Alas, poor gentleman,
He look’d not like the ruins of his youth
But like the ruins of those ruins.
– John Ford, The Broken Heart; i pounds
I managed to get out of taking my French exams the next week, due to the very excellent excuse of having a gunshot wound to the stomach.
They said at the hospital that I was lucky, and I suppose I was.
The bullet drilled me clean through, missing my intestinal wall by a millimeter or two and my spleen by not much more, exiting about an inch and a half to the right of where it came in. I lay flat on my back in the ambulance, feeling the summer night flash by warm and mysterious – kids on bikes, moths haunting the street lamps – and wondering if this was what it was like, if life sped up when you were about to die. Bleeding richly. Sensations fading round the edges. I kept thinking how funny, this dark ride to the underworld, the tunnel illuminated by Shell Oil, Burger King. The paramedic riding in the back wasn’t much older than I was; a kid, really, with bad skin and a downy little moustache.
He had never seen a gunshot wound. He kept asking what it felt like? dull or sharp? an ache or burn? My head was spinning and naturally I could give him no kind of coherent answer but I remember thinking dimly that it was sort of like the first time I got drunk, or slept with a girl; not quite what one expected, really, but once it happened one realized it couldn’t be any other way. Neon lights: Motel 6, Dairy Queen. Colors so bright, they nearly broke my heart.
Henry died, of course. With two bullets to the head I don’t suppose he could have done much else. Still, he lived more than twelve hours, a feat which amazed the doctors. (I was under sedation, this is what they tell me.) Such grave wounds, they said, would have killed most people instantly. I wonder if that means he didn’t want to die; and if so, why he shot himself in the first place. As bad as it looked, there in the Albemarle, I still think we could have patched it up somehow. It wasn’t from desperation that he did it. Nor, I think, was it fear. The business with Julian was heavy on his mind; it had impressed him deeply.
I think he felt the need to make a noble gesture, something to prove to us and to himself that it was in fact possible to put those high cold principles which Julian had taught us to use. Duty, piety, loyalty, sacrifice. I remember his reflection in the mirror as he raised the pistol to his head. His expression was one of rapt concentration, of triumph, almost, a high diver rushing to the end of the board; eyes tight, joyous, waiting for the big splash.
I think about it quite a bit, actually, that look on his face. I think about a lot of things. I think about the first time I ever saw a birch tree; about the last time I saw Julian; about the first sentence that I ever learned in Greek. Xa Xend id Kct Xd. Beauty is harsh.
I did end up graduating from Hampden, with a degree in English literature. And I went to Brooklyn, with my guts taped up like a gangster (‘Well!’ said the professor, ‘this is Brooklyn Heights, not Bensonhurst!’) and spent the summer drowsing on his rooftop deck, smoking cigarettes, reading Proust, dreaming about death and indolence and beauty and time. The gunshot healed, leaving a char mark on my stomach. I went back to school in the fall: a dry, gorgeous September, you wouldn’t believe how beautiful the trees were that year: clear skies, littered groves, people whispering whenever I walked by.
Francis didn’t come back to school that fall. Neither did the twins. The story at the Albemarle was simple, it told itself, really: suicidal Henry, struggle for the gun, leaving me wounded and him dead. In a way I felt this was unfair to Henry but in another it wasn’t. And it made me feel better in some obscure way: imagining myself a hero, rushing fearlessly for the gun, instead of merely loitering in the bullet s path like the bystander which I so essentially am.
Camilla took Charles down to Virginia the day of Henry’s funeral.
It was, incidentally, the same day that Henry and Charles were to have appeared in court. The funeral took place in St. Louis.
None of us was there but Francis. I was still in the hospital, half-delirious, still seeing the overturned wine glass rolling on the carpet and the oak-sprigged wallpaper at the Albemarle.
A few days before, Henry’s mother had stopped in to see me, after she’d been down the hall to see her own son in the morgue.
I wish I remembered more of her visit. All I remember is a pretty lady with dark hair and Henry’s eyes: one of a stream of visitors, real and imagined, living and dead, who drifted in and out of my room, clustering around my bed at all hours. Julian. My dead grandfather. Bunny, indifferent, clipping his fingernails.
