Thomas's head was heavy and low, yet he was stepping high and delicately. Now he led his friends and then he followed them. He was not organizable. "Are you sure you don't mind my staying?" he would inquire and they would routinely reassure him. "What a splendid night," he would say, and "Every corner is chock full of people, do you notice?"
They arrived at the Fox's brownstone house and climbed the three flights of stairs to their flat. Thomas's candle helped on the narrow steep treads, but he could see that it would not last forever. At the doorway they paused, and he dutifully read the luminous inscription on the doormat bidding him to "Bless Our Hearth." He would have said a prayer had he not been busily wiping his feet on it. He could not feel secure that he had rid himself of every trace of the dog.
Prayer and churches -- what was happening in the churches? No one at the Cedar Inn had thought of the churches. He could have won another round. But what was their predicament? Lit by candles, well prepared? Are they converted to electric candles? Are the candelabra fake? That's the question he must answer. Suddenly it seemed important. He had to get to a church. Grace Church would do. Check up on the matter and get back to the Cedar Inn for the game.
But Sterling and Sylvia would have none of it. "Here, J.S. Come on now. You are already here. You can't go off so soon." They caught him by the arm as he turned tail. "Come on. Come on. At least get settled for the night."
"Here, light the lock so I can open it." But the lock was open and the door swung in easily. They caught sight of a confusion of things.
"My God, what's up?" Clothes and drawers were tumbled on the floor.
Sterling found the flashlight. He probed with it -- a tomato, a head of lettuce, a dribble of milk that conveyed from one room to the next.
Sylvia shrieked and yelled. She went from sock to sock, potato to potato, saying look here, look here. A cracked mirror spilt her image several ways as she glanced upon it. "We've been robbed."
Behind her in the mirror, murky, peered Sterling. His big head shook back and forth within his white collar. Kaleidoscopically his expression altered-- wicked grin, long-faced howling dog, damaged boxer, and finally as it stopped wagging, the true mournful husband. Solemnly, as over the grave, he agreed. "We've been robbed."
And Thomas said, solemnly, with a swallow that turned, alas, into a hiccough, "You've been robbed."
They all agreed. But since they couldn't turn on a thousand watts of light in the several rooms, it took them twice as long to believe it. They began to circle the house in excited and rambling fashion like dogs in a meat-house, noting, sniffing, digging, scuffling things with their paws, collecting bits of this and that, calling out, howling in indignation.
Who had done it? The bastards obviously. Or so said Sylvia, many times over. "The bastards. The Dirty Bastards." The men agreed. "The dirty bastards," said Thomas. But whose?
Of the horde of burglars that infested the great city, whose? The memory of the three lanky youths pricked Thomas's mind for a moment. They flicked into my head, only because they exist -- or do they exist -- and because nothing else is there. Were they at the Cedar Inn?
Oh what a tough one that Sylvia was. A tiger davvero. She tossed off her coat. She cursed. She heaved her large breasts, flashed her brown eyes, swivelled her shapely ass in fury, and she swore vengeance. She insisted that they count the loss -- "Right now!" -- so they set to work.
The tally was perfunctory: all could be predicted; joining the endless procession of objects entering he pawnshops of the richest nation of the world were one more typewriter, one more string of cultured pearls, one woman's wrist watch with black cloth band, one transistor radio squawking its innocence as it was carried off, and Aunt Dorothy's silver salver.
For the rest, pure vandalism was the explanation -- the chairs turned down, the love seat gouged by a knife, the clothing tramped upon. The obscenities on the wall of the bedroom and the bathroom mirror were merely to show that the thieves wanted to inject their personalities into the crime. They didn't like people.
Sylvia didn't like people either, it seemed. She began with the janitor. Why hadn't he guarded the house? She began to say things about him, things that could never be true of a sixty-year old man who smelled of wine and boiled cabbage. (But then he might have been flattered at the activities he was labeled with.) she went to the outside hall, and yelled "We've been robbed!"
The two other doors facing on the hall opened and four chorus girls stepped out. "You've been robbed?" they shrilled in unison. They formed a line and pranced in. Their adjectives were fresh, if not original: how ghastly, how terrible for you, how dangerous to live in New York, it's the blackout, the radio said that looting was inconsiderable, what is looting then, for that matter what is inconsiderable, who would believe the radios any way, do you think they would tell the truth if it were known, they wouldn't even tell where the blackout started, I tell you that they are covering up something, we may be at war with Russia for all we know and their planes may be over the Dewline even right now, you saw the picture Doctor Strangelove didn't you, they would never give us any warning, a lot they care about mere civilians, so long as the bomb shelters of the brass hats are taken care of, I don't know why something can't be done about it, I had my biggest date of the year tonight, he is a top-drawer executive and it was going to be The Four Seasons with champagne and candle lights and everything.
