HotFreeBooks.com
Fantazius Mallare - A Mysterious Oath
by Ben Hecht
Previous Part     1  2
Home - Random Browse

"I do not recall myself as a spectator of the struggle. I remember it now as I might remember participating in an honest fight. A very clever ruse. It is evident I loaned myself. I surrendered adroitly to my idiotic senses. Therefore for that hour I was completely mad. What happened in the room? Ah, what a grotesque memory it makes. Mallare knocking his fists against the air. Mallare throwing himself around like an epileptic. Sinking his fingers into nothing—a shadow boxer pummelling frenziedly at space. That was madness.

"But it served its purpose. For I've destroyed her. Rita, Rita is gone. Yet there's a curious twist in that. I am lacking one memory. One very important memory hides from me. I calculate its time and place, but, like a recalcitrant comet, it fails to enter the appointed void. Alas, I no longer remember killing her in the street.

"But I am certain I did. Why, certain? Because my logic establishes the fact. Still, I would feel better about something, if my memory were more docile. But what is memory? The soul of dead illusion. Since it withholds itself, I will create a memory.

"There was a lamp shining over my head. I was walking. And then I stood still. Oh, yes, shadows. I grew eloquent with shadows. And she appeared in the midst of this eloquence. My hands choked her. She had followed me into the street and I choked her. But I do not remember this. At least, the thing grows elusive and unsatisfactory. Why? Ah, the snow covers me. I will cover my confusion with a sigh like the snow.

"No, I see the thing now. Was she ever real? There were gypsy wagons and an old man. A camp fire and this girl with the green and orange shawl. Yes, these were realities. But how do I know? Hm, I place my finger on the sore spot. There is a point where reality and unreality meet. And this point has vanished from my mind. I pursue it. A matter of remarkable importance. It evades me; therefore I will arbitrarily locate it. The point between reality and unreality is the arc lamp in the street. Up to that point Rita was real. I killed her at that point and she became unreal. This statement cures me. Nevertheless, my sanity is a myth. I have invented it, by arbitrarily identifying the moment of its departure. But it is better that way than to blunder on without knowing how mad I am or whether I am mad at all, or whether I ever have been mad. A lie believed in is an antidote for confusion.

"It doesn't matter. Excellent logic. She is destroyed. And I am none the worse, except for a disillusion more—and an uncertainty. My uncertainty is removed by logic, or at least concealed by it. And I am sane. I return to life—another Napoleon walking backwards. My experiments have led me around a circle. I meet myself where I started, but naked of hopes.

"It snows and I am amiable. Something has happened. My hatred, where is that? This street is pleasant. The light of the snow cheers me. I am, in fact, buoyant. Ah, I understand. A balloon come down to earth and vain once more of its buoyancy—its ability to bob along the pavement.

"It is curious. I delude myself that I am thinking. But my alleged thoughts do not further my ideas. They merely convert them into little pictures easy for me to understand and diverting to look at.

"Still, if I am happy ... but how does one know one is happy? I suspect my happiness. It is a clown's suit in which my mourning disguises itself. Mallare has fallen out of his black heaven. And he picks himself up like a good burgher. He grunts and chuckles and looks at the skies, alas, without curiosity. Lucifer, fallen, finds diversion as a janitor in red tights. Ergo, I have proved something. I am in Hell and with Lucifer I know its secret—happiness.

"Where is Mallare who fancied himself a madman? Who sought to climb over his senses and found himself impaled by a tower of Babel? Where are his angers, his disgusts that were the noble shadows thrown by his egoism to blot out a world? Ballad of rhetorical questions. My vanity preens itself with reminiscences. I smile. I am depressed and content. Answers whisper. Mallare is on his feet. His experiments are ended. His mania to possess himself is a snow that falls forgotten in his past. Vale, the lunatic. Vale, the man in the moon. Ave, Mallare.

"It snows. I walk. I think. I smile. And this too for a time is a diversion—that people no longer distract me. I carelessly restore the world. Let there be people, I say. And, alas, there are. I abdicate. I hand my Godhood back to the race.

"Morning begins like another snow in the distance. Ah, here comes one tired-eyed out of a house. It is astounding to think that he is human like myself. He and I are actors in the same play, yet ignorant of each other's lines. But I may guess at his part. He is frightened. He looks furtively toward me. And he walks rather lamely. Aha, a fornicator! He has left a warm bed, illegally occupied for the night. A woman in a rumpled night dress moaned under him. The plot is simple. How pleasing it was for a moment. She came so close. She was like an incredibly intimate secret. He gasped physiological instructions. And—finis! The captains and the kings depart. The recessional of the douche! Do you love me yet, do you love me yet?

"And now he walks in the cold street. He must hurry away. There are complications, but they make a minor drama. Off stage business. He is aware of contrasts. A moment ago—her arms, her gasps. A moment ago warmth, intimacy. And now, the snow, the cold, and life. Memory like fool's gold jingles in his pocket. Life is real, life is earnest. He regrets his orgasms. They will interfere with business.

"The male rampant! What a sinister comedian! The mythical despoiler. Hm, his head bows down. The snow disturbs him. Sad, weary, remorseful, he drags himself home. He has lessened his virility and it worries him. There is a plot in this. Some day I will write it out—a love story of the sexes. Poor, weary one, he has enriched Delilah.

"Ah, I am amused. It will be pleasant to observe people once more. Sanity has its rewards. Its laughter is a charming hint of madness that one may enjoy harmlessly.

"What a lecherous spectacle a row of dark houses is! Bedrooms filled with bodies—incredible nudities. Bed springs creaking. The hour of asterisks. Window blinds down. Doors locked. Lights out. The city lingers in the snow like a feeble burlesque. Houses and shops and street car tracks gesture reprovingly. Civilization bows its head in the night like an abandoned bride. Man, like an ape hunting fleas, preoccupies himself again with his nerve centers.

