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

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

Friday, March 30, 2018

The writhing of something nailed down and in torment: Clock Without Hands by Gerald Kersh (1949)



If you only have time for one Gerald Kersh book, make it Clock Without Hands (1949) from Valancourt Books.

It contains 3 brilliant novellas.

"Clock Without Hands" tells the story of a landlord who expects to be star witness at a murder trial when one of his tenants is murdered. When he is robbed of this shot at fame, other plans must be laid.

"Flight to the World's End" is about an orphan in an orphanage, overwhelmed by emotional isolation of his existence and the mercilessly arbitrary decisions of adults controlling his destiny.

"Fairy Gold" is a masterpiece.


A virulent practical joke dupes a young couple surviving on £4 a week  into thinking they've inherited £103,751 6s. 8d.



Over a sweltering bank holiday weekend they decide to cash a £20 check with a local tout. The career of that kited check, its voyage hand to hand, as well as the sorrows and miseries of the couple, accumulate incidents of a picaresque masterpiece.





Jay
30 March 2018





Thursday, March 29, 2018

Sgt. Nelson over all




....That's an old story, like the death of Nelson. We—it is typical of us—hide our admiration in our hearts, and giggle at "Kiss me, Hardy," and "England expects …"

But Nelson knew exactly what to say on his last memorable naval occasion. Emotional as a ballerina, but calm as the Angel of Death in crisis; sick as a dog at the heave of a ship, yet dragged out onto the ocean by the ancient sea-wolf that tugged inside him; Norfolk Puritan salted with old Scandinavian—there was plenty of the pale firewater in his mixture; and something sweet, too, for he could be gentle as a woman. He was a very gentle Englishman; a very English gentleman.

But you can imagine the French admiral making a song and dance about glory, honour, death, the France, liberty, the Emperor, Marengo, Austerlitz, the illustrious memory of Monsieur Chose, and so to the peroration. Nelson merely said, in effect: "Being Englishmen, fight to the death."

That was the duty England expected of them. And there is no doubt at all that in every ship in the English fleet, sailors, treated much worse than dogs and scarred as much by punitive flogging as by battle, growled that England expected a hell of a lot…. England expected a bloody sight too much … and England could go and do something impossible to itself … and they were browned off, and to hell with England. Whereupon they fought furiously and won the day.

The Englishman, that inveterate gambler, has loved the feel of long odds against him, since the dawn of his history. You can't breed out what is in the old blood. And here, there is plenty left of the blood that got splashed about when Caractacus threw his handful against Rome—the Caractacus who said to Cæsar, as we might say to Hitler: "You fight to make men your slaves: we fight to stay free men." There is plenty of the spir(it that came out best in affairs like Agincourt, where 9,000 knights and bowmen engaged an army of 27,000, and killed a man apiece and sent the rest flying. History is veined like an inflamed eyeball with our Thin Red Lines!




Sargeant Nelson of the Guards

(N.B. Hilarious book 😃)

“....You’ve got to start somewhere,” says Bearsbreath.

“And where do you end?” asks Crowne, sourly. “If you’re not careful, you end up like them old skivers that mooch about the Naffy Library. The minute the place opens, in they dash. Blind O’Reilly, it’s like a Gold Rush. They go for them four armchairs like pigs for swill. And there they sit, reading books all day long.”

“And listening to the wireless,” says Hands. “Not that that wireless ever works. It squeaks, it goes quack, it screams like a baby; but much they care. They sit and listen just the same.”

“I believe Fatty Teedale’s librarian now,” says Dagwood.

“Fatty?” says Hands. “The only man in the Brigade of Guards that used to bite his toenails. Years ago he used to be in the next bed to mine, and it made my blood run cold to hear him. When he’d used up all his fingernails, he’d start on his toes. Then he got too fat to reach them. He was the worst nail-biter I ever saw in my life. You know what he used to do? He used to save up the little fingernail on his left hand for Sunday afternoon. He’d store up that nail like another man would store a cigar. And first thing after Church Parade, he’d sit down and have a long bite at it. It shook me.”

--------

Gerald Kersh: There are occasions when the entire fabric of dialectical materialism seems to go phut

....‘Sit down and pull yourself together. Tell me, what’s troubling you?’

‘I must leave here in the morning,’ said Shakmatko, trembling in every limb; ‘it has found me again. So soon! It must have followed on my very heels. Then what is the use? I can no longer escape it, even for a day. What can I do? Where can I go? My God, my God, I am surrounded!’

‘What has found you? What are you trying to run away from?’ I asked.

He replied: ‘An evil spirit.’

I shivered. There are occasions when the entire fabric of dialectical materialism seems to go phut before the forces of nightmarish possibilities....

"The Devil that Troubled the Chessboard"

Thicker than Water

[Only words, but utterly brilliant and hilarious. Beginning of the story "Thicker than Water."]

‘YOU always were such a confounded milksop,’ said my uncle. ‘I shall never forget that time when you came down from Cambridge, pure as a lily. I gave you a ten-pound note, and told you: “Here’s a tenner, Rodney – go to the West End, find some lively company; have a good time, make a man of yourself!” And out you went, buttoned up like a blessed parson. And you were back by midnight, all flushed…. What? You’re blushing again, are you? Better watch out, Rodney. You make me think of the little train that used to run between Wittingley and Ambersham – when the driver blew the whistle, the engine lost steam, and stopped. Don’t blush; you can’t spare the blood for it. Oh, you curd, you!’

