There is another world, but it is in this one.

Paul Eluard. Œuvres complètes, vol. 1, Gallimard, 1968.

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Manly Wade Wellman

The week of Halloween this year I read seven books by Manly Wade Wellman.

Wellman slips in close to sublimity in many stories and novels, and produced consistently high quality popular fiction for decades.

The Silver John stories feel so eloquently timeless that details of everyday life come as a shock. Paper plates and plastic flatware? I assumed these stories were set in interbellum North Carolina sometime between the Coolidge and Roosevelt regimes. Turns out the fictional timeline is coincident with the time of composition.

John is not a nomad or accursed wanderer. But after brutal soldiering in Korea, his travelling and his oft-repeated revulsion over the war externalize a feeling of ethical homelessness.

One of the strengths of the Silver John stories is the absence of occult detective mummery. John never gets hired to solve a mystery. His interest in the people he meets, his sense of solidarity toward them, leads John to taking a hand in solving their problems. The threats to these rural toilers come from boss-type exploiters: witch men, real estate megalomaniacs, Shonokins, and Bonapartist magnates. John's conjurations protect himself and friends and are usually nothing more than recitations from a respected book. Along with judicious strumming of his silver-string guitar and strategic handling of a silver coin.

The guitar itself is a lovely metaphor for modesty, harmony, and resilience. A violin would be pretentious, a banjo vulgar. The guitar is the sublime expression of John's ethic.

John is not a lonesome traveller. Men skeptical and rancorous toward him - like the construction worker in The Hanging Stones - are won to his side pretty quick.

Wellman is very specific in the way he depicts the uncanny in these stories. Violence and violent death are rare. Supernatural agency is employed for material reasons: land theft, subordination of young women. John interposes himself sharply and decisively in these showdowns. No Harry Potter fireworks, just native wit and careful application of pressure.

In such conflicts John does not come on like a messiah or great white hope. He seeks unity and his reputation as a wise man precedes him. Vetoes of friends' ideas are judicious and tactical.

"One Other" and "Call Me From the Valley," two personal favorites, strike sharply the Machenean note. Though Wellman does not use the term "perichoresis," when John and Annalinda talk at the edge of the bottomless pool atop Hark Mountain, the soap-bubble analogy serves the same purpose.

Wellman's Silver John stories surpass the work of many of his contemporaries by virtue of his skill handling unique and compelling subject-matter. The novel

After Dark expresses this aesthetic perfectly .


17 November 2018

Tadzio & Giovanni

....Later on, Tadzio lay in the sand resting from his swim, a white towel drawn under his right shoulder, his head on his bare arm. Even when Aschenbach stopped staring at him to read a few pages of his book, he hardly ever forgot that the boy was lying there, that it only cost him a slight rightward turn of the head to glimpse that sight which was so worthy of admiration. He could almost imagine himself sitting there for the resting boy's protection, busy with his own matters, yet ever watchful over the fine visual representation of humankind to his right, not far from him. And his heart was filled and moved by a kind of paternal pride, by the sentimental affection of the self-sacrificing creative mind that produces beauty toward someone who simply possesses it.

How quickly today would Aschenbach  be arrested?  Shadowing and stalking a teenager at a resort is not the quaint aesthetic quirk it was in 1912.

Mann uses the term "boy" dozens of times in Death in Venice in reference to Tadzio, the Polish lad vacationing with his family on the Lido. 

This recalled to me the use of the term "boy" in James Baldwin's novel Giovanni's Room, which I read a few days ago.  The term was used by a trio of louche male homosexuals stalking youths they hope to seduce.

The objectified "boy" as target of sexual fantasy by adult men might be dismissed as a classically-inspired allusion of contemplative character in Death in Venice.  Mann certainly demonstrates its self-destructive character for Aschenbach .  In Baldwin's novel Giovanni's Room the self-destructiveness is there to a degree, but the real destruction is visited upon Giovanni himself.


