Penguin books - səhifə 47
So when he disentangles himself, it is extravagantly. He creates a bureaucracy of departure, inoculations against forgetting, exit visas stamped with love-bites . . . but coming back is something he's already forgotten about. Straightening his bow tie, brushing off the satin lapels of his jacket, buttoning up his pants, back in uniform of the day, he turns his back on her, and up the ladder he goes. The last instant their eyes were in touch is already behind him. . . .
Alone, kneeling on the painted steel, like her mother she knows how horror will come when the afternoon is brightest. And like Margherita, she has her worst visions in black and white. Each day she feels closer to the edge of something. She dreams often of the same
journey: a passage by train, between two well-known cities, lit by that same nacreous wrinkling the films use to suggest rain out a window. In a Pullman, dictating her story. She feels able at last to tell of a personal horror, tell it clearly in a way others can share. That may keep it from taking her past the edge, into the silver-salt dark closing ponderably slow at her mind's flank . . . when she was growing out her fringes, in dark rooms her own unaccustomed hair, beside her eyes, would loom like a presence. ... In her ruined towers now the bells gong back and forth in the wind. Frayed ropes dangle or slap where her brown hoods no longer glide above the stone. Her wind keeps even dust away. It is old daylight: late, and cold. Horror in the brightest hour of afternoon . . . sails on the sea too small and distant to matter . . . water too steel and cold. . . .
Her look now—this deepening arrest—has already broken Slothrop's seeing heart: has broken and broken, that same look swung as he drove by, thrust away into twilights of moss and crumbling colony, of skinny clouded-cylinder gas pumps, of tin Moxie signs gentian and bittersweet as the taste they were there to hustle on the weathered sides of barns, looked for how many Last Times up in the rearview mirror, all of them too far inside metal and combustion, allowing the days' targets more reality than anything that might come up by surprise, by Murphy's Law, where the salvation could be. . . . Lost, again and again, past poor dambusted and drowned Becket, up and down the rut-brown slopes, the hayrakes rusting in the afternoon, the sky purple-gray, dark as chewed gum, the mist starting to make white dashes in the air, aimed earthward a quarter, a half inch . . . she looked at him once, of course he still remembers, from down at the end of a lunchwagon counter, grill smoke working onto the windows patient as shoe grease against the rain for the plaid, hunched-up leaky handful inside, off the jukebox a quick twinkle in the bleat of a trombone, a reed section, planting swing notes precisely into the groove between silent midpoint and next beat, jumping it pah (hm) pah (hm) pah so exactly in the groove that you knew it was ahead but felt it was behind, both of you, at both ends of the counter, could feel it, feel your age delivered into a new kind of time that may have allowed you to miss the rest, the graceless expectations of old men who watched, in bifocal and mucus indifference, watched you lindy-hop into the pit by millions, as many millions as necessary. ... Of course Slothrop lost her, and kept losing her—it was an American requirement—out the windows of the Greyhound, passing into beveled stonery, green and elm-folded on into a failure of perception, or, in a more sinister sense,
of will (you used to know what these words mean), she has moved on, untroubled, too much Theirs, no chance of a beige summer spook at her roadside. . . .
Leaving Slothrop in his city-reflexes and Harvard crew sox—both happening to be red-ring manacles, comicbook irons (though the comic book was virtually uncirculated, found by chance near nightfall by a hopper at a Berkshire sandbank. The name of the hero—or being—was Sundial. The frames never enclosed him—or it—for long enough to tell. Sundial, flashing in, flashing out again, came from "across the wind," by which readers understood "across some flow, more or less sheet and vertical: a wall in constant motion"—over there was a different world, where Sundial took care of business they would never understand).
Distant, yes these are pretty distant. Sure they are. Too much closer and it begins to hurt to bring her back. But there is this Eurydice-obsession, this bringing back out of. . . though how much easier just to leave her there, in fetid carbide and dead-canary soups of breath and come out and have comfort enough to try only for a reasonable fascimile—"Why bring her back? Why try? It's only the difference between the real boxtop and the one you draw for Them." No. How can he believe that? It's what They want him to believe, but how can he? No difference between a boxtop and its image, all right, their whole economy's based on that. . . but she must be more than an image, a product, a promise to pay. . . .
