Issue 52, Summer 1971
The penultimate day of term was torrid. The sun, which yesterday had remained smoldering behind low waddings of buttercup-colored cloud, burst through, intercepted only here and there by bouffant, deciduous trees whose green was already changing from spring’s parakeet to early summer’s weathered spinach. Maleth walked slowly from his house door, up Stierzwillingwasserfischbein Street, to the intersection with Lapsex Avenue, his flimsy document case decorated with the relic of two customs stamps (treal in red on white, reminding him of Canada, and Puerto Rico in black italics on olive green) and with his right hand twirling his black umbrella in a 360-degree circle of fake gaiety.
He felt miserable and piqued. It would rain, he told himself, whoever said it wouldn’t. He knew it in his bones. He knew it especially from those parts where his bones had at one time or another been broken or cracked: three fingers, one ankle, his right temple and right arm. He smiled wanly when he thought of all the disasters he had survived: three car smashes, one airliner that pancaked, many badly caught balls in adolescence, and an empty whisky bottle wielded by one irate, betrayed woman whose face he could no longer call to mind. His sinuses, always a trouble to him, were twitching slightly, and that meant rain too. It would rain all right, and he winced at the thought. He didn’t like getting wet; he didn’t need to get wet, like a tree or a golfing green. He was a man in his maturity, walking about his business among cohorts of misguided, undiscerning parrots. His powder was dry; his hair still growing and thick; his mouth-breath fresh with peppermint gum. His nails were filed, ears scoured out, teeth intact and polished, nostrils clean of trailing whiskers, and the spaces, those often ragged spaces, between his toes packed with tale. Most of the dandruff was dead too. I am a walking tribute, he thought as he watched his feet making their military step, to nicety; I am clean.
His hand was just narrow enough to pass between the crook of the umbrella handle as it soared up, poised and swung down behind his shoulder. He told himself it resembled an idling propeller centered in his right hip, warning passers-by that at any moment he might take off and fan gently above the stores (cutting their prices now students were leaving) and the festive medley of cars that jammed the narrow streets, engines idling and spurting, packed or piled high with portmanteaus, grips, golf clubs, radios, canvases, coats on wire hangers, paperbacks strapped or strung together like tiles, hair driers like instruments for the obscenest gynecology of all, umbrellas, meter rules, pieces of shelving, lacrosse sticks, baseball bats, minor tables and even, in the open back of one lilac convertible, a bedraggled Christmas tree. Each car was a hot, shining, metal quadrilateral, open or covered, and jammed (oh yes) with jammy, bouncy, damploined, pulp-lipped, washed-haired, Alice-blue-banded little campus honeys lepidote with tiny eczema or undiagnosed gonorrhea, all sailing glamorously home to cities, penicillin and a few hours of beautifying electrolysis. Already, in their minds, they were resuming contact with the boys who plucked their cherries way back in high school; but, even yet, all he had to do was wave the umbrella, split his face with a banana grin, say his Hi! and they would open the car doors, fuss him into their hot, satin-thighed company and later, when they reached bucolic rutting grounds further along the highway, quarrel to be the first to be alone with him in the stationary, closed car.
He slipped his umbrella into his left hand, swooped his right through the hole keys had worn in his pants pocket and made sure his X-front held firm the cocking pistil of his manhood. My God, he said, lapsing into a cherished idiom, thou troublest me yet, stout stamen; thou lump, thou cod, thou bird, thou truncheon fit for triumvirate. Or am I provoking thee? Down, hysterica passio! Let me be. It’s like walking with a glockenspiel rawlplugged into your pants. Here I am, walking along at my precise pace, alongside all these hot-elasticked little flowers, their unwhipped cream curdling as they clutch Better College Englishes and Rhetoric Case Books against their barely concealed typewriter-ribbon-red zones and pink, whinny-finny apertures, and all I can do is hump my cramped-up, poor old longing bologna before me, like Hadrian carrying his wall or Simon Stylites his styloite. The pain of it! The weight!
He stopped, removed his hand from his pocket, seized his umbrella at the center of gravity and launched it, javelinlike, at a tree trunk six inches away. The steel tip splintered some bark off and the umbrella fell to the grass. Yes, he thought, I’ll sharpen the goddamn tiling up one day; then it’ll stick, and I won’t be throwing it at trees. I’ll puncture their mammaries and prod their eclairs and pin back their labia! They’ll see. One day, by God, I’ll make it stick. He had been standing at the intersection a good five minutes, had already missed two chances to cross; but no one had noticed his antic. Everyone was looking ahead to the blue, amber and green lights; those who were waiting went and those who came waited. The student body was on the move, fractionally either advancing or withdrawing its automobile units as the vacation crocodile waited to move on.