A Sullen Hymn

A Short Story

by Louie Crew

© 2004 by Louie Crew

Harry at this particular moment was concerned to know just which self he was bringing to the garden gate. When he came home from work as the professor he would squeak of its hinges, and feel very much a part of the flowers which he had planted in profusion. OR when he jogged home from his daily six-mile lap, he would enjoy the echo of his final sprint as he came down the sound funnel made by neighbor Giles's garage and newly paved driveway, feeling a sense of pride that matched his panting, as he recalled neighbor Giles's daily heartburn. Entering the gate he forgot his earlier anxious pace-setting. OR when he stepped back to allow his lover first entrance he would continue the heavy dialogue begun elsewhere while both remained equally aware that they would again come to the place where all of their Platonic disquisitions would manifest themselves here in spontaneous passion. The gate long ago had ceased to be for him a frightful way of shutting out the Gileses, who had no better ways to spend some mornings than as Guardian Angel voyeurs. Now whenever Harry bothered to think of Giles's or other neighbors' concern, he prided himself on the reasonable accuracy of his sophisticated guess that all thought of him, if at all, as an innocuous creature with no noisy brats or wives to add to their own and with a wise interest in keeping up the property and snob values of the neighborhood. If they resented him at all, it was for the unofficial way that his styles in gardening or in health influenced the opinions of the block. Because no neighbor knew him very well, he readily became a minor standard of excellence. Easily therefore had Harry conquered all inclinations to paranoia about his neighbors' reactions to his amours. When he entered the gate to tryst, he was free to focus rather on the flowers, which then always suggested velvet upholstery such as that lavished within where smoothness of flesh met smoothness everywhere.

Yet Harry was concerned to know just which self he was bringing to the garden gate. That he was a man of stereotypes he had long accepted. He could as easily as the next guy sort his roles into Scholar, Sportsman, Lover; and he had toyed often with the notion that these three qualified him as a modern humanistic Trinitarian. However, whenever Harry found, as often he did, that he'd spent twenty minutes of an important, because solitary, hour wondering just how soon Giles would die, or thirty minutes wondering why Giles's wife, Myra, hadn't saved the money spent on that ugly asphalt drive and used the money to build for herself the white fence she'd been admiring around his garden for years.... Harry could smile at his ludicrous posture as a humanist. Scrubbing tubs, paying bills, dickering over fertilizer prices, just getting on had filled his life, however pristine relative to this or many neighborhoods, with trivia sufficient to prevent his sustaining for any length of time such high-sounding illusions about himself.

Unless the confusion he felt at this particular moment was itself an illusion or part of an illusion. The major and minor roles he played had often enough seemed contradictory to him before, but transitions from one to the other had always been effected smoothly enough, most certainly when, as now, there was not even anyone around to watch as he fumbled to know so damn simple a matter as merely how to open the gate. His was no simple amnesia, but the process of deciding with which self or combination of selves to open it. He seemed intimidated by adolescent questions --only with most of the options long ago recognized and accepted, however ego-deflating -- and he felt righteously indignant at being caught up again to the point of being unable to open the gate.

It is simple enough, he reflected, just to say that I am pompous and vain, even to consider my triplicity or multiplicity of such moment as to merit awesome considerations. But to say so, to grant as I long ago learned it advisable to grant, that I'm not even a quaintly ironic Prufrock, is of no help in exorcising the devil that keeps me from opening this damn gate!

Besides, he knew that he was about to play Scholar and enter; and while reflection after the fact might even allow this conscious assumption of a role to seem quaint or clever, here, for the first time ever he was unable to act because all action seemed contradictory

Nothing particularly unusual had brought him to this point. At mid-morning he had worked revising a Milton paper soon to be reprinted in an anthology of criticism. Earlier he had jogged at dawn. At noon he had dined with Peter in their favorite restaurant, and at mid afternoon he'd shared a tour of the gallery with Janet. All quite ordinary. All quite enjoyable, in fact. the Gileses were off on a drinkers' tour of the beaches, leaving him conveniently alone.

Yet a sure of loneliness roared suddenly within him. I must get this door open, he almost laughed, fumbling through his pockets as if for keys that could unlatch.

Part of the frustration was intensified by the fear of failure. All past attempts to rationalize failure, to accept it as universal, to argue that growing up means accepting one's limitations -- all even apparently healthy methods of dealing with such fears which he'd tried successfully in the past -- were suddenly rendered ineffectual: he felt incomplete.

