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VOLUME three
number four
At the Crying Man
Immolation Scene
The Swim
Canticles for a Shrill Voice
The Agony on Cape Cod
The Turning of Venus (B)
Even the Early Worm
He Lamenteth His Love
Who Learns?
Abandoned Garden
Sasamat and Tenth
editor  Jan de Bruyn
associate editors  Elliott B. Gose
Jacob Zilber
subscriptions   Yolande Newby
Barbara Beach
Marcus Beach
design   William Mayrs
treasurer Alice Zilber
cover design   William Mayrs
PRISM is an independent publication, supported by subscriptions, advertising, and
donations. Donations are eligible as Income Tax Deductions. PRISM is published
by The Prism Society.
Annual subscriptions are $3.50, single copies $1.00, and may be obtained by writing to the Subscription
Manager, 3492 West 35th Avenue, Vancouver 13, British Columbia. MSS should be submitted to the
Editor at the same address and must be accompanied by a self-addressed, stamped envelope. EDITORIAL
This issue of Prism is the last one I will be editing. I have achieved my
original objective which was to found a little mag which concentrated its
attention on creative writing; which was eclectic and able therefore to embrace a variety of types of writing both in form and style; which demanded a
high standard of literary effectiveness; and which revealed the wealth of
material that was currently available not only from established Canadian
writers but also from young beginning writers who were inadequately represented in the very few Canadian literary publications which existed at the
time Prism was being established—1959. I look back with considerable
pleasure to a number of editorial successes and to honours won by Mr.
William Mayrs with his art work. I recall with pride the number of new
writers we have introduced who have gone on to make names for themselves
— Margaret Laurence and Lionel Kearns, to cite only two. It is good to
know that Prism has put on permanent record a number of poems and a
story by Wilfred Watson whose undeniable talent deserves wide recognition.
Since Prism published its first issue, in September 1959, several little mags
have come — and some gone — Evidence, Tish, Motion, Mountain, Edge —
and generally there has been considerable ferment and provocative freshness
on the literary scene, to which Canadian Literature is contributing a dignified and intelligent critical forum. It is to be hoped that Prism will continue to play its part. If it is to do so, it will have to receive substantial concrete support from Canadian readers, and Canadian advertisers. This issue
is one year late; the reason, of course, is the lack of funds. This is not a new
development; literature— and the little mag in particular — is always the
poor relation in the family of the arts. We gladly lavish expense upon dramatic productions, musical productions, art galleries — but care little about the
fate of little mags produced at great expense of energy by a few enthusiasts.
Reading maketh a full man — but the reward cannot be gained without
effort and some little expense. I hope, for the sake of my successor that a
large readership will be willing to give both to keep alive a vigorous Prism.
I leave the editorship with some reluctance; the past four years have been
interesting, exciting and informative ones. But I have held and continue to
hold the view that a magazine like Prism needs new editorial blood every
few years in order to remain lively and vital. Without a change of editorship
the magazine, no matter how "sound" it may be, acquires a sameness which
robs the publication of the essential robust ability to surprise. I feel, consequently that it is time to have a new point of view guiding the editorial
destinies of Prism.
I am grateful to those who have read and appreciated Prism, and owe a
special debt of gratitude to those who have given time to the many tasks
(continued on page 55) AT THE
The following are the opening sections of a novel-in-progress
In her nightgown she was solid: light fell headlong over her hair and
across her belly where the gown lay with no folds. She stood, rocking back
slightly on her heels, her face visible also for a moment modelled by the
light that struck forehead and nose and wide cheeks, and the upper lip raised
to shouting. The gray corridor extended behind her: benches stood beside
the walls, and farther down was one chair knocked over forward and quite
still; at the obscure end where passages led to left and to right, a lone figure
leaned against a door.
The whiteness of her nightdress was unremarked by the nurses. There were
three: they stitched pillowcases by lamplight and talked, and paused in their
talk to pull threads straight between their teeth, grimacing. The youngest
was telling of an occurrence. She leaned forward directly into the lamplight,
the fringe of her bright hair reddening.
"It was one night at the end of the shift. This was when I was still on
relief, usually changing beds upstairs — but I had this one job taking around
the dressings about midnight and collecting them in the morning last thing,
after they were folded. Well, I had the basket this night, and was coming
out of the north wing stair, you know that leads into the defective wards;
you'd think I'd want to get them over first but Bennet was on the shift and
she always kept me coffee, and then I was going with Ivan at the time —
he was on the male ward nights. Anyway, this night Ellen MacAdam was on.
Her, and Bennet and some other kid. You know how crazy MacAdam is. I
was letting myself in and they were all down the corridor by the dormitories,
and MacAdam and Bennet were after this other kid with a needle, scaring
her you know." She laughed, and her speech became more rapid. "Running
after her and MacAdam had this big hypo, full of water — it shoots out
like anything — I forget who it was. One of those two blondes who left
before the exams — I mean, she's so crazy, MacAdam —"
"Who was in charge?" The grayhaired nurse looked up with a passing
interest. "Bennet. So I slammed the door, and they thought it was a supervisor, the
way they shut up. But MacAdam, you know, she'd do anything. Well, we
all came down to the office and who should come out after us but Sharon
Healey." The third nurse did not know who it was. "Oh, a little defective.
She's not one of the workers." ("She's no trouble," said the grayhaired
nurse.) "You wouldn't know her unless you'd been working on the ward.
I've had four shifts there, I know Sharon."
"She's no trouble at all."
"No, you wouldn't know her unless you'd been working on the ward.
MacAdam starts in on Sharon, then. Asking her all these crazy questions
such as What would you do if you got out in the field with a man? and
that. Sharon said, she guessed she'd sit by him on the grass and MacAdam
said Wouldn't you kiss him? going on like that, in a bunch in the corridor
around her, and you know Sharon likes to be noticed; I mean, she's not one
of those ones that pester you all the time but she's sort of, cute."
"She's no trouble on the ward."
"No, that's right. Well, Sharon said finally she'd kiss him. MacAdam kept
right at her but you couldn't get a thing more out of her, just laughing and
saying she would kiss him."
"She may've never been near a man," said the third nurse.
"Well, you'll hear. I went to get my coffee and meanwhile MacAdam had
this crazy idea to open the doors into the male ward and push Sharon
through. They got the big betweendoors open and Ivan was there laughing
his head off and they took Sharon through and down to the dormitory and
told her to walk on in."
"Did you see that?"
"Everybody went down. Nothing happened, you know."
"Was he on by himself?"
"Ivan. Yes, there was another attendant but I don't think he could have
been on the ward. Sharon goes shuffling in there in her nightgown, and
everything quiet; and then this little defective sits up and grabs her dress.
It was a dress, she had a dress on as I remember now." The girl paused,
worked a few stitches, and resumed. "Ivan thought he'd better go in so he
went in and took Sharon's hand and they came out, with this little defective
still hanging on. I don't know who. I don't know any of those dayroom ones.
Very small, hairy, and didn't talk at all just grinning at Sharon."
"Hairy he didn't have anything on."
"No, he was stark; and don't ask me because I didn't notice." They
laughed. "We took them down to the doors in case the. MacAdam told
Sharon to put her arms around him but she wouldn't. Or kiss him. She was
blushing." They laughed.
"You couldn't make her kiss him."
"No, she was too shy. She's really cute, you know."
"What did she think?" The youngest nurse looked up. "She thought he was really something, I
guess. She thought he was just fine."
"I mean of it all, what did she think."
"Oh, Sharon isn't a thinker." The girl's cheeks darkened. "She hardly
talks, let alone think. Eh."
"Sharon is an imbecile," said the old nurse.
"Yes, she's no thinker: an imbecile!" The girl laughed again.
They sewed for a time in silence. The third nurse pulled a white sweater,
that had lain across her chair, over her shoulders. "It would have been something for them to figure out, if they found one of the defectives pregnant," she
"That's what MacAdam said! 'They would never be able to figure that
out,' she said."
"Those patients don't get out do they?"
"No," said the grayhaired nurse. "Workers do, but then, they only sleep
on the ward."
There was a pause. "Remember last fall, when they changed that group
here?" The girl spoke up suddenly. "It was when they decided to move all
the psychotic patients out of those wards. Twelve came here. You could
have told which ones they were, just from their skin. They had such white
skin, it was really strange the whiteness of their skin —"
The nurses were quiet. The grayhaired nurse nodded and dozed. Beyond
them under the light the woman stood unmoving like a pillar. At last the
grayhaired nurse looked up and said "Who's that down the corridor —
Annie Joe?"
They said "Yes, that's Annie."
"She's heading for a seizure," said the third nurse. "She's been working
up to it. Cursing the nurses."
"That's not like Annie—"
"It's that bird," said the youngest, "that poor little thing. No one can persuade her to let it go. She's so stubborn."
"Yes, stubborn. And she's in no state to be crossed."
The girl moved in her chair, her starched apron rattling angrily. "It's
mean to let her keep it inside like that, the poor thing is scared out of its
wits too, she showed it to me yesterday and it couldn't even move, for
"Well we don't want an upset with her."
"I don't care, it's so mean." The girl moved again in her chair. "You
can never argue with Annie about it either, or she gets so miserable." She
slurred the last word, making its colloquial meaning obvious by her voice. The grayhaired nurse said, "We wouldn't want any trouble with her
just now."
"Go to bed, Annie," she called without expression. The white nightgown
remained, swaying slightly in the frame of the corridor as Annie shifted her
weight from one foot to the other. The nurse shrugged and returned to her
needlework. "She can stay there if she wants —" she observed, lifting her
voice a little on the last word which hung in the air in the stillness.
Annie Joe crouched for a moment and stood up again, white spreading
across her breasts as she filled her lungs: she began to shout in a warm,
grave voice, her words measured, breathing as she paused.
"My bird is dying sick," she shouted. "Sure it is, poor small thing. I gave
him water out of an eye dropper, which a daynurse gave. Who will please
save this bird, I caught him in my own hands a very small bird on the
ground under the bushes, in the airing court, everyone loves him. It's all
you, damn' nurses trying to make me let my bird go, which is too scared to
fly." She paused longer, then raised her voice insistently. "I caught it in my
own hands. It's a dying sick bird please."
The grayhaired nurse laid her work in her lap and said, "Annie, go to
bed and we'll see about it in the morning. Go along now." She waited, erect
and cautiously authoritative. The young nurse called out, "Annie Joe, you
know whose fault it is if that bird dies!" Her childish voice was lost in renewed shouting. "Could you know," shouted Annie, "How I love this bird.
I caught him in my own hands. Sure I did, under the bushes."
"You spend too much of your time under the bushes," said the nurse in
the white sweater, lower than Annie could hear. But the old nurse murmured
vaguely to the youngest and nodded towards Annie. The girl rolled her
sewing together and stood up with a scrape of the chair.
"Come on Annie. Come on, come on," she said in a friendly voice. "It's
the middle of the night."
"I caught him in my own hands. I caught him in the bushes." Annie
pushed back some hair from her eyes, raising her head, and again the light
fell across her face, and revealed the low sleek forehead with its one line of
anger, and the nose that broadened over the nostrils to repeat, in a subtle
cleft clearly defined as it turned into shadow, the same line. On either side
of the shadow a heavy stroke of light fell and flickered above her mouth.
"Damn' nurses," she shouted and the light flickered, "What sort of a damn'
place is this; my bird is sure dying sick, and you will not do anything what
so ever." With these words she stooped again and from the pool of shadow
between her feet brought forth a shoebox, lidded and punched with holes
in very tender rows. As she walked slowly down the ward with the nurse,
who had taken her arm, she opened the box and still in her full voice went
on, "See how sick he is nurse. And he will not drink water even. I made a
soft box, and gave him water even." The nurse peered.
"Ah, it's mean to keep him, Annie. Ah. He'll die and then see how you will feel." Annie widened her mouth and shouted: "Can you know at all
how I love this lovely bird? Lovely—" she gasped, closing the box and
hugging it under her breasts.
The young nurse pouted with concern as she looked at the frail cardboard
over which Annie had spread her dark palms and fingers. "I'm telling you,
Annie for God's sake, you should let him go. It's mean to keep him."
"I caught him for mine! That is why I caught him." Annie swung her
body to one side, drawing the box farther from the nurse's gaze. They had
reached the dormitory doors.