Folk horror nightmare: Death in Venice by Thomas Mann

Strange the dreams Aschenbach has when the Asiatic cholera kicks in:

…That night he had a fearful dream-if dream be the right word for a mental and physical experience which did indeed befall him in deep sleep, as a thing quite apart and real to his senses, yet without his seeing himself as present in it. Rather its theatre seemed to be his own soul, and the events burst in from outside, violently overcoming the profound resistance of his spirit; passed him through and left him, left the whole cultural structure of a lifetime trampled on, ravaged, and destroyed.

The beginning was fear; fear and desire, with a shuddering curiosity. Night reigned, and his senses were on the alert; he heard loud, confused noises from far away, clamour and hubbub. There was a rattling, a crashing, a low dull thunder; shrill halloos and a kind of howl with a long-drawn u-sound at the end. And with all these, dominating them all, flute-notes of the cruellest sweetness, deep and cooing, keeping shamelessly on until the listener felt his very entrails betwitched. He heard a voice, naming, though darkly, that which was to come: "The stranger god!" A glow lighted up the surrounding mist and by it he recognized a mountain scene like that about his country home. From the wooded heights, from among the tree-trunks and crumbling moss-covered rocks, a troop came tumbling and raging down, a whirling rout of men and animals, and overflowed the hillside with flames and human forms, with clamour and the reeling dance. The females stumbled over the long, hairy pelts that dangled from their girdles; with heads flung back they uttered loud hoarse cries and shook their tambourines high in air; brandished naked daggers or torches vomiting trails of sparks. They shrieked, holding their breasts in both hands; coiling snakes with quivering tongues they clutched about their waists. Horned and hairy males, girt about the loins with hides, drooped heads and lifted arms and thighs in unison, as they beat on brazen vessels that gave out droning thunder, or thumped madly on drums. There were troops of beardless youths armed with garlanded staves; these ran after goats and thrust their staves against the creatures' flanks, then clung to the plunging horns and let themselves be borne off with triumphant shouts. And one and all the mad rout yelled that cry, composed of soft consonants with a long-drawn u-sound at the end, so sweet and wild it was together, and like nothing ever heard before! It would ring through the air like the bellow of a challenging stag, and be given back many-tongued; or they would use it to goad each other on to dance with wild excess of tossing limbs-they never let it die. But the deep, beguiling notes of the flute wove in and out and over all. Beguiling too it was to him who struggled in the grip of these sights and sounds, shamelessly awaiting the coming feast and the uttermost surrender. He trembled, he shrank, his will was steadfast to preserve and uphold his own god against this stranger who was sworn enemy to dignity and self-control. But the mountain wall took up the noise and howling and gave it back manifold; it rose high, swelled to a madness that carried him away. His senses reeled in the steam of panting bodies, the acrid stench from the goats, the odour as of stagnant waters and another, too familiar smell-of wounds, uncleanness, and disease. His heart throbbed to the drums, his brain reeled, a blind rage seized him, a whirling lust, he craved with all his soul to join the ring that formed about the obscene symbol of the godhead, which they were unveiling and elevating, monstrous and wooden, while from full throats they yelled their rallying cry. Foam dripped from their lips, they drove each other on with lewd gesturings and beckoning hands. They laughed, they howled, they thrust their pointed staves into each other's flesh and licked the blood as it ran down. But now the dreamer was in them and of them, the stranger god was his own. Yes, it was he who was flinging himself upon the animals, who bit and tore and swallowed smoking gobbets of flesh--while on the trampled moss there now began the rites in honour of the god, an orgy of promiscuous embraces-and in his very soul he tasted the bestial degradation of his fall….

"Death in Venice" by Thomas Mann


Monstrous tentacles

Tonio Kröger, martyr to his art and craft, suspected con-man in his home town, voyages to a vacation stop on Elsinore. A monstrous storm at sea gives Mann the chance to strike a Lovecraftian note:

….In his berth Tonio Kröger stretched out on the narrow bunk but couldn't drift off. The strong wind and its sharp aftertaste had left him extremely flushed, and his heart was restless, as though he were anxiously awaiting something sweet. Moreover, the vibrations from the ship sliding down a steep ocean swell and the propeller as it emerged sputtering from the water made him terribly queasy. He got dressed again and climbed up onto the open deck.