Such reflections seemed no less revolting the more atavistic he felt them. While he was quite prepared to accept a permanent hangover of the masochism inherited fro a boyhood fancy for religious fundamentalism, even prepared to relish the Freudian theories of paternity and maternity as a curiously but reasonably accurate description of the development of his personality --God damn it, it's a question of a gate and of which me is going to open it if its going to be opened at all. I feel so silly. Like a Nudist who hasn't heard the camp has been bought by a church group.

Suddenly every failure he'd ever felt rushed in on him. Every man and every woman he'd ever touched, cherished, nurtured through the pleasures of discourse to the pleasures of walking past Mrs. Giles's old gravel drive and through a well-oiled gate, past the garden and into the soft velvet, charged at him violently, as if each were a soul violated, a mind raped and then discarded having lost its power to char and to fascinate, or to be charmed and be fascinated. One by one they seemed to cry: I accuse. I accuse. I was sacrificed to your strength. You seduced me and called it spontaneity and when I believed you, you were bored and loved someone else.

The scathing article a now-esteemed scholar had written of his major study of Spencer now seemed to be entableted in bronze before him, again accusing him of an academic dilettantism unworthy of the acclaim with which he had been so widely received. One by one the article again so tellingly documented the sources of all of Harry's "insights"; one by one it traced each incidence of his sloppy coherence, masked even from himself, he now realized by his fondness for the dazzling phrase.

Suddenly he seemed alternately scrawny again, then fat. His former body was restored to all its poor condition. He was out of breath. He had heartburn. His belt pinched or his trousers were too loose. Nothing had changed. Compulsion was constant. Compulsion to read and sit with feet on the side of the tub till the water ran cold and the supper grew stale, had become compulsion to nibble for hours while probing the depths of a friend's mind, had become compulsion to become fit and to outlive neighbor Giles and to grow flowers and to be beautiful. Yet why don't I feel beautiful, he muttered. Which me will open the gate? Ha. Am I censuring myself only that I may have an identity with which to open it? Is this the childish game to which I'm reduced? Can I no longer en momentarily embrace my ambivalence? Must all be a pose?

II

Peter crushed a petal carefully, methodically, yet inattentively as he watched Harry, who stood staring out the window into the growing darkness. When he felt the goo of chrysanthemum squish on his fingers, Peter stopped, put the petal in the ashtray, and quite deliberately crushed his cigarette into the wrinkled film of petal that remained. He expected a smell, a slight funereal stench -- flower and ashes, he mused -- but when he got nothing he seemed prompted by the odorless silence as much as by Harry's delay, to begin the task of making sense out of so strange an occasion. His tone was direct, studied, uneasily confident; he could feel his words bubble over his larynx -- like bubble lights on a Christmas tree, he thought, bemused by his capacity for so frivolous an analogy on so formidable an occasion.

"Harry, don't you think you're being theatrical? I mean, you scare me phoning me that you've had some sort of attack or something. I cancel another engagement and drive thirty miles cross town in rush-hour traffic and arrive to find you offering me a sherry and announcing that you've had a religious experience at your picket fence. What kind of day are you having anyway? You seemed frightfully normal at lunch. A religious experience?! You of all people. You've been through all of that long ago......and stop looking so smug."

"Aren't you glad to find me well?" Harry crossed to the sofa behind Peter, paused, and then ran his fingers through Peter's hair with one hand while turning a sherry glass in the other. Peter's blond hair kept getting caught in the red velvet diffracted through the sparkling brown liquid. "You sound like you wish I'd been in sackcloth and ashes or like you can't trust a vision unaccompanied by a dung heap." Waiting for Peter to take the bait, he thought, Maybe I've taught him too well. He's beginning to sound just like me. This blond beauty is too rich to waste on solid cynicism this early, surely. But how else might I have had him....

Peter liked the vibrancy of Harry's hand in his hair. Harry always smells good, he reflected. Strong hands, strong lotion strong sinewy sherry, strong thighs, strong garden......Peter jerked his head forward, out of Harry's forceful massage, as if thereby to free himself of this raging ramble. The strength syndrome, Peter thought. Damn! Harry's intimidating me again without even having to try. I program his controls.....Maybe now's my chance to change it. (Harry's fingers were working Peter's scalp again.) Maybe, thought Peter, the queen bee gets stuck in her own sweetness just this once! A blond spider with a tangled platinum net for the dying bee. Keep on scratching, Baby, keep on. I love it. Tell me about Jesus. Buzz, buzz, queen.