The nurse frowned. "Look, Annie, you're my friend aren't you? We're
friends, aren't we? I wouldn't kid you. I'm telling you. Who ever heard of
keeping a little bird in a box? Who ever heard of that?"
Annie's voice rose suddenly from deep in her throat. "Well I have heard.
I have so heard of such a thing I have so —" she stared around towards the
dormitory, and back at the nurse, her mouth still wide and waiting; she
resumed: "You God damn' nurse, this is my own bird, which I caught with
my own hands."
Footsteps sounded down the corridor, and the nurse in the white sweater
came and stood with them.
"I caught it for mine!" Annie shouted at the newcomer, her face darkened
with a rising pressure of blood. She extended her hands farther around the
box, enclosing it, and her breathing was noisy. "You damn' nurses, who will
try to make me let my bird go? My own bird, my own lovely bird, my own —
little bird —"
"Who's trying to make you do anything?" The nurse took her arm quietly.
"You go along to bed now, and get some sleep. No one's going to take your
bird." (The young nurse's keys clinked at her waist.) "If you want to get
all upset about a bird."
"My own bird!" Annie stared incredulously at the nurse, her lips closing
slowly from the corners closing off her voice, and as if they were closing
off a very private thought. "You can't even know, you can't know at all."
"Yes, all right. Come on, go to bed. Take your bird and go along." The
nurse turned Annie towards the double doors that were large and windowed
without glass. She reached past Annie and pushed one of them open: it swung
into a room of about sixty white beds, through which Annie, after a moment's
hesitation, moved turning one way and the other slowly till she came to her
own under the windows. The nurse pulled the door shut again, and leaned
her arm on the wooden frame. "You can't argue with her," she said, still
staring in.
"I can't stand, to see her get away with that. You should have seen that
"Well, you've got to get used to."
"I don't care. Get used to a useless idea to keep a bird in this place. You
call that therapeutic. To let her kill a bird." The girl stared with an ex-
8 pression of dislike at the whitesweatered back. "I'm going to check the side-
rooms." She walked off a few steps and stopped. "I like Annie, you know,"
she added.
There was no answer, but the other nurse, still leaning on the door, turned
slightly to watch her walk away. She saw her move about the corridor, in
the quick way of one who is tired enough to be not quite coordinated, keeping her hand over her keys which hung at her waist. She paused at several
doors with smaller windows, and flicked some light switches on and off. She
said "Good morning, Lee," to the figure at the end of the corridor and
walked past, as if without asking for or expecting any response. She turned
down the passage to the right, and the nurse at the dormitory door stared
after the diminishing sound of her footsteps with a thoughtful expression.
Then she turned back to the dormitory. "Go on, get into bed," she said
methodically in a quiet voice. Beyond the massed white of the beds the
windows were already lighter than dark. The familiar human smell, prevalent everywhere on the ward, entered her nostrils here more strongly; she
heard heavy, innumerable breathing. "Into bed," she said once more, seeing
Annie hesitate, staring up at the beginnings of light. "Well, Annie," she said,
and she pressed her lips together inconclusively and went back to the table.
Annie Joe beside her bed continued to stare at the window. She was
softer in this light; the boney structure of her face was less harsh and clear.
The subtle cleft in her nose was still visible. Under her heavily-constructed
brows her eyes were dark but unexpressive.
She stared up gravely.
Beyond the mesh, an intricate network of grass appeared vividly against
the sky. A pale shape that was some piece of clothing lay just outside the
glass. The sky was single and clouded, heavily gray towards the top of the
window, brightening behind the lower panes and the grass and the pale
dress. To her left rose the East Wing, its farthest windows squared with
entering light. Slowly, on one of the upper floors, a figure detached itself
from the mass of the building and moved across the light, pausing un-
determinedly as if to look out over the valley; only its vaguest outline was
visible, shoulders and head, and an arm stretched forward to touch: the
light bit into the arm and neck and made them thin and spidery. After a
few moments the figure turned, recrossed the windows and merged with
the darkness.
A low cry rose and subsided somewhere overheard, mingling again with
the continuous undertone of human conditions: obscure sounds from above
and breathing on the ward. Cold air crossed Annie's face and neck from a
window that was pushed up a few inches and her nostrils and mouth
savoured it lingeringly, although she did not seem to be aware of the change.
Then the ward smells returned: people and the clothes of people, and stale
urine a smell that was in the very walls of the place faint but pervasive.
Behind her someone turned in bed with a rustle of springs; a subdued voice quelled a private devil and the speaker could be heard rolling over once
more, pulling the sheets around her as she turned. With the approach of
day the beds under the window were becoming more clearly defined, their
whitened frames rising into light, and the sheets coldly white especially
against a dark leg or foot carelessly thrust out; shadow still prevailed over
the heads and arms of sleepers and their hair darker than the shadow. Annie
too was in shadow except for the pale light that curved over her neck and
face, and over the edge of the nightgown puckered around her neck a jagged
white against the deeper tones of her flesh. She had placed one hand inside
the box and scooped the bird half into her palm, where it lay quite still.
It was delicate against the thick of her fingers. She did not look down,
apparently content in the touch. There was about her a vegetable ease, even
in anger; Annie was dreaming old dreams. She rocked softly on her strong
bare feet. Then, she did not rock, but stood quite still. It was as if the impossibility of her situation prevented her from further anger or sorrow, and
so she was motionless, unaware that even to force herself into stone was
no ultimate security, that the stirring within her could not be prevented,
that the death of the bird, if she did not let it go, could not thus be prevented.
Zamar opened his eyes as the shoes fell beside him and reached for them
with a careless arm. He was lying in his accustomed place on the bench
along the east wall, with his knees up and one arm curled under his head.
"Put them on, Z'mar," the attendant called over his shoulder (he had a
basketful of shoes). Zamar slid his feet off the bench and bent to undo the
laces, bowing his head over his knees. His arms and hands worked nervously
under the sudden concentration: they were narrow and powerful, their
upper surfaces gilded in the light. He pulled his left foot into one of the
shoes, and then covered it with his hands; and his shoulders relaxed and
he became motionless.
Beyond his bowed figure the ward moved indifferently: the attendant
gave out the rest of the shoes and went into the corridor; around the pillars
and benches in the centre of the room men walked slowly and continuously,
singly or in groups of two or three. Hand in hand two whitehaired men —
one leading, the other striving to keep abreast — walked the walk that would
have only one termination. The chairs and benches were occupied by other
men; some had their chairs turned toward the wall. Zamar's form was simple
in its stillness: the circle of yellow hair hanging, the narrow golden shoulders
crossed by dark blue overall straps, the gold hands covering the shoe.
A man in a gray shirt rose abruptly at the other side of the room and
walked across to the bench where he was. After a few minutes Zamar eased
himself farther along the bench, taking the shoe with him, and then stood up and went down the dayroom. He had a habit of picking up bits of cloth
or paper he found as he walked; he stooped for them quickly without halting. He would drop them nearly as soon. He turned at the doorway and
walked back with the same leisurely half-limp caused by his one bare foot.
At the window he edged himself between two chairs and stood looking out.
His long fingers twined in the mesh. With his other hand he raised the shoe
above the level of the mesh and banged it on the glass. He smashed one pane
and then the one next to it. The fragments fell outwards on the sill and the
ground; thin sweet rain touched his face with the cool air.
"Zamar, come away from that." The attendant turned him around with
a hand on his arm and met the vague gray eyes with a frown of exasperation.
"Put that shoe on and come away." Zamar jerked his arm free and went
past him quickly and back to the bench. While the attendant was going to
and fro with broom and dustpan he resettled himself on his back, his head
against the gray shirt of the sitting man. The sound of splintering glass came
from the window where the attendant, a short stout young man, was attempting to knock out the remaining fragments of the panes with the end of the
broomhandle. The men he had ordered out of their chairs were standing
around him silently.
Zamar had not lain half the morning, with closed eyes and the shadow
of the gray man across his face, when he was roused. Noises of running water
came from beyond the corridor, and clipped footsteps sounded across the
dayrooms. An attendant with a piece of paper called to him "Zamar, come
for your bath," and he got up, letting the shoe fall, and ambled to the doorway where two other men were waiting. The attendant found one more
and herded the four of them down a corridor and into a room steamy and
noisy with running water, with damp clothing strewn across the floor. Zamar
stood beside a bench piled with linen and gazed before him incuriously.
A darkhaired male nurse was supervising the baths, turning them on and
off with round keys that he swung on a string. When he had adjusted the
flow of water he would call out, "Who is ready? Get in." He poured green
soap over the men's heads and then scooped up jugsful of water and poured
these over them also. Another attendant, the sleeves of his coat rolled above
the elbow and a plastic apron tied around him that crackled when he bent
down, scrubbed hair and flesh in earnest and angry haste. Red naked men
stood about after having been bathed, hugging their shoulders and watching.
When he assisted a man out of the tub the angry attendant would pull a
towel down from the line and toss it to him. "You dry yourself," he would
say. The attendants went from one man to another, sometimes they talked
with them.
"How many more?" called out the nurse with the keys.
"That's the lot. Two are off the ward." The attendant who had brought
in Zamar crumpled the piece of paper and flung it into a pile of dirty clothing. Zamar picked it up and stood turning it between his fingers. The attendant said, "Why don't you get undressed, Zamar? Want a bath?" He
unbuckled the overall straps while Zamar looked past him as though he were
recalling something learned a long time ago: his lips parted and trembled.
"Want a bath, kid?"
"Yes. Yes." said Zamar. His voice was jerky and soft. "Zamar says Yes
he does," said the attendant, pulling the straps off his shoulders. The overalls
fell around Zamar's feet, and he stood naked, joining his hands over his
loins, a golden figure with lithe hard muscles under his taut skin. When the
water was running into the last tub, the nurse with the keys called out,
"Who is ready? Come on then, Zamar," and Zamar stepped out of his overalls and came, and stood by the tub with still-folded hands, his long narrow
legs close together, tapering as one form, brown-gold against the milky enamel.
"Get in, then." Zamar stepped in and sat down, still wearing his shoe.
The nurse laughed gently and soaped his hair: "Take it off, Zamar boy,
take off your bloody shoe." The jug clanged behind Zamar against the tub
and a sudden warm rush of water enveloped him. Then he was left to himself with a piece of soap while the attendants cared for the other men, combing their wet hair back from their patient, anxious foreheads, pushing them
out into the corridor. "Finish Zamar, will you Ivan, and then come for
coffee, we'll clean up afterwards," said the nurse. The attendant who had
undressed Zamar nodded briefly. He was a thin youth with accurate masculine features which gave him the appearance of efficiency, belied, now and
then, by a look of puzzled incomprehension in his eyes. He treated his charge
with unhurried friendliness.
He washed his back. White downy hairs covered Zamar's neck and
shoulders and upper arms, lightening the gold. His flesh was smooth: last
summer when he had been out in the field for even an hour each day his
skin had darkened to an almost purplish bronze; the young attendant remembered the day they had brought him back, the day he had run away:
the incredible paleness of his eyes in his dark face —
Zamar was moving his hand back and forth in the bathwater, turning his
wrist with careful concentration. The attendant talked to him as he washed
him. "Zamar, I hear you were breaking windows this morning. What gets
into you anyway, damn' nice guy like you, you know what happens to guys
who do that. Lift your arm. Other arm, there. Don't you remember the side-
room, you don't like being in a sideroom do you Zamar? You don't like being
shut up in there. Come on now, wash your own feet while I find your clothes.
Here's the soap. Wash." He placed the piece of soap in Zamar's hands and
put the hands down into the water. "Wash," he said again, and stood up
pushing back his damp hair, and went over to the bench. He began looking
through the bits of linen.
"There's a dance tonight Zamar, you ever do any dancing?" he talked
over his shoulder. "How about it, boy, you ever dance with the pretty girls?
One, two three, one, two three — you know how to waltz Zamar? You ought to go to a dance Zamar. What do you think about it? He laid some linen
aside with a pair of clean overalls and came back to the tub. "Can you
dance, Zamar?" he asked, leaning over the taps, demanding an answer.
Zamar looked up with his mild eyes.
"Can you dance, boy?"