Of all her putative fathers—Max Schlepzig and masked extras on one side of the moving film, Franz Pokier and certainly other pairs of hands busy through trouser cloth, that Alpdrücken Night, on the other—Bianca is closest, this last possible moment below decks here behind the ravening jackal, closest to you who came in blinding color, slouched alone in your own seat, never threatened along any rookwise row or diagonal all night, you whose interdiction from her mother's water-white love is absolute, you, alone, saying sure I know them, omitted, chuckling count me in, unable, thinking probably some hooker . . . She favors you, most of all. You'll never get to see her. So somebody has to tell you.
D D D D D D D
Halfway up the ladder, Slothrop is startled by a bright set of teeth, beaming out of a dark hatchway. "I was watching. I hope you don't mind." Seems to be that Nip again, who introduces himself now as Ensign Morituri, of the Imperial Japanese Navy.
"Yeah, I..." why is Slothrop drawling this way? "saw ya watching . . . last night too, mister. . . ."
"You think I am a voyeur. Yes you do. But it isn't that. There is no thrill, I mean. But when I watch people, I feel less alone."
"W'l hell, Ensign . . . why don'tcha just. . . join in? They're always lookin' fer . . . company."
"Oh, my goodness," grinning one of them big polyhedral Jap grins, like they do, "then I would feel more alone."
Tables and chairs have been set out under orange-and-red-stripe awnings on the fantail. Slothrop and Morituri have got the place almost to themselves, except for some girls in two-piece swimsuits out to catch some sun before it goes away. Cumulonimbus are building up dead ahead. You can hear thunder in the distance. The air is coming awake.
A steward brings coffee, cream, porridge and fresh oranges. Slothrop looks at the porridge, doubtful. "I'll take it," Ensign Morituri grabbing the bowl.
"Oh, sure." Slothrop notices now how this Nip also has this wide handle-bar mustache. "Aha, aha. I'm hep to you. A porridge fan! Shameful. A latent Anglophile—yeah, you're blushing." Pointing and hollering ha, ha, ha.
"You've found me out. Yes, yes. I've been on the wrong side for six years."
"Ever try to get away?"
"And find out what you people are really like? Oh, my golly. What if phile changes then to phobe? Where would I be?" He giggles, spits an orange pit over the side. Seems he put in a few weeks' training on that Formosa, in Kamikaze school, but they washed him out. No one ever told him why, exactly. Something to do with his attitude. "I just didn't have a good attitude," he sighs. "So they sent me back here again, by way of Russia and Switzerland. This time with the Propaganda Ministry." He would sit most of the day watching Allied footage for what could be pulled and worked into newsreels to make the Axis look good and the other side look bad. "All I know about Great Britain comes from that raw material."
"Looks like German movies have warped other outlooks around here too."
"You mean Margherita's. Did you know, that's how we met! A mutual friend at Ufa. I was on holiday at Bad Karma—just before the Pol-
ish invasion. The little town where you joined us. It was a spa. I watched you fall in the water. Then you climbed aboard. I also watched Margherita watching you. Please don't be offended, Slothrop, but it might be better to stay away from her right now."
"Not at all. I know something creepy is going on." He tells Mori-turi about the incident in the Sprudelhof, and Margherita's flight from the apparition in black.
The Ensign nods, grim, twisting half his mustache up so it points in a saber at one eye. "She didn't tell you what happened there? Golly, Jack, you had better know. ..."
ensign morituri's story
Wars have a way of overriding the days just before them. In the looking back, there is such noise and gravity. But we are conditioned to forget. So that the war may have more importance, yes, but still. . . isn't the hidden machinery easier to see in the days leading up to the event? There are arrangements, things to be expedited . . . and often the edges are apt to lift, briefly, and we see things we were not meant to. ...
They'd tried to talk Margherita out of going to Hollywood. She went, and she failed. Rollo was there when she returned, to keep the worst from happening. For a month he impounded sharp objects, kept her at ground level and away from chemicals, which meant she didn't sleep much. She would drop off and wake up hysterical. Afraid to go to sleep. Afraid she wouldn't know how to get back.