I said: ‘Oh, Uncle – please!’

But he had no mercy. He was in one of his savage, comic humours. He went right on, in apostrophe, talking to the crystal chandelier: ‘… He comes back by midnight, does this Rodney, all of a glow. I say to myself: “Well, now, at last this bookworm has made a bit of a fool of himself. About time! Let’s have a little vicarious pleasure …” And I ask him to tell me how he has spent his evening – not, mark you, that he can have sowed many wild oats between tea-time and the Devil’s Dancing Hour. “Been dissipating, Rodney, my boy?” I ask him. And: “Oh yes, Uncle Arnold!” says this little nobody. And, as I am a living sinner, he puts down nine pounds-three-and-six, with – Lord help us! – a look of guilt, saying: “Here is the change!”’

He laughed his great, coarse laugh, and the crystals of that detestable chandelier vibrated with it, seeming to titter in sympathy. Knowing that it would be useless now to beg for mercy, I remained silent.

He continued: ‘Change, I ask you, change! – the chandelier sang: Change! Nine pounds-three-and-six out of a ten-pound note. And had he dissipated? “Oh yes, Uncle Arnold.” … On sixteen shillings and sixpence, this fellow had had his first big night in town, by all that’s marvellous! … “The cost-of-living must have dropped,” I say, “because when I was twenty-two, forty-odd years ago, and if my uncle had given me a tenner to blue in town, I’d have come home with an empty pocket and an unpaid bill from Gervasi in the Strand – yes, and had to borrow half a sovereign from the butler to pay the cabbie…. What in the world,” I ask this tame mouse, “what in the world can a gentleman do, to have an evening in town on sixteen-and-six?” And he tells me, does this Rodney: “I met my friend, Willikens, of Jesus College, and we went to a picture palace. We saw Rita Anita in Passion’s Plaything, and after the show we went to a café in Soho and had ham and scrambled eggs.”’

I cried: ‘Oh, Uncle——’

‘– Oh, nephew!’ he snarled, glaring at me again. ‘I decided, from that moment on, that you were a beastly little prig. I promised my dear sister-your unhappy mother – that I’d look after you. Poor girl! Your father, whom she went and married – bolts and bars wouldn’t hold her – against all our advice, was a blackguard and a scoundrel and a rogue and a vagabond. But at least he had the decency to go to the devil like a man, if not a gentleman. Whereas you – you whey-faced marigold——’

‘– Uncle, I cannot help the colour of my hair!’ I said.

‘You can’t help anything, you!’ said he. ‘I wonder that you have the nerve to interrupt me. Why, you spaniel, for less than half of what I’ve said to you, I would have struck my own father in the face! My elder brother practically did so to my father for much less, and was kicked out of doors, and went and made his fortune in Africa … and I wish I’d gone with him…. Oh, you spiritless thing – I’d have thought better of you if you had knocked me down, just now, instead of whimpering: “Uncle, Uncle, Uncle!”’

And I could only say: ‘But, Uncle!’

‘– And yet,’ my uncle said, ‘there must be some kind of a spark of spirit in you, somewhere, or you wouldn’t have had the nerve to fall in love with this Mavis of yours. All the same, you should have got that kind of nonsense out of your system, the time I gave you that ten-pound note. “He who commits no follies at twenty will commit them at forty.” Whoever said that was quite right. So here you are, infatuated, at your age——’

‘– Uncle, I’m only thirty-nine!’ I said – and, to save my life, I could not have stopped my voice breaking – ‘and it isn’t infatuation. It’s true love!’

‘That would make it a thousand times worse, if it were true. Only it isn’t. It can’t be. True love, indeed – you, of all people!’

‘And why not me, as well as anyone else?’ I asked.

‘Why not you?’ he replied. ‘Because … you are you. True love’s for men. And what are you? A marigold, a carrot – aha, there he goes, blushing again like a tomato! – a weed, a vegetable; anything you like except a man. Love, young Rodney, takes blood and fire. All the fire in you has gone into your ridiculous hair; and all the blood in your body you need to blush with…. Infatuation, I say – don’t dare to interrupt – infatuation with a common dancing girl, who gets paid a couple of pounds a week for showing her fat legs to every Tom, Dick, or Harry who has sixpence to pay for a ticket!’

Even if I had not been choked with misery and rage, I dare say I should have held my tongue. My uncle was in one of his moods, and if I had told him that Mavis had slender and beautiful legs, he would have corrected himself into further offensiveness by saying: I beg your pardon, skinny legs. If I had argued that, say, Pavlova was also, by his definition, a ‘dancing girl’, and that Mavis was a serious Artiste in Ballet, he would have said, with an unpleasant leer: Oh yes, we know all about that! So was Signora Scampi, when my father set up an establishment for her in Brook Street, in 1883…. Brutal ignoramus as he was, he had a talent for turning any word to his own purpose. So I was silent, while he went on:

‘Now, if you’d been anything like a Man, I’d have been the last to object to your marrying a dancer. I nearly did myself, once – wish I had – she had legs, at least, to recommend her, which is more than my barren scrub of a Lady had … and, as for morals, if any: better. At least, La Palestina was frank, which is more than could be said for our own skinny-shanked, goosefleshed womenfolk … curse and confound them, from their droopy eyelids to their long cold feet! …

‘However, let’s not waste words. Marry your dancer, and not only will I strike you out of my will, but I cut off your allowance. Now then! Decide.’

