Malone dies, p.16

Malone Dies, page 16

 part  #2 of  Molloy Series

 

Malone Dies
 


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  This text is the second of ‘Two Fragments’ (the first being taken from Molloy) published in Transition Fifty, no. 6 (Paris: Transition Press, 1950), pp. 105–7. It corresponds to pp. 3–4 in the present edition.

  I shall soon be quite dead at last. Perhaps next month. It will be the month of April or of May. For the year is young, a thousand little signs tell me so. It may be that I am mistaken, it may be that Saint John’s Day will find me still here, or even the Fourteenth of July, festival of freedom. Nay, I am capable of panting on to the Transfiguration, or even to the Assumption, if I am not mistaken. But I hardly think so, I hardly think I am mistaken in saying that these rejoicings will take place without me, this year. I have that feeling, I have had it for some days, and I bow to it. But in what does it differ from those that have abused me since I was born? No, that is the kind of question that has no further charm, for me. That is to say I have lost my taste for charm. I could die before night, if I wished, simply by putting my mind to it. But I prefer to let myself die. I will not try to hasten events any more. There is no doubt that something has changed. I will not weigh on the scales any more, either way. I will be neutral and inert. No difficulty about that. The only trouble is the throes. But my throes are better since I came here. I lie in bed and wait, it seems a long time now since I did anything else. Naturally I have fits of impatience now and then. It is against them that I must be on my guard, for the next fortnight or three weeks. Within reason to be sure, weeping and laughing quietly, without getting excited. Yes, I shall be natural at last, I shall suffer more, then less, without drawing any conclusions, I shall be neither cold nor hot, I shall be tepid, I shall die tepid, without enthusiasm. I shall not watch myself die, that would spoil everything. Did I watch myself live? Did I ever complain? Then why rejoice now? I am content to be sure, but not to the extent of clapping my hands. I have always been content, knowing I should be repaid. Now my old debtor is at hand. Is that a reason for falling on his neck? I won’t answer any more questions, I shall try not to ask myself any more questions. I shall soon be in a condition to be buried, I shall not be seen above ground any more. In the meantime I propose to tell myself stories, as though nothing had happened. But not quite the same kind of stories as hitherto. They will be neither beautiful nor ugly, they will be calm, there will be no beauty in them any more, nor ugliness, nor fever, they will be almost without life. I look forward to their giving me great satisfaction. Yes, I am satisfied, at rest, repaid, I don’t need money any more. Perhaps I should mention before going any further that I forgive nobody. I wish them all a long life and a wretched one and then the flames and ice of hell and in the execrable generations to come an honoured memory. Enough for this evening.

  This text is published in Irish Writing, vol. 34, spring 1956, ed. S. J. White, pp. 29–35. It corresponds to pp. 45–53 in the present edition.

