XXII

Romilayu started to protest, but I held the creature to me, hearing its tiny snarl and pricked in the chest by its claws. “The king would want me to take it along,” I said. “Look, he’s got to survive in some form. Can’t you see?” The moonlit horizon was extremely clear. It had the effect of making me feel logical. Light was released over us from the summits of the mountains. Thirty miles of terrain opened before us, the path of our flight. I suppose that Romilayu could have pointed out to me that this animal was the child of my enemy who had deprived me of Dahfu. “Well, so look,” I said, “I didn’t kill that guy. So if I spared him … Romilayu, let’s not stand here and gab. I can’t leave the animal behind and I won’t. Look,” I said, “I can carry it in my helmet. I don’t need it at night.” As a matter of fact the night breeze was doing my fever good.

Romilayu gave in to me, and we started our flight, leaping through the shadows of the moon up the side of the ravine. We put the hopo between ourselves and the town, and headed into the mountains, on a straight course for Baventai. I ran behind with the cub, and all that night we did double time, so that by sunrise we had about twenty miles behind us.

Without Romilayu I couldn’t have lasted two of the ten days that it took to reach Baventai. He knew where the water was and which roots and insects we could eat. After the yams gave out, as they did on the fourth day, we had to forage for grubs and worms. “You could be a survival instructor for the Air Force,” I told him. “You’d be a jewel to them,” I also said to him. “So at last I’m living on locusts, like Saint John. ‘The voice of one that crieth in the wilderness.’ ” But we had this lion, which had to be fed and cared for. I doubt whether any such handicap was ever seen before. I had to mince grubs and worms with the knife in my palm and make a paste, and I fed the little creature by hand. During the day, when I had to have the helmet, I carried the cub under my arm, and sometimes I led him on the leash. He slept in the helmet, too, with my wallet and passport, teething on the leather and in the end devouring most of it. I then carried my documents and the four one-thousand-dollar bills inside my jockey shorts.

From gaunt cheeks, my whiskers grew in various colors, and during most of the trek I was demented and raving. I would sit and play with the cub, whom I named Dahfu, while Romilayu foraged. I was too simple in the head to help him. Nevertheless, in many essential matters my mind was very clear and even fine or delicate. As I ate the cocoons and the larvae and ants, crouching in the jockey shorts with the lion lying under me for shade, I spoke oracles and sang-yes, I remembered many songs from nursery and school, like “Fair do-do,” “Pierrot,” “Malbrouck s’en va-t’en guerre,” “Nut Brown Maiden,” and “The Spanish Guitar,” while I fondled the animal, which had made a wonderful adjustment to me. He rolled between my feet and scratched my legs. Although on a diet of worms and grubs he could not have been very healthy. I feared and Romilayu hoped that the animal would die. But we were lucky. We had the spears and Romilayu killed a few birds. I am pretty sure we killed a bird of prey that had got too near and that we feasted on it.

And on the tenth day (as Romilayu told me afterward, for I had lost count) we came to Baventai, sitting parched on its rocks, but not so parched as we were. The walls were white as eggs, and the brown Arabs in their clothes and muffles watched us arise from the sterile road, myself greeting everyone with two fingers for victory, like Churchill, and giving a cracked, crying, black-throated laugh of survival, holding out the cub Dahfu by the scruff to all those head-swathed and silent men, and the women who revealed only eyes, and the black herdsmen with sunny fat melting from their hair. “Get the band. Get the music,” I was saying to them all.

Pretty soon I folded, but I made Romilayu promise to look out for the little animal. “This is Dahfu to me,” I said. “Don’t let anything happen, please, Romilayu. It would ruin me now. I can’t threaten you, old fellow,” I said. “I’m too weak, and I can only beg.”

Romilayu said I shouldn’t worry. At least he told me, “Wo-kay, sah.”

“I can beg,” I said to him. “I’m not what I thought I was.