And while all the fountains were pouring, Thomas was listening and appraising, measuring, wincing, looking for Achilles Heel in each of the girls that could conceivably be a target to intelligence and love. And Sterling was patiently picking up and hanging; push back chair, reach down, pick up, reach, stretch, pick, brush off, wipe up, reach, stretch, pick up. And Sylvia incited them on. She held a pair of silk stockings up high, like Antony the last testament of Julius Caesar, and the symbol melded together the separate indignations of the feminine sex, struck where it hurts most, on their blessed hearths.
Women exeunt. But Sylvia in a final spasm of disgust kicks Sterling squarely in the ass as he stoops over to pick up a loaf of bread. The poor chap, who has been stretching his muscles no-end for the cause, is managed and nearly shoves it into her oven. His good nature prevails and he listens to why he is at fault.
"You idiot. Why didn't you lock the door? You were the last one out!"
"Listen. I did. And don't do that again or I'll stretch your neck."
They circle each other menacingly. Slow-Foot and Prancing-Deer doing the war dance around the fire. "You were last out!" "Not at all."
"You were this, you were that, you're a big fat cat."
"It was someone who knew we were out."
"Why didn't you install the Hammacher-Schlemmer alarm button I got you for Christmas?"
"Because I thought it was the worst Christmas present I ever received. I cried my eyes out, you big boob. What a gift for the Prince of Peace! That's the protection you get from a husband in this cruddy city."
"For that matter, why don't you carry around that purse siren I got for you?"
"Why don't you kiss my ass?"
"How is it that in all the years I lived alone no one ever robbed me?"
"Because I'm a stool-pigeon. I'm an inside fink. That's why."
"Who wanted to stay here in New York anyway? We could have gone to Cleveland."
"Cleveland! Oh, my God."
Thomas ventured a statistic: "It's a fact that more murders are committed in one week in New York than in England in the whole year."
This went over big.
"I warn you, J.S., to stay out of this and stop siding with that louse!"
(How does one side with a louse? How many sides has a louse? reflected Thomas, who was painfully analytic when it came to metaphors.)
So there was presented a control to recitative on behalf of New York.
It was followed by a baritone denunciamento of New York.
And then occurred the well-known duet of resignation:
Con tutto che c'e ne,
Peggiore non puo acer,
e molto ha da offrire.
With all that it is, it couldn't be worse, and it has a lot to offer.
"Not badly done," thought Thomas, who yet felt it would be unwise to clap his hands.
With all the emotion, hostility, exercise, inflammation, stumbling, personal contact, magnetism, darkness, closeness, alcoholic heat, the argument became ritualistic. It loses rancor. Its bite hurts less.
Thomas has given up thought of interjecting. He eases himself into the dining room, offering brightly in a rather distant and objective voice to see whether the liquor was stolen. It wasn't. Just a little of it was spoiled. Ah, Teacher's Highland Cream, with the honored old professor on the label who reminded him of President Wriston of Brown University a good presence on liquor labels. He poured himself a tumbler and as he drank noted, in the pale dark, one, two, and a little way down the shelf, a third emptied glass.
It was the three tall spooks, then! That was what they were winking about when they looked into the Cedar Inn.
He would find them and have them arrested.
Somewhere he would meet them.
"Am I unjust?" he thought, sipping his whiskey. "What do I know about them? Have I created them? I am not really positive that they exist. Am I responsible for their existence? Shall I tell Sterling and Sylvia about them? About what?"
The voices from the next room were less strident. Sterling was saying, "Now see here, Sylvia, take hold of yourself." He's probably got a glove on her, thought Thomas.
And Sylvia had the slight beginnings of a break in her voice "We are never able to come to grips. . . We are always too busy to understand each other."
And Sterling was saying, "Yes, the world is too much with us"(Thomas drank more quickly now that his moments were numbered. If they weren't with people ninety percent of the time, they would disintegrate, he thought. But people heading for the great embrace will say anything and it doesn't matter, so long as it is reassuring and it is quite clear that nothing else but That is up for consideration.)
The night was dark, there was nothing else to do. Old-fashioned conditions, old-fashioned feelings. So from the last cracking complaint in Sylvia's voice sounded the call of love, and Thomas, ever respectful of the verities where they are discoverable, padded out of the flat.
"I'm going for some cigarettes." He called out. No one replied.
As he paced himself carefully down the stairs he shielded his lit phallus and won another round: the birth rate would shoot up nine months from tonight. With such a Predicament in mind, he thought it might be even better to rejoin the game at the Cedar Inn than to search for the three thieves or buy cigarettes. "I'll bet he's already made a pass," he guessed.
And rightly so, for hardly had Thomas gone upon his mission than Sylvia bent over once too often and her husband's hand lay upon her. She paused a moment too long before moving and the drug of lust coursed through her body. She did not shake him off but straightened up without turning around and said, "You know, Sterling there is a time and place for everything."
"I know. But the time may be now and the place my be here."
"I'll never find my diaphragm."
"Forget it. There must be one completely natural way of experiencing the blackout.'
(That was what Thomas was thinking too, down the street a way.)
She turned herself to face him.