‘But, Uncle!’ I said. ‘I love Mavis, and she loves me.’

He said, with a sneer: ‘You are infatuated with your Mavis, and she is in love with the eight hundred pounds a year I allow you. I ask you, you radish, what else could any full-blooded woman find in you to love?’

I might have said that Mavis was not the type of ballet dancer of my uncle’s turbulent youth; that she was by no means what he, and his type, would have described as ‘full-blooded’, being dark and slender, petal-pale and serious. But then he would only have snarled a laugh and cursed himself, saying that it was just as he had thought all along – the girl was anæmic, unfit to breed from, and he would see himself damned before he countenanced such a blend of milk and water.

‘Rodney, my boy,’ he said, ‘I want your word, here and now. Give up any idea you might have of marrying this girl. If not, I send a note to Coote tomorrow, and that will cost you eight hundred a year while I’m alive, and my money when I’m dead. You know me, Rodney. I’m a bull-terrier when I lay hold, and my mind’s made up…. Well?’

I said: ‘I’ll do as you say, Uncle Arnold. I’ll give her up.’

Then he struck the table a blow with his purple fist, and shouted: ‘I knew you would! Oh, you milksop! If you had defied me, I’d have raised your allowance to twelve hundred, and given you my blessing; and kissed your bride for you. As it is, you stick of rhubarb, your allowance is henceforward reduced to six hundred pounds a year. And let this be a lesson to you…. True love, eh? And you’d sell it for eight hundred a year!’ ....

Kicked in the mouth by one's horse

....I have survived grape-shot in my ribs, a musket-ball in the stomach, a pistol-ball in the shoulder and, most miraculous of all, a biscaïen ball in the hip (I say nothing of the bayonet-thrust, or a sabre-cut, here and there) and I have had most of the fluxes, dysenteries and agues that our frail flesh is heir to; together with a rheumatic fever which, I believed, was the ultima Thule of punishment. But the gathered might of all my enemies, my friend, never inflicted upon me one-half of the anguish I suffered under the hoof of that white-eyed devil of a dapple-grey mare! The pain of the broken bones in my face was terrible. The agony of my bitten tongue was worse. But worst of all was the pain of a shattered nerve on the left-hand side of my face. It was as if some fiend had delicately pushed a wire into my left nostril, up through some fine passage at the back of the eyeball, and out at the ear – and then applied a powerful current of electricity.

Story: "Teeth and Nails"
__

Absalom, Absalom pickles

In the year of Our Lord 1796, Absalom Relish founded the House of Relish in a potting-shed, in Clodpuddle, in the County of Kent. The foundation of this business represented the consummation of a lifetime of honest endeavour. The son of humble parents, he left the land on account of an inherent weakness of the knees, and entered the service of Baron Soyle of Clodpuddle in the capacity of knife-and-boots boy. His integrity, willingness and sagacity did not escape his master’s eye, so that before twenty years had passed Absalom was elevated to the dignity of second footman, from which he worked his way, in the course of ten or twelve years, to the position of butler to the Baron, and the secrets of the recipe-book and the pantry. Punches, sauces, and metal-polish, soap-boiling, jam-making, and elderberry wine were as an open book to Absalom Relish; nor were the secrets of game-hanging and the putrefaction of Stilton cheese unknown to him. But above all, he became possessed of the recipe for the famous Soyle Pickles, which for centuries had been the envy of the nobility of the county. This was the corner stone of his house….

Beginning of “The House of Relish”

__

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Brown on Resolution By C.S. Forester





Brown on Resolution by C.S.Forester
1929.


Forester's non-Hornblower novels have the same capable and surprising complications as the works for which he is famous.

Brown on Resolution (1929) is the first nautical-related tale Forester wrote. Until then he was known for a series of grimly intense crime novels.

Brown on Resolution is not only a superb "man-alone" thriller in what would later be called the Rogue Male tradition. It gives us Brown's entire humble life, explaining at each stage of the boy's development those strengths of character that would allow him to accomplish all he did in those crowded hours when he fought alone against the Kaiser's warship Ziethen on Resolution.

Jay
27 March 2018






Historical melodrama à la mode: The Hope and The Glory by Herman Wouk.

….As the morning reports poured in, all the officers in the war room were looking cheerful for a change. Even the dour bone-weary Pasternak was studying the big table map with something resembling a smile. The girls were moving pins and unit symbols far into Sinai, except for Colonel Yoffe's brigade, which had not yet budged.


Operation kadesh was finally unfolding as Dayan had foreseen. The laggard British bombing of the airfields had done the job, eliminating the enemy air force from the fast-moving war; and the Egyptian troops that had been pouring into Sinai were in a headlong rush back to the Canal Zone. So at last - and this was why Pasternak was almost smiling - Yoffe's brigade could start down the track mapped out by the yarkon patrol along the Sinai's east coast; heretofore it would have been too vulnerable from the air. Yoffe had to go mighty fast, however, to capture Sharm before the United Nations voted on an American ceasefire resolution already under debate in the General Assembly. There were two enemies now, the Egyptians and the clock.


A soldier at the table: "Sir, telephone for you."


"Hello, Pasternak here."


