“The Handsomest Drowned Man In The World” by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
The first children who saw the dark and slinky bulge approaching through the sea let themselves think it was an enemy ship. Then they saw it had no flags or masts and they thought it was a whale. But when it washed up on the beach, they removed the clumps of seaweed, the jellyfish tentacles, and the remains of fish and flotsam, and only then did they see that it was a drowned man. They had been playing with him all afternoon, burying him in the sand and digging him up again, when someone chanced to see them and spread the alarm in the village. The men who
carried him to the nearest house noticed that he weighed more than any dead man they had ever known, almost as much as a horse, and they said to each other that maybe he'd been floating too long and the water had got into his bones. When they laid him on the floor they said he'd been taller than all other men because there was barely enough room for him in the house, but they thought that maybe the ability to keep on growing after death was part of the nature of certain drowned men. He had the smell of the sea about him and only his shape gave one to suppose that it was the corpse of a human being, because the skin was covered with a crust of mud and scales. They did not even have to clean off his face to know that the dead man was a stranger. The village was made up of only twenty-odd wooden houses that had stone courtyards with no flowers and which were spread about on the end of a desert like cape. There was so little land that mothers always went about with the fear that the wind would carry off their children and the few dead that the years had caused among them had to be thrown off the cliffs. But the sea was calm and bountiful and all the men fitted into seven boats. So when they found the drowned man they simply had to look at one another to see that they were all there. That night they did not go out to work at sea. While the men went to find out if anyone was missing in neighboring villages, the women stayed behind to care for the drowned man. They took the mud off with grass swabs, they removed the underwater stones entangled in his hair, and they scraped the crust off with tools used for scaling fish. As they were doing that they noticed that the vegetation on him came from faraway oceans and deep water and that his clothes were in tatters, as if he had sailed through labyrinths of coral. They noticed too that he bore his death with pride, for he did not have the lonely look of other drowned men who came out of the sea or that haggard, needy look of men who drowned in rivers. But only when they finished cleaning him off did they become aware of the kind of man he was and it left them breathless. Not only was he the tallest, strongest, most virile, and best built man they had ever seen, but even though they were looking at him there was no room for him in their imagination. They could not find a bed in the village large enough to lay him on nor was there a table solid enough to use for his wake. The tallest men's holiday pants would not fit him, nor the fattest ones' Sunday shirts, nor the shoes of the one with the biggest feet. Fascinated by his huge size and his beauty, the women then decided to make him some pants from a large piece of sail and a shirt from some bridal linen so that he could continue through his death with dignity. As they sewed, sitting in a circle and gazing at the corpse between stitches, it seemed to them that the wind had never been so steady nor the sea so restless as on that night and they supposed that the change had something to do with the dead man. They thought that if that magnificent man had lived in the village, his house would have had the widest doors, the highest ceiling, and the strongest floor, his bedstead would have been made from a midship frame held together by iron bolts, and his wife would have been the happiest woman. They thought that he would have had so much authority that he could have drawn fish out of the sea simply by calling their names and that he would have put so much work into his land that springs would have burst forth from among the rocks so that he would have been able to plant flowers on the cliffs. They secretly compared him to their own men, thinking that for all their lives theirs were incapable of doing what he could do in one night, and they ended up dismissing them deep in their hearts as the weakest, meanest and most useless creatures on earth. They were wandering through that maze of fantasy when the oldest woman, who as the oldest had looked upon the drowned man with more compassion than passion, sighed: 'He has the face of someone called Esteban.' It was true. Most of them had only to take another look at him to see that he could not have any other name. The more stubborn among them, who were the youngest, still lived for a few hours with the illusion that when they put his clothes on and he lay among the flowers in patent leather shoes his name might be Lautaro. But it was a vain illusion. There had not been enough canvas, the poorly cut and worse sewn pants were too tight, and the hidden strength of his heart popped the buttons on his shirt. After midnight the whistling of the wind died down and the sea fell into its Wednesday drowsiness. The silence put an end to any last doubts: he was Esteban. The women who had dressed him, who had combed his hair, had cut his nails and shaved him were unable to hold back a shudder of pity when they had to resign themselves to his being dragged along the ground. It was then that they understood how unhappy he must have been with that huge body since it bothered him even after death. They could see him in life, condemned to going through doors sideways, cracking his head on crossbeams, remaining on his feet during visits, not knowing what to do with his soft, pink, sea lion hands while the lady of the house looked for her most resistant chair and begged him, frightened to death, sit here, Esteban, please, and he, leaning against the wall, smiling, don't bother, ma'am, I'm fine where I am, his heels raw and his back roasted from having done the same thing so many times whenever he paid a visit, don't bother, ma'am, I'm fine where I am, just to avoid the embarrassment of breaking up the chair, and never knowing perhaps that the ones who said don't go, Esteban, at least wait till the coffee's ready, were the ones who later on would whisper the big boob finally left, how nice, the handsome fool has gone. That was what the women were thinking beside the body a little before dawn. Later, when they covered his face with a handkerchief so that the light would not bother him, he looked so forever dead, so defenseless, so much like their men that the first furrows of tears opened in their hearts. It was one of the younger ones who began the weeping. The others, coming to, went from sighs to wails, and the more they sobbed the more they felt like weeping, because the drowned man was becoming all the more Esteban for them, and so they wept so much, for he was the more destitute, most peaceful, and most obliging man on earth, poor Esteban. So when the men returned with the news that the drowned man was not from the neighboring villages either, the women felt an opening of jubilation in the midst of their tears. 'Praise the Lord,' they sighed, 'he's ours!' The men thought the fuss was only womanish frivolity. Fatigued because of the difficult night-time inquiries, all they wanted was to get rid of the bother of the newcomer once and for all before the sun grew strong on that arid, windless day. They improvised a litter with the remains of foremasts and gaffs, tying it together with rigging so that it would bear the weight of the body until they reached the cliffs. They wanted to tie the anchor from a cargo ship to him so that he would sink easily into the deepest waves, where fish are blind and divers die of nostalgia, and bad currents would not bring him back to shore, as had happened with other bodies. But the more they hurried, the more the women thought of ways to waste time. They walked about like startled hens, pecking with the sea charms on their breasts, some interfering on one side to put a scapular of the good wind on the drowned man, some on the other side to put a wrist compass on him , and after a great deal of get away from there, woman, stay out of the way, look, you almost made me fall on top of the dead man, the men began to feel mistrust in their livers and started grumbling about why so many main-altar decorations for a stranger, because no matter how many nails and holy-water jars he had on him, the sharks would chew him all the same, but the women kept piling on their junk relics, running back and forth, stumbling, while they released in sighs what they did not in tears, so that the men finally exploded with since when has there ever been such a fuss over a drifting corpse, a drowned nobody, a piece of cold Wednesday meat. One of the women, mortified by so much lack of care, then removed the handkerchief from the dead man's face and the men were left breathless too. He was Esteban. It was not necessary to repeat it for them to recognize him. If they had been told Sir Walter Raleigh, even they might have been impressed with his gringo accent, the macaw on his shoulder, his cannibal-killing blunderbuss, but there could be only one Esteban in the world and there he was, stretched out like a sperm whale, shoeless, wearing the pants of an undersized child, and with those stony nails that had to be cut with a knife. They only had to take the handkerchief off his face to see that he was ashamed, that it was not his fault that he was so big or so heavy or so handsome, and if he had known that this was going to happen, he would have looked for a more discreet place to drown in, seriously, I even would have tied the anchor off a galleon around my neck and staggered off a cliff like someone who doesn't like things in order not to be upsetting people now with this Wednesday dead body, as you people say, in order not to be bothering anyone with this filthy piece of cold meat that doesn't have anything to do with me. There was so much truth in his manner that even the most mistrustful men, the ones who felt the bitterness of endless nights at sea fearing that their women would tire of dreaming about them and begin to dream of drowned men, even they and others who were harder still shuddered in the marrow of their bones at Esteban's sincerity. That was how they came to hold the most splendid funeral they could ever conceive of for an abandoned drowned man. Some women who had gone to get flowers in the neighboring villages returned with other women who could not believe what they had been told, and those women went back for more flowers when they saw the dead man, and they brought more and more until there were so many flowers and so many people that it was hard to walk about. At the final moment it pained them to return him to the waters as an orphan and they chose a father and mother from among the best people, and aunts and uncles and cousins, so that through him all the inhabitants of the village became kinsmen. Some sailors who heard the weeping from a distance went off course and people heard of one who had himself tied to the mainmast, remembering ancient fables about sirens. While they fought for the privilege of carrying him on their shoulders along the steep escarpment by the cliffs, men and women became aware for the first time of the desolation of their streets, the dryness of their courtyards, the narrowness of their dreams as they faced the splendor and beauty of their drowned man. They let him go without an anchor so that he could come back if he wished and whenever he wished, and they all held their breath for the fraction of centuries the body took to fall into the abyss. They did not need to look at one another to realize that they were no longer all present, that they would never be. But they also knew that everything would be different from then on, that their houses would have wider doors, higher ceilings, and stronger floors so that Esteban's memory could go everywhere without bumping into beams and so that no one in the future would dare whisper the big boob finally died, too bad, the handsome fool has finally died, because they were going to paint their house fronts gay colors to make Esteban's memory eternal and they were going to break their backs digging for springs among the stones and planting flowers on the cliffs so that in future years at dawn the passengers on great liners would awaken, suffocated by the smell of gardens on the high seas, and the captain would have to come down from the bridge in his dress uniform, with his astrolabe, his pole star, and his row of war medals and, pointing to the promontory of roses on the horizon, he would say in fourteen languages, look there, where the wind is so peaceful now that it's gone to sleep beneath the beds, over there, where the sun's so bright that the sunflowers don't know which way to turn, yes, over there, that's Esteban's village. __________________________________________________________________________
Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery"
The Lottery The morning of June 27th was clear and sunny, with the fresh warmth of a full-summer day; the flowers were blossoming profusely and the grass was richly green. The people of the village began to gather in the square, between the post office and the bank, around ten o'clock; in some towns there were so many people that the lottery took two days and had to be started on June 2th. but in this village, where there were only about three hundred people, the whole lottery took less than two hours, so it could begin at ten o'clock in the morning and still be
through in time to allow the villagers to get home for noon dinner. The children assembled first, of course. School was recently over for the summer, and the feeling of liberty sat uneasily on most of them; they tended to gather together quietly for a while before they broke into boisterous play. and their talk was still of the classroom and the teacher, of books and reprimands. Bobby Martin had already stuffed his pockets full of stones, and the other boys soon followed his example, selecting the smoothest and roundest stones; Bobby and Harry Jones and Dickie Delacroix-- the villagers pronounced this name "Dellacroy"--eventually made a great pile of stones in one corner of the square and guarded it against the raids of the other boys. The girls stood aside, talking among themselves, looking over their shoulders at the boys. and the very small children rolled in the dust or clung to the hands of their older brothers or sisters.
Soon the men began to gather. surveying their own children, speaking of planting and rain, tractors and taxes. They stood together, away from the pile of stones in the corner, and their jokes were quiet and they smiled rather than laughed. The women, wearing faded house dresses and sweaters, came shortly after their menfolk. They greeted one another and exchanged bits of gossip as they went to join their husbands. Soon the women, standing by their husbands, began to call to their children, and the children came reluctantly, having to be called four or five times. Bobby Martin ducked under his mother's grasping hand and ran, laughing, back to the pile of stones. His father spoke up sharply, and Bobby came quickly and took his place between his father and his oldest brother.
The lottery was conducted--as were the square dances, the teen club, the Halloween program--by Mr. Summers. who had time and energy to devote to civic activities. He was a round-faced, jovial man and he ran the coal business, and people were sorry for him. because he had no children and his wife was a scold. When he arrived in the square, carrying the black wooden box, there was a murmur of conversation among the villagers, and he waved and called. "Little late today, folks." The postmaster, Mr. Graves, followed him, carrying a three- legged stool, and the stool was put in the center of the square and Mr. Summers set the black box down on it. The villagers kept their distance, leaving a space between themselves and the stool. and when Mr. Summers said, "Some of you fellows want to give me a hand?" there was a hesitation before two men. Mr. Martin and his oldest son, Baxter. came forward to hold the box steady on the stool while Mr. Summers stirred up the papers inside it.
The original paraphernalia for the lottery had been lost long ago, and the black box now resting on the stool had been put into use even before Old Man Warner, the oldest man in town, was born. Mr. Summers spoke frequently to the villagers about making a new box, but no one liked to upset even as much tradition as was represented by the black box. There was a story that the present box had been made with some pieces of the box that had preceded it, the one that had been constructed when the first people settled down to make a village here. Every year, after the lottery, Mr. Summers began talking again about a new box, but every year the subject was allowed to fade off without anything's being done. The black box grew shabbier each year: by now it was no longer completely black but splintered badly along one side to show the original wood color, and in some places faded or stained.
Mr. Martin and his oldest son, Baxter, held the black box securely on the stool until Mr. Summers had stirred the papers thoroughly with his hand. Because so much of the ritual had been forgotten or discarded, Mr. Summers had been successful in having slips of paper substituted for the chips of wood that had been used for generations. Chips of wood, Mr. Summers had argued. had been all very well when the village was tiny, but now that the population was more than three hundred and likely to keep on growing, it was necessary to use something that would fit more easily into he black box. The night before the lottery, Mr. Summers and Mr. Graves made up the slips of paper and put them in the box, and it was then taken to the safe of Mr. Summers' coal company and locked up until Mr. Summers was ready to take it to the square next morning. The rest of the year, the box was put way, sometimes one place, sometimes another; it had spent one year in Mr. Graves's barn and another year underfoot in the post office. and sometimes it was set on a shelf in the Martin grocery and left there.
There was a great deal of fussing to be done before Mr. Summers declared the lottery open. There were the lists to make up--of heads of families. heads of households in each family. members of each household in each family. There was the proper swearing-in of Mr. Summers by the postmaster, as the official of the lottery; at one time, some people remembered, there had been a recital of some sort, performed by the official of the lottery, a perfunctory. tuneless chant that had been rattled off duly each year; some people believed that the official of the lottery used to stand just so when he said or sang it, others believed that he was supposed to walk among the people, but years and years ago this p3rt of the ritual had been allowed to lapse. There had been, also, a ritual salute, which the official of the lottery had had to use in addressing each person who came up to draw from the box, but this also had changed with time, until now it was felt necessary only for the official to speak to each person approaching. Mr. Summers was very good at all this; in his clean white shirt and blue jeans. with one hand resting carelessly on the black box. he seemed very proper and important as he talked interminably to Mr. Graves and the Martins.
Just as Mr. Summers finally left off talking and turned to the assembled villagers, Mrs. Hutchinson came hurriedly along the path to the square, her sweater thrown over her shoulders, and slid into place in the back of the crowd. "Clean forgot what day it was," she said to Mrs. Delacroix, who stood next to her, and they both laughed softly. "Thought my old man was out back stacking wood," Mrs. Hutchinson went on. "and then I looked out the window and the kids was gone, and then I remembered it was the twenty-seventh and came a-running." She dried her hands on her apron, and Mrs. Delacroix said, "You're in time, though. They're still talking away up there."
Mrs. Hutchinson craned her neck to see through the crowd and found her husband and children standing near the front. She tapped Mrs. Delacroix on the arm as a farewell and began to make her way through the crowd. The people separated good-humoredly to let her through: two or three people said. in voices just loud enough to be heard across the crowd, "Here comes your, Missus, Hutchinson," and "Bill, she made it after all." Mrs. Hutchinson reached her husband, and Mr. Summers, who had been waiting, said cheerfully. "Thought we were going to have to get on without you, Tessie." Mrs. Hutchinson said. grinning, "Wouldn't have me leave m'dishes in the sink, now, would you. Joe?," and soft laughter ran through the crowd as the people stirred back into position after Mrs. Hutchinson's arrival.
"Well, now." Mr. Summers said soberly, "guess we better get started, get this over with, so's we can go back to work. Anybody ain't here?"
"Dunbar." several people said. "Dunbar. Dunbar."
Mr. Summers consulted his list. "Clyde Dunbar." he said. "That's right. He's broke his leg, hasn't he? Who's drawing for him?"
"Me. I guess," a woman said. and Mr. Summers turned to look at her. "Wife draws for her husband." Mr. Summers said. "Don't you have a grown boy to do it for you, Janey?" Although Mr. Summers and everyone else in the village knew the answer perfectly well, it was the business of the official of the lottery to ask such questions formally. Mr. Summers waited with an expression of polite interest while Mrs. Dunbar answered.
"Horace's not but sixteen vet." Mrs. Dunbar said regretfully. "Guess I gotta fill in for the old man this year."
"Right." Sr. Summers said. He made a note on the list he was holding. Then he asked, "Watson boy drawing this year?"
A tall boy in the crowd raised his hand. "Here," he said. "I m drawing for my mother and me." He blinked his eyes nervously and ducked his head as several voices in the crowd said thin#s like "Good fellow, lack." and "Glad to see your mother's got a man to do it."
"Well," Mr. Summers said, "guess that's everyone. Old Man Warner make it?"
"Here," a voice said. and Mr. Summers nodded.
A sudden hush fell on the crowd as Mr. Summers cleared his throat and looked at the list. "All ready?" he called. "Now, I'll read the names--heads of families first--and the men come up and take a paper out of the box. Keep the paper folded in your hand without looking at it until everyone has had a turn. Everything clear?"
The people had done it so many times that they only half listened to the directions: most of them were quiet. wetting their lips. not looking around. Then Mr. Summers raised one hand high and said, "Adams." A man disengaged himself from the crowd and came forward. "Hi. Steve." Mr. Summers said. and Mr. Adams said. "Hi. Joe." They grinned at one another humorlessly and nervously. Then Mr. Adams reached into the black box and took out a folded paper. He held it firmly by one corner as he turned and went hastily back to his place in the crowd. where he stood a little apart from his family. not looking down at his hand.
"Allen." Mr. Summers said. "Anderson.... Bentham."
"Seems like there's no time at all between lotteries any more." Mrs. Delacroix said to Mrs. Graves in the back row.
"Seems like we got through with the last one only last week."
"Time sure goes fast.-- Mrs. Graves said.
"There goes my old man." Mrs. Delacroix said. She held her breath while her husband went forward.
"Dunbar," Mr. Summers said, and Mrs. Dunbar went steadily to the box while one of the women said. "Go on. Janey," and another said, "There she goes."
"We're next." Mrs. Graves said. She watched while Mr. Graves came around from the side of the box, greeted Mr. Summers gravely and selected a slip of paper from the box. By now, all through the crowd there were men holding the small folded papers in their large hand. turning them over and over nervously Mrs. Dunbar and her two sons stood together, Mrs. Dunbar holding the slip of paper.
"Get up there, Bill," Mrs. Hutchinson said. and the people near her laughed.
"They do say," Mr. Adams said to Old Man Warner, who stood next to him, "that over in the north village they're talking of giving up the lottery."
Old Man Warner snorted. "Pack of crazy fools," he said. "Listening to the young folks, nothing's good enough for them. Next thing you know, they'll be wanting to go back to living in caves, nobody work any more, live hat way for a while. Used to be a saying about 'Lottery in June, corn be heavy soon.' First thing you know, we'd all be eating stewed chickweed and acorns. There's always been a lottery," he added petulantly. "Bad enough to see young Joe Summers up there joking with everybody."
"Some places have already quit lotteries." Mrs. Adams said.
