glad to bring The Future of the Moon to you. I have been reading it with fascination, though on the scientific side my qualifications are nil. More than thirty years ago, I enjoyed the friendship of H. G. Wells whose moon-fantasy you undoubtedly know —Selenites, subterranean moon-ocean, and all of that. As correspondent for Eastern European periodicals I lived in England for many years. I apologize for my daughter. I can well imagine the anguish of spirit she must have caused you. In women, the keenest sense of wrongdoing seems to be in a different place. Your notebook lies before me at this moment. It is marbled green cardboard and the ink is brown and iridescent, almost bronze. I can be phoned at any hour of the night at the Endicott number under the date above.
Your obedient servant,
“Margotte,”he said, leaving his desk.
She sat alone, eating in the dining room, under an imitation Tiffany shade of gay red and green paper. The tablecloth was an Indonesian print. All was really very dark in the awkward room. She herself looked dark there, cutting the yellowcrusted veal on her dish. He should, more often, sit down to meals with her. A childless widow. He was sorry for her, the small face with its heavy black bangs. He took a chair. “Look here, Margotte, we have a problem with Simla.”
“Let me set a place for you.”
“No, thank you, I have no appetite. Please sit down. I’m afraid Simla stole something. Not a theft really. That would be nonsense. She took something. A manuscript by a Hindu scientist at Columbia. It was, of course, done for me. That idiocy about H. G. Wells. You see, Margotte, this Indian book is about colonizing the moon and the planets. Simla took away the only copy.”
“The moon. How fascinating, Uncle.”
“Yes, industries on the moon. Manufacturing centers on the moon. How to build cities.”
“I can see why Simla wanted it for you.”
“But it must be returned. Why, it’s stolen goods, Margotte, and detectives have been called in. And I can’t find Simla. She knows she has done wrong.”
“Oh, Uncle Sammler, would you call it a crime? Not by Simla. Poor creature.”
“Yes, poor creature. To whom would this not apply, if you start to say poor creature?”
“I would never have said it about Ussher. I wouldn’t say it about you, either.”
“Really? Well, ail right. I accept the correction. However, that Indian must be notified. Here, I have a letter for him.”
“Why not a telegram?”
“Useless. Telegrams are no longer delivered.”“That’s just what Ussher used to say. He said the messengers just threw them down the sewer.”
“Mailing won’t do. It might take three days for the letter to arrive. All these local communications are in decay,”said Sammler. “Even Cracow in the days of Franz Joseph was more efficient than the U.S. postal system. And Simla may be picked up by the police, that’s what I’m afraid of. Could we send the doorman in a cab?”
“What’s the matter with the telephone?”
“Yes, certainly, it I could be sure we would talk to Dr. Lal himself. A direct explanation. I hadn’t thought of that.”
“Couldn’t you just take the manuscript to him?”
“Now that I know there is no copy, I hesitate, Margotte, to go into the street with it, and especially at night, when people are being mugged. Suppose it were snatched out of my hands?”
“And the police?”
“They have given little satisfaction. I hesitate to call them. I did think perhaps the security officers at Columbia, or even the Pinkerton people, but I would rather hand it over personally to Dr. Lal to make sure no charges will be brought against Simla. The Indian temperament is so excitable, you know. If he doesn’t meet any of us, become personally acquainted, he wall let the police advise him. Then we would need a lawyer. Don’t suggest Wallace. In the past, Elya always took care of such matters through Mr. Widick.”
“Well, perhaps handing him a letter is best. Better than the telephone. Maybe I should take the letter to him, Uncle.”
“Ah, yes, a woman. Coming from a woman, it might have a softening effect.”
“Better than a doorman. It’s still light. I can get a cab.”
“I have a little money in my room. About ten dollars.”
Then he heard Margotte on the telephone, making inquiries. He suspected that things were being done the least efficient way. But Margotte was prompt to help when difficulties were real. She didn’t start discussions about Simla—the effects of the War or Antonina’s death or puberty in a Polish convent or what terror could do to the psyche of a young girl. Elya was right. Margotte was a good soul. Not persisting mechanically in her ways when the signal was given. As others did, jumping into their routines.
In the bathroom there was a great rush of water. She was taking a shower, the usual sign that she was preparing to go out. If she had three occasions to leave the house, she took three showers in a day. He next heard her walking very rapidly in her bedroom, shoeless, but thumping quickly, opening closets and drawers, in about twenty minutes, dressed in her black basic and wearing a black straw hat, she was at his door and asking for the letter.
“You know where he is?” said Sammler. “Did you talk to him?”
“Not personally, he was out. But the switchboard knew all about it.”
Gloves, though the evening was warm. Perfume, quite a lot. Bare arms. Bruch might have liked those arms. They had a proper little heaviness of their own. She was at times a pretty woman. And Sammler saw that she was glad to have this errand. It saved her from an empty night at home. Ussher had been fond of late-late shows. Margotte rarely turned on the television set. It was often out of repair. Since Ussher’s death, it had begun to look old-fashioned in its wood cabinet. Maybe it wasn’t real wood, but a woocllike wig of some dark and grained material.
“If I meet Dr. Lai—and should I wait for him at Butler Hall? Shall I bring him back with me?”
“I was planning to go again to the hospital,”said Sammler. “You know, it’s very bad for Elya.”
“Oh, poor Elya. I know it’s one thing on top of another. But don’t make yourself too tired. You just got in.”
“I’ll lie down for fifteen minutes. Yes, if Dr. Lai wants to come, by all means, yes. Let him come.”
Before she went, Margotte wanted to kiss the old man. He did not move away, although he felt that people were seldom in a fit state for kissing and that mostly it was done in some state of defilement as a reminder of beatitude. But this kiss of Margotte’s, reaching upward, getting on her toes and swelling her plump strong legs, was an appropriate one. She seemed grateful that he chose to live with her rather than with Simla, and that he turned to her also in trouble. Through him. moreover, she was going to meet a distinguished gentleman. a Hindu scientist. She was perfumed, she was wearing eye makeup.
He said, “I should be home by about ten.”
“Then, if he is there, deal Uncle, I’ll bring him back and he can wail here with me. He’ll be so eagei to see his manuscript.”
He saw her soon in the street. Pouching the Irieze curtain, he watched her going toward West End Avenue, up the pale width of the sidewalk, alert lor a taxi. She was small, she was strong, and had a sort of compact female pride. Somewhat shaking, a-, women do when they hurry. Gotten up strangely. And altogether odd. The drafts must blow between their legs. Such observations originated mainly in kindly detachment, in farewelldetachment, in earth-departure objectivity.
In daylight still, the white Spry sign across the Hudson began to Hash against pale green and also clown into the dark water; while in the sunset-topper the asphalt belly of the street was softly disfigured, softly rank, with its manhole covers. And the cars always packed tightly into the street. Machines for going away.
Removing shoes and socks, Mr. Sammler raised a long foot to the sink. Wasn’t he too old for such movements? Evidently not. He bathed the feet and did not dry them thoroughly, for it was a warm evening. The evaporation relieved the smarting. As evolutionary time went, we had not long been bipeds, and the flesh of the feet suffered for it, especially in spring when organisms experienced a peculiar expansion. Tired and breathing quietly, Sammler lac clown. He left his feet uncovered. He brought the coolness of the sheet over his flat, slender chest. He turned away His lamp to shine on the drawn curtain.
The luxury of nonintimidation by doom—that might describe his state. Since the earth altogether was now a platform, a point of embarkation, you could think with a very minimum of terror about going. Not to waive another man’s terror for him (he was thinking of Elya with the calibrated metal torment in his throat). But often he felt himself very neatly out of it. And everything soon must change. Men would set their watches by other suns than tin’s. Or time would vanish. We would need no personal names of the old sort in the sidereal future, nothing being fixed. Days and nights would belong to the museums. The earth a memorial park, a merry-go-round cemetery. The seas powdering out bones like quartz, making sand, grinding out peace for us by the aeon.
Ah. Before he had let go the curtain, when Margotte disappeared, before sitting to remove the shoes and turning to wash his feet, he had seen, come to think of it, the moon not too remote from the Spry sign, and round as a traffic signal. But we know now from photographs the astronauts took the beauty of the earth, its white and its blue, its fleeces, the great glitter afloat. And wasn’t everything being done to make it intolerable to abide here, an unconscious collaboration of all souls spreading madness and poison? To flush us out? Not so much Faustian aspiration, thought Mr. Sammler, as a scorched earth strategy.