"Crazy balagan," were Zev Barak's first words. "No use giving you a long story. I want your authorization to buy eighty-seven cows."


"Eighty-seven cows? Is this a joke?"


"Do you want an explanation, or will you just give me an okay? We have a serious problem."


"Let's hear it."


Barak glanced out the open farmhouse window at the


stumpy white-haired figure keeping the bulldozers at bay. The smell from the barns was oppressing his city-bred nose. "Okay, it seems there's this old guy whose cow bams extend a few feet into the railroad right-of-way. Actually one very long barn, all along the track. The trains cleared it, so he got away with it for years. There are eighty-seven cows in that barn. He's one of these old Russian Jews, built like a rock, a demented individualist. He says the rotten socialist kibbutz system is behind all this, he's made all the rotten kibbutzim look sick with his successful private dairy, and they're out to get him."


"So what? Knock the barn down."


"He's got an Uzi, and he's ready to shoot the bulldozer drivers." .


"Well, then, disarm the old lunatic! That's hard?"


"Sam, we got to talking. Turns out he knew my grandfather in Plonsk, in fact, he says he was once in love with my grandmother. I feel sorry for him."


"Zev, what the devil will the army do with eighty-seven dairy cows?"


"We can eat them, can't we?"


"By my life, you're as crazy as he is. You don't eat dairy cows, you milk them. Demolish the bam, I say, and fast. Tell him Solel Boneh will build him a brand-new one." Solel Boneh was the giant governmental road-building and construction corporation.


"All right, I can try that."


"Zev, you sound light in the head. What about your brigade? Is it on the move?"


"Definitely. Yoffe has started south, and I'll catch up with him when I've cleared this snag. The landing craft are loaded on flatcars in Haifa ready to go. The other demolitions have been done. There's just this cow bam."


Barak was in fact iight-headed, not having slept all night in the hard push to get the brigade ready to roll. He found the barn impasse weirdly amusing, and enjoyed baiting Pasternak with it. Moreover, short of using force on the old man, he really was at a loss.


"Do whatever you think best," snapped Pasternak. "Buy


the cows, shoot the old guy in the leg by accident, I don't care. The UN may vote today or tomorrow on the ceasefire. Move!"


Barak approached the dairyman, who, except for a bristly white beard, rather resembled the Prime Minister in his pugnacious jaw, heavy nose, and fierce eyes under bushy snowy brows. When Barak made the Solel Boneh proposal, the Russian exploded. "Solel Boneh? I worked for Solel Boneh! I quit Solel Boneh! The only thing in this country worse than the kibbutzim is Solel Boneh. Before Solel Boneh gets around to it, the Messiah will build me a barn."


"The army will buy your cows, then."


"And what will I do without cows? Go back to work for Solel Boneh? I fart on Solel Boneh!"


Barak took from a pouch his operation map of kadesh. "Look, Reb Shloimeh, here is how things stand." In quick sentences he sketched the war picture, making as clear as he could the mission of Yoffe's brigade, the reason for the demolition, and the race against the UN vote. "Without the replenishment by sea, Reb Shloimeh, the boys won't take Sharm el Sheikh, because the tanks and trucks won't have the fuel to get them there. And your barn is in the way of the boats I have to freight to Eilat. Zeh mah she'yaish." ("That's how it is.")


The dairyman listened, looking hard at the map and nodding. "Why didn't those fellows on the bulldozers tell me all that?"


"They're just drivers, they had their orders. We're racing the UN."


"I fart on the UN," said the farmer, lowering his gun. "Let me get my cows out into the field."


"I'll give you a document, showing that the government will rebuild your barn."


"Wipe your ass with the document. I'll rebuild my own barn."


Colonel Avraham Yoffe, the big burly brigade commander, had requested Zev Barak as his deputy because he knew him from the Jewish Brigade days. As Sergeant Wolfgang


Berkowitz, Zev had been adept at coping with the deep sand and balky machines of the North African desert. Also, Barak had been on the yarkon patrol, so he understood that the challenge to the brigade was as much making it down the Sinai coast, as taking Sharm el Sheikh.


Barak had risen to the job, had drawn up formidable lists of requirements, and had sleeplessly checked their delivery and distribution, driving Yoffe's staff to exhaustion and accepting no report except, "Done!" Now, as the long column of the Ninth crawled out of the Negev into enemy territory, there was no lack of spare parts and repair equipment in the ten-mile-long serpentine on wheels, nor of water, food, extra fuel, spare tires, and the thousand small items of a mechanized force on the march through a wasteland, carrying its own means of life support like a fleet putting to sea….






Herman Wouk's novels rotate around the same central themes:

1. A protagonist married to the wrong woman, too busy in his career to strike out boldly for divorce so he can wed the right woman, with whom he is having an adulterous affair.

2. The martial career as a prism through which the values of the middle class professional and artistic layers are observed and judged.

Wouk's Israel novels, The Hope and The Glory, are probably disliked as low-brow and old-fashioned, and also as defenses of Israel itself. They are massive potboilers filled with soap opera melodrama and second-hand politics.

I liked them. Usually I find I enjoy a novel most when the gulf between its politics and mine is unbridgeable.  I can relax and enjoy the writing and the hellish slog endured by the characters.

The hundred characters are hard to keep track of, but the complications and witticisms keep coming. (The point with these books is not to slow down.) And there are passages of humor and hard-won poignancy.




