Read The Rosy Crucifixion 3 - Nexus Online
Authors: Henry Miller
Woof! Woof woof! Woof! Woof!
Barking in the night. Barking, barking. I shriek but no one answers. I scream but there’s not even an echo.
Which do you want—the East of Xerxes or the East of Christ?
Alone—with eczema of the brain.
Alone at last. How marvelous! Only it is not what I expected it to be. If only I were alone with God!
Woof! Woof! woof!
Eyes closed, I summon her image. There it is, floating in the dark, a mask emerging from the spindrift: the Tilla Durieux bouche, like a bow; white, even teeth; eyes dark with mascara, the lids a viscous, glistening blue; hair streaming wild, black as ebony. The actress from the Carpathians and the roof-tops of Vienna. Risen like Venus from the flatlands of Brooklyn.
Woof! Woof woof! Woof! Woof!
I shout, but it sounds for all the world like a whisper.
My name is Isaac Dust. I am in Dante’s fifth heaven. Like Strindberg in his delirium, I repeat: What does it matter? Whether one is the only one, or whether one has a rival, what does it matter?
Why do these bizarre names suddenly come to mind? All class-mates from the dear old Alma Mater: Morton Schnadig, William Marvin, Israel Siegel, Bernard Pistner, Louis Schneider, Clarence Donohue, William Overend, John Kurtz, Pat McCaffrey, William Korb, Arthur Convissar, Sally Liebowitz, Frances Glanty … Not one of them has ever raised his head. Stricken from the ledger. Scotched like vipers.
Are you there, comrades?
Is that you, dear August, raising your head in the gloom? Yes, it is Strindberg, the Strindberg with two horns protruding from his forehead. Le cocu magnifique.
In some happy time—when? how distant? what planet?—I used to move from wall to wall greeting this one and that, all old friends: Leon Bakst, Whistler, Lovis Corinth, Breughel the Elder, Botticelli, Bosch, Giotto, Cimabue, Piero della Francesca, Grunewald, Holbein, Lucas Cranach, Van Gogh, Utrillo, Gauguin, Piranesi, Utamaro, Hokusai, Hiroshige—and the Wailing Wall. Goya too, and Turner. Each one had something precious to impart. But particularly Tilla Durieux, she with the eloquent, sensual lips dark as rose petals.
The walls are bare now. Even if they were crowded with masterpieces I would recognize nothing. Darkness has closed in. Like Balzac, I live with imaginary paintings. Even the frames are imaginary.
Isaac Dust, born of the dust and returning to dust. Dust to dust. Add a codicil for old times’ sake.
Anastasia, alias Hegoroboru, alias Bertha Filigree of Lake Tahoe-Titicaca and the Imperial Court of the Czars, is temporarily in the Observation Ward. She went there of her own accord, to find out if she were in her right mind or not. Saul barks in his delirium, believing he is Isaac Dust. We are snow-bound-in a hall bedroom with a private sink and twin beds. Lightning flashes intermittently. Count Bruga, that darling of a puppet, reposes on the bureau surrounded by Javanese and Tibetan idols. He has the leer of a madman quaffing a bowl of sterno. His wig, made of purple strings, is surmounted by a miniature hat, a la Boheme, imported from la Galerie Dufayel. His back rests against a few choice volumes deposited with us by Stasia before taking off for the asylum. From left to right they read—
The Imperial Orgy—The Vatican Swindle—A Season in Hell—Death in Venice—Anathema—A Hero of our Time—The Tragic Sense of Life—The Devil’s Dictionary—November Boughs—Beyond the Pleasure Principle—Lysistrata—Marius the Epicurean—The Golden Ass—Jude the Obscure—The Mysterious Stranger—Peter Whiffle—The Little Flowers—Virginibus Puerisque—Queen Mab—The Great God Pan—The Travels of Marco Polo—Songs of Bilitis—The Unknown Life of Jesus—Tristram Shandy—The Crock of Gold—Black Bryony—The Root and the Flower.
Only a single lacuna: Rozanov’s Metaphysics of Sex.
In her own handwriting (on a slip of butcher’s paper) I find the following, a quotation obviously, from one of the volumes: That strange thinker, N. Federov, a Russian of the Russians, will found his own original form of anarchism, one hostile to the State.
Were I to show this to Kronski he would run immediately to the bughouse and offer it as proof. Proof of what? Proof that Stasia is in her right mind.
Yesterday was it? Yes, yesterday, about four in the morning, while walking to the subway station to look for Mona, who should I spy sauntering leisurely through the drifting snow but Mona and her wrestler friend Jim Driscoll. You would think, to see them, that they were looking for violets in a golden meadow. No thought of snow or ice, no concern for the polar blasts from the river, no fear of God or man. Just strolling along, laughing, talking, humming. Free as meadow-larks.
Hark, hark, the lark at heaven’s gate sings!
I followed them a distance, almost infected myself by their utter nonchalance. Suddenly I took an oblique left turn in the direction of Osiecki’s flat. His chambers, I should say. Sure enough, the lights were on and the pianola softly giving out morceaux choisis de Dohnanyi.
Hail to you, sweet lice, I thought, and passed on. A mist was rising over toward Gowanus Canal. Probably a glacier melting.
Arriving home I found her creaming her face.
Where in God’s name have you been? she demands, almost accusingly.
Are you back long? I counter.
Strange. I could have sworn that I left here only twenty minutes ago. Maybe I’ve been walking in my sleep. It’s funny, but I had a notion I saw you and Jim Driscoll walking arm in arm…
Val, you must be ill.
No, just inebriated. I mean … hallucinated.