  If I had the use of my body I would throw it out of the window. But would I indulge in this fancy if I did not know I was impotent? All hangs together, I am in chains. Unfortunately I do not know quite what Xoor I am on, perhaps I am merely on the mezzanine. The doors banging, the steps on the stairs, the noises in the street, have not enlightened me, on this subject. All I know is that the living are there, above me and beneath me. It follows at least that I am not in the basement. And do I not sometimes see the sky and sometimes, through my window, other windows facing it apparently? But that proves nothing, I do not wish to prove anything. Or so I say. Perhaps after all I am in a kind of vault and this space, which I take to be the street, in reality no more than a wide trench or ditch with other vaults opening upon it. But the noises that rise up from below, the steps that come climbing towards me? Perhaps there are other vaults even deeper than mine, why not? In which case the question arises again as to which Xoor I am on, there is nothing to be gained by my saying I am in a basement if there are tiers of basements on top of one another. But the noises that I say rise up from below, the steps that I say come climbing towards me, do they really do so? I have no proof that they do. To conclude from this that I am a prey to hallucinations pure and simple is however a step I hesitate to take. And it is my Wrm belief that in this house there are people coming and going and even conversing, and multitudes of Wne babies, particularly of late, which the parents keep moving about from place to place, to prevent their forming the habit of motionlessness, in anticipation of the day when they will have to move about unaided. But all things considered I would be hard set to say for certain where exactly they are, in relation to where exactly I am. And when all is said and done there is nothing more like a step that climbs than a step that descends or even paces to and fro for ever on the same level, I mean for one not only in ignorance of his position and consequently of what he is to expect, in the way of sounds, but also more than half-deaf more than half the time. There is naturally another possibility that does not escape me, though it would be a great disappointment to have it conWrmed, and that is that I am dead already and that all continues more or less as when I was not. Perhaps I expired in the forest, or even earlier. In which case all the trouble I have been taking for some time past, for what purpose I do not clearly recall except that it was in some way connected with the feeling that my troubles were nearly over, all that trouble has been to no purpose whatsoever. But my horse-sense tells me I have not yet quite ceased to gasp. And it summons in support of this view various considerations having to do with the little heap of my possessions, my system of nutrition and elimination, the couple across the way, the changing sky and so on. Whereas in reality all that is perhaps nothing but my worms. Take for example the light that reigns in this den and of which the least that can be said, really the least, is that it is bizarre. I enjoy a kind of night and day, admittedly, often it is even pitch dark, but in rather a diVerent way from the way to which I fancy I was accustomed, before I found myself here. Example, there is nothing like examples, I was once in utter darkness and waiting with some impatience for dawn to break, having need of its light to see to certain little things which it is diYcult to see to in the dark. And sure enough little by little the dark lightened and I was able to hook with my stick or pole the objects I required. But the light, instead of being the dawn, turned out in a very short time to be the dusk. And the sun, instead of rising higher and higher in the sky as I was conWdent it would, calmly set and night, the passing of which I had just celebrated after my fashion, calmly fell again. Now the reverse as one might say, I mean night closing in the twilight of dawn. I must confess to never having experienced, and that goes to my heart, I mean that I cannot swear to having experienced that too. And yet how often I have implored night to fall, all the livelong day, with all my feeble strength, and how often day to break, all the livelong night. But before leaving this subject and entering upon another, I feel it my duty to say that it is never light in this place, never really light. The light is there, outside, the air sparkles, the granite wall across the way glitters with all its mica, the light is there against my window, but it does not come through. So that all bathes, I will not say in shadow, nor even in half-shadow, but in a kind of leaden light that makes no shadow, so that it is hard to say from what direction it comes, for it seems to come from all directions at once, and with equal force. I am convinced for example that at the present moment it is as bright under my bed as it is under the ceiling, which admittedly is not saying very much, but I need say no more. And does not that simply amount to this, that there is really no colour in this place, except in so far as this kind of grey incandescence may be called a colour? Yes, no doubt one may speak of grey, personally I have no objection, in which case the issue here would lie between this grey and the black it overlays more or less, I was going to say according to the time of the day, but no, it does not always seem to depend on the time of the day. I myself am very grey, I even sometimes have the feeling that I emit grey, in the same way as my sheets for example. And my night is not the sky’s. Naturally black is black the whole world over. But how is it m
y little space is not visited by the luminaries I sometimes see shining afar and how is it the moon when Cain toils bowed beneath his burden never sheds her light on my face? In other words there seems to be the outer light, the light of those who know the sun and moon emerge at such an hour and at such another plunge beneath the surface, and who rely on this, and who know that clouds are always to be expected but sooner or later always pass away and mine. But mine too has its alternations, I will not deny it, its dusks and dawns, but that is what I say, for I too must have lived, out there, and there is no recovering from that. And when I examine the ceiling and walls I see there is no possibility of my making light, artiWcial light, like the couple across the way for example. But someone would have to give me a lamp, or a torch, you know, and even then I do not know if my air is of the kind that lends itself to the comedy of combustion. Mem, look for a match in my possessions, and see if it burns. The noises too, cries, steps, doors, murmurs, cease for whole days, their days. Then that silence of which, knowing what I know, I shall merely say that there is nothing, how shall I merely say, nothing negative about it. And softly my little space begins to throb again. You may say it is all in my head, and indeed sometimes it seems to me I am in a head and that these eight, no, six, these six planes that enclose me are of solid bone. But thence to conclude the head is mine, no, never. A kind of air circulates. I must have said so, and when all goes still I hear it beating against the walls and being beaten back by them. And then somewhere in midspace other waves, other onslaughts, gather and break, whence I suppose the faint sound of aerial surf that is my silence. Or else it is the sudden storm, analogous to those outside, rising and drowning the cries of the children, the dying, the lovers, so that in my innocence I say they cease, whereas in reality they never cease. It is diYcult to know. And is it a vacuum, in the skull? And if I close my eyes, close them really, as others cannot, but as I can, for there are limits to my impotence, then sometimes my bed is caught up into the air and tossed like a straw by the swirling eddies, and I in it. Fortunately it is not so much an aVair of eyelids, but it is as it were the soul that must be veiled, the soul denied in vain, vigilant, anxious, turning in its cage as in a lantern, in the night without haven or craft or matter or understanding. Ah yes, I have my little pastimes and they

