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Authors: Denis Johnson


BOOK: Angels
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Denis Johnson was born in Munich in 1949, was educated at the University of Iowa and now lives in northern Idaho.


Denis Johnson

This eBook is copyright material and must not be copied, reproduced, transferred, distributed, leased, licensed or publicly performed or used in any way except as specifically permitted in writing by the publishers, as allowed under the terms and conditions under which it was purchased or as strictly permitted by applicable copyright law. Any unauthorised distribution or use of this text may be a direct infringement of the author's and publisher's rights and those responsible may be liable in law accordingly.
Epub ISBN: 9781409018452
Version 1.0
Published by Vintage 2003
2 4 6 8 10 9 7 5 3 1
Copyright © Denis Johnson 1977, 1983
Denis Johnson has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and
Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work
This book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not by way of
trade or otherwise, be lent, resold, hired out, or otherwise circulated
without the publisher's prior consent in any form of binding or cover
other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition
including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser
First published in Great Britain in 1984 by
Chatto & Windus, The Hogarth Press
Grateful acknowledgement is made to the following for permission to
reprint material from previously published sources. Irving music: for a
portion of the lyrics from ‘Sin City'. Lyrics and music by Gram Parsons
and Chris Hillman. © 1969 Irving Music, Inc. (BMI). All rights
reserved. International copyright secured. Warner Bros Music: for a
portion of the lyric from ‘Like a Rolling Stone' by Bob Dylan. © 1965
by Warner Bros, Inc. All rights reserved. Used by permission.
The author is most grateful to the National Endowment for the Arts, the
Fine Arts Work Centre in Provincetown, Massachusetts, and the
Arizona Arts Commission for support that made this writing possible –
and even more to Charles Hadd, Jr, and Robert Smith, without whose
contributions and assistance there would be no story.
Random House, 20 Vauxhall Bridge Road, London SW1V 2SA
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The Random House Group Limited Reg. No. 954009
A CIP catalogue record for this book
is available from the British Library
ISBN 0 09 944083 0
Papers used by Random House are natural, recyclable
products made from wood grown in sustainable forests.
The manufacturing processes conform to the environmental regulations of the country of origin
Printed and bound in Denmark by
Nørhaven Paperback A/S, Viborg
this book is dedicated to H. P.
and to those who have shared
their experience, strength, and hope
I accused her as though her prayers had really worked the change:
What did I do to you that you had to condemn me to life?
The End of the Affair
n the Oakland Greyhound all the people were dwarfs, and they pushed and shoved to get on the bus, even cutting in ahead of the two nuns, who were there first. The two nuns smiled sweetly at Miranda and Baby Ellen and played I-see-you behind their fingers when they'd taken their seats. But Jamie could sense that they found her make-up too thick, her pants too tight. They knew she was leaving her husband, and figured she'd turn for a living to whoring. She wanted to tell them what was what, but you can't talk to a Catholic. The shorter nun carried a bright cut rose wrapped in her two hands.
Jamie sat by the window looking out and smoking a Kool. People still crowded at the bus's door, people she hoped never to meet—struggling with mutilated luggage and paper sacks that might have contained, the way they handled them, the reasons for their every regretted act and the justifications for their wounds. A black man in a tweed suit and straw hat held up a sign for his departing relatives: “T
2:31). Under the circumstances, Jamie felt close to this stranger.
Around three in the morning Jamie's eyes came open. Headlights on an entrance ramp cut across their flight and swept through the bus, and momentarily in her exhaustion she thought it was the flaming head of a man whipping like a comet through the sleeping darkness of these travellers, hers alone to witness. Suddenly Miranda was awake, jabbering in her ear, excited to be up past bedtime.
Jamie pushed the child's words away, afraid of the dark the bus was rushing into, confused at being swallowed up so quickly by her new life, fearful she'd be digested in a flash and spit out the other end in the form of an old lady too dizzy to wonder where her youth had gone. A couple of times she tried to shush Miranda, because the baby was sleeping and so was everyone else on the bus, except the driver, she hoped—but Miranda had to nudge Baby Ellen with her foot every two seconds because she wanted to play, right in the middle of Nevada in the middle of the night. “Randy,” Jamie said. “I'm tarred now, hon. Don't wake up Ellen now.”
Miranda sat on her hands and pretended to sleep, secretly nudging Baby Ellen with her foot.
“Move your foot; hon,” Jamie told her. “I ain't playing. Move your foot now.”
