Issue 183, Winter 2007
Four of them were on one side of a dim room.
—I’m going to try it, said the first.
The girl watched herself in the mirror as the young man approached.
—I wonder, he said. I thought perhaps . . .
He stopped mid-sentence, for tears had begun to well up in the girl’s eyes. She began to cry.
—Please, she said, just leave me alone.
She wore a straight brown dress, buttoned all up the side, and a long tweed coat. Her hair was braided into itself.
—Are you all right? he asked. Can I help you?
—You know, you can’t just speak to people. That’s not how things are anymore. No one wants to just be spoken to.
She rubbed her eyes.
—It’s rather silly of you. Already you look a bit like a fool.
The barkeeper, standing just across the bar, nodded.
—There are rules, he said.
And indeed, on the wall, a list of rules.
—I’m sorry. I didn’t know.
—That’s no excuse.
The girl stood up as if to go.
—I’ll take care of this, Myrna, said the bartender. You stay where you are.
He came around the bar toward Harp. He was a big man, with thick forearms like a steelworker.
—It’s time for you to go, lad. The others too.
—Come on, said Harp, taking a step back. The place is empty. I’ll just go back to the table. We’ll mind our own business.
—Hey, Barton! the man called to the back.
Another man appeared.
Harp’s friends had come over.
—What’s the problem? said Lubeck.
—The lot of you, said the barkeeper. Get out.
—We didn’t do anything, said Carr. Why should we leave? Our money’s good.
The girl spoke up.
—He told me if I didn’t go into the back with him he’d hit me. He said he was going to take me off somewhere and tear me in half. Wouldn’t think nothing of it, he said. Just like that.
Her face was fierce and covered in tears.
—What? I didn’t . . .
The barkeeper and the man called Barton looked at each other.
Barton grabbed Harp and lifted him from the ground. At a half run, he went for the door and heaved him through.
The barkeeper took Brennan’s shoulder. Brennan wrenched away and ran out past Barton. It was a general flight.
—If I ever see you in here again, said the barkeeper.
Harp’s face was bruised and cut from the street where he’d been thrown. They dusted him off and continued on.
—What was that?
—Why did she say that?
—Who was that girl?
They soon came to another place and began again. Lubeck was talking to two dressed like matchstick girls.
—Can you believe it?
—That’s ridiculous, said the first girl. She must have a score to settle, and she can’t settle it.
—I don’t know, said the second girl. Maybe you deserved it. I don’t know.
Lubeck spoke up.
—But Harp didn’t say anything like that. The girl just invented it. She made it all up.
—Well it had to come from somewhere, didn’t it, said the second matchstick girl. It had to come from somewhere.
—That’s right, said the first matchstick girl. Even if she was making it up.
—But it’s not fair, said Carr. She made the whole thing up. It wasn’t true.
—Well, I guess you’re right then, said the second matchstick girl. But any way you look at it, you lost. If she wasn’t lying, well then, your friend deserved what he got, and it was her speaking up that caused him to get punished, in which case she won, and if she was lying, then she managed to trick those guys into throwing you out, in which case she still won. She won and you lost, and it was the four of you against just her. That’s pretty good.
The matchstick girls agreed: the girl in the brown dress had won.
An hour or two went by.
It was thus late in the evening when one of the matchstick girls yelped.
—Hey, isn’t that the girl. Isn’t that her out the window?
—That’s her, said Harp. Damned if it isn’t her. Let’s go.
—What’ll we do? asked Carr.
—I don’t know, said Harp. Let’s go.
The party poured out into the street, with the four young men ahead of the others. Indeed, the long tweed coat and brown dress of the girl could be made out just up ahead. It had snowed the day before, and drifts and piles lined the street. The girl walked there in the company of an older man.
—Let’s pelt them, said Harp.
He forced the brown gritty snow into a ball as the others did the same. Then with a shout, they ran forward, throwing the snowballs as hard as they could.
The first missed the man’s shoulder by an arm’s length. But the second struck him. He turned, face lit up with anger. The girl stopped too, and turned, and just at that moment, a snowball struck her hard in the face. In the moment before it struck a fact became plain to all of them: it was not the girl, but someone else, a woman of perhaps forty.
She tumbled down, falling heavily onto her back with a cry. The man started after them. What was there to do? They ran. Down the first alley, onto the next street, a right turn, a left, onto another street, onto another alley. They were young and in good health, so they made it safely away.
Carr woke to banging on the door to his flat. He pulled on a pair of pants and went to see what it was.
It was Harp.
—You’ve got to come with me. It’s bad. Come to Lubeck’s place.
Lubeck and Brennan, two of the four young men, lived near the river in a big house owned by Lubeck’s mother.
—Give me a second, said Carr.
He finished dressing and then the two were walking in the street.
—What is it?
—Lubeck got a letter. You’ll see.
More than that, Harp wouldn’t say.
It was Lubeck’s mother let Carr in. Brennan came to the door too. Lubeck was sitting in a chair by the window.
—What is it? asked Carr. What happened?
Brennan took a letter off a side table and handed it to Carr.
—Read it for yourself, he said.
Dear J. Lubeck,
It is my understanding that you and three others, L. Carr, F. Brennan, and J. Harp, were on Sycamore Street last night where I went walking with my wife. You must understand that we were at the hospital much of the night. My wife has been caused to have a miscarriage. While I might take this matter up with the police, I prefer, as a gentleman, to meet with you and decide the matter by force. Your family has long lived in this town, so I believe you will honor your commitment. Come then, tomorrow morning, that is, December 5, to the racing track out past Elridge Green no later than six A.M. Bring a second, as I shall.
Judge Allen Henry
Lubeck’s mother called to Lubeck from across the room.
—You won’t fail us, will you, John?
—There’s nothing to do, said Lubeck, standing up, still looking out the window. There’s nothing to do.
—That’s right, said his mother. It’s the only thing.
She looked them one by one—Brennan, Carr, Harp—full in the face.
—A thing like that, she said. It’s awful. There’s no choice in the matter. You’ve got to have it out or we can’t live in this town.
Lubeck’s brothers and sisters had come into the room. There were eight of them of various ages. Lubeck’s stepfather also had come in.
—A bad business, a bad business, he said, and pulled at his mustache. Seems to me you deserve what you get.