"Besides," Harry moved away to the window, keeping his back toward Peter as he spoke, "I'm quite serious. I realize that anyway I put it would sound fantastic, even unbelievable; but I met God out there this afternoon, I was paralyzed with fear and couldn't get the door open, didn't even know who I was, at first didn't recognize Him, then suddenly He opened the door. That's it. I don't know what it means, but I know I'm hooked. It's happened and I'll never be the same again. I called you...." Here Harry paused and turned his gaze straight and forcefully on Peter, "Because I wanted to share the experience." He seemed to sip the word experience like one more bit of precious sherry.

"O.K. Where is He? Where is this God Almighty?

Peter felt strong as he stood to stare Harry down. With a growing sense of his power over his teacher, over his lover, over his daddy, over who knows what all, Peter sensuously shook his long forelocks out of his eyes and stifled an impulse to giggle as he momentarily fantasized Harry kneeling before him, blowing him and slobbering a hymn to Jesus and Priapus simultaneously, equivocally, literally out of both sides of his mouth.

"Was he cute? Did he have dimples id this Jesus have fuzz on his navel and a smooth chest? as He your type, or did you get a great big hairy chested Daddy this time, to tell you what to do?"

"Peter....."

"Bugger off, Harry. What's the game? What do you want?"

"Nothing, damit! Don't be fruity, you little cunt." Harry pushed just slightly, but very forcefully; and Peter as much from his being caught off balance as from his being a physical weakling, fell back into the sofa just as Harry hurled his sherry into Peter's left eye. "Nothing at all, damit!" Harry repeated as he left the room and with feigned stolidity made his way to the bathroom.

The little turd, to make that charge again, thought Harry. I don't want anything, except a listener. Why, I haven't ever thought of dropping Peter. Nor of possessing him either. I just want to share.....

Harry's mind muddled Peter's navel hair (or fuzz, Harry called it) with the feelers on the lobster they'd shared at lunch, topped with Lady Giles's fabulous garden hat all atwittle with little cellophane strips around the brim. He managed well enough to laugh at the ludicrous combination as he pissed. A golden sherry piss, he observed. Too many carbo grams today. Then he wondered whether he and Peter were indeed lovers, whether the entire Revelation of the afternoon was another way destiny had of getting him to get relations in order, to clean house, as it were. Is Peter waiting on the sofa to cap this off with a sex recovery? Is he already jerking off? Surely he understands that I'm just not turned on to that tonight. God, so much ambivalence. So much contradiction perhaps it's better not to know, to choose one style and stay with it until an orderly change to any other chosen style. But to be chosen. To be allowed, even forced, to enter the gate not as one, but as all, not as self, but as selfless, God, it's confusing. He sat on the edge of the tub for a long time.

Peter entered in a robe. He handed himself another drink and sat his feet on the mat. Both breathed very loudly, very evenly, but said nothing to one another. At length, Harry leaned over to kiss him, gently but not passionately, on his forehead. Peters face remained immobile still longer, as if, thought Harry, he's still battling not to hurt me, poor child.

"Harry, do you really think we have a dialogue? I mean that's your selling line. That's what you say every time we amble past Giles's place, through the gate, past the garden, into the bedroom. That's your big ideal. The model of our easy nakedness, which you initiate "spontaneously," as you put it. We've got our little Greek model here in post Christian California, you say, with enough admitted sarcasm thrown in to keep much dialogue from bringing it into question. But you know, sometimes I think you really believe it.... that you love me, that I love you.

"But Harry, I CAN'T LOVE YOU. I DON'T KNOW YOU. YOU DON'T KNOW ME. WE'RE TOO BUSY FIGHTING FOR CONTROL."

Harry seemed to hear all of this as if from an antechamber, where his main attention was kept on Brueghel machinations stuck up a tree.....All that Peter said got translated as, You're a phony, I'm scared; let's go to bed and forget it. Harry now felt trapped in his role as Dirty Minded Old Nan -- always one of his more disquieting masks and one which since the diet had not often been thrust at him. Then the dizziness of the afternoon caught him. He jerked, as if in a girdle.....

