I can think of nowhere to go from here. I look ahead, and Nothus slips into nothingness; the ship looms across the indecipherable and unfathomable ocean without a helmsman. My books gather me in as though to say, "Here is rest," but I am resisting them with all my power.
I hve had another letter from Wesley Court, thank God:
"Lowell, May 10 1860
"The Top of the morning to you
"How do you get along courting the girls now since the Snow went off. Last night we had a splendid fire about twelve Oclock but did not go I can tell you I liked to lay abed too well. I went to see whare it was this morning. Dont let any one see this I will tell you whare it was
"It was a house of ilfame whare they keep pretty Girls I saw to of them & the lady of the house this morning.
"The old lady was telling how it caught afire. She said she used to have the back door open & the boys used to come in after rags & c ——— I suppose they did dont you.
"You say it is very dry down in Frankfort, but not dryer then it is here. we have not had any rain for the last two months untill yesterday. we had a slight rain of about four hours.
"But I think real estate will rise to day again
"I suppose you still stick to the Sons of Temperance dont you. I had rather stick to Daughters for my part
"The bells begin to ring & I must Close.
"Give my love to all the girls
"Burn this as quick as you read it."
Thursday, 5th. Rafe stopped by for coffee this morning and I joined him and Cara. He looked very cheerful.
"Cara tells me you've been workin g on your book some more. How's it going?"
Cara sat down with us, next to Rafe. "He typed all day yesterday, but he won't talk." She looked up at me and smiled. I love her eyes when they look like that — the color of clouds on a day like this one: gray, and a touch of blue sky behind them.
"I wrote chapter six," I said. But I could not tell them the book will never be finished. I have reached the center of the circle, the eye of calm, and my voyage has ended in nothing, where it began in the heart of my protagonist.
Rafe was happy. "The best therapy in the world," he said. "Write it out. It's good." He stretched like a cat. "I'll be over around ten Saturday for another session. That all right with you, Charles?" He shook his blond forelock back into place.
"I won't be by tomorrow morning," he said. "I have appointments all day, and I'm going to have to get to school early."
Cara looked disappointed.
"Sorry," he said. "There's a bunch of kids who need draft counseling. The war's still on, you know."
"It'll be on forever," Cara said touching her cup with her lip — a voluptuous gesture.
"Well, Saturday night, then," I said.
Rafe rose and waved as he went out to the kitchen. He stood a moment with his hand on the doorknob. He looked back at us, and a slight, troubled look overcast his blue glance. Then he smiled again and waved. "Be happy," he said, and left. We heard his car back out into the road and drive away.
I have spent the day walking in the fields. I went to the falls and watched the water come down over the stones from Blind Man's Hill; I crossed to the cemetery to visit my family and my friend, but all was still — only a winter sparrow or two looking for seeds among the headstones and monuments. In the late afternoon I returned to the house and sat with the books awhile, not reading, just listening to the soft murmur of voices rising out of the leather covers and falling to silence in the house among the tickings of the clocks and the chimres, Cara humming softly in the rooms among her plants. — watering and feeding the green life in this landscape of coming winter.
"Burn this as soon as you read it Charles.
Lowell may 30, 1860
"It is with the greatest pleasure that I now attempt to answer your kind letter which I received this afternoon
"If Mrs. Small has got the P———— it is quite sure that they have been doing or try to do something for there Country. I did as you requested me to do with your letter & I want you to do the same. Wednesday night only comes once a week & that I have to do myself.
"We are haveing a few drops of rain here to night & it is not very pleasant to be on the streets so I thought I would answer your letter as you requested me to write soon
"I do not know as I have much news to tell you, but Ile try & scrabble a few lines
"Yesterday there was afire over in Belvedere Charley Deming our book keeper & Mr. Washburn was ringing the fire bell. Some of the fixing gave way & it come through thje floor, had it not hit upon some of the timbers it would of come through all the floors & probably killed them both. Another accident I have to tell you but not of that kind, Mr. Loomis one of our customers hung himself yesterday about three OClock in his own shed. he was at the store & settled up his account the day previous. Antother sad accident I have to tell you Mrs. Alden another of our customers fell down her steps & broke her him. I believe she is doing well now. Well Charles that is all the sad news I have to relate to you
"But I have some few lines more to say, There was two young ladys walking out the other day, & they passed a young gentleman which the latter laughted, as he passed, the girls looked around. Says She, If you don't like the fasion, you may stick your nose in my arse.