—That’s right, said Lubeck’s mother.
—These days, what with automobiles and propeller airplanes, the power of man is getting stronger and stronger, said Lubeck’s stepfather. If he doesn’t learn some moral strength, it’ll all be as unjointed as a scarecrow.
—I don’t even know what you’re saying, said Lubeck.
—Suit yourself, said Lubeck’s stepfather.
—This is a very very bad thing, said Brennan.
—It’s a very bad thing, all right, said Lubeck’s mother.
The next morning, Carr went with Lubeck. Brennan had refused, and though Harp had wanted to come, Lubeck wouldn’t have it.
—You’ve got to come along, Lubeck had told Carr. Just you.
They took Lubeck’s stepfather’s automobile and drove out from the town. The morning light where the snow still held was strong in their eyes, and they squinted as they came.
Soon they reached the track. A car could be seen through the bare trees and a few figures beside it.
Lubeck pulled in and stopped the engine.
—The pistols are there, the man said.
He was as old as the Judge. Both wore overcoats over dark suits. Both wore hats and thin leather gloves. They had laid a soft cloth over a portion of the car’s hood. On the cloth were two revolvers. The scene was very dignified. One would want, as a child, to be old enough to take part in such a thing, to be there in the heaving coldness of morning, in the careful grace of winter, though of course, the true penalty of death cannot be considered in its depth by such a little fool as a child. No, no.
—Either, said the Judge.
—You can take either.
The Judge’s second walked out and drew two lines in the earth of the cinder track, about twenty feet apart. He called Carr over.
—The way this thing is going to get done, well, this is it. Lubeck and Judge Henry will wait, each some yards behind their line. At our word, each approaches his line. When the line is reached, they begin to fire.
—How many shots can they . . . ?
—Eight in each revolver. If they both run out, we start again.
He looked at Carr with disgust.
—You were with him, weren’t you? You’re one of them?
—I, well . . .
The man turned his back on Carr and approached the place where the Judge was waiting.
—All set, he said.
Judge Henry motioned to Lubeck to take a pistol from the hood. Lubeck hesitated, then chose, lifting the gun uncertainly.
Carr was at his side. They took a few steps together away from the others.
—You can leave. You don’t have to do this, he said quietly. Leave the town. Leave the country.
Lubeck looked at him and then away.
—Tell them I’m ready.
—To your posts, said the Judge’s second.
The Judge and Lubeck stepped out onto the track.
Carr felt as if someone were squeezing all the air out of his body. Things became slow and strained. He heard the man call “Now!” and watched as Lubeck and the Judge advanced, step by step. Near the lines, they raised their pistols. They pointed their pistols at each other. Carr couldn’t breathe. He was held there, without breath, as the shots began. Lubeck fired and fired. The Judge fired, fired again. Both continued advancing. The noise was incredible. He felt he had never heard anything so loud. Lubeck fired and the Judge flinched, and then they were just walking at each other. The Judge let out three shots in a row. The shots poured from his revolver. Lubeck was not firing. His face was turned away. The first shot came. The second shot came. The third shot came, and Lubeck was backwards off his feet.
Carr ran out onto the track. He slowed his pace as he drew closer. The bullet had taken Lubeck high in the cheek and gone straight through his head. The face was a bloody wreck. He was no longer there.
Carr realized he had started to breathe again. He turned. The Judge and his second were conferring. The second came over, passed Carr, knelt by Lubeck’s body. He was taking the pistol back. He removed the pistol from Lubeck’s hand, opened it, dropped the spent shells on the ground, and walked away.
Then he paused.
—You, the second said. Give this to Brennan.
It was a letter.
Across the length of track, the Judge was looking straight into Carr’s eye. His face was carved like a mask of a face.
Carr drove very gently along the road. He had found soft leather driving gloves on the dash and he had put them on and now he was driving gently. He negotiated one turn, then another. He was bringing Lubeck’s mother her son’s body. Such a thing he had never done, but he felt it was within him to do it.
Lubeck was stretched out in the backseat. Carr had wrapped his head in a sack. Other than that, he might have been asleep. One often, however, can take the sign of a bag over a person’s head to mean that something bad has either happened or will happen. So anyone observing the scene would not have to wonder for very long at the difficulties that were assailing young Carr as he drove gently on the twisting road back into town.
Over a small bridge and down by the harbor. Along an alley and stopped beside a huge oak. Then, to the door.
— Come out, he said. Come out.
They came out, many of them, a crowd of them, all down to the road where Lubeck was. Carr went gently away.
Do you know the surface of the stream? Do you know its depth? Do you see as fish see, that water is not one but many, that there are paths through it, just as through land, and that to pass along a stream is a matter well beyond the powers of any human being?
Carr was reading from a thin book. He was still near the harbor, on a bench. He felt that he could not leave without giving Brennan the letter. But he did not want to.
A little girl was there with a cygnet on a narrow leather leash. She drew near and looked at Carr. Carr looked at her.
—When it grows up, it will do its best to hurt you, he said. I know that much.
—Her name is Absinthe, said the girl. And I’m Jane Charon.
—Nice to meet you, Jane.
—Not so nice for me, said Jane stoutly. You say such horrible things.
—I saw a swan maul a child once, said Carr. The child had to be removed. To the hospital, I mean. The swan was beaten to death with a stick.
Jane covered the cygnet’s ears. You’ll have to imagine for yourself what that looked like. I don’t really know where a bird’s ears are.
—But, said Jane. If you were there, why didn’t you help the child?
—Sometimes, when you see something awful about to happen, although you are a good person and mean everything for the best, you hope still that the bad thing will happen. You watch and hope that the awful thing will happen and that you will see it. Then when it happens you are surprised and shocked and pretend that you didn’t want it to happen. But really you did. It was that way with me and the swan.
—So you were on the swan’s side? asked Jane.
—I guess so. Yes, that’s right.
—Well, that’s even worse. It’s all right for a person to pick a side, but once he’s on that side he should stay there. You ought to have helped the swan escape. You should have stopped them from killing it and helped it away. Or even helped it to maul the child, if you were really the swan’s friend. How could anyone ever trust you?
Jane gave Carr a stern look and continued on down the path. The cygnet nipped at him as it passed, but its beak got fouled up in Carr’s coat, and it missed.
—You can’t own a swan, anyway, Carr yelled. The Queen of England owns them all already.