But then, of course, he recognized by these thoughts that he was preparing to meet Govinda Lai. They would necessarily discuss such matters. Dr. Lai, whose field seemed to be biophysics, and who might, like most experts, turn out to be a nonindividual, gave signs, in his writing anyway, of wider thoughtfulness. For after each technical section he offered remarks on the human aspects of future developments. He seemed aware, for instance, that the discovery of America had raised hopes in the sinful Old World of a New Eden. Well, it was very odd what Mr. Sammler found himself doing as he lay in his room, in an old building. Settling, the building had cracked its plaster, and along these slanted cracks he had mentally inscribed certain propositions. According to one of these he, personally, stood apart from all developments. From a sense of deference, from age, from good manners, he sometimes affirmed himself to be out of it, hors d’usage, not a man of the times. No force of nature, nothing paradoxical or demonic, he had no drive for smashing through the masks of appearances. No, his personal idea was one of the human being conditioned by other human beings, and knowing that present arrangements were not, sub specie aetevuitatis, the truth, but that one should be satisfied with such truth as one could get by approximation. Trying to live with a civil heart. With disinterested charity.
New worlds? Fresh beginnings? Not such a simple matter. What did Captain Nemo do in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea? He sat in the submarine, the Xautilus, and on the ocean flooi he played Bach and Handel on the organ, (food stuff, but old. And what of Wells’s Time Traveler, when he found himsell thousands of years in the future? He fell in square love with a beautiful Floi maiden. To take with one, whether clown into the depths or out into space and time, something clear, and to preserve it—that seemed to be the impulse. Jules Verne was quite right to have Handel on the ocean floor, not Wagner, though in his day Wagner was avant-garde among the Symbolists, fusing word and sound. To Mr. Sammler’s ears, Wagner was background music for a pogrom. And what should one have on the moon, electronic compositions? Mr. Sammler wotdd advise against that. Art groveling before Science.
But Sammler, having let his mind go toward Govinda Lai, preparing to cope with him, wanting to have something to offer, found that he was preoccupied by different matters, far from playful. Fetter, wishing to divert him, had told him the tale of the insurance adjuster who pulled out the pistol. It was no diversion. Fetter had said that with that rotten gun you would have to shoot a man at close range, and in the head. Killing point blank. This is what Sammler’s thoughts and recollections were drawn toward. He wanted to resist, but as he knew by now, that was impossible. Once these recollections began they were not subject to control. They had to be endured. They had become a power within him which did not care whether he could bear them or not. Visions and nightmares for others, but for him daylight events, in full consciousness. Certainly Sammler had not experienced things denied to all others. Some others had gone through the like. Before and after. Especially nonEuropeans had a quieter way of taking such things. Surely some Shoshone, Comanche must have fallen into the Grand Canyon, survived, picked himself up, possibly said nothing to his tribe. Why speak of it? Things that happen, happen. So, for his part, it had happened that Sammler, with his wife and others, on a perfectly clear day, had had to strip naked. Waiting, then, to be shot in the mass grave (Over a similar new grave Eichmann had testified that he had walked, and the fresh blood welling up at his shoes had sickened him. For a day or two, he had to lie in bed.) Sammler had already that clay been struck in the eye by a gun butt and blinded. In contraction Irom life, when naked, he already felt himself dead. But somehow he had failed, unlike the others, to be connected. Comparing the event, as mentally he sometimes did, to a telephone circuit: death had not picked up the receiver to answer his ring. Sometimes, when he walked on Broadway today, and heard a phone ringing in a shop when doors were open, he tried to find, to intuit, the syllable one would hear from death. And the air of the street visibly vapored with lead, and also with a brass tinge. But if there were live New York bodies passing as there had once been dead ones piled on top ol him, if there was this crowd strolling, lounging, dragging, capering (a Broadway rabble to which he belonged)—it there was this, there was also enough to feed every mouth: baked goods, raw meat, smoked meat, bleeding fish, smoked fish, barbecued pork and chicken, apples like ammunition, antihunger orange grenades, In the gutters, along curbs was much food, eaten, as he saw at 3 A.M., by nightemerging rats. Buns, chicken bones, which, once, he would have thanked God to have. When he was a partisan in Zamosht Forest, freezing, the dead eve like a ball of ice in his head. Envying fallen sticks from his nearness to their state. In a moldered frozen horse blanket and rag-wrapped leet. Mr. Sammler carried a weapon. He and other starved men chewing at roots and grasses to stay alive. They went out at night to explode bridges, unseat rails, kill German stragglers.
Sammler himself, shooting men. All he had to hear was that Fetter’s mad insurance adjuster, clutched by impulse or desire lor display, had fired at the telephone book, and directly he went back to Zamosht Forest. There at very close range he shot a man he had disarmed. He made him fling away his carbine. To the side. A good five feet into snow. It landed flat and sank in. Sammler ordered the man to take off his coat. Then the tunic. The sweater, the boots. After this, he said to Sammler in a low voice, “Nicht schiessen.” He asked for his life. Red-headed, a big chin bronze-stubbled, he spoke with scarce breath. Fie was white. Violet under the eyes. Sammler saw the soil already sprinkled on his face. He saw grave on his skin. The grime of the lip, the large creases of skin descending from his nose transmitted this. “Don’t kill me. l ake the things.” Sammler did not answer him, but stood out of reach. “I have children.” Sammler pulled the trigger. The body then lay in the snow. A second shot went through the head and shattered it. Bone burst. Matter Hew out.
Sammler picked up as much as he could—gun, shells, food, boots, gloves. Two shots in winter air; the sound would carry for miles. He hurried, looking back once. The red hair and thick nose he could see from the bushes. Regrettably there was no chance to get the shirt. The stinking woolen socks yes. He had wanted those badly. He was too weak to carry his loot far. He sat clown under winter-creaking trees and ate the German’s bread. With it, he took snow into his mouth to help the swallowing, which was difficult. He had no saliva. The thing no doubt would have happened differently to another man, a man who had been eating, drinking, smoking, and whose blood was brimming with fat, nicotine, alcohol, sexual secretions. None of these in Sammler s blood. He was then not entirely human. Rag and paper, a twine-wound bundle, and those objects might have been blown where they liked, if the string had snapped. One would not have minded much. At that minimum, we were. Not much there for human appeal, tor the pleading of a distorted face and sinews spreading into the throat.
When Mr. Sammler hid later in the mausoleum, it was not from the Germans but from the Poles. In Zamosht Forest the Polish partisans turned on the Jewish fighters. The War was ending, the Russians advancing, and tire decision seems to have been taken to reconstruct a Jewless Poland. There was therefore a massacre. The Poles at dawn came shooting. As soon as it was light enough for murder. There was fog, smoke. The sun tried to rise. Men began to drop, and Sammler ran. There were two other survivors. One played dead. The other, like Sammler, found a break and rushed through. Hiding in the swamp, Sammler lay under a tree trunk in the mud, under scum. At night he left the forest. He took a chance with Cieslakiewdcz next day. (Was it only a day? Perhaps it was longer.) He spent those summer weeks in the cemetery. Then he appeared in Zamosht, in the village itself, a wild man. Had lasted it ail out. Scarcely worth so much effort, perhaps. There are times when to cjuit is more reasonable and decent, and hanging on is a disgrace. Not to go beyond a certain point in hanging on. Not to stretch the human material too tar. Fhe nobler choice. So Aristotle thought.
Mr. Sammler himself was able to add, to basic wisdom, that to kill the man he ambushed in the snow had given him pleasure. Was it only pleasure? It was more. It was joy. You would call it a dark action? On the contrary, it was also a bright one. When he fired his gun, Sammler, himself nearly a corpse, burst into life. Freezing in Zamosht Forest, he had often dreamed of being near a fire. Well, this was more sumptuous than fire. His heart felt lined with brilliant, rapturous satin. To kill the man and to kill him without pity, for he was dispensed from pity. There was a flash, a blot of fiery white. When he shot again, it was less to make sure of the man than to try again for that bliss. He would have thanked God for this opportunity. If he had had any God. At that time, he did not. For many years, in his own mind, there was no judge but himself.
In the privacy of his bed he turned very briefly to that rage (for reference, he did it). Luxury. And when he himself was nearly beaten to death. Had to lift dead bodies from himself. Desperate! Crawling out. Oh, heart-bursting! Oh, vile! Then he himself knew how it felt to take a life. Found it could be an ecstasy.