"Darkened houses, silence—Rabelais and Boccaccio debate the immaculate conception. Eros, patron saint of the laundryman, conducts ancient rituals.

"Ah, these indefatigable and unctuous fornicators, rolling their eyes piously between orgasms; embroidering noble mottoes on their pleasure towels! [These prim exquisites, carefully and with raised eyebrows, folding their toilet paper into proper squares!] Who can be angry with them? God drove them out of Paradise—punishment enough. They revenge themselves with a monotonous enthusiasm. Ah, these fellatian moralists! It is folly to take their hypocrisies to heart. The plot is too delicious for tears. These two-fisted citizens, these purity braggarts masturbating with one finger unemployed and pointing scornfully at their neighbors!

"Charming street. It offers consolations, simple ones, to be sure. But nevertheless, consolations. My madness was not as mad as this dark street. This is a prettier witches' night than the one I aspired to. I am amused and my amusement is an insult that inspires me. If one cannot become God, one can at least sit and sneer happily at the handiwork of his rival.

"The dawn comes into my head. Poor Mallare, who must readjust his vocabulary to coherences. The night flies away. How simple this little scene becomes. Mysteries vanish. Doors open. Window blinds raise themselves. And now people stick their heads out into the cold. Wagons, trucks, crowds begin. They hurry to work, older by a night.

"My sanity laughs at them, but sadly. I detect an obligato to my mirth. The comedy is poignant only because I am a part of it. These hurrying ones with their tired faces and eager shoulders are my brothers and sisters sharing with me the spectacle they make. They are a disillusioning mirror in which I see myself a million times. Yes, they look back at me, and their weariness, their hopelessness saddens me. Man sees himself by gazing into the world—and is overcome. It is only a lunatic who can keep merry in the face of so monstrous an image.

"My happiness is without merriment. I return quickly. I have already the habit of coherence. In a few hours I will go back again and begin with canvas and paint once more. My madness is a lost argument. I am a little tired. But, alas, he who has danced and slept with Medusa goes home weary.

"It will take time before my amusement ripens into rages. And without rages work is impossible. I will wait. Now I am too indifferent for anything but happiness. It is easy to walk and forget one's self and one's senses. It will come back. Mallare will return and expend himself naively in decorations once more.

"When I am strong again I will hunt up a woman. Poor Rita, whom I have murdered twice, illustrating the paradox of possession. Man, the slave of his senses, possesses only what his five masters offer him as gifts.

"I will find a clever one this time whom jests do not frighten. One who does not burn incense before her vagina and cover it with an altar piece. How unctuously women embrace ideas which increase the value and importance of their urinal ducts! Modesty, morality, prurience, piety, are the effulgent underwear behind which they increase the mystery and charm of the mons veneris. Alas, they are the artists of sex and not men. Man has even thrown away the seductive cod-piece. The origins of ideas are varied and multiple. But whatever their origins, it is women who utilize them. What an incredible sex! Vaginomaniacs.

"I will hunt up a vulgar woman, one who does not piously regard her vulva as an orifice to be approached with Gregorian chants. I must be careful to avoid those veteran masturbators marching heroically under the gonfalons of virginity. It is a difficult business, finding a woman. A modest one will offend my intellect. A shameless one will harass my virility. A stupid one will be unable to appreciate my largess. An intelligent one will penetrate my impotency.

"But why women? The devil take them all. I am almost tired of the disillusions they have to offer. The homely ones go away grateful for something they never received. The pretty ones go away chuckling secretly over something they never gave. It is a confused and unintelligible waste of time. It will be enough to paint, to talk, to sip tea, to wander about proselyting in behalf of improvised Gods. I will divert myself, making love to women out of range of their bedrooms. I will engage them conversationally and ravish them with erect and quivering adjectives. It is not necessary to undress a woman to know her. She reveals herself almost as piquantly in moods. I will be the father of moods. And, as a recreation, I will sit and watch the days in their unchanging flight. I bristle with rhetoric. It is a symptom of sanity. I am grateful for this ability to bore myself."

It was morning. Mallare paused against a window. He stood, staring into the life of the street. His eyes were drawn and the corners of his wide, thin mouth smiled feebly.

Snow was falling. The morning dissolved itself. Traffic drifted busily and without sound behind the snow—an excited pantomime that filled the air with misplaced, ventriloquial whispers.

Mallare remained smiling into the gentle storm. Snow covered his head and shoulder.

"The snow falls," he thought tiredly. "It snows, snows. White flakes lose themselves and are grateful for the earth. An invisible ending that flatters them. Well, I have walked all night and rid myself of wisdoms. I am hungry. It's possible I haven't eaten for months. In order to eat, however, I need money."

He slipped one of the gloves from his hand and felt in his pocket. A satisfied smile came to his eyes.

"Excellent," he thought. "Or I would have celebrated my sanity by starving to death."

Withdrawing his hand from his pocket, he found himself regarding it. It grinned back at him like a stranger. It was red.

"Blood," he murmured. His eyes glanced quickly around and he replaced the glove. He continued to walk.

"Blood," he repeated to himself. The word made an ending in his thought. He walked slowly staring at it. His silence lifted. A voice crept into him and began to speak from a distance.

"Careful," it murmured. "Be cautious. Remember you were mad. You had almost forgotten. There is something to think about, now. You will walk slowly and think. It's not as easy as it seemed. Be careful.

"Your fists fought with a phantom. Blows, wild blows. The grotesque memory—the madman pummelling the air. That was you. And your hands are bruised. They've been bleeding. Her breasts and head were something else. Your fists struck mercilessly at chairs and walls. When your hands are washed you will find bruises over them that have been bleeding."

He walked on nodding his head slowly. Later he stopped. The snow was piling itself over the grass of a small park. The swollen shapes of trees and benches rested in the storm.

Mallare sat down on a bench and removed his gloves. Both hands were red. Smiling tiredly, he began to rub them with the snow. His eyes waited as the color dissolved. His hands were clean. He looked at them and nodded.

