I wake and feel the fell of dark, not day.
What hours, O what black hours we have spent
—Gerard Manley Hopkins, “No. 69, Carrion Comfort”
Drink today, and drown all sorrow;
You shall perhaps not do’t tomorrow.
—John Fletcher, Rollo, Duke of Normandy
I’m thinking about taking a drink. I’m thinking one day you wake up a little surprised about what’s going on, the next day you’re a little more surprised, I wake up a little more surprised. And then I wake up and I’m not surprised at all.
Is that insanity or stupidity? Or just a good enough thing no matter what? I’m at a place in my life where I’m asking such things again. It seems that in all of my life, that’s it really. That’s it really, times when I wake up surprised by things, and times I don’t.
I’m sitting on an old oak wood table in the middle of an almost empty room. A once school room, blackboards still, mostly empty, windows all boarded over.
My name’s Harry, and Harry’s for Harold not Henry as I might have once preferred, but I’ve pretty much stopped preferring things, and now that I think about it, it must have been that day over a year ago, no, more, was when I really stopped preferring, that day when we made it as clear as clear can be what a stupid species we are to ourselves. But when you wake up after a couple of days being in shock, in your own basement, clutching your wife who is soiled herself just like you did, and you wake up and you’re not surprised by anything, you don’t think of anything, you don’t even see that you’ve peed and shit in your own pants, then that’s when preferring something is missing, and it’s no wonder if it’s gone for good, well and good.
Well, it’s no surprise, if you don’t mind my gallows humor, you see, I’ve entered my ironic stage, and it’s taken me over a year. It’s like I haven’t thought about those first days until now, for instance, I now remember that at first I felt nothing like surprise at all, not even a little that I was still alive or when Margery and I went up finally to our bedroom for a change, when looking out the window I saw our neighborhood still standing. I remember feeling a little, well, like a tremor, but it wasn’t surprise, it was like it was without interest. It was raining. Margery got our good clothes out. I remember trying to remember if it was a work day.
Still, I don’t remember much still, the next thing was in the shelter, I can’t even remember how we got there, but what makes sense is that we must have been brought in there by one of the groups of people who went looking through the houses looking for food. I do remember, just a flash, walking there, what must have been gunshots, and this glimpse of the taste of smoke, what must have been from fires in parts of the town. I can remember going into houses for food with some others, but who escapes me, it had to be later, or whether we brought others out, it is just a blur except that there was a guy there that acted as a leader, I remember this probably because I can remember he had the same name as me, Harry.
Everything’s jumpy from that start, everything of the almost nothing I can remember. I know that Margery and I got through the sickness, a lot did at first, we managed to get better and give a hand and not be surprised, at least me, at the people dead or worse, the really sick, the moving the bodies out. Then I started to wake up a little surprised, I’d wake up more surprised, and then I think I ended up waking up not surprised at all.
It must be remembering more, or that I‘m making an effort as Marge would say.
I can figure now that it must have been only a month or so when I started working for what was called La Maison, although I still don’t think of it so much as the name of Lowell, but for the ways things being running. I worked a lot of different things for it, I can’t remember feeling anything about things going so Frenchie or anything, maybe because I was pretty sick for awhile. I don’t remember that I ever was grumbling about what I was doing those first couple of months, that makes sense to me, what with it being so confusing, looking back on it now, that people wanted in where people would know who was working with him and who was working for who, like that it was what got together, that’s all and I’m not even sure that it was something I even noticed.
So anyway, I became part of that effort. In the first months I was part of the clean-up, which was a pretty big operation for a while, mostly meaning that we were trying to find and dispose of the bodies we came across, collect food, what with whole neighborhoods having burned and the fighting when people outside and everyone trying to get back in tried to get what we had. Margery and I moved to a big house where married people lived in different rooms. I met Louie around then, I got a job with the planting thing and the corn patches. I remember this one thing, digging up the dirt in the cemetery that’s over past McCaulry Street, this one moment I can still see, turning over sod, my shovel scraping across this headstone, the light of it, the sound, but I can’t think what I was thinking then, just that I have the picture of this moment back to me really clear.