He got up. It was pleasant here—the lamplight, his own room. He had gathered a very pleasant sort of intimacy about himself. But he wasn’t resting, and he might as well go to the hospital. His nephew Gruner needed him. That thing was fizzing in his brain. So, rising, Sammler smoothed back the bedding, the coverlet. He never left a bed unmade. He drew on clean socks. Up to the knee.
Too bad! Too bad, that is, to lie pounded back and forth so abnormally on the courts, like a ball between powerful players. Or subject to wild instances. Thank you, no, I did not want to fall into the Grand Canyon. Nice not to have died? Nicer not to have fallen in. Too many inside things were ruptured. To some people, true enough, experience seemed wealth. Misery worth a lot. Horror a fortune. Yes.
After the socks his ten-year-old shoes. He kept having them resoled. Good enough for getting around Manhattan. He took good care of his things, he stuffed his good suit with tissue paper, put in shoe trees at night even though this leather had more wrinkles than an old man’s scrotum. These same shoes Mr. Sammler had worn also in Israel, in the summer of 1967. Not Israel only but also Jordan, the Sinai Desert, and into Syrian territory during tiie Six-Day War. His second visit. II it was a visit. At the beginning of the Aqaba crisis he had written to an old journalist friend in London and said he had a great desire to go, as a journalist, and cover the events. There was an association of Eastern European publications. All Sammler really wanted was credentials, a card to enable him to wire tallies, a press pass to satisfy the Israelis. The money was supplied by Grtiner. And so Sammler had been with the armies on the three fronts. It was curious, that. At the age of seventy-two on battlegrounds, wearing these shoes and a seersucker jacket and tan beret. Tankmen spotted him as an American because of the jacket, shouting, “Yank!” Coming up to them, he spoke to some in Polish, to others in French, English. No Zionist, Mr. Sammler, and for many years little interested in Jewish affairs. Yet, from the start of the crisis, he could not sit in New York reading the world press. If only because for the second time in twenty-five years the same people were threatened by extermination; the so-called powers letting things drift toward disaster; men armed for a massacre.
Perhaps it was the madness of things had the deepest effect on Sammler. The persistence, the maniacal push of certain ideas, themselves originally stupid, stupid ideas that had lasted for centuries, this is what drew the most curious reactions from him. The vulgar sultanism of a Louis Quatorze reproduced in General De Gaulle. NeoCharlemagne, someone said. Or the imperial ambition of the Czars in the Mediterranean. They wanted to be the dominant naval power in the Mediterranean, a craving of two centuries, and this, under the “revolutionary” auspices of the Kremlin, was still worked at, in the same way—worked at! Did it make no difference that soon floating dominion by armed ships would be as obsolete as Ashurbanipal, as queer as the dog-headed gods of Egypt? Why, no, it made no difference. No more than the disappearance of Jews from Poland made a difference to the anti-Semitism of the Poles. This was the meaning of historical stupidity. And the Russians also, with their national tenacity. Give them a system, let them grasp some itlea, and they would plunge to the depths with it, they would apply it to the end, pave the whole universe with hard idiot material. In any case, it had seemed to Sammler that he must reach the scene. He would be there, to send reports, to do something, perhaps to die in the massacre. Through such a thing, he could not sit in New York. That! Quivering, riotous, lurid New York—Feffer’s gas city! And ,Sammler himself went to an extreme, became perhaps too desperate, carried away, beginning to think of sleeping pills, poison. He would not read a second day’s reports on Shukairy’s Arabs in Lei Aviv, killing thousands. He told Grimer that. Gruner said, “If you feel so strongh about it, I think you should go.”
Sammler, from keeping his own counsel for so long, from seven decades of internal consultation, had his own views on most matters. And even the greatest independence was insufficient, still not enough. And there were mental dry courses in his head, of no interest to anyone else, perhaps—wadis, he believed such tilings were called, small ravines made by the steady erosion of preoccupations. The taking of life was one of these. Just that. His life had nearly been taken. He had seen life taken. He had taken it himself. He knew it was one of the luxuries. No wonder princes had so long reserved the right to murder with impunity. At the very bottom of society there was also a kind of impunity, because no one cared what happened. Under that dark brutal mass blood crimes were often disregarded. And at the very top, the ancient immunities of kings and nobles. Sammler thought that this was what revolutions were really about? In a revolution you took away the privileges of an aristocracy and redistributed them. Killing was one such ancient privilege. This was why revolutions plunged into blood. Guillotines? Terror? Only a beginning—nothing. There came Napoleon, a gangster who washed Europe well in blood. There came Stalin, for whom the really great prize of power was unobstructed enjoyment of murder. That mighty enjoyment of consuming the breath of men’s nostrils, swallowing their faces like a Saturn. This was what the conquest of power really seemed to mean. And for the middle part of society there was envy and worship of this power to kill. How those middle-class Sorels and Maurras adored it —the hand that gripped the knife with authority. How they loved the man strong enough to take blood guilt on himself. For them an elite must prove itself in this ability to murder. For such people a saint must be understood as one who was equal in spirit to the fiery twisting of crime in the inmost fibers of his heart. The superman testing himself with an ax, crushing the skulls of old women. The Knight of Faith, capable of cutting the throat of his Isaac upon God’s altar. And now the idea that one could recover, or establish one’s identity, by killing, becoming equal thus to any, equal to the greatest. A man among men knows how to murder. A patrician. The middle class had formed no independent standards of honor. Thus it had no resistance to the glamour of killers. The middle class having failed to create a spiritual life of its own, investing everything in material expansion, faced disaster. Also the world becoming disenchanted, the spirits and demons expelled from the air were now taken inside. Reason had swept and garnished the house, but the last state might be worse than the first. Well, now, what would one carry out to the moon?
He brushed the felt hat with an elbow, backed into the vestibule, locked and tested the door, buzzed for the elevator, and descended.
Mr. Sammler, back walking the streets, which now were dark blue, a bluish glow from the streetlamps. Stooped, walking quickly. He had only two hours, and if he couldn’t catch the 86th Street Crosstown to Second Avenue, he intended to take a cab. West End was very gloomy. He preferred even fuming, heaving, fool-heaped, quivering, stinking Broadway. With the tufts above his glasses silken, graying, tangled, rising as he faced the phenomenon. No use being the sensitive observer, out on the street, inspecting the phenomenon. The phenomenon had in some way achieved a sense of its own interest and observability. It was aware of being a scene of perversity, it knew its own despair. Here you might see the soul of America at grips with historical problems, struggling with certain impossibilities, experiencing violently states inherently static. Being realized but trying itself to realize, to act. Attempting to make interest. This attempt to make interest was, for Mr. Sammler, one reason for the pursuit of madness. Madness makes interest. Madness is the attempted liberty of people who feel themselves overwhelmed by giant forces of organized control. Madness is a base form of the religious life.
But wait—Sammler cautioning himself. Even this madness is also to a considerable extent a matter of performance, of enactment. Underneath there persists, powerfully too, a thick sense of what is normal for human life. Duties are observed. Attachments are preserved. There is work. People show up for jobs. It is extraordinary. They come on the bus to the factory. They open the shop, they sweep, they wrap, they wash, they tend, they count. Each day, each night. And however rebellious at heart, however despairing or worn bare, come to their tasks. Up and down in the elevator, sitting down to the desk, behind the wheel, tending machinery. For such a volatile and restless animal, such a high-strung, curious animal, an ape subject to so many diseases, to anguish, boredom, such discipline, such drill, such strength for regularity, such assumption of responsibility, such regard for order (even in disorder) is a great mystery, too. Oh, it is a mystery. One cannot mistake this for thorough madness, therefore. One thing, though, the disciplined hate the undisciplined to the point of murder. Thus the working class, disciplined, is a great reservoir of hatred. Thus the clerk behind his wicket finds it hard to forgive those who come and go in their apparent freedom. And the bureaucrat, glad when disorderly men are killed. All of them, killed.