She held my hand. I had tried to save her son’s life. There was a doctor in the room, a nurse or two. I saw Henry himself, over her shoulder, standing in the corner in his old gardening clothes.
It was only when I was leaving the hospital, and found the keys to Henry’s car among my things, that I remembered something she’d tried to tell me. In going through Henry’s affairs, she’d discovered that before he died, he was in the process of transferring the registration of his car to my name (which fit neatly with the official story – suicidal young man, giving away his possessions; no one, not even the police, ever tried to reconcile this generosity with the fact that, when Henry died, he believed himself in danger of losing the car). At any rate, the BMW was mine. She’d picked it out herself, she said, as a present for his nineteenth birthday. She couldn’t bear to sell it, or to see it again. This she tried to tell me, crying softly in a chair beside my bed as Henry padded about in the shadows behind her; preoccupied, unnoticed by the nurses; rearranging, with meticulous care, a disordered vase of flowers.
You would think, after all we’d been through, that Francis and the twins and 1 would have kept in better touch over the years. But after Henry died, it was as if some thread which bound us had been abruptly severed, and soon after we began to drift apart.
Francis was in Manhattan the whole summer that I was in Brooklyn. During that time we talked on the telephone maybe five times and saw each other twice. Both times were in a bar on the Upper East Side, directly downstairs from his mother’s apartment. He didn’t like to venture far from home, he said; crowds made him nervous; two blocks away, he said, and he started to feel as though the buildings were going to collapse on him. His hands fidgeted around the ashtray. He was seeing a doctor. He was doing a lot of reading. The people at the bar all seemed to know him.
The twins were in Virginia, sequestered at their grandmother’s, incommunicado. Camilla sent me three postcards that summer and called me twice. Then in October, when I was back at school, she wrote to say that Charles had stopped drinking, hadn’t had a drop for over a month. There was a Christmas card.
In February, a card on my birthday – conspicuously lacking in news of Charles. And then, after that, for a long time, nothing.
Around the time I graduated, there was a sporadic renewal of communications. ‘Who would’ve thought,’ wrote Francis, ‘that you’d be the only one of us to make it out with a diploma.’
Camilla sent her congratulations, and called a couple of times.
There was some talk from both of them about coming up to Hampden, to watch me walk down the aisle, but this did not materialize and I was not very surprised when it didn’t.
I had started to date Sophie Dearbold, my senior year of school, and during my last term I moved into her apartment off-campus: on Water Street, just a few doors down from Henry’s house, where his Madame Isaac Pereire roses were running wild in the back yard (he never lived to see them bloom, it occurs to me, those roses that smelled like raspberries) and where the boxer dog, sole survivor of his chemistry experiments, ran out to bark at me when I walked by. Sophie had a job, after school, with a dance company in Los Angeles. We thought we were in love. There was some talk of getting married. Though everything in my subconscious was warning me not to (at night I dreamed of car crashes, freeway snipers, the glowing eyes of feral dogs in suburban parking lots) I restricted my applications for graduate fellowships to schools in Southern California.
We hadn’t been out there six months when Sophie and I broke up. I was uncommunicative, she said. She never knew what I was thinking. The way I looked at her sometimes, when I woke up in the morning, frightened her.
I spent all my time in the library, reading the Jacobean dramatists.
Webster and Middleton, Tourneur and Ford. It was an obscure specialization, but the candlelit and treacherous universe in which they moved – of sin unpunished, of innocence destroyed – was one I found appealing. Even the titles of their plays were strangely seductive, trapdoors to something beautiful and wicked that trickled beneath the surface of mortality: The Malcontent. The White Devil. The Broken Heart. I pored over them, made notes in the margins. The Jacobeans had a sure grasp of catastrophe. They understood not only evil, it seemed, but the extravagance of tricks with which evil presents itself as good. I felt they cut right to the heart of the matter, to the essential rottenness of the world.
I had always loved Christopher Marlowe, and I found myself thinking a lot about him, too. ‘Kind Kit Marlowe,’ a contemporary had called him. He was a scholar, the friend of Raleigh and of Nashe, the most brilliant and educated of the Cambridge wits.