Rollo did not have a keen mind. He meant well, but after a month of her he found he couldn't take any more. Actually it surprised everyone that he'd lasted so long. Greta was handed over to Sigmund, hardly improved, but perhaps no worse.
The trouble with Sigmund was the place he happened to be living in, a drafty, crenelated deformity overlooking a cold little lake in the Bavarian Alps. Parts of it must have dated back to the fall of Rome. That was where Sigmund brought her.
She had got the idea somewhere that she was part Jewish. Things in Germany by then, as everyone knows, were very bad. Margherita was terrified of being "found out." She heard Gestapo in every puff of air that slipped in, among any of a thousand windways of dilapidation. Sigmund spent whole nights trying to talk it away. He was no better at it than Rollo. It was around this time that her symptoms began.
However psychogenic these pains, tics, hives and nauseas, her suffering was real. Acupuncturists came down by Zeppelin from Berlin,
showing up in the middle of the night with little velvet cases full of gold needles. Viennese analysts, Indian holy men, Baptists from America trooped in and out of Sigmund's castle, stage-hypnotists and Colombian curanderos slept on the rug in front of the fireplace. Nothing worked. Sigmund grew alarmed, and before long as ready as Margherita to hallucinate. Probably it was she who suggested Bad Karma. It had a reputation that summer for its mud, hot and greasy mud with traces of radium, jet black, softly bubbling. Ah. Anyone who's been sick in that way can imagine her hope. That mud would cure anything.
Where was anybody that summer before the War? Dreaming. The spas that summer, the summer Ensign Morituri came to Bad Karma, were crowded with sleepwalkers. Nothing for him to do at the Embassy. They suggested a holiday till September. He should have known something was up, but he only went on holiday to Bad Karma—spent the days drinking Pilsener Urquelle in the cafe by the lake in the Pavilion Park. He was a stranger, half the time drunk, silly beer-drunk, and he hardly spoke their language. But what he saw must have been going on all over Germany. A premeditated frenzy.
Margherita and Sigmund moved along the same magnolia-shaded paths, sat out in rolling-chairs to hear concerts of patriotic music . . . when it rained they fidgeted over card games in one of the public rooms of their Kurhaus. At night they watched the fireworks—fountains, spark-foaming rockets, yellow starbursts high over Poland. That oneiric season. . . . There was no one in all the spas to read anything in the patterns the fires made. They were only gay lights, nervous as the fantasies that flickered from eye to eye, trailing the skin like the ostrich fans of 50 years ago.
When did Sigmund first notice her absences, or when did they become for him more than routine? Always she gave him plausible stories: a medical appointment, a chance meeting with an old friend, drowsiness in the mud-baths, while time raced by. It may have been this unaccustomed sleep that got him suspicious at last, because of what her wakefulness had put him through in the South. The stories about the children in the local newspapers could have made no impression, not then. Sigmund only read headlines, and rarely at that, to fill up a dead moment.
Morituri saw them often. They would meet and bow, exchange Heil Hitlers, and the Ensign would be permitted a few minutes to practice his German. Except for waiters and barmen, they were the only people he spoke with. Out at the tennis courts, waiting in line at
the pump room under the cool colonnade, at an aquatic corso, a battle of flowers, a Venetian fete, Sigmund and Margherita hardly changed, he with his—Morituri thought of it as his American Smile, around the amber stern of his dead pipe ... his head like a flesh Christmas ornament . . . how long ago it was . . . she with her yellow sunglasses and Garbo hats. The flowers were all that changed about her day to day: morning glory, almond blossom, foxglove. Morituri grew to look forward so to these daily meetings. His wife and daughters clear on the other side of the world, himself exiled in a country that bewildered and oppressed him. He needed the passing zoogoers' civility, the guidebook words. He knows he stared back, every bit as curious. In their European slickness, they all fascinated him: the white-plumed old ladies in the lying-out chairs, the veterans of the Great War like serene hippopotamuses soaking in the steel baths, their effeminate secretaries chattering shrill as monkeys across the Sprudelstrasse, while far down the arches of lindens and chestnuts you could hear the endless roar of carbon dioxide at the bubbling spring, coming out of solution in great shuddering spheres . . . but Sigmund and Margherita fascinated him most of all. "They seemed as alien here as I was. We each have antennas, don't we, tuned to recognize our own. ..."