That is about the stile of one half of them. Do you have any such down east.
"You say you have not heard from Fred Hawkins since you wrote me last I have not written him since I have been in Lowell I have gorgoten how to superscribe my letters to him & Ile endeavor to write him afew little dities, You sayd Frank was lame, what made him so. You did not write half enough about him
"I should like to here him spin some of his long yarns, I suppose he will have as much to say as old Sam White ever did. Has Brad White got hom yet he wrote to me when he was in Charleston S. C. wanted to buy my tools, said he would be home in the spring, & as this is the 30th day of may thought I would see rather he is at home or not
"You said you & Henry went on a ride last Sunday over on the neck did you see any of the prety girls that is what I should of looked after if I had been there, how are all the Carney Girls do you ever see them except when they are at the division, give my respects to them when you see them
"Charles to tell you the barest facts I have not been home with but two girls since I have been here
"It is geting along towords ten OClock & I must go over to my boarding house & go to bed
"I still remane your honest friend
"Write soon as you told me & I did so. I shall be home for a visit before Thanksgivings day. Look for me at your door Charles I shall knock loud."
Cara has come up behind me holding two cob pipes and she is waiting.
Friday, 6th. It is all very clear to me now. I must try to write it clearly as well, so that you may be prepared, reader, if by chance this journal should be spared, which I shall make every attempt to ensure.
Last night, when I was done with my entry, I turned and followed Cara to her room. We lay down on the bed fully clothed and began to smoke. I felt clear enough of mind, so that I thought perhaps this time the leaves would not adversely affect me, as they are wont to do, strangely.
At first, this was the case. As I inhaled and held the smoke in my lungs, my feelings began to rise, and Cara and I began to exchange quips. They were silly in nture, and we began to giggle like schoolchildren.
"This won't work, Charles. We've got to cool it if we're going to get serious." She tried to force her face into repose, but was not successful. We laughed again. But, after repeated efforts, and more deep draughts of the fumes, at last we quieted. I begain to experience a sense of excitement, as did Cara, I believe.
I began to funble at her clothes, my hands busy with button and catches. Soon she lay naked on the bed and I lay back. Cara rose to her knees, bent above me, and undid my garments, pulling and tugging. I gave but little help.
As she worked I began to experience a feeling of foreboding. I attempted to fight the sensation down but was unsuccessful. Rather, it grew until I became certain that Cara was some sort of agent for malice, I cannot tell why. I began to resist her.
"Charles, you're not cooperating," she said. She looked at me out of an oval frame of darkness, her eyes luminous as gray moons. "Here," she said, "have another drag or two," and she held out the pipe I had put down. And I was certain she was trying to poison me — or, no — to use herbs to corrupt me. I pushed her hand a way, rose, and restored my clothing. I said nothing. The look of hurt in her eyes and countenance was great.
I left her room and went into mine; I sat on my bed for a while — how long I cannot surely say. The weeds were still working in my brain — flashes of strange colors and sounds.
"Hello, Charles," Norine said. Chill struck me to my marrow. I looked up, and in the darkness there was nothing to see but the glow of the fire in the hearth and its reflection in the hallseat mirror beside the wardrobe, but malevolence was omnipresent. As I gazed into the glass, above the flickering daggers of flame, as it were in the firmament, angels and clouds began to form and to whirl. At last they resolved themselves — I was staring into the mask of Death.
"You see, you've not gotten rid of us after all. Cara has seen to that. How are you, Charles? How far have to gotten with The Book of the Black Heart?" And the mask grinned coldly out of mercury and glass.
