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Authors: Jack Kerouac

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BOOK: The Sea is My Brother
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Sonny squared off to box his big brother, but he only waved a playful arm and went back to his packing.
“He thinks he's tough,” announced Sonny. “One more year and I'll lick him easy.” To prove this, he vaulted over the back of an easy chair groaning with books and landed on his feet to stand poised and indifferent.
“Let's feel your muscles,” offered Wesley.
Sonny walked over and flexed his little arm. Wesley wrapped a thin brown hand around it and winked knowingly, nodding toward the older brother.
“Six months most,” he reassured Sonny.
Sonny laughed savagely. Wesley rose to his feet and put on his coat slowly.
“D'jever see a German?” asked Sonny.
Wesley sat down on the edge of the large chair. “Sure,” he said.
“Did he try to shoot you?”
“No; this was before the war,” explained Wesley.
Sonny jumped on the seat, landing on his knees. “Even then!” he cried.
“Nope,” said Wesley.
“D'jever see a submarine?”
“Yup.”
“Where?”
“I seen one off Cape Hatteras; they sunk our ship,” he returned.
“What you do?” shrilled Sonny.
“I jumped over the poop deck, feller.”
“Ha ha! What a name for a deck! Poop!”
Wesley's eyes widened in silent laughter; he placed his hand on Sonny's head and rolled it slowly, growling. Sonny leaped back and slapped his hips: “Brah! Brah!” he barked, pointing his forefingers. Wesley clutched his breast and staggered over.
“Brah! Brah! Brah! Full o' holes!” informed Sonny, sitting on the bed.
Wesley lit up another cigarette and threw the empty pack in the waste basket. The sun was back, spilling its warmth into the room in a sudden dazzle of afternoon gold.
“My Pop used to fix ships,” Sonny continued. “Did you ever see my Pop?”
“No,” confessed Wesley.
“C'mon,” urged Sonny. “He's right here.”
Everhart, busy rummaging in the closet, made no remarks, so Wesley followed Sonny into the dim hall and into another room.
This particular room faced the inner court of the building, so that no sun served to brighten what ordinarily would be a gloomy chamber in the first place. A large man clad in a brown bathrobe sat by the window smoking a pipe. The room was furnished with a large bed, an easy chair (in which the father sat), another smaller chair, a dresser, a battered trunk, and an ancient radio with exterior loudspeaker and all. From this radio there now emitted a faint strain of music through a clamor of static.
“Hey Paw!” sang Sonny. “Here's that sailor!”
The man turned from his revery and fixed two red-rimmed eyes on them, half stunned. Then he perceived Wesley and smiled a pitifully twisted smile, waving his hand in salute.
Wesley waved back, greeting: “Hullo!”
“How's the boy?” Mr. Everhart wanted to know, in a deep, gruff, workingman's voice.
“Fine,” Wesley said.
“Billy's goin' with you, hey?” the father smiled, his mouth twisted down into a chagrined pout, as though to
smile was to admit defeat. “I always knew the little cuss had itchy feet.”
Wesley sat down on the edge of the bed while Sonny ran to the foot of the bed to preside over them proudly.
“This's my youngest boy,” said the father of Sonny, “I'd be a pretty lonely man without him. Everybody else seems to have forgotten me.” He coughed briefly. “Your father alive, son?” he resumed.
Wesley leaned a hand on the mottled bedspread: “Yeah . . . he's in Boston.”
“Where's your people from?”
“Vermont originally.”
“Vermont? What part?”
“Bennington,” answered Wesley, “my father owned a service station there for twenty-two years.”
“Bennington,” mused the old man, nodding his head in recollection. “I traveled through there many years ago. Long before your time.”
“His name's Charley Martin,” supplied Wesley.
“Martin? . . . I used to know a Martin from Baltimore, a Jack Martin he was.”
There was a pause during which Sonny slapped the bedstead. Outside, the sun faded once more, plunging the room into a murky gloom. The radio sputtered with static.
Bill's sister entered the room, not even glancing at Wesley.
“Is Bill in his room?” she demanded.
The old man nodded: “He's packing his things, I guess.”