And it was true. The Queen of England is the owner of all swans. It was decided a long time ago, and so it has always been.
The letter was in a cream-colored envelope. Francis Brennan, it said on the outside.
Carr gave the envelope to Brennan. He was standing on the stairs. Then he was handing the envelope to Brennan.
—What is this? said Brennan.
—They gave it to me. This morning, they gave it to me, for you.
Brennan took the envelope reluctantly. He turned it over in his hand.
—Tell me how it happened, he said.
—He shot Lubeck, and then they gave me the envelope. That’s it.
—That’s it, said Brennan.
He opened the envelope.
The floor of the room was wooden, and the boards ran for a very long way. Carr saw the board all the way to the wall and then back.
Brennan handed the opened letter back to Carr.
—What’s there to do? said Brennan.
He was a man of some principle, Brennan. He was studying for a doctorate in philosophy and believed in maintaining a certain decorum in one’s manner of life. Nevertheless, he had refused to go with Lubeck that morning, and now he was to go himself.
—You’ll go with me, won’t you? he said to Carr.
—I will, said Carr, feeling the massive unbowed hand of fate upon his shoulder.
A long pause, then:
—Was he a very good shot? asked Brennan.
—Rather not. They were pretty close, and firing and firing. He must have missed Lubeck six or seven times.
He did not say anything about how Lubeck had stopped firing. He felt it might make matters worse.
—Six or seven times, said Brennan to himself. Six or seven times. At how many paces?
—Paces? I don’t know about paces. It was about twenty feet, though closer when he shot him.
It mustn’t have seemed to Brennan that the Judge was a very good pistoleer. However, the fact of the matter is, it is not so easy to shoot someone with a gun, even when you want to. In the Great War, for instance, people were always shooting their guns in the air instead of at the enemy.
—I’m going to just be here, said Brennan.
—I’ll just be here, all right?
—All right. And I’ll meet you here.
So Carr left. Outside it was already dark and quite cold. Certain patches of air were colder than others, for there was no wind at all, none. He walked through these various patches and thought all the while of the soft cloth on which the pistols had been laid.
At that exact moment, the cloth was wrapped about both pistols in an intricate way so that the pistols were both protected from each other and from outside objects. The pistols had been taken apart, cleaned and oiled, and put back together. Now they sat in the trunk of the Judge’s automobile. The automobile was in the drive before the Judge’s house. The Judge was inside, sitting with his wife. She was pleading with him.
Carr could not sleep. He tried to read, but couldn’t make sense of anything. Then he thought, perhaps if I sit at the table, which is bare, I will be able to think of something that will put me in a position to sleep.
Often, I think, when one can’t sleep it is because one is of a sudden required to come to a certain conclusion or think through a certain idea, and one is unable to do it. Only by sheer exhaustion, deception, or pharmaceuticals can one pass by.
He sat at the table.
The ancient Egyptians believed that there was a traveler, a god who was a traveler, who would come sometimes to your table. You would never know him. He would just come knocking at your door, begging a meal, and if you let him in and fed him, if you gave him a place to stay, and kindness, he would reward you by teaching you the language that cats speak, so that when you were dead you could listen and learn from them the passage to paradise.
Lubeck was never kind, thought Carr. If anyone ever came begging at his door, he did not let that person in.
Brennan was waiting on the steps when Carr arrived. Lubeck’s stepfather came out. He gave Brennan a key.
—There’s not much to know anyway, he said. It all just continues.
Brennan stood up.
—Let’s go, he said.
Carr nodded to Lubeck’s stepfather. Then away.
It was the same automobile. The sack had not stopped all the blood from coming out of the head the day before, and the backseat was stained.
—I’ll drive, said Carr.
Brennan was singing beneath his breath. Carr could not make out what it was. They passed along the streets, over the bridge, out of the town, through fields on the raised road, and again there loomed up the specter of the track, the car through the bare trees, the waiting men beside it.
—How did this happen, said Brennan quietly.
—It’s happening, said Carr.
—What’s right? said Brennan. If I kill him, then his wife will have lost her husband and her child.
—You can’t think about that, said Carr.
—Maybe I’ll shoot him in the leg, said Brennan. Then it’ll stop.
The pistols were laid out on the hood again, on the same cloth.
—Which one did Lubeck take? whispered Brennan.
—I don’t remember, said Carr. They look the same.
—They are the same, said the Judge’s second.
—They are not the same, said Brennan. One worked yesterday and the other didn’t.
—Are you suggesting—
—No, no. I’m sure both revolvers fired, and accurately. That’s not what I’m saying. But one worked. Which one was it?
The Judge heard the argument and came over.
—What’s the trouble? he asked.
—He wants to know which gun was yours.
The Judge pointed to the left one. Brennan took it.
The marks were still on the track from the day before, but the Judge’s second redrew them anyway, with a broken stick. He smoothed over the place where Lubeck fell. He motioned to Carr.
—This goes the same way.
—I’ve explained it to him, said Carr.
Carr nodded to Brennan, who was holding the pistol in both his hands with the barrel pointed down. Brennan walked slowly to the line.
—No, said Carr. You have to be back a bit.
—Oh, said Brennan. I’m sorry, I forgot.
His hands were shaking.
The Judge stood well behind his line. He nodded to his second. His second nodded to Carr.
—Ready? Carr asked Brennan.
Brennan’s face was curled up. He shook it a little, enough for a nod.
The Judge advanced to his line.
Brennan stayed where he was.
The Judge raised the revolver and pointed it at Brennan. Brennan raised his pistol. He was still holding it with both hands. The gun shook uncontrollably.
—Come forward to the line, shouted the Judge’s second. He turned to Carr. He’s got to come forward.
—Brennan, go to the line, said Carr.
Brennan looked around uncertainly.
—To the line.
He started to walk forward, his pistol held out before him.
The Judge’s gun was pointed at Brennan. He held it carefully and squeezed.
The sound came and was gone. It seemed to pass along over the ground, to catch at Brennan and throw him down, and then disperse.
Brennan was coughing and holding his chest. Blood was all on his mouth. He kept wiping it away, but the mouth stayed bloody. There was always more blood and more blood on the mouth.
—Leon, he said. Leon.