Clouds raced past the moon. The sea was dancing. No longer were smooth, even waves rolling at regular intervals; instead, at some distance in the pale, flickering light, the sea was torn, whipped, churned into a frenzy. Gigantic, sharp-crested tongues licked up like flames, leaping skyward, hurling spray and spitting out jagged, unlikely shapes between froth-filled chasms, as though somewhere below monstrous tentacles were playing some crazy game.


Thursday, November 15, 2018

Giovanni's Room by James Baldwin

Quite a book for 1956. U.S. creep David whiles away his time procrastinating like a Peter Pan narcissist in Paris, living off friends and indulging himself.

In the process of finding himself (or hiding from himself) David destroys the psyches of two U.S. women and sends a discarded male  lover into such a downward spiral he gets executed for murder courtesy of Madame guillotine.

Not a great day for normalizing homosexuality. Like the original edition of Vidal's City and the Pillar, homosexuals are self-loathing and murderous.

                          * * *

...."What are we staying here for? How long do you want to sit in this house, eating your heart out? And what do you think it's doing to me?" She rose and came to me. "Please. I want to go home. I want to get married. I want to start having kids. I want us to live someplace, I want you. Please David. What are we marking time over here for?"

I moved away from her, quickly. At my back she stood perfectly still.

"What's the matter, David? What do you want?"

"I don't know. I don't know."

"What is it you're not telling me? Why don't you tell me the truth? Tell me the truth."

I turned and faced her. "Hella—bear with me, bear with me—a little while."

"I want to," she cried, "but where are you? You've gone away somewhere and I can't find you. If you'd only let me reach you—!"

She began to cry. I held her in my arms. I felt nothing at all.

I kissed her salty tears and murmured, murmured I don't know what. I felt her body straining, straining to meet mine and I felt my own contracting and drawing away and I knew that I had begun the long fall down. I stepped away from her. She swayed where I had left her, like a puppet dangling from a string.

"David, please let me be a woman. I don't care what you do to me. I don't care what it costs. I'll wear my hair long, I'll give up cigarettes, I'll throw away the books." She tried to smile; my heart turned over. "Just let me be a woman, take me. It's what I want. It's all I want. I don't care about anything else." She moved toward me. I stood perfectly still. She touched me, raising her face, with a desperate and terribly moving trust, to mine. "Don't throw me back into the sea, David. Let me stay here with you." Then she kissed me, watching my face. My lips were cold. I felt nothing on my lips. She kissed me again and I closed my eyes, feeling that strong chains were dragging me to fire. It seemed that my body, next to her warmth, her insistence, under her hands, would never awaken. But when it awakened, I had moved out of it. From a great height, where the air all around me was colder than ice, I watched my body in a stranger's arms.

It was that evening, or an evening very soon thereafter, that I left her sleeping in the bedroom and went, alone, to Nice.

I roamed all the bars of that glittering town, and at the end of the first night, blind with alcohol and grim with lust, I climbed the stairs of a dark hotel in company with a sailor. It turned out, late the next day, that the sailor's leave was not yet ended and that the sailor had friends. We went to visit them. We stayed the night. We spent the next day together, and the next. On the final night of the sailor's leave, we stood drinking together in a crowded bar. We faced the mirror. I was very drunk. I was almost penniless. In the mirror, suddenly, I saw Hella's face. I thought for a moment that I had gone mad, and I turned. She looked very tired and drab and small.

For a long time we said nothing to each other. I felt the sailor staring at both of us.

"Hasn't she got the wrong bar?" he asked me, finally.

Hella looked at him. She smiled.

"It's not the only thing I got wrong," she said.

Now the sailor stared at me.

"Well," I said to Hella, "now you know."

"I think I've known it for a long time," she said. She turned and started away from me. I moved to follow her. The sailor grabbed me.

"Are you—is she—?"

