Malone dies, p.13

Malone Dies, page 13

 part  #2 of  Molloy Series


Malone Dies

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  I am lost. Not a word.

  Inauspicious beginnings indeed, during which his feeling for Moll was frankly one of repugnance. Her lips in particular repelled him, those selfsame lips, or so little changed as to make no matter, that some months later he was to suck with grunts of pleasure, so that at the very sight of them he not only closed his eyes, but covered them with his hands for greater safety. She it was therefore who at this period exerted herself in tireless ardours, which may serve to explain why she seemed to weaken in the end and stand in her turn in need of stimulation. Unless it was simply a question of health. Which does not exclude a third hypothesis, namely that Moll, having finally decided that she had been mistaken in Macmann and that he was not the man she had taken him for, sought a means of putting an end to their intercourse, but gently, in order not to give him a shock. Unfortunately our concern here is not with Moll, who after all is only a female, but with Macmann, and not with the close of their relations, but rather with the beginning. Of the brief period of plenitude between these two extremes, when between the warming up of the one party and the cooling down of the other there was established a fleeting equality of temperature, no further mention will be made. For if it is indispensable to have in order not to have had and in order to have no longer, there is no obligation to expatiate upon it. But let us rather let events speak for themselves, that is more or less the right tone. Example. One day, just as Macmann was getting used to being loved, though without as yet responding as he was subsequently to do, he thrust Moll’s face away from his on the pretext of examining her ear-rings. But as she made to return to the charge he checked her again with the first words that came into his head, namely; Why two Christs?, implying that in his opinion one was more than sufficient. To which she made the absurd reply, Why two ears? But she obtained his forgiveness a moment later, saying, with a smile (she smiled at the least thing), Besides they are the thieves, Christ is in my mouth. Then parting her jaws and pulling down her blobber-lip she discovered, breaking with its solitary fang the monotomy of the gums, a long yellow canine bared to the roots and carved, with the drill probably, to represent the celebrated sacrifice. With the forefinger of her free hand she fingered it. It’s loose, she said, one of these fine mornings I’ll wake up and find I’ve swallowed it, perhaps I should have it out. She let go her lip, which sprang back into place with a smack. This incident made a strong impression on Macmann and Moll rose with a bound in his affections. And in the pleasure he was later to enjoy, when he put his tongue in her mouth and let it wander over her gums, this rotten crucifix had assuredly its part. But from these harmless aids what love is free? Sometimes it is an object, a garter I believe or a sweat-absorber for the armpit. And sometimes it is the simple image of a third party. A few words in conclusion on the decline of this liaison. No, I can’t.

  Weary with my weariness, white last moon, sole regret, not even. To be dead, before her, on her, with her, and turn, dead on dead, about poor mankind, and never have to die any more, from among the living. Not even, not even that. My moon was here below, far below, the little I was able to desire. And one day, soon, soon, one earthlit night, beneath the earth, a dying being will say, like me, in the earthlight, Not even, not even that, and die, without having been able to find a regret.