I rallied all my forces and tried to dissipate the force of the fumes. To some degree I succeeded, I think, for I rose and left the room. As I passed Cara's door I looked in. She had gone downstairs, but there was something peculiar about the light. Then I realized what it was — the house is filled with old lamps converted to electricity, but the one in Cara's room was burning with a flame, not a filament.
The hall was dark. I groped for the light switch, intending to go to the library, but I could not find it. Instead, I went downstares. I went into the dining room, and Cara was there in electrical light, holding a dish.
"Charles," she said, "you didn't eat your dessert at suppertime. Have some. It'll make you feel better. We shouldn't have smoked. I'm sorry. The stuff's no good for you." She proffered the dish. I took it, feeling shamed. I realized at the moment that I was hallucinating, and the knowledge came with a sense of relief.
I took the dish and sat down. Cara passed behind me. I heard the cellar door open. I heard her footsteps as she descended, as I thought. I took a spoonful of the pudding and lifed it to my mouth — but all my premonitions returned ten-fold. I could not eat it. This was another attempt to put me in her power. I had barely escaped once, I could not succumb now.
I went into the kitchen and disposed of the pudding, feeling again a sense of relief — but at the same time a corner of my mind told me I was being foolish and that I mustn't let myself be deeived by appearances conjured out of burning leaves.
I returned to the dining room and sat down t my place, the empty dish before me, so that Cara when she came back up would believe I had eaten her food.
And then I heard footsteps in the living room. I was astonished. I knew there was no one else in the house but Cara and me, and I knew she had not come back up out of the cellar. I got up to look and found Cara in the living room sitting on the couch and looking into the fire.
"If you're in here," I asked, "who's in the cellar?"
She looked up at me. "There's no one in the cellar, Charles. Come and sit beside me." She sighed. "I'm sorry it went all wrong. Really sorry." She was weeping.
I went to her and touched her shoulder. "It'll be all right," I said, or I think I said. "I'll be right back."
I returned to the dining room and went to the cellarway to reach for the light switch — there was none. There was a deep glow coming from below. I made some sort of hoarse noise in my throat, stepped back, and slammed the door.
When I turned about I saw I was standing in flickering lamplight.
There is no possible way to describe my sensations of fear, though I fought them as strongly as I might. I went back to the living room and called, "Cara —"
My senses spun in my mind like dust devils.
Cara was lying naked before the hearth, her legs spread. At her head and at each of her shoulders stood a black candle burning, and another at her feet.
A priest was kneeling, conducting the communion, using Cara as the altar. About Cara and the priest, in a semicircle, stood many people, some seeming to be solid flesh, others with outlines that wavered in the candlelight. Tituba stood there, and the minister with the noose about his neck; Norine and Melany, and another girl, a little older, with a woman who must have been her mother, both dressed in Puritan costume. There were others, both men and women, all clothed in ancient garments, and one man naked, his body misshapen, holding a stone, blood running from his mouth, nose, and eyes,to one side. He slgnalled Cara, who doused tbe lights, and, from the sounds of her movements, one could tell she had settled onto the couch.
"Okay," Rafe said in a quiet voice, “I want you to relax and tell every part of your body to relax, and I want you to keep looking at the pendulum as it swings, Follow it with your eyes. Let yourself sink into the pendulum and the chair. Listen to the ticking of
the clock, and, when I speak, to my volce."
For a long time he said nothing except, now and thcn, "Relax." In the fireplace I heard the sound of embers falling. I heard Rafe's voice murmuring near me. At first I was very tense, but
I did as he asked, and eventually my limbs began to lighten and to tingle, and the disc grew larger until it was very big. Then Rafe began to speak again: "It is the moon. It is filling the room. Nothing is here but you, the moon, and my voice. Let it take you. I am hcre ta protect you and help you. Your eyes are growing wider and wider, to swallow the moon, and 'all you can hear is my voice end the ticking of time. The moon, only the moon.