There was no question of catching Sylvia's smile. Sterling's flashlight was held slackly down and illuminated only his very large shoes, a patch of rug and her stockinged feet. He placed his right hand upon her shoulder and pushed gently against her dress until her strap slipped onto her arm. He leaned forward to kiss her and she, with her free arm, drew his face to touch hers.
They stood thus for a minute, moving only their lips and tongues. Then he let his hand sink behind her back to loosen her brassiere, and returning to her shoulder this time brought the straps completely down on the one side. She pulled the other side from herself and he bent his knees deep, laying down the light and kissing her many times upon her breasts.
She shivered and leant forward against his head and shoulder, weakening in her body and yet grasping his back with her hands with force.
"Darling, Thomas may return."
"The door is locked.'
"Darling, the floor is hard."
"Let it be hard this time."
"I love you, beautiful Sterling Fox."
"I love you, beautiful Sylvia Massinger."
But Thomas was already several steps ahead of them and was composing the scene in the style of D.H. Lawrence, whom he rated high above the chaotic eroticism of Henry Miller. Wrote Thomas:
"He kneeled and with both hands slowly and firmly drew her dress and pants and garter belt down until she stood like Botticelli's Venus naked in her conch, a Venus of hard fresh and strong limbs, of rounded stomach and full thighs. He kissed her and moved his tongue delicately along her skin. She called out a long-drawn soft oh, and slumped upon him.
"He drew her knees forward while she held his neck, and with one arm around her bare back and another behind her knees, cradled her gently to the bed." (It was really the rug.) Now how to undress him? While he touched her breasts and kissed her fancifully, she unbuckled him and pushed back his trousers. He supported himself for a moment on his elbows and with first one foot and then the other kicked off his shoes. With her help, his trousers were shaken off and he could kneel above her to peel off her stockings." Good technique, reflected Thomas, but far too clinical. Better to leave it out. He continued:
"She spread her legs, raised her knees, and let him come into her. She could not contain herself in love. Answering his ecstatic groan with a cry as if she had been pierced to the heart, she quivered and throbbed through her whole body, resisting and inviting his caresses on her lips, ears, neck and breasts.
"She bit him fiercely. He pulled her head back by her hair and when she stopped biting, kissed her long and deep on the lips. She strained from below and squirmed. He raised himself for a few moments and came down again very hard. She grunted. Their movements became more and more rhythmical, and harder and faster. Their breath came in gasps. She called him again and again, she was utterly convulsed.
"She changed her rhythm. She recommenced her motions and was again seized by a fury of passion. She clutched him and let out a long mezzo forte scream, choked low in her throat. He heaved with her in an unendurable desire to be in and of her, to force her back and to let her come up, to give all for all. They were joined as one, interlocked by a celestial magic beyond craft, moved by a stupendous force that disordered them perfectly and passionately. The universe burst into a wild chaos in which they were single-bodied, single-souled surviving angel. The angel's great wings stretched, gave one tremendous flap, and subsided."s
Thomas stopped in his tracks, astonished by his image. He was caromed against the stone of a building by dusky and hasting pedestrians and completed the love affair standing stock still.
"Relaxing shivers, slicks of sweat, panting, and from moment to moment a sigh, a shudder, a coo, a kiss, many kisses - all within a profound hug: unthinkable that it might ever break."
'"Sylvia, are you there?"'
'"Somewhere around us is a real world."'
'"Let it be."'
'"It matters not."'
'"Are you cold?"'
'"No, are you?"'
Thomas had finished his passage of love. The Foxes dawdled a bit longer.
"Do you see the flashlight burning there? Sterling was saying. Whenever your body moved just a bit to one side the light caught it and light played on your skin. It looked so rippling and smooth and dark, just as I could feel and imagine it."
"You like to make love with your eyes open."
"Mine are always closed."
"Do other people keep their eyes closed?"
"I don't know. Some do, some don't."
"I wonder where my bathrobe is, . . No, don't get up!"
"I should. Here, here are a hundred more kisses.'
"Foxy, you are a real foxy lover. There aren't many of you left. I love you."
"Honey, anytime you want your house burgled, let me know."
"I fainted, I died, I was born, I got drunk through my belly, I soared, I crashed through a wall, I feel great."
"That beats the blackout for surrealism."
Holding her lips with a kiss, he lifted himself and swung aside.
"Oh," she murmured, disappointed and satisfied. "It should never, never end."
Sterling rustled about for his clothes.
"Foxy, will you make love to me like that when I'm sixty?"
"When you're eighty, darling. But I'm afraid you'll have to climb on top. I'll be eighty-five."
"I'll be glad to." She stretched herself full out and wide, and groaned and groaned contentedly.
"I found my slippers."
"Then that's the end." And she sat abruptly straight up.
"Sylvia. It's midnight. What do we do now?"
"I am sure that Thomas is not coming back.'
They laughed. "Well, what do you say?"
"We do what we did before."
"But in bed."
"Yes, of course, in bed."
Thomas had left them far behind. Within three minutes and one block's walk along Twelfth Street, he had them wrapped cosily in bathrobes and sipping black coffee. The imagination speeds up delightedly from inaction. Why exchange it for the deed, so torpid?