"Peter, you're holy! I'm holy. What I'm saying is that I've had Revelation, and while I'm prepared to acknowledge our limited communion in the past there's nothing to limit it now, if we'll just believe, just open up. Sure, I've used jargon before, even made jargon of some of the most beautiful things I've ever talked about. If you want confessions, I'm full of them. But frankly, I'm convinced confessions are a waste of time. We've far more important sharing to get on with. Anyway, the bitch way you talk makes me nervous, shows me that I've had a bad influence on you. Don't let's play these fruitless old games. I'm anxious to get on with something new in our relationship."

"Do you want to?" Peter said it as he mockingly stood, bent to touch his toe and pulled his robe over his head. "I mean, is this the new jargon? Are we now to play spiritual guttersnipes? Daddy, it's dangerous to start playing with the eternal verities just about the time little Oedipus comes home, especially when he's been brought away from Jocasta's bed to attend a sniveling paternal tribunal. Baby Oedipus has grown big now. He's got hair on his balls too. Not just fuzz. He ain't go time to listen to Daddy get religion."

Peter seemed to gain a certain wildness, if not courage, as he spoke. It was clear that he was increasingly dangerous. Camp, if infrequent was still not new to the two of them. Vulgarity too was familiar. But Peter was introducing defilement.

"Get out!" Harry surprised himself by the authority his voice commanded. "Get out, you little Nelly!"

"You bastard!" rejoined Peter, almost ecstatic to have so successfully aroused him.

Peter long stood face to face with Harry. Harry made a bid for peace by smiling slightly, much too afraid to be consciously ironic. Peter remained stolid, and with the fumbling grace of a maturing boy Harry stopped smiling. Peter became very calm in his breathing, a labored sort of calmness; then he said, looking at Harry directly: "Someday you're going to find the one you're looking for, the one who'll kill you. Good luck, darling."

Perhaps it's just as well the Gileses were out of town as Peter stormed across the flower beds and caught his robe on the roses, waving his pants like a flag of victory as he stalked out of the gate God had opened.

III

"Come now, Harry, tell me something about Peter?"

Harry ignored her, but Janet knew his silence affirmed her vitality. She therefore leaned over and sucked Harry's navel loudly, giggling to feel him thus tickled,

"Damit, Janet, you know Peter as well as I do. Let's not be coy. You were just as disturbed to find out he'd made a Mother out of you."

"oh yeah?" She said it as if she were not quite sure whether to concede the point -- as a point of honor. Then she sat upright and with considered teasing added, "He is an excellent Mother then."

"Your puns are sad, Janet. You're hardly up to standards tonight. What's the matter? I've never known you to be weary at only three in the morning! You're usually ready for another go about now' hat's the matter, huh, Have I tuckered out little Miss Sexpot 1950? Have you had enough? Are you trying to tell me...."

"Shut up, will ya? I'm ready. Can't you see? Isn't 1950 your vintage year? Or must you now thrive only on the emancipated boys of the sixties and leave us academic dolls to screw the ancients?.....You know what the real Battle of the Books is? Two talcum-powdered Richardson scholars doing it to one another in the library Ladies Room, one with an MLA style sheet and the other with a leather manuscript of Pamela.

"You're just the antidote I need, Janet." He rolls over to cushion his head in her lap.

"Can't you see it now? Into the antechamber stalks Boss Matty, calling out, 'Fe, fi, fo, fummin, I smell the blood of English wumin!' Then she dashes in to cackle at catching them with their drawers down. 'Now ladies, surely you could find a better place. Since I've had those one-way mirrors installed, you're bound to get caught every time; and we can't have our manuscripts spoiled. At least you could have used Shamela, and in some cheap paperback! Anyway, I feel left out.' And they huff out to leave her to munch on her own cleverness.......Oh, I'd love to make a movie of it, starring Vivica Linsforth and Geraldine Page as principle organists intruded upon by super-bitch herself, Liz on Richard's night out! Don't you think the public would eat it up?" Janet looked down.

"I eat you up," Harry answered.

She pressed his eyes shut quite gently. "What's bugging you, honey? Did Peter get nasty and want to go to bed too early? Or was it a real break this time? Have you been burned again by the adolescent moving out of sustained puberty....God, baby, I love you..........Why don't you cry? It'll do you good. It's worked before. Then you can take your run while I get the coffee going, and your egg; then we can go for a ride to watch the sunrise, and even eat a pickle. How about that? Cry and shout, play and singa; you and me, we'll do ev-er-y-thing-a...."

