Voices from the street, p.1

Voices From the Street, page 1

 

Voices From the Street



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Voices From the Street


  This is a work of fiction. All of the characters, organizations, and events portrayed in this novel are either fictitious or are used fictitiously.

  VOICES FROM THE STREET

  Copyright © 2007 by The Philip K. Dick Trust

  All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book, or portions thereof, in any form.

  This book is printed on acid-free paper.

  A Tor Book

  Published by Tom Doherty Associates, LLC

  175 Fifth Avenue

  New York, NY 10010

  www.tor.com

  Tor® is a registered trademark of Tom Doherty Associates, LLC.

  ISBN-13: 978-0-765-31692-9

  ISBN-10: 0-765-31692-7

  First Edition: January 2007

  Printed in the United States of America

  0 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

  To S. M.

  They find it harder to locate their external enemies than to grapple with their internal conditions. Their seemingly impersonal defeat has spun a personally tragic plot and they are betrayed by what is false within them.

  —C. WRIGHT MILLS

  CONTENTS

  PART ONE

  Morning

  PART TWO

  Afternoon

  PART THREE

  Evening

  PART FOUR

  Night

  PART ONE

  Morning

  Thursday morning, June 5, 1952, came bright and hot. Moist sunlight lay over stores and streets. Glittering from the lawns, the cold sprinkle of night steamed upward to the blue-glass sky. It was an early-morning sky; soon it would bake away and shrivel. An oppressive white haze would drift in from the Bay and hang lusterless over the world. But it was only eight thirty; the sky had two hours to live.

  Jim Fergesson happily rolled down the windows of his Pontiac and, poking his elbow out, leaned to inhale vast lungfuls of damp summer-morning air. His benign gaze, distorted by a residue of indigestion and nervous fatigue, took in the sight of sunlight dancing from gravel and pavements as he drove from Cedar Street into the half-deserted parking lot. He parked, turned off the motor, and sat for a moment lighting a cigar. A few cars slithered in and parked around him. Cars swished along the street. Sounds, the first stirrings of people. In the quiet chill their movements set up metallic echoes from the office buildings and concrete walls.

  Fergesson climbed from his car and slammed the door. He crunched briskly across the gravel and down the sidewalk, hands in his pockets, heels clicking loudly, a small, muscular man in a blue serge suit, middle-aged, face red with wrinkles and wisdom, puffy lips twisting the column of his cigar.

  On all sides of him merchants rolled down their awnings with elaborate arm motions. A Negro was sweeping trash with a push broom into the gutter. Fergesson stepped through the trash with dignity. The Negro made no comment…early-morning sweeping machine.

  By the entrance of the California Loan Company a group of secretaries clustered. Coffee cups, high heels, perfume and earrings and pink sweaters, coats tossed over sharp shoulders. Fergesson gratefully inhaled the sweet scent of young women. Laughter, muted whispers, giggles, intimate words from soft lips passed back and forth, excluding him and the street. The office opened and the women tripped inside with a swirl of nylons and coattails…he glanced appreciatively back. Briefly, he longed for one of them, any one of them. Good for the store…like the old days. A woman adds class, refinement. Bookkeeper? Better someone where the customers can see her. Keeps the men from swearing; keeps them kidding and laughing.

  “Morning, Jim.” From Stein’s MensWear.

  “Morning,” Fergesson answered, without stopping; he held his arm behind him, fingers casually trailing. In front of Modern TV Sales and Service he halted and fished out his key. Critically, he surveyed his small, old-fashioned possession. Like a little old suit, the store steamed dully in the morning sunlight. The archaic neon sign was off. Debris from the night lay scattered in the entranceway. The TV and radio sets in the windows were murky, uninteresting shapes. Records, signs, banners…he kicked a pasteboard milk carton out of the doorway and onto the sidewalk. The carton rolled away, caught by the morning wind. Fergesson plunged his key in the lock and pushed open the door.

