“One of the best novels of its kind. . . . It isn’t sentimental, and it is frank without trying to be sensational and shocking.” —Christopher Isherwood
“A brilliant exposé of subterranean life.” —The Atlantic Monthly
“Frank, shocking . . . extremely sympathetic, penetrating and exhortive.” —New York Herald Tribune
Über den Autor
Leseprobe. Abdruck erfolgt mit freundlicher Genehmigung der Rechteinhaber. Alle Rechte vorbehalten.
THE MOMENT WAS STRANGE. There was no reality in the bar; there was no longer solidity; all things merged, one into the other. Time had stopped.
He sat alone in a booth, listening to the music which came out of a red plastic box, lighted within. Some of the music he remembered from having heard it in other places. But the words he could no longer understand. He could recall only vague associations as he got drunk, listening to music.
His glass of whiskey and water and ice had slopped over and the top of the table was interesting now: islands and rivers and occasional lakes made the top of the table a continent. With one finger he traced designs on the wooden table. He made a circle out of a lake; he formed two rivers from the circle; he flooded and destroyed an island, creating a sea. There were so many things that could be done with whiskey and water on a table.
The jukebox stopped playing.
He waited a long time for it to start again. He took a swallow of the whiskey to help him wait. Then after a long time, in which he tried not to think, the music started. A record of a song he remembered was playing and he allowed himself to be taken back to that emotional moment in time when . . . when? He tried hard to remember the place and the time, but it was too late. Only a pleasant emotion could be recalled.
He was drunk.
Time collapsed. Years passed before he could bring the drink to his mouth. Legs numb, elbows detached, he seemed to be supported by air, and by the music from the jukebox. He wondered for a moment where he was. He looked about him but there were no clues, only a bar in a city. What city?
He made a new island on the tabletop. The table was his home and he felt a strong affection for the brown scarred wood, for the dark protectiveness of the booth, for the lamp which did not work because there was no bulb in the socket. He wanted never to leave. This was home. But then he finished his drink, and was lost. He would have to get another one. How? He frowned and thought. A long time went by and he did not move, the empty glass in front of him.
At last he came to a decision. He would leave the booth and go talk to the man behind the bar. It was a long voyage but he was ready for it.
He stood up, became dizzy, and sat down again, very tired. A man with a white apron came over to his table; he probably knew about liquor.
"You want something?"
Yes, that was what he wanted, something. He nodded and said slowly so that the words would be clear, "Want some whiskey, water, bourbon, water . . . what I been drinking."
The man looked at him suspiciously. "How long you been here?"
He didn't know the answer to that. He would have to be sly. "I have been here for one hour," he said carefully.
"Well, don't go passing out or getting sick. People got no consideration for others when it comes to doing things like that for other people to clean up."
He tried to say that he did have consideration for others but it was no use. He could not talk anymore. He wanted to get back home, to the tabletop. "I'm OK," he said, and the man went away.
But the top of the table was no longer home. The intimacy had been dispelled by the man with the apron. Rivers, lakes, islands, all were unfamiliar; he was lost in a new country. There was nothing for him to do except turn his attention to the other people in the barroom. Now that he had lost his private world, he wanted to see what, if anything, the others had found.
The bar was just opposite him and behind it two men in white aprons moved slowly. Four five six people stood at the bar. He tried to count them but he could not. Whenever he tried to count or to read in a dream, everything dissolved. This was like a dream. Was it a dream?
A woman wearing a green dress stood near him, large buttocks, dress too tight. She stood very close to a man in a dark suit. She was a whore. Well well well. . . .
He wondered about the other booths. He was at the center of a long line of booths, yet he knew nothing about the people in any of them. A sad thought, to which he drank.
Then he stood up. Unsteadily, but with a face perfectly composed, he walked toward the back of the barroom.
The men's room was dirty and he took a deep breath before he entered so that he would not have to breathe inside. He saw himself reflected in a cracked distorted mirror hung high on the wall. Blond hair, milk white, bloodshot eyes staring brightly, crazily. Oh, he was someone else all right. But who? He held his breath until he was again in the barroom.
He noticed how little light there was. A few shaded bulbs against the walls and that was all, except for the jukebox, which gave not only light but wonderful colors. Red blood, yellow sun, green grass, blue sky. He stood by the jukebox, his hands caressing the smooth plastic surface. This was where he belonged, close to light and color.
Then he was dizzy. His head ached and he could not see clearly; stomach contracted with sharp nausea.
He held his head between his hands and slowly he pushed out the dizziness. But then he pushed too hard and brought back memory; he had not wanted to do that. Quickly he returned to the booth, sat down, put his hands on the table, and looked straight ahead. Memory began to work. There had been a yesterday and a day before, and twenty-five years of being alive before he found the bar.
"Here's your drink." The man looked at him. "You feeling all right? If you don't feel good you better get out of here. We don't want nobody getting sick in here."
"I'm all right."
"You sure had a lot to drink tonight." The man went away.
He had had a lot to drink. It was past one and he had been in the bar since nine o'clock. Drunk, he wanted to be drunker, without memory, or fear.
"You all by yourself?" Woman's voice. He didn't open his eyes for a long time, hoping that if he could not see her she could not see him. A basic thing to wish but it failed. He opened his eyes.
"Sure," he said. "Sure." It was the woman in the green dress.
Her hair was dyed a dark red and her face was white with powder. She too was drunk. She leaned unsteadily over his table and he could see between her breasts.
"May I sit down?"
He grunted; she sat opposite him.
"It's been an awfully hot summer, hasn't it?" She made conversation. He looked at her, wondering if he could ever assimilate her into the world of the booth. He doubted it. For one thing, there was too much of her, and none of it simple.
"Sure," he said.
"I must say you're not very talkative, are you?"
"Guess not." The intimacy of the booth was gone for good now. He asked, not caring, "What's your name?"
She smiled, his attention obtained. "Estelle. Nice name, isn't it? My mother named all of us with names like that. I had one sister called Anthea and my brother was called Drake. I think Drake is a very attractive name for a man, don't you? He's in women's wear. What's your name?"
"Willard," he said, surprised that he was giving her his right name. "Jim Willard."
"That's a nice name. Sounds so English. I think English names are attractive. In origin I'm Spanish myself. Oh, I'm thirsty! I'll call the waiter for you."
The waiter, who seemed to know her, brought her a drink. "Just what the doctor ordered." She smiled at him. Under the table her foot touched his. He moved both feet under his chair.
She was not distressed. She drank rapidly. "You from New York?"
He shook his head and cooled his forefinger...