"Nothing but trouble in that," Old Man Warner said stoutly. "Pack of young fools."
"Martin." And Bobby Martin watched his father go forward. "Overdyke.... Percy."
"I wish they'd hurry," Mrs. Dunbar said to her older son. "I wish they'd hurry."
"They're almost through," her son said.
"You get ready to run tell Dad," Mrs. Dunbar said.
Mr. Summers called his own name and then stepped forward precisely and selected a slip from the box. Then he called, "Warner."
"Seventy-seventh year I been in the lottery," Old Man Warner said as he went through the crowd. "Seventy-seventh time."
"Watson" The tall boy came awkwardly through the crowd. Someone said, "Don't be nervous, Jack," and Mr. Summers said, "Take your time, son."
After that, there was a long pause, a breathless pause, until Mr. Summers. holding his slip of paper in the air, said, "All right, fellows." For a minute, no one moved, and then all the slips of paper were opened. Suddenly, all the women began to speak at once, saving. "Who is it?," "Who's got it?," "Is it the Dunbars?," "Is it the Watsons?" Then the voices began to say, "It's Hutchinson. It's Bill," "Bill Hutchinson's got it."
"Go tell your father," Mrs. Dunbar said to her older son.
People began to look around to see the Hutchinsons. Bill Hutchinson was standing quiet, staring down at the paper in his hand. Suddenly. Tessie Hutchinson shouted to Mr. Summers. "You didn't give him time enough to take any paper he wanted. I saw you. It wasn't fair!"
"Be a good sport, Tessie." Mrs. Delacroix called, and Mrs. Graves said, "All of us took the same chance."
"Shut up, Tessie," Bill Hutchinson said.
"Well, everyone," Mr. Summers said, "that was done pretty fast, and now we've got to be hurrying a little more to get done in time." He consulted his next list. "Bill," he said, "you draw for the Hutchinson family. You got any other households in the Hutchinsons?"
"There's Don and Eva," Mrs. Hutchinson yelled. "Make them take their chance!"
"Daughters draw with their husbands' families, Tessie," Mr. Summers said gently. "You know that as well as anyone else."
"It wasn't fair," Tessie said.
"I guess not, Joe." Bill Hutchinson said regretfully. "My daughter draws with her husband's family; that's only fair. And I've got no other family except the kids."
"Then, as far as drawing for families is concerned, it's you," Mr. Summers said in explanation, "and as far as drawing for households is concerned, that's you, too. Right?"
"Right," Bill Hutchinson said.
"How many kids, Bill?" Mr. Summers asked formally.
"Three," Bill Hutchinson said.
"There's Bill, Jr., and Nancy, and little Dave. And Tessie and me."
"All right, then," Mr. Summers said. "Harry, you got their tickets back?"
Mr. Graves nodded and held up the slips of paper. "Put them in the box, then," Mr. Summers directed. "Take Bill's and put it in."
"I think we ought to start over," Mrs. Hutchinson said, as quietly as she could. "I tell you it wasn't fair. You didn't give him time enough to choose. Everybody saw that."
Mr. Graves had selected the five slips and put them in the box. and he dropped all the papers but those onto the ground. where the breeze caught them and lifted them off.
"Listen, everybody," Mrs. Hutchinson was saying to the people around her.
"Ready, Bill?" Mr. Summers asked. and Bill Hutchinson, with one quick glance around at his wife and children. nodded.
"Remember," Mr. Summers said. "take the slips and keep them folded until each person has taken one. Harry, you help little Dave." Mr. Graves took the hand of the little boy, who came willingly with him up to the box. "Take a paper out of the box, Davy." Mr. Summers said. Davy put his hand into the box and laughed. "Take just one paper." Mr. Summers said. "Harry, you hold it for him." Mr. Graves took the child's hand and removed the folded paper from the tight fist and held it while little Dave stood next to him and looked up at him wonderingly.
"Nancy next," Mr. Summers said. Nancy was twelve, and her school friends breathed heavily as she went forward switching her skirt, and took a slip daintily from the box "Bill, Jr.," Mr. Summers said, and Billy, his face red and his feet overlarge, near knocked the box over as he got a paper out. "Tessie," Mr. Summers said. She hesitated for a minute, looking around defiantly. and then set her lips and went up to the box. She snatched a paper out and held it behind her.
"Bill," Mr. Summers said, and Bill Hutchinson reached into the box and felt around, bringing his hand out at last with the slip of paper in it.
The crowd was quiet. A girl whispered, "I hope it's not Nancy," and the sound of the whisper reached the edges of the crowd.
"It's not the way it used to be." Old Man Warner said clearly. "People ain't the way they used to be."
"All right," Mr. Summers said. "Open the papers. Harry, you open little Dave's."
Mr. Graves opened the slip of paper and there was a general sigh through the crowd as he held it up and everyone could see that it was blank. Nancy and Bill. Jr.. opened theirs at the same time. and both beamed and laughed. turning around to the crowd and holding their slips of paper above their heads.
"Tessie," Mr. Summers said. There was a pause, and then Mr. Summers looked at Bill Hutchinson, and Bill unfolded his paper and showed it. It was blank.
"It's Tessie," Mr. Summers said, and his voice was hushed. "Show us her paper. Bill."
Bill Hutchinson went over to his wife and forced the slip of paper out of her hand. It had a black spot on it, the black spot Mr. Summers had made the night before with the heavy pencil in the coal company office. Bill Hutchinson held it up, and there was a stir in the crowd.
"All right, folks." Mr. Summers said. "Let's finish quickly."
Although the villagers had forgotten the ritual and lost the original black box, they still remembered to use stones. The pile of stones the boys had made earlier was ready; there were stones on the ground with the blowing scraps of paper that had come out of the box Delacroix selected a stone so large she had to pick it up with both hands and turned to Mrs. Dunbar. "Come on," she said. "Hurry up."
Mr. Dunbar had small stones in both hands, and she said. gasping for breath. "I can't run at all. You'll have to go ahead and I'll catch up with you."
The children had stones already. And someone gave little Davy Hutchinson few pebbles.
Tessie Hutchinson was in the center of a cleared space by now, and she held her hands out desperately as the villagers moved in on her. "It isn't fair," she said. A stone hit her on the side of the head. Old Man Warner was saying, "Come on, come on, everyone." Steve Adams was in the front of the crowd of villagers, with Mrs. Graves beside him.
"It isn't fair, it isn't right," Mrs. Hutchinson screamed, and then they were upon her.
“The Lottery” Questions
1. What kind of mood does Jackson create in the first paragraph? Write down the details and words from the paragraph that helps to convey this mood.
2. How does the mood shift in the second and third paragraph? Write down the details and words that reflect this shift.
3. What details suggest that the lottery is an extremely important event in the town?
4. How does Jackson create suspense early on in the story?
5. What seems to have been the original purpose of the lottery? Consider the saying: “Lottery in June, corn be heavy soon.” (Think about old traditions)
6. Who are the following people and what are their roles in the story? How might their names be symbolic or ironic?
•Old Man Warner:
7. What is the significance of Tessie’s final scream, “It isn’t fair, it isn’t right?” What aspect of the lottery does she explicitly challenge, and which aspect goes unquestioned?
8. Is there any foreshadowing in the beginning of the story that reveals what is to come at the end? If so, write the examples down.
9. From what point of view is this story written? (1st, 2nd, or 3rd) What is the narrator’s tone? How does the narrator’s tone affect our reading?
10. What do you suppose could be some themes of this story? Remember that a theme is what the author wants to reveal about a certain subject.
11. Is Jackson’s story an accurate portrayal of society?
Literature Book Page 687 Writing - A Modern Monster- Due Wednesday 2/16/2011
Write a one pagedescriptive story (Please Type. No. 12 Font Arial) with vivid imagery.Compose a modern hero story in which the hero must destroy a monster. Decide what your hero and monster will look like, smell like, feel like, sound like, etc. What treasure trove will your monster guard?
Also include a a picture of your monster and hero. You can use the following web sites to help you create your pictures.
Hero Machine lets you create the hero of your dreams, whether you want to be a Greek God or a Super Hero.
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From Sundiata (The Lion King): An Epic of Old Mali
told by D. T. Niane, translated by G. D. Pickett
Maghan Sundiata: the hero of the epic. He is also called Sogolon Djata, Mari Djata, and Djata.
Sogolon Kedjou: Sundiata’s mother, usually referred to as Sogolon.
King Maghan Kon Fatta: Sundiata’s father, the king of Mali. He is also called Naré Maghan.
Sassouma Bérété: the queen mother; the first wife of the king.
Dankaran Touman: Sassouma Bérété’s son. He is King Maghan Kon Fatta’s successor and Sundiata’s half brother.
Balla Fasséké: Sundiata’s griot.
Gnankouman Doua: the king’s griot, father of Balla Fasséké.
Farakourou: master blacksmith and a soothsayer, or fortuneteller.
Nounfaïri: Farakourou’s father, also a master blacksmith and a soothsayer.
When this selection opens, Sundiata is three. It continues four years later, when he is seven. By this time, Sundiata has accepted Balla Fasséké as his griot and has finally said his first words.
God has his mysteries, which none can fathom. You, perhaps, will be a king. You can do nothing about it. You, on the other hand, will be unlucky, but you can do nothing about that either. Each man finds his way already marked out for him, and he can change nothing of it. Sogolon’s son had a slow and difficult childhood. At the age of three he still crawled along on all fours, while children of the same age were already walking. He had nothing of the great beauty of his father, Naré Maghan. He had a head so big that he seemed unable to support it; he also had large eyes, which would open wide whenever anyone entered his mother’s house. He was taciturn and used to spend the whole day just sitting in the middle of the house. Whenever his mother went out, he would crawl on all fours to rummage about in the calabashes in search of food, for he was very greedy.
Malicious tongues began to blab. What three-year-old has not yet taken his first steps? What three-year-old is not the despair of his parents through his whims and shifts of mood? What three-year-old is not the joy of his circle through his backwardness in talking? Sogolon Djata (for it was thus that they called him, prefixing his mother’s name to his), Sogolon Djata, then, was very different from others of his own age. He spoke little and his severe face never relaxed into a smile. You would have thought that he was already thinking, and what amused children of his age bored him. Often Sogolon would make some of them come to him to keep him company. These children were already walking, and she hoped that Djata, seeing his companions walking, would be tempted to do likewise. But nothing came of it. Besides, Sogolon Djata would brain the poor little things with his already strong arms, and none of them would come near him anymore.
The king’s first wife was the first to rejoice at Sogolon Djata’s infirmity. Her own son, Dankaran Touman, was already eleven. He was a fine and lively boy, who spent the day running about the village with those of his own age. He had even begun his initiation in the bush. The king had had a bow made for him, and he used to go behind the town to practice archery with his companions. Sassouma was quite happy and snapped her fingers at Sogolon, whose child was still crawling on the ground. Whenever the latter happened to pass by her house, she would say, “Come, my son, walk, jump, leap about. The jinni didn’t promise you anything out of the ordinary, but I prefer a son who walks on his two legs to a lion that crawls on the ground.” She spoke thus whenever Sogolon went by her door. The innuendo would go straight home, and then she would burst into laughter, that diabolical laughter which a jealous woman knows how to use so well.
Her son’s infirmity weighed heavily upon Sogolon Kedjou; she had resorted to all her talent as a sorceress to give strength to her son’s legs, but the rarest herbs had been useless. The king himself lost hope....
[Four years pass and Sundiata is seven.]
Sogolon Kedjou and her children lived on the queen mother’s leftovers, but she kept a little garden in the open ground behind the village. It was there that she passed her brightest moments looking after her onions and gnougous.4 One day she happened to be short of condiments and went to the queen mother to beg a little baobab leaf. “Look you,” said the malicious Sassouma, “I have a calabash full. Help yourself, you poor woman. As for me, my son knew how to walk at seven, and it was he who went and picked these baobab leaves. Take them, then, since your son is unequal to mine.” Then she laughed derisively with that fierce laughter which cuts through your flesh and penetrates right to the bone.
Sogolon Kedjou was dumbfounded. She had never imagined that hate could be so strong in a human being. With a lump in her throat, she left Sassouma’s. Outside her hut Mari Djata, sitting on his useless legs, was blandly eating out of a calabash. Unable to contain herself any longer, Sogolon burst into sobs and, seizing a piece of wood, hit her son.
“Oh son of misfortune, will you never walk? Through your fault I have just suffered the greatest affront of my life! What have I done, God, for you to punish me in this way?”
Mari Djata seized the piece of wood and, looking at his mother, said, “Mother, what’s the matter?”
“Shut up, nothing can ever wash me clean of this insult.”
“But what, then?”
“Sassouma has just humiliated me over a matter of a baobab leaf. At your age her own son could walk and used to bring his mother baobab leaves.”
“Cheer up, Mother, cheer up.”
“No. It’s too much. I can’t.”
“Very well, then, I am going to walk today,” said Mari Djata. “Go and tell my father’s smiths to make me the heaviest possible iron rod. Mother, do you want just the leaves of the baobab, or would you rather I brought you the whole tree?"
“Ah, my son, to wipe out this insult, I want the tree and its roots at my feet outside my hut.”
Balla Fasséké, who was present, ran to the master smith, Farakourou, to order an iron rod.
Sogolon had sat down in front of her hut. She was weeping softly and holding her head between her two hands. Mari Djata went calmly back to his calabash of rice and began eating again as if nothing had happened. From time to time he looked up discreetly at his mother, who was murmuring in a low voice, “I want the whole tree in front of my hut, the whole tree.”
All of a sudden a voice burst into laughter behind the hut. It was the wicked Sassouma telling one of her serving women about the scene of humiliation, and she was laughing loudly so that Sogolon could hear. Sogolon fled into the hut and hid her face under the blankets so as not to have before her eyes this heedless boy, who was more preoccupied with eating than with anything else. With her head buried in the bed-clothes, Sogolon wept, and her body shook violently. Her daughter, Sogolon Djamarou, had come and sat down beside her, and she said, “Mother, Mother, don’t cry. Why are you crying?”
Mari Djata had finished eating, and dragging himself along on his legs, he came and sat under the wall of the hut, for the sun was scorching. What was he thinking about? He alone knew. The royal forges were situated outside the walls, and over a hundred smiths worked there. The bows, spears, arrows, and shields of Niani’s warriors came from there. When Balla Fasséké came to order the iron rod, Farakourou said to him, “The great day has arrived, then?”
“Yes. Today is a day like any other, but it will see what no other day has seen.”
The master of the forges, Farakourou, was the son of the old Nounfaïri, and he was a soothsayer like his father. In his workshops there was an enormous iron bar wrought by his father, Nounfaïri. Everybody wondered what this bar was destined to be used for. Farakourou called six of his apprentices and told them to carry the iron bar to Sogolon’s house.
When the smiths put the gigantic iron bar down in front of the hut, the noise was so frightening that Sogolon, who was lying down, jumped up with a start. Then Balla Fasséké, son of Gnankouman Doua, spoke.
“Here is the great day, Mari Djata. I am speaking to you, Maghan, son of Sogolon. The waters of the Niger can efface the stain from the body, but they cannot wipe out an insult. Arise, young lion, roar, and may the bush know that from henceforth it has a master.”
The apprentice smiths were still there, Sogolon had come out, and everyone was watching Mari Djata. He crept on all fours and came to the iron bar. Supporting himself on his knees and one hand, with the other hand he picked up the iron bar without any effort and stood it up vertically. Now he was resting on nothing but his knees and held the bar with both his hands. A deathly silence had gripped all those present. Sogolon Djata closed his eyes, held tight; the muscles in his arms tensed. With a violent jerk he threw his weight onto the bar and his knees left the ground. Sogolon Kedjou was all eyes and watched her son’s legs, which were trembling as though from an electric shock. Djata was sweating, and the sweat ran from his brow. In a great effort, he straightened up and was on his feet at one go—but the great bar of iron was twisted and had taken the form of a bow!
Then Balla Fasséké sang out the “Hymn to the Bow,” striking up with his powerful voice:
Take your bow, Simbon,
Take your bow and let us go.
Take your bow, Sogolon Djata.
When Sogolon saw her son standing, she stood dumb for a moment; then suddenly she sang these words of thanks to God, who had given her son the use of his legs:
Oh day, what a beautiful day,
Oh day, day of joy;
Allah Almighty, you never created a finer day.
So my son is going to walk!
Standing in the position of a soldier at ease, Sogolon Djata, supported by his enormous rod, was sweating great beads of sweat. Balla Fasséké’s song had alerted the whole palace; people came running from all over to see what had happened, and each stood bewildered before Sogolon’s son. The queen mother had rushed there, and when she saw Mari Djata standing up, she trembled from head to foot. After recovering his breath, Sogolon’s son dropped the bar and the crowd stood to one side. His first steps were those of a giant. Balla Fasséké fell into step, and pointing his finger at Djata, he cried:
Room, room, make room!
The lion has walked;
Get out of his way.
Behind Niani there was a young baobab tree, and it was there that the children of the town came to pick leaves for their mothers. With all his might the son of Sogolon tore up the tree and put it on his shoulders and went back to his mother. He threw the tree in front of the hut and said, “Mother, here are some baobab leaves for you. From henceforth it will be outside your hut that the women of Niani will come to stock up.”
After the events related in this selection from the epic, the queen mother plots to have Sundiata killed. Sundiata escapes into exile and journeys from one kingdom to the other until he finds refuge with the king of Mema, who makes him his heir.
When Sundiata is eighteen years old, the people of Mali beg him to return. He raises an army, and with supernatural help from the same blacksmith-magician who aided him before, he defeats his enemies and unites the kingdom. Under Sundiata’s rule, Mali, the “Bright Country,” becomes one of the most powerful empires in Africa. Its rulers control the salt and gold trades and dominate western Sudan from about A.D. 1200 to A.D. 1500.
Contents of the Dead Man's Pocket by Jack Finney - Literature Book Pages 4 - 17
At the little living-room desk Tom Benecke rolled two sheets of flimsy and a heavier top sheet, carbon paper sandwiched between them, into his portable. Interoffice Memo, the top sheet was headed, and he typed tomorrow's date just below this; then he glanced at a creased yellow sheet, covered with his own handwriting, beside the typewriter. "Hot in here," he muttered to himself. Then, from the short hallway at his back, he heard the muffled clang of wire coat hangers in the bedroom closet, and at this reminder of what his wife was doing he thought: Hot, hell—guilty conscience.
He got up, shoving his hands into the back pockets of his gray wash slacks, stepped to the living-room window beside the desk, and stood breathing on the glass, watching the expanding circlet of mist, staring down through the autumn night at Lexington Avenue, eleven stories below. He was a tall, lean, dark-haired young man in a pullover sweater, who looked as though he had played not football, probably, but basketball in college. Now he placed the heels of his hands against the top edge of the lower window frame and shoved upward. But as usual the window didn't budge, and he had to lower his hands and then shoot them hard upward to jolt the window open a few inches. He dusted his hands, muttering.
But still he didn't begin his work. He crossed the room to the hallway entrance and, leaning against the doorjamb, hands shoved into his back pockets again, he called, "Clare?" When his wife answered, he said, "Sure you don't mind going alone?"
"No." Her voice was muffled, and he knew her head and shoulders were in the bedroom closet. Then the tap of her high heels sounded on the wood floor and she appeared at the end of the little hallway, wearing a slip, both hands raised to one ear, clipping on an earring. She smiled at him—a slender, very pretty girl with light brown, almost blonde, hair—her prettiness emphasized by the pleasant nature that showed in her face. "It's just that I hate you to miss this movie; you wanted to see it too."