I nodded. His face, open-mouthed, was comical. He let me go and I passed him and, as I reached the doors, I heard his laughter. We walked for a long time in the stone-cold streets, in silence. There seemed to be no one on the streets at all. It seemed inconceivable that the day would ever break.

"Well," said Hella, "I'm going home. I wish I'd never left it."


Sunday, November 11, 2018

Sickness unto self-congratulation: Ravelstein by Saul Bellow

Chick, older than Ravelstein, has borne witness to his great friend's death. Ravelstein had charged him to write an intimate biography of him.  Chick finds he cannot proceed. He talks with his latest wife, Rosamund, about the situation, and about what Ravelstein tried to show him about incidents in Chick's life with previous spouse  Vela and a character named Radu Grielescu. (This leads Chick and Rosamund to some typically bourgeois wool-gathering about the "inexplicable" horrors of the 20th century.)

…. for me the challenge of portraying him (what an olden-days' word "portraying" has become) by and by turned into a burden. Rosamund, however, believed that I was exactly right for the job. And in fact I went through a rehearsal of my own with death. But at that time we were only considering Ravelstein's death.

"It's just a matter of getting started," she said. "As he said, it's the premier pas qui coûte."

"Yes. Some French Ravelstein equivalent of bottled-in-bond or sur papier timbre, in perfect legal order, solemnized by the state."

"There it is—exactly the joke-tone he hoped you'd take. You can leave it to others to comment on his ideas."

"Oh, I intend to. I'm going to leave intellectual matters to the experts."

"All you need is to get yourself in the right position."

But as the months—years—went by, I couldn't for the life of me find this starting point. "It should be easy. 'Easily or not at all,' or as what's-his-name said, 'If it isn't like birdsong, it ain't right.'"

Rosamund occasionally answered, "Do Ravelstein and birdsong mix? Somehow they don't."

With exchanges of this sort, years went by, and it became apparent that I was unable to begin, that I faced a humongous obstacle. Rosamund no longer offered encouragement or advice. It was wise of her to let me be.

We continued, however, to talk almost daily about Ravelstein. It was I who recalled his basketball evening parties, the student dinners in Greektown, his shopping expeditions, and the racy but serious seminars he used to do. Another woman might have pressed me unpleasantly. "After all, he was a dear friend and you swore you'd do this," or, "In the life-to-come he's disappointed." But Rosamund understood all too well that I thought of this myself, and oppressively too often. I sometimes imagined him in his shroud, lying next to the father he had hated. Ravelstein used to say, "That hysterical man who beat my bare bottom and shrieked gibberish—and later, no matter how well I did he'd hold it against me that I never made Phi Beta Kappa. 'So you published a book and it was well received—but no Phi Beta Kappa?'"

Rosamund would only say, "If you did no more than this Phi Beta Kappa sketch it would cheer Ravelstein in the afterlife."

And my answer to this was, "Ravelstein didn't believe in an afterlife. And if he does exist somewhere, what possible pleasure could it give him to remember his dumbhead father or any part of what we call our mortal span? I'm the one who imagines seeing the dead parents on the other side. And brothers, friends, cousins, aunts and uncles …"

Rosamund often nodded. She admitted that she had a similar tendency. She sometimes added, "I ask myself what they're doing in the life-to-come."

"If you could take a poll on the subject you'd find that a majority of us expect to see their dead, whom they loved and continue to love—the very people they had, now and then, cheated and sometimes despised or hated or habitually lied to. Not you, Rosamund, you're exceptionally honest. But even Ravelstein, a man who was too hard to have such illusions, said … He gave himself away when he told me that of all the people close to him I was the likeliest to follow him soon—to follow him where? Would I catch up with him, and would we see each other?"

"You can't build too much on remarks like that," said Rosamund.

"It's easy enough to argue that childish love is the source of these illusions. This is my way of admitting that half a century later I feel I haven't seen the last of my mother. Freud would have trashed this as sentimental and inane. But Freud was a doctor, and nineteenth-century doctors were rough on the sentiments. They'd say the human being represented chemical components worth about sixty-two-cents—they were severe rationalists and tough guys."

"But Ravelstein was far from simpleminded," said Rosamund.

