Thomas took to bed eagerly. He would have liked to have resolved the problem of which body was his woman and which the freeloader, but he was mentally too fatigued to fathom the depths of the problem or to care. He wondered indeed whether the bare strip of mattress that he occupied in the middle would not win out over the more convoluted couches to either side. If so, he would be bundling in the fine old rural American tradition that stayed with him as a racial memory and as a concept that could awaken the boys in the rear row of his classes.
The choice was not to be his, however. The scarfed one made herself ever more present. She girdled him, smooched him, swung a leg over, and before he could consider the ethics of sex in the presence of a third person was carrying bundling to its logical conclusion.
Limitless limpid jets of love hot and enormous,
Quivering jelly of love, white-blown and delicious juice.
But that was it. Whoever the third was, went without. She didn't seem to mind, and when Thomas finally fell asleep, she snuggled contentedly against him, for the night was coolish without the mechanical heating system.
Thomas' mind asserted that it was being embraced too tightly and broke a hole through the wall, through which he swam. It was a tube, and lining it were all the patient fish sitting on benches, looking blankly at him as he passed and gasping for air. "They look white around the gills," he thought, "and soft."
He prodded one and she blew bubbles at him. Yes, morbid the flesh. Her ankles were swollen too, le chat qui pêche. A barracuda came swishing by, teeth bared and speaking Spanish; the other fish screamed and swished beneath their ledges.
Thomas swam to the end of the tube but the water rushed with a great roar, churning, milling and he could scarcely hang on. He hung on just long enough, in fact, to become thoroughly terrorized about falling, and then duly fell.
He choked, spit, coughed, gagged, blew from his nose, shook his head, but it was impossible to get rid of the gases that were spoon-feeding him.
He resisted it. "It is good The group, in fact, extended to some unknown boundary point where this table might be arbitrarily said to end and another table begin. They were mostly editors, it would appear, perhaps from the Grove Press upstairs (Would that Henry Miller were here to see New York fall apart. How happy he would be!), Macmillan down the street, and the kind of independent entrepreneurial editor who started in this neighborhood to publish books and would end up in the unhappy towers of upper Madison Avenue. Such, for instance, was Thomas's friend, Sterling Fox.
"Hello, Tommy." Said Sterling, raising up his glass and happy sweaty serious brow. "Come join the Knights of the Round Table." (Did the Knights loll around with the country in disorder?)
"Hello, Tommy," said Sylvia, wife of Sterling. "Come sit by the table of the five candles." There were, indeed, five candles.
O happy editors who lived nearby and should be giving their places to the commuters! Lit up. Smiling at the dancing shadows. They never looked better! All the grime and anguish of anomic days washed away in the blood of the match.
"Yeah, sit where?"
"Sit by me," Sylvia said, and Tommy shared her chair. It was a true old new chair, broad enough for any two dieted behinds, not quite enough for them.
"A new man. Let him in the game," croaked Sterling. All the other frogs croaked hurrah and Thomas was playing the game.
To swig from the demijohn of Vat 69 that stood in the middle of the table was the objective of the players. The contestant was whoever was next to imagine a predicament that some New Yorkers would find themselves in as a result of the blackout. If someone could stickle him successfully, or if he had been preceded by someone earlier in the game on the same point, he would be passed up. If his predicament was authentic and novel, he might guzzle.
The bottle was half emptied. The easy fantasies were exhausted, and the men of imagination were achieving distinction.
"Give him a chance. He just began."
"People, hundreds of them, flying around over the airfields unable to land," said Thomas.
"Ha, ha... an old one." And the bottle was swept away before he could reach it.
"He couldn't know" cried Sylvia. "Let him have one to begin with."
So he got a free ride.
He tried again. "Electric garage door stuck halt way down with a thousand cars inside."
"Hoorah… that's it," and he could draw on the liquor again.
Next. Next. Next.
Plasma Girard said, "The Brooklyn Bridge, filled with people who have to walk across."
"No . . . No . . . No."
"Oh, I know. How about the drawbridge in the Harlem River and the boat that can't get through."
"Very good . . . Hurrah." And she could drink, but she merely moistened her lips. She had avidly supported Lindsay for Mayor and all other appetites were condensed, temporarily at least, into politics.
"African diplomats who can't finish their speeches at the United Nations."
Unaccountably they admitted this. (Not a very logical group, thought Thomas.) He murmured to Sylvia in protest. "A UN girl," she whispered, "Jean Ashaller." "So what?" he asked himself.