"Your limbs are growing heavy, and you see only the moon,”
but I could no longer feel my limbs tingling, I was lying on the softest place in the sky, on the moon which was enormous.
"And now you are growing very sleepy, Charles, and your eyelids are
beavy. The moonlight is hurting them. Let them close agalnst the light, Charles, let them clase and 1isten to me. Are you slcepy, Charlcs?"
"Yes," I said, "Very. The moon is hurting my eyes.”
“You are ssleep, Charles, and you hear nothing but my voice.
Is that so?”
"Yes,” I said. “My eyes are closed,” but I could see through the lids. The moon was pale among the scudding clouds.
"Are you asleep?"
"'What do you see?"
“The dim moon in the night aky, and I am in the sky too."
Now the voice became hollow, like a heavy gong. "Rise up and face me, rise up, Charles Ally!" I felt myself rise and turn. I was standing on nothing. I saw, with my eyes still closed, a priest in robes and cassock, darkly in the moonlight.
"I am Raphael, minister of God, Charles, and then: Speak! Who art thou that has taken this man?"
A ereat groan burst from my lips. Coils in my bowels, knots and aches.
"In the name of the Father, speak! In the name of the Son, speak! In the name of the Holy Ghost, speak, viper!"
A great voice, deeper than any well: "f am Asmodeus.”
"And I am Raphael, How didst thou enter? Speak, in the nsme of Christl"
"I am Asmodeus, of the Order of Seraphim. I came Into this man through his organ of procreation.”
“Are there others with thee? Speak!"
“No others," said the deep voice.
"I, Raphael, command thee in the name of the Lord, what others are there with thee in this man?"
"In the name of the Father!”
Coilings and gnashings.
"And of the Son!”
A babble of voices in my lungs.
"And of the Holy Ghost!"
"I am here," said a soft and haughty voice. "Belial of the Third
Hierarchy, Prince of the Order of Virtues fallen. I entered through his mind, and have clothed him in the raiment of arrogance,"
"I entered with Belial.” said a towering voice. "I am Beelzebub, of
the First Hierarchy, Prince of the Order of Seraphim Fallen, I have pierced his heart with the lance of pride."
"I, Verrine, of the First Hierarchy, Order of Thrones Fallen. I entered with the point of the lance, and poisoned his blood with Impatience.”
"And I, Gresael, af the First Hierarchy, Order of Thrones Fallen, came in with the haft. His heart is unsure."
"Cerrow, of the Second Hierarchy, Prince of Powers Fellen. His heart is stone. No one may remove the lance,"
"And I am the last, Carnivan, of the Second Hierarchy, Prince of Powers fallen. In the mirror of glass he sees me when he commits fornication with women."
Tho babble ceased. In the darkness was the ticking of the moon.
"Are there others? Speak! In the name of the Trinity, I, Raphael, command it.”
Silence again, as before; lightning and thunder,
"Why hast thou possessed this man?'
The deep voice answered: "He wished it. He forsook his Father
when he was twelve, after baptism. He heard no voice when he addressed the Throne of Grace. He commanded, and heard not the Lord, and celled out, ‘Thou art gone from the heavens, and I am forsaken. Therefore will I forsake thee,' and we began to enter."
"How long wilt thou possess this man? What is thy term?"
"'Until the final hour," the softest voice said.
''I command thee then, vipers of the Serpent, the Worm that destroys the flesh, in the name of the Judge of the word and the
deed, of the hosts of Torment and Earth, of Heaven and Hell, begonel"
In my bowels the mortal terror; the scent of smoke in my nostrils. I felt Rafe’s hand laid upon my head, and it was cool.
"I conjure thee, Princes of Seraphim fallen, of Cherubim end Throne
fallen, in the name of thy Maker, begone!" I fell and twisted, writhing in the dark air, but felt no pain; my limbs were as cedars in the wind.
"I conjure thee, Princes of Thrones Fallen, of Principalities and
Powers Fallen, in tho name of the Holy Ghost, begone!"