His lips parted a little, tightening at the corners; he jerked out "No I
wasn't a dancer" and even as he spoke he was averting his eyes again, listening: his whole face had the appearance of listening to something else, as
if the effort to form words had only recalled him for a moment, drawn him
into immediacy and then been completed, releasing him. The attendant
laughed. "You're a funny guy Zamar, you know that?" Then he lapsed into
silence, scrubbing Zamar's feet; he rang out the cloth and pulled the plug.
The water coughed down the drain. He tugged at Zamar's arm to make
him get out of the bath and dried him, walking around the passive golden
body that permitted him without rancour or fear.
After he had been dressed Zamar was made to sit down while the attendant
crouched in front of the chair to cut his nails. He worked silently: he held
the bare foot steady against his knee and cut around each toe with extreme
care, as though he were trying to define for himself Zamar's exact boundaries.
Then he leaned back on his heels and squinted up. Behind Zamar's head
the wall was streaked and shiny with condensed steam. "You want a shirt,
boy?" Zamar continued to gaze back quietly, and it was impossible to tell
whether he had not heard the worded question or whether he had disregarded it. The questioner stood up rubbing his calf. "The hell with you
then. I was interested whether you wanted a shirt. Do you want a shirt,
or not?" Zamar had responded then, and stammered "Sure—" and the
attendant had left him and gone to fetch one from the linen room. "Now
you look real handsome, boy. Wait till I comb your hair." Zamar's thick
wet hair was parted and combed back and the attendant turned him about
and gave him a push in the direction of the dayroom. "Go along then, I
don't know what the hell you did with your shoes —" and he himself locked
the bathroom and went towards the office.
After dinner the therapist came to the ward. She was a tall person, about
thirty years old, wearing a black smock. The attendants wheeled the gramophone into the dayroom for her and she drew a record neatly out of the
shelf and put it on, turning the volume high. Martial music, suddenly loud
and glad, filled the dayroom. The attendants hurried about, talking to the
men who sat by the walls: "Jimmy get up and march, it will do you good.
Come on, let's have some exercise, show a bit of life there." The men began
to get up from the benches and move around the centre of the room. The
attendants were insistent: silent men who sat on the floor were shaken by
the arm and some rose and stood or walked a few steps. The stout attendant
13 leaned over Zamar, who was lying on his bench with his face to the wall.
"Get up, Zamar, can't you hear the music?" Zamar opened his eyes and
turned to glance at the attendant; he slid off the bench quickly and walked
down the dayroom towards the windows, shouldering his way between the
many walking men. He stood there under the windows with his head turned
to one side and his hands over his eyes as if to ward off any intrusion. The
stout attendant had roused two men and was leading them around the
room. Close to Zamar he released one of them and stretched out his hand.
"Zamar, come and march." Again Zamar glanced at him and went quickly
past and made his way down the dayroom in the opposite direction. He
pushed between many men who were walking towards him interminably in
blue overalls and with aimless eyes. The martial music stopped and began
again. He found his bench and stood. The therapist in the black smock stood
beside the gramophone talking to the ward supervisor. She smiled and talked.
She surveyed the room and began to clap her hands firmly, and the attendants, marching about, clapped also in encouragement. "Clap, everyone. Clap
as you march. One, two, one two. Clap everyone." Some hands clapped
among the walkers without enthusaism. The attendants clapped briskly in
time with the music.
The darkhaired nurse who had supervised the bathing was moving about
here and there. He approached Zamar not clapping: "Walk with me,
Zamar," and took his arm and began to walk with him down the dayroom
among the other men. Zamar's eyes were averted and listening. Suddenly
he lifted his hand and struck the nurse across the shoulder, and turned back.
The nurse stood quite still for an instant. Then he followed him, pushing
after him between the walkers. He came to his side, and his voice was unperturbed. "Let's go, Zamar." He took the passive hand and they turned
again and walked. Beside him Zamar walked without any expression, his
body moving languidly; he stooped and picked up a piece of paper and
walked on with it between his fingers. His other hand lay quiescent in the
hand of the nurse. His eyes were distant and unreadable. Over the slow
shuffling of many feet the noise of the march raved, insanely joyous.
It was towards midafternoon and very quiet. The nurse was standing in
the doorway between the two dayrooms with his hands in his pockets. He
glanced into the second dayroom: fewer men stayed there, although it was
a brighter room, at the end of the wing with windows on three sides. Its
occupants were the more aware, to whom comparative emptiness was something to be noticed and appreciated. A man was blocking the floor, up at the
far end, pushing the heavy block back and forth across the cement on its
long handle. His reflection and the reflection of the block moved back and
forth also where he had shined, dark against the windowlight. Someone was
chanting or singing in a low, gravelly voice: the nurse caught the words
"Babylonians, Assyrians," followed by some vague threats. He took out his
watch and saw that it was only a little after three o'clock. He yawned, and
14 shifted his weight to his other foot. His shoulder still ached and he fingered
it carelessly; his eyes wandered down the more crowded dayroom and rested
on Zamar.
The quick step of an attendant sounded in the corridor and louder across
the dayroom. "I'm free now if you want to do the report."
"Hello Ivan." He straightened his back with a smile and a grimace.
"There's no hurry," he said. "We're finished early today."
The attendant leaned on the doorpost opposite him and stared about
absently. "Longest damn hour on the shift," he remarked. After a few
moments he said, "It's been fairly quiet."
The nurse nodded. "The third day in a row we've had empty siderooms."
"Too good to last."
"Perhaps it is. I had a close call today, with Zamar."
The other brightened. "He was breaking windows."
"No, it wasn't that; he struck me." The nurse again touched his shoulder
and smiled and frowned looking past his companion to where Zamar stood
on his bench, his forehead to the wall.
"He actually did." There was the smallest tinge of scorn in the other's
voice. The nurse turned back to his bright questioning eyes.
"It was during musical therapy. There I was doing my bloody duty like
everyone else and I saw him cutting back through the other patients. When
I told him to march he struck me in the shoulder and walked off."
"Did you do anything?"
"No. I simply followed him and told him again and he came like a lamb.
He doesn't register, you know."
The attendant started over his shoulder at Zamar. He laughed shortly.
"Never heard of him punching somebody before."
"He looked right through me. It takes a terrific effort for that guy to
register, I guess this time he just couldn't be bothered."
"I guess not."
"I don't think he even knew what he hit out at." The nurse laughed, his
cheeks darkening a little.
"You could have been anybody, eh?"
"I might have been a wall at that moment."
The attendant nodded. "Like hitting a wall. I mean, if he felt the urge
he'd do that. Like breaking windows."
"It was like that."
The attendant leaned back against the doorpost again and shrugged. "I
imagine he has quite a powerful fist."
"He does." The nurse laughed a little and in a childlike gesture glanced
down at his feet. "But startled me more than hurt! Well, you can imagine
it! I thought, This doesn't figure. Then, when I went after the man, it was
all right. Zamar, you know. He just came along."
'5 "The dreamer." They laughed. "Any other guy and you'd have thrown
him in a sideroom."
The two leaned back in silence; after a few minutes the nurse stood erect
and said, "Well, I'll get at the report then." He began to move off.
"Don't forget to write that Gauteson beat up on you."
"The hell with you." They grinned and parted.
The attendant remained where he was until he heard a far door close,
and then slowly pushed his body away from the doorpost with the flat of
his hands. He stretched and looked around him, and then walked down the
second dayroom. He told the man who was blocking that he was finished
with that section two months ago and the man replied "He sure was he
sure was." He stood at the end of the room to look out at the rain falling
on the lawn and on the gray roadway that ran into the area between the
two wings. Some paper drifted to the cement from a window higher up,
flickering white against the raindarkened brick. He turned and walked back,
ignoring the chanting man who called him an Assyrian and followed his
passing with intense, prophetic eyes.
In the first dayroom the light was less strong and grayness seemed to
enfold the room and the men, whose flesh appeared also a dark gray. He
walked up the far side letting his glance fall absently over their lowered
heads. One man asked him for envelopes as he went by, and he shook his
head: "You and your envelopes." He paused again as he came to the end
of the room, and felt the fresh air entering where the window had been
broken. Under the window a small man sat leaning forward in his chair,
his knees drawn up and his hands clasped behind his neck. The attendant
touched the man's bare shoulders and hair. "Charles, do you feel a bit cold?"
The man looked up. "Oh no, it's fine son, it's warm enough."
"The hell it is; get up. You're sitting there with the rain coming in on
you." The attendant hoisted him out of his chair. "Go and sit somewhere
else." The man stood and looked about nervously. "I sit here customarily."
The attendant did not move on; he said "Not today Charles. Sit somewhere
else." The man pulled his chair away from the wall — it was a wood chair
with a low back that curved to form arms the same height — and placed it
beyond reach of the rain. He sat down again with a little sigh. The attendant
said, "You move that back and you'll get pneumonia. Double." After a
pause he asked, "Are you happy there?"
"Yes," said the man, curling again.
"Stay there then."
The attendant walked on. He stopped by Zamar's bench and stood for a
while, and then shrugged and sat down, regarding the bare muscular feet
and ankles beside him grayed in his shadow.
"What do you think about giving Charles Street pneumonia?" he asked.
16 He leaned back and stared upwards at the silent figure. Zamar's forehead
was resting against the wall overhead and his large hand was spread out
against the wall. "What do you think about anything, wise guy? You got
all the answers yet?"
Zamar's lips parted with an effort to speak. He glanced down at the
attendant and away again. He murmured something: a monosyllable. The
attendant looked away also; he rubbed his forehead and returned his hand
to his pocket. He remained there, sitting and staring out across the graying
dayroom, till the end of the shift.
Night had fallen and massed against the windows. Some young women
were standing around the linen room door. They wore print dresses. Their
lips were coloured. Inside the room, among green metal lockers, a nurse
combed a girl's hair. Another nurse sat on a cupboard and watched and
swung her keys. They were laughing. The first nurse pinned the girl's hair
back from her thin, mournful face with its red wound of lipstick. They
joined the others. The group went down the corridor towards the stairs.
An Indian woman among them dropped behind to speak to Annie Joe:
"You aren't coming to the dance, Annie."
"No, I don't feel like it." Annie turned with a slow smile. The other
woman surveyed her without expression. "Maybe it's your time."
"Maybe." Annie smoothed her dress. "It should be two weeks maybe."
The other woman did not reply but went to overtake the group. The door
closed behind them heavily.
Annie turned to lean against the wall. She gazed down the ward with
tired eyes. Now and again the line between her brows darkened. The corridor was dimly lit. About thirty women were sitting or standing near the
walls; they had recently come from supper. Farther down, wedges of bright
light fell from the dayrooms and the open office door. A white uniform
crossed from one light to another. Annie moved away from the wall and
followed, walking slowly, her hands under her breasts. She stood outside
the office.
"Hey, nurse, are you too busy to see me?"
"What is it, Annie?" She was beside the desk, her white neat back to
the door.
"I think it's my time."
"Oh!" She turned quickly, a small brownhaired woman with a nervous
voice and pale brownish eyes intensified now as she approached. "How do
you feel? You did tell us it would be three weeks yet, you know." She stood
staring at Annie for a moment, her hands clasped in front of her, and then
■7 hurried across to a cabinet and pulled open a drawer. Annie shrugged and
went over to the wall and leaned.
"Two weeks, maybe not," she said slowly. The line on her forehead
darkened. "I'm feeling like it's my time," she said.
The nurse laid a file on the desk: "Well, sit down for a minute then
Annie, and we'll see about it." She stepped into the hall and returned almost
immediately with another nurse. They leafed through the file together, talking softly and quickly; the sibilants of their voices hissed at Annie across
the room. The nurses came and leaned over her and asked questions.
"That's how I feel," she said. "It was summer for sure. I'm big now. I'm
feeling like it."
The brownhaired nurse straightened her cap rapidly. "All right, dear,
you'd better be taken upstairs just in case." She telephoned, her voice hissing, while Annie sat and squinted across the office with her strong rounded
arms resting tenderly across her belly.