He moved in the most exalted literary and political circles; of all his fellow poets, the only one to whom Shakespeare ever directly alluded was he; and yet he was also a forger, a murderer, a man of the most dissolute companions and habits, who ‘dyed swearing’ in a tavern at the age of twenty-nine. His companions on that day were a spy, a pickpocket, and a ‘bawdy serving-man.’
One of them stabbed Marlowe, fatally, just above the eye: ‘of which wound the aforesaid Christ. Marlowe died instantly.’
I often thought of these lines of his, from Doctor Faustus: I think my master shortly means to die For he hath given me all his goods… and of this one, spoken as an aside on the day that Faustus in his black robes went to the emperor’s court: I’faith, he looks much like a conjurer.
When I was writing my dissertation, on Tourneur’s The Revenger’s Tragedy, I received the following letter from Francis.
I wish I could say that this is a difficult letter for me to write but in fact it is not. My life has been for many years in a process of dissolution and it seems to me that now, finally, it is time for me to do the honorable thing.
So this is the last chance I will have to speak to you, in this world at least. What I want to say to you is this. Work hard. Be happy with Sophie. [He did not know about our breakup.] Forgive me, for all the things I did but mostly for the ones that I did not.
Mais, vrai, j’ai trop pleure! Les aubes sont navrantes. What a sad and. beautiful line that is. I’d always hoped that someday I’d have the chance to use it. And maybe the dawns will be less harrowing in that country for which I shortly depart. Then again, the Athenians think death to be merely sleep. Soon I will know for myself.
,’ wonder if I will see Henry on the other side. If I do, 1 am looking forward to asking him why the hdl he didn’t just shoot us all and get it over with.
Don’t feel too bad about any of this. Really.
I had not seen him in three years. The letter was postmarked Boston, four days earlier. I dropped everything and drove to the airport and got on the first plane to Logan, where I found Francis in Brigham and Women’s Hospital recuperating from two razor-blade cuts to the wrist.
He looked terrible. He was pale as a corpse. The maid, he said, had found him in the bathtub.
He had a private room. Rain was pounding on the gray windowpanes. I was terribly glad to see him and he, I think, to see me. We talked for hours, about nothing, really.
‘Did you hear I’m going to get married?’ he said presently.
‘No,’ I said, startled.
I thought he was joking. But then he pushed up in his bed a bit and riffled through his night table and found a photograph of her, which he showed to me. Blue-eyed blonde, tastefully clad, built along the Marion line.
‘She’s stupid,’ said Francis passionately. ‘I hate her. Do you know what my cousins call her? The Black Hole.’
‘Why is that?’
‘Because the conversation turns into a vacuum whenever she walks into the room.’
‘Then why are you going to marry her?’
For a moment he didn’t answer. Then he said: ‘I was seeing someone. A lawyer. He’s a bit of a drunk but that’s all right. He went to Harvard. You’d like him. His name is Kim.’
‘And my grandfather found out. In the most melodramatic way you can possibly imagine.’
He reached for a cigarette. I had to light it for him because of his hands. He had injured one of the tendons that led to his thumb.
‘So,’ he said, blowing out a plume of smoke. ‘I have to get married.’
‘Or my grandfather will cut me off without a cent.’
‘Can’t you get by on your own?’ I said.
He said this with such certainty that it irritated me.
‘I do,’ I said.
‘But you’re used to it.’
Just then the door to his room cracked open. It was his nurse – not from the hospital, but one that his mother had privately engaged.
‘Mr Abernathy!’ she said brightly. ‘There’s someone here who wants to see you!’
Francis closed his eyes, then opened them. ‘It’s her,’ he said.
The nurse withdrew. We looked at each other.
‘Don’t do it, Francis,’ I said.
‘I’ve got to.’
The door opened, and the blonde in the photograph – all smiles – waltzed in, wearing a pink sweater with a pattern of snowflakes knit into it, and her hair tied back with a pink ribbon.
She was actually quite pretty. Among her armload of presents were a teddy bear; jelly beans wrapped in cellophane; copies of GQ, The Atlantic Monthly, Esquire: good God, I thought, since when does Francis read magazines?
She walked over to the bed, kissed him briskly on the forehead.
‘Now, sweetie,’ she said to him, ‘I thought we’d decided not to smoke.’