"There are no bruises," he murmured. "The blood came from something else."

He paused and watched the snow.

"It is curious," he whispered aloud. "Then I am still mad. Careful ... mad. For there was blood ... and not mine. So it would seem I have been seducing myself with optimisms. A true madman. Yes, a lunatic mumbling excitedly to himself in the snow all night, saying:

"Sane. Mallare is quite sane."

He laughed softly.

"Oh, yes. I'm too clever for you, Mallare. Very much too clever. You present a pair of red hands to me. I wash them carefully in the snow. They become white. Interesting phenomena."

He chuckled softly and stared at the snow and swollen trees.

"The old circle again," he murmured. "And I begin the absorbing hide and go seek with my senses. Who am I and where do I end? And who are they and where do they begin? Let us study the phenomenon of red hands. Primo—how do I know there was blood? My eyes said, 'blood.' And the snow is red. But that is only because my eyes, infatuated with an idea, repeat the information.

"But I, Mallare, who am no madman's pawn, no lickspittle secretary to my senses, I say, 'no blood.' I am the Pope. I excommunicate the phenomenon.

"Ah, if there is blood, I fought with one who could bleed. And even my cleverness could not supply arteries in a phantom. Ergo, there is no blood. I am still mad. I see that which is not. But it is nothing to be disturbed about. In fact, it is a diversion."

The snow slowly covered the figure of Mallare. His drawn eyes balanced themselves amid the flakes.

"It snows, snows," he murmured after a pause. "And I remember something. What is it I think! Rita ... Yes, there would be blood if Rita were ... Hm, the murdered one. There was something I didn't remember while I walked.

"I can't. Not that way. Careful, Mallare. Be careful. There are thoughts impossible to think. Yes, impossible."

Again silence filled him. His drawn eyes widened.

"Mallare," he whispered, "you are a madman. I know. This chokes. Yes. It was I—I, Mallare. It is I who have been mad. I have been mad myself. Not you. No, not you! But the God—the Strange Pose. I can't. An impossible denouement. My head breaks. Her blood ... Rita."

He stared open mouthed at a question that circled toward him out of the snow. Words babbled in his head. He shook himself away from them and stared.

"She was alive!" he cried aloud. "My phantom lived. It was I who was the phantom. And she—alive!"

His face whitened, his eyes remained inanimate and gleaming with terror. Then the figure of Mallare fell forward and lay curved in the snow.



[VIII]

From the Journal of Mallare dated January.

"I am the one who contemplates. I am the Knowing One. There is nothing I do not know. It is amazing to be Mallare. I have triumphed over five worlds. I look down upon a rabble of Mallares. There are five Mallares—five sullen looking madmen. One of them sits and listens to voices. Another of them wanders about, staring with sad eyes at intolerable visions. Another of them lies on his back, babbling excitedly with the darkness. Another of them eats and sleeps like a prosperous grocer. And there is a fifth Mallare who weeps. A baffling rogue who puts his arms around me and blubbers on my shoulder like a lodge brother. He says nothing, and of them all I dislike him the most.

"His silence is mysterious. His tears are uncomfortable. A distressing ass, weeping, blubbering. He implores me. Aha, I have it. I know his secret. He is memory—a memory of myself following me around like a heart-broken mother a wayward son.

"Five Mallares, five sinister comedians to entertain me. And I, what can I call myself—pure reason? No, a disgusting title. Rather, Unreason, since I am after all the Indifferent One. But all this is a quibble inspired by modesty. I am God. I am that which men have worshipped—the aloof one, the pitiless and amused one.

"The five tribes of Mallare rage and curse beneath me, fill the air with profanations, weep and gibber in the night. But I sit inviolate and wait for them—even for that blubbering one whose tongue is thick with tears and whose idiot eyes implore me—and they return. They raise their faces to me, their God, and fall prostrate before my smile.

"Yes, it is the weeping one who causes me the most trouble. A reluctant worshipper who annoys me. He clings like another phantom. A meddlesome imbecile who keeps buttonholing me and pouring out tales of woe. And who keeps my name on his lips. I can see it moving on his lips. But he is dumb. I have his secret though. This dumb one came to me in the snow. I was faint. Hunger had thrown me to the ground. When I stood up he was beside me. His lips moved excitedly but they made no sound. And we walked home together.

"'Who is this pathetic intruder?' I thought. 'He walks beside me gesturing with his lips and weeping, weeping. He falls on my neck and embraces me. His eyes roll with panic. What new variant of madness is this?'

"It is curious that of all the Mallares he alone is speechless. The others keep up their incessant babbling and screaming—true citizens of Bedlam. But this dumb one who attached himself to me in the snow, even his lips have stopped moving now, except to form my name slowly as he blubbers on my shoulder.

"I am kind to him and forgiving. I smile. I even coax him to speak, to move his lips once more. In the snow when he followed me home I was able to detect words his silence spoke.

"'Blood on your hands,' he repeated. 'Think, think, Mallare.'

"I humored him and looked at my hands. They were clean. And I answered him soothingly.

"'You are an interesting quirk,' I said. 'My senses that fancy they have killed a woman have given birth to an illusion of guilt. And you are that illusion. My madness dresses itself in logic like a fishwife hanging rhinestones in her hair.

"'Be calm,' I said, 'Mallare has slain only a phantom, and the murder of illusions is a highly respectable privilege whose exercise is rewarded on earth as well as in heaven.'

"But this creature was not to be diverted from himself.

"'He is another one of them,' I thought. 'He walks and implores and wrings his hand and babbles, 'blood, blood that was real.' And there is nothing to be done with him. Another pathologic symptom asks the hospitality of Mallare, and I must make the proper pretense of graciousness and cordiality.

"'But first I must identify my guest. Take his measure out of the corner of my eye and understand him. Very well, I have been the victim of a hallucination which my senses accepted as real. And which I was able to murder only by pretending I too believed it real. Therefore, having committed this illusory crime, there results this illusory sense of guilt.'