Carr knelt by him. The bullet had entered Brennan’s chest and pierced his lung. His mouth was full of blood. Blood was on his face and neck, on his hands. He was still holding the pistol. Carr took it from him and put it on the ground.
—Frank, he said. Frank, you’re all right.
—I’m all right, said Brennan.
—Just hold it together. We’ll get you to a hospital.
—No one’s getting to a hospital, said the Judge’s second.
Carr stood up.
—He’s had a bullet through his chest. Isn’t that enough for you? I’m taking him to a hospital, and you won’t stop me.
—I certainly will, said the Judge’s second. He took the pistol up off the ground and held it very seriously in his hand.
A minute passed. Then another. Brennan’s coughing was quieter now.
Carr started toward the car.
—I’m going to get help. I don’t care what you say.
—It’s useless to talk about it, said the Judge, approaching. He’s dead already.
And indeed Brennan’s chest had stopped moving.
—This, for you, said the second, handing Carr an envelope.
James Harp, it read.
All around them the morning squatted unwelcoming with long trails of foiling distance.
The Judge and his second were standing together and speaking quietly.
What could they possibly be saying?
James, he said. James, he said again, louder, banging on the door.
He could hear the sound of someone moving around inside.
—Harp, you bastard, open the door.
The door opened. Harp stood there in a dressing gown. He was a mess. His face was still swollen up.
—What do you want? he said.
—They’re both dead.
You think I don’t know that?
Carr stood there. He couldn’t say anything. He tried to, but he couldn’t. He was just standing there, holding the envelope. He refused to look at it. He was not holding an envelope. He would not look at it.
He looked down at the envelope.
—What’s that? said Harp.
—What are you holding? Carr, what’s that in your hand?
Carr was standing there with the envelope after all. He handed it to Harp.
—It has my name on it. What, you were just standing there with an envelope with my name on it and not saying anything? You got it from them, didn’t you? They send you along each day, their messenger. What is that? If you were my friend, you’d have thrown it away. Now I have to see it. Now I have to do something.
—Well, do something, said Carr.
Harp tore open the envelope. A girl came out from his room.
—What’s that? she said.
—Nothing, said Harp.
—Give me that, she said. Give it to me.
She tried to take the envelope from Harp. He twisted away. She tore it out of his hands and ran back into the room.
—Come back here!
Harp ran after. Carr followed.
There was a fireplace in the far corner. The girl was standing in front of it. The letter was gone.
—It doesn’t make a difference, Alice.
—What do you mean? she said.
Harp said nothing.
—What does he mean?
—I don’t know.
—You know, damn you. Tell me what he means.
—He means he knows what the letter said, even if he didn’t read it. There’s nothing to be done.
She shrieked and started pounding on Harp’s chest and face with her hands.
No! You’re not going. You’re not going.
Harp looked over her at Carr. His features had composed themselves.
—Tomorrow morning? he said.
Out on the street there was a dandy parade in progress. Little boys were dressed up in bright blue soldier suits and carrying little guns and swords and such. Others were with trumpets and bugles, some with drums. It was quite a clatter. There were adults too, in adult versions of the ridiculous child uniforms, walking at the front. There was a banner too, but the banner was already gone up ahead, and Carr could not read what it said.
The parade was going in the direction that Carr needed to go.
Should I join the parade? he wondered.
That’s always the decision one is pressed to make. Do I join the parade or not? In certain cases the decision is easy, in others not so.
Now there was a mule with a very small child on it dressed up also like a mule. Or rather like a monk in a hair shirt.
A hair shirt, thought Carr. I haven’t seen one of those in a long time.
Yes, these and other thoughts of guilt.
After the mule came four dancers bent up and twisted onto each other to look like an elephant. They were very successful in this. I imagine they were the best ones in the world at being in a parade and looking like an elephant. Even if everyone were to try to do it, they would still be the best, that’s how good they were. I wouldn’t want you to think that just because no one ever bothers trying to look like an elephant with other people together in a parade that these people being the best didn’t mean much because certainly it did. They were pleasant to look at, dragging their way along the street. One had an arm to be the trunk, and it was painted gray like a trunk, and all the hair had been shaved from it. It moved back and forth the way an elephant trunk moves, always seeming like it was about to investigate some smell or shape. The people who made up this elephant were determined. It must have hurt a great deal to go all the way through the town on the hard pavement.
And that was that about the elephant. Already it was gone.
Next came a group of little girls with pigeons on their shoulders. These were the kind that send messages. Apparently there was a society of girls that does this all the time. Although I have never seen them in action, I believe it to be true. Carr saw the society pass there and immediately thought of a message he should like to send by pigeon. But, of course, the society was not accepting messages at that time.
When Carr finally got back to his house it was mid-afternoon. He sat on the floor and looked at the books piled up there.
In the evening, he told himself, I will go to a nice café and I will read straight through from beginning to end Gargantuain French. Then, someone will approach, a lovely girl most likely, and say, Oh, do you like Rabelais, and I will say, Well, sometimes, but just for light reading, and then I will take out a copy of Locke and pretend that I am a much more serious and orderly person than I actually am. Won’t that go well for me.
In fact, at the café he read some Robert Louis Stevenson, who is not just for children, and this was very rousing, and he looked about himself with a bright strong gaze.
It did not seem possible to him that anything that was happening had actually happened or even could actually happen.
Is there to be a funeral, he wondered. Will their funerals be together? He said these things quietly to himself in such a way that they were not really questions. For he himself wondered if it was true that he was the fourth and that he would be the fourth. What, he wondered, would happen then?
Someone did approach him. It was a Prussian bandleader.
—Is there, said the man, some problem?
—No, said Leon Carr.
—Why have you been staring at me then?
—I’m sorry, said Carr. I have been thinking hard about something.
—Ah, said the man. Well, I suppose it’s all right then. All the same, I would rather you stop doing it. Will you stop?
—I’ll try, said Carr. But it’s a bit difficult, you see. You’re sitting across from me. If I’m thinking, and looking in that direction, then you might feel I’m looking at you, even if I’m not.
The Prussian bandleader thought about this.
—This is why, he said, in Prussia, we don’t allow people to sit opposite one another. It makes for fewer offenses.
—One can’t believe a word you say, said Carr.
—There’s not much courtesy in you, is there? said the Prussian. Good night.