Thanks, dear," he said while opening his eyes slowly, 'but I'm not with it now. I don't feel like crying, shouting, playing, singing, ...........I'm not even going to run today. It doesn't seem to matter. Besides, it's Saturday, my day not to run. I'll just lie here and look at you for a while, if you don't mind. Just look at you, and remain quiet, and look at you...."

She lit a cigarette and sat there smoking it with his head in her bare legs, feeling quite comfortably naked. She must have smoked three such reflective cigarettes before she began to doze He interjected, "I didn't mean you have to be quiet. Tell me a joke, Tell me the dirtiest joke you know!" He said it more like a cry for help than out of any interest in humor.

"Once upon a time," she began, "long long ago there lived in a little white house beside the road a tiny boy who wanted to be a friend to man. Well, one day a tall gray man came by and said, 'Little boy, I want a friend. Will you be my friend, little boy?' And the little boy said, 'Of course I will; now take me into your house.' So the tall gray man put his arm around the little boy and took him to the gate......"

Harry had sat up and his intensity startled Janet,

"Don't you like my dirty story?" she asked in careful baby talk.

"Go on," he said, rather urgently.

"Are you sure?"

"Yes, I'm sure.....'and took him to the gate'?" he gave her the cue

"Yea, and they walked inside and the tall gray man...."

"How did they get inside?" Harry interrupted.

"They walked inside. Like this! W-A-L,K-E-D.,.." Janet walked her fingers across Harry's chest in unsteady mockery of her own story. When he didn't respond except to seem more annoyed, she stopped. "I don't thin you like my story," she pouted,

He paused for a long time. Then he smiled.

"It's not very dirty," he said.

"Oh but it is," she countered.

Well, get on to the dirty parts then."

"And who stopped me at the gate?" she huffed.

"I did, but get on," he said.

"Yes, you did. And if you don't watch out, you really aren't going to like my dirty story, and mean old Mrs. Giles will come back wagging her fat tail behind her, and you'll be asked to tell her about how to make her garden grow, and Giles himself will drink forever and still outlive the two of you by a thousand years, and he's the one who'll die and go to the red velvet heaven where no sound of tennis shoes will echo down the driveway at dawn, for there's no dawn there...."

"O.K. I'm sorry. Get on back to your story, to the dirty bits."

"I'm not sure you really want to hear."

"Stop it. Of course I do. Go on. Don't be a ham."

"No, but it's a seriously dirty story. I really don't think you'll want to hear it. I think you'd better let me go make your egg."

"Janet, get on with it."

Don't you see it is a dirty story. The boy isn't his friend. He kills him."

The direct stare was a long on, a frightened one for both of them. Janet dared not even light another cigarette.

"Why did you say that?" Harry asked.

"Because......I know it sounds silly, Harry, but because I love you. And because you don't love yourself. I don't know how to convince you that you don't have to hurt and be hurt by the beauty of a thousand kids just to learn the hard way that you were really beautiful all the time until you had to beat it out of your head that they are. Oh, Harry, it's none of my business....."

"Nonsense," he muttered angrily, "of course it's your business, but get to the point."

"It's none of my business, but you're trying to destroy yourself, and I can't stand by to see you do it. I gave up long ago wanting you to marry me, and you know it. That would never have worked anyway, though, Lord knows, I sought you. We're too domestically incompatible anyway. But I love you. You're a great human being. Peter's a fine kid, sure; but you're both worth so much more than either of you ever sold yourselves on being, particularly as a team."

"Pardon me, Janet; I know you mean well as you play Sybil....Yes, I'm bitter. O.K. that's my problem, not yours. I mean it when I say I know you mean well. Seriously. But there's more to it than you've grasped tonight....or this morning. I mean I don't need any more advice about Peter. He's gone. I told you that when I called. He's gone from here and he's hopefully gone out of my life altogether, and I don't care whether I ever see him again, and I have no doubt that your analysis of our split is probably seventy-five per cent right. Yet I have seen God today. Or rather yesterday. He came to me as an old gray guy and He got me past the gate into His house beside the road...."

"Just a minute! You've seen who?"

"God, Sybil; I told you. I have seen God. Less than twelve hours ago, right at this house......"

"What did he look like?" Janet sounded mockingly belligerent to him.

"I have SEEN Him, Janet. Don't kid around."

"I'm not kidding; WHAT DID HE LOOK LIKE?"

"He was an old gray guy."

"And you were a nice little boy?"

"That's what you said."

"In my dirty story or afterwards?"