She puts a cold hand on my brow, feels my pulse. Everything normal, apparently. It baffles her. Why do I invent such stories? Just to torment her? Isn’t there enough to worry about, with Stasia in the asylum and the rent overdue? I ought to have more consideration.
I walk over to the alarm clock and point to the hands. Six o’clock.
I know, she says.
So it wasn’t you I saw just a few minutes ago?
She looks at me as if I were on the verge of dementia.
Nothing to worry about, dearie, I chirp. I’ve been drinking champagne all night. I’m sure now it wasn’t you I saw—it was your astral body. Pause. Anyway, Stasia’s O.K. I just had a long talk with one of the internes…
You … ?
Yes, for want of anything better to do I thought I’d run over and see how she was getting along. I brought her some Charlotte russe.
You should get to bed, Val, you’re exhausted. Pause. If you want to know why I’m so late I’ll tell you. I just left Stasia. I got her out about three hours ago. She began to chuckle—or was it to cackle? I’ll tell you all about it to-morrow. It’s a long story.
To her amazement I replied: Don’t bother, I heard all about it a little while ago.
We switched out the lights and crawled into bed. I could hear her laughing to herself.
As a good-night fillip I whispered: Bertha Filigree of Lake Titicaca.
Often, after a session with Spengler or Elie Faure, I would throw myself on the bed fully clothed and, instead of musing about ancient cultures, I would find myself groping through a labyrinthian world of fabrications. Neither of them seems capable of telling the truth, even about such a simple matter as going to the toilet. Stasia, an essentially truthful soul, acquired the habit in order to please Mona. Even in that fanciful tale about being a Romanoff bastard there was a grain of truth. With her it’s never a lie out of the whole cloth, as with Mona. Moreover, should one confront her with the truth, she does not throw an hysterical fit or stalk out of the room on stilts. No, she simply breaks into a broad grin which gradually softens into the pleasing smile of an angelic child. There are moments when I believe I can get somewhere with Stasia. But just when I sense that the time is ripe, like an animal protecting her cub, Mona whisks her off.
One of the strangest blanks in our intimate conversations, for now and then we have the most prolonged, seemingly sincere talk-fests, one of these unaccountable gaps, I say, has to do with childhood. How they played, where, with whom, remains a complete mystery. From the cradle, apparently, they sprang into womanhood. Never is there mention of a childhood friend or of a wonderful lark they enjoyed; never do they talk of a street they loved or a park they played in or a game they enjoyed. I’ve asked them point-blank: Do you know how to skate? Can you swim? Did you ever play jacks? Yes indeedy, they can do all these things and more. Why not? Yet they never permit themselves to slip back into the past. Never do they suddenly, as happens in animated conversation, recall some strange or wonderful experience connected with childhood. Now and then one or the other will mention that she once broke an arm or sprained an ankle, but where, when? Again and again I endeavor to lead them back, gently, coaxingly, as one might lead a horse to the stable, but in vain. Details bore them. What matter, they ask, when it happened or where? Very well, then, about face! I switch the talk to Russia or Roumania, hoping to detect a glint or a gleam of recognition. I do it skillfully too, beginning by way of Tasmania or Patagonia and only gradually and obliquely working my way toward Russia, Roumania, Vienna and the flatlands of Brooklyn. As if they hadn’t the slightest suspicion of my game, they too will suddenly begin talking about strange places, Russia and Roumania included, but as though they were recounting something which had been related to them by a stranger or picked up in a travel book. Stasia, a little more artful, may even pretend to give me a clue. She may take it into her head, for example, to relate some spurious incident out of Dostoievsky, trusting that I have a weak memory or that, even if it be a good one, I cannot possibly remember the thousands of incidents which crowd Dostoievsky’s voluminous works. And how can I myself be certain that she is not giving me the genuine Dostoievsky? Because I have an excellent memory for the aura of things read. It is impossible for me not to recognize a false Dostoievskyan touch. However, to draw her out, I pretend to recall the incident she is relating; I nod my head in agreement, laugh, clap my hands, anything she wishes, but I never let on that I know she is falsifying. Now and then, however, I will remind her, in the same spirit of play, of a trifle she has glossed over or a distortion she has created; I will even argue about it at length if she pretends that she has related the incident faithfully. And all the while Mona sits there, listening attentively, aware neither of truth nor falsity, but happy as a bird because we are talking about her idol, her god, Dostoievsky.
What a charming, what a delightful world it can be, this world of lies and of falsification, when there is nothing better to do, nothing at stake. Aren’t we wonderful, we jolly, bloody liars? A pity Dostoievsky himself isn’t with us, Mona will sometimes exclaim. As if he invented all those mad people, all those crazy scenes which flood his novels. I mean, invented them for his own pleasure, or because he was a natural born fool and liar. Never once does it dawn on them that they may be the mad characters in a book which life is, writing with invisible ink.
Not strange therefore that nearly every one, male or female, whom Mona admires is mad, or that every one she detests is a fool. Yet, when she chooses to pay me a compliment she will always call me a fool. You’re such a dear fool, Val. Meaning that I am great enough, complex enough, in her estimation at least, to belong to the world of Dostoievsky. At times, when she gets to raving about my unwritten books, she will even go so far as to say that I am another Dostoievsky. A pity I can’t throw an epileptic fit now and then. That would really give me the necessary standing. What happens, unfortunately, what breaks the spell, is that I all too quickly degenerate into a bourgeois. In other words I become too inquisitive, too picayune, too intolerant. Dostoievsky, according to Mona, never displayed the least interest in facts. (One of those near truths which make one wince sometimes.) No, to believe her, Dostoievsky was always in the clouds—or else buried in the depths. He never bothered to swim on the surface. He took no thought of gloves or muffs or overcoats. Nor did he pry into women’s purses in search of names and addresses. He lived only in the imagination.