"Pants pressers with a customer in shorts and the pants stuck in the pressing machine."
"Hoorah," and a drink to him.
Thomas could hardly wait his turn.
"Diarrhea in a stuck elevator," he shouted, and an argument erupted. There were those who favored his scatology, but others demurred, saying that it was only a sub-category of stuck elevators, and to admit it would permit sneezing, goosing, telling ribald tales, needing to call one's wife, and other plausible incidents performed in the same setting. The latter won out and Thomas was sorely disappointed.
"Barbers with a head of hair half-cut."
It took forever for the circle to revolve to Thomas again. Meanwhile Sterling and Sylvia were winning their turns by the in unerring vignettes. Thomas felt proud of his friends. What a brave fellow was Sterling fox, publishing good books, even as a beginner. They weren't duds or best sellers, but steady books that would be read for all eternity -- about ten of fifteen years by the Standards of the book trade.
Fox was a black-haired heavyset patient man who had peddled books through the southern states for fifteen years, reading omnivorously in many a bad hotel and restaurant. Then he had taken up his savings and published his first list. His wife Sylvia was a woman as broad as she was tall whose bulges somehow configurated a watch-out-here-comes-my willful-idea and a certain sexiness at the same time.
She took her half of the chair and more, but Thomas did not mind being edged a little. Thomas wondered at how he had learned to admire so many different kinds of female bodies and characters as he grew older… Kids were so narrow-minded and stupid. How badly they misjudged whether a female was beautiful, and how she could make love, and whether she had a character. They don't even recognize, though they claim to, the beauty of bodies.
Bodies, that was it.
"The guy who has the stiffs thawing out at the morgue."
"Hoorah." Their enthusiasm for his genius was boundless. He drank and drank. Boy, how much of this could he take!
"The Mayor trying to get to his office."
Again a debate. "Everyone was trying to get to some place."
"So what if he is the Mayor. He is just another guy stuck in traffic. That was species number one, the first predicament of the whole game." The Grove Editor should know. He was first man in, and he was to be last man out.
"No. The Mayor is a man with a difference. It's qualitative," argued Plasma Girard.
It depends upon the particular Mayor. If he is the kind of man who is likely to do something when he gets there, OK. Then he should count." So said Sylvia Fox.
"Well, that leaves out Wagner," Thomas now declared.
"Yeah, there's no government in this city anyway."
"That's not what I meant."
"It's what I meant… Look out the window. It's the revolt of the masses. We're like White Russians sitting out the Revolution in a Paris café. Not only tonight, but every night."
"Yeah. We need a man who will take drastic steps," Sterling Fox said so. "This is for you," she said. "Turn it off," he cried and put his hands against the pipes but they blew harder than any vacuum cleaner he and they had ever used and they filled him with poison gas and small black droppings of dirt that he constantly expectorated. His mother warned him about eating dirt, but he wanted it.
So she spanked him and he looked at neat houses out of his window and planned a life in New York City. He wrote with his finger on the steamy glass. "Awa, Awa, O," which meant merde and bravo and libido. Further it meant "I don't give a damn" and that is why he felt particularly happy the day he was assigned by Haupt-Baca to the Onandaga power station to release the flood.
But the waiting was painful. He never seemed to grow up. His arms ached as if someone were sitting on them and his testicles were in a vise. "Growing pains," his mother called them and he couldn't think of any Big Way to stop them.
He had to await orders, until the Spring came and went, the Summer came and went, the Fall came, and he was older and had almost given up hope when the Message came.
He sat on a great mountain, a lap of the gods; she moved and he squirmed contentedly. The hills were beautiful in the fall. A deer played, the grass browned, the leaves dripped and dropped, the stream came bare into sight below and the lady in the house came out to feed the chickens.
He raced down the slope panting, the pressure of age on his lungs and fell forward, a gasping fish with hands, breathless in the open air, dying for water.
He grasped the pump and pulled it down, again, again, until suddenly there was a great surge, an enormous jagged streak of lightning.
His mother looked back and said "Quick, John, get into the house." He wouldn't and couldn't for the great surge of water caught him and sent him swooping down the gully.
The flood came from all sides. "This is the crest of the surge," he thought. And the Bacalite from Port Rudebaga confirmed it as he swept by on his flood. It was Pinhead, he could see his tiny skull jouncing on the spray. "This is the great surge," he called. So fast was it that he could hardly hear the last word. Faster, he wanted to go, because he wanted to get to New York City fastest.