What one sees on the street while bound for the bus. All human types reproduced, the barbarian, redskin or Fiji, the dandy, the buffalo hunter, the desperado, the queer, tlie sexual fantast, the squaw; bluestocking, princess, poet, painter, prospector, troubadour, guerrilla. Not imitated are the businessman, the soldier, the priest, and the square. The standard is aesthetic. As Mr. Sammler saw the thing, human beings when they have room, when they have liberty and are supplied also with ideas, mythologize themselves. They legendize. They expand by imagination and try to rise above the limitations of the ordinary forms of common life. In some sense, separating themselves from the rest of their species, from the life of their species, hoping perhaps to get away (in some peculiar sense) from the death of their species. To perform higher actions, to serve the imagination with special distinction, it seems essential to be histrionic. This, too, is a fgrand of madness. Madness has always been a favorite choice of the civilized man who prepares himself for a noble achievement. It is often the simplest state of availability to ideals. Most of us are satisfied with that: signifying by a kind of madness availability for higher purposes. Higher purposes do not necessarily appear.
If we are about to conclude our earth business —or at least the first great phase of it—we bad belter sum these things up. But briefly. As briefly as possible.
Short views, for God’s sake!
Then: a crazy species? Yes, perhaps. Though madness is also a masquerade, the project of a deeper reason, a result of the despair we teel before infinities and eternities. Madness is a diagnosis or verdict of some of our greatest doctors and geniuses, and of their man-disappointed minds. Oh, man stunned by the rebound of man’s powers. In the matter ol histrionics, see, for instance, what that furious world-boiler Marx had done, insisting that revolutions were made in historical costume, the Cromwell iatis as Old Testament prophets, the French in iyScdressed in Roman outfits. But the proletariat, he affirmed, would make the first nonimitative revolution. From sheer ignorance, knowing no models, it would simply do the tiling pure.
Thus history would get away from mere poetry. Then life of humankind would clear itself of copying. It would he free from Art. Oh, no. No, no, not so, thought Sammler. Instead, Art increased, and a sort of chaos. More possibility, more actors and mummers, more apes and copycats, more invention and fiction, more fantasy, more despair. Life looting Art of its wealth, destroying; Art as well by its desire to become the thing itsell. Blessing itsell into pictures. Reality forcing itsell into these shapes. Better, thought Sammler, to accept the inevitability of imitation and then to imitate good things. The ancients were more right. Greatness without models? Inconceivable. One could not lie the thing itsell Reality. One must he satisfied with the symbols. Make peace therefore with intermediacy and representation. And no imitation for its own sake. Make if the object ol imitation to reach and release the high qualities. But choose higher representations. Otherwise the individual must be the failure he now sees and knows himself to he.
Before lighting out, before this hop LO the moon and outward bound, we had better look into some of tin’s. As for the Crosstown and at this time ol night, it was a perfectly safe bus to take.
Around the clock Dr. Gruner, who could afford private nurses, had them of course. Sammler entered and found the uniformed woman sitting by the bed. Gruner was asleep. Sammler in a careful whisper introduced himself. “His uncle—oh. yes, he said you’d probably come,” said the nurse. She didn’t make it sound like a pleasant prediction. Under her starched cap the dyed dry hair was putted out. The face itself, middleaged, was fleshy, healthy, bossy. The eyes had an expression of sovereignty. Patients would be brought along the way that they must go: recovery or death.
“Is he asleep for the night, or is he taking a nap?” said Sammler.
“He may be waking up soon, but that’s a guess. Miss Gruner is in the visitors’ room.”
“I’ll stand a bit.” said Sammler, not invited losil.
There were mam Mowers, baskets of fruit. candy boxes, best sellers. The television set was running, soundlessly. The nurse listened with earpieces, and reflec ted light flickered on the wall behind the bed. Elya’s hands were turned downward at his sides, as though he had arranged himself symmetrically belore dropping off. The hairy hands were clean, strong, venous, the fingers with polished nails. The nails had the same shine as the shot glass from which Gruner had sipped his mineral oil. The Nujol bottle was there, too, and beside it the Wall Street Journal. Bald dignity. The cord of the electric razor was plugged in above. He always was clean-shaven. The priests of Apis the Bull, as described by Herodotus, with shaven heads and bodies. And with the sleeping mouth bulged out on one side, as if Elya, who liked to say that he had grown up in Greenpoint among hoodlums, was having a dream about racketeers and gunfire. Under his chin the bandage was like a military collar. Sammler thought of him as a man who badly, even desperately, needed confirmation, support, and touch. Gruner was a toucher. His habit, even in passing through a room, was to touch, to take people’s arms, even perhaps getting medical information about their muscles, glands, weight, or the growth of their hair. He also implanted his opinions, his hopes in your breast, and then it he said “Well, isn’t it so?”, it was indeed so. I ike a modern General of the Armies, an Eisenhower, he made his logistical preparations. This was very shrewd and very childish. It was very easy to pardon. Especially at such a time.
Sammler hacked through the door softly and went to the visitors’ room. There Angela sat smoking hut not in her usual sensual and elegant style. She had been crying, and her face was white and hot. Her figure was heavy, breasts a burden, knees bulging pale against the taut silk of the stockings. Was it only because of her father that she was weeping? Sammler sensed a combined cause for those tears. He sat opposite her and laid the Augustus John hat, mole-gray, on his lap.
“Yes,” said Sammler.
Angela’s large lips, as though to cool herself, were open; she breathed through her mouth. Hot, the slope face with close-textured skin seemed very tight. The heat rose also into the whites of the eyes. “Does he understand the situation?”
“I wonder. But he is a doctor, and I think he does.”
Angela cried again, and Sammler was even more convinced of a second cause for her tears. “And there’s nothing else wrong with him,” said Angela. “He’s perfectly well except for that thing—that one tiny damned thing. And do you really think he knows?”
“But acting so normal. Talking about the family. He was so glad to see you and hoped you’d come back tonight. And he’s very bothered about Wallace.”
“One can see why.”
“Wallace has been such a headache. At six, seven, he was such a beautiful gifted little boy. He put together mathematical things. We thought we had another Einstein. Daddy sent him to MIT. But next thing we knew he was a bartender in Cambridge, and beat some drunk almost to death.”
“And now he’s bothering Daddy at such a time to get him a plane. A flying saucer woidd be more like it. Of course, I also am to blame for Wallace.” Sammler knew that the conversation would take a tiresome psychiatric-pediatric turn and he would have to endure a certain amount of explanation.
“Of course, I was resentful when they brought the kid home from the hospital, f asked mother to put his crib in the garage. I’m sure he felt rejected by me later. I didn’t like him. He was too gloomy. He just wasn’t like a child. He had terrible fits of rage.”
“Well, everybody lias a history,” said Sammler.
“I tliink I decided in adolescence that my brother was going to be a queer. I thought it was my fault, that I was so slutty that he became frightened of girls.”
“Is that so? Well, I remember your confirmation,” said Sammler. “You were a studious girl, too. I was impressed that you were studying Hebrew.”
“Just a front, Uncle. I was a dirty little bitch, really.”
“I wonder. In retrospect, people exaggerate so.”
“Neither Father nor I really liked-Wallace. We pushed him off on Mother, and that was like condemning him for life. Then it was one thing after another, his obese stage, his alcoholic stage. Well, now have you heard? He thinks there’s money hidden in the house.”
“Do you think so, too?”
“I’m not sure. There have been hints from Daddy about it. Mother too before she died. She seemed to believe that now and then Daddy would —he’d step out of line, as she used to say.”
“To help out famous families from Dutchess County, as Wallace tells me?”
“Is that what he says? No, Uncle, what I heard was that it was for the Mafia characters Daddy grew up with. Top people in the Syndicate. He knew Lucky Luciano very well. You probably never heard of Luciano.”
“He’d come out to New Rochelle now and then. And if Daddy did those things and they paid him in cash, it must have been embarrassing. He probably didn’t know what to do with that money. But that’s not what’s weighing on my mind.”
“No. Speaking of New Rochelle, you haven’t seen Simla, have you, Angela?”
“I haven’t. What is she up to?”
“She brought me a very interesting book. However, it wasn’t hers to bring.”
“I assume she’s hiding from Eisen. She thinks he’s come to claim her.”
“If only he were capable of it, and if only there were something to claim. If he didn’t hit her. It woidd answer many needs. It would be a mercy. No, I don’t think he wants her at all. He doesn’t like it that she’s a part-time Christian. That’s his pretext. Although he did say he got along well with Pope Pius at Castel Gandolfo, but the Pope was not a convert. And now lie’s an artist, like many another madman. I don’t think Eisen has much genius, but he’s crazy enough to want great glory.”
But Angela didn’t want to hear this now. Apparently she thought Sammler was trying to turn the subject in a theoretical direction—a discussion of creative psycho tics.
“Well, he’s been here.”