“One thing, Romilayu … ” I was in a native house and lying on a bed while he, squatting beside me, took the animal from my arms. “Is it promised? Between the beginning and the end, is it promised?”

“Whut promise, sah?”

“Well, I mean something clear. Isn’t it promised? Romilayu, I suppose I mean the reason-the reason. It may be postponed until the last breath. But there is justice. I believe there is justice, and that much is promised. Though I am not what I thought.”

Romilayu was about to console me, but I said to him, “You don’t have to give me consolation. Because the sleep is burst, and I’ve come to myself. It wasn’t the singing of boys that did it,” I said. “What I’d like to know is why this has to be fought by everybody, for there is nothing that’s struggled against so hard as coming-to. We grow these sores instead. Burning sores, fertile sores.” I held the lion on my breast, the child of our murderous enemy. Because of my weakness and fatigue, I was reduced to grimacing at Romilayu. “Don’t let me down, old pal,” was what I tried to say.

Then I let him take the animal from me and I slept for a while and had dreams, or I didn’t sleep but lay on the cot in somebody’s house, and those were not dreams but hallucinations. One thing however I kept saying to myself and telling Romilayu, and this was that I had to get back to Lily and the children; I would never feel right until I saw them, and especially Lily herself. I developed a bad case of homesickness. For I said, What’s the universe? Big. And what are we? Little. I therefore might as well be at home where my wife loves me. And even if she only seemed to love me, that too was better than nothing. Either way, I had tender feelings toward her. I remembered her in a variety of ways; some of her sayings came back to me, like one should live for this and not for that; not evil but good, not death but life, and all the rest of her theories. But I suppose it made no difference what she said, I wouldn’t be kept from loving her even by her preaching. Frequently Romilayu came up to me, and in the worst of my delirium his black face seemed to me like shatter-proof glass to which everything had been done that glass can endure.

“Oh, you can’t get away from rhythm, Romilayu,” I recall saying many times to him. “You just can’t get away from it. The left hand shakes with the right hand, the inhale follows the exhale, the systole talks back to the diastole, the hands play patty-cake, and the feet dance with each other. And the seasons. And the stars, and all of that. And the tides, and all that junk. You’ve got to live at peace with it, because if it’s going to worry you, you’ll lose. You can’t win against it. It keeps on and on and on. Hell, we’ll never get away from rhythm, Romilayu. I wish my dead days would quit bothering me and leave me alone. The bad stuff keeps coming back, and it’s the worst rhythm there is. The repetition of a man’s bad self, that’s the worst suffering that’s ever been known. But you can’t get away from regularity. But the king said I should change. I shouldn’t be an agony type. Or a Lazarus type. The grass should be my cousins. Hey, Romilayu, not even Death knows how many dead there are. He could never run a census. But these dead should go. They make us think of them. That is their immortality. In us. But my back is breaking. I’m loaded down. It isn’t fair-what about the grun-tu-molani?”

He showed me the little creature. It had survived all the hardships and was thriving like anything.

So after several weeks in Baventai, beginning to recover, I said to my guide, “Well, kid, I suppose I’d better get moving while the cub is still small. I can’t wait till he grows into a lion, can I? It will be a job to get him back to the States even if he’s half grown.”

“No, no. You too sick, sah.”

And I said, “Yes, the flesh is not in such hot shape. But I will beat this rap. It’s merely some disease. Otherwise, I’m well.”

Romilayu was much opposed but I made him take me in the end to Baktale. There I bought a pair of pants and the missionary let me have some sulfa until my dysentery was under control. That took a few days. After this I slept in the back of the jeep with the lion cub under a khaki blanket, while Romilayu drove us to Harar, Ethiopia. That took six days. And in Harar I made Romilayu a few hundred dollars’ worth of presents. I filled the jeep with all sorts of stuff.