Everybody started getting sunburns. People started getting sick again. Babies didn’t make it. I remember a lot of things from those first few months, but I don’t trust them, they’re like late night movies you watch half-asleep. I can even remember the early jobs I did, but only in glimpses that I sometimes see when I’m falling asleep.
Then I got the job with Louie. It was when I started working for Louie that I start remembering things. Maybe because it was more routine, my helping him organize the corn at the end of the summer, helping him keep track of the stockpiles of it, if you could call it that, making systems that helped with it. Maybe it was when I became one of them, a person who remembers, a person who works toward ends, a person who has something to do, that started my being able to be surprised again.
Strange times have weird places of importance, I was just remembering thinking, about sitting in Louie’s living room, several days ago, it was only four days ago. I remember thinking it, I mean the word itself, weird, I am remembering thinking about the sound, thinking it sounded pretty good, but then that thought might have owed a lot more to my drinking glasses of the goddamn homemade whiskey, that’s what we call it although it doesn’t taste anything like the goddamned whiskey I remember, it was the whiskey and my worry and not my natural intelligence you can bet that filled my head with such.
I was sitting there and I did have to laugh, if you can call it that, a laugh as sour as that crap we were drinking, gulp. And then Louie came back in and I said to Louie, “You know you’re an asshole, huh?” and that is probably not too bright a thing to say to the guy who holds your cards. Maybe it was the drink, I got to drink often enough, it being one of the real joys of my being a crony, or the crony of a crony anyway, a couple of times removed. And then again, maybe I was thinking more of my problem that I got the night before, making me nervous and all.
See, Louie isn’t a big shot as much as he works for one of the big shots, if it comes to that. Louie has got himself a really good position being the guy who does the work for the big shot on the Board who is supposed to do the work, which is keeping the inventory of corn which is one of the main things we all get to eat that’s not from before, that and some so-called vegetables that we pull out of all those crazy would-be greenhouse things we have a lot of. It’s a good position to wheel and deal and the big shot just keeps his hand in where it does him the most good and Louie handles the nuts and bolts.
Of course, the nuts and bolts are nuts, seeing the food problems everybody got, which is a lot. Or not so much, ha ha, depending how much you want to be thinking about what is and what used to be. We’ve lost a good many right here in Lowell, what with the shortages. We might be pulling ahead with this year’s crops coming in in a month or two, with the weather going better, but then power always gets enough, they get kept in cornbread, if you know what I mean.
The distillery is more the problem, it’s not a big operation, but I figured once that maybe we could feed a hundred more people without it, and that’s why, at least one reason, why the hooch is a secret, or supposed to be. I used to tell myself that we used rotten stock good for nothing else back when I used to think about it, before I stopped thinking about it, moving on to think only how to do a good job for Louie and keep myself in. Oh yeah, another surprise. Funny how I remember that now, that I had thought about the right and wrong.
So Louie does the work for Mister Big, and I did the work for Louie and it kept me working on something where I could keep my feet dry and my glass full enough for me to feel I was in on things too.
Sometimes I felt big enough to say some things I probably shouldn’t have, but I haven’t said anything really bad, not for my guys, and good god it is really funny, to have never said something to the wrong people about what goes on, how loyal I’ve been, it’s damn funny. Mister Big never worries about Louie saying anything because it would be the end of the good life for Louie, if not real trouble. And I always kept clammed because there are worse things than losing a job or some corn mash or the likelihood that I would eat, like not being able to eat because I’m dead.
I’m not stupid. I don’t need things like that spelled out.
I didn’t have to be smart that the job could put me in the middle of two sides, and the trouble with playing sides is that both sides play rough. I didn’t have to be smart to know that, just attentive, but that’s something I’m just getting used to, it seems, since all this happened. I wasn’t particularly attentive before and I wasn’t attentive after, not even when Marge died. And that’s funny too. She was always after me to be attentive.
So, maybe I was just in a weird mood because of the visit I got the night before, but Louie didn’t say much in reply to my being assholic about him being an asshole, but all he does is to grunt and bounce a crumpled piece of paper off my head and take a pull from the bottle that once held really good scotch. It was like irony was flying all around.
Then Louie said, “I ever tell you the time I was Junior Class President and I had this, walking stick, I used for a gavel?”
“No,” I said.
It was one of his favorite stories.