"Both"

"And you loved the old gray man?"

"Don't kid, Janet."

"I'm not kidding, damit' You have sex with me, tease me, don't want to jog, don't want to eat, don't want to sleep, don't want to watch the sunrise, don't want to eat a pickle.... you call me in the middle of the night crying 'I need you' and I come driving over here, oh so happy to be able to show my love for you in some way, even if to be crude so I can live up to your expectations, your little joker doing her tricks on the stage, and what am I given in return for all this? A sermon on Christian Revelation. Well, balls. I'm going home, baby. The romance is off. Even I can't tell a story that dirty!

'Besides, if I'd stayed at home, maybe Peter would have returned to me. I'll bet he got tired of that pimply faced little boy he was going to see. He'd have come home to mommy. We' have cuddled, and we don't have to pretend that it's communication or that it's love; it's just loneliness and animal contact, just like ours before you saw this God guy. A gray Go guy too! You give me the creeps. I'm not about to be a Virgin Mary, nosiree. I'm getting out of here. Harry, babe, you need help, but a religious graveyard's an unfriendly place to go for it.'!

She had about finished dressing when she got to the door.

"You were a great lover tonight, my dear," she said.

"Thanks."

"Are you sure that you don't want to watch the sunrise? There's still time."

"No thanks."

"And I can't fix you an egg?"

"No."

"Goodbye" she said.

"Sleep tight," he said.

He didn't cry, even after she left.

It was a cold sunrise. His skin was like coarse velvet by the time he heard his echo down Giles's driveway, as he mechanically opened and closed his fingers to stimulate circulation. There's just too much technicolor this morning, he thought as he noticed orange flowers beyond his gate in the first glow of daylight. "So dawn goes down to day," he muttered as the door clattered behind him.

His shower was mere ritual. His thoughts were elsewhere. The bubble of antiseptic soap, scented and expensive, but well worth the cost though, he felt, got fantasized with yellow urinal foam where some crude queer mermaids, or mermen, trysted beneath the Spenserian rocks or Melville's Encantadas.

For whosoever

He said it over and over as he dried his back. It was like a hymn at an Easter sunrise service, he dressed in his little boy white suit, holding his mama's perfumed, beknuckled, prematurely arthritic hand as the organist pumped away madly over someone's grave as if trying to effect another resurrection. But it was not a resurrection hymn he now hummed while drying:
 

For whosoever once hath fastened
His foot thereon may never it secure
But wandreth evermore uncertein
and unsure.


His tune was like a child's rapid monotone trying to make it through "Now I lay me,..." so that he can impress a visitor known to be eavesdropping in the hall, by adding the visitor's name to his list of those "Now God bless.,.." The sense of Spenser's lines was willfully, fiendishly distorted. He particularly delighted in his mockingly heavy diphthong rhyme of se-kyou-ur with un-shyou-ur. He seemed bent on seeing his mirrored face while he brushed his teeth as yet a cruder distortion, for between the brush strokes he spat out Spenser again....

may never it secure But wandreth evermore uncertein and unsure.

When Melville borrowed it, Harry thought, a demonic gleam in his mirrored eye now catching his attention as he paused to enjoy it at length, when Melville borrowed it, I wonder whether he memorized it too. And did he recite it while shaving? Harry spat out his paste and said to the stillness, I'll bet he memorized it to say it while he was crapping. Spenser, patron saint of brooding Melville's hemorrhoids! Melville, poor, sad fisherman with a macabre Irish phony up his ass, but Melville not knowing, being too caught in his taking e himself so seriously as not to hear the performer in Spenser, strumming entertainment for his Faerie Queen's bounty -- to sell one's soul; for fifty pounds per annum is quite a lark, quite a lyrical bargain.

Myriads of scholars' heads, shiny as billiard balls, hurled juggler-style, into Harry's piss, and he chuckled at the illusion, refused to dismiss the happy fantasy of peeing on MLA -- as in the Protestant wartime plan of his boyhood neighborhood to get all the Nazis in the world and tie them to planks up and down their street and then to invite the world to come and pee on them whenever they liked, while the bands played "Dixie" or "Marching Through Georgia" or "Up from the Grave He Arose," he holding arthritic knuckles.

Harry steadied himself by grabbing the shower. He was sleepy, he knew, but not that sleepy, and not the least drunk, hadn't really been drunk all evening, even before Peter had gone hours ago. He knew too that the lurch thus halted hadn't really been prompted by his bracing jog either. Too many roles too fast, he thought. My detachment is but one of my changes of garments, Mr. Whitman, a rather threadbare one right now too, dammit.