"And thus we walked home, this dumb one and I, his absurd grief confusing me. I will confess. My name on his lips frightened me at first. As it sometimes does now. For he has become more than an illusion of guilt. He is, this sly fellow, a memory, inarticulate and envious. He envies me because I am clever enough to laugh at my madness. However, I will consider him later, in his various guises, for of all the Mallares, dumb though he is and ludicrous with inane tears, he interests me the most.

"We walked home and I finally fell to belaboring him. A pest, a mendicant, a croaking idiot—I cursed him out roundly and refused him further attention. This is the wisest course sometimes. It is dangerous to humor too carelessly these sprawling Mallares. They are slyly at war with my omnipotence. I can understand the anger of God. Sacrilege confuses Him. And We are all alike—We Gods. We are forced into an attitude of indifference in order that We may keep Ourselves intact. Thus We look down with Consummate dispassion upon Our hallucinations—Our worlds. And it is this dispassion that men worship in Us, unable to understand Our lack of interest and terrified by Our aloofness they prostrate themselves before an infinite mystery.

"Yet, though the theology of God has become the secret of My unreason, I find Myself dangerously susceptible. It is when I seek to appease My loneliness by raising one of the babbling ones to My side. He enters My black heaven with a pretense of gratitude, fawning before Me and accepting My fellowship with humility. There follows then a moment of insidious diversion. Slowly a confusion fills Me. Yes, even I am open to confusion. It is a pity I have for the babbling one.

"I listen to his complaints. The sad-eyed Mallare staring at intolerable visions. Mallare, the dark chatterer. Or this other one—My friend the weeping lodge brother. Yes, I pity them and soothe them. But I find Myself singularly moved. Their prayers move Me. They begin to whisper that I return with them. I am tempted to follow them, to let them take My hand and lead Me into their strange houses.

"But I smile in time and My smile, fixed and profound, overcomes them. They prostrate themselves once more before the mystery of My indifference. And I remain the God of Mallare.

"On this day the dumb one sprawled along home with me, there were many curious things happened. I had walked all night in the snow weary with hunger. Rita, who had driven me into a moment of fury—I had destroyed her for the time. A strange destruction during which I pummelled the air like a veritable madman. But the ruse had served to rid me of the hallucination for the night. Finally, tired with walking and hunger, I fell from a bench in the park.

"When I awoke I recalled at once the grotesque struggle of the night. And with this dumb, weeping creature dogging my steps, I returned home. She was still with me. I smiled, although I confess there was despair in my thought. For I had fancied the miserable business of the night had put an end to the hallucination. No, she was still there. She was waiting for me on the couch.

"But my mind had not deceived itself. It was as I had thought. I had planned to rid myself of her by hating this phantom until my hate had darkened it. Then there would be nothing but an imperceptible shadow of her remaining, one with which my senses could no longer seduce themselves.

"And when I came into the room I saw my plot was working. For her eyes no longer gleamed. A radiance had left her.

"'My hate begins to operate upon this chimera,' I thought. I frowned at her and sat down, worn out with the walking of the night.

"'I have undermined the infatuation of this phantom,' I thought. I would have been elate but it occurred to me there was an inconsistency. This dumb one, this sniveling one, persisted. 'And how should he, who was dependent upon her death for his existence, persist in her presence?' This was a question for Mallare, the indifferent one. This was a query to answer.

"Ah, I will write more about this blubberer, for the answer to him is piquantly involved. It is like a head with too many hats. But not now—I will not write about him now. I will only bear him in mind.

"She watched me from the couch and I became aware of something. I studied her cautiously. Her eyes no longer gleamed with love. There was a radiance absent.

"'Aha,' I thought, 'she hates. Mallare recovers the strings to his Frankenstein. His puppet dances again to his will. See, my senses no longer leap to her. They tremble warily before the hate in her eyes.'

"I watched her as she watched me. And then an incredible thing happened. She arose from the couch and came slowly toward me and she held a knife in her hand. She came toward me with the knife at her side.

"'Clever,' I thought. 'In fact, a miracle of cleverness. This phantom has gone mad. It is madder than I. It fancies itself able to slay me. It advances upon me with its dagger of mist and it intends to fall upon me. This mysterious logic that grows of itself like a fungus in darkness, where will it end? Already it towers around me—a monstrous weed rising out of my madness, and I am chilled by its shadow.'

"And I continued to think:

"'I desired to be rid of her. My desire finally overleaped my befuddled senses. And now this desire has become a new soul for my phantom. Yet I planned no details in my desire. I did not will this melodramatic denouement. Then it is obvious that my desire is like a seed filled with hidden life. I blow a thought into my phantom and that thought develops and hatches. This is a phenomenon to be written about.'

"As I thought she came closer and finally stood over me. Her eyes, I observed, were completely mad. Yes, they were like horrible fires. And her face was a marvel of mimicry. The cleverness of my thought appalled me. I said nothing, however, and watched her. She began to talk. I had become used to this phase of the hallucination. But this time my senses shuddered at her words. They who had been so eager to sate themselves in the possession of this chimera and who had betrayed my omnipotence, they now suffered the penalty of their blindness. For it was evident that to them, this chimera was still real. She was an avenger towering with a knife above them.

"But Mallare smiled.

"'See,' he murmured aloud, 'here is the reward of your folly. You would philander with this shadow. You would disport yourself in abominable fornications with this hallucination. Very well, I am amused at your clownish terror even more than I was amused at your burlesque ecstasies. Tremble now for here is a Medusa, a Messalina come to destroy you. Whimper and grovel, but observe in your idiot cowardice how Mallare, the indifferent one, sits and smiles—still supreme, still a spectator ravished by the dark comedy.'