“No,” I said, “no, you never told me that, or about how you’d crash it down on the folding table in front of the bleachers, Bam! Bam!” I said, agitated, I was a bit unbalanced, I was upset. I tried to quiet down, I tried to slow down, but I kept going. “And how it always worked, getting everybody shut up, and how it was almost after the year was up when you realized the Secretary,” I remember having to gulp for breath, “who sat to your right, from the corner of your eye,” I remember that there was like an oratory in my voice, “how she jumped every time the stick crashed down.” I was panting.
“Well,” says Louie, real slowly. “Let me tell you it,” he says, and then I see that I had hurt his feelings and I was wishing I kept a better mask on my troubles. Louie is not one who lets things be if it means he isn’t on top, not on his heap anyway. That was a lesson he never got tired of teaching me.
“So, what’s the lesson of that story I never told you,” he says, with that snitty expression of his that was scary because I could never tell if he was just annoyed or was deciding to get me good.
“You get things through a show of force and determination,” I said, slowly, it might have been his voice word for word.
“To your own people, too,” he says, like the asshole he is. I was annoyed. I felt like telling him about my visit the night before, let him have some of the worry. Except I was figuring that his not knowing was about the best thing until I got it straight what I would do.
That visit, the first one, it was a strange one all right. First of all, the tall guy who turns up in my bedroom, turns out to be the Jackie A., a.k.a. Jack Ass, a.k.a Beaufort’s Boy, as I found out later and what told me a lot. He just seemed to appear in my room that I have in one of the Men’s Houses, which I got, after Margery. He traveled like smoke, you get what I mean, was just there.
All that time, the first visit, I didn’t know who he was, and I didn’t know who was who and what was what. All I knew was that this guy was speaking to me about testifying, using that word exactly, like it was all legal, like in language I can’t remember being used by people except maybe on People’s Court, from before. What he was talking about, about this testifying, was about screwing around with the corn, and I’m smart enough to know that meant real business, and you can believe that I was wide awake after that, seeing the problem, although I didn’t say anything much to him, only listening.
But I knew right off it was Board business, and I know that the Board’s business is what runs this place and who’s on top and who’s not. It’s not that I really know much about that, but from working with Louie I had a pretty good idea over the months that some Board members didn’t like the way Beaufort was running things. I mean, I usually just got enough to know what I needed to keep the counts straight or crooked, nothing important. But with that guy in my room in the middle of the night it didn’t take me half-way through to realize that I didn’t want to be as important as it looked like I might too easy become. I mean, you know, from being a nickel corn counter who watches the distillery for Louie and his man, to playing with the big boys over the control of the Board, and as it turned out, him being there to keep it all the way it was. I mean, I didn’t get much sleep since this guy breezes in for his little two a.m. chat with me, mainly from trying to figure how I’m coming out anything other than a loser.
Well, I didn’t know it was Jack Ass himself until a day later, but I did get what his questions meant. Someone was on to Louie’s Mister Big, who’s a guy named Edmund who’s on the Board, and it looked like someone was trying to make a big deal of it, and so a power shift. Like I said, I wasn’t in on things and didn’t know until Louie clued me later, but then I didn’t know anything except how to hang Louie and his boss and his pals, and I knew, the tall guy made it clear enough, that was why the visit.
I don’t know why he handled it the way he did, staying vague about who he was, not taking me in right away then, maybe he figured I knew, maybe what Louie says about Beaufort being crazy is true, or maybe his boy thought that there couldn’t be any question about my not going along, him assuming I knew what was up. Maybe he thought I would keep it to myself to play it safe, and he was almost right about that. Maybe it was if he thought I knew he was going to be there, that I already decided with him, that I somehow asked for his calling. I’ve been thinking about that too, here in this empty room.
But I figure now that he shouldn’t have left me with so many questions. I wonder if he was thinking he had played it wrong when he got shot at that Board Meeting a few days later, no, just a day ago, when he tried to pull a gun on me when I did that testifying that wasn’t to his liking.
What’s a guy like me supposed to do? I met with Louie as regular, did the usual inventory updates, and I had my drinks and called Louie an asshole. I’m really smart.