  What a misfortune, the pencil must have slipped from my fingers, for I have only just succeeded in recovering it after forty-eight hours (see above) of intermittent efforts. What my stick lacks is a little prehensile proboscis like the nocturnal tapir’s. I should really lose my pencil more often, it might do me good, I might be more cheerful, it might be more cheerful. I have spent two unforgettable days of which nothing will ever be known, it is too late now, or still too soon, I forget which, except that they have brought me the solution and conclusion of the whole sorry business, I mean the whole sorry business of Malone (since that is what I am called now) and of the other, for the rest is no business of mine. And it was, though more unutterable, like the crumbling away of two little heaps of finest sand, or dust, or ashes, of unequal size, but crumbling away together as it were in ratio, if that means anything, and leaving behind them, each in its own stead, the blessedness of absence. While all this was going on I was struggling to retrieve my pencil, by fits and starts. My pencil. It is a little Venus, still green no doubt, with five or six facets, pointed at both ends and so short there is just room, between them, for my thumb and the two adjacent fingers, clustered together in a little vice. I use the two points turn and turn about, sucking them frequently, I love to suck. When they go quite blunt I strip them with my nails which are long, yellow, sharp and brittle for want of chalk or is it phosphate. So little by little my little pencil dwindles, inevitably, and the day is fast approaching when nothing will remain but a fragment too tiny to hold. So I write as lightly as I can. But I say to myself. Between a hard lead without which one dare not write too lightly, if a trace is to be made, and a soft black lead which blackens the page almost without touching it, what possible difference can there be, from the point of view of durability? Ah yes, I have my little pastimes. The strange thing is I have another pencil, made in France, a long cylinder hardly broached, in the bed with me somewhere I think. So I have nothing to worry about, on this particular score. And yet I do worry. Now while I was hunting for my pencil I made a curious discovery. The floor is whitening. I struck it several blows with my stick and the sound it gave out was at once sharp and dull, wrong in fact. So it was not without trepidation that I inspected the other great planes, above and all about me. And all this time the sand kept trickling away and I saying to myself, It is gone for ever, meaning of course the pencil. And I saw that all these superficies, or should I say infraficies, the horizontal as well as the perpendicular, though they do not look particularly perpendicular from here, had visibly blanched since my last examination of them, dating from I know not when. And this is all the more singular as the tendency of things in general is I believe rather to darken, with of course the exception of the mortal remains and certain parts of the living body which lose their natural colour and from which the blood recedes, in the long run. Is this to say there is more light here now, now that I know what is going on? No, I fear not, it is the same grey as heretofore, literally sparkling at times, then growing murky and dim, thickening is perhaps the word, until all things are blotted out except the window which seems in a manner of speaking to be my umbilicus, so that I say to myself, When it too goes out I shall know where I am. No, all I mean is this, that when I open staring wide my eyes I see at the confines of this restless gloom a gleaming and shimmering as of bones, which was not hitherto the case, to the best of my knowledge. And I can even distinctly remember the paper-hangings or wall-paper still clinging in places to the walls and covered with a writhing mass of roses, violets and other flowers in such profusion that it seemed to me I had never seen so many in the whole course of my life, nor of such beauty. But now they seem all gone, quite gone, and if there were no flowers on the ceiling there was no doubt something else, cupids perhaps, gone too, without leaving a trace. And while I was busy pursuing my pencil a moment came when my exercise-book, almost a child’s, fell also to the ground. But it I very soon recovered, slipping the hook of my stick into one of the rents in the cover and hoisting it gently back to me. And during all this time, so fertile in incidents and mishaps, in my head I suppose all was streaming and emptying away as through a sluice, to my great joy, until finally nothing remained, either of Malone or of the other. And what is more I was able to follow without difficulty the various phases of this deliverance and felt no surprise at its erratic course, now rapid, now slow, so crystal clear was my understanding of the reasons why this