Old bitterness of the wounded scholar hit him with an archer's skill, and this pang he relished as a badge of masculinity: he was able to be wounded, he could bleed, he had a scholar's balls. Yet he muddled this pleasure with his alternate fantasy of his attacker as, not a virile champion of truth, but a sniveling library hound, a ghost of a pissed-on billiard head, ho had attacked his paper on the Melville-Spenser relationship as indulgence in the new capital crime in academe, namely, the Intentional Fallacy.

I wonder what Billiard Brain "intended," mused Harry, now zipping his fly. I wonder what I intended. How the hell can I be indicted for insensitivity and sensitivity at the same time? Doubly trapped. How can it be wrong, insensitive, unscholarly to speculate on Spenser's questionable sincerity in the Faerie Queen and equally wrong, yet too sensitive, even sentimental to speculate on the self-concepts that Melville mulls over in his use of Spenser in The Encantadas? How much must one sacrifice his balls to be a scholar? Or to be a Spenser? Or to be a Melville? Or to be me?

Harry put on his robe, moved to the living room, hesitated, and then on an impulse went to the kitchen to fetch a large dill pickle. Damn Janet, he muttered audibly. He returned to the living room sucking the pickle violently, poured himself a sherry and sat down. About him were many signs of the long night. How three people can mess up so many sherry glasses in one night is more than I can.... He found himself rambling, as he smacked the last bit of pickle taste from his mouth and washed it down with a big swig of sherry. Peter had left a tie. Janet had left her well-stubbed cigarette butts, each smoked right down to the filters. She wouldn't be so disgusting really, he mused, if she'd just take some lemon juice and get rid of those nicotine stains. God, she makes it worse always holding her hands down as if to cup the fumes. She shouldn't be a librarian: she should get a trailer and become a pack rat selling pickles on the edge of a desert. She could make love to dogs and be a proletarian. Vinegar instead of Vaseline. And I saw God, today.

He drank a gulp of sherry and stood, as if poised between moving to a definite window or a definite door and taking a definite, even final leave and moving to be seated again. Another one of those indecisive moments, he thought.

In the distance a car horn blew. Only now did he perceive day to be well advanced, and he moved to look out his window to view Giles's garage. Indeed, as he had guessed, the horn was Giles's, a seven A.M. manifesto that the party was over, that Giles had returned, that all can go back to bed now, that there are still fools around, he thought, as he watched Mrs. Giles go tagging in behind her empty-handed husband while she struggled with parcels.

Wonder what the Virgin Mary's most mundane hang-ups were, he thought. Did she enjoy Jesus's bodily functions? Was she tempted, being omniscient surely, to play a DuPont anachronistically by inventing plastic diapers in advance? Was the seamless garment synthetic wool? Bonded? Did Joseph get saddled with the job of cleaning the straw out of the crib? What do the gods do when no one i watching....

Giles seemed prompted to bob out of his house again, and Harry gazed at the waddling figure with superior amusement until he realized that Giles had reached the gate. Harry grew rigid, very cold. He knew that he couldn't answer the door, that whatever the blustering fool wanted now.....was it eggs? a copy of the Sunday paper? a rap session about how they might make good buddies if only he, Harry, weren't so standoffish?....Giles is always so maudlin, so very mundane, he thought.

By now Giles was sitting on the doorbell. Harry remained rigidly by the window where he had first observed Giles, knowing that if he dared move he would risk being exposed to Giles's pudgy eyeball surely to be peeking either at the key hole or struggling to view from the panes high in the door.

I wonder what he would say if I said: "Good morning, Giles; I have seen God the Father. G-O-D, the good gray guy. Won't you come in?"

Giles pounded and rang the bell for fully five more minutes before he retreated, muttering something about gas heat, or a storm, or the problems one takes on when he's decided to abjure his bachelorhood altogether.
 

For whosoever once hath fastened
His foot thereon may never it secure.


Giles wouldn't understand that sort of wandering, Harry thought, almost pitying -- but stifling such pity with too ready a squirt of delight -- almost pitying the waddling retreating figure. He needs no pity. He's secure anyway. He doesn't need to jog, morning, noon, nor night. He doesn't need to delight in flowers and red velvet. He's not held by an arthritic perfumed hand, nor haunted by resurrection hymns in Easter graveyards. He's too dull, too simple. He doesn't know the echoes his garage can make. He's never fastened his foot on any enchanted island. He's disgustingly out of danger. He's a slob.....