He doffed his hat to Carr and went back to his seat. From time to time Carr was mindful of staring at the man, and at those times he looked away.
Carr was thinking of how he had imagined for himself a house with a long porch set on a small elevation above a street in a seashore town. He had joined a daydreaming league in the days when those things were popular, and when they would all lie together daydreaming, he would dream of this house. The particulars of each room were clear in his head. He would have bookshelves lining the staircases in the house. There would be many staircases, at least one for every room. Bathrooms would be reached via staircases, rooms would never be on the same elevation. In fact, the house would be a bit of a conundrum for the architect and engineer. He had often imagined explaining his creation. What an argument that would be. He had imagined his reply. Spare no expense, my boys, spare no expense. I am prepared to pay handsomely. And then everyone would be smiling and understanding each other.
It was freezing cold when he woke. He’d left the window open the night before. He limped across the floor, still draped in blankets, shut the window, and returned to bed. The sky outside was lightening.
I won’t go, he thought to himself. I can just stay here. Or, I can get all my things together and leave. I’ll go to another town. That wouldn’t be so bad. Nothing keeps me here, really. There’s no one for me here. I can go.
But Carr most of all felt the guilt of what they’d done, and Carr, of them all, was the last one who would ever run away.
I will run away, he thought.
He packed his things up hastily into a large suitcase. Then he stood looking down into it.
If I don’t go now, I’ll never be in time to meet Harp.
The door shut. The suitcase was still open on the floor, and Carr, coat in hand, ran down the stairs and out into the day.
He drew his hand back to knock, and the door opened. Harp was standing there, very neatly dressed. He looked quite determined. The girl Carr had seen the day before was there as well, to watch them go. She was not as wild as the day before.
—Good-bye, she said.
Harp shut the door.
—The car’s in the side alley, he said.
Out the back way and into the alley. There was the car. Out the alley into the street. Along the street to the bridge. Across the bridge to the roads beyond. All down all down to the track, where, through bare trees, one could see a stopped car and figures waiting.
—Whatever happens, don’t worry, said Harp. It’ll all work out.
—What do you mean?
—Don’t worry about what I mean. Don’t worry about anything. Just keep clear.
—All right, said Carr.
They got out. Again the Judge was standing with his second. Again the cloth was spread on the hood with the revolvers.
The track was a long arc laid out to the side between craggy fists of trees and rising of hills. There were stands in the distance, and stables beyond the stands. Above the stands the sky seemed farther than it ought to be. What was the distance of the sky? Did it change from place to place? People thought once that heaven was somewhere beyond the moon. Everything was divided up that way. Some things were beneath the moon, others above. It meant something to be able to go beyond the moon.
The Judge’s second was explaining about how Harp might use either of the revolvers. Harp was staring at the revolvers. He wasn’t saying anything, just staring.
—Harp. Harp. Hey, Harp, said Carr.
He felt that something was wrong.
Harp looked up suddenly. He was standing with his back to Carr. The Judge and his second were frozen.
—What’s the meaning of this?
—I’m not going to die, not today, said Harp.
What are you doing? shouted Carr.
There was an automatic pistol in Harp’s hand.
—There’s nothing else to do, said Harp. This is how it is.
—Think of what we did, said Carr. We can’t fix that.
The Judge and his second were eyeing Harp warily. Harp seemed to waver for a second. He half lowered the pistol. Suddenly, the second dived at the car. He snatched one of the revolvers from the hood.
Harp turned his arm. He pointed his arm at the Judge’s second and shot him in the back. The man sprawled out on the ground.
Harp turned the gun back to the Judge. The shooting had given him some strength. He spoke now with determination. The thing had started.
—You killed Lubeck, and you killed Brennan. Now it’s up. It’s up.
He pointed the pistol at the Judge’s head.
Carr dove at Harp. He didn’t think, he just did it. It wasn’t fair what they’d done to the Judge and his wife. It wasn’t honorable. They had a debt to make good. They had to give the Judge a chance to even things.
He struck Harp from the side. Harp fell beneath him, his pistol going off harmlessly. Harp was underneath him, breathing hard.
Carr struggled to his feet. Harp was cursing and getting up. Then a shot came from behind him. Harp fell down again. The Judge was behind them. He put a bullet into Harp on the ground. Harp was writhing. The Judge put another bullet into him, and another.
—Stop it, shouted Carr.
He started for the Judge. But the Judge turned the pistol on him.
Carr backed away.
—Stop it, he said.
The Judge knelt beside Harp.
Harp was crying.
Another bullet came then into Harp’s head and there was just a mess on the ground where Harp had been.
—Can you see it otherwise? the Judge asked.
He straightened his coat.
Carr looked over at the Judge’s second. The man was still alive, against the car, clutching at a hole in his chest.
The Judge put two fingers in his mouth and whistled. Out of the trees on the far side of the track came two cars. They pulled up. Out of one came a man with a black bag, a doctor. He knelt by the Judge’s second and began to administer to him.
The Judge was quietly observing Carr.
—Why did you do that? he said.
—I don’t know, said Carr. It was the wrong thing. I should have let him shoot you.
—But you didn’t, said the Judge.
He moved as if to pat Carr on the shoulder. Carr pulled away.
—As you will, said the Judge.
He pointed to the cloth on the hood.
—Do you know what that cloth is for?
—It’s for infants. Infants get wrapped in it when you take them home from the hospital. My wife bought it when she knew she was pregnant. Feel how soft it is.
He took the cloth and held it out to Carr. Reluctantly, Carr touched the cloth. It was very soft indeed.
The Judge threw it back onto the hood.
He took an envelope from his coat.
—This one, he said, is for you. Good day.
Carr went straight home, and though it was early afternoon, he shuttered the windows, lay down, and was soon asleep.
A loud knocking at the door: the wife of the Judge was standing in the hall.
She was wearing a thin wool dress with the same open tweed coat. Her cheeks were gaunt. Carr had never expected to see her. He had not arranged in his head any policy for how he would speak or act.
—I’m so sorry, said Carr. I’m sorry, I . . .
She took his hand in hers and looked patiently into his face.
Carr felt almost like crying, so kindly did she treat him.
—I’m sorry, he said again. Come in and sit down.
Then it occurred to him that perhaps she might not want to come in.
—Is that all right? he asked. Would you rather stay out there?
—No, no, she said. Here.