It was the brownhaired nurse who went upstairs with her. They did not
go into the stairway, but walked on together slowly — for Annie would not
hurry — down corridors towards the centre of the building. Annie waited
while the nurse unlocked doors and locked them again. When they left the
ward the nurse stopped to feel for a light switch, and the passage was revealed under unshaded bulbs that cast pools of brightness on the cement
floor. The nurse pocketed her keys and hurried after Annie who had moved
on in the darkness. They walked from light to light to the turning. The air
was different now, not human: it hung with heavy vegetable smells from
the storerooms, and then with the confused oiliness of machines, the proximity of furnaces. Some ladders lay against the passage walls. Gray pipes
arrowed overhead. At the turning they passed a pile of mattresses and then
a broken wheelchair whose shape traced the gray wall beyond with a symbol
that was inevitable and meaningless. The floor sloped downwards slightly
after the turning. They entered an opened lightened area where corridors
converged: it was a higher space, a dark stair led up from one side next to
an elevator shaft. Two men in overalls and working boots were sitting there
smoking. Their hands and faces were blackened by coal dust. Above their
heads a poster on a bulletin board proclaimed the dance. Annie and the
nurse went over to the elevator shaft and the nurse pressed the button several
times. She stood on one white foot and then on the other, and peered into
the shaft. Annie watched the men as though they were a long way off, her
eyes musing and uncommunicative.
A metallic crash sounded distantly on some upper floor and the nurse
rang again. Beyond the crosswork of the gates they heard the machinery
engage and saw the black weight at the back shift and then start upward;
presently looped cables appeared, and then the square lighted cage. An
attendant was inside with a shelved wagon; he wheeled it farther back for
them to enter.
18 "How far are you going?" he asked as he closed the gates. They began
the ascent.
"Right to the top," said the nurse.
"Well, I'll leave you with it. I was just going to the kitchen and I heard
you ring. How's life, Annie?"
"All right," said Annie and smiled.
The elevator stopped at an empty corridor and the attendant looked
quickly at the nurse. She gave a slight nod. He wheeled his wagon out, and
closed the gates after him. They ascended again. They passed wide bands of
dark and of light and passing one they heard a faraway explosion of music
and saw two or three people in the corridor. The nurse said, "It's the one
after the next, Annie. Are you all right?"
"You'll feel better in a warm bed."
"I know when I'll feel better all right."
The elevator slowed as it came level with the top floor, and jerked into
place and was still. They emerged, and walked along a narrow hall and
entered a ward through double doors. Smell of antiseptic greeted them.
Several nurses were grouped at the end of a small corridor; beyond them it
opened into a room of beds with a white closed door in the farther wall.
The nurses parted and came to meet Annie; they took her into the room
and undressed her and gave her a soft gown.
"She has been saying it would be three weeks yet," said the brownhaired
nurse in the office. It was windowed towards the large room: the supervisor
lifted her eyes from the file and stared through the glass at the group of
nurses helping Annie into bed. A young nurse stood behind her and peered
over her shoulder.
"But I thought she had better come up. She ate a good supper, she said—"
"Yes. Well, we'll take care of her. Bennet, fill in a chart for Annie before
you attend to Mrs. Owen, and file it with this." She moved away from the
desk, staring intently at the young nurse as if to ensure her compliance. The
young nurse picked up a wooden tray from a side table and went out.
"She finds it difficult to take orders, I detect a certain defiance in her
back," said the supervisor and closed her eyes.
"She new on the ward?"
The supervisor reopened her eyes, which were couched in pleasant layers
of flesh, and regarded the brownhaired nurse with a detached interest. She
turned away and picked up the telephone. "Is that Centre Desk," she said.
"Infirmary here. I wondered if there was a doctor on call.' She waited with
a show of extreme attentiveness.
The nurses strayed back to their duties. "How is she?" asked the nurse
with the tray.
"It's hard to tell. She doesn't seem to be in any hurry."
"Well, if it's tonight listen to my luck. I've just been given Mrs. Owen."
19 "You won't be able to help then."
"I know, I won't be able to come near." She went past them to Annie's
bed, her shoulders severely straight under the cardboard-like straps of her
uniform. "Well, Annie," she said in the same voice, defined and a little hard.
Annie grinned slowly with recognition. "Hello nurse, hey when are you
coming back to work on our ward?"
The nurse placed her fingers lightly on Annie's large and supple wrist,
and examined her watch.
"Hey nurse when are you?"
"When I get out of this damn' probie one maybe." She felt the strong
pulse, pulse and her lips counted silently, Annie spoke out of a more wistful
smile. "Maybe I won't be there even—" she said.
The nurse looked up from her wrist into the dark eyes still squinted from
smiling but mirthless now, concerned with futurity. "You never can tell,"
she said vaguely, and her voice softened. "It's a hard life, eh Annie? How
are you feeling, all right?"
"Sure, it's all right. I'm hot nurse, you know." Annie pushed her hair away
from her forehead. She turned her head sideways on the pillow, and her
eyes sought for the windows at the far end of the room. Her voice was thick
and indistinct among the sheets. "After, I'm going away off from here, and
have a house, only a small house this will be, and stay there lovely with
my own —"
"Sure, Annie," said the young nurse. "Now don't talk for a minute," and
she placed her hand on the hard high slope rising from the valley between
Annie's breasts.
After she had finished she stood up and said "Do you want anything
Annie? a drink or anything?"
Annie shook her head.
"Well, the doctor will be around to look after you."
"Oh yes a doctor. Oh yes a doctor." Annie's grave voice was suddenly
loud and scornful. "You see if a doctor can know at all!"
The nurse reentered the office and filled out the chart swiftly, leaning over
the desk where the supervisor was sitting. The supervisor ignored her. In the
next room she tied a loose cotton gown over her uniform and pulled on
rubber gloves. Her fingers were quick and deliberate. She hummed to herself
and bit her lower lip. She placed several things in a white-painted wooden
tray. A second nurse came in while she was there, and began to wash her
hands at the sink. "I did it, Bennet," she said breathlessly.
"Didn't I say I'd get myself sent up here the night Annie?" she chattered
over the running water. "Annie told them downstairs she knew it would be
tonight." "How did you find out?" The first nurse spoke without expression and
continued to fill her tray.
"Ways and means." The other nurse looked back across her shoulder, her
mouth widened infectiously over two rows of even white teeth. "I get
around." It was a disarming smile and the first nurse could not help smiling
ruefully back. "What the hell, Bennet? Aren't you glad you're on?" She
stopped the water and they lowered their voices in the ensuing silence.
"What the hell yourself. I won't be around."
"Oh yes, you've got Owen. Well, it might not be tonight. Annie was,
saying it would be two weeks yet."
The first nurse did not anwser. She filled a jug with hot water while her
friend leaned on the sink and watched her and smiled uncertainly.
Mrs. Owen was dying. She lay in a corner of the large room, her bed
surrounded by screens. The smell of death, heavy and unmistakable, had
been present for several weeks; there was no remedy. The face of the old
woman was dark gray against the pillow, the hand curled beside it was
withered, and knobbed by its bones. The young nurse laid down her tray
and filled the basin that stood beside the bed. She soaped a cotton cloth
and washed the old woman's face and hands, and pulled the sheets back
and washed her shoulders. "Angel, you're a damned nuisance. I'm going
to fix you all up," she said as she washed. The old woman smiled: she
smiled when she was spoken to, and became more than a suffering instinct;
her grayed eyes opened and her lower lip protruded slightly in a momentary
expression of eager, if uncommunicable, joy. The young nurse drew the
sheets farther back and began to uncover and dress the four sores that were
devouring the body, they circled it under her waist, open and gray beneath
their bandages, and in places malignantly green. The nurse kept her head
turned slightly aside so that she did not breathe near them. She dropped
the old dressings into a newspaper spread on the floor.
"I've got to turn you over now, Angel. I wouldn't for the world but I've
got to." The old woman smiled. The nurse pushed a fresh sheet up against
her gray back. "Come this way now, oh please," and she prayed the body
over in her sleek strong arms.
As she was pouring ointment into the fourth sore, covering up the small
area of exposed bone that looked like a white pebble in a hole, she heard
low voices, and then hurrying footsteps across the room. She half-turned to
peer between the screens, but it was quiet again; a sick woman coughed
somewhere unurgently. She went on with her task. She poured in the last
of the ointment and dropped the crumpled tube on the floor among the
dirty sheets. She lifted the fresh dressing between her long blunt scissors; as
she held it up, turning it carefully into position, she heard voices in the
corridor — among them a doctor's — and then many footsteps across the ward. "Well, Annie. All right Annie." The sufficient masculine voice. She
laid the dressing down in its purity. She could hear now the flurry of the
ward, the grinding of the stretcher's little metal wheels — she heard the
quick nurses who pushed it up to Annie's bed, heard even their bright eyes
and willingness and watching. She cut long strips of tape and laid them
over the dressing and the gray textured skin, sealing in death and the stench
of death. The metal wheels sounded again: she turned still holding the tape,
and shoved the edge of the screen aside with her shoulder. She held it back
against her cheek to see Annie go through the narrow doors at the end of
the room, through with her crowd of nurses into the very bright light. As
they wheeled her through, hurrying there was a sigh among them: the
nurses left behind stood close to the door, and a sick woman whose bed was
near the door sat very straight with her dark hands spread out on the
counterpane. The young nurse turned back with the binding, and laid it
across the gauze. Then she covered up the old body and bent to wrap the
dirty clothes and bandages in the paper. "Good night, Angel," she said. She
waited out of habit for the smile, and noted without any immediate reaction
that small red marks had appeared now on the hands and neck, and that
one of them, on the throat, was already open.
As she walked carefully through the ward she heard the other nurses
around the door sigh again "Oh." At the entrance to the corridor, she passed
the brownhaired nurse lingering, her hands clasped, her lips parted to ask,
to smile. The young nurse went into rooms to burn and sterilize and wash
away death.
Presently her friend found her. "The baby is born—" She came in and
leaned against the side of the sink where the first nurse was soaping and
scrubbing her arms above steaming water.
"Well, tell about it."
"The head was coming before we got Annie through — I saw it myself.
It was wonderful. Annie was wonderful. The doctor wouldn't believe her
when she said it was time. She asked for a cigarette right afterwards. God,
it's lovely to see, Bennet. It's a little girl."
The first nurse lifted her two bare arms into the rush of water and looked
up at her friend. MacAdam's face was flushed and her smile trembled. She
was strangely, almost spiritually beautiful.
one .
Men do boast their battles
the sly ones with withered eyes.
The puppet prophets, time rapers
rumpsucking our honey.
But the hand of a woman is quick
and her foot large
on the wind's neck. I
who nursed my sons at loaded breasts
shout in a multitude voice
the moon's cool pride
and the sun's fierce ghost.
. two
Work the one-eyed jack
in the dark beginning. Walk
in the stretched rain.
On the street.
Marshal the mourning light
At night murder the gain.
Be seen at the still point
tall as a jane-crane, remember
the throat's dry seeds
bursting the window's pain.
Cancer is colour is sound.
The sign says. Halfway
up the stairs. Hanging there
like a bloody glove.
Challenge or challenger?
Such questions have a hungry look.
The earlier mind's clenched fist
dead. Those who come lately
go lightly on feathered feet.
Red ribbons mark pages of a book.
23 Solomon in all his wisdom shrieks
with a shrill voice.
Such an August winter night is this.
. four.
With her head on the saddle
the black queen rides
her neck's red ribbons her reins.
Sashay sashay boom ti de rah.
Across beaches through forests
up hills and down vales
the hounds of hell at her heels.
Sashay sashay boom ti de rah.
No knights and no maidens
drink at her fountains
the timid avert their gaze.
Sashay sashay boom ti de rah.
For the end of her journey
one lone lord prays
whetting the angst
he will use as his spade.
Sashay sashay boom ti de rah.
i. Charlie Parker wrestled with God and won
The first throw; seven angels wired from above
Care of Decca saying BLOW BIRD BLOW STOP LOVE.
2. O the phoenix cannot find the far land.
The incubator clucks the egg
And the saxophone burns hollow on the shore.
3. Seeking the lost kingdom of ecstasy
I galloped a white and stoutly farting mare
Down to the shipwreck-strewn and foggy beach.
(And might have caught the ferry for a penny more.)
4. Three preachers passed in an ivory Cadillac
Singing, each to each.
A rock and a tiger in a gunny sack
Hi diddle diddle dum dee.