"Of course he was. But let's go a step or two further—I'll let you in on a kinky thought. I wonder what might happen. If I were to write my memoir of Ravelstein there would be no barrier between death and me."

Rosamund laughed outright at this. "Do you mean that your duties would end, and there would be no reason to live on?"

"No, no. Luckily I'd still have you to live for, Rosamund. What I'm probably trying to say is that in Ravelstein's view I may have nothing more to do in this life than to commemorate him."

"That is an odd thought for anyone to have."

"He felt he was giving me a great subject—the subject of subjects. And that is an odd thought. But I've never assumed that I was a rational, modern person. A rational person wouldn't be meeting his dead in the gloaming—wherever the gloaming is."

"All the same," said Rosamund, "the fact that it's so persistent makes it something to reckon with."

"And why me? In less than a minute I can name five people better qualified."

"About his ideas, yes," said Rosamund. "But they mightn't have the color to put into it. Also—you two became friends late in life and, as a rule, older people don't form such attachments…."

Perhaps she meant, also, that the old didn't fall in love. They weren't apt to blunder into the magnetic field where they had no business to be.

"For a year or two Ravelstein kept after me because Vela and I saw Radu Grielescu and his wife so often," I said to Rosamund.

"They entertained you?"

"They took us to good restaurants—the most expensive ones, anyway. Vela loved all the hand-kissing, bowing, fussing over the ladies, the corsages, and the toasting. She was terribly pleased. Grielescu put on such a show. Ravelstein was extremely curious about those evenings. He said that Radu had belonged to the Iron Guard. I paid no particular attention to this. I didn't get the drift, and that bothered Ravelstein."

"You didn't spot him for a Nazi?" Rosamund said.

"Ravelstein went a step further and told me that Grielescu about ten years ago had been scheduled to lecture in Jerusalem but that the invitation was canceled. Somehow even this didn't register with me. I must have been too busy to put it together. I do shut off my receptors sometimes and decide, somehow, not to see what there is to be seen. Ravelstein noticed that, naturally. I was the one who failed to notice.

"Ravelstein wanted to know just what Grielescu's line was like and I told him that at dinner he ."

I date this particular conversation about two years after Ravelstein's death. After the Guillain-Barré he had worked very hard at walking and recovering the use of his hands. He knew that he had to surrender, to decline but he did it selectively. It didn't matter that he was unable to operate the coffee grinder, but he did need his hand skills for shaving, writing notes, dressing, smoking, signing checks. Few fail to recognize that if you don't apply yourself to recovery you're a basket case, a goner.

Ravelstein is a moderate and mild, but not soporific, novel. It is filled with self-contented writerly effects, the rhetorical nonsense upon which Bellow glides like a greased ball bearing.

(Ravelstein also features a gruelling, brilliant and prolonged depiction of Caribbean vacation food poisoning, just to demonstrate Bellow is not a hard-hearted stylistic genius.)    


11 November 2018

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Mrs. Bridge and Mr. Bridge by Evan S. Connell

Connell's novels about India and Walter Bridge are now at the top of my list.

Mrs. Bridge is the stronger, giving us every aspect of India's life: husband, children, domestic economy, friendships. Mr. Bridge sketches Walter's business career, but provides few scenes of it.

The supreme scenes in Mrs. Bridge, and there are many, revolve around the frustrations and contradictions of parenthood. My favorite: an angry and frustrated son who builds a tower of junk impervious to destruction by everyone except  the fire department.

Connell's Bridge novels cover the period from Italy's invasion of Ethiopia to just prior to Pearl Harbor. There are no false notes of soap-opera bathos. The slow accumulation of funny poignant everyday incident gives a powerful sense of years passing and personalities developing.

Mrs. Bridge, as the children grow, finds time weighing heavily on her hands. Most of her friends feel the same way. Most bear it the best they can; others are not so fortunate.

In both novels Connell presents a serious treatment of the characters and their mileu. There is no acid here, no ridicule, no "satire."

I want to present a chapter from each novel to show how beautifully crises are are treated by Connell.