  Moll. I’m going to kill her. She continued to look after Macmann, but she was no longer the same. When she had finished cleaning up she sat down on a chair, in the middle of the room, and remained without stirring. If he called her she went and perched on the edge of the bed and even submitted to be titillated. But it was obvious her thoughts were elsewhere and her only wish to return to her chair and resume the now familiar gesture of massaging her stomach, slowly, weighing on it with her two hands. She was also beginning to smell. She had never smelt sweet, but between not smelling sweet and giving off the smell she was giving off now there is a gulf. She was also subject to fits of vomiting. Turning away, so that her lover should only see her convulsive back, she vomited at length on the floor. And these dejections remained sometimes for hours where they fell, until such time as she had the strength to go and fetch what was needed to clean up the mess. Half a century younger she might have been taken for pregnant. At the same time her hair began to fall out in abundance and she confessed to Macmann that she did not dare comb it any more, for fear of making it fall out even faster. He said to himself with satisfaction, She tells me everything. But these were small things compared to the change in her complexion, now rapidly turning from yellow to saffron. The sight of her so diminished did not damp Macmann’s desire to take her, all stinking, yellow, bald and vomiting, in his arms. And he would certainly have done so had she not been opposed to it. One can understand him (her too). For when one has within reach the one and only love requited of a life so monstrously prolonged, it is natural one should wish to profit by it, before it is too late, and refuse to be deterred by feelings of squeamishness excusable in the faint-hearted, but which true love disdains. And though all pointed to Moll’s being out of sorts, Macmann could not help interpreting her attitude as a falling off of her affection for him. And perhaps indeed there was something of that too. At all events the more she declined the more Macmann longed to crush her to his breast, which is at least sufficiently curious and unusual to deserve of mention. And when she turned and looked at him (and from time to time she did so still), with eyes in which he fancied he could read boundless regret and love, then a kind of frenzy seized upon him and he began to belabour with his fists his chest, his head and even the mattress, writhing and crying out, in the hope perhaps she would take pity on him and come and comfort him and dry his tears, as on the day when he had demanded his hat. No, it was not that, it was without malice he cried, writhed and beat his breast, for she made no attempt to stop him and even left the room if it went on too long for her liking. Then, all alone and unobserved, he continued to behave as if beside himself, which is proof positive, is it not, that he was disinterested, unless of course he suspected her of having stopped outside the door to listen. And when he grew calm again at last he mourned the long immunity he had lost, from shelter, charity and human tenderness. And he even carried his inconsequence to the length of wondering what right anyone had to take care of him. In a word most evil days, for Macmann. For Moll too probably, naturally, admittedly. It was at this time she lost her tooth. It fell unaided from the socket, happily in the daytime, so that she was able to recover it and put it away in a safe place. Macmann said to himself, when she told him, There was a time she would have made me a present of it, or at least shown it to me. But a little later he said, firstly, To have told me, when she need not have, is a mark of confidence and affection, and secondly, But I would have known in any case, when she opened her mouth to speak or smile, and finally, But she does not speak or smile any more. One morning early a man whom he had never seen came and told him that Moll was dead. There’s one out of the way at least. My name is Lemuel, he said, though my parents were probably Aryan, and it is in my charge you are from now on. Here is your porridge. Eat while it is boiling.

  A last effort. Lemuel gave the impression of being slightly more stupid than malevolent, and yet his malevolence was considerable. When Macmann, more and more disturbed by his situation apparently and what is more now capable of isolating and expressing well enough to be understood a little of the little that passed through his mind, when Macmann I say asked a question it was seldom he got an immediate answer. When asked for example to state whether Saint John of Gods was a private institution or run by the State, a hospice for the aged and infirm or a madhouse, if once in one might entertain the hope of one day getting out and, in the affirmative, by means of what steps, Lemuel remained for a long time plunged in thought, sometimes for as long as ten minutes or a quarter of an hour, motionless or if you prefer scratching his head or his armpit, as if such questions had never crossed his mind, or possibly thinking about something quite different. And if Macmann, growing impatient or perhaps feeling he had no
t made himself clear, ventured to try again, an imperious gesture bid him be silent. Such was this Lemuel, viewed from a certain angle. Or he cried, stamping the ground with indescribable nervousness, Let me think, you shite! It usually ended by his saying he did not know. But he was subject to almost hypomaniacal fits of good-humour. Then he would add, But I’ll enquire. And taking out a notebook as fat as a ship’s log he made note, murmuring, Private or state, mad or like me, how out, etc. Macmann could then be sure he would never hear any more about it. May I get up? he said one day. Already in Moll’s lifetime he had expressed the wish to get up and go out into the fresh air, but timidly, as when one asks for the moon. And he had then been told that if he was good he might indeed be let up one day, and out into the pure plateau air, and that on that day, in the great hall where the staff assembled at dawn before entering on their duties, there would be seen pinned on the board a note thus conceived, Let one hundred and sixty-six get up and go out. For when it came to the regulations Moll was inflexible and their voice was stronger than the voice of love, in her heart, whenever they made themselves heard there simultaneously. The oysters for example, which the Board had refused in a note calling her attention to the article whereby they were prohibited, but which she could easily have smuggled in, Macmann never saw sight or sign of the oysters. But Lemuel was made of sterner stuff, in this connexion, and far from being a stickler for the statutes seemed to have little or no acquaintance with them. Indeed the question might have arisen, in the mind of one looking down upon the scene, as to whether he had all his wits about him. For when not rooted to the spot in a daze he was to be seen, with heavy, furious, reeling tread, stamping up and down for hours on end, gesticulating and ejaculating unintelligible words. Flayed alive by memory, his mind crawling with cobras, not daring to dream or think and powerless not to, his cries were of two kinds, those having no other cause than moral anguish and those, similar in every respect, by means of which he hoped to forestall same. Physical pain, on the contrary, seemed to help him greatly. And one day rolling up the leg of his trousers, he showed Macmann his shin covered with bruises, scars and abrasions. Then producing smartly a hammer from an inner pocket he dealt himself, right in the middle of his ancient wounds, so violent a blow that he fell down backwards, or perhaps I should say forwards. But the part he struck most readily, with his hammer, was the head, and that is understandable, for it too is a bony part, and sensitive, and difficult to miss, and the seat of all the shit and misery, so you rain blows upon it, with more pleasure than on the leg for example, which never did you any harm, it’s only human. Up! cried Macmann. Let me up! Lemuel came to a standstill. What? he roared. Up! cried Macmann. Let me up! Let me up!