Terrible noises in my throat. The hand was ice on my forehead, and I shook in every' part, as though torn by wolves.
"I conjure thee, Princes of Virtues Fallen, of Archangels and Angels Fallen, in the name of the Lord thy God, Jehovah, begone!"
I cannot describe the storm that now shook me, the voices that shrieked and cursed me, overwhelming. me so that I could hardly hear Raphael.
"Beelzebub, in the name of thy adversary, St. Francis of Assisi; Asmodeus, in the name of thy adversary, St. John the Baptist; Verrine, in the name of thy adversary, St, Dominic; Gresael, in the name of thy adversary, St, Reynard; Cerrow, in the name of thy adversary, St. Vincent; Carnivan, in the name of thy adversary, St. John the Evangelist; Belial, in the name of thy adversary, St. Francis de Paul, - all ye that possess this man, by the power of the Holy Church and of the Lord of Heaven. I, Raphael, command thee to go forth and enter not again!"
As he named those names, each and every one, I felt part of a burden go with great wailing, and, at the last word, there was silence. Then, the bell behind the moon peeled twelve times, and I opened my eyes. The room was suffused with a fiery glow from the fireplace.
Suddenly, with a yowl of rage, Wesley Catch tore out of the shadows into the fireplace and I beard his claws scratching the chimney as he ran among a burst of wings that faded into the night above the house,
I remember that Rafe and Cara helped me upstairs and into bed. Cara kissed me goodnight. I am too tired, now, to continue the narrative, I have not seen Catch all day.
Monday. When I awoke yesterday morning, after the exorcism, I lay
in bed and listened. I heard nothing but the ordinary sounds of Maine in llte autmn -- the wind, the water, the occasional distant sound of a csr or truck on the road. I looked around the house and everything was in its place -- the hallseat and the wardrobe, the fire, died to ash, in the fireplace, everything but the picture over the mantel. I went to look at the spot, and then I looked down into the grate: I saw the outline of a frame laid in ash. The canvas was entirely consumed.
I dressed and went looking for Cara. She was in the basement, just coming up the stairs as I entered the dining room. Without words, we greeted each other, and f kissed her. While she was making breakfast, I went up to the library and got out The Book of Common Prayer. Opening it to "All Saints Day," I read, "And f saw another angel ascending from the east…and he cried out with a loud voice to the other angels…, ‘Hurt not the earth, neither the sea, nor the trees, till we have sealed the servants
of our God in their foreheads.’ And I heard the number of them which were Sealed; and there were sealed an hundred and forty and four thousand, of all tbe tribes of Israel.
"Of the tribe of ,ludah were sealed twelve thousand.
“Of ths tribe of Reuben, were sealed twelve thousand.
“Of the tribe of Gad were sealed twelvs thousand.
"Of the tribe of Aser were sealed twelve thousand.
"Of the tribe of Nepthalem were sealed twelve thousand.
"Of the tribe of Paneesee were sealed twelve thousand,
"Of the tribe af Simeon were sealed twelve thousand.
"Of the tribe of Levi were sealed twelve thousand.
“Of the tribe of Isaac were sealed twelve thousand,
“of the tribe of Joseph ware sealed twelve thousand.
“Of the tribe af Benjamin were sealed twelve thousand.
"After this I beheld, and lo, a great multitude, which no man could number, of all. nations, and kindreds, and peoples, and tongues, stood before the throne, before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands and cried out in a loud voice, ‘Salvation to our God which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb.’ And all the angels stood round about the throne, and about the elders, and the four beasts, and fell before the throne on their faces, and worshipped God, saying, Amen!”
Rafe joined us for breakfast, snd he patted Cara's hand as she served us. "Everything okay?" he asked. Cara nodded, and he turned his eyes on me.
"Yes, " I said. "I think everything's all right now."
"Good. but I want to continue the sessions for a while, just to be sure." I must have looked alarmed, but he laughed, holding out his cup for Cara to fill. "Don't worry about it, Charles." He pushed the hair out of his eyes. "The first is the worst. f'rom here on out, it's just insurance. I'l1 be along next Saturday night, and we'll have another go."