"I could not resist this moment of triumph. I laughed although there was no one to enjoy my laughter. And I watched her. She was still talking, deep, meaningless words. For it was her habit to talk in the gypsy language when moved. Often this fact baffled me. But I perceive now that my thought was a seed containing my omniscience in microcosm. God does not invent languages but He understands them since it is unnecessary for Him to know, in His indifference, what they are saying. And the language my phantom spoke, although foreign to me, was nevertheless an integral part of my thought—another of the manifestations with which God naively astounds Himself. It is His only diversion.

"I was curious concerning the effect upon my senses of this illusory attack. And, I must confess these things simply, there came to me the idea that Mallare might be slain by the cowardice of his senses. There would be nothing illogical in that. For if this chimera had been able to trick them into the illusion of love, it was entirely natural that it should be able to trick them now into the illusion of death. With the exception that death is an illusion even Mallare, the indifferent one, might not survive.

"Ah, Mallare, Mallare! He wanders pensively amid treacherous shadows—Mallare—an image debating subtly the existence of its mirror. I sigh. But it is one of the relaxations of God—to pity Himself His uselessness.

"Her talk came to an end and she raised her knife. Die or not, the thing was too incredible a farce to leave me unmoved. Yes, I laughed out of sheer delight. The drollery of this phantom hacking at Mallare with a non-existent dagger ... a mad windmill charging Don Quixote! Superb!

"I perceive now a moral in the situation that I did not think of at the time. Sacrilege is a vital danger to God. His omnipotence is dependent upon the submission of His creatures. And they who, inspired with the quaint illusion of their own reality, turn upon Him—ah, they destroy themselves. But their destruction impoverishes their God.

"At the time, however, the spectacle alone and not its significances, preoccupied me. I laughed and reached my hand to the dagger. A sadistic gesture, for I desired to give my senses a taste of its reality and thus enjoy their squirming. Marvelous dagger! The point of it was sharp. Mallare can invent daggers, beautiful daggers that poise melodramatically over his heart, that move slowly in quest of his life's blood! S'death, a property man of parts!

"'Clever dagger,' I murmured. 'Do you enjoy the illusion of yourself as much as this chimera wielding you quivers with the illusion of impending murder?'

"It paused before me and I nodded. My laughter had halted it. It was evident that my thought operating in this phantom was confused by my laughter. I nodded again.

"'It would be logical and extremely pleasant,' I thought, 'if this creature, shrinking before the sacrilege of destroying its creator, turned on itself and accomplished a more probable assassination.'

"She stood before me and I was pleased to see her hatred increase. It was amazingly vivid. I observed the viciousness of her features. Her face had become contorted. Its fury was like a mask. But she had dropped the knife. I could not refrain smiling an encouragement at her—the naive applause an author bestows upon his puppets.

"But the plot still contained surprises. Yes, astonishing denouements began to crowd the stage. For she started to undress. Here was a trick that baffled Mallare. I winced with distaste.

"'The consistency which I have hitherto admired in my madness seems rather dubious.' I thought. 'The melodrama of illusions grows too improbable. This fine tragedy crumbles into the ludicrous. She forgets her hate. She is again Rita, the infatuated one. A lightning change that smacks of inferior vaudeville. She is about to undress and resume her deplorable assaults upon my idiot senses. A poorly written business. I have a notion to walk out.'

"But I remained smiling at the absurdity, too tired to leave my chair. I was pleased to notice that her nudity did not this time appeal to my doting madness. This marked an improvement—a foretaste of victory. The disintegration had begun.

"Her body was interesting. It was covered with bruises. There were stains on its flesh. At the sight of them the lodge brother, the sniveling one who had followed me home in the snow, set up a veritable caterwauling. Here was terrible evidence of the fellow's guilt. The bruises of course. An accomplished penitent, this blubberer, able to transform himself from a Sense of Homicidal Guilt into a mere feeling of General Remorse.

"She was not dead. Yet he lingered. And now, at the sight of her bruises, he rushed forward with inferior regrets. He will bear study, this weeping one. Of all the sprawling Mallares, he alone lacks logic. But I will come to him later. The plot is more entertaining than this incongruous spectator weeping and hissing out of turn.

"She began to talk once more and wildly. The sense of it dawned on me. She was calling Goliath. He came shuffling from his usual hiding place—the curtains. A diverting little monster. I bear him no ill will. Although I grow slightly envious of his madness. Yet his madness is a terrific flattery. It is involved and piquant and one of the things that remain for me to study cautiously. The madness of Goliath and, of course, this gentleman Niobe.

"He came out, a fact at the time that astonished me. For I had not been aware of his madness. He stood with his bent and bulbous body shaking and his hands resting like a baboon's on the floor. I was noticing the excitement of his huge head when it came to me with a curious feeling—he was looking at her. Yes, Goliath my servant was looking not at me. But at her!

"'Careful, Mallare, be careful,' I thought. The insane sniveling of this lodge brother distracted me. His arms came around me and he rested his head on me and wept. Insufferable ass! It was impossible to think. I remained with my eyes watching and repeating cautiously to myself the warning.

"Here was a trick too baffling for Mallare. Mallare must suspend himself, close his eyes and climb slowly back into his black heaven.

"'Then Goliath too is a phantom,' I thought. 'But careful, be careful, Mallare. That is too easy. And you remember. It is dangerous to hide from too many memories. They will become shadows that nibble at you. He is not a phantom. Goliath is no chimera. He lives. He has reality.

"'Then how does it come,' I continued thinking, 'that he sees that which is visible only to you? His eyes are fastened on her who is to be seen only inside the caverns of Mallare. He raises his arms. His hands touch her. I am imagining Goliath. Goliath is not in the room. This is a memory of him that has wandered onto the scene of my madness.'

"Here my thinking ended. I sat contemplating the imbecile, the blubberer. He pressed himself upon me with his shameless importunings. He snivelled and his lips moved with my name. I watched them say, 'Mallare' and repeat 'Mallare' till I grew dizzy with the pantomime of my name. I will study this later and discover the secret of his lips. My name drifting continually over them has a way of hypnotizing me. But later—later.