“You saw Eisen? He’s been annoying Elya? Did he go in?”
“He wanted to make drawings—sketches, you know.”
“I don’t like it. I wish he wouldn’t come bothering Elya. What the devil does he want? Keep him away.”
“Well, maybe I shouldn’t have let him in. I thought he might entertain Daddy.”
Sammler was about to answer, but several beats of comprehension passed through his head and made him see matters differently. Of course. Ah, yes. Angela was having her own troubles with Dr. Gruner. Angela was not one of your great weepers, not like Margotte, with her high annual tearfall, If Angela was looking so wan that even the frosted hair, usually so glossy and powerful, seemed to bristle dryly and Sammler thought he saw the dark follicular spots on her scalp, it was because she had been wrangling with her father. Under stress, Sammler believed, the whole faltered, and parts (follicles, for instance) became conspicuous. Such at least was his observation. Elya must be furious with her, and she was trying to divert his attention. Visitors. Obviously this was why she had taken Risen straight in. But Risen was not diverting. He was one of those smiling gloomy maniacs. Very gloomy, really. The smart silk suit he had worn in Haifa when he and his father-in-law had gone for a stroll might have made a satisfactory coffin lining. Risen certainly deserved to be cared tor, and that was one of the uses of Israel, to gather in these cripples. But now Risen had broken out, had heard the jolly frantic music of America and wanted to get into the act. He made a beeline for the rich cousin. Rite rich cousin was in the hospital with some kind of fiddle-peg in his neck. Odd what an instinct they all had for molesting a dying man.
“Did Elya find Risen amusing? I doubt it.”
Angela wore a playful cap, matching the black and white shoes. Now that her head was lowered he saw the large button of kid leather set in the radial creases.
“Awhile he did, I think,”she said. “He made sketches of Daddy. But then he tried to sell them to him. Daddy would hardly glance at them.”
“Not surprising. I wonder where Risen got the money to come here.”
“I don’t know, mabe he saved up. He’s put out with you. Uncle.”
“I’m sure of that.”
“For not coming to see him in Israel.”
“Of course. That doesn’t concern me much. I wasn’t there to pay my respects to a son-in-law or to make social visits.”
“He started to complain to Daddy about you.”
“Horrible!" said Sammler. “Everybody hitting away with these stupidities. At this time. Elya should he protected.”
“But Daddy takes an interest in all kinds of things. If everything suddenh stopjjed, it would be too abnormal. Of course it’s bad to aggravate him. For instance, he’s angry with me.”
“I suppose that the only way for Elya to do this thing is the wav he himself will find. Still there seems to be too much noise about him.”
“I’d sav that he should stop talking to Widick. You know his lai lawyer, Widick?”
“Of course. I’ve met the man.”
“Four or five times on the telephone. And Daddv asks me to leave the room. Rhev’re still buying and selling, trading on the stock market. Also I assume they discuss his will, or he wouldn’t tell me to step outside.”
“Evidently. Angela, in spite of the case you make against Mr. Widick, vou’ve crossed vour father yourself in some wav. You seem to want me tea ask about it. Do you?”
“I think I should tell you.”
“It doesn’t sound good.”
“It isn’t. It was when Wharton Horricker and I went to Mexico.”
“I believe Elya likes Horricker. lie wouldn’t have objected to that.”
“No, he hoped that Wharton and I would get married.”
Angela holding a lighted cigarette in forked fingers before her face, shook her head, her eyes filling quickly. Ah, trouble with Horricker. Sammler had guessed something of the sort. It was a little hard for him to understand why there should always be so much difficulty. Perhaps he put it to himself that she had so much, what more did she want? She had the income from hall a million to live on; tax-exempt municipals, as Elya woidd repeat. She had this flesh, these sex attractions and talents— volupte, she had. She brought back the French sex vocabulary Sammler had learned at the University of Cracow reading Emile Zola. That book about the fruit market. I.e Ventre de Paris. I.es Halles. And that appetizing woman there who was also something good to eat, a regular orchard. Volupte, seins, epaules, hunches. Sur un lit de feuilf.es. Cette tiedeur satinee de femme. Excellent, Emile! And— all right!—ore hards suffering when there were earth tremors could drop all their pears: this too Sammler could sympathetically understand. But Angela was always unusually involved in difficulty and suffering, tripping oil invisible obstructions, bringing forth complications ol trouble, ol painful mischief which made him wonder whether this volupte was not one ol the sorest, strangest burdens that could be laid on a woman’s soul. Saw the woman (by her own erotic account) as if in the actual bedroom. Bv Angela’s invitation. He was a perplexed bystander. She felt that he should know, or believed it necessary that he should be informed, of what went on in America. He did not need quite so much information, but admitted that the surplus was better than ignorance. Both the U.S.A. and the U.S.S.R. were, for Sammler. utopian projects. There, in the East, the emphasis was on low-level goods, on shoes, caps, and tin basins lor peasants and laborers. Here it fell upon certain privileges and joys. Here wading naked into the waters of paradise, et cetera. But always a certain despair underlining possihilitv and pleasure, death seated inside the health-capsule, and darkness winking at you from the golden utopian sun.
“So vou’ve had a quarrel with Wharton Horrick ker?”
“He’s angry with me.”
“Aren’t you angry with him?”
“Not exactly. I seem to be in the wrong.”
“Where is he now?”
“He’s supposed to he in Washington. He’s doing something statistical on antiballistic missiles. He’s a volunteer for a group lobbying against the ABM. I don’t understand the thing.”
“It’s a pity to have trouble with him now, to have a double difficulty.”
“I’m afraid Daddy has found out about this.”
In Angela’s expression as in Wallace’s there was something soft, a hint of infancy or of baby reverie. The parents must have longed overmuch for babies and so inhibited something in the cycle of development. Angela’s last glance, before she began to sob, astonished Sammler. Open lips, wrinkled forehead, the skin expressing utter surrender, traits of the original person. An infant! But the eyes did not give up their subsequent experience.
“Found out about what?”
“A thing that happened at Acapulco, I didn’t think it was so very serious. Neither did Wharton. At the time, it was just a kick. I mean it was funny. We had a party with another couple.”
“What sort of party was it?”
“Well, it was a sex thing for the four of us.”
“With other people? Who were they?”
“They were perfectly all right. We met them on the beach. The wife suggested it.”
“Well, yes. Oh, it is done now, Uncle.”
“I hear it is.”
“You are disgusted with me, Uncle.”
“I? Not really. I knew all this long ago. I regret it when things become so stupid, that’s true. It seems to me that things poor professionals had to do for a living, performing for bachelor parties or tourist sex circuses on the Place Pigalle, ordinary people, housewives, students, now do just to be sociable. And I can’t really say what it’s about. Maybe some united effort to conquer disgust. Or to show that repulsive things are not as the puritanical past believed so repulsive. I don’t know. It may be an effort to ‘liberalize’ human existence and show’ that nothing is really loathsome to the understanding—to love, to pleasure, or to rational comprehension, or whatever. Affirming the Brotherhood of Man? Ah, well—” Sammler steadied and restrained himself. He did not want to know the details of this incident in Acaptdco, didn’t want to hear that the man in the case was a municipal judge from Chicago, or a chiropractor or CPA or a dope-pusher or that he made perfume or formaldehyde.
“Wharton went along, he did his share, but afterward he got very sullen. Then on the plane, flying back, he told me how angry he was about it.”
“Well, he’s a fastidious young man. You can see from his shirts. I assume he was well brought up.”
“He acted no better than the rest of us.”
“If you expected to marry Wharton, it was certainly poor judgment. It is like divorcing before uniting.”
Sammler badly wanted to get this conversation behind him. Elya had told him not to worry about the future, a hint that he was provided for; but there were also practical considerations to bear in mind. What if he and Shula had to depend on Angela? Angela had always been generous—she spent easily. When they went to a gallery or to lunch, she, naturally, paid for cabs, for everything. But it would not do to go too deeply with Angela into this life of hers. The facts were too bad, too bald, abominable, pitiful. In part such behavior was founded on theory, on generational ideology, and was therefore to an extent impersonal. But in the end she might regret these confessions—regret, and resent his disapproval. On the whole he received her confidences in a disinterested way. He was not unsympathetic, unfeeling; he was (she had said it herself) objective, nonjudging. As they faced Elya’s death, he decided that under no circumstances and on no account would he become involved in a perverse relationship with Angela in which he had to listen for his supper. His disinterestedness would never become one of her comforts, part of the furniture of her life. Not even his anxiety over Simla’s future could force him into such a position. A receiver of sordid goods? His whole heart rose against this.