When ilafe had left, I went out for a walk in the fields. Csra was on the porch, calling for Wesley Cetch. I came up to her and asked what she was doing.
"Calling the cat, of course."
I felt a cold shudder run down my spine. "'Whatever for? He isn't coming back, not after last night."
Cara looked strangely at me. "Charles, what are you talklng about?
"You were there too," I said. "Didn't you see him run up the
chimney?" I could not understand why she began to look-frightened. "The exorcism,' I said. "It worked. Asmodeus is gone."
She took me by the hand. "Charles," she said, very gently, "there was no exorcism, what are you ssying? Rafe put you to sleep and tried to make you see for yourself what was botherlng you, He didn't let you remember consciously this time, but he'll start to next time, now that he knows, and slowly you’ll be able to — Oh, Charles. he told ne all about it. You can't remember anything."
But I told her what I remembered, and she is feigning surprise. She must be, I havc worried about it all day. A while ago, I asked her why she thought Wesley Catch has disappeared.
"He’s just run off," Cara answered. "Toms will do that now and then,
When I: came into Uncle John's study to write this evening, I found a letter Iying opened an the desk:
"Lowell, April 10, 1860
"I received your letter last week, but I trust you will excuse me for not answering it before, I had to write home last Sunday and I was too 1azy to write any more. Miss Tilly Huckford arrived here last week, I have not seen her yet I went to see the H…. O…. last Sunday evening had a nice time, Ellen Harrier is coming home in about three weeks I presume you will be happy to see her, William Weston was here about three days ago, I did see him. As I was looklng over the Boston Journal I saw that the Knotting house has burned last Saturday. I think you had better have a fire engine as they have one here that goes by steam.
I need a nice excuse to go over to the river since Louisa has movsd. I can stop over there when I come home. Wont that be nice
Charle? Is Ssrah Allen in Lowell? If she is let me know for I should
like to see her. How are all the boys in Frankfort? Have they begun to think about shaving yet? It smells kind of fishy here sometimes when the factory girls are out.
"Today business has been very good for a rainy one we have taken on the cash sales besides what we have cleared, I had a letter from Laura Jack last week of Richmond Me. I hear the steamer G was burnt at her harbor, I suppose they will have another on the river pretty soon.
“Give my respects to all. the girls & boys
"You will have to excuse me for not writing any more it is all most time to shut up.
Tuesday, 3rd. I am overwhelmingly relieved to be rid of Bodman. Tomorrow I will try to get back to my novel.
THE BOOK OF THE BLACK HEART
The Gunner's Story
It was the Gunner's mount the sailors were using that night to spin their sea stories on, as the carrier plowed through the star-bitten Pacific, and it was the Gunner's turn.
"Looking back on things," he said, "I guess life had been pretty good, at least for me, until my old man kicked the bucket. I might've even been able to live with that if I hadn't've found out how he died one night when my mother thought I was asleep and got yakking to her best friend, somebody she'd known since she was in school.
"Dad used to take me out to the lake for a day's fishing. We'd float around out there, just dangling our lines and hauling in the black bass. When we got tired we'd lie back in the bottom of our big, flat-bottomed scow, pull our straw hats down over our eyes, and let the sun beat down on us. Man, that was the life. We'd be stripped to the waist and sweating like horses. I could feel the sun soothing the muscles where they ached from being bent over the side of the boat. The smell of the fish we'd caught mixed with the pinewood smell of the scow. It was sort of like a nice form of ether and made me doze off.
"Every now and then a shore breeze would blow by, and we could smell the woods that bordered the lake. The breeze would rumple around our heads for a few minutes, and just as we'd be getting used to it it would stop and the sun would beat down as hard as ever.
"Once in a while a horsefly would buzz around me and finally decide to land. You have to slap 'em fast or they get away and pretty soon come back to pester you again.