So anyway, he makes his point and I start worrying that maybe he knows all about the tall man’s visit somehow, and I figured that I had to find out without giving the game away so I try business as usual. Except that it wasn’t business as usual that night anyway because we were supposed to be working on something different, something I found out, when it all came out, had all too much with what was going on with the tall man’s visit and the whole power thing, but so much for better late than never.
Louie just says “Yeah,” and shrugs like nothing’s happening and picks up this stack of paper from off the coffee table he has in the living room, and he starts looking them over by way of changing the subject. He said, “We better get started on this,” like nothing like me calling him an asshole happened. And then I got a chance to skim over the papers pretty good because Louie’s wife, who I hadn’t seen for a while because of her on-off sick thing, she comes down with her lantern and says there’s a problem with the upstairs toilet.
It seems that every time we work at Louie’s house, which was pretty often, there was a problem with the toilet. Often enough so it was a joke between us. That night when Eunice came in Louie just got up and grunted.
“I had somehow always imagined we would live in caves,” I said, honest to god, to them both, feeling desperate, taking no joke as a sign of trouble, “not running water.” That was a joke. That’s how desperate I was still feeling.
“Don’t talk about my toilet,” says Louie. “Anything else, but,” he says, for a laugh.
It felt good hearing him joke back. It felt good hearing that giggle laugh that only Eunice does. It made me relax more thinking I was off touch with Louie knowing about the guy. They both went upstairs.
That’s when I get a chance to look over the papers really good, and I’ll tell you my feeling better didn’t last two seconds into it. The first thing it makes me think of is one of those long winded inter-office memos we used to get sometimes back at the insurance place I used to work, that fucking job when the world was sweet, all about sales plans or explaining new policy changes or whatever. That’s how it was set up, except of course it was re:’d Expansion Plan, and I certainly felt a shock at that, it’s eleven pages all about some big plan to build up what was going on here.
It was like falling into a different hole, from my worry about that visit and now this thing being shown to me. It even had footnotes and an attachment about the whole Frenchie thing, that was like a press release, no kidding, with a note on it saying it was a draft for leaflets, no kidding. I read this thing, and if you ask me how I felt about it, maybe dizzy is the best thing.
So there I’m sitting, right in that favorite chair I always try to sit in when I’m over. I can tell you that I remember the dust in the chair, from patting it like some spastic fit, just sitting there looking at the way the pages were skimmed and spread over the coffee top like cards from how I tossed them there, one page whooshed up against the bottle on the end, staring at it, waiting for Louie to come walking back in.
“What’s this?” I ask when he comes back in, except I think I said what a couple of extra times.
“What do you mean, what is it,” says Louie, like he talks to me about that sort of thing every day. “It’s a plan for the next year for La Maison,” he says.
“What is this?” I say again to Louie. “You telling me this is what we’re supposed to be working on?” He says yeah.
“Yeah?” I say. I look over at the top sheet again and reading, “Expansion Plan,” like I somehow expected to be sarcastic.
“Yeah,” he says. Then Louie gives me the run down.
Louie started by telling me what everyone living knows, that everything is a mess. He tells me that some of the Board members came up with the notion that it would be a good idea to see if we couldn’t expand our base by organizing people outside into what he was calling a trading network, to try to get what we could out of it by being the big trade center. He goes on about refugees, by what I took to mean the lot of sorry bastards that wind up here because nothing is going for them, and he’s talking about how raids on our stuff are taking too much time because we’re being passive about it, and all kinds of things, half of which I couldn’t tell you because he just kept going on and on.
Finally I interrupt him. “What are we going to trade?” I ask him.
“Well,” he says, “food mostly, and other things,” and he looked offended when I snorted. “C’mon,” he says, “the expanded plantings this year in corn should give us some extra.” Meanwhile, I’m thinking that that is at best marginal, but he’s like working like he’s selling it all to me which struck me as strange enough.
“The greenhouse conversions are working out great too,” he goes on.
“Oh come on,” I finally say. “There isn’t even enough for us.” Which reminded me at the time how I could use a little something to eat, the hooch sitting pretty sour. I often got some sort of meal at Louie’s, but not when Eunice is sick.
But he lays out the arguments pretty good. The plantings expansions, those sort of greenhouses we have a slew of, even some things I hadn’t heard about yet, like the real farms re-opening in Chelmsford and Tewksbury, even about a couple of poultry places he said were reporting in to be working soon, if the chickens start breeding better. He explained how all that gave this expansion business more necessity because it would give more food and was going to make recruitment and protection more of a strain too. He ended up getting me going pretty well, after a while.