“I was going to stop over in Switzerland and visit my little daughter Alice,” I said. “My youngest girl. But I guess I don’t look well, and there’s no use frightening the kid. I’d better do it another time. Besides, there’s the cub.”

“You tek him home?”

“Where I go he goes,” I said. “And Romilayu, you and I will get together again one day. The world is not so loose any more. You can locate a man, provided he stays alive. You have my address. Write to me. Don’t take it so hard. Next time we meet I may be wearing a white coat. You’ll be proud of me. I’ll treat you for nothing.”

“Oh, you too weak to go, sah,” said Romilayu. “I ’fraid to leave you go.”

I took it every bit as hard as he did.

“Listen to me, Romilayu, I’m unkillable. Nature has tried everything. It has thrown the book at me. And here I am.”

He saw, however, that I was feeble. You could have tied me up with a ribbon of haze.

And after we had said good-by, finally, for good, I realized that he still dogged my steps and kept an eye on me from a distance as I went around Harar with the cub. My legs quaked, my beard was like the purple sage, and I was sightseeing in front of the old King Menelik’s palace, accompanied by the lion, while bushy Romilayu, fear and anxiety in his face, watched from around the corner to make sure I didn’t collapse. For his own good I paid no attention to him. When I boarded the plane he still was observing me. It was the Khartoum flight and the lion was in a wicker basket. The jeep was beside the airstrip and Romilayu was in it, praying at the wheel. He held together his hands like giant crayfish and I knew he was doing his utmost to obtain safety and well-being for me. I cried, “Romilayu!” and stood up. Several of the passengers seemed to think I was about to overturn the small plane. “That black fellow saved my life,” I said to them.

However, we were now in the air, flying over the shadows of the heat. I then sat down and brought out the lion, holding him in my lap.

In Khartoum I had a hassle with the consular people about arrangements. There was quite a squawk about the lion. They said there were people who were in the business of selling zoo animals in the States, and they told me if I didn’t go about it in the right way the lion would have to be in quarantine. I said I was willing to go to a vet and get some shots, but I told them, “I’m in a hurry to get home. I’ve been sick and I can’t stand any delay.” The guys said they could see for themselves that I had been through quite a bit. They tried to pump me about my trip, and asked how I had lost all my stuff. “It’s none of your lousy business,” I said. “My passport is okay, isn’t it? And I’ve got dough. My great-grandfather was head of your crummy outfit, and he was no cold-storage, Ivy League, button-down, broken-hipped civilian like you. All you fellows are just the same. You think U.S. citizens are dummies and morons. Listen, all I want from you is to expedite-Yes, I saw a few things in the interior. Yes, I did. I have had a look into some of the fundamentals, but don’t expect me to tickle your idle curiosity. I wouldn’t talk even to the ambassador, if he asked me.”

They didn’t like this. I had the staggers in their office. The lion was on the fellows’ desk and knocked down their stapler and nipped them through the clothes. They got rid of me the fastest way they could, and I flew into Cairo that same evening. There I called Lily on the transatlantic phone. “It’s me, baby,” I cried. “I’m coming home Sunday.” I knew she must be pale and going paler, purer and purer in the face as she always did under great excitement, and that her lips must have moved five or six times before she could get out a word. “Baby, I’m coming home,” I said. “Speak clearly, don’t mumble now.” “Gene!” I heard, and after that the waves of half the world, the air, the water, the earth’s vascular system, came in between. “Honey, I aim to do better, can you hear? I’ve had it now.” Of what she said I could make out no more than two or three words. Space with its weird cries came between. I knew she was speaking about love; her voice thrilled, and I guessed she was moralizing and calling me back. “For a big broad you sound very tiny,” I kept saying. She could hear me all right. “Sunday, Idlewild. Bring Donovan,” I said. This Donovan is an old lawyer who was a trustee of my father’s estate. He must be eighty now. I thought I might need his legal help on account of the lion.