5. The hooves beat bravely in the chill night;
But shouting my way to Menelaus' wife
I found the waters wide and the gulls
Prophesying fright and a dry grave.
6. Horseshit in the streets of Provincetown
Bespeaks the opulence of art.
Only the sailor is dead.
Where once the blood knocked fevered
For the crimson wave
Heels knock instead.
Hi diddle diddle dum dee dum dee.
L'amoureux pantelant incline sur sa belle
A l'air d'un moribond caressant son tombeau.
He stepped right along, hay-foot, straw-foot, the potted ivy riding in the
crook of his arm. It rode naked and undulant, and he walked fast, not out of
embarrassment but because he felt like it, felt heroic, almost Homeric, plying
swift knees. Well, fairly swift. He hadn't put fifty yards of city pavement
between him and the flower shop before a couple of kids in pegged pants
leered at him, while farther on a young girl looked him in the eye from
under a hair-do like an arrested explosion. Her smile made it plain she
thought she had him taped. He called after her more in spirit than fact,
"Brisk for the Peloponnesus, isn't it?" and rolled on, losing body heat to
the chill of an autumn dusk in upper Manhattan.
At the next street corner, a gust of wind caught the unprotected plant
and shook it for a moment, as if it were a pennant, delicate and green. He
supposed he should have let the florist wrap the thing in the usual shiny,
crackly paper and bind the folded edges with one of those staplers the size
of a pipe-wrench. Trouble had been the man was such a sticky type, three
tongues, no ears, who kept assuring him over and over that he'd selected
the specimen of the century, an item guaranteed to grow and prosper, to
walk, talk, complete a commercial course and marry the boss's daughter. ..
given a minimum of care. Did the mister, did the mister's missus, know how
to do for it? Very relieved to find that he could produce the exact money, he
had slapped it onto the counter and bolted from the shop's damp and vocal
interior, bearing his alleged prize chest-high before him, a ring on a cushion.
Such alcohol as there could have been in the after-five drinks he'd had
at a bar near the office still rejoiced up the backs of his legs and out to the
tips of his fingers as he continued homeward. The few pedestrians who now
passed him and his burden ignored both. Having ticked off the final block
north and the half-block west, he entered the apartment house lobby. He
marched unobserved through its stale, over-heated air and brisky negotiated
the door and gate of the self-service elevator. He stabbed button number 4
and was solemnly levitated.
26 Instead of summoning his wife with their private ring — Morse Code for
the letter "I", which they had once thought ingenious — he went to the
trouble of setting the plant on the floor of the hallway while he got at his
key. He engaged the lock with stealth and let himself in as noiselessly as
possible. For the sake of private amusement, he continued his precautions
even though Carrie was obviously at work on dinner, her tasks lubricated as
was her habit by the oily bellow of a six-o'clock newscaster.
Rid of his coat and hat, he carried the plant into the semi-dark living
room and made quick work of substituting the new for the old which, even
in the comparative gloom, looked pretty sad despite the brooding care Carrie
had always given it. He hid the moribund affair behind the sofa.
The swing-door into the kitchen emitted a loud creak as he tried to ease
it open. He was betrayed. Carrie glanced up from her work, reached along
the counter to turn the radio down, and observed in a tone of mild accusation, "I didn't hear the buzzer, Jim."
"You didn't hear it because Jim didn't buzz it." He advanced to where
she was shredding lettuce into the wooden salad bowl. Bent to her low-heeled
level — she was wearing what he called her Enchanter Merlin shoes, green
with sweet potato toes — he pressed his cheek to hers.
"Your face is cold," she said. "Why the mysterious entrance?"
"I was supposed to be staging a raid," he answered, "but it flopped." He
saw how recent comb marks made parallel, gently curving furrows in her
brown-blond hair, which she wore close to shoulder-length regardless of
passing fads.
"What did you expect to find at this hour?" she asked.
"Oh, remnants. A half-smoked ceegar smouldering in the trash. Ring of
desperate heels on the service stairs. Things like that there." Feeling her
shoulders stiffen under his hands, he added, "Doubtless just a ninety-year-old
fire inspector late for the evening meal."
"Every now and then you say what you really mean, don't you? It helps
if you've been drinking."
"Good hell, you make an exception sound like the rule," he said. "Actually
it was a pure fluke, one of the purest. I ran into Charlie Tappen in the
Grand Central. Hadn't seen him or heard from him since before you and
I got hitched. At his suggestion, we hoisted a couple, three normally watered
ones, to be exact, and that's it."
"I didn't ask for an inventory."
He wondered what could have happened since breakfast to arm her tone
of voice, which made him think of cool steel poised behind a dishtowel. He
said, "Aw, gee," and slipped his hands down from her shoulders to meet at
her waist in front, only to have her twist away. She opened the oven door
and tested a pair of baked potatoes with a kitchen fork. His less than aggressive attempt to maintain contact was further blocked by the remark, "I
don't know about you, but I'm hungry."
27 She lifted the lid from a pot. "Look at those limas, practically bone-dry.
If they're scorched, you're going to have to eat'em and like 'em."
"We'll take care of the limas," he said, "dry, scorch, or char." He faced
about to the cupboard above the refrigerator, where he maintained a modest
supply of liquor, and took down partially expended fifths of whiskey and
vermouth. The bitters and the shaker came to light as he removed the
bottles. He noticed that everything he handled seemed to weigh less than
usual. Maybe you're on the moon, he told himself.
"Oh, not the good rye, Jim," Carrie protested.
"Certainly the good rye. I'm saving the rot-gut for fire inspectors."
She made no comment, but when the cocktails were ready, she adjusted
the stove to a holding condition and took her place opposite him at the
dinette table. He turned off the ceiling light in favor of a single candle,
actually a votive light, whose economical flame set its red glass container
aglow. Reduced to a grasshopper's volume, the radio whined a popular tune.
During the next quarter of an hour, Carrie allowed him to fill and refill
her glass as if he were dispensing tap water, tinted and, for extra kicks,
chilled. And as he watched her proceed to get tipsy, he had to admit that
she didn't need the obvious props of kind lighting, whispery background
music, and a table so intimate that the pair of them sat practically knee to
knee. If instead of this cozy and shadowed little interlude of elbow-bending,
they were on an open beach in the glare of noon, she'd still show smooth
around the eyes, still display a figure that required no landscaping, that only
got better the less you hung on it. To have lived with her for nearly five
years was to recognize, no longer with his onetime bitterness, that Carrie
naked would be Carrie at her best.
He checked her glass, freshened his own a bit from a supply that was now
almost exhausted, and murmured a blanket assent to something from the
other side of the table that seemed to call for it.
"Would be," he reflected, was an odd way to put it, was a typical half-
truth, except that the true half had made him more wretched in the old days,
given him a worse time, than any other truth and a half he had ever encountered. So all right, it was an odd way to put it, yet it amounted to the
only way because, in bath or bed, day or night, single, engaged, and married,
Carrie never had taken off the last stitch — her mind. It was a tidy, decorous, literal, high-minded mind, worn under the skin, like the ultimate
mountaineer's union suit, and for life. You could soak it with drink, but
it wouldn't peel; you could try to blue-flame it with loving, and it would
soften but wouldn't catch fire; you could shoot ideas at it, incendiary stuff,
lots of muzzle velocity, point-blank range. A minute later you couldn't even
spot your hits, if any. The union suit was self-sealing.. . .
He surfaced to hear her latest words.
"Jim, stop wool-gathering! I said let's eat." She rose carefully and stepped
toward the stove as if the floor were a high-wire. "I was hungry enough
28 before you got home, now I'm absolutely starved." Her "s's" had become
more prominent. "And my head . . . Glory be! whatever did you put in those
"Muscles," he answered, getting to his feet in turn, "smooth muscles.
Come into the living room with me a second, okay?"
Taking her arm, he guided her, protesting, through the kitchen door. He
snapped on an extra lamp.
"Notice any change?" he asked. He watched her glance travel over the
congregation of familiar objects, including the ivy, to which it returned and
stopped. To his eye, the plant appeared well-nigh pneumatic, buoyant, its
dark leaves against the cream-white of the windowsill having taken on an
extra crispness of outline and the sheen of enameled metal.
There was a pause until Carrie exclaimed, "My ivy! Either it's new or
it's a miracle."
"I'm not too well up on miracles," he said. "That's your department —
or was anyway."
She made a face. "Why drag in ancient history at this point?" Her warm
fingers closed around his wrist.
When they got back to the kitchen, she turned on the stove's hooded light
and began to serve the food while he fiddled with the place-settings and
made neutral remarks through lips that still retained an after-impression of
the kiss she had pressed upon them. Coming from anyone else, it would have
been an invitation, an urgent invitation to the old dance and that without
delay. He had heard her indrawn breath, felt her open palms side inward
toward his spine, and then there was the mouth, hers and not hers. It lingered
beyond precedent, it searched clumsily, sort of by the numbers. Regardless
of the intention, the result had been outlandish and disconcerting. She could
have been a teen-ager newly primed with hints to the love-lorn from a book
in plain wrapper found at the bottom of big sister's laundry bag.
They reseated themselves at the dinette table and commenced to eat. He
covertly watched her chew, always a downright business with her, neither
dainty nor gross, and was steadied amid surmises that circled in his head,
far back.
Having dispatched her portion of lima beans — she had never been converted from the child's trick of consuming one thing at a time — she wiped
her mouth, sighed, and observed with slightly befuddled owlishness, "You
know something? I'm like those people who can't seem to get along with
watches. It isn't that they drop them or wind them too tight. They don't
wear them in the tub, they don't so much as breathe on them if they can
help it. Just the same, they go bad, just the way my plants do, every last one
of them." Her sibilants, still to the fore, made her sound like a nettled goose.
"You can say what you like, I'm convinced it isn't only humans that can
be allergic."
"I'll go for plants," he said, "I'll even go for geese. Watches, no." He
29 inspected their cocktail glasses a final time. Hers had a swallow or two left;
his was empty as was the shaker.
The stare of her blue-gray eyes, their always perfect whites accentuated
by the romantic gloom of the kitchen, challenged him. "What on earth
have geese to do with it?" she demanded. "As far as that goes, what have
they to do with anything?"
"Well, they have to do with each other in a kind of totem pole order,
they say, and in season, I've heard that they have to do with ganders."
"Ganders," she echoed. She caught up her cocktail glass and drank off
the remnant of the Manhattans he had made and was beginning to feel after
the fashion of a second wind. Her eyes lowered, she announced to her plate,
"I might as well tell you now, there's no dessert tonight."
"How come?" His voice quavered from the strain of not laughing in her
pretty and solemn face.
"The food money's low."
"Already? It's only the middle of the month."
"That's right."
Her tone, something in her manner, the sickle-curves at the corners of her
mouth alerted him despite the kitchen's roadhouse illumination and the
added alcohol in his bloodstream. "Give visiting firemen cheaper cigars another time," he suggested warily.
She ignored the remark. "I could've had the doctor send the bill to you,
but I decided to pay cash instead. It came to quite a lot for two office visits
and a lab test. He was nice though. Took the time to answer questions."
She added, "I'll get the coffee now if I can manage to walk that far."
"It's a cinch I couldn't," he muttered. Then louder, "Didn't think there
were grounds for suspicion." His mid-section had gone cold.
She was at the stove, her back to him, before she answered. "There aren't,
of course, of the kind you mean." The coffee cups rattled as she marshalled
them to pour. "But that's where you and I are different. You're scared to
death I'll have a baby, and I'm scared I won't."
When she wavered during the return trip, the full cups balanced in either
hand, he rose to help. "Phew, thanks," she said, dropping into her chair.
"Anyone would think I'd have learned by now that I'm not cut out to be
a drinker," she leaned forward above the dishes to pat his arm, "any more
than you, poor guy, are cut out to be a proud papa."
Trouble, he thought, trouble as big as a house and a lot more sudden.
He tested the coffee, stalling for time. "If you chose to take that line with
the doctor," he improvised, "I can imagine his picture of me. Portrait of
husband as impotent old fumbler."
"Oh, not old, just mature."
The confident indulgence of it was repulsive and was also a reminder,
whether deliberate or not, of the sizable gap between their ages — almost
30 nine years. "All right," he said between his teeth, "what's the good word
from your camp? Let's have that for dessert since there's nothing else."