  Here no life existed. He squinted and spat away the first stale breath that hung inside the shop. In the rear the ghostly blue of the night-light rose like marsh gas over a decaying bog. He bent down and clicked on the main power; the big neon sign spluttered on, and after a moment, the window lights warmed to a faint glow. He fixed the door wide open, caught up some of the sweet outdoor air, and, holding it in his lungs, moved about the dark damp store, turning on banks of sets, display signs, fans, machinery, equipment, intercoms. The dead things came reluctantly back to life. A radio blared, then a long row of TV sets. He advanced on the night-light and destroyed it with a single jerk of his hand. He ignited the listening booths that surrounded the dusty, disorganized front counter. He grabbed a pole and dragged back the skylight. He threw the Philco display into whirring excitement and carried it to the back of the store. He illuminated the luxurious Zenith poster. He brought light, being, awareness to the void. Darkness fled; and after the first moment of impatient frenzy, he subsided and rested, and took his seventh day—a cup of black coffee.

  Coffee came from the Health Food Store next door. Under the front counter of Modern were piles and heaps of cups, spoons, and saucers. Bits of stale doughnuts and buns mixed with cigarette ashes, matches, Kleenex. Dust lay over them; years passed and new cups were added; the old were not removed.

  As Jim Fergesson entered the Health Food Store, Betty dragged herself heavily from the back and lifted a tired arm to greet him. She carried a vast damp rag wadded and sopping under her arm; her face was lined with fatigue and her steel-rimmed glasses sagged.

  “Morning,” Fergesson said.

  “Morning, Jim,” Betty wheezed with a weary, friendly smile. She disappeared to get the Silex coffeemaker from the back.

  He was not the first customer. A few middle-aged women, well dressed and chatting quietly, sat at the counter and tables eating cracked wheat and skim milk and drinking an all-grain beverage. To the rear a nattily dressed salesman from the gift shop was daintily nibbling at dry butterless toast and applesauce.

  His coffee came.

  “Thanks,” Fergesson murmured. He got a dime from his vaguely pressed trousers and rolled it to Betty. On his feet, he moved toward the door, past the displays of sugar-free peaches and pears, nonfattening acorn-meal cookies, jars of honey and sacks of wheat meal, dried roots, bins of nuts. He kicked the screen door open, edged by the corner of a dried date-and-apple display rack upon which a poster of Theodore Beckheim rested, caught a momentary glare of disapproval from the stern-faced, beetle-browed minister, and then found himself free on the sidewalk, away from the heavy sickening odor of powdered goat’s milk and female perspiration.

  Nobody had entered Modern ahead of him. Olsen, the spiderlike repairman, was nowhere in sight. Nor were any of the salesmen. No elderly woman had appeared with a withered little radio to be fixed. No young couples wanting to finger expensive TV combinations. Fergesson carefully carried his cup of coffee down the sidewalk and into the store.

  As he entered the store the phone began to ring.

  “Damn,” his mouth formed softly. The cup teetered as conflicting motor responses traveled up and down his arm. The thin black liquid sloshed over the edge as he set the cup hurriedly down and swept up the phone. “Modern TV,” he said into it.

  “Is my radio fixed yet?” a woman’s voice shrilled.

  Half listening, Fergesson groped for a pencil. The woman breathed harshly in his ear, a beast jammed up against him, muzzled by the
phone. “What is your name, ma’am?” Fergesson inquired. A certain sweet kind of early-morning despair filled him: it had already begun.

  “Your man took the insides out sometime last week and promised to have them back Wednesday, and so far I haven’t heard a thing from you people. I’m beginning to wonder what sort of place you’re running there.”

  Fergesson groped for the service-call sheet and commenced turning the stiff yellow pages. Outside the store the moist sunlight still filtered down bright and clear. Slim high-breasted young women still clattered by. Cars hissed sleekly along the damp streets. But there was no deceiving himself: life and activity were outside and he was inside. The primordial old woman was on the telephone.

  Scowling, he gouged a few bitter words on the sheet—sharp jabs of disgust. The grinding wheels had begun devouring his soul. The reality of the workday had begun…for him, at least. The burden was on his shoulders; while his employees lay sleeping in bed or dallied at breakfast, Fergesson, the owner of the store, was reluctantly beginning the leaden task of looking up the woman’s old radio.