"I began thinking once more.

"'This lodge brother weeps while Goliath takes liberties with my phantom. There is a connection there. But it is unimportant for the present. I must discover something else.'

"Then, like a victory too long withheld, it came to me. He was mad. Goliath, my servant, was mad. But more than that—a telepathic madness. I have elaborated my understanding since. Goliath suffers from a contagion. His constant attendance upon me has proved fatal to his stupidity. His senses are the victims of my puppets. He has entered my world and my madness creates for him, as it does for me, shadows that deceive him. But there is no Mallare in him. Unlike me, he does not sit in amused judgment upon himself.

"It is an interesting phenomenon—this strange mesmerism. It remains to be studied. Goliath and I are mad brothers. This understanding arrived in time. Or else I would have flung myself in despair upon the ever-imploring bosom of my lugubrious sniveler.

"Rita was real to Goliath. I watched him excitedly and continued to think. I addressed myself:

"'Observe,' I said, 'here you have a distressing visualization. Goliath, your dwarf, mimics your madness. And it is not pleasant to look at. His eyes roll with passion. His fat lips chew upon lewd expectations. His fingers raise themselves like frightened blasphemies to her breasts. And he watches you. Yes, his eyes sneak glimpses of you. For you are his rival! You and this nigger monster are vaginal comrades. It is pleasant to see that you have the decency to feel enraged.' Five infatuated Mallares sputtered and wept and gnashed their teeth.

"As I talked I turned my attention to her. In my excitement over Goliath I had ignored her. Her hands were fumbling with the clothes of this doting rival. But her eyes were on me. They blazed.

"'This pantomime of shadows grows involved,' I thought. But I was experimenting with rhetoric. For the thing was absurdly simple. Hate still animated my phantom. And this was her revenge. She was about to give herself to the black dwarf Goliath. She was about to commit sexual hari-kari.

"I watched her hands remove his clothes, his red jacket, his fine shirt. He jumped up and down like a distracted child, his own hands bewildered with too many activities. They fondled her, they tugged at his trousers. They became insane and flapped at his sides. She helped him, her eyes still watching me.

"'At last I produce a horror worthy of myself,' I thought. 'The mist dagger was melodrama to be smiled at. But this—ah, here we have a refinement that reduces death to a minor obscenity. She attacks me now with a weapon worthy my indifference. It is true, my senses writhe less frightenedly. But I, Mallare—yes, Mallare the Supreme One—honor her assault with a shudder.

"'Ah, who but Mallare could have invented so subtle a blasphemy, so accomplished an enemy. It is an old theological quibble, but I understand it now. God is the greatest atheist. He is proud of a disbelief in Himself.

"'Yes, this phantom is the atheism of Mallare. And it is at last a true child. A parental pride excites me. Like Mallare, her father, she rises above herself. I have breathed the soul of hate into her. My hatred alive with a cleverness of its own speaks to itself.

"'It says, 'I am the hatred of Mallare. I desire to murder him. I am his phantom, but the suffering and insult he has heaped upon me grow unbearable. His cruelty and coldness have filled me with fury. I would have killed him but that would have been almost an infidelity. For his senses have been my lovers. I remember them with tears. I decided not to kill him because that would have meant to kill his senses. But this other one, this Insufferable and Aloof One—this Serene One staring amusedly at me out of His black heaven—how send my hatred against him? Ah, I will conspire with his senses. I am no more than an idea in the head of God. But the head of God is but an idea that encircles me. I am a phantom within a phantom. Thus I must make myself nauseous. I must make myself too hideous. I must make myself so monstrous that the Idea which contains me will feel an anguish. And this anguish will be the applause to my hate.'

"I sat shrewdly silent, for the moment was approaching. At last I perceived myself behind the logic of this Frankenstein. For it was I—I, Mallare—that was attacking myself with this hatred. It was Mallare who was arranging this little plot for himself. And why? Because then the head of Mallare, nauseated by the vileness of the assault, would disgorge forever the hallucination of Rita. It was an emetic Mallare had found necessary to administer to himself.

"Ah, my cleverness grows incredible. I am too Supreme to grasp Myself. There are still unexplored crevices in My infinity, and out of these continue to issue surprises that divert Me.

"Goliath was undressed. His black body, lumped and like some mad caricature of itself, gleamed in the light.

"'See,' I said. 'Note this bulbous little black man. For he is a caricature not of himself but of you. He is a rival before whom your senses wince as before some unflattering image. Yes—the image of Mallare stands saluting his charming chimera with an interesting Ethiopian erection. For though they differ in many externals, Mallare and Goliath are one. They are ornamented insulations for an identical current. And here, throbbing under an erection is the current of Mallare and of an infinity of Mallares.

"'Ah, the penis of this dwarf is repellent because that which Mallare so fondly called his own—his desires—is revealed to him as grotesquely promiscuous. Yes, the penis is the democratic tabernacle of Life. Under its little Moorish roof, the senses of the race kneel in common prayer.

"'Observe it, Mallare. It is the rendezvous of expiring illusions, the gathering place of the anonymities which utilize man, beasts and plants. See how this curious dwarf staggers like a bewildered stranger in its shadow. He is an outcast. He is useless. He is no longer necessary. Life which made a pretense of him, enters its tabernacle and closes the doors on him. Here is the great secret. Here stands the grim tyrant before whose delicious wrath man bows himself into annihilations.

"'Ah, what a marvelous tabernacle! It moves and Goliath follows. It points and Goliath runs after it. An infatuated tabernacle that fancies itself going to Heaven! It is proud. It struts. Goliath shuffles after it like a forlorn little nigger in the wake of a circus. It leaps. And Goliath gallops after it. Aha! he lies on his back impaled. But she!'

"They were on the couch. She sat beside him but her eyes still sought me. Noises issued from Goliath. He rolled on his back, kicking crooked legs and yelping.