From Mrs. Bridge:

66. Mademoiselle from Kansas City

It was to Carolyn, though she was younger, that Mrs. Bridge was in the habit of confiding her hopes for them all. The two were apt to sit on the edge of Carolyn's bed until quite late at night, their arms half-entwined, talking and giggling, while across the room Ruth slept her strangely restless sleep—mumbling and rolling and burying her face in her wild black hair.

Mrs. Bridge could never learn what Ruth did in the evenings, or where she went; she entered the house quietly, sometimes not long before dawn. Mrs. Bridge had always lain awake until both girls were home, and one evening during the Christmas holidays she was still downstairs reading when Carolyn returned, bringing Jay Duchesne, who was now considerably over six feet tall and was doing his best to grow a mustache. In certain lights the mustache was visible, and he was quite proud of it and stroked it constantly and feverishly, as if all it needed in order to flourish was a little affection. Mrs. Bridge liked Jay. She trusted him. There were moments when she thought she knew him better than she knew Douglas.

"What's new, Mrs. B.?" he inquired, twirling his hat on one finger. And to Carolyn, "How's for chow, kid?" So they went out to the kitchen to cook bacon and eggs while Mrs. Bridge remained in the front room with the book turned over in her lap and her eyes closed, dozing and dreaming happily, because it seemed to her that despite the difficulties of adolescence she had gotten her children through it in reasonably good condition. Later, when Duchesne roared out of the driveway—he still drove as recklessly as ever and she was still not resigned to it—she climbed the stairs, arm in arm, with Carolyn.

"Jay's voice has certainly changed," she smiled.

"He's a man now, Mother," Carolyn explained a bit impatiently.

Mrs. Bridge smiled again. She sat on the bed and watched as Carolyn pulled off the baggy sweater and skirt and seated herself at the dressing table with a box of bobby pins.

"Funny—it's so quiet," said Carolyn.

Mrs. Bridge looked out the window. "Why, it's snowing again. Isn't that nice! I just love snowy winter nights."

Large wet flakes were floating down and clasping the outside of the window, and the street light shone on the evergreen tree in the back yard.

"There goes a rabbit!" she cried, but by the time Carolyn reached the window only the tracks were visible.

"Is Daddy asleep?" Carolyn asked.

"Yes, poor man. He didn't get away from the office until after seven and insists he has to get up at five-thirty tomorrow morning."

"That's silly."

"I know, but you can't tell him anything. I've tried, goodness knows, but it never does any good."

"Why does he do it?"

"Oh," said Mrs. Bridge irritably, for the thought of it never failed to irritate her, "he insists we'll all starve to death if he doesn't."

"That'll be the day!"

Both of them were silent for a while, watching the snow descend.

"I do hope Ruth gets home soon."

"You know I don't like you to use that expression."

Carolyn split a bobby pin on her teeth and jammed it into her curly blond hair. "Well, what's the matter with her then? Who does she think she is, anyway?" She leaned to one side and opened the cupboard that belonged to Ruth. "Look at that! Black lace bras. Mademoiselle from Kansas City."

Presently the grandfather clock in the hall chimed twice, and Mrs. Bridge, after brushing Carolyn's cheek with her lips, went downstairs and into the kitchen, where she made herself some cocoa and moodily watched the snow building up on the sill. After a while she went upstairs again, changed into her nightgown, and got into bed beside her husband. There she lay with her hands folded on the blanket while she waited for the faint noise of the front door opening and closing.

She believed she was awake but all at once, without having heard a sound, she realized someone was downstairs. She heard a gasp and then what sounded like a man groaning. The luminous hands of the bedside clock showed four-fifteen. Mrs. Bridge got out of bed, pulled on her robe, and hurried along the hall to the top of the stairs, where she took hold of the banister and leaned over, calling just loud enough to be heard by anyone in the living room, "Ruth?"

No one answered.

"Ruth, is that you?" she asked, more loudly, and there was authority in her tone. She listened and she thought some delicate noise had stopped. The dark house was silent.

"I'm coming down," said Mrs. Bridge.