One forenoon, by accident, he met Sigmund, alone, a tweed statue on his walking stick in front of the Inhalatorium, looking as if he'd lost his way, no real place to go, no desire. Without premeditation, then, they began to talk. The time was right. They moved off presently, strolling through the crowds of sick foreigners, while Sigmund told of his troubles with Greta, her Jewish fantasy, her absences. The day before, he had caught her out in a lie. She'd come in very late. Her hands had taken a fine tremor that wouldn't stop. He'd begun to notice things. Her shoes, beaded with drying black mud. A seam in her dress widened, nearly ripped, though she'd been losing weight. But he hadn't the courage to have it out with her.
Morituri, who had been reading the papers, for whom the connection had sprung up like a monster from the tamed effervescences of the Trinkhalle, but who did not have the words, German or otherwise, to tell Sigmund, Morituri, the Beer Ensign, began to follow her then. She never looked back, but she knew he was there. At the weekly ball in the Kursaal he felt, for the first time, a reticence among them all. Margherita, eyes he was accustomed to seeing covered with sunglasses naked now, burning terribly, never took her gaze from him. The Kur-Orchestra played selections from The Merry Widow and Secrets of Suzanne, out-of-date music, and yet, when bits of it found Morituri years later in the street, over the radio, they never failed to bring back the unwritten taste of that night, the three of them at the edge of a deepness none could sound . . . some last reprise of the European thirties he had never known . . . which are also for him a particular room, a salon in the afternoon: lean girls in gowns, mascara all around their eyes, the men with faces shaven very smooth, film-star polished . . . not operetta but dance music here, sophisticated, soothing, a bit "modern," dipping elegantly in the up-to-date melodic lines ... an upstairs room, with late sunlight coming in, deep carpets, voices saying nothing heavy or complex, smiles informed and condescending. He has awakened that morning in a soft bed, he looks forward to an evening at a cabaret dancing to popular love songs played in just such a mannered and polished style. His afternoon salon with its held tears, its smoke, its careful passion has been a way-station between the comfortable morning and the comfortable night: it was Europe, it was the smoky, citied fear of death, and most perilous it was Margherita's scrutable eyes, that lost encounter in the Kursaal, black eyes among those huddled jewels and nodding old generals, in the roar from the Brodelbrunnen outside, filling the quiet spaces in the music as machinery was soon to fill the sky.
Next evening, Morituri followed her out for the last time. Down the worn paths, under the accustomed trees, past the German goldfish pool that reminded him of home, across the golf links, the day's last white-mustached men struggling up out of traps and hazards, their caddies standing at allegorical attention in the glow of the sunset, the bundled clubs in Fascist silhouette. . . . Twilight came down on Bad Karma that night pallid and violent: the horizon was a Biblical disaster. Greta had dressed all in black, a hat with a veil covering most of her hair, purse slung by a long strap over one shoulder. As choices of a destination narrowed to one, as Morituri ran into snares the night began to lay out for him, prophecy filled him like the river wind: where she had been on her absences, how the children in those headlines had—
They had arrived at the edge of the black mud pool: that underground presence, old as Earth, partly enclosed back at the Spa and a name given to. ... The offering was to be a boy, lingering after all the others had gone. His hair was cold snow. Morituri could only hear fragments of what they said. The boy wasn't afraid of her at first. He might not have recognized her from his dreams. It would have been
his only hope. But they had made that impossible, his German overseers. Morituri stood by in his uniform, waiting, unbuttoning the jacket so that he could move, though he didn't want to. Certainly they were all repeating this broken act from an earlier time. . . .
Her voice began its rise, and the boy his trembling. "You have been in exile too long." It was a loud clap in the dusk. "Come home, with me," she cried, "back to your people." Now he was trying to break away, but her hand, her gloved hand, her claw had flown out and seized his arm. "Little piece of Jewish shit. Don't try to run away from me."
"No . . ." but at the very end rising, in a provocative question.