“Daddy is asking very pointed questions about Wharton.”
“He has heard about this episode?”
“That’s right, Uncle.”
“Who would tell such things to him when he’s in the hospital for surgery? It seems unusually cruel.”
“I don’t know whether you understand about that fat Widick, the lawyer. He and Wharton are related somewhere along the line. Daddy thinks the world of Widick. He won the big case for him against the insurance company. I told you they talk four or five times a day on the phone. So—Widick is critical of me.”
“How do you know that?”
“I can feel it. I get the spoiled-daughter look from him. There have always been people around who thought that Daddy had a bad thing about me, made me financially too independent. You know—pampered me and let me hang too loose.”
“Hasn’t he been exceptionally indulgent?”
“Not just for my sake, Uncle Sammler. You don’t just act for yourself, and he’s also lived through me. You can believe it.”
Men, thought Sammler, often sin alone; women are seldom companionless in sin. But although Angela might be trying to force this interpretation on her father’s kindness, it was possible that Elya too had his own lustful tendencies. Who was Sammler to say no? Things in general were desperate. The arterial bulge in Elya’s brain must have cast its shadow earlier—spatters before the cloudburst. Sammler believed in premonitions, and death was a powerful instigator of erotic ideas. Sammler’s own sex impulses (perhaps even now not altogether gone) had been very different. But he knew how to respect differences. He didn’t measure others by himself. Now, Simla had no volupte. She had something else. Of course she was not a rich man’s daughter, and money, the dollar, must certainly be a terrific sexual additive. But even Simla though a scavenger or magpie had never actually stolen before. Then suddenly she too was like the Negro pickpocket. From the black side, strong currents were sweeping over everyone. Child, black, unspoiled Seminole against the horrible white man. Millions of people wanted oceanic, boundless, primitive, neckfree nobility, experienced a strange release of galloping impulses, and acquired the peculiar aim of sexual niggerhood for everyone. Humankind had lost its old patience. It demanded accelerated exaltation and would accept no instant without pregnant meanings as in epic, tragedy, comedy, or films. He had an idea that the very special development of the significance of prisons since the eighteenth century had some relation to the shrinking ability to endure restraint. Punishment must be fitted, closely tailored to the state of the spirit, adapted to the need of the soul. Where liberty had been promised most, they had the biggest prisons. All right, then, Simla, stealing, was contemporary. Elya, with the screw in his throat, had not wished to be left behind, and had delegated Angela to experience the Age for him.
Be all that as it might—life once had nearly ended. Someone ahead, carrying the light, stumbled, faltered, and Mr. Sammler had thought it was over. However, he was still alive. He had not come through, for the connotation of coming through was that of an accomplishment and little had been accomplished. He had been steered from Cracow to London, from London to the Zamosht Forest, and eventually into New York City. One result of such a history was that he had formed a habit of condensation. He was a specialist in short views. And in the short view, Angela had offended her dying father. He was angry, and she wanted Sammler to intercede for her. Maybe Elya would cut her out of his will, give his money to charity. He had made large contributions to the Weizmann Institute. Or perhaps she was afraid that he himself, Sammler, who was so close to Elya, would become his heir.
“Will you talk to Daddy, Uncle?”
“About this . . . tiling of yours? Is that really necessary? I don’t think he’s just become aware of your style of life. I can’t say what he’s gotten out of it—vicariously, as you suggest. But he’s not stupid, and giving a young woman like you a capital of half a million dollars to live in New York City he would have to be very dumb to think you were not amusing yourself.”
Great cities are whores. Doesn’t everyone know? Babylon was a whore. O La Reine aux fesses cascadantes. Penicillin keeps New York looking cleaner. No faces gnawed by syphilis, with gaping noseholes as in ancient times.
“Daddy has such respect for you.”
“I regret he has to undergo this, in addition. If I feel I have an opportunity to take this up without upsetting him—I’ll say what I can.”
“I know, I know you’ll have to play it by ear.”
“Lord only knows what’s in his mind,” said Sammler.
“Oh, God, I realize that.”
“That lawyer Widick, if he is telling Elya such things as you suggest, he should be flogged. Oh, I believe you, I know what people are capable of. At heartbreak moments, too. They’ll heap it up. What do you say?—they’ll pour it on.”
“I’ll see if he’s awake,” said Angela, and rose. Her soft and heavy self was dressed in one of its costumes. Her legs, exposed to the last quarter of the thigh, were really very strong, almost clumsy. Her face was at this moment baby-pale, and soft under the little leather cap. As she detached herself from the plastic seat, and the evening was quite warm, an odor flowed out. Both low comic and high serious. Goddess and majorette. She walked away.
As she was going, he remembered where he had last seen a cap like hers. It was in Israel—the Six-Day War he had seen.
It was almost as if he had attended!—among other spectators. Arriving in fast cars at a point before Mount Hermon, where a tank battle was taking place, he was one of a press group watching a fight, below. Down in the flat valley, as in VistaVision. Where they were standing, Mr. Sammler and the others, Israeli press officers and journalists, were safe enough. The battle was two miles or more beyond them. The tank columns were maneuvering in dust. Bombs were spilling from planes as remote as insects. You saw the wings when they spun into the light, then heard detonations, and shrubs of smoke rose briefly. Remotely, you heard machinery—distant tank treads. You heard tiny war sounds. Then two more cars came tearing up, joined the group, and cameramen leaped out. They were Italians, paparazzi, someone explained, and had brought with them three girls in mod dress. The girls might have come from Carnaby Street or from King’s Road in their buskins, miniskirts, false eyelashes. They were indeed British, for Mr. Sammler heard them talking, and one of them had on just the sort of little cap that Angela wore, of houndstooth check. The young ladies had no idea where they were, what this was about, had been quarreling with their lovers, who were now lying in the road on their bellies. Photographing Hattie, the shirts fluttering on their backs. The girls were vexed. Carried off from the Via Veneto, probably, without knowing clearly where the jet was going. Then, bare to the waist, a runt but muscular, a Swiss correspondent with small twisted kinky-blond beard and his chest hung with cameras began to complain to the Israeli captain that it was improper for these girls to be at the front. Sammler heard him give this protest through his teeth, which were bad and tiny. The place where they were standing had been bombed earlier. One could not see why. There seemed no military reason for it. But the ground was full of large holes, still black with fresh bomb soot.
“Put them at least in those holes,” the Swiss insisted.
“Foxholes, foxholes. Another shell may come. You can’t have them walking on the road, like this. You can’t have it, don’t you understand?” He was an unbearable little man, and the Israeli officer gave in. He made the girls get into the burnt holes. All you could see of them then was heads and shoulders. Not quite frightened out of their anger, but beginning to be. Somewhat stunned by now, in the great paint of amorousness, one beginning to sob a little, and another puffing up and glowing red. Becoming middle-aged—a scrubwoman.
Frills of glistening black rising about the girls, the corditeshining grass. Other things as strange were occurring. Father Newell, the Jesuit correspondent, was there. He wore the full battle dress of the Vietnam jungles—yellow, black, and green daubs and stripes of camouflage. Representing a newspaper in Tulsa, Oklahoma, was it, or Lincoln, Nebraska? Sammler still owed him ten dollars, his share of the laxi they had hired in Tel Aviv to drive to the Syrian front. But he didn’t have Father Newell’s address. He might have tried harder to find it. On his way home from Southeast Asia, the priest was a tourist in Athens, looking at when he heard of the fighting at once. The big jungle shoes were as ample as galoshes. Father Newell sweated in his green battle clothes. His hair cropped Marine-style, his eyes also green and the cheeks splendid meat-red. Down below, the tanks raced and the smoke pulled yellow from the ground. Few sounds rose.
Mr. Sammler in the waiting room now stirred and stood up. Wallace, entering from the general light of the corridor into the lamplight of the visitors’ room, was already speaking to him. “Dad is sleeping, Angela says. I don’t suppose you’ve had a chance to talk to him about the attic?”
“I have not.”
Wallace was not alone. Eisen entered at his back. Wallace and Eisen knew each other. How well? A curious question. But quite long, at any rate. They had met when Wallace, after his attempted horse tour of Central Asia and his arrest by the Russian authorities, had visited Israel and stayed with Cousin Eisen. Wallace had then prepared a full set of notes for an essay arguing that the modernization Israel was bringing to the Middle East was altogether too rapid for the Arabs. Pernicious.