"Yeah, I know." He ran his fingers through his hair. "Got to get this done though."
She nodded, accepting this. Then, glancing at the desk across the living room, she said, "You work too much, though, Tom—and too hard."
He smiled. "You won't mind though, will you, when the money comes rolling in and I'm known as the Boy Wizard of Wholesale Groceries?"
"I guess not." She smiled and turned back toward the bedroom.
At his desk again, Tom lighted a cigarette; then a few moments later as Clare appeared, dressed and ready to leave, he set it on the rim of the ash tray. "Just after seven," she said. "I can make the beginning of the first feature."
He walked to the front-door closet to help her on with her coat. He kissed her then and, for an instant, holding her close, smelling the perfume she had used, he was tempted to go with her; it was not actually true that he had to work tonight, though he very much wanted to. This was his own project, unannounced as yet in his office, and it could be postponed. But then they won't see it till Monday, he thought once again, and if I give it to the boss tomorrow he might read it over the weekend … "Have a good time," he said aloud. He gave his wife a little swat and opened the door for her, feeling the air from the building hallway, smelling faintly of floor wax, stream past his face.
He watched her walk down the hall, flicked a hand in response as she waved, and then he started to close the door, but it resisted for a moment. As the door opening narrowed, the current of warm air from the hallway, channeled through this smaller opening now, suddenly rushed past him with accelerated force. Behind him he heard the slap of the window curtains against the wall and the sound of paper fluttering from his desk, and he had to push to close the door.
Turning, he saw a sheet of white paper drifting to the floor in a series of arcs, and another sheet, yellow, moving toward the window, caught in the dying current flowing through the narrow opening. As he watched, the paper struck the bottom edge of the window and hung there for an instant, plastered against the glass and wood. Then as the moving air stilled completely, the curtains swinging back from the wall to hang free again, he saw the yellow sheet drop to the window ledge and slide over out of sight.
He ran across the room, grasped the bottom edge of the window, and tugged, staring through the glass. He saw the yellow sheet, dimly now in the darkness outside, lying on the ornamental ledge a yard below the window. Even as he watched, it was moving, scraping slowly along the ledge, pushed by the breeze that pressed steadily against the building wall. He heaved on the window with all his strength and it shot open with a bang, the window weight rattling in the casing. But the paper was past his reach and, leaning out into the night, he watched it scud steadily along the ledge to the south, half-plastered against the building wall. Above the muffled sound of the street traffic far below, he could hear the dry scrape of its movement, like a leaf on the pavement.
The living room of the next apartment to the south projected a yard or more farther out toward the street than this one; because of this the Beneckes paid seven and a half dollars less rent than their neighbors. And now the yellow sheet, sliding along the stone ledge, nearly invisible in the night, was stopped by the projecting blank wall of the next apartment. It lay motionless, then, in the corner formed by the two walls—a good five yards away, pressed firmly against the ornate corner ornament of the ledge, by the breeze that moved past Tom Benecke's face.
He knelt at the window and stared at the yellow paper for a full minute or more, waiting for it to move, to slide off the ledge and fall, hoping he could follow its course to the street, and then hurry down in the elevator and retrieve it. But it didn't move, and then he saw that the paper was caught firmly between a projection of the convoluted corner ornament and the ledge. He thought about the poker from the fireplace, then the broom, then the mop—discarding each thought as it occurred to him. There was nothing in the apartment long enough to reach that paper.
It was hard for him to understand that he actually had to abandon it—it was ridiculous—and he began to curse. Of all the papers on his desk, why did it have to be this one in particular! On four long Saturday afternoons he had stood in supermarkets counting the people who passed certain displays, and the results were scribbled on that yellow sheet. From stacks of trade publications, gone over page by page in snatched half-hours at work and during evenings at home, he had copied facts, quotations, and figures onto that sheet. And he had carried it with him to the Public Library on Fifth Avenue, where he'd spent a dozen lunch hours and early evenings adding more. All were needed to support and lend authority to his idea for a new grocery-store display method; without them his idea was a mere opinion. And there they all lay in his own improvised shorthand—countless hours of work—out there on the ledge.
For many seconds he believed he was going to abandon the yellow sheet, that there was nothing else to do. The work could be duplicated. But it would take two months, and the time to present this idea was now, for use in the spring displays. He struck his fist on the window ledge. Then he shrugged. Even though his plan were adopted, he told himself, it wouldn't bring him a raise in pay—not immediately, anyway, or as a direct result. It won't bring me a promotion either, he argued—not of itself.
But just the same, and he couldn't escape the thought, this and other independent projects, some already done and others planned for the future, would gradually mark him out from the score of other young men in his company. They were the way to change from a name on the payroll to a name in the minds of the company officials. They were the beginning of the long, long climb to where he was determined to be, at the very top. And he knew he was going out there in the darkness, after the yellow sheet fifteen feet beyond his reach.
By a kind of instinct, he instantly began making his intention acceptable to himself by laughing at it. The mental picture of himself sidling along the ledge outside was absurd—it was actually comical—and he smiled. He imagined himself describing it; it would make a good story at the office and, it occurred to him, would add a special interest and importance to his memorandum, which would do it no harm at all.
To simply go out and get his paper was an easy task—he could be back here with it in less than two minutes—and he knew he wasn't deceiving himself. The ledge, he saw, measuring it with his eye, was about as wide as the length of his shoe, and perfectly flat. And every fifth row of brick in the face of the building, he remembered—leaning out, he verified this—was indented half an inch, enough for the tips of his fingers, enough to maintain balance easily. It occurred to him that if this ledge and wall were only a yard above ground—as he knelt at the window staring out, this thought was the final confirmation of his intention—he could move along the ledge indefinitely.
On a sudden impulse, he got to his feet, walked to the front closet, and took out an old tweed jacket; it would be cold outside. He put it on and buttoned it as he crossed the room rapidly toward the open window. In the back of his mind he knew he'd better hurry and get this over with before he thought too much, and at the window he didn't allow himself to hesitate.
He swung a leg over the sill, then felt for and found the ledge a yard below the window with his foot. Gripping the bottom of the window frame very tightly and carefully, he slowly ducked his head under it, feeling on his face the sudden change from the warm air of the room to the chill outside. With infinite care he brought out his other leg, his mind concentrating on what he was doing. Then he slowly stood erect. Most of the putty, dried out and brittle, had dropped off the bottom edging of the window frame, he found, and the flat wooden edging provided a good gripping surface, a half-inch or more deep, for the tips of his fingers.
Now, balanced easily and firmly, he stood on the ledge outside in the slight, chill breeze, eleven stories above the street, staring into his own lighted apartment, odd and different-seeming now.
First his right hand, then his left, he carefully shifted his finger-tip grip from the puttyless window edging to an indented row of bricks directly to his right. It was hard to take the first shuffling sideways step then—to make himself move—and the fear stirred in his stomach, but he did it, again by not allowing himself time to think. And now—with his chest, stomach, and the left side of his face pressed against the rough cold brick—his lighted apartment was suddenly gone, and it was much darker out here than he had thought.
Without pause he continued—right foot, left foot, right foot, left—his shoe soles shuffling and scraping along the rough stone, never lifting from it, fingers sliding along the exposed edging of brick. He moved on the balls of his feet, heels lifted slightly; the ledge was not quite as wide as he'd expected. But leaning slightly inward toward the face of the building and pressed against it, he could feel his balance firm and secure, and moving along the ledge was quite as easy as he had thought it would be. He could hear the buttons of his jacket scraping steadily along the rough bricks and feel them catch momentarily, tugging a little, at each mortared crack. He simply did not permit himself to look down, though the compulsion to do so never left him; nor did he allow himself actually to think. Mechanically—right foot, left foot, over and again—he shuffled along crabwise, watching the projecting wall ahead loom steadily closer ….
Then he reached it and, at the corner—he'd decided how he was going to pick up the paper—he lifted his right foot and placed it carefully on the ledge that ran along the projecting wall at a right angle to the ledge on which his other foot rested. And now, facing the building, he stood in the corner formed by the two walls, one foot on the ledging of each, a hand on the shoulder-high indentation of each wall. His forehead was pressed directly into the corner against the cold bricks, and now he carefully lowered first one hand, then the other, perhaps a foot farther down, to the next indentation in the rows of bricks.
Very slowly, sliding his forehead down the trough of the brick corner and bending his knees, he lowered his body toward the paper lying between his outstretched feet. Again he lowered his fingerholds another foot and bent his knees still more, thigh muscles taut, his forehead sliding and bumping down the brick V. Half-squatting now, he dropped his left hand to the next indentation and then slowly reached with his right hand toward the paper between his feet.
He couldn't quite touch it, and his knees now were pressed against the wall; he could bend them no farther. But by ducking his head another inch lower, the top of his head now pressed against the bricks, he lowered his right shoulder and his fingers had the paper by a corner, pulling it loose. At the same instant he saw, between his legs and far below, Lexington Avenue stretched out for miles ahead.
He saw, in that instant, the Loew's theater sign, blocks ahead past Fiftieth Street; the miles of traffic signals, all green now; the lights of cars and street lamps; countless neon signs; and the moving black dots of people. And a violent instantaneous explosion of absolute terror roared through him. For a motionless instant he saw himself externally—bent practically double, balanced on this narrow ledge, nearly half his body projecting out above the street far below—and he began to tremble violently, panic flaring through his mind and muscles, and he felt the blood rush from the surface of his skin.
In the fractional moment before horror paralyzed him, as he stared between his legs at that terrible length of street far beneath him, a fragment of his mind raised his body in a spasmodic jerk to an upright position again, but so violently that his head scraped hard against the wall, bouncing off it, and his body swayed outward to the knife edge of balance, and he very nearly plunged backward and fell. Then he was leaning far into the corner again, squeezing and pushing into it, not only his face but his chest and stomach, his back arching; and his finger tips clung with all the pressure of his pulling arms to the shoulder-high half-inch indentation in the bricks.
He was more than trembling now; his whole body was racked with a violent shuddering beyond control, his eyes squeezed so tightly shut it was painful, though he was past awareness of that. His teeth were exposed in a frozen grimace, the strength draining like water from his knees and calves. It was extremely likely, he knew, that he would faint, slump down along the wall, his face scraping, and then drop backward, a limp weight, out into nothing. And to save his life he concentrated on holding on to consciousness, drawing deliberate deep breaths of cold air into his lungs, fighting to keep his senses aware.
Then he knew that he would not faint, but he could not stop shaking nor open his eyes. He stood where he was, breathing deeply, trying to hold back the terror of the glimpse he had had of what lay below him; and he knew he had made a mistake in not making himself stare down at the street, getting used to it and accepting it, when he had first stepped out onto the ledge.
It was impossible to walk back. He simply could not do it. He couldn't bring himself to make the slightest movement. The strength was gone from his legs; his shivering hands—numb, cold, and desperately rigid—had lost all deftness; his easy ability to move and balance was gone. Within a step or two, if he tried to move, he knew that he would stumble and fall.
Seconds passed, with the chill faint wind pressing the side of his face, and he could hear the toned-down volume of the street traffic far beneath him. Again and again it slowed and then stopped, almost to silence; then presently, even this high, he would hear the click of the traffic signals and the subdued roar of the cars starting up again. During a lull in the street sounds, he called out. Then he was shouting "Help!" so loudly it rasped his throat. But he felt the steady pressure of the wind, moving between his face and the blank wall, snatch up his cries as he uttered them, and he knew they must sound directionless and distant. And he remembered how habitually, here in New York, he himself heard and ignored shouts in the night. If anyone heard him, there was no sign of it, and presently Tom Benecke knew he had to try moving; there was nothing else he could do.
Eyes squeezed shut, he watched scenes in his mind like scraps of motion-picture film—he could not stop them. He saw himself stumbling suddenly sideways as he crept along the ledge and saw his upper body arc outward, arms flailing. He was a dangling shoestring caught between the ledge and the sole of his other shoe, saw a foot start to move, to be stopped with a jerk, and felt his balance leaving him. He saw himself falling with a terrible speed as his body revolved in the air, knees clutched tight to his chest, eyes squeezed shut, moaning softly.
Out of utter necessity, knowing that any of these thoughts might be reality in the very next seconds, he was slowly able to shut his mind against every thought but what he now began to do. With fear-soaked slowness, he slid his left foot an inch or two toward his own impossibly distant window. Then he slid the fingers of his shivering left hand a corresponding distance. For a moment he could not bring himself to lift his right foot from one ledge to the other; then he did it, and became aware of the harsh exhalation of air from his throat and realized that he was panting. As his right hand, then, began to slide along the brick edging, he was astonished to feel the yellow paper pressed to the bricks underneath his stiff fingers, and he uttered a terrible, abrupt bark that might have been a laugh or a moan. He opened his mouth and took the paper in his teeth pulling it out from under his fingers.
By a kind of trick—by concentrating his entire mind on first his left foot, then his left hand, then the other foot, then the other hand—he was able to move, almost imperceptibly, trembling steadily, very nearly without thought. But he could feel the terrible strength of the pent-up horror on just the other side of the flimsy barrier he had erected in his mind; and he knew that if it broke through he would lose this thin artificial control of his body.
During one slow step he tried keeping his eyes closed; it made him feel safer shutting him off a little from the fearful reality of where he was. Then a sudden rush of giddiness swept over him and he had to open his eyes wide, staring sideways at the cold rough brick and angled lines of mortar, his cheek tight against the building. He kept his eyes open then knowing that if he once let them flick outward, to stare for an instant at the lighted windows across the street, he would be past help.
He didn't know how many dozens of tiny sidling steps he had taken, his chest, belly, and face pressed to the wall; but he knew the slender hold he was keeping on his mind and body was going to break. He had a sudden mental picture of his apartment on just the other side of this wall—warm, cheerful, incredibly spacious. And he saw himself striding through it lying down on the floor on his back, arms spread wide, reveling in its unbelievable security. The impossible remoteness of this utter safety, the contrast between it and where he now stood, was more than he could bear. And the barrier broke then and the fear of the awful height he stood on coursed through his nerves and muscles.
A fraction of his mind knew he was going to fall, and he began taking rapid blind steps with no feeling of what he was doing, sidling with a clumsy desperate swiftness, fingers scrabbling along the brick, almost hopelessly resigned to the sudden backward pull and swift motion outward and down. Then his moving left hand slid onto not brick but sheer emptiness, an impossible gap in the face of the wall, and he stumbled.
His right foot smashed into his left anklebone; he staggered sideways, began falling, and the claw of his hand cracked against glass and wood, slid down it, and his finger tips were pressed hard on the puttyless edging of his window. His right hand smacked gropingly beside it as he fell to his knees; and, under the full weight and direct downward pull of his sagging body, the open window dropped shudderingly in its frame till it closed and his wrists struck the sill and were jarred off.
For a single moment he knelt, knee bones against stone on the very edge of the ledge, body swaying and touching nowhere else, fighting for balance. Then he lost it, his shoulders plunging backward, and he flung his arms forward, his hands smashing against the window casing on either side; and—his body moving backward—his fingers clutched the narrow wood stripping of the upper pane.
For an instant he hung suspended between balance and falling, his finger tips pressed onto the quarter-inch wood strips. Then, with utmost delicacy, with a focused concentration of all his senses, he increased even further the strain on his finger tips hooked to these slim edgings of wood. Elbows slowly bending, he began to draw the full weight of his upper body forward, knowing that the instant his fingers slipped off these quarter-inch strips he'd plunge backward and be falling. Elbows imperceptibly bending, body shaking with the strain, the sweat starting from his forehead in great sudden drops, he pulled, his entire being and thought concentrated in his finger tips. Then suddenly, the strain slackened and ended, his chest touching the window sill, and he was kneeling on the ledge, his forehead pressed to the glass of the closed window.
Dropping his palms to the sill, he stared into his living room—at the red-brown davenport across the room, and a magazine he had left there; at the pictures on the walls and the gray rug; the entrance to the hallway; and at his papers, typewriter, and desk, not two feet from his nose. A movement from his desk caught his eye and he saw that it was a thin curl of blue smoke; his cigarette, the ash long, was still burning in the ash tray where he'd left it—this was past all belief—only a few minutes before.
His head moved, and in faint reflection from the glass before him he saw the yellow paper clenched in his front teeth. Lifting a hand from the sill he took it from his mouth; the moistened corner parted from the paper, and he spat it out.
For a moment, in the light from the living room, he stared wonderingly at the yellow sheet in his hand and then crushed it into the side pocket of his jacket.
He couldn't open the window. It had been pulled not completely closed, but its lower edge was below the level of the outside sill; there was no room to get his fingers underneath it. Between the upper sash and the lower was a gap not wide enough—reaching up, he tried—to get his fingers into; he couldn't push it open. The upper window panel, he knew from long experience, was impossible to move, frozen tight with dried paint.
Very carefully observing his balance, the finger tips of his left hand again hooked to the narrow stripping of the window casing, he drew back his right hand, palm facing the glass, and then struck the glass with the heel of his hand.
His arm rebounded from the pane, his body tottering. He knew he didn't dare strike a harder blow.
But in the security and relief of his new position, he simply smiled; with only a sheet of glass between him and the room just before him, it was not possible that there wasn't a way past it. Eyes narrowing, he thought for a few moments about what to do. Then his eyes widened, for nothing occurred to him. But still he felt calm: the trembling, he realized, had stopped. At the back of his mind there still lay the thought that once he was again in his home, he could give release to his feelings. He actually would lie on the floor, rolling, clenching tufts of the rug in his hands. He would literally run across the room, free to move as he liked, jumping on the floor, testing and reveling in its absolute security, letting the relief flood through him, draining the fear from his mind and body. His yearning for this was astonishingly intense, and somehow he understood that he had better keep this feeling at bay.
He took a half dollar from his pocket and struck it against the pane, but without any hope that the glass would break and with very little disappointment when it did not. After a few moments of thought he drew his leg onto the ledge and picked loose the knot of his shoelace. He slipped off the shoe and, holding it across the instep, drew back his arm as far as he dared and struck the leather heel against the glass. The pane rattled, but he knew he'd been a long way from breaking it. His foot was cold and he slipped the shoe back on. He shouted again, experimentally, and then once more, but there was no answer.
The realization suddenly struck him that he might have to wait here till Clare came home, and for a moment the thought was funny. He could see Clare opening the front door, withdrawing her key from the lock, closing the door behind her, and then glancing up to see him crouched on the other side of the window. He could see her rush across the room, face astounded and frightened, and hear himself shouting instructions: "Never mind how I got here! Just open the wind—" She couldn't open it, he remembered, she'd never been able to; she'd always had to call him. She'd have to get the building superintendent or a neighbor, and he pictured himself smiling, and answering their questions as he climbed in. "I just wanted to get a breath of fresh air, so—"
He couldn't possibly wait here till Clare came home. It was the second feature she'd wanted to see, and she'd left in time to see the first. She'd be another three hours or— He glanced at his watch: Clare had been gone eight minutes. It wasn't possible, but only eight minutes ago he had kissed his wife good-by. She wasn't even at the theater yet!
It would be four hours before she could possibly be home, and he tried to picture himself kneeling out here, finger tips hooked to these narrow strippings, while first one movie, preceded by a slow listing of credits, began, developed, reached its climax, and then finally ended. There'd be a newsreel next, maybe, and then an animated cartoon, and then interminable scenes from coming pictures. And then, once more, the beginning of a full-length picture—while all the time he hung out here in the night.