To my surprise, she plucked the cigarette from between his fingers and put it out in the ashtray. Then she looked over at me and beamed.
Francis ran a bandaged hand through his hair. ‘Priscilla,’ he said tonelessly, ‘this is my friend Richard.’
Her blue eyes widened. ‘Hi!’ she said. ‘I’ve heard so much about you!’
‘And I about you,’ I said politely.
She pulled up a chair to Francis’s bed. Pleasant, still smiling, she sat down.
And, as if by magic, the conversation stopped.
Camilla showed up in Boston the next day; she, too, had got a letter from Francis.
I was drowsing in the bedside chair. I’d been reading to Francis, Our Mutual Friend – funny, now I think about it, how much my time with Francis at the hospital in Boston was like the time that Henry spent at the hospital in Vermont with me – and when I woke up, awakened by Francis’s exclamation of surprise, and saw her standing there in the dreary Boston light, I thought that I was dreaming.
She looked older. Cheeks a bit hollower. Different hair, cut very short. Without realizing it, I had come to think of her, too, as a ghost: but to see her, wan but still beautiful, in the flesh, my heart gave such a glad and violent leap that I thought it would burst, I thought I would die, right there.
Francis sat up in bed and held out his arms. ‘Darling,’ he said.
The three of us were in Boston together for four days. It rained the whole time. Francis got out of the hospital on the second day – which, as it happened, was Ash Wednesday.
I had never been to Boston before; I thought it looked like the London I had never seen. Gray skies, sooty brick townhouses, Chinese magnolias in the fog. Camilla and Francis wanted to go to mass, and 1 went along with them. The church was crowded and drafty. I went to the altar with them to get ashes, shuffling along in the swaying line. The priest was bent, in black, very old. He made a cross on my forehead with the flat of his thumb. Dust thou art, to dust thou shall return.1 stood up again when it was time for communion, but Camilla caught my arm and hastily pulled me back. The three of us stayed in our seats as the pews emptied and the long, shuffling line started towards the altar again.
‘You know,’ said Francis, on the way out, ‘I once made the mistake of asking Bunny if he ever thought about Sin.’
‘What did he say?1 asked Camilla.
Francis snorted. ‘He said “No, of course not. I’m not a Catholic.”‘
We loitered all afternoon in a dark little bar on Boylston Street, smoking cigarettes and drinking Irish whiskey. The talk turned to Charles. He, it seemed, had been an intermittent guest at Francis’s over the course of the past few years.
‘Francis lent him quite a bit of money about two years ago,’
Camilla said. ‘It was good of him, but he shouldn’t have done it.’
Francis shrugged and drank off the rest of his glass. It was clear the subject made him uncomfortable. ‘I wanted to,’ he said.
‘You’ll never see it again.’
‘That’s all right.’
I was consumed with curiosity. ‘Where is Charles?’
‘Oh, he’s getting by,’ said Camilla. It was clear the topic made her uncomfortable, too. ‘He worked for my uncle for a little while. Then he had a job playing piano in a bar – which, as you can imagine, didn’t work out so well. Our Nana was distraught.
Finally she had to have my uncle tell him that if he didn’t shape up, he was going to have to move out of the house. So he did.
He got himself a room in town and went on working at the bar.
But they finally fired him and he had to come home again. That was when he started coming up here. It was good of you,’ she said to Francis, ‘to put up with him the way you did.’
He was staring down into his drink. ‘Oh,’ he said, ‘it’s all right.’
‘You were very kind to him.’
‘He was my friend.’
‘Francis,’ said Camilla, ‘lent Charles the money to put himself into a treatment place. A hospital. But he only stayed about a week. He ran off with some thirty-year-old woman he met in the detox ward. Nobody heard from them for about two months.
Finally the woman’s husband ‘
‘She was married?’
‘Yes. Had a baby, too. A little boy. Anyway, the woman’s husband finally hired a private detective, and he tracked them down in San Antonio. They were living in this horrible place, a dump. Charles was washing dishes in a diner, and she – well, I don’t know what she was doing. They were both in kind of bad shape. But neither of them wanted to come home. They were very happy, they said.’
She paused to take a sip of her drink.