She came into Carr’s room. She took off her coat and sat on the bed. She was staring at him and staring at him. Her dress was very thin, and he felt very much for her then. He felt he should not, but he did and he looked at her, there, seated on his bed.
—I don’t know what to say.
He tried to think of something kind to say. He felt that because Lubeck and Brennan and Harp were dead the guilt had not gone away but was concentrated all on him.
But she drew him down to the bed beside her and took his hand. She slid it along her side and up onto her breast. She leaned in.
Her face was along his neck. She kissed him softly.
—It’s all right, she murmured. It’s all right.
His hand was along her and on her. In a moment, she had pulled her dress off over her head. She was pulling on his pants. She was on top of him. Her hair shrouded the room, and her lips were at the corner of his mouth.
They lay together there, in the bed, smoking.
—I suppose I should tell you, she said. There was no miscarriage.
She got out of the bed and put her dress back on. Carr was sitting with his eyes closed.
—What did you say? asked Carr.
—There was no miscarriage. It was just a reason for my husband to fight you. He felt the honor of young men isn’t what it used to be, and if there weren’t some serious reason, you wouldn’t bear up.
She put on her coat.
—I’m just telling you, she said, because I feel bad about the whole thing. If you like, you don’t have to fight him. You can just go. Don’t feel guilty, that’s all I’m saying.
—This is . . . completely . . . why didn’t you come sooner? Do you just let your husband . . . ?
Carr jumped up out of the bed and began to pace back and forth. She was by the door.
—Anyway, she said. Thanks for the good time. The whole situation made this rather intimate.
Carr looked at her helplessly.
—My friends are dead, he said.
—I’m sorry about that.
She opened the door and went out, leaving it open.
He went to the door.
—My friends are dead!
But the hallway was empty. Her footsteps sounded away down the stairs.
Now he was in the hall and she was gone.
They say that in a heavy storm one shouldn’t be beneath trees for fear of lightning. Also they say don’t go into an open field. This is very confusing, as, when I have on occasion been in a place of fields and trees during heavy rain and lightning, I have become completely confused. At what point do I stay away from the trees? At what point from the fields? Do I dig a hole in the ground? Do I need to keep a little shovel with me for rainstorms? In such a hole wouldn’t the rain collect and drown me? That’s not so much better, and in fact would be much the same because I have heard that the bodies of people killed by lightning are bloated in a similar way to those found after a drowning.
Yes, Carr could not fix his mind particularly on anything. How senseless! What should Carr do? He felt very surely that he should go and shoot the Judge. Why had the Judge won the other duels? Because the others had felt guilty. They had let themselves die.
Except for Harp, who was treacherous. Yes, he had been treacherous, because he had thought they had killed the Judge’s child, and yet he had still gone on as if they were in the right. What if I were to go to the Judge’s house and kill him in the night? Would that be the right thing? And now he had slept with the Judge’s wife. Ordinarily a rather bad business, it seemed not to count for anything now.
He would confront the Judge. He would go to the Judge’s house, confront him, and then tomorrow morning shoot him to death at the duel.
He felt very good about this resolution. He dressed, put on his coat, and called for a cab to take him to the Judge’s house.
The Judge’s house was, as you might suppose, quite a fine affair. Already the cab was there. He hadn’t even remembered getting in. And then he got out.
He felt immediately dwarfed by the house. This is one of the techniques of the very wealthy. They make anyone who comes to visit them feel by virtue of architecture that he or she is a supplicant. I am not a supplicant, thought Carr. I am the aggrieved. I accuse.
He went up the steps. A man was standing at the top wearing a very comprehensive servant costume. Perhaps the man was a servant.
—I’m here to see the Judge.
—He doesn’t know it, said the man.
—All the same, said Carr. I’ll have my way. I have to see him.
—What you must do and what will happen: they’re not the same thing, said the man. It’s my job to see the Judge isn’t disturbed. All kinds of people come here after the Judge decides criminal cases. They feel they have been dealt with unfairly.
He pursed his lips, then continued.
—Unfairly, fairly. Who’s to say that? Why, the Judge. That’s why he’s a Judge. So, whatever it is that you’re here about, why don’t you just run along.
He returned to his initial pose.
—Listen, said Carr. I want to see the Judge. I’m going in through the door one way or another.
—Well, said the man. If you are going to go, I won’t stop you. But I assure you, there are others more determined than I who are waiting inside.
Carr walked past the man and through the front doors of the house.
Inside was a long entrance hall. A coatroom was on one side, with a man standing behind a counter. Before the doors that opened into the house, another man waited. Both wore the same servant costume as the first man.
—Coat, said the first man.
Carr gave the man his coat. He felt like not doing it, but he did it anyway. In giving in to even one of these people’s demands, he felt he was giving up some initiative. Nonetheless, he gave up his coat.
—Hold on a second, said Carr.
The man brought the coat back and held it out to him.
Carr reached into one of the pockets and took something out.
The man smiled encouragingly at him in a rather nasty way. Carr sneered in return, but then thought better of it. He didn’t want his coat mistreated.
—I’ll be back for that.
—If you’re not, said the man, we’ll throw it away.
He held the coat mincingly in his fingers as though he preferred not to touch it.
Carr turned and walked to the next door.
—Not so fast, said the doorman, smirking meanwhile at the coatroom attendant.
—Not so fast, he said again.
Both broke into laughter.
—I need to see the Judge, said Carr.
—Don’t let me stop you, said the doorman.
Carr went to go through the door. He tried to turn the handle. The door was locked.
—The door is locked, he said.
Both men broke into fits of giggling.
—Do you have a key? he asked the doorman.
—Do I have a key? the doorman asked the coatroom attendant.
—Yes, of course he has a key. He’s the doorman.
Both continued their giggling.
—Listen, said Carr. I need to get through that door.
He grabbed the doorman roughly and started to shake him. The man was very weak and small and was hauled nearly off his feet.
—All right, all right, said the man. Here’s the key.
He gave the key to Carr.
Carr put the key into the lock and turned it. The doorman, loosed from Carr’s grip, ran down the hall.
—You’ll get it for this, he said.
Carr remembered his coat. He started back for it.