Jay

27 March 2018




Saturday, March 17, 2018

In war everything had to be used that was useful: The Thin Red Line by James Jones (1962)

….It was amazing how the longer one lasted in this business, the less sympathy one felt for others who were getting shot up as long as oneself was in safety. Sometimes the difference was a matter of only a very few yards. But terror became increasingly limited to those moments when you yourself were in actual danger….









The Thin Red Line has nothing in common with any Pacific war story I am familiar with. No melodrama, no change-the-course-of-the-war inflationary blather.

James Jones gives the reader war-fighting as a job: episodic, atomizing, open-ended, harrowing and ridiculous.

As we follow rifle company C-for-Charlie from the day they land on Guadalcanal in 1942, characters are transformed in the forcing-frame of combat. But the absurd sniping and competition among GIs for pelf and place, for more responsibility and for less, has as much place in the narrative as fighting against emaciated, starving Japanese soldiers.

The most harrowing combat scene comes with the wounding of Pvt.Tella:


….That whole fucking outrageous ridge was one giant honeycomb of emplacements. It was a regular fortress. He himself was fast nearing the limbo of total mental exhaustion. It was hard to try and act fearless for your men when you were actually full of fear. And Beck wanted reinforcements!


Stein had lain and watched Keck lead his three pitiful little squads up that goddamned ridge with tears in his eyes. Beside him George Band had lain and watched eagerly through the glasses, smiling toughly. But Stein had choked up, cried enough moisture so that everything blurred and he had to wipe his eyes out quickly. He had personally counted every one of the twelve to go down. They were his men, and he had failed in his responsibility to each one who fell. And now he was being asked to send more after them.


Well, he could give him the two remaining squads of 2d Platoon. Pull them back out and put the reserve 3d Platoon up on the crest to fire cover. That would work all right. But before he did it, he intended to talk to Col Tall and get Tall's opinion and assent. Stein simply did not want that responsibility, not all alone. Rolling over, he motioned to Corporal Fife to bring him the telephone. God, but he was bushed. It was just then that Stein first heard from down in the little valley the first thin, piping yells.


They sounded insane. What they lacked in volume, and they lacked a great deal, they more than made up in their penetrating qualities, and in their length. They came in a series, each lasting five full seconds, the whole lasting thirty seconds. Then there was silence under the high-hanging, jouncing racket of noise.


"Jesus!" Stein said fervently. He looked over at Band, whom he found looking back at him with squinted, dilated eyes.


"Christ!" Band said.


From below, high and shrill, the series of yells came again. They were not screams.


Stein was able to pick him out easily with the glasses, which brought him up very close, too close for comfort. He had fallen almost at the bottom of the slope, seventy-five or eighty yards, not far from the other one, the Mississippian Catt, who—seen through the glasses—was clearly dead. Now he was trying to crawl back. He had been hit squarely in the groin with a burst of heavy MG fire which had torn his whole belly open. Lying on his back, his head uphill, both hands pressed to his belly to hold his intestines in, he was inching his way back up the slope with his legs. Through the glasses Stein could see blue-veined loops of intestine bulging between the bloodstained fingers. Inching was hardly the word, since Stein estimated he was making less than half an inch per try. He had lost his helmet, and his head thrown back on his neck, his mouth and his eyes wide open, he was staring directly up at Stein as if he were looking into a Promised Land. As Stein watched, he stopped, laid his head flat, and closing his eyes he made his series of yells again. They came to Stein's ears faintly, exactly in the same sequence as they had before. Then, resting a second and swallowing, he yelled something else.


"Help me! Help me!" Stein heard. Feeling sick and dizzy in the area of his diaphragm, he lowered the glasses and handed them to Band.


"Tella," he said.


Bank looked a long time. Then he too lowered the glasses. There was a flat, scared look in his eyes when he looked back at Stein. "What're we gonna do?" Band said.


Trying to think of some answer to this, Stein felt something touch him on the leg. He yelped and jumped, fear running all through his body like quicksilver. Whirling around, he found himself staring downslope into the fear-ridden eyes of Corporal Fife, who was holding out to him the telephone. Too upset even to be sheepish or angry, Stein waved him away impatiently. "Not now. Not now." He began to call for a medic, one of whom was already on his way. From below the insane series of yells came again, identical, unchanging.


Stein and Band were not the only ones to have heard them. The entire remainder of the 2d Platoon lying along the crest of the fold had heard them. So had the medic who was now running bentover along the slope to Stein. So had Fife.