  That morning, at the other end of town, at exactly 5:45 a.m., Stuart Hadley woke up in a cell of the Cedar Groves jail. Somebody was banging on the metal bars; Hadley lay on the cot and cringed furiously to himself until the noise died down. Frowning at the wall, he lay waiting, hoping it had gone. But it hadn’t gone. Presently it was back.

  “Hadley,” the cop yelled in at him, “time to get up.”

  He lay wadded up, knees drawn up against his stomach, arms wrapped around him, still frowning, still waiting, still mutely hoping it would go away. But now there was the jangle of keys and bolts; the door slid noisily back and the cop came inside, right up to the cot.

  “Come on,” he said in Hadley’s exposed ear. “Time to get out of here, you stupid son of a bitch.”

  Hadley stirred. Gradually, resentfully, he began to unwind his body. First his feet extended themselves and groped for the floor. Then his legs stretched out, long and straight. His arms released their grip; with a grunt of pain he sagged to an upright sitting position. He didn’t look at the cop; instead, he sat with his head down, staring at the floor, brows drawn together, eyes almost shut, trying to keep out the harsh gray light filtering through the window.

  “What the hell are you?” the cop demanded, baiting him.

  Hadley didn’t answer. With his fingers he felt his head, his ears, his teeth, his jaw. Rough stubble scratched his fingers; he needed a shave. His coat was torn. His necktie was missing. For an interval he fumbled clumsily under his cot; finally he found his shoes and dragged them out. Their weight almost pulled him down on his knees.

  “Hadley,” the cop repeated, standing in front of him, legs apart, hands on his hips, “what’s the matter with you?”

  Hadley got into his shoes and began tying the laces. His hands shook. He could hardly see. His stomach gurgled and crept up in his throat. The pain in his head pulled his brows together in a thin, anxious frown.

  “Get your valuables at the desk,” the cop said. He turned and strode out of the cell. Presently, with infinite caution, Hadley made his way after him.

  “Sign here,” the sergeant behind the desk said, pushing a sheaf of papers at Hadley, and then a thick fountain pen. A third cop was off somewhere, getting the sack that contained Hadley’s possessions. Two more cops lounged at a table, watching dully.

  The sack contained his wallet, his wedding ring, eighty cents in silver, two paper dollars, his cigarette lighter, his wristwatch, his ballpoint pen, a copy of the New Yorker, and his keys. Scrutinizing each item intently he transferred them one by one to their proper places…except the magazine, which he dropped into the wastebasket by the desk. Two dollars. He had spent, lost, or been robbed of the rest. In all, about thirty-four dollars was gone. Now he noticed that the back of his hand was badly cut; somebody had put a Band-Aid on the groove. While he was examining it, the sergeant leaned down, pointed, and said:

  “What’s that in your coat pocket?”

  Hadley felt in his pocket. A large crumpled piece of shiny paper came out in his hand; he opened it and spread it flat. It was a color reproduction of a picture: Picasso’s Clown Family with Chimpanzee. One edge was jagged and ripped; probably he had torn it from a library book. He had a vague memory of wandering through the public library, as it was closing, its lights dimming one by one.

  After that had come a lot of walking around in the evening darkness. Then the bar. Then another bar. Then the argument. And after the argument, the fight.

  “What was it about?” the sergeant asked.

  “Joe McCarthy,” Hadley muttered.

  “Why?”

  “Somebody said he was a great man.” Shakily, Hadley smoothed down his short-cropped blond hair. He wished he had his cigarettes. He wished he were home where he could bathe and shave and get Ellen to fix him some steaming black coffee.

  “What are you,” the sergeant said, “a Red?”

  “Sure,” Hadley answered. “I voted for Henry Wallace.”

  “You don’t look like a Red.” The sergeant studied the hunched-over young man. Even in his rumpled, filth-stained clothes, Hadley had a sharp-cut look to him. Blond hair, blue eyes, an intelligent but puffy face. He was slim, almost slender, with a slightly feminine grace. “You look more like a queer,” the sergeant stated. “Are you one of those San Francisco queers?”

  “I’m an intellectual,” Hadley said dully. “I’m a thinker. A dreamer. Can I go home now?”