"I watched her white body spread over him. Her eyes left me and my rhetoric dwindled into a sigh. I was alone with a spectacle. Goliath, masturbating with a phantom—but not as Mallare had done. No, not as Mallare who had lain indifferent beside his Frankenstein. For Goliath's arms were around her, his legs entwined her. His body, an insanity in itself, made a mate beneath her more incredible than she. There was silence. Then she screamed!——

"Yes, Mallare closed his eyes. A coldness tip-toed out of his heart. She was laughing. Her laughter entered his ears—a noise that was like a witch's flight of sound. But who was it laughed? Mallare, Mallare laughed. It was his voice in the phantom that laughed at him. It was his hallucination he had loved that now gave itself to a little monster. And it was his hate that designed this laugh, a thing that pierced the heaven in which he sat. Mallare closed his eyes, a God shuddering before His own atheism. Yes, rhetoric now. It is easy to write. My words embroider themselves.

"But then, when the laugh struck Mallare! Ah, there was curious mutiny. They went away. The little Mallares who worship me went away, all but one. The dumb one. Yes, I write of him again. He came to me then and his tears were more horrible than the scream I had heard. His weeping came too close. His weeping grew too loud. His arms embraced me and he held his face too close to mine. And my name rose from his lips.

"I was alone with him and my fingers fought with his throat. This blubberer who had followed me home in the snow, yes this insufferable melancholiac who rained his tears into my Heaven—Mallare would have killed him.

"But he was too sly. He slipped away and sprawled around the room. He beat his hands against walls and tore at his hair. I followed watching him and coaxing him to come close once more. I smiled at him to come near again. But no, he avoided me. He stood against the curtains facing me and pointing his finger at me. His mouth was open but no sound came from it. There was only the noise of my phantom laughing.

"He stood pointing and I watched my name come like a dead shout from his lip. His throat was alive with my name.

"'Mallare!' it said.

"I smiled at him. And I worshipped aloud so that he might hear. I whispered to him to come close—this lugubrious blasphemer who wears my name in his throat. But his face grew white. His arms dropped and he leaned against the curtains. His eyes closed and he fell. The Indifferent One remained. The smile of Mallare remained contemplating the prostrate ones.

"The couch was still alive. But it was dark. Her outline was already disintegrating. Goliath's fingers stared from her back.

"'The dark comedy ends,' I thought. 'My phantom dissolves in a suicidal orgasm. And the little monster beneath her collapses amid too sudden memories. Finis! The revenge that I so cleverly manipulated is accomplished. And now Mallare disgorges a hallucination become too nauseous. I have fouled this pretty one so that my senses might abandon her. And see, they whimper under me. The dumb one lies in a corner and even his tears are ended. And this sad eyed one, weary with intolerable visions, and this one whose ears are filled with voices—all of them whimper under me. But I must feel no pity for them. Mallare rides away like a star....

"'And she dissolves. Vale Rita! The red and yellow dress again. Yes ... yes—the green and orange shawl again. Put them on. Bravo Rita! Tragedy bows in a decorative anti-climax. Little one, Mallare banishes thee from His heaven where thou becamest too intimate. Because thou sought to seduce His worshippers. Vale!—Mallare disgorges thee. Spit not at Me, little one, for I am only a smile. Spit at this dumb one, this blubberer, who has forgotten himself in a new sleep.'

* * * * *

"And Goliath weeps. She is gone and his madness regrets her vanishing. He sits by day and watches out of the window. At night I have found him staring at the couch where he lay with my shadow. He kneels beside it with his grotesque arms flung out, embracing memories.

"His madness flatters me. Yet it is a thing to be studied. His eyes are insane. They roll continually in their sockets. He beats himself, knocking his fists against his head. And I have discovered him on the floor doubled up, his head buried in his arms. He does not hear me but remains, while I move around, immobile as an idol. Yes, little Goliath is mad. But he cannot recover the illusion whose memory haunts his dark soul. He suffers. He beats his head and his tears are futile. For she was mine. Mallare created her. Mallare destroyed her. There is a temptation at times to return her—not to Mallare but to this poor dwarf who expires under his grief.

"I am tempted by his madness. Goliath has found no God in his black heaven. I would be his God and create for him as I may for Myself. But I am wary of such altruism. He is still My servant and looks after Me. But My smile watches him with caution. His eyes roll too much.

"Since I rid myself of her, there has been no mutiny. I sit and contemplate problems that have grown too simple for me. And when I am bored with studying Goliath's madness, I divert myself with my friend, the lodge brother. A baffling imbecile who withholds himself slyly. I have not yet come to an understanding with him. There are too few facts to go on. He is silent. He weeps. My name sleeps forever on his lips. And once he babbled to me of blood on my hands. These are the only realities that form a key to him.

"His presence remains a discomfort. We sit and stare at each other. And I talk quietly to him.

"'You are an inconsistent ass,' I say. 'You were first an obvious pathologic symptom—an illusory conscience born to adorn the grief of my senses that fancied they had murdered Rita, the phantom. But then when you found her alive, what did you do? Did you vanish as, in all logic, you should? For Rita was not murdered and therefore where the necessity of a conscience to celebrate her crime?

"'But you remained and grew more dolorous. Then you are something else. I suspect you of being the adroit ambassador the madmen have sent into my heaven to plead their cause. Yet why do you not plead? As an ambassador you are a tongue-tied, sniveling idiot. Therefore again, you escape logic. And without logic my madness becomes slyly incomprehensible to me.

"'We watch each other like two careful wrestlers, eh? But what hold do you want? Tell me and I will let you try your strength. No—tears, nothing else. You weep, weep until the sight of you is an impossible ennui.

"'Ah, perhaps you are a memory of Mallare. Something forgotten. Logic approaches you as I think. Something forgotten. And you are overcome at my infidelity. Like Goliath you mourn a vanished one. But there is this difference. Whereas Goliath is real and the object of his mourning is a phantom—you and not I are the phantom. Yes, a phantom mourns me. But speak then. I have no objection to memory. Let me hear what this is all about and I will admit what you say. I will admit it all beforehand.