He might possibly get to his feet, but he was afraid to try. Already his legs were cramped, his thigh muscles tired; his knees hurt, his feet felt numb, and his hands were stiff. He couldn't possibly stay out here for four hours, or anywhere near it. Long before that his legs and arms would give out; he would be forced to try changing his position often—stiffly, clumsily, his coordination and strength gone—and he would fall. Quite realistically, he knew that he would fall; no one could stay out here on this ledge for four hours.
A dozen windows in the apartment building across the street were lighted. Looking over his shoulder, he could see the top of a man's head behind the newspaper he was reading; in another window he saw the blue-gray flicker of a television screen. No more than twenty-odd yards from his back were scores of people, and if just one of them would walk idly to his window and glance out. … For some moments he stared over his shoulder at the lighted rectangles, waiting. But no one appeared. The man reading his paper turned a page and then continued his reading. A figure passed another of the windows and was immediately gone.
In the inside pocket of his jacket he found a little sheaf of papers, and he pulled one out and looked at it in the light from the living room. It was an old letter, an advertisement of some sort; his name and address, in purple ink, were on a label pasted to the envelope. Gripping one end of the envelope in his teeth, he twisted it into a tight curl. From his shirt pocket he brought out a book of matches. He didn't dare let go the casing with both hands but, with the twist of paper in his teeth, he opened the matchbook with his free hand; then he bent one of the matches in two without tearing it from the folder, its red tipped end now touching the striking surface. With his thumb, he rubbed the red tip across the striking area.
He did it again, then again and still again, pressing harder each time, and the match suddenly flared, burning his thumb. But he kept it alight, cupping the matchbook in his hand and shielding it with his body. He held the flame to the paper in his mouth till it caught. Then he snuffed out the match flame with his thumb and forefinger, careless of the burn, and replaced the book in his pocket. Taking the paper twist in his hand, he held it flame down, watching the flame crawl up the paper, till it flared bright. Then he held it behind him over the street, moving it from side to side, watching it over his shoulder, the flame flickering and guttering in the wind.
There were three letters in his pocket and he lighted each of them, holding each till the flame touched his hand and then dropping it to the street below. At one point, watching over his shoulder while the last of the letters burned, he saw the man across the street put down his paper and stand—even seeming to glance toward Tom's window. But when he moved, it was only to walk across the room and disappear from sight.
There were a dozen coins in Tom Benecke's pocket and he dropped them, three or four at a time. But if they struck anyone, or if anyone noticed their falling, no one connected them with their source.
His arms had begun to tremble from the steady strain of clinging to this narrow perch, and he did not know what to do now and was terribly frightened. Clinging to the window stripping with one hand, he again searched his pockets. But now—he had left his wallet on his dresser when he'd changed clothes—there was nothing left but the yellow sheet. It occurred to him irrelevantly that his death on the sidewalk below would be an eternal mystery; the window closed—why, how, and from where could he have fallen? No one would be able to identify his body for a time, either—the thought was somehow unbearable and increased his fear. All they'd find in his pockets would be the yellow sheet. Contents of the dead man's pockets, he thought, one sheet of paper bearing penciled notations-incomprehensible.
He understood fully that he might actually be going to die; his arms, maintaining his balance on the ledge, were trembling steadily now. And it occurred to him then with all the force of a revelation that, if he fell, all he was ever going to have out of life he would then, abruptly, have had. Nothing, then, could ever be changed; and nothing more—no least experience or pleasure—could ever be added to his life. He wished, then, that he had not allowed his wife to go off by herself tonight—and on similar nights. He thought of all the evenings he had spent away from her, working; and he regretted them. He thought wonderingly of his fierce ambition and of the direction his life had taken; he thought of the hours he'd spent by himself, filling the yellow sheet that had brought him out here. Contents of the dead man's pockets, he thought with sudden fierce anger, a wasted life.
He was simply not going to cling here till he slipped and fell; he told himself that now. There was one last thing he could try; he had been aware of it for some moments, refusing to think about it, but now he faced it. Kneeling here on the ledge, the finger tips of one hand pressed to the narrow strip of wood, he could, he knew, draw his other hand back a yard perhaps, fist clenched tight, doing it very slowly till he sensed the outer limit of balance, then, as hard as he was able from the distance, he could drive his fist forward against the glass. If it broke, his fist smashing through, he was safe; he might cut himself badly, and probably would, but with his arm inside the room, he would be secure. But if the glass did not break, the rebound, flinging his arm back, would topple him off the ledge. He was certain of that.
He tested his plan. The fingers of his left hand clawlike on the little stripping, he drew back his other fist until his body began teetering backward. But he had no leverage now—he could feel that there would be no force to his swing—and he moved his fist slowly forward till he rocked forward on his knees again and could sense that this swing would carry its greatest force. Glancing down, however, measuring the distance from his fist to the glass, he saw it was less than two feet.
It occurred to him that he could raise his arm over his head, to bring it down against the glass. But, experimenting in slow motion, he knew it would be an awkward girl-like blow without the force of a driving punch, and not nearly enough to break the glass.
Facing the window, he had to drive a blow from the shoulder, he knew now, at a distance of less than two feet; and he did not know whether it would break through the heavy glass. It might; he could picture it happening, he could feel it in the nerves of his arm. And it might not; he could feel that too—feel his fist striking this glass and being instantaneously flung back by the unbreaking pane, feel the fingers of his other hand breaking loose, nails scraping along the casing as he fell.
He waited, arm drawn back, fist balled, but in no hurry to strike; this pause, he knew, might be an extension of his life. And to live even a few seconds longer, he felt, even out here on this ledge in the night, was infinitely better than to die a moment earlier than he had to. His arm grew tired, and he brought it down.
Then he knew that it was time to make the attempt. He could not kneel here hesitating indefinitely till he lost all courage to act, waiting till he slipped off the ledge. Again he drew back his arm, knowing this time that he would not bring it down till he struck. His elbow protruding over Lexington Avenue far below, the fingers of his other hand pressed down bloodlessly tight against the narrow stripping, he waited, feeling the sick tenseness and terrible excitement building. It grew and swelled toward the moment of action, his nerves tautening. He thought of Clare—just a wordless, yearning thought—and then drew his arm back just a bit more, fist so tight his fingers pained him, and knowing he was going to do it. Then with full power, with every last scrap of strength he could bring to bear, he shot his arm forward toward the glass, and he said, "Clare!"
He heard the sound, felt the blow, felt himself falling forward, and his hand closed on the living-room curtains, the shards and fragments of glass showering onto the floor. And then, kneeling there on the ledge, an arm thrust into the room up to the shoulder, he began picking away the protruding slivers and great wedges of glass from the window frame, tossing them in onto the rug. And, as he grasped the edges of the empty window frame and climbed into his home, he was grinning in triumph.
He did not lie down on the floor or run through the apartment, as he had promised himself; even in the first few moments it seemed to him natural and normal that he should be where he was. He simply turned to his desk, pulled the crumpled yellow sheet from his pocket, and laid it down where it had been, smoothing it out; then he absently laid a pencil across it to weight it down. He shook his head wonderingly, and turned to walk toward the closet.
There he got out his topcoat and hat and, without waiting to put them on, opened the front door and stepped out, to go find his wife. He turned to pull the door closed and the warm air from the hall rushed through the narrow opening again. As he saw the yellow paper, the pencil flying, scooped off the desk and, unimpeded by the glassless window, sail out into the night and out of his life, Tom Benecke burst into laughter and then closed the door behind him.
BLOW - UP by Julio Cortazar
_ It'll never be known how this has to be told,
in the first person or in the second, using the third person plural or
continually inventing modes that will serve for nothing. If one might say: I
will see the moon rose, or: we hurt me at the back of my eyes, and especially:
you the blonde woman was the clouds that race before my your his our yours
their faces. What the hell.
Seated ready to tell it, if one might go to
drink a bock over there, and the typewriter continue by itself (because I use
the machine), that would be perfection. And that's not just a manner of
speaking. Perfection, yes, because here is the aperture which must be counted
also as a machine (of another sort, a Contax 1.1.2) and it is possible that one
machine may know more about another machine than I, you, she--the blonde--and
the clouds. But I have the dumb luck to know that if I go this Remington will
sit turned to stone on top of the table with the air of being twice as quiet
that mobile things have when they are not moving. So, I have to write. One of
us all has to write, if this is going to get told. Better that it be me who am
dead, for I'm less compromised than the rest; I who see only the clouds and can
think without being distracted, write without being distracted (there goes
another, with a grey edge) and remember without being distracted, I who am dead
(and I'm alive, I'm not trying to fool anybody, you'll see when we get to the
moment, because I have to begin some way and I've begun with this period, the
last one back, the one at the beginning, which in the end is the best of the
periods when you want to tell something.)
All of a sudden I wonder why I have to tell
this, but if one begins to wonder why he does all he does do, if one wonders
why he accepts an invitation to lunch (now a pigeon's flying by and it seems to
me a sparrow), or why when someone has told us a good joke immediately there
starts up something like a tickling in the stomach and we are not at peace
until we've gone into the office across the hall and told the joke over again;
then it feels good immediately, one is fine, happy, and can get back to work.
For I imagine that no one has explained this, that really the best thing is to
put aside all decorum and tell it, because, after all's done, nobody is ashamed
of breathing or of putting on his shoes; they're things that you do, and when
something weird happens, when you find a spider in your shoe or if you take a
breath and feel like a broken window, then you have to tell what's happening,
tell it to the guys at the office or to the doctor. Oh, doctor, every time I
take a breath.... Always tell it, always get rid of that tickle in the stomach
that bothers you.
And now that we're finally going to tell it,
let's put things a little bit in order, we'd be walking down the staircase in
this house as far as Sunday, November 7, just a month back. One goes down five
floors and stands then in the Sunday in the sun one would not have suspected of
Paris in November, with a large appetite to walk around, to see things, to take
photos (because we were photographers, I'm a photographer). I know that the
most difficult thing is going to be finding a way to tell it, and I'm not
afraid of repeating myself. It's going to be difficult because nobody really
knows who it is telling it, if I am I or what actually occurred or what I'm
seeing (clouds, and once in a while a pigeon) or if, simply, I'm telling a
truth which is only my truth, and then is the truth only for my stomach, for
this impulse to go running out and to finish up in some manner with, this,
whatever it is.
We're going to tell it slowly, what happens
in the middle of what I'm writing is coming already. If they replace me, if, so
soon, I don't know what to say, if the clouds stop coming and something else
starts (because it's impossible that this keep coming, clouds passing
continually and occasionally a pigeon), if something out of all this.... And
after the "if" what am I going to put if I'm going to close the
sentence structure correctly? But if I begin to ask questions, I'll never tell
anything, maybe to tell would be like an answer, at least for someone who's
Roberto Michel, French-Chilean, translator
and in his spare time an amateur photographer, left number 11, rue Monsieur-le-Prince
Sunday, November 7 of the current year (now there're two small ones passing,
with silver linings). He had spent three weeks working on the French version of
a treatise on challenges and appeals by José Norberto Allende, professor at the
University of Santiago. It's rare that there's wind in Paris, and even less
seldom a wind like this that swirled around corners and rose up to whip at old
wooden venetian blinds behind which astonished ladies commented variously on
how unreliable the weather had been these last few years. But the sun was out
also, riding the wind and friend of the cats, so there was nothing that would
keep me from taking photos of the Conservatoire and Sainte-Chapelle. It was
hardly ten o'clock, and I figured that by eleven the light would be good, the
best you can get in the fall; to kill some time I detoured around by the Isle
Saint-Louis and started to walk along the quai D'Anjou, I stared for a bit at
the hôtel de Lauzun, I recited bits from Apollinaire which always get into my
head whenever I pass in front of the hotel de Lauzun (and at that I ought to be
remembering the other poet, but Michel is an obstinate beggar), and when the
wind stopped all at once and the sun came out at least twice as hard (I mean
warmer, but really it's the same thing), I sat down on the parapet and felt
terribly happy in the Sunday morning.
One of the
many ways of contesting level-zero, and one of the best, is to take
photographs, an activity in which one should start becoming an adept very early
in life, teach it to children since it requires discipline, aesthetic
education, a good eye, and steady fingers. I'm not talking about waylaying the
lie like any old reporter, snapping the stupid silhouette of the VIP leaving
Number 10 Downing Street, but in all ways when one is walking about with a
camera, one has almost a duty to be attentive, to not lose that abrupt and
happy rebound of sun's rays off an old stone, or the pigtails-flying run of a
small girl going home with a loaf of bread or a bottle of milk. Michel knew
that the photographer always worked as a permutation of his personal way of
seeing the world as other than the camera insidiously imposed upon it (now a
large cloud is going by, almost black), but he lacked no confidence in himself,
knowing that he had only to go out without the Contax to recover the keynote of
distraction, the sight without a frame around it, light without the diaphragm
aperture or 1/250 sec. Right now (what a word, now, what a dumb lie) I was able
to sit quietly on the railing overlooking the river watching the red and black
motorboats passing below without it occurring to me to think photographically
of the scenes, nothing more than letting myself go in the letting go of
objects, running immobile in the stream of time. And then the wind was not
After, I wandered down the quai de Bourbon
until getting to the end of the isle where the intimate square was (intimate
because it was small, not that it was hidden, it offered its whole breast to
the river and the sky), I enjoyed it, a lot. Nothing there but a couple and, of
course, pigeons; maybe even some of those which are flying past now so that I'm
seeing them. A leap up and I settled on the wall, and let myself turn about and
be caught and fixed by the sun, giving it my face and ears and hands (I kept my
gloves in my pocket). I had no desire to shoot pictures, and lit a cigarette to
be doing something; I think it was that moment when the match was about to
touch the tobacco that I saw the young boy for the first time.
What I'd thought was a couple seemed much
more now a boy with his mother, although at the same time I realized that it
was not a kid and his mother, and that it was a couple in the sense that we
always allegate to couples when we see them leaning up against the parapets or
embracing on the benches in the squares. As I had nothing else to do, I had
more than enough time to wonder why the boy was so nervous, like a young colt
or a hare, sticking his hands into his pockets, taking them out immediately, one
after the other, running his fingers through his hair, changing his stance, and
especially why was he afraid, well, you could guess that from every gesture, a
fear suffocated by his shyness, an impulse to step backwards which he
telegraphed, his body standing as if it were on the edge of flight, holding
itself back in a final, pitiful decorum.
All this was so clear, ten feet away--and we
were alone against the parapet at the tip of the island--that at the beginning
the boy's fright didn't let me see the blonde very well. Now, thinking back on
it, I see her much better at that first second when I read her face (she'd
turned around suddenly, swinging like a metal weathercock, and the eyes, the
eyes were there), when I vaguely understood what might have been occurring to
the boy and figured it would be worth the trouble to stay and watch (the wind
was blowing their words away and they were speaking in a low murmur). I think
that I know how to look, if it's something I know, and also that every looking
oozes with mendacity, because it's that which expels us furthest outside
ourselves, without the least guarantee, whereas to smell, or (but Michel
rambles on to himself easily enough, there's no need to let him harangue on
this way). In any case, if the likely inaccuracy can be seen beforehand, it
becomes possible again to look; perhaps it suffices to choose between looking
and the reality looked at, to strip things of all their unnecessary clothing.
And surely all that is difficult besides.
As for the boy I remember the image before
his actual body (that will clear itself up later), while now I am sure that I
remember the woman's body much better than the image. She was thin and willowy,
two unfair words to describe what she was, and was wearing an almost-black fur
coat, almost long, almost handsome. All the morning's wind (now it was hardly a
breeze and it wasn't cold) had blown through her blonde hair which pared away
her white, bleak face--two unfair words--and put the world at her feet and
horribly alone in front of her dark eyes, her eyes fell on things like two
eagles, two leaps into nothingness, two puffs of green slime. I'm not
describing it. And I said two puffs of green slime.
Let's be fair, the boy was well enough
dressed and was sporting yellow gloves which I would have sworn belonged to his
older brother, a student of law or sociology; it was pleasant to see the
fingers of the gloves sticking out of his jacket pocket. For a long time I
didn't see his face, barely a profile, not stupid--a terrified bird, a Fra
Filippo angel, rice pudding with milk--and the back of an adolescent who wants
to take up judo and has had a scuffle or two in defense of an idea or his
sister. Turning fourteen, perhaps fifteen, one would guess that he was dressed
and fed by his parents but without a nickel in his pocket, having to debate
with his buddies before making up his mind to buy a coffee, a cognac, a pack of
cigarettes. He'd walk through the streets thinking of the girls in his class,
about how good it would be to go to the movies and see the latest film, or to
buy novels or neckties or bottles of liquor with green and white labels on
them. At home (it would be a respectable home, lunch at noon and romantic
landscapes on the walls, with a dark entryway and a mahogany umbrella stand
inside the door) there'd be the slow rain of time, for studying, for being
mama's hope, for looking like dad, for writing to his aunt in Avignon. So that
there was a lot of walking the streets, the whole of the river for him (but
without a nickel) and the mysterious city of fifteen-year-olds with its signs
in doorways, its terrifying cats, a paper of fried potatoes for thirty francs,
the pornographic magazine folded four ways, a solitude like the emptiness of
his pockets, the eagerness for so much that was incomprehensible but illumined
by a total love, by the availability analogous to the wind and the streets.
This biography was of the boy and of any boy
whatsoever, but this particular one now, you could see he was insular,
surrounded solely by the blonde's presence as she continued talking with him.
(I'm tired of insisting, but two long ragged ones just went by. That morning I
don't think I looked at the sky once, because what was happening with the boy
and the woman appeared so soon I could do nothing but look at them and wait,
look at them and...) To cut it short, the boy was agitated and one could guess
without too much trouble what had just occurred a few minutes before, at most
half-an-hour. The boy had come onto the tip of the island, seen the woman and
thought her marvelous. The woman was waiting for that because she was there
waiting for that, or maybe the boy arrived before her and she saw him from one
of the balconies or from a car and got out to meet him, starting the
conversation with whatever, from the beginning she was sure that he was going
to be afraid and want to run off, and that, naturally, he'd stay, stiff and
sullen, pretending experience and the pleasure of the adventure. The rest was
easy because it was happening ten feet away from me, and anyone could have
gauged the stages of the game, the derisive, competitive fencing; its major
attraction was not that it was happening but in foreseeing its denouement. The
boy would try to end it by pretending a date, an obligation, whatever, and
would go stumbling off disconcerted, wishing he were walking with some
assurance, but naked under the mocking glance which would follow him until he
was out of sight. Or rather, he would stay there, fascinated or simply
incapable of taking the initiative, and the woman would begin to touch his face
gently, muss his hair, still talking to him voicelessly, and soon would take
him by the arm to lead him off, unless he, with an uneasiness beginning to
tinge the edge of desire, even his stake in the adventure, would rouse himself
to put his arm around her waist and to kiss her. Any of this could have
happened, though it did not, and perversely Michel waited, sitting on the
railing, making the settings almost without looking at the camera, ready to
take a picturesque shot of a corner of the island with an uncommon couple
talking and another looking at one another.