This was Wednesday. On Thursday we flew to Athens. I thought I should see the Acropolis. So I hired a car and a guide, but I was too ill and in too much confusion to take in very much of it. The lion was with us, on a leash, and except for the suntans I had bought in Baktale I was dressed as in Africa, same helmet, same rubber shoes. My beard had grown out considerably; on one side it gushed out half white but with many streaks of blond, red, black, and purple. The embassy people had suggested a shave to make identification easier from the passport. But I did not take their advice. As far as the Acropolis went, I saw something on the heights, which was yellow, bonelike, rose-colored. I realized it must be very beautiful. But I couldn’t get out of the automobile, and the guide didn’t even suggest it. Altogether he said very little, almost nothing; however, his eyes showed what he thought. “There are reasons for it all,” I said to him.

On Friday I got to Rome. I bought a corduroy outfit, burgundy colored, and an alpine hat with Bersagliere feathers, plus a shirt and underpants. Except to buy this stuff I didn’t leave my room. I wasn’t eager to make a show of myself on the Via Veneto walking the cub on a leash.

On Saturday we flew again by way of Paris and London, which was the only arrangement I could make. To see either place again I had no curiosity. Or any other place, for that matter. For me the best part of the flight was over water. I couldn’t seem to get enough of it, as if I had been dehydrated-the water, combing along, endless, the Atlantic, deep. But the depth made me happy. I sat by the window, in the clouds. The sea was thickened by the late, awful, air-blind, sea-blanched sun. We were carried over the calm swarm of the water, the lead-sealed but expanding water, the heart of the water.

Other passengers were reading. Personally, I can’t see that. How can you sit in a plane and be so indifferent? Of course, they weren’t coming from mid-Africa like me; they weren’t discontinuous with civilization. They arose from Paris and London into the skies with their books. But I, Henderson, with my glowering face, with corduroy and Bersagliere feathers-the helmet was inside the wicker basket with the cub, as I figured he needed a familiar object to calm him on this novel, exciting trip-I couldn’t get enough of the water, and of these upside-down sierras of the clouds. Like courts of eternal heaven. (Only they aren’t eternal, that’s the whole thing; they are seen once and never seen again, being figures and not abiding realities; Dahfu will never be seen again, and presently I will never be seen again; but every one is given the components to see: the water, the sun, the air, the earth.)

The stewardess offered me a magazine to calm me down, seeing how overwrought I was. She was aware that I had the lion cub Dahfu in the baggage compartment, as I had ordered chops and milk for him, and there was a certain inconvenience about my going back and forth constantly and prowling around the rear of the plane. She was an understanding girl, and finally I told her what it was all about, that the lion cub was important to me, and that I was bringing him home to my wife and children. “It’s a souvenir of a very dear friend,” I said. It was also an enigmatic form of that friend, I might have tried to explain to this girl. She was from Rockford, Illinois. Every twenty years or so the earth renews itself in young maidens. You know what I mean? Her cheeks had the perfect form that belongs to the young; her hair was kinky gold. Her teeth were white and posted on every approach. She was all sweet corn and milk. Blessings on her hips. Blessings on her thighs. Blessings on her soft little fingers which were somewhat covered by the cuffs of her uniform. Blessings on that rough gold. A wonderful little thing; her attitude was that of a pal or playmate, as is common with Midwestern young women. I said, “You make me think of my wife. I haven’t seen her in months.”

“Oh? How many months?” she said.

That I couldn’t tell her, for I didn’t know the date. “Is it about September?” I asked.

Astonished, she said, “Honestly, don’t you know? It’ll be Thanksgiving next week.”

“So late! I missed out on enrollment. I’ll have to wait until next semester. You see, I got sick in Africa and had a delirium and lost count of time. When you go in deep you run that risk, you know that, don’t you, kid?”

She was amused that I called her kid.

“Do you go to school?”