Wallace, of course, was bound to oppose Elya’s Zionism. But Eisen never comprehending, unaware of Wallace’s sudden passion (soon vanishing) for Arab culture, brought him coffee in bed while he was working. Because Wallace was just out of a Soviet prison, thanks to Gruner and Senator Javits, and Eisen knew what it was to He in Russian hands.
He had made Wallace rest, he waited on him. On his mutilated feet he had learned to move rapidly. Ingenious adaptation. The shuffle of his toeless feet in Haifa had put Sammler’s teeth on edge. He couldn’t have endured two hours alone with handsome, curly, smiling Eisen. But Wallace, with his great-orbited eyes and long lashes, reaching a skinny hairy arm from the bed and, without looking, taking the cup in trembling fingers, coddled himself ten days in Eisen’s bed after the jails of Soviet Armenia. The Russians had sent him to Turkey. From Turkey he went to Athens. From Athens, like Newell the Jesuit later, he flew to Israel. Tenderly, devotedly, Eisen had waited on him.
“Ah, here is my father-in-law.” Was it with pleasure at seeing him that Eisen beamed, or was it because the event (Eisen in New York for the first time in his life) was so splendid? Gay but still, cramped under the arms and between the legs by his new American clothes. Wallace must have taken him to one of those execrable mod male shops, like Barney’s. Perhaps to one of the unisex establishments. The madman wore a magenta shirt with a persimmon-colored necktie as thick as an ox tongue. The gloom of his never-ending laughter! The shining of his excellent teeth unharmed by the Stalingrad siege and unaffected by starvation when he hobbled over the Carpathians and the Alps. Teeth like that deserved a saner head.
“How nice to find you here,” said Eisen to Sammler in Russian.
Sammler answered in Polish, “How are you, Eisen?”
“You wouldn’t stop to visit me in my country, so I came to see you in yours,” said Eisen.
In this reproach, a familiar and traditional Jewish opening, there was at least a vestige of normalcy. Not so in the next statement. “I have come to America to make myself a new career.” Karyera was the word he employed. Dressed in the cramping narrow gray-denim garments, obviously old stock from the Ivy League period that had been palmed oft on him, in magenta, persimmon, and tomato colors (the red Chelsea boots mounting to the ankles), his unbarbered curls fusing head and shoulders and brutally eliminating the neck, he was obviously getting a new image, revising his self-conception. No longer a victim of Hitler and Stalin, deposited starved to the bones on Israel’s sands, lice and fever his only assets, taken from internment in Cyprus, taught a language and a trade. But you could not tell recovery where to slop. He had gone on to become an artist. Rising from negligibility, expendability, something that waited to be slaughtered with a trenching-tool (Eisen said he had watched this—men too insignificant to waste bullets on having their heads smashed by shovel blows) ; but rising and rising to heights of world mastery. Bv the divinity of art. Speaking inspired to mankind. Making signs in the universal language of charged pigments. Hurray, Eisen, flying from peak to peak! Though the colors were grayer than slate, blacker than coal, redder than disease, and his life studies were double dead, the bus that brought him in from Kennedy was a limousine: the expressways greeted him like a glorious astronaut, and he faced his Karyera with the moist laughing teeth, in most desperate ecstasy. (To pair with the Russian Karyera, you wanted the Russian Extass!)
He and Wallace were already doing business together. Eisen was designing labels for trees and bushes. They showed Sammler sample cards: Qttercus and Ulmus, in thick blotchy lettering copied from medieval manuscripts or Gothic black letter. Other labels in the foreign cursive style Eisen had learned in the Gymnasium were neater. Poor Eisen had been a schoolboy when the War broke out and had no higher education. Sammler did his best to say something appropriate and harmless, though he was repelled by everything that Eisen set on paper.
“These have got to be modified here and there,” said Wallace. “But the idea is surprisingly right. For a greenie, you know.”
“You are going into this business, really?”
Wallace said firmly, even with a slight jeer at the old man’s doubts, “Definitely, really, Uncle. In fact I’m going to test-flv some planes tomorrow, in Westchester. I’m going back this evening to spend the night at the old place.”
“Is your pilot’s license still good?”
“Why, of course it’s good.”
“Well, it must be an agreeable feeling of excitement—a new enterprise, with friends and relatives. What have you got there, Eisen?”
A heavy green baize bag hung from cords wound about Eisens wrist. “Here? I have brought work of mine in a different medium,”Eisen said. He clinked down the weight on the glass tabletop; the baize fell back.
“You’ve made some papenveights.”
“Not paperweight’s. You could use them for that purpose, Father-in-law, but they are medallions.”You couldn’t offend Eisen because he took such pleasure in his accomplishments, as if he inhaled some aromatic rarity, beginning to close his eyes and to show those peerless bones, his teeth, and with both hands smoothing back the curls over his ears. “I have invented a new process in the foundry,”he said. And in technical Russian began to explain, but Sammler said, “You are losing me, Eisen. I am not familiar with the vocabulary.”
The metal was crude-looking, partly bronze but also pale yellow, tinged with sulfides like fool’s gold. And Eisen had made the usual Stars of David, branched candelabra, scrolls and rams’ horns, or inscriptions flaming away in Hebrew: Nahamu! “Comfort ye!" Or God’s command to Joshua: Hazak! With a certain interest Sammler watched these crude, lunky pieces being laid out. After each, a pause, while the face of the connoisseur was intently examined for beautiful reaction. These iron pyrites belonging at the bottom of the Dead Sea.
“And what is this, Eisen, a tank, I take it, a Sherman tank?”
“Metaphor for a tank. Nothing is literal in my work.”
“No one simply hallucinates anymore,” said Mr. Sammler in Polish. The remark was unnoticed.
“Shouldn’t these be ground smoother?" said Wallace. “And what is this word?”
“Hazak, hazak,” said Sammler. “The order God gave before Jericho, to Joshua. ‘Strengthen thyself.’ ”
“Hazak, v’ematz,” said Eisen.
“Yes, well . . . Why does God speak such a funny language?”
“I brought these medallions to show to Cousin Elya.”
“Nonsense,” said Sammler. “Elya’s sick. He can’t handle this rough metal.”
“No, no, I’ll hold up one piece at a time. I want him to see what I accomplished. Twenty-five years ago I came to the Eretz a broken man. But I wouldn’t die. I couldn’t shut my eyes—not before I did something like a human being, important and beautiful.”
Sammler ventured no comment. After all, his heart was not so hard to touch. Moreover, he had been schooled in the ancient mode of politeness.
Almost as, once, women had been brought up to chastity. Well-schooled in murmuring over the trash Simla found in wastebaskets, he made the necessary passes and sounds, but then he said again that Elya was very ill. These medallions might tire him.
“I differ,” said Eisen. “On the contrary. How can art hurt?” He began to stow the clinking pieces in the baize bag.
Wallace then said to someone behind Sammler, “Yes, he is.” The private nurse had come in.
“You, Uncle. This is Mr, Sammler here.”
“Is Elya asking lor me?”
“You’re wanted on the telephone. You are Uncle Sammler?”
“Miss? I am Artur Sammler.”
“A Mrs. Arkin. She wants you to call home.”
“Oh, Margotte. Did she phone Elya’s room and wake him?”
“The call was to the floor, not to the room.”
“Thank you. Oh, yes, where is the public phone.”
“Do you need dimes, Uncle?” Sammler picked two warm coins out of Wallace’s palm.
Margotte tried extraordinarily hard to speak firmly. “Uncle? Now listen. Where did you leave Dr. Lai’s manuscript?”
“I left it on my desk.”
“Are you sure?”
“Of course I am sure. On my desk.”
“Is there no other place you might have put it? I know you aren’t absentminded, but the strain is unusual.”
“It isn’t on the desk? Is Dr. Lal with you?”
“I sat him down in the living room.”
Among the pots of soil. So little growing.
“And does he know it’s gone?”
“I couldn’t lie to him. He wanted to wait here for you. We raced back from Butler Hall, of course. He was so anxious about his work.”
“Now, Margotte, we must keep our heads.”
“He is in such distress. Really, Uncle, no one has the right to expose a person to such things.”
“My apologies to Dr. Lal. I regret more than I can say ... I can imagine his feelings. But Margotte, only one person in the world could have taken that notebook. You must find out from the elevator man. Has Simla been there?”