  I have had a visit. Things were going too well. I had forgotten myself, lost myself. I exaggerate. Things were not going too badly. I was elsewhere. Another was suffering. Then I had the visit. To bring me back to dying. If that amuses them. The fact is they don’t know, neither do I, but they think they know. An aeroplane passes, flying low, with a noise like thunder. It is a noise quite unlike thunder, one says thunder but one does not think it, it is just a loud, fleeting noise, nothing more, unlike any other. It is certainly the first time I have heard it here, to my knowledge. But I have heard aeroplanes elsewhere and have even seen them in flight, I saw the very first in flight and then in the end the latest models, oh not the very latest, the very second-latest, the very antepenultimate. I was present at one of the first loopings of the loop, so help me God. I was not afraid. It was above a race-course, my mother held me by the hand. She kept saying, It’s a miracle, a miracle. Then I changed my mind. We were not often of the same mind. One day we were walking along the road, up a hill of extraordinary steepness, near home I imagine, my memory is full of steep hills, I get them confused. I said, The sky is further away than you think, is it not, mama? It was without malice, I was simply thinking of all the leagues that separated me from it. She replied, to me her son, It is precisely as far away as it appears to be. She was right. But at the time I was aghast. I can still see the spot, opposite Tyler’s gate. A market-gardener, he had only one eye and wore side-whiskers. That’s the idea, rattle on. You could see the sea, the islands, the headlands, the isthmuses, the coast stretching away to north and south and the crooked moles of the harbour. We were on our way home from the butcher’s. My mother? Perhaps it is just another story, told me by some one who found it funny. The stories I was told, at one time! And all funny, not one not funny. In any case here I am back in the shit. The aeroplane, on the other hand, has just passed over at two hundred miles an hour perhaps. It’s a good speed, for the present day. I am with it in spirit, naturally. All the things I was always with in spirit. In body no. Not such a fool. Here is the programme anyhow, the end of the programme. They think they can confuse me and make me lose sight of my programmes. Proper cunts whoever they are. Here it is. Visit, various remarks, Macmann continued, agony recalled, Macmann continued, then mixture of Macmann and agony as long as possible. It does not depend on me, my lead is not inexhaustible, nor my exercise-book, nor Macmann, nor myself in spite of appearances. That all may be wiped out at the same instant is all I ask, for the moment. The visit. I felt a violent blow on the head. He had perhaps been there for some time. One does not care to be kept waiting for ever, one draws attention to oneself as best one can, it’s human. I don’t doubt he gave me due warning, before he hit me. I don’t know what he wanted. He’s gone now. What an idea, all the same, to hit me on the head. The light has been queer ever since, oh I insinuate nothing, dim and at the same time radiant, perhaps I have concussion. His mouth opened, his lips worked, but I heard nothing. He might just as well have said nothing. And yet I am not deaf, witness the aeroplane, if I hear nothing it is because there is nothing to hear. But perhaps life has dulled my irritability to specifically human sounds. I myself for example make no sound, well well, can’t go back on it now, no, not the tiniest. And yet I pant, cough, moan and gulp right up against my ear, I could swear to it. In other words I do not know to what I owe the honour. He seemed vexed. Must I describe him? Why not? He may be important. I had a clear view of him. Black suit of antiquated cut, or perhaps come back into the fashion, black tie, snow-white shirt, heavily starched clown’s cuffs almost entirely covering the hands, oily black hair, a long, dismal, glabrous, floury face, sombre lacklustre eyes, medium height and build, block-hat pressed delicately to stomach with finger-tips, then without warning in a gesture of extraordinary suddenness and precision slapped on skull. A folding-rule, together with a fin of white handkerchief, emerged from the breast pocket. I took him at first for the undertaker’s man, annoyed at having called prematurely. He remained some time, seven hours at least. Perhaps he hoped to have the satisfaction of seeing me expire before he left, that would probably have saved him time and trouble. For a moment I thought he was going to finish me off. What a hope, it would have been a crime. He must have left at six o’clock, his working day ended. The light is queer ever since. That it to say he went a first time, came back some hours later, then left for good. He must have been here from nine to twelve, then from two to six, now I have it. He kept looking at his watch, a turnip. Perhaps he will come back to-morrow. It was in the morning he hit me, about ten o’clock probably. In the afternoon he did not touch me, though I did not see him immediately, he was already in position when I saw him, standing beside the bed. I speak of morning and afternoon and of such and such an hour, if you simply must speak of people you simply must put yourself in their place, it is not difficult. The only thing you must never speak of is your happiness, I can think of nothing else for the moment. Better even not to think of it. Standing by the bed he watched me. Seeing my lips move, for I tried to speak, he stooped down to me. I had things to ask him, to give me my stick for example. He would have refused. Then with clasped hands and tears in my eyes I would have begged it of him as a favour. This humiliation has been denied to me thanks to my aphony. My voice has gone dead, the rest will follow. I cou
