Issue 29, Winter-Spring 1963
(The editors, Lowry's second wife and Earle Birney, a longtime friend and neighbor of the author and professor of English at the University of British Columbia, describe the present version as being primarily a job of splicing, in an approximation of Lowry's method and intent, “We have not added a line,” Mrs. Lowry has said in a letter to me. “Malcolm, of course, would then have rewritten, but who could do it as he would have?”)
A man leaves a dockside tavern in the early morning, the smell of the sea in his nostrils, and a whiskey bottle in his pocket, gliding over the cobbles lightly as a ship leaving harbour.
Soon he is running into a storm and tacking from side to side, frantically trying to get back. Now he will go into any harbour at all.
He goes into another saloon.
From this he emerges, cunningly repaired; but he is in difficulties once more. This time it is serious: he is nearly run over by a street car, he bangs his head on a wall, once he falls over an ashcan where he has thrown a bottle. Passers-by stare at him curiously, some with anger, others with amusement, or even a strange avidity.
This time he seeks refuge up an alley, and leans against the wall in an attitude of dejection, as if trying to remember something.
Again the pilgrimage starts but his course is so erratic it seems he must be looking for, rather than trying to remember something. Or perhaps, like the poor cat who had lost an eye in a battle, he is just looking for his sight?
The heat rises up from the pavements, a mighty force. New York groans and roars above, around, below him: white birds flash in the quivering air, a bridge strides over the river. Signs nod past him: The Best for Less, Romeo and Juliet, the greatest love story in the world. No Cover at Any Time When pain threatens, strikes—
He enters another tavern, where presently he is talking of people he had never known, of places he had never been. Through the open door he is aware of the Hospital, towering up above the river. Near him arrogant bearded derelicts cringe over spittoons, and of these men he seems afraid. Sweat floods his face. From the depths of the tavern comes a sound of moaning, and a sound of ticking.
Outside, again the pilgrimage starts, he wanders from saloon to saloon as though searching for something, but always keeping the hospital in sight, as if the saloons were only points on his circumference. In a street along the waterfront, where a bell is clanging, he halts; a terrible old woman, whose black veil only partly conceals her ravaged face, is trying to post a letter, trying repeatedly and failing, but posting it finally, with shaking hands that are not like hands at all.
A strange notion strikes him: the letter is for him. He takes a drink from bis bottle.
In the Elevated a heavenly wind is blowing and there is a view of the river, but he is walking as though stepping over obstacles, or like Ahab stumbling from side to side on the careening bridge, “feeling that he encompassed in his stare oceans from which might be revealed that phantom destroyer of himself.”
Down in the street the heat is terrific. Tabloid headlines: Thousands collapse in Heat Wave. Hundreds Dead. Roosevelt Raps Warmongers. Civil War in Spain.
Once he stops in a church, his lips moving in something like a prayer. Inside it is cool: around the walls arc pictured the stages of the cross. Nobody seems to be looking. He likes drinking in churches particularly.
But afterwards he comes to a place not like a church at all.
This is the Hospital: all day he has hovered round it; now it looms up closer than ever. This is his objective. Tilting die bottle to his mouth he takes a long, final draught: drops run down his neck, mingling with the sweat.
“I want to hear the song of the negroes,” he roars, “Veuton que je disparaisse, que je plonge, à la recherche de I'anneau... I am sent to save my father, to find my son, to heal the eternal horror of three, to resolve the immedicable horror of opposites!”
With the dithering crack of a ship going on the rocks the door shuts behind him.