Strange how the scene (almost nothing: two
figures there mismatched in their youth) was taking on a disquieting aura. I
thought it was I imposing it, and that my photo, if I shot it, would
reconstitute things in their true stupidity. I would have liked to know what he
was thinking, a man in a grey hat sitting at the wheel of a car parked on the
dock which led up to the footbridge, and whether he was reading the paper or
asleep. I had just discovered him because people inside a parked car have a
tendency to disappear, they get lost in that wretched, private cage stripped of
the beauty that motion
and danger give it. And nevertheless, the car
had been there the whole time, forming part (or deforming that part) of the
isle. A car: like saying a lighted streetlamp, a park bench. Never like saying
wind, sunlight, those elements always new to the skin and the eyes, and also
the boy and the woman, unique, put there to change the island, to show it to me
in another way. Finally, it may have been that the man with the newspaper also
because aware of what was happening and would, like me, feel that malicious
sensation of waiting for everything to happen. Now the woman had swung around
smoothly, putting the young boy between herself and the wall, I saw them almost
in profile, and he was taller, though not much taller, and yet she dominated
him, it seemed like she was hovering over him (her laugh, all at once, a whip
of feathers), crushing him just by being there, smiling, one hand taking a
stroll through the air. Why wait any longer? Aperture at sixteen, a sighting
which would not include the horrible black car, but yes, that tree, necessary
to break up too much grey space... .
I raised the camera, pretended to study a
focus which did not include them, and waited and watched closely, sure that I
would finally catch the revealing expression, one that would sum it all up,
life that is rhythmed by movement but which a stiff image destroys, taking time
in cross section, if we do not choose the essential imperceptible fraction of
it. I did not have to wait long. The woman was getting on with the job of
handcuffing the boy smoothly, stripping from him what was left of his freedom a
hair at a time, in an incredibly slow an delicious torture. I imagined the
possible endings (now a small fluffy cloud appears, almost alone in the sky), I
saw their arrival at the house (a basement apartment probably, which she would
have filled with large cushions and cats) and conjectured the boy's terror and
his desperate decision to play it cool and to be led off pretending there was
nothing new in it for him. Closing my eyes, if I did in fact close my eyes, I
set the scene: the teasing kisses, the woman mildly repelling the hands which
were trying to undress her, like in novels, on a bed that would have a
lilac-colored comforter, on the other hand she taking off his clothes, plainly
mother and son under a milky yellow light, and everything would end up as
usual, perhaps, but maybe everything would go otherwise, and the initiation of
the adolescent would not happen, she would not let it happen, after a long
prologue wherein the awkwardnesses, the exasperating caresses, the running of
hands over bodies would be resolved in who knows what, in a separate and
solitary pleasure, in a petulant denial mixed with the art of tiring and
disconcerting so much poor innocence. It might go like that, it might very well
go like that; that woman was not looking for the boy as a lover, and at the
same time she was dominating him toward some end impossible to understand if
you do not imagine it as a cruel game, the desire to desire without
satisfaction, to excite herself for someone else, someone who in no way could
be that kid.
Michel is guilty of making literature, of
indulging in fabricated unrealities. Nothing pleases him more than to imagine
exceptions to the rule, individuals outside the species, not-always-repugnant
monsters. But that woman invited speculation, perhaps giving clues enough for
the fantasy to hit the bull's-eye. Before she left, and now that she would fill
my imaginings for several days, for I'm given to ruminating, I decided not to
lose a moment more. I got it all into the view-finder (with the tree, the
railing, the eleven-o'clock sun) and took the shot. In time to realize that
they both had noticed and stood there looking at me, the boy surprised and as
though questioning, but she was irritated, her face and body flat-footedly
hostile, feeling robbed, ignominiously recorded on a small chemical image.
I might be able to tell it in much greater
detail but it's not worth the trouble. The woman said that no one had the right
to take a picture without permission, and demanded that I hand over the film.
All this in a dry, clear voice with a good Parisian accent, which rose in color
and tone with every phrase. For my part, it hardly mattered whether she got the
roll of film or not, but anyone who knows me will tell you, if you want
anything from me, ask nicely. With the result that I restricted myself to
formulating the opinion that not only was photography in public spaces not
prohibited, but it was looked upon with decided favor, both private and
official. And while that was getting said, I noticed on the sly how the boy was
falling back, sort of actively backing up through without moving, and all at
once (it seemed almost incredible) he turned and broke into a run, the poor
kid, thinking that he was walking off and in fact in full flight, running past
the side of the car, disappearing like a gossamer filament of angel-spit in the
But filaments of angel-spittle are also
called devil-spit, and Michel had to endure rather particular curses, to hear
himself called meddler and imbecile, taking great pains meanwhile to smile and
to abate with simple movements of his head such a hard sell. As I was beginning
to get tired, I heard the car door slam. The man in the grey hat was there,
looking at us. It was only at that point that I realized he was playing a part
in the comedy.
He began to walk toward us, carrying in his
hand the paper he had been pretending to read. What I remember best is the
grimace that twisted his mouth askew, it covered his face with wrinkles,
changed somewhat both in location and shape because his lips trembled and the
grimace went from one side of his mouth to the other as though it were on
wheels, independent and involuntary. But the rest stayed fixed, a
flour-powdered clown or bloodless man, dull dry skin, eyes deepset, the
nostrils black and prominently visible, blacker than the eyebrows or hair or
the black necktie. Walking cautiously as though the pavement hurt his feet; I
saw patent-leather shoes with such thin soles that he must have felt every
roughness in the pavement. I don't know why I got down off the railing, nor
very well why I decided to not give them the photo, to refuse that demand in
which I guessed at their fear and cowardice. The clown and the woman consulted
one another in silence: we made a perfect and unbearable triangle, something I
felt compelled to break with a crack of a whip. I laughed in their faces and
began to walk off, a little more slowly, I imagine, than the boy. At the level
of the first houses, beside the iron footbridge, I turned around to look at
them. They were not moving, but the man had dropped his newspaper; it seemed to
me that the woman, her back to the parapet, ran her hands over the stone with
the classical and absurd gesture of someone pursued looking for a way out.
What happened after that happened here,
almost just now, in a room on the fifth floor. Several days went by before
Michel developed the photos he'd taken on Sunday; his shots of the
Conservatoire and of Sainte-Chapelle were all they should be. Then he found two
or three proof-shots he'd forgotten, a poor attempt to catch a cat perched
astonishingly on the roof of a rambling public urinal, and also the shot of the
blonde and the kid. The negative was so good that he made an enlargement; the
enlargement was so good that he made one very much larger, almost the size of a
poster. It did not occur to him (now one wonders and wonders) that only the
shots of the Conservatoire were worth so much work. Of the whole series, the
snapshot of the tip of the island was the only one which interested him; he
tacked up the enlargement on one wall of the room, and the first day he spent
some time looking at it and remembering, that gloomy operation of comparing the
memory with the gone reality; a frozen memory, like any photo, where nothing is
missing, not even, and especially, nothingness, the true solidifier of the
scene. There was the woman, there was the boy, the tree rigid above their
heads, the sky as sharp as the stone of the parapet, clouds and stones melded
into a single substance and inseparable (now one with sharp edges is going by,
like a thunderhead). The first two days I accepted what I had done, from the
photo itself to the enlargement on the wall, and didn't even question that
every once in a while I would interrupt my translation of José Norberto
Allende's treatise to encounter once more the woman's face, the dark splotches
on the railing. I'm such a jerk; it had never occurred to me that when we look
at a photo from the front, the eyes reproduce exactly the position and the
vision of the lens; it's these things that are taken for granted and it never
occurs to anyone to think about them. From my chair, with the typewriter
directly in front of me, I looked at the photo ten feet away, and then it
occurred to me that I had hung it exactly at the point of view of the lens. It
looked very good that way; no doubt, it was the best way to appreciate a photo,
though the angle from the diagonal doubtless has its pleasures and might even
divulge different aspects. Every few minutes, for example when I was unable to
find the way to say in good French what Jose Norberto Allende was saying in
very good Spanish, I raised my eyes and looked at the photo; sometimes the
woman would catch my eye, sometimes the boy, sometimes the pavement where a dry
leaf had fallen admirably situated to heighten a lateral section. Then I rested
a bit from my labors, and I enclosed myself again happily in that morning in
which the photo was drenched, I recalled ironically the angry picture of the
woman demanding I give her the photograph, the boy's pathetic and ridiculous
flight, the entrance on the scene of the man with the white face. Basically, I
was satisfied with myself; my part had not been too brilliant, and since the
French have been given the gift of the sharp response, I did not see very well
why I'd chosen to leave without a complete demonstration of the rights,
privileges and prerogatives of citizens. The important thing, the really
important thing was having helped the kid to escape in time (this in case my
theorizing was correct, which was not sufficiently proven, but the running away
itself seemed to show it so). Out of plain meddling, I had given him the
opportunity finally to take advantage of his fright to do something useful; now
he would be regretting it, feeling his honor impaired, his manhood diminished.
That was better than the attentions of a woman capable of looking as she had
looked at him on that island. Michel is something of a puritan at times, he
believes that one should not seduce someone from a position of strength. In the
last analysis, taking that photo had been a good act.
Well, it wasn't because of the good act that
I looked at it between paragraphs while I was working. At that moment I didn't
know the reason, the reason I had tacked the enlargement onto the wall; maybe
all fatal acts happen that way, and that is the condition of their fulfillment.
I don't think the almost-furtive trembling of the leaves on the tree alarmed
me, I was working on a sentence and rounded it out successfully. Habits are
like immense herbariums, in the end an enlargement of 32 X 28 looks like a
movie screen, where, on the tip of the island, a woman is speaking with a boy
and a tree is shaking its dry leaves over their heads.
But her hands were just too much. I had just translated:
"In that case, the second key resides in the intrinsic nature of
difficulties which societies..."--when I saw the woman's hand beginning to
stir slowly, finger by finger. There was nothing left of me, a phrase in French
which I would never have to finish, typewriter on the floor, a chair that
squeaked and shook, fog. The kid had ducked his head like boxers do when
they've done all they can and are waiting for the final blow to fall; he had
turned up the collar of his overcoat and seemed more a prisoner than ever, the
perfect victim helping promote the catastrophe. Now the woman was talking into
his ear, and her hand opened again to lay itself against his cheekbone, to
caress and caress it, burning it, taking her time. The kid was less startled
than he was suspicious, once or twice he poked his head over the woman's
shoulder and she continued talking, saying something that made him look back
every few minutes toward that area where Michel knew the car was parked and the
man in the grey hat, carefully eliminated from the photo but present in the
boy's eyes (how doubt that now) in the words of the woman, in the woman's
hands, in the vicarious presence of the woman. When I saw the man come up, stop
near them and look at them, his hands in his pockets and a stance somewhere
between disgusted and demanding, the master who is about to whistle in his dog
after a frolic in the square, I understood, if that was to understand, what had
to happen now, what had to have happened then, what would have to happen at
that moment, among these people, just where I had poked my nose in to upset an
established order, interfering innocently in that which had not happened, but
which was now going to happen, now was going to be fulfilled. And what I had
imagined earlier was much less horrible than the reality, that woman, who was
not there by herself, she was not caressing or propositioning or encouraging
for her own pleasure, to lead the angel away with his tousled hair and play the
tease with his terror and his eager grace. The real boss was waiting there,
smiling petulantly, already certain of the business; he was not the first to
send a woman in the vanguard, to bring him the prisoners manacled with flowers.
The rest of it would be so simple, the car, some house or another, drinks,
stimulating engravings, tardy tears, the awakening in hell. And there was
nothing I could do, this time I could do absolutely nothing. My strength had
been a photograph, that, there, where they were taking their revenge on me,
demonstrating clearly what was going to happen. The photo had been taken, the
time had run out, gone; we were so far from one another, the abusive act had
certainly already taken place, the tears already shed, and the rest conjecture
and sorrow. All at once the order was inverted, they were alive, moving, they
were deciding and had decided, they were going to their future; and I on this
side, prisoner of another time, in a room on the fifth floor, to not know who
they were, that woman, that man, and that boy, to be only the lens of my
camera, something fixed, rigid, incapable of intervention. It was horrible,
their mocking me, deciding it before my impotent eye, mocking me, for the boy
again was looking at the flour-faced clown and I had to accept the fact that he
was going to say yes, that the proposition carried money with it or a gimmick,
and I couldn't yell for him to run, or even open the road to him again with a
new photo, a small and almost meek intervention which would ruin the framework
of drool and perfume. Everything was going to resolve itself right there, at
that moment; there was like an immense silence which had nothing to do with
physical silence. It was stretching it out, setting itself up. I think I
screamed, I screamed terribly, and that at the exact second I realized that I
was beginning to move toward them, four inches, a step, another step, the tree
swung its branches rhythmically in the foreground, a place where the railing
was tarnished emerged from the frame, the woman's face turned toward me as
though surprised, was enlarging, and then I turned a bit, I mean that the
camera turned a little, and without losing sight of the woman, I began to close
in on the man who was looking at me with the black holes he had in place of
eyes, surprised and angered both, he looked, wanting to nail me onto the air,
and at that instant I happened to see something like a large bird outside the
focus that was flying in a single swoop in front of the picture, and I leaned
up against the wall of my room and was happy because the boy had just managed
to escape, I saw him running off, in focus again, sprinting with his hair
flying in the wind, learning finally to fly across the island, to arrive at the
footbridge, return to the city. For the second time he'd escaped them, for the
second time I was helping him to escape, returning him to his precarious
paradise. Out of breath, I stood in front of them; no need to step closer, the
game was played out. Of the woman you could see just maybe a shoulder and a bit
of hair, brutally cut off by the frame of the picture; but the man was directly
center, his mouth half open, you could see a shaking black tongue, and he
lifted his hands slowly, bringing them into the foreground, an instant still in
perfect focus, and then all of him a lump that blotted out the island, the
tree, and I shut my eyes, I didn't want to see any more, and I covered my face
and broke into tears like an idiot.
Now there's a big white cloud, as on all these days, all this untellable time.
What remains to be said is always a cloud, two clouds, or long hours of a sky
perfectly clear, a very clean, clear rectangle tacked up with pins on the wall
of my room. That was what I saw when I opened my eyes and dried them with my
fingers: the clear sky, and then a cloud that drifted in from the left, passed
gracefully and slowly across and disappeared on the right. And then another,
and for a change sometimes, everything gets grey, all one enormous cloud, and
suddenly the splotches of rain cracking down, for a long spell you can see it
raining over the picture, like a spell of weeping reversed, and little by
little, the frame becomes clear, perhaps the sun comes out, and again the
clouds begin to come, two at a time, three at a time. And the pigeons once in a
while, and a sparrow or two. Homework Questions (Copy on
your own sheet of paper and return handout)
1)A photograph never lies, or so the saying goes. Is this
statement true? Or, do you believe
that nothing lies more
than a photograph? Please explain your answer in detail.
2)What does the expression “a picture is worth 1000 words
mean? Please explain in detail.
3)What two jobs does Roberto Michel have?
4)Right from the first words of the story, the narrative perspective is shown to be unstable.
What type of narrative does the author, Julio
Cortazar, use to tell the story?
5)What 3 things does the author compare the woman’s
6)When Roberto Michel
blows up the photograph, what does he see in the background?
7)Ultimately, what does
Roberto Michel imagine will happen to the boy that appears in the story?
8)Is there any sort or
resolution at the end of the story? Why or Why not? Please explain.
has created a literary hall of mirrors, where everything is its opposite, where
love and death mirror each other. What literary device does this best resemble?
10)What is the author’s
purpose for composing this story? What is he trying to
communicate to readers? (Hint: Think about the composition of the photograph
it says about artistic expression. In addition, take into consideration that sometimes
people perceive things differently and create their own realities)
Norse mythology comes from the northernmost part of Europe, Scandinavia: Sweden, Norway, Denmark, and Iceland.
The mythology of this region is grim, shadowed by long, sunless winters. But the darkness is laced with gleams of grandeur and sparks of humor. The myths depict a universe in which gods and giants battle among themselves in a cosmic conflict fated to end in the destruction of the world. (Ragnarok)
Ragnarok (Armageddon) The twilight of the gods and end of the earth began when Loki used trickery to kill Balder, whose death was a sign that the orderly universe was falling apart.
The gods chained Loki to a rock, but eventually he will break loose and lead the giants in a last bitter battle against the gods and the greatest heroes from Valhalla. The bridge Bifrost will shatter, cutting Midgard off from Asgard, and all monsters will run free. Fenrir will kill Odin, while Thor will perish in the process of slaying the serpent Jormungard. In the end, all worlds will be consumed by fire and flood. One man and one woman will survive, sheltering in the World Tree Yggdrasill, to become the parents of a new human race.
The most important Norse myth is the Volsunga Saga, written around 1300 and set in Hylestad & Setesdal, Norway. The Norse version of the German epic the Nibelungenlied, tells the folk legend of Sigurd (Siegfried), a hero who uses a magic sword called Gram (Balmung) to slay the dragon Fafnir. The Vikings prized their swords above all other things, handing them down from generation to generation and giving them names. The value of the blade was not only determined by its quality but also by how many battles that it was used in.
Sigurd (Siegfried) also acquires the magical ring of Andvari, awakens a sleeping beauty (the Valkyrie* Brunhilde), and in the end, bravely meets his Destiny.
Fafnir’s treasure and the magic ring become a few of the factors that lead to Sigurd's downfall.
Both of these stories (the Norse Volsunga Saga and German epic the Nibelungenlied) depict the tales of might achievements of men and women from some of Iceland's and Germany's great families as they wrestle for political power, engage in blood feuds, and carry out raids and battles.
In both of these texts we see that women are portrayed on one level as warriors. Brunhilde is a perfect example of this, as she has miraculous strength and tremendous abilities.
We also see the clash between the Pagan and the Christian in both version of the legend. These sagas also share a variety of common elements: victory and vengeance, honor and glory, blood and guts, feuds and battles, swords and sorcery, and warriors and poets. Like the story of Beowulf, another Germanic hero, Sigurd triumphs over the forces of evil and chaos by slaying a monster (Fafnir).
Sigurd the Dragon Slayer
WHEN Helgi won his kingdom and his bride, Sinfjotle returned again unto Hunaland. Thereafter he set to warring in distant realms, and he achieved widespread renown and won much treasure. Now it chanced that his eyes fell with love upon an alien maid of exceeding great beauty, and he sought to have her for himself. But she was also desired by the brother of Borghild, Sigmund's queen. So the two fought together, and Sinfjotle slew his rival and laid waste and plundered his land. Thereafter he returned home and brought tidings of his deeds.
Wrothful was Borghild, and she sought to drive her brother's slayer from the kingdom; but Sigmund would brook not such an evil doing. So he made offer of blood treasure to his queen, and she made pretence to be appeased, knowing well she could prevail not against the king's will. Yet in her secret heart she brooded over her brother's death and resolved to be avenged upon Sinfjotle. So she held a funeral feast, and went round with the mead horn among the war men who had gathered in the hall. When she asked Sinfjotle to drink, he feared
to partake, and Sigmund seized the horn and emptied it. A second time was the horn filled by Borghild, and a second time Sigmund took it from his son. But the third time Sinfjotle must needs drain the horn himself, and when he did that he fell down and died, because the drink was poisoned. Thus did Borghild take vengeance on her brother's slayer.
Great was the grief of Sigmund when Sinfjotle was dead. The war-men in the hall feared that his sorrow would kill him. Loud mourning was heard there then at the funeral feast, and Sigmund, who had grown old, lamented long for his son. Then tenderly he took Signy's offspring in his arms--that Volsung of Volsungs--and bore him through the evening dusk towards the firth's grey beach with purpose to take him to the opposing shore.
He perceived a small boat. In it was a tall, old man, grave of aspect, grey bearded, and having but one eye. A round hat was drawn low on his forehead, and he wore a dim blue cloak mottled with grey. Men tell it was Odin, but Sigmund knew not who it was.