No, he thought. They’ll think I’m weak if all I’m worried about is my coat. And also, he thought, that man is a coatroom attendant. They must have some sort of code by which they never let anything bad happen to coats. Otherwise, on what might their pride be based? He decided to rely upon this coatroom attendant’s code, and he went on through the door.
On the other side was a broad curving interior staircase. To the left a broad hall that passed by him and went off a ways to the right, just past a wide fireplace.
Where to go? thought Carr.
A girl in a maid’s uniform was carrying folded sheets.
—Oh my, she said.
—Where is the Judge?
—I couldn’t say, she said. But no one can go around unaccompanied in this house.
She dropped the sheets and ran to the wall. There was a bellpull there. Carr caught her just in time, pulling her back. He had caught the back of her dress and it tore open. She lunged again for the bellpull and it tore the rest of the way. He was forced to grab her about the waist.
Laughter came then from the stairs.
Carr spun around, still holding the girl, who now clung to him just in her underwear and torn-off dress.
On the stairs stood the Judge’s wife and also three servant men.
—You have quite an appetite, said the Judge’s wife.
Carr let the girl go. She clung to him now all the same.
—What are you doing? he said. Get off me.
—First you assault me, she said, and now that you’ve ruined my virtue you want to get rid of me. I won’t have it.
She held on tight. The girl was a bit too much for Carr.
—Get off me, he said, and shook her off.
—That’s no way to treat her, said one of the servants.
—What’s the big idea? said another.
—I just came to speak to the Judge.
Everyone began to laugh.
—A fellow like you, speak to the Judge!
A more ridiculous statement they had never heard.
—What’s the idea in coming here? said the Judge’s wife.
To the servants, then:
—Throw him out.
She turned and went back up the stairs. The servants came down toward him.
Carr picked up a poker from the fireplace.
The servants eyed him warily.
—I’m going up. You can’t stop me.
And then his arms were caught up from behind. Someone had snuck up on him. The servants came up and took the poker from his hand. One slugged him in the stomach. He keeled over. They struck him a few more times and he blacked out. Then he was lifted hand and foot and taken back out the front where they threw him unceremoniously on the ground.
Yes, that’s where he was, mouth all full of dirt.
The servants had gone back inside.
Carr ran up the steps and into the house. He ran past the coatroom attendant and into the house proper. He ran up the front stairs and searched through the rooms on the upper floor. There were many rooms of every size and description. People were in some, and they shrieked and made horrified noises as he burst in and out. He ran and ran down the hall, which went on for perhaps one or two miles. He was continually forced to stop, heaving and gasping for air, before running on again. Behind him, in the distance, he could make out pursuit.
I must look quite a horror, he thought, covered in dirt and running about.
At the end of the hall was another stair. Up that stair he went and found himself in the countryside. It was a broad glad day and there was birdsong in the air. A party of young men was coming along the crest of a hill. He went to meet them.
—We’ve just come back from the war, they said.
—The war is over, they said.
—Come and sit with us.
There were proud young women with them, and all were wrapped up in chains of flowers and summer grasses. Over and over they kept saying it, it gave them such joy on their mouths to say it, the war is over, the war is over.
Carr lay on his back and it was then he remembered about his coat. He had forgotten it. He was on his way to, on his way . . .
He was standing again outside the mansion. The door was locked.
A cab pulled up. A slot in the house’s front door slid open. The coatroom attendant stuck his head through.
—That’s your cab, he said. Best to leave now. Here’s your coat.
He stuffed the coat through the narrow slot. Carr took it. It was not the same coat at all. This was a coat he had lost once when changing trains, at least ten years before. This coat was far too small for him.
—Thank you, said Carr.
—Don’t thank me, said the coatroom attendant. I’m not your friend.
The slot slid shut.
Was he outside Lubeck’s house? Lubeck’s mother was there, shepherding her children about. He could see her through the window. Then she saw him.
He was inside, and looking at her.
—Oh, this won’t do, she said. You’re such a mess. Come children.
So all the children took Carr to a great cast-iron bathtub and together they all bathed him and washed him, and when he got out a fresh set of Lubeck’s clothing was sitting there waiting for him. He put the clothing on. It was a rather nice pinstripe suit. The children gamboled and danced around him.
—Now you are clean and we shall talk, said Lubeck’s mother.
Lubeck’s stepfather was also present.
—It’s much better to gather yourself before important conversations, he said. It just won’t do for you to go about like a filthy animal. We don’t live in caves, you know. Not anymore.
Carr explained what had happened to him.
Both were horrified. Around them danced and sang the uncomprehending little children.
—The man must be shot! resolved Lubeck’s stepfather. I will go and be your second tomorrow.
—Thank you, said Carr.
—But this business at the house, said Lubeck’s mother. And this business with the Judge’s wife. Why did you take her up to your room and have-to-do with her?
Carr shifted uncomfortably.
—I just felt so guilty, he said. I didn’t know what to do.
—Is that what you do when you don’t know what to do?
Lubeck’s mother and stepfather exchanged a look.
—What about this servant girl, asked Lubeck’s stepfather. What did she look like with her clothes off?
—Stop it, you, said Lubeck’s mother. That’s about enough of that.
They walked Carr to the door, patting him on the shoulder and back and commiserating with him. They all felt very keenly the loss of Lubeck and Brennan. To be fair, they were not so sad about Harp.
—Treacherous cur, said Lubeck’s stepfather. We should never have let him in the house.
The funeral was to be the following Tuesday.
—I hope to see you there, said Lubeck’s mother. Brennan’s family is going to travel the whole way, which will take from now until then and they will stay here for a few days and then return. You are welcome to come and stay here if you like. It is better in such times as these to be around other people.
Tonight, Carr told them, he thought he would rather be alone.
—That’s all very well, said Lubeck’s stepfather. We are all alone in the face of uncomprehending death.
Lubeck’s folks smiled encouragingly at Carr as he went away in the clothes of their murdered son.
Then the dream shuddered, and he woke.
He was lying in bed, in his room. He went to the window and opened it. It was dark out. He’d slept the whole afternoon. The dream was muddled in his head and sat with unconscionable weight. What was true?
He thought and thought.
The Judge’s wife, he thought. She didn’t come here. Then it was on him again. There was no lie. There had been a miscarriage. He sank to the ground beside the window and sat back, curled against the wall. They were guilty. They haddone it.
There was a knock at the door.