  “Sure,” the sergeant said. “Are all your things there?”

  Hadley returned the empty sack. “Every one of them.”

  “Sign the paper, then?”

  Hadley signed, waited a moment with leaden patience, and then realized the sergeant was through with him. He turned and walked soggily toward the stairs of the police station. A moment later he was standing out on the gray sidewalk, blinking and rubbing his head.

  The two dollars got him a cab. It took only a short while to reach his apartment house; there were almost no cars out yet. The sky was hazy white, cold. A few people strode along, blowing pale breath ahead of them. Slumped over, hands clasped together, Hadley brooded.

  Ellen was going to screech. As she always screeched when something of this sort happened. And the long-suffering silence that had grown, in the last month, until it was unbearable. He wondered if it was worth making up a complicated story. Probably not.

  “Got a cigarette?” he asked the cabdriver.

  “Smoking causes lung cancer,” the driver answered, eyes on the empty street.

  “That means no?”

  “No, I don’t, no.”

  It was going to be hard explaining the lost money. That was the part he hated. He couldn’t even remember which bar it was; probably it was several bars. Only the memory of the two black-jacketed toughs, those two truck drivers, those two McCarthy supporters, remained clear in his mind. The cold air outside the bar as the three of them had stumbled out and tangled. The sharp wind, the fist in his stomach and in his face. The sidewalk, very gray and hard and cold. Then the police car and the struggling trip to the jail.

  “Here we are, mister,” the cabdriver said, stopping the cab. He ripped the receipt from the meter and clambered out, all in one busy motion.

  Nothing stirred. The neighborhood was absolutely silent as Hadley unlocked the front door of the apartment building and made his way up the carpeted stairs and along the hall. No radios. No sounds of flushing toilets.

  It was still only six fifteen. He reached his own door and tried the knob. Unlocked. Hesitantly preparing himself, he pushed open the door and entered.

  The living room, as always, was dark, messy, smelling faintly of cigarettes and overripe pears. Ellen had long ago ceased exerting herself. The shades were down; he could hardly see as he passed through, already pulling off his coat and unbuttoning his shirt. The bedroom door stood wide open; he halted to peer in.

  In the great rumpled bed his wife l
ay asleep. She was turned on her side, tousled brown hair piled over the pillow and around her bare shoulders, over the sheet and her blue nightgown. The sound of her low, labored breathing reached him; satisfied, he turned and stiffly made his way into the kitchen.

  He was putting on the Silex of water when her voice came, clear and sharp. “Stuart!”

  Cursing, he walked from the kitchen back to the doorway. She was sitting bolt upright, brown eyes huge with alarm. “Morning,” he said drearily. “Sorry I woke you.”

  Nostrils quivering, face distorted, she gazed fixedly at him. He became uncomfortable as moments passed and still she said nothing.

  “What’s the matter?” he demanded.

  With a cry, Ellen sprang from the bed and trotted toward him, arms out, hot tears dribbling down her cheeks. Uneasily, he retreated. But her vast, bulging form descended on him; her arms clutched at him fervently. “Stuart,” she wailed, “where have you been?”

  “I’m okay,” he muttered.

  “What time is it?” She broke away, looking around for the clock. “It’s morning, isn’t it? Where did you sleep? You’re all—cut!”

  “I’m okay,” he repeated irritably. “Go back to bed.”

  “Where did you sleep?”

  He grinned evasively. “In a thicket.”

  “What happened? You went downtown last night for a beer…and you were going to the library. But you didn’t come home… You got in a fight, didn’t you?”

  “With savages, yes.”

  “In a bar?”

  “In Africa.”

  “And you were in jail.”

  “They called it that,” he admitted. “But I never believed them.”

  For a time his wife was silent. Then outrage and exasperation replaced alarm. The bloated softness of her body hardened. “Stuart,” she said quietly, lips thin and pressed tight together, “what am I going to do with you?”

  “Sell me,” he said.

  “I can’t.”

  “You haven’t tried.” He wandered into the kitchen to see how his coffee water was doing. “Your heart isn’t in it.”

 
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