23. "Masters and Slaves"

"C'était ma principale supériorité sur les mortes: je pouvais encore ponser que vous pensiez á moi."

- Jean-Paul Sartre, Les Mains sales

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by Lucas Edwards

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Episode Twenty-Three

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"III. Four Lost Souls¹

"He opened his mouth to speak, but a warm wave rushed in.

"It must be important, he thought.

"The music stopped, but the two boys on the little platform still moved their hands and lips, beating out the dance in silence.

"'This is 23. See? There's the sign, 23.'

"A fine beginning.

"'Did you speak?' asked the man with the birthmark, spying up. His face with red and purple where it was not brown, faintly shabby and unshaved, shiftily angry about the eyes as though his cunning were an irritation impossible to bear.

"A car backfired.

"'Now you know two more, don't you?'"

I worry Jim Post is about to kill Ed. Or he's going to kick him out. I'm always worried about death before bedtime.² Edward is too young to die; he's never had sex on a train! I remember when, before writing Bouleversement, Ed had to kick Larry out of the house a Carr had lived in.

The story Larry was a loser and I kicked him out after supporting his alcoholic ass for several college months including those spent being Billy Bibbit.

He went to the porn house to live, or so he said, but it couldn't be told anymore what was real and what wasn't including a trip to the state mental hospital to be dried out.

"He sank into the ragged green water for the second time and, rising naked with seaweed and a woman under each arm and a mouthful of broken shells, he saw the whole of his dead life standing trembling before him, indestrctible and unsinkable, on the brandy-brown waves. It looked like a hallstand.

"'His name was Sam and he had green eyes and brown hair. He was ever so short. Darling, darling, darling Sam, he's dead.' The tears ran down her cheeks.

"Through the back window he saw three strangers waving. He pulled down the blind.

"Will I be alone tonight in the room with the piano, Samuel wondered. Alone like a man in a warehouse, lying on each bed in turn, opening cupboards and putting my hand in, looking at myself in mirrors in the dark."

"'I think I said it was a fine day.'

"Mr. Allingham raised his fist. 'Say that again and I'll knock you down.'"

The story Larry lived with me in the house later determined to be that of the Carrs and those were days of trauma, kicking him out the back door and feeling like the ghost of Christmas Yet to Come: "Go!" In memory I see my hand pointed the way it is in many stills of That Ghost.

"'The salt of the earth,' Mr. Allington said. 'The foul salt of the earth. Drunk as a pig. Ever see a pig drunk? Ever see a monkey dancing like a man? Look at that king of the animals. See him? The one who's eaten his lips. That one smiling. That one having his honeymoon on her feet.

"It was still raining heavily.

"'Fun!' George Ring said.

"As Ronald Bishop walked off, Samuel said silently into his glass: A fine beginning. If I goout of the station and turn round the corner I'll be back in 42. The little Proberts will be playing doctor outside the Load of Hay. The only stranger anywhere near me is a businessman with a stained face, reading the palms of his hands. No, here comes a woman in a fur coat, she's going to sit next to me. Yes, no, no. I smelt her as she passed: eau de cologne and powder and bed."

Larry returned and pleaded, crying real tears, "Don't make me go back there."

"'I'm twenty.'


"Will I be alone in the room with the piano, Samuel wondered. Alone like a man in a warehouse, lying in each bed in turn, opening cupboards and putting my hand in, looking at myself in mirrors in the dark.

"'I'm not complaining,' Mr. Allingham said. 'I'm just making a statement. I'm not saying it isn't all as it should be. He's got a bottle on his finger and I've got a tooth in my pie.'

"George Ring bowed and bounced, rising a foot from the mattress.

"Then he closed the pantry door.

"'There's hair,' whispered the young woman with the hole in her stocking.

"'That was ethical.'

"'Can you get into the other rooms?'

"'You're frightened. You're frightened to lie in the water with me. You won't be cold for long.'

"Tomorrow, today, I am going away by the 7:15 train, with ten pounds and a new suitcase. Lay your curling-pins on my pillow, the alarm at six-thirty will hurry you back to draw the blinds and light the fires before the rest come down. Come down quickly, the Bennets' house is melting. I can hear you breathe, I can hear Mrs. Baxter turn in a dream. Oh, the milkmen are waking!

"Someone had drawn the ragged curtains in the bathroom to shut out the damp old day, and the bath was half full of water with a rubber duck floating on it. As Polly closed and locked the door birds began to sing.

"'Three whiskies. What's yours, Sam? Nice drop of kiwi?'

"'I like a lot of the things, but I haven't any money.'

"Sitting with his bag in the lavatory of the moving train, for all the compartments were full, he read through his notebook and tore out the pages in order. He was dressed in a brand-new brown tweed overcoat, a brown townsuit, a white starched shirt with a woollen tie and a tiepin, and black, shining shoes. He had put his hard brown hat in the washbasin. Here was Mrs. Chapman's address next to the telephone number of a Mr. Hewson who was going to introduce him to a man who worked on a newspaper; and under these the address of the Literary Institute that had once awarded him a guinea for a poem in a competition: Will Shakespeare at the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior. He tore the page out. Then the name and address, in red ink, of a collected poet who had written him a letter thanking him for a sonnet-sequence. And a page of names that might help."

Years later, Edward had a miserable job working for an power-mad, untrained, unsupervised, English-illiterate, perjuring supervisor who, when Ed put in his notice, told him that if he didn't find another job, he was welcome to return.

"'I'm a fool for the rain.' He shook his clinging curls and danced a few steps on the pavement.

"'It's dull, isn't it?'

"Most of the history sheets on the table were already marked and damned in his father's violet writing.

"He read the instructions above the telephone, put in two pennies, dialed, and said, 'Miss Harris? I'm a friend of Austin's.'

"'Have you run away?'"

"Don't make me go back there." What movie's that from? Tennessee Williams? Edward Albee?

Or is it from "Cuckoo's Nest" or "I Never Sang for My Father"? 

"Please, don't make me go back there."

"II. Plenty of Furniture

"'Picadilly Circus. Center of the world. See the man picking his nose under the lamppost? That's the Prime Minister.'"

For many years Ed would hear the phrase, "Don't make me go back there," and search his memory for what movie or play or book he'd heard or read or seen that before.

"Even the dog had not been wakened.

'I don't think it needs any excusing, Mr. Ring,' Samuel said. 'I've never seen such a comfortable room.'

"'Remind me to wipe it off in the cab.'

"He took off his jacket and pulled his shirt over his head. Take a good look in the dark, Mortimer Street, have a peek at me in London.

"Every inch of the room was covered with furniture. Chairs stood on couches that lay on tables; mirrors nearly the height of the door were propped, back to back, against the walls, reflecting and making endless the hills of desk and chairs with their legs in the air."

The story Larry was worse than Rimbaud's "pitiful brother" could have been pitiful Hoffman, secret anti-hero of this narrative never heard from again and a bad example to be one's first love or lesson in what life has to offer.

"As George Ring weaved Samuel through the dancers to the bar they passed a machine and Samuel put in a penny for a lemon. Out came one and sixpence.

"'Do you sleep here?'

Soon her picture died, she crawled back grieving to her lovebird's mirror under the blankets, and the proper objects of the room slowly returned as he lost his fear that the strangers upstairs he had known since he could remember would wake and come down with pokers and candles."

I'm just a curbside prophet and I'm waiting for my white sidewalls³ to come.

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