ld have written, on a page of my exercise-book, and shown to him, Please give me back my stick, or, Be so kind as to hand me up my stick. But I had hidden the exercise-book under the blanket, so that he might not take it from me. I did so without thinking that he had been there for some time (otherwise he would not have struck me) watching me writing, for I must have been writing when he came, and that consequently he could easily have taken my exercise-book if he had wished, and without thinking either that he was watching me when I slipped it out of sight, and that consequently the only effect of my precaution was to draw his attention to the very object I wished to hide from him. There’s reasoning for you. For of all I ever had in this world all has been taken from me, except the exercise-book, so I cherish it, it’s human. The lead too, I was forgetting the lead, but what is a lead, without paper? He must have said to himself, over his lunch, This afternoon I’ll take his exercise-book from him, he seems to cherish it. But when he came back from his lunch the exercise-book was no longer in the place where he had seen me put it, he had not thought of that. His umbrella, have I mentioned his umbrella, the tightest rolled I ever saw? Shifting it every few minutes from one hand to the other he leaned his weight upon it, standing beside the bed. Then it bent. He made use of it to raise my blankets. It was with this umbrella that I thought he was going to kill me, with its long sharp point, he had only to plunge it in my heart. Wilful murder, people would have said. Perhaps he will come back to-morrow, better equipped, or with an assistant, now that he is familiar with the premises. But if he watched me I too watched him, I think we gazed at each other literally for hours, without winking. He probably imagined he could stare me down, because I am old and helpless. The poor bastard. It was so long since I had seen a biped of this description that I had my eyes out on stalks, as the saying is, for fear of not being able to credit them. I said to myself, One of these days they’ll start grazing the trees. And the face they have! I had forgotten. At a certain moment, incommoded by the smell probably, he squeezed himself in between the bed and the wall, to try and open the window. He couldn’t. In the morning I didn’t take my eyes off him. But in the afternoon I slept a little. I don’t know what he did while I was asleep, rummaged in my possessions probably, with his umbrella, they are scattered all over the floor now. I thought for a moment he had been sent by the funeral people. Those who have enabled me to live till now will no doubt see to it that I am buried with a minimum of ceremony. Here lies Malone at last, with the dates to give a faint idea of the time he took to be excused and then to distinguish him from his namesakes, numerous in the island and beyond the grave. Funny I never ran into one, to my knowledge, not one. There is still time. Here lies a ne’er-do-well, six feet under hell. But for a moment only, I mean half-an-hour at most. Then I tried him with other functions, all equally disappointing. Strange need to know who people are and what they do for a living and what they want with you. In spite of the ease with which he wore his black and manipulated his umbrella and his consummate mastery of the block-hat, I had for a time the impression he was disguised, but from what if I may say so, and as what? At a given moment, yet another, he took fright, for his breath came faster and he moved away from the bed. It was then I saw he was wearing brown boots, which gave me such a shock as no words can convey. They were copiously caked with fresh mud and I said to myself, Through what sloughs has he had to toil to reach me? I wonder if he was looking for something in particular, it would be so nice to know. I shall tear a page out of my exercise-book and reproduce upon it, from memory, what follows, and show it to him to-morrow, or to-day, or some other day, if he ever comes back. 1. Who are you? 2. What do you do, for a living? 3. Are you looking for something in particular? What else? 4. Why are you so cross? 5. Have I offended you? 6. Do you know anything about me? 7. It was wrong of you to strike me. 8. Give me my stick. 9. Are you your own employer? 10. If not who sends you? 11. Put back my things where you found them. 12. Why has my soup been stopped? 13. For what reason are my pots no longer emptied? 14. Do you think I shall last much longer? 15. May I ask you a favour? 16. Your conditions are mine. 17. Why brown boots and whence the mud? 18. you couldn’t by any chance let me have the butt of a pencil? 19. Number your answers. 