"After a while the breezes would start to come up more often and the sides of the boat would block off the sun, and we'd know it was time to go home. Dad would row all the way to shore while I sat and watched the last of the sun glint on his skin. There would be purple splotches in the sky over the wood, and the ripples in the water were gold.
"I was always first out of the scow. I'd sprint over the side, splash into the water, and wade the last few feet to the beach. The sand felt good. And then I'd watch Dad as he got our gear out of the boat and walked toward me. Before he caught up with me I'd stretch till I felt my bones creak, and then lead the way along the path through the woods.
We had to walk along this pine-needle path to get to Dad's jalopy. Sometimes we'd stop and listen to the wind in the big trees, or look for animals or birds. Sometimes there was a stray bee on its last trip back to the hive.
"But then he died. I was there when they brought him in off the lake. After that I used to have a hard time getting to sleep. I'd go to bed and just lay there listening to my heard pump blood. If my mom checked on me I'd keep my eyes closed and make like I was in Dreamland.
"One night I heard my mother in the hall whispering to somebody, and then she opened the door a crack and I heard her say, 'Doesn't he look cunning, all curled up in bed like that? Oh, you wouldn't believe what an imp he can be sometimes, not when you see him like this, the little angel. You'd never believe he has bad dreams sometimes, poor dear, ever since his dad died in that accident.' I heard her sigh.
"'Poor Sally,' her friend said — I think her name was Smith, Alice Smith. 'You've had a hard life, but it's coming out all right, isn't it? You've hooked another one, haven't you? That's why I dropped in. I'm dying to hear all about it.'
"'Oh, all right,' I heard mom giggle. 'But you've got to promise never to tell anybody. Some people might misunderstand, but I know you won't. I stirred. 'Sshh,' she whispered. "Come into the living room before he wakes up. Honestly, I never get a minute to myself any more. Come on. I'll tell you how I reeled him in.'
"When they closed the door again I got up and snuck out to the hall. I heard them in the living room, so I eased on down to the doorway and listened.
"'Beer?' mom asked, 'or something stronger?"
"'Stronger,' Mrs. Smith said. I chanced a look around the corner and I could see them sitting sideways to me. I could see Alice was all ears. 'What's he like?' she asked.
"'Oh, he's great!' Mom got up to mix martinis. 'He's a big brute of a fella, with fat freckled cheeks and a grin as wide as a pound of bacon. Rrrufff!'
"'Tell me more! Where'd you meet him?' Alice took her drink as mom settled into the scatter pillows on the couch. She rolled her eyes and faked a look around her for spies. I ducked.
"'Don't tell a soul, now promise?' Alice gave a nod full of quick breaths. 'Actually,' mom said in what was supposed to be a low voice, 'I met him before big Mark died. Oh! He swept me right off my feet one day at Danny's Lunch downtown. He just up and sat down at my table — the place was crowded, and the next thing I knew, his knees were nudging me so cute-like while we ate our noodle soup. Oh,' she laughed, 'he's such a card. Just like a little boy, even though he's so big.' She rolled her eyes again. I sat down on the floor in the hall and didn't look at them any more.
"'Goodness, that's so romantic,' Alice Smith said. I could imagine her teats bobbing and her face flushing. I didn't have to see. 'How I envy you!' she said in little breaths.
"'Till then I'd just been feeling like any old sack. Mark never paid any attention to me, you know. All he ever wanted to do was take junior fishing. Honestly. Two ten-year-olds in the house was too much.' She giggled again and was quiet while she sipped her drink. In the corner the teevee belched and flickered — I could see the shadows coming out into the hall. Then mom said, 'So, while my two boys were out fishing, Harry would come visit me. I fell for him hook, line, and sinker.
"'Well, this went on for about a month. I was getting about ready to get a lawyer when what should happen one day but Mark — big Mark I mean — walked in the door early from work.'
"'No' said Mrs. Smith. I took a quick peek — the one eye I could see what as big and bright as a light bulb.
"'Oh, yes,' said mother, 'and there we were all over the parlor rug, my skirts up around my hips and Harry huffing all over me, snorting like a....'" The Gunner stopped a minute to listen to the sea. Then, "Bull," he said.