When his commander waved him away with the telephone, Fife had collapsed exactly where he was and flattened himself as low to the ground as he could get. The mortar shells were still falling at roughly one-minute intervals; sometimes you could hear their fluttery shu-ing sound for two seconds before they hit; and Fife was completely terrorized by them. He had lost the power to think reasonably, and had become a piece of inert protoplasm which could be made to move, but only when the proper stimuli were applied. Since making up his mind that he would do exactly what he was told, but exactly that and no more, he had lain exactly where he had been until Stein called him for the telephone. Now he lay exactly where he had dropped and waited to be told to do something else. This gave him little comfort, but he had no desire to see or do more. If his body would not work well, his mind could, and Fife realized that by far the great majority of the company were reacting like himself. But there were still those others who, for one reason or another of their own, got up and walked about and offered to do things without being told first. Fife knew it, because he had seen them—otherwise he wouldn't have believed it. His reaction to these was one of intense, awed hero worship composed of about two-thirds grinding hate, and shame. But when he tried to force his body to stand up and walk around, he simply could not make it do it. He was glad that he was a clerk whose job was to take care of the telephone and not a squad noncom up there with Keck, Beck, McCron and the others, but he would have preferred to be a clerk at Battalion Hq back on Hill 209, and more than that a clerk at Regiment back down in the coconut groves, but most of all a clerk at Army Hq in Australia, or in the United States. Just above him up the slope he could hear Bugger Stein talking with the medic, and he caught the phrase "his belly blown open." Then he caught the word "Tella". So it was Tella who was yelling down there like that. It was the first concrete news Fife had had of anyone since the two dead lieutenants and Grove. He pressed his face to the dirt sickly, while Bugger and the medic moved off a few feet for another look. Tella had used to be a buddy of his, for a while at least. Built like a Greek god, never very bright, he was the most amiable of men, despite his career in life as a honeydipper in Cambridge Mass. And now Tella was suffering in actual reality the fate which Fife all morning had been imagining would be his own. Fife felt sick. It was so different from the books he'd read, so much more final. Slowly, in trepidation at even raising it that far, he lifted his head a fraction off the dirt to peer with pain-haunted, fear-punctured eyes at the two men with the binoculars. They were still talking. "Can you tell?" Stein asked, anxiously. "Yes, sir. Enough," the medic said. He was the senior one, the more studious looking. He handed the glasses to Stein and put back on his spectacles. "There's nothing anybody can do that'll help him. He'll be dead before they can ever get him back to a surgeon. And he's got dirt all over his bowels. Even sulfa won't fix that. In these jungles?"


There was a pause before Stein spoke again. "How long?"


"Two hours? Four, maybe? Maybe only one, or less."


"But, God damn it, man!" Stein exploded. "We can't any of us stand it that long!" He paused. "Not counting him! And I can't ask you to go down there."


The medic studied the terrain. He blinked several times behind his glasses. "Maybe it's worth a try."


"But you said yourself nobody could do anything to help him."


"At least I could get a syrette of morphine into him."


"Would one be enough?" Stein asked. "I mean, you know, would it keep him quiet?"


The medic shook his head. "Not for long." He paused. "But I could give him two. And I could leave him three or four for himself."


"But maybe he wouldn't take them. He's delirious. Couldn't you just, sort of, give them all to him at once?" Stein said.


The medic turned to look at him. "That would kill him, sir."


"Oh," Stein said.


"I couldn't do that," the medic said. "I really couldn't."


"Okay," Stein said grimly. "Well, do you want to try it?"


From below the set, unchanging series of yells, the strangely mechanical cries of the man they were talking about, rose up to them, precise, inflexible, mad, a little quavery toward the end, this time.


"God, I hope he don't begin to cry," Stein said. "God damn it!" he yelled, balling a fist. "My company won't have any fighting spirit left at all if we don't do something about him!"


"I'll go, sir," the medic said solemnly, answering the question of before. "After all, it's my job. And after all, it's worth a try, isn't it, sir?" he said, nodding significantly toward the spot where the series of yells had now ceased. "To stop the yells."


"God," Stein said, "I don't know."


"I'm volunteering. I've been down there before, you know. They won't hit me, sir."


"But you were on the left. It's not as bad there."


"I'm volunteering," the medic said, blinking at his Captain owlishly.


Stein waited several seconds before he spoke. "When do you want to go?"


"Any time," the medic said. "Right now." He started to get up.


Stein put out a restraining arm. "No, wait. At least I can give you some covering fire."


"I'd rather go now, sir. And get it over with."


They had been lying side by side, their helmets almost touching as they talked, and now Stein turned to look at the boy. He could not help wondering whether he had talked this boy into volunteering. Perhaps he had. He sighed. "Okay. Go ahead."


The medic nodded, looking straight ahead this time, then sprang up into a crouch, and was gone over the crest of the fold.


It was all over almost before it got started. Running like some fleeting forest animal, his medic's web equipment flopping, he reached the damaged Tella, swung round to face him up the hill, then dropped to his knees, his hands already groping at the pouch which held his syrettes. Before he could get the protective cap off the needle, one MG, one single MG, opened up from the ridge stitching across the area. Through the glasses Stein watched him jerk straight up, eyes and mouth wide, face slack, not so much with disbelief or mental shock as with sheer simple physiological surprise. One of the objects which had struck him, not meeting bone, was seen to burst forth through the front of him puffing out the green cloth, taking a button with it and opening his blouse a notch. Stein through the glasses saw him jab the now-bared needle, whether deliberately by design or from sheer reflex, into his own forearm below the rolled up sleeve. Then he fell forward on his face crushing both the syrette and his hands beneath him. He did not move again.


Stein, still holding the glasses on him, waited. He could not escape a feeling that something more important, more earthshaking should happen. Seconds ago he was alive and Stein was talking to him; now he was dead. Just like that. But Stein's attention was pulled away before he could think more, pulled away by two things. One was Tella, who now began to scream in a high quavery babbling falsetto of hysteria totally different from his former yells. Looking at him now through the glasses—he had almost forgotten him entirely in watching the medic—Stein saw that he had flopped himself over on his side, face pressing the dirt. Obviously he had been hit again, and while one bloodstained hand tried to hold in his intestines, the other groped at the new wound in his chest. Stein wished that at least they had killed him, if they were going to shoot him up again. This screaming, which he ceased only long enough to draw sobbing breath, was infinitely more bad than the yells for everyone concerned, both in its penetration and in its longevity. But they were not firing more now. And as if to prove it deliberate a faint faraway voice called several times in an Oriental accent, "Cly, Yank, cly! Yerl, Yank, yerl!"