Her smile was replaced by an anxious little frown. "Don't get mad, Jim,
please. I know how you feel, believe me. I —"
"No, truly. It's just that time seems to fly so. Next month I'll be twenty-
eight, and it hit me all at once that I simply had to make sure there was
nothing wrong with me in the nether regions. They couldn't find anything,
which was some comfort, to me anyhow, but even so, look at the facts.
We've been in this apartment a year, paying for an extra room we really
haven't needed. That's been on my conscience. Meanwhile I've been hoping
and expecting that things would be different, seeing as how I haven't once
said no that I can remember, and we haven't been taking precautions to
speak of since we moved from the little place downtown."
"I like the spare room," he said. It was very small, contained nothing
beyond a rickety bookcase, an easy chair, and a floorlamp. "Especially the
view." The one window faced a blank wall.
"Is that supposed to be news? If you ask me, you like that room better
than anything else in the world." She was suddenly vehement. "You think I
don't understand because I'm not as bright as you are and never will have
read a tenth as much. But let me tell you I understand this: if I'd let you sit
in that room, reading and smoking till all hours, weekdays and weekends;
if I didn't ever make you go out or have anyone in, except maybe a couple
of times a year; and if the infernal budget was always in balance, you'd be
perfectly happy."
"You don't count in this perfect happiness, I take it."
She gave a fiercely ironic snort. " 'C is for Carrie and Carrie is for convenience," she hissed, lifted toward the fanciful by the rush of her heat
and scorn. "I get the meals, run the vacuum, answer the phone and the door
and you. I take care of the laundry, and when it happens to suit you and
only when it happens to suit you, I'm waked from a sound sleep, from sleep
I need, to take care of you know what."
"And that's it?"
"That's it."
"You've overlooked an item?"
"If it weren't for you, I'd have to go into the red and buy a hot water
In the melodramatic side-light from the stove, her expression changed,
became less rigid. "You could rent one," she said, "though maybe not as
well made as you claim I am, even if I can't help it that I'm a disappointment to you. Maybe if — oh, Jim, Jim! Don't you ever want more than
this tight, selfish little life we have, just a balanced budget and a wife who
has a shape instead of a family? Don't you, sometimes?" She was trying to catch and hold his glance, to get an answer. He could
only clamp his jaws while his mind fired obscenities, vivid, appropriate,
and mute.
"Be fair," she continued, her earnest voice still accompanied by the radio;
they made a duet in different keys. "It isn't too nice to be me, to have a
husband who's interested in going through the motions all right, sometimes
plenty interested, but never when the odds are in my favour. Doctor Ginsberg
was very polite. He didn't smile even the teeniest smile when he brought me
round to the point I, of all people, should have seen for myself months ago.
Jim, it's you who's been behaving like the Catholic I was; you, a cradle-
heathen if there ever was one. The doctor, bless him, practically pulled his
head inside his collar so as not to see my neck, my cheeks, my whole scalp
begin to burn."
On dead center, he squinted at the candle-flame between them, waiting
for a sign. When the cone of soft fire trembled, as if in response to a rush
of breath he didn't in fact allow, he pushed back from the table, his chair
ramming the landlord's plaster, and got to his feet.
"Don't go away," he said. "I'll be right back."
As if descending an incline on roller skates, he retrieved the blighted ivy
from behind the living room sofa, plucked a can of cleaning fluid from the
shelf in the hall closet, and conveyed both to the bathroom. He placed the
ivy in the dry tub. Carrie, her head low, did not look up as he re-entered
the kitchen. "Come on, injured party, I have something more to show you."
He boosted her gently to her feet, urging her gently before him. She halted
in the doorway of the bath.
He slipped past and picked up the cleaning fluid. Unscrewing the cap,
he leaned over the tub and thoroughly soused the moribund plant with the
fluid, whose thin, pungent odor invaded the dim and quiet air. "What are
you doing?" Carrie asked. "You're not trying to drown the poor thing.!"
"You'll see."
When he produced a folder of matches, she took alarm. "Jim, wait! That
cleaner is the inflammable kind. Don't light it, it might explode. Please!"
"In the open? Hardly."
He struck a match and, stooping, made contact with the tip of the brownish stem. Blue fire sprang along the spine and shot out into the leaves. The
thing became a wick. The quick flames danced and nodded high, the reflection of its crest a blur on the wall and ceiling, a glint of shiny facets on the
white tile. Hearing himself say, "So long, you," he was annoyed to sound
so hollow and reverberant.
The ivy began to writhe as it cooked. It contracted, quivering, and two
of its smallest leaves strained back on their stems like very small webbed
hands on double-jointed wrists. Then as they watched, the fire sank. The
solid flame divided into isolated and spasmodic flickers, which one by one
32 winked out. He saw that smoke was slipping away under the top of the
Carrie turned without a word, took a few steps zombie-fashion, and instead of continuing down the hall, disappeared into the bedroom. He heard
her stumble over something before she reached the bed. The minute protest
of the springs as they received her weight reached him through the silence.
In the act of hanging his jacket and tie on the back of the door, he caught
a glimpse of himself, head and shoulders, in the mirror above the washbasin.
He didn't need the hall light to reveal that what he was losing on top he
was gaining around the middle nor could he claim, he reflected grimly, any
too much compensation in the form of depth at the bank or status on the
job. He bent over to untie his shoes. It was the easy direction, the general
direction for anything and everything luckless enough to have mass: everybody's hair and fat, the one falling, the other sagging; sooner or later, the
carcass entire, outward and downward, bellies, behinds, breasts, backs. There,
by God, was the compass needle of compass needles the needle, pointing
neither up nor north, pointing to the center of the earth, that's where. And
any minute now, he was scheduled to raise something. Good Jesus, a must.
In fact, the way he felt now, a miracle.
He drew off a sock and peered rather desperately at the pale, slanted
alignment of his toes. So Carrie was longing to make it, was sicker than he
had realized from not making it already. They were not doing their duty,
not adding their bit to over-population, not launching another unsuspecting
creature into that dandy prospect, the near future. She was so damn sure
that children make a marriage, and he was just as sure they simply replaced
it. You become another Charlie Tappan, another game and luckless bastard,
before you're forty a man of merry despair, gone bow-legged under a hod
of three kids with a fourth on the way, a rabbit-warren of a house on the
edge of nowhere, and a mountain of installment paper, terms, a dollar down
and a dollar forever.
Turns out you're a bloody bathroom philosopher, he advised himself.
What's more, you're a bedroom warrior, turned chicken in a very small, cold
war because it threatens to warm up. And if you lose it, it's then you'll have
to hand out cigars. On his feet, stripped except for a pair of the nylon shorts
Carrie had urged him to buy since they required no ironing, he found that
the muscles of his face wouldn't give enough to let him smile at his own
She lay face down on her side of the bed, her head angled into the valley
between the pillows. The bedside lamp shed an arc of yellow light on the
edge of the openwork spread. You could read by it, inadequate though it
was, but that, in her view, was inconsiderate if not Bohemian. It was about
right to make love by, but only the dark was decent. There she was, so
decent as still to be wearing her apron, whose large bow, pert in its neatness, could almost be taken for an iron claw in a gingham glove. He moved
33 to his side of the bed and put out his hand to pluck at a free end of the bow.
He hesitated, studying briefly the as yet vacant space, six feet or so long,
perhaps two and a half wide, and reasonably horizontal, which he was about
to occupy in the dark.
In the beginning her face is strange;
She is a contortionist of intention;
She offers manipulation but not love;
She will break your back and leave you to dream.
Fingers that have picked the bed,
Breasts that have known excess,
Forests ravaged by other fires,
The tail of the comet plunges
Into a deluge for each other.
Each morning she turns her face to me
And every night we die;
Our life is a fear of collision,
But without a sin I would not
Have the strength of a kiss.
34 short-story entitled even the early
worm will lightly turn to thoughts
of love in the ringading ding-time
having escaped
from the garden
after a long
winter having
the spell and
we were
at the edge
of silence
till the sky
was clear
and were
to step
but look (!)—
to drown
the after—
rain flections —
re- worms:
shrimp pinkies
but raw
35 wrinkled
in water —
the small
corkscrewing themselves
illusions of Laoco-
half obscene
half absurd
almost self-
conscious almost
of the main
(as we all like to come)
when called
36 ("pat! . . .
like the cat-
of the old comedy")
from the
the prayer
of the
rashed father,
the celibate son,
polytus —
providing the messenger
than merely
to say . . .
troubled by
what (?)
I had spoken —■
(shall we ressurect
them? save one at
least pink worm
from sinking
through the cloud-
reflections of curb-
side tidal
reaches into the oblivion
beyond reach?
37 at which
you had laughed
and turned
from me
stone tossed out
of the garden-patch
the gutter-
a piss-or-piddle pot
of paper-poodle thought
cut-short, distorted by the capering and contorted cerebellums
of going-
the sky
the pit (
where I
hypnotized by
the worm-
38 and
with my own
dotted eyes
to strike
of this hole
the hydra-
in the dark
the mere
the labyrinthine
able periods
the hustle
of this
mad piss-
of my poisonous
mind —
a small
the picture
on the package)
39 quick-as-a-cuticle-
penis —
from his
to kiss
and let
his light
the whole
of this
mad house
and you
"Your turn, darling!" Willard Kent's wife was thrusting her way through
the water to him. He wished she wouldn't shout. It was bad enough being
at a public beach without adding to the noise. "Nice swim?" He said it
quietly. Her face was radiant. The drops of water on her were radiant.
"Glorious! How were the kids? How were you, Chicklets?" "Fine." Willard
glanced at the kids guiltily. They had floated a log, and they were now
spinnning it towards him. Maxie seemed to have forgotten his sharpness
towards her. "Why do you have all that hair on your chest, Daddie?" she
had asked. "Why do you ask stupid questions?" he had answered, when, in
fact, he had been tempted to ask her how she came to get sunburn under
her freckles.
Actually, it had been a fair question, and no one had yet come up with
a good answer. Perhaps it wasn't asked any more, except by small children
who seldom saw their fathers undressed. "Because I'm an ape." Was that
the usual answer given? He looked down at his chest. The hair was there
all right. Below his chest the skin looked unfamiliar. There were two deep
folds across his middle. "Aren't you going out, or are you too busy fixating
your navel?" Rita's voice laughed at him. "I'm getting fat," he croaked.
Willard glanced back to the sand, at the firm brown woman in the white
bathing suit. He had been wondering how she would look without the bathing suit when Maxie asked her stupid question. "Well, here I go," he said
without conviction. He looked down at the mud-colored water. Courtesy
Fraser River. He sighed and began walking slowly out to sea. Why do people
torture themselves this way, he wondered, as the small waves lapped round
his thighs, and the west wind lapped his flesh into gooseflesh. I could turn
back. I don't have to go through with this. Famous last words. Whoever did
turn back? Turn back to what? The torpor of the beach? He looked north.
Where is the bloody green Pacific anyway? I'm not going to plunge my face
into this mixture of sand and river water. Oh there it was, less than six
feet in front. Willard smiled as if he were meeting a friend he enjoyed. Then
he glanced around to see if anyone had noticed his smile. Christ! This was
better. He was alone. Alone. God, when had he last been alone? He instinctively blamed Lucien, whose voice he could hear telling him confi-
41 dentially, "You must mix, boy. It's good for business." Mix drinks, mix
company, mix wives, mix and match, mish mash. It's good for business.
It's good to be alone. He plunged his head into the uncomplicated green
and swam.
When he broke surface, Willard lay on his back and blew a jet of water
at the sun. He laughed when it splashed back over his face. The benison of
water. Who said that? Why I said that. That was I. The sluggishness of his
body peeled off into the water, leaving him exhilarated, newborn. Rita was
wrong that the sea was male. She saw it lapping, crashing, beating at the
land, trying to subdue it. But it was clearly regenerative, soothing, restoring,
caressing. . .. Willard gave himself up to it. He floated, he breast-stroked, he
crawled, he dived. He was surprised at his own virility, his youth. His youth.
Floating, he looked down at his middle. Even in this position the creases
were still there. God, at thirty-five you begin to die. Already his hair was
beginning to thin. In a few years he would be bald. He looked down at his
middle again. The creases were still there. He wondered if he could swim
them away.