Miranda feigned sleep and deafness, her foot jerking in a dream to jostle the baby.
” Jamie whispered fiercely, and grabbed her ankle and moved it. “You behave. Or I'll tell the driver, and he'll take you and put you off the bus, right out there in that desert. Right in the dark, with the snakes. You hear me?” She jerked Miranda's foot away again. “Don't you play like you're asleep when I can see goddamn it you ain't!”
She stared with hatred at Miranda's closed eyes and soon realized the child had fallen asleep. The weightlessness of fear replaced the weight of anger as the bus sailed down the gullet the headlights made. She put her hand over her face and wept.
In a little while she fell asleep, and dreamed about a man drowning in a cloud of poison. She woke up and wondered if this was a dream about her husband, or what?—a dream about the past, or a dream about the future?
Baby Ellen wouldn't stop screaming.
Jamie held her in one arm, searching beneath the seat with her free hand for the travelling bag, then in the travelling bag for Baby Ellen's orange juice. “There there there there there,” she told Baby Ellen. “Have a crib for you soon, and a string to tie on your music box with, and Mama and Miranda'll come sing to you when it's bedtime, and here's your orange juice, thank goodness, there there there there there, little Baby Ellen, oh that a
orange juice, such a
orange juice, such a
look, oh, see the pretty sun? See the sun over there, Baby Ellen? That's just a little bitty part of the sun, pretty soon Baby Ellen see the whole sun and then it's morning time for Baby Ellen and Mama and Miranda Sue.” She wished she could smother the baby. Nobody would know. They were four days out of Oakland.
She fed Baby Ellen her orange juice and watched the sun as it moved into prominence above the dead cornfields in Indiana, the light striking her face painfully as it ticked over the frozen pools and the rows of broken stalks glazed with ice. Her husband angrily sold stereophonic components for a living. He brooded on his life, and it grew on him until he was rattling around inside of it. Why couldn't she just be thankful to him, he always wanted to know, since he was losing track of what
wanted just so
could have everything
wanted? Couldn't she see how everything kept happening? It was just—he pounded his fist on the wall so the small trailer shook—
one moment goes to the next
 . . . He choked her close to death twice, frantic to think she couldn't understand his complaint. And she couldn't. He slept almost every minute he was at home. At night, he cried and confessed how everything scared him. Whenever she looked at him he had his face in his arms, hiding from the pictures in his own brain. Finally he'd blown it, their whole marriage. She'd seen it coming like a red caboose at the end of a train.
Cut loose between Oakland and everything that would happen next, she couldn't stand to let the bus keep moving and thought, I'll get off this bus at the breakfast stop and change my ticket for the next bus on home, and happy trails, all you folks in Greyhound-land. He'd be overjoyed to see her, she was certain of it. What would she say? Forgot my toothbrush, she told herself, and smiled. Forgot my purse. Left my lunch behind. The ticket man would laugh in her face for turning around right in the middle. Liked the trip so much, you thought you'd start all over, said the ticket man. Yeah, have to go back and look out the left side this time, in case I missed something special. At the breakfast stop, Jamie paid a lady to look after Miranda and Baby Ellen while she took a sponge bath in the ladies' room. Miranda stood on a tomato soup crate to play the pinball and took pictures of herself holding her baby sister in a little booth with a curtain. Jamie and Miranda ate cornflakes, and Baby Ellen had apricot-peach dessert. They were running out of money. The turnpike took on more curves and hills as it came toward Cleveland.
Three seats back and on the other side of the aisle, the two nuns sat muttering to themselves, sleepy with breakfast. Secretly Jamie watched, and she realized they were praying, the bright cut rose the shorter nun had been clutching in Oakland now replaced by a dark rosary. Jamie wondered if they made nuns pray each day after breakfast. Did they think to themselves, here I go, praying, and did they hold a portrait in their heads of God's face with his white beard, nodding thoughtfully at their Latin? If praying was their job, then did they get any holidays? She glanced at Miranda making broad, even strokes with a crayon across a woman's face in
magazine, and wondered if her own little girl would ever be a nun with a black and white hat on top of her long hair. But then, Miranda wasn't a Catholic. They hadn't been much of anything in Oakland, though they'd been retired Baptists in West Virginia before the move. You couldn't be very burning for your religion in California, because California was full of atheists and Birchers and Hare Krishnas, and the only ones very serious about religion were the crazy people like that, who were always jumping off the Golden Gate when seized by the power of God. Baptism seemed just another way of getting yourself wet.
BOOK: Angels
3.82Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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