The other thing which caught Stein's attention was something which caught the corner of his eye in the glasses as he lay looking at Tella and wondering what to do. A figure emerged from the grass on the righthand ridge plodding rearward across the flat and began to mount the forward slope of the fold. Turning the glasses on him, Stein saw that it was his Sergeant McCron, that he was wringing his hands, and that he was weeping. On his dirty face two great white streaks of clean skin ran from eye to chin accentuating the eyes as if he were wearing the haunting makeup of a tragic actor in some Greek drama. And on he came, while behind him Japanese MGs and smallarms opened up all across the ridge, making dirt puffs all around him. Still he came on, shoulders hunched, face twisted, wringing his hands, looking more like an old woman at a wake than an infantry combat soldier, neither quickening his pace nor dodging. In a kind of incredulous fury Stein watched him, frozen to the glasses. Nothing touched him. When he reached the top of the fold, he sat down beside his Captain still wringing his hands and weeping.


"Dead," he said. "All dead, Capn. Every one. I'm the only one. All twelve. Twelve young men. I looked after them. Taught them everything I knew. Helped them. It didn't mean a thing. Dead."


Obviously, he was talking only of his own twelve-man squad, all of whom Stein knew could not be dead.


From below, because he was still sitting up in the open beside his prone Captain, someone seized him by the ankle and hauled him bodily below the crest. To Corporal Fife, who had seen the vomiting Sico go and who now lay looking up at McCron with his own fear-starting eyes, there was some look not exactly sly about his face but which appeared to say that while what he was telling was the truth, it was not all the truth, and which made Fife believe that like Sico McCron had found his own reasonable excuse. It did not make Fife angry. On the contrary, it made him envious and he yearned to find some such mechanism which he might use with success himself.


Stein apparently felt somewhat the same thing himself. With only one further look at the handwringing, still weeping, but now safe McCron, Stein turned his head and called for the medic.


"Here, sir," the junior medic said from immediately below him. He had come up on his own.


"Take him back. Stay with him. And when you get back there, tell them we need another medic now. At least one."


"Yes, sir," the boy said solemnly. "Come on, Mac. That's it. Come on, boy. It'll be all right. It'll all be all right."


"You don't understand that they're all dead," McCron said earnestly. "How can it be all right?" But he allowed himself to be led off by the arm. The last C-for-Charlie saw of him was when he and the medic dropped behind the second fold, now seventy-five to a hundred yards behind them. Some of them were to see his haunted face in the Division's hospital later, but the company as a whole saw him no more.


Stein sighed. With this last, new crisis out of the way and taken care of, he could turn his attention back to Tella. The Italian was still screaming his piercing wailing scream and did not seem to show any indication that he was ever going to run down. If it kept on, it was going to unnerve them all. For a fleet second Stein had a lurid romantic vision of taking up his carbine and shooting the dying man through the head. You saw that in movies and read it in books. But the vision died sickly away, unfulfilled. He wasn't the type and he knew it. Behind him his reserve platoon, cheeks pressed to earth, stared at him from their tense, blank, dirty faces in a long line of white, nerve-racked eyes. The screaming seemed to splinter the air, a huge circular saw splitting giant oak slabs, shivering spinal columns to fragments. But Stein did not know what to do. He could not send another man down there. He had to give up. A hot unbelieving outraged fury seized him at the thought of McCron plodding leisurely back through all that fire totally unscathed. He motioned furiously to Fife to hand him the phone, to take back up the call to Colonel Tall which Tella's first screams had interrupted. Then, just as he was puckering to whistle, a large green object of nature on his right, a green boulder topped by a small metallic-colored rock, rose up flapping and bellowing. Taking earthly matters into its own hands, it bounded over the crest of the fold growling guttural obscenities before Stein could even yell the one word, "Welsh!" The First Sergeant was already careering at full gallop down into the hollow.


Welsh saw everything before him with a singular, pristine, furiously crystal clarity: the rocky thin-grassed slope, mortar- and bullet-pocked, the hot bright sunshine and deep cerulean sky, the incredibly white clouds above the towering highup horseshoe of the Elephant's Head, the yellow serenity of the ridge before him. He did not know how he came to be doing this, nor why. He was simply furious, furious with a graven, black, bitter hatred of everything and everybody in the whole fucking gripeassed world. He felt nothing. Mindlessly, he ran. He looked curiously and indifferently, without participation, at the puffs of dirt which had begun now to kick up around him. Furious, furious. There were three bodies on the slope, two dead, one alive and still screaming. Tella simply had to stop that screaming; it wasn't dignified. Puffs of dirt were popping up all around him now. The clatterbanging which had hung in the air at varying levels all through the day had descended almost to ground level, now, and was aimed personally and explicitly at him. Welsh ran on, suppressing a desire to giggle. A curious ecstasy had gripped him. He was the target, the sole target. At last it was all out in the open. The truth had at last come out. He had always known it. Bellowing "Fuck you!" at the whole world over and over at the top of his lungs, Welsh charged on happily. Catch me if you can! Catch me if you can!