Carr went toward the knocking. Lubeck’s stepfather was standing in the corridor.
—Thought we’d check on you. Everything all right?
Carr shook his head.
Carr indicated that the man should come in.
—No, no, I’m not staying. Just stopped by for a moment.
A thought struck Carr:
—What is the Judge’s house like? Have you ever seen it?
—It’s a small place, near the mill. A stand of birch trees, and a red house left of the curve.
—I know it, said Carr. So that’s the house. It’s a small house.
—Yes, said Lubeck’s stepfather. A small house. Are you going there?
Carr related the events of the morning.
—So, tomorrow. The track?
—Yes, said Carr. I don’t see a way out.
—I’ll go with you, said Lubeck’s stepfather.
—You don’t have to.
—I know I don’t have to.
—Tomorrow then, I’ll come here.
Carr shut the door. The dream had now gone from him completely. He could no longer remember having felt betrayed by the Judge and his wife. His anger at the Judge was vanished in every extremity. In every direction, he could see only what they had done, he, Brennan, Lubeck, and Harp, and how it could not be fixed.
No one explains this to you, he thought. That there are so many things without solution.
He lay down again, and lay for some time, with a blankness in his eyes before sleep drew him on like an ill-shaped coat.
Another dream, and Carr found himself sitting on the lawn of a great landed estate. He could not turn around. He did not know why. Behind him, someone was speaking. A man was speaking about the construction of a cemetery of black granite, of the need for the services of a particular sort of stonemason, of the rationale for a certain wind direction and distance from the sea. Carr drifted deeper into sleep and was gone even from his own dream.
He lay in bed. He could smell the morning where it was around him. A dog was barking somewhere in the building. A wind was blowing, and the house creaked. Doors locked shut strained to be wall, but they might never be. In a moment he had risen and passed out of the room. He did not permit himself to look at it before he left.
Carr was early. He was outside. It was cold. It was early to have gone outside. There were trees that lined the street. Each had been allotted an area of stoned-in earth. More than a hundred years ago, it must have been, for now the trees’ roots up and down the avenue stretched and crouched and broke at the surrounding stone. The trees rose to make a tunnel of the street in summer. In winter the fingers met in the air all along, winding about each other. He felt the permanence of the street, of the town, the permanence of the trees. The wind came up again and turned him, pushed him a half step. He looked away from the wind. The sky was brightening. The wind blew harder and harder. He turned up his collar and sheltered against the house.
When he looked back, the automobile was waiting. He got in.
Lubeck’s stepfather squinted when he looked at him, put the car in gear, and pulled out into the road.
Carr looked down at his clothing. He was wearing his best, a three-piece suit, an overcoat. Why? He himself could not say.
The car wound here and there. Lubeck’s stepfather was taking a different route. Somehow this was a vague hope. He had never thought of driving in a different way to the track. Might that change things?
But soon enough, the ways came together, and it was over the bridge, through the curling country, and then up ahead they saw distinctly through the starkness a car and two figures waiting.
Lubeck’s stepfather pulled to the side of the road.
—I’m sorry, Leon, he said. I can’t stay.
Carr nodded. He patted the man’s shoulder and got out. He could see through the trees the Judge’s profile. The second figure was a woman.
Up to them went Carr.
He nodded to the Judge. He looked then clearly on the Judge’s wife. She did not look like she had in his dream. This woman had been quite ill. What must it have been like? he wondered.
The cloth was laid on the hood. The pistols were there.
The Judge had turned away. He was staring off into the trees.
Carr touched his shoulder.
—I want to say, said Carr. I want to say I’m sorry to you both. We didn’t know what we were doing. It’s strange how luck can be so large and small. One turn, and everything goes. I mean . . .
The Judge looked at him wordlessly. The Judge’s wife’s face was drawn and pale. Her hand twitched.
—I don’t know what this is for you, what your life was, what it would have been. But this, it was something that happened in a street. There are streets and things that happen in them, and no one knows how or why. I want, I mean . . .
He looked around him. The day was now come completely and the track stretched away. The trees rose up. The drive curved into the road which ran on and on into the town that he knew, and beyond. Birds sailed effortlessly between cold branches.
—I mean, he said. I mean ...
The Judge’s wife moved. She put her hand on the Judge’s arm.
—Allen, she said. It’s time. Let’s be done with it.
He turned toward her, and his back was to Carr. Her eyes came over the Judge’s shoulder. They were dark and small. There was nothing in them, nothing at all.
—Love, said the Judge quietly, he stopped the other yesterday. Hasn’t it been enough?
Carr could not hear her reply, but the Judge spoke again, and then she spoke. She spoke on and on, her voice rising. The Judge turned back then, and his face was grieving.
—Take one, he said. Take a gun. Let’s be done with it.
Carr took the pistol closest to him. It felt strange in his hands, smooth and heavy.
The Judge took the other revolver and went out onto the track. Carr followed.
The lines were still there where they had been drawn. A sickness was in Carr’s belly. He felt himself thin and weak. He was walking and he was not. He felt that he was watching himself walk to where he would begin.
The Judge was where he would be. Carr heard the Judge’s wife call out the signal.
Then they were walking toward each other. Carr held the pistol out in front of him. He pointed it like a stick and pulled at it with his fingers. He pulled with all his fingers and it went off. It went off again. The Judge was still there. They were at the lines. The Judge fired. He fired again. Carr felt his chest was hurting. He felt his legs hurt. He was firing, and the air was very clear. There was a hole in his chest. He could see it there. When had it happened? This was another thing that could not be fixed. Panic and his face white, and he was on the ground with his hands.
He could not see the Judge. He could not see the Judge’s wife. The cinders of the track were in his hair. He could feel the track beneath him, and stretching out in every direction above there was a depth to the clouds that seemed very far and good. But then he saw that it was shallow. He felt very much that the sky was shallow, not a trick but something worse, absent all human ambitions. He thought that there were clouds and then clouds behind clouds, and then just air. Where is there that’s far enough?
Then shapes took their places. Men were looking down at him. The Judge, the doctor. There was blood on the Judge’s coat. The doctor was saying something. He was moving his hands in a gesture. What did it mean? Carr felt if only he knew what the gesture meant, then there would have been something, some one thing to salvage from all of this. But the figures had become very small. One couldn’t see them at all, no matter how hard one looked.