Finally, he leans forward and says, almost just whispering, “You know, there’s a lot of guards outside the city right now,” and I could see straight off he meant more than to just attest to the new farms and all. Like I said, I was really seeing it, the trade and recruitment, creating a bigger base, what it could mean for supporters. Jesus, I was starting to feel great. I was thinking this wasn’t the Louie I thought I knew, he was really being in on something big. So I said that.
“You’re really in on this,” I said.
“Well,” he says, waving his hand like it’s no big deal, he says, “a little bit, no big thing,” or something like that, but his grin that he tried to keep down said it all.
Then I ask, “Is the Board split on this?” and the change in his face gives me the answer.
He sort of snaps. “What have you heard?” he says to me, sharply.
I say “Take it easy,” or something, real quiet, and I start my lying. “Nothing,” I say, “it just goes to figure with something this big.”
He asks me what I mean.
I knew what I meant. I meant that strange visit the night before, and the stories you hear about the way they play for keeps, and I meant to keep quiet on it until I knew more. And I meant to do a lot of hoping that it wasn’t just some crazy test of me, and then I started hoping that maybe it was, that’s how mixed-up I was getting. It was going too fast.
“I mean,” I said, “that with a change this big the Board will hardly be unanimous,” saying it with a joking tone, “seeing that they hardly have a record of it with the small stuff.” All of this was true and Louie didn’t have a problem with it and I could see him kind of smile. But it was close to a slip, because the Board, as far as I ever got to hear, only ever squabbled really on the small stuff, what with Beaufort and his hand-picked laying down the law directly when it counted.
I wanted to ask, “Is Beaufort behind this?” but I didn’t because I was suddenly wondering who my visitor really was, afraid it would give my game away. It wasn’t that I was afraid that Louie would do something if I told him someone was snooping around, in fact, I was sure he’d appreciate it. The problem was that if I told it, it would force things to come to a head, and namely, probably, to my head. I also wanted to ask, “What’s really going on?” but that was the same problem, like the joke about dying to know.
Louie started talking about the plan again, how the first step would be to inform the areas what was up and try to get them easier with us by knocking down their fears, what with us closed up, making contacts. Then to follow up with what he called teams and going from there. He talked for a while. He looked at me.
“I don’t think this is what we need,” I say, meaning the papers about the plan. He nods at me and takes up the pages.
“I know,” he says.
“That was easy,” I say back to him. I wasn’t figuring it out. I’ve never been a planner, not then and not before even. My wife would have been able to tell you plenty on that.
He pours me a glass. I always had to wait for him to pour the stuff. “Well, maybe not,” he says.
“Oh?” I say. What the hell? I’m thinking.
“It’s a good plan,” he says. “A good idea.”
“Ok,” I say, not agreeing, not disagreeing, confused plenty by everything, like I’m suddenly in another world.
Louie leaned forward real quick and surprised me. “It is a good idea,” he says, with force, and like his face is turned up into mine, the closest it’s ever been. And then he says, “Beaufort’s against it,” quiet, close up, like a hiss.
He sits back. I didn’t move. Not until I say something like, “That’s trouble then.”
Louie relaxes back into his chair.
“We don’t think so,” he says, “Not for us.”
I thought about it. I played with my glass, but I didn’t take a drink. Instead I say, “You mean Big Edmund and his big friends, they’re going to cross Beaufort? That’s new.” I was wondering.
“We can make a move on this one,” Louie said. “We can do it politically.” I never heard him use a word like that. “Beaufort won’t be able to waltz his guards around this one, there are enough of the Board behind this,” he says, like he already thought of my question. Then he says, “You know how I told you about a lot of guards being outside?”
“The new farms,” I think I said.
“Yeah. A lot of the guards that didn’t get assigned….” He let me get the picture.
“Wow,” I think I said.
“And Beaufort himself is getting to be a good argument,” Louie then says, then stops, and says after a little while, “He’s acting more crazy.”