"It's me," said Ruth.

"Is there anyone with you?"

"He's leaving."

And then Ruth coughed in a prolonged, unnatural way, and Mrs. Bridge knew she was coughing to conceal another noise.

"Who's there?" she demanded, unaware that she was trembling from anger and fright, but there was only the sound of the great front door opening and shutting and seconds later the crunch of auto tires on the crust of yesterday's frozen snow as whoever it was released the brake and coasted away.

A cold draft swept up the spiral staircase. Mrs. Bridge, peering down into the gloom, saw her daughter ascending. She snapped on the hall light and they met at the top step. Ruth was taking the last of the pins out of her hair. She reeked of whisky and her dress was unbuttoned. Idly she pushed by her mother and wandered along the hall. Mrs. Bridge was too shocked to do anything until Ruth was at the door of her room; there they confronted each other again, for Ruth had felt herself pursued and turned swiftly with a sibilant ominous cry. Her green eyes were glittering and she lifted one hand to strike. Mrs. Bridge, untouched by her daughter's hand, staggered backward.

From Mr. Bridge:

84: 4 A.M.

His eyes opened and focused quickly, because something was wrong. The house was silent. At his side his wife breathed deeply and calmly. He could not hear anything except the ticking of the grandfather clock in the hall and the wind soughing through the trees, but he thought somebody was downstairs. He got up, put on his robe and slippers, took a box of bullets out of the dresser, and emptied the bullets into his pocket. He slid his hand under the mattress and pulled out the gun. He loaded it and cocked it and started walking slowly along the hall, pausing every few steps to listen. He was standing at the top of the stairs when he heard somebody groan.

He placed one hand on the rail to steady himself and started down. At the bottom of the steps he raised the gun and looked around the corner into the living room. The drapes had been drawn apart. Moonlight spilled through the east window and he could see a man lying on top of Ruth. She opened her mouth and kicked her legs like a frog. The man lifted his head. He groaned again. She pushed at his face, and as mechanically as figures in an old film they rolled away from each other. She got to her feet briskly and pulled down on her skirt. She brushed the hair out of her eyes and stepped into her shoes. One of the sofa cushions was lying on the floor. She picked it up and dropped it on the sofa. At that moment the clock began to chime. Mr. Bridge wondered if he was asleep; he blinked and looked around, because he thought he remembered the sound of the front door closing. The man had disappeared.

Ruth was calmly buttoning her blouse, which was undone halfway to the waist. He gazed at her in disbelief. She ignored him and went on buttoning her blouse. He remembered that he had brought the gun; he looked at it and saw that it was in his hand, and the weight of it convinced him that he was awake.

"What were you planning to do?" she asked.

He put the gun in the pocket of his bathrobe and sat down in the nearest chair. It seemed to him that he had been a fool. He was a fool to suppose that he could prevent things like this from happening.

Ruth went on in the same sardonic voice: "He begged me to go to a hotel, but I wouldn't. So here we are. Here we are, you and I." She crossed her arms and looked down on him with an expression of indifference or contempt. "Promise me one thing. Don't let Mother know. It would probably kill her."

Mr. Bridge realized that he was attempting to cry, but he had not cried since he was a child. He began to cough.

"Things are different now," she said, and she approached and brushed his ear with the tip of her little finger, but her face was hard. Her eyes were not asking forgiveness.

"No," he said, shaking his head. "Some things never change. Love and respect and human decency—these never change. Your mother and I have these things."

"Good for you."

"No," he said firmly. "Without these none of us could go on living."

Ruth shrugged. She did not seem to be listening. He looked up at her helplessly.

"What about this man? Are you planning to be married?"

"Oh God," she murmured with a gesture of impatience. "I never saw that ass before tonight. Times have changed since you were young." Then she added, "And besides, you've probably forgotten how it used to be."

He shook his head again. "I have not forgotten what it means to desire a woman. I am still able to feel great desire for your mother."

"I don't want to talk any more," she said. "I'm exhausted. I'm going to bed." She ran out of the room and up the steps.


10 November 2018