“Instead of coming to ourselves,” I said, “we grow all kinds of deformities and enormities. At least something can be done for those. You know? While we wait for the day?”

“Which day, Mr. Henderson?” she said, laughing at me.

“Haven’t you ever heard the song?” I said. “Listen, and I’ll sing you a little of it.” We were back at the rear of the plane where I was feeding the animal Dahfu. I sang, “And who shall abide the day of His coming (the day of His coming)? And who shall stand when He appeareth (when He appeareth)?”

“That is Handel?” she said. “That’s from Rockford College.”

“Correct,” I said. “You are a sensible young woman. Now I have a son, Edward, whose wits were swamped by all that cool jazz … I slept through my youth,” I went on as I was feeding the lion his cooked meat. “I slept and slept like our first-class passenger.” Note: I must explain that we were on one of those stratocruisers with a regular stateroom, and I had noticed the stewardess going in there with steak and champagne. The fellow never came out. She told me he was a famous diplomat. “I guess he just has to sleep, it’s costing so much,” I commented. “If he has insomnia it’ll be a terrible let-down to a man in his position. You know why I’m impatient to see my wife, miss? I’m eager to know how it will be now that the sleep is burst. And the children, too. I love them very much-I think.”

“Why do you say think?”

“Yes, I think. We’ll have to see. You know we’re a very funny family for picking up companions. My son Edward had a chimpanzee who was dressed in a cowboy suit. Then in California he and I nearly took a little seal into our lives. Then my daughter brought home a baby. Of course we had to take it away from her. I hope she will consider this lion as a replacement. I hope I can persuade her.”

“There’s a little kid on the plane,” said the stewardess. “He’d probably adore the lion cub. He looks pretty sad.”

And I said, “Who is it?”

“Well, his parents were Americans. There’s a letter around his neck that tells the story. The kid doesn’t speak English at all. Only Persian.”

“Go on,” I said to her.

“The father worked for oil people in Persia. The kid was raised by Persian servants. Now he’s an orphan and going to live with grandparents in Carson City, Nevada. At Idlewild I’m supposed to turn him over to somebody.”

“Poor little bastard,” I said. “Why don’t you bring him, and we’ll show him the lion.”

So she fetched the boy. He was very white and wore short pants with strap garters and a little dark green sweater. He was a black-haired boy, like my own. This kid went to my heart. You know how it is when your heart drops. Like a fall-bruised apple in the cold morning of autumn. “Come here, little boy,” I said, and reached for the child’s hand. “It’s a bad business,” I told the stewardess, “to ship a little kid around the world alone.” I took the cub Dahfu and gave it to him. “I don’t think he knows what it is-he probably imagines it’s a kitty.”

“But he likes it.”

As a matter of fact the animal did lighten the boy’s melancholy, and so we let them play. And when we went back to our seats I kept him with me and tried to show him pictures in the magazine. I gave him his dinner, and at night he fell asleep in my lap, and I had to ask the girl to keep her eye on the lion for me-I couldn’t move now. She said he was asleep, too.

And during this leg of the flight, my memory did me a great favor. Yes, I was granted certain recollections and they have made a sizable difference to me. And after all, it’s not all to the bad to have had a long life. Something of benefit can be found in the past. First I was thinking, Take potatoes. They actually belong to the deadly nightshade family. Next I thought, Actually, pigs don’t have a monopoly on grunting, either.

This reflection made me remember that after my brother Dick’s death I went away from home, being already a big boy of about sixteen, with a mustache, a college freshman. The reason why I left was that I couldn’t bear to see the old man mourn. We have a beautiful house, a regular work of art. The foundations are of stone and three feet thick; the ceilings are eighteen feet. The windows are twelve, and start at the floor, so that the light fills everything through that kind of marred old-fashioned glass. There’s a peace that even I haven’t been able to destroy, in those old rooms. Only one thing is wrong: the joint isn’t modern. It’s not like the rest of life at all, and therefore it’s misleading. And as far as I was concerned, Dick could have had it. But the old man, gushing white beard from all his face, he made me feel our family line had ended with Dick up in the Adirondacks, when he shot at the pen and plugged the Greek’s coffee urn. Dick also was a curly-headed man with broad shoulders, like the rest of us. He was drowned in the wild mountains, and now my dad looked at me and despaired.