‘And?’ I said.
‘And they’re still down there,’ she said. ‘In Texas. Though they’re not in San Antonio anymore. They were in Corpus Christi for a while. The last we heard they’d moved to Galveston.’
‘Doesn’t he ever call?’
There was a long pause. Finally, she said: ‘Charles and I don’t really talk anymore.’
‘Not at all?’
‘Not really, no.’ She took another drink of her whiskey. ‘It’s broken my Nana’s heart,’ she said.
In the rainy twilight, we walked back to Francis’s through the Public Gardens. The lamps were lit.
Very suddenly, Francis said: ‘You know, I keep expecting Henry to show up.’
I was a bit unnerved by this. Though I hadn’t mentioned it, I’d been thinking the same thing. What was more, ever since arriving in Boston I’d kept catching glimpses of people I thought were him: dark figures dashing by in taxicabs, disappearing into office buildings.
‘You know, I thought I saw him when I was lying in the bathtub,’ said Francis. ‘Faucet dripping, blood all over the goddamned place. I thought I saw him standing there in his bathrobe – you know, that one with all the pockets that he kept his cigarettes and stuff in – over by the window, with his back half-turned, and he said to me, in this really disgusted voice: “Well, Francis, I hope you’re happy now.”‘
We kept walking. Nobody said anything.
‘It’s funny,’ said Francis. ‘I have a hard time believing he’s really dead. I mean -1 know there’s no way he could have faked dying – but, you know, if anybody could figure out how to come back, it’s him. It’s kind of like Sherlock Holmes. Going over the Reichenbach Falls. I keep expecting to find that it was all a trick, that he’ll turn up any day now with some kind of elaborate explanation.’
We were crossing a bridge. Yellow streamers of lamplight shimmered bright in the inky water.
‘Maybe it really was him that you saw,’ I said.
‘What do you mean?’
‘I thought I saw him too,’ I said, after a long, thoughtful pause.
‘In my room. While I was in the hospital.’
‘Well, you know what Julian would say,’ said Francis. ‘There are such things as ghosts. People everywhere have always known that. And we believe in them every bit as much as Homer did.
Only now, we call them by different names. Memory. The unconscious.’
‘Do you mind if we change the subject?’ Camilla said, quite suddenly. ‘Please?’
Camilla had to leave on Friday morning. Her grandmother wasn’t well, she said, she had to get back. I didn’t have to be back in California until the following week.
As I stood with her on the platform – she impatient, tapping her foot, leaning forward to look down the tracks – it seemed more than I could bear to see her go. Francis was around the corner, buying her a book to read on the train.
‘I don’t want you to leave,’ I said.
‘I don’t want to, either.’
‘I have to.’
We stood looking at each other. It was raining. She looked at me with her rain-colored eyes.
‘Camilla, I love you,’ I said. ‘Let’s get married.’
She didn’t answer for the longest time. Finally she said: ‘Richard, you know I can’t do that.’
‘I can’t. I can’t just pick up and go to California. My grandmother is old. She can’t get around by herself anymore. She needs someone to look after her.’
‘So forget California. I’ll move back East.’
‘Richard, you can’t. What about your dissertation? School?’
‘I don’t care about school.’
We looked at each other for a long time. Finally, she looked away.
‘You should see the way I live now, Richard,’ she said. ‘My Nana’s in bad shape. It’s all I can do to take care of her, and that big house, too. I don’t have a single friend my own age. I can’t even remember the last time I read a book.’
‘I could help you.’
‘I don’t want you to help me.’ She raised her head and looked at me: her gaze hit me hard and sweet as a shot of morphine.
Till get down on my knees if you want me to,’ I said. ‘Really, I will.’
She closed her eyes, dark-lidded, dark shadows beneath them; she really was older, not the glancing-eyed girl I had fallen in love with but no less beautiful for that; beautiful now in a way that less excited my senses than tore at my very heart.
‘I can’t marry you,’ she said.
I thought she was going to say, Because I don’t love you, which probably would have been more or less the truth, but instead, to my surprise, she said: ‘Because I love Henry.’
‘I can’t help it. I still love him.’
‘I loved him, too,’ I said.
For just a moment, I thought I felt her waver. But then she looked away.