There was the city, the cake boxes of the fifties set among the cakes of the
thirties. And Stanley Park, carefully slid back to reveal her, the many shades
of ashes. But where was the B.C. Electric building? Gone overnight? Poof.
But no, there it was in a mist. Willard moved a few feet north, then south,
trying to get the building into focus. "Whooo-oo." Damn Rita. If he didn't,
this would be the first prospect that didn't show its glory, its elegance. Willard wondered when he had first become intoxicated with the building.
When did you first fall in love? There must have been a first time. There
had been many times since. He smiled. My teeth at least are sound.
It was a long time back. Tumbling out of the Greyhound bus a raw
October night, crumpled, dismayed at ending up in this small town again.
Walking by memory towards Granville Street, up Nelson Street towards the
Belmont Hotel. Then he had seen it in all its glory, lit to the sky, high,
elegant, commanding. St. Mary-the-Virgin from Oriel Street. He had seized
an emerging drunk and asked what building it was. The Beastly Electric. A
fuzzy voice. The B.C. Electric from the Belmont. He swung the man back
into the hotel for a beer, began to listen to a lifetime spent reading meters
for the B.C. Electric, became eager to see the building again, left the man
and the beer, and strode across Granville Street to see how true it was. My
God, the town's grown up! He could have turned a somersault. He went up
close. The texture was marvellous. Fresher than anything he had seen in
Europe. Just right for Vancouver. Blue and green tile, blue and green lights.
But skilfully, artfully combined. Taste and elegance. Who has designed this
thing? Willard strode several blocks away in each direction to give it perspective. It was elegant from any approach. There wasn't a flaw. He walked
towards it, around it, across Burrard Street, back; Hornby Street was his
favorite view; but no, from Howe and Smithe it was tremendous. Finally,
42 intoxicated, he had flopped into a taxi and given his father's address. "It's
not going to be so bad," he thought.
"Whoooo, whoo-oo!" Damn the woman. He hadn't begun to swim. Rita
was waving him in. She looked like a balloon woman in that tight black
bathing-suit. She was less than five feet tall — like her parents — but firmly
fat. They were sparsely fleshed, austere in fact, miserably fleshed, miserly,
miserbly, niggardly, niggerbly. Willard laughed again, before realizing he
was moving in to where he could be heard. But this was irresistible, describing the old couple. Open the trap door and let it all come out. Niggardly,
miserly, mean, mincing, no, mousing, cat-and-mousing, catching, caging,
caught,. .. caught.. . caught.
"I didn't mean to spoil your swim, darling, but Billy wants to go to the
bathroom, and I thought you'd wonder where we were." She handed him
a towel.
"Oh." Willard rubbed the towel over his face and hair. "Do you want me
to look after Maxie?"
"No. She wants chips, so I'll take her. I just thought you'd wonder where
we were."
"Oh. .. . Well, I think I'll go out and finish my swim."
"Finish? Haven't you had enough? Still, it's glorious, isn't it?"
"Wonderful. I won't be long."
Willard thrust himself back into the water. Back into position. Now where
was he? Caught. . . caught. . . caught. Oh yes. The old couple. Had they
caught him, in fact, or had he caught them? Now that he could float he
turned and watched his family retreating towards the bath house. Balloon
woman flanked by two skinny kids. He turned over. Where was the place
he had been before? Point of no return. Let's see. Where was the B.C.
Electric Building? In a mist. But you should be able to get a better perspective of it from here. Willard began to swim east. Slowly, to get it into focus
better. And to get back that train of thought. What was it? Oh yes. Who
caught who.
The first bold interview with Lucien. Producing his confident, friendly
smile. Page two of the manual. "Mr. Belek, you shouldn't be buying paper
like this from another firm. You should be making it." "Eh, boy?" His wedding ring looked as if it had slipped off his cigar. Yet it was a simple ring,
in good taste. On the right hand, European Style. "I said. . .." "Yes, I
heard you, boy. Step into my office for a minute." Willard followed. Good
taste here too. Solid quality. "Sit down, boy. Have a cigar?" He couldn't
manage the cigar. "No thanks. I'll have one of these." The old boy drew
on his cigar, then, "So you have some ideas about the paper industry, Mr.
Uh "  "Kent. Willard Kent." Willard felt sick. He wasn't prepared to
defend a thesis. He was again in his tutor's well-furnished rooms in Oxford.
"So you really think the United Kingdom should join with the rest of Europe
politically, Kent? What makes you think so? Your viscera?" "Willard Kent.
43 An English name. Are you English?" "My father was born there. I spent
several years there after the war." "Oh? Where?" "Oxford." "Which college?" "Lincoln." "Never heard of it." "Not many people have. It's one of
the small ones in the Turk" "Distinguish yourself?" "I wouldn't be selling
paper if I had." Show your teeth, kid, it's now or never. Belek coughed out
a laugh. "Ha! Of course not. Of course not. Well, Mr. Kent, the pulp industry is a tricky one. A tricky one. I haven't been in it long in Canada
myself." Of course not. He spoke with a Central European accent. "As a
matter of fact, I have been thinking of expanding into paper. Know anything about paper, boy?" "Not much." Belek coughed again. Was it a laugh?
"I like your candour, boy. Come to dinner at my house Sunday at eight.
Here's the address." He handed over his card. "I might have room for a
personable young man like you."
A personable young man. So that's what he had become. Persona: personable. That's what Oxford thirds turn into. Personable young men. "But I
like thirds, Willie," Karen had said. "They're so jolly! Seconds always make
me feel so stupid. And firsts are so serieuse." "Karen, how many men have
you loved?" "Oh, tons!"
So he went to dinner at eight. And there was Rita. Now did he catch
her, or did she catch him? Or did the old couple catch them both? Certainly
he was willing to be caught. The Beleks were — not rich, but wealthy. There
was a quality to their living which the mere rich didn't have. Every piece
of furniture, every picture was in good taste. They — at that time — had
seemed civilized, cultivated, sensible, eager to discuss world affairs, art,
music, literature. They played bridge. Towards the end of the evening Belek
had asked if he were going to the opera. The two women had impulsively
added: "Do come with us." "It isn't our Rome or Salzburg, boy, but even
a weak performance hits you here." He smacked his flat belly. They seemed
It wasn't long before he and Rita were married. Rita suggested it, actually.
Mrs. Belek expressed the feeling of all four of them. "It was inevitable,"
she said, shrugging but pleased. It was as if they had joined hands around
a bridge table.
Willard became aware of his shoulders. They were cold. He floated back
to the present. It was a long time since he had swum so far. Where was he?
Why was he? Oh, the B.C. Electric Building. It was no closer. No clearer.
But he had swum far. The sun was moving north-down. He squinted at the
shore. It was unfamiliar and unfriendly. Joint Service Headquarters, probably. Jericho Beach soon. He'd go in there and walk back. His ankles were
beginning to ache. Many years since.. . .
What went wrong with the happy little bridge party? The Old Man was
decent. He made Willard a junior executive in the firm — one couldn't
have expected more. Why did he feel that mad at the Old Man he could
explode. Cook Cove. Was it that? Certainly he was mad at the old boy about
44 that. Cook Cove. It was so remote from it all, with a sandy strip for the
kids. He and Rita had discovered it together on a short jaunt in her father's
boat. They had both fallen in love with it — just as they had with the house.
They had told the old couple about it. Willard had searched the Land Titles,
had located the owners — a real estate firm — and had got a price. He and
Rita borrowed the boat again, tramped over the property, fell in love with
it again, and poof! The bank wouldn't give them a loan without Mr. Belek's
backing, and the Old Man had refused. Refused. Said it was a thin year
for business. God, he had given Willard a thin enough salary to start with —
and continue with. "It's fringe benefits you want, boy. Not money you'll
have to pay tax on." And so it went. The fringe benefits were a cottage on
the old boy's grounds, his last year's Buick, his expensive daughter, and many
free meals and holidays with the old couple. Far too many. When Rita,
pregnant with Maxie, had wanted to move into a house, there was a scene.
The old boy looked gray and hurt, but Rita was firm. She wanted a large
house full of children, and she wanted to fix it up hereself. The old boy
knew Rita. Her tears were more salt than her mother's. He gave in suddenly,
graciously, as if he had always been on their side. But on Cook Cove he was
deaf. The Beleks had a nice summer place on Texada Island. The young
family were welcome there whenever they needed a holiday. They knew
how welcome they were, and it would one day be theirs. There was no sense
in developing more property. No. No sense at all, except that it gave the
young family an escape. Silence. A deep breath of fresh air.
Willard noticed that his breath was shorter now. He was almost shipping
water. The sun had gone down. He looked around. He had overshot Jericho
Beach. The boats anchored off the Yacht Club lay ahead. Some had little
lights. He'd make for them. God, he'd look foolish coming ashore there,
dripping. How would he get back to Spanish Banks? Rita would have begun
to worry, maybe to act. What would she do? Get in touch with the old boy
right away. He would phone McNulty. Ask him to conduct a quiet search.
Keep it out of the papers at all costs. But Rita would be frantic. After all,
it probably looked as if. . . .
Willard pulled himself into the dingy of the Gorgeous G, not remembering
when he had been so tired. He hunched over and panted. His eyes stung
when he closed them, and water poured out of his nose. He blew it, rinsing
his hand in the sea. He began to shiver. Then his knees were knocking
uncontrollably. I'm beyond control, his innner voice croaked. He tried to
smile, but his cheeks were solid. He looked up at the Gorgeous G. Just port
and starboard lights. He climbed up on it. No one. He went into the cabin,
opened the fridge door for light, then opened cupboards. There was a stack
of dry towels in one, drinks in another. He wrapped a towel around his
shoulders and poured himself half a tumbler of Cointreau. It was sweet and
hot, and it lit fires the length of his gullet. But he had to get out of his wet
trunks. He opened the wardrobe and some drawers. A wider man than him-
45 self, but not much shorter. And a very expensive wardrobe. He put on shorts
and white flannels, then pulled the belt tight. Next a dark sports shirt and a
thick cable pullover. Shoes were a problem. His host had wider and longer
feet. Two pairs of socks and relacing them tight. Not uncomfortable. Not bad.
Whose hospitality was he enjoying? Yes, he was beginning to enjoy the
adventure. He pulled open a desk. There were bills on top of a clutter. Mr.
George Gilbey. No Esquire. Just Mr. George, with all this loot and all these
bills. Hi, George. Thanks, George.
In the fridge there was tinned ham and a turkey. Willard fancied the
ham, but was too hungry to struggle with opening the tin, so he tore a drumstick off the turkey. Now, what does one drink with turkey. No wine cellar.
What a boor you are, George. Only spirits, beer, and the Cointreau. What
could you expect from a Gilbey? Well, for sheer warmth, he'd stay with the
Cointreau. He poured himself a tumbler, then lifted the bottle to the light
to see if George would miss what he had taken. Never, he agreed. There
were French rolls tucked in the bottom of the fridge. Good old George.
Turkey, butter, roll, Cointreau; turkey, butter, roll, Magnificent. Willard
felt superbly happy. No. Benign. No. Munificent. His body tingled. He felt
proud of his swim. He felt there ought to be some prize, some recognition,
for swimming so far at his age. At his age. . ..
Willard snapped awake. He was stretched out in the cabin of the Gorgeous
G, and it was dark. West Vancouver was solid with lights. There were a few
little lights on the boats nearby. The fridge door was still open and the
motor was working furiously. Willard closed the door. Use up all George's
batteries. He stood up, cracked his head, and collapsed again. What to do,
what to do was the problem. Dance music throbbed nearby. He stood up
cautiously and moved outside. The sky was solid stars — diffuse, muted light
that didn't detract from the darkness like those along the shore. The music
throbbed at him. It came from the Yacht Club. May as well make for shore.
But first, tidy up for George. He moved back into the cabin and opened the
fridge door. The motor jumped into action. His bathing trunks lay in a pool
on the floor. Rita had bought them for him. She had been shocked to find
that he wore nylon underwear and shirts. "I wear only natural fibres," she
had compared. Yes, yes, natural fibres at ten times the cost. Willard picked
up the bathing trunks and chucked them overboard. He then wiped the
floor with George's towel and chucked it overboard. And the drumstick bone.