Harry was crying profusely, crying as if in animal pain. As if shocked by a vague attacker out of nowhere, or by a phantom from last night -- by a ghost of a jeering Janet, a Janet who'd had the gall, the luck as well, to leave on virtually the same punch line that Peter had used. How totally wrong of them not to understand. Not to realize that he was not always thus maudlin, thus mundane. Sure I was mundane inside. I even thought of Mrs. Giles, disquieting bitch, but didn't I prune my thoughts better than that, share with Janet and Peter only the best me, the strongest, the most independent, yet the never-aggressive me? And how was I maudlin? I was almost professorial in telling of my encounter with......I was even clinical in talking about how He led me to the gate, got me through it when I had been there paralyzed, physically, for over fifteen minutes. Why must I of all people be indicted as a fanatic? Anyway, what did I get out of it? Janet's nagging and Peter's unwillingness to build to a decent climax! No communion, no communion.......
 

But wandreth evermore uncertein and unsure
But wandreth evermore
But...but...but WANDRETH
EVERMORE.


Harry played at tearing down Spenser's syntax in an idle, compulsive way, like putting left toes to the floorboard every time the car passes a telephone pole until you've either lost count or gotten to five hundred, until the telephone rang.

This day is getting about as melodramatic as Poe. Evermore Whew!

He rose mechanically to answer the telephone, but stopped at the table. The clock in the kitchen was squeaking quietly, regularly adding a whine every thirty-five seconds. Giles's kids were yelling far in the woods. m e stale smell of Janet's cigarettes was still strong; he noticed that strangely he hadn't grown accustomed to it. The telephone continued to ring and to ring and to ring.....and must have stopped fully five minutes before he realized that he had been standing there for all that time listening to his own heartbeat thumping furiously. e thought of wet pavement in front of the graveyard plot whereon an organist played frenetically to the squeezes of an arthritic hand, and he felt very cold and again very lonely.

Evermore is a long time, he muttered as he eased carefully back onto the sofa, somewhat leery of fainting. I shouldn't have jogged after drinking all night -- he made the effort, unconvincingly, of thinking himself into a fresh direction. All right, his guts seemed to shout, how is it I always end by being, or appearing the aggressor, yet I'm the one who's always the victim! An aggressor with no victim makes no sense! They always see. They always go home before being abused. Something in me always tells them the worst about me before they've dared dream it -- perhaps even before it's dared to come true -- and secure in this knowledge they go trooping, tripping home, proud of their discovery! I sell my on indictments! I belong to the new dark ages. I even give hem away.

Harry felt very silly when he realized that through all this he had managed to slip from the sofa to have his knees on the floor, as if for prayer. "Now I lay me....." he began; but nervously chuckled. "Up from the grave....." but that's not a prayer, he muttered, embarrassedly lowering his head to his hands on the sofa. Peter had left some hair on the smooth grooves of the red velvet, and meticulously Harry picked them, one at a time, each a wrinkled blond wire, and removed each one to the ashtray at his back, where he ignited it and sizzled it to a coupling with Janet's butts; this ritual consummated, the kneeling priest returned himself to prayers, or rather to further attempts:
 

For whosoever once hath fastened
His foot thereon....


But have I? Did I? Was it always really an illusion? The organist madly funereal as well? The arthritic hand no less than the Nazis out for our neighborhood piss-on?

He was now on the sofa again, but too feverish in pursuing the possibility of a nuclear chain of illusions, a fissionable assortment of nightmares, to notice or to care that he had stopped his futile efforts at prayer.

Am I any more so a phony than Billiard Head? Intentional Fallacy? Ha! Even as much so? Must my pride in being better than Giles and in knowing that I'm better, indict me?

Why, my God, have they forsaken me? Where have Janet and Peter gone? Are they really making out? Is that who was trying to call? Just to torment me?!

When he looked up from his wet hands to spot the sherry, he saw that all was gone. He fantasized himself a tired pagan king whose little harem has gone to roost, but he couldn't sustain the ludicrous pose. In fact, he felt he couldn't sustain any of his poses any longer. It was as if very quickly, very neatly, even very painlessly his skeleton quietly took leave of his flesh and let it fall limp to the velvet. Dead.