"You know who I am, too. My home is the form of Light," burlesquing it now, in heavy Yiddish dialect, actressy and false, "I wander all the Diaspora looking for strayed children. I am Israel. I am the Shekhinah, queen, daughter, bride, and mother of God. And I will take you back, you fragment of smashed vessel, even if I must pull you by your nasty little circumcised penis—" "No ..."
So Ensign Morituri committed then the only known act of heroism in his career. It's not even in his folder. She had gathered the boy struggling, one glove busy between his legs. Morituri rushed forward. For a moment the three of them swayed, locked together. Gray Nazi statuary: its name may have been "The Family." None of the Greek stillness: no, they moved. Immortality was not the issue. That's what made them different. No survival, beyond the senses' taking of it—no handing-down. Doomed as d'Annunzio's adventure at Fiume, as the Reich itself, as the poor creatures from whom the boy now tore loose and ran off into the evening.
Margherita collapsed by the edge of the great lightless pool. Morituri knelt beside her while she cried. It was terrible. What had brought him there, what had understood and moved in so automatically, fell back now to sleep. His conditioning, his verbal, ranked and uniformed self took over again. He knelt shivering, more afraid than he'd ever been in his life. It was she who led their way back to the Spa.
She and Sigmund left Bad Karma that night. The boy may have been too frightened, the light too faint, Morituri himself may have had strong protectors, for God knows he was visible enough there—but no police came. "It never occurred to me to go to them. In my heart, I knew she had murdered. You may condemn me for it. But I saw what I'd be handing her over to, and it came to the same
thing, in official custody or not, you see." The next day was 1 September. There was no longer any way for children to vanish mysteriously.
The forenoon has gone dark. Rain spits in under the awning. The bowl of porridge has stayed after all untouched in front of Morituri. Slothrop is sweating, staring at the bright remains of an orange. "Listen," it has occurred to his agile brain, "what about Bianca, then? Is she going to be safe with that Greta, do you think?"
Frisking his great mustache, "What do you mean? Are you asking, 'Can she be saved?' "
"Oh, pip, pip, old Jap, come off it—"
"Look, what canj/ow save her from?" His eyes are prying Slothrop away from his comfort. Rain is drumming now on the awnings, spilling in clear lacework from the edges.
"But wait a minute. Oh, shit, that woman yesterday, in that Sprudelhof—"
"Yes. Remember Greta also saw you coming up out of the river. Now think of all the folklore among these people about radioactivity—these travelers from spa to spa, season after season. It's grace. It's the holy waters of Lourdes. This mysterious radiation that can cure so much—might it be the ultimate cure?"
"I watched her face as you came aboard. I was with her at the edge of one radioactive night. I know what she saw this time. One of those children—preserved, nourished by the mud, the radium, growing taller and stronger while slowly, viscous and slow, the currents bore him along underground, year by year, until at last, grown to manhood, he came to the river, came up out of the black radiance of herself to find her again, Shekhinah, bride, queen, daughter. And mother. Motherly as sheltering mud and glowing pitchblende—"
Almost directly overhead, thunder suddenly breaks in a blinding egg of sound. Somewhere inside the blast, Slothrop has murmured, "Quit fooling."
"Are you going to risk finding out?"
Who is this, oh sure it's a Jap ensign, looking at me like this. But where are Bianca's arms, her defenseless mouth. . . . "Well in a day or two we'll be in Swinemünde, right?" talking to keep from—get up from the table then, you asshole—
"We'll all just keep moving, that's all. In the end it doesn't matter."
"Look, you've got kids, how can you say that? Is that all you want, just to 'keep moving'?"
"I want to see the war over in the Pacific so that I can go home. Since you ask. It's the season of the plum rains now, the Bai-u, when all the plums are ripening. I want only to be with Michiko and our girls, and once I'm there, never to leave Hiroshima again. I think you'd like it there. It's a city on Honshu, on the Inland Sea, very pretty, a perfect size, big enough for city excitement, small enough for the serenity a man needs. But these people are not returning, they are leaving their homes you see—"
But one of the knots securing the rain-heavy awning to its frame has given way, white small-stuff unlacing rapidly, whipping around in the rain. The awning sags, tunneling rainwater at Slothrop and Mori-turi, and they flee below decks.
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