And the tumbler. Now George had a tidy cabin to come back to. He chose
a blazer from the wardrobe, took off the sweater, put it back in the drawer,
closed the fridge door, and lowered himself into the dinghy. How had George
gone ashore? Friends called in their new Cadillac. Do come with us, George.
It floats.
There seemed a need for quiet. The night required it. But the dance had
no respect for the night. Crash it. It was years since he had crashed a dance.
Just look as if you belong, boy. That's the rule.
46 He secured the dinghy at a float, and walked towards the Club. Steady,
boy. He peered in the window. Not much doing. A few desultory dancers,
boomp, boomp, boomp, and a tall blonde babe in one of those glittering
metallic gowns at the bar. When in danger make for the tallest blonde. He
put one hand in his pocket and opened the door. The nonchalant entrance.
Money in the pocket. Three pieces playing, "All of me".
A direct line. "Hi, honey. Remember me?" She glanced sideways under
long lashes.
"I'm not sure." The bone structure of her face was perfect, and she had
tiny, tightly packed teeth. My teeth are good too, Willard told himself.
"I'm Bill Kendall. We met. ..."
"At a party. Yes, I remember." Good. Maybe she likes my teeth.
"Would you like another drink?"
"No. Let's dance."
Let's dance! Willard followed her onto the floor. It was ten years since
he had danced with someone as tall as she. His arm was around her. There
was nothing to her at the waist, but she filled out successfully above and
"I forget your name," he whispered to her.
"Poppy," she whispered back. He liked that — her whispering back.
"That's all wrong for you, Poppy. You should be Delphinium or Hollyhock. Something tall and elegant." Some of the old man's horticulture must
have rubbed off on me. Buried in the hatch.
Poppy laughed. She still whispered. "I'm Poppy for professional reasons.
I was born Jean."
"Oh no. I think I'll call you Poppy, for professional reasons. What's your
profession, Poppy? Is it a secret?"
"I'm a model." Of course. "I'm here to sell clothes, but the sales manager
seems to have got lost in a private room somewhere."
"Don't look. He might come back. Just concentrate on me." He held
her closer, cheek to cheek.
"Hello George," said Poppy.
"Which one's George?" Poppy pointed to a back, with a fair bristling
head. George was bigger than he'd thought.
"Is that George Gilbey?"
"Yes. Do you know him?"
"No. Let's have a drink, then go to your place."
"I've got drinks at my place. Let's go." She was still whispering. Willard
kissed her neck. "You're wonderful."
Poppy's place was some place. It was a small enough apartment in the
West End, but everything was expensive and white, or shades of white. The
carpet was deep. So was the bed. Willard had a moment of alarm when
Poppy began to undress. She removed the false eyelashes. Check. But then
she removed her hair. Archetypal dream becomes archetypal joke. But then
47 she had her own hair underneath. Check. The same shade of blonde, but
short. He went over and kissed her with relief. "Why do you wear that
"It's easier. It goes with the job."
"Do you like the job?"
"Let's go to bed."
They awoke to the jangle of the white telephone. Sun filled the small white
room. Poppy reached out to answer it. Willard held her knee so that she
wouldn't get up.
"Hello David. How are you this morning? Well, where were you? I thought
you must have gone home with some dizzy blonde. Well, how could I sell
with you not there? The bathroom? Oh, come. Well, O.K., O.K. Yes, I'll
be there. Sure, I'll bring it with me. O.K. 'Bye now."
Poppy stuck out her tongue at the phone. She tried to get up. "I have
to put lipstick on," she said.
"No you don't. I like you better naked. Now tell me, what did David say?"
"Oh, he was mad." Poppy yawned. It was a delicious yawn.
Poppy had only coffee for breakfast. She offered to go out and get food
for him, but Willard decided that he had always liked just coffee for
Poppy brought in the paper. "Oooh, you're in the paper! This is you,
isn't it?"
Willard stared at an old photo of himself under the heading, "Prominent
Industrialist Drowns". Really, Rita shouldn't. She couldn't have consulted
her father. What a mess. Prominent industrialist. He'd make them publish
his salary for this. Now what could he do? He felt for the stubble along his
jaw. Oh Christ! How could he cope with this mess?
"I'm dead," he croaked to Poppy. She kissed him.
"You're pretty lively for someone who's dead." He held her hands against
"I've got to think."
"Think when I've gone to work. Aren't there any advantages to being
dead?" She was pinning her hair up. Her back had a delightful curve to it.
He kissed it.
"Of course. You're wonderful."
"You're wonderful," he said when he woke beside Poppy two days later.
"I know. Bill?"
"What? Anything."
"Stay with me forever."
Willard groaned. The sun was full, but there were bars of shadow across
the carpet from the window frames. He hadn't noticed them before.
48 "Forever's a long time, honey."  She was lonely. How could anyone so
beautiful be lonely?
"I'm twenty-seven, Bill."
"Yes, I know. I've got to think, honey."
"Think when I'm at work this afternoon."
Oh, man, the way her titties'd do
they'd damn near split my eyes.
That spindrift that her nubs'd show through
started bonfires in my thighs,
and every time her hip'd roll up
like a wave on a moonlight beach
these five cargo-hooks'd melt to a cup
and reach and reach and reach,
but she'd roll like a dime. I'm crazy, yes.
Who wouldn't be. Goddamn.
I knifed a guy who bought her a dress.
I shut her up in a clam
down here in the dunes where I carve her name
deep and the salt sand sifts.
I threw her to the sharks, but the sharks were tame
and as the fog lifted
I saw an octopus stroking her throat.
I waded, I cut. I swam
through the black blood. She fades like a boat.
I'm lonesome, yes, Goddamn.
I have a habit of cocking my head at times
I learned in 1940, from Pal.
Others, in their day, seem to have learned more,
though little. The reason
is understandable, lamentable.
It all goes on.
In summer, when some frivolous concourse of parents
of children and parents of parents
calls many to one new neighbourhood, the kids
escape with dogs to sandy
places that haven't houses yet, and dig
for the Devil.
Oftener, they dig a home to cover later
with orange-crate slats. Hind-ends and foot-soles
circle outward from the site, like petals.
The dogs dig too, to help,
tails wild, belling as shrill as the children
through the mellow
shade below sassafras trees. Some children will yearn
to dig as dogs do, but, failing,
resume toy shovels and crushed tomato cans.
Who learns and who teaches?
In winter, matters change. Be wary. Watch
for new techniques.
This, though, they do not learn from dogs, nor dogs from them.
Rolling snowballs, juxtaposing them
in rows, 50, 49, upward, and then
packing the interstices
with new snow which they press icy smooth till white
turns hard grey, level
upon level, the kids build forts, soaking mittens,
like big men building reputations.
Meanwhile, the dogs briefly trifle in snow,
take mouthfulls, snuff a nosefull,
soon call to return indoors, rolling chocolate
tones through the white air.
Pleasures slid in the cautious purse of time:
That instant on reentering to pause
And turn around and see it was the same
How the way came as always to the house.
And this gray street the phrases of the trees
Renew a sequence in the measured breath,
I come on something of the old dis-ease
And pity is like grit between my teeth.
The forms of pity move among these stones;
On these hard breasts she cleaves that former self
And with the enduring sound of waves she mourns
And half believes her consonance with death.
Like the sea's levels are this day, that grief:
This brilliant silver crashing in the eye,
That fin of dark that flashes; from beneath
The calm refills its wounds, and carelessly.
Nearest the drenched bracken, and beyond
Each stand of trees, curtains of bluish air,
The water's distance measured by the one sound
Of a crab boat pulsing soft against the ear.
I know that I was wretched in this place,
This gracious time, that never could recur,
Breaking my heart to take it, though its peace
This season is, if anything, more pure. ABANDONED GARDEN
from a sequence City Suite
Everyone knows it's a dead-end street,
has been for years,
you say so, he says so,
neighbours are certain and even
exploring children swear
the honeysuckle door is locked:
they hear no calls
and their knocking
falls heavy in the silent paths
and yet, tell me,
you who know so much,
what do these enormous sunflowers mean
curling over cement,
turning black eyes to light?
vague hands
blindly waving past pointed glass?
a twisted briar
flung on the hot tarred street,
and blood on the wall . . . the blood?
the terrible Now invades ambiguous streets
as voices whimper high above the wires
a broken past
recalling subtler shapes
from deep-set windows where the images
fall as you pass
unfolding hands that curl within the hour.
52 at corners where you hesitate the gutters
strangle the drifting refuse of the day
a hollow wind
driving down manholes to the bitter creeks
that coil below the city
soil, maimed wings,
burnt garbage and dead beaks.
how read the fading street-signs?
disentangle heart
from those stiff fingers crooked in shadowy panes?
the wind has died,
the rotting fruit and flowers
stare back in silence, but a bird
cries through the darkness in the sudden rain.
Last night, I had dreams of curlicues,
Kinky and unkinked threads of gossamer,
Weaving as unspun silk,
Like paths in a labyrinth,
Unembraced by lice, but nice curlicues,
As from crazy spinning tops
Or seraphic ballerinas,
Gray, blonde, red, brown, and black.
I leaped from my bed;
Someone is thinking of me.
But the telephone didn't ring,
So I retired, tired of waiting,
No seriphs, no seraphs,
But a personal twist
With no wet aft or sere aft
To put it back to sleep.
heather spears goldenberg, remembered for her Asylum Poems, is at
present in Denmark engaged in writing and painting. Her home is in
Vancouver, British Columbia.
luella booth of Toronto, Ontario, is the author of a book of poems, Love
Is Bright Around My Shoulder and has been published in Delta, Fiddle-
head, The Canadian Forum, Tamarack Review and other periodicals.
Robert kroetsch teaches English at Harpur College in New York State.
He is no stranger to Prism readers (3:1). He has written a novel (as
yet unpublished) and has received a fellowship from the State University of New York to enable him to complete a second novel. He
comes originally from Alberta.
markham Harris has published short fiction in Interim and Story, a novella
in the latter, several articles in the Saturday Review, Prairie Schooner
and Encyclopedia Americana; a novel, High Morning Fog, and a book
of literary theory, The Case for Tragedy. He teaches in the Advanced
Creative Writing Programme at the University of Washington.
morton Manilla of Toronto "quit school at 18," as he says, "to devote myself to study. I have wasted a great deal of time, but some moments
survive." He wishes to become a playwright, but "cannot resist the
attempt to write a poem that will live."
john hulcoop teaches English at the University of British Columbia. His
poem in this issue is his first professional publication.
julia brown wrote "The Swim" for a creative writing class at the University of British Columbia. This is her first publication. She lives in
Vancouver with her husband and two children.
Ralph Salisbury has published poems and short fiction in a variety of
American periodicals, but his appearance in Prism is his first introduction to Canadian readers. He teaches at the University of Oregon in
richard emil braun lectures in Classics at the University of Alberta; he too
is publishing work in Canada for the first time, but has had poems in
Accent, Antioch Review, Contact and others, and has two books to his
credit: Companions to your Doom (1961) and Children Passing (1962).
gwladys downes last appeared in Prism in Issue 2:4. She lives in Victoria
where she teaches French at the University of Victoria. She has appeared frequently in Fiddlehead and Canadian Forum.
dave pinson of Montreal, was represented also in our last issue, 3:3. He
considers himself "one of the starkest, frankest, most sentimental, unread, non-pretentious, unorthodox, non-snobbish, non-status-symbol-
seeking would-be writers."
54 EDITORIAL  (continued)
involved in the production and distribution of such a magazine as Prism:
Jacob Zilber, Elliott Gose, Heather Spears Goldenberg, Yolande Newby,
Barbara Beach, Wayson Choy, Cherie Smith, Alice Zilber. Special thanks
must go to William Mayrs who has done all the art work since issue 2:1 with
consistent verve and good taste and a great deal of talent without a cent of
remuneration. Other members of The Prism Society who have contributed
to the maintenance of the publication are William McConnell, Robert Harlow and Ken Hodkinson. Many others have licked stamps, typed envelopes
and stuffed publicity materials. To all, my thanks.
Finally, I would like to express my appreciation to all our Founding Subscribers who donated varying sums of money during the formative stage of
Prism, and to The Koerner Foundation of Vancouver and the Canada
Council for grants without which Prism could not have continued to exist.


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