Zigzigging professionally, he made his run down. If a fucking nut like McCron could simply walk right out, a really bright man like himself in the possession of his faculties could get down and back. But when he skidded to a stop on his belly beside the mutilated Italian boy, he realized he had made no plans about what to do when he got here. He was stumped, suddenly, and at a loss. And when he looked at Tella, an embarrassed kindliness came over him. Gently, still embarrassed, he touched the other on the shoulder. "How goes it, kid?" he yelled inanely.


In mid-scream Tella rolled his eyes around like a maddened horse until he could see who it was. He did not stop the scream.


"You got to be quiet," Welsh yelled, staring at him grimly. "I came to help you."


It had no reality to Welsh. Tella was dying, maybe it was real to Tella, but to Welsh it wasn't real, the blueveined intestines, and the flies, the bloody hands, the blood running slowly from the other, newer wound in his chest whenever he breathed, it had no more reality for Welsh than a movie. He was John Wayne and Tella was John Agar.


Finally the scream stopped of itself, from lack of breath, and Tella breathed, causing more blood to run from the hole in his chest. When he spoke, it was only a few decibels lower than the scream. "Fuck you!" he piped. "I'm dying! I'm dying, Sarge! Look at me! I'm all apart! Get away from me! I'm dying!" Again he breathed, pushing fresh blood from his chest.


"Okay," Welsh yelled, "but goddam it, do it with less noise." He was beginning to blink now, and his back to crawl, whenever a bullet flipped up dirt.


"How you going to help me?"


"Take you back."


"You can't take me back! You want to fucking help me, shoot me!" Tella screamed, his eyes wide and rolling.


"You're off your rocker," Welsh yelled in the noise. "You know I can't do that."


"Sure you can! You got your pistol there! Take it the fuck out! You want to help me, shoot me and get it over with! I can't stand it! I'm scared!"


"Does it hurt much?" Welsh yelled.


"Sure it hurts, you dumb son of a bitch!" Tella screamed. Then he paused, to breathe, and bleed, and then he swallowed, his eyes closed. "You can't take me back."


"We'll see," Welsh yelled grimly. "You stick with old Welsh. Trust old Welsh. Did I ever give you a bum steer?" He was aware now—he knew—that he wouldn't be able to stay much longer. Already he was flinching and jerking and jumping uncontrollably under the fire. Crouching he ran around to Tella's head and got him under the armpits and heaved. In his own arms Welsh could feel the body stretch even before Tella screamed.


"Aaa-eeeee!" The scream was terrible. "You're killing me! You're pulling me apart! Put me down, goddam you! Put me down!"


Welsh dropped him quickly, by simple reflex. Too quickly. Tella landed heavily, sobbing. "You son of a bitch! You son of a bitch! Leave me alone! Leave me alone! Don't touch me!"


"Stop that yelling," Welsh yelled, feeling abysmally stupid, "it ain't dignified." Blinking, his nerves already fluttering like fringe in a high wind now and threatening to forsake him, he scrambled grimly around to Tella's side. "All right, we'll do it this way, then." Slipping one arm under the Italian's knees and the other under his shoulders, he lifted. Tella was not a small man, but Welsh was bigger, and at the moment he was endowed with superhuman strength. But when he heaved him up to try and carry him like a child, the body jackknifed almost double like a closing pocketknife. Again there was that terrible scream.


"Aaa-eeeee! Put me down! Put me down! You're breaking me in two! Put me down!"


This time Welsh was able to let him down slowly.


Sobbing, Tella lay and vituperated him. "You son of a bitch! You fucker! You bastard! I told you leave me alone! I never ast you to come down here! Go away! Leave me alone! You shiteater! Stay away from me!" And turning his head away and closing his eyes, he began his desperate, wailing, piercing scream again.


Five yards above them on the slope a line of machinegun bullets slowly stitched itself across from left to right. Welsh happened to be looking straight at it and saw it. He did not even bother to think how all the gunner had to do was depress a degree. All he could think about now was getting out of here. And yet how could he? He had come all this way down here. And he had not saved Tella, and he had not shut him up. Nothing. Except to cause more pain. Pain. With sudden, desperate inspiration he leaped across the prostrate Tella and began rummaging in the dead medic's belt pouches.


"Here!" he bellowed. "Tella! Take these! Tella!"


Tella stopped screaming and opened his eyes. Welsh tossed him two morphine syrettes he had found and began to attack another pouch.


Tella picked one up. "More!" he cried when he saw what they were. "More! Gimme more! More!"


"Here," Welsh yelled, and tossed him a double handful he had found in the other pouch, and then turned to run.


But something stopped him. Crouched like a sprinter at the gun, he turned his head and looked at Tella one more time. Tella, already unscrewing the cap from one of the syrettes was looking at him, his eyes wide and white. For a moment they stared at each other.


"Goodby," Tella cried. "Goodby, Welsh!"


"Goodby, kid," Welsh yelled. It was all he could think of to say. For that matter, it was all he had time to say, because he was already off and running. And he did not look back to see whether Tella took the syrettes. However, when they were able to get to him safely later in the afternoon, they found ten empty morphine syrettes scattered all around him. The eleventh remained stuck in his arm. He had taken them one after the other, and there was an at least partially relaxed look on his dead face….







Jay

17 March 2018