Beaufort insane? It struck me as an odd thing to say, I hadn’t thought in those terms for a long time. I didn’t know about that, except maybe some rumors about rumors, but never gave it much thought, but then I was finding out I didn’t know much. I think I said “Gee,” or maybe I just drooled in my lap. A night of wonders.
“You’re going for an overthrow?” I ask, or something like that, all I remember is speaking slowly and feeling stupid.
“No,” Louie says, like a tsk. “Of course not, there wouldn’t be a chance. Don’t you see?” says Louie, I think with pity or something. “Beaufort can’t force his hand, even if we can’t force ours. So we will be able to sell the plan. It’s a given.”
“Beaufort’s bust,” he goes on, “because everybody’s going to want it. We’ll vote him out if we have to, the Board will. He’s putting himself against his own support and out,” Louie says, almost like he’s giggling.
Then Louie says, “It’s going to be a better place.”
“For you,” I said. I was feeling pretty red-eyed and tired all of a sudden. He laughed. Telling me the plans gave him a flush of victory.
“And you, my wise-ass friend,” he says. He gets up and slaps my shoulder.
I waited a minute, with Louie looking down at me, his hand resting on my shoulder.
“Maybe I should tell you about a visitor,” I say, finally. I like to think now that Louie was giggling when I said that.
The sun was close enough to being up by the time I got to make my way to the house and my room. Only two days ago, two, if you count it as morning. I think I fell asleep immediately, in shock. For a little while, but then sleep wasn’t to be had after that. Some things never change.
Then the tall man appeared again, as if I had drawn him up in a dream, he was standing against the drawn shades in my room, it may have been the noon horn that woke me, maybe him. Jackie A. gave me his name this time and was adequately gratified by my response. What a creep. “That’s right,” he said, like a boast, “you’re close to the top.”
I had already figured, after what Louie told me was up with the Board, that the tall guy practicing leering at me from the foot of my bed was a Beaufort man, and Louie had made me describe him a hundred times, and he knew it was him.
“I thought you could have been a solo trying me for a shakedown,” I said to Jack Ass. Not that I used that name. I don’t think I used any of his names. I looked around for my pants. He spent only a second being puzzled by that one.
“Now you know better,” he says. He takes that moment to draw his gun and break it down. He checked the barrel as I fumbled around.
“Trying to play it safe is the stupidest way you can play,” he said after a while. “Don’t even think about breaking out of your agreement.” Funny how I couldn’t remember an agreement. Funny too, I was thinking, that Louie went into such a detail of the plan, just the night before, seeing how I was supposedly the only one who knew about this guy playing with his gun until I told Louie.
Jackie A. went into his tough guy act. He dropped a couple of hints about what could happen to a guy who might find it in his heart not to go along. He let me know the schedule for the day, which was for me to stay in sick, which meant no stops down at the distillery, no meeting with the crew or Louie, nothing but this room, until later in the day, when it was all going to happen.
I was getting to the point where I was sick of hearing plans. I hadn’t come up with my own. My hangover was dead-eye dicking me. I remember saying “okay” a lot.
“Okay,” I said, as he got ready to go. Jack Ass went incognito with a sun hood over his head.
“Do it or die,” the friendly guy says, before twirling out the door, making me think, as if I don’t have a worry in the world, like he is reminding me of Zorro.
“Okay,” I said, after he was gone.
Of course I was going to go along with Louie’s plan, I wasn’t any more sure it would be any better for me, but you go with the people you know.
The deal was that I’d be taken care of. Louie didn’t know how they’d do it exactly, but he had a couple of ideas. Some of the ideas sounded pretty far-fetched, like faking an execution or suicide and then I’d be reassigned as an outside person, another person. Not the best deal maybe, but I disliked the alternatives. Louie was very re-assuring, but it didn’t take care of the basic trouble and the trouble was that in telling on others I would be telling on myself.
The plan was to go along with whatever the guy who turned out to be Jack Ass wanted, which was for me to testify, as he said, he seemed to love that word, testify at the Board Meeting. I was supposed to be a surprise item on the agenda, that’s how Jack Ass put it, anyway. My guess is that the Beaufort boys were going to try for a quick round-up of their enemies. All they needed was the opportunity, and the corn manipulation and distillery would let it, and everyone knew how hard Beaufort could be.