"'But no. You expect something else. You expect Mallare to fall at your feet and embrace you. I can see that in your eyes—a monotonous expectation that grows ludicrous. Yes, your tears grow ludicrous. I tolerate you for only one purpose. You are a problem that diverts me. For if I desired I could do with you as I did with Rita. There are ways to make you too nauseous.

"'Yes, I might invent another hate for myself. My hands might tear you as they tore her. And then, filled with a fury against me, you too might turn to Goliath. He is still mad, my dwarf, and susceptible to the phantoms I send him. Do you want to go to him as she did? Aha! You wince. Remember then that Mallare has it in his power to send you to his dwarf, to make you take her place over his terrible body. And Mallare will do this if you annoy him too much. And then, sickened with you as he was with her, he will disgorge another shadow. Let us be frank about this. I warn you.'

"Thus I sit and talk quietly to this weeping one. And when I stop I watch his lips move with my name.

"'Mallare,' they say.

"This is his only answer to my overtures. But I will win him over. He will come close to my smile and kneel finally before me. He will confess who he is and what my name means.

"I grow tired. Goliath stands by his shrine and weeps. He waits beside a couch as if it were another Mallare able to give birth to a phantom. Poor dwarf, unlike Mallare he has not learned that suffering is an illusion, that couches and Medusas are illusions. Unlike Mallare there is no smile hanging its star above him.

"Sleep comes. A forgotten world babbles with shadows outside my windows. It is time to say goodnight to my friend, the lodge brother. Turn your tears to the cold moon, my friend. Mallare goes away. Far away into a house where he is alone."



[IX]

The last entry in the Journal of Mallare—undated.

"Talk to me, Mallare. Tell me. Where am I? He grows larger, this dumb one. He moves away, growing larger. He defies distance. He grows too large to see. But his tears remain.

"Whisper to me, Mallare. He vanishes and I must sneak after him. Call me back. He is strange. His darkness lures me out of my heaven. A little whisper will save me. You will say to me, 'Here is God.' I will come back.

"My words tire of him. He will not listen. His tears! dear God, are You so human that they silence You? He has come into my loneliness. And there is no use debating with him any longer. Since he followed me home in the snow his weeping has never wavered. I must talk not to him but to Mallare. I must debate with Mallare. But where is he, this Supreme One? Mallare, where art thou?

"Yes, my madness becomes an increasing novelty. I remain. But I grow smaller. I am too small. Where is my smile? It hides from me. But his tears fall. This dumb one knows how to weep. Alas, I drown.

"Come to my side. I will whisper. I am in love. Yes, do not be astonished. I am in love with her. You recall her? She was like a curtain fluttering before the door of enchantments. Her breasts were like little blind faces raised in prayer. Yes, Rita, my radiant one. The phantom I constructed. The Phoenix that arose in my soul. And that I slew again. I am in love. But my magic no longer works. She does not return.

"I will whisper. I kneel with Goliath beside the couch. Ah, Mallare, Mallare—I am mad with love. I weep and beat my head. And this other one calls me away. His shape grows larger and his darkness lifts me toward it. He pulls me from the couch. Talk to me, Mallare. I am mad, but talk to me and I will understand. Dear, shining Mallare ... Tell me 'no' and I will break my love. I will put my fist through the window out of which I watch for her. And it will be finished.

"But I weep. My eyes have caught his trick. I weep for her. Do you understand this? My beautiful one whom I disgorged. Yes, Rita. I die with love of her. I kneel by the bed that knew her. Whisper back to me, Mallare, that I am mad. And I will laugh. But without you I grow too small to laugh.

"There is pain in the shadows. I ask, where am I? Go way, then, Mallare. Leave me. I persist without Mallare. I remain. Let me dissolve into this. Let me sprawl before the door of enchantments. It is illusion. Let it be. She will come out. Rita, my vanished one, come back to me. It is I who ask. Not the Cold One, not the Indifferent One, not Mallare. But I ... I.

"I will hold you in my arms. I will feed your mist with kisses. My body will warm you. I will be kind. I am not Mallare. He is gone. He hides. He will not come back. I will kneel before the door that sings with you. I am mad with love. See, Rita, I am like Goliath. My eyes roll. I am mad and you may come to me without fear.

"Windows break in me again. I remember this from long ago. Hey, you blubbering one! Do you want me! Hey, you brother sniveler, come back! I laugh. Do you understand this? A laughter without definitions. Ah, forgive me. You sat and wept and I scolded. Come back and sit again. I will fall at your feet. Your eyes asked that. But now—where are your feet? There is no shape. How am I to know where? Come back. Here, sit in this chair beside me. God! In silence, I utter my name. But it is a name that has flown away, flown away.

"Hey, you, bring me my name. The little name, the one that made a pantomime on your lips. The one that stared at me with letters. Bring me my name, I will understand its meaning. My other name has flown away. Listen. Let me whisper. Bring it to me and I will place it like a gate before the door of enchantments. I will kneel to it. Windows break in my head. Mallare ... are you Mallare? No, you are this. You are a babble of words that stands on its nose.

"Laugh at me, Mallare. Let me hear your laugh far away. Or I go. Listen, Mallare. I turn my back on this darkness. I do not kneel at empty couches. No. I wait for you. You were my God. You, the One who contemplated. Yes, my arms are out to You. Come ... a whisper out of silences. Hey, Mallare. I dissolve. I become a little phantom. A useless little phantom. I drift like Rita. And they attack me. Hands, voices and trembling ones. They are brave because it is dark. Your worshippers, Mallare, they turn on me. They break windows. Pity me. This is the cross.

[Hebrew: Eli, eli, lama azavtani?]



Transcriber's Note Details of minor typographical corrections are provided in the source of the associated html version.

THE END

Previous Part     1  2
Home - Random Browse