“Packing his things?” she cried. “Don't tell me he's really going through with his silly idea?”
Mr. Everhart shrugged.
“For God's sake, Pa, are you going to let him do it?”
“It's none of my business—he has a mind of his own,” returned the old man calmly, turning toward the window.
“He has a mind of his own!” she mimicked savagely.
“Yes he has!” roared the old man, spinning around to face his daughter angrily, “I can't stop him.”
She tightened her lips irritably for a moment.
“You're his father aren't you!” she shouted.
“Oh!” boomed Mr. Everhart with a vicious leer. “So now I'm the father of the house!”
The woman stamped out of the room with an outraged scoff.
“That's a new one!” thundered the father after her.
Sonny snickered mischievously.
“That's a new one!” echoed the old man to himself. “They dumped me in this back room years ago when I couldn't work any more and forgot all about it. My word in this house hasn't meant anything for years.”
Wesley fidgeted nervously with the hem of the old quilt blanket.
“You know, son,” resumed Mr. Everhart with a sullen scowl, “a man's useful in life so long's he's producin' the goods, bringin' home the bacon; that's when he's Pop, the breadwinner, and his word is the word of the house. No sooner he grows old an' sick an' can't work any more, they flop him up in some odd corner o' the house,” gesturing at his room, “and forget all about him, unless it be to call him a damn nuisance.”
From Bill's room they could hear arguing voices.
“I ain't stoppin' him from joining the merchant marine if that's what he wants,” grumbled the old man. “And I know damn well I couldn't stop him if I wanted to, so there!” He shrugged wearily.
Wesley tried to maintain as much impartiality as he could; he lit a cigarette nervously and waited patiently for a chance to get out of this uproarious household. He wished he had waited for Bill at a nice cool bar.
“I suppose it's none too safe at sea nowadays,” reflected Mr. Everhart aloud.
“Not exactly,” admitted Wesley.
“Well, Bill will have to face danger sooner or later, Army or Navy or merchant marines. All the youngsters are in for it,” he added dolefully. “Last war, I tried to get in
but they refused me—wife n'kids. But this is a different war, all the boys are going in this one.”
The father laid aside his pipe on the window sill, leaning over with wheezing labor. Wesley noticed he was quite fat; the hands were powerful, though, full of veinous strength, the fingers gnarled and enormous.
“Nothin' we can do,” continued Mr. Everhart. “We people of the common herd are to be seen but not heard. Let the big Money Bags start the wars, we'll fight 'em and love it.” He lapsed into a malign silence.
“But I got a feelin',” resumed the old man with his pouting smile, “that Bill's just goin' along for the fun. He's not one you can fool, Billy . . . and I guess he figures the merchant marine will do him some good, whether he takes only one trip or not. Add color to his cheeks, a little sea an' sunshine. He's been workin' pretty hard all these years. Always a quiet little duck readin' books by himself. When the woman died from Sonny, he was twenty-two, a senior in the College—hit him hard, but he managed. I was still workin' at the shipyards, so I sent him on for more degrees. The daughter offered to move in with her husband an' take care of little Sonny. When Billy finished his education—I always knew education was a good thing—I swear I wasn't surprised when he hit off a job with the Columbia people here.”
Wesley nodded.
The father leaned forward anxiously in his chair.
“Billy's not a one for the sort of thing he's goin' into now,” he said with a worried frown. “You look like a good strong boy, son, and you've been through all this business and know how to take care of yourself. I hope . . . you keep an eye on Billy—you know what I mean—he's not . . .”
“Whatever I could do,” assured Wesley, “I'd sure-all do it.”
“Yes, because I'd feel better if I knew someone experienced was sorta keepin' an eye on him . . . you know what I mean, son.”
“Sure do,” answered Wesley.
“It's the way a father feels,” apologized the old man. “You'll find out how it is someday when your own kids go off like this . . . it's something that can make you feel downright unhappy, and mad too, by God. I've come to the point where I can't understand it any more—I mean the whole blamed thing. You start off with a rosy-cheeked little kiddie, then he grows up, and the next thing y'know, he's standing face to face with you an' arguing his head off, and then he's gone . . . gone in more ways than one.”