Unto him the grey ferryman spake, bidding him lay Sinfjotle's body in the boat; but he said there was no room for Sigmund, who must needs go round the firth end if he would reach the opposing shore. So Sigmund parted with him and hastened over the beach. Ere long he turned round to gaze upon the boat as it went over the waters. . . . Suddenly it vanished from his sight. . . . So passed Sinfjotle, son of Sigmund and Signy, whose grandsire was mighty Volsung of Odin's kin.
Sigmund turned homeward. He entered the hall sorrowing. He drave forth Borghild, remembering how Sinfjotle died, and she became an outcast, so that ere long she perished.
Then Sigmund sought another bride. Hjordis, daughter of King Eylime, was comely in his eyes, and he sent messengers to her sire beseeching her for wife. Now King Lynge, son of King Hunding whom Helgi had slain, desired also to have the fair princess. Her sire would favour neither Sigmund nor Lynge, and gave the maid her choice; and she vowed she would wed the Volsung. 'Twas thus it befell, and a great marriage feast was held. Then Sigmund returned to Hunaland with his bride, and King Eylime went with them.
Wroth was King Lynge. Tidings he sent unto Sigmund that he would war against him and shatter the power of the Volsungs. So he assembled a great army and set forth to wreak his vengeance and capture Hjordis.
Sigmund feared the issue of battle, for the stronger force was with Lynge. But his courage faltered not. Great treasures have warriors gained, but Odin gave Sigmund a sword. Although he had grown old, his faith in Gram was strong. Yet he deemed it best that Hjordis should be concealed, and with a bondmaid, and bearing much treasure, the queen was given safe retreat in a deep forest.
A great shore battle was fought. Sigmund contended fiercely against overwhelming odds. None could stand against him, and for a time it seemed that Lynge could not prevail. Sigmund's arms were red with blood of his foeman, nor got he a single wound.
Then entered the field through Lynge's war-men an old and one-eyed man. He wore a blue cloak, and his round hat was drawn low on his brow. In his hand was a great spear, and he went against Sigmund.
That was the Volsung's fateful hour. Odin desired his death.. The god shook his great spear, and when Sigmund smote it the sword Gram broke in twain. There
upon Lynge's war-men fell upon the hero and gave him his deathwound. King Eylime, who fought by Sigmund's side, was slain, and the Volsung army was scattered in flight. The shoreland was red with heroes' blood numerous as dead leaves were the bodies of the slain.
King Lynge waited not on the battleground. He pressed onward with his army towards Sigmund's hall; but when he reached it he could find not Hjordis nor any treasure. So search was made through all the kingdom, and although Lynge found not the bride he sought, he was made glad because that the Volsung power was ended and the. last of the line was slain. But he recked not of a hero unborn, and although he set an alien ruler over Hunaland the glory of the Volsungs was fated to return again in greater splendour.
Now when night fell, Hjordis went towards the battleground and found Sigmund where he lay grievously wounded and awaiting death.
She sought to give him healing, so that he might avenge her sire; but Sigmund told her that his wounds could heal not, for Odin desired his death, and his sword Gram was shattered.
"I have fought while Odin willed it," he said, "and now 'tis his desire that I should die."
Then he counselled Hjordis to keep the broken sword, so that it might be welded for her son unborn, and he foretold that the babe would grow up to achieve renown which would live through the ages.
"Now," said Sigmund faintly, "I am death-weary, and must go hence to be with my kin."
All night long Hjordis sat beside the dying king. She soothed him; she watched him tenderly, and when dawn was breaking golden in the east she dosed his eyes in death, and wept over him.
Then seaward she gazed and beheld a fleet of viking ships coming nigh to the shore. Hastily she bade her bondmaid change raiment with her, saying: "Henceforth thou shalt say that thy name is Hjordis."
The leader of the viking horde was Alv, son of King Hjaalprek of Denmark. He came ashore with his warmen. He spoke to Hjordis and her maid, and was told of the hidden treasure, and that he took speedily on board a war ship. The queen he took also and her bondmaid.
Then Alv returned to Denmark, and ever he deemed that the bondmaid was Sigmund's queen, but Hjaalprek's spouse, when she beheld the two women, suspected that the bondmaid was the nobler of the two.
To the king she spoke secretly thereanent, and Hjaalprek fell to questioning the pair. First he addressed her who pretended to be queen, and said:
"How knowest thou the hour of rising in wintertime when the stars are clouded over?"
The bondmaid answered him, saying: "It hath been my wont to drink heavily at dawn, and I awake athirst."
"A strange custom for a king's daughter," the king remarked.
Then Hjaalprek asked of Hjordis how she could tell when the hour of rising came, and she answered thus:--
"My sire gifted me a magic gold ring, and it turns ice-cold on my finger when the hour cometh to rise in the wintertime."
The king laughed. "No bondmaid's sire giveth gold rings. A king's daughter art thou. Of this thou shouldst have told us heretofore."
Then Hjordis made confession that she was indeed Sigmund's queen, and thereafter she was honoured and well loved in the Hall of Hjaalprek.
When her son was born, the name he received was
Sigurd. A Volsung was he indeed. Bright were his eyes, and his face was kingly, and Hjaalprek took pride in him. He grew up to be strong and fearless; a warman's skill had he ever and Volsung pride, and he had great wisdom, and was eloquent of speech.
His foster father was Regin, the wonder, Smith, brother of the dragon Fafner, and he gave the lad instruction in many arts, and in the mystery of runes, and taught him many languages.
One day Regin asked the lad if he knew that his father had left great treasure, and that Hjaalprek guarded it; and Sigurd said it was guarded for him and he had faith in the king. Then Regin urged him to ask a horse from Hjaalprek, and when the lad did that the king bade him select the one he desired.
An old, grey-bearded man, with one eye, came to Sigurd, who knew not that he was Odin, and he chose for the lad a steed which was of Sleipner's race. Sigurd called it Grane because it was grey, nor was its equal to be found in the world.
Now Alv took Hjordis for wife, and they lived happily together.
Then a day came when Regin, perceiving that the lad grew to manhood's strength and wisdom while he was yet young, bethought to tell him of the treasure over which the dragon Fafner kept constant guard. He urged Sigurd to slay the monster.
"I am scarce more than a child yet," Sigurd said; "why dost thou urge me to do this mighty deed?"
Then Regin told the story of the treasure, and how Loke had taken it from the dwarf Andvari; how it was given to his own sire, whom his brother Fafner slew so that he might have all the gold for himself.
Sigurd heard him in silence, and when Regin said:
"If thou shalt go forth to slay Fafner I shall forge a mighty sword for thee."
So the lad said: "Forge then a sword for me which shall be without an equal, for fain would I do mighty deeds."
Then Regin went to his smithy and made a sword; but the lad smote it on the anvil and it flew in pieces. A second sword he splintered also. 1
Thereafter Sigurd went to his mother and asked for the broken pieces of his sire's great sword Gram. Then he bade Regin forge it anew, and the Smith did that, although unwillingly. When it was made, the lad put the blade to test and clove the anvil in twain. Next he cut wool with it in the river, so keen was its edge. He was well pleased with Gram.
Regin then bade him promise to slay Fafner, and Sigurd said: "As I promised thee, so shall I do, but first I must set forth to avenge the death of my sire."
Stronger grew the lad, and he was of great stature 2 and skilled in feats of arms. Ere he set forth to do deeds of valour he paid visit to Griper, his mother's brother, who had power to foretell what would come to pass. Sigurd desired to know what the norns had decreed regarding him, and although Griper was at first unwilling to tell him, he at last unfolded to the lad his whole future life.
Thereafter Sigurd went to the king and besought that he should get ships and war-men to go forth against the tribe of Hunding, and avenge upon King Lynge the death of Sigmund. Hjaalprek gave him according to his desire. A great storm broke forth as he crossed the seas, and as the ships came nigh a headland a man beckoned to Sigurd and desired to be taken aboard. The young hero commanded that this should be done. His name was Fjorner 1, and he carried out the behests of Urd. He sang strange runes regarding the battle that was to be. As he did so the storm passed away, and they drew nigh to the kingdom of King Lynge. Then Fjorner vanished.
Sigurd laid waste the country, and tidings were borne to King Lynge that fierce foemen had invaded the kingdom. A great army was collected to oppose them, but Sigurd was given victory, and he slew Lynge, and thus avenged his sire's death. With the sword Gram he clove the king in twain, and all the sons of Hunding who were there he slew also. So did Sigurd achieve great renown, and with the treasure he had captured he returned unto Hjaalprek.
Ere long Regin spake to him in secret, calling to mind his promise to slay the dragon Fafner.
"As I have promised," Sigurd said, "so shall I do."
Regin went forth towards the Glittering Heath with the young hero, whom he counselled to make a pit so that he might slay the dragon from beneath when it came out to drink.
"If the dragon's blood fills up the pit, how will it fare with me?" Sigurd exclaimed.
"Thou seem'st to be afraid," Regin said. "'Unlike thy kin art thou."
Sigurd went towards the dragon's dwelling, but Regin waited at a distance. Then to the young hero came an old and grey-bearded man with one eye, and he gave counsel that he should dig many pits, so that the blood of the dragon might not drown him. 1 Sigurd knew not that the man was Odin, but he did as he was advised: he dug many pits, and in one of them he concealed himself and waited for the dragon to come forth.
In time Fafner crawled from his lair, roaring and spouting venom. The earth shook, and Regin trembled in his hiding place. But Sigurd was not afraid. He waited until the monster was over the pit in which he stood, then he plunged his sword Gram through the dragon right up to the hilt. He drew it forth again, and the blood reddened his arms, and ran into the pits.
Fafner tossed in fury, and destroyed all things that were nigh him, but soon he knew well that he was wounded unto death. As he lay helpless and weak he beheld Sigurd coming forth.
Fafner spake and asked him: "Who art thou that feared me not? What is thy name, and what is thy sire's name?"
Sigurd answered: "My folk are strangers among men. My name is Lordly Beast. I have nor sire nor mother, and hither came I alone." 2
Fafner said: "Wilt thou lie to me in my hour of death) by saying that thou hast nor sire nor mother or other name than Lordly Beast?"
Sigurd thereupon said: "My name is Sigurd, and I am Sigmund's son."
"Brave was thy sire," said the dragon, "but didst thou never hear that I was feared among men? Name thou him who urged thee to slay me."
Sigurd told not of Regin, and the dragon warned him that the gold would be a curse to him.
But the young hero said: "We can but keep our gold till life's end, and a man dieth once only."
Fafner then said: "By Regin was I betrayed. Thee too would he betray; he desires my death and thine."
Soon afterwards the dragon died, whereupon Regin came forth from his hiding place. He came humbly towards the young hero and spake words of flattery to him. Then he said: "But, alas! thou hast slain my brother, nor am I myself without blame."
Sigurd said angrily: "When I performed this great deed thou didst crouch like a coward in a bush."
"It was I who forged the sword with which thou didst slay Fafner," said Regin.
Then Sigurd answered: "Better in battle is a brave heart than a strong sword."
Again Regin said: "Alas! thou hast slain my brother, nor am I myself without blame."
Sigurd cut out the dragon's heart, and Regin drank the blood. Then the wonder smith bade the young hero to roast the heart for him while he lay down to sleep. The lad thrust a rod through it and roasted it over a fire. When the heart frizzled he laid his finger on the spot, lest the blood should come forth, and then he thrust his finger in his mouth. When he did that he at once understood the language of birds. 1
One bird sang: "Why dost thou sit roasting the dragon's heart for another when thou shouldst eat it thyself and obtain great wisdom?"
Another sang: "Regin lies there with purpose in his heart to betray Sigurd."
A third sang: "Sigurd should slay Regin and possess all the treasure for himself."
The first bird sang: "Regin hath drunk of the dragon's blood and will become a wolf. Sigurd would be wise if he thought of his own safety. He who hath a wolf's ears will soon have the teeth of a wolf."
Another bird sang: "Sigurd will be less wise than I deem him to be if he spares the man who desired his -own brother's death."
Sigurd leapt up. "The day hath not come when Regin shall slay me," he said, and at once cut off the head of the wonder smith.
Then the young hero ate a portion of Fafner's heart, 1 and took the rest with him. Thereafter he went to the dragon's lair and took forth the treasure--the rings, the awesome helmet, the sword Hrotte, gold armour, and many ornaments. In two chests he placed the treasure, and these he put upon the back of his strong steed Grane.
The birds sang to him.
"There is a maid most fair if thou couldst possess her.
"Green roads twine to the hall of Giuki, and thither
is Sigurd led. The king hath a daughter and thou hast gold for her. . . ."
"On Hindarfell there is a high and gold-decked hall; it is girt around with fire. . . .
"There sleepeth on the fell a maid of war, a chosen of heroes; flames flash round her. Odin hath given her long and unbroken sleep, for she hath stricken down those whom he favoured. Brynhild's sleep is sure and lasting; thus have the norns decreed."
So Sigurd rode on. The birds sang to him and he heard with wonder. Nor rested he on the green-girt way until he came to Hindarfell, where Brynhild lay wrapped in a magic sleep.
The Tale of Sir Launcelot du Lake from Le Morte Darthur Sir Thomas Malory, retold by Keith Baines
When King Arthur returned from Rome he settled his court at Camelot, and there gathered about him his knights of the Round Table, who diverted themselves with jousting and tournaments. Of all his knights one was supreme, both in prowess at arms and in nobility of bearing, and this was Sir Launcelot, who was also the favorite of Queen Gwynevere, to whom he had sworn oaths of fidelity.
One day Sir Launcelot, feeling weary of his life at the court, and of only playing at arms, decided to set forth in search of adventure. He asked his nephew Sir Lyonel to accompany him, and when both were suitably armed and mounted, they rode off together through the forest.
At noon they started across a plain, but the intensity of the sun made Sir Launcelot feel sleepy, so Sir Lyonel suggested that they should rest beneath the shade of an apple tree that grew by a hedge not far from the road. They dismounted, tethered their horses, and settled down.
“Not for seven years have I felt so sleepy,” said Sir Launcelot, and with that fell fast asleep, while Sir Lyonel watched over him… .
While Sir Launcelot still slept beneath the apple tree, four queens started across the plain. They were riding white mules and accompanied by four knights who held above them, at the tips of their spears, a green silk canopy, to protect them from the sun. The party was startled by the neighing of Sir Launcelot’s horse and, changing direction, rode up to the apple tree, where they discovered the sleeping knight. And as each of the queens gazed at the handsome Sir Launcelot, so each wanted him for her own.
“Let us not quarrel,” said Morgan le Fay. “Instead, I will cast a spell over him so that he remains asleep while we take him to my castle and make him our prisoner. We can then oblige him to choose one of us for his paramour.”
Sir Launcelot was laid on his shield and borne by two of the knights to the Castle Charyot, which was Morgan le Fay’s stronghold. He awoke to find himself in a cold cell, where a young noblewoman was serving him supper.
“What cheer?” she asked.
“My lady, I hardly know, except that I must have been brought here by means of an enchantment.”
“Sir, if you are the knight you appear to be, you will learn your fate at dawn tomorrow.” And with that the young noblewoman left him. Sir Launcelot spent an uncomfortable night but at dawn the four queens presented themselves and Morgan le Fay spoke to him:
“Sir Launcelot, I know that Queen Gwynevere loves you, and you her. But now you are my prisoner, and you will have to choose: either to take one of us for your paramour, or to die miserably in this cell—just as you please. Now I will tell you who we are: I am Morgan le Fay, Queen of Gore; my companions are the Queens of North Galys, of Estelonde, and of the Outer Isles. So make your choice.”
“A hard choice! Understand that I choose none of you, lewd sorceresses that you are; rather will I die in this cell. But were I free, I would take pleasure in proving it against any who would champion you that Queen Gwynevere is the finest lady of this land.”
“So, you refuse us?” asked Morgan le Fay.
“On my life, I do,” Sir Launcelot said finally, and so the queens departed.
Sometime later, the young noblewoman who had served Sir Launcelot’s supper reappeared.
“What news?” she asked.
“It is the end,” Sir Launcelot replied.
“Sir Launcelot, I know that you have refused the four queens, and that they wish to kill you out of spite. But if you will be ruled by me, I can save you. I ask that you will champion my father at a tournament next Tuesday, when he has to combat the King of North Galys, and three knights of the Round Table, who last Tuesday defeated him ignominiously.”
“My lady, pray tell me, what is your father’s name?”
“Excellent, my lady, I know him for a good king and a true knight, so I shall be happy to serve him.”
“May God reward you! And tomorrow at dawn I will release you, and direct you to an abbey which is ten miles from here, and where the good monks will care for you while I fetch my father.”
“I am at your service, my lady.”
As promised, the young noblewoman released Sir Launcelot at dawn. When she had led him through the twelve doors to the castle entrance, she gave him his horse and armor, and directions for finding the abbey.
“God bless you, my lady; and when the time comes I promise I shall not fail you.”
Sir Launcelot rode through the forest in search of the abbey, but at dusk had still failed to find it, and coming upon a red silk pavilion, apparently unoccupied, decided to rest there overnight, and continue his search in the morning.
He had not been asleep for more than an hour, however, when the knight who owned the pavilion returned, and got straight into bed with him. Having made an assignation4 with his paramour, the knight supposed at first that Sir Launcelot was she, and taking him into his arms, started kissing him. Sir Launcelot awoke with a start, and seizing his sword, leaped out of bed and out of the pavilion, pursued closely by the other knight. Once in the open they set to with their swords, and before long Sir Launcelot had wounded his unknown adversary so seriously that he was obliged to yield.
The knight, whose name was Sir Belleus, now asked Sir Launcelot how he came to be sleeping in his bed, and then explained how he had an assignation with his lover, adding:
“But now I am so sorely wounded that I shall consider myself fortunate to escape with my life.”
“Sir, please forgive me for wounding you; but lately I escaped from an enchantment, and I was afraid that once more I had been betrayed. Let us go into the pavilion and I will staunch your wound.”
Sir Launcelot had just finished binding the wound when the young noblewoman who was Sir Belleus’ paramour arrived, and seeing the wound, at once rounded in fury on Sir Launcelot.
“Peace, my love,” said Sir Belleus. “This is a noble knight, and as soon as I yielded to him he treated my wound with the greatest care.” Sir Belleus then described the events which had led up to the duel.
“Sir, pray tell me your name, and whose knight you are,” the young noblewoman asked Sir Launcelot.
“My lady, I am called Sir Launcelot du Lake.”
“As I guessed, both from your appearance and from your speech; and indeed I know you better than you realize. But I ask you, in recompense for the injury you have done my lord, and out of the courtesy for which you are famous, to recommend Sir Belleus to King Arthur, and suggest that he be made one of the knights of the Round Table. I can assure you that my lord deserves it, being only less than yourself as a man-at-arms, and sovereign of many of the Outer Isles.”
“My lady, let Sir Belleus come to Arthur’s court at the next Pentecost. Make sure that you come with him, and I promise I will do what I can for him; and if he is as good a man-at-arms as you say he is, I am sure Arthur will accept him.”
Launcelot Enters a Tournament
As soon as it was daylight, Sir Launcelot armed, mounted, and rode away in search of the abbey, which he found in less than two hours. King Bagdemagus’ daughter was waiting for him, and as soon as she heard his horse’s footsteps in the yard, ran to the window, and, seeing that it was Sir Launcelot, herself ordered the servants to stable his horse. She then led him to her chamber, disarmed him, and gave him a long gown to wear, welcoming him warmly as she did so.
King Bagdemagus’ castle was twelve miles away, and his daughter sent for him as soon as she had settled Sir Launcelot. The king arrived with his retinue6 and embraced Sir Launcelot, who then described his recent enchantment, and the great obligation he was under to his daughter for releasing him.
“Sir, you will fight for me on Tuesday next?”
“Sire, I shall not fail you; but please tell me the names of the three Round Table knights whom I shall be fighting.”
“Sir Modred, Sir Madore de la Porte, and Sir Gahalantyne. I must admit that last Tuesday they defeated me and my knights completely.”
“Sire, I hear that the tournament is to be fought within three miles of the abbey. Could you send me three of your most trustworthy knights, clad in plain armor, and with no device, and a fourth suit of armor which I myself shall wear? We will take up our position just outside the tournament field and watch while you and the King of North Galys enter into combat with your followers; and then, as soon as you are in difficulties, we will come to your rescue, and show your opponents what kind of knights you command.”
This was arranged on Sunday, and on the following Tuesday Sir Launcelot and the three knights of King Bagdemagus waited in a copse, not far from the pavilion which had been erected for the lords and ladies who were to judge the tournament and award the prizes.
The King of North Galys was the first on the field, with a company of ninescore knights; he was followed by King Bagdemagus with fourscore knights, and then by the three knights of the Round Table, who remained apart from both companies. At the first encounter King Bagdemagus lost twelve knights, all killed, and the King of North Galys six.
With that, Sir Launcelot galloped on to the field, and with his first spear unhorsed five of the King of North Galys’ knights, breaking the backs of four of them. With his next spear he charged the king, and wounded him deeply in the thigh.
“That was a shrewd blow,” commented Sir Madore, and galloped onto the field to challenge Sir Launcelot. But he too was tumbled from his horse, and with such violence that his shoulder was broken.
Sir Modred was the next to challenge Sir Launcelot, and he was sent spinning over his horse’s tail. He landed head first, his helmet became buried in the soil, and he nearly broke his neck, and for a long time lay stunned.
Finally, Sir Gahalantyne tried; at the first encounter both he and Sir Launcelot broke their spears, so both drew their swords and hacked vehemently at each other. But Sir Launcelot, with mounting wrath, soon struck his opponent a blow on the helmet which brought the blood streaming from eyes, ears, and mouth. Sir Gahalantyne slumped forward in the saddle, his horse panicked, and he was thrown to the ground, useless for further combat.
Sir Launcelot took another spear, and unhorsed sixteen more of the King of North Galys’ knights, and with his next, unhorsed another twelve; and in each case with such violence that none of the knights ever fully recovered. The King of North Galys was forced to admit defeat, and the prize was awarded to King Bagdemagus.
That night Sir Launcelot was entertained as the guest of honor by King Bagdemagus and his daughter at their castle, and before leaving was loaded with gifts.
“My lady, please, if ever again you should need my services, remember that I shall not fail you.”
Arthur’s kingdom thrived while the Round Table existed, but “might for right” did not last. Several knights told King Arthur about the relationship between his wife and Launcelot. Gwynevere was judged guilty of adultery and sentenced to burn at the stake. At the last moment, Launcelot, charging through the guards, snatched Gwynevere from the flames and took her back to his castle. The resulting hostility between Arthur and Launcelot split the knights’ allegiance. Thus, sexual immorality brought an end to the fellowship of the Round Table.
Making Meanings The Tale of Sir Launcelot du Lake
1. If you were producing a movie of this tale, whom would you cast as Launcelot? Why?
2. Identify at least three of Launcelot’s actions that are worthy of a chivalric hero. What, if anything, does he do that seems unheroic?
3. Based on this tale, what character traits did this medieval culture value in its heroes? Compare and contrast these qualities with your own ideas about heroes. (Where do your own ideas about heroes come from?) Be sure to refer to your Quickwrite notes.
4. A romance usually includes these motifs: adventure, quests, wicked adversaries, even magic (see The Literature of Romance at the beginning of this collection). Describe the typical elements of a romance that you find in this tale. Are any of these motifs found in movies or TV shows today?
5. The Arthurian stories are not prim; they are full of violence, betrayals, romantic intrigues, and even comedy. Did you find any of these elements in the tales in this collection? Cite details from the text in your response.
Extending the Text
6. Do you think Oliver Stone (see Connections) would consider Launcelot heroic? Why? What do you think of Stone’s ideas about heroes?
7. In his essay (see Connections), Stone says “most history was oriented toward male heroes.” If he’s right, why do you think this is so? Is the situation changing?
The Sword in the Stone from Le Morte Darthur Sir Thomas Malory, retold by Keith Baines
During the years that followed the death of King Uther, while Arthur was still a child, the ambitious barons fought one another for the throne, and the whole of Britain stood in jeopardy. Finally the day came when the Archbishop of Canterbury, on the advice of Merlin, summoned the nobility to London for Christmas morning. In his message the archbishop promised that the true succession to the British throne would be miraculously revealed. Many of the nobles purified themselves during their journey, in the hope that it would be to them that the succession would fall.
The archbishop held his service in the city’s greatest church (St. Paul’s), and when matins were done, the congregation filed out to the yard. They were confronted by a marble block into which had been thrust a beautiful sword. The block was four
feet square, and the sword passed through a steel anvil which had been struck in the stone and which projected a foot from it. The anvil had been inscribed with letters of gold:
WHOSO PULLETH OUTE THIS SWERD OF THIS STONE AND ANVYLD IS RIGHTWYS KYNGE BORNE OF ALL BRYTAYGNE
The congregation was awed by this miraculous sight, but the archbishop forbade anyone to touch the sword before Mass had been heard. After Mass, many of the nobles tried to pull the sword out of the stone, but none was able to, so a watch of ten knights was set over the sword, and a tournament proclaimed for New Year’s Day, to provide men of noble blood with the opportunity of proving their right to the succession.
Sir Ector, who had been living on an estate near London, rode to the tournament with Arthur and his own son Sir Kay, who had been recently knighted. When they arrived at the tournament, Sir Kay found to his annoyance that his sword was missing from its sheath, so he begged Arthur to ride back and fetch it from their lodging.
Arthur found the door of the lodging locked and bolted, the landlord and his wife having left for the tournament. In order not to disappoint his brother, he rode on to St. Paul’s, determined to get for him the sword which was lodged in the stone. The yard was empty, the guard also having slipped off to see the tournament, so Arthur strode up to the sword and, without troubling to read the inscription, tugged it free. He then rode straight back to Sir Kay and presented him with it.
Sir Kay recognized the sword and, taking it to Sir Ector, said, “Father, the succession falls to me, for I have here the sword that was lodged in the stone.” But Sir Ector insisted that they should all ride to the churchyard, and once there, bound Sir Kay by oath to tell how he had come by the sword. Sir Kay then admitted that Arthur had given it to him. Sir Ector turned to Arthur and said, “Was the sword not guarded?”
“It was not,” Arthur replied.
“Would you please thrust it into the stone again?” said Sir Ector. Arthur did so, and first Sir Ector and then Sir Kay tried to remove it, but both were unable to. Then Arthur, for the second time, pulled it out. Sir Ector and Sir Kay both knelt before him.
“Why,” said Arthur, “do you both kneel before me?”
“My lord,” Sir Ector replied, “there is only one man living who can draw the sword from the stone, and he is the true-born king of Britain.” Sir Ector then told Arthur the story of his birth and upbringing.
“My dear father,” said Arthur, “for so I shall always think of you—if, as you say, I am to be king, please know that any request you have to make is already granted.”
Sir Ector asked that Sir Kay should be made royal seneschal,2 and Arthur declared that while they both lived it should be so. Then the three of them visited the archbishop and told him what had taken place.
All those dukes and barons with ambitions to rule were present at the tournament on New Year’s Day. But when all of them had failed, and Arthur alone had succeeded in drawing the sword from the stone, they protested against one so young, and of ignoble blood, succeeding to the throne.
The secret of Arthur’s birth was known to only a few of the nobles surviving from the days of King Uther. The archbishop urged them to make Arthur’s cause their own; but their support proved ineffective. The tournament was repeated at Candlemas3 and at Easter, with the same outcome as before.
Finally, at Pentecost,4 when once more Arthur alone had been able to remove the sword, the commoners arose with a tumultuous cry and demanded that Arthur should at once be made king. The nobles, knowing in their hearts that the commoners were right, all knelt before Arthur and begged forgiveness for having delayed his succession for so long. Arthur forgave them and then, offering his sword at the high altar, was dubbed first knight of the realm. The coronation took place a few days later, when Arthur swore to rule justly, and the nobles swore him their allegiance.
Making Meanings The Sword in the Stone
First Thoughts 1. If you were illustrating this part of Arthur’s story, what scene would be your focus?
Shaping Interpretations 2. According to the critic Northrop Frye, “The hero of romance moves in a world in which the ordinary laws of nature are slightly suspended.” What elements of magic appear in this tale that move it out of the realm of the ordinary?
3. In the typical romance, the hero’s origins are mysterious. He is frequently raised in obscurity before taking his rightful place as leader. How does the story of Arthur reflect this pattern? Why do you think people so enjoy these stories of the supposed underdog being the real hero?
4. In what other ways does Arthur, even as a young boy, resemble the typical romance hero? How does Sir Kay, his foster brother, show signs that he is definitely not heroic material?
Connecting with the Text
5. What heroic values does this story teach? Do any of these values seem important to you today? Be sure to refer to your Quickwrite notes.
Extending the Text
6. “The magic happened” for John Steinbeck at the age of nine when he first read Malory (see Connections). Think of a book, movie, or TV show that made a strong, almost “magical,” impression on you at a young age. Explain its impact.
BY THE WATERS OF BABYLON by Stephen Vincent Benét
The north and the west and the south are good hunting ground, but it is forbidden to go east. It is forbidden to go to any of the Dead Places except to search for metal and then he who touches the metal must be a priest or the son of a priest. Afterwards, both the man and the metal must be purified. These are the rules and the laws; they are well made. It is forbidden to cross the great river and look upon the place that was the Place of the Gods—this is most strictly forbidden. We do not even say its name though we know its name. It is there that spirits live, and demons—it is there that there are the ashes of the Great Burning. These things are forbidden—they have been forbidden since the beginning of time.
My father is a priest; I am the son of a priest. I have been in the Dead Places near us, with my father—at first, I was afraid. When my father went into the house to search for the metal, I stood by the door and my heart felt small and weak. It was a dead man's house, a spirit house. It did not have the smell of man, though there were old bones in a corner. But it is not fitting that a priest's son should show fear. I looked at the bones in the shadow and kept my voice still.
Then my father came out with the metal—good, strong piece. He looked at me with both eyes but I had not run away. He gave me the metal to hold—I took it and did not die. So he knew that I was truly his son and would be a priest in my time. That was when I was very young—nevertheless, my brothers would not have done it, though they are good hunters. After that, they gave me the good piece of meat and the warm corner of the fire. My father watched over me—he was glad that I should be a priest. But when I boasted or wept without a reason, he punished me more strictly than my brothers. That was right.
After a time, I myself was allowed to go into the dead houses and search for metal. So I learned the ways of those houses—and if I saw bones, I was no longer afraid. The bones are light and old—sometimes they will fall into dust if you touch them. But that is a great sin.
I was taught the chants and the spells—l was taught how to stop the running of blood from a wound and many secrets. A priest must know many secrets—that was what my father said.
If the hunters think we do all things by chants and spells, they may believe so—it does not hurt them. I was taught how to read in the old books and how to make the old writings—that was hard and took a long time. My knowledge made me happy—it was like a fire in my heart. Most of all, I liked to hear of the Old Days and the stories of the gods. I asked myself many questions that I could not answer, but it was good to ask them. At night, I would lie awake and listen to the wind—it seemed to me that it was the voice of the gods as they flew through the air.
We are not ignorant like the Forest People—our women spin wool on the wheel, our priests wear a white robe. We do not eat grubs from the trees, we have not forgotten the old writings, although they are hard to understand. Nevertheless, my knowledge and my lack of knowledge burned in me—I wished to know more. When I was a man at last, I came to my father and said, "It is time for me to go on my journey. Give me your leave."
He looked at me for a long time, stroking his beard, and then he said at last, "Yes. It is time." That night, in the house of the priesthood, I asked for and received purification. My body hurt but my spirit was a cool stone. It was my father himself who questioned me about my dreams.
He bade me look into the smoke of the fire and see—I saw and told what I saw. It was what I have always seen—a river, and, beyond it, a great Dead Place and in it the gods walking. I have always thought about that. His eyes were stern when I told him he was no longer my father but a priest. He said, "This is a strong dream."
"It is mine," I said, while the smoke waved and my head felt light. They were singing the Star song in the outer chamber and it was like the buzzing of bees in my head.
He asked me how the gods were dressed and I told him how they were dressed. We know how they were dressed from the book, but I saw them as if they were before me. When I had finished, he threw the sticks three times and studied them as they fell.
"This is a very strong dream," he said." It may eat you up."
"I am not afraid," I said and looked at him with both eyes. My voice sounded thin in my ears but that was because of the smoke.
He touched me on the breast and the forehead. He gave me the bow and the three arrows.
"Take them," he said. "It is forbidden to travel east. It is forbidden to cross the river. It is forbidden to go to the Place of the Gods. All these things are forbidden."
"All these things are forbidden," I said, but it was my voice that spoke and not my spirit. He looked at me again.
"My son," he said. "Once I had young dreams. If your dreams do not eat you up, you may be a great priest. If they eat you, you are still my son. Now go on your journey."
I went fasting, as is the law. My body hurt but not my heart. When the dawn came, I was out of sight of the village. I prayed and purified myself, waiting for a sign. The sign was an eagle. It flew east.
Sometimes signs are sent by bad spirits. I waited again on the flat rock, fasting, taking no food. I was very still—I could feel the sky above me and the earth beneath. I waited till the sun was beginning to sink. Then three deer passed in the valley going east—they did not mind me or see me. There was a white fawn with them—a very great sign.
I followed them, at a distance, waiting for what would happen. My heart was troubled about going east, yet I knew that I must go. My head hummed with my fasting—I did not even see the panther spring upon the white fawn. But, before I knew it, the bow was in my hand. I shouted and the panther lifted his head from the fawn. It is not easy to kill a panther with one arrow but the arrow went through his eye and into his brain. He died as he tried to spring—he rolled over, tearing at the ground. Then I knew I was meant to go east—I knew that was my journey. When the night came, I made my fire and roasted meat.
It is eight suns' journey to the east and a man passes by many Dead Places. The Forest People are afraid of them but I am not. Once I made my fire on the edge of a Dead Place at night and, next morning, in the dead house, I found a good knife, little rusted. That was small to what came afterward but it made my heart feel big. Always when I looked for game, it was in front of my arrow, and twice I passed hunting parties of the Forest People without their knowing. So I knew my magic was strong and my journey clean, in spite of the law.
Toward the setting of the eighth sun, I came to the banks of the great river. It was half-a-day's journey after I had left the god-road—we do not use the god-roads now for they are falling apart into great blocks of stone, and the forest is safer going. A long way off, I had seen the water through trees but the trees were thick. At last, I came out upon an open place at the top of a cliff. There was the great river below, like a giant in the sun. It is very long, very wide. It could eat all the streams we know and still be thirsty. Its name is Ou-dis-sun, the Sacred, the Long. No man of my tribe had seen it, not even my father, the priest. It was magic and I prayed.
Then I raised my eyes and looked south. It was there, the Place of the Gods.
How can I tell what it was like—you do not know. It was there, in the red light, and they were too big to be houses. It was there with the red light upon it, mighty and ruined. I knew that in another moment the gods would see me. I covered my eyes with my hands and crept back into the forest.
Surely, that was enough to do, and live. Surely it was enough to spend the night upon the cliff. The Forest People themselves do not come near. Yet, all through the night, I knew that I should have to cross the river and walk in the places of the gods, although the gods ate me up. My magic did not help me at all and yet there was a fire in my bowels, a fire in my mind. When the sun rose, I thought, "My journey has been clean. Now I will go home from my journey." But, even as I thought so, I knew I could not. If I went to the Place of the Gods, I would surely die, but, if I did not go, I could never be at peace with my spirit again. It is better to lose one's life than one's spirit, if one is a priest and the son of a priest.
Nevertheless, as I made the raft, the tears ran out of my eyes. The Forest People could have killed me without fight, if they had come upon me then, but they did not come.
When the raft was made, I said the sayings for the dead and painted myself for death. My heart was cold as a frog and my knees like water, but the burning in my mind would not let me have peace. As I pushed the raft from the shore, I began my death song—I had the right. It was a fine song.
"I am John, son of John," I sang. "My people are the Hill People. They are the men.
I go into the Dead Places but I am not slain.
I take the metal from the Dead Places but I am not blasted.
I travel upon the god-roads and am not afraid. E-yah! I have killed the panther, I have killed the fawn!
E-yah! I have come to the great river. No man has come there before.
It is forbidden to go east, but I have gone, forbidden to go on the great river, but I am there.
Open your hearts, you spirits, and hear my song.
Now I go to the Place of the Gods, I shall not return.
My body is painted for death and my limbs weak, but my heart is big as I go to the Place of the Gods!"
All the same, when I came to the Place of the Gods, I was afraid, afraid. The current of the great river is very strong—it gripped my raft with its hands. That was magic, for the river itself is wide and calm. I could feel evil spirits about me, I was swept down the stream. Never have I been so much alone—I tried to think of my knowledge, but it was a squirrel's heap of winter nuts. There was no strength in my knowledge any more and I felt small and naked as a new-hatched bird—alone upon the great river, the servant of the gods.
Yet, after a while, my eyes were opened and I saw. I saw both banks of the river—I saw that once there had been god-roads across it, though now they were broken and fallen like broken vines. Very great they were, and wonderful and broken—broken in the time of the Great Burning when the fire fell out of the sky. And always the current took me nearer to the Place of the Gods, and the huge ruins rose before my eyes.
I do not know the customs of rivers—we are the People of the Hills. I tried to guide my raft with the pole but it spun around. I thought the river meant to take me past the Place of the Gods and out into the Bitter Water of the legends. I grew angry then—my heart felt strong. I said aloud, "I am a priest and the son of a priest!" The gods heard me—they showed me how to paddle with the pole on one side of the raft. The current changed itself—I drew near to the Place of the Gods.
When I was very near, my raft struck and turned over. I can swim in our lakes—I swam to the shore. There was a great spike of rusted metal sticking out into the river—I hauled myself up upon it and sat there, panting. I had saved my bow and two arrows and the knife I found in the Dead Place but that was all. My raft went whirling downstream toward the Bitter Water. I looked after it, and thought if it had trod me under, at least I would be safely dead. Nevertheless, when I had dried my bowstring and re-strung it, I walked forward to the Place of the Gods.
It felt like ground underfoot; it did not burn me. It is not true what some of the tales say, that the ground there burns forever, for I have been there. Here and there were the marks and stains of the Great Burning, on the ruins, that is true. But they were old marks and old stains. It is not true either, what some of our priests say, that it is an island covered with fogs and enchantments. It is not. It is a great Dead Place—greater than any Dead Place we know. Everywhere in it there are god-roads, though most are cracked and broken. Everywhere there are the ruins of the high towers of the gods.
