Archive for January 3, 2022

Page Seventeen III: The Final Conflict

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 3, 2022 by dcairns

They asked these questions. They always asked the same questions, and they always got the same answers. It had nothing to do with what you said. It had nothing to do with how you shaved or how you combed your hair because you combed your hair the way everyone else did, and the day you went up to Board you shaved twice. Maybe, it had to do with how many shaving cuts you had, but I didn’t have any. I had taken care, wow. Suppose it had to do with the way you moved. If two of the three men on the parole board liked the way you moved, you were all right, provided they didn’t like the way you moved too much. Sex. No matter who I’m with, man or woman, I always get a feeling off them. At least I used to. I always could tell if they were moving inside or moving away, and I could tell if anything was going on inside. If we ever touched, I could tell better. Once I was in a streetcar and a girl sat down next to me. She was a full barrel. A very fat girl. Pretty face. I don’t like fat. Very fat people have no quick. They can always stop. They can stop from doing a lot of things.

Narcissa was a big woman, with dark hair, a broad, stupid, serene face. She was in her customary white dress. “Horace this is Gowan Stevens,” she said. “My brother, Gowan.”

He grimaced, which involved the total disappearance of his eyes and mouth and most of his nose, only the very end of which protruded like one fingertip of a clenched fist wearing a shabby leather glove.

‘The condition is called aphasia. Sometimes, in younger patients, the right side of the brain can be trained to take over communication. But one could not hope for such a result in the case of your wife, sir. Yes, to a certain extent she is aware of her surroundings. And she would recognize you, yes. As you may have noticed, she attempts to communicate on a subverbal level, to make certain wants known with . . . those sounds. Words are essential to the processes of thought, we now believe. Much of our thinking is in word forms. Deprived of the tools of words, the processes become more primitive and simplified: hot, cold, hungry, thirsty. No, I wouldn’t say her life expectancy is seriously impaired. At sixty-three she is quite a healthy woman, aside from her traumatic informities.’

Boaz-Joachin thought about the surveyor’s words. He understood the words, but the meaning of them did not enter him because their meaning was not an answer to any question in him. In his mind he saw an oblong of blue sky edged with dark faces. He felt a roaring in him, and opened and closed his mouth silently. ‘No,’ he said.

Happily our geography text, which contains maps of all the principal land-masses of the world, is large enough to conceal my clandestine journal-keeping, accomplished in an ordinary black composition book. Every day I must wait until Geography to put down such thoughts as I may have had during the morning about my situation and my fellows. I have tried writing at other times and it does not work. Either the teacher is walking up and down the aisles (during this period, luckily, she sticks close to the map rack in the front of the room) or Bobby Vanderbilt, who sits behind me, is punching me in the kidneys and wanting to know what I am doing. Vanderbilt, I have found out from certain desultory conversations on the playground, is hung up on sports cars, a veteran consumer of Road & Track. This explains the continual roaring sounds which seem to emanate from his desk; he is reproducing a record album called Sounds of Sebring.

I could feel my feet beginning to weigh less and less as he smiled at the phonograph record. It smiled back. I now weighed a trifle over seventeen pounds and danced like a giant dandelion in his meadow.

Seven bits of page seventeens from seven books by American authors stacked in a precarious heap by my armchair.

The Killer: a story by Norman Mailer, from The Short Fiction of Norman Mailer; Sanctuary by William Faulkner; Little Big Man by Thomas Berger; Condominium by John D. MacDonald; The Lion of Boaz-Jachin and Jachin-Boaz by Russell Hoban; Me and Miss Mandible from Sixty Stories by Donald Barthelme; A Confederate General from Big Sur by Richard Brautigan.