But, of course, they never got that chance. When I got into the room under the guiding finger of Jackie A. and took the stand and started to speak all hell broke loose because I pinned it all on Beaufort. Edmund’s guys were ready. I guess Louie had been plenty busy after I left him the night, morning, before. They hustled me out of the room and the gun fire. I saw Jackie A. fall. I had a moment of hope.
I was taken to a room, plywood over big windows, a blackboard, and locked up. Everything’s happened so fast. This past day I’ve been thinking like never before.
It’s funny that I’ve been remembering a lot of things, some things about what’s going on, some things that go back a long time ago. Like, I keep remembering a song, I used to have 78’s from my father, a song by Glen Gray and his Cosa Loma Orchestra, see, I remember, it’s called “It Gotta Be This Or That.” I’ve even caught myself humming it in this room. I try singing it and the words are there. “`If it ain’t black, it’s white’,” I sing, “`If it ain’t dull, it’s bright, If it ain’t day, it’s night, It’s gotta be this or that’.” In some ways I have never felt calmer.
The door is still locked. There is a small open part of the plywood over one of the windows, and I am three floors from the ground. I’m pretty sure it’s the old parochial school. I have heard some shots. I have been left completely alone, and with the stink of urine in the waste basket that leaks, which is one of two other things in this room beside the low wooden table I use for a chair sometimes, lie down on others.
I figure now that Louie knew about Beaufort’s move for me. I figure that maybe it was Louie’s pals that had really set it up, someway. It had to be that way. I wonder if this plan of theirs is true, or if they just used it to move Beaufort where they wanted him, forcing him to fight, to undo him, it doesn’t matter, I don’t care. It just confirms my new theory that life goes to the attentive.
There is the question, Who wants to live? The answer is, I know, everyone, or just about, but I’m figuring it’s more than that. I figure that if you go around with a blanket around your brain, and keep plugging, well then, maybe you can make it, but I wonder if that’s being alive. It’s like being attentive and just working away can be different.
I’ve been thinking a lot about Margery. I’m thinking of before this, before this thing, the whole thing, before she said to me in the dark to go to the cellar, before her eyes knew enough to be dead, before this, before this she always, she was always one to do things, keep busy, like a motto to her it was like. She got sick a quite a time ago but she was pretty true to the end to herself. I know she made an effort, she even made her sickness, the second time, her death, an effort. And she never thought I made an effort. I am remembering a fight once, a long time ago, I can see it all clearly.
I can see it clearly. She was yelling, like it was supposed to mean something. She said, “You have to make an effort, Harry! You have to use your mind!” She always believed that, to the end. I can see her hands, they were flailing from those bony elbows she had, she was wearing an Indian cotton dress, I can see how her fingers seemed to burst, flake out, from her wrists, like sea creatures. I was looking at them in the sky of the mantle mirror in our living room, flailing in her way, reflecting among the knickknacks in the living room. I never told her I didn’t like that room, the way she set it up, all that junk. It’s funny how I think of that, I think I never paid attention. She never thought I made much of an effort, it is funny, she was right, until she died. I wonder what she would think of my effort now.
Yes, I took the work with Louie, I tried effort I thought, with Louie, but it was all static, a bunch of cotton for my brain, the hours and months under Louie’s hand, I see it now. My work was not right or wrong, I think it was just comforting, neutral like water, it was like pushing stones, only one kind of effort mattered, the comfort of exertion, that’s what it was. It was like breathing, most people don’t pay attention to it or it spooks them. It doesn’t matter what the reasons are, it just happens. It’s like this place, we go along because it gives us something to do, people don’t want to think about things, just go on. That is the way for most people, except the selfish, those who know what it is they want.
And so I come to this. A locked room, three days from a trance. There is another thing in the room. I have tried to ignore it, I have tried to refuse it, but it becomes bigger and bigger, it has become the only thing I see. I have grown thirsty with an urge.
There is the bottle. I have picked it up a hundred times, I have rubbed it in my hands, I have stared at it for hours. The sediments are different. I know something has been added. It’s never smelled like almonds before.
Why do I try not to drink it? What am I thinking of? I will drink it, with an effort, a toast to you Margery, and how different we have been, and in the end, the same.
I will not wake up tomorrow, surprised or not surprised, at all.