How shall I tell what I saw? I went carefully, my strung bow in my hand, my skin ready for danger. There should have been the wailings of spirits and the shrieks of demons, but there were not. It was very silent and sunny where I had landed—the wind and the rain and the birds that drop seeds had done their work—the grass grew in the cracks of the broken stone. It is a fair island—no wonder the gods built there. If I had come there, a god, I also would have built.
How shall I tell what I saw? The towers are not all broken—here and there one still stands, like a great tree in a forest, and the birds nest high. But the towers themselves look blind, for the gods are gone. I saw a fishhawk, catching fish in the river. I saw a little dance of white butterflies over a great heap of broken stones and columns. I went there and looked about me—there was a carved stone with cut—letters, broken in half. I can read letters but I could not understand these. They said UBTREAS. There was also the shattered image of a man or a god. It had been made of white stone and he wore his hair tied back like a woman's. His name was ASHING, as I read on the cracked half of a stone. I thought it wise to pray to ASHING, though I do not know that god.
How shall I tell what I saw? There was no smell of man left, on stone or metal. Nor were there many trees in that wilderness of stone. There are many pigeons, nesting and dropping in the towers—the gods must have loved them, or, perhaps, they used them for sacrifices. There are wild cats that roam the god-roads, green-eyed, unafraid of man. At night they wail like demons but they are not demons. The wild dogs are more dangerous, for they hunt in a pack, but them I did not meet till later. Everywhere there are the carved stones, carved with magical numbers or words.
I went north—I did not try to hide myself. When a god or a demon saw me, then I would die, but meanwhile I was no longer afraid. My hunger for knowledge burned in me—there was so much that I could not understand. After a while, I knew that my belly was hungry. I could have hunted for my meat, but I did not hunt. It is known that the gods did not hunt as we do—they got their food from enchanted boxes and jars. Sometimes these are still found in the Dead Places—once, when I was a child and foolish, I opened such a jar and tasted it and found the food sweet. But my father found out and punished me for it strictly, for, often, that food is death. Now, though, I had long gone past what was forbidden, and I entered the likeliest towers, looking for the food of the gods.
I found it at last in the ruins of a great temple in the mid-city. A mighty temple it must have been, for the roof was painted like the sky at night with its stars—that much I could see, though the colors were faint and dim. It went down into great caves and tunnels—perhaps they kept their slaves there. But when I started to climb down, I heard the squeaking of rats, so I did not go—rats are unclean, and there must have been many tribes of them, from the squeaking. But near there, I found food, in the heart of a ruin, behind a door that still opened. I ate only the fruits from the jars—they had a very sweet taste. There was drink, too, in bottles of glass—the drink of the gods was strong and made my head swim. After I had eaten and drunk, I slept on the top of a stone, my bow at my side.
When I woke, the sun was low. Looking down from where I lay, I saw a dog sitting on his haunches. His tongue was hanging out of his mouth; he looked as if he were laughing. He was a big dog, with a gray-brown coat, as big as a wolf. I sprang up and shouted at him but he did not move—he just sat there as if he were laughing. I did not like that. When I reached for a stone to throw, he moved swiftly out of the way of the stone. He was not afraid of me; he looked at me as if I were meat. No doubt I could have killed him with an arrow, but I did not know if there were others. Moreover, night was falling.
I looked about me—not far away there was a great, broken god-road, leading north. The towers were high enough, but not so high, and while many of the dead-houses were wrecked, there were some that stood. I went toward this god-road, keeping to the heights of the ruins, while the dog followed. When I had reached the god-road, I saw that there were others behind him. If I had slept later, they would have come upon me asleep and torn out my throat. As it was, they were sure enough of me; they did not hurry. When I went into the dead-house, they kept watch at the entrance—doubtless they thought they would have a fine hunt. But a dog cannot open a door and I knew, from the books, that the gods did not like to live on the ground but on high.
I had just found a door I could open when the dogs decided to rush. Ha! They were surprised when I shut the door in their faces—it was a good door, of strong metal. I could hear their foolish baying beyond it but I did not stop to answer them. I was in darkness—I found stairs and climbed. There were many stairs, turning around till my head was dizzy. At the top was another door—I found the knob and opened it. I was in a long small chamber—on one side of it was a bronze door that could not be opened, for it had no handle. Perhaps there was a magic word to open it but I did not have the word. I turned to the door in the opposite side of the wall. The lock of it was broken and I opened it and went in.
Within, there was a place of great riches. The god who lived there must have been a powerful god. The first room was a small ante-room—I waited there for some time, telling the spirits of the place that I came in peace and not as a robber. When it seemed to me that they had had time to hear me, I went on. Ah, what riches! Few, even, of the windows had been broken—it was all as it had been. The great windows that looked over the city had not been broken at all though they were dusty and streaked with many years. There were coverings on the floors, the colors not greatly faded, and the chairs were soft and deep. There were pictures upon the walls, very strange, very wonderful—I remember one of a bunch of flowers in a jar—if you came close to it, you could see nothing but bits of color, but if you stood away from it, the flowers might have been picked yesterday. It made my heart feel strange to look at this picture—and to look at the figure of a bird, in some hard clay, on a table and see it so like our birds. Everywhere there were books and writings, many in tongues that I could not read. The god who lived there must have been a wise god and full of knowledge. I felt I had a right there, as I sought knowledge also.
Nevertheless, it was strange. There was a washing-place but no water—perhaps the gods washed in air. There was a cooking-place but no wood, and though there was a machine to cook food, there was no place to put fire in it. Nor were there candles or lamps—there were things that looked like lamps but they had neither oil nor wick. All these things were magic, but I touched them and lived—the magic had gone out of them. Let me tell one thing to show. In the washing-place, a thing said "Hot" but it was not hot to the touch—another thing said "Cold" but it was not cold. This must have been a strong magic but the magic was gone. I do not understand—they had ways—I wish that I knew.
It was close and dry and dusty in the house of the gods. I have said the magic was gone but that is not true—it had gone from the magic things but it had not gone from the place. I felt the spirits about me, weighing upon me. Nor had I ever slept in a Dead Place before—and yet, tonight, I must sleep there. When I thought of it, my tongue felt dry in my throat, in spite of my wish for knowledge. Almost I would have gone down again and faced the dogs, but I did not.
I had not gone through all the rooms when the darkness fell. When it fell, I went back to the big room looking over the city and made fire. There was a place to make fire and a box with wood in it, though I do not think they cooked there. I wrapped myself in a floor-covering and slept in front of the fire—I was very tired.
Now I tell what is very strong magic. I woke in the midst of the night. When I woke, the fire had gone out and I was cold. It seemed to me that all around me there were whisperings and voices. I closed my eyes to shut them out. Some will say that I slept again, but I do not think that I slept. I could feel the spirits drawing my spirit out of my body as a fish is drawn on a line.
Why should I lie about it? I am a priest and the son of a priest. If there are spirits, as they say, in the small Dead Places near us, what spirits must there not be in that great Place of the Gods? And would not they wish to speak? After such long years? I know that I felt myself drawn as a fish is drawn on a line. I had stepped out of my body—I could see my body asleep in front of the cold fire, but it was not I. I was drawn to look out upon the city of the gods.
It should have been dark, for it was night, but it was not dark. Everywhere there were lights—lines of light—circles and blurs of light—ten thousand torches would not have been the same. The sky itself was alight—you could barely see the stars for the glow in the sky. I thought to myself "This is strong magic" and trembled. There was a roaring in my ears like the rushing of rivers. Then my eyes grew used to the light and my ears to the sound. I knew that I was seeing the city as it had been when the gods were alive.
That was a sight indeed—yes, that was a sight: I could not have seen it in the body—my body would have died. Everywhere went the gods, on foot and in chariots—there were gods beyond number and counting and their chariots blocked the streets. They had turned night to day for their pleasure-they did not sleep with the sun. The noise of their coming and going was the noise of the many waters. It was magic what they could do—it was magic what they did.
I looked out of another window—the great vines of their bridges were mended and god-roads went east and west. Restless, restless, were the gods and always in motion! They burrowed tunnels under rivers—they flew in the air. With unbelievable tools they did giant works—no part of the earth was safe from them, for, if they wished for a thing, they summoned it from the other side of the world. And always, as they labored and rested, as they feasted and made love, there was a drum in their ears—the pulse of the giant city, beating and beating like a man's heart.
Were they happy? What is happiness to the gods? They were great, they were mighty, they were wonderful and terrible. As I looked upon them and their magic, I felt like a child—but a little more, it seemed to me, and they would pull down the moon from the sky. I saw them with wisdom beyond wisdom and knowledge beyond knowledge. And yet not all they did was well done—even I could see that ? and yet their wisdom could not but grow until all was peace.
Then I saw their fate come upon them and that was terrible past speech. It came upon them as they walked the streets of their city. I have been in the fights with the Forest People—I have seen men die. But this was not like that. When gods war with gods, they use weapons we do not know. It was fire falling out of the sky and a mist that poisoned. It was the time of the Great Burning and the Destruction. They ran about like ants in the streets of their city—poor gods, poor gods! Then the towers began to fall. A few escaped—yes, a few. The legends tell it. But, even after the city had become a Dead Place, for many years the poison was still in the ground. I saw it happen, I saw the last of them die. It was darkness over the broken city and I wept.
All this, I saw. I saw it as I have told it, though not in the body. When I woke in the morning, I was hungry, but I did not think first of my hunger for my heart was perplexed and confused. I knew the reason for the Dead Places but I did not see why it had happened. It seemed to me it should not have happened, with all the magic they had. I went through the house looking for an answer. There was so much in the house I could not understand—and yet I am a priest and the son of a priest. It was like being on one side of the great river, at night, with no light to show the way.
Then I saw the dead god. He was sitting in his chair, by the window, in a room I had not entered before and, for the first moment, I thought that he was alive. Then I saw the skin on the back of his hand—it was like dry leather. The room was shut, hot and dry—no doubt that had kept him as he was. At first I was afraid to approach him—then the fear left me. He was sitting looking out over the city—he was dressed in the clothes of the gods. His age was neither young nor old—I could not tell his age. But there was wisdom in his face and great sadness. You could see that he would have not run away. He had sat at his window, watching his city die—then he himself had died. But it is better to lose one's life than one's spirit—and you could see from the face that his spirit had not been lost. I knew, that, if I touched him, he would fall into dust—and yet, there was something unconquered in the face.
That is all of my story, for then I knew he was a man—I knew then that they had been men, neither gods nor demons. It is a great knowledge, hard to tell and believe. They were men—they went a dark road, but they were men. I had no fear after that—I had no fear going home, though twice I fought off the dogs and once I was hunted for two days by the Forest People. When I saw my father again, I prayed and was purified. He touched my lips and my breast, he said, "You went away a boy. You come back a man and a priest." I said, "Father, they were men! I have been in the Place of the Gods and seen it! Now slay me, if it is the law—but still I know they were men."
He looked at me out of both eyes. He said, "The law is not always the same shape—you have done what you have done. I could not have done it my time, but you come after me. Tell!"
I told and he listened. After that, I wished to tell all the people but he showed me otherwise. He said, "Truth is a hard deer to hunt. If you eat too much truth at once, you may die of the truth. It was not idly that our fathers forbade the Dead Places." He was right—it is better the truth should come little by little. I have learned that, being a priest. Perhaps, in the old days, they ate knowledge too fast.
Nevertheless, we make a beginning. it is not for the metal alone we go to the Dead Places now—there are the books and the writings. They are hard to learn. And the magic tools are broken—but we can look at them and wonder. At least, we make a beginning. And, when I am chief priest we shall go beyond the great river. We shall go to the Place of the Gods—the place newyork—not one man but a company. We shall look for the images of the gods and find the god ASHING and the others—the gods Lincoln and Biltmore and Moses. But they were men who built the city, not gods or demons. They were men. I remember the dead man's face. They were men who were here before us. We must build again.
World of Tomorrow Project - DUE TUE. SEPTEMBER 29th
Working with a partner, please create a labeled& illustrated MAP of an environmentally sound city of the future. This should be your vision of what the world might look like in the next 100 years. What kinds of new technology will your city have? Consider the following areas and how they will transform in the future before making your map.Utilities (electrical, gas, water) radio, television, computers, transpotation, communication, medicine, education, environment, space exploration, artificial intelligence, nano technology, natural resources (fuel, metals, etc.) agriculture, military defense, population, language, race, religion, finance, government, etc.
Now for some reason, if you're someone who has no confidence in mankind and feels that we will ultimately destroy ourselves, then your map might look a bit more apocalyptic. Regardless, you will still have to illustrate all of the mass destruction and provide details about what led to the end of civilization. In addition to your map, you must also WRITE at least a one page paper that gives a guided tour of your city and your personal vision of the future. The paper must be typed, double spaced, 1" margin,#12 font (Arial & Times New Roman only)
Below you will find links to books containing information that might help you with your project.
To enter out into that silence that was the city at eight o'clock of a misty evening in November, to put your feet upon that buckling concrete walk, to step over grassy seams and make your way, hands in pockets, through the silences, that was what Mr Leonard Mead most dearly loved to do. He would stand upon the corner of an intersection and peer down long moonlit avenues of sidewalk in four directions, deciding which way to go, but it really made no difference; he was alone in this world of 2053 A.D., or as good as alone, and with a final decision made, a path selected, he would stride off, sending patterns of frosty air before him like the smoke of a cigar. Sometimes he would walk for hours and miles and return only at midnight to his house. And on his way he would see the cottages and homes with their dark windows, and it was not unequal to walking through a graveyard where only the faintest glimmers of firefly light appeared in flickers behind the windows. Sudden gray phantoms seemed to manifest upon inner room walls where a curtain was still undrawn against the night, or there were whisperings and murmurs where a window in a tomb-like building was still open.
Mr Leonard Mead would pause, cock his head, listen, look, and march on, his feet making no noise on the lumpy walk. For long ago he had wisely changed to sneakers when strolling at night, because the dogs in intermittent squads would parallel his journey with barkings if he wore hard heels, and lights might click on and faces appear and an entire street be startled by the passing of a lone figure, himself, in the early November evening. On this particular evening he began his journey in a westerly direction, toward the hidden sea. There was a good crystal frost in the air; it cut the nose and made the lungs blaze like a Christmas tree inside; you could feel the cold light going on and off, all the branches filled with invisible snow. He listened to the faint push of his soft shoes through autumn leaves with satisfaction, and whistled a cold quiet whistle between his teeth, occasionally picking up a leaf as he passed, examining its skeletal pattern in the infrequent lamplights as he went on, smelling its rusty smell.
'Hello, in there,' he whispered to every house on every side as he moved. 'What's up tonight on Channel 4, Channel 7, Channel 9? Where are the cowboys rushing, and do I see the United States Cavalry over the next hill to the rescue?'
The street was silent and long and empty, with only his shadow moving like the shadow of a hawk in mid-country. If he closed his eyes and stood very still, frozen, he could imagine himself upon the center of a plain, a wintry, windless Arizona desert with no house in a thousand miles, and only dry river beds, the street, for company. 'What is it now?' he asked the houses, noticing his wrist watch. Eight-thirty P.M.? Time for a dozen assorted murders? A quiz? A revue? A comedian falling off the stage?'
Was that a murmur of laughter from within a moon-white house? He hesitated, but went on when nothing more happened. He stumbled over a particularly uneven section of sidewalk. The cement was vanishing under flowers and grass. In ten years of walking by night or day, for thousands of miles, he had never met another person walking, not one in all that time.
He came to a cloverleaf intersection which stood silent where two main highways crossed the town. During the day it was a thunderous surge of cars, the gas stations open, a great insect rustling and a ceaseless jockeying for position as the scarab-beetles, a faint incense puttering from their exhausts, skimmed homeward to the far directions. But now these highways, too, were like streams in a dry season, all stone and bed and moon radiance. He turned back on a side street, circling around toward his home. He was within a block of his destination when the lone car turned a corner quite suddenly and flashed a fierce white cone of light upon him. He stood entranced, not unlike a night moth, stunned by the illumination, and then drawn toward it.
A metallic voice called to him: 'Stand still. Stay where you are! Don't move!' He halted. 'Put up your hands!' 'But-' he said. 'Your hands up! Or we'll shoot!' The police, of course, but what a rare, incredible thing; in a city of three million, there was only one police car left, wasn't that correct? Ever since a year ago, 2052, the election year, the force had been cut down from three cars to one. Crime was ebbing; there was no need now for the police, save for this one lone car wandering and wandering the empty streets. 'Your name?' said the police car in a metallic whisper. He couldn't see the men in it for the bright light in his eyes. 'Leonard Mead,' he said. 'Speak up!' 'Leonard Mead!' Business or profession?' 'I guess you'd call me a writer.' No profession,' said the police car, as if talking to itself. The light held him fixed, like a museum specimen, needle thrust through chest. 'You might say that,' said Mr Mead. He hadn't written in years. Magazines and books didn't sell anymore. Everything went on in the tomb-like houses at night now, he thought, continuing his fancy. The tombs, ill-lit by television light, where the people sat like the dead, the gray or multi-colored lights touching their faces, but never really touching them. 'No profession,' said the phonograph voice, hissing. 'What are you doing out?' 'Walking,' said Leonard Mead. 'Walking!' 'Just walking,' he said simply, but his face felt cold. 'Walking, just walking, walking?' 'Yes, sir.' 'Walking where? For what?' 'Walking for air. Walking to see.' 'Your address!' 'Eleven South Saint James Street.' 'And there is air in your house, you have an air conditioner, Mr Mead?' Yes.' 'And you have a viewing screen in your house to see with?' 'No. 'No?' There was a crackling quiet that in itself was an accusation. 'Are you married, Mr Mead?' 'No.' 'Not married,' said the police voice behind the fiery beam. The moon was high and dear among the stars and the houses were gray and silent. 'Nobody wanted me,' said Leonard Mead with a smile. 'Don't speak unless you're spoken to!' Leonard Mead waited in the cold night. 'Just walking; Mr Mead?' 'Yes.' But you haven't explained for what purpose.' 'I explained; for air, and to see, and just to walk.' 'Have you done this often?' Every night for years.' The police car sat in the center of the street with its radio throat faintly humming. 'Well, Mr Mead', it said. ''s that all?' he asked politely. 'Yes,' said the voice. 'Here.' There was a sigh, a pop. The back doot of the police car sprang wide. 'Get in.' 'Wait a minute, 1 haven't done anything!' 'Get in.' 'I protest!' 'Mr Mead.' He walked like a man suddenly drunk. As he passed the front window of the car he looked in. As he had expected, there was no one in the front seat, no one in the car at all. 'Get in.' He put his hand to the door and peered into the back seat, which was a little cell, a little black jail with bars. It smelled of riveted steel. It smelled of harsh antiseptic; it smelled too clean and hard and metallic. There was nothing soft there. 'Now if you had a wife to give you an alibi,' said the iron voice. 'But-' Where are you taking me?' The car hesitated, or rather gave a faint whirring click, as if information, somewhere, was dropping card by punch- slotted card under electric eyes. 'To the Psychiatric Center for Research on Regressive Tendencies.'
He got in. The door shut with a soft thud. The police car rolled through the night avenues, flashing its dim lights ahead.
They passed one house on one street a moment later, one house in an entire city of houses that were dark, but this one particular house had all of its electric lights brightly lit, every window a loud yellow illumination, square and warm in the cool darkness.
'That's my house,' said Leonard Mead.
No one answered him.
The car moved down the empty riverbed streets and off away, leaving the empty streets with the empty sidewalks, and no sound and no motion all the rest of the chill November night.