On and on he swept. At Post 3 came Backseat and Hooker. How marvelously Hooker's curved neck cut the water, like a sea serpent. Backseat's ass was riding high, carrying a lit candle that no wave could dash out. With such comrades, anything could be done.
"Come on, Coon, Wheeee," hollered Backseat.
"Don't call me Coon," yelled Thomas over the storm.
"Don't call me Backseat."
It was hopeless. In the very eye of turbulence, Thomas lost himself in argument. It was pedant, plus place, plus race - quintessence of the inept. He wanted to say "I never called you Backseat" and "Coon is a generic term, a racial epithet, etc., etc.," but Backseat would never hear. His candle already glowed quite dimly from a distance untraversable by logic or the breaststroke.
He tried swimming, at which he was adept, but nothing he could do could add to the swiftness of the surge. "After all," he reminded himself, "we must be going nearly 186,000 miles per second."
Then he remembered with horror that there would be no light when he arrived. "I am the Darkness Seeking the Light. I am the Contradictio in Abjecto. How can I have light to see what I came to see?"
For a moment, he even tried foolishly to backstroke against the current. Then he clutched at the siding but the myriad fish lining the sides screamed at him. He couldn't reach the light ahead of the Darkness nor retreat to the Land of Light. The end was near.
He could feel an upsurge. "My gills are soft," he thought, "the pressure on them tells." He began to lift and breath came rarer. The higher the water, the more air, he knew. No, the less air, because I am breathing harder.
Earth was left behind. The stream coursed up in defiance of the laws of God. "That is what the wicked city does," his mother said, "to the laws of God."
It was expected, he knew, but then should he still not see the light. "If I get high enough I will," he reckoned, but in some fraction of a millisecond too brief to calculate he was far up in a careening tower of water and there he stuck in a nest of snakes, all trying, with desperate glances, to get out of the box.
Balefully they eyed him as he choked and coughed water at them. (Snakes hate water.) They crowded him, fat and discolored. They said, "We'll be here forever." "No, no," he shouted at them, "we shall be saved." Their shoes were off and their collars open. They sweated and disbelieved him.
"They didn't know," he was fearfully thankful, "that I brought the Surge and the Darkness from my mother's power station. If they did, they would kill me."
But one, with the proverbial wisdom of a serpent, motioned to him and he was hypnotized. She wrapped herself around him and began to squeeze. He knew he would die before he saw the light. Harder she pressed while the others fanned themselves and sat in corners and wondered how high up they were.
She was a beautiful snake and almost excited him in the moment of death. But ultimately he could stand the pain no longer. Every nerve was excruciatingly stretched! He gave up the ghost.
His bed partners parted and released him. Gloomy, dull darkness and sounds of sleep, snore, creak, whimper; stillness outside. He drew himself down through the lower end of the bed quietly and stood up.
He looked to see if his partners were disturbed. Only one body showed. Mr. And Mrs. or Misses or Whatever Ramsay had united till death do them part; let no man tear them asunder.
He shivered. He groped for his trousers and shoes that had been pushed down into a sheeted lump at the foot of the bed. He dressed. He wondered what next to do.
Should he leave Mrs. Ramsey something? He had no money. Did she expect reward? Would she be insulted? Leave a present. Better than money. She could interpret it as she pleased.
He considered his possessions. A comb and a fountain pen. A few coins. Not much for a member of the UMC to give a woman of the LC. But maybe she's MC or UMC or even UC because LC and UC have much in common in their sexual attitudes. Thomas realized in disgust that he was preparing his next lecture dealing with race and class.
He took the pen and carefully hitched it to a long braid of hair that was drooping over the side of the bed.
Be not ashamed women, your privilege encloses
The rest, you are the gates of the body, and
you are the gates of the soul.
His candle was out and gone. He calculated the morning had come. He walked carefully to a window and gently, in time with the snorer, raised the rickety blind.
There was Manhattan. The towers dimly seen under a full moon, the street peaceful.
And verily, before his eyes, the light came. Gold light gilding a thousand windows and the streets, glancing yellow and violet off grey stone. The complicated natural lights of man, not the artificial light of the moon and stars.
Thomas could not believe that he was party to the vision.
He suddenly determined that he would walk all the way home to Bayside. Beginning now. Even if he had to do the last mile barefooted.
You cannot do any good or bad in this world, he reflected, you can only do penance.
His eyes filled with tears.
But that was too much: penitent, yes; maudlin, no.
He hastily left the room.