An old man, disappointed, of failing strength, may try to reinvigorate himself by means of anger. Now I understand it. But I couldn’t see it at sixteen, when we had a falling out. I was working that summer wrecking old cars, cutting them up for junk with the torch. I was lord and master of the wrecked cars, at a place about three miles from home. It did me good to work in this wrecking yard. That summer I did nothing but dismantle cars. I was grease and rust all over and scalded and dazzled with the cutting torch, and I made mountains of fenders and axles and car innards. On the day of Dick’s funeral, I went to work, too. And in the evening, when I washed myself in the back of the house under the garden hose, I was gasping as the chill water rushed over my head, and the old man came out on the back porch, in the dark green of the vines. By the side was a neglected orchard which later I cut down. The water blurted over me. It was cold as outer space. Fiercely, the old man started to yell at me. The hose bubbled on my head while inside I was hotter than the cutting torch that I took to all those old death cars from the highway. My father in his grief swore at me. I knew he meant it because he put aside his customary elegance of words. He cursed, I guess, because I didn’t comfort him.

So I went away. I hitchhiked to Niagara Falls. I reached Niagara and stood looking in. I was entranced by the crash of the water. Water can be very healing. I went on the Maid of the Mists, the old one, since burned, and through the Cave of the Winds, and the rest of it. And then I went on up to Ontario and picked up a job in an amusement park. This was most of all what I recalled on the plane, with the head of the American-Persian child on my lap, the North Atlantic leading its black life beneath us as the four propellers were fanning us homeward.

It was Ontario, then, though I don’t remember which part of the province. The park was a fairground, too, and Hanson, the guy in charge, slept me in the stables. There the rats jumped back and forth over my legs at night, and fed on oats, and the watering of the horses began at daybreak, in the blue light that occurs at the end of darkness in the high latitudes. The Negroes came to the horses at this blue time of the night, when the damp was heavy.

I worked with Smolak. I almost had forgotten this animal, Smolak, an old brown bear whose trainer (also Smolak; he had been named for him) had beat it with the rest of the troupe and left him on Hanson’s hands. There was no need of a trainer. Smolak was too old and his master had dusted him off. This ditched old creature was almost green with time and down to his last teeth, like the pits of dates. For this shabby animal Hanson had thought up a use. He had been trained to ride a bike, but now he was too old. Now he could feed from a dish with a rabbit; after which, in a cap and bib, he drank from a baby bottle while he stood on his hind legs. But there was one more thing, and this was where I came in. There was a month yet to the end of the season, and every day of this month Smolak and I rode on a roller coaster together before large crowds. This poor broken ruined creature and I, alone, took the high rides twice a day. And while we climbed and dipped and swooped and swerved and rose again higher than the Ferris wheels and fell, we held on to each other. By a common bond of despair we embraced, cheek to cheek, as all support seemed to leave us and we started down the perpendicular drop. I was pressed into his long-suffering, age-worn, tragic, and discolored coat as he grunted and cried to me. At times the animal would wet himself. But he was apparently aware I was his friend and he did not claw me. I took a pistol with blanks in case of an assault; it never was needed. I said to Hanson, as I recall, “We’re two of a kind. Smolak was cast off and I am an Ishmael, too.” As I lay in the stable, I would think about Dick’s death and about my father. But most of the time I lived not with horses but with Smolak, and this poor creature and I were very close. So before pigs ever came on my horizon, I received a deep impression from a bear. So if corporeal things are an image of the spiritual and visible objects are renderings of invisible ones, and if Smolak and I were outcasts together, two humorists before the crowd, but brothers in our souls-I enbeared by him, and he probably humanized by me-I didn’t come to the pigs as a tabula rasa. It only stands to reason. Something deep already was inscribed on me. In the end, I wonder if Dahfu would have found this out for himself.