20. Don’t go, I haven’t finished. Will one page suffice? There cannot be many left. I might as well ask for a rubber while I am about it. 21. Could you lend me an India rubber? When he had gone I said to myself, But surely I have seen him somewhere before. And the people I have seen have seen me too, I can guarantee that. But of whom may it not be said, I know that man? Drivel, drivel. And then at evening morning is so far away. I had stopped looking at him. I had got used to him. I was thinking of him, trying to understand, you can’t do that and look at the same time. I did not even see him go. Oh he did not vanish, after the fashion of a ghost, no, I heard him, the clank when he took out his watch, the satisfied thump of the umbrella on the floor, the rightabout, the rapid steps towards the door, its soft closing and finally, I am sorry to say, a gay and lively whistle dying away. What have I omitted? Little things, nothings. They will come back to me later, make me see more clearly what has happened and say, Ah if I had only known then, now it is too late. yes, little by little I shall see him as he just has been, or as he should have been for me to be able to say, yet again, Too late, too late. There’s feeling for you. Or he is perhaps just the first of a series of visitors, all different. They are going to relay one another, and they are numerous. To-morrow perhaps he will be wearing leggings, riding-breeches and a check cap, with a whip in his hand to make up for the umbrella and a horse-shoe in his button-hole. All the people I have ever caught a glimpse of, at close quarters or at a distance, may file past from now on, that is obvious. There may even be women and children, I have caught a glimpse of a few, they will all be armed with something to lean on and rummage in my things with, they will all give me a clout on the head to begin with and then spend the rest of the day glaring at me in anger and disgust. I shall have to revise my questionnaire so as to adapt it to all and sundry. Perhaps one, one day, unmindful of his instructions, will give me my stick. Or I might be able to catch one, a little girl for example, and half strangle her, three quarters, until she promises to give me my stick, give me soup, empty my pots, kiss me, fondle me, smile to me, give me my hat, stay with me, follow the hearse weeping into her handkerchief, that would be nice. I am such a good man, at bottom, such a good man, how is it nobody ever noticed it? A little girl would be into my barrow, she would undress before me, sleep beside me, have nobody but me, I would jam the bed against the door to prevent her running away, but then she would throw herself out of the window, when they got to know she was with me they would bring soup for two, I would teach her love and loathing, she would never forget me, I would die delighted, she would close my eyes and put a plug in my arse-hole, as per instructions. Easy, Malone, take it easy, you old whore. That reminds me, how long can one fast with impunity? The Lord Mayor of Cork lasted for ages, but he was young, and then he had political convictions, human ones too probably, just plain human convictions. And he allowed himself a sip of water from time to time, sweetened probably. Water, for pity’s sake! How is it I am not thirsty. There must be drinking going on inside me, my secretions. Yes, let us talk a little about me, that will be a rest from all these blackguards. What light! Foretaste of paradise? My head. On fire, full of boiling oil. What shall I die of, in the end? A transport of blood to the brain? That would be the last straw. The pain is almost unbearable, upon my soul it is. Incandescent migraine. Death must take me for someone else. It’s the heart’s fault, as in the bosom of the match king, Schneider, Schroeder, I forget. It too is burning, with shame, of itself, of me, of them, shame of everything, except of beating apparently. It’s nothing, mere nervousness. And who knows, perhaps the first to fail will be my breath, after all. After each avowal, before and during, what swirling murmurs. The window says break of day, rack of tattered rainclouds stampeding. Have a nice time. Far from this molten gloom. yes, my last gasps
are not what they might be, the bellows won’t go down, the air is choking me, perhaps it is a little lacking in oxygen. Macmann pygmy beneath the great black gesticulating pines gazes at the distant raging sea. The others are there too, or at their windows, like me, but on their feet, they must be able to move, or to be moved, no, not like me, they can’t do anything for anybody, clinging to the shivering poplars, or at their windows, listening. But perhaps I should finish with myself first, in so far naturally as such a thing is possible. The speed I am turning at now makes things difficult admittedly, but it probably can only increase, that is the thing to be considered. Mem, add to the questionnaire, If you happen to have a match try and light it. How is it I heard nothing when he spoke to me and yet heard him leave, whistling? Perhaps he only feigned to speak to me, to try and make me think I had gone deaf. Do I hear anything at the present instant? Let me see. No, the answer is no. Neither the wind, nor the sea, nor the paper, nor the air I exhale with such labour. But this innumerable babble, like a multitude whispering? I don’t understand. With my distant hand I count the pages that remain. They will do. This exercise-book is my life, this big child’s exercise-book, it has taken me a long time to resign myself to that. And yet I shall not throw it away. For I want to put down in it, for the last time, those I have called to my help, but ill, so that they did not understand, so that they may cease with me. Now rest.

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