‘I know you did,’ she said. ‘But it’s not enough.’
The rain stayed with me all the way back to California. An abrupt departure, I knew, would be too much; if I was to leave the East at all, I could do so only gradually and so I rented a car, and drove and drove until finally the landscape changed, and I was in the Midwest, and the rain was all I had left of Camilla’s goodbye kiss. Raindrops on the windshield, radio stations fading in and out. Cornfields bleak in all those gray, wide-open reaches. I had said goodbye to her once before, but it took everything I had to say goodbye to her then, again, for the last time, like poor Orpheus turning for a last backwards glance at the ghost of his only love and in the same heartbeat losing her forever: hinc iliac lacrimae, hence those tears.
I suppose nothing remains now but to tell you what happened, as far as I know, to the rest of the players in our story.
Cloke Rayburn, amazingly, ended up going to law school. He is now an associate in mergers and acquisitions at Milbank Tweed in New York, where, interestingly, Hugh Corcoran was just made partner. Word is Hugh got him the job. This might or might not be true, but I tend to think it is, as Cloke almost certainly did not distinguish himself wherever it was that he happened to matriculate. He lives not far from Francis and Priscilla, on Lexington and Eighty-first (Francis, by the way, is supposed to have an incredible apartment; Priscilla’s dad, who’s in real estate, gave it to them for a wedding present) and Francis, who still has trouble sleeping, says he runs into him every now and then in the wee hours of the morning at the Korean deli where they both buy their cigarettes.
Judy Poovey is now something of a minor celebrity. A certified Aerobics instructor, she appears regularly – with a bevy of other muscle-toned beauties – on an exercise program, ‘Power Moves!’ on cable TV.
After school, Frank and Jud went in together and bought the Farmer’s Inn, which has become the preferred Hampden hangout. Supposedly they’re doing a great business. They have a lot of old Hampdenians working for them, including Jack Teitelbaum and Rooney Wynne, according to a feature article not long ago in the alumni magazine.
Somebody told me that Bram Guernsey was in the Green Berets, though I tend to think this is untrue.
Georges Laforgue is still on the Literature and Languages faculty at Hampden, where his enemies have still not managed to supplant him.
Dr Roland is retired from active teaching. He lives in Hampden town, and has published a book of photographs of the college through the years, which has made him much sought-after as an after-dinner speaker at the various clubs in town. He was almost the cause of my not being admitted to graduate school by writing me a recommendation which – though it was a glowing one repeatedly referred to me as ‘Jerry.’
The feral cat that Charles found turned out, surprisingly, to be a rather good pet. He took up with Francis’s cousin Mildred over the summer and in the fall made the move with her to Boston, where he now lives, quite contentedly, in a ten-room apartment on Exeter Street under the name of Princess.’
Marion is married now, to Brady Corcoran. They live in Tarrytown, New York – an easy commute for Brady into the city – and the two of them have a baby now, a girl. She has the distinction of being the first female born into the Corcoran clan for no one even knows how many generations. According to Francis, Mr Corcoran is absolutely wild about her, to the exclusion of all his other children, grandchildren, and pets. She was christened Mary Katherine, a name which has fallen more and more into disuse, as – for reasons best known to themselves – the Corcorans have chosen to give her the nickname ‘Bunny.’
Sophie I hear from now and again. She injured her leg and was out of commission with the dance company for a while, but recently she was given a big role in a new piece. We go out to dinner sometimes. Mostly when she calls it’s late at night, and she wants to talk about her boyfriend problems. I like Sophie. I guess you could say she’s my best friend here. But somehow I never really forgave her for making me move back to this godforsaken place.
I have not laid eyes on Julian since that last afternoon with Henry, in his office. Francis – with extraordinary difficulty managed to get in touch with him a couple of days before Henry’s funeral. He said that Julian greeted him cordially; listened politely to the news of Henry’s demise; then said: ‘I appreciate it, Francis.
But I’m afraid there’s really nothing more that I can do.’