Once more. Whatever gains I ever made were always due to love and nothing else. And as Smolak (mossy like a forest elm) and I rode together, and as he cried out at the top, beginning the bottomless rush over those skimpy yellow supports, and up once mute against eternity’s blue (oh, the stuff that has been done within this envelope of color, this subtle bag of life-giving gases!) while the Canadian hicks were rejoicing underneath with red faces, all the nubble-fingered rubes, we hugged each other, the bear and I, with something greater than terror and flew in those gilded cars. I shut my eyes in his wretched, time-abused fur. He held me in his arms and gave me comfort. And the great thing is that he didn’t blame me. He had seen too much of life, and somewhere in his huge head he had worked it out that for creatures there is nothing that ever runs unmingled.

Lily will have to sit up with me if it takes all night, I was thinking, while I tell her all about this.

As for this kid resting against me, bound for Nevada with nothing but a Persian vocabulary — why, he was still trailing his cloud of glory. God knows, I dragged mine on as long as I could till it got dingy, mere tatters of gray fog. However, I always knew what it was.

“Well, look at you two,” said the hostess, meaning that the kid also was awake. Two smoothly gray eyes moved at me, greatly expanded into the whites — new to life altogether. They had that new luster. With it they had ancient power, too. You could never convince me that this was for the first time.

“We are going to land for a while,” said the young woman.

“The hell you say. Have we crept up on New York so soon? I told my wife to meet me in the afternoon.”

“No, it’s Newfoundland, for fuel,” she said. “It’s getting on toward daylight. You can see that, can’t you?”

“Oh, I’m dying to breathe some of this cold stuff we’ve been flying through,” I said. “After so many months in the Torrid Zone. You get what I mean?”

“I guess you’ll have an opportunity,” said the girl.

“Well, let me have a blanket for this child. I’ll give him a breath of fresh air, too.”

We started to slope and to go in, at which time there was a piercing red from the side of the sun into the clouds near the sea’s surface. It was only a flash, and next gray light returned, and cliffs in an ice armor met with the green movement of the water, and we entered the lower air, which lay white and dry under the gray of the sky.

“I’m going to take a walk. Will you come with me?” I said to the kid. He answered me in Persian. “Well, it’s okay,” I said. I held out the blanket, and he stood on the seat and entered it. Wrapping him, I took him in my arms. The stewardess was going in to that invisible first-class passenger with coffee.

“All set? Why, where’s your coat?” she asked me.

“That lion is all the baggage that I have,” I said. “But that’s all right. I’m country bred. I’m rugged.”

So we were let out, this kid and I, and I carried him down from the ship and over the frozen ground of almost eternal winter, drawing breaths so deep they shook me, pure happiness, while the cold smote me from all sides through the stiff Italian corduroy with its broad wales, and the hairs on my beard turned spiky as the moisture of my breath froze instantly. Slipping, I ran over the ice in those same suede shoes. The socks were rotting within and crumbled, as I had never got around to changing them. I told the kid, “Inhale. Your face is too white from your orphan’s troubles. Breathe in this air, kid, and get a little color.” I held him close to my chest. He didn’t seem to be afraid that I would fall with him. While to me he was like medicine applied, and the air, too; it also was a remedy. Plus the happiness that I expected at Idlewild from meeting Lily. And the lion? He was in it, too. Laps and laps I galloped around the shining and riveted body of the plane, behind the fuel trucks. Dark faces were looking from within. The great beautiful propellers were still, all four of them. I guess I felt it was my turn now to move, and so went running — leaping, leaping, pounding, and tingling over the pure white lining of the gray Arctic silence.

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