Bill was standing in the doorway.
“Oh Pa, for God's sake, stop telling all your troubles to my friends,” he admonished.
The old man swung his chair around to the window and muttered bitterly. Bill's mouth hardened impatiently.
“We were havin' a right nice chat,” Wesley said, a bit coldly.
“All right, I'm sorry,” confessed Bill with some reluctance. “This is no way to say au revoir.” He walked over to his father's chair: “well, old man, I guess you won't have me around to argue with for a while, I'll bet you'll miss me just the same.” He leaned over and kissed his father's bristly cheek.
“Sure your doin' the right thing I guess,” said Mr. Everhart, still facing his window.
“Well, we can use the money, right?”
The father shrugged. Then he turned and squeezed Bill's arm with his big hand: “If I could see you to the subway I would. Goodbye, Billy, an' be careful.”
When Wesley shook hands with Mr. Everhart, his red-rimmed eyes were vague and misty.
“I'm goin' wid youse!” howled Sonny, back in Bill's room.
“Yeah, yeah!” cried Bill. “Go in the living room for awhile will you, Sonny: Wes and I want to talk. Tell Sis I'm coming out in a minute.”
Sonny dashed off at a furious pace.
“First thing is to get a subway to the Bronx and start hitch-hiking along Route One, right?”
Wesley nodded.
“I wish I had fare money,” growled Bill, “but I spent all my money last night. And I'm not borrowing any money from anyone, let alone my brother-in-law.”
“Hell, man, we'll bum to Boston,” said Wesley.
“Sure!” beamed the other. “Besides, I never hitch-hiked before; it would be an experience.”
“Do we move?”
Everhart paused for a moment. What was he doing here in this room, this room he had known since childhood, this room he had wept in, had ruined his eyesight in, studying till dawn, this room into which his mother had often stole to kiss and console him, what was he doing in this suddenly sad room, his foot on a packed suitcase and a traveler's hat perched foolishly on the back of his head? Was he leaving it? He glanced at the old bed and suddenly realized that he would no longer sleep on that old downy mattress, long nights sleeping in safety. Was he forsaking this for some hard bunk on board a ship plowing through waters he had never hoped to see, a sea where ships and men were cheap and the submarine prowled like some hideous monster in DeQuincey's dreams. The
whole thing failed to focus in his mind; he proved unable to meet the terror which this sudden contrast brought to bear on his soul. Could it be he knew nothing of life's great mysteries? Then what of the years spent interpreting the literatures of England and America for note-hungry classes? . . . had he been talking through his hat, an utterly complacent and ignorant little pittypat who spouted the profound feelings of a Shakespeare, a Keats, a Milton, a Whitman, a Hawthorne, a Melville, a Thoreau, a Robinson as though he knew the terror, fear, agony, and vowing passion of their lives and was brother to them in the dark, deserted old moor of their minds?
Wesley waited while Everhart stood in indecision, patiently attending to his fingernails. He knew his companion was hesitating.
At this moment, however, Bill's sister entered the room smoking a Fatima and still carrying her cup of tea. She and her friend, a middle-aged woman who now stood beaming in the doorway, had been engaged in passing the afternoon telling each other's fortunes in the tea leaves. Now the sister, a tall woman with a trace of oncoming middle age in her stern but youthful features, spoke reproachfully to her younger brother; “Bill, can't I do anything to change your mind. This is all so silly? Where are you going, for God's sake . . . be sensible.”
“I'm only going on a vacation,” growled Bill in a hunted manner. “I'll be back.” He picked up his bag and leaned to kiss her on the cheek.
The sister sighed and adjusted his coat lapel. She glanced in a none too friendly fashion at Wesley, while he, in turn, wanted to tell her it was none of his doing and that would she kindly keep her dirty looks to herself?
In the street, Wesley could still see the old man, Mr. Everhart, as he had been when they had gone past his room on the way out: he was still sitting in the chair, but his pipe had lain unsmoked on the sill, a crest fallen, lonely figure.
BOOK: The Sea is My Brother
3.03Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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