About a year ago Francis repeated to me a rumor – which we subsequently found was complete romance – that Julian had been appointed royal tutor to the little crown prince of Suaoriland, somewhere in East Africa. But this story, though false, took on a curious life in my imagination. What better fate for Julian than someday being the power behind the Suaori throne, than transforming his pupil into a philosopher-king? (The prince in the fiction was only eight.1 wonder what I should be now if Julian had got hold of me when I was only eight years old.) 1 like to think that maybe he – as Aristotle did – would bring up a man who would conquer the world.
But then, as Francis said, maybe not.
I don’t know what happened to Agent Davenport – I expect he’s still living in Nashua, New Hampshire – but Detective Sciola is dead. He died of lung cancer maybe three years ago. I discovered this from a public service announcement that I saw late one night on television. It shows Sciola standing, gaunt and Dantesque, against a black backdrop. ‘By the time you see this announcement,’ he says, ‘I will be dead.’ He goes on to say that it wasn’t a career in law enforcement that killed him but two packs of cigarettes a day. I saw this at about three o’clock in the morning, alone in my apartment, on a black-and-white set with lots of interference. White noise and snow. He seemed to be speaking directly at me, right out of the television set. For a moment I was disoriented, seized by panic; could a ghost embody itself through wavelengths, electronic dots, a picture tube? What are the dead, anyway, but waves and energy? Light shining from a dead star?
That, by the way, is a phrase of Julian’s. I remember it from a lecture of hxis on the Iliad., when Patroklos appears to Achilles in a dream. There is a very moving passage where Achilles overjoyed at the sight of the apparition – tries to throw his arms around the ghost of his old friend, and it vanishes. The dead appear to us in dreams, said Julian, because that’s the only way they can make us see them; what we see is only a projection, beamed from a great distance, light shining at us from a dead star…
Which reminds me, by the way, of a dream I had a couple of weeks ago.
I found myself in a strange deserted city – an old city, like London – underpopulated by war or disease. It was night; the streets were dark, bombed-out, abandoned. For a long time, I wandered aimlessly – past ruined parks, blasted statuary, vacant lots overgrown with weeds and collapsed apartment houses with rusted girders poking out of their sides like ribs. But here and there, interspersed among the desolate shells of the heavy old public buildings, I began to see new buildings, too, which were connected by futuristic walkways lit from beneath. Long, cool perspectives of modern architecture, rising phosphorescent and eerie from the rubble.
I went inside one of these new buildings. It was like a laboratory, maybe, or a museum. My footsteps echoed on the tile floors. There was a cluster of men, all smoking pipes, gathered around an exhibit in a glass case that gleamed in the dim light and lit their faces ghoulishly from below.
I drew nearer. In the case was a machine revolving slowly on a turntable, a machine with metal parts that slid in and out and collapsed in upon themselves to form new images. An Inca temple… click click click… the Pyramids… the Parthenon.
History passing beneath my very eyes, changing every moment.
‘I thought I’d find you here,’ said a voice at my elbow.
It was Henry. His gaze was steady and impassive in the dim light. Above his ear, beneath the wire stem of his spectacles, I could just make out the powder burn and the dark hole in his right temple.
I was glad to see him, though not exactly surprised. ‘You know,’ I said to him, ‘everybody is saying that you’re dead.’
He stared down at the machine. The Colosseum… click click click… the Pantheon. ‘I’m not dead,’ he said. ‘I’m only having a bit of trouble with my passport.’
He cleared his throat. ‘My movements are restricted,’ he said.
‘I no longer have the ability to travel as freely as I would like.’
Hagia Sophia. St. Mark’s, in Venice. ‘What is this place?’ I asked him.
‘That information is classified, I’m afraid.’
1 looked around curiously. It seemed that I was the only visitor.
‘Is it open to the public?’ I said.
‘Not generally, no.’
I looked at him. There was so much I wanted to ask him, so much I wanted to say; but somehow I knew there wasn’t time and even if there was, that it was all, somehow, beside the point.
‘Are you happy here?’ I said at last.
He considered this for a moment. ‘Not particularly,’ he said.
‘But you’re not very happy where you are, either.’
St. Basil’s, in Moscow. Chartres. Salisbury and Amiens. He glanced at his watch.
‘I hope you’ll excuse me,’ he said, ‘but I’m late for an appointment.’
He turned from me and walked away. I watched his back receding down the long, gleaming hall.