“Rodriguez lets her in as one of the family. She is one of the family.”
Rodriguez had a giant ring of keys, practically a hoop. He fetched it at need from a nail in the brick wall of the cellar.
“Really, Simla is too stupid. Enough is enough. Eve been too easy with her. The embarrassment is terrible. This woman-lunatic who ambushes him. You spoke to Rodriguez?”
“It was Simla.”
“Dr. Lai had a report from the detective who visited her today, at noon. I think the man threatened her.”
“As I feared.”
“He said the manuscript must be back by to A.M. tomorrow; otherwise he would come with a warrant.”
“To search? Arrest?”
“I don’t know. Neither does Dr. Lal. But she got very excited. What she said was that she would go to her priest. She would go to Father Robles and complain to the Clmrcli.”
“Margotte, you had better check with the priest. A search warrant in that apartment? She has been filling it with trash for twelve years. It the police put down their hats, they’ll never find them again. But I would say she has gone to New Rochelle.”
“Do you think so?”
“If she’s not with Father Robles, that’s where she is.” Sammler knew her ways; knew them as the Eskimo knows the ways of the seal. “She is protecting me now, because the stolen property is in my hands. She must have been terrified by the detective, poor thing, and then waited till we had both gone out.” Spying on the door like the black man. Feeling that she was not included by her father among his most serious concerns. Determined to regain the top priority. “I let her go too far with this H. G. Wells nonsense. And now someone has been hurt.”
This unlucky Lai, who must have been sick of earth to begin with if he had such expectations of the moon.
And partly he was right, for humankind kept doing the same stunts over and over. The old comical-tearful stuff. Emotional relationships. Desires incapable of useful fulfillment. Over and over, trying to vent and empty the breast of certain cries, of certain fervencies. What positive balance was possible? Was this passional struggle altogether useless? It was the energy bank also of noble purposes. Barking, hissing, ape-chatter, and spitting. But there were times when Love seemed life’s great architect. Even stupidity might at times be hammered out as a golden background for great actions. But for these weaknesses and these tenacious sicknesses, were there true cures? Sometimes the idea of cures seemed to Sammler pernicious. What was cured? You could rearrange, you could orchestrate the disorders. But cure? Nonsense. Change Sin to Sickness, a change of words (Feffer was right), and then enlightened doctors would stamp the sickness out. Oh, yes! Brilliant intellects, understanding how tin’s is, thus sue for divorce from all human states. Then they launch outward, moonward, their flying arthropod hardware.
“I shall go to New Rochelle with Wallace,” said Sammler. “She is certainly there. To be sure, we will check with Father Robles. If he knows where she is, call back.”
Because she was not an American he felt a certain solidarity with Margotte. From her he did not have to conceal his (foreign) mortification. And she had shown delicacy in remembering not to ring Elya’s room,
“What shall I do with Dr. Lai?”
“Apologize,” he said. “Reassure. Comfort him, Margotte. Tell him I’m sure the manuscript is safe. Simla’s respect for the written word is a guarantee. And please ask him to keep the detectives out of this.”
“Wait a minute. He is here. He would like to say a word.”
An Eastern voice enriched the wire.
“Is this Mr. Sammler?”
“Dr. Lal, here. This is the second robbery. I cannot tolerate much more. Since Mrs. Arkin has appealed for patience, I can hold oil just a very little longer. But then I must have the police detain your daughter.”
“If only it would help to put her behind bars! Believe me, I am sorrier than I can say. But I am perfectly sure the manuscript is safe. I understand you have no other copy.”
“Three years of composition.”
“That is distressing. I had hoped it was more like six months. But I can see how much careful preparation it would need.” Normally Sammler shrank from flattery, but now he had no choice. Moisture formed upon the black instrument, against his ear, and on his cheek teas a red pressure mark. He said, “The work is brilliant.”
“I am glad you think so. judge how it affects me.”
I can judge. Anyone can clutch anyone, and whirl him off. The low can force the high to dance. The wise have to reel about with leaping fools. “Try not to be too anxious, sir. I know I can recover the manuscript, and do it. tonight. I don’t use my authority often enough. Believe me, I can control her, and I shall.”
“I had hoped to publish by the time of the first moon landing,” said Lal. “You can imagine how many bad paperbacks will be out. Confusing to the public. Meretricious.”
“Of course.” Sammler sensed that the Indian, probably passionate, resisting great internal pressure, was after all being decent, allowing for the frailty of an old man, the tightness of the situation. He thought, the fellow is a gentleman. Inclining his head within the soundproof metal enclosure, the dotted voile of insulation, he yielded to Oriental suggestion: “May the sun brighten your lace. Single you out among the multitude (imagining Hindus always in crowds; like mackerel-crowded seas). Many years yet.” Sammler was determined that Shula should hurt no one but himself. He had to put up with it, but no one else should.
“I shall be interested in your comments on my essay.”
“Gone to die Ladies’ to have a cry, I suppose, talk about it. Please stand by. I will phone as soon as there is some news. Thank you for bearing with me.”
Both parties hung up.
“Wallace,” said Sammler, “I think I shall be driving to New Rochelle with you.”
“Really? Then Dad did say something about the attic?”
“It lias nothing to do with the attic.”
“Then why? Is it something about Shula? It must be.”
“Why, yes, in fact. Simla. Can we leave soon?”
“Emil is out there with the Rolls. Might as well use it while we can. What is Shula up to? She called me.”
“Not long ago. She wanted to put something in Dad’s wall safe. Did I know the combination. Of course I couldn’t say I knew the combination.”
“Where was she calling from?”
“I didn’t ask. Of course you’ve seen Shula whispering to the flowers in the garden,” said Wallace. Wallace was not observant and took little interest in the conduct of others, But for that very reason he prized highly the things he did notice. What he noticed he cherished. He had always been kind and warm to Simla. “What language does she speak to them, is it Polish?”
The language of schizophrenia, very likely.
Sammler opened the patient’s door and saw him sitting up, alone. Dr. Gruner in his large black spectacles was studying, or trying to study, a contract, or legal document. He would sometimes say that he should have been a lawyer, not a doctor. Medical school had not been his choice, but his mother’s. Of his own free will he had probably done little. Consider his wife.
“Come in, Unde, and shut the door. Let’s make it fathers only. I don’t want to see children tonight.”
“I understand that feeling,” said Sammler. “I’ve had it often.”
“It’s a pity about Simla, poor woman. But she is only wacky. My daughter is a dirty cunt.”
“A different generation, a different generation.”
“And my son, a high-IQ moron.”
“He may come around, Elya.”
“You don’t believe it for a minute, Uncle. What, a ninth-inning rally? I ask myself what I spent so many years of my life on. I must have believed what America was telling me. I paid for the best.
I never suspected that I wasn’t getting the best.”
Had Elya spoken in excitement, Sammler would have tried to calm him. He was, however, speaking factually and sounded utterly level. In the goggles he looked particularly judicious. Like the chairman of a Senate committee hearing scandalous testimony without loss of composure.
“Where is Angela?”
“Gone to the Ladies’ to have a cry, I suppose. If she isn’t Preaching an orderly, or in a daisychain. When she goes around the corner, you never know.”
“Oh, too bad. You ought not to be quarreling.'’
“Not quarreling. Just making things plainer, spelling them out. I figured this Horricker to marry her, but lie’ll never do it now.”
“Is that certain?”
“Did she tell you what happened in Mexico?”
“Not in detail.”
“That’s just as well, il you don’t know the details. The joke you made was right on the head, about the billiard table in hell, about something green where it’s hot.”
“It wasn’t aimed at Angela.”
“Of course I knew my daughter with twenty-five thousand tax-free dollars must be having herself a time. I expected that, and as long as she was handling herself maturely and sensibly I had no objections. All that, theoretically, is fine. You use the words ‘mature’ and ‘sensible,’ and they satisfy you. But then you take a close look, and when you take a close look, you see something else. You see a woman who has done it in too many ways with too many men. And she looks . . . Her eyes—she has fucked-out eyes.”
Something very odd in Elya’s expression. There were tears about, somewhere, but dignity would not permit them. Perhaps it was self-severity, not dignity. But they did not come out. They were rerouted, absorbed into the system. They were subdued, converted into tones. They were present in the voice, in the color of the skin, in the lights of the eye.
“I must go, Elya. I’ll take Wallace with me. I’ll be back tomorrow.”