could not be otherwise. And I rejoiced furthermore, quite apart from the spectacle, at the thought that I now knew what I had to do, I whose every move has always been a groping, and whose motionless too was a kind of groping, yes, I have greatly groped stockstill. And here again naturally I was utterly deceived, I mean in imagining I had grasped at last the true nature of my absurd tribulations, but not so utterly as to feel the need to reproach myself with it now. For even as I said, How easy and beautiful it all is; in the same breath I said, All will grow dark again. And it is without excessive sorrow that I see us again as we are, namely to be removed grain by grain until the hand, wearied, begins to play, scooping us up and letting us trickle back into the same place, dreamily as the saying is. For I know it would be so, even as I said, At last! And I must say that to me at least and for as long as I can remember the sensation is familiar of a blind and tired hand feebly delving in my particles and letting them trickle between its fingers. And sometimes, when all is quiet, I feel it plunged in me up to the elbow, but gentle, and as though asleep. But soon it stirs, wakes, fondles, clutches, ransacks, ravages, avenging its failure to scatter me with one sweep. I can understand. But I have felt so many strange things, so many baseless things assuredly, that they are perhaps better left unsaid. To speak for example of the times when I
go liquid and become as mud, what good would that do? Or of the others when I would be lost in the eye of a needle, I am so hard and contracted? No, these are well-meaning squirms that get me nowhere. I was speaking then was I not of my little pastimes and I think about to say that I ought to content myself with them, instead of launching forth on all this ballsaching poppycock about life and death, if that is what it is all about, and I suppose it is, for nothing was ever about anything else to the best of my recollection. But what it is all about exactly I could no more say, at the present moment, than take up my bed and walk. It’s vague, life and death. I must have had my little private idea on the subject when I began, otherwise I would not have begun, I would have held my peace, I would have gone on peacefully being bored to howls, having my little fun and games with the cones and cylinders, the millet grains beloved of birds and other panics, until some one was kind enough to come and coffin me. But it is gone clean out of my head, my little private idea. No matter, I have just had another. Perhaps it is the same one back again, ideas are so alike, when you get to know them. Be born, that’s the brainwave now, that is to say live long enough to get acquainted with free carbonic gas, then say thanks for the nice time and go. That has always been my dream deep down, all the things that have always been my dream deep down, so many strings and never a shaft. Yes, an old foetus, that’s what I am now, hoar and impotent, mother is done for, I’ve rotted her, she’ll drop me with the help of gangrene, perhaps papa is at the party too, I’ll land head-foremost mewling in the charnel-house, not that I’ll mewl, not worth it. All the stories I’ve told myself, clinging to the putrid mucus, and swelling, swelling, saying, Got it at last, my legend. But why this sudden heat, has anything happened, anything changed? No, the answer is no, I shall never get born and therefore never get dead, and a good job too. And if I tell of me and of that other who is my little one, it is as always for want of love, well I’ll be buggered, I wasn’t expecting that, want of a homuncule, I can’t stop. And yet it sometimes seems to me I did get born and had a long life and met Jackson and wandered in the towns, the woods and wildernesses and tarried by the seas in tears before the islands and peninsulas where night lit the little brief yellow lights of man and all night long the great white and coloured beams shining in the caves, where I was happy, crouched on the sand in the lee of the rocks with the smell of the kelp and the wet rock and the howl of the wind the waves whipping me with foam or sighing on the beach softly clawing the shingle, no not happy, I was never that, but wishing night would never end and morning never come when men wake and say, Come on, we’ll soon be dead, let’s make the most of it. But what matter whether I was born or not, have lived or not, am dead or merely dying, I shall go on doing as I have always done, not knowing what it is I do, nor who I am, nor where I am, nor if I am. Yes, a little creature. I shall try and make a little creature, to hold in my arms, a little creature in my image, no matter what I say. And seeing what a poor thing I have made, or how like myself, I shall eat it. Then be alone a long time, unhappy, not knowing what my prayer should be, nor to whom.

 
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