"'In a minute it was all over,' mom told Mrs. Smith. 'Mark got all red in the face and Harry got up. He was laughing. Oh, he knows how to take things. He zipped himself up and got ready for a fight.'
"'Then what happened?' I heard Mrs. Smith gasp.
"'Nothing. Mark just walked over to the closet and got his rod and things.'
"'Rod and reel.' Mom was quiet for another second. Then, '"I'm going fishing," Mark said. In his business suit, no less. '"In your business suit?" I asked. By this time I was decent again. But he didn't answer. He just walked to the door and out, and that's the last I saw of him.'
"'Alive, anyhow.' I heard mom sip her drink and saw the flare of her lighter as she lit a cigarette. 'After big Mark left, about ten minutes later, maybe, little Mark came in just as Harry was about to leave. He just barely missed us finishing up the job big Mark had interrupted. I think he suspected something anyhow. He gave Harry a funny look and said, "Pop home yet?" I told him he'd gone fishing.
"Without me?" Then he was out the door like a flash.' "I got up and went back to my room then," the Gunner said. "I slammed the door — I didn't give a shit if they heard me. Mom came in 'What was that door slamming?' she asked me, but I didn't answer. I just kept laying on the bed staring and remembering that day. I don't know how long mom stood there asking me how much I heard, I didn't even do anything when she shook me and bounced me up and down in the bed and slapped me. She finally stopped screaming and crying, and after a while there was the lake again, and it was late in the afternoon. something was wrong. I'd been running, or maybe pedaling my bike. I don't know how I got to the lake, because it was quite a way — I just knew I had to catch up.
"By the time I was standing on the strip of beach I could feel the night starting to come on — the moon was already up flopping around in the tops of the pines like a sunfish. My legs hurt, and I couldn't breathe — it was like there was water in my chest. I looked for our scow, and it was out there, but there was something funny about it. And then I saw — it was upside-down, and there were a bunch of heads bobbing around it, and another boat. I started in to yell, 'Dad! Dad!' but nobody paid me any attention. Only when I took off my shoes and started to run into the water somebody grabbed me and said, 'Stay here, boy. They'll have him soon.'
"But the moon was high before they brought him in, all soggy, and his eyes staring at me in the dark. His feet were all wound up in line and his metal gear box was caught in the line too. They all just stood around and looked at him, and sometimes they'd look at me too, and then away. I waited for something to happen, but nobody did anything. 'Why don't you all do something? Help him, help him! Jesus!' I said, but they all just shook their heads.
""'It's no use, son. He's been down there for three hours anyway, ' somebody said, a cop I think. 'The ambulance will be here soon.'
"But I looked at him and I saw something. 'No, no, he's alive, don't you see?' I said. 'Look, his heart's beating, his heart...'
"I managed to rip away from the guy that was holding me, and I fell down beside Dad and put my ear on his chest. I could feel it. His heart thumping, almost jumping out of his chest, trying to keep going. It was slimy wet against my ear, it was wriggling and squirming, even though you could see his face was beginning to bloat and it was all blue. I hugged him and looked up at them all standing around. 'Oh, Jesus, won't you help him!' I screamed. 'Look, his heart!' I tore open his shirt, still with his tie on.
"And you could see it squirming and wiggling, see it with your naked eyes, — a fish caught in his undershirt, a big black bass, fighting to cut loose but losing, its head stuck out near the armpit, its bulgy eyes like to moons staring down at me out of the sky, out of the pines that reeled off into a dark voice that said, 'I wonder what mom will say when we get home for supper.' And then no more dreams, nothing," said the Gunner, "except night and the smell of pine."
I can think of nowhere to go from here. I look ahead, and Nothus slips into nothingness; the ship looms across the indecipherable and unfathomable ocean without a helmsman. My books gather me in as though to say, "Time for a rest," but I am resisting